The Last Hour (1991)

The Last Hour (1991)- * *

Directed by: William Sachs

Starring: Michael Pare, Shannon Tweed, Robert Pucci, Bobby Di Cicco, Robert Miano, and Danny Trejo

Susan (Tweed) and Eric Drake (Pucci) seemingly have the perfect life. Eric’s a successful stockbroker and the two live in the lap of luxury. However, it’s all built on some shady dealings, as Eric very, very stupidly stole five million dollars from the mafia. So mob boss Lombardi (Di Cicco) kidnaps Susan, and with the help of his goons, which include Frankie (Miano) and Spider (Trejo), spirit her away to a hiding place in a big skyscraper until Eric can come up with the money in return for her freedom. But Eric is a nerdy nebbish who has never shot a gun in his life. So he calls upon Susan’s ex-husband Jeff Flynn (Pare), who, despite similarities in their names, was never a member of ELO. 

Jeff is a cop, a toughguy, and a quasi-belligerent meathead, so he can go in and get the job done. So despite some awkwardness about their personal lives, the two men team up to save the woman they both love. But can they do it?

Hmmm, a movie about a rugged hero who is fighting his way up a high-rise building to save someone, who communicates to the lead baddie by walkie-talkie, wears a tanktop and has to fight through goons (mainly a blonde hench-person - in this case it’s the token female baddie). Doesn’t seem familiar at all. Of course, it’s time for the video store staple, the “DieHardInA” movie, but this time they didn’t even change the location. It’s still a building. 

The only tweaks are that there’s only one hostage - Shannon Tweed - and there are two men trying to save her. One is a blockheaded, mullet-headed meathead, and the other’s a dweeb. They’re the original odd couple! Their squabbling is more annoying than productive, and honestly, the two dudes aren’t that likable. This keeps the audience from truly caring that much.

The main bad guy isn’t that menacing, which is a problem (the female baddie was more intimidating), and the goons are hapless. There wasn’t much of a threat for audiences to get that invested in. We’re not even going to criticize the movie for lack of originality this time. We’re beyond caring about that. It’s not that The Last Hour is bad, it’s just really, really dumb. Many brain-numbingly idiotic things happen during the course of the film.

But sometimes those things lead to unintentional laffs. For instance, there’s a really flimsy excuse for Michael Pare to get shirtless, and no excuse for Danny Trejo to get, and remain, shirtless. Why these two men needed to be shirtless at all remains completely unexplained. So we laughed at that, for example.

Some more goons for Pare to kill, and more locations besides just the one building would have elevated the movie immensely, much like the many scenes in elevator shafts herein. That way all the rampant dumbness wouldn’t be confined to minimal locations, the stupidity could have run wild and free. But there is a slo-mo shootout for absolutely no reason, and the time-honored sax on the soundtrack, firmly placing it in its place and time. I.e., a video store shelf which patrons peruse by, but fail to notice.

Quite possibly the best part of the Academy VHS are the two trailers included before the movie. They are Edge of Honor (1991) and Prayer of the Rollerboys (1990), proving that the two Coreys were still livin’ the dream at this point in history. As for The Last Hour, the plot couldn’t be more simplistic - the guys have to rescue the girl. End of plot - but it seems only fans of DieHardInA movies of the day (are there any out there?) will really get anything out of this particular outing.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


SAS: San Salvador (1983)

SAS: San Salvador (1983)- *1\2

Directed by: Raoul Coutard

Starring: Miles O'Keefe, Raimund Harmstorf, Dagmar  Lassander, Sybil Danning, and Anton Diffring 

In the small South American country of San Salvador, a beloved archbishop is violently murdered. This sets off an already-volatile situation with the citizens and there are riots in the streets. The culprit is found to be arch-villain Enrico Chacon (Harmstorf) and naturally there’s only one man who can stop him: Malko Linge (O’Keeffe). 

Malko lives in a castle of his own (not to be confused with Coffin Joe of course), and apparently takes on assignments from the CIA in order to keep up his Austrian castle, which is in dire need of repair. His girlfriend Countess Alexandra (Danning) doesn’t seem to mind. So Malko goes to San Salvador and meets up with his contact Peter (Diffring) but seems to be distracted by wooing the ladies, including Maria Luisa (Lassander). Malko is going to have to get to fighting the baddies sooner or later, but will he complete his mission?

While it does open promisingly with a cool credits sequence, SAS is really just one in a long line of El Presidente/South America slogs we’ve seen over the years. When you look at how much time has gone by as you’re watching the movie and see only about 20 minutes or so has elapsed, it feels more onerous than usual. This is because it doesn’t feel like 20 minutes of its own movie, it feels like it was just added on to Cocaine Wars (1985), Overthrow (1987), Merchants of War (1989), McBain (1991), and so many others of this ilk. The minutes just seem added on to one long movie. And the distinct lack of action really hurts this one.

The cast is interesting, but unfortunately they can’t make the proceedings all that interesting: minor fan favorite O’Keeffe has some snappy outfits and closely resembles a statue. Malko is clearly the ultimate chick magnet, and it must be his way of exiting a building that makes him such a hit with the ladies (this one particular building exit is a movie highlight. You’ll know it when or if you see it). 

Sybil Danning is barely in the movie but she does get one of the best lines, “are you still playing samurai for the CIA?” - since this was at the beginning of the movie, we were hopeful the idea of a CIA samurai would come to fruition. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Dagmar Lassander, among other European people, play South Americans of Latin descent. Of course that includes Raimund Harmstorf of Thunder Warrior 2 (1987) and The Viking Sagas (1995) fame as Enrico Chacon, not to be confused with acclaimed Cat Stevens album Mona Bone Jakon, as the evil baddie and nemesis of Malko.

Interestingly, SAS was one of the few movies directed by Raoul Coutard, the famous cinematographer who was instrumental in the French New Wave movement, having worked with Godard on classics like Breathless (1960) and Band of Outsiders (1964). But by 1983, he was reduced to focusing his lens on Miles O’Keeffe in a Speedo. Of all people, you’d think Coutard would know the importance of action and pacing, but the pace is indeed slow and instead of solid action material, he fills the time with the standard moments of civil unrest, disco scenes and what you might call video store nudity.

Released by Vestron here in the U.S. and featuring the song La Colegiala by Son Caribe, you’ll be sendin’ out an SOS if you attempt to watch SAS.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


The Taking Of Beverly Hills (1991)

The Taking Of Beverly Hills (1991)- *

Directed by: Sidney J. Furie

Starring: Ken Wahl, Robert Davi, Lee Ving, Matt Frewer, Harley Jane Kozak, and Branscombe Richmond

 “Beverly Hills is Closed."

Boomer Hayes (Wahl) is a big stupid meathead named Boomer Hayes. He happens to live in Beverly Hills, California, which, to his dismay, is being “taken” by Lee Ving and his gang of fraudulent cops. They organize a fake chemical spill in order to get the uber-rich out of their tony mansions so they can then steal all their expensive stuff. 

Seems like a great plan, right? Well, Boomer Hayes reckons he can put a stop to it. Utilizing all the skills he learned on the gridiron, as well as all the intelligence that would imply, he teams up with real police officer Kelvin (Frewer), who originally was with the baddies but defected back to the good guys. Masterson (Davi) is the mastermind of the operation, and Boomer’s quest involves saving the love of his life/woman he just met that night, Laura (Kozak). Will Boomer single-handedly take back Beverly Hills?

Right from the jump, something seems off about The Taking of Beverly Hills. Sure, it’s a “DieHardInA” movie, but its low-budget, shot-in-Mexico vibe is clearly evident, and the scenes almost feel like they’re in the wrong order, or something. Beginning with an unnecessarily long intro/credits sequence/travelogue, and continuing through to the mixed-up scenes, bad humor and amazingly inane dialogue, not to mention the generic aspects of the plot, The Taking of Beverly Hills is one big - as Boomer might say - fumble. 

It’s not that the concept of a Die-Hard-In-A-Town that has to be saved by an ex-footballer is a bad idea per se, it’s the pain of seeing a potentially awesome movie fall apart right before your very eyes. We hate to see when an idea isn’t properly capitalized on, and here is a prime example.

The problem is you’re not invested in the characters, and you can’t really care about Boomer as a triumphant hero. He’s so much of a meathead, he can only think in terms of football analogies to anything that happens to him. So while there are a bunch of cool explosions, car stunts, shooting and general blow-ups and mayhem that ensues, it’s really all for naught, because we don’t really care anyway. 

We really, really wanted to care. But the movie wouldn’t allow us to. Matt Frewer played the typical, whining “regular guy” caught up in the action situations. There’s always a complainer. During a car chase, you know a movie is poorly written when the sidekick says something like “I think this is a bad idea!!!!!” Scooby-Doo has less audience-insulting dialogue than that. The end result is that Boomer Hayes is no more than a talking mullet.

So while Wahl’s mullet is both extraordinary and distracting, Branscombe Richmond attempts to steal focus away from whatever that is that’s on Wahl’s head by driving a tank and screaming while shooting a flamethrower. While those moments were indeed cool, the overall tidal wave of dumbness washes over every second of the movie. 

As far as the music, we liked the Jan Hammer score, and of course there is the time-honored sax on the soundtrack as well, but there are all these weirdly unnecessary hits of the day on the soundtrack too. The filmmakers must have paid a bundle for them. At random times we get EMF’s “Unbelievable” and Faith No More’s “Epic”, almost as if a little punk 14-year-old snuck into the editing room after hours and added them on as some sort of prank. But then again, you haven’t heard Janet Jackson’s “Black Cat” until you’ve heard a snippet of it tacked-on to The Taking of Beverly Hills.

The long career of director Sidney J. Furie is spotty at best: there’s the good, Direct Action (2004), the okay, The Rage (1997), and the downright awful, Detention (2003). The Taking is quite mediocre and appears no one really had much faith in the project. Fan favorite Robert Davi does what he can, and we loved seeing him brandish a crossbow, but for much better Davi, see The Dangerous (1995) instead. You’d be “Taking” up a lot of your valuable time if you waste it on an unfortunate dud like this.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


El Gringo (2012)

El Gringo (2012)- *1\2 

Directed by: Eduardo Rodriquez

Starring: Scott Adkins, Yvette Yates, Bashar Rahal, and Christian Slater

A mysterious man, known only as “The Man” (Adkins) arrives in the small Mexican town of El Fronteras with a duffel bag filled with cash. He finds the town less than hospitable, and as the local gang tries to steal his loot, through a series of flashbacks, we find out how he got into this predicament. With Lt. West (Slater) of the New Mexico police crossing the border to go hot on his trail, The Man has plenty to contend with, but with the help of local barmaid Anna (Yates) he just may ride off into the sunset with everything he wants. But can this happen in such a violent place?

Sadly, very sadly, we found El Gringo to be a disappointment. You’d think having Scott Adkins and Christian Slater in a movie together would be a surefire winner that could overcome any potential drawbacks elsewhere. It turns out that assumption was incorrect, and you know what happens when you assume. The problem is, it’s weighted down with those annoying modern, overly-slick editing tricks that we’re not in love with, to say the least. Why directors and editors feel they need to do this remains unknown. (It should be noted that the editor’s name is Don Adams, and he does indeed need to get smart). They must think it’s helping, but it’s really, really not. 

With a bunch of quick cuts, seizure-inducing flashes, CGI all over the place, and self-consciously “wacky” music and situations, the movie dooms itself. The whole outing has a vibe that it’s trying super-hard to be cool, but it’s trying too hard. All it had to do was let the magic of Adkins and Slater happen. And get out of the way. But its obsession with being a post-Tarantino irony-laced jaunt puts the kibosh on that.

And it had so much potential for being genuinely cool. The movie sabotages itself by setting up a potentially cool situation, then squelching it, almost out of spite. So it sets itself up for failure, because even if something awesome does indeed happen, the overall tenor ruins it, because you can’t go back and un-see what uncoolness you just saw. 

And at 103 minutes, it wears out its welcome. Besides having to witness the character of “The Man” (which isn’t at all stolen from Sergio Leone) in a variety of situations frustrating to him, the viewers also get frustrated. The whole thing has a distasteful Missionary Man (2007) vibe, and director Rodriguez even made a movie with Dolph, Stash House (2012), which is acknowledged to be one of Dolph’s worst, even worse than Missionary Man.

Of course, Scott Adkins is always boss, and he does execute some outstanding moves on the baddies in the beat-em-up scenes, but, ultimately, it’s very hard to care. Despite some classics like the “walking away from an explosion” and the “sideways jump/dive while shooting”, it’s just not enough this time. Even the fruit cart cliche is here. But a dud in the Adkins canon was bound to happen eventually, as he has had a long string of winners, and no actor, or gambler for that matter, has had an unbroken streak. But perhaps the most unsettling thing about this particular Adkins performance is that his distinctive British accent is gone, in favor of an unnecessary American voice. Just another El Gringo misstep, it seems.

Speaking of missteps, there’s the matter of the title song. One of the best and most noteworthy aspects of the movie was the song by Manowar, but it’s only heard during the end credits. It would have been awesome to hear it during a shootout or training sequence. But no, another wasted opportunity. Despite the titans Adkins and Slater, there’s actually very little to recommend about El Gringo, as much as it pains us to say it.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, The Video Vacuum!


Battle Creek Brawl (1980)

Battle Creek Brawl (1980)- * * *

Directed by: Robert Clouse

Starring: Jackie Chan, Michel Quissi, Mako, H.B. Haggerty, Kristine DeBell, and Jose Ferrer 

 Set in the 1930’s, Battle Creek Brawl is the tale of one Jerry Kwan (Jackie), a young man who loves Martial Arts. When the classic gangsters of the day threaten his father’s restaurant, Jerry fights back, finally using his much-practiced skills. Head mobster Dominici (Ferrer) sees his abilities as a fighter and, using strongarm tactics like kidnapping and threats, forces him into participating in the “Battle Creek Brawl”, an event in Texas where the top fighters of the day go at each other in a big free-for-all. While he does have allies like Herbert (Mako) and his girlfriend Nancy (DeBell) on his side, it’s going to take all of Jerry’s tenacity to beat strongmen like Billy Kiss (Haggerty) who is known for his infamous “kiss of death”! Can Jerry do it? Find out today...

Battle Creek Brawl is an interesting spin on the Punchfighting genre. Not only is it set in the 30’s, with all the period garb and cars that would entail, but we also liked the idea of a town-wide Punchfighting event. The aptly-named Battle Creek, as a whole, comes together in the streets to watch the grown men pound on each other. So rather than take place in a dank cellar, it’s out in the open with the whole town watching. We thought that was a nice difference. The “forced to fight” plot we’ve seen many times before, most recently in...well...Forced To Fight (2011), but this came out an amazing 31 years before that, and of course features a young Jackie Chan in the lead, who you can’t help but love.

We’ve always been fans of Jackie, and while this is such an early American movie for him, his English would improve in later years, his humorous/acrobatic/highly enjoyable fighting style is on full display. Because the plot of the gangsters taking over the restaurant is so similar to fellow Golden Harvest production The Return of the Dragon (1972), it could honestly be said that Jackie was taking over the mantle of top Martial Arts star worldwide from Bruce Lee. Jackie’s rigorous training sequences are here as well, something he brought over from Asia. 

Jackie is backed up with some great co-stars: the ever-present fan-favorite Mako is on board, as is the cute Christine DeBell as Jackie’s girlfriend, and a young Larry Drake as well. And of course Jose Ferrer as the main baddie. But who could forget H.B. Haggerty as Billy Kiss? He has a black cape that says “KISS” in huge letters, and his finishing move is to make out with his burly male opponent. How much of that Gene Simmons borrowed from, we’ll never know. But the period setting and the way he looks must have influenced Van Damme for The Quest (1996). JCVD’s final villain looks very similar, and is even played by Michael Qissi! Coincidence?

Another difference between this and the much-later Forced To Fight is that this has clearly identifiable fighters with their own personalities and quirks. The FTF baddies are generic thugs. See that review for a further discussion on how Punchfighting opponents have gotten more generic over the years. 

The Lalo Schifrin music is typically excellent and raises the bar for the movie as a whole. Other highlights include the roller skating scene, and the fact that the crowd chants “Jer-ry! Jer-ry!” many years before Springer. Maybe they’ve been chanting for Jerry Kwan all along. 

In racism news, perhaps no other movie we’ve seen has had characters that say the word “chink” quite as many times, and by as many different characters, as Battle Creek Brawl. Maybe that was the only epithet they had back in the 30’s. It was during the depression and all. But the movie as a whole is lighthearted fun and it’s all done very well and professionally.

Finally after years of awful-quality VHS tapes, a widescreen DVD was released in 2004 by Fox. Pick this up, and get your Jerry Kwan on today.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Live By The Fist (1993)

Live By The Fist (1993)- * *

Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago

Starring: Jerry Trimble, George Takei, Laura Albert, Vic Diaz, and Nick Nicholson

 John Merill (Trimble) is a former Navy SEAL who winds up in the Philippines while looking for work. Impeding his job search is the fact that he is framed for the murder of a young girl by a gang of thugs. Sent to Bolera Island, sort of the Alcatraz of the Philippines, things take a downturn for the mighty Merill. The prison is ruled under the iron fist of corrupt warden Acosta (Diaz), but did you think it would be any other way? Acosta’s days may be numbered, because a pushy human rights crusader, Helen Ferris (Albert) is investigating the place. 

While Acosta cares not for human rights, Uncle (Takei) does, and he happens to be Merill’s cell mate. So Merill gets into various fights with various factions during his prison stay, and he must survive long enough to alert the world of his innocence. Will he die in prison, or LIVE BY THE FIST?

The presence of fan favorite Jerry Trimble is really the only noteworthy thing about the otherwise-mediocre Live By the Fist. It’s a typical Cirio movie, shot in the Philippines of course, and features every prison movie cliché there is. You’d think the fact that the movie is only 79 minutes would be enticing, but because it all feels like stuff you’ve seen a million times before, time actually goes by pretty slow here. And because it’s a Corman production, it’s all just a rehash of Bloodfist II (1990) and Bloodfist III (1992). Instead of Richard Roundtree, they got George Takei for the same part. Seems like a natural conclusion.

George “oh MY!” Takei (he doesn’t actually say his trademark line in this movie, but he does have some Oh My-esque moments) and Jerry Trimble truly are the ultimate cinematic team-up, Trimble of course resembling a more ripped cross between Sean Penn and Emilio Estevez. Vic Diaz, who has been in every Filipino movie ever made, is particularly hard to understand this time around, but Trimble makes up for it because he yells most of his lines. The “human rights chick” is basically a token character and does almost nothing.

Because it’s a prison slog with all the expected things that would entail, it’s hard to really get invested. It’s all very simplistic, and even a completely gratuitous exploding helicopter can’t save the day from the lackluster overall feel. But, as we said, Trimble is good, it’s not his fault. And the setups for the fight scenes are hilariously flimsy, which is a plus. 

There’s the sax on the soundtrack, when there’s not a squealing electric guitar riff (we were hoping for an end credit that read “Guitar riff played by Jerry Trimble”. Sadly it did not come. We’re assuming it’s out of modesty, not a more logical reason.)

Lest we forget Philippine-shot movie regular Nick Nicholson (as “Greasemonkey”), Live By the Fist is the weakest Jerry Trimble movie we’ve seen to date. Featuring the song (which was also uncredited but we’re assuming it’s called) “You’ve Got To Fight” (which we’re also hoping was sung by Trimble), the movie is typical Corman Crud, saved from utter worthlessness by Jerry’s Trimblings.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up by our buddy, DTVC!


Black Valor (1973)

Black Valor (1973)- * *

AKA: Savage!

Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago

Starring: James Iglehart, Lada Edmund Jr., and Carol Speed 

 “I don’t trust that black man.” - Evil White Guy

Savage (Iglehart) is a military man currently in the Philippines. His original mission was to capture the leader of a revolutionary rebel army that’s trying to brew an insurrection in the country. When things go wrong, as they often do, Savage goes on the run. Thankfully, before that happens, he meets two female circus performers who team up with him. Vicki (Edmund Jr.) is a knife-thrower, and Amanda (Speed) is a high-wire artist. 

The three come to realize that what the rebels are fighting for is a worthy cause, so they join up. That’s lucky for the rebels, as Savage probably knows more about gun-shooting and hut-exploding than anyone else in the country. And it wouldn’t be a Philippines-set/Cirio movie without the presence of Vic Diaz. Will Savage and his fellow rebels come out on top? Or will retaliation be SAVAGE?

While most people know this movie as Savage! (don’t forget the exclamation point), if they know the movie at all, we saw it as Black Valor, the VHS release on Scimitar/Bingo Video. It is in EP mode and the quality is poor. The colors are so washed out, you can’t even read the credits. 

Of course, there is a highly-obvious superimposed video title where the original title was supposed to be. And the models on the cover are not in the movie. It’s puzzling why they thought they had to do all that, as the Blaxploitation craze was long over by the 80’s VHS release, and Savage! is a perfectly fine and saleable title. But such was the video store era. You never know what you’re going to discover.

As for the movie itself, it’s probably one of Cirio’s weakest. Thankfully, it’s only 80 minutes, but it feels longer. You’d really think Savage’s travails in the jungle, which include plenty of gun-shooting, exploding huts, punch-ups (and even a few seconds of racquetball) would be enough to carry the movie, but there are many slow moments and the whole outing has a lack of urgency. It could have used more intensity, or - and this may be asking a bit much - character development. 

But that being said, there is some interesting camerawork at times, the Don Julian score is extremely funky and excellent, far better than the movie deserves, and the presences of Edmund Jr. (Can a woman be a Jr.?) and Speed liven things up. It would have been a total jungle slog without them.

Probably the most interesting idea (perhaps the only actual idea) in Black Valor is the fact that the two circus girls (who, let’s face it, work for the lowest budget circus of all time) use their circus skills to kill baddies. The knife thrower - who usually throws knives around a nervous participant, now uses her accuracy to throw them into the chests and stomachs of the goons around her. And the trapeze girl uses her agility to flip around stuff and kick bad guys. There’s even a Gymkata-esque moment where she - while outside during a chase, mind you - somehow finds what are essentially parallel bars that just happen to be there, so she can hang on and kick people from them. So that was enjoyable, but there should have been more of it. It’s almost enough of an idea to support a movie on its own. 

Also different was, instead of the Prerequisite Torture of the hero, there was the Prerequisite Torture of one of the circus ladies. You’d think it would have been Iglehart. But no.

In the end, Savage! AKA Black Valor is a pretty standard jungle/El Presidente outing. It just doesn’t have that magical “It” factor - it’s really just another movie that you see once and then it sits on a shelf.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Stryker (1983)

Stryker (1983)- * *

Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago

Starring: Steve Sandor

 In a post-apocalyptic world, water is scarce and is the most sought-after commodity in the new desert-like earth. When a woman appears who knows where to get a large supply of water, an evil, Sid Haig-like baddie kidnaps and tortures her for the information. However, only one man can rescue the girl and help spread the agua to the masses – Stryker (Sandor), of course. So because it’s post-apocalypse, everyone puts on their wackiest getup and gets in their junkiest car, and the battle is on. During the “Quest For Water”, which isn’t a sequel to Quest for Fire (1981), Stryker and his babes have to contend with many obstacles, including some Jawa-like pygmies. Will they live to hydrate again?

Out of all the many post-apocalyptic movies that hit video store shelves in the 1980’s, our personal favorites tend to be the Italian ones, such as 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) and Escape From the Bronx (1983). Italian Post-Ap’s (as we call them) (not really) seem to, generally speaking, have the most verve and pizazz. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for snoozers like Stryker, which doesn’t bring a lot to the table. 

We’ve probably seen more Cirio movies than anyone, and this ranks towards the bottom as far as what we’ve seen of his to date. He even repeated the formula again with Raiders of the Sun (1992), another Post-Ap slog, but that one at least has Richard Norton (Norton also played Straker – pronounced “striker”- in Crossfire, so they have that in common). Though on the bright side, here we have Steve Sandor.

While Sandor was unforgettable as Ollie Hand in Trained To Kill, U.S.A. (1973), here the character of Stryker has no real definition. We really get no sense of Stryker as a man or as a hero. On a scale for character development that we just invented, for the entire cast, not just Stryker, on a scale of 0-10, the CD scale for Stryker, the movie, is -5. That’s right, negative character development. There’s such a deficit, you end up owing the movie by the time the end credits roll. So in this particular wasteland, Stryker is just a generic dude with a beard.

Or perhaps more accurately, he’s just another supposed action hero in the 80’s named Stryker. Let us remember the aforementioned Richard Norton, as well as Lance Henriksen and Wings Hauser, among others. So you don’t really rally behind Stryker, as much as you might do with, say, Steve Rally

So with the movie as a whole, we’ve really seen it all before, so it’s not very engaging. And that’s certainly true in this case, as Stryker the movie is especially Mad Max (1979)-y. The filmmakers really didn’t even try to hide the fact that it’s a blatant knockoff. But that’s the problem: the lack of window dressing in that sense really hurts, and then boredom sets in. But in the positives column we have a cool score, and some neat violent bits, but those two things aren’t enough to keep it all afloat, unfortunately. The movie is as dry as the climate it takes place in.

So pray the “nuc-u-lar” (as the narrator in the intro part clearly pronounces it) bomb never hits, if for no other reason than it would mean we would be LIVING inside the world of Stryker. And that would be the real catastrophe.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddies The Unknown Movies and The Video Vacuum!


Fighting Mad (1978)

Fighting Mad (1978)- * * * 

AKA: Death Force

Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago

Starring: James Iglehart, Carmen Argenziano, Joe Mari Avellana, Joonee Gamboa,  Jayne Kennedy, and Leon Isaac Kennedy

Doug Russell (Iglehart), McGee (Kennedy), and Morelli (Argenziano) are Vietnam buddies. They’re on a boat headed home after finally completing their service - and stealing a cache of gold. The duplicitous McGee and Morelli stab Russell and throw him overboard. Instead of dying in a watery grave, he washes up on a remote island inhabited by two Japanese soldiers (played by Gamboa and Avellana) who have been living there since World War II. 

The two soldiers nurse Russell back to health, and also train him in Japanese Karate and swordsmanship. When he finally makes it back home to L.A., he has a new set of skills to use on his attackers. And he’s going to need them, because McGee is attempting to move in on Russell’s wife, Maria (Jayne Kennedy). 

All Russell wants to do is reunite with his wife and young son, but McGee and Morelli are making it hard for him, as while he was stranded on the island, the two men moved up in the L.A. underworld. Now they control many things, including the club scene, where they have Maria, a singer, blacklisted from performing. That’s clearly the last straw, and Doug Russell becomes FIGHTING MAD!

Hard to believe, but this is the twentieth Cirio movie we’ve seen. So we’re pretty familiar with his style, and Fighting Mad stands as a solid, snappy entry in his canon. It seems to have a faster pace than some of his other works, and the editing style reinforces that, with no scene ever going on too long. The parallel plotlines of Russell on the island doing his extensive training/what’s going on at the home front, and eventually the two coming together, made for entertaining viewing. 

There’s some nice humor to leaven things out, and plenty of 70’s style that is extremely visually appealing. Soft focus Jayne Kennedy mixed with giant, boatlike cars reinforce this feeling. As does the scene where Kennedy walks by the famous Rainbow club, and we see that Savoy Brown is playing with Baby, with Man performing a week later. Born Losers (1967) is on a cinema marquee, Fonzie is on the cover of People magazine, and haircuts were only 2 dollars. What a time.

Leon Isaac Kennedy (not to be confused with Lawrence Hilton Jacobs or Philip Michael Thomas) plays a good charismatic slickster, and how could you not love his great outfits? Iglehart also shines, along with his non-Japanese compatriots, in the Hell In the Pacific (1968)-inspired plotline. 

The scene in the barbershop is also a movie highlight, and all his sword work does indeed pay off later, with multiple “fan favorite deaths” following his training. They do indeed get some classic comeuppance! The final showdown between Kennedy and Iglehart features another favorite cliche, the “talking baddie”, who continuously says the hero’s name as he’s trying to bait him to fight. So Fighting Mad contains enough elements in its 90 or so minutes to certainly entertain.

A great example of Drive-In action, we can definitely recommend Fighting Mad.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, The Video Vacuum!


Firecracker (1981)

Firecracker (1981)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago

Starring: Jillian Kesner, Darby Hinton, Joe Mari Avellana, Ken Metcalfe, and Vic Diaz

Susanne Carter (Kesner) is a beautiful female Martial Arts instructor (we’re informed multiple times that she’s a sixth-degree black belt) who travels alone to the Philippines in search of her missing sister. While on her quest, she runs afoul of a man named Chuck (Hinton) who not only fights in Karate tournaments himself, but is also involved in a variety of illegal doings with a man named Grip (Diaz). 

While Susanne has to navigate this treacherous world, she also finds time to enhance her Martial Arts studies, learning the Philippine art of stick fighting, known as Arnis - they even made a whole movie about it called Sticks of Death (1986). Will Susanne’s beauty and brawn combination lead her to find her sister and win the day? Find out today!

Jillian Kesner, of Operation Cobra (1997) fame was an ideal choice for the heroine of Firecracker: she’s attractive, athletic, and was not only game for the many fight scenes, but also the Cirio standby of  the nearly-nude girl fighting multiple attackers. It’s one of the standout scenes in the movie, as it would be again in the future for Silk 2 (1989) and Angelfist (1993). 

Firecracker is classic Cirio. It has a thin plot about a woman trying to find her missing sister, there are plenty of shots of the beautiful Philippine countryside and other local cultural things, plenty of fight scenes, and a lot of 70’s.early 80’s fashions on display. Plus at an audience-considerate 77 minutes, it never overstays its welcome.

Darby Hinton, who plays Chuck (did they try to get Chuck Norris for this role, fail to do so, then hope nobody would notice?) steals the (fashion) show with his multiple stylish outfits, not to mention his resemblance to basketball great Larry Bird. But it was a different time - a time when audiences would dress up nicely and go to a supper club to watch Martial Arts displays while they eat dinner by candlelight. 

A time when seemingly-random barfights could break out at a moment’s notice, a time when Jillian Kesner could step in and save us all with her newly-acquired Arnis skills. Has the world really gotten better since then? Clearly not.

With contributions by Philippine film legends Vic Diaz and Joe Mari Avellana, and a very cool main musical theme by Nonong Buencamino, Firecracker is an enjoyable gem that mixes two hot genres of the day: Martial Arts and exploitation. Now that it’s on DVD with the three-movie “Lethal Ladies” collection, there’s really no excuse not to check it out.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out write-ups from our buddies, The Video Vacuum and The Action Elite! 


TNT Jackson (1974)

TNT Jackson (1974)- * * *

Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago

Starring: Jeannie Bell, Stan Shaw, Pat Anderson, and Ken Metcalfe

Diana “TNT” Jackson (Bell) is a fish out of water - a tough, foxy lady from Harlem now on the mean streets of Hong Kong looking for the drug dealers who killed her brother. When she arrives in HK, she wants to go to the section so dangerous, her cabbie won’t even take her there. It’s a good thing she’s a Martial Arts expert. During her quest, she ends up meeting the charming Charlie (Shaw), a cool brother with designs on TNT. Her rivals include Elaine (Anderson), who works for the criminal organization headed by Sid (Metcalfe) - the nefarious syndicate she’s trying to bust up. With only her wits and her fists and alone in a strange land, will TNT’s revenge be truly explosive? Find out today!

TNT Jackson is the earliest Cirio film we’ve seen to date, and one of the first we had seen by him, period. We would certainly end up seeing many more in the future from this prolific director. The movie is a Blaxploitation classic, and even has some of the themes Cirio would use throughout his career, well into the 90’s - namely, the show-stopping nude (or nearly so) fight scene. Hey, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. He stumbled upon a winner with that idea, and used it again in such films as Silk 2 (1989) and Angelfist (1993). The movie is certainly entertaining enough, and at a brief 72 minutes, you really can’t go wrong. It also features great, funky music by Tito Sotto and some great, pre-political correctness dialogue. For example, many characters refer to TNT Jackson as “that Black chick”, and the most dangerous section of Hong Kong is called the “Yellow District”. Add to that some amazing 70’s hair and fashions, and you have a mild winner.

Mild because there’s not exactly a lot of substance here, and the fight scenes are sped up, slowed down, and tinkered with in a lot of ways...but it’s all in good fun, and we realize Jeannie Bell isn’t supposed to be Donnie Yen. The fights are more like the ones seen on the old Batman TV show. Maybe this is all the concoction of J.Lo, a person we were frankly surprised to see credited as Martial Arts instructor. (In case the deadpan humor of that isn’t coming across, that’s supposed to be a joke. But there is a guy named J. Lo in the credits, which was fun to see).  While it’s unfair to compare Bell to someone like Pam Grier, who pretty much remains the queen of the Blaxploitation era, Bell can certainly hold her own, appearing in Trouble Man (1972), Black Gunn (1972), and Three the Hard Way (1974), among others.

When seeing this movie, make sure you see the DVD included as part of the Roger Corman Lethal Ladies collection, released in 2011. This version blows away any released before it. Throw away your old VHS or gas station DVD’s. It’s in widescreen, with crisp, clear colors. The movie has never looked better. If you’re going to see, or re-see this pleasant-enough entry in the Blaxploitation canon, there has never been a better time than now.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Naked Vengeance (1985)

Naked Vengeance (1985)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago

Starring: Deborah Tranelli, Henry Strzalkowski, Kaz Garas, Steve Roderick, Nick Nicholson, Carmen Argenziano, and Bill McLaughlin

Carla Harris (Tranelli) is a woman who seemingly has it all: a rich and luxurious life as an actress with a successful lawyer for a husband. When her beloved hubby is killed by a common street thug, she travels back to her rural home town of Silver Lake, California, to live with her parents and re-evaluate her life. 

However, far from the serene environment she was hoping for, she has to deal with constant harassment from the local gang of good ol’ boys. Led by local butcher Fletch (Garas) and including gas station attendant Sparky (Nicholson), among others, their rude and lewd behavior eventually escalates into a full-on gang rape. When the disgusting thugs end up murdering her parents, as well as Timmy (Roderick), Carla has an emotional breakdown that leaves her in a near-catatonic state. While being observed for shock and other symptoms at the local hospital, Carla decides to bypass the seemingly ineffectual Sheriff, John Cates (McLaughlin) and dispense her own brand of justice. Violent vigilante justice, the only kind that gets results. But will she eliminate her attackers before it’s too late? Find out today!

While Naked Vengeance has a similar look, structure and feel to other Cirio movies, this ranks as one of his best, thanks to the intense, no-nonsense storyline and pace. It can proudly rank among other female-fronted revenge movies such as Ms. 45 (1981), Savage Streets (1984), Sudden Death (1985), and of course the movie it most closely models itself after, I Spit On Your Grave (1978). 

A lot of Cirio regulars are on show as well, mainly as the lecherous townsfolk - his stock company of actors, as it were, such as Kaz Garas (who resembles Powers Boothe), fan favorite Nick Nicholson, and Henry Strzalkowski, among others.  Cirio was kicked into high gear for this one, and, especially compared to his more standard outings, here he was surely in a state of grace.

Naked Vengeance is the time when the “Cirio Formula”, if there is such a thing as one, finally clicks and everything totally works. His method of repeating the theme song numerous times throughout the movie is employed  here, and thankfully it’s the driving anthem “Still Got A Love”, by Michael Cruz and sung by the main star, Deborah Tranelli. 

The cameraderie of the baddies is interesting: they all bowl together (and have nifty personalized bowling shirts to boot), and they even work out together on the same schedule in a place that can only be described as a “Villain’s Gym”. The day after their atrocity, one of them even says to his buddies, “Eh, I don’t feel like working out today.” There were no other patrons in the gym, either. Maybe you get 10% off your membership if you’re an evil scumbag. One of their beefs against Carla is that she changed her name from Olson to Harris, which in their view is true diva behavior that they cannot abide. Why Harris is a more glamorous name than Olson is not explained. Also of note is a movie marquee which is playing Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984).

Important note: the version released on Vestron is cut. The version released on Lightning is uncut. So for anyone planning on collecting this movie, make sure you get the Lightning version.

We love revenge movies here - hence the name COMEUPPANCE reviews - and Naked Vengeance is a gem.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Angelfist (1993)

Angelfist (1993)- * * *

Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago

Starring: Cat Sassoon, Michael Shaner, Tony Carreon, Roland Dantes, Sheila Lintan, and Melissa Moore

Kat Lang (Sassoon) is a no-nonsense L.A. cop with an attitude. When her sister is murdered after taking clandestine photos of a political assassination in the Philippines, Kat travels to Manila to get answers. While there, she gets caught up in the female kickboxing circuit and meets the charismatic Alcatraz (Shaner) who helps her out and becomes her love interest. She also meets fellow fighters Lorda (Moore) and Sulu (Lintan - not George Takei in a wig) and decides if she wants to find who was responsible for her sister’s death, she’s going to have to enter the ring herself and fight in the popular tournament called The Kubate. This is clearly the female version of The Kumite devised by the same guy, who had a cold that day. 

So she hires Bayani (Dantes) to train her. When an underground terrorist group called The Black Brigade (made up of angry Filipinos) rears its ugly head, Kat truly snaps into action. Predating that band by many years, now we see the true meaning of Cat Power!

The prolific Cirio Santiago strikes again with this outing which is classic 90’s, an entertaining mixture of mindless shooting, Martial Arts fights, and shower scene-based nudity. Cat Sassoon, who we were familiar with because of Bloodfist IV (1992) and Bloodfist VI (1995), wears some amazing outfits, and it was nice to see her as the main hero. 

Melissa Moore, who we were also fans of, not least for appearing in the immortal classic Samurai Cop (1989), provides a worthy foil for Cat (or Kat, depending on which letter/person you prefer), and gets to do plenty of Melissa Moore-Fu. The movie as a whole is a pioneer in the genre of leotard-fighting, and there’s some diversions into “Arnis”, or stickfighting, and of course there’s the prerequisite torture scene.

Shaner was also no stranger to the Bloodfist series, having appeared as none other than the infamous Baby in the original 1989 installment. With his Mitt Romney/Matt Dillon/Robert Davi-style looks, he stands out among the Filipino cast, but their line deliveries are much more priceless. Even news reporters get noteworthy moments - Apparently in the Philippines big stories are known as “newsbreakers”. And we didn’t even mention the classic “Mr. Big”, the white-suited, bearded head of it all, named Carrion (Carreon - apparently Cirio isn’t big on more than one-letter name changes). 

Plus, the embassy protests and murders make this movie more relevant today than ever. That’s right, Angelfist is a relevant film! But of course, the showstopper is the nearly-naked fight scene where Cat fights off baddies wearing basically nothing. This scene is effective no matter how many times Cirio uses it (Silk 2 and Firecracker, anybody?).

While mindless, it’s nice to see beautiful women beating up baddies and looking good in the process, rather than be in the background as news reporters or nagging wives. For a non-Rothrock girl-power movie, Angelfist is a treat.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out write-ups from our buddies, Fist Of B-List and The Video Vacuum!