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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Tuesday, August 2, 2005
Too Many Holbrooks

Greatest title card ever. Hal Holbrook may not be the least likely star to appear in a cheap slasher movie, but he’s got to be close. The reason he’s in 1983’s GIRLS NITE OUT is simple to guess, considering the name “David Holbrook” also appears in the opening titles. The old man must have been trying to do his son a solid by spending a couple of days in Jersey in front of director Robert Deubel’s camera, but David’s acting career never took off. Not surprising, considering how untalented and unattractive he is in GIRLS NITE OUT.

Which do you like better--the purple sweater or the mullet that sweeps over the ears? I can imagine the reactions of the casting directors who had to watch this on David’s demo reel.

I may have spoken too soon about Hal’s title card, as silly as it is, being the greatest ever. It’s not even the best in the movie. You have to agree that this one is:

That’s right--former Marquette basketball coach and NBC Sports loudmouth Al McGuire puts in a couple of hours work as “Coach Kimble”, a role that is so inconsequential to the film that you wonder why Deubel bothered getting Al to do it.

Besides the casting of Holbrook and McGuire, the only other noteworthy aspect of GIRLS NITE OUT is its killer: a cuddly teddy bear. More specifically, a psychopath dressed in the school’s bear mascot suit is slicing up cute coeds on the campus of Dewitt University in Westville, Ohio. Who could it be? The superstud captain of the basketball team (James Carroll) who's cheating on his cute girlfriend? "Maniac" (Mart McChesney), the superstar center who was just dumped by his girlfriend? Benson (Mathew Dunn), the putz who plays the school mascot (the Dewitt Bears)? Pryor (David Holbrook), the lumpy loser who calls his ex-girlfriend a whore, just because she dumped him to have sex with Benson, her cousin? “Mac, the Security Guard”, whose daughter was murdered in a similar manner several years earlier? Or is it the secondary, seemingly irrelevant character whose only possible reason for existing is for the "shock" ending?

The slashfest occurs during an all-night scavenger hunt organized by the campus radio station that also plays a non-stop barrage of '60s bubblegum songs. Even if you‘re a fan of Oldies radio stations, you‘ll get real sick real fast of the entire Lovin‘ Spoonful, Tommy James & the Shondells and 1910 Fruitgum Company catalogs. The entire music budget must have gone to Buddah and Roulette, because no credit is given for the underscore, which is probably library music.

The product of four writers (whose credits are buried in the closing crawl), one of whom is standup comic Joe Bolster, GIRLS NITE OUT knows all the clich?s of slasher movies, but doesn't really pay off on any of them. For instance, it seems to know that all the obnoxious people are supposed to be killed off first, but it doesn't supply any nice ones for us to follow--all the teens are unlikable. It looks as though the basketball captain is supposed to be the hero, but he's an arrogant jackass who sleeps around behind his sweet girlfriend's back. The girlfriend, Lynn (Julie Montgomery, who went topless REVENGE OF THE NERDS, but, sadly, not here), seems like she might become the Final Girl, but her screen time is limited in the second half, and she never really gets very involved in the plot. It's interesting to view how Hal Holbrook is used. It looks like he only worked one or maybe two days. Except for one bit player, he never appears in the same shot with another actor, not even his son, and he may have even filmed all of his scenes after principal photography wrapped. However, Deubel makes sure to sprinkle all of Holbrook's scenes throughout the film, including one baffling reaction early on that was probably an outtake from elsewhere in the film.

To give some credit, the goofy teddy bear suit gives the killings a shot of spice, and there also seem to be some interesting gender role reversals going on, but GIRLS NITE OUT is ultimately no more than a suspenseless, bloodless, weakly performed waste of time. But what else would you expect from a movie that misspells its title?

Posted by Marty at 12:53 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, August 2, 2005 12:54 AM CDT
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Sunday, July 31, 2005
Back In Print
Well, I'm officially on vacation, though I have few plans other than attending Wizard World next weekend. We celebrated Jeff's birthday last night with a trip to the Bullet. Hey, they have exotic dancing there, who knew? After spending all my money there last night, I'm off this afternoon to have a bigass steak with Chris and Sara, who are in from El Lay. They went out to the Bullet last night for a few spirits, and it'll be great to spend some quieter time with them before they return to Cali on Monday.

Keep an eye out for The Hub this week, as my byline will be within its pages. I began working as a professional film critic back in 1999 for a local alternative weekly newspaper called The Octopus. I had been writing amateur reviews just for the hell of it for several years up to that point, and I thought it might be fun to get paid for it. So I sent a letter and some writing samples to Champaign-Urbana's only two newspapers: the Octopus and the daily News-Gazette. The N-G has used the same critics for decades, and neither is really all that great (I believe one has now retired, and they pick up his slack with Ebert and Knight-Ridder reviews). I didn't expect to get on there--my tastes are distinctly different from the staunchly conservative News-Gazette (liberal media...ppppptttttttt!)--so I thought my best chance was with The Octopus, which already had two or three film writers at the time.

After a few months, I did get contacted by the Octopus' movie editor, and I began earning a (meager) weekly income by reviewing one film per week. Being a film critic definitely has its ups (free movies) and downs (free shitty movies), but I liked it more or less. The trouble was keeping the publications afloat.

The Octopus was bought by a radio conglomerate called Saga Communications, which didn't understand how the paper and its audience worked. They changed the title to the bland CU Cityview, which eventually killed the paper forever. Later, a similar publication rose from the ashes, The Paper, which was similar to The Octopus and was run and financed by former Octopus staffers. I wrote off and on for all three incarnations, but none survived. I don't think it was my fault.

C-U currently has The Hub, which is, again, quite similar to The Paper and The Octopus. I don't know much about the operation and financing of this version, but the same movie editor I worked with beginning way back in '99 is running the film section. I hadn't been in contact with him for over a year, and it was a nice surprise to get a call from him on Friday, asking if I'd be willing to write 800 words on DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY, a 1974 cult classic recently released on DVD by Anchor Bay. Of course, I already owned the disc and had recently watched it, something he was counting on.

Long story short--I said yes I would, and it should be appearing in this Friday's issue. Who knows--it could lead to more writing assignments, although I don't think I want to return to weekend reviewing. I grew restless of the routine of spending Saturday and Sunday watching something at a theater (especially since I hate theater-going these days) and then writing about it a few hours later. I much prefer staying home, watching something at my leisure, and then writing about it under a looser deadline. So if I continue with The Hub, it will likely be under those conditions, although--hey--nobody has really officially asked me yet (although the editor did tell me he'd "like to bring me on" writing this type of cult-movie review).

I'll probably post my DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY piece here next week, but read it in The Hub if you can.

Posted by Marty at 12:06 PM CDT
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Thursday, July 28, 2005
Not much to report tonight. I just wanted to post this awesome cover to Charlton's THE PHANTOM #33 that I came across last week after the death of acclaimed comic book artist Jim Aparo. Charlton was a small comic book company located in Derby, Connecticut and was notable for having its entire operation located within its facility. Everything from the writers and artists who created the comics to the printing presses to the trucks that drove the finished comics to the stores came right out of that Derby facility. Aparo got his start at Charlton around 1966, and really made his bones in the superhero realm with his atmospheric work on THE PHANTOM, as you can see here. His experience on THE PHANTOM served him well when he began illustrating moody stories at DC Comics in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, ADVENTURE COMICS, AQUAMAN and THE PHANTOM STRANGER, among others. Aparo pencilled, inked and lettered the marvelous cover you see here, as well as one of the stories inside the book.

Cheeseburger and Shark Hunter officially left their Champaign digs behind tonight and hit the road for their new house in Oak Park. I managed to stop by and say goodbye--again--and then received a very short surprise from Cheeseburger tonight, just as Grady, Chicken and I were enjoying the Michelle Bauer chainsaw dance in SCREAM QUEEN HOT TUB PARTY (don't ask). It's a compliment to Cheeseburger that we were almost as excited to see her one last time than we were to see a topless Michelle Bauer slinging a chainsaw. Almost.

Before that, the three of us watched THE INVISIBLE MANIAC, one of the tapes I picked up at the That's Rentertainment sale. I would ordinarily have had little interest in watching it (in spite of Joe Bob Briggs' official count of 39 breasts, including those of well-known B-movie actress Melissa Moore, a Crappy Movie Night favorite), but Chicken has been talking about how awesome it is almost since he first began attending Crappy Movie Night. I just happened to see it on the shelf the other day and grabbed it just for him. First off, boo to the cheapskates at Republic Home Video; they recorded the feature at EP speed and the image looks like shit. The movie does indeed have a lot of nudity to go with the bad acting and limited special effects. THE INVISIBLE MANIAC isn't what anyone would defend as "good", not even fans of director Adam Rifkin/"Rif Coogan", but it's easy to see why drunken friends hanging out together on the couch would like it. It was an entertaining experience, and certainly the first time I ever saw a fight scene between two invisible people.

Tomorrow will probably be a long day at work, since it's my last before vacation. I'm taking next week off, and looking forward to it, even though I don't have much planned. Friday, Saturday and Sunday of next week, I'll be in Chicago at the annual Wizard World comic book convention. My brother, our friend Mitch and I attend just about every year; I think I have missed two or three in the last 11 or 12 years. Sometimes we go for a day, sometimes for the entire weekend. This year, we got a room at the nearby Hyatt, which attaches to the convention center, meaning an easy walk back and forth without battling traffic or the weather. It should be a terrific time. If any of you expect to be attending Wizard World this year, let me know and perhaps we can get together.

Posted by Marty at 11:34 PM CDT
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Wednesday, July 27, 2005
I Want My Black Ninja, And I Want Him Now

Damn it, who doesn’t love ninja? These black-clad badasses were all the rage during much of the 1980’s, partially because of ENTER THE NINJA, a wildly silly exploitation film directed in the Philippines by Menahem Golan for Cannon Films. Led by Golan and his “Go-Go Boy” cousin Yoram Globus, Cannon managed to capitalize on nearly every fad of the decade, including breakdancing (BREAKIN’), ‘Nam MIAs (MISSING IN ACTION), the Lambada (THE FORBIDDEN DANCE) and more. Ninja were so popular that not only did Cannon and other low-budget filmmakers rip off the international success of 1981’s ENTER THE NINJA, but NBC even tried a television series starring Sho Kosugi and Lee Van Cleef titled THE MASTER (“Master Ninja Theme Song!”).

Italian film star Franco Nero (DJANGO) plays Cole, who opens the film by sneaking through the jungle in his bright white ninja suit, knocking off similarly tressed opponents (but wearing red or black). Surprise--it's just a training exercise, and Cole is now the first American to master the ancient Japanese art of ninjitsu and be officially anointed a ninja, much to the dismay of Hasegawa (Kosugi), who throws down his sake and stalks off in a pout. Cole's next stop: Manila, where he meets his old mercenary buddy Frank Landers (Alex Courtney, winner of the James Caan Lookalike Contest) and his sexy young wife Mary Ann (Susan George). Frank and Mary Ann own a plantation, but are having trouble finding quality farmhands, since they're being threatened and bullied by Siegfried (Zachi Noy), a slimy fat man with a hook for a hand. Siegfried works for Mr. Venarius (a hammy Christopher George), a wealthy but evil real-estate developer trying to buy the Landers' land, since he knows (but the Landers' don't) that there's "bubblin' crude" there all ready to be drilled. Since Frank won't sell and Cole's martial arts skills have decimated nearly every able-bodied thug in Manila, Venarius decides to recruit his own ninja ("I want my black ninja! And I want him now!"): none other than Cole's old foe Hasegawa.

Although the plot is as old as the hills (heck, it would be right at home in a Tom Mix western), ENTER THE NINJA really is a heck of a lot of fun. Nero, whose Italian accent has been redubbed by another actor, doesn't look like a ninjitsu expert, but he does look tough and know how to fight, and sharp editing by Mark Goldblatt (THE TERMINATOR) and Michael Duthie (3000 MILES TO GRACELAND) help make Nero a convincing ninja. There certainly is a lot of action, beginning with the opening titles, where Kosugi demonstrates a few boss ninja moves, right through the many fights all the way to the mano-y-mano climax set in an empty sports arena. Kosugi and stunt coordinator Mike Stone, a well-known Los Angeles karate instructor who starred in his own movie, TIGERSHARK, do a nice job staging the fights, which rightly rely on campy ninja tricks like smoke bombs and shirikens to amp up the excitement.

ENTER THE NINJA did so well that Cannon immediately followed it with two Kosugi-starring "sequels" that were increasingly silly if no less entertaining: REVENGE OF THE NINJA and NINJA III: THE DOMINATION in which dead ninja Kosugi possessed the shapely body of telephone linewoman Lucinda Dickey and started kicking ass with it. More on NINJA III later this week.

As for Christopher George, ENTER THE NINJA was one of his last roles before dying young at 54 of a heart attack in 1983. He was a steady action star, ruggedly handsome, authoritative and good with his mitts. His big break was as the tough-talking star of THE RAT PATROL, a bullet-filled World War II drama that aired on ABC in the late 1960’s. He was at home in westerns, appearing with John Wayne in EL DORADO and CHISUM, and headed up an all-star B-movie cast including Fabian, Adam Roarke, Ralph Meeker, Ross Hagen, ALIAS’ Ron Rifkin and Robert DoQui in AIP’s fun DIRTY DOZEN ripoff THE DEVIL’S 8. George was more at home in television, appearing in several episodic guest shots, starring in made-for-TV movies and pilots, and even headlining another series, the short-lived THE IMMORTAL, which was basically a sci-fi version of THE FUGITIVE.

As the ‘70s wore on, respectable parts for George became fewer and farther in between. I’m not sure why this was—maybe he was difficult to deal with on the set or maybe he was blessed with the mindset that actors were born to act and not wait around for the perfect part. Playing both heroes and villains, he lent credibility to a number of drive-in pictures that were probably below him, including DIXIE DYNAMITE, WHISKEY MOUNTAIN, THE EXTERMINATOR and the slasher pic GRADUATION DAY. He starred in two killer-animal flicks for director William Girdler: GRIZZLY and DAY OF THE ANIMALS. His career ebb may be the movies he made overseas, including a gory zombie movie for Italian director Lucio Fulci (CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) and the amazing gore flick PIECES for Spanish filmmaker Juan Piquer Simon. PIECES is a stunningly inept and unbelievably hilarious exercise in Grand Guignol storytelling, an incomprehensible storyline dotted at regular intervals by incredibly graphic murders, touches of male and female nudity, and non sequitur scenes that bear no resemblance to either our reality or the reality set up within the film’s universe.

George really hams it up in ENTER THE NINJA, playing Venarius as a whimsical, petulant fop with a large indoor swimming pool in his office, where he directs beautiful synchronized swimmers as a “living mobile”. Whether barking orders like “I want my black ninja, and I want him now!” or arrogantly demanding that his underlings not address him directly, but rather through his number-one man, Mr. Parker, George is energetic, if not just a bit embarrassing. Although he was probably so happy not to be in Italy doing Fulci zombie movies that he probably didn’t notice.

Posted by Marty at 1:33 PM CDT
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Monday, July 25, 2005
Oops, I Did It Again
Now Playing: UNSUB
I couldn't resist. I went back to Rentertainment this afternoon and bought more tapes. 40 altogether for a total of $108. Not bad, I suppose. Of course, I don't know how bad some of these movies are yet. I did watch one of yesterday's haul, THE HITMAN, tonight. It's still not very good, coming at the end of Cannon's reign as the King of Schlock Cinema (Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were gone from Cannon by 1991, I believe). THE HITMAN is a Canadian-lensed feature starring Chuck Norris as a detective who is waylaid by his crooked partner (played by KILL BILL's Michael Parks) and left for dead. Chuck survives the attack, however, and pops up three years later in the employ of Seattle mobster Al Waxman (CAGNEY & LACEY) as an undercover operative. This means Chuck has to act all tough and surly and mean, and he doesn't pull it off very well. He's just too nice of a guy. It doesn't help that his character gets dragged into a sappy subplot involving the black latchkey kid across the hall whom he builds models with and teaches to fight the neighborhood racist. The supporting cast appears to be all Canuck actors, including Alberta Watson (24) and a bit by William B. Davis, best known as the Cigarette-Smoking Man from THE X-FILES, as a doctor.

OK, here's what I picked up from That's Rentertainment on their final sale day. As before, tell me what you think:

XTRO--This notorious shocker from Great Britain is one of the sickest, most tasteless SF films of the early '80s. XTRO isn't particularly scary, but it's awfully amazing in terms of just how far it will go to deliver something crazier than what we've already seen. It may not work as SF, but it's one heck of a geek show. Wait 'til you see the "childbirth" scene!

XTRO II: THE SECOND ENCOUNTER--I've seen the dull XTRO 3, but not this unrelated sequel. It stars Jan-Michael Vincent. I wonder how hammered he was during shooting.

THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS--This is one of the most hilarious SF flicks of the '50s. John Agar is an OTT hoot as a scientist possessed by a brain from outer space that forces him to use his mental powers to crash airplanes and blow up bridges. It's all so he can rule the world. Lotta laughs.

RED SCORPION--Dolph Lundgren stars in this action movie with Tom Savini gore effects that had to be cut to avoid an X rating. I was hit-and-miss with it the first time I saw it, and I'm intrigued to watch it again.

END OF THE WORLD--Little-known '70s SF with Christopher Lee, who has reportedly trashed it (he's known for that).

DOLLMAN--Tim Thomerson is a six-inch-tall Dirty Harry in this gimmicky, R-rated Full Moon action movie with cheapo effects. Directed by Albert Pyun, so you know going in what to expect. Thomerson is basically playing a less dimensional Jack Deth.

I COME IN PEACE--Dolph again in his wild, action-packed SF/action movie with crazy stunts directed by former stuntman Craig Baxley. Lundgren and Brian Benben are the world's unlikeliest cop partners, and there's a killer CD that slashes throats. "I come in peace." "And you go in pieces, asshole."

ZONE TROOPERS--More Thomerson in this lighthearted SF movie about G.I.'s in WWII Italy who meet aliens. From the writer/producer/director team of Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, the creative gentlemen who created TRANCERS, THE FLASH and THE SENTINEL. Hard to believe they're stuck writing video game scenarios now. They've still got a lot of offer.

DICK TRACY VS. CRIME INC., DICK TRACY'S G-MEN and DICK TRACY RETURNS--Three Republic serials that followed DICK TRACY starring Ralph Byrd as Chester Gould's comic strip dick. I'll watch any Republic serial, and DICK TRACY was one of their better chapterplays.

SCHIZOID--Klaus Kinski is a psycho shrink in this topsy-turvy thriller with Christopher Lloyd, Craig Wasson and nude scenes by Donna Wilkes (ANGEL) and Marianna Hill. It isn't bad, although the red herrings probably won't fool you much.

NEW YEAR'S EVIL--Another Cannon slasher movie, this one stars Pinky Tuscadero herself (!)--actress Roz Kelly--as a punk singer battling a psychopath on New Year's Eve. I've seen the trailer a million times; we'll see if the feature stacks up.

WOMEN IN CELLBLOCK 7--A European women-in-prison picture directed by the mildly talented cult filmmaker Jess Franco. I don't know about this one, but who knows if this one will pop up on DVD.

THE X FROM OUTER SPACE--A Japanese monster movie about a giant chicken monster. It's a pretty goofy-looking creature, and the movie looks like fun.

NIGHT SCHOOL--A slasher movie directed by the classy Brit Kenneth Hughes and starring a young pre-THORN BIRDS Rachel Ward.

RED HEAT--Linda Blair follows up the great CHAINED HEAT with another WIP, this one made in Europe with EMMANUELLE star Sylvia Kristel. No, it can't possibly be as great as CHAINED HEAT.

ONE MAN FORCE--The late Oakland Raider John Matuszak stars in the action flick with a good cast including Ronny Cox and Charles Napier.

I also picked up six volumes of THE BEST OF MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE with two hour-long episodes on each tape. This is one of TV's greatest dramatic series, and it's inconceivable that it's not out on DVD yet. I suppose they're waiting for the Tom Cruise movie to come out in the summer of 2006.

Whew! So where do I start?

Posted by Marty at 11:20 PM CDT
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Sunday, July 24, 2005
Ain't That A Beautiful Sight
Whew...we're expecting a high of 100 degrees in Champaign today. I've spent the last two hours slogging around the heat and humidity, and it's brutal. AccuWeather has it as 91 right now with a humidity of 72%! And I felt every teensy-weensy percentage point of it.

I managed to run several errands today--hit the post office, refill a prescription, pick up a book on reserve at the library--but my big chore of the day was to stop by That's Rentertainment, which is by far the finest video store I've ever set foot in. It's a sad weekend in a way--in an attempt to clear more shelf space for DVDs, the folks at Rentertainment are selling off their 16,000-piece VHS collection. Monday is the last day, but I wanted to make sure I hit the place today, in case pickings were slim. It looked like the shelves hadn't even been touched. I was surprised, but maybe everyone is waiting for the big $2.50 apiece/3 for $6 sale on Monday.

The pity about Rentertainment selling everything off is that many of their titles aren't on DVD and maybe never will be. I asked what will happen to the tapes that don't sell by Monday, but the girl didn't know. I managed to pick up 18 tapes for $60, trying to focus on titles that weren't easily available on Region 1 DVD, although a few slipped in. Here's what I got:

DEATH WISH II (Warner Home Video)--This is out from MGM on DVD, but I saw it years ago and didn't think it was worth buying for $9.99. We'll see if it's worth $3.33.

CONVOY (Thorn EMI)--I can't believe this notorious trucker action flick directed by Sam Peckinpah isn't on DVD yet. The VHS used to go for very high prices on eBay; one just sold for $26, so the bootleggers must be clogging the market with illegal DVDs.

CHAINED HEAT (Vestron)--The greatest women-in-prison flick ever made. With a trash cast like Linda Blair, Sybil Danning, John Vernon, Henry Silva, Tamara Dobson, Stella Stevens and Monique Gabrielle, as well as multiple boom mike sightings, the exhorbitantly sleazy gimmick of warden John Vernon videotaping his wild sex sessions with big-breasted inmate Monique Gabrielle in his office hot tub, and Henry Silva's manic performance (as usual), there is a lot to love here. Not on DVD either.

SPASMS (Thorn/EMI)--I haven't seen this Canadian killer snake movie, but with Peter Fonda and Oliver Reed, it must be watchable. It's hard to believe Reed made two (!) killer snake movies in the same year (VENOM is on an excellent Blue Underground DVD).

CAPTAIN AMERICA (Columbia/Tri-Star)--This never-released-to-theaters Cannon movie sucks, but it's not likely to ever be on DVD, and I'd hate to be placed in the position where I would never be able to see it again. It might even be worse than the never-released-period FANTASTIC FOUR movie, but what else would you expect from director Albert Pyun.

CAGED HEAT (Embassy)--Another great WIP, this one by Jonathan Demme, who, as we all know, went on to bigger and sometimes better things (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, for instance). It's probably the most unerotic womens-prison movie ever made, which was Demme's intent. The deelish Roberta Collins in it, though, and European cult star Barbara Steele in a great role written expressly for her.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (Columbia)--My favorite slasher movie was done a major disservice by Columbia when it was released to DVD with awful, misleading cover art and an unnecessarily revamped musical score. I think this is a terrific movie, filled with fun, gimmicky murders, a slick look, solid music and good performances by LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE's Melissa Sue Anderson and the legendary Glenn Ford, who may be the biggest movie star ever to appear in a gory slasher movie.

THE INVISIBLE MANIAC (Republic)--I've never seen it or wanted to, but I picked this one up for Chicken, who's always prodding me to show it at Crappy Movie Night. Anyone think I should?

DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE (Media)--I remember liking this sick shocker. IIRC, the recent DVD is a censored TV print, but this Media prerecord should be uncut. Well, not exactly uncut, but the R-rated theatrical cut.

ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (Allied Artists)--I believe Roger Corman's early SF movies for Allied Artists are in home video limbo someplace, and it's unlikely they'll be on DVD anytime soon.

CULT OF THE COBRA (MCA/Universal)--I haven't seen this '50s horror movie, but it's got an awesome array of Universal contract players who went on to major TV careers: Richard Long (THE BIG VALLEY), Jack Kelly (MAVERICK), David Janssen (THE FUGITIVE), Edward Platt (GET SMART). Plus Marshall Thompson, Faith Domergue, William Reynolds and Kathleen Hughes.

ROBOT WARS (Paramount)--From the people who gave you ROBOTJOX. I have the sneaking suspicion I've seen this one, but it's not a bad thing to have a movie about giant fighting robots in your collection.

GIRLS NITE OUT (Thorn/EMI)--Not a great slasher movie, but the killer wears a giant bear suit and the top-billed star is Hal Holbrook, of all people, who must be here to give a boost to his charisma-challenged son's acting career. There's a twist ending that's kinda interesting.

THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS (Troma)--Another '70s sleaze classic with an amazing cast: Andrew Prine, Aldo Ray, Tiffany Bolling, Ray Danton, Jeremy Slate, Jaime Lyn Bauer. Lots of misogyny and nudity. I remember this tape as having poor sound though.

CYBERTRACKER (Imperial)--A DTV ROBOCOP ripoff with Don "The Dragon" Wilson fighting evil Richard Norton, neither of whom portrays a robot. Lots of chases, bullets, explosions and martial arts in this PM Entertainment movie.

THE SEVEN-UPS (CBS/Fox)--You would think Roy Scheider's follow-up to THE FRENCH CONNECTION would be on DVD by now. It's a tough, gritty New York-set crime drama with the greatest car chase that nobody knows about. Director Philip D'Antoni, who produced FRENCH CONNECTION, set out to top William Friedkin's chase in that movie--and he may very well have succeeded.

THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (Anchor Bay)--The greatest kung fu/vampire movie with copious gore and nudity ever made. This British/Hong Kong collaboration between Hammer and the Shaw Brothers stars Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, who chases Count Dracula into China. This is a wild mixture of horror and martial arts and a lot of fun.

THE HITMAN (Cannon)--I saw this at Market Place Cinemas when it was released theatrically in 1991. I didn't like it much at the time, but it's one of the few Chuck Norris movies that I don't already own, and maybe it's gotten better in the last 14 years. Certainly better than the mullet he wears in it.

Any thoughts, corrections or opinions? Please let me know!

Posted by Marty at 2:30 PM CDT
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Timothy, Where On Earth Did You Go?
Whew, it's been a long week. Too much social interaction is cutting into my Crappy Movie time. More apologies to those of you awaiting email messages from me, but the jagoffs at SBC Yahoo still haven't gotten their shit together and fixed their registration server. I have no idea how a multi-million dollar corporation could be dragging their heels on something that seems like it would be relatively easy and quick to repair if need be, but what do I know from computer technology?

Began the week with a trip north to New Lenox to say goodbye to an old friend who passed away unexpectedly. It was a very long, very crowded visitation; it's amazing how many people she touched in her short life. One thing that's good about death--it's a great reuniter. This visitation gave me a chance to catch up with some important people in my life, good friends I haven't spent quality time with in ages. In some cases, it had been more than a decade since I had any contact with them. Of course, while it was wonderful to see and chat with these people, it was awful to be doing it on that day for the reason we were together. The occasion certainly was another eye-opener for me, a conviction that one must live life as best one can day by day, since there's no way to tell how many days each of us has left.

It was also Cheeseburger's final week at Horizon. I still remember one of her first days when she was assigned a really crapola chair to sit in. I had a spare one in my cubicle...a pretty nice was new when I first got I offered it to her. Not long after that, we invited her for lunch at Carmon's, and soon we were friends. As chaotic as she often made my life--punching me in the back, stealing things off my desk, picking objects off my desk and throwing them at me, wedging my baseball into my coffee mug--I reckon I'll miss her anyway. Come to think of it, now that I've written that sentence, maybe I'll enjoy the peace!

I know I have just earned another punch in the arm for that.

At least I'll be able to keep up with her life via her blog...and so can you. Click the "Katie Cohen" link over on the right. And read the awful things I know she's going to write about me!

Cheeseburger and husband Shark Hunter managed to be present for one final Crappy Movie Night, a blaxploitation extravaganza of BLACK SHAMPOO and FRIDAY FOSTER. BLACK SHAMPOO is pretty ragged, but amazing in spots, beginning with the ultra-tight pants on star John Daniels, who plays a stud hairdresser who provides his foxy clients with special service, if you know what I mean and I'm sure you do. There are a lot of boobs during the first half, as Daniels sexes up several chicks, followed by some tasty violence down the backstretch, including death by front bumper, death by chainsaw, death by hatchet and death by pool cue. FRIDAY FOSTER is tamer and not terribly exciting, but it does star sexy Pam Grier at her loveliest. I don't believe she has ever been more beautiful than as photojournalist Friday investigating an assassination plot. It's R-rated and features some violence and nudity, but nothing mean-spirited, and director Arthur Marks' tone is full of mirth and good humor. Pam has nifty chemistry with Yaphet Kotto as a suave private detective, and you'll get to see sitcom mainstays Jim Backus and Ted Lange.

Yesterday was Panno's wedding, so many of us took the day off from Horizon and ventured up to St. Charles for the nuptuals. I'm still a bit jet-lagged from the drive, since the wedding was in St. Charles, the reception in Glen Ellyn, and I spent the night in nearby Downers Grove. Originally I was planning to just jet back to Champaign after the reception, but then I was inundated with invitations to bed down with folks. Unfortunately, none of them were single females, so I chose to conk out on the pull-out sofa bed in Ralph and Jenny's hotel suite. Good idea, since I was fast asleep less than an hour after leaving the reception.

It was a fun night as these things go. I got to hang out with my friends, watch Chicken drunkenly make passes at some stacked jailbait chick, mesmerize everyone on the dance floor with my totally bitchin' moves during "Love Shack", and guzzle free Cokes all night. Of course, as is the case with all the weddings I attend, there wasn't a young, attractive, single woman in the place. Where are all the dateless hotties that allegedly attend these functions?

I thought I was through with weddings for awhile, until I returned home to find another wedding invitation in my mailbox. Timing, huh? Even more surprising was the phone call I got a couple of hours later asking me to be the best man. That'll be my first time as a best there an instruction manual I can download that will guide me through the proper duties? I suppose all I have to do is find strippers and hold the ring, right? I should be able to handle that.

I don't know how interesting this post is. I wrote it in direct response to an occasional Crane Shot reader who stated that she'd like to read more personal stuff and less about ninjas, robots and karate bearfighting. I don't know why...I guarandamntee that even GEMINI MAN is more interesting than anything happening in my life. And after reading this, she may agree.

I'll close with a note about ROLLING THUNDER, a terrific little potboiler I watched tonight. Originally released by AIP in 1977, this movie that was co-written by Paul Schrader (TAXI DRIVER) influenced Quentin Tarantino to the point that he named his short-lived releasing company Rolling Thunder Films. It stars William Devane, most recently seen as the Secretary of Defense on 24, as a former 'Nam POW who returns to San Antonio after seven years in a prison camp and finds he's not easily able to readjust to life at home. Particularly since his son doesn't know him at all and his wife has fallen in love with another man. There are some nice performances and dialogue in these early scenes, and I appreciate that Schrader and co-writer Heywood Gould didn't make the wife's new lover, a local deputy, a villain. He's a decent man who honestly loves Devane's wife and has the courtesy to feel embarrassed about it.

The movie really starts to kick in about a half-hour in (Schrader and Gould use a classic three-act structure) when some mean dudes, including ol' Sheriff Rosco himself, actor James Best, bust in on Devane and torture him for the 2000 silver dollars given to him as a gift upon his return. He doesn't tell them, even after losing his hand in the garbage disposal, but they find the money anyway and then murder his wife and son.

Recovering in the hospital with a new hook for a hand, Devane hooks up with a white-trash barmaid (Linda Haynes) and a fellow POW (Tommy Lee Jones), and heads to Mexico looking for bloody revenge. I'm not sure you can accurately call ROLLING THUNDER an action picture, since there's precious little action, but the finale does have a kick to it, and the nice work turned in by Devane and director John Flynn (OUT FOR JUSTICE) really elevate this film above the B-level usually associated with AIP movies.

One more thing. I grabbed a handful of cassettes to listen to on the road trip to St. Charles, and one of them was a party tape I had compiled years ago. On it is a song I had to crank when it came on, three minutes of the juiciest black comedy pop music has to offer. "Timothy" was a 1971 hit for a Pennsylvania band called The Buoys. It was written by a young Rupert Holmes ("Escape (The Pina Colada Song)"), who intended it to be a throwaway that might garner a bit of controversy and publicity for the band. It's about three guys, one named Timothy, who become trapped in a cave-in with water but no food. When they're rescued, there are only two men left. Where on Earth did Timothy go? Can you guess? It's got a very catchy hook, and it's fun to sing. I wonder if the Buoys actually played on it.

In case the suspense is eating away at you (heh), here are the lyrics by Rupert Holmes:

Trapped in a mine that had caved in
And everyone knows the only ones left
Were Joe and me and Tim
When they broke through to pull us free
The only ones left to tell the tale
Were Joe and me

Timothy, Timothy, where on earth did you go?
Timothy, Timothy, God, why don't I know?

Hungry as hell, no food to eat
And Joe said that he would sell his soul
For just a piece of meat
Water enough to drink for two
And Joe said to me, "I'll have a swig
And then there's some for you."

Timothy, Timothy, Joe was looking at you
Timothy, Timothy, God, what did we do?

I must have blacked out just around then
'Cause the very next thing that I could see
Was the light of the day again
My stomach was full as it could be
And nobody ever got around
To finding Timothy

Timothy, Timothy, where on earth did you go?
Timothy, Timothy, God why don't I know?

Posted by Marty at 1:08 AM CDT
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Thursday, July 21, 2005
James Doohan, R.I.P.
I plan to write the only obituary of James Doohan not to use a trite cliche about “Scotty” being “beamed up” for the last time. Ugh. I’ve read too many of them over the last couple of days, and they haven’t gotten any funnier or more poignant.

Doohan, famous around the world for playing Montgomery Scott, the ass-busting, hardware-loving Chief Engineer of the U.S.S. Enterprise on the original (and only, I maintain) STAR TREK from 1966-1969, passed away this week at age 85. Cause of death was pneumonia, but it’s no secret that Doohan, the father of nine children, including a five-year-old (!) daughter, was suffering serious health problems for a couple of years now, including Alzheimer’s.

He was a heck of a good character actor, not that you’ve probably had much of a chance to find out. He claimed to have been severely typecast as a Scotsman after TREK’s cancellation, and appeared infrequently in non-Scotty roles in television and features in the years since. In a way, it was a great compliment; his Scottish accent was impeccable, making him instantly believable as the Enterprise’s jack-of-all-trades, who could often be found in the bowels of the starship, trying to divert dilithium power to the photon torpedoes or bypass the impulse drive or some such technobabble, usually while his boss, Captain Kirk (William Shatner), was screaming at him to hurry up before they all got killed.

Doohan began acting in his native Canada after fighting in World War II as a lieutenant in the artillery; he was machine-gunned on D-Day, and lost the middle finger of his right hand. His mastery of dialects made him a very popular radio actor, since he could easily tackle a wide variety of ethnic roles. He also met a Montreal actor, eleven years his junior, named William Shatner, who would much later become an important figure in Doohan’s professional life.

After many years of stage work, supporting parts in episodic television—in Canada and in the U.S.—and a few motion pictures, Doohan landed the role of Scotty in “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, the second STAR TREK pilot commissioned by NBC after the first was deemed “too cerebral” for TV audiences. “Where No Man…” was filmed in 1965, and although Doohan’s role in it is quite small, STAR TREK was picked up for the 1966 fall season by NBC, where it played to a small but loyal (and intelligent) audience for three years. The series mainly spotlighted its three leading characters—Kirk, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. McCoy (the late DeForest Kelley)—but Doohan got a few chances to shine. In the second-season “Wolf in the Fold”, he was accused of mass-murdering women, but it turned out he was actually possessed by the spirit of Jack the Ripper (!), which was forcing Scotty to slash his victims. Scott managed to score with one of the few women that Captain Kirk didn’t in “The Lights of Zetar”, which was written by famed ventriloquist Shari Lewis (!) and guest-starred Jan Shutan as Lt. Mira Romaine, who also found herself possessed by an unearthly force.

My favorite Doohan moment is in the famous “The Trouble With Tribbles” episode, in which he, along with Ensign Chekov (Walter Koenig) and other crewmen, engage in a wild, lighthearted barroom brawl with a bunch of Klingons. Back aboard the Enterprise, the men are chewed out by a furious Captain Kirk, who keeps Scotty behind after dismissing the rest. Speaking in a friendly tone this time—Kirk and Scott were good friends, as well as colleagues—Kirk genuinely wants to know what could have made his loyal pal disobey a direct order to avoid conflict with the Klingons.

Scotty: Well, sir. They called you a tin-plated, overbearing, swaggering dictator with delusions of God-hood.

Kirk: Was that all?

Scotty: No, sir! They also compared you to a Denebian slime devil!

Kirk: I see...

Scotty: And then they said---

Kirk: I get the picture, Scotty.

Scotty: Aye...

Kirk: And that's when you hit the Klingons.

Scotty: No, sir.

Kirk: No?

Scotty: No, uh, well, you told us to stay out of trouble, and after all, we are big enough to take a few insults, aren't we?

Kirk: What was it that started the fight?

Scotty: They called the Enterprise a garbage scow!

Kirk: And that's when you hit the Klingons.

Scotty: Yes, sir!

Kirk: You hit the Klingons because they insulted the Enterprise. Not because they insulted---

Scotty: Well, sir! This was a matter of pride!

Shatner’s performance is great, registering a swell of pride when he starts to think that Scotty instigated the brawl to defend the defamation of Kirk’s character, and then deflation when he finally learns that, no, it was the Enterprise’s reputation Scotty was defending, not Kirk’s. It’s played for comedy, and Doohan is great in it, since it not only plays as a funny little scene, but also a further definition of the characters and who they are.

Doohan’s gift for voicework landed him several roles on the very good STAR TREK animated series, and he was also a regular on another of my favorite shows growing up, the live-action Saturday-morning kids show JASON OF STAR COMMAND. Whether it was typecasting or something else, Doohan’s roles were few and far between, but it was evident he still had the chops. Just check him out in 1982’s STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, when Scotty proudly introduces his nephew to James Kirk, and again later when his nephew is killed in an attack upon the Enterprise. He also managed to pull off a great performance in STAR TREK: GENERATIONS, where he convinced us that he did not, in fact, despise William Shatner.

His feud with Shatner, exposed in Shatner’s autobiographical STAR TREK MEMORIES, was prime fodder for a lot of gossip in recent years. Shatner apparently never even realized Doohan had a problem with him, one that dates back to the original show’s run during the late ‘60s, when Doohan felt Shatner was a scene-stealer and an egotist. Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t—Doohan wasn’t the only TREK cast member to feel this way—but the ill feelings certainly cast a bit of a pall over TREK fandom—after all, we like to think the Enterprise crew was one big happy family. Happily, Doohan and Shatner reportedly managed to talk things out in recent years, ending their feud and telling each other how much they loved each other.

Doohan follows the beloved DeForest Kelley, who succumbed to stomach cancer in 1999 at the age of 79, as only the second STAR TREK actor to pass away.

Posted by Marty at 4:32 PM CDT
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Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Brave And Bold

The great comic book artist Jim Aparo passed away this week at age 72. For many of us who grew up reading DC superhero comics during the 1970's, Aparo is the preeminent Batman artist. He spent most of that decade pencilling, inking and lettering THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, which was a fun title in which Batman teamed up each issue with another DC character--sometimes a Big Gun like the Flash or Green Lantern, sometimes a more unusual or obscure character such as Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter or The Demon. Aparo drew practically every character in DC's vast canon during his tenure there, beginning in the late 1960's when editor Dick Giordano brought him over from Charlton through the 1990's, when he was still drawing Batman every month. I can't say Aparo was my #1 Batman artist--Neal Adams was just too damn good--but he and Irv Novick are neck-and-neck for #2, and he's certainly ten times better than anyone else DC has hired to regularly draw the Caped Crusader over the last decade or so.

As incredible as Aparo was on Batman, I really love his tenure on THE PHANTOM STRANGER, which was a moody combination of superheroics and the horror/mystery titles like HOUSE OF MYSTERY that DC was beginning to churn out during that period. It has been said that DC's unheralded horror/mystery line edited by Joe Orlando often outsold the superhero comics. I believe it--some of the short stories in HOUSE OF SECRETS, THE WITCHING HOUR et al. are incredibly entertaining, and, as you can see from the PHANTOM STRANGER and ADVENTURE COMICS covers I've posted here, the art easily equalled--and more--the high level of the writing.

ADVENTURE was a very unusual--and even more notorious--title for DC in the mid-'70s. Orlando brought in Michael Fleisher to write stories containing the Spectre, a ghostly hero who had been bouncing around the company for almost four decades without really making much of a splash. Fleisher turned the Spectre into a vengeful wraith, an agent of God who punished criminals by causing them to die in various horrible ways. This is where Aparo's great art kicked in, picturing the Spectre slicing one baddie in two with a giant scissors or turning another into a lifelike block of wood and sending him into a lumberjack's saw. They were basic, simplistic morality tales punched up with grisly imagery and the Spectre's fascination characterization as a man-ghost on a vengeful mission.

I apologize to anyone who has been expecting email from me recently. My SBC Yahoo Internet connection is still not working the way it's supposed to be. I'm able to use the World Wide Web (and my connection is pretty fast), but I have not yet been able to officially register, which means I can't send any email. For some reason, their registration server has been down for at least six days and probably more. That seems like a long time for a server, especially one belonging to a big company with lots of customers, to be down, but there you go. I have called the toll-free number five or six times, and everyone has been very friendly and helpful; they are just not able to do anything for me at this time. I've done everything I can do. I just have to wait for them to get their shit together.

Cheeseburger made me watch HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE again tonight with SuperLar and Chicken. It's actually a surprisingly funny movie and a sometimes daring one, casting an Indian, a Korean and a Latina in the leads and dishing out a good deal of ethnic humor the likes of which hasn't been heard since Dean Martin stopped doing roasts. Dope humor, bare breasts, slapstick, racial and Jewish stereotypes...hey, what more could you ask for?

A recent thread on the Mobius board about the DVD release of DRAGNET 1967 spurred me to pick up the comic DRAGNET remake from Netflix. Universal's summer 1987 blockbuster stars Dan Aykroyd as an uncanny simulation of Jack Webb, right down to the corncob-up-the-ass walk and the Chesterfield wrapped in his paw. Tom Hanks, post-VOLUNTEERS and pre-TURNER & HOOCH, co-stars as Pep Streebeck, Aykroyd's free-spirited new partner, and Harry Morgan reprises his TV role as now-Captain Gannon, the irascible boss of Streebeck and Sgt. Joe Friday (the nephew of the late Webb's Friday). It's actually not a bad little picture, although it's a disposable one like so many other studio comedies of the mid-'80s (do you remember anything about ARMED AND DANGEROUS or TURNER & HOOCH?). Director Tom Mankiewicz (DELIRIOUS) made a mistake by not shooting the movie in the same simple setups and harsh lighting that were hallmarks of the TV series, even though he does keep Friday's narration, snippets of the score and the climactic lineup shot. It's instantly dated by Ira Newborn's disappointing score, which uses a proto-techno version of Walter Schumann's classic theme over the opening titles and closes with a Godawful DRAGNET rap performed by Aykroyd and Hanks. Dear Lord, make the deep hurting end.

You would think Lance Henriksen fighting Bigfoot would kick major ass, wouldn't you? Not so in 2003's SASQUATCH, a low-budget 12-day wonder with Henriksen playing Harlan Knowles, a rich bastard who organizes a search party in the Washington mountains for a crashed airplane containing his daughter. Unfortunately, director Jonas Questel is more interested in his cliched character than in the monster, and the body count is disappointingly low. He also relies on blurry cinematography, poor editing (count the number of jump cuts that were probably caused by Questel not shooting enough coverage), and a monster suit that looks different from shot to shot.

Questel probably can't be blamed for much of SASQUATCH's failure, as you'll learn from listening to the entertaining DVD commentary he carries along with his producer and two of the actors. First off, the four of them, who admit they are watching the final film for the first time, express shock and embarrassment at the title: SASQUATCH. It was shot as THE UNTOLD, and was still THE UNTOLD as far as any of them knew. Of course, the new title "tips the hat a little early" and definitely sets you up for a different kind of movie than THE UNTOLD would have. Some scenes were filmed later in Los Angeles by a different director and crew, including a ridiculously gratuitious topless scene and the climax of Henriksen hunting Sasquatch. The original makeup effects creator died after principal photography, and the new guy ended up building a different Sasquatch costume, which is why the monster looks different in some shots. There's another idiotic scene of a woman undressing and preparing for bed in which the editor has, for no reason and less sense, spun the image in a slow 360-degree turn, causing some laughter on the commentary.

I'll leave you with one more Jim Aparo cover. It's probably the only time Aparo ever appeared in person in a comic book as himself, and the story he drew illustrated an oddball script by Bob Haney that manages to be as entertaining as it is insane.

Posted by Marty at 12:26 AM CDT
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Saturday, July 16, 2005
John Carradine In Americathon
A very big "thank you" is going out tonight to Steve Johnson. Last week over at Mobius Home Video Forum, I happened to mention in a post that issue #1 of PSYCHOTRONIC VIDEO was the only one I didn't have. Created by the author of the terrific THE PSYCHOTRONIC ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FILM and THE PSYCHOTRONIC VIDEO GUIDE, Michael Weldon, PSYCHOTRONIC VIDEO (or PV) has changed very little since I began buying it at a book store on the Strip in Carbondale in the late 1980's. Weldon's first book is one of the most important and influential of my life, as it opened my eyes to a brand new world of cinema, filled with biker flicks and Italian horror movies and rock 'n' roll musicals and rape/revenge potboilers and so on. It's not that I never knew these types of films existed, but I certainly didn't realize there were other people out there who watched them and loved them. And most of them were not very easily seen by a high-school kid like me, who grew up in a very small town at a time when home video was in its infancy. I started buying PV very early on, and then managed to pick up the couple of back issues I had missed later on, but #1 has always eluded me, partially because they're very expensive when one pops up at a convention or on eBay. It's now out of print; not even Weldon has one for sale.

When Steve read that I was missing that issue, he kindly fired an email my direction and offered me his copy free of charge, partially as an excuse to clear out the magazines collecting dust in his basement (I know what that's like). I've been a PV subscriber for many years now, and my collection is now complete. Thanks, Steve! I'm eternally grateful.

What have I been reading lately? I recently finished THE ERECTION SET, Mickey Spillane's 1972 novel that is apparently one of his most ambitious and atypical. This was my first Spillane novel, even though I have several others, including some Mike Hammers, stacked up around here. It has more talk than action...more talk than sex even, although the sex talk is surprisingly raunchy, including a few anal sex references that you don't see James Patterson's or Jonathan Kellerman's characters engaging in. I also understand that Spillane married the sexy blonde posing on the cover. Nice. I didn't really think much of THE ERECTION SET, but I'm willing to give Spillane more chances. I'll probably tackle a few Mike Hammer adventures one day soon.

I also read THE WOLFEN by Whitley Strieber. I picked that up at the same garage sale where I got the Spillane book. It's not a very good novel with unnatural dialogue and unbelievable characters. It was turned into a visually arresting but equally disappointing movie a few years later called WOLFEN with Albert Finney. It's been awhile since I saw WOLFEN, and even then it was a pan-and-scan version, so I plan to Netflix the DVD and see if it works better in its original aspect ratio. It was directed by Michael Wadleigh, who made the brilliant WOODSTOCK documentary, which was released in 1970, and 1981's WOLFEN. And that's it. I don't know why he didn't make more films. Even though WOLFEN isn't all that great, it still has some interesting ideas and is worth seeing at least once. In fact, I wish you would watch it, so you can explain the ending to me.

Posted by Marty at 11:09 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, July 16, 2005 11:11 PM CDT
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