Friday, June 24, 2016

Neon Maniacs (1986)

"When the world is ruled by violence,
And the soul of mankind fades,
the children's path shall be darkened
by the shadows of the Neon Maniacs."

Does that intro voice-over make any sense to you? Good, then it sets up this movie perfectly.

The first few moments establish that there are killers living under the San Francisco Bridge that murder. Oh, they also have trading cards for some reason...

Don't worry, these are never explained nor seen again after this point in the movie.

Each member of this group of murdering killers has his own theme/preferred murdering method. It's kind of like someone said, "That Village People thing was pretty cool. Let's mix that with a bunch of deadly killing murderers who all dress in costume. But they're not 'People' so we'll call them 'Maniacs.' And everyone is going wild about neon because it's 1986, so we'll toss that word in too."

Neon blood, because...well, the word is in the title so...

So, after their random killing of the fisherman (to establish that they are, in fact, murdering killers) the Neon Maniacs venture out to do some good old-fashioned murdering of teenagers. Unfortunately, one of their would-be victims doesn't get murder-killed. She gives a statement to the police and then goes back to high school, where no one believes her story.

EXCEPT...for one plucky, young pseudo-Punky Brewster type who is really into horror films.

So plucky, her hat couldn't possibly stay on straight.

Plucky Brewster decides to investigate on her own and (accidentally) discovers that the monsters have a weakness. As she's doing some digging, one of them trips into a water puddle right in front of her. That's right, these creatures have their own garlic/silver bullet. And it is...WATER!

Yes. These scary slashing-hackers disintegrate when they come into contact with the most common substance on earth. You could literally defeat them with a spray bottle.

Or a water gun...

...water bucket...

...shower combo.

It's clear that this movie doesn't care about logic. It's got a central conceit that no one thought through (i.e. Does the fog they're walking through also harm these monsters?). The film pours everything into the idea of 12 themed killers, but dries up otherwise. There's no gory deaths to wash over the viewer, and barely more than a spritzing of story. Recommended only for 80s horror buffs.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Ninja III: The Domination (1984)

Ninja III: The Domination is a movie with an identity crisis. This crisis plays out in front of you like a friend making a drunken scene in a public place. You're powerless to stop it, and everything you try to do that might mitigate its severity only escalates the intensity. So, you end up just sitting back and letting it play out, nodding solemnly as an hour-and-a-half passes.

I've already mentioned that I'm a fan of the 80's "ninja craze" so this film seemed like a natural fit. Even more so after I saw the craziness that was Golan-Globus in Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. But I was not prepared for the insanity of a Ninja/Exorcist film, and I think that shows in my attempt to outline the setup.

The movie begins with all-out ninja action...on a golf course. All of the traditional ninjitsu arts are on display in this first 10 minute sequence, including:

"Golf-cart lifting"

"Gun blow-darting"

"Car roof-punching"

"Kicking a dude off his motorcycle, then putting him back on so that he can fall off again as it crashes" - Note: This gif was not edited.

After bombarding the audience with the kind of ninja craziness that could only come out of an 80's ninja flick, suddenly, things shift. We get a Flashdance-esque sequence of a beautiful Tele-Company Worker suiting up to climb a telephone pole and then spotting our ninja just before he dies. They struggle, she gets away, but then he yells, and inexplicably, she's like, "Sure, I'll hear you out (even though you're talking in Japanese) and absorb your memories from the sword you want to give to me."

"I've always wanted a bloody sword."

One of the weirdest aspects of this film (and that's saying something) is that the writer, the actors, or both seem to have never actually interacted with other human beings before.

For example, the main cop calls to ask the Tele-Company Worker out but she says she has an aerobics class; he shows up at her aerobics class (to unabashedly stalk her), yet she's not creeped out by this creeper. That's just the start, though.

A group of gym guys try to assault her outside of the gym, yet the cop does nothing to help.

After the fight, he "arrests" her (for fighting back, I guess?).Once they're in his car together, we get this exchange:

"You could get tried for assault for what you did to those guys."
"I don't need any help. Especially from you!"
"I am sick and tired of hearing about how you don't like cops. 'Cuz I'm going to tell you something "Miss Independence." I like being a cop. And if you don't wanna go out with me just because I'm a cop, then the hell with you, lady!"

"I don't have any coffee in my apartment, but I do have some V8 juice. Would you like to take me home?"
Cut to:

There is LITERALLY no scene between the car argument and this.
And that would be weird enough. But then this happens:

V8 product placement at its finest, I guess?

Immediately after their V8 sex-party, she gets possessed by the ninja sword.

Her possession sets up the latter half of the film where our Tele-Company Worker suits-up in ninja clothes and weapons to carry out some Death Wish-style vengeance against the cops who killed the previous ninja incarnation on the golf course.

This movie is one of the rare examples of the patchwork that bad movies can sometimes be made from. Bad acting, a plot derived from parts that don't work together, and a heavy reliance/confidence on action and the lead actress's sex-appeal all come together to create a very strange tapestry. Some bad movies have one or two of these, but seeing all in the same film is truly something else.

If you're looking to watch a movie that makes you question your own sanity and tests your ability to follow along, Ninja III: The Domination is probably just about right. You'll probably get some laughs out of it with the right audience, and you might feel closer to one another after. Kind of like war buddies.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Eliminators (1986)

Two scientists create a time machine and test it out on a Mandroid (part man, part android...all grandson of a tobacco tycoon RJ Reynolds). When their machine proves to be a success, the murderous scientist has no more use for the Mandroid. The other scientist is friends with the cyborg and refuses to dismantle him. When the scientist is killed for his act of defiance, the Mandroid escapes.

Legs? Where we're going, I won't need legs.

He finds a friend of the now-dead scientist buddy who is working on a little scouting robot that can turn into light and bounce around.

Yes, the scientist is Tasha Yar.

And this little ball of light is far less annoying than you would probably guess.

They find an Indiana Jones knock-off who will guide them through the swamps of South America to find the murderous scientist.

Clearly, he's far too manly for sleeves.
Then, they run across a Ninja in the jungles along the way (like you do).

South America: Come for the cocaine and cartels...stay for the Ninja!

After this merry band of 80s tropes has been gathered, the only thing left to do is defeat the murderous scientist who plans to travel back in time and rule the Roman Empire.

Obviously, he plans to rely on his superior technology, NOT his situational awareness.

Along with the hilariously strange awesomeness of teaming up Tasha Yar, her robot Orco, a cyborg who sometimes rides around with a tank as his legs, an Indiana Jones knock-off adventurer, and a Ninja, this film does a pretty damn good job of keeping things moving. Don't get me wrong, the plot is basically nothing but an excuse to get this group together to team up against this guy:

But there are definitely worse plots. And for an 80s B-movie, this one keeps things rolling.

Rolling. See what I did there?

Recommended for those who enjoy a cheesy 80s sci-fi flick. Not nearly groan-worthy enough to be outright hilarious, but a good representative of the species.

Friday, April 1, 2016

B-Book E-Book Double Feature: Vol. 1

It's finally happened. My love of B-movies has spilled over from this blog and into an e-book.

These two novella-length stories were born from the complete lack of B-movie level stories in the e-book marketplace. I mean, what's a guy got to do to see some Public Domain characters duke it out cross-genre style! Where's the flashy dialogue, B-movie tropes, and hilariously cheesy stories told in the fashion of the so-bad-they're-good movies that I enjoy so much? (Answer: in this book!)

Here's the description straight from the Amazon page:

Do you fondly recall watching movies made with a tiny amount of money and in about a week's time? Have you ever wished for the days when you could find those direct-to-video releases featuring your favorite stars before they were stars? Is your idea of fun gathering your friends together and showing them the strangest movie you can just to watch the look on their faces?

If you answered 'yes' to any of those questions, then this B-Book E-Book is for you!

Within these (electronic) pages, you'll find:

*Two complete stories told in the style of films you (might) know and (probably don't) love! 
*Inexplicable shifts in tone!
*Plot-holes! ("Isn't that just bad writing?" you ask. NO! It's purposeful homage!!)
*Public Domain Characters! (Because copyright is stupid and broken!)
*Gratuitous gore and nudity! (In word-form, of course. So it's still safe for the kids!!)

This double-feature um...features? two separate novella-length stories:

Space Nebula Destroyer Alcolon - A space opera following the adventures and exploits of the crew of the starboat Alcolon as they are captured by the terrible, reptilian Weems. The crew must combine their cunning and bravery to form - an escape! Told in the style of Message from Space, Starcrash, and Battle Beyond the Stars.

Frankenstein's Re-Animator! - This Gothic horror story brings Mary Shelley's creature and creator together with a mummy, zombies, and even Hitler! When Hitler wants Frankenstein to create an undead army, only one man can stop him: Frankenstein! Told in the style of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Hammer Horror Films, and Plan 9 From Outer Space.

So, if you love the kinds of movies that I tend to review on this blog, if you like a bit of light-hearted reading, and if you are just curious about what a B-movie in story-form would look like, then THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU!!

Buy now at Amazon  or check out a preview below...

Friday, February 12, 2016

Millennium Godzilla Era (1999-2004)

This final entry in the series/remembrance of my late friend, Zachary Hill, examines the last complete era of Godzilla films. The previous entries have been divided differently from the established criteria of naming them after Emperors (Showa and Heisei), and instead categorizes them by common characteristics and production cycles (Early, Middle, and Late). The Millennium Era matches with established norms for the last six Godzilla films.

This era is characterized by re-starts, re-boots, and ret-cons. Only two of the films in this series are connected to each other. 

#23 Godzilla 2000 (1999) *****

The last complete era of Godzilla films (as of the time of this writing, at least) starts off with action from the get-go. In a reaction to the American Godzilla film that Toho rightly saw as a disaster that contained neither the spirit of the character nor the basic elements that make a Godzilla film a Godzilla film, they ramped-up production and created one of their best Godzilla films.

Godzilla 2000 begins with a scientist and his daughter, along with a photographer, attempting to predict Godzilla's next appearance. It's unclear whether this is the Godzilla that matured at the end of the Late Godzilla Era, or if it is another re-boot that only connects to the original Godzilla film (1954).

Godzilla's radically different appearance doesn't help us figure it out either.

When he does show up (and it doesn't take long), the head of a corporation/Minister of the Interior is busy raising a meteor from the bottom of the ocean. This Minister wishes to destroy Godzilla while the scientist sees the creature as an opportunity to increase scientific knowledge. This duality of interests (to destroy/to study) reaches back all the way to the original and remains an important element of any successful, serious Godzilla film.

As the Minister enacts his plan to destroy Godzilla, he brings in the army with their highly specialized weapons. One of which, the General promises, will "go through Godzilla like crap through a goose."

A line from Patton, but no less hilarious because of it.

Turns out, the Minister's asteroid is a space creature that absorbs the DNA structure of other living creatures, and this one settles on copying Godzilla. But at first, it's just a larger Flight of the Navigator ship.

Then, it evolves (in the style of Hedorah) into a tentacled alien creature.

Eventually, it turns into an unnamed, but cool looking creature that tries to eat Godzilla.

Spoilers: this is ultimately a bad plan.

This first entry in the Millennium Godzilla is tightly-paced. The human story is interesting as the "little-guy" scientist works with his daughter against the "big-guy" Minister who has endless resources at his disposal. The Giant Monster action is entertaining, with a foe that actually seems to go toe-to-toe with Godzilla until its ultimate defeat. That foe brings an aspect of the aliens vs. Godzilla theme that was prevalent in the Middle Godzilla Era, giving Godzilla the chance to be both destructive force and the defender of Earth. There are even a few funny lines so the film doesn't take itself too seriously throughout. Every element of a good Godzilla film can be found here. Highly recommended.

#24 Godzilla vs. Megaguiras (2000) ***

This Godzilla film makes the interesting choice to begin by ret-conning Godzilla's original appearance in 1954 (and at least one other in 1966) with images of the newer design that debuted in Godzilla 2000 (yet this film isn't connected to that one since no one mentions Godzilla fighting off an alien creature).

The idea was that this iteration of Godzilla had it out for nuclear energy. To avoid Godzilla's wrath and make sure he never returns to destroy again, Japanese scientists develop a new source of power and an Anti-Godzilla Task Force. This Task Force (called G-Graspers because this is a Godzilla movie) develops a miniature black-hole that will capture Godzilla and keep him prisoner for eternity.

Godzilla movies are basically written by throwing darts at a "plot dart board."

Unfortunately, the black-hole weapon swallows a bug (just like Marlon Brando in the Apocalypse Now deleted scenes) and that bug is mutated (eventually) into Megaguirus.

Not completely unlike Battra in Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992)

Along with the crazy Godzilla science-stuff, there are a lot of elements from previous movies shoe-horned in here. Yet another Space-X type flying vehicle to combat Godzilla (this time called the Griffon). A member of G-Grasper has a personal vendetta against Godzilla for killing a friend. Godzilla as the force of destruction that ends up saving humanity. A creature with a few forms before the final Giant Monster (like Hedorah), and one acts a lot like the Destroyah creatures. The best throw-back though, is the "wrestling move" that Godzilla pulls on Megaguirus.

Sure, you could argue that in such a long-running series, it's difficult not to start cannibalizing the prior films in the series. Thankfully, this movie doesn't turn that cannibalism into a bad film, necessarily. It's just not particularly good either. The human story isn't interesting, even with the inclusion of a strong female lead and a kooky inventor (just like the one in Monster Zero!). And while the Giant Monster fights are engaging, they take place really deep into the film. This one ends up as a mediocre entry, but if you must watch it, be sure to drink for the first hour. That'll make the last 45 minutes far more enjoyable for having done something more useful leading up to it than actually watching the movie.

#25 Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001) *****

Not only does this entry sport the longest title of any film in the series, it's also one of the best. Yet again, the film ignores all previous Godzilla movies except for the original Godzilla (1954). The basic premise here is simple. Godzilla is coming back, and Japan needs some protection. That's where the Guardian Monsters (Baragon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah) come in.

After they have a few scenes where the Guardians kill or terrorize some misbehaving kids, people start mistaking Baragon for Godzilla because they've only seen one Giant Monster prior. Then, Godzilla shows up...

And he is terrifying...

This Godzilla has been created by nuclear experimentation, but he also embodies the souls of Japanese soldiers who fought in WWII because the nation has moved on and forgotten the sacrifices they made. If nothing else, All-Out Monster Attack should be given credit for not shying away from the roots of Godzilla's origins.

In addition to the serious tone, some of the best Giant Monster fights of the series can be found in this film. The first of which is fast and brutal, showing that Godzilla is a beast to be reckoned with, even against Guardian Monster Baragon.

Then, the other Guardian Monsters are put in their place. Godzilla is the true King of Monsters in this movie. And with each encounter, the movie further solidifies itself as a sight to behold for fans of Giant Monster fights.

Sure, the human story is lackluster and mostly here as the glue to hold the Giant Monster battles together, but it all works. On top of that, the pacing moves quickly from one plot point to the next. Ultimately, Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monster All-Out Attack made Godzilla a formidable foe to be feared, not just for the destruction he could wreak on civilization, but also for what he represented. He's more than a force of nature; the Godzilla of this film symbolizes Japan's past and the nuclear science that created him both wrapped into one. With the addition of the Guardian Monsters (one of which has been traditionally a "bad-guy") this film creates something from what has come before, yet adds an entertaining film to the series with a few thought-provoking elements for good measure. Highly recommended.

#26 Godzilla against MechaGodzilla (2002) ***

Yet again, this film only connects to the original Godzilla (1954), but also references two non-Godzilla Toho films (1961's Mothra and 1966's War of the Gargantuas). Essentially, this is both the fourth film and fourth re-boot in this Millennium Godzilla Era.

Another Godzilla rampages through Japan in 1999. That "another" part is important because the government/scientists develop a plan to use the first Godzilla's skeleton to build a bio-mechanical MechaGodzilla. Meanwhile, a Mazer operator who screwed up and got her buddies killed trains to join the team piloting MechaGodzilla. Unfortunately, when they fire up MechaGodzilla, the skeleton inside hears Godzilla's roars and "awakens." MechaGodzilla rampages, but after a few adjustments, he's an effective weapon again.

The appeal of this film is the anime-inspired Giant Monster action. There's a sweet new MechaGodzilla.

And while it's nice to see this MechaGodzilla tearing up some miniatures like the original did, Godzilla gets in on the action too.

The human story here, about the Mazer operator turned MechaGodzilla pilot, tries to be emotionally weighty but falls flat. Godzilla against MechaGodzilla is not a great entry in the series, but it avoids being terrible with decent special effects and some good Giant Monster fighting.

#27 Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003) ***1/2

This movie is a direct sequel to Godzilla against MechaGodzilla and picks up immediately after. MechaGodzilla is in need of repairs and a pair of miniature twins from the Mothra movie reveal that Godzilla keeps coming back to destroy Japan because the old Godzilla's bones were used in the MechaGodzilla. If those bones are returned to the sea, Mothra will be Japan's protector. Of course, the government/scientists don't agree to this and Godzilla returns.

The human story of this entry is centered around the pilots and ground crew piloting and working on MechaGodzilla, one of which was visited by the miniature twins and struggles with what they've revealed. It's an attempt to give a "ground's eye view" of these Giant Monsters, but with unrelatable anime-looking stars, it all just feels like the CW's version of a Godzilla cast.

Much angst. So conflict.

Much like it predecessor, this Godzilla movie isn't great. Sure, it's better than Godzilla against MechaGodzilla because of the weirdness of including the miniature twins and Mothra, along with the fact that it's about 75% Giant Monsters fighting. But even with that, it's still not quite enough to be great.

Even though it's only a good, not great, Godzilla movie, there are a few redeeming scenes. Like when Godzilla tail-sweeps MechGodzilla and then blasts it as it falls forward.

#28 Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) ****1/2 
As Toho wound-down the Millennium Godzilla Era in Godzilla's 50th anniversary year, they put together a "reunion" film of sorts. Almost all of Toho's monsters make an appearance (they even include the Non-Zilla from the American Godzilla film), and the plot is reminiscent of Godzilla's bygone times. Essentially, this is a "greatest hits" movie for the fans. And as silly as it is, with some extraneous elements (Matrix-style fighting? Check. Running on the side of a wall? Check.), it's a fun movie that works as what it is meant to be: a throwback, fan-service movie.

Giant Monsters begin to appear in cities all over the world. The Earth Defense Force is dispatched to take them down, but they are "beamed away." Aliens, of course. They've come to explain that a planet is going to hit Earth and destroy it unless Earth blows that planet up. Turns out, that whole story is bullshit, and the aliens plan to replace Earth's leaders with their own. The aliens also control the giant monsters. All except for Godzilla, that is.

These guy, untrustworthy? Shocking, I know.

The human plot is purely in place here to build towards Godzilla facing every single Giant Monster the filmmakers could possibly squeeze into the movie. It's ridiculous and doesn't try to be too emotionally weighty. Sure, it takes itself barely seriously enough. But no more than necessary to get to the next action scene. In other words, it's gloriously and self-indulgently over-the-top for most of the film.

Like when two guys fight on a motorcycle.

And those Giant Monster fights truly pay off for fans. Not only is there a plethora of monsters included in this movie, but seeing Godzilla beat all of them is satisfyingly fun. Especially, but not limited to this quick work he makes of Non-Zilla.

Not even an appearance by Baby Godzilla (called Minilla this time) can ruin this movie. Highly recommended for fans. Just plain recommended fun for everyone else.

This concludes my review/remembrance of all 28 Toho Godzilla films in remembrance of my friend, Zach. We spent a lot of time watching, making fun of, and making reference to these films in the years I knew him. He'll be missed for much more than his love of Godzilla films, but this was a way to pay tribute to a great friend and all-around good guy.