In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!
- The Great Muppet Caper (1981), B+
- The Discovery (2017), B+
- Sky High (2005), B+
- The Giant Spider Invasion (1975), D; MST3K Riff, A
- Soultaker (1990), D; MST3K Riff, A-
- The Pumaman (19800, D-; MST3K Riff, A+
- Godzilla Vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994), B
- Reptilicus (1961), C; MST3K Riff, B+
- Jaws (1975), A+
- Speed Racer (2008), B
- Cool Runnings (1993), B+
- Beauty and the Beast (2017), A-
- Interview With the Vampire (1994), B
- Spiral (2007), B
- Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy: We’ve Been Thinking (2016), B
- The Blues Brothers (1980), A
- Cry of the Bewitched (1957, as Yambao), D; RiffTrax Riff, B+
- Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), B
- Cry Wilderness (1987), D-, MST3K Riff, B
First off, allow me to apologize for the lack of activity here lately. I know I promised to start hitting you guys with more regular reviews, but June didn’t allow me a lot of time for writing of any kind because — and this is the part I make no apologizes for — I got married. It’s been a great month, but a busy one. The odd thing is, I did manage to squeeze in a healthy number of movies, while simultaneously having virtually no time to DO anything with them.
Anyway, back to the usual stuff. In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!
1. Jaws (1975), A
2. Pulp Fiction (1994), B+
3. The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953), B
4. Cool as Ice (1991), F; Rifftrax Riff, B+
5. G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013), C+
6. The Institute (2013), B-
7. Timecrimes (2007), A-
8. Curious George (2006), B
9. Knights of Badassdom (2013), B+
10. Identity Thief (2013), C
11. American Psycho (2000), B-
12. The Adventures of the American Rabbit (1986), B-
13. Hercules (1958), D+; MST3K Riff, B
14. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), B
15. From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999), C
16. From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (1999), B-
17. Full Tilt Boogie (1997), B-
18. Killers From Space (1954), D; Film Crew Riff, B
19. Much Ado About Nothing (2012), A-
20. High Anxiety (1977), B
21. The Aristocats (1970), C+
22. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), B+
23. The Matrix (1999), A
24. Armageddon (1998), B-
25. Frozen (2013), A
26. How to Train Your Dragon (2010), B+
27. You’re Next (2013), C+
28. Maleficent (2014), B-
29. Planet of Dinosaurs (1977), F; RiffTrax Riff, B
30. The Wolverine (2013), B-
31. The LEGO Movie (2014), A
32. The Conjuring (2013), C-
33. Monsters University (2013), B+
34. The Blue Umbrella (2013), A
Welcome to the first installment in Crappy Movie Roulette! As you guys may have noticed, I watch a lot of movies. And I own a lot of movies. If video stores were still a thing, I certainly have enough inventory to open one on my own. And I’ve got your local Redbox beat for selection hands-down.
But neither of these should be mistaken as a statement that I’ve watched every movie I own. Truth be told, I haven’t, and the big culprit in this are multi-packs. You know the ones I’m talking about — the ones that package together four, eight, ten, even fifty movies in a single DVD set for a low, low price. Now this low, low price often is accompanied by low, low quality, but because you can often get these packs for as little as five dollars, if there’s even one movie in the set I like, I’ll bite, because I would have paid five bucks for that movie alone, and now I’ve got a bunch more. It’s the collector’s mentality, I know. When I die, you’ll be able to commission a very bored artist to create a 20-foot statue of me out of my DVDs.
Anyway, the movies in these packs are frequently of the caliber we call… oh… bad. Otherwise they wouldn’t be selling them fifty to a pack. But there’s also a real charm to be had in bad movies sometimes… sometimes. Not all the time. That in mind, I’m here to institute a new irregular feature here at Reel to Reel: Crappy Movie Roulette. Every so often (I’m not going to marry myself to a regular schedule here, it’ll happen whenever I feel like it) I’ll choose five movies from my vast collection of crappy movies that I think might be fun to watch. It won’t necessarily be random — in fact, two of the choices this week are favorites of the Flop House Podcast‘s Stuart Wellington, which is how they got on the list. I’ll give you guys the IMDB synopsis of each of my five choices and let you vote, then sometime soon (probably next week) I’ll watch the winner and write up a Gut Reaction review. Sound like fun?
Here are your choices for the inaugural Crappy Movie Roulette:
Chopping Mall (1986)
Directed by Jim Wynorski
Written by Jim Wynorski & Steve Mitchell
Starring Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson & Barbara Crampton.
Synopsis: Eight teenagers are trapped after hours in a high tech shopping mall and pursued by three murderous security robots out of control.
Why you should vote for it: Again, remember, I have never seen any of these movies. But between the synopsis and the poster, this sounds like insane 80s slasher excess at its best. Murderous security robots, people. Murderous. Security. Robots.
Current IMDB Rating: 5.3/10 Stars
Chopping Mall at IMDB
Godzilla Vs. Biollante (1989)
Directed by Kazuki Ohmori
Written by Kazuki Ohmori & Shinichiro Kobayaski
Starring Kunihiko Mitamura, Yoshiko Tanaka, Masanobu Takashima, Kôji Takahashi, Tôru Minegishi.
Synopsis: After rising from his volcanic grave, Godzilla is threatened by a mutated rosebush.
Why you should vote for it: Because obviously, the natural progression for threats to the greatest giant monster of them all is “space turtle,” “robot duplicate,” “rosebush.” Also, it still can’t be worse than than the Matthew Broderick movie.
Current IMDB Rating: 6.3/10 Stars
Godzilla Vs. Biollante at IMDB
Head of the Family (1996)
Directed by Charles Band
Written By Charles Band & Benjamin Carr
Starring Blake Adams, Jacqueline Lovell, Bob Schott, James Jones, Alexandria Quinn, Gordon Jennison Noice
Synopsis: The “head” of the family is literally that–a giant head on a tiny body, who psychically controls the rest of his even weirder family.
Why you should vote for it: Look at that lil’ guy. Look at that lil’ guy with the great big head. Idn’t he CUTE?
Current IMDB Rating: 4.9/10 Stars
Head of the Family at IMDB
The Invisible Maniac (1990)
Directed by Adam Rifkin
Written by Matt Devlan, Tony Markes and Adam Rifkin (as “Rif Coogan”)
Starring Noel Peterson, Stephanie Blake, Melissa Moore, Clement Von Franckenstein, Eric Champnella
Synopsis: A budding young scientist lad is caught by his mom checking out the lady across the way with his telescope, whereupon she lectures him on the evils of women. Twenty years later and all grown up, the scientist announces his theories of invisibility, and his colleagues laugh, to which he responds by killing four of them. He escapes from the loony bin and gets a job teaching summer school physics at a high school. The students decide to tease him about the same time as he perfects his invisible juice, and he goes on a spree of vengeance.
Why you should vote for it: I don’t even know what else I need to say. I do find it interesting that this film had by far the most detailed synopsis on IMDB.
Current IMDB Rating: 3/10 Stars
The Invisible Maniac on IMDB
The Werewolf Vs. Vampire Woman (1971)
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Written by Paul Naschy & Hans Munkel
Starring Paul Naschy, Gaby Fuchs, Barbara Capell, Andres Resino, Patty Shepard
Synopsis: Elvira is travelling through the French countryside with her friend Genevieve, searching for the lost tomb of a medieval murderess and possible vampire, Countess Wandessa. They find a likely site in the castle of Waldemar Daninsky, who invites the women to stay as long as they like. As Waldemar shows Elvira the tomb that supposedly houses the countess, she accidentally causes the vampire to come back to life, hungrier than ever. Daninsky has a hidden secret of his own, but will it be enough to save the two girls from becoming Wandessa’s next victims?
Why you should vote for it: Because it says right there on the poster, “See it with someone you hate.” This is my chance to invite Channing Tatum over and watch a flick together.
Current IMDB Rating: 5.1/10 Stars
The Werewolf Vs. Vampire Woman on IMDB
Writer: Joss Whedon
Cast: Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Paul Rubens, Rutger Hauer, Luke Perry, Michele Abrams, Hilary Swank, David Arquette, Stephen Root, Natasha Gregson Wagner
Plot: Once in every generation a Chosen One is born, a young woman with the power to stand against the tide of the greatest predator in the world, the vampire. Unfortunately, this generation’s slayer is a ditzy cheerleader named Buffy Summers. Buffy (Kristy Swanson) and her friends are hanging out at the mall one day when she’s startled by a creepy figure (Donald Sutherland). She tries to shrug it off, but begins having dreams of an earlier life where she battled a vampire named Lothos (Rutger Hauer). In the present day, Lothos sleeps, but his minion Amilyn (Paul Reubens) is ready to wake him up. A pair of burnouts, Pike (Luke Perry) and Benny (David Arquette) encounter the girls a few times before wandering off, drunk. Benny is taken by Amilyn, while Pike is saved by the strange man from the mall, Merrick. He approaches Buffy and asks her to accompany him to a graveyard so she can claim her “birthright.” She doesn’t believe his claim that she is the Chosen One, but when he begins describing her dreams to her, she agrees to accompany him. Two freshly dead people rise, transformed into vampires, and Buffy instinctively stakes them.
Pike, home in bed, is approached by Benny, who hovers outside his window and cannot enter without an invitation. Benny cries that he’s hungry, brandishing a new pair of fangs, and Pike refuses him entry. Unnerved by the strange things he’s seen, Pike plans to leave town. Meanwhile Buffy, after some persuasion, begins the training she should have undergone years ago, taking to the night to slay the vampires. She winds up saving Pike, whose effort to escape town is thwarted when he’s jumped by Amilyn. Amilyn escapes, but loses an arm in the process, and is scolded by Lothos for his failure.
At a basketball game, Buffy realizes one of her friends has been turned and pursues him through the streets of the city. Pike joins in the chase and the two, on motorcycles, hunt him to a storage yard for parade floats. Lothos and Merrick both intervene in the fight, and the vampire lord slays Buffy’s mentor. Buffy’s friends show no sympathy when she turns up depressed the next day, and she and Pike get in a fight in public over her unwillingness to continue the fight. Neither of them know Benny is nearby, hears the fight, and learns that Buffy is the Chosen One. With her name revealed, Amilyn and Lothos plan to destroy her.
Pike crashes the senior dance, dancing with and kissing Buffy just before Lothos’s vampires break through the windows and attack the hundreds of assembled teens. Pike presents Buffy with a bag of stakes he prepared, and she goes on a slaying spree. Benny and Pike fight in the dance, Benny offering to change his buddy into a vampire, but Pike refuses and slays him. Buffy encounters Amilyn in a stairwell, staking him in front of Lothos, who is unmoved by his minion’s death (or melodramatic death scene). Their battle spreads back to the gym, and Buffy stakes Lothos in full view of the school. Together, Buffy and Pike ride his motorcycle into the sunrise, leaving the town to wonder what the hell just happened.
Thoughts: Joss Whedon is, today, a god among geeks, creator of such cult favorites as Firefly and Dollhouse, director of the biggest superhero movie of all time in The Avengers, and pioneer of original online content with Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. (Not to mention is more recent film Cabin in the Woods, a great entry into the horror canon, my analysis of which is available exclusively in the eBook edition of Reel to Reel: Mutants, Monsters and Madmen.) His star began to rise in earnest in 1997, when his Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show became a hit for the fledgling CW network. That show largely ignored the film that birthed the character, though. Released in 1992, Whedon was never happy with the way director Fran Rubel Kuzui treated his script, playing it as a much broader comedy than he intended. And in truth, anybody who watches more than a few minutes of the TV show will agree that the film pales in comparison. That said, though, looking back 20 years later, there is a bit of cheesy charm in this original version of the Slayer.
Whedon’s initial concept was to take the typical horror movie victim – the teenage girl – and turn her into the hero. It’s a great, simple idea, but the final film goes a bit too far in playing up the stereotypes. Buffy and her friends (including future Oscar winner Hilary Swank) are vapid to the point of obnoxiousness. That may well be the intent, but once they start jabbering about choosing “litter” as the theme for a socially-conscious school dance, you kinda want to see them all die. The only thing more irritating is the basketball coach shouting to his team to “actualize” as though it’s a defensive strategy. Pretty much all of the humor is too broad for the characters, in fact. The only really goofy moment that works is when you realize the vampires have, in fact, been invited to the dance and thus can enter. Of course they were invited. They’re seniors.
Much of the violence and action isn’t quite believable either. An early scene where Buffy chops up a hot dog Benny is using to taunt her is supposed to be an early indicator that she’s got power, but instead just seems like the director used poor editing to cover a joke that had no punch. A few minutes later, when Merrick throws a knife at her and Buffy catches it, it’s even worse. The image is so stilted I’m inclined to believe Swanson was actually filmed throwing the knife away and Kuzui played it in reverse.
For all its faults, there are some good moments in the film. Some of Buffy’s dreams are a bit silly, but others are played for straight horror. There’s a nice one, for example, where she’s going to bed and the viewer doesn’t quite realize she’s already asleep when she lies down, Lothos beside her. For a moment you think she’s just oblivious to her enemy (even though it’s already been made clear a vampire cannot enter a person’s home without an invitation), but when he gives her a teddy bear and she curls up on him it’s downright unnerving. You feel a little relief, moments later, when she wakes up. Placing one of the fight scenes in the parade float storage yard is another nice touch – the oversized figures and statuary make for a suitably eerie backdrop for a fight. It’s kind of sad this is the last thing Kuzui directed, she actually has an okay eye for horror that would have worked well in the darker-toned Buffy TV show (where she served as an executive producer). That less broad version of the character may not have been too bad in her hands.
Buffy would later become a great character in the hands of Sarah Michelle Gellar, but the embryonic form still has a bit of steel in her. Swanson’s Buffy is never quite as vapid as her friends, and begins to grow rather quickly. She isn’t the girl power icon she would later become, though. I still keep going back and forth on an element of the character that was disposed of entirely when she transitioned to television – the use of menstrual cramps as an early warning that vampires are nearby. Somebody out there help me – is it empowering to use a nuisance that is unique to women as a weapon in the fight against evil, or is it patronizing to base Buffy’s Spider-Sense surrogate on a natural process that is so often played as a negative stereotype? I feel somehow that the answer to that question would go a long way towards explaining if it’s okay to like this movie or not, but having a Y chromosome (as I do), I don’t think I’m actually qualified to answer it.
Paul Reubens is a really bizarre casting choice. At this point in his career he was already known primarily as Pee-Wee Herman, a role that he put away after an embarrassing public incident the year before. (Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.) Doing Buffy felt like an effort to rejuvenate his career, and although it didn’t really succeed, it wasn’t for lack of trying. His Amilyn works well as a sort of Renfield, the second banana to the main vampire, with just enough of an edge to feel like a credible threat. The only time he gets silly or plays up his traits as a physical comedian is during his extremely protracted death scene. (That scene, by the way, isn’t a bad joke, but it’s a joke that goes on entirely too long.) He, at least, is memorable, though. Rutger Hauer’s Lothos… not so much. It’s not that he’s bad, he’s just dull compared to all of the other great vampire performances out there.
It’s an early 90s film, but it actually carries with it a lot of the tropes of the 80s teen sports movie: the character who doesn’t want to play the game, a training montage in which she unlocks her natural talent, and a Big Game at the end for all the glory. There’s even the requisite clueless authority figure (a very funny turn by Stephen Root) who both hassles Buffy for the change in her behavior and tries to be her pal, sharing far too much information with her than anybody is really comfortable with. There’s also a fun little game of “spot the future celebrity” worth playing. Hilary Swank has a sizable role, but you can also catch Ben Affleck as an opposing basketball player, Thomas Jane as a punk teenager, and Ricki Lake and Seth Green (who would go on to have a regular role on the Buffy TV show) as vampires.
For all the crap it gets, the movie isn’t really all that bad. It’s competently made, and none of the performances are horrible. The plot works, but the tone is off. This never would have made any credible “worst of all time” list, it would simply have been forgotten, one of hundreds of movies made every year that are completely off the cultural radar short months later. We remember it, though, if for no other reason than because it gave us one of the greatest horror heroines of all time.