Monday, November 16, 2020

Mack Bolan, The Executioner #77: HOLLYWOOD HELL (1985)

It’s HARDCORE MEETS BOLAN as the drugged-out daughter of an up-and-coming politician gets sucked into Hollywood’s seamy underbelly of drugs, porn – and worse. When the politician finds himself being blackmailed he reaches out to The Executioner’s brother Johnny and enlists his help. 

Mack Bolan responds the only way he knows how, by conducting a one-man frontal assault on the pimps, snuff film purveyors and other lowlifes that populate the mean streets of LA. Tipped to the presence of a shadowy figure known as The Iceman, Bolan declares all-out war until he gets the info he needs to zero in on his target. 

Written by longtime Bolan series vet Mike Newton, HOLLYWOOD HELL features plenty of street level action as Bolan’s adventure takes him from a rescue of the Senator to a full-blown shootout with The Iceman and an adversary from a previous visit to The City of Angels. 

Newton’s old school prose effortlessly channels the beats of Bolan creator Don Pendelton’s influential books, balancing inner Bolan monologues on the savageness of man with talk of “parabellum manglers” and thoughts of how criminals ripped apart The Executioner’s own family, which makes this bout of urban warfare more personal than usual. 

The daylight raids and wholesale slaughter of the denizens of “Hotel Hell” might be tough to swallow at times, but Newton keeps things moving at a lightning pace over the course of 186 lean pages. 

If I had any complaint it’s that the tale builds to an epic clash between Bolan and The Iceman, only to have the latter swiftly dispatched in the book’s last few pages. That’s a minor quibble, though, and something I’ve gotten used to during this era of the series. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and he loves him some Mack Bolan. This review originally appeared in our monster 30th anniversary issue, still available at Amazon or direct from the publisher.

Hollywood Hell is available from Amazon.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Mack Bolan, The Executioner #445: FINAL ASSAULT (2015)

A quick stop at the skeevy thrift store on my way to the beach paid off with a couple new Bolans for a mere 49 cents each. I spotted BLOOD RITES (#439) first and realized that where there’s one Bolan there are probably more. 

Sure enough, amidst the discarded TWILIGHT books and pregnancy guides there was FINAL ASSAULT and its alluring tagline of “Pirates steal the spotlight on a publicity stunt gone deadly wrong.” SOLD! 

It wasn’t long before I secured my favorite spot near water’s edge and cracked open Joshua Reynolds’ taut tale of terrorists, modern day pirates and, oh yeah, Mack Bolan. 

When “sustainable technologies wunderkind” Nicholas Pierpoint hired Georges Garrand and his team of international mercs to hijack his super-yacht’s star-studded maiden voyage he assumed any publicity was good publicity. But he didn’t count on a double cross that would find him held captive on his own ship, helpless to stop an auction of the floating city to some of the world’s most dangerous criminals. 

Cue a bevy of Feds who can’t let the Demeter’s technology fall into the wrong hands and would rather see her blown to pieces, resting in a watery grave. If only there was a man capable of taking the ship back before it’s too late… 

Recruited for the gig by old pal Hal Brognola, Bolan enlists help from a band of Somali pirates in order to defeat the mercenaries, rescue the hostages and send the Demeter to the ocean floor before she can be turned into a floating – and potentially impregnable – criminal fortress. 

Reynolds’ book reads like a ready-made, action-packed Bolan film franchise entry (don’t I wish!) with sly asides to everything from DIE HARD and UNDER SIEGE to Tom Cruise (“he looked a little like a certain American movie star, the one who’d made that film about bartenders and liked to stand on couches”). 

The mercs and who’s who of international criminals are colorful and so perfectly drawn I couldn’t help but cast the film in my head as the pages breezed by. Bravo, too, to Reynolds for giving Mack some formidable foes to deal with. 

Despite knowing that nobody executes The Executioner, the final few chapters find our hero dealing with harrowing scenarios featuring tough as nails villains, near drownings and a shark feeding frenzy. 

As I looked up from the last page I could almost see Bolan and Brognola having their debriefing on the deck of a CIA-owned “fishing boat”. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and he longs for a big budget Mack Bolan flick. This review originally appeared in our super-sized 30th anniversary issue, available from Amazon and direct from the publisher.

FINAL ASSAULT is available from Amazon.

Monday, November 02, 2020

Mack Bolan, The Executioner #107: AMERICAN NIGHTMARE (1987)

The recent months seemed like the perfect time to dig out an election-themed Bolan and 1987’s prescient AMERICAN NIGHTMARE could not have been a better choice. 

With the Presidential primaries heating up, Bolan is tasked with providing beefed-up security for Senator Jack Torrance, a rising star who loves the spotlight and might just be his party’s nominee. But when a series of seemingly unrelated, gory and very publicized murders begin, The Executioner and his computer whiz sidekick must uncover Torrance’s connection to the killings. And stop the international hit team before they take out the would-be President. 

Easily one of the more brutal Executioners I’ve read, AMERICAN NIGHTMARE reads like author Mike McQuay took a time machine from the present back to 1987 in order to pen this tale of terrorists bringing their particular brand of mayhem to American shores. 

“I think that international terrorism is the greatest threat this country will face for the rest of the century,” Torrance tells Bolan during an early encounter, while head assassin Blocker (aka Freon) attempts to deflect attention from his true intentions by posing as part of an Islamic hit squad. 

Complicating matters for Bolan are the senator’s attempts to obfuscate his connection to the victims as well as a head of security who sees neither the need for nor value of Bolan. It all adds up to a satisfying and recommended action/mystery with the added bonus of Bolan. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and he hopes that the recent American nightmare is over soon. This review originally appeared in our super-sized 30th anniversary issue still available at Amazon or direct from the publisher.

American Nightmare is available from Amazon.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Mack Bolan, The Executioner #276: LEVIATHAN (2001)

When ER cover artist Neil Vokes and I started kicking around cover concepts for issue 53 we tried zeroing in on something that would tie together the issue's dual themes of Bolan and anthology flicks. From the initial phrase “Bolan vs monsters mashup” we ended up going a Lovecraftian route (“tentacles and gooey creepy stuff”) because it seemed like a great way to link the two and, in my own fateful words, “No, [Bolan’s] never done anything like that…” 

Fast forward a few moths and it comes to my attention that, well, I’m not quite right. In fact, The Executioner battled cult beasties from the dark depths in LEVIATHAN (2001), not to be confused with the Peter Weller film of the same name (itself part of the brief underwater horror craze of the late 1980s). 

After a search at the nearby Bolan-laden thrift store proved fruitless I hit Amazon, paid a whopping penny and waited for the 267th installment of the series to hit my mailbox. 

Set on an abandoned oil platform turned nation state pledged to make high-quality drugs, LEVIATHAN spins a Lovecraftian-inspired action yarn as Bolan, feisty special agent Mallory Harmon and Miskatonic University’s twitchy nano-technology expert Donovan (Don’t Call Me Herbert) West must infiltrate the CIA-funded nation/ghost platform in the seas off Bermuda to cut off the drug operations and get to the bottom of the recent attacks from the ocean’s dark, briny depths. 

Toss in a nebulous CIA revenge plot against Bolan and a bevy of Bermuda-based cult members and you’d think LEVIATHAN would add up to one of those off-beat Executioners (a la PRISON CODE and NIGHT KILL) that I love. Eh, not so much. In fact, Gerald Montgomery’s sluggish outing is probably the first Executioner adventure I’ve read that I’d recommend to completists and the curious only. 

LEVIATHAN’s problems are legion: the revenge plotline never gels; Bolan’s half-assed plan quickly falls apart and he’s easily bested by the rogue Company man running security (a guy in a Hawaiian shirt and Birkenstocks no less!); the 220-pager is padded with a pointless appearance from Bolan’s PI brother; and, Montgomery spends far too much time describing everything in exhausting detail from the various levels of the oil platform (which eventually gets needlessly confusing) to the van transporting Harmon and West to Stony Man. 

On the plus side, Harmon’s escape from the clutches of a clan of inbred Southerners is right out of a low-budget, straight-to-video serial killer movie and the author name-checks classics like THE HOWLING and JAWS. Unfortunately, all the references and pantie-clad shootouts did was make me wish I was watching (or reading) something of their ilk. Hell, I’d have settled for a re-watch of the mini-series based on Peter Benchley’s THE BEAST (also referenced) starring a pre-CSI William Petersen as “Whip Dalton” (one of my all-time favorite character names). 

What should have been a breezy read for the Halloween season turned into a dull chore. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and he wishes everybody a happy, spooky and healthy Halloween! A version of this review first appeared in our super-sized anniversary issue still available at Amazon and direct from the publisher.

The Executioner #276: LEVIATHAN is available from Amazon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Slaughter Tales VHS Inspired Horror Anthology (2012)

Sitting down to review SLAUGHTER TALES – Johnny Dickie’s VHS-inspired, shot-on-video love letter to trashy low-budget horror cinema – is not an easy task.

Sure, I could slam it for looking cheap and amateurish. But guess what? It was made by a teenager for about $65 and looks only slightly worse than, say, BOARDING HOUSE.

I could definitely complain that it’s often confusing, frequently stupid and occasionally terrible. Then again, the flick’s protagonist (played, naturally, by Dickie) refers to the film-within-a-film as “a pile of shit” and laments that “something tells me this is going to suck” while another character sports a t-shirt that reads “This Movie is Terrible”.

In other words, SLAUGHTER TALES is largely review-proof, a fact that might annoy the hell out of me if I didn’t get such a kick out of its frequently-successful attempts to meld such influences as Lucio Fulci, Andreas Schnaas and Sam Raimi.

The mayhem starts when a teen (Dickie) steals a tape titled SLAUGHTER TALES from a neighborhood garage sale. Despite warnings from a spectre who appears in his bathtub and informs him that the tape is cursed – as well as his own gut feeling that he’s in for a rough 90 minutes – the kid pops in the VHS.

What follows is a horror anthology film-within-a-film interspersed with Dickie’s own observations about what he/we have just witnessed, many of which are so harshly critical that I found myself defending the flick to the on-screen director! Like I said, it’s pretty review-proof – Uwe Boll could learn a lesson or two from this kid.

Eventually, the tape’s contents bleed from the reel world into Johnnie’s as we’re treated to corroding hands, hacked-off appendages, decapitations, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS-style slug creatures, eye violence, demonic possession and a nod to Schnaas’ VIOLENT SHIT franchise.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to praise SLAUGHTER TALES as some must-see masterpiece. There are long rough stretches, it’s occasionally hard to tell where the movie-within-a-movie ends, the reliance on “fuck” grows tiresome, and the whole thing probably could have been chopped down to a more user-friendly 75 to 80 minutes without losing any of its impact. (The jokey epilogue featuring notorious ham and Troma honcho Lloyd Kaufman feels especially expendable.)

That said, one can’t help but marvel at what Dickie accomplished with a budget that goes well below “micro”, a cast that seems to be made up mostly of the director, and a reliance on nothing but practical, old school effects (including at least one makeup gag gone wrong).

I’m definitely looking forward to checking out his latest feature – CITY OF THE DREAM DEMONS – in the hopes that Dickie is somebody to keep an eye on. I can’t help but be reminded of THE DEAD NEXT DOOR’s J.R. Bookwalter and his lengthy career as a writer, director and producer, though something tells me that Dickie is more likely to deliver ambitious, over-the-top horror a la Brian Paulin (BONE SICKNESS, CRYPTIC PLASM).

In an era when most kids his age have microscopic attention spans and a what-can-you-do-for-me sense of entitlement, Johnny Dickie gets a ton of respect for putting his $65 where his mouth is and delivering something more than a YouTube clip or viral video to share with friends.

Plus, I can’t help but dig any movie with a line like “you’re not my friend, you’re just an unholy fucktard!”. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and a total sucker for horror anthologies. This review first appeared in our super-sized 30th anniversary issue, still available at Amazon.

SLAUGHTER TALES is available from Amazon.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

VENDETTA (1986) directed by Bruce Logan

“I’m not some cryogenic fuck that warms up every time you come jammin’ around!” 

Wacky car crash movie meets women-in-prison revenge flick in Concorde’s mind-boggling VENDETTA (1986), the feature film directorial debut of longtime cinematographer and visual effects artist Bruce Logan (STAR WARS, TRON, BIG BAD MAMA and helmer of Madonna’s “Borderline” video).

Laurie (Karen Chase) is a big-haired stuntwoman working on an action flick in a small southern town. (The flick opens with a cool fire walk stunt to show off its bona fides). While the locals think the film crew is getting a bit too big for its britches, tensions spill over when Laurie’s younger sister kills a local who gets a little handsy. Prison isn’t kind to the new fish and when she runs afoul of head con Kay (character actress Sandy Martin) she gets the Russian Dissident Treatment and “falls” off a roof.

Like any good sibling, Laurie is hell bent on revenge and gets herself thrown into the same jail thanks to Judge Waters (Will Hare, the creepy Grandpa from SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT). It’s not long before she’s picking off members of Kay’s gang while she works her way up to a final confrontation with her sister’s killer.

VENDETTA’s revenge storyline is fairly pedestrian and Chase isn’t very convincing as an action star. But Logan surrounds her with a cartoonish women’s prison that feels more like a strip club, dirty dancing, bared boobs, shower scenes, creepy guards, Corman regular Roberta Collins in her big screen swan song and – wait for it – a Prince impersonator.

Martin steals the show as the randy inmate-in-charge and it’s easy to see why she has a filmography as long as her character’s rap sheet. VENDETTA doesn’t break new ground in the women in prison game but as a wild genre mash-up perfect for a beer-fueled late-night viewing it totally hits its mark. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of EXPLOITATION RETROSPECT and he wants you to know that copies of issues 52 and 53 are still available.

VENDETTA is available for streaming via Amazon Prime and on Blu-Ray (with NAKED VENGEANCE).

Thursday, April 30, 2020

MACABRE (1980) directed by Lamberto Bava

“Prepare yourself for the shock of a lifetime!” 

Our deep dive into the Baby Bava Filmography continues with a first-time screening of 1980’s MACABRE (aka MACABRO, THE FROZEN TERROR), his first full-length feature and a doozy of a debut. Based on “actual events” in the American south, MACABRE follows horny middle-aged Jane Baker (Bernice Stegers) as she ditches her bratty kids once hubby splits and heads to her love nest for a romp with her boyfriend Fred (Roberto Posse). When she gets an alarming phone call from her daughter Lucy (Veronica Zinny) the adulterous couple hop into a car, unaware that Fred will meet a tragic end that sends Jane straight into a mental hospital.

Upon release, Jane takes up permanent residence in her love nest above the home of Robert (Stanko Molnar), a blind trumpet repairman (!) who is harboring a crush on the flirty, flighty Jane. It isn’t long before Jane is unpacking her Weird Fred Shrine (complete with newspaper headlines from the accident and, um, his old credit card) and creepy Lucy starts showing up to play mind games on good old mom.

Bava, directing from a script he co-wrote with Pupi Avati – among others – maintains a leisurely pace throughout as Jane runs around in her nightie, takes baths, teases Robert, freaks out at Lucy, and has – what sounds like – ghost sex with old dead Fred. The “Southern accent” dubbing doesn’t do the flick any favors but Stegers performs with gusto and there’s plenty of bare flesh, sweat and weirdness to maintain interest.

It all comes to a head in a pretty bonkers final reel as Robert decides to get to the bottom of Jane’s mysterious lover while mother and daughter fight for title of Craziest Baker Family Member. Be sure to stick around for the shocker ending but steer clear of most of the posters and lobby cards that spoil the fun. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor/publisher of Exploitation Retrospect and he advises that if you have not seen MACABRE you should not watch the spoiler-filled trailer below! You've been warned...

MACABRE is streaming on Amazon Prime and is also available in many physical formats.