Another feature of...
As usual, I write up my observations on the wares being hawked at the annual American Film Market when the library I work at receives the special supplement of Weekly Variety dedicated to the event. This year’s copy arrived late, after the show was over, but we still take a gander at the cheesy B-movies that will be appearing on our video shelves sometime in the near future.*
[*Or not. It was probably three years ago that Megalodon was announced, resulting in a great deal of excitement at the site. To date, it’s yet to find a distributor, despite the fact that at least two other notably lame giant shark flicks have come out in the meantime. Also, many of the films are merely concepts that the companies are hoping will draw production funds. Most of those will never be made.]
Things get off to a good start with a front page advertisement consisting of the poster art for Latin Dragon, an action flick starring Gary Busey and Lorenzo Lamas (!), and "introducing FABIAN CARRILLO as the LATIN DRAGON." Wowsers.
Page 5 kicks off a special report on the flood of fantasy flicks coming out in the wake of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Can a remake of Barbarian Queen starring that blond chick from Mutant X be far off?
Pages 10 and 11 consist of a spread announcing several upcoming releases by schizo art/schlock house Lion’s Gate. Listed features include two sequels to the cult werewolf flick Ginger Snaps. Another feature being hawked is Cube Zero, a second follow-up to Cube.
On the higher end of the slate are the arthouse flick Shattered Glass and The Final Cut. The latter is a thriller that sounds like a darker version of Jim Carrey’s recenty released Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and starring Robin Williams, Mira Sorvino and Jim "The Passion of the Christ" Caviezel. It’s interesting how Williams tends to spend entire periods working on certain sorts of films, having gone from a series of oft-horrible humanistic message flicks (Being Human, Bicentennial Man, What Dreams May Come, Toys, Patch Adams, Jakob the Liar) to a run of much darker movies (One Hour Photo, Insomnia, etc.).
The issue hits a giddy peak, as they quite often do, with the traditional four-color spread for Roger Corman’s New Concorde International (Pgs. 17 & 18). The first page is dedicated to the simply smashing poster for Dinocroc, which is exactly what it sounds like. "Something is growing in the murky waters of Grants Lake. A genetic experiment has gone horribly wrong. Our worst fears come alive as DinoCroc escapes and terrorizes the locals."
Actually, I found the idea of a worldwide zombie plague as presented in 28 Days or Dawn of the Dead to be much closer to a "worst fear" than a giant prehistoric crocodile. I mean, yeah, it might potentially eat a few dozen people before the Army hunts it down, but it wouldn’t exactly constitute an apocalypse or anything. Or maybe they meant the cast: Costas Mandylor, Bruce "Half Past Dead" Weitz, Charles Napier (yeah!) and Joanna Pacula.
The next page is split between two films, starting with the military action flick When Eagles Strike. "Terrorists have kidnapped a powerful U.S. Senator, and are on the run. It is now up to General Thurmond’s (Stacy Keach) special operatives to go find him in hostile territory." I have a lot of faith in our boys in the military, but isn’t that sort of mission best left to a highly trained commando squad of Las Vegas showgirls?
The other New Concorde feature is The Keeper of Time, a rather dull looking Sword & Sorcery flick. Not my cup of tea.
The hits keep on coming on the following page, where Toho has a couple of films advertised. One is a love story entitled Milk White, but the bottom half of the page hawks the latest Godzilla flick, Godzilla Tokyo SOS. This features not only the Big G, but MechaGodzilla, Mothra and the twin Fairy Princesses of Infant Island, or Peace Island, or whatever.
Sure to strike fear in the hearts of normal people everywhere is page 25, featuring the poster work for the upcoming musical The Phantom of the Opera. I don’t know, there’s something terrifying in seeing the phrase "Andrew Lloyd Webber & Joel Schumacher".
The heart of the issue, the What’s for Sale guide, begins on page 31. If many of the descriptions below seem familiar, it’s either because the films showcased here are often utterly generic. However, in some cases the same films were (presumably unsuccessfully) peddled last year as well. My format remains the same: The Production Company is listed first and underlined, film titles are bolded and the one-line synopses are in quotation marks.
Fate: "Detectives hunt a serial killer who is using his victims as characters in a demented story." Sounds like the "demented story" is a rip-off of Seven. Stars—get this—Michael Pare, Philip Michael Thomas (!) and Lee Majors (!!) as Oscar Ogden. According to the IMDB, Bella Cosper plays ‘Screaming Woman’ while India Cosper plays ‘Crying Girl.’
Menace: "Michelle and her 10-year-old daughter must endure robbers looking for diamonds hidden in their house." Now I get it. Alpha specializes in knocking off David Fincher movies.
Sleepless Nights: "A vampire leader executes a plan to reduce mankind to unwilling blood donors." That’s why he’s not a vampire follower, I guess. Astoundingly, this film has received many positive reviews, and from real critics like Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog. The official website has more.
The Clown: "When a mobster kills his girlfriend, the Clown gets his revenge and retires from crime-fighting." Huh? There’s very little info on this, but I think it might be connected to a 1996 German TV show and subsequent movie of the same name. [Proofreader & nitpicker extraordinaire Carl Fink, meanwhile, notes the amusing irony of "American Cinema" pushing as their sole release a German movie.]
American Film Partners
Blind Passion: "Frankie’s new girlfriend will do anything to keep him from reuniting with his former lover." Stars "Playboy Model Iliana Fischer," so you know it’s good.
Insight of Evil: "An innocent high school graduation party becomes a fight against a murdered soul." Yes, well said.
Reptile Man: "A victim of a scientific experiment gone wrong morphs into a Reptile Man." Well, that explains the title. I wonder if this is a rip-off of the Spider-Man villain The Lizard, or the ‘50s schlock classic The Alligator People, the movie Stan Lee ripped-off in creating The Lizard in the first place.
Skinned Deep: "An over-the-top horror film starring characters such as the Surgeon General, the Brain and Plates." Yes, that’s a direct transcription. Plates is played by Warwick "Leprechaun" Davis, should that excite anyone.
Unseen Evil: "Archeology [sic] students travel to an ancient burial ground." Yeah, I think I see where that one might be going. And "Unseen" Evil? That’s the cheapest kind! Actually, this one has been out for a while, and does have a monster. Richard Hatch (the one from Battlestar Galactica, not Survivor) and Tim Thomerson are in the cast, but most Internet reviews have given this a thumbs down.
Unseen Evil II: "An alien force so deadly that it takes a military force to contain it returns to create havoc." Seriously, these descriptions were written by a guy for whom English is a third language, right? Stars, who else, Lorenzo Lamas.
Tamara: "An unpopular high school girl is reborn as a mind-controlling teen vixen hell-bent on revenge." Isn’t that a character found in every WB TV show? In fact, the star is Sarah Thompson, who played Eve on Angel. Unlike most of the features here, this one looks like it might even receive an actual theatrical release. It’s scripted by the guy who wrote Final Destination.
The Eliminator: "A former Navy SEAL and five others are hunted for sport." Stars Michael Rooker. Good thing it’s made by a company with a classy moniker like ‘Artist View,’ lest the lame title and dead tired Most Dangerous Game plot description makes us think this was some big hunk of crap. Directed by the guy who was Transportation Captain on Johnny Mnemonic and Lead Driver on Good Will Hunting. Those aren’t characters in the films; he was on their crews.
EMR: "When fantasies and realities merge, the world turns darker than the human mind can conceive." Really? Whose fantasies are we talking about then? Because human ones are, in fact, conceived in a "human mind."
Adam & Evil: "Evil is one bad apple and she’s ripe for revenge." Well, that has a certain a-peel, of cores, but you won’t worm the seedy ending out of me. I searched the web for more info, and found this more precise, and highly original, plot description: "Fireworks explode amongst a group of sexy high school graduates, stoked for a weekend of partying at a remote campground. With alcohol flowing and hormones raging, the future has never looked brighter. But behind then [sic] a deadly past follows hot on their heels. Four years ago, an entire family was killed in a terrible fire at the campground and now someone out there carries a grudge… and an axe. As darkness falls, a murderer begins hacking away at a grisly secret that binds the friends together. Blood soaked and guilt-ridden, the surviving parties better fight for their lives or they’re going down in flames."
Adam & Evil: Resurrection of the Dead: "Evelyn is back in the sequel to "Adam & Evil." Sure, why not.
Evil Dead IV: Consequences: "Does Ash need a hand to solve his problems?" Huh? Where the hell did this come from, and wait until Sam Raimi finds out about it.
Head-On: "A man ravaged by alcohol agrees to marry a Muslin woman so she can escape her family." Either there’s a major typo in that description, or the film brings new meaning to the phrase, ‘three sheets to the wind.’
Bad Guys: "When four down and out criminals band together to pull the crime of a lifetime, everything goes wrong." Stars Don Wilson and…Lorenzo Lamas. Cripes. Why don’t I just list the films he doesn’t appear in?
Scorched: "Rejected teens Jewels and Nicole play a harmless prank that turns into tragedy." Stars Gary Busey and…Andy Dick? Wha?
Man-Thing: "Based on the Marvel comicbook [sic]." Supposedly a horror take on the venerable swamp beastie. The Man-Thing was sort of Marvel’s answer to Swamp Thing, only it was mindless and anything that knew fear (i.e., people) would burst into flame at its touch. Since it’s a big bog monster, this occurred on a regular basis. This is supposedly still to get a theatrical release this fall, so we’ll see then.
Stoneman: "A stone-age man discovered in the jungle terrorizes Los Angeles." It could happen. Stars Pat Morita (!), Bernie Koppel (!!) and Christopher Atkins. According to the IMDB, this has been sitting around since 2002.
Werewolf By Night: "A man cursed with the blood of a werewolf struggles to control his animalistic nature." This, like Man-Thing, is based on a ‘70s Marvel comics character. In fact, with a Ghost Rider movie still supposedly in production for 2005, most of Marvel’s ‘70s horror-themed characters are hitting the screen soon. (Leaving Mobius the Vampire, the Scarecrow and the Son of Satan. Man, I’m a geek.) This is Hollywood in a nutshell: Comic book movies are hot, so you buy the rights to a completely generic werewolf character who you could have aped with no penalty just by changing some names.
David Heavener Entertainment
Compelling Evidence: "A millionaire’s wife is murdered and her ghost may be the only one who can find the killer." Stars Brigitte Nielson (!). According to the description, the film is "erotic." Going to the IMDB shows that this flick was made in 1996 (!) and has been around the block, which isn’t surprising since it also starred the now deceased Dana Plato. Brigitte apparently gets kacked ten minutes in. The user reviews make this sound awful. If anyone has a copy I can borrow, let me know.
Crash Landing: "A civilian passenger and a CIA agent must save a doomed flight and neutralize a terrorist threat." Yes, that sounds fresh.
Gargoyles: "Ancient winged creatures are resurrected and wreak havoc on Bucharest." Stars Michael Pare. As far as I can tell, neither this nor the above listed film is anywhere near production yet.
Game Over: "A man resorts to creativity to stop a supercomputer from taking over the world." No, not *gasp* creativity?! Stars, and I kid you not, Yasmine Bleeth and Walter Koenig. Also known as Maximum Surge.
House of Horror: "Young Edgar Allen Poe finds inspiration in the psychotic realm of a delusional nurse." Uh…
Seed of Chucky: "Chucky and Tiffany try to convince their offspring to take up the gory family business." Nth sequel to killer doll movie. Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly are back, and cult icon John Waters has a role. One interesting thing about the Chucky films, and perhaps one reason it’s remained a decent series, is that the same guy has written all five movies. In any case, I imagine this one will hit theaters, especially given how hot the horror genre is right now.
Midnight Boogie: "Parachutists go on a competition jump and end up in the middle of an African civil war." Well, I haven’t seen that one before. There’s no info on this one at the IMDB, so chances are it will never be made.
10.5: "After an earthquake destroys Seattle, a scientist’s theories on fault lines become reality." After? Stars Kim Delaney, Beau Bridges and, sadly, Fred Ward. Will air on NBC as a mini-series. Discussion on our Jabootu message board indicates that this will be a laff riot. It’s directed by the guy who helmed The Rats.
King Solomon’s Mines: "Allan Quatermain is lured back to Africa to find a man who was searching for King Solomon’s Mines." TV movie (for the Hallmark Channel!) in which Patrick Swayze (??!!) steps into the boots of Stewart Granger, Richard Chamberlain, Sean Connery, etc.
Dead Easy: "A man with a beautiful wife, an alluring mistress, money and fame finds it to be a deadly mistake." Huh? Stars Richard "Die! Die! Die!" Grieco and Joanna Pacula. Confusingly, I think this is the same movie on the IMDB, Forget About It, a comedy about retired mobsters starring Burt Reynolds, Charles Durning and Robert Loggia, and only co-starring Grieco and Pacula, along with Phyllis Diller (!) and Tim Thomerson. Is it so bad that they’d try to fool people into thinking it was a thriller, via the new title and misleading plot description?
Decoys: "Dream creatures arrive in a college town, capturing every man’s fantasy." Seriously, who wrote these descriptions? Probably the same guy who whipped up the tag line: "They can seduce anyone… Prey [sic] it isn’t you!" Even more frightening, it’s listed on the IMDB as a horror-comedy. Blech. Jabootu veteran Nicole Eggert and the guy who was UPN’s The Sentinel have roles as police detectives. For what it’s worth, the film has an official site. The discriminating cinefile will be pleased to learn that Decoys 2 is due to be released in 2005.
11:11: "A woman haunted by her mother’s ghost is suddenly confronted by paranormal events." Uh, if she’s already haunted…oh, never mind.
Alone in the Dark: "A detective of the paranormal [again with the paranormal] comes face to face with inescapable horrors." So will the viewers of this movie, since it’s directed by Uwe "House of the Dead" Boll and stars Christian Slater and Tara Reid. Slater plays a "detective of the paranormal," and one wonders if this or the somewhat similar Keanu Reeves trainwreck Constantine will be more screwed up.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse: "A viral outbreak causes a quiet Middle American town to be overrun by an army of undead." Finally, that sequel to Resident Evil that we’ve all been clamoring for! Milla is back, and at least it’s not directed by Uwe Boll. After the success of the recent Dawn of the Dead remake, zombies are hot. However, we’ve just had two very good zombie movies, and not-so-good ones might be out of luck. I’m still pinning my hopes on the very cool looking British comic-horror flick Shaun of the Dead, hopefully hitting American theaters this fall.
Cave: "Divers trapped in an underground cave system battle demon creatures." Yawn. This longer description found on the web isn’t much better: "Will follow a group of expert cave explorers who go for a deep sea ocean dive to explore a cave. While on the expedition, the cave collapses, leaving the team stranded. By the time they are discovered, they have all mysteriously mutated into primeval beings." Despite my initial impression, this looks to be a possible theatrical release. Directed by a guy who did second unit stuff on the Matrix movies and starring Cole Hauser.
Flesh for the Beast: "Parapsychologists are besieged by demons, a madman and with a secret past and zombies." Winner of this year’s ‘It’s Always Something’ award. And a madman with a secret past?! That’s the worst kind! Sports an appearance by veteran ‘70s scream queen/sexpot Caroline Munro as "Carla the Gypsy," presumably a gag as she played a gypsy named Carla in Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. Other offerings from the company include a couple of slasher flicks called Flesheater and The Majorettes. The director has previously mainly helmed and/or written Misty Mundae softcore sex flicks like Spiderbabe and Lord of the G-Strings, so expect a lot of nudity and a five dollar budget. Presumably this represents his bid to become the next Fred Olen Ray. It’s already out on DVD.
Doppelganger: "He who has seen his doppelganger will die." A Japanese film that, how say I say this, has a certain ‘ring’ to it.
Warrior or Assassin: "Assassins hunt down a mysterious defector, only to discover he always has the upper hand." Believe it or not, this is another Lorenzo Lamas picture. That guy really gets around. There’s no mention of this on the IMDB—unless it’s under another title—but apparently Lamas is also going to appear in Raptor Island.
Motion Picture Corp. of America
Blast: "A tugboat captain and undercover FBI agent must stop a cyberthief from detonating a weapon." Is that a tugboat captain and an FBI agent, or just one person? And why is a ‘thief,’ much less a ‘cyberthief’, detonating ‘a weapon’—which, as Mr. Fink notes, is a somewhat vague designation. Wouldn’t that upgrade your designation to terrorist or something? Directed by pro hack Anthony Hickox and starring Eddie Griffin and Vivica A. Fox. Compared to most of the films listed here, this one has a gigantic budget at a reported twenty million dollars.
Slipstream: "FBI agent and rogue scientist try to retrieve a time-travel device from a bank robber." Again, is this a FBI agent with a side job, or two different people? Stars Sean Astin. Glad to see him getting a life from that Lord of the Rings gig, huh? The story credit goes to Louis Morneau, who wrote and directed Bats (!!), so that’s not a very good sign.
Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet: "A college student hitchhikes across the state to visit his dying mother." Hey, if Stephen King’s name is in the title, it has to be good! Stars David Arquette. They’re going to horribly kill him, right? I mean, you’ve got to know what your audience wants. Costars Matt Frewer and Barbara Hershey. If the description sounds oddly vague, it’s because it’s only half of the one listed on the IMDB: "When a man finds out his mother is dying and tries to hitchike his way to the hospital, he is picked up by a stranger with a deadly secret." I have to say, that connects a few more dots. Directed by Mick Garris, who’s spent much of his career bringing King books to movies and TV.
Easy Six: "A professor has an illicit affair with one of his former students." I just wanted to alert our readers to the all-star cast of Julian Sands, Jim Belushi and Fisher Stevens. By the way, I’m assuming one of these guys plays the professor, but I’m hoping one of the other two doesn’t play the former student. Nominated for the prestigious Golden Starfish Award at the Hamptons International Film Festival for Best Fiction Feature Film/Video.
North by Northwest
Hangman’s Curse: "A family goes undercover to fight evil forces at a high school." Sounds more like a Uninspired Scripter’s Curse. Tagline: "Watch your locker. Watch your Back. Watch your soul." Watch your five-dollar rental fee go up in smoke. Stars David Keith and Mel Harris, who I believe once had careers of some sort. Apparently this is a ‘family’ sort of horror movie, more spooky than scary, and adapted from a book by a Christian fiction author. For what it’s worth, it seems to have garnered some fairly decent reviews, including from non-Christian oriented sites.
Control: "Researchers test a reformative drug on a death row murderers." When are scientists going to stop experimenting on murderers? Does that ever work out? Stars Ray Liotta and Willem Dafoe (!!). Man, Nu Image is really coming up in the world. Maybe those Steven Seagal movies they’re making really will sport fifteen million dollar budgets.
A Problem With Fear: "The elevators, escalators and crosswalks a woman fears begin to cause deaths." According to the IMDB, it’s a ‘satire.’ Uh….OK. Well, there’s no reason the art house crowd shouldn’t get a couple of bones here.
Enter…Zombie King: "Masked wrestlers fight brain-eating demons." Yeah, El Santo is going to be real impressed. I can find no more info on this, so I’ll assume it’s a spoof or kid’s flick until I learn otherwise.
Along for the Ride: "A car, two brothers, a dead dad and some baseball." That’s what it says, folks. According to the IMDB, this came out in 2000. Again, this apparently is art house fare.
Blood Dancers: "These vampire strippers are not just dancing for tips." Uhm, are they looking for the fight of their lives? By the way, has anyone ever made a movie about vampire furniture strippers? I mean, you know, those Trading Spaces shows are very popular now.
GhostWatcher: "What if you were afraid to go out, but something didn’t want you to stay in?" Oh, you’ve met my Mom. Apparently an agoraphobe finds out her apartment is haunted. I hate when that happens. This has actually gotten some good word of mouth, but doesn’t appear to have found a distributor yet.
Remmer: "Be careful, you might just wake up dead." Seriously, did somebody get paid to write these descriptions?
Vlad: "Death stalks three students visiting the Carpathian homeland of Vlad Tep Drakul." Stars Billy Zane and Brad Dourif. I imagine those two trying to out-crazy each other until one of their heads explodes.
Border Blues: "Searching for her husband in Mexico, a Russian refugee gets involved with a deadly smuggler." Stars Eric Roberts, Gary Busey and Erik Estrada. I can’t believe Lorenzo Lamas isn’t in this.
Blood Rails: "An albino serial killer escapes from prison and terrorizes a group of teenagers." Stars Billy Drago, who I assume isn’t one of the teens. I can’t find any info on this on the Internet, so who knows?
Lethal: "A female bounty hunter-assassin takes down an international weapons smuggling operation." Co-stars…Lorenzo Lamas. Does that guy ever sleep? The user reviewers on the IMDB were not, er, terribly impressed with this one.
Megalodon: What, still?
Alien 51: "An alien creature escapes from a research lab determined to hunt down its former tormentors." Stars Heidi Fleiss (???).
Corpses: "A mortician uses a formula that allows the dead to live for 60 minutes to commit terrible crimes." Hey, who wouldn’t? From the director of The Erotic Misadventures of the Invisible Man.
Page 33, The Keeper. An apparent knock-off of The Collector, starring Dennis Hopper and Asia Argento. Tagline: "Life has rules." Ok. Directed by Paul Lynch, who helmed episodes of the monster show classic Baywatch Nights. Poster Cheese Factor: 2, mostly from just the star’s names.
Page 49, Angel Blade. "David Heavener Entertainment Presents the Erotic Action Thriller." The italics are in the ad. Tagline: "The Other side of Evil is Insanity." The upper case letters in that are verbatim. Stars David Heavener, Margot Kidder, Marc Singer and Richard Moll. A blurb reads, "A Racy Sin City Flick…a provocative, jaw dropping production with the accent on erotica….." -- Antony Allison, Las Vegas City Life. More information can be found atwww.davidheavener.com. Poster Cheese Factor: 9+.
Page 71, Sci-Fighter. A blurb reads, "Move Over Matrix… Sci-Fighter is a Martial Arts Classic, sure to please Sci-Fi fans everywhere!" -- Alan Goldberg / Publisher, MARTIAL ARTS ACTION MAGAZINE. Tagline: "They thought it was just a game… Now they’re fighting for their lives." Stars, and I kid you not, Lorenzo Lamas (!!!), Don "The Dragon" Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock. It’s the greatest cast ever!! Poster Cheese Factor: 9. Check things out atwww.scifightermovie.com.
Page 81, Nu Image ad. Half the page is the poster for Capoeira, an evident remake of The Forbidden Dance ("FIGHT DANCE LOVE" and "The Passion Will Seduce You") and the other for the Steven Seagal mutant-on-a-sub flick Submerged. Poster Cheese Factor: 5.
Back Cover, Back By Midnight. "Mr. One Liners Meets The Hard Timers." Comic prison flick stars this year’s cast from Heck: Rodney Dangerfield, Randy Quaid and Kirstie Alley, to mention (please don’t) Gilbert Gottfriend. "It’s a prison riot." Gaak. Watch out, Warden.
Plot: It’s time for some generic vengeance after the Mob kills Our Hero’s brother.
Black Gunn is a pretty representative example of the ‘70s Blaxploitation picture. Plot wise, the film is downright generic. However, it boasts the genre’s strengths as well. This is apparent during its very first minutes, as we are treated to a typically expert funk score.
Then we get the opening credits. Dig this eye-popping cast: Jim Brown, Brenda Sykes, Martin Landau, Bruce Glover, Bernie Casey, William Campbell (the Klingon Captain in "The Trouble with Tribbles," and possessor of one of the most recognizable sneers this side of Lee Van Cleef), Gary Conway (!) and many other actors whose faces remain more recognizable than their names. I also liked the special "And Introducing" credit for baseball pitcher Vida Blue (!), who gets savaged by Glover and his racist thugs during his one scene and who never appeared in another film. Brown’s fellow footballer Deacon Jones also shows up for a cameo as himself.
As noted, the plotline is pretty familiar. Thus it’s no surprise when we open with a gang of hooded black men executing a precision robbery of a Mob betting parlor. I immediately guessed that the perpetrators would be later be revealed to be Viet Nam vets, a common detail in these films (using the skills Whitey taught them against the Man*), and so it was.
[Carl Fink interjects, noting that the Mafia isn’t really ‘The Man.’ In reality, of course, he’s correct. However, in the worldview of the Blaxploitation film, anything run by Whitey was an instrument of The Man. No distinction is drawn between the police, white gangsters, the military, politicians, shop owners, etc.]
For no reason whatsoever, one of the robbers turns away from the money and rifles through some papers, inevitably grabbing some your obligatory Incriminating Ledgers. "Taking the money will get you cut," one goon warns. "Taking those books will get you killed." Ladies and Gentlemen, we have our MacGuffin.
In a great moment, after successfully committing their intricately planned robbery, the miscreants pause before leaving the building to give one another five. This unsurprisingly is followed by one of the robbers getting whacked when a Mafia hood comes staggering out after them. As usual for these pics, the blood spilled and spurted is copious and an unrealistically but startlingly bright shade of red.
Cut to Gunn’s Place, a successful L.A. nightclub run by Moses Gunn (Jim Brown). While horrible couture is part and parcel of the genre, Brown is done no favors by his over-tight red velvet jacket with raised white seams. As if that weren’t enough, this is worn over a shirt sporting a busy white and black check pattern and a huge bow tie, black in front, white in back (!). Yikes.
Gunn later finds his brother Scotty sticking the robbery loot in Gunn’s safe. Scotty is your Obligatory Black Revolutionary, one of the leaders of BAG, the Black Action Group. Scotty notes that his group will fight the Man "by any means necessary." (When even I recognize that you’re quoting Malcolm X, you know subtlety has made an exit.) He intends to use the cash to buy serious armaments for the revolution, and allows how his band of urban warriors are highly trained Vietnam vets. Wow, that’s a new one. Gunn, of course, basically supports the group’s aims but is at least slightly ambivalent about their tactics.
Meanwhile, Mafia executive and used car salesman (!) Capelli (Landau) is promoted to head all West Coast operations. However, there’s still the matter of the Incriminating Ledgers. Capelli is less than pleased to learn that head-cracking hood Kelly (Glover, in usual overt nutjob mode) has been assigned to find them. Capelli considers himself a new breed of smart, business-oriented mobster, while Kelly is merely a thug. In other words, Capelli is in rough terms Michael Corleone and Kelly is his Sonny. Of course, both are also virulent racists. This is a Blaxploitation picture, after all.
After much brutality--including a scene where Gunn, sitting at his desk, taps a button set in the floor, whereupon a shotgun drops into his hands (!)--Kelly eventually gets his hands on Scotty, with predictable results. Scotty dies in Gunn’s arms, rather crudely pleading for his brother to avenge his death. Gunn teams up with Scotty’s confederates at BAG, including leader Seth (Casey), to reap his vengeance. I think you can probably take it from there.
Summary: Loses a bit of momentum towards the end, but still decent actioner stuff.
Plot: Murderous thieves and a killer shark prove a perilous combination, just as they did last month.
When a new triad of cheapie killer shark movies started hitting DVD, I knew I would be spending time watching what would no doubt prove to be some pretty awful movies. And not, I should clarify, awful in a good way. Bad awful, full of plot elements I’d seen literally hundreds of times before, dumb plotting and inane character motivations, poor acting, lifeless and uninteresting CGI effects and lots and lots of stock footage. The most I was hoping for was a lively moment or two, but on the whole I was resigned to a healthy dose of boredom and frustration.
Last month I rented a flick called Shark Zone. It pretty much lived down to my expectations, sporting numerous lazily written plot elements shamelessly stolen from Jaws, horrible acting, and lots and lots of ill-matching stock footage. As is also usual for this sort of film, much of the stuff actually newly shot for the picture was staged on some patently obvious shoestring sets.
Still, I gave the flick points for the sheer, nearly comical, number of shark attacks the movie provided. I mean, if you’re going to make a shark attack movie, give us shark attacks. As well, the film forewent CGI entirely, in favor of poorly integrated but quite neat footage of real sharks and a big ol’ prop shark head oft seen munching on various cast members.
The presence of a few roses peeking up through the manure was enough for me to cut the picture some slack, and in the end I lumped it into the ‘I’ve Seen Worse’ category. The problem is that most people, even those who would constitute the readers of this site, won’t have sat through the parade of Nu Image and UFO dreck I’ve seen so much of over the last several years. Therefore I wasn’t sure that my saying ‘I’ve seen worse’ was a very useful criterion for others to employ should they be considering whether to see the film themselves.
Even worse, I knew there was a good chance that Shark Zone, despite its manifold faults and general crappiness, would prove superior to the other two killer shark films I knew I would end up checking out. Therefore, about the last thing I expected when I loaded up the DVD for Red Water, was that I’d actually like it. I mean, c’mon, a made-for-cable killer shark movie starring Lou Diamond "Bats" Phillips? Given that my highest hopes were for another movie that fell into the ‘that as painful as it could have been’ category, I was all but flabbergasted to find the film was actually a fairly decent and watchable picture.
Again, though, it should be noted that my threshold for ‘good’ in regards to these sort of things is extraordinarily low. One thing that really pleased me about Red Water was that it turned out to be an actual film. By which I mean, unlike Frankenstein jobs like Shark Zone (or Raptor, or Agent Red, or Final Voyage, or…), it didn’t originate as a large number of stock footage sequences presented to someone whose job was to whip up a script incorporating said footage in as efficient a manner as possible. Instead, and blow me down, but everything in Red Water appeared to be freshly shot for this very movie.
See what I mean? To most people, a film that isn’t largely constructed from hunks of previous movies doesn’t sound that groundbreaking. In fact, most people, including the vast majority of the population that doesn’t haunt their video store’s danker corners every weekend or make a habit of watching whatever Cinemax is showing at three in the morning, will never have seen a film like that. However, those of us who do, for whatever reasons, elect to watch job lots of Jim Wynorski movies, will find this state of affairs pretty refreshing.
There are several things I (modestly) liked here, and some problem areas too. We’ll examine them in greater detail in a bit.
The film is set in Louisiana, Cajun country. Sanders is the owner of a fishing/charter boat. His financial straits are established early on, when the loan officer at his bank informs him that any further missed loan payments will trigger a foreclosure on his boat. Dejected, he returns to his craft to figure things out, explaining the situation to his mate, Emery.
The situation is further complicated when Kelli, Sanders’ ex-wife, makes an appearance. She’s an environmental scientist working for an oil company. Sanders used to run oil platform operations for the same firm, but quit when an accident resulted in a couple of his men being killed. He returned to his hometown, bought the fishing boat, and more or less went into an extended guilty funk. This drove Kelli away, leaving Sanders even more bitter.
Now she’s returned, bringing with her Gene, nominally her underling. However, Gene is also a member of the family that owns the company, and is learning the ropes so as to eventually assume control of it someday. The company has wrangled, just a tad sleazily, a waiver to drill in a local wildlife preserve, where they think they’ve discovered a massive natural gas reservoir. However, they’re having trouble with the oil platform, and they want Sanders to get it up and running.
As you’d suspect, the situation causes some friction, but in the end Sanders agrees. Little do they realize, though, that there are other things afoot. First, a group of thieves are searching the river for an illicit fortune in cash that was dumped into the waters of the wildlife preserve some years ago. Second, troubles at the oil platform have disturbed a preternaturally ravenous bull shark, a rare species that can live in fresh water. Things go from there, with the film’s protagonists having both the shark and the thugs to worry about.
As I noted, there are several things, often small but telling, that I liked about the film. First, very little of it was shot on sets. The majority of the movie takes place outside, and was apparently actually shot on exterior locations. This, coupled with the (intentionally?) somewhat grainy appearance of the film stock, lends the picture a nice ‘70s texture, bringing to mind low-budget but enjoyable flicks like Piranha. Much of the proceedings supposedly take place in the backwaters of Louisiana, in Cajun country. While the project was in fact shot in South Africa, according to the IMDB, anyway, there is quite a lot of gorgeous scenery on display.
Let’s see. The acting is competent, which again means in this context, ‘better than you’d expect.’ Lou Diamond Phillips is generally pretty good here, although there are moments when he seems to be trying a little too hard. We’ve all seen enough estranged spouses in movies to fill in the blanks from the couple’s first scene together. Despite this, the script tosses in a generally useless scene where Sanders tells Emery his and Kelli’s backstory. Since this doesn’t really advance the characterization all that much, I’m assuming it was intended to provide an ‘acting’ moment for Phillips, full of bathos and such. Such moments aside, though, Phillips is pretty solid. I wasn’t expecting much from him, as his history in genre pictures (Bats, The First Power, Supernova) is pretty woeful. However, I forgot that he can act, and he’s entirely serviceable here.
Kelli, meanwhile, is play by veteran actress Kristy "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" Swanson. One thing I enjoyed about the movie is that the cast isn’t, as in so many of these, made up of purported teenagers or brainless, hedonistic college students. Swanson provides a perfectly serviceable performance. Most impressively, she manages to spit out a lot of technical data and jargon—she’s playing an environmental scientist—in such a manner that she sounds like she’s actually used it before and even knows what it means.
On a side note, I also liked the fact that there’s very little exposition about technical matters in this film. Sanders, Kelli and several of the others toss around acronyms and jargon, and the filmmakers have enough sense not to bog things down by stopping to explain what they’re talking about. After all, it’s not really important that we know what a ‘blowback’ (as one example) is, but that we believe that they know what it is, and that it’s not a good thing. This also tends to make the scenes more naturalistic, as the characters don’t *gasp* stop to explain to each other things everyone should know in the first place.
The rest of the cast is generally pretty good, as well. Coolio—all such movies by law much now have a rapper in them—plays the same generic black hood he’s already played two dozen times before, and is entirely fine. Jaimz Woolvert, who some might remember as the Schofield Kid in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, proves he still has his chops in a fairly minor role. Even the two actors saddled with exaggerated accents (Cajun and Australian, respectively) they don’t always manage to pull off are generally fine. The rest of the supporting cast acts professionally enough that none of them call attention to themselves, which is as it should be.
The musical score also gets some points, with a bunch of Cajun music helping suggest the location. Getting away from rap or techno music is always a relief these days. Some scenes set in a backwater Cajun village, meanwhile, come off as a somewhat pale replay of Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort, although they do provide the film with some color.
Then, of course, there’s the shark. When we first see the beastie, it’s realized with CG effects, which is also utilized throughout the film. Luckily, however, there’s also a practical prop shark used to physically interact with the cast. Admittedly, in a few shots it looks kind of shoddy, but man, I just love stuff like that. As you might expect, the CG work is all over the map. Some of the shots are pretty decent, several are pretty obviously what they are, and a couple prove all too cartoonish looking. On the whole, however, I was satisfied, although I personally would have used the practical shark at greater length.
The film also has individual little moments I liked. By which I mean, small touches that indicate there are people thinking some of this stuff through. Several of these involve Phillips. I like when he and Kelli inevitably start raking over the coals of their relationship after she first shows up. Eventually he just orders her off his boat, and it’s obvious he takes a small amount of spiteful pleasure in doing so. He’s clearly still carrying a torch for her. However, one of the few benefits of her having left him is that he doesn’t owe her anything. When she shows up, needing his help, he’s free to tell her to leave when she doesn’t want to take no for an answer. It’s kind of petty, but it has a genuine feeling to hit.
I also liked when Sanders suspects someone working below the oil rig is being attacked by the shark, and he grabs a metal weight before he dives in the water, so as to pull him down more quickly. He just does it instinctively, and it provides a sense that this guy’s actually worked around the water before. As well, check out his face when he first clambers aboard the oil rig. This is a life he wanted to leave behind, but it’s also a place where he was doing something he was very good at, and you can see the conflict between his uneasiness and his pleasure at returning to the job.
Of course, the film does have its problems. First, it’s too overstuffed with plot elements. There’s Sanders and his money problems, the ex-wife, the problems with the oil platform, the murderous crooks and their search for the loot, etc. Oh, yeah, and the killer shark. I’ve read some of the reviews found elsewhere on the net, which tend to be more unfavorable than mine, and one general complaint is that the shark isn’t in the film enough.
It’s true that with all else going on, we occasionally spend too much time away from it, but all in all the situation’s not that bad. The shark has a couple of attack scenes early on, and admittedly we don’t see it munching on its victims during these, as it stays out of sight while the usual bladders of stage blood are released into the water. I was a little worried at that, but following a few further brief appearances mid-movie, the shark gets busy for the final twenty or thirty minutes. During this period it gets a pretty decent amount of screen time, enough so that I was generally satisfied. Like the schlock filmmakers of old, they apparently could only afford to feature their menace for a limited amount of time, and wisely they save up as much as they can for a big finale.
One of the film’s few crude areas (no pun intended) involves its lazy demonization of the oil company and rich people in general. Gene, of course, proves to be a prize prat, arrogant, overbearing and largely inept. Also, big surprise, he turns out to be *choke* romantically interested in Kelli. I think you can probably accurately estimate the odds of this guy lasting out the movie.
As well, there’s a scene where Sanders accuses his ex of being a sell-out for continuing to work for the company. (I want to be fair to the screenplay, since it does get some things right, so perhaps this was intended more to just be sour grapes on Sanders’ part.) I couldn’t tell if the film was actually advancing this notion, but if so, it’s moronic. Frankly, one of the more useful things an environmental scientist can do is work for a large corporation. It’s easy to demonize oil companies, but childish, especially coming from an industry in which the private jet is considered the most mundane mode of transport. What could Kelli be doing that would be more significant than helping an essential industry in its attempts to be more environmentally friendly? I really don’t understand that sort of thinking.
Even given this, however, the screenplay remains better than most on this. The oil company used a legislative loophole to get permission to drill in a preserve, but really, the environmental establishment is as guilty as industry in engaging in such shenanigans. In any case, at least Gene never attempts to order his employees to kill anyone to protect the company’s interests, or even to engage in a cover-up. In fact, again, they have on staff an obviously intelligent and motivated environmental scientist to help them get the fuel with the smallest possible footprint, and her input is obviously taken seriously. The worse the company really seems to be guilty of is playing the game as everyone plays it.
In the end, though, the filmmakers can’t help themselves. (Typically, though, they also try to have it both ways. Midway through the film a yammering tree hugger is et by the shark. I will admit to finding this pretty enjoyable to watch.) The platform is shown to have disturbed the shark, and thus is assigned at least partial responsibility for its rampage. And at the end of the film—I think this is right, although frankly I was a bit confused at to what was going on—the surviving characters seem to be conspiring to keep the oil platform from reopening.
Another too rote element, although it’s not quite as overused today as it was in the past, is the implication that the shark has a mythic element to it. Whilst in the Cajun village, the Wise Elder—every ethnic village has one—relates a legend about how the waters containing the oil platform are protected by a deadly spirit being. This being is called, coincidentally enough, Le Machoire de la Mort, or the Jaws of Death.
Another essential element in the monster movie—and c’mon, that’s basically what a killer shark movie is, although I’ve had arguments on this score—is the monster’s death scene. The one here is pretty ludicrous, and the use of CGI to realize it doesn’t help. However, I will give the writers credit for refusing to just blow the shark up, like nearly every underwater menace or big killer animal movie since Jaws. There’s also a sequence in which one of the crooks formulates a plan to try to kill the beast. It’s implausibly elaborate, but they were trying, and I give them credit for it.
Oh, here’s one for the trivia fans out there. Red Water was directed by Charles Robert Carner, who in early days wrote the egregiously silly and monumentally boring Gymkata.
Hmm, now to dig up a copy of Dark Waters for next month. Dammit, Netflix doesn’t stock it. And it stars…Lorenzo Lamas. Does that guy ever sleep?
Summary: You could do worse.
Plot: Night of the Living Dead, only with housecats instead of zombies.
For whatever reason, the killer cat genre remains a surprisingly robust one. I mean, I can understand movies being centered on killer dogs, because dogs could actually, you know, kill you. In contrast, killer cat movies—by which I mean films featuring regular-sized domestic cats—generally require a fair amount of cheating in this area. Still, such films continue to be cranked out on occasion, as Mr. Peeve can attest.
I suppose it comes down to the fact that many perceive your standard pet cat, sitting slit-eyed and inert in a shaft of sunlight like some exhausted and particularly self-satisfied tribble, to quite likely be thinking secretive and no doubt wily thoughts. My own take on the matter is that cats are stupid, certainly stupider than dogs. I realize this contention will occasion a certain amount of controversy, but I stand by it.
I also realize that cat fanciers will likely make a diametrically opposed assertion. However, in my experience their evidence usually comes down to the fact that cats, unlike their canine peers, will not perform tricks. This, I have oft been informed, proves them to be possessed of such a fierce intellect and dignity that they disdainfully refuse to humiliate themselves for the pleasure of us mere homo sapiens. Of course, one could make the same argument regarding, say, spiders, or bottles of aspirin.
Please note, I am not contending that cats can’t or don’t make good pets. People with dominant personalities have dogs to amuse them and actually interact with, and folks with submissive ones have cats to tacitly boss them around. I don’t really see any problem with that arrangement. I just find protestations of feline superiority to be somewhat, er, non-empirical in nature.
Strays was a television movie made for the USA Cable Network. (I guess I could really just end the review right there). Basically, it’s generally competent in its execution, sports a limited budget—the end credits cite a whopping eight characters, including Phone Man, Old Woman and Policeman—but not extravagantly so. In the end, it proves more uninspired than outright farcically inept. It does have its mirth-inspiring moments, however, and most of these revolve around attempts to make a horde of cats into an adequately believable menace.
The picture opens in a striking, innovative fashion, with a full moon filling the screen and being occasionally obscured as clouds drift past in spooooky slow motion. Now all we need is a torrential rainstorm punctuated by strokes of lightning to really create a truly original effect.
More daring still, we cut to some dank and dark interior space. Quite a lot of water drips from the ceiling, and the only illumination is provided by—are you ready?—a diffused yet surprisingly bright shaft of light filtering past—yes!—the slowly rotating blades of an industrial-sized fan. It turns out that it is raining outside (bravo, auteur!), and that the dripping water is saturating the attic of a house out in the country. Meanwhile, we hear a cat growling and see elliptical flashes of fur and such.
Outside, we cut to a laughably cliché employment of the ground level ‘shaky-cam’ director Sam Raimi invented to indicate rapidly moving demonic forces in the Evil Dead movies. This moves entirely too fast to indicate a cat’s POV, not to mention that the distance from the ground keeps changing, but there you go. The camera proceeds through a cat door leading into the aforementioned house’s kitchen. There are a few impressive moments when the camera glides through some especially tight spaces, but really, this sort of shot is such a signature of Raimi’s work that using it only calls attention to the fact that you’re watching a movie.
In the living room, we meet an elderly female (no doubt the ‘Old Woman’ mentioned in the closing credits) who we quickly learn is one of those half-crazy cat ladies. She wakens and makes to feed her small army of cats, only to find her refrigerator bereft of kitty chow. This necessitates a trip down to the cellar—uh oh—which inconveniently requires one to leave the house and use an exterior set of storm doors. As the Old Woman pulls the doors open, there’s an Ominous POV shot from some bushes, accompanied by an Ominous Music Cue. All in all, the effect is quite, er, ominous.
The Old Woman tries the light in the cellar, which naturally doesn’t work. (Are the cats supposedly behind that?! And if they’re supposed to be, wouldn’t the smart play have been to have the light bulb smashed, rather than just not functioning?) She proceeds on, grabbing one or perhaps two cans of cat food from the shelves. First, is she going to make this inconvenient trip to the cellar every time she needs to feed her cats? You’d think you’d bring up an armload while you were down there. Second, no wonder her pets turn murderously mutinous. (Oops, sorry.) She’s got like fifteen or twenty of them and she’s feeding them all from one small tin?
Back outside, and I don’t want to shock the hell out of you, but the Old Woman is suddenly attacked by a malicious POV shot. Since this moves in at a level chest-high to a human (!), it would in no way suggest being that of a cat were we not aware of the film’s premise. Screaming, the Old Woman ducks into the cellar, followed by the POV shot. Here we cut away, since it would be sort of difficult to stage a single housecat killing even a very old woman indeed.
Moreover, this is clearly going to be the sort of movie where several people will die horrible, violent deaths without any of the central characters being the wiser. Therefore, having the Old Woman flee into the isolated storm cellar under her own power is about the best they could do to mitigate the situation’s essential goofiness.
We cut to the car of the Jarretts, wife Lindsey (Kathleen Quinlan!), husband Paul (Timothy Busfield) and young Tessa. Being a family in a TV movie, they are, of course, cutesy and fantastically happy and whatnot. We can only assume, given the set-up so far, that they are the standard, cookie-cutter family who is moving to the country to live a safer and more peaceful life, only to be confronted with a far greater danger than they ever would have faced in the Big City. Wow, that’s fresh.
Of course, we also need some friction to add ‘drama’ to our mix, so Lindsay and Paul engage in some lighthearted and eminently low-grade banter that establishes Paul as the One Reluctant to Move to the Country and Lindsey as the One Behind It. It’s like Green Acres, only…well, OK, Green Acres was a pretty good show, so never mind. "I don’t want Tessa to grow up in that city," Lindsey explains. (Or perhaps she actually means a town named That City. Given the kind of movie this is, I wouldn’t be surprised.) Do you want to know something incredible? The guy who wrote the movie came up with that innovative line of dialogue despite the fact that this was his first script! Wowsers.
Having sojourned deep into the boonies, The Jarretts are met by Lindsey’s sister, Claire (Claudia Christian, quickly becoming a Jabootu mainstay). She’s a realtor, and she’s going to show them…are you sitting down…the same isolated country house where the Old Woman was killed! What are the odds?!
The sisters embrace and Paul sets Tessa loose to run around the grounds. We immediately see her being stalked by a Ground Level Cat POV (GLCP) shot. Yes, nothing spells entertainment like the endangerment of a four year-old. Adding to the suspense is the very real possibility that the filmmakers will:
Meanwhile, Paul discovers the film’s first Ominous Sign, which is a tree whose base has been severely clawed by…something. Hmm, I wonder…
They tour the house, which is, of course, gigantic. This is a movie, after all. I don’t know what kind of money Paul’s pulling down as a lawyer, but damn. Even in the country this place would pull a sizable buck. Eventually, they head up to the previously established attic. Amazingly, none of them mention any water damage, which you’d expect given the amount of dripping we saw earlier in the movie. Meanwhile, Paul begins sneezing, indicating a plot-handy allergy to cats. Of course, they take the house.
Soon the Jarretts have moved in. They have a dog (uh oh) named Benny, who proves about as macho a pooch as you’d expect Timothy Busfield to own. I mean, I like dogs, as indicated above, but if you’re going to own one, own a dog. There’s various stuff about the family having money problems (yeah, you’d think) and sister Claire being an undependable sort, and blah blah blah. It’s hell filling up that hour or more before you can just run with the killer cat stuff.
There’s a knock on the door, and their visitor identifies himself as "Phone Man." If I’m not mistaken, this might be the character called Phone Man in the end credits. He’s sent *gasp* to the cellar to check the line. Didn’t anyone ever find the body? Presumably, since it’s not down there anymore.
Still, you’d think Lindsey’s own sister would have mentioned such a thing. On the other hand, maybe that’s why they’ve introduced the idea that Claire is undependable. Even so, with the nearest town having a population of under four hundred people, wouldn’t the Jarretts have heard this presumably juicy piece of gossip by now?
The Phone Guy pokes around in *gasp* the cellar for a while, but nothing really happens to him. He does hear some Mysterious Noises, but all I was thinking was that with a horde of cats about, the cellar should by all rights smell something fierce. The one bit that approaches cleverness, and perhaps even achieves it, is when he opens a panel. We’re waiting for the traditional spring-loaded cat, but instead get a spring-loaded rat. OK, that’s sort of funny. Anyway, the phone wires are all chewed up, and Phone Guy assumes rats did it.
Sadly, the contemporaneous attempts at domestic comedy upstairs aren’t nearly as successful. (And it’s not like the rat was a gut-buster in the first place.) For instance, Lindsey offers an array of paint samples for the kitchen, and asks Paul for his opinion. Her suggestions include Cottontail, Sea Mist and August Moon. "How about White?" Paul replies. Ha! Us guys, we only got like five colors. I get it. Also, I myself didn’t watch Thirtysomething. Was Timothy Busfield’s shtick always doing Richard Dreyfuss? That’s pretty much what he does here, anyway. And I’m talking Krippendorf’s Tribe Dreyfuss, not Jaws Dreyfuss.
The Phone Guy reemerges and informs them that they have rats. He suggests they get a cat. Oh, the irony. Of course, Paul’s allergies preclude that option. In any case, those puzzled by the Phone Guy’s survival will be quickly reassured when he explains that he’ll return the next day with more equipment. One can only assume they’re saving his big death scene for later in the picture.
That makes sense, I guess. Let’s see, the credits list eight characters. (Nine actors, though, as Tessa is played by twins to correspond to union rules about the amount of time minors can work on film or TV projects.) Obviously the Jarretts are going to make it through the picture. Claire’s a toss up, I suppose. The Old Woman has already been kacked. That leaves the Phone Guy, the Policeman and a Dr. Sokol, who we haven’t met yet. I think we have to assume there will be at least two more victims, given the nature of the movie.
We cut to the Jarretts driving home from a shopping trip. In a pretty damn funny ‘shock’ sting, a cat comes flying up across their windshield. This, as you might expect, causes Paul to swerve and he ends up putting their station wagon into a ditch. The realization of the Kamikaze Kommando Kat moment is pretty amusing. Rather than hurl a fake cat at a moving car, it’s obvious that a real tabby was tossed in front of the window by an off-camera grip, presumably while the car was not actually in drive. Then they dubbed in a smacking sound to indicate the cat was hit, when it really wasn’t, and wha-lah.
In any case, the crafty cats have now caused our protagonists to disable one of their vehicles. This doubtless means that when Paul drives off to the office, Lindsey and Tessa will be trapped and at the cats’ mercy. (Oops, sorry.)
Anyway, Paul ends up with a cut lip, despite his seat belt, and sees the aforementioned feline running away from the scene. By the way, this particular cat is so cunning that it has completely changed its appearance since it flew in front of the car. Perhaps it’s related to the feline star of The Uninvited.
That night, Paul takes out some trash, allowing for further Ominous POV shots. Not too ominous, actually, but hey, they’re trying. There are more signs, too, with Benny barking at something unseen and Paul sneezing a lot. Wow, if we didn’t already know this was a movie about cats, this would sure all be mysterious. Anyway, Benny trots outside, with predictable results. By which I mean, there’s a really dumb false scare where it seems like a cat’s coming after him, only it turns out to be Paul.
The next day Paul calls for a tow truck. He clearly tells them to come get a car resting in a ditch, so if this is going where I think it is… Oh, wait, now the phone reception is going all static-y, and Paul can’t confirm his message. Even so, this is a lame set-up.
Meanwhile, Tessa is outside with Benny, and we get even more GLCP shots. The film’s only about a third of the way through and its main suspense-generating technique is already boring the hell out of us. Also, for those keeping track, Paul is taking a cab to work, meaning that the Jarretts only owns one car. I can’t think of anybody I know whose family only owns one car, much less one living way out in the boondocks.
An arriving Claire intercepts him as he leaves. Paul is handling her divorce—see, all this backstory makes us ‘care’ for these vividly drawn characters, making their eventually fates all the more meaningful to us—and she pauses to lay a fairly inappropriate smooch upon him. You’d think she wouldn’t do this in the house where Lindsey might see it, although that is in fact what she does. Apparently, we’re going to waste some running time with Marital Angst before getting to the cat stuff. Paul is completely innocent, of course. C’mon, he’s played by Timothy Busfield. By the way, wasn’t there an adultery subplot in Stephen King’s Cujo? I’m pretty sure there was. Not that I’m implying anything.
Claire has come by because she has a breakfast date with
her sister. Lindsey, however, is all pissed about the kiss, which she
secretly saw, although she doesn’t bother actually mentioning it. Even
so, her crankiness ends up provoking an argument, and blah blah blah. You
know, I’m pretty sure there was supposed to be something to do with cats
in this stupid movie. Let’s cut to the chase:
Most of the people involved in this project are, unsurprisingly, television veterans. Director John McPherson has exclusively helmed TV series episodes and made-for-TV movies. In the ‘80s, he broke out and performed cinematography chores for several theatrical productions, including recent Jabootu subject Jaws: The Revenge. In the end, though, he returned to the tube.
The script was written by former pop star Shaun Cassidy. This actually might make one expect too much of the film, as Cassidy was the creator of one of network television’s best horror series, American Gothic. That was several years after this, however, so apparently he was still learning his chops with our current item of inquiry. Also, it should be said in his behalf that Strays was his first writing effort. In any case, Mr. Cassidy continues to work steadily. Currently he executive produces and writes for the popular crime series Cold Case.
Kathleen Quinlan needs no introduction to Jabootuites. She is fondly remembered for her grossly laughable performance in the monumentally inane tear-jerker The Promise. Still, it’s hard to assign her much of the blame for that fiasco. Meryl Streep on her best day couldn’t have salvaged that film’s epically moronic premise. In any case, Ms. Quinlan continues to appear in numerous films and television projects, including the occasional genre flick like Event Horizon. I tend to see Ms. Quinlan in films like this, The Promise and Airport ’77. She’s never struck me as much of an actress, but I’ll withhold my final judgment until I see how she fares in something that doesn’t outright suck to begin with.
Timothy Busfield starred in the cult yuppie-angst series Thirtysomething. Like several of his co-stars from that series, he has gone on to become a prolific episodic television director, working on such shows as Sports Night, Ed and Miss Match. He also maintains an active character acting career.
Claudia Christian is becoming a familiar personage at this site. She played a butch, trigger-happy terrorist in The Final Voyage (for which, along with the film’s director, she provides a hysterical commentary track on the movie’s DVD), as well as a butch, trigger-happy FBI agent in Half Past Dead. Ms. Christian probably remains best known for playing Susan Ivanova on the cult sci-fi series Babylon Five, and stays quite busy guest starring on TV shows and appearing in (mostly) schlocky direct-to-video fare. Impressively, she has maintained this career while (mostly) keeping her clothes on.
So let me be clear, I’m not incredulous at the idea that a pack of cats could conceivably be dangerous. Or that such an attack, even by one cat, could possible lead to someone’s demise. (Although a certain amount of bad luck would be required, I believe.) However, again, the film fails to convince us that this single cat, although no doubt nasty, could terrorize a succession of fully-grown adults. The fact that said menace can be dissuaded by squirting it with water certainly doesn’t help.
To an extent, the film admits this. Phone Guy apparently kills himself in a panic, and Claire dies from a combination of terminal stupidity and ludicrously extenuated circumstances. Only the Old Woman presumably dies directly via cat, and of course her age and fragility must considered a contributing factor.
However, in the end we are presented with two fully able adults, in their apparently physical and intellectual prime, refuse to arm themselves or take any of several other apparent steps when confronted with a single actively murderous cat. Meanwhile, caution is one thing, but watching parents react so passively as their young child is threatened just doesn’t play.
Carl also mentions that cats do possess amazing leaping abilities, in regards to my incredulity regarding Bedraggled Cat leaping up from the Jarretts’ bed and up into the air duct. Yes, cats are extraordinary jumpers, and while I’m not completely convinced one could hit that small target from such a distance, I’ll grant it’s possible. However, I still maintain that doing so without waking either of the bed’s occupants is more than a tad unlikely. On the other hand, they slept through him urinating all over their pillows, sheets and clothes, so…
In the end, of course, this is the problem: Whether a feral cat could in real life be dangerous or not is almost beside the point. The fact is that the film never remotely convinces us that these characters would be in any real danger were they not themselves such nitwits.
I should also mention that I actually like cats, despite what might be implied by anything above. I just like dogs, except for little yippy ones, a lot more. However, I’ve met any number of fervid proponents of the ‘cat superiority’ school over the years, and remain unconvinced.
Summary: For confirmed catophobes only.
as always, to stalwart Proofreaders
-by Ken Begg