SCIENCE FICTION


THE AFTERMATH (1978) - Three astronauts returning to Earth after a long mission don't know that, while they were away, our planet has gone through a nuclear holocaust. Unable to get a response from Mission Control, they are forced to dump thier ship in the Pacific Ocean (near Los Angeles) and only two of them survive: Newman (director/producer/screenwriter/editor/nose wiper Steve Barkett) and Williams (special effects technician Jim Danforth). As they are walking along the beach, they see the dessicated bodies of sunbathers still in their beach chairs, which gives them their first glimpse that something cataclysmic has happened. When they camp out that night, they are attacked by deformed mutants, but fight them off. This gives them their second glimpse that something very, very wrong occurred. The next morning, they discover that Los Angeles is nothing but a burned-out shell and they go to the nearest Civil Defense station where Newman listens to a recording by a dead broadcaster (voice supplied by Dick Miller) which tells Newman the story of the apocalypse and how he is glad he has died before "they" could get to him. Newman and Williams set up home base in an abandoned mansion, where they set up a broadcast station looking for survivors. Newman leaves the mansion with a Jeep and a rifle to look for his wife and kids (apparently, as luck would have it, they lived in Los Angeles). He drives through L.A. looking for his family and must deal with radioactive acid rain, having nightmares about his family turning into mutants, meeting a dying museum curator (an extended cameo by Forrest J. Ackerman) who gives him a brief history of what he missed while he was away in space and saddles him with a little boy named Chris (Barkett's real-life son Christopher Barkett). Newman and Chris have a run in with a roving band of pillagers and rapists, led by Cutter (the always dependable Sid Haig), the "they" that the dead broadcaster warned about. Newman and Chris save a young woman named Sarah (Lynne Margulies, who has nipples that could cut glass) from a mutant attack (she recently escaped from Cutter's camp after he tried to rape her). Newman brings them back to the mansion, where they become a surrogate family and live a life of love and happiness (along with teaching Chris how to shoot a pistol). Newman, Williams, Sarah and Chris raid Cutter's compound to rescue some captives that Sarah knew, which leads Cutter to retaliate with a raid on the mansion where he kills everyone except for Newman, Williams and Chris. This leads to a bloody showdown in which only one person will be left alive.  Surprisingly (at least for me), there are moments of extreme gore on view here, as can be witnessed early on when Cutter and his gang graphically shoot some men they have captured, ending with one old guy getting his head blown off with a shotgun. The film pulls no punches when it comes to the violence. Kids are shot and killed, women are graphically raped, people are stabbed in the eye, blown up, set on fire and hit with lots of bloody bullet squibs. It's kind of disorienting, because the film also tries to be a loving family drama that is sometimes too preachy for it's own good. The main problem with the film is that it's much too ambitious for it's budget. One man auteur Steve Barkett (EMPIRE OF THE DARK - 1991) tries to cram too many ideas and ineffective special effects into a film that must have cost less than most A-list films catering budgets. He does get some help from effects experts Robert Skotak and his brothers (who also play bit parts in the film), but most of the effects are unconvincing, especially the matte painting of a nuked-out Los Angeles. Another problem is that Barkett's screenplay is all over the place. Newman first sets out to look for his family, but quickly abandons his search once he picks up Chris and Sarah. It then turns into a family drama and then a revenge plot as Newman gets even with all those responsible for killing his new friends (and lover). Still, THE AFTERMATH is an interesting misfire. If you can get past some of the hokey effects (most are in the first few minutes) and some of the sugary sweet sentimentality, you may find yourself liking it. One gets the feeling when watching this that a bunch of movie fans got together and decided to make a film. Everyone seems to have worked both in front and behind the cameras on this. Even Eric Caidin, one of the biggest collectors of movie memorabilia, has a role in this (as the body of the dead broadcaster). Ted V. Mikels (THE ASTRO ZOMBIES - 1968; THE CORPSE GRINDERS - 1971) was co-producer. I also bet he directed a lot of this. It has his handiwork written all over it. Barkett would later go on to star in Steve Latshaw's DARK UNIVERSE (1993). Also starring Alfie Martin, Linda Stiegler, Vincent Barbi and Laura Anne Barkett. A Prism Entertainment Release. Also released on VHS by VCI Entertainment. Not Rated.

AFTERSHOCK (1989) - Low-budget post-apocalypse actioner from director Frank Harris (KILLPOINT - 1984; LOW BLOW - 1986; THE PATRIOT - 1986) that has a good B-movie cast, but the storyline is nothing but rehashed themes from countless other post-nuke epics. The worldwide devastation is not caused by nuclear war, biological warfare or another man-made disaster this time, but by a series of off-the-Richter Scale earthquakes, which have reduced the Earth to nothing but a pile of rubble (most of this film looks to have been filmed in some abandoned industrial park). The world is now ruled by an oppressive dictatorship led by Commander Eastern (Richard Lynch), who has his second-in-command, Captain Quinn (John Saxon), and his army search out and kill "unregistered humans" from their hiding places (Nearly all humans have an identifying barcode tattooed on their arms and this film doesn't hide the comparison to Jews during the Nazi occupation in WW II). During one of these raids, a female alien named Sabina (Elizabeth Kaitan) appears in a burst of light and is captured by Quinn's army. When Quinn notices that Sabina has no barcode and her bright red outfit is made out of some unknown metal, he becomes intrigued, especially when he discovers that she is carrying some photos and patches with her (one photo is of Nancy Reagan!). It seems Sabina is a blank slate, but she is a very quick learner (She learns English by reading a dictionary/thesaurus on a 5.25" floppy disk!) and becomes more knowledgeable when Quinn sends her to a laboratory to be observed and get a psych work-up. Meanwhile, sword-carrying and motorcycle-riding loner Willie (Jay Roberts Jr.) travels the barren landscape looking for a cause he can believe in. He stops at a bar run by Hank Franklin (Russ Tamblyn) and is arrested by Quinn's right-hand man Mr. James (James Lew, also the Stunt Coordinator) when he tries to defend an underground female freedom fighter. He is brought to the same facility where Sabina is being held and, after a series of events, he escapes with Sabina and fellow prisoner Danny Girrard (Chuck Jeffries, doing his best Eddie Murphy impression). They steal a car and end up at the underground base of freedom fighter leader Colonel Slater (Christopher Mitchum), who has a history with Willie. Commander Eastern orders Quinn to bring back Sabina no matter what the cost because the tests they performed on her in the lab proves that she is an alien (and a newborn one to boot!), so Quinn hires top-notch "Apprehender" Brandt (Chris DeRose) to bring her back alive and kill everyone else. This leads to a series of chases, fights and shootouts, as Willie tries to protect Sabina while falling in love with her (Ewwww! He's falling in love with an alien baby!). Willie must return Sabina to her original entry point before time runs out or else she will die. The remainder of the film details Willie's efforts to get Sabina off the planet so she can stop the Earth from being destroyed. From what I just witnessed, our planet is better off without us.  There's not much to recommend here except watching a bunch of talented actors trying to keep a straight face while spouting groan-inducing dialogue. The screenplay, by Michael Standing (who also gives himself the role of Gruber, Colonel Slater's right-hand man), is nothing but a mishmash of post-nuke clichés, most of them done much better in the Italian post-apocalypse rip-offs of the early-to-mid-80's (The only funny bit comes when Quinn tells Brandt that Willie's barcode scanned as a "can of Chinese mushrooms manufactured in Taiwan in the year 1987. Obviously a mistake."). The action scenes, including the car chases, fight scenes and gun battles, are strictly second-rate and the violence is rather subdued for an R-rated flick (Not to mention that Ms. Kaitan has no nude scenes). Director Frank Harris takes a lazy approach to nearly every aspect of this film, which may be why he gave up directing and is mainly a cinematographer now (he photographed the reprehensibly bad TRANSFORMED in 2003). AFTERSHOCK is the equivalent of eating a bad Chinese meal. Not only will you be hungry again one hour later, you'll still have an awful taste in your mouth that just won't seem to go away (Maybe it's from that can of Chinese mushrooms from 1987!). Michael Berryman and Matthais Hues put in extended cameos as two muscle-headed idiots named Queen and Cassidy who kidnap Sabina towards the end of the film. Berryman wears bright red lipstick and, at one point, dons a bright red wig, which makes him looks like a freakish drag queen. Originally available on VHS from Prism Entertainment/Paramount Home Video and available on a no-frills fullscreen DVD from Image Entertainment. Rated R.

AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK (1983) - This is one of the few Italian post-nuke films to actually get a theatrical release in the States and is one of the better ones. In 2019, after a nuclear war, the entire Earth is a burned-out wasteland where there hasn't been a human birth for over twenty years. The Earth is controlled by two factions: The iron-fisted European-African Conference (Eurac) and the much more malevolent Pan American Confederacy (PAC). Eurac, which controls New York, is in the middle of performing an ethnic cleansing, killing all those infected with radiation or deformed in any way. Enter Parsifal (Michael Sopkiw), a loner and part-time bounty hunter who makes money on the side by participating in deadly car races. While in Nevada, he is knocked-out and brought to PAC's headquarters in Alaska, where PAC's president (Edmund Purdom) informs him that the last fertile woman is in New York City and he wants Parsifal to find her and bring her back to headquarters, his reward being a seat on a rocket to the Alpha Centauri galaxy, where a habitable planet awaits to start the human race over again. He joins forces with Bronx (Vincent Scalondro) and Ratchet (Roman Geer), two PAC soldiers, and begins their search in the bowels of NYC, where they must fight and kill a series of increasingly difficult undesirables and degenerates, not to mention some hungry sewer rats. The trio meet a group of people (who dine on rats), led by Rat Eater King (post-nuke regular Al Yamanouchi), and are taken prisoner. When Eurac soldiers invade the camp, they take Parsifal and Bronx (Ratchet avoids capture), along with Rat Eater girl Giara (Valentine Monnier), back to headquarters for torture and experimentation. When they finally escape from Eurac headquarters (with Ratchet's help), Bronx is killed and they travel through the sewers with the help of a tribe of dwarves, led by Shorty (Louis Ecclesia). Shorty leads them to the fertile woman, who is the daughter of a scientist who has kept her in a state of suspended animation since before the bombs were dropped. They must use an ancient station wagon (upgraded with some added armor) to travel through a heavily protected Lincoln Tunnel to escape to safety, but a deception within the group (one of them is a cyborg) may bring the whole mission to a screaming halt.  Director Sergio Martino (using his "Martin Dolman" pseudonym), who also made the futuristic HANDS OF STEEL (1986) as well as the giallo TORSO (1973) and the self-explanatory MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (1978), keeps the action moving non-stop and throws in a lot of bloody carnage, too. People have their eyes poked out (and have a new pair inserted into the empty sockets!), their stomachs slit open, shot, stabbed, impaled, you name it and it's here. George Eastman (THE GRIM REAPER - 1980) makes a welcome appearance in the final third of the film as Big Ape, the leader of a neanderthal-like tribe, who believes he's the last fertile man in the world (he's quite funny at times). Eastman also displays an intimate and memorable attachment to the sleeping beauty as he offers himself up for sacrifice for the sake of the future, but not before leaving the future a surprise they will not likely ever forget. Michael Sopkiw (MASSACRE IN DINOSAUR VALLEY - 1985) is a pretty one-note actor but makes a serviceable action hero, fighting and shooting his way through numerous encounters. The sequence where the motley group must drive through the booby-trapped Lincoln Tunnel may remind you a little of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), but it stands out as an exciting action sequence anyway. So, if you like films that depict the future as a dark, desolate landscape with very little hope for redemption, this film should be right up your alley. This is pretty grim shit. A Vestron Video Release. Also available on DVD from Shriek Show under the title 2019 - AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK. While the theatrical and Vestron releases are Rated R, the DVD restores excised footage and is Unrated.

ALIEN FROM THE DEEP (1989) - Two Greenpeace members, Lee (Robert Marius; FIST OF GLORY - 1991) and Jane (Julia McCay), sneak onto an island with an active volcano to get video evidence that chemical company E-Chem is polluting the environment. The natives on the island (some who wear sneakers!) are performing an ancient ritual to protect them from a "devil" in the volcano, while E-Chem, led by Colonel Kovacks (Charles Napier; DEEP SPACE - 1987), keeps dumping radioactive waste into the center of the volcano. Colonel Kovacks ignores the warnings of his own lead scientist, Dr. Geoffrey (Alan Collins; ARK OF THE SUN GOD - 1983), that the continued dumping of radioactive waste will cause the volcano to erupt, spewing radioactive particles into the atmosphere, but Kovacks is more interested in saving a few bucks than protecting the environment. Lee and Jane manage to sneak into the E-Chem compound and videotape the illegal dumping operation, but they are spotted by security. Lee hides the tape before he is captured, while Jane sneaks onto a helicopter and escapes, jumping out of the copter when it hovers over a waterfall (an obvious dummy is thrown out of the helicopter). Jane is chased through the jungle by machine gun-toting guards, but she is saved by Bob (Daniel Bosch), a shotgun-carrying snake hunter. Bob tricks the guards into following him and Jane into a cave, where the guards are bitten by cobras and die. Bob brings Jane to his base camp (a converted, hollowed-out school bus) and introduces her to his collection of snakes, including his pet cobra, Blossom (When Jane misinterprets Bob's motives, she screams at him, "Don't touch me, you snake squeezer!", but ends up screwing him anyway). As Jane and Bob formulate a plan to save Lee, Col. Kovacks and his crew have a new problem: The appearance of a UFO and it's alien occupant, which lands in the ocean next to the E-Chem plant. The alien (which has giant black crab claws) moves underground as it heads to the E-Chem plant, occasionally popping-up to the surface to kill or infect anyone it touches, including a rescued Lee, who commits suicide by jumping off a cliff once he becomes infected and starts to decompose. It's not long before everyone is fighting for their lives, as the alien attacks E-Chem, leaving only Jane and Bob to survive and try to defeat the extraterrestrial menace. Why did the alien come to this island? I'm afraid we will never know.  This is dopey hybrid of action adventure and sci-fi genres, not helped much by the slow pacing and idiotic dubbed dialogue (Typical dialogue between the helicopter and ground crew: Helicopter: "You hear me dumbbell?" Ground: "Yeah, I hear you, fat shit!"). Director Antonio Margheriti (NAKED YOU DIE - 1968; SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT'S EYE - 1973; CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE - 1980), using his frequent "Anthony M. Dawson" pseudonym, offers a few scenes of extreme gore (faces melted by the alien and other bloody claw violence) and some nice (if obvious) miniature work (by Margheriti), but Tito Carpi's (TIGER JOE - 1982; BRONX WARRIORS 2 - 1983) lazy script is nothing but one cliché after another and the film on the whole doesn't make any sense at all. Major plot points are simply dropped to advance the film and the silly alien (A giant claw? Really?), who we finally see in all it's giant glory in the finale (it's a life-sized mechanical puppet that looks like something H.R. Giger would create if given $3.00), really makes this a slog to sit through. Charles Napier (who seems to be the only one in the cast to dub his own voice) is wasted here in his role as a one-note villain. This lackluster cross between RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) and ALIEN (1979) goes nowhere fast and will have you pressing the Fast Forward button on your remote after the first ten minutes. Now, I would never do that (I have to watch films in their entirety for the sake of fairness), but I wouldn't blame anyone else if they did because this isn't one of Margheriti's better films. Also starring Robert Dell'Acqua, David Brass and Kenneth Peerless. Never legitimately available on home video in the U.S. in any format, you can easily find a copy on eBay or from many gray market sellers. Not Rated.

ALIEN RAIDERS (2008) - Good sci-fi action flick. A squad of hooded crooks invades the Hastings Supermarket in Buck Lake, Arizona just as it is closing, but after a very short period of time, it becomes obvious that these people may not be crooks at all and they're certainly not after money. Spooky (Philip Newby), a member of the gang who has extrasensory powers, begins scanning all the remaining people in the supermarket (by grabbing their heads in his hands), saying either "They are one" or "No, they aren't one" and those that "are one" quickly get a bullet in their brain and their bodies thrown in the market's freezer. Before Spooky can scan everyone, he is shot dead by a customer that happens to be a cop, forcing Ritter (Carlos Bernard - TV's 24), the head of the squad, to improvise. As the local police surround the supermarket, Ritter releases all the hostages that passed Spooky's scan, writes "Stay Back" on the front window in the blood of a dead victim and tries to come up with a plan of action to find out if the rest of the hostages are "one of them" or not. Transplanted Chicago cop Seth Steadman (Matthew St. Patrick - SIX FEET UNDER [2001 - 2005]), whose stepdaughter Whitney (Samantha Streets) is one of the hostages, tries to figure out why a highly-trained military group picked this place to rob, while Ritter and female medical officer Sterling (Courtney Ford) make all the hostages drink large quantities of milk (to change their pH level) before performing a "snip test" on them (which involves cutting off one of their pinkies!). As the film progresses, it also becomes obvious that some of these hostages are infected with an alien organism that crash-landed in a meteor in Buck Lake; an alien organism so deadly, the Earth is doomed unless Ritter and his squad can stop the infection from spreading. Some stupid heroics by the hostages leads to the infection spreading, but the arrival of drug-addled Charlotte (Bonita Friedericy), a former member of Ritter's squad who has the same powers as Spooky, may be a solution to the problem, but she wants massive amount of drugs first before she will help. Meanwhile, Ritter begins losing members of his squad to a "King", the strongest member of the alien species. Seth begins to uncover the truth, while Whitney and stock boy Benny (Jeff Licon) join forces with Ritter and Sterling to hunt down and kill the King. Just when it seem that they've achieved their objectives (but not without more deaths), the surprise ending reveals that the King is still alive, baby, and ready to appear in a sequel.  This is a tense, well-acted horror/action film that doesn't immediately play all it's cards like most modern genre films do. It builds slowly, but not boringly, offering the audience kernels of knowledge as the film progresses. We know almost immediately that the market "robbery" is not a robbery at all (it's more of a cleansing), but director Ben Rock (who, before this, directed the fake documentaries THE BURKITTSVILLE 7 [2000] and SHADOW OF THE BLAIR WITCH [2000] for Daniel Myrick, co-director of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT [1999] and one of the Producers here) wrings a fair amount of suspense out of what is basically a one location shoot. Screenwriters David Simkins (writer and producer of the cult TV series THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY JR. [1993]) and Julia Fair (Myrick's BELIEVERS - 2007) were definitely influenced by John Carpenter's version of THE THING (1982), but they manage to put a few new spins on the "Are they or aren't they?" scenario. We are purposely given very little information on the aliens, except they are deathly afraid of the cold, have visited this planet on more than one occasion and are known about by the government, yet they offer no help to Ritter and his crew when they desperately need it. For a film that spans so many genres (action, horror, sci-fi, hostage drama), ALIEN RAIDERS does a damn good job of combining them all into a satisfying whole. Worth your time. Also starring Rockmond Dunbar, Bryan Krasner, Tom Kiesche, Joel McCrary, Derek Basco and Keith Hudson. A Warner Home Video DVD Release. Rated R.

ALIEN SPECIES (1997) - An alien race has invaded Earth and begins getting all INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) on our ass (but on a much smaller scale). A small town sheriff (Charles Napier) must defend his town from the marauding aliens when he sends his two deputies off to escort two dangerous criminals to state prison. The deputies run into trouble when they stop to pick up accident victims Professor Chambers (Hoke Howell) and his two female companions. The police van is attacked by an alien ship, forcing everyone to travel by foot and spend the night in an abandoned mine shaft. The mine turns out not to be so abandoned, as the aliens are using it as a base and they chase the humans deeper into the mine. The aliens kill a deputy and a prisoner and the rest must depend on the remaining deputy and prisoner Towers (Marc Robinson) to get them out alive. Meanwhile, the alien armada is destroying everything in sight, blowing up buildings, cars and humans, while also abducting cattle and people for experimentation. Back at the cave, the aliens kill the last remaining deputy and Professor Chambers and kidnap Stacie (Ashley Shemrick), leaving Towers and Carol (Jodi Seronick) to fight for survival (maybe for the whole human race). There seem to be two types of aliens: The short bug-eyed kind (which are intelligent) and the larger, more dangerous, lizard-like kind, which are the aliens' muscle. Towers and Carol stumble on an alien breeding ground, where humans are put in cocoons and injected with alien DNA, turning them into zombie slave labor. After saving her friend Stacie from a cocoon, Towers and Carol blow up the mine with dynamite. They drive back into town, only to find everything destroyed. With the use of his laptop and an alien device that Towers stole off of a dead alien, scientist Max (Aaron Jettleson) comes up with a way to turn off the alien's force field. Be prepared to be pissed-off at the film's non-ending. It announces to be ready for the exciting conclusion in ALIEN SPECIES 2: THE INVASION, which was never made! When Towers says, "Why do I feel like I'm suddenly in a bad episode of The X-Files?", you'll be thinking the same thing. Illogical at every turn (Why do the advanced alien species need a dirty mine to perform their experiments?; How can Max interface his laptop with an alien device he's never seen before?), you'll be scratching your head more than you'll like (I swear I had more hair before I started watching this). Made shortly after the hugely successful INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996), this ultra-low-budget knock-off, directed by Peter Maris (DELIRIUM - 1977; LAND OF DOOM - 1985; DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY - 1991), uses way too much CGI for it's own good. The aliens are pretty good (they are physical effects), but all the ships and much of the destruction is created by computer and it is painfully obvious by the long shot of the alien ships attacking the city (CGI fire effects still have a long way to go to look believable). The damn cheat of an ending is still pissing me off because nothing is resolved. Charles Napier (who gets top billing) is wasted here as he disappears twenty minutes in and never comes back. Hoke Howell (ALIENATOR - 1989) died shortly after making this film (it's dedicated to him in the end credits). Whatever positive comments I had about this film (they were few) were wiped out by the crappy finale. Also starring David Homb, Kurt Paul, Robert Thompson and Barbara Fierentino. I got this flick as part of Brentwood Communications' 20 film DVD compilation titled SPACE QUEST, so I don't feel too ripped-off as it come to less than fifty cents per movie. Not Rated, but it would definitely get an R if it was, thanks to nasty alien slashings, language and plenty of shotgun hits (from a shotgun that never seems to run out of shells).

AUTOMATIC (1994) - In the near future, business mogul Goddard Marx (John Glover) and his company RobGen are making a mint selling artificial humans called "Automatics" as personal protectors and butlers, for those who can afford it (there's a funny ROBOCOP-like commercial extolling the advantages of owning an Automatic, that opens the film). Mr. Marx and his development team are about to unveil the newest edition of the Automatic, which is a top secret until it is unveiled tomorrow morning (until now, all the previous models look the same [all portrayed by martial artist Olivier Gruner]). While protests by labor unions and "Anti-Automatics" are being held outside the RobGen facility, one RobGen executive, Seth Barker (the late Stanley Kamel, better known as the psychiatrist on TV's MONK [2002 - 2009]), tries to rape his secretary, Nora Rochester (Daphne Ashbrook; QUIET COOL - 1986), but Automatic model J269 (Gruner) intervenes and accidentally kills Barker, which is against all Automatics' programming. Fearing a financial disaster if the outside world were to find out, Marx sends a force of killers, headed by Major West (Jeff Kober; THE FIRST POWER - 1990), to kill J269 and Nora. It's not easy as it sounds, however, because J269 has now appointed itself as Nora's personal protector. Marx and RobGen's head of security, Buck James (the wonderful Troy Evans), monitor Major West's progress in RobGen's security center, but Marx is dismayed to find that his state-of-the-art building is being destroyed floor-by-floor, as J269 tries to lead Nora to safety outside the building (Buck, on the other hand, is secretely rooting for J269 to succeed because he's grown fond of the model's unwavering loyalty). The rest of the film details J269 and Nora's exploits to reach safety, as Marx and Major West try their damnedest to make sure that doesn't happen. Along the way, Nora (who was originally one of those "Anti-Automatic" people) begins to appreciate J269's friendship, no longer thinking of him as an emotionless "tin man". The problems only get worse for Marx when the Press catches word of something big going down at the RobGen complex and all the other Automatics begin displaying behavior that can best be described as "human". Is this the dawning of a new age or the end of mankind?  Although highly derivative of both ROBOCOP (1987) and DIE HARD (1988), this film is still an enjoyable romp, thanks to a humor-filled script  (by Susan Lambert and Patrick Highsmith), the acting of John Glover (who basically plays the same type of character here as he did in GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH [1990]), Troy Evans (a terrific character actor probably best-known to TV viewers as Frank The Desk Clerk on the long-running hospital drama ER [1994 - 2009]) and Dennis Lipscomb (RETRIBUTION - 1987) as an extremely nervous bank executive and some bang-up action sequences. Director John Murlowski (RETURN OF THE FAMILY MAN - 1989; AMITYVILLE: A NEW GENERATION - 1993) even finds time to throw in some sharp social commentary about the delicate balance between what is man and what is machine. Olivier Gruner, one of action film's better martial artists and actors (he has this sly look that's disarming), gives a nuanced performance as a "Tick" (a derogatory term for an Automatic) who, at first, seems cold and unemotional, but as he and Nora make their way through the different levels of the RobGen Building (it's like a live-action video game), he begins to realise that there's barely any difference between him and most humans, especially the heartbreaking sequence where he discovers a laboratory where his fellow Automatics are experimented on in various painful ways. Since they all look like him, it's a turning point in his education on the human condition. As a matter of fact, as the film progresses, Nora and J269 seem to switch personalities, as she begins killing people to protect him. This is one of the better DTV sci-fi action flicks of the 90's, thanks to plentiful gunfights and explosions, biting humor, social commentary and a really good surprise reveal towards the end of the film that ties everything together rather nicely. It really is a stunner that I didn't see coming. I like a film that can still surprise me in this day and age. So should you. Also starring Penny Johnson, Marjean Holden and Annabelle Gurwitch. A Republic Pictures Home Video Release. Rated R.

BRONX WARRIORS 2 (1983) - This sequel to 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS (1982) tells the further adventures of renegade warrior Trash (Mark Gregory), the unlikely saviour of a disease-ravaged Bronx, NY in the not-too-distant future. While Trash is supplying ammunition to a group of underground revolutionaries, led by Dablone (Antonio Sabato), a brutal platoon of soldiers, under orders from GC Corp. President Henry Clark (Thomas Moore), is killing all the occupants of the Bronx to make way for total urban renewal, a brand-spanking new city to rise from the ashes. The GC Corp.'s silver-suited demolition squads, led by the cynical Floyd Wangler (Henry Silva), kill Trash's parents in order to destroy the building they live in, making Trash the GC Corp.'s worst enemy (When Henry Clark complains to Wangler that his means of killing people is tantamount to genocide and that he is worse than they are [the gangs that roam the Bronx streets], Wangler turns to him and says, "Allow me to correct you Mr. Clark. I'm worse than anybody!"). Trash joins forces with the street gangs and begins killing members of GC Corp.'s "Disinfestation Squads", much to Wangler's dismay. Nosey television reporter Moon Grey (Valeria D'Obici) and her photographer Jay (Andrea Coppola) witness one of GC Corp.'s raids and slaughter of innocent citizens, but when Jay is burned alive by a flame thrower when they are caught, Trash saves Moon's ass and brings her underground to Dablone's gang for safety. Moon talks Dablone into kidnapping Henry Clark, so Dablone sends Trash and Moon to locate and enlist the help of Strike (Timothy Brent), a crazy ex-bank robber who is a pro at kidnapping people. The trio manage to kidnap Clark at a groundbreaking ceremony, but Moon is shot and killed when she creates a diversion. Trash and Strike take their captive on a journey through the New York sewer system to evade capture by Wangler and his men. When the Vice President of GC Corp. (Paolo Malco) pulls a power play and decides that Clark is better off dead, he enlists Wangler's help, which results in a finale where Trash, Strike, Dablone and all the other good guys must fight against tremendous odds to regain their right to live in the Bronx as free people.  This entertaining sci-fi fantasy, directed by Enzo G. Castellari (who directed the first film, as well as THE LAST SHARK [1981], THE NEW BARBARIANS [1983], LIGHT BLAST [1985] and many others), is non-stop gory fun from beginning to end. Originally released on VHS in the U.S. by Media Home Entertainment in a severely-edited R-rated print under the title ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX, it is now available in a beautiful unedited widescreen print on DVD from British label Vipco Entertainment. The violence is over-the-top, as people are burned alive, shot, blown-up or have their skulls crushed with a baseball bat or butt of a rifle, all done in super slow motion. While the script (by Castellari and Tito Carpi) is generic chase-and-kill stuff, the action set-pieces are pretty good, including the chase through the sewers and the slaughter witnessed by Moon and Jay, where one poor sap has a bomb involuntarily strapped to his body, which explodes when some street gang members try to remove it. As far as the acting goes, let's just say that it doesn't really matter. Henry Silva (CRY OF A PROSTITUTE - 1974; ALMOST HUMAN - 1974), is wasted in his role (replacing Vic Morrow from the first film, who unfortunately lost his life on the set of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE in a tragic helicopter accident) as Wangler, who speaks most of his lines into a telephone or radio receiver, barking out orders. Mark Gregory (WAR BUS COMMANDO - 1989) is one of the worst actors of all time in Italian exploitation film history. He spends most of his screen time with the same goofy expression on his face. It's like a cross between John Travolta's Vinnie Barbarino character from TV's WELCOME BACK, KOTTER (1975 - 1979) and someone with a terminal case of hard gas. His dubbed-in Bronx accent (or rather what Italians think people from the Bronx sound like) just makes this film more entertaining in a twisted sort of way. Still, BRONX WARRIORS 2 contains enough bloody violence and action (it sets some kind of record for exploding bodies) to keep you properly diverted from the ridiculousness of it all. Also starring Alessandro Prete as Junior, Strike's young son, who is an explosives expert (!), Massimo Vanni, Romano Puppo, Eva Czemerys, Moana Pozzi and Carla Brait. A Vipco Entertainment DVD (PAL Region 2) Release. Not Rated.

BROTHER FROM SPACE (1984) - Unbelievably bad and inept E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982) clone which purportedly tells the true story of an alien who crash lands on Earth and takes refuge in a church, protected by a priest (Martin Balsam) and a blind girl (Silvia Tortosa Davis) who can speak to the alien telepathically. The military (headed by Jess Franco vet William Berger) would like to get their hands on the alien for scientific experiments. After several close calls, the alien returns to the crash site to renew his energy before he expires from exposure to the Earth’s atmosphere. He doesn’t make it and dies in the blind girl’s arms, but not before giving her a pair of glasses that are able to let her see! Corny to the extreme, this loser of a film has cheap effects (you can see the string on ‘floating’ objects), risable dialog and hamfisted religious analogies. Directed by Roy Garret (real name: Mario Gariazzo), this Italian-financed fiasco (lensed in San Luis Obispo, California) is a major disappointment since Garret also made the highly effective and eerie EYES BEHIND THE STARS (1977), also starring Balsam. An Overseas Filmgroup Release. I have not seen it on U.S. video, but it use show up on cable station TNT every so often (God, remember those days?). Not Rated, but it would probably get a PG if it were. Truly awful.

CLASH OF THE WARLORDS (1985) - In this quasi-sequel to director Willie Milan's W (a.k.a. W IS WAR - 1983), warrior Rex (Willy Williams) is forced to fight his best friend gladiator style in an arena by evil warlord Malsam (Robert Marios), who is holding Rex's young son prisoner and will only free him if Rex kills his friend. When Rex kills his friend and Malsam renegs on his deal, he and his son escape with the help of a friendly female. Malsam orders his men to recapture Rex and his son (He says, "Find them and don't come back until you find them!" What!?!), but the trigger-happy henchmen kill Rex's son and the helpful female when warrior Maria (Gabby Parro) comes out of nowhere to help Rex fight the bad guys. As Rex and Maria walk through the post-nuked terrain, they are captured by a group of people and led to the town of Opulus, where Maria is reunited with her long-lost father Zeus, a scientist who is working on a cure for radiation poisoning. We also find out that Malsam is afflicted with a strange disease where he begins to mutate every time he looks at the moon (When he sees the moon one night, he tells his men, "Take it away and I'll cover it in blood!" Double what!?! Some of his men turn to each other and say, "He has a devil inside him!" and "He's not just crazy. He's a lunatic!"). Malsam will not rest until Rex is dead, so he hires a band of beefy warriors to capture Rex and bring him back, which they do (without very much trouble at all). Rex must fight a series of battles in the arena, each one more dangerous than the last. Just when things begin looking grim for Rex, Maria shows up with a "Liquidation Squad", an army of rocket launcher and machine gun-carrying men who help Rex defeat Malsam's men. The rest of the film is just a series of gunfights and explosions until Rex confronts Malsam for a lightsaber duel (!), where Rex quickly defeats Malsam (he explodes into a million little pieces when Rex cuts him in half with the lightsaber!) and Maria and Rex share a passionate kiss before Rex jumps on his horse and heads off on another adventure, which audiences never got to see (because it was never filmed). Maybe he died of radiation poisoning.  This is strictly lower-tier Filipino action cinema that's pretty rough going for the viewer. I guess it would help to view the first film (which I didn't at the time of this review, but have seen since), but I really doubt if it would make a big difference. The Greek subtitled version I viewed edits out most of the gory footage and the English dubbing is so bad, it's almost surreal. Most of the impalements, axe fights (which seems to be the weapon of choice here) and gun battles end abruptly and those edits get quite annoying after a short period of time. We don't watch these films for the storylines, you know, so editing out all the gore kind of defeats the whole purpose of watching it in the first place. I'm sure director Willie Milan (ULTIMAX FORCE - 1986) didn't mean for this film to be as awful as this edition makes it out to be, but the atrocious dubbing (the word "arena" is pronounced "areener" and the dubbing crew can't seem to make up their minds if Gabby Parro's character name is "Maria" or "Reya") and lack of bloody violence in this version makes it a tough sitting for the viewing audience, even if it's only 73 minutes long. The only interesting (and weird) points this film has to offer are Malsam's aversion to the moon (which is quickly dropped) and counting how many times you spot people standing around in a circle (which is a lot!). Also starring Tom Romano, Rey De Gusman, Teresa Hunt, Joan Durst, Ching Zabala, Waldo Masconi and the "W Stuntmen". Also known as MAD WARRIOR. A Video Memory Release. Not Rated.

CREATURE (1984) - A crew of American scientists are sent to Jupiter's moon Titan, where a missing U.S. mining crew discovered an ancient alien city. They also released an alien creature that was held in a pod in suspended animation for centuries. The U.S. and Germans are fighting for control of mining rights on this moon and it looks like the Krauts have beat the scientists to the find. The scientists' ship lands on some unstable ground, causing it to become damaged beyond repair. They radio the German ship and, when they get no answer, they suit-up and begin their trek to the German ship. They find the ship deserted, as if it were abandoned. They also find one of the alien pods on the ship, empty except for some black goo. It's not long before they begin finding the mutilated bodies of the German crew. They beat a hasty retreat back to their own ship when something kills one of their crew. Running dangerously low on air and knowing that they will eventually have to go back to the German ship, they run into Hans (Klaus Kinski), the lone survivor of the German crew who doesn't seem to be telling all he knows about the death of his crew. What he does tell them is that they have discovered some alien's "butterfly collection" or zoo, a collection of creatures from other galaxies and one of them has woken up. This creature is a parasite, able to control anything it touches by placing a smaller alien creature on it's victim's head, the smaller creature taking over the brain. Hans leads an expedition back to his ship and they are attacked by some reanimated corpses (all with those little creatures attached to their heads). It becomes obvious after a short time that the alien is using the reanimated humans as manpower it needs to operate the German ship and get it back to Earth. As the alien takes over more of the American crew, the remaining unaffected fight for their lives for control of the ship as they slowly run out of oxygen.  This filmed-in-Germany ALIEN (1979) knock-off is pretty good and contains some suspenseful and bloody scenes. Director William Malone (SCARED TO DEATH - 1980; HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL - 1999) does a nice job of portraying the claustrophobia of living in an environment where oxygen (or lack of) is a commodity that we take for granted. The alien creature bears a slight resemblance to H.R. Giger's creation, but there's lots of other bloody mayhem on view, including a face being torn off, a decapitation, an exploding head (I'm sensing a theme...), mangled corpses, death by raygun and flesh eating. The effects are well-done, although it's apparent that Klaus Kinski (who's basically wasted in a throw-away role) elected to use a double in his possession scenes. The scene where they electrocute the alien is lifted directly from THE THING (1951) and they even mention the film during the planning stages when one of them says, "That movie with the carrot from outer space." You could do a lot worse than this film, as it is one of the better 80's low-budget monster flicks. Also starring Stan Iver, Wendy Schaal, Lyman Ward, Annette McCarthy, Diane Salinger and Robert Jaffe. Originally released on VHS by Media Home Entertainment, it slipped into the public domain and can be had for chump change as part of Brentwood Communications' 20 movie DVD compilation titled SPACE QUEST. Originally known as TITAN FIND, a more appropriate title if you ask me. Rated R.

CY WARRIOR: SPECIAL COMBAT UNIT (1989) - Those Italian sure knew how to milk a concept until it was dry as a whore's overused vagina. In this umpteenth TERMINATOR rip-off, four bumbling soldiers accidentally release a top-secret cyborg (Frank Zagarino; HAMMERHEAD - 1987) into the free world. The only problem is, the cyborg isn't fully programmed yet, so he's walking around thinking he's human, like a man with amnesia. The government sends Colonel Hammer (a badly-dubbed Henry Silva; CRY OF A PROSTITUTE - 1974) and a team of men to track the cyborg down and dispose of it, but it wouldn't be much of a film if it were that easy, would it? Since the cyborg has a built-in tracking chip, Hammer and his men find it easily, but time and time again the cyborg escapes using it's superhuman abilities. During one of it's escapes, the cyborg injures his leg and schoolboy Brandon Scott (Brandon Hammond) finds him in the woods and brings him home to meet big sister Susan (Sherri Rose). The cyborg performs some surgery on his leg in front of Susan and Brandon, exposing his mechanical nature. Susan and Brandon decide to help the cyborg act more human, so they let him read all the encyclopedias in the house and teach him how to eat a hamburger! Susan dresses him in the latest 80's fashions and then takes him shopping around town, where Hammer and his men spot him and open fire, but they end up gunning down many innocent bystanders instead. When Susan removes the tracking chip from the cyborg's back, Hammer must rely on the local police to help identify and find Susan. Hammer again tries to kill the cyborg, but is unsuccessful, so he kidnaps Brandon and offers him in trade for the cyborg. Brandon is seriously injured in the rescue attempt, so Susan must rush him to the hospital while the cyborg kills Hammer and his goons in retribution. When a transformer blows and the electricity goes out in the middle of Brandon's operation, the cyborg performs an act of self-sacrifice to save Brandon's life (Didn't the hospital ever hear of a backup generator?). The final shot shows the cyborg lifeless, looking like Jesus Christ crucified on the cross. Can cyborgs find religion? Hmmmmm... This dime store sci-fi tale, directed by Giannetto De Rossi (KILLER CROCODILE II - 1990), Italy's premiere special effects makeup artist (He is the Tom Savini of Italy, well-known amongst gore affectionattos  for his work on Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE [1979] and numerous other Italian zombie and slasher flicks), is slow-moving and uninvolving thanks to a nonsensical script by De Rossi and Dardano Sacchetti (using his "David Parker, Jr." pseudonym). When CY WARRIOR turns into a cutesy family drama, where the seemingly parent-free duo of Susan and Brandon welcome the cyborg into their opulent home unconditionally, it loses all forward momentum and never regains it's footing. What's even more mind-numbingly irrational are the tactics Hammer employs to kill the cyborg, murdering innocent people on the street and in a crowded restaurant (where Susan tries to teach the cyborg to dance!) without the slightest hint of regret. Quite the contrary, Hammer (played with usual wide-eyed intensity by Henry Silva, as he spouts lines like, "Piece of shit sardine can!") seems to relish the violence and the police are nowhere to be found to offer him any resistance. Frank Zagarino is perfect as a cyborg because, let's face it, he has about all the personality of a cash register at Denny's (Zagarino later perfected his robotic skills by portraying an android in PROJECT: SHADOWCHASER [1991] and it's three sequels). He jerks his head and body around like a cut-rate Peter Weller in ROBOCOP (1987), while over-exaggerated mechanical sound effects are heard on the soundtrack and every time he speaks, the dubbed-in voice makes it sound like he's talking in a tunnel. Considering De Rossi's involvement, the effects are particularly low-rent; just plenty of bloody bullet squibs and a scene where the cyborg peels off half his burned face, revealing his metal skeleton underneath (Where have I seen that before?) and then pouring some liquid skin over the exposed area (Where the hell did he get liquid skin?). CY WARRIOR, produced by Fabrizio DeAngelis (for Fulvia Films; DeAngelis was once contracted to direct this using his "Larry Ludman" pseudonym, but decided to produce it instead. Smart move.), is a pretty weak sci-fi actioner that didn't impress me in any department. As a matter of fact, I've seen better robotic movements by drunk relatives on the dance floor of wedding receptions. Also starring James Summers, Bill Hughes, Ron Lang, Thomas Rack, Gray Jordan and Charles Irving. Never available legitimately on home video in the U.S. in any form, the print I viewed was sourced from a Greek-subtitled VHS tape. Not Rated.

DARK FUTURE (1994)  -  This ultra-cheapie is derivative of countless futuristic films of years gone by. This film’s main distinction is that is was directed by notorious badfilm personality Greydon Clark (BLACK SHAMPOO - 1976; SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS - 1977; WITHOUT WARNING - 1980). Far in the future, the world is ruled by Synthetics (humanoid robots with human brains) who keep the remaining sterile humans captive in a secured slum city, where they are sexually abused and generally treated like shit by the unfeeling non-humans. When a baby is unexpectedly born, the Synthetics want to extract it’s brain cells to prolong the lives of their elderly human creators, who were rich businessmen before the Black Death destroyed most of humanity and made money useless. A lone human (Darby Hinton, star of MALIBU EXPRESS - 1985) tries to protect the baby and lead the remaining survivors to the Forbidden Zone, a place that no human has ever seen. Shot in Russia in the middle of winter, this film contains some cheesy props (the guns are actually Laser Tag toys), good locations, nudity and surprisingly well-done optical effects (by David L. Hewitt, director of such badfilms as GALLERY OF HORRORS - 1967, THE TORMENTORS - 1971 and THE LUCIFER COMPLEX - 1978). The mixture of American and Soviet talent both in front and behind the cameras make this a hit-or-miss affair, with the misses far outnumbering the hits. What else would you expect from Greydon Clark? Also starring Len Donato, Andria Mann, Gabriel Vaughn and Julian Jurin. From Dead Alive Productions Home Video. Not Rated.

THE DARK LURKING (2008) - Made-in-Australia sci-fi/horror film that is a freshman effort for nearly evereyone behind and in front of the cameras, and while the plot may be old hat, the frenetic presentation adds a shot of adrenaline to the proceedings. In the distant future, Reaserch Station 320, located on some unnamed planet, places a distress call stating that they are under attack from at least "five different mutations" and the situation looks dire. The captain of a passing ship owned by the rich and powerful IDGAF Corporation orders that the research station be sealed and to keep it a secret. We then watch as a female (Tonia Renee) wakes up in a totally white room. She has "SC17" tattooed on her arm and seems totally confused. She takes a shower and begins to have a massive nosebleed, when two guys in bio-contamination suits enter the room and try to kill her, but a creature slaughters the two guys and the woman escapes. We then learn that the woman is one of eight survivors of Research Station 320, yet she has no memory of how she has gotten here. It seems the research station has been contaminated with some biological virus, which has turned most of the humans there into all sorts of flesh-hungry mutations. Those who haven't been infected with the virus must avoid even being scratched by the mutations for fear of instant contamination and transformation. The survivors, who include mercenaries Dare (Anthony Edwards), Michaels (Bret Kennedy) and Kirkland (Ozzie Devrish), as well as scientists and "lab rats" Yutani (Roslyn Van Doorn), Canning (Davyd Williams) and Jen (Cassia Rosenstraus), try to make their way to the planet's surface while battling the hordes of mutations, many of them whom were once their friends. The mysterious amnesiac woman begins to have seizures and, while she is unconscious, can see what the mutations are doing, like she has some psychic connection to them. As you can probably guess, the mutations begin chowing-down on the survivors one-by-one as they try to make their way to safety, while the mercenaries argue among themselves if it is worth risking their lives trying to protect the civilians (in the mercs' defense, most of the civilians are a thankless lot). When their numbers start dwindling, they become trapped in a laboratory occupied by Konieg (Dirk Foulger), a scientist who knows more about the amnesiac woman than he is letting on. What is this woman's connection to the mutations and will anyone make it out alive before the IDGAF Corporation nukes the station and denies all knowledge?  Although obviously shot on a shoestring budget with less than stellar acting (most of the mercenaries are portrayed by professional stuntmen), first-time director/screenwriter Greg Connors manages to pack a lot of action and gory bloodshed, not to mention some excellent makeup effects, into the mix. Besides the various mutated creatures, there are head explosions, limb removals (Yutani has her hand ripped-off and Kirkland cauterizes the wound with a flare), disembowelments, various bloody clawings and slashings and lots of squishy bullet squibs. If there's a quibble about this film, it's that it relies a little too much on the shakey-cam cinematography technique or strobe light effects during the action scenes (probably used to hide its low-budget roots) and a ridiculous (although inventive) third act explanation about the mutations (It has to do with the Nazi's finding a fossil of the original angel, Lucifer, during World War II and Konieg using DNA from the fossil for cloning experimentations. Far-fetched? You betcha!). Those are just minor distractions, though, in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable and gory "monsters-on-the-loose" sci-fi flick. Sure, it's an ALIEN (1979) clone (although it reminds me more of the Roger Corman-produced THE TERROR WITHIN [1988], only with better effects), but THE DARK LURKING is an entertaining clone nonetheless. Recommended. Also starring Philippe Deseck and Aash Aaron (I guess his Mom wanted him to be the first name in the Australia phone book!). A Cinema Epoch DVD Release. Rated R, but this is on the hard side of R.

THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (1989) - Forget Pink Floyd. This has nothing to do with their classic song (although it would fit in well as a background track). What we have here is a totally engrossing space/horror film about a crew on the spaceship SpaceCore One, who lose power as they are passing by the dark side of the Moon in the year 2022. They are running out of life support when out of the blue the space shuttle Discovery docks along side them. The crew go aboard the Discovery only to find that no one is on board except for a dead astronaut with a huge triangle cut out of his stomach. Giles (Will Bledsoe), one of the crew members, does a check on the dead astronaut and finds out that he disappeared, along with the Discovery, nearly 30 years ago in the Bermuda Triangle. Giles triangulates the Triangle only to find out that if it were to go out into space, it would be in the exact position they are in right now as it ends in one of the craters on the dark side of the Moon. Pretty soon the crew members (including Joe Turkel of THE SHINING  [1980], John Diehl of MIND RIPPER [1994], Alan Blumenfeld of THE RING [2002] and Robert Sampson of RE-ANIMATOR [1985]) become posseessed by what turns out to be Satan as he has complete control of the Bermuda Triangle.  The SpaceCore One is the 666th ship to be lost in the Triangle. Giles makes the ultimate sacrifice and in the finale we find out exactly what happened to all those ships, planes, helicopters and other transports that have disappeared. They are all in a crater on the Dark Side Of The Moon. This is pretty good for a low-budget space opera as we have to guess who is possessed and who is still human and parts of it reminded me of the big-budget film EVENT HORIZON, filmed 8 years later. There's very little blood or gore, but there's lots of scary situations and one-time director D.J. Webster does a good job of holding your interest. Still not available in the States on DVD, this would make a good addition to anyone's library if they are interested in science fiction with a touch of horror. Also starring Wendy MacDonald and Camilla More as Lesli, the female computer who runs the ship. A Vidmark Entertainment Home Video Release. Rated R.

DARK UNIVERSE (1993) - Cheapie monster-on-the-loose film from executive producer Fred Olen Ray’s American Independent Production outfit. A space shuttle astronaut is infected by alien spores upon re-entry to earth and crash lands in the Florida swamps. He turns into a monster (that looks like a cross between an ALIEN [1979] creature and a T-Rex) and terrorizes an untalented cast as they try to avoid him (it?) and some other spore -mutated wildlife. This film is notable only for some interesting morph effects and an eccentric cameo cast which includes Steve Barkett (the auteur behind the bizarre misfire THE AFTERMATH [1980] and the even weirder EMPIRE OF THE DARK [1991]) as the astronaut, Martin Sheen’s less-talented brother Joe Estevez (SOULTAKER - 1990) as a corporate bigwig and genre director William Grefe (STANLEY -1972; MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH - 1976) as an elderly trapper who falls victim to the monster. The rest of the film is unimpressive as the creatures are unconvincing and the main casts’ acting talents leave a lot to be desired. Not worth your hard-earned rental bucks. Starring Blake Pickett, Cherie Scott, Bently Tittle and Pat Moran (who also wrote and co-produced). Directed and co-produced by Steve Latshaw (VAMPIRE TRAILER PARK - 1991; BIOHAZARD: THE ALIEN FORCE - 1994;  JACK-O - 1995 and RETURN OF THE KILLER SHREWS - 2012). A Prism Entertainment Video Release. Rated R.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOPPED (2008) - This is the Asylum's "mockumentary" version of 20th Century Fox's remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (2008) and it follows the same formula of all their other countless big-budget counterpart rip-offs (see my review of Asylum's HILLSIDE CANNIBALS for other titles): Copy the ad campaigns and 99% of the story of the big studios' films, throw in 1% originality and make it with a bunch of D-grade actors and a budget so anemic that it would even make Roger Corman say, "What, are you crazy? It can't be done!" An alien invasion of Earth leaves 666 giant robots (the same ones used in Asylum's TRANSFORMERS rip-off, TRANSMORPHERS [2007]) standing deactivated in the middle of the world's most populated cities. Two naked humanoid aliens, Sky (the beautiful Sinead McCafferty, who looks great completely naked and is clearly the best thing about this film) and Man (Bug Hall), also land on Earth and are captured by the military, led by Josh Myron (C.Thomas Howell, who also directed) and Prewitt (co-scripter Darren Dalton). Sky tells Josh that the Earth has twenty-four hours to "prove the value of human life" or else the robots will be activated and wipe out all traces of human life, putting our planet back in the state it was before we began ruining it. When the U.S. government stupidly ignores Sky's warning and try to destroy one of the robots with missiles (which are ineffective and result in the destruction of three jets), the whole world loses electrical power. Josh breaks Sky out of captivity and he tries to show her the value of human life (good luck there!), with Prewitt and the military not far behind. Can a simple schmo like Josh convince Sky to stop the Earth from spinning off its axis and stopping dead in it's tracks? When he takes Sky to church and tries to explain the concept of God (good luck there!), she taps into Josh's mind (where she sees stock footage of rain forests, waterfalls and clips of Howell when he was considered a star on the rise [OK, I made up that last one!]) and begins to actually experience the best and worst man has to offer, whether it's being carjacked by a thug with a gun or witnessing the birth of a baby. When Sky breaks her cardinal rule of "not getting involved" and uses her alien powers to bring the baby's dead mother back to life, it sets the stage for the redemption of the human race. Thank God, I was worried there for a minute!  Ugh, what a complete waste of time. Director/actor C. Thomas Howell, who was once a promising actor (THE OUTSIDERS - 1983; RED DAWN - 1984) and then became a staple in the PM Entertainment factory (directing and starring in such action titles as PURE DANGER and THE BIG FALL [both 1996]), has now become the poster boy of the abysmal Asylum carbon copy club, appearing in such Z-grade films like H.G. WELLS' WAR OF THE WORLD (2005) and directing/starring in the sequel, WAR OF THE WORLDS 2: THE NEXT WAVE (2008). It's hard watching Howell in crap like this when he was so good in films of the past (THE HITCHER [1986] immediately springs to mind). This is pablum that even a baby would refuse to take as nourishment (speaking of babies, the one that was born here clearly looks to be six months old!), as it is nothing but talky pseudo-babble about man's worth and cheap CGI effects (we hear about 666 robots, but we only see one at a time). Like I said earlier, only Ms. McCafferty's nude sequence in the beginning holds the viewer's interest and when she is finally clothed (apparently, alien women wear bras), the film stops dead in it's tracks, much like the Earth in this film. Not even a late-in-the-film cameo by Judd Nelson (who gets second billing in the credits, but has less than two minutes of screen time) as the father of the newborn baby, can raise any interest (Nelson's career path has taken a dive similar to Howell's). For those of you that thought that the new big-budget THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL was a stinker (and it was), let me introduce you to the entire garbage dump. No amount of ice or air freshener can mask the awful odor that is STOPPED. This is 89 minutes of pure Hell on Earth. Listen up, my faithful readers: I don't know how many more of these Asylum abominations I can watch before my brain turns into an organ that is totally useless, so can we just agree that it's best to avoid them at all cost? Also starring Cameron Bender, Jonathan Sanders, Lew Knopp, Reiko Kaneshiro and Jason Ellefson. An Asylum Home Entertainment DVD Release. Not Rated.

THE DAY TIME ENDED (1979) - In this interesting Charles Band production (pre-Empire and Full Moon), a family gets caught in a time vortex when their new solar powered home in the desert is hit with a strange phenomenon after three far-away stars go supernova. A green-glowing alien object (which looks like a miniature pyramid) suddenly appears in their backyard and when it is touched, it causes objects to appear and disappear. The object then changes it size and little granddaughter Jenny (Natasha Ryan) puts it in her pocket and brings it into the house. Things start to get weird when the family patriarch (Jim Davis) and matriarch (Dorothy Malone) see two UFOs flying overhead while taking a stroll at night. Things get progressively stranger when a large cracked mirror seems to fix itself, rooms start glowing green, small alien creatures start roaming the house and a miniature spaceship chases everyone around while shooting lasers at them. After a while it becomes apparent that they are caught in a time warp, where the past, present and future all exist at the same time (hence the mirror seemingly fixes itself when, if fact, they were looking at the mirror before it was cracked). Son-in-law Richard (the expressionless Chris Mitchum), who was away on a business trip, worries when he cannot contact them by phone, so he begins a drive back to the house. Meanwhile, the family try to leave the house, but are stopped by strange lights in the sky. Before the night is through, the family will view plenty of alien ships, two giant creatures fighting each other (the winner then turns his attention to the family), they are transported to some alien technology graveyard and trapped in a never-ending series of travels back and forth through time. When Richard gets to the house, he sees it disappear but, for some unexplained reason, he is reunited with his family and they start a new life on an alien planet. What?!?  Director John "Bud" Cardos (KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS - 1977; MUTANT - 1983) infuses the film with an air of mystery (which is nearly destroyed by the opening narration) and, although the story line is somewhat unique, the cheapness of the production hampers it's overall effectiveness. Nearly all the effects are done via stop-motion animation (supervised by Dave Allen) and some of them look unfinished, especially the scenes of the two giant aliens fighting. The optical effects are even cheaper looking, especially the scenes of the time warp surrounding the house. Still, for a small film, it is effects-laden and attempts to tell a story that, clearly, the budget couldn't sustain. The ending really doesn't make a lick of sense and seems tacked-on, as if the screenwriters (Wayne Schmidt, J. Larry Carroll and David Schmoeller) couldn't figure out a way to end it properly with the budget they were given, so they left it open-ended. Since a sequel was never made, let's hope they lived happily ever after. This played theatrically on a double bill with LASERBLAST (1978), another Charles Band production with Dave Allen stop-motion effects. Also starring Marcy Lafferty (who was Mrs. William Shatner at the time), and Scott Kolden. THE DAY TIME ENDED is also known as BLACK THUNDER, TIME WARP and VORTEX. Available as part of Brentwood Communications' 20 movie DVD compilation titled SPACE QUEST. Rated PG.

DEAD MAN WALKING (1987) - In the future world of 1997 Earth, disease has spread throughout the land and there are three distinct groups of people: The uninfected, who are free to move about wherever they please; The diseased, who are put into "Plague Zones" and can never leave, and: "Zero Men", males who are infected with a non-transmittable strain of the disease and only have one to two years to live. The Zero Men are known to have extremely tempermental behavior because of their short life expectancy. One ultraviolent Zero Man, Decker (Brion James), escapes from a prison van and heads into the nearest Plague Zone to hide. He, along with a couple of other prison escapees, stop a passing limousine and kidnap Leila (Pamela Ludwig), after killing her wealthy industrialist father, and head into the heart of the Plague Zone, knowing full well that the police will never follow. Chaz (Jeffrey Combs), Leila's chauffeur (and possible lover) hires devil-may-care Zero Man John Luger (Wings Hauser) to lead him into the Plague Zone to rescue Leila. As Luger and Chaz track Decker, they find nothing but death and destruction (including a boobytrapped severed head) left in his wake. Decker catches Luger and Chaz off-guard and buries them up to their necks in the blazing sun. They are rescued by a nomad farmer (Leland Crooke) and his hideously deformed sister Pookie (Penelope Sudrow). After giving the farmer Chaz's "pain pills" in exchange for oil (for their car), guns and Pookie (who dies the next morning from the disease), Luger and Chaz head to Cafe Death, where the dregs of society go to drink, fight and watch a live stage show where infected people are killed in graphic ways. Decker gets the drop on Luger (again) and uses jumper cables and a car battery to torture Luger. Chaz rescues Luger and they have a final showdown with Decker in a junkyard, where Chaz makes a startling revelation to Luger about his "pain pills" and Leila puts a few rounds into Decker. Luger then makes a move that will change all of humanity.  This is one of Gregory Dark's (here using the pseudonym "Gregory Brown") rare forays into mainstream filmmaking (others being STREET ASYLUM [1990 - also with Hauser] and the recent SEE NO EVIL [2006]). Dark is mainly recognized for his stylish porn films, like NEW WAVE HOOKERS (1985) and also directed erotic thrillers like ANIMAL INSTINCTS: THE SEDUCTRESS (1995) using the name "Alexander Gregory Hippolyte". Dark borrows motifs from many films for DEAD MAN WALKING, most notably the recurring TV news breaks from ROBOCOP (made the same year as this), right down to using the same actor (Mario Machado) to play the news anchor (he played "Casey Wong" in all three ROBOCOP films). Some parts of this film are highly inventive, such as our initial introduction to Luger, where we see him in a bar playing a deadly Russian roulette game with another patron that involves a chainsaw, their necks and a pull on the starter rope. Another funny sight is Luger's car: It's a hollowed-out AMC Pacer made to look like a dune buggy. The film is violent (plenty of gunshots to the head, a neck snapping, a man turned into a fireball), funny (Chaz's first meeting with Luger involves him holding a ticking bomb while Luger tries to disarm it) and it has something to say about society and how it classifies people (Luger says in one moment of weakness, "I don't want to die!"). Some scenes reminded me of porn films, such as the stage show at Cafe Death, which looks like a twisted take-off of CAFE FLESH (1982). The jazz score, by Claude "Coffee" Cave, is also highly unusual (and eerily effective) for a film of this type. DEAD MAN WALKING is by no means a great film, but it is a very interesting way to spend 90 minutes. Worth your time. Also starring Sy Richardson, Biff Yeager, Darwin Swalve and Diz McNally. A Republic Pictures Home Video Release. Rated R.

DEAD SPACE (1990) - When Roger Corman starts ripping off his own material, you know it is going to be a stinker (just look what happened when his company remade Poe's MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH in 1989). This one is a reworking of FORBIDDEN WORLD (a.k.a. MUTANT - 1982), where a rampaging monster is killed by feeding it a diseased, cancer-ridden human liver. DEAD SPACE offers the same premise: Space cop Marc Singer (a regular in Corman films) answers a distress call on a distant planet where a team of scientists are working on genetic experiments to combat a lethal new disease. Soon they are combatting their genetic experiment as it mutates into a new life form. It needs human flesh to survive. Bullets and conventional weapons cannot stop it, so it is up to the scientists to come up with a way to dispatch it while they are horrendously murdered one by one. When it is learned that one of the scientists (Bryan Cranston of TV's MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE [2000 - 2006] and his triple Emmy Award-winning role as Walter White in BREAKING BAD [2008 - ?)) has the lethal disease they originally were to find a cure for, he offers his blood as a possible weapon against the mutant. Singer, not satisfied with just his blood, offers the mutant Cranston's entire body. The mutant chows down on Cranston's head and dies, but not before giving birth to two baby mutants. Can the last two survivors (Singer and Laura Tate) destroy the infants before they become mother's milk? They do. (There, now you don't have to view this excruciatingly bad film!) Even at 72 minutes, it is highly padded and seems twice as long. The mutant is also a laughable creation. When are filmmakers going to learn that you can't top the creature from the ALIEN series when you are only working with a fraction of its budget? If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what can be said of an imitation of an imitation? Corman and crew should stick with making erotic thrillers because that is where they excel. You would have to have an empty head to enjoy DEAD SPACE (also released under the title BIOHAZARD in some foreign territories). Directed by Fred Gallo, who also made DRACULA RISING (1993) and TERMINATION MAN (1997) for Corman. A Columbia-Tristar Home Video Release. Rated R.

DIGITAL MAN (1994) - Short on logic but high in action, DIGITAL MAN makes for a pleasant 95 minutes for thrill seekers. A high-tech military cyborg prototype (Matthias Hues of MISSION OF JUSTICE [1992]) is sabotaged and goes on a murderous rampage in a small, almost deserted, ghost town. The military (led by Ed Lauter) sends a team of well-equipped soldiers (led by Ken Olandt of TV’s SUPER FORCE [1990 - 1992]) to the town to destroy the Digital Man and retrieve the launch codes (which could cause World War III) that he is holding. The rest of the film is a series of hunt-and-kill scenes, but with a difference. When one of the team is killed and it is discovered that he was a cyborg, the rest of the team begin looking at (and mistrusting) each other, not sure if they are cyborgs also. The team must also defend the denizens of the town, including a dimwit country bumpkin (Don Swayze, Patrick’s more-talented brother) who tries to escape the town at the most inopportune times and a government-hating, cigar-chewing broad (Susan Tyrrell) who is more than she seems. Some good humor, excellent Steadicam work and lots of nifty weaponry and explosions make DIGITAL MAN a cut above most direct-to-video fare. Director Phillip J. Roth is kind of an expert at this type of film, as he has previously made PROTOTYPE X29A (1992) and  A.P.E.X. (1994), two above-average futuristic thrillers. Roth would later direct the interesting VELOCITY TRAP (1998), the very good (and intentionally funny) INTERCEPTOR FORCE (1999) and it's equally good sequel INTERCEPTOR FORCE 2 (2002), all starring action star Olivier Gruner. Also starring Paul Gleason, Kristen Dalton and Adam Baldwin. A Republic Pictures Home Video Release. Rated R.

DRIVING FORCE (1989) - Weird futuristic actioner in the vein of MAD MAX (1979), but without the heady atmosphere. Widower Steve (Sam Jones; IN GOLD WE TRUST - 1990) takes a job with the No Risk Towing Company to support his young daughter Becky (Stephanie Mason), but immediately butts heads with rival towing company The Black Knights, which consists of leader Nelson (Don Swayze; TRAPPER COUNTY WAR - 1989) and underlings Surf (Robert Marius; FIST OF GLORY - 1991) and Pool (a badly-dubbed Billy Blanks), Steve and The Black Knights trade blows and steal each others car wrecks, which begins to piss-off Nelson a great deal. Complicating matters are Becky's rich maternal grandparents, John (Gerald Gordon) and Leslie (Renata Scott), who want to take custody of Becky (who is wise beyond her young years) because they believe Steve is an unfit father (and the fact that he never married their dead daughter). When The Black Knights don't have enough business, they cause accidents by booby-trapping the roads. Their latest victim is rich businesswoman Harry (Catherine Bach; RAGE AND HONOR - 1992), but Steve saves her in the nick of time from the sexual advances of Surf and Pool. Steve and Harry soon become romantically involved, but Steve worries how Becky will respond to a new woman in their lives. It turns out to be totally unfounded, as Becky and Harry immediately hit it off, but life becomes complicated when both The Black Knights and Becky's grandparents turn up the heat (The Black Knights set fire to Steve's motorcycle and the grandparents hire some thugs to kidnap Becky). When The Black Knights run Steve's tow truck off the road and Steve is hospitalized (he also loses his job), it is the perfect excuse for the grandparents to legally take possession of Becky. Steve and Harry must find a way to get Becky back, especially since Leslie turns into the grandmother from Hell and refuses to let Steve see Becky (She tells Becky, "Your father doesn't love you anymore."). Steve begins to unravel, so he decides to open his own towing company with friend Pete (Ancel Cook). He builds his own indestructible tow truck and soon becomes the premiere towing company in the area, raking in the cash hand over fist. When Nelson learns he is dying of lung cancer, he decides to go out with a bang, but he's not going alone. He destroys Pete's garage and nearly kills Becky (who has run away from her grandparents) when he, Surf and Pool push the trailer she's in over a cliff (the film's most effective scene), forcing Steve and his tow truck to go on a ride of vengeance. This sets the stage for a bloody showdown, where both the good and the bad get ugly.  A strange mixture of action and soap opera elements (maybe too much of the latter), DRIVING FORCE can't make up its mind just what type of film it wants to be. Director Andrew "A.J." Prowse (DEMONSTONE - 1989; ATTACK OF THE GRYPHON - 2006) handles the film's action scenes with aplomb, but falters when it comes to the human element, as all the characters, with the exception of Becky, are thinly-drawn and lack proper back stories (especially Nelson, who is mean for the sake of being mean). Thankfully, the action scenes, which include these strange-looking miniature tow trucks (they look like a cross between converted dune buggies and go-karts) crashing and exploding, work extremely well thanks to Stunt Superintendent and Second Unit Director Grant Page, who is Australia's top stuntman and whose exploits are documented in such films as THE MAN FROM HONG KONG (1975), DEATH CHEATERS (1976) and STUNT ROCK (1978). I was also hoping for more of the craziness that was found in the beginning of the film, such as when Nelson and Surf try to force severely injured accident victims to sign release forms as they lay bleeding in their wrecked cars, but the film quickly discards that quirkiness for more standard fare. As it stands, this Philippines-lensed film passes muster (barely) thanks to the energetic action scenes. The sci-fi aspects of Patrick Edgeworth's screenplay are dropped very early on, so there's not much on screen to make you believe this film takes place in the future. Also starring James Brewer, Joey Aresco, Paul Holm and Nigel Hogge. Originally released on VHS by Academy Entertainment and not available on DVD. Rated R.

DUNE WARRIORS (1990) - New California 2040 A.D.: A group of ruthless nomads, led by William (Luke Askew; ROLLING THUNDER - 1977; FRAILTY - 2001), destroy an entire village and kill all it's occupants (including one by decapitation) in their search for water, which is apparently scarcer than oil (William's gang drive around in gas-guzzling, weapons-equipped vehicles straight out of THE ROAD WARRIOR). Hot on William's trail is sword-weilding warrior Michael (David Carradine), who wants William's head on a stick for some past transgression. William sends his head goon, the pith helmet-wearing Tomas (Nick Nicholson), on an advance mission to a village known to contain plenty of water. The first thing Tomas does when he reaches the village is kill the brother of village girl Val (Jilliam McWhirter) to show he means business. Since the local village men are too scared to take on Tomas and his small force of men, who have taken over the village, Val escapes and begins a voyage to search for some brave men to free her village from the tyranny. Val runs smack-dab into a tribe of pygmie cannibals and is saved by Michael, who drives her to Freetown, a village full of misfits and mercenaries. After watching a motorcycle jousting tournament and getting involved in a bar fight, Val and Michael recruit John (Rick Hill), Dorian (Blake Byod) and Ricardo (Dante Varona) to help Val regain control of her village before William arives in one week's time. Along the way, they also recruit shotgun-toting female warrior Miranda (Isabel Lopez), who knows about Michael's past with William, but William stops her from telling the others. Val and her five warriors regain control of her village rather easily and begin training the villagers, who are mainly farmers, how to fight in preparation for William's arrival. Val's fiance, Luis (Henry Strzalkowski), becomes jealous when Val shows an interest in Dorian, so he turns traitorous and frees Tomas, who warns William what is waiting for him in the village. William has a hard time believing that only five people could defeat Tomas' squad, so he sends an advance force to kill them, which fails terribly. William eventually recaptures the village and takes Val and Dorian prisoner, but in an incredible stroke of luck (some would say too incredible), John finds a cache of weapons and explosives hidden in a cave. He arms all the villagers and they assault the village, while Michael and William settle an old score, having a swordfight with each other in the middle of the raging battlefield. Just what was their beef anyway? Really, can someone please tell me?  Is it derivative? Sure. Reminiscent of countless post-nuke flicks, not to mention THE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954)? Double check. Entertaining? Damn skippy. Director/producer Cirio H. Santiago is an old hand at churning out these Filipino post-apoctalyptic actioners, such as STRYKER (1983), WHEELS OF FIRE (1984), EQUALIZER 2000 (1986), THE SISTERHOOD (1987) and RAIDERS OF THE SUN (1991). Santiago is a competant director when handling actions scenes and DUNE WARRIORS is one non-stop action set-piece after another, with just enough exposition to connect those scenes together. Santiago follows the Roger Corman Principle (Corman financed many of Santiago's films, including this one): Keep it short (this film is barely 77 minutes long), keep it simple and give viewers what they expect, which is explosions, gun battles, martial arts fights, gore and nudity (both Jillian McWhirter and Isabel Lopez have topless scenes). Even David Carradine, who was usually just slumming around in low-budget films during this point in his career (KARATE COP - 1991), looks to be having a good time here, playing an "old timer" with an agenda.  Most of the cast is made up of Santiago regulars, including Rick Hill (THE DEVASTATOR - 1985), Jillian McWhirter (STRANGLEHOLD - 1994), Henry Strzalkowski (FIREHAWK - 1992), Nick Nicholson (SILK - 1986) and Joseph Zucchero (also this film's Editor), so making this film must have been like working with family and friends (Santiago's son, Christopher, was in charge of the production and worked on many of his father's films). There's not much meat to T.C. McKelvey's (Santiago's FIELD OF FIRE - 1990) script, but it's apparent he was having some fun here, such as when John says, "Take these assholes back to the stockade......and no milk and cookies!" If you enjoy post-nuke flicks, DUNE WARRIORS is a pretty safe bet. The closing song that plays over the end credits ("Desert Heat" by The Score Warriors) sounds too much like Joan Jett's "I Love Rock And Roll" to be a coincidence. Also starring Val Garay, Bon Vibar, Jim Moss, Ned Hourani and Robert Ginnivan. An RCA Columbia Pictures Home Video Release. Not yet available on DVD. Rated R.

EMPIRE OF ASH (II) (1988) - In case you are wondering why I am reviewing a sequel before the original, stop wondering right now. This film is actually its own sequel, released as EMPIRE OF ASH in 1988 and then re-released as EMPIRE OF ASH II in 1989. I can't come up with another example of a film ever doing this before or since, but once you watch this flick, you'll hope no one ever puts you through this type of torture ever again (Once is enough. Twice is unforgivable.). What we have here is a Canadian tax shelter film that posts this eternal question: How can we make a post-apocalyptic movie on a $1.98 budget (and that's Canadian dollars!)? The answer seems to be: Find junker cars that barely run, film it on roads in the middle of obviously green forests (apocalypse asmockalypse!) or in rock quarries and use actors that can't speak their lines without the use of cue cards. In the years following the "Great Infection", a band of cut-rate ROAD WARRIOR wannabes (another alternate title to this film is MANIAC WARRIORS), led by an uber-religious nutjob called Shepherd (Frank Wilson), roam an area known as New Idaho looking for infected mutants to kill and non-infected females to rape or get pregnant to propagate their species. A lone female warrior named Danielle (Melanie Kilgour) teams up with escaped military prisoner Orion (Thom Schioler) to look for Danielle's sister Jasmine (Ann Louise Meyer), who has been kidnapped by Shepherd and his gang. While Danielle is taking a topless shower in a cave, Orion is knocked-out and kidnapped by some mutants (who look like the Sand People in STAR WARS) and then brought to their compound (an abandoned industrial park), where they plan to drain and drink his blood and remove his bone marrow (the mutants need the blood and marrow to combat their low white blood cell count). Meanwhile, Shepherd and his warriors attack a human settlement (actually an auto junkyard), where they kill all the men and capture all the women (half of Shepherd's warriors are lesbians dressed in black leather outfits). Danielle sneaks into the mutants' compound and saves Orion's ass (he makes love to her as a way of saying "Thanks!"). Orion enlists the aide of his father's old army buddies, Iodine (James Stevens) and Chuck (Sandy MacKenzie), to help them raid Shepherd's camp and rescue Jasmine. With a cheapjack version of The Doors' "Born To Be Wild" playing on the soundtrack, the quartet enter the camp, kill Shepherd and his followers, save Jasmine and drive off into the sunset (The closing tune on the soundtrack sounds too much like The Rolling Stones' "[I Can't Get No] Satisfaction" to be a coincidence).  As I have stated previously, EMPIRE OF ASH (II) is a cheap, cheesy flick with very little going in its favor except for some unintentional humor (when a mutant drops an IV bag of blood in the mud and it breaks, he scoops up the muddy blood and tries to put it back into the bag!) and lots of low-rent chases and shootouts. Co-directors Lloyd A. Simandl (CHAINED HEAT 2 - 1993) and Michael Mazo (CRACKERJACK - 1994), who would both go on to co-direct an actual sequel to this, EMPIRE OF ASH III (a.k.a. LAST OF THE WARRIORS - 1989), try their best with the screenplay supplied by John Ogis, but the fact is the scope of the script far surpasses what this film's paltry budget will allow. There are simply too many characters to keep track of here and the film seems more like a series of vignettes than an actual linear story. While the acting is generally weak across the board, Simandl and Mazo at least have the good sense to let the pretty females do some nude scenes and spice-up the film with some blood and gore (bloody bullet squibs; dismembered body parts), including the killing of children. Alas, the action scenes have a substandard look to them, as the camera placements are off and the blocking of the fight scenes are lousy. Still, there are a few good tries and in-jokes, such as Iodine & Chuck's firefight with some warriors that is staged like a videogame, or Iodine throwing darts at a Jane Fonda magazine cover. It's not nearly enough to overcome the general cheapness of the entire production, though. The film is so threadbare, I'm surprised anyone is wearing clothes. Also starring Misha Lachat, Eric Horsfall, Michael Bernardo and David Gregg as "Rocket Man", who fires rockets from a helmet he wears on his head. Originally released on VHS by AIP Home Video and not available on DVD. Not Rated.

ENDGAME (1983) - Out of the numerous post-apocalyptic thrillers to come out of Italy during the 80's, this is my absolute favorite. The beginning of this film is similar to Steven King's story THE RUNNING MAN, written around the same time this film was being produced and was turned into a film in 1987 with the same name starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Bronx has been turned into a radioactive cesspool in the year 2025 and one of the very few distractions the people have is a reality show called Endgame, where three "hunters" try to kill the "prey", the winner getting fabulous prizes (including a lifetime supply of LifePlus, an energy drink that tastes like shit). On this, the 25th episode of Endgame, the prey is former hunter Ron Shannon (Al Cliver) and he is being stalked by three of the game's best hunters, including personal enemy Kurt Karnak (big George Eastman, who wrote the script as "Alex Carver"). It seems that this episode of Endgame is serving a dual purpose as, while everyone in the city is glued to their sets watching the show, the SS-like government, headed by Col. Morgan (Gordon Mitchell), is systematically wiping out all the Mutants, fearing that their superior powers (including telepathy and the ability to read people's minds) will lead to the government's downfall. During the middle of the game, Shannon is contacted by telepathic mutant Lilith (Moira Chen, a.k.a. "Laura Gemser") and is asked to escort her and some fellow mutants out of the city where they will be safe. Shannon's pay will be a fortune in gold. Shannon kills the first two hunters and defeats Karnak (with Lilith's help), but spares his life. He then runs afoul of the government when he saves Lilith from some government goons. Shannon agrees to lead the Mutants out of the city and hires Ninja (Al Yamanouchi), a (what else?) martial arts expert and Kovack (Mario Pedone), a brute man, to come along as extra muscle. After a brief run-in with Col. Morgan, where Karnak saves Shannon's life (now they're even), Shannon starts leading the Mutants out of the city, with Karnak not far behind. It's a long and deadly trip and not everyone will survive. Expect to be entertained and pleasantly surprised along the way.  Much more literate and creative than most Italian post-nuke films, director Joe D'Amato (he uses the pseudonym "Steven Benson" here) anticipates reality television over 15 years before it would become commonplace and tosses in some pretty good set pieces to boot, including telepathy used to defeat enemies remotely (as Lilith does in helping Shannon Defeat Karnak in Endgame) and when they run into a town full of psychopathic blind monks (who are also being controlled by an enslaved telepathic mutant). That's not to say that ENDGAME skimps on the action or violence, though. Heads are split open with axes and run over by cars, there are numerous car and motorcycle stunts and chases, stabbings, impalements, explosions, bullet squibs, a nasty neck-twisting and dismemberments, not to mention acts of self-sacrifice you don't normally see on films of this type. The real surprise is Karnak's turnaround from bad to good guy. Or is he? You are never sure until the finale (which is a hoot). There's also a heartbreaking scene where Shannon and Lilith are speaking to each other telepathically while she is being raped, only she talks to Shannon as if nothing is going on because she does not want him to know. Another unusual scene for a film of this type. On the minus side, some of the Mutant makeups are shoddy (some of the members of a renegade motorcycle gang look like outcasts from PLANET OF THE APES) and, as usual, the dubbing is horrendous with lines like, "Look at me while I rape you, damn it!" littering the script. Don't let that deter you from watching this, though (the late Joe D'Amato has said in several interviews that this was his favorite film), because it really does have much more to say than most Pastaland flicks. Future director Michele Soavi (THE CHURCH - 1989) was one of the assistant directors here (using the name "Mike Soft") and has a cameo at the end as a helicopter pilot. D'Amato, better known for his horror films like BURIED ALIVE (1979) and THE GRIM REAPER (1980), made 2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS a year earlier (using the name "Kevin Mancuso"). It's another above-average entry in the post-nuke sweepstakes. Hunt them down if you get the chance. You won't be disappointed. The future never looked so grim. Also starring Jack Davis, Gus Stone and Nat Williams. A Media Home Entertainment Release. Not Rated.

EQUALIZER 2000 (1986) - "North Alaska: A hundred years after the nuclear winter." The ice caps have melted and most of the potable water has disappeared. The Earth is nothing but a scorched shell and the remaining humans are ruled by a brutal dictatorship known as The Ownership, whose main base sits on top of the Alaskan oil pipeline. Those who control the oil controls the world. A faction of the rebel forces, who are fighting for a supply of oil, capture Ownership member Captain Slade (Richard Norton) during a battle and hope to use him in a prisoner exchange, but he escapes. Meanwhile, a sexy, leather-clad woman named Karen (Corrine Wahl) rips-off a group of black marketeers (who dress like Southern rebels during the Civil War), led by Alamo (Henry Strzalkowski) and Deke (Robert Patrick), and takes off with a few crates of their explosives (this was supposed to be a gas-for-explosives trade, but when the goofballs put the moves on Karen, all deals are off). This leads to a ROAD WARRIOR-type  car chase, which results in Slade saving Karen's ass. Now, Slade is not only wanted by The Ownership (who think he's a traitor) and the rebels, he's also on Alamo and Deke's shit list. Karen takes a wounded Slade to her village to recover, while The Ownership recruits Alamo and Deke's gang to look for Slade. Dixon (Rex Cutter), the leader of Karen's village, has developed a multi-barreled handheld weapon called the Equalizer 2000, capable of firing bullets, shotgun shells, grenades and rockets. Slade helps refine the weapon in hopes of using it against Colonel Lawton (William Steis), a sadistic Ownership member and former friend of Slade's who has become power-hungry. Lawton and his men travel the barren landscape, killing anyone who don't agree with The Ownership rules. Lawton eventually makes it to Karen's village and a huge firefight breaks out, but Slade and the Equalizer 2000 manage to hold Lawton back until the villagers escape to safety. Once Lawton sees the new weapon, he must have it, so he orders his men to get it any way they can. Alamo and Deke manage to steal the weapon, kidnap Karen and break off from The Ownership. Deke betrays Alamo (never trust a black marketeer) and takes off with the weapon, giving it to Lawton (and paying for it with his life). Lawton uses the Equalizer 2000 to take control of The Ownership and the finale finds Karen's village joining Slade and the rebels in storming The Ownership's headquarters. After the good guys win, Slade destroys the Equalizer 2000, so no one else is tempted to take over the world. Everyone else throws their weapons into a bonfire and they all live happily ever after. Except Karen. She's dead. Excuse me while I wipe the tears from my eyes.  Yes, this is another one of Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago's many post-nuke films, which include STRYKER (1983), WHEELS OF FIRE (1984), THE SISTERHOOD (1987), DUNE WARRIORS (1990) and RAIDERS OF THE SUN (1991; also starring Richard Norton). Viewers of SUN should be very familiar with this film, since many of EQUALIZER 2000's action scenes were used in SUN in a typical Roger Corman (who financed both films) cost-cutting manner. If you've seen any of Santiago's post-nuke flicks, you know what to expect here: Plenty of explosions, gunfights and chases with a minimum of plot. Nothing more, nothing less. It's interesting to note how bad an actor Robert Patrick was when he first started in the business. Besides appearing in the abysmal WARLORDS FROM HELL (1985), Patrick also starred in Santiago's FUTURE HUNTERS (1986), EYE OF THE EAGLE (1987) and BEHIND ENEMY LINES (1987), and he's terrible in all of them, screaming out his lines and mugging for the camera. He's calmed down a lot since then and has made his mark on TV (THE X-FILES [1993 - 2002]; THE UNIT [2006 - 2009]) and films (THE MARINE - 2006). Santiago also utilizes his regular stable of actors here. Besides the ones already mentioned, there's Frederick Bailey (DEMON OF PARADISE - 1987; also this film's scripter), Don Gordon Bell, Ramon D'Salva, Peter Shilton, Steve Cook, Bobby Greenwood, Nick Nicholson, Eric Hahn and Filipino staple Vic Diaz as Bone, a member of the spear-carrying Mountain People. Don't go in with your expectations too high and you may have fun with this film, also known as DEFENDER 2000. Santiago produced this using the pseudonym "Leonard Hermes".  Be aware that the R-rated VHS version distributed by MGM/UA Home Video in 1987 is the 77 minute version and is missing nearly 8 minutes of footage, including a rape committed on Karen and a nude sex scene involving Karen and Slade (this edit cuts away just as it is getting interesting). I believe the only uncut edition is available on Japanese VHS, but all the nudity is optically fogged-out. Still not available on DVD. Rated R.

EVILS OF THE NIGHT (1984) - Take one look at the cast and you know that you're in for something painful. The film opens with four overage teenagers at a midnight excursion in the woods enjoying such common things as underwater fellatio and doggie-style sex. They are abducted by a race of aliens (led by Tina Louise, Julie Newmar and John Carradine) who remove their blood platelets which will increase the aliens' lifespans. The aliens set up shop in an abandoned hospital and pay bumbling garage mechanics Neville Brand and Aldo Ray (in career busting performances) gold coins to help them with the abductions. The aliens need 10 people between the ages of 16 and 24 within the next two days to complete their experiments. The grease jockey duo kidnap and hold three teenagers in their garage while they wait for the aliens to contact them. Brand gets horny and tries to rape one of the girls. She fights back and Brand power drills her through the stomach. He goes after the other girl and ends up crushed under an hydraulic car lift. After seeing his buddy lying dead with a bloody sucking chest wound, Ray assaults the poor girl and gets an air hose shoved in his ear by another girl who has escaped from the alien hospital (she shoves it in his right ear and blood splurts out of his left one!). This severely disturbs Ray, who grabs an axe and chops the hospital girl to pieces. The departing aliens kill Ray with a green death ray as payment for a job well done. EVILS contains plenty of gratuitous sex and nudity in its first 30 minutes, but goes for a deep slide after the story kicks in. It's painful to listen to the actors speak such ridiculous line as: Brand: "I sure would like to hump one of those girls!" Ray: "Why not? We've done it before!" After Newmar finds Louise's head caved in on the hospital floor she utters this immortal line: "She's been expunged!" Triple threat Mardi Rustam (who directed, produced and wrote this mess and used the same bumbling/raping grease monkey premise in the piecemeal film EVIL TOWN [1974/1985]) also executive produced Greydon Clark's THE BAD BUNCH (1976). One question: If the former Ginger, Tina Louise, refused to appear in the GILLIGAN'S ISLAND reunion TV movies, why did she agree to star in this abomination (and others, like HELL RIDERS [1984])? EVILS OF THE NIGHT is an embarassment for all those involved. A Lightning Video Release. Available on DVD from Media Blasters/Shriek Show. Unrated.

EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000 (1983) - This Italian/Spanish co-production is one of the worst ROAD WARRIOR (1982) imitations that I have ever seen and I've seen plenty. In a post-nuclear apocalypse world, the Earth is running dangerously low on drinkable water and it hasn't rained in over a hundred years. A town of scientists experimenting in hydroponics sends a convoy of tanker trucks out to a secret location where water is plentiful, but on their way there they are attacked by the Exterminators, a band of dirtbike and dune buggy-riding mutants led by Crazy Bull (Fred Harris). The only survivor of the attack is ten year-old Tommy (Luca Vententini) and he enlists the help Alien (Robert Jannucci), a loner anti-hero (in the mold of you-know-who), to help him bring a tanker full of water back to his town. At first, Tommy get's on Alien's nerves (he sure got on mine), but after a few close calls together, they become to depend on each other and Alien becomes somewhat of a father figure to Tommy (whose real father died at the Exterminators' hands a short while ago). After Tommy has an accident, Alien takes him to a mechanic named Papillon (Alan Collins) for repairs (turns out Tommy has some bionic parts) and he gives Tommy an upgrade. Alien meets old flame Trash (Alicia Moro) and Tommy tells her the secret location of the water (he still, at this point, has trust issues with Alien). Trash and Alien go to the site and find the water, but must deal with some angry religious zealots who guard the water and work their way around various booby traps (not to mention being double-crossed by Trash) before making the long journey back to Tommy's town. Expect lots of resistance from Crazy Bull and his gang of Exterminators (who he keeps calling "mother grabbers" and "ball breakers") on the return trip. After an accident depletes the supply of water, all hope is lost. Or is it? Hey Alien: Are you crying or is it raining for the first time in over a hundred years?  Quite simply put, George Miller should have sued. Not only are entire scenes copied from THE ROAD WARRIOR, characters are as well (Fred Harris is made to look the spitting image of Vernon Wells). Director Giuliano Carnimeo (using the pseudonym "Jules Harrison"), who also directed THE RAT MAN (1987) under the name "Anthony Ascott", just substitutes water for oil and, voila!, he has an "original" film. My hopes were briefly lifted when Tommy was tied between two motorcycles and his arm is torn off, but then it turns out he has a bionic arm and he wasn't hurt. To add insult to injury, Alien picks up the arm and duct tapes it to Tommy's shoulder (!) until he can have it attached properly. Tommy also gets drunk on beer at one point, proving that the Italians never heard of child labor laws. The fact that it took three people to write the threadbare script (including genre vet Dardano Sacchetti) and the best they could come up with are lines like, "A snake bite is better than a kiss from you!" and "Unleash the dogs of war!", shows what little original thought went into EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000. They already had a blueprint to follow, so why try, right? Wrong. There are serious amounts of dead air in this film and the action scenes are not very exciting or staged very well and there's too much reliance on slow motion. There's plenty of violence as people are shot in the head, blown up or run over and there's lots of chases and explosions, but there's nothing here you haven't seen done better in other films, like THE ROAD WARRIOR! Not worth your time or patience (and you'll need plenty). Also known as DEATH WARRIORS. Also starring Eduardo Fajardo, Beryl Cunningham and Anna Orso. A Thorn EMI Video Release. Rated R.

THE EYES BEHIND THE STARS (1977) - I remember coming home late from a night of boozing sometime in the early 80's and turning on the TV (to CBS TV's The Late Late Show) just as this flick was starting. The mixture of rocket fuel in my system and the eerie vibe this film possessed creeped me out at the time and I never forgot the experience. Since I am a glutton for punishment, I decided to watch this again over twenty five years later, this time perfectly sober. Knowing full well that I would probably be bitterly disappointed, I was pleasantly surprised when I wasn't. The film starts off like a ufologist's version of BLOW-UP (1966) where fashion photographer Peter Collins (Franco Garofalo) notices something strange in the background of one of the photos he has taken. He goes back to the location to investigate when he is chased and captured by aliens and brought aboard their spacecraft, where he is put on a table and probed. Peter's model friend, Karen (Sherry Buchanan), goes to his studio and finds the negative of the photo. She calls her friend Tony (Robert Hoffman), a reporter for the Daily Herald, who comes over and takes the negative with him. Right after Tony leaves, a blinding flash of light engulfs the studio and all the photos disappear. Karen walks out of the studio in a trance and disappears. The next day, the police, headed by Inspector Grant (Martin Balsam, badly dubbed with an English accent), find Peter and Karen's vehicles abandoned in a park, a huge circular burn in the grass nearby. Tony begins an investigation and finds out that an old man and his dog were blinded that night a short distance away from the cars and that there were multiple reports of UFO sightings that night. The old man dies soon after (of radiation poisoning) and the military covers it up. Tony become suspicious and consults a noted ufologist, who tells him that UFOs are real and the military is aware and may be working in conjunction with them for nefarious reasons. He gives Tony some top secret documents and tells him to be careful.  Soon, the aliens and the military are trying to silence Tony and everyone Tony talks to ends up dead or too scared to talk. Can Tony get the information out to the public before the Men In Black (yes, they're here, but they are called "Silencers") and aliens shut Tony's trap for good? Prepare yourself for a nihilistic ending.  A mixture of paranoia, deceit and uncertainty permeate every frame of this film. The eerie electronic score, along with the use of fisheye lenses, give the film an otherworldly quality that greatly enhances the atmosphere. Director/screenwriter Roy Garrett (real name: Mario Gariazzo), who also directed the abysmal BROTHER FROM SPACE (1984) and the even hoarier THE COMING OF ALIENS (1978), which both also deal with extraterrestrial visitations, gives us a straight-up verbal history of UFO cover-ups across the world, all wrapped up in this little tale. He should know because during his opening directorial credit it states that he's a member of the National Investigation Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) and a field investigator for the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO). I don't know if any of that is true (Garrett died in 2002), but he sure does play everything that goes on in this film very seriously. On the minus side, the aliens are laughable. They're basically men in silver jumpsuits with a huge visor to hide their faces. The dubbing is also atrocious. Everyone speaks with a proper English accent even though it's abundantly clear that this wasn't filmed in England (the steering wheels on the cars are on the wrong side). It's still a pretty decent tale of government cover-ups, paranoia and trying to get to the truth, one of the true precursors to THE X-FILES (1993 - 2002). Also starring Nathalie Delon, Victor Valente, Sergio Rossi, Anthony Freeman and George Ardisson. A VCI Video Release. This can also be had as part of Brentwood Communications' 20 movie DVD compilation titled SPACE QUEST. Not Rated, but nothing really objectionable.

THE FINAL EXECUTIONER (1983) - This is another in a long line of Italian post-nuke films that flooded the marketplace during the 80's. After stock shots of atomic bomb explosions and volcano eruptions, a voice-over informs us that the future world contains two societies: The wealthy minority who are uncontaminated and the radiation-diseased majority. The wealthy amuse themselves by playing "The Hunt", a sick game where they hunt infected humans for fun, profit and bragging rights. Future hunters Erasmus (Harrison Muller of SHE [1983]) and Edra (Marina Costa) are competitors in the latest hunt; the prize being ownership of a white sniper rifle (One hunter says, "Whoever painted it didn't know the color of bullshit!"). Edra and her group savagely gun down over 25 people while Erasmus takes a more hands-on approach and kills six people with a samurai sword. Since Edra also killed six people, she and Erasmus are tied in the competition. They capture player Alan Tanner (William Mang) and decide to let him go (after raping and killing his wife!), agreeing that whoever hunts him down and kills him will win the game. After being shot by Edra and presumed dead, Alan is rescued by old-timer ex-cop Sam (Woody Strode). After repairing Sam's car, Alan and Sam stakeout a food drop, where they witness gangs of infected people fight each other to the death for tins of meat. We then find out that Alan had proof that the Earth and it's people are no longer infected by radiation and he was made "target material" by the wealthy minority, who don't wish the world to know the truth. After Sam teaches Alan fighting and survival techniques, Alan sets out to get revenge on those who raped and killed his wife. It won't be that easy since Erasmus and Edra still have a contest to win. Alan infiltrates the Hunters' compound and begins killing everyone there one-by-one (he even boobytraps a motorcycle so that when one female hunter tries to get away on it, it explodes underneath her). In the finale, it's Alan against Erasmus and Edra, where Alan gets an unexpected hand from Sam, just when things look hopeless.  This is a pretty weak apocalyptic tale thanks to the almost non-existant blood and gore. THE FINAL EXECUTIONER is plenty violent, as people are shot, stabbed, punched and blown up, but very little of it is bloody. The action scenes are handled well, but there's an over-reliance of slow-motion shots and nearly every death is handled this way. As with many Italian films of this type, there's a brutal rape which leads to the death of the woman being raped. This film is not without some effective moments, though. The Hunters have this device they put on their heads which allows their memories to be displayed on a TV screen and everyone gathers around to watch them like it's a night out at the movies. When one hunter puts the device on his head, it plays back the brutal rape. Hunter Diana (Margi Newton) gets turned-on from watching it and ends up screwing the guy projecting the memory. One wishes that director Romolo Guerrieri (THE SWEET BODY OF DEBORAH - 1968; COVERT ACTION - 1978) would have used more of these imaginative moments instead of focusing much of the screen time on William Mang as Alan. Mang has such an unexpressive face, it's hard to tell if he's taking a shit or just pissed off at the world. Another Italian post-nuke flick, ENDGAME (1983), told nearly the same story much more effectively and violently. Cannon Films handled the theatrical distribution for this. Also starring Maria Romano, Karl Zinny, Giovanni Cianfriglia, Renato Miracco and Stefano Davanzati. An MGM/UA Home Video Release. Not Rated.

FIST OF STEEL (1991) - Teddy Page directs a post-nuke flick! After some stock footage of an atom bomb explosion (you know the footage I'm talking about), we watch Amp (Dale "Apollo" Cook; FIST OF GLORY - 1991) and girlfriend Lyssa (Cynthia Khan; IN THE LINE OF DUTY 5 - 1990) trying to escape through the bleak landscape, only to be recaptured by a band of roving nomads, led by the dentally-challenged Mainframe (Gregg Douglass). Mainframe snaps Lyssa's neck and has his men crucify Amp in the sand (Which raises the question: How do the spikes driven through Amp's hands hold him in the sand?), but an unexpected sandstorm offers Amp an opportunity to escape. Amp stumbles through the desert until he is found by female villager Wild (Khan again), who brings Amp back to her village. The village leader (Mike Monty) doesn't approve of Amp's presence (Amp is a fighter called a "Spiker", who fights in tournaments for food and water), so as soon as Amp's wounds are healed, he leaves the village with an unwanted Wild in tow. It's a good thing she left with Amp, because a short time later, Mainframe's men invade her village looking for Amp and murder everyone when they don't find him. Amp and Wild travel from village to village, surviving on food and water Amp wins in Spiker tournaments. Amp teaches Wild the finer points of fighting so she can pull her own weight. After battling some mutant sand lepers, Amp and Wild end up in the next settlement, where Amp is reunited with old friend Scudder (Jim Gaines; JUNGLE RATS - 1987), an ex-Spiker who gave up fighting due to a traumatic event in his past. Amp enters into a tournament where the winner will fight the champion fighter, Mainframe, in the Spiker Championship Tournament. Amp takes on a series of increasingly difficult opponents and ends up the winner, but Mainframe's second-in-command, Wires (Don Nakaya Neilsen), nearly wrecks Amp's chances of getting even with Mainframe. The sand lepers kidnap our heroic trio and Amp is forced to fight their best fighter to the death. After Amp defeats the rotting-faced leper, the trio head to the next village, where Amp faces Mainframe in a final battle to the death.  Though nothing but a series of increasingly complex martial arts fights, FIST OF STEEL (also known as ETERNAL FIST) is an enjoyably goofy and bloody Filipino actioner. Late director Teddy Page (BLOOD DEBTS - 1983; WAR WITHOUT END - 1986), using his "Irving Johnson" pseudonym, and screenwriter Anthony Jesu have fashioned a fast-paced, if derivative, post-apocalypse tale that's short on plot, but contains more than enough bloody violence and even some comedy (Filipino staple Nick Nicholson is a hoot as a pot-smoking fight promoter) that fans of this genre should enjoy. There's nary a dull moment here, as people are pummeled, beaten to a bloody pulp, stabbed, shot with a crossbow, axed in the head or run-through with spears. What you won't find here, which is highly unusual for a film in this genre, is gunplay of any kind. Guns don't exist in this universe, as everyone either carries spears, knives, crossbows or other edged weapons. Mainframe and his men still drive around in dune buggies and gas is mentioned as a highly sought-after commodity, but there is not one mention of guns. I find that very refreshing, even though I'm sure the only reason we don't see firepower of any kind was strictly a cost-cutting measure on the production end. Bullet squibs and blanks aren't cheap, you know. This film has several "What The Fuck?!?" moments, including Mainframe's gleeful killing of Scudder (Gregg Douglass clearly relishes his role, which makes his limited screen time a treat for viewers) and Amp getting drunk and coming-on to Wild by asking, "I guess a blowjob is out of the question?" The fighting scenes are solidly filmed and well choreographed and the acting by Cook (who made BLOOD RING with Page the same year), Khan and Gaines gets the job done without being embarrassing, which is surprising, since Cook is usually stiffer than a corpse in Winter in all the other films I have seen him in (Try watching AMERICAN KICKBOXER 2 [1993] sometime). If you can imagine a post-nuke flick without all the normal pyrotechnics you've come to expect, give FIST OF STEEL a try. You may just find yourself liking it. Also starring Ned Hourani, Crist Agular, Big Boy Gomez, Paul Petterson, Adnan Trad, Craig Judd and David Giberson. An Action International Pictures Home Video VHS Release. Not available on DVD. Not Rated.

FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982) - Throughout the 80's & 90's, producer Roger Corman made dozens of films copying the success of ALIEN (1979). This is one of his earliest and best of those copies. After being awakened from a cryogenic sleep by android SAM-104 (Dan Olivera) and doing battle with some alien spaceships (in footage "borrowed" from Corman's STAR WARS rip-off, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS [1980]), Captain Mike Colby (Jesse Vint; BLACK OAK CONSPIRACY - 1977) is sent to a desolate planet to investigate an "accident" which has occurred at a top-secret laboratory located there. Mike is met by Dr. Gordon Hauser (Linden Chiles) and his assistant, Dr. Barbara Glaser (June Chadwick; HEADHUNTER - 1989), where Dr. Hauser informs Mike that while creating a totally new food source, they have also created a creature called "Subject 20", a metamorph that is constantly changing its genetic makeup to adapt to its surroundings. It seems Subject 20 broke free and slaughtered a bunch of lab animals and when it stopped its killing spree, it put itself in a large incubator, where it now rests in a cocooned state. Mike wants to kill it immediately, by Dr. Hauser and Dr. Cal Timbergen (Fox Harris) talk him out of it by convincing him that by studying the creature, they could open up new discoveries in rapid genetic changes (Imagine turning a single grain of rice into something big enough to feed a large family). Well, that turns out to be a big mistake, as Subject 20 springs back to life and attaches itself to the face (Hey, where have I seen this before?) of lab technician Jimmy (Michael Bowen), where it gestates inside his body before hatching into a totally new creature which begins hunting down and devouring the laboratory staff, beginning with Earl (Scott Paulin). The more the creature (which now looks much more like the ALIEN) eats, the larger and more intelligent it becomes (it absorbs the knowledge of its victims). From here on in, FORBIDDEN WORLD becomes your standard "monster on the loose in a locked-down facility" scenario, albeit one with more female nudity than you usually find on films of this type and a truly inspired way to defeat the creature.  As directed by Allan Holzman, FORBIDDEN WORLD stands out from most ALIEN clones thanks to some effective quick shock cuts that are almost subliminal (Holzman was also the Editor here) and plenty of bloody gore and full-frontal female nudity. Both June Chadwick and Dawn Dunlap have several nude scenes, both separately and together and they are eye-opening (Damn, they are gorgeous!). Tim Curnen's screenplay (based on a story by Jim Wynorski and R.J. Robertson) is really nothing but rehashed scenes from countless alien-on-the-loose flicks, but director Holzman (OUT OF CONTROL - 1985; PROGRAMMED TO KILL - 1987) manages to overcome the clichés by keeping the camera off-balance and the gore flowing at a steady pace. The acting is uniformly flat (especially Jesse Vint, who looks bored throughout, except when he is next to the nude bodies of Ms. Dunlap or Ms. Chadwick), but we don't watch these knock-offs for their emoting, do we? FORBIDDEN WORLD (also known as MUTANT) is an entertaining quickie (it clocks-in just a tad over 73 minutes) that contains enough exploitative elements (nudity, violence, blood and feeding a cancerous human liver to the creature to kill it!) to keep even the most jaded genre fan shocked and amused. Also starring Raymond Oliver. Cost-cutting auteur Roger Corman remade this film in 1990 under the title DEAD SPACE. Avoid that one and watch this instead. Originally available on VHS from Embassy Home Entertainment and also available on fullscreen German DVD from Anolis (with optional English soundtrack) under the title MUTANT: DAS GRAUEN IM ALL. Also available on widescreen DVD & Blu-Ray from Shout! Factory as part of their hugely successful "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" line, which sets the standard for future generations to enjoy this film. Rated R.

FUTURE FORCE (1989) - The year 1989 was a good year role-wise for the late David Carradine; appearing in this insane ultra-low-budget ROBOCOP rip-off, as well as playing Mama Pearl in the unclassifiable SONNY BOY. In FUTURE FORCE, it's the not-too-distant future of 1991 and the United States has become a haven for criminals of every type. So much so, that all local, state and federal law enforcement organizations no longer exist. They have been taken over by big corporations, who have created Civilian Operated Police Systems, Inc., or "C.O.P.S." for short (the film's original shooting title), that takes care of all the crime fighting needs. One such civilian officer is John Tucker (Carradine), who we first see shooting a drug dealer with his six-gun (and saying such things like, "You are guilty until proven innocent!") and then strapping-on a metal power glove, created by young scientist Billy (D.C. Douglas), to blow up a car containing the drug dealer's two customers, who try to run Tucker down. Meanwhile, businessman Jason Adams (William Zipp; DEATH CHASE - 1988) and his head henchman Becker (Robert Tessier; NIGHTWISH - 1988), are secretly taking over all the crime enterprises in the big city, either by killing the competition (one guy gets crushed in a car in an auto junkyard) or by joining forces with their biggest competitor, Grimes (Patrick Culliton), who may or may not be a priest (he wears a priest's collar during most of his screen time). Since Adams also owns C.O.P.S., he puts a bounty on the head of T.V. news reporter Marion Sims (Anna Rapagna), who has a videotape that shows Adams participating in illegal activities. Tucker picks up Marion to collect the bounty, but he slowly becomes disillusioned when rival C.O.P.S. personnel try to kill him and Marion before he can bring her in. The rest of the film details Tucker and Marion's misadventures, as both rival C.O.P.S. and street thugs, all on Adams' payroll, try to kill the duo. When Tucker isn't killing people with his six-shooter, he's killing people with his power glove, which not only shoots deadly electric bolts, it also gives Tucker superhuman strength, such as the ability to tear doors off their hinges and stop cars dead in their tracks. After Adams puts a $100,000 bounty on Tucker's head for murder, the entire C.O.P.S. force, both those on Adams' payroll or not, hunt down Tucker and Marion for a huge payout. This leads to plenty of gunfights, car chases and fistfights, as Tucker and Marion are helped by C.O.P.S. agent Roxanne (Dawn Wildsmith; THE PHANTOM EMPIRE - 1987), who gets her throat cut by Becker when he discovers her treachery. The finale finds Tucker taking-on Becker one-on-one in the auto junkyard (with an assist from the remote-controlled power glove), while a mortally wounded Billy turns the tables on Adams, putting a bounty on his head and ending up riddled with bullets by his own greedy C.O.P.S., proving you get what you pay for.  By no means a good film by any stretch of the imagination, FUTURE FORCE is so mind-numbingly cheap (nearly everything here screams Poverty Row, from the sets, costumes and special effects, to the now long-outdated "state of the art" computer effects [think Commodore 64]), you can't help but enjoy yourself. It should then come as no surprise that this in-house Action International Pictures production was directed and written by David A. Prior, who also gave us such awful no-budgeters as SLEDGEHAMMER (1984; his debut), KILLZONE (1985), NIGHT WARS (1988), WHITE FURY (1990) and the sequel to this film, called FUTURE ZONE (1990), among many others. David Carradine's lazy charm and William Zipp's wild overacting (I never thought I would be saying that about Zipp, who is usually stiff as a piece of cardboard) carry this film, as do the laughable special effects, especially the scene where Tucker uses the power glove's remote control to beat the crap out of and then strangle Becker. But Becker is a tough nut to crack, as the "surprise" finale shows. If you don't mind the overall starvation of the budget (this is the type of film where, when bullets hit the windows of Tucker's Jeep Cherokee, they throw-off sparks rather than breaking the glass), you'll probably have some fun with FUTURE FORCE. Also starring Kimberly Casey (the film's Producer), August Winters, John Cianetti, Brian O'Connor and Clement E. Blake. Originally released on VHS by A.I.P. Home Video and not available on DVD. Rated R.

FUTURE HUNTERS (1986) - Cirio Santiago, the prolific Filippino director, comes up with another cropper that tries to imitate many of the popular mainstream action films. This one mixes in equal parts of MAD MAX (1979), THE TERMINATOR (1984), RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) and ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) with wildly uneven results. The prolog, set in the year 2025, finds Matthew (Richard Norton) roaming the nuked-out land in search of the Spear Of Longinus, said to have killed Jesus during his cricifixion. Matthew finds the spear and touches it, which transports him back to 1986. Matthew is shot and mortally wounded as he saves Michelle (Linda Carol) and Slade (Robert Patrick, who would later star as the evil T-1000 in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991) and replace David Duchovny on THE X-FILES [1993 - 2002]), an archaeological couple, from an evil biker gang. During his dying breath, Matthew tells the couple that they must return the spear to its' rightful place in order to avoid future Earth's nuclear destruction. With the spear in hand, Michelle and Slade are chased across the world by modern day Nazis, led by the evil Fielding (Ed Crick) and Bauer (Bob Schott), who plan on using the spear for world domination (what else?). Along the way, Michelle and Slade must face kung-fu fights (courtesy of Chinese action star Bruce Li), numerous gunfights, an exploding helicopter, a plane crash, a band of marauding Mongols, jungle traps, a dwarf tribe (a Santiago staple) and a civilization of Amazon women before they can complete their quest. Originally filmed as THE SPEAR OF DESTINY in 1986, it took three years to find a release and it's easy to see why. The screenplay is hackneyed and full of gaping plot holes that a train or good sized elephant could fit through. The action scenes (there are many, some of them "borrowed" from earlier Santiago action/sci-fi epics)) range from good to poorly executed (especially the rockslide in the finale). As an actor, Robert Patrick makes a serviceable action hero. He speaks his lines as if he cannot believe what he is saying. The only saving grace is lovely Linda Carol, who is not afraid to get into the middle of the rough stuff and get her hair dirty. You can also catch luscious Linda in REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS (1986) and CARNAL CRIMES (1991). To sum it up, FUTURE HUNTERS is no better or worse than Santiago's other films. That's not saying much. An Avid Home Entertainment VHS Release. Rated R.

THE GIFTED (1993) - Quiet, understated and sometimes confusing low budget science fiction thriller starring and made by an all-black cast. The modern-day descendents of the African Dogan tribe must do battle with alien visitors bent on the destruction of the human race. All the descendents have to work with are some unknown powers they have inherited from their ancestors (given to them 5,000 years ago by good aliens to battle the bad aliens) and an ancient book passed down to family members generation after generation. The aliens are only seen as colored lights (blue for good, red for bad) and only the “gifted” family members can see them.  The chief baddie is a black albino blind man (a frightening sight) who is taken over by the bad aliens. He sets out to destroy the gifted family so the aliens can eliminate humanity without interference. Devoid of blood, nudity and even profanity, this film relies more on character and family values to make it’s point. Obviously filmed with no money, this film earns points for trying to tell a story without resorting to gross effects or vulgarisms. Starring Dick Anthony Williams GRIZZLY 2: THE PREDATOR - 1983), Bianca Ferguson, Johnny Sekka and Gene Jackson. Directed, produced and written by Audrey King Lewis. A Stardance Entertainment Home Video Release. Not Rated, but it would probably get a PG if submitted to the MPAA..

HANDS OF STEEL (1986) - This is one of those futuristic "Earth In Peril" films that the Italians did so well in the 80's. This is one of the later ones. In the near future (actually 1997!), Earth is being ravaged by radiation, toxic gases and acid rain, causing the population to become diseased and sickly. The blind wheelchair-bound Reverend Arthur Mosely (Franco Fantasia) is one man who may have a solution to reversing Earth's problems, but almost never gets the chance as a cyborg named Paco (Daniel Greene), is sent to kill him in his hotel room, but stops short of doing so, the human side of him overtaking his mechanical side. The corporation that sent Paco out on his mission, led by the nefarious Francis Turner (John Saxon), must now hunt down and kill Paco before he is captured by the police and they discover Turner's plan of exploiting Earth's problems for his greedy gains. On his travels to escape, Paco meets many people that change him from cyborg to human, finally fighting on the side of right to battle the corrupt Turner and his corporation goons. His first stop is at a diner/motel where he meets owner Linda (Janet Agren), who gives Paco a job chopping wood and cleaning up the place. When truck driver/arm wrestler Raoul (George Eastman) arrives at the diner, he challenges Paco to an arm wrestling contest, which Paco at first declines. After some taunting ("He's as strong as a wet fart."), Paco obliges and beats Raoul easily. He then beats Raoul and his trucker buddies in a fist fight. Paco is then challenged by arm wrestling champion Anatola Blanco (Darwyn Swalve) to a championship bout. Along the way, Paco tries to save a carload of Native American kids trapped in a car teetering on a cliff, only to find it was a trap set by Raoul and his friends. They drag him from the back of a tow truck and beat him with metal pipes, just hours before the championship match. Paco frees himself and shows up for the match, where a deadly rattlesnake will bite the loser. Paco easily wins the match, but kills the rattlesnake before it can bite Blanco. Meanwhile, the corporation strong-arms Professor Olster (Donald O'Brien), the man who created Paco, to come up with a way to control him. When the Professor give them some ideas, they shoot him dead. They send Peter Hallo (Claudio Cassinelli), the world's best hitman, to track down and kill Paco. Things come to a boil when Paco, who has fallen for Linda (he shows her his mechanical hand and it does not bother her), must deal with hitman Peter, corporation head Turner, a female hooker cyborg (!) and countless faceless cronies in his quest for the world to know the truth, and gets some unexpected help from Blanco. In an unusual move for mindless action films like this, the final shot will leave you pondering whether Paco is part-human after all and whether machines can have souls. Directed by Sergio Martino (using his "Martin Dolman" pseudonym) as his "tribute" to THE TERMINATOR, this film contains enough action, nudity, explosions, gun fights, car chases and blood to satisfy fans of this genre. Martino also made the post-apocalyptic film AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK in 1983. The whole cast has much experience in Italian films. Daniel Greene can also be seen in THE DEADLY INTRUDER (1984) and HAMMERHEAD (1987). Janet Agren has appeared in THE GATES OF HELL (1980) and THE RAT MAN (1987). John Saxon has been in CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980) and DEATH HOUSE (1987, which he also directed). Donald O'Brien starred in DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. (1980) and 2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS (1982). Big George Eastman, a staple of Italian post-nuke pics, also starred in THE NEW BARBARIANS (1983) and ENDGAME (1983). Claudio Cassinelli has also appeared in SCREAMERS (1980) and MURDER ROCK (1984). He lost his life in a helicopter crash while filming scenes for this film in Arizona (the footage of the crash was kept in the film!).  As far as sci-fi action films go, HANDS OF STEEL (a.k.a. ATOMIC CYBORG and FISTS OF STEEL) is a pretty good addition to the genre. Don't go in expecting too much and you'll probably have a good time. Also starring Robert Ben, Pat Monti and Amy Werba. A Lightning Video Release. Not yet available on DVD in the U.S.. Rated R.

HELLFIRE (1986) - In this futuristic thriller that takes place in the year 1997, Dr. Charles Kesselman (Edward N. Fallon) has invented a new energy source called Hellfire and the first energy plant to use the new technology has just gone online, with equal amounts of fanfare and protests. Even though Hellfire is supposed to be a clean, non-polluting energy source, the protesters feel that it hasn't been tested long enough to be put into everyday use (And, c'mon, why would you give it the name "Hellfire" in the first place? It doesn't inspire confidence!). Meanwhile, extremists have hijacked a space freighter and accidentally crashed it on an asteroid where a mining colony os digging up the main ingredient of Hellfire; the crash causing a leak in the core. The extremists, Boyle (Steve Langone) and Santhany (Susan Farrell), steal a vile of pure Hellfire and escape, blowing up the mining colony and killing all its employees as they leave. This doesn't sit too well with Hellfire Energy Company president Olan Robert Foster (Stephen Caldwell), who sends an assassin to kill Boyle and Santhany (they are impaled by a sword while they are making love) and retrieve the vial. We then switch over to private investigator and amateur gambler Corby McHale (Kenneth McGregor) as he accepts a job from pretty Caitlin Foster (Julie Miller), the sister of Olan Robert Foster. She wants Corby to investigate her brother's activities because she believes that he is responsible for her fiancé's death, as well as other murders. Corby, an ex-cop who was kicked-ff the force, teams up with ex-partner and ex-lover Samantha Keller (Sharon Mason) to uncover what secret Mr. Foster is willing to kill for time and time again. What Corby discovers is that Hellfire is not as safe as it is advertised. It begins infecting those who come in close contact with it, eventually causing them to spontaneously combust. Things start getting hairy when Corby and Samantha are nearly blown up in their car by a couple of rocket equipped flying drones and Mr. Foster burns to a crisp after injecting himself with Hellfire. A battered and bruised Corby must figure out who has enough juice to murder Mr. Foster (he didn't intentionally inject himself with Hellfire), as all his friends and contacts end up missing or dead. It turns out Corby didn't have to look any further than his client, as Caitlin was working in cahoots with Boyle (who was her fiancé) to steal the secrets of Hellfire and somehow had those secrets injected into Corby's body. At least I think that's the explanation, but the film is so badly written, it is hard to be sure.  This cheap and confusing piece of no-budget cinema, directed and written by one-shot wonder William Murray, is a loony mixture of detective and sci-fi genres with a dollop of gore thrown in for good measure. The entire film has an Andy Milligan-ish feel to it, as the actors are either really awful or over-the-top (an example of the latter is Martin Hodge as Anton Kirar, who, for some reason unknown to viewers, speaks all of his dialogue with a thick Cockney accent, even though the film takes place in Philadelphia and New Jersey!); the editing is downright choppy (it looks like there was a lot of post-production tampering that eliminated entire subplots); the special effects are laughable (especially the spaceship effects, which look like someone was holding the model ships just off-screen and moving them up and down over a real sky while someone else blows smoke into the frame); and the entire film looks to have been shot with handheld cameras using short ends. Besides a couple of effective spontaneous combustion scenes, HELLFIRE (also known as PRIMAL SCREAM) is a totally amateurish production that should only be viewed with the aid of illegal substances or some cheap booze. The saxophone-heavy music score (not to mention a cameo appearance by a punk band called the "Sadistic Exploits") will either have you jamming peanuts in your ears or watching this film with the sound off. The closing tune, an 80's love ballad titled "In The Line Of Duty", will make your ass bleed with its rank awfulness. Also starring Jon Maurice, Joseph White, Vivian Nothaft, Michael Laird and Mickey Shaughnessy (CONQUEST OF SPACE - 1955), who died before filming finished. Originally released on VHS by Magnum Entertainment and not available on DVD in the United States, although there is a budget British PAL DVD if you have a multi-region DVD player. NOTE: Avoid the Platinum Productions VHS titled HELL FIRE. Although the back cover lists the credits for this film, it is actually a very fuzzy-looking and badly-edited version of Bill Rebane's INVASION FROM INNER EARTH (1974)! Rated R.

THE HUMANOID (1979) - Let me start off by saying that I hate STAR WARS (1977). I always found it's story line highly derivative of countless films before it and, if it wasn't for the flashy state-of-the-art (at the time) special effects, it would have died a quick death. The only reason I believe why George Lucas never sued makers of THE HUMANOID for copyright infringement is because he himself would have to testify how he's guilty of ripping-off his film from the Western and Samurai genres. THE HUMANOID begins just as STAR WARS did, with top-scrolling credits and a synopsis sequence followed by a bottom-view shot of a large spaceship flying overhead. The evil Lord Graal (Ivan Rassimov, made to look like Darth Vader's trailer-trash cousin) has escaped from a prison planet and is looking to get even with his Great Brother (Massimo Serato), who sent him to prison for crimes against mankind. Before Lord Graal can get his revenge on his brother on the planet Metropolis (the future name of Earth), he makes a stop on another planet to visit ex-love Lady Agatha (Barbara Bach), who is being kept eternally youthful by the dastardly Dr. Kraspin (Arthur Kennedy), who drains the youth of other women to make the serum (There's a surprising scene of female nudity showing the process). Dr. Kraspin tells Lord Graal that he plans on creating an "army of humanoids" to help him conquer Metropolis, but he needs a test subject to create the first humanoid. His test subject turns out to be a good space lawman named Golob (Richard Kiel). Dr. Kraspin forces Golob and his sidekick Kiv (a robot dog!), to crash their spaceship on the planet and Dr. Kraspin turns the hulking Golob into an evil (and indestructible) humanoid. Lord Graal sends Golob to Metropolis to kill the Great Brother, but scientist Barbara Gibson (Corrine Clery; HITCH HIKE - 1977; YOR, HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE - 1983), Dr. Kraspin's former assistant, good guy Nick (Leonard Mann; NIGHT SCHOOL - 1981; CUT AND RUN - 1985) and telepathic Asian boy Tom Tom (Marco Yeh) pitch in to make sure the Great Brother survives. Tom Tom uses his special powers to put Golob back on the good guys' side (but he has amnesia), which comes in handy when Dr. Kraspin kidnaps Barbara. Golob, Nick and Tom Tom fly to Dr. Kraspin's planet to save Barbara before the evil doctor sucks out all her youth and gives it to Lady Agatha. The finale finds our heroic trio saving Metropolis from a deadly bomb that Lord Graal plans on using to wipe out the population. Dr. Kraspin burns, Lady Agatha turns into a skeleton and Lord Graal magically disappears (or as Tom Tom says, "Evil never dies!", in one of his many metaphysical Confucious-like quotes), setting up a sequel which, unfortunately, never happened.  Though the similarities to STAR WARS are highly apparent, THE HUMANOID kept me much more entertained, thanks to the cheesy special effects (supervised by Antonio Margheriti, using his frequent "Anthony M. Dawson" pseudonym), frequent violence and generally goofy tone. Filled with lines like, "It looks like she's been hitting the alpha wave pills!", "Those six idiots couldn't blow up an old trash can!", "No one can stop me now, princely hero!" and "You're going to pay as well, Dr. Kraspin, for your warped and evil doings!", scene-for-scene steals from George Lucas' blockbuster (but on a much lower scale) and some optical work that looks to have done by a blind man (some blasts from laser guns eminate inches away from the gun barrels!), THE HUMANOID had me in stitches for it's entire running time. This could be because director/co-scripter Aldo Lado (using the name "George B. Lewis") was better known for making violent giallos like WHO SAW HER DIE (1972) and rape/revenge films like NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS (1974). Even though this space opera was probably made for the family market, Lado still couldn't help throwing in a little nudity and blood. Nothing too graphic, mind you, but just enough for you to sit up and take notice (I loved when Golob picked up a steel beam and flung it across the room, decapitating four bad guys in the process!). The R2D2-like robot dog is also good for a belly laugh, especially when it shits out a yellow diarrhea liquid out of it's ass to slip-up some bad guys! This is the film SPACEBALLS aspired to be; the only problem is, THE HUMANOID was not made as a parody, but as a serious cash-in to a blockbuster. It works best as an unintentional comedy, though. Ennio Morricone supplies the music score, although it's apparent he's slumming here. Most of his music cues are thinly-veiled electronic reworkings of Mozart concertos. Enzo G. Castellari (BRONX WARRIORS 2 - 1983) was Second Unit Director. Richard Kiel (EEGAH - 1962) also co-starred with Barbara Bach in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) and with Corinne Clery in MOONRAKER (1979). Arthur Kennedy (his acting career caught a second wind when he moved to Italy in the 70's) also co-starred with Ivan Rassimov in the excellent ROME: ARMED TO THE TEETH (1976). Also starring Venantino Venantini, Vito Fornari and Attilio Duse. Columbia Pictures released this theatrically worldwide. The print I viewed came from a Greek-subtitled VHS tape on the VideoSonic label. For more on this film (actually, more than any mere Earthling deserves), go to this fantastic site: www.golobthehumanoid.com. This is truly a labor of love. Not Rated, but it could be rated PG if the nudity was removed.

HUNTING GROUNDS (2008) - In the not-too-distant future, the United Nations has decreed that it is unlawful for man to go outside (Wait a minute, when in your lifetime has the United Nations decreed anything and the whole world complied?). The U.N. wants Mother Nature to reverse the damage humans have done to it, so it has put a moratorium on hunting or any outside contact at all until nature does its thing and heals itself. For years humankind has had to make do with playing virtual reality hunting games and camping trips in their underground bunkers. Unfortunately, Mother Nature can sometimes be a bitch, as frustrated hunter Paul Austin (Patrice LeBlanc) and some of his friends will soon find out when they make an unauthorized trip to the actual wilderness for a real hunting trip, in this French Canadian film that mixes sci-fi, "nature gone amok" and zombie genres with interesting, but not always successful, results. It has now been nineteen years since the U.N. moratorium and nature hasn't progressed as far as scientists have hoped. Disease and infections run rampant, helped along by a new regeneration serum created by Dr. Carradine (Tim Morgan), that is supposed to reverse dead tissue, but it turns its subjects into flesh-hungry zombies. When a small earthquake leaks the serum onto two thousand cadavers Dr. Carradine was storing illegally outside, it creates quite a zombie problem that Dr. Carradine and his associates cover-up so they don't lose their government funding. When the zombie horde devour Dr. Carradine and his team, they head for the wilderness where, you guessed it, is the same place Paul, his girlfriend Lexa (Marie-Eve Lemire), Sebastien (Luc Rivard), Francine (Valerie Tremblay) and tracker Simon Roy (Patrick Baby) are about to go on their hunting expedition. Sebastien is harboring a secret that could put everyones' lives in jeopardy (his father is an important government official) and Francine is under the impression that this is just another virtual reality game (not only is she a stupid bitch, when she finds out this trip is real, she pukes her guts out!), but all that gets put on the back burner when the hunters suddenly become the hunted. Instead of hunting helpless animals, Paul and his group find themselves under siege from the hungry living dead. They are helped by the sole survivor of Dr. Carradine's laboratory, female military personnel Lt. Aria Palmer (Emilie Gilbert Gagnon), who recognizes Simon Roy as a wanted criminal; a serial killer who brings people on "hunts", but no one ever returns alive. Simon escapes into the forest and Sebastien dons a top-secret cybersuit (that he was conveniently carrying) and when he gets bitten by the zombies, he becomes an indestructable member of the undead, thanks to the suit. When Sebastien's father (Louis Amiot) shows up with some soldiers, it sets off a series of events, which finds Paul and Lexa, the last remaining of the living, fighting for their lives against cyber-Sebastien and the living dead. Mon deiu, how are they going to get out of this mess?  There are two major flaws to this film (not to mention a bunch of minor ones), directed/produced/co-written by Eric Bilodeau (his first feature film, which he also edited, photographed and had a hand in the special effects), that really detract the viewer's enjoyment. The first major flaw is that it is apparent that English is most of this film's actors' second language and they struggle with some of their English dialogue, sometimes even reverting to their native French in the middle of a sentence. Director Bilodeau (who co-wrote the screenplay with Jonathan Gagne) should have filmed the entire movie in French (about 25% of the film is subtitled in English anyway) because the acting suffers from the poor line readings. The second major flaw, and it's a big one, is the film's over-reliance on terrible CGI effects, including computer-enhanced blood squibs and muzzle flashes. They are so obvious, they take you immediately out of the film. I still don't know why low-budget science fiction and horror films continuously go this route, since none of it ever looks good, nevermind believable. I can understand using CGI for difficult effects shots, but when it is used in the place of practical effects, like shots to the head and exploding bodies, it is unforgivable in my book (and I'm tired of hearing all this crap of stopping valuable filming time to clean up the blood, because this film takes place in the woods!). Even the wilderness looks like it was created using Blender on a Mac! Ugh! It's just pure laziness. Also starring Jean Francois Potvin-Tremblay, Dave Harvey, Marie-Elaine Fortin and Francois Soucy. I dare anyone to count how many times Eric Bilodeau's name appears in the closing credits. It's easy to lay the blame of HUNTING GROUNDS shortcomings on his shoulders since his hands were in nearly every piece of the pie. I don't believe this film has had an official U.S. home video release (yet), but it can be purchased from online stores that deal with DVDs fairly easily. Not Rated.

HYPER SPACE (1989) - This sci-fi actioner opens interestingly enough when cop Thomas Stanton (Richard Norton; THE SWORD OF BUSHIDO - 1989) comes face-to-chest with a giant hulking psycho (played by late wrestling legend Big John Studd; SHOCK 'EM DEAD - 1990) who is holding a decapitated human head in one of his meaty hands (Stanton yells out, "Hold it!...Release the head!" which the psycho does, throwing it at Stanton and knocking him on his ass!). A fight breaks out between the two (the terrified expression on Norton's face looks real because Studd towers over him), which results in Stanton setting the psycho on fire and killing him (Stanton goes to light up a cigarette after the brawl, but can find no matches, so he looks at the psycho's burning corpse and, for a split second, you think he's going do it, but he says to himself, "I gotta quit smoking"). We are then informed (by an on-screen scrawl) that by the 21st Century, the nuclear waste problem became so severe, a worldwide corporation created a starship to dispose of the radioactive waste in a distant region of the universe known as "Hyper Space". Then we are introduced to the crew of the starship as they wake up from months of hyper-sleep. The crew consists of ex-Ranger Stanton (it turns out his fight with the psycho may have been nothing but a hyper-sleep nightmare); his friend Tubbs (Ron O'Neal; TRAINED TO KILL - 1988), who is retiring after this flight; Ron Drezak (Don Stroud; THE DIVINE ENFORCER - 1991), a violent asshole; Arias Christensen (Lynn-Holly Johnson; THE SISTERHOOD - 1987); Captain Raymond Scully (James Van Patten; NIGHTFORCE - 1987); and Roberta "Lobo" Villalobos (newcomer Rebecca Cruz, whose first scene in the film is a nude shower!). Arias, who doesn't like to be touched, informs Stanton the ship's computer system has gone bonkers and that they have lost all communication with Earth. Is it possible that someone on board is a saboteur and if there is one, what is their motive? It seems that while they were all in hyper-sleep, the ship went off-course and with the computers not working properly, they have no idea where they are. Captain Scully is only interested in delivering the payload and going home, but Tubbs informs everyone "We are out of gas!" and won't be able to make it back to Earth. Stanton has another nightmare (this one not hyper-sleep induced) where his Ranger partner Matt (stunt coordinator Jeff Imada) is beheaded by an android (Professor Toru Tanaka; THE PERFECT WEAPON - 1991) and he sustains a knife wound to the shoulder (We now discover that neither of Stanton's nightmares were nightmares after all, but recollections of his past life on Earth as a Ranger). Arias comes up with a plan to send one, and only one, of them back to Earth in a modified shuttlecraft. The trip will take nearly three years, but it is their only chance for survival (all the others will be stuck on the starship for 22 years). Since everyone wants to be the one on that shuttlecraft, they draw straws and Tubbs wins, which pisses-off Captain Scully to no end (others show the same feelings as the film progresses). Stanton seems to be the only one that is truly happy that Tubbs won the draw. When Tubbs is found dead, the apparent victim of an alien creature he kept as a pet, Stanton must use his cop training to figure out who really killed his best friend, while the rest of the crew fight each other over who is going to be the next shuttlecraft passenger. It's going to be survival of the fittest.  This is a talky sci-fi actioner partially financed by executive producer K.Y. Lim and is Silver Star Film Company, who also gave us so many of those Filipino war actioners during the 80's that I am so fond of. Unfortunately, HYPER SPACE is nothing at all like those films, as it just meanders along at a much too leisurely pace, interrupted every so often by one of Stanton's violent flashbacks to when he was a Ranger. Director David Huey (CAPITAL PUNISHMENT - 1991; FULL IMPACT - 1993) and screenwriter Richard Dominguez seem more interested in the interpersonal relationships of the crew; whether it is Captain Scully's drug habit; Arias' dislike of being touched (the secret she is hiding is quite obvious; think ALIEN [1979]); why Stanton really quit the Rangers; Lobo's pre-occupation with using her curvaceous body to get her way; or why Drezak is such a violent prick. Since most of the characters are underwritten, which is a shame considering the cast (only the late Ron O'Neal gets to shine), it is really hard to give two shits about what happens to them, especially when they violently turn on each other during the final third of the film. Besides Lobo's nude scene and Tubb's gory death, there's nothing here to hold your attention unless you are a Richard Norton completist (I guess that is not such a bad thing). Also known as BLACK FOREST: THE RAGE IN SPACE. This was an early DVD release from Simitar Entertainment, one of the first VHS companies to release DVDs in the latter part of the 90's. As with most of Simitar's DVD releases, it is fullscreen, badly mastered and has an annoying static hiss on the soundtrack. Not Rated.

I LOVE MARIA (ROBOFORCE) (1988) - In the opening minutes of this slam-bang Hong Kong sci-fi actioner, a crime syndicate called "The Hero", led by villainess Maria (Sally Yeh; PINK FORCE COMMANDOS - 1982), sends their giant robot, nicknamed "The Van" (a sight to behold), to rob a heavily guarded bank vault. To the police (who lose quite a few men and women in the ensuing firefight) and nosey reporter T.Q. Zhuang (Tony Leung; INFERNAL AFFAIRS - 2002) surprise, The Van not only robs the vault, it steals the entire vault itself and flies away with it, but not before informing the police that The Hero is going to take over the entire city in one month's time. Back at home base, an angry Maria asks her second-in-command, B12 (Lam Ching Ying; HER VENGEANCE - 1988) why The Van didn't kill all of the police after stealing the vault, only to be informed that the robot's computer malfunctioned and needs to be rebooted (My first IBM computer in the 80's was always doing that to me, too!). When Maria demands that it be fixed within 48 hours and is told that it is impossible, she shoots one of the American scientists in the head to make her point a little more clear (An American scientist working for a crime syndicate in Hong Kong? Of course he's going to die!). During a press conference with the police, T.Q. meets Curly (John Sham), a scientist who is working with a team of scientists to create a "special weapon" to fight The Van (During the testing of a new gun, we watch as Curly's boss [Dennis Chan] uses him as a human guinea pig to demonstrate the effectiveness of the armor-piercing bullets). What the police don't know is that The Hero's head villain, Saviour (Ben Lam; MELTDOWN - 1995), Maria's brother and lover (!), has created a human cyborg called "Van II" that is much more mobile and easier to manuever than The Van. Maria acts disappointed and jealous (since the new cyborg has a kicking metal body of a well-endowed woman!) that Saviour has hidden this creation from her until now. Curly is also having some personal and professional problems because his boss has burned his blueprints for a prototype Electric Cannon that he was sure to defeat any robot that stands in its way (The boss is jealous that Curly will take over his position if this weapon is created). Curly saves the life of Chu (Tsui Hark; director of such films as TWIN DRAGONS - 1992; DOUBLE TEAM - 1997, KNOCK OFF - 1998 and Producer of this film) in a bar fight, whom he nicknames "Whiskey" (because that is all he drinks), not knowing that Whiskey is an ex-member of The Hero. When Maria finds out that Curly is a member of the police task force, she automatically believes that Whiskey is a traitor and orders a hit on him and Curly. Saviour sends the Van II (who now has an incestuous facsimile of Maria's face) to carry out the assassination, but the bumbling Curly and the drunk Whiskey manage to defeat it (in an amazing display of pyrotechnics, stunts and special effects), leaving the Van II in pieces. Whiskey buries the pieces, since he and the real Maria were once very good friends. Things get complicated when the police think Curly is a traitor (thanks to his boss), leaving Curly and Whiskey in the middle of this whole mess, trying to figure out a way to solve it. They hide out in an old abandoned church working on a way to clear Curly's reputation and find a way to defeat The Hero (as well as arguing with each other the best way to kill a dog so they can eat it [don't worry, they can't do it]). Curly digs up the remains of the Van II, reassembles and reprograms it (he gets it to obey commands by saying, "I love Curly.") to fight The Hero. Good thing, too, because Saviour has sent the original giant The Van and a pissed-off human Maria to kill Whiskey and Curly, turning the remainder of the film into a battle royale, the likes of which you wish Michael Bay would have made in his TRANSFORMERS movie franchise. Luckily, Curly made some backup blueprints for his Electronic Cannon (always, I mean always, back up your data!), because it comes in mightily handy in the over-the-top finale. While some may argue that this film contains too much broad humor, especially between Whiskey and Curly, there can be no denying that I LOVE MARIA contains many kick-ass action set pieces, amazing special effects and a fair amount of gore (but I get the impression that the Fortune Star DVD I watched has edited some of the more gorier bits and nudity). Director Chung Chi Man (a.k.a. "David Chung"; MAGNIFICENT WARRIORS - 1987) and screenwriter Yuen Kai Chi (THE SEVENTH CURSE - 1986) obviously got their "inspiration" from ROBOCOP (1987) and pays homage to other films (there's a funny TARZAN [1932] reference when Whiskey tries to evade the human Maria and a bunch of bad guys as they all swing on vines in the jungle), but still make this film a very unique viewing experience. Since all the special effects are practical and free of CGI, the action sequences seem more natural and organic, even the robotics (if that makes any sense). If you can forgive some of the juvenile humor (although some of it is quite funny) and the simply awful English subtitles (no one speaks English this fractured, not even texters or the brain damaged), you're bound to love and admire I LOVE MARIA for the majority of the things it does right. Namely, everything else. A Fortune Star DVD Release as part of their "Legendary Collection". Not Rated.

INVADER (1992) - Above average science fiction tale, greatly enhanced by terrific special effects (courtesy of director Philip J. Cook) and a quirky sense of humor (also courtesy of Cook). A reporter for the tabloid National Disaster (Hans Bachmann) accidently uncovers an alien plot to take over the world while covering a story about the mysterious murders of some Army personnel. It seems a couple of years ago the government discovered a crashed alien spacecraft and were able to tap into the ship's highly advanced computer system (called ASMODS, pronounced "asmodeus"). They were able to use the obtained information to develop new technology for fighter jets and defense systems. The bad news is that this new technology has a mind of its' own, overwriting existing programs and eventually taking over the minds of the personnel of an Army base, turning them into zombie-like minions who obey ASMODS' every command. The reporter joins forces with a Departmant of Defense agent (A. Thomas Smith) in notifying Washington of the impending doom. ASMODS takes the shape of a high-tech flying saucer and dogs our two heroes' every move. In the end we find out that the saucer is only a component to a greater machine (the saucer is the brain). Our heroes, along with an Army general, also discover that the saucer is the machine's Achille's heel and try to find a way to destroy it before the world is destroyed in a hail of nuclear missiles. While indifferently acted by a cast of unknowns, this film has some knock-out model effects and stop motion animation. The saucer, elevator and jet fighter sequences are some of the best you'll ever see in a low budget film. There is also plenty of humor, as when Bachmann (who really wants to be a serious journalist) must interview loonies for outrageous stories his ragazines carries, such as a couple with a two-headed dog or the taxi driver who said Elvis got into his cab last week and wanted to give him a handjob. The funniest bit of dialogue comes at the end, when the giant robot ASMODS delivers a patriotic monologue that must be heard to be believed! Special effects veteran Cook turns in a good directorial effort here (his first). Finally, something good from 21ST Century Film Corp.! This is a good way to spend 95 minutes of your life. Not to be confused with THE INVADER, a 1996 sci-fi film starring Ben Cross and Sean Young. A Vidmark Entertainment Home Video Release. Rated R.

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE II (1995) - The only reason I can figure out why this film was made in the first place was for tax shelter purposes. It cannot be classified as a sequel to the classic 1953 3-D film, but more of a bastardized remake (and a really bad one). A photographer (Brian Kerwin) and a kid (Jonathan Carrasco) witness a meteor crash in the desert region of a small southwestern town. Turns out that it is not a meteor after all, but an alien lifeform trying to collect it's pieces and leave our pitiful planet. It sucks all the water out of the town and cuts off all communication and exits until all the pieces are found. It also creates exact duplicates of some of the townsfolk to help in the search. Kerwin gets to the bottom of it all and finds out that the alien is friendly (which doesn't explain why two people are killed by it's hand) and a happy end is had by nearly all. This banal film, produced by Tony ("Wally Cleaver") Dow, serves no discernable purpose and sullies the reputation of the original. What's next: FORBIDDEN PLANET II? THEM II? God, I hope not. Directed without style or substance by Roger Duchowny (CAMP CUCAMONGA: HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION - 1990). Need I say more? Also starring Elizabeth Pena, Bill McKinney and Howard Morris. An MCA Universal Home Video Release. Rated PG-13, but contains no blood, no violence and no vulgar language. What's the point?

LADY TERMINATOR (1988) - This film has it all: Graphic violence, unbelievable dialogue, male castrations, eel sex, scene-by-scene steals of THE TERMINATOR and an editing technique that can best be described as LSD-influenced. One hundred years ago, the South Sea Queen (who castrates her male lovers with an eel hidden in her vagina!) is defeated when her 100th lover pulls the eel out of her pussy and turns it into a dagger (I'm not making this up!). She swears revenge, cursing the man's great-granddaughter. Cut to the present, where an anthropologist (Barbara Anne Constable) is searching for the sunken location of the South Sea Queen's castle. She finds it (or it finds her, depending on your state of mind), gets tied spread-eagle to a bed and has as eel enter her vagina, turning her into an indestructable killing machine. She sets out on her search for the great-granddaughter (Claudia Rademaker), castrating some local males and killing nearly every cop in town in the process. An American cop (Christopher Hart) is Rademaker's only protection, as he tries to keep one step ahead of the reincarnated South Sea Queen. The rest of the film is nearly a scene-by-scene (albeit surreal) steal of THE TERMINATOR, as the Queen invades a disco, a police station and a shopping mall, blowing away anyone who gets between her and Rademaker. The Queen even has the time to perform some homemade eye surgery on herself, duplicating Swarzeneggar's feat in the aforementioned film. The film ends when Rademaker plunges her great-grandfather's eel dagger into the fire-ravaged Queen's heart, the only way to destroy her. This wild and crazy Indonesian film is so offbeat and violent that you can forgive the blatant TERMINATOR steals and go along for the ride. The only distraction is the editing. Scenes are placed out of sequence, making the plot hard to follow. Some scenes are played twice, probably to pad out the film's short 83 minute running time. But violence is the name of the game here, as bullets fly fast and furiously and everything blows up real good. There's enough bullet hits here for a dozen action films and plenty of nudity (though strangely, no pubic shots) and gore to keep all fans of this genre extremely happy. Not much else is known about the principals in front or behind the camera of this mostly-dubbed film except that co-star Christopher Hart did have a role in THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1991) film. LADY TERMINATOR (which is available in R and Unrated versions) is a safe bet if you are into strange, out-of-the-ordinary films. I heartily recommend it. Directed wildly by Jalil Jackson (a pseudonym for H. Tjut Djalil of THE WARRIOR AND NINJA [1985] fame). A Shooting Star Video Release. Also available on DVD from Mondo Macabro (which, strangely, optically blurs the nudity with white dots over the naked breasts and asses!) and on DVD-R from Midnight Video as NASTY HUNTER, as are Djalil's other films MYSTICS IN BALI (1981) and DANGEROUS SEDUCTRESS (1992 - using the pseudonym "John Miller"). Unrated.

LAND OF DOOM (1985) - Simply awful post-nuke film that, for once, doesn't come from Italy (it's American-made, but lensed in Turkey). Harmony (Deborah Rennard) is the lone survivor when her village is attacked by a band of motorcycle-riding raiders led by Purvis (Frank Garet), who rape and kill the women and shoot everyone else in the back. Harmony escapes to a cave, where she encounters an injured man named Anderson (Garrick Dowhen), who is wanted by Purvis' boss Slater (Daniel Radell). Slater now must wear a mask over his horribly-burned face, the result of his last encounter with Anderson. Slater orders Purvis and his raiders to capture Anderson at any cost and bring him back so Slater can exact his revenge. After setting some ground rules (Harmony doesn't like to be touched), Harmony and Anderson band together and set out to find the legendary city where there is no shortage of food or water and the people live together in paradise. They have a run-in with Slater's crazy brother Demister (also portrayed by Radell), but Harmony bashes his head in with a rock, killing him. They steal Demister's motorcycle and search for food and water for their trip, stopping at the ranch of an old man, who offers them a hot meal. Harmony soon finds out that the meat is actually human flesh, as the old man and his followers are cannibals and he has a barn full of dead bodies hanging on hooks. Anderson and Harmony make a hasty retreat and escape on foot, only to be attacked by a group of plague-infected nomads. After successfully fighting them off, our duo spot Purvis and the raiders attacking another village, so they steal another motorcycle (and are nearly captured by Purvis) and continue on their journey. They save a man named Orland (Aykut Duz) and his pet puppy from a pack of wild dogs, so Orland follows them on his bicycle (!), only to watch helplessly as Anderson and Harmony are ambushed and captured by Slater's men. Orland and his puppy get help from a bunch of hooded dwarves to raid Slater's compound and save Anderson and Harmony. They all band together to defeat Slater, Purvis and the raiders, but the cop-out ending will have you screaming for the filmmakers' blood. Talk about failing to deliver on a promise. Where's my lawyer?  LAND OF DOOM is just an awful film, full of bad acting and anemic action scenes. Director Peter Maris (DELIRIUM - 1977; TERROR SQUAD - 1987; ALIEN SPECIES - 1997) tries to emulate THE ROAD WARRIOR (1982), but comes up way short in nearly department. Deborah Rennard as Harmony is one of the most unlikable heroines you're ever likely to see. Her constant rants of "Don't touch me!" aimed at Anderson actually had me hoping that he would rape her while she slept, just to teach her a lesson about being constantly obnoxious and annoying (I know rape is no laughing matter, but she really is a bitch!). She also carries a crossbow that she never uses (it's always in an uncocked state). The chase scenes are so slow and awkwardly filmed, you half-expect everyone to jump off their motorcycles and run after each other just to pick up the pace. This is also the type of film where people make believe they are firing their guns (they jerk their hands as they pull the trigger like kids playing "cops and robbers"), as there is no muzzle flash and the sounds of gunshots are dubbed in post-synch. I guess Maris didn't have the budget to use blanks. The pack of "wild" dogs are probably the crew's pets and look about as threatening as a teething baby. The hooded tribe of dwarves are definitely children in disguise (Hey, it's Turkey, so there were probably no messy child labor laws to worry about!) and the gore and nudity are sparse to the point of being non-existent (just a bloody head bashing, a quick look at the cannibalized bodies hanging in the barn and a few bullet squibs). Toss in a non-ending that leaves the film wide-open for a sequel (which, thankfully, never happened) and you'll swear that this film should have been titled LAND OF CRAP. The only entertaining bit comes when one of the raiders says, "You stink!" to one of his fellow raiders who gives him a lift on his motorcycle. The other raider gets off his motorcycle, punches the guy in the head (knocking him on his ass) and then gets back on his cycle, only to immediately ride his bike over a cliff! It's a real "What the fuck?!?" moment. If only the film managed to sustain that level of lunacy but, sadly, it doesn't. Avoid it unless you are a post-apocalypse completist. Also known as RAIDERS OF DEATH. Also starring Richard Allen, Bruno Chambon and a bunch of Turks with bald heads and big bushy moustaches. Released on VHS by Lightning Video and not available on DVD. Not Rated.

LAST OF THE WARRIORS (1989) - Also known as EMPIRE OF ASH III (for an explanation of why this is actually the first sequel, see my EMPIRE OF ASH II review), this Canadian-made post-nuke flick continues the story of Danielle (Melanie Kilgour) and her escapades as she tries to survive gang warfare and cannibalistic dwellers. For some reason, Danielle has ditched her sister Jasmine and male sidekick Orion from the first film and is on her own, roaming the wasteland known as New Idaho when she gets involved in a turf war between two rival factions: The Raiders, a group of ROAD WARRIOR (1982) wannabes led by uber-religious Grand Shepherd Lucas (William Smith; DEADLY MEMORIES - 2002) and a band of peace-loving hippie-types, whose leader, Zak (Andrew MacGregor), and his daughter Claudia (Tanya Orton), have just been kidnapped by Lucas and his right-hand female sidekick Baalca (Nancy Pataki). Enter Danielle, who saves Harris (Scott Andersen) from Lucas' Border Patrol after they kill his mother. Harris, who is Claudia's boyfriend, talks Danielle into accompanying him to the Raiders' compound, where they plan on rescuing Claudia and Zak. Lesbian Baalca has her own plans for Claudia (we watch as Baalca's female assistants give her a naked oil rubdown), but Lucas wants her for his bride instead, which leads to some internal turmoil. Baalca kills Zak after he gives her the location of arms dealers Chuck (Ken Farmer) and Iodine (Joe Maffei), two characters returning from the first film (but played by different actors). Baalca leads the Raiders on an attack on Chuck and Iodine's compound, which is protected by a computer named Dolores, who guards the compound like a video game (another returning theme from the first film). Meanwhile, Danielle is kidnapped by a band of cannibals and must be saved by Harris, while Lucas prepares to plant his hideously mutated father's seed into Claudia, in hopes of delivering a superbaby that will eventually lead a new race of superhumans (When will these evil religious dictators learn that you can't fuck with God's plan?). Danielle and Harris join forces with Chuck and Iodine (along with returning character Rocket Man, once again played by David Gregg), but when Danielle and Iodine are captured by Baalca and tortured once brought back to the Raiders' compound, Harris and Chuck raid the compound by helicopter in the film's bullet-whizzing and explosion-filled finale.  Returning co-directors Lloyd A. Simandl (CHAINED HEAT 2 - 1993) and Michael Mazo (CRACKERJACK - 1994) are definitely working with a bigger budget this time around and the screenplay (by Chris Maruna) tosses aside the series of vignettes that made the fist film so disjointed, opting this time for a more linear story. LAST OF THE WARRIORS is still a cheesy, low-rent production, but at least this time the stunts are bigger, the car crashes better, the gunfights and explosions well-choreographed and the makeup and special effects gorier and more believable. The entire production is much glossier than the first film, as the budget allows for bloody bullet squibs, some decent stunt work and creative cinematography this time around, not to mention a lot more female nudity (the small-breasted, but pretty, Melanie Kilgour has a more prominent topless shower here). LAST OF THE WARRIORS may be lower-tier entertainment for the vast majority of home viewers, but readers of this site should find a lot to enjoy here, especially when compared side-by-side with EMPIRE OF ASH II. Also starring Pauline Crawford, Nick Amoroso and Darline DeVink. Originally available on VHS from A.I.P. Home Video. Not Available on DVD. Not Rated.

MUTANT ON THE BOUNTY (1989) - Strange sci-fi/comedy which contains gross-out scenes along with futuristic hardware and dimwitted comedy. Max (Kyle T. Heffner), a saxophone player, gets lost in a transporter beam for 23 years until the crew from the U.S.S. Bounty accidently bump into him. Due to a malfunction in the ship's transporter room, Max materializes in mutated form, his face hideously disfigured with a phone receiver lodged in his skull. The captain of the ship dies of a heart attack after seeing Max's face. This leaves the ship in a state of chaos, with the crew unsure of who is in command. The ship's droid (John Roarke), a lackey who works for the company that commissioned the Bounty to explore distant planets for plant life, frequently gets on the crew's nerves with his constant demands that they follow company policy (sounds like ALIEN, doesn't it?). But the Bounty has more serious problems. A freak accident causes Max's suitcase to be switched with one that contains a germ warfare weapon owned by a pair of murderous theives. The theives trace the case to the Bounty and take the crew prisoner. This is a hit or miss affair and a lot of the humor depends on what frame of mind you are in. The ship's doctor performs a delicate operation while smoking a cigarette. A man is sucked down a toilet bowl. Max's head constantly rings. There are a few inventive touches along the way but one gets the feeling that the film's witty title is what got the film the go-ahead to be made. Then a screenplay had to be written so something showed on screen. The truth is that Max has very little to do with the plot, except to introduce the suitcase. High concept title, low concept plot. Director Robert Torrance has too much space between his ears to make this film fly. Also starring Deborah Benson and John Furey. A Southgate Entertainment Home Video Release. Unrated.

THE NEW BARBARIANS (1983) - Another one of Pastaland's endless cycle of ROAD WARRIOR (1982) rip-offs. This one is a retitling of WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND recorded in the EP mode on the Simitar label. It's post holocaust time again and a roving band of homosexual psychopaths known as the Templars travel the nuked-out land killing everyone they see. The leader of the Templars (a salt and pepper bearded George Eastman, the title character in THE GRIM REAPER - 1980) believes that the world would be better off with no human life (?) and spouts his philosophy to his all male crew. His motto is, "Living is a crime punishable by death."! Enter Scorpion (Timothy Brent), a loner who gets into the Templars' way one too many times. After killing one of the Templars' best warriors, Scorpion is captured and Eastman personally welcomes him in a rather unfriendly way (needless to say it's literally a real pain in the ass and unpleasant to watch). Nadir (Fred Williamson), another loner, saves Scorpion and after soothing his bruised ego (as well as his bruised posterior) they go after the Templars for a final confrontation. There is enough blood and guts on view to keep gorehounds entertained as Williamson shoots his explosive-tipped arrows into the bodies of Templars while the camera shows the aftermath in slow motion. There is also a vehicle equipped with a spinning blade that decapitates people, as well as numerous explosions and other carnage. Director Enzo G. Castellari is an old hand at this type of film, being responsible for 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS (1982) and its' sequel BRONX WARRIORS 2 (1983) as well as the Lou Ferrigno snorefest SINBAD OF THE SEVEN SEAS (1989). As it stands THE NEW BARBARIANS (a.k.a. 2019: THE NEW BARBARIANS) contains enough twisted imagery and unusual set pieces to make it worth a look. Just don't look for anything spectacular. A Simitar Home Video Release. Also available on DVD in its widescreen OAR from Shriek Show. Not Rated.

NOT LIKE US (1995) - Two aliens (Ranier Grant and Billy Burnette), posing as sister and brother, are experimenting on the inhabitants of Tranquility, a small town located next to nowhere. Some of the people turn up dead with a strange purple rash covering their bodies. A bickering couple (Joanna Pacula, Peter Onorati) and their kids seem to be the only normal people in this town. The wife becomes friends with the alien sister but becomes suspicious when men the sister picks up in bars end up missing. When her husband also disappears, she sneaks into the aliens' basement and discovers that they are using humans for plastic surgery experiments to help make their race more appealing! Yes, this is a comedy and not a very good one. Since this comes from Roger Corman's Concorde factory, it's easy to see why. Joanna Pacula (THE KISS - 1988) is dull and Peter Onorati (SHELTER - 1997) sleepwalks through his role. Nearly all the jokes fall flat with a loud thud. The only saving grace is Ranier Grant (THE CORPORATION - 1998), who walks around either topless or nude for most of her screen time. There are a few bloody moments (a skeleton ripped from a body and some severed limbs) but nothing to recommend to keep watching this turd. Director Dave Payne (the bad ALIEN TERMINATOR - 1994; the surprisingly good REEKER [2005] and it's even better sequel NO MAN'S LAND: THE RISE OF REEKER [2008]) was asleep behind the camera when he made this. Payne also used the pseudonym "Gene Hertel" to direct SHOWGIRL MURDERS (1996). NOT LIKE US also stars Morgan Englund, Annabelle Gurwitch, the late Paul Bartel and Clint Howard. A New Horizons Home Video Release. Rated R.

OMEGA DOOM (1995) - What would a week of CritCon be without a review of another Alfred Pyun-directed turdfest? This boring and overly talky futuristic thriller concerns a cyborg named Omega Doom (Rutger Hauer, who must have lost a big bet to star in this sludge) whose memory chip is damaged in a war with humans. He wanders the nuclear-damaged countryside until he comes to a town where two warring robot species (called ROMs and Droids) live together, looking for a cache of buried guns that are reputed to be hidden in this town by humans who intend to use them to wipe out the robot population. Hauer’s appearance causes the two species to rethink their peaceful existence and soon they are all fighting Hauer, thinking he is after the guns as well. Nifty title aside, OMEGA DOOM is a snorefest of the first degree. Too much talk (which includes quotes from Dylan Thomas poems!) and not enough action sink this film faster than a lead balloon. The only plus is Norbert Weisser as a robot who keeps losing his head throughout the film. He is a regular cast player in Pyun’s films, appearing in ARCADE (1992), DECEIT (1993), HEATSEEKER (1995) and NEMESIS 3: TIME LAPSE (1996). The real question is: Has Rutger Hauer sunk so low that he has to appear in crap like this to pay his bills? I hope not. As long as Albert Pyun keeps churning out chattel like this, I will keep you, the readers, fairly forewarned. Someone has to do it. I still can’t believe that his ADRENALINE: FEAR THE RUSH (1996) got a theatrical release! Also starring Shannon Whirry, Anna Katarina, Tina Cote and Jahi Zuri. A Columbia Tristar Home Video Release.  Rated PG-13.

PLAGUERS (2008) - Low-budget sci-fi/horror film from the director of the CAMP BLOOD trilogy (1999 - 2005) that is quite watchable if you can over look the limited set design and some questionable acting talent (most of the actors here, with the exception of Steve Railsback, got their start appearing in the no-budget productions from The Asylum, so you know what to expect). The crew of the spaceshup U.S.S. Pandora are on their way back to Earth after a year in space when all hell breaks loose. New captain Darian Holloway (Alexis Zibolis), who inherited the duty when the previous captain died in an accident in an air lock, must contend with a crew who dislike her being the captain, as well as a new alien power source called Thanatos (a glowing neon green ball of energy), which seems to be infecting the ship with a virus. Complicating matters is a distress call from a derelict ship where a woman can be heard screaming for her life. The crew doesn't want to answer the distress call since they are so close to finally reaching Earth and there are stories floating around of other ships answering distress calls and never being heard from again, but Captain Holloway orders the crew to dock with the derelict ship and check it out. She should have listened to her crew. As they attempt to dock with the ship, the new power source aboard the Pandora goes haywire and they nearly crash. Flight Officer Briggs (Chad Nell) comments that it was like the Pandora didn't want to dock with the other ship. A search party, consisting of Mason (Robert James; DEAD MEN WALKING - 2005) and Riley (Jared Michaels; HALLOWEEN NIGHT - 2006), board the derelict ship and discover that the inside has been gutted and the crew are nowhere to be found, except for four young women who seem scared out of their minds. Once on-board the Pandora, the women tell how they were attacked by space pirates and left for dead, but Captain Holloway believes there is something fishy with their story and rightfully so (it turns out that these four women are actually the pirates). Soon, these four nameless women are seducing the male crew members with the sole purpose of taking over the ship. The only crew members that don't fall for their charms are Science Officer Tarver (Steve Railsback; ED GEIN - 2000), female doctor Landon (Maija Polsley) and Captain Holloway, but it is too late. The four women have taken over the ship, killing Briggs, but during the takeover one of the women accidentally cracks-open the new power source and is sprayed with an unknown liquid within the orb. She transforms into a puss-filled fanged mutant, who begins infecting the Pandora's inhabitants. As Captain Holloway regains control of the Pandora, she and the survivors (It is revealed that Tarver is actually an android. Gee, I wonder what movie they got that idea from?) must find a way to put the power source in an air lock and flush it out into space before they reach Earth. More complications arise when the power source takes complete control of the Pandora, turns off the supply of oxygen and sends its mutants (including the recently-revived body of the first captain, who was Holloway's lover) to kill everyone else. Will Earth be saved or will its entire human population become mutant chow? While it's apparent that director/screenwriter Brad Sykes (besides the CAMP BLOOD films, he has also directed DEATH FACTORY - 2000 and MUTATION - 2006) has watched ALIEN (1979) one too many times (unmasking Tarver as an android two-thirds into the film is a dead giveaway), he manages to combine it with the again popular zombie genre to at least put a new spin on it. Most of the acting is strictly second tier (even the normally reliable Steve Railsback seems like he's slumming), but there are some good makeup and gore effects on view to keep fans of this film happily occupied. The best effect is when one of the female mutants gets the top half of her head ripped off and she simply grabs her severed noggin off the floor and reattaches it! There's plenty of other gore on view, especially during the final third, including flesh munching, chest-ripping, neck stabbings, face-eating and lots of arterial spray. This is also a very claustrophobic film due to the fact that most of the film takes place on the narrow corridors of the Pandora (an old Roger Corman trick) and the CGI used for the outer space scenes, especially Pandora's destruction in the finale, isn't very good at all. Add it all up and PLAGUERS is a hit-or-miss flick with a lot to offer gore lovers, but very little else (there is zero nudity considering the mostly female cast) for fans of sci-fi or horror. It's a nice try, but it could have been a lot better. Also starring Noelle Perris, Paige La Pierre, Stephanie Skewes, Erica Browne and David P. Johnson. An Image Entertainment DVD Release. Rated R.

PRISON PLANET (1992) - They don't come much worse than this impossibly bad science fiction adventure. Blaine (James Phillips), a futuristic freedom fighter, sets himself up to be sent to a prison planet so he can rescue the elderly ruler of his world, who was sent there by the new ruler, his evil brother. Once on the prison planet, Blaine runs afoul of the leader of a scavenger gang, Broxton (Michael Foley). Broxton is pissed because Blaine has killed his brother as well as freed all of Broxton's captive girls, including a virgin (Deborah Thompson-Carlin) who helps Blaine in his quest. When Broxton gets wind of Blaine's plan, he recaptures the virgin and devises his own plan of revenge and profiteering. Will Blaine succeed with his plan or will Broxton triumph? See if you can stay awake long enough to find out. Where do I begin in describing why this is such a terrible film? So many reasons, so little space. The acting is sub-amateur. Michael Foley (THE DIVINE ENFORCER - 1991) not only looks ridiculous in his long black wig and Fu Manchu mustache, he also puts his fledgling career in jeopardy by appearing in this turd. His puerile emoting is actually the best performance in an otherwise unstellar cast. The action scenes are poorly staged, always knowing how to use the wrong angle when filming a fight. The special effects and makeup effects are laughable and were probably done on a budget of $1.98 (if that much). If that's not enough to keep you away, it's boring to boot! Director/screenwriter Armand Gazarian also directed the similarly-themed 1988 snoozefest GAMES OF SURVIVAL (even if the video box reads "GAME OF SURVIVAL"). One plot point in PRISON PLANET has the leader of the freedom fighters being monikered Gazarian. Do you think the screenwriter had anything to do with that? Even the ever-so-unreliable 21st Century Film Corp. should be ashamed for letting this turkey escape from the film can. This is the nadir of filmmaking. Believe it or not, this film spawned two sequels! A Columbia Tristar Home Video Release. Rated R.

PROTOTYPE X29A (1992) - Whoa! Am I dreaming or is this one of the most hypnotic films to come down the pike in quite a while? The funny thing is, a film like this should fail miserably. It's set in the post-apocalyptic nuked-out future, where food and water are scarse and computer chips are a valuable commodity. It's got a mad scientist, a vunerable heroine (Lane Lenhart), an indestructible android (hence the title) and a bow and arrow toting juvenile (Sebastian Scandiuzzi). Nothing new here, right? As a matter of fact, it could describe dozens of the MAD MAX (1979) clones which litter the video shelves. So what makes this film so different? It's got characters you begin to care about, some knock-out special effects (including the Prototype and some state of the art computer animation [for the time]) and a heavenly choir-like soundtrack that trancends the usual music found in low budget films (it reminded me of the great music in the big screen release CANDYMAN - 1992). I'm not going to give away any more of the plotline other than to say that it starts rather slow and confusing, but later fills in all the missing pieces and concludes with one of the most humanistic, self-sacrificing acts ever committed in a fantasy film (and it's also highly ironic). The only detraction is the acting talents of Sebastian Scandiuzzi (son of producer Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi). He plays the role of smart-ass kid Sebastian (he's probably given that name so he doesn't forget his character's name) and he's as wooden as a petrified piece of a  sequoia tree. That point aside, this is an unusual (and very downbeat) futuristic thriller with touches of offbeat humor and great music. Director/screenwriter Phillip Roth also made the snowboard thriller RED SNOW (1991), starring PROTOTYPE producer Gian-Carlo and co-star Mitchell Cox, and DIGITAL MAN (1994). If you rush out to rent PROTOTYPE X29A based on this review, remember one thing: It's not everyone's cup of tea (for one thing, the computer animation and gadgetry is old school, but still effective), but the adventurous will find it rewarding. A Vidmark Entertainment Home Video Release. Rated R.

QUARANTINE (1989) - Canadian production, made by and starring people you never heard of before. In the not so distant future the world is attacked by some unexplained contagious disease. The totatalitarian government places all the infected people in quarantine camps, which are actually concentration camps. This also allows a power-mad government official (Jerry Wasserman) to have the opportunity of throwing his political enemies into the camps under the guise of being contaminated. A girl (Beatrice Boepple), whose father is about to be thrown into a camp, breaks into the high security building where Wasserman holds his televised trials and botches her attempt in kidnapping him. She escapes and hides in the apartment of an inventer (Garwin Sanford) who has made a machine which can quickly detect any infected person. Wasserman wants the machine because it will reduce the police force by 90% and he will finally be able to get rid of the sadistic police chief (Tom McBeath) who wants his job. Sanford falls in love with the girl and agrees to help try to spring her father. Wasserman wants Sanford because he holds the code which will make the machine operate. McBeath wants Sanford's code so he can get rid of Wasserman. Sanford just wants the girl (or does he?). In the end, everyone gets their just desserts. Triple-threat novice (director, producer & screenwriter) Charles Wilkinson (BLOOD CLAN - 1990; BREACH OF TRUST - 1995) gives the film a nice look, using a film noir style, but lacks the talent to tell a story. Some scenes seem to go on forever without going anywhere. Wasserman and McBeath give good performances but Boepple and Sandford are too catatonic to elicit any sympathy. Gunshots sound like cap pistols which really detracts the overall impact. The film has some nice dialogue, as when Boepple asks a boy (Kaj-Erik Eriksen) why he acts deaf and mute when he is around Sanford. He replys, "For sympathy." She then asks him why he doesn't act that way when he is around her and he says, "Because you don't look like you have very much." QUARANTINE is a film with too much flash and not enough development. A Republic Pictures Home Video Release. Not to be confused with the 2008 "found footage" film QUARANTINE (God, I hate those type of films. Thanks a lot BLAIR WITCH PROJECT [1999]!). Rated R.

RAGE (1984) - A year after their highly illogical, yet strangely enjoyable post-nuke actioner RUSH, director Tonino Ricci (once again using his "Anthony Richmond" pseudonym) and star Conrad Nichols return with this semi-sequel (It really bears no similarities to the first film, even though it was released in some foreign markets under the title RUSH 2: FINAL GAME). Nichols (SECRET OF THE INCAS' EMPIRE - 1987) is Captain Srike, a.k.a. "Rage", another in a long line of MAD MAX-type lone warriors, who travels along the radiation-infected wasteland that is now Earth, fighting injustice and mutated humans. When we first meet Rage (the opening minutes is a montage of over-used stock footage of atomic bomb explosions intercut with scenes of crying babies, to show us the brutality of atomic annihilation), he is fighting baddie Victor (Werner Pochath; COP GAME - 1988) and his Nazi-like army of machine gun-toting soldiers, only to be captured after putting up a valiant effort (he kills about twenty men before getting caught). While transporting Rage back to their base camp, Victor and his convoy are ambushed by a group of towel-headed raiders, so Rage grabs a rifle and saves the life of pretty soldier Mara (Taida Urruzola), Victor's second-in-command. Rage is taken to a huge underground facility, where he is asked by the facility's elderly wheelchair-bound leader to command an expedition to Alpha Base, a military outpost where the last of the world's uranium is stored; uranium which is needed to save humanity from deadly radiation exposure. Rage accepts the mission, so he, Victor, Mara and electronics expert Omar (Cris Huerta) begin their dangerous trek to Alpha Base. Their first stop is a cantina, where Rage meets old army nemesis Slash (Steve Eliot; JUST A DAMNED SOLDIER - 1988), who has maps needed for their journey. Slash agrees to go with them (after the prerequisite bar fight) for a 50/50 split of the profits, but Rage waits for Slash and his men to pass out from a night of drinking, steals the maps and takes off without him. The rest of the film details our ragtag group's journey to Alpha Base, where they battle cave people, earthquakes, landslides and mutants, while a pissed-off Slash and his army follow closely behind. After reaching Alpha Base and finding out that the uranium is depleted, Rage and his group grab some seeds left behind that could reboot our planet and must escape Slash and his men in an unconventional manner.  RAGE, an Italian/Spanish co-production, makes very little sense, but it contains enough action and blood to keep fans of this genre happy. Still, one has to laugh when director Ricci (PANIC - 1976) and screenwriters Jaime Comas Gil & Eugenio Benito allow such risible scenes, such as when Victor and his convoy don ponchos and gas masks to protect them from radiation poisoning (never mind that they expose enough skin while wearing these "radiation suits" to ensure that their children will be born with extra limbs and will glow in the dark!) or when they arrive at Alpha Base, only to discover that the uranium has been depleted, but the long-dead occupants had the forethought to put the entire history of the human race on VHS tapes, so whoever found the tapes would know how to rebuild the planet (Probably best not to put too much thought into this, as VHS tapes would be totally erased during a nuclear war, not to mention where the electricity comes from to run the VCRs years later!). There's also a booby-trapped jewel-encrusted Bible that triggers the destruction of Alpha Base when it is picked up. I haven't even touched upon the other ridiculous plot devices, such as a train that runs after decades of sitting in the baking sun (which leads to a Western-style cowboys-and-Indians chase during the finale) or Victor following Rage and his gang in a Volvo (apparently the only car sturdy enough to survive a nuclear apocalypse!). It's hilarious visual like these, as well as the plentiful gunfights, chases, explosions and martial arts fights that makes RAGE such a hoot-and-a-half to watch. Recommended for trash lovers. Originally available on VHS from U.S.A. Home Video as part of their "Sybil Danning's Adventure Video" series under the title A MAN CALLED RAGE. Not available on DVD. Not Rated.

THE RETURN (1980) - One of the greatest unsung exploitation directors out there, in my opinion, is Greydon Clark. He has tackled nearly every genre of exploitation, from blaxploitation (BLACK SHAMPOO - 1976), action (FINAL JUSTICE - 1984), comedy (WACKO - 1981; JOYSTICKS - 1983), horror (SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS - 1977; WITHOUT WARNING - 1980), racial dramas (THE BAD BUNCH - 1976; SKINHEADS - 1988), sci-fi (DARK FUTURE - 1994), the lambada (THE FORBIDDEN DANCE - 1990) and this film, a strange mixture of UFOs, cattle mutilations, time vortexes and personal fate. A UFO hovers over a deserted street in Little Creek, New Mexico and engulfs a neighborhood boy and a young tourist girl in a blood-red ray and then heads to the desert where it does the same thing to a prospector (the late Vincent Schiavelli) and deposits a mysterious flashing marker on some rocks before disappearing into outer space. Twenty five years pass and that little boy, Wayne (Jan-Michael Vincent), is now a cop in the town and the little girl, Jennifer (Cybill Shepherd), is a big city space researcher sent by her father (Raymond Burr) to go investigate strange lights that satellite photos are picking up in the area around Little Creek. Jennifer and Wayne haven't seen each other since that fateful night twenty-five years earlier and they don't recognize each other when they meet, but a series of events, including cattle mutilations, some bloody murders and strange lights in a cave bring Wayne and Jennifer to the conclusion that they were fated to meet again. The prospector (who hasn't aged a day in 25 years) is slicing up cattle and, eventually, people with a laser rod that cuts through flesh and bone like butter (supplied by the aliens) and throws the body parts into the light in the cave, which is actually a portal to the aliens' home planet. Buck (Martin Landau), the town's sheriff, is stumped by the cattle mutilations (all photos taken of the mutilations are fogged), especially since all the cattle are owned by the town's hotheaded patriarch Walt (Neville Brand), who wants results quickly. When the bodies of two tourists from a nearby dude ranch are found mutilated (by the prospector after they caught him carving up cattle), some stupid townspeople, led by Walt's idiotic son Eddie (Brad Reardon), blame Jennifer and her fancy electronic equipment for the mutilations. Wayne saves her from the mob mentality (and possible rape) and brings her to his home, which is full of books on UFOs and alien abductions. That's when they both realize that they were the two kids on the street 25 years ago and they fall in love. Jennifer's father figures out that the mysterious flashing marker is a star map telling us when the aliens plan to return and it's going to be tonight. What do the aliens want and why are they returning? It all has to do with Jennifer, Wayne and the prospector and ends on a metaphysical note.  This film is one strange bird. I remember first viewing this on a late night TV showing in the early 80's and thinking the next morning that I must have dreamed it. I did finally manage to get my hands on a VHS tape of it and am glad I did. Most of the gore was missing from the TV print (a lot of it involving Schiavelli and his laser saw, including Neville Brand's facial reconstruction and Martin Landau's arm removal) but, even without the gore, this film is hard to categorize. This film holds a fond place in my heart and, even though it's by no means a good film, it's an interesting one that manages to hold your attention throughout. The screenplay (by genre vets Ken & Jim Wheat and Curtis Burch) throws a lot of ideas into the mix and, while not all of them register, it still does have it's moments. This is my favorite Greydon Clark film. He made WITHOUT WARNING next. Also known as THE ALIEN'S RETURN and EARTHRIGHT. Also starring Darby Hinton, Ernest Anderson and Susan Kiger. A Thorn EMI Video VHS Release. Also available on a beautiful widescreen DVD from Scorpion Releasing. Buy this DVD if you want to see a rare film done the right way. Not Rated.

ROBOT NINJA (1989) - Nerdy comic book artist Leonard Miller (Michael Todd) is not a happy camper. It seems television producers have bought the rights to his serious comic book superhero, Robot Ninja, and turned it into a campy TV series, just like the BATMAN show in the 60's (that show's Robin, Burt Ward, puts in an extended cameo here). While driving home one night, Leonard spots a trio of hooligans raping and robbing a young couple and he tries to intervene. Leonard ends up getting the couple killed (the woman gets her jaw blown-off with a shotgun and the man is repeatedly stabbed in the throat) and he is sent to the hospital, bloody and bruised. Leonard decides to use this experience for a new Robot Ninja strip, but Leonard's publisher, Stanley Kane (Ward), thinks it is much too dark and will turn-off viewers of the TV series. A rash of killings in Leonard's town (Ridgway, Ohio) prompts Leonard to have his friend, Dr. Hubert Goodknight (Bogdan Pecic), build him a real Robot Ninja suit, which Leonard means to wear while he fights crime, using his exploits as plots for his comic strip. Leonard drives around town at night wearing the suit (which is nothing but a black body suit with some throwing stars sewn on the shoulders) and listening to a police radio, waiting for crime to occur. Wouldn't you know it? The same trio that put him in the hospital are robbing a video store, so Leonard, or rather, Robot Ninja, catches them coming out of the video store and kills one of them (by stabbing him in the eyes with specially-made blades that are attached to his forearm), but a young boy is also killed in the process. To make a very long, drawn-out story short, Leonard becomes an obsessed pill-popping superhero who forgets what being a superhero is all about. After being seriously wounded, Leonard leads the gang back to the home of Dr. Goodknight. The gang kills Dr. Goodknight (in the film's gore highlight), which leads Leonard to don the Robot Ninja costume one last time. After disposing of the rest of the gang, a mortally-wounded Leonard stumbles home and commits suicide with a bullet to his brain. The finale shows that there's an upside to killing yourself: Leonard's Robot Ninja comics, especially his last one, makes Stanley Kane a rich man.  This undeniably amateurish, though extremely gory, sci-fi horror film was the second directorial effort by one-man ultra-low-budget auteur J.R. Bookwalter, made a short time after is first (and still best) film, THE DEAD NEXT DOOR (1989). As with most of Bookwalter's films (OZONE - 1993; THE SANDMAN - 1996), the scope of his ambitions are too much for his amateur casts, meager budgets and lack of real talent to pull it off. ROBOT NINJA just ambles along at a snail's pace, tossing in a gory kill every few minutes (including a pistol jammed into an eye socket before being discharged; a face being kicked-in until it collapses like a rotting pumpkin; a man pulling out his intestines; various limbs being hacked off; and lots of stabbings). I guess that if your only interest is gore, this film is a pretty safe bet, but I like my films to have something more than blood and guts to hold my interest. Unfortunately, this film has nothing but bad acting (and characters have names like Spinell, Cameron, DePalma, Hickox, O'Bannon and such, just to let us know how hip Bookwalter is as a scripter), not one single sympathetic character, a droning synthesizer score (also by Bookwalter) and fight scenes that look like they were choreographed by Stevie Wonder. Besides Burt Ward, there are cameos by Linnea Quigley, David DeCoteau (LEECHES - 2003; also this film's Executive Producer), Kenneth J. Hall (THE EVIL SPAWN - 1987) and Scott Spiegel (INTRUDER - 1989), doing his best Jerry Lewis impression. Bookwalter tries to be different by making the chief bad guy a woman (Maria Markovic), but she's so butch, she's indistinguishable from any man in the cast. Toss in headache-inducing handheld camerawork (about 90% of the film) and absolutely no nudity (the women keep their bras and panties in while being raped) and ROBOT NINJA is a film best avoided unless you are a gore fanatic. The opening and closing credits for this 16mm feature were created on a Commodore Amiga 500 personal computer. Also sterring Floyd Ewing Jr., Bill Morrison, James L. Edwards, Michael Kemper and Jon Killough (the director of SKINNED ALIVE - 1989). A Cinema Home Video Release. Not Rated. "I am the Robot Ninja and I kick ass!"

ROBOT WARS (1993) - This is the third in a series of producer Charles Band's giant robot films, the first being ROBOT JOX (1990 - probably the worst directorial job in Stuart Gordon's career, if you discount his TV effort DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS [1990]) followed by CRASH AND BURN (1990). In the distant future, in what was the United States, a border war is erupting. A robot jockey (Don Michael Paul) pilots the last remaining weapons-equipped giant robot (which looks like a mechanical scorpion), shuttling tourists between the main city and a 1990's ghost town called Crystal City. A research scientist (Barbara Crampton) suspects that there is a secret buried under Crystal City and, along with her reporter friend (Lisa Rinna), set on uncovering the truth. When a visiting Japanese dignitary (Danny Kamekona), who is actually one of the bad guys, hijacks the robot and threatens the lives of the tourists, the robot jockey and the scientist team up and unbury the secret (a long dormant giant robot) and fight the Jap in a duel to the death. This extremely short film (just a hair over 70 minutes)  boasts some fine effects work by the late David Allen and stop motion animation by Jim Danforth. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is rather routine, sprinkled with some forced humor (people spotting an American flag and not knowing what it is) an inane dialogue. Barbara Crampton (who looks great) has come a long way from the days of playing the hapless heroine who learned a new way of "getting head" in RE-ANIMATOR (1985). Regrettably she's been traveling in the wrong direction. This bloodless and fleshless PG-rated quickie is just an excuse for Charles Band to give his father Albert Band (I BURY THE LIVING - 1958) something to do in his old age. The rest of the cassette is fleshed out with coming attractions and another chapter of the boring Full Moon behind-the-scenes magazine VideoZone, giving the tape a total running time of 105 minutes! What a waste of tape. A Paramount Home Video Release. Rated PG.

ROBOWAR (1988) - You gotta love those Italians. When they see a bandwagon, they are the first to jump on it. This is director Bruno Mattei's (using his "Vincent Dawn" pseudonym) take on PREDATOR (1987) with a little bit of TERMINATOR (1984) and ROBOCOP (1987) thrown in. When the experimental Omega-1 prototype cyborg goes on the fritz and starts killing soldiers in the Philippines jungle on its' first mission, the powers-that-be hire the BAM (Bad Asses Motherfuckers) military group, led by Major Murphy Black (Reb Brown of STRIKE COMMANDO - 1987), to stop the menace. The only thing is, they forgot to tell Major Black and his group what they are hunting and give him a bullshit story about stopping rebels in the territory. The team go into the jungle and find corpses gutted, hanging from trees (sound familiar?). They run into guerilla rebels and have many firefights and in one of those fights rescue missionary worker Virgin (Catherine Hickland). Mascher (Mel Davidson), the only one in the group that knows the real reason why they are there, finally tells Black and his group the truth after they are being picked-off one-by-one by Omega-1. Pretty soon it's down to only Black and Virgin (who the hell names their daughter "Virgin"?) as they try to fight off Omega-1 before they are killed. Black surprisingly finds out (via a cassette tape left to him by Mascher in case of his death), that Omega-1 is partially human (the head and brain only) and was once Black's best friend, whom he thought was killed in the last war they fought in together. Black uses this to his advantage and blows up Omega-1 with a bomb at the top of a waterfalls. Filled with extreme bits of gore and plenty of bullet hits, explosions and other carnage, ROBOWAR is never boring, even though you will sit there slack-jawed finding all the similarities of the films mentioned above. Reb Brown makes a poor-man's Schwarzenegger, but the rest of the cast, including Alex McBride, Max Laurel, John P. Dulaney, Jim Gaines and Romano Puppo handle themselves nicely, even making some bad AIDS and racial jokes, before being dispatched. Mattei also made the films SHOCKING DARK (1989; and released in Italy as TERMINATOR 2!), a scene-for-scene rip-off of Jim Cameron's ALIENS (1986); and CRUEL JAWS (1994), which you can guess what that is a rip-off of. As far as unofficial remakes go, Mattei delivers the goods, even if you feel a little delirious after watching them. None of these films have a legitimate release in the US (for legal reasons), but can be picked-up at various on-line gray market distributors, including Midnight Video. Also known as ROBOMAN. Not Rated.

RUSH (1983) - It's time once again for the post-nuke apocalypse as only those crazy Italians can pull it off. This time, lone warrior Rush (Conrad Nichols; SECRET OF THE INCAS' EMPIRE - 1987) tries his damnedest to protect what he thinks is probably the last living piece of vegetation left on a barren and dusty Earth, killing anyone who comes near it and sacrificing his own well-being by feeding the plant what little water he has in his possession. While scavenging for water and food in his six-wheeled dune buggy, Rush happens upon a burned-out city and watches as the soldiers under the command of evil dictator Yor (Gordon Mitchell; ENDGAME - 1983; SFX RETALIATOR - 1987) kill innocent contaminated squatters and kidnap others for illicit experiments back at Yor's compound. After fighting some of Yor's soldiers  and discovering that some of them are robots (called "Untouchables"), Rush is captured and brought back to the compound. When it is discovered that Rush is not contaminated by radiation, Yor has him locked up and tortured out of fear that if his slaves learn that it is actually safe to leave the compound without becoming contaminated, they will revolt. Rush is eventually put to work at the compound's nursery, where old timer Homer (Osiride Pevarello) teaches him how to plant seeds in radioactive soil without being exposed. Rush catches the eye of pretty kitchen worker Carol (Laura Trotter; CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD - 1980) and a romance soon develops. Rush also make enemies with the nursery's alpha male, Steel (Richard Pizzuti), who makes life tough for the new guy. After a fracas with some guards, Rush is chained to a concrete column, where Yor sends his chief interrogator Lorna (Rita Furlan) to use her womanly ways to find out where Rush lives on the outside. Rush almost falls for the ruse, but Carol convinces him to lead a revolt out of the compound with the help of Steel and Homer. Rush also needs to get revenge on Yor for previously killing his brother and freezing his body (this plot point suddenly comes out of nowhere and really makes no sense at whatsoever). Rush, Steel and Homer lead a violent escape out of the compound, but only Rush makes it out alive (Steel is shot dead and Homer blows himself up with a grenade when he is surrounded by guards). Rush is hunted down by Yor and his men (he even has a run-in with a mutant rat!), but he uses his Rambo-like training (including forest booby-traps and a runaway tractor) to avoid capture. Rush steals a Jeep and returns to the compound to save Carol (he manages to get her and most of the other prisoners killed in the process!) and has a final confrontation with Yor, who gets a face-full of steam before falling to his death.  Not much in this Italian post-nuke actioner makes much sense (For instance: If Yor didn't want any of his slaves finding out it was safe to leave the compound without being exposed to radiation, why did he put Rush to work in the nursery?), but director Tonino Ricci (PANIC - 1976; RAIDERS OF THE MAGIC IVORY - 1988), here using his frequent "Anthony Richmond" pseudonym, and screenwriter Tito Carpi (HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA - 1982; ALIEN FROM THE DEEP - 1989) toss in enough lunacy and violence to keep the viewer entertained, including an extended FIRST BLOOD "homage" during the final third of the film that takes place in a lush, green forest (I guess Ricci and Carpi forgot that this was supposed to be a barren, dusty Earth!). Ricci returned a year later with a semi-sequel titled RAGE (a.k.a. A MAN CALLED RAGE and RUSH 2: FINAL GAME), also starring Conrad Nichols (real name: Luigi Mezzanotte). Hey, RUSH isn't rocket science, but you can enjoy it for what it is: a mindless, violent post-apocalypse actioner with more brawn than brains. Also starring Bridgit Pelz, Paolo Celli, Daniele Stroppa and Luigi Filippo Lodoli. Originally released on VHS by U.S.A. Home Video as part of their "Sybil Danning's Adventure Video" line. Not Rated.

SCI-FIGHTERS (1996) - In the not-too-distant future (2009), Earth is covered by a brown dust caused by a catastrophic volcanic eruption in Japan, putting the world in endless darkness, called "Econight".  At a penal colony on the Moon, psychotic prisoner Adrian Dunn (Billy Drago) kills another prisoner for stealing one of his cigarettes. He then purposely infects himself with an alien organism, which gives him the appearance of being dead. His body is then shipped back to Earth for burial, where he wakes up and goes on a rape and murder spree. Adrian Dunn is beginning to mutate into an alien lifeform and anyone he rapes is infected with a highly contagious virus which begins spreading throughout the city. Dr. Kirbie Younger (Jayne Heitmeyer), an infectious disease specialist, is called in to investigate when one of Adrian's rape victims, Tricia (Donna Sarrasin), becomes extremely ill and is quarantined. A "Black Shield" police detective (the highest rank achievavble) named Cameron Grayson (Roddy Piper) takes personal interest in Trish's rape case when he spots her composite photo of her attacker. It seems Det. Grayson and Adrian were once partners until Adrian killed Grayson's wife, Katy, in a fit of jealous rage and was sent to lunar prison. As the hours pass, Adrian begins to mutate in an accelerated fashion, first losing his fingernails as his fingers begin to fuse together. As his condition begins to worsen, so does his rage and he begins to rape and murder more women. When Trish's condition begins to look grim (she develops tumors all over her body and seems to be exhaling methane gas), Dr. Younger and Det. Grayson begin to work together to find Adrian before his reign of terror becomes a fullblown epidemic. Trish's body explodes in quarantine and spits forth alien organisms, one of which attaches itself to Dr. Gene Washington (Tyrone Benskin), a good friend of Dr. Younger. Dr. Washington seals off the room and uses himself as a human guinea pig, transmitting his results to Dr. Younger via close circuit TV. Grayson, meanwhile, has caught-up with Adrian and finds out quickly that bullets are useless. Adrian sets his sights on Dr. Younger, who bears a striking resemblance to Katy (even Grayson notices it), so it's up to Det. Grayson to keep her safe. He fails on several occasions to do so, which sets the stage for a climatic battle between Adrian and Grayson on the hospital's roof. Say, isn't methane flammable?  An uneasy mix of sci-fi and horror genres, this Canadian production, directed by Peter Svatek (WITCHBOARD 3: THE POSSESSION - 1995; BLEEDERS - 1997), benefits from some gory special effects (Trish's stomach-bursting scene; several bloody murders) and some truly head-scratching scenes, such as Adrian's murder weapon of choice: A golden penis-shaped dildo with a spring-loaded blade. There's also a scene where Adrian ties a hooker to a bed, paints eyes over her nipples and begins throttling her when she tells him that her name isn't Katy. Billy Drago (HUNTER'S BLOOD - 1987; DELTA FORCE 2 - 1990) is his usual wide-eyed, mumbling self, spending most of his screen time under heavy makeup, babbling incoherently and calling every woman he meets "Katy". Roddy Piper (THEY LIVE - 1988; IMMORTAL COMBAT - 1994) is rather restrained as Det. Grayson. Some would argue too restrained (no wrestling moves here, just plenty of gunfights). The film is a little too leisurely-paced for it's own good, but it does have a sense of humor (When Dr. Younger tells Grayson that the newest rape victim in the hospital hasn't "exploded yet", the look on Piper's face is priceless). The effects, on whole, are quite good for a low-budget DTV production and the script, by Mark Sevi (SCANNERS: THE SHOWDOWN - 1994; ARACHNID - 2001), does try to have an emotional core (especially the relationship between Dr. Washington and Dr. Younger), but the languid pacing should have been tightened-up. As it stands, SCI-FIGHTERS (an awful title) is an interesting failure that could have been so much better with a little extra adrenaline. There also seems to be some post-production tampering concerning the foul language. On several occasions, the word "fuck"  has been changed to "freak" or "frick", yet words such as "shit" are left intact and the film is full of nudity. It doesn't make sense. Also starring Richard Raybourne, Karen Elkin, Chip Chuipka, Andy Bradshaw and Richard Zeman. Also known as CONTAGION 2009. A Triboro Entertainment Group VHS Release. Available on DVD from Image Entertainment and Vintage Home Entertainment. Rated R.

SHOCKING DARK (1989) - This wild and wacky Italian film is a shameless rip-off of James Cameron's ALIENS (1986) as well as a touch of his TERMINATOR (1984) to boot (this was called TERMINATOR 2 in Italy!). The fact that this never got a legal release in the States may have something to do with Cameron's influence. As the year 2000 approaches, the city of Venice, Italy has become a polluted mess. Something strange has happened to a secret underground facility beneath the city as all communications to the outside have been cut-off except for one last transmission by a scientist who begs for a rescue. The Tubular Corporation sends a squad of Marines called the MegaForce, led by Samuel Fuller (Cristofer Ahrens), to breach the underground facility and retrieve a diary by a scientist who was performing top secret experiments. Almost as soon as they are underground, the MegaForce run into a scientist who has been infected with an alien lifeform, whose scream temporarily paralyzes everyone. As they delve further underground, they discover alien lifeforms and humans who are encased in alien goo who beg the MegaForce, "Please kill me!" They even find a little girl named Samantha (Doninica Coulson), who a female member of the force becomes attached to. Uh, oh! I think I know where this is going. It's not long before members of the MegaForce are killed by rampaging aliens and we also find out that the Tubular Corporation has a hidden agenda and does not want anyone coming back alive. See if you can spot who plays the Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen and Paul Reiser characters in this. It's really not hard at all. This is one of Bruno Mattei's (here using his pseudonym "Vincent Dawn") "homages" to American blockbuster films of the 80's (see ROBOWAR above). Besides a few minor plot changes, this is nearly an exact copy of ALIENS that veers off into TERMINATOR territory in the finale as the last two survivors are chased by a cyborg and there's even a time machine! I doubt ALIENS has dialogue like, "If I'd known Wops were coming along, I would have brought my anti-grease spray!", though. Unredeemingly cheap in it's execution, SHOCKING DARK looks like it was shot in a huge boiler room and you never see more than one alien on the screen at the same time. That's probably because they could only afford one costume. The actors are all pretty bad (especially Geretta Giancarlo Field as Kuster, the Black female member of the squad, who spouts the most racist dialogue here, including the previously-mentioned "Wop" comment), as all they do is scream at each other and try to forget that English is their second language. You'll want to reach through the screen and strangle Samantha, as all she seems to scream is "SARA!" at the top of her little lungs. If I had a shotgun, I would have blown her head off and said I had mistaken her for an alien. Still, it's good cheesy fun, with dollops of gore, unbelievable wooden dialogue and so many "spot the rip-off" moments that you can make a drinking game of it. The only problem is that you'll be hammered by the 30 minute mark and probably not remember the rest of the film. Maybe that's a good thing. Also starring Haven Tyler, Tony Lombardo, Mark Steinborn and Italian exploitation staple Alex McBride. The copy I viewed was ripped from an English-language Japanese-subtitled VHS tape. Also known as ALIENATORS. This film is Not Rated.

THE SISTERHOOD (1987) - It's post-nuke time again and you know what that means: Lots of gun battles, chases and explosions with the barest of plots to hold it all together. Two women, Alee (Rebecca Holden) and Vera (Barbara Hooper), members of a group of legendary Amazons called The Sisterhood, travel on horseback through the scorched post-apocalyptic landscape on a rescue mission. They are one their way to free their fellow Sisters from imprisonment by the evil Lord Kragg (Kenneth Peerless), who is holding them in a dungeon and plans on using them for world domination. You see, each member of the Sisterhood has a magical power, like the ability to shoot laser beams from their eyes or heal wounds with the touch of a hand, so Lord Kragg figures on using their powers to defeat all the other nomadic tribes on Earth. Alee and Vera are being followed by warrior Mikal (Chuck Wagner) and his men. Mikal wants Vera, since she has the power to heal. With her by his side, he cannot be killed in any battle he's in. Mikal and his raiders destroy a village and he kills the young brother of stablegirl Marya (Lynn-Holly Johnson), who has the ability to speak with her pet hawk. Marya joins forces with Alee and Vera and she swears to get even with Mikal for her brother's death. As the female trio are on their way to free the Sisterhood, Vera is captured by Mikal, so Alee and Marya work together to rescue her. Mikal and his men bring Vera to a camp run by the evil Lord Jak (Anthony East), where Mikal joins forces with Jak and his men. Alee and Marya have a run-in with a caravan led by Lord Barak (Robert Dryer), but Barak turns out not to be such a bad guy and everyone settles their differences amicably. Alee and Marya then run into a tribe of horribly-scarred scarred mutants and, as they are fleeing from the mutant horde, they find a cave that contains a bunker full of automatic weapons, explosives and an armored vehicle that has been sitting there before the "Great War" between the United States and Russia (talk about a stroke of good luck!). Alee and Marya use their new wealth of goodies to first free Vera and then head-off to save the rest of the Sisterhood. As the trio storms the village where the Sisterhood is being held captive, Mikal discovers that one of them is actually his sister! The mystical female goddess of the Sisterhood appears in the finale to unshackle all the women and transport them to safety, away from the cold hands of the male population. Mikal follows them on his chopper, the only man who has the Sisterhood's best interest at heart (I guess Marya has given up on making him pay for her brother's death. Maybe she just forgot.).  Yes, this is another of prolific Filipino director/producer Cirio H. Santiago's 80's post-nuke flicks (which includes STRYKER - 1983; WHEELS OF FIRE - 1984; and EQUALIZER 2000 - 1986) and, yes, it doesn't make a lick of sense but, damn, it sure is entertaining in an absurd, brain-dead sort of way. Santiago creates his own future Earth where spears, swords and horses co-exist with guns, rocket launchers and armored personnel carriers. Each has their place in this futuristic society and each has their advantage. Unlike most post-nuke films (including the remainder of Santiago's), this one doesn't concern itself with oil or water or a lack thereof. THE SISTERHOOD is about a battle of the sexes. In this future society, women fall into two distinct categories: They are either sex slaves or strong-willed, independent individuals. No gray areas here; everything is either black or white. Of course, this being a Santiago film, both types of women spend a lot of time in various states of undress, except for the chaste Lynn-Holly Johnson (ALIEN PREDATORS - 1984), who never seems to take her clothes off in any film she's in (I'm beginning to think she's actually a man!). Robert Dryer (Santiago's FAST GUN and BEHIND ENEMY LINES [both 1987]) takes the prize here as the weirdest character. His Lord Barak speaks with a Boris Karloff-like lisp, which makes him seem like a bad guy but, as we soon find out, he's a very reasonable man. I also like the twisted logic used here (script by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver, screenwriter of other Santiago epics like DUNE WARRIORS and FIELD OF FIRE [both 1990]), especially concerning Mikal. Even though he murders innocent people (including Marya's pre-teen brother), he's allowed to live in the finale based solely on the revelation that Alee is his sister. Innocent victims be damned! Santiago also offers some gore (swordplay violence, various slashings and impalements and a hand being lopped-off), lots of explosions and two of his trademarks: pygmie cannibals and his patented "running man on fire" gag. In other words, your typical Santiago action flick. If you like his other films, you're bound to like this one, too. Also starring the usual Santiago regulars: Henry Strzalkowski, David Light, Jim Moss, Peter Shilton, Willie Morales, Warren McLean and an uncredited Nick Nicholson. Originally available on VHS by Media Home Entertainment and still awaiting a DVD release in the States. Rated R.

SPACE RAIDERS (1983) - Just ignore the borrowed special effects and James Horner's music score from BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980) and enjoy the ride. A young boy named Peter (David Mendenhall; STREETS - 1990) stows away on a spaceship stolen by Hawk (Vince Edwards; CELLAR DWELLER - 1987) and his band of space pirates. It seems they are after fuel owned by evil corporation Procyon III, who have monopolized it throughout the galaxy. At first, an uneasy alliance develops between Peter, Hawk and his crew, including Amanda (Patsy Pease; HE KNOWS YOU'RE ALONE - 1980), Ace (Luca Bercovici, who, besides being an actor up to this day, also directed such films as GHOULIES - 1985; THE GRANNY - 1994; and LUCK OF THE DRAW - 2000) and Flightplan (Thom Christopher; WIZARDS OF THE LOST KINGDOM - 1985), a telepathic alien. Soon it grows into much more. The story involves getting Peter home without getting killed by the corporation (and other evil nasties, including Ray Stewart as dastardly alien Zariatin) in the process. It is also a story about a boy becoming a man and a crew that acts as his surrogate family and the trust the builds between them all, especially between Hawk and Peter. This is a nice change of pace for the late Vince Edwards, as Hawk begins to show his soft side after years of being hard as a rock and David Mendenhall is very good indeed as the boy who softens him up, but not so much that he can't defend himself and his crew. Director/screenwriter Howard R. Cohen (SATURDAY THE 14TH - 1981; SATURDAY THE 14TH STRIKES BACK - 1988; TIME TRACKERS - 1989 and a few screenplays for Cirio H. Santiago) handles this family-friendly film with just the right amounts of humor and space-related derring-do (insert stock footage from BBTS) and this may be Cohen's (who passed away in 1999) best film. A notch above most of producer Roger Corman's 80's STAR WARS rip-offs, even with all the reused footage (a Corman staple) If you can find a copy of this film, grab it! Also starring Drew Snyder, George Dickerson, Michael Miller, Virginia Kiser and a cameo from Corman regular Dick Miller as "Crazy Mel".  Originally released on VHS by Warner Home Video and still awaiting a DVD release in the United States (are you listening Shout! Factory?). NOTE: Well, Scorpion Releasing listened and issued a beautiful OAR print on both DVD & Blu-Ray. Rated PG.

SPLIT SECOND (1992) - "London: 2008. After forty days and nights of torrential rain, the city is largely submerged below water, a result of the devastating effects of continued global pollution where day has become almost endless night..." Damn! I guess Al Gore was correct all along. In this futuristic sci-fi/horror/action flick, renegade cop Harley Stone (Rutger Hauer), who has been suspended from the force, is on the trail of a serial killer who murdered his partner three years earlier. For some reason (which will be revealed later in the film), Stone has a psychic link with the serial killer (who rips the hearts out of his victims and eats them), but he is always one step behind. Stone is reinstated back on the force with the provision that he takes on a new partner, nerdy serial killer expert Detective Dick Durkin (Neil Duncan). At first, their partnership works as well as oil and water, but they will soon become to depend on each other's talents in order to survive. The serial killer taunts Stone, delivering a half-eaten heart to his precinct, leaving his dead partner's gun at a crime scene and revealing a cryptic clue at the latest murder scene: A drawing of the zodiac sign Scorpio scrawled on the ceiling in the victim's blood. When Stone's dead partner's wife, Michelle (Kim Cattrall), returns to London, she and Stone reignite their passion for each other that started shortly after her husband's death. Stone may be the only person to believe that the serial killer may not be a man at all, but some kind of genetic mutation brought on by years of global warning. Casts taken from the bite marks of the delivered heart reveal that it couldn't possibly come from a human being and the zodiac sign painted on the ceiling shows that the killer may be ten feet tall! When the killer bites Michelle and eventually kidnaps her, we find out why Stone has a psychic link. He was mauled on the shoulder by the killer three years earlier (the killer absorbs it's victim's DNA and memories) and Stone can now sense when it is near. Stone and Durkin put their differences aside and head down to the flooded London subway system (after the creature carves a map on Durkin's chest!) to save Michelle and kill the creature. It's a trap, of course, but Stone and Durkin work together to destroy the creature. Or do they?  This fast-paced hybrid film, directed by Tony Maylam (THE BURNING - 1980), is a fun and bloody ride, even if the vision of future London has, by now, been proven wrong (Give it another twenty years!). This is a very wet film in the sense that there is water in nearly every scene, but it doesn't shy away from the other "wet" aspect in this film: Blood. It flows rather freely here, as hearts are ripped-out, bodies explode and there are plenty of bloody gunfights. The gun blasts just don't enter bodies, they go "splat!" The action sequences are exciting and well-executed, especially the shootout in the morgue and the finale in the flooded subway, which was directed by Ian Sharp (RPM - 1998), when Maylam walked off the set and didn't return due to "creative differences". Both Rutger Hauer (who also starred in BLADE RUNNER [1982], another wet futuristic film) and Neil Duncan (WAR DOGS - 1994) have good chemistry together and have excellent comic timing that brings a smile to the viewer's face, especially Duncan's line "We need bigger fucking guns!" after catching his first glimpse of the creature. There are many snappy lines in Gary Scott Thompson's script. So many, in fact, it's worth repeat viewings to truly appreciate them all. SPLIT SECOND also has an unhealthy preoccupation with rats, as they are everywhere thanks to the flooding (the year 2008 is also the Chinese Year of the Rat and it plays an important role in the plot). Oddball actor Michael J. Pollard (AMERICAN GOTHIC - 1987) has a cameo as "The Rat Catcher" and Kim Cattrall has a topless shower scene. The creature is kept under wraps until the finale and that's a good thing, too, because it's the weakest element in the film. It's an obvious "man in a rubber suit" concoction that would have ruined the overall tone of the film if fully revealed earlier. As it stands, SPLIT SECOND (the title doesn't make a lick of sense) is a brisk time-waster that delivers the goods. Also starring Pete Postlethwaite, Alun Armstrong, late rocker Ian Dury, Roberta Eaton and Tony Steedman. Also known as DETECTIVE STONE. An HBO Video Release, who also issued a fullframe DVD in 2002 that now commands big bucks in collector circles. Rated R.

STARCRASH (1979) - This is probably the most popular of the crop of Italian STAR WARS-inspired rip-offs, thanks to it's cast of highly recognizable B-movie stars, wild and colorful set designs and hilarious model and stop-motion effects. Space smugglers Akton (Marjoe Gortner; JUNGLE WARRIORS - 1984) and Stella Star (Caroline Munro; MANIAC - 1980) are caught by intergalactic cop Thor (Robert Tessier; NIGHTWISH - 1988) and his robot partner Elle (Judd Hamilton; Munro's husband at the time) and are sentenced to life of hard labor on a prison planet. They are both soon pardoned by the Emperor of the Inner Circle (Christopher Plummer; THE SILENT PARTNER - 1978) and sent on a mission with Thor and Elle to find the planet that evil Count Zarth Arn (a badly dubbed Joe Spinell; WALKING THE EDGE - 1983) is using to create a weapon so deadly, no one is even sure what it does yet. Their first stop is to the planet Uranus (which has breathable air and oceans!), where Stella and Elle encounter Queen Cordelia (Nadia Cassini) and her army of Amazons. After having a close call with a giant sword-wielding golden robot and a fleet of Amazon attack ships, the quartet then head to an ice-covered planet in the next solar system, where Stella and Elle are abandoned after the traitorous Thor, who is actually working for Zarth Arn, knocks-out Akton and takes over the ship. Akton comes to and kills Thor, reviving a totally frozen Stella with his psychic healing powers. Stella, Akton and Elle then head to a third planet, where Stella is captured by cannibalistic cavemen and Elle is torn to pieces. Stella is saved by Simon (David Hasselhoff; WITCHERY - 1988), the lone survivor of the Emperor's first unsuccessful mission to find Zarth Arn. Akton informs Stella and Simon that this is the planet they are looking for, so they try to stop Zarth Arn, fail, Akton dies and then are saved by the Emperor, who "stops the flow of time" long enough for everyone to escape the planet before it explodes. Stella, the Emperor and Simon (who is actually the Emperor's son) then battle Zarth Arn for rulership of the universe in one of the chintziest space battles in sci-fi history.  STARCRASH is camp filmmaking of the highest order. Everything about this film screams out camp, from the garish neon-lit sets, broad acting, low-level special effects and opticals (some of the laser pistol blasts are nothing but red-colored emulsion scratches) and laughable dialogue which is spoken earnestly by the game cast. Director/scripter Luigi Cozzi (THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN - 1975; CONTAMINATION - 1980), here using his frequent pseudonym "Lewis Coates", basically throws all logic out of the window, instead offering us non-stop lunacy, cut-rate special effects (using forced perspective, laughable double exposures and jerky stop-motion animation), outlandish costume designs (including some revealing, skimpy outfits worn by the lovely Ms. Monro) and a future society where everything is domed or bubble-shaped (the set designs are a hoot). I was really taken aback by the appearance of the usually dignified Christopher Plummer in a film of this caliber. I'm sure this is one film he doesn't list on his resume, but he looks like he's having a helluva time in the few scenes he's in. Both Robert Tessier and Joe Spinell are dubbed by other voice-over artists, but everyone else dubbed the film using their own voices. David Hasselhoff wears so much makeup and eyeliner here, he looks like a young Michael Des Barre. Most of the secondary space outfits worn in STARCRASH look to be hand-me-downs from Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965) and various Alfonso Brescia space operas from the 70's, such as STAR ODYSSEY (1978). The entire film is highly enjoyable, mostly for the wrong reasons (I wonder how many pre-teen and teen boys pumped out knuckle children to the sight of Caroline Munro in her skin-baring outfits?), but it's always good for a hearty laugh (Count Zarth Arn's mothership is shaped like a giant robot hand, complete with moveable fingers!). In his own ridiculously low-budget way, Cozzi manages to pay tribute not only to space films, but also to the movies of Ray Harryhausen and a sly wink to the original INVADERS FROM MARS (1953; you'll know it when you see it). Also released under the titles THE ADVENTURES OF STELLA STAR, FEMALE SPACE INVADERS and FUTURE WARRIOR. This would make a great double bill with Aldo Lado's THE HUMANOID (1979). An unofficial sequel, titled ESCAPE FROM GALAXY 3 (1981) and directed by Bitto Albertini (billed in the credits as "Ben Norman"), was released to some territories under the names STAR CRASH II and SPACE TRAP. It has very little to do with the first film, besides cribbing some effects footage and naming it's lead character "Belle Star". Originally released on VHS by Charter Entertainment and available on DVD from barely-legal label Televista. Also released on legitimate U.S. DVD & Blu-Ray from Shout! Factory as part of their "Roger Corman Cult Classics" line. It's really the only way to watch the film. Rated PG.

STAR CRYSTAL (1985) - They don't come much worse than this badly-acted, ultra-low-budget ALIEN (1979) clone snoozefest. In the year 2032, a crew exploring a crater on Mars discovers a strange-looking rock and bring it on-board their space shuttle. The rock splits open, spilling ooze on the floor and exposing a light-pulsating crystal inside the shell. From the ooze, a small alien creature begins to develop and the crystal shuts down all the shuttle's power, including life support, killing the entire crew. Two months later, the shuttle is found and docked at an orbiting space station. A crew is assigned to go into the shuttle and investigate the mysterious deaths. As soon as they are all on-board, the shuttle suddenly takes off and the crew watches helplessly as the space station explodes into a million pieces. The crew is now stuck on this spacebound coffin, with minimal power, not enough food to last more than a couple of months and a tentacled creature that likes to snack on human blood. The creature begins killing the crew one-by-one as they try to make their way back to Earth which, at the rate of speed they are traveling, will take more than two years to reach. The creature kills all but two members of the crew, Roger Campbell (C. Juston Campbell) and Dr. Adrian Kimberly (Fay Bolt), and they go through the videotape logs of the previous crew looking for clues on how to defeat the creature (they don't find any, but it takes up a good portion of screen time). It's apparent that the crystal has full control of the shuttle and the creature has plans for the two surviving crew members. I really became pissed-off when the creature began reading passages from the Bible on the shuttle's computer screen. It is at this time I realized I was actually watching an alien converting to Christianity. All the flamethrowers, blood, gore and carnage in the world can't cover the fact that the viewer was duped into watching this filmmaker's religious beliefs disguised as a science fiction film, especially when the bloodthirsty alien (a cross between E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL [1982] and THE BLOB [1958]) explains to the two surviving humans that he didn't know the meaning of "kill" until he ran into our species. After reading the Bible, he saw the error of his ways and helps the two humans make it safely back to Earth, sacrificing his own life in the process while a sappy love song plays on the soundtrack ("Crystal of the stars, tell me who you are..."). Oh boy! Now I've truly seen it all.  This sci-fi/horror film contains some of the worst acting I have ever had the displeasure of witnessing and sets that are so threadbare, a porn film seems lush by comparison. This is one film you'll be rooting for the alien, as the "actors" (and I use that term lightly) constantly bicker with one another ("You can't use that computer!" "Why?"  "Because it only responds to my voice!" "Well, what happens if you are killed?"  "I didn't think of that!") or do the exact opposite of what logic dictates. I came very close to turning this film off a couple of times because it's about as interesting as watching home movies of your cousin Ricky being bathed as a baby. The special effects are anything but (When Mars is shown in a shot in the beginning, it is transparent!) and consists of grade school model effects, objects "floating" on visible strings and creature effects that can best be described as impoverished. The tentacle effects are achieved by running the film backwards and what little gore there is shows the tentacles sucking all the fluids out of the bodies, leaving shriveled-up corpses (just like in Tobe Hooper's LIFEFORCE [1985], but in reverse). Director/scripter Lance Lindsay (who's only other directorial credit is the equally poor 1990 action film REAL BULLETS) has created the perfect space film: It's lifeless and full of dead air. The music soundtrack (credited to Doug Katsabos) is nothing but an annoying synthesizer track repeated over-and-over and the cringe-worthy love ballad that plays over the end credits. Also starring John W. Smith, Taylor Kingsley, Marcia Linn and Emily Longstreth. An Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD Release. Originally released on VHS from New World Video and later on an EP-mode tape from Starmaker Entertainment. Rated R.

STAR ODYSSEY (1978) - This is one of five of director Alfonso Brescia's (usually using the pseudonym "Al Bradley") inanely cheap space operas made after the success of STAR WARS (1977). If you've seen his COSMOS: WAR OF THE PLANETS (1977), BATTLE OF THE STARS (1977), WAR OF THE ROBOTS (1978) or THE BEAST IN SPACE (1978; also available in a porno version, if you can believe it!)), you know what to expect: Grade school space effects, brightly colored jumpsuits, plots that look to have been written by imbeciles (and their retarded mongoloid children who think George Lucas is someone they shoud get down on thier knees and pray to) and lots of stock footage (plenty of the effects, costumes and actors are interchangable, as many of them appear in all the films). An alien race has attacked Earth (destruction scenes supplied by stock WWII footage) and the military hires a ragtag group of criminals and fuck-ups to infiltrate the alien base and defeat them. The group includes master thief Dirk (who has hypnotic and telekinetic powers) and military man Hollywood, named because of his love of movies (he has the funniest pencil-thin moustache I have ever seen!). They stop at a prison on the Moon to break out a man and a woman who have talents they will need to complete their mission. Meanwhile, a group of alien races (consider this the cantina scene) are at an auction where they are bidding for rights to conquer and enslave planet Earth, which the auctioneer states has "millions and millions" of slaves (and, in a stroke of bad taste, they show stock shots of black people being herded into groups, calling them "dark-skinned units"!). The lizard-looking race of aliens wins the bid (for "one hundred million credits", which is a pretty good deal if you base it per person) and begins their invasion of Earth. Confused yet? Not as confused as you will be actually watching this disaster as it seems to jump all around the place, having no sense of place or time. It becomes apparent after a short while that Brescia patterned this film after STAR WARS, where Hollywood is Luke Skywalker, Dirk is Hans Solo, there's an old bald guy with psychic powers (and a very large collar) that is Obi-Wan and the head lizard alien is Darth Vader. There's even a female cast member that both Hollywood and Dirk lust after (I wonder who she's trying to be?). You also view (and probably cringe at) a pair of male and female robots (who tried to commit suicide, but failed!) who are also added to the mission. The female robot has curly eyelashes (!), they both have antennaes on the top of their heads that look like the Star of David (!!) and they both crack wise (just like C3PO). There's also an R2D2 thingamajig that has two flailing miniature arms and has lights on it that look like Italy's flag. There's also an android-human boxing match (don't ask), insane dialogue ("A tree is a living thing and the laws of robotics forbids me to damage it", is the male robot's response to the female's request of carving their name in a tree with a heart around it.), even worse dubbing, a light saber, er, sword fight in the forect and enough bad acting for a dozen bad B movies. The final straw is the climatic space battle. The effects in TOM CORBETT: SPACE CADET (1950 - 1955) looks more professional than anything you'll see here. Wait until you get a load of the alien's android force: A bunch of guys in silver makeup and silver jumpsuits with blonde pageboy wigs! (They are also used in the other Brescia space films, too). If you have to watch this, make sure you check your brain at the door because, if you don't, you will probably become severely mentally retarded (Political Correctness be damned!). I had to watch two solid days of MASTERPIECE THEATER (1971 - Present) just to become functional again. You have been warned! Starring Yanti Somer, Gianni Garko, Sharon Baker, Chris Avran, Steve Perkins and Anthony Newcastle. Part of Brentwood Communications' 20 movie DVD compilation titled SPACE QUEST. This collection also contains Brescia's COSMOS: WAR OF THE PLANETS and THE WAR OF THE ROBOTS (a.k.a. REACTOR). If you think for one minute that I will ever review them, you must already be functioning with half a brain. Not Rated.

STRYKER (1983) - After the final nuclear holocaust, the Earth is a dry, scorched shell and water is in short supply (Why does this sound so familiar?). Whoever controls the water controls the world. Lone wolf Stryker (Steve Sandor; TRAINED TO KILL U.S.A. - 1973) saves a young woman named Delha (Andrea Savio) from a pack of bandits, who are after her body and something more important (more on that later). She pays Stryker back by stealing his ROAD WARRIOR-inspired car and taking off without him. He travels on foot with new pal Bandit (William Ostrander; RED HEAT - 1985), who was sent to retrieve Delha and bring her back to Trun (Ken Metcalfe; FAST GUN - 1987). After giving water to a tribe of dwarves, Stryker and Bandit catch up with Delha (Stryker has a gas shut-off switch in hiis car), only to watch her being taken away by the men commanded by the evil Kardis (Michael Lane; CODE NAME: ZEBRA - 1986). It seems Kardis and Stryker have a history, as flashbacks reveal that Kardis killed Stryker's wife years earlier. Stryker was able to get some payback by chopping off Kardis' left hand (he now sports a stylish hook in place of his hand), but Kardis escaped before Stryker could finish him off. Delha knows the secret location of an underground spring full of potable water and both bad guy Kardis and good guy Trun would like to know where it is. Stryker and Bandit steal one of Kardis' water trucks and use it as a diversion to sneak into Kardis' compound. Kardis, who's compound is running out of water (He cuts back on water rations to his own men and completely cuts-off rations to his wounded, declaring, "Water is only for those that are productive!"), tortures Delha for the location of the water (three of his men strip and rape her), but before she can say anything, Stryker and Bandit save her and escape. This, of course, pisses-off Kardis to no end. Stryker and Bandit take Delha to Trun's camp (Turns out Trun and Stryker are brothers), but when they get there, they find that Trun has been kidnapped by Kardis' men (we watch one of Kardis' henchmen, played by an uncredited Nick Nicholson, piss on Trun's face as he's buried up to his neck in the sand). Stryker and Bandit lead a raid on the remote outpost and not only save Trun, they also save the tribe of dwarves we met earlier in the film and get some unexpected help from a tribe of crossbow-weilding female Amazons. The Amazons are actually protecting the secret spring (which is located in a remote cave) and once Delha tells Trun where it is, he turns out not to be so different from Kardis. Trun and his men rule the cave with an iron fist, much to the chagrin of Stryker (Who says to Trun, "You have a mirror in your mind. I think you should look in it!"), who leaves in disgust. When Kardis attacks the cave, he captures a departing Stryker and puts the hurt on him really bad. The dwarves appear to rescue Stryker and they all return to the cave for a final battle. When the battle is over, God rewards the winners by making it rain for the first time since the nuclear bombs fell. God is funny sometimes.  This is the first of Filipino director/producer Cirio H. Santiago's many post-nuke films and it is probably his best. Other films in Santiago's post-apocalyptic palette include WHEELS OF FIRE (1984), EQUALIZER 2000 (1986), THE SISTERHOOD (1987), DUNE WARRIORS (1990) and RAIDERS OF THE SUN (1991), but STRYKER edges them out for one main reason: Unlike those other films, Santiago had to start from scratch. All those other films contained recycled footage, but this film isn't afforded that luxury. The script, by Howard R. Cohen (the scripter of other Santiago films like COVER GIRL MODELS [1975], FIGHTING MAD [1978] and VAMPIRE HOOKERS [1979], as well as director/writer of other genre films like SATURDAY THE 14TH [1981], the belated sequel SATURDAY THE 14TH STRIKES BACK (1988) and SPACE RAIDERS [1983]), is pure ROAD WARRIOR hokum (just substitute water for oil), but Santiago tosses-in so many chases, gunfights, martial arts fights and nudity, you can't help but be entertained. Santiago also supplies more gore than usual, including decapitations, dismemberments, slashings, bloody bullet squibs and some splattery gunshots to the head. There is also a slight attempt to give Stryker an emotional core. When Stryker watches the three goons raping Delha, he flashes back to his wife's rape/decapitation and he loses it, punching one of the rapists in the face until all that's left is a bloody pulp. When Delha tries to kiss him later on as he leaves the spring, all he can muster for her is a hug, his wife's memory still burned in his brain. Hey, it's not much, but it's more than you usually get in films of this type. Besides, watching a tribe of dwarves (a Santiago trademark) running around with blowguns and talking their own special brand of gibberish is what makes Santiago's films so special. It's outlandish, but he somehow makes it work. Also starring Joseph Zucchero, Julie Gray, John Harris III, Monique St. Pierre, Michael DeMesa, Catherine Schroeder, Tony Carrion and Pete Cooper. Originally released on VHS by Embassy Home Entertainment and not yet available on DVD, unless you count the terrible print used for the DVD compilation GRINDHOUSE EXPERIENCE 2 (the entire collection is bootlegged). Rated R.

SURVIVAL ZONE (1982) - South Africa-lensed post-apocalyptic thriller from the director of the much-maligned horror film THE DEMON (1979). After the worldwide Neutron Bomb War of 1988 (I must have slept through it, because according to this film, it killed most of the people but left the vegetation unscathed), there are a few areas left populated with people and animals. These areas are called "Survival Zones" and farmer Ben Faber (Gary Lockwood; THE MAGIC SWORD - 1962), his wife Lucy (Camilla Sparv; AMERICA 3000 - 1986), daughter Rachel (Zoli Marki), young son Mark (Karl Eric Kostlin) and Uncle Luke (Arthur Hall) are lucky enough to live on a working farm (called, appropriately enough, Eden Farm) in one of those zones. Alas, their idyllic lifestyle is about to be abruptly interrupted by a vicious motorcycle gang led by Bigman (Ian Steadman), who are all dressed in their best ROAD WARRIOR (1982) regalia, including studded leather jackets (Bigman wears one that spells out his name in rhinestones!) and  motorcycle helmets festooned with toy doll's heads. But first Bigman and his gang invade the Sisters Of The Holy Spirit Hospital and School, where they beat a nun to death and force a mute girl to commit suicide rather than letting herself be gang-raped by these creeps (It is implied early on that this gang may also be cannibals, as we watch Bigman kill one of his own and the rest of the gang strip his body and hover over it with knives in hand before the film cuts to the next scene). We then watch Ben and his family at Eden Farms, where Ben spends a good chunk of his time on a ham radio, looking for signs of life on other parts of the planet. Ben and his family then drive to the nearest deserted town to loot supplies and gas for the generators back home (they also load-up boxes full of dresses, canned goods and comic books). Seventeen year-old Rachel pines for a boyfriend so she can show off the sexy dresses she has just stolen. Meanwhile, handsome Adam Strong (Morgan Stevens), who has just buried his mother, sets out alone in the Survival Zone looking for adventure. After spending a night in a seemingly haunted town (he's chased out of a motel room by flying furniture, mirrors that break by themselves and a strange wind that appears out of nowhere), Adam drives to the Sisters Of The Holy Spirit, only to find human bones by a roasting pit and the decapitated head of the mute girl (We then learn that every member of the motorcycle gang, except for Bigman, drank contaminated water and it has turned them into flesh-hungry mutants). When the gang finally reaches Eden Farm and nearly kill Uncle Luke, Ben and his family batten down the hatches and prepare for the worst, moving Lucy and the children to a cave when darkness comes. When Uncle Luke is stabbed to death while tending to his horses, Ben is joined by Adam, who proves invaluable in fighting-off the gang (As expected, romantic sparks fly between Adam and Rachel). Can this family-plus-one defeat the gang and live happily ever after?  Director/producer/co-screenwriter Percival Rubens (who passed away in 2009), who also unleashed the aforementioned THE DEMON, as well as HEROES DIE HARD (1973), WILD ZONE (1989) and SWEET MURDER (1990), tries to mix family drama within post-nuke trappings, but comes up snake eyes thanks to clumsily edited action scenes, a biker gang that wouldn't scare a kindergarten tricycle club and violence that is pulled-back rather than embraced. Whenever something gory is about to happen, the camera either pulls away or cuts to the next scene (except for a shovel decapitation in the finale). Rubens and co-scripter Eric Brown crams the film with "Family is stronger if Daddy makes the decisions" crap, including Ben heading back to the farm by himself to take on the biker gang (he even knocks-out Adam so he won't follow him), which totally takes the audience out of the film, since Ben is a farmer, not a fighter. The mixture of American (Lockwood), Swedish (Sparv) and South African (Marki and nearly everyone else) accents also lends an air of ridiculous unreality to the film since it is supposed to take place somewhere in the American Southwest (I guess Ruben also forgot that the steering wheels on trucks are also on the wrong side!). SURVIVAL ZONE is a weak entry in the post-apocalypse craze that swept the early 80's, thanks to the success of MAD MAX (1979) and once again proves that the Italians, not the South Africans, were masters of this rip-off genre. Also starring Lillian Randall, Elizabeth Meyer, Joanie Combrink and Mimi Kheswa. A Prism Entertainment VHS Release. Not available on DVD. Rated R.

THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE (1967) - When someone mentions Amicus Productions, your thoughts usually turn to their horror films, like DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965), THE SKULL (1965), THE PSYCHOPATH (1966), TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and many others. We seem to forget that Amicus also made other films, such as this pulpy sci-fi flick directed by the late Freddie Francis (CRAZE - 1973). When a group of meteorites land in a perfect "V" formation in an English field, the government sends a team of scientists to investigate. The meteors contain alien life forms and they take over the bodies of the scientists in what starts a chain reaction. The aliens begin taking over the bodies of local labor, construction workers, other scientists and the military and use them as labor to build a secret underground base located in a nearby lake. What the base is to be used for will be slowly explained throughout the film. The one person in the area that the aliens can't seem to control is Dr. Curtis Temple (Robert Hutton - THE SLIME PEOPLE [1963]), who has a silver plate in his head due to a recent serious car accident. The silver plate seems to block the aliens' attempts to control him. After the aliens have infected the area with a deadly disease the press is calling "The Crimson Plague", Dr. Temple begins a one-man crusade to find out the truth. What he finds is that the aliens are using the infected people as labor and they are sending them to the Moon in a rocket they have built under the lake. Once on the Moon, the humans are helping the aliens fix their spacecraft, which accidentally crashed there years before. Dr. Temple attempts to hitch a ride on the next rocket to the Moon to free the enslaved humans and bring them back to Earth. He has many stumbling blocks to tackle before he reaches his destination. Once he gets to the Moon, he finds out that the aliens only want to get back to their home planet so they can die. After talking to Dr. Temple, the head alien simply says, "We need only have asked?", before the movie ends on an upbeat moment. It's not so upbeat for the people that have died, though, which is something I'm sure the filmmakers would like you to forget. This film used to play quite frequently in trunicated form during the 70's and early 80's on TV's THE 4:30 MOVIE (it's now in the public domain). The screenplay (by Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky) plays like a Republic Pictures serial of the 30's, as every 10 or 15 minutes Dr. Temple would get into a new fix with seemingly no way out. But he always escapes to the next leg of the trip. Director Freddie Francis seems to be just a hired hand here, as it contains none of his patented camera flourishes that he is so well-known for. The special effects are very Dr. Who-ish (spartan sets and model effects) and the jazzy score seems out of place. There are some absurd scenes (melting down silver trophies to make silver helmets to block the aliens' control) but not really much else to recommend unless you don't mind mindless entertainment that's easily forgotten shortly after you've watched it. Consider it Chinese food for the eyes. Also starring Jennifer Jayne, Zia Mohyeddin, Bernard Kay and Michael Gough as the "Master Of The Moon". Available as part of Brentwood Communications' 20 movie DVD compilation titled SPACE QUEST. Not Rated.

TIME TROOPERS (1985) - Interesting German sci-fi TV movie that was re-edited and dubbed for English speaking territories. In the near future, after a devastating worldwide nuclear holocaust, every living person is issued an "Energy Card", which determines how long you have left to live. Energy Cards can be recharged depending on such factors as procreation or being energy efficient, but once your card runs out of energy, an elite force of law officers called "Exit Men" are sent to extinguish your life by any means necessary (Shades of LOGAN'S RUN - 1976 and the recent REPO MEN - 2010). We are then introduced to two Exit Men: The understanding Len Barta (Albert Fortell) and the cruel and inhumane Jacob Lehmann (Hans Georg Panczak) as they go about their job of eliminating people who have no energy credits left on their cards. Len believes that the Centron Corporation, who controls the world's population, is playing fast and loose with people's lives, as his latest termination assignment, an aging female breeder, still has credits left on her Energy Card, yet he is ordered to kill her (She commits suicide by jumping out of her highrise window after planting seeds of doubt about Centron's motives in Len's mind). Jacob is envious of Len because he is considered the number one Exit Man, so he watches Len's every move very carefully, looking for any excuse to report him to Centron. It doesn't help that Len's Centron-appointed girlfriend, Sarah (Hannelore Elsner), is actually a member of an underground rebel movement who was sent to assassinate Len, but instead of killing him she begins to fall in love with him while trying to change his views of love and death. It also doesn't help that Len has just killed the last married couple left in the world; an elderly Jewish couple that Len murders with a single sniper bullet that passes through both their heads while they are having supper together (A small boy praises Len for killing them both with a single shot, to which Len responds, "It's more energy efficient that way."). Len's next assignment is an old man who turns out to be Sarah's grandfather, but when Len discovers Sarah's involvement, he covers it up and lets the old man escape. This is exactly the opening Jacob needs to bring down Len and become the number one Exit Man. After one last execution that finally opens his eyes to the uselessness of killing, Len joins forces with Sarah and they plan on escaping to the "Outside" where Centron has no control. When Jacob kills Sarah before they can make it there, Len uses all his Exit Men knowledge to hunt down Jacob and kill him, but not before making Jacob know exactly how it feels to be the person staring down the barrel of a gun rather than the one pulling the trigger.  This is a slow-moving, yet effective sci-fi drama about how saving energy of every kind, whether electrical, human or environmental, is more important than human life. Director L.E. Neiman and screenwriters James Wager, James Beckett and Byrd Ehlmann (the original edit of this film credits Peter Samann as director and Hans Bachmann as screenwriter, but the differences between the two edits are drastic) display the not-too-distant future as a colorless, sterile environment, where commercials play on TV extolling the use of suicide pills over bullets for those whose Energy Card credits have expired because it "saves energy". Another telling scene comes when Len kills the last married couple and, shortly thereafter, all references to the word "marriage" are wiped from the world's computer databanks because the practice of marriage is now considered archaic and useless in this utopian society. The most effective sequence comes when Len is sent to kill a middle-aged novelist, only to discover that the novelist is hosting a huge last Energy Card-depleting party with all his friends (He says to Len, "I could have saved a few credits and lasted a few months more, but that kind of life is tedious!"). He insists that Len kill him in front of all his friends and Len complies, but instead of bringing gasps and screams, all the novelist's friends applaud, which visibly upsets Len and proves to be his turning point. This is a society where even dancing is considered a waste of energy and could eventually cost you your life (I bet Al Gore never thought of this in his wildest dreams!). While there is very little actual action or bloodshed on view, TIME TROOPERS is a thought-provoking parable on how energy conservation can be taken to levels that most would never think possible. It's not for everyone, but it is food for thought. Also starring Wolfgang Gasser, Judith Estermann, Wolfgang Muellner, Barbara Rudnik and Dietrich Siegl. Originally released on VHS from Prism Entertainment and not available on DVD. Rated R.

TRANSFORMATIONS (1988) - Held in limbo for a couple of years due to legal problems caused by Charles Band's Empire Pictures demise, this film surfaced in 1991 on a bargain label (Starmaker) recorded in the EP mode. John Wolf (Rex Smith, star of TV's STREET HAWK [1985]), a space smuggler, is raped by an alien in his sleep. His ship then crash lands on a prison mining colony on some distant planet where he meets a nurse (Lisa Langlois of THE NEST [1987]) and they fall in love. Wolf has a couple of serious problems to deal with: First is that a trio of prisoners plan to steal his ship to escape the penal colony. The rules are pretty tough here. Make one mistake and you are killed by the guards. No exceptions. Wolf's second problem is a little more urgent. Every time he feels horny he begins to slowly transform into a boil-ridden monster (hence the title). Each time he gets an erection it gets worse and it begins to put a cramp on his relationship with the nurse. To satisfy his animalistic urges he begins screwing the female prisoners (killing one of them) which causes his disease to spread among the population. The prison's priest (Patrick Macnee) has seen this happen 26 years before on another planet. He believes the female alien is a Succubus, sent by the Devil to spread his evil and destroy mankind. With the help of Wolf he plans to stop the spread of the plague. This also means they have to stop the trio of prisoners from escaping so the plague doesn't infect another planet. Can they do it? This filmed-in-Rome production was one of Empire's last. Some of the sets can also be seen in Empire's ARENA (1989). The effects range from ludicrous (the Succubus is a ridiculous concoction) to gross (boils on skin). The film is unrated due to a particularly nasty organ-yanking scene towards the end of the film. Director Jay Kamen has not made another film but has worked as a sound editor and ADR editor on many major motion pictures during the 1990's. TRANSFORMATIONS is an O.K. science fiction/horror film with a decent stereo soundtrack. A Starmaker Home Video Release. Unrated.

2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS (1982) - After ENDGAME (1983), this is my favorite Italian post-apocalypse film of the 80's. It comes as no surprise that both films were directed by Joe D'Amato (using the name "Kevin Mancuso" here) and they share the same star (Al Cliver). In a nuked-out Texas, Nisus (Cliver) and his band of Texas Rangers save the life of Maida (Sabrina Siani) from a bunch of rapist thugs who crucify a priest and rape some nuns (one nun slits her own throat with a shard of glass, bit it doesn't stop one thug from screwing her corpse). Tired of all the violence and bloodshed, Nisus quits the Rangers and joins Maida's commune. A few years pass and Nisus is married to Maida and they have a young daughter. The commune is thriving and they have their own power plant, where they produce a new form of energy which everyone wants. One day, the commune is invaded by a motorcycle gang led by Catch Dog (Daniel Stephen), a disgraced Ranger Nisus kicked off the force years earlier. The gang is working in tandem with a jack-booted military force called the New Order, whose boss is a chrome-domed facist called the Black One (Donald O'Brien). They take over the commune and put the citizens under strict military rule. Nisus is tied up and forced to watch as Maida is raped. Nisus eventually frees himself but is shot repeatedly and killed. Maida is passed around from man to man until she ends up at a bar, the property of someone who won her in a card game. Also in the bar are two ex-Rangers and friends of Nisus: Jab (Harrison Muller) and Halakron (Peter Hooten). They get into a bar fight and are arrested and sent to work in the salt mines as punishment. Their friend (another ex-Ranger), Red Wolfe (Al Yamanouchi), helps them escape the mines. Their next stop: The commune, where they help Maida get some old fashioned Texas payback and help her find her daughter. With the help of some Native Americans, they prove that the Texas Rangers always get their man.  Though not as thought-provoking as ENDGAME, D'Amato supplies enough violence, gore and nudity for a dozen films. Hardly a moment goes by where someone isn't shot in the head, stabbed, run over, set on fire or raped (both men and women). Besides the scene of a nun committing suicide, you'll see a game of Russian roulette, numerous motorcycle stunts and crashes, a tribe of futuristic Indians (best seen to be believed, they even bang on tom-toms, ride horses and live in teepees!) and even some toothless Mexicans. This twisted futuristic take on the American Western contains all the old standbys: A one-on-one Cowboy vs. Indian knife fight, the metaphorical circling of the wagons (the initial seige of the commune), the charge of the cavalry (the fight to gain control of the commune in the finale), an Indian raid on horseback (where spears and arrows defeat the New Order's futuristic force field) and even a final showdown at high noon. Granted, this is nonsense, but it is enjoyable nonsense. It's bloody enough to keep gorehounds happy and fast moving for those who crave action. As in ENDGAME, George Eastman (THE GRIM REAPER - 1980) wrote the script (using the name "Alex Carver") and future director Michele Soavi (STAGEFRIGHT - 1987) was one of the assistant directors (under the name "Mike Soft"). 2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS is a great time-waster for fans of post-nuke flicks (you know who you are). Italy turned out dozens of these post-apocalyptic thrillers and this is one of the best. Also known as ONE EYE FORCE.  A Media Home Entertainment Release. Not Rated, for all the right reasons.

URBAN WARRIORS (1987) - Just when I thought I had seen every 80's Italian post-nuke film, this craptacular flick crossed my path. To add insult to injury, this ridiculously-dubbed effort was released on VHS as part of Cannon Video's short-lived "Michael Dudikoff Presents: Action Adventure Theater" series, where Dudikoff (who doesn't appear in the film proper) stiffly introduces the feature, obviously reading off cue cards (follow his bouncing pupils!) while sitting in a screening room. The storyline to URBAN WARRIORS is generic post-apocalyptic stuff: Three technicians, led by Brad (Karl Landgren), working in an underground bunker, are seemingly the only people on Earth left alive when a nuclear war breaks out (queue the stock footage, including a head-scratching shot of a volcano erupting), leaving the surface of the planet a burned-out shell. After digging their way to the surface, the trio search for food (They find cans of chili and begin to pig out. One guy says to Brad, "Be careful or you'll get sick!", to which Brad replies, "In my considered opinion, who cares!") and soon find out that they are not alone. The radiation on the surface has turned some of the survivors into violent, bloodthirsty headhunters and after Brad finds one of his comrade's decapitated head laying on a car hood, he and Marty (Bjorn Hammer) make a hasty retreat in a car with the headhunters chasing them with motorcycles and jeeps. Luckily, the headhunters pass out when darkness approaches, allowing Brad and Marty to escape and find a place that they will use as their new hideout. They stupidly come up with a plan to split up and look for unaffected humans by day and return to their hideout before night falls (Um, shouldn't they do the exact opposite?). Realizing their mistake (Marty nearly gets captured by three headhunters on motorcycles), Brad and Marty decide to stick together and only look for human survivors after the sun sets but, wouldn't you know it, the first night they go out their car breaks down and, as the sun rises, Marty is shot in the back and killed by a shotgun-toting headhunter. Brad is not alone for long, though, as he runs into Julia (Rosenda Schaschmidt) and they quickly become lovers. It turns out Julia is actually a headhunter sent to entrap Brad. The headhunters capture Brad (and kill Julia when she tries to kill Brad for his "spinal marrow", which the headhunters need to stay alive) and convict him of "crimes against nature" (What?). Crap, do I need to go on? Okay, Brad meets an unaffected girl named Angela (Malisa Longo, here billed as "Malisa Lang"), they escape the headhunters and walk hand-in-hand into the sunset, their future hopeful, but uncertain. I may just pass out from boredom.  This is a dreadfully slow and uninvolving post-nuke thriller that lacks the violence and gore usually found in these Italian ROAD WARRIOR rip-offs (Rosenda Schaschmidt gives an extended full-frontal nude scene for those who keep track of such things). The plot is extremely convoluted and lacks logic of any kind (it is never explained how the headhunters were able to organize themselves in such a short period of time) and if nearly all of the action scenes look familiar, it's because they are "borrowed" from the earlier Italian post-nuke flick, THE FINAL EXECUTIONER (1983)!. Director Giuseppe Vari (WAR OF THE ZOMBIES - 1964; A PLACE IN HELL - 1969), here using the pseudonym "Joseph Warren", uses the recycled footage not only for the action scenes, but also for extensive flashback footage to pad out the film's running time, as human survivor Angela relays her sad life story to Brad while they are held captive in a cell. URBAN WARRIORS is a cheat, as well as an abominable action film, for all lovers of nuclear holocaust films. The last time I smelled something this bad, I accidentally shit my pants when I mistakenly thought a case of hard gas was nothing but a simple fart. Like that, I don't wish this film on anyone. Also starring Alex Vitale, Maurice Poli, Brigitte Porche and Deborah Keith. A Cannon Video Release (through Warner Home Video). Other films in the Michael Dudikoff-hosted VHS series included BRIDGE TO HELL (1986), CROSS MISSION (1987) and THE BRONX EXECUTIONER (1989). Not Rated.

WARRIORS OF THE APOCALYPSE (1985) - Filipino post-nuke flick from director Bobby A. Suarez, so you know you're in for some fun. Set  120 years in the future, the film opens with Trapper (Michael James) and his band of nomads/warriors walking the nuked-out countryside looking for drinkable water and food. They happen upon a rival gang of nomads, led by Giant Bill (Pete Cooper), and a battle breaks out. Out of the shadows comes Anuk (Franco Guerrero) and he saves Trapper's life. After the battle is over, Trapper discovers that Anuk is well-supplied with food and water. Anuk tells Trapper that he comes from the "Mountain of Life", a mystical place where it is said the survivors of the last war moved and started a new, prosperous civilization (and Anuk is over 150 years old!). Anuk agrees to take them there and the rest of the film is their adventures as they travel to "Voodoo Mountain" (A nickname Trapper gives their destination). They are first captured by a tribe of cannibals, but the two black slaves they rescued from Wild Bill's gang saves them (and they are still loyal to Wild Bill, who is now very sick). Trapper and his men then run into a tribe of bloodthirsty dwarves who refuse to die (they're immortal like Anuk).  They take the gang prisoner and lead them to their village (it's also Anuk's village, as he turns out to be a traitor), where there seems to be an overabundance of scantily clad white women and the Queen who rules there (Deborah Moore) has telekinetic powers. The high priest (scripter Ken Metcalfe), who also has telekinetic powers, helps Trapper and his men escape, but they are being tracked by the dwarves and some female warriors and are soon recaptured. Surprisingly, the men are treated well by the women, but this village holds a dark and nasty secret. Trapper and his male buddies are to be sacrificed in some weird fertility ritual, where they drink freshly-slaughtered chicken's blood and have sex with the women before they are about to be killed. When the Queen's horribly radiation-scarred slaves revolt and attack her, it throws a monkey wrench into her plans. Trapper and his gang escape and Trapper decides to help rebuild the village after the Queen dies and he kills Anuk (who is no longer immortal now that the Queen is dead).  Since this is a Bobby A. Suarez film, you know what to expect: Lots of violence, lots of fighting and humor from situations where you don't expect humor to be present. The immortal dwarves are a hoot (What is it with the Philippines and midgets? Is there something in the water?) as is the cave near the village where the Queen renews her powers by getting zapped by a huge metal rod. The comedy relief comes from an extremely fat woman (the only fat one, actually) in the Queen's village.  She hits on all of Trapper's men and is the only woman during the fertility ritual to go without a man. The reveal of what's actually in the cave (it's an old nuclear power plant that's been converted somehow to be a magical device that gives the villagers immortality, but kills the slaves working there with radiation poisoning) comes totally out of left field and is never properly explained, which just adds to the film's goofy charms. There's also the battle where Ken Metcalfe (frequent Suarez scripter and co-star) and Deborah Moore fight each other by shooting laser beams out of their eyes!  While the film makes little sense, there's enough offbeat charms here for a dozen films, including topless women, mutants with bad skin, a black slave with the tightest afro in post-apocalyptic history, explosions, gun battles, midget kung-fu and two of Trapper's men stop dead in their tracks while being pursued to smoke a joint! Of course they get caught, but they are laughing when they do. WARRIORS OF THE APOCALYPSE is crazy, crazy stuff as only Bobby A. Suarez can pull off. For more Suarez craziness, see my reviews of DYNAMITE JOHNSON (1978), THEY CALL HER...CLEOPATRA WONG (1978), ONE ARMED EXECUTIONER (1980) and AMERICAN COMMANDOS (1985). Also staring Mike Cohen, Robert Marius, Charlotte Cain, David Brass, Stephen Rogers, David Light, Willie Williams, Khristine Erlandson and "The Seven Pygmies". WARRIORS OF THE APOCALYPSE is also known as OPERATION OVERKILL, SEARCHERS OF VOODOO MOUNTAIN and TIME RAIDERS.  A Lightning Video Release. Rated R.

WELCOME TO BLOOD CITY (1977) - In this futuristic thriller, a group of diverse people wake up in a desert, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. They are all dressed in prison gray uniforms and each of them has a card in their shirt pocket telling them the number (or "score") of how many people they supposedly have killed. Lewis (Keir Dullea) tears up his card ("You shouldn't have done that!") and leads the group on the long trek through the desert. They are attacked by two fat hillbillies with shotguns, who steal all their boots and one of them rapes Martine (Hollis McLaren). They are then met by Frendlander (Jack Palance), a cowboy lawman on horseback, who leads them to Blood City, a seemingly Wild West town full of people just like Lewis' group. Frendlander informs them that they will be treated like slaves. The town is policed by a bunch of black-dressed cowboys (with big red cross patches on their chests) and all the "slaves" are assigned numbers (Lewis becomes number 9). We then realize that this is all some weird secret experiment being performed by the government, as scientist Katherine (Samantha Eggar) and "The Supervisor" (Barry Morse) closely monitor the action on close-circuit TV screens in a control center. This seems to be some giant virtual reality game where the scientists are looking for "survivors" (of what is not explained) and Lewis seems to fit the bill. He's a loose cannon and kills a man in town who wants to buy him as a slave. He's made a "citizen" for killing the man and Katherine enters the game under various guises to tempt and control Lewis, but when Lewis and some of the other people in WELCOME TO BLOOD CITY begin having flashbacks of their former lives, the experiment begins to unravel. When Lewis begins to question his existence in this world, the scientists keep changing the scenario to throw him off. When Sheriff Frendlander also begins to have his doubts (he may have been a former lover of Katherine), The Supervisor changes the rules of the game, which doesn't sit too well with Katherine. When Katherine realized that she can no longer control Lewis, she programs Frendlander to become his enemy, but Frendlander wants nothing to do with it and takes his own life.  The finale finds The Supervisor deciding that Lewis has the right stuff and pulls him out of the game. When Lewis sees the type of life he has to look forward to, he booby traps and cripples the game so that he will now be the permanent new sheriff of Blood City.   Think of this as a more cerebral (and surreal) version of WESTWORLD (1973) and you'd be partly right, but this film's aspirations reach higher than that. Long before "virtual reality" became a recognizable phrase in the English vocabulary, this film was exploring how such technology could be used to control and change people but, in the long run, it's the human spirit (and maybe the soul) that's stronger than anything science can throw in our direction.  Using a Wild West town as the virtual world is a natural choice because everyone can picture a Wild West town in our minds, thanks to the plentiful Western films and TV shows we've watched during our lifetime. It's the most recognizable time period in human history. This existential thriller contains plenty of action (mainly gunfights), but seems to be mainly concerned with clever wordplay (people in the game that have memories of their former lives are said to be in "consciousness crisis") and the strength of the human will. The late Jack Palance (ALONE IN THE DARK - 1982) is excellent as the town sheriff who thinks he's immortal (thanks to Katherine's programming), but past memories tell him otherwise and he acts on it accordingly, in a moment of self-sacrifice. Keir Dullea (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY - 1968) and Samantha Eggar (THE BROOD - 1979) don't have much to do here, even if they have the biggest roles. This film's not about acting anyway, it's about ideas and this film poses a lot of thought-provoking questions. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but this little-seen Canada/United Kingdom co-production is an early precursor to such films as GHOST IN THE MACHINE (1995),  VIRTUOSITY (1996; director Brett Leonard also directed the similarly-themed THE LAWNMOWER MAN in 1992), THE MATRIX (1999) and it's two increasingly inferior sequels, THE MATRIX RELOADED and THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS (both 2003), and touches many of the same ideas these films did, only twenty years earlier.  Capably directed by Peter Sasdy, who also gave us the Hammer Films' COUNTESS DRACULA (1971), HANDS OF THE RIPPER (1971) and THE DEVIL WITHIN HER (1975).  This film deserves a widescreen DVD release, because the fullscreen VHS and DVD editions are way too cramped for the Panavision compositions.  Also starring Chris Wiggins (FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE TV SERIES [1987 - 1990]), Allan Royale, Henry Ramer, Alan Crofoot, Jack Creley (THE REINCARNATE - 1971) and Chuck Shamata (DEATH WEEKEND - 1976).  A Lightning Video Release. Also available as part of a four movie budget DVD titled WILD WEST SHOOTOUT from Direct Source Special Products.  Not Rated.

WHEELS OF FIRE (1984) - This is the second of Filipino director/producer Cirio H. Santiago's post-apocalypse series of films that he made during the 80's, all of them unrelated. Like most ROAD WARRIOR rip-off, WHEELS is about a loner ex-cop, this time named Trace (Gary Watkins), riding around a barren landscape in his rocket-powered car and getting into all sorts of trouble. After bailing his sister Arlie (Lynda Wiesmeier; EVIL TOWN - 1985) and her boyfriend Bo (Steve Parvin) out of trouble (Bo nearly gets his ass blown off [literally!] when he moons a rival gang), Trace must again try to save his sister when bitter rival Scourge (Joe Mari Avellana; here billed as "Joseph Anderson") and his gang of motorcycle and dune buggy-riding misfits kidnap Arlie (they tie her topless to the hood of a car, which makes for quite a hood ornament!) and bring her back to base camp, where she is raped by Scourge and then given to his men to be gang-raped (Bo is also raped by Scourge's men and then dragged behind a car, forcing Trace to shoot Bo rather than leaving him in excruciating misery). Trace gets some help in his quest to save his sister from black leather-clad female warrior Stinger (Laura Banks; DEMON OF PARADISE - 1987) and her pet falcon. Stinger is also after Scourge for reasons of her own, but both she and Trace get sidetracked when Stinger is captured by a tribe of cannibalistic white-haired dwarves called the Sandmen (Hey, no Santiago film is complete without dwarves!), who live (where else?) under the sand. Trace saves Stinger and a telepathic girl named Spike (Linda Grovenor) from being the Sandmen's next Happy Meals and they continue on their journey. They pick up another member when they save a mute midget named Mud from some mutants and then drive to a village occupied by crackpot Whiz (Joseph Zucchero) and his followers (Whiz is building a "rocket", which he plans on flying his followers to a better planet, although it's obvious to any sane person that this rocket will never achieve lift-off, especially since parts of it are made out of wood!). Trace leaves everyone behind in the village and sets out to rescue his sister on his own, but he is captured by Scourge and tortured. Stinger, Spike and Mud lead a friendly squad of fighters (who belong to a government group known as "The Ownership") to save the day, leaving a freed Trace to face-off with Scourge. Not everyone, both good and bad, will make it out alive.  This is totally entertaining junk from start to finish. Not only does Santiago offer us non-stop action, gun battles, explosions, car crashes and weird characters, he also has co-star Lynda Wiesmeier go topless for 90% of her screen time. That alone is worth the price of admission. Santiago, whose other 80's post-nuke actioners include STRYKER (1983), EQUALIZER 2000 (1986) and THE SISTERHOOD (1987), never takes frequent collaborator Frederick Bailey's cliché-ridden script too seriously, although there is a scene later in the film where Trace has to watch sister Arlie, who has been raped by nearly all of Scourge's men during her captivity, beg for something to eat from her captors, offering her body for a morsel of food. This is as close to pathos as this film gets, because the remainder of the flick is a series of action set-pieces, where Trace and his new partners get in and out of trouble. Trace likes to burn his victims to a crisp with his portable flame-thrower, giving Santiago ample opportunities to showcase stuntmen running or doing high falls while on fire, one of Santiago's signature trademark moves in nearly every action film he made during the 70's, 80's & 90's. As a matter of fact, WHEELS OF FIRE (a title which apparently refers to Trace's car-mounted flame-thrower) contains all of Santiago's signature shots: Fire, rape, explosions and little people in funny costumes (The dwarf actor who plays Mud [who is not listed in the credits, even though he has a sizable role] wears a rebel cap, probably the same cap worn by Robert Patrick in EQUALIZER 2000!). C'mon people, what's not to like? Clark Henderson, the director of the god-awful WARLORDS FROM HELL (1985) and the good SAIGON COMMANDOS (1987), was Production Supervisor here. Also starring Jack Daniels, Nigel Hogge, Don Gordon Bell and Henry Strzalkowski. Originally available on VHS from Vestron Video and available on DVD by Code Red. Rated R.

XTRO 2: THE SECOND ENCOUNTER (1991) - Harry Bromley-Davenport's original XTRO (1983) was a quirky, if incomprehensible, little sleeper that relied on imagination rather than budget to tell its story. Davenport returns eight years later with a bigger budget and very little imagination in what has to be the umteenth retread of ALIEN (1979). A top secret government project transports three people to a parallel dimension. Only one returns, and she is carrying an unknown alien inside he body. The creature escapes, bursting through her chest (how original!) and the computer-controlled underground facility is sealed off, not allowing the creature or the occupants to escape. Soon it's the old "Us vs It" scenario, as the ragtag group of scientists (led by Jan-Michael Vincent, looking coked-out through the entire proceedings) try to kill the cheesy-looking monster before it wipes them out. It should have wiped out the screenwriters instead. It took four people to write this shit? Give me a break! Better yet, break their arms so they will not be able to write again. Films like this were a dime a dozen during the 90's. Also starring Paul Koslo, Tara Buckman, Jano Frandsen and Nicholas Lea (Krychek on THE X-FILES [1993 - 2002]). A New Line Home Video Release. Rated R. See below for the final sequel.

XTRO: WATCH THE SKIES (1995)  - Second in-name-only sequel that plays more like a low-rent version of PREDATOR (1987). A group of military misfits are sent to an uncharted island under the pretense of cleaning up unexploded bombs left over from World War II. What they find is something totally different. The island was actually used by the government as a secret base for experiments on the occupants of a crashed UFO. The soldiers find a roll of film that shows scientists performing an autopsy on a live alien, while it’s mate watches horrified in a steel cage. The mate escapes and kills all the scientists except one, who is now living on the island as a hermit. The soldiers accidently release the alien again and they are hunted down not only by the alien, but also by the government who would like to cover-up the mess. This is the first film to cash in on the supposedly “true” alien autopsy that has received much publicity in the mid 90's. This is not a very good film except for a few good gore scenes. The acting, screenplay and direction (by Harry Bromley-Davenport, who also did the other two XTRO films) leave a lot to be desired. Starring Sal Landi, Andrew Divoff, Jim (“Brother of Tom”) Hanks, Karen Moncrieff, Robert Culp (a brief cameo for some booze money) and Daryl Haney (who also wrote the screenplay). A Triboro Entertainment Home Video Release. Rated R.