Double Blast (1994)

Double Blast (1994)-* * *

Directed by: Tim Spring

Starring: Dale "Apollo" Cook, Linda Blair, Joe Estevez, Ron Hall, Ned Hourani, John Barrett, Crystal Summer, Stephen Brouse, Lorne Berfield, and Robert Z'Dar

Greg (Cook) is a professional kickboxer who has a son, Jimmy (Berfield), and a daughter, Lisa (Summer), who take after their father and also are proficient in Martial Arts. When a gang of no-goodniks led by Nadir (Estevez) and his number one goon Mongoose (Z’Dar) kidnap archaeologist Claudia (Blair) because she can translate an ancient stone tablet said to lead to the whereabouts of great riches, the kidnapping is witnessed by Lisa and Jimmy. They follow the baddies into the jungle, and are soon followed by their dad. So now everyone, good guys and bad guys alike, are trekking through jungles and caves to try and find the treasure. Who will end up with it?

Ah, to be a kid in the 90’s. You could go to your local video store, rent Double Blast and maybe a Genesis game, then go home and watch Wild and Crazy Kids while eating your Fruit By The Foot. It’s a nice scenario, and surely one that the filmmakers at Davian International (the people behind most of Dale “Apollo” Cook’s movies) were aiming for. Double Blast is nothing if not an attempt to crack the market of younger kids seeking action thrills, and in the attempt making a sort of cross between Home Alone (1990), The Goonies (1985) and Three Ninjas (1992) (one of Berfield’s only credits is a “thank you” on Three Ninjas - was he a young consultant, a stunt-kid, or was he in the running to be one of the Ninjas? We may never know...) Seeing as how the Martial Arts fights aren’t all that different from Cook’s other movies, if such a designation exists, this movie would surely be a hard PG.

Cook carries over his time-honored sweatpants-and-fannypack look into this movie. Why an acknowledged action star of the time insisted on dressing like a tourist in every one of his films remains a mystery. Lorne Berfield, the kid who played Jimmy, was very good and seemed to have a promising career ahead of him. Sadly it never materialized. Linda Blair is along for the silly ride, and Joe Estevez chews scenery as the main baddie. Robert Z’Dar holds up his end of the wackiness on show, and this is the only credited performance of Crystal Summer, who’s not a porn star as far as we know. There are some other names in the cast fans will know, such as Ron Hall, who flips around and fights in a full suit, John Barrett, who’s Cook’s fight trainer, and Ned Hourani, who plays one of the baddies who is constantly getting beat up by children.

Director Tim Spring was certainly on a tear in the mid-90’s, having directed Reason to Die (1990), Double Blast, and Raw Target (1995) all in a row. The golden age of the video store brought out the best in people, and gave us more choices than ever before. What’s good about Double Blast is that it’s at least upbeat, and there’s no annoying kid, which there easily could have been. There are zany “BOING!” sound effects while the children are beating up the grown-ups, and characters read newspapers with grammatical errors in them. Lisa has a boyfriend (Lisa has a boyfriend!) named Charlie (Stephen Brause, in his only role) who looks exactly like TV’s Zack Morris. Maybe that’s why Brause never went on to anything else. The world already had a Zack.

But perhaps the most interesting thing, from today’s standpoint, about Double Blast is how characters call each other “retard” as an insult. You CANNOT do that today. Or maybe you could, but your movie would be rated R, and you’d be accused of bullying and defamation and sued within an inch of your life. It’s all done without malice, it truly was a more innocent time back then, people didn’t know what they were saying. In the end, we watched Double Blast because of the very impressive cast, but the movie is certainly geared for younger viewers. Not unlike Little Ninjas (1990). It’s pretty dumb, but the cast basically keeps it afloat. If you have occasion to watch something of this kind, you could probably do worse than Double Blast.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Zipperface (1992)

Zipperface (1992)-* * *

Directed by: Mansour Pourmond

Starring: Dona Adams, David Clover, Trisha Melynkov, Tim Lechner, and Jonathan Mandell

Palm City, California is being terrorized by a mysterious guy in a gimp mask. The young and inexperienced cop Lisa Ryder (Dona Adams in sadly her only credited movie role) has teamed up with the older veteran law enforcement officer Harry Shine (Clover) to try and crack the case.  Mayor Harris (Melynkov) views the killings as a PR disaster, so she hires the vivacious Devon McClain (Lechner) to try and spin the situation in her favor. Meanwhile, Lisa gets involved with a strange photographer named Michael (Mandell) which may sink her chances of showing the police force what she can really do. Who is Zipperface? Will he finally be unmasked? Will the killings come to an end? Will more prostitutes zip their last face? Find out today!

Zipperface is a low budget mystery/police procedural with some horror elements. It certainly has a lot of the pitfalls of this type of movie, such as horrendously flat acting and shots where the boom mic is visible, but thankfully there is a lot of unintentional humor that ultimately makes this movie worth seeing.

The police chief who loves nothing more than a tall, frosty glass of milk. The super-intense game of rock-paper-scissors. The fact that Zipperface’s mask has metal studs for hair, including little metal eyebrows built in to the mask. And so many more things - we don’t want to spoil them for you. But little details that can only become visible during a fairly amateurish production like this come to the fore, and thank goodness.

Acting honors go to Dona Ryder as Lisa, who seems to have come from another planet where they’ve never heard of movies, much less acting, and the powerhouse performance of one Richard Vidan as Willie Scalia, a fellow cop with a bad attitude. Runner up: Timothy Lechner as the pink-turtlenecked Devon. Come to think of it, this movie is populated with a lot of weird people. We didn’t even mention acting student Alvin or the long-haired Reverend. And the apartment decor...some of the most eyesore-inducing interior design is on display as well. It’s really all such a blur.

The movie as a whole could have used more Zipperface, as there are some pretty long stretches when “The Zip” (as his friends call him) is not seen. We know this movie was a mainstay on the pay-cable circuit of the day, having played on such channels as Cinemax and The Movie Channel. Judging by the look of the movie, it seems to have been made in the 80’s, but really is from 1992. Looking at it from today’s perspective, it seems inevitable that AIP would put it out on VHS. It seems right up their alley.

For a ridiculous good time, don’t be afraid to zip up your face and sit down and watch this tonight.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Miami Horror (1985)

Miami Horror (1985)-* * *

AKA Miami Golem 

Directed by: Alberto De Martino

Starring: David Warbeck, Laura Trotter, and John Ireland

Craig Milford (Warbeck) is a Miami-based TV reporter who thinks he’s seen it all. That is, until he gets involved in a complex plot that involves DNA from an alien race, the businessmen that want it to control the world, the malevolent extraterrestrial fetus that holds the powers, and a telepathic lady, Joanna Fitzgerald (Trotter) who can help him communicate with the forces from the universe that are commanding him to get the vital information away from Anderson (Ireland) and his goons. At first, Milford is skeptical, but as he goes on his journey of discovery, it does turn out that space aliens have chosen  this lowly local TV reporter to be the one that will save all life in the universe. Will Craig Milford be up to his immense task?

Miami Horror, also known as Miami Golem, was an Italian production directed by Alberto De Martino (using the pseudonym Martin Herbert) and picked up for release by AIP. The tape contains no AIP trailers. But whoever designed the logo used for the movie was clearly “inspired” by the then-hot Miami Vice TV show. Such was the power of Crockett and Tubbs, it even filtered down to bizarre sci-fi/horror/action hybrids such as this, which really have no connection to the show whatsoever. Even the music by Detto Mariano is decidedly Jan Hammer-esque. Miami Horror is a nutty movie, notable in its own right for its weird touches and strange effects, not to mention its grab-bag of a plot that’s quirkily entertaining one minute, and oddly slow the next.

The great David Warbeck is always charismatic, and he basically carries the movie. This time around he’s being shuffled between intergalactic commanders and being chased by rednecks with shotguns as he escapes on a fan-boat. One thing you can say about Miami Horror, it’s never predictable. When he’s not talking on his awesome car phone, he’s shooting with a handgun at a helicopter that is chasing him in a sequence seemingly inspired by North By Northwest (1959). But does the heli explode? You’ll just have to track down the movie to find out. It’s really hard to describe Miami Horror - its off-kilter, off the wall, and off beat vibe is...off the beaten track and fans of Italian productions from the 80’s should appreciate what’s going on here.

Some people say Italian productions “ripped off” other, more popular movies and shows in order to exploit their current popularity. But as is evidenced here, that may be a starting point, but - just like the musical score - the final product is something strangely original. No one can deny that when all is said and done, there is no other movie like Miami Horror. Add to that some classic dubbing, some scientist goons fistfighting, and American Commandos (1986)-style repeated footage (not to mention all the other wacky ideas being floated around) and there you have it.

While it might not be to everyone’s taste, Miami Horror is still around for people out there that have seen all the other Italian productions of the 80’s and are still seeking out what’s left.

Also check out a review by our buddy, Cool Target! 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett


Taxi Dancers (1993)

Taxi Dancers (1993)-* *1\2

Directed by: Norman Thaddeus Vane

Starring: Robert Miano, Brittany McCrena, Tina Fite, Randall Lee Irwin,  Michele Hess, Josie Boyd, Russ Landery, and Sonny Landham

Taxi Dancers is the tale of the Shark Club and the lives of the girls who work there as “Taxi Dancers”. Centered around Billie (McCrena), it also delves into the exploits of her co-workers. When Billie arrives in L.A., club owner Miguelito (Miano) gives her a job, and co-dancer Star (Fite) allows her to move in with her. Mulleted, strange-looking men come to the Shark Club and “clock out”  the women in order to spend time with them, either dancing, playing pool or just drinking. 

If more happens, presumably that’s up to the girls. Billie ends up in a love triangle with longhaired pizza delivery boy Bobby (Irwin) and more successful Texas magnate Diamond Jim (Landham). Meanwhile, Candy (Hess) has legal troubles, Sparkle (Josie Boyd) is a drug addict and owes money to a gang called the Yellow Dragons who then menace the club, etc...but the girls will all have to make hard decisions and face their futures after it all comes to a head on one fateful night...what will they do?

Sure, Taxi Dancers isn’t really an action movie, but AIP did more with their brand than just action. Here, director Norman Thaddeus Vane (who is known for his horror/exploitation work and is profiled in the excellent book Nightmare USA by Stephen Thrower, which everyone should own) delivers a work similar in theme and tone to his earlier Club Life (1986). 

Vane seemed to be trying to distance himself from the typical “erotic thriller” of the day and churn out a drama with more grit. It does have a more realistic feel than the glitzier Club Life, and most of the main cast carries things along. Miano and Landham are true professionals, while a newcomer like McCrena is likable as the main girl. For many of the other cast members, this was their only film, and while it gives an overall feel of being more down-and-dirty, inevitably, the performances of inexperienced actors can be a bit wonky. 

Especially surprising in that regard is one Russ Landery, who played the bodyguard Jo Jo. He was really good, and this is his only credited film role to date. But let’s not forget fan favorite Robert Miano, who plays the club owner who is ex-LAPD, an ex-con, and a Vietnam vet. Performance-wise, the movie belongs to him.

As for the music, there’s an R&B slow jam duet in the vein of “Loving On Borrowed Time” which plays over and over and over again. We believe it’s called “Another Close Call” by Harvey Scales. Of course there’s also the time-honored sax on the soundtrack as well. 

In the dialogue department, there are several great usages of the word “homeboy”, and naturally there’s the token catfight that the girls get into. But all of this analysis might be moot for many people, who just want to check out the sex and nudity quotient. Director Vane keeps it all toned down, especially for a movie like this, because it appears he wanted to concentrate on the drama of it all, not make a cheap flick for men to leer at. He must have reasoned there are plenty of those out there already. His aim seems to be to concentrate on the lives of the girls. Maybe that’s why nobody but us and Stephen Thrower have seen the film.

In the end, Taxi Dancers is an “erotic thriller” with a difference. It’s worth seeing if you can find it, but don’t go too far out of your way.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Speak Of The Devil (1991)

Speak Of The Devil (1991)-*1\2

Directed by: Raphael Nussbaum

Starring: Robert Elarton and Jean Carol

Jonah Johnson (Elarton) and his wife Isabelle (Carol) are Southern televangelists. They are also con artists, and when their game is discovered, they high-tail it out of the south in a hurry. They travel to L.A. and set up shop in an old dilapidated house, which they then proceed to renovate into their new church/home. Going whichever way the wind blows, they sense the tenor of the times and open a church of Satan called the “Church of Latter-Day Sins”. The church becomes successful, and while Isabelle wants to bilk people for all their worth, Jonah, who after all is still actually a devoted Christian, has second thoughts. But still he dons a ridiculous black leotard and slaughters goats in their basement. While the place is swarmed by terrified plumbers, squatting “punkers”, an IRS agent, and a Rabbi who warn of the evil within, will the Johnsons continue on, or will they pack up and move like they did before?

You may have noticed that this is not an action movie. But in our quest to become the ultimate AIP site, we have to include items like this. We thought it was ACTION International Pictures, but perhaps here they were trying to expand their base and include a comedy. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but the problem with many horror comedies, this one included, is that it’s neither funny nor scary. It’s hard to tell the intended audience the filmmakers were going for here. While in theory we would enjoy an anti-PC movie such as this - it takes shots at Christians, Jews, Mexicans, Southerners, trendy L.A.-dwellers, the aforementioned Punkers and just about everyone else in between, but somehow none of the jokes really hit, they lack bite or edge. But what’s interesting about Speak of the Devil is that it is a satire of not just the televangelism trend of the 80’s, but also the Satanism trend of the 80’s. It kills two birds with one stone, and that seems to be the strength of the film.

It does have something of a behind-the-scenes exploitation pedigree, as co-writer/co-producer/director  Nussbaum and co-producer Henning Schellerup (with ‘Script Contributions’ by Scott Spiegel) have noted careers for B-movie fans, but even with some exploitation elements, the result is surprisingly mediocre. The project could have had potential if they went all-horror or all-comedy, but this mix is middling. Plus at 100 minutes it’s too long. You really feel every minute. So while spoofing Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, as well as Anton LaVey, was certainly the film’s main focus, the most interesting jab came when some characters on screen make fun of Cannon Films. Calling it “Uzi Films”, it mocks their head honchos by re-naming them “Golem and Bogus”. Though surely it was meant only for hardcore fans like us, we thought that was the most worthwhile moment in the movie. We wish they did more jokes like that, rather than some stupidity about a clogged toilet.

While we’ve seen much worse, in all honesty you could probably skip Speak of the Devil.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The House On Tombstone Hill (1989)

The House on Tombstone Hill (1989)-* * *

AKA: Dead Dudes In The House

Directed by: James Riffel

Starring: Mark Zobian and Sarah Newhouse

When a group of constantly-squabbling young adults drive out to a creepy old house for an attempted renovation job, they don’t realize they are in for a night of horror. It turns out the house was owned by the Leatherby family, the matriarch of which was a cold-blooded murderess back in the 40's. When one of the moronic kids breaks her tombstone which lies on the property, the malevolent old lady comes back to life and begins not just killing the kids, but turning them into some sort of zombie that will do her diabolical bidding. And, they’re trapped in the house. Will any of these one-dimensional house-flippers make it out alive? Dare to find out...

The House On Tombstone hill is a nice low-budget regional effort that’s a little bit better than you probably think it is. It was released around the time when AIP had some sort of deal going with Troma. So the tape under this title was a joint release from the two companies. Later, when it was wholly owned by Troma, they changed the name to Dead Dudes In the House and found a picture of unrelated homies to put on the front cover. Just why they thought misleading people into thinking there are homies involved in this movie when there clearly aren’t any remains a mystery. Where are the promised homeboys today? Were any viewers disappointed when said homies never materialized? Why did they think that (of all approaches) was superior to the movie as it was? All unanswered questions. But back to the movie at hand...

So despite being an AIP/Troma co-release, the whole venture feels very CITY LIGHTS, and anyone who has seen their horror output such as Epitaph (1987) or Hollow Gate (1988) would likely agree. One of the main highlights of THOTH are the makeup and gore effects. They were created by Ed French and his team, well-known in the practical effects world. And they are indeed effective. Without these high-quality gore effects, the movie as a whole would greatly suffer. So while the whole “Old Dark House” theme is certainly well-worn ground, French spices up the proceedings sufficiently enough. Director Riffel does pull off some intense moments, but the pace overall is slow, and there are way too many scenes of characters banging on doors and windows attempting to get out of the house.

The fact that the entire movie was shot at one location - the house - does provide some claustrophobic moments, but it also leads to unneeded repetition. A couple other settings would have been welcomed. As for the cast, they get absolutely no character development or backstory whatsoever. For those keeping track, Bob is the jerk who smokes and drinks and isn’t likable, Mark is the blonde nerd, Steve is the redhead nerd, Jamie is the dark-haired girl, Linda is the blonde girl, Ron is the “normal guy”, and Joey goes out on a beer run. That’s literally it as far as character development goes. If we knew these people just a bit better, we might care about their plight more than we do. But the moments of horror are what THOTH is all about, and they are duly delivered.

The House on Tombstone Hill is not a bad little horror movie and worth picking up if you can find it cheap. But where are the missing homies...?

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The Deadly Secret (1994)

The Deadly Secret (1994)-1\2*

Directed by: Jason Hammond and Erik Hansen

Starring: Joe Estevez, Tracy Spaulding, and Reggie "Roggie" Cale

Apparently Joe Estevez plays the head of a brokerage firm and in his past lies a “deadly secret”. Various killings occur in order to secretively keep this deadly secret secretive. There’s a woman who gets naked a lot named Reyna Vaught (Spaulding). That’s it.

Oh me oh my. It pains us on at least two levels to have to tell you about The Deadly Secret. Firstly, it was painful to sit through, and we will explain why shortly. Secondly, we don’t enjoy giving bad reviews. We don’t want our readers to think we’re those typical internet guttersnipes who hate everything. Our readers know we don’t fit that description, and that we love celebrating great movies. However, that doesn’t mean bad movies don’t exist, and when they’re bad, it’s our duty, however painful, to tell the world. 

Now that that preamble is out of the way, man is The Deadly Secret awful. It truly gives bad movies a bad name. This isn’t even fun bad, it’s just bad bad. If there’s one word that sums it all up, it’s INCOHERENT. But it’s also insufferable, inane, incompetent and inconceivably irritating.

The thing is, this is not a movie. Just because you have a camera and some lighting equipment, and you get some human beings to appear in front of these technical items, does not automatically mean you have a  finished film on your hands. The Deadly Secret fails to do even the most simplistic basics when it comes to filmmaking and storytelling, never mind entertaining. 

This “movie” is just a jumble of footage: some headache-inducing, blurry “flashbacks”, followed by a guy sticking his hand in a dead fish (why?????), over and over again, then some sub-Skinemax soft porn, then some cutaways to the artwork on the walls of the room in which people are talking, then a party scene where people are imploring you to “Rhumba!” and it looks like they handed the camera to a drunk five-year-old. Then more footage showing us that Joe Estevez owns a scuba suit and a fishtank, then some statues, a few people get shot, then more Estevez sex. Yes, ESTEVEZ SEX. This movie contains all the Estevez sex you could possibly ever have hoped to not ever exist.

And it goes on like that for a patience-testing 90 minutes. This thing (like we said, not really a movie in the loosest definition of that word) literally dares you to turn it off the whole time you have it on. Because we run a movie review site, we felt we had to watch it all. 

But in all honesty, this should be shown on a loop to Guantanamo Bay detainees. They’d spill all their secrets and terrorism would end forever. This hour-and-a-half long pain in the eyes is amazingly junky and quality-less, so it’s unfortunate and sad that AIP released it. We have to be the ultimate AIP site, which is why we watched it in the first place. We never could have imagined that that goal would involve sacrifice of any kind. Don’t watch this movie. Run and hide from it. It makes Laser Moon (1993) seem watchable by comparison.

You know something desperate is going on when there’s nudity during the opening credits. Speaking of which, we believe we’ve found one of our favorite things, a mistake in the credits. A man named Reggie Cale plays a character named Jake. Yet he’s credited as Roggie Cale. Yes, Roggie. ROGGIE! We hope his name is really Roggie, and Reggie is the typo. But we’re not sure. Another portent of The Deadly Secret’s sloppiness, it’s almost like the people behind the scenes weren’t taking anything seriously and this is all a big joke at our expense. Shockingly, it took TWO people to direct this unmitigated slop. Actually, you can really tell. Mismatched footage abounds. Godfrey Ho can make disparate footage work into an entertaining spectacle. Jason Hammond and Erik Hansen cannot.

The Deadly Secret is not only not a movie, it breaks the unspoken social contract between movie maker and movie viewer. It fails on every conceivable level, and the half-star rating is merely for the presence and performance of Joe Estevez. Avoid like the Ebola virus.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Double Threat (1993)

Double Threat (1993)-* * *

Directed by: David A. Prior

Starring: Andrew Stevens, Sally Kirkland, Richard Lynch, Anthony Franciosa, Chick Vennera, and Sherrie Rose

Monica Martel (Kirkland) was once hot property in Hollywood, but now her career is on the downslide because, unfortunately, she is aging. But she’s working on a movie that should revive her fortunes. The producer, a man blessed with the name Crocker Scott (Franciosa) tells the director, Ross (Vennera) to spice up the film and make it “sexier”. The only problem is, Monica proudly proclaims she has never done nudity in her career and isn’t going to budge now. So the filmmakers call in a body double, Lisa Shane (Rose), and you’d think that would solve the problem. But that’s just the beginning, as Monica’s younger boy-toy Eric Cline (Stevens) lusts after the super-hot Lisa in a big way. But Monica is very controlling and Eric can’t really escape her clutches. But once a murder plot erupts, and cars start exploding and people start being shot at, Detective Fenich (Lynch) is on the case, and he’s highly suspicious of Eric and his motives. But does he have good reason? After many twists and turns, the fiendish plot is revealed. Just how many threats will there be? Find out today?

The “Erotic Thriller”, as it came to be known (or “Sizzlers”, as a local video store chain, Tommy K’s, called them) were one of the last “video store genres”. While others such as the DieHardInA, the El Presidente slog, the Ninja Boom movie, the teen sex romp, among others, had been around in video stores for years, it seemed it took until the mid-90’s for the Erotic Thriller to truly find its own space on local store shelves. They became so prevalent on pay-cable, Cinemax became known as “Skinemax” and even the movies themselves got the adopted title of “Skinemax Movies”. Here, David A. Prior, Mr. AIP himself, tries his hand at one. While the obvious influence is Body Double (1984), Prior isn’t quite the virtuosic filmmaker De Palma was in his prime. But maybe he’s not trying to be. Maybe his aim was to make a humble, low-budget, noir-ish thriller for a more undemanding video market. If that was the case, he definitely succeeded.

Andrew Stevens’ mullet and sleeveless denim shirt star in the movie, and when he puts on his Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses, he becomes the ultimate coolguy. He seems to be some sort of cross between Patrick Swayze and David Hasselhoff, so it’s plain to see why he starred in so many of these “Sizzlers”. Connecticut’s own Sherrie Rose has never looked better. Maybe when she does roles that require Martial Arts, she feels the need to be less feminine. The linchpin of the movie is her sex appeal, so unfortunately no Martial Arts is on hand. But her car’s license plate is “MUVIES”. In the fictional world of Double Threat, was “MOVIES”, spelled properly, taken? Is her phone’s ringtone the song from the old Starz channel commercial (set to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony 4th Movement AKA Ode To Joy): “movies-movies-movies-movies-movies-movies-moooo-ooooovies”? She also wears a Seinfeld-style puffy shirt for a decent chunk of Double Threat’s running time. Ted Prior makes a brief appearance as “Thug #1”, a Van Halen-loving street tough who gets in a quick fight with Stevens. Even though there wasn’t really room for him after this one scene, the movie still could have used more Prior.

We always like to point out when there is a disco scene, and there is a good one here, with a generic C + C Music Factory knockoff for a song with a Freedom Williams soundalike commanding us to “Dance” over and over again. Yes, that is what we’re here to do, sir. Thank you. As for the tape itself, it looks quite good, with bright colors. It has no AIP trailers, but we suspect that is because it was released by West Side Studios Home Video, and it was not an entirely in-house AIP release. Regardless, it’s of good quality. But the important thing to know is that there is a longer unrated version. Should you want to add Double Threat to your collection, make sure you track down the unrated edition.

Double Threat has some familiar faces and isn’t a bad way to spend the time. Fans of the Erotic Thriller genre will probably get the most enjoyment out of the movie, but DTV fans in general should like it too.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Ragin' Cajun (1991)

Ragin' Cajun (1991)-* *1\2

Directed by: William Byron Hillman

Starring: David Heavener, Charlene Tilton, Allan Rich, Sam Bottoms, Samantha Eggar, Jesse Borja, and Benny "The Jet" Urquidez

Cage Damante (Heavener) is a Vietnam vet who became a kickboxer. He signed a contract with the evil gangster Regetti (Rich), but fled from New York City to California to escape him and start a new life. His dream is to be a singer/songwriter on the country music circuit. With the help of girlfriend Ali Webster (Tilton), the troubled Cage may have a future. He also has a strong bond with Legs (Bottoms), a fellow vet and agoraphobic who refuses to leave the VA hospital. Both Cage and Legs are seeing psychiatrist Dr. May (Eggar) for further psychological help. Cage suffers from debilitating flashbacks. Just when things are looking better, Regetti insists that Cage “fulfill his contract” and engage in a “fight to the death” with none other than a dude named Dr. Death (Borja). Regetti even sends his goons after both Cage and Ali in order to force him to fight. Will Cage succumb to Regetti’s demands? Or does he have some tricks up his sleeve?

Even though this movie wasn’t written or directed by David Heavener, as many of his later projects were, it seems he’s in the driver’s seat here as the main star and singer of the many songs this movie has to offer. Heavener seems to have plenty of heart here, and Ragin’ Cajun, despite the tagline of “More Blood Than Bloodsport! More Kick Than Kickboxer!” is primarily a drama. Yes, there is some fighting and a smidgen of action, but this could firmly fit in the “Drama” section of your local video store, as opposed to the “Action” section. But Van Damme was huge at the time, so, even though Heavener couldn’t be more different, the marketing people saw an opening during the action boom of the day.

Benny “The Jet” Urquidez is on board in a small role as a fighter that takes on “The Cajun”, but interestingly he is billed as “Introducing” Benny The Jet, even though he had been in a bunch of movies before this. Charlene Tilton seems to be giving her all as the devoted girlfriend/singer/guitar player that refuses to give up on Cage. Didn’t she play a similar role in Deadly Bet (1992)? Samantha Eggar is a quality actress and it’s surely a coup that she agreed to be in this. But it truly is a cavalcade of music stars - Tommy Roe, Cristy Lane, Rex Allen Jr., Billy Vera and a few others perform songs, as do Tilton and Heavener, making this almost a quasi-musical. Of course, it’s always funny when Heavener is sitting on a park bench with an acoustic guitar, and begins singin’ and playin’, and mic’d vocals and guitar with effects come strumming out.

But truly the star of the musical show is one Atanas Ilitch, using the stage name “Atanas”. His “Let’s Live Together” destroys the competition. Why an 80’s-disco synthpop song is even in the same universe as all the country pickin’ has yet to be determined. But like fellow Heavener vehicle Outlaw Force (1988), before the movie begins, there is an advertisement for the soundtrack. This commercial is a movie highlight. (yes, we know that doesn’t make logical sense, but you know what we mean). Not available in stores! 12 original songs from the original artists! ONLY available on stereo cassette! Call now! I wonder if operators are still standing by...

Seeing as how visions of exploding huts dance in his head, there are plenty of chances for odd editing. But the choppiness in the editing room comes out in other, more unexpected places as well. We see what Heavener and writer/director Hillman were trying to do, but this drama/love story/almost-Punchfighter/action/gangster/musical comes out as you might expect - something like a not entirely digested meal. Not that this movie is BAD, but it’s a bit on the haphazard side, and some of the fat could have been trimmed from it as well.

Once again, AIP delivers to video stores what others only can dream of. And once again, we applaud them for it. But this Heavener outing is a mixed bag at best.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The Revenger (1989)

The Revenger (1989)-* * *

Directed by: Cedric Sundstrom

Starring: Frank Zagarino, Oliver Reed, Jeff Celentaro, Nancy Mulford, and Arnold Vosloo

Mike Keller (Zagarino) lives to play smooth jazz on his sax. Interrupting his quest to achieve ultimate smoothitude, his buddy Mackie (Vosloo) shows up at one of his gigs one night and forces him at gunpoint to drive him and his supposed snuff/porno films and cash to criminal kingpin Jack Fisher (Reed). Though innocent, Keller serves jail time in the aftermath of this escapade. Once out of the slammer, he just wants to put back the broken pieces of his life with his loving wife Lisa (Mulford). But Fisher and his goons believe Keller still has the missing money, $500,000 to be exact. So Fisher kidnaps Lisa. Keller then calls upon his old Vietnam compatriot Harry (Celentano) to help him rescue her. Then they go on the run in the country for a while. Throwing caution to the wind, Keller blatantly disregards the fact that “Revenger” is not a real word, and summons all his best revengering skills for his revengering mission. Will he succeed?

The first thing you will see when you pop The Revenger into your VCR (or now DVD player) is a shirtless Frank Zagarino doing his workout routine. The intellectual levels of this film do not rise from here on out. This movie happens to be the second best Zags movie we’ve seen to date, the best being Striker (1987). Both are AIP releases. Could this be a coincidence? The Zagster never should have zigged from AIP. He clearly did his best work there, and the quality of his releases only went downhill from here. But this was released in the magic year of 1989, possibly the best and most fruitful year for video stores in the VHS era. So everyone was winning back then, and Zags and his comrades got swept along for the ride.

Arnold Vosloo is on hand, but for an unfortunately short amount of time. He barely warrants a credit, only appearing at the end of the end-credits listing. His 80’s coolguy sport coat with the rolled-up sleeves at least should have warranted a higher placing in the cast. Zagarino’s eyepatchioed war buddy strongly resembled Timothy Bottoms, and he even has a poster for the movie Zachariah (1971) on his wall. Of course there’s the obligatory Zags shower scene (ugh), and naturally, Keller is an “ex-Marine”. But now his buddies call him “The Saxman”. But we don’t care what anybody says: we love Oliver Reed, even in his “down on his luck” career phase. He provides more entertainment value when he’s just phoning it in than most actors do when they’re trying their best. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Sporting a ridiculous (fake?) walrus mustache that makes him look like Mario, Reed steals the movie from Zags, but that’s not saying much, anyone could steal a movie from a tree.

We don’t want to be hard on Reed -  as we said, we love him, and it’s not his fault this movie is so dumb. It’s not annoying, it’s just very, very stupid. Keep in mind the director is Cedric Sundstrom, the director of American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989) and American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1990), two of that series’ worst entries. Meathead John Pasternak is also in American Ninja 4, as well as American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987), so those bases are covered. He also has a great acid washed jean jacket.

AIP stalwart Steve McClintock turns in another exemplary song, “It’s Still Only Love”, and this song is by far one of the best aspects of this movie. This isn’t the first time one of McClintock’s songs has stolen a  movie. When is a CD of all his soundtrack songs going to come out?  Anyway, The Revenger is almost audience-insultingly stupid at times, but it’s not BAD, if that makes any sense. The only people who won’t like it are people too offended to get their hands dirty with dumb movies, and we presume those people don’t read this site. So if you’re not offended by a little out-and-out stupidity, don’t be afraid of The Revenger.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The Second Victory (1987)

The Second Victory (1987)-* *

Directed by: Gerald Thomas

Starring: Max Von Sydow and Anthony Andrews

For today’s plot synopsis, we’re going to quote the back of the AIP VHS box. It reads (in part): “Just after the end of WWII in the winter of 1945, the fighting has ended, but the brutality of murder and the pain continue. Army Major Mark Hanlon (Andrews) has been appointed Occupation Officer and, although he retains an idealistic vision of harmony, he finds that his vision turns to bitter revenge when his good friend is senselessly murdered. Hanlon must discover the hidden mystery behind the death and finds that sometimes the Second Victory is more difficult to achieve than the first.”

The Second Victory is a dour and dry drama, with virtually no action, but a whole lot of talking. This AIP pick-up was seemingly added to their catalog to try to appeal to older viewers, or more mainstream viewers. Perhaps feeling cornered into the “shirtless meathead with a machine gun” market, the higher-ups at AIP decided to diversify. But diversify on a budget. So they settled with this tepid, play-like drama, perfect for undiscerning senior citizens for Sunday afternoon viewing. Presumably Grandma and Grandpa weren’t watching Maximum Breakout (1991) or Killzone (1985), so AIP decided to tap into the sweet, sweet “old person” market.

There’s nothing wrong with AIP attempting a bid for “respectability”, but it seems they didn’t stick with it and were soon going back to what they knew with fare like Triple Impact (1992) and Elves (1989). We say it’s better that way. Go with what you know. As far as The Second Victory, or T2V as all the kids are calling it, it has some nice Austrian locations, and Max Von Sydow improves things when he’s on screen (which is far too little - he’s under-used here), but the problem is, this movie has a slow pace and is a standard, boring, no-frills drama that desperately needs some pep. A few skiing scenes aren’t going to solve their problems.

So it’s more serious, adult fare than what AIP fans are used to, which is fine, but this movie is just so “square”. Seeing as most of the AIP catalog is weird, wild and wacky, this one just stands out like a sore thumb. It’s hard to imagine even WWII buffs getting into this one.

So it’s a weird sidestep (not necessarily a misstep) for AIP - not representative of their catalog at large. Not that it was bad, but we just can’t really find any outstanding reason to recommend this one.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Savage Instinct (1991)

Savage Instinct (1991)-* * *

AKA: They Call Me Macho Woman 

Directed by: Patrick G. Donahue

Starring: Debra Sweaney, Brian Oldfield, Lory-Michael Ringuette, J. Brown, Mike Donahue, Jerry Johnson, and Sean Donahue

Susan Morris (Sweaney) is a mild-mannered woman whose husband was recently killed in a car accident. Seeking to fulfill their dream of having a nice house out in the country, she attempts to move to rural Loma County, California. But while driving out to the property, Susan and real estate agent Cecil (Ringuette) run afoul of a sinister gang of drug dealers. Led by the hulking brute Mongo (Brian Oldfield in what is criminally his only screen role to date), the gang of baddies seek to make one last big score before disbanding their criminal enterprise. But since Susan has stumbled upon it, they must kill her. So they chase her all over the woods, but Susan decides she’s had enough of her Mongo-based ordeal and decides to fight back. It’s now time for revenge, Susan Morris style! What follows you must see!

Ridiculous. Silly. Funny. Enjoyable. There are some words for you. But all these words - and so many more I’m leaving out - perfectly describe the wonderful Savage Instinct. You will have a smile on your face for most of this movie’s running time (provided you have an inkling of a sense of humor - some people out there don’t, it seems). Everything from the clothing choices of the goons, to the acting, to the effects, to the plot points and pretty much everything else is totally winning, and the icing on the cake are some priceless bits of dialogue, none of which we’ll spoil for you here. This movie is just a great take on the revenge movie, showing it can be done in a less-than-serious fashion. Take Mongo and his illegal barn of drugs. He looks like a cross between Richard Moll and Jesse Ventura. And when he really gets mad, he has some special headgear that will inspire some major fear.

Troma released this movie as They Call Me Macho Woman, and then AIP re-released it as Savage Instinct. Judging by the box art and typeface font, they certainly weren’t trying to capitalize on Basic Instinct (1992). No sirree. But we'll take this movie any day of the week. Debra Sweaney deserves the fame Sharon Stone has. Life’s not fair I tell ya. (It should be noted that the woman on the box is not Sweaney, but a cover model that has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie). But Savage Instinct is just further proof that writer/producer/director Patrick Donahue is an underrated genius. His first movie, Kill Squad (1982) is a Comeuppance Reviews favorite and is totally great. Savage Instinct is his second movie - although there was a nine year gap in between them. These two titles as your first two movies is impressive, but it seems his output after that is hard to get ahold of. We just want to tell the world we’re fans of his work, at least his first two films. His son Sean has been involved in his father’s work from the beginning, as well as many other productions (including Omega Cop, 1990) - but here, as Terk, the guy with the open-necked ballerina-like shirt and the classic Rachel Bolan-style earring-connected-to-nose-ring-by-a-chain, he really shines.

Savage Instinct represents the goofier end of the action/revenge movie. We recommend it.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a review by our buddy, The Unknown Movies!


Striker (1987)

Striker (1987)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari

Starring: Frank Zagarino, John Phillip Law, John Steiner, and Melonee Rodgers

When journalist Frank Morris (JPL) is jailed by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the one and only John “Striker” Slade (Zags) is sent in to rescue him because he’s the “best in extraction from hostile territories”. While in country posing as a Canadian photographer, he teams up with a local woman, Marta (Rodgers), who acts as his guide and confidante. Soon enough, the Strikester proceeds to decimate the population of Managua. But the true baddie behind it all is Kariasin (Steiner). His name even sounds evil (i.e. “carry a sin”.) With the odds stacked against him, will Striker be able to complete the mission and make it out alive? Find out today!

Striker is very fun, classically 80’s action and one of the better Rambo knockoffs we’ve seen to date. Marrying that with another popular DTV genre of the day, the El Presidente movie (don’t forget Nicaragua was a hot subject at the time and in the news a lot), and tied together in that wonderfully Italian way by co-writer Umberto Lenzi and the great director Enzo Castellari, there’s plenty to enjoy here.

One Frank Anthony Zagarino, or Frankie Zags as we like to call him, has one of the better (?) super-wooden monotones committed to film. His speaking voice is the equivalent to a hospital life-support flatline. He makes Don “The Dragon” Wilson sound like Crazy Eddie. His elocution aside, he has some radically awesome sunglasses that say to the world “the ultimate badass has arrived”. Plus he has a wide variety of ways to kill his enemies. Some movies contain just constant shooting and that can get boring after awhile. The makers of Striker had the good sense to realize that variety is the murderous spice of life. Famously, he even has a killer slingshot, making him look like Dennis the Menace in a fit of ‘Roid Rage.

Striker is, for all intents and purposes, what we normally call a Jungle Slog, but thankfully there’s really not much slog. There’s too much highly implausible and funny action on display. The movie basically succeeds in spite of the performance of Zags. For as little energy and screen presence as he brings to his dialogue scenes, that is counterbalanced by John Phillip Law (or JPL as we call him) - he really is at his absolute best in this movie. Plus Striker has one of the better exploding helicopters we’ve seen in a while, and naturally it has the prerequisite torture scene.

Not to be confused with any of the many other action heroes named Striker in the 80’s, this one has enough entertainment value to raise it above the level of many of its contemporaries. Chalk up another winner to AIP. Plus Jeff Moldovan is credited as a “Special Action Supervisor”, and Daniel Greene is on board in an uncredited role as a trucker. So you really can’t lose.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett