Straight Talk (1992)

Straight Talk has been sitting on my shelf, part of a Mill Creek set along with VI Washawski, just taunting me, knowing that someday, somehow, someway that it would end up sitting in my DVD player, ready to cast its magic spell.

Writer Craig Bolotin often worked uncredited on films like Desperately Seeking Susan before writing this film. He’d go on to also write and executive produce Black Rain. This one was directed by Barnet Kellman, who is more well-known for his TV work.

The real draw, of course, is Dolly Parton. She plays Shirlee Kenyon, a dance instructor wallowing in Arkansas with her boyfriend, who is played by Michael Madsen. Yes, in the same year that he played Mr. Blonde, Madsen was the backwoods drunk beau of Dolly in a movie that no one remembers.

But he’s not the love interest. Oh no, that’d be James Woods, who plays a crusading reporter who has lost his way. He saves Dolly early in the film when she tries to fish a Jackson off a bridge. Then, of course, she talked a young Teri Hatcher into dumping Mr. Woods, who of course falls for our girl, who falls into a job as a talk radio psychotherapist.

She’s not a doctor, you may yell. Guess what, pal? You just realized the dramatic issue here. Can Dolly keep the job she’s best at? Will Woods divine her secret? Will Madsen screw it all up? And what the hell is up with this amazing supporting cast, which boasts Griffin Dunne, Tony Award-winners Tracy Letts, Amy Morton and Philip Bosco, Jerry Orbach, John Sayles (yes, the man who wrote PiranhaThe Howling and Battle Beyond the Stars), Spalding Grey in a cameo as a rival shrink, Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit’s voice), Jay Thomas (who was a real radio man himself and plays Zim Zimmerman here)?

It’s also Ron Livingston’s screen debut. So it has that going for it.

Seriously, Straght Talk is way better than it seems that it will be. I don’t think that it presents the right path to radio — it completely rips off an old WKRP In Cincinnati episode’s plot, too — but it’s a quick movie that’s helped by Parton’s limitless charm. Yep — I’ve been front row for several of her shows and an unabashed fan, so your mileage may vary.

RADIO WEEK REWIND: Bad Channels (1992)

Ted Nicolaou directed Subspecies, TerrorVision and The Dungeonmaster in addition to this film, where two aliens named Cosmo and Lump take over Superstation 66, a small radio station in Pahoota, California. Meanwhile, DJ Dan O’Dare and Flip Humble have a scam going on that involves a car and polka records. If you haven’t figured out by now that Bad Channels is weird, here’s your confirmation.

Most of Bad Channels is made up of music video performances from DMT, Blind Faith and Sykotik Sinfoney, dancing fungus and humans getting shrunk down. Original MTV VJ Martha Quinn shows up. There’s also a nun playing guitar in a shopping cart.

Even crazier, Blue Öyster Cult scored this entire movie!

When Becca and I first started dating, she was looking everywhere for a copy of this movie. I got it for her and it solidified our relationship. Therefore, I love this movie a lot more than your average person.

It amazes me that this movie was made in 1992 and not at any time in the 1980’s. Nurse Ginger from this movie would return in 1993’s Dollman vs. Demonic Toys, a crossover film of Full Moon properties.

Night Rhythms (1992)

Nick West (Martin Hewitt) is a nighttime jazz disc jockey of the Dave Garver variety (Play Misty for Me, 1973): as he spins songs, he coos to lonely, sexually frustrated women who, to listen to the Nickster on the radio, must attire themselves in the latest Victoria Secret fashions. Hey, this isn’t KRML 1410 on your AM dial. This is KHPY 108.9 FM.

Yeah, it’s that type of movie: bogus frequency, babes, and boobs.

One night after his show, Nick ends up at a strip club to visit Cinnamon, his latest girlfriend-bartender squeeze, where he comes to the rescue of Honey, a stripper damsel-in-distress—and humiliates Vincent, the club’s owner and her pimp (David Carradine?!?), in the process (with a realistic 45-Revolver squirt gun that he uses to drink water from while on-the-air, you know, as “character development”).

Yeah, it’s that type of movie: bogus guns, babes, and stripper poles.

The next night, to show her appreciation, Honey (Shannon Tweed’s sister, Tracy) comes to the station—and they have sex in the studio, Eric Swann-style (FM, 1978). Nick’s listeners are shocked when the moaning and groaning turns into choking. Meanwhile, back in the studio, Nick’s passed out on the floor next to Honey’s dead body. So Nick goes on the run with Cinnamon to clear his name. But not to worry: Nick may be on the run for his life, but there’s still time in between the sleuthing for hot, sexual encounters.

Yeah, it’s that type of movie: bogus sleuthing, boobs, and FCC violations.

The questions abound: Did all of Nick’s promiscuous sex, chain smoking, booze and drugs lead to a psychotic break? Is it the station manager from his last station that lost its license over Nick’s antics? Is it one of the jealous, profanity-spewing male listeners who call into his show? Did Bridgette, his career-driven, dog-collar wearing producer, do it? Did Vincent set him up? Did Cinnamon set him up? Was it Jackson, a holier than thou cop (Sam Jones) with a grudge against Nick’s on-air antics? What’s that? Honey and Bridgette are undercover lovers?

Yeah, it’s that type of movie: red herrings, boobs, and no 7-second air-delay.

Now, with a down-on-their luck exploitation cast featuring Hewitt, Jones, Carradine, and Gene Simmons’s sister-in-law, you’re thinking this is a video fringe wet dream: only if you’re a David Carradine completest or if you thrive on the bungled careers of others and experience schadenfreude as once popular actors slum for a paycheck.

Martin Hewitt and Sam Jones are a long ways away from their starring roles in their major studio, feature film debuts of Flash Gordon (1980) and Endless Love (1981)—so there’s something to be said of checking your arrogance and ego at the door. And we all know how far David Carradine had fallen, but to end up in this Basic Instinct (1992) backwashed porn slop?

You can call Night Rhythms a “soft-core erotic thriller” all you want. You can market the film in a very hard “R” version for cable, a soft “X” version for a home video release, an “NR” to stick behind the beaded curtain, or cut out 15-minutes of the gratuitous (including ménage and lesbian) sex scenes and stick it on the shelf of a local Blockbuster Video. No matter how you cut the print, it’s disheartening to see Martin Hewitt go from working with Academy Award-nominated Italian director Franco Zeffirelli (1968’s Romeo and Juliet) on Endless Love—which served as the feature film debut of Tom Cruise—to rolling around in cringe-inducing, gratuitous sex scenes.

Yeah, it’s that type of movie: four crappy versions, boobs, and gratuitous everything. And it’s also the type of movie I love.

Sure, Night Rhythms made money. And the acting, directing and cinematography are solid and above porn-grade, but . . . Basic Instinct is a neo-noir masterpiece recognized for its groundbreaking depictions of sex on film. We experienced sympathy, while feeling distain, for Michael Douglas’s dysfunctional cop (also named Nick!). We were engrossed by the cat-and-mouse game between Douglas and Sharon Stone’s Catherine Trammel. But the same couldn’t be said for the 1993 Madonna-starring knockoff Body of Evidence or William Friedkin’s 1995 knockoff, Jade. And Night Rhythms, which substitutes the trouble cop of those films for a trouble radio disc jockey, doesn’t come close in its goals to exist in a world where “Basic Instinct meets Play Misty For Me.”

Yeah, it’s that type of movie: a great pitch, a worn-out fast forward button, and an ending that should have shown Nick the Dick’s set-up punk ass in a prison cell, listening to the producer who set him up, hosting his old radio show. It’s also that type of movie where your producer wears fishnet shirts and a studded collar, and gums up the control room’s electronics with cigarette smoke.

But alas! Wings Hauser fans take note: Director Gregory Dark also wrote and directed the popular B-action sci-fi video rentals Dead Man Walking (1988; full movie) and Street Asylum (1990; full movie). After working with Martin Hewitt on another soft-erotic thriller, 1992’s Secret Games (trailer), Dark reinvented himself as a go-to music video director with Linkin Park’s “One Step Closer,” Stone Sour’s “Inhale,” and Sublime’s “Wrong Way. His long list of clients also includes Breaking Benjamin, Ice Cube, Mandy Moore, and Xzibit. One of the few adult filmmakers (Google “The Dark Brothers” at your own peril) to successfully transition into mainstream Hollywood, Dark had his biggest success with the WWE Films and Lionsgate Entertainment co-production See No Evil. Directed by Dark, the 2006 film starring professional wrestler Kane grossed more than $60 million dollars in worldwide box office. Not a bad day’s work for a film that was produced for $8 million.

Today, Martin Hewitt is retired from the business as a divorced father of two and runs a successful home inspection business in Southern California. Sam Jones is still in the business with two new films in the marketplace: Decapitarium (based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe; trailer) and Axcellerator (a car thief involved in government intrigue with Sean Young and Maxwell Caufield; trailer). Tom Cruise, who worked under Martin Hewitt in Endless Love and came up Hollywood’s ranks alongside Maxwell Caufield and Sam Jones, is back in theaters on June 26, 2020, with Top Gun: Maverick.

That’s how life, rolls.

Two new flicks starring Sam “Flash Gordon” Jones are out now.

Amazingly, Charles Band’s Full Moon Pictures has the rights to Night Rhythms and streams it on their Full Moon Amazon Prime page. Based on its 84-minute runtime, and the fact that Amazon is streaming it, we’ll guess that it’s the edited Blockbuster Video version, but to be on the safe side: discretionary viewing is suggested. (The naughty version runs 99-minutes.)

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.

Body Puzzle (1992)

At least this Lamberto Bava film has a unique premise: A detective discovers that a serial killer’s murders are all connected by the late husband of a beautiful widow. After all, his organs have been transplanted into each dead body!

That said — there is a great scene where the killer eviscerates a schoolteacher victim in front of her class of blind students, spraying one of them with plasma. If only the rest of the film lived up to its premise like this scene!

That said, there are plenty of Italian exploitation faves in this one.

Polish actress Joanna Pacula was in Virus with Jamie Lee Curtis (it’s an early comic book film, based on a Dark Horse comic) and Gorky Park. She plays the lead, Tracy and in real life, once dated Roman Polanski.

Tomas Arana — who is on The New Pope these days — is better known to our readers for appearing in The Church, He and Pacula were also in Tombstone together.

Look out! There’s Gianni Garko, who is beloved here for his work in movies like DevilfishThe Psychic, four of the five legit Sartana films (If You Meet Sartana…Pray for Your Death; I Am Sartana, Your Angel of DeathHave a Good Funeral, My Friend…Sartana Will Pay and Light the Fuse…Sartana Is Coming), Encounters In the Deep and Star Odyssey. There’s Erika Blanc (Kill, Baby… Kill!, The George Hilton-starring Sartana’s Here…Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin, The Night Evelyn Came Out of Her GraveA Dragonfly for Each Corpse)! And Giovanni Lombardo Radice, always a great scumbag in movies like The House on the Edge of the Park and its sequel where he was the main focus, as well as Stagefright, City of the Living DeadCannibal Ferox and Phantom of Death.

Jasmine Maimone, who was in DemonsDemons 6: De Profundis and Paganini Horror was the original choice for the lead, but she retired before this bloody mess could be made.

You can watch the whole movie on YouTube.

Amityville: It’s About Time (1992)

Director Tony Randel produced New World Pictures reworking of The Return of Godzilla into the U.S. version Godzilla 1985 and directed Def Con 4 before his big break, directing Hellbound: Hellraiser II. He also was behind the live-action Fist of the North Star.

Along with Amityville: The Evil Escapes, this movie is loosely based on a series of short stories titled Amityville: The Evil Escapes by John G. Jones. Producer and co-screenwriter Christopher DeFaria became confused by some of the inconsistencies in Jones’ stories, so he called the writer to get some answers. The answer? Jones told him “Yep, Chris, that’s the way evil is. It’s just unpredictable!”

Unlike many of the films with Amityville in the title, this one at least tries to be in canon, bringing up that the house blew up real good at the end of the abysmal Amityville 3-D.

Jacob Sterling (Stephen Macht, The Monster Squad) is an architect who has just returned home from a business trip in Amityville and he’s brought back a cursed clock that once belonged to that evil house that was once there. There you go — there’s the connection.

Meanwhile, his ex-girlfriend Andrea Livingston (Shawn Weatherly, Baywatch) is watching Jacob’s two teenage kids, Lisa (Megan Ward, Trancers 2 and 3) and Rusty (Damon Martin, Ghoulies II). Well, that clock kicks in pretty much right away, randomly transforming the living room into a torture chamber and influencing a neighborhood dog named Peaches into mauling Jacob’s leg. There’s also an incredibly sweaty sex scene between Jacob and Andrea, because hey, you have Shawn Weatherly in a movie and it’s the 90’s and foreign investors and you know how direct to video horror goes.

Nita Talbot, who was Marya on Hogan’s Heroes, shows up as a neighbor. She was in a wealth of horror films, like Island ClawsFrightmare (the Norman Thaddeus Vaine movie, not the Peter Walker version, and yes I realize that the director of that movie is also the main character in the fictional movie within a movie within that movie and yes, that’s very confusing), Chained Heat and Puppet Master II.

All hell breaks loose, with Peaches the dog being killed and her blood being used to smear anti-Jewish symbols all over her owner’s house, Lisa and Jacob being possessed by the clock, Rusty and Andrea actually being the heroes in a film that seems to not know who the protagonists should be and a trick ending that allows a character to scream the title of the movie, delighting me to no end. Top it all off with a Dick Miller cameo and you have an incredibly perfect waste of your time.

I mean, you have to love any movie that has a black box over 1992 in its opening titles. Yes, the movie was originally called Amityville 1992: It’s About Time back when it was all the rage to put the year in the title of movies. 

You can watch this on Amazon Prime or Tubi. Or, if you want the ultimate non-cannon Amityville experience, you can grab this movie as part of Vinegar Syndrome’s astounding Amityville: The Cursed Collection set, along with Amityville: The Evil EscapesAmityville: A New Generation and Amityville: Dollhouse.

Mikey (1992)

Following the James Bulger murder in Liverpool in 1993, Mikey was banned from the UK. Unlike plenty of other movies that have been since re-released (like, for example, our three different Video Nasties articles — follow the links for 1, 2 and 3), this movie is not allowed to play across the pond.

Mikey (Brian Bonsall, who was Andy Keaton on Family Ties) starts the film off by drowning his sister Beth and throwing a hairdryer into the bathtub while his foster mother Grace is just trying to let Calgon take her away. If you’re like, “Mikey, top that!” he soon answers by tripping his foster dad with marbles and beating his brains out with a bat while videotaping the murder. Oh Mikey — you’ve won me over before the credits even ran!

He gets a new family and plenty of friendly victims, which include Josie Bisset from Hitcher In the Dark as a 15-year-old girl who he falls for and Ashley Laurence from Hellraiser as a teacher who pays the price for caring about Mikey’s emotions. Lyman Ward — Ferris Bueller’s dad — and Mimi Craven — second wife of Wes — appear, along with Mark Venturini, Suicide from Return of the Living Dead.

If you’ve ever yearned to see a pre-pubescent child annihilate people with slingshots, crossbows and shoving them through rails and off the second floor of a house — not to mention Molotov cocktails — then you should pretty much watch this one.

You can watch this for free on Tubi.

2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 25: Candyman (1992)

DAY 25. VANISHING CITIES: One with gentrification or real estate development as the setting.

I was just discussing slasher movies and their lack of blackness with one of my friends last week and we struggled to come up with many movies where there was a black killer. Sure, there’s Snoop Dogg’s turn in Bones, which is pretty much a remix of J.D.’s Revenge. Then we remembered — Candyman.

Bernard Rose has directed some really interesting films, like 1988’s dark fantasy of growing up Paperhouse. He was also behind the videos for Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” and “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” before he met with Clive Barker, expressing interest in adapting the story “The Forbidden.”

While the original story is more of an examination of the Birtish class system, Rose moved his story to the inner city of Chicago, where he could better focus on the racial, social and cultural divides of America. Some of its story was inspired by journalist Steve Bogira’s articles about the murder of Ruthie Mae McCoy in Chicago’s Abbot Homes housing project. In particular, the detail that she was murdered by someone who entered her apartment through the opening behind her medicine cabinet becomes an integral part of this story.

Amazingly, Eddie Murphy was the original choice for the titular role, but he was too expensive for the production. Enter Tony Todd. He told IGN that despite fears of being typecast, “I’ve always wanted to find my own personal Phantom of the Opera.” As he was concerned about the threat of being stung by the numerous bees he would contend with, he negotiated a bonus of $1,000 for every sting he suffered during filming. He’s a smart man — he ended up earning an extra $23,000.

Not to name drop, but I had the honor of working with Todd when he came to Pittsburgh to inaugurate the Pittsburgh Public Theater with a performance of August Wilson’s King Hedley II. I’d written a radio commercial promoting it and instead of struggling with a casting agency to discover the right voice, I inquired if Todd would be willing to do the recording session. He was happy to promote the play, as he’d acted in the same play on Broadway. However, the PPT had one condition.

I was told, “No matter what, please do not mention that horror movie he was in.”

I replied, “Do you mean The Crow or the remake of Night of the Living Dead?” Nobody got the joke.

So cut to me standing on the sidewalk of Liberty Avenue, waiting outside Todd’s hotel. Talk about nerve wracking. Suddenly, he was ten feet away from me, his six foot five inch frame even more imposing in person.

“Do we have time for a salad? I’m dying for a salad.”

Not the first thing you’d expect to come out of Candyman’s mouth.

Literally we were ten feet down the street, on the way to a restaurant, when someone jumped in his way and started yelling “Candyman! Candyman! Candyman!” He laughed a jovial chuckle, signed a quick autograph and I said, “They told me you hated that movie and I shouldn’t mention it.”

He smiled and said, “Look, the first one is great. The second one isn’t bad. The third one? You gotta put your kids’ in college. I’m always happy to talk about a movie that let me live the life I live today.”

Of all the moments in my professional career, there is truly nothing quite like closing your eyes and hearing Tony Todd’s deep voice intone your words.

Thanks for indulging me. Back to Candyman.

Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is a Chicago graduate student researching urban legends. She learns of the Candyman, a demon that appears whenever you say his name five times into a mirror, at which point he’ll stab you with the hook where his right hand once was. This tale is remarkably similar to the story of Mary Black from my rural hometown of Ellwood City, PA.

She begins to investigate the murder of Ruthie Jean, a resident of the Cabrini-Green housing project who two cleaning ladies believe was killed by the Candyman. She’s not alone — 25 other people have been killed in similar fashion.

That night, Helen and her friend Bernadette Walsh (Kasi Lemmons, who was in Silence of the Lambs and would go on to direct The Caveman’s Valentine) do the ritual, saying Candyman’s name into a mirror. Nothing happens.

As Helen begins her thesis: Candyman is a way to cope with the despair that Chicago’s  African-Americans feel as they struggle to survive in the projects. A professor shares the story of Candyman’s origins, which begin with him as the son of a slave who would soon become free and known for mass-producing shoes. He grew up free and became an artist of some fame before marrying a white woman in 1890; however, her racist father hired a lynch mob that cut off his artistic hand, replaced it with a hook and smeared him with honey. The stings of bees nearly killed him before he was burned alive and his ashes scattered across he fields where the Cabrini-Green now exists.

As part of her study of the legend, Helen meets Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa A. Williams, Melrose Place) and a young boy named Jake, who tells her the story of a young boy who was castrated by the Candyman. Helen is attacked by someone when she visits the scene of the crime but her attacker is human. He’s arrested based on her testimony and the world thinks Candyman is gone.

That night, as Helen is getting into her car, the real Candyman appears. She’s made people think his legend isn’t true and now innocent blood must be spilled so that he may survive. Helen wakes up in Anne-Marie’s apartment, covered in blood. The dog has been beheaded and her son is missing, so she attacks Helen, who is arrested by the police.

At each turn, Candyman comes closer and closer to ending Helen’s life as he snuffs out the existence of everyone around her. After she’s committed for a month, a psychologist interviews her to see if she’s fit for trial as she’s suspected in the death of her best friend Bernadette. She offers to summon Candyman to the unbelieving doctor who is soon dead at the hands of the so-called urban legend. I love this scene, as the formerly disbeliving protagonist of this tale has willingly given in to the unreality that her world has become. As for her husband Trevor, he doesn’t care at all — he’s taken up with one of his students in her abscence.

Helen runs to Cabrini-Green where she discovers murals depicting the lynching of the human being who would become the Candyman. He appears and tells her to surrender to save the life of the child, offering her immortality as he opens his jacket, revealing an open ribcage filled with bees. He believes that Helen is truly his lover Caroline Sullivan, reincarnated and ready to become immortal at his side.

Candyman promises to release the child if Helen helps him incite more fear, but he decides that instead, he will set the entire projects on fire. She saves Anthony by shoving the monster into the flames of a bonfire before it takes her life too. The residents of the apartment building all attend her funeral, throwing numerous flowers and finally Candyman’s hook into her grave.

At the end, Trevor must face both grief and guilt in the mirror, where he says her name five times. As he turns, his wife has appeared, along with Candyman’s hook. As we return to the projects, the graffiti of Candyman has been replaced by a woman with her hair on fire. Helen has now become part of the immortal world of folklore. 

The music for this film comes from minimalist composer Philip Glass, who was upset that the film came off as a low budget slasher. However, he told Variety in 2014, “It has become a classic, so I still make money from that score, get checks every year.”

Madsen is really amazing in this film and used hypnosis and a trigger word to make her even more frightened for her scenes with Todd. However, this process was too much for her so she didn’t use it for the entire movie. The two actors also took ballroom dancing classes together to create an element of romance between their characters.

There’s a new Candyman film coming from Jordan Peele, which will be a spiritual sequel set in the gentrified neighborhood that has replaced the Cabrini-Green projects. Lakeith Stanfield of the movie Sorry to Bother You will star as the now-adult Anthony, a visual artist who begins to study the legend of Candyman. Thankfully, Todd will return, as who else can play this role? The film is currently untitled, but the working name has been Say My Name.

Until that film comes out, you should grab the original and give it another watch. You can get the Shout! Factory blu ray, which is filled with extras and features a new 2K scan, or the Arrow UK blu ray, which requires a region free player. The fine folks at Diabolik DVD have it waiting for you.

2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 12 Option 6: Psycho Cop Returns (1992)

DAY 12. THE FRACAS AND THE FUZZ: Something revolving around cops and criminals.

After a day of cop related slashers, it’s kind of nice to know that I’m finally winding down with the final film — 1992’s Adam Rifkin-directed Psycho Cop Returns. Yes, the same Adam Rifkin that wrote and directed The Dark Backward, as well as being the writer for Small SoldiersMouse Hunt and Underdog. He also directed the KISS-centric Detroit Rock City.

Writer Dan Povenmire was offered the chance to direct the film, but as this would require him to quit his job on The Simpsons. Therefore, he declined the opportunity.

Officer Joe Vickers — again played by Robert R. Shafer — is continuing his series of murders for Satan. This time, he’s pretty much going Die Hard on a drug-fuelled office bachelor party.

This is one of the few slashers you’ll see where one of the victims ended up winning the Academy Award afterward. But Nick Vallelonga, who plays Michael, co-wrote and produced Green Book.

To balance that out, the ladies of the film are played by the always dependable Julie Strain (pretty much every late Andy Sidaris movie, but let’s go with Return to Savage Beach), Melanie Good, Maureen Flaherty and Carol Cummings, billed here under her non-adult stage name Kimberly Spies. The two go-go dancers are Brittany Ashland (adult actress Tanya Rivers) and Sara Lee Froton, whose only other credit is the deranged slasher Skinner. They were both discovered by the director at an actual bachelor party. And the host of that party? Charlie Sheen.

John Paxton, the father of actor Bill Paxton, also shows up as Mr. Stonecipher, the boss of this office building that’s being used for sexual and drug-addled hijinks.

Just like the first film in this series, you have the right to remain silent during it, as the humor and gore may just not be your cup of tea. Or you might totally love it. The jury, as they say, is out.

You can buy this from the crazy people that are Vinegar Syndrome, who have given their blu ray release of Psycho Cop Returns all the white glove attention that Criterion would to a Robert Altman film. God — or Satan — bless them.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

While a formally educated and cinematically well-rounded film critic viewing Tarantino’s oeuvre will level accusations of plagiarism, schleps like me, who attended the Community College of Film Criticism with Quentin Tarantino, i.e., the local video store, realize Quentin crafts youth-inspired homage. He, like this writer and most of the B&S Movies’ readers, are graduates of the Video Fringe Educational System and our former classmate made it to the top of Mount Lee.

It was during my first Friday night class with Professor Q at my local triplex—in an empty theatre with less than a dozen-filled seats—when I pledged to always buy a ticket to a Tarantino film seminar: The minute I heard the color-aliases (Mr. Pink, White, etc.) assigned by Lawrence Tierney to his diamond heist crew, my brain’s film centers crossed referenced the awesome 1974 crime thriller by Joseph Sargent: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three—a film I went to see at the Drive-In with my parents as a wee lad (and watched every UHF-TV replay). For me, Joseph Sargent is the man: He’s the director of two of my all-time favorite films: Colossus: The Forbin Project and Burt Reynolds’s White Lightning (part of B&S Movies’ upcoming Redneck Week).

“I can’t believe you made me sit out in the lobby all alone and you finished watching the movie!” my soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend screeched. Yep, Tarantino drove her, and four other people, out of the theatre during the Steelers Wheel chair-torture scene.

Yep, Tarantino is the Walrus. He’s one of us and we are he and, when I sit in the theatre with one of his films, we, the video store geeks of ‘80s, are all together.

Once I learned Tarantino “plagiarized” Stanley Kubrick’s film noir, The Killing, 1952’s Kansas City Confidential, 1955’s The Big Combo, 1966’s Django (Italian Spaghetti Westerns? Where’s my plate!), and Ringo Lam’s City on Fire (1987) in the frames of Reservoir Dogs—I sought out those films. And that’s where the Tarantino-cool comes in: Outside of Pelham, how many of us seen or heard of these other films? How many of us rented those movies after their alignment with Tarantino? How many of us sought out more Lawrence Tierney film noirs?

The tale of the Reservoir Dogs is fairly simple and familiar: Eight men meet at a diner for breakfast before a big diamond heist. The heist goes bad and the ‘Dogs rendezvous at a warehouse. Paranoia reigns supreme until there’s one man left standing.

In the hands of any other director, confined in a one-set scene that plays out for the remaining 80-plus minutes, we’d be heading to the concession stand for a popcorn refill and reaching for fast forward button. Ah, but this is a Tarantino picture. Instead of cardboard characters in a cardboard situation on a cardboard set of the Ed Wood-Bela Lugosi variety, we get:

— Characters debating the philosophical meaning of Madonna’s song catalog

— A lesson on the art of tipping waitresses

— The characters readying for their heist to the sounds of an obscure and forgotten Norwegian band, the George Baker Selection

— A maudlin-monotone DJ on an all-‘70s radio station expounding on the career of Scottish musicians Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty as Michael Madsen does a soft shoe and mutilates a chair duct-taped cop

— Lawrence Tierney, and Harvey Keitel from Taxi Driver, and Steve Buscemi

And that’s the art of Tarantino: he’s the master of the art of layers, as taught by screenwriting guru Robert McKee. Tarantino is the Sensei of pop-culture references; the master of actor casting; the definitive faux-radio station program director.

Think of all of the films produced across the decades with the same master plots churned over and over again by the Tinsel Town sausage machines. Tarantino knows us; he knows his fellow movie goers and video renters have been done’d-there-and-done’d-that to death. He knows we’ve seen those heist movies where “Murphy’s Law” reigns supreme. So he accessed his brain’s film databanks to create Reservoir Dogs, as well as other films, that, according to the ubiquitous film snob, may not be wholly original stories with original elements—but fail to realize Tarantino excels at creating the air of uniqueness with his end product. Tarantino is like oxygen: If you get too much, you get to high. Not enough, and you’re gonna die. It’s the sweet air I breathe.

It is my sincere hope this Tarantino ass-kiss week at B&S Movies convinces Quentin to do for our Italian post-Apocalyptic heroes, Mark Gregory and Michael Sopkiw, as he did for John Travolta: Cast them in a “comeback film,” as they both deserve to be Tarantino’d to the big screen—in a snow-drizzled, bloody fight scene against a hoard of black-suited Ninjas, backed by the music catalog of Sweet.

“And that was Brian Connolly and the Sweet on the station where the ‘70s survived, K-B-i-l-l-y, the Home of Rock,” speaker-croaks the maudlin-monotone DJ.

“Turn off the fucking radio, will you?” says Mark ‘Trash’ Gregory wiping the spoils of Asian blood from his brow. “That ‘70s bullshit gets on my fucking nerves.”

“Let’s get a taco,” says Michael ‘Parsifal’ Sopkiw clicking off the sounds of KBI radio as he peels away a blood-stained yellow jumpsuit.

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.

Universal Soldier (1992)

Let’s give Roland Emmerich a break. For every single horrible movie he created like Godzilla and The Day After Tommorrow, I look back at this movie and say, “I have to forgive him. After all, he made Universal Soldier.” It was written by Richard Rothstein (who created the HBO show The Hitchhiker, Christopher Leitch and Dean Devlin, Roland’s usual partner).

Back in Vietnam. a U.S. Army team was ordered to take a village, but Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) soon figures out that every person in the village — and many of his own men — have been killed. That’s because his sergeant Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) has finally gone over the edge. Despite the begging of Deveraux, he kills a young couple. Our hero loses it and both men ends up killing one another. The end? Nope. A second team comes in and freezes them, chalking them up to just two more soldiers missing in action.

Years later, both men are part of the UniSol program, a team of elite soldiers who are able to withstand gunfire and run down the side of Hoover Dam. During a mission, Deveraux begins to remember the past and starts to disobey the orders of their commander, Colonel Perry (Ed O’Ross, The Hidden).

TV journalist Veronica Roberts (Ally Walker, TV’s Profiler) is determined to get the real story. She finds one of the UniSols, GR76 (Ralf Moller, Cyborg) in ice, healing from his wounds. She’s discovered and the order is to bring her back, dead or alive. That’s when Deveraux finally breaks free of his programming and saves her.

Scott also remembers his past self and gives in to his insanity, walking around with a necklace of ears, as he still thinks he’s in Vietnam. His big mission now is to find and kill Deveraux. Our hero has gone rogue and he finds Dr. Christopher Gregor (Jerry Orbach) who tells him how the program was started in the 1960s.

Hijinks, as they say, ensue, as the one good UniSol left has to battle every single member of his old platoon. There’s also an incredible scene that I quote all of the time, where Van Damme beats up an entire bar while muttering, “I’m tired. I just want to go home. And I just want to eat.” No quote has ever summed up how I feel on any given day of the week more.

Look for other soldiers like Michael Jai White (Spawn) and Tiny Lister. Even better, one of the commanding officers is Eugene M. Davis, who played villains in two Bronson movies, 10 to Midnight and Messenger of Death, as well as a cross-dressing snitch in Cruising.

Universal Soldier was a much darker movie when it was originally written. Colonel Perry was actually using the incident at the dam to justify the project, with the entire mission being a false flag operation. He then orders Scott to kill anyone in his way as he hunts down Deveraux. Why the change? Probably because after the Gulf War, a negative view of the military probably would have hurt the film’s chances to make money.

Even weirder, this movie started as another project for Emmerich and Devlin called Isobar. That movie would have starred Sylvester Stallone and Kim Basinger, pitting them against a genetically created monster on a bullet train. After that movie stalled due to a budget growing out of control, they were hired for this movie instead.

Also — if you even see the movie Critical Mass, directed by Fred Olen Ray, it uses the bus chase from this film. It was produced by Andrew Stevens, who started making low budget films based around b-roll footage after he stopped making Cinemax After Dark features.

The military was actually watching all of this action and it’s why the HK 45 Compact, which has day/night/laser aiming and a suppressor, was added to the arsenal of SEAL Team 6.

The thing that really makes me laugh is that for all the ripping off that Sergio Martino’s Hands of Steel does of Terminator and Over the Top, this one completely steals that movie’s concept! Oh well — I totally love this totally ridiculous action-packed movie all about foreign dudes being US Army zombie soldiers. It’s not even a guilty pleasure — I hate that idea — it’s a movie I tell everyone about.