MILL CREEK NIGHTMARE WORLDS: Alien Species (1996)

Max Pointdexter, I shit you not, has hacked into a NASA probe and is watching images from space, which is totally what most guys use the internet for and also, this was 1996, so imagine how slow the load time was. He also somehow has an attractive woman in his room and just keeps worrying about UFOs, which I guess is what you do if you’re in MUFON, right?

Look, were I making a UFO movie, I may cast Charles Napier as a sheriff, but I would not make the movie about him on the trail of several criminals. I would concentrate on, you know, the aliens. And the UFOs. And the invasion.

Obviously, everyone involved with this saw Independence Day or at least saw the script because a good chunk of this has Max on a laptop — the smallest laptop you’ve ever seen — typing against reptilians. Somehow, he also has someone who can get him high end military weapons because he pulls a bazooka out of the trunk of his car which seems like a decent enough weapon against little green men.

Oh yeah — the hot scientist’s name is Holly Capers.

Holly Capers!

You get cows getting kidnapped by UFOs before blowing up a farmer and his farm real good, just after we watch his daughter sneaking some loving from her boyfriend.  There’s also a long scene where Holly saves her cat just as her house explodes and you know, I’m totally on board with that. Cats over aliens forever.

Someone literally says, “Why do I suddenly feel like I’m in a bad episode of The X-Files?”

Director Peter Maris also made 1979’s Delirium, as well as Land of Doom and Terror Squad. Writer Nancy Newbauer also worked with Maris on the movie The Killer Inside. Maris seemed to bring back several of the same actors for his films, as David Homb, who plays one of the convicts, was in his video game Phantasmagoria and The Survivor. Also in this: Hoke Howell, who was one of those “I know that guy” guys, as well as the writer of movies like Click: The Calendar Girl Killer, One Block Away and B.O.R.N.

You can read a longer review of this right here.

2022 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 2: Diabolique (1996)

DAY 2. TROUBLE IN THE TUB: Bath time ain’t always relaxing.

The Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac novel Celle qui n’était plus had been already made in 1956 as Les Diaboliques. But was it made in Pittsburgh? And did it star Sharon Stone, who skipped being in The Flintstones to make this?

Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik, whose career includes Benny & JoonNational Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and then this and The Avengers, this has a script by Don Roos, who also wrote Single White Female so you’d think he’d understand that whole concept of American giallo.

This is a movie with the absolute worst threeway relationship ever. Mia Baran (Isabelle Adjani) is a devout Catholic who works at a school with her husband Guy (Chazz Palminteri), a man so abusive that even his mistress Nicole Horner (Stone) feels badly for Mia, who we first meet as she nearly dies in a bathtub.

The two women decide that they’ve finally had it with Guy and lure him to an apartment of one of Nicole’s friends. Mia drugs him, they drown him in a bathtub and then carry his body out in a wicker box that they can barely get into the trunk. They toss his body in the swimming pool and when it disappears and photos of them killing him are mailed to the school, things get tense.

Also: that’s not just Donal Logue filming the school, but also J. J. Abrams. Kathy Bates shows up as an investigator, Spalding Grey — who died by a suicidal drowning — is a teacher and Bingo O’Malley — it’s a bigger deal if you’re from here — is in this too.

There are twists and turns — as you can imagine — as well as Stone hitting Palmieri in the head with a rake. I laughed out loud when that happened. It’s not good, but also it’s good because it’s Sharon Stone in a bad 90s remake of a movie that inspired so many other movies to the point that a remake feels beyond without reason.

Also: if you live in Pittsburgh, you realize that they’re just throwing names of cities out there. Come on, Sharon Stone. You’re from Meadville.

I always discuss that Stone would have totally been in an Umberto Lenzi giallo if she were around in the 70s. Her career path proves this. But as I keep track of what movies are Yinzer giallo — psychosexual murder movies made in the Steel City — this does not qualify. Sure, it has sex and murder, but it doesn’t get the geography right, theree are no accents and no one goes to a bar and has an IC Light. Nor do they visit a single landmark. You mean to tell me that Sharon Stone couldn’t walk past the Oyster Bar?

MILL CREEK BLU RAY BOX SET RELEASE: seaQuest DSV – The Complete Series (1993-1996)

Get ready for the adventures of the seaQuest DSV 4600, a deep submergence vehicle of the United Earth Oceans Organization (UEO). The UEO? Well, that group was created in 2018 — in the continuity of this show — after a battle within the Livingston Trench.

Designed by retired naval captain Nathan Bridger (Roy Scheider), the series begins as humanity finds itself out of natural resources and begins to mine the ocean floor. Several gold rush-style mining communities now exist within this unexplored territory and the seaQuest seeks to protect them from other countries and sometimes each other.

Bridger just wanted to stay retired, particularly after his son Robert died in a naval battle and he promised his dying wife that he would never go back to the sea. But you know…they keep bringing pulling him back.

This show debuted to great fanfare, with the first season’s plots all about oceanographic research, environmental issues, politics and the interpersonal relationships of the crew. By the end of the first season, low ratings led to a cliffhanger where Bridger sacrificed the ship to prevent an ecological disaster.

And that’s where things get weird.

When it was decided the show would come back, NBC and Universal moved production from Los Angeles to Orlando, which led Stephanie Beacham, who played Dr. Kristin Westphalen, to leave the show (all of the battles between the producers and network didn’t help either). It’s also why Stacy Haiduk (Lieutenant Commander Katherine Hitchcock) left, but Royce D. Applegate (Chief Manilow Crocker) and John D’Aquino (Lieutenant Benjamin Krieg ) were let go because NBC wanted a younger crew.

The original crew also had Lucas Wolenczak (Jonathan Brandis), Commander Jonathan Ford (Don Franklin), Lieutenant Tim O’Neill (Ted Raimi) and Sensor Chief Miguel Ortiz (Marco Sanchez). They’d be joined by the telepathic Dr. Wendy Smith (Rosalind Allen), weapons officer Lieutenant James Brody (Edward Kerr), genetically engineered gill-breathing Seaman Anthony Piccolo (Michael DeLuise), Lieutenant Lonnie Henderson (Kathy Evison) and Dagwood (Peter DeLuise), a GELF (genetically engineered life form) who served as the ship’s janitor.

Whereas season one often had serious science — and each episode ended with facts from oceanographer Dr. Bob Ballard, the technical advisor for the show, inspiration from Bridger and the man who actually discovered the wrecks of Titanic, Bismarck and Yorktown — other than finding an ancient spaceship, season two had a monster of the week feel to compete for better ratings. Demons, aliens, fire-breathing worms, the god Neptune, time travel, a prehistoric crocodile and so much more was, well, too much for Scheider to handle.

He referred to the new storylines, giving multiple interviews to the Orlando Sentinel where he said the show as “Saturday afternoon 4 o’clock junk for children. Just junk — old, tired, time-warp robot crap” and “…childish trash…I am very bitter about it. I feel betrayed… It’s not even good fantasy. I mean, Star Trek does this stuff much better than we can do it. To me the show is now 21 Jump Street meets Star Dreck.” That 21 Jump Street dig must have been directed at the DeLuise brothers, who were once on that show before joining the cast.

By the end of the second season, it seemed like the show would be canceled — yet again — so the final episode “Splashdown” has the crew being abducted by aliens, then fighting in a civil war that destroys the seaQuest — yet again! — and everyone dead.

And yet the third season happened!

Scheider requested to be released from his contract with NBC but was asked to appear in a few more episodes. Edwin Kerr asked to quit as well and was asked to stay long enough to die in season 3’s “SpinDrift,” while NBC’s scheduling — which contributed to low ratings as the series moved around all the time — caused the episode “Brainlock” to air with his character still alive.

Now, only Jonathan Brandis, Don Franklin and Ted Raimi stayed on, as if the show was a band playing ribfest with hardly any original members left (even Dr. Bob Ballard was gone). Now called seaQuest 2032, the crew arrived ten years back on Earth ten years later, Bridger retired and Michael Ironside came on as Captain Oliver Hudson. He immediately set some boundaries: “You won’t see me fighting any man-eating glowworms, rubber plants, 40-foot crocodiles and I don’t talk to Darwin.”

Oh yeah — Darwin was a talking dolphin voice by the man who is every talking animal, Frank Welker.

Elise Neal also joined the show as Lieutenant J.J. Fredericks as storylines moved more toward corporate greed running the world and political tension. Only 13 episodes aired before finally, the show was done for good.

There were model kits, trading cards, video games and even Playmates action figures (check out this article on seaQuest Vault), but the show always struggled to catch on with viewers, if they could find it.

Going back and watching this again in box set form, it’s fascinating to see how the show changes and struggles for direction in a condensed format. Week by week, it’s not as strange. When binged, it seems absolutely deranged. I’m glad in some way that I wasn’t in love with the show when it aired. It would have broken my heart.

The Mill Creek blu ray box set of seaQuest DSV has every episode of the show, plus new interviews and featurettes with the series creator Rockne S. O’Bannon, as well as the directors and crew. Plus, you get several deleted scenes. Get it from Deep Discount.

Arnold Week: Eraser (1996)

For some reason, I never watched Eraser. And let me tell you, fifty-year-old me loved it so much that I kept yelling “You’ve been erased” for days after watching it. Maybe that’s because Chuck Russell, who made The Blob and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors directed it.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is John Kruger, a U.S. Marshal for the Witness Security Protection Program charged with helping to erase people from the public record so that they can be safe once they testify in important court cases. After erasing mob witness Johnny Casteleone (Robert Pastorelli) before he turns rat on the mob, he’s given his next job by WITSEC Chief Arthur Beller (James Coburn): protect Lee Cullen (Vanessa Williams), a senior executive whose defense contractor place of employment, the Cyrez Corporation, has created a handheld rail gun and plans on selling it on the open market instead of to the U.S. military that’s already paid for it.

When she confronts her boss William Donohue (James Cromwell), he threatens her before killing himself. Upset that she was in danger despite promises that she’d be safe, Lee refuses to be part of witness protection. It turns out she’s really going to need it because the Cyrez conspiracy goes deep. In fact, it’s so deep that even Kruger’s superiors like his mentor Robert DeGuerin (James Caan) are masterminding it.

While this was written by Walon Green and Michael S. Chernuchin. extensive and uncredited rewrites were made by Frank Darabont and William Wisher Jr., as well as John Milius who did his punchups as a favor for Schwarzenegger. This was originally offered to Stallone, who turned it down to make Cop Land.

This is a great action film — I mean, Arnold has a battle inside a zoo with alligators everywhere — and it’s livened up by the interplay between him and Caan. Sure, it’s ridiculous, with Arnold using two railguns at once at the end, but isn’t that what we want out of an action film? Bonus points for Pastorelli getting all of his old organized crime friends together to guard the docks and battle the Russian goons.

Arnold Week: Jingle All the Way (1996)

As Arnold Schwarzenegger waited to be in Planet of the Apes — he’s still waiting — director Brian Levant* (who is a secret box office goldmine between this, Beethoven, The Flintstones and Are We There Yet?), producer Chris Columbus and writer Randy Kornfield got him for this tale of a father wo just wants to get his kid the hottest toy for Christmas. Kind of like Cabbage Patch Kids or Power Rangers, except its Turbo-Man in this film.

Mattress salesman Howard Langston (Schwarzenegger) has a lot of love in his heart for his wife Liz (Rita Wilson) and son Jamie (the chewed up and spit up by Hollywood future Star Wars prequels star Jake Lloyd), but he doesn’t have the time to show it, what with how much work he has. His neighbor Ted Maltin (Phil Hartman in his last role; I still get angry about his death, a total waste) always shows him up in an attempt to woo away Liz. Howard misses every big family event, but on Christmas Eve, he has a mission: get a Turbo-Man no matter what.

That same mission is shared by mailman and near comic book supervillain Myron Larabee (Sinbad). The two go near insane with the need for the toy by the end of the movie and the transition from real life to cartoon is complete as Howard dresses as Turbo-Man while Myron has on the costume of his enemy Dementor (Richard Moll plays the character on the TV show that opens the movie).

With a cast that includes Martin Mull as a DJ, Robert Conrad as the same cop that keeps running into Howard, Jim Belushi as a mall Santa, Laraine Newman, Harvey Korman, Curtis Armstrong, The BIg Show** as a giant Santa, Chris Parnell and Verne Troyer, Jingle All the Way never stops moving, placing Arnold and SInbad in pitched combat throughout while giving some life lessons along the way.

I thought I was too cool for Arnold’s family films when this came out and now I can out myself and say that I was wrong. Sure, this gets wildly stupid at the end, but isn’t that what these movies should be? I’m glad that I’ve learned to have fun with movies.

*Levant is honestly critic proof. He said so himself: “To read those reviews is an act of self-flagellation, but reviews be damned when you’re at Blockbuster, and you’re seeing family after family grab one of your movies off the shelf on a Friday night. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that.”

**WWE Films would make a sequel to this in 2014 with Larry the Cable Guy and Santino Marella in the lead roles. There are no other wrestlers involved, not Turbo-Man, as the toy in that film is Harrison The Talking Bear.

Sworn to Justice (1996)

Janna (Cynthia Rothrock) sustains a head injury by falling off a roof after masked men kill her sister and nephew. This ends up not only putting her in the hospital, but it also gives her psychic powers — yes! — and also has her still making one-liners and enjoying two very long lovemaking scenes — hey look out for No RetreatNo Surrender‘s Kurt McKinney rocking some briefs — despite the gravity of her situation.

Also: Brad Dourif, Mako, Tony Lo Bianco and Walter Koenig — who Rothrock claimed “terrorized the set while filming” and was “belligerent toward director Paul Maslak and ranted often about how unprofessional Maslak supposedly was” — are in this!

Also also: Robert Easter and Neva Friedenn, who wrote Supervan and The Toolbox Murders, were the writers of this script.

Janna is usually an expert witness in murder cases, but now she finds herself fighting for the justice her family deserves in court and then on the streets. She also discovers that even if she can read someone by touch, there’s no way that she can use that in court.

I have no idea why in a movie where Rothrock deals with the five stages of grief there’s also a fight scene punctuated by boing sound effects that would not be out of place in a nudie cutey or Italian sex comedy.

This movie is ridiculous in the way that only a 90s direct to video movie can be, which means that it is special and should be treasured. I also love how Rothrock is a strong, muscular and capable woman not made to look like a shrew; instead, she’s the hero at the center of all of this.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Arcane Sorcerer (1996)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A.C. Nicholas, who has a sketchy background and hails from parts unknown in Western Pennsylvania, was once a drive-in theater projectionist and disk jockey, Currently, in addition to being a writer, editor, podcaster, and voice-over artist, he contributes to Drive-In Asylum. His first article, “Grindhouse Memories Across the U.S.A.,” was published in issue #23. He’s also written “I Was a Teenage Drive-in Projectionist” and “Emanuelle in Disney World and Other Weird Tales of a Trash Film Lover” for upcoming issues.

In the world of horror films, there are the great directors who spent almost their entire careers in the genre, like George Romero and John Carpenter. And then there are directors who worked in a variety of genres and, when they dabbled in horror, produced masterpieces. Sometimes just one masterpiece, like Britain’s Michael Powell with Peeping Tom. Or two, like Spain’s Narciso Ibáñez Serrador with The House That Screamed and Who Can Kill a Child? But someone who has three horror masterpieces in his filmography—and is one of my favorites—is the great Italian director Pupi Avati.

Avati has been directing films in different genres for over 50 years. A jazz musician, he even directed a biopic filmed in Davenport, Iowa, about early jazz trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke. I’ve heard him referred to as the “Stephen Spielberg of Italy.” But for me, his three horror films, The House with Laughing Windows (1976), Zeder (1983), and Arcane Sorcerer (1996), stand as some of the least-seen, best horror films ever made. All are slow burns with little violence and action but with the most pervasively chilling atmosphere you can imagine. Perhaps someday folks will recognize Avati as the natural successor to Mario Bava, a director who could create atmosphere with the simplest of things, like the sound of the wind or the movement of a shadow.  I dare you to walk through a cemetery at night after seeing a Pupi Avati horror film.

In Arcane Sorcerer, his third film in the genre, Avati does a couple of striking things. First, he sets his film in rural 18th century Italy. And second, he manages to make a wholly original film, while combining and expanding upon his two previous genre entries.

Without giving much away, the plot concerns a young seminarian played by Stefano Dionisi (Sleepless) who, to avoid prosecution by church authorities for a huge scandal, hides out. He takes a job as the secretary to a defrocked monsignor, a perfectly cast Carlo Cecchi (The Red Violin and Stealing Beauty). The monsignor, who practices the black arts, is a scary figure to the local villagers. Indeed, he lives in isolation in a castle with a huge, foreboding library and does weird stuff like sending coded letters to dead people. Through the course of the film, the young man will see a lot of disturbing things, including a twist that fans of Avati’s work will surely recognize.

Everything about Arcane Sorcerer is first rate. The production design is terrific (love that chandelier in the library), the cinematography is gorgeous, the score by genre favorite Pino Donaggio is spot-on, and it’s all put together with intelligence and loving care. (There’s a memorably creepy scene featuring a long-dead body that must be moved to consecrated ground.) But what impresses me the most is how writer-director Avati scored yet another personal triumph. He has this uncanny, preternatural ability, like Bava, to make the smallest things terrifying. And he makes it all look easy. I have yet to see another living director pull off what he does. (Robert Eggers came close with The VVitch.)  It’s Avati’s special gift, and I’m glad that we have his three horror films. He’s now 83 years old but still working, so I can dream of one last masterwork from this still relatively unknown master of horror.

Apart from a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, I don’t believe Arcane Sorcerer ever had an official release in any English-speaking territory. Indeed, I only recently tracked down a DVD rip in Italian with dreadful English subtitles loaded with typos. Avati’s The House with Laughing Windows took years to find its U.S. cult following. Arcane Sorcerer would find its cult too if Vinegar Syndrome ever released a Pupi Avati box set. It certainly deserves it.

Invisible Mom (1996)

Researching this movie — yes, I am home alone on a Sunday obsessively writing about Fred Olen Ray movies while you live your life — I discovered a website called The Chucks Connections which documents every appearance of Chuck Taylor All-Star shoes in movies.

If you liked Disney live action movies of the 70s but perhaps wanted some weirdness under the skin, then you’ll find something here, a movie in which a dad makes an invisibility serum, the son wants to drink it to get back at a bully and the mom (Dee Wallace!) drinks it. And hijnks, as always say and will say all week when writing about Ray’s movies, ensues.

This is a movie that not only has its child hero watching Beast of the Yellow Night on TV but also has that movie’s star John Ashley show up as a henpecked neighbor. It’s also nice that producer Andrew Stevens got some work for his mother Stella here.

I also endorse Russ Tamblyn getting acting gigs anywhere and anyway that he can. Same as Gary Graver, who shows up in a small role here, and is the only man who could convince Orson Welles to edit a scene in an adult movie.

The tagline for this film is “Not seeing is believing,” which kind of is hurting my brain right now and putting it into loops and making me think about gnostic dualism.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Passionate Revenge (1996)

Also known as Friend of the Family II, this Fred Olen Ray film was written by Henry Krinkle, who also wrote Night Eyes 4, which seems like decent training for this movie.

And no, this has nothing to do with the first one other than its antagonist being played by the same actress.

Alex (Paul Michael Robinson) decided to have an affair with Linda (Penthouse Pet of the Month January 1992 Shauna O’Brien) while he’s on business in New Orleans. Somehow, she had a better flight than him, because when he gets back home, she’s already been hired as his family’s new nanny.

Nicholas Medina is, of course, Fred Olen Ray. He’s making his own Hand the Rocks the Cradle here, but that movie had more days to shoot, more of a budget and you know, more actual thought than this. It did not, however, have Shauna O’Brien or an ending where Alex’s wife yells, “Oh my God! Where’s the baby?”

I can hear you asking, “But did Gary Graver do the cinematography?”

Of course he did.

You can watch this on Tubi.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 12: Santa Claws (1996)

John Russo lives in Glassport, which I can see from my house, and he wrote the idea that became Night of the Living Dead, which would probably be enough, but he also helped make Return of the Living Dead happen. And he also made Midnight and The Majorettes, two movies that fall into that strange genre that can only come from Pittsburgh, the yinzer giallo. He also was the publisher and managing editor of Scream Queens Illustrated, which figures into this movie.

Raven Quinn (Debbie Rochon) used to be a scream queen but ever since she had two children with a scream queen magazine publisher who would rather take nude photos of models than work on his marriage. Luckily, she has Wayne (Grant Cramer), a neighbor who once watched his mommy do more than kiss Santa Claus, lost his mind and killed them both. So perhaps she is not quite so fortunate.

Beyond getting to see Night stars like Marilyn Eastman, who played Helen Cooper, Karl Hardman, who played her husband Harry, and first zombie — and the director of The Majorettes and FleshEater — S. William Hinzman, you can pretty much see this as an American Night Killer. They’re both set at Christmas, they both deal with broken marriages and they’re both absolutely berserk movies seemingly made by maniacs.

Waste not, want not, as Russo edited this into Scream Queens Naked Christmas.

Yinzer bonus: Numerous scenes of characters wandering Market Square before anyone went there, back when George Aiken was still making the best-fried chicken ever, when National Record Mart still had that huge store and G.W. Murphy’s was still open. I mean, the killer runs into the Oyster House for a second and I was awash with 90s dahntahn memories, like Honus Wagner, the smell of Hare Krishna’s t-shirts, Candyrama and so much more.

In short, a killer that uses a garden cultivator as a weapon, like a total South Hills Blood and Black Lace, all with softcore dancing that makes me wistful for dollar pizza at Anthony’s and the old sign that was painted on the wall at the Cricket and hey, John Russo wrote two songs for this, “Christmas by Myself” and “Brand New Christmas.”

If you remember that old store Novelties in Market Square that never seemed to sell anything and was put out of business for a Dunkin’ Donuts, well, I want you to know that this movie has the killer buy his Santa Claus suit in that very store.

Welcome to the yinzer giallo list, Santa Claws. Meet us under the Kaufmann’s clock for your framed certificate.