Wednesday, August 31, 2016

VHS WEDNESDAY with David Carradine in David Prior's FUTURE FORCE (1989)

A couple weeks ago ER contributor Evan Romero wrote up his initial impressions of David Prior's shot-on-video head-scratcher SLEDGEHAMMER and it sent me scrambling back through the ER-chives for my own review. While scanning the review I noticed that I mentioned a couple other Prior credits including FUTURE FORCE with David Carradine and Robert Tessier... which I'd just grabbed during a men's action novel and VHS haul at a local thrift store. In other words, The Trash Gods were informing me that 1989's FUTURE FORCE was next up in the VHS Wednesday rotation.

Set in the really not very distant future of 1991 (!), FUTURE FORCE posits a world where crime is out of control. Prisons are overloaded, gun battles take place in our streets and the privatization of law and order by the Civilian Operated Police State (or COPS) has pretty much meant the death of justice as we know it. On the mean streets of 1991 you're presumed guilty until proven innocent, although you still have to go to the DMV.

"Action superstar" David Carradine stars as John Tucker, the COPS-iest of the COPS, a nut-punching, teeth-busting, denim-wearing, paunchy badass who gets intel from wheelchair-bound Billy (shades of Oracle!) and keeps a bionic arm complete with cool computer lightning effects and a laser in the trunk of his car.

Carradine isn't happy with either the state of COPS or the condition of his fellow cops and it's easy to see why. They spend most of their down time in sleazy strip clubs and they're all pretty out of shape. (The flick practically screams for the presence of the one and only Rick Dean as Carradine's boozy sidekick.)

When a nosy reporter threatens to expose COPS, the company's CEO puts a $100,000 bounty on her head for the crime of treason and it ends up pitting the bored-looking Carradine against his fellow bounty hunters once he's declared "wanted dead or alive".

Borderline entertaining and slightly Troma-esque, my viewing of FUTURE FORCE was helped out considerably by a couple glasses of high-powered viewing booze (aka pints of 9% ABV Troegs Nimble Giant) and a brief appearance by Dawn Wildsmith and the most outrageous mall hair this side of South Jersey circa 1984.

Points off for no trailers at the beginning of the flick but bonus points for a scenery chewing performance from Robert Tessier (THE LONGEST YARD's Mr. Shokner) and the great 80s/90s villain attire worn by COPS CEO Jason Adams (DEADLY PREY's William Zipp). If only the action had been more kung-fu than kung-eh, but really we just want to see Carradine and the remote control arm take out the baddies.

Not the off-the-wall action spectacle I was hoping for from Prior, but just what you need when your daughter and her friends are tying up the big screen TV with a Harry Potter movie. Prior also directed the 1990 followup FUTURE ZONE in which John Tucker's son (Ted Prior, the director's brother) goes back in time to save Papa John (Carradine) from being killed by thugs. And, yes, I need my head examined because I'm actively in search of a copy of the sequel.

In the meantime, David Carradine will visit a future VHS Wednesday in CRIME ZONE (with Sherilyn Fenn) and we'll go back to the future with FUTURE WAR (starring Daniel Bernhardt) and FUTURE FEAR (with the killer cast of Jeff Wincott, Maria Ford and Stacy Keach!). – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and a contributor to the recently published book, KLAUS KINSKI, BEAST OF CINEMA: Critical Essays and Fellow Filmmaker Interviews (McFarland). He last wrote about THE AMBULANCE for Throwback Thursday.

FUTURE FORCE is available via Amazon, ebay and finer thrift stores everywhere.





Tuesday, August 30, 2016

More Peep Shows and Nikkatsu Flicks Coming in November from Impulse Pictures

If you love Nikkatsu flicks we've got good news for you.

First, David Zuzelo (and other contributors) will continue to tackle the subject in the upcoming ER 53. Second, Synapse Films' Impulse Pictures label has announced the next release in their Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection, NURSE DIARY: BEAST AFTERNOON which is described as "wildly sexy and erotic... with strange science-fiction and horror overtones". You can pre-order the flick here.

In addition to ND: BA, Synapse/Impulse has also announced the 18th (!) volume in their 42nd STREET FOREVER: THE PEEP SHOW COLLECTION. And for those of us who were smitten with her back in the day, this installment – and Vol. 17 (due out in September) – features an appearance by the one and only Seka. You can pre-order Volume 18 here.

Looking for more on Nikkatsu flicks? Be sure to check out David Z's look at several volumes in the series in Exploitation Retrospect 52, available from our website and Amazon.

TROMA TUESDAY: THE TOXIC AVENGER PART III: THE LAST TEMPTATION OF TOXIE (1989) directed by Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman

September is almost here and that means many things to your humble editor, including the start of the US Open (my favorite tennis tournament of the year) and the kickoff of the NFL season (though both my teams figure to suck). But – and anybody with kids can relate – it also means back to school. And though I love the carefree summer months, afternoons hanging at the pool, sleeping late, day trips, etc., the return to the classroom means some quiet time for Dad and the chance to tackle work – both paying and non-paying varieties – with more regularity. In other words, ER 53 is right back on track and we'll be updating the blog with a couple regular installments on a weekly basis thanks to contributors like Evan Romero, who continues to wade through the latest stack of Tromatic review discs. This time, though, it looks like Lloyd Kaufman and Co. have actually found a way to soothe the sometimes savage reviewer...

Toxie is back and ready to rock 'n' roll in his third outing, THE TOXIC AVENGER PART III: THE LAST TEMPTATION OF TOXIE. This installment gets a bad rap and is often ranked as the nadir of the series. In all honesty though, it's actually pretty enjoyable.

Toxie has successfully rid Tromaville of all evil and crime. But what is he supposed to do now? Relegated to making sure that old ladies don't cheat at cards or that children eat their veggies, Toxie begins feeling like a failure and starts looking about for a new job. Fortunately for Toxie, it just so happens that Apocalypse, Inc. want Toxie for their new spokesperson to help lead Tromaville towards a brighter future. But is this future really all that bright for the residents of Tromaville? Or do Apocalypse, Inc. have a far more diabolical future in store for Tromaville?

Okay, first off, the DVD/Blu-ray combo pack includes the Theatrical Cut on Blu-Ray and the Director's Cut on DVD. This review will refer to the Theatrical Version. The runtime difference between the two is 19 seconds.

Anyways, THE TOXIC AVENGER PART III was shot at the exact same time as PART II - because it's made up of leftover footage from the second installment. Talk about savin' a few bucks. So yes, this does give the movie a cobbled-together feel. But if the movies of Michael Bay can find appreciation (and get a Criterion release), then damn it, Toxie's third flick can be enjoyed for what it is. I mean, it has all the goofy comedy and over-the-top antics that the others have. Plus, Toxie fights the Devil (played by Rick Collins, sort of a poor man's version of Tim Curry)! Seriously, what's not to like?

Okay granted, this installment isn't that gory, especially when compared to the previous two. Sure, it has a dude getting disemboweled, a dude's arm ripped off by a VCR, and a few other minor moments of crimson spillage, but who gives a shit? Gore or no gore, a flick had better deliver on the entertainment, which this flick does.

And just admit it; you've always wanted to see how Toxie would be as a yuppie. Yup, we get a yuppie Toxie. Hm, I smell a new Troma series brewing: THE YUPPIE AVENGER. Okay, maybe that won't be such a great idea...

Oh, and for those with a keen eye, there's a reference to the movie that the fourth installment ALSO makes reference to. Coincidence? Possibly. And what is the reference? I'm not tellin'.

While THE TOXIC AVENGER PART III doesn't come close to the greatness of the first installment or CITIZEN TOXIE, it's still a flick unworthy of the smashing it often gets. And while we're on the subject, lay off the second installment as well. They're both good flicks that provide plenty of entertainment.

THE TOXIC AVENGER PART III: THE LAST TEMPTATION OF TOXIE is available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. Special features include two audio commentaries, interviews, trailers, some Tromatic videos and more. – Evan Romero

Evan Romero is a regular contributor to the pages of ER and spends much of his time reading morally questionable books and watching movies no sane person would touch. He is the vocalist/bassist for the punk band Porno Holocaust (you can find them on Facebook and listen to some demos if you’re inclined). You can read more of his reviews at ReelAtrocities.com or at PopHorror.com. He last wrote about CITIZEN TOXIE: THE TOXIC AVENGER IV for Troma Tuesday.

THE TOXIC AVENGER PART III is available from Amazon.





Wednesday, August 24, 2016

VHS WEDNESDAY: AMERICAN NINJA 5 (1993) starring David Bradley and Pat Morita

After taking a few weeks off for a final vacation before school starts we're back with an all-new installment of VHS Wednesday and I hope you're enjoying these as much as I am. This review came about because longtime ER contributor Jonathan Plombon mentioned on Facebook that he was watching AMERICAN NINJA 5 and, honestly, I didn't know there was an AN5 (though I did grab copies of installments 3 and 4 at the Savers a few weeks back for a future installment of this column). Anyway, I suggested Jonathan write the flick up for my/your edification and, well, here you go. So, while we wait for AMERICAN NINJA APPRENTICE enjoy Jonathan's look at this overlooked stepchild of a classic 80s/90s action franchise. And if you have a VHS favorite you'd like to share with our readers, drop me a line at editor@dantenet.com!

In 1992, AMERICAN NINJA 5 continued that proud tradition forged by franchises like ZOMBIE or THE CURSE where a completely unrelated movie somehow becomes part of a series. It's like the child in an otherwise functional family that no one really wants, but that you have to accept because he's packaged with the wife. Not that AMERICAN NINJA 5 (originally named AMERICAN DRAGONS) is unwanted or worthy of stuffing in the basement NEVER to see the light of day. It deserves more than that-like seeing the light of day when he has to mow the lawn or wash the car.

AMERICAN NINJA 5 follows Joe Kastle (David Bradley, who kind of returns from the previous installments, but not really since he plays a totally different character because it's a totally different movie), who is assigned to babysitting a teenaged child named Hiro (Lee Reyes, the Junior National Karate Champion) by his Master Tetsun (Pat Morita, who shows up twice in the film, something that you wouldn't expect considering his placement on the box). As this is going down, Joe becomes involved with Lisa (Ann Dupont), the daughter of a scientist who has developed a powerful insecticide called ZB-12 that can be deadly to humans in large quantities. Of course, there's some curmudgeon who wants it to control the world, and off goes Joe and Hiro to brew up some child-endangering martial-arts mayhem.

You'll be seeing a lot of Hiro in this flick. He's a real modern '90s kid who would much rather play his Sega Game Gear (which is identified by name several times) than do anything physical (reminds me of myself), a position that he eventually changes when he sees how badass Joe is when he's kung-fu fighting.

The early '90s were a time when people loved to watch kids thrown in to dangerously violent situations (see 3 NINJAS and HOME ALONE). AMERICAN NINJA 5 is just another installment in the genre. Most of the time, the kids in these films are annoying, pompous brats whom the writers try to make "charming" by filling their dialog with smart-alecky remarks. And Hiro is as charming as they come. He never really gets his comeuppance, but he does cry in one scene, so you do have that to look forward to.

Along with the violence, there's also a weird theme of sexuality riddled throughout the film. For starters, Hiro is starting to notice girls and because of which, he constantly tells Joe about his new fuzzy feelings. Then an even weirder situation arises when Lisa invites Joe and Hiro over to her boat for dinner. Joe leaves Hiro alone so he can retire to the bottom of the boat to, I guess, have sex with Lisa, leaving Hiro up above to hear all the moaning for himself. All I could think about was how awkward this would be, both for Hiro and Joe, and probably Lisa, as well. Sadly, we never will find out how weird it could be since ninjas invade the boat. It's a miscue by the writers who probably should have kept the scene playing out just a little longer so the audience could really feel sick to their stomachs.

And this is the only time you could feel sick during the movie, because it's hardly graphic. If you're on the lookout for the traditional AMERICAN NINJA fare - flying fists and heads-a-poppin' - you won't find it here. This is strictly PG-13. One fighting sequence even teases a few severed fingers, only to reveal that Joe cut some fruit instead. Depressing.

It's not that this reviewer didn't care for the film. I did. It's just not the video that I want to be responsible for, checking its homework and buying it new school clothes. It's more like a great grandson that you see from time to time and although you never really know which grandson he is, you still give him a dollar and then move on to more important things like sleeping and trying to forget that you'll probably die before the next presidential election. – Jonathan Plombon

Jonathan Plombon is a longtime ER contributor and most recently wrote about WAVE Productions for ER 52 (see our store or buy at Amazon). Look for more from him in our upcoming Super-Sized 30th Anniversary Edition, coming in October!

AMERICAN NINJA 5 is available from Amazon.


Wednesday, August 03, 2016

VHS WEDNESDAY: THE DOGFIGHTERS (1996) starring Robert Davi, Alexander Godunov and Ben Gazzara

Robert Davi and Alexander Godunov first united on the big screen for 1988's smash hit action thriller DIE HARD. Eight years later they'd re-team – with ROAD HOUSE baddie Ben Gazzara in tow – for the slightly less popular THE DOGFIGHTERS. Mitch Lovell plunked down his two bits for a look in this week's installment of VHS Wednesday. 

Part of the fun of watching old VHS tapes is seeing the trailers that play before the main feature. On this tape we get previews for not one, but two classic films from 1996: THE SUBSTITUTE and THE ARRIVAL. Both trailers are, frankly, underwhelming and don't really hint at the awesomeness that either film contains. The trailer for THE ARRIVAL does feature a great tagline though: "Stop watching the skies and start watching your back!" Then the feature presentation begins:

Robert Davi stars as a top Navy pilot named Rowdy who loses his job when he strikes a superior officer. He then ekes out a living by running drugs in a little two-seater airplane. A shady CIA agent (Ben Gazzara) frames Rowdy for murder and blackmails him into pulling a job for him. It seems a Russian baddie (Alexander Godunov in his final film role) is building a nuclear reactor and it's up to Rowdy to shut him down.

I've always felt Davi made a better villain than hero, but THE DOGFIGHTERS (aka THE ZONE and ZONE 99: NUCLEAR TARGET) finds him playing one of his best hero roles. In his down-and-out phase he wears a bandana and sunglasses (which makes him resemble Little Steven Van Zandt from The E Street Band). Once he switches over to a suit and tie ensemble he pulls off the suave character effortlessly. There's one sequence where he eludes an assassin that is worthy of a James Bond movie. Once Davi is cornered, he jumps off a bridge, lands on a passing party boat, and emerges pouring a glass of champagne. He even raises his glass to his indignant pursuer as he's making his getaway!

It also helps enormously that Davi is given some priceless dialogue. Seriously, Schwarzenegger would be envious at some of the one-liners that our hero gets in this one. When he's flying he says stuff like "Hold on to your sphincter!" While drinking in a bar, a woman tells him he's going to trash his liver and he replies "My liver is long gone!" My favorite line came during a scene where Davi's being chased through a marketplace. He hits a guy in the face with a slab of raw meat and quips "Hope you like it rare!"

The other performers fare decently enough. Ben Gazzara can do this kind of role in his sleep, but even if he was sleepwalking through his performance (which he isn't) he'd still be fun to watch. Alexander Godunov gives one of his best performances as he fills his character with a touch of class and dignity. Even in the smallest scenes he seems totally invested, and when he's deep in thought, you can almost see the wheels turning as he's weighing his options.

Although the film gets off to a strong start, it eventually falls into a predictable pattern: Davi does some snooping around, gets surrounded by Godunov's men and has to find a way to slip out of danger. The action and stunt work is solid for the most part (like when Davi punches a bad guy out of a plane in mid-flight) and is comparable to some of the better Direct-to-Video films of the day, which helps somewhat. Even these sequences tend to get repetitive before the end credits roll. The final dogfight between Davi and Godunov is a bit of a (pardon the pun) washout, too.

THE DOGFIGHTERS was directed by Barry Zetlin, a name I thought sounded familiar. So I checked IMDB to learn that he has edited some of my favorite (and not-so favorite) horror and exploitation movies of the '80s and '90s. There are just too many titles in his filmography to list here, but if you have time, check out his IMDB page and get a load of some of the films Zetlin cut. As for his directing career, he only has one other film to his credit (the multi-director John Ritter flick MAN OF THE YEAR). It's a shame because while not perfect, THE DOGFIGHTERS is proof that he could've gone on to a reasonably solid directing career.

Now that I know Zetlin's editing background, it occurs to me that maybe he should've given the flick another pass at the editing table. The episodic nature sometimes makes it feel longer than it is (particularly in the third act). Thankfully, Davi's charismatic performance helps keep you entertained through the occasional lulls. – Mitch Lovell

Mitch Lovell is a frequent contributor to the print version of Exploitation Retrospect. He is also the editor of The Video Vacuum and author of several film books including the recent Double Vision: Hollywood vs. Hollywood. This is his first piece for the ER blog.

THE DOGFIGHTERS is available at Amazon and finer thrift stores everywhere. Unfortunately, I could not locate a trailer for THE DOGFIGHTERS for you to enjoy. However, you can go to YouTube and watch countless tv appearances in which Davi extols the virtues of a Trump Presidency.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

TROMA TUESDAY: CITIZEN TOXIE – THE TOXIC AVENGER IV (2000) directed by Lloyd Kaufman

If it's Tuesday it must be time for your semi-regular dose of Troma. Evan Romero is back with a look at yet another installment of the studio's trademark franchise, The Toxic Avenger.

You know what I like? CITIZEN KANE.

You know what I like more? CITIZEN TOXIE: THE TOXIC AVENGER IV, the movie CITIZEN KANE wishes it could be.

After dismissing the previous two installments as "rotten" – fuck you, I like those installments! – and billing itself as the REAL sequel, CITIZEN TOXIE opens on Take A Mexican to Lunch Day at the Tromaville School for the Very Special. All is peace and tacos – until members of the Diaper Mafia burst in and begin shooting up the school. Of course, Toxie arrives with his sidekick, Lardass (Joe Fleishaker), to save the day. A bomb set by the Diaper Mafia explodes and creates a dimensional tear. Toxie passes through this tear into Amortville – while his evil doppleganger, Noxie, passes through to Tromaville. Now, Toxie must get home and stop Noxie from wreaking havoc upon the good citizens of Tromaville – as well as witness the birth of his child. Will Toxie succeed and live to be an awesome dad? Or will he be trapped in Amortville forever while Noxie lays waste to Tromaville and its citizens?

Right off the bat Troma shows they're not here to fuck around: the massacre of special needs children and Toxie's destruction of the Diaper Mafia features enough violence and gore to satisfy even the most diehard Tomaniacs. Disembowelments, head shots, crushed heads, and even a dude getting his head shoved OUT his own ass are just some examples of Troma going right for the jugular. And it doesn't stop there: the entire movie is peppered with carnage of this sort.

Troma's usual offensive humor is here as well – which is perfectly fine for the un-P.C. amongst us (myself included). The special needs children are referred to as "tards," Lardass is an obese dude who uses food as a weapon, the police chief is depicted as a Nazi (complete with Hitler 'tache), and you even get a BLACK Nazi. Yes, Troma clearly wanted to offend everyone they could. Troma's standard social commentary is here as parodies of the media and politicians abound, though it's not laid on too thick. The humor is, as usual for Troma, hit-or-miss – but the misses don't detract from the film's entertainment value, unlike some of Troma's other releases.

And hell, even if you think the movie sucks at least you get to play Who's Who as the film is chock full of Troma alumni and other famous people. We get Eli Roth, Ron Jeremy, Al Goldstein, Hugh Hefner, Stan Lee (the narrator), James Gunn, Tiffany Shepis, Corey Feldmen and – best of all – Lemmy!

Oh, and you get Sgt. Kabukiman (not played by Rick Gianasi, unfortunately), now a drunken pervert who's extremely fun to watch. And, for the curious ones, yes, his pubic hair IS shaped just like his real hair. You'll have to watch the movie to find out how I know this – ya know, assuming you just gotta know.

And we can't forget an appearance by the Troma Dick Monster. A Troma flick just isn't complete without that vicious member popping up.

All in all, CITIZEN TOXIE: THE TOXIC AVENGER IV is a welcome addition to the series and cinema in general, and will definitely please those put off by the previous installments – though they are still awesome, regardless of what anyone says – or just folks lookin' for something to watch on a lonely Friday night.

CITIZEN TOXIE: THE TOXIC AVENGER IV is available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack. Special features include three audio commentaries, the documentary APOCALYPSE SOON: THE MAKING OF CITIZEN TOXIE, a tribute to Lemmy, and more. – Evan Romero

Evan Romero is a regular contributor to the pages of ER and spends much of his time reading morally questionable books and watching movies no sane person would touch. He is the vocalist/bassist for the punk band Porno Holocaust (you can find them on Facebook and listen to some demos if you’re inclined). You can read more of his reviews at ReelAtrocities.com or at PopHorror.com. He last wrote about GODZILLA 1985 for VHS Wednesday.

CITIZEN TOXIE: THE TOXIC AVENGER IV is available from Amazon.




Wednesday, July 27, 2016

VHS WEDNESDAY: GODZILLA 1985 (1984) starring Raymond Burr, Ken Tanaka

On Friday, July 29th The Big G returns to Japanese cinemas with GODZILLA RESURGENCE. And for those of us who complained that Gareth Edwards' 2014 GODZILLA featured too much crying Bryan Cranston and not enough, you know, Godzilla, this new flick seems to solve that problem. To celebrate the return of the big guy to the big screen Evan Romero takes a trip to the VHS vault with a look at GODZILLA 1985. 

The first Godzilla flick I watched was 1998's GODZILLA. Though I often caught bits of the originals on television, I'd never been able to actually sit and watch them for whatever reason. At first, I enjoyed the 1998 version. But my cousin, who was a huge Godzilla fan, told me I needed to watch the originals and that they were far better. I asked for a suggestion; he offered GODZILLA 1985 (the Americanized version of THE RETURN OF GODZILLA). After watching it, I was hooked, and the 1998 version began fading from memory...

Godzilla is back and just as pissed off – and is making a beeline for Tokyo. His destruction of a Russian submarine makes the Russians furious and intent on using nuclear weapons against Godzilla. The Americans are here – with journalist Steve Martin (Raymond Burr) in tow – to make the film marketable in America. However, the Japanese don't need no help against Godzilla as they have a secret weapon: Super-X, an attack plane that blows shit up. Now, Godzilla must contend with this pesky metal fly while trampling Tokyo and its citizens. Will Godzilla succeed in leveling Tokyo? Or will the Japanese utilize legit science to lure Godzilla to yet another grave?

GODZILLA 1985 was billed as a direct sequel to GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, ignoring all the installments in between. Here, Godzilla returns as the villain and as a metaphor for nuclear weapons. But we don't really give a crap about the metaphorical aspects of Godzilla: we just wanna see The Big G destroy some shit. GODZILLA 1985 delivers on this. He destroys buildings, melts tanks, stomps on pesky humans, and blows shit up with his radioactive breath. The little child in each of us will be going bonkers with glee.

Watching this as an adult, I noticed just how out of place the American-made footage is and it how much it impedes the flow of the movie. Really, the American footage is here for no reason other than marketing purposes. Hell, the only productive thing they do is stop a Russian-launched nuclear missile (this subplot was slightly altered for the American release). Other than that, it's just them tossing about ideas or making lame wisecracks or spouting hammy dialogue – or all three at once! Raymond Burr is here only to shoot down the military's ideas, look intense, and wax poetically about Godzilla. Oh, and to collect a paycheck.

The Japanese footage, on the other hand, flows smoothly and feels natural. While the characters are little more than cardboard cutouts for Godzilla to stomp on, you might actually find yourself caring about one or two of them and hope they survive Godzilla's Tokyo vacation (the one I wanted to survive, sadly, doesn't).

Despite its flaws, GODZILLA 1985 provides solid entertainment guaranteed to make you feel like a kid again. Even as an adult, it still ranks as my favorite Godzilla flick and I'll cherish it forever.

And, finally, THE RETURN OF GODZILLA is making its Blu-ray debut this September thanks to the fine folks at Kraken Releasing. Sadly though, due to legal issues, GODZILLA 1985 won't be coming with it. Still, fans should be excited to finally be able to view the original in all its Big G glory. I know I am. – Evan Romero

Evan Romero is a regular contributor to the pages of ER and spends much of his time reading morally questionable books and watching movies no sane person would touch. He is the vocalist/bassist for the punk band Porno Holocaust (you can find them on Facebook and listen to some demos if you’re inclined). You can read more of his reviews at ReelAtrocities.com or at PopHorror.com. He last wrote about SGT. KABUKIMAN NYPD for Troma Tuesday.

GODZILLA 1985 is available from Amazon and THE RETURN OF GODZILLA is available for pre-order.




Thursday, July 21, 2016

#TBT: Take a Ride on Larry Cohen's THE AMBULANCE (1990) starring Eric Roberts from ER 39

If it's Thursday it must be time for another review ripped screaming from the pages of Exploitation Retrospect: The Original 43. This week's review was inspired by a recent viewing of the film in question by ER contributor Devin Kelly. The ensuing on-line chatter about Larry Cohen's THE AMBULANCE sent me digging for issue number 39 and my original thoughts on this underrated thriller from the mind behind such classics as PERFECT STRANGERS, Q and the IT'S ALIVE films.

Like much of the work in his checkered cinematic career, Larry Cohen's THE AMBULANCE played to few (if any) theatrical audiences before making its way to video shelves. And again, like much of his recent output (THE STUFF, RETURN TO SALEM'S LOT, ISLAND OF THE ALIVE), the inattention seems unwarranted. Not that THE AMBULANCE belongs in the upper strata of Cohen flicks occupied by BLACK CAESAR, Q and IT'S ALIVE!, but it does show the same spirited junky fun that marks all of the writer / director / producer's eclectic work.

Eric Roberts – fast becoming an ER fav – stars as a Marvel Comics cartoonist who has a chance meeting with a young woman on her way to a doctor's appointment (Jeanine Turner in a chubby-faced, pre- NORTHERN EXPOSURE role). When she collapses on the street and is whisked away by a vintage ambulance, the cartoonist goes on a mission to find her. With only her first name at his disposal, Roberts continually runs into roadblocks thrown up by hospital staff, the NYPD, and his own employer (woodenly portrayed by real-life Marvel honcho Stan Lee).

Despite initial thoughts to the contrary, the story has something to do with a nefarious scheme involving the use of diabetics as guinea pigs for a scientific/white slavery ring... but it isn't really that important. In fact, the sinister plot is visibly lacking in creepiness, one of the few knocks I can make against THE AMBULANCE. Like all of Cohen's work, the flick's strength lies in the characterization, set-ups and scenes... he continually places characters that we've grown to like to seemingly inescapable, life-ending situations.

With a strong lead turn from Roberts (also great in the dreadful FINAL ANALYSIS and the loud, brilliant BEST OF THE BEST 2) and clever supporting bits from James Earl Jones and Red Buttons, THE AMBULANCE is more fun that it has any right to be. A great beer and Macanudo fick. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and a contributor to the recently published book, KLAUS KINSKI, BEAST OF CINEMA: Critical Essays and Fellow Filmmaker Interviews (McFarland). He last wrote about MARTIAL OUTLAW for VHS Wednesday.

THE AMBULANCE is available from Amazon.