The Delta Force – Far Better Than The Average Cannon Pictures Release

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2008. I am publishing it here because Eddie Pence, vice-host of “The Ralph Report” podcast, recommended it on the Video Vault segment much to Ralph Garman’s unhinged annoyance. Frankly, I am with Eddie on this one. This was a lot of fun!

Ahh, “The Delta Force.” One of my many favorite action movies from the 1980’s! Phil Blankenship and Amoeba Music presented a midnight showing of it at New Beverly Cinema. Although the theater was not as packed as usual, the crowd was super excited to see Chuck Norris kicking terrorist ass like we always expect him to.

The first time I saw “The Delta Force,” I was quite surprised at how well made it was. While there are parts of it which are unintentionally hilarious, the first half is actually well written and directed for the most part. The last half is pretty much what you expected it to be, a cheesy action movie with heroics and explosions. But even on that level, it is a kick ass experience.

At this screening, Blankenship welcomed a very special guest from the movie, Natalie Roth. She played Ellen, the young girl with the Cabbage Patch Kid doll, and she took the time to take questions from the audience. She said Norris and Lee Marvin were both very nice to work with and that Marvin was in bad health throughout the production (this ended up being his last film before his death). Roth also talked about watching this movie several dozen times on the silver screen just to see herself. Funny how she was got let into an R-rated movie considering her age at the time, but anyway.

“The Delta Force” comes to us from the purported king of 1980’s action movies, Cannon Pictures. Led by Menahem Golan, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay, and Yoram Globus, many of their movies would easily rank in the “so bad it’s good” department while others proved to be utter crap as they were more depressing and pathetic than laughable. They made B-movie stars out of Norris as well as Charles Bronson and Jean Claude Van Damme among others. With all this in mind, you really can’t go into a Cannon Pictures movie with a lot of high expectations. In fact, the lower the expectations, the better. This is why “The Delta Force” is unique in this respect. I usually don’t expect the writing or the acting to be any good in movies like these, and while there is some laughable overacting to be found here, the performances for the most part are spot on.

The film was based on the real-life hijacking of TWA Flight 847 on June 14, 1985, and it uses a lot of those same moments from it like the press conference with the pilot in Beirut. It starts off taking some time to introduce us to the soon-to-be hostages like Shelley Winters and her husband played by Martin Balsam, We also meet Harry (Joey Bishop) and Sylvia Goldman (Lainie Kazan) who are celebrating their silver wedding anniversary, Father O’Malley (George Kennedy) and his two sisters from the church, one played by future “NYPD Blue” star Kim Delaney. In addition, we are introduced to the two terrorists who will hijack the plane, and they are played by Robert Forster and David Menachem.

Now having an American actor play an Arab terrorist would be very unlikely in this day and age, but Forster pulls this role off without it ever being laughable. As Abdul, he makes an excellent villain who’s not just another one-dimensional bad guy, but one who is truly threatening to where you believe it when he says he is prepared to die. “The Delta Force” was made back when Forster’s career was heading into oblivion, but he did finally make his comeback with Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown,” and we have not forgotten how great an actor he is ever since.

Menachem, on the other hand, never knows when to stop overacting. As Moustapha, his eyes open up so wide to where I was convinced they would pop out of his head and ricochet off of a hostage’s head. He is a kick to watch, but his performance did generate a lot of unintentional laughs from the audience at this midnight showing.

Another strong performance comes from Hanna Schygulla who plays the head flight attendant, Ingrid. She is put in a very difficult position as the terrorists force her to pick out the Jews from the passports taken from all the passengers. This is another actor who shows a lot without saying anything, and her close-ups throughout illustrate how she somehow manages to hold it together even when the situation gets worse and worse. I love the moment she has with Forster before she leaves the plane as he perfectly describes her character:

“Ingrid, you’re a brave woman.”

I know I am going to raise a lot of eyebrows by saying this, Norris is not a bad actor. Many think he is flat out terrible, but I disagree. Granted, he is no Laurence Oliver and even he would openly admit this, but as a film actor he has many strong moments. The strength of a film actor is in showing what your character is experiencing without having to spell it out for the audience. Norris has a lot of moments like these, and he is easily a more competent screen presence than others like Jean Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal, both who have since been consigned to direct to video hell. Just look at his face towards the end as he mourns the loss of a comrade. Seriously, you can feel his pain.

Having Marvin in this movie certainly gives it more dramatic heft and believability even when things get increasingly ridiculous in the last half. His craggy face tells you all you need to know about the many tours of duty his character has ever experienced. He is perfectly cast as the unsentimental leader of an elite anti-terrorist force who has no time for pity, and who is always looking out for his men except if he has a timetable to keep.

Before I forget, I have to bring up the film’s score by Alan Silvestri who would later go on to compose unforgettable music for movies like “Back to The Future” and “The Abyss.” This is a classic 1980’s score which chiefly utilized the synthesizers of the time. It is a cheesy score, but I still liked it a lot as Silvestri hits some strong emotional notes, and the theme song is one which will stay with you long after the movie is over.

“The Delta Force” is easily one of the best movies Cannon Pictures could have ever hoped to make. Sure, it led to a lot of crappy knock offs and sequels which nowhere as good. “Delta Force 2” was a direct rip off of Timothy Dalton’s last James Bond movie, “License to Kill.” Sure, it had a great and a truly despicable villain in Billy Drago, but sitting through it was painful and excruciating. The less said about “Delta Force 3,” the better.

After all these years, I think “The Delta Force” holds up very well despite looking more and more dated. True, it is one of those movies which can look at and say, “Only in the 1980’s could you have made this,” but I still get a huge kick out of watching it all these years later. It has also led to some great retro t-shirts which you can still see popping up on the internet every day. You may have seen them here and there, and one of them has this on the front:

“I don’t negotiate with terrorists. I blow them away.”

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Running Scared Celebrates Its 25th Anniversary at New Beverly Cinema

WRITER’S NOTE: As the opening paragraph indicates, this screening took place back in 2011.

On September 28, 2011, New Beverly Cinema played host to the 25th anniversary screening of the 1986 buddy cop action comedy film “Running Scared.” It stars Billy Crystal and the late Gregory Hines as Chicago police detectives Danny Costanzo and Ray Hughes who, after almost getting killed, decide to retire in Key West, Florida. But before they can retire, they first need to bring down a vicious drug dealer (is there any other kind?) played by Jimmy Smits. Attending the screening were the film’s director, Peter Hyams, and actress Darlanne Fluegel who played Costanzo’s ex-wife, Anna.

Hyams had just finished making “2010” for MGM, and the studio wanted to keep him there. He got offered the script for “Running Scared” which he said was originally about two “elderly” cops who want to retire. However, he instead suggested that the cops be younger guys, and he made it clear how he wanted Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines for it.

At the mention of Crystal, Hyams said “you could hear the thump in the office.” Keep in mind, this was long before Crystal became the actor and Oscar host we know him as today. Back then, he was primarily known for being a cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” and he had only done one movie previously which he would rather people forget ever existed (“Rabbit Test”).

As for Hines, an unnamed studio executive told Hyams:

“But the part’s not written for a black guy.”

To this, Hyams replied:

“Hines isn’t playing a black guy, he’s playing a guy.”

One of “Running Scared’s” biggest action scenes involves Hines’ character climbing to the top of a Chicago building on a window washer’s rig. Many of Hyams’ films feature scenes shot from great heights, and he said this is because he is highly acrophobic. The director is so terrified of heights that he keeps shooting scenes from a high elevation in order to get people as scared as he is of them. It turns out the film crew was unable to get a stuntman for this sequence, so they got the actual window washer of the building to do it.

In talking about Fluegel, Hyams said he had such a crush on her after watching “To Live and Die in L.A.” and wanted her to play Crystal’s ex-wife. Her character was the “least eccentric” in “Running Scared,” Hyams noting if the character was not made interesting, the film was going to die. Fluegel said she felt very free when working with Hyams because she could see the kind of environment he had her working in. She found herself creating things for Anna as the production went on, and you could feel the relationship between her and Crystal without words. Fluegel replied much of it came from the fact that the two of them “were just buds.”

“Running Scared” did well at the box office, and MGM of course became interested in doing a sequel. The studio wanted the cops to go to England and fight crime there, but Crystal and Hines were not particularly interested in doing a follow-up. As for Hyams, he said he didn’t want to make the same movie again as he felt it would not be interesting.

Crystal, while at a screening for “City Slickers,” remarked at how “Running Scared” was “the first interracial cop buddy movie.” After 25 years, it’s important to note this as it was released before “Lethal Weapon.” It still holds up well today, and while the studio didn’t think it would work, Hyams stayed true to his instincts on how to make it. Not bad for a man who openly admitted he is “terrified of shooting movies” and never had a confident day in his life.

Out of Print Cult Classic RAD Finally Gets An Official Home Video Release

Anybody remember the 1986 sports movie “RAD?” If you were a BMX fan or a bicycle fan in general back in the 1980’s, you certainly do. Directed by the late Hal Needham, it stars Bill Allen as Cru Jones, a highly talented BMX racer who looks to compete in the Helltrack race. If he is victorious, he will become famous, win $100,000 dollars and get a new Chevrolet Corvette. The only thing is, his mother expects him to take his SATs to get into college, and it is on the same day as the race. Will he defy his mother and race, or will he take the test? Oh, come on, you already know the answer!

“RAD” got the kind reception many of Needham’s films did back in the 1980’s: the critics hated it, and it is one of those rare movies on Rotten Tomatoes to have a 0% rating. Nevertheless, it has long since gained a cult following which remains strong to this very day. And at the very least, it is a far better motion picture than Needham’s previous effort, “Cannonball Run II.”

While it was released on VHS and laserdisc and became a top-rental for two years after it was unleashed in theaters, “RAD” has long been out of print and never been made available on DVD. Who owned the rights to it? Hard to say. Some say Talia Shire, who plays Cru’s mother, had the rights, but this was never confirmed. The only way to find the movie was to look on websites like eBay where the VHS tape is being sold for quite a bit of money.

So, it was to my utter shock today when I discovered that “RAD” is now finally getting an official home video release nearly 35 years after it debuted. Vinegar Syndrome will be releasing the film exclusively on their website in the Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD formats, and it comes with a plethora of special features which include the following:

• Newly scanned & restored in 4k from 35mm original camera negative

• Limited Edition 3D Lenticular (front) and Holographic (back) Slipcover

• Brand new commentary track with actress Talia Shire and Robert Schwartzman

• Brand new video interview with writer/co-producer Sam Bernard

• Multiple archival video interviews with the cast and crew

• Archival group commentary featuring multiple cast and crew

• Extensive behind-the-scenes stills and promo material

• Reversible cover artwork

• SDH English subtitles

Vinegar Syndrome has made it clear this special edition release is strictly limited, and they will not be repressing it in any format once it sells out. You can pre-order it now for $29.95 and it will be shipped out during the website’s Halfway to Black Friday Sale which takes place from May 22 to May 25. Trust me, this special edition release will sell out sooner than you think.

“RAD” may not be a major artistic achievement in cinematic history, but it still is a lot of fun to watch. The stunts are very impressive, and this film was made long before the advent of CGI, so nothing is faked here. Plus, you get to see Lori Loughlin, who plays Cru’s girlfriend Christian, at her most beautiful and long before she bribed the college admissions committee at USC to accept her two daughters. Ray Walston makes an appearance here, and there is even a great bicycle montage done to Real Life’s “Send Me an Angel.” What more could you ask for in an 80’s movie?

To pre-order this special release of “RAD,” click here.

From Beyond – Another Gory and Twisted Delight From Stuart Gordon

“Re-Animator” may be the definitive Stuart Gordon cult classic, but his follow-up film entitled “From Beyond” is just as good. Like the former, it’s based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, whose love of horror and fantasy made him a unique writer in his field. “From Beyond” also represents the kind of horror movie Hollywood is not always quick to make: one with a vivid imagination and something other than your typical slasher fare. Were it made today, and assuming any studio would finance such a genre flick, it would probably go straight to Netflix or Shudder. Granted, this would not be a terrible fate, but movies like these are best experienced in a darkened movie theatre.

Jeffrey Combs stars as Crawford Tillinghast, a scientist who has created a ground-breaking machine called the Resonator. It is designed to stimulate the pineal gland which, for those who didn’t pay attention in science class (don’t worry, I didn’t either), allows subjects to see beyond normal, perceptible reality. Aside from getting, as one character says, an “orgasm of the mind,” they also see creatures unlike any others which inhabit the planet. Of course, when these same creatures proceed to attack Tillinghast and his sadomasochistic partner Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel), we know things will not end well for anybody.

Pretorius ends up getting killed and Tillinghast is arrested and wrongly charged with his murder. But after meeting Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton), who is utterly shocked after viewing Tillinghast’s brain scan which shows his pineal gland as larger than ever, she goes against her superiors and takes him back to the house to start the Resonator up again and confirm his story. From there pain and pleasure take on visceral new meanings even Pinhead from “Hellraiser” would never have thought of (seriously, such things are possible).

Gordon effectively finds the shock and awe in this story which gets at our conflicting desire to play it safe and yet still test our limits. These characters have no business reactivating the Resonator but, like them, their fascination over what they could happen is far more enticing than we would openly admit. He also brings much of the black humor from “Re-Animator” to this film as well, allowing us to take the story only so seriously. With antennas sticking out of heads and characters wearing bizarre costumes, you could almost call this his version of a David Cronenberg film.

All the actors in “From Beyond” remain incredibly underrated long after this film was released back in 1986. Combs is superb as a doctor who is even more of a loose cannon than “Re-Animator’s” Herbert West ever was, and you come out of this wondering why he isn’t a movie star. Barbara Crampton matches him scene for scene as McMichaels, who goes from being a person in control to one completely losing it with great abandon. Then you have “Dawn of the Dead’s” Ken Foree, who plays Bubba Brownlee (yes, this is his character’s name), the one man who has not completely lost his sanity. This is one of the many roles on Foree’s resume which quickly reminds us of what a bad ass he is and can be.

But one performance worth singling out is the late Ted Sorel’s as he dives head-first into the perverse nature of his character, Dr. Pretorius. Seeing him excited about the next ultimate drug makes him such a repellant character, yet Sorel still makes him so charismatic at the same time. Even when covered in makeup to where he looks infinitely slimy and mutated, the effects never upstage his excellent performance.

Gordon, working with a bigger budget this time, revels in the love he has for Lovecraft’s work, and this love can be seen all throughout “From Beyond.” He was never a guy who wanted to just churn out forgettable junk, but one who brings us to a horrifying place we may are compelled to visit against our better judgment. Scary movies are always fun to watch, but many of them are as imaginative as they claim to. “From Beyond,” however, is one of those movies and definitely worth your time.  If you loved “Re-Animator,” you will enjoy “From Beyond” every bit as much.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Eric Red Talks About the Cast of The Hitcher

After all these years, “The Hitcher” (the original, not the godforsaken 2007 remake) has lost none of its suspenseful power, and it continues to terrify new generations of horror movie fans. In addition, it also marked a memorable point in the careers of the actors cast in it. Rutger Hauer created one of his most devilish villains ever with John Ryder, C. Thomas Howell gave one of his very best performances as Jim Halsey, and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance as Nash proved to be a real stretch for the actress (that pun was most definitely intended).

When the screenwriter of “The Hitcher,” Eric Red, arrived to do a Q&A at the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles on October 9, 2011 where Cinefamily was showing the film, he gave the small but very attentive audience a lot of great stories involving the actors involved in the production, and he had plenty of unforgettable things to say about Hauer.

The audience was very surprised to hear Sam Elliott was originally cast as John Ryder before Hauer came along. Apparently, Elliott’s audition was so terrifying, one of the movie’s producers refused to stay inside the casting office whenever Elliott was around. Somewhere along the line, however, Elliott got cold feet and ended up dropping out of the production.

But even after hearing that, it is still hard to think of another actor who could have played this truly frightening character as memorably as Hauer. As Ryder, Red said Hauer “evoked the character to such a degree” and was always “unpredictable” in what he did. Red described his screenplay as being “sparse” and said it was more about looks than it was about dialogue as there wasn’t much of the latter. Hauer, however, brought so many ideas to the role which were not on the page. During this particularly screening, some of us actually noticed how Ryder was actually wearing a wedding ring. To this, Red simply said, “That’s Hauer!”

Oddly enough, the evening’s funniest story involved the scene where Leigh’s character of Nash was tied between a truck, and Halsey has to keep Ryder from stepping on the gas and ripping her apart. It turns out Hauer did not want to shoot this scene and would not even come out of his trailer when everything was ready to start shooting. The filmmakers talked to him regarding his concerns, and Hauer told them the following:

“I don’t want to shoot the scene because the audience will end up figuring out that my character is the bad guy.”

Hmm … Dismembering the driver who picked up Ryder before Halsey did, murdering a whole family and sticking a human finger in a pile of French fries was not enough to indicate Ryder was the bad guy? How scary it is to learn of this!

When it came to casting Halsey, the filmmakers did not have any particular actors in mind. Red said they all went with Howell as they remembered him from “The Outsiders” and described him as having “the right look.” Ryder is described as being a “father figure” to Halsey, and he wants Halsey to kill him. Howell convincingly portrays his character, who goes from a terrified young man in over his head to one who gains control and becomes almost as cold-blooded as Ryder.

With “The Hitcher,” Red was aiming to create a movie where the audience got an inescapable feeling of claustrophobia in wide open spaces. He said it does not only have to happen in a tiny room or an elevator. Even with the infinite expanse of land on display, no one can escape their pursuers. But the movie also benefits from its memorable performances from a cast who bring more to their characters than what was on the page. Without Hauer, Howell and Leigh, “The Hitcher” would never have been half as effective as what we ended up seeing onscreen.

Walter Koenig Looks Back at ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’

Walter Koenig in Star Trek IV

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written in 2011.

Fifty years after his screen debut, Walter Koenig took a trip down to the Egyptian Theatre which was showing “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” and “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.” By that, I mean he literally tripped while making his way to the front of the audience. Fortunately, he was unharmed and said he always planned to do that.

Koenig played Pavel Chekov on the original “Star Trek” TV series as well as in the first seven movies of the franchise. Of all the movies, he declared “Star Trek IV” to be his favorite and reveled in how Chekov actually had his own theme music. “The Voyage Home,” he said, reflected the best things about the show and had a strong sociological statement. It also had soul and got you really involved with the characters, and it showed the connection they had with the audience whether or not they were Trekkers.

Koenig also called “The Voyage Home” the most ensemble film of the film series as each actor had their own stand out moment. That is, except for George Takei who was supposed to have a scene where Sulu meets his great grandfather. Koenig described the kid who was cast in the role as being “a real pain in the ass.” Every time the crew was ready to shoot, the young boy would say, “I don’t wanna!” By the time he did want to shoot, the sun had gone down and the crew lost the shot. Suffice to say, Takei was not happy about that.

Koenig also took the time to applaud the audience for what he called their “Pollyannaish” devotion to “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” When it first came out, he said the reviews were “brutal” and that critics complained the cast was “too old” and should “only be on TV.” At the time, Koenig considered himself “anonymous” compared to the rest of the cast, but he found this to be great because his name was never mentioned in the reviews. Looking back, he figured they forgot he was in the movie.

When it came to “Star Trek: Generations,” Koenig knew going into it he would have nothing more than a cameo. Initially, the whole Enterprise crew was supposed to be in it, but Takei, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley considered their parts to be not worthy, and Koenig said they were right. In the end, it came down to William Shatner, the late James Doohan and him acting as the bridge to the “Next Generation” cast.

When it came to “Star Trek: Generations,” Koenig originally said no to it because, despite the six-figure salary, he felt he had done this before and that there was nothing new for Chekov to do. The movie’s producer, Rick Berman, met with him, and Koenig suggested they add a scene which would make Chekov a bit deeper, and this involved when he was with Scotty after Captain Kirk got blasted into space. The end result of what Koenig did brought a half dozen people on the set to tears, but in the end it got cut out in the editing room. Koenig said he believed it was all a Machiavellian setup designed to get him involved and that they never planned to put the scene in the final cut.

It was great to see Walter Koenig in such good spirits considering the personal tragedy he endured when his son Andrew committed suicide, and he left the audience with a great treasure trove of behind the scenes stories to remember. He left us to find those “nuclear wessels” as he sarcastically said we were probably all waiting to see “Star Trek V.”

Thanks for a fun evening Walter!

All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘Maximum Overdrive’

Okay let’s be honest, “Maximum Overdrive” is not a good movie, and that is being generous. It is one of the many adaptations of a Stephen King novel or short story, in this case “Trucks,” and it also marked the feature film directorial debut of King as well. The fact he hasn’t directed a movie since should be no surprise to anyone who has seen this one. The acting is embarrassingly over the top, the editing very sloppy, and not even a rock and roll score by AC/DC is enough to lift, as King described it, this “moron movie” out of the cinematic abyss.

But when all is said and done, the trailer for “Maximum Overdrive” is one of my favorite movie trailers of all time. Watching King gleefully describe what he has in store for us makes me want to watch this movie again, and that’s even though I already know just how bad it is.

Right from the start, King makes it clear to the audience how “Maximum Overdrive” will be a unique movie compared to the others based on his work, and as the camera closes in on his face, he gives off a wide-eyed expression and a twisted smile which quickly reminds us how this is the same man who wrote “Carrie,” “Salem’s Lot” and “The Shining.” I love how he talks about how he “sort of enjoyed” directing a motion picture, but it makes me wonder if this was the cocaine talking as he later admitted how “coked out of his mind” he was while making this Golden Raspberry nominated film.

It was also a brilliant move to use the “Chariots of Pumpkins” theme John Carpenter and Alan Howarth composed for the “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” soundtrack here as the wonderfully creepy music adds to King’s creepy appearance while he stands in front of the Green Goblin mask which is featured prominently on the front of the biggest truck in “Maximum Overdrive.”

The worst parts of each actor’s performance are kept to a bare minimum here, but the annoying nature of the character Yeardley Smith plays is something even the makers of this trailer could not hide from the public. But do not feel bad for Smith. She has more than persevered since “Maximum Overdrive” as she still is the voice of Lisa Simpson on “The Simpsons,” and it is enviable role for any actor which she has held onto now for decades.

When King points his finger at us and says “I’m going to scare the hell out of you and that’s a promise,” it is a wonderfully unsettling moment as those of us who are fans of his writing are well-aware of how often he has kept us up nights. Of course, this movie is anything but scary, so perhaps he was talking about one of his books instead without even realizing it.

In a world filled with an infinite number of movie trailers, the one for “Maximum Overdrive” stands out for me among so many others. Even though the movie it advertises proved to be a critical disaster, I still enjoy watching it from time to time as there are few other trailers like it.

 

 

Savage Steve Holland Revisits ‘Better Off Dead’ and ‘One Crazy Summer’ at the Aero Theatre

Better Off Dead poster

The Aero Theatre in Santa Monica was sold out yet again when director Savage Steve Holland was there to talk about his two 1980’s comedies “Better Off Dead” and “One Crazy Summer” back in June 2008. But the big attraction of the evening was “Better Off Dead” as it still has a huge cult following 30 years after its release. Like many movies from our youth, it was a box office flop and got eviscerated by critics. Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs down, and Peter Travers tore it apart limb from limb, but it eventually found its audience on video, cable, DVD and Blu-ray. These days, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t watched “Better Off Dead,” and everyone who has seen it loves it.

“Better Off Dead” follows Lane Meyer (John Cusack), a teenager with an obsession for skiing and an even bigger obsession for his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss). But soon after the movie begins, Beth dumps Lane for the captain of the ski team, and this leaves him utterly devastated to where he tries to kill himself in order to get her attention. Throughout, he is forced to deal with a crazed paperboy who wants his two dollars, his mother’s bizarre ways of cooking food, his dad’s insistence on doing something about his Camaro which remains immobile on the front lawn, his kid brother who reads books on how to pick up “trashy woman,” and a lovely foreign exchange student who has the misfortune of staying with the dork heads, ahem, the Smiths next door.

After “Better Off Dead” ended, Holland came to the stage and was greeted with thunderous applause. Dressed in jeans, a white buttoned-down shirt and wearing a green baseball cap, he was so happy to see all these people who came out to see this movie which he made long ago. Along with Holland was Diane Franklin who played the French exchange student Monique, and Curtis Armstrong who plays Lane’s best friend Charles de Mar.

Holland said “Better Off Dead” was inspired by his own life experiences, particularly the one where a girlfriend dumped him for somebody else. One scene has Lane tying an extension cord around his neck in the garage, and Holland said he did the same thing and had attached the cord to a pole while standing on a plastic garbage can. Holland said he became terrified and couldn’t go through with it, and then the lid of the garbage can suddenly broke and he fell right into it. Then the pipe above him broke, water came out and he almost drowned as a result. His mother came into the garage to see what was going on, and she ended up yelling at him for breaking the pipe.

“Better Off Dead” did so well in test screenings to where Warner Brothers gave Holland even more money to make “One Crazy Summer.” The studio executives were so convinced they had a big hit on their hands, and they wanted to work with him again on his next movie. Unfortunately, “Better Off Dead” failed at the box office and, while he did get the opportunity to make “One Crazy Summer,” Holland said he was quickly consigned to what he called “movie hell.” This is the place you go to when your movie doesn’t have a big opening weekend, and all those friends you thought you had in Hollywood stop calling you as a result.

one_crazy_summer_xlg

One fan asked Holland what the difference was between making “Better Off Dead” and “One Crazy Summer.” With “Better Off Dead,” Holland said he had total creative freedom to where no one was looking over his shoulder, and this made it the best filmmaking experience he has ever had. With “One Crazy Summer,” it was very different because there was more money involved, and studio executives were on set watching his every move. A lot of this was due to their initial response following the first “Better Off Dead” screening as they came out of it horrified, thinking it was a sequel to John Water’s “Pink Flamingos.”

Franklin, as it turns out, is not French. She said her father is in fact German, so this may account for her looking like she is from another country. As for her French accent, Franklin said she took French classes in high school and became very good at speaking the language, and the accent came to her easily as a result. When she came in to read for “Better Off Dead,” Franklin was actually up for the roles of Beth and Monique. Franklin said making this movie remains the best experience she has had as an actress, and she remarked how Holland created a fun and comfortable atmosphere for everyone to work in. She also confirmed it was indeed a woman who did her skiing sequences in the movie and not a man as many assumed. Holland did say, however, that her stunt double looked almost exactly like her, and the only thing separating them was the stunt double’s tan.

Also up for the role of Monique was Elizabeth Daily who sang the movie’s title track at the school dance. But in the end, it was determined Daily was just “too hot” for the role.

Armstrong came up with some of the most memorable aspects of Charles de Mar. The scene where the ski captain asks Beth what her name is and Charles replies, mistakenly thinking he the one being talked to, was Armstrong’s idea. He also came up with the top hat Charles wears throughout the movie, saying it was inspired by his love for The Beatles and, in particular, George Harrison. It was also his idea to bring along the jar with the dead pig in it to school. However, Armstrong said he could not take credit for this famous piece of dialogue: “I have been going to this high school for seven and a half years. I’m no dummy.”

Armstrong also brought up a brief conversation he had with Kim Darby who played Lane’s mom. At one point during a break from filming, Darby came up to Armstrong, took him by the shoulders and said, “Watch out! They’re trying to destroy you!” After that, she never spoke to him again.

Holland also discussed some of the movie’s deleted scenes, and among them was one which showed how Lane’s mother belonged to the cult of Gumby and was collecting money for it at the airport. Other deleted scenes included Lane’s father (played by David Ogden Stiers) coming home to find his wife vacuuming the lawn, Lane trying to practice the theme song to “Flipper” on his saxophone, and there is a seal there which ends up applauding another person who ends up performing it better than him. Also, the scene of the paperboy falling off the cliff actually lasted a lot longer as Holland had about three minutes of it on film, but test audiences had a very sickened reaction to it, and it got shortened as a result.

If there was one thing which dampened the mood for “Better Off Dead” fans, it is the fact Cusack hates the movie. Holland said he got along great with Cusack while making “Better off Dead,” and he really wanted Cusack to like it as much as he did. Before they began shooting “One Crazy Summer,” Holland got the cast members to hang out with each other in Cape Cod so they could become comfortable with one another. While there, someone was presenting a screening of “Better Off Dead” which they all went to. Twenty or so minutes into it, Cusack walked out. Holland figured Cusack had to take a call or something, but the actor never returned. Holland later caught up with Cusack who told him he thought the movie was horrible and that he no longer trusted him as a director. Suffice to say, this really brought the audience at the Aero Theatre down.

Someone else asked how Rupert Hine came to score “Better Off Dead.” One of the companies involved in the movie’s making was A&M Records which had worked on soundtracks for other films like “The Breakfast Club.” Hine was a featured performer on that soundtrack but had never actually done a film score before. “Better Off Dead” was his first effort as a film composer, and the resulting soundtrack release for the movie is indeed awesome.

This evening was a lot of fun for everyone involved, and it says a lot about “Better Off Dead” that it remains so popular decades after its release. One fan proudly proclaimed it as being “bar none, the greatest movie ever made.” Such a fan this guy was, he got Holland to sign an authentic air filter for a 1967 Camaro, just like the one featured in the movie. Along with that, he also had the original vinyl release of the soundtrack as well as the movie’s original script.

“Better Off Dead” is truly one of the most entertaining comedies to come out of the 1980’s, and it is a movie Cusack really should be proud of. What else can you say about a movie in which Steven Williams utters one of the most famous lines in cinema history?

“Now that’s a real shame when folks be throwing away a perfectly good white boy like that.”

The article’s over… You can go home now.

 

Tom McLoughlin Revisits ‘Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives’ at New Beverly Cinema

Tom Mcloughlin Jason Voorhees tombstone

On Friday June 5, 2009, Phil Blankenship presented a triple feature for horror fans at New Beverly Cinema with “Friday the 13th Parts IV, V, & VI.” The fourth film was called “The Final Chapter,” and seeing its title on the screen induced uncontrollable laughter in every member of the audience for obvious reasons. The fifth film, “A New Beginning” remains the most despised of the sequels as it tried to continue to the series without Jason, and it proved to be an embarrassing failure. “Jason Lives,” on the other hand, is one of the best in the series thanks in large part to the great sense of humor the filmmakers brought to it. All the sequels which came after this one turned out to be completely stupid and unintentionally hilarious with a few exceptions. In retrospect, these three movies marked the franchise’s peak as well as the start of its downward spiral.

As time went on, these three “Friday the 13th” sequels became known as the Tommy Jarvis trilogy. We first meet Tommy Jarvis in “The Final Chapter” where he is played by a very young Corey Feldman and spends his time playing on his computer or indulging in his hobby of making masks. Tommy ends up killing Jason with his machete, and then he can’t get himself to stop bashing him with it. In “A New Beginning,” we see an older Tommy, now played by John Shepherd, still dealing with the intense psychological damage his encounter with Jason thrust upon him. And then in “Jason Lives,” Tommy (this time played by Thom Matthews) is convinced Jason is not dead despite having been buried for years. But of course, he ends up accidentally resurrecting Jason and has to take him down yet again.

Blankenship gave the crowd a special treat by bringing out the writer/director of “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives,” Tom McLoughlin, to talk with the audience about its making. McLoughlin started off by saying how glad he was to be at New Beverly Cinema as he got all of his film education here, that shooting this sequel remains the most fun he has had as a filmmaker, and he confessed he has not seen a print of it since 1986.

Friday the 13th Part VI Jason Lives poster

When first hired to direct “Jason Lives,” McLoughlin admitted the only “Friday the 13th” movie he had seen previously was the first one. As a result, the executives at Paramount Pictures forced him to watch the other four. With “Jason Lives,” McLoughlin was intent on ignoring the events of “A New Beginning” because he said it really pissed him off. The audience at the New Beverly was in complete agreement with this, and they applauded him loudly.

McLoughlin also said he had originally planned to introduce Jason’s father, Elias Voorhees, into this sequel in order to give the iconic slasher more of a back story. We all know about his crazy mother, but not much has ever been said about Jason’s poppa. But Paramount Pictures was not crazy about this plot element because they weren’t sure which direction it would take the franchise in, so they put the kibosh on it. However, the DVD reissue of “Jason Lives” does have the film’s original ending with Jason’s father in the form of storyboards, and it is a must see for fans.

One fan asked McLoughlin how he got Alice Cooper to contribute songs to “Jason Lives.” It turns out Cooper is a big fan of the “Friday the 13th” series and was more than happy to participate, even allowing McLoughlin to use any of his songs in the movie. Cooper gave “Jason Lives” its end title song of “The Man behind the Mask,” but McLoughlin said the original version was much faster.

Blankenship asked McLoughlin the inevitable question about how he dealt with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and of what it took to get “Jason Lives” an R rating. Surprisingly, the MPAA didn’t want McLoughlin to cut scenes, but frames instead. McLoughlin said the frames didn’t have blood or gore in them, but the MPAA found them to be too intense. In the end, he made no secret he wanted this movie to be a “huge bloodbath.”

Thom Matthews was cast as Tommy Jarvis in “Jason Lives” as McLoughlin wanted someone who seemed more heroic. Plus, John Shepherd, who played Tommy in “A New Beginning,” didn’t want to return because, as McLoughlin put it, “he got all religious.” Shepherd had since become a born again Christian and his church didn’t feel like doing a slasher movie was in his best interest.

With this particular “Friday the 13th” sequel, McLoughlin admitted he tried to give it a strong sense of humor. This is apparent right from the start when you see how the opening title shot is a clever homage to the gun barrel sequences in the James Bond movies. Indeed, you come out of this sequel feeling like McLoughlin actually took the time to work on the script instead of just throwing something together at the last minute. Plus, the interplay with the kids, and this is one of few movies in this franchise which actually had kids in it, was great like when they hide under the beds and one boy asks another, “So, what were you going to be when you grew up?”

Ron Palillo, who plays Allen Hawes, is best known for playing Arnold Horshack on “Welcome Back, Kotter.” This got McLoughlin talking about how everyone in the city kept calling Palillo “Horshack” wherever he went. Looking back, he said this made him realize how hard it is for actors to get past a character they played which was so popular.

Another fan asked McLoughlin if he had any favorite on-set stories he could share. This got him to talk about a stunt man who came on the set dressed like Evel Knievel and said, “I’m here to crash something. So what do you want me to do?” The stunt he performed was an especially dangerous one as it required him to drive a big RV (is there any other kind?) over a ramp at 90 miles an hour. McLoughlin said this was the scariest time he ever had on a film set as he worried this guy would get killed. Fortunately, the stunt came out perfectly with the RV crashing on its side the way it was supposed to, and the stuntman pulled himself out of the wreckage and said, “Did I do alright?”

It turns out there were different endings thought up for “Jason Lives,” but McLoughlin made it clear he always intended for Jason to end up back in Crystal Lake. One of those endings did include Jason’s father bringing him back to life with voodoo magic. In the end, McLoughlin decided to keep it simple and used the image of Jason’s good eye suddenly opening up wide to show the audience that, surprise, he’s not done killing camp counselors yet.

As for the man behind the mask, two actors were hired to play Jason. The first was Dan Bradley who has since become known as the premier stunt coordinator for Hollywood movies like the Jason Bourne franchise. The powers that be at Paramount Pictures, however, after watching some dailies, decided he should be replaced because they felt he didn’t have the character’s build. Enter C.J. Graham who had just finished a stint as a United States Marine and had no previous acting experience. McLoughlin said Graham came onto the set answering all of his questions with “yes sir.” Today, Graham is a casino manager in Las Vegas.

In regards to his favorite death in “Jason Lives,” McLoughlin replied it was when Sheriff Michael Garris (David Kagen) gets folded in half. This came about because he wanted Jason to kill in ways he thought would seem “superhuman.” The fact Jason starts off being struck by lightning makes it seem all the more logical he would kill people this way. It certainly made for many memorably gruesome moments!

The last question for McLoughlin was if Paramount asked him to direct another installment, and why this didn’t happen. He said he was actually approached by Frank Mancuso to do the next sequel, and Mancuso asked him, “How about Jason vs. Freddy?” To this, McLoughlin replied, “How about Cheech & Chong vs. Jason?”

Later on, McLoughlin did get the offer to direct “Freddy vs. Jason,” but he said he didn’t like the script given to him. New Line Cinema, which ended up buying the rights to “Friday the 13th” from Paramount, invited him for a meeting to talk about it. However, the meeting lasted only ten minutes after which he walked out, and he has not been involved with the movie franchise since.

Since making “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives,” McLoughlin has gone on to make movies like “Date with An Angel” which featured Emmanuelle Béart at her most beautiful, and he also directed episodes of the “Friday the 13th” television series. His other credits include the Stephen King TV movie “Sometimes They Come Back.” Outside of his contribution to the “Friday the 13th” franchise, he has made a good and comfortable career as a director. Having him speak to the fans at New Beverly Cinema was a real treat, and he really enjoyed the time he spent with them. Special thanks go out to Phil Blankenship for putting this screening together. This particular sequel still remains one of the best of this series, and McLoughlin’s appearance made sitting through “Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning” somewhat bearable.

‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’ is a Mixed Bag, But It’s Never Boring

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 poster

After I finished watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” I was in no hurry to watch part two. The 1974 horror classic still probes to be an intensely unsettling cinematic experience decades after its release, and Tobe Hooper’s film was far more terrifying than I expected it to be. Recovering from the original was no different than when I slowly pulling myself back together after watching Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” or just about any Lars Von Trier film. But with Hooper having recently passed away, the time had come for me to check out “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” a sequel heavily criticized when it opened in 1986, but which has since become a cult classic in the eyes of many.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” takes place over a decade after the original, and an opening narration tells us the police searched for Leatherface and his cannibal family but never found any trace of them. But of course, it doesn’t take long for this sequel to reintroduce us to Leatherface as he gleefully slices away at a pair of obnoxious high school seniors who harass on-air radio DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams). Stretch captures the audio of these kids’ murders and passes it on to Lieutenant Baude “Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper), uncle to Sally Hardesty and her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin who were victims of Leatherface’s chainsaw wrath. From there, the two of them become determined to end Leatherface and the Sawyer family’s reign of terror once and for all.

How you enjoy this sequel largely depends on what your expectations are when you go into it. If you think Hooper planned to match the claustrophobic terror and unnerving power of the original, you are in for a serious disappointment. But if you are able to accept this sequel in regards to what Hooper intended to accomplish with it, I think there is a good deal of fun to be had even if feels like there is a lot missing from this follow-up.

With “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” Hooper wanted to focus more on the black comedy he said was inherent in the original. Was there black comedy in the original? Yes, but it took a couple of viewings to realize this was the case. This sequel, however, was made to satirize both horror movies and the excess of the 1980’s. Since this one came out in 1986, the time had come to take aim at the greed which came to define this particular decade. Also, when you take into account how the poster gleefully parodies the one for “The Breakfast Club,” you should know this a film which will not take itself too seriously. Plus, this was released by Cannon Films, so you could count on it being entertaining, and maybe for reasons its director didn’t intend.

Looking back at “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” my feelings about it are decidedly mixed. I did enjoy the frenzied energy Hooper and company brought to the proceedings, and the actors look like they had great fun committing onscreen mayhem. At the same time, it feels like a missed opportunity as the style and substance of this sequel proved to be much too distant from the original. Its links to the 1974 film are very weak to where this feels like a sequel in name only. Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns’ character from the original) is only mentioned in the opening narration as having since gone into catatonia. It would have been cool to see her come back in one way or another, perhaps as some badass hardened warrior eager to get revenge. Heck, this sequel came out in the summer of 1986 not long after Sigourney Weaver set a new standard for female action heroes in “Aliens.” Had Burns come back, it could have been the summer of the vengeful female warrior.

One thing which especially bummed me out was the lack of actors returning from the original. In fact, the only actor from the original to appear here was Jim Siedow who reprises his role as Drayton Sawyer. While his creepy face alone is the kind which inspires wicked nightmares, Siedow doesn’t get as much to do this time around. As for Leatherface, he is portrayed by Bill Johnson and not Gunnar Hansen who brought a twisted realism to the iconic horror character. Johnson isn’t bad as he can wield a rusty chainsaw like the best of them, and his sudden appearance from a room filled with vinyl records results in one of this sequel’s scariest moments, but Hansen is sorely missed here as no other actor can possibly match what he brought to the first film.

The rest of the cast, however, does rise to the frenzied challenge Hooper laid out for them. Bill Moseley, who has since appeared in Rob Zombie’s “House of a 1,000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects,” looks to be having the time of his life as Chop-Top Sawyer as he gleefully tortures Stretch even after a part of his skull gets accidentally sawed off by Leatherface. Speaking of Stretch, Caroline Williams brings a wonderfully spunky energy to the role as she uses her smarts to outwit the Sawyer family in an effort to escape with her life, and her last moment in this sequel is a memorable one to say the least.

But the actor I got the biggest kick out of watching in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” was Dennis Hopper who played former Texas Ranger Baude “Lefty” Enright, a man deeply obsessed with finding the Sawyer family and avenging the suffering they and Leatherface inflicted on his kin. Hopper was in the midst of a major comeback in 1986 as he appeared in “Hoosiers,” “River’s Edge” and, most famously, David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet.” While those films are better examples of his acting, his performance in this sequel is equally inspired as he clearly knew he was in an over-the-top horror movie and relished the opportunity to go mano-a-mano with Leatherface. Seeing the “Easy Rider” battle Leatherface with a chainsaw is wickedly gleeful fun as a battle with chainsaws is something this sequel just had to have.

So, when all is said and done, I did admire “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” but certainly not it in the same way I admired the original. Hooper’s vision wasn’t lacking here in the slightest, but he instead took things in direction fans were prepared for 30 years ago. It is only with the passing of time we can look at it differently and understand how it attained cult status. I don’t think it’s a bad film, but it does feel strange compared to what came before.

Looking back, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” represented one of several attempts by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of taking a well-received motion picture and turning it into a hopefully long-running franchise. Clearly, they had more luck commercially, if not critically, with “Death Wish,” but at least this sequel fared much better than “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace,” the film which pretty much put the final nail in the coffin for Cannon Films.

Of course, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise didn’t stop there as the buzz of the saw is still an inviting sound to horror fans all over the world, and filmmakers have continued on with other sequels, a remake, prequels and, yikes, an upcoming origin story. People still want to experience the visceral thrill the 1974 horror classic in one way or another, but when it came to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” perhaps Hooper realized from the start that it was not possible to top the original or match its terrifying power. Instead, he felt it was better to try something a little different, and that’s what he did with this sequel for better and for worse.

* * ½ out of * * * *