Critters (1986)

Critters, like all great monster movies, can be summed up in a few short lines. Crites- small alien monsters- steal a ship and escape to Earth. Two shape-shifting alien bounty hunters are hot on their trail. Meanwhile, the Brown family children are going around engaging in small town mischief. It's probably only a coincidence that this movie came out two years after Gremlins, with its small humorous monsters and PG-13 violence.

First of all, the Critters are much scarier overall than the Gremlins are. There is some pretty graphic violence here, pushing the PG-13 rating as far as it can go. Second of all, this movie is extremely funny. I hate little kids in movies but the kids in this one are great. Finally, there are some amazing effects going on here. The introduction, which takes place on a spaceship, features a great set and some fantastic alien costumes. Then there is a really outstanding effect at the end of the movie that was probably not too difficult to pull off but still ends up looking great.

As a sort of mash up of Gremlins and your typical monster movie such as The Blob or what have you, it's a mixture that works very well and it would definitely be a mistake to skip it over thinking it's a cynical cash-in on Gizmo-mania.


Above the Law (1988)

Edgy cop/Aikido master/Special Forces guy/Mafia guy/Firearms Expert/Family Man Nico Toscani is investigating some drug goings-on in his neighborhood, along with his partner Jax. Jax is just about to retire from the force or something and Nico protects her the only way he knows how: by constantly putting her in danger by bringing her along on his illegal surveillance missions. I guess she finds that preferable to the constant sexual harassment she is subject to from the gross old fat guys she works with.

Soon, Nico finds mysterious connections between the drug pushers he is investigating and the CIA and he is put on leave and thus has no choice but to further endanger Jax by going on even more illegal reconnaissance missions.

Being as how I have an interest in Japanese martial arts, it was only a matter of time before it came to this: an investigation of Steven Seagal. I have chosen to do this the only way that makes sense; that is, by buying all his movies on DVD (except the direct-to-video ones), watching them, and passing judgment on them (and him).

As is clearly stated on the movie poster, Steven Seagal is a master of Aikido. Aikido is the martial art famous for being used by Steven Seagal in his movies. So we take that as exhibit A. Less importantly, Aikido is also the martial art created by Ueshiba Morihei, who was a badass guy who went around dojo storming until he found religion and decided that the key to victory was not badass fighting, but love. And then he died and so here we are. Exhibit B.

Above the Law begins confusingly, with made up nonsense about what an amazing guy Nico is, mixed with shots of actual authentic Steven Seagal photographs. Then we flashback to Nico being a hero back in some special ops mission in Cambodia and wouldn't it be totally weird and ironic if the bad guy in this movie- the one responsible for the drug dealing in Nico's hometown- and the bad CIA guy torturing some Cambodian guy were one and the same!

We finally finish our whirlwind tour of Steven Seagal- I mean Nico Toscani's life and now here we are in present day 1988 watching cop Nico busting up some guys with no warrant or anything. But it's okay because those guys were scumballs. They even give you some bizarre exposition in passing about one of them being a child molester so you don't feel uncomfortable in the slightest that Nico is just walking into bars and murdering guys for sassing him.

This basically sets the pace for this movie. The Aikido is pretty cool in that it's brutal and violent when in reality Aikido is the opposite of both brutal and violent. I am surprised Aikido didn't become the next Karate after this movie (instead, Tae Kwon Do became the next Karate).

So overall it's not bad as far as later 80s action films go, though not nearly as violent as true classics like Rambo and Commando. There is still hope though because there are like seven more of these to work my way through.

Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982)

A bunch of kids go to a campsite for the express purpose of being stalked and killed by Jason until there is only one girl left who has special Jason killing abilities. I know this sounds like every other Friday the 13th movie, and that's true. When it comes to Jason movies, you have to put that aside and criticize them based on the ideas they contain. Or, failing that, you rate them by whether or not they have a bunch of scenes of people spinning yo-yos towards the camera in 3d.

The only way you can tell these movies apart- especially after the first two and before they started adding psychic girls and trips to Outer Space- is by the cast of characters who will be killed. This entry in the series does not disappoint. Besides the boring heroine and her equally boring boyfriend you've got:
  • a chubby guy that constantly plays annoying pranks
  • token "minority" girl
  • the guy that goes around walking on his hands all over the place and his girlfriend
  • the pot-smoking hippy couple that look a good 20 years older than everyone else
  • the multicultural street gang just hanging out in some small town grocery store
Historically this is an important film, because this is where Jason gets his iconic hockey mask. And it is also the only entry shot in 3d. The 3d effects are not great and you have to wear those red/blue glasses so god help you if you have to wear glasses or one of your eyes is stronger than the other. Luckily the latest disc has both the 2d and 3d versions of this movie and once you get tired of subjecting yourself to headache torture you can switch to the 2d version, and then the 3d effects go from painful to goofy.

Overall it's not a bad chapter in the Friday the 13th saga and even a bad Friday the 13th is better than most slashers.


Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967)

Count Regula is tried for the torture and murder of twelve young virgin women. He is sentenced to be quartered but before he dies he curses the presiding judge. A generation later, a big beefy guy and some lady are looking for Count Regula's castle and they coincidentally happen upon each other. A totally insane priest who carries a pistol will be their guide.

When you hear the "quirky" dialog that sometimes doesn't match with what the lips are saying and see the surprisingly graphic violence you might think that this is an Italian horror movie. Close, but you are wrong. It's German, which is close so you get partial credit. Which is fine because going by my "movie title is a plot summary" review criteria this movie only gets partial credit since while there is a Torture Chamber in the film (several even) there is no character named Dr. Sadism.

This is a very stylish movie, like a cross between Bava's horror films and, I dunno, Bloody Pit of Horror and I guess some Hammer stuff since Christopher Lee is in it. The hero, Roger Mont Elise, is your typical tall and beefy guy who has the same facial expression throughout the entire picture (it's the one on the poster to the right). The heroine, Lillian von Brabant, does a lot of hysterical screaming. Christopher Lee hilariously refers to the both of them by their full names every single time so you will have no trouble remembering them by the time the movie is over.

The pace is great and the lengthy carriage ride to the castle is exciting with plenty of action and some great shots including one particularly beautiful shot at sundown. The sets are absolutely fantastic throughout, though I had trouble figuring out what time period this movie is supposed to occur in as the soldiers appeared to be dressed as British red coats and everything else suggested we were back in the 1600s or so. Other than that this is was a great movie.


The Devil's Sword (1984)

1984 was a memorable year. Not only was it the year in which much of the West switched over to a hellish dystopia as prophesied by George Orwell back in 1949, but also this movie came out. In a lot of ways The Devil's Sword is a reaction to the founding of this nightmarish society and so in hindsight we can attribute the restoration of the Free West solely to stars Barry Prima, Advent "Advent" Bangun, and of course Belkies.

The movie begins like many others before it, and many others since. An old crazy man is relaxing in his mountain shack when a meteorite falls to earth. He does what anyone would do in such a situation- forges a sword with no real benefits but with the power to destroy all of humanity should it fall into the hands of absolutely anyone. And then his shack collapses.

Later on, the evil Crocodile Queen sends out her beefy man servant Banyujaga to steal some effeminate looking guy for her. But little does Banyujaga realize that his sworn enemy Mandala is in town searching for The Devil's Sword! Who will get the sword and what will he use it for?

The many parallels between 1984 and this movie are so obvious I won't even go into them. Instead I want to talk about how awesome everything in this movie is. You know how when you were little you'd catch these crazy movies on Kung Fu Theater or whatever on the weekends, and the perfect storm of hilarious dubbing and stupid wire effects converged over the tranquil sea that was society before the Matrix came out and overexposed wire kung fu to the point where it is a groanworthy punchline? And now you are grown up and you hunt down some of those movies in a fit of nostalgia and they just seem boring and tame with your sophisticated adult tastes, what with your iphone and your animes and your hospital dramas? What a disappointment!

Well I am telling you right now that if you watch this movie you will be transported- magically and without warning like in one of those "adult turns into a kid overnight and realizes that there is more to life than money and success and power" movies- back into the age of footie pajamas and sugary cereal on Sunday morning.

Because this movie is totally out of control and your ability to handle it is dubious at best. The violence comes suddenly and without mercy as limbs are shorn like wool from a sheep. Heads are severed and then the fight begins. Mandala is forced to crawl through a "spooky cave" that looks like something a bunch of kids put together under a sheet in the backyard for a Halloween project. I won't even get into Laser Crocodile.

I was going to wrap this up by saying this is by far the best movie to have come out this year, but I checked and a lot of really great movies came out in 1984. But since you've probably already seen all those, watch this one instead.