Terror Squad (1988)

Terror Squad (1988)-* *

Directed by: Peter Maris

Starring: Chuck Connors, Ken Foree, Lisa Beth Ross, Brodie Greer, Kerry Wall, Bill Calvert, and Budge Threlkeld

Terrorists from Libya come to the United States - Kokomo, Indiana, to be precise, because they have an eye on the Blackriver Nuclear Plant. Presumably they want to blow it up in an act of terror. But not on Chief Rawlings’ (Connors) watch. Along with his right-hand man Dep. Brown (Foree), they chase the baddies all over town, until, for a reason that still isn’t entirely clear, they end up at Hoosier High School and break into the detention room.

Staying after school that day is a textbook (no pun intended) array of high school stereotypes: The cool dude, Johnny Dylan (Calvert), the cheerleader, Jennifer (Wall), the jock, the nerd, the “regular girl”, Larissa (Lisa Beth Ross), and the “space case”. Along with the teacher, Mr. Nero (the interestingly-named Budge Threlkeld), of course. What follows is your standard hostage drama as Connors and one of the terrorists battle over negotiations while the audience can’t tell what distance they are from each other. Will the bad guys leave Kokomo alive?

What’s fascinating about collecting VHS tapes from the golden age of the video store are the random remnants of history you’ll find. For example, on the back of the box for Terror Squad (released by Forum Home Video in 1988), is the following headline: “A Terrorist Attack in the United States - They Said it Could Never Happen...They Were Wrong.” In this post-9/11 world, where we all live with the threat of terror on a daily basis, and we’re constantly hearing about foiled (and, sadly, sometimes not foiled) terror attacks, this headline is of particular note. As if that wasn’t enough, the first sentence of the description goes thus: “The threats of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi become a bloody reality in this explosive film of terrorist action.” It’s like it was ripped from the headlines! If only old Muammar had seen Terror Squad, his fate might have been different...

Continuing with the treasure trove that is the back of the VHS box, there’s a quote: “While Terror Squad owes much to Red Dawn (1984) and Invasion U.S.A. (1985)., it’s actually far superior to either”.  This according to the N.Y. Daily News, apparently. Assuming this quote is real and not taken out of context, whoever wrote it is as wrong as a doornail. Yeah, that’s the ticket. What this movie really is, is a cross between The Breakfast Club (1985) and the later Dolph vehicle Detention (2003). And the fact that there’s an extremely long, drawn out car chase in the middle recalls The Big Sweat (1991). The reason the chase is so long is because the movie, with its one-dimensional characters and wafer-thin plot that adds nothing new to the hostage drama genre, can’t fill out its 90 minute running time.

As far as some of the characters go, Johnny and the school janitor, Gus, have jam sessions on guitar in the janitor’s basement (with a crudely painted sign declaring it “Gus’s Headquarters”, as if it’s some kind of cool club). As they both play unlistenable simultaneous solos (which sound like a keyboard, as their finger movements don’t even come close to matching during this cacophony) - there’s actually a crowd of students watching this! And when they’re done, they clap! I know this happens at school all the time, but Johnny Dylan is one rockin’ dude with a bad attitude. As far as the nerd character (not sure of his official name, possibly  “Dinkle”), he’s s not just your classic glasses-wearing, voice-cracking, technology-having dork. He only uses his smarts to see leotard-wearing women work out on various computer screens. Thus making him the time-honored pervert nerd, or, “Perv-Nerd” we’ve all come to expect in 80’s movies.

As if all these stereotypes weren’t enough (did we mention the football player looks like he should be named “Ox”?), at the beginning of the movie, set in Libya, there’s a crowd of America-hating protesters, with signs like “Death to the great Satan”, and “Death to the American Dogs” - they’re standing outside Qaddafi’s palace - and Qaddafi HIMSELF makes an appearance! It’s amazing!

Back in America, it’s always great to see Chuck Connors. We love him. We also love Ken Foree, so that pair as the good guys really works. During the endless chases, shooting, rocket launchers, silly destruction, dumbness, and possibly an exploding helicopter, it’s nice to have these guys anchoring it. There’s even some bizarre humor in some scenes, which doesn’t really work overall in a movie supposedly about Islamic terror. There are even some glaring errors, such as a school bus that in one part of a scene is standard length, then magically becomes a “short bus”. Did they think the audience wouldn’t notice?

While this movie does wear out its welcome after a while (director Peter Maris was just then beginning on his career producing mediocre action movies), Terror Squad isn’t without its moments, and it does provide an interesting glimpse into the past. If you’re willing to forgive all its odd mistakes, it might be worth a one-time watch.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Breach Of Trust (1995)

Breach Of Trust (1995)- * *1\2
AKA: Crash

Directed by: Charles Wilkinson

Starring: Michael Biehn, Leilani Sarelle, Miguel Sandoval, Matt Craven, Vladimir Kulich, Ed Lauter, and Kim Coates

Casey (Biehn) is a low-level courier for a criminal enterprise led by Carlo Sanchez (Sandoval). Casey comes into possession of “The Disk”, a CD-ROM (presumably, because this was the 90’s) that has information leading to 40 million dollars’ worth of criminal earnings. When undercover cop Madeline (Sarelle) becomes involved because some corrupt government agents are on the take and also want The Disk, soon Casey and Madeline are on the run from many bad guys who are after them because they want “The Disk” as well. Not the least of which is scary executioner Bracco (Kulich, last seen in Crackerjack, 1995 and Red Scorpion 2, 1994). The BIG boss of it all is Kreuger (Lauter). Will Casey and Madeline ride off into the sunset together - or is there just too much shooting?

While the first part of this movie gets off to a weird start, the many character actors involved throughout the film make you forget about the odd pace (which eventually becomes more normal). We’ve seen many, many movies where “The Disk” is something both the good guys and the bad guys want, and here is no exception. A lot of the scenes are dark, just like the other Biehn vehicle American Dragons (1998). It must be in his contract that his movies use less lights.

Speaking of Biehn, here he’s more animated than usual and really turns on the charm. Ed Lauter should have been in more of the movie, his is basically a bit part. His accent is suitably menacing, however. The similarities to Crackerjack continue...and yes, there is some classic 90’s computer gobbledygook on show as well.

While they really went crazy with the scenes of mindless gun-shooting, perhaps the movie could have been trimmed a bit. It may seem like quibbling, but Breach of Trust probably didn’t HAVE to be 96 minutes. It should have been 90 or less. Demanding more than that of audiences for this type of fare is kind of pushing it. But the presences of Biehn, Sandoval, Kulich, and Lauter, not to mention further fan-favorite familiar faces such as Matt Craven and Kim Coates certainly soften the blow. We weren’t overly familiar with Sarelle but she does a good job as the tough cop but who also can’t resist the overpowering winning smile of Casey.

Shot in Vancouver, B.C. Canada, Breach of Trust isn’t mind-blowingly different (and something happens at the end which is...odd) but it provides decent entertainment.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Timebomb (1991)

Timebomb (1991)-* * *

Directed by: Avi Nesher

Starring: Michael Biehn, Patsy Kensit, Tracy Scoggins, Robert Culp, and Billy Blanks

Eddy Kay (Biehn) is a likable, mild-mannered watch repairman in the L.A. area. After instinctively rescuing some people from a house fire, memories and flashbacks are triggered in his mind, and he even randomly speaks Hungarian and knows martial arts techniques. Eddy thinks he is going crazy, but with the help of Dr. Anna Nolmar (Kensit), he goes on a search for the truth about his identity. While this is happening, boatloads of badguys are after them, including the sinister Mr. Brown (Blanks), and Ms. Blue (Scoggins). It all comes to a head in Oracle, AZ at a place called the Lang Institute. We won’t give away anything plotwise, but here’s a one-word hint: “SuperSoldiers”.

Michael Biehn brings his usual excellent performance and presence to this film, which is more intelligent than other fare of this kind. For example, the name Eddy Kay is most likely a subtle reference to Kafka and The Trial, and its protagonist Josef K, and the travails of Eddy Kay are certainly “Kafkaesque” as they say. If this seems pretentious, blame the movie, not me. But back in reality, we have Billy Blanks as Mr. Brown (remember how all the Power Rangers’ uniforms were color-coded by race/gender? I guess marry that to Reservoir Dogs (1992), which Timebomb predated by one year), who wears a spiffy three-piece suit and black gloves. Blanks and Biehn fight twice in the movie.

Timebomb was certainly the Unknown (2011) of its day, one man’s search for his identity as everyone around him tries to kill him and there’s no one to trust. Add in some Altered States (1980) and a dash of They Live (1988), throw in a bunch of B-movie names and there you have it. If this sounds too much like a Sci-Fi slog, fear not. While there are some Science-Fiction-y strands to the plot, they’re usually worthy and never sink into slog territory. There’s plenty of action as well.

Thanks to some above-average elements, such as Michael Biehn and some interesting ideas, Timebomb makes for a quality night of VHS fun.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


No Safe Haven (1987)

No Safe Haven (1987)-* *1\2

Directed by: Ronnie Rondell Jr.

Starring: Wings Hauser, Robert Tessier, Tom Campitelli, and Branscombe Richmond

Clete Harris (Hauser) is a CIA agent who is undercover in Honduras, using a remote Peace Corps station for his base. When he finds out his beloved brother Buddy (Campitelli), a star football player, was murdered in a drug deal gone wrong, Clete comes back to America to find the culprit. This evildoer even killed his own mother. It turns out it’s psychotic gangster Manuel (Richmond) and his gang of goons. Clete then makes it his mission to track them all down and get revenge. To help him in this mission, he recruits Popeye (Tessier), a survivalist type. They both end up in Bolivia and the final battle ensues.

No Safe Haven starts humorously enough, with Branscombe Richmond screaming while shooting his guns, and a Roger Corman-style “fast motion” car chase follows. Once Wings appears on screen, we remember why we’re watching this. He brings his classic charisma in spades.  Richmond makes a great baddie, and his over-the-top yelling and drug-running, loan-sharking evilness make you want to see more of his work. He makes a great villain to play opposite the lovable Wings.

Robert Tessier almost steals the movie as the down-and-dirty Popeye. True to his name, he even proudly sports a corncob pipe! Thankfully he also has his no-shirt-and-jean-jacket combo as well to round out his wardrobe. It was nice to see him in a kindlier performance. He can easily play a heavy, as evidenced in Future Zone (1990).

This movie is the only directorial effort to date from Ronnie Rondell, a man well-known in the stunt world. His inexperience shows in some of the pacing - it slows way down before the climax, which is a common pitfall, but the movie becomes an El Presidente flick seemingly out of the blue right at the last minute. While that might seem a bit mundane, the reason, presumably, why it happens in the first place is that Clete and Popeye’s revenge mission is so uncontrollable and grandiose, they want to get revenge on cocaine itself! And seeing as how we may have just built this solid, but small B-film up to heights it doesn’t really reach, we should mention how clunky some of the acting by the non-leads is. Just check out the Harris mother.

One of the more interesting things about No Safe Haven is the box art. It seems to be a specially posed picture in a studio by Wings. It wasn’t taken right from the movie, it is its own photography.  And the theme song of the film, played during the end credits is “dream girls”, by none other than Isaac Hayes! That was a surprise. Too bad he wasn’t in the movie as an actor.

In all, No Safe (as all the cool people call it) is enjoyable because of the main presence of Wings Hauser, and to a lesser extent Robert Tessier and Branscombe Richmond. Without these guys, it would have been a different and more trying experience. Thank goodness for them.

Also check out our Wings buddy DTVC's review!

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The Killer's Edge (1991)

The Killer's Edge (1991)-* * *

Directed by: Joseph Merhi

Starring: Wings Hauser, Karen Black, Gino Dentie, Joe Palese, and Robert Z'Dar

Detective Jack Saxon (Wings) is a cop who shoots first...and doesn’t bother to ask any questions later. Some people in his department don’t approve of his methods, but he gets results. That’s why Barrett (Black) hand-picks him to break up a counterfeiting ring and bring the culprits to justice. His partner Burt (Palese) is a good guy, but unlike Jack, is afraid to fire his gun. This odd couple of sorts must get to the truth about the gangster Miller Richardson (Z’Dar). As it turns out, Jack and Miller were in Vietnam together and have a deep history. But they ended up on opposite sides of the law. Try to imagine a Luc Deveraux-Andrew Scott (Universal Soldier series)- sort of relationship, but instead of later being turned into SuperSoldiers, they fight it out man-to-man in the streets of L.A. Through it all, Jack must keep his relationship with fiance Dorothy (Elaine Pelino) afloat. Can he do it?

The Killer’s Edge is what would happen if Joseph Merhi directed To Live and Die in L.A. (1985). It’s cops vs. counterfeiters, PM style. And while Merhi would improve to a higher level later in his career with awesome classics like Zero Tolerance (1994), Last Man Standing (1996), and The Sweeper (1996), The Killer’s Edge is like laying the groundwork for those later masterpieces. It’s not quite up to those titles because his talents were still improving. Looking back from today’s standpoint, you can see his evolution.

This could be a sequel to the same year’s  The Art of Dying - Wings plays a cop named Jack who seems to have some mild issues with women. He plays by his own rules, and they even have the same catchphrase: “Owwww!” Since we don’t know for sure, we’ll just pretend both movies are chapters in the ongoing tale of Jack Saxon. It’s great to see Wings interact with Robert Z’Dar. Truly it’s the clash of the titans, and it’s enjoyable to watch their interplay. We get to see Wings struggle on ice skates, but we get Z’Dar with a rocket launcher. So it’s pretty much a wash.

Miller’s sidekick, Tony (Dentie) - who looks exactly like Tony Curtis (probably a coincidence with the name) - has a really interesting history that’s worth looking up. He was a disco artist that released “Direct Disco”, the first (and possibly only) disco album recorded “direct to disc”, meaning the musicians all play live and the final product is released that way. And speaking of incidental characters, the guy that works at the airstrip has a hat that says “helicopters inc.” - does said helicopter explode? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out...

While The Killer’s Edge wasn’t shot all that long ago, there are plenty of cool, nostalgic things in the movie that don’t exist anymore: people smoking in government buildings without a second thought, they have pagers that they must respond to by using the nearest pay phone, there’s a reference to how the U.S. dollar is “strong”, and there’s even a Fotomat in a parking lot. Remember those little huts where people used to get their film developed?  Truly those around in 1991 didn’t know the fool’s paradise we were living in. Especially when we had Jack Saxon to protect us all.

The Killer’s Edge is a solid, quality DTV film that signaled the further quality to come from PM.

Also check our buddy DTVC's review!

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


The Art Of Dying (1991)

The Art Of Dying (1991)-* * *

Directed by: Wings Hauser

Starring: Wings Hauser, Kathleen Kinmont, Gary Werntz, Mitch Hara, Henry Brown, T.C. Warner, and Michael J. Pollard

Jack (Wings) is an L.A. Vice detective who plays by his own rules. Sure, he does what he wants when he wants, but he always helps the teenage runaways who come to town. He develops an especially soft spot for Janet (Warner), a 16 year old girl who has come to Hollywood to be a star. However, something sinister is brewing in tinseltown. A psychotic filmmaker named Roscoe (Werntz) and his assistant, a man by the name of Latin Jerry (Hara) are luring aspiring actors into their studio. They then recreate famous death scenes from movies such as The Deer Hunter (1978), Psycho (1960) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), but they do it for real! Roscoe even claims directors like Cimino, DePalma, Scorsese and Hitchcock are just fakes, and he’s the real thing. When Janet gets mixed up in this world - as does Jack's gal-pal Holly (Kinmont) - he goes rogue to take down the nefarious filmmakers. That’s after he’s suspended from the force, of course.  Will anyone actually see THE ART OF DYING?

This is Wings’ third directorial effort, after Coldfire (1990) and Living To Die (1990). And while PM movies are known for showing the seamier side of L.A., here they go all out and portray it at its seamiest - as nothing more than a trap to ensnare young people who don’t know any better into a horrible life, or even death. Wings, as Jack, a man who’s struggling against the tide of filth to help the kids, is his usual charismatic self, and the relationship issues he has with Kinmont allow for some good interplay between them. It’s nice to see Kinmont in a non-Lamas-supporting role. She works very well with Wings who controls this dark thriller (it’s not really an action movie per se) quite well.

Backing Wings and Kinmont up are a nice cast of supporters: Sarah Douglas of Steele Justice (1987) fame plays Wings’ fellow cop who seems to have a crush on him, Sydney Lassick has a bit part as a roadside cafe owner, and last but not least is Michael J. Pollard, who brings his weird mush-mouthiness and strange affect to the role of some kind of police psychologist named Delbert. It seems to fit.

Seeing as The Art of Dying has a “movie within a movie” theme, as well as its meditations on the concept of the snuff film, while it probably wasn’t influenced too much by Snuff (1976), it does seem to have Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) in mind. Regardless, TAOD truly was the 8mm (1999) of its day. To relate it back to movies discussed here on this site, the plot is really very similar to King of the Kickboxers (1990), in the idea that it lures unsuspecting actors into their death on film. To add another layer of “meta”, if I may, Wings passes a movie marquee playing the movie Misery (1990). So there’s a lot of layers here.

While the movie can be a tad bit unfocused at times, dealing with bunch of different issues and characters right from the jump, and it moves at what would be considered a slower pace than the kids of today are used to (but who cares about those stupid little punks anyway), it’s all worth it when Wings is suspended from the force by a perfect BYC (Ring of Steel's Brown), and he spends his days at the beach wearing a nice trenchcoat/bathing suit combo with sunglasses, and feeding a rabbit tequila! Isn’t that what you would do if you were kicked off the force?

It wouldn’t be a Wings-directed PM movie without a sax-drenched soundtrack, and The Art of Dying doesn’t disappoint. It underlines the seedy elements at work. This whole movie screams “Cinemax in the 90’s”, what with its overall smutty/sexy/steamy tone or whatever you want to call it. But it has some nice ideas at work, a very good cast, and Wings in top form. To see Wings doing what he does best, check out The Art of Dying.

Also check out our buddy DTVC's review!

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Deadly Force (1983)

Deadly Force (1983)-* * *

Directed by: Paul Aaron

Starring: Wings Hauser, Al Ruscio, Joyce Ingalls, Lincoln Kilpatrick, and Estelle Getty

Stoney Cooper (The Wingman) is an ex-cop who was kicked off the force for his rogue ways. Now living in New York, he is called back to L.A. by his old buddy Sam (Ruscio). It seems a serial killer is on the loose, killing people seemingly at random and leaving an X on their forehead. This “X Killer” claimed Sam’s granddaughter as a victim, and he wants revenge. Meanwhile, Stoney sees this as an opportunity to get back in the good graces of his estranged wife Eddie (Ingalls). The three unlikely partners all team up to put an end to the X Killer’s reign of terror, whilst dodging gangsters, lowlifes and the killer himself.

The ever-charismatic Wings Hauser once again shows why we keep coming back to his movies. He doesn’t disappoint - his likable and personable nature are shown off well in this film. Like other Wings movies such as Reason to Die (1990), the simple plot is basically Wings chasing a serial killer. His personality certainly carries this film. He’s backed up with some solid support, notably Al Ruscio and an amusing cameo from none other than Estelle Getty.

We’d be remiss if we left out Lincoln Kilpatrick as Hoxley, the disgruntled, classic stereotype: the Black Yelling Chief. He also played the BYC in the Gary Busey vehicle Bulletproof (1988). He’s had a long career (he’s since passed away), no doubt filling the role he was born to play (the BYC) many times over the years.

The soundtrack deserves special mention, especially the driving main theme, and the equally pounding end credits tune, “Keep On Fighting” by Jesse Frederick. Only in the 80’s could you get the car chases, seedy city scenarios, and music such as this, all tied together in a nice bow with Wings at the helm. It truly was a golden age.

Released on VHS in the U.S. on the Embassy label (later re-released under MGM’s budget-priced “Movie Time” banner), while this movie doesn’t have a ton of originality, it nevertheless should be on the Wings Hauser fan’s short list.

Also check out another review by Explosive Action!

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


The Wind (1987)

The Wind (1987)-* * *

Directed by: Nico Mastorakis

Starring: Meg Foster, Wings Hauser, David McCallum, Robert Morley, and Steve Railsback

Sian Anderson (Foster) is a mystery novelist who leaves her posh L.A. home to write her next thriller in Greece. She goes alone and leaves her husband John (McCallum) to do what he seems to love to do most: swim in the pool. Once in Greece, she avoids any metropolitan areas and heads straight to a remote, ancient, seaside village. She rents her villa from one Elias Appleby (Morley), an eccentric and verbose older gentleman. He warns her about the violent and tempestuous “Wind” that can attack at night. Nevertheless, she begins work on her book. When the strangely unbalanced Phil (Wings), a fellow American, now expatriate and living next door, comes calling, the nightmare begins...And how can Kesner (Railsback) be of service? For all answers to your questions, just listen to The Wind...

There’s a lot to like about The Wind. First off, the cast: Meg Foster is a hugely underrated actress and she does a great job here. She’s the ideal focal point for a creepy tale like this and she anchors the film well. Robert Morley was also a good get for the cast and you have to love his “wacky landlord” role. Steve Railsback is pretty restrained this time around and seems a bit confused, but maybe that was his character. McCallum doesn’t do all that much. Last but not least is the one and only Wings Hauser, who with his mustache (a rarity for him) and his strange, menacing affect, plays the ideal antagonist.

But that’s the HUMAN cast. The Wind is a character unto itself in this film. It’s at least as scary as Phil, it gets angry, it comes and goes, and accentuates things. You have to expect a movie called The Wind will have plenty of actual wind, and there’s no shortage of it. The seaside village has a character of its own as well, as does the house Sian is renting. If it’s one thing Mastorakis delivers this time around, it’s atmosphere. Take the Greek locations and quality cinematography, and enrich it with a Hans Zimmer score, and you mostly have a winner.

Mostly because there are some flaws, naturally, as well: In his mad quest to make a giallo-type movie and try to outdo Dario Argento at his own game, most of the motivations for the characters are unclear. And while that also may be true for many giallos, it doesn’t matter quite as much because the Italians pack in so much weirdness and visual verve, it doesn’t matter. Technically this isn’t a giallo, so it does still matter, and because of the lack of polish on the characters, the movie starts to drag right before the climax. Still, for an “Old Dark House” thriller-horror, with Meg Foster home alone and Wings brandishing a scythe (!), The Wind is worth seeing.

Interestingly, director Mastorakis directed Wings again the following year after this in Nightmare At Noon (1988), and at one point in The Wind, Meg Foster uses the phrase “nightmare at noon”. Something about these three words must intrigue Mastorakis.

Released on the fan-favorite VHS label Lightning Video, The Wind is at the very least a one-time watch.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett


Recoil (1998)

Recoil (1998)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Art Camacho

Starring: Gary Daniels, Maurice Lamont, Frank Rivera, Kelly Hirano, Gregory McKinney, Kelli McCarty, and Richard Foronjy

Det. Ray Morgan (Daniels) is an LAPD Cop On The Edge. After the pursuit of a suspect, Morgan and his team of detectives, Boorman (Maurice Lamont), Grant (???), Vasquez (Frank Rivera) and Chang (Kelly Hirano) - as well as Morgan’s devoted friend and partner Cassidy (McKinney) - open fire on this very dangerous and violent criminal. After killing him, evil mob boss Vincent Sloan (Foronjy) declares war on the cops, with a particular emphasis on Morgan and his family. Vincent’s son Marcus was killed in the police shooting. After losing everything at the hands of Sloan and his goons, Morgan has nothing left to lose and devotes his life to revenge - with awesome results.

Gary Daniels once again brings the potent combination of likability and top-notch martial arts skill in his role as Ray Morgan. He’s another lovable family man (his wife is played by Kelli McCarty), forced to fight to even the score. Frankly, Recoil is one of the best PM’s we’ve seen to date. It’s nothing but action and incredibly impressive stunts, and with an interesting religious subtext. It’s very tough as well and takes no prisoners. With fan-favorite Gary Daniels at the helm in this revenge thriller, Recoil can basically do no wrong.

The sinister Sloan family proves no one named Sloan or Sloane is any good. Interestingly, the family seems like an Italian crime family, made up of men from mobster flicks - perhaps they shortened their name from Sloanelli or something like that.

It’s hard to believe director Art Camacho also directed the dire Deadly Reckoning (in the same year, no less). But then again, here he had the power of PM to back him up. Clearly his years in the action movie biz gave him the ability to know what fans want and how to deliver a satisfying action production.

While the overall tone is somewhat cynical, or perhaps nihilistic, and way too many cops die in the film for our liking, Recoil remains an entertaining, uncompromising and fully engaging movie, one of PM’s best.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


City Of Fear (2000)

City Of Fear (2000)-*1\2

Directed by: Mark Roper

Starring: Gary Daniels, Carol Campbell, and Bashar Rahal

“Funny what life kicks up, you know?”

Steve Roberts (Daniels) is a journalist who is summoned to Sofia, Bulgaria by his friend Charlie Venco. When  it turns out that Charlie has mysteriously died, it opens up a world of intrigue involving the Bulgarian government, the military, and the medical establishment. Not to mention thugs and the Russian mob. Luckily he has Alexa (Campbell) on his side. What is the secret of the “blood medication”? Steve Roberts certainly wants answers - and he’ll have to use his wits, as well as his fists and kicks - to get to the truth.

Of course this movie is set in Bulgaria - but at least they don’t try to hide it. Even in the fight scenes, dust is used for effect when blows land, but it just makes Bulgaria look like an unnecessarily dusty country. Maybe our Bulgarian readers can write in to see if the rumors are true. But Nu-Image always shoots there, and this one in particular has a low-budget feel compounded by its location.

Besides directing utter crud like Warhead (1996) and Marines (2003), Mark Roper also directed Gary Daniels the year after City of Fear to make the similarly-Bulgaria-shot Queen’s Messenger (2001). But what’s weird is that City of Fear seems to be directed...somehow wrong. There are a ton of unnecessary close-ups, the pacing is oddly stilted, and the minimal, weak action is more funny than hard-hitting. Plotwise, this movie is not very exciting or crowd-pleasing. It’s wildly overwritten and needlessly complex. This leads to many dialogue scenes when there should be fight scenes. Maybe they were going for something a little more serious and dour here, but...why? Either way, it doesn’t work.

The problem with "No"-Image is that most of their movies kinda suck. They’re trying too hard to be PM. But there’s no sense of fun here. It’s just “eh”. For every one good bit there’s about ten bad-to-mediocre bits. The lack of a strong, central villain helps undermine the movie, as it usually does. Sure, Gary holds it all together, but as strong a screen presence as he is, he can’t save it. City of Fear could have used another name in the cast to help out. Richard Lynch, Robert Z’Dar, Martin Kove...even Frank Zagarino might have added something. Well, maybe not. But Daniels and Scary Spice running around Bulgaria talking for over 100 minutes isn’t what you’d call must-see.

Compare this to other Daniels movies, and you’ll see the disappointment here. It’s truly a missed opportunity. As strong as Daniels’ repertoire is, we guess they can’t ALL be winners. Unfortunately, this is one of the rare non-awesome Gary Daniels movies.

City of Fear is recommended for Gary Daniels die-hards only.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Hawk's Vengeance (1996)

Hawk's Vengeance (1996)-* *1\2

Directed by: Marc F. Voizard

Starring: Gary Daniels, Jayne Heitmeyer, Cass Magda, and George Chiang

Captain Eric “Hawk” Kelly is a British cop who travels to Montreal, Canada because his stepbrother,  Jack “Soldier” Kelly - yes, the infamous “SnakeEater” himself (we’ll explain later) - has died in the line of duty. As it turns out, the streets are being overrun by rival gangs - the neo-Nazis (their gang is called, scarily, the Death Skulls) and the Asians. However, the big boss man is the intimidating Elias T. Garr (Magda). Teaming up with Soldier’s former partner Lizzie (Heitmeyer), and Li Po Chung (Chiang), a scrappy street dude, Hawk seeks...well...VENGEANCE on his beloved stepbrother’s killers. Will he succeed?

Confusingly enough, this is the fourth film in the SnakeEater series popularized by Lorenzo Lamas. Sadly, and without warning, however, the SnakeEater has eaten his last snake and died. Don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler - at the opening of this movie, it’s like, “Oh, SnakeEater is dead. Ho hum.” No flashbacks, no blaze of glory, nothing. Perhaps Lamas was too ensconced in taping an episode of Are You Hot? (A real show, and the pride of the U.S.A.) to care to be involved.

His loss is our gain, as the super-likable Gary Daniels fills in. Sure, they try to justify SnakeEater (1989) having a British step-brother plotwise - and, preposterously, a character even says to Hawk, referring to Soldier, “You look like him.” Never mind that it’s supposed to be his stepbrother. But it really doesn’t matter, because the presence of Daniels and his martial arts are all that’s really important here. There should have been some more action scenes, and this movie lacks the intensity of Daniels’ PM work, especially the excellent Recoil (1998), but Hawk’s is still worth seeing.

Thanks to his Asian sidekick, there’s plenty of good-natured racism that, once again, you’d never see today. Plus, if you’ve ever wanted to see an Asian gentleman and Gary Daniels dressed as Orthodox Jews and shooting people, your lucky day is here. Thanks to that, and some “cheesy” (you’ll see) lines, there are some laughs in store. Cass Magda plays the baddie who stick-fights in his spare time, and you know the white supremacists are evil because one of them sports a “Satan” tattoo and their band Hatebeast plays at Club Anarchy on the weekends.

The bottom line is this: Hawk’s Vengeance is fairly dumb, but the charm of Gary Daniels carries the day.

Also check out reviews from our buddies: The Video Vacuum, The Film Fiend and DTVC

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Rage (1995)

Rage (1995)-* * *

Directed by: Joseph Merhi

Starring: Gary Daniels, Kenneth Tigar, Jillian McWhirter, and David Powledge

Alex Thomas Gainer (Daniels) is a second grade teacher beloved by all his students. He also has a great home life with a loving wife and daughter. After leaving the house and saying “I’ll be right back” (never a good sign), Gainer is carjacked and then kidnapped. He is taken to a secret lab trying to manufacture SuperSoldiers. Alex manages to escape and now he is on the run. With corrupt sheriffs, insane scientists, and tons of law enforcement after him, his story becomes a media frenzy. Even though some people died in one of the many melees, no one believes Alex’s innocence - except reporter Johansen (Tigar) and his camerawoman Bobby T (McWhirter). Will Alex be able to clear his good name?

It is impossible not to like Gary Daniels. He tops himself in likability here - as the good natured elementary school teacher and devoted father. PM and other companies must always use him because of this, as well as his stellar martial arts abilities. He’s the perfect action star to root for. Rage is simply one big action set piece after another. It’s truly non-stop stunts, explosions, shooting, and car chases (both Fruit Cart and otherwise).  The angle of the experimental SuperSoldiers makes things a little different, as does the subplot about “media vultures” who convict people in the court of public opinion regardless of their guilt or innocence.

Only PM could include this social satire along with its classic style of blow-ups - and include references to the show Hard Copy, the OJ trial as well as Geraldo - and also include something they often use in their movies - transvestites. It’s not known why. The actor David Powledge almost steals the movie as corrupt sheriff Sherman Kelly.  But sadly he’s not the main baddie. It’s crazy - this guy has been a character actor since the early 80’s but he is virtually unknown. Some people toil in the entertainment industry their whole careers and get little to no recognition, and are great (like Powledge), and some actors are hugely popular but are annoying and talentless. You can name your own example. It’s a cryin’ shame. Take Luis Beckford as Sgt. Beckford in the film. He’s truly an American hero.

But back to the subject at hand, really the only flaw with Rage is that it needed a more prominent and more evil villain. Other than that, the movie is a wildly entertaining ride. The world of PM references itself a few times here:  Last Man Standing’s McWhirter appears as the camerawoman, Alex’s last name, Gainer, is also Erik Estrada’s last name in Night of the Wilding (1990), and in one of Rage’s best scenes, there is a fight at a video store, and the store is decorated with nothing but posters from other PM movies! Now that’s a store we would have loved to have visited. Apparently it was in the Long Beach mall (the whole mall scene is a standout) - although surely the local glassworkers were working overtime after these fights were over.

While Rage might not be on the level of the top PM’s (Zero Tolerance (1994), Last Man Standing (1996), The Sweeper (1996) and Recoil, 1998) - it still is well worth seeking out.

Also check out more Rage reviews from our comrades in arms, The Video Vacuum and DTVC!

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The Sweeper (1996)

The Sweeper (1996)-* * * *

Directed by: Joseph Merhi

Starring: C. Thomas Howell, Ed Lauter, Kristin Dalton, Janet Gunn, Felton Perry, Max Slade, John P. Ryan, Kathrin Middleton, and Jeff Fahey

Ever since he was a young boy, there was no question that Mark Goddard (Howell) would become a good cop like his father Dale (Fahey). When bad guys gun down his whole family, it traumatizes him, but he grows up to become a police officer anyway - but naturally his unfortunate past has given him a chip on his shoulder and a proclivity towards violence. Sure, the recipients of said violence are criminal scum, and this allows him entry into a super-secret fraternity of criminal-killers called J.I. or “Justice Incorporated”. If you have nine kills to your credit, you are allowed entry. Even though the naturally suspicious Goddard is wary, he reluctantly joins because the leader, Molls (Lauter) is persuasive, his associate Rachel (Dalton) is seductive, and he gets to go on off-the-books missions and kill as many bad guys as he wants and still get paid. But the awesomeness of this setup quickly wears thin as Molls hides a sinister secret. All Goddard wants to do is see his son, and reconnect with his estranged wife Melissa (Gunn)...but will he get the chance before all his incredibly dangerous doings get to him first?

This is an excellent movie. God bless PM, they’ve done it again. This ranks right up there with Zero Tolerance (1994) and Last Man Standing (1996) with the best of the PM’s. C. Thomas Howell is great as the troubled cop on the edge, and while other actors in this situation would have relied on simply having a goatee, sunglasses, necklaces and a leather vest, not to mention an awesome House of Pain baseball cap (all of which he has because he‘s a badass, duh), Howell actually adds a lot of care and subtlety to his role. You can see his rage issues and suspicions without him saying anything. It really is CTH at his best. Very under-appreciated.

Speaking of things that are under-appreciated, this movie is packed with killer and hugely enjoyable stunts and action setpieces in the true PM tradition. It takes tons of work and skill to pull these things off, but they go by in such a flash, people tend not to think about all the talent, artistry and labor that goes into them. You’ve got to admit, PM brings it, and brings it hard, and you CAN’T not love it.

There’s plenty of familiar faces on show as well, besides the aforementioned CTH, Dalton, Gunn and Lauter, there’s also John Ryan of American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (1993) fame as the head of the “Concrete Lion” gang,  PM mainstay Kathrin Middleton, the legendary Felton Perry, and lastly Max Slade, who famously was one of the 3 Ninjas (1992).  Of the supporting cast, we saved the best for last: Jeff Fahey. Perhaps the only flaw in this movie is that we would have liked to see more Fahey. His role is small. But it’s important and fits the plot, we understand.

PM understands that stunts aren’t worth jack if you don’t have characters that you care about that are in danger. Thanks to some above average acting and writing, they can now marry that to their top-notch stuntwork. PM puts in actual effort and it pays off in dividends.

We wholeheartedly recommend The Sweeper!

Also check our buddies, Direct To Video Connoisseur's review and Cool Target's write-up!

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Ballistic (1995)

Ballistic (1995)-* * *

Directed by: Kim Bass

Starring: Marjean Holden, Sam Jones, Cory Everson, Richard Roundtree, James Lew, Robert Miano Michael Jai White, and Charles Napier

“Maybe you should try Nintendo!”- Claudia

Jesse Gavin (Holden) is a tough female cop who is highly effective and dedicated. She works for an elite squad known as UCT to take down all the slime on the seamy side of Hollywood. As if this wasn’t enough, she has to deal with sexism on the force, not the least of which comes from associate Woo (Lew) and his buddies. Her Captain, Underwood (Napier) is sympathetic, especially because her father, Harold (Roundtree) was framed and put in prison for twenty years. 

 It seems the source of most of her - as well as the city’s - misery comes from one man, the arrogant, smarmy jerkface known as Nick Braden (Jones). Braden is a “businessman” who has his fingers in every illegal activity you can name. He even sends out his girlfriend, Claudia (Everson) to enforce for him (keep in mind she’s more muscular than most men). Not only that, he stages illegal Punchfighting matches for the amusement of him and his buddies, using Quint (White) as one of his preferred fighters. When Jesse is blamed for some of Braden’s bad deeds, she teams up with the people she trusts most to bring him down. Will she succeed?

Ballistic is classic 90’s video-store action through and through. It has a solid B-movie cast of familiar names, and even tries to put a “sexy” spin on things that would make it right at home on the Cinemax of the day. It has all the action and cliches ("It’s an election year!", etc.) we know and love. Sure, it has some awkward dialogue and a few awkwardly-staged fight scenes, but so what? That’s to be expected and we’re not interested in perfection. Plus it was director Bass’ first feature film.

James Lew gave a lot to the action movie of the 90’s, and here he is again, this time sporting an impressive ponytail. Richard Roundtree is in prison again, just like in Bloodfist 3 (1992). His role as Jesse’s father is one of the better ones in the movie. Charles Napier does a quasi-sit-down role as the Captain. Sam Jones puts in his second-most evil performance (next to In Gold We Trust, how could he ever top that?). Robert Miano is in pretty much everything and here he appears in a small role as one of Braden’s buddies.

Cory Everson almost steals the movie as Claudia, putting in a muscular and well-defined performance (yuk yuk). As for the star of the show, Marjean Holden, she could have been the Pam Grier of the 90’s. Or the action movie Halle Berry. She carries the movie well and makes a good hero. It was great seeing her go rogue, and she should have done more work like this. But the real star of the show is the green, angry-looking punching bag with its arms out ready to attack you. “Punchy”, as he is no doubt nicknamed, deserved a bigger and better career.

It was nice to see some surprise Punchfighting, we weren’t expecting that. Braden is so evil, he doesn’t even invite a “select clientele” to view the fighting, it’s just himself and a few of his friends. Also he has a license plate that says “BRADEN”. In case there was any doubt, that’s how you KNOW he’s evil. It was nice to see Michael Jai White in an early role. Sure, he couldn’t hope to save Universal Soldier: The Return (1999), but here you can truly see his fighting prowess.  

In an interesting coincidence, both Holden and Napier starred together in the Punchfighting episode of the TV show Renegade. As for the gunplay, the sounds used and the muzzle flashes are pretty weak and laughable. It looks like toy cap guns. But again, it’s more about the spirit than the technical issues.

As for the tape itself, it was released by Imperial Entertainment. We’re taking an educated guess that it was a fairly limited release, because this tape is rare and not often seen in video stores. The tape we were able to view wasn’t of the best quality, and maybe that’s why.  Perhaps Imperial got gun-shy and tamped down the number of copies they released to stores.

Thankfully, it’s all done with a sense of humor, which makes Ballistic definitely entertaining and watchable.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett