Posts Tagged ‘shout! factory’

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So, if I were to tell you that there was an action flick released by AIP in 1976 about a female undercover narcotics cop named Jackie Parker who was probably more interested in jet-setting around the globe and getting laid than she was in actually doing her job, but that she kicked ass and took names when she did, in fact, do said job, and by the end of the movie she ends up taking down a huge heroin-smuggling ring following an epic (and well-choreographed) chase scene involving her finding, and subsequently taking off in, a fucking dune buggy she just happens to come across parked, with the keys in it, along a city street in Seattle — and that this film’s main “baddie” is played with relish by the incomparable Cesare Danova, and his head henchman is portrayed by a young William Smith, and that the title character’s main love interest is none other than B. J. McKay himself, Greg Evigan, and that he gets killed with a goddamn harpoon at the conclusion of the only love (okay, sex) scene on offer here — well, you’d probably think this would be something worth seeing, wouldn’t you?

Especially since it would probably feature a good number scenes of our bad-ass heroine baring her ample assets, spouting off one-liners rather than actual dialogue, and generally doing everything you want a leading lady to do in one of these things.

It would be especially cool if the movie in question starred Pam Grier, right? I mean, roles like this are pretty much tailored specifically for her.

And that, friends, is where director Howard Avedis’ (working here under the curious pseudonym of Hikmet Avedis) Scorchy runs into problems, because it stars a well-past-her-prime (to the extent that she ever had such a thing) Connie Stevens instead. And that’s a crying shame.

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It’s not that this movie doesn’t “work,” per se. It sorta does. But it coulda/woulda/shoulda worked so much better. The recap I gave at the outset really does sum things up plot-wise pretty well, and with the right actress at the top of the bill, this definitely had the potential to be, at the very least, something of a minor classic. But Stevens just can’t carry her (surgically enhanced above the waist) weight, and as a result, her squeaky voice, trying-too-hard air of wanna-be “coolness,” and thoroughly unconvincing “horny, but still hard-ass” persona really saddle Scorchy with a pretty heavy anchor around its celluloid neck. And instead of enjoying what we’ve got, we end up feeling sorta bummed out about what we might have been able to have instead.

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Quite clearly, this is a project that was designed from the outset with someone else in mind, and Stevens came aboard when that “someone else” proved unavailable, unwilling, or just too expensive. I keep bringing up Grier,  and why not? Every single scene, ever line, every action in here is custom-made for someone of her talents. But she’s not around. And Stevens, try as she might, just can’t fill the shoes (and dresses, and what have you) that Pam would have positively owned from the word “go” here.

Which isn’t to say she doesn’t try her best, I suppose — it’s just that her best is nowhere near good enough.

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Still, what the hell — Scorchy is still worth a look, even if it’s just one look, and since it’s been issued fairly recently on DVD from Shout! Factory as part of their two-disc “4 Action-Packed Movie Marathon Volume Two” bargain-priced collection, you can now do just that. The remastered full frame transfer looks reasonably sharp and nice, the mono soundtrack serves its purpose just fine, and all in all it’s probably a better-quality release than fans of this movie — assuming such folks do, in fact, actually exist — could ever have hoped for. But it would still look and sound and just plain be a whole lot better with Pam Grier , and that’s a stumbling block that’s just too large for this modest, but competent, effort to ever overcome.

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Are there any movies that you like, well — just because?

That pretty much sums up my view of director Richard T. Heffron’s 1976 effort Trackdown, a pretty standard out-for-revenge flick that certainly doesn’t do anything to distinguish itself from the pack, but doesn’t really do anything wrong, either, and is just well-executed enough — and enough of an obviously- dated product of its time — to make it an enjoyable way to spend just over 90 minutes of your life.

In short, is it anything special? No. But is it probably better than whatever else you were planning on watching tonight? Sure!

The particulars, then : Montana tough guy Jim Calhoun (or, as he’s more commonly referred to here, just “Calhoun” — played by James Mitchum, who for a minute there looked like he might pick up the family mantle from his old man) hits the sleazy streets of L.A. in search of his runaway kid sister, Betsy (Karen Lamm). Of course he gets no help from the cops, so he’s forced to enlist the aid of long-legged Good Samaritan Lynn Strong (Cathy Lee Crosby, a few years before she started ending all of her sentences with “—and that’s incredible!”) and the youthful Latin lover, known by his “street handle” of Chucho (a pre-C.H.I.P.S Erik Estrada), who got the poor hapless country girl into all this trouble in the first place!

And what sort of “trouble” are we talking about here, you may ask? Oh, you know : drugs, prostitution — the usual stuff we’re told all innocent young females who land on Hollywood Boulevard end up in. If you must know the running order of indignities, here goes : Chucho engineers a set-up whereby his buddies rip off Betsy’s  suitcase,then proceeds to fall in love with her over the course of an afternoon,  but that evening his buddies come back and take her from him, gang rape her,  pump her full of “downers,” actually fucking sell her to a purveyor  of carnal pleasures for the well-to-do-crowd  named Johnny Dee (Vince Cannon, hamming it up in a deliciously sleazy role) when his main squeeze (played by Anne Archer) takes a shine to the drugged-out damsel, and the poor kid finally winds  up dead when an asshole john her newfound “friends” fix her up with decides to get a little too rough with her.

Of course, big bro doesn’t know she’s dead while he’s out kicking ass and taking names, but once he finds out — all bets are off. Not that he was exactly playing “Mr. Nice Guy” to begin with.

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So — hey, like I said, not much to complain about here. A pretty solid cast, some above-average stunt work, a reasonably involving (if a bit by-the-numbers) story, and some fun vintage (now, at any rate — it wasn’t at the time) Hollywood Boulevard location work all combine to make Trackdown a more enjoyable ride than any film with a couple of original songs by Kenny fucking Rogers probably deserves to be. A thoroughly satisfying conclusion that doesn’t linger too long on any pesky questions about the morality of revenge, or portray Calhoun’s ultimate “victory” as somehow being a hollow one, caps things off nicely, as well — after all, Heffron and company didn’t bother to make you think at any point up until the end, so why start in on that shit late in the game?

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If this sounds like solid DVD bargain-pack material, the good news is that, thanks to Shout! Factory, that’s exactly what it is, since they’ve just included it (along with BulletproofBamboo Gods & Iron Men, and Scorchy) on their two-disc 4 Action Packed Movie Marathon Volume Two double-disc set. There are no extras to speak of, the widescreen picture transfer looks pretty crummy (half the time you can’t tell what the heck is happening in the night-shoot scenes, the blackness is so impenetrable), and the mono soundtrack is merely adequate, but you’re able to make out what’s going on well enough to pump your fist in the air when Calhoun starts getting his pound of flesh, and that’s what movies like this are all about, right? At under ten bucks, the collection gives great value, even if we’re not exactly talking about great cinema here.

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Sometimes “good enough” is precisely that — good enough. If you’re in a mood where that’ll do quite nicely, thank you, then you could do a lot worse than Trackdown. It’s a notch above “merely competent,” but several notches below “memorable.” It effortlessly occupies that nice middle ground of serving up something that lets you shut your brain off and just go with the flow. Sure, you’ve seen all of this done before, and all of it done better — but you’ve seen it done worse, too.Nobody involved with this has anything to be ashamed of as far as their work here goes, nor do they have anything to be tremendously proud  of, either.

Shit, I didn’t want to make this sound like any given day at the typical American office, but doesn’t it, though?

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I know, I know — yesterday I said I was done with “motion comics,” cold turkey. It was over. Finished. No looking back. I’d had my fill and generally walked away feeling pretty let down by most of them.

So what do I do? I sit down last night and watch Shout! Factory’s 2011 Marvel Knights Animation release (again, DVD-only as far as I’m aware) Thor & Loki : Blood Brothers, adapted from writer Robert Rodi and artist Esad Ribic’s highly-popular late-’90s four-part Loki miniseries (it was re-titled upon release in both collected form and on DVD in order to cash in on the hype then surrounding the pre-release of Kenneth Branagh’s highly-anticipated, big-budget Thor movie). My expectations weren’t high, having been worn down by a steady diet of lackluster stuff over the past few nights, culminating in the really rather atrocious Spider-Woman, Agent Of S.W.O.R.D. But hey, my wife was at work, there was nothing on TV, I was feeling too lazy to read, and the unique occult combination of all these factors led me to give in and give this thing a go.

And boy, am I glad I did, because Thor & Loki : Blood Brothers is everything you could ask for in a “motion comic” and then some.

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First off, the story’s simple, yet highly effective and tremendously involving : Loki, lord of mischief and misrule, gets his wish and finally takes over the mystical kingdom of Asgard. He defeats his brother, Thor, and lays waste to all that his mightier and more famous sibling holds dear. He holds the iron fist of power over all those who previously shunned him. and settles scores with both his families, natural and adoptive. He’s in charge. He’s The Man. Things are definitely looking good for the guy in the golden horned helmet.

And yet — he’s vaguely dissatisfied. He can’t bring himself to just be rid of Thor once and for all and finds that he still needs the love/hate relationship they’ve fostered over the centuries to serve as his primary motivating force in life. Hell, one even gets the sense that he’s done all this conquering and what have you just to impress the more legendary and heroic member of his family. And that love and acceptance he’s longed for his whole life? It still ain’t comin’. Thor still feels nothing but a strange mix of pity and anger toward this black sheep of his family.

And it’s in that emotional complexity — that exploration of why these two disparate figures fear and despise, but also love and even need each other, that Thor & Loki : Blood Brothers shines as a piece of psychologically compelling modern comics storytelling. This is a tale of ageless gods with powers beyond comprehension that somehow all of us mere mortals can still relate to. My heartiest congratulations, Mr. Rodi, on a job very well done.

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But hey, “motion comics” are still comics (at least of a sort), right? So all that high-fallutin’ story stuff doesn’t matter a whit (well, okay, it still matters, but not as much) if the art sucks. Fortunately, Esad Ribic’s highly-stylized, exquisitely-detailed renderings are flat-out awesome, and Shout! Factory does a superb job breathing life into them via the use of complex, highly-intricate 3-D computer animation techniques that do more than just provide “motion,” they also breathe additional life and depth (both genuine and metaphorical) into the art and draw the reader into the physically and emotionally cold world of Loki’s Asgard by dint of their expressive power and sheer ingenuity. In other words, this is one awesomely cool film to look at.

Continuing down the technical rabbit hole, the disc also features a pristine widescreen image, well-realized and nicely-mixed 5.1 sound, two superb “making-of” featurettes (one concentrating on the creation of the original comic, the other on its translation into this new format), and some trailers for other titles in this series that by and large make them look better than they really are. The main feature itself may clock in at only 74 minutes, but this is definitely a package that gives you value for dollar.

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So I guess when it comes to “motion comics,” I’m feeling a bit like Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part III : “just when I thought I was out — they pull me back in!!!!!!!!!!!!” But for the time being, at least, I’m damn glad to be back. Thor & Loki : Blood Brothers is a darkly majestic work that balances its contradictory-on-their-surface epic and intimate themes with grace, precision, care, and a heck of a lot of style. It’s this reviewer’s opinion that it represents the apex of achievement in the still-nascent field of “motion comics” to date. It’s compelling, chilling, accessible, gorgeous, complex, and even breathtaking at times.

It gave me a much softer and more pleasant landing than I probably deserved for falling off the “motion comics” wagon so quickly. And you ,dear reader, should see it immediately.

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Try as I might, I just can’t seem to quit crack. I know, I know — I’m trapped in a dead-end spiral, chasing after that first initial rush of euphoric coolness over and over again, but these days it almost never equals the highs of that introductory experience, and even if it does the feeling fades pretty quickly and I’m just left wanting more than it seems capable of delivering. Plus, if I’m honest, the first time wasn’t even that great. It just seemed like it would be, and I’m stuck forever pursuing a promise of bliss that was never delivered upon, hoping against hope that each next “score” will be The One. The Ultimate. The Best.

Whoops, did I say crack? I meant “motion comics.”  But hey — the same sentiments apply.

Still, I think I’ve finally found the one that will help me kick the habit for good, and for that I’m grateful. It’s not that 2009’s Spider-Woman, Agent Of S.W.O.R.D (so titled in official parlance even though it appears to be exactly the reverse on the DVD cover packaging)., part of Shout! Factory’s “Marvel Knights Animation” line.  left me feeling so awesomely elated that I know it can never be equaled, much less topped. Quite the reverse. It was such a complete waste of time that it may — at least should — be enough to sour me on the whole notion of “motion comics” for good.

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Which is kind of a shame, really, since this does have some things going for it. First off, it’s the first original  “motion comic,” with the DVD (again, no Blu-Ray exists for this that I’m aware of, not that it particularly matters) coming out in advance of its printed-copy counterpart. Secondly, unlike with many of these things, Shout! Factory has included a pretty generous sampling of extra features with this one, including as 30-minute “making-of ” featurette that looks at the whole “motion comic” concept in general rather than this specific title per se, some reasonably cool promo material for other releases in this series, a brief visual history of the Spider-Woman character throughout the years, and a tangentially-related-to-the-proceedings music video. Granted, a cynic might say that’s the least they can do since the main “feature” runs a paltry 54 minutes, but still — I appreciated it. On the technical front, the widescreen picture and 5.1 sound are both fairly well flawless, and the musical score accompanying the —errmmm — “movie” proper is probably the best I’ve ever heard for one of these releases.

Unfortunately, everything else sucks. It’s not that Alex Maleev’s art is “bad” — in fact it’s pretty good by any standard — but it makes for a lousy “motion comic” because, while it’s quite expressionistic and noir-ish, it’s pretty static and suggest very little actual, ya know, motion. Also, Shout! Factory has done next to nothing to add any of said element to the mix via their process of what passes for animation, just rotating angles every so often and giving us the occasional panning shot of the scenery here and there. Apart from that, the whole thing plays out more or less like a slide show you could easily title “What I Did During The Alien Invasion.”

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Which brings us to Spider-Woman, Agent Of S.W.O.R.D.‘s biggest problem, and it’s a real doozy — fan-favorite writer Brian Michael Bendis’ script is just a fucking mess. Apparently, Spider-Woman’s civilian identity of private eye Jessica Drew was compromised/impersonated by the shape-changing Skrull Queen during said evil moarch’s last attempt to take over Earth, so our heroine’s got a big beef with these ugly green dopplegangers. Unfortunately, we’re just spoon-fed this knowledge via clumsy “info-dump” dialogue, so unless you’re intimately familiar with the Spider-Woman character’s backstory circa the early-to-mid-2000s, you’re not gonna really identify with the pain, anguish, and rage that Bendis is trying (and largely failing) to imbue her with. Still, given her bad personal history with the space invaders in question, it only makes sense that S.W.O.R.D., apparently a S.H.I.E.L.D.-type organization tasked specifically with fighting off menaces from other worlds, would bring her in (mostly in the capacity of  her aforementioned civilian identity — we actually get to see very little of Ms. Drew in her skin-tight leotard, which is kind of a bummer) when they get word that the Skrulls are giving the whole infiltration of our planet idea another go.

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What makes a little less sense is why the hell Norman Osborn’s privately-funded super-team, the Thunderbolts, show up later (until a fairly limp “explanation” is provided), why the supposed “tension” between the various Skrull-hunting factions seems so forced yet still ends up falling flat, and why Bendis does , by and large, nothing to give any of the various characters much of an individual personality or perspective. Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that different actors and actresses (a collection of no-names who generally do the best they can with such weak material) were delivering the lines, I’d be hard-pressed to tell exactly who in tarnation was talking.

The amazingly uneven length of the various “chapters” doesn’t help matters much (some run 15 minutes, some run five), and all in all you’re left with a story that feels like it was written as a “rush job” in one afternoon and (barely) animated later that night. There’s just no disguising it — Spider-Woman, Agent Of S.W.O.R.D.  feels like a mess from top to bottom because it is a mess from top to bottom.

Yup, I think I can safely rid myself of this whole “motion comics” habit cold turkey.

At least until tomorrow.

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Maybe I’m just showing my age here, but the fact that we now seem to be entering into a phase where Marvel’s short-lived, ostensibly “mature” “Marvel Knights” imprint is looked back on with some sort of warm, nostalgic glow surprises me a bit. Not because the books that comprised the line were lousy (although some of them were), but because, well — it just doesn’t seem like they came out all that long ago.

Of course, for Marvel and their new corporate parent, Disney, it may as well have been a lifetime ago, as the current situation at the self-appointed “House Of Ideas” bears almost no resemblance whatsoever to the circumstances that prevailed back in the late 90s/early 2000s, when most of the “Knights” titles were released. Back then, Marvel was  just emerging from a richly-deserved bankruptcy and looking for any sort of toehold to remain relevant in the comics market. In short, they were throwing a lot of shit at the wall to see what would stick. Today, they’re primarily an instant-blockbuster-producing movie studio that keeps one finger in the comic pie just in case some hot new IP turns up there that they can screw its gullible, 25-year-old creators out of, but by and large there’s not much new happening on that front and they’re just continuing to strip-mine the wealth of characters and concepts created by Jack Kirby (like those we’re here to talk about today, The Inhumans — which were supposedly the brainchild of both Jack and Stan Lee, but you know who really did all the work and who filled in the largely-written-in-advance-by-the-artists word balloons) back in the 1960s for all they’re worth. “Marvel Knights” gave way to the so-called “Ultimate Universe,” which has in turn given way to “Marvel Now!,” but no matter how many times they re-launch and re-brand their line, the game remains the same — throw a slew of new “first issues” out there, wait a few years until sales numbers drop back to their previous levels, then reload and do it all over again.

Still, once in awhile a genuinely good comic does manage to sneak under the metaphorical lines set up by Marvel’s editorial department, and in 1998-99 writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee delivered one such product with their 12-issue Inhumans mini-series (note that I said “good,” not “great,” because this is a work that really does have some serious flaws, most noticeable of which is its full-time sullen attitude), which has now been semi-animated into the so-called “motion comics” format by Shout! Factory and released on DVD (although not, apparently, Blu-Ray, not that it would make much difference with a product of this nature) as part of their “Marvel Knights Animation” series. Even though it’s not, strictly, speaking, fully animated. But I digress.

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For those unfamiliar with the characters, which were developed as a race of super-being foils to occasionally interact ,as either friends and foes depending on the situation, with the Fantastic Four (although Kirby always had plans to  put them in a book of their own that he was going to write and draw, and those pipe dreams were scuttled at every turn), The Inhumans are a race of genetic mutations who all exhibit very unique and different powers and who live in isolation from the rest of humanity in their domed (and apparently mobile, as it’s managed to shuffle around to a lot of spots over the years, including an extended stay on the moon) city of Attilan. They’re led by their all-powerful king, Black Bolt, who remains silent by choice because one word from his mouth can literally destroy, apparently, all of creation, and he is, in turn, joined at the top of their society’s feudal power pyramid by his wife, Medusa, who has long, flowing manes of super-hair that move around of their own volition (typically used to snare bad guys, naturally); her sister, Crystal, who I think is some sort of telepath or other; an aloof “deep-thinker” type named Karnak, who serves as royal adviser; top military commander/general bad-ass Gorgon; a green, amphibious Merman named Triton; and Lockjaw, the royal family’s gigantic St. Bernard who’s gifted with the power of teleportation. Really.

Generally a fun and admittedly hokey bunch of cool Kirby characters, Jenkins’ script takes things in a considerably darker direction that exposes the ugly genetic caste system that prevails in Attilan (apparently at puberty all “gifted” teens are exposed to something called the Terrigen Mists, which function as something of a high-tech cocoon, unlocking and  enhancing their mutations and turning them into “new and improved” beings that are completely unrecognizable when compared to their “former” selves once they come out the other end, and those who turn out ugly or end up being endowed with abilities deemed rather limp by the more powerful and beautiful are immediately shunned) on the one hand  while testing the royal family’s leadership abilities on a couple of fronts, both from the “have-nots” within their own society who are burning with the fires of rebellion,  and from  the humans outside their dome who are shelling Attilan with every type of ordnance they’ve got, on the other. Both situations have been engineered, and are being manipulated by, Black Bolt’s evil brother, Maximus, who has designs on the throne he believes to rightly be his, but at his society’s hour of greatest peril, the king seems to be suffering from — how ’bout this — some sort of mid-life crisis. Which is kinda strange since it’s strongly hinted that he might very well be immortal, but there you have it.

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Jae Lee’s art is pretty cool in an angular, stylized sort of way — at this stage in his career he hadn’t yet developed the unbearably stiff and lifeless look that he employs today  and he wasn’t yet too lazy to draw backgrounds — and makes the transition to barely-animated form well, but the paucity of dialogue in Jenkins’ for-the-most-part-pretty-interesting script results in a choppy viewing experience, with most of the story’s 12 “chapters” running no more than 10 or 12 minutes before  we have to sit through the next set of closing-followed-by-opening credits all over again. The whole thing is barely over two hours long, so why they felt the need to segment it like this simply in order to strictly adhere to the comic’s format consisting of 12 separate issues is beyond me.

On the plus side, Shout! Factory has employed several different actors —of both genders — to voice the different parts (none of whom you’ve ever heard of, trust me, but that doesn’t matter much and most do a perfectly serviceable job), so unlike the Watchmen motion comic we took a look at on these virtual pages yesterday, you’re not stuck with one guy voicing every single character, even the women. This was released just this year while Watchmen was translated into “motion” almost five years ago, so I guess things have progressed somewhat. The widescreen picture and 5.1 sound are both terrific, as well, but be forewarned — turn your volume down about eight notches from its usual setting, because the sound levels on this thing are loud as fuck.

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The package is rounded off with a pretty solid little 30-minute “making of” featurette that splits its attention between Paul Jenkins talking about this series specifically and Marvel head honcho Joe Quesada talking about the inception of the entire “Knights” line in more general terms, but relevant  and interesting as this is, it’s admittedly not something that anything other than hard-core comics fans will probably find very involving. Which is fine, I guess, since hard-core fans are obviously the only people that are going to bother with the whole notion of “motion comics” in the first place. All in all, it’s fair to say that the same final verdict applies to Inhumans as it does to all these things — if you liked the book, you’ll like this fine, despite some hiccups in the translation to a new format, but you certainly don’t need to watch it — and if you’re unfamiliar with the so-called “source material,” then the — let’s face it — pointlessness of essentially shuffling the comic panels in a slide show in front of your face, while the story is read  aloud, is only amplified and echoed.

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What is it with Roger Corman and fishing villages, anyway? I swear to God he just loves to fuck with these places in his productions. Okay, yeah, for Humanoids From The Deep the setting made sense, given that it was a flick about horny killer sea creatures and all that, but for a movie about giant bloodthirsty mutant cockroaches — I dunno, wouldn’t New York or someplace have made more sense?

Still, sending a film crew out to New York or some other major metropolis known for its large and aggressive roach population would cost money, I suppose, and money is something our guy Roger would rather make than spend, so when it came time to roll the cameras for the film under our metaphorical microscope today, 1988’s The Nest, he packed up all the folks and equipment he’d need to do the job from his Venice, California lumberyard-turned-studio/offices, sent them upstate under the watchful eye of firs-time director (and co-screenwriter of The Howling, along with John Sayles) Terence H. Winkless, and told ’em all to come back with something he could do one of his typical late-’80s “yeah, we’ll release it to a few theaters right here in the neighborhood but home video is where most of the action for this one is gonna be found” numbers on.

To his credit, Winkless put together a pretty solid cast for this one — Franc Luz stars as local sheriff Richard Tarbell, who’s in charge of putting the mutant roach infestation plaguing his sleepy seaside community down ; Lisa Langlois plays Elizabeth Johnson, his former (and perhaps future) love interest , who comes back to town at the worst possible time;  Robert Lansing turns up as her possibly-corrupt father, who just so happens to be the mayor; Terri Treas is tasked with the role of Dr. Morgan Hubbard, a mad scientist working for the dastardly (or at least amoral) INTEC corporation who has overseen the creation of these flesh-eating monstrosities herself; and Stephen Davies is on hand as poor, hapless Homer, the hard-working local pest exterminator who discovers the problem first but who, of course, no one else listens to until it’s far too late.

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The real stars here, though, are the special effects guys (and possibly gals) — especially once the roaches take on the ability to mimic the characteristics of whatever they eat (via means of some DNA transference process that’s never suitably explained but doesn’t really matter, anyway). The final 30-or-so-minutes of The Nest are an absolute make-up and prosthetics tour de force, and a case study in why “real” effects work — even of the low-budget variety — will always trump CGI (not that they had much of that back in ’88, but whatever). The human/roach hybrid creatures are absolutely, gruesomely spectacular — even if they never actually mount any nubile young bra-and-panty-clad women as shown in the poster (although there is a decent amount of nudity and near-nudity on hand here, so you can relax on that score).

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So yeah — the creature effects are definitely the “cake” as far as things go here, but there’s some pretty decent “icing,” too,  in the form of some — believe it or not — genuinely involving character drama, nicely-shot exteriors and interiors that give the proceedings a real sense of place, and even a pleasingly fair amount of actual suspense thrown in for good measure. All in all, this is a much better film not only than you’d think going in, but probably than we’ve got any right to expect given the people, and the budget, behind it.

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The Nest is available from Shout! Factory’s horror-centric Scream Factory imprint as  a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack that is, curiously enough, not labeled as part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line for whatever reason. Both discs feature a crisp and clean anamorphic widescreen picture with mono sound (with the Blu-Ray in this case both looking and sounding considerably better) and a feature-length commentary track from director Winkless. There are no other extras to speak of, which is kind of a bummer, but doesn’t detract too terribly much from a movie that any fan of the kind of shit we usually talk about around these parts will be proud to have on their shelves. Sit back with a  full can of Raid handy and enjoy.

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Give Survivor credit — they only had one hit (at least that I can remember), but they sure did milk it for everything it was worth. For a good few years there, “Eye Of The Tiger” was absolutely everywhere, wasn’t it? Rocky III was only the beginning — the song went on to appear in countless commercials, it was on the radio all the fucking time (peaking at number one on the Billboard charts, where it remained for a good couple of months), and in 1986 it even got itself a movie written around it a la Convoy and Take This Job And Shove It —a jaunty little Death Wish/Walking Tall -style revenge number starring Gary Busey and directed by Richard C. Sarafian of Vanishing Point fame.

That’s a pretty solid record of accomplishment for a song that, let’s face it, sucked. But we’re not really here to talk about the song, are we? So let’s get down to bid’ness.

Tough-ass-but-kind-hearted Viet Nam vet Buck Matthews (Busey, in fine form here as you’d probably expect), having just done a nickel upstate for justifiably killing a man in self-defense, returns to his hometown only to find it overrun by a sadistic motor cycle gang that is cooking up crack on the outskirts of town. His parole officer, the local sheriff who sent him away on his bogus beef in the first place (Seymour Cassel),  just so happens to be on the take from the gang’s leader, one OTT hard mofo who goes by the handle of Blade (William Smith, veteran of pretty much every AIP biker exploitation flick), so even though Buck’s seething with rage at the injustices happening to his townsfolk on a daily basis, he’s gotta keep himself outta trouble. Still, when he “steps out of line” by saving a young damsel from being raped by a rowdy n’ randy handful of Blade’s men, the psycho bikers and their kept cop figure it’s time to teach ol’ Buck a lesson.

You can guess the rest, I’m sure — they bust into his house, kill his wife, traumatize the shit out of his daughter, and Buck swears to bring ’em all down. He’s gotta get some help, of course, and fortunately “good cop” J.B. Deveraux (the legendary-for-good-reason Yaphet Kotto) is willing to lend a hand in bringing down his boss and the “wild riders” who pay him to not only look the other way, but provide them with protection and even chip in with their law-breaking when necessary.

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Still, two against dozens is a pretty uneven fight, but before you go and figure that mathematics isn’t exactly one of Eye Of The Tiger‘s strong suits, rest assured — Buck’s former cellmate, a Miami drug kingpin, is willing to help the fellas out by providing all the heavy-duty ordnance they could ever possibly need, and while you might be tempted to scratch your head over not only the morality but the logic of utilizing the ill-gotten gains of a massive drug-running organization to bring down a much-smaller-time drug-running organization, rest assured that the ensuing mayhem — which includes piano-wire biker decapitations and burying a bad guy’s head in a pile of cocaine — will entertain you so much that you won’t be worrying about such pesky little details.

On the plus side, this is a well-done, stereotypical blue-collar revenge flick with some terrifically-shot-and-paced action sequences, fun cardboard characterization (Buck’s impassioned speech about his days in ‘Nam delivered at a bingo hall is a personal favorite moment), and plenty of kick-ass murder and general violence. The actors are all having an obvious blast delivering their corny-as-shit lines and Sarafian does a great job of keeping the proceedings light while obviously still being concerned about delivering a quality product.

On the minus side, the theme song is played over and over again incessantly. But what the hell — you made it through 1983 and 1984, when you couldn’t even get through a day without hearing snippets of it at least a dozen times even entirely by accident, so you can sure as shit do the same thing here. Eventually it just kind of harmlessly blends into the background of the film, just as it kind of  harmlessly blended into the background of life itself for awhile there.

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Eye Of The Tiger is available on DVD a couple of different ways — either as a stand-alone release from MGM that features a nicely-remastered widescreen picture and mono sound with no extras or, better yet, as part of Shout! Factory’s “4 Action-Packed Movie Marathon” two-disc set that just came out last week. B-Movie fans are all over this one (even though it’s also a bare-bones release with the same picture and sound specs) for a couple of reasons, one being that it retails for under ten bucks, the other being that it finally marks the long-awaited release of Exterminator 2 in a post-VHS format. Needless to say, buy this now or you’re an idiot.

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I suppose at this point that you might be thinking to yourself — quite understandably — that this flick essentially sounds like Death Wish 3 on steroids, and you know what? You’re exactly right. That might sound kinda unoriginal and hackneyed to the sophisticated cineastes of the world, but to me it sounds like a recipe for guaranteed awesomeness.

You got a problem with that?

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Some movies just have a — well, a reputation, you know? Sometimes those reputations are well-deserved, sometimes they’re not. And then there are flicks like Roger Corman’s 1980 production Humanoids From The Deep, released in a (very) slightly longer cut in certain overseas markets under the admittedly more lackluster title of Monster. This is one of those films that actually seems to have more than one reputation — depending on who you ask, it’s either a deeply misogynistic, mean-spirited little piece of business that positively oozes a perverse anti-female resentment from start to finish, or it’s a bit of stupid, harmless, campy fun. If you want my opinion (I assume that’s why you’re reading this), I think , strange as it may sound, that both views are correct. I’ll get back to this in a moment.

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For now, though, let’s focus on what’s absolutely not debatable here  — the plot’s “scientific” underpinning makes about as much sense as you’ve come to expect from anything with the Roger Corman name attached to it. Consider : a sleepy northern California (I think, at any rate) fishing town is considering adding a cannery to boost the moribund local economy. In fact, the cannery company’s already set up preliminary operations in the area, but of course  there’s a potentially lethal secret they’re not letting the good-hearted townsfolk in on : cannery boss Hank Slattery (Vic Morrow, just a couple years away from dying for his art courtesy of Steven Spielberg) has hired a fetching young geneticist named Dr. Susan Drake (Ann Turkel) to play Frankenstein with the local salmon population in order to get them to reproduce in even greater numbers. Seems like a good plan to insure a steady stream of profits, right? The problem is, some unnamed “predator fish” that feeds on the salmon has begun to mutate after getting a taste of their newly-gene-spliced prey. They’ve grown arms, legs, learned to walk upright, and they’re headed upstream — and even on shore — to spawn.

So yeah — as with any flick of this nature, more or less complete and total suspension of disbelief is required from the outset here. “What if we made the Creature From The Black Lagoon horny?” seems to be the operative idea at the heart of this project, the script was just pieced together to facilitate the central plot contrivance. I kind of admire that, but then I would because if movies like that didn’t exist I wouldn’t have much to write about around here.

In any case, local semi-tough-guy Jim Hill (Doug McClure) takes it upon himself to get to the heart of the matter when a steady stream of his  little oceanside community’s youthful perhaps-virgins starts getting raped by these muck-monsters from the depths (well, three muck-monsters from the depths, to be precise — only one of which actually fully functioned, the other two rubber-suit contraptions being of limited mobility at best), but Jim’s a lone voice in Idiotsville, and the town fathers decide to go ahead and hold their annual Salmon Festival anyway. And that, dear readers, is when the shit really hits the fan (insert obligatory “of course” at this point).

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If one solitary monster-rape scene in Corman’s Galaxy Of Terror just wasn’t enough for ya, rest assured — Humanoids From The Deep has you covered (in slime and seaweed, no less). This really is a movie that positively revels in baring barely-legal female flesh and then sullying it at every turn. Our guy Roger employed one of his favorite criticism-deflecting tricks here, namely hiring a woman more or less right outta film school (Barbara Peeters) to direct the thing, but she took a pass on shooting several of the script’s more lurid scenes and has maintained a healthy distance from the finished product ever since, despite her name being on it.

In fairness to Peeters. I can’t say as I blame her given that this is a work that, if taken seriously, could set back the cause of female self-actualization and empowerment by decades at a minimum, but the key phrase there is, as you’d expect, if taken seriously. Fortunately for Humanoids From The Deep, it doesn’t go out of its own way to ever encourage us to do so. Sure, there are some actually surprisingly effective, even eerie, shots interspersed here and there, but at the end of the day we’re still talking about a flick where the “Salmon Queen” gets her top ripped off by a guy in a rubber sea-monster suit. You can give this work a political reading if you so wish — me, I have a soft spot for any story that portrays big out-of-town corporations as being soulless, evil bastards because, well, they are —but honestly this isn’t out to spread a message or reinforce and/or change any particular attitudes vis a vis the fairer sex. And that, perhaps somewhat perversely (apropos considering this movie positively reeks of perversion), might just be the most genuinely disturbing thing about it — this is a film that’s determined to present rape and misogyny as being all in good fun. Needless to say, they don’t make ’em like this anymore! Whether that’s a good or bad thing I leave entirely up to you to decide.

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The creatures themselves, obvious (and aforementioned) flaws aside, really aren’t too bad, and it’s pretty easy to see why Rob Bottin’s design and effects work here got him noticed (he went on to receive a few Oscar nominations for work that actually had a budget). In addition, composer James Horner, who became James Cameron’s regular soundtrack guy, contributes a surprisingly effective, at times even haunting, score. As with any Corman production, part of the fun is in spotting now-familiar names in the credits and feasting your eyes (and, in this case, ears) on their early work. All in all, the whole enterprise radiates a bit more professionalism than we might realistically expect — but it still is what it is.

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And that’s the tricky part, isn’t it? Determining what this thing is, exactly. On the whole I think my initial summation holds up pretty well — it’s a dark, misogynistic, downright anti-women film that doesn’t take itself too damn seriously. That might sound like a hopelessly incongruous mess, and I suppose it is, but ya know, somehow it all works — even if it shouldn’t. Or doesn’t deserve to.

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Humanoids From The Deep is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Shout! Factory as part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series. The widescreen high-def transfer of the uncut international Monster version of the film looks incredible, the remastered mono sound is generally pretty effective, and there are extras aplenty including a selection of never-before-seen deleted scenes;  the requisite theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots; an on-camera interview with Corman hosted by Leonard Maltin; a smattering of trailers for other titles in the series; and a genuinely quite interesting “making-of” featurette that doesn’t shy away from the controversy surrounding this film in the least. A commentary would have been nice, I suppose, but given that Peeters won’t go near this thing with a ten-foot pole I can certainly understand why there isn’t one included. As with pretty much any and every title in this line, it’s a very impressive package all told.

If you want to be offended, this is a movie that certainly gives you every reason to be — and if you don’t want to be offended, it just might do it to ya anyway. But whether you walk away from Humanoids From The Deep incensed, flabbergasted, or just plain bewildered, there’s no doubt that this is a movie that absolutely lives up to its reputation.

Both of its reputations, in fact.

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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, it’s probably safe to say that David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is one of your favorite films of all time. You probably watch it several times a year and can recite lines from it by heart the way most people — well, okay, some people — can with Star Wars. It really is just that fucking good, isn’t it? I mean, when I think of a movie that I can never get bored of, and that I’m sure to pick up something new from every time I watch , I think of Videodrome (and a few others, sure, but that’s beside the point). Anyway, we all agree it’s a great flick, right?

Now — if you’re not a regular reader of this blog, or you are and, somehow,  haven’t seen it, Videodrome is the movie where James Woods plays an amoral cable TV executive who gets hooked on watching a pirated satellite show from (he thinks) southeast Asia that features nothing but torture and punishment. Little does he know the signal’s really coming from Pittsburgh, the broadcast is going out on a frequency that triggers hallucinatory impulses in the mind of the viewer, the people behind it are planning to use Woods and his cable station to essentially take over the world by hooking the populace on the frequency and then ushering in a new age of barabrism,  his girlfriend (played by Blondie lead singer Deborah Harry) is somehow involved in the whole thing (if she’s even real at all), and oh yeah — along the way he grows a vagina in his chest that has a gun hidden inside it, and his TV set grows a mouth and lips and starts breathing.

Okay, okay — there’s a lot more to it than that, but a brief recap is all that’s in order here because this review isn’t about Videodrome at all. There’s a line in it, though, that definitely strikes a chord when it comes to the movie we actually are here to talk about, though — when a TV show sales agent named Masha tries to warn Wood’s Max Renn character away from the whole Videodrome operation, she tells him “it has something which you do not, Max — it has a philosophy. That is what makes it dangerous.”

Which brings to mind the question — what if a filmmaker who had no philosophy decided to make a Videodrome-style movie about evil that emanated from a satellite TV signal? Well, that’s something we needn’t ponder over for too long, because it’s already been done — ladies and gentlemen, I give you 1986’s TerrorVision, a slapstick farce about a mutant trash-eating alien that accidentally gets beamed to Earth, ends up getting nabbed by a wealthy dysfunctional family’s new satellite dish, and ends up coming through their TV set and causing all sorts of mischief.

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What’s all this got to do with my “no philosophy” query, you ask? Easy. Whether you love David Cronenberg, hate him, or are indifferent to him, it’s safe to say that the mind behind not only Videodrome, but seminal works such as ShiversRabidThe BroodThe FlyDead Ringers and A History Of Violence — to name just a few favorites of mine — definitely has a philosophy. And it’s equally safe to say that Charles Band — the  ultra-low-budget producer extraordinaire  behind not only TerrorVision but such films as The AlchemistMetalstorm : The Destruction Of Jared-SynSubspeciesDollmanTrancers, and Puppet Master (again, to name just a few) doesn’t. Unless we’re counting ” get in, get out, try to get it all in one take, and whatever you do come in under budget!” as a “philosophy.” Which, I dunno, maybe it is — in which case Charles Band is one of the most “philosophical” minds Hollywood has ever produced.

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The story’s pretty much as I described it — the well-to-do-but-hopelessly-fucked-up Putterman clan, consisting of swinger parents Stanley (Gerrit Graham) and Raquel (cult icon Mary Woronov), rebellious teenage daughter Suzy (Diane Franklin), “good son” Sherman (Chad Allen),  and their survivalist nutcase/prototype Tea Partier grandpa named, well, Grampa, have one of those hopelessly huge-and-ostentatious early-’80s satellite dishes and they have no clue in the hell how to work the thing. Meanwhile, far off in space, an advanced alien civilization has come up with an innovative method for disposing of its garbage that we probably ought to give serious consideration to here on Earth sometime in the near future — they zap it down into pure energy and beam it off-world. There’s just one hitch in their latest — uhhmmm — “shipment,” though : they accidentally atomized (or whatever) a giant, garbage-eating mutant monstrosity along with the rest of their payload, and the beam he was zapping around the cosmos in got picked up by the Putterman’s dish.

Now, it’s going going to fall on this Ordinary People-on-crack family, together with Suzy’s metalhead boyfriend, O.D. (Jonathan Gries) and a low-rent Elvira knock-off named Medusa (Jennifer Richards, who certainly has the “real” Elvira —errrrmmm — “topped” in one department, if you can believe that) to save the Earth from the monster that came through the TV! Add in the obligatory “hijinx ensue” line and you’ve pretty much got TerrorVision wrapped up in a nutshell.

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Obviously, the only way to play this kind of thing is strictly for laughs (a phrase that’s always made as much sense to me as “this is funny stuff — I’m serious!”), and writer-director Ted Nicolaou — who would go on to helm all three Subspecies flicks for Band’s Full Moon Entertainment — does just that. This is sabsolute, OTT , farcical nonsense of the highest order, mixing equal parts dumbshit humor, fourth-wall-busting pantomime acting, and inventive-on-a-budget creature effects for a finished product that is by no means innovative or distinct, but sure is a lot of good, stupid fun. In fact, if you’re drunk and/ or stoned off your ass, I might even go so far as to say that this movie’s flat-out hilarious —but really, you needn’t be to enjoy it. I watched it sober as a judge last night and had a damn good time, even though I really should (okay, really do) know better.

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TerrorVision was just released on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from Shout! Factory’s new(-ish) Scream Factory imprint, where it’s paired with 1987 cult favorite The Video Dead. The remastered widescreen transfer looks phenomenally good, the sound is 2.0 stereo, and there are lots of special features (at least on the Blu — I can’t speak for the DVD as I haven’t popped that in the player yet), including a nice little “making-of” featurette, a full-length commentary track featuring writer/director Nicolaou and actors Franklin and Gries, and a fairly comprehensive poster and still photo gallery. Scream Factory, as we’re quickly coming to expect, has outdone themselves once again.

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So, then, to take us back to our original question (or at least a convenient-for-the-purposes-of-my-wrap-up variation on it) : is there a philosophy behind TerrorVision? Abso-friggin’-lutely not. And that’s the best thing about it.

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It’s easy enough to forget about now, but the runaway success of Conan The Barbarian actually did something beneficial for the American public as a whole — and no, by that I don’t mean launching the movie career of Ah-nuld that he would eventually parlay into getting himself ensconced in California’s governor’s mansion once he “repented” from his well-documented racist, sexist, sexually-harassing past. Of course, nobody knew about the love child at the time —

No, the altruistic act  Conan unwittingly performed that I’m referring to here is, of course, the fact that it gave (admittedly brief) rise to a bunch of low-budget, generally poorly-executed, often flat-out incomprehensible imitators — most of which were, in the scheme of things, pretty stupid fun. Yes, folks, swords and sandals were back in a big way on the silver screen for a minute or two there, as quick cash-in efforts like The BeastmasterThe Sword And The SorcererKrull, and Yor:The Hunter From The Future all competed for the attention, and dollars, of the less-than-discerning box office customer.

Needless to say, nobody was more determined to wring a few bucks out of this trend than the ever-enterprising Roger Corman, who inundated cinemas (and later video store shelves) with such titles as The Warrior And The SorceressBarbarian QueenBarbarian Queen II, and the four installments of his most successful S n’ S franchise, the venerable Deathstalker series.

In retrospect, it’s fair to say that flicks of this nature are probably well-nigh impossible for a guy like Corman to resist — they could be filmed in foreign locales cheaply, or even in his former-lumber-yard studio; they certainly didn’t require high-priced talent either in front of or behind the camera; the scripts pretty much wrote  themselves; and they’re tailor-made for the short-attention-span crowd he always catered to : make sure you’ve got  a different set of naked boobs to look at every, say, four or five minutes, a fight scene every two or three minutes, and maybe some kinda monster (or vaguely monster-ish) thing maybe every 15 or 20 minutes, and everybody leaves happy.

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In the first Deathstalker film, shot in Argentina by director James Sbardellati in 1983 and released theatrically in February of 1984, Rick Hill (or, as he billed himself at the time, Richard Hill) is the guy at the center of most of the fight scenes, being that he’s been tasked by some blind old witch-lady to reunite the so-called “three powers of creation” — an amulet, a chalice, and a sword that he’s already got, which I guess is why she chose him for the job in the first place. That, and with a name like “Deathstalker” (he’s never referred to by any other handle) she probably figures he can hold his own in any sort of scrape. Time’s running short, though, because if the evil Lord Munkar (Bernard Erhard) gets his hands on all three relics, the whole kingdom’s pretty well fucked. Munkar’s got himself a solid head start on things given that he’s already taken over the castle and imprisoned the realm’s rightful princess, Cordille (former Playboy playmate Barbi Benton) in its dungeon, but he’s also planted the seeds of his own undoing (of course) by hosting a “contest of champions”-type thing for all the warriors in the kingdom, the winner of which will be declared heir to the throne he’s stolen, being that he doesn’t have any kids himself (just a weird giant-worm-with-teeth thing he keeps in a box as a pet).

As for the naked boobs, they’re provided by Benton (as you’d expect),  the late Lana Clarkson, and a bevy of extras willing to bare their assets on camera for a few seconds for probably less than US minimum wage. Clarkson (and, okay, her tits) gets the most screen time as a female warrioress named Kaira who, along with a few other standard-sidekick-types (the cowardly one, the traitor/Judas, etc.) has joined Deathstalker on his quest. She (and, again, they) makes a pretty good impression in this film no doubt, and Corman’s decision to cast her as his tit(pun definitely intended)ular Barbarian Queen a year or so later was an absolute no-brainer, it’s just a crying shame that her acting career sorta stalled out after that, because if she’d been able to find more steady work in her chosen field she’d never have needed to take a bartending gig ,  never would have met a guy named Phil Spector,  and would still be with us today.

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Things more or less  follow the standard pattern of events we’re all used to once Deathstalker and his cohorts arrive at the castle — hell, they were following the standard pattern of events we’re all used to before they even got there — but what the hell, we’re not in this for any surprises, are we? There’s swordfights, nudity aplenty, some half-assed “magical” mutant creatures here and there — like all of these flicks, the actual product is never as cool as the Boris Vallejo poster art, but Deathstalker generally gets the job done provided your expectations are realistically in line with the type of picture you’re seeing in the first place.

On the downside, though, there’s really nothing particularly memorable on offer here, either. It’s probably a better, more coherent movie than, say, The Warrior And The Sorceress, but that had David Carradine at his most stand-offish and unsympathetic and it also had that four-breasted dancing girl. Deathstalker, by contrast, gives us Rick Hill, who’s about as  un-charismatic a leading man as you can possibly imagine, and,  nice as Lana Clarkson’s breasts are, she’s still only got two of ’em.

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What the hell, though, right? There must have been something about this movie that compelled Corman to go ahead and make three sequels to it (each with a different Deathstalker until Hill came back and reclaimed the role in 1991’s fourth — and to date final — installment). The budgets got lower each time, and the last two went straight to video, but the Deathstalker series, like its title character (if not the actors portraying him), was a true survivor for awhile there. In an odd way, the series’ trajectory mirrors that of the average non-unionized (just as these productions were) American worker — maybe never the greatest at its job, but good enough to keep plugging along; nonchalantly accepting of various management and personnel changes; even willing to put up with pay cuts and demotions just to stay employed — until the CEO shuts down the factory for good once it’s not profitable enough .

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Deathstalker is available on DVD from Shout! Factory in the two-disc “Sword And Sorcery” set, part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series. It’s bundled up alongside its immediate successor, Deathstalker II, as well as Barbarian Queen and The Warrior And The Sorceress. The widescreen transfer has been remastered really nicely and the 2.0 stereo sound is unspectacular but certainly sufficient.Extras include the theatrical trailer, a poster and still gallery, and a pretty interesting commentary track featuring producer/director Sbardellati, supporting player Richard Brooker, and special makeup effects legend John Carl Buechler, who cut his teeth on this one before his name became almost as well-known as that of  Tom Savini or Rick Baker. Like a lot of the discs in this series, it’s a pretty impressive package for, let’s be honest, a fairly mediocre film. It’s at least the fun kind of mediocre, though, and let’s be honest — sometimes that’s all any of us are asking for. Or is that just me?