Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Predator (1987)

... aka: Alien Hunter
... aka: Hunter
... aka: Primevil

Directed by:
John McTiernan

A cabinet minister and his aide have disappeared somewhere in a Central American jungle so harsh that it "makes Cambodia look like Kansas." Believing they've been apprehended and are being held prisoner by guerrillas, General Phillips (R.G. Armstrong) and CIA Agent Dillon (Carl Weathers) call in a unit of expert commandos to form a heavily-armed rescue team to find them. Heading up the squadron is Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who's apparently the best at what he does, along with his skilled five-man lineup; Mac (Bill Duke), Poncho (Richard Chaves), Billy (Native American former hardcore porn star Sonny Landham), Blain (former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura) and Hawkins (Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black). They, along with Dillon, repel into the jungle for what is supposed to be a quick in-and-out rescue mission lasting 24 hours. As soon as they're dropped off, they locate a crashed American helicopter and three corpses hanging upside from a tree that have been completely skinned. Troubling? Certainly. And things are about to get even worse.






The soldiers quickly invade the enemy camp, shoot and blow up dozens of terrorists, take along a female hostage (Elpidia Carrillo) and then head back toward their pick-up to wait for their chopper ride home. Dutch learns there's no missing minister and they've been lured there under false pretenses by Dillon, but that's not really all that important. What is important is that something is now stalking them... and that something happens to be a stealthy alien hunter (played by 7'2" Kevin Peter Hall) who's brought along all kinds of special gadgets to make short work of its prey. Among the creatures most dangerous abilities are its heat-censor vision and (especially) its ability to become almost completely invisible with just a push of a button. It even comes with a handy self-destruct button in case things don't go its way... and if you're facing off against Arnold in an 80s flick, chances are they won't.






A movie like this doesn't live or die on the performances or writing, it lives or dies on the amount of action and the amount of excitement it can generate, and this does both pretty well. The plot line is simple and straight-forward and that also carries over to the "motive" of the alien visitor: he's pretty much on Earth simply for a pleasurable hunting trip. The basic gist with this one seems to be there's no need for an elaborate plot or characterization when that would just get in the way of the carnage. The noisy action scenes certainly deliver the goods. There's plenty of heavy artillery, machine guns blazing, laser weaponry, booby traps, shootouts and explosions, mixed with gory violence like skinnings and guttings, an arm shot off, a head exploding and a chest being blown completely away.






On the production side of things, this is professionally done all the way through, with especially good editing (Mark Helfrich, John F. Link), music score (by Alan Silvestri), creature design and visual effects. The latter received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Joel Hynek, Richard Greenberg, Robert M. Greenberg and Stan Winston. The alien itself isn't visualized on-screen until near the hour mark and doesn't even remove its mask so we can get a look at it until the last scene, but it's worth the wait. And while we're on the subject of alien monsters, what is up with the general public's resistance in considering this a horror film, anyway? The plot involves a hideous monster stalking and slaughtering people in the jungle in gory ways and that's pretty much all it involves. Sure, it's also an action movie with sci-fi components, but the horror elements are just as pronounced as the action. I can't help but think if this weren't a popular, big budget Hollywood film with an A-Lister in the lead, there would be no resistance in calling it what it really is.






On a budget of 15 million dollars, the film grossed almost 60 million, making it the 12th highest-grossing film of its year. The 1990 sequel (which moved the action to an urban setting) didn't do nearly as well and was viewed as a major disappointment at the time, which put an end to any more sequels until the alien predator from this was combined with another popular alien monster for the spin-off AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004), which itself spawned the sequel AVPR: Alien vs. Predator - Requiem (2007). There was also Predators (2010), which is actually considered the third Predator film by fans who choose to discount the AVP films. A remake / reboot is currently in production and is set to be directed by Black and star, uh, Emma Roberts (?) of all people.






Interestingly, three of the male stars later became involved in politics. While Schwarzenegger (2003 "Governator" of California) and Ventura (1999 - 2003 Governor of Minnesota) obviously were successful, Landham, who withdrew from the Kentucky Governor's race in 2003 and made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 2008, was not. The deeply religious, part Cherokee former star of such titles as They're All Sluts, Slippery When Wet and Trouble with Young Stuff aligned himself with the Council of Conservative Citizens and went on to refer to Arabs and Muslims as "ragheads" and "camel dung shovelers" while suggesting that "We should bomb every man, woman and child in the Muslim countries." and "We need to commence genocide in the region." He has since faded from view and hasn't appeared in a film since 2009.

★★★

Massage Parlor Murders! (1973)

... aka: Massage Parlor Hookers
... aka: Massage Parlor Murders
... aka: Seven Deadly Sins, The

Directed by:
Chester Fox
Alex Stevens

A religious-fanatic psycho targets frequently-nude massage parlor girls who give new meaning to the term "table service" if the money is right. How could someone possibly screw that up that gold exploitation / trash movie scenario? Just ask the makers of Massage Parlor Murders, who take what seems like a sure thing and turn it all into one big, colossal bore with an aimless and meandering plot, endless filler and time padding, lethargic pacing, a mostly dull cast, a sleep-inducing muzak score akin to what you'd hear in a waiting room and a surprisingly conservative hand when it comes to dishing out the sleaze. Sure, a dozen or so chicks get naked and there are moments of (mild and poorly executed) violence, but you can see better elsewhere in hundreds of other more entertaining films from this era. I always wondered how a film like this could have possibly bypassed the entire video revolution of the 80s and 90s without ever getting released on home video but now I fully understand why: It's boring as hell!







Police Lt. Jimmy Rizotti (George Spencer) and Det. Danny O'Hara (John Moser) are on the case when topless masseuse Rosie ("Kathie Everett" aka porn actress Chris Jordan) has her face smashed into a mirror and is then strangled with her own bra. Numerous other ladies soon bite the dust as the cops try to get to the bottom of things, Jimmy deals with his nagging / uptight wife Emily (Marlene Kallevig) and Danny starts getting cozy with Rosie's more straight-laced roommate Gwen, played by Sandra "I never appeared in another film after Last House on the Left" Peabody / Cassell. Though we hear numerous eyewitness accounts of the killer being a clean cut businessman, the investigators spend most of their time interrogating scuzzball types like a pervy parlor owner who sits around reading Screw Magazine and Rosie's sugar daddy "Mr. Creepy" (George Dzunda, who not only made his film debut here but was also assistant director). They also pay a visit to an insane astrologer, who's played by the inimitable Brother Theodore. He rants and raves about a bunch of nonsense ("My sleeping pills are messing up my horoscope and when I listen to rock n roll my eardrums bleed!") until one of the cops can't take it any more and punches him in the gut!







Some of the victims have acid poured on their bodies and one is sliced up, but these scenes really aren't gory and every scene involving action of any kind is clumsily directed and edited as to remove any possibility of them having entertainment value whatsoever. There's also an extended car chase, long scenes of people walking around in the streets accompanied by pointless narration or voice over, lots of theater marquees (which are at least fun to look at), a male customer stripping down to a one-piece leotard and doing ballet (?!) and an even more WTF scene set at a swinger's party where everyone frolics around nude and have chicken fights in a swimming pool filled with balloons.







There were just two scenes that I found amusing in this one. The first is the opening bit showing one of the girls (Annie Gaybis) fleecing every red cent she can out of a guilty married man and the second was a scene where a bunch of the girls sit around knitting, bitching about how weird and stupid their customers are and talking about going to see Shaft's Big Score. Other than that, my attention was focused more on the clock than the film itself as I counted down the minutes until I'd be put out of my misery.







Massage Parlor Murders was filmed under the title The Seven Deadly Sins; a concept that eventually helps the detectives unravel the mystery, although it makes no sense whatsoever! After a brief and presumably unsuccessful theatrical run under its original title and with horror / thriller advertising art, this was reissued to theaters as a sex comedy under the new title Massage Parlor Hookers , which promised viewers "Small town girls with big city morals!" and that "If you've never been to a massage parlor, this is a visit you'll NEVER forget!" Ironically, I doubt I'll remember a thing about this one a week from now. Porn actress Arlana Blue plays one of the victims and keep your eyes peeled for Frank Henenlotter movie regular Beverly Bonner (BASKET CASE [1982]), who can be spotted for all of five seconds as a massage girl in a red dress.



After spending years deservedly sitting on a shelf somewhere collecting dust, Vinegar Syndrome finally released this on DVD and Blu-ray in 2013; calling it "an exploitation film lover's dream movie." Their release contains rare outtakes, trailers for both theatrical releases, extensive liner notes and more. Many of the reviews for this one on websites who'd even bother watching it in the first place are positive, so you may want to either ignore me and watch it anyway or take into consideration that a lot of fans of these kind of films will gladly swallow pretty much any obscure piece of crap that's marketed to them as a "lost cult film."

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