The Stendhal Syndrome aka La sindrome di Stendhal (1996)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sean Mitus grew up watching Chiller Theater & Pittsburgh UHF channels and has been a drive-in enthusiast for the last seven years. Sean enjoys all genres but has recently become interested in Italian Giallo and Poliziotteschi genres. 

“A young policewoman slowly goes insane while tracking down an elusive serial rapist/killer through Italy when she herself becomes a victim of the brutal man’s obsession.” – IMDB

After licking his wounds from back-to-back underperforming releases filmed in the US (Two Evil Eyes and Trauma), Dario Argento returned to Italy (and some say to peak form) with The Stendhal Syndrome, hereafter referred as Stendhal Syndrome. The film stars his daughter, Asia Argento, as Detective Anna Manni and then Euro-star Thomas Krestchmann as Alfredo Grossi.  Argento’s Stendhal Syndrome is a fascinating inversion of the usual giallo tropes.  

The film opens with a cold open of Anna Mani and we have no idea who she is.  We see here have a transcendent experience while touring the Uffizi Art Gallery in Florence, Italy.  The experience is a purported psychosomatic phenomenon known as the Stendhal Syndrome and is visually realized in early CGI with visual flair by Sergio Stivaletti.  Anna is helped by a stranger, Alfredo.  Anna develops amnesia and begins to recover small details.  As she investigates the latest rape and murder crime scene, Anna is attacked and raped by Alfredo who turns out to be a wanted serial rapist and killer. What follows is another visual set piece of the rape and murder of another victim.

Anna escapes and attempts to put her life back together.  As she does, Anna has sudden shifts in her personality, appearance, and behavior.  She has another Stendhal experience before being reinstated to limited duties as a Detective with mandated counseling sessions.  Anna becomes obsessed in finding Alfredo and his visage begins to dominate her every thought.  She returns a colleague’s romantic advances with a simulation of her sexual assault by Alfredo.

Anna returns to her hometown and family for a more supportive environment.  However, her distant relationship with her father doesn’t help any.   Anna tries painting as therapy without rrelief  It actually seems to drive her deeper into mental instability.  While this goes on, we see Alfredo target, rape and murder another victim in a harsh set piece.  As Anna contacts early victims who attest to Alfredo’s brutality and devastating impact, Alfredo calls Anna from within her apartment and kidnaps her once again.  

Alfredo brings Anna to his lair and in the harshest set piece brutally assaults and rapes Anna.  He keeps her captive, and Anna has another Stendhal fugue of sexual torment.  Alfredo returns for another assault, when Anna manages to turn the tables on him.  She fights viscously and recovers her gun. In Alfredo’s attempt to exert psychological dominance, Anna manages to shoot Alfredo and disables him in a cathartic beating.  She taunts Alfredo before dumping him helpless into a waterfall and raging waters below.   

The final third of the film finds Anna unable to shake Alfredo’s psychological scars, even as she flips back to a feminine persona and appearance.  The investigation into Alfredo’s background reveals a distorted obsession with Anna.  She claims to be recovered from her visions and their effects.  She meets a French art student and the budding romance seems to put her on the path to recovery.  Suddenly, Anna is getting phone calls from Alfredo, and Anna’s new lover is mysteriously murdered.  Anna is notified that Alfredo’s body has been recovered and she seeks clarity from her psychologist who instead challenges her distorted point-of-view on Alfredo’s influence over her.

In the film’s climax, Anna’s colleague Marco rushes to see Anna as we see Anna fully transform to her feminine, protective self.  We see the body of her psychologist who was brutally murdered by Anna. We along with Marco see Anna finally revealed as the murderer of her psychologist and lover. Anna has finally succumbed to Alfredo’s madness in full. She lures Marco to her car and kills him. Anna attempts to flee, but we know she never will be free of Alfredo as the film ends.

As I mentioned, the Stendhal Syndrome is dominated by the theme of inversions: 

  • The story upends the usual giallo tropes with the killer being known early in the film.
  • The killer, Alfredo, is dispatched at the midpoint of the film.
  • Anna becomes predator a la rape revenge movies (Call Her One Eye; Repulsion; I Spit on Your Grave).
  • Anna becomes more aggressive both sexually and personality, dresses more masculine, and later seeks out and repeats her degradation on Alfredo
  • Anna later flips back to her feminine side to but continues to lose control of her sanity and ultimately descends into madness a la Repulsion

The Stendhal Syndrome is a strong entry in the giallo pantheon.  Argento’s aggressively misogynistic treatment of how women are assaulted and murdered, rivaling Fulci’s The New York Ripper) and Asia Argento’s relatively young age in the role (just 21 during release) may put off some.  I argue that by this time Argento had included more slasher-style set pieces as with Tenebrae, Trauma and Opera so this shouldn’t come as a surprise and that  Asia Argento’s performance does not limit her character development.  

Further strengthening the viewer’s experience is Thomas Krestchmann’s sublime performance as the sociopath Alfredo, the moody cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno, and Ennio Morricone’s usual nuanced score.  I recommend The Stendhal Syndrome for giallo and Argento fans who have seen his earlier works. Seek out Blue Underground’s 3-Disc Limited Edition for a full treatment of this deserved gem!

References

  • The Art of Madness: Inside ‘The Stendhal Syndrome” – Michael Gingold; Blue Underground 3-Disc Limited Edition © 2017
  • Film Commentary – Troy Howarth; ; Blue Underground 3-Disc Limited Edition © 2017
  • So Deadly, So Perverse, Vol. 2 – Troy Howarth; Midnight Marquee Press, Inc; © 2015
  • https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117658/reference

5 Dead on the Crimson Canvas (1996)

Man, a Super-8 looking movie made in 1996 that’s supposed to look like a scuzzy 1971 Italian film? Yes, that’s pretty much exactly the kind of movie that I’m looking for. And sure, the music is over the dialogue and nothing really makes sense, but if I worried about films making sense, I would have stopped this site long ago.

I mean, a beatnik poet spells out the title of the film and all of the dialogue is way off from the peope speaking it and there are big stretches where nothing happens, but hey — it’s basically an American crew trying to make something that hasn’t been made for a quarter of a century.

I don’t know how good the rest of writer/director Joseph F. Parda’s films are but with titles like Evil Streets and Machines of Love and Hate, they are wonderous if only in my imagination.

So yeah — it’s about an artist obsessed with death getting killed, his body disappearing and his brother searching for it through a sexually twisted underground. You know — what we call Tuesday around here.

Vibrations (1996)

Amid the flurry of Beatles movies we reflected on during this third “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” with our “The Beatles: Influence on Film” series, this one-watch, utterly forgettable Beatles-inspired sidebar came to mind. Then there’s our memorializing the late Tawny Kitaen . . . and our remembering her work in the analogous, sick ‘n sensitive musician flick, Crystal Heart (1986). (See our “Exploring: Tawny Kitaen” featurette.)

Yes, we said “Beatles” sidebar.

Now, before you start with the comments, let us explain.

Back in the days when Sting of the Police flexed his thespian skills and received positive reviews in his fifth project and first leading-man role in Brimstone and Treacle (1982), and then the lead as Baron Frankenstein in The Bride (1985), the pre-Internet rock press (don’t search for it online, it’s not there) reported Sting would star in the lead of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Inspired by the George Harrison composition from the Beatles’ “White Album” (1968) — Beatles’ friend Eric Clapton — who provided the lead guitar on the classic tune — would provide the soundtrack (it could have been in Circus or Hit Parader, maybe Spin).

The Beatles’ recording appeared on the soundtrack to Withnail and I (1987), a comedy film set in late-1960s London and produced by Harrison’s company, HandMade Films. (I can’t recall if HandMade was involved in the production, again, in that news blurb that . . . is not a figment of my imagination.)

Regardless, that proposed-rumored film, about a famous musician (Sting) losing his hands in a tragic accident (guitar by Eric Clapton), who then deals with the aftermath of no longer being able to create music, was never made.

And to the cinema gods, we thank you.

For meshing John Travolta’s The Boy in the Plastic Bubble with a Beatles rock ‘n’ roll subplot is a film that would send any sane Beatles lover screaming out of their local Blockbuster with blood-soaked hands. So, with that project from hell, finite: we get this Miramax-backed (curse you, Weinsteins) cyberpunk version of the Hands of Orlac, aka Mad Love (1935, but remade in 1961 and 1962), starring a then-hot Twin Peaks and Married . . . with Children alums.

Oh, HBO in the ’90s, when you were too cheap to purchase decent films to justify your excessive subscription rates, we love you for giving us films like Vibrations in between your incessant replays of Dom DeLuise’s Hot Stuff and nobody-asked-for-Bill Murray’s brother in Moving Violations.

Picking up the good vibrations: Daft Punk

Michael Paseornek — who gave us (well, at least me and Sam the Bossman) an always-welcomed Lorenzo Lamas (in the pretty fine 2020 indie, Water) one-two punch with his screenplays for Snake Eater (1989) and Snake Eater II (1989) — makes his lone directing bow with his seventh (and final) screenplay.

In this Ed Wood meets cyber-novelist William Gibson tale — we meet T.J Cray (James Marshall of Twin Peaks, but looking a lot like John Savage, here), an up-and-coming rock star. On his way to an A&R audition, he’s victimized by thugs — and loses his hands in the melee.

With his ability to make music, gone, and his girlfriend repulsed by his plastic-artificial hands (perpetual magnets for sharp, stabbing objects and fire), T.J becomes a homeless drunk. Upon his rescue of a damsel-in-distress outside of an illegal rave (this film is loaded with slobbering-for-fun-thugs), T.J finds sympathy from Anamika (Christian Applegate), a computer artist and the promoter of that illegal warehouse rave, because . . . well, in real life, hot girls always treat sketchy homeless men like a stray puppy in the movies. And, unlike real life street urchins, T.J is — even under the soot and grime — a non-alcohol, six-packed hottie, again . . . only in the movies: where the homeless, sans access to dental care or gym equipment, always have perfect teeth and muscle tone. (Just don’t. I am not making light of homelessness. I was, once, myself. So stow the acidic comments, Cletus.)

Anyway . . . taking up residence in Anamika’s artist-occupied apartment building (the income-to-abode ratio, as with Jennifer Aniston and the Friends gang, doesn’t compute), she introduces T.J to her Wired to Kill-inspired techno-geek neighbor who fits him with his new invention: robot hands, aka cyberhands. Then, fitted with a metallic “cybersuit,” and his piano skills returned — even more efficiently because of the robotics — T.J becomes an international sensation known as Cyberstorm.

And we’d rather go see the Blue Man Group and the Residents. Maybe if Cyberstorm wore a giant eyeball over his head. Or lost his eyes, as well as his hands, and received a set of Steve Austin* eyes . . . and became the internationally known Ministry with the worldwild hit, “Jesus Built My Hot Rod.”

But can he grind on a Hammond B-3 or a Yamaha CS-80? That’s the question.

Yeah, in case you’re wondering: this film’s knowledge of techno, rave, and avant-garde dance rock is utterly non-existent and is nothing but the set design window dressing that it is. (Illegal raves are by word of mouth; raves do not set up 800 numbers.) But if you can get past the dopey characters spewing techno-gobbly-gook, the music of the genre’s stars — who serve as the “sounds” of Cyberstorm — Utah Saints and 808 State, are pretty cool.

Sure, we got Daft Punk out the deal. But Jesus still didn’t build this hot rod — a hot rod that, if we go by the dates on the set-design flyers inside one of the rave warehouse gigs, took three years to transition from the film set to the cable screen. And notice that, before social media: you (apparently) called 800 numbers for the scenster hook-up.

Eh, whatever. It’s all captured in the lens well enough, but the proceedings are pure meh Albert Pyun — if you recall Radioactive Dreams and Vicious Lips. Marshall and Applegate are mediocre, and Faye Grant (TV’s V, Omen IV) and Paige Turco (April O’Neill from the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles franchise) have been better, and in better. And it saddens that Vibrations served the final film of journeyman TV actor Steven Keats (of the films Death Wish, Black Sunday ’77), who died in 1994 (at a youthful 49), just after completing his work on the film (which additionally “dates” the production).

And we dare you to call that number. We dare you. Hey, maybe Jenny will answer. You never know.

https://bandsaboutmovies.files.wordpress.com/2021/09/761e7-vibrations-11.jpg
Screencap courtesy of fellow fan Yum-Yum at House of Self-Indulgence.

As an executive producer, Michael Paseornek would go to great success with Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, the critically-acclaimed Akleelah and the Bee (2006), the Americanized J-Horror The Eye, Punisher: War Zone, and The Hunger Games franchise. And, thanks to Mike, we get this sweet-as-hell box set.

Oh, hell yes, Mr. Paseornek. Oh, yes. We bow.

Even with its shortfalls, Vibrations is a pre-The Matrix VHS classic with a loyal fan base, as these You Tube uploads of the film HERE and HERE, and clips from the film HERE and HERE, prove. If you’re into the techo-rave side of ’90s alternative rock, this will hold your interest.

Now, when is someone making a metal version of The Hands of Orlac with Swedish symphonic metal bands?

Many thanks, once again, to Paul Z. over at VHS Collector.com for the clean images. Be sure to check out his reviews of the DVD and Blu-ray reissues of the lost VHS classics of the ’80s on his Analog Archivist You Tube portal.

* We did an entire week of Lee Majors flicks. Do join us with our “Lee Majors Week,” won’t you?

Speaking of Beatles: Be sure to join us for our three part “The Beatles: Influence on Film” series as we look at 33 films dealing with the legacy of the Beatles.

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

Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders (1996)

This movie might start with Ernest Borgnine as a grandfather telling his grandchild two stories of Merlin opening a magic shop like a page from The Princess Bride, yet this ends up being a horror movie more than something to watch with your kids.

Jonathan and Madeline Cooper are a married couple that have been having trouble having a child. Jonathan’s newspaper column takes him to Merlin’s new store and he has trouble believing that the old man running the place is really the Merlin of legend. So Merlin decides to give the man his spellbook, which seems to be the worst idea if you’re a magic user, but this allows the writer to see Satan, breathe fire and begin to age every time he casts a spell. He also attempts to make his cat into a demonic servant, but that goes wrong and he has to breathe fire to stop — and kill — the feline. At the end, when he tries to become young again, the spell goes wrong and ends up giving Madeline what she always wanted: a baby.

The second story is a bit close to Stephen King’s “The Monkey,” as a thief steals one of those cymbal playing monkey toys, except that every time the monkey makes a noise, someone dies. This entire sequence is really the 1984 film The Devil’s Gift, which was also made by writer/director Kenneth J. Berton. Tons of that movie got cut out and Merlin was added to the end so that it doesn’t have the ending where the entire family dies. As it is, this monkey kills a bunch of pets, so if you love the animals in your life this movie may not be for you.

Why would Merlin have a store in a strip mall? Who would make this movie? Why would they think kids would want to watch it?

Robo Warriors (1996)

Editor’s Note: Yes, there was, in fact, a (lost) third sequel — and fourth film — in Stuart Gordon’s mecha-verse begun in 1989 with Robot Jox and continued in 1990 with Crash and Burn, then Robot Wars.

Welcome to the world of the Robo Warriors — a review inspired by an anonymous inquiry via our contact form, in response our reviewing Gordon’s previous films. We also reviewed Future-Kill earlier today, as result of another reader contacting us after our review of Cybernator.

Our readers, God love ’em and the VHS junk they love!

So strap on the popcorn bucket, let’s robo jox this joint!


Courtesy of recycledhistory74/eBay

The always-welcomed James Remar, aka Ajax, from, ironically enough, the end-all-be-all of gang films, The Warriors (1987), but you know him for his most recent work as “Peter Gambi” on the CW network’s Black Lightning in the U.S., stars in place of Gary Graham and Don Michael Paul as our troubled, down-and-out mecha-jock.

Paramount British Pictures, the Australian division of American intellectual property holders to the franchise, Paramount Pictures, contracted Australian director Ian Barry (1980’s Chain Reaction starring Steve “Goose” Bisley of Mad Max fame) to helm a script penned by U.S. network TV scribe Michael Berlin (MacGyver, 1985 – 1992) based on Gordon’s films and, as we will come to discover, an old Gordon screenplay.

However, this time, instead of Stuart Gordon or Charles Band behind-the-scenes we have . . . as our executive producer . . . oh, no, not Cirio H. Santiago? Yes, it’s old Uncle C. of so many of the video fringe delights of the apoc variety (The Sisterhood, Stryker, Wheels of Fire) that we love around here amid the B&S About Movies cubicle farm. The web portal Condition Critical, in their never-ending quest to catalog lost, obscure and bizarre VHS and DVDs of the ’80s and ’90s, gathered up all of the video sleeves, god bless ’em, on their Robo Warriors tribute page — and those covers, cover the plot, or lack thereof, in a nutshell, so we don’t have to (and don’t want to). Also known as — ugh, the title-confusing — Robot Jox 3 in some quarters, and released in the overseas markets in 1996, Robo Warriors didn’t hit U.S. home video shelves and cable television platforms until 1998. (This played on the Sci-Fi Channel before the “Ys”? Okay, if you say so.)

If you read our review for Robot Wars, the third film in the series, we discussed Stuart Gordon’s failed plans to follow that 1993 release with Battle Jox — a forth film featuring dinosaur-inspired mechs. Well, as it turns out, that film actually did get made afterall, sort of — and this is it. Hey, we are as shocked as you are that this film even exists.

Seriously, did you ever hear of this?

We didn’t, at least not until a reader messaged us about Robo Warriors in the wake of our recent “Apoc Week” reviews for the Gordon-Band mech-verse films. And it seems you, nor anyone in the U.S., did, either. Perhaps we did see this on home video shelves . . . and mistook it as a repack of — or even sequel to — the abysmal Vincent Dawn, aka Bruno Mattei, rip puke-pastiche of Rambo, Robocop, The Terminator, and Predator that is Robowar (1988). Hey, it takes strength to pick up another Mattei film, after having to digest the likes of Shocking Dark, and even more so when it comes to the resume of Reb Brown (Yor, Hunter from the Future, Space Mutiny), so we get it. We really do.

However, from the looks of the film’s IMDb and Letterboxd reviews, Robo Warriors became a popular release in Germany and Russia, with feedback from both users and critics in those countries. Go figure, they love U.S.-based product — even when that U.S. programmer is cheap jack-produced in the Philippines.

So, the dinosaurs, i.e., the lizard angle from Gordon’s Battle Jox concept, carried through into Robo Warriors, as man, in the year 2036 (ugh more timeline confusion, since this takes place before the events in Robot Wars) finds themselves subjugated by the (make-up impressive) Terridax, a humanoid-reptile alien race. And the aliens have their own 120-foot mech — that looks like a exoskeleton dinosaur, natch — to do their dirty work. And James Remar is the last of the Earth’s Robot Jox. And Remar and an (seriously) annoying, tech-savvy kid (aren’t they all in these movies) set off into the jungles — like our ne’er-do-well pilot in Robot Wars, who set off into the desert wastelands with an annoying woman — to find the last battle bot buried in the brush. And come to think of it: Megan Ward’s teen in Crash and Burn was mech-tech savvy, as well. Yeah, so it’s like that: recycle, recycle, recycle . . . and never, ever follow the timeline from the previous film. And pull out the old grandfather-tells-a-story trope (Uh-oh, lazy writing alert! My use of “trope,” not the grandfather plot-device.) to set up the mech-verse.

While the production values, in spite of Uncle Cirio in the mix, are high and it certainly looks like a Dave Allen and Jim Danforth joint, the robots — this time — are by designed by Anna Albrecht (Gremlins, Enemy Mine, later Star Trek: First Contact) and Wanda Peity (Val Kilmer’s Red Planet). Why weren’t the Allen-Danforth bots from the other films repurposed, only Uncle C. knows. The apocalyptic, wasteland scenery comes courtesy of the abandoned Clark Air Base, which served as the U.S. forces’ staging area in the Philippines during World War II and the Vietnam War. James Ramar and his Robo Warriors co-star, James With, aka James Wearing Smith, previously worked together on The Quest (1996), which filmed in Thailand and starred Jean-Claude Van Damme and Roger Moore. Ramar and With also worked together on the Billy Zane-starring The Phantom (1996), which Paramount Studios also produced.

Robo Warriors is a film of a time and place. If you were a kid growing up on the tail end of the fading home video boom in the ’90s and picked this up on VHS, it’ll warm those ol’ VCR cockles — as did Robot Jox, the 1989 original does for myself. And while the dino-robot battle in the jungle opening is pretty impressive and James Remar delivers the thespin’ chops and the SFX are improvement over Robot Wars, but . . . ugh. Credit it to my first-time 2021 eyes watching this, but everything spirals into boredom beyond belief until the last throes of the third act kicks in and the alien vs. human bots start kickin’ some poly-carbon ass. But extra points for going old-school kaiju in ditching the stop-motion or CGI animation or putting two guys in mech-suits swinging, slicing, and blasting each other. Yeah, I dig SFX retro-vibes, but as with the previous two “sequels”: it’s all too little, all too late.

Again, a 10-year old tech-savvy kid hookin’ up with a burnt-out mech-warrior will appeal to the 10-year old kid in you that rented this in 1998, but not to the old bastard (moi) streaming this for the first time in 2021 — in Russian, no less. This is totally meant for kids, but isn’t made for kids, as this is all pretty heavy adult stuff in the frames. And I don’t think seeing this in its original English format will help — not even with my years of Godzilla kaiju experience. And it didn’t: A quick call into my bud, Mikey (whose own vinyl and VHS collection out rivals my own, you bastard), who turns out had a copy in his insane tape collection (“I can’t believe I actually have it,” he says.), solved the problem. So, yeah, I watched Robo Warriors, twice, which was once too many times for me, my Uncle Cirio and Bruno memories, be damned.

So, speaking of the Russian dub I watched: There’s no luck on finding any English VODs or freebie streams for Robo Warriors — and the only upload we could find was a Russian dub (there’s a German dub on the ‘Tube, but without audio and Spanish subtitles), but at least you can check it out for yourself on You Tube. To date, Paramount has never officially released Robo Warriors on DVD. In lieu of a trailer, we found this rip of the film’s opening five minutes (embedded below). Again, it’s impressive. And as the YT poster points out, we’ve not only got Stuart Gordon’s influences here, but pinches from the abysmal Battlefield Earth and the incredible Platoon . . . and I’ll even add Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Predator into the mix. (See, just like Bruno Mattei’s Robowar, get it?) But when it’s a film produced in the Philippines by Cirio H. Santiago, well, would you expect anything more . . . or less . . . than a pseudo-plagiaristic hodgepodge of more successful American films?

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

Bordello of Blood (1996)

After Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis graduated from USC, they wanted to break into movies and decided that an exploitation film was the easiest way in. They pitched this script to John Milius, yet ended up debuting with 1941.

When Tales from the Crypt — the TV series — started becoming a series of movies, instead of mining the old EC Comics, like the show and movies based on it, like Creepshow did, the idea was to make longer stand-alone films that were not adaptions. I could be cynical and say that it was just using the brand name to make movies that no one wanted otherwise, but Demon Knight was so good that I couldn’t think that way.

Bordello of Blood is exactly the kind of junk I figured they’d make. This script was picked instead of others considered, including Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners and Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk till Dawn.

At a budget of $2.5 million dollars, the film looks cheaper than the TV series that gave it life, which is quite backward. And while Joel Silver was the producer, that led to all manner of questionable decisions, like his idea that supermodel actresses was what would change Hollywood and hiring Dennis Miller, who did not want to be in the movie and said he’d only do it for a million dollars. The studios said no, so Silver played fast and loose with the books and took $750,000 out of the special effects budget. You can really tell. During the holy watergun fight with the evil sex workers, the effects go from really good to beyond horrible, often within the same shot.

Further problems came up when Erika Eleniak — who had left Baywatch because she wanted to be taken seriously as an actress —  allegedly did not want to play the character of Catherine. What a movie! Two actors that had no interest in being in it, a sliced and diced special effects budget and a movie shot in Canada due to Silver’s past union issues, which further had a non-union crew angered by the fact that Miller would rarely show up, working around the schedule of his Dennis Miller Live TV show, keeping them from seeing their families on weekends. Oh yeah — the script supervisor who was Miller’s stand-in — lots of the movie was shot without him — couldn’t remember all of Miller’s dialogue, which he’d frequently ad-lib, so the movie is filled with continuity issues.

The film starts on a great note, as some treasure hunters find the grave of Lilith, the queen of all vampires. They’re all killed by her except for the one who has the key from Demon Knight. Speaking of that film, its hero William Sandler has a cameo as a mummy in the Crypt Keeper segment.

Then, Caleb (Corey Feldman) and his buddy Reggie get attacked by vampires in a house of ill repute, revealing Lilith as Angie Everhart — that supermodel idea — and Tallulah as Juliet Reagh, Penthouse Pet for April 1987. Caleb’s sister — Eleniak — hires Rafe Guttman (Miller) to find her brother, bringing him to the titular bordello of blood.

Hey, the movie at least is good for trivia, as you have two of the stars of the 80’s bigger vampire movies — Feldman from Lost Boys and Chris Sarandon from Fright Night — in the cast. It also has a completely non-sensical ending that ignores all traditions of vampirism. And oh yeah — Reggie is played by Matt Hill, who was the voice of Raphael to Feldman’s Donatello in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies.

This is the only movie Gilbert Adler would direct, although he produced Constantine and wrote Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice.

As for this being a heavy metal movie, it does have a soundtrack with Anthrax doing the theme song, Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” — everyone used that in their movies at one point — and Redd Kross covering Kiss’ “Deuce.”

Honestly, this movie could have an entire soundtrack by Black Sabbath and I’d still hate it.

Within the Rock (1996)

“Give me a film where Armageddon meets Alien, kid.
— A cigar-chompin’ B-Movie executive to British special make-up effects designer Gary J. Tunnicliffe looking to make his break as a director

Aliens, Rocks, and Predators, oh, my!

After binge-watching all of the Battlestar Galactica: TOS and Six Million Dollar Man series two–parters on NBC.com (as I prepared to review those series’ TV movie installments for our “Space Week” tribute), I couldn’t help but revisit what is one of my favorite (of many) Prism Entertainment ditties made for the Sci-Fi Channel (during their pre-“Y” days) — with all of the film’s totally awesome junk science tomfoolery of creating atmosphere and gravity on rogue moons. Obviously, someone in the Prism cubicles watched the epic, Steve Austin two-parter “Dark Side of the Moon” (Season 5), with our favorite cyborg “jumping the shark” by pushing the moon back into its proper orbit with a nuclear explosive device. (Junk science is great when you’re a kid, but a groan-enduing, mixed bag of Daggit dung and feldercarb when you’re a post-VHS codger lost in a digital world.)

So, our best estimation amid the B&S About Movies’ cubicles: Alien Resurrection (1997) went into production and the major studio asteroid-disaster battle of ’98 between Armageddon and Deep Impact was readying for theaters. And we can’t help but wonder if Creature (1985), William Malone’s Ridley Scott’s Alien meets Peter Hyman’s Outland (1981) redux, was pinched along the way?

Then there’s the marketing. Oh, you gotta love the marketing on this one.

It’s bad enough when a studio rips 20th Century Fox, Touchstone Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and Trans World Entertainment in one fell celluloid swoop — along with every other ’80s Italian Alien ripoff* — but Prism’s distribution network decided to evoke a few more films to convince those doubting, overseas Thomases. You can easily pick up on the films clipped with the foreign theatrical-television-home video titles of Spacegate, Spacetrek, The Last Predator (!), and the-what-the-hell-why-not grey-market title of Armageddon II. Some of the more unique titles are: Asteroid Mystery (Russia), The Fossil (Greece), From the Abyss of Space (Italy), The Prisoner of the Moon (Canada/France), and Terror Moon (Germany).

Regardless of the myriad of questions in the originality department and its you-swear-that’s-recycled-sets from Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars/Galaxy of Terror clone-verse — even with its against-the-budget CGI absent from its fellow ’80s antecedental ripoffs — Within the Rock is actually a pretty fun watch courtesy of its smart scripting (all of the chemical compounds, explosives, and mining tech-speak seems well-researched and convinced me) and direction from a debuting in-both-departments Gary J. Tunnicliffe. Gary’s over 100 effects (and writing) credits include the Dracula 2000, Hellraiser, and Return of the Living Dead franchises, My Bloody Valentine 3D, and Drive Angry; to that end, he’s also brought us top-notch against-the-budget production design.

So, what “clones” are attacking here?

In the future-history of 2019 (Did you miss the Rollerball championship game between Houston vs. New York?), we not only get a Xerox’d Xenomorph XX121 (The Creature from the Black Lagoon-inspired, caked-in-mud-cum-oatmeal ancient demon imprisoned by an alien race**), we also get a crew of the same old corporation-paranoid, slovenly, greedy types with overactive libidos. And, just to make this a little bit the same, but different: the mining crew of Galileo’s Child, instead of drilling in explosives, they’ll plant rockets. But why send a bunch of miscreant, malcontent miners and not NASA-trained astronauts? Are you not following along, dear B&S readers? We’re more into evoking Armageddon than Deep Impact, here. And if those miners fail? Hey, there’s no time for any last minute, Liv Tyler glycerine tear-inducing heroics: NASA will send a crew to blow up the rouge moon, aka Son of Galileo, with a couple of shuttle-launched rocks, criminal miners be damned. See, this isn’t the same, its different: a moon instead of asteroid.

Oh, yeah. The junk science. Apparently, in the future-history of 2019, the Russians developed technologies that can reproduce Earth atmosphere and gravity “walls” on astronomical bodies. Too bad those same Ruskies were unable to advance man beyond floppy discs technology. Where’s Snake Plissken with those 1997-era, mission-critical audio cassette tapes when you need them the most? And dig that Atari 2019 gaming system!

So, after we slog through the expected carbon-copy character development — rife with horny sex innuendos — the mission shifts from a Bruce Willis-dupe into a William Malone-trip as the miners discover a bone-filled alien sarcophagus — and, like many o’ Transylvania Counts before it, the skeletal remains regenerate when exposed to blood oxygen (speaking of classic horror villains: the cast name drops The Mummy). Then, we’re off into the Shaw Brothers’ British-shot Alien ode known as Inseminoid, with one of the miners going off the deep end, adding to alien slaughterhouse rock.

See? It’s an awesome popcorn bucket full ‘o fun for the low-budget, sci-fi guilty teen inside your still VHS-loving adult. I love this movie: it’s a pure ’80s VHS-retro tale o’ yore, just like Mr. Corman used to make.

While there’s no production or crew connections (in the music department) to William Malone’s eleven years earlier, best-of-the-Alien-clones . . . the musical déjà vus are obvious. As we discussed in our review of Creature: Trans World Entertainment (not the retail company of the same name that operates mall-based entertainment chains), was defunct by 1989. And those intellectual properties, in turn, came under MGM Studios’ tutelage after the Great Lion purchased Orion Pictures. So, it seems MGM may have sold off Malone’s score as stock scoring for other films. (Amazingly, no South African sci-fi production pulled a Space Mutiny and stock-footage raped Malone’s Creature.)

As for Le Monde and 360 Entertainment, the Canadian production companies that worked with U.S.-based Prism Entertainment on Within the Rock (that played as an R-rated theatrical in the Great White North): both companies were defunct by 1998. They made one other film that same year: the 1997-released Ravager starring Yancy Butler, a déjà va space romp about another group of space miners, natch, who — in lieu of an alien — stumble into a forgotten, infectious bio-weapons depot (so, Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak meets Ridley Scott’s Aliens). And, you guessed it: the Corman work ethic of waste-not-want-not recycling (and on-the-cheap CGI instead of in-camera, blue-screen modeling) across all departments is in play. And that’s more than likely, since James D. Deck, who served as the Unit Production Manager and 1st A.D. on Within the Rock, made his screenwriting and directing debut with the impossible-to-find-a-copy Ravager.

If you’re one who pays attention to opening title card and edits credits . . . and you’re wondering if that’s the same actors we know as Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgement Day) and Scott McGinnis (Joysticks and Thunder Alley) in the producer’s chairs, your VHS-analog centers deceive you not: they’re one in the same (McGinnis also produced Ravager). And would you believe Pacific Rim junkmeister Cirio H. Santiago (who we love at B&S!) would be at the center of this Alien clone’s Venn Diagram? It’s true: Barbara Patrick, starring here as the Ripleyesque chemical-explosives expert Samantha “Nuke em” Rogers, was once known as Barbara Hooper, the star of Cirio’s Filipino post-apoc slopper The Sisterhood; while working for Cirio, she come to meet her future husband, Robert, who began his career with Cirio on Future Hunters. And you might have noticed Duane Whitaker (Maynard from Pulp Fiction) as one of the miners; he worked with Barbara Patrick on his self-penned Elvis homage, Eddie Presley. So this is an all-in-the-family shoot if there ever was one: and we dig it (mining humor!).

The German VHS.

The fine folks at Mill Creek Entertainment make Within the Rock easy to own as part of its “Fright Fest” 12-pack issued in 2005 and 2012. It’s also part of a Mill Creek triple-feature pack with a Phantom of the Opera remake and The Fear 2. If you’d prefer a single flick-issue, you can pick up Image Entertainment’s 1999 pressing. Why Within the Rock — considering the producers synergy — wasn’t public domain double-packed with Ravager by Mill Creek is anyone’s guess. But if you can’t wait for your order to arrive, then you can stream Within the Rock for free on You Tube. Unlike its sister film, the harder-to-find Ravager ran as a home video-only release in the U.S. and is not currently available on any streaming platforms.


* We blew out all of those Alien rips with our “Ten Movie That Ripped Off Alien” and “A Whole Bunch of Alien Ripoffs at Once” featurettes. And since there’s always a soupçon of Lucas in the sci-fi pots and pans, check out our month-long “Exploring: After Star Wars” blow-out featuring over 50 space opera ripoff reviews. And since we have Cirio apocs on our mind, check out our two-part “Atomic Dust Bin” round-ups with links to over 100 post-apoc flick reviews.

** You can check out Gary J. Tunnicliffe’s impressive alien-head design — complete with multiple servos, movable jaw motion, eye blinks, breath bladders — up close at You Props.com.

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.

Oblivion 2: Backlash (1996)

Written by comic and Star Trek writer Peter David and the sequel to 1994’s Oblivion, this Full Moon movie has a great cast, I’ll give it that much. There’s Andrew Divoff coming back as Jaggar, along with Musetta Vander as Lash, Richard Joseph Paul as Marshal Zack Stone, Jackie Swanson as Mattie Chase, Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame member Isaac Hayes as Buster, Julie Newman as Miss Kitty (simultaneously a Batman and Gunsmoke reference), Twin Peaks giant Carel Struycken as Gaunt, George Takei as Doc Valentine and Romanian singer Nadine Voindrouh as Josephine.

There’s a new bad guy in town, however. Sweeney, a British dandy who is the deadliest bounty hunter in the universe (played by Rex Manning, err, Maxwell Caulfield) has come to Oblivion to bring Lash to justice. This character originally appeared in David’s DC run of the Star Trek comic book.

While this was shot at the same time as the original, troubles between Full Moon and Paramount Pictures led to this movie being delayed. As this was the end of the studios working together, the third movie in the Oblivion series was canceled.

You can watch this on Tubi.

 

Ebola Syndrome (1996)

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

The 1990s were the golden era of the Category III film in Hong Kong. Category III was the HK equivalent to an X or NC-17 where absolutely no one under 18 could view the film in question and many were relegated to playing in porn theaters. While it would be unfair to label all films produced the region as being distasteful (Wong Kar-Wai’s brilliant Happy Together received a Cat III), it would also be remiss to ignore the power that exploitation films held at the HK box office during the category’s heyday. Many of these films were notorious back in the ‘90s for featuring lots of action, gratuitous nudity, sex, and over-the-top violence, including lots of rape. Anyone who paid to see one of these films back in the day would likely be disappointed if the movie they’d bought a ticket for didn’t deliver. Thus, the creators of these films often went to great lengths to push the boundaries with audiences. Following the commercial and critical success of the 1993 Cat III classic The Untold Story, star Anthony Wong Chau-Sang reunited three years later with writer/director Herman Yau to see if they could re-capture lightning in a bottle with Ebola Syndrome.

Beware: this film has a notorious reputation for a reason. True to its rating, the film features a lot of really depraved behavior on screen. Some of it is extremely offensive. There’s a shit ton of racism, too. It is not for the faint-hearted or easily triggered.

As in the notorious duo’s previous collaboration, Wong once again plays a depraved rapist vivisectionist who feels justified in his killing people because he doesn’t like to be “bullied,” i.e. asked to behave like a normal human being.

Released the year after the international hit film Outbreak (1995), the story remains perhaps even more relevant today in a world ravaged by Covid-19. The plot concerns a criminal named Kai (Wong) who goes on a killing spree, dispatching most of his boss’s family. He murders everyone except for their youngest daughter with whom Kai will cross paths later as an adult. He flees to South Africa for the next decade and becomes a cook in a Chinese restaurant owned by Shaw Bros. star Lo Meng. Everyone hates Kai. Justifiably so. He’s a real scumbag. 

One day while visiting a nearby village to buy cheap pork (no pun intended) he happens upon a very ill-looking African woman whom he unceremoniously rapes. Unbeknownst to Kai, the woman was dying from the Ebola virus. Unfortunately for everyone else in the film, Kai is one of the few people who become asymptomatic carriers. Turning him from a normal run-of-the-mill amoral psychopath into walking death.

Predictably, in a re-hash of The Untold Story, Kai kills his new employers after they criticize his work habits and he makes burgers out of their newly Ebola-infected flesh. Of course, the customers gobble them up, declaring them “delicious!” Believing the coast is clear back home, Kai returns to Hong Kong where, for the rest of the movie we get to see Anthony sneezing and spitting on people while maniacally shouting “Eeeebolaaa!” Not to mention spreading the deadly virus to a bunch of hookers via his semen and saliva. Right about now you’re probably thinking “But why would I want to see this?” There’s really only one reason. Because Anthony Wong is awesome. Yes, Kai is reprehensible. Hell, he’s downright vomit-inducing. But Wong plays him with such zeal that he makes one viewing worth it. Overall, the tone isn’t as horrific or nihilistic as, say, A Serbian Film. Far from it. It’s more like a very, very dark comedy. Eliciting the occasional awkward sanity-questioning chuckle is pretty impressive considering there’s so much nasty stuff going on. Fans of the Grand Guignol will likely enjoy this aspect. Will I be watching it again? No. The cinematically sane should probably tread lightly not only into this title but into the larger HK Category III library.

Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace (1996)

Farhad Mann had some major success in TV. Perhaps most importantly in our study of ancient future film, he was the director of the U.S. pilot for Max Headroom (as well as the pilot for Forever Knight). He’s done tons of commercials and now makes TV movies, but at one point, he wrote and directed a sequel to a movie that people hated. And the few people who liked The Lawnmower Man hated this one.

The founder of virtual reality, Dr. Benjamin Trace (Patrick Bergin, who once menaced Julia Roberts in Sleeping With the Enemy), lost his legal battle to patent the Chiron Chip, which could be the tool that makes mankind slaves to computers. Of course, once entrepreneur Jonathan Walker (Kevin Conway, the barker from The Funhouse) finds a barely alive Jobe Smith (now played by Matt Frewer, speaking of Max Headroom) and hooks him up to the virtual reality grid, well, that’s exactly what happens.

I kind of loved this movie, because I kept yelling out lines in the voice of Sark from Tron, stuff like “The Master Control Program has chosen you to serve your system on the Game Grid.” and “Bring on the Logic Probe!” and “Welcome to the video game grid!”

If you can watch this incredibly dated VR movie with that attitude, you just may enjoy it.