Vanity Fear

A Pretentious A**hole's Guide to B-Movie Bullsh*t

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B-Movie Bullsh*t - Part Twenty "The Anatomy of an Action Star"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part 20

In the Blood



Ava and Derek are both recovering drug addicts, but their future seems bright now that they have found each other. While he comes from wealth and privilege, she was raised by a psychotic outlaw who taught her how to defend herself and survive at all costs. At their wedding, his father tries to convince him to make her sign a prenuptial agreement, but Derek refuses--saying he'd sooner be disowned first.

At first their honeymoon seems idyllic, but things turn dark at a nightclub when a local pimp takes a liking to Ava and starts a flight where she quickly proves how dangerous she can be when she and someone she loves are threatened.

The next day, the two of them go out zip-lining. Ava hates it and begs off from going any further after her first attempt. Derek continues, only to have his harness break before he makes it all the way across. Ava finds him still alive in the forest and an ambulance is called, but when she tries to get in it, she is told she cannot ride inside for "insurance reasons" and is given the card of the hospital he is being taken to.

Ava gets to the hospital only to find out that a Derek Grant hasn't been admitted to it or any other local hospital. The local police not only seem reluctant to help, but think that she likely killed him for his money. Desperate to find him and to learn the truth, Ava takes the violent skills she learned from her father and proceeds to beat a bloody path of rescue and revenge.

Of all the kinds of movie stars there are in the world, the action hero is the most inherently cinematic. Comedians can be funny onstage or on records; sex symbols can radiate their sensuality in photos; serious actors can seriously emote in plays or anywhere where the ability to recite dialogue and prose is an asset--but an action star truly depends on all that cinema has to offer to become the superhero the genre demands.

They rely on the skills of their directors, cinematographers. editors and--especially--stunt people to achieve their iconography, but that doesn't mean they are merely puppets--just the opposite. You can't MAKE someone a great action star. It's in their bones. You can see it in them. You can always tell when an imposter is thrust upon you.

It has nothing to do with acting. Very few of the truly great action stars have ever been adept at dialogue and those who are usually stumbled into the role, like Bruce Willis or Liam Neeson. In some cases it's purely a matter of physique--Arnold and Sly being the best examples of this--but more often than not the quality that separates the wannabes from the greats is this--the greats know what it's like to get punched in the face.

Charles Bronson was only 5'8", but he looked like a man who would keep getting up no matter how many times you tried to knock him down. When he went after punks in the Death Wish series, he was more silent, relentless and frightening than any terminator from the future. He was a man possessed, filled with darkness and ready to embrace the worst aspects of his humanity for the sake of his mission.

Gina Carano is also only 5'8", but she--unlike Charlie--is also a very beautiful woman. In interviews she comes across as shy and normal, but this is at odds with the fact that she first became famous because she is extraordinarily skilled at hurting people.

I've never followed MMA and couldn't tell you the difference between a Strikeforcer or an Ultimate Fighter. This is why Carano's career as a breakout ass-kicker was completely unknown to me the first time I ever saw her--when she was billed as "Crush" in the short-lived network attempt to reboot the syndicated 90s American Gladiator phenomenon. Despite this, I instantly saw her as someone special. Even though she wasn't much bigger than the contestants she was pitted against, she stood out as someone unique and exceptional. She had a physical credibility that was louder than anything she could say.

And clearly I wasn't the only person who noticed this. Steven Soderbergh saw it too. He had the screenplay for Haywire written specifically for her after seeing her interviewed on television--in much the same way he made The Girlfriend Experience after becoming intrigued by a young porn star named Sasha Grey.

Despite being heavily influenced by the action films of the 80s, Soderbergh's instincts are far too tasteful and cool to ever resort to out and out pastiche. This explains why Haywire ending up being more a mediation on the nature of such films--one that tailored itself to stand apart as singular even while it attempted to tell a story we'd seen hundreds of times before.


And though its pretensions left some genre fans frustrated, there was no denying how well the film showcased the attributes that brought Carano to Soderbergh's attention. But it did beg the question of how she would fare once she started working with other filmmakers who lacked his skill, taste and attention. People noted the lengths he went to put her in the best possible light--limiting her dialogue, keeping her character stoic and (most significantly) digitally lowering her natural speaking voice in the sound mix.

The general assumption was that she would be set adrift into the same world of dreary low-budget DTV/Netflix films where so many of her male action predecessors now dwell. And--on the surface--it would appear that her second starring feature, In the Blood, is exactly that--except that beneath that surface there's something far more interesting than its current 44% score on RottenTomatoes would suggest.

Directed by former My Science Project star John Stockwell, In the Blood features several of the tropes found in his previous work--the exotic tropical locations of Blue Crush, Dark Tide and Into the Blue, as well as the xenophobic western-distrust of brown foreign people depicted in Turistas.

In terms of plot, the film most immediately conjures up recollections of the Taken franchise (with additional shades of Breakdown and Roman Polanski's Frantic), but switches tradition by placing a male character in the role of the loved one who needs to be saved by the unrelenting, unforgiving badass whose past has made her perfectly suited for this exact situation.

Many might roll their eyes at this gender swap, but I don't consider it insignificant. There is a marked and undeniable difference in how this world regards men who look like Liam Neeson and women who look like Carano, and within the expanse of this disparity there are tensions that make these films as different as they are the same.

I've seen several critics who have been taken aback by the level of Carano's ferocity in the film, arguing that at a certain point her lack of mercy makes her unsympathetic. Many viewers will surely be disturbed by the bloody footprints her sandals leave after she has compelled a crooked cop to cut his own throat with a box cutter rather than have his young sleeping daughter awakened by a gunshot.

Yet her actions don't feel out of place within the context of the plot and--especially--the genre, where mercy is inevitably compromised in the name of the mission. Carano using a shovel to split open another crooked cop's face is no more violent than Ryan Gosling stomping a thug's face to oblivion in Drive, yet it packs a harder, even more visceral punch.

Films haven't regulalrly conditioned us to expect such brutality from a female protagonist and those that have often resort to a degree of visual hyperbole that allows us to dismiss what we're seeing as a fantasy. In Kill Bill, Uma Thurman's Beatrix Kiddo decimates dozens and dozens of sword-wielding gang members in the House of Blue Leaves, but the onslaught of decapitations and arterial sprays is played more for laughs and ultimately feels more akin to Monty Python and the Holy Grail than The Wild Bunch. Compare this to the much briefer bar fight in In the Blood, where Carano throws bottles of beer, smashes a cocktail glass against another woman's face and breaks a man's arm using a fighting hold viewers have actually seen her employ in real life combat. In this case we aren't given the luxury of willful disbelief--instead we get the sense we're viewing something that could actually happen if you pissed Carano off enough.

And I suspect that it's this authenticity that disturbs some viewers. Carano's background makes it harder for us to deny the plausibility of her actions. Unlike Angelina Jolie in Salt or Wanted, Carano's presence has a density that makes us wince every time it's inflicted upon someone--regardless of how much they deserve it or not.


Which is why I feel like the question mark hanging over Carano's acting career can be justifiably erased. While the quality of her films is going to vary, I believe what she brings to the genre is too interesting to be ignored or dismissed. She is literally too powerful a presence to be denied.

And her performance in the film suggests she might end up becoming a much better actor than anyone might expect. Though some of her line readings here are a bit clunkier than one might like, she also excels in quieter moments that require her to show her emotions rather than express them. Her increasing fear and desperation as she travels from hospital to hospital in search of her missing husband is palpable and totally convincing.

More often than not the moments that don't work fail because they've been poorly scripted and staged. An important scene at the restaurant where she and her husband meet the character who will set the entire plot in motion is cringe-worthy in its awkwardness, especially since the film can't disguise the fact that the only reason the character introduces himself to her is because the film can't officially begin until he does. It's so poorly thought out that not even Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis could make it work.

The film is also betrayed by its use of digital video. While many filmmakers working today have managed to do great things with the technology, In the Blood's early scenes look too much like something you would see in a low-budget cable TV drama than a present-day feature. Gradually this inauthentic gloss fades once the film starts using darker and grittier tones, but those first 20 minutes definitely dig a hole the movie has to spend the rest of its running time climbing out of.

But its biggest failure comes in an ending that hinges on what can only accurately be described as "Danny Trejo ex machina". Not only does it come out of nowhere and feels completely unjustified, but--for the sake of a happy ending--robs Carano of her agency and control over the situation. It's the only moment in the film where she is put in the position of having to be saved and it feels like a betrayal to the character and what she has gone through. Given what we've seen her do, it's impossible not to feel cheated when Machete suddenly appears and allows her to escape back to her comfortable life without consequence.

A better film might have still allowed Ava to get away with what she did, but it would also have required at least some degree of personal sacrifice.


As a low-budget B-movie action film, In the Blood is not without its many flaws, but I found it surprisingly compelling once the action began. As ludicrous as it often was, I never doubted its star, which in an effort like this makes it more the exception than the rule.

And while I expect Gina Carano will appear in much worse films as her career goes on (and hopefully many betters ones as well), I look forward to seeing them all because there is no other action movie star like her working today and--with all apologies to you Cynthia Rothrock fans out there--probably never has been.

Rejected By Rod(?): Part Sixteen - A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

Not everything I've written for FLICK ATTACK has made it to the show. Mr. Lott insists that these rapidly aging reviews will be posted eventually, but until then I'm just going to assume that they have been:

Rejected By Rod(?)

A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge


Jesse (Mark Patton) has been having terrible dreams since his family moved into their new house on Elm St.  Each night he is confronted by Freddy Krueger, the steel-clawed maniac who haunts the dreams of Elm Street’s children, but this time Freddy isn’t looking for a victim, he’s looking for a partner—someone who can set him loose into the real world.  Will Jesse succumb to the dream maniac’s desire to be a real boy or will he be saved by the love of a girl (Kim Myers) who looks a lot like a young Meryl Streep?

If you ever hear a genre fan refer to Freddy’s Revenge as the “gay” Nightmare, don’t immediately dismiss them as one of those tiresome assholes who ignorantly use the term as a synonym for lame.  Truthfully, the movie is pretty lame, but it’s also really, really gay.  That is to say the homosexual subtext of the film (intended or not) is about as subtle as a Tennessee Williams play. 

And that’s not a criticism, since that subtext really is the only thing that significantly sets the film apart from other 80s horror movies.  Directed without much tension or suspense by Jack Sholder (The Hidden), this first sequel to Wes Craven’s landmark original manages to completely forget that as a character Freddy only works as the master of his own dream domain (*cough*).  When you bring him out into everyday reality, as this film does (albeit rather incoherently) it just makes him seem like another run of the mill slasher with a fedora fetish.

Rejected By Rod(!): Part Fifteen - Pandemonium

Not everything I've written for FLICK ATTACK has made it to the show. Mr. Lott insists that these rapidly aging reviews will be posted eventually, but until then I'm just going to assume that they have been:

Exciting news! This latest Rejected By Rod post features the series' first actual honest-to-goodness rejection! This past weekend I got this message from Rod through the electronic mail:

"The Rapture" will be running this week on FA. However, I did run across one of your reviews from the pool I actually do hafta reject, and that's "Pandemonium." Not because it's badly written (it ain't, of course), but because it's more about referring to a previous review you wrote rather than the movie. I tried to work around it, but couldn't figure out how without it being maybe 1/4 of its length. Sorry!

Why does Rod hate meta-reviews? I don't know! Go to Flick Attack and ask him! It doesn't matter to me, since all it means is switching the usual (?) to a (!)!

Rejected By Rod(!)



As many perks as there are to being a big fat know-it-all, there is also at least one major drawback. Sometimes—albeit rarely—evidence is produced that at some point you said or wrote something that was actually *gulp* wrong. I say this because back in January of 2011 I wrote the following in my review of a terrible film called National Lampoon’s Class Reunion: “…there is nothing worse than a bad slasher movie parody and…no such thing as a good slasher movie parody.”

It’s a statement I made with some confidence, thinking at the time of such terrible films as Student Bodies, Slaughter High and Pandemonium, all of which I had seen before reviewing Class Reunion. Thing is, though, it had been a looooong time since I last saw Pandemonium and I was judging it on the basis of the retarded opinion of a pretentious 16 year-old asshole.

For that reason I decided to take another look at it 19 years later, as a much older, wiser and more relaxed 35 year-old asshole. Turns out I really liked it. Quite a lot, actually. Which means the statement I quoted up above simply isn’t true—there is at least one good slasher movie parody (two if you count Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, which you probably should).

So, mea culpa.

The last film of Alice Sweet Alice helmer Alfred Sole (he went on to become a production designer), Pandemonium possesses the same anarchic sweetness as Rock and Roll High School, which isn’t a coincidence since both films share Richard Whitley in their screenwriting credits.

Set at a summer cheerleader camp (six years before Cheerleader Camp) held on a college campus where every cheerleader has been murdered for the past 20 years, the film largely eschews character and plot for a series of sometimes sophisticated, sometimes scatological, but mostly funny jokes.

The cast includes a blond Judge Reinhold, a Sissy Spacek-imitating Carol Kane, Jimmy Olson from Superman, Tom Smothers as a Mountie(!), Tab Hunter (once again mocking his 60s All-American image), pretty much everyone who appeared in the original stage version of The Pee Wee Herman Show (even Phil Hartman), and a genuinely adorable actress named Teri Landrum, whose appeal is much bigger than her six meager credits on IMDb would suggest.

So, yeah, I was wrong that one time. Don’t get used to it.

Vanity Fear Bullsh*t Synopsis Theater - Part One "Chickfight"

As a kid I loved to go to video stores and look at all the posters and video covers and try to guess what the movies were about based solely on the images they portrayed. I fully believe that these flights of fancy are primarily responsible for the development of the imagination I have used in a semi-successful professional capacity throughout the past 10 years or so.

To honour this tradition, I’ve decided to occasionally take a look at a classic poster for a film I’ve never seen and spend a paragraph or two imagining what it could be about. The twist is that after I’ve written this “Bullsh*t Synopsis” I’ll then watch the movie and discuss what it’s actually about the next week in my “B-Movie Bullsh*t Review”.  The fun will be had in determining which plot is better—the one that actually got filmed or the one I pulled straight out of my butt in 15 minutes.

Yes, it is a very lame idea, but I’m running out of Rejected By Rod(?) reviews and I gotta come up with some filler ideas PRONTO.

Anyhoo, we begin this epic new adventure with a totally fake look at a 1974 Roger Corman produced Pam Grier classic.

Vanity Fear Bullshit Synopsis Theater

Part One

The Arena


Bullsh*t Synopsis

Wanda and June are two happy-go-lucky gals who meet at a local Roman slave auction. Wanda hails from the Nordic region of Europe, while June enjoyed a long boat trip from Africa to get where she is today. That afternoon they’re both purchased by a wealthy lesbian named Patricia, who enjoys mocking her wounded General husband by dressing in the military uniform he no longer has any use for.

At first there’s some tension between the two of them, mostly because Wanda is a horrible racist who’s jealous of June’s abundant femininity (specifically her enormous breasts), but as time goes on they become very close friends. So much so that Patricia becomes so envious of their mutual affection she decides to convince her husband to suggest to the emperor that women be allowed to fight as gladiators.

The idea gives the emperor a total boner and Patricia volunteers Wanda and June as the first two combatants. The emperor gets one look at them and eagerly agrees. Wanda and June attempt to refuse to fight each other, but some erotically charged torture takes care of this and the two of them enter The Arena and battle to the death. Both women prove so strong and courageous that when June has Wanda at the edge of her trident, the emperor denies her the kill with an upturned thumb, sparing Wanda’s life. The crowd cheers his decision, but Patricia is so enraged she berates the emperor. His guards arrest her for her impertinence, much to her husband's delight. The next time we see her it is in The Arena, where she is fighting a losing battle against her two former slaves, who both know the emperor has no intention of giving them the thumb’s up this time.

Rejected By Rod(?): Part Fourteen - Head of the Family

Not everything I've written for FLICK ATTACK has made it to the show. Mr. Lott insists that these rapidly aging reviews will be posted eventually, but until then I'm just going to assume that they have been:

Rejected By Rod(?)

Head of the Family


There are two kinds of low-budget movie fans: Those who are ambivalent about Charles Band’s Full Moon films and those who HATE them. Count me among the former, if only because in the same way a broken clock is able to tell the right time two minutes each day, Band—for all his many faults—did manage to deliver Head of the Family, a strange little film that somehow transcends the usual Full Moon limitations (see also Dark Angel, which Band didn’t direct).

The titular family in question is the Stackpools, a group of mutant misfits whose deficiencies are each offset by a significant attribute. Wheeler (James Jones) has heightened senses, Otis (Russ Meyer vet Bob Schott) is a mass of muscle, Ernestina (adult actress Alexandra Quinn, whose porn star body seems especially ridiculous in a non-porn context) is pure sexuality and Myron (J.W. Pera) is the brain of the group, so much so that his tiny body is unable to support the weight of his giant head. Up to no good, their evil schemes are uncovered by the no-account owner of the local diner (Blake Adams), who makes the mistake of trying to blackmail them.

Short, dark and often surreally funny (at one point Myron has a group of lobotomized prisoners perform an amateur production of Shaw’s Saint Joan), Head of the Family also benefits from being sleazy in all the right sorts of ways, especially thanks to a stand out performance by frequent (-ly naked) Full Moon actress Jacqueline Lovell as Adam’s white trash mistress.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Eighteen & Nineteen "Dark(ish) Shadows"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Parts Eighteen & Nineteen

House of Dark Shadows (1970)

Night of Dark Shadows (1971)


Vampire Barnabas Collins has spent the past 200 years locked away in a coffin. It’s only when local caretaker Willie Loomis opens the casket in search of some fabled lost jewels that he is finally free to see what has happened to Collinwood, his family estate, in the centuries that marked his absence. With the exception of the main house, the estate has gone to seed, which is strange since his ancestors appear to be quite wealthy—enough so to afford a houseful of servants, including a pretty young governess named Maggie. Barnabas is shocked to discover that Maggie is a dead ringer for his beloved Josette, who committed suicide rather than join him as a member of the living dead. With the help of the Collins' live-in doctor, Julia Hoffman, Barnabas is able to hold back the effects of his vampirism through injections, but his treatment ends before he’s fully cured when Hoffman becomes jealous of his affection for Maggie. Returning to his full-on vampire ways, Barnabas spreads his affliction amongst the Collins clan, but is finally stopped from marrying Maggie and turning her into a vampire through the combined intervention of Willie and her fiancé, Jeff Clark.


Quentin and Tracy Collins are a young married couple who are leaving the big city to take over Collinwood, his family’s ancestral home. There they find the manor’s only two current inhabitants, housekeeper Carlotta Drake, and stable hand, Gerald Stiles. Within minutes of arriving, Quentin is taken by a painting of Angelique Collins, an ancestor through marriage who was hung for being a witch. That first night he has a dream in which he sees himself as Charles Collins, a direct ancestor who enjoyed an adulterous affair with Angelique—his brother’s wife—before she was executed. Within days Quentin finds himself blanking out and acting like Charles—including walking with his distinct limp—while vivid memories from a past life hit him at every turn. He confronts Carlotta about what is happening and learns that Angelique vowed to live on so long as her memory was kept alive by someone who loved her. It turns out Carlotta is the reincarnation of the little girl who did just that. Carlotta warns Quentin that Tracy has to leave or risks suffering from Angelique’s wrath. Quentin refuses to heed her warning and almost drowns Tracy himself while possessed by Charles. Carlotta sends Gerald to try to get rid of Tracy and her friends, the Jenkins, but he’s killed in the process. Convinced that Carlotta must be killed for them to be safe, they chase after her, only to have her fatally jump off Colinwood before they can get to her. The nightmare appears to be over, but it turns out Carlotta wasn’t the only person keeping Angelique’s memory alive. When the Collins return to retrieve Quentin’ paintings, he becomes Charles and strangles Tracy while Angelique’s ghost watches and the Jenkins are killed (off-screen) in a car crash.

The enduring popularity of the late 60s gothic TV soap opera, Dark Shadows, is one of those things I have to take on faith, since I have never seen so much as a single episode of the show, despite that fact that there are over 1200 of them in existence. According to Wikipedia, the show was syndicated to TV stations across North America throughout my childhood, but never to a single channel that ever appeared on my screen. I had never even heard of the show until I first read about it in Stephen King’s classic non-fiction look at the horror genre, Danse Macabre.

As obnoxious as it sounds, a part of me couldn’t believe that something could actually be as beloved as Dark Shadows was supposed to be, if I had never had a single opportunity to experience it. I wish I could say that this attitude of mine has changed, but that wouldn’t be the truth. If anything, having just sat through the two cinematic spin-offs the original show inspired during its run, the cult popularity of the show seems like an even bigger urban legend than it did before.

“There really are people out there who are obsessed with this?” I found myself wondering throughout the two films. But then it occurred to me that this was probably an unfair question. The better one would be, “There really were people out there who were obsessed with this?”

That I can believe. It’s easy to imagine how a production like this might have caused a cult sensation when it originally aired, over 40 years ago. Where I stumble is at the idea that this fervor still exists today, because—unlike Star Trek—all of the attempts to recreate the magic since then have met with failure—most notably a weekly prime-time TV remake made in the early 90s that died after just 12 episodes.

Many will point out the upcoming feature version directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp is proof of the show’s lasting power, but I actually think it proves the opposite. Most folks who will go to see Burton’s Dark Shadows will likely do so without any previous knowledge of the original. They will be drawn instead by the continued collaboration of one of cinema’s most successful actor-director teams. Despite interviews both will give about how much they loved the show when they were kids, the more likely truth is that the project went ahead because it was a property seemingly tailor-made to suit their mutual talents. It was either this or The Munsters (which just happens to be receiving its own “re-imagining” in an upcoming hour long dramatic pilot called Mockingbird Lane).

From what I’ve read, the two feature films the first incarnation spawned aren’t that well respected among Dark Shadows cultists—enjoying the same disreputable status as the odd numbered Star Trek films. Even though I have never seen the series I can understand why this would be true—especially in the case of the first film, House of Dark Shadows, which does just about everything wrong a film adaptation of a popular TV series can.

Rather than create an original story using the series’ characters that would have benefited from bigger production values (apparently the show was notoriously low budget and regularly featured atrocious special effects and sets) and more opportunities for sex and violence (the film takes some bloody advantage of the latter, but does nothing with the former), House of Dark Shadows re-visits the main storyline of its breakout character, vampire Barnabas Collins (as played by Canadian Jonathan Frid).

(Perhaps the biggest leap of faith newcomers to the Dark Shadows legend have to make is to accept the idea that Frid became a genuine sex symbol as the result of playing Barnabas, even though he makes Bela Lugosi look like George Clooney in comparison. Lacking the danger of Christopher Lee or the tragic nobility of William Marshall, Frid—at his best—most resembles Harry Dean Stanton’s less popular older brother, not a panty-wetting heartthrob in the Robert Pattison vein.)

My guess is that Frid’s popularity had less to do with his natural charisma (which is definitely not apparent in this, the first of only two movies he starred in—the second being Oliver Stone’s feature debut, Seizure) than the novelty of the character he played. When Dark Shadows originally aired it was designed as a moody, gothic soap opera without any supernatural elements. It was only six months into the series’ run that everyone figured out how fucking boring it was and decided to inject some monsters into the mix. The debut of an actual vampire in a “serious” daytime drama was a truly revolutionary concept and Frid rode a brief wave of success as a result.

Unfortunately vampires were old hat in the movie game and Barnabas Collins didn’t seem at all extraordinary compared to the other bloodsuckers who had filled the screen since Murnau’s Nosferatu. And this is a serious problem for House of Dark Shadows, because his is the only character who makes the slightest bit of an impression.

It’s a dilemma everyone who tackles such an adaptation must deal with—how much time should be spent developing characters at least some part of your audience is already familiar with? Spend too much and you alienate the fans of the TV show, who’ll just want you to get on with the story. Spend too little and you alienate newcomers who will spend most of the film focusing on who everyone is and how they're connected, rather than what’s going on.

House of Dark Shadows went the “too little” route and the film suffers dearly for it--a problem that is further exacerbated by the decision to compress a story that took months to unfold on television into 90 minutes of screen time. As a result, the film feels overstuffed, even though not much actually seems to be going on. The nature of soap opera is to extend drama as far as it can go—with a whole week’s worth of episodes often spent on a single afternnon in the world of the show. Because of this, the focus is set on microscopic, which means a story as slight as this one strangely feels far too big for one feature film.

This compression also explains the odd turns the characters take throughout the film. The show had weeks and even months to set up these developments, while the movie forces characters to change their behaviour without any justification from scene to scene, simply because the series' previously established plot led them organically to those points.

The best example of this is the strange journey of Dr. Hoffman (Grayson Hall, who would also play the role of Carlotta in the sequel), who goes from identifying the strange cell found in Barnabas’ victims’ blood to offering to cure him of his vampirism to falling in love with him to betraying him to being murdered by him in what seems like ten minutes worth of screen time. The entire film could have focused entirely on their relationship, but is instead treated like a necessary side-plot.

Beyond this, the Hoffman scenes also feature one moment I found interesting for its possible evidence of self-plagiarism. In the scene where Barnabas discovers that she has betrayed him, he is shown to rapidly age off screen. When we next see him he appears as an old man who bears a distinct resemblance to Dustin Hoffman’s 121 year-old character in Little Big Man, which was also made in 1970 and featured the handicraft of makeup legend Dick Smith. Did Smith make a genuine effort to differentiate the two makeup effects (and subsequently failed), or did he just do what most of us would and got lazy and handed in secondhand work? Whatever the answer, I would be curious to know which film gave him the assignment first.

As disappointing as House of Dark Shadows was, it must have found an audience, since the sequel, Night of Dark Shadows, followed a year later. With Barnabas having been staked to death in the first film, the decision was made to focus on another villainous character from the show—Angelique Collins (as played by the gorgeous Lara Parker), the witch who turned him into a vampire when he rejected her for Josette, the true love of his life.

With a lower budget and smaller cast of characters, Night is a more satisfying and enjoyable film than House, but isn’t without its own major problems. While lacking the first film’s need to fit in all of the requisite story beats, Night instead suffers from the opposite problem—it takes too long to get to the places we know it’s going all along. Thanks to all of the constant dream sequences and flashbacks, the pacing of the first hour is extremely uneven and frequently irritating. When the final act is set in motion, the action picks up considerably, but the payoff doesn’t feel earned.

This is especially true of the ending, which feels as though it was tacked on sometime in the process to avoid a predictable happy ending. Unfortunately the end result is less chilling than it is lame, especially since it is predicated on its protagonist being a major idiot and going back to the house to pick up his worthless paintings.

Beyond Parker, Night’s major saving grace is a charming performance by a young pre-Charlie’s Angels Kate Jackson as Tracy. Whatever impact the wannabe-bleak ending does actually have is the result of the natural affection we’ve developed for her charming character.

Removed from the context of their origins, both films suffer from feeling like Americanized rip-offs of the established Hammer Studio formula, but without all of the cheesy good stuff (namely hot babes in revealing clothing) that make those films worthwhile. Viewed today its easy to see why the audience they were made for rejected them, even if the idea that such an audience actually existed still strikes me as a little hard to believe.

I Saw This IN THE THEATER! Part Four in a Continuing Series



Brief Explanation

I can honestly claim that I've never been a fan of the The Jerry Springer Show, not even in that annoying ironic hipster way us creative types are prone to during our early 20s. Yet there I sat, one of maybe five others during the first matinee of Ringmaster's opening day. Why? Part of it was my perverse fascination with starsploitation, of which this was a textbook example. Part of it was that I was intrigued by the premise of a BTS look at a Springer-esque production. But mostly it was just as a youthful fuck you to all of the folks out there who had been proclaiming (sight unseen) that its existence augered the fall of mankind (which obviously didn't happen).

Having not seen it again in the intervening 13 years (and couple of months), I have only the barest recollection of its characters and plot, but I remember that for all of its exploitative zeal there was a real attempt to give some humanity to the white trash characters whose journey to appearing on the show made up the bulk of the screen time . I especially recall being genuinely moved by Molly Hagen's performance as a women locked in sexual competition with her daughter, Jamie Presley (channeling her white trash essence years before My Name is Earl). That said, I have no idea how the film holds up. The trailer is excrutiatingly bad, but I'm not sure it actually reflects the movie I saw so long ago. I think I'm going to have to revisit this one someday and see how much it matches up with my faded memories of a Friday afternoon I enjoyed a long time ago.

Rejected By Rod(?) Part Thirteen - Primal Rage

Not everything I've written for FLICK ATTACK has made it to the show. Mr. Lott insists that these rapidly aging reviews will be posted eventually, but until then I'm just going to assume that they have been:

Rejected By Rod(?)

Primal Rage


Primal Rage is a rare example of a horror movie that manages to create some degree of tension due entirely to a pre-production fuck up. When the filmmakers decided not to cast the highly appealing Sarah Buxton as their female lead, but instead as her doomed roommate, they made it impossible for viewers not to agonize over the likelihood of her eventual fate—if only because she’s the only remotely sympathetic person in the entire picture. That her painful descent into madness and violent death is suggested to be an indirect punishment for a previous abortion only makes the film that much more infuriating.

An Italian production shot in the States, Rage is about what happens when university professor Bo Svenson (sporting the most pathetic ponytail in the entire history of mad science) experiments on a monkey, which then goes on to bite a muck-racking student journalist who contracts a contagious disease that turns all of its victims (all five of them) into zombie-like homicidal maniacs. 

Written by the auteur responsible for the infamous Cannibal Ferrox and directed by the son of FX artist Carlos Rambaldi (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), Primal Rage —with the exception of one decapitation near the end—is virtually gore-free and filled with cheap looking effects. Yet despite its being ineffective even as unintentional camp, horror completists might want to watch it as a double feature with Deborah Brock’s Slumber Party Massacre II make their way through star Patrick Lowe’s entire filmography in just one sitting.

Rejected By Rod(?) Part Twelve - Stephen King's Cat's Eye

Not everything I've written for FLICK ATTACK has made it to the show. Mr. Lott insists that these rapidly aging reviews will be posted eventually, but until then I'm just going to assume that they have been:

Rejected By Rod(?)

Stephen King's Cat's Eye


At the risk of committing genre blasphemy, I have to say that when it comes to 80s Stephen King anthology movies, I’ve always preferred Lewis Teague’s Cat’s Eye to George Romero’s beloved Creepshow. That’s not to say I think Creepshow is a bad movie, just that I always felt its attempt at paying tribute to the old E.C. comic books resulted in a general lack of originality in its stories. The same can’t be said for Cat’s Eye, though, as the three tales it tells are all classic examples of King working at the height of his abilities.

Its stories linked together by a gifted feline’s search for an endangered young girl played by Drew Barrymore, the film begins with James Woods as a lifelong smoker who unwittingly gets involved with a company that takes its pledge to get him to quit the nasty habit far more seriously than anyone would ever imagine.

The second story features Airplane! star Robert Hays as a broke tennis pro who is forced to make his way around the five inch ledge of a skyscraper to satisfy the vengeful whim of a cuckolded gambler and in the third the heroic cat finally finds Barrymore and saves her from a tiny, evil troll determined to steal her breath while she sleeps at night.

The first two stories benefit greatly from the kind of dark humor so often found in King’s best work, while the third succeeds thanks to the amazing mechanical effects created by Italian FX whiz Carlo Rambaldi, whose tiny monster ranks right up there with E.T. as his greatest achievement (the less said about his King Kong the better).

Along with excellent cinematography by legendary British cameraman Jack Cardiff, the film is also well served by director Teague’s tongue in cheek approach, which includes multiple references to King’s previous work and clever use of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” in both the first and final stories.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Seventeen "A Cure That Kills"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Seventeen




Lieutenant Marion “Cobra” Cobretti is a member of Los Angeles’ “Zombie Squad”—the term used for cops who take the cases that require them to sink to the lowest depths of human society. His latest case finds him searching for the “Night Slasher”, a vicious serial killer whose ubiquity and lack of any discernable pattern suggests he might not be working alone. Cobretti and his partner catch their first break when the Slasher and his cultists fail to kill the witness to a previous murder—a tall Nordic model named Ingrid Knudson. When it becomes clear that the Slasher has an inside man on the force, Cobra takes Ingrid out of L.A. to protect her, unaware that Nancy Stalk, a cop assigned to join them, is the mole. The Slasher and his goons descend upon the small town where they are hiding and Cobretti is forced to protect Ingrid and rid the world of the Slasher’s irredeemable evil.

As a film buff I can think of few careers I find more fascinating than that of Sylvester Stallone’s. After making a good impression in a series of low budget movies like The Lords of Flatbush, Capone, and Death Race 2000 (which features my favourite performance of his career), he rocketed to super-stardom as the writer/star of Rocky, which was not only a major box office hit, but also made him only the third person in Oscar history to be nominated for both writing and acting in the same year (Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles were the two who preceeded him). He didn’t win, but at the time he seemed destined to join the pantheon of great American actors, with comparisons to Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro not being uncommon.

But then he followed up Rocky with two big flops—the union drama, F.I.S.T., and the period wrestling film, Paradise Alley, which he also wrote and directed. Fortunately, Rocky II resurrected him as a moneymaking force—enough so that the relative disappointment of the WWII soccer drama Victory had little effect on his clout, especially when Rocky III was on its way. His luck continued with First Blood, a film that gave him another iconic character in the form of emotionally damaged Vietnam vet, John Rambo, but then disaster struck in the double whammy of Staying Alive and Rhinestone.

This is the period where Stallone’s hubris suddenly became apparent and his choices grew much more questionable. Staying Alive saw him staying behind the camera as writer/director (save for a two-second cameo) in an ill-advised sequel to Saturday Night Fever. The film confirmed what many suspected after seeing his previous directorial efforts—the success of Rocky was a group effort that included the participation of director John Avidson. Working solo and with full creative control Stallone suffered from severe creative limitations, including unimaginative storytelling and a complete lack of subtext.

Rhinestone saw him attempting to stretch his legs with a light musical comedy in which he played a taxi driver who’s transformed into a country singer after Dolly Parton makes a bet with her manager. A gender reversed My Fair Lady with cowboy hats and tassels, it was the first film that clearly showed the limits of his acting abilities.

Left bloodied by the back-to-back mega-flops, Stallone performed what would become his trademark move and returned to his two most popular characters in the same year. The results, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV, were so overtly designed to appeal to the mid-80s audience that they turned once-credible characters into living cartoons. The slide in this direction had already started with Rocky III, which featured Hulk Hogan and the hilariously menacing Clubber Lang as its villain, but that film was a virtual cinema verite documentary compared to the cold war absurdity of Rocky IV.

With that film Stallone attempted to transform his inarticulate, working-class-schlub-made-good into an out-and-out action hero. Rocky Balboa no longer fought to prove himself or to take care of his family, he fought to honor his former rival turned friend, Apollo Creed, who was murdered by nothing less than the terror of communism itself. In terms of absurd anti-Soviet propaganda, the film was in the same class as Red Dawn and Invasion U.S.A. Rocky ceased to be a recognizable human and became an unstoppable god bent on protecting capitalism at all costs.

At this point I’d get all pretentious about what Rambo: First Blood Part II was about, but I’ve never actually seen the whole thing from beginning to end, but the snippets I have seen more than back up this analysis.

Unfortunately for Stallone both sequels were massive hits. Having been responsible for the two least-subtle films ever made, he came to the conclusion that this was what people wanted and he partnered up with a small studio for three films that paid him a lot of money, but also managed to wreck his career in a way from which he has never truly recovered, despite some notable successes here and there.

The studio was Cannon, founded and operated by two Israeli cousins named Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. After breaking out with the Israeli period T & A teen flick Lemon Popsicle (a film that you’d assume was a Porky’s rip off if you didn’t know it was actually released in 1978), they gradually took over A.I.P’s spot as the pre-eminent producer of low budget genre movies, most of which had already made their money back before a single frame of film had been shot, thanks to foreign pre-sales.

But for Golan, money wasn’t enough. He wanted prestige and respect as well and decided to try to buy it by hiring Hollywood’s biggest star to become synonymous with Cannon. The failure of the second and third of the three films they would make together would eventually result in the bankruptcy of his once successful company.

Before this, though, Stallone made his Cannon debut with a cop picture he wrote that marked a clear attempt to add a third iconic character to his repertoire. Using a novel originally published by Paula Gosling in 1974 as the basis for his plot, he reimagined its male protagonist as a gun-worshipping cop whose distaste for lawbreakers made Dirty Harry look like Alan Alda in comparison.

In the novel, which was first published as A Running Duck and then retitled four years later as Fair Game, the cop hero was Mike Malchek, which didn’t come close to matching the badass cool Stallone was intent on giving the character. Instead he gave the character the last name of Cobretti, which supplied him with both a dangerous sounding nickname and the title for the film, Cobra. Interestingly, he then gave the character a feminine sounding name in Marion, which added a touch of much-needed humour to the film and served as a specific reference to the man who famously turned down the role of Dirty Harry Callahan—John Wayne (whose given name was Marion Morrison).

From the novel he took the elements of a cop protecting a woman who witnessed a violent crime and the mole who constantly leads the criminals to them, but from there he let his own imagination run wild. In the place of Gosling’s hitman, he came up with a hulking, monstrous serial killer who commands a cult of similarly insane maniacs (some of whom appear to be everyday businessmen in suits), and he turned her attorney heroine into a glamorous foreign model, which allowed for a fabulous posing/investigation montage (easily the film’s best scene) and the casting of his wife, 6’0” Danish goddess Brigitte Nielsen.

(In fact Stallone changed the plot of Gosling’s novel so much that virtually no one noticed when the same book served as the basis of the Joel Silver-produced Cindy Crawford starsploitation flop, Fair Game, just 9 years later.)

Possibly exhausted after taking on the directing chores of Rocky IV, Stallone handed over the reigns to Cobra to his Rambo: First Blood Part II director, George P. Cosmatos—a Greek born Canadian who would later direct the cult western Tombstone and who was previously responsible for the man-vs-rat Canuxploitation classic, Of Unknown Origin. In the end, all of Cobra’s virtues—eye-pleasing style, interesting mise-en-scene, exciting action—can be credited to Cosmatos’ influence and direction. Unfortunately he was working with a script and a star with two absurd agendas.

There’s a great moment in the documentary The Hamster Effect, where Terry Gilliam is talking to Bruce Willis on the set of Twelve Monkeys about a scene where his character is supposed to be knocked out by co-star Madeleine Stowe. Gilliam tells Willis how he wants to film it, but Willis argues with him, insisting that a woman Stowe’s size could never knock out a man the way Gilliam is suggesting. The argument is long and passionate and it quickly becomes clear that Willis’ reluctance has less to do with the integrity of the film than his desire to not be seen as a pussy.

It’s an insight into the behind the scenes process that explains many a terrible film (fortunately for Gilliam, he finally got what he wanted and Willis benefited by giving a great performance in one of his best movies). Many movie stars, especially in the action genre, want to be perceived as the most cool, awesome people alive and they do this without any irony. Therefore they force changes upon any script featuring moments that might humanize or lessen the awesomeness of their characters. Go back to my first B-Movie Bull-Sh*t review and you’ll find a film where Chuck Norris kills dozens of commies without so much as a scratch to show for it.

Now imagine what happens when a star who is very much of this persuasion actually writes the script himself! That’s Cobra, a film so dedicated to promoting the awesomeness of its title character (and the actor playing him) that the film instantly devolves into unintended self-parody.

I mentioned Dirty Harry before and the comparison is extremely apt (although the film’s plot more closely resembles another Eastwood picture—The Gauntlet). Like Callahan, Cobretti is a gun fetishist (his weapon has a cobra pictured on its handle and we watch him clean it with loving care the first time we see him in his apartment) whose tough stance against criminals is harshly criticized by his liberal, namby-pamby superiors (one of whom, in the film’s biggest Dirty Harry homage, is played by Andrew Robinson aka The Scorpio Killer, Callahan’s original nemesis). But if Don Siegel’s film wore its conservatism on its sleeve, than Cobra dons it like a three piece suit, culminating in the truly hilarious moment where the Night Slasher taunts Cobretti by telling him how as a lawman he’s obligated to take him in and be tried by the courts, which will find him not guilty by reason of insanity.

Cobretti’s response to this is to

impale him on a large metal crane hook.

And whereas Callahan chose to throw his badge into the water after gunning down Scorpio vigilante-style, Cobretti is congratulated for his actions and gives the audience a thrill when he punches Robinson’s character in the face for being such a left-wing fag.

The two films also depart significant in the depiction of their two villains. In Dirty Harry, Scorpio is a pathetic hippy whose big plan to stop his adversary is to hire a black man to beat him up and pin his bruises and injuries on Callahan—getting him thrown off the case and earning the sympathy of liberals concerned more about so-called “police brutality” than keeping the public safe. In Cobra, the Night Slasher is played by Brian Thompson, a 6’3” monster of a man whose craggy face invokes a strange kind of handsomely charismatic monstrosity. Rather than acting alone, his character is shown to be a leader of a cult dedicated to the creation of a “new world” where the hunters rule over the hunted, but we’re never shown any reason why he would have such a following or why they would be so dedicated to him. We’re simply supposed to take their existence at face value.

And just like Cobretti’s gun, the film fetishizes the Slasher’s primary instrument of terror, a large menacing knife with sharp spikes along its bearer’s knuckles. The absurd bigness of the villain is clearly meant to prove the badass amazingness of Stallone’s character. Any wimp with .45 Magnum can kill a hippy—it takes a real man to take down a monster straight from Hell.

As frequently (and unintentionally) funny as this all is, there’s a clear sense of desperation that saturates the entire film. It would have seemed impossible after Rocky IV that Stallone could pander any lower to the public’s desire to see the clearly good battle the obviously evil, but with Cobra he managed to do just that and deliver a movie so pathetically geared to get morons to shout out “FUCK YEAH!” he might as well have ended it with a group chant of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

That said, for all his lack of subtlety and willingness to pander to the public’s most basic impulses, his scripts almost always feature an interesting character detail or two that suggests the highly intelligent, articulate man he frequently comes across as in interviews and making-of documentaries. In Cobra I enjoyed a moment between Cobretti and Knudson at a local truck stop diner where we see her purposefully dump half a bottle of ketchup on her French fries. It's completely extraneous but reminded me of Paulie’s paintings in Rocky Balboa—another touch that suggested the work of a much better filmmaker.

Cobra ended up doing relatively well at the box office (but not enough to warrant a sequel, even though the creation of a new franchise was its clear intention), but his next film for Cannon—for which he earned the then-shocking payday of $12,000,000—was Over the Top, an arm-wrestling melodrama directed by Golan. It flopped so spectacularly that Cannon bought the rights to Stallone’s second biggest franchise in a clear bid to recoup their costs with a sure thing. The resulting Rambo III was—at $60,000,000—one of the most expensive movies made up to that time and proved to be another costly flop. The one-two punch of these costly failures resulted in Cannon’s bankruptcy.

Since then Stallone has famously spent his career starring in major flops (Stop or My Mom Will Shoot!, Oscar, Judge Dread, Assassins, An Alan Smithee Movie: Burn Hollywood Burn, Get Carter, Driven, D-Tox, Avenging Angelo) and the occasional modest hit (Cliffhanger, Demolition Man, The Specialist). After killing his top franchise with the humdrum and disappointing Rocky V, he waited 16 years before doing the one thing that kept his career going in the 80s—returning to the two characters people loved the most. The results, Rocky Balboa and Rambo, managed to earn money and even some good reviews largely on the basis of nostalgia alone. Sensing this, Stallone decided to capitalize on Gen X’s fondness for the no-nonsense action pictures of old and created The Expendables, which marked his first successful attempt at a franchise in over two decades.

For all of its many faults, I found Cobra fascinating for its part in such a tumultuous Hollywood career. Made for all of the worst reasons possible, it’s a textbook example of what happens when a superstar aims for the lowest common denominator and still manages to miss.

I Saw This IN THE THEATER! Part Three in a Continuing Series

Hudson Hawk


Brief Explanation

Once again I found myself sitting alone in the Londonderry Theater, and--based on Hawk's infamous B.O.--I just might have been the only person to see it that afternoon. Why was I there? One word: Heathers. Like all alienated teenagers from the period, I'd seen it over a dozen times since it came out three years earlier. Being a movie geek, I naturally knew all about the folks who made it and excitedly waited for their big-budget major Hollywood follow-up effort (the less said about Meet the Applegates the better). And y'know what? I fuckin' liked it! Sure I was just 15, but I was a 15 year old who had seen Annie Hall 20 times, so it's not like I was totally without judgment. I haven't seen it in a decade, so I have no idea how it holds up, but considering it's the biggest and most infamous flop I ever saw during its intial release (with the possible exception of Babe: Pig in the City) I'd probably say I loved it just to be a contrary bastard.

Rejected By Rod(?) Part Eleven - Up the Academy

Not everything I've written for FLICK ATTACK has made it to the show. Mr. Lott insists that these rapidly aging reviews will be posted eventually, but until then I'm just going to assume that they have been:

Rejected By Rod(?)

Up the Academy


After the unprecedented success of National Lampoon’s Animal House it seemed only natural that the nation’s other most influential comedy magazine of the period would get into the movie game as well. Unfortunately for the usual gang of idiots at Mad, the result wasn’t nearly as financially rewarding.

In fact, the Mad men were so disappointed with the way Up the Academy turned out, they eventually took the Mad Magazine Presents out of the title and disavowed any association with the film—instantly turning Alfred E. Neuman’s cameo into a strange non sequitur.

In retrospect, though, you do have to wonder how they ever thought hiring the iconoclastic filmmaker Robert Downey could have ever resulted in a successful mainstream comedy. Best known (aside from siring the future star of Iron Man) for his cult masterpiece, Putney Swope, Downey was an auteur whose gifts pretty obviously didn’t extend to the creation of a sophomoric teen comedy (or at least one that could actually be appreciated by its intended audience).

Sloppy, deliberately offensive (the film’s casual jokes about race and teen pregnancy seem especially shocking today) and almost angrily broad, the film plays less like an actual movie than a feature length version of one of Swope’s infamous commercial satires. But then at the same time it also feels strangely restrained for a film supposedly inspired by the anarchic spirit of Mad (a spirit much better exemplified onscreen that same year in Airplane!).

For this reason Up the Academy is one of those films I personally find interesting even though it clearly fails on all of the levels by which it should be judged. An experiment gone hopelessly awry, it’s one of those strange projects that should be viewed if only because it somehow manages to exist even though it probably shouldn’t.

And it has an awesome soundtrack.

50 Words or Less - Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks

For some the capsule review comes easy, but for me it’s an exercise in pure frustration. As a means of self-discipline I have decided to confront that which tortures me through this continuing feature—B-Movie Bullsh*t in 50 Words or Less.

Its plot perfectly summed up by the title, this second entry in the Ilsa canon is just as vile, sordid, and misogynistic as the first, adding racism into the mix. Kidnapped females are tortured in every conceivable fashion. Needless to say it’s a must watch for every serious B-Movie fan.


The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Sixteen


“But what the holy heck did I do to get sent to Hell, Duke? I lived a mostly good life. I went to church. I tolerated my mother. Sure I was tangentially connected to a dozen or so “accidental” deaths, but no charges were ever made.”

“Everyone’s innocent down here, pardner.”

“But I don’t want to go to Hell! There must be something I can do to stay away from here if that ambulance makes it to the hospital in time.”

“There is, Drake. You’d have to give up being a stuntman.”


“And sleeping with teenage girls.”

“Fuck you!”

I Saw This IN THE THEATER! Part Two in a Continuing Series



Brief Explanation

I have no way of knowing if I was the only 15 year-old who spent a weekend afternoon sitting alone in an empty theater watching Blake Edwards' remake of the Vincente Minnelli's 1964 Goodbye Charlie, but I'm pretty sure that if I was, I was probably the only one who knew who Edwards or Minnelli even were. That said, the real reason I decided to bike on over to the Londonderry Mall theater and plunk down my $6 had everything to do with the blond on the poster. I had seen Sea of Love and The Adventures of Buckeroo Banzai and was all over anything with Ellen Barkin in it.

That hasn't changed.