The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)

Stendhal syndrome was first diagnosed in Florence, Italy in 1982. However, a young Dario Argento experienced it in Athens as a child, as he climbed the steps of the Parthenon and was overcome in a trance. That’s what it does — the mind is so overcome by artwork that it just kind of goes away for a while.

Bridget Fonda was originally set to star, but dropped out before the start of filming. While Jennifer Jason Leigh was considered — bestill my heart to have either of them in a giallo! — Dario eventually cast Asia, his daughter, as the lead.

Detective Anna Manni (Argento) travels to Florencehunting serial killer Alfredo Grossi (Thomas Kretschmann, Baron Strucker in the Marvel movies). While visiting the famed Uffizi Gallery — Argento is the only director ever granted permission to shoot there — she is overcome by the vision of Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.

Alfredo learns of Anna’s weakness, so he kidnaps her and assaults her. She escapes but is traumatized by the episode. He tries to take her back, but she knocks him into a river and he is believed dead. Yet even when she attempts to move on, he keeps calling her from beyond the grave.

When Marie, Anna’s new lover, is found murdered, her psychologist begins to worry, a fear that is intensified when Alfredo’s body is found. It turns out that Arnold is inside her, ordering her to murder people and she must be caught by the police.

Somehow, Argento was going to make a sequel to this film, with Anna becoming a detective again. Asia wasn’t available, so Stefania Rocca ended up playing a similar role in Argento’s The Card Player.

Look for Veronica Lazar (Mater Tenebrarum in Inferno, as well as Martha in The Beyond) and Cinzia Monreale (Emily from The Beyond, as well as roles in Silver SaddleWarriors of the Year 2072 and Beyond the Darkness.

This is also the first Italian film to use CGI and features a score by Ennio Morricone that can be played the same forward or backward!

It’s a late period Argento film, but it’s also probably the best of that era. There’s an awe-inspiring moment where Anna wanders into Rembrandt’s Night Watch that makes this a must-watch.

You can watch this for free on Vudu. However, Blue Underground has a tremendous blu ray version that is packed with extras.

Amityville Dollhouse (1996)

Newlyweds Bill and Claire Martin (Robin Thomas from Summer School and Starr Andreeff from The Terror Within) have just moved into the home that Bill made himself. Then he finds a dollhouse — modelled after, you guessed it, 112 Ocean Avenue — in the shed. That dollhouse makes him see a vision where his daughter gets burned alive in the fireplace, so of course he gives it to her as a present when he wakes up.

That night — at Jessica’s birthday — her aunt Marla (Lenore Kasdorf, Mrs. Rico from Starship Troopers and man, can I get a deeper reference? Yes, of course I can…) and uncle Tobias arrive and are instantly nervous about the toy house and the figurines that it contains.

Bill also has a troubled son named Todd who has a girlfriend named Dana, played by the doomed Lisa Robin Kelly, who was replaced on That 70’s Show by MADTV’s Christina Moore in the sixth season and would later die hours after checking into a rehab facility. What a shame.

This one has voodoo dolls transforming into dead zombie dads, tarantulas inside pinatas, people shrinking and entering dollhouses, and even the real house itself getting blown up real good.

It’s directed by Steve White, who only directed this movie before going on to produce the TV movie version of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?Meet the ApplegatesAmityville: It’s About TimeAmityville: A New GenerationCabin Boy, the astoundingly scummy and wonderful Death of a CheerleaderThe Devil’s Advocate and Halloweentown. It was written by Joshua Michael Stern, who would direct the Jobs movie that starred Ashton Kutcher as Steven Jobs, bringing the That 70’s Show connection full circle, I guess.

That said, most of the actual directing was done by cinematographer Thomas L. Callaway, who also worked on Slumber Party Massacre IIDemon Wind and Vice Academy Part 2.

You may ask how the dollhouse got there, why it looked like the Ocean Avenue house and why it was evil. You will get no answers. Such is life, filled with misery, pain and possessed toys. Look — if you find a dollhouse in your new house that you built, just throw it away while you still can.

EDIT: I said that and as I was posting this article, I discovered this on Etsy.

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

Rollergator (1996)

Remember Donald G. Jackson?

From the man who shat out Roller BladeRoller Blade Warriors: Taken by Force, The Roller Blade Seven, The Legend of the Rollerblade Seven and Return of the Roller Blade Seven — and well, Hell Comes to Frogtown is pretty good — comes the affront to humanity known as Rollergator.

P.J. Smith is a teenage girl tries who is trying to help a small, purple-colored, jive-talking alligator as he attempts to escape from the clutches of a greedy carnival owner played by Joe Estevez. Along the way, they meet a swamp farmer played by Ed Wood alum Conrad Brooks (he somehow survived being in Plan 9 From Outer SpaceThe Sinister UrgeBride of the Monster and The Beast from Yucca Flats and yes, I realize that Coleman Francis directed that last one).

This movie has it all. Carnivals. Dark ninjas. Frogface. Roller blade mama. Pure pain. Forced humor. Roller skating gators. Sports bras. And it’s all for kids.

Erin O’Bryan, who plays Roller Blade Mama and would also play Madame Zora in Baby Ghost, a movie with nearly the same cast and crew, appeared in plenty of Playboy lingerie VHS tapes. No one else really ever appeared anywhere else in this movie, despite the promise — or threat — or Rollergator 2 in the end credits.

You can watch the Rifftrax version of this film on Tubi.

Santa With Muscles (1996)

The Wolf of Wall Street — in real life — was Jordan Belfort. Other than spending time in jail for fraud and related crimes in connection with stock-market manipulation and running a boiler room as part of a penny-stock scam, he also executive produced this Hulk Hogan vehicle.

Oh Hulk Hogan — the man who to this today claims that he was asked to take over for Cliff Burton in Metallica, who says that Elvis used to watch him wrestle in Memphis even though Hogan didn’t wrestle there until 1979 and Elvis died in 1977. Then there’s the time the makers of a grill called him first, he didn’t get the phone in time and they called George Foreman next. Then there’s the time he outdrank John Belushi after WrestleMania II, which took place in 1986. Nevermind that Belushi died in 1982.

Actually, there’s no one better to play Santa Claus, who is based on telling lies to children.

Blake Thorn (Hogan) is a millionaire who sells vitamins but doesn’t ask anyone to say their prayers. Really, he’s not a nice guy and the cops bust him one day as he’s playing paintball. This is perfectly normal, as is the amnesia he gets at the mall, which leads him to believe that he’s Santa.

Don Stark, who was Bubba Caldwell in Evilspeak, plays a mall manager who gets Blake into the costume. He’d also go on to play Bob Pinciotti on That 70’s Show alongside Mila Kunis, who is also in this movie. When she was asked about this movie by GQ, she said, ” “I was too young to fully understand the importance of working with Hulk Hogan. I just thought he was this huge man.” She had some rough early films, such as American Psycho 2 with William Shatner and the 1995 Piranha TV movie remake.

There’s also an evil scientist named Ebner Frost (Ed Begley, Jr.) who is taking over an orphanage run by Garrett Morris because he wants some magic crystals. He has an entire army of maniacs to help him — Dr. Blight, Dr. Vial, Mr. Flint and Ms. Watt (Diane Robin, who is one of the prostitutes that Clarence Boddicker snarls “Bitches, leave!” to in RoboCop).

Robin Curtis, who was Lt. Savvik in the Star Trek films, is in this. And speaking of Evilspeak, Clint Howard shows up. So does William Newman (Silver Bullet and The Craft), Brenda Song (from that Netflix stinkfest Secret Obsession) and Brutus “The Barber” (also known as Baron Beefcake, The Booty Man, Big Brother Booty, Brother Bruti, Brute Force, The Butcher, The Clipmaster, Dizzy Hogan, Dizzy Golden, The Disciple, Ed Boulder, Ed Golden, Eddie Hogan, The Mariner, The Man With No Name, The Man With No Name, Furface and The Zodiac).

Director John Murlowski also was behind Amityville: A New Generation (2020 spoiler: we’re doing an entire week of Amityville movies). It was written by three one and done writers, Jonathan Bond, Fred Mata and Dorrie Krum Raymond. However, Mata was a casting director and cast the Andrew “Dice” Clay movie Brain Smasher… A Love Story. Seriously, knowledge like that will get you nowhere in this life.

If you ever wanted to see Hulk Hogan as Santa Claus, well, here’s your chance, brother. You can watch this for free on Vudu or get the blu ray from Mill Creek Entertainment.

The Craft (1996)

You know, I love the movies Ideal Home and Bad Dreams. I’d never guess that they were both written and directed by the same person, Andrew Fleming. You may not know the man, but chances are you know his 1996 film, The Craft.

Producer Douglas Wick (he produced Stuart Little and also co-wrote the sequels) wanted to create a movie that mixed the high school experience with witchcraft, which he worked on with screenwriter Peter Filardi (Flatliners). Well, he sure did it. This is a movie that was a quiet hit but has never gone away. Take it from someone who has dated plenty of goth girls.

Sarah Bailey (Robin Tunney, wearing a wig as she had shaved her head for Empire Records) is the new girl in town, having moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco with her father (Cliff DeYoung, Shock Treatment) and stepmother. She soon becomes friends with a group of outcasts who are rumored to be witches: the scarred Bonnie (Neve Campbell), trailer trash and totally awesome Nancy (the legit Wiccan Fairuza Balk, who was also in Return to Oz) and Rochelle (Rachel True, CB4), whose black skin in a nearly all white school makes her a target of ridicule. The witch rumor? Yeah, it’s true. They all worship an entity they refer to as Manon.

Sarah becomes attracted to the popular Chris Hooker (Skeet Ulrich, who was very much a thing in 1996), but he claims that they slept together and ruins her reputation before it gets started. That leads to the girls finally completing a big spell that gives them everything they want: Chris falls in love so hard that he can’t live without Sarah, racist bully Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor) loses her hair and popularity, Bonnie becomes gorgeous and Nancy’s abusive stepfather dies and she gets rich.

However, it’s not enough. After a rite called the “Invocation of the Spirit,” Nancy gains even more power because, you know, she got hit by lightning (actual Wiccan Pat Devin was the on-set advisor, so maybe this really does occur). Now she can’t be stopped and all of the girls other than Sarah have gone wrong. The coven turns on her, but Sarah ends up stronger than all of them.

Of course, Blumhouse is remaking this, with Zoe Lister-Jones directing. There was talk of another remake and a direct to video sequel which never happened. I had hoped that that luck would have stopped this new version, but it’s already finished production.

I learned a really important lesson from The Craft. The girl I was dating at the time asked me which member of the coven I found most attractive. I said none of them. She kept pressing and begging for my answer. Of course Fairuza Balk is the right answer, but I kept quiet until finally, after an entire meal of her asking, I told her. She instantly grew angry and said, “The right answer is none of them!” Somewhere inside this story is a lesson.

I love the scene where all the fish wash up and the coven realizes how much power they have. You don’t know how many times the women in my life have made me watch this movie. I have grown smarter and not said a single thing about Nancy.

Till Death Do Us Hart (1996)

Sooner or later, you knew that George Hamilton was going to show up in one of these Hart to Hart reunion movies. He waited until the eighth of eight movies to make it happen, playing the evil Karl Von Ostenberg.

This episode finds the Harts heading to Munich, where Jennifer donates bone marrow to Maximilian, a little boy with leukemia. His doctor (Dwight Schultz, from TV’s The A-Team and Alone In the Dark) is amazed, because Jennifer looks exactly like his fiancee Simone, who has seemingly left him before the wedding. With an important dinner coming up, the Harts save him from an embarrassing situation by Jennifer filling in for the missing woman at an important dinner.

The last of these films, this was directed by original series director and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz, who also directed the Tom Hanks version of Dragnet. He was also the writer of Ladyhawke, the two Richard Donner Superman movies, Diamonds Are ForeverLive & Let DieThe Man With the Golden Gun and The Cassandra Crossing. It was written by Bill Froehlich and Mark Lisson, who also wrote Return to Horror High.

 

Want to see this movie? Just get the new Mill Creek Hart to Hart Movies Are Murder Collection to watch this and seven more made for TV movies.

DISCLAIMER: This set was sent to us by Mill Creek. We appreciate it but it has no bearing on our review.

Harts in High Season (1996)

Before the Harts were married, she dated Elliot Manning (James Brolin!), who was a man that competed with Jonathan in racing and in business. After Jonathan duly destroys him in every endeavor, he still tries to be friends, but Manning nurses a revenge plot where he fakes his own death and hides in Australia while the police try to keep Jonathan for murder.

To those of you who watched the early UFC shows, Emmanuel Yarborough shows up here as Tonga, Elliot’s faithful henchman. At a weight of 882 pounds, he held the Guinness World Record for the heaviest living athlete. An NCAA All-American offensive tackle and amateur wrestler at Morgan State University, he also won the 1995 World Amateur Sumo Championships and then went into sumo and pro wrestling, where he worked for Germany’s CWA.

His biggest highlight for US fans was when he battled Keith Hackney in UFC 3, a match that proved that size wasn’t always necessary to win the fight in this new style of combat. He’d go on to defeat UWFI pro wrestler Tatsuo Nakano on a Shooto show in Japan before losing to Daiju Takase for the Pride promotion. Yarborough died in 2015 at the age of 51 from a heart attack.

Like the past movie on the set that we covered, Two Harts In 3/4 Time, this was written by Matt Crowley. It was directed by Christian I. Nyby II, who was behind most of the Perry Mason TV movies that aired through the 80’s and also directed seven episodes of Moonlighting, which gets a sly reference from the Harts in this film. His resume covers all manner of TV shows, from Battlestar Galactica to Emergency!BJ and the BearSimon & SimonThe A-TeamHill Street Blues and the Remo Williams TV pilot. He’s the son of Christian Nyby, who directed The Big Sleep and the original version of The Thing.

Want to see this movie? Just get the new Mill Creek Hart to Hart Movies Are Murder Collection. You’ll get this adventure and seven more to satisfy your need for romance and red herrings.

DISCLAIMER: This set was sent to us by Mill Creek. We appreciate it but it has no bearing on our review.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

From Dusk Till Dawn came from the brains of Robert Kurtzman — the K in KNB — who wrote the original story, co-produced the film and helped create the special effects. It brings together Quentin Tarantino — who wrote the script and acts in the film — with Robert Rodriguez, the director of films such as Desperado, Sin City and, of course, the Planet Terror part of Grindhouse.

Bank robbers Seth and Richie Gecko (George Clooney and Tarantino) hold up a small liquor store and end up killing the clerk (John Hawkes, Kenny Powers’ brother on Eastbound and Down) and Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks, who despite this character dying, he came back to play the same role in Kill Bill Volume 1, a deleted scene in Machete and both Grindhouse movies).

As they hide out in a motel, Richie can’t help himself to killing and assaulting a bank clerk. As the cops get closer, the brothers take the Fuller family — Jacob, a former pastor and his children Scott and Kate (Harvey Keitel, Ernest Liu and Juliette Lewis) — hostage. Using their RV, the brothers make it across the Mexico border where they contact will meet them and escort them to El Ray, a place where fugitives can find safety (this concept comes from Jim Thompson’s novel, The Getaway, which also inspired two films — the 1972 Steve McQueen/Ali MacGraw classic and the 1994 Alec Baldwin/Kim Basinger not-so-classic).

While hiding out at a biker bar called the Titty Twister, everyone in the place reveals themselves to be vampires — everyone from the announcer (Cheech Marin in one of the three roles he plays here) to the band (Tito & Tarantula), the bartender Razor Charlie (Danny Trejo) and the main attraction, Santantico Pandemonium (Salma Hayek, playing a role named after the 1975 Mexican nunspoitation film where Satan selects Sister Maria to drag her fellow sisters into his domain).

The Geckos and the Fuller family only have two other people who can help — a biker named Sex Machine (Tom Savini!) and Army vet Frost (Fred Williamson!). Of course, all hell breaks loose and barely anyone survives, but what did you expect? By the end of the film, the Titty Twister reveals what it was all along — an Aztec temple. That would be explored more in the two sequels and TV series that followed.

Only in the world of Tarantino and Rodriguez can Tom Savini and Fred Williamson have just as much celebrity as George Clooney, who at times could truthfully lay claim to being the biggest movie star in the world. That said, they mean way more in my world. And throw in appearances by Marc Lawrence (Dream No EvilCataclysm) and John Saxon (probably my favorite actor of all time) and you have a movie that feels like it was made for my own personal enjoyment. Hell, before Clooney came on, Joe Pilato — Captain Rhodes from Day of the Dead — played Seth and footage exists of him in the role.

While not as serious as the other Tarantino films we’re writing about this week, From Dusk Till Dawn is a quick and fun bit of entertainment. And check out that Frazetta poster that was never used!

 

The Quest (1996)

JCVD not only stars in this film, but he co-wrote and directed it. Of course, he also had to go to court to battle former Bloodsport pal and noted con man Frank Dux, who claimed that he wrote this movie as Enter the New Dragon: The Kumite, but a jury rejected those claims.

In the first ten minutes of the movie, we see Van Damme as an old man who can still decimate gang members with his cane and as a clown who does parkour years before anyone knew what that was. Truly, this is the most Van Damme of all Van Damme films.

Christopher Dubois (Van Damme) is a pickpocket in mid-1920’s New York City, stealing from the mob to take care of orphans. He must run away — promising to come back — and stows away on a boat of smugglers which is eventually boarded by the ship of Lord Edgar Dobbs (Roger Moore, who seems to be having the time of his life as always).

After saving one another’s lives, Dobbs seems like he’s going to help our hero get home, but sells him into slavery where he’s trained in Muay Thai. After six months, Dobbs and his partner Harri Smythe (character actor Jack McGee, who got into acting via being a firefighter with his first role being in Turk 182) learn that Dubois has become a great fighter.

Interestingly enough, McGee repeatedly drew the ire of Van Damme by loudly farting at the end of each take. Sounds like a party!

After paying for his freedom, Dobbs brings our hero to a fight — not unlike Kumite — called Ghang-gheng. Held in the Lost City of Tibet, it’s where fighters from nearly every nation and fighting style in the wold battle for the Golden Dragon.

American reporter Carrie Newton (Janet Gunn from USA’s Silk Stalkings) and heavyweight boxing champion Maxie Devine (James Remar, Ajax from The Warriors and Raiden from Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) are also there to watch. During the fight, Dobbs and Harri try to steal the dragon and are sentenced to death, but Dubois wins the entire tournament, eventually besting Mongolia’s Khan (Abdel Qissi, brother of Michael who has appeared in many of Van Damme’s films) in the finals. He trades his win for the life of the two convicted men.

Back at the bar where it all started, we learn that Dubois went back to help the orphans, Dobbs and Harri went on to further adventures and Devine ending up being a great trainer. The movie closes on a book called The Quest, written by — you guessed it — reporter Carrie Newton.

This is a movie packed with fights left and right. Japan is represented by former pro wrestler and the youngest rikidozan ever, Koji Kitao. I met him once on a pro wrestling show we were on together, moments before another American wrestler insulted him by speaking pidgeon Engrish, ending up getting his shoulder torn clean out of the socket.

Pjeter Malota, who often plays in Van Damme films, is the Spanish fighter than JCVD bests in the second round. Jen Sung, who was recently on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. plays the Siamese fighter, Phang. Brick Bronsky — who directed and acting in Masked Mutilator, which Severin/InterVision just re-released — is the Russian competitor. And Stefanos Miltsakakis, who would fight JCVD in five movies and appear as Frankenstein’s Monster in Waxwork II: Lost in Time, is the Greek fighter. With a name like that, what other team could he be on?

Despite Sir Roger Moore’s seeming enthusiasm for his role, he claimed that it was the least favorite of his films. In his autobiography My Word is My Bond, he said that the movie was a poorly prepared and disorganized mess that was continually running out of money. He minces no words about how he felt about Van Damme and producer Moshe Diamant, while crediting Second Unit Director Peter MacDonald, who directed Rambo III, for making the film a success.

Maximum Risk (1996)

If you’re a Hong Kong director in America, your first movie is always with Van Damme. Ringo Lam, you’re up next.

Originally known as The Exchange and then Bloodstone, this movie was written by Scary Movie duo Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer but not credited to them. Credit went to Larry Ferguson, who wrote the remake of Rollerball as well as HighlanderThe Hunt for Red October and The Presidio.

Alain Moreau (Van Damme) is a cop in Nice, France. After he attends a fellow cop’s funeral, his partner shows up and brings him to a crime scene. That’s when we rewind our minds and remember how the movie started, with a man who suspiciously looked like Van Damme getting killed.

That person is Mikhail Suvorov, who was born on the same day as Alain. He tracks the man’s past down to New York City and learns that the man was his twin brother. The Russian mafia and the FBI are all mixed up in this, with only his brother’s fiancee Alex (Natasha Henstridge) telling him the truth.

The fights are much grittier in this than any other JCVD film I’ve seen. It certainly has style and no small amount of blood.

My wife — who has had to endure more than twenty Van Damme movies in less than a week — said, “Finally, one of these was actually pretty good.” That’s about as glowing of a review as you’re going to get out of her, Jean-Claude.