Brutal Fury (1993)

 Brutal Fury
(1993)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Fred Watkins

Starring: Lisa-Gabrielle Greene, Tom Campitelli, Annette Gebron, Jennifer Winder, Karen Eppers, and Thad Dougherty

Something unpleasant is going on at Lincoln High School in Texas. A rapist is on the loose, drugs are rampant, and the teenagers are approaching their mid-40's. Even though Detective Bill Griffin (Campitelli) is investigating, and his new wife Molly (Gebron) is going undercover at the school 21 Jump Street-style, heshers with Iron Maiden and Dio shirts are still overdosing and/or being arrested. What remains of the student body can't abide this. Hence, a group of girls form a "secret sorority" called The Sisterhood and also called The Furies.

After going through a quasi-Satanic initiation ritual, this allows you to dress up in a black bodysuit and ski mask and beat up on pot smokers.

The ringleader of The Furies is one Trudy Jones (Winder). Her second in command is her friend Carol (Eppers). At a Karate class one day, Trudy notes the uncontrollable rage of a redheaded girl named Misty Roberts (Greene) and decides she'd be perfect for The Sisterhood. Misty is unhinged because her father was a fundamentalist preacher who railed against the evils of gym clothes.

When Misty ramps up the revenge, even her fellow Furies decide she's too whackadoo to be in The Sisterhood. Meanwhile, the net is closing in from the crimefighting team of the Griffins. Where you don't want to be is on the receiving end of a high school teen named Misty Roberts's BRUTAL FURY.

Attention Vinegar Syndrome or other specialist Blu-ray labels! Are you out there? Are you reading this? Because, in our ever-so-humble opinion, Brutal Fury is a cult classic-in-waiting. More people need to know about this movie. Heck, ANYBODY needs to know about this movie. It's a gem and a half. To see it is to love it - the only problem is, people need to see it!

It's just a victim of bad timing. If it had come out in the 70's, it would've hit the drive-in circuit and gotten more exposure. If it was directed by Jack Hill, it would be at least as beloved as his Switchblade Sisters (1975). If it had come out in the 80's (even though the film came out in 1993, it has a copyright date of 1988, which makes a lot more sense), it could have been Heathers before Heathers (1989). If it had Martial Arts, it could be like the similarly-themed Kick or Die (1987). But, no, sadly and alas, it got a nothing release from AIP, with another of their classic boxes where the models on the cover are not in the film.

Brutal Fury has it all: fantastic 80's fashions on display, toweringly high hair, a synth-tastic score, amateur and pro-am actors doing their best, and "teenagers" that look like they've got one eye on their pension plan. Nowhere is this more evident than with the evil rapist John Cain (Thad Dougherty) (of course his name is Thad). The idea that this man is supposed to be in high school is just very entertaining in its own right.

The slasheresque flashbacks to Misty's past with her abusive father, her mental breakdowns and her killings are pure gold, as is the classic initiation sequence. Brutal Fury has more in common with regional horror outings like HauntedWeen (1991) or The Night Brings Charlie (1990) than anything else. Although movies like Act of Vengeance (1974) or The Ladies Club (1986) (the latter of which, interestingly, came out in the U.K. as The Sisterhood) are some sort of template.

But there's even more fun to be had, because the "undercover drug dealer in school" subplot is super fun as well. Mix the Sisterhood in with that, and it's a recipe for success.

For a high school student, and especially for a girl, Trudy's voice is quite low. It makes Jodie Foster's voice sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. No wonder she's the leader. There are a ton of great musical themes and stings on the soundtrack, including one that sounds almost exactly like Children of Bodom's 'Angels Don't Kill'. That would have been an apt theme for the movie had it only come out earlier. Could the COB boys have seen this movie? Well, probably not. But the similarity is definitely there. 

There are other musical highlights as well that we won't spoil, but we always love when there's a specially-written theme song that names characters in the movie. Here is no exception, and the end-credits song, "Misty", by Scott Jacob Loehr is both catchy and dramatic. Further bolstering its slasher comparisons, the song isn't a world away from Sleepaway Camp's "Angela's Theme" by Frankie Vinci.

Why Lisa-Gabrielle Greene, who played the fascinating character of Misty, only went on to do several episodes of Wishbone and nothing else is as mysterious as Misty herself. Think about that: Brutal Fury and Wishbone. That's it. The entertainment business sure is a strange place.

Anyway, we could sing the praises of Brutal Fury all day, but let's just end where we began and hope that a Blu-ray comes out sometime in our lifetime. If anything out there is ripe for rediscovery, it's this. Join the Sisterhood of the Traveling Sword and check out Brutal Fury today!

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Burning Vengeance (1989)

 Burning Vengeance
(1989)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Ronald C. Ross

Starring: Robert Pentz

"I'm from the department of life, and I'm revoking your permit." - Brock Genesis

After some evil drug lords kill his two brothers, daughter, and wife - and put him in the hospital for months - a DEA agent that used to be a guy named Dave Swift (Pentz) re-emerges as the mighty Brock Genesis! Now a man with a new face, a new name, and a new tanktop is rampaging through the streets of Port Davis, Texas beating up and/or killing baddies left and right. The police don't understand him, the bad guys want to kill him, and it seems like just about everyone is against him. But no force on earth can stop the BURNING VENGEANCE of Brock Genesis!

It's finally here! We finally got to see our number-one most sought-after movie, and, thankfully, it delivers the goods. How could it not, with Robert Pentz as Brock Genesis in the lead? Pentz looks like a mélange of John Cena, Joe Piscopo, Brian Kilmeade, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's son. Apparently he had worked as a stand-in for Arnie in the past, and he even does an impression of him at one point in the film. He's the ultimate hero and you root for him all the way.

Burning Vengeance is a gem of regional cinema, full stop. It's filled with semi-pro and non-actors reciting strangely stilted dialogue. It's amazing. The film as a whole is never less than totally entertaining - just the fact that other characters can call him "Mr. Genesis" with a completely straight face is fantastic. It's clear that everyone involved was trying, and that makes all the difference. Director Ronald C. Ross has an extensive background in stunts and it shows.

Just one movie highlight (there are many) is when Brock Genesis goes to the Sweet Dreams ice cream shop and then uses his shake as a weapon. As we see in the climax of the film, in Brock's hands, anything can be a weapon. Going back to the very beginning, you know this is gonna be good because the words "Burning Vengeance" are in quotes during the opening titles. The end credits feature character names in quotes. You have to ask: was any of this really real? Or was it all some strange, lovely dream?

You'll have a goofy smile on your face as you gaze in wonder at Burning Vengeance. We complain that most movies are too long. With this, we didn't want it to end! Another great moment (we could list these all day) arrives when Brock goes to the electronics store to buy a police scanner, and the clerk there quite openly finds him irresistible. Which is understandable, of course.

It's all backed by a mostly bluesy soundtrack, and it came out in the golden video store year of 1989. Video store patrons had a lot of choices in '89, a high-water mark for the video era. Burning Vengeance was there with all the rest, but seemingly the tape by AIP was not made in large quantities. Hence, it has become a VHS rarity these days. More people should have seen Burning Vengeance then, and certainly more people should see it now.

Upon further research, we found that Robert Pentz was not Vice President under Donald Trump. But he should have been. Thank goodness for movies like Burning Vengeance.

Thanks so much Daves_VHS (Instagram Handle) for the Copy!


The Satan Killer (1993)


The Satan Killer
(1993) - * * *

Directed by: Steve Sayre

Starring: Steve Sayre, James Westbrook and Billy Franklin

A serial killer is stalking the Virginia Beach, Virginia area. The local news, talk radio, and other media are all buzzing about it, and they've named the killer "Satan" and the killings "The Satan Slayings". Satan, whose real name is Jimbo (Westbrook), is a hulking brute on a Harley. 

So, three men of different backgrounds all team up to stop him: Detective James Stephen (Sayre), a private investigator named Billy Franklin (Billy Franklin, evidently playing himself in his one and only movie role), and a male nurse who wants to join up with them. Stephen is still brooding because he keeps having flashbacks of when he and his wife went to the amusement park where they went on the bumper boats and she won a Bart Simpson doll. Thus, he has a drinking problem, and more or less goes rogue to stop Jimbo. Who will kill more people: Jimbo or Stephen? Find out when you watch THE SATAN KILLER!

The Satan Killer is a gem. It has a ton of rock-bottom-budget charm, and even though it came out in 1993 it still feels very 80's. Most of the actors involved were non-professionals and they give those sort of super-flat performances that are a joy to watch. Most people describe this movie as incoherent, which may be true, but to us that's not a negative. It's part of the fun. Many coherent movies are boring, and if you want something coherent, why are you watching The Satan Killer? It's also unselfconsciously tasteless and exploitative, which are more points in the win column as far as we're concerned.

Another positive for The Satan Killer are all the colorful side characters, like the radio DJ who debates the death penalty with a very engaged caller (the original title for the film was Death Penalty. AIP changed the title and created box art that has little to do with the actual movie), or the Bryant Gumbel-esque newsman who becomes so "emotionally involved" with the Satan case that he can barely read a teleprompter.

There's very little Satanist action in the film, despite everything. At one point Jimbo takes a woman's lipstick and writes "666" on a mirror. That's pretty much it. Our hero, Stephen, makes a worthy foil for Jimbo. Thank goodness he wears that unflattering yellow shirt in every scene he's in, because it helps provide much-needed lighting for the film. 

His sidekick, Franklin, is a feisty old man that could have been played by Don Rickles. Perhaps he was busy filming Keaton's Cop (1990) at the time. There are a lot of musical interludes throughout where we get to see what Virginia Beach looked like in 1993. It's yet another case of 'They don't make 'em like this anymore!' So, let's keep that in mind.

A movie highlight comes when an older gentlemen gets shot in the stomach with a shotgun, and then lazily puts his hands on his belly as if he's Santa Claus enjoying a good laugh. Evidently the higher-ups at AIP thought this was noteworthy as well, because they chose - of all potential moments - to put it in the trailer for the film!

This is the one and only credit for director Stephen Calamari, although some people think that is either a pseudonym for Stephen Sayre (which would make sense because it sounds like a fake name...although maybe it's real because why would you choose for your last name to be an octopus-based appetizer?), or that Sayre either directed or co-directed the film.

Nevertheless, the 'delightfully amateurish' (wags might say poor) technical qualities of the film may put many potential viewers off, but fans of rediscovered now-classics like Miami Connection (1987) and Samurai Cop (1991) will likely appreciate the nuttiness of what's going on here.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Last Of The Warriors (1989)

 Last Of The Warriors
(1989)- * *1\2

Directed by: Lloyd A. Simandl and Michael Mazo 

Starring: William Smith, Nancy Pataki, Ken Farmer, Joe Maffei, and Melanie Kilgour

In the year 2050, there are few survivors of a worldwide plague. A man named Lucas (Smith) has declared himself “The Grand Shepherd”. We know he’s The Grand Shepherd because he wears a brown smock and has an amulet around his neck. There’s an evil warlord-ess named Baalca (Pataki), not to be confused with Balki, and there are many warriors fighting for control of New Idaho. Lucas’s father is a lot like The Emperor from the Star Wars movies, and there’s a talking computer named Dolores. Finally, there’s a guy named Chuck (Farmer) who has teamed up with a guy named Iodine (Maffei) to save the day. From what, we’re still not sure. Who will be the LAST OF THE WARRIORS?

For Last of the Warriors (AKA Empire of Ash III), we return to the Canadian forests for one more post-apocalyptic romp. Don’t forget that there is no Empire of Ash II. We explained the confusing nature of that in our Maniac Warriors review, or at least we tried to. 

The two films seemingly were shot back-to-back and they feature many of the same elements. These include people in ragged clothing riding their “futuristic” vehicles down the street as heavy metal pounds on the soundtrack, many scenes of very silly machine gun shooting, and a rocket launcher hat. We would say that the infamous headwear from the first film is back, but we actually believe it’s a different rocket hat. That’s right, at some time in 1988-89, there were two rocket hats. God help us all.

Clearly the star of the show is Dolores the computer. “She” steals every scene she’s in. Her exuberance and delight in her ability to remotely fly a helicopter is evident. We haven’t seen anything like her since Willard in R.O.T.O.R. (1987) or Gertrude from The Protector (1999). She even manages to upstage the great William Smith. As great as both Smith and Dolores are, it seems that Last of the Warriors would have benefited from another name in the cast. Perhaps a Dale Midkiff, or maybe a George Kennedy would have fit the bill nicely.

An odd casting choice came in the form of Ken Farmer as Chuck. Why in the world would they get a guy who looks exactly like William Smith, right down to the mustache, to play opposite William Smith? We haven’t been so unsure of who we were looking at since Harris Yulin and Art Garfunkel starred together in Short Fuse (1986), or perhaps when Frank Zagarino and David “Shark” Fralick faced off in Project Eliminator (1991). We were truly seeing double.

While there are plenty of funny scenes, and some impressive stuntwork, there are significant pacing issues. It’s an improvement over the first installment in the series, but it can’t crack the 2 ½ stars barrier, unfortunately. But it’s a stronger 2 ½ stars than the first movie.

The heavy metal soundtrack was provided by a group called The Gore Avenue Music Project, and their music helps a lot in keeping the energy up when it starts to flag, which is frequently. But then the music will blast again and/or something silly will happen. So it’s hard to really hate what you’re watching.

That being said, when it comes to the filmmaking partnership of Michael Mazo and Lloyd Simandl (yes, this oddball movie had two directors. Of course it did), it’s really hard to beat Crackerjack II (1997). But that would be true for any movie, really. For those familiar with the directorial style of Simandl, Last of the Warriors features plenty of “Simandl Moments” that may ring a bell.

AIP really seemed to love these homemade, low-budget action offerings, so naturally they released both Empire of Ash movies on VHS. If you see them anywhere for a good price, snap them up. They may not wow you by being the best things you’ve ever seen, but there are only so many of these tapes in the world and they’re not making any more of them.

For a side of the DTV world that is lesser-seen, Last of the Warriors is certainly worth a look.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Sudden Thunder (1990)


Sudden Thunder
(1990)- * * *

Directed by: David Hunt

Starring: Andrea Lamatsch, Corwin Sperry, Curtis Carter, and Mike Monty

Patricia Merrill (Lamatsch) is a Miami-based policewoman. When she gets the news that her father has died in a car crash, she travels to the small town of Wilbury, which is presumably in Florida, to settle his affairs. While there, she uncovers a small town conspiracy that involves new sheriff Mike Gray (Monty) (Patricia's father was the old sheriff). 

Apparently, most of the Wilbury police force is involved in drug running and Patricia stumbles on to that fact. Sensing that she needs help and that she can't face this threat alone, her buddies from Miami P.D. follow her to Wilbury. They also team up with friend of the Merrill family Jake Stokes (Carter) and they all band together to fight the corruption and baddies. Will they be hearing the SUDDEN THUNDER?

Sudden Thunder gets off to a great start with Andrea Lamatsch doing a full nightclub performance on stage with a band, then getting involved in a shootout with some baddies. After she shoots people wearing an evening dress, the musicians onstage continue playing the song, which is far louder than the dialogue people are then saying. They're almost drowned out completely. We knew then that we were going to like Sudden Thunder.

It was an inspired choice by the filmmakers to make Lamatsch the main star and heroine of the film. That's certainly what we would have done if we were in charge. To cast someone with an almost-impenetrable German accent who looks like a model as a Miami cop was an inspired casting choice. All the dialogue scenes with Lamatsch are gold. In the second half of the movie, when it's mainly her and her buddies running around dodging explosions, perhaps counterintuitively, things slow down for the viewer. Lamatsch carries the movie, so when she's not front and center, things suffer.

If other action stars with accents could make it big - everyone from Schwarzenegger to Van Damme - why not Lamatsch? That's what we always say. She's certainly easier to look at than they are. But it appears that's not the path she chose. Besides her, other people are in the cast as well, believe it or not. Mike Monty is here as the evil sheriff, and Curtis Carter stands out as Jake Stokes. He's the guy with the cabin in the woods where Patricia goes to recuperate. He's a charismatic guy that the audience really likes.

Of course, there's the time-honored barfight, and our heroes walk/run away from a grounded exploding airplane. The "corruption and drug running in a small town" plot has been seen many times before, notably in The Devastator (1986), among others. The second half of Sudden Thunder is notably blander than the first half. Director David Hunt (AKA David Hung) later went on to make Triple Impact (1992), and Lamatsch did Blood Ring (1991). But here they joined their forces and the results are generally good, especially in the earlier sections of the film.

Sudden Thunder was released by AIP on VHS and is typical of their releases in two ways: the people on the front of the box are not in the movie, and the tape is now rare. If you can find a copy for not a lot of money, which is not an easy thing to do these days, it's worth picking up. But it's not really worth high online prices. That being said, there is plenty to enjoy with Sudden Thunder. It's probably Andrea Lamatsch's finest hour, and for that alone, it's worth seeing.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Homeboyz II: Crack City (1989)


Homeboyz II: Crack City
(1989)- * * *

Directed by: Daniel Matmor

Starring: Brian Paul Stewart, Yvonne Kersey, Dan Charlton, McKinley Winston, and Delia Sheppard

David (Stewart) is a young man from New York City, Harlem specifically. He's an amateur photographer, and after his mother dies, he ends up living in an apartment with Orah (Kersey), a talented singer. David's friend Manny James is an intellectual who is in the process of battling the housing commissioner. Once again, evil landlords are forcing people out of their homes. The main baddie is Frank Genoa (Dan Charlton), and things get personal when he attempts to kick Orah out of the apartment she's had for 18 years. David decides to join the fight against the slumlords with Manny, and David brings his mohawked cousin Spider (McKinley Winston) into the fray.

The only problem is that David sells cocaine for local drug lord Enrico (Blas Hernandez). David justifies this by saying, "I sell coke, not crack!" But, as it turns out, Enrico is also an enforcer for Genoa. Things come to an ugly head when David and Spider track a Genoa employee named Spencer McKnight to the seedier areas of New York City, and see Zipperfaces (no wonder AIP liked this movie so much) and at least one dominatrix (Sheppard). What any of that has to do with the housing crisis is anybody's guess, but that's all part of the mean streets of HOMEBOYZ II: CRACK CITY.

Homeboyz II: Crack City is like a cross between Straight Out of Brooklyn (1991) and Death Promise (1977). It has the New York City grit and low budget, ambitious young-guy-fresh-out-of-film-school vibe of the former, and the evil landlords and ridiculous moments of the latter.

It's not an action movie, although a small handful of fights break out. It's more of a street-level drama. Why AIP - Action International Pictures - was interested in this, we're not really sure, but in its feel it's not entirely dissimilar to their Street Hitz (1992). Perhaps in the rush to put things on video store shelves in 1989, AIP picked up whatever they could find. Needless to say at this point, the cover of the VHS box has nothing to do with the movie itself.

There are plenty of unexpected moments throughout the film, most of which revolve around music. Characters may start beat-boxing or strumming Spanish guitars at a moment's notice. Of course, there's plenty of sax on the soundtrack as well. There are some nice editing touches that help keep the viewers' interest. Spider looks like a cross between Billy Blanks and Kadeem Hardison. Orah, a gospel singer, has a shotgun named Henrietta. There are other off-kilter details like that that set the movie apart.

A lot of the people in front of and behind the camera may have been amateurs or novices, but they put forth an earnest attempt to make a good movie with a message. That's more than you can say about a lot of movies of this ilk. In other words, this isn't your typical "homie movie". It also predated the homie movie craze of the 90's, even predating the aforementioned Straight Out of Brooklyn.

Homeboyz II: Crack City is very much redolent of the time period it was made in, and works well as a time capsule drama. However, to be fair, it's far from flawless: there are issues in the plotting, pacing, and writing departments, not to mention some of the technical aspects. But we give the filmmakers a lot of credit for putting forth the effort and energy to get it made and get it out there. It's still very much worth watching if you like this sort of thing. 

Apparently, AIP didn't give the VHS much of a push into stores, as the tape today remains among their rarest. Consequently, it languished in obscurity for the past thirty years or so. As of this writing, it can be found on YouTube so you can check it out there.

Featuring the end credits song "All the Way" by Little Joe Cook and the Heavy Metal Horns, Homeboyz II: Crack City is better than you might think it is. It's a drama that got lost in the video store shuffle of the time. We think it's worth a look again these days.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Extreme Vengeance (1990)

 Extreme Vengeance
(1990)- * * *

Directed by: Roger Zahr

Starring: David A. Cox, Michael De Costa, Tanya Lemani, Al Bordighi, Gina Bergee, Lisa Hamilton, Brian Lally, and Mesmera

"Are we gonna do some talkin' or are we gonna do some dyin'?" – David

When evil mob boss Mario Blanco (De Costa) kills a young man named Michael (Kaidley), he upsets the wrong man: an angry ex-cop known only as David (Cox). David had to retire after 18 years on the force because he exposed police corruption. In other words, he "couldn't play by the rules". He flies from Chicago to L.A. to get justice for his son, and it's there he reconnects with his ex-wife Helen (Lemani) and their daughter Jenney (Bergee). He also starts his quest for revenge by working with his friend Billy (Lally) and ex-mobster Don Alfonso (Bordighi). 

When David's girlfriend Sally (Hamilton) follows him to California, his personal troubles break loose and melodrama rains down. Things get worse when Blanco's goons beat up his wife and attempt to rape his daughter. David wasn't home at the time because he was watching a snake dancer (Mesmera). Now nothing is going to stand in the way of David's EXTREME VENGEANCE!

If it's one thing we love here at Comeuppance Reviews, it's when a surly elderly man takes out the trash. By that we mean by shooting them, blowing them up, creating a convoluted exploding soccer ball, poisoning their pasta, whatever the case may be. Extreme Vengeance is a micro-budgeted mob movie that delivers the surly. And the elderly. In spades. The presence and the performance of David A. Cox as David (please tell me this is how he is in real life) is a joy to behold. You put that together with his fashion choices and you've got quite a heady mix. 

Of course, the similarities to the Death Wish series are rather obvious, and in case AIP thought that wasn't clear enough, their tagline for the VHS box is "His Death Wish Has Just Begun".

Is that a reference to the fact that they thought the Bronson series was over by that point? Because they were wrong - Death Wish V: The Face of Death came out in 1994. A per usual with AIP, the people featured on the box are not in the movie. Nevertheless, David and Blanco make good nemeses for each other - they both openly proclaim that they hate wimps.

Blanco looks like an overweight Hal Linden and clearly he's the ultimate villain for the grumpy grandpa to face off against.

According to the imdb, Cox had a small role in North by Northwest (1959). It's fascinating to think that not only does his career stretch back that far, but as an actor one minute you're working with Hitchcock, and in the blink of an eye you're starring in an AIP movie with practically no budget, pacing issues, amateurish technical qualities and muddy audio and filled with non-professional actors. Of course, for us that's all part of the fun and not at all a bad thing. Director Roger Zahr got his movie into stores and that's extremely impressive. About as extreme as the vengeance, you might say.

A highlight of the film is the main theme song, "Restless" by Andy. Just Andy. It's a catchy synth-pop ditty that follows David around as he does all the important things: arriving at Burbank airport, picking up his luggage, hunting for badguys in the strip mall with Dr. Deli, etc. Once heard, never forgotten.

Writer/director Zahr is indeed multi-talented. He also worked on the film's soundtrack, including the synths and, according to the credits, "percution". We assume they mean "percussion". As we always say, when your movie credits feature spelling errors, you know you're in for cinematic gold. Or at least an experience that is very much unlike most others and well out of the mainstream. That's what makes Extreme Vengeance and others like it so enjoyable to watch, and so fascinating: they're not just time capsules, they seem to have come from another world entirely. 

If that sounds good to you, then Extreme Vengeance will float your boat.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Dark Rider (1991)

Dark Rider
(1991)- * * *

Directed by: Bob Ivy

Starring: Joe Estevez, Doug Shanklin, David 'Shark' Fralick, Holly Floria, Alica Anne, Terry Brown, Larry Goodhue, and Cloyde Howard

Jim Wilson (Shanklin) is the Sheriff of the small town of Desert Springs, Nevada. The sleepy ol' burg gets a wake up call when Mayor Bradford (Howard) excitedly runs into Wilson's office, proclaiming that a new highway is going to begin construction that passes through Desert Springs. Because of this, Bradford sees hotels and casinos in his future. He wants it to be the new Las Vegas.

Unfortunately, this brings in a criminal element in the form of Anthony Sandini (Estevez) and his goons such as Joey (Fralick). Sandini is a ruthless baddie who is forcing all the locals to sell their businesses to him. If they refuse, he uses force. Meanwhile, Sheriff Wilson's wife Lisa (Anne) informs him that her sister Dani (Floria) is coming to stay with them for a while. When Sandini and his underlings don't get their way, they kidnap Dani.

That was the last straw for Wilson who quickly changes into his black leather Revenge Outfit, becomes a crusading superhero known as The Dark Rider, and proceeds to dispense justice. But will even Wilson run into the brick wall of bureaucracy when he meets a fed named Borgman (Goodhue) who informs him of the conspiracy that goes all the way to the top involving the town's water supply? Now with his hands full with many different problems and issues, will THE DARK RIDER be victorious?

Dark Rider begins with a bunch of yahoos in a car, having a discussion about how the sheriff of Desert Springs - who they have yet to meet - is rumored to be a "badass". They soon run into Shanklin (in his final credited film appearance) as Wilson, who has quite interesting helmet hair that's blonde on top but brown on the sides. He has the star and six-shooter of the sheriffs of yore and looks vaguely like Martin Kove. He makes short work of the yahoos.

When the sinister Sandini comes to town, we see he is ruining smalltown America by running down mulleted shop clerks with his car. Wilson has met his match with Sandini. He's not dealing with garden variety yahoos anymore. We also get a cinematic first with "Sandini Vision". Among the good guys standing up to Sandini is the likable Tommy Johnson (Brown). Brown really gives it his all and he wins the audience over.

The first half of Dark Rider is markedly more entertaining than the second half, as you may have been able to gather from the above description. Even after the appearance of the Dark Rider character - who, hilariously, no one realizes is Wilson despite the fact that he's the only lawman in town and the personal nature of his revenge, not to mention they're never seen together at the same time - we still missed the down-home, small town feel of the first half. Much like the Dark Rider's motorbike, the film starts to spin its wheels towards the end. If this had been 80 minutes, it could've been a new classic. At a seemingly-reasonable 94 minutes, it does tend to drag a bit.

As the main baddie, Joe Estevez gets a nice, meaty role. He's not in the background or in a room staring at computer screens. It's solid Estevez. Mayor Bradford, who resembles Richard Mulligan, also puts in a Terry Brown-like performance. He's very animated. A movie highlight occurs when he writes a note to Sheriff Wilson and spells "Sheriff" wrong.

So with Shanklin, Estevez, Fralick, Terry Brown, the two ladies - including the Christina Applegate-esque Dani, who we would have liked to seen more of - all in an AIP production, you can't really lose, and you basically don't. This was the sole writing and directing credit for Bob Ivy, who primarily was a stuntman. This would explain the presence of the great John Stewart, an amazing stuntman and director of Action U.S.A. (1989) and Cartel (1990).

In the end, Dark Rider is a lot like Fast Gun (1988). If you enjoyed that, check this out too. If it had maintained the momentum it opened with, it may have surpassed Fast Gun. As it stands, Fast Gun may be better overall but Dark Rider has a lot to recommend it as well and is very much worth checking out.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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


Enemy Unseen (1989)


Enemy Unseen
(1989)- * *

Directed by: Elmo De Witt

Starring: Vernon G. Wells, Ken Gampu, Angela O'Neill, Jeff Weston, Michael McCabe, Greg Latter, and Stack Pierce 

"A crocodile is like an elephant. It doesn't forget." – Malanga

When Roxanne Tangent (O'Neill) and Mel Noble (Weston) go to Africa, they think they'll just be camping and partying down. What really happens is Jeff is killed by a tribe that worships crocodiles and Roxanne is held prisoner, presumably to be sacrificed at the appropriate time to the crocodile gods. Her father, a businessman named Gordon Tangent (McCabe), organizes a party of experts to rescue her. Their leader is Steiger (Wells), and his team includes, but is not limited to, Josh (Pierce), Malanga (Gampu), and Pencil (Latter). Along with Gordon, the team of adventurers must traverse the treacherous waterways and jungles of Africa. Every now and again a native will shoot a blow dart at somebody or a crocodile will show up and perhaps chomp them. Will the team save Roxanne? Or will they fall prey to the ENEMY UNSEEN?

According to the Video Hound Movie Guide, "A bickering squad of mercenaries slog through the African jungle to find a girl abducted by crocodile-worshipping natives. Dull Jungle Jim-style adventure notable for the hilariously phony crocs that occasionally clamp onto the characters." Notice the operative word? That would be slog - and they were so close to inventing the phrase that we coined: Jungle Slog.

Enemy Unseen is yet another South African snoozefest along the lines of Vengeance Cops (1971) and Cobra Force (1988). The standard for entertainment in that country must be much lower than in other places.

The movie started out promisingly enough, with a cameo from Jeff Weston of Crime of Crimes (1989) fame, but then they killed him off. At the other end of the spectrum, the end credits song, a catchy AOR gem which we think might be called "Need Somebody", receives no credit, so we don't know who performs the song. Another disappointment. In between those bookends, the best parts of the movie are the croc killings.

While we give Enemy Unseen credit for the fact that the 'enemies' are supposed to be actual crocs and not animated CGI cartoons like on the SyFy channel, there needed to be more croc action. Or any action, really. Even a Predator-inspired "shooting at the forest" scene is way too short.

It was nice to see fan favorite Vernon G. Wells as the good guy for once, so that was a change of pace. Of course, when Tangent first approaches him for the mission, he declines. No one ever just accepts on the first offer. Stack Pierce stands out as well, with his Rambo-esque red headband. There are some decent musical themes on the soundtrack. We're trying to look for the positives here, but it's undeniable that the film drags and is a tried-and-true Africa slog/jungle slog.

While the native with the crocodile headgear was noteworthy, what the movie could have used was a strong, evil bad guy, like a diabolical local king who tells his charges, "no more mistakes!" and sets out to kill our heroes. As it stands, despite its technical competency and a few standout blips, Enemy Unseen is missing a lot that would make it fully entertaining for the viewer.

Over the years, the AIP Home Video VHS has become quite rare, but whatever you do, don't pay high prices for it. It may have a cool cover, but it's not worth it. Don't be fooled. On the other hand, it's not every day you see an end credit like this: "Crocodiles supplied by Kroon Krok (Pty) Ltd." So now we know who to thank for providing the crocodiles. Presumably they supply them for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and other occasions. They were the best part of the movie, after all.

In the end, perhaps this movie should remain "Unseen". Eh, we're just joshin' ya, Enemy Unseen. But really it's not that good. For an AIP pickup with Stack and Vernon, we thought it would be better.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Dirty Games (1989)


Dirty Games (1989)- * *

Directed by: Gray Hofmeyr

Starring: Jan-Michael Vincent, Valentina Vargas and Michael McGovern

Johannes Kepler was an astronomer and mathematician that lived from 1571 to 1630, and was considered a scientific pioneer and genius in his fields of expertise. Kepler West (JMV) isn't quite on that level, but he's close. When Kepler West reconnects with old flame Dr. Nicola Kendra (Vargas) in Africa when they're both invited to check out a new nuclear storage facility, danger follows. Kendra wants revenge on the men who murdered her father, namely an assassin named Von Kleff (McGovern). When it's uncovered that baddies want to blow up the newly-minted facility, Kendra and Kepler snap into action. Well, action may be a bit too strong of a word, but they sure do...something in a race against time before the big blow-up. Can they save the day in an above-board way, or will they have to resort to DIRTY GAMES?

Dirty Games is a pick-up from AIP and not one of their in-house productions. Perhaps when they released films made by others for American distribution, they looked for more serious-minded titles to balance out their homegrown, silly ones. Much like they did for The Second Victory (1987). We're not sure if this is going to make any sense, but imagine a cross between The Killing Machine (AKA Goma-2) (1984) and No Time To Die (1984). In other words, Dirty Games is better than High Explosive (2001) but not quite as good as Danger Zone (1996). Hopefully that wasn't overly confusing, but the best way to describe Dirty Games is by comparison.

Like a lot of other South African movies we've seen, the pace is slow and the tone is bland overall. It's not bad, but it's sort of mediocre. It plays out a lot like a 97-minute episode of Airwolf. There are helicopters in the film and Jan-Michael Vincent has a very similar sunglasses-and-bomber-jacket ensemble to the one he had in that classic show. Except here there's no Dominic Santini to leaven things out with his fatherly good humor. Interestingly, Vincent does not appear at all drunk throughout most of the film's running time, except when he wears shorts. These Party Shorts or "Drunk Shorts" must have been his gateway to a good time had in Africa. Otherwise he seems commendably sober, in keeping with the film's tone.

Keep in mind that the theme of Dirty Games is not nuclear war, but nuclear storage. Perhaps this was the original "Storage War". One of the baddies looks a lot like George Peppard (at least he has similar hair) which reinforces the TV vibe. Overall, though, there should have been more action and JMV should have shot and/or beat up many, many more people. You have to wait a long time for anything in that vein to happen. Yes, he's supposed to be a scientist, but Scott Barnes was a social worker and that didn't stop him from becoming an action hero.

While there are a small handful of cool and/or okay moments, Dirty Games struggles and strains to maintain the viewers' attention. It's not what we'd call a must-watch. It's probably for Jan-Michael or AIP completists only.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty