Tag Archives: Science Fiction

splitfeat

Split Second

splitfeat

By the time the 1990s rolled around, I think everyone had given up on Rutger Hauer becoming some awesome super cool megastar, and “everyone” included Rutger Hauer himself. On the one hand, that’s too bad, because there for a while, he was a genuinely cool dude, good looking and charming but with something cruel and disturbing about him. There was no wonder a lot of the spooky ladies (and a fair number of lads) with whom I hung out with back in the day were loopy for Rutger. I’m pretty sure we had plans, at some point, to make a movie featuring Roy Batty in his little leather booty shorts from Blade Runner teaming up with Sting’s Feyd Rautha in his little metal thong thingie to… I don’t know glisten as they traveled from town to town, solving people’s problems.

I’m not saying we really thought the whole thing through. And anyway, Sting eventually bought himself a lute and became really boring, so I’m sort of glad we never made the movie anyway. But if we had, we totally would have made Sting recreate his Ace Face dance scene from Quadrophenia, only wearing his Dune thong. Well, whatever the case, those jerks in Hollywood would never give me the funding, and as a result, Rutger Hauer never became the mainstream icon he should have. On the other hand though, Hauer never bought a lute, and he did go on to do a lot of entertaining work, especially in the field of “low budget straight to video science fiction,” which happens to be one of my favorite fields of study, so I can’t totally bemoan the turn his career took. And now that he seems to be enjoying one of those late-stage career revivals, mostly by getting cast as a guy who is irritated by superheroes, I’d say things turned out OK.

makethismovie

But back in 1992, Rutger Hauer might have been bitter about mainstream success slipping through his grasp, though when I think about it, probably not. His biggest movies up until that point weren’t exactly mainstream. Ladyhawke was a quirky sleeper hit of a fantasy film, but I don’t think it really gained much of a following until it hit the newly forming home video market. Blade Runner was a movie everyone hated until it was heralded as a visionary classic years later, forcing people to pretend like they’d loved it since the day it was released and flopped at the box office because Harrison Ford wasn’t enough like Han Solo in it. Most of Hauer’s roles other than Ladyhawke were designed to creep you out — from Nighthawks to Flesh+Blood to The Hitcher. And heck, he was even kind of frightening in Ladyhawke, now that I think about it. If you weren’t terrified by Rutger Hauer by 1986, then something was wrong.

While he was honing his skills as a guy you’d fall for even though you knew at the end of the day he’d probably cut out your heart and eat it while saying something spooky and profound, he was also working diligently on a second persona: that of a cranky, world weary hero who seems to mutter or sigh all his lines. His first big stab at this was in the do-nothing 1980s actioner Wanted: Dead or Alive, best known — if it is known at all — for being the movie where Rutger Hauer blows up a guy from KISS. In 1989, he took his world weary sighing hero act into the near future for Blood of Heroes, a movie where he got to make out with Joan Chen and slam skulls onto spikes. By 1992′s dystopian futuristic serial killer alien (!) movie Split Second, he had either become so good at acting bored that he seemed totally bored with the movie, or he was totally bored with the movie.


Hauer stars as Harley Stone, a cop with a chip on his shoulder in the near future London of 2008. As we suspected would happen, 2008 is a mess. Global warming has wreaked havoc with the planet’s weather systems. London is in a state of perpetual flooding to which the people of the city, ever stolid and with stuff upper lips, have adapted by simply buying heavier galoshes. Harley spends his days plodding through the dirty, waterlogged streets during what seems to be perpetual night, hunting down a brutal serial killer who likes to cut out the hearts of his victims, which he politely mails to police because this movie is all about a big misunderstanding over the true meaning of Valentine’s Day. Harley is determined to catch the murderer since, as is usually the case with such plots, the maniac killed Harley’s partner, sending the high-strung cop into a spiral of self-destruction and obsession that manifests itself mainly in the form of Rutger Hauer wearing a big black trench coat and showing up too late to stop another murder. This is at least the third time Hauer has worn a big, bulky, black trench coat in a movie, by the way. This is the internet, so I’m sure someone has a website about it.

Harley’s superiors aren’t happy with his methods — you know how superiors are — so they take him off the case even though no obsessed lone wolf cop who plays by his own rules has ever, in the history of movies, been taken off a case and not gone right on working that case, especially if the reason he’s taken off is because “you’re too close to this case!” To this film’s credit, at least the cranky police captain realizes this and eventually reinstates Harley, albeit with a bookish new partner named Dick Durkin (man, if Dick Durkin and Harley Stone weren’t Tom of Finland characters…) even though, being a lone wolf cop, Harley naturally wants to work alone. Durkin (Alastair “Neil” Duncan) is, of course, an Oxford-y egghead who spouts off a lot of intellectual and psychological profiling nonsense, since in the 1990s serial killer profiling had suddenly become en vogue. Durkin assumes they can out-think the killer, use the powers of reason and deduction to detect a pattern and cut the killer off by understanding his psychology. Harley thinks they should just splash around seedy London strip clubs at random until something shows up that he can shoot.


It turns out, we learn, that Hauer also has horrible nightmares about the killer, and that in fact, they’re not nightmares so much as they are psychic glimpses through the killer’s eyes at the moment the murderer is about to strike. So I guess he wasn’t just wandering around at random after all. The movie then sees fit to sprinkle even more convoluted nonsense into the mix, as the killer seems to have a Satan fixation, may or may not think himself the Devil, may lead a cult, and other stuff meant to make things more complicated. That, in the end, the killer actually turns out to be a toothy eight foot tall space alien and/or genetically modified demon almost seems, after so much profiling and psychoanalytical babble, the most mundane and reasonable of explanations.

If he’s not busy walking around or having psychic flashes, Harley likes to retire to his squalid apartment, where he lets pigeons nest in his hair and does his awkward, tasteless best to sort of romance his dead partner’s wife, Michelle (Kim Cattrall, still sporting her beautiful jet black bob haircut from Star Trek VI). I know Kim has done, currently does, and probably always will do movies that I loathe, but none of that kills my adoration of the woman, which is based entirely on the only three movies of hers I’ve actually bothered to see — this, Star Trek VI, and Big Trouble in Little China. There’s no arguing with that pedigree, even if she’s more famous for something else. And hell — have you seen her lately? She’s still fabulous, and I appreciate anyone who is in their 50s and can still strut their stuff. I’m only forty, and the world has decided is is better off when my clothes remain donned.

makethismovietoo

No one really knew what to make of Split Second upon its release, including the movie’s own marketing department. Was it a cyberpunk tale set in a dystopian Blade Runner future, only with less money? Was it a mismatched buddy-cop movie? Was it an Alien rip-off? A Predator rip-off? A gory horror film? The answer to all those questions is “yes,” but that’s a hard movie to sell to people. As such, Split Second did nothing at the box office. In fact, so dismal was its showing that most people assume it was just a direct to video release. However, not all of the film’s misfortunes can be laid at the feet of its multi-genre approach to storytelling. No, at least some of those woes can be blamed on the fact that this movie also happens to be a joyless, somewhat listless mess.

For the most part, I remember the marketing being very sci-fi heavy, pitching the movie as sort of a rainier version of Predator 2. While there is some cross-over between horror fans and science fiction fans — especially after Alien — there’s also a lot of sci-fi fans who don’t care for gore and grue. But gore and grue is exactly what Split Second serves up, in fairly generous amounts, and I can only imagine how off-putting that must have been to people who expected something a little more light-hearted. The gore is made even more intense by the oppressively grim tone of the film and by the general air of sleaze that permeates this and pretty much any other movie that involves heart-ripping mass murderers and strip clubs. This movie, along with 1985′s Lifeforce and 1997′s Event Horizon serve in my mind as a sort of unconnected trilogy of “horror films that everyone thought were science fiction films when they walked into the theater,” though to be honest, I don’t think many people walked into the theater for any of those three movies.


Despite the fact that Rutger Hauer drifts through the movie with an endless supply of quips and one-liners, as was the style in the day (after all, the least you can do is give them a little something to smile about before you pummel them), there’s very little in the way of levity in this film. It takes the violence of an ’80s action film and strips it of the comic book sense of silliness, almost resulting in a satire of the tendency to crack wise while committing acts of unspeakable violence. Hauer mouths the jokes, but they’re infused with such an undercurrent of bitterness and cynicism that they’re more awkward and scary than they are funny — but that’s Rutger Hauer for you.

There were a lot of movies of this ilk released in the 1990s, as the shiny neon veneer of the 1980s wore off and gave way to grungier, more hopeless visions of the future informed by the popularity of cyberpunk literature, which by the 90s had become cyberpunk culture and was ripe for being appropriated, misunderstood, then misappropriated by film makers. The days of rollicking space adventures gave way to smaller-scale, much more pessimistic films like Split Second and Hardware. It’s odd, at first, to think that the ’80s were so full of gloss and glam despite being a decade in which we all thought we were going to get fried in a nuclear war, fried by the disintegration of the ozone layer, or just crushed by relentless economic bleakness. Then the 90s roll around, we get Bill Clinton in office, and suddenly the country is in pretty good shape. We got jobs, the Cold War was over, our president was into fat freaky chicks, and things were rolling along. But the entertainment of that era was relentlessly downbeat, from grunge rock to Alice in Chains style new metal to cranky science fiction movies, you’d think that the entire country had fallen apart.


But that’s the way the world works. Even though the ’90s were a safer, more peaceful, more stable time for us Americans, we still had to deal with the emotional backlash of what we were desperately trying to ignore during the 1980s. It wasn’t until we emerged from those days that we realized how screwed up everything had been, and with that revelation, a sort of general malaise settled in on society. We started griping and grousing even though things had gotten a lot better. The tone of Split Second is a direct result of the lingering deep blue funk that infected a lot of people. It’s mean and grumpy and largely misanthropic, but it overplayed its hand a little bit and was a little too much for a lot of people. There were also a lot of people who didn’t dislike the movie because of its misanthropic tone, but instead hated the movie because they thought it was terrible. And while I, perhaps predictably, liked the movie (I also liked Event Horizon and Lifeforce, as it happens), it’s not as if there’s much denying that it gives people plenty of critical ammunition.

For starters, there’s Rutger Hauer. His performance is, in a way, the embodiment of this movie’s overall tone — not misanthropic, in my view, so much as it is simply exhausted. I can’t tell if Hauer is doing a really good job or is simply sleepwalking through a movie in which he has no interest. Whatever the case may be, the end result is that he turns in a bored looking performance that creates a sort of bored atmosphere. A movie about a Satan-worshiping killer alien preying on strippers and with a psychic link to Rutger Hauer shouldn’t be this lacking in energy, but Hauer handles the whole thing with an overplayed world weariness that borders on lethargy. I understand he’s a man whose seen it all, but if we’re to believe him as obsessed and on the edge, we need to see a little more oomph put into his obsession. As played, he seems as dedicated to catching this killer as I am to trimming an inch or two of fat off my waist. Yeah, sure, I want to do it I guess, but you know, whatever. I also want to eat apple cider doughnuts.


Then there’s the case of the script, which starts out with a rote but dependable “cop tracks serial killer” plot, becomes a still somewhat rote but dependable “cop tracks monster” plot, and then all of a sudden is cramming in all sorts of ridiculous shit, most of which is half-baked and never really seems to have much to do with anything. Generally, I like when a screenwriter or group of screenwriters start to lose control of their own creation. As viewers we get to watch the thing grow more and ridiculous and nonsensical, until it seems like whoever was writing it was either simply holding on for dear life or was sitting in a room with a bunch of other people, smoking pot, and coming up with things like, “No, dude, check it out. What if it’s a DNA thief, and it’s got some of Rutger Hauer’s DNA? And that’s why they have a psychic connection, because like, you know, your psychic powers are stored in your DNA.” And then everyone exhales and bongs have written another goofy science fiction horror movie plot twist.

Thing is, as much as I appreciate the fact that the script for Split Second seems to go off the rails and meander farther and farther away from a point where it might have been thought out, it unfortunately goes about its descent into madness with all the energy of…well, Rutger Hauer’s performance. As nutty as it gets by film’s end, there’s too much between the opening and ending that seems like the movie is just spinning its wheels and trying to think of something to do next. It gets to the point at times where watching the movie is like being stuck in that same room of stoned writers while they spend ten minutes doing the “What do you want to eat/I don’t know. What do you want to eat?” round and round.


Much of the stuttering pacing is probably attributable to the inexperience of screenwriter Gary Scott Thompson, who would learn to pace his scripts more expertly by the time he was raking in the dough for the Fast and the Furious movies he wound up writing. 1992 sees him pretty early into his career as a screenwriter, and the lack of seasoning is likely why the movie ends up being so unfocused and susceptible to needing to pause and figure out where it’s going.

On the other hand, Thompson’s screenplay offers enough meat so that a talented director should have been able to stage a more exciting movie than the one we got. Tony Maylam wasn’t the man for the job, though. Despite his first directing job coming in the early 1970s, Maylam worked infrequently and then primarily on small-scale television projects and documentary films. He brings a decidedly plodding style and small-scale feel to Split Second, a movie whose ridiculous plot demands a much more robust job at directing. I don’t know what Maylam’s deal was, if this was the best he could do or if he just didn’t care. It hurts the film whatever the case, and Maylam himself wouldn’t work again until 2001′s Phoenix Blue, and after that he seems to have occupied himself mostly with making documentaries about automobile design.


Other aspects of the film aren’t as dull as Maylam’s direction, though. For the most part, the cast gives it their professional best effort — most of them are British, after all, and Brits rarely seem to half-ass it, no matter how silly the material. The supporting players and extras chew scenery, bellow, grimace, shout, grumble, and get choked by Rutger Hauer with admirable gusto. Kim Cattrall also turns in a good performance and radiates charm, even though she ultimately gets relegated to the unenviable “damsel in distress” role. And you know, even when Rutger Hauer seems to be only half present, he still brings a dangerous charisma and undefinable something to the role that makes him worth watching.

The performance of the movie has to go to Alastair Duncan though, whose sidekick character is given some truly unwieldy technobabble and psychobabble to spout. Somehow, he manages to mouth it all and make it sound convincing. His transformation from skeptical academic egghead cop to wild-eyed soulmate for Hauer’s Harley Stone may not be the height of originality, but Duncan makes it work wonderfully and provides the movie with one of its only moments of genuine humor that doesn’t involve pigeons sitting on Rutger Hauer’s head. These days, Duncan’s doing a lot of video game and cartoon voice acting, including doing the voice of Alfred on The Batman. What are the odds that both Harley Stone and Dick Durkin would go on to play roles in the sundry Batman franchises?


And the alien, or genetic mutant, or psychic freak, or whatever the hell the monster is, is also a great design. Obviously, though its behavior is all Predator 2, its look is a straight up rip off of the creature from Alien. Thing is, though, it’s a very good rip off, with lots of the drooling and sliminess that you expect from such creatures. We’re still solidly in the era of man-in-suit monsters, and at least by my standards, that makes for a much more interesting and menacing monster than could have been realized by CG — and I don’t just mean 1992 CG. Although I have made my peace with CG for the most part, I still have lingering disapproval for CG blood effects (juicy squibs are so much cooler looking) and for human-size, human shaped monsters rendered by computers rather than being played by a man in a rubber suit. Split Second‘s killer creature is no Pumpkinhead, but it’s a respectable beastie never the less.

It’s certainly weak enough in parts to disappoint more discerning viewers, and the gore and sleaze is copious enough to turn away anyone who got suckered into thinking they were going to get a straight sci-fi film or “Blade Runner but with a monster.” But I’m a pretty undemanding viewer, and the gore didn’t phase me, so I was able to chalk up enough enjoyment out of the film to like it, even though I wanted it to be better than it was. What couldn’t possibly be better, however, is the ending. There’s really no way to top Rutger Hauer pulling a monster’s heart out of its chest, then topping that off by shooting the heart with a giant shotgun, just because the monster pissed him off that much. Split Second isn’t necessarily a film I feel like I need to champion. It’s not a lost classic or a work of maligned and misunderstood genius. I wasn’t overjoyed with it, but I was pretty happy. If, like me, you have a certain tolerance for the unruly, low budget, cynical sci-fi films that came out in the early 1990s, you can probably wring at least as much entertainment out of this hateful little piece of sci-fi horror as I did.

Release Year: 1992 | Country: England, United States | Starring: Rutger Hauer, Kim Cattrall, Neil Duncan, Michael J. Pollard, Alun Armstrong, Pete Postlethwaite, Ian Dury, Roberta Eaton, Tony Steedman, Steven Hartley, Sara Stockbridge, Colin Skeaping, Ken Bones, Dave Duffy, Stewart Harvey-Wilson | Screenplay: Gary Scott Thompson | Director: Tony Maylam | Music: Francis Haines, Stephen W. Parsons | Cinematography: Clive Tickner

rafeat

Raiders of Atlantis

rafeat

Ahh, Ruggero Deodato. Is there anything he can’t make weird? Although best known for cannibal atrocity films like Cannibal Holocaust, Deodato was no different than any other workhorse of the Italian exploitation industry, in that he worked in pretty much every genre that required exploiting. He made cop films, kiddie films, sword and sorcery films, horror films, sexploitation, and in the case of Raiders of Atlantis, a film that manages to steal from both Road Warrior and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and maybe a bit of Seatopia from Godzilla vs. Megalon, in a way that keeps the end result unique despite the lack of originality in its individual parts. Deodato certainly keeps his genre films offbeat, if nothing else.

A salvage operation attempting to raise a sunken nuclear submarine is interrupted by a sudden onslaught of bad weather and tsunamis. The crew of the salvage vessel find themselves stranded (except for their helicopter) in a seemingly deserted coastal town, and by seemingly, I mean that there are plenty of corpses placed in various humorous and surprising “tumble out at ya” locations. Generally, once someone has committed a massacre, they don’t stick around long enough to position the corpses of the slain in places that will provide a cheap shock to anyone who happens by and opens a cupboard or something, but whatever. When the salvage crew finally discovers some living people, they learn that the bad weather they encountered was caused by the rising of the lost continent of Atlantis (last seen beneath the Sahara Desert in Conquerors of Atlantis, being hassled by Hercules). The corpses, in turn, are the first victims of the Atlanteans attempts to reclaim their previous position as masters of the world.

Atlanteans dress like background dancers from that “Shootin’ at the Walls of Heartache” song, and their plan to reconquer the Earth involves a lot of hair teasing, new wave outfits, and a couple dune buggies. As far as impressive military showings go, this one falls somewhere below all those third world militias that go to war in Hawaiian shirts and Chuck Taylors. Really, dune buggies? Those haven’t been important military vehicles since the government disbanded Megaforce.


Although Raiders of Atlantis is not a post-apocalypse film, it certainly draws its villains’ fashion sense from such movies, most of which assume that after the fall of civilization, there will be a shortage of food, water, and gasoline but an abundance of shoulder pads, assless leather pants, zany hair and eye make-up, and dune buggies. I’m not exactly an ancient, but I’ve lived a good many years and have yet to ever see a dune buggy. Somehow, according to these movies, dune buggies will be the primary form of transportation in the future, and they will show up in hitherto unimagined quantities.

Despite their similarities to the future people of Billy Idol’s “Dancin’ with Myself” video, the Atlanteans prove to be fairly lame opponents, and a few adequately-trained surface-dwellers with shotguns show everyone why Aquaman was considered such a wuss. Not satisfied with beating up on the Atlantean advance guard, the salvage crew heads into the very heart of Atlantis to rescue a kidnapped scientist and kick a little more ass. In the couple thousand years since we saw Hercules beat up the Atlanteans, their fighting skills, technology, and sense of dress has not improved.

The main short-coming of this film is the budget, which results in some rather lame “toy boat, toy helicopter” effects, but other than that, Deodato manages to turn a goofball script into a bloody, action-packed adventure film that is equal parts Indiana Jones and Mad Max without being the actual equal of either. While the film fails with some of the more ambitious special effects, the stunts are superb. Also helping the film rise above its meager budget is the acting, which is high quality for such a low quality film. No one is going to win any awards, but for the most part, everyone turns in a solid performance. As outlandish as the script is, this is still an amusing high-octane action film that has more than enough thrills, violence, and rolling dune buggies to keep it fun.

lt

Lady Terminator

lt

I think it’s safe to say that the average 1980s video store patron who took home a rental copy of Lady Terminator got a lot more than he or she bargained for. That’s far from saying that he or she was disappointed, however. While most corners of the exploitation film world specialized in selling as much sizzle as possible while delivering the absolute minimum of steak, the Indonesian version of same was marked by a commitment to entertain that was almost poignant in its sincerity — even though that commitment was typically made good upon by way of boatloads of frenetic violence and nauseating gore.

Lady Terminator came toward the end of what was something of a golden age for Indonesian exploitation cinema — one that started in the early 70s with the relaxation of censorship standards (followed soon after by mandatory Government quotas for local film production) and ending at the turn of the 90s with the drying up of the export market for Indonesian productions and the resulting move of many of the industry’s key players into television. Given this, it’s fitting that the film embodies three of the prevailing trends in Indo exploiters from the period. The first of these is the aforementioned devotion to providing the audience with thrill-a-minute spectacle at all cost — even when that cost, as was usually the case, was less than a hundred thousand dollars. The second is the strategy of catering to the international export market by dressing the finished product up to look, as much as possible, like a Western production. And finally there is the somewhat contradictory practice of drawing heavily upon Southeast Asian folklore and mysticism for subject matter.


Thus it is that Lady Terminator is not only, as its title implies, a sexed-up knock-off of James “Piranha: The Spawning” Cameron’s hit action film The Terminator, but also a supernatural horror film based on the hundreds-of-years-old Javanese legend of the Queen of the South Seas. Now, given my assumption that Teleport City readers have more than a glancing familiarity with The Terminator, I’m going to skip on providing any refresher material on that subject. As for the Queen of the South Seas, while the various recountings of her tale attribute to her an assortment of different guises and origins, all seem to agree upon the fact that she is a powerful goddess who dwells at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. This aforementioned heterogeneous quality suggests that hers is a story that invites embellishment as the teller sees fit, and in that spirit, the makers of Lady Terminator have cast her as an evil succubus complete with vagina dentata.

Our introduction to the Queen is provided during Lady Terminator‘s initial minutes, right on the heels of a bit of opening narration that not only doesn’t make sense in itself, but also has no bearing whatsoever on anything that follows it:

“Sometimes the past should be left to memory, to gather dust within the cupboards of recorded time.”

And as that sentiment itself takes its deserved place within the cupboards of recorded time, we are shown the Queen, sheathed in a sheer sarong, huffing away as she straddles atop one of her male minions. Romance is in the air, it would seem, but it’s not all red roses and Godiva samplers, for, just as the Queen seems poised to take this fellow to his happiest of happy places, she sets the Little Queen to work on his nether bits, sending a geyser of blood shooting up out of his crotchal area.


Moments later, as the Queen’s handmaidens carry off the corpse, she wonders aloud whether she will ever find a man who can truly satisfy her. This cues the arrival of a handsome new prospect at her castle door, one who, once invited into her bed, does indeed prove adept at finding her sweet spot. This occasions, as it might, the ejection of a live eel from her vagina, which, upon being captured in the man’s hands, immediately transforms into a magical dagger. Having now apparently seized hold of the Queen’s mojo, the man undergoes an abrupt change in demeanor. He turns upon her, righteously demanding that she stop all of her wanton chomping off of fellows’ wangers post haste. Outraged at this betrayal, but powerless to fight against it, the Queen vows to take revenge on this man’s great granddaughter one hundred years hence, after which she walks off into the crashing surf and disappears beneath the waves as a cheesy synth wash wells up on the soundtrack.

And you though Javanese folklore would be boring, didn’t you?

Once the credits have rolled, we are taken to modern day Indonesia, and the arrival upon its shores of easy-on-the-eyes young American anthropologist Tania Wilson, whose credentials are established by having her indignantly inform people that she’s an anthropologist literally all the effing time. “You speak to me of legends in this day and age? I’m an anthropologist!”, she says to the requisite elderly spouter of dire portents, and then somewhat paradoxically runs off in pursuit of the very artifacts that would prove those legends true. “Stop calling me lady,” she says on another occasion. “I’m not a lady. I’m an anthropologist!” Upon which she doffs her clothes to reveal the barely contained lady parts spilling out of her over-stressed black bikini.


Tania is played by an Australian woman named Barbara Anne Constable, who, in addition to also receiving a make-up artist credit for Lady Terminator, apparently never appeared as a principle cast member in any other film. It’s hard to gauge Constable as an actress here, not only because she spends most of the film portraying an unspeaking, robot-like killing machine, but also because, in those few early moments when she’s not doing that, her dialog, like that of all of the other players in the film, is dubbed, and quite poorly at that. What I can say, though, is that Constable’s look is a perfect compliment to Lady Terminator‘s function as a time capsule of 1980s visual aesthetics. She’s like a whole decade of MTV viewing wrapped up in one attractive female package — part Flashdance era Jennifer Beals, part Madonna, part Teena Marie of “Lovergirl” fame, part the Kids From Fame, and part, uh, I don’t know, Ms. Pacman, I guess. Why she was never cast as one of Don Johnson’s girlfriends on Miami Vice I will never know.


Lady Terminator — released in Indonesia as The Revenge of the South Seas Queen — was directed by H. Tjut Djalil, who several years earlier had helmed a truly wonderful little movie called Mystics in Bali. In that film, just as in Lady Terminator, a white lady from America comes to Indonesia to poke her nose into ancient magics, with the result that she becomes possessed and causes all kinds of problems for the locals — in this case by becoming a flying, disembodied head with lungs and viscera still attached who goes around sucking the fetuses out of pregnant women right through their vaginas. In Lady Terminator, Tania’s transformation is no less dramatic, albeit given a more contemporary spin. In her case, the conversion to troublesome demonic vessel occurs after she goes diving in search of the magical dagger seen in the film’s prologue. Within no time, she finds herself tied spread-eagle on the Queen’s bed, a cartoon eel shooting up her birth canal. Soon after, Tania, now possessed by the spirit of the South Sea Queen, rises naked from the waves, ready to begin her career as a soulless instrument of destruction.

Tania’s first victims are a pair of drunk buddies who are spending their Saturday night on the beach. “Saturday night on the beach!”, exclaims one of them, because Lady Terminator is the type of movie in which peripheral characters shout out pointless fragments of exposition in a totally implausible manner. (Later, we see a fellow walk into a pub and throw a wad of cash down on the bar, saying to his companion, who entered with him, “I just won me a couple of grand from the races!” — even though that piece of information will in no way prove relevant to anything that happens subsequently.) The other drunken man bemoans the pairs’ sexual prospects for the evening: “Remember the legend of the South Sea Queen? Wouldn’t it be nice if she could come now?”


After chowing down on these men with her fanny fangs, Tania proceeds to a high-rise hotel. Here she makes her way to and enters a suite that has been set up as a sort of shrine to the South Seas Queen. This might seem like just another of Lady Terminator‘s crack-headed inventions, until you learn that such a hotel actually exists in Indonesia — albeit one of less recent construction than the one shown in the movie — and that a room there is indeed reserved at all time for the South Seas Queen as a guard against bad luck. Anyway, once in the room, Tania, entranced, sits in a lotus position before the portrait of the Queen that hangs on the wall, after which we begin to see little cartoon lightning bolts shooting out of her eyes. Meanwhile, Tania’s entrance has been captured by security cameras, and a hotel security guard armed with an Uzi is sent up to investigate. What the hell kind of hotel is this?, you might ask yourself. But never mind; what matters most is that that Uzi is going to play a very important part in the events to follow.

As I mentioned before, due to the fact that the more high profile Indonesian exploitation films of its type depended on foreign sales for their profits (and, in case you were wondering, Lady Terminator did indeed have a brief theatrical run in the U.S.), Lady Terminator is a film that is trying very hard to pass itself as a typical American action film from the 80s. At the same time, the local specificity of its folklore-based plot and the need to not alienate its home audience also necessitate that it not completely obscure its Indonesian origins. As a result the film takes a kind of cagey, neither-here-nor-there approach to establishing its settings, with no one ever explicitly mentioning where all of these things are meant to be taking place. The Jakarta-shot locations are mostly recently developed areas of urban sprawl that could be in any number of cities on Earth, and, on other occasions, the narrative simply fudges the particulars, like someone who, while telling a story, mutters certain, less well thought-out details from behind a cupped palm.

For instance, immediately preceding the scene in which we are introduced to our bland, white guy hero, policeman Max McNeil (Christopher J. Hart), we’re shown a brief establishing shot of the New York skyline. However, when we see Max again, just a couple of scenes later, he is now obviously in Indonesia, though he’s not working as a policeman anymore and is instead now employed by something called “Spesial Sekuriti” — although he still gets to do policeman-like things like investigating murder scenes and going to look at bodies in the morgue. It is only much later that we learn that the initial New York scene was meant to be a flashback to Max’s life several years previous to the film’s main action. Despite this, I have to admit that, when I first watched Lady Terminator, I thought its narrative, while unbelievably silly, seemed to reel out in a fairly linear fashion. But now that I’ve actually had to pay attention to its details for the purposes of this review, I realized that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.


This aforementioned “New York” sequence also serves to introduce a few of Max’s manly American pals, who include among them the utterly generic “Joe” and “Tom”, as well as the more memorable Snake, a dude with a surfer accent who sports what is unquestionably the Platonic ideal of mullets. Seriously, the thing makes me wish I could jump in a time machine and go back to a period before mullets became passé as an easy target for internet ridicule. Of course, the fact that it also appears to be a wig makes it that much more perfect, for there’s no way a beast so magnificent could be allowed to actually exist in nature. (By the way, there appears in Lady Terminator‘s opening credits an actor named Adam Stardust, and though I couldn’t say for sure who Adam Stadust plays in the movie, I’d like to think that it’s Snake.) Anyway, though these fellows disappear from Lady Terminator for a long stretch, their names continue to be invoked as if they themselves had some kind of mystical power, cluing us in that we will be seeing Joe, Tom, and, most importantly, Snake again before the closing credits roll.

Max’s duties at “Spesial Sekuriti” somehow require that he go to the morgue to examine the corpses of Tania’s recent victims, which include the two drunk guys, as well as the formerly Uzi sporting hotel security guard. One of Max’s partners remarks that each of the victims have had their “cocks bitten off”, and opines that the culprit “could be a small animal”. Then another one of them makes a grade school level double entendre and they all laugh like idiots and head off to the bar. Seriously, these cops’ level of sensitivity makes that cop named “Shithead” from Naked Killer — or the cops from The Untold Story, even — by comparison seem like they could be detectives on Law & Order: Special Victims’ Unit.

Finally it comes time for us to learn who the ultimate target of Tania’s wrath is — in other words, the great granddaughter of that guy who pissed off the South Seas Queen in the first place. And, yes, I thought it was Tania, too, but no. It is actually Erica, a big haired aspiring pop star played by Claudia Angelique Rademaker. Erica has a signature song that we see performed twice in Lady Terminator, and it is a true thing of beauty, a preposterous serving of ESL word salad sung with utter conviction over the pulsating synth backing of an “Eye of the Tiger” style aspirational rock number. Of the lyrics that contain actual English (I don’t think that “solutious” is a word in any language) I could make out the following couplets, including the first chorus:

“Fight! Souls on fire!
We assist those in power!”

And:

“Some will find the power, search within the storm,
Someone hides a weaker face, a nose gone wrong!”

It is at Erica’s big rock show — actually a performance at a sparsely attended mall disco — that Tania finally catches up to Erica, making her entrance in the iconic, tube top with black leather pants and jacket ensemble that she will wear for the rest of the film. She also has that Uzi with her. And it turns out that it’s one of those magic Uzis that makes its own bullets, because Tania is able to squeeze endless rounds out of it into everybody at the disco except for, for some reason, Erica. This allows a large number of extras to put on their best death agony face as squibs and bags of fake blood do their delicate dance of enchantment within their clothing. I should mention here that, while Tania fires about a bazillion bullets into people, mostly innocent bystanders, throughout the course of the film, she also has about a giga-bazillion bullets fired into her, all to no effect, which nonetheless never causes those aligned against her to reconsider their mode of attack. “What does it take to kill you anyway?”, Max cries desperately at one point. I only have a partial answer to that question: Not bullets. (Max’s reply? BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM!)


Fortunately for Erica, Max and his asshole buddies are also at the disco when Tania makes her appearance, and Max is able to spirit her away to the temporary safety of the “Spesial Sekuriti” offices. Here we meet Erica’s uncle, an old shaman type who, after making his expected “I knew this day would come” speech, gives her some kind of protective object that we, the audience, are not allowed to see. Then Tania storms the offices and the uncle has a brief magical battle with her, which ends when Tania kills him by machine-gunning him in the balls for a full 10 seconds. Tania then methodically strides through the entire office and mows down absolutely everyone in sight, which turns out to be quite a lot of people; “Spesial Sekuriti” is obviously very well staffed. In the cases of the men, she adds a little extra coup de grace by kicking them in the groin once she’s fired enough bullets into their prostrate bodies to kill them several times over.

In its efforts to be a 1980s American action film, Lady Terminator makes a sincere attempt, in the midst of providing as much wall-to-wall carnage as possible, to also contain within itself everything else that a 1980s American action film should contain. And that includes 1980s American action film style character development, which, given that the characters here are even more two dimensional than those in the typical Golan-Globus film, makes for some pretty credibility stretching scenarios. First of all, we have Erica and Max, from the second they meet, constantly bickering and sniping at each other for no reason. Erica is presented as seeing the fact that Max has just obviously saved her from mortal harm as some kind of annoyance, and, when not making outraged inquiries about his intentions, keeps haughtily demanding to be taken home. In turn, Max, between squeezing off rounds at the pursuing Tania from behind the wheel of his speeding car, keeps telling her to “shut up”, and, in effect, that no uppity dame is going to tell him what to do.


Finally, during a brief, fireside respite, the two bond, which of course involves each telling the other about loved ones who have died violently — because, in a 1980s action film, you cannot be a person of substance unless you have lost a wife, child, parent, or all of the above to the hands of lowlife criminal scum. Max’s story consists entirely of him telling Erica that his wife talked him into quitting the police force, then moving to Minnesota and opening a restaurant, after which she was raped and killed. Max says that this last part was all his fault. However, based on these scant details, one could also say that the culprit might have been (a) the state of Minnesota, (b) restaurant ownership, or even, in fact, (c) the whole concept or entrepreneurship.

Erica takes up her part in this tit-for-tat by lamenting the fact that now, not only is she an orphan, but also minus a best friend and uncle thanks to Tania’s ravages. What follows is this marvelous exchange:

ERICA: Everybody’s gone! God, I’m alone!

MAX (robotically): It’ll all look better in the morning.

ERICA: Damn you! Can’t you see I’m crying for you!

Then they totally do it.

From this point on, Lady Terminator documents the treacherous cat-and-mouse game played between Max and Erica and the ever-determined Tanya, who somehow continues to commandeer nicer and nicer vehicles as she continues her pursuit — all of which, of course, end up getting spectacularly blown up in one way or another. Needlessly to say, this chase will also involve the deaths of many, many more innocent bystanders. Now and then, in the midst of the massacre, one member or another of the star cast will randomly assign a name to one of these anonymous casualties (“Damn, she got Betty!”, “Tom, my buddy!”). I see this as Lady Terminator‘s humble attempt to put a human face on the tragedy, whose scale would otherwise be too much for the human mind to truly grasp.


Finally it becomes clear that it’s time to call in the big guns, and so, as we have so eagerly anticipated, Max’s much heralded buddies from the States, Tom, John and Snake, are called in to try their hand at mopping things up. High-fives are exchanged. Cries of “Let’s kick ass!” are roared to the heavens. And, in a climactic nighttime battle at the airport, we see that, along with their toothbrushes and Axe Body Spray, the boys have packed a rocket-launching helicopter. Unfortunately, even this heavy ordnance proves no match for Tania’s bottomless Uzi. What then follows is a line from Max that will send shudders of ecstasy down the spine of any engaged viewer:

“Snake, get the Panzer!”

And with that, Lady Terminator descends/rises to a point where it could not be a more lacerating parody of 80s action movie cliches had it intended to be, with Snake riding around on top of an armored assault vehicle, mullet flying in the wind, multiple explosions going off on all sides of him, as he yells things like “Fuckin’ A!” and “Alright!” — all to the end of subduing a lone, Uzi wielding woman who looks like she stepped out of a Def Leppard video. Suffice it to say that anyone who has made it this far into Lady Terminator without throwing their hands up is weeping tears of unbridled joy at this point.


So, have I mentioned that I love Lady Terminator? LOVE it. It’s dialog is ludicrous. It’s action is frenetic, and also ludicrous. It’s gore is gratuitous to the point of being… well, ludicrous. Everything about it is so much more than it needs to be that it takes one past the point of feeling satisfied to feeling engorged. So generous is its bounty that to merely sing its praises seems like inadequate thanks. Like the Queen of the South Seas, it should be worshiped, with palms upturned to the heavens and mouth agape. We should give our bodies to it, and let it make of us soulless meat puppets for the purpose of whatever unholy errands it sees fit. In short, Lady Terminator is just a really, really awesome movie.

Unfortunately, Indonesia’s censors failed to recognize that awesomeness. Thanks to it having a level of onscreen nudity and simulated sex seldom seen by the predominantly Muslim country’s movie audiences, the film was pulled from the nation’s theaters within days of its release. Director H. Tjut Djalil would return to the export-friendly exploitation well again for the also pretty bonkers Dangerous Seductress in 1992, before hanging it up a couple of years later. And as for Lady Terminator‘s star cast? Well, if the IMDB is to be believed — which, well, it really isn’t — none of them went on to ever star in anything else, ever. Even if this were true, though, it’s my feeling that a sole, credited role in Lady Terminator is more than enough to trump the resume of many another, more prolifically employed actor. These people should all be proud. Very proud, indeed.

And as for me, suffice it to say I walked away from my initial viewing of Lady Terminator a changed man. Dammit, I want to marry Lady Terminator. And by that, I mean the movie, not the Lady Terminator herself. She’d probably shoot my dick off.

ncfeat

Neon City


At this point in Teleport City’s existence, I think we can skip the introductory material regarding the post-apocalyptic films of the 1980s. Suffice it to say that the wake of the good ship Road Warrior is cluttered with some truly ridiculous flotsam, the vast majority of which seems to have drifted over from Italy, occasionally with a grinning Fred Williamson clinging to it, trademark cigarello clenched firmly between his teeth. And we don’t want to short-change The Philippines, whose contributions to the genre may be fewer and less “famous” but are even battier than their Italian counterparts. And occasionally, the United States would decide that if it was the country that most movies would hold at least 50% responsible for the post-apocalyptic setting, then the US might as well get in on the game.

Perhaps because we were stocked with the biggest nuclear arsenal in the world, many US productions wrong-headedly tried to present a more “realistic” interpretation of what the world would be like after the collapse of society, rather than relying on the tried and true leather-clad mohawk guys tearing about in dune buggies that the rest of the world seemed to happy with. Less Road Warrior, more Mad Max, in that way. But every now and then, the United States would get its head out of its ass, stop producing dull claptrap like The Day After (so dangerous and shocking that the people made it weren’t even sure if we should watch it — seriously, they claimed to expect people flocking in for shock and post-traumatic stress disorder after witness the stark horrors the mini-series had in store for us. That’s near William Castle levels of brilliant), and make something that just through its hat into the ring of goofball post-apocalyptic adventure.

Coming as it did in 1991, Neon City sort of missed the boat. The Soviet Union was no more. The threat of nuclear annihilation was receding into the background. It was looking like that bomb shelter I’d built with my friends back in the woods and stocked with tins of Dinty Moore and Beanie Weenies was not going to be needed (though as far as I know, it’s still back there, right about here). Despite a brief foray into Middle Eastern warfare in 1990 and a mild recession, things were looking up. The environment for a post-apocalyptic action film was less inviting than it had been during the height of Reagan era Cold War paranoia. Luckily, Neon City decided to eschew nuclear annihilation as the way to get us all into football pads and assless leather pants and relied instead on a more 1970s style of tearing the world apart: environmental devastation. Contending with a ravaged environment is a standard part of any post-apocalypse movie, but more times than not, at least during the 1980s, that environment had been ravaged by nuclear war, which for some reason, the people of the near future could call nuclear war, opting instead to always give it some hokey, vaguely Biblical name like “the great cleansing” or “the time of fire.”


I guess something gets into the drinking water that causes our post-apocalyptic to give things more flowery, poetic, and creative names than what we did with wars like “World War II” and “The Hundred Years’ War.” But movies in which the wrecked environment is the cause, rather than a symptom of, the end of the world are farther between than the more common “you blew it up!” variety of film. However, with the two great super powers of the world turning their ICBMs into planters and having their old war bunkers blessed by crystal wielding new age priestesses (or something like that), a post-apocalypse latecomer like Neon City had to cast its net back to the decade of gas rationing and the great paranoia about the environment. It’s not that big a surprise, then, that the fish this movie pulls back into the boat resembles something more from the 1970s than the Reagan era post-apocalypse action movies with which we’d grown so familiar. Ozone layer depletion was still a hot topic at the time, so seizing on that as the cause of our doom was only natural.

Neon City is a decidedly more somber affair than movies like New Barbarians, 2020 Texas Gladiators, or Cherry 2000, to name just a few. It still boasts the hallmarks of the 1980s post-apocalypse movie — a big ass truck, marauders on motorcycles, questionable trends in fashion, a droning synth score — but it presents them in a much less cartoonish fashion, opting instead of a tone that is bleak, depressed, and surprisingly believable. The world of Neon City is successfully convincing as an actual post-apocalyptic society, one in which law and order exists in miserable, grimy pockets alongside large swaths of the country that have devolved into lawlessness. The future is such shit because the ozone layer was being eaten up at a frightening pace. In an attempt to halt and repair the damage, NASA hired a brilliant scientist who concocts some crazy sort of laser experiment. Unfortunately, all it does it accelerate the decay, thrusting the earth into a gloomy future where clouds of poison dust roll across the wasteland and people can be fried alive during certain conditions that create some crazy sort of intensification of sunlight. Civilization, or at least large swathes of it, couldn’t be sustained. The United States fractured into fiefdoms, each one ruled by a security force that seems at least tangentially loyal to whatever government remains, but ultimately cut off from any real central authority and thus left to fend for themselves.


Through this stark land strides Stark (Michael Ironside, from everything), a bounty hunter with a haunted past. He’s bringing a fugitive named Reno (Vanity, The Last Dragon), but discovers that he can’t actually collect her bounty in the city at which he arrives. Instead, he has to travel to Neon City, the major remaining hub of civilization in the region. Travel to Neon City isn’t unusual, but it is dangerous thanks to a gauntlet of brigands, nutcases, and environmental madness. The local lawman wants Stark to ride shotgun with the Neon City Express, the beast of a truck that makes the run with civilian passengers. Stark would rather take his chances on his own, at least until his truck “mysteriously” explodes. Stark and Reno thus end up boarding the armored transport along with a group of other travelers who hope to make the risky run to Neon City, each one with hopes of a better life. If you’ve ever seen the classic John Huston/John Wayne western Stagecoach, you may recognize the scenario. Neon City draws heavily from that movie, and in general, the greater portion of post-apocalypse movies can be easily compared to westerns, though most of them opt for a sort of Sergio Leone vibe — not surprising given the Italian lineage of both Leone westerns and 1980s post-apocalypse movies. So perhaps it’s no accident that the US-produced Neon City looks a bit further back, to American produced westerns of the early era, just as it did in plucking environmental disaster from the 70s.

What this means, however, is that we have an ensemble cast, and as just about any fan of b-movies can tell you, that almost always devolves immediately into poorly written, endless bickering and sniping. The set-up seems to point to exactly that sort of tedium. Besides gruff, angry Stark and his equally pissed off charge, the driver turns out to be Bulk (former football player Lyle Alzedo), Stark’s former partner who stark put away for five years on account of Bulk beating a guy to death. You might think that this ends up being important, but Bulk seems to have adopted a live and let live attitude, so whatever tension might have depended on that dynamic is dissipated pretty quickly. There’s also Sandy (Valerie Wildman), who happens to be Stark’s estranged ex-wife. Seems that whatever government remains in the blighted year of 2053 doesn’t take too kindly to “mutants,” making sure they are killed off at birth. When Stark and Sandy had a child, it suffered from a couple relatively mild abnormalities which the government identified — incorrectly, Sandy maintains — as mutations. So the child was killed. In a rage, Stark decided that Sandy had been covering up some sort of mutation in herself that was manifested in the child. Needless to say, the marriage had as much chance of surviving as the baby.


It may seem contrived for so many people with personal connections to one another to end up on the same trip to Neon City, but it seems there are so few people left that it doesn’t come across as improbable as it might otherwise. Fleshing out the cast are a vaudeville style comedian (Richard Sanders — you know him as Les Nesman), a doctor with abysmal taste in shirts and hairstyles (Nick Klar), a sheltered socialite who’s been riding the collapse of society out in Sweden (Juliet Landau, daughter of Martin and eventual reoccurring actress in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Justice League Unlimited, and a bunch more voice work), and an old Asian guy (Sonny Trinidad). I wasn’t in the mood for ninety minutes of clumsily written character conflict, and luckily, Neon City surprised me. Although we hit some of the expected notes — Stark and Sandy don’t get along, socialite Twink can’t understand why the government allows everything to be so dangerous, Vanity is pissed off at everyone — the movie never wallows in it. Most conflict is dealt with quickly, and we move on. Hell, for the most part, most of the people seem to get along with and help each other, and this is one of the few low budget post-apocalyptic movies where pretty much everyone we’re supposed to like is actually likable. Who ever heard of such a thing?

The only real fly in the ointment is sleazy Dr. Tom, who we know to be an impostor with sociopathic tendencies, but even that is handled in a relatively deft manner. We know the eventual conflict is coming, but we don’t have to sit through endless scenes of “who’s the bad guy.” And in fact, even though he’s the scumbag, he’s also well aware of the fact that he needs to pitch in and help out if any of them are going to survive the run. It seems almost that he doesn’t even want to hurt anyone, but his masquerade as a doctor keeps getting him called upon to perform some actual medical service, for which he has no talent. The only way he sees to cover his ignorance is to make sure the patients tragically pass away. Even though most of the characters are one-note caricatures, they were an easy lot to get along with, especially Sander’s ever chipper Dickie Devine (whom I expected to become odious comic relief, but he never does) and big galoot Bulk.


The expectation is that Alzedo — a former Oakland Raiders defensive lineman who, sadly, passed away shortly after this movie in May of 1992 — will be terrible, or he’ll just do the silent, dangerous act. But he really gives it his all and comes across with a lot of charisma. He has a freak-out scene that’s a little overplayed, but he tears into it with such earnestness that it doesn’t really matter. I’m primed for everyone in these types of movies to be cynical, unsympathetic, and overly acidic. It’s a bit of a joy to discover one where both the script and the performers have decided that maybe it’s OK to actually enjoy the company of the characters. Alzedo’s Bulk could have been the heavy or the jerk. Instead, he’s the center of the film’s charm.

Most of the cast is similarly committed. there’s no sense that anyone was handling this as though they thought it was just some idiotic straight-to-video sci-fi film, and there’s charisma enough to go around. The one failing is in the relationship between Stark and Reno, which is supposed to go from enemies to lovers. Which it does, but with almost no transition or development at all and with no chemistry between the two. But like everything else in this movie, the plot doesn’t linger on it for very long, so you can keep rolling without too much fuss. The relationship between Stark and Reno fails not because of the actors as much as it does the script. Vanity had a lot of natural charm, but the few times I’ve seen her act, she wasn’t all that great. Her character probably could have used more to do and say in this, although limited as it is, it doesn’t give Vanity’s weaknesses as an actress any time to surface. Unlike, perhaps, more current movies, the movie doesn’t try to pass her off as an unstoppable killing machine. She knows her way around a fight, having grown up as an orphan in the wasteland, but she makes believable mistakes and is never anything more than barely competent — just like everyone else.


For his part, Michael Ironside is, well, Michael Ironside. It’ll always be hard for him to convince me he’s actually the good guy, so recognizable is he as a guy who does things like make people’s heads explode. His character, like Vanity’s is the focus of the story while also being the least interesting. He turns in a fine performance. And I really like the idea of Ironside as the hero. He’s in shape but not ripped. He’s losing his hair. He looks like a regular guy with an unusually effective steely-eyed glare. Like everything else in this movie, he looks lived in, worn down, and how you’d expect someone surviving in this future to look. Whether it’s a conscious decision or merely a function of the film’s low budget, no one looks glamorous — not even Vanity, and that’s quite a feat. Well, OK, maybe you can still tell it’s Vanity underneath the rags and ponchos, but even she manages to be convincing otherwise. She was, for those of you who may not remember the 80s quite so clearly, one of several female proteges of Prince when he was at the absolute height of his power. Vanity, Apollonia Kotero, and Sheila E. all tried their hand at acting. Apollonia did OK in Purple Rain and continues to pop up from time to time in TV work. After playing herself in Krush Groove, Sheila E. decided to rely more on the fact that she was the one protege who had a staggering abundance of actual musical talent.


But Vanity…Vanity starred not only in Neon City, which as you may be gathering, I think is a pretty good movie, but also appeared in one of the greatest movies of the 1980s: The Last Dragon. If she never did anything else, those two things alone would qualify her for the much coveted Teleport City Medal of Merit. Sadly, she retired from the business in the middle of the 1990s and launched a career as a born-again evangelist, which I cannot say I have followed as closely as I did her turns in Action Jackson and Tanya’s Island.

And I won’t claim that I’m the only person to own albums by both Vanity 6 and Apollonia 6 (as well as most of The Time and Sheila E’s albums, but that’s a lot more common), but that’s got to put me in some sort of elite crowd. I even have a Wendy and Lisa solo albums. Damn, Prince made a lot of money off of me. It’s a wonder I never bought solo albums by “that guy from The Revolution who dressed like a doctor” or “that guy from the Revolution who looked like a less stately version of Prince.”

I do think that the main characters of Reno and Stark are actually the supporting players, and the journey toward redemption for both Wing and Bulk is the film’s real heart. The best scenes belong to Lyle Alzedo and Sonny Trinidad. The friendship that develops between the hulking driver and the wispy old man is far more organic and interesting than the rushed and clumsy romance between Stark and Reno. All in all, though, the cast does well, and even moments of bad acting come across with a naturalness that makes them work with the characters. I think it might have something to do with the fact that director Monte Markham was an actor by trade, having worked for years as a supporting player and one-off character in countless television shows. He got one starring turn, in the series Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, but for the most part, he was strictly a one or two appearance performer. So I think he must have a soft spot for supporting casts, which is why they perhaps get the better end of the deal in this script.


Even Twink, who should be the most annoying character, is written and played with sympathy. She’s naive, but she’s basically nice and naive, rather than the usual “bitchy sheltered rich girl,” and that was, after so many years of Sci-Fi Channel movie characters, unbelievably refreshing. Thank God Juliet Landau had the good sense or lack of experience enough to take the tolerable, likable route with the character. She does a lot of work on cartoons I like a like — most notably as Tala on the much missed Justice League cartoon, as well as roles in the more recent Ben Ten series and the direct to DVD movie Green Lantern: First Flight (which, incidentally, was absolutely awesome).

Lest you think this is all character drama, let me assure you that the army of writers that worked on this movie (there were four, though only Markham and Jeff Begun had any experience before — or after — Neon City) never forget to pepper it with action. Stark and the gang are pestered every step of the way by roving gangs of killers, culminating in a few well-executed action scenes and a lot of competently executed action scenes. Neon City is surprisingly adept at balancing character drama and action, and while we’re not looking at stunts and adrenaline on the level of Road Warrior (though the final chase and fight scene is obviously plucked from that movie’s finale), it still manages to be pretty exciting. There are some pretty hairy looking motorcycle crashes, a lot of explosions, and plenty of gunfights.


Tying the whole movie together is the world these characters inhabit. As you no doubt know, post-apocalypse movies tend toward either the grimly dull or the outlandishly cartoony. Neon City does its best to walk the line between the two. Sure we have the biker gangs, and most of the clothes and decor are the typical post-apocalyptic mish-mash of antiques and what people int he 80s thought stuff int he future was going to look like, but it’s all put together with an expert eye. This stuff doesn’t look like prop room leftovers that some thoughtless art director threw together and called the future. It looks lived in. It looks, if not exactly real, then at least awful close to it. There are, of course, anachronisms. Though we’re not entirely certain when things got as bad as they are in 2053, it’s still safe to assume that we would have better computers than the 1980s. At the same time, I always like seeing old computer equipment, and I think anyone who rips into a film from, say, the 1980s for not accurately predicting what computers would like in the future really is missing the point. And int he case of Neon City, it even sort of works. the world is so believably run down and worn out that it almost seems plausible that we’d all be back to using 286 computers with monochrome displays. Similarly, the outside world seems believable enough. Filmed in Utah at least partially during the cold months, Neon City achieves the “driving across the desert” look that was requisite of all post-Road Warrior movies while still being something a little more — though not entirely — unique. It reminded me a lot of the look of an earlier, not as enjoyable post-apocalyptic movie, Warlords of the 21st Century starring Michael Beck.


The movie also gives the characters a believable reason to be farting around out in the wasteland. Unlike many post-apocalypse movies, where people seem to drive around the desert for no reason at all other than it’s cheap to film in the desert and Road Warrior was filmed in a desert, Neon City at least explains it. Our heroes don’t want to be there; it just happens to be the only road to where they need to be. And the biker gangs are out there because, well, they’re bandits. Furthermore, the existence of cities and pockets of civilization, however miserable they may be, lends Neon City an extra dynamic. We get the feeling that things are bad in a lot of places, but not everywhere. Neon City itself seems like a little nation-state, though one that is relatively safe and stable, and apparently the Swedes are getting along just fine. There is a lack of cohesive centralized government in the United States, but it’s not total anarchy. You get the sense that someone, somewhere, is desperately trying to keep things from unraveling any more than they already have.


I was surprised by Neon City. I didn’t expect much from it, but it really entertained me. I like sci-fi films that have nothing to say, and I like sci-fi films that are so preposterously ham-fisted with what they have to say that it becomes absurd. Neon City is the rare sci-fi film that has a little to say and says it well. Not a whole lot, but just enough to give it that extra bit of depth. Mad Max was really the opening salvo in the Reagan era post-apocalypse boom, even though it’s more outrageous sequel became the template. It’s debatable whether or not Neon City is the last film in the trend, but regardless, it’s fitting that it would be among the last and is, in spirit so much more similar to Mad Max than it is Road Warrior. If Neon City has one big weakness, it’s that it’s a good movie. Not a great movie that can enthrall anyone, and not a terrible movie that can amuse anyone. It’s merely good (though I think very good), and that means for it to be entertaining, you have to like it, not like laughing at it. It’s not like indulging in some gloriously ludicrous nonsense like New Barbarians. It’s a pretty serious movie, executed competently, which means it doesn’t have that party film vibe about it. But if you’re looking for some decent sci-fi action, or if you have an affinity for post-apocalypse movies in general, then low-key, modest little Neon City is really a forgotten gem.

necrofeat

Necronomicon

HP Lovecraft, much discussed pulp horror author and Woodrow Wilson lookalike, was either born or transferred into this world from a watery beyond in 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island. His father, a traveling salesman, went insane as a complication of syphilis when young Howard Phillips was but three years old, and the elder Lovecraft was confined to a mental hospital until his death in 1898. Sickly and somewhat unstable as a lad, HP Loevcraft showed a knack for writing (poetry, mostly) despite the fact that he spent little time in school. He was raised by his mother, aunts, and grandfather, and it was his grandfather who first read old gothic horror stories to HP. His mother disapproved, fearing that the stories would upset the child, who already suffered from, among other things, night terrors. Lovecraft’s academic studies, such as they were — he dreamed of becoming a professional astronomer — were stymied by his inability to do well in higher mathematics. Upon the death of his grandfather in 1908, the Lovecrafts hit upon hard times. The family moved into a smaller home, and Lovecraft led a nearly hermetic existence, his mother being more or less the only person with whom he spent any time.

Continue reading

feat

Who Wants to Kill Jessie?

The mid-sixties were a time of increased experimentation and political outspokenness for filmmakers in Czechoslovakia, thanks to the increasing relaxation of government censorship that peaked in 1967 with the sweeping reforms of the Prague Spring, and which came to a crashing halt with the Russian invasion the following year. Of the films produced during that brief renaissance, Vaclav Vorlicek’s Who Wants to Kill Jessie? is far from the most radical or subversive. But it is just possible that viewing it would have been enough to convince the CCCP standard bearers back in Moscow that the Czechs were having entirely too much fun for their own good.

Continue reading

gijoefeat

GI Joe: The Movie

Back in October of 2003, when I was still gainfully employed as a writer at Toyfare magazine, I was given the following assignment: using my vast and shameful knowledge of things both Transformer and GI Joe, I was to write an article, using a series of pre-determined questions and criteria,  pitting the two iconic toy lines against each other in a battle for overall supremacy. Hey, it’s the sort of things we did back then as grown men and women. I can’t say I went into the article without some degree of personal bias. I had a huge GI Joe collection when I was in middle school. My Transformers collection was OK, but GI Joe is where all my time and money went — partly because there was so much more you could buy, and partly because collecting GI Joe figures was a lot easier on a lawn mowing allowance than collecting the much pricier Transformers figures. And for a kid with a big, wooded back yard, the potential play value of GI Joe was considerably more substantial — and yes, I was eleven years old; I played with my GI Joes.

Continue reading

moonfeat

Trip To Moon

In the Summer of 2003, the movie Koi Mil Gaya opened on India’s theater screens. While in most respect no different from other big budget Bollywood romances of its day, the picture boasted a couple of elements that enabled its publicity department to set it apart from the pack. If you’ve seen the film, you know what I’m talking about: Our hero, played by doe-eyed muscle farmer Hrithik Roshan, is one of those lovable movie retarded guys, but a lovable movie retarded guy who somehow has to be gotten into pole position to romance the film’s lovable but not at all retarded heroine, who is played by Preity Zinta. How KMG bridges this troublesome, albeit poignant, gap is to have Hrithik granted a genius IQ as the result of his close encounter with a gnomish, benevolent space alien.

Continue reading

dpfeat

Dirty Pair: Project Eden

It’s customary (and a tad predictable) at this point for me to preface any review of an older anime title with some rose-tinted reflection on how it was in “the old days,” when we were trading VHS tapes by U.S. mail and had but a smattering of titles available for rent or purchase here in the United States. So let’s skip that part, since as fun as it is to drag those hoary old chestnuts out into the realm of public discourse yet again, the truth of the matter is it was never very much fun when we all had to do it. Nostalgia for “a simpler time” aside, I really don’t miss running off tapes on clunky old VCRs, waiting in disorganized lines at the overcrowded post office, then hoping that the virtual stranger at the other end of the transaction actually receives the package and, even more importantly, actually gets around to reciprocating. And then you finally have your own copy of whatever it was you were trading for, complete with shaky quality and occasional tracking problems.

Continue reading

feats

Dead Space: Downfall

Dead-Space-4

After struggling through the lackluster Resident Evil: Degeneration, I wasn’t overly excited to jump headfirst into another animated feature film prequel to a scary video game. Even less inclined was I to watch Dead Space: Downfall because I’d never played the game and likely won’t play it for a very long time, as I do not own a gaming system for which the game is produced. Still, there was no way I was not going to watch, at some point, an animated sci-fi/horror movie, so I figured I may as well get it over with. If nothing else, at least this one was traditional cel animation (or the computer-enhanced version of cel animation that exists today).

It turns out that Dead Space: Downfall is pretty acceptable. Totally generic, yeah. Completely devoid of originality or imagination, yep. Utterly disposable, sure. But after such a rocky road through recent science fiction, horror, and animated films (a road that brought me to Resident Evil: Degeneration, Diary of the Dead, and Heavy Metal 2000), generic formula executed in adequate fashion was more than enough to draw a sigh of relief and unengaged satisfaction from me. Continue reading