Archive for the Crazy Shit Category

NOBODY Does It Better (Than Most Modern Action Movies)

Posted in Blu-ray, Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, My Heroes, Reviews, Videos on June 13, 2022 by Robert Morgan

It is one of the rarest of occasions, the moment when a special kind of movie comes along – a movie that, until it actually existed, I never realized my life had been missing. Now that it was a reality, a crucial piece of the puzzle known as my soul has been restored to its rightful place and I am one step closer to achieving nirvana.

Nobody is such a movie.

As I write this, several hours have passed since my third session with the first therapist I’ve seen on a regular basis since 1997. I’m also still processing the recent passing of Philip Baker Hall, the legendary character actor who delivered fantastic performances on film (Secret Honor, Hard Eight) and television (Seinfeld) before dying at the age of 90 on June 12. Hall was a favorite of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, who cast the screen veteran as aging professional gambler Sydney in his 1996 breakthrough feature Hard Eight (originally titled Sydney) and three years later as cancer-stricken game show host Jimmy Gator in Magnolia.

Between those two films, Hall made a memorable appearance as ambitious porn financier Floyd Gondolli in Anderson’s sprawling epic Boogie Nights. He had only scene, but it was one of the film’s definitive scenes. During a New Year’s Eve party at the home of adult film director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), Gondolli has arrived to deliver a stark message to Horner about the industry’s future: film was dead, and videotape would soon be the way to go. It’s not the message an intelligent professional with lofty ideals such as Horner wants to hear, and at first he rejects it with barely concealed fury (successfully conveying the first two stages of grief in the process), but Gondolli coolly counters Horner’s skepticism with a masterful sales pitch that all but ensures the hardcore devotee of shooting hardcore on celluloid will soon see the light:

“I’m not a complicated man. I like cinema. In particular, I like to see people fucking on film. But I don’t want to win an Oscar and I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. I like simple pleasures, like butter in my ass and lollipops in my mouth. That’s just me. That’s just something I enjoy.”

Now, you might ask, what does butter in the ass and people fucking on film have to do with a violent action vehicle driven by longtime alt-comedy icon and acclaimed icon Bob Odenkirk? Simple pleasures, ladies and germs. Much like Floyd Gondolli, the Professor Harold Hill of the XXX market, I myself am not a complicated man. Although I have yet to experience the sensation of a churned dairy product in close proximity to my rectum, I do like cinema. You might even say that I love it.

Rarely a day goes by when I don’t watch a movie. Most of the movies I watch are enjoyable in some fashion; it’s rare when I see one that’s so lousy and boring, I treat it like Spartans treat newborn babies with visible birth defects. I’m one of the easiest people in the world to please. Action cinema is one of my longtime loves. The amount of cinematic epics loaded with bullets, bombs, and badasses in my physical media collection easily outnumber the other genres by 4-to-1. That’s being generous. That’s being me. I’m a sucker for a sweet, tasty slice of escapism, and Nobody hits the spot every time.

Bear with me now, because I’m about to write my least favorite part of any review – the synopsis. I only do it for the benefit of the skeptical reader, if anyone actually reads what I write.

When we first meet Odenkirk’s titular suburban schlub Hutch Mansell, he’s living a life that could not be more ordinary if his hobbies included tax form preparation. He works at a metal fabrication plant owned by his father-in-law Eddie (fuckin’ Michael Ironside) and lives in a lovely house in a quiet neighborhood with his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen, who should have shot to stardom on the strength of her performances in The Devil’s Advocate and Gladiator, and the fact that she didn’t is an unforgivable offense), teenage son Blake (Gage Munroe) and younger daughter Abby (Paisley Cadorath).

Hutch is sleepwalking through life until the night when he gets the rudest of awakenings….

Okay, that was all bullshit, and I can do better. After all, I’m not writing the Nobody press kit here. Long story short, thugs break into the Mansell home, Hutch gets pissed because they stole Abby’s kitty cat bracelet, he kicks a bunch of ass on a city bus and kills the little brother of a powerful Russian gangster, and the next thing you know, all-out war with a steadily rising body count ensues.

As it turns out, Hutch used to be a covert government assassin known as an “auditor” who retired to live a normal life, and now he’ll need to summon his particular skill set once more to protect his loved ones and save his ass from Russian retribution.

That’s much better.

The brainchild of John Wick creator Derek Kolstad and Hardcore Henry (a kickass flick I should revisit sometime down the road) director Ilya Naishuller, Nobody takes a well-worn concept and finds surprising new ways to make it fresh again. It’s not a masterpiece of the genre, but it’s damn great entertainment that delivers action, drama, character, and humor with expert precision without once boring the viewer.

We’ve seen the story of a retired assassin forced to return to his old life for matters of the heart before, but not quite like Nobody presents it. Even after Saul Goodman came into his life, it was difficult to picture Odenkirk playing a man who could break bones and wield firearms with the confidence of a cool-headed professional athlete. The featurettes on the Blu-ray release of Nobody show the actor training harder than he ever thought possible to convincingly play Hutch. That hard work pays off in spectacular fashion when our humble everyman working stiff reveals his true colors in the now-classic bus fight scene.

Hutch Mansell isn’t invincible. He can’t get into brawls with guys half his age without earning at least a few bruises for his trouble. It’s refreshing, in this age of superheroes and muscle-bound dude bros knocking down entire armies of faceless henchmen without slipping in their own puddles of baby oil, to have a main character in an action movie take a little damage. Not even the mighty John Wick, who shares a little DNA with our man Hutch no doubt thanks to their mutual creator Kolstad, could make it through one of his franchise’s epic shootouts unscathed.

What Odenkirk brings to the role of Hutch is relatability. Many of us see ourselves in the regular guy known to his family and co-workers, and more than a few of us wish we could come out victorious after a 90-minute assault of violence capped off by a ripper of a car chase soundtracked by Pat Benatar’s 80’s rock classic “Heartbreaker” and a full-scale gun battle at Hutch’s place of employment where he gets some much-needed from his aging father (Christopher Lloyd) and brother/fellow government operative (RZA). The finale is a beautiful parade of mayhem that could go on for a solid hour and I would not complain one bit.

The perfect family.

Kolstad’s script provides the cast without just enough character meat for them to snack on, with Odenkirk and Aleksei Serebryakov getting the most scenery to chew. Serebryakov’s stressed Russkie mobster is often a demented delight, going from singing at his own nightclub to beating up hospitalized goons in a matter of minutes with the same level of energy. It’s always nice to see Michael Ironside, ever the pro as Hutch’s dad-in-law and watching Christopher Lloyd – Doc Brown himself – working a pump-action shotgun in the final bullet-fest is a visual that will linger in my memory forever. Kudos to Kolstad for making Nielsen’s underwritten wife role a little different than usual; when Becca finds out what her hubby has been up to at night as his unsuspecting family sleeps, her reaction might pleasantly surprise you.

The direction by Naishuller is not quite as flashy and chaotic as he displayed in Hardcore Henry, but a dialed-down approach best suits the material and he still brings plenty of energy to the action set-pieces of Nobody while keeping the focus on character and story, as slight as both may be. It’s always nice to be able to follow what’s going on in a fight scene or shootout since most modern action features tend to rely heavily on handheld cinematography and jagged editing that leaves the simplest physical conflict an incomprehensible mess.

Watching Nobody is like eating a meal you’ve enjoyed before but prepared with a few different ingredients. Even though the outcome is ultimately the same as before, you still feel fulfilled. I could watch this movie every week without tiring of it. That’s how good it is. Nobody won’t win any Oscars and it’s not going to reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t have to. It’s one of the simple pleasures that make being a movie fan so much fun, like a glob of Country Crock lubricating the crevices of your anus.

“I’m gonna fuck you up.”

In Need of a Gory Getaway? Plan Your Escape to BLOOD ISLAND Today!

Posted in Blu-ray, Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Independent Cinema, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Reviews, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2022 by Robert Morgan

Six decades ago, a group of Filipino filmmakers and a few English-speaking actors in need of an easy payday birth one of the wildest and bloodiest franchises in the history of exploitation cinema. I am referring, of course, about the infamous “Blood Island” series – a quartet of insane low-budget horror flicks that delivered to audiences around the world a non-stop parade of slime, sex, and slaughter.

The beginning was a little rough.

1959’s Terror Is A Man, a lo-fi riff on H.G. Wells’ classic science fiction novel The Island of Doctor Moreau, sowed the seeds for the monstrous mayhem to come. But the movie itself is an overly talkative affair about a shipwrecked sailor (Richard Derr) whose lifeboat lands on an island in the middle of who-the-hell-knows where scientist Dr. Charles Girard (Francis Lederer) and his wife/assistant Francis (Greta Thyssen) have transformed a panther into a sort of Man Panther (Flory Carlos), or Panther Man if you will.

Nothing much happens for the first hour of Terror outside of Francis falling in love with the sailor and a surgery scene with less blood than a papercut. For that scene, the producers added a warning bell to cue the audience for mondo disturbing stuff about to happen. That bell sounds like a telephone ringing and when I first heard it, I half-expected Girard to shout, “Will someone answer that damn thing already?” By the time Panther Dude finally breaks free from bondage and goes on a very mild rampage in the movie’s last twenty minutes, you may or may not care one bit. The laughable make-up on the misbegotten mutant does not help either.

Terror was co-directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero, with only de Leon getting screen credit, and produced by Kane W. Lynn. During World War II, Lynn was a pilot in the U.S. Navy stationed in the Philippines. Once the war ended, he decided to settle down there, and it was then that he met Romero and the two men became friends and formed Lynn-Romero Productions. Back in the States, Lynn met up with producer Irwin Pizor, and together with Romero they founded Hemisphere Pictures to ensure American distribution for their Filipino projects.

Out of the partnership between Lynn and Romero came several other movies including The Scavengers (which played on a double bill in the U.S. with Terror Is A Man) and The Raiders of Leyte Gulf, the latter a staple of exploitation trailer compilation DVDs. Few of these did well at the box office, compelling the producers to make a return trip to Blood Island in 1968 for Brides of Blood.

After the sleep-inducing Terror, there was nowhere for the series to go but up. Introducing color and upping the ante in terms of sex and violence made Brides a vastly more entertaining movie. It also one of the Blood Island quartet’s most enduring staples – actor John Ashley. At the time he received the offer to star in Brides, Ashley’s marriage to Deborah Walley had ended and he needed immediate escape. He enjoyed the experience of working in the Philippines so much that he stayed on long after the Blood Island series concluded and produced several exploitation movies in the country that saw release in the U.S. through distributors like Dimension Pictures and Roger Corman’s then newly-formed New World Pictures.

Shot for a meager $75,000, Brides found Ashley playing Peace Corps member Jim Farrell, who escorts Dr. Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor, another B-movie veteran) and his wife Carla (Beverly Powers, credited as “Beverly Hills”) to investigate evidence of atomic radiation at the tropical paradise nicknamed “Blood Island” by the fearful natives. There they encounter Esteban Powers (Mario Montenegro), a 50-year-old man who looks half that age, mutated vegetation with life of its own, and a hideous monstrosity who terrorizes the islanders unless it is offered two naked female sacrifices.

Once again, de Leon and Romero co-directed, but Romero was able to minimize his colleague’s artistic intents behind the camera while amping up Terror Is A Man’s few memorable aspects and frosting the finished cake with plenty of fake blood and a plethora of nude women. When Hemisphere released Brides in the U.S., publicity representative Sam Sherman came up with a marketing gimmick that offered a pair of cheap plastic engagement rings to female moviegoers so that they become Brides of Blood themselves. Sherman’s idea to include fake marriage licenses in the ring set was vetoed because of the potential legal nightmare they could create.

A year after the release of Brides, the series hit its peak big time with Mad Doctor of Blood Island, the most entertainingly lurid and trashy of the quartet. Ashley was brought back to play a different character, pathologist Dr. Bill Foster, while voluptuous film and television actress Angelique Pettyjohn supplied the sex appeal. Foster and Pettyjohn’s character Sheila have come to Blood Island for different reasons: the doc is investigating an outbreak among the natives of a chlorophyll disease, while Sheila is hoping to find her estranged father. Their host Dr. Lorca (Ronald Remy) stays mum about mysterious happenings on the island, which includes people bleeding out green before perishing with faces covered in mossy infections. And once again, there is a rampaging monster in the area and this one both bleeds green and randomly murders islanders.

Mad Doctor opens with a prologue, filmed at an Air Force base in Manila, inviting audiences to take part in the “Oath of Green Blood” by drinking “of the Mystic Emerald fluids herein offered” and becoming ravenous for either sex or murder. Packets of green liquid were handed out to paying patrons during the movie’s American release, another Sam Sherman marketing innovation, though one he later claimed made him sick to his stomach when he tried the stuff himself. Following the oath, we get a cold open with a terrified native woman running naked through the jungle before the chlorophyll beast rips her face to shreds. We are clued into the monster’s presence with a series of wild, repeated zoom-ins. This flick wastes no time whatsoever.

The third and best entry in the Blood Island series boasted its best trailer, narrated with frothing, cackling hysteria by the German-born actor, monologist, concentration camp survivor, and frequent David Letterman guest Brother Theodore (The ‘Burbs).

With de Leon opting out of 1970’s Beast of Blood, Romero returned to bring the series to a close. Picking up immediately after the end of Mad Doctor, Ashley returned as the heroic Dr. Foster, the sole survivor after the previous movie’s green-blooded creature murdered the others and destroyed their boat. Months later, he returns to the island (because some people just never learn) with reporter Myra Russell (Celeste Yarnall) and they find the still-alive Dr. Lorca (played this time by Eddie Garcia), now sporting an eyepatch and continuing his diabolical experiments. He also has the monster from Mad Doctor in his lab, its disembodied head kept alive on machines while its body lays strapped to Lorca’s surgical table.

Though it rarely hits the delirious heights of Mad Doctor, Beast of Blood – which marked Ashley’s debut as producer – has enough sleaze value to justify its existence even as it retreads familiar territory with little inspiration. Severin Films released all four movies on Blu-ray in an attractive box set in late 2018. The set is now out of print and fetching ludicrous prices online, but you can still purchase individual releases of Terror Is A Man, Brides of Blood, and Mac Doctor of Blood Island. If you are in the mood for a cavalcade of carnality and carnage, plan your escape to Blood Island today!

Keanu Reeves Is Ortiz the Dog Boy In Alex Winter and Tom Stern’s FREAKED!

Posted in Blu-ray, Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, My Heroes, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2016 by Robert Morgan


Alex Winter and Tom Stern‘s fantastically demented 1993 comedy Freaked is one of those rare films whose existence is nothing short of a miracle. It went into production as Hideous Mutant Freekz (also the title of the Parliament-Funkadelic theme tune that underscores the end credits), but the directors, who also wrote the script with Tim Burns, had the new title forced upon them by the inefficiently supportive execs at 20th Century Fox who green-lit the project thinking that Winter’s involvement was tantamount to getting the next chapter in the exciting time travelling adventures of Bill Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan. That turned out to be the least of Freaked‘s behind-the-scenes troubles.

I’m old enough to remember seeing some B-roll production footage on some E! Channel show back in the early 90’s when it was still being referred to as Hideous Mutant Freekz, but a year or so later I was in a neighborhood supermarket when I found a young adult novelization of the film that bore the replacement title. The labor of Winter and Stern’s love was granted something approximating a theatrical release, of that I am sure. Studio suits screened it for preview audiences who were under the assumption they were about to check out another dumbass comedy to please the undemanding youth market and were horrified to find out that….GASP….they had a potential cult film on their hands. That’s not exactly the kind of truth you want to face when you have $12 million invested in this peculiar business endeavor.

As the old saying goes, Freaked wasn’t released…it escaped. It wasn’t until late-1994 when I finally received the opportunity to check Freaked out for myself during an after-school viewing on HBO. I laughed my ass off then, but the best part is that the film’s oddball, offbeat humor (honed to perfection by its creators through years of making short films and their lamented MTV comedy series The Idiot Box) holds up well after more than two decades since it was unveiled for the world to see. This is in spite of the fact that Freaked is very much a product of its time, from its spazzy, in-your-face visual style to the aggressively cool and catchy soundtrack featuring Henry Rollins and Butthole Surfers. Oddly enough, Winter and Stern first conceived of Freaked as a gruesome horror film starring the Surfers. I haven’t even mentioned yet the prominent roles both Brooke Shields and Mr. T play in this big screen madhouse. Whoops, I just did.

Had Freaked been made a decade earlier, it likely would have been treated the same way by whatever studio was unfortunate enough (from their perspective) to bankroll its creation. It was destined to be unloved by all but the true freaks and geeks who once spent their weekends running through the aisles of their local video store like a human pencil line on a restaurant place mat maze looking for the latest craziest flicks from all over the world and now plan their lives around the double feature picture shows at the New Beverly Cinema.

Cable airings and video rentals and sales helped keep Freaked alive and breathing as its cult following grew. Anchor Bay Entertainment acquired the rights to the film as part of a package of 20th Century Fox titles the studio had zero interest in further exploiting and released it on DVD for the first time in the summer of 2005 in a splashy two-disc set that contained a brutally honest and hilarious directors’ commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, two of Winter and Stern’s early short features (one of which I’ll include below) and best of all, a feature-length rehearsal version of the film performed by most of the cast (Shields and T are the most notable absentees) shot on videotape with the actors wearing nothing but their street clothes.

One of the most unusual things about Freaked is the uncredited casting of the one and only Keanu Reeves as Ortiz the Dog Boy, the charming leader of the Freaks. It’s difficult to recognize the future star of The Matrix and John Wick underneath the impressive mutant make-up created by a gifted effects team that included horror/sci-fi cinema vets Tony Gardner (Army of Darkness) and Screaming Mad George (Society), but Reeves is pretty easy to spot in the rehearsal footage. Say what you will about the man’s acting abilities, but his performance as Ortiz doesn’t require the stage fur and phony dog fangs to convince. Reeves is hilarious and clearly having a blast going way over the top with a hearty laugh that Errol Flynn would admire just as soon he stopped banging his latest teenage girlfriend.

There’s a video assembly of Reeves’ highlights from the Freaked rehearsal I’ve posted below. The Anchor Bay DVD is sadly out of print and copies are currently commanding high prices on the online auction market. It was released on Blu-ray in August 2013, and though it featured upgraded picture and sound quality it was completely devoid of supplements for some fucked-up unexplained reason. Maybe one day the rights will fall into the hands of a video distributor that actually gives a shit about respecting this bizarro laugh riot of an old school horror spoof. Until then you can order that Blu-ray HERE. If you manage to track down a copy of that OOP DVD, give the rehearsal version a watch just to see both a young Reeves and John Hawkes (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Winter’s Bone) in action.

Here’s Winter and Stern’s 1985 short film Squeal of Death, a film noir parody starring Winter that they made during their sophomore year at New York University. It was selected to be shown on an episode of USA Network’s 80’s series Night Flight, and after being seen by both an executive at Columbia Pictures and filmmaker Sam Raimi, Winter and Stern were on their way to Tinseltown to start their careers. Read more about it HERE.

Screw it. Here’s the Freaked theatrical trailer.

GRINDHOUSE: Schlock of Ages

Posted in Blu-ray, Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Reviews with tags , , , on December 24, 2015 by Robert Morgan


Once upon a time, more than eight years ago, the mighty filmmaking team of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino collaborated yet again on a project that paid homage to the drive-in exploitation movie memories of their youth. But this time instead of Rodriguez directing a Tarantino script or Tarantino doing a cameo in one of Rodriguez’s movies, the two teamed up to bring us a rare cinematic experience: an old school night at the movies, two features for the price of one, complete with fake trailers directed by the cream of the genre cinema crop sprinkled between the main attractions.

For inspiration, Rodriguez and Tarantino reached back into the past to the days when VCRs and DVD players were only gestating ideas and the only way to experience true B-grade cinema was to go to your rundown neighborhood grindhouse to catch a double or triple bill of the latest blaxploitation thriller, chop-socky adventure, and gruesome horror extravaganza.

In a grindhouse theater you got more than a few movies, you got the whole enchilada: trailers for coming attractions, cartoons, short films, restaurant ads, and a reeking ambiance that you can’t replicate in the privacy of your own home unless you want to get kicked out.

The aptly-titled Grindhouse turned out to be much more than a movie; it was both a love letter and the ultimate tribute to the forbidden fruits of cinema by a pair of adoring fans and first class filmmakers.

There’s a lot to take in here so I will break down the features one by one.


Machete– True to form, we open with a trailer for a 1970’s-style action flick starring Rodriguez staple Danny Trejo as a Mexican day laborer hired by a mysterious well-dressed man (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate a US senator. Sure enough Machete is set up for the big betrayal and left for dead. After recovering he sets out to take revenge on those behind the frame up with the help of a former comrade (Cheech Marin) who has since become a priest. Turns out our boy Machete is a former federale with expertise in guns and explosives, and is proficient in throwing his trademark machetes like a distant cousin to Trejo’s character in Desperado.

The gods of manly action classics would surely welcome Machete into their fold. The man’s a jack of all trades and Trejo looks and plays the part like a true master of adventure. From nailing two topless babes under a waterfall to leaping over an exploding barricade on a motorcycle blasting a Vulcan cannon, Machete brings the excitement. As it goes with any good trailer, this one leaves you wanting more. After the release of Grindhouse Rodriguez began talking about making a Machete feature for the direct-to-video market, but three years later it was released theatrically with Trejo fronting a truly mind-frying ensemble cast that included Jessica Alba, Robert DeNiro, Don Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, and none other than Steven fuckin’ Seagal as the Mexican villain.

Rodriguez incorporated some of the footage he shot for the trailer into the full-length feature and though Machete was hardly a box office blockbuster it did well enough to spawn a belated sequel, the inferior (but still fun in its own way) Machete Kills. That one just bombed outright at the box office, making the chances of this gonzo action saga’s third installment, Machete Kills Again in Space, ever being made slim enough to fit into one of the crevices in Trejo’s face.


Planet Terror– Rodriguez’s half of the Grindhouse power twosome is a unabashedly balls-out tribute to the sci-fi horror action movies of such genre greats as John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, George Romero, James Cameron, and Stuart Gordon. Set in a small Texas town over the course of one night, Planet Terror begins with the attempted sale of a deadly biological weapon known as DC2 (aka “Project Terror) to a Marine platoon led by the uncaring Muldoon (Bruce Willis). The sale goes south and in desperation military scientist Abby (Naveen Andrews), the man responsible for brokering the deal, shoots the canisters containing the virus. Project Terror is on the loose.

large planet terror blu-ray7x

Meanwhile, frustrated go-go dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) has just quit her job and is sitting in a roadside BBQ shack owned by J.T. (Jeff Fahey…again!) when her old flame, the mysterious El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), walks in. Clearly the two have a complicated past. Wray offers to give Cherry a ride home. On the way Wray swerves his truck to avoid hitting something in the road and the truck flips over, crashing off the road. Cherry is pulled out of the truck by a group of shadowy figures and taken screaming into the night. Wray grabs a rifle and goes looking, and when he finds Cherry alive she’s missing a leg. The people who took her ate her leg. Wray takes her to the nearest hospital, presided over by cynical doctor William Block (Josh Brolin) and his anesthesiologist wife Dakota (Marley Shelton).

Dakota is currently planning to leave her husband and run away with her lesbian lover Tammy (Stacy Ferguson, aka Fergie), but her attempts to keep it secret from the good doctor aren’t working. Not to mention Tammy’s car has broken down and in trying to flag down someone to help her gets attacked and eaten by more people infected by the rapidly spreading DC2. Block attends to his friend Joe (Nicky Katt), who has a strange bite on his arm and some rather disturbing lesions on his tongue. Fearing the worst Block advises Joe to have his arm severed so the infection won’t spread to his vital internal organs. The local sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn) and his two deputies Tolo (gore god Tom Savini) and Carlos (Carlos Gallardo, the original El Mariachi) arrest Wray for Cherry’s maiming not believing his wild story of the sickos who actually ate her leg.


Back at the hospital Block discovers Dakota’s infidelity when the paramedics wheel in Tammy’s partially-devoured corpse. The sinister doctor attacks his wife with her own needles, numbing her hands, and locks her in a closet. In the midst of all this the infected start pouring in. Hague and his men are attacked at the police station but get some unexpected assistance from a more than capable Wray, who decides to head for the hospital to retrieve Cherry with Hague and the deputies riding along. Block finds Joe has become one of the infected and becomes one himself when his diseased former friend spreads virus-ridden goop all over the doctor’s face. Dakota manages to escape from the hospital but is forced to drive with two numb hands to pick up her son Tony (Rodriguez’s son Rebel) currently being watched by the Crazy Babysitter Twins (Electra and Elise Avellan, Rodriguez’s former stepdaughters).

Wray finds Cherry and sticks a table leg in the spot where her real leg used to be and the two of them flee the hospital, rendezvousing back at J.T.’s place with the sheriff, his deputies, and several uninfected townsfolk. With the number of infected growing by the hour, this disparate group must band together to fight the ravenous hordes hungry for their flesh and survive the night while trying to unlock the mystery of Project Terror’s origins.


Planet Terror, much like his previous film Sin City, is Robert Rodriguez unleashed. This is the kind of full tilt boogie lurid and ultraviolent action splatter-fest that used to pour out of drive-in movie screens on hot summer nights and crowd the horror rack at your local video store. If this movie had been released in the 1980’s England would’ve proudly placed it on their “Video Nasties” list. Rodriguez has said before in interviews that he sees Planet Terror as “the lost John Carpenter movie between Escape from New York and The Thing” and that just says it all. He even composes, with a little help from his musician friends, a terrific musical score that recalls the great synthesizer scores of Carpenter’s earlier films.


This is not a movie that plays by normal rules. Every person in the movie has the license to give free rein to become their inner superhero. People run up walls, shoot syringe guns, and use a rocket launcher on their leg to propel themselves into the air in order to blast a waiting group of pustule-oozing zombie Marines on the other side of a building. This is Rodriguez’s own comic book universe, his every cinematic fantasy made flesh, and it’s amazing. KNB EFX pulls out all the stops to provide the grisliest effects they have ever produced. This is one of their finest hours.

Rodriguez chose a fine cast to bring his B-movie archetypes to bold, colorful life. Rose McGowan gets one of her best roles in years playing the tough but gentle Cherry Darling. Cherry is given a clever running joke throughout the movie as she expresses her desire to become a stand-up comedian and tries to prove to an unconvinced Wray that she’s funny. But when her old boyfriend attaches a modified machine gun to her lonely leg stump Cherry enters the pantheon of iconic action heroes. She’s a goddess of destruction, and McGowan gives the part her all. Freddy Rodriguez (no relation) is not everyone’s first choice to play an unlikely action superhero, but as the versatile El Wray he certainly impresses. Running up walls, wielding some wicked knives, and keeping his ex-girlfriend calm and encouraged is all part of a night’s work for this pint-sized badass, even if that bit of peach fuzz on his chin doesn’t fool me.


Marley Shelton, another member of Rodriguez’s ever growing repertory company, gets her fair share of moments to shine as the anesthetic gun-sporting wonder woman Dakota Block. At certain times she’s bears an uncanny resemblance to Uma Thurman, and that’s okay because I love Uma. Michael Biehn gives a commanding comeback performance as the hardened Sheriff Hague, all action and no bullshit. Jeff Fahey gets to play his role of grizzled barbecue gourmet J.T. with a welcome sense of humor. He has a great bickering chemistry with Biehn, who turns out to be J.T.’s estranged brother. Bruce Willis gets to play himself once again as the cold and cynical Lt. Muldoon, but why complain when he plays himself like a fucking pro? Naveen Andrews subverts the serious television persona he built on “Lost” with a cutting wit as the obligatory scientist who provides handy exposition, but he’s given a rather twisted character trait and Andrews is clearly savoring the opportunity to play such a useful bastard.


The Avellan sisters are wonderfully gonzo as the sexy but goddamn insane Crazy Babysitter Twins. Tom Savini provides more comic relief as the dumbass deputy Tolo, but he gets his own shining moment when he dispatches a zombie with a brilliant gun move. Josh Brolin is a long way from The Goonies playing the sadistic Doc Block (“His prescription….pain!”), a role he sinks his teeth into with disturbing glee. Michael Parks returns to reprise his role as Texas Ranger Earl McGraw and gets to unload his six-shooter on a few zombies like the manly man he is.

Planet Terror is pure fun for lovers of two-fisted action flicks and blood-and-guts horror alike. Lock up your inhibitions and have a great time.


To this day Planet Terror remains my favorite half of the Grindhouse double bill. I had the pleasure recently of watching the extended cut on the Blu-ray that was released nearly two years before the full experience finally made its way to the format. It’s some of the purest exploitation cinema made since the sleaze pit bijous and drive-ins were permanently shuttered and converted to flea markets and cost-free motels for squatters. It’s also the last truly great feature Rodriguez made. The spectacular box office flame-out of Grindhouse impacted him more than it did Tarantino; from that moment on the majordomo of Troublemaker Studios had to search for work at other studios or outside independent financing for his projects that held limited mass audience appeal.

His collaborator bounced back from Grindhouse‘s failure to connect with modern moviegoers by making two of the best and most successful films of his career, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. In comparison, Rodriguez’ Planet Terror follow-up was the episodic kiddie flick Shorts, released theatrically around the same time as Basterds in August 2009. The next year he made good on his promise to convert Machete into a feature and the result was a hugely entertaining B-action thriller on Terror‘s level that was cheaper to make and thus able to turn a profit during its theatrical run. But other films Rodriguez desired to make, like updated adaptations of Barbarella and Red Sonja, never made it out of Development Hell.


Now for more trailers.


ThanksgivingEli Roth’s contribution to the Grindhouse fake trailer reel is his homage to gruesome 1980s slasher flicks and a diseased little corker that lets loose some quality holiday-themed carnage. Using available members of his Hostel Part II cast and creating a small Massachusetts town in Prague, Roth lets loose his nasty and vicious imagination to give us a hint of what a funny gorefest he would make out of Turkey Day. The gore gags on display are priceless.


Werewolf Women of the S.S. – Melding horror and Naziploitation flicks like Love Camp 7 and the infamous Ilsa, She Wolf of the S.S., Rob Zombie creates the trailer for his ultimate grind house epic with the help of several members of his Halloween remake cast including Sheri Moon Zombie and Bill Moseley. Routinely dismissed as the least of the Grindhouse trailer collection, Zombie’s contribution is still a lot of fun complete with an out-of-left field cameo from Nicholas Cage as….Fu Manchu!


Don’t – Last but not least is the jewel of the Grindhouse trailer reel, an uproarious send-up of ineptly marketed European horrors directed by Edgar Wright and starring most of his Hot Fuzz cast (you bloody well know who). A rapid fire anthology of intense horror mainstays underscored with an announcer (Will Arnett) screaming “Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!” Wright’s contribution is a twisted delight.

An explosive crash from Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof (Grindhouse)

Death Proof – Quentin Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse pays unabashed tribute to the four-on-the-floor car chase epics of the 1960s and 1970s like Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. Split into two tonally-different acts, the first focuses on a group of young women out for a night on the town: Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito), visiting from New York; Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poitier), a beautiful but occasionally insensitive local disc jockey; and Shanna (Jordan Ladd), their hard-partying friend.

At a bar they encounter Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), a former movie and TV stuntman who enjoys hanging out in bars practicing his rusted pick-up techniques on the younger women who frequent the joint. Mike offers to give wisecracking hippie chick Pam a ride home, and this is where we the stuntman’s true colors. It turns out he likes jumping into his “death proof” stunt car and running down the ladies who don’t buy into his masculine wiles. After giving Pam her last ride, Mike turns around and speeds off after Arlene and company.


Act two takes place sometime later. Mike is now in Tennessee stalking another small group of women, this particular bunch in town working on a cheerleader flick: actress Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), make-up artist Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), and stuntwomen Zoe (Zoe Bell) and Kim (Tracie Thoms). Zoe drags her friends up to the house of a creepy rancher who’s selling a 1970 Dodge Challenger. Ever since seeing Vanishing Point Zoe has always wanted to get behind the wheel of one of these mean machines. Leaving Lee behind to keep the creep company, Zoe and her two friends take the Challenger out for a test spin.

With Kim at the wheel and Abernathy riding in the backseat, Zoe climbs onto the hood to play “Ship’s Mast”. As the Challenge roars down the empty country highway, Stuntman Mike decides to join the ladies and give them a time to remember. Barely surviving, the ladies take it upon themselves to turn the tables on the fleeing stuntman. This time Mike isn’t getting away that easy.


Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino’s idea of a chick flick. We are in the company of a group of fiercely-independent and intelligent women out for a good time who know very well how to take care of themselves. It’s a lot of fun to spend time with these lovely ladies because each group has their own authentic chemistry, aided by Tarantino’s trademark knack for meaty dialogue. Even if you’re a guy you can’t help but be carried along and feel like you’re part of each group.

That’s when Kurt Russell walks in. A true silver screen icon known for his defining roles in John Carpenter’s films Escape from New York, The Thing, and Big Trouble in Little China, Russell returns to the type of badass character that he built his career on. Stuntman Mike can go from affable and charismatic to cruel and violent when he gets behind the wheel of his “death proof” car to pursue his attractive quarry. Endowing his auto psycho with his trademark charm and good humor, Russell gives one of the best performances of his career.


The true heart of Death Proof is Tarantino’s wonderfully-drawn female characters and the actresses he wisely chose to play them. Vanessa Ferlito is great as Arlene, the friend who finds herself simultaneously repulsed and intrigued by Mike. Sydney Tamiia Poitier, daughter of screen acting legend Sidney Poitier, has a ball playing the hot and slightly catty Jungle Julia who has no patience for people she sees through immediately. Jordan Ladd’s character doesn’t get much focus but she stills acts her heart out playing a lovable character. Making her second appearance in Grindhouse is Rose McGowan, playing a character whose sad beauty and endearing cynicism could almost make her a distant cousin to Cherry Darling, but does in fact serve her up as easy prey for the cool Stuntman Mike.


In my opinion the actresses who turn up in Death Proof’s second half are the true stars of the movie. Rosario Dawson plays Abernathy as another in her staple of sweet and adorable heroines. It’s a wonderful role given personality and life by Dawson. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s vaguely naïve actress Lee is the “Shanna” of this act but she still gives a good show and doesn’t annoy. Tracie Thoms gives her character Kim a loving demeanor with a “don’t fuck with me” attitude on the side. She’s awesome.

The breakout performance of Death Proof, and indeed all of Grindhouse, comes courtesy of veteran stuntwoman Zoe Bell, a New Zealand native making her acting debut here. If you’ve ever seen Zoe in interviews then it doesn’t come as a surprise that her cute and friendly superwoman is essentially an extension of her own personality, and she does all of her own stunts to boot. Bell is the true star of this movie and deserves a long and fruitful career. How can you not love her?

Death Proof finds the equally admired and maligned Quentin Tarantino indulging in his fetishistic love for insane car chases, old school tough guys, and the bare feet of beautiful women. Recalling the good ol’ days when CGI was a laughable pipe dream and the stunts were done for real, the stunt work in Death Proof is first class, the real deal all the way. The car chases are thrilling and intense as the director puts you in the driver’s seat to experience the action first hand. The movie is an honest-to-Buddha rollercoaster ride that fully engages you on a visceral level with no breaks. Death Proof is a much different film from Planet Terror but it yields more than its fair share of rewards.



In the years since the release of Grindhouse Tarantino has been brutally honest about Death Proof‘s place in his filmography, even referring to it as the worst movie he has ever made. Personally I would assign that dishonorable honor to Kill Bill V.2, but I digress. The filmmaker bounced back from the failure of his epic collaboration with Rodriguez by making two of the biggest hits of his career, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Prior to making Death Proof Tarantino had been working at a Malickian pace, but watching Grindhouse go down in flames at the box office seemed to have motivated the notoriously combative but gifted enfant terrible of cinema to get busy directing or get busy dying.

At first Death Proof appears oddly constructed in terms of its story, but that unconventional structure serves the film well if you accept it as two short films each with their own three-act layout melded together instead of as one film split into two distinct halves. The first half, set in Austin, TX, is set mostly at night and is designed visually to be a nihilistic slasher flick with a conclusion as inevitable as any scuzzy blood horror that spilled onto the movie screens in the genre’s heyday. The second, shot in the broadest of daylight with rural California standing in for rural Tennessee, is a full-speed rape revenge movie centering on a group of wronged women getting some wondrously cathartic payback against the perverted psychopath who tried to take away everything they had. Only in this case the rapist is a crazed ex-stuntman using his custom killing machine to batter what he perceives to be a lesser car driven by a lesser gender into nothingness and then bend them all to his sickening will.

It’s like Death Proof was one of those cinematic Frankenstein monsters that guys like Al Adamson and Sam Sherman used to stitch together out of pieces of movies that started production but fell apart and were left unfinished or were released but did absolutely no business. We accept that Russell is still playing Stuntman Mike in the second half, but he’s never referred to by that name (not even by himself) and he even drives a different car than in the first half. Is it possible then that we’re watching two different movies edited together to become one, with the scene with Shelton and the Parks men added to bridge the distinct narratives? Go into Death Proof with that mindset and it starts to make a little more sense. I feel a revisit is in order soon.

When you add every single element of this sucker up you have a cinematic experience unlike any other. Grindhouse is a movie made by film fans for film fans. I love it, and so will you.

THIS IS SPINAL TAP, Mark 2: The Elusive 4.5 Hour Workprint

Posted in Crazy Shit, Hilarity, Movies, My Heroes, Nothing That Should Concern You, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2015 by Robert Morgan


Once a film is finished shooting, the post-production team begins to assemble most of the printed footage into what is often termed a “rough cut” to give them a better idea of the editing task that lies ahead. The next step is usually to create a “workprint”, which pares down the rough assembly a bit and adds in cards indicating missing scenes and special effects footage and utilizes a “temp track” of music taken from other films for the soundtrack. From there the director and their team really go to work to whip the film into its final shape as the time counts down to its premiere.

Workprints are occasionally shown at test screenings so that audience reactions to what has been assembled so far can be used by the studio to impact the final cut in ways that can sometimes be positive, but are more often that not detrimental to the vision of the filmmakers. Sometimes, in the case of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a workprint for a major Hollywood tentpole blockbuster wannabe gets leaked to the Internet days or weeks in advance of its theatrical release.

Even with the advancement of cutting edge home entertainment technology that allows deleted scenes to be included as extra features on DVDs and Blu-rays of the films they were cut from, these alternate cuts are highly sought out by collectors and hardcore film buffs for the footage they contain that has never been publicly released. You can typically find workprints for many a classic work of cinema hiding out on the web among the torrent sites and bootleg DVD retailers.

Every so often, a workprint manages to find its way onto a legitimate video release, such as the collector’s edition DVD and Blu-ray editions of Blade Runner. But most of the time you have to search high and low to find one that is snatched from the clutches of the studio that financed it, digitized, and set free for all eternity online. Case in point….the four-and-a-half workprint of This is Spinal Tap.

Few filmmakers make their directorial debut with a bonafide masterpiece, but that is exactly what Rob Reiner did when he made Spinal Tap. It was released to critical acclaim in 1984 and over the years became a highly quotable cult classic. There are good comedies, great comedies, and comedy classics. Spinal Tap is all three and then some. It was truly a collaborative effort between Reiner and his stars/co-writers Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer. The characters had been developed for years even before the film was made, and by the time cameras the actors were so ensconced with their respective creations that they were able to ad-lib most of their dialogue.

Comedies, especially ones that rely heavily on improvisation, are often the most difficult kinds of films to edit unless they are rigidly scripted and performed from the very beginning. The final running time of Spinal Tap is 82 minutes, but there was enough material resigned to the cutting room floor to make a pair of sequels. None of the deleted footage ever saw the light of day until the 1990’s when the Criterion Collection released Spinal Tap on a special edition laserdisc that included about an hour of outtakes among their generous selection of supplements. This material also made the cut when the laserdisc extras were ported over for the DVD edition, one of Criterion’s earliest on the format. Both the Criterion laserdisc and DVD releases of Spinal Tap went out of print and became collector’s items that fetched high prices on sites like Amazon and eBay.

When MGM unveiled a digitally-remastered edition of Spinal Tap on VHS and DVD in 2000, both versions featured cut scenes from the film as a bonus feature. The VHS edition only contained around ten minutes’ worth, but you could find over an hour on the DVD. The same outtakes ended up as special features on the subsequent Blu-ray edition. To this day, no home video release of Spinal Tap has included all three hours (and change) of the deleted, extended, and alternate scenes from the rarely-seen workprint, but you can find a few excerpts floating around the web somewhere (I’ve included a few uploaded to YouTube here below). You may even be able to find the whole bloody thing.

I’ve seen it and it’s a shapeless mass of celluloid that only resembles the legendary comedy at the rarest of moments. There are plenty of moments that work, scenes that go on far too long, and jokes that land with a deafening thud. But a workprint is always far different than the final product. Watching one such as the 4.5 hour Spinal Tap gives you an insight into how crucial the editing process is when it comes time to reach deep into a miasma of improvisational comedy and pull out a classic of the genre that anyone who sees it will quote to their grave.

Just think of the workprint as the film equivalent of “Jazz Odyssey”.

This is Spinal Tap is now available on Blu-ray from MGM Home Entertainment. Purchase your copy HERE.