APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 29: Watch the series: Friday (1995, 2000, 2002)

Ice Cube and DJ Pooh felt that movies only showed the dark side of the urban experience. Cube had the vision of making a “hood classic” that would be rewatched over and over again and based much of the script — only the third he had written — on his life. They got New Line interested in the film — the studio had made House Party — and Cube hired video direct F. Gary Grey.

His only worry? Doing comedy when up until then, he was considered a dangerous thug.

Grey said, “Ice Cube was the toughest man in America, and when you take someone (who) delivers hard-hitting social issues in hardcore gangsta rap, and who has a hardcore view on politics, you would never think comedy.”

Friday (1995): Craig Jones (Ice Cube) just got fired on his day off (this actually happened to one of Cube’s cousins), giving him the entire Friday to spend with his best friend, Smokey (Chris Tucker, a comedian whose first audition didn’t go well but who trained, came back and won the part). They smoke Smokey’s stash — $200 worth of weed — and if they can’t pay Big Worm (Faizon Love) by 10 p.m., they’re dead.

The episodic movie finds Craig and Smokey trying to get that money, whether through borrowing, begging or stealing. They also run into Deebo (Tiny Lister Jr.), a gigantic maniac who forces Smokey to break into a house, after which he steals the money that Smokey has ripped off.

Friday seems like a modern day take on Cheech and Chong in the best of ways, while keeping more focus. It also has time for plenty of great cameos, like the sadly long gone Bernie Mac as a preacher, John Witherspoon as Craig’s father, Regina King as his sister and DJ Pooh as Red.

Shot in Grey’s actual home block in the homes of his friends, you can even see some members of the neighborhood show up that refused to move from the spot they were in. Grey just filmed around them as well as he could. Additionally, the cast and crew not to wear anything red during filming, as 126th Street between Halldale and Normandie was Crips territory.

Friday made more than eight times what it cost to make. Ice Cube and DJ Pooh had the right idea.

Next Friday (2000): Written by Ice Cube and directed by Steve Carr, who also worked with Cube on Are We There Yet?Next Friday made $60 million off an $11 million budget, defying critics who hated the films — again, much lilke Cheech and Chong.

When Deebo escapes from prison to get revenge on Craig, Craig’s father Willie moves him to Rancho Cucamonga to live with his uncle Elroy (Don D.C. Curry), who has just won the lottery, and cousin Day-Day (Mike Epps). Day-Day makes a decent replacement for Smoky, as Chris Tucker didn’t come back for the second movie as he became a born again Christian.

Beyond dealing with the threat of an escaped Deebo, now Craig and Day-Day must avoid baby mamas, a gang called the Jokers and try to keep Day-Day’s record store job. While the move to the suburbs offers some fun joke, Tucker’s prescence is definitely missed. Then again, I find myself loving that Ice Cube is so loveable in these films, particularly after albums like “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted” in which he unleashed venomous hatred on nearly every ethnicity and human being within the reach of his booming voice.

Friday After Next (2002): Written by Ice Cube and directed by Marcus Raboy, the third Friday movie again was rejected by critics and embraced by the audience that it was made for. It starts on Christmas Eve as a thief breaks into the home of Craig (Cube) and Day-Day (Mike Epps), stealing everything they’ve bought for their family and friends. Also — the rent is due and if they don’t get it soon, their landlady is going to unleash her just released from jail son Damon (Terry Crews) on them and in a violently loving fashion, if you get what I’m saying.

The setting in this sequel moves from the suburbs to a strip mall, a place where their fathers — Willie (John Witherspoon) and Elroy (Don D.C. Curry) — have started a BBQ place so good you’ll slap your mother. It’s also where Money Mike (Katt Williams) and his main girl Donna (K.D. Aubert) have started the store Pimps and Hoes.

Obviously, by the third movie you’re just hoping for more hangout time with the leads and less expecting a groundbreaking effort. That said, this is a goofball bit of harmless fun, a good holiday movie to throw on if you’re sick of the same films every December and makes me hope that we get one more of these movies.

Somehow, I never saw a single one of these movies before, but I must confess, they made a nice break this week, a breezy bit of fun and light laughs in the midst of dark times.

ARROW BLU RAY RELEASE: Twisting The Knife: Four Films By Claude Chabrol: Nightcap (2000)

Nightcap, also known as Merci pour le Chocolat, was based on the novel The Chocolate Cobweb by Charlotte Armstrong. It’s directed and co-written (with Caroline Eliacheff) by Claude Chabrol, whose career is being re-released by Arrow Video in several box sets.

André Polonski (Jacques Dutronc) is an internationally recognized concert pianist whose love life is interesting to say the least. He was first married to Mika Muller (Isabelle Huppert), the owner of a chocolate company before he left her for Lisbeth, the mother of his son Guillaume. When Mika dies in an automobile accident, he finds himself back in Mika’s arms and they’re soon married.

Guillaume is listless and doesn’t care for anything, while André abuses sleeping pills and ignores Mika. When a potential student Jeanne (Anna Mouglalis) arrives, she sees bad intentions in everyone. And as for her, she may be André’s daughter. And as for Mika, she may have murdered Lisbeth and is definitely poisoning Guillaume with the hot chocolate she serves him every night.

Shot in the home of David Bowie, Chabrol found himself turning to Hitchcock while making this film, if the poison-laced hot chocolate is any indication, as it’s so close to the arsenic coffee from Notorious.

John Waters selected this movie in his top ten films for 2002, saying “It’s her again. Isabelle Huppert poisons her family, and Claude Chabrol tells her how to do it with cinematic perfection.”

He’s right. If you ever need to cast a dispassionate murderess, always go with Isabelle Huppert.

Twisting The Knife: Four Films By Claude Chabrol comes with high definition Blu-ray presentations of all four films, as well as new 4K restorations of The Swindle, The Color of Lies and The Flower of Evil. You also get an 80-page collector’s booklet of new writing by Sean Hogan, Brad Stevens, Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Pamela Hutchinson, as well as limited edition packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella.

Nightcap offers new commentary by film critic Justine Smith, a new visual essay by film critic Scout Tafoya, interviews with Isabelle Huppert and Jacques Dutronc, behind-the-scenes, a screen test for Anna Mouglalis, an introduction by film scholar Joël Magny, a trailer, an image gallery and select scene commentaries by Claude Chabrol.

You can get Twisting The Knife: Four Films By Claude Chabrol from MVD.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 23: The Watcher (2000)

I’ve heard two stories of how Keanu Reeves ended up in this movie.

The first is that a friend forged his signature on the contract to be in this film and he did it rather than get involved in a lengthy legal battle.

The second is that Reeves was playing hockey with director Joe Charbanic and verbally agreed to play a small role in the film in order for Charbanic to get the movie funded. The problem was that his role ended up being one of the leads.

Regardless of the truth, Reeves was paid union scale for the movie while his co-stars like James Spader were paid at least a million.

The actor reached an agreement with Universal Pictures in which he would not disclose what had happened until a year after the film’s US release. In return, Universal agreed to downplay Reeves’s involvement in marketing (he did no press) and asked the film’s producers to give Reeves more profit participation. Since the movie was in first place for two weeks, he ended up making $2 million dollars.

A year later, he told the Calgary Sun “I never found the script interesting, but a friend of mine forged my signature on the agreement. I couldn’t prove he did and I didn’t want to get sued, so I had no other choice but to do the film.”

So when critics — like the aforementioned Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, who said, “Short of getting Angela Lansbury or Rodney Dangerfield or Lassie for the part, the miscasting could not be more complete. Keanu is profoundly wrong as a serial killer.” — hated this movie and Keanu was nominated at the Razzie awards for Worst Supporting Actor, he still honored the agreement.

FBI Special Agent Joel Campbell (Spader) was too late to save a woman from a serial killer, so he leaves for Chicago, where he deals with migraines and has just one friend, his therapist Dr. Polly Beilman (Marisa Tomei). But when a girl dies in his building and the photos get mailed to him, obviously the killer has followed him. Despite FBI Special Agent Mike Ibby (Ernie Hudson) and Detective Hollis Mackie (Chris Ellis) asking him to come back, he wants to avoid the case.

Then, David Allen Griffin (Reeves) sends him a photo of another girl and tells him that if he doesn’t save her in nine hours, she’ll die. He keeps repeating this game with the detective, telling him that he considers him a good friend. And when he takes Beilman, he really gets to Campbell.

At least it has “Roads” by Portishead on the soundtrack.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 17: For All Time (2000)

One of my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone is “A Stop at Willoughby,” perhaps because it’s about advertising. Then again, it’s also about nostalgia and the pull of better times, which we all feel as we grow old.

Charles Lattimer (Mark Harmon) is an ad guy facing the gears of the business wearing him down, all while his marriage to Kristen (Catherine Hicks) is nearing its end. Every day, he rides the train and when the conductor (Bill Cobbs) gives him a pocket watch, he’s able to go past the sprawl and into Willoughby in the 1890s. That’s where he finds purpose and discovers that the illustration that he’s based his new campaign around came from his own pen. And oh yes, there’s new love with Laura Brown (Mary McDonnell).

As always, I prefer the much tighter original, as this has too much fluff and too happy an ending. Director Steven Schachter and writer Vivienne Radkoff have mostly made TV movies, but they turn in a fine film here, even if it’s not really necessary.

MILL CREEK BLU RAY RELEASE: The Skulls, The Skulls II and The Skulls III (2000, 2002, 2004)

The Skulls* (2000): Sure, it’s set in Yale, but that’s Toronto, but otherwise, this is about the Skulls and Bones Society but they’re called the Skulls. Far be it from me to say it’s disinformation, but writer John Pogue (U.S. MarshallsRollerball and the just finished under the radar reimagining of Eraser; he also made Quarantine 2: Terminal and Deep Blue Sea 3) went to Yale, so either he knows something or he just lucked into three movies out of this idea.

Lucas John “Luke” McNamara  (Joshua Jackson) grew up an orphan on the wrong side of the tracks but he still made into Yale on a rowing scholarship which is totally a thing. His only friends are his girlfriend Chloe (Leslie Bibb) and his friend Will (Hill Harper), yet he’s still invited to join one of Yale’s secret societies, the titular Skulls, and made a soulmate with Caleb Mandrake (Paul Walker), a legacy whose father Judge Litten Mandrake (Craig T. Nelson) is still very involved in Skulls business, along with Senator Ames Levritt (William Petersen) and provost Martin Lombard (Christopher McDonald, who is, always, Shooter McGavin).

As you can imagine, the Skulls are so connected that they run the cops, the courts, the government, pretty much anywhere rich people are. They kill Will when he gets too close to exposing their secrets and is killed, which pits Skull brother against Skull brother, Skull father against Skull son and Skull boyfriend against non-Skull girlfriend.

Director Rob Cohen didn’t go to Yale, but he did go to Harvard and Amherst. He followed this movie up with The Fast and the Furious and XXX, so maybe he did have something to do with that whole secret society making its members wealthy thing. Then again, he followed those up with Stealth and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, so maybe he wasn’t in all that tight.

Also, if you ever saw the 1970 TV movie The Brotherhood of the Bell, you may have already seen this movie.

*You can read our original review of this movie here.

The Skulls II (2002): Joe Chappelle is well-regarded for episodes of CSI: NYCSI: Miami and The Wire, but he made this back in 2002, a direct-to-video sequel to the original movie.

Star Robin Dunne, who plays Ryan Sommers, seems to take over for Joshua Jackson in direct-to-video sequels, what with him showing up in Cruel Intentions 2 (and yes, I own it; I am a self-professed sequel lover). He and his best friend Jeff (Christopher Ralph, who was in the Animorphs series) get picked for the Skulls; Jeff is super down, Ryan less so as his older brother Greg (James Gallanders) was a member and it’ll take time away from his demanding girlfriend Ali (Ashley Tesoro).

Ryan and Jeff are punished when a prank goes wrong and end up cleaning the attic of the Skulls’ headquarters, which gives them the perfect view to see senior Skull member Matt “Hutch” Hutchison (Aaron Ashmore) and field hockey team captain Diana Rollins (Margot Gagnon) partying on the roof and that party ends with her falling to her death. But is it real? Or just another part of the initiation?

Ryan’s research ends up taking him to the parents of Will Beckford from the first film who reveal how the Skulls killed their son. Then, his brother is fired from his lawyer job (do the Skulls own The Firm?) and Ali accuses him of assaulting her. Luckily, he can trust Kelly (Lindy Booth) and the two of them — along with Greg — work to undermine the secret society.

This movie may have been Michele Colucci-Zieger’s only writing credit, but her co-writer Hans Rodionoff wrote the two Lost Boys sequels (I have no idea how I haven’t gotten to those yet) and Deep Blue Sea 2.

The Skulls 3 (2004): Taylor Brooks (Clare Kramer, Glory from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is a legacy of the Skulls, as her father Martin (Karl Pruner) and dead brother were both members. Now, she wants to challenge the group and be the first female member, which is a great hook for the story as it’s literally an old boy’s club.

This whole thing has a kinda, sorta giallo structure in that we see the cops trying to solve the case as we arrive in the middle of the story and see flashbacks. Her boyfriend Ethan (Shaun Sipos) also tried to join and was just plain embarrassed that a woman would try to join, so she decides that she totally has to join and I’m all for it.

This is the only full length film that J. Miles Dale has directed, but he’s produced several of Guillermo del Toro’s projects. Written by Joe Johnson, who also scribed Don’t Hang Up, this has one major advantage and it’s Barry Bostwick as the evil elder Skull that puts the whole plot in motion just to advance the military-industrial complex, so they’ve moved on from killing JFK to intimidating high school girls and their absentee fathers.

That said, I liked this way more than I should have. But traditionally I am easy on later sequels of movies I didn’t like so much in the first place, kind of like the kid brothers of bullies that beat me up. We have something in common, as we’ve both had to deal with the older sibling in similar, if different ways, so there’s some kinship. Or when I should beat them up, I realize that the circle of violence — or dunking on bad movies — can stop with me and I can try to find something to like.

You can get all three of The Skulls movies on one blu ray from Mill Creek. While there aren’t any extras, you do get every movie for a low price and can have them in one set, saving you room on your overflowing shelves. Am I speaking to myself? Because trust me, I spent an hour or more today just trying to rearrange things. You can get this from Deep Discount.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Paula-Paula (2000)

An exotic dancer named Paula (Paula Davis, Al Pereira vs. the Alligator Ladies) is dead and her lover Paula (Carmen Montes, Snakewoman) may be the killer. But who is good, who is evil, what is desire and what is pure madness?

This “audio-visual experience” is a Jess Franco movie through and through, yet it’s one with a score by Austrian pianist/composer Friedrich Gulda and plenty of video effects, as well as the strange knowledge that it’s based on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Perhaps Paula has tried to kill Paula five times already. It’s something that her doctor (Lina Romay in her last movie) tries to get the answers about, except that you know, the story is the first five minutes and then fifty minutes of sapphic interludes with video effects.

George Lucas made three horrible prequels and endlessly fiddled with the movies that were successes until even his fanbase started to tire of his meddling before selling it all and then complaining about it. As for Franco, he kept making and remaking the same films until he was in a wheelchair and left to just make movies filled with nothingness and ennui within four walls and filled with smaller casts. Yet I’d be on the side of Franco being the bigger success — certainly not monetarily, oh no, there’s no way we can go to Target and get a Perverse Countess or Red Lips or Dr. Orloff action figure — artistically because he kept shooting for an unreachable ideal yet started from scratch every time instead of resigning his paintings. The similarity is that both of these directors really should have been kept away from wacky transitions and digital special effects.

Then again, no character in Star Wars ever is a memory-loss impaired woman who marries a prince and then kills him when she recognizes his palace belongs to the devil. Then again, Franco referred to this as one of the two or three weirdest movies he made, so you can just imagine what that means.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Helter Skelter (2000)

Helter Skelter Part One: Pleasure and Pain never had a sequel and we’re probably better off for that. This feels like you walked into a bar and saw Franco hunched over a bar stool while his lady love Lina Romay is whispering in his ear and he says to you, “Mi esposa y yo te vimos desde el otro lado del bar.”

One of Franco’s One Shot Productions — a name that makes more sense than it should — this is around an hour of so of images inspired by de Sade, but mainly Jess telling Lina what he wants to see while Casio music and video effects have their way with her. This makes me feel like someone discussing gonzo porn — how many ways can you describe the same acts over and over again?

Franco used the directing alias Clifford Brown Jr. and the David J. Khunne writing alias, but I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he does much of either in this other than de Sade writings being spoken over nude flesh and Alfonso Azpiri paintings.

As for the other actresses, Mavi Tienda was also in Franco’s Broken Dolls, which is probably where so much of this footage was taken from. Analía Ivars was in The Panther Squad, as well as Franco’s Lust for Frankenstein and Dr. Wong’s Virtual Hell. Rachel Sheppard was in the same Franco movies from this era, including Jess Franco’s Perversion and Jess Franco’s Passion. And actor Exequiel Cohen? He’s in ten or so Franco movies like Killer Barbys vs. DraculaSnakewomanRed SIlk and Blind Target.

I really wish this was more than a Franco home movie. But it is what it is.

Another Heaven (2000)

Tough old cop Inspector Tobitaga (Yoshio Harada) and young Inspector Manabu (Yosuke Eguchi) are on the case of brutal murders that start with a missing brain being found boiling in a stew and everything just gets weirder from there, because the killer can change bodies, so he or she can be anyone.

It’s a great idea — see The Hidden and Fallen — and this would be a much better movie with some trimming. I mean, 130 minutes is a long time and I apologize for my attention span, but I wanted a little more.

That said, the call girl killer for the first half of the film is quite sinister, packing plenty of murderous intensity into her small size. Between this and Audition, I imagine that Western boys who are obsessed with Japanese girls will always have horrible death in the back of their heads.

The Darkness Beyond (2000)

A copy of the Necronomicon — the fake book* that H.P. Lovecraft used for his book — has brought dark forces to our plane and allowed them to wage war against humanity within the bodies of their long-dead family and friends.

The Darkness Beyond — also known as L’altrove — was one I found on a list of Italian movies made after the days of Filmirage. Shot on digital video by director and writer Ivan Zuccon — who followed this with Unknown Beyond — this has a lot of style despite its budget and untrained cast. Zuccon has continuted making Lovecraft-themed movies like Colour from the Dark and Herbert West: Re-Animator.

Look — it’s not perfect. It’s not anywhere near the visions of Fulci or Bava, but I’m excited that Italian filmmakers — yeah, I realize that this is 22 years old, but Zuccon has a movie in production now — are still out there making movies.

*Two members of the Magickal Childe scene — a New York City book store that was the major focal point for American magic/magick from the 70’s until the 90’s — Khem Caigan (the Necronomicon‘s illustrator) and Alan Cabal claimed that the book is a known hoax. My theory has always been that Peter Levenda, an occult author who wrote the book Unholy Alliance, is Simon, as the copyright notice for this book is in his name.

The Prophecy 3: The Ascent (2000)

Joel Soisson didn’t just produce this one, he also wrote it, and worked with director Patrick Lussier (Dracula 2000Drive Angry) to wrap up the trilogy of The Prophecy but yeah, there were two more movies to go.

That said, this does a fine job of changing things up, as now Gabriel (Christopher Walken) is protecting the half-human, half-angel Danyael Rosales — the child ready to be born in the last movie — from Pyriel the Angel of Genocide who wants to destroy every one of the human monkeys.

There’s Steve Hytner showing up again as the coroner, who unleashes this astounding display of scriptwriting: “Look. I’ve had four gutted hermaphrodites burn to black pitch right under my nose. I’ve had one cop, my best friend, driven insane by the angels shrieking in his head…before somehow spontaneously combusting in a madhouse he had mistaken for a monastery. A pretty young woman, now dead, knocked up by a stranger who left her three months pregnant in only 48 hours. And just yesterday, a young man, allegedly her son, shot up six ways to sundown, crawled out of a drawer and waltzed out like Lazarus. So yeah. I’m pretty much open to a buffet of possibilities.”

While I wish that the series ended here, I get that the 90s demanded an endless release schedule of direct to video horror. I know that the temptation to keep these series going was high, so if there were five Prophecy movies, I guess that’s how it had to be.