JESS FRANCO MONTH: Dark Mission: Flowers of Evil (1988)

CIA agent Derek Carpenter (Christopher Mitchum) has been sent to Lima by his boss Lieutenant Sparks (Richard Harrison) to stop drug dealer and one-time Castro supporter Luis Morel (Christopher Lee). He meets up with Moira (Brigitte Lahaie), a woman who wants revenge on Morel for killing her husband, and falls for Linda (Christina Higueras), Morell’s daughter who has no idea that her father is a major drug dealing criminal.

Supposedly, Lee asked Jess Franco if this was going to be another porn movie he got him into — to be fair, the last time that happened it was softcore and I still refuse to believe that one-time supposed master spy Lee was fooled by Jess — and once he was assured there wasn’t even a nude scene, all was fine.

Eurocine paid Franco to make movies that weren’t Franco movies or at least the ones he liked making. But he made money on these and I know, as someone that punches a clock, just how essential that is. You can’t pay your mortgage with the respect of snide Internet film lovers thirty years in the future, after all.

That said, Lee is, as always, wonderful and if you can’t deal with watching Brigitte Lahaie shooting a machine gun from the hip to erase just how wooden Chris Mitchum is, you haven’t built the calluses to watch Eurocine’s films just yet.

Hallucinations (1988)

As you watch this movie, keep in mind that twin brothers named Mark and John Polonia and their friend Todd Michael Smith were around seventeen. This movie is exactly the sheer mania that is inside the mind of a child about it be a man, as the three guys are all brothers in this, stuck at home as their mom is working multiple shifts just in time for a horrific monk to move in next door and destroy their fragile brains.

Todd is reading a book about Herschell Gordon Lewis. John is calling a sex line, because that’s what guys did in 1988 when there was no world wide web in the way we know it now. Mark is out shoveling snow. And then stuff gets absolutely bonkers: John craps out a blade that also castrates him; Mark ties up Todd and caresses his skin with a razor blade and, again, castration; John takes a shower — there’s no Hollywood attempt at hiding the male nudity — when a homemade — yet raw as fuck — penis monster assaults him. Also: an elf pisses in Mark’s face.

Man, what were these kids on? High on camcorders? This movie is filled with latent fear of post-puberty becoming a man and leaving the nest. And man, like all SOV, you get to be a psychiatrist, because there’s some definite trauma at the idea of homosexuality becoming a normal part of your life.  I have no idea if they intended this but even if not it’s all here on tape, stomach explosions, masked killers and authentic 80s beige haze everywhere.

You could gather all of Hollywood, give them all of the money and they would never make a movie this great. Or weird. Or with so much dick.

Some of this movie was remade into Splatter Farm, the movie the Polonias were at one time best known for, as well as the actual remake of this movie, Lethal Nightmare.

You can watch this on Tubi.

The Killing Edge (1988)

Unlike many of the shot on videos featured on the site the last few days, The Killing Edge was directed by someone who had made several films, Lindsay Shonteff. One of his first films was 1964’s Devil Doll, but he may be best-known for a series of James Bond remix remake ripoff movies that started with Licensed to Kill and continued to include Spy StoryNo. 1 of the Secret ServiceLicensed to Love and Kill and Number One Gun. He also made The Million Eyes of SumuruPermissiveNight After Night After Night and as budgets lowered in the mid 80s, he started shooting on video. Beyond this movie, he also made the video giallo Lipstick and Blood.

Working from a script by Robert Bauer (who also wrote Shonteff’s Vietnam movie How Sleep the Brave), this is the story of a man — Bill French (Steve Johnson) — wandering the post-apocalyptic wastelands with only a stuffed teddy bear as he searches for his family, who he finds just in time for them to be killed by robotic Terminators, which is why this was released in West Germany as Killing Edge – Super Gau Terminator.

They are not robots. This is not exciting. In fact, it seems like it was made up while it was being made, just like many shot on video projects. The difference is, again, Shonteff who at one point was someone who made actual films.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Droid (1988)

Droid is a science fiction movie created by British director Peter Williams, who is really adult film director Philip O’Toole, because this movie is really a re-edited version of the 1987 film Cabaret Sin, a movie in which sex is outlawed except inside the Pleasure Dome, where it is performed live for those who can afford to attend. In other words, it’s Cafe Flesh.

Yet the film that has emerged from the VHS porn wasteland and become a Blade Runner post-apocalyptic movie that you didn’t have to walk through those adult saloon doors to rent. It takes place in Los Angeles, in 2020, and yes, the future is not now.

The world is policed by cops known as Eliminators who are battling the fascist Droid Warriors and their leader Azteca (Lorrie Lovett). Once, those Droids were simply servants and now, more and more, they are breaking free from their programming. The protagonist of this remix is Taylor (Greg Derek), who has a Droid of his own named Rochester (Kevin James, not the comedian) who sounds like a certain protocol droid and looks like a robot from Sleeper or a visitor from V. All Taylor cares about is his ex-wife Nicola (Krista Lane, billed here as Rebecca Lynn), who has been brought into the war and is being charged with stealing a digital decoder to help the Eliminators.

Yet all Taylor seems to do is sit at that club and watch people couple up, like Herschel Savage, Bunny Bleu (if you’re amazed that I knew who she was instantly, well, you didn’t grow up in the late 80s and early 90s), Candie Evans, Kristara Barrington, Keisha and Tom Byron, who is listed as dancer #3.

This is a movie that has a geisha having on-stage sex with a samurai warrior while a man has a ventriloquist doll on his shoulder like some demented bird as a Reformer android with glowing red eyes looks all menacing and fog is everywhere and neon and cigarette smoke and this is what I thought strip clubs would look like and have been forever let down that robots and synth didn’t dominate things, just women trying to make some money off as sad men drink and aggressive bros toss crumpled up dollar bills in furtive gestures of not understanding that they are not truly in control.

THX-1169 is such a better name for this movie.

There are the cheapest Blade Runner cars in this and I love them so much. I’m a fan of movies that in no way need to have science fiction in them, like Obsession: A Taste for Fear, and that makes me want more needless tech and so much fog in everything. When you think of 1988 in the adult world, everyone wanted to be the Dark Brothers or Stephen Sayadian and that wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

At the center of the end of the world movies, Naziploitation, smut without smut, Phillip K. Dick and when pornographers saw art within their industry and thought, “Anyone can make Night Dreams or New Wave Hookers” and totally made strange inferior junk like Party Doll-A-Go-Go (am I outing myself or what? I mean, at least that movie has Tianna, Raven and Madison Stone in it), not to mention Star Wars xerox cinema, off the rack futuristic costumes and fog, glorious rolling fog, you will find Droid.

My Lovely Burnt Brother and His Squashed Brain (1988)

Directed by Giovanni Arduino and Andrea Lioy, this Italian SOV* movie has a great title that there’s no way that it can live up to.

Bernie has been burnt up from being hit by a drunk driver so he remains high as much as possible and hides his injuries under a white Klan hood because the car was black. His receptionist sister Jenny, who everyone thinks is ugly but in no way looks that way, abuses him by repeatedly kicking him in the ballbag before injecting him with her urine, which gives her mental power over him. I think you have to pay for that kind of treatment.

There’s also a garage band called The Sick Rose that plays throughout the movie as Bernie kills everyone who has been tormenting his sister. I’m still trying to figure out the punk rock cop whose dad was a banana peel falling for cowboy.

It does have someone getting their face jammed into a meat slicer and several people cutting off their own dicks and then eating them. In case you wondered why I’m not the kind of reviewer who gets to be on Criterion blu rays and a talking head on Shudder shows, it’s because there’s no call for someone to discuss the best self-castration scenes in SOV movies.

I mean, regular Italian exploitation horror has scenes of eyeballs being destroyed, drill presses through people’s heads and people literally puking their guts out. Actually all of those things happen in City of the Living Dead. Just imagine how much more disgusting Italian filmmakers who aren’t really filmmakers are. That said, just imagine how many long stretches there are of this film there are where absolutely nothing happens.

*I get this was shot on Super 8 but you know what I mean when it comes to the quality. I know that I’ll get at least one letter if I don’t have this disclaimer.

 

Streets of Death (1988)

Jeff Hathcock also made Victims!Night Ripper! and Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshell. This time around, he takes us to the worst parts of Los Angeles where sex workers are being murders and the cops keep fumbling around in the dark. Bernie Navarre (Simon de Soto) and Grant Jordan (Lawrence Scott) get help from undercover officer Kelly Anderson (Susanne Smith) who acts as one of the ladies of the night to draw out the killers, who end up being Artie Benson (Larry Thomas, no soup for you) and Lenny Miller (Guy Ecker). Their gimmick is to pretend to be making a movie and then film each kill.

Then Bernie’s former partner, Frank Phillips (Tommy Kirk, a former Mousketeer) comes in the picture and decides that he needs back on the force. As Kirk said to Filmfax, “The film had some problems…. I played a cop who has been kicked off the force because he was a drunk and had accidentally killed somebody. But he wanted to be back on the force, to be a cop again, so he goes off on his own and tries to solve this string of serial killings in the Los Angeles suburbs… That picture was a good example of a case of good intentions.”

This is a movie packed with grime that really gets into the darkness of its killers and then mixes in dialogue like a hooker saying, “Why don’t we discuss this over a cock tail? Your cock, my tail.” Mix that in with a death by power drill and you have a movie that attempts to be an erotic thriller on a budget, shot on video yet feeling very procedural all the same. This would pair nicely with L.A. AIDS Jabber if you want to really delve into the City of Angels shot on video tracking filled darkness.

Half Past Midnight (1988)

EDITOR’S NOTE: For another article on this, click here. There’s also an interview with director Wim Venk on the site.

Wim Venk only made six movies — including PandoraDanse MacabreHeaven Is Only In Hell and this one — but man, this movie is something else. It starts in a very ordinary way, as Debbie (Angelique Viesee) is relentlessly treated like utter garbage by the other girls and even a teacher (Ad Kleingeld) that seems sympathetic just wants to roughly take her on her teenage twin bed.

Is it any wonder that the girls all conspire to spray Debbie in the face with hairspray and then laugh as she’s hit by a truck? Well, that’s taking it far. And taking it too far would be gyrating atop her and taking photographs of the grisly carnage. Want it to get even worse? While she struggles in the ICU, a nurse who just ends up being the mother of one of the popular girls injects her in the eye with poison like a SOV Dead and Buried.

Debi arises and goes on a campaign of terror like a telekinetic-less Carrie, using a chainsaw and the pounding beats of composer Rob Orlemans to take twenty-five minutes of torment and finally have it up to here and then unleash pure traumatic hatred on everyone who has ever done her wrong. It’s also in Dutch and everyone speaks stilted English which only serves to make it all that much more foreign.

I love seeing this through decades of tape erosion and tracking between each piece of action as the synth beats my help into pulp. It’s not magic, but it’s quite close.

You can download this from the Internet Archive and watch it on YouTube. There’s even a making of on altohippiegabber’s page.

KINO LORBER BLU RAY RELEASE: Missing In Action: Trilogy (1985, 1985, 1988)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve featured these amazing Cannon movies before, but Kino Lorber has put out an incredible box set of blu ray discs featuring newly remastered in 4K and 2K versions of each film., as well as audio commentary for Missing in Action with director Joseph Zito, moderated by filmmaker Michael Felsher; an interview with Missing In Action screenwriter James Bruner; new commentary of Missing In Action 2 by director Lance Hool, moderated by historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer; new commentary for Braddock: Missing In Action by action film historians Mike Leeder and Arne Venema; and trailers for all three movies. You can buy the box set from Kino Lorber or each film individually: Missing In ActionMissing In Action 2 and Braddock: Missing In Action.


Missing In Action (1984): Once upon a time, the story goes that James Cameron wrote a treatment for Rambo: First Blood Part II and everyone in Hollywood wanted to make it. The people that wanted to make it the most were our beloved friends at Cannon, who somehow rushed this out two months before Stallone’s character returned to rescue the POWs still left behind.

Cannon may have not been at the level of working with a star of Stallone’s calibre — and pricetag — as of yet, but they would be.

As for star Chuck Norris, he was approached to make the film by Lance Hool and the idea of making a movie that redeemed American soldiers in Vietnam spoke to him, as his brother Wieland died during the conflict. “Vietnam was a tragic mistake. If you don’t want to win the battle, don’t get involved,” said Norris.

Hool and Norris took the project to Cannon Films, who liked the project, and seeing as how they already had a similar script in development, they signed Norris to be in not one, but two movies. Except that the movie intended to be the first movie, the Hool-directed version, ended up being the prequel, released under the confusing title of Missing in Action 2: The Beginning.

But man, talk about stacking the deck. The film that was the sequel that became the first movie — welcome to the world of Cannon — was directed by Joseph Zito, who mastered the slasher genre between The Prowler and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter before making this as well as the perhaps even better — or wilder — Invasion U.S.A. and Red Scorpion.

This movie is everything Cannon in one film, outside of hiring someone like John Cassavetes to direct it or Norman Mailer to write it.

Colonel James Braddock (Norris) is a US military officer who spent seven long years in a North Vietnamese POW camp — if you want to see that, watch Missing in Action 2: The Beginning — a place that he somehow escaped a decade ago. Against the objections of Senator Maxwell Porter, he joins a government team that has come to meet Vietnamese officials in Ho Chi Minh City about the existence of still-living American POWs.

I love that Braddock has no time for the normal action hero cliches of romance. When he’s invited by Ann Fitzgerald (Lenore Kasdorf, Amityville Dollhouse) up to her room for a nightcap, she feigns mock indignation as he strips down, thinking that she’s about to get some of that sweet Chuck Norris karate directly below her belt. She turns and sees him dressed in full black commando gear, ready to climb out her window and start doing some work.

In order to get the dirt he needs on General Vinh (Ernie Ortega) and General Tran (James Hong, always a welcome actor in any movie), he must go into Thailand and recruit his old buddy Jack “Tuck” Tucker (M. Emmet Walsh), who has become the king of the black market. Then, Chuck does what Chuck does, including blowing up more of the Phillippines than ten other movies shot there and the famous moment when Chuck rises from the water holding a M60 machine gun and blowing gigantic holes in nearly everyone.

“One of the biggest thrills of my life came when I went to a theatre to see Missing in Action, and all the people stood up and applauded at the end. That’s when my character brings some POWs he’s just rescued to a conference in Saigon, where the politicians are saying there aren’t any more prisoners of war,” said Chuck. And you know, more than thirty years later, as I watch this movie on my couch, I shouted in pure joy out loud and I’m pretty much so left wing that I’ve become right and then left again.

Such is the magic that is Chuck Norris.

You can learn more about all of the Missing In Action movies in Austin Trunick’s The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984.

You can listen to The Cannon Canon podcast about this movie here.

Missing In Action 2: The Beginning (1985): Only with Cannon can you have the sequel be the prequel when it was supposed to be the first movie. The Joseph Zito-made Missing In Action was considered to be the better of the two movies, so this one was turned into the second movie, but everything worked out pretty OK.

This was directed by Lance Hool, who sold the script to Chuck Norris, who was looking for a movie to pay tribute to his brother Wieland, who had died in Vietnam. They took the script to Cannon, who had a Vietnam POW movie in development, so that’s how we got two movies so quickly. Also, I’m amazed that Vietnam movies were impossible to make in Hollywood before Stallone and Norris changed everything.

Years before he freed US POWs in the first film, Colonel James Braddock (Chuck Norris was tortured in a North Vietnamese POW by Colonel Yin (Soon-Teck Oh, who was also in Good Guys Wear Black). He and his fellow soldiers have been forced to grow opium and if they want to be released, Braddock has to confess to war crimes. I mean, it’s Chuck Norris. Do you think he’s going to do that?

Yet that’s exactly what Captain David Nester (Steven Williams, X from The X-Files) believes should happen and he’s joined the side of the enemy as they subject the Americans to torture like guns being shoved in their faces and fired with no bullets. Then, after a fight that Braddock beats Nestor in, he gets a live rat dropped in a bag covering his face while they tell him that his wife thinks he’s dead and has remarried.

That’s also not a fake rat.

Then, to add even more pain, Braddock exchanges an admission of guilt to Yin’s charges of war crimes in order to get medicine for Franklin, a soldier with malaria. Yin overdoses the soldier with opium and burns him in front of Braddock, who escapes from the camp and — as you can imagine — murders every single other soldier, which includes pro wrestler Professor Toru Tanaka.

This came out three months after the first movie but still made $11 million at the box office.

For more info on all three Missing In Action movies, get Austin Trunick’s The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984.

You can listen to The Cannon Canon episode about Missing In Action 2: The Beginning here.

Braddock: Missing In Action 3 (1988): Directed by Chuck’s brother Aaron and this time, Norris is Colonel James Braddock all over again, but we’ve discovered that his wife Lin Tan Cang (Miki Kim) isn’t dead, a fact that Reverend Polanski (Yehuda Efroni, Cannon utility fielder) imparts his way. And there’s another surprise. He has a 12-year-old son, Van Tan Cang (Roland Harrah III).

Don’t get used to having a wife Braddock.

Before you can say “Cannon pictures,” Vietnamese General Quoc (Aki Aleong) kills Lin and has his soldiers take Braddock and Van to be tortured.

The real co-star of this movie is Chuck’s Heckler & Koch G3 with grenade launcher and shooting bayonet. While Chuck used to base his movies on Reader’s Digest, this time he was looking to 20/20 for material.

This was supposed to be directed by Joe Zito, then Jack Smight, but after all the creative differences, it all worked out with Aaron. Chuck told reporters that “It’s probably the best movie I’ve ever done.”

Sadly, a Philipines Air Force helicopter used in this film crashed into Manila Bay, an accident that killed four soldiers and wounded five other people on the same day that the verdict from Twilight Zone: The Movie case was delivered in Los Angeles Superior Court.

This may not live up to the first two films, but it’s still pretty entertaining. Sadly, Cannon was in so much financial trouble that they couldn’t even afford to publicize it, which nearly caused Norris to sue the company.

For more info on all three Missing In Action movies, get Austin Trunick’s The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984.

You can listen to The Cannon Canon episode about this film, click here.

DISMEMBERCEMBER: Scrooged (1988)

Man, did Richard Donner have a great directing career or what? The OmenSuperman, the Lethal Weapon movies, The GooniesLadyhawke…man, I’m a big fan. He brings a lot to Scrooged, which has a great script by Mitch Glazer, who wrote the book for The Blues Brothers as Miami Mitch, as well as Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video, which he co-wrote with the other screenwriter for this movie — and one of my personal heroes — Michael O’Donoghue. Beyond being the first person to say, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” O’Donoghue was a major force at the National Lampoon and a cantankerous venom-spewing force of nature

O’Donoghue refused to write for Jim Henson’s Muppets on SNL, saying “I won’t write for felt,” eventually left the show and came back for the Dick Ebersol season, spray painting DANGER! on the walls, frightening everyone except for Eddie Murphy — Catherine O’Hara left and went back to SCTV — and wrote the never-aired “The Last Days in Silverman’s Bunker,” a sketch that would last twenty minutes, feature John Belushi as NBC President Silverman and have an NBC Nazi logo. He was fired, then rehired when Lorne Michaels came back and wrote a monologue for Chevy Chase that started with “Right after I stopped doing cocaine, I turned into a giant garden slug, and, for the life of me, I don’t know why.” He then told the New York Times that the show was “an embarrassment. It’s like watching old men die” and got fired yet again.

He hated this movie.

He claimed that he wrote a better one.

It’s still a pretty good movie.

Michael O’Donoghue remains an inspiration because nothing was ever good enough and everyone was worthy of his anger.

Bill Murray is Frank Cross, the first role he took since taking four years off after Ghostbusters. Murray and Donner had different visions, so Murray saw this movie as sheer misery. He’s an IBC television executive who has learned everything from his bosses Preston Rhinelander (Robert Mitchum) and the late Lew Hayward (John Forsythe) and as such, he’s created a new version of A Christmas Carol that has a commercial hyping it so upsetting that a woman dies from a heart attack. But hey — Buddy Hackett as Scrooge!

This is a movie that recreates that very same story but somehow does it with some of my favorite personalities, like David Johansen as the cab-driving Ghost of Christmas Past, Carol Kane as the brutal Ghost of Christmas Present and a horrifying Ghost of Christmas Future made up of a Grim Reaper containing TV screens.

Plus Karen Allen, Michael J. Pollard, John Glover (one of my favorites in everything he’s acted in), Murray boys Brian, John and Joel, John Houseman, Bobcat Goldthwait, Mary Lou Retton, Pat McCormick, Paul Schaffer, David Sanborn, Jamie Farr, the Solid Gold Dancers, Lee Majors (The Night the Reindeer Died is amazing and he’s carrying the actual gun from Predator), Robert Goulet, Miles Davis and Larry Carlton.

The end of the film, where Frank has his moment of clarity, was hard for Murray to figure out, so he ad-libbed all of it. Glazer and O’Donoghue thought he was having a nervous breakdown and as the crew cheered the end of the scene, O’Donoghue said, “What was that? The Jim Jones hour?” Donner punched him in the arm so hard he was bruised for a week.

O’Donoghue later said that Donner did not understand comedy and just wanted things bigger. He claims only 40% of what he wanted is in the movie. Murray would later tell Roger Ebert “That could have been a really, really great movie. The script was so good. He kept telling me to do things louder, louder, louder. I think he was deaf.”

You know who didn’t like this movie? David Johansen’s New York Dolls bandmate Arthur “Killer” Kane. According to Rolling Stone, “Around 20 years ago original New York dolls bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane was watching TV when the 1988 Bill Murray Christmas movie Scrooged came on. The sight of Dolls frontman David Johansen in a prominent role sent Kane into such a jealous rage that he beat his wife with cat furniture and then jumped out of a third-story window, attempting to kill himself. Luckily, he landed on an awning and survived with minor injuries. While recuperating in the hospital he saw an ad for a free copy of the Book of Mormon. When a couple of beautiful young women personally brought it over, he was ready to convert. Within a few years the Mormon Church had completely transformed his life — he even worked at the church’s Family History Library Center in Los Angeles. In 2004 his dream of a New York Dolls reunion finally came true, but just three weeks after their comeback show he died of leukemia.”

The real Scrooges were Paramount Pictures executives who demanded that this movie shoot over Christmas. Donner beat them by firing the entire cast and crew at the end of the day on Christmas Eve and rehiring them on the day after the holiday.

I miss the anarchic spirit of Murray and O’Donoghue on Saturday Night Live. Somehow, I’d never seen this until this year and it made me miss the show I used to love.

A CHRISTMAS STORY: Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss (1988)

This Jean Shepherd story isn’t about a holiday but is about summer vacations. But first, work. Ralphie (Jerry O’Connell), Flick (Cameron Johann) and Schwartz (Ross Eldridge) are working a horrific first career at Scott’s Used Furniture Palace — run by a character played by Shepherd — while dreaming of having a few days off. Before that, the family dog Fuzzhead (Shepherd’s real life dog Daphne) goes missing and ends up living in a mansion.

The trip to get to the trailer park of the title is described in the words of Shepherd as a journey “beset on all sides by strange creatures, the lost mariner searches and searches, in the Sargasso sea of life.”

James Sikking, who plays The Old Man, is also in The Night God Screamed, which is pretty awesome casting. Mom is played by Dorothy Lyman, who depending on when you watched TV was a pretty big deal. For those who watched soaps in the afternoon, she was on a ton of soap operas, including A World ApartThe Edge of Night, as Gwen Parrish Frame on Another World, Rebecca Whitmore on Generations, Bonnie Roberts on The Bold and the Beautiful and most importantly, she was Opal Sue Gardner on All My Children. If you watched TV at night, you knew her as Naomi, the daughter-in-law on Mama’s Family.

Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss was co-producted by Disney, public TV’s American Playhouse and Boston public TV station WGBH. While funded by Disney, they had nothing to do with production. After airing on their channel, it moved to public television.

This was the last film Shepherd made for television. He wanted to turn his stories into a series, but by 1988, he was making from the reruns and home video sales from A Christmas Story and decided to make another movie. That would be 1994’s It Runs in the Family: My Summer Story or as it is better remembered today, A Summer Story.

You can watch this on YouTube.