Torque (2004)

We gleaned over this biker flick as part of our “Exploring: The Clones of the Fast & the Furious” featurette during our first “Fast & Furious Week” back in August. And since John Doe shows up as tough-ass sheriff, we decided to bring it back with a review proper for our “John Doe Week.”

That’s right. If you have a hankering for a movie that stars one of the guys from N.W.A and one of the guys from the Los Angeles punk band X — then this is your movie.

That’s not your rods n’ cones, that’s the copy. The guys who made the Fast and the Furious, XXX, and S.W.A.T made this.

Now, if this Ice Cube-fronted two-wheeler sounds a lot like the Laurence Fishburne-fronted Biker Boyz, you’re probably right, as both films went into production at the same time. But the better known Ice Cube John Doe one was concocted by the production team of the Fast & Furious franchise. And Dreamworks wanted some of that Warners Bros. F&F stank on the screen, so they came up with their quickie mockbuster knockoff, got it?

So, is this The Fast and the Furious . . . only on motorcycles? Well, do you see any Torque sequels on your streaming service? No, you don’t. And that’s what happens when you get a $45 million box-office return on your $40 million investment: for Torque is one of those films where its performances, writing, and direction are slagged across the board . . . but everyone praises the stunts — so much so that it was nominated for several Taurus Awards.

Taking its cues from those juvenile delinquency films of the ‘50s and ’60s, the Sharks and the Jets the Hellions and the Reapers are illegal street racing-cum-biker gangs that compete on the two-lane blacktop and in the crystal meth business. And one of those members of makes the mistake of returning from Thailand to set things straight with his estranged girlfriend. Is any one woman worth it? Apparently so: for when she’s kidnapped for leverage, her ransom is the delivery of two bikes filled with crystal meth because, well, illegal racers always deal meth to finance their bike builds. Complicating problems is yet another gang member who wants our on-the-run biker wusspud from Thailand for the murder of his brother.

Damn right our favorite punk bassist steals his scene/courtesy of backgroundartist.tumblr.com.

Along the way, Joe Doe shows up as the bad ass Sheriff Barner. Oh, and the always badass Dave Wyndorf and Monster Magnet appear in a club scene to perform “Monster of Light” from their sixth album Monolithic Baby! (2004) — which did nothing to place the song on Top 40 Active Rock charts. So, we’ll give Torque bonus points, not only for quenching our John Doe jonesin’, but for giving Wyndorf a line and letting him kick a little ass, and for ripping off George Romero’s Knightriders with a sword-jousting scene that inspired us to watch Knightriders, again.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Prey for Rock & Roll (2004)

In 2002, long time L.A. rocker Cheri Lovedog found critical acclaim for her stage play Prey for Rock & Roll which had a successful run at New York’s famed rock club CBGBs. This caught the attention of film producer and music consultant Alex Steyermark (Hedwig and the Angry Itch), who was searching for a film to break him as a first time director. Lovedog’s self-professed “rock n’ roll love letter” to the L.A. club scene stars Gina Gershon (who got her start in Girls Just Want To Have Fun with Helen Hunt, found acclaim in Bound, and while great in it, deserves better than Showgirls) as a 40-year-old tattoo artist and rocker deep in a mid-life crisis, wondering how much longer she can deal with the struggles of keeping her band together.

Starring as the Clam Dandies (since it’s an all-girl band, read into it) are Drea Dematteo (HBO’s The Sapranos) as terminally-stoned bassist Tracy, Laura Petty (Tank Girl) as Faith, and (the awesome; yeah he’s from Pittsburgh, baby) Marc Blucas (TV’s Buffy) as “Animal” the roadie. Shelly Cole (Madeline Lynn from TV’s Gilmore Girls) impresses with her drum skills; she hits all the right notes as one of the best “film” drummers out there. Petty fakes it well, while Dematteo knows her way around the neck and Gershon, who didn’t play a note before the film, blows the doors off with her power chords. The soundtrack composed by Cheri Lovedog — and sung by Gina Gershon — features an alternative-rock super group of the Lunachick’s guitarist Gina Volpe, bassist Sara Lee of Gang of Four, and later of the B-52s, and Hole drummer Samantha Maloney.

To promote the picture on the festival circuit, Gina took to the road with the Washington D.C. punk outfit Girls vs. Boys (aka GvsB, they provided “Kill the Sex Player” to Kevin’s Smith’s Clerks) as her backing band, which was chronicled in the IFC Cable Series Gina Gerhson: Rocked. Cheri Lovedog compiled the feature documentary Hollywood Trash & Tinsel on the making of the film. Musician Stephen Trask, who also worked on Hedwig and the Angry Itch alongside Alex Steyermark, produced the soundtrack.

Astute viewers will notice the footage of X in the film’s opening refrains originates from The Decline of Western Civilization. Fans of the Lunachick’s can watch Gina Volpe’s bandmate Theo Kagan in Live Freaky, Die Freaky (a seriously f’d up animated puppet movie where, in a distant future, a cult forms around the Manson Family and Charles Manson is mistaken as a Jesus-messiah; the film also stars the voices of the members of Green Day and the Go-Gos). Lovedog’s other films include 2010’s All American Gender Outlaw and Go Hard or Go Home, a 2012 document on the indie band Devil Dolls MC. Alex Steyermark made another rock n’ roll flick, the indie ’80s rock tale, Losers Take All, which, despite Kevin Smith’s involvement, failed at the box office and VHS shelves.

During the film’s initial stages, Joan Jett was involved in the soundtrack’s production, but left early on due to the usual “artistic differences”; Linda Perry of Pink and 4 Non Blondes (“What Going On?”; their cover of Van Halen’s “I’m the One” appears in Airheads) stepped in (it is also said Jett was to star in the Gershone role, but had issues with the script). However, as you can see from Gina Gershon’s look and tone, Joan definitely left her mark on the film — in many ways Gershon’s Jacki harkens Jett’s own Patti Rasnick in 1987’s Light of Day.

As with any rock flick that isn’t a splashy, A-List bioflick of the Jim Morrison, Johnny Cash, or Ray Charles variety, the critical — both professional and general movie goer — response was, as with Light of Day, lukewarm. Many reviews, while praising the costuming and set design, and calling out Gershon’s dead-on portrayal of a failed, disillusioned rocker, dropped the word “soap opera” in their reviews in regards to the endless stream of bad luck befallen the band (e.g., a band member’s rape; another’s death by car accident; a recording deal falling through because Jacki didn’t “put out” for the record executive) that came across as “phony.”

As someone who experienced this life as radio jock dealing with local bands, as a roadie for said bands, and bassist myself, I can attest that Alex Steyermark’s directorial debut is a commendable first effort that ranks up there with Paul Schrader’s Light of Day as one of the most accurate portrayals of a struggling rock band; Steyermark pulls back the curtain on a musician’s love of rock ‘n’ roll clashing with their family and relationship obligations. Yes, most struggling musician’s lives are a hot mess — just like in this movie.

The film’s soundtrack has also taken its share of critical hits; many critqued the music as “awful.” Personally, I enjoyed Lovedog’s music for the film, which serves as a sort of “greatest hits/best of” compilation of her life’s work. Not to say that the music was purposefully composed as “bad” for dramatic effect or that Lovedog can’t write — but isn’t that the point? It is one thing to love music: it’s another thing to be able to write it . . . and yet another to write it successfully. So, if you’re watching the film for the first time, and you think the music “sucks,” it should only lend to your appreciation of the film as a whole and in your understanding of why many, many local bands — no matter how hard they try — never make it.

This film is a must watch. The soundtrack is a must listen. Do it. And stick around for the band flyer-inspired end credits. The film — as well as the soundtrack — is readily and easily available in the online marketplace with VOD streams on a wide variety of platforms. Vignettes from the film and its music abound on You Tube to enjoy.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls (2004)

Captain Maximus Powers (B&S About Movies mainstay Eric Roberts) and co-pilot Mike Saunders (Charlie Schlatter, 16 years after 18 Again!) have crash-landed with a planeful of beauty pageant winners. The island they’re on? Well, it has a monster on it called Jurassic Pork — a gigantic pig — and Wahlberg-era Planet of the Apes who are making their own Ark.

This also has Playboy’s Fiftieth Anniversary Playmate Colleen Shannon, Miss Puerto Rico 1998 Joyce Giraud, Allie Moss, Janna Giacoppo, Popi Ardissone (Vampyre Femmes), Blythe Metz (Jacqueline Hyde), Baywatch’s Brande Roderick, Price Is Right model Gabrielle Tuite, Stuart Pankin as Noah, Evan “Joe Millionaire” Marriott, a Pope John Paul the Second impersonator and cameos from Pat Morita and Bernie Kopell from Love Boat.

Wait — so why is this article running during a week of music movies? Read on.

That’s because Michael Jackson — yes, the real one, not an effect or someone in makeup — appears as Agent MJ of the Vatican, who appears as a hologram out of a droid. All of his scenes were shot in his Neverland Ranch home and his appearance is why this movie went unreleased for so long.

How was this movie made? Why was this movie made? Why would Michael Jackson appear in what is essentially a Scary Movie level movie about a reality dating show?

Who can say? All I know is that I’ve watched it. Experience it. And decided to tell you about it. It’s not good, trust me. But it’s definitely something to talk about.

Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood (2004)

Way back in 1897, a man named Dumas (Mark Bedell) loses his sister Roxanne (Kennedy Johnson, Tomb of the Werewolf) to the fangs of Diana Ruthven (Gloria Anne-Gilbert, who hosted a series of releases as Morella Ghost Hostess with the Mostest, including House of EvilThe Blood SeekersDisciple of DeathBlood Vision and Terror In the Crypt). Turning to Padre Jacinto (yep, Paul Naschy, in America no less), they use a cross, Holy Water, a Bible and a silver stake to take out Rebecca, Diana and her brother Lord Ruthven (Arthur Roberts, Not of This Earth), which empowers the priest to stay alive until the evil of vampires has been erased from our reality.

That’s right — Paul Naschy in his first American film and…well…it’s a soft-core porn pretty much. Now, the two vamps are after the reincarnation of their lost love — yes, they’re fine despite dying earlier — in a movie written and directed by Donald F. Glut (Tales of Frankenstein).

That’s because Count Dracula (Tony Clay, who has shown up in more than on of Glut’s movies) has sent his daughter Martine (Eyana Barsky) and thrall Renfield (Del Howiso, continuing the role from The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula, another Glut movie that has William Smith has Dracula) to pull that stake out and find the vampire’s bible.

The big issue is that the silver dagger has cursed Ruthven to never be able to drink human blood, a fact that he learns when he tries to suck the neck of a stripper named Lilith (she’s played by Lolane, who was in plenty of BDSM tease videos with great titles like Criminals Who Use Cholorform!). His sister has none of these worries, so she soon seduces the very same exotic dancer. All manner of sibling rivalry and sapphic shenanigans ensue.

Imagine a sub-par VCA vampire film — at least Ejacula has Lois Ayres, Patricia Kennedy and Rocco Siffredi in it — without the actual penetration and you have this. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that a vampire sex movie would be so boring, which is either me growing up — no, I screamed like a maniac every time Naschy was on screen, all eight minutes worth — and more that this is not a good movie.

If you want to see a much better Naschy vampire movie, check out Count Dracula’s Great Love.

PS: To further throw in some adult film references, Belinda Gavin is in this. She’s better known as Kylie Wyote in X-rated movies. There’s also a girl named Bella Donna who plays a hooker, but she is not Michelle Anne Sinclair, which would be amazing to have her in the same movie as Count Waldemar Daninsky.

Saw (2004)

After film school, Australians James Wan and Leigh Whannell wanted to make their own movie. Inspired by The Blair Witch Project and Pi, they wanted to make a low budget movie that took place with two characters in a room, unsure of how they got there, with a dead body between them that turns out to be alive.

While the title of the film came quickly, Jigsaw was not created until months later. Whannel had developed migraines from job-related anxiety, but worried that it was a brain tumor. This led him to think of a villain that knew he was dying soon and who would force others to quickly choose their fates.

They shot a seven-minute version of the bear trap on the face opening and shopped it around to studios as a team, with Wan as director, Whannell as an actor and both writing the movie.

While other entries became more “torture porn,” the first is more of a puzzle box. However, seeing as how the movie is on its upcoming ninth entry in sixteen years, you can see how it easily found a formula and stuck with it after this.

This first entry had a $1.2 million dollar budget and made $103.9 million at the box office, so you can see why they keep going back to this very bloody well. Not bad for a movie that was originally going straight-to-video.

Photographer Adam Stanheight (Whannel) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) wake up with their ankles chained to pipes and a dead body between them. They each have a tape in their pockets which tells Adam to escape and Lawrence to kill Adam or his wife Alison (Dina Meyer) and daughter Diana (Makenzie Vega) will die. That’s when the doctor realizes two things: the hacksaw in the room is meant for them to cut their own feet off to escape. And they’re dealing with the Jigsaw Killer.

Dr. Lawrence had been involved in the case of brain cancer patient John Kramer (Tobin Bell), who he helped clear of all charges. Detectives David Tapp (Danny Glover) and Steven Sing (Ken Leung) follow the path of Jigaw’s only survivor, former heroin addict Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) right into one of the killer’s traps.

It all leads back to the struggle of the two men, the corpse, an obsessed Detective Tapp, a man in a pig mask and a puppet.

As much as I was loath to watch these films, the first one isn’t all that bad. It certainly has style and it tells its story in a very tense, quick way. And hey, how you can fully dislike a film that has a puppet — much like Deep Red — and a killer with black gloves on? Wan would say, “A lot of people have said that Saw is similar in tone to Seven. But the biggest influence wasn’t a recent Hollywood thriller at all — it was the work of Dario Argento from the seventies.”

Bakko Yokaiden Kibakichi (2004)

Once, the Yokai and humans lived in peace, but as humanity grew wiser and more dependent on technology, they started taking the lands of the monsters and wiping them out. Now, the few supernatural creatures left have gone into hiding.

Kibakichi is one of their number, a ronin samurai werewolf who has as much in common with Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name as he does with Lon Chaney Jr.’s Larry Talbot.

He finds his way to a town run by demons who have started a gambling den that attracts humans who have no idea that their hosts are hidden behind magic. However, an army of humans who are actively wiping out Yokai are on their way, armed with near-modern weaponry despite the rest of this movie seeming as if it takes place in the feudal era.

This film has pretty much everything I want in one more: blood spraying in geysers, quiet and moody heroes, plenty of monsters and lots of fighting. It pretty much feels like one of those weird NES-era games like Kabuki Quantum Fighter come to life.

Imagine my delight when I learned that there is a sequel. Now who do I talk to about the Wolfguy and Kibakichi crossover?

Haven (2004)

“Can love survive the fall of paradise?” That’s what writer and director Frank E. Flowers tried to answer in this film, which saw a limited release in U.S. theaters in 2006.

It tells the story of Carl Ridley (Bill Paxton), who has run from his crimes to the Cayman Islands and taken his 18-year-old daughter Pippa (Agnes Bruckner, who played Kris Jenner in The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Anna Nicole Smith in The Anna Nicole Story) along to her extreme displeasure. Her dalliances with the seedy teens of the island end up getting her father in even more danger than he was back in Miami.

Meanwhile — yes, this is a parallel story and the movie was produced by the same people who made Crash — a man named Shy (Orlando Bloom) has fallen for Andrea (Zoë Saldaña), who is the daughter of his boss. However, her brother Hammer (Anthony Mackie, The Falcon from the Marvel Universe) hates that he’s taken her virginity, so he throws acid in Shy’s face.

All of these lives will intersect and no one will be the same again after one party on one night, which just so happens to take place on Friday the 13th. This movie is shot really well and if you’re looking for a spiraling soap opera narrative, it’s worth checking out.

You can purchase this on blu ray from the folks at MVD, who were kind enough to send us a review copy. It’s also available on Tubi.

Eyes of Crystal (2004)

Franco Ferrini, who wrote OperaPhenomenaNothing UnderneathDial: HelpThe Church and Sleepless (as well as many more films) joined up with Gabriella Blasi and director Eros Puglielli to turn the Luca Di Fulvio novel The Empailleur into a modern giallo.

While hunting a cultured, intelligent and vicious psychopath — yes, I realize that sounds like The Silence of the Lambs — Inspector Amaldi must face the moral decline of humanity and his own dark past.

A young couple and the pervert watching them have both been killed, leading Amaldi and his partner Freese down all manner of paths with no success. At the same time, a college student is being stalked and turns to the young inspector for help.

Amaldi struggles with his temper and the need to punish the guilty while slowly realizing that he is hunting a serial killer who is taking the parts of a doll and replacing the parts of his victims that he has taken away.

Unlike so many modern giallo that attempt to simply emulate the past and not move into the future, Eyes of Crystal pushes past comparisons to Se7en to become a movie worthy of its own study. The human doll is a sinister concept, as is what happened to a doll in the past. Unlike other giallo, the cops aren’t fumbling in the dark or buffoons. They’re also dealing with perhaps just as many demons as the killers they face every day.

Bonus genre points for casting Simon Andreu (Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above SuspicionDeath Walks on High Heels) as a dying cop also haunted by his past, which he remembers as an inferno that destroyed the orphanage where he grew up, a place that has just been robbed of some very peculiar surgical instruments.

If only this movie had reignited a trend that would lead us to more Italian thrillers quite this good!

Dumplings/Gau ji (2004)

Fruit Chan’s Dumplings is a masterpiece. It is also a film not for the faint of heart.

If you cringed when you watched Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final film, 1975’s Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom . . . if you experienced a case of vomit reflux at Tom Six’s The Human Centipede . . . this statement on how far one will steep into the Seven Deadly Sin for their own personal gain . . . well, there’s no cup of rice tea that will sooth your soul or stomach.

Written by multi-award winning and Oscar-nominated writer Lillian Lee (aka Pik Wah Lee) of 1993’s Fairwell My Concubine fame, Dumplings is a film that’s incorrectly lumped in with the J-Horror cycle. And it’s a film that will forever remain untouched by the American obsession to remake all things J-Horror to a lesser and lesser effect. There’s never going to be an Aunt Mei cycle of films competing with tales of Toshio (Ju-On, aka The Grudge) and Sadako (Ringu, aka The Ring). There’s no way to boil this this graphic-filled dough ball into a good ol’ red, white & blue banality snack, homogenized for the post-Saw “Hard-R” marketplace.

I’ve lost many a film geek debates analogizing the Hong Kong-boiled Dumplings as a neo-giallo film. But this is my film review and I hereby christen this film as Asian Giallo. For if Dario Argento was in his “Animal” and “Three Mothers” trilogy prime—today—and not creating films in the puritanical ’70s, Argento—and not Lillian Lee—would have created Aunt Mei’s ersatz Erzsébet Báthory, the 17th century Countess of Transylvania who created a personal youth elixir from the blood of virgins. (Then Maestro Dario would have screwed it up with some over-the-top volumed Iron Maiden tunes, then blamed the bloody hijinks on a monkey with a straight razor.)

Mrs. Li (multi-award winning actress and musician Miriam Yeung) is a former actress pushed to the limits of vanity by her vain, wealthy husband in an affair with his maseuse. To save her marriage, she seeks the services of Aunt Mei (Bai Ling, Southland Tales), an underground chef famous for her rejuvenating dumplings—and the secret ingredient is more than just blood.

And we’ll just leave it at that.

You can watch the short version of “Dumplings” as part of the Three . . . Extremes anthology on Shudder, but there’s a free-with-ads stream on FShareTV. You can stream the feature film version of Dumplings on Shudder. But if you’re not a Shudder member, you can watch 11 clips from the film that will give your the full story arc, courtesy of Movie Clips on You Tube.

This a must watch and must have for any horror movie hound’s collection. And it’s a giallo . . . damn it!

Update, November 2020: Bai Ling and Fruit Chan are back together — in a familiarly-themed film — in the 2019 Cantonese-Mardarin language drama The Abortionist. Nominated in the “Leading Actress” and “Best Director” categories for this year’s Golden Horse Awards held in Taiwan (in November), Ling stars as a Tai chi teacher with a secret life as a black-market abortionist. You’ll remember Ling won dual “Best Supporting Actress” awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards and Golden Horse Awards for Dumplings, Chan’s segment of the Three Extremes omnibus, in 2004.

Hopefully, Ling and Chan will win in their respective categories, which will encourage an American distributor to release The Abortionist in the Western-domestic marketplace. At the very lest, we’ll hopefully be able to see The Abortionist on the free-with-ads stream Tubi TV platform, which afforded us the opportunity to discover and enjoy the recent Asian-imports Daughter and 0.0 MHz. We’ve also recently reviewed Ling’s work in the fun retro, genre mash-up Exorcism at 60,000 Feet.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

The Calamari Wrestler (2004)

Kanichi Iwata is a wrestler who is suffering from a disease that turns him into a giant squid. Interestingly enough, he’s played by Osamu Nishimura, a wrestler who had already survived cancer. I’m a big fan of Nishimura, who is a proponent of the MUGA style of pro wrestling. This term translates into Selflessness and is the catch style that was used by Tatsumi Fujinami for a good portion of his career. That said, I never saw any wrestlers become mollusks in New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Eventually, the Calamari wrestler must battle Koji Taguchi, who is The Octopus Wrestler. He’s played by AKIRA, who is also known as Akira Nogami. He’s wrestled on and off when he’s not acting. Finally, one of the heroes of the past, Godozan, is revealed as The Squilla Boxer. What’s a squilla? It’s a form of mantis shrimp.

One of my favorite wrestlers ever, Yoshihiro Takayama, also appears as himself.

There’s only one downside to being a Calamari wrestler. If you have sex, you lose your sea-based power. This reminds me of the old days of pro wrestling when guys claimed they wouldn’t have sex before big matches. Then, you know, I got into wrestling for real and learned the fallacy of these legends.