8.18.2018

[Animal Summer '18] Grizzly (1976)


DIRECTED BY
William Girdler

STARRING
Christopher George - Michael Kelly
Andrew Prine - Don Stober
Richard Jaeckel - Arthur Scott
Joan McCall - Allison Corwin
Joe Dorsey - Charley Kittridge
Charles Kissinger - Dr. Hallitt
Mike Clifford - Pat

Genre - Horror/Thriller/B-Movie/Bad Animals/Bears

Running Time - 89 Minutes


You have to give it to Steven Spielberg and Peter Benchley - they indirectly influenced a lot of studios and producers after the blockbuster success of their 1975 film JAWS. Even today, we have channels dedicated to Shark Weeks and SHARKNADO films, while the box office is thriving on another shark film called THE MEG. The “animal-run-amok” sub-genre of B-movie horror films have crafted some memorable, and absolutely terrible, films and TV programs that surprisingly have stood the test of time in a pop culture sense.

One of the more familiar films of the sub-genre happens to be one of the first filmed after the release of JAWS - 1976’s GRIZZLY. Replace the beach with a forest setting and a giant shark with a giant bear, and you got a cult favorite that has been RiffTrax’d and even spawned an unreleased sequel [although you can find footage of that online]. GRIZZLY doesn’t compare to the quality of JAWS, or even other “animal-run-amok” films that have been released before or since. But it manages to be a decently fun time for a rip-off.

PLOT
Campers and park rangers are being murdered by a giant grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. Ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George) is worried about the future of the park, wanting it shut down to protect citizens while his squad can find and hunt down the bear. However, the director of the park (Joe Dorsey) won’t hear any of it - instead hiring untrained hunters to hunt down the bear. This just creates more problems as the hunters murder anything that moves, while the bear defends himself and goes after them. Realizing that the director doesn’t care about the park, using the publicity to gain more visitors, Kelly and his crew decide that they’re the only ones who can stop this menace once and for all.

REVIEW
Calling GRIZZLYJAWS with claws” is pretty accurate, as producers/writers Harvey Flaxman and David Sheldon pretty much used the same template that made the before mentioned film a success. Inspired by encountering a bear during a camping trip, Flaxman thought it would be a neat idea to replace a shark with a grizzly bear to capture the same effect. William Girdler, best known for his 1974 EXORCIST clone ABBY at the time, decided he would direct the JAWS clone with a $750,000 budget. With a $39 million box office gross, GRIZZLY managed to be a big success for Columbia Pictures and Film Ventures International. Unfortunately, GRIZZLY just highlights the fact further that JAWS is the King of Animal-Run-Amok films even after all these years later.

It’s surprising Spielberg and Benchley didn’t sue anyone involved with GRIZZLY’s production, unlike what happened with 1981’s GREAT WHITE. GRIZZLY feels like Flaxman and Sheldon took JAWS’ script, changed names and settings, and decided to replace a mechanical shark with stock footage of an 11-foot grizzly bear. The similarities aren’t even subtle either. Park Ranger Michael Kelly is obvious Chief Martin Brody. Helicopter pilot Don Stober is this film’s Quint. Naturalist Arthur Scott is Matt Hooper. Greedy park director Charley Kittridge is Mayor Larry Vaughn. And the shark has been replaced by a bear. We also have a female photographer named Allison who is, I guess, Ellen Brody since she and Kelly share a flirtatious relationship. Even the plot points are the same. Animal kills people. The rangers want to shut down the area to protect the citizens from the threat, but the authority figure refuses for greed/publicity purposes. The animal gets more violent, leaving the three heroes to stop the threat themselves until an explosion conclusion. Unless you prefer bears to sharks, you’re better off watching a much better movie.

It doesn’t help when the characters aren’t as fleshed out as the ones in JAWS. They’re all familiar archetypes, all playing their token roles well enough to move the story along. But you don’t really know much about any of these people but superficial aspects of their personalities. Even the flirtatious angle between Kelly and Allison doesn’t really go anywhere, nor do they have much chemistry for anyone to care. Even the trio of Kelly, Stober, and Scott don’t connect as a unit as much as one would want. They all do the right thing in trying to help each other contain this bear, but you never get the sense that they have a friendship bond that makes you believe these three would unite over a threat like this. And Kittridge is your typical tycoon villain who eventually sees the error of his ways, without much fanfare or development. The story is written well enough for a rip-off, but it never tries to be anything other than that. Nor it tries to bring anything new to the table for it to be memorable.

I think the most interesting part of GRIZZLY’s screenplay is how it resembles a slasher film before the term was even used. Even though JAWS did use first person point-of-view shots for the villain, GRIZZLY uses this tactic more frequently due to its much smaller budget. We never see the bear for half the film, instead seeing bear claws attack helpless victims as its travels through the forest. There’s always a looming threat throughout the film, as people are murdered - including some of the main characters. Instead of playing like a survivalist film like JAWS, GRIZZLY is more like a porto-slasher and it works for the movie.

Speaking of the bear, the low budget doesn’t allow the creation of a mechanical bear that could attack the actors on command. So instead, we get a lot of stock footage of a bear named Teddy roaming around - looking bigger due to close-up shots. And whenever the bear attacks, some guy wearing bear paws claws at the victims and mauls them. I’ve seen worse in films of this ilk. The better special effects come with the gore effects, which are quite violent for 1976. We see blood splatter, limbs and body parts being ripped apart, and even structures getting destroyed that end up killing people. Yes, the use of mannequins aren’t hidden as well as they should be. But what can you do for a film that cost less than a million to make? It’s done well for a modest budget and I was pretty impressed.

The direction by William Girdler is fine for a B-movie like GRIZZLY. The location shots for the park were filmed in Clayton, Georgia and look very nice. The use of the park is done well and matches well with the stock footage of the bear. The film flows decently well, even though it does drag a bit during scenes that don’t involve the bear. Like I mention, the special effects are done well and give GRIZZLY an oomph it needs. I do wish the film was a bit more fun, in terms of being it more exciting or even campier [no pun intended]. JAWS managed to blend drama and comedy really well, but JAWS was ultimately a serious movie. GRIZZLY takes itself seriously, when it honestly should be a bit more silly. The story and the characters don’t really lend to a dramatic “killer animal” movie, making GRIZZLY feel uneven in tone. I’m not saying Girdler should have directed a comedy, but a bit more levity would be been nice. Girdler’s future project, 1977’s DAY OF THE ANIMALS, manages to be a lot better because it knows how to blend the serious with the camp. It also has a stronger script and more memorable moments. GRIZZLY doesn’t contain these elements, so a different tone could have hid that. I will say that the ending is probably the best part in terms of presentation. I won’t spoil anything, but it involves Christopher George, a bear, and a rocket launcher. The effects seem to have been lifted from the Batman TV show from the 1960s. I actually laughed out loud, which made me wish Girdler could have added more scenes like that one.

The acting in GRIZZLY is okay. Christopher George is fine as Ranger Kelly, trying to do his best Roy Scheider impression as best as he can. He doesn’t come close, but he’s a reliable presence in these B-movies and carries the film well enough. Andrew Pine is good as Stober, but fares better when he doesn’t try to be Robert Shaw’s Quint. Richard Jaeckel is a bit better as Scott, as he plays the “Matt Hooper” copy better than expected. I think he had the most energy of the three actors and I liked him the best. The other actors play their roles as if they were starring in a quality 70s TV-movie. They’re neither memorable or terrible. Special mention goes to Teddy, who looks like a really cuddly bear and was trained well in the role. Too bad he was too cute to be a vicious threat.

THINGS I’VE LEARNED WHILE PUTTING OUT FOREST FIRES

  • We have more backpackers pitching tents than raccoons in the woods.” Hey, don’t talk about Ennis and Jack behind their backs. Not their fault they can’t quit each other.

  • Every face tells a story.” Michael Jackson was quite the storyteller, then!

  • Bears don’t eat people.” Obviously no one in this film has ever watched gay porn.

  • A woman was mauled behind a waterfall by the bear. Next time, listen to T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli.

  • The bear tried to destroy a watchtower. He must not be neither a Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix fan.

  • Scott and the rest of the camp enjoy drinking Coca-Cola. Maybe this bear lashed out because he was afraid of being institutionalized for just wanting a Pepsi. He’s not crazy! You’re the one who’s crazy!

  • Scott tried to take out the bear on his own, but failed. Why? Because Scotty doesn’t know. DON’T TELL SCOTTY!!

THE FINAL HOWL
Not a great film, but GRIZZLY manages to be a decent watch if you’re in the mood for a “beer and popcorn” flick. The proto-slasher elements and the bear effects work, considering the film’s modest budget. And it tries to do its best while ripping off JAWS, but ends up just making you wish you were watching a much better film instead at times. Still, watching a cuddly grizzly bear murder campers is fun when it happens, and the explosive ending is one of the silliest and most hilarious endings ever in a B-movie. Not smarter than your average rip-off, but handles the bare necessities well enough to warrant a watch.



SCORE
2.5 Howls Outta 4



8.13.2018

[Animal Summer '18] The Meg (2018)


DIRECTED BY
Jon Turteltaub

STARRING
Jason Statham - Jonas Taylor
Li Bingbing - Suyin Zhang
Rainn Wilson - Jack Morris
Ruby Rose - Jaxx Herd
Winston Chao - Dr. Minway Zhang
Cliff Curtis - James “Mac” Mackreides
Shuya Sophia Cai - Meiying
Page Kennedy - DJ

Genre - Horror/Sci-Fi/Bad Animals/Sharks

Running Time - 111 Minutes


PLOT (from IMDB)
After escaping an attack by what he claims was a 70-foot shark, Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) must confront his fears to save those trapped in a sunken submersible.

REVIEW
You know I love me some shark movies during the summertime. Add in Jason Statham, and you got me buying a ticket to see THE MEG - a $100 million blockbuster that’s aiming to continue the successful theatrical summer shark trend from the last few years. Going into it, I wasn’t expecting anything of the caliber of 1975’s JAWS, which will probably always be the ultimate killer shark film and rightfully so since it still holds up today. But I figured - you have Statham vs a giant CGI shark. It could be on the same level as 1978’s JAWS 2, or 1999’s DEEP BLUE SEA, or even 2002’s schlock-classic SHARK ATTACK 3: MEGALODON. Unfortunately, studio interference got in the way of THE MEG, turning an R-rated script into a PG-13 one with no gore and an uneven tone that sometimes makes you wonder if the producers knew whether to make the film a serious one, or a future campy cult classic. When you main star even criticizes that this wasn’t the film he had signed up for, red flags appear.

What works in THE MEG? Obviously Jason Statham, who is a better actor and screen presence that many don’t give him credit for. He’s really the main reason to watch THE MEG, as he’s the most likable character as Jonas Taylor - playing the role as a total bad-ass who does everything he can to save the majority of the cast [even if he has to sacrifice the few to do it]. You can tell Statham knows what film he signed up for, playing it for laughs and for thrills whenever the film calls for it. Honestly, I kinda wish THE MEG was just Jason Statham vs. a shark for 90 minutes. Believe me, the man would have easily made that work because he’s that damn good. I just wish he was in a better movie. Or at least a better cut of the same movie, in this case.

The rest of the actors are fine in their roles, which are nothing more than stock characters you’d expect in a film like this. I liked Li Bingbing as Suyin, the main heroine and obvious love interest for Jonas. I thought she and Statham had nice chemistry, especially when you add in the adorable Shuya Sophia Cai as Meiying in the mix. Rainn Wilson was both equally funny and annoying as Jack Morris, the shady billionaire investor who had his own motivations with this entire Meg situation. I feel there was a lot of his character arc that was cut out of the film, but he was fine. I also thought Page Kennedy had some great comedic moments as well as DJ. The cast was fine and seemed invested in what they were filming, which is great for a movie like this.

The other great stuff involves the presentation. Despite cutting a chunk out of the film to please a wider audience [thanks studio interference…], Jon Turteltaub directed a great looking film that flowed extremely well for its running time. The pacing sacrificed a lot of character development, but THE MEG never bores you since there’s always something happening. The CGI surprised me with how well it looked on screen. I was honestly expecting SyFy level quality, but you can tell THE MEG had a huge budget and it was used well. I thought the film looked beautiful at times, especially during many of the underwater scenes. There was only one issue of bad CGI near the end, but the rest looked great. The set-pieces looked believable and I enjoyed the shots of the different locations the cast traveled to. Plus, THE MEG had several moments of suspense and tension that worked. I wish there were more of them and they were stretched out more at times, but at least Turteltaub put them in. I honestly want to see the uncut version he filmed, because he seemed disappointed in the theatrical version. The film is already 111 minutes. I can’t even imagine what was on the cutting room floor.

Well I take that back. The blood and gore was on the cutting room floor. I get that the studios felt that if they cut out certain aspects of the film, the release would be able to cater to a wider audience and bring in more money. That’s fine and I understand it as a business move. But when the SyFy shark films have more blood and gore than your theatrical big budget release, I begin to question that move. JAWS, which was released over 40 years ago, has more violence and scares than THE MEG does. We get explosions, some blood from chewed up animals, and even a limb floating in the water. But the shark barely kills anyone, not like it would matter anyway because we never see it. The violence is cut away. It’s a killer shark movie!! How can there not be a level of fear in terms of the violence? I was really disappointed in that. Supposedly the original cut had silly and campy death scenes. I hope that version is released on Blu-Ray so I can be thrilled by something.

And I mentioned how the pacing affected the character development. There’s nothing wrong with having archetypes in your film, especially in a shark movie like this. But I felt like the story was rushed at times. I wanted to see Jonas struggle more with his past actions and how it affected his current situation. I wanted to know about Jack Morris’ reasoning for investing in Mana One and his true purpose for it before the Meg appeared. And what was up with that ex-wife sub-plot that didn’t really go anywhere or make any sort of impact for the story? It could have been left out and it wouldn’t have changed much. I’m not expecting Oscar-caliber screenwriting, but when you have a lot of characters and most of them survive until the end, you have to provide the audience with some answers to their questions. When I know more about the characters in a SHARKNADO film, we have a problem.

I also found the tone to be uneven. When THE MEG made fun of itself and got a bit goofy, it was a ton of fun to watch. But then the film would take itself real serious, making me wonder what the director was going for here. I’m sure the studio interfering had a major role in that, as I read that the original version of the script was to have a tone similar to PIRAHNA 3-D. Hey studios, let filmmakers do their thing whether it’s successful or not. Glad you have a hit here, but you’d probably would have made more money if the film was just let be for what it was.

THE FINAL HOWL
Originally I was going to give THE MEG a more negative review, as it disappointed me in terms of not being fun enough to make a lasting impression on me. But as I thought about it, the film does have some technical merit going for it, with beautiful cinematography and a nice flow [even if it sacrifices character development]. And the actors seem to be having fun, with Jason Statham being the awesome badass that he is. He’s honestly the best part of THE MEG. There’s not enough shark attacks or memorable moments that put the film on the level of a DEEP BLUE SEA. But it’s definitely above most SyFy schlock and a decent two hours to waste if you need a shark fix at the theater. Slight recommendation, only for the fact that there was a great film in here somewhere that never reached its full potential. 


SCORE
2.5 Howls Outta 4



8.04.2018

Stone Cold (1991)


DIRECTED BY
Craig R. Baxley

STARRING
Brian Bosworth - Joe Huff/ John Stone
Lance Henriksen - Chains Cooper
William Forsythe - Ice
Arabella Holzbog - Nancy
Sam McMurray - Lance
Richard Gant - Cunningham

Genre - Action

Running Time - 95 Minutes


When it comes to Hollywood, it’s not rare to see professional athletes attempt their hand at acting. Wrestlers, such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dave Bautista, have managed to transition into a second career that have made them profitable stars. Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal have tried as well to varying success. But American football players have had some success as well. Jim Brown was a big star in the 1970s and 1980s, being a major player in the blaxploitation genre. Same with Fred Williamson, who made a name of himself as being a bad-ass in the blaxploitation and action genres. And as infamous as he is, O.J. Simpson did well as an actor - especially becoming a highlight in THE NAKED GUN trilogy.

But in 1991, Hollywood tried to create a new action star from the football field. Brian “The Boz” Bosworth, a controversial former NFL linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks known for his weird fashion and unpolitical correct way of expressing himself whenever he didn’t get his way, was believed to be the next Stallone, Willis, or even Seagal. As the unofficial finale for his action trilogy, director Craig R. Baxley [1988’s ACTION JACKSON & 1990’s I COME IN PEACE] and Columbia Pictures believed 1991’s STONE COLD would turn Bosworth into box office gold.

The plan backfired, however, as STONE COLD only made $9.1 million with a $25 million budget. The film would later achieve cult status due to cable and home video, but it never made Brian Bosworth the crossover action star he was intended to be. In fact, The Boz was nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst New Star. Bosworth would star in more film projects, but STONE COLD remains the pinnacle of his acting career. But is STONE COLD worthy of its cult status? Or did the mainstream public get it right by not making Brian Bosworth a bigger star? 

PLOT
Tough-as-nails cop Joe Huff (Brian Bosworth) is dealing with a three-week suspension over questionable police methods, even though these methods bring down the bad guys. However, the FBI offers Huff a chance to get back to work early. The federal agents want Huff to go undercover and infiltrate a biker gang called “The Brotherhood” that’s seeking vengeance after a member of the gang has been sentence to a long prison term. Huff wants no part of it, but the FBI threatens him with a much longer suspension without pay if he refuses. That forces Huff to accept the job - changing his identity to “John Stone” and working his way into one of the head positions of “The Brotherhood”. Even though some of the members, including the weary Ice (William Forsythe), don’t trust him, the gang’s crazy and violent leader, Chains Cooper (Lance Henriksen), sees potential in John Stone. This creates tension within The Brotherhood, while risking Stone’s true identity at the same time.

REVIEW
STONE COLD is a film I watched during those wonderful VHS rental days in the early 90s, but without me remembering much about it. Having re-watched it for the first time in decades, I don’t understand how STONE COLD didn’t leave a mark on me more. STONE COLD is one bad-ass action flick with pure action, interesting performances, and just a fun atmosphere that action films today don’t seem to have at all. In an era where CGI and superheroes have become the bread-and-butter of the genre, STONE COLD reminds us of a simpler time where none of that was needed. And the film is all the better for it.

The story is super simple. You have a bad-ass undercover cop. You have villainous bikers. The cop infiltrates the bikers and cause a civil war between them. The cop falls for the bad girl. And then the cop’s identity is revealed, leading to a violent final showdown. There’s nothing more or less than that. It’s nothing you haven’t seen in an action film before, or even since. But for STONE COLD, it works because it knows what it is and plays with what it has. Some may find fault in that, but I don’t mind it.

What STONE COLD really excels at is giving the audience a lot of action. And any action nut would be more than satisfied by what STONE COLD presents for ninety minutes. You get explosions, muscular dudes, explosions, gunfights, explosions, strippers, explosions, motorcycles slamming into cars, explosions, Brian Bosworth in bikini briefs, explosions, Lance Henriksen and William Forsythe out-crazing each other, explosions, and a motorcycle flying into a helicopter for a major explosion. Women will enjoy STONE COLD, but it’s obvious this film was made for men to please their testosterone. There’s no frills, no CGI, no thinking about who is good and who is bad - STONE COLD is pure 80s action that was unfortunately released in 1991 when tastes were changing. It’s no-nonsense and doesn’t require you to think. Isn’t that what you want in an action film to begin with?

The direction by Craig R. Baxley elevates STONE COLD’s visual style and presentation. While it’s probably not as good compared to ACTION JACKSON or I COME IN PEACE, Baxley still manages to create a fun atmosphere by shoving the action and violence so far down your throat that you have to just accept it and like it. It’s even more impressive how much STONE COLD works visually, considering that Baxley wasn’t even the film’s original director. Apparently Bruce Malmuth, director of 1981’s NIGHTHAWKS and 1990’s HARD TO KILL was fired for personal issues that started to pour onto the set. Also, an IATSE dispute led to director of photography John R. Leonetti and other crew members to walk off the set. Baxley quickly stepped in and just used a barebones story while adding in action and explosions any chance he got to fill up the runtime. And it totally works for some reason, because STONE COLD is a blast to watch for how dumb it is. I’m sure Malmuth would have done a great job as director, but Baxley directed the simplest film he could with the budget he was given, creating a cult classic in the process. It flows incredibly well. The action scenes are shot professionally. The film is never boring and maintains a consistent tone. You’d never think this film was shot within 4 weeks.

The acting is STONE COLD won’t win any major awards, but it does what it needs to do to tell its story. I’ve seen people complain about Brian Bosworth and how his performance proved why he didn’t become a bigger star. But I don’t think The Boz is terrible at all in the role of Joe Huff/ John Stone. Sure, he doesn’t display a ton of charisma like other famous action stars. And he doesn’t have the acting chops like some others. But for the role he’s been given, Bosworth does a fine job. He comes across as a cool guy who is easy to believe could kick some ass. He has a great on-screen presence, especially with his good looks, muscular frame, and awesome mullet.  And as an actual biker, he feels legit when it comes to riding and fitting in with other bikers. I think he deserved to star in other action vehicles. It’s a shame STONE COLD did poorly, especially when it wasn’t his fault. And even though The Boz works as our anti-hero, the villains steal the spotlight. Lance Henriksen sounds like an odd choice to play a crazy biker leader named Chains Cooper. But he’s a great character actor, and he proves that in STONE COLD. Dude is convincing as a biker and as a priest in the final act, chewing the scenery and playing subtle insanity quite convincingly. I don’t think Bosworth’s acting would have been as good as it was if it wasn’t for Henriksen pushing him to be a decent film adversary. Add in William Forsythe as Ice, you have a great trifecta of characters working against each other. Forsythe plays Ice as someone sinister, intelligent, yet reckless to a fault. Henriksen and Forsythe try to out-do each other in every scene they share together, and it’s wonderful. It’s even more impressive when you realize Forsythe was filming another film [OUT FOR JUSTICE with Steven Seagal] at the same time, going in-between sets to act in both. I thought he was great as usual. Arabella Holzbog is convincing as Chains’ and Stone’s main squeeze, Nancy. And Sam McMurray always clinches the supporting role as FBI agent, Lance. I don’t know what some expecting from the acting here. It’s an action film called STONE COLD - everyone played their roles well.

STONE COLD’s biggest fault is probably its screenplay. I don’t think it’s terrible, but it’s a pretty generic action movie template presented here. STONE COLD doesn’t bring anything new to the table. You get the cop who hates authority. You get a crazy villain with an insane plan. You get the hero stealing the villain’s girl. You get the hero breaking up the villain’s group for a while before his cover his blown. And you get a happy ending at the end. You can watch countless other action films that follow this to a tee. Don’t fix what’s broken applies to STONE COLD. However, I can see why some folks may have issue with that.

Yes, the characters could have been fleshed out more. In fact, Joe Huff’s character was supposed to have a wife, sister, and kid before Craig R. Baxley came in to replace the crew that had left. Those scenes were cut for budgetary reasons, with Baxley feeling a more simple approach would work better. I think it would have added something if we knew more about Huff’s backstory other than the typical “bad-ass cop” thing he had going on. Plus, why did he always go after bikers and had a record of capturing the most? And why didn’t The Brotherhood not realize who Huff was sooner? 

Also, nothing beats COBRA when it comes to a supermarket shootout in an action film. That opening scene in that 1986 film is iconic. STONE COLD apes it and does it well enough, but it just reminded me of a better film [no offense, STONE COLD fans]. It’s a good intro to Huff’s character, but I think it was too similar and probably made the film feel like a copycat.

THE FINAL HOWL
STONE COLD isn’t the most original action film out there, but it’s definitely one of most fun. This is definitely a beer and popcorn movie that the action genre fans will absolutely love. The film never lets up, with something happening in every scene - whether it’s Brian Bosworth looking cool while rocking that mullet, Lance Henriksen and William Forsythe trying to see who can ham it up more, or just insane action sequences that will pump the blood in your veins. STONE COLD was unfortunately a box office bomb and it stopped The Boz’s action career from taking off at the time. But it deserves its cult status and is worthy of entering the Macho Hall of Fame. When it comes to STONE COLD, it’s better to be first in Hell than last in Heaven.


SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4



7.03.2018

The Purge: Election Year (2016)


DIRECTED BY
James DeMonaco

STARRING
Frank Grillo - Leo Barnes
Elizabeth Mitchell - Senator Charlie Roan
Mykelti Williamson - Joe Dixon
Joseph Julian Soria - Marcos Dali
Betty Gabriel - Laney Rucker
Terry Serpico - Earl Danzinger
Raymond J. Barry - Caleb Warrens
Edwin Hodge - Dante Bishop
Kyle Secor - Minister Edwidge Owens

Genre - Horror/Thriller/Action

Running Time - 109 Minutes


PLOT (from IMDB):
It’s been seventeen years since Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) stopped himself from a regrettable act of revenge on Purge Night. Now serving as head of security for Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), his mission is to protect her in a run for president and survive the annual ritual that targets the poor and innocent. But when a betrayal forces them onto the streets of D.C. on the one night when no help is available, they must stay alive until dawn… or both be sacrificed for their sins against the state.

REVIEW
Since THE FIRST PURGE is being released to theaters this week, with a Purge television show premiering in September, I figured I might as well give my thoughts on the third film in the franchise - 2016’s THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR. Even though I wanted to watch this film two years ago, the real political and social climate at the time turned me off to it. It’s bad enough being depressed and angry about real life. I didn’t need to watch a film about the same topics to infuriate me further. But I had heard decent things about the film and it remained on my radar since. Now having watched it for the first time, I have to say that THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR is not only smart, but it’s probably more relevant today than it was two years ago. I’m not saying that ELECTION YEAR is must see if you’re not a fan of this franchise, but it might be one of the more important horror films in the last decade if you’re willing to take a chance on it.

THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR is more of a continuation of THE PURGE: ANARCHY from 2014 than it is a follow-up to the original 2013 film. ELECTION YEAR has a similar tone, look, feel, and even a social awareness that ANARCHY really brought forth. As a fan of ANARCHY, I definitely liked ELECTION YEAR. While I do enjoy brainless, popcorn flicks that are just meant for audiences to have fun, I dig a film that provokes thinking through its social commentary. 
Obviously from the title, you can rightfully guess what ELECTION YEAR’s message is. The Purge event has caused a civil war in America, where the poor believe the rich are using the event to eliminate the lower class in order to save money on welfare, health care, social security, and other institutions the government must cover for its citizens. This commentary has pretty much been there since the start of the series, but really hits close to home in modern times due to our political and social landscape. I’m not here to share my political or religious beliefs, but it’s pretty safe to say that the world isn’t in the best shape societal wise these days. That makes ELECTION YEAR eerie, as it captures life in America pretty well.

I will say that the commentary is obviously one-sided, as the upper-class [or the New Founding Fathers of America] are clearly evil people who are so wrapped up in their sin that they refuse to let any sort of uprise and revolution stop them from using the Purge as a means to eliminate those they feel are useless to society [a.k.a. the lower class]. And they want to eliminate Senator Charlie Roan before she possibly wins the Presidency because she wants to get rid of the Purge for good - as she was a survivor of a previous Purge that murdered her family. But the commentary becomes a bit muddled, as the supposed victims of the Purge also tend not to be the greatest of people. Some of them feel justified in their actions, while others are just insane. It makes you question which side of the argument is right here, which I’m not sure is the point of the film or not. Judging by how it all ends, maybe it is. But I feel there should have been more of a balance in terms of good and evil. Maybe some of the upper class are against the Purge, disagreeing with the NFFA. But we never really meet those people, so ELECTION YEAR makes it seem that every single member of the rich are evil while only some of everyone else do have ethics and morals. Then again, don’t a lot of us think that? Maybe writer/director James DeMonaco was smart to play with our fears.

There’s also a subtle commentary on guns. Leo Barnes, our returning protagonist from ANARCHY who is now Senator Roan’s bodyguard, only uses a handgun and one of those heart attack knives you hide between your fingers. He never picks up a semi-automatic gun and only uses an explosive when necessary. The other characters have no issue using semi-automatics to take down their targets. With the gun culture as it is today, it seems DeMonaco is not denouncing the right to bear arms, but going against people using rifles or machine guns in every day life unless you’re part of the military. Barnes is capable of defending himself without using excessive weapons. And Barnes only uses them for self-defense, not to purposely injure or kill others. There’s something to that message, especially in today’s world.

I think the best part about the commentary is that it’s never really preachy. Sure, the messages aren’t subtle in any way. The movie is about class issues, racism, political strife, gun control, and so on. But it uses all that to craft a pretty strong story, never making ELECTION YEAR an uncomfortable sit through. Some people won’t watch this because they want to escape from these kind of issues, and that’s perfectly okay. But DeMonaco wants to make a film that is somewhat based on reality - something we can relate to. And I think that’s why this franchise has continued to survive.

As for the characters, I think they’re on-par, maybe even better structured, than the ones in ANARCHY. Leo Barnes returns, remaining the badass he was in the previous film. But he evolves in ELECTION YEAR, seeing different points of views when it comes to their scenario and seriously taking them all in. He still kicks ass when he needs to, but he puts a bit more thought into his actions now because of the people he encounters along the way. Senator Roan is also pretty well written, as she’s the ideal politician who believes in ethics and morals and wants to change America for the good. She doesn’t want to win her elections through murder, or scandal. She wants to go through the Purge to prove to the public that she means what she says. As a victim of the Purge itself previously, she also comes across as tough as nails - giving Leo a run for his money in terms of who’s in charge. Joe Dixon is a regular store-owner who wants to prove his only livelihood [even though the NFFA has cut off his insurance during The Purge], but ends up protecting Leo and Roan when they need his help. He’s more light-hearted and more accustomed to the street world than Leo is, giving them a nice conflict through most of the film. Lane Rucker risks going out during The Purge to save people who are injured during the night, which shows her strong and soulful character. Dante Bishop is a leader for those opposing the Purge. He plans on using the day to take out Roan’s rival so she can secure the Presidential seat. We also have the NFFA, who use religion as a way to justify their evil actions by murdering lower-class people while targeting Roan. They even hire white supremacists as their military to take out their rivals. So many different characters, but they all have their place in this film - giving us a glimpse of a multi-colored world that’s struggling with The Purge in different ways. I thought have the politicians and the citizens come together in a convincing way was a nice touch.

I also have to say that I was never more terrified by teenage girls than I was in ELECTION YEAR. Driving in cars covered in Christmas lights while blasting Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” just to steal from Joe Dixon’s store was pretty bizarre. The leader of the group was pretty annoying to be honest [like I said, the film isn’t perfect], but I thought it was a good way to show how the Purge has devolved society since the first film. And I also wished there was more to that “Purge Tourists” deal, where people outside of America would visit just to murder people for that 12 hour period. I think it’s an interesting concept that could have been explored more. Maybe in another film.

James DeMonaco pretty much continues what he did in ANARCHY. He’s created an open-box world where you’re never really sure who is on the up-and-up and who just enjoys killing people on a night where it’s legal. The film has great visuals at times, maintaining a gritty and bleak atmosphere that fits the social commentary. The action is shot pretty well, with DeMonaco never shying away from the violence of the night. Guns are fired. People are stabbed. Some are blown up. Others are beaten to death. We have people tied to hoods of cars and driven around like ornaments. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. I think if you liked the direction of ANARCHY, you’ll like the direction of ELECTION YEAR.

The acting in ELECTION YEAR is pretty damn good. Frank Grillo is just awesome as Leo Barnes. Like I mentioned in my ANARCHY review, he is the best thing about the PURGE franchise. He’s a great protagonist who is always pro-active and has a good heart, even if he takes himself more seriously than he should. Grillo is absolutely convincing as a pure badass who knows how to defend himself without batting an eye. I like his screen presence a lot. Elizabeth Mitchell, best known for her work on the television show Lost, is also very good as Senator Roan. She’s tough, smart, genuine, and can also convey vulnerability while trying to be a good leader. Mykelti Williamson is a joy to watch as Joe Dixon, bringing some light-hearted and fun to the film. He’s a scene stealer for sure, getting the best dialogue and making him the most likable new character. Joseph Julian Soria is good as Joe’s co-worker, Marcos. He’s tough and loyal. Soria portrays Marcos as a man who doesn’t want the American Dream destroyed by the Purge very convincingly. Betty Gabriel is badass as Laney, while Terry Serpico is great as the cold white supremacist, Earl. Also, mention to Kyle Secor as the delusional and evil Minister Owens. And honorable mention to Harmon James in his bit part as some sort of religious psycho in the final act. He’s so weird looking and acting, that I kept wondering what his deal was. There’s something up with this dude - so much so that I wouldn’t mind him in another film. Of all the crazy characters, he was probably the creepiest by far.

THE FINAL HOWL
I enjoyed THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR more than I thought I would. While not perfect due to muddled social commentary at times, some annoying side-characters, and sub-plots that could have been explored more - the film is still the best of the first three films due to strong action, confident direction, and nicely developed characters we can easily love and/or easily hate. It’s scary to think how this film resonates more in 2018 than it did two years ago. If you want to escape from reality, ELECTION YEAR is probably a film you may want to skip over. But if you love this franchise and don’t mind watching a film that can hit pretty close to home, ELECTION YEAR probably won’t disappoint.


SCORE
3 Howls Outta 4



7.01.2018

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)


DIRECTED BY
Lam Nai-Choi

STARRING
Fan Siu-Wong - Lik Wong/ Ricky Ho
Fan Mei-Sheng - Assistant Warden Dan
Ho Ka-Kui - Warden
Yukari Oshima - Huang Chung/ Rogan
Tamba Tetsuro - Master Zhang
Frankie Chin - Hai/ Oscar
Koichi Sugisaki - Taizan/ Tarzan
Wong Kwai-Hung - Baishen/ Brandon

Genre - Action/Martial Arts/Supernatural

Running Time - 91 Minutes


Even though this blog is mainly going to focus on horror from now on, I still wanted to tackle a film that’s pretty notorious in bad film circles. I could have gone with MIAMI CONNECTION, or THE ROOM, or even TROLL 2. But as someone who probably hasn’t discussed enough martial arts films, it was only fitting that I would return with thoughts for 1991’s RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY. Based on a manga, my first exposure to this film was through The Daily Show back when Craig Kilborn was the host. Watching a man’s head explode as a recurring joke on the show elevated my interest in this film. Is this the only good part of the film? Is the rest of the film just as nutty as this clip is? After watching RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY a few times, I can honestly say the film is absolutely epic. Dumb as a bag of rocks, but epic nonetheless.

PLOT
In the year 2001, young Ricky Ho (Fan Siu-Wong) is sentenced to a maximum security prison. He has been convicted of murder, stemming from revenge over the kidnapping and death of his girlfriend (Gloria Yip) by opium drug dealers. By his revenge has reason, as Ricky has figured out that the prison warden (Ho Ka-Kui) is the one in charge of the drugs and wants to confront him. Unfortunately, Ricky has to deal with sadistic prisoners and a devious Assistant Warden (Fan Mei-Sheng) who want to torture and kill him for standing up for himself and other prisoners. However these bullies have no idea who they’re dealing with, as Ricky has learnt special techniques that have granted him strong will and super-strength.

REVIEW

HITS
RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is probably one of the most outrageous and goriest movies ever put to film. Like the manga it’s based off of, it’s a comic book brought to life. If you’re expecting good storytelling, top notch special effects, or logic - just look somewhere else. But if you’re a big fan of cheese, then RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is right up your alley.

Like I mentioned earlier. the moment where a head explodes put RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY on my radar as Craig Kilborn kept using it on his version of The Daily Show. I figured that this gore effect was probably the highlight of the film, sort of how the head explosion is the best part of 1981’s SCANNERS. Nothing could top that, right?

WRONG!

Man, where do I begin with how crazy the violence is in RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY? Even after a couple of times watching it, the film still seems to shock and awe me at times. We have various broken noses. We have faces falling into a bed of nails. We have saws rammed into skulls. People are skinned alive. Eyes are poked right out of their sockets. Men are mutilated by a meat grinder. Body parts destroyed by punches right through them. Did I mention people explode? There’s so much going on in terms of gore and violence, that you laugh at it all due to desensitization. If you love 1992’s DEAD ALIVE, TOKYO GORE POLICE, or the EVIL DEAD franchise - then you’ll probably love RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY.

Speaking of laughs, the English dubbing is [in my opinion] the only true way to watch RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY. Every single stereotypical thought you have in your mind about how martial art films are dubbed are correct when it comes to RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY. The heroes are soft spoken. The villains cackle and sound like they need to clear their throats. And probably the highlight of the film - a little boy [who is probably a twenty-five year-old man in a school’s boy outfit] dubbed by a woman pretending to be a child. It’s so terrible that it’s incredibly charming. Sure, you could watch this film with sub-titles and enjoy the okay acting. But the dubbing truly puts RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY in the “so-bad-it’s-good” category for me. 

The special effects aren’t great, but they add to the appeal. It’s obvious that mannequins are used whenever major brutality is brought upon someone. And one character mutates into a Hulk-like creature to hilarious results. But you have to give the film credit for trying to bring a comic book-like visual presentation when it came to the violence and some of the characters. Seeing limbs ripped off and body organs used as weapons adds to the appeal, and the effects look believable enough in this world to not be bothersome. 

It’s helped that director Lam Nai-Choi knows what kind of film he’s making, using the visual style of the film to be the focus over the story. The film moves briskly, not once letting that logic settle in your mind to ruin the experience. You get action scenes, followed by hilarious flashbacks that add to Ricky’s character, followed by more action scenes. You never feel bored. You feel like the film is making you dumber. For a ninety-minute film, it feels a lot shorter. RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY knows it’s schlock, but uses that to its advantage for a good time.

And while you don’t get an elaborate story that creates bold character arcs for our main characters, the simple premise of revenge is really all you need in RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY. We learn why Ricky is arrested. We learn how he gained his abilities. And we learn why he doesn’t just break out of the prison with his super-strength, as he has a reason to stay inside the prison to complete his revenge. Sure, the other characters are cartoonish and are just there to be obstacles for Ricky and/or be lambs to the slaughter. But sometimes less is more. The message is told through the action, not the dialogue. That’s not always a bad thing in terms of a film like this.


MISSES
If anything I wrote above isn’t your bag, then RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is not for you. If you don’t like gore, don’t bother. If you don’t like over-the-top characters, don’t bother. If you don’t like really terribly funny dubbing, don’t bother. If you’re a film snob, why are you even reading this article?

Seriously, RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY won’t be for everyone and it’s not a perfect film. Yes, the film could use more story in terms of the drug sub-plot. Yes, the film could explain Ricky’s powers more. Yes, Ricky could punch out a wall, let the abused prisoners escape, and still get revenge on the Warden [but waits until the end to do that]. RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is not a film that builds upon sense and logic. If you want a great story that you can bite your teeth into, you’re not finding it here. It’s just a gory and violent film, which might upset some.

And I will say that while Lam Nai-Choi does fine with the action sequences and highlighting the violence, he never really builds any atmosphere or tension with RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY. In fact, the set pieces are pretty bland. Yes, the film takes place in a prison, but I think more could have been done with the location. Especially when there are a Gang of Four - one boss in each directional block of the prison. Yeah, we never really go into these different blocks to see how one differs from the other. Yes, this technical stuff is not the point of RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY. But it could have been cool to see more than one section of the prison. 

Also, watching this without the dubbing will probably cause RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY to lose what makes it appealing to many. There are multiple versions of this film - both in its native language and subtitled in other languages; or in its dubbed form. RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is probably an okay film on its own, but the dubbing elevates the film [in my opinion]. Usually the dubbing could be a major hinderance. But since the story for RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is pretty much bare bones, the hilarious voice acting actually provides an upgrade. For those who hate dubbing, I say take a chance this time around. You’d lose something if you didn’t.

THE FINAL HOWL
Even though RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is a hard film to review, it’s not a hard film to enjoy. The story is pointless, the main plot is basic, the acting is second to the hilarious dubbing, and you’re not going to get any logic or character development that’ll make you heavily invested in most of the characters. That being said, what RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY does well, it does extremely well. And what the film does well is showcase over-the-top violence that’s so brutal, you can’t help but laugh at it and wonder if they’ll top it in the next sequence. RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is the perfect example of a “so-bad-it’s-good” movie - made to have you and your friends be entertained while eating popcorn and drinking beer in front of the television for ninety-minutes. Sometimes you’re in the mood of Oscar bait. Other times, you’re in the mood for dumb, mindless entertainment. There’s a reason why RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY is still a favorite for “bad movie” lovers. It knows what it is and proudly shows it off to the point of excessive. If you love splatter, you’ll love RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY.


SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4


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