The fourteenth Ultra series, Ultraman Gaia ran from September 5, 1998 until August 28, 1999, with a total of 51 episodes. It doesn’t take place in the same continuity* as the Showa era Ultramen (Ultraman to Ultraman 80), the animated world of The Ultraman or Ultraman Tiga and Ultraman Dyna. There are also two Ultraman characters and neither can agree how exactly to defend the Earth.
Ultraman Gaia and Ultraman Agul have so many issues that by the middle point of the series they end up battling one another, eventually reconciling so that they can do what they’re here to do: save the Earth. Those same issues extend to the humans that control these Ultras, as Gamu Takayama (Ultraman Gaia) believes that he is here to save Earth and humanity. Fujimiya Hiroya (Ultraman Agul) thinks that he is Earth’s natural defence mechanism and protects the planet itself, even at the expense of humanity.
They’re brought together by Chrisis, a supercomputer developed by a group of science student geniuses named the Alchemy Stars, which has predicted that by 1997 Earth will be destroyed by the Radical Destruction Bringer. To stop this, the Stars have created a secret defense known as GUARD (Geocentric Universal Alliance against the Radical Destruction) that stands ready to save the world.
I really liked how Gama found his Ultra while doing a virtual reality experiment to discover the will of the Earth, which showed him a vision of Ultraman Gaia battling monsters non-stop. This series looks like it has some level of budget behind it — it looks like a higher end sentai show — and it’s interesting that it puts science at odds with the magic of the Earth. I’m kind of wondering if Agul is right and that our planet is better off without humans sometimes.
You can find out for yourself by grabbing the Ultraman Gaia box set from Mill Creek, which has all 51 episodes, plus Ultraman Tiga & Ultraman Dyna & Ultraman Gaia: Battle in Hyperspaceand Ultraman Gaia: Gaia Once Again. There’s also a colorful guide that shows the different Ultra forms in this series and the team logos and vehicles of GUARD and the eXpanded Interceptive Guardians, their top elite defense squad.
*Gaia does appear in Ultraman Tiga & Ultraman Dyna & Ultraman Gaia: Battle in Hyperspace, alongside Tiga, Dyna, Mebius and the Showa-era Ultras in Superior Ultraman 8 Brothers, teams up with the Heisei-era Ultras in Ultraman Ginga S: Showdown! Ultra 10 Warriors!! and brings along Agul to save an Earth that is not their own in Ultraman Orb: The Origin Saga.
So what if the ozone layer really went away and we were forced to go to a parallel earth and take it over? Well, then we’d be the bad guys in this movie and we’d be up against the formidable Yasmine Bleeth, who has come home to realize that everyone in her old town is a totally different person.
David Jackson, who directed this, made one of the worst TV movies I’ve ever seen, The Jesse Ventura Story, as well as a movie I never knew existed, From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries: Voice from the Grave, which takes the dramatizations of Unsolved Mysteries all the way to a full movie in which Megan Ward is possessed by a dead woman. He also made Return to Halloweentown, which just shows that I have watched way too many movies.
Look — TV movies are a mixed bag. Sometimes you get Carl Kolchak. And other times you get people with their organs on the wrong side of their bodies. I mean, I liked it, but if this site proves anything, it’s that my taste is questionable.
Nothing succeeds like success. So when The Prophecydid well, that meant that not just one but four more movies would follow. And sure, the cast isn’t as good, but Jennifer Beals plays a nurse who gets instantly pregnant with a nephilim baby thanks to a rebel angel moonlighting as a rock star, as well as a young Brittany Murphy, Eric Roberts (again, we are fated to watch every one of his movies) and Glenn Danzig as the angel Samayel, which was something that made me rent this more than once to see a short and gruff cherubim for a few seconds.
Thomas Daggett is now Bruce Abbott from Re-Animator and is also a monk given to — cue the title — prophecy. That child of angel and human will stop the war in Heaven, so Gabriel is back to stop that child from being born. And man, Roberts plays St. Michael the Archangel, so you have no idea how happy that makes me, as the prayer of St. Michael the Archangel is filled with promises of stopping the devil in his battles against humanity.
Walken does get off a few great lines, like this one: “I sang the first hymn when the stars were born. Not that long ago, I announced to a young woman, Mary, who it was she was expecting. On the other hand, I’ve turned rivers into blood, kings into cripples, cities to salt, so I don’t think that I have to explain myself to you.”
This one ends with Gabriel as a homeless human, cast out of heaven, but when there’s lightning in the sky, you know that his story is far from over.
Dean Koontz — whose own website proclaims him as the “International Bestselling Master of Suspense” — has sold over 450 million copies of his books, but it always seems like he’s a little behind Stephen King. I mean, that’s not a bad thing, as King was just a monolith when it came to selling books. But Koontz was successful as well. as in the VHS rental wild late 80s and 90s, so many of his books became movies. Watchers, which is very, very loosely based on one of his books, has three sequels alone.
Other Koontz film adaptions include Demon Seed, The Passengers (based on his noel Shattered), Whispers, Servants of Twilight, Hideaway, Intensity, Mr. Murder, Phantoms, Sole Survivor, Frankenstein, Odd Thomas and Black River.
Koontz’s golden retriever Trixie was often on his book jackets and even wrote two books, Life Is Good: Lessons in Joyful Living and Christmas Is Good. She was a service dog that had been trained by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a charitable organization that provides service dogs for people with disabilities, an organization that Koontz discovered while writing his book Midnight. Over the years, he helped the group raise $2.5 million in funds, so Trixie was their gift to him. So you can see why having a supercanine golden retriever in a story made sense to him — which is what Watchers is all about.
Watchers (1988): It’s a rivalry as old as time: a golden retriever with special abilities battling the mutated monster known as the OXCOM (Outside Experimental Combat Mammal).
The dog soon makes friends with Travis Cornell (Corey Haim) and his girlfriend Tracey (Lala Sloatman, who was dating Haim; she’s also the niece of Frank Zappa and is in Amityville: A New Generation). Of course, the government wants the dog back, so they send NSO agent Johnson (Michael Ironside).
This movie kills everyone it comes across, with either OXCOM or Johnson basically wiping out a small town, whether to kill or to keep the murders secret.
Amazingly, this was originally written by Paul Haggis, who would go on to write Million Dollar Baby, Crash and yes, create Walker Texas Ranger.
Watchers II (1990): Hey, I think that Marc Singer — he’s the Beastmaster — and Tracy Scoggins — from Dynasty and The Colbys — are fine replacements in this film that finds OXCOM and a golden retriever still battling one another.
Singer is a Marine gone AWOL. Scoggins is an animal psychologist from the top secret laboratory and the OXCOM still is a goofy rubber suit. And sure, this may be the same movie we just watched, but when has a sequel being the same as the first movie ever stopped us?
Screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris used the name Henry Dominic — the same alter ego they’d use for Bloodfist II, Flight of the Black Angel, The Unborn, Severed Tiesand Mindwarp — as neither were members of the Writer’s Guild of America. Brancato and Ferris would go on to write The Game, as well as The Net.
Thierry Notz also directed The Terror Within which makes a lot of sense once you see this movie.
Watchers 3 (1994): Oh yes, this third one was shot in Peru, executive produced by Roger Corman and has one of my favorites, Wings Hauser, in the middle of the never-ending war between mutant and mongrel. Yes, this time it’s the deformed Outsider, which lives only to kill, battling Einstein, a golden retriever with an IQ of 175.
To stop the monster, Hauser is put in charge of a squad of military men and criminals. Now if you’re thinking, “Would Roger Corman rip off Predator?” let me just say that yes, he would. He did. And he would do it again.
Written by the same man who penned Carnosaur 2, let me tell you, I will regret nothing on my deathbed except probably the time I spent watching this movie. Eh, who am I kidding? I’d watch it again if you asked with any nicety in your tone.
Watcher Reborn (1998): You know what you never realize as a kid? As bad of a director as George Lucas can be, he’s one of the few people able to reign in the hammy tendencies of Mark Hamill, who plays a detective in this one who has just lost his wife and son to a fire that was probably caused by a mutant because that’s how it goes.
Lisa Wilcox, Alice from A Nightmare On Elm Street 4and 5, plays the scientist who introduces him to a golden retriever, this time named Alex and being not as smart as he was the last time, only having an IQ of 140. This one also has a pit bull and the man who ruined Night Gallery in syndication, Gary Collins, so you know that my heart is on the side of the animals and not the humans. I’m also on the side of all murderous mutants, because as Emily Dickinson wrote, “The heart wants what it wants, or else it does not care,” and we’ve gone about proving this inscrutable wisdom true ever since.”
Low Rawls — yes, the man who sang “You’ll Never Find Another Love like Mine” — has a cameo as a coroner, so if you ever get asked, “What do Lucio Fulci and Lou Rawls have in common?” and a gun is at your temple, I have provided you with the knowledge that will save your life.
Should you watch the Watchers movies? Look, I don’t want to tell you what to do with your life. I mean, you could also ask, “Should you watch a hundred Jess Franco movies in one month?” The answer is always going to be yes for me as I try and get the highest of movie highs, no matter how bad the strain seems to be.
We don’t usually cover adult movies all that often here, but this is Joe D’Amato’s last movie, so that seems like more than a good enough reason to watch this film.
I’d like to tell you that Joe went and made a remake of Showgirls, but really the only thing this movie has in common with that piece of exploitation by way of Hollywood lunacy is that it takes place mostly in an adult club. Hungarian-born actress Eva Henger (Miss Teen Hungary 1989) plays Eva, who is our Nomi Malone, even if we don’t even get a single recreation of any scene from that film.
There’s also an 82-minute softcore version of this movie which has to be really rough to get through. Helping matters is an appearance by Jazmine Rose, who showed up pretty frequently in mid 90s adult films with her then paramour Nacho Vidal (who is in this, but their scene together cuts before anything happens). She did 29 movies between 1998 and 2001 before becoming a chef, appearing on Chopped and having quite a culinary career.
If D’Amato had made this a decade earlier, he’d have gone to New Orleans and shot an entire pastiche of the movie he was ripping off, had Laura Gemser as Cristal Connors and really tried a bit more. That said, you can still see some of his eye for camera composition in this, even if it’s in the service of making a better looking shot in a day or two sex movie.
We’ve mentioned this influential film series in the context of a few of our other reviews this week. And it is “influencial,” as it certainly had an effect on David. A.R. White and his Christian Apoc-science fiction adventures through his PureFlix shingle: his first was Six: The Mark Unleashed (2004), followed with The Moment After and Revelation Road franchises, In the Blink of an Eye, and Jerusalem Countdown. And the producers behind his debut film, TBN, Paul and Jan Crouch’s Trinity Broadcasting Network (through their son Matthew), jumped into the apoc frays with their own, The Omega Code (1999).
The Apocalypse franchise’s roots date to 1994, when the brothers LaLonde, Peter and Paul — inspired by Hollywood’s A-List glut of films concerned with the world’s post-apocalypse survival*, such as Waterworld (1995), Independence Day (1996), Escape from L.A. (1996), and The Postman (1997), along with the “Lucifer’s Hammer” one-two punch of Armageddon and Deep Impact (1998), and Peter Hyams’s End of Days (1999) — formed Cloud Ten Pictures in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, to self-fiance their own, wholesome, family-oriented “end times” Christian films.
As they should: God invented the apocalypse, after all, in The Book of Revelation in The Holy Bible. It’s just not fair that the Somdomites and Gomorrahites of Tinseltown have the secular market cornered on what rightful belongs to Christians in the first place. Estus Pirkle has whole films (If Footmen Tire You, The Burning Hell, and The Believer’s Heaven) based on the Christian belief that God-hating Communists will jam sharpened bamboo shoots through our ear canals, cut people down from trees onto buried pitch forks, and dump the bodies of those who will not deny the Christ, into freshly bulldozed mass graves. Oh, and the child stealing and indoctrination centers where children will praise Fidel Castro.
Hey, don’t be scared, ye philistine. For the LaLonde’s are not as bibically crazed as Pastor Pirkle and a bit more subtle in frightening you into believing. Sure, with the same, faithful vigor as Christian apoc-progenitor Donald W. Thompson with his A Thief in the Night tetralogy franchise, but only with A-List (well, let’s just say, better) production values backed, not by church volunteers and “saved” community theater actors: but by real, actual actors.
Oh, what a cast these movies have!
The LaLonde brothers’ films have nothing on the early Revelation-based apoc’ers Six-Hundred Sixty Six (1972), and the Gospel Films (studios) 1981 double-whammy of the non-sequels Early Warning and Years of the Beast. Oh, yes, ye B&S About Movies Sadducees: If the subject matter’s rhythm doesn’t get you, the off-the-A-to-B List thespians surely will.
Prior to delving into the feature films business, the LaLonde brothers produced their own television series: a syndicated series that dealt with the very subject matter of their films: This Week in Bible Prophecy. That lead to their creating a series of hour-long documentaries between 1994 and 1997: The Gospel of the Antichrist: Exposed, Final Warning: Economic Collapseand the Coming World Government, Startling Proofs: Does God Really Exist, Last Days: Hype or Hope?, and Racing to the End of Time. Courtesy of the ratings and retail response to those early products, it was time for a (low-budget) sci-fi thriller based on upon their TV/video teachings. That first film became Apocalypse (1998), which spawned the tetralogy franchise: Revelation, Tribulation, and Judgement.
So successful the franchise that, by the time of the release of third film and before the fourth film, Cloud Ten Pictures was able to option the very book that inspired their film series: the 1995 worldwide best-seller Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Their 2000 – 2005 film trilogy based on that book series, which starred Kirk Cameron (Saving Christmas), culminated with a bigger-budgeted, crtically derided theatrical reboot, Left Behind (2014) with Nicolas Cage.
Okay, enough with the back stories. . . . Lets throw away the melon rind on the way to Eden and unpack the prophe-verse of Franco Macalousso and his deadly O.N.E. (One Earth Nation) squads. (In Donald W. Thompson’s franchise, it was known as U.N.I.T.E. – United Nations Imperium of Total Emergency, if you’re keeping an apoc track of the proceedings.)
Apocalypse I: Caught In The Eye Of The Storm (1998)
Unlike the rest of the films in the series, we’re dealing with a list of no-name (Canadian) actors fronted by the “leads” of Leigh Lewis and Richard Nestor (that’s them, disembodied floating-headin’ the cover, by the way) and Sam Bornstein, each with limited-and-fades-away resumes; Leigh Lewis’s Helen Hannah character is the lone throughline of the series.
As with Kurt Cameron’s Cameron “Buck” Williams in the Left Behind trilogy, Helen Hannah and Bronson Pearl (Richard Nestor) are award-winning journalists who stumble into the deadly plans of Franco Macalousso (Sam Bornstein), the President of the European Union. When the prophesied Rapture occurs and throws the world into chaos, Macalousso proclaims himself the true Messiah and enforces his will upon the world.
You can watch this one Tubi. And we have to note that the video suggestions link to all three of Kirk Cameron’s Left Behind films and Casper Van Dien’s The Omega Code duet, if you’re up to the challenge.
Apocalypse II: Revelation (1999)
What a difference “three months” after the last film, makes: Satan has transformed Franco Macalousso into (wait, he is Satan) . . . Nick Mancuso, of Nightwing and Death Ship?
This time, the tale centers on the exploits of Thorold Stone, a counter-terrorism expert . . . played by Jeff Fahey of The Lawnmower Man? A non-believer hellbent to prove The Rapture is a conspiracy, he stumbles into an underground, Christian resistance movement led by Helen Hannah, from the first film. But since actress Leigh Lewis is way out of her thespin’ element, here: bring in (not much better) supermodel Carol Alt as part of the resistance.
Oh, and Alt’s character is blind. And the European Union, now ruling the world as One Nation Earth, watched John Carpenter secular They Live one too many times, since O.N.E distributes virtual reality headsets to everyone on Earth to celebrate the “Messiah’s Day of Wonders.”
So, to make sure you’re following along: Satan, and not aliens, are doing the VR brainwashing of the puny humans. You got that?
Well, okay . . . so we lost Jeff Fahey and Carol Alt. But we still get a little bit of Nick Mancuso . . . and gain a Gary Busey, a Margot Kidder, and a Howie Mandel. We also get just what we do not need: a non-linear timeline that splits in half across the events that happened before ApocalypseI . . . then we flash-foward — two years — after the events in Revelation, aka Apocalypse II, you got that?
Hey, we feel you, because the plot is bat-crap crazy and all over the place. Gary Busey’s Tom Canbono — from what seems like another movie spliced in — stars as a bitter police detective battling a mysterious group of cloaked psychic warrior-assassins (no, we are not kiddding) after his wife, his sister and brother-in-law (Margot Kidder and a pre-bald/Van Dyked Howie Mandel). However, before Canbono can save them, the psychics take control of his car and cause him to crash. . . .
Then begins the “other” movie: Busey wakes up from a two-years coma to discover The Rapture has occurred, 95% of the world follows Nick Mancusco’s lead, and those who don’t allow themselves to be branded with a “666” on their head or right hand, in the grand tradition of all things Christian, are beheaded. (Yeah, Christians love their broadswords and guillotines in these movies.) As for the “third” movie cut into this mess: Leigh Lewis is pushed even further down the callsheets with her Christian resistance annoyances to expose Nick Mancusco as the Antichrist.
See? Told you it was bat-crap crazy — joke inferring Nick’s Nightwing — which I should be rewatching — instead of this, intended. Yeah, it sure is a long, hard fall from starring with Steven Seagal in 1992’s Under Seige, hey, Nick and Gary? Too bad Steven didn’t star in Jeff Fahey’s role for part deux to really give us something to QWERTY about.
You can watch this on Tubi. You just gotta: Busey battles psychic warriors!
Apocalypse IV: Judgement (2001)
First, we get a gaggle nobody-heard-of-them-or-seen-since Canucks making a Christian apocalypse film. Then we get an Antichrist ruling via virtual reality headsets forced onto Carol Alt by Nick Mancusco. Then we get psychic warrior-assassins after Gary Busey.
What could possibly be left, you ask?
How’s about Corbin Bernsen (The Dentist) and Jessica Steen (the aforementioned Armageddon) starring as a Christian-centric Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in Adam’s Rib (1949) — itself remade as the romantic rom-com box office bomb Laws of Attraction (2004) starring Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore. Only they were battling divorce attorneys. And Tracy and Hepburn argued a case of women’s rights.
So, what are Bernsen and Steen arguing: a copyright infringement case on the VR headsets? Gary Busey’s malpractice suit? Perhaps a copyright infringement over stealing the plot from the Stephen King’s The Dead Zone in the last movie? (No, not 28 Days Later, that’s not until next year.)
Nope to all.
Nick Mancusco — yes, he actually stuck around for three installment of this utter non-sense — is now, officially, the Antichrist and he’s “suing” Helen Hannah — yes, the out-of-her-thespian element Canadian actress Leigh Lewis is still hanging around, making us wish Carol Alt’s hot blind chick signed for the sequel — for her crimes against humanity. Corbin Bernsen is the troped, milquetoast attorney assigned to kangaroo-court our fair jounalist-turned-Christian revolutionist. Jessica Steen is his bitchy, natch, ex-wife prosecutor assigned by Nick Mancusco to railroad the leftover 5% from the last film that haven’t accepted the Mark.
Hey, wait. Mr. T is on the box! What’s he doing, here? We’ll, he’s spliced in from another movie: he’s heading up The D-Team to break Hannah from prison. Does he use one of those nifty VR headsets to pull it off?
Ugh, I just don’t care, anymore. And how come all of these Christian apoc flicks never end with Brother J showing up, in this case, to beat down Nick Mancusco? At least Estus Pirkle — his sharpened bamboo and mass graves, be damned — wrapped it up and took us upstairs to The Believer’s Heaven, while Tim Ormond has Christ arriving on white horseback with a band of angels in The Second Coming.
“The Supreme Court vs. The Supreme Being. Let the Trial Begin,” so says the box copy.
No. Just let this all end. Please. I believe! I believe! I won’t accept the Mark. Anything to makes these movies, stop.
* Hey, we known what we are talking about: we’re self-proclaimed apocalypse experts! So check out these featurettes rounding up all of our reviews of apoc’ers from the ’50s through the ’80s:
Somewhere out there in the recesses of the infinite, James Best — the man who at once was Roscoe P. Coltrane and also Quentin Tarantino’s acting coach — had the dream of writing a movie about a carnival worker who is so tired of his life in the sideshow that all he wants to do is make one beautiful piece of artwork. He wants it so much that he’ll give his life and soul to make it happen.
And then he makes the worst looking mask you’ve ever seen and it’s as if everyone in the movie fawns over it Emperor’s New Clothes-style as the most astounding thing they’ve ever seen and it really looks like something you’d make with Karens at one of those strip mall wine and paint places.
Wilbur has a burned up face, a horrible job as a carnival geek and is in love with Angel (Linnea Quigley, proving that she really can make anything better) who is really in love with the cheating owner of this horrible sideshow carnival.
All it takes to get this power to carve something so beautiful that people get the same feeling that you get when you sneeze, fart and burp at the same time is to have a voodoo woman give you a piece of the wood from the tree where her grandmother was burned at. In a bit of movie deus ex machina, Wilbur just so happens to have that head floating in a pickled punk jar.
Directed by Steve Latshaw, who made Dark Universe, Jack-O and Bikini Drive-In, amongst many other movies, this film exists in a strange dimension where Best is acting his heart out, Quigley is gamely trying to make everyone happy and the rest of the cast is having a blast just screaming stupid things at the camera. I imagine Best broke down in his trailer at least once.
Four young girls have just watched an innocent game turn into the murder of their classmate, the very strange Milo Jeeder. And yet sixteen ears later, the four come to a reunion where Milo remains the same age, even as they’ve grown up and moved away.
Great set-up, nice appearances by Vincent Schiavelli and Antonio Fargas, but otherwise a movie that takes its plot from Sometimes They Come Back Again and its tagline — “Remember, Jason and Freddy were kids once, too” — from Mikey.
Then again, how many movies are about a fetus that survived an abortion? Oh, you know, other than Hanger and The Suckling. Man, I really need to get outside and start talking to people.
Did you know that actor Charlie Sheen and Poison’s lead vocalist Bret Michaels (The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years) are best buds? So much so that they formed their own production company, Sheen Michaels Entertainment. Another principal in the company is writer-director Nick Cassavetes (remembering that Sheen and Cassavetes co-starred in The Wraith).
The company’s debut release was the chick-flicky drama Unhook the Stars (1996), followed by the Sean Penn-starrer She’s So Lovely (1997), both written and directed by Cassavetes. Charlie Sheen starred in the shingle’s third production, Under Pressure, aka Bad Day on the Block (1997), a tale about a psychotic fireman’s (Sheen) obsession with a family he saved from a fire (remembering 1992’s Unlawful Entry with Ray Liotta’s crazy cop). The company’s best known and most successful film (box office, not critically) was the action buddy-comedy Money Talks (1997), in which Chris Tucker co-starred with Sheen.
Prior to shutting down the shingle in 1999 (for a total of 9 films and 2 documentaries), the studio also produced the Charlie Sheen-narrated Discovery Mars (1997), the Zalman King-directed (Galaxy of Terror) surfing-drama In God’s Hands (1998, which also features Michaels in a support role), Free Money (1998), starring Marlon Brando, Donald Sutherland, and Sheen, and Five Aces (1999), also starring Sheen.
Hey, what about Bret Michaels?
Well, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? It is “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week,” after all.
Michaels wrote, directed, starred, and scored two crime-driven action-dramas for the company: No Code of Conduct, his debut, and A Letter from Death Row; the films are said to be sequels, but are, in fact, two distinct films unto themselves.
Yes. The man who gave you the hits “Unskinny Bop,” “I Want Action,” and rakes in the royalty greens with the constantly-spinning classic rock and classic hits radio staples “Nothing but a Good Time” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” carved out a career behind the camera.
No Code of Conduct
As with their mutual work in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, Charlie Sheen and his father, Martin Sheen, co-star in No Code of Conduct, as a strained father and son: this time they’re (troubled) vice detectives, with Martin’s Bill Peterson as the leader of the unit. When Charlie’s Jake Peterson’s partner dies on-the-job, the Petersons put their differences aside to find the killer. The investigation comes to uncover a Mexican drug smuggling ring that connects in Pheonix, Arizona. The action, as we say, ensues, with all of the expected car chases and crashes, rains of bullets, and exploding buildings . . . only on a less, cost-effective budget than the Sly Stallone films (1986’s Cobra, in particular), and Lethal Weapon, as well as your favorite John Woo squib-fest, it desires to be.
The dirty copy adventures also stars the always-welcomed Mark Dacascos (Double Dragon, The Base) and Estevez acting-family warhorse, little brother and Uncle Joe Estevez (300-credits strong, with a dozen films currently in production) and, of course, look for Bret Michaels in a supporting role as Frank “Shane” Fields. Yeah, there’s Joe Lando (of TV’s Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman). And hey! Is that the late Paul Gleason, playing yet another, arrogantly inept authority figure (this time, he’s DEA), as he did in Die Hard? Oh, and don’t forget his work as the put-upon school counselor in The Breakfast Club.
Hey, this Bret Michaels industry-calling was never intended to be more than a B-Movie (at a reported cost of $12,000,000) and Michaels is new to the game; so while the proceedings are second rate, it’s still not an Al Adamson-incompetent or Godfrey Ho-chopshop joint (know your B-Movie Kings), and pans out to be a decent little direct-to-video action romp. That’s not to say it is still not disheartening to see Charlie Sheen — who made his bones in Oliver Stone’s Platoon and wowed us in Wall Street — stuck in a direct-to-video sorta-kinda clunker, but he did give us the really fine No Man’s Land (1987). However, if not for this being a Bret Michaels joint — regardless of the likeable Mark Dacascos on board — we probably wouldn’t be writing this review (for “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week”).
A Letter from Death Row
Bret Michaels ups his game in his second joint, aka “creation,” starring in the lead role of Michael Raine — with Martin Sheen as his father (and, like his dad, Charlie also appears in a blink-and-he’s-gone cameo) — a Death Row convict (shot on location in Tennessee State Prison and casting real prisoners in roles).
As result of Michaels starring, this is the one most rock ‘n’ roll flick lovers have seen, first, only to then discover Michaels made his debut with No Code of Conduct. And, sadly, everyone drops the ol’ “Citizen Kane of Bad Movies,” the same snotty critical descriptor bestowed to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, for A Letter from Death Row.
So, is it as bad (or so bad it’s good) as a Wiseau joint? Is it better than — or worse than — No Code of Conduct? Well, you know how it goes down at the ol’ Road House, Dr. Dalton: opinions vary.
Ne’er-do-well, struggling songwriter and Nashville native Michael Raine moved to Philadelphia for a fresh start . . . and ends up convicted of murdering his exotic dancer girlfriend (for all glam rockers must date strippers) by pillow-smothering and lands himself on death row. He claims he’s innocent and someone broke into his home and did it . . . while he was practicing his sweet karate moves (look out, Napoleon!). Conveniently, thanks to Raine’s affinity for “sex games,” the cops have the crime on video tape. Of course, Raine’s dopey defense attorney (famed, but now, sadly late due to COVID, Nashville radio talk show host Phil Valentine, who may be great behind the mic but is awful in front of a camera) has his ulterior motives.
When we get to prison, everything goes film noir and Hitchcock-twisty, with Jessica Foster, the Chief of Staff — and mistress (and spy) — of the Governor of Tennessee writing a book on Raine’s high profile case . . . which leads to him being blackmailed by the also “wrongly convicted” jailhouse preacher Lucifer Jones (he raped an altar boy), who wants Foster to overturn his conviction. And it’s all very meta, as, while awaiting his execution, Raine’s penning a screenplay . . . of the very movie you’re watching . . . you got that?
And the “ensues” kick in . . . for if you’ve watched any episodes of Law & Order: TOS or SVU, you know that the Governor likes his strippers . . . and Raine’s just a pasty . . . and the dopey defense attorney, the warden and his brutal, second-in-command, natch, henchman are red herring flippin’ n’ floppin’ on the seedy n’ shady noir docks.
So, which is the better . . . or worse film?
No Code of Conduct is clearly — but not by much — the better film (thanks to Sheens sticking around longer), as I feel, for his second film, Bret Michaels bit off a bit too much from the creative Slim Jim.
If Michaels wanted to take a crack as a lead actor, he should have stuck to the thespin’ and left the directing to someone else. Sure, Michaels is Tiger Blood-trying, but he’s not a dual-auteur of the Clint Eastwood variety, here. The main weakness — but one that critics fail to understand — is that Michaels is not only inspired by classic ’40s film noir, he made a valiant attempt at recreating those films, not only in story, but in image — but no one in the contemporary home video marketplace wants to see a trope-laden retro-flick with flashbacks in cliched black & white, oddball camera angles, or tales broken down into chapters with title cards to set the scenes.
I think the critics are right on this one: This wants to be a Quentin Tarantino joint, but sunk in L.A.’s Silver Lake Reservoir. If Tommy Wiseau made a prison flick, you know it wouldn’t be inside the walls of Shawshank, right? So who liked it? Well, when ne’er-do-well security guard Jimmy Hughes of CBS-TV’s Yes, Dear met Bret Michaels (“Greg’s Big Day”), he named dropped A Letter from Death Row as one of his favorite films.
So, yeah, this one is for Poison and ’80s hair metal fans, only. Prison flick aficionados will give A Letter from Death Row a hard pass. But, in scanning the “Best of” and “Worst of” prison flicks lists of the digital divide, A Letter from Death Row shows up on neither. So that’s saying something.
After that, Bret’s never written, directed, or acted in another film. He has, however, carved out a nice career as a go-to reality television cast member, most recently appearing as a contestant on a 2020 installment of The Masked Singer and as a judge on Nashville Star (2003). And those ASCAP royalty checks keep rolling in, with Poison tunes appearing in all manner of TV series and films (60 credits and counting), so even thought Bret’s out of the movie business, he’s still having one hell of a good time. And good enough of a time, that he’s able to make sport of himself, as, well, himself, with appearances in Sharknado 5: Global Warming (2017). He still occasionally appears (as characters, not himself) in front of the camera in TV dramas, such as CBS-TV’s Burke’s Law (1994) and Martial Law (1999). And he’s actually pretty good at it (or gotten better at it, depending on your Road Housin’ opinions), and I’d like to see him guesting on more network and cable series.
You can find online streams of both films in the online marketplace on a variety of pay platforms, but not free-with-ads streams or freebie uploads, sorry. The subsequent DVDs of A Letter from Death Row also features the 60-minute documentary High Tension, Low Budget (The Making of A Letter from Death Row). You can also listen to the full solo album/film soundtrack to A Letter from Death Row (featuring members of Poison) on You Tube. You can also stream episodes of Bret Michaels’s reality series Rock of Love and its sequel, Life as We Know It, on Tubi.
From concert files: Okay. So Poison’s debut album wasn’t out and they weren’t even on the radio, yet. And here they are, opening for Alice Cooper (no, not KISS, Mike, that was Krokus, damn it). And posters, based on the album cover, below, are plastered all over the venue. So, yeah . . . we thought they were (hot) chicks (Mike, dude, did we? Yikes!) and that Poison was a band, like, you know, Vixen. And their opening tune, the title cut of the album, was pretty decent (heavy live, but poppy-overproduced on record). So, we were going to buy the album the next day . . . and discovered how wrong we were!
So that’s my Poison story.
And Poison are back on the road — with all of its original members! — as the opening act for Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard with Joan Jett for the long, COVID-delayed The Stadium Tour, currently rolling in 2021. You can learn more at the official Poison site.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
Okay, so this radio station flick doesn’t deal in rock ‘n’ roll, but in sports.
But we can cheat this flick into our latest “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” of reviews courtesy of its star: Texas-born country singer, songwriter, and actor Mac Davis. Best known for his huge, ’70s AM radio solo hits “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” “One Hell of a Woman,” and “Burnin’ Thing,” he made his mark in the business by writing Elvis Presley’s late ’60s hits “In the Ghetto” and “A Little Less Conversation.”
As an actor, Davis made his feature film debut — after hosting his own NBC-TV music-comedy variety show The Mac Davis Show from 1974 to 1976 — with one of the better dramas about the dark side of football, North Dallas Forty (1979), holding his own alongside Nick Nolte.
For his ninth film, five of which were TV movies across the “Big Three” networks, Davis followed his work in the unfortunate box office bomb The Sting II (1983) — which, in conjunction with the failure of his second starring role as a divorced private detective in Cheaper To Keep Her (1981), ended his theatrical career — with the modestly budgeted ($1.4 million) sports comedy, Possums.
Sadly, while this lone writing/directing debut by producer and production coordinator J. Max Burnett (family-oriented series for Nickelodeon and The WB) was hailed as a “sports classic” in the tradition of the (superior) sports dramas Rudy and Hoosiers, and well received at the 1998 Seattle and Heartland International Film Festivals, Possums failed to find widespread theatrical distribution outside of the big “football states” of Oklahoma and Texas — where the “Friday Night Lights” rule.
So, Possums was unceremoniously dumped into the home video marketplace and easily found at your local Blockbuster Video.
Will Clark (Davis), an ex-semi-pro player, runs a small town hardware store in Nowata, Oklahoma (a real town, northeast of Tusla, where the film was shot on location), and sidelines at the town’s radio station as “the voice of the Nowata High Possums” — a team that hasn’t won a game in 25 years and hasn’t scored a touchdown in 13 years. And with the giant, Walmart-like retailer Maxi Mart wanting to move into Nowata, which will provide a much-needed boost to the dying, local economy, town mayor Charlie Lawton (B&S favorite Andrew Prine!!) decides to cancel the school’s football program to make way for progress — with Maxi Mart using the football field for their location.
Then, as the next autumn arrives, and the heavy equipment — instead of the local football team — readies to roll onto the field, Will jumps into action.
Distraught at seeing his small town life disappearing, as well as loosing his hardware store and his radio gig, he — to the dismay of his wife (Cynthia Skies; a regular on NBC-TV’s St. Elsewhere and CBS-TV’s JAG; later a producer on Bladerunner 2049) dipping into the family’s dwindling finances — buys airtime on the radio station and begins commentating imaginary football games — games in which the Possums embark on a miracle winning streak and head to the state finals to take on the longstanding champion rivals of Pratville High School.
Then the real Pratville team (led by real life Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, holding his thespian own) lays down a challenge to play a real game. Now, with the town’s new sense of hope and support, Will brings the Possums back onto the field. Can Will and his son (Jay Underwood, the original The Human Torch in Roger Corman’s 1994 The Fantastic Four) train the rag-tag Possums to believe in themselves and repeat the success of Will’s faux-radio broadcasts?
Is it all an implausible cliche? Is it all just another rag-tag misfits on an underdog adventure flick that we’ve seen before, back to Disney’s Might Ducks hockey franchise and into the later, Keanu Reeves one-two sports punch with The Replacements (2000; itself about football) and Hardball (2001; an inner-city Little League team)?
Sure it is.
Look, Possums is not the greatest sports drama ever made — and certainly doesn’t hold up to its promotional copy claims evoking Rudy and Hoosiers — but it’s not the worst, either. The small town characters (one of which is played by the great Dennis Burkley of Mask fame) are fun, and there’s no foul language or violence.
The joy of watching Possums is that isn’t about radio broadcasting — or football, for that matter. It’s a film about one’s love of their home town, the unity of community, and believing in the impossible. And in days like these, surrounded by the hashtagging warriors of the Internet divide, we need to believe in the impossible. And in ourselves. And that’s Possums.
Possums was available as a VOD on the Amazon and Vudu platforms, and as a free with-ads-stream on Tubi, but as result of recent licensing issues, it’s not currently available for online streaming. But the VHS and DVDs abound in the online marketplace and you can keep on eye out for it on the digital platform of the current rights holders at Multicom.tv.