Streets of Blood

Cost: £1.96 (Play.com)

Tag-line: Confront violence with violence

Sample dialogue: “The Big Easy ain’t so easy any more…”

OK, so… New Orleans. Long known as a city of great music, great food and a lot of sleaze, it has come to be dominated (or haunted) both in reality and in pop culture by the shadow of Hurricane Katrina. Any movie or TV show set in New Orleans today will inevitably define itself as being set in New Orleans “post-Katrina”. Some projects have tried to make the setting and the aftermath of the event the whole point of their existence. Most high-profile is probably Treme, the HBO show from The Wire creators which I think is generally well-regarded, though I personally couldn’t get on board with it. Then there was the cop show K-Ville, a failure which was cancelled pretty quickly. Much lesser known is the 2009 action drama Streets of Blood, which again aimed to address the social chaos and lawlessness that ran rife in post-Katrina New Orleans, but planned to get the job done in just 91 minutes.

Good frickin' luck...

I’m not going to keep you in suspense here. It fails. It fails as an action movie. It fails as a drama. It fails as an action-drama, but it most definitely fails as a social commentary piece, if that’s even what it originally set out to be. The opening credits – played out between helicopter shots of the flooded streets and news footage of the chaos, scored to clips of speeches from George Bush – certainly make it seem like the intention.

Stick with it to the end, though, and you’ll realise this is just another low rent dirty cop double-cross flick, only more miserable, cos everyone’s all disgusted all the time by what they and their city have become.

Our protagonist here is narcotics detective Val Kilmer, first seen wading through waist-deep waters in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane to reach the bloated body of his murdered partner. The back of the DVD case will tell you he “suspects foul play and launches a full investigation”, but he doesn’t. Apparently they can say whatever they like on the back of DVD covers. Kilmer immediately forgets all about his dead partner and recruits himself a new one in the form of crap rapper-turned-crap-actor Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson.

We never get to see him alive, but I like to imagine that in flashbacks he'd have been played by Tim Allen. That could've been fun.

Together the pair set about taking down the gangs of looters, drug addicts and violent psychopaths roaming the flooded streets and abandoned buildings. Except they don’t. We almost immediately cut to SIX MONTHS LATER (boo!) by which time the flood waters have receded and the only clue to anyone watching that we’re even in New Orleans are the God-awful southern accents attempted by non-southerners like Kilmer and Sharon Stone.

Oh yeah. Sharon Stone’s in this too, playing the police psychiatrist tasked with evaluating whether any of the men employed as detectives in the town are in any way capable of doing their jobs without stealing, lying, taking drugs, torturing suspects, having sex with witnesses and plain old murdering unarmed suspects and undercover DEA agents. And she is TERRIBLE at her job. Despite the fact every cop she interviews is obviously dirty as sin, she turns a blind eye to it and even works to protect them when an FBI investigation into dirty cops turns its attention on them.

And she wears this expression for the ENTIRE movie.

So despite the fact she achieves nothing, every so often the film’s actual plot is interrupted for scenes in which Stone interviews the four (apparently the ONLY four) narcotics detectives tasked with preventing an all-out gang war. These scenes are PAINFUL, don’t advance the plot and don’t offer any insight into any of the characters, since they all just stone-wall Stone (ha!) anyway. Everyone just rolls their eyes at each other all sarcastic and cynical, saying nothing of any merit for what seems like hours. The worst are the scenes between Kilmer and Stone, when each tries to out-drawl the other, like they’re in competition with each other to see how slowly they can speak a sentence.

I’m not going to lay into Val Kilmer too much. I actually like him as an actor. I know a lot of people don’t, for whatever reasons, but give him the right material and he can still give a great performance. This is not one of those. He at least looks the part, I think. He’s not in the same kind of shape he used to be back in the day, but it at least looks like he’s given up on that competition for Hollywood’s Widest Face. But in practice he makes for about as convincing a New Orleans cop as Steven Seagal: Lawman, with an indecipherable accent to boot (seriously, I had to switch on the subtitles).

That's him on the right.

So, OK, Val Kilmer pretty much sucks in this. Sharon Stone is worse. But the crown for worst actor in the entire film is Fiddy Cent. I know he’s had a lot of criticism in the past for his work in That One Movie He Did Where He Pretty Much Played Himself Only Not Really and That Other Thing He Was In That Time but I never saw any of those, so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Would you believe it though, he really is a terrible actor. Just awful. Mumbly, blank-faced, monotone, just… just awful. It doesn’t help that they’ve handed him most of the worst lines in the script, mostly delivered in one-on-ones with Sharon Stone (acting master-class!) where he tells her “I don’t even know what the truth is any more,” or “I don’t even know what clean is any more,” or “I don’t even know what a Large Hadron Collider is any more…”

"I don't even know what acting is any more..."

So, something something gang war, something something dirty cops, something something DEA, something something mole in the department, oh WHO CARES? I was planning on writing a paragraph or two about the FBI investigation led by Michael Biehn, the film’s only saving grace, if it has one, but I can’t be bothered. I’m too pissed off now after writing about everything else that’s wrong with this piece of crap.

And sure, y’know what? Biehn does a good job, coming out of this clean even when no-one else can, but I’m not going to big him up because I don’t want people purchasing Streets of Blood and sitting through all the turgid scenes of Val Kilmer moralising and Sharon Stone being shit at psychiatry just for his performance, which is all too brief, anyway.

"Just gonna pretend I wasn't even here, are you? Man, this is like Terminator 2 all over again..."

In short, this film could have had a lot going for it, but it blows. If you want to see a good film about dirty cops and drug dealers running rings around each other in post-Katrina New Orleans, look up Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. It has all the fun, craziness and local colour Streets of Blood doesn’t, and it even has Val Kilmer and another rapper-turned-actor in Xzibit (he’s much better than Fiddy). Everyone wins!

Good movie, bad movie or beer movie: Bad movie

[John McNee]

The Alternate (2000)

Cost: £1.23 (Play.com)

Tag-line: “In the tradition of Die Hard…”

Sample Dialogue: “I’m getting tired of being killed…”

Film company Nu Image (now known as Millennium Films) have in recent years reached a certain level of respectability in the film industry thanks to movies such as The Expendables. But they are best known for picking up the market that had been left in the wake of the collapse of Golan-Globus/Cannon Films.

Make them cheap; get some famous people to come in for a few days between some proper gigs and have enough action to cut together a decent trailer is still the strategy of most B-moves. And thus it is here with The Alternate, featuring that old war horse, Eric Roberts.

Eric Roberts is one of those actors who you always enjoy seeing on the big screen, but who never really managed to rise above making cheap crap. He is perhaps best known to younger audience members for playing mob boss Maroni in The Dark Knight, and stealing the limelight from The Expendables.

Sadly he was never able to really trade in his chips that these two films gave him, and he has quickly gone back to playing roles such as that of the President of the United States in the movie First Dog, a movie about the President’s dog, which has gone missing. I hope he got a nice extension to his house for that one.

The Republican field of candidates for the 2012 election was somewhat weak...

In The Alternate he plays a character I am told is called The Replacement. This is frankly a bit up itself. I will call him Ralph instead.

The film begins with a long, long sequence in which Secret Agent Ice-T is testing the security of a building which the President is about to visit as part of his re-election campaign (which is not going well). But a team of super agents (which Ralph has just recently joined) who are there to test the security measures put in place, manage to beat the secret service and “kill” the fake-President. Ice-T is not a happy bunny. At least I don’t think he is. He isn’t a very good actor.

But none of this matters anyway, because the President’s Chief of Staff has come up with the brilliant idea of pretend kidnapping the real President to boost his election chances. To do this she recruits the team that Ralph is working for. Only problem is, the team decides that perhaps it might be better to hold him to ransom for reals. Thus the board is set, and Ralph has to take down his former partners…one by one.

The DVD proclaims that this film is in the tradition of Die Hard. A bold claim and one you know going in that it couldn’t possibly live up to. The “Hollywood DVD” banner on the cover should be enough of a clue.

But you have no idea how bad this film is.

The kidnapper’s big plan to take out the secret service? Smuggling in blow pipes with little darts and knocking them all out. There is what feels like a ten minute sequence of people running around blowing darts. None of the secret service agents, who are equipped with actual guns, notice this bunch of characters standing in front of them.

Ice-T leaves the film early, his weekend’s worth of shooting wrapped up quickly. Following him, Michael Madsen enters the frame, in the role of Cop On The Outside Who Talks to the Hero on a Walkie-Talkie.

What? I actully get to live with Frankie from the X-factor for 2 weeks!?! Sign me up!

But for the most part the film is Eric Roberts vs. the main bad guy, played by Bryan Genesse, who is also the films writer and fight coordinator.  What this means is never ending monologues from Genesse who either genuinely believes that this stuff is script writing gold, or knows he has to pad out the film to fulfil a 90 minute run time.

Writer. Poet. Action Hero.

There isn’t very much to talk about. The shoot outs are mostly in small rooms, and no one gets hurt. Roberts does get the snot beaten out of him in one, kind of decent, fight in which a female member of the team beats him with a pipe (I like to think Genesse thought that was clever subtext. He typed that scene, got himself a drink and relaxed for the rest of the day), but it is mostly just dull and cheap.

Part of the problem is that most of the bad guys are taken out early. If you are claiming that your film is like Die Hard, then you should appreciate that one of things that made Die Hard so good was Alan Rickman’s gang, and how their deaths were spread across the film in order to keep tensions high. If McClane had killed all the henchmen, and it was just him and Gruber running around Nakatomi Plaza for most of the running time then you get an idea about what this film is like.

Why have a burger when you can have steak?

Director Sam Firstenberg, who made the film Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, doesn’t seem much bothered by things such as continuity or moving the camera. Everything is directed in a flat unengaged style, which doesn’t help to hide the cheapness of the production.

I saw The Alternate over a month ago, and it has taken this long to actually type up the review because I was so utterly bored by it. On the Millennium Films website, they list the film, but do not provide a trailer. I cannot say that I blame them.

Good movie, bad movie or beer movie: Bad Movie

[Robert Girvan]

The Silencers

Cost: £1.26

Tag-line: The government denied they exist. The men in black are among us!

Sample dialogue: “So, you’re the human responsible for my delirious ride…”

There was a wonderful period some time between the late-80′s and mid-90′s when, for just a small amount of money, a Hollywood film director was able to smash up as many cars and blow up as much shit as he wanted, with hardly a single computer generated effect in sight.

The advent of CGI, while often lauded for making stunts and spectacle much cheaper, seems to a layman like me to have done the opposite. Recent stunts combining on-set vehicular destruction and CGI wizardry in films like Drive Angry, Transformers and Fast & Furious (I’m specifically thinking of the nonsense with the rolling oil truck) manage to be ludicrously expensive while looking fake as shit.

How great it is then, to discover a director like Richard Pepin, whose peak was in the early Nineties with a string of action B-movies, with the emphasis heavily on the action, at the expense of just about everything else.

Pictured: Action. And nothing else.

Take, by way of example, his hugely ambitious sci-fi conspiracy adventure The Silencers, which hit the shelves of video stores around the world in 1996. With what was, I’m sure, a fairly modest budget, Pepin adopted a very respectable strategy – don’t waste money on the script or on any big name movie stars. Spend it on car chases, gun fights and great big explosions.

To suggest that the plot of The Silencers doesn’t make sense would be unfair. The huge amount of exposition expunged in the five minute interludes between action sequences (only half of it in English, the rest in some invented and subtitled alien language) probably plugs up the plot holes about as well as you could hope. It’s difficult to say. After the first cow gets zapped into the air and hauled into a sinister space ship you’re probably going to stop paying attention to little things like plot.

"Ha-ha-ha! Did you see that bit with the cow? What the fuck are we even watching this shit for?"

In broadest possible terms, there are several members of an alien race called the Marcabians living in secret on Earth, in cahoots with the US government to open a portal to their own world and covering up all their evil deeds by masquerading as ‘Men In Black’, turning up at the scene of UFO sightings and wiping the memories of all involved.

We first see the MIB’s in action at a farmhouse in 1966, where some little green men have just murdered the male farmer and made off with one of his cattle, in that order. The cow, for her part, seems nonplussed. When the MIBs turn up, appearing out of a shimmering haze in a black sedan, they tell the farmer’s widow “This never happened”. Then they’re away again. I’d love to be able to tell you this prologue has any relevance for the rest of the film, but it doesn’t.

The movie doesn’t really kick off till we meet secret service agent Rafferty (Jack Scalia), assigned to protect a Senator attending a church choir performance who’s been receiving a whole heap of death threats. If I were a Senator receiving shit-loads of death threats, I might just go ahead and skip the church performance, but this chap won’t be dissuaded. He’s only been in the church a matter of moments though, when a team of heavily-armed assassins burst in, led by the evil alien Lekin, who looks and dresses like Michael Jackson circa ‘You Rock My World’.

Hey, we'd all like to just forget this happened. Amiright?

What follows is the first of many extended, over-the-top action sequences, as Rafferty’s men face off against Lekin in hand-to-hand combat and gunfights within the church, out on the street, into a shopping mall, finally climaxing on a runaway subway train (because when the senator your assigned to protect is under gunfire, the obvious thing to do is hurry him onto some public transport and just forget about the ten or so limos sitting right outside). As I said, it’s an ambitious film.

And if you enjoy that, you’re gonna just love the nearly ten-minute-long highway chase, as the MIB’s black sedans and helicopters descend on Rafferty’s military convoy (delivering a super secret payload), switching lanes into oncoming traffic and wrecking what feels like fifty cars in the process. It’s deliriously smash-happy stuff. The kind of action scene I would frequently create on the rug with my own toy cars when I was 5, but never got to see so accurately and lovingly recreated on film.

It's better than this photo makes it look. Seriously.

At the end of this exhausting sequence, Rafferty appears to be the only survivor, when out of the wreckage comes Comdor (Dennis Christopher), the super-secret payload I mentioned. Comdor is a noble warrior from another alien race, sent to Earth to defeat the evil Marcabians. At this point, The Silencers gives up almost any pretence to being a gloom-laden sci-fi conspiracy thriller and becomes a mismatched buddy movie, with Rafferty and Comdor teaming up to take down Michael Jackson, Clarence Williams III’s plastic doppelganger and anyone else connected to the Marcabians’ invasion plan. Hooray!

If I sound like I’m being remarkably kind to The Silencers, that’s only because the film is so much damn fun! For all the exposition-heavy clunk, it employs a very successful formula, which demands that every five minutes of dialogue scenes be followed immediately by five minutes of explosions, car chases and gunfights. And once Rafferty and Comdor are introduced, the dialogue scenes become much more bearable. Dennis Christopher genuinely puts his all into the role as the endlessly polite and enthusiastic Comdor, ridiculous as he is, while Jack Scalia… well, Jack Scalia can scream “NOOOOO!” really well and cocks a cynical eyebrow like nobody’s business.

See?

There’s plenty of stuff here that’s not great. The plot is ridiculous, the dialogue stupid, the acting, (beyond Christopher) is pretty terrible. The action, too, while hyper-energetic and always well-shot, is often not very well edited, leading to some pretty confusing sequences, though for anyone familiar with modern frenetic chop-editing techniques this is nothing new.

But there’s just so much going on and it’s all as entertaining as holy hell. I’ve not even got space to go into the sub-plots about Rafferty’s home life, the hot journalist working to uncover the conspiracy, the second act detour into a ufologists convention, or the infuriatingly hypocritical scene where Comdor is disgusted by the sight of Rafferty’s young child playing with toy soldiers. After all, Comdor, he’s just a kid playing a game. You’re the one who’s shot about forty people dead in the last two hours. Be disgusted with yourself!

"ACTING!!! I'M AAAAAAAAACTING!!!!"

Worse yet is his pious lecture to the kid about finding things other than GI Joe to entertain himself: “Bobby there are so many things that you could play besides war games and pretend killing. There’s books and art, science and music. There are so many things.”

“But that’s boring,” says Bobby. And good for him. Nobody needs a stern talk about pursuing more intellectual pass-times in a film where you’re never more than five minutes from another gunfight. Don’t damn yourself, The Silencers. There’s plenty of people who’ll do that for you. Be proud of yourself. Books, art, science and music may be boring. But this ain’t.

Good movie, bad movie or beer movie: Beer movie

[John McNee]

The Black Cobra

Cost: £2.99 (Play.com)

Tag-line: There’s muscle in his venom and fire in his heart!

Sample dialogue: “I’m not doing it for you. I’m just doing it.”

Going into 1987 Italian crime thriller The Black Cobra, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Fred Williamson is the Black Cobra of the title, given that his name and face are on the poster, and he appears to be referenced in the tag-line. But you’d be wrong. Nobody ever calls him Black Cobra. He’s just plain old Detective Robert Malone. The Black Cobra of The Black Cobra is, in fact, a murderous motorcycle gang intent on tracking down the female witness to one of their crimes, not at all dissimilar to the evil motorcycle gang in early Sylvester Stallone vehicle Cobra. Confused yet?

In a way, this gets me thinking about the Pink Panther franchise (and please bear with me here). If you’ve seen the original Pink Panther you’ll know that Inspector Clouseau was not the Pink Panther. The Pink Panther was a priceless jewel sought after by David Niven. And the sequel, which resurrected the character of Clouseau, was called A Shot In The Dark, with no mention of any brightly-coloured panthers at all. But then to keep the franchise going it became necessary to work the phrase into each title, leading to Revenge of the Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Son of the Pink Panther (eeuch!), much in the same way that the continuing adventures of Detective Robert Malone are chronicled in Black Cobra 2 and Black Cobra 3: Manilla Connection.

Which is all confusing enough before you even get into the deal with the cartoon pink panther, who appeared in the titles of each film before launching a TV career of his own with the Pink Panther Show and it’s ridiculously awesome theme tune. You know the one: “Here he is, the Pink Panther! The rinky-dink panther! And it’s as plain as your nose! That he’s the one and only truly original panther pink from head to toe!” Remember that kid with the car? He was about eight years old! Who the Hell was letting him drive that thing?

Fred Williamson is not impressed with my review so far...

Anyway, what I really want to talk to you about is The Black Cobra and I might as well start with the Black Cobra gang itself, led by gold-toothed career criminal Snake. There’s a scene early on where this gang of supposed bad-asses (who all look like rejects from a Calvin Klein underwear shoot) spy a truck on the beach they like the look of. They immediately concoct and execute a plan to steal the vehicle from its owners, managing to do so entirely without words. If there had been dialogue, however, I imagine it would have gone like this:
SNAKE: All you guys distract the girl while I steal the truck.
GANG MEMBER: How do we distract her?
SNAKE: By RAPING her, obviously.
GANG MEMBER: Ah. Yes. I can see how that might be distracting.
SNAKE: I will then use the truck to run down the girl’s windsurfer boyfriend.
GANG MEMBER: But boss… The girl’s windsurfer boyfriend is out windsurfing. How can you expect to run him down?
SNAKE: Don’t worry ’bout it.

Actually... you know what? Close enough.

In the event, the windsurfing kid does indeed get knocked off his board by a truck, which is something I’ll admit I’ve never seen in a movie before. Doesn’t that sound like something you’d like to see? A windsurfer getting knocked down by a truck while he’s windsurfing? It doesn’t kill him, but the following shotgun blast to the back does. To keep the party atmosphere going, the gang head to a house in a residential neighbourhood, break in and murder the home-owners. However, photographer Elys Trumbo (great name) sees the whole thing go down and runs to the cops.

Fearing for her safety, the authorities draft in Detective Malone to protect her. Actually, you know what? Fuck it. Fearing for her safety, the authorities draft in Detective BLACK COBRA to protect her. There. That’s better.

"Ya daaamn right."

At this stage, Elys Trumbo is still in the hospital, suffering from shock, and I don’t know what the authorities are so concerned about, because they’ve already posted a single uniformed police officer outside her door. And really, in all the action movies and thrillers you’ve seen over the years in which a police officer has been posted outside an imperilled character’s hospital room, can you think of a single instance where that hasn’t worked? Can you? I sure can’t. It’s an absolutely foolproof system that no villain can beat.

Unless you count Snake and his buddies, of course, who take the cop down in a matter of moments. But really, you can’t fault the police. No-one could possibly have foreseen that three drugged-up shotgun-wielding psychopaths would have been able to overpower a single under-equipped beat cop. Luckily, Black Cobra is only a few steps behind and manages to at least save the girl.

"SURPRISE, motherfuckers! I was in the trunk the whole time!"

Now, here’s a few things we know about Detective Black Cobra:

  1. He has a fussy cat.
  2. He smokes cigars.
  3. He hates the noise of a woman crying.
  4. He prefers milk to bourbon.
  5. He thinks criminals are “human garbage” and prefers to shoot them dead whenever possible.
  6. He never knew his parents.
  7. He was adopted by a lonely old man, who ended up getting robbed and killed for seven lousy dollars.
  8. He served a stint in Vietnam, where he won every medal going.
  9. “He’s not a bad guy. His battle with crime goes back a long way.”
  10. He’s got an awesome ‘tache.

That’s actually quite a lot to unpack for the main character, when all anybody really needed to do was go: “It’s Fred Williamson with a gun,” and that would have been enough. We don’t need all this background colour. It doesn’t inform the plot at all, which is as simple and streamlined as it could be. Snake and Black Cobra dance around each other for the majority of the film, before a final one-on-one showdown at an abandoned warehouse (well, it was the 80′s, after all).

None of this is exactly great film-making, but it fairly zips along with a few surprisingly engaging action sequences and clocks in at a lean 86 minutes. The film’s greatest asset (aside from its genuinely bad-ass synth theme) is Detective Black Cobra himself, Fred Williamson. This guy rocks in everything he ever made and the weakest parts of the film are the parts where he isn’t on camera. Even if he’s not the greatest actor in the world, he succeeds because he exudes charisma, confidence and general bad-assery.

PICTURED: Charisma, confidence and general bad-assery. Also: cat.

In fact, you know who Fred Williamson reminds me of (and I mean this seriously)? Jason Statham. The pair of them share the same ability to portray a hard-as-nails, could-easily-whup-your-ass action hero while all the time letting the audience know that they know that what they’re doing is inherently ridiculous.

Before I wrap up, I just want to say a word or two about the quality of the DVD this came on. I’ve watched a fair few films now bought for £3 or less and never seen the cheapness have much impact on the actual film. This time it did. Piss poor transfer with terrible picture and sound quality and – I’m convinced – certain shots actually edited out. Awful, awful DVD. I hope it’s not a problem that persists with the DVD releases of Black Cobra 2 and Black Cobra 3 (which I will inevitably be picking up).

Good movie, bad movie or beer movie: Beer movie

[John McNee]

Skinned Deep

Cost: £1.09 (Play.com)

Tag-line: Meet the Surgeon General

Sample dialogue: “You are a pathetic manifestation of everything desperate, using violence as a ridiculous speed-bump in the courtesies of daily social graces. I am attraction, lust, courtship, conquest, flirtation, penetration, conception. I am progress. I am inertia. I am strength. Behold… creation!”

I’m going to badly date this review for anyone who stumbles upon it a few months (or even years) down the line, but I want to start by mentioning that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s much-hyped new sitcom Life’s Too Short premiers tonight on BBC2. It stars Warwick Davis as a version of himself – a famous dwarf actor who gained prominence in worldwide smashes like Return of the Jedi and Willow but has been reduced to prostituting himself out in exploitative dross to try and pay the bills.

That’s a promising premise for a sitcom – which I’m sure is destined to do for Davis what Extras did for Barry from Eastenders – but it’s also not far from the truth. Warwick Davis has done an incredible amount of shit over the years, much of which lands squarely in beermovieguide’s wheel-house.

At the end of the shoot, Warwick was allowed to keep any of the plates he hadn't smashed. He was glad to get them.

In honour of Davis’ new show – which will hopefully close the book on this unfortunate portion of his career – I thought it’d be fun to examine one of these films, Skinned Deep, and his character within it, the psychotic crockery-obsessed killer Plates. As indicated by his name, Plates’ weapon of choice when it comes to dispatching his victims is… um… plates, which he hurls by the dozen with manic glee. But what is the root of this obsession? Happily, the screenwriters took the time to pencil in a grand-standing speech – and boy does Davis lap it up – where Plates outlines his unique perspective on the universe. In case you never actually watch Skinned Deep (and really, in all likelihood, why on Earth would you?), I present the monologue in its entirety below:

“The cherished enamel. The porcelain. It’s like a society. Every molecule an individual. Like me. But, when unified, a structure takes shape. A circular vessel for distributing organic nourishment. We, like this plate, gain strength in numbers. We thrive in a herd environment. We feed off one another, aggressively growing in numbers, until one day…”

He’s unfortunately cut off before he can finish, but I seriously doubt there’ll be anything in Life’s Too Short that can compete with it. Anyway, this all ignores the fact that Davis is neither the star, nor the main antagonist in Skinned Deep. He’s just one member of a whole family of crazed mutant killers. Chief among these is the Surgeon General – a character specifically designed to take his place among the ranks of horror icons such as Pinhead, Freddy and Jason. “Meet the Surgeon General,” screams the tag-line. “Meet the Surgeon General,” says the trailer (more than once). He’s presented as though he’s destined to become a cult hero for a generation… all of which ignores the fact that, in practice, he’s pretty shit.

Which reminds me... I really must remember to Sky Plus the next 'Snog, Marry, Avoid'.

I do not begrudge the film’s marketers making everything they could of this guy, however. He does have kind of a cool look – with the bear-trap for a mouth and all – and if you picked up a copy of the DVD it’s almost certainly because you were drawn in by his image on the cover. However, that image is not entirely representative of the finished film, which is far stranger than the cover implies.

We open on an old man in his car, driving down a lonely road on a dark and stormy night. A pick-up truck races up behind him and look who’s in the back! It’s the Surgeon General, swinging a hook on a chain around his head. He tosses this through the old man’s window and spears him in the leg, causing the car to crash.

There’s something very subdued about all this. It’s probably intended to be incredibly exciting, but something in the editing, the sound design, just the whole way it all comes together, is off. It sort of sits there, flat, on the screen, almost bored with itself. It’s a problem that persists with the rest of the film’s action scenes. There’s no signal of Skinned Deep’s true potential till the camera moves in on the flipped car and the bloodied and bruised old man. As the Surgeon General swaggers in for the killing blow, we cut to a candle-lit bedroom, where an oiled-up muscle man is flexing his muscles. Then back to the Surgeon General. Then – no rhyme or reason – back to the greasy muscle man. Then back to the Surgeon General. Then death. Roll titles.

Okay. This is a kind of crazy I could maybe get on board with.

"Soooo..... You been watching any of that 'True Blood'?"

Our next potential victims are a holidaying family: Turgid bore and Zach Galifianakis look-a-like Dad, his horrible wife, his horrible son and his horrible (but could maybe be hot if she put some effort in) teenage daughter. After ‘accidentally’ blowing a tire on the road the family are invited into the house of an old woman apparently drafted in from a David Lynch movie – along with her creepy over-dubbed voice.

Her home is a carpet-less Steptoe and Son nightmare, bedecked in a junkyard mish-mash of model aeroplanes, work tools, strange old trinkets and – bleh! – wood panel walls. “This is a really nice place you got here,” Zach lies to the woman, before telling his kids: “C’mon, kids! It’s just a normal house,” as though they’re both blind as well as moronic. Presented with a room full of decapitated dolls heads, beads, fairy lights, keys, broken telephones on bits of string and newspaper clippings pasted to the walls, Zach turns to his wife, grins, and says: “See? I told you this place was normal!” Some might unfairly perceive this as the film-makers’ attempts to smack their audience over the head with how ‘in-on-the-joke’ they are, but I take a different view. My own interpretation is that there’s a subtle subtext here, which is that the Dad’s on some kind of pills and currently… ahem… ‘tripping balls’.

"Ironically, the reason I brought us out on this trip is so I could get over the death of my other, secret family!"

The family sit down at the dinner table and are introduced to the rest of the old woman’s clan: The Surgeon General (now wearing that old man’s face as a mask), Plates (who “just loves his little corner”) and Brain, who enters with a tray of raw, human flesh (dinner) and a burlap sack covering his own deformed head. Dad immediately tucks in without the slightest trepidation, confusion or terror regarding anything he has seen and I must say that it is refreshing, in this day and age, to see that kind of tolerance and open-hearted display of friendship. It brought a tear to my eye.

At this point, I was enjoying the interesting route Skinned Deep was taking, and quite prepared to settle in for the story of a man who quite by chance finds himself in the home of a group of sadistic cannibal freaks and, by virtue of his own good manners and eagerness to make friends with others, ends up having a lovely time. It would be a rare treat, it really would. Unfortunately, Zach’s family let him down, starting with his vegetarian daughter Tina (seriously, it’s always the vegetarians who ruin everything), who turns her nose up at the “slop” she’s presented and openly insults her hosts. Zach’s horrible wife then takes out a camera and – without asking permission – begins snapping away at the less than photogenic (and understandably camera-shy) Surgeon General.

He responds to this faux pas in the only way that is proper (as set out in the Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette) by leaping up onto the table and slicing the daft broad’s neck open.

He didn't use the correct knife, but in certain instances it's better just to let these things go.

He then kills Dad (also etiquette) and the boy (slicing him clean in half, long-ways, through his centre parting), but Tina is saved by Brain, who argues that she “must be preserved”. Horny old dog that he is. So she becomes Brain’s prisoner and he sets about seducing her with finger soup, picnics and motorcycle lessons. She in turn tries to manipulate him into helping her escape. In all, there are two clear possible outcomes. Either she joins the family or she kills them all and breaks free. Anyone watching knows where this is all headed, but the film takes its sweet time in getting there.

In the meantime we get to endure encounters with other family members (the Creator, Octo-baby), a bit of full-frontal male nudity and the violent retribution of an elderly biker gang. Every sequence is shot through with an uncanny weirdness. The viewing experience is a kind of discombobulated fugue, and you know you should turn it off and get on with your life, but you can’t bring yourself to turn away from its cheap brand of paint-huffing lunacy, like one of those sweaty fever dreams you can’t wake up from and are too embarrassed to describe to your therapist in the morning. In fact, Skinned Deep is almost designed as a film to watch, forget about and then half remember in ten years time as you wonder to yourself: “Is that a real film or did I dream all that?”

"Now that I've helped murder your entire family I'm guessing you probably want to have sex with me. You slut."

All this craziness, both in terms of the story and the headache-inducing manner in which it’s filmed, are bound to earn the director criticism for ‘trying too hard’ and over-reaching himself, but you know what? Every once in a while it’s nice to see someone trying too hard. It’s a damn sight better watching a film where everyone’s tried too hard than one where nobody’s tried at all.

A hillbilly horror, experimental art-house project and Troma-style gross-out comedy all rolled up into one baffling ball, Skinned Deep plays like Eraserhead retrofitted for beer-swilling idiots (like me). As such, it’s not going to please everyone, and plenty will struggle with the pace, uniformly terrible acting and general incoherence of it all. However, for less than £3 you are guaranteed to find nothing else like it and you never know… maybe it’ll be your kind of crazy too.

Good movie, bad movie or beer movie: Beer movie

[John McNee]

One Man Force

Cost: £2.99 – double feature with Blue Jean Cop (Review here- http://beermovieguide.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/blue-jean-cop-aka-shakedown/ )

Tag line: No one enforces the law…like he does!

Sample dialogue:  “I’m going to blow off your head, and shit in your throat!”

Ah, the 80s cop movie. Where would we be without you? Detectives that don’t play by the rule book, goofy sidekicks, angry police chiefs and Al Leong, are all usually present and correct. In the background there’s a wailing sax and the final fight tends to be in an abandoned warehouse/container ship.

And so it is with One Man Force. Sort of. Al Leong isn’t in it. But for the most part it sticks to the 1980s cop formula.

Not in this film.

Former NFL player John Matuszak plays Jack Swan (when did script writers lose the ability to give their lead characters cool sounding names anyway?), a cop who is trying to bring down a Mexican drug cartel in LA.

The film opens with what looks like the start of a cool action scene at a bar. A masked man enters through the back, and sees a woman and man talking behind the counter. A customer is having an early morning drink.  The masked man announces his presence by shouting “I’m going to kill you sucker!” which, let’s be fair, is not one of the most memorable opening lines to a movie.

Everyone dives for cover as bullets start flying. Each of the participants gets hit…at which point it is revealed that it is just paintballs. The masked man is our hero, and the couple behind the bar are his partner (played by Flash Gordon himself, Sam Jones) and his partner’s wife. They all have a good laugh, while the customer has a heart attack and collapses.

Now this confuses me on a number of levels. Firstly, this is an impromptu paintball match, which leads me to think this is what they do all the time. Secondly, paintballs hurt – surely putting your customers in the crossfire isn’t good for business, unless you advertised yourself as a paintballing pub, of course. Which would actually be amazing, (Take a Shot, Then Take a Shot!) and I have totally copyrighted that idea. The third point is – bottles of spirits are broken in this game.  Flash Gordon doesn’t seem too bothered by this loss of income. But who can blame him when there are bad guys to hunt down?

Swan and Flash meet with their Chief, played with the usual aplomb by acting legend Ronny Cox (Robocop, Total Recall). They want permission to go to a warehouse that they have been tipped off is where the drugs are being smuggled into the city. Of course Ronny Cox, being Ronny Cox, needs more than vague tips. He needs facts goddammit!

This is a perfectly valid point. You can’t have cops running around trying to solve cases on the basis of what some untrustworthy tipster has said. They need evidence, facts. That is the sort of police service I want.

Being that this is not The Wire, Swan and Flash don’t like this, and so go off to the factory anyway. There is a gun fight, and Flash gets shot square in the chest, dying in Swan’s arms. Swan enraged, lifts up a huge refrigerator and crushes the man that killed his partner.

Sorry Brian, but Gordon is most definitely not alive in the film.

(It should be pointed out that John Matuszak was a bear of a man, and not in the sense of Arnie or Sly, with biceps. He was just a bear. A huge man. Not what you would call a traditional action lead. Most of you will never have heard of his name before, but you will be familiar with his greatest role, that of Sloth, in the Richard Donner motion picture The Goonies.)

After crushing one of the henchmen, the leader of the drug cartel (who has a pencil thin moustache and drives a car that comes out of the 1930s) tries to attack our hero, but fails, and escapes.  Swan holds Flash in his arms, and carries him out, in a scene where you expect a romantic tune to start playing. A… ‘Swan-song’, perhaps? (No applause, please.)

Now Swan is without a partner, and is put on leave from the force. He needs to deal with his partner’s son, who is into drugs, and is one of those annoying kids who tries to act like a punk but never pulls it off.  But mostly he wants to bring his version of justice down on the whole criminal system.

While all this is happening the TV announces that a pop star has been kidnapped. The pop star is played by Stacey Q. I wasn’t sure who Stacey Q was, but a look on YouTube and Wikipedia has revealed that this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aINmJ5ieM6Y was her most popular song. I have never heard of it before. Have you? Let us know in the comments section.

Ring any bells to anyone? Anyone?

A man who claims to be Stacey Q’s manager comes to Swan, asking for help to track down his client. Getting a tip-off from his buddies at the force, Swan heads to a nightclub to find out more.

The 1980s Action Movie Nightclub is a weird thing to behold.  You wonder if nightclubs in LA really did resemble the Blue Oyster Bar as seen in the Police Academy series, or if they were what people who took a lot of drugs thought they looked like. This one seems to have been a club for gay men, but then there are some women around, and whips and chains, and what appears to be a cameo from Don Estelle, of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum fame.

Is whipped in this film. I can sense you all going to Amazon to buy the movie now.

This being an 80s cop movie, the whole bar ends up attacking Swan, who uses poor old Estelle by swinging him around on his chain, like a helicopter blade, knocking out the attacking patrons. But he is nearly overwhelmed, until saved by the late, great, Charles Napier, and his pal, a couple of undercover cops. We will be hearing more from them later on.

It turns out that the man claiming to be Stacy Q’s manager, was in fact NOT (gasp), and he is found dead the next day. This movie has layers and layers. Swan is convinced it is all connected to his partner’s death. Cox, again, wants actual evidence to back this up.

A bunch of other stuff then happens (please know, I too am aware of the word count) including a car chase where Swan goes after the informant who tipped them off about the drugs in the first place. As the car crashes, and explodes, Swan spits out the immortal line: “Damn, I forgot to bring my marshmallows!”.

He also teaches his partner’s son to say NO to drugs and trains him to fight the dealers still wanting money off him. The two of them train in a mini-montage sequence, and the whole thing feels disconnected to the main plot, mostly resembling a PSA about how drugs are bad (The best of which was done by Clint Eastwood can be viewed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cic9djMyVl4 ).

In another memorable scene, Swan is being chased the Mexican gang through a block of flats. He knocks on a door of a woman, asking her to come in because he’s a cop. She instantly agrees to do so. And, more than that, strips off, throws him onto her bed, and answers the door to the drug gang half-naked, telling them to scram. This lady must be very trusting to do all of this, without any evidence or knowledge that Swan is actually a cop. He must just have a trusting face.

We also get to see Swan engage in the art of seduction at an upper-class nightclub. There is not much more disturbing than seeing a 7ft giant of a man, trying to dance in a nightclub, and gyrating with a woman half his height, and one tenth his body weight. But she is into it, so what do I know. LA is an odd town.

Who wouldn't want to see a movie with this guy playing a cop?

Thankfully there is no sex scene as it turns out Swan has been set up. Taken to a ranch where Stacey Q is also being held, he is beaten up, and then put into a box. Why they don’t shoot them before doing so, we never find out.

Swan escapes from this and the film barrels along to its conclusion. Stacey Q, and the lady that fooled Swan end up dead. We find out that Charles Napier and his partners are in a conflict with the drug gangs, and they kidnapped her for leverage. Why Charles Napier is worried about a pop star we never find out.

At the end there is a confrontation in an abandoned warehouse (yay!) where Richard Lynch pops up as the boss. It is also revealed that Ronny Cox is in cahoots with them all. He has big debts in Las Vegas. This teaches me to trust in the law.

There is a big gun fight, with explosions befit for such an occasion. Napier gets electrocuted. Ronny Cox is killed by an explosion throwing him off a platform. Napier’s partner is killed by Swan crushing him with a Pepsi machine. The best death is reserved for Lynch, who is throw from a roof, his leg caught in a rope, and swings in and out of a massive fire, slowly barbecuing. Pretty sweet death scene, it has to be said.

Richard Gere wants his movie back.

One Man Force ticks all the boxes. Yes, everything in this film has been done elsewhere, and better. But that doesn’t matter. It still does things well. John Matuszak is actually insane in the role. His eyes bulge when he shouts. He rants about the drug dealers destroying the lives of kids, and he screams: “YOU…KILLED…MY…PARTNER!!!”

It is a compelling performance. Sadly we were never able to find out what sort of career John Matuszak would have had after this film, as he passed away the year it was released.

Good movie, bad movie or beer movie? Beer movie

[Robert Girvan]

Alienator

Cost: £2.25 (Play.com)

Tag-line: The ultimate terminator.

Sample dialogue: “Yeah! Yes! Yes! Look! Colonel! The net’s created a perpendicular magnetic pole! It’s siphoning off her electrons in alignment with the Earth’s axis!”

You know what I love? A good written intro or ‘opening crawl’ to a film. Alienator has a great one: “In a far off corner of the galaxy, a well-armed rebel battalion ambushes the armies of the Great Tyrant, Baal.”

So far this is all good stuff. It continues: “A massacre ensues. Thousands of innocents perish, and the leader of the rebellion, Kol, is captured and sentenced to die. Today, on a dark prison planet, where no man has ever escaped, the Commanding Executioner prepares to send his prisoner straight to hell.”

I love all that shit. We then open on the Commander himself, Jan Michael Vincent (Airwolf, The Mechanic) who is enthusiastically looking forward to exactly two things – a) executing Kol, and b) sticking it to P.J. Soles. One of these endeavours is more noble than the other.

Swoon...

The Commander is soon joined by a delegate from a non-violent star system who opposes capital punishment and wanders around spouting smug, derisive comments at everyone, like a vegan at a barbecue. Completely by chance, Kol then breaks out and makes a bid for freedom, sparking off a laser battle that develops through various locations within what is meant to be the interior of a space prison, but looks like the interior of a water treatment centre. I should also point out that everyone here is technically an alien, but they all appear recognisably human, with the possible exception of Jan Michael Vincent, who looks like some kind of varnished lizard. I don’t think that’s a make-up job, though.

This whole section is pretty fun in a nostalgic way that makes me pine for the cheap-ass space battles and model work of 70′s-era Dr Who and Blake’s 7. Kol escapes in a cardboard ship and takes off into space, while the Commander launches the ‘Hunter’ to pursue him. For a moment it looks like we’re in for a galaxy spanning space opera, with Kol struggling to stay one step ahead of the Hunter and regroup with his rebellion buddies to launch a final all-or-nothing attack on Baal. But it’s not to be. He immediately crash-lands on planet Earth, circa 1989 and our fun space romp takes a dive into the toilet.

The next batch of scenes introduce us to the various cannon fodder characters we’ll be spending most of the rest of the movie with. Some college kids, the local game warden, a pair of red-neck poachers and the vodka-sozzled Doc Burnside, played by the fantastic Robert Quarry. You might recognise Quarry from any number of great TV shows and films (my own favourite being Dr Phibes Rises Again) but here he is wasted in a thankless and minor role.

He’s not the only genuinely talented actor to be completely underutilised, either. Genre fans might get excited to see Joe Pilato (Day of the Dead) appear, but he doesn’t get anything very interesting to do. Halloween/Carrie alumnus P.J. Soles fairs a little better in the role of Tara, whose boob-emphasising dress is only slightly less revealing than that of the Alienator herself.

Um................ swoon?

I guess this is as good a place as any to talk about the Alienator, or ‘Hunter’ (she’s never referred to as “Alienator” in the film). In the broadest possible spectrum of shitty monsters with shitty costumes – and I’m including the realms of Turkish and Bollywood exploitation in this – the Alienator must be one of the shittiest, almost as though that’s the intention. I find it impossible to believe that anyone designed her outfit – black rubber boots and underwear with a pair of silver dog bowls over the boobs, a silver eye mask and a white, heavy metal wig – with an eye to anything other than the ridiculous. No-one designed that thinking it looked scary or bad-ass. It has to be a joke. But if it is a joke, why is the film around it so po-faced?

There is only one sensation I feel when looking at the Alienator and it’s not dread, amusement or even – God forbid – arousal. It’s embarrassment. That’s the only appropriate response and it never goes away. It never stops being embarrassing. A quick Google-search informs me that the Alienator herself, body-builder Teagan Clive, gave up on her acting career in 1990 (preferring to focus on screen-writing), and I have to assume that this role – and its stupid costume – played a large part in that. I’ve never seen Teagan Clive outside of this film, but I’m sure that she would’ve been a much more imposing threat if they’d let her play the role in the same clothes she showed up to the set in.

First to meet the fabled ‘Hunter’ is the hapless, alcoholic doctor, who thereafter becomes the first to be killed by her. In a welcome, macabre sequence, his burning body continues to writhe in pain and panic, even after his head has been reduced to a charred, flaming skull. And that’s it for Quarry’s involvement, which is a shame for us, but probably just as well for him. He deserved better.

Because the world NEEDS one, that's why!

Anyway, the college kids are travelling in their RV when they run down Kol, who’s just crash-landed in the forest. They take him to the cabin of the game warden, where he revives to inform everyone that he’s an alien renegade being hunted by an unstoppable android foe and they are all in danger. Meanwhile, hill-billy hunters Burt and Harley potter about in the woods, resolutely failing to do anything interesting. None of these characters is exactly likeable, but by far the most excruciating are these two. It would be wrong to suggest that there’s ever any urgency to Alienator, but whenever they are on screen the action slows from a crawl to an ooze. Though they only appear in a few scenes, Burt and Harley must have the most lines in the entire movie, and their interminable back-and-forths (presumably intended to provide some kind of comic relief) are enough to send even the most battle-hardened film-goer reaching for the pill bottle.

“You don’t think that’s Doc Burnside, do you?” Harley asks, on discovering Quarry’s blackened corpse. “He don’t look too well.” “Huh! ‘Well-done’ is more like it,” Burt responds, in one of their mercifully shorter exchanges. Thankfully, after threatening to join up with the game warden and so force us to endure their ‘hilarious’ banter for the rest of the film, the pair are dispatched by the Hunter, becoming her second and third victims out of a total… um… four.

"You're comin' home with me, cowboy. Momma needs lovin'."

That’s not a great body count for any genre movie and a pretty poor show for a supposedly unstoppable harbinger of death. I think the Terminator, in his first film appearance, racked up over thirty kills. The alien, too, in Alien, only had seven crew members to pick from, but managed to nail five of them (we don’t count Ash). You would think the Alienator would at least have to land somewhere between her namesakes, right? 15? Maybe 20? But four’s all we get.

Our ragtag band of survivors, however, have no grasp of how shit Alienator is and so take off into the hills. They also don’t seem to grasp how easily they could all escape their tormentor’s clutches, despite being explicitly told by Kol that she is following the tracking device wrapped around his neck. They could all split up, fleeing in separate directions, and survive. The group could split off from Kol, leaving him to fend for himself, and they’d survive. They could even – as one character suggests – hobble Kol and run. Any of these strategies would guarantee survival, but instead everyone seems happy to hang together, providing human shields for an escaped alien prisoner they just met. It’s almost like they don’t want to live.

Eventually, all this pathetic fleeing leads the group to the cabin of a retired army colonel, who listens to their tale of woe and offers a few words of wisdom. “I think you believe it’s the truth, but it’s common knowledge that UFO’s, little green men and space monsters are figments of the imagination, usually brought on by stress,” he says, before breaking out the elephant gun and land-mines.

On the plus side, the porn parody would require very little in the way of re-writes.

A showdown with the Hunter follows and she is apparently killed several times only to return a few moments later. Eventually, however, she gets what she came for and we head back to the space prison in time for the vegan delegate to reveal his true identity (never trust those vegans) and engage the Commander in a brief, bloody fight over a light-sabre. That’s it. Roll credits.

Which leaves a rather empty feeling for anyone watching at home, as we wonder: “What the hell was the point in all that?” It’s not at all apparent what the makers of Alienator were striving for. A basic B-movie? A parody? An intentionally bad film? I’m fairly certain they never intended to make something that would compete with The Terminator and its ilk, but I’m still pretty fuzzy on what reactions they were hoping for from the audience.

There’s actually something almost endearingly shitty about Alienator, especially in its first ten minutes, that makes me wish it had just a bit more fun and craziness than it does. I’d like to be able to recommend it, but I can’t. We’re looking for beer movies here, “scraping the bottom of the bargain barrel”, as we say, so our standards are not very high. But we do have standards. Alienator does not meet them.

Good movie, bad movie or beer movie: Bad movie

[John McNee]