Fatal Frames (1996)

Fatal Frames feels like the most 80’s movie I’ve ever seen, yet it was made in 1996. It’s also the longer giallo I think I’ve ever seen, taking nearly two hours of meandering to get to anything worthwhile, throwing in red herring after red herring, including turns by David Warbeck as a cop, Angus Scrimm as a ghost, Linnea Quigley as a parapsychologist, Alida Valli as a Countess whose home feels like it was lit by Argento (after all, she was Miss Tanner in Suspiria) and Donald Pleasence as an FBI agent. This would be his last movie and his voice was dubbed as he wasn’t around to do any dialogue.

I’d like to say that Mr. Pleasence went out on a high note, but after a career of never saying no to anything, this would not be the movie I’d choose for my epitaph.

Alex is a music video director who has come to Rome and has perhaps brought a serial killer — The Video Killer — with him. That very same killer took out his wife and now he’s a person of interest. His only interest is getting closer to Stefania Stella, who is playing herself here. She’s a pop star — and the wife of director Al Fiesta — whose nickname is the Napoleonic Madonna.

Fiesta would also direct The Hermit and Gipsy Angel, as well as contributing music to the Claudio Fragrasso films After Death and Robowar.

This movie feels like one that has been on for weeks and not hours. It just goes on and on, looking foggy and blue lit, which are things I normally love, but this feels like when your parents caught you smoking and forced you to smoke the whole pack until you got sick.

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

Literally, how did this get made?

Bruce Willis was originally the lead, but allegedly dropped out in the aftermath of divorce procedures from his wife Demi Moore. He was replaced by Val Kilmer, who had limited availability and unlimited anger issues after he too got divorce papers. Then Rob Morrow quit because the script kept changing. Brando left after his daughter committed suicide and upon his return, he would refuse to learn his lines and only listen to an earpiece.

Oh yeah — Richard Stanley also had been fired days into production and replaced with John Frankeheimer, who saw this as anything but his dream project.

I mean, what could go wrong at this point?

After spending four years developing the films, Stanley had come to work with New Line, who responded by going behind his back to offer the film to Roman Polanski. Furious, Stanley got a meeting with Brando, who unexpectedly — or not, as Stanley had undergone a magick ritual to gain the actor’s trust — proved very sympathetic to Stanley’s vision. That said, Stanley was beyond familiar with the source work, as well as its connections with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which became Apocalypse Now, which still fascinated Brando. Even better, Stanley was directly related to African explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who had been the inspiration for Conrad’s lead character — and Brando’s role — Kurtz.

That said, days into filming, Stanley was having difficulty with New Line executives and Kilmer, who was a legend of ego on this film. At one point, the former Batman burned a crew member in the face with a cigarette.

Stanley was fired, but disappeared, finally showing up in dogman costume and acting in the very movie that he was to direct. Oh yeah — the full fury of nature would also destroy much of the set.

This movie is an example of actors off the literal rails, with Brando’s wearing an ice bucket on his head with the idea that he had mutated into a dolphin and the bucket was to cover up his blowhole. He also pushed for Nelson de la Rosa, the world’s smallest man, to be his mutated twin. Brando was obviously in a much better movie than the one that we’re watching.

Meanwhile, the actors playing Doctor Moreau’s children had a better time than anyone else, pretty much using the movie’s long periods of downtime getting up to alcohol and drug-addled craziness. Again, they were in a much better film than ended up getting unspooled on the screen.

Charitably, this movie is a mess. Would it have been better if Stanley stayed on board? Well, it certainly wouldn’t have been boring.

Kingpin (1996)

When I was a kid, Beaver Valley Bowl always seemed so intimidating. How strange then that it’s the place where Roy Munson has his hand smashed and his bowling career ruined. I never had such a bad time there myself, but you always felt like something could go badly. That scene where they walk up the steps and Roys asks, “People bowl here?” They didn’t fake a single thing about that place. It has always looked that frightening.

Kingpin is filmed in and around the bowling alleys of Pittsburgh. You can see just about every major lane in the film, other than my favorite, the Hollywood Show Lanes inside Arsenal Lane with their giant photo of Telly Savalas, autographed with “Who loves you, baby?”

I’m sure that everyone has seen this movie, but you’d do well to watch it again and appreciate the magic that is Bill Murray in this movie. Every single moment he’s on screen is perfect. That scene where he bowls three strikes in a row? That’s real. He also ad libbed just about every line in the entire movie.

It’s worth remembering that before assassins began hunting down Randy Quaid, he was a pretty wonderful comedic actor. This is also probably one of the first times that many realized who Lin Shaye was.

At one point, Michael Keaton was to play Munson, with Chris Farley as Ishmael and Charles Rocket as Big Earl. Jim Carrey was another choice to play the evil bowler.

It’s also worth noting that the character Seabass from Dumb and Dumber (played by Cam Neely) is a confirmed relative of this movie’s Skidmark, who is Roger Clemens.

Many of the lanes in this movie are gone. We’ll always have this movie to remember them by.

South Beach Academy (1996)

What does it get for me to watch a movie? Sometimes, it’s the idea that “Grandpa” Al Lewis (in his final movie), Corey Feldman and James Hong would somehow all be in a beach sex comedy about a bet between rival South Beach volleyball teams.

This is the one and done for director Joe Esposito, who is harkening back to the summer evenings when Hardbodies aired seemingly non-stop on Cinemax. Well, sir, I have seen Hardbodies 900 times. I am a friend of HardbodiesSouth Beach Academy, you are no Hardbodies.

Elizabeth Kaitan, Robin from the seventh Friday the 13th and Candy in four of the six Vice Academy movies, is on hand. So is Julie Cialini, Playboy’s Miss February 1994 and 1995 Playmate of the Year.

If you watched USA Up All Night, good news. You’ve already seen this. For the rest of you that did normal things and slept and didn’t watch sex movies on basic cable, why are you reading this?

You can watch this on Tubi and Vudu.

Spy Hard (1996)

If you hate the films of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer — Scary MovieDate MovieEpic MovieMeet the SpartansDisaster MovieVampires Suck and so on — blame this movie. This was their first script and it was directed by   Jason’s dad Rick, who had met star Leslie Nielsen while directing his Bad Golf VHS series.

Sadly, this movie is The Naked Gun without any of the brains behind the stupidity. There’s a fine line between clever and stupid, after all.

The best part of it? The credits, which features Weird Al becoming Tom Jones, all while repeatedly that the name of the movie is Spy Hard. If you love James Bond openings — obviously we do, as this site is hosting an entire month of Bond movies — you’ll go nuts over this.

Tom Jones may have passed out in the studio holding that last note. Weird Al? His head explodes. Bonus points for having Bill Conti, who composed the music for the Bond film For Your Eyes Only, create this song with Mr. Yankovic.

Sadly, the movie fails to live up to the great premise of the opening.

Secret agent WD-40 Dick Steele (two jokes for the price of one; I’m of the early SNL school that silly names are the easiest form of humor) is Nielsen’s role here and he has a partner, Veronique Ukrinsky, Agent 3.14 (Nicollette Sheridan) who helps him battle the armless and wheelchair-bound General Rancor (Andy Griffith, of all people).

It’s worth noting that the Bond films had a major role in Sheridan’s life. Her mother Sally played one of Blofeld’s Angels of Death in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and fell for Telly Savalas, who became her stepfather.

This is a movie packed with great folks trying their best to make it better, like Robert Guillaume as a former agent, Charles Durning as the director, Marcia Gay Harden (who has noted how much she hated being in the movie, despite having kind words for Nielsen) as the Moneypenny of sorts, Barry Bostwick as an old rival, a Home Alone-inspired agent named McLucky (Mason Gamble, who starred in Dennis the Menace and was also in Rushmore), Talisa Soto as an assassin (beyond he Mortal Kombat roles, she was also in the Bond movie Licence to Kill) and all manner of ridiculous cameos, from Dr. Joyce Brothers, Hulk Hogan and Ray Charles as a bus driver to Fabio, Pat Morita, Mr. T, “Downtown” Julie Brown, I Spy star Robert Culp, stuntpeople Ginger and Lauren Janes playing the same roles from True Lies, Michael Berryman, Curtis “Booger” Armstrong and, of course, Taylor Negron, an actor who valiantly tried to make every role more than it was.

The credits are stupidly funny, perhaps more than the rest of the film. I don’t know — I have a weakness for Nielsen’s movies, no matter how bad they get. You may hate this. Or love it. See it for yourself.

The Rock (1996)

Is The Rock a spy movie?

SAS Captain John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery) is Bond.

He was captured in 1962 for stealing the microfilm with all of Hoover’s secrets, escaped in 1963 in time for the events of Dr. No to finish and was recaptured by the U.S. government after the events of 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. He claims that he was trained by the best in the world and even says a Bond-like line from Diamonds: “Of course you are.”

This theory doesn’t take into account 1983’s Never Say Never Again, but you know how it goes — film theory doesn’t have to be foolproof.

Rogue U.S. Force Recon Marines, led by disenchanted Brigadier General Frank Hummel (Ed Harris) and his second-in-command Major Tom Baxter (David Morse) have stolen VX gas-armed M55 rockets and are holding San Francisco hostage unless the families of the men he commended are paid the $100 million that the government has stolen from them.

With such an opening — They make their base on Alcatraz! Nicolas Cage is a bomb expert who loves The Beatles! Sean Connery once escaped Alcatraz! — is a Michael Bay movie made. Well, if you’re going to watch a mindless action film, go with the best I always say.

The beauty of the film? Small roles played by beloved actors. William Forsythe, Michael Biehn and Tony Todd all show up here. The dialogue sparkles — Tarantino did an uncredited rewrite on the script. I wonder if the needle to the heart and Mexican standoff came from him.

I kind of love movies where the bad guys are conflicted, the good guys are unsure and the bullets fly. This one delivers all that and more.

Remember when we went to war in Iraq over chemical weapons? There have been reports that this movie is why, as an MI6 agent was using the film as the basis for his reports from the country. Yes, this really happened.

Bay had a sequel idea, where Goodspeed would be chased by the government to get the microfilm back and he must ask Mason for his help. I really wish that movie had been made.

There’s a scene where Goodspeed tells the guards to remove Mason’s handcuffs and Cage has a crazy line reading — one of many in the movie — and he claims that his way of saying the words came from an Elvis Presley story he had recently told Connery involving girls in white panties wrestling chimpanzees. “Sometimes these ideas come from strange places,” said the California Kinski.

Never change, you magnificent maniac.

Barb Wire (1996)

I kind of love that Barb Wire has basically the same story as Casablanca — Roger Ebert pointed that out — yet Ingrid Bergman didn’t show off her nipples on stage at Rick’s before the credits even started to roll.

This movie was made in one of the many races to get comic books on screen. This was based on a Dark Horse comic that honestly, not many people knew about. That doesn’t keep it from being a great idea for a movie, but this film is…well…it’s a glorious mess.

Barb Wire (Pamela Anderson) owns the Hammerhead, a nightclub in Steel Harbor. As part of “the last free city” in a United States ravaged by another civil war, she tries to keep men from hitting on her when he isn’t working as a bounty hunter.

Is it horrible? Yeah, it’s pretty bad. It is, however, not the worst movie that Victoria Rowell was ever in. After all, she made her debut in Leonard Part 6.

I’m of the mind that if a movie has Udo Keir and Steve Railsback in it, it can’t be all horrible. This movie tests that theory, but it still holds. Throw in Clint Howard and things aren’t all bad.

Director David Hogan — who spent most of his directing on music videos — was brought in to replace Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City).

Yes, 1996. A time when Pam Anderson was a big enough star to open a fim and every comic book became a movie. It was a wonderful time.

The Secret Agent Club (1996)

Ray Chase is pretty much cosplaying Harry Tasker, as he’s an agent so secret even his son doesn’t know. When he brings home a laser gun, Eve (Lesley Anne-Downe) and her henchmen kidnap him. Now, his son must rescue his dad and avoid deception from double agents.

James Wong (Lo Pan!) and Richard Moll (nearly every 80’s movie) are in the way, along with many, many, many henchpeople.

So you know what you’re getting into here, director John Murlowski was also in charge of Amityville: A New GenerationSanta With MusclesRichie Rich’s Christmas Wish and Killer Contractor. It was written by Rory Johnson, who wrote another of my favorite junk movies, Prey of the Jaguar.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Kansas City (1996)

Returning to the city of his birthplace, Robert Altman directed this tribute to the music and movies of his youth. Blondie O’Hara (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her low-level hood husband Johnny (Dermot Mulroney) get caught trying to steal from Seldom Seen (Harry Belafonte), a crime boss who works out of The Hey-Hey Club. To escape, she kidnaps socialite Carolyn (Miranda Richardson) and plans on using her political connections to save her husband’s life.

This story is based on a real story. In 1933, Mary McElroy, the opium-addicted daughter of Henry McElroy, the city manager of Kansas City, was kidnapped. After the $30,000 ransom was paid, she was released unharmed while her four kidnappers were caught and sentenced to life in prison.

Beyond all that intrigue, a political fixer named Johnny Flynn (Steve Buscemi) is gathering the homeless and drug addicted to swing the outcome of a major vote.

The soundtrack was recorded live and features contemporary musicians playing the roles of jazz musicians from the 1930s. They also appear in the movie, with Craig Handy as Coleman Hawkins, Geri Allen playing Mary Lou Williams and James Carter in the role of Ben Webster.

This Arrow Video release is the first time that this movie has ever appeared on blu-ray. It features audio commentary by director Robert Altman, a newly filmed appreciation by critic Geoff Andrew, a visual essay by critic Luc Lagier, plus short introduction to the film narrated by Lagier, two promotional features from the films original release, the press kit, trailers, TV ads and an illustrated booklet for the first printing.

You can get Kansas City right here.

DISCLAIMER: This was sent to us by Arrow Video.

Gamera 2: Legion (1996)

About the Author: Paul Andolina is back on our site. You can check out his blogs Wrestling with Film and Is the Dad Alive? for more.

Gamera 2: Legion sees Gamera once again defending the planet against an attack, this time from outer space. There is a meteor shower over Japan. The investigating of the giant meteor crash site, however, reveals no meteor! It turns out the meteor was a bunch of evil alien insectoid creatures, who have come to take over the planet. They attack a warehouse full of beer and steal the bottles, they burrow under the subway as well and cause a ton of mayhem, they even plant a strange flower pod that will launch seeds carrying the creatures from city to city.

Gamera attempts to stop these creatures destroying the flower pod that has taken over the city but is swarmed and taken down by the insectoids. Because there are so many of these creatures swarming, a soldier quotes the book of Mark, specifically the part where Jesus encounters the demon who calls itself Legion. From then on the creatures are referred to as such. Gamera eventually revives and defeats the giant Queen of Legion.

There are parts of this movie that make it feel more like a horror film than a typical kaiju film, especially the subway attack scenes, which were bloodier than I expected, when one of the legion bugs kills a subway engineer, the engineer’s body splatters against the glass. The legion insectoids even look horrifying. When the bugs attack the film takes a pretty dark turn. I had a lot of fun with this movie, maybe even more than it’s predecessor. The only thing I didn’t totally love about this movie was the end theme song.