STARRING Sylvester Stallone - Lieutenant Marion 'Cobra' Cobretti
Brigitte Nielsen - Ingrid Knudsen
Reni Santoni - Sergeant Tony Gonzales
Andrew Robinson - Detective Monte
Brian Thompson - The Night Slasher
Lee Garlington - Nancy Stalk
Art LaFleur - Captain Sears
Genre - Action/Thriller/Slasher
Running Time - 87 Minutes
PLOT Random killings have been happening, to which the media has nicknamed the killer (Brian Thompson) "The Night Slasher". A cynical police lieutenant named Marion Cobretti, aka Cobra (Sylvester Stallone), is a member of the Zombie Squad - a unit of officers that take on the toughest and dangerous jobs other cops refuse to do. Although Detective Monte (Andrew Robinson) wants things done on the up-and-up, Cobra wants to break some rules to catch the culprit. When a model, Ingrid Knudsen (Brigitte Nielsen), is a witness to one of the Night Slasher's crimes, Cobra decides to protect her, hoping the Night Slasher makes himself known so Cobra can strike.
Since this is 80's September, you knew I had to discuss the action genre of the decade. Big explosions, gory violence, and cool one-liners were the tropes for most action films of the 1980's. There were many action stars during this period - Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, and so on. One of the more popular action stars was Academy Award nominated actor/writer/director Sylvester Stallone. While Stallone was mostly successful for his ROCKY and RAMBO films, Stallone did manage to dabble in other lesser-known works. One of these is 1986's COBRA - a Golan & Globus production for Cannon Films that, despite being number one at the domestic box office in its opening weekend, was considered a flop for Stallone until international numbers proved otherwise. COBRA isn't one of the action genre's finest works technical and narrative wise. But it has a certain charm that makes it one of the most watchable action films of the 1980's.
Let me get it out of the way: COBRA is a terrible movie. Despite the rating I'll eventually give it, COBRA really is a piece of crap in so many ways. This is a film that is void of plot, character development, acting, common sense, and other things a decent film would possess. Yet, it still manages to be a fun time. Why is the Night Slasher killing people? Why does he have an army? Why does Cobra eat pizza with scissors? Why does Cobra grill his newspaper? Why does Ingrid's hair change in every major scene? And how does one man kill a bunch of bad dudes, but none of these dudes can hit Cobra during a gun fight? It makes no lick of sense and deserves to be found at the bottom of a barrel. But the film has this weird charm about it that just makes it so entertaining and memorable.
The screenplay, written by Sylvester Stallone, was adapted from Paula Gosling's novel, Fair Game - which also became its own film in 1995 with William Baldwin and Cindy Crawford. While both films are crap, at least COBRA is unintentionally funny at times and has some good action going for it. What I wrote in the plot synopsis is pretty much the entire film summed up. The Night Slasher and his crew are just bizarre. We don't really know their motives to their murders, other than they do it because they despise the current state of society and consider themselves hunters. I don't know what that even means, but I guess we'll go with it. The attraction between Cobra and Ingrid comes out of nowhere, not feeling natural at all. I couldn't buy that these two were into each other, and they were MARRIED IN REAL LIFE!
And the dialogue... wow.
Supermarket Killer: "Get back! I got a bomb here! I'll blow this whole place up!" Cobra: "Go ahead. I don't shop here."
(points gun at Supermarket Killer) Cobra: "You're the disease, and I'm the cure."
Night Slasher: "The court is civilized, isn't it pig?" Cobra: "But I'm not. This is where the law stops and I start - sucker!"
There are more of these gems in the film. The thought of anyone in real life speaking to someone like this just makes me laugh. Oh COBRA...
The biggest theme behind COBRA is this political agenda that pretty much question the idea of justice in 1980's America. Apparently, Stallone felt that courts felt that police officers were too easy on the criminals they were hunting, as well as this insane idea that the media took to criminals and serial killers as heroes and/or victims. While the glorification of serial killers may be true, does the media really treat them as victims? There's one scene in the first act of the film where reporters criticize Cobra for killing a man who pretty much murdered people and took hostages inside of a supermarket. In what world would this actually happen?? Now if the supposed suspect was unarmed or there was evidence that he wasn't doing anything wrong, then sure. But the man had witnesses who saw him shoot people and attempt to bomb the place. And the cop is the bad guy??? And the police captain has issue with Cobra for DOING HIS FUCKING JOB! I can't believe Stallone actually wrote that shit in there because it makes no sense. While it's true that police brutality exists and unfortunate circumstances happen to innocent people believed guilty, it makes no sense within this context when the cop was actually a hero and the killer was actually a violent psychopath. It's not sounding smart. It's looking like a total idiot in this case.
I also found it funny that the Night Slasher hunted down Ingrid because she saw him and some of his crew killing a woman inside a car while she drove by. I get that he would want to get rid of her to protect his identity. But this dude and his crew went WAY far and beyond. They found her license plate, knew where she worked, what room in a hospital she was admitted to, and a whole bunch of information. While it's probably not implausible, it just felt like they targeted this woman for more than just accidentally driving past them. It wasn't like she got all that good of a look anyway! It was a funny sub-plot, but baffling at the same time.
At least the action is pretty solid, thanks to director George P. Cosmatos. The opening scene within the supermarket is one of the more memorable action set-pieces of the 1980s. It's pretty humorous, but at the same time, very well done in terms of shots, location, and pacing. There's also a great action scene in the middle of the film that's probably 10-15 minutes long, where Cobra is being chased down by the Night Slasher's crew in a car. He drives one-handed while shooting a machine gun in the other. There are a lot of explosions, people getting shot to shit, and some nice stunt driving with 180 handbrake turns that are pretty thrilling to watch. I also love that Cosmatos adds a slasher flick type of vibe to some of the scenes, especially where it concerns Ingrid. When Ingrid is recuperating at the hospital and the Night Slasher, in disguise, stalks and attempts to kill her, there is some nice tension and suspense going on. It's a dark, gritty action film that blends into the horror genre at times, making COBRA an interesting film in the decade of excess. Say what you want about the script, but Cosmatos direction and immaculate use of every action film trope you can think of [this film pretty much has them all in play here] is some good stuff.
The acting is better than expected. Sylvester Stallone has done better work before and since COBRA, but he's pretty chill as the DIRTY HARRY [ironically both Andrew Robinson and Reni Santoni were in that very film in 1971] wannabe badass cop. I'm sure critics took his monotone, stoic delivery as an actor who didn't give a crap about this role or this film. But something about it makes the Cobra character cooler, with Stallone only using facial expressions and body language to convey messages whenever he's not uttering a one-liner. Sly's then-wife, Brigitte Nielsen, is pretty terrible in this though. Not like she was a good actress to begin with, as she was hired for her looks. But I was more interested in her hair style than what she was going to do or say. That's not good. Reni Santoni is pretty funny as Gonzales, Cobra's partner. Santoni had great buddy-cop chemistry with Sly. Brian Thompson, looking scary as usual, is pretty good as the Night Slasher. He doesn't say a whole lot until the end, but the man has a chilling presence about him. Andrew Robinson plays the asshole captain perfectly. Besides Nielsen, the cast isn't half-bad at all.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE DRIVING MY "AWSOM 50" CAR
- "You're the disease. And I'm the cure." Cobra is the penicillin of police officers.
- Detective Monte didn't want Cobra to investigate this latest string of serial killings. I guess that's why Jesus wept...
- Ingrid's photographer wanted to have sex with her. Unless his name was Sly or Flavor, he was out of luck.
- The Night Slasher murdered some of the hospital staff in order to stalk and kill Ingrid. Nice to see Haddonfield Memorial hadn't changed much in the 8 years since the last massacre.
- Cobra carries a bunch of grenades wherever he goes. Surprisingly, none of them were from the Jersey Shore.
- Cobra showed some MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION when he defeated the Night Slasher at the end. What a weak, pathetic fool. All too easy.
THE FINAL HOWL
There are two ways of looking at COBRA. You can either hate it for taking itself seriously, realizing that the screenplay is stupid and its an 87-minute action cliche wrapped in misguided statements about police officers and the justice system that don't work within the film's story. Or you can love it for its one-liners, entertaining action and acting, and AWSOM 50 soundtrack cheese. While I do feel the political agenda of the film was a mistake, I pretty much dig COBRA for everything else. It's a terrible film that will never bore you with its unintentional comedy and silly premise that blends action and slasher film elements pretty well. It's funny, violent, well paced, and has a lot of charm that most films these days would die for. While COBRA isn't a disease or a cure, it'll definitely sooth the pain away for a while.
This week a healthy Rev. Phantom, a sleep deprived Moronic Mark, and a pretty sick yours truly review a triple
feature of cheesy delights; CONTAMINATION (1980), INSEMINOID (1981) and
FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982).
STARRING Bill Murray - Dr. Peter Venkman
Dan Aykroyd - Dr. Raymond Stantz
Sigourney Weaver - Dana Barrett
Harold Ramis - Dr. Egon Spengler
Ernie Hudson - Winston Zeddemore
Rick Moranis - Louis Tully
Annie Potts - Janine Menitz
William Atherton - Walter Peck
Slavitza Jovan - Gozer
Genre - Comedy/Action/Horror/Supernatural/Ghosts
Running Time - 107 Minutes
The reason I wanted to do this 1980's theme for September was to allow me an opportunity to discuss important films I wouldn't be allowed to focus on otherwise. As an 80's [and luckily, 90's] child, this decade really turned me into the man I am today. These 80's films made me want to be a filmmaker. These films turned me into a cinephile. Not all the films I'll discuss this month are my favorites, or even the best the decade had to offer critically or commercially. But they reflect a decade where risks were taken, technology took another step towards the future, and where having fun meant more than making money [although there was some of that too].
For this special 750th review (!), I wanted to pick a film that a big deal in the 1980's. I also wanted to pick a film I grew up with, making it a personal favorite of mine. It just so happened that this very film also celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, reminding me how old I am and how fast time really flies. Even today, I feel the film still holds up very well and the soundtrack puts a smile on my face. That film is Ivan Reitman's epic GHOSTBUSTERS - a movie that reminded me after all these years that bustin' does make me feel good.
PLOT Three scientists - Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) - study parapsychology at a local university in New York City. After some paranormal event inside the New York Public Library, they realize that ghosts really do exist. While the higher-ups at the university feel that their department is wasting funding that could be used for other sectors, Peter convinces his buddies to start their own Ghostbusters business inside of a firehouse. The business builds as paranormal activity increases around the city, tiring the trio out - leading to the hiring of a fourth member, Winston Zeddemore (Eddie Hudson), who is more religious and spiritual than the other three.
Their main business soon takes focus at a huge apartment building where Peter's potential love interest, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), lives. While Peter just wants to date Dana, Dana is dealing with a serious problem as her apartment seems to be the hub of an ancient demi-god named Gozer (Slavitza Jovan). When Dana and her neighbor, nerdy Louis (Rick Moranis), are possessed by Gozer's minions, the Ghostbusters must stop Gozer's intentions before the entire city is overtaken by evil spirits.
Usually when the idea of ghosts is tossed around in cinema, it's usually done for scares and shock value. But GHOSTBUSTERS uses the spiritual world for laughs, almost making fun of the paranormal while embracing it at the same time. I think that's a reason why GHOSTBUSTERS still resonates with so many after all these years. The concept is silly. The script makes fun of the entire spiritual situation. Yet, it never feels insulting or silly to the point that it'll turn off the audience. It's still a lot of fun to watch and one of the reasons why the 1980's are still embraced 30 years later.
The screenplay by Dan Akyroyd and Harold Ramis is very well-written, balancing the comedy with the fantasy nicely. Watching Peter, Ray, and Egon interact with each other is great because it's obvious from the start that they're three different individuals in all forms of their life. Peter is the sarcastic, skeptical, and perverted Ghostbuster - more worried about getting laid with beautiful women rather than taking his job seriously. Ray is the soul of the Ghostbusters - curious, eager, and willing to do anything with a childlike wonder to make their goals happen. Egon is the intellectual Ghostbuster - always concerned about knowledge, not really caring about his lack of a private life. Yet they all fit together like pieces of a puzzle, combining their personalities to get the job done.
GHOSTBUSTERS is great with characterization for the most part. The fourth Ghostbuster, Winston, believes in religion and just wants the job for a steady paycheck. But he's loyal to his team and will fight alongside with them. Dana could be the typical damsel-in-distress. But she has a toughness about her that gives her more depth, and an added sexiness when she's possessed by Zuul. Her relationship with Peter is flirty fun, which bumps up the romance quota a bit. But I do like the Dana character since she comes across as a real New Yorker.
I also like the other minor characters. Janine, the secretary, is sassy and sarcastic. Yet, she cares about the Ghostbusters business, and makes it clear she has a crush on Egon, who may or may not recognize it. Louis, Dana's nerdy neighbor, is a lot of fun since he gets silly and wacky things to do. He's the perfect kind of character who would become possessed by evil, just due to how oblivious he is. And Walter Peck is the prick who sees a success and wants to make sure it fails any way he can, only so he feels better about himself. He thinks the Ghostbusters are a menace to the city, supposedly hallucinating AN ENTIRE CITY just so they can be hired to do jobs. He's that guy you want to kick in the balls, and I mean that with the highest compliment possible.
The dialogue is also pretty great here. Just the way the characters interact and banter with one another feels genuine. That's really because most of the dialogue was improvised and ad-libbed by the actors, making them feel more real and loose. There are too many great lines to post here, but all of them are pretty damn funny. In particular, Peter Venkman has the best stuff to say. His seduction attempts at Dana, possessed or not, are pretty great. And his interactions with Walter Peck, especially in the Mayor's office, are laugh out loud comedy. Plus, I've always been partial to Egon's "I collect spores, molds, and fungus" line when it comes to his hobbies. There's so much great dialogue, written or otherwise, here. I think that's a huge reason why GHOSTBUSTERS is considered a pop culture institution 30 years later.
I think my only real issue with GHOSTBUSTERS is with its ending. Yeah, I know. It's a classic moment in 80's cinema. Gozer. The two devil dogs. And the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man who destroys New York City with a smile on his gooey face. And visually, it plays out pretty great even today. But it all ends pretty quickly and easily, leaving you wanting more. As a kid, I just loved the ending because of the cool special effects and the fact that the good guys won at the end. But as an adult, all I can say is "That was it?" There just seemed to be a lot of set up for the Gozer character, that I really expected more. Plus, Stay Puft is a monster that could have been utilized more. While it's spectacularly shot, I feel a bit deflated narrative wise. The confrontation really needed to be longer than it was.
Speaking of the visuals, yeah they're pretty dated. Watching CGI demon dogs run through an apartment building with ugly green screen edges showing now and then can be a bit distracting. But for their time, these effects were cutting edge. And even today, I think most of the effects still work great. Slimer is still awesome. I love Stay Puft. And the proton pack streams still look cool after all these years. What's even better is that these effects are done, not only to impress the audience watching, but to enhance the narrative. All the effects have a purpose to them, instead of seeing CGI for the sake of using CGI because it's expected and easy. So yeah, the SFX are 1984 SFX. But I think that's part of their charm.
The direction by Ivan Reitman, who famously directed MEATBALLS and KINDERGARTEN COP [among other films], is solid. The editing is fantastic, as the film has a great pace and never feels longer than it should. The tone between the fantasy and the comedy is dead on. Even the special effects, which I already discussed, are handled great due to how memorable and iconic they would soon become. I also loved how Reitman used the awesome score by Elmer Bernstein, as well as the classically cheesy Ray Parker Jr. theme song that became a monster hit. It's tough to say if GHOSTBUSTERS is Reitman's best work as a director, but it's definitely near the top.
The acting is even better. Bill Murray is just awesome as Peter Venkman, the sarcastic member of the Ghostbusters. A role originally for the late John Belushi, Murray only did the film so Columbia Pictures would remake 1946's THE RAZOR'S EDGE with him as the star. When the deal was agreed upon, Murray helped create an iconic film character. Most of his dialogue was ad-libbed, which adds to the role, making Venkman feel like a real human being who doesn't take himself or the situations around him seriously. His chemistry with the other actors is impeccable. Dan Aykroyd is also fantastic as Ray Stantz. Aykroyd's facial expressions, body language, and childlike energy really forges the soul of the Ghostbusters team. He's funny by just being himself. It's so effortless, it's great. The recently departed Harold Ramis, who originally didn't want to appear in the film as an actor, is very cool as Egon Spengler. He's the token nerd guy who is oblivious to anything that resembles a personal life. Ramis has some great dialogue as well, which he delivers so dryly, it's hilarious.
Sigourney Weaver is pretty sexy and cool as Dana. She plays a good down-to-earth type of female lead, who turns over-the-top once Zuul possesses her. More could have been done with her, but Weaver makes the role work. Rick Moranis is funny as Louis. Moranis is just so great in that nerd role, it stuck with him for the rest of his career. But he has great comedic timing. Ernie Hudson is cool as Winston. He's pretty much the "Token Black Guy" to be honest, only seen in the background mainly until there's some bustin' to do. But Hudson adds a cool factor to the film which I like. Annie Potts is great as sassy Janine. And William Atherton is awesome as Walter Peck, one of the film's antagonists. I love the fact that Atherton hated Reitman for casting him in the role, since it led to people in the streets harassing him both verbally and physically after the film's release. That's how good of an asshole Atherton plays in GHOSTBUSTERS.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE TRYING NOT TO CROSS MY STREAM WITH THE NEXT GUY STANDING NEXT TO ME IN THE BATHROOM STALL
- Venkman, disbelieving a librarian's ghostly account, wondered if her delusions were the cause of her menstruating. Judging by the fact that she seemed to have trouble concentrating, the woman is obviously pregnant.
- There was a bunch of Ecto Plasm residue inside of the library. Randy Marsh must have lost his internet again...
- Dana's refrigerator is a gateway to the afterworld. That explains how Nicole Richie lost all that weight.
- Dana doesn't believe in paranormal activity. Says the woman who watched an alien burst through a man's stomach. Psh.
- Venkman got slimed by Slimer. And thus, bukkake was born.
- Larry King and Casey Kasem talked about the Ghostbusters phenomenon. Sad that both are now in the afterlife.
...What do you mean Larry King is still alive??? He's not a talking zombie???
- Louis' party is like a nerd convention. Or in 2014, a hit TV show on CBS.
- Dana was possessed by the spirit of Zuul. And that explains why she signed to do that ALIEN sequel with Winona Ryder. No one in their right mind would have thought that would be great for their career.
- Possessed Louis and Dana had a short make out session. The only thing shrinking in this sensual situation are the kids.
THE FINAL HOWL GHOSTBUSTERS is, without a doubt, a cinematic classic. It's one of the few films that manages to balance a big-budget fantasy spectacle with great comedy that provides some nice characterization. It feels like a Saturday Night Live skit that actually deserved to be feature length. Great dialogue [ad-libbed or not], fantastic performances by all the leads, good special effects [even if some of it is pretty dated], and confident direction by Ivan Reitman - GHOSTBUSTERS is an institution for many of us who grew up with it during the 1980s. And while I do wish the final act was a bit longer, at least it's extremely memorable and well done. Bustin' may make Ray Parker Jr. feel real good, but watching GHOSTBUSTERS [even 30 years later] makes me feel better.
In this Bully themed episode Rev. Phantom, Moronic
Mark and I beat up little kids for their milk money....oh and we also review
THE NEW KIDS (1985) and BULLIES (1986). Plus the Top 5 Film Bullies of
STARRING Daphne Zuniga - Kelly Fairchild
Vera Miles - Frances Fairchild
Clu Gulager - Dwight Fairchild
James Read - Peter
Hunter Tylo - Alison
Marilyn Kagan - Marcia
Robert Dowdell - Jason Randall
Paula Knowles - Beth
Trey Stroud - Ralph
Peter Malof - Andy
Christopher Bradley - Chad
Genre - Horror/Mystery/Slasher
Running Time - 96 Minutes
***This review is part of Forgotten Films' 1984-a-thon. After you read this fine review, go over to Forgotten Films and check out the other entries covering the great year that was 1984. Now put on that vinyl of Madonna's "Like A Virgin" you got sitting there and enjoy the review!***
Ever since 1974's holiday horror classic, BLACK CHRISTMAS, murder and fraternity/sorority houses have been a match made in Heaven. It seems people out there [i.e. crazy killers who use weapons as their phallic symbol] just don't believe in letting certain students finish their Higher Education. But how can you deny this success? Films like THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, GIRLS NITE OUT, and HELL NIGHT prove that the college setting is ideal for slasher mayhem. Let's add another film into the mix, 1984's slasher THE INITIATION - a rare slasher film from the 1980's that I have never seen until now. How this film has escaped me, considering the future soap opera credentials it has, I'll never know. And while it's not a great slasher, like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET from the same year, there's still a lot to like here. So let's take that pledge and see what this movie is all about.
PLOT Kelly Fairchild (Daphne Zuniga) has been tormented by constant nightmares since childhood where she witnesses her parents having sex prior to a man being set on fire in self-defense. Not knowing where this nightmare stems from, Kelly decides to focus on dream studies in order to decipher it. She brings it up with her psychology professor (James Read), who attempts to give her tests in order to solve Kelly's issue. However, this upsets her parents (Vera Miles and Clu Gulager), who wish Kelly could just get over it for some reason. Kelly is also dealing with pledging for her local sorority, Delta Rho, where she's having issues with certain girls over a boy (Peter Malof). As all this goes on, someone has escaped an insane asylum, focused on heading towards the sorority with the thought of murder - especially when it comes to anyone who is in Kelly's orbit.
Like I mentioned above, this was my first time watching THE INITIATION. It's a slasher that not many people talk about, probably due to the fact that the slasher film craze was waning by this point and was overshadowed by others within the same year, like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER. It also doesn't help that the film is pretty flawed and generic for most of the run-time. Still, it's an interesting slasher film due to its mystery and conclusion.
It's hard to really dive into a review for THE INITIATION without spoiling things. So I won't get too deep when it comes to the narrative. This is a film where you're better off knowing as less as possible about it, so that the finale will surprise you. I will say that it plays pretty standard in terms of how majority of slashers at the time told their stories. But THE INITIATION has that mystery going for it, where you start to think that you know what's going on, until a twist happens where you question yourself all over again. In that sense, THE INITIATION is more of an American giallo film where the mystery and the characters are what steer the film, rather than the set up for the death scenes. I will say that I was tricked by this film on several occasions, making me think I knew the truth, but surprising the hell out of me once it's all revealed. I did think the conclusion was kind of hokey, but at least it caught me off guard. So there's that. I think if you like to figure things out while watching film, THE INITIATION is right up your alley.
I will say that the characters aren't all that deep though, besides Kelly of course. But all of them do have layers to them that make them recognizable archetypes. The Fairchild parents act all bits of shady throughout the film, strengthening the mystery with their secret they're dying to keep hidden. Peter is their antagonist, only because he wants to find out what's going on with Kelly. He's the stereotypical love interest character - good looking, smart, charming, and breaking all sorts of rules when it comes to teacher-student relations. The sorority pledges are all different. Marcia is the frumpy one who many believe is a virgin, but shares a deep secret by the end of the film that deepens her arc quite a bit. Alison is the typical pretty, flirty girl who loves fashion and boys. And the guys are all typical frat guys, except for Ralph who uses humor to mask his insecurities. And then there's Kelly, who struggles with the same nightmare for years. Her parents don't give her answers. She gets frustrated when Peter can't decipher her dream. We take a journey with Kelly as she tries to figure out her nightmare while she attempts to lead a normal college life. She's a fairly strong Final Girl type with many layers to her that connect to the film's mystery. Compared to many slashers of the time, these characters at least have personality and things going for them positively. So you gotta give the film that.
The dialogue and storytelling in general is pretty good as well. The characters do feel like real people whenever they speak to each other, which is a major plus. The mystery is interesting, especially when it leads to a crazy ending that I had never guessed once during the film. I do feel that THE INITIATION does take its sweet time getting to the point of the matter, however. I like slow builds and all, but I do feel certain scenes play out a bit too long to get to the punchline. The frat party is a cool scene to build college atmosphere, but it doesn't really add all that much to the film other than that. Certain moments in the mall are there for fluff, but only some. If you're expecting a lot of slashing, especially within the first hour of the film, you'll be disappointed. But if you enjoy setting up the narrative, then I think you'll be fine.
Speaking of the slashing, there are some decent moments. We get a burning. Several people get killed by a small garden fork. We get a stabbing death scene involving a character screaming into a microphone within the final location of the mall, which was pretty fun. It's a decent enough body count for sure, even if most of it happens within the last thirty minutes. Nothing really gory or anything, but pretty violent stuff that will quench the thirst of those blood-hungry ghouls.
The direction by Larry Stewart isn't anything special really. Stewart does know how to create atmosphere and mood, as the film seems to feel gloomy even when the sun is out. I thought the film moved a bit too slow in its first half, but was well paced during the third act. The on-screen kills were neat. I thought the way the twist was presented was interesting. There are first person point-of-view shots for the killer, similar to BLACK CHRISTMAS and HALLOWEEN. THE INITIATION was Stewart's only feature length film, which unfortunately resembles more of an 80s TV-movie-of-the-week rather than a big budgeted theatrical flick [Stewart was a TV director prior to this]. But it's competent and you won't have trouble seeing what's going on. I'm sort of surprised Stewart never directed another theatrical film since it's not that bad. But the visual presentation won't wow anyone either.
The acting is pretty damn good, I thought. Daphne Zuniga, in her first major role, is very good as Kelly. Best known for playing Princess Vespa in 1987's SPACEBALLS and Jo on TV's Melrose Place, Zuniga adds a layer of torment, confusion, and frustration in her role. Plus, she's a beautiful woman so that helps. PSYCHO's Vera Miles doesn't get much to do as Kelly's mother, but she brings a sense of mystery to her role. Same goes to Clu Gulager, a veteran genre actor, as Kelly's father. He's not in the film a whole lot, but his character becomes quite interesting before his exit. We also get the acting debut of Deborah Morehart, best known to soap opera fans as Hunter Tylo from The Bold and the Beautiful. I honestly didn't recognize her, due to certain work she's done on herself. She was pretty okay as Alison, the pretty girl of the group. But we get to see some full frontal from her, which was a pleasant surprise. James Read, best known as the dad on Charmed and currently on Days of Our Lives, is pretty typical as Peter. He's fine in the role as the caring love interest. The other actors are decent, but won't win any awards or anything. Considering THE INITIATION was written by Charles Pratt, Jr. - who would later help create Melrose Place - the actors fit right in within this soap opera of a movie.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE GOING TO THAT FRAT COSTUME PARTY AS BOY GEORGE
- Some lady inside a mental institution constantly vomits inside of a trash can. No wonder Oscar is a grouch.
- A nurse was attacked in her car while escaped mental patients watched, danced, and sang. I had no idea this film took place at Smith's Grove.
- Marcia wants to do her Psych paper on the "Psychological Effects of the Soap Opera". She should wait another nine to ten years when Kelly moves to Melrose Place.
- Kelly freaked out during her brainwave scan while she dreamed. Considering she doesn't have a white streak in her hair, nor pull out a dude's hat from her nightmare, I say that Kelly just wants attention.
- Ralph went to the costume party dressed as a penis. I'm sure Kelly respected the SPACEBALLS that took.
- Alison stole clothes and roller skates from a mall mannequin. Kim Catrall was not pleased.
- Someone got murdered by a hatchet near Christmas decorations. PUNISH!
- Another character was shot through the heart. They must've gave love a bad name.
THE FINAL HOWL THE INITIATION is an above average slasher film that entertained me for the most part. I liked the mystery vibe the film had going for it. The mood and atmosphere is quite strong. I thought some of the characters had a nice bit of depth. The kills were pretty decent. And I thought the performances by Daphne Zuniga, Vera Miles, and Clu Gulager carried the film well. I think better, and more memorable, slashers were released around the same time. But THE INITIATION is worth at least a watch if you enjoy future soap opera actors starring in a giallo-like slasher with a hokey twist at the end.
This week Rev. Phantom, Moronic Mark and I go back to school
and review HELL HIGH (1989) and SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986) [which I re-review in a more positive light]. Plus the Top 5
High School Themed Horror/Exploitation movies.
STARRING Sylvester Stallone - Barney Ross
Jason Statham - Lee Christmas
Antonio Banderas - Galgo
Jet Li - Yin Yang
Wesley Snipes - Doctor Death
Dolph Lundgren - Gunner Jensen
Kelsey Grammer - Bonaparte
Randy Couture - Toll Road
Terry Crews - Hale Caesar
Kellan Lutz - John Smilee
Ronda Rousey - Luna
Glen Powell - Thorn
Victor Ortiz - Mars
Robert Davi - Goran Vata
Mel Gibson - Conrad Stonebanks
Harrison Ford - Max Drummer
Arnold Schwarzenegger - Trench Mauser
Genre - Action/Adventure
Running Time - 126 Minutes
PLOT The mercenary group known as The Expendables are on another mission, this time breaking out a former member named Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes), who is traveling on a prison convoy within Somalia. As Death tries to fit back into the group, The Expendables continue their mission - only for leader Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) to realize that a man he thought dead, an arms dealer and war criminal named Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), is the mastermind behind the evil he must stop. Stonebanks makes the mission more personal when he badly wounds Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), forcing Barney to disband The Expendables so none of the other members get hurt - although they're against the idea. Now under the orders of a CIA operative named Drummer (Harrison Ford), Barney must do whatever is necessary to stop Stonebanks - even if he has to recruit younger members for a new Expendables team.
Being a fan of the first two EXPENDABLES films, I was heavily anticipating the third film in the series so far. I'm a huge fan of 80s and 90s action films, so watching all these grizzled stars join forces against evil just puts a smile on my face. Unfortunately, THE EXPENDABLES 3 had a lot of issues going against it.
One, the rating downgraded from an R to a PG-13 for a broader audience. That kind of irked me because action films from previous eras were usually pretty violent, but I understood it from a business standpoint. Then, I saw how large the cast became. I knew any sort of character development or motivations would be pretty non-existent. Then, someone leaked out a DVD-quality version of THE EXPENDABLES 3 about three weeks prior to its release last weekend. Millions downloaded it and gave their mixed opinions on it all over social media. These things most likely attributed to THE EXPENDABLES 3 being a box office bomb so far, at least domestically. Then again, I'm not sure how much this film would have made regardless, since in my opinion it's the worst of the three films - despite it still being pretty fun for most of it.
- The older cast. It's no surprise that the film is pretty good when the original cast appears. The comraderie between Stallone, Statham, Crews, Lundgren, and Couture is still intact. Watching them banter and blast away enemies will never get old. But then you bring in newer guys. Wesley Snipes has a good introduction at the beginning of the film, even joking about his tax evasion issues from his real life. Kelsey Grammer, who did X-MEN: THE LAST STAND to get his action film card, is pretty chill as Bonaparte - Barney's recruiting buddy. Harrison Ford takes the film more seriously than he probably should, but I thought every scene he appeared in gave the film a pulse and some meaning. Jet Li returns in a cameo, which is nice to see. Schwarzenegger is having fun, bringing back quotes from previous films for a genuine laugh and smile. Mel Gibson, whose personal life has tainted his professional one, is pretty great as the villain. He seems to be having fun acting a bit maniacal and chewing up the scenery. I thought he was one of the highlights of the film. But the best actor was Antonio Banderas as Galgo, the comic relief who wouldn't shut up. He was in a different film than everyone else, just making a fool of himself for the audience's amusement. For a serious action film, Banderas brought some much needed levity to the proceedings. I wish these actors were presented better, but at least the older cast was pretty damn cool.
- The action. I think THE EXPENDABLES 3 had my least favorite action sequences in the series so far, but they were still very watchable and entertaining. The half-hour climax had a lot going on, but it was a really fun watch. The second action scene once Gibson is introduced was cool. And while the opening sequence and the first sequence with the newbies were pretty short for an action film, at least they were decent-to-good for what they were. I still miss the blood and more violent R rating for these scenes, because I think they would have made these scenes better. But for a PG-13 action film, I expected worse actually. So I'm pretty content with these scenes for the most part.
- The premise. I liked the concepts and themes that formed THE EXPENDABLES 3. I liked that the villain was someone who was a part of the original Expendables team. I like that Barney wanted to build a new, younger team that was more in the know. I enjoyed the idea of "passing the torch" to newer action stars, since the older ones don't have much left in the tank. I liked that both generations embraced each other by the end of the film. The ideas are there. The elements should work if they come together. But unfortunately...
- The story. Now, were the first two films masterpieces in terms of screenwriting? Far from it. But at least they had a charm that made them resonate and work. The first film was based on the nostalgia of these old action stars teaming up and kicking ass. The second film took itself less seriously, playing along with the audience by bringing up previous films and lines of dialogue in a clever way. The third film seems to want to be a mix of the first two films, but the balance is all off.
THE EXPENDABLES 3 takes itself way too seriously for its own good. If it had some sort of emotional weight within the narrative to justify that tone, then it would be okay. But a lot of things just come across as unintentionally silly, that you wish it shared its tone with the second film, which knew what it was and had a blast admitting it.
I have issue with when one of the main characters is almost killed during the first act of the film, causing Barney to disband the team for a younger crew. Why? For one, the film is called THE EXPENDABLES 3. You couldn't kill this character off? Isn't that the definition of the title? And if you wanted to this character to survive, why not kill a character that's not as important? I'm glad this certain character survived because I enjoy what the actor brings to the table. But it just felt silly to take him out for the entire film like this, when he's been through much worse in previous installments.
Continuing on this, why would Barney disband his team because of this incident? Didn't a member of The Expendables get brutally murdered in front of them in the last film? That didn't make Barney break up the team. And worried for his friends' safety, he decides to recruit younger, more inexperienced, mercenaries to take their places? Like I said, I like the idea of "passing the torch". But it's just done so clumsily because it doesn't fit Barney's character in the previous two films.
It also doesn't help when these new characters are bland and one-dimensional. While the older cast aren't that fleshed out either, at least we know who they are pretty quickly because of their previous resumes. The older cast have personalities we can connect with, even if we don't know their backstories or how they were recruited to form this band of misfits. The new squad doesn't have any of that. One guy is a hacker. Another guy hates authority and rides a motorcycle. There's a girl now who can kick ass. And there's the other guy who just shoots a gun. I'll give Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, and the other two actors for trying to make something out of these stereotypical characters, but it couldn't work when there are already more than another people in this film than it actually needs. There's no room to breathe to let these characters live. I think if these characters were introduced throughout the franchise, or within their own spinoff where they could build themselves into interesting personalities, it could have worked. But all THE EXPENDABLES 3 did was prove that the younger generation can't match up with the older one in terms of personality, charisma, or even acting ability. It's a shame.
Is it a terrible script? No. There is dialogue that made me laugh. There are moments where characters actually feel believable. And I liked how the set pieces were laid out, as cliche as they were. But the focus of the film was flawed, making me wish I was watching the other two films instead.
- Direction in general. Patrick Hughes may be a nice guy. I have no idea what other films he has done. But he wasn't the right guy to film THE EXPENDABLES 3. It's not badly directed in the sense that it's unwatchable. The film looks pretty good and flows better than it should, to be honest. But a lot of the CGI stuff bugged me, especially when two actors are driving in front of a green screen that had me in stitches. The film is WAY too long for its own good, feeling bloated with too many characters and not enough substance. The editing is a bit off at times. And the direction of the action is annoying, especially when I'm seeing close-ups of actor's faces rather than the fight scenes themselves. I don't know when shooting action too close became this hip trend, but it needs to end. I want to see a punch connect to some dude's face, not a close-up of the puncher's face. I'm sure some of this was done to satisfy the PG-13 rating, which makes the opposition for it pretty justified. The visuals just didn't feel confident to me, as if Hughes was struggling with what kind of film this needed to be.
THE FINAL HOWL
I wanted to like THE EXPENDABLES 3 more than I actually did. I like the ideas and themes presented in the film, especially "passing the torch" to a younger generation of stars. But it's an unbalanced action film with an uneven story and direction that needed more confidence. It's also way too long and introduces a young cast that could use a personality transplant. However, the action is still pretty good and the older cast is pretty great, especially Gibson and Banderas - both stealing the film. I prefer the first two films over this one, but the third has its moments and won't bore anyone who is a fan of these kind of films. I just wish it were better because all the elements were there for a better film than we actually get here.
This week Rev. Phantom, Moronic Mark, and I take on a Paul Naschy double feature with INQUISITION (1976) and PANIC BEATS (1983). Plus the Top 5 Male Icons of Horror. Also, internal thoughts that should always stay internal become external because that's how we roll.
PLOT On a trip to Disneyland, a 36-foot ape breaks out of a shipping boat, causing it to explode. After a fight with a shark, the giant ape decides to head into South Korea, destroying stuff in sight. When he falls for an American actress named Marilyn (Joanna Kerns), who is filming a film there, he kidnaps her. This, plus the city damage, has the army going after the ape, hoping to stop it before it causes any more chaos.
I swear I've seen something like this before...
I have three words for A*P*E:
WHAT THE FUCK!?
Thanks to a friend on Facebook who had talked about this film, I would have never known the existence of A*P*E - a South Korean and American production that was made and released around the same time Dino De Laurentiis had produced and released his remake of KING KONG in 1976. It's pretty much the same film as KING KONG. It has a giant ape. It has the ape destroying a city. It has the ape kidnapping a blonde beauty. And it has the ape being attacked by the local military. The only thing A*P*E doesn't have is any class, any dignity, or any substance that KING KONG has. But I can't say that I didn't have a ball with this stupid movie, even if it is a large piece of monkey crap.
STORY Screenplay - I don't even know why I'm bothering with this aspect of the story. A*P*E is nothing but a cheap rip-off of the KING KONG story, just with a poorer narrative, direction, and acting.
You'll care nothing about the characters in the story, as they're all bland and one-dimensional. Marilyn is an actress who seems to love enjoying dramatizing attempted rape in grungy set locations. She's in some sort of relationship with some journalist named Tom, who left America for an assignment in South Korea just to be near her, even though she told him she needed space. Tom constantly tries to grope Marilyn, taking kisses every chance he gets while subtly implying he wants to bang her. Marilyn quietly pushes him away, saying she needs time to figure things out as she can't balance her career with her feelings for Tom. I've seen things like this on the Investigation Discovery channel, so hopefully this will have a better ending.
The Colonel character was pretty funny though, as he was a skeptic for the beginning of the film, making light of the entire situation. Then when he realized it was really happening, he had some great one-liners and facial expressions. Too bad he wasn't in the film more.
As for the ape himself, what can I say? He loves to smash things. He loves to play with things. He loves to kidnap future TV moms. And he enjoys flipping the bird at the military. Talk about character development!
The dialogue is pretty atrocious, and the journey from start to finish is very by-the-numbers. Also, the film starts with the giant ape already captured and headed to Disneyland [really??], so you have no idea what the backstory to this ape is or how they even captured him. It all just feels really random, with nothing really clicking seriously. It's amusing for an unintentional laugh, but only when the ape is onscreen really. Say what you want about that 1976 KING KONG remake. At least that film is competent. A*P*E is anything but.
Direction - Paul Leder, father of DEEP IMPACT director Mimi Leder, doesn't do much visually as a director. It's pretty much a point and shoot affair, with the use of mini set pieces in order to make the ape larger than he actually is. We get a fake giant ape hand from time to time. We obviously see objects fly towards screen being pulled on a string. Did I mention this film was made for 3D? Even in 2D, I could tell this film would have been an ultimate fail in another dimension. The sound editing is also pretty odd, with dubbing being awkward and noises not sounding consistent from one scene to the next within the same area. There's nothing really special about the look of A*P*E at all. No style, no great picture quality, and nothing visually worth talking about.
Acting - The actors are decent in their roles, I guess. Joanna Kerns, best known as the mom on Growing Pains, plays the actress Marilyn. She's a good screamer and is a pretty woman. But other than that, it's not hard to see why she went to TV acting rather than stay in film. Rod Arrants lets his 70s Lothario look do most of the talking for him, but he was okay as the "hero" Tom. Alex Nicol is kind of charming as Col. Davis, pretty much providing more life than all the other human actors combined. And the dude who played the title character seemed to be having fun acting stupid in costume. It's unfortunate he wasn't at all convincing as an actual gorilla.
VIOLENCE - A*P*E has moments of violence in it. The ape destroys cities. There's a fake gorilla vs. a dead shark battle in the water, which won't make ZOMBI 2 shake in its boots anytime soon. The ape throws rocks and other things at the military. Flaming arrows and bullets are sent towards the ape. Plus, there's that fake rape scene on a movie shoot. Even though there's some blood, I've seen more violent films than this.
SEX - Besides some implications, A*P*E is fairly tame. No nudity. No sex. Unless you count a hand glider bouncing on an ape's hand sexually stimulating, you're better off sticking to your porn.
CHEESE FACTOR - I'm not sure whether A*P*E is intentionally, or unintentionally, cheesy. But regardless, it manages to make me laugh at how ridiculous the premise is. A director is named "Dino" - making fun of producer Dino De Laurentiis. There are nods to the original PLANET OF THE APES. The acting is so wooden, it's laughable. Where else will you see "King Kong" fight "Jaws"? Foam rocks and arrows traveling on strings? Why not? Joanna Kerns seductively pleading with the ape to be gentle with her probably gave Alan Thicke a chubby. And an ape who gives the middle finger to the camera in probably the most famous moment of this film raises the cheese factor quite a bit. It's definitely a cheesy film for majority of the film, due to how awful it is.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE SEWING THE WRIST AND ARMPIT REGIONS OF MY APE SUIT TO MAKE MYSELF LOOK MORE CONVINCING
- The giant ape fought a dead shark in the water. It must've wanted to take the primate home and eat its pussy.
- "I'm a reporter, not Charlton Heston!" Judging at how Tom is striking out with Marilyn by not being able to part her Red Sea to shoot his gun inside, I can't help but agree.
- A bunch of children break into a closed amusement park called Family Land. That's messed up. It's definitely no Neverland Ranch, which I heard was open morning, noon, and night - especially for young kids. Jesus Juice, anyone?
- Marilyn had to film a "gentle" rape scene on a sleazy movie set. Man, this original version of THE ACCUSED didn't have much going for it, huh? No Oscar for you, Marilyn. I guess that's them Growing Pains...
- Marilyn wanted the big ape to be gentle with her. Surprising, since she TV married a dude who's last name is Thicke...
THE FINAL HOWL A*P*E is something else. It's so ridiculously bad, you'd think a film studio accidentally greenlit a Saturday Night Live skit to be feature length. Bland and/or wooden acting. Boring direction. A title character who's obviously a man in a broken down gorilla suit [which is quite hilarious for all the wrong reasons]. But it does have moments that will make you laugh for how ridiculous it all is. And I was never really bored, so it has that going for it. I would recommend this film just so people can see how stupid and awful it is. But if really bad trash isn't your thing, then A*P*E is not a film worth going bananas over.