Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
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Drive-In Collection: Death Force / Vampire Hookers
In Death Force, Doug Russell (James Iglehart) is a soldier on the way home to his wife and infant son, but when he runs afoul of two supposed friends he’s left for dead in the middle of the ocean. Luckily he washes up on an island beach where he’s found, nursed back to health, and trained in the way of the samurai by two Japanese soldiers unaware that their war (WWII) ended years prior.
Vampire Hookers doesn’t really need a synopsis, does it?
Vinegar Syndrome’s latest double feature of obscure drive-in favorites is one of the good ones thanks mostly to the first feature. At its core it’s a revenge flick, but the story touches and fight choreography make it a surprisingly good time. In its uncut incarnation, aka Vengeance Is Mine!, it does for decapitations and gut slashings what Olympus Has Fallen did for head shots. Better, the numerous fight scenes are actually pretty great. And best? The ending!
Vampire Hookers meanwhile comes from the same director (Cirio H. Santiago) but is a completely different beast tone-wise. It’s a comedy through and through, complete with physical gags, bats on strings, and a very vampy John Carradine. The seven minute-long (but relatively tame) sex scene stands out though. [DVD extras: Trailer]
Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection
Pitch: Worst thing about being killed by Jason is knowing that he caught you while he was walking…
Friday the 13th. Friday the 13th Part 2. Friday the 13th Part 3 (2D & 3D). Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Jason X. Freddy vs Jason. Friday the 13th.
Before I say anything else know that this could just as easily fallen into the “Rest” category thanks to the severe lack of special features both new and already existing. Don’t call it a “complete” anything when it actually isn’t. But that said, it’s incredibly cool to have all of the films in the series, up to and including the 2009 reboot, in one location along with a healthy (albeit incomplete) set of extras. The fact that it’s an embossed tin is nice too. The movies all look good, and while I would have preferred to see more uncut versions this is probably going to be the best we’re ever going to get from Paramount and WB. [Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, commentaries, trailers, booklet, patch]
Pitch: John Luther’s walk > Ethan Hunt’s run…
Detective Superintendent John Luther (Idris Elba) isn’t necessarily a by-the-books kind of cop, but he gets results. Of course he also gets a trail of bodies who all share a connection to him and his loose ethical code. This season sees Luther tackling a serial killer with fetishistic tendencies and a vigilante who has the ear of the people.
Luther is one fantastic series and yet another nail in the coffin of American-made cop shows. Networks need to catch on and start producing dramatic series that run under ten episodes per season as it allows for far less filler and far more intensity. This new season doesn’t quite reach the heights of the two that preceded it, but that’s due strictly to some horrendous plot contrivances and actions in the final of the four eps. Until then it offers some spectacular writing, incredibly creepy sequences, and unsurprisingly strong acting from all involved. [DVD extras: None]
Pitch: It’s a very dark magic indeed…
Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is just a girl when she’s kidnapped by rebel soldiers and forced through violent means to join the cause. Her time with them is spent suffering and committing heinous acts, but a brief respite comes in the form of an older boy named Magician (Serge Kanyinda) who befriends her and introduces her to a strange tree sap that alters her life once again.
Writer/director Kim Nguyen‘s Academy Award nominated feature (Best Foreign Language) is far from an easy watch, but it’s still a fairly important one. Africa remains a continent where much of what happens does so outside of the international eye, and when atrocities are discovered they’re talked about for a while and then forgotten until the next revelation. This film puts a personal face on the nightmare, and while it’s fictional, the story is sadly based on a constant reality. [DVD extras: Behind the scenes, promo]
An American Hippie In Israel
Pitch: Hippies. Why did it have to be hippies…
Mike is a hippie, an American hippie, and he’s newly arrived in Israel. He gets on well with the locals thanks to his peace-loving attitude and groovy personality, but a pair of machine gun-toting robots are making life in his new home more trouble than it’s worth. After hooking up with a free-loving Israeli chick, the new couple pair up with a couple of friends and head to a (not so) remote island in the hopes of avoiding the violence that civilization has wrought.
This is an odd movie in many more ways than one. Mike’s adventure is a mix of sex, anti-war monologues, and just plain weirdness, but while it could easily be written off as lazy hippie filmmaking the final act takes an intriguing turn layered with meaning. It’s a bit of a drag at times to reach that ending thanks to some dull, empty sequences that seem to last forever while saying absolutely nothing. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Includes director’s cut titled The Hitchhiker, additional scenes, interviews, still galleries, featurettes, liner notes by John Skipp]
The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond
Pitch: In Turkey, board games play you…
An ancient board game is unearthed during an archaeological dig in Turkey, and a century later it sits silently in a Maine cottage just waiting for new players. It gets its wish in the arrival of a bunch of twenty-somethings looking for a good time filled with drinking, screwing, and board games. Apparently.
Bad move on their part as the game soon drives a wedge between them all through paranoid visions, and then the screaming starts.
There are some competent elements at play here including the performers and a solid special effects department, but they’re bogged down by a fairly bland script and some equally uninteresting direction. Robert Patrick adds some charm, but his role is too minimal. Regardless of all of that the ending commits a cardinal sin that itself sinks the entire movie. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Alternate opening]
Skip it and watch Jumanji instead.
The Doll Squad / Mission: Killfast
Pitch: Two Ted V. Mikels films for the price of one? It’s a trap…
A terrorist of unequaled evil blows up NASA’s latest manned spacecraft and threatens an even worse disaster if his nefarious demands aren’t met in The Doll Squad. Never one to bow down before the bad guys, the US government fires up the W.O.P.R. to see what they should do next. The computer’s answer? Send a squad of dangerous but sexy ladies after the enemy.
Mission: Killfast meanwhile sees a group of arms smugglers doing bad deeds until an ex-agent of good named Tiger Yang comes out of retirement to kick their collective asses.
A sampling of Mikels’ films includes The Black Klansman, Blood Orgy of the She-Devils, and Apartheid Slave-Women’s Justice. I mention them because the two films included here are just so incredibly and surprisingly bland for the effort he clearly puts into his titles. The pieces are in place for some solid exploitation fun, but events play out so limply and lacking in fun that they become nearly worthless. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary, interviews, trailer]
Skip it and watch The Rape Squad and Mission: Impossible 2 instead.
Drive-In Collection: Blood Thirst / The Thirsty Dead
Pitch: Who’s a guy gotta kill to get a drink of blood in this place…
Blood Thirst sees a number of young women taken from the streets of Manila, murdered, and then drained of their blood. One detective tries to make sense of it, but his investigation takes a disturbing turn as he gets closer to the secret behind it all. The Thirsty Dead meanwhile sees more young women being taken from the city, but this time the culprits are a bit more hippie-like.
Vinegar Syndrome’s second Drive-In Collection of the week is easily the lesser of the two. Neither film really connects like it should. Blood Thirst comes the closest, and fans of old, cheesy horror may want to give it a try, but it fails to generate anything resembling excitement. Still, it’s the better of the two as the second film is just dumb. The cult responsible for the kidnappings are goofy and far from threatening, and the whole thing just feels like an uncreative and very pastel endeavor. [DVD extras: None]
Skip it and watch There Will Be Blood instead.
Pitch: That’s FrankenstEEN’s army…
Russian soldiers push forward against the Germans as World War II nears an end, but things take a darker than usual turn when a squad is lost behind enemy lines and struggles to survive. They come upon a village devoid of life and a secret bunker where life is being created. It seems the Nazis have been working on creating monsters to fight for them, and now the Russian soldiers are forced to go face to face with all manner of human/mechanical hybrids.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Director Richard Raaphorst has made his feature debut in the found footage style that just about nobody likes anymore. Seriously, the format is pretty played out, people. On the bright side, the creature creations are pretty damn spectacular. Lots of effort went into the design of both the monsters and the sets, and it pays off with some fun, creepy and creative visuals. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, trailer]
Hammer of the Gods
Pitch: Their penises are the nails…
Steinar (Charlie Bewley) is a Viking brawler of some renown, but when his father needs someone to take charge in an ongoing war he sends Steinar to find his older brother who left the kingdom in disgrace some years before. The journey is itself an adventure as the quest brings them through enemy territory. Of course, it only gets more dangerous when they actually find Steinar’s brother.
Viking movies aren’t quite as ubiquitous as some people would like ([cough] Robert Fure [cough]), and the reason probably has something to do with how similar they all end up being. Warring clans yelling and screaming at each other before racing across a field to do battle… that pretty much sums up most of them right? Aside from most of Valhalla Rising I mean. This new UK-produced pic has all of that and more in that the Apocalypse Now-like tale is interesting and loaded with bloody battles. CGI blood is unfortunate, but they use it well most of the time. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, making of, featurettes]
La Cage aux Folles (Criterion)
Pitch: Now with considerably less Robin Williams…
Further proof that the French are always at least a decade ahead of Americans in terms of social and sexual politics, Édouard Molinaro’s La Cage aux Folles is a 1978 adaptation of a 1973 play about a gay couple (a night club owner and his star act) that must “play straight” when they meet the incredibly conservative family of the fiancee of the nightclub owner’s son. If that plot sounds familiar, that’s because the film was a huge hit in the United States (the biggest hit for any foreign film at that point, though many screenings were dubbed in English by the French cast) and spawned two sequels, an English-language version of the play, and a giant hit of a remake in 1996 – Mike Nichols’s The Birdcage.
For anyone familiar with The Birdcage or the play, every beat of La Cage aux Folles will feel welcome and familiar, fully realized in Criterion’s routinely glorious transfer. But as much as I love French cinema, there’s something about comedy in a foreign language that has never translated well for me. Perhaps because of the subjective machinations of comedies of manners are so dependent on timing and delivery, something always gets lost in subtitles.
It is no fault of La Cage aux Folles that I found myself longing for Hank Azaria and Nathan Lane while I watched their talented transatlantic prototypes. And while La Cage aux Folles clearly still has cache today, its initial success has to be credited a bit to its time, when two out-gay men were rarely central characters in any Western cinema industry. This is to say that I viewed the film as an interesting object of history, but – as someone who wasn’t initially around to be part of its international sensation in the late 70s and early 80s – could hardly find myself enjoying it in ways that I’m sure audiences once did. I cringe to say this, but see the remake instead. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Archival footage of the stage production; interviews with the filmmaker and a drag theater scholar; trailers; illustrated booklet with essay] – Landon Palmer
The Moleman of Belmont Avenue
Pitch: He’s claiming squatter’s rights…
Jarmon (John LaFlamboy) and Marion (Mike Bradecich) aren’t the brightest bulbs in the silverware drawer, but they mean well. That’s not true. They don’t really mean that well at all and are really only interested in doing what they have to do to keep their tenants from leaving. The apartment building they inherited was once a respectable place, but they’ve let it fall into ruin in a record amount of time. The handful of tenants that remain are hardcore and can live with the lack of proper maintenance, the electricity “borrowed” from the church next door, and the absence of much-needed repairs, but they have to draw the line someplace… and that line is apparently a creepy, flesh-eating creature living in the basement.
Horror comedies usually lean heavily to one side or the other, and this fun little gem leans heavily towards the comedy. The horror elements consist mostly of some low budget gags and the presence of Robert Englund, but the laughs make up for the lack of actual scares. LaFlamboy and Bradecich also wrote and directed the film, and while it’s already a couple years old it’s enough to make you wish they had more in the pipeline. [DVD extras: Commentary, stills]
Nikkatsu Collection: Horny Diver – Tight Shellfish
Pitch: Wins based on the title alone…
Mr. Matsunaga is a greedy real estate developer, as if there are any other kind, who arrives at a small Japanese fishing village with plans to buy it all up from the locals. He hires a young stud to go bang the women into such a frenzy that they willingly sign over their land, but they didn’t count on the will power and lung capacity of the village’s clam-diving co-eds. It’s almost exactly like The Goonies if you think about it.
This is my second favorite type of Nikkatsu erotica in that it is filled with legitimately sexiness and excessive nudity. For the record, my favorites are the ones that mix the sexy with the funny, but this will do in a pinch. The story is played straight, the two attempts at sexual assault are stopped and the offender beaten, and again, the damn thing is sexy. [DVD extras: Trailer, liner notes]
Nikkatsu Collection: Story of a White Coat – Indecent Acts
Pitch: Scrubs didn’t prepare me for this…
Shinobu’s life-long dream is to become a nurse and help people in need, and that dream allows no time for love, canoodling, or other distractions. Trouble comes in the form of Junior, the dickish son of one of the hospital’s major shareholder, who develops a violent crush on her even as he proceeds to bone the rest of the nursing staff. Can Shinobu escape with her dignity and hymen intact?
The short answer is no. The long answer is no she can’t because Junior is a rapey son of a bitch. And that pretty much says all you need to know about this one. The Nikkatsu films fall into a few different categories, and thus title happens to belong to the most unfortunate one. Rapey. [DVD extras: Trailer, liner notes]
Skip it and watch Young Doctors in Love instead.
Scream Factory Double: Scanners II / Scanners III
Pitch: You will believe a man can stare at other people with intensity…
David Cronenberg’s ‘splodey head classic is followed up by two unrelated sequels offering varying levels of entertainment. The New Order sees a power hungry police chief using the scanner-related efforts of a mad scientist to create enforcers to support his takeover of the city. A free-thinking scanner has different plans though. The Takeover follows a similar course of action, but this time it’s a woman who’s been corrupted to believe a scanner army will help her take over the town too. Her free-thinking scanner brother has different plans though.
Scanners II is as much of a thriller about corruption as it is about exploding heads, but it’s still pretty fun and more competent than you’d expect a long-forgotten sequel to be. The action sequences are well done, the effects are top notch, and the story is just engaging enough to keep you watching. Scanners III is far less successful though as just about every element feels a bit too cheap. It’s adds some eye-catching nudity into the mix, but that’s no reason to watch a movie about people who can fly you around a room with the flick of their chin. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Star Trek Into Darkness
Pitch: Who knew Khan was a Skyfall fan…
Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew are forced into action when a mysterious terrorist (Benedict Cumberbatch) strikes a devastating blow against Starfleet. The Enterprise crosses enemy lines to find the madman and return him to justice, but what they couldn’t know is that Khan’s plan is just beginning.
Director J.J. Abrams surprised most of us when his first Star Trek film turned out to be an incredibly fun (albeit flawed) reboot of a classic film/TV series, and his sequel is equally surprising. Unfortunately it’s the opposite in that it’s an incredibly flawed (albeit fun) movie. The script is a lazy mess, the characters are driven solely by words on a page, and the character of Khan is far from ambitious or interesting. Still, the film features some exhilarating action and spectacle. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Depends on where you buy it]
Tyler Perry Presents Peeples
Pitch: You just want Madea to come running in and slap these people silly…
Wade (Craig Robinson) and Grace (Kerry Washington) are living together in love and in sin, but her family has never heard his name. He follows her to a family gathering at her father’s (David Alan Grier) Kennedy-like compound to propose but discovers the whole gang is hiding secrets of their own. A wacky weekend of misunderstandings and hi-jinx ensues!
Robinson is a talented comedian, and he leads a very talented and capable cast here, but the material is simply too far beneath them. The jokes don’t land, the story is predictable, and the contrivances are legion. Washington even slips into a schoolgirl’s outfit for a few minutes, but unfortunately there are over ninety left. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette, gag reel]
Skip it and watch The Proposal instead.
Wish You Were Here
Pitch: Teresa Palmer is my Number One…
Four friends, two couples, head to Cambodia from Australia for a relaxing holiday vacation free of kids and responsibilities, but when the trip ends only three of them come home. The fourth has gone missing, and as the days turn to weeks the three remaining friends discover that one of them holds a tragic and frightening secret.
This Aussie thriller is as much drama as it is mystery as it explores relationships, infidelity, and mistrust with a narrative that shifts forward and back to show us what happened then and what’s happening now. Joel Edgerton and Teresa Palmer deliver strong, compelling performances, and the script by director Kieran Darcy-Smith and co-star Felicity Price offers up a few surprises as well. [DVD extras: Making of, interviews]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Army Wives: The Complete Seventh Season
The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Sixth Season
Castle: The Complete Fifth Season
House on Straw Hill
The Shepard: Border Control
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (Criterion)
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks