Zipang (1990)

Jigoku is a samurai outlaw with a bounty on his head that Zatoichi, Cyrano de Bergerac and Yuri the Pistol is out to collect. Except she’s the one who nearly catches him. And then he falls in love with her. And he has a bigger thing than saving his head on his mind. He’s looking for a golden sword that’s inside a cave. It’s more than a weapon. It’s the key to Zipang, the city of gold ruled by the love-hating Golden King, who has a woman trapped in an ice cave. And her lover has been released when the sword was freed. And oh yeah, there’s also an army of blue ninjas who want to steal the golden sword.

If you’re confused, don’t worry. Zipang packs a lot in a short time. And then throws in lots more.

Have you ever played Kabuki: Quantum Fighter on the old NES? Then you know this movie, even if you didn’t know it, because it was the Americanized tie-in game for a movie that would never be released in the West.

As he kills nearly 150 people (146, if you want to know), Jigoku discusses his nine swords, even if we don’t see all of them. He’s got a samurai sword, a sword that shoots its blade, one that has two blades, a really long samurai sword and even one with a spinning top on it.

Director and writer Kaizô Hayashi also made To Sleep As to Dream, another movie that is just as delightfully strange as this. Sure, you can watch this as a swords versus ninjas treasure hunting movie, but there are deep themes inside, like wondering what love is and the dangers of only caring for things. Also, for some reason, everyone looks like they’re wearing street fashion and we have no idea where in time or space this is all happening.

This is a film with human-sized kites, ninjas with high tech goggles, mechanical claws and guns, as well as monsters, a friendly baby elephant, a samurai who knows how to use a rocket launcher and so much joy in every frame that you just can’t believe it’s happening.

I read a review on Letterboxd where someone said it was too long and kind of boring and I wonder why that person hates magic so much.

You can download this from the Internet Archive.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Before the internet, geeks like me read the Comics Buyer’s Guide Magazine — I devoured every tabloid-sized issue — and learned what new books were worth reading. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, created originally as a joke sketch of a turtle with nunchucks by Kevin Eastman and named “teenage mutant” by Peter Laird, was a black and white comic packed with violence that hit the cultural zeitgeist of the late 80s. It hit all the trends of comics, like the teenage angst of X-Men and Teen Titans along with the ninjas of Daredevil. In fact, the same canister of radioactive material that gave Matt Murdock his radar sense is what turned four baby turtles into Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Raphael.

Who knew that a few years later, they’d be the biggest cartoon and toy around?

In 1990, the movie came out and yes, it has a lot of the kid elements of the cartoon like the love of pizza, April O’Neil (Judith Hoag) being a reporter and how Michaelangelo behaves like a surfer dude. But so much of the film comes directly from the first issue of the comic. And it has martial arts in its soul, as it was produced by Golden Harvest.

Every major studio turned down distributing it, including Walt Disney Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, MGM/UA, Orion Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Paramount and Warner Bros. before New Line took a chance. It paid off, as its $32 million was the second highest opening weekend at the time — behind Batman — and ended up being the ninth biggest movie of 1990.

The complicated turtle costumes took 18 weeks each to be created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Henson said that the creatures were the most advanced that he had ever worked on. But they work — you really start to believe in the characters more than you do in the later CGI efforts.

The film begins with the four Turtles — Leonardo (Brian Tochi, Revenge of the NerdsPolice Academy 3 and 4), Raphael (Josh Pais), Donatello (pop culture force Corey Feldman) and Michelangelo (Robbie Rist, Cousin Oliver) — working for the sewers and the shadows to protect New York City — but actually North Carolina — and saving the life of April.

Leo is closest to their sensei Splinter (former Elmo Kevin Clash), Don is the inventor, Mike is the partier and Raph is filled with rage, which finds him battling street vigilante Casey Jones (Elias Koteas).

Above I just listed the voices, but it took so many talents to bring the characters to life.

Inside the Leonardo suit was David Forman, an Olympic tumbler and stuntman, with Martin P. Robinson controlling the face. He is also Mr. Snuffleupagus and designed, built and played Audrey II for Little Shop of Horrors. Leif Tilden was Donatello; he also performed several characters on Henson’s Dinosaurs show. He was supplemented by Ernie Reyes Jr. for martial arts scenes, skateboarder Reggie Barnes for skate scenes and facial movements by David Rudman. Michaelangelo was Broadway performer Michelan Sisti with facial movements by Mak Wilson. Raphael was the only Turtle performed by his voice actor, Josh Pais, with David Greenaway doing the facial animation and Kenn Troum did the fighting scenes. Splinter was puppeteered by Clash, who also did his voice, with Rickey Boyd did the face animation and movement was assisted by Robert Tygner.

The Turtles are in battle against a ninja clan known as The Foot — Daredevil fought The Hand — which is led by Oroku Saki, known as the Shredder (James Saito), the man who killed Splinter’s master Tatsu. Yes, the “radical rat” used to watch his master do karate and picked it up. When he found the four mutated baby turtles in the sewer, he saved them and taught them how to become ninja.

The Foot Clan has some major actors in its employ. Look for Sam Rockwell as an unmasked member and Skeet Ulrich and Scott Wolf under hoods.

In the UK and Germany, this movie was known as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles and the violence is toned down. Also, Mike’s nunchaku aren’t shown, as that weapon always gets censored. The German version goes even further to add cartoon sound effects to all of the fight scenes.

This was directed by Steve Barron (who also made Electric DreamsConeheads and the music videos for “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, “Take On Me” by a-ha and “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League) and written by Bobby Herbeck, who had the original idea of making the movie, and Todd W. Langen, who did a Page One rewrite of the original script.

Sally Menke, who edited all of Quentin Tarantino’s movies until her death in 2010, was the original editor of this film, removed by Golden Harvest who didn’t like her work. Weird, huh?

Trust me, I was a big fan. I bought every single Playmates toy, had all the comics and watched every episode of the show, but my heart was in the original black and white comics. That’s why I love the first film, because while made kid-friendly, it still has so much of that look and feel.

Bonus: Here is some artwork I did based on this movie.

VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: The Fourth War (1990)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the April 18, 2023 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here

Colonel Jack Knowles (Roy Scheider) is a tough soldier awarded for his bravery in Vietnam.

Colonel Valachev (Jürgen Prochnow) is the same way, but on the other side of the West German-Czechoslovakia border.

These two men are an asset at war but a liability in peacetime.

They may just drag everyone into World War 3.

Based on the Einstein quote, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones,” this movie finds Knowles butting heads with his superiors Lieutenant Colonel Clark (Tim Reid) and General Hackworth (Harry Dean Stanton) when he isn’t getting blind drunk — on J&B no less and no, this is not a giallo — when he isn’t crossing the border and sabotaging Russian bases.

By the end, the two men battle in hand-to-hand combat on a frozen lake with their countries’ armies on both sides ready to unleash mutually assured destruction. The fight was so realistic that Scheider cracked one of his ribs and Prochnow popped out his knee.

The Fourth War was directed by John Frankenheimer from a script by Kenneth Ross, both of whom were anti-war, and hated the name given to the film as well as other possible titles like Game of Honor and Face Off.

This is the second Scheider and Frankenheimer film for Cannon after 52 Pick-Up. It’s funny because when you hear the storyline — an American soldier and his Russian counterpart yearn for war as they stare at one another across the border — you could imagine that as a Cannon movie this should star Stallone and Lundgren — if it were a higher budget option — or Chuck Norris and Richard Lynch — if it were a regular Cannon budget. I could go on and dream Cannon cast this further, such as Bronson and Wings Hauser or Michael Dudikoff and Billy Drago.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College (1990)

Directed by John Carl Buechler, who did the special effects for the Ghoulies series and also directed Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood and Cellar Dweller, this has the ghoulies being called to a college by Professor Ragnar (Kevin McCarthy, who never ever phones it in; he’s out of control in this) when he uses a Satanic comic book. He’s angry that all his students care about is a prank war and decides to destroy them, even becoming a human-sized ghoulie at the end.

This has Matthew Labyorteaux’s brother Patrick, Kane Hodder, Griffin O’Neal, Eva La Rue (Natalia Boa Vista from CSI: Miami), Hope Marie Carlton (Taryn from the Andy Sidaris movies), Jason Scott Lee and an early role for Matthew Lillard. It feels like when the Toxic Avenger went from absolute insanity to being a cartoon. If you were around for 80s made for video movies, well, you know the ride. Even Freddy got a doll.

I don’t like that the ghoulies can talk. We don’t need that.

Then again, I do like the one with the backward baseball cap and kind of wish that these movies were bigger than they are so I could have an action figure of him.

You can watch this on Tubi.

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Skinned Alive (1990)

April 23: Regional Horror — A regional horror movie. Here’s a list if you need an idea.

Director, writer and editor Jon Killough made this cheap — and I mean that with kindness — film about a family led by Crawdaddy (Mary Jackson, yes, Evelyn from Terror House) that makes leather goods from the skins of the people they murder. Her kids, Violet (Susan Rothacker) and Phink (Scott Spiegel) are just as crazy as she is. And man, Spiegel is swinging for the upper decks with his scene chewing. But that and the goofy humor made this fun for me.

This was produced by J.R. Bookwalter, whose Tempe Video released many a small town film years ago. I’ve read so many reviews online that outright disliked this movie to the point I wondered if it did something to their mother. I mean, you’ve seen worse. But you have also seen better.

You can watch this on Tubi.

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout (1990)

April 22: Terror Vision — Write about a movie released by Terror Vision. Here’s the list.

This was originally on the site on October 29, 2022.

In case you ever wonder what life is for and why you’re here and get depressed or anxious, worry not. You live in the reality that produced Linnea Quigley and whatever made this all should be thanked. I’m not really religious but if I were to ever start a church, it would probably be one where we all watched this video and just stared at the tracking lines growing around this VHS wonder, a workout tape punctuated by jokes, zombies and synth. I mean, if you want to believe in God, just stare into the eyes of Linnea Quigley, listen to her bubbly voice and watch her kick here legs over her head while working out in a studded bra.

Ken Hall, who directed and wrote this, also made Evil Spawn and The Halfway House. He also made creatures for CrittersGhoulies, the Bio-Monster in BiohazardCarnosaur, the creatures in Willy’s Wonderland and wrote Dr. Alien and Nightmare Sisters. He’s not in the Criterion Collection but belongs somewhere more important, in the video store shelves of our wildest and fondest dreams.

Nobody watches this to work out. I mean, what other exercise video has its host murder every single other woman in it and then threaten you for jerking off to her films? I mean, this starts with a shower scene and ends with Linnea cooking human parts while dressed in lingerie that Frederick’s of Hollywood would say is too ridiculous.

Linnea shot this in her parent’s house and man, if you don’t love her after that, what is wrong with you? Get this NOW from Terror Vision.

You can also get the soundtrack on LP or cassette.

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: La verdad de la lucha (1990)

April 6: Viva Mexico — Pick a movie from Mexico and escribir acerca de por qué es tan increíble.

One of my favorite sites is Luchablog. There’s nobody else in America that does a better job of keeping you up on lucha libre — Mexican pro wrestling — as The Cubs Fan. I was intrigued that he had an article about the magazine Lucha Libre that started publishing a series of articles about “La verdad de la lucha” or “The truth of lucha.”

With May 29, 166’s issue 136, magazine director Valente Perez broke kayfabe and revealed that all lucha libre fights were predetermined and why that was a good thing, as it was a unique Mexican art form and even theater. He came up with the word Los Maestros to explain the best wrestlers in the sport and how they could tell a story and make fights look violent yet safe.

Perez also claimed that the first falls of the traditional lucha three fall matches were competitive real matches to test the wrestlers while the rest was for the fans, as real matches aren’t as exciting. He felt that the primera caída, or first fall, was essential as it proved who was a real wrestler.

He also had no issue calling El Santo a paper idol who had too many injuries and who would be better off just sticking to making movies.

In these articles, Perez referred to Mil Mascaras as a pistolero or a strong guy — or speak the American language of wrestling, a hooker or shooter — who can do whatever he wants to anyone he wants to do it to in a match.

And Mil Mascaras is both the star and co-writer of this movie, which is filled with some of the biggest names in lucha as of 1990: Pirata Morgan, Scorpio, Fishman, Enrique Vera, Hombre Bala, Solar (a true maestro who is still wrestling today!), Atlantis (so young in this movie!), Herodes, Cacique Mara, Gory Medina, Baby Face, El Greco, Ray Mendoza and his son Villano V, Príncipe Judas, Rafaga Azul, Tamba the Flying Elephant, El Verdugo, Nahur Kaliff, Blue Panther, Andy Barrow and Piloto Suicida. Thanks Luchawiki!

It’s the story of two wrestlers — Sergio Roca (Dragón I) who is played by Eduardo Liñán in the acting scenes and Mascaras in the ring and Joel Aguilar (Dragón II) who Mascaras’ brother Dos Caras in action — as well as their sons Jorge Roca (Hijo de Dragón I) who is Dos Caras and Guido Aguilar (Guido el Magnífico or Hijo de Dragón II) who is El Hombre Bala and los rudos El Manotas (Cacique Mara) and El Indio Navajas (El Greco).

There’s also a heel role for Noé Murayama, an actor born in Japan who came to Mexico with his dentist father and the rest of his family. He was in more than 160 movies, including Blue Demon contra Cerebros Infernales and, perhaps most famously in the U.S. thanks to the recent Vinegar Syndrome release, El Violador Infernal.

Directed by Fernando Durán Rojas and written by Carlos Valdemar (Zindy the Swamp BoyGuyana: Cult of the Damned) from a story by Mascaras, La verdad de lucha libre has a story of several generations off luchadors, as well as what it takes to get to the main event. It ends with Dos Caras watching from a wheelchair at ringside as his brother wins a match that’s more important than just a title.

This movie shows the very human side of being a pro wrestler (as well as the faces of several of the wrestlers, briefly, which is still a major thing in Mexico where wrestlers keep their identity a secret). Whether you love Mexican film or lucha — especially the history of the sport and art form — this is worth your time.

You can watch this on YouTube.

MILL CREEK BLU RAY RELEASE: Problem Child (1990)

Before he directed Happy Gilmore; Brain Donors; Beverly Hills NinjaSaving Silverman; Big DaddyThe Benchwarmers; I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry; You Don’t Mess with the Zohan; Grown Ups; Just Go with ItLove, Weddings and Other DisastersJack and Jill and Grown Ups 2, Dennis Dugan was an actor, appearing as Captain Freedom on Hill Street Blues and being in everything from The Girl Most Likely To and Night Call Nurses to She’s Having a Baby and Parenthood.

The first movie he directed was Problem Child and you know, I totally came in cynically and found myself laughing at loud at several moments.

Ben Healy Jr. (John Ritter) lives a miserable existence. His father (Jack Warden) runs his life at work at the sporting goods store and only cares about running for mayor. What little existence he has at home is dominated by his wife Flo (Amy Yasbeck). All he wants is to give and receive love, dreaming of having a child, which ends up happening when Igor Peabody (Gilbert Gottfried) introduces him to Junior (Michael Oliver).

Igor has sold Junior as a perfect angel but that’s because he wants him out of the orphanage, as the title of this movie will tell you exactly the kind of person he is. In the first few minutes of the movie, we learn that Junior is pen pals with serial killer “The Bow-Tie Killer” Martin Beck (Michael Richards) and in the first day he’s in his new house, he breaks the cat’s legs when he sends his grandfather tumbling down the steps.

Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed WoodDolemite Is My Name) had read a newspaper article where a couple learned their new adopted child had been brought back to the orphanage ten times. That sounds like a story of pure sadness, but they decided to make a comedy where Junior has been brought back thirty times.

Where the laughs came in for me is that this movie has no issues with going too far. A birthday party is ruined with explosives and that’s followed by Junior hitting every single player on the opposing baseball team in the balls to win the game. Maybe I was in the right mood, but I found myself laughing harder than I have in some time. I know it’s not the kind of movie that any critic in his right mind would enjoy. Luckily, I am not that critic. This is somehow a PG comedy that is as black as it gets, a movie where a woman cheats on her husband with a serial killer and debates murdering their adopted kid and yet, somehow, it’s actually hilarious.

Problem Child was a big enough movie to get two sequels and an animated series, as well as a Turkish remake, remix ripoff called Zipcikti. It’s also the movie that Max Cady loves beyond all human deceny in Cape Fear.

Perhaps the most lasting legacy of Problem Child is that this movie is where Ritter and Yasbeck met. They were married in 1999 until his way too early death in 2003.

My favorite thing about this movie are all the hints that Junior may very well be Satan. If you watch it with that in mind, it’s even funnier.

You can buy this Mill Creek retro blu ray from Deep Discount.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Countdown to Esmeralda Bay (1990)

If anyone else made this movie, one would say it looked cheap. But man, this is a slick looking Jess Franco movie and I say that with love. He even had star power that he hadn’t had since the early 70s, if you consider Robert Forster — and Robert Foster, I mean Antonio Mayans — as well as George Kennedy, Ramon Estevez, Silvia Tortosa, Craig Hill and Brett Halsey stars. I definitely do.

A Eurocine film written by Franco, Daniel Lesoeur and H.L. Rostaine, this takes place in the country of Puerto Santo, which has Estevez and Halsey as rebels who get guns from Kennedy and President Ramos leading the country with the help of the military power of Madero, who is played by Forster. Meanwhile, the American government wants to be involved, so they place some of their CIA agents into this firecracker of geopolitics.

I wondered, “Is this a Jess Franco movie?” And then, in the middle of a somewhat fancy kitchen, appeared Lina Romay and I literally yelled her name out audibly. I’m weird, what can I say?

This movie helped me answer a question I have had for some time. Who would win between George Kennedy and a helicopter?

You can watch this on Tubi.

MVD BLU RAY RELEASE: Men At Work (1990)

Carl Taylor and James St. James (Charlie Sheen and his brother Emilio Estevez, who directed and wrote this) dream of owning a surfboard store but for now they’re picking up trash. The thing is, if they kept at this job — and this is old me and not young me who saw this back in 1990 — they’d have great benefits and a pension and just about be ready to retire by now.

Their boss wants them fired for the way they behave, so he brings on his brother-in-law Louis (Keith David) to catch them breaking the rules, except he’s part of their hijinks when they find the body of city councilman Jack Berger (Darrell Lawson) in the trash, the same man that Carl shot at with a pellet rifle when he saw him treat his neighbor Susan (Leslie Hope) rough.

Before you know it, they’re involved in a scheme that got the councilman killed as Maxwell Potterdam III (John Getz) is planning on dumping toxic waste all over their beloved beach. He sends his goons Frost (Geoffrey Blake) and Mario (John Lavachielli) after them, plus the guys also have to stay one step ahead of two bullying cops, Mike (John Putch) and Jeff (Tommy Hinkley).

Emilio said of this film, “For me to be able to do a movie where saving the environment is the underlying theme is the greatest contribution I can make, I think. More people are going to see what I’m doing in a film and be educated through entertainment than if I show up at a rally. I’m working on putting the causes I think we need to address into my work and into the projects I choose.”

I was struck by how charming he is in this, just like everything else he’s done. His career hasn’t had the same popularity as it did in the late 80s, but he took some time off and has come back to produce, direct and appear in a few projects since 2018 and has come back to play one of his most famous roles, Coach Gordon Bombay, in the series The Mighty Ducks: Gamechangers.

As for Charlie, well, you know how that went.

The brothers would also star in another movie Emilio directed, Rated X, the story of the Mitchell Brothers.

You can get this on blu ray from MVD.