Dark Angel: The Ascent (1994)

Veronica Iscariot (Angela Featherstone, Linda from The Wedding Singer) is a rebellious young demoness who wants to leave Hell for Earth, where she can live amongst the humans. Her father Hellikan (Nicholas Worth, who is of course Kirk Smith from Don’t Answer the Phone) gets sick of her behavior and decides to kill her because that’s what fatherly behavior is like in the inferno. Her mother Theresa (Charlotte Stewart, Mary X from Eraserhead and Betty Briggs in Twin Peaks) saves her and sends her to the world above with Hellraiser, her faithful hellhound.

Much like a Terminator — and to appease foreign sales — Veronica appears in our reality completely naked and is then hit by a car. She’s saved by Dr. Max Barris and they pretty much fall in love and immediately move in together, which should not work, but when you’re a demon and your dad keeps trying to kill you, your daddy issues are subscriptions and we can see why the doctor is ready to deliver multiple prescriptions for putting the ranch dressing in the Hidden Valley.

So what do you do if you’re a demon on Earth? You start killing muggers, I guess. Then you move on to dealing with bad politicians, corrupt cops and racism, if you’re the hero of this film. How weird is it that this is a feminist demon movie that doesn’t suck?

Thanks, Linda Hassani. Now I have to hunt down your work on the Playboy TV anthology series Inside Out, which claims to “do to softcore sex films what HBO’s Tales from the Crypt did for horror.”

She was also listed as a director on Full Moon’s Bunker of Blood: Chapter 5: Psycho Sideshow: Demon Freaks but that seems like a re-edit, just like Tomb of Terror, which cuts this story down to about half an hour.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Pet Shop (1994)

Yes, Full Moon has a kid’s line called Moonbeam. Is it weird that a company founded on killer dolls would make movies for the entire family?

An alien couple comes to Earth in cowboy clothing and as soon as you realize that one of them is Terry Kiser, it all kind of makes sense. They have quite the plan: get kids to come inside their store, give them a free pet, then said pet reveals that its an alien that needs special food. When the kids come back, they kidnap them and then take them to sell in space as an entirely different kind of pet shop, which is in no way not horrifying to any child that watches this and then goes to PetSmart to get litter for their cat.

Does Full Moon have pictures of Pino Donaggio in a compromising position? I have no idea how they got him to give a song to this film other than money and I don’t think they throw all that much of that around.

This was directed by Hope Perello, who also made Howling VI: The Freaks. That should tell you all you need to know.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Speed (1994)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim LaMotta is one of Pittsburgh’s premiere wrestling announcers, as well as a great writer. This article originally appeared on Steel City Underground. You can follow Jim on Twitter.

The write-ups I did for the site previously usually had a specific theme to them, and it was often a film I watched with my dad in my earlier years. The “Mr. Braddock” classics, movies usually taped off of HBO before digital cable brought so much content on-demand, were a collection of old school movies that I would watch with him. These late-night screenings included A Bronx Tale, Cool Hand Luke, The Hustler, or a myriad of other movies from a previous era. I’d sit on the couch with a snack and a can of Coca-Cola, while my dad was in his recliner chair with fancy chocolate that I don’t know how to pronounce the name of and a freshly-brewed cup of coffee. Aside from the fact that he worked the night shift for years before he retired, I still don’t know why he drinks coffee at midnight.

On the flip side, the film I’m going to discuss now is more because of random chance as I found it shown on one of the various HBO channels on a semi-regular basis during recent insomnia.

Speed, the 1994 blockbuster that raked in big bucks at the box office, follows an officer’s pursuit of a bus that was armed with a bomb that would activate after the bus goes above 50 MPH and then explode if it drops below 50 MPH, but how could the narrative of the film be told within just the parameters of the bus?

That was a task for Canadian screenwriter, Graham Yost, who was inspired with the concept based on the 1985 film Runaway Train. Yost, who has an accomplished list of work on his resume within the action genre, also wrote Broken Arrow after the success of Speed, as well as TV projects in more recent years. Yost was paired with Jan De Bont, who made his directorial debut with Speed, and the duo originally pitched the script to Paramount Pictures. De Bont had experience with action flicks, working on numerous projects such as Die Hard, The Hunt For Red October, and an installment of the Lethal Weapon franchise. Initially, it looked like the film would be picked up by Paramount, but the company eventually declined before Twentieth Century Fox green-lit the movie for production in the latter half of 1993.

Aside from a clever screenplay, in retrospect you can see why the movie was such a success, as it brought an all-star cast to the table, even if the majority of their resumes wouldn’t play out until after its release. Yost’s fellow Canadian, Keanu Reeves was cast as the main protagonist, and Speed provides an interesting snapshot of his career. Perhaps, it was because his first hit film was Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, where  Reeves’ played a dim-witted character, but his delivery of dialogue through the first half of his career was wooden, and there are instances of that in Speed. Still, it’s intriguing to see how he evolved as an actor with the roles in The Matrix, a franchise that spanned a trilogy, and John Wick, a film series that will have its fourth installment next year.

The opening scenes of the film create a sense of suspense that is a theme throughout it, as office workers, seemingly caught up in the rat race of life, jam themselves into an elevator to get away from the stress of work as quickly as possible. In what should’ve been a cramped, but quick ride to the ground floor, the passengers end up trapped when Dennis Hopper’s Howard Payne, a disgruntled former member of the bomb squad, blows up the steel cables that lower the elevator. Intent on vengeance because he was shuffled into retirement after an explosion on the job disfigured his hand, Payne demanded $3 million in cash or he would detonate the emergency brake, sending the elevator crashing down two dozen floors. Hooper, an acting legend that had over five decades in the industry, played the psychopathic Payne perfectly. Payne was crazy, but calculating and that’s what made him so dangerous. He wasn’t a lunatic with an axe, but rather a snake that would patiently wait for the right opportunity to strike, adding another layer of suspense to the film. Maybe Hopper drew on prior life experience for the mindset of this role, as his early career was plagued with serious drug use, and included a bizarre story about his involvement with dynamite during a stunt show. He went to rehab shortly afterwards and eventually continued his legendary career.

Howard Payne, being the maniac that he was, disguised himself as a maintenance man in the freight elevators so that he could listen in for any potential rescue attempts. Reeves’ character, Jack Traven is an ambitious cop that takes the lead on even dangerous situations in the name of what’s right, another trait of a worthy protagonist. Traven is joined by his older and wiser partner, Harry Temple, played by Jeff Daniels. It seems like Daniels’ work in Speed is sometimes unintentionally overlooked because the comedy hit, Dumb and Dumber was released the same year. Obviously, Daniels work alongside Jim Carrey is completely on the other end of the spectrum of the role of a character on the bomb squad so the audience might not realize the depth of Daniels’ role as Temple until it’s reexamined. In many ways, Harry is the word of caution that keeps Traven safe in environments where there’s not much room for error, a dynamic that would be relevant later in the film. Jack and Harry bought some time when they used nearby construction equipment on the roof of the building to attempt to secure the elevator in case the negotiators couldn’t put together the ransom within the time they have left. The heroes didn’t know that Payne could listen in and he detonated the safety lines. The elevator dangles perilously, and the swat team just barely rescues the passengers before the elevator drops to the ground floor. Everyone is saved, but Jack knows something is up and wants to investigate the freight elevators. They find Payne, who is armed with a shotgun and another bomb strapped to his chest. At one point, he takes Harry hostage. Temple tells his pal to “shoot the hostage,” the answer to a hypothetical scenario they causally reviewed earlier when they inspected the building. Traven puts a bullet in Temple’s leg, sending him to the floor, but removing the human shield that protected the villain. With a maniacal laugh, Payne walks through a door and seconds later, an explosion launches Jack into the other side of the wall.

A few weeks later, Harry and Jack are among the offices that are awarded medals of honor for their bravery. Harry, who will be regulated to desk duty because of his injuries, respectfully limps across the stage with a cane to accept the honor. Just when it seems like victory is declared for the good guys, the viewers see someone watching the broadcast of the ceremony on television, clapping with one of their hands mangled. Payne, who the police assumed took his own life with the blast during his attempted escape with Harry hostage, seemed amused that he went under the radar. Unaware that the villain was not only watching, but planning his next move, the police force goes to a bar after the ceremony to celebrate. Joe Morton plays Lt. Mac, who joined his co-workers at the bar, but the joyous occasion is interrupted when Harry explains to Jack how close there were to being killed. Jack emphasized the victory, but with a tone of concern and sincerity, Harry says, “I’m not always going to be there to back you up, guts will get you so far and then it will get you killed” With Temple on desk duty with no idea when or if he will be back in the field again, he expressed concern for his friend. Harry stumbles away drunk, but the evening is considered a success.

The next morning, we find Jack at a local shop getting breakfast and greeting those there. Everyone knows each other and that’s what makes the next plot twist slightly more impactful. As Jack says “see ya later, Bob” before the bus driver goes back to his usual route, he goes to get into his car, narrowly missing the blast as the bus explodes, killing everyone on it. As the flames burst into the sky, a nearby pay phone (remember those?) rings, and Traven is stunned when he hears the voice of the sinister Payne on the line. The bomber informs him of the bus that will be armed when he goes above 50 MPH and detonate if it goes under 50 MPH. The next few scenes provide a tense cat-and-mouse scenario where Traven tried to alert the bus driver on the freeway before it reaches 50 and then the objective instantly switches to tell the driver to stay above 50 MPH. The music throughout these scenes emphasizes the suspense and danger. The music selection was effective, as it won an Academy Award for best sound and best sound editing.

Traven finds his way on by leaping from a moving car and informs the bus driver to stay above 50 before he tries to calmly tell the passengers he’s a cop. One of the riders of the bus thinks Jack is there to arrest him and aims a gun at the officer. When a fellow passenger attempts to help wrestle away the firearm, the bus driver is accidentally shot in the scuffle. Sandra Bullock’s Anne jumped into the driver seat and also the role of one of the main characters, steering the runaway bus back into the middle of the lane on the highway. Ironically, Anne informs Jack that the reason she rode the bus was because her license was temporarily suspended for speeding.

How the narrative takes place with a bus as the main setting was the primary challenge of the film, something that Yost decided to solve with brief, but often cutaways to others within the story. For example, Harry, still a little hungover from the night before, answers Jack’s call at his desk when his partner informs him that the bomber is still alive. While Jack tries to handle the situation on the bus, specifically trying to tell Anne the best way to navigate through traffic, Harry was tasked with trying to find out exactly who the bomber is. Plus, Lt. Mac joins in as a police escort finds the location of the bus and attempts to look for a safe place for the bus to go that would keep it above 50 MPH. Being mindful of his ultimate goal, Howard Payne calls the police and gets the number for the cell phone Jack has with him to set in motion negotiations for a payoff. Traven gets permission from the eccentric bomb to unload the injured driver, but Payne warns against anything else. As the driver is transferred across a panel connected to a police truck, a terrified passenger tries to leave as well. With news helicopters following the incident, Payne sees this and detonates a small bomb under the steps of the bus, sending the woman under the wheels. It was a direct warning that Payne is willing to lose the chance at the money if he has to blow up the bus.

Thankfully, Lt. Mac guides Jack and Anne toward an empty freeway so that traffic won’t be a hurdle. At the same time, Harry makes progress with the search for the identity of the bomber, wondering if the police files are worth a look because the bomber is so proficient with explosives. Jack had a chance to look under the access panel of the bus to get a look at the bomb and was shocked to see the amount of C4 attached to the bus with a gold watch as a timer. As usual, Harry was an advisor for Jack as they were on the phone to discuss the details of the bomb. Temple was able to tell Traven exactly what not to do to set off the explosive, another example of Harry as the word of caution in the film. The shots of Harry at his desk and Traven on the bus not only provide some visual variety, but again emphasize their team effort.

Of course an empty highway wasn’t going to be the solution to the problem, and the police saw that a section of the road was unfinished so the bus would have to make the jump. Scale models were used for some sequences in the film, including some of the elevator shaft shots, but the bus did actually make a jump, even if it wasn’t over an actual gap. If you watch the famous jump scene, the top of the vehicle actually goes out of frame because the production crew didn’t expect the bus to get the height. Anne was able to land the bus, keeping it above 50 and the passengers survived. After the jump, Jack sees quite literally a sign of hope when he realizes they are near the airport and the bus turns toward an empty air strip. The news helicopters couldn’t fly around the airport so it gave the police so room to attempt to disarm the bomb. Running out of time and options, Jack makes a deal with Payne over the phone to allow him to get off the bus temporarily to meet with negotiators. Payne agreed to a brief exit, but assures Traven there are eyes on him, which Jack assumes is another reference to the news choppers. Jack’s actual objective is to try to disarm the bomb, and he uses a sliding board attached to a tow truck to make his way under the bus while it’s still moving on the air strip. Harry is shown frantically flipping through files before he answers the phone to consult with Traven to disarm the explosive. The bomb is wired to explode if it’s tampered with, but thankfully, just as Jack realizes there isn’t a way to get the bomb off the vehicle, Temple gets the news that the bomber is Howard Payne, and the watch on the bomb was Payne’s retirement gift from the police force after his hand was injured. Harry tells his pal to get back to the bus and the swat team would find Payne at his home. Harry, refusing to stay behind, quickly limps out of the office with the rest of the team. As the swat team surrounds the house, Harry quietly makes his way inside, and they carefully look for Payne. As Harry goes into the living room, a smoke alarm beeps, and Harry knows the house was rigged to explode if anyone entered. The house blows up, killing Temple and members of the swat team.

Jack receives a call and expects to hear good news from Harry, but instead it’s Payne to tell Traven that his friend is dead. Always ambitious, Jack finally snaps, violently smashing the dashboard of the bus before he swears vengeance against the bomber. Anne comforts Jack and assures him that they can make it through it. As Traven finally calms down, he realizes that Payne can see the bus and notices the security camera above Anne, which is what the bomber meant when he said their were eyes on Traven. Payne has a feed from the camera to his hideout to keep track of any rescue attempts. Traven gives the information to Lt. Mac, who resourcefully gets a news crew to intercept the signal and record a minute of generic footage so that Payne won’t have access to a live feed of the bus.

Finally, the police can shuffle the passengers onto an airport shuttle bus. Jack and Anne secure the steering wheel and use an access panel to slide to safety, with Jack clutching her to protect her during the slide into traffic cones. The bus dropped below 50 MPH and exploded as it hit an empty airplane.

The day is saved, right?

Not exactly, and Payne was still unaware that he didn’t have a live feed of the bus so he didn’t know it blew up. He contacted police again to inquire about the ransom. A sting is set up with the money placed in a trash can at a corner in the city. Before he goes to collect the cash, Payne notices that his feed isn’t live and improvises to collect the cash. As Anne is getting checked by paramedics, she unknowingly talks to Payne, who is dressed up in his old uniform so he blends into the crowd of officers. Jack, watching from a stake-out position, knows something is wrong and runs toward the trash can to discover that Payne already took the ransom money. Traven tracks the bomb toward the subway system and realizes that he took Anne hostage with a bomb strapped to her. Payne takes Anne on the subway and demands Traven stay behind. Jack eventually jumps onto the top of the subway car to try to rescue Anne. Payne handcuffs her to a subway pole and reveals that he will use the explosion from the bomb strapped to her as a distraction so he can escape with the cash. When Payne hears Jack on the roof, he opens the bag of money and a dye pack sprays ink all over the cash, ruining Payne’s chance to spend it. Furious that his plan to collect the cash is ruined, Payne runs with a gun to confront Traven on the roof of the subway car. A struggle ensues and eventually, the hero pushes Payne’s head into a signal light, beheading the villain. Jack finds Anne and disarms the bomb strapped to her, but doesn’t have the key to uncuff her from the pole. The subway track isn’t finished so Traven decides to speed it up, another sense of irony, and shields Anne again. The train car crashes onto the street, but Jack and Anne are fine. They look, embrace and kiss as the crowd that gathered after the crash applauses the nice moment.

Speed brought in $350 million at the box office with a $30 million budget so it was a major success. That said, the film itself doesn’t really have anything complex or profound, and it didn’t need to contain any of that to be successful. If anything, speed underscores that a simple, well-told story with a talented cast can be very effective. There are simple elements of action, drama, suspense, and a love story that make the film work on a number of levels. Speed wasn’t Casablanca or Gone with the Wind, but it effectively used simple storytelling to be very successful at the box office.

PCU (1994)

At one point in human history, Jon Favreau was not making Marvel and Star Wars movie, but was instead playing a character in a teen sex comedy. Also, at this very same moment, Jeremy Piven would be seen as a heroic character and not the creepy scumbag that we always feared that he could be.

That said, if anything, this is a movie that will teach you not to wear the shirt of a band to that band’s concert.

PCU (Port Chester University) is a college where fraternities have been outlawed and political correctness runs rampant. This movie is probably prescient in that way, as forward-looking as a movie mostly concerned with drugs and sex can be.

Much like The Warriors, the school has moved from frats to gangs of like-minded students such as the heroic gang of The Pit, the antagonists known as Balls and Shaft, the Womynist House, the Afrocenterists, the Cause-Heads and Jerrytown.

Hart Bochner — Doc from Terror Train — directed this movie. He also made HIgh School High, which is a lot more of a parody than this. Supposedly he didn’t allow much ad-libbing, which Piven brings up in interviews, but then Bochner claims he did.

At least it has a good soundtrack. BeyondParliament-Funkadelic appearing in the actual film, Mudhoney covers Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” and you get some Redd Kross.


BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Omicidio al Telefono (1994)

Murder on the Phone finds a homicidal clown named Codino who is obsessed with killing the women of phone sex lines. If you say, “That sounds a lot like the plot of 1989’s Out of the Dark,” well, perhaps Bruno Mattei — using the name Frank Klox — would like you to know that that movie stole the giallo from his homeland.

Two policewomen, Lorena Baldini (Carla Salerno, who also appears in Tinto Brass’ Paprika and Mattei’s Legittima Vendettaand Consuela Calani (Stefania Mega, who was the runner-up for Miss Italy 1989 annd was also in Legittima Vendetta, leading me to believe that in true Mattei style they were shot at the same time), are trying to find out who the killer is, which mainly means that they start working at the phone sex line and hang out at an “erotic disco.” This is beyond movie logic. This is softcore giallo erotic thriller movie logic.

While disco dancing, they pick up men with the ulterior motive of taking fingerprints from their cocktail glasses. Also, because Lorena is the consummate professional — which let’s face it, the bar for being a giallo cop is very low — she begins dating two of the men she meets, Massimo Alberici (Antonio Zequila, who worked with Mattei on Body and Soul, Dangerous AttractionMadness, both Belle da Morire movies and, you guessed it, Legittima Vendetta) and Dante Ranieri (Pascal Persiano, Demons 2Paganini Horror).

The partners start to argue because Massimo is one of their suspects and Consuelo has somewhat of a level head, arguing that her fellow cop could be crashing the custard truck with a killer. There are some giallo red herrings, as Lorena finds some record albums in his house that she knows came from the crime scenes. She goes as far as to steal her lover’s personal papers to learn more about him. And oh yeah, remember what I said about Consuelo being professional? Well, she ends up sleeping with one of her phone sex clients, which I assume is something that has never happened outside of the scope of movies that Cinemax plays after 1 AM. Well, right after she gets finished loading the clown in the cannon, the killer clown finds her right outside the young man’s hallway and takes her out of the picture.

This takes our heroine out of the arms of Massimo and into the embrace of Dante, who go figure, starts acting like Ron Silver in Blue Steel, becoming obsessed with her gun until she kills him. It’s a happy ending, because in the Italian giallo police department, there’s no such thing as internal affairs or being held accountable for your shoddy policework.

Mattei directed this movie for Ninì Grassia, who he had also directed three mainstream films starring Ileana “Ramba” Carusio, an adult star who was so popular that she had her own series of comic books.

Originally called The Killer…Is On the Phone, Mattei disliked this movie so much that he pretty much walked away from it, using the Frank Klok name for the one and only time instead of one of his more well-known aliases like Vincent Dawn or Pierre Le Blanc.

You have no idea how much work I put into finding this movie. I’d like to think it was worth it, because finding one more Mattei film — actually this led me to three more of the films he did with Nini Grassia! — is like discovering one more gift that was forgotten in your Christmas stocking.

Organized Crime and Triad Bureau (1994)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a ghostwriter of personal memoirs for Story Terrace London and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

Anyone familiar with Hong Kong action cinema will surely be acquainted with the cop/triad subgenre. Tropes include:

1.   A sharply dressed, greedy Triad leader who takes great pleasure in killing his enemies in various creative ways.

2.   Said Triad almost always has a slew of equally violent men and a bevy of beautiful women working for him.

3.   There’s always a dedicated hard-ass cop who’ll do anything to catch said Triad.

The difference between Organized Crime and Triad Bureau and other films of its ilk is the depth of the characters. Triad Tung (Anthony Wong) is not simply a greedy killer. He is a criminal, yes. But he is also a man who lives by a code of honor. He loves his son. He’s also deeply in love with his number one mistress, Cindy whom he rescues from a rapist in a well-placed flashback early in the film. Rarely do we see women given an arc this juicy. Cindy (played by Cecilia Yip) feels betrayed by Tung because of his womanizing but she chooses to stay with him. The emotional debt she feels for saving her life overlaps just enough with her overall lack of self-confidence to justify her continued loyalty. 

Danny Lee’s Inspector Lee is not simply a dedicated cop, but an obsessed one who crosses the line frequently by breaking the law to uphold it. Not a new concept by any means, but it is extremely well-executed in this fast-paced actioner. Lee’s motivations for catching Tung are not clear. Perhaps he is so obsessed because the other police officers pick on him for having no life outside work. Maybe he feels the need to prove himself. The movie doesn’t concern itself so much with the “whys” but lets the actions of the characters do the explaining. 

This movie resists the clichés right up to the very end. Yes, there is a shootout. But there are no straightforward answers (or easy outs) for any of the characters. A lesser actor than Anthony Wong would not have done triad leader Tung justice. Few actors play complex anti-heroes as well as Wong. When asked about this performance in an interview, he said he felt it was only “tolerably good.” A man with superior standards indeed. He need not be so humble. I watched this expecting a plain cop/bad guy flick, but Organized Crime and Triad pleasantly surprised me. In a subgenre with such a predictable template, it is a standout.

Brainscan (1994)

If you wanted to see an “ancient future” movie directed by a filmmaker who worked on West Side Story (as a script supervisor) and with Elvis Presley on Kid Galahad (as an second assistant director), then this is your movie.

That filmmaker eventually made a film that a Southern California video store clerk later adopted as the name for his home video reissues imprint: the filmmaker was Quentin Tarantino and the movie was ultimate Vietnam revenge flick, 1977’s Rolling Thunder.

Then that filmmaker made the only other movie that we care about starring Edward Furlong. Well, at least for us hard rockin’ video game lovin’ loners who only rented horror movies and devoured copies of Fangoria (the copy of Fangoria magazine where the faux “Brainscan” advertisement appears is Fangoria issue #95/August 1990).

And we remember that movie, not so much for the fact that John Flynn directed it and “John Connor” starred in it, but that noted session musician and soundtrack composer George S. Clinton scored the film and made it sound like a Halloween sequel. Then there’s the fact that alt-rock and grunge was all the rage at the time, and this time, instead of rockin’ on Guns and Roses, John Connor was into (the cool, but second and third string Seattle bands) Mudhoney and Tad, as well as Butthole Surfers and Primus — and a really cool tune “Shapes” from a 4th string Seattle band, Alcohol Funnycar, and Philadelphia’s they-sound-like-they’re-from-Seattle-but-they’re-not-Nirvana Dandelion with “Under My Skin.”

Oh, and some screenwriter from Mechanicsburg, Pennslyvania, out in little ol’ Cumberland County — who wowed us with the noir-slasher Se7en (1995) and gave us the Cage in 8mm (1999) — wrote it. (Check out our “Nic Cage Bitch” career retrospective.) And proving that everyone has to start somewhere in the business: Andrew Kevin Walker’s first job in the business was as a scenic painter on (the utter abysmal) Robot Holocaust (1986). If you know your comics, then you know Walker’s place in the Marvel and DC-verses with his shelved adaptations for Silver Surfer and X-Men, as well as Batman and Superman.

Boy, I can relate. Andrew Kevin Walker QWERTY’ing the midnight oil/image courtesy of The Fincher Analyst.

Okay, enough of the movie and music nostalgia. Now for the behind the scene turmoil.

In “John Flynn: Out for Action,” a 2005 interview by Harvey F. Chartrand for (the awesome) Shock Cinema, John Flynn offered his insights to the film:

“Frank Langella is a prince of a guy and a wonderful actor. He really nailed that character. Frank took what was a routine cop part and lent real depth to it. He played against the tough cop stereotype, played it very gently and softly, but there was a subtext of steel. His Detective Hayden character had a very human concern for the boy, but he was going to find the truth. If it meant the destruction of this boy, so be it.”

Okay, but what about Edward Furlong?

Eddie Furlong was a 15-year-old kid who couldn’t act. You had to ‘slap him awake’ every morning. I don’t want to get into knocking people, but I was not a big Eddie Furlong fan.”

And Andrew Kevin Walker’s script?

“The main interest for me was the Trickster character. The Trickster was the core of the movie and what attracted me to the script. We found this stage actor [T. Ryder Smith] to play the Trickster and he was extraordinary. . . . Walker had thoroughly researched that whole VR scene.”

And that sums it up: We’ve got a great, ominous-appropriate score by George S. Clinton (the whacked musical The Apple, Cheech and Chong’s Still Smokin’). A great soundtrack by then timely-hot grunge-and-not-grunge bands. A great, well-researched script by Andrew Kevin Walker (that gave him his start in the business) directed by John Flynn — in his first horror film — knocking it out of the park. And, as Flynn — and Shock Cinema’s editors pointed out — we have a great villain in The Trickster in T. Rider Smith as “a cadaverous Alice Cooper-like entity who materializes from a CD-ROM computer game.”

Regardless of the problems with Furlong on the set: I think he’s just fine, here (and really good in 1989’s American History X; if that movie was made today, yikes; people would go social media insane over it). But T. Ryder Smith? Just wow and a bag o’ chips. Not since Anders Hove as Radu Vladislas in Subspecies (1991). Sure, The Trickster isn’t a “vampire” in the traditional sense, but I can’t help think Walker was influenced by the Amicus and Hammer vampires of old, as our virtual reality “vamp” is draining the will — the soul — of the user. I see The Trickster as one of the best — right alongside Tom Cruise’s take of Lestat in Interview with the Vampire (1994) — in contemporary film vampires. Is there a little pinch o’ Pinhead from the Hellraiser (1987) franchise, here? Sure. And I always align The Trickster with Sammy Curr (a “backmasked” vampire, if you will) from the “No False Metal” classic Trick or Treat (1986) (now that’s a Groovy Doom Saturday Night Double Feature watch party: Brainscan and Trick or Treat). If Edward Furlong was an aspiring rocker or just a ne’er-do-well metalhead of the Eddie “Ragman” Weinbauer variety. . . .

There’s so much that Andrew Kevin Walker gets right in Brainscan: in fact, everything that the ancient future-cum-erotic thriller Disclosure (Sam and I both take it to task this week; look for them) gets wrong, Walker gets right. Sure, CDs and CD-ROM drives are passé — and you’d be hard-pressed to find a laptop with a CD-drive today . . . well, hell . . . The Trickster spinnin’ those disks on his long finger nails. Just damn. Demi Moore’s evil bitch has nothing on The Trickster. Snake Plissken rippin’ out the analog tape of a K-Mart Kraco cassette of the 1997, John Carpenter-mission-critical variety just ain’t the same. Walker’s script is the prefect amalgamate statement on the Gen-X counterculture’s obsession with rock music and horror movies — an already troublesome mix in itself — colliding with computers and its growing development of violent video games.

Micheal Brower isn’t that far removed from Eddie “Ragman” Weinbauer: both have absentee parents and spend their days in, well, the coolest bedrooms, ever: the kind that only exist in the movies. Only difference: Micheal is ye not plugged into devilish metal music, but the (then) burgeoning world of the Internet and computers — and enthralled by a new subset of that digital-verse: the digitally-created worlds of virtual reality programming.

A mother dead in a car crash. A kid with a permanently disabled leg. A father who escapes into his career. Bullies. One lone friend. And a hot, next door high school classmate that won’t give him the time of day. Childhood trauma. Abandonment. And just plain horny. Perfect pickings for The Trickster because, well, David Lightman is too smart for the VR scam and is starting WW III with a IMSAI 8080. And The Trickster’s already upgraded to a brainfucking Memorex Telex IBM/PC.

Only, Brainscan, the latest in video game technology, isn’t a video game: it’s a murder simulator, a program that encourages one’s most murderous impulses. And young Michael comes to discover: whoever dies in the game, dies in real life. And he’s killed best friend, but Michael’s mind is so scrambled, he doesn’t remember.

Courtesy of Mastodon PC.

The Trickster — what I love about Walker’s character development in ambiguity — is that we don’t know “what” the host of Brainscan is. As Proteus in Demon Seed (1977) before him, is The Trickster a sentient computer program turned flesh or, as with Max Renn in Videodrome (1983) before him, a manifestation of young Michael’s own needs, wants, vices, and desires? Or is The Trickster just a digitized Freddy Krueger who, instead of dreams, uses the information super highway-expressway into one’s skull?

It’s eerie how Andrew Kevin Walker foretells the forthcoming, 1999 Columbine tragedy — with that cauldron of violence spiced with the occult and satanic-panic — that associated the music of shocker-rocker Marilyn Manson and the industrial/goth bands KMFDM and Rammstein as underlying causes. Then there was the liberal reasoning that the home computer-based video games of Doom, Wolfstein 3D, and Duke Nukem were the causes. To that Columbine end: In addition to Walker effectively researching — and getting it right — the burgeoning virtual reality-verse, I wonder if the legal atrocities of the 1986 West Memphis 3 case, and the seminal British metal band Judas Priest “subliminal messaging” (via their 1978 album Stained Class) teens into murder and suicide, which also bit Ozzy Osbourne in the arse by way of the song “Suicide Solution” from his 1980 debut album, Blizzard of Oz, played into Walker’s screenwriting research.

Just a great film all around, Mr. Walker and Mr. Flynn. A true computer and alt-music time capsule. And a foretelling tale of our today’s online gaming and social media addictions. Beware of the true biblical beast. He’s waiting to plug into you.

Hats off for Sam the Bossman devising an “Ancient Future” theme week inspiring me to rewatch this debut work from Andrew Kevin Walker again, all these years later. And shame on me for not searching the B&S About Movies’ database to see that if we already reviewed this film — ugh, we did, courtesy of Sam back in June 2019, when Mill Creek appropriately double-packed Brainscan with another “ancient future” lost bit n’ bytes romp, Mindwarp (1992), from Fangoria Films/Magazine (!) starring Angus Scrimm and Bruce Campbell. (Ironically, The Trickster is a computerized version of The Tallman from Phantasm, right? Too bad T. Ryder Smith didn’t get a franchise out of this, as he is astounding in his role.)

There’s just too many movies to keep track of . . . and so many more to review. At least I caught myself before rehashing Mindwarp, for it ain’t no Brainscan, but it’s still pretty cool. You can watch Brainscan as a free-with-ads stream on the Crackle online service.

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.

Disclosure (1994) and the Exploration of the “Erotic Thrillers” of the ’90s

When the net meets sex . . . you’re screwed.
— the tagline that never was

“A feather is sexy. A whole chicken is erotic. A rooster will get you into the kinky. Are you into poultry, Nick?”
— the greatest line Catherine Trammel never spoke

While the “video nasty” was our analog-rental de rigueur in the ’80s, it was the titillation of the psuedo-Giallo* and faux noir plotting of the “erotic thriller” that was our fashionable, digital-rental in the ’90s — and their bastardized, low-budget “after dark” soft-core variants of ne’er-do-well successful surgeons, kinked detectives, and tool-literate, hunky-handyman drifters were our required Cinemax/Showtime cable-viewing. Call those ’90s eroticisms what you will: a sexed-up ’50s detective thriller, or an ersatz-porn or a non-psychosexual Giallo of the ’70s, but the genre captured the creative pens of Hollywood and the contractual clauses of A-List talent agents. The first leading man to answer the call to . . . ahem, for the sake of keeping this review clean, we’ll just say, “arms,” for modern Hollywood’s new take on the likes of Double Indemity (1944) was Michael Douglas.

Double Indemity (1944) vs. Basic Instinct (1992).

Can you hear Micheal Douglas salivating Fred MacMurray’s line, “That’s a honey of an anklet you got there, Ms. Dietrichson,” as a widowed Barbara Stanwyck gives him a hint a vagina? Or Fred MacMurray substituting the p-word in lieu of “anklet,” as Babs remembered the anklet, but forgot the undergarments? Ain’t no men in the ’90s gazing at any anklets, baby: the days of Ricky and Lucy Ricardo and Rob and Laura Petrie bunking down in nightstand-separate twins beds are long since over: bring on the WAP. For these are the days that it’s societal acceptable for Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion performing a pseudo-lesbian stripper show on national network TV to mass applause and cheers and for musical tributes to the vagina to rise up the charts to Grammy recognition and acclaim.

During that short-lived sex-noir genre of the early ’90s — that crossed Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966) with Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, while adding a soupçon of the Golden Age of Porn’s Deep Throat (1972) and a smidgen of Argento (the faux-noir detective had to start his sex-spiral, somewhere) — the son of Kirk Douglas (Saturn 3) was the crowned king of the bare-bottom courtesy of the one-two box-office hip-thrust of (the lighter fare) Fatal Attraction (1987) (and the amped-up) Basic Instinct (1992). But while Adrian Lyne and James Dearden’s sex frolic was a hit, Glenn Close’s (Ol’ pop, with his Austin Powers-imitation anytime it cable replayed: “It’s a man, baby!” and “What man in is his right mind would cheat on Anne Archer with Glenn Close!”) Alexandra “Alex” Forrest was no match for Sharon’s Stone’s Catherine Tramell — courtesy of that notorious Eszterhas-cum-Verhoeven scene in the police interrogation room. And ol’ Cat was no rabbit-boiling wrist-silting shirking violet: Cat was a full-on Giallo bi-ice picker possessed with Lucio Fulci’s and Umberto Lenzi’s eyeball trauma fetishism.

Ladies and gentleman: we have our blue-print for the “erotic thriller” of the ’90s.

Art department fail: they should have ran an image of a binary bits and bytes curtain in those dead white spaces.

And the pants fell and the legs opened with one Eszterhas-clone after another: Sea of Love (1989) (Okay, that’s more of the Fatal Attraction-variety, but Pacino!), A Kiss Before Dying (1991) (Argh! Don’t sex-remake noir classics!), Poison Ivy (1992) (Eh, if you’re into Drew.), Single White Female (1992) (Standards-and-practices lesbian lore), Color of Night (1992) (Bruce Willis begins his career spiral.), Consenting Adults (1992) (Alan J. Pakula? Dude, you directed Klute and The Parallax View, not to mention scoring Oscar gold nods three times? Why did you do it?), Sliver (1993) (Oh, Sharon, it does not strike twice; the worst of the bunch.), Body of Evidence (1993) (Oh, Madonna! Why, Willem Dafoe. why?), Indecent Proposal (1993) (Robert Redford? Don’t worry, Demi’s returning. . . .), The Last Seduction (1994) (The most underrated of them all!), Jade (1995) (David Caruso quit NYPD Blue, for this?), Showgirls (1995) (Eszterhas and Verhoeven return for a match-made-in-box office-hell.), Wild Things (1998) (Denise Richards ain’t no Sharon Stone.), and The Bondage Master (1996) (the no-one-knows Japanese V-Cinema classic that gets it oh-so-right and is the requisite B&S About Movies “erotic thriller,” if we must pick one.).

It’s curtains for you, Mr. Sanders!

But for this latest installment of one of B&S About Movies’ patented theme weeks — this week, it’s “ancient future” — we picked the third film of Micheal Douglas’s sexual triumvirate — and, if you’re keeping track: tres for Demi with Indecent Proposal and ShowgirlsDisclosure.

Oh, Hollywood, your fascination with the erotic was only matched by your kid-in-the-Radio Shack tomfoolery when you told us the Internet — with a single keystroke — could do anything. You warned of a world were hacks were as easy as a car service or food delivery app-touch away. It would be a world where the introverted and the shut-in; the malcontent bookworm and the bullied brainiac, would lord over the extroverts, telecommuting over phone lines and cyberpunking us as they open their hearts and souls on cyberchats to their digital lovers and digitally-ordered pizzas while us mere analog fools had physical sex and called-in our pepperoni pies.

For it was a time when the thumb drive was not a yet a twinkle in your Commodore 64-eye; it was an epoch-prediction that computer discs would become the linchpin of our existence; when CD-ROMs were lucrative; a world were malevolent hackers were out to erase identities and steal lives, manufacture rap sheets, alter job records, or murder you by infiltrating airline software and crashing your plane. Those who understood Basic HTML and navigated mainframes would master your domain!

Welcome to the world of Disclosure: a world where the clumsy erotic collides with the cyber stupid.

Tom Sanders (Michael Douglas) pines for a lucrative career promotion as the President of the CD-ROM division (which we now know: he’d be out of job, since you’d be hard-pressed these days to find a laptop with a drive), in lieu of his less-prestigious production line manager gig at DigiCom. Alas, when his company’s merger is about complete, everyone is shocked to learn that ready-to-retire founder Bob Garvin (Donald Sutherland) promoted-transferred the Malaysian-based Meredith Johnson (Demi Moore) — Sanders’s old girlfriend — to the Seattle main office for the job. And, in a role reversal that would never make it through the studio development stages in our post-#MeToo environs: she sexually forces herself on him. And when Sanders rebuffs the advance, her hell-hath-a-woman scorned response for career damage control is to accuse him of sexual harassment. And with a scandal of that magnitude jeopardizing the merger, “to hell with friendship” says Bob Garvin: he sides with Meredith because, it’s always money over friendship. Always. The fact that she’s incompetent and used cheap Malaysian slave labor to jam chips-by-hand instead of by-robot-arm into motherboards, which slowed down the production line stats for Tom and caused him to be passed over, well . . . Meredith is hot and Sutherland, we think, got a “boink” in the deal.

Tom Sanders is screwed . . . or is he?

Thanks to ’90s computer technology, he’s not.

He has DigiCom’s new Virtual Reality Database at his disposal: DigiCom is about to give us a world where we need keyboards no more; monitors are passe; touch screen and wireless technology never was. For now, we simply slip on a wired visor and pair of gloves to enter a digital cathedral of vaulted ceilings and virtual-lit transepts; a digital diocese with narthex after narthex of chambered file rooms rife with VR-cabinets that open with the glance of an eye and, if you’re lost amid the bites and bytes, you can call on an “Angel” to help you glide through the binary codes to save your ass and burn your foes.

Welcome to computer technology and corporate espionage circa 1994: a digital realm where tech giant DigiCom got so much so wrong and so much of what they developed is out out-of-date. There are the clunky mobile phones. The awkward navigation of an in-house e-mail application bogged down with jumbo-sized icons, a spinning “E” screen saver, and giant, unfolding envelopes every time you open an email. The inability — of a cutting-edge tech company that developed a VR-cathedral file cabinet — to trace anonymous emails — mails with espionage Intel that can jeopardize the company’s merger. Oh, DigiCom. How can a company so “cutting edge” develop VR-cathedrals, yet not improve on the design of giant CRT monitors? All this from a tech giant with engineers that decided ditching a WYSIWYG click-and-drag mouse-interface for a visor and gloves to retrieve files made perfect sense. No thanks, DigiCom. It’s Doug Engelbart’s mouse over Tom Sanders’s cathedrals for the win: I’ll just stick to the ol’ Windows Explorer directory tree.

Imagine if Sandra Bullock had to go through all of this VR-catherdal hokum to order a pizza when that HMTL-world she mastered became ancient history future.

Wow, now I’m hungry! Time for me to slip on my brain-computer interface (from Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm**) and jam-a-chip into the back of my head (à la Circuitry Man**). I need to order food for my chess date with Hal. Oh, that reminds me: I better log onto the IBM terminal and invite Colossus over (from Colossus: The Forbin Project). Yeah, ol’ Cal already knows, it’s just a social (media) formality.

* We LOVE our Giallo at B&S About Movies, which we blew out in grand style with our “Exploring: Giallo” examination, rife with our reviews to over 70 films. We also discuss ol’ Hal and Colossus, and their “ancient future” brethren, with our “Drive-In Friday: Computers Take Over the World” featurette.

** We’re unpacking Brainstorm and Circuity Man this week.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publish music reviews and short stories on Medium.

Angel 4: Undercover (1994)

Molly “Angel” Stewart is still a photographer, but now she does it for the police. And she’s portrayed by the fourth actress in as many movies to play her, Darlene Vogel.

One of her old street girlfriends is in town, touring with a band and of course, ends up dead before we’re all that long into this movie. After photographing the body — it’s her job — Molly goes back to being Angel and goes undercover as a groupie.

A sequel in name only, this was directed by Richard Schenkman. Strangely enough, the Miramax site lists George Axsmith as the director, another name* that Schenkman would use.

Stoney Jackson, who was Phones in Roller Boogie, is in this, as are Samantha Phillips (Phantasm II) and Roddy McDowall, who deserves so much better more than anyone has ever deserved so much better.

That said, this ends up being a movie about a troubled musician more than Angel, but such is life when you’re watching the fourth movie in a sequel series that is basically unconnected. Maybe a producer somewhere wants to know about my idea, Angel vs. Vice Academy.

*On his website, the director says, “For decades I said that The Pompatus of Love was my first movie, but close friends have long known that two years before Pompatus, I directed Angel IV: Undercover aka Assault with a Deadly Weapon. Why the obfuscation? Simply, I didn’t want my official “first film” to be a dreadful, low-budget B-movie I didn’t write, although I was very grateful for the chance to learn-by-doing and make my mistakes on a project less close to my heart. But in all fairness, even this was supposed to be a better movie – a “rock n’ roll murder mystery” – and it was, until the producer demanded that we shoot an “alternate version” of several scenes, enabling him to position the film as an Angel sequel in “a couple of Eastern European markets.” Naturally, only the Angel version ever saw the light of day. Still… I got to work with a good number of dear friends, plus the iconic Hollywood legend Roddy McDowall, as well as the brilliant, much-missed Kevin Gilbert, who did the songs and score.”

Leprechaun 2 (1994)

The subtitle of this movie, One Wedding and Lots of Funerals, is better than anything in it. That said, the Leprechaun movies are not known for being subtle. Or even cannon. I mean, they never even mention if this is the same little guy from the first one.

This time, the Leprechaun has made his journey to Los Angeles inside a magic tree that once belonged to Harry Houdini, which is pretty hilarious and starts getting any gold he can, starting with teeth.

The goal is for the antagonist to get married and coincidence and movie luck demands that the woman of his destiny just so happens to be the girlfriend of our hero. I thought that the dark tours in this were ripped off from Dearly Departed Tours, but it turns out that the reverse is true.

Clint Howard also elevates this for the brief time he’s in it. Look any movie where a man wishes for a pot of gold and it gets ripped out of his stomach, I’m probably going to enjoy on some level. I’m pretty easy.