This sequel-but-its-not-a-sequel to Robot Jox — marketed in the overseas markets as Robot Jox 2: Crash and Burn — unlike its predecessor, foregone a U.S. theatrical release and went straight-to-video. As with Roger Corman creating Forbidden World and Space Raiders for the sole purpose of not so much to tell a compelling story, but to maximize his $5 million dollar investment in Battle Beyond the Starsby recycling that dopey Star Wars cash-in’s sets and special effects, Crash and Burn recycles the impressive Dave Allen and Ron Cobb stop-motion animated robots from Robot Jox. Just don’t hit the big red streaming button with the expectations of another anime-mech battle of the robots: at its core, Crash and Burn slaps a sci-fi coat of paint on the plot of Friday the 13th, with that film’s supernatural, woodsy killer, replaced by a James Cameron-inspired, unstoppable, synthetic desert killer.
To make sense of this new, its-not-a-sequel Band-verse: Let’s assume that the post-fifty years-after-the-nuclear war new order created by the two, new world superpowers from the Robot Jox timeline — the Common Market and the Confederation — suffered an economic collapse. That, coupled with the world ravaged by the greenhouse effect and an out-of-control sun creating “Thermal Storms,” allowed for the rise of the powerful Unicom Corporation controlling the world’s marketplace. Blaming the economic instability and collapse on the world’s technological dependency, Unicom banned all human usage of computers and robots. (In this new-verse, the mech-robots were develop for mining operations.)
While we have a pinch of The Terminator here, you’ll also notice an Orwellian pinch of the influential, “ancient future” novel, 1984, with scattered pockets of citizenry operating the “Independent Liberty Union,” a loose resistance movement in authoritarian opposition. One of the last free-speech strongholds against the corporate rule is a battered, over-the-air Public Access television station housed in an abandoned industrial facility, operated by Union sympathizer Lathan Hooks (Ralph Waite of TV’s The Waltons), a one time media executive who moonlights as a revolutionary. And, in a pinch from Alien — if you remember that the Weyland-Yutani Corporation infiltrated the Nostromo’s human crew with a cyborg to harvest alien eggs — Unicom manages to plant Quinn (a great Bill Mosley of Dead Air), a Sythnoid-cyborg operative (he’s the station’s Chief Engineer) among the station’s staff to kill Hooks and shutdown the station.
Keep your eyes open for the great work by a familiar cast of characters actors: John David Chandler of Drag Racer is a scruffy-creepy gas station owner; ubiquitous TV and film character actor Jack McGee (Brad Pitt’s Moneyball) is a slobbering talk show host; Megan Ward of Encino Man is Waite’s granddaughter and studio engineer; a perfectly-stoic-for-the-role Paul Ganus is very good in an early role (and one of his few leading-man roles) as Tyson Keen, a Unicom fuel courier who takes up the with TV station-based rebels after his departure is waylaid by a thermal storm.
For a Charles Band production-edict patched together by producer David DeCoteau (Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama) with a script by J.S Cardone (The Slayer, Outside Ozona), the production quality is high (courtesy of Band’s inventive repurposing of a rusted processing plant that reminds of Ravagerssimilar against-the-budget architectural redeployment). In addition, the acting on all quarters is solid, Band’s direction is tight and suspenseful, and Cardone crafted an interesting “ancient future” by way of convincing techno-speak and a well-fleshed sociopolitical backstory for a nicely-layered twist to its Alien-cum-Terminator-cum-Friday the 13th plotting. And while the Dave Allen 120-foot robot we came for doesn’t show up until the last throes of the third act, Cardone and Band earn bonus points for — instead of putting the words “July 2030” on the screen to advance the plot, they made a sensible, creative choice to have John Davis Chandler’s character swat a fly that lands on a dated calendar. And, instead of a text scroll or voiceovers (the bane of my screenwriting existence), they have Ganus’s Unicom courier watch Waite’s newscast on a television in the gas station to get us up-to-speed as to “the future” of Crash and Burn. (And since this is all in the Full Moon family: Ted Nicolaou, the director of the studio’s Bad Channels, The Dungeonmaster, Subspecies, TerrorVision and The Dungeonmaster, serves as the editor, here.)
All in all, Crash and Burn isn’t a bad Full Moon flick; it’s one that rates right up there with their vampire variant Subspecies as one of the studio’s best. Well, okay the sci-fi’ers Arena and, especially, the space westerns Oblivion and its even better sequel, Oblivion 2: Backlash, are pretty cool shots from the Full Moon canons, too.
There’s a couple alternatives to owning your own copy of Crash and Burn. Of course, used VHS tapes are bountiful in the online marketplace, with the first DVD version released in 2000 by Full Moon. Then, under the “Charles Band DVD Collection” box set, it was reissued in 2006 with other Full Moon titles. The most recent reissue is a 2011 double-feature DVD with the third, loose sequel, Robot Wars.
You can enjoy Crash and Burn as a free with-ads-stream on Tubi. And look for our reviews of Robot Jox and Robot Wars, this week.
We love David A. Prior around here. Of course, you know that already, as we drop his name a lot around the digitized pages of B&S About Movies. And we like to kid David A. Prior a lot around here, too. But it’s out of respect. Which is why, even though Sam the Boss already took a crack at Future Force and Future Zone during our past post-apoc excursions, we’re reviewing them both with a second, fresh take, for this new apoc week.
In the coming months, we’re rolling out a week-long tribute to ’80s SOV films, and David A. Prior is on the list with his infamous film debut, Sledgehammer (1983), which starred his bodybuilding and ex-Chippendale’s dancing brother, Ted. And from that humble, shot-on-video beginning, David A. came to incorporate AIP — Action International Pictures — with David Winters and Peter Yuval. Winters’s own humble beginnings began with Thrashin’; after being overruled on a casting decision (Josh Brolin instead of Johnny Depp), Winters vowed to make movies on his own, without studio interference. Then he gave us Space Mutiny . . . so, maybe it pays to have studio interference.
Ah, but we’re here to praise the ’90s-VHS resume of David A. Prior, a resume that would require two tribute weeks to review the joint Prior brothers’ resume. What we have reviewed is the spa ‘n blades romp Killer Workout and the Filipino actioners Firehead, The Final Sanction, and Silencer. And while Prior didn’t direct them, his Action International Pictures, which later rebranded as West Side Studios after David Winters bought out his partners, also gave us the holiday horror Elves, the apoc-slop of Phoenix the Warrior, and the exploitation zombie mess Zombie Death House.
And that brings us to the Mad Maxian one-two punch of the post-apoc adventures of John Tucker — he of the flying, remote controlled robot arm-cum-glove. Seriously. John can either slip on the glove to kick apoc-ass . . . or use a remote control on his belt to fly said robo-glove out of its toolbox home to zip around and punch out the bad guys. Oh, and it can shoot lasers and take out an errant helicopter. So there’s that.
Anyway — one year earlier, in the far-flung year of 2020 — things haven’t got so bad to be Mad Maxian, but bad enough to be Robocopian. But, since this is a low-budget apocalypse, the world of John Tucker is just down the street from the also not-the-Main Force Patrol apoc-shenanigans of Ron Marchini’s John Travis in Omega Cop (1990) and Karate Cop (1991). (And, to add to the confusion, David Carradine cameos in Karate Cop.) And since we don’t have the budget for full-blown Robocop body armor or Road Warrior body leathers, our cops wear sleeveless denim vests with “Special Police” and “COPS” patches on their chest.
And if it all sounds like the same movie . . . it probably is. And none of it — regardless of the vests — is very heavy metal.
This time, our merry band of law officers are a civilian bounty hunter-based organization known as C.O.P.S, aka Civilian Operated Police Systems. Our intrepid John Tucker (David Carradine) is a bitter, washed up drunk roamin’ the mean streets of Los Angeles who’s more interested in dispatching justice — like Judge Dredd — than collecting bounties in his pocket. Of course, as in Robocop, the police force is corrupt and a reporter — a female reporter, natch — has the proof. (So, yeah, we’re pinchin’ Stallone’s Cobra, too.) And now the C.O.P.S are out to stop the duo from exposing the corruption. Oh, and Tucker’s only ally is Billy (the 260-plus credits strong D.C Douglas; six new films in production), a computer genius with a spiffy wheelchair. Oh, and the chief baddy that gets his ass robo-gloved kicked is Robert Tessier from Burt Reynolds’s The Longest Yard — but since this is B&S: The Glory Stompers, The Velvet Vampire, and Chief Thor in Starcrash, just to name a few of Robert’s B-Movie delights.
So, we’ve ripped off Mad Max and mixed it with Robocop. And tossed in some Cobra and Ron Keel. What’s left to rip: The Terminator . . . or more like Charles Band’s Trancers — didn’t that have time travel and see an overseas release as Future Cop? — since there’s no way this movie can afford a James Cameron cyborg, well, at least not a borg that extends beyond the right forearm. And John Tucker ain’t no Jack Deth. And neither is a Snake Plissken. But Plissken was packing a 1998-era, mission-critical Kraco audio cassette tape and a laser-sighted revolver. And Tucker has a robo-arm. So who is kicking whose ass around Los Angeles: David A. Prior, for at least he came up with a techno-trinket and didn’t have Tucker packing Carpenter’s “future” audio cassettes.
Anyway, this time, the C.O.P.S will stop John Tucker . . . so they think. Tucker’s son, Billy (Ted Prior) — and not the same Billy from Future Force — travels back in time to 1990 to stop his dad’s murder. Oh, and save Tucker’s wife — and Billy’s mom — from kidnappers. And that’s pretty much it. The glove kicks ass. There’s explosions. Turned over cars. Oh, and requisite baddie soldier-cop Charles Napier (best known in the mainstream, celluloid throes as CIA officer Marshall Murdock in Rambo: First Blood Part II) and Jackson Bostwick, TV’s original Captain Marvel from the ’70s Saturday morning Shazam! TV series, beef up the cast.
So, which is better and which is worse? Opinions vary. Can you make it through both and figure it out for yourself? Well, what do you expect from a law enforcement agency that spends their money on a fleet of un-Mad Maxian Jeep Cherokees with remote control doors — then blows their remaining operational budget on robo-gloves that flash an “OK” and Devil’s Horn” signs after its remote ass-kickings?
For no one thought to rent the repurposed Death Race 2000 Calamity Jane from Claudio Fragasso used in Interzone or Scorpion’s bubble-topped Camaro from Enzo G. Castellari’s Warriors of the Wasteland. And speaking of Trancers and cars . . . Band’s future cop romp repurposed the Spinner from Bladerunner, which was also repurposed in Solar Crisis (1990) and Soldier (1998). Come on, Mr. Prior, a fleet of Jeep Cherokees will save our future? Could you be more cheapjack? Okay, so don’t rent out the Spinner. Could you have at least attempted a flashy, MFP-styled paint job on the jeeps? And . . . hey . . . wait a sec . . . are those the same Jeep Cherokees from the earlier adventures of John Travis in Omega Cop(y) and Karate Cop(y)?
You’ve got four chances to tough out the John Tucker-verse: Tubi offers the RiffTrax’s versions of Future Force and Future Zone. If you’re a purist — like moi — you can watch the un-riffed VHS rips on You Tube for Future Force and Future Zone. And no, while David Carradine stars in the similarly-titled Crime Zone, that’s a whole other zone unto itself — courtesy of Roger Corman’s Concorde Productions. The same goes for Carradine’s brush with Cirio H. Santiago in Kill Zone from 1993 (which we need to put on the to-review list, Sam).
And since we mentioned Ron Keel and are in a musical mood: The resident damsel-in-distress in Future Zone, aka Ms. and Ma Tucker, is Gail Jensen, aka, Ms. David Carradine. The Carradines married in Rome in 1988 during the filming of the Italian-British co-production of the Terence Young-directed sports drama, Run for Your Life, aka, Marathon. Now, if the name Terence Young is familiar to you spy flick junkies . . . yes, Young is the director behind the early Bond classics Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), and Thunderball(1965). (We could do a theme week on Young’s resume; we haven’t reviewed many of his films, but we did take a look at his box office bomb, Inchon.)
Anyway, back to Gail Jensen.
While Jensen acted (she made her debut in a 1974 episode of TV’s popular cop-procedural, McCloud, and had a support role in the ’80s slasher Don’t Answer the Phone) and helped co-produce David’s later films, she was primary known as a musician and songwriter. Her credits include the songs “Walk the Floor” and “Hello Heartbreak” — both sung by David — and “History Hall” and “Shot Full of You Love” — both sung by Gail — for Larry Cohen’s Maniac Cop. Her biggest success as a songwriter was the Lee Majors-sung “Unknown Stuntman,” which she co-wrote with Glen Larson and Dave Somerville (Larson were both members of — but not at the same time — The Four Preps; Somerville went onto greater fame with the ’50s vocal quartet, The Diamonds). Jensen also wrote the 1977 single “Prairie Dog Blues” for McCloud actor Dennis Weaver. (You can also check out David Carradine’s songwriting and singing with “Divining Rod” featured in Roadside Prophets.)
Unfortunately, when you Google Gail Jensen to learn more about her music career, all links lead to her disclosure of David Carradine’s kinky sex proclivities, which led to his death. For the curiosity seekers of the dark side of Hollywood, you can learn more about the legal fallout of David’s — and eventually Gail’s — deaths via the IMDb’s news section on Gail Jensen.
Personally, I much rather know more about her music career — which Hollywood seems to have swept under the rug.
Postscript: David A. Prior dipped his toes into the post-apoc pool again — with Brigette Nielsen in tow — with Hostile Environment, aka Watership Warrior (1999), concerned with the ol’ rebels and tainted water supply gag. Wondering if Dave A. brought back the flyin’ robot forearm? So are we. We wanted to review it this week, because, well, another David A. Prior flick on the site is a good thing — really. Sadly, there’s no online streams — or trailer, not even clips — for us to review and share with you.
We originally reviewed this film on March 10, 2020, as part of Mill Creek’s Explosive Cinema set. But since Mill Creek is a recycling-green DVD distributor, we’re going to review it one more time. Which is two more reviews than this Z-grade Lethal Weapon rip (I’d even blame some Road House inspiration) from Crown International, deserves. No wonder the studio imprint went under, right? And the award for “Worst Poster Art of a Crown Flick” goes to . . . they just stopped trying. And we just kept on renting this junk because, well, the cover is so bad. So, we wondered, “How bad is the film inside?”
It’s ALWAYS worse . . . and it looks like it was shot in the Drive-In ’70s during Crown’s heydays and not in a post-cable TV world . . . regardless of Leonard Maltin claiming that Top Cop was the “best erotic thriller of 1990.”
Surely, you jest, Lenny.
Lenny-boy must have confused this with another movie. Perhaps Arnie’s Kindergarten Cop. More than likely one of Len’s many ghost writers and editors behind the film compendiums he “writes” got sick of Len’s ego-shite and decided to screw with him. An “erotic thriller” is well, the pinnacle of those would be Basic Instinct . . . and Top Cop isn’t even CLOSE to that level in its filmmaking or “erotica.” Or Kindergarden Cop. Or Raw Deal. Or Commando. Maybe if Top Cop was made in L.A. by any studio other than Crown? Well, we can’t blame Crown, as it seems they only distributed it and didn’t bank it. And Rondo placed this on our home video shelves. Oh, the joy . . . and the pain.
So, our intrepid Vic Malone, the “Top Cop” of the title, loses his partner to a drug kingpin. And Malone goes “scorched earth” on said kingpin and his minions. And if the cover doesn’t give it away: our “Top Cop” is top heavy — with a case of Type-2 diabetes for desert. For Malone has none of Dr. James Dalton’s rips and none of that Martin Riggs swagger: he’s almost a Mike Biggs from Mike and Molly. (In real life, the actor behind Vic Malone is an ex-Marine. But I forget if that fact was worked into the plot. Not that it matters to the story. Oh, and Mike Bass, who plays one of said drug kinpin’s heavies, played ball for the Washington Redskins.)
Anyway . . . Malone risks his life. He’s saves women. He blows up stuff and rattles off rounds of bullets — and in the usual “ensues” rat-a-tat-tat you’d expect from a low-budget action flick from Crown International. And one set in Arkansas, on top of that.
This was the first directing effort from Mark L. Maness who got his start at 10 years old with an 8mm movie camera he received for Christmas; he then moved on to work for ESPN and Fox Sports Net network. And those Walmart commercials from back in the day: Mark made those.
So, has anyone seen Mark’s films Birthrite (2008) or It Knows (2018)? Neither have we, especially It Knows, which is a low-budget horror (with a decent poster; that he wrote and directed) and we usually get screeners o’ plenty for that genre sent to the B&S cubicle farm. And Maness is still rockin’ the Canon Red, as he has a new flick in production, Ohio (2021). Yeah, we’re interested in seeing that, as it is cool to see these under-the-radar low-budget purveyors still pumpin’ the tiger blood and winning at the foot of Mount Lee.
However, is the writer on this, Helen P. Pollins, still “winning” the tiger blood sweepstakes? Huh? A woman wrote this? Yeah, we thinks that be an alias of the Ellen Cabot-is-really-David DeCoteau variety.
Our star — and stunt coordinator, associate producer and special effects artist, here — Stephen P. Sides, well, this is his show. So we are guessing he’s the “Helen” of these proceedings. He also produced the vanity flicks Blood Forest (2009) and Step Away from the Stone (2010). There’s another one — that he didn’t act in, but produced and did all the stunts — called Too Scared to Laugh (1989). Onr of the common denominator actors in those films is Todd Tongen, who went on to become an ABC-TV news anchor affiliate for WPLG/Miami. So, if you’re from South Florida and only knew Todd as news anchor, here’s your chance to see him thespin’ it up as the dopey brother of a drug kingpin.
Look, a self-financed, shoestring run to be the next “Bruce Willis” isn’t going to be good. But one thing Top Cop isn’t: boring (well, it is, but). The serviceable, cliched action just keeps on comin’ at ya. But does it “come at ya” as good as The Patriot and the Leo Fong two-fer of Low Blow and Killpoint (which also all appear on the Explosive Cinema set; the Patriot also pops up on B-Movie Blast)? Nope, but it’s as good as The Silencer, which has it’s own issues, but also keep the Z-gradeness of the Lethal Weapon-Die Hard variety comin’ at yah.
Eh, it’s something different that you’ve never seen before to watch to burn off some downtime. And you’ll never see this on the all-reality-and-repeats of cable, right? So stream it on You Tube.
Eh, better you watch the other “set in Arkansas” (or was it Georgia) Michael Sopkiw action fest that is Blastfighter. For the ‘Sop is god here at B&S.
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.
Ron Underwood has had a pretty good directing career, with this as his first film, although he was an AD on Tourist Trap. His career is all over the place genre-wise, with City Slickers, Hearts and Souls and Mighty Joe Young doing well before The Adventures of Pluto Nash failed. He’s since done well in TV, directing episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Boston Legal and Fear the Walking Dead. And, like nearly every horror director from the 80’s, he’s put out several holiday movies such as Santa Baby, The Year Without a Santa Claus and Holiday In Handcuffs.
Valentine “Val” McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) are sick of life in Perfection, Nevada. They decide to leave town for Bixby, the closest big city, but are stopped when they find the body of Edgar Deems up in a tower, dead from dehydration. Before you know it, they’re under assault by gigantic worms called Graboids and working with seismology student Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter, How I Got Into College) and survivalists Burt and Heather (Michael Gross and Reba McEntire) to figure out how to survive.
There’s a great supporting cast on hand, like John Carpenter stock actor Victor Wong as a general store owner, Bobby Jacoby, Ariana Richards (who battled even bigger creatures in two Jurassic Park movies and the third sequel to this series, too), Charlotte Stewart (Mary X in Eraserhead and Bettie Briggs on Twin Peaks) and Bibi Besch (The Pack, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).
This movie did just OK in theaters before becoming a rental and cable success. It was such a big deal that it has since become an entire series of films, including 1996’s Tremors 2: Aftershocks (Fred Ward came back, as does Michael Gross), 2001’s Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (Gross stays on and Ariana Richards comes back) and the 2004 prequel Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, which is set in 1889 and has Gross playing the role of Hiram Gummer, Burt’s great grandfather. These films were all made by the original creative team of Underwood, Brent Maddock and S. S. Wilson.
Eleven years later, Universal made Tremors 5: Bloodlines with an all-new cast and crew, save Gross. That movie was followed by Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell, which brought back Jamie Kennedy as Burt’s son Travis and Gross and last year’s Tremors: Shrieker Island, which closes out Burt’s battles against the Graboids, Dirt Dragons, Ass-Dragons and Shriekers. There was also a TV series as well that aired on SyFy and a pilot for a new series was made in 2017 but wasn’t bought.
Before making this movie, Kevin Bacon really thought his career was over. He screamed to his pregnant wife Kyra Sedgwick, “I can’t believe I’m doing a movie about underground worms!'” But by the end of the movie, he’d admit that making Tremors was the most fun he’d had in his entire career. As for Gross, he basically walked off the set of the last episode of Family Ties and on to the desert location for this movie.
Now you can see the best version of this movie ever thanks to Arrow Video. There’s a new 4K restoration from the original negative, approved by director Ron Underwood and director of photography Alexander Gruszynski, on blu ray and UHD. There’s also new audio commentary with Underwood, Maddock and Wilson as well as a second version with notes from Jonathan Melville, author of Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide to Tremors.
There’s also a new documentary about the history of the film series, several interviews with key cast and crew members, a feature on the overdubs to remove profanity for the TV version and an entire disc full of extended interviews, outtakes and three early shorts from the film’s makers. Plus, you get a 60-page perfect-bound book, several posters and a set of postcards.
If you love this series — and seeing how they made so many of them it stands to reason that many of us do — this is absoutely the most perfect version you’re going to get of this, unless you go out and find a Graboid for yourself.
American giallo? Why, it seems like a few years ago, we did an entire week of those movies. Well, we missed this one, directed by Ken Stein (who only directed one other movie, Mad Dog Coll) and written by Ray Cunneff (who wrote a movie called A State of Emergency about nuclear testing and visions of the Blessed Mother, so looks like I’ll be tracking that one down).
Welcome to a Los Angeles where it’s always raining, neon is everywhere, all you can hear and sax solos and Michael Chiklis wears a different baseball hat in every scene. Ray Sharkey (Du-beat-e-o in Du-beat-e-o and, of course, Wiseguy) is the burned out cop, David Beecroft (Creepshow 2) is the FBI agent and a scene where Sharkey and his police chief share a bottle of Wild Turkey in a bathroom stall.
In the midst of all this darkness and swearing and rampant sex — my favorite IMDB review of this basically takes a puritanical take on all this filth, which made me want to watch it over again — is a great looking film thanks to cinematographer Janusz Kamiński. What did the man who shot Schindler’s List have to do with this grubby movie? Well, he got his start shooting stuff like The Terror Within II, Grim Prarie Tales and even Cool As Ice — let that set in, two years before he won an Oscar, Kamiński was filming Vanilla Ice — before Steven Spielberg started using him.
Maria Ford plays an exotic dancer who gets killed. You’ll recognize her as she’s been in a ton of things — everything from Slumber Party Massacre III and Deathstalker IV: Match of Titans to the remake of The Wasp Woman, Night Calls: The Movie, Part 2 and kid movies like Beethoven’s Big Break and Casper Meets Wendy.
This really starts like a giallo, as The Rain Killer — named for his m.o. of killing women in the pouring rain — knifes three women in under five minutes while wearing a black overcoat, leather gloves and a hat. Sadly, this is an American film, so there are times where it decides to tell a story that somewhat makes sense. It turns out that all of the victims are members of a support group called The Sewing Circle and the FBI agent just so happens to be divorcing one of its members, his wife Adele (Tania Coleridge, who was in George Michael’s “Father Figure” video and played the drill model in Van Halen’s video for “Poundcake”). So you know — Sharkey hooks up with her because, well, that’s how movies work.
For a movie that is so influenced by giallo, isn’t it odd that Argento’s Trauma uses the same m.o.* — killer who murders in the rain — three years later?
Monster Heaven: Ghost Hero has a lot going on. First off, it’s about a virtual reality company that has learned how to make software that can be physically handled, which means that of course, they’ve already made a sexual application because all technology is sexuality-based (which is why VHS beat beta and streaming video exists). Then it’s about the building that the tech company is in, which sits above an ancient and sacred land, with spirits and monsters that have existed in harmony with the company for decades (what are they, Nintendo and did they once make playing cards?). And then there’s the new owner that could care less when someone tells him that that stone gargoyle up front should never get virgin blood on it.
Oh yeah and there’s also a punk band called Monster Heaven who claim that they are all monsters from Japan’s past, including a human raccoon, a cat girl and a dude with four arms and six eyes.
The company’s fired Operations Manager also comes back, kills a virgin with a sword, gets that blood everywhere and, you knew it, because a gigantic monstrous samurai that can only be defeated by a VR sexy girl.
If you’re wondering, “How can all this insanity be in one movie?” The answer is that it was co-written (along with Masato Harada) and directed by Macoto Tezuka, who made Legend of the Stardust Brothers, one of the oddest and most wonderful movies I’ve ever watched.
This has way too many ideas, which is how I like my movies. Tezuka also made Monster Heaven, an anthology film about yokai, a few years before this. I’ll be hunting that one down now! You can watch it on YouTube.
Do you have a hankering for a flick starring an ex-Angel helmed by a director who gave us a 1977 Dracula adaptation starring Louis Jordan (Swamp Thing (1982) as the Count? Oh, and you may remember him for Shadey (1985), an ’80s rental favorite about a clairvoyant wanted by the Feds as result of his ability to impress his premonitions on photographic film.
Acclaimed British and BBC-TV director Philip Saville was hired by NBC-TV and given a cast headed by Jeffrey DeMunn (yes, who you currently know for his work on Billions and The Walking Dead) and Cheryl Ladd — and a plane load of you-don’t-know-their-name familiar TV series guest stars.
The hijack twist: Our disgruntled hijacker isn’t out for money. He wants to stop abortions and, to that end, he’ll save the children if he kills a U.S. Senator — with outspoken opinions on abortion — on the flight. The plan’s glitch: the Senator missed the flight. And when the bomb is discovered by Cheryl’s pilot husband, he decides to make an emergency landing — in a severe thunderstorm. As you can see from the TV ad below, the flight crashes and kills almost everyone on board. And Cheryl — who, despite ill feelings towards her husband for leaving her as result of her two miscarriages — fights to clear her husband’s name.
As with most airliner disasters of the TV Movie variety, the critics gave this telefilm a shrug as result of its overuse of mismatched, stock aerial footage. And don’t be duped by the DVD represses that proclaim the film is “based on true events.” It’s a complete work of fiction that later “became true” in 1996 when a Miami-based ValuJet DC-9 — like the one in the film — crashed in the Florida Everglades as result of an in-flight fire ignited by illegal, flammable cargo — similar to the plotting of the film.
Editor’s Desk: This review originally ran on October 18, 2019, as part of our 2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge. We’ve brought it back for John Doe Week.
By 1988, underground “college rock” bands began to bubble under the mainstream and crossed over onto mainstream AOR stations still waste deep in the likes of the hair metal bands Winger, Slaughter, and Poison. And while the audio nimrods didn’t play the newly “major label signed” Husker Du (to Warner Bros.) and The Replacements (Sire), and gave record-industry guru David Geffen of Asylum Records (home of classic rock mainstays, the Eagles) the snub when his new label, DGC, signed New York noise-merchants, Sonic Youth, those spandex bastions did begin to “experiment” with the “more commercial” likes of the Cure, Jane’s Addiction, and Love and Rockets. Yeah, they spun Alice in Chains, but were still not quite ready to pluck Soundgarden from Seattledom.
Then, slowly, while those stations still bowed to the dynasties built by Led Zeppelin and Hendrix, you began to hear less Winger and more of the “false grunge” of Candlebox, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots, and (B&S Movies’ proprietor Sam’s favorite bands) Creed and Bush. Then, instead of Slaughter ad nauseam, you heard a little trio out of Seattle ad nauseam—and overnight America became a nation of coffee houses with hep-baristas adorned in $50 JC Penny designer flannel shirts and $150 Macy’s faux Doc Martins.
1991: The Year Punk Broke (full movie/Daily Motion), indeed. Flux Capacitor me to 1985, Doc Brown. I need to be sedated, Joey.
I started my radio career in the early breakers of the Seattle new-wave, working at a small, technically inept, stodgy and dying non-commercial FM that somehow, we, the staffers, convinced our clueless “L7” bosses to give an all-“alternative” format a try and dare rock ‘n’ roll lovers—not interested in blues babbling, folk hootenannies, jazz noodling, plunked banjos, and book reviews—to tune into our audio graveyard left of the dial. And it worked.
And thanks to an indifferent “voice of a generation” who blew his brains out a few years later, the two battling classic (ass-ic) rock stations in town became “rock alternative” outlets overnight and decided the alt-nation wanted to hear the (bane of my existence) Crash Test Dummies and Spin Doctors, and some chick named Torn Anus, I mean, Tori Amos, caterwauling like humping cats on a hot summer night about girls and corkflakes.
So, the tales of WXOX 90.6 Providence, Rhode Island, in the frames of A Matter of Degrees are near and dear to this DJ’s heart. The new film through 20th Century Fox’s specialty arm, Fox Lorber (Independent Magazinearticle), along with its accompanying soundtrack on Atlantic (the track-listing read like the playlist of one of my airshifts), was heavily promoted in all of the alt-rock mags of the day: Alternative Press, B-Side, CMJ, and Option (good reads!). It was probably even in the alt-section of the mainstream radio trades The Hard Report, FMQB, and Rockpool; it’s been so long, I can’t recall.
The staff of my radio station was stoked. The film was directed by W.T Morgan, who directed the alt-essential concert doc, X—The Unheard Music, and X’s John Doe was starring. Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson from the B-52s had roles as DJs alongside Doe, and North Carolina’s hottest college-rock band, Fetchin’ Bones, who just got bumped up to Capitol Records, had a role.
And we were eventually crushed. What we thought was going to be a 1990 college rock radio version of the 1978 progressive rock radio chronicle FM—ended up being Friends: The College Campus Years. Then, we got alt-fucked again, by Cameron Crowe, with Friends: The First Year out of College, aka Singles (1993). Yeah, we got more “radio” with Airheads (1994)—but got more caterwauling cats in the “false grunge” screeches of 4 Non Blondes instead of Throwing Muses and the Breeders. At least Christian Slater’s alt-rock pirate in Pump Up the Volume (1990) cleaned out our Eustachian tubes. And I don’t need any Reality Bites (1994) from Lisa Loeb, either.
Well, at the time, courtesy of our Husker Du and Sonic Youth snobbishness, A Matter of Degrees seemed like a mainstream boondoggle produced by the same “suits” who decided to program songs about frolicking princes, chicks into cornflakes, and creepy, long-haired baritone Dean Martins humming stupid Canadian shite that was giving us A Flock of Seagulls when we wanted the Ramones. But as the VHS box patinas and the tape forecasts snow, I have come to love A Matter of Degrees—and its VHS and CD are a prized part of my collection because: it’s a time capsule that I wished never dissolved into the past.
A Matter of Degrees, written by Brown University alumni Jack Mason and Randall Poster, we come to find out, wasn’t about a radio station: the radio station served as a backdrop-linking device to a clever, ‘90s version The Graduate (1967), only with The Lemonheads (who ironically cut a cover of “Mrs. Robinson” for an early ‘90’s DVD reissue of the Dustin Hoffman hit) instead of Simon and Garfunkel backing the life-undecided, college campus hippiedom tales of Maxwell Glass (Ayre Gross; House II, Minority Report).
For Max, Providence, Rhode Island, isn’t a place: it’s a state of mind and that “mind” has been rattled by his being accepted into law school (he applied only to the hardest schools so he’d be rejected; he gets accepted to Columbia, the hardest of them all). Then he discovers his cherished campus radio station, which employs his friends Welles Dennard (the incredible Wendell Pierce; USA Network’s Suits, HBO’s The Wire, NBC’s Chicago P.D, Nicolas Cage’s It Could Happen to You) and Scuzz (the amazing-in-his-small-role Tom Gilroy; went onto work with R.E.M’s Michael Stipe and taught at Columbia University) is going to be torn down to make way for a research laboratory backed by a corporation that services the military. And when the station is rebuilt: the free-form format is out.
So, with an Abbie Hoffman-tenacity augmented with coursework titled “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Ethnicity,” Max is going to save the radio station—with arguments invoking the name of infamous ‘80s insider trader Ivan Boesky as a verb: Max speaks ill of the boyfriend of his feisty, Jerry and Elaine-styled best friend, Kate Blum (Judith Hoag; April O’Neill in Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles, pick a U.S TV series), who runs the radio station: “[Roger] Ivan Boeskied it for them.” Not even their college-dropout/car mechanic roommate, Zeno Stefanos (Tom Sizemore; True Romance, Natural Born Killers, Zyzzyx Road), who has a propensity to lug car bumpers through the house and make sandwiches by slapping undiluted Campbell’s pea soup between two piece of white bread, can’t get Max off his disillusioned, high sparklehorse: “Remember, women and animals hold up two-thirds of the sky,” Zeno zens. (Now I had my share of Ramdan noodles and peanut butter sandwiches for dinner back in the day, but raw soup sandwiches? I’m glad I didn’t get accepted into Brown.)
“Hey, whatever happened to John Doe? I thought he was in the movie?”
Doe is Peter Downs, the founder of the station who “blew five years in San Francisco recycling the hits like a goddamned monkey” (been there, done that) and returned to his job as the program director of WXOX because, “this is paradise.” Oh, and Peter has a bitch-be-crazy girlfriend, Isabella Allen (Christina Haag), who has Max’s nose wide open. (See what I mean about the Friends-relationship dithering and not enough radio station? Get the Aniston out of here!) In the end, the station and sounds of “Peter Downs and WXOX 90.6 Providence” that Max man-love croons from a shark-toyed bubble bath to a toilet-perched Kate, serves as a plot-character linking device (just like Taj Mahal’s Dix Mayal on WKOK in Outside Ozona).
A Matter of Degrees is a case of “you had to be there.” If you never experienced college campus life and being enamored by the left-of-the-dial “hits” crackling over the airwaves of its tin-can station or a local non-com, you’ll have a lukewarm response to the film. The fun Mason and Poster-penned script reminds me of The Graduate; however, it won’t be in the same classic league as The Graduate when it bounces off your retinas. Your gray matter will populate it as a Singles rip-off—only this film came first. It is, in fact, the first Gen-X, well “grunge,” film in our $5.00 cup-of-coffee flannelled landscape (and you can visit with those films in our “Exploring: 50 Gen-X Grunge Films of the Alt-Rock ’90s” overview.).
Chalk it up to nostalgia fogging my sight; with eyes that see all of my friends from the grunge epoch as I flashback to my views from the glass booth (as I cracked open a new album called Bleach by some band called Nirvana) in the spot-on-miscreant Scuzz, the cucumber-cool Welles, and the rest of the WXOX satellites.
“Rock and roll can save you!” urges Peter Downs.
It did, Peter. More than you will ever know.
Where to get and how to hear the CD soundtrack and see the VHS movie:
While A Matter of Degrees tanked as a theatrical feature (the Sundance crowd shrugged), it blossomed on the international home video marketplace, carrying the titles of Louco Por Rock (Crazy for Rock, Brazil), A tutto rock (Too All, Rock Italy), and in Poland, Radio Maxa (Maximum Radio), or, more accurately, “Radio to the Max.”
As with most of the failed films in the pre-DVD era unceremoniously dumped to VHS, A Matter of Degrees has never been released on DVD—not officially nor as a grey market DVD-R—and there are no online VHS rips. There are no CD rips (of the non-vinyl) soundtrack, but you can listen to this re-creation of the soundtrack I patched together on You Tube. You can also see the soundtrack’s liner notes at Discogs. Multiple copies of the CD soundtrack, the even rarer cassette version, and the VHS can be found on numerous seller sites, eBay in particular. Not finding it won’t be a problem.
Caveat Emptor: John Doe’s incredible theme song for the film, “A Matter of Degrees,” which appears on his debut solo album, Meet Joe Doe (1990; DGC) and the promotional EP single, A Matter of Degrees, does not appear on the soundtrack, which is baffling, considering he’s one of the leads of the film. You can watch John Doe perform the single on the study-helper-for-the-late-night college crowd (good times): The Late Show with David Letterman (there is just something “off” seeing John Doe as a “traditional” lead singer clutching a mic-stand and not wearing a bass). Let the video play through to watch David Letterman’s 1983 clueless-awkward interview with X (really, Dave: alphabet jokes?) as they promote “Breathless,” the soundtrack single to the Richard Geer remake of Francois Truffaut’s film (1960) of the same name. X also covered the ‘60s hit “Wild Thing” for Major League (1989).
As with John Doe: Fetchin’ Bones are in the film—performing their MTV 120 Minutes hit, “Love Crushing,” for a “Save WXOX Benefit” (where John F. Kennedy, Jr. shows up and serenades a girl with an acoustic guitar)—but their song doesn’t appear on the soundtrack. Go figure. And the film is dedicated to D.Boon (backed by Doe’s title-cut song in the film only), the late guitarist-singer of the Minutemen. Why does the post-D.Boon outgrowth of the Minutemen, Firehose, appear on the CD soundtrack, and the Minutemen do not? Double go figure. And don’t bother (poi-dog) pondering how the B-52s got soundtrack skunked. Seriously, this film needed to pull a Dazed and Confused (1993) and release an “Even more . . .” Volume 2 to contain all the great “college rock” in the film. (Oh, hey Kris Erikson, Uncle Tupelo made it onto the soundtrack!)
You can also learn more about Randall Poster’s success as a music supervisor, the art behind movie soundtracks, and his longtime collaborations with director Wes Anderson (2014’s Grand Budapest Hotel) courtesy of these print interviews conducted by WIPO Radio, The AVClub and New Music Express. As it seems there will never be a DVD restoration replete with a commentary track, these interviews are the only way to gain insights on how A Matter of Degrees was and came to be made. (Jim Dunbar, who portrayed DJ Frank Dell, also amassed over 60 credits as a music supervisor, some in the company of Poster.)
In Poster’s post-1990 interview with the alternative music trade NME—New Music Express, he had this say on why he gave up on screenwriting and producing to work exclusively as a music supervisor on films (2012’s Skyfall, 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street; he won a 2011 Grammy for “Best Compilation Soundtrack” for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire):
“I was always a big music lover, a record collector and an avid movie fan. I got through university studying English Literature, and I found myself without any professional direction. I wrote a screenplay with a friend of mine [Jack Mason] about a college radio station. We did a lot of new songs for it, and we did a record and I just felt that that was really what I wanted to focus on. I wanted to work with great directors, so I figured if I made music my focus, and that would enable me to do [work with great directors; like Wes Anderson].”
Poster also tells us that his college radio love letter was not only filmed in Providence: much of it was shot at Brown University. Poster and Mason were inspired by the college’s campus radio station, WBRU, changeover from a free-form to commercial format in 1985. They wrote the screenplay after graduation. It took them five years, but they got it made. And that’s awesome.
How beloved is A Matter of Degrees? This post at the Radio Survivor blog, written by fellow AMOD fan, Jennifer Waits, proves this cherished time capsule of ‘80s college radio has fans that want, and need, a DVD release of the movie (hint to Kino Lorber!).
Then there’s new fans—of this almost 30 year old movie—like General Manager Sharon Scott of the streaming-community station Art x FM. When she put the new, low-powered community FM (LPFM) outlet in Louisville on the air, she was granted the WXOX-LP call letters. According to Sharon, she didn’t know about A Matter of Degrees or its fictional radio station until well after the station received the call letters. Then, she spotted the movie’s promotional sticker on the door at WRFL and was taken aback that it was the same call letters she had chosen.
It looks like Louisville has found its audio salvation! “WXOX Louisville can save you!”
You can learn more about the new WXOX and Sharon Scott’s fight to save WRVU-FM, Vanderbilt College’s radio station, after students lost access to its terrestrial signal. The Radio Survivor article also provides links to learn more about the history of Brown University’s WBRU.
Peter Downs was right: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Can Save You!”
(And don’t believe the Hype! (1996; full movie/TubiTV) they’re selling!)
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 Movies.
A peaceful California town goes bonkers when a punk gang kills the owner of a diner who was just defending his daughter. Now, she and the entire town want revenge, but they’ve taken her hostage, leading to a battle of redneck vs. punks.
If you’re like me and you love movie punks who are the furthest thing from actual punk rockers, then good news. Punk Vacation is ready to give you the goods.
Director Stanley Lewis — not his real name — was a graduate from the American Film Institute who didn’t want his career tainted by this film. Come on, man. There are plenty of art films that have disappeared since 1990 and I’m not writing about any of those movies.
Like I said, the main issue is that the punks are anything but. They’re in their thirties and more of a biker gang from a 1960’s message movie than a bunch of guys who hang out at crust bars. Are they the heroes? Or are the horrible people in the town who we should cheer for? Or should we be all for the cop who is pretty bad at his job? I can’t tell.
None of the punks on this art are in the movie, in case you’re wondering. That doesn’t mean this is a bad movie. It just feels like the kind of movie that’s better for having John Rambo or Thunder or Indio or Billy Jack come to town than an all over place gang who sit on rocks and discuss the merits of stewardess school versus computer repair.
Writer and director Damian Lee also did Ski School, which I assume preps you for making science fiction action movies starring two of Arnold’s pals, Jesse “The Body” Ventura and Sven-Ole Thorsen. Plus, best of all — no, actually best doesn’t apply here — Jim Belushi shows up.
Abraxas (Ventura) and Secundus (Thorsen) are Space Cops called Finders who live for thousands of years and use an Answer Box to scan and communicate in the field. It’s also a weapon, as if a subject doesn’t contain the Anti-Life Equation, they are disintegrated.
If you just read that and got angry that Jack Kirby’s concepts were ripped off for this movie, good news. For me, at least. Because I thought I was going crazy.
Secundus goes bad, because he wants to live forever and needs to figure out that Anti-Life Equation to do so. His plan? Knock up the first woman he finds by rubbing his hand over her belly. That woman is Sonia Murray (Marjorie Bransfield, who was married to Belushi at the time, so that explains that) and she has a baby named Tommy in seconds. But Tommy is going to grow up to be the Culminator and solve that equation. Abraxas is supposed to kill the child and the mother, but he’s too nice and let’s her live. Her parents get mad that she had a baby and toss her out into the streets, except that you know, she somehow got pregnant and had the child in the very same day.
Five years later, Tommy is a mute child with superpowers. Well, his one power is the ability to make bullies piss their pants. So I guess that’s a power. And his principal at school is Jim Belushi, who brings back his role of Rick Latimer because we all demanded that. You know, I give Jim a lot of guff and the dude voted for Obama and has a pop-up cannabis shop, so maybe he’s not as bad as I’ve been led to believe.
What is bad is Abraxas, a movie that is kinda sorta The Terminator with no time travel. You can watch it for free on Amazon Prime and Tubi. Or, if you need some help, the Rifftrax version is also on Amazon Prime and Tubi, too.