Many films are released each year, but only a handful can be fondly regarded and shared for decades. Often, audiences will overlook a film because at the time of its release there was simply a better option available. It’s not that the film is bad, or unwatchable, or undeserving of an audience... it’s just that you can only consume so much identical entertainment at any given time. So, when we’re offered similar films concurrently, we latch on to our favorite and the other is locked in a box of obscurity, forever doomed to infamy. I invite you to remember that Tim Burton’s homage to 50’s Sci Fi, Mars Attacks!, was released the same year as the blockbuster Independence Day. Even though both movies are well worth your time, and they both cost around $70 million to bring their all-star casts up against a massive arsenal of space invaders, ID4 was so popular that it was still in theaters when Mars Attacks released 5 months later. Moviegoers, faced with months of overwhelming publicity for the $300,000,000 juggernaut, were burned out on aliens and so they jumped to the Jerry Maguire bandwagon, a film which earned as much in two weeks as Mars Attacks did in it’s entire domestic theatrical run. Being overshadowed by Big Brother is nothing new, as it happened to everyone from Joey Travolta, to Prince John; from Don Swayze, to Abel.
According to the absolutely incorruptible word of God, as translated by man for thousands of years, the first humans on earth were Adam & Eve. Adam was made as a project during one of God’s pottery classes, and Eve was then created for God’s Home Ec final exam. I think God’s mum must have sent him to one of those artsy-fartsy schools where they don’t teach science, and all of your grades are in the form of Lisa Frank stickers. It didn’t take long for his little projects to get busy and they soon created the first human to actually be born: Cain. Like most parents, they didn’t learn from their mistake and had a second child: Abel. One day, Cain (now a farmer) made an offering of produce to the Lord. Then, Abel (the shepherd) made an offering of fat sheep to the Lord. The Lord liked Abel’s meat more than Cain’s cucumbers. Now, Cain may have been the first person born, but Abel would be famous for being the first person to die. Cain struck down Abel, and God ended up with a rainbow unicorn in Sex Ed (2 grades below a purple kitty) and THAT negative experience with rainbows is what caused him to flood the earth for 40 days, and ban gays from heaven. At least, I think I'm remembering that correctly from the spent 6 years I spent in Bible classes. Now, here are a bunch of films that can commiserate with Cain and his plight:
David Carradine stars as Kain (hey, synergy!) in this sword-and-sorcery version of Yojimbo (1961), where he arrives at a village divided by warlords and decides to cleverly play the sides against each other to serve his own needs. Carradine is aloof yet likeable throughout, really chewing up the scenery and swaggering through the village like he owns the place from the first scene. Luke Askew (Rolling Thunder, Cool Hand Luke) and Anthony De Longis (Masters Of The Universe) co-star. The Warrior And The Sorceress, though now obviously a fun and entertaining use of 80 minutes of your life, was simply no match for its bigger budgeted foe, an Arnold Schwarzenegger sequel called Conan The Destroyer, which got a 6-week head start at the theaters. The Conan franchise was a money printing machine (especially in Europe), earning over $168 million worldwide on just a combined budget of $38 million between the 2 films. Many European production companies jumped on the bandwagon throughout the mid-80s and flooded the market with so many cheaply made sword-and-sandals fantasy films that it became difficult to distinguish which had merit and which were just cash-ins on a popular concept. I could make a whole version of Hidden Gems just out of David Carradine’s filmography, but for people who haven’t seen him outside of Kung Fu (or haven’t seen him at all), The Warrior And The Sorceress is a great entry point.
If you don’t trust my recommendation alone and want a tangible reason to see this movie, then just know that it is Robert Rodriguez’ second film, after El Mariachi, and it stars David Arquette, Salma Hayek, and William Sadler. It’s sort of cheating for me to count this movie because it was not theatrically released, but rather was created as part of a film series for Showtime called “Rebel Highway”, which featured such genre luminaries as Joe Dante, John Milius, Ralph Bakshi, William Friedkin, and many more. The format consisted of picking the title of a 1950’s American International Picture (AIP) film and then either doing the early 90’s version of a gritty reboot, or just creating an entirely new story inspired by the name. It was a bold strategy that failed to really succeed, due in part to stiff competition from HBO with their original films like the Emmy-winning Against The Wall (starring Samuel L. Jackson), The Enemy Within (starring Forest Whitaker), and The Last Outlaw (starring Mickey Rourke), among dozens of others. Also contributing to this brilliant series’ overshadowing was the popularity of another serialized 50’s throwback in Tales From The Crypt, which had been airing for years with a constant rotation of top notch directors and actors bringing their talents to the series. It’s easy to see, then, why audiences didn’t flock to their sets for Rebel Highway’s inaugural episode, Roadracers, though thanks to preservation on DVD we can now enjoy it for it’s quirky cast of characters, including a renegade rockabilly band, a sherriff obsessed with dominating the youth, and crazed jocks vs wild greasers in a final showdown that you’re sure to enjoy.
This post-apocalyptic Sci Fi road trip predates Mad Max by 2 years, and stars extremely expensive custom built machines called “Landmasters”. It also features Jan-Michael Vincent, Jackie Earle Haley, Paul Winfield, and George Peppard as World War 3 survivors trying to traverse the wasteland between their bunker in California and Albany to locate the only radio signal they’ve identified since the atomic bombs dropped. The film also includes specially inserted “post-apocalyptic skies” to help create the atmosphere of a nuclear wasteland. 20th Century Fox put $17 million into this bad boy, and planned on it being their big blockbuster of the year, but production problems (the giant scorpions didn’t work) delayed the film by nearly a year and forced Fox to release their “other” Sci Fi flick first. A film in which they had little confidence. A film called Star Wars. Once Star Wars was a huge success, the studio ripped creative control from Jack Smight and edited the film down. Timing isn’t everything though, because even if this movie was released first it still wouldn’t have been the huge success that Star Wars was. It simply isn’t as exciting of a movie. But, if you’re a fan of watching a rag tag group of survivors trying to make their way across a radioactive desert filled with giant scorpions and killer cockroaches in their giant 12-wheeled Landmaster, then I think you’ll get a kick out of this one.
Molly Ringwald stars as a washed-up scream queen who is trying to reclaim her former glory by starring in a reboot of her incomplete horror movie “Hot Blooded”, which ended in tragedy when the movie’s antagonist went nuts and murdered the director on set before being electrocuted by the starlet herself. Years later, a young film student obsessed with the urban legeds surrounding the abandoned film tries to complete it with the help of her film professor and classmates. But then, dun Dun DUN: the bodies start to pile up again. Are these merely accidents or has the killer of the horror film come back from the grave?! This Australian horror comedy also stars Kylie Minogue (Street Fighter), Stephen Curry (Rogue), Jessica Napier (Angst), and Simon Bossell (Evil Never Dies); and was directed by Kimble Rendall (Bait). It is a well-made, campy, self-referential horror film for those who liked Scream, There’s Nothing Out There, Popcorn, and Student Bodies. Two things prevented Cut from being as recognizable as it could have been: 1) being an Australian movie, it’s theatrical run was limited to Asia and Europe, and 2) It premiered there 1 week after those markets received Scream 3. As we’ve shown time and time again, we simply won’t go to the theaters twice in one week to see essentially the same movie... unless they feature people in spandex fighting evil alien conquerors.
Russ Meyer is known for being a kinky sexploitation director with a sense of humor and an unabashed love of large natural breasts. In Black Snake, he actually sticks to telling a conventional story of a slave uprising on a Caribbean plantation run by a moody and vicious mistress. Despite the controversial themes of the film, Russ manages to weave a story that is both funny and cogent, containing some extremely quotable dialogue. The film itself is beautiful (having been the first feature film ever shot in Barbados helps), but the editing of this movie is a departure from Meyer’s other films which have a tendency to come off as hyperactive at best and schizophrenic at worst. That’s not a criticism, by the way, as I love all of his films; it’s merely an observation of his purposefully ridiculous compositions! If you’ve never seen his more popular and well-known movies, and wanted a compelling entryway to the Russ Meyer oeuvre, I can not recommend Black Snake highly enough. Being his only excursion into the Blaxploitation genre, it was easy for audiences to pass this one by the first time around. It was released the same year as Shaft In Africa, Scream Blacula Scream, Super Fly T.N.T., The Soul Of Nigger Charley, Coffy, Cleopatra Jones, and a half-dozen other well known representatives of the genre. With the benefit of time, I can now see that an afternoon watching Black Snake is just as fun as one watching Larry Cohen’s Hell Up In Harlem.
Speaking of Larry Cohen, he directed this thriller starring Eric Roberts as a Marvel cartoonist, James Earl Jones as a crazy police detective, and Stan Lee in his FIRST EVER movie appearance! Eric Roberts is creeping on some woman on the street when suddenly she collapses and is taken away by a suspiciously nearby ambulance. When he discovers she wasn’t dropped off at the hospital, he vows to track her down and save her. All of this happens in what must be among the fastest first acts of all time: 6 minutes. By the time the credits are over, we’re whisked away into the meat of the story. The breakneck pace stands contrary to most thrillers, which I feel spend much of their time on close-ups of people with bitter looking faces squinting at each other, but this film succeeds in being occasionally frightening, often funny, and yet always supremely suspenseful. Larry Cohen had already proven himself with such legendary films as A Return To Salem’s Lot, the It’s Alive Trilogy, and The Stuff prior to making The Ambulance. However, this film was hampered by a limited release and the fact that it premiered just weeks after more tradtional horror fare in Tremors, Leatherface: TCM 3, and Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. It also had to fight for box office space alongside The Hunt For Red October, Pretty Woman, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Given these factors, it’s no surprise that this oddball thriller would have to wait to find its audience on video.
This is an anthology flick featuring four tales of horror and suspense. Originally, these four short films featuring Emilio Estevez, Moon Unit Zappa, Lance Henriksen, Richard Masur, and William Sanderson were supposed to be part of ABCs thriller TV series Darkroom. These particular segments were deemed “too intense for television”, so after Darkroom was cancelled they were packaged by Universal Pictures and released in theaters. In the second segment, entitled “Bishop Of Battle”, Emilio Estevez plays a little punk who is obsessed with the titular arcade game and will stop at nothing to reach the 13th level. In the next story, Lance Henriksen absolutely owns as a priest who leaves his parish after a crisis of faith and is suddenly followed by a seemingly demonic pickup truck! For these two segments alone, this film is worth a watch. At the time, however, it had a comparable budget to the far superior horror anthology Creepshow, which released less than a year before. It’s no surprise, then, that audiences were underwhelmed. But, you’ve already seen Creepshow, haven’t you? And now you want to watch Emilio Estevez battle 1980’s arcade graphics, don’t you? Of course you do, so wait patiently for Scream Factory to release the Blu-Ray of this later on this year! Or, spend $100 for a DVD below.
Check back with us each month as we’ll continue to post more Hidden Gems To Rock Your World, or try us every week for some random article about whatever topic is stuck in my nutsack. Recently, we’ve analyzed the most surprisingly tiny tough guys in “Itsy Bitsy Bad Asses”, the Demon Deacon sermonized about family values in his 3rd “Cage Match Of Death”, and I went on for hours about atom bombs and blackface in “The Elmyra Effect!”