Before we turn the calendar to October and kick off the 2015 installment of 31 Days of Fright, I wanted to dash off some thoughts on Mark Hartley's latest doc, a look at the legendary Cannon Films that seems to have divided fans of the wildly hit or miss studio.
Few flicks have been as highly anticipated by yours truly as Mark Hartley's warts and all look at the wild world of Golan, Globus and Cannon films as told by the people who were there.
I was there, too, but as a passionate fan of the company who willingly plunked down cash I frequently didn't have an abundance of and time I probably could have been putting to better, more productive use. But none of that mattered when there were Chuck Norris, Michael Dudikoff, Jean Claude Van Damme and Charles Bronson movies to watch!
Notorious for their penny pinching and passionate hucksterism, movie-loving Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus didn't invent the exploitation film sales model but, for a brief time, they certainly appeared to have it perfected. Films with nary a word of script would be sold to territories around the world (usually based on a poster of one of their stars holding a machine gun or samurai sword it seems) in order to finance operations and productions.
Unfortunately, what began as a truly low budget, seat of your pants operation churning out content for the multiplexes and video stores of the 80s somehow lost its way. A company that once blanched at the thought of a $30 million budget became notorious for throwing money at everyone from Sylvester Stallone (OVER THE TOP, COBRA) and Christopher Reeve (SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE) to the Dereks (BOLERO) and director Tobe Hooper, whose trio of flawed but beloved flops – LIFEFORCE (1985), TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986) and INVADERS FROM MARS (1986) – helped set the company on the course to financial disaster.
The picture painted by Hartley's documentary is one of chaos, with the cousins making seat of their pants decisions, combining disparate concepts into head-scratching wholes, chowing down off of Styrofoam plates in their offices, confusing films and people yet never acknowledging their errors, and loving today what they hated yesterday. In other words, probably what was going on at a lot of low budget film companies struggling to stay relevant as the film world slowly changed during the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Filled with often hysterical, sometimes bitter anecdotes about the company and its leaders, ELECTRIC BOOGALOO is packed with appearances from those in front of and behind the cameras who produced some of the best – and admittedly worst – sinema of my youth, including the aforementioned Hooper, MGM CEO Frank Yablans (who clearly hated the "garbage" Cannon gave him to distribute), Dolph Lundgren, script reader David Del Valle, Michael Dudikoff, Lucinda Dickey, Franco Nero, Cassandra Peterson, Richard Chamberlin, Oliver Tobias and directors Sam Firstenberg, Albert Pyun and Boaz Davidson, just to name a few. Alas, Golan, Globus, Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme and Sly Stallone are conspicuous by their absence. (The cousins, in true Golan-Globus fashion, produced a rival doc called THE GO-GO BOYS and completed it first, much like the battling break dancing flicks discussed in ELECTRIC BOOGALOO.)
I've read complaints that ELECTRIC BOOGALOO doesn't adequately celebrate what Golan and Globus accomplished, nor does it champion the love fans have for the likes of COBRA (1986) or Hooper's over-the-top horror efforts. But that's not what the picture is about and, quite frankly, it didn't bother me as it's not meant to be a love letter to the admittedly hit or miss studio.
I'm 100% comfortable in my appreciation of stuff like MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, the violently cartoonish DEATH WISH sequels and LIFEFORCE – my wife can attest that I blurted out "I LOVE that movie!" about 20 times during our screening – even in the face of those involved telling me what a flat out disaster the filmmaking process was. But that's okay, I love what I love and no amount of anyone telling me how bad it is or what a horrible experience it was will change my mind.
BOOGALOO marks the third major behind-the-scenes documentary from Hartley after the revelatory NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF OZPLOITATION! (2008) and 2010's MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! (which I found sorta "fun but meh"). Unfortunately, I don't see the uninitiated coming away from the flick with a laundry list of titles they want to track down a la NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD. In fact, seeing clips from Cannon flicks I'd never bothered to watch like SAHARA (an epically awful looking Brooke Shields vehicle), MATA HARI (with Sylvia Kristel and her boobs) or BOLERO (a then controversial skin flick from John and Bo Derek) did nothing to convince me I needed to watch them, though I did just drop $3 on a VHS of the insane looking GOING BANANAS starring Deep Roy in a role original pitched to Clyde the Orangutan from the Clint Eastwood flicks.
If I have any complaint about BOOGLOO it's that I would have liked to have heard more about Cannon productions that never happened – like SPIDER-MAN or GOLEM starring Charles Bronson – but that's a minor beef and maybe somebody out there is toiling away on a definitive oral history of such projects.
As always, your mileage may vary.
Bonus features on the disc – which I got dirt cheap from Amazon – include 25 minutes of deleted scenes (fingers crossed for more interviews with The Dude) and a half-hour of Cannon trailers. – Dan Taylor
Dan Taylor is the editor and publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and is currently working on what looks to be a massive new issue due out later this year. He loves LIFEFORCE, AVENGING FORCE and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE but hates, Hates, HATES Tobe Hooper's TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. Check out more reviews at the website and follow ER on Facebook and Twitter.
ELECTRIC BOOGALOO is available as standalone disc or as part of a Cannon 10-Pack featuring such films as INVASION USA, COBRA, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE and BLOODSPORT.