Dead Air (1994)

When you need a suspenseful slasher flick, a neo-giallo or neo-noir thriller competently done on a tight budget, director Fred Walton (April Fool’s Day, The Rosary Murders) is the man to call. His 1979 debut film, the babysitter stalker flick When a Stranger Calls, budgeted at $1.7 million was brought in under budget at $1.5 million in an 18-day shoot. The film subsequently grossed over $21 million and became one of Columbia Studios’ top grossing films for the year.

For reasons unknown, even after the success of those three theatrical films, Walton retreated into low-budget TV work, directing a host of entertaining cable psycho-thrillers: a remake of 1965’s I Saw What You Did (1988), Trapped (1989), Murder in Paradise (1990), The Price She Paid (1992), Homewrecker (1992), the TV sequel to his debut, When a Stranger Calls Back (1993), The Courtyard (1995), and his final film, The Stepford Husbands (1996).

As for the influence of and the respect afforded to When a Stranger Calls: Director Wes Craven paid homage to Walton’s debut by duplicating the film’s 20 minute opening sequence—deemed as one of the scariest openings sequences in a horror film—in the first 10 minutes of his 1996 horror hit, Scream. (If you’ve never seen When a Stranger Calls, it’s highly recommended you do. It’s on You Tube.)

So, with that back story on Walton’s cinema forte—along with this film’s title, its tagline and artwork of the one-sheet—you’ve probably guessed the plot of this film is somewhat similar to the previously reviewed Power 98—with a lone DJ noir-spiraling into a web of murder and deceit driven by a mysterious caller.

And if you’re keeping track of your radio psychos, you know the concept of a killer having a relationship with a radio host dates to Clint Eastwood’s 1971 directorial debut, Play Misty for Me. And you’ll recall the post-Halloween slasher ‘80s brought us the first of several psycho films concerning a serial killer harassing a radio host, which began with the U.K’s Section 3 video nasty, Don’t Answer the Phone (1980). Others in the cycle include Open House (1987) and Outside Ozona (1998), along with the cable films The Night Caller (1998) starring Tracy Nelson, Requiem for Murder (1999) starring Molly Ringwald, and A Lover’s Revenge (2005) starring Baywatch’s Alexandra Paul.

However, don’t let that familiarity deter you from watching Walton’s take on the radio psycho genre.

Three things make Dead Air work—where other low budget, set-in-radio station flicks fail. First, is the well-researched and intelligent script by David Amann (TV’s The X Files, Crossing Jordan, Without a Trace, and Castle) that not only knows its noir cues, but allows the radio station employees to sound like real radio station employees. Second, it was shot inside a real radio station—KKHR outside of Bakersfield, Ca. (the film was also shot in Agua Dulce, Ca. also outside of L.A.) Third, Gregory Hines (Cotton Club, Wolfen) did his research; he handles the equipment, along with the grease pencils and razor blades as he splices audio tape, with the skills of a radio pro.

Mark Jannek (Gregory Hines) is an L.A. DJ who specializes in incorporating his love of film noir into his music programs by re-creating old time, nourish radio dramas (remember: Eastwood’s Dave Garver worked his knowledge of poetry into his shows). After the murder of his girlfriend, Kathie, by an “obsessive fan,” Jannek restarts his life under the on-air name of Jim Sheppard at a small station in a dusty oil field town, far from the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles.

As is the case with most DJs suffering from ego issues: “Jim” is back to his old tricks and ends up at a bar after his shift . . . and meets a girl, Judy, for a one-night stand (dude, did you learn nothing from Nick West in Night Rhythms?). The next night Mark’s on the air, the ever-present #1 fan who’s been obsessively calling the show tells him she has Judy—and murders Judy while he’s on the air. Of course, the cops don’t believe him—and there’s no record of the call. Utilizing his knowledge of the noir genre, Mark starts his own gumshoein’ investigation and tracks down Judy—and finds her body. Then the cat and mouse games ensue with the mystery fan making more untraceable phone calls and leaving messages on self-erasing cassette tapes, with Mark twisting in a web that takes him from victim, to witness, to suspect—not only in Judy’s murder, but in Susan’s, his producer at the station, and, the police believe, Kathie’s murder back in Los Angeles.

Is the person who killed Judy and Susan the same person who killed Mark’s girlfriend in Los Angeles? Is it the jealous DJ who got bumped from his shift to make way for Mark? Is it the psychology student (Debrah Farentino, TV’s NYPD Blue, Earth 2), who’s writing a thesis paper on broadcasting? Is it Kathie’s sister, Lara, who discovers she’s also becoming tangled in a web by her sister’s killer? Is it Morton, the station’s dweeby chief engineer?

The ending of Dead Air is a genuine, twisty shocker. Granted, it’s not a “shocker” of the Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct nourish level, this is a direct-to-cable movie after all, but a shocker none-the less and certainly above the “shock ending” of other radio-noirs in its wake.

Look for an early role from John Hawkes as Morton, who got his start in the sci-fi cheapy Future-Kill (1985) and made it all the way to the Golden Globes and the Oscars with nominated roles in Winter’s Bone (2010) and The Sessions (2012). Horror hounds will immediately recognize Beau Starr in his role as Lieutenant Marvin Gallis from his roles in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, as well as his much seen roles (thanks their incessant cable replays) in Goodfellas as Henry Hill’s father (1990), and Speed (1994).

VHS rip of the full film on You Tube. You can also watch a preview trailer courtesy of Video Detective.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

Radioland Murders (1994)

How much does a $15 million film about an early 1940’s radio station earn in box office? Less than a million and a half, that’s how much. And you thought Howard the Duck bombed? Not everything can be Star Wars, eh, Indy?

George Lucas conceived the idea for Radioland Murders during the writing of 1973’s American Graffiti as a homage/remake of the Abbott and Costello films of old, 1942’s Who Done It in particular, which had the screwball comedic duo solving a murder at a radio station. To whip the “who done it” script into shape, Lucas brought on American Graffiti’s husband and wife screenwriting team of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, who also worked on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Howard the Duck (1986) and, of course, they doctored Star Wars. Of course, we ‘80s video fringers and ‘70s Drive-In connoisseurs remember them best for their feature film debut, 1973’s Messiah of Evil (a movie so good, we reviewed it three times: HERE, HERE, and HERE).

For the roles of the estranged husband and wife radio team (Bud and Louella?) who become reluctant detectives to solve the murder of station owner General Walt Whalen on the inaugural night of WBN Chicago’s broadcast, Lucas cast Brian Benben from HBO’s “adult-themed” family-situation comedy Dream On (1990 —1996) and Mary Stuart Masterson, best known for her work in John Hughes’s Some Kind of Wonderful (1986). To say this retro radio romp killed both of their careers is an understatement. While Masterson pressed on with roles in several forgotten indie films, Radioland Murders proved to be Benben’s final film. Director Mel Smith never worked in mainstream Hollywood again and reverted back to British cinema. His most notably effort was Bean, the 1997 film version of the British series Mr. Bean, as well as 1985’s Morons from Outer Space, which he wrote and starred.

So, uh, is Radioland Murders funny? Is it “screwball” funny?

Nope. Not in the slightest. The Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, even The Ritz Brothers and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis are of a time and place. And when we want to go there, we want to see the originals—and nobody is clamoring to see Brian Benben as the lead in a feature film, let alone a send up of a 1930s “who done it” comedy. It makes you wonder how the movie would have turned out if Steve Martin and Cindy Williams starred as the leads as originally planned. . . .

Rounding out the cast is a who’s who of familiar character actors with Ned Beatty (Superman ’78), Michael Lerner (Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla ’98; Senator Brickman in X-Men: Days of Future Past), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Brown from Back to the Future), Michael McKean (This is Spinal Tap), Jeffrey Tambor (Tom Manning in the Hellboy franchise), and Steven Tobolowsky (Commissioner Hugo Jarry in HBO’s Deadwood). Also be on the lookout for Corbin Bernsen (TV’s L.A Law, the Major League film franchise), Bobcat Goldthwaite, Larry Miller (The Nutty Professor franchise), and Harvey Korman who—ironically—starred as Bud Abbott in the 1978 TV movie bio-flick Bud and Lou.

“Hey, Abbott! Who done it?”

“I don’t know, Lou. The guy who played first base?”

“What do you think, R.D?”

Me? I’d rather skip Radioland Murders and watch you guys in Who Done It? instead. But with that supporting cast, B&S readers would probably want to take a look-see over on Amazon Prime and Vudu.

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.

Airheads (1994)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gregg Harrington is a podcaster, freelance journalist, musician and amateur screenwriter, known primarily for co-hosting the ’80s horror podcast Neon Brainiacs along with local filmmaker and actor Ben Dietels. When he’s not talking about Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger, he can be heard playing drums in the heavy grunge revival band, Pummeled and masterminding the straight edge power violence band, Rabid Pigs.

The importance of the radio has waned in the 21st century. The evolution of on-demand content via the Internet and other venues where we take in what we want when we want did a pretty swift job of dismantling the tastemaker privileges of the radio business. You can even hear it when you listen to the radio: Pittsburgh’s local “alternative” station has become an amalgamation of a handful of grunge bands, modern pop and one-hit wonders from the early 2000’s. You can hear Nirvana, Imagine Dragons, Pantera, New Radicals and Three Doors Down back to back. It’s weird. It’s also weird to think of a time where stations dictated what bands were huge and had more of a hand in curating local concerts and festivals.

One bastion of the importance of radio is 1994’s rock comedy Airheads, directed by Michael Lehmann (Heathers, Meet the Applegates). While Lehmann is known more for television directing these days, he certainly hit a home run with me in my adolescence with Airheads. Wearing out my VHS of it and later watching it over and over on Comedy Central glued each line of dialogue to my brain. Boasting an impressive cast and an even more impressive soundtrack, Airheads finds itself acting as a time capsule, capturing the hostile takeover of grunge, usurping the tight grip hair metal had on the American music scene, and recording a time where radio play made or broke local bands. Our absentminded heroes, played by Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler do a bang-up job embodying the spirit of musicians trying to “make it” in the 90s.

Down on their luck rock band the Lone Rangers are trying as hard as they can to get noticed around the Los Angeles music scene to no avail, so they resort to breaking into the local radio station, KPPX Rebel Radio, to force the station’s lead DJ, Ian The Shark (Joe Mantegna), to play their demo. When things go south due to the meddling of station manager Milo (Michael McKean), the gang pulls out an arsenal of toy guns that look extremely real and take the entire radio station hostage. From there, hilarity ensues. The chaos of the whole situation is fueled by the police presence outside and the shenanigans inside the station and over the airwaves, culminating in a feeding frenzy of a music video shoot in the parking lot and, later, in jail.

The musical touchstones of the film are many. For starters, Airheads revolves around the emerging single by the Lone Rangers (“there’s three of you, you’re not exactly lone”), “Degenerated”, which was originally performed by the New York punk band Reagan Youth. Kind of strange to think about that since the Lone Rangers are supposed to lean more towards Guns N Roses than east coast punk music. The movie version features Brendan Fraser on vocals with White Zombie’s guitarist Jay Yuenger and bassist Sean Yseult on the track as well. Speaking of White Zombie, for the club scene in the middle of the film, they can be seen performing “Eat The Gods” at the Whisky. Funny enough, the role of the live band was initially offered to Cannibal Corpse, but after the producers found out they had already appeared as a club band in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, they opted to go with White Zombie instead. It’s been reported that Metallica and Testament also turned down an offer to portray the band in that scene as well. The movie’s background is also doused in music ephemera, mostly of the punk and extreme metal variety. Stickers and posters can be seen with the logos of Cro-Mags, Obituary, and more. I’ve always felt this clashed with the Lone Rangers’ leanings more towards Sunset Strip glam metal, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

Airheads’ soundtrack is also pretty great, which is not surprising given the amount of 90s movie soundtracks that have lived on in the public consciousness (Judgment Night, Singles, Spawn, etc). Kicking off the movie is a re-recording of the Motorhead track “Born To Raise Hell”, which features guest spots from Ice-T (Body Count) and Whitfield Crane (Ugly Kid Joe, Life Of Agony). The original appeared on the band’s 1993 album Bastards. It’s a Motorhead song so you know it kicks ass. It’s also a great song to put over the opening credits, which is composed of the names of cast and crew along with time-lapse animations of random scenarios like making a sandwich and changing guitar strings. There are a few interesting cover songs on the soundtrack as well, including 4 Non Blondes covering “I’m The One” by Van Halen and, even more surprising, Anthrax covering the Smiths deep cut “London”. Coincidentally, Anthrax is also featured on the August 1993 cover of R.I.P. Magazine being read by Carter (David Arquette) during the film. Primus, Prong, the Ramones and the Replacements also make appearances as well.

As far as the movie itself, while it may not have gotten the best reviews or box office return, Airheads has lived on as a great music comedy, which I find to be on par with a film like This Is Spinal Tap. The villain-type characters portrayed by Michael McKean and Judd Nelson are spot-on, and the litany of secondary characters led by Joe Mantegna, Ernie Hudson and Chris Farley knock their performances out of the park. Plus, how many 90s comedies were made featuring three former Saturday Night Live cast members, two Ghostbusters, and a handful of MTV’s mover and shakers? Airheads is a truly fun watch and a visit back to a simpler time where people were radio stations were so influential, they were worth breaking into and taking hostages to get airplay.

You can stream it on Amazon Prime.

Tammy and the T-Rex (1994)

Tammy’s a popular high school cheerleader whose new boyfriend, Michael, might be the love of her life.

You are a movie viewer that can’t believe that Denise Richards and Paul Walker are in a 1990’s straight to video comedy that for some reason has near-insane levels of gore and blood.

If only Tammy’s jealous ex-boyfriend Billy didn’t kidnap Michael and throw him in a wildlife preserve, where he’s mauled by a lion and then has his brain implanted into a robotic T-Rex.

Yes, this is all true. Of course, if you rented this in the 1990’s, it was rated PG-13. Now, thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, we have the original vision of this film, which is…ridiculous to say the least.

Co-writer and director Stewart Raffill (The Ice Pirates, The Philadelphia Experiment, Mac and Me, Mannequin 2: Mannequin On the Move) described how this movie got made to the Bristol Bad Film Club by explaining that he went into business with a South American theater owner who had an animatronic T-Rex bound for a Texas park. “The eyes worked. The arms moved. The head moved. He had it for two weeks before it was going to be shipped to Texas and he came to me and said, “We can make a movie with it!” I said, “What’s the story?” and he said, “I don’t have a story, but we have to start filming within the month!” and so I wrote the story in a week.”

The film starts with Michael (Walker) and Billy getting into a fight where they won’t stop squeezing one another’s scrotums. In fact, this movie has more balls-related attacks than any other movie I’ve seen in some time.

Terry Kiser, the titular Bernie of Weekend at Bernie’s plays Dr. Gunther Wachenstein, who messily takes the brain of Michael and places it into that robotic dinosaur. He then flips out and goes wild, searching for the bullies that put him in this horrible situation. Oh yeah — John Franklin (Isaac from Children of the Corn) is Michael’s uncle who doesn’t care at all about what’s happening.

Efren Ramirez — Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite — shows up as a pizza boy and George “Buck” Flower is in this as well.

What you’re watching this for is to see Paul Walker’s soul inside a barely moving dino that messily dispatches of his tormentors. I have no idea who the audience is for this movie, but I count myself amongst it.

Once you realize that it comes from the man who brought you a child getting shot in the original cut of Mac and Me, it all makes sense. Also knowing that Raffill did the second Mannequin film makes the stereotypical ways of Tammy’s gay friend Byron Black make at least some modicum of sense, too.

You have to love a movie that misspells the lead character’s name — when she’s the title of the movie — as Tanny in the credits.

Ready to see something you may not be ready for? You can catch this on Shudder or go all out and get the blu ray from the awesome people at Vinegar Syndrome.

The Specialist (1994)

The Specialist is Stallone’s third highest-grossing movie at the box office in the 1990s — second overall to Cliffhanger — but it feels like a movie that no one likes. It was released as the Sharon Stone backlash was in full effect — she won Razzies for this film for worst actress and worst couple along with Stallone — and it’s the kind of 1990’s film that just doesn’t add up, thanks to unclear motivations and a murky plot. Luckily it has plenty of star power.

Ray Quick (Stallone) and Ned Trent (James Woods) once worked for the CIA until a mission to blow up a South American drug dealer led to the death of an innocent child. Now, Ray is a freelance hit man that takes only the missions that he cares about. He’s become an expert at shaping explosives, that is, killing only the target while leaving everyone else unharmed.

Probably the most likeable character in this movie is Ray’s cat Timer. The Maine Coon that plays this cat would return to work with Stallone again in Assassins. No, I didn’t make that up.

May Munro (Stone) is one of the people who needs his services. She’s supposed to be in her early twenties, despite Stone being 36 at the time. Just gloss over that. She’s been after Tomas Leon (Eric Roberts) for years, as he killed her parents. Instead of becoming Batman, she just calls Ray. For what it’s worth, he decides to take the job after seeing how hot she is. But she’s kind of a moron because she decides to get herself involved with Leon for some reason that’s never fully explained.

The magic of movies has placed Ned in the employ of Tomas’ father Joe (Rod Steiger, who deserves and knows better), the head of the Miami mafia. He runs the police, so he gets Ned on the bomb squad in an attempt to stop Ray from killing them all off. And somehow in the midst of all this mess, May has been forced to work with Ned to draw Ray out of hiding. If this all seems confusing, you should have been the one to watch this.

The whole point of this film isn’t even to get revenge, to be honest. It’s to get Stallone and Stone into bed together. That’s an admirable goal, I guess, but this is also a movie where the two leads pretty much have phone sex several times. It’s supposed to be sexy and flirty, but it comes off as masturbatory — no pun intended. Then again, this was the 90’s.

When asked about their shower scene in the film, Stallone shared perhaps too much: “OK. Let it be known, I didn’t want to do this scene because Sharon was not cooperating. We get to the set and she decides not to take her robe off. The director asks only a few of the crew to remain, and she still won’t take it off. I promised her I wouldn’t take any liberties, so what’s the problem? She said, “I’m just sick of nudity.” I asked her if she could get sick of it on someone else’s film. She was having none of it, so I went down to my trailer, brought back a bottle of Black Death vodka that was given to me by Michael Douglas and after half-a-dozen shots we were wet and wild.”

Director Luis Llosa would go on to direct Anaconda, so if you’d like to do a 90’s make no sense double feature, you should probably just have your own little miniature film fest of his work.

Old Friends Never Die (1994)

Someone wants Jonathan Hart dead, so they’ve created the perfect trap for him. That trap involves inviting his wife to a secluded getaway of other writers, which enables the creators of this made for TV reunion movie to gather all manner of guest stars. There’s also a lot of the Harts acting dippy, which seems to be their biggest hobby when they’re not stumbling over bodies. They spend an extended amount of time in this one acting like Laurel and Hardy, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Let’s get into the guest stars in this one, which is absolutely packed with them. There’s David Rasche, who we all remember from Sledge Hammer! and the Larry Cohen TV movie Wicked Stepmother. James Shigeta, who played doomed CEO Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi in Die Hard is here. Over here by the bean dip, we find David Leisure, who was Joe Isuzu, as well as starring on Empty Nest. They also invited Fred Willard, James Avery (Uncle Phillip from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), Paul Williams, Vicki Lawrence (Mama’s Family and the singer of “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia”) and Mike Farrell from M*A*S*H*.

Someone tries to kill Jonathan with bad seafood, so that should tell you how this one goes. Thankfully, the Harts survive — they better we have four more TV movies after this — and go back to acting like goofs. That’s why we love them, right?

You can get eight movies featuring the Harts on the new Mill Creek Hart to Hart Movies Are Murder Collection. If you’ve been missing shows where the leads encounter death around every corner when they’re not romancing one another, this set has exactly what you’re craving.

DISCLAIMER: This set was sent to us by Mill Creek, but that has no impact on our review.

Crimes of the Hart (1994)

Remember how in the last Hart to Hart reunion movie where Mrs. H was a noted journalist? Well, now she’s also a playwriter, bringing her college script about Jack the Ripper to the Great White Way. Mr. H, Max and Freeway come along for the ride, with Max nearly getting married to an old flame. And yes, many people die.

Richard Belzer plays Det. Frank Giordano here. No, he’s not Detective John Munch, but you can forgive yourself if you think he is. He’s only played that role on HomicideLaw & Order: SVUThe X-FilesThe BeatLaw & Order: Trial by JuryThe WireArrested Development30 Rock, the regular Law & Order and Jimmy Kimmel Live! Munch is the only character to appear on ten different shows on five different networks, which is pretty cool.

Audra Lindley (Mrs. Roper from Three’s Company), John Stockwell (who would go on to direct Blue Crush and Kickboxer: Vengeance) and Lew Ayres (Dr. Klldare from the film series) all show up, too.

The bad guy has a mannequin of Jennifer in his basement with her photo stapled to it, so that’s pretty creepy. He almost kills Jonathan in a basement that feels like Mario Bava lit it, but everything — as it always does — works out just fine.

You can get this movie — along with seven others — as part of the new Mill Creek Hart to Hart Movies Are Murder Collection. We’ve been loving it all week long.

DISCLAIMER: This set was sent to us by Mill Creek, but that has no impact on our review.

Home is Where the Hart Is (1994)

When Jonathan and Jennifer Hart attend the funeral of the newspaper publisher who helped Jennifer start her journalism career, they uncover some sinister secrets about her hometown of Kingman’s Ferry. Honestly, you can’t take them anywhere!

This film has Maureen O’Sullivan (she played Jane in the 1930’s Tarzan films), Alan Young from the original The Time Machine, Roddy McDowell (Peter Vincent from Fright Night and Caesar from Planet of the Apes amongst so many other roles), Mitchell Ryan (Dr. Wynn from Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers) and Charles Tyner (the founder of Hamburger University in Hamburger: The Motion Picture).

It was filmed in the very same area where Hitchcock shot The Birds. There are all manner of secrets to be found when Jennifer inherits the town where she grew up and no one is as they seem. I always wonder, who stays friends with the Harts? Everyone they know dies. Well, except for Max and Freeway Junior. They always seem to survive no matter what shenanigans happen.

You can get this movie — and seven others — as part of the new Mill Creek Hart to Hart Movies Are Murder Collection. If you’re nostalgic for the fun of old TV mysteries, it’s a must buy.

DISCLAIMER: This set was sent to us by Mill Creek, but that has no impact on our review.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

There are movies and then there are forces of pop culture nature. Pulp Fiction is just such a film. While so much before influenced it, nothing after would ever be the same. In its wake, so many films tried to xerox its non-linear narrative, ultraviolence and wildly veering plot points. Pretty much not a single one of them is halfway decent by comparison.

Tarantino took some scenes that Roger Avery intended for True Romance and decided that none of the film would appear in true order. For many, it was the first film they had ever watched that had monologues and conversations that were at the same time about everything and nothing all at once. While TriStar Pictures turned down the film, it became the first movie that Miramax would fully finance.

Why would TriStar not want to make this film, particularly after Tarantino had become so big after Reservoir Dogs? Roger Avary said that the studio had issues with nearly every part of the movie, as they basically said, “This is the worst thing ever written. It makes no sense. Someone’s dead and then they’re alive. It’s too long, violent and unfilmable.”

I wonder how the person that said that felt after Pulp Fiction was voted as the winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for seven Oscars. Obviously, this film was also a commercial success, remaking the career of John Travolta and causing people to take notice of the acting skills of Uma Thurman and Samuel Jackson.

There’s a moment in this film that determines whether or not you like and understand Tarantino. Before they enter Jack Rabbit Slim’s, Mia Wallace (Thurman) asks if Vincent Vega (Travolta) is square and she illustrates that point with her fingers. Suddenly, the movie becomes animated and dashed lines illustrate her point and realism fades away. In this small moment, you either think that this is the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen, totally pretentious or completely and utterly awesome. I fall into the latter category and began cheering the moment it happened on screen.

Pulp Fiction begins with a diner being held up by Ringo (Tim Roth, who was in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs) and Yolanda (Amanda Plummer, So I Married an Axe Murderer) before we move into Jules Winnfield (Jackson) and Vega (Travolta, in a role originally intended for Michael Madsen, who had played the other Vega brother, Mr. Blonde, in Reservoir Dogs) taking a briefcase back for their boss Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames, Con Air), after a long discussion of what McDonald’s calls their food in Europe.

What’s in that briefcase? All that we learn is that the lock for it is 666, but it’s a MacGuffin — a term invented by English screenwriter Angus MacPhail and popularized by Alfred Hitchcock. The case was originally going to have diamonds in it, but that’s kind of boring. Instead, it opens to have a strange glow. Tarantino has been very coy about what it really is, even doing an interview with his friend Robert Rodriguez where they cut out the real answer before his fellow Grindhouse director says that the knowledge of what is really in the case radically changed how he saw the film.

There are plenty of theories of what’s really in that case. If we extrapolate that Tarantino was influenced by Kiss Me Deadly, then it’s a nuclear device. It’s been compared to the trunk in Repo Man. And an internet rumor began that it’s really Marcellus Wallace’s soul as evidenced by the band-aid on the back of his neck which is supposedly where the Egyptians believed the soul resided.

The two bring the briefcase to their boss, Marsellus, but first, he bribes Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) to do the job in his next match. Then, the boss goes out of town but asks Vega to show his wife a nice time. How nice of a time? After all, he threw a man out a window just for giving her a foot massage.

About feet — this is the movie where Tarantino reveals his foot fetish. I’m not being rude or sly; it’s 100% obvious upon watching the film.

Before the date, Vega buys heroin from Lance (Eric Stoltz), who is out of balloons, so he puts it in a baggie. This will be important after the date of dinner and dancing at the aforementioned 1950’s pop culture diner Jack Rabbit Slim’s. Their dance scene here — taken almost move from move from Fellini’s 8 1/2 scene where Barbara Steele dances with Mario Pisu — is more than just a simple physical scene. For a moment in time, it freezes reality and makes us think back to why we love Travolta the actor and not just Vincent the character that he is portraying. When we see him, we don’t just see every role that he has ever played. We are fixated on the role that we first fell in love with, Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever, bringing back fond thoughts of what it was like when to see the actor on the dance floor.

Vega is obviously enamored of Mia and feels that things could feel the same with her, so he plans on simply leaving. However, she snorts the heroin — thinking it’s coke — and nearly dies. It takes a needle of adrenaline right to her heart to fix things, as much as they can be fixed.

While all this is going on, Butch wins the fight and kills his opponent. As he escapes in a taxi, its driver (Pittsburgh native Angela Jones, who graduated from the same college that I did, Point Park, and would go on to play the same character in the film Curdled, as well as date Slash) asks him what it’s like to kill a man.

Butch has told his girlfriend Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros, who was Anais Nin in Henry and June) to get everything ready to run away, but she forgot his gold watch, which we learn his father smuggled in a very uncomfortable place, along with Captain Koons (Christopher Walken), who tells him the story of the watch in a flashback. Butch must go back home, where he encounters Vega reading Modesty Blaise on the toilet. One barrage of bullets later and he’s on the run, but when Marcellus Wallace crosses his path, he decides to hit him with his car.

Both injured, Marcellus begins shooting at Butch, who runs into a pawnshop. Maynard (Duane Whitaker, one of the racist cops in Tales From the Hood), the owner, ends up taking both by gunpoint and ties them up in a room where his partner Zed (Peter Greene, who was in The Mask) takes Marcellus from behind while the gimp (Stephen Hibbert, who was married to Julia Sweeney at the time, who also shows up briefly as the daughter of Monster Joe; Joe was going to be played by Dick Miller, but that scene was cut) watches over Butch.

Butch overpowers the man in the bondage suit and decided to go back and save his enemy, using a sword to kill Maynard while Marcellus grabs a shotgun and shoots Zed, wounding him just enough so that he can call some of his worst men to get revenge. They agree that Butch can leave, but can never come back to Los Angeles. He grabs Zed’s bike, gets his girl — who really has caused so much of this mess because she acts like a child — and gets out of town.

Why does Butch save the man who made his life hell? Because in Tarantino’s mashup universe, protagonists live in the symbolic universe of the Japanese samurai, where honor is more important than anything. Leaving Marcellus to have his manhood further destroyed and then killed isn’t the death that a warrior deserves. It’s no accident that of the weapons offered, which also include a hammer, a chainsaw and a bat, he takes the sword.

Back in time, as they get the briefcase, Jules and Vincent surviving an attack at Brett’s apartment when a man somehow misses them every single time. They argue over whether this was a miracle or not, which leads to Vincent accidentally shooting Marvin (Phil LaMarr, the voice of Green Lantern John Stewart on the Justice League cartoons). They decide to visit Jules’ friend Jimmie (Tarantino), who is stressed about his wife coming home from work. That means that the cleaner, Winston Wolfe (Harvey Keitel), must come and do his work by disposing of the evidence.

That issue dealt with, the dup come back to the diner at the beginning of the film. Jules decides that he’s going to retire and walk the earth like Kane from Kung Fu, which Vincent finds ridiculous. As he goes to the bathroom, the couple we met earlier start to rob the place. Vincent returns and this leads to a Mexican standoff, but Jules successfully uses his newfound love of peace to diffuse the situation and everyone leaves alive.

The Bible passage that Jules quotes isn’t exactly from the Good Book. It’s more paraphrased and also harkens back to the lessons that Sonny Chiba would deliver before vanquishing evil in his films.

Pulp Fiction got its start as a trilogy that would be written by Avery and Tarantino, but would also have a third director. It was inspired by Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath, which is another portmanteau film. Tarantino’s original story, Black Mask, ended up becoming Reservoir Dogs. Avery’s story Pandemonium Reigns is the gold watch story within this film.

There’s no score to the film, but instead a pastiche of near underground American music. There’s a ton of surf rock in this film, as Tarantino felt that it sounded like the themes of Italian spaghetti westerns.

This is also the beginning of the incredibly self-referential universe of Tarantino films. Vincent Vega and Mr. Blonde being brothers, Red Apple cigarettes and Big Kahuna burgers show up in many of his films and Mia Wallace’s TV pilot Fox Force Five is either a tease for Kill Bill or places that film as a fictionalized part of an overall narrative. For kids that grew up reading comic books or loving when TV shows crossed over, this would become an entirely new obsession. Throw in the fact that this movie references every movie that came before it and you get the reason why we’re devoting an entire week to these films.

Pulp Fiction is 25 years old this year. It doesn’t feel that way. It achieves that rarest of movie dreams — utter timelessness.

Natural Born Killers (1994)

What seemed subversive and important in 1994 feels silly and weightless today as I sit here, 25 years later. At one point — let’s say 2006, when Entertainment Weekly published their list of the most controversial films in history, it placed eighth. I call BS on any list that doesn’t list Salo and has Cannibal Holocaust at twenty.

The movie started as a screenplay written by Quentin Tarantino. But back then, it was about a married couple going on a killing spree, and the future director would sell it for $10,000 after failing to direct it himself for $500,000. That’s when Oliver Stone got it.

It’s obviously a Tarantino script, because Mickey Knox is named after Mickey Knox, who wrote the English dialogue for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. Scagnetti is also the name of Mr. Blonde’s probation officer in Reservoir Dogs.

Stone rewrote the script, keeping much of the dialogue but focusing on the killers instead of the media. In truth, so much changed that Tarantino was only credited with the story. Originally, the producers saw it as an action movie, but once the 24-hour news cycle kicked in with O.J. Simpson, the Menendez brothers and the L.A. riots, all bets were off.

Stone told Roger Ebert, “When Quentin wrote those two characters, Mickey and Mallory, they were originally based on, I guess, Bonnie and Clyde. But he basically wrote a different movie than the one I’ve made. He wrote a very nice, clever take-off on an AIP picture with a ’90’s wryness. It was mostly about the TV journalist, and Mickey and Mallory were just sort of crazy, stick figures. It was a clever script but he didn’t want to do it so he moved on to do Reservoir Dogs. I think he was hurt that I rewrote it so much. But I told him that I really can’t make what he, as a 26-year-old, would make as a first film. As a 47-year-old filmmaker, it doesn’t interest me. I want another level of socio-political comment and I want to deal with the whole justice system. I want to deal with the killers; where they come from, who their parents are. Quentin hasn’t seen the movie, so who knows what he’ll say?”

He didn’t have to wait all that long. Tarantino said, “I hated that fucking movie. If you like my stuff, don’t watch that movie.”

It only took 56 days to shoot Natural Born Killer but nearly a year to edit it. What’s left is a kinetic burst of energy that pretty much was what 1994 felt like.

We start with Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson, whose father once bragged from prison that he had killed JFK) and his wife Mallory (Juliette Lewis), who go from eating in a diner to murdering everyone inside it.

We then flashback by way of a sitcom of their lives, where Mallory living in a home with her sexually abusive father (Rodney Dangerfield, who himself was verbally abused by a mother who never loved him, who was born Jacob Rodney Cohen but would become Jack Roy and then give up on comedy, who was married twice to a woman who never loved or respected him before reinventing himself as Rodney Dangerfield while never truly finding happiness, who wrote all of his own material for this film, who is one of my truest heroes), absentee mother (the fabulous Edie McClurg, a great character actor who shows up in Carrie and Eating Raoul) and her brother Kevin (Stone’s son, Sean). Mickey breaks out of jail, kills her parents and they go on the road together.

Sure, there are some problems along the way, like Mickey assaulting other women, but soon the happy couple has claimed fifty-two lives and is being hunted by Detective Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore), whose mother was killed by Charles Whitman when he was just a kid, and tabloid journalist Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.), whose show American Maniacs turns them into heroes.

Mickey and Mallory get lost in the desert and ingest mushrooms. Warren Red Cloud, a Native American mystic, senses a demon in Mickey and attempts to pull it from him, but the two end up killing him. It’s the first murder they regret and soon, they’ve been bitten by numerous snakes and are caught in a drugstore.

A year later, Mickey and Mallory are about to be transferred to a mental hospital when Waren Dwight McClusky (Tommy Lee Jones) tells Scagnetti that he has one chance to kill them both during the transfer. Meanwhile, Gale is planning a live interview with Mickey after the Super Bowl. Of course, all hell breaks loose and nearly everyone dies, save our heroes. Or villains.

For as many people and things that ended up in the movie, tons ended up on the cutting room floor, including scenes with Ashley Judd, Denis Leary, Bret Hart and Peter and David Paul, who are The Barbarian Brothers (The Barbarians).

Tarantino hated the final version of the film until a chance meeting with Johnny Cash, who told him that he and June were fans of his and loved the movie. Plus, once his original screenplay was published, he felt a little better, despite the quote above. For what it’s worth, Steve Buscemi and Tim Roth both turned down the role of Wayne Gale because Tarantino would never have cast them in a movie ever again.

The film led to so-called copycat killings including Columbine. Then, Oliver Stone and Time Warner were sued by Patsy Byers, with the support of author and producer John Grisham.

How did that happen? In March 1995, eighteen-year-olds Sarah Edmondson and Benjamin Darras did acid and watched this movie, then were so inspired that they shot and paralyzed Byers and killed a cotton gin manager named William Savage who was a personal friend of Grisham.

Grisham publicly accused Oliver Stone of being irresponsible, saying that he should be responsible for the actions of those inspired by his films. He used the laws of product liability to go after the director. The trial went the whole way until 2002, when it was finally dismissed by the Louisiana Court of Appeal.

Before reviewing it for this week, I hadn’t watched this film in twenty some years. Hopefully, I can break that record before I see it again.