Another feature of...
2003 America Film Market Report
The February 17th issue of Weekly Variety sported an insert supplement. This was dedicated to this year’s American Film Market show, or AFM, in Santa Monica. Included was a listing of wares various independent film companies were offering, with screen, TV and/or foreign rights available. Some of the films featured there will hit the theaters. Most, however, will premiere (or not) on TV or home video/DVD.
Here’s some highlights:
A report on page 10 spotlighted the continuing success of genre films. Horror films that attracted enough buzz for a mention included Lion Gate’s Cabin Fever, "a gore-filled tale of attractive teens trying to escape the ravages of a flesh-eating disease." Sam Raimi is reported to be the producer of a movie called The Boogeyman; Octane stars Madeleine Stowe.
On the action front, our old friends at Nu Image (Octopus, Spiders, Crocodile, etc.) are offering a package of under-$5,000,000 disaster pics, wittily entitled Avalanche, Tornado, Fire, Volcano and Earthquake. Cinetel, meanwhile, will showcase both a global-warming epic, Scorcher, and it’s obverse, Deep Freeze.
Page 11 features ad art for numerous cheesy looking entries from York Entertainment. Robert Townsend stars in Black Listed, which looks to be the sort of crime flick he once parodied in Hollywood Shuffle. (For those interested, Townsend apparently provides a director’s commentary on the DVD, which seems to be currently available.)
Hood Angels appears to be a DTV Blaxploitation knock-off of Charlie’s Angels. (At least these angels get to use guns. In fact, the tagline is a pithy BAD GIRLS WITH BIG GUNS.) Scream Bloody Murder looks like a slasher movie with ad art designed for those with a schoolgirl uniform fetish.
El Chupacabra, we learn, is supposedly in production. Then there’s the finished Scarecrow. According to the company’s website, "When frustrated nerd Lester dies at the hands of those who tormented him in life he comes back as an evil Scarecrow and seeks revenge against the bullies." The tagline: "You’ve never been STALKED like this…" How corny. They’re currently working on the sequel.
Oh, and Andrew Borntreger should visit their site (www.yorkentertainment.com) for news on Ankle Biters, a film about, and I’m not kidding, midget vampires.
Roger Corman’s New Concorde International has a multi-page ad starting on page 21. The first page promotes screenings of Sting of the Black Scorpion (ala the defunct Black Scorpion superheroine TV series) and Demon Slayers, a movie meant, just maybe, to rip-off Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or at least make you think it does.
The second page features Barbarian, an obvious manqué Scorpion King starring "3 Time Mr. Universe Michael O’Hearn". Next to that is Treasure Hunt, a "sexy comedy" about buxom girls in bikinis on a Survivor-type show. (I think.) Purportedly humorous homicide is in the mix, apparently. There is a veteran cast, however, including Melissa "Raptor/Agent Red" Brasselle; ‘80s bad comedy icon Robert Gabai; sexploitation vets Samantha Phillips and Gail Harris and the ubiquitous Julie Strain.
The last page of the spread covers Flyin’ Ryan, about a kid with magical sneakers that allow him to fly. It is, in other words, a cross between Like Mike and The Dirtbike Kid. These magical shoes allow him to "take on Dirk the bully and his skateboarding crew." Last up is Firefight, which looks frighteningly like a remake of Howie Long’s Firestorm, only starring OOT Baldwin and Nick Mancuso.
On page 35, we get to the meat of the supplement, the Vendors & Product section. Each company at AFM is allowed to spotlight a small number of films here, including cast info (if available) and short plot description (ditto). Those films that lack such presumably have not been made but are hoping to find financing.
In other words, some of the films listed are done and ready to go – indeed, are already out on home video or scheduled to be, but are selling foreign rights – others are in production, some are in pre-production. Many of the latter will never actually get made.
I generally have picked projects whose plot description and/or cast I find interesting. In some cases, I just found the descriptions weirdly worded enough to be amusing.
All the Real Girls (Completed): "When 22-year-old Paul meets his best friend’s sister, the two fall into a perfect, terrifying love that soon becomes too delicate." Huh?
[Carl Fink notes that this movie is out, and was given a rave four-star review by Roger Ebert. Hopefully it's better written than the above synopsis.]
Fate: "A detective and an ex-Fed chase a killer who uses his kidnapped victims as characters in a story." The awesome cast includes Lee Majors and Philip Michael Thomas. What, they couldn’t even get someone who was popular in the ‘90s?
Vocoius: "A group of teenagers is attacked in the woods by a government mutation experiment gone wrong." Aside from being an obvious candidate for the most original screenplay of the year, you can’t go wrong with a cast that includes Tom Savini and Brinke Stevens.
More specifically derivative is Lurking Terror: "An ancient demon is used by a sadistic backwoods family to stalk and kill strangers." I’m assuming the demon is called Squash-Noggin or something.
American Home Film
Vortex/Inferno: "In the future, punishment is unlike anything you’ve seen before." Uh, OK.
Escape Human Cargo: "An American trapped in Saudi Arabia will do the unthinkable to break free." Sadly, this stars Treat Williams. Ah, Treat, what might have been.
American World Pictures
The Wisher: "All the wishes Jamie makes come true in horrible ways; now she must discover if the wisher legend is true before it’s too late." This, like a number of other wannabe pictures, was listed in last year’s guide as well. And it doesn’t sound any better now than it did in 2002. It supposedly stars Ron Silver (ouch!) who presumably is glad no one wishes to see it.
Speed Demon: "A mysterious driver in a muscle car with a demonic hood ornament hunts down a gang that has taken over a small town." In other words, The Wraith: The Next Generation.
Leeches: "Leeches who feed on steroid-taking swimmers grown into giant leeches that attack the town." Rumor has it that the movie has certain homosexual undertones (or even overtones) so make "suck" jokes at your own risk.
Ancient Warriors (yes, that’s a production company)
Ancient Warriors (yes, that’s a movie – sort of): "Retired Delta Force agents reunite to protect ancient silver mines from an evil army." Pardon my ignorance, but what’s a Delta Force "agent"? Stars OOT Baldwin.
Doublecross [sic]: "Action and mystery explodes [sic], unraveling a story that twists and turns, erupting in crossfires [sic] of revenge and retribution." Wow, that’s a lot of verbs! Stars Frank Stallone. (There’s three words you don’t often see together.)
Michael Angel: "A tormented priest traces his brother’s murder to a brilliant abstract painter." OK, that just sounds lame, even starring Richard "Die! Die! Die!" Grieco and Dennis "Tycus" Hopper. Then I "got" the title, and became angry enough to mention the movie here.
The Twins Effect: Imported Cantonese film. "The horrific hordes of the Asian undead have met their match in the unlikely form of twins." Really hot twins, needless to say. Word on the web is that Jackie Chan’s in it, but then why wouldn’t they mention that here?
13th Child: Legend of the Jersey Devil: "As investigators follow up on a series of intense, unusual murders, they are pointed to the infamous legend known as the Jersey Devil." Huh? Cliff Robertson, Lesley Anne Down and Christopher Atkins (!) star.
Unspeakable: "A woman inmate battles terror and the unsepakable [sic] evil that lurks within a bizarre, unexplainable inmate." I’m not entirely sure "unexplainable" is used in that sentence correctly. On the cast side, Lance Henriksen is a good sign. Dina "Bats" Meyer and Dennis "Tycus" Hopper, however, are not.
King of the Ants: "A man is hired to stalk a government official, which leads to murder, torture and a wild affair with his victim’s widow." OOT Baldwin (stop them before they "act" again), Kari Wuhrer star.
Last Horror Picture Show: "Teens must fight for their lives when they become trapped in the home of a family of infamous serial killers." I’ll bet this one never gets made, although supposedly Robert Englund, Kane Hodder and Gunnar Hansen are attached.
The Demon Slayer: "When two serial killers begin to kill in the same small town, the FBI sends out an agent who can see into their souls." Yep, that’s FBI SOP when two serial killers begin to kill in the same small town, all right. By the way, isn’t the whole "serial killer" thing a little old by now? I guess not, because I’d estimate a good twenty or thirty films listed here feature them.
House of the Dead: "A band of college students goes to a rave [how topical!] on a mysterious island and is stalked by killer zombies." Oh, killer zombies. That kind. Starring Jurgen Prochnow and Clint Howard. This film, by the way, is advertised on the back page of the AFM supplement, which must have cost big bucks. Still, if it is indeed "BASED ON THE HIT SEGA VIDEO GAME" as advertised, how can it lose?
Page 47 features a full page ad for Filmax International, the guys who did the nifty Dagon, containing poster art for Romasanta (apparently a sexy werewolf picture); The Nun (poster portrays a nun whose lower face is skeletal; "Pray you don’t see her!"); Rottweiler (killer dog with Wolverine-esque metal bones) and Beneath Still Waters, some sort of underwater monster flick (I’m guessing).
Vampire Assassin: "To kill an army of vampires, you must become one." How do you become an army of vampires? This stars a tough-looking black dude, and reminds me of something, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
[Carl Fink interjects: "Do assassins really fight armies? I thought they did more individuals."]
Gi-Ants: Advertised last year, if this ever gets finished it will feature giant CGI ants that threaten the world. At this point I’m not holding my breath. They probably assumed funding would pop up after Eight Legged Freaks hit it big. After that film tanked, I imagine this is being put on the back burner.
I Accuse: "A highly respected doctor concocts a way to take his DNA tests after he is accused of sexually assaulting a female patient who becomes ostracized by the community." Uh…what?
[Readers Respond: Long time Jabootu correspondent Sandra notes that the sentence is no doubt supposed to read "...concocts a way to fake his DNA tests...". Oh, yeah, that does make a little more sense. And I mean, "a little." Thanks, Sandra!]
Snakehead Terror: "Man-eating snake-head fish, the size of small sharks, threaten to destroy the entire North American ecological system." I don’t think this will ever get made – it’s "pre-production" -- but I’d love to see it. This is definitely the winner of the "Ripped From The Headlines" award.
[Carl Fink interjects: "Small sharks are, of course, small. Say 7" long as adults. Real snakeheads (Channids) are bigger than small sharks."]
Love Object: "A highly intelligent computer expert turns to a $10,000 sex doll for comfort, never expecting the doll to get violently jealous when he finds a real girlfriend." Wow, that sounds like a great story. At least it was for the eight recent Outer Limits episodes with the same plot.
Water’s Edge: "A novelist and his wife uncover a vast web of sex, murder and lies in their quiet hometown." Why did I mention this flick? It’s yet another OOT Baldwin movie. And while I can’t imagine this is so, is a Baldwin playing the novelist?!
Monster Man: "A monstrous man driving a monster truck terrorizes a couple of college kids traveling cross-country." Yeah, I saw this the first time, when it was called Joy Ride.
Punch: "A group of women takes out the frustrations of daily life by battling it out in the world of topless female boxing." Believe or not, word on the web is that this is a good movie.
Absolon: "A detective has three days to save the world from a deadly virus." Dig the cast: Christopher "Highlander II: The Quickening" Lambert, Lou Diamond "Bats" Phillips and Ron "The Island of Dr. Moreau" Perlman. Wowsers!
Hallow’s End: "Trapped inside a haunted house, students are murdered one by one, only to come back as the creatures whose costumes they were wearing." Winner of the "Boy, I’d like to see this one done right" award.
Drawing Down the Moon: "A wiccan draws upon the energies of the world to battle unscrupulous businessmen trying to stop her building a homeless shelter." Oh, bruh—ther. Starring Walter Koenig.
Creature: "In a secret high-tech government laboratory, a military experiment unleashed a 5,000 year old creature with the potential to destroy the world." Oh, those military bioweapon experiments. When will they learn?
Belly of the Beast: "An ex-CIA agent’s quest to find his kidnapped daughter leads him on a trail of political intrigue, corruption, danger and betrayal." Considering that this is set to star Steven Seagal, perhaps it should be called "The Really, Really Big Belly of the Beast."
Samhain: "A disfigured mutant hunts college students on a class trip." Oh, no, and disfigured mutants are the worst kind! Hmm, students, in the woods, stalked by a monster…where do they get their ideas? Stars Richard Grieco, whose name pops up way too much in the AFM listings, and porn stars Ginger Lynn Allen, Chasey Lain and Jenna Jameson.
[Carl Fink interjects: "Ginger Lynn Allen is 41. She’s playing a college student?"]
Deathwatch: "A small company of WWI soldiers seeking refuge in German trenches realizes they are not alone when one of them is horribly murdered." This one I wouldn’t mind seeing. People on the IMDB seem to either have hated or loved it (albeit more the former than the latter).
Layover: "A steamy airport affair becomes one man’s nightmare, as the woman he made love to turns out to be the wife of a dangerous jewelry dealer." The film stars David Hasselhoff. Which means that when the affair becomes one man’s nightmare, I’m the man. An erotic thriller starring David Hasselhoff?! Egads! And he sleeps with the wife of a dangerous jewelry dealer? Why, that’s the worst kind!
Epicenter: "A female cop must escort a notorious criminal across Los Angeles to jail during an earthquake crisis." Stars former underaged porn star Traci Lords, who now goes by the name of Traci Elizabeth Lords. By the way, when did Jeff Fahey end up playing supporting parts to Traci Lords?! What a world.
Lightning: Bolts of Destruction: "When the Earth is engulfed in a deadly global lightning storm, a family of unlikely heroes has to save the planet." Unlikely heroes?! Why, that’s the worst kind!
Killer Flood: The Day the Dam Broke: "An entire town is in jeopardy when torrential rains and rising reservoirs threaten to burst through the dam." I was wondering when Bruce Boxleitner was going to turn up.
[Carl Fink interjects: "Torrential rains threaten to burst through the dam?"]
Dog Gone: "A faithful dog comes back to life in the body of a petty criminal to stop his killer from a plan of mass destruction." Say what now? And boy, that’s an awful title. Stars the inimitable Daphne Zuniga.
Vlad: "Death and spiritual torment stalk three American students visiting the Carpathian mountain homeland of Vlad Tep Drakul." Students being stalked? How original! Still, when the cast includes both Billy Zane and Brad Dourif, how can you go wrong?
Nursie: "A young man is held captive by a sadistic nurse." Why, that’s not like Misery at all! After all, that film had a middle-aged man held captive by a sadistic nurse.
Darkness Falling: "A lawyer investigating the suicide of her twin finds that she led a secret life." You know, I really can’t believe anyone would bring out the "dead twin sibling" hook yet again. Yeesh.
Unified Film Organization
Silent Warnings: "College students renovating a farmhouse find strange designs in the crop fields." Amazing what guys can think up these days.
A while ago I was noodling around the Internet, looking for whatever B-Fest-like events I could find. One such was an annual show held down at the University of Illinois in Champagne/Urbana. This featured a short slate of killer insect movies.
Sponsored by the school’s Entomology Graduate Student Association, it was holding its 20th such event on Saturday, February 15th, 2003. I was thrilled to see that this year’s fest was dedicated to the works of Bert I. Gordon. Mr. Gordon, of course, is better associated with the Big Bug movie -- perhaps my single favorite sci-fi sub-genre -- than any other individual.
Even so, I wasn’t really planning to go. I don’t like driving or traveling much. I especially don’t like driving on expressways. I am, moreover, phenomenally lazy. In fact, the only reason I even considered going was that Bert I. Gordon himself was to be on hand as the Fest’s guest. That certainly piqued my interest.
Things fell into place when my old buddy Andrew Muchoney offered to come along and assume the driving duties. That sounded good to me. I made a motel reservation for after the show, printed off the Internet the appropriate maps and such, and we were set to go.
Heavy snow had been called for the night before the show, however. After days of dire warnings from the weather guys, this luckily bypassed the Chicago area almost entirely. They were still calling for heavy snow in southern Illinois, though. When I saw predictions of upwards of ten inches of snow, I considered calling things off. By Saturday morning, however, the estimates had fallen to two to three inches. That seemed doable. Saturday afternoon arrived, and we hit the road.
The trip mostly went well. Despite having detailed Mapquest directions, we missed one exit due to a collective Homer Simpson moment. By which I mean, we saw a sign alerting us our turn was due in an mile and a half, and five miles later said, "Hey, I think we missed our exit." This was bothersome but really only cost us twenty minutes or so.
The most memorable event was when we passed a weird Euro-looking car. It proved to be a Honda Insight, a ‘hybrid’ car powered by both gas and electricity. This probably would have only earned a snort from us, but the guy’s license plate read AYN RAND. And his plate holder, obviously a custom one, read on top "THE VOICE OF REASON" and, on bottom, "THIS GOD, THIS ONE WORD: I". Andrew and I agreed that Rand probably wouldn’t have had much use for goofy looking eco-cars, and had much sport with the fellow over the next couple of days.
It was about an hour north of Urbana that the roadway started getting bad. This was narrow to start with, despite being two lanes. Second, although the snow had thankfully stopped before we got down there, lots of the stuff was blowing around due to some forceful winds. Believe me, when you’re surrounded by utterly flat land for dozens or hundreds of miles in each direction, the wind can get brutal.
During this period, and I’m not exaggerating, we observed at least fifteen vehicles that had gone off the road and into ditches of various depths. This included a jackknifed semi that had ended up down a fairly deep grade. We slipped around on occasion, but nothing all that bad. And, thankfully again, the additional snow forecasted never arrived.
We arrived in Urbana before five o’clock. There we learned that the city is not tremendously efficient at snow removal. The streets were still covered with upwards of a half-foot of snow and we skidded around quite a bit. Anyone planning to attend an event down there in the winter would be well advised to check out local weather conditions before starting out.
We checked into the Travelodge where I’d made reservations. For what it’s worth, the room was clean and the rates fairly cheap. Plus it had cable. And really, what else do you need? I also knew it was only about a mile from Foellinger Hall, where the Fest would be held.
With an hour to kill, we decided to grab dinner. A place called Mulligan’s Ale House had posted menus in the hotel rooms. We noted immediately that this establishment boasted of serving Lamb Wesson Criss Cut Waffle Fries. Well, say no more. Anyway, the fries were really quite good and the cheeseburgers were terrific. If the place were up north I’d eat there regularly.
We took our leave and slowly and carefully made our way to the campus. Even so, the roads remained treacherous. Luckily the motel, restaurant and the Hall were all within maybe a mile and a half of each other. Being the weekend, the campus parking lots proved to be open to the public (and good thing, too), and we found one we estimated was within a block of Foellinger.
After a short but brutally cold walk – I was especially concerned that I was deriving almost zero traction from my shoes -- we arrived at the Hall. It’s a pretty impressive structure. The main auditorium seats 1,750 people, including the balcony section. Having gotten there shortly after the place opened, we were able to grab front row seats (which obviously weren’t designed for, shall we say, a man of my width).
In the lobby were displays of insects and other bugs, both live and encased. T-shirts were for sale and I grabbed one. It turned out the Fest is free, which I thought was pretty cool. I was heartened to see there were more than a few families in attendance, many with small children. The latter were often seen taking advantage of the free face-painting table, where you could have bugs of various sorts painted on.
Five girls, meanwhile, maybe twelve or thirteen years in age, were dressed in bee costumes and capering around on stage. It was a fairly charming scene, and much different then the snarkier crowds events like B-Fest and NOWFF generally draw.
The show began. The woman who acted as the night’s Master of Ceremonies, whose named I neglected to learn, appeared and gave out awards for the annual insect art contest. (Although most of the winners proved not to be in attendance.) We then watched a trippy cartoon. Since the company that made it is notoriously litigious, I’ll forgo identifying it. Still, it involved big bugs and was quite fun.
Next the MoC introduced the first feature, Beginning of the End (1957). That, I knew, would be a favorite here because it begins in Urbana itself. Really. The giant locusts it revolves around end up besieging Chicago, so the movie needed to start somewhere nearby.
Despite the highly adverse weather, there were probably two to three hundred people on hand. Unlike B-Fest and NOWFF, the folks here tended not to shout out jokes, although some of the film’s more dated elements did draw laughs. A huge one went up at one point, and I was a bit bewildered why. Then I realized the attendees were mostly locals laughing at the mountains seen in a background shot of ‘Urbana.’ Which, again, sits upon some of the flattest prairie terrain imaginable.
After the film ended, the MoC returned to introduce the guest of honor. Mr. Gordon proved to be a remarkably spry fellow for someone the IMDB identifies as being eighty years of age. Indeed, I would easily have believed he was in his early sixties were I not aware of his film résumé. He indulged us with a question and answer period lasting maybe a half an hour.
Mr. Gordon proved to have a delightful sense of humor, although he remains a bit protective of his films. (And why shouldn’t he be?) I think he finds the idea that his films are now considered to be campy somewhat disconcerting. When one audience member questioned whether the films were made tongue-in-cheek, he seemed shocked at the suggestion. Audiences of the time, he asserted – and no doubt accurately, although this might have been less true of his ‘70s work than his ‘50s stuff – took them as serious flicks.
I, of course, have made sport of Mr. Gordon’s work on this site. Even so, let me state for the record that his movies, despite the flaws attendant to low-budget sci-fi fare of the period he made them in, remain more than a little entertaining. In some cases, they are actually pretty good movies. I’d especially place The Amazing Colossal Man and Earth vs. the Spider in that latter category. And let me also attest that I wiled away many a blissful childhood hour watching his work. Thank you, Mr. Gordon.
Eventually Mr. Gordon finished up his session, whereupon he received an extremely warm round of applause. The MoC returned to the podium and introduced the next movie, 1958’s Earth vs. the Spider. If you were to pick one film to represent cheesy ‘50s sci-fi flicks in all their glory, you could do much worse than this. There’s even a rock‘n’roll number, one moreover that actually is integral to the plot.
The film does have its campy elements, including high school students played by actors born as early as 1923 (i.e., 35 years old at the time of filming). Amusingly, the guy playing their teacher was only two years older than some of his "students." The special effects, meanwhile, range from generally pretty good to occasionally poor. And the (literally) white-bread portrayal of teens will undoubtedly generate some guffaws from modern viewers.
Still and all, it holds up pretty well. I’d actually put it up against the much higher budgeted Tarantula, a film I never had much affection for. The movie is actually quite gruesome for the time. Especially so was a shot of a blood-drenched baby, his mother presumably slain, shown abandoned and wailing in the trail of destruction left by the spider’s passing. I’d forgotten that bit, and was actually a bit shocked by it, even forty-plus years later.
The film ended and the MoC returned to the stage to introduce the final picture, Empire of the Ants (1977). At one point she mentioned she was going to quote from a website. Needless to say, especially as I’d reviewed the film here, I leaned forward with some interest. Inevitably, though, she quoted the guys at Stomp Tokyo instead. So now I hate them that much more.
Watching Empire of the Ants on a big screen was interesting. It held together a bit better than I found it on DVD. (Of course, I was also reviewing it at the time, and thus watching it in bits.) On the other hand, the clothes the actors wore were even more horrible when seen in better detail. The special effects suffered a bit as well. Laughs to this effect were shouted down, though, and with reason. Whatever the results, you have to admire Mr. Gordon’s ambitions, given his no doubt puny budget.
After the movie ended the show was officially over. Some people huddled around Mr. Gordon, but that sort of thing was never been my bag, so we headed out. (Although I do regret not getting him to autograph the video of War of the Colossal Beast I’d brought along.) I can only hope that he enjoyed being feted. He certainly deserved it.
Then it was back to the motel and a late episode of Junkyard Wars before catching some ‘Z’s. The next morning the expressway was slightly better. By which I mean we saw five or six cars freshly off the road rather than fifteen or twenty of them. The semi-truck still sat there, too. That probably had to wait until a crane was available.
After about an hour, we were far enough north that the roads were entirely clear. Having learned our lesson from the trip down, we commanded our brains to remain alert for up to two minutes at a time, so as to not miss any exits on the return trip. A bit under three hours, and we were home.
Time to start planning for NOWFF, I guess.
Summary: A fine show put on by fine folks. And God bless Bert I. Gordon.
Plot: If the title of this flick doesn’t clue you in, there’s not much I can do for you.
February 3, 2003. It is reported -- with all the mandatory "alleged"s and "assumed"s duly attached -- that former record producer Phil Spector, a man with a history of mental illness and violence, has shot and killed a woman at his mansion. Hours later, the identity of the victim is released. The deceased is ‘80s B-movie queen Lana Clarkson, dead at the tragically young age of forty.
The Sword & Sorcery boom of the ‘80s followed the success of the (comparatively) big budget Conan the Barbarian with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Soon the cinema screen – that’s right, there was a time when stuff like this played in theaters, rather than going direct to video and/or cable – was awash with glisteningly oiled sword-slingers, goofy rubber monsters and silicone-engorged boobies. This all continued until, as usually happens, market saturation occurred, hastened by the low quality of the product provided. Even so, the boom lasted long enough to provide the buxom Lana Clarkson with at least four feature appearances.
Ms. Clarkson had a typically eclectic B-movie career. Her best-known role, perhaps, remains Alpha Beta, the space woman who falls in love with an earthman in the sketch spoof Amazon Women of the Moon. Her earliest roles, meanwhile, included bit parts in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Scarface (!).
With Hollywood stardom eluding her, she traveled down to Argentina to be in the Sword & Sorcery ‘epic’ Deathstalker. While there she also appeared in Barbarian Queen, her first starring role. Physically, she was a natural for these pictures. Blonde, gorgeous and a statuesque six feet tall, she was also ready to provide the nudity that proved a central ingredient of the genre. Admittedly, she never really became a believable fighter. Still, that was pretty much par for the course with these things. They seldom spent a lot of time choreographing elaborate swordplay. Even if they had, they wouldn’t have had enough time, money or, frankly, talent to film and edit the sequence properly.
Clarkson’s character in Barbarian Queen, Amethia – pardon my familiarity, Your Highness -- went on to have her own bizarre career. Pointlessly changing her name to Amathia, the character appeared three years later in a supporting role in the non-connected ‘sequel’ Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II. That was in 1988. Four years after that, Amathia-with-three-a’s returned in Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back.
In a better world than ours, Amethia/Amathia would have met up with Ator. Perhaps they would even have sired a son, one who would have grown up and eventually avenged his parent’s inevitable horrible deaths.
Clarkson’s only appearance between the latter two films was in 1990’s The Haunting of Morella, a T&A horror flick helmed by prolific hack Jim "Final Voyage" Wynorski. That picture’s most notable trait was its gall in claiming to be based on the short story by Edgar A. Poe. Although receiving only fourth billing, Clarkson at least was afforded the opportunity to appear alongside such down-on-their-heels ‘stars’ as David McCallum, Nicole "Clan of the Cave Bear" Eggert and ‘90s silicone queen Maria Ford. Following this was, as noted, Clarkson’s third appearance as Amethia/Amathia, and then her final starring role in 1996’s Vice Girls. This was a female action comedy directed by ‘80s crap perennial actor/producer/director Robert Gabai.
The following year saw Clarkson’s final screen appearance. She played ‘Woman at Fashion Show’ in Mickey Rourke’s follow-up to Nine ½ Weeks (sans Kim Basinger, unsurprisingly), Love in Paris. With the age of forty starting to peep up on the horizon, Clarkson sagely retired from the screen. Perhaps she was tired of popping open her blouse in some lame flick once every other year. Also, when you start your acting career in films written by Cameron Crowe and Oliver Stone and end up working for the likes of Wynorski and Gabai, it’s probably time to hang up your hat. Even so, Ms. Clarkson retains a fervid fan base, who can visit her website at http://www.lanaclarkson.com.
Given the kind of movie this is, it’s probably unsurprising that they didn’t spend a lot of time hashing out a plot. We open on Taramis, a beautiful young woman picking flowers in a serene pastoral setting. Since we all know where this is going they don’t waste much time. In other words, she’s almost immediately set upon by brigands.
This results in one of those nauseating pseudo-rape scenes films used to resort to so as to ‘justify’ some onscreen nudity. Since Taramis was sitting by a lake, the filmmakers could have just had her take a quick dip. At least that would have been less offensive. On the other hand, rapine and S/M antics are part of the whole Sword & Sorcery package. (Just look at the leather outfits they wear in these things.) I mean, these are movies about barbarians. Which might help explain why this has never been my favorite B-movie genre.
We cut to your generic Barbarian Movie Village. This is one of those happy, prosperous and surprisingly clean ones that are never destined to last too long in these things. The villagers are so full of joy that they’re just asking for it. (We also see that James Horner is co-credited for the music. I couldn’t tell if these were new cues, however, or if they just reused the ones he provided for Wizards of the Lost Kingdoms.)
We soon meet Prince Argan. Given how inert the actor playing him is, however, I think they perhaps meant ‘Argon.’ He’s to this very day to wed the beauteous Princess Amethia. At this point they should have just put up a big sign saying "Evil Barbarians – Please Come Kill Us." Argan’s intro also serves to spotlight the film’s comically inept dubbing.
In one of the town’s elaborate bamboo structures -- all the better to be burned to the ground, My Pretty -- we see Amethia. She’s bathing, naturally, in preparation for the big day. Being girls, her attendants, all sporting the obligatory heavy mascara and mammoth Adrienne Barbeau hairdos, giggle and gossip and such.
Amethia inquires as to the whereabouts of her younger sister. Who, to my complete lack of amazement, is identified as being Taramis. One of the attendants, Estrild, heads off to look for her. At this we cut away to see the now (surprise) topless Taramis being tied up by her assailants. The latter all chuckle evilly as we wait for them to reap their just desserts.
Meanwhile, Evil Mounted Goons in Black Leather™ – all these gangs must shop at the same place -- begin attacking the village. Given that we’re less than four minutes into things, it’s like we’re watching a Cliff Notes version of your typical S&S feature. Of course, the film’s entire running time is about seventy minutes, so they don’t have a lot of room for dawdling. (Which doesn’t mean the film won’t become boring after a while.)
Your obligatory Unconvincing Battle Sequence commences. Dozens of extras bloodlessly falling over from sword thrusts that patently miss them. Meanwhile we occasionally cut to a gory ketchup-drenched appliance to suggest the carnage. Also per tradition, about three guys die for every one guy there seems to be fighting.
Despite their valiant (yawn) efforts, the villagers end up dead. The Prince is captured and the butt-kicking Amethia apparently dies after she sets the building she’s in ablaze. Their work here done, the Goons leave, taking Taramis with them. Estrild, who was off looking for Taramis, tearfully watches these events from hiding.
When she returns, all are dead. Except for Amethia, who rises from the wreckage of the burned down building. Presumably they established the in-ground bathing tub earlier to explain why she’s still alive. However, they don’t explain this directly, thus leaving the viewer to piece it together for themselves. As to why she wasn’t boiled to death like a lobster – the structure she was in went up in a raging inferno -- or suffocated for want of air, well, you’ve got me. I had a hard enough time figuring out the bathtub thing.
On the other hand, perhaps she’s simply fireproof. This would explain why she could grab a sword lying amidst the building’s smoldering ruins without burning her hand. Amethia then delivers a little monolog. The result suggests that Ms. Clarkson may have garnered the role more on how she looked in skimpy leathers than for her thespian talents.
The two are soon loading up a canoe, because ultimately these things always come down to a quest of some sort. They stop to clean up for a minute and all the soot on their faces magically falls off. Meanwhile, they are joined by Tiniara, a villager who killed her captor and stole his horse. She and Amethia want to immediately ride off to seek their revenge. However, Estrild, who’s the exaggeratedly giggly-girly member of the party – think a young Denise Richards or Kathy Ireland here -- insists that they take time to eat. Constantly wanting to eat will, in fact, prove to be Estrild’s ‘comic’ trait.
Soon, however, they are cruising down the river. We here note that, oddly, they are becoming cleaner as their journeys continue rather than dirtier. Estrild is skimming the water with a big ladle, hoping for a fish. Instead, she brings up a severed head. Because that’s the kind of world it is, I guess. The ladies soon spot a guard tower, or something, and somehow land their craft without being spotted. Which, when you think about it, sort of undermines the entire ‘guard tower’ concept.
Lengthy ‘action’ scenes ensue. The music tries to convince us that all this is exciting, although without much help from what is actually occurring onscreen. In the end, unsurprisingly, the nimrod guards are slain by our stalwart amazons. Following this, Our Heroines discover a cowering Taramis inside the tower.
Tragically (well, sorta), she’s gone mad from her misadventures. This state of affairs will be indicated by actress Dawn Dulap pouting whenever the camera cuts to her. Her impairment proves pretty convenient for the scriptwriter, however, since he can have her do whatever nutzo thing will advance the plot. Because, you see, she’s crazy. So of course she does crazy things. Why try to figure it out?
The party continues on, riding the horses of their slain foes. Luckily, we see, Amethia’s eyeliner was unaffected by her thrashing bout in the river with some of guards. Eventually they stop for the night. After some desultory ‘comedy’ at Estrild’s expense (not to mention ours) – she always wants to eat, did I mention that? -- they bunk down. They not only sleep next to a roaring fire, but do so without bothering to set up a watch. This sort of made me wonder where exactly their enemies were.
The next day (presumably) they resume their ride. However, they find themselves surrounded by archers who pop up from nearby foliage. Our Heroines learn that their captors are a band of displaced folk like themselves, ones who fear that they are spies for "The Kingdom." Learning that Amethia’s crew is instead the enemies of Arrakur, the film’s Designated Evil Despot, they provide Dariac, a young teenaged girl, to lead them on their way.
It was about here that I remembered something: Even back in the ‘80s, when I was a younger man and Sword & Sorcery films were a popular genre, I generally found these films boring. I think the worst aspect for me was the fact that the middle portions of the films would usually have nothing to do with the main story. Various ‘adventures’ would be had, which were almost entirely filler.
Barbarian Queen is only seventy minutes long. (Although it’s a looong seventy minutes.) So it has maybe fifty minutes of filler between the ransacking of Amethia’s village to the climatic peasant uprising. (Oops, sorry.) Yet the fact is, if they wanted to make the film ninety minutes instead, they could have just thrown in another S&M bit and a few more fights of the ‘raise swords – clash swords – lower swords – clash swords – repeat as necessary’ variety.
On top of this add all the regular complaints. Poor production values. Bad writing. Bad acting. Bad comedy. Perhaps worst of all is the really slack editing most of these things evinced. The sense of boredom fostered by the aimlessness of the filler material was all too often exaggerated by the stolid pace at which these events would take place.
So what I’m saying is, I think I’m going to speed things up here.
Summary: Bondage, boobs, bloodshed and (for me, at least) boredom.
Carl Fink interjects: "I was once a big mythology nut. Did you know that Taramis was a Celtic thunder god comparable to Zeus? Who decided to give a woman the name of a male deity?"
Eye See You
It’s easy to forget how completely the action film dominated the movie world in the ‘80s. It was the decade, after all, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was the biggest box office draw in the world. Almost all the era’s male stars were ‘action’ stars, from King Arnold all the way down to the Seagals, Bronsons and Norrisses. It was a time when actors like Oliver Grunier dreamed of becoming the next Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Eventually, as is the nature of things, the films got worse as they become more numerous. For every movie that hit the theaters, ten more came out on video. Inevitably, the market glutted. Those action stars that could act (Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood) increasingly made the transition to mainstream pictures. The ones who couldn’t just got older and eventually lost their audiences.
Attempts to create a new generation of such stars (OOT Baldwin in Fair Game, Jason Patric in Speed 2: Cruise Control, etc.) failed to pan out. Keanu Reeves and Tom Cruise probably remain the closest things to ’80s-style action stars, and they alternate big action flicks with other sorts of pictures. Today there aren’t many stars, if any, who are thought of primarily as "action" actors.
One sign that the old crop of action stars was dying off (professionally, anyway) was a string of fairly high-budget movies meant for theatrical release that instead were dumped directly to video. The entropy of Van Damme’s career was sealed when Legionnaire met this fate in 1998. Steve Seagal joined him that same year with The Patriot.
Which leaves the two biggest action stars of the ‘80s. Schwarzenegger probably won’t ever face this predicament. He’s a man who made millions in various endeavors before ever becoming an actor. Should he believe his movie career to be dimming to anywhere near this extent, he’ll just move on. For instance, there’ve been rumblings for years that he might run for the governorship of California.
Then there’s Sylvester Stallone, the Bela Lugosi to Arnold’s Boris Karloff. (Minus the charisma, of course.) I remember a cover story on Stallone in some short-lived movie magazine back towards the late ‘80s or early ‘90s. I’m thinking maybe 1989, tied to the release of Tango & Cash.
Although his career was already starting to skid, the idea behind the article was that Stallone was a "billion dollar" man. That was the aggregate sum his films had earned worldwide, and at the time it was a fantastic sum. This was a fairly long piece, and it really pushed the line that Stallone remained this huge star.
Unfortunately (for Stallone, if not for the dedicated movie buff), they included a chart that completely undercut the thrust of the article. Listing the box office figures for all his movies, one couldn’t help but notice that his three Rambo and (at that time) three or four Rocky pictures pretty much accounted for 90%-plus of his "billion dollars". The numerous other movies, maybe twenty to thirty of them, had basically made squat. Even during Stallone’s glory days, movies not featuring the two ‘R’s generally lost money.
By this point in time, moreover, Stallone was clearly flailing around. Arnold had recently expanded his base by starring in a hit comedy, Twins. Sly attempted to follow suit, only to find there was no mass audience desperately waiting to see Oscar or Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.
In 1993, Stallone managed a mini-career resurgence by daringly making comparatively good action films in Cliffhanger and Demolition Man. His heart wasn’t in it, though, and he quickly went back to the sort of meathead fare that largely defines his oeuvre. The films that followed included The Specialist, Assassins and the woefully awful Judge Dredd.
By the turn of the century, Stallone’s career was on the ropes. A brief flirtation with serious acting in Copland had gone nowhere. He was quickly approaching the age of sixty, and wasting his last viable action years by making money-hemorrhaging junk like Get Carter – always a good idea to remake a film that was nearly perfect in the first place -- and Driven. The latter, of course, was directed by Renny Harlin, who is to bad & outdated action direction what Stallone is to bad & outdated action acting.
These two flicks pretty much cinched the fact that the market for Crappy Movies Starring Sylvester Stallone was well past its peak – whenever that might have been. Thus a third film, completed and ready to go, sat on the shelf for a year or two before finally sneaking out on DVD and home video.
To start, it’s not a good sign when your title is something like Eye See You. (Indeed, whoever was in charge of the film must have mandated a stupid moniker – the film was originally known as the even more witless D-Tox.) There is an eye motif running through much of the film, although it’s poorly motivated and really sort of comes and goes. I can only imagine this element was meant to rip-off the famously gruesome ocular obsessions of Italian horror director Dario Argento.
Stallone is Malloy, an FBI agent investigating the serial murders of nine police officers. (If they ever bothered to explain why a fed was on the case, I didn’t catch it.) Eventually another cop is killed, a friend of his. He’s found bound and hanging from the ceiling, his eyes drilled out, his nightstick shoved into his mouth. See, the killer’s really Eeee-vil. Get it?
While on the scene Malloy gets a phone call. It is, of course, from The Killer. Turns out the current murders represent a personal vendetta against Our Hero, who almost caught The Killer when he was offing prostitutes some time ago. In real life, serial killers tend not to change their patterns, so this guy would probably still be killing hookers. In the movies, though, they are all Eee-vil Geniuses looking for that one cop or fed who will be their arch-nemesis. By the way, if they ever explained how The Killer knew Malloy would be assigned this particular case, I didn’t catch it.
The Killer reveals that he’s at Malloy’s house. By the time Malloy gets back there, his girlfriend (a very briefly seen Dina Meyers) has been murdered. Following the killer’s pattern, her eyes have been mutilated. Also, the body is hanging from the ceiling, another rather pointless motif.
The cops manage to trace The Killer, and Malloy ends up chasing him through a warehouse. Turning a corner, he spies a figure and fires at it. But the cornered Killer is already dead, having hanged himself. The letters "ICU" (get it?) are written in – what else – blood on his cheek.
At this point you have to wonder whether there’s anyone in the whole entire world (well, OK, among the hundreds of people who have seen this film) who really believed The Killer was dead at this point. I mean, c’mon.
Due to his girlfriend’s fate, Malloy becomes a drunk. Only his partner Hendricks (a grossly wasted Charles Dutton) cares – and yes, I’m including myself in that statement. He eventually hauls Malloy to the snowy wastelands of Wyoming. There is found an isolated facility for cops with substance abuse problems. This is run by Kris Kristofferson (!!), one of the film’s long roster of ill-used actors.
There are currently ten patients at the facility, plus maybe half a dozen doctors, caretakers, etc. Here the film turns into a slasher movie (!), with various ill-defined characters dropping like flies. Of course, the initially remote facility – it used to be an underground military installation (!) – ends up being further cut off by a blizzard. Oh, and despite being adults and even cops, everyone acts as stupidly as the teens in a Friday the 13th movie. Including, yes, constantly splitting up rather than staying in the safety of a group until help arrives.
At the risk of completely blowing this brilliant cinematic enterprise for those who haven’t seen it yet, it turns out one of the people in the facility is actually The Killer from the beginning of the movie, who isn’t quite dead yet after all. You might want to pause and let your heart stop beating so fast after processing that amazing bit of info.
I was amazed to read a bunch of favorable reviews of this at the IMDB. Frankly, it’s an awful movie. The script is derivative as hell, all over the map and falls flat on its face whenever it tries to get ‘cool.’ This is especially true in it’s attempts at dialog. Even the movie’s tagline is stupid: "Survival is a Killer." Huh?
Stallone frankly lacks the chops to play the haunted, grief-stricken Malloy. That’s a major problem right there. What made me genuinely angry, however, was the rest of the cast. I can’t recall a finer collection of supporting players more criminally wasted than in this film. These include Dutton, Kristofferson, Tom Berenger, Courtney B. Vance, Jeffrey Wright, Angela Alverado, Robert Patrick and Robert Proskey. It’s a sad thing when the most talented person working behind the lens on a film is the casting director.
Given the huge number of characters running around once we finally get to the clinic portion of the film, none of these actors – all of whom could have played Malloy and done better by the part than Stallone – gets much screen time. Many barely have more than a handful of lines. Some end up as bodies and you don’t even know who they’re supposed to be. One guy, who I don’t even recall having said anything, goes into a coma and remains that way for the remainder of the proceedings.
Getting good actors to play underwritten roles is generally a good idea. When the characters are as lightly sketched and elliptically featured as they are here, though, you might as well not bother. You could remake Friday the 13th with the Royal Shakespeare Company and it’s still not going to be a good movie. Courtney Vance, to pick one example among many, barely registers as a presence here at all. Every once in a while you see him in the background and are like, "Oh, yeah."
Tom Berenger in particular has no reason to be here. He’s onscreen for maybe a total of three minutes, if that, and his part is thanklessly thin gruel. (And when I say ‘three minutes,’ I mean ten seconds here and ten second there.) Applying salt to the wound is the fact that in any sane world Berenger would have been ten times the star Stallone was. He joins thinking tough guys like Scott Glenn and Fred Ward on the list of those who should have had much bigger careers.
Of those that do get any amount of screen time, Dutton is completely wasted in a comic relief/best buddy role. The stuff where he goes ice fishing is just beyond lame. Meanwhile, Robert Patrick is made to overplay a horribly written strutting, macho jerk of a cop who in the end is revealed to be a coward. (Gee, that’s fresh.) The effect is like watching Patrick doing an impression of a really, really bad Ray Liotta performance.
The film’s most laughable conceit is its pretensions to being a "whodunnit." (A phrase Dutton uses in the DVD’s excruciatingly long series of Actor Interviews.) A good whodunit requires more than killing off most of your cast, then going eenie, meenie, minee mo among those who remain to see who the killer will turn out to be. Some, I don’t know, clues might have been nice.
The end result is a movie that seems the winner of a Scavenger Hunt in which you gather up elements from other movies and toss them into yours. Bits are taken from Silence of the Lambs (serial killer), Se7en (bodies in grotesques tableaus), The Thing (both the snowbound setting and the "one of us is a monster" idea) and just about every slasher movie ever. No surprise there, by the way. This remains the only film Jim Gillespie has conjured up in the five years since he helmed I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Summary: Eye won’t be seeing you again, that’s for sure.
-by Ken Begg