Heart of Midnight (1988)

Carol (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has had more than one nervous breakdown, which immediately qualifies for her to be the heroine of a female-centric giallo. Now, she’s inherited the Midnight — a broken-down club that for some reason is continually being remodelled despite the fact that the neighborhood that it’s located in is shady at best — from an uncle that she doesn’t remember.

Her mother (Brenda Vaccaro!?!) just wants her to sell the place, but Carol doesn’t just decide to reopen the place, she moves in and discovers that the Midnight was once the kind of club that people visit to take care of some very special needs.

On the first night that she stays at the Midnight, three men break in thinking that she wants them to. While the two white men assault her — including Steve Buscemi — the black man amongst them tries to stop them, which means that the cops shoot him, making this the sole moment of reality in a movie that exists in another plane.

The cops learn of her mental illness and start to not believe her, yet promise to send Lieutenant Sharpe, who she thinks is Peter Coyote, but he’s perhaps a ghost inside the club? Who can say — all we know is that the real cop is soon killed by something inside the haunted bar.

By the end of this, Carol starts to realize that what she is seeing are the past memories and things that happened inside this club, moments trapped inside these walls that she must move back to heal herself.

Also — Frank Stallone shows up!

Writer and director Matthew Chapman should make more movies. He hasn’t directed since 2011’s The Ledge but he has written a few scripts. That said, the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin seems busy writing books and being the founder and president of ScienceDebate.org, which advocates that presidential candidates hold a live debate solely dedicated to science and technology issues.

I love that so many reviews complain about how odd and how hard to understand this movie is. When viewed when wearing black gloves and through a glass of J&B, it perfectly adds up.

Screwball Hotel (1988)

Once upon an ’80s VHS time . . . there was a Canadian exploitation tax shelter film franchise known as “Screwballs” that was created to cash-in on Porky’s and the Police Academy series. Courtesy of your HBO subscription back in the ’80s, the Screwballs films were oft-run T&A favorites on that early pay-cable service, as well as perfect programming fodder for the USA Network’s “Up All Night” weekend programming blocks.

It all began with Screwballs (1983). Then along came Loose Screws, which aka’d on HBO and the USA Network as Screwball Academy, and home video as Screwballs II (1985/1986). The there’s this third and final entry — sometimes appended with a “3” in home video quarters — which has less to do with the first film as the second film has to do with the first film. The overall gist of the first Screwball film isn’t so much Police Academy as it is Porky’s, courtesy of the resident screwballs as a gaggle of horny, 1960s high school students trying to get laid.

AKA, Screwballs 3 . . . notice that while the legs look real, the dippy bellhop is an artist rendering? Way to go, art department!

The only real through line between the first and second films (well, there is one more connection, for all three films, but we will get to that, later) is that Rafal Zeilinski directed both screenplays written by actress/director Linda Shayne (she wrote her own directing debut Purple People Eater; Screwballs served as her screenwriting debut). The original plan for what became best known as Screwball Academy to the cable television masses was to bring back the four leads from the first film; instead, all new actors were cast in a re-write of the original story. Only now, our horny students covet their new, sexy French teacher at . . . Cockswell Academy (yes, that’s the level of comedy you’re getting); the original lads attended Taft and Adams High School and coveted the school’s “hottest, pure girl,” Purity Bush (again, comedy . . . you gotta love it).

So that’s the Screwball back story . . . and brings up to speed — somewhat — for Screwball Hotel, a film whose only connection to the “franchise” is that Rafal Zielinski directed all three films.

Yeah, it’s the same ‘ol song and song and dance in the pants as horny ne’er-do-wells kicked out of a military academy take jobs at a dying Miami Beach hotel (while a Canadian production, this shot in Miami). To save the hotel, our lustful lads organize the “Miss Purity Pageant” — with the hotel’s prudish female guests (boilerplate-reminding of Purity Bush from the first Screwballs) as contestants. Of course, as with the first film, and despite the material’s intent, there’s no nudity or sex scenes to trip the triggers; just lots of T&A innuendos, but no actual nudity or sex. Pour Porky’s, Police Academy and the teen-flick cycle of John Hughes into your National Lampoon logo-tumbler and serve up a film that’s . . . not so much of a plot, but SNL-styled vignettes and sight-gags that run from the outrageous to the raunchy to the ugh-enduring stupid.

The character boilerplating continues with . . . remember the tubby, food-loving Larry “Fink” Finkelstein from Meatballs (1979)? Well, Screwball Hotel has a Finkelstein. Remember the “Spanish Fly in the food” scene in Screwballs? Well, we have one of those — only with cocaine. Then there’s offensive Arab stereotypes, a dominatrix trope shows up, a Australian guest into sheep-bestiality appears, along with women’s oil wrestling, more nympho women, more horny men, and hot-but-ditzy women everywhere.

If this sounds a lot like Johnny Depp’s marquee-leading man debut in Private Resort (1985), then it probably is. Adding to the six degrees of celluloid separation is the fact that actor Michael Bendetti, who replaced Johnny Depp’s replacement of Richard Grieco on FOX-TV’s 21 Jump Street, as Anthony “Mac” McCann in that series’ fifth and final season, makes his feature film debut, here (his dual acting and leading man debut), as Mike, the ne’er-do-well leader of the hospitality shenanigans. The only other actor worth mentioning is two-time Penthouse “Pet of the Month” and “Pet of the Year” Corrine Alphen Wahl, who we’ve enjoyed in BrainWaves (1982), Spring Break (1983), and Equalizer 2000 (1987). (Wait, there’s another Penthouse Pet, here, more on that later.)

The ’80s comedy déjà vu caveats: Don’t confuse any of this Cannuck tax shelter tomfoolery with Oddballs (1984), which Miklos Lente, the cinematographer of Screwballs, directed . . . and it’s pretty much a rip of Meatballs, which, if you haven’t figured out, is ripped ‘n’ pinched by Screwballs, natch. Of course, Golfballs! (1999) — which is no way connected to the Screwball franchise — is as much like Oddballs as Oddballs is like Meatballs, which is, in turn, is like Caddyshack. And the beat, well, ball, bounces on . . . to Daniel “Paco Querak” Green, who made his big screen acting debut in the same ol’ “dying hotel on Miami Beach” plot in Rosebud Beach Hotel (1988).

Thanks to Paul and his efforts at VHSCollector.com.

This time, in lieu of Linda Shayne, we get the pen of Charles Wiener. After his writing and directing debut with a Canadian TV movie slasher ripoff, known as Blue Murder (1985), he wrote a Canadian not-Police Academy ripoff, known as Recruits (1986), as well as writing and directing the-Police Academy-set-inside-a-fire station-ripoff, Fireballs (1989) — which was shot back-to-back with Screwball Hotel. If you’re a martial arts completionist and need a Canadian not-starring Jean-Claude Van Damme rip, there’s Wiener’s third and final directing effort, Dragon Hunt (1990), for your shelf.

Rafal Zeilinski made his directing debut with Screwballs; his fifth directing effort, Valet Girls (1987), copies the template of the Screwball movies and Recruits — but changes it up with an all-female valet car service; it’s a film as blatant in its copying Deborah Foreman’s better-remembered My Chauffeur (1986) as it is Porky’s. And Zeilinski repeated the Screwball Hotel premise one more time in Last Resort (1994), which was backed by National Lampoon and starred the “Two Coreys” Feldman and Haim (another Corey two-fer is Dream a Little Dream) . . . but don’t confuse that film with the better (but not by much) Charles Grodin-starrer Last Resort (1986). And let’s not forget Zeilinski remade it all over again with State Park (1988), which ditches the schools, academies, and hotels for, well, a state park.

Okay, now for the music connections.

We had this penciled in for our “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week III” review series at the end of August (and we master listed Screwball Hotel in our round up of that week), but we bumped it back to our one of our “free range” weeks, when we just review anything that tickles the fancy. Just because.

So, Taiwan’s Golden Horse Film Festival nominee and China’s Changchun Film Festival winner, songwriter and composer Nathan Wang made his soundtrack debut with the songs “Check In, Check It Out,” “Making Money,” and “Punk Song” on Screwball Hotel, which he also scored. You may also have heard his tune “You Are the One” in Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx. He’s since scored over 160 international films and TV series. The songs on Screwball Hotel were sung by Terrea Oster, who provides the vocals for our ersatz rocker chick of the film — portrayed by Penthouse Pet Lisa Bradford-Aiton, in her only mainstream film role. The fruitful career of Oster’s son, Canadian Douglas Smith, led to roles in Terminator Genisys (2015), as well as starring in the Bill Paxton-fronted HBO series, Big Love.

Terrea Oster, who acted under the name Foster, as well, appears in the aforementioned, original Screwballs (1983), Oddballs (1984), and Screwball Academy. In addition to providing her singing voice to their soundtracks, she also worked in both disciplines on Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders. Her husband, British producer Maurice Smith, has a resume that goes all the way back to classic counterculture biker romps The Glory Stompers (1967), The Cycle Savages (1969), and Scream Free!, aka Free Grass (1969). Yep, in addition to backing Flesh Gordon, he gave us Linda Blair’s Grotesque (1988) — and ALL of the Screwball/Oddballs films.

So, there’s the final through line we teased eariler, as well as the music portion (and Penthouse connection) of the film — for what that’s worth in your wanting to watch Screwball Hotel. Hey, sometimes you just gotta — even if you’re not a smarmy online film critic navigating the Three Rivers of cinematic fate in Steeltown.

You can check out more snobs vs. slobs comedies with our “Drive-In Friday: Slobs vs. Snobs Comedy Night” featurette.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

A Night at the Magic Castle (1988)

Oh man, The Magic Castle, the place where Dai Vernon performed all the time. It’s an invite-only place where strict dress code and the ways of classic Hollywood still remain, a clubhouse for magicians and magic enthusiasts and the home of the Academy of Magical Arts. “The most unusual private club in the world,” visitors must say a secret phrase to a sculpture of an owl to even see the entrance to the club.

This is the first movie ever made inside the walls of The Magic Castle, with many of its illusionists and magicians performing within the film.

Producer and director Icek Tenenbaum only made one other movie, a vacation gone wrong movie called The American Scream. He co-wrote this with Roger Stone — no, not the Penguin-looking Republican heel — who also wrote Goin’ All the WayLethal Pursuit and “Get Even” from the soundtrack of Gymkata. Also, his songs “Sparks” and “Dirty Talk” were in the adult films Bodies In Heat and Talk Dirty to Me Part 2.

Arte Johnson palys Harry Houdini, so between my mania about the master magician and my love of Laugh-In, you knew I’d have to watch this one of these days. A young kid in this learns all about losing his imaginary friend and the power of magic and the evil of Blackstar, who is played by Anthony Kiedis’ dad Blackie Dammit, who am I convinced may have George Eastman and William Smith powers, because he has rescued many a movie that I was iffy about the second he walks on screen.

Oh yeah — Isaac from Children of the Corn shows up!

This movie is ridiculously cheesy and yet endearing, kind of like magic on stage itself. Plus, how else are you gonna go back in time and go inside The Magic Castle?

Check this out on YouTube.

The Beast of War, aka The Beast (1988)

“Not foreseeing where we were going to be 20 years on, at the time I saw the Soviets’ situation in Afghanistan as something akin to their Vietnam.”
— Director Kevin Reynolds, The Austin Chronicle

Oliver Stone’s Platoon meets Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot is not a critical understatement.

We’ve had this war flick (working as a deeper character study and war treatise) on our backburners since January, when one of our loyal readers, Nick Paticchio, discovered this lost Kevin Reynolds film for the first time. He reached out, urging B&S About Movies to review and, in his words: “drag it out of complete obscurity.”

Nick schooled us that the film, originally known as The Beast of War, was directed by ex-Kevin Costner associate Kevin Reynolds and it stars George Dzundza, Jason Patric and Steven Bauer. A box office flop, it was released on only two screens in the U.S. by Columbia Pictures. Nick also told us that Roger Avery, Quentin Tarantino’s old writing partner, has The Beast listed as “The Best Movie of 1988” on his personal Letterboxd page, as well as one of his “20 Desert Island Films” — with Apocalypse Now as the only other war film on the list.

You’ll recall that Kevin Reynolds made his bones with his feature film debut script for the “brat pack” apocalypse flick, Red Dawn (1984), a film that he envisioned as a modernized take on William Golding’s 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies; understandably, he wasn’t happy with the John Milius-directed end product.

Then, with his second script (and one of my “desert island” movies since discovering it as a UHF-TV re-run and taping it), which caught the eye of producer Steven Spielberg, Reynolds first worked with Kevin Costner and made his directing debut with the coming-of-age road comedy, Fandango (1985). Then the two Kevins collaborated on four more films: the Kostner-directed Dances with Wolves (1990; but as second unit director), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Rapa-Nui (1994; with Costner as producer), and Waterworld (1995).

In between Fandango and Robin Hood sits this second Reynolds directing effort — a film originally conceived as Nanawatai (sanctuary), a stage production by Trenton, New Jersey-born playwright William Mastrosimone. The playwright made his debut mark in Hollywood by giving Farrah Fawcett the best role of her career with the rape thriller, Extremities (1986) (if you’ve seen Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978) and Sunburn (1979), you know what we mean).

Why Columbia Pictures released The Beast in only two theaters (for a $160,000 take against $8 million), then both mothballed it — even with rave reviews from the Lost Angeles Times, PBS-TV Sneak Previews, The Christian Science Monitor, and the Lost Angeles Daily News is anyone’s guess. The film, however — based on its many Euro IMDb reviews — received a wider, as most failed U.S. theatricals do, theatrical release.

Some say it was the changing of the guard at Columbia Pictures: The film began production when David Puttnam (produced one of our favorites, Foxes) was head of the studio. By the time of release, Puttman was replaced by Dawn Steel (made her producing debut with Honey, I Blew Up the Kid). It’s opined that Steel didn’t think audiences would relate to Afghan characters played by Steven Bauer, who is of Cuban/German-Jewish descent, while Erick Avari is an Indian Parsi, Kabir Bedi is an Indian Sikh — and the rest are played by Israeli Jews (with the deserts of Israel doubling for Afghanistan). Others believe, even thought the film is effectively subtitled and the Russian language is minimal, large portions of the Afghan dialog is spoken in native Pashto.

Well, courtesy of a 2014 interview with Rutgers graduate playwright William Mastrosimone, on the digital pages of Matthew Gault’s War is Boring blog (a newly discovered and incredible blog; thanks, Nick), we know the reasons why The Beast failed: Sylvester Stallone.

Mastrosimone tells us that the new executives at Columbia weren’t interested in his take on Afghanistan. Sly had approached them with an idea for Rambo III (1988) around the same time — another film set in Afghanistan that the suits at Columbia thought had a better chance of making money.

The Beast was buried.

As we discussed during our “Box Office Failures Week” in the context of our reviews for Zyzzyx Road (2006) and the Christian Slater-starrer Playback (2012), The Beast did, in fact, suffer its unjustified fate as result of a contractual obligation. Troubled productions or films that lose a studio’s faith, to fulfill a clause in a SAG or IATSE agreement regarding release-distribution regulations (among other clauses only lawyers can dream up), Columbia held up their end of the contract by releasing the film in two theaters in New York City and Los Angeles. The movie ran a few weeks — and vanished.

That’s until filmmakers like Roger Avery and fans like B&S About Movies’ reader Nick Paticchio discover the film. Nick, in fact, came to have a discussion about the film with Roger Avery.

Avery, along with Quentin Tarantino*, came to see the film in Westwood, California, on the opening weekend . . . and no one was there; they had the theater to themselves. In speaking with the owner, they learned it was in the theater for one day, for “awards qualifications.” As Nick and Roger continued their discussion, Roger astutely analogized the similarities between The Beast — its release suppressed for reasons of political agenda — to Mike Judge’s (brilliant, IMO) Idiocracy (2006): too intelligent for its own good.

There’s no room in a tank for a conscious.

“It’s my best work. I don’t care if it’s an Academy Award [winner]. I just want the movie to get its due some day.”
— Screenwriter William Mastrosimone, War is Boring

The Beast follows the exploits of a Soviet tank crew that becomes lost in the desert during the 1981 invasion of Afghanistan** (the invasion began December 24, 1979, ended on February 15, 1989, the U.S.S.R fell on December 26, 1991). Following the heartless assault of a Pashtun village and the resulting slaughter of mujahidin freedom fighters by a tank unit, that lone tank commanded by Daskai (an incredible, Oscar-level turn by George Dzundza; he campaigned hard for the role and went on a heavy diet and workout routine prior to filming, losing over 50 pounds) becomes lost in a mountain pass.

That wrong turn becomes the catalyst for the tribe’s new khan, Taj (a really incredible Steven Bauer of Scarface fame; later of TV’s Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul), to ban with Moustafa, his warring, desert scavenger cousin (a fine Chaim Jeraffi; sorry Sam, he was the Jiffy Dump Guy / Jiffy Park Guy in two Seinfeld episodes). Together, reluctantly, they gather up the survivors and, manned with a captured RPG anti-tank weapon, seek bloody revenge. The same stress and betrayals also plague the Soviet tank crew, jeopardizing their escape (the crew stars India-born Erick Avari of Stargate (1994) and The Mummy (1999) fame as the crew’s Afghani guide).

A battle of wills between a rogue commander and a solider with a conscious.

“The Beast was written by a great playwright by the name of Bill Mastrosimone. It was sent to me in a 50-page outline, I read it and thought, ‘Wow, this is cool,’ and then I found out it was a play. So I went to see the play . . . and I thought, this isn’t a play, this is a movie.”
— Director Kevin Reynolds, “The Constancy of Sorrow” by Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle

To say anymore would be plot spoiling: this is a film to be experienced and not by a review read. Everything works in this second, overly ambitious film by Kevin Reynolds — and foretells his directorial skills in pulling off the “Mad Max on the Water” effort of Waterworld, itself a film that languished in development hell since 1986 because no one knew how, or was confident enough, to make that liquid apoc’er, work. The Beast truly is a tour de force masterpiece in writing and directing, acting, set design and costuming. I loved Waterworld . . . but I love The Beast, even more. This is a repeat-viewing movie.

Nick — who inspired this review — is right: Criterion or Shout Factory! — or Arrow or Severin — need to reissue this on a DVD and Blu-ray proper, complete with commentary tracks from all concerned. For now, we did find one production insight from the film’s art director, Richard James, courtesy of his recent, July 2021 comment on the You Tube channel VOD upload of the film. Here’s his insights from July 2021:

“I was the art director on this movie. My focus was to build the interior of the [Israeli] T-55 [Tiran] Russian Tank. The goal was to make the interior so it could be filmed and to look like the real thing. The interior set had to function to meet requirements in the script, such as loading and firing the gun. The turret had to revolve 360 degrees. I was able to locate a shop manual of the tank. The tank interior set was suspended by metal framing, all sitting on a turn table; port holes allowed the camera to position itself perched also on turntable. The whole contraption had to be dismantled and shipped to Israel for the shooting location. The set was reassembled in a warehouse in Old Haifa, as [we] filmed in the desert. Even the studio suits didn’t know how [Kevin Reynolds] was able to accomplish his interior shots.”

In addition to Richard James, actor Jason Patric provides his insights on the production as part of the June 9, 2021, podcast of Ty & That Guy, hosted by producer Ty Franck and actor Wes Chatham of SyFy/Amazon’s The Expanse. The timestamp where you need to start to learn more about The Beast begins around the 39 minutes and 40 seconds mark and runs to the 51:00 minute mark. (Great find, Nick!)

You can stream The Beast on Tubi. For an ad-free experience, you can rent it from You Tube Movies. As a testament to the love of the film’s effectively shot action sequences: you can find several fan-cut clips on You Tube. (You’ve seen the film’s opening tank assault of the village in the 2001, better-distributed film, Megiddo: The Omega Code.)

* We did a week-long blow out on his films, which we recapped with our “Exploring: The 8 Films of Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures” featurette.

** To learn more about the politics behind the invasion, you can read an overview at The History Channel.com.

Reader input also resulted in our recent reviews of Peter Carpenter’s Vixen! (1968) and Love Me Like I Do (1970), Future-Kill (1985), and Robo Warriors (1996), god bless their VHS-pack rattin’ brains. Surf ’em up, if you can.

About the Authors: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies. A very special thanks to Nick Paticchio for his collaborative efforts in our exposing this incredible film to a wider audience. We got you, Mr. Mastrosimone. We got you.

Philippine War Week: The Expendables (1988)

Cirio H. Santiago is kinda royalty around these parts, what with his involvement in movies like TNT JacksonThe MuthersVampire Hookers, FirecrackerStrykerWheels of Fire, The SisterhoodDune Warriors and so many more movies.

Here, he takes the Dirty Dozen to Vietnam by way of the Philipines and hey look, there’s Vic Diaz!

Well, it all starts with Captain Rosello (Anthony Finetti) taking a platoon into combat but nearly everyone dying. In fact, no one wants to be in his command as nearly everyone dies under his watch. So they assign him the scumbags and misfits stuck in Nam as his next group of sacrificial lambs and, of course, none of them get along.

This team is hard-wired to not get along, what with a racist named Richter being forced to work alongside a black demolition expert, all while one is a pothead, one is the requisite mysterious Native Amerian and the other one is obsessed with God and says stuff like, “Thy will be done. In Vietnam as it is in Heaven.”

They capture Vic Diaz, lose a member and then bond at a brothel, which lands them in the brig, during which they get their big mission: they have to free their commanding officer and some nurses from NAV forces.

Trust me, not everyone is coming back alive.

Also released as Full Battle Gear, this movie blows up more huts than any other film you’ll see made in any other country. Plus, Don “The Dragon” Wilson shows up!

You can watch this on YouTube.

Philippine War Week: Nam Angels (1988)

This is not Nam’s Angels. It’s Nam Angels. That one was made in 1970 and was also known as The Losers. This one in the late 80s in the Philippines.

Lt. Vance Calhoun (Brad Johnson, who was a rodeo cowboy and former Marlboro Man who later was in AlwaysFlight of the Intruder and played Rayford Steele in the Left Behind movies) is a West Texas soldier with a lasso and a sawed-off shotgun who has taken on a dangerous rescue mission to get some POWs back from Vietnam. Luckily, he has five Hell’s Angels — Larger (Rick Dean, Tales from the Hood), Bonelli (Mark Venturini, Suicide from Return of the Living Dead!), Carmody (Jeff Griffith, The Sisterhood) and Turko (Romy Diaz) — who are ready to fight anyone, anywhere, even if Calhoun tells them they’re on a very different mission.

Vernon Wells plays — well, he’s Vernon Wells so you know he’s completely insane throughout — Chard, a guy who has gone all Heart of Darkness in Vietnam and encourages the villagers to kill everyone on every side of the battle. After all, they have gold to keep safe. That gold is what Calhoun tells the bikers they’re after, not a mission of mercy.

The theme song from this movie does not fit at all and that’s probably why I love it so much.

A Concorde Roger Corman release directed by Cirio H. Santiago, this movie will definitely do the job if you can’t find an Arnold, Chuck, JCVD or Stallone movie.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Philippine War Week: Delta Force Commando (1988)

Editor’s Note: Part-time contributor Robert Freese loves his Philippines War flicks as much as we do, so he contributed this review to our Mill Creek box set month of reviews back in February 2021. We’re reposting his review as part of our “Philippines War Week” tribute. And there’s an Easter Egg with this review!

An unnamed terrorist leads a team of mercenaries onto a United States military base in Puerto Rico to steal a nuclear weapon. Commando Lt. Tony Turner witnesses the gang’s getaway. His pregnant wife is killed in the crossfire.

Vowing vengeance for his murdered wife and unborn child, Turner immediately commandeers Delta Force pilot Capt. Samuel Beck’s Mercedes and directs him at gun point to follow the goons. From this moment forward, Turner and Beck follow the rebels to Nicaragua and senselessly blow up so much property there is little left for Col. Keitel and the Delta Force calvary to sift through when they finally catch up with the rogue commandos.

For me, Delta Force Commando is perfect Saturday afternoon entertainment. It is an excellent example of the kind of movies I would rent with my brothers on VHS and devour over the weekend. All the thrills we craved to burn through a lazy afternoon are delivered here by the truckload: non-stop action, the obligatory scene where the hero packs his duffle bag with weapons, torture with some wires and a Diehard car battery, multiple shootouts, hand to hand smack-downs, a scar-faced villain, throwing knife mayhem, sling-shot mayhem, crossbow mayhem, macho one-liners, bodies destroyed in meaty bullet hits and copious, glorious explosions. They blow up everything in this movie: cars, buses, jet fighters, helicopters, trucks, bodies, bridges, buildings… I lost count after forty-three explosions, and every last one of them was old school gunpowder and gasoline pyrotechnics, no doubt pulled off by a pyro-effects wizard, probably missing a finger or two.

Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (Black Caesar) as Beck and Bo Svenson (Walking Tall Part 2) as Keitel have their names above the title, but Brett Clark as Turner, is the real star of the film. Like Michael Sopkiw before him, and Richard Anthony Crenna after him, Clark was given the chance of headlining an Italian production made for the international film market in the hopes of becoming a superstar like Clint Eastwood. Clark will be instantly recognizable to you, but you might not know him by name. We’ve been watching him since he first played one of the Camp Mohawk basketball players in Meatballs. He made all kinds of daytime soap and movie appearances. He’s maybe best known for his role of Nick “The Dick” in the Tom Hanks comedy Bachelor Party. (And if you aren’t familiar with “Mr. Dick,” you just need to watch Bachelor Party.)

Mark Gregory essays the role of the unnamed bad guy. Gregory is probably best known for his portrayal of post-apocalyptic hero Trash in 1990: The Bronx Warriors and the sequel, Escape from the Bronx. Here he sports some scabby facial make-up, short hair and a never wavering maniacal smile. Of all his performances I’ve seen, this is the first time Gregory appears to really be having fun with his character.

Director Frank Valenti (a nod to former president of the MPAA Jack Valenti, perhaps?) is really Pierluigi Ciriaci. Long time Italian movie scholars don’t need me to tell them writer David Parker Jr. is really Dardano Sacchetti.

To understand my appreciation for this flick, you really have to understand the era in which it was made. The 80’s were an amazing time of every kind of movie getting made, many receiving a theatrical release and almost all of them eventually showing up on home video or cable. One hit would begat dozens of similar follow-ups, from all over the world. Delta Force Commando was one of the many films that came into creation thanks to the always in demand action movie market and the success of films like Rambo: First Blood Part II, Commando and Missing in Action.

These films would get made, usually on low budgets, have a few recognizable stars, lots of action and sell tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of videotapes to the vid stores across the country. When Vista released this film on VHS, it was in every neighborhood video shoppe, in the new release section, right there next to 1988’s Rambo III.

For me, Delta Force Commando is way more entertaining than Rambo III. Of the two, Rambo III has some stunning action sequences, yes, but the characters talk too much, there’s too much plot and story and worst yet, the movie has a “message.” On the other hand, Delta Force Commando doesn’t have a “message” to bog down the action, and we can just munch popcorn and cheer on Lt. Turner as he turns the men responsible for his pregnant wife’s death inside out.

I had the opportunity to ask Dardano Sacchetti about his involvement with this film, as it is a film in which not a lot seems to be known about it. He had this to say, “The Ciriaci brothers had a supermarket and an oven that made bread in a small town near Rome. The oldest was very rich and the youngest wanted to be a director. My agent told me they would pay well for my script. I talked to them and they ended up making films from three of my scripts, but they did not come up roses. I only did it for the money, which turned out not to be very much, in a cloud of cigarette smoke and lots of Vodka.”

As far as the similarity of this title with a Cannon release around the same time, Sacchetti offers, “I believe my Delta Force was written a few months before the American one with Chuck Norris.”

When you’re in the mood for just watching a couple old-school guys blow up a lot of stuff in the name of vengeance, Delta Force Commando is a perfect pick.

What the . . . Sam “The Bossman” Pacino also reviewed Delta Force Commando for our “Mark Gregory Week” back in September 2018? Let’s roll his take!

I thought that I had watched every Mark Gregory movie there was. I’d made it through 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Escape from the Bronx, Adam and Eve vs. the Cannibals and even Thunder. But now you’re telling me that he’s playing a terrorist who goes up against Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson in a movie written by Dardano Sacchetti (Zombi, The House by the Cemetery, The BeyondBlastfighterDemonsDemons 2Hands of Steel)? Holy shit, it’s like getting a Christmas gift months after the holiday is over!

Latin American revolutionaries — led by Mark Gregory, who still hasn’t learned how to walk properly but has cut his hair — invade a military base on Puerto Rico, steal a nuclear bomb and kill Lt. Tony Turner’s (sure, Brett Baxter Clark was in Teen Witch, but he’s also the gardener who sexes up Harlee McBride in the Cinemax After Dark classic Young Lady Chatterley II) pregnant wife.

Lt. Tony decides to steal a jet and its pilot: Captain Beck, played by Fred “the Hammer” Williamson! They follow the terrorists back home, take them out and almost die when the weapons are due to go off. Funny story — it was just a training weapon and a story to get the U.S. media excited about the Delta Force again.

Your enjoyment of this film is based around how much you enjoy seeing Mark Gregory loopily walk around with a nuclear weapon on his back and Fred Williamson wiping out an entire army while dropping one liners like, “Hey, this beautiful brown body’s got a lot of living left to do, pal!” This is a movie that has a puke grenade. This is a movie that has Fred driving a bus while a helicopter shoots at it point blank. Me? All in.

Good news. Not is this movie amazingly and ridiculously awesome, there’s a sequel. And you can watch both of them for free at Amazon Prime or buy them at Revok.

Yep. That’s how much we love Mark Gregory and Philippine War flicks. Two reviews in one.

Philippine War Week: Raiders of the Magic Ivory (1988)

And you thought, after two Teddy “Chiu” Page flicks with Romano Kristoff and Jim Gaines back to back in one day — Black Fire and Jungle Rats — we were doing another one? Gotcha!

As with Kristoff and Gaines, Jim Mitchum — the eldest son of Robert Mitchum (Thunder Road) and older brother to Chris Mitchum (who did his own share of Philippine-schlock with Aftershock, SFX Retaliator, and The Serpent Warriors) — jumped into the Sulu Sea as his career cooled off into a series of Phillipine-based actioners to close out his career. Jim was best known to U.S. audiences for starring in the theatrical inspiration to TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard, Moonrunners (1975). But you’re part of the B&S crowd, right? So you know Jim Mitchum best for his work alongside Richard “Captain Apollo” Hatch and Daniel “Paco Querak” Greene (know your ’80s apoc anti-heroes) in Sergio Martino’s Beyond Kilimanjaro: Across the River of Blood (1990). (Check out our “Ten Sergio Martino Films” featurette.)

Jim Mitchum’s co-star, Christopher Ahrens, is our (well, moi) “Michael Sopkiw,” if you will. Sopkiw made it through four movies before hangin’ up the clap board (2012: After the Fall of New York will get you started): Ahrens also stuck around for four leading-man roles: Raiders of the Magic Ivory being his debut, along with (Do we love this movie or what?) his role as Samuel Fuller in Bruno Mattei’s Shocking Dark (1989), third-stringing with Dirk “Starbuck” Benedict and Ted McGinley (from friggin’ Happy Days?) in the Top Gun-cum-Blue Thunder smash-up Blue Tornado (1991), and Beyond Justice (1991) with Rutger Hauer. As with Mr. Sopkiw and Mark “Trash” Gregory: we wished Aherns stuck around for more flicks. (If I had the money of a producer, I’d pull all three out of retirement and make an action movie . . . but I digress in my fanboy-dom.)

Now . . . before we get to the plot, we must discuss the all-too-brief directing career of Tonino Ricci and his bastard pup of Jaws-ness that is Night of the Sharks. Yes, even Treat Williams, who’s a really fine actor in his own right, when needing a paycheck, can be suckered into the ripoffness of the Spanish and Italian film industries. (See, now I’m the guy who, if I had the chance to interview Treat, I’d could give two shites about Hair; I’d go straight to Night of the Sharks with my first question.) Across his 22 credits, Tony R. gave us a couple of underwater adventures with Cave of the Sharks, aka Bermuda: Cave of the Sharks (1978) and yep, more Atlantis-shenanigans with Encounters of (in) the Deep (1979). And since we’re in Namsploitation territory: the one, two, three precursor Rambo-punch of Bruno Minniti as Rush in Rush, (1983), its sequels, A Man Called Rage and Days of Hell (1986). (Yeah, I know Big M’s character name-changes from Rush to Rage to Williamson . . . and the first two are technically post-apocs, while the third is in set modern-day Afghanistan, but if you watch the movies . . . hey, don’t argue the point with me: they’re “Rambo” “sequels,” so let it go.)

Does the fact that I’m the only person you know that’s seen seven Tonino Ricci films in my ’80s VHS travels concern you? That I’m the only person you know — maybe besides Sam the Boss at B&S (I doubt it, though) — that’s seen more than one Bruno Minniti film? And that I’d add Bruno to my own “Expendables” knockoff with Sopkiw, Gregory, and Aherns?

It should. Be very afraid.

Yeah, yeah. I know. The plot.

Oh, yeah. We know that this is an Italian production shot in the Dominican Republic — but the jungle Rambo-ness is oh, so Filipino. And besides, for all of our favorite B&S actors: when the Italians stop calling, you head to the South Seas.

Anyway, a Chinese businessman contracts Mitchum and Aherns’s mercenaries — for a cool and easy $250 K — to find that ubiquitous magic trinket that everyone seems to be after in these films, in this case: a rare ivory tablet lost in the deep jungles of North Vietnam. So, yes . . . we’ve just smushed our Raiders of the Lost Ark peanut butter into a bar of Namsploitation chocolate. Now, before you say “piranha” or “sharks” are swimmin’ around the treasure: this time we’ve got still-fighting-the-war Vietnamese soldiers, cannibalistic monks, and witch doctors. For the life of me, I don’t know, nor care, if this is set during or after ‘Nam. I just want action. So what’s with all the contemplating and yakity-yak? Friggin’ kill somebody already.

So what’s the dealo with the tablet?

The “evil” Lee Chang — like Lo Pan in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China — will be cursed for the next 2,000 years, or something, without it. (Of course: he’s a lying bastard with something up his sleeve.) And we need a damsel, and, just like with the cute Chantal Mansfield in Black Fire (reviewed this week) sticking around for only one movie, we have a kidnapped Clarissa Mendez in need of rescue from a black magic jungle cult. (POOF! Clarissa’s gone.) And, for that Rambo pinch: there’s LOTS of explosions and guns with a ridiculous, never-ending-supply of bullets. (There’s so many one-film-and-they’re-gone actresses in these Filipino films . . . did they give away film roles as prizes in Philippine modeling contests or beauty pageants? Crazy!)

So, yeah. It’s just a whole lot of bad-of-everything encased in better-than-the-movie-cover art that screams: RENT ME. And, back in the 5-5-5 days of home video stores and .49 cents Phar-Mor rentals, I gobbled up as much of it as I could. Seriously, how can you pass up a movie that gives the term “everything and the kitchen sink” new meaning?

And you can gobble it up for yourself on You Tube. Or — after reading my near 1,000 word dissertation (about 800 more words than it deserves) — watch the minute-long version.

The hilarious, ingenious minute-long edit of the film would be embedded here . . . if You Tube didn’t delete the user’s account before we went to press. Sorry you missed it.

About the Author: You can find R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Philippine War Week: Jungle Rats (1988)

Logline: The American army sets up a special force unit to free three American officers who were captured by the Vietcong in Vietnam in 1968.

Yeah, Lt. Colonel Kilgore may love the smell of napalm in the morning: Me? I love loglines that reek of Rambo: First Blood Part II.

General Douglas Corad (Chattanooga, Tennessee-born Mike Monty, who you see in a LOT of Philippine action and horror films) heads up a reconnaissance team through the jungle border. They’re ambushed. Corad and a few of his surviving men are taken captive and imprisoned by the Vietcong. The Americans assemble a “magnificent five” to rescue the General: Romano “Rom” Kristoff (of Teddy Page’s Ninja Warriors with Ron Marchini and Ten Zan: The Ultimate Mission with B&S About Movies all-star, Mark Gregory) is Lieutenant John Smith leading the unit. Rom’s second-in-command is Jim Gaines — also the screenwriter here; also the writer and star of Black Fire that we reviewed this week — is his sergeant-at-arms, Pete “Killer” Rayo.

Yeah, that looks like Sly on the right . . . but why does the dude on the left look like Reb Brown?

There’s not much more to be said about the plot as there really isn’t one: one solider gets captured, others go in for the rescue, they slop through the enemy’s tunnel system, they’ll blow themselves up with a grenade to kill as many ‘Gong as possible to save their buddies, and they mow down Vietgong with an endless rain of bullets with aplomb. Oh, and one solider has to be crazy (Jim Gaines) so you can work in a sympathetic angle with the other soldiers appalled at their freedom-fighting comrade raping an innocent Vietgong woman.

The whole point of these Filipino war flicks is action. And displaced martial artists like Spain’s champion Romano “Rom” Kristoff and director Teddy “Chiu” Page, who burned through 40-plus of these Pacific actioners as an Assistant Director and Director between 1983 and 2001, always made these mindless, VHS Namsploitationers a hell of a lot of fun as we waited between our Stallone flicks.

No teaser trailer, but you can watch the full movie on You Tube.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Philippine War Week: Just a Damn Solder (1988)

Editor’s Note: This review ran on September 13, 2018. We’ve brought it back for our “Philippines War Week” tribute.

Before Dr. Strange was in big time movies, he was in TV movies. There, he was played by Peter Hooten. Why am I telling you this? Because Pete is here to star with our man Mark Gregory today in Just a Damn Soldier.

The story here is that Hooten’s character gets together his mercenary pals to steal some gold from a bad guy and sell it to the Afghan rebels that would one day become the Taliban because his girlfriend was killed by the Russians. That Taliban part is me editorializing. It’s also totally true.

Ferdinando Baldi is back in the chair for this one, as he must have had a deal to create every Mark Gregory commando style movie. Also: Mark gets shot in the knee, limps and is fine by the very next scene.

You should do what I do. Shoot roman candles at the TV while drunk, screaming Mark Gregory’s name over and over while savoring every second of this film. You can watch it for free at Amazon Video!