01 December 2014

What Happened to VHS Archive?!

Some of you may have been wondering, and some of you may not have even noticed, but VHS Archive has pretty much ceased to operate.
I live in Seattle where we have the worlds greatest video rental shop, Scarecrow Video, which I visit every week for at least 2 movies, many on VHS.
I also subscribe to an online streaming service, and run a monthly grindhouse-style screening event.
So it's not a lack of cinema that has made me negligent!

There is one simple reason for this.
I am first and foremost a visual artist. An illustrator and comic artist to be precise, and I've been getting very busy with work in that field, and getting paid for it. Something that never happened with my writing. I very much miss talking about movies with people (and some might say ruining them,) but art really feeds me (both emotionally and financially for a change.)

So, I had a great run writing and being part of the community. I hope you enjoyed my contributions. I'll leave 'em up, and maybe, someday, come back to it.
In the meantime, please follow the pictures I'm making at these fancy internet locations:

Anti-Racist, Gay-Positive, Pro-Feminist
Thanks, and stay cool.

17 March 2014

Cocaine Wars

Cocaine Wars
United States/Argentina – 1985
Director – Hector Olivera
Media Home Entertainment, 1986, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 22 minutes

Readers familiar with the Corman library of skullduggery will no doubt recall the heady days of Conan, when the master of low-budget was cranking out the knockoff fantasy barbarian franchises like they were going out of style. Which they were, very quickly. Although the Deathstalker series would continue into a fourth film and the stylin’ 90’s, it was the longest running franchise at a mere seven years. Shorter and possibly lower budget (it’s a tight race) films like Barbarian Queen and Wizards of the Lost Kingdom were churned out too and are notable primarily for their even more addled plots. These were the days when Corman was farming out production overseas to the Philippines, Mexico and even Argentina where the first of the Barbarian Queen and Wizards films were made. One man was responsible for directing both of those bungling and silly indulgences, Hector Olivera. Some might not wish to ever tread the Olivera path again (especially after Wizards) but I’m stubborn, and I find it all quite fascinating. The plot thickened perceptibly when I discovered Cocaine Wars.

1985 would appear to have been a good year for our intrepid Argentinian who helmed not one, not two, but all three of his Corman productions. It was still a few years until the Latin American Drug Cartel action films would have to make way for Inner-City Drug Gang films in the 90’s and Corman was going to try his hand before they moved back home. Hiring one of the Duke Bro.’s (John Schneider to be exact) as his “Name,” he passed the reins to Olivera who crafted a bungling and silly yarn about an undercover DEA agent (Schneider) and his investigative reporter wife (Kathryn Witt) who are after the same Kingpin. Kidnappings and intrigue follow in typical though clumsy and meandering fashion, and all resolves itself somehow. To be honest, by the time I got to the end of Cocaine Wars I was no longer paying much attention, there was little to elicit it.

Still, there was something memorable about the film. What lingers with me is the VHS box art. It’s a vision of saccharine machismo that calls forth memories of some of the finest in men’s pulp magazines and makes me ache for Reagan-era cinema. Like the cover of Equalizer 2000 (also Corman produced) over which I waxed poetic last month, Cocaine War’s rippling bare-chested hero and vulnerably draped female token are quite literally iconic. Those were the terminal days of Communism and drug’s synonymity, when USAmerica still needed cowboys to protect the womenfolk and defend the frontier. Corman and his directors didn’t always hit the target, but a look at the poster/box art for any of the films I’ve mentioned here and there can be no question that they knew what they were aiming at.

Our friends over at Comeuppance Reviews have a thing or two to say about Cocaine Wars.

07 February 2014

Robbers of the Sacred Mountain

AKA Falcon's Gold
Canada - 1982
Director - Bob Schulz
Prism Entertainment, 1983, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 36 minutes

This moderately entertaining Canadian Indy knockoff was supposedly made for television. They must have a lot of boobs on Canadian television.

03 February 2014

Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold

United States - 1987
Director - Gary Nelson
Media Home Entertainment,  1987, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 40 minutes

Sortof an Indy knockoff, at least the movie was. The books predate all of it by a few years.

 British VHS sleeve from some torrent forum.

 Italian poster from Wrongsideoftheart

31 January 2014

Equalizer 2000

Philippines – 1987
Director – Cirio Santiago
MGM/UA Home Video, 1987,VHS
Run Time – 1 hour 25 minutes.

I’m going to spend a little time with the cover of Equalizer 2000 here because no matter now old I get and how many times I “fall for it” I will always be a sucker for this kind of box. I’m also a sucker for films with a number in the title and especially (I know, we’re getting real esoteric here) numbers that are round thousands. They practically scream out “The future is going to be awesome! Come see!” And especially when the date in question has already passed by the time I see the film. That’s how I picked this movie. From the cover of Equalizer 2000, a cover which I might add is one of the most amazing pieces of modern pop-art ever created, one immediately assumes it’s going to be about Richard Norton and his breasts. The painting (because this was originally painted, by a person, with a brush) perfectly captures the look of slightly melancholy disinterest which, from Gymkata (1985) to Road House 2 (2006), Norton consistently brings to his performances. I realize that’s just how his face is shaped, but it is beautifully captured here and perfectly suited to this film. So intimidating and so confident is he that this whole endeavor is quite literally boring. So too does the woman at his side appear nonplussed by the battle that’s just begun in both word and deed on the cover. She is after all sheltered by the considerable bulk of Norton and his tool. In fact, she almost looks tired. Like a Southern California roller-skate waitress who’s been working all day and just wants you to quit staring at her chest and order your fucking burgers. Her boyfriend is here now and you are sooo not interesting.

But this movie isn’t really about Richard Norton or breasts. It’s not Richard Norton’s undeniable physical prowess which is the subject of that line on the back of the box. He is not the ultimate weapon although you would be excused for thinking so. No, the entire movie, from the title to the endless squabbling of the plot is about that rifle-grenade-launcher, rocket-launcher, laser, shotgun he’s carrying. That is the Equalizer, and they’re hanging a hell of a lot on that weapon. After some kind of apocalypse the world has been reduced to a parched desert landscape marked intermittently only by the cardboard and canvas forts of scattered scavenger cliques. Norton however, known here as Slade (the most popular boys name after the apocalypse it would seem) is a roving unaligned loner. As various
factions attack and defend against other factions, Slade is wounded and rescued by Karen who drives them back to her “good” guys. It is here that Slade discovers them welding a bunch of extra barrels onto an M-16. Upon completion Slade simply takes it. No one argues. Karen (Corrine Wahl) stares longingly at Slade. More assaults follow and the Equalizer changes hands several times until the “good” guys win and Slade drives off into the sunset to be alone with his thoughts. The purpose of this presumably is to build tension as “the ultimate weapon” tilts the delicate balance of post-apocalyptic society one way, then another. It doesn’t.

For as badass as it may be, the Equalizer is lost in the political squabbling that poses as this film’s “action,” its result as predictable as it is tedious. Corrine Wahl, nee Alphen does hang lustily upon Slade’s body, but from afar, with her eyes. She’s come a long way from Hot T-Shirts after all. In his second screen role ever, Robert Patrick makes an appearance as a minor character. His first film had been Santiago’s supremely nutty Future Hunters in which he starred as "Slade" with the supporting talents of, you guessed it, Richard Norton who looked predictably bored. Further lifting the costumes straight from Bobby Suarez’s Warrior’s of the Apocalypse, Equalizer 2000 discards the drug addled lunacy of both earlier films in favor of a monotonous back and forth exchange of small arms fire. Cheap Filipino post apocalypse films could hardly be more different. Slade and Karen’s thousand yard stares on that gorgeous cover would seem to be more disappointment than confidence.
For the box completist...

25 December 2013

13 December 2013

Rental Store - Peters Video Center

This label for a shop in St. Helena or Calistoga, California was stuck to my VHS copy of the epically bad Zombie vs Ninja.

10 December 2013


Philippines - 1986
Director – Cirio H.Santiago
MGM/UA Home Video, 198?, VHS
Run Time: 1 hour, 24 minutes

For a movie named after its lead protagonist, Silk is infuriatingly coy about using her. Few action films are so audacious as to be named after the key protagonist but in such cases there is no hesitancy to demonstrate the reasoning behind this decision. Both Dirty Harry and Cobra open their films with an explosive introduction that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Perhaps it is because Silk is a woman that director Santiago didn’t feel that people would buy the idea of a tough, trigger happy female cop. Perhaps it’s because the name doesn’t make any sense considering the character’s lack of personal suavity and the film’s dearth of nudity.

I won’t say that it’s all downhill from there, it’s not a bad movie per-se, but neither is it very memorable. Cec Verill (you wouldn’t know her from anything else) plays Silk, a hard-ass cop who busts drug smugglers in Hawaii (actually the Philippines.) Trouble is, much of the film seems to be about her male coworkers arguing amongst each other and fighting over money. Through a meandering plot Silk tracks down baddies and blasts ‘em, uncovers nefarious plots and blows ‘em up, gets captured, escapes and does it all again, but despite claiming to be “so fucking smooth,” her primary function appears to be fucking up dude’s plans. With a name like that I expected a veritable cacophony of one-liners or a sea of sweat slicked skin. I’m guessing the movie was named after the fact (as often happens) in order to create as false an impression as the cover. An image which, though titillating in the extreme, is about as egregious as the movie gets.

Santiago didn’t often waste a chance to get the women out of their clothes, (his earliest efforts included numerous Women In Prison films) but I can’t understand it here. I do appreciate the fact that her value to the film is not purely sexual (her outfits do make this claim dubious) but her hard ass attitude is as much a sensationalization of her gender (in it’s “unusualness”) as T & A, but the extra skin would have cheapened its appeal even more. Perhaps that’s the irony of Silk. In all it’s unreasonableness it upsets our expectations and reminds us not to make assumptions. Or not. Maybe I’m trying to validate what’s really just a bunch of crap.

Go read the review at Comeuppance!

05 December 2013

The Jolson Story

United States - 1946
Director - Alfred E. Green
RCA/Columbia Pictures, 1986, VHS
Run Time - 2 Hours, 9 Minutes

12 November 2013

Ghetto Blaster

United States – 1989
Director – Alan Stewart
Prism Entertainment, 1990, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 19 minutes

So are you like, Rambo or somethin'?
Watching 80’s exploitation cinema one begins to tire of all the lamentation about Vietnam. Between the vets wracked by guilt for what they did, or haunted by flashbacks of the horrors and unable to reasimilate into civilian life you would think the cottage industry in ‘Nam vet characters was a symptom of some kind of national trauma. It was as if by cinematic proxy the U.S. was trying to come to terms with what had happened. Yet easily as common as the Regret Vet was his cinematic contemporary, the Vengeance Vet. He reclaimed all that was lost, fixed everything that was broken and righted all that was wrong about post-Vietnam America (lord knows the government couldn’t do it.) If the war had taught us national humility, Vengeance Vet hadn’t gotten that memo.

Ghetto Blaster’s Travis is not the kind of ‘Nam vet who needs to commiserate. Like his eponymous 1976 predecessor Travis Bickle, he’s more interested in talking about cures. The film opens with Travis’s return to his childhood home in Los Angeles where he reunites with his estranged father for the first time after returning from The ‘Nam. In search of some sense of normalcy after the loss of his wife, Travis and his daughter find that the familiar old neighborhood has instead become a "hood." But if routine has taught us anything, the very war Travis is trying to put behind him is where he learned the same esoteric martial-arts combat skills that will enable him to fight it all over again in the streets of America.

Who you trying to get crazy with ese?
Within minutes of arrival, Travis finds himself at odds with The Hammers, a movie-tough gang of Chicanos who promptly murder Travis’s father. Despite a desire to quickly sell his dad’s corner-store and re-leave L.A. just as fast as he came, Travis makes the same mistake as his dad; he refuses to pay The Hammers for protection. But it takes the death of his most loyal customer (how’s that for American prioritizing!) for Travis to revert once again to his “urban warfare, extractions” training and hit The Hammers back as if he were, as his rivals mockingly suggest in a moment of fourth-wall-shattering clairvoyance, “some kind of Rambo.”

As a matter of fact… Camouflaging himself in what clearly is the urban equivalent to mud and leaves; a clown suit, Travis hijacks a shipment of cocaine from the Hammers, leading to the reciprocal and banal hostage/chase/shootout-in-the-abandoned-warehouse climax all too common in low budget drug-crime action films. Still, re-waging the entire war (racial demarcations included) in the ghetto not only reinvigorates Travis and America’s masculinity, it does the tough and morally burdensome job of drawing a clear line between who has the right (and might) to dictate the rules. Set to that wiggy-wiggy wild rap beat all the kids love these days, Ghetto Blaster mixes roughly equal parts of The Exterminator (1980) and Colors (1988) in an almost flawless agglomeration of the ‘Nam Vet revenge/vigilante trope that re-invigorated 80’s exceptionalism and the ghetto-drug-crime genre that would scare the piss out of white people in the 90’s. And as if spoken by former president George H. W. Bush himself, Ghetto Blaster proves without a doubt that we’ve finally defeated the Vietnam Syndrome.

Go read my friends review over at Explosive Action!

08 November 2013

Rental Store - Video Station

Long ago, in a city far, far away in Wisconsin, Video Station carried a VHS copy of that spectacular film 9 1/2 Ninjas.

25 October 2013

Rental Store - Southampton Video

Southamton Video was a shop somewhere in the States that once carried my VHS tape of Gumby for President. Where was Southampton?