Last Flight To Hell (1990)

Last Flight To Hell (1990)-* * *

Directed by: Ignazio Dolce

Starring: Reb Brown, Chuck Connors, Michele Dehne and Mike Monty

 "A mission of no return."

Mitch Taylor (Reb) is a DEA Agent but seems more like a Rambo-style warrior. He travels to the jungles of the Philippines (where else?) because he’s trying to find Vince Duggan (Monty), a drug dealer who is trying to evade the law. Duggan’s daughter Sheila Madison (Dehne) teams up with Taylor because she has a vested interest in finding her father alive and wants to be sure he isn’t killed. Taylor’s commanding officer is Red Farley (Connors) - but he has a secret. What is it?

Last Flight To Hell is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have moments of sheer ridiculousness which are amazingly fun and entertaining. But on the other hand, there are some pretty lengthy stretches where nothing much happens and the proceedings get rather boring. In this schizophrenic situation, it’s hard to determine where this movie really lies on the entertainment spectrum. Fan favorites Reb Brown and Chuck Connors are on board, as is lower-tier favorite Mike Monty, but there are some scenes where none of these men are involved, and those are the slower parts. Reb is the classic Reb you want, yelling it up as the true action hero of the 80’s. Here, more than anywhere else, he looks like a baby-faced Martin Kove.

Chuck Connors seems more animated here than usual. He laughs, yells and jokes it up. Compare this to his stone-faced performance in Sakura Killers (1987). Perhaps there he didn’t want to get in the way of the raw animal magnetism of George Nichols, so he didn’t even try. Here, he buddies it up with Reb in a nice way. As for his name in the film, Red, other characters, including Reb Brown himself, call him “Reb.” Whether this was an in-joke, or something lost in translation, or just a misunderstanding, we don’t know. And there’s even a scene where Chuck is wearing a black and white striped shirt (or so it seems, it could be horizontal shadows), and another character calls him “Ref”. So suddenly he’s the ref of the jungle? But that striped, collared, short-sleeved shirt makes him look like one of the Beach Boys getting a bit long in the tooth. A Beach Man, if you will.

But like how two highly-trained Government Officials must both turn their keys at the same time to release the bomb, both Chuck Connors and Reb Brown must be present together for this movie to really work. Interestingly enough, the music by Luigi Ceccarelli is the same as Reb’s Strike Commando (1987). It’s not a soundalike, it’s literally the exact same score. Presumably they figured this movie has Reb, so, why spend the money on all new music? But there’s plenty of shooting, of both the machine gun and the rocket launcher variety, with exploding helicopters as well. Most of the shooting victims seem to be overweight, so perhaps their death is the ultimate diet plan. There are other sweaty-looking characters that have strange beards or resemble Jon Lovitz.

We here at Comeuppance Reviews often talk about how you rarely see misspellings in movie credits. It would be weird if you went to see a movie in the theater and in huge letters on the silver screen it stated the star was “Tim Cruise” or “Bruce Wallis”. Well, we’re proud to announce that Last Flight To Hell does not have a credit for who wrote the screenplay. It does, however, have a credit for who wrote the sceenplay. It’s none other than Tom Carp, of course. (Actually Tito Carpi). The fact aside that Last Flight has one of the greatest sceenplays ever written, we can assume it is to date the only sceenplay ever written. This is perhaps even better than Dale “Appollo” Cook in the misspelled movie credits department. You gotta love it.

Thanks to AIP for putting this out. It’s certainly not perfect, but it definitely has its moments. And it further solidifies Reb Brown as perhaps the ultimate underrated action star of the 1980’s.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Hell On The Battleground (1989)

Hell On The Battleground (1989)-* * *

Directed by: David A. Prior

Starring: Fritz Matthews, Ted Prior, William Smith, Johnnie Johnson III, Sean Holton, and Chet Hood

“This is war. There’s no time for love.” - Casey

Sgt. Bill Lance (Prior) and Sgt. Jack Casey (Matthews) are battle-hardened warriors who play by their own rules. While in the depths of the jungle fighting the Russians (is this Vietnam?), their superior officer, Col. Meredith (Smith) punishes them for their rogue ways by having them take some new recruits along with them on their patrols. Now outnumbered by the enemy and surrounded on all sides, Lance and Casey will have to use all their warlike ways to prevail. Will they do it?

Anyone who knows David Prior and the AIP style of filmmaking will appreciate this movie. It’s no Deadly Prey (1987), but what possibly could be? While Deadly Prey was Ted Prior’s movie, Hell On The Battleground is all about Fritz Matthews. Here Fritz gets his moment in the sun and he’s truly never been better. He’s a mulleted mega-meathead who literally spits his terse dialogue and it’s a lot of fun to watch. He even plays his own theme song on acoustic guitar, “Casey’s Bad Boys”. Truly mustaches and mullets are the order of the day here, as surely they were in Vietnam. Ironically, the great William Smith is ‘stache-less here, but he’s as gruff as ever.

Speaking of Smith, once we’re firmly into the movie, Smith - who sounds like a 45 of George C. Scott played on 33 1/3, breaks into a solemnly-spoken poem about Casey and Lance. Apropos of nothing, Smith intones this ballad of the two mighty heroes. Truly in a movie that is highly repetitive and contains shooting, shooting, maybe some grenade launchers and an exploding helicopter, some more shooting followed by maybe a little more shooting, this moment of poetry from an unlikely place stood out. Are Casey and Lance aware that Col. Meredith is writing poetry about them? And how would they feel about that? Those are the unanswered questions that are the food for thought here.

Apparently, since this was the 80’s, our heroes are fighting the Russians, and there’s even a guy that looks exactly like a Red Scorpion (1988)-era Dolph Lundgren. He even has the blonde brush-cut hairdo. The Prior brothers continued fighting the Russians in The Final Sanction (1990), and there they were represented by Robert Z’Dar. So who comes out on top? 

You’ll have to see for yourself. Also, we’re not sure if this was common practice or not, but Lance and Casey’s wives ( Alyson Davis and Ingrid Vold) are along with them, encamped on the battlefield. Both Davis and Vold were in the same year’s David Heavener vehicle Deadly Reactor (1989) together. Do they only come as a pair? But it just proves even further that 1989 was probably the top year for video stores in the U.S. Product was coming fast and furious, and only now are we beginning to sort it all out.

There’s the cross for good luck, and AIP staple Sean Holton is also on board, and this movie does probably top Jungle Assault (1989) and Operation Warzone (1988) for AIP war material, but the problem is there’s no one strong, central villain. There’s no baddie to boo and hiss at. It’s just the nebulous concept of “Russians”. 

But that aside, there are enough decent/funny/worthwhile moments to keep this one afloat, and it has a short running time, so it’s not a burden to watch like some of its more bloated competition. Yes, it’s very dumb, but it’s fun dumb. And it was all done on a tiny budget and released to video stores for the viewing public. It might not be to EVERYONE’s taste, but you have to respect their work ethic and the fact that they got it done.

Featuring yet another quality end-credits song by Steve McClintock, “I Believe In The Battle”, Hell On The Battleground, powered by the Prior-Fritz-Smith triumvirate, comes out as towards the top of the AIP war movie canon.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Triple Impact (1992)

Triple Impact (1992)-* * *1\2

Directed by: David Hunt

Starring: Dale "Apollo" Cook, Ron Hall, Ned Hourani, Bridgett "Baby Doll" Riley, Nick Nicholson, and Mike "Cobra" Cole as Cobra Cole

 "Uh-Oh!" - James Stokes

Dave Masters (Cook) and James Stokes (Hall) are buddies who make money on staged Punchfighting matches with each other. They have choreographed moves that the audience doesn’t know about. When a mysterious man, Karl (Hourani) approaches them about recovering a priceless treasure - a golden Buddha head - the two men agree to put their scam on hold and go on a jungle adventure. They recruit fellow fighter Julie Webb (Riley) to go along with them. Besides the fact they must dodge many perils to get the treasure, they must also contend with the evil McMann (Nicholson) and his team. They also want the head and will stop at nothing to get it. So jumpkicks, spin moves, and maybe an exploding helicopter ensue as the two camps attempt to retrieve the treasure.

We love Dale “Apollo” Cook. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again. Why isn’t he making movies anymore? Where are you buddy? In this outing, he’s more animated than usual, and he displays a very childlike sense of humor in his role as Dave. Plus, his array of sweatpants, acid-washed jeans, and ever-present fanny pack add to his personal style. Throughout most of the movie - including the majority of his fights - he never removes the fanny pack. What could be in there?

And speaking of national treasures who have great reaction shots (which we more or less were...), Cook’s partner in crime here, Ron Hall, is amazing as well. He also starred with Cook in Raw Target (1995), and is credited with stunts on The Quest (1996), but this is his strongest appearance we’ve seen to date. His acting style is truly one of a kind and demands to be seen. Plus he has some cool moves in the Martial Arts department as well. 

Fan-favorite Nick Nicholson can proudly add this movie to his already highly-impressive filmography. Usually he appears in small roles and bit parts, but here he gets to chew the scenery as the main baddie. Bridgett “Babydoll” Riley has a fruitful career in stuntwork, and this is one of her few movies as an actress. She’s obviously an integral part of the Cook-Hall-Riley “Triple Impact” team (not to be confused with the mere Double Impact which not coincidentally was released only the year earlier, in 1991).

What’s interesting here is that this movie seems to be inspired by the Chuck Norris movie Firewalker (1986). There are some definite similarities. But the fact that Triple Impact is an adventure film cross-pollinated with a Punchfighter is a unique blend that you don’t see too often.  Like another Cook film, Fist of Glory (1991), this starts off as a Vietnam jungle movie in a prologue (not forgetting an exploding hut or two), then moves to Punchfighting/adventure. 

Both Cook movies integrate more than one action movie scenario. As this is another Davian International production (who made most of Cook’s output), if you’ve seen other Dale “Apollo” Cook movies, this follows stylistically. Plus any movie that has on its box this credit: Mike “Cobra” Cole as “Cobra Cole”, you know it is worth seeing.

Besides the funny faces and enjoyable dumbness, there’s a great training sequence featuring a song we believe is called “Fight To Win”, but sadly we don’t know for sure, and we don’t know the artist that created this great tune, because there is no credit for it. Oddly, the sound quality for this song is extremely poor and it sounds like it was recorded on a tape recorder. But this song/sequence is a movie highlight nonetheless.

Triple Impact is probably second, after American Kickboxer 2 (1993), for our favorite Dale “Apollo” Cook movie. Thank you AIP for releasing it.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Split (1989)

Split (1989)-*

Directed by: Chris Shaw

Starring: Timothy Dwight, Joan Bechtel, and John J. Flynn

We’re not sure if it’s in the future or not, but at some point in time, two men against a black background control everyone on earth (or possibly San Francisco, again, not sure), with computers.  A man named Starker (Dwight) has managed to escape their “filing system”. Starker continually changes identities to try and avoid the master controllers, and meets some wacky people along the way, such as “The Artist” (Flynn), and Susan (Bechtel). Also, apparently, there’s a man with silver body paint who is the boss of the two men with the computers (?)  - it’s all very confusing, but that’s just the weird world of Split.

Split is filled with ideas - almost too many for its 85 minute running time. While we appreciated a lot of the ideas - the ones we could comprehend, anyway - and the fact that it’s sci-fi but has nothing to do with space or spaceships, this movie is far too disjointed and incoherent for most audiences to enjoy. Again, there are some movies out there with NO ideas, and those movies really suck, so at least there was a lot of effort put forth here. But it was mainly intellectual effort. If some time had been spent on making a barely-cohesive movie and some of the wildness was just put in some kind of order, Split might appeal to more people.

At least this is real sci-fi, as opposed to the crud on the “Syfy” network. And simply because of the student film-like enthusiasm, we want to give this movie the benefit of the doubt. But it’s just so confusing. And forget character development, that’s out the window. There are plenty of cool camera tricks and such, but that does not a movie make. It’s more a collection of scenes and effects, like director Chris Shaw wanted to show off every trick he learned in film school and worried he only had this one chance to do so, so he crammed ‘em all in, all other considerations be damned. Thus, this movie is literally all over the place.

It’s also very much an art movie, and what probably happened is, sci-fi fans and art movie fans don’t necessarily want to see the same things. This movie probably can’t appeal to both crowds, so it “split” the difference and pleased no one. Plus it has a very Overdrawn At the Memory Bank (1985) feel. On movie marquee alert, we see a theater is playing Poltergeist III (1988), and the movie starts with a musical cue very much like Billy Squier’s “The Stroke”. It’s all very hard to follow, but that was most likely the intention.

Once again we give props to AIP for putting this out. They went out on a limb here, knowing this...challenging...movie might not appeal to everyone and is pretty “out there”. Why they thought putting Silver Body Paint Man on the box cover front and center would draw in the video store patrons, we’re not entirely sure. We wanted to like this movie more, and we did like some parts of it, but more than likely it will give you a “split”ting headache.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


In Gold We Trust (1991)

In Gold We Trust (1991)-* * *1\2

Directed by: P. Chalong

Starring: Jan-Michael Vincent, Sherrie Rose, Christoph Kluppel, and Sam Jones

Maniacal mercenary Jeff Slater (Jones), and his right-hand man Christoph (Kluppel)lead a band of baddies to Thailand to try and retrieve a cache of gold bars hidden in what looks like a miniature NASA spacecraft. Also after the gold is Slater’s former ‘Nam buddy Oliver Moss (Vincent). Moss takes his right-hand gal Debbie (Rose) along with him and his gang. But there’s going to be plenty of conflicts and competition, not even amongst the two groups vying for the treasure, but from local soldiers, as well as a battalion of Japanese warriors hidden in a Thai cave (????). He who has the gold makes the rules...who will rule?

This movie is so great! It ranks among the best work of P. Chalong, the best work of Jan-Michael Vincent, the best work of Sherrie Rose, the best work of AIP, the best work of Christoph Kluppel and by far the best work of Sam Jones. All in one convenient movie! How can you lose?

P. Chalong has directed six movies in his career and we’ve seen three of them to date - Gold Raiders (1983), The Lost Idol (1990), and this. Sadly, it was his last movie, because he’d finally fulfilled his potential as a director and given us the P. Chalong that we’ve always wanted to see, if that makes any sense. He seems to be the only guy out there willing to hire the under-used Christoph - who, in true Tony Danza fashion only plays dudes named Christoph - but for some reason is dubbed with a Russian accent. He’s a member of the team of baddies that includes a guy that looks like an 80’s-era Weird Al, and a Tommy Chong-like man as well. Truly these are the villains that will strike fear in your heart. On the hero side we have Sherrie Rose, who hails from our home state of Connecticut. She can certainly hold her own with all the testosterone around. And fan favorite JMV - even though it was the 90’s at this point - still wears his sunglasses at night in true Corey Hart fashion, as well has his Member’s Only jacket and childlike hair part. Witness as he mispronounces the word “Laos” - but even still, he doesn’t seem that drunk this time around. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up to you.

But, ladies and gentlemen, no one can even come close to Sam Jones in this, the role of his lifetime. Jones, playing a baddie (which is rare for him) seizes the opportunity with gusto. He’s at his absolute best as he chews the scenery to shreds with hyped-up abandon. It’s over the top in the best sense of the word, even a John Miller (From Honor and Glory, 1993)-like performance. It’s beyond a tour-de-force. It’s a tour-de-France as he attempts to lead his horde of highly-questionable antagonists to victory. Sam Jones in this movie is enough to warrant a purchase.

Adding to the silliness/weirdness (besides everything else) is the Godzilla movie-like dubbing of the Thai actors, the George W. Bush-like Texan “John Point” who appears in the beginning of the film, JMV shooting a missile launcher in mid-air from a parachute (it’s in the trailer so it’s not a spoiler) and plenty of other great, rewindable moments, which are normally so rare. This is truly one of the best Exploding Hut movies we’ve yet seen, it really transcends the genre. But when buying this movie, don’t confuse it with the 2010 release of the same name. Obviously the people who made that one are film-illiterate because they’ve never heard of P. Chalong! Chalong was the first one to cleverly add a simple “L” to the famous inscription on our currency. We miss you, P. We really do.

For releasing this movie, this is why we’re always touting AIP. We give them props. In Gold We Trust is so much fun, and now, finally, Jeff Slater can go in the pantheon of great movie villains. We recommend this movie highly!

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Miami Beach Cops (1992)

Miami Beach Cops (1992)-* * *

Directed by: James Winburn

Starring: Frankie Maldonatti and Sal Rendino

 Operation Desert Storm veterans and good buddies Jeff Rodgers (Rendino) and Michael Breem (Maldonatti) return home to Osceola County, Florida and become Sheriff’s Deputies. But what they weren’t expecting was a new war at home. At least according to the opening on-screen crawl. When at first it seems they’re chasing local hoods Hank and Ben Lowmiller (Raff Barker and Dan Preston, respectively), it gradually leads to a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. Just when Rodgers and Breem were getting used to their post-war routine, it seems life isn’t all freeze-frame high-fives for these guys...

Miami Beach Cops has a lot of homemade charm. Sure, it’s filled with non-actors and has a fairly amateurish feel, but that’s pretty common for these regional outings. Since AIP was good enough to release it on VHS, it didn’t stay regional for long. It gives a nice attempt at realism, presumably because TV shows like Cops and Rescue 911 were very popular at the time. Because Rendino and Maldonatti were not experienced actors, they mumble many of their lines and don’t project their voices well. And because music is blasting over many scenes, it’s hard to hear what they’re saying. But the music by Jerry A. Ranger and John DeVries is upbeat, cheery and at times pretty rockin’. (of course, much of it has the trademark sax so prevalent at the time). So it’s not the music’s fault, it’s just that the sound was mixed badly.

It’s hard to tell where Rendino and Maldonatti stop and Rodgers and Breem start. They clearly have good rapport - they even have their own catchphrase, “Doink”. Perhaps they were fans of the wrestling clown, but whenever something favorable happens in their lives, they do this sort of proto-fist bump thing and say, knowingly with smiles on their faces, “Doink”. Don’t you do that with your friends? And, even though they exercise alone together shirtless, they prove to each other they’re not gay by hitting the local watering hole to show off their awesome dance moves. And it’s hard not to, as there’s a hot country band who play with a Confederate flag behind them. The name of the bar is - we kid you not - The Cracker House.  This extended “picking up chicks” scene is amusing but goes on way too long  and emphasizes some pacing problems novice filmmakers often have. But it’s no big deal, and surely The Cracker House appreciates the publicity.

We think director James Winburn, an accomplished stuntman, might have been aiming for a potential TV sale here, because there is no nudity, extreme violence or even a word of profanity. But our two leads do make a lot of funny noises during the chase scenes. There are plenty of “Whooaaaaaa”s and “Wheeeeee”s. Winburn also employs every editing trick he can, such as video footage of Desert Storm, freeze frames, solarization effects, and the time-honored TV trick of recapping the best scenes during the end credits. But Miami Beach Cops does have one of the best opening sequences we’ve seen in a while, showing that with a pure drive to make a movie, even if you have a low budget, you can still draw in your audience.

The title Miami Beach Cops sounds a bit more glamorous than what’s on show - this film mainly takes place in the rural areas and swamps of Florida. That’s still a good backdrop for a movie, so perhaps they thought they needed to glitz it up to sell the movie. But forget Crockett and Tubbs and their Miami Vice, the true heroes are Rodgers and Breem because they’re the MIAMI BEACH COPS!

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Street Hitz (1992)

Street Hitz (1992)-* *1\2

Directed by: Joseph B. Vasquez

Starring: Angelo Lopez, Soraya Andrade, Tony Cacioppo and Cookie

On the tough streets of New York City’s South Bronx, Junior (Lopez) is a well-known and well-respected man in the community. For this reason, local gangster Dino (Cacioppo) is trying to recruit him into his mob family. Junior is conflicted because he wants to do the right thing in life, but he also wants and needs the money this job would offer. But Dino is even extorting protection money from Junior’s own father. Meanwhile, Junior’s brother Joey has a bright future because he is going to college and wants to study hard and get into law school. When Joey’s wife of four months becomes pregnant, Joey wants to stop the track he’s on. This angers Junior, which sets off a chain of events which will alter the lives of the brothers forever. What will be the outcome of the tale of Junior and Joey?

This is one of those low-budget movies where you can practically see the “blood sweat and tears” that must have gone into finishing this labor of love. There is plenty of realism - perhaps even a large dose of unintended realism - because of the non-actors and super-gritty atmosphere. It even becomes like a grainy documentary at times. But despite some of the standard pitfalls of independent filmmaking like some stiff and stilted acting from some inexperienced performers (which is more than understandable), and maybe a few bits of incoherence or technical issues, Street Hitz is better than you might think it is.

AIP marketed the film has part of the burgeoning “homie movie” trend, but that’s not really what this is at all. It’s definitely commendable that AIP put this out in the first place, so we have to give credit where credit is due, but Street Hitz is a bit like a Hispanic alternative to Straight Outta Brooklyn (1991) with an even lower budget. It was attempting a serious comment on society. The two brothers represent different philosophies about rising above your current circumstances. It even gets existential in a scene where Junior waxes philosophical about the nature of life. But it never abandons its street-level attitude, even if there is some strange dialogue about eating chicken every night. A perhaps insulting comparison would be if you imagined a more serious-minded City Dragon (1995) without the rapping. But the intentions behind that and this are miles apart, so that’s pretty unfair.

Street Hitz is actually trying - even striving - to be a quality and relevant movie, but it seems against all odds. Before overlooking this movie because of its title or box art, it might be worth giving it a chance. And, of course, Cookie is in it.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Elves (1989)

Elves (1989)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Jeffrey Mandel

Starring: Dan Haggerty, Julie Austin, Stacey Dye, Christopher Graham and Laura Lichstein

Kirsten (Austin), and her friends Brooke (Lichstein) and Amy (Dye) are group of young gals interested in the occult. They call themselves “Masters Without Slaves” and go to the woods at night for seances and things like that. And no wonder, as Kirsten’s family is quite the creepy lot, and her younger brother Willy (Graham) is a perverted little brat that likes to dress up like Donatello from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and peep on her in the shower. As is wont to happen, the group of girls accidentally unleash a malevolent Nazi elf into the town at large. As part of a breeding experiment, the Nazis did various experiments using not guns, not bombs, not planes to take down their enemies, but elves.

Meanwhile, unemployed ex-police detective Mike McGavin (Haggerty), who is so down on his luck, he’s evicted from his trailer, reluctantly accepts a job as a department store Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. But those mischievous girls are camping out in the department store that night waiting for some boys to appear. But there’s another unwanted guest - here’s a hint: it’s a three-letter word, and it’s not “imp”! But to destroy this nasty elf, McGavin will have to unravel a complex web of history, deceits and lies from Nazi elf experts. Will he and Kirsten live to see another Christmas?

Ah, Elves. Such fond memories. This is one of the first (if not the first) AIP’s we’d ever seen. Needless to say, we were hooked. The plot of the movie is just so endearingly bonkers, you can’t help but love it. Anyone who would release this gem into the world should really receive our thanks. It’s packed with nutty ideas, hilarious dialogue, enjoyable fun, and a Nazi elf. Yes, just one elf. The title is a bit misleading. But we, as the audience, are treated to “elf vision” as he’s walking around, so we can see the world through the eyes of this lonely, but murderous, elf.

National hero Dan Haggerty is at his absolute best here. He continues his tradition of great sweaters, and, somehow, his beard actually matches his sweater selections. And his pinky ring. But who else could bellow “Tell me the connection between the Nazis and the elves!!!” with a complete straight face and utter conviction like Mr. Haggerty. We salute you, sir. Pretty female lead Julie Austin has quite a career under her belt, having also appeared in Night of the Wilding (1990), Twisted Justice (1990) and Extreme Justice (1993).

Taking some of its cues from Dawn of the Dead (1978), but others from God-knows-where, Elves is a strong contender for best Christmas-themed horror/unintentional (?) comedy ever. This extremely enjoyable and fun outing shot in Colorado in the golden year of 1989 should be in your collection. “Dan” we now our gay apparel and watch Elves tonight, even if it’s not Christmas.

Also check out our buddy, The Video Vacuum's funny review!

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Showdown (1993)

Showdown (1993)-* * *

Directed by: Leo Fong

Starring: Leo Fong, Werner Hoetzinger, Michelle McCormick, Troy Donohue, and Richard Lynch

“How would you like a shovelhead?”
- James Long

 Kincade (Hoetzinger) is the leader of an evil biker gang that’s involved in everything from drugs to burglary to murder. After stealing some money from a racetrack, the gang finds a little town in rural Nevada with a population of 500 people named Sanctuary. Once there, they start terrorizing the townsfolk and causing all kinds of mayhem. 

The Commander (Lynch) needs help ridding his town of these people, so he calls in a Martial Arts instructor named James Long (Fong). They team up with Mickey (McCormick), a young girl whose father was murdered by the gang. But Sanctuary is named “Sanctuary” because it is filled with old retired gangsters, mobsters and criminals, and for some reason, federal, state and local laws do not apply there. So it’s going to be an uphill battle, but who will come out victorious at the end of the SHOWDOWN?

Leo Fong is someone we keep coming back to. Most people don’t know the meaning of the word “wooden” until they see one of his performances. But there’s something compelling about him you just can’t deny. Showdown seems to be his baby, as he stars in, produced, wrote and directed it. So it has that Fong-y feel you would expect. Yet he doesn’t seem all that excited to be there. But then again, he was 65 years old at the time of shooting, so maybe he was thinking about other things. Naturally it was released by AIP, this stuff is right up their alley. Luckily, this movie is funny for a variety of different reasons, not the least of which are its amateurish feel and non-actors - not to mention some hilariously choppy editing.

It starts with a fist-pumping hair-metal anthem as Hoetzinger rides in on his Harley. Despite getting top billing, with his name alone in a huge credit, this is his only film role to date. It’s a shame, he could have been a classic meathead actor of the day. Richard Lynch is on hand as “The Commander” - not to be confused with Chuck Connors as “The Colonel”. Lynch is more a sheriff than a commander, but it’s always nice to see him, especially in a good-guy role. Troy Donahue is here as “Police Captain”. You can see Fong put a lot of effort into naming his characters. It’s really just a cameo, he doesn’t have a real presence in Showdown.

There are some great styles on display, notably Fong’s Member’s Only jacket, and the bikers have plenty of stonewashed denim, as well as mustaches and crazy long hair to keep you interested.  A picture of them would have made a perfectly fine cover for the VHS, but for AIP, apparently, that would have been too sane and made too much sense, so they got some models who are not in the movie to appear on the cover. Why these people are better than the ones actually in the movie, we don’t know. So be aware that this picture is unrelated to the proceedings. 

Even though this was released in 1993, there’s still plenty of classic hair metal on the soundtrack from such bands as Riot House and DV8 (we don’t know them either). But another standout song is something called “Feast or Fantom” by Adrena. When is the soundtrack to Showdown going to be released?

If you can’t get enough Leo Fong or AIP silliness, you can't go wrong with Showdown.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


The Final Sanction (1990)

The Final Sanction (1990)-* *1\2

Directed by: David A. Prior

Starring: Ted Prior, Renee Cline, Robert Z'Dar and William Smith

 “The sanity of our nation’s leaders is certainly in question."

Thousands of people have died after nuclear missiles have launched in the ongoing war between the U.S. and Russia. Rather than risk any more human life, both sides agree to send one of their best soldiers to fight the other in a mano-a-mano duel to the death. Representing America is Sgt. Tom Batanic (Prior), a dude with a bad attitude. Despite his insubordinate ways, the Army chooses him because...you guessed it...he’s “The Best”. Representing Russia is Sgt. Sergei Schvackov (Z’Dar), a SuperSoldier of sorts. Having trained to be an emotionless killing machine by his trainer Maj. Galashkin (Smith), his higher-ups assume he can withstand any challenge. But he has yet to face the wisecracking Tom Batanic, the best the U.S. has to offer.

Also on Batanic’s side is the fact that the Army has installed a device in his brain that can allow him to automatically communicate with Lt. Tavlin (Cline), who is helping him out via computer. If he talks out loud, she can hear him, and she can tell him things directly into his skull. Naturally, at first they don’t get along, but Tavlin begins to fall for Batanic’s unshaven, jaded, one-linery charm. Set loose in a forest to chase and kill each other, who will be victorious?

We have to quote a section of the description on the back of the box: “Armed with every high tech killing device in existence, the renegade American (Ted Prior) and the committed communist (Robert Z’Dar) wage a war to determine the fate of mankind. Democratic Freedom or Communist Slavery...the answer will be written in blood by the last man alive.”

Wow. Sounds awesome, right? While it can’t possibly live up to those overblown claims (every device IN EXISTENCE?), The Final Sanction is really not that bad. Especially considering it’s basically Prior and Z’Dar playing hide and go seek in a forest for 80 minutes. It’s amazing the mileage that David A. Prior gets out of this simple concept. And considering his filmmaking abilities had improved considerably by this point, he should be applauded.

The movie starts with some bomb-blast stock footage, and they spell “Leavenworth” incorrectly, so it gets off to something of a rocky start. But the silliness comes in quickly thereafter to soothe us all, when a delegation of “world leaders” vote on what is presumably nuclear annihilation of the planet by putting scraps of paper with their vote in a grandma-style pewter candy dish! We then move to William Smith doing all sorts of psych and stress tests on Robert Z’Dar, who makes a lot of funny faces. We always have trouble understanding Smith anyway, what with his low, gravelly voice, but add to that a pseudo-Russian accent, and he’s completely unintelligible. It’s almost as if Prior told him, “eh, do what you think sounds Russian”. So he does this kind of gobbledygook that is pretty funny.

As for Ted Prior, he looks a lot like Don Johnson here, and his attitude is pretty Bruce Willis-y in this sort of “Die Hard in a forest” scenario. Tavlin is helping him on a classic old computer screen and it looks like she’s playing Battleship. But with Batanic’s Ozzy Osbourne patch on his uniform, he represents the ramshackle spirit of the U.S. vs. the tightly-controlled training of the USSR.

Try to imagine Deadly Prey (1987) but with no goons, just one enemy for Prior to fight. And the fact that Z’Dar attacks Prior with a series of gardening spades. This could have been one of the many “paintball gone wrong” movies that were surprisingly popular around this time, but they decided on actual weaponry. Nothing much actually HAPPENS in this movie, but it has something of a message at the end, and at 80 minutes (not 88 as the box claims), it never gets boring. It’s all pretty stupid (but you knew it would be going in, so it’s no real surprise) but it’s not BAD. Plus Prior and AIP deliver yet another catchy Steve McClintock song, “The View From Here” for the closing credits.

It should also be noted that the movie’s tagline, “The Only Rule Is There Are No Rules”, is a quote originally stated by Wayne Newton in Best of the Best 2 (1993). How dare they steal from The Newt.

For a simple, undemanding tale where titans clash one-on-one, The Final Sanction fits the bill.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Dead End City (1988)

Dead End City (1988)-* *

Directed by: Peter Yuval

Starring: Gregory Scott Cummins, Rob Wuesthoff, Alena Mekelberg, Christine Lunde and Robert Z'Dar

In the near future (?), criminal gangs have run so wild, normal civilians are relocated to shanty towns called “Evac Cities”. The leader of one of the most ruthless gangs, The Ratts, is a guy named Maximum (Z’Dar). In the course of their daily rounds of terrorizing and killing, they run into one man who won’t be intimidated: Jack Murphy (Cummins). He’s a factory owner who inherited his business from his father. All Jack wants to do is sit in his office, eat his Chinese food and drink his Jolt Cola, but The Ratts have other plans. They stage a siege on Jack’s factory, enraged that Jack won’t be scared away. Jack and some of the people he’s hiding, Nancy (Mekelburg), and her blind brother Malcolm (Wuesthoff), among a few others, break out their guns to defend the factory. Meanwhile, TV news reporter Opal Brand (Lunde) comes to do a story on Jack and ends up getting stuck there, so she and Jack forge a relationship. But what’s the cause of all this mayhem? Could it be a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top?

Try to imagine a cross between Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) and Chains (1989)  - note that it’s Chains - not The Warriors (1979) - because Dead End City is what you might call a “cheap and cheerful” tale whose threadbare plot and certain chintziness gives away its low-budget origins. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, especially as Peter Yuval, who also directed Firehead (1991), seems to have some aspirations of lifting this movie above the crowd, but its penury inevitably keeps it down.

It gets off to a funny start, with fan favorite Robert Z’Dar running around town yelling at people and harassing them, all the while wearing a suit jacket with an ascot, while his fellow Ratts wear the classic “80’s gang baddies” getups we’ve all come to know and love. Z’Dar enlivens any role he’s put in, and here is no exception. Gregory Scott Cummins, who forever will be in the hall of heroes because of the legendary Action U.S.A., makes yet another bid for being a leading action star. Sure, the market was flooded at this time with tough guys, everyone from Stallone to Van Damme to Edward Albert and Richard Norton and so many others vying for the video store patron’s dollars and attention. While Dead End City may have its deficiencies, Cummins certainly isn’t one of them, and he can easily stand as a leading man in his own right. For more Cummins, check out Bail Out (1989) and Cartel (1990).

While the whole “futuristic warzone on a budget” may recall you to some of Ron Marchini’s classics, the music by Brian Bennett immediately puts you in AIP mode. Remember, this is the amazing musician who composed the killer song for Jungle Assault (1989). But there aren’t enough ideas at work to make Dead End City feel like a fully fleshed-out concept. It can barely sustain its 80 minute running time (not 88 as the VHS box states). For this reason, it gets very repetitive and dumb.

If you’re looking for action for pennies on the dollar, Dead End City certainly won’t tax your brain. Thanks to the presence of Cummins and Z’Dar, this is just barely worth seeing.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Quest For The Lost City (1990)

Quest For The Lost City (1990)-* * *

AKA: The Final Sacrifice

Directed by: Tjardus Greidanus

Starring: Christian Malcolm, Shane Marceau, and Bruce J. Mitchell

Troy McGreggor (Malcolm) is an inquisitive teen who just happens to find a map to a mystical lost city called Ziox while rummaging through some junk in his attic. Unfortunately, an evil cult run by the sinister Satoris (Marceau) want the map to aid them in their quest for world domination. As Troy flees from the cult, he runs into a beer-swilling, chain-smoking, denim-jacketed, mulleted, surly drifter inexplicably named Zap Rowsdower (Mitchell). While Zap is an overweight, embittered alcoholic, Troy is a rail-thin, squeaky-voiced dork. As the original odd couple, they must fend off the cult as they continue their Quest For the Lost City. But what’s the secret behind the “Bowtie” tattoo? Find out tonight!

Originally titled The Final Sacrifice (that’s the title under which it was mocked/popularized by Mystery Science Theater 3000), AIP picked it up and retitled it for its VHS release in the U.S. As part of that, they had to get some models to do some posed shots that have nothing to do with the movie, as often happens with VHS covers of the 80’s/early 90‘s. Those people you see on the cover are certainly not Zap and Troy.

To have the character of Troy be the hero is an interesting choice - he’s unbelievably skinny, wears a nerdy red sweater with a white-collar shirt underneath the entire movie, and his voice sounds like someone puree-ing a dying bird on High. But then to match him with Zap is just...an amazing decision. This guy is Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force ten years before Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. He’s such a raving alcoholic, there’s actually a scene where Troy fights the cult by using a box of empty bottles of Zap’s booze he just happens to have in the back of his pickup truck. Some have guns, some have swords, but Zap was on his way to the bottle return to get his five-cent exchanges. Should be enough to put the kibosh on a sinister cult bent on taking over the planet.

You know Satoris is evil because he has a black trenchcoat. This movie once again is ahead of the curve as it predates the trenchcoat mafia. That being said, there is an entirely separate credit for “Satoris’ Makeup” during the end credits. His minions are guys in black tank tops and executioner hoods. This may remind you of  Bad Taste (1987), where the baddies have blue shirts. But it’s a clever move because the masks allow some repetition of goons without the viewer knowing. But the question remains why director/co-writer Tjardus Greidanus thought audiences would rally behind a big-eared dweeb and a bloated hobo as the movie’s central heroes.

It’s Canadian, it’s low-budget, and it’s somewhat mysterious (that it was edited by “The Flying Dutchman“ adds to the mystique). You could tell they were trying, and they got this movie out there. That’s commendable. It’s more than the people who mean-spiritedly ridicule this movie will ever do (except maybe MST3K).

While it’s not entirely representative of the AIP canon, and we wouldn’t necessarily say to go out of your way to pick this up, if you see it somewhere, like a thrift store or something like that, grab it. It’s a lot of fun with a group of pals.

Also check out our buddy, The Video Vacuum's review!

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Maniac Warriors (1988)

Maniac Warriors (1988)-* *1\2

AKA: Empire Of Ash

Directed by: Michael Mazo and Lloyd A. Simandl

Starring: Melanie Kilgour, Thom Schioler, Frank Wilson, James Stevens, Alexander MacKenzie, Michele Chiponski and David Gregg

In a post-apocalyptic future, cities have been destroyed so the survivors roam the remaining forests. An aggressive, traveling gang of “maniac warriors”, named LARD, which stands for, what else, Leukocytes Acquisitors for Remission of Disease, go around terrorizing and killing people. Who they don’t kill, they kidnap and steal their blood so they can continue to survive. Naturally they are led by an insane, shroud-wearing preacher, and when they kidnap the wrong girl, her sister and a defector from LARD who is now a good guy team up to try and rescue her. Who will prevail - the survivors pure of blood or the MANIAC WARRIORS?

While this movie is set in the fictional town of New Idaho, it was in fact shot in Canada. It’s your standard Road Warrior/Mad Max knockoff, but presumably they thought by shooting the film in the forest, viewers wouldn’t make the connection. Naturally, AIP picked it up and released it in the U.S. Confusingly, this very film is also known as Empire of Ash 2 (the original title is Empire of Ash). This must mark the first time in movie history that a movie and its sequel are THE SAME MOVIE. Well that saves time. There is one sequel, titled Last of the Warriors (1990). (That movie is known as Empire of Ash 3, for those that are still keeping track).

There is some interesting camerawork and notable stunts, especially considering its restrictive low-budget status, but the fact remains that this is a middle-of-the-road outing at best, and it doesn’t even have the power of a Ron Marchini to keep it afloat. Just think about that. Try to imagine a Ron Marchini movie without Ron Marchini. What’s left?

But you have to love some of the outfits and vehicles - you know it’s a post-nuclear future because the main villainess has crimped hair. And, sensing that there isn’t enough plot to sustain 90 minutes, the film veers into the story of two survivalists (potentially named Cochran and McKenzie, but we’re not sure). They play Gunsmoke and Ikari Warriors on a post-apocalyptic Nintendo so we guess you have to care about their plight. Additionally, there’s some reasonably rockin’ music, including a cover of “Born to be Wild”, and an original tune by one John Wednesday entitled “Gonna Get Some”, but let’s face it, he’s no Billy Butt.

Last but not least, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that this movie has a rocket launcher hat. Apropos of absolutely nothing, a character comes on screen with this contraption on his head, blows up a barn with a projectile launched from his fisherman’s hat, and walks away. Why it’s easier, much less cooler, to shoot a missile from your headgear remains unexplained. Besides the obvious question of WHY??????, we commend the use of the rocket launcher hat. It was a welcome invention in this dire world. Sure, one year earlier Heather Thomas sported some wicked-awesome helmet lasers in Cyclone (1987), but this bit of utter wackiness remains a movie highlight here.

For that rock-bottom budget, AIP style, this movie delivers it in spades. It features some other weird scenes (we won’t spoil them) - but the movie as a whole isn’t weird enough to quite warrant full cult status. If you find this style too much to take, stay away.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Future Zone (1990)

Future Zone (1990)-*1\2

Directed by: David A. Prior

Starring: David Carradine, Ted Prior, Renee Cline, Gail Jensen, and Charles Napier

John Tucker (Carradine) is back in this sequel to Future Force (1989). This time around, Tucker is having some marital problems with wife Marion (real-life wife at this time Gail Jensen). Also he’s fighting gangsters and corruption - and what does Mickland (Napier) have to do with all this? While Tucker is busy being an old west-style gunslinger in a world gone mad, a mysterious stranger seemingly appears out of nowhere to come back him up. But this “stranger” is none other than Billy Tucker (Prior), John’s son who travels back in time to help his dad. Naturally, they don’t get along at first...well, you know the drill by this point. Will the father and son Tucker team prove that family wins out in the end?

Another question you could ask is, “WHY is there another Tucker?” This movie is really pushing its luck. By that we mean, there was no reason whatsoever for a sequel to Future Force. If David Prior wanted to put Carradine, Napier and Ted in a movie, fine, so much the better, but it really did not need to be another John Tucker vehicle. I doubt fans were clamoring for that. It’s almost wasteful, it could have been a whole new idea. So as it stands, Future Zone is very, very dumb, and with an odd, seemingly too-slow pace to boot. On the bright side, Tucker’s proto-Power Glove is back in force, shooting blue lasers and blowing up helicopters, and there are plenty of blow-ups, but the pace, overall stupidity and one other negative aspect sink the movie...

That being the horrendous score by John Morgan and William Stromberg. It’s old-fashioned, inappropriate, and has loud flutes and oboes blasting in your ears. It sounds like it should be in a Disney or Looney Tunes cartoon. It actually enhances the silliness and flaws in the movie. It’s incredibly grating, so much so, it basically ruins the experience. Plus it’s obvious that Carradine DOES NOT CARE. Maybe he’s acting and that’s just John Tucker’s character, but wow, he really has a lot of contempt for the very fact that he’s even there. It’s just very low energy. By comparison, when Michael Madsen doesn’t care (which is pretty much all the time from what we’ve seen), it’s somehow charming. And when Burt Reynolds doesn’t care (which is pretty much all the time from what we’ve seen), it’s at least funny. But Carradine’s lack of interest just saps energy from the whole project. And it’s already on life support as it is. Ted Prior and Charles Napier do their best to revive the proceedings, but it’s not enough: you check out and boredom ensues - even at an 80 minute running time.

While Ted Prior’s shirt is surely a sight to behold, as is Carradine’s jacket with the hand emblazoned on the back, and Carradine gets a great entrance, it’s, sadly, not enough. This is not David Prior at his best and he should have stopped after the first “Future” movie and made a new project here. Future Zone is a disappointment.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Killzone (1985)

Killzone (1985)-* * *

Directed by: David A. Prior

Starring: Fritz Matthews, Ted Prior, David Campbell, Simon Rhee, and William Zipp

 “Cut the chatter and listen hard”

Welcome to “Scare Camp”, a military training area designed in every detail to resemble the horrors of Vietnam-era POW camps. It even includes torture. All this to prepare the minds and bodies of soldiers for potential capture. The camp is run by Col. Crawford (Campbell), but Crawford gets a bit over-zealous, and one of the soldiers, McKenna (Matthews), finally snaps and totally flips out. He now thinks he’s actually back in ‘Nam and begins killing everyone in sight. Now Campbell has a big mess on his hands and he feels the best way to deal with it is to have McKenna eliminated. But one of McKenna’s buddies, Sgt. Mitchell (Prior) believes in him, and wants to bring him back to reality safely and not kill him. So now it’s a race against time between the two buddies and the people that want to destroy them. THIS military training exercise just got real.

This effort was only the second movie from the Prior brothers, and the first in a long line of jungle war tales. While resembling the same year’s Missing In Action II: The Beginning (1985), it couldn’t possibly be a knockoff, though Killzone has a much lower-budget feel to it because it didn’t have Cannon money financing it. Even AIP had technically yet to be born. But besides the Priors, it has other mainstays of their movies such as Fritz Matthews (who would really come into his own with Hell On The Battleground, 1989), William Zipp, and David Campbell. Even Simon Rhee is credited as being one of “Crawford’s Men”.

Combine the aforementioned MIA II with later Prior movie Deadly Prey (1987), and you have some idea of what’s going on here. Killzone is most definitely a dry run for the wonderful Deadly Prey, seeing as it has a similar cast, a similar plot, and some of the same silly violence. But DP is probably the pinnacle of the AIP/Prior canon, so it’s hard to compare anything to it, really. The first half-hour of Killzone is the Prerequisite Torture we’ve seen many times before, but here they get it all out of the way right off the bat. It makes sense, because we need to see what would make McKenna go nuts. Thanks to the way it was shot, Killzone has a more professional look than some of the later AIP output. And considering they were just starting out, this is a really great effort. Looking back today, you can see the direction they would later take, and that’s quite interesting.

Just check out that great cover art for the VHS release. How could you not want to rent that? And the icing on the cake is that it was released on one of our favorite labels, Vestron. To date it has not been released on DVD so if you see it anywhere, definitely pick it up. AIP fans or fans of low-budget action/war cinema also take note.

Killzone pointed the way forward for AIP so even as simply a historical lesson, it’s worth seeing. But put Ted Prior and Fritz Matthews in the woods with some machine guns, and there’s your movie right there.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett