WATCH THE SERIES: A Chinese Ghost Story

Based on a short story about Nie Xiaoqian from Qing dynasty writer Pu Songling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio and inspired by the 1960 Shaw Brothers movie The Enchanting ShadowA Chinee Ghost Story inspired more than just two sequels, an animated film, a television series and a 2011 remake. It also created an entire genre of folklore ghost stories.

Its director, Ching Siu-tung, studied in the Eastern Drama Academy and trained in Northern Style Kung Fu for seven years. His father, Ching Gong, was a Shaw Brothers director. While producer Tsui Hark got most of the credit for these films, Siu-tung has done well for himself, also directing The Swordsman series of movies and choreographing House of Flying Daggers and Shaolin Soccer.

In the first film, tax collector Ning Choi-san (Leslie Cheung) fails at his job and must sleep in a deserted temple. There, he falls in love with Nip Siu-sin (Joey Wong), yet discovers in the morning that she is a ghost forever enslaved to a tree demoness. When Ning tries to save her and fails, her soul goes to the underworld.

This film is a gorgeous meditation on unrequited love. Even with the help of Taoist priest Yin Chik-ha (Wu Ma), the best our hero can do is secure a better afterlife for his one true love.

1990’s A Chinese Ghost Story II starts with Ning and Yin parting ways, with Ning heading back to his hometown that has been overrun with cannibals. After being jailed and condemned to die, an ancient scholar reveals that he has dug an escape tunnel. He gives Ning a book and a pendant, then shows him the way to freedom.

In this film, Ning joins with Autumn (Jacky Cheung) and the rebel sisters Windy (Joy Wong) and Moon (Michelle Reis) to battle a demon that has taken over a mansion. And by demon, a mean a gigantic centipede that requires fighters to separate the souls from their bodies to defeat it.

Recently, Apple pulled the theme song of this movie from the Apple Music Store, as it features a reference to the masscre at Tiananmen Square Massacre:

“The youth are angry, and heaven and earth are shedding tears,

How did the rivers and mountains become a sea of blood?

How did the road to home become the road to ruin?”

Why would Apple pull a song that rightfully condemns China for their role in killing protesters? Well, you know how money works.

1991’s A Chinese Ghost Story III brings back the tree demon from the first film, a creature that is destined to return in a hundred years. This film is also about Monk Shi Fang (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) and Swordsman Yin (Jacky Cheung), named after the original Taoist. The tree demon also has a ghost in its thrall, Lotus (Joey Wong).

This is the kind of movie where towers rise to block out all the sun on Earth and Shi Fang’s body is coated in his own golden blood, which allows him to channel the power of the Buddha to bring the sun back. Basically, things get nuts.

If you fall in love with these movies, remember that there was a cartoon and a 2011 remake to keep you watching.

…And Then She Was Gone (1991)

Jack Bauer (Robert Urich) is a workaholic who gets involved in a case of child kidnapping when he returns a doll found in the subway. This ends up finding him get repeatedly abused, verbally and physically, and making you wonder why he even tried.

Director David Greene also was behind Madame Sin; the movie adaption of GodspellRich ManPoor ManHard Country and the TV movie remakes of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Night of the Hunter.

Bauer soon joins with the girl’s mother, played by Megan Gallagher, and they do what they can to find her daughter. This, again, involves Urich charging in like an alpha male and continually getting beaten unmercifully.

This looks way better than a TV movie and could have played theaters.

The Marla Hanson Story (1991)

Ripped from the headlines TV movies are my jam. In the world before the internet and the 24/7 news cycle, we had to wait for these movies to get the real story.

This is the tale of Marla Hanson (Cheryl Pollak), a model who moves to the big evil town of New York City but finds who she thinks is a nice guy to help her out. He even puts her up in an apartment and gives her tips to get ahead in modeling. But by the end, he’s hiring thugs to slice her face apart. It gets worse, because she has to defend herself in court despite not being the one on trial.

This was written and directed by John Grey, who created Ghost Whisperer. It’s not the best TV movie you’ve ever seen, but it does get pretty brutal in parts.

The real story of Hanson is shown here though. After resisting the attentions of her landlord Steve Roth, he hired two friends named Steven Bowman and Darren Norman to attack her. They left her with cuts that required a hundred stitches in her face, ruining her modeling career.

Hanson was subjected to brutal cross-examination by Bowman’s defense attorney Alton H. Maddox who was part of several high-profile civil rights cases in the 1980s. He claimed that Hanson had identified Bowman and Norman because she was racist. They got the maximum sentence and the judge told Hanson that he was incensed at the way the criminal justice system treated her.

Hanson would later write two Abel Ferrara films, the short Love on the Train and The Blackout.

You can watch this on YouTube.

And the Sea Will Tell (1991)

Originally airing on February 24 and March 3, 1991, this is based on the book by Vincent Bugliosi and Bruce Henderson. It’s all about a double murder on Palmyra Atol in which Duane “Buck” Walker (Hart Bochner, Die Hard) was found guilty and his girlfriend Stephanie Stearns (Rachel Ward) — defended by Bugliosi and Leonard Weinglass — was found innocent.

You know why I watched this? Because Tommy Lee Wallace directed it.

That’s right, the same man who made the TV version of It. The director of Halloween III and Fright Night 2. The writer of Amityville II: The Possession!

I’m no fan of Bugliosi — get me to go off some time about how he he lost a court case to the Process Church — but if you’re a big time lawyer and writer, you can get Richard Crenna to play you in a movie. Oh yeah! And getting Susan Blakely to play your wife!

Anyways, our protagonists end up taking a barely seaworthy ship out and about before getting lost and ended up living off the charity of the Mac and Muff Graham (James Brolin and Deidre Hall). Within a few months, they’ve stolen their ship and quite possibly left them for dead. That said, only a skull that may have been Mac’s has even been recovered.

You know, I found myself watching this because of Wallace’s name in the credits, but his talent as a director kept me with it for both parts.

Lee Majors Week: Fire: Trapped on the 37th Floor (1991)

Although cable TV chipped away at their audience, the Big Three networks were still in the theatrical knockoff movie business, with ABC-TV airing this disaster tale on February 18, 1991. While, at first, it reminds of the A-List blockbuster The Towering Inferno (1974), the real inspiration here is Ron Howard’s Backdraft, released that same year. And since we named dropped Jerry Jameson during our “Lee Majors Week” review of Starflight One, we’ll have to mention Jameson’s more timely TV movie lookalike with 1974’s The Blazing Tower, which circulated on the U.S. home video and overseas theatrical marketplace as Terror on the 40th Floor.

The difference between that influential Irwin Allen epic is that this harrowing tale is based on a real life fire that broke out on the 12th floor of the 62-floored First Interstate Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles on May 4, 1998, and raged into May 5. As result of the building’s sprinkler system not operating at full capacity, along with the main water valves that supplied the fire pumps turned off due to building construction, the fire quickly spread upwards to the 16th floor. And not only was there mechanical failure, but human failure at the hands of security guards ignoring smoke alarm warnings.

Of course, as with any TV film based on “real events,” dramatic licenses are taken with incidents tweaked and buoyed by composite and fictitious character creations. To that end we have familiar ’80’s TV actors Lisa Hartman and Peter Scolari as two trapped survivors on the 37th floor. Keener TV eyes will pick up on the somewhat lesser known, ’80s small screen stars in the fire brigade with Paul Linke (CHiPs), Ronald William Lawerence (Hunter), John Laughlin (The White Shadow), and yes, that’s the always great Micheal Beach, aka Taddarius Orwell ‘T.O.’ Cross from FX’s Sons of Anarchy, just starting out his long TV career and on his way to recurring roles in Under Suspicion, ER, and Third Watch, but these days, you know his work in The 100 and Chicago P.D. Also look out for a young Angela Bassett just starting her career with support roles in various TV series and telefilms. Lee Majors heads the cast (but everyone else is here a bit more than him), as Sterling, the stoic, no nonsense Deputy Fire Chief working against the endless array of errors exacerbating the tragedy.

Screenwriter Jeffrey Bloom’s career goes back to some late ’70s episodes of Starsky and Hutch (and a couple of David Soul-starring TV movies) and the popular VHS Jaws-knockoff, Blood Beach, which he also directed. In the director’s chair — and in his final TV project — is Robert Day, whose writing and directing efforts date back to Tarzan in the early ’60s. Bringing us a wealth of TV series episodes and movies across all three networks, we know Day best at B&S About Movies for the late ’70s de rigueur witchcraft flick, The Initiation of Sarah.

This is one of those old TV flicks that, while it lacks the dramatic punch of Backdraft or the thespian skills offered by Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in The Towering Inferno, this is, none the less, a well-down film rife with credible, practical in-camera effects on-a-budget that still holds up in today’s CGI world.

You can enjoy the film courtesy of You Tube.

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

Cybernator (1991)

Oy! This movie. Once I became sentient, I couldn’t get it out of my head.

Courtesy of Sam the Bossman devising another “Apoc Week,” I came to review Games of Survival, and its psuedo-sequel-cum-remake, Badlanders (look for those reviews, this week) which lead to my first learning — and for my first watch — of this post-apoc’er slopper, courtesy of the acting common denominator of martial artist Michael M. Foley (also of Karate Cop and Desert Kickboxer fame).

Now, in all my years — and all of my video store memberships and cut-out and close-out VHS dumpster dives — I’ve never encountered Cybenator*. Or maybe I have and, because the covers are so awful, I passed on it? And the cover on the left is the BEST of the covers, trust me. And . . what the hell? Is that a Windows 3.1 “Wing Dings” font on the alternate cover? At least the he-ain’t-Plughead-from-Circuitry Man Blue Man Group guy with the head hoses and light saber-gun is giving me something to strive for . . . but friggin’ DOS-based “Dingbat” fonts?

Oh, by the Kobol Lords, this is going to rock!

Okay, so . . . Cybernator is the type of film where it strives to be a cross between James Cameron’s The Terminator and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner on a Grandma’s and Auntie’s birthday money budget — where Los Angeles in the far-flung year of our SOV 2010 looks a lot like our Los Angeles in the year of our present-day, late 1980s (when this epic was shot; and probably not on video and actually on film, but it sure do looks like an ’80s SOV’er, Jethro).

2112: After the Fall of Los Angeles: When the best part of your movie is your gouache-on-hot press board matte painting. Hey, is that the Temple of Syrinx in the background? This isn’t Mega City One, Dorothy.

And soak up that “effects” shot of the big city, because once we get down into those mean streets of L.A., we get a whole lot of red brick buildings and ’80-era Japanese motor vehicle imports. Which begs the question: If you can’t effectively set design your film to look like it’s nineteen years in the future, why not just set your film in the present day? At least the absolutely WORST of the The Terminator-cum-Robocop knockoffs — yes, it is WORSE than Cybernator — 1987’s R.O.T.O.R, had the good common sense to keep it in real time.

Better cover . . . worse movie.

As with my argument concerning David A. Prior’s exploits of John Tucker in Future Force and Future Zone: Cybernator is a whole lot of “futuristic” Jeep Cherokees on the apoc-prowl. For if you’re going to set up a 2010-futureverse, rent out 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. Hit up Charles Band and rent out some of the props from Trancers, and his not-Mad Max-or-Star Wars romps Spacehunter and Metalstorm, from the Full Moon backlot.

Even better cover . . . still worse movie**.

Heck, even Band’s future cop romp repurposed the Spinner from Bladerunner, which was also repurposed in Solar Crisis (1990) and Soldier (1998). Call Universal and borrow a DeLorean. Call Cinema Vehicles or Paramount Picture Cars, for there’s bound to be “futuristic” rides on their lots. Even Don Coscarelli knew to call up 20th Century Fox to rent out their lot of tombstones to create Morningside Cemetery in a park. What’s with all of these four-door sedans and Hondas and Toyotas and panel vans? What’s the deal with my Aunt Martha’s 1950’s era apartment furnishings? If there was a cemetery in Cybernator, would it be of the grey-painted plywood grave markers variety? Ed called and he wants his wood back.

Los Angeles 2010: The New Gladiators. No, the Vespa doesn’t fly, à la Stallone’s Judge Dredd. Drokk it!”

But alas, I am asking too much from a movie with gouache-on-hot press board matte paintings and Windows DOS 3.1 poster fonts. But at least the he-ain’t-Plughead-from-Circuitry Man Blue Man Group guy with the head hoses and light saber-gun is giving me something to strive for. . . .

Okay, so between the voiceovers, expositional babble, and newscasts — and video box copywriters — we’re in a world where the economy collapsed, the government has fallen, and riots and violence run rampant across the good ol’ U.S.A. But don’t worry, the bastardly Colonel Peck (ubiquitous screen heavy William Smith doin’ the Eric Roberts put-a-name-on-the-box role) has dispatched his military-trained cyborg assassination squads to kill off all the terrorists and scumbag politicians and corrupt military officials that have ruined America. QAnon! Trump! March 2021! Viva America! Ack! Kamala Harris is a cyborg plant! Governor Coumo’s master plan is to turn Manhattan Island into a prison to dump the enemies of Nancy Pelosi! (And, in that short sentence, I just plotted a better movie than Cybernator.)

Fire up the Gullfire, Hauk, I’m going in! (Courtesy of Grimoo via FunnyJunk.com)

Anyway, one of the borg’s targets is Senator Overstreet — and his (overweight) collateral damage stripper girlfriend (warning: there’s a lot of gratuitous strippers and long-lingering stripping in this movie, so there’s that). Another borgie target is the tech guru who dreamed up the “Blackhawk” project that unleashed the cyborg assassination squads on the citizenry.

Oh, there’s more. . . .

So, Detective Brent McCord and his partner Jim Weaver are the kind of cops who like to kick back at the local flesh repository for some all-you-can-eat wings and lap dances — oh, right: Blue the Stripper is McCord’s girlfriend . . . and McCord is a “racist” that hates cyborgs (#cyborglivesmatter) — then find themselves in the middle of a Spirit Halloween-dressed cyborg shoot-em up that leads to them — and not the cyborgs — blamed for the murders of our corrupt Senator and the Project: Blackhawk guy.

Yawn.

During an apocalypse, who you gonna call: Dr. Fauci or Maestro Fulci?

So, who’s the “Cybernator,” already? The Blue Man Group hosey-head guy? (Played pretty well by Michael M. Foley in pretty decent, budget-effective make up by Steve Patino — yes, the same guy who did the Silver Sphere’s in Phantasm II, as well as Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond, Re-Animator and the first Predator.) Oh, is it William Smith’s Colonel Peck! Is the big plot twist that he’s a cyborg? (And back to the cars? You had Steve Patino on set; he could have come up with something better than a Vespa and a Toyota two-door.)

Well, yeah, Peck is a cyborg. But it also turns out, during the course of his rogue investigation — yeah, our “bad ass” McCord quit the force — McCord discovers, like Rick Dekkard before him (I know . . . I know), that he, himself, is a cyborg . . . cop who’s now forced into destroying the cyborgs — and confronting his ol’ pop, Colonel Peck. Or are they brothers? And does McCord come to grips with his technocratic racism? Is Blue, his stripper squeeze, a cyborg, too? Does Earth become part of the Solar Federation?

Hey, we don’t “plot spoil” here at B&S About Movies. You’ll have to watch.

Wait . . . does Voivod perform “Technocratic Manipulators” as the stripper bar’s band? Does the jukebox play “Cygnus X-1” by Rush? Is “Where’s Harrison Ford?” by alt-metallers Altered State on the soundtrack? Nope, because McCord ain’t no Harrison Ford and this ain’t Blade Runner.

Your resistance to the Cybernator is futile.

See? And you thought this movie was going to suck apoc ass steaks in between all the strippers, cheezy after-effects lasers, long-winding staircase chases, and squishy-scowling face emoting. Oh, and don’t forget the cyborg Samurai . . . or Samuraborg . . . Cyberai . . . or whatever it is. You will watch. For as the black hole of Cygnus X-1, the Cybernator will suck you in.

As it turns out, this was writer-director Robert Rundle’s debut feature film, so ye streamer, cut him a generous amount of slack, okay? For his next movie, The Divine Enforcer (1992), he secured the dual services of Jan-Michael Vincent, Erik Estrada, and blaxploitation vet Jim Brown — and it was written by Randall Frakes of Hell Comes to Frogtown and Roller Blade Warriors fame — so there’s that B-Movie enticement. Then there’s Vampire Hunter (1994) with B-Movie screamer, Linnea Quigley, Run Like Hell (1995) with Robert “Maniac Cop” Z’Dar, and the return of William Smith in Raw Energy (1995). He hasn’t made a film since 2005 and, according to the IMDb, Rundle had a website, but it’s lost in the 404 error-verse.

Lonnie Schuyler, who stars as Brent McCord, actually did alright for himself from such humble, first-movie beginnings by booking a three-year recurring role on FOX-TV’s Models, Inc. and Melrose Place. He later produced, wrote, and directed his own acting showcase with the comedy Bottom Feeders (1997), and is still in the low-budget indie business. Some of the retro-reviews of Schuyler’s work — his debut, mind you — aren’t kind, but hey, the dude is trying and certainly better at the thespin’ game than Richard Gesswein in R.O.T.O.R.

It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed Dr. Coldyron drink a big ol’ cup o’ joe and yank out a tree stump, so guess what I am doin’ later today: watchin’ R.O.T.O.R. And I’ll watch Lonnie Schulyer’s McCord-inator before I watch crazy ol’ Trump-obsessed Mark Hamill in The Guvyer and Time Runner or Slipstream again, because, well, those movies aren’t as fun as Cybernator and Hammy the Ham ain’t no Harrison Ford, either.

You can watch Cybernator in all of its VHS-ripped glory on You Tube. Maybe, one day, Mill Creek Entertainment will come up with an “Apocalypse” or “Android Invasion” box set and put this out on a DVD. Tinkers to Evers to Chance, Mill Creek, for Cybernator must be preserved for all hard-digital eternity. What the hell . . . this is out as a standalone DVD and a DVD two-fer with the Phillppines-shot Aliens ripoff Hyperspace?

Oh, by the Kobol Lords, my home movie library is complete . . . even if this ain’t Blade Runner.

* Cybernator: The Movie is not be be confused with the 1992 Super Nintendo mecha-game Cybernator. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Those offended by off-color political parodies required to “chicken salad” the review of a chicken shit movie, need not apply. Cyber Samurai Warrior action figures sold separately. Copyright, 2021, B&S About Movies, Inc., P.O Box 0 Boston, Mass., 02134. Sent it to ZOOM!

** Hey, if Top Line and Cy Warrior (reviewed this week; look for it) can swipe the artwork from Hands of Steel, why not?

Look for my reviews of Circuitry Man, and my Future Zone/Future Force two-fer, this week, as we continue our latest “Apoc Week” tribute.

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

KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

Until this 18th film in the Godzilla franchise, which also served as the third film in the franchise’s “Heisei period” (1984 – 1995) — begun with 1984’s The Return of Godzilla — the second film in the period, Godzilla vs. Biollante, was the most expensive Godzilla film produced. While theatrical released in 1991 in the Asian markets, the film made its bow to U.S. audiences on home video and cable television in 1998. Sony released a later Blu-ray version in 2014 with Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992).

Just “wow” on this one, for Toho “showed us the money,” and then some.

On top of all of the usual action we expect in a kaiju film, we also get a film with a stronger fantasy element and outer space science fiction. Upon the box office failure of Godzilla vs. Biollante against the time traveling, blockbuster aspects of the Back to the Future franchise, time travel concepts were incorporated into the story.

In 1944, as Japanese soldiers are under threat by American forces, they’re saved by a mysterious dinosaur; that dinosaur later mutates into Godzilla after nuclear testing on his island home in 1954.

In the year 2204, the Earth-based Futurians travel to back to 1992-present day Earth to warn us that Godzilla has utterly decimated Japan. Teaming with the Futurians, Earthlings travel back to 1944 to stop Godzilla’s development.

Of course, nothing is as it seems: never trust a time traveler.

Prior to returning to 1992, the Futurians deposit three small creatures that, when exposed to the same atomic blast that created Godzilla, creates the three-headed King Ghidorah that they’ll use to subjugate Japan — and thus alter their own future to their liking.

Now, if you know your time snafus of the Back to the Future and The Terminator variety (another one of this film’s inspirations), of course the Big Green Guy comes back. And yes, King Ghidorah dies.

This one has it all: Time-traveling UFOs, alien androids, and alternate-timelines; it’s post-apoc, it’s a WW II epic, and for a bit of the ol’ nostalgia of the Mechagodzilla variety: King Ghidorah returns as Mecha-King Ghidorah. And it’s all topped off with top-notch wirework and puppetry.

Critics — especially the haughty U.S. ones — hated this new and improved, time-traveling ‘Zilla flick. Come one, pseudo-Leonard Maltin, it’s a kaiju flick for Godzilla sakes. It’s supposed to be jammed packed with kitchen-sink gonzo scripting that just keeps on throwing the wild ideas and imagery at the screen not allowing you a moment to take a breath.

Then again, I grew up on these flicks, so I always welcome the sequels that take me back home to my twin cinema youth. But you know how it goes: your own kaiju miles may vary. Films are funny that way.

In addition to the clip below, if you You Tube-search “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah,” you’ll find a wealth of clips from this popular entry in the Godzilla franchise.

Hey, wait! Do you need a little bit more Godzilla in your Kong?

Then check out our “Kaiju Week” reviews from last March 2020 for Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) and Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975), which also ran as a two-fer review during our January 2020 “Ape Week” blow out to celebrate Disney green-lighting their entry in the Planet of the Apes saga.

And that’s why were are here today: To celebrate the release of Godzilla vs. Kong — finally — in theaters on March 25, 2020.

Screw you, COVID!

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


Here’s some of the other Kaijus (and sort of Kaiju) that we’ve reviewed. For the rest that we’ve recently reviewed to commemorate the March 2021 release of Godzilla vs. Kong, enter “Kaiju Day Marathon” in our search box to the left to populate that list of films (you may see a few reposted Godzilla reviews, but many new film reviews concerning Godzilla, Kong, and other creatures from the Lands of the Rising Sun).

Gamera
Gamera vs. Barugon
Gamera vs. Gyaos
Gamera: Guaridan of the Universe
Gamera vs. Guiron
Gamera vs. Jiger
Gamera 2: Legion
Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris
Gamera Super Monster
Gamera vs. Viras
Gamera vs. Zigra

Godzilla: Final Wars
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
Terror of Mechagodzilla

A*P*E
Bakko Yokaiden Kibakichi
The Beast of Hollow Mountain
Cozzila
Daikaiju Mono
Gakidama: The Demon Within
Gappa: The Triphibian Monster
The Iron Superman
The Great Gila Monster
King Dinosaur
Orochi, the Eight-Headed Dragon
Planet of Dinosaurs
War of the Gargantuas
Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters
Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts
Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare

King Kong Escapes
King Kung Fu
Queen Kong

Gorehouse Greats: Brain Twisters (1991)

We get it, Mill Creek! You’re a “green” company! You recycle and waste not. We originally reviewed Brain Twisters on November 1, 2020, as part of our reviews for Mill Creek’s Sci-Fi Invasion set. We re-ran that review February 1, 2021, as part of its inclusion on their B-Movie Blast 50-Pack. So, in the grand tradition of movies that do not deserve a second, alternate look (we’re talkin’ at you Cavegirl), Mill Creek beat us into submission once again . . . so let’s give Brain Twisters a new spin — as part of its inclusion on Mill Creek’s Gorehouse Greats 12-pack.

Is it possible that this lone feature film from Jerry Sangiuliano appears on all Mill Creek box sets? We just discovered it also appears on their Drive-In Cult Classics Volume 4 set and their Drive-In Cult Cinema Classics 200-pack. So, it seems, whether you want to watch it or not, by hook or by crook, you will, so says Mill Creek. So, let’s crack open our first film on the Gorehouse Greats set.

Gorehouse Greats Mill Creek

No, we can’t blame Albert Pyun directing Charles Band’s Arcade, as that 1993 evil video game romp wasn’t made yet. But we can blame “The Bishop of Battle,” the segment from the 1983 portmanteau Nightmares, you know, the segment when Emilo Estevez’s video-game obsessed ne’er-do-well was sucked into an evil video game, which itself, ripped off 1982’s Tron.

And here comes Jerry Sangiuliano — a decade late and several dollars short — as his 1991-era computer graphics make 1992’s The Lawnmower Man — this film’s sole raison d’être — look good. And we all know how god awful that’s-not-a-Stephen King-adaptation is. And to prove you can’t keep a god awful movie down: Sangiuliano tried to pass this off in the DVD age as a “new” film, Fractals, in 2013 — with the same out-of-date graphics that were out-of-date in 1991. But where the superior Circuitry Man from 1990 succeeds, this one fails. Utterly. Yeah, this one is lost between order and chaos and heaven and hell, alright.

So what’s it all about?

A sci-fi thriller without thrills.

Mind control with CRT monitors complete poor pixel resolution. And beeps. And boops. And wires. And conduits. And horny teens. And dumb cops. And cops who take victims to dinner. And touchy-feely college professors manipulating weak teen girls (see Dr. Carl Hill in Re-Animator). And a college professor of neuroscience who lectures students on medical quackery who is, himself, a quack: instead of screwing the medieval devices he displays in his classroom to human skulls, he plugs his students into a Commodore 64.

Dr. Philip Rothman (dry-as-toast Terry Londeree in his only film role) sidelines his professorship with a gig at a software company developing a software platform that taps into the human brain. And he’s using his unknowing students as lab rats. And somewhere along the way, it’s discovered the software has a mind control side effect (I think), so the head of the company decides to integrate the discovery into video games. Is he evil already or does the discovery make him evil? (I don’t know and I don’t care.) What’s the purpose of turning video-game obsessed teens into killers? What’s the end game, if you will? (You got me.)

Of course, every slasher film — even the most pseudo ones, such as this tech slop — needs a “final girl,” so we have Laurie Strode Stevens (Farrah Forke, in her acting debut; she was Alex Lambert for a three year, 35-episode run on NBC-TV’s Wings; Hitman’s Run for you direct-to-video fans) as one of several college students who’ve volunteered for Rothman’s experiments to improve video game designs — only to be programmed-cum-hypnotized to kill. Or commit suicide from the second floor of a Chili’s (Or was that an Applebees?). Hey, this was filmed in Scranton, PA., so if you lived there, maybe you recognize the eatery.

Man, nobody wants to go to Scranton. Not even, Archie. “Scranton?!”

So, does this all sound a bit like Conal Cochran’s nonsensical masterplot to take over the world with Halloween masks fitted with computer chips made from stone-flakes of Stonehenge? Or Dr. Anthony Blakely’s plan to take over the world by growing a giant brain the basement of his psychiatric institute for wayward teens?

Yeah, it does. And then some.

Yeah, the body count is building. Boringly so.

Ah, but Halloween III: The Season of the Witch and Ed Hunt’s The Brain had, if not a lot of sense, finesse and charm as it huskered its bananas-as-fuck junk science, along with R-level gore and sex to buoy our interest. Maybe if a Stuart Gordon-esque brain worm-thingy popped out of a student’s reprogrammed head, à la Dr. Edward Pretorius via his Sonic Resonator in From Beyond, we’d have a “bang,” here, instead of a whimper.

In the end, this is all just a bunch of PG-level shenanigans in dire need of a David Warner-embodied Master Control Program and a Cindy Morgan as our cyber-hero babe and a crazed Darryl Revok “sucking brains dry” via video games. But alas: Jerry Sangiuliano ain’t no David Cronenberg and this ain’t no Scanners joint. And the acting just stinks across the board, which is probably why Forke never capitalized on her support role in Heat with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro or scored another notable network TV series, and we never heard from male leads Terry Londeree and Joe Lombardo — ever again. If only we had Dan O’Herlihy as the evil software engineer and David Gale as the meglomaniac professor to prop this up, maybe we’d have . . . something.

Should we give Jerry Sangiuliano credit for being ahead of the urban legend curve? Nope.

Maybe — one day — they’ll make a movie based on the Polybius urban legend (seeded in 1994) with (speaking of Dan O’Herlihy), a touch of the charm that made the video game as-a-combat-training-tool tomfoolery from The Last Starfighter so much fun. Until that happens, the curious and the masochist can free-stream Brain Twisters on You Tube.

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

B-MOVIE BLAST: Lena’s Holiday (1991)

Oh man, this movie is the reason why I bought the B-Movie Blast set twice. The first one I ordered actually had the Dark Crimes movies inside it and I couldn’t find Lena’s Holiday streaming anywhere. Well, you know what a completist I am, so I got another one, just so you could know all about this movie, dear reader.

Lena Jung (Felicity Waterman, who was on Hulk Hogan’s Thunder In Paradise) has gone from East Germany to Hollywood and the culture shock is everything you thought that it would be. Making matters even worse, her bag is switched at the airport and she loses her itinerary and she ends up in the middle of a suspense switcheroo.

There’s a pretty interesting cast here, with everyone from Chris Lemmon (Wishmaster), Nick Mancuso (one of the voices of Billy in Black Christmas), Michael Sarrazin (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?), comedian Bill Dana, Liz Torres (Gilmore Girls), Pat Morita and Susan Anton.

This is one odd Crown International movie, because just when you think, “This has to be smut,” they fool you into making a movie about culture clash and how foreigners see America. I mean, it’s not a great movie nor is it worth getting the box set for like I did, but it is not exploitation like most of their output.

REPOST: Brain Twisters (1991)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to Mill Creek Month! As you know, we love those Mill Creek sets, so we’re doing an entire month of these films. The first set we’re getting into this month is B-Movie Blast, which has — as is par for the course with these bricks of films — a real mashup of movie mayhem. We originally reviewed this movie on November 1 as part of our reviews for Mill Creek’s Sci-Fi Invasion set.

Jerry Sangiuliano was born and died in Scranton, PA. He left behind four short films and one full-length movie, which will be the one we discuss today. It’s a movie that says, “WARNING! An experiment in mind control is out of control … and the body count is building!”

Laurie Stevens (Farrah Forke, Hitman’s Run) is one of several college students who have signed up to improve the world of video games and end up becoming killers when flashes of light begin to reprogram their brains.

Yes, it’s Polybius all over again, with the games that kids love being the cause of everything evil in the world, just like they always warned us they would be. They probably shouldn’t have sat so close to the TV while they were at it.

Sangiuliano re-released this movie in 2013 as Fractals, which is an amazing piece of carny hucksterism, because as far as I know, video game graphics do not improve over the course of 22 years.

I’ve never understood movies where evil video game companies try to kill off their main target audience. It’s the same reason why I never understood why Judas Priest and Ozzy wanted me to kill myself. Who else was going to buy their records?

You can watch this Crown International release on so many Mill Creek sets, including the one we’re featuring this month (Sci-Fi Invasion), the Gore House Greats 12-movie set, Drive-In Cult Classics Volume 4 and the Drive-In Cult Cinema 200 Classics box and the B Movie Blasts set. I am certain that it just might be a bonus feature on everything Mill Creek has ever and will ever release. It’s also on YouTube.