Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Wednesday 23 August 2023

Burl reviews Roadhouse 66! (1984)


With a jolly “paarp, paarp” on my motorcar horn, it’s Burl, arriving in town to do you a new review! Ha ha, we all love stranger-in-a-small-town movies, don’t we? It’s a pretty reliable microgenre, and maybe not so micro either, as, once you’ve tossed in Westerns, samurai pictures, and action movies from the 80s, there must be hundreds, nay thousands of these things! It’s a very basic formula, therefore theoretically hard to mess up, but one thing you learn when you watch a lot of movies with a critical eye: anything can be messed up! Ha ha, I wonder if that’s the case with today’s movie, Roadhouse 66!

Ha ha, I’m not going to make a joke about this being the 65th sequel to Road House, because I expect that hoss’s been rode before! No, it’s the tale of a travelling fauntleroy called Beckman Hallsgood Jr., played by Judge Reinhold from Ruthless People and Gremlins in effete-nerd mode! Beckman is scion to a belly-bustin’ fast-food pork franchise and is driving his T-bird across the desert to scout locations or something, but as he approaches Kingsman, Arizona he’s set upon by the town goons, the result being his flivver disabled by gunfire! Luckily a wandering rockabilly who knows how to fix cars, played by Willem Dafoe from Streets of Fire and The Lighthouse, shows up to play it cool and help out Beckman in exchange for a ride into town! The rockabilly’s name, of course, is Johnny Harte, for how could it be otherwise!

Conveniently enough there are two beautiful sisters living in the town who are single and sell auto parts! Kaaren Lee from The Right Stuff and Remote Control is Jesse, the older sister with the incomprehensible past, and Kate Vernon from Pretty in Pink and Mob Story is Melissa, the younger and more impulsive one! But also in the town are the louts who shot up Beckman’s car: a fearsome triumvirate led by Hoot, a meatbones played by Alan Autry from Brewster’s Millions and House! His minions are a scabie little guy named Dink, played by Kevyn Major Howard from Full Metal Jacket and Alien Nation, and Moss, played by Peter Van Norden from The Best of Times, who looks like if Mike Starr had been removed from the oven twenty minutes early!

The whole middle act is an escalating campaign of harassment from Hoot and his boys directed at Beckman, who’s stuck in town until the ladies can order up a new radiator! Luckily Johnny Harte is around to help him out of trouble, and lucky too that they have a place to sleep in the junkyard owned by old drunken Sam, played by Stephen Elliott from Beverly Hills Cop; and later, of course, they take up with the two sisters: Johnny with Jesse, Beckman with Melissa! And that incomprehensible past of Jesse’s that I mentioned? Well it turns out she used to be married to Hoot, a thoroughgoing jerk with a drywall personality and the physique of Cousin Eddie from Vacation! Who’d have thunk it! But things come to a sticky wicket when Hoot and co. start a vengeance fire that turns fatal for one of the characters!

Meanwhile I know you’re asking “Ha ha, what about this roadhouse we’ve been promised by the title!” Well some of the action, including a fight between the two heroes and the gang, does take place there, but it’s not as central to the plot as you might assume! Erica Yohn, who was Madame Ruby in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Selma in Amazon Women on the Moon, is the roadhouse proprietor, Thelma, who observes the goings-on with wry detachment, but is there for our heroes when needed! And the roadhouse itself is a pretty bland place, free of any atmosphere or style!

The climax of the picture, once we finally get there, is one of the least exciting car races ever filmed! It starts out promisingly when Hoot sticks a scorpion in Beckman’s car, but from there it’s mostly a series of static shots of cars rolling by at moderate speeds! Ha ha, at least that gives us a good look at the nice autos – a T-bird, a Chevy, a wonderful ’66 Mustang! I won’t tell you how it ends up, but we never really find out what happens to Hoot – who, after all, is an arsonist and a murderer as well as being a scorpion-dropping jerk!

I’ll wrap it all up by saying this: Roadhouse 66 is a pretty unmemorable and unexciting small-town meller, but if you like Dafoe and Reinhold and always wondered what it would be like if they teamed up, you may wring some enjoyment from it! But I myself had never wondered that, so I didn’t get a whole lot from the picture! I liked the cars though, and the small desert-town location! I’m going to give Roadhouse 66 one new radiator!

Saturday 19 August 2023

Burl reviews Star Crystal! (1985)


Beep boop and by Gar, it’s Burl, here to review low-budget space-based VHS insanity! You know, there was no shortage of Alien rip-off pictures in the wake of that 1979 superhit, and following the grand success of E.T. a few years later there were more than several small-scale coattail riders on that one too! But there was at least one picture to manfully attempt to rip off both hits at once, and the result is just as bifurcated a narrative as you might expect! Ha ha, the movie, for reasons of its own which it keeps to itself, is called Star Crystal!

We begin on a surprisingly convincing Mars, where a pair of louts find a rock – I suppose this may be the titular crystal, but it doesn't much look like one – which they bring onto their ship! Next thing you know the rock has hatched and everyone on the ship is dead because the oxygen got turned off by somebody! The action then relocates to a space station that looks like it was, and according to an article I read about the movie in Cinefantastique magazine, actually was, constructed out of painted water bottles! Then something goes wrong and the space station blows up, and the space ship that escapes has the creature that hatched out of the rock on board!

Well, you know the drill! The crew, an uncommonly stupid and unlikeable bunch, are one by one attacked by the creature and turned into puddles of goo! And then, when there are only two of them left, the alien taps into the ship’s computer and reads all the information therein, which includes the Bible! Yes, ha ha, Holy Bible! This of course has the effect of radically changing his personality, and before you know it, the alien, whose name is Gar, is best buddies with the remaining spacefarers, even after brutally murdering all their friends! Proof of this friendship comes in a hilarious montage during which, as they work on repairing their failed systems, Gar does shenanigans like using his telekinesis to spin a wrench around in mid-air as everybody laughs! And shortly after this jaw-dropping turn of events, the picture comes to an end - an end I will characterize as "unceremonious!"   

Some really head-scratching decisions were made in the production design of this picture, ha ha! The number of sets is pretty minimal, with most of the action taking place in a single room, like a play; but to enter or leave the room the crew must use dog doors for some reason, and then they have to crawl like hens through seemingly kilometres-long tubes to get from one part of the ship to another, as though the craft had been designed by hamsters! No character mentions the absurd inconvenience of this; and one hopes the cast were issued knee pads, since collectively they must crawl a marathon’s worth of distance in those dumb tubes!

The picture reaches some sort of nadir when, after a fatal encounter in the crawl tubes leaves him with his skin melted away, the film’s lone black character turns out to have a black skeleton too! Ha ha, it’s ridiculous! So is the creature, which looks like somebody sculpted a sad-eyed E.T. out of wax and then took a blowtorch to it, and which is shown only in grotesque close-ups for most of the film – his twitchy eyeball or his undulating flesh or his goofy Beaker-like mouth! Ha ha, don't let that image on the poster fool you - it may be Gar's meaner cousin or something, but by garr, it sure isn't Gar! (There are no floating glass coffins either!)

I was really hoping for something approaching those Roger Corman Alien rip-offs of the early 1980s, like Forbidden World and Galaxy of Terror - pictures that may not be good, but show energy and imagination in their mad quest to purloin! No dice with Star Crystal though! My son, a wise old cynic at age 11, declared this the worst movie he’s ever seen and likely ever will see! He maintained that opinion even after we recently watched The Creeping Terror, so you can be certain the ineptitude on display in Star Crystal really made an impact on his young mind, and I guess maybe that’s an achievement in itself! Ha ha! I give Star Crystal one futuristic sippy-bottle of Coke!

Friday 18 August 2023

Burl reviews Hog Wild! (1980)


Like open pipes at midnight, it’s Burl crying vroom vroom vroom! Ha ha, remember the Quebec-shot comedy I watched about the bunch of jerks and their girlfriends who play a lot of pinball and get into an escalating prank war with a motorcycle gang? You’ll probably say “Sure Burl, ha ha, that one was called Pinball Summer!” Well, you’d not be wrong, but that description also snugly fits a picture known as Hog Wild!

It seems a military cadet called Tim, played by an apple-cheeked Michael Biehn from Aliens and The Abyss, gets himself deliberately tossed out so he can go to a regular high school! On his arrival at the new alma mater, he finds the place run by a half-goofy, half-dangerous motorcycle gang called the Rustlers, who are very much in the mode of the Pinball Summer organization, or the Nazi dunderheads from Any Which Way You Can!

The leader of the gang is Bull, played by Tony Rosato from SCTV and The Silent Partner! (Of course he was also in a lot of those bad, weird, middlebrow Canadian comedydramas, like Nothing Personal, Utilities and Improper Channels!) Much like Bobcat Goldthwait’s incoherent screaming character from movies like One Crazy Summer, Bull is unable to speak like a normal person, so his mumblings are interpreted by his loyal factotum Ben, who is well played by Angelo Rizacos from Nightstick! Rizacos does it as well as he possibly can, but this translation routine gets tired well before the picture's end!

And Bull’s lady Angie is played by Bilitis herself, Patti D’Arbanville from Time After Time! When he lays eyebones on her Tim develops an instant crush, and this puts him at odds with Bull and the gang and thus begins the escalating and destructive prank war, which targets not just Tim but his little Archie Comics-like group of pals! Ha ha, at one point the Rustlers somehow manage to hoist Tim’s car up the school flagpole! One of them also cruelly crushes and eats a pet tarantula beloved by one of Tim’s friends, whose response to this outrage is surprisingly sanguine! Of course it all culminates in a race, as is almost always the case with these pictures, and in the last few seconds, as Bull watches his ex-ladyfriend stroll off with the victorious Tim, the movie attempts to engender some sympathy and even a little respect for the mush-mouthed hooligan!

The picture is jam-packed with familiar Canadian faces who also turned up in the contemporaneous Meatballs, like Matt Craven, whom we also know from Till Death Do Us Part and Happy Birthday To Me, playing a claw-handed biker called Chrome; Jack Blum, playing, as he so often did, a glasses nerd; and Keith Knight, who was also in My Bloody Valentine and here plays a portly imbecile named Vern who desperately wants to be a Rustler! There’s also Michael Zelniker, whose presence reinforces the many connections between this picture and Pinball Summer! Karen Stephen and Helene Udy, the girlfriends in Pinball Summer, are in here too, playing smaller background roles!

John Rutter, who was in Between Friends and played the laughing cop in Black Christmas, is also a cop here, but not in this case a laughing one because, ha ha, he’s impotent! Bronwen Mantel from City on Fire plays his frustrated wife, while Sean McCann from Starship Invasions and Tulips is Tim’s military-loving father, who likes to unexpectedly smash his son across the back with a pool cue, just to keep the lad on his toes!

It’s a pre-Porky’s picture, meaning that despite its oinker-themed title, Hog Wild’s antics are mostly free of the leering sexual aspect the teen shenanigan films developed after the runaway success of the Bob Clark pig picture! That gives it a bit of novelty; and, too, you can detect thematic and stylistic holdovers from an earlier era of Canadian youth movies: pictures like Rip-Off and Homer! All of this has Hog Wild sitting awkwardly athwart several genres and eras, riding sidesaddle as it were, ha ha, and so it never really gels as a fun or uproarious movie experience! And smushing that tarantula? That was uncalled for! I give Hog Wild one and a half slams across the back with a pool cue!

Sunday 6 August 2023

Burl reviews Steele Justice! (1987)


Killoo-killay, it’s Burl here with classic VHS action! Ha ha, there sure were a lot of action movies made in the 80s for the booming VHS market! Some of them – many of them in fact – had a theatrical release, but as the decade wore on, such a release became more cursory, more obviously just a promotion for the videocassette release that would allow wide (and double-wide) audiences to see the pictures! In the wake of Beverly Hills Cop and Rambo there was no end to the low-budget cop and war variants eager to cash in, and occasionally there were combo platters aiming to suck from both troughs at once! One of these – its glowering VHS cover familiar to many an 80s kid – is the subject of today’s review: Steele Justice!

Ha ha, is there justice of any other kind? Steele Justice begins at the tail end of the war in Vietnam, with stone-faced, rock-brained John Steele, played by Martin Kove from White Line Fever, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, and of course Rambo, standing tall in a small hovercraft as it cruises up a jungle tributary! Steele is so tough he wears a live snake as a necktie, and accompanying him is his best pal Lee, essayed by Robert Kim from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off! They discover a bunch of dead bodies and realize their supposed South Vietnamese ally, General Kwan, played by Soon-Tek Oh from The Man With the Golden Gun and Death Wish 4, is not actually a very nice man! Kwan has Steele and Lee shot, but that doesn’t kill them, and Steele in turn shoots Kwan with a gun that shoots knives, but that doesn’t kill him either! And somehow a colonel named Harry played by Joseph Campanella from Hangar 18 figures into this preamble!

A dozen or so years later, Steele is married and divorced from Sela Ward from The Fugitive, and has been employed with and fired from the Los Angeles police department! His buddy Lee is still a cop though, and when Steele bottoms out, Lee is there to help him up! But, uh oh, Lee and most of his family (including a granny with a Moe haircut played by Kimiko Hiroshige from Blade Runner and Fletch) are murdered by Kwan’s evil son, impersonated by Peter Kwong from Big Trouble in Little China; and as a further ignominy it all happens while Steele is relaxing in a bath, so he gets very angry and figures on delivering a little Steele justice!

Kwan has become a respected American business man, and so Steele is faced with a bogomil crisis when Ronny Cox from The Car and The Beast Within shows up as his old boss on the force, Bennett! And there’s another cop played by Bernie Casey from Ants! and Never Say Never Again, who’s more sympathetic to Steele and his methods! While protecting the surviving Lee daughter, played by a terrible actress I’m sorry to say, Steele first bothers, then intimidates, then finally attacks and kills Kwan and his crime bunch!

As though a political psychodrama is lurking camouflaged within the movie, there’s a lot of real estate dedicated to showing the depths in respect, both self- and from everyone else (except for Lee and his family, who are the biggest Steele fans in the world), to which the agate-visaged hero has plummeted since the war! Killing is his only balm, and after the massacre of his only friends he seems almost gleeful at the opportunity to dispense the Steele justice I spoke of earlier! Of course his necktie snake gets involved, and the final fight against Kwan involves the old “battle-atop-a-shipping-crate-being-lifted-by-a-crane-operated-by-?” routine!

It’s a dumb, reductive, reactionary, Reagan-era movie, of minor (but hardly unique) interest thanks to the Asian gangs angle! But the bad guys are allegedly fearsome, and, ha ha, you know General Kwan is really mad when he appears on the scene wearing a floral print dress! Kwan has Shannon Tweed from Dragnet on his side as a fellow crime boss, or at least the daughter of one; meanwhile Phil Fondacaro from Phantasm II and Land of the Dead shows up as a wee bartender, and of course Al Leong henches once again, just as he henched in everything from Lethal Weapon and Die Hard to Death Warrant and Protocol!

As sedimentary as its hero, the picture does nevertheless provide a few hyocks, a modicum of confusion, a fine B movie cast, and occasionally the impression that it must have been written and directed by Clyde the Orang-utan! It sat on shelves in the Action section alongside The Patriot and Instant Justice and Born American, and there perhaps it should stay - but, ha ha, that's up to you! I give Steele Justice one RPG – Rat-Propelled Grenade! Ha ha!