MILL CREEK DVD RELEASE: Through the Decades: 2000s Collection: The Emperor’s Club (2002)

Based on Ethan Canin’s short story “The Palace Thief”, The Emperor’s Club is about a prep school teacher named William Hundert (Kevin Kline) and his students at St. Benedict’s Academy near America’s capitol.

Hundert is dealing with a problem student named Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch in younger days, Joel Gretsch), a senator’s son who could care less about his education. The teacher take an interest in the young man and even raises his grades — a conflict of ethics — to keep him encouraged and so that he can participate in the school’s annual Mr. Julius Caesar contest, in which the top three students compete in a quiz. During that contest, it is apparent that Sedgewick has help from the headmaster and already has the questions. Even though he loses to Deepak Mehta (Rishi Mehta as a teen, Rahul Khanna as an adult), their friendship never comes back. The senator’s son goes back to his old ways and barely graduates.

Twenty-five years later, Sedgewick is running to be a senator and says that he will make a big donation to the school if the entire class — including the person who should have been in the contest, Martin Blythe (Paul Dano in the past, Steven Culp in the present) — comes to his resort hotel for another Mr. Julius Ceasar challenge. Nothing has changed, as Sedgewick has an earpiece to get all the answers.

The teacher must now reveal to his old student what he did and deal with whether or not his career as an educator had any impact. As the son of teachers, this scene really resonated with me.

I’d never choose to watch this movie, so that’s why I love these Mill Creek decades sets. I came away really enjoying this film.

The Mill Creek Through the Decades: 2000s Collection has some great movies for a great price like Nurse BettyOne Night at McCool’sSpy GameThe Shape of Things, 21 Grams, Baby Mama, State of PlayThe Hitcher and Cry Wolf. You can order it from Deep Discount.

Arnold Week: Collateral Damage (2002)

This film about terrorism was originally scheduled to be released on October 5, 2001, but it was obviously postponed after 9/11 and released on February 8, 2002. The original cut had Sofía Vergara hijack an airplane; this was also cut from the film.

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Captain Gordon Brewer, a firefighter hunting down the Colombian terrorists who killed his wife Anne and son Matt when a bomb blows up in the plaza of the Colombian Consulate building in Los Angeles.

Claudio “El Lobo” Perrini (Cliff Curtis) is the man behind the bomb attack and even his wife Selena (Francesca Neri, yes, the daughter of Rosalba) is starting to see that perhaps her husband is just as into killing Americans as he is making a political message. Or so it seems…

Brewer is now in Colombia making his own improvised bomb strikes, much to the displeasure of Peter Brandt (Elias Koteas), the head of the CIA in the country. Can Brewer get the revenge he needs so badly? Or is he part of the problem? When is too much enough?

Directed by Andrew Davis (Under SiegeThe Fugitive) and written by Ronald Roose (who edited Easy MoneyMy Demon Lover and House Arrest) and David and Petter Griffiths, this casts Arnold as an everyman when we want Arnold to be Arnold. It takes almost the entire movie to get there, but when he electrocutes terrorists, bites off ears and dispatches a villain with an axe, you’ll be pleased while wondering why we didn’t get this from the beginning.

Crocodile 2: Death Swamp (2002)

Flat Dog survived, her egg hatched, some criminals have crash landed in her swamp and Tobe Hooper is long gone. I guess, umm…Martin Kove is in it? Is that reason enough to watch it?

Gary Jones, who made Escape from Death Block 13 and Boogeyman 3, directed this film and it’s fine in a SyFy kind of movie way. Jace Anderson, who wrote it, was also on scripted duties for Mortuary (the 2005 Tobe Hooper one), the remake of Night of the Demons, the remake of Toolbox Murders (also Tobe Hooper) and Mother of Tears, sometimes teaming with co-writer Adam Gierasch. You know who else scripted this? Boaz Davison. Yes, the man who made Lemon Popsicle and The Last American Virgin.

How they never made a third one is a miracle to me.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Junesploitation 2022: Fungicide (2002)

June 9: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie— is monsters! We’re excited to tackle a different genre every day, so check back and see what’s next.

David Wascavage is probably best known for Suburban Sasquatch, but before that movie, he made this berserk film that is all about a scientist named Silas Purcell (David Weldon) whose parents (played by Loretta and Edward Wascavage, the director’s mom and dad) send him to a bed and breakfast to try and calm down. He brings his work — trust me, I get it — and ends up transforming the woods around the home of Jade Moon (Mary Wascavage, who also wrote the movie with David) into a killing field populated by mushrooms who live on human meat.

Also staying at the B&B are overly stressed and roided out pro wrestler Tony Ignitus (the much beloved Dave Bonavita) and a smarmy real estate agent named Jackson P. Jackson (Dave Wascavage, getting into his own movie), as well as a survivalist named Major Wang (Wes Miller).

By the end of the movie, hundreds of mushrooms of all shapes and sizes have taken over and the only weapon that destroys them is balsamic vinegar, a fact that made me laugh so loudly and for so long that I lost consciousness.

There’s also a moment where a humanoid mushroom vomits a human skeleton, which is everything that I want movies to be. I also absolutely love that every time someone encounters one of these mushrooms for the first time, they think they’re cute and try to pet them, which always goes bad.

More movies should be less concerned about video fidelity and more about having fun. This film proves it.

You can watch this on Tubi.

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.

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: Incubus (2002)

How many times can Jess Franco make a movie? Well, this time, he’s taken Lorna the Exorcist in the midst of his video era, so if you saw that, you already know the twist and I can spoil it. And if you didn’t, maybe go watch that.

Johan (Carsten Frank) is a successful artist whose surreal work has made him rich, but that’s all because of Lorna (Fata Morgana, Vampire Junction), a mystery woman that he made a deal with back when they had a BDSM relationship twenty years ago. You know how it goes, right?

One night, when she had Johan at the literal edge of orgasm, she made him promise his daughter to her, like some kind of carnal Rumpelstiltskin, a fact that his wife Rosa (Lina Romay) has no idea about and that his adult daughter Lucy (Carina Palmer, The Profane Exhibit) is about to discover for herself.

Let me tell you, these One Shot Franco films are dangerous territory. They’ll make you wish for the quality of his 70s films, which often make you pine for the quality of his 60s films. Maybe even his 80s and 90s films. But yet I made this infernal plan to watch as many of his movies all in one month and you know, I can still find things to love here, like the weird masks and that moment that happens in all his later movies where he just decides to stop telling a story and concentrate on long synth songs that have women rub all over each other in slow motion, as he rubs his hands together and says, “You’ve come back for more, hmm?”

Man, Franco sure got some mileage out of that Daniel Brown music from The Perverse Countess.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Killer Barbys vs. Dracula (2002)

The Killer Barbies — remember when they did Killer Barbys with Franco? — play Tivoli World, which was the largest theme park in Costa del Sol, a Wild West-themed place that sadly closed due to the coronavirus in 2020.

They’re soon met by two Russians — Irina (Lina Romay) and Ivan — who have brought the dead body of Dracula for the theme park. But after hearing the band play — and look, let’s be honest, if you were a vampire and Silvia Superstar was performing in front of your coffin, you’d rise from the grave too — Dracula is back and the park’s owners call in Dr. Seward, a vampire killer, as the undead lord of the manor of Carpathia starts killing everyone.

You know, I kind of like the music of the Barbys and they even play that song “Candy” that Iggy Pop and Kate Pearson did. It’s all pretty silly. That said, it’s a lot of fun. Carmen Montes from Snakewoman does some dancing and Katja Bienert from Linda and Eugenie (Historia de una perversión) is in this too, which makes me super happy. In fact, let’s just all live in this world, where there’s amusement park rides, silly horror pop and goofy Dracula running around.

Dark Water (2002)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxld

Yoshimi Matsubara (Japanese soap opera star Hitomi Kuroki) is involved in a bitter custody battle with her ex-husband over their 6-year-old daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno.) While a decision is being made on the matter, Yoshimi and Ikuko move into a run-down apartment building and attempt to build a new life. At first, things seem fine save for the annoying leaky ceiling in the bedroom. As time passes, the leak gets worse and Ikuko starts talking to an imaginary friend named Mitsuko. 

It is soon revealed that Mitsuko (Mirei Oguchi) is the ghost of a missing child who used to live in the apartment upstairs. It appears she has returned to take Ikuko away from Yoshimi who tries to protect her daughter at all costs. 

Mother Yoshimi has some childhood abandonment issues of her own stemming from her own parents’ split. She wants nothing more than to be an excellent mother to Ikuko, and to keep them together. When the story of Mitsuko’s own maternal abandonment comes to light, Yoshimi realizes to her horror that it’s not Ikuko’s company, which Mitsuko desires, but her own. Ikuko is simply in the way. Yoshimi must choose between being Ikuko’s mother and Mitsuko’s. Her decision fulfills the needs of both children.

 Dark Water shares many characteristics of Hideo Nakata’s other hit film Ringu with a better screenplay. Mitsuko is given plenty of backstory within the two-hour running time. She is a tragic and potentially dangerous spirit who serves as a metaphor for Yoshimi’s own inner child. It took Nakata two films to accomplish the same depth of character with Ringu’s Sadako. Also, where Ringu ended on an anticlimactic note with the curse continuing, Dark Water has a satisfying, albeit melancholy, conclusion that takes place ten years after the events. It’s a very cathartic film and will probably have more of an emotional impact on viewers who come from divorced families. Nobody from the golden era of J-horror knows how to build quiet tension the way Nakata does. Through his skill as a director and the convincing performance of lead Hitomi Kuroki, something innocuous as a child’s book bag becomes ominous and terrifying. Sound effects and music play a big part in the chilling mood of the film and the scene where Mitsuko pounds on the inside of the water tank was as effective a use of them as any I’ve ever seen. 

Skip the bland American remake with Jennifer Connelly. Do yourself a favor and see the Arrow Video subtitled DVD instead. It’s an engaging and emotional thriller with a low body count and high intellect. For a dive down the creepy coincidence rabbit hole, watch Joe Berlinger’s Crime Scene: The Vanishing at The Cecil Hotel documentary after Dark Water. The similarities between Mitsuko’s death and the case of Elisa Lam are eerily similar.  

American Psycho 2 (2002)

Morgan J. Freeman is not Morgan Freeman. He directed this movie, then went on to produce Laguna Beach, 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom.

But this movie…

I had no idea that there was a sequel to American Psycho, much less that the movie wasn’t originally intended to even be a sequel. It was a script titled The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die and it wasn’t until production began that the film’s script was altered with the incorporation of Patrick Bateman.

In fact, Bret Easton Ellis – the author of the book — claimed that Lions Gate wanted to include a serial killer subplot in their adaption of his book The Rules of Attraction and he turned them down, so this was the movie that resulted.

So yeah, remember that Patrick Bateman? The guy who we were left wondering is he or isn’t he a serial killer? Well, this movie forgets all that nonsense by starting with him on a date with lead character Rachael Newman’s (Mila Kunis) babysitter. While the 12-year-old is in the other room, Bateman kills her and dissects her. But Rachael turns the tables by stabbing him with an icepick.

Now, she’s nearly all grown up and studying criminology in the class of former FBI agent Professor Starkman. That’s part of her insanely obsessive path to becoming an agent herself. And he’s played by William Shatner and our protagonist is in love with him, so if the idea of a 71-year-old Kirk being pursued by a 19-year-old Jackie, well then this is the movie for you.

Kunis attempted to stop production of American Psycho III, saying in an interview, “Please — somebody stop this. Write a petition. When I did the second one, I didn’t know it would be American Psycho II. It was supposed to be a different project, and it was re-edited, but, ooh..”

It’s astounding that this exists, that it has at least two well-known actors and that so few people are talking about it. Also, it has a cat get microwaved and despite how much I usually enjoy Kunis, I struggled through this one.