Tag Archives: 1990

CAPSULE: INTERNATIONAL GUERILLAS (1990)

International Gorillay

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DIRECTED BY: Jan Mohammad

FEATURING: Ghulam Mohjuddin, Mustafa Qureshi, Saeed Khan Rangeela

PLOT: Salman Rushdie (portrayed here as a Bond-style supervillain) plots to destroy Islam by building casinos, nightclubs, and brothels to spread vice and corruption; three brothers band together to avenge their faith and kill Rushdie, who is hiding in the Philippines under the guard of the Israeli secret services.

Still from International Guerillas (2024)

COMMENTS: The publication of Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” in 1988 sparked a wave of intense debate and controversy that led to bans, riots, assassination attempts, and other violence. The affair, which became one of the major cultural events of the latter half of the 20th century, culminated in a fatwa issued by Iran’s then Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. International Guerillas starts from this context, but the plot summary above should tell you everything about the tone of the film. It’s safe to assume that the filmmakers were not passionate ideologues looking to contribute a propaganda piece in the fight against Rushdie, but rather businessmen who saw the recent controversy as an opportunity to cash in on the ongoing issue by slapping it on a generic spy/action flick plot. The producer would go on to admit that the film was a purely commercial, rather than artistic (or, shall we say, ideological) affair. Regardless, it should be noted that BBC originally intended to ban the film upon its release, a decision opposed by Rushdie himself, who appealed to the principle of unconditional artistic freedom (even if applied to works that portray him as a cartoonish villain) and feared that a ban would only increase the film’s popularity.

The register is not far from a typical B-movie, with some kinship to older Bollywood cinema (over the top caricatures, cheesy dramatics, sensationalist camerawork and score); nevertheless, the combination of general silliness, the inherent oddity of the backstory, and a fair share of eccentric choices along the way makes for a strange viewing experience, especially for the western viewer.

The bloated runtime of nearly three hours (!) allows for plenty of funny (or, depending on the viewer, tedious) moments, including a surprisingly detailed set-up (the main credits only appear past the 40-minute mark) where we witness the murder of the protagonist’s sister at an anti-Rushdie protest, and his gang’s subsequent vow of revenge. What follows is a more or less continuous flow of senseless action interrupted by long (5+ minutes) dance numbers and seemingly random narrative detours. At some point along their quest, our heroes show up donning Batman costumes for some reason (or, more likely, none at all). We’re treated to the activities of “Rushdie” in his Philippine resort where, of course, he lives a hedonistic lifestyle. Besides torturing and executing Muslims by hanging, beheading, crucifying, or dropping them off a helicopter (Pinochet-style), another method of torture appears to be reciting excerpts from his blasphemous book. He also turns out to have an interminable host of clones, guaranteeing a lot of additional screentime and endless fighting scenes. And, of course, there’s the famous ending where “Rushdie” is destroyed by three flying Korans that inexplicably appear in the sky, a quite literal deus ex machina.

The basic premise of Muslim fundamentalists (undisputed heroes in the comic book morals at play here) hunting down “Rushdie” (even if he bears no resemblance at all to his real-life counterpart, physically or otherwise) might make some viewers understandably uneasy. This may be even more pronounced in today’s uber-politicized world, especially since Islamist terrorism has become more common. The obvious cheekiness of the presentation, however, means most will struggle to take it seriously as a piece of propaganda. In any case, this cult curiosity is likely to please or at least entertain viewers familiar with “Turksploitation” movies, with which Guerillas shares similarities—mainly, the idea of appropriating a popular western filmmaking template while giving it a gloriously over-the-top “national” spin for a cheap and quick cash-grab that proves funny in some intended ways and in all unintended ones. Although it might prove taxing for some, anyone who had fun with the likes of 3 Dev Adam or the Turkish Star Wars should have a guaranteed good time with International Guerillas.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a hallucinogenically awful mish-mash of music, action, crude comedy, continuity screw-ups, and dreadful production values… One of the weirdest scenes has the trio dressing in baggy Batman costumes and tracking down a bunch of identical Rushdie impostors…”–Steven Puchalski, Shock Cinema

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: CHARLY, DIAS DE SANGRE (1990)

AKA Charly, Days of Blood

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DIRECTED BY: Carlos Galettini

FEATURING: Fabiàn Gianola, Julieta Melogno, Norman Briski, Adrian Suár, María Pía, Martín Guerrero, Pilar Masciocchi

PLOT: Charly, a troubled young man with a dark past, is invited along on an outing to a remote cottage, but malevolent forces and Charly’s personal demons disrupt the relaxation, romance, and recuperation.

Still from Charly Dias de Sangre (1990)

COMMENTS: There’s a lot of power in the low-budget, shot-on-video feature film. It may be true that everyone has a story in them, but it’s a select few of us who have the determination to do whatever is necessary to bring that tale to life. There’s something admirable about the commitment to making something, even without the benefit of film school training or fancy cameras or even an actual story. Of course, there’s a reason that everyone doesn’t make movies, and the truth is that some of us just aren’t meant to be behind the camera, or in some cases anywhere within a country mile of the camera. For every hidden gem, there are any number of duds best forgotten.

Today’s example of the form takes us to Argentina, where director Carlos Galettini was able to assemble three of the most important elements for any would-be auteur: working video cameras, a space in which to film, and several actresses who were willing to work nude. If the goal is to get a film made, then the bar is cleared. It’s the hoping for much more where things get disappointing.

Charly, Dias de Sangre is the living embodiment of “derivative.” Set aside the fundamental plot of “occupants of vacation home are methodically stalked and murdered.” That’s just basic slasher horror. But it’s the details that really fail to distinguish it from the competition. There’s a dark hooded figure with a scythe stalking the grounds who looks like everyone’s stereotypical vision of Death. Hector Magni’s synthy score brings the expected amount of excessive drama, punctuated by hyperactive tom samples. Even the key art is lovingly ripped off from Nightmare on Elm Street 2. Charly has all the trappings of a fan film, but borrowing more of a vibe than a specific IP.

For a while, the movie plays a waiting game, content to cultivate a sense of unease while making space for some barely clothed canoodling. All the while, our hero alternates between moping around the house in a depressed funk and spasming in his sleep as his nightmares assault him. But in the final act, when the truth about Charly’s dark past is revealed and the murders begin in earnest, the film surrenders any cleverness that it may have had. The soon-to-be victims act in the clumsiest ways possible, the killings are not particularly artful, and everything seems predicated on a last-second twist in which the authorities target the wrong person. It’s frankly impatient, as if the filmmakers themselves are in a rush to get to the stuff that brought us here.

As mentioned, any movie that gets made is a miracle. But being a miracle doesn’t make Charly, Dias de Sangre good, or even weird. Without ambition beyond it’s desire to simply be, it turns out to be a rather bloodless affair.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… it feels as if there’s portions of the script that were tossed out, or sequences of the movie that were deleted as if to make less sense. The film just kind of ends and we’re left scratching our heads trying to figure out if anything truly supernatural was going on… we’re just going to say this is a daft slasher played up for the video market.” – Chris Nichols, The Trash Pile

(This movie was nominated for review by Wormhead. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: PRAYER OF THE ROLLERBOYS (1990)

DIRECTED BY: Rick King

FEATURING: Corey Haim, Patricia Arquette, Christopher Collet, J. C. Quinn, Julius Harris, Devin Clark

PLOT: In a dystopian near-future where greed and widespread drug addiction have reduced the United States to third-world status, a cult of white-supremacist rollerbladers seeks to consolidate power; a lone skater, Griffin, infiltrates the gang to scuttle their operations and save his little brother.

Still from Prayer of the Rollerboys (1990)

COMMENTS: The brave new world of Prayer of the Rollerboys would seem to be a breeding ground for satire. The schools of the Ivy League have been carted off to Japan brick-by-brick. Mexican troops are repelling American immigrants at the border. Germany has conquered Poland once more, this time with its checkbook. Oh, and there’s rollerblading. Lots of rollerblading. But don’t laugh: screenwriter W. Peter Iliff (from whose pen Point Break and Varsity Blues will soon spring) wants you to be alarmed about even the most outlandish projections for America’s doomed future. There’s darkness coming, and only one thing can save us: Corey Haim.

Poor Corey. The prospective viewer of today might see the presence of the more tragic half of the Coreys in rollerblades as a guarantee of solid so-bad-it’s good entertainment. But it doesn’t turn out that way. It’s no secret masterpiece, but Prayer of the Rollerboys turns out to be a passable action flick, bringing low-budget grittiness and late-80s ethos to a familiar tale, with just a hint of eye-rolling over the near-future mise-en-scene.

After establishing his rollerblading bonafides in the opening credits, we properly meet Haim wearing a barbershop quartet’s striped jacket and boater and slinging an AK-47 for his job as a pizza delivery boy. (His boss: “If anybody messes with the van, [singing] kill ‘em.”) He’s trying to stay out of trouble and take care of his younger brother Miltie. Griffin’s just a good man in a bad world, you see; this world’s version of Marshal Will Kane.

There’s a lot out there to make him wary, like the vast amount of homelessness, the preponderance of populace-pleasing entertainments like nude women wrestling, and of course the narcotic du jour, an phosphorescent inhalant called “Mist.” But the biggest threat comes from the Rollerboys, an organized gang of skating thugs who deal Mist on the downlow while publicly sponsoring food drives and handing out their fascist literature to indoctrinate the masses. They occupy the Venn diagram intersection between Nazi Youth, the Proud Boys, New Kids on the Block, and the cast of Starlight Express. The film luxuriates in the sight of them cruising down the sidewalks of Venice Beach on their inlines, and the image of a dozen pretty rollerbladers decked out in flowing ecru trenchcoats and skating in a uniform flying-V is… well, not cool, exactly, but certainly memorable.

The film works best when it fully commits to the outlandishness of its premise. Griffin’s old grade school buddy Gary has grown up to lead the Rollerboys, and Christopher Collet gives it his all as a low-rent, roller-skating James Spader, a grinning crocodile who is fairly fit to burst into violence. (He even has a pet Komodo dragon to stroke malevolently.) No subtlety here; Gary’s plan to sterilize the population is literally called “the final solution.” His henchmen also bring the barely contained insanity, including Mark Pellegrino as a Jake Busey-wannabe strongman and the perpetually simmering Morgan Weisser, who even bites into an apple with repressed rage.

Against this, Haim does a creditable job, keeping an even keel as a guy who just wants to rollerblade in peace and now finds himself embroiled in chaos. He and Collet have genuine chemistry, engage in a rather effective fight scene, and bring authentic gravity to their final showdown. No, in our topsy-turvy world, the worst performance probably belongs to future Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette, zipping through the film in an admittedly weak role as an undercover cop in a series of joyfully ridiculous outfits (special consideration for her Dale Evans getup) and very little indication of the terrific acting career that lay ahead.

Once you get past the nightmare future of rampaging young white supremacists (all too believable) and full combat on skates (somewhat less so), there isn’t really anything wrong with Prayer of the Rollerboys. It’s derivative and a little silly, but the biggest problem is that the film is punching well above its weight. There are some intriguing ideas lurking in the movie: the allure of fascism, the impotence of our protectors, the weaponization of youth… but it’s all still riding on the shoulders of a Corey Haim rollerblading movie. It has to rehabilitate a teen heartthrob, create a credible future, call out the foibles of society, and do it all while embodying a youth culture that always seems to be just a step out of Hollywood’s reach. It would be a stretch for any movie to pull this all off. This is not the movie to do it.

Prayer of the Rollerboys isn’t bad enough to satisfy the snark-watchers, but not good enough to step out of the bin of forgotten B-movies. It does hint at an alternate universe where Corey Haim was able to realize his potential as an actor, and where we as a society anticipated the dangers of ceding power to pretty people who would co-opt it for nefarious purposes. Alas, in both cases, that stretches credulity just a shred too far.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The impact of screenwriter W Peter Iliff’s distinctly weird and intriguing premise is gradually eroded by the eventually unsurprising developments in its interestingly outlandish storyline and also by the over-familiarity of the usual, regulation futuristic setting of a chaotic, dystopian  tomorrow’s world.” – Derek Winnert, derekwinnert.com

(This movie was nominated for review by Lovecraft in Brooklyn, who says the film “features characters that somehow predict the modern alt-right.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: DEEP BLOOD (1990)

DIRECTED BY: Raffaele Donato,

FEATURING:  Frank Baroni, Cort McCown, Keith Kelsch

PLOT:  A shark hunt progresses after a native blood pact drives a group of privileged boys to avenge the death of their friend.

Still from Deep Blood (1990)

COMMENTS:  Summer 2021 is fading away, and it’s wise to see as many shark movies as possible. Of those, the fuzzy and buzzing 80’s Italian shark film Deep Blood isn’t the worst selection—but it comes close.  Many claim it’s worse than Jaws 4, and judging from its warbled and faded approach to both narrative structure and aesthetics in general, that’s a reasonable assessment. The shark attack scenes lack excitement, women and minorities are marginalized, and the main characters appear bored. Thankfully, the bulk of the movie is made up of narcotizing scuba scenes where little happens besides the inadvertent conjuring of serene oceanic bliss, making it a minor hit for weirdos with an interest in the peculiar and ironic entertainment of dated oceanographic sequences.

Donato and D’Amato succeed in creating a shark drama complete with boats, copters, and underwater scenes, but it’s frazzled by incompetency in the form of loopy synth pads and awkward, boring camera angles. It also hits sour notes with the seeping indolence of the era’s culture—things get kind of racist and sexist.  The only native character (credited as “Indian”) is used as a MacGuffin, and the ladies’ only function is to cheerlead, so distaste and disinterest with Deep Blood grows fast while the boys mope around the cabana, attended to by servants. While the questionable culture of a bunch of yuppie shark hunters is detestable, the characters’ mission to avenge the death of a friend with whom they made a blood pact with gives the narrative some validity. This central concept is enough to propel Deep Blood forward, highlighted by the curious rewards of sleepy scuba scenes.

Stock deep sea footage cuts to polluted swarms of kelp faded in haze, with tranquil swimmers slowly flipping fins, and not much occurring other than a handful of chord changes. The calm Zen quality of these quiet underwater shots is the true charm of Deep Blood. With grey and blue aquatic smears, the undersea content has a distinct 80’s ocean feel that brings to mind better films like Dead Calm. But the nagging synths and wooden acting draw negative attention to Deep Blood‘s lack of charisma. Luckily, there’s a pair of shabby kill scenes to laugh at.

It’s tough to tell (or even care) who is getting killed by the shark during the attack scenes because all characters look and act the same. Protagonists Ben, Miki and Allan all appear to be overzealous wimps when using explosives to kill the shark instead of good old hooks and lines. After all, as Grody in Jaws, Roy Scheider only resorted to pyrotechnics after his bones were rattled by seeing his captain get eaten alive by a prehistoric killing machine. In Deep Blood, the crew has a full arsenal of support together with their mansions, servants, striped pastel shirts, and yachts armed with explosives. And even with the motivating power of some very flirty Italian ladies, they barely get the job done.

Deep Blood boasts cheeky and misguided shark content along with sucky characters. The kill scenes are as exciting as a mail room staff party. What redeems it is the peaceful feeling of floating underwater while a droning score highlights the glowing VHS ambience. Like the moody aesthetics of early PC educational software, Deep Blood offers nodding maritime pleasures with a total lack of self-awareness. You can always watch Jaws afterwards to cleanse your palate.

A flawed but festive watch, Deep Blood is currently available on Youtube for free, and also on DVD and Blu-Ray from Severin films.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“I feel pretty confident in assuming it’s the only movie where a Native American randomly binds together a group of friends for a blood oath that ends with them confronting a killer shark. Throw in the other stuff you expect from Italian horror—gonzo dialogue, baffling character interactions, low-rent effects work, ill-fitting music—and it all comes together to form a singularly strange experience.”–Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror! (Blu-ray)

LIST CANDIDATE: EMPIRE OF THE DARK (1990)

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DIRECTED BY: Steve Barkett

FEATURING: Steve Barkett, Christopher Barkett, Tera Hendrickson, John Henry Richardson,

PLOT: A bounty hunter haunted by the memory of an old flame who was killed by a Satanic cult swings into action twenty years later to bring them to justice and solve the remaining puzzles.

Still from Empire of the Dark (1990)

COMMENTS: The first thing you will notice about Empire of the Dark is that it’s a passion project by writer/director/star Steve Barkett, he of only two directing and three production credits. But give it a chance. Barkett is at the opposite end of the shoestring auteur spectrum from the likes of Neil Breen. Barkett is self-aware, has a sense of humor, and places the audience first. He has every opportunity to turn his story into an ego fulfillment fantasy, but cheerfully writes his script with a female character turning down his advances just to deconstruct that trope. Every decision he makes is based on producing the most entertaining movie possible, given his limited means. Even though Empire of the Dark is a low-budget production with plenty of rough edges, it is by far the best budget vanity project your humble reviewer has ever watched. You can even riff on the silly parts. Recall my rule about distinguishing brainless movies from stupid movies. This is one of the brainless, fun ones.

We open on a Satanic cult hiding out in a cave which is accessed by a portal in the wall of a house. Blades aloft, cultists are about to sacrifice both a woman, Angela (Tera Hendrickson), and her baby on the same altar. Enter our hero Richard Flynn (Barkett), who fights his way through the fanatics, making it to the altar with one bullet left. Two cultists are bringing their knives down on two victims, so he has to choose. Angela screams at him to save her baby; Richard obliges by shooting one executioner and rescuing the kid, running away with him in his arms even as Angela meets her fate. 20 years later, that baby grows up to be Terry Nash, returned to town with a mysterious photo of the cult leader and some news that the Satanists are behind a present-day string of murders deemed the “demon slasher” case. Meanwhile, Angela appears to Flynn in dream sequences, to get good use out of that fog machine.

What follows is a swashbuckling yarn as Flynn, an unlikely action beefcake who knows exactly how out of shape he is, shoots and stabs his way through bad guys. This will take him through a painfully amateur and yet thrilling pursuit within a small-town grocery store, an ambush in the woods from sword-wielding cultists dispatched with exactly one bullet each, and ultimately back to the foam-rock caves of the cult’s lair to confront them and a testy summoned demon. Flynn’s sidekick in this quest is local cop Eddie Green (John Henry Richardson), who plays it hilariously straight as a hard-boiled stereotype who is not the least bemused by demon-summoning Renaissance-fair rejects. Consultations with a nun and a psychic take just long enough to drop a clue, throw in some ham, and move on to the next body-count scene. While the dialog is hokey, with the occasional glib line, there is mercifully little of it. The pace jogs along nicely, with just enough reflective inter-action palette cleansers to allow you to catch your breath. Even though the gins never run out of ammo and can be blessed by the local clergy in preparation for taking down Satanists, Flynn and his team will sometimes abandon them for swords.

While Steve Barkett isn’t exactly a major talent, as a producer he has a talent for spending the money where it counts. Empire of the Dark is chock full of ballsy stunts, cheesy late-80s monster-madness special effects, and a full orchestral score which punctuates the whole movie with a trite, but ear-friendly, action soundtrack. Cinematography is on point and the shooting location (which I’m guessing is in the U.S, Northwest?) does it many favors. Just be advised, it still gets silly! Every cultist is dressed in an identical Dollar Tree hooded robe and mask costume. One after another, they die like flies, yet there seems to be thousands of them, like a video game level you can’t clear. The big bad demon is sometimes a puppet and sometimes stop-motion animated. The fake blood is played by what appears to be dainty smears of raspberry jam. Vast plot holes are never explained. But this movie doesn’t care beans whether you’re cheering it or laughing at it, as long as it kept you amused.

Let’s not kid ourselves: this is the exact movie all of us would have liked to make when we were 14 years old. Empire of the Dark is best served with a bag of Halloween candy and an ice-cold Mountain Dew. The fact that this movie is not better known, even as a cult weird-o fan favorite, is flabbergasting. But that’s life when you’re a vanity project.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Enveloped by an exceedingly melodramatic and non-stop symphonic score, and peppered with delirious optical effects and endearing stop-motion monsters, Empire of the Dark is a trampoline of a movie, repeatedly reaching its ambition before hilariously tumbling down into sublime silliness.”–Laser Blast Film Society

(This movie was nominated for review by “Penguin” Pete Trbovich, whom stumbled upon it thanks to a lucky random Tumblr click. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)