Fatal Skies (1990)

Fatal Skies (1990)- * * *

Directed by: Thomas E. Dugan

Starring: Timothy Leary, Veronica Carothers, Tim Burke, J. Michael Esposito, Geoff Meed, Melissa Moore, Maureen Shannon, and Vernon Buckwald

In the small town of Beauville, California, something nefarious is afoot. A no-goodnik named Buddy Boyle (Leary) is dumping hazardous waste into the pristine countryside, and he’s using the local goons to help him out. 

When a group of skydiving-mad teens inadvertently stumble onto what Buddy is doing, they at first try the local authorities, but of course they’re on Buddy’s payroll, so, led by girlfriend-boyfriend team Toni and Duane (Carothers and Esposito, respectively), and Toni’s Uncle Jack (Burke), the pilot of their beloved plane, the group attempt to foil Boyle. But it’s not going to be a Freestyle Formation in the sky for this group, especially now that we’re dealing with FATAL SKIES (though to be fair, the skies are perfectly fine. Boyle is polluting the ground. But who’s counting?)

There is an art to casting your movie or TV show. It’s a delicate balance that you don’t want to get wrong, and it can make all the difference in your project. If you cast someone who is inappropriate for the part, it can ruin your movie, but if you cast the perfect person, it can tip the scales in your favor and can propel your movie to new heights of success. The Casting Society of America even has its own awards, honoring the best in the field, called the Artios Awards. Or you could just say, “screw it, we’re getting Timothy Leary”.

The sheer insanity of casting the then-69-year-old Leary as the main baddie in your movie – who did indeed have an acting resume to fall back on, despite the fact that he was mainly known as a Harvard professor and LSD proponent – is, well…pretty insane. But it’s all part of the magic of the video store era that never-to-be-replicated casts can be assembled. 

Not since Art Garfunkel had a Short Fuse or Steve Guttenberg went Airborne have we seen such an inspired casting decision. Mr. Leary is backed up with some great people as well, so he doesn’t steal the show – Tim Burke as Uncle Jack is likable and comes off as a cross between James Doohan and Mike Ditka. Geoff Meed is a classic meathead, Melissa Moore has a very small part as one of the teens, Maureen Shannon is downright weird as Willy, and one Vernon Buckwald as the Don Knotts-like Sheriff Horne leaves a pretty strong impression. He even reappears after the end credits.

But the main star of the show is, let’s face it, Veronica Carothers as Toni. She started off her career as the production secretary on Deadly Prey (1987) and parlayed that into a pretty successful career as a so-called “scream queen”. She can be seen in Mankillers (1987) and She-Wolves of the Wasteland (1988) as well. Her beauty is downright mesmerizing and the movie can be enjoyed just for her presence in it. She even pioneers a new slang word – not since Conflict of Interest (1993) and “Jerk Beef” and Bulletproof (1988) with “Butthorn” have we seen such creative use of language. At one point she calls Duane, and we quote, a “Dweezel”. Not to be confused with the fine musician Dweezil Zappa, we assume. That was what was so great about the 80’s and early 90’s and DTV – there were no rules and lots of creativity, even when it came to the words people said and/or invented. You don’t get that today.

There is a lot of bizarre and silly dialogue like that. At times, it almost seems like the script was written in a foreign language and then translated by a computer, then presented to the actors. Even still, it seems like Steven Seagal – or, at least, On Deadly Ground-era Steven Seagal – would appreciate its environmentally-minded message. Maybe because it’s the only directing or writing credit for one Thomas E. Dugan to date, but it’s hard to tell the tone of this movie. One minute it seems like it’s tongue in cheek, or possibly trying to be funny, but then the next minute it’s serious-minded. There’s no consistency there.

There are shootings, stabbings, chases, blow-ups, and the like. And, once again proving DTV product is way ahead of its Hollywood counterparts, the whole thing predated Extreme Ops (2002) by a whopping twelve years! Honestly, you had us at “Skydiving Teens Foil Pollution Plot by Timothy Leary”. Only in the video store era, we tell you. Only in the video store era.

Sure, it’s pretty dumb and all over the place, but there’s one thing you can certainly say about Fatal Skies: it’s unique. So let’s stay on the bright side and look at it that way.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The Last Ride (1991)

The Last Ride (1991)- *1\2

Directed by: Karl Krogstad

Starring: Dan Ranger, Michael Hilow, Ron Ben Jarrett, Amy Nohavic, Renn Richards, George Dietrick, and William Winship

"Debbbbiiiiieeeeee!!!!!!"- Bart

A man named Michael Smith (Ranger) finally gets out of jail after eight years. He seems like a nice enough guy, and he claims he was innocent. After saying a heartfelt goodbye to his long-time cellmate Adams (Jarrett), Smith hits the road to soak up his newfound freedom. Unfortunately, Smith’s life on the outside takes a dark turn when a psychotic trucker named Phil Holtman (Hilow) picks him up while hitching. You’ll understand the reason for the italics momentarily. Meanwhile, our old buddy Phil is off acting crazy and killing people. Local waitress Debbie (Nohavic) is at risk. While initially a suspect, Smith ends up working with the authorities in the area, Sheriff Bolt (Winship) and policeman of the year Bart (Dietrick). Will Michael Smith get out of this jam? Or will this be his LAST RIDE?

The Last Ride is AIP’s take on The Hitcher (1986). The plot, the structure, and even individual scenes are, let’s say, HIGHLY influenced by it. Because it’s all done in that inimitable AIP style, imagine a cross between The Hitcher and Maximum Breakout (1991). If you ever watched The Hitcher and thought its one impediment is that its budget was too high, this is the movie for you.

Dan Ranger has an awesome name. We wish we were Dan Ranger, or even had his name. We would be sitting pretty. The original Dan Ranger, or Daniel P. Ranger as he is credited here, never seems to have capitalized on his fantastic name. He was only in this movie and Cop Out (1991) the same year. What a year that must have been for Mr. Ranger. Of course, during the filming of Cop Out he had to contend with David Buff, who challenged his supremacy in the awesome name sweepstakes. Ranger must have felt humiliated and left the movie industry forever. Ranger looks a lot like Jan-Michael Vincent and he does his best.

The main baddie, Phil, is more annoying than scary. And the doctor who comes to save the day, Dr. Jim Rouchet (Renn Richards, in, amazingly, his only screen role to date) looks like a mustachioed Dick Clark. It appears all his dialogue was post-dubbed, and by a stage-trained master thespian with a lot of gravitas. Speaking of master thespians, that brings us to George Dietrick as Bart, one of the police officers. At one crucial point in the story, he realizes this is his “Streetcar Named Desire” moment and he gives it his all. We commend him for that.

The usual AIP mainstays are here, of course – the movie was written by Ted Prior and co-produced by David A. Prior, and it was shot in and around Fall City, Washington. It retains that regional vibe, and the whole thing is 75 minutes long, not including the world’s slowest end credits crawl. Despite its brief length, it feels longer because this is not one of AIP’s more creative or energetic outings. It feels almost like it’s going through the motions. Sure, there are a handful of standout moments, but that’s all they are – moments. Sadly, director Krogstad and most of the rest of his cast never developed their talents beyond this initial venture. It would have been interesting to see that evolution, but here we just get a taste of what could have been.

In the competitive world of DTV in the early 90’s, you had to be on your game, and it seems The Last Ride just didn’t have what it takes to survive. Thus it became, unfortunately, just more video store shelf-filler. It didn’t have to be that way, but more twists, surprises, verve, or originality might have helped.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Blood On The Badge (1992)

Blood On The Badge (1992)- * * *

Directed by: Bret McCormick

Starring: Joe Estevez, David Harrod, Todd A. Everett, and Rocky Patterson 

When a Libyan terrorist group called the Hand of God are running around killing politicians, detectives Neil Farrow (Harrod) and Bill Marshall (Everett) are on the case. Captain Burton (Estevez) is constantly demanding answers from them, and after Marshall ends up in a coma, Farrow goes rogue – and also goes to Texas – to find the perpetrators. While somewhat of a fish out of water in the small town of Morgan County, Texas, Farrow has a spirit guide – his comatose partner Marshall himself! Dressed in a white T-shirt and bathed in white light even though he’s not dead, he gives Farrow cryptic clues as to what to do next. Doubtlessly it’s because of this intervention that Farrow comes across local powermad good ol’ boy Milo Truscott (Patterson) and his gang of nogoodniks. After traveling to the local “survival camp” and being mercilessly mocked and ridiculed by the local doomsday preppers, Farrow decides enough is enough and takes the law into his own hands to unravel the mystery. But will there be BLOOD ON THE BADGE?

Shot the same year as Armed For Action (1992) and featuring almost the exact same cast and crew, Blood On The Badge is more low-budget, Texas-set, Joe Estevez-infused DTV wonderment. Out of the two, we prefer Armed For Action, mainly because that has a higher mullet-and-Gatling-gun ratio, but it’s probably a matter of taste.

David Harrod returns as the hunky Himbo hero. His favorite outfit is what appears to be a homemade New York Yankees T-shirt tucked into acid washed jeans with a black belt. When he’s not wearing that, he likes to lounge around in a towel, showing off his ultra-manly Woody Woodpecker tattoo. He’s so much of a Himbo, he makes Dan Cortese look like William F. Buckley. Naturally, the ladies can’t get enough of him, and that includes Monique Detraz of The Dangerous (1995) fame. While the movie as a whole suffers from pacing issues, Joe Estevez appears right on time.

Rocky Patterson also returns, along with everyone else, from Armed For Action. In that outing he strongly resembled Joe Piscopo. In this movie, he strongly resembles Greg Kinnear. The man is a true chameleon. While his name here is Truscott, it sounds like everyone is calling him “Triscuit”. Thankfully, this movie isn’t quite as dry as his namesake cracker. Speaking of which, Truscott is a racist bigot who spews racial slurs constantly. That and the sax on the soundtrack are the hallmarks of a type of film which is not made anymore. While in many respects, Blood on the Badge is a relic of its day, it is actually quite ahead of its time. The plot revolves around Islamic terrorists, and there is a subplot that involves the Israeli ambassador. They should re-release this back into theaters today.

While there are a healthy amount of funny lines and silly situations, the plot is slow going. There is a machine gun shootout in a warehouse, and even an exploding helicopter, so in that respect it’s pure AIP. It all ends on a classic freeze frame and under the closing credits are wedding pictures. You’ve gotta hand it to director McCormick and his band of regulars. It may be rough around the edges, but, darn it, he made these movies and released them into video stores. You can tell plenty of effort was put into making them as good as possible under very, very limiting circumstances. It’s probably important to keep that in mind while watching.

In the end, if you liked Armed For Action, or even One Man War (1990), and you appreciate that down-home style, you’ll more than likely enjoy Blood On the Badge. If not, you probably won’t, though it is just entertaining enough to satisfy VHS junkies who are familiar with this type of material.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Armed For Action (1992)

Armed For Action (1992)- * * *

Directed by: Bret McCormick

Starring: Joe Estevez, J.Scott Guy, David Harrod, Shane Boldin, Jack Gould, and Rocky Patterson

Alex (Guy) and his cousin Jake (Boldin) are two fun-loving cousins who are just livin’ their lives in the sleepy, rural town of Poolville, Texas. Because most of the town has vacated because it’s hunting season, the two good ol’ boys can feel free to indulge their passions of drinking, skirt-chasing, and gun collecting. The latter is going to come in very handy, however, as trouble comes to town in the form of a man named West (Estevez). West brings his underlings to Poolville because that’s where a mafia hitman named David Montel (Patterson) will be. He’s a prisoner being transported cross-country by a cop-with-an-attitude named Sgt. Phil Towers (Harrod). Once West and his goons start their onslaught in pursuit of Montel, the unlikely allies of Alex, Jake, Montel, Towers, and local barmaid Sarah (Murphy) all have to team up to fight them in a firefight to the finish. Luckily, they’re ARMED FOR ACTION…but so are the baddies! Who will be the saviors of Poolville, Texas?

Both Alex and Jake have awesome hair. They have to be cousins because awesome hair must run in their bloodline. Alex’s overgrown curly mullet is extremely impressive, though Phil Towers, the Zack Morris-esque policeman has great hair too, and he’s not related to the boys, as far as we know. Jake rivals him with his Cody-era Sasha Mitchell look.

Okay, now that that’s out of our system, let’s proceed. Armed For Action seems to be something of a “forgotten” movie, and one of the least-talked about AIP releases. Hopefully, this review will help to change that, as not only is it a more-than-respectable outing, it’s actually quite impressive what director McCormick and the gang were able to do with such a low budget. Despite some of the almost-prerequisite dumb moments and low-budget pitfalls, this tale of innocent locals caught in a city-versus-country crossfire is the type of movie Hollywood used to make – and still makes today but with an exponentially higher budget, if we just look at The Last Stand (2013). Even David Heavener tried his hand with something similar, Prime Target (1991). While we appreciated the movie’s lineage – it’s essentially an old-style Western – we could have done without the bathroom humor (a pet peeve of ours).

When you watch Armed For Action, you enter a rural world where the hometown bar appears to be someone’s house, the Sheriff (Gould) is the only law enforcement in town and he operates out of the General Store, and at the local restaurant you can get something called a smoked bologna sandwich. Strange as it is to say, 1992 was a simpler time, and when Joe Estevez (who puts in a pretty wild-eyed performance) and his goons show up, you care what happens to the townsfolk. AFA (as we call it) actually takes the time for character development, which we applaud wholeheartedly. So many movies of this type just skip that. For that reason alone, this small, modest movie is worth checking out.

And because Montel looks like Joe Piscopo. That would be our mafia hitman, not Montel Williams. Speaking of lookalikes, West’s main two goons look like Gary Busey and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. There are a lot of other funny-looking goons as well, but those were our personal favorites. Would that the real guys appeared in an AIP movie together. Well, this is as close as we’ll get. We’ll take it. According to the credits, the weapons were by Weaponmasters, and the stunts were by Stuntmasters. Could they be the same people? The soundtrack was not done by The Beatmasters, but it was done by one Ron Di Iulio, who contributes some catchy countryfied guitar licks to the ensuing action odyssey.

Even though many people get shot and\or blown up, Armed For Action represents a filmmaking era that is almost quaint by today's standards. Efforts - and they truly were efforts - like this should be recognized. Thanks to AIP and now Amazon Prime, they can be.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett