Saturday, December 31, 2011

INTRUDER (1989): Director's Cut

(US - 1989)  Written and directed by Scott Spiegel.  Cast: Elizabeth Cox, Renee Estevez, Danny Hicks, David Byrnes, Sam Raimi, Eugene Glazer, Billy Marti, Burr Steers, Craig Stark, Ted Raimi, Alvy Moore, Tom Lester, Emil Sitka, Bruce Campbell.  88 mins.  Unrated.

Just released on Blu-ray by Synapse Films, Scott Spiegel's maniac-loose-in-a-grocery store cult film INTRUDER is presented in its uncut, 88-minute version.  The Paramount VHS, issued back in 1989 (also the version currently streaming on Netflix), ran 83 minutes and had almost all of the gore footage cut, in addition to artwork that totally gave away the killer's identity.  Spiegel, his cult movie bona fides having been established two years earlier when he co-wrote EVIL DEAD II with pal Sam Raimi, was given a shot at writing and directing his own feature with INTRUDER, and while it's not a front-to-back success, there's a lot to appreciate in it, especially now that all the excised footage has been reinstated.  Spiegel accomplishes quite a bit with a budget of $130,000, and the Blu-ray looks fantastic.

The plot is rather simple:  Walnut Lake Market cashier Jennifer (Elizabeth Cox) is hassled near closing time by her psycho ex Craig (David Byrnes), who just got out of prison.  Some co-workers come to her aid and Craig is thrown out of the store, and as they continue working their overnight shift of markdowns and restocking, they're locked inside and slaughtered one by one, and the natural assumption is that it's Craig.

The grocery store setting is pretty effective overall, and Spiegel does a great job with darkness, shadows, reflections, and so on.  I really liked the effect of blood dripping on the light bulb of an overturned lamp giving the room a blood red glow.  Or the way the killer finds out where Jennifer is hiding.  Spiegel is at his best in these stylish and relatively subtle scenes, but really stumbles when he relies far too much on Raimi-esque visual trickery.  He uses it less as the film progresses, which helps a lot, but early on until maybe 2/3 of the way through, there's just too many wacky POV shots from inside shopping carts, inside telephones, from the floor aiming up as a broom passes over, or through wine bottles.  It's amusing once or twice, but by the 25th time, it wears out its welcome.  Spiegel shows a lot of promise here when he's not trying to be Sam Raimi, and who knows?  Maybe Raimi used a lot of Spiegel's ideas.  At any rate, Spiegel has remained a known and loved figure in cult horror circles, primarily for his EVIL DEAD II work, but his directing career never took off.  He's only directed sporadically since INTRUDER, most recently the dismal HOSTEL PART III.

Raimi, as well as his brother Ted, co-star in the film, and Bruce Campbell turns up at the very end as a cop. There's also GREEN ACRES co-stars Alvy Moore and Tom Lester as a pair of dumb cops, and legendary Three Stooges foil Emil Sitka as a grumpy customer who's in the film long enough to tell a couple "Hold hands, you lovebirds!"  None of the main actors are very good, and heroine Cox is downright terrible.  Perhaps early victim Renee Estevez (Martin Sheen's daughter) should've been given the lead.

As mentioned, Synapse's presentation of INTRUDER is superb.  There's a commentary with Spiegel and producer Lawrence Bender, who went on to produce all of Quentin Tarantino's films (and an early INTRUDER close-up of a box of Fruit Brute makes me wonder how much Bender brought to the table on PULP FICTION, not to mention INTRUDER cast member Burr Steers went on to play Flock of Seagulls in PULP FICTION before abandoning acting to direct bad Zac Efron movies like 17 AGAIN and CHARLIE ST. CLOUD).  There's several featurettes, interviews, workprint footage, cast audition footage, and a brief interview with filmmaker and INTRUDER superfan Vincent Pereira, who tells a great story about writing an angry letter to Fangoria about the cut VHS release only to get a package sometime later with Spiegel's return address, containing a VHS tape of the uncensored INTRUDER.

Is INTRUDER a lost classic?  No, not really.  But it's an enjoyable, blood-soaked slasher flick with moments of truly inspired, creative filmmaking.  I just wish Spiegel had spent more time crafting a unique style that we see fleeting glimpses of here instead of mimicking Raimi's EVIL DEAD/EVIL DEAD II moves.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

DTV Oblivion: The 50 Cent/Val Kilmer Chronicles

These reviews were originally published in a slightly different form on the Mobius Home Video Forum in August 2009 (STREETS OF BLOOD), January 2011 (GUN) and May 2011 (BLOOD OUT)

(US - 2009)  Directed by Charles Winkler.  Written by Eugene Hess.  Cast: Val Kilmer, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Sharon Stone, Michael Biehn, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Barry Shabaka Henley, Brian Presley.  95 mins.  R.

I knew this was a must-see after Nathan Rabin's blistering F review at the Onion's AV Club. He called it out for engaging in "Katrina-sploitation," which is pretty accurate. It's bad enough that this is a painfully by-the-numbers cop thriller with stars who have seen better days (Val Kilmer, Sharon Stone), a popular rapper who can't act (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) and a once-powerful producer (Irwin Winkler, producer of marginally successful films like ROCKY, RAGING BULL, and GOODFELLAS) engaging in shameless nepotism as his son (Charles Winkler, who also made the Irwin-produced DTV sequel THE NET 2.0) is behind the camera. That's all bad enough, but the fact that this sleaze-wallowing, incoherent, incompetently-filmed, terribly-acted disaster tries to take the high road by pretending to be a socially conscious look at post-Katrina New Orleans is just stomach-turning. Well, it does only pretend as much at the beginning and in the nauseating closing credits, where Ry Cooder-esque music plays over shots of still-devastated areas. I don't get offended by films very often, so congrats Charles Winkler. Your film offended me.

I'm not entirely sure what the plot involves--Kilmer leads a band of rogue cops in the months following Hurricane Katrina. They're maybe being set up by a pissed-off FBI agent (Michael Biehn delivers the only actual performance) who may or may not be a bad guy. The perpetually mushmouthed, stunningly uncharismatic 50 Cent plays Kilmer's new partner. Character actions make no sense, there's not really any plot to speak of, and Stone turns in the worst performance of her career as a police shrink straight out of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Seriously, what the hell is with her accent? It's worse than Steven Seagal's N'awlins accent. She's embarrassingly bad. Everyone mumbles to the point of incomprehensibility. I'm sure Irwin Winkler (did I mention he produced ROCKY, RAGING BULL, and GOODFELLAS?  Oh, and also THE RIGHT STUFF and ROUND MIDNIGHT)  is a loving father who only wants to help his son, but he should be ashamed of himself for allowing his name to be put on this.

(US - 2010)  Directed by Jessy Terrero.  Written by Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson.  Cast: Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Val Kilmer, Annalynne McCord, James Remar, John Larroquette, Danny Trejo, Paul Calderon.  82 mins.  R.

Still basking in the afterglow of their STREETS OF BLOOD triumph, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson and Val Kilmer reunite for this Detroit-and-Grand Rapids, MI-shot thriller penned by none other than 50 Cent himself. The results are predictably terrible, which should go without saying considering director Jessy Terrero also helmed SOUL PLANE. Incidentally, Grand Rapids is fast becoming the epicenter of bad DTV: it's where 50 Cent also shot the abysmal CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE, and Kilmer is making his own return trip to the city following the unspeakable THE CHAOS EXPERIMENT.

GUN centers on Rich (50 Cent), a mid-level gun distributor working the Detroit area in the employ of a young mystery woman (90210's AnnaLynne McCord), which also allows Fiddy the screenwriter a chance to write in a gratuitous sex scene for Fiddy the actor. Rich is trying to take his business to the next level, and brings in old friend Angel (Kilmer) to be his right hand. What Rich doesn't know--SPOILER--is that Angel has just been sprung from the joint by grizzled, close-to-retirement detective Rogers (James Remar) and his partner Jenkins (Paul Calderon) to work as a CI after Angel's wife was killed in a Rich-engineered shootout outside a club months earlier.

Coming in at just over 80 minutes, I suppose the best thing that can be said about GUN is that it's short. And it's not as egregiously offensive as the Katrinasploitation of STREETS OF BLOOD, though 50's script does shoehorn in some hamfisted messaging on everything from thug life to the economic state of Detroit to enterprising ghetto crime lords like Rich being used by the rich and powerful. Apparently, we're supposed to sympathize with Rich, a ruthless, cold-blooded killer, when it's revealed that he's an expendable pawn in the moneymaking game of a racist, multi-millionaire owner of a weapons company, played by a cigar-sucking John Larroquette. Larroquette is barely conscious in his two brief scenes, but he's a live wire compared to the ever-mumbling 50 Cent, who still has no screen presence at all. A haggard, tired-looking Kilmer is just going through the motions in one of the 17 films he probably shot that month. The only actor who seems invested in this is Remar, which is shocking considering that he's actually forced to grumble "I'm gettin' too old for this shit!" at one point. Danny Trejo also turns up for about 75 seconds as one of Rich's rival gun suppliers.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the film ends with a shootout at an abandoned warehouse, complete with strategically-placed huge empty cardboard boxes for cars to plow into. I didn't even need to watch this to review it. But I did.

I'm gettin' too old for this shit.

(US - 2011)  Directed by Jason Hewitt.  Written by John O'Connell and Jason Hewitt.  Cast: Luke Goss, Val Kilmer, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Annalynne McCord, Vinnie Jones, Tamer Hassan, Bobby Lashley, Ryan Donowho.  89 mins.  R.

Asinine, bottom-of-the-barrel DTV gang thriller that prominently headlines Val Kilmer and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson--the bad-movie bromance that won't quit--but gives them no scenes together and a total of maybe five minutes of combined screen time. The real star is Luke Goss as Jason Statham as Louisiana sheriff's deputy Michael Savian, who goes undercover (a process that consists of getting a bunch of shitty-looking tattoos that look like a toddler on a sugar high scribbled all over his arms with a Sharpie) and infiltrates the Baton Rouge operation of drug dealer Elias (Tamer Hassan, 50's DEAD MAN RUNNING co-star) to get to the bottom of his banger brother's (Ryan Donowho) murder.

Directed and co-written by one Jason Hewitt, whose credits include being a producer on CABIN FEVER 2: SPRING FEVER, BLOOD OUT is just lazy filmmaking, from the disinterested performances of the cast (the British Goss fails to convince; what kind of Louisiana deputy pronounces the word as "pro-gress"?) to the awesomely crappy CGI throughout. Gun blasts look like cartoon effects. Two CGI bullet holes in a doorway panel are shakily hovering over the paneling in an almost BIRDEMIC-like fashion. And a car rollover near the end has to be seen to be disbelieved. Actually, the last 15 minutes make this whole wretched endeavor worth sitting through. It takes a completely bizarre turn from a standard gangsta flick to a surreal, underground FIGHT CLUB as Goss is, for some reason, forced to fight a hulking brute (pro wrestler Bobby Lashley), who wears a BRAVEHEART kilt and a centurion helmet. This is all overseen by nefarious cartel boss Arturo (Kilmer), who bangs a cane on the ground, summons fire, and declares "Hail, Mars, son of Juno, God of War!" in what's one of his more coherent moments. A disheveled Kilmer first appears around the 50-minute mark of this 89-minute trifle, and has a couple of scenes, obviously improvised in his now-standard Brando mumble. Vinnie Jones also appears, really challenging himself in glaring, wide-eyed, blustery "Fookin' 'ell, mate!" mode. And then there's co-exec producer 50 Cent, in an utterly pointless cameo as a useless Baton Rouge detective who's onscreen long enough to tell a charming anecdote of police corruption that culminates with the poetic "She swallowed the evidence."

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


(US - 2011)  Directed by Scott Spiegel.  Written by Michael Weiss.  Cast: Kip Pardue, Brian Hallisay, Thomas Kretschmann, John Hensley, Chris Coy, Zulay Henao, Sarah Habel, Kelly Thiebaud, Skyler Stone.  88 mins.  Unrated.

And now the HOSTEL franchise gets demoted to the world of straight-to-DVD, several years after the torture porn subgenre has faded to little more than a horror footnote.  I didn't mind the first HOSTEL, but I have to give it up for HOSTEL PART II, with its affectionate homages to 1970s Eurocult classics like TORSO and NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS, and cameos by the likes of Ruggero Deodato, Luc Merenda, and Edwige Fenech.  PART II had a lot more going on than one might've thought, and it works just fine as a standalone feature.  Eli Roth makes it very easy to find Eli Roth annoying, especially now that he's firmly ensconced in the Quentin Tarantino posse, and much like his hero, feels the need to be a terrible actor.  But Roth brought his A-game to HOSTEL PART II, and if he has a masterpiece, that's it.

As expected, Roth has nothing to do with HOSTEL PART III other than a cursory "Based on characters created by..." credit.  Directing chores have been farmed out to HOSTEL co-producer and longtime cult-movie fixture Scott Spiegel, who gets a lifetime pass for co-writing EVIL DEAD II, but really hasn't had much success otherwise.  He wrote and directed 1989's maniac-loose-in-a-grocery-store cult classic INTRUDER, co-wrote the much-maligned 1990 Clint Eastwood-Charlie Sheen vehicle THE ROOKIE, and later directed the straight-to-video FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2: TEXAS BLOOD MONEY (1999), while getting bit parts in most of his buddy Sam Raimi's movies and moderating assorted DVD commentary tracks.   Spiegel and writer Michael Weiss (himself no stranger to DTV sequels, having written US SEALS 2, I'LL ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, and THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT 2 among others) have fashioned HOSTEL PART III as essentially a torture porn version of THE HANGOVER.  Groom-to-be Scott (Brian Hallisay) is taken to Vegas by best man Carter (Kip Pardue), who used to go out with Scott's fiancee (Kelly Thiebaud).  In Vegas, they meet up with two other buddies--sensitive, disabled Justin (John Hensley), and the obnoxious, loathsome Mike (Skyler Stone), who never stops bitching that his wife has put on 30 lbs since they got married.  It isn't long before Mike disappears with an escort and Scott is drugged, and the next morning, no one knows what happened or where Mike is.  Any chance that all roads lead to a secret Elite Hunting facility where filthy rich gamblers place bets on how much torture an unwilling subject can withstand?

Of course, there's a twist which you'll see coming long before the other characters do, and the gore is plentiful (though not as over-the-top as you might imagine).  But it's all just so tired and stale.  Spiegel is a competent enough director, and might've been able to fashion something if the writing had been a little better.  Weiss' lazy script basically has characters yelling "What the fuck?!" and "You sick fuck!" over and over, and it takes less than ten minutes for someone to say "What happens in Vegas..."  Come on!

The Vegas exteriors look to be second-unit work, as most of the film was shot in Detroit, of all places (Spiegel, like his friends Raimi and Bruce Campbell, comes from the Detroit area).  The Elite Hunting headquarters is played by the imposing Michigan Central Station, a decrepit, vacant landmark visible from I-75 that looks as if the intro to Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" should be played in its vicinity 24/7.  In this shot from the climax of HOSTEL PART III (I could post a spoiler warning, but do you really care?), the famed structure is engulfed in what appear to be extremely unconvincing CGI flames of an almost Sega Genesis-level quality.

As for the rest of the cast, there's no one of note other than Thomas Kretschmann as the sinister head of Elite's Vegas operation.  Kretschmann, one of those journeyman actors who has the ability to bounce from serious, important films like THE PIANIST and DOWNFALL to drek like SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2 and KARATE DOG, often in the same year, has little to do in a role that Julian Sands could've played in his sleep.

I imagine the HOSTEL franchise will go the way of HELLRAISER, and we'll get a series of unrelated, increasingly poor sequels that do nothing but cash in on a brand name and give a slumming name actor a fast paycheck.  In that case, I can only hope that the inevitable HOSTEL PART IV gives us guest villain Val Kilmer.  Otherwise, count me out.

Cult Movie Trash: GREAT WHITE (1982)

This review was originally published in a slightly different form in June 2011 on the Mobius Home Video Forum.

(Italy - 1982)  Directed by Enzo G. Castellari.  Written by Mark Princi.  Cast: James Franciscus, Vic Morrow, Micky Pignatelli, Joshua Sinclair, Timothy Brent (Giancarlo Prete), Stefania Girolami, Thomas Moore (Ennio Girolami), Romano Puppo.  87 mins.  PG

Shot in 1980 as L'ULTIMO SQUALO (THE LAST SHARK), this is the infamous Italian JAWS ripoff from Enzo G. Castellari that was released in the US by Film Ventures as GREAT WHITE in the spring of 1982 only to be yanked from theaters after two weeks (not after the opening weekend, which has been commonly cited) when Universal sued. It hasn't been shown in any capacity in the US since, and a planned screening at the New Beverly in Hollywood for a Castellari retrospective a couple years back was shut down by a still-irate Universal. It is a pretty shameless ripoff, but there's really no reason for Universal's legal department to still be acting like dicks about it.

Filmed mostly off the coast of Malta with some location work in Savannah, GA, GREAT WHITE has a small resort town being terrorized by a great white shark. Sound familiar? The sneering mayor (Joshua Sinclair), with his eye on becoming governor, plans to go ahead with his regatta despite the obvious danger. Meanwhile, famous hometown author and shark enthusiast Peter Benton (James Franciscus as both Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss) shows the townies a slide show of shark information, as if they and the moviegoers live in a world where JAWS doesn't exist. Soon, after some more killings and a hilariously botched attempt by the mayor to reel in the shark by dangling a slab of meat from a helicopter, Benton and crusty old sea salt Ron Hamer (Vic Morrow as Robert Shaw) hunt down the shark after it bites off the leg of Benton's daughter Jenny (Castellari's daughter, Stefania Girolami).

This is a terrible but undeniably entertaining film. The completely immobile, stationary shark always pops out of the water with his mouth open, roaring (!!!), and just kinda bobbing in place. For scenes requiring movement, Castellari cuts to completely mismatched, grainy stock footage of smaller sharks that look nothing like a great white. There's some use of miniatures and toy helicopters that would have Antonio Margheriti looking the other way in embarrassment. But Film Ventures and Edward L. Montoro bet the farm on this, spending a few million on publicity and giving it a national release. My dad and I actually saw this opening weekend, and we, and the rest of the audience, weren't pleased. Not long after this, Film Ventures, a successful drive-in and B-movie outfit going back to the early 1970s, went broke and Montoro vanished, never to be seen again. As far as the actors go, Morrow chews the scenery with gusto, using an unconvincing Scottish accent (!), while Franciscus actually seems to take this seriously, but then he always had a Richard Crenna-esque way of bolstering even the most dubious material. If you get a chance (meaning, bootleg DVD), any self-respecting bad movie fan needs to treat themselves to this one. In one scene near the end, you can actually see the ropes being used to pull the immobile shark in a certain direction.

And can anyone tell me how Yvonne Wilkins' "Hollywood Big Time," the scorching tune played over GREAT WHITE's opening credits, failed to top the charts?  Livin' on cocaine!  Drivin' you insane!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


(Canada - 2011)  Directed by Uwe Boll.  Written by Michael Nachoff.  Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Natassia Malthe, Lochlyn Munro, Aleks Paunovic, Heather Doerksen, Natalya Gustislaya, Christina Jastrzembka, Michael Adamthwaite. 96 mins. R.

Uwe Boll's straight-to-DVD sequel to his 2008 box office bomb has a drastically reduced budget thanks to the extinction of all those great German tax loopholes that the filmmaker and part-time boxing enthusiast took advantage of in the past.  As has been the case over Boll's last several films, he no longer has the cash to corral the big names he once did.  So, where the first ITNOTK had Jason Statham supported by the likes of Burt Reynolds as a noble king and Ray Liotta as an evil and improbably leather-jacketed sorcerer, this has Dolph Lundgren with Boll regular Natassia Malthe (BLOODRAYNE sequels) and DTV mainstay Lochlyn Munro.  ITNOTK was pretty terrible, but it was a fun terrible.  The sequel is just boring, and really tough to get through without a bizarre cast of slumming and/or intoxicated big name actors to keep it interesting. With a sleepwalking Lundgren and some really subpar visual effects, ITNOTK: TWO WORLDS looks and plays like it should be debuting on a Saturday night on SyFy.

In present day Vancouver, ex-military officer and karate instructor Granger (Lundgren) is attacked in his home by a bunch of medieval ninjas in Darth Maul makeup, and transported to a world centuries past.  Elianna (Natalya Gustislaya), sorceress to the King (Munro) has brought Granger back in time because he is The Chosen One, revealed by a prophecy to be the warrior from the future to help them fight the Holy Mother (Christina Jastrzembska) and her army of Dark Ones.  An unimpressed Granger tells the king "You can take that prophecy and shove it up your ass."  But it turns out the Holy Mother and the Dark Ones have spread a plague across the land, which killed the previous King (the character played by Statham).  Now suddenly convinced of the prophecy, Granger has a change of heart: "Tell me where to find this crazy bitch."

As has happened in the past (1968 TUNNEL RATS, his version of a late '80s Vietnam movie; and THE FINAL STORM, a religious-themed thriller that came about a decade after the LEFT BEHIND/OMEGA CODE craze), Boll seems to be ripping off a film years past its sell-by date, in this case the nearly 20-year-old ARMY OF DARKNESS.  There's a lot of story elements pilfered from Sam Raimi's 1993 cult classic, but there's no energy or momentum, and everyone seems catatonic.  Lundgren is clearly bored, Munro starts using an Irish accent late in the film for no apparent reason, and Malthe, as a nursemaid who accompanies Granger on his quest, is simply awful.  There's a plot twist 2/3 of the way through, and a badly CGI'd fire-breathing dragon makes a guest appearance, but there's virtually nothing to recommend about IN THE NAME OF THE KING: TWO WORLDS.  Boll has shown occasional flashes of decency in some of his more recent films (1968 TUNNEL RATS and ATTACK ON DARFUR weren't bad; POSTAL had some genuinely hilarious moments; and the harrowing prison drama STOIC was actually good), but without name actors like Statham, Reynolds, Liotta, or Ron Perlman, or, say, BLOODRAYNE's Ben Kingsley (yes, Ben Kingsley was once in an Uwe Boll film) to raise the MST3K factor, there's little reason to watch something like IN THE NAME OF THE KING: TWO WORLDS, a cheap, shoddy piece of work that even the most die-hard Dolph Lundgren fans should avoid.