Sunday, June 25, 2023

Undead Police Story



New World Pictures was a production company originally founded by Movie mogul Roger Corman in 1970. Between 1970 and the late 1990's New World Pictures brought out a lot of the type of stuff that made a name for Corman (although with a bigger budget than was the norm during his earlier stint in Hollywood).  Whether Corman had a hand in the day to day production of the movies his company put out or not, the list of movies is a goldmine for great ideas for future reviews.  I got the idea to look at their output after reviewing Hell Comes to Frogtown

One of the first ones that caught my eye was this one.  Mainly because we recently lost Treat Williams, but also because his co-star, Joe Piscopo, is one I had been thinking about because of my review of Johnny Dangerously.

Dead Heat is typical of the kinds of drive-in type movies that appeal to someone of my particular bent.  Lots of action interspersed with some witty (and sometimes snarky) comedy.  And to add a little zest, zombies.

Also showing up in this movie is Vincent Price.  Price was reaching the end of his career by this time, but he still brings it to the table (as he always did).  He only made two more movies after this, including his final role in Edward Scissorhands. His role here, as a secondary villain (and recently deceased benefactor) is not his best, but seeing Price in any film is always a treat.





Dead Heat  (1988):

The movie opens with a bang.  Two guys (somewhat inept) are attempting to rob a jewelry store. Meanwhile, every cop in the city has converged on the store, ready to pounce on them as they exit the building.  This includes undercover cops (why undercover cops, hell, I don't know), Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo).




Mortis and Bigelow


As the thieves exit the building a shootout ensues, with bullets flying everywhere.  The thieves themselves are shot something like 50 times but keep on fighting.  It takes a grenade to blow up one and the other gets trashed when Mortis pins him forcefully between the car he is driving and another car.

The two get called on the carpet by their superior, Captain Mayberry (Mel Stewart).  They have committed numerous infractions of department policy including "unauthorized use of a city vehicle, reckless endangerment of property and lives, use of a non-regulation firearm, disrespectful conduct", and, as if that wasn't enough, "18 parking tickets" (and that's just THIS month... Ye Gods!) 

Mortis and Bigelow are called to the city morgue by resident coroner Rebecca Smythers (Claire Kirkconnell). Rebecca and Roger had a previous intimate relationship, so they know each other. 

Smythers (with Mortis and Bigelow)



 It seems that the two recently "deceased" criminals had been in her care before. That's right.  They had already been declared dead by her from a previous autopsy.  The surgical scars on their bodies were from the previous autopsy. OK, now we're getting somewhere...

 So, rather quickly, it  comes to light that the corpses have some synthetic compound in their system called Sulfathiozole  (which is actually a real drug used in surgeries to combat infection.) It turns out that a local research company called Dante Laboratories has purchased bulk amounts of this drug, so the two go to investigate.

Where they meet a public relations rep named Randi James (Lindsay Frost), who introduces them Dr. McNab (Darren McGavin) the head of the research facility. 


Randi James

Dr McNab



In the process they are shown a special room that they use to euthanize lab animals, and a secret room that has some high tech gadget they can't figure out.  But someone doesn't want them snooping around and sends a couple of zombies to kill them.

In the process, Mortis ends up in the euthanizing chamber and gets locked in and killed by the secret enemy.  Rebecca shows up after hearing that Roger has died (over police dispatch radio, yeah right...) Not only is she able to figure out that the contraption in the secret room can revitalize dead bodies, she also has the knowledge of how to operate the thing, just on seeing the computer  layout.

Roger is revived, although at the beginning he thinks he just blacked out.  It takes some serious convincing to make him aware that he died and is now a zombie.  With only 10 or 12 hours to live...again.) So Mortis and Bigelow, like the main character in D.O.A.  have a limited time to get to the bottom of the mystery as to who killed Roger before Roger is really dead for good.

Of course, the bad guys don't want the pair to be successful, so several zombie assassins are put in their path.  This coupled with Mortis' rapid deterioration (he is still a dead man, after all) hinders them somewhat.

Along the way, a few more people are killed by the zombies (including Bigelow, but he is revived by the same process that revived Mortis).  That's right, now we have TWO zombie cops on the trail of the zombies and the zombie master, as it were.

It turns out that Arthur Loudermilk (Vincent Price), the benefactor of Dante Laboratories has been behind the development of this contraption for extending lives, although his only motive was to keep rich people (people who could afford his process) alive.  Is he behind the plot to kill Mortis and Bigelow or is he just an innocent bystander?


Arthur Loudermilk



This movie is really good, despite it's rather negative reception by critics and the box office.  I imagine, like the previous review I did for Hell Comes to Frogtown, this one was only in theaters for a limited run, but I honestly did not know it even existed until a couple of weeks ago.  But in retrospect it was well worth seeking out.

Time to fire up the old Plymouth and head home.  Stay safe from the zombies, folks!


Wednesday, June 21, 2023

A Soldier's Life is Hell



 Fair Warning! This movie review is as family friendly as I can make it, considering the content. The movie itself is NOT family friendly.  I say this to warn the more conservative readers of this blog.


Pop Quiz:  Which of the following is out of place?

1. Movies:

    a. Rain Man

    b. Dangerous Liaisons

    c. Mississippi Burning

    d. Hell Comes to Frogtown


2. Directors:

    a. Barry Levinson

    b. Martin Scorcese

    c. Mike Nichols

    d. Donald G. Jackson


3.  Actors:

    a. Dustin Hoffman

    b. Gene Hackman

    c. Tom Hanks

     d. Rowdy Roddy Piper


4. Actresses:

    a. Jodie Foster

    b. Glenn Close

    c. Meryl Streep

    d. Sandahl Bergman


If you chose any answer but d. on the above questions, you may just be in the right blog.

The questions have the winners (a. each time) of the Oscars, and two of the runners-up (b. and c. ) for 1988 films.  The d. answers refer to another film from 1988 which was not even in the consideration, Hell Comes to Frogtown.

Donald G. Jackson made a career out of low budget schlock like The Demon Lover and Rollergator. (now there's one I'd like to find, featuring a talking alligator if the stuff on IMDb is to be believed...) He also made this movie as well as three sequels to it.  

I remember when I first moved to San Marcos to go to college, I would page through the movie section of the local counterculture magazine  The Austin Chronicle. I often looked longingly at the oddball titles of movies that were usually showing only at one theater in Austin (and often with only one showing time that conflicted with my college schedule)

Many of them I managed to find later, either as VHS rentals, or in recent years, finding a vintage remaster on DVD.  Hell Comes to Frogtown was one of those that was always at the back of my mind but I never got the chance to watch, mainly because I never saw it in the stacks at the store.  Maybe there was a reason for that. (And you may get your own theories after reading what is in the film...)

 The films titular star, Sam Hell (which is actually short for "Hellman" but everyone just calls him "Hell"), is "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, a former wrestling star.  Piper has an astounding 176 acting credits to his name, according to IMDb, but 150 or so of them are as himself, for his wrestling videos.  (And some people say wrestling is "real",,,) He has actually acted in non-wrestling roles, including one of my favorite movies, They Live  in  which, like this one,  he also battles a race of non-human characters

Along with him is Sandahl Bergman.  Bergman started out as a dancer. (She is one of the Muses in the early dance scene in Xanadu. She went on from there to star next to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first Conan movie, which garnered her what would be the last entry of a Golden Globe for Best New Star - Actress. From there she is been in middling performances over the years including a Razzie-nominated role in Red Sonja. (which she lost to her co-star in Red Sonja Brigitte Nielsen (who won the Worst Supporting Actress Razzie for her role in Rocky IV).  



The only other name (or face) you might recognize is William Smith  Smith mad a career out of being a secondary character in dozens of movies and TV episodes.  He was working right up until his death a couple of years ago at 88.  Some of you more conservative might remember him best on the mini series Rich Man, Poor Man in which he was Falconetti.  But he was often cast in military roles in straight to video movies.  (Gotta make it in the business any way you can.)

There is a great enjoyment for me in watching post-apocalyptic movies.  Usually the world has gone to Hell in a hand basket (no reference to the title character...).  This one is no exception.  And depending on your personal outlook it might be the better for it.  You see, the women are all in charge.

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988):

The movie begins with an overview of how we got to this point.

 "In the latter days of the twentieth century, there arose a difference of opinion. 

The leading experts at the time believed that a nuclear war would only

involve the exchange of a few bombs. And then the suitably horrified

combatants would sit down a the peace table.

They were wrong."


So by the time of the setting of the movie, the population of the human portion of the world has been rapidly descending.  This is because the male population was virtually wiped out (or made sterile) as a result of the after effects of the nuclear destruction.  There are only a few men with the ability to help the procreation process kick back into high gear. 

One of these is Sam Hell (Roddy Piper).  A direct descendant of "Snake" Plissken ( Escape from New York and Escape from L.A.), Sam is an outlaw, only his big crime is having sex with as many women as he can.  When we first see Sam he is being beaten up by Devlin (William Smith), a law enforcement figure, but also the father of one of the girls that Sam has gotten pregnant.  (So he has some personal vendetta going for him, too, not just a dislike of the criminal variety.)

Hell is rescued by a pair of women, Patton (Eyde Byrde) and Spangle (Sandahl Bergman).  The women offer Sam a total immunity for past crimes if he will sign up to help repopulate the Earth.  Sam is outfitted with a special device that is essentially the male version of the chastity belt. He isn't totally incapable of performing any acts, but he does have to do it only when it is in the service of the government.

And his first job?  He has to help rescue a group of potential mothers who have been taken hostage by the leader of Frogtown (the reservation that has been set aside for the frogmen (greeners), Commander Toty (Brian Frank).


Commander Toty



Hell takes off with Spangle and Centinella (Cec Verrell) to infiltrate Frogtown, driving a pink (go figure) minivan/land rover.





Once in Frogtown, Hell meets up with an old friend, an old somewhat eccentric old coot, appropriately named Looney Tunes ( Rory Calhoun), a renegade who is double dealing with the Greeners for his own profit. 

Looney Tunes



 He also garners an ally among the frog people in the person of Arabella (Kristi Somers).  Both are instrumental in his quest to free the girls Toty is holding.



Who looks a lot better without makeup










he parallels between this movie and Escape from New York abound including the oddball ally (similar to "The Brain" in EFNY) and the leader of the renegades in the town (similar to "The Duke") and of course the quest to save the President, I mean the fertile women.

One  of the running plot devices (gags) is that Hell's chastity belt is wired to blow if he gets too far away from the signal from Spangle's earring, which leads to several scenes where his monitor starts to warn him its about to explode.

Along the way we get to meet the mastermind human behind all the nuclear weapons mumbo jumbo that crops up during the film.  It's a character named Colonel Sodom.  And of course, Sodom is our friend from the beginning of the movie who is beating the crap out of Hell before the women arrive to save him.

Of course, you know how all this is going to end.  But one of the best lines is when Spangle says after he has performed his duties maybe the two of them can get together for a liaison.  "What duties?" he asks. Spangle indicates the five women in the back of the minivan/land rover.  And Hell delivers the final line:

"I guess it's true what they say.  A soldier's work is never done."

As I warned you at the beginning, if you made it this far, you know it;s not one to watch with the kids.  (Unless you want to start early explaining about the birds and the bees.) But if you just want to spend a quiet evening with the significant other watching a mindless movie, it's not a bad choice.

Well, time to fire up the engines on the Plymouth (which fortunately isn't pink)  Drive safely, folks.


Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Hot in the City






In the 70's Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds were at the top of their game as far as box office draw and popularity.

Clint Eastwood from 1970 to 1980 made Dirty Harry Callahan a household name with Dirty Harry and The Enforcer, as well as one of his classic (in my opinion) westerns, The Outlaw Josey Wales and even his first stab behind the camera (directing himself) in Play Misty For Me.

Burt Reynolds, although not making as big an impact on the critics, was still a big box office draw.  Smokey and the Bandit and the original The Longest Yard made their debut during this period.  He also made one of his most memorable dramatic roles as the lead in Deliverance.

Surely someone in that time period thought "Wouldn't it be great if we could get Eastwood and Reynolds together in a movie?  Well, it took until 1984 for that to happen.  I'm sure the bigwigs in the back room were counting the millions up in their heads that this match-up would surely draw. And on paper, just for the star power, it probably seemed like a sure bet.

The thing is City Heat comes off like a parody, even though I don't think it was meant to be a parody.  Of course, Richard Benjamin, the director, made most of his career as an actor as a comedy actor and his only movie directing output up to that point had been comedies (Where's Poppa?, Racing with the Moon and My Favorite Year).  And the script was written by Blake Edwards who had his finger in the pie in a number of great comedies (The Peter Sellers run of The Pink Panther, S.O.B., The Great Race).  So maybe it was supposed to be a parody after all.

The movie was universally panned at it's premiere. Roger Ebert's comment illustrates the problem that critics had when he wrote "almost every scene in the movie seems to have been a separate inspiration, thrown in with no thought for the movie as a whole. "

My personal opinion is that it is a pretty entertaining movie, even though you can get lost in all the double crosses that is at the center of the movie.  The movie generally appears on lists of the worst movies of all time, probably because of that incoherency. Steve Miller in his book 150 Movies You Should Die Before You See says that we have here is "a convoluted story, flashes of absurdist humor that are out of place, and every actor but Burt Reynolds is underused."

So why should you watch?  Well, because it is Burt and Clint, obviously, even if they don't seem to connect as a pair like you might expect.  It is all you're ever going to get, though, as they never paired together again and Reynolds has gone on to film movies in that great movie studio in the sky.

City Heat (1984):

The film starts off pretty well.  Lt. Speer (Clint Eastwood goes to a diner to get a cup of coffee.  Two thugs show up looking for Mike Murphy (Burt Reynolds), who shows up a few moments later (driving a beat up roadster with no top, in the rain, forcing him to drive while holding an umbrella, one of the funnier parts of the movie.)




Murphy gets into a fight with the two thugs while Speer calmly drinks his coffee, watching as Murphy gets his ass kicked.  That is until one of the hoodlums jostles Speer and makes him spill his coffee.  He then joins the fight.  At this point we discover that Speer and Murphy were once compadres but they don;t like each other much now.  It seems Murphy was once a fellow police officer before he left the force to form a private detective business.

Murphy has a partnership with Diehl Swift (Richard Roundtree) .  Diehl is out on his own, running a scam to make a buttload of money.  Apparently he has come into possession of some ledger books for a crime boss named Coll (Tony Lo Bianco).  He has a deal with a rival gangster Primo Pitt (Rip Torn) to turn over these ledgers for $25,000.




But Diehl is trying to play both ends off each other and tries to make a deal with Coll to give him his ledgers back for $50,000. (What rival gangster Pitt wants with Coll's ledgers is a mystery.  Also why gangsters keep ledgers of their illegal activities is a bit confusing to me.  It was one of the things that brought Al Capone down in The Untouchables but I never really understood it then either.)

Anyway, Pitt gets wind of the double cross and ends up killing Diehl in front of Diehl's girlfriend, Ginny Lee (Irene Cara).  So now Ginny Lee becomes a key in the story.  And Ginny Lee is no idiot.  She's hiding out and no one knows where she is.




So while Speer is seeking Ginny Lee as a witness and Murphy is looking for the ledgers and both Pitt and Coll and their respective henchmen are trying to get their hands on these ledgers we get treated to a couple of (somewhat) humorous encounters.  Twice more Murphy finds himself in a dire situation as the various gangsters zero in on their prey, and Speer, who just happens to be in the neighborhood, sits idly by.  The running gag is Speer is willing to let the hoods have their way until they intrude on his own private space.

One in particular I find hilarious is both gangs end up in a shootout at Murphy's apartment.  Speer sits in his car watching the proceedings until a stray bullet hits his car window.  An angry Speer then grabs a shotgun and proceeds to mow down the hoods while Murphy is trying desperately to hide from the onslaught.

Since a trope of these kinds of movies involves a love interest being put into a dangerous situation, you have Murphy's girlfriend, Caroline (Madeline Kahn) kidnapped by Pitt and held hostage for the goods.  And Murphy's secretary, Addy (Jane Alexander), a would-be girlfriend of Speer, kidnapped and held hostage by Coll.




 The movie is pretty fun, in my opinion, despite whatever flaws the critics might have found in it.  Is it Oscar worthy?  Hardly.  But then, if you have seen most of my posts over the years, you know that Oscar material is hardly a criteria for what I like.

Drive safely, folks.



Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Dangeous Comedy






Believe it or not, before his recent surge as supervillain Vulture in Spiderman: Homecoming, before his Academy Award nominated  role in Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue oif Ignorance, before his performance as Batman/Bruce Wayne in two Tim Burton helmed Batman movies, even before one his most profound dramatic roles as an addict in Clean and Sober (you've never heard of that one, I bet), Michael Keaton was a bonafide comedy actor.  

He started out as a stand-up comedian and sometimes actor until his breakthrough role as Henry "The Fonz" Winkler's foil in Night Shift.  Later appearing in Mr. Mom, Gung Ho, The Dream Team  and of course his bravura performance as the title character in Beetlejuice.


In between all of those was a send-up of gangster movies titled Johnny Dangerously.  I mentioned in my previous post, Bad Movies Rule that I had been searching Spotify for the title song to this movie, "This Is The Life" (by Weird Al Yankovic) and came across the Bad Movies Rule podcast.  One of the movies they spotlighted over the run of the podcast (still ongoing, by the way) was Johnny Dangerously, and I said I intended to start spotlighting some of the movies they covered.  

I saw this one in the theater when it first came out.  (I have about 10-15 years on those podcasters, so I was in my early 20's and thus got to see it first run.)  Keaton, for me, was one of the comedy stars I used to line up to see when new movies came out.  As with his contemporary, Robin Williams, Keaton graduated from a strictly comedic star into more dramatic roles, but I personally liked his comedy movies better.  Maybe Keaton wasn't as entirely unhinged as Williams (the aforementioned Beetlejuice being an exception) but he was still great as a comedic actor.  (Not to downplay the serious roles... I just like comedy better.)


The movie was directed by Amy Heckerling, the woman who also brought us Fast Times at Ridgemont High,  Cluless and two of the 3 Look Who's Talking movies (as director, she also produced the third one but wasn't director).

Johnny Dangerously (1984):

It;s 1935.  We know that because after the credits roll,  a little blurb at the bottom of the screen says "1935"  (which is promptly plowed off the screen by an oncoming car, just so you don't get the idea that this movie might be a serious drama...)


Johnny Kelly (Michael Keaton) runs a pet shop.  While he is busy feeding the dogs and cats, a young  kid enters the shop and trues to shoplift a puppy, but is caught,  Johnny begins to tell the kid about his life of crime all of which got it's start when Johnny, in need of a quick $50 to help his ailing mother (Maureen Stapleton), aids the Jocko Dundee (Peter Boyle) mob in raiding the casino of a rival Roman Moronie (Richard Dimitri).

Dimitri, as Moronie is one of the highlights of the movie. He mangles the English language at every turn (but only the curse words, thus managing to keep what would have potentially R rated movie safely in the PG-13 realm. Note: it's not entirely free of language of that kind, be forewarned.)

"You ice-hole!"

"You lousy cork-soakers!"

"You fargin sneaky bastige!"

(any translation of that to harsher words is on your own time.)

Johnny manages to stay straight and narrow through his teenage years, but another need for money for his mother sends him to the Jocko Dundee mob full time.  He becomes the most charismatic and non-violent gangster to ever walk the face of the Earth.  Of course, everybody loves him.  And everybody, except his mother and his brother Tommy (Griffin Dunne) (who must be the most non-obersvant two people on the face of the planet) knows that Johnny Kelly, local nightclub owner and Johnny Dangerously, gangster are one and the same. 

For the first part of the movie there is just Johnny and his pals having fun making Maronie's life hell as well as doing some typically gang-related stuff like running illegal gambling (and obviously, since this is supposed to be during Prohibition, dealing in alcohol, although they never really state that the alcohol in the movie is illegal.)

Into the mix comes a new gang member, a boyhood chum, Danny Vermin (Joe Piscopo).  Danny gets some of the best lines in the movie.  

"You shouldn't hang me on a hook, Johnny.  My father hung me on a hook once.  Once!"

"You shouldn't grab me, Johnny.  My mother grabbed me once.  Once!"

"You shouldn't kick me in the balls.  My grandmother kicked me in the balls once... uhhng."





And my absolute favorite.  When he parks in a handicapped spot (Handicapped spot?  In the 30's?  OK...) a cohort tells him he is parked in one.


"I am handicapped.  I'm psychotic."


This being a typical movie of course there is a love interest.  A new singer shows up at the Dundee nightclub, Lil Sheridan (Marilu Henner). Things don't start out swimmingly for Johnny as his typical charm doesn't cut the mustard with Lil.  But of course, you know instinctively that that's going to change over the course of the film.




Things come to a head when Johnny's brother becomes the District Attorney (after Johnny has used his illegal activities money to put Tommy through law school, instead of joining a law firm that Johnny specifically sought out for him to join after graduation. Tommy intends to bring down the biggest crime organization of the city, Johnny Dangerously's mob. (Johnny became leader after Jocko decided to retire.) Of course, as stated before Tommy doesn't know that his brother and Johnny Dangerously are one and the same.



A plot hole shows up about this time.  Danny and Johnny were known to each other as kids, but it comes as a surprise, supposedly, when Danny "discovers" that Johnny Dangerously is Johnny Kelly, brother of the D.A. Tommy. (Shouldn't he have already known if they grew up together?  I mean even if they weren't exactly friends?)

My cohorts at Bad Movies Rule think the whole movie goes downhill in the last 1/3 of the movie, but I like it all the way through.  And that is mostly due to Joe Piscopo.  Even though Keaton is the star, ostensibly, Piscopo makes this movie rock.  It's too bad his career didn't really take off.  Most of his post Johnny Dangerously roles have been as bit players in TV shows. He did a couple of films (one of which may show up on this blog later, Dead Heat, in which he starred with Treat williams in a cop/zombie comedy).

Not that Keaton is not entirely without merit in this film.  He did better in Beetlejuice, and was really good in Night Shift, but I just think Piscopo outshines him here.

Well, that's all this time from the back seat of the Plymouth.  drive-safely, folks.