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Graydon Clark

Angels Brigade

directorsg220px-angelsbrigadeI don’t know what it is about this film. Graydon Clark has the ability to turn just about any script into a passable film. It wasn’t exactly spinning gold out of thread but he certainly could make things fun. Angels Brigade looks cheap. I mean, it IS cheap, most of Clark’s films were. The difference with this one is that it LOOKS cheap.

I get a real TV movie vibe for this thing, and that makes sense sense – later on down the road it would be recut and re-edited into a television film – but this thing started life as a theatrical feature. In a lot of ways it was like the A-Team, a female version of that – and has a lot of the tropes and characteristics of an 80s TV action show. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, the pacing keeps engaged and the action is certainly passable. Perhaps this is me speaking from a post-modern, generation X viewpoint. Perhaps I’m just more used to action films that are absurd with huge pyrotechnics and ridiculous amounts of bullets and explosions, but it seems to me even in the context of the period that this is a little restrained…like they were relying more on the jiggly exploitation aspect to the film then they were on the hard-hitting action side.

One of the more interesting revelations during the film was my sudden realization why this concept feels so familiar. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was watching Fox Force Five. Perhaps you remember this name from Quinton Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction – it’s the pilot that Uma Thurman’s character supposedly did. The characters aren’t exactly dead on, there’s a few in different positions and some missing, but it’s eerily similar and going into it with this in mind actually makes it a bit more fun for me.

It’s a hard one to find by the way, it goes by couple of different names and the one that is probably going to be the easiest and most accessible will be the MST3K version of it. I’m not sure I can recommend it though, because according to Graydon they cut a lot out of it to the point where this re-edit doesn’t make nearly as much sense – some of the beats are gone, and some other plot development vanishes.

Still it’s worth a go if you can find it for around or to stream somewhere.I don’t know that I goes far as to say it’s a buy, but it certainly is good late night movie host fodder.


Joysticks

directorsgjoysticks I should like this film way more than I do. It’s a video game film, and as a retro Gamer, I really love old video game films. In a lot of ways it really does capture a lot of the arcade feel, and we see tons of classic games – it gives you a great concert video game vibe.

The thing is, this film is less like the wizard, and more like Porkies. It’s definitely a raunchy teen sex comedy, set against the backdrop of an arcade. The thing is, for me the arcade itself is way more interesting but it really is very little more than background noise – the setting itself and the motivation, but not the story.  The premise is simple, a parent thinks that video games are destroying you and is trying to shut down the local arcade – they even invoke the old “there is trouble in River city, and that starts with T ends that rhymes with P which stands for pool”then they take on “or in this case, it rhymes with V which stands for video games “.

The characters are fine, and the pacing is lighthearted – though it’s a lot more fun, if you realize that you are going into a kind of trashy sexy comedy rather than just a video game narrative. The sets are pretty incredible though, much like what I said about the film Arcade, man do I wish I had a video game arcade like this when I was growing up. I have seen they existed somewhere, but not in the Cleveland area, we had little hole in the wall in the malls and local bowling alleys, but that was about it. This one is beautiful, with exciting lighting, snack bars and a bustling throng of activity. Graydon Clark captures the feel of the youth culture from that period excellently and it’s very rare that he stretches the suspension of disbelief here. It’s the camaraderie amongst our heroes that is infectious and genuinely makes you want to root for them.

Despite being maybe just a touch rowdier then the kind of comedies I prefer, this is still definitely a buy. It’s entertaining and the video gamer in me absolutely cannot resist seeing these things played and loved as they are here on the big screen.


Without Warning

directorsgmv5bmwjmnzq0mtmtzthjmy00yjflltg2ntktnwrlmjcxotu5ywe1xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtqxnzmzndi-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_When asked to describe the film “predator “, Arnold Schwarzenegger asked the reporter “have you seen this little film called “without warning”? “. Graydon Clark himself frequently compares Predator to his film Without Warning, so it was only natural that this is what I was expecting. Not necessarily the production value, but an isolated group of people being systematically stalked by an alien hunter? Yeah that’s really what I was looking for here.

Comparing this to predator does the film a disservice because it’s a very different kind of story then what predator was– not a worse story, but a different one. Beyond the whole alien stalking humans, there’s not a whole lot in common here and honestly – aliens have been stalking humans in films since the dawn of cinema. In this case there is a small town setting and something fiendish is going on – something is indeed stalking the citizens but nobody knows quite what it is. It could be some think paranormal, it could be something alien, or it might simply be a deranged lunatic on the loose. No one is really sure. Indeed, it does turn out to be an alien though despite being featured on the poster art and box covers, we only see our beastie for a couple minutes at the very end of the third act – good thing too, because it’s nothing more than a tall guy and a mask. It’s a Rick Baker mask to be fair, but still the look of the alien is very much a traditional grey… Perhaps a little bit inspired by Bealock from Star Trek or one of the many bubbleheaded monsters that paraded through episodes of the outer limits. Clark wisely kept him in the dark, and there are plenty of ridges for the light to play around – not just airbrushed streaks but detail that someone with some experience can light effectively to create menace.

The real alien here, the star of the movie, are the parasitic a little ninja throwing stars that the alien sends after people. In the original script Clark noted that the alien was killing people with a bow and arrow, and he wanted something a little bit more otherworldly. These things are visually striking, stunning and gross – and absolutely scary. There is elements of the facehugger (from Aliens) to them, elements of a mutant starfish, with horrible pulsing green blood and the ability to inflict massive pain and yet still can send you into a zombielike state. It’s a brilliant innovation and the real monster at the film.

I genuinely enjoy without warning, and on rewatch I think I’ll like better now that I know exactly what it is I’m going into. It’s definitely a buy, but you may find that difficult – it’s only very recently found its way onto DVD in one form or another, with the rights being weirdly tied up over the years. Still, absolutely grab this if you find it, you won’t be sorry.


Skinheads

directorsg516q88ad10lSkinheads takes a particular place in my heart, not just because it’s one of Graydon Clarks better looking films, but also because of the era that it’s done in. With Clark I spend a lot of time in the 70s and 80s, but this is early 90s – right around the time I was a teenager. You can tell from the fashions and the hairstyles and that alone is enough to really make me enjoy it. The sort of commentary here is just a little bit better than a lot of stuff that Clark does – it’s still heavy-handed, but delivered with better efficiency and more entertainment. Clark himself will admit that he lifted the idea and most of the plot from his first film, but it plays better in this theme I think. Our plot involves a group of skinheads who are involved in a casual yet brutal murder, chasing down the last of the witnesses to it. I see some of the strongest performances in the villians here. In particular, the leader of the gang of skinheads – this guy is perfect, he is charismatic and articulate and when he speaks his voice just draws you in.  The fact that what he’s actually saying is horrible and ugly is irrelevant, you just sink into his passion and his voice. With this strong performance I never ever lose my suspension of disbelief – I can absolutely see how this charismatic personality could’ve drawn people to his horrible cause. And make no mistake about it, he is absolutely charismatic and winning and beautiful – he is the perfect example of a sociopath. Great Kudos to both Clark and his actor for creating such a strong character – honestly a stronger character them our heroes.

Well perhaps not all of them, our old man played by Chuck Conners, he’s a little over the top but man is he entertaining and I am totally on his side from the word go. We get some of the best action set pieces from him and the events in his cabin – I absolutely love this. Indeed, it feels like there’s a lot more money spent on this and they are really wise – the action is fast and brutal and perfectly entertaining.

This could almost be a perfect movie for me – until we hit the rape scene towards the end. I genuinely don’t know why this was included – it does not really drive the narrator and if you want to give a female protagonist a better reason for wanting to extract revenge (something I don’t think she needs by the way, seeing her friend assaulted and gone down should be more than enough. And if it’s not, how about the fact that they planted them through this woods for a couple of days? We really don’t need to draw rape on top of all of this) but to me it seems ridiculous and excessive – it’s not even a matter of wanting to throw some nudity in there, we don’t see anything exposed… But we do see the act. It’s repulsive. Unfortunately this is a deal breaker for me, without the scene I probably would’ve recommended this film as a buy. It really is one of Clark’s better films and absolutely worth a watch.


Satan’s Cheerleaders 

directorsgmv5bmtc0njg2njcxnl5bml5banbnxkftztcwnzq5ndkxmq-_v1_uy268_cr40182268_al_A quick note here – as I was entering in the title, AutoCorrect changed “Satan’s” to Sarandon. I have never laughed so hard in my life.

Satan’s cheerleaders is a very quintessential Graydon Clark film – its exploitation to the core, and it’s a grind house pedigree is unquestionable. A quick and easy description is the creepy janitor spying on the cheerleaders is actually into the occult and wants them as his own. I don’t know that we really need much more than that now do we?

This is a trashy B exploitation film, and to that end it works extremely well. Cheerleader films were in at the time and Clark wisely exploited the fashion of the day – but combining it with in a horror film is really where he gets my attention. He’s going old-fashioned with the satanic cult, robes and sacrifices and that sort of thing… It’s got a nice Hammer feel towards the end and that’s exactly what I want from this sort of film.

The only part that occasionally irritates me is our virginal chaperone who is naive to the point of irritation – I understand, that’s really the point of the character but it’s still grates on me a little bit too much – it’s a little too on the nose…but then again it is the experimental era of the 70s and 80s and it’s a bit that probably worked a lot better at the time.

Satan’s Cheerleaders actually does not pass the watch test for me – it took a couple of tries to get through this and I’m not sure why… It’s not too long, it’s just not engaging enough for me. I’m glad to have seen it, but I probably will not be revisiting it. It’s one of the easier Clark films to find, in fact I’ve seen it streamed on YouTube once in a while as well as sold on DVD are conventions. If you can get a screening of it someplace like wasteland, you’re better off.


Dracula vs Frankenstein 

directorsgdracula_vs-_frankensteinYou know, it’s kind of a shame that Dracula versus Frankenstein is probably my favorite of all Graydon Clark’s films.  It’s a shame, because it’s the one that he probably has the least to do with.  Clark wrote the original script, but the original script is somewhat far cry from what film eventually morphed into. There are still elements of horror and bodysnatching in this film, Lon Cheney Junior was still a fiendish best and Carol Nash was still chewing the scenery, but it was a last-minute decision to turn this into a Dracula film. While Clark feels that was a mistake, I personally am grateful for it – I love the interplay here, and it makes for a wonderful trashy movie. I first caught this at the midnight showing doing Cinema Wasteland, and that’s exactly where belongs. Our Dracula here is not necessarily a traditional Dracula, indeed he is a very 70s looking fella – with a huge white-man ‘fro, and a dark beard.  Still, he is very scary looking, intimidating – they’ve dressed him well including a distinctive ring that the Nash character recognizes. It’s almost comical how matter of fact he is one he discovers Dracula – no one is surprised to find this immortal blood sucking monster actually exists. In this error of Buffy and true blood and Twilight, that may seem commonplace, but in the era when the universal monsters reigned supreme and hammer was the innovator – this approach was practically unheard of. For all my love of Dracula in this film, I must say Frankenstein is a little disappointing. We get a dreadful rubber mask that squishes a little too much, and an actor that feels just a teensy bit too short for the role. I do have to wonder if there was no room in the budget for platform shoes all lifts.

Because this is one script that went through several mutations eventually evolving into something radically different, the narrative frequently takes left turns and doesn’t always make a lot of sense. That’s okay, because we’re not really coming to the film for a lot of sense. We’re coming to this to watch Dracula and Frankenstein and Lon Chaney Junior, and to  revel in our love of these monsters. It’s a film to watch together with drunk friends late at night, schlock to watch and laugh at and enjoy. And that’s exactly how I experienced it – and I’d have no other way.


Final Justice

directorsg1985_final_justice-212x300There’s a  great story somewhere in the middle of this mess. I really like the concept of this Texas cop escorting the gangster, getting held over in Malta and then having to basically turn the country on its ear to make things right that. It’s a brilliant conceit considering that Graydon was filming in Malta for financial reasons, building a story around this very concept It just feels brilliant that he uses the setting of the country beautifully, and quite frankly the chase scenes? These are perfect – boat chases instead of car chases… It’s a wonderfully clever way of adjusting to your circumstances, and quite frankly more exciting.

Boy, does Graydon love Joe Don Baker. I’ve never understood Baker, I’ve never quite got how this man became a star. He’s ruthlessly savaged on MST3K on a regular basis, and rightly so. He’s not your typical image of a leading man, and it particularly shows in this film. Indeed, the opening sequences include a moment with Clark himself playing Baker’s superior and reminding him that he looks a little out of shape and reviews are coming up. The costume is a little over the top as well – watching this I almost wonder if Graydon Clark was trying to create a parody of a Texas Lawman, but from hearing him speak and reading his book – I don’t think that’s the case so I really don’t get this garish choice in wardrobe. Maybe it’s the time period, perhaps you could get away with this nonsense little bit more easily in the 80s but I really don’t know. It’s odd to the point of being distracting sometimes.

The film is well paced and still fun, but honestly, you’re probably better off watching the MST3K version of this if you can find it. I’m honestly not sure that it passes the watch test otherwise. Of Clark’s films, it’s certainly not even close to being one of my favourites.


Wacko

directorsg51k7d6st1plGraydon told me about Wacko – in many ways it’s a template for the scary movie franchise. It’s also the first film that Andrew Dice Clay ever did and the more I listen to him talk about it, the more I was intrigued. The hard part was finding it though… It’s been in and out of distribution and really your best bet is a bootleg at a convention or piracy – which is a shame because Clark doesn’t get a cut of any of that.

Wacko is an interesting artifact, it comes from a period where horror was just entering the slasher days, and yet, there is only one notable fiend- Michael Myers. Jason’s hockey mask had yet to appear. Freddy hadn’t been dreamt up yet. It seems like so many of the icons of horror had yet to be born, and it makes this feel… Incomplete. They rely heavily on gags about Psycho and Rosemary’s Baby, there’s a few Halloween jokes here and one reference that might be to Texas Chainsaw. All of this is smashed into a film that plays very much like Grease. A lot of the comedy is way over the top, but lacking the slapstick that would make that over-the-top deal work so well. It picks up a great deal in the third act, and I found a little difficult to get there – aside from the novelty of seeing Joe Don baker and Dice so young . In any event, this really deserves to be seen – in fact it deserves a wide release, if nothing else as a special feature on the next scary movie film or equivalant parody film!


Star games

directorsgmv5bmja1nde2mzkxn15bml5banbnxkftztgwodk2nzuymdi-_v1_uy268_cr90182268_al_I’m shocked to say that I really love this film. It’s got a great look to it, and a really competent direction. It needs to be a series though, rather than a film.  It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of direct to video deal and I can see how this would get completely lost in the video market.

From IMDB : “Hunted by an alien tyrant intent on inter-planetary domination, the young prince of a far away space kingdom seeks refuge on Earth. There, he meets Brian, a troubled boy who is more in touch with science fiction than reality. The two of them form a fast friendship and fight for the freedom of the galaxy — together. ”

I will admit, too much of it looks like power rangers, but then maybe my cynical bacwards look at it taints my perspective – at the time I imagine his FX were passable – and considering just how hard a time Clark had getting the FX house to finish this stuff…. you can understand just how amazing they really are. Again I’m not sure what to make of it, it’s predictable but well done. More polish to it then most of Clark’s work, and that’s a big plus. The actors are all family – Clark’s wife and his sons all perform in this film to keep the costs down. His sons, not really in the business, acquit themselves remarkably well. This is another one that man, I’m not sure how you’re going to get your hands on it. Copies of this are rare, but definitely pick it up if you come across it at the flea market or dump bin. It’s still a lot of fun.


Satan’s sadists

directorsgmv5bmtaxmdi2mte1mdveqtjeqwpwz15bbwu3mdg1njy4mte-_v1_uy268_cr20182268_al_I admit curiosity about seeing this very early work from Clark. He insists his later film “Skinheads” is partially based on this one. I can see where the similarities lie – we have a couple bad guys chasing our hero and ingenue into the desert to keep them from going to the police about a murder. I can see how it crept in there if Graydon Clark was still in the mindset of this movie.

A hitchhiker encounter a husband and wife and he taken them just picked up at a cafe and everything goes bad – with the husband and wife dead, and the hitchhiker escaping the cafe with the waitress (Clark’s future wife) and trying to avoid the gang in the mountains (as opposed to the forest from skinheads). Our hero is a lot more proactive than the male lead in skinheads, where as our Ingenue is a classic damsel in distress. The movie has a very grind house feel to it, that gritty 70’s look overlaid on an old print. I like it, it’s fun – but you can also see there is no money here, and the action is stripped bare. The amount of rape is a another issue for me – I know, it’s a trigger for me… And it seems like it’s only included for the sake of getting some nudity into this film. That’s an insufficient reason in my opinion. I can see this is only a maybe – if you come across it on YouTube or at a film festival and have time to kill… I wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid it, but I also wouldn’t go out of my way to try and find it. It’s merely okay, and that only if you’re a fan of a certain kind of film.


Dark future

directorsgdark_future-557458193-largeDark future is a very 90s film in that it desperately wants to be Blade Runner. That’s really the best I can say about it – we have story told from the perspective of humans trapped in a small community, cut off by force field. There are  The Masters – the patrons, a group of cyborgs that look reasonably human.  Each area of this community is done up as a different time period – one done in the 90s, once the 30s, one is ancient Japan… You get the idea. It makes for is interesting visuals, particuarly because our main hero is from the 30s era– this makes sense, The 30s and the 60s were very much in vogue at this time in the early 90s. With the blueback lighting and smoke machines and fog it creates a very striking visual. We have laser guns and battles with robots – it’s great sci-fi fodder and is exactly the sort of movie that I would expect to see on the sci-fi channel. Not great, not art, but sufficient disposable entertainment that aspires perhaps to be just a bit more than it really is. It’s a simple tale, and the ending actually leaves me wondering in my cynical way how the last remaining humans are going to manage to survive – but then again that’s really not the point of this film. It’s all about discovering who your Masters are, and overcoming them. Do they actually managed to overthrow them? Going to have to watch this to find out.


Dance macabre

directorsgo_dance-macabre-dvd-90s-gory-horror-movie-0135I’m going to flat out say this – dance macabre may be Graydon Clark’s greatest film. Robert England as the centrepiece here is magnificent obviously, but the Russian setting and the ballet and the atmosphere… It all works so well. It’s a magnificent spectacle overlaid on an inspired mystery. This is not horror.  This is not adventure, it’s not even mystery. It’s a thriller. It’s one of those rare moments where Clark has everything working – all the engines are firing on all cylinders and it just comes together beautifully.

The story is about an American Dancer who arrives at the Russian ballet school (with her father twisting her arm all the way) to study ballet. It’s the first time they’ve opened the doors to outsiders in ages…. Possibly ever. All around her though, people begin to die – until the schools closes and she remains the only student, with an obsessed instructor hellbent on getting her an audition. Its brilliant drama, highly atmospheric and engauging the whole way through.

There’s talk that this was originally meant to be a sequel to Englund’s Phantom of the opera. I’m not sure of the truth or baseness of this tale, but I can certainly see where someone might get that idea. It’s not just Phantom that I see influences from though, I get glimpses of Susperia her as well. It all melds together to create a supremely satisfying package. Seriously, Clark has no better films on this.