Invader (1992)

EDITOR’S NOTE: I watched this originally during Cannon Month, but took another look after reviewing all of Phillip Cook’s movies. 

Directed and written by Phillip J. Cook, Invader was produced independently by Cook and John Ellis. Cook shot all the inexpensive dialogue sequences and what he did impressed Menahem Golan so much that he financed the rest of the movie through his 21st Century Film Corporation.

After watching four soldiers fail to escape from Clark Air Base, we meet Frank McCall (Hans Bachmann), a reporter for the National Scandal. When one of the soldier’s burned bodies is found, he starts to look into the story and comes up against government agents who want it silenced. McCall sneaks into the base on the night that a plane with an experimental software system called A.S.M.O.D.S. is being tested and ends up being held by Captain Anders (A. Thomas Smith) and Colonel Faraday (Rick Foucheux).

Before they can even interrogate him, men in black and a UFO attack the base. It turns out that the A.S.M.O.D.S. system uses alien technology recovered from the Roswell crash. As the alien soldiers finally catch up to McCall, he’s saved by Anders and the two take off in a stealth fighter. They’re attacked by several F-16s and only survive due to help from the Pentagon. They’re able to convince General Anheiser (John Cook) that aliens are brainwashing soldiers — including Faraday — and that they have to do something about it.

Now, the aliens have unleashed their HARV robot, which has become a totally American monster, preparing to nuke China and Russia off the globe and then destroying everything else. But the general has a gleam in his eyes and two rockets left to save the world.

Invader is a blast, a movie that may be limited in its budget but totally filled with big ideas, like the HARV robot that is filled with rhetoric and madness. The heroes — outside of reporter McCall — are all uniformly capable and devoted to the job even when they face impossible odds and deadly situations. And the effects are really intriguing, especially when you realize that there are no actual planes or helicopters here. These are all miniatures and sure, sometimes you can tell, but I love the look of stop motion over CGI.

Cook would go on to do lots more, especially another low budget, high-concept film Despiser.

You can watch this on Tubi.

88 FILMS 4K UHD AND BLU RAY RELEASE: Police Story III: Supercop (1992)

Jackie Chain is back as “Kevin” Chan Ka-Kui, the Hong Kong cop he played in Police Story and Police Story 2. It’s also the first movie that the former Michelle Khan, now Michelle Yeoh, would make after her divorce. The two stars got into a stunt competition during filming and both kept doing more dangerous stunts, until Chan had to admit that they were both going to die.

He’s not lying. This movie is famous for the scene where Yeoh jumps a dirt bike onto a train — I love that people say, “Well, it was on a track” and they don’t realize that she’s still riding a dirtbike onto a moving trail — and that’s just one of the many stunts that keep on escalating.

How wild does it get?

In a Hollywood Reporter round table, when asked what scene he would put in a time capsule or to show to aliens, Tarantino picked the last scene of this movie. As big time directors like Ridley Scott and Danny Boyle laughed at him, he said, “Aliens would watch and be amazed at what they saw” and the scene “could actually give you an understanding of cinema and all its bells and whistles and the movement.”

Ka-Kui is sent to Guangzhou, where Interpol director Inspector Jessica Yang (Yeoh) explains his next assignment: he must stop drug lord Chaibat (Kenneth Tsang) by getting close to him. To do that, he’s to go undercover and break the crime boss’ henchman Panther (Yuen Wah) out of prison. A thankful bad guy, Panther invites Ka-Kui to join the gang.

The first problem? They end up in Ka-Kui’s supposed hometown, but the cops are ahead of the criminals and have set up a family for him, with Yang as his sister. They also make it look like the brother and sister team kill a cop, making them seem like even better choices to join Chaibat.

Chaibat tests the heroes by sending them on dangerous missions, like killing everyone that deals with his main grower and rescuing his wife Chen Wen-Shi (Josephine Koo) from a huge prison in Kuala Lumpur. She won’t give him the password to his Swiss bank accounts otherwise, so it’s not motivated by love.

The problem? Ka-Kui’s girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung) is also there, leading a group of tourists, and thinks her boyfriend is cheating on her once she sees him with another woman. She ends up taken by the gang and the cops are forced to break Chen Wen-Shi from jail, which leads to the near-twenty minute long action that closes the film, the scene that Tarantino picked as the one he would save above all other movie moments.

He’s not serving hyperbole. That scene is that good. The rest of the movie is, too. Sure, Jackie made better, but if you judge this purely on how entertaining it is, it’s really hard to beat.

The 88 Films limited edition of 3000 for Police Story III: Supercop has a slipcase with new artwork by Sean Longmore, an 80-page collector’s booklet featuring new writing by C.J. Lines and interview with John Wakefield, six lobby cards and a double-sided poster.

The film is available as both a 4K UHD presentation of the Hong Kong cut and a 4K UHD presentation of the international U.S. cut. There’s audio commentary by Frank Djeng, features on all of the actors and the director, outtakes, behind-the-scenes footage, trailers, T.V. commercials, teaser trailers, and even the TV commercial where Yeoh first met Chan. I honestly don’t know if there will be a better version of this movie ever released. You can get it from MVD.

SALEM HORROR FEST: Candyman (1992)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This movie was watched as part of Salem Horror Fest. You can still get a weekend pass for weekend two. Single tickets are also available. Here’s the program of what’s playing.

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 British 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 disbelieving 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 absence.

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 project 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.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Don Quixote (1992?)

Don Quixote is one of those never finished films that fascinates me. At one point, it was just a half hour show that Orson Welles was making for CBS called Don Quixote Passes By and it would have Quixote (originally Mischa Auer, to be replaced by Francisco Reiguera, Simon of the Desert) and Sancho Panza (Akim Tamiroff, who Welles called “the greatest of all screen actors”) being trapped in 1955. Welles would tell Peter Bogdanovich in a conversation printed in This is Orson Welles, “What interests me is the idea of these dated old virtues. And why they still seem to speak to us when, by all logic, they’re so hopelessly irrelevant. That’s why I’ve been obsessed for so long with Don Quixote, who can’t ever be contemporary — that’s really the idea. He never was. But he’s alive somehow, and he’s riding through Spain even now .” Welles saw Quixote and Panza as eternal ever wandering characters.

CBS disliked what they saw and ended the project, but thanks to money from acting and $25,000 from Frank Sinatra, Welles kept working. After he was removed from Touch of Evil, Welles began working on this story in earnest, even bringing Bad Seed Patty McCormack to Mexico to play a girl who would meet Welles — playing himself — and hear of Quixote and Panza before meeting them in person. By the time the film came back together in Spain — Welles ran out of money and did many projects as a mercenary to raise the funds needed to make the movies he cared about — McCormack was too old and that part of the story was cut.

Shot over the next decade — and more! — in Spain and Italy, the production took so long that a chronically sick Reiguera begged Welles to finish shooting his scenes before he died, which he was able to do before the actor passed in 1969. This ended the principal photography, but Welles never saw a need to finish the movie, saying that the film was “My own personal project, to be completed in my own time, as one might with a novel.” Then he changed gears and claimed it was going to be an essay like F for Fake, as well ideas of the heroes surviving a nuclear war or going to the Moon. Every time he went to Spain, he got new ideas and at one point had a thousand pages of script piled up. Even up until his death, he would discuss the film publically.

The year after Welles’ death — 1986 — 45 minutes of scenes and outtakes, assembled by the archivists from the Cinémathèque Française and supervised by the director Costa-Gavras, played Cannes. And it seemed like that’s all that would ever be seen of this.

Except that life is strange.

What was left of the film was split into several places. Oja Kodar (Welles’s companion and co-writer of F for Fake where she is presented as the daughter of an art forger; never forget “art is a lie that makes us see the truth”) had given some footage to the Munich Film Museum as well as also selling that footage to the Filmoteca Española in Madrid. Welles’ editor Mauro Bonanni had a negative and the two battled for decades until Italy’s Supreme Court forced Bonanni to give his negative to Kodar.

So where does Jess Franco come in?

Well, in 1992, Kodar had already spent years touring Europe in a camper van with the footage, trying to convince several notable directors to complete Don Quixote. All of them said no. Jess Franco said yes and maybe he was a better pick than it seems, seeing as how he was Welles’s second unit director on Chimes at Midnight.

Bonnani had all of the McCormack footage, including a windmill-fighting-style scene where Quixote would fight knights on a movie screen and cut it down, not understanding our modern life. Spanish producer Patxi Irigoyen and Franco had so much footage in so many aspect ratios and formats that the idea of combining all of it and making it not just work but feel like an Orson Welles film seems, well, quixotic.

So Franco wrote new script, hired voiceover actors to do impressions of Welles’s narration and the actor’s voices which don’t match up and then added Welles to the film — using footage from 1964’s Nella terra di Don Chisciotte — as well as windmill images, zooms and jump cuts. Those last two elements are totally Franco and point to his involvement. I wouldn’t be more sure if the film didn’t suddenly zoom into Lina Romay’s spread thighs.

Don Quixote de Orson Welles premiered at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival and everyone hated it. Welles had purposefully mislabeled reels and had no intention of anyone finishing this except for, well, Orson Welles finishing it.

It’s absolutely amazing to me that a movie by perhaps the greatest director of all time was finished by Franco, but that’s why I’m obsessed by his work.

Two different obsessions in one photo.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Jungle of Fear (1993)

Has my obsession with Jess Franco gone too far? I’d say yes, seeing as how I just watched a workprint of Jungle of Fear, complete with time code and multiple angles of the same scenes. There’s no dubbing. And who knows where he was going to take Christopher Mitchum, Antonio Mayans, Lina Romay and William Berger in this film?

Yet I have reached that point where I will watch everything that he does because, say it with me, “to see Franco you must see all of Franco.”

There are crystal skulls, gold bugs, an evil Nazi version of Van Helsing, Dr. Quasimodo, Lina being filled with high energy and smiles, an evil woman named Furia who is a dancing dom, Lina hiding behind a JCVD poster, Charlie Chaplin Jr. getting in the shower with Lina, a Franco cameo where he sings opera, an appearance by Fatima Michalczik (who was an editor on the Franco Don Quixote edit of the unfinished Orson Welles movie and oh man, there’s so much to say about that someday soon) and Chaplin walking past a mural of his grandfather and literally mugging the camera.

Instead of all the work that we’re putting into artificial intelligence, can we get someone to dub and edit and make this movie finished? Because it gave me hope in this grim world watching it, despite how ragged it all seems.

You can watch it on YouTube.

ARROW BLU RAY RELEASE: The Vagrant (1992)

Chris Walas’ special effects work is within the hearts and minds of every single genre fan. I mean, he did the facemelting in Raiders of the Lost Ark, created the Gremlins, designed the makeup for Jereeba Shigan in Enemy Mine and was the creature designer for The Fly, House IIArachnaphobiaNaked Lunch and so many more films, as well as directing The Fly II and this film.

Richard Jefferies wrote Blood Tide and the script for this movie a decade before it was filmed. It was based on a real homeless person who lived in a vacant lot on the other side of the street from his first house in Los Angeles. He showed the script to William Wesley and that led to them making Scarecrows together and then after rewrites on this movie, Walas came on to direct and brought the script to Mel Brooks, who had produced The Fly II.

Graham Krakowski (Bill Paxton) has just bought his first house and he worries that the homeless man (Marshall Bell, Coach Schneider from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) across the street is stalking him, a fact that becomes more true when he has the man arrested for urinating on his yard. Soon, he’s sleepwalking and wondering when he’s having a nightmare and when it’s reality. And when a series of murders happen, he wonders if he’s the one doing the killing.

This movie has the kind of cast I love to see in a movie, including Michael Ironside, Colleen Camp, Stuart Pankin, Mitzi Kapture (I may have watched more than one movie with a Silk Stalkings castmember this week) and Marc McClure.

This made me miss Bill Paxton, an actor who could do just about anything. He hits every emotion in this film and owns every scene that he’s in.

The Arrow Video blu ray of The Vagrant has a brand new 2K restoration by Arrow Films from a new scan of the original camera negative; new interviews with director Chris Walas, Marshall Bell, Michael Ironside and Colleen Camp; a trailer; an image gallery; a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Robert Hack and an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by film critic Chris Hallock and Vagrant super-fan James Pearcey. You can get it from MVD.

MILL CREEK DVD RELEASE: Ultraman Kids: 3,000 Light Years in Search of Mother (1992)

You know,  if I had first seen Urutoraman Kizzu: Haha wo Tazunete 3000-man Koune back in 1992, I would have hated it. How dare they make a kid cartoon out of my beloved Ultraman? Now that I’m older, I find it charming and had a lot of fun watching it. Maybe there’s something to be said about not being so precious about things you love.

The 1984 Urutoraman Kizzu special was a hit, so why not do an entire show?

The hero of this show is Maa, an Ultra who survived a spaceship crash and met Grosser-sensei, a kind monster who raised him as if he were his own child. Grosser-sensai is voiced by Takeshi Aono, who was also Sanada Shiro on Space Battleship Yamato amongst so many other voices.

Even though he has friends and a new family, he still wonders where his parents could be, so he decides to travel into space to find them.

He is joined by other Ultras, including his crush Piko, the Ultraseven-lookalike Cebu, the Ultraman Taro sports star Taa, Rookie, Ace, Root and Nozzy. They attend class with a bully named Bal, which makes sense, as he’s an alien Baltan. His friend is an alien Guts named Gutsun, plus there are also monsters like Mephila, Pega, Gomotan, Elepy, Tacon, Poly Poly, Pigko the Pigmon and Midori.

This is a fun show for kids who love Ultraman as the Ultras and monsters get along together, even if they’re rivals at times. I watched most of the set over two days and it was a bright, candy colored burst of sheer joy. I’m going to return to it when I need to improve my mood. I’m so glad that it’s now available in the U.S., thanks to Mill Creek.

You can get this set from Deep Discount.

You can check out the first episode here:

Nightmare Asylum (1992)

Todd Sheets has disavowed this movie but it’s still got its charms. Lisa (Lori Hassel) wanders through, well, a Nightmare Asylum for around an hour. There’s a creepy family, some killers, a Leatherface-like big boss and a zombie pit at the end, all in a movie that was shot at various points with several different groups of people and then edited into whatever this is.

The star of the whole thing is The Devil’s Dark Side Haunted House where this was made. It’s already got some cool lighting and fog, plus you get to see some horror icons inside an SOV. Sheets is a big fan of Fulci and you can see the absolute movie idea from The Beyond in this, except that sound goes in and out so much and the video quality defines murky and this only dreams of the budget of the cheapest of Italian film.

But man, I do love Enochian Key’s songs and Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” which is super classy compared to what’s happening inside the movie.

The good news is that Sheets really improved as a filmmaker without losing the strange energy that is all over the place here. That makes me so happy.

Paura il diavolo (1992)

Darren Ward, who directed and wrote this SOV horror film, called his studio — well, as much a studio as SOV gets — Giallo Films. He went on from this to make the movie Sudden Fury (the last movie of David Warbeck), Three Tickets to HellNightmaresA Day of Violence (which has Italian star Giovanni Lombardo Radice in the cast) and Beyond Fury (which also stars Radice).

Consider this a British SOV Evil Dead, as the lead opens a bag he finds buried in his backyard and unleashes puppet demons that kill the entire teenage cast. There’s also a wacky alien pig mask that transforms that dude into a demon.

Unlike so many gather your buddy SOV films, Paura il diavolo  is smart enough to be 41 minutes long and not wear out its welcome. It also brings with it plenty of gore, which is really the reason to be watching this. I have to revise that whole Venn diagram of SOV to also include Sam Raimi fans, gorehounds, metalheads and people whose parents owned a videocamera.

You have to love a teenage British horror fan who says “presenta” in the poster for his movie and tries to make an Argento by way of no budget video Deadite ridiculousness.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Demon Lover (1992)

This is not the 1976 Donald Jackson film The Demon Lover nor is it the Scott Valentine-starring My Demon Lover. Instead, this is the story of Jenny Harris (Ashlie Rhey, Body of InfluenceBikini Drive-In) and the horrible men in her life: the husband who cheats on her, the boss (Joe Estevez) who talks down to her and the incubus she conjures that kills people.

Maybe I only know that the succubus who appear in movies — Erika Blanc in The Devil’s Nightmare, Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body, Karen Black in Trilogy of Terror — are uniformly gorgeous. The incubus in this — pardon me while I burst — is a balding, pot-bellied man who isn’t strictly a sexual dynamo but magic being what magic is, Jenny falls madly into his arms and onto his loins.

Reasons to watch: Abundant nudity; Michelle Bauer getting her heart ripped clean out; Robert Z’Dar seeing if a mustache works for him as a cop; Lauren Hayes, who eventually played Cara Loft in the softcore Womb Raider; Gwen Summer, who like direct to video pretty girls was also on Renegade, so Lorenzo Lamas always had a bevy of beauties around him; a fake Necronomicon; the shrill noise that will make your dog lose his mind every time the incubus shows up and, as in nearly every late 80s movie, fog machine overuse.

Director Mike Tristano also directed The Flesh MerchantCyber SeekerDark NovaSavage Season and several more films, but today is probably better known for his work as a weapons provider and master armorer. Writer T. Martin Smith also worked with him on the movies Cyber Seeker and Body Count.

Ah 1992. May your movies forever be filled with lengthy foggy lensed love scenes, neon hues, Robert Z’Dar and so, so, so much fog.