SPELLCASTER (1992, 83 min.) on Amazon Prime for the first time.Empire's last picture was made in 1987, but released years after the studio's demise. It's no hidden gem or undiscovered classic, but it bears all the characteristics of a typical Charles Band production (i.e. a good rental deal for an Italian castle location and film crew). Rock TV is sponsoring a contest to bring seven winners to Castle Diablo to spend a weekend with recording superstar Cassandra Castle (Bunty Bailey, playing a punk/drunk version of Cyndi Lauper). For struggling American siblings Jackie and Tom (Gail O'Grady and Harold Pruett, respectively), the $1 million giveaway to whoever finds a check hidden in the castle is a ticket to a new life. For the other contestants, though, it's a chance to sexually harass horny men (Kim Johnston Ulrich's nymph-with-a-shower-complex Teri), explode in "Sleepaway Camp"-caliber fits of rage (Marcello Modugno's wannabe-rapist Tony) or be a douchebag D̶J̶ VJ (Richard Blade's Rex) that doesn't give her producer/camerawoman Jamie (Dale Wyatt) the time of day. Alas, Castle Diablo has eyes and ears that don't like it when guests don't show the ancient furniture and paintings on the wall proper respect. Lions and tigers and bears... plus pigs and blue electric heels on the wall... oh, my!It's not until the unseen-until-the-end owner of the castle starts poking around his magic crystal ball that "Spellcaster" gets rolling. Co-written by Ed Naha ("Dolls") and Dennis Paoli ("Re-Animator"), this is "House on Haunted Hill" for the MTV Generation... made by older filmmakers who got all their ideas about what 80's young people are like from MTV. Up until a toothless ending that defangs it, the flick showcases across-the-board terrible acting (though Adam Ant saves it by playing essentially Billy Crystal's Fernando character from "SNL") and decent-for-the-time practical effects by John Carl Buechler ("Troll"). The premise and its broad characters are ripe with potential (favorite bit: a TV crew is sent to get an "HD" camera to Rome and... he, he, he! :-P), but director Rafal Zielisnki ("Screwballs I and II") just points the camera and shoots with no regard for build-up, tension or momentum. RIP, Empire Pictures. You went out like you came in: burping, farting and not really knowing what you were doing. XOXO.
Eliminators (1986, dir. Peter Manoogian)Despite the fact that I didn't expect this to be a great movie, I'd been looking forward to seeing it for a long time now due to the AMAZING poster. It looked like a low budget '80s superhero movie!Turns out it was not what I expected and was better than I anticipated. It's really more of an Indiana Jones knock off than anything else, with TONS of other genre elements thrown in throughout. Robots, cyborgs, cavemen, ninjas, gladiators, you name it. I feel like all it was missing were dinosaurs. All this stuff is awesome and fun, but what really makes it is the cast of characters that I really enjoyed spending time with. Andrew Prine obviously steals the show as Fontana, giving a really great "lovable rogue" performance.It's fun!
SLAVE GIRLS FROM BEYOND INFINITY (1987, dir. Ken Dixon) Choosing a film for this day was not easy. Having watched the well-known Empire films, I wanted to see something new. It was the title that drew me to Slave Girls. When I saw Netflix offered the DVD, it became my choice for the day.I knew what I was getting into with this one, folks. Slave Girls is a late ‘80s T&A version of The Most Dangerous Game with a cheap sci-fi twist. I watched these sort of films as an adolescent, so this kind of felt like a trip down memory lane.There is no need to be hostile to Slave Girls. Its intention is to be harmless and mindless entertainment, which it succeeds at. Although the main attraction is the actresses, who spend a considerable part of the film in bikinis, the plot is never secondary. It gets more than adequate time to develop and moves along at a brisk pace. Thankfully, you do not have to wait long for the human hunts to start. The sets are not bad for this kind of film, either. Elizabeth Caiton, the lead actress, puts in an energetic and charming performance. Zed, the hunter, is also an engaging character. In spite of its good qualities, Slave Girls remains a slight film. It is a time killer, appropriate as a background movie while you are doing something. You can glance up from time to time to see what is happening on the screen. What you miss is not all that important.
Trancers aka Future Cop (1984, dir. Charles Band)I was all set for a fun romp in the distant future, and then 10 minutes in the movie shifts to 1985. Bummer.But having gotten over that, I had a lot of fun with the ridiculous plot (the good kind of ridiculous), the great leads in Tim Thomerson and Helen Hunt, and that 80's "models and matte paintings" charm.Are the multitude of sequels worth seeing?
Ghoulies (1984 - Luca Bercovici)Well this was a strangely delightfuly movie. This was not the movie I was expecting, nor was I expecting it to hit a number of my sweet spots (though to be fair this movie mashes about 10 different sub genres together), cults, wizards, weird creatures, even a creepy doll shows up, spooky houses, well the house wasn't spooky but who doesn't want that basement.I had a lot of fun with it.
Dolls (1987 - dir Stewart Gordon)This was more in line with what I expected. Only because I adore how Gordon treats gothic material like Re-Animator and From Beyond, and this is no expection. It's a goofy movie with a great foundation darkly whimsical magic, and a whole bunch of creepy dolls.
Re-animator (1985)I’m ashamed to say that this was a first viewing for me, but it really lived up to its reputation. I had a lot of fun watching this and some of the gore effects were great plus you gotta love that theme tune.
no shame in this, you've fixed the problem now.saw it for the first time a couple of years ago when a friend dragged me to a projection at the university
No need to be ashamed about waiting to see a film for the first time. There are so many movies out in the world to watch.The theme tune borrows heavily from Bernard Herrmann's Psycho score. I did not realize that until a recent re-watch.
Crawlspace (1986, dir. David Schmoeller, First Time Viewing) Klaus Kinski booby traps the apartment from Troll. Mayhem ensues. This is a pretty decent horror movie. I enjoyed it and would recommend it, yet according to IMDB trivia, the making of this movie was the real horror show. For example: "David Schmoeller had a lot of trouble directing Klaus Kinski. For example, Kinski refused to listen to basic commands such as "action" and "cut". According to Schmoeller, Kinski started six fistfights during the first three days of filming". !!!
Nobody plays crazy like Klaus Kinski. Probably because he was crazy. Werner Herzog's "tribute" to him, the film My Best Fiend, is fascinating. When I watched Crawlspace, I got the impression that Kinski did whatever he wanted to in front of the camera.
I love My Best Fiend. He was a true maniac but a damn good and unique actor.
Enemy Territory (1987) Dir: Peter ManoogianThis is a real good time y'all. Gary Frank plays an insurance agent trapped in a tower block run by a gang called the Vampires. He's helped Ray Parker, Jr's ex-soldier and the various residents of the block. Features an amazing Tony Todd as the Vampires leader and a drunk Jan-Michael Vincent. It's a lean 85 minutes and it moves. Pairs nicely with gems like Trespass, The Raid or Dredd. This one gets a high recommendation!
Patrick and Stephanie just raved about this movie on the Empire Pictures podcast. Did you watch it on YouTube? VHS, other means?
Brian also picked it as one of his cult movies on Pure Cinema. Two of my favorite podcasts talking about it recently made me need to see it.As far as I know the only was to see it is used VHS or YouTube, which is how I watched it. Much like Patrick, it's not normally the preferred way to watch movies, but sometimes it's the only way. And at least YouTube does provide some value by archiving these things. Be warned most of the versions on YouTube are from an old Dutch DVD with burned in Dutch subs. It didn't bother me but YMMV.
American beggars can't be Netherlands choosers, especially since the World Cup is about to start. :-P
Troll (1986, dir. John Carl Buechler)Magic/Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery horror in an '80s apartment complex!Kids horror in the '80s was so much fun because it was just a little edgier than it would be today. This film is very much in that vein with The Gate and stuff like that. It's a fun time! The practical effects are terrific and where the movie really shines. Shout out to an early performance from Julia Louis-Dreyfus.Also, the lead character's name is Harry Potter Jr. Think J.K. Rowling was a big Troll fan?
Michael Moriarty’s bizarre dancing to Summertime Blues in Troll is my spirit animal.
He's the best in this movie. Such a cool dad.
ADA Ben Stone getting jiggy with it to his favorite rock album puts Tom Cruise-in-"Risky Business'" underwear dance to crying shame. Plus Sonny Bono playing essentially Harvey Weinstein Jr. really date "Troll" to the mid-80's. :-O
Prison (1987) Dir: Renny HarlinEmpire day is taking good care of me. Patrick and Steph talked about this one on the podcast which got me off my ass to watch it. Haunted prison fare that is really entertaining. Harlin shows off the early skill that lead to Nightmare 4 but the real joy is seeing an early Viggo Mortensen performance where he just dominates the screen. I have to think if you watched this in 87 you were like "that dude's going to be a star." Recommended!
The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)Even though this is mainly a Full Moon film, IMDb also has it listed with Empire. This is so much fun, as Gordon's films tend to be. Jefferey Combs shows up in a small but memorable role, and Oliver Reed in an even smaller, yet even more memorable role. People are tortured, burned, blown up, and pierced with flying bones, but not after an already rotting corpse is whipped to dust. It's an odd film that has next to nothing to do with the story it's named after, but I'll be damned if I wasn't entertained.
Freaking Lance Henriksen crushes it in this one. Uneven flick (the Corman adaptation from 1961 is still the best), but fun if you want to see Stuart Gordon come the closest to doing "torture porn."
Vicious Lips (1986, dir. Albert Pyun)Lunar madness.
That song kicks (to quote you) all the dick.
The Dungeonmaster (1984)So this is where “I reject your reality and substitute my own!” comes from. The more you know.Softwareengineer Paul Bradford uses way to much time with his homemade personal computer, X-CaliBR8, so much it almost ruins his relationship with his girlfriend. On night they a kidnaped by Mestema, played by Richard Moll, one of the movies highlights. Moll has defeated all of his enemies and now looks for a worthy adversary. Its magic vs. Technology. The movie is really camp, and is from a time where it was allowed to have full female nudity in a PG-13 movie. The creature effect and design is fairly good for the time. The computer effects is mostly coloured laser shooting from his wristband.
Ghoulies (1984)This one often gets lumped in with Munchies and Critters as a bunch of Gremlins knockoffs but that’s pretty unfair, especially for a movie as completely wombatshit insane as this one. [Extremely Stefon voice]: It’s got cults, slime, babynapping, killer tongues, chestbursting creatures, toilet monsters, Mariska Hargitay...Somehow this got away with a PG-13. I know that rating could be harsher back in ‘84 but holy shit this movie has some unexpectedly gruesome moments, plus a dash of ‘80s-approved PG-13 nudity. In other words, it’s the perfect gateway Junesploitation movie for the little ones, so invite the whole family! God bless Charles Band.
Yeah - its Wombat shit crazy. It is so intent on entertaining you that it throws everything at the wall.
Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988) Dir: David DeCoteauLast one of the day. This one's kind of on the border because it was released right as Empire was imploding so it's technically a Full Moon film. I'm still counting it because A) Wikipedia and IMDB both list Empire as a production company and B) Michelle Bauer rule-if you have an excuse to watch a Michelle Bauer movie you do it dammit.I first saw this years ago on Joe-Bob's Drive-in and it still amuses the hell out me. Sorority girls, nerds and a thief played by Linnea Quigley all converge on a bowling that holds a trapped imp in a trophy (don't ask). Trophy gets broken, imp gets released, hijinks ensue. It's a totally entertaining way to spend 90 minutes.
Definitely one of the best titles ever attached to a movie.
I went ahead and jumped from Empire to Full Moon. DOLLMAN (1991) A tough space cop is regular size on his home planet, but tiny in comparison to humans. This is bad news when he comes to Earth in pursuit of an intergalactic super-criminal. The filmmakers just don’t have the budget to do the tiny person effects, but darned if they’re not going to try. This was fun, although the many goofy characters on the periphery made it entertaining more than the hero and the main plot. BAD CHANNELS (1992) Space aliens take over an Earth radio station with a plot to abduct human women. The dorky DJ tries to warn everyone, but no one believes him because he’s an infamous prankster. This is another winner, overflowing with crazy ideas. My favorite is how the aliens use music to entrap the ladies, causing them to hallucinate that they’re in a music video. These videos are the big set pieces, and each one is wonderfully ridiculous. Also, Martha Quinn is in this. I guess this is what Brad Goodman meant when he said, “I loved her in the thing I saw her in.” DEMONIC TOYS (1992)A cops versus crooks standoff in a warehouse is interrupted by the titular toys. There’s a lot to enjoy, such as practical effects, stop motion animation, and Tracy Scoggins being awesome. The movie occasionally takes some dives into artsy weirdness, in scenes where characters are shrunk down to visit the inside of a spooky dollhouse, and some creepy little girls riding tricycles around. DOLLMAN VS. THE DEMONIC TOYS (1993) Dollman, Tracy Scoggins, and the nurse from BAD CHANNELS team up to fight the Demonic Toys. About half the movie is devoted to the actual fight, so fans hoping for a big brawl will get one. The problem, though, is the nurse isn’t the one who was shrunk at the end of BAD CHANNELS, it was one of the other girls. There had better be some comic book tie-in somewhere that explains this plot hole. DEMONIC TOYS 2 (2010) I’m skipping the Demonic Toys’ crossover with Puppet Master for that fateful day when I finally watch that series. That brings us to this one, about a group of occultist/paranormal investigator types who spend the night in a haunted castle, only to get picked off one by one. The cool weirdness of the first one is gone, making this feel more like a generic slasher. The toys crack a lot more jokes this time around. I’m guessing Chucky was an inspiration, but Chucky’s raw charisma is not easily recreated.
Vicious Lips (1986, dir. Albert Pyun)My biggest takeaway from this film is the music and the musical numbers which freaking rule. LOVED all that stuff.
Zone Troopers (1985, dir. Danny Bilson)I liked this one! I've watched a bunch of Empire movies today and this one served as a really nice palate cleanser. Because it takes place in the '40s it felt so old fashioned. By far the best thing about it is the lead actors who play the soldiers. This movie is worth watching just to spend time with those guys.
Ghoulies (1984)Not much more needs to be said about this odd little creature film. Silly and very entertaining. This cover may be the one that was most burned into my memory as a child yet I didn’t see the actual movie until I was much older.
From Beyond (1986)Thing-esque special effects and Ken Foree from Dawn of the Dead made for a good time.
TerrorVision (1986)Bet you thought I'd pick ol' Stu, huh? Honestly, I love this movies look. Few studios these days would put this kind of money behind a comedy film with a single set, some gore effects, and picture quality that still looks sharp today. And Diane Franklin is a total babe to boot.Put this in your next fictional late night horror host marathon alongside Fright Night and Gremlins 2. It's truly a dying artform, and would be lost if it werent for the Svenghoolie and Joe Bob Briggs of the world. All hail the midnight creature feature, and godspeed.
I try to create my own midnight horror/creature feature program experience on Saturday nights from time to time. I got a chance to watch one when I was living in Pittsburgh nearly a decade ago. Without a host to add to the fun, it is not quite the same, though. The best part is that you can program for yourself, not having to worry about broadcast rights or the content of the films.
That sounds fantastic. My town's little video store and theatre does a couple cult movie screenings a month, where a guy dressed as a mad scientist does talking intros and transitions between films. Love that these home brew horror hosts are still keeping the art alive throughout the country.
TerrorVision (1986)I picked this believing at the time that it would be a first time viewing. It wasn't until I'd started watching it that I realized I had seen it on cable on more than one occasion as a kid (probably when I was around 7-8 years old). Of course while I could appreciate the horror aspects of it as a kid, only revisiting it now can I truly appreciate seeing Gerrit Graham and Mary Woronov as swingers. I'm also sure I didn't recognize Diane Franklin from Better Off Dead at the time. It's a fun, silly movie that seems to know exactly what it is.
Re-animator (1985, dir. Gordon)This was the hardest pick of the month yet for me. The only Empire film I had seen was Creepozoids, and reading everyone's reviews and listening to the episode today got me interested in so many different movies. I decided to go with a safe bet because I now have a bunch of the other movies at the top of my watch list and I know I'll get to them very soon. I wanted to start with the one I've heard most about, though.I was expecting it to lean way more into horror-comedy, similar to Dead Alive, but it played it walked a fine line between laughter and grimace really well. I have a mad crush on Barbara Crampton, and Jeffrey Combs turn as the hero of the flick was a cool way to go.
From Beyond (1986)Had never seen this one so this was the perfect opportunity. Holy mackerel. Right from the first scene this movie is bonkers. This was insanely awesome and I feel like I need to do a deep dive into Stuart Gordon’s films. Props to actually setting the film in Lovecraft county as well, hearing the Miskatonic University mentioned and seeing the shirt got me giddy. I wonder what Proffessor Armitage is working on while that hole affair occurred?Also I vote more days based off Stephanie’s interests next year! This theme + the podcast were choice.
Vicious Lips (1986):Star Wars meets Spice World meets hairspray.
Dolls (1987)‘Re-Animator’ and ‘From Beyond’ are two of my favorite horror movies but the rest of Stuart Gordon’s work is mostly a blind spot for me, so ‘Dolls’ seemed like a good fit. I’ve always loved Gordon’s sense of humor from the aforementioned films but something was immediately... off... with this film. I loved the doll effects and the over-the-top gore, but I found myself really disliking all the characters. Now, for the doll-murder fodder that’s to be expected, but I intensely disliked the doofy, child-like Ralph. His demeanor today plays as more child predator than child-at-heart, which makes the ending that much more disturbing. ‘Dolls’ is certainly not my favorite Stuart Gordon movie, but it’s a fun enough watch for the weirdness.