Monday, November 24, 2014

In the Land of the Cannibals (2003)

Written by: Bruno Mattei, Giovanni Paolucci
Directed by: Bruno Mattei
Starring:
Claudio Morales as Romero
Cindy Matic as Sarah Armstrong
Lou Randall as Lt. Wilson

In its heyday, the Great Italian Ripoff Machine was a juggernaut of crap. Its massive gears ground out ripoff after ripoff, and it crushed international copyright law beneath its mighty treads. In 2003, it was a rusty two-door hatchback with the hood and one door the wrong color, that burned oil and had a leaky radiator, driven by Bruno Mattei after he found it in the back of the Italian film industry's motor pool and lovingly got it working again by stealing a bunch of parts from other people's cars and spray painting the rust to at least vaguely match the original color.

This is one of the movies he made during his brief comeback before a brain tumor killed him in 2007. Not giving a damn that the cannibal horror subgenre had passed its sell-by date more than twenty years before this masterpiece, In the Land of the Cannibals splits its time pretty evenly being a shot-for-shot, sometimes very nearly line-for-line remake of Cannibal Holocaust and Predator. The surprising thing is that no one thought to do something like this before. The two plotlines are a pretty good fit for each other. Unfortunately, Mattei seems to have lost a lot of the energetic stupidity that made his older movies such a delight. Don't get me wrong, there's still plenty to laugh at here, and it's probably more fun with a group, but compared to, say, Rats: Night of Terror, this one can get pretty draggy in between bouts of delirious retardation.

A group of commandos led by Lt. Wilson (this is our Dutch analog character, and the guy playing him looks exactly like Phil Anselmo from Pantera, which opens up a whole new world of riffing opportunities) is sent into the jungle to retrieve the daughter of a senator, who was traveling with another army platoon and got shot down, or some such nonsense. Their guide is a tracker named Romero, who is an amalgamation of Robert Kerman's character and his guide from Cannibal Holocaust, taking on the actions and dialog of both characters. They head into the jungle, and from there with a few exceptions if there's an action scene it's one from Cannibal Holocaust and if there's a dialog scene it's one from Predator, up until dee choppah comes and Sarah makes it out alive while everyone else is cannibal chow.

Now, you may be thinking that I'm exaggerating when I talk about it being a shot-for-shot remake of the two movies. I thought the similarity might have been a coincidence when they aped the “meet the crew disembarking the helicopter” scene at the beginning. After all, they have to get out of dee choppah in order to get back to dee choppah at the end, right? I thought the similarity might have been a coincidence when Lt. Wilson sits down with the commissar (uh oh), or whatever, to get the lowdown on the mission. But then when they flat out fucking steal the helicopter footage from Predator for the airdrop sequence, my suspicions were confirmed.

You know, as great as it is, I never thought about Predator in terms of its dramatic impact and the acting chops of its cast. After watching this group of buffoons and their voicover crew woodenly ham their way (yeah, I didn't think that was possible either) through scenes from the far superior source, I realized how important those aspects of the earlier movie were. Sure, most of them were just a bunch of grunting weightlifters, but there were a few actual thespians in the cast, and even the grunting weightlifters acquitted themselves admirably. Bill Duke was probably the best of the lot, and the version of the “I'm gonna cut your name into him” speech from In the Land of the Cannibals really accentuates how good a job he and Jesse Ventura did of sketching out their characters' friendship with just a couple lines of dialog, because in Predator it's a surprisingly emotional moment, and in this flick it stands out as being a fucking awful imitation in a great sea of fucking awful imitations.

It also doesn't help that every time one of the commandos bites it, you remember the awesome action sequences in Predator and your mind's eye vividly recalls, say, Carl Weathers being literally disarmed and hauled into the air on the blades of the towering alien hunter, while your actual eyes are seeing nothing but a group of befuddled and slightly embarrassed looking Filipinos in loincloths and silly pastel-colored war paint.

There are a couple of interesting departures taken by this flick from either of its plagiarized sources. Well, they're departures. They could have been interesting if someone had bothered to make an effort here. For example, Lt. Wilson really only starts out as the Dutch analog. That role increasingly transfers to Romero throughout the movie, with Wilson losing his cool and taking over the role of Dillon, the incompetent loser who constantly endangers his men.

Most notably, though, is the character of Velasquez. Yes, because ripping off two things just wasn't enough, there had to be a tough Latina soldier who dies by grenade-induced self-sacrifice to buy the rest of the team some time. I was kind of disappointed she didn't grumble, “You always were an asshole, Gorman”, even though there's no one in the movie named Gorman. I mean, fuck it, it's Bruno Mattei, right? It's not like he gives a shit. Oddly enough, this awkward transplant gave the movie its one real chance to do something worthwhile since it seemed so determined to do nothing but slavishly (and astonishingly badly) copy two better movies the rest of the time. Early on, they come upon one of the cannibal tribesmen doing the adultery punishment bit from Cannibal Holocaust, and while all the men look on, Velasquez is the one who is all fired up to do something about it and you think maybe, just for a fleeting moment, that we're going to get a little feminist heroine action. Then Romero basically tells her to shush up and go make them some coffee like a good little girl and my sigh of exasperation was so deep I started seeing spots and thought I might pass out.

For being half a ripoff of one of the most notoriously graphic and brutal movies of all time, this thing sure is skittish with the sleaze. When there is gore, it's the one area where the movie mostly manages not to completely suck. There's one scene early on with Romero doing a very rough field postmortem with his Bowie knife on a really nasty looking badly decayed body and he nearly cracks its head in half trying to get a look at its molars. We also get a couple of pretty messy full-body explosions. But when it comes to the real nitty-gritty of cannibals dismembering people, it's pretty lacking. Whatever power the aforementioned adultery punishment scene may have had is pretty well dispersed by the female victim spending more effort on conspicuously trying to keep her nipples covered with her hands than keeping her insane boyfriend from shoving a ball of mud and nails into her vagina and bashing her head in with a rock. And although two different pigs are killed and mutilated, we only see the live before pig, and the dismembered after pig. Not that I particularly wanted to see a couple of terrified pigs killed for the sake of a shitty movie, mind you, but it seems an odd point of squeamishness. After all, you still have to see their guts spilled out all over the ground, so it's not like they're sparing any animal lovers in the audience. Since Mattei cuts back to the actors hacking up the carcasses to revel in the gore after the deed is done anyway, it almost makes it worse than if they'd just showed the whole thing, in a way. If you're going to have that kind of awful thing in your movie, at least have the balls to follow through with it instead of pretending you didn't do what everyone damn well knows you did.

It's worth checking out for its novelty, probably better with friends than a solo viewing, and make sure you have some alcohol on hand. You're going to need it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ebola Syndrome (1996)

Written by: Ting Chau
Directed by: Herman Yau
Starring:
Anthony Wong Chau-Sang as Kai
Meng Lo as the Boss
Yeung-Ming Wan as Yeung

I don't remember exactly where I first read about ebola, but I know it was around junior high school when all the computers got wired up with this newfangled thing called the internet and we spent every study hall and free period just roaming around search engines hoping to find something cool that wouldn't set off content alarms. James Lileks's Gallery of Regrettable Foods was a big hit as was the Institute for the Easily Amused. And then we discovered that if you searched through Yahoo's pre-sorted website categories, there was a tab marked “Humor.” And if you clicked that there were subcategories of humor, and among them another tab marked “Tasteless.” Readers of a certain age know exactly where this is going. Who can forget one of the earliest – and still one of the greatest – webcomics, “Mr. T Ate My Balls” and its many spinoffs and copycats (and now I realize that the world, whether it knows it or not, needs a Cinemasochist Apocalypse Ate My Balls strip)? Surely I'm not the only one out there who clubbed a seal for world peace. It's where I learned that John Denver's favorite drink is Ocean Spray. And somewhere in this warped mess that probably helps explain the parts of my sense of humor that aren't accounted for by Monty Python, Red Green, and MST3K, there must have been a page devoted to ebola, because I distinctly remember the phrase, “So many nifty special effects in one little package of RNA”, although I can't remember now where I saw it.

So now I feel a little bit like Elias from Clerks 2, as he boasts about how he's positioned with the perfect online handle. Except instead of expecting to get massive amounts of pussy because there's a live-action Transformers movie coming out and his handle is Optimus Prime, I'm expecting the NSA to come smashing through my door because I've been ebolamonk since I was about 16. I swear I didn't do it, guys!

That brings us to tonight's movie. I won't delve too deep into the specifics of Cat III Hong Kong movies, as it's been done better elsewhere. I'll just say that they're unlike any other type of exploitation movie you've ever seen. They'll give you whiplash trying to keep up with the tone changes from horror to sex to comedy to any combination of the three and back again. They pack enough gristly punch and are filled with enough weird shit to turn the stomach of your average movie goer, but they can be a frustrating experience if all you're looking for is visceral thrills because they often take lengthy departures from angry witches turning people into giant schlongs or disgruntled employees raping everyone they see full of ebola, to engage in fairly boring drama or comedy that is frequently abrasively unfunny to Western audiences (at least those Western audiences who wish everyone involved in making those fucking Grown Ups movies would wind up on the receiving end of a vengeful cock full of hemorrhagic fever).

Herman Yau is an insanely prolific director, most famous for either Human Pork Buns: The Untold Story, or the recent Ip Man movies, or both, depending on the kind of film circles you run in. It's pretty amazing what a guy can do with a little money and a high-def camera because those Ip Man movies look like a million bucks and the aforementioned flicks as well as tonight's movie...well...

The scene is set when we meet Kai screwing his boss's wife. The boss comes home early and catches them at it, threatening to cut off Kai's dick with a pair of scissors (threats of dick violence are a recurring theme). Feigning subservience, Kai offers to cut his own dick off so the great boss doesn't have to lower himself to such an unworthy task. The boss, so sure of his dominance, hands Kai the scissors. This, as you may imagine, goes poorly for all involved. Kai slaughters nearly the whole family and is just about to set the boss's young daughter on fire after dousing her with some kind of accelerant when he's interrupted by a delivery man, or maybe a concerned neighbor, or something. A lot of the characters aren't named often if at all and IMDB is nearly useless for this movie.

Ten years later, Kai is hiding from the law in Johannesburg, working as a cook at a Chinese restaurant. He splits his time pretty evenly between getting in fights with his current boss's wife and getting drunk while complaining to the one person who can stomach his company enough to be considered a friend that he's tired of fucking the same whore every night but none of the other ones in town will give him the time of day. After an unsuccessful attempt at soliciting some nookie gets him kicked out of the bar, he returns to his crummy little apartment above the restaurant, cuts a slit in a porkchop, and fucks it while he listens to his boss boffing his wife in the apartment next door. The scene where returns to the kitchen with the pork chop, sniffs it, rubs it around in his hands a little to thin out the spooge and tosses it back in the fridge is one of the funniest parts of the movie.

I know what you're thinking. Didn't he say the comedy in this kind of movie usually wasn't funny? Yes, I did say that, and when I watched this flick for the first time a couple of years back, I remember thinking it was slow and boring and unfunny. This is why watching subtitled movies while hammered out of your skull isn't a good idea. Ebola Syndrome is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Granted, you kind of have to be a horrible asshole to see the humor in the situations, but...well...have you met me?

Anyway, the real trouble starts when one day Kai's boss decides he's tired of the Afrikaner butcher he usually buys his meat from ripping him off. He somehow got a tip that a nearby Zulu tribe sells livestock for a much more reasonable price, and so he and Kai set off into the bush to buy some pigs. On the way there they see a clearly ill woman stumbling around near a riverbank, and since she's topless and Kai's an enormous perv, he wants the boss to stop so they can fuck her. Bossman is all business though, and it's off to the village they go. Half the village appears to be dead, and half the living population looks like they'll be joining the stiff brigade sooner than later, but a cheap pig is a cheap pig, and before long they're bouncing back down the dirt road with some hogs in the back of the pickup.

When Kai manages to ram the truck into a tree, he and the boss have a row and he storms off into the bush. And then he storms into an entirely different kind of bush when he finds that woman from earlier passed out by the riverbank. Credit where it's due, Kai's first response is the normal human one of trying to wake her up, and when that fails, to move her out of the sun so he can get help. Then his hand brushes one of her breasts and he decides, what the hell, might as well rock out with my cock out! Before Kai can finish railing the unconscious woman, she vomits a stream of infected puke into his face and passes the deadliest disease known to man on to him.

Wouldn't you know it though, he's one of the lucky few who are immune. As if being a violent, sex-starved pervert with a persecution complex wasn't enough, when he gets over the fever he's sweating out on the boss's couch he'll be Typhoid Barry to boot. And that little girl he almost burned at the beginning? She's now an airline hostess, and spotted him at the restaurant while waiting for her next flight. She didn't recognize him outright, but she has a sort of psychic link that make her smell blood and toss her cookies every time she's near him. That should be handy for her cop boyfriend to track Kai with once he returns to Hong Kong to begin his rampage of scrotum gravy and boogers and spit. You know, because the trail of melted corpses was so inconspicuous.

Aside from being repugnantly funny (Kai running through the streets of Hong Kong threatening to cut himself with a knife and screaming, “EEEEBOLAAAA! EEEEEBOOOOOOLA!” is hysterical), the South African portion of the movie is also extremely racist. That being the case, I figured for sure that when I looked it up I would find that the Zulu lived nowhere near Johannesburg. Turns out I was wrong, stupid American that I am. That means that someone involved in this stupid, hateful little movie actually took the time to do a little geography. Compare this to American cinema, where half the time we can't even get our own geography right in our movies, let alone someone else's. The remake of The Crazies, set near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was actually partially shot there AND THEY STILL GOT ALMOST ALL THE DETAILS WRONG! How in the fuck do you even do that!? They showed fields that looked like the fucking Dust Bowl and claimed the whole area would die if they didn't irrigate it with the infected water. We haven't had a drought like that in my lifetime, my dad's lifetime, hell, probably my grandpa's lifetime, and the Cedar Valley is a massive floodplain! How do you spend that many weeks shooting a movie IN IOWA, ABOUT A FARMING COMMUNITY, AND NEVER ACTUALLY TALK TO A GODDAMN FARMER!?!?

Ok, aneurism over. I'll leave you with this. Ebola Syndrome is a nasty, vicious exploitation movie full of rape and cannibalism and child murder and lots of talking about dick violence. If you look at it from a slightly different angle, it's also a sobering meditation on why it's a good thing superpowers aren't real, because if they were, you know damn well the great majority of the people who lucked into them would be a lot more like Kai than Kal-El.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Digital Harvest

For those weirdos among you who aren't incurable paper hoarders, Dead Harvest is now available as an e-book.  Hit the link below and download massive amounts of horror.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dead Harvest: A Collection of Dark Tales


Ladies and gentleworms, boils and ghouls, I'm putridly proud and pleased as pus to present -- OW!  Hey!  OK, OK, I'll  cut out the Uncle Creepy schtick, stop throwing things!  Sheesh.
Anyway, I'm thrilled to announce that my short story called "Putting the Ground to Sleep" is included in Dead Harvest, a massive horror anthology with some big names that I'm lucky as hell to be a part of.  It's my first published work outside of the various websites that I've worked on over the years, and it's pretty damn exciting.
So click the link below and celebrate your participation in our weak, limping democracy by treating yourself to this monolith of the macabre!


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Suckling (1990)

Written by: Francis Teri
Directed by: Francis Teri
Starring:
Frank Rivera as someone
Marie Michaels as someone
Some other people as characters (can you tell the internet credits are a little spotty on this one?)

I can't think of any more gleefully gross exploitation movie plot than “aborted fetus gets flushed down a toilet, lands in a puddle of toxic waste, and turns into a marauding monster”. When I read about it in the coming-soon-to-video section of Fangoria years ago, I certainly knew I had to see it. I honestly can't remember where I eventually found a copy, although the amusingly inaccurate SCIENCE FICTION genre sticker on the box suggests an ex-rental copy. The sticker is of an unfamiliar style, so I assume I found it at one of the giant video tape liquidation sales that would pop up in the mall once or twice a year. Man, those things were a fucking goldmine. One day you'd go to get a giant cookie (really about the only reason to ever go to our mall anymore, except the cookies have gotten smaller and more expensive, so they're not the temptation they once were) and one of the vacant storefronts would have sprouted table upon table, row upon row of VHS castoffs from rental stores across the country.

Anyway, the last thing you would expect is a movie with that story to, all things considered, show some restraint and actually attempt to succeed in creating some actual drama and tension. No, I take that back. That would be the second to last thing you would expect. The very last thing you would expect is that the movie would, to the extent the limits of its budget and talent of the cast and filmmakers allowed, succeed. But don't worry, there's still some gross baby monster stuff. Just not as much as I would have liked. Wow, I never thought I would find myself wishing for more horrible fetus monster action.

We meet a boy and his girlfriend, whose names were barely ever spoken, and when they were they got absorbed into the muffled audio of the tape and the horrible screeching of the ancient elliptical machine I use to keep myself in some semblance of shape. They arrive at a huge, run-down house in some forgotten corner of Brooklyn, which does double duty as a whorehouse and illegal abortion clinic. The girl is adamant that she's going to carry the baby to term and give it up for adoption, and that she's only going to talk to Big Mama, the madam-cum(huh huh huh)-OB-G-DIE!-N, to placate her boyfriend. Of course, things don't go as planned or this would be a short movie, so Big Mama drugs her, performs the abortion (“Good lord, this is the biggest second term pregnancy I've ever seen!” she exclaims of the fetus she pulls out of the visibly-not-pregnant-at-all girl), and sends her simpleton Girl Friday to flush the thing down the shitter. The little bundle of unwanted joy lands in a puddle of toxic waste leaking into the storm drain from a barrel out behind the house (being from the rural Midwest, I just assume everyone has one of those in New York City) and of course immediately begins to increase in size and grow huge bone-shard praying mantis arms, like you do.

Back in the house, the girl is coming to from her Kool-Aid sedative, tension is rising amongst the secondary cast members like Big Mama's son Axel and the Black Ex-Military Security Guy Whose Name I Also Didn't Catch. One of the hookers goes with Girl Friday to flush her third abortion down the can when the prehensile umbilical tentacle of the Suckling shoots out of the toilet and decapitates Girl Friday. At this point, you're probably thinking we're in for some seriously wacky, tacky, disgusting shit. Would you believe me if I told you that, with the exception of a scene at the very end of the movie, we're pretty much done plumbing the depths of tastelessness the movie bothers with? The Suckling grows to full adult size in what turns out to be a pretty impressive monster suit considering how cheap this flick must have been, surrounds the house with an unbreakable placenta cocoon to keep its prey from escaping, and starts picking off the rest of the characters.

It's interesting that the first to die is the black guy. Interesting in that he doesn't die first because he's the black guy in a cheap horror movie. He dies because he's the only competent character and if he wasn't killed off everyone else would have survived. When the Suckling comes through the wall and grabs him, he's just disarmed the unstable Axel, gotten everyone to stop bickering momentarily, and is about to take his rightful place as leader of this motley group. Usually I write off observations like this as me giving too much credit to stupid coincidences in shitty movies, but there's just enough intelligence on display here to make me think Francis Teri was attempting to play with genre conventions a bit.

We're given enough back story on everyone else to know they're essentially useless. The boyfriend is basically just a kid, and despite coming up with some helpful suggestions like making a battering ram out of a weightlifting set, nothing he tries actually works, and let's not forget this whole mess is his fault to begin with; Big Mama is a clever enough woman to create her own little slum empire, but for all that it's still just a slum; the prostitutes, while shown to have some bonds of friendship and loyalty for each other, are still junkie whores at the end of the day; the one client who gets trapped in the house is a caricature of upper middle class white Republican snobbery, he talks big until he actually has to be brave and decent and then he's just a worthless pile of shit; and Axel is fresh out of his umpteenth stint in prison and is clearly a mentally unstable testosterone case. The only one in the whole place who stands a chance of fighting off the monster and getting everyone out alive is the ex-army security guard. It's hinted at that some shady stuff in his past has kept him from getting a real job despite his veteran status. That and, you know, he's black. He's clearly not happy with his lot in life, and is the only character in the flick to be a decent person in any way. So of course he has to die, because we want to see the rest of these miserable pukes killed off and the one competent, intelligent, genuinely good character is standing between them and the toxic waste sewage fetus. Bravo to Mr. Teri for that.

Of course, everyone eventually dies except for the girl, and she doesn't exactly escape unscathed. What happens to her, you really should see for yourself. I had to rewind it a couple of times to make sure I saw it right. Just don't have a beverage in your mouth at the point where the creature kills its father and starts advancing on its mother, because about two seconds later you're going to be choking on it.

Even on a dime store budget, fake blood can't possibly be that cost prohibitive. There's no way they spent so much on the monster they didn't have enough left over for a few gallons of corn syrup. A movie that starts out with the premise of an angry mutant aborted fetus killing those who have done it wrong should be absolutely the most disgusting and tasteless thing ever put on film. This thing should be Shaun Hutson level reprehensible. Unfortunately, once the monster reaches its full size, the horror elements become pretty tame and paint-by-numbers. There's very little gore, although there is a pretty nifty stop-motion severed hand crawling around at one point. It's obvious that Francis Teri was trying to lift this movie above the gutter-level expectations of its audience (the box states that the movie was compared favorably to Alien and Die Hard, but I'm guessing the only person who ever made that comparison was Teri). Most of the time I would applaud that attempt, and honestly there are times when the writing stops being terrible and the actors dial back the ham and it really does work for a few moments, but when you make a movie like this, you shouldn't strive above the gutter, you should fucking wallow in it. Go ahead and try to make a statement if you want, but don't make it with a polite note in carefully written cursive on classy stationery, splash it all over the goddamn walls with buckets of blood and slime.

I think maybe Teri realized that too late to do anything about the final cut, because the end credits are interspersed with a completely random and impressively gruesome FX scene shot outside the house, where two passersby witness a person staggering around the yard while the flesh melts off their skeleton. It's cool, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie and it's too little too late to make up for the dearth of grand guignol in the main body of the picture.

It's a fun flick and definitely worth a watch. Just make sure you go in with tempered expectations and are prepared for a large chunk of mostly bloodless, mostly monsterless, but not completely terrible character drama in between the crazy bits.



Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fighting the Good Fight for Net Neutrality

Because I'm computer stupid (there's a reason I do this from Blogger), I can't even get a simple cut and paste widget to work.  There's supposed to be a spinning loading wheel graphic going on right here, with some other stuff, which links to sign a petition to tell the FCC to tell Comhugecoglomeratecast to go fuck themselves and let us have our damn pornography internet the way God Al Gore Nyarlathotep intended.  A whole bunch of people are running this all day September 10th, but since a)I can't get the thing to work and b)I'm not going to be up til midnight because some of us have jobs to get to in the morning, I'm just going to post a link you can click to sign the petition.

HELP MAINTAIN NET NEUTRALITY!

Seriously, do something.  It's just a petition, it won't bite.  I know we usually just talk about silly movies here, but this is some serious stuff.  If the communications giants get their way, it might take longer than your lunch break to load this blog to read, and then what would you do while you ate your processed microwaved irradiated pre-chewed food substance product?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Exterminator 2 (1984)

Written by: Mark Buntzman and William Sachs
Directed by: Mark Buntzman
Starring:
Robert Ginty as John Eastland
Mario van Peebles as X
Frankie Faison as Be Gee
Deborah Geffner as Caroline

Despite the fact that the two movies bear only the slightest resemblance to each other, I could never keep Exterminator 2 and Executioner Part II straight in my head. Probably because virtually all of that similarity is in the titles. Thus it was that when I put this DVD in the player to get ready for this round table, I was convinced I was about to see a vigilante hero shoving grenades down rapists' pants for 90 minutes, despite the fact that I couldn't remember Mario van Peebles having anything to do with it. Turns out I had it wrong, and this is the Cannon-ized, Death Wish-ified sequel to 1980's Exterminator. I believe that confusion is intentional on the part of the makers of Executioner Part II, as there is no Executioner Part I, and Executioner Part II is almost certainly a cash grab at some of the box office for this higher profile picture that came out the same year.

I'm not really sure how Cannon Films came to be making a sequel to a movie that came out four years previous (I didn't have time to listen to the commentary before going to press with this, it's possible the beans are spilled therein) and wasn't a monstrous hit to begin with, but I imagine it had more than a little to do with the fact that their Death Wish series was raking in the bucks. They had already been doing those for a decade by this point, and Bronson wasn't getting any younger, so I'm sure it seemed like a good idea to have another franchiseable vigilante character in the stable, and any name recognition is better than none at all. Problem is, Paul Kersey is a likeable, sympathetic everyman character who is forced to extreme action because outside forces back him into a corner. So was John Eastland the first time around. In this installment, Eastland is a gigantic loser who manages to get everyone around him killed because he's absolutely fucking terrible at being a vigilante.

The streets of New York have been relatively crime free for four years. The threat of fiery death from the vigilante known as the Exterminator has sent most of the thugs packing to safer territory. However, there's a new kingpin in town. His name is X, he dresses like one of the more outlandish pro-wrestlers at the height of their mania for wacky costumes, and he's organizing every two-bit hood rat in the city into a highly efficient criminal army to take back what he feels are their streets.

Meanwhile, John Eastland hasn't held a steady job in four years, but somehow he manages to belong to a members-only nightclub that offers free beer and the debatable allure of a middle-aged Broadway failure doing spazzy step-aerobics to terrible synth pop without ever removing a single article of clothing. One night he hears a robbery in progress on the police scanner, and discovers some thugs have killed the owners of a small convenience store. The thugs get toasted, and soon the word is out that the Executioner is back. X is furious that his revolution is in danger of being over before it starts, and so the hunt is on for the man behind the welding mask. Too bad for all involved, John just hooked up with Caroline the club dancer and got a job with Be Gee the freelance garbage truck driver. Now X will have some soft spots to strike at to bring John down.

The biggest problem with this movie is that the bad guy gets all the good humanizing moments. We spend far more time getting to know X than we do Eastman. Granted, this is a sequel, but it's a sequel four years after the original. The only character development we get with John before he basically becomes a slasher for the last half of the movie is that he has no job because of reasons. He starts up a relationship with Caroline for the sole purpose of having her killed off to up the stakes at the end, but there's no real chemistry or feeling of interest generated in the audience. Compare that to X's impassioned speech about his men not deserving to die because they never had a chance at a real life and have to fight for survival – never mind that they killed an innocent old couple and that it certainly wasn't their first violent crime – and you kinda start to wonder why you're supposed to root for the bum with the flamethrower. Well, it's because he wears an Army jacket, stupid. That's shorthand for “hero”, even if our hero's big happy moment before things go south is drunk driving a garbage truck he barely knows how to handle through crowded city streets so he can get laid.

Thinking about it that way, this almost becomes an anti-vigilante movie, with the villain being the deeper character and the ostensible hero becoming, as I said earlier, almost a slasher figure. Granted the criminals are still criminals, but at least their faces aren't hidden behind masks the whole time. Take away the hero's face and he becomes an inhuman engine of destruction. Put that engine up against a guy who can make speeches that can almost turn you sympathetic to violent thugs, and you really are left wondering whose side you're supposed to take. Except you're not at all, because they killed Caroline and Be Gee, and John was in the Army, and he has a totally boss garbage truck he converted into a tank!

No, of course the movie doesn't really have layers like that. It's a Cannon Films vigilante action movie ferchrissakes! The reason it seems so disjointed is that there was barely two weeks of prep time from, “Hey, we're gonna make this movie”, to “Hey, start making that movie.” Mark Buntzman, who was a producer on the first Exterminator, wrote the original script and shot the original cut of the flick. The Cannon boys didn't like the way it ended, with Caroline surviving (once again, it's a Cannon vigilante movie, if the women aren't all raped and dead by the end of the second act, you did it wrong) and even saving John and getting the final, killing shot on X, so they called in William Sachs to “fix” things, which I have to assume made them considerably worse since the guy who worked on the first movie probably had a much better handle on how things should go.

At least it had a cool garbage truck. And Irwin Keyes's character from the original magically coming back to life.



Cinemasochist Apocalypse is simply the glass of orange juice in the complete breakfast of the Cannon Fodder roundtable, honoring the recently departed Menahem Golan, and discussing the films of Golan-Globus and Cannon Films. You can read more at your local library, and at these other fine sites. But you don't have to take my word for it.



Terrible Claw Reviews:  Lifeforce