Wednesday, January 29, 2020

R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part IX (1995-2003)

25 Dec 1928 – 30 Jan 2019

The American thespian treasure known as Dick Miller, one of our all-time favorite character actors, entered the Great Nothingness almost a year ago to the day on 30 January 2019.
A Bronx-born Christmas Day present to the world, Miller entered the film biz doing redface back in 1956 in the Roger Corman western Apache Woman (trailer). He quickly became a Corman regular and, as a result, became a favorite face for an inordinate amount of modern and contemporary movie directors, particularly those weaned and teethed in Corman productions. (Miller, for example, appears in every feature film that Joe Dante has made to date.)
A working thespian to the end, Miller's last film, the independent horror movie Hanukkah (trailer), starring fellow deceased low-culture thespian treasure Sid Haig (14 July 1939 – 21 Sept 2019), just finished production. In it, as in many of Miller's films, his character is named Walter Paisley in homage to his first truly great lead role, that of the loser killer artist/busboy Walter Paisley in Roger Corman's classic black comedy, A Bucket of Blood (1959). 
What follows is a multi-part career review in which we undertake an extremely meandering, highly unfocused look at the films of Dick Miller. The films are not necessarily looked at in the order of their release... and if we missed a film you deem worthy of inclusion, let us know. (P.S.: Top Gun [1986] is not worthy of inclusion.)

Go here for 
R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part I (1955-60) 
R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part II (1961-67) 
R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part III (1968-73) 
R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part IV (1974-76) 
R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part V (1977-80) 
R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part VI (1981-84) 
R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part VII (1985-89) 
R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part VIII (1990-94) 

Number One Fan
(1995, dir. Jane Simpson)
Scripted by Anthony L. Greene, who two years previously wrote Cirio H. Santiago's Angelfist (see Part VIII) and has since pretty much specialized in erotic thrillers — which is pretty much what this pale and obscure, sex-heavy Fatal Attraction (1987 / trailer) imitation is. Director Simpson came from music videos (for example, the one for Chaka Khan's I Feel for You), and went on to do one more D2V movie, Little Witches (1996 / trailer), not famous for a nude fat-girl scene, before disappearing into videos again. In Number One Fan, Dick Miller has a bit part as a night manager.
Music video to
Chaka Khan's I Feel for You:
The plot description as found at the illegal download site Rarelust: "Hollywood's biggest action star, Zane Barry, played by Chad McQueen (son of Steve McQueen*) is seduced by his gorgeous number one fan, Blair Madsen, played by Renee Griffin (of Cyborg 2: Glass Shadow [1993 / trailer]). For Blair, it's the beginning of a romance she's dreamed about all her life. But for Zane it's a one-night stand. After all, he's about to be married to a gorgeous costumer (Catherine Mary Stewart of Night of the Comet [1984]). As Blair's obsession turns to violence, Zane's life mirrors one of his action movies. Zane must take matters into his own hands in order to overcome the final fury of his Number One Fan." 
* Less interesting among less talented thespian offspring that appear in movies is the guy playing Zane's manager, Scotty Youngman: Charlie Matthau, the son of Charles Matthau (1 Oct 1920 –1 July 2000).
TV Guide calls the film "trashy and opportunistic", and explains why they think that: "Despite the presence of a woman director, Number One Fan is sexist in any number of ways. This is yet another film in which the male protagonist get to have his cake and eat it too, cheating on his loving girlfriend with a hot two-night stand yet remaining a blameless victim in the film's eyes when the seductress won't let him go. And the male target audience is clearly supposed to lust for Blair as she bares her gorgeous body yet fear her predatory sexuality at the same time. As a thriller, the film is both predictable and unconvincing […]. Aside from the introduction of Billy (Mark Dalton), a character whose potential goes largely undeveloped, the story proceeds with barely a hint of surprise. Indeed, considering its tacky exploitation of such stalking cases as the Rebecca Schaeffer murder, the biggest mystery in this movie is why Paul Bartel, who directed and costarred with Schaeffer in Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989), agreed to take part in it as an actor."
For that, they also point out the good aspect of the flick: it contains "Violence, extensive nudity, sexual situations, profanity." Deaths include a strangling, a meat-cleaver murder, and someone getting beaten to death with a mannequin arm.

Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight
(1995, dir. Ernest R. Dickerson)

Once upon a time, from 1989 to 1996, there was a really successful weekly horror series on HBO called Tales from the Crypt. Based on the EC Comics comic book of the same name from the 50s, most of the individual episodes were based on tales taken from issues of that and other classic EC Comics of the Atomic Age, such as The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror, Crime SuspenStories, Shock SuspenStories, and Two-Fisted Tales. The series, which was hosted by a skeletal version of the Cryptkeeper (the host of the comics who introduced each story), was hardly the first filmic interpretation of the comics. Of the many portmanteau horror anthologies Amicus released in the late 60s and early 70s, two took all their tales directly from EC: Tales from the Crypt (1972 / trailer) and Vault of Horror (1973 / trailer).

But back to the TV series. Towards the end of its run, Universal Pictures decided to do a spin-off series of Tales from the Crypt movies, beginning with this one, Demon Knight. A hit, it resulted in the greenlighting of two more Tales from the Crypt flicks, but the utter failure of Bordello of Blood (1996 / trailer) scuttled the planned trilogy and resulted in the final film, Ritual (2002 / trailer), being more or less treated like an unwanted stepchild.
Trailer to
Demon Knight:
But back to Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, the third directorial project of the talented Afro American genre director and (former) cinematographer Ernest R. Dickerson (Bones [2001]), a man who has, regrettably, remained active primarily on TV for the past couple of decades — his last feature film, the drama Double Play (2017 / trailer), was his first in 13 years. (For a fun neo-blaxploitation take on the old PD chestnut Most Dangerous Game [1932 / trailer], catch his second feature film, Surviving the Game [1994 / trailer].) Unlike the tales told on the TV show, the tale told in Demon Knight — and the subsequent two films of the series — was an original one and not adapted from the comic books. And among the fun faces on the cast: Dick Miller as Uncle Willy, a hapless fellow who falls to the temptation of "a dairy farm", otherwise known as a bevy of topless babes. (His character is, basically, the driving source of the movie's sudden and temporary excess of gratuitously naked T&A, all of which gets covered by bikinis when the film gets screened on TV.)
Dr Gore, which gives the movie a "4 out of 4 demonic Zanes" rating, has a plot description of sorts: "The Collector, (Billy Zane of The Phantom [1996]), wants his key. Brayker (William Sadler of Disturbing Behavior [1998] and Freaked [1993]) has it and won't give it back. Sadler escapes to a motel in the middle of nowhere. The main man Zane follows in hot pursuit. Soon the humans will have to do battle against Demon Knight Zane and his hordes of undead ghoulies. Blood, guts and green ooze spurt out in abundance."
While not many websites claim, as does Classic Horror, that the movie is one of "the 40 or so best horror films of the 90s", most do tend to give the movie good press. Over at Awful Horror Movies, for example, they say "This is by far the best movie that we have reviewed for the site […]. The plot is your basic 'demon trying to take over the world' story but it still has enough originality to entertain the audience. The acting was pretty well done with many actors who actually have real movie resumes (unlike some of the garbage we usually review). Billy Zane does an incredible job as the main villain. The effects are not up to today's standards but are still done well for the time period. […] This is not an awful horror movie."
All Horror, by the way, which raves that "Demon Knight is dripping with both personality and slime (from exploded demon heads of course)", also points out how much Hollywood cannibalizes itself: "I had a lot of fun watching Demon Knight, which only got on my radar after watching The Nun (2018 / trailer) and hearing that it ripped it off. James Wan's 2018 Conjuring (2013 / trailer) spin-off ripped off a Tales from the Crypt movie from '95? Turns out that yes, yes it did. The mortal protectors, the demonic collectors, the key, the Jesus blood, the demon teeth, even the big ending scene are the same. The only key differentiators (pun intended) were the location and the genre. The Nun was a horror from start to finish while Demon Knight is a blend of comedy, action and gore. Lots of gore."
Battleship Pretension explains an aspect of why Demon Knight is so good that is generally overlooked: "Ernest Dickerson […] may be at his best tasked with the impossible: generate inspired scares in a purposefully campy endeavor that begins and ends with an almost literal wink. Dickerson establishes the world of Demon Knight quickly. Both recognizable within our reality and distinctly specific to 90s horror, […] there's something to be said for Dickerson's ability to wrangle a number of drastically different acting styles into a cohesive whole. In addition to Billy Zane's penchant for broad caricatures and William Sadler's blue-collar badass character study, Thomas Haden-Church and a young Jada Pinkett (of Set It Off [1996]) deliver large performances that could easily swallow up the earth around them, let alone their co-stars. But somehow, they not just gel but are capable of generating general empathy. I'm speaking un-ironically when I say there's a death in Demon Knight that is one of the more gut-wrenching kills of any 90s horror movie."

The Second Civil War
(1997, dir. Joe Dante)
An oddly precognizant HBO satire with a killer cast (large enough for a Robert Altman film) that reveals that what is laughable on film is often not all that funny in real life — which doesn't mean that this flick isn't funny as hell. Dick Miller shows up amongst the faces to play a cameraman named Eddie O'Neill, who you see all of a split second in the trailer.
Trailer to
The Second Civil War:
The plot: "It's the near future, and the liberal but unscrupulous governor of Idaho (Beau Bridges) has announced the closing of the borders to appease the state's right-wing reactionaries' anti-immigration stance, which winds up coinciding with the scheduled arrival of hundreds of Pakistani children displaced by India's use of nuclear weapons against its neighbor (other U.S. states have taken in refugees from other countries; there's even a Chinatown district in Rhode Island now.) This pits the governor against the president of the United States (Phil Hartman), quintessentially obsessed with winning a second term to where he's neither for or against the governor's plan — it just depends on what the latest poll numbers indicate. A second-rate New Jersey-based news network welcomes this conflict, though: with the Gulf War a past memory and their ratings in decline, the director (Dan Hedaya) fastens upon the governor's scheme to boost the station's Nielsen's share from single to double digits; and being that he has his ace reporter already in Boise, a Hispanic woman (Elizabeth Peña) who just happens to be currently bedding the married governor, he's counting on the inside scoop to keep him ahead of the competition. […] Initially, the White House doesn't take the governor's plan seriously, but when the state's National Guard is mobilized and the governor's inflammatory comments increase, public opinion starts to sway in the governor's favor. In response, the president deploys soldiers to the Idaho borders, with America on the brink of the first inner-country conflict since the Civil War, with the governor taking his cues from his knowing lieutenant governor and the president from the best media lobbyist (James Coburn) in the business. [eFilm]"
As The Pink Smoke points out, "Joe Dante's underseen gem […].was funny if far-fetched back in 1997. These days it just seems pertinent, taking on targets it's hard to believe weren't based on what's happening in the country right now. It's telling, for example, that Huffington Post has run articles referring to the division of Trump supporters and opponents as the 'second Civil War,' citing his reliance on xenophobic hypernationalism and extremist rallying. Having Bridges, a former liberal who caters to his state's conservative majority, exploit the outrage against illegal aliens for political gain — especially coupled with subplots about a dimwitted president whose cabinet makes all the decisions for him and a terrorist attack on New York City — makes the screenplay by Canadian filmmaker and satirist Martyn Burke all the more prescient. […]"
Film Threat, however, is less satisfied by the movie: "On a technical level, the switching of these narratives […] is done expertly by Joe Dante, who seamlessly flips from hand-held cameras to typical dolly and crane shots. It's an energy that […] nicely captures in the mania of Dante's America. Yet if The Second Civil War contains a prime weakness, it's in being swept away by this frantic pace, its climax wildly shifting characters and settings as matters around the nation turn to violence. Some films, assisted by skilled editors, can make this breakneck narrative action work. And sometimes, as in the case of The Fifth Element (1997 / trailer), it can even thrive. However, War's sheer volume — of cast, characters and situations — is too overloaded, too top-heavy to come together. This, despite many fine acting performances by James Earl Jones, Denis Leary, Ron Perlman, Joanna Cassidy and James Coburn as a D.C. media lobbyist ('I'm an information facilitator') plus a spray of other Dante alum (Dick Miller, Robert Picardo, Kevin McCarthy). But again, it's all excess content piled up around a troubling climax. A sensory overload amidst a sharp, intelligent satire on media and politics that, in The Second Civil War, at last proves too ambitious for its own good."
Over in France, in any event, the Rocky Horror Critic Show gives the movie four out of five Rocky Horror lips.
Scriptwriter Martyn Burke also wrote and directed the not so funny black comedy, The Clown Murders (1976 / full movie), and was also on hand to help write one of our favorite underappreciated comedies, Top Secret (1984 / trailer below).
Trailer to
Top Secret:

Small Soldiers
(1998, dir. Joe Dante)
Dick Miller shows up to play Joe in yet another Dante project which, like so many of his movies, was a moderate success at best but now enjoys cult popularity. "Pitched to children as a 90-minute toy commercial and to adults as a Gremlins (1984, see Part VI) redux about a town plagued by murderous li'l bastards — with vivified plastic army men standing in for Dante's previous party monsters — Small Soldiers was a film that seemed split against itself from the beginning. [tiff]"

Notable as the last movie to feature comedian Phil Hartman (24 Sept 1948 – 28 May 1998), as Phil Fimple: he was shot in his sleep by his wife prior to the film's premiere. Small Soldiers is also notable as the last movie in which former beefcake Clint Walker (30 May 1927 – 21 May 2018), seen above in his prime, participated: he supplied the voice of Nick Nitro — the presence of his voice, along with that of the voices of George Kennedy (18 Feb 1925 – 28 Feb 2016), Jim Brown, Ernest Borgnine (24 Jan 1917 – 8 July 2012), is because Dante used the surviving members of the cast of The Dirty Dozen (1967 / trailer) to voice the animated Commando Elite soldiers. (BTW: Dick Miller is also found in The Dirty Dozen – see Part II for more details.) Richard Jaeckel (10 Oct 1926 – 14 June 1997, of Day of the Animals [1977]), another actor of The Dirty Dozen and who was set to voice Link Static, died prior to the shooting and was replaced by Bruce Dern (of The Glass House [2001]).
Trailer to
Small Soldiers:
Small Soldiers is, in the end, a semi-remake of Dante's Gremlins (1984), but instead of furry little critters that spawn evil gremlins that cause havoc, this movie features sentient toys that cause havoc. The final product reeks of the hope of raking in the bucks with tie-ins, though this was perhaps not the original case, if we are to believe what Dante himself says over at Psychotronic Cinema:  "[…] Small Soldiers is an example of a movie that the studio could never decide who the audience was. When we started it was supposed to be an edgy movie for teenagers, and by the time we were finished with it was supposed to be a pre-teen movie that had toe-ins with toy companies and hamburger companies. […]"
The plot, as fully detailed at Screen It – Movie Reviews for Parents: "When toymaker Heartland Play Systems is acquired by Globotech, a military-based conglomerate, toy designers Larry Benson (Jay Mohr of Cherry Falls [2000]) and Irwin Wayfair (David Cross) worry about their job security. CEO Gil Mars (Denis Leary) isn't crazy about their latest designs — some military action figures called Commandos and their enemy, the pacifist Gorgonites — until he orders the designers to make [...] move and talk. With a hurried delivery schedule, Larry uses a batch of top-secret Globotech military microchips to power the toys and ships them off to toy stores without testing them. In the small suburban town of Winslow Corners, Ohio, Alan Abernathy (Gregory Smith of Hobo with a Shotgun [2011]) is the teenage son of Stuart (Kevin Dunn) and Irene Abernathy (Ann Magnuson, also seen in Tank Girl [1995]) who runs his father's small corner toy store when his dad isn't around. Receiving a new shipment of toys, Alan convinces the delivery man (Dick Miller) to lend him a series of Commando and Gorgonite toys headed for a larger chain store. Unbeknownst to Alan, the archenemy toys come to life. Archer (voice of Frank Langella), the leader of the Gorgonites, hides in Alan's bag and returns home with him where Alan discovers that there's more to him than just a toy. Meanwhile, Chip Hazard (voice of Tommy Lee Jones) assembles his muscle-bound toy soldier allies to find and attack the remaining Gorgonites who've gone into hiding. Returning to his father's store the next morning, Alan finds the place a mess and the new toys missing. Getting help from Christy Fimple (Kirsten Dunst of Kaena [2003]), a friendly girl he has a crush on, Alan cleans up the place, but gets in trouble with his dad who won't believe his story about the toys being alive. After Chip Hazard and his commando forces later assemble for an attack on the Gorgonites and their human sympathizers — which include Christy's parents Phil (Phil Hartman) and Marion (Wendy Schall) — in the Abernathy 'stronghold,' however, everyone realizes these are no ordinary toys and that their lives are in danger."
A few words from B&S About Movies, who liked the film: "A Joe Dante movie always like a conflict — a battle between blockbuster and personal statement, led by a filmmaker with keen commercial instinct, yet the heart of a non-conformist. Through it all, one walks away with the feeling that while the film itself may have some rough edges, there's a true love for moviemaking (heck, movies themselves) at the core. […] Small Soldiers may have NASCAR, fast food and toy tie-ins, but it feels like a deeply personal film that savors biting the hand that fed the beast that financed it. It may be many things, all at once, but above all, it does not commit the most grievous of all movie sins. It is never, ever boring."
A few words from The Stop Button, who did not: "[…] Watching it, all I could think about was how Dante and DreamWorks studio chief Steven Spielberg ignored they had a terrible script. Of course, Dante still does a good job. […] The casting has some problems. Kevin Dunn plays Gregory Smith's father […] and he's really bad. Dunn's usually good, but his character is just too terribly written for him to work with it. All of the characters are terribly written — except maybe David Cross and Jay Mohr's characters, who are disposable and funny. Smith is supposed to be playing a problem teenager — it's never explained why, but presumably has something to with Dunn's bad parenting. Smith and Kirsten Dunst are supposed to be fifteen — too young to drive — and they show the real problem. Small Soldiers is a kid's movie made by people who don't know how to dumb it down enough. […] It works best as a showcase for outstanding practical and CG effects. Thinking about the movie just hurts one's head, especially when they get into the science."
A revised version of Small Soldiers was recently (but unofficially) in redevelopment hell over at 20th cum 21st Century Fox, where the new version was to be entitled called Toymageddon. The project got scrapped, along with innumerable others, when Disney strengthened its film-making monopoly by acquiring 21st Century Fox.

The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy
(1998, dir. Joe Dante)

This TV movie, aka The Osiris Chronicles, was the third Dante project released in 1998 and perhaps the most obscure; it was intended as a pilot to a series that never happened, and for a long time remained almost unavailable. But that was before the advent of YouTube, where you can now easily find the whole pilot. (Foreign DVDs — as in, from non-English speaking countries — do exist, however, and you might pick up the ancient VHS version once released in GB online somewhere). Dick Miller shows up to play a peddler (seen below), and even gets mentioned in the credit sequence.

"Warlord was made for CBS in 1997 but was not picked up and eventually aired as a 'movie' on UPN in 1998 with little to no fanfare. Why? Because it's fucking BORING. This being a pilot it was a two-hour exposition dump of backstory, character dynamics and future plot threads mixed with cheap sets, bizarre costumes and stilted dialog. As a series all of this could have been fixed but as it stands the 'movie' is just yap yap yap, space battle, yap yap yap, gun battle, yap yap yap, space battle… with no arc, no point and even less substance. [Forces of Geek].

The basic set-up, as found in the book Encyclopedia of Television Pilots: "In a futuristic era an interstellar war with Rebels battling the Galactic Republic created a new Dark Age when all progress that had been accomplished became lost or destroyed. Through the recollections of one man, Heenoc Xian (John Pyper-Ferguson of Pin [1988 / trailer]), a soldier, freedom fighter and eventual warlord (ruler of the planet Caliban 5) incidents in the world are seen. Justin Thorpe (John Corbett) is the petty thief (pilot of the ship Osiris) who seeks to rebuild the world he once knew with the help of Heenoc Xian; Nova is his younger sister; Rula Kor (Carolyn McCormick of The Shells [2015 / trailer]) is the Arbitrator (a diplomatic mercenary)."
Credit sequence to
The Osiris Chronicles:
"Curiously, [The Osiris Chronicles] bears enormous resemblances to Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda (2000-05 / trailer) which would debut in syndication two years later: both involve an attempt to restore a fallen Republic, with the help of the last surviving top of the line ship of the once great fleet; in both, an important and highly respected race proves to have a secret plan of conquest (and for our own good!); and both assemble a rag-tag crew, made up of people who were once enemies. Considering how poorly this film performed, it seems unlikely that anyone would have stolen from it. But you never know. […] And then there’s the rather strange fact that Caleb Carr, the author of novels like The Alienist, wrote the script. Which doesn't change the fact that it is…unremarkable. […] Perhaps the one standout element is the Sublime Plenum, the supreme council of the race of Engineers.  It is marvelously grotesque and features some standout effects work. And it is true that the ships and sets are quite well done, in a routine sort of way. Oh, well, you completists know you'll have to see it.  It isn't bad.  It's just sorta…there. Which, ultimately, is the real problem. [Rivets on the Poster]"

E! Mysteries & Scandals – Susan Cabot
(Aired: 7 Aug 2000)

In the entertainment industry, regardless of level (high-brow vs. low-brow), when a person has been around long enough, they invariably reach the point where they become a viable talking head for documentaries. In Miller's case, he already started appearing in Making Ofs way back in 1984 (with The Terminator [see Part VI], and throughout the 90s made regular talking head appearances on diverse video and TV documentaries about genre films and filmmakers. Including this short one on the cult actress and Corman regular, Susan Cabot (9 July 1927 – 10 Dec 1986), a Season 3 episode of the E! channel's wonderfully trashy Mysteries & Scandals series, which lasted a full 152 episodes and featured names well-known and forgotten.
Miller, you may remember, worked with Cabot in three films: War of the Satellites (1958), Sorority Girls (1957) and Carnival Rock (1957), all of which we looked at in Part I. Cabot's story is rather a sad one, and somewhat sordid towards the end…
The Full Episode:

Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies
(2001, writ. & dir. Ray Greene)

"In the entertainment industry, regardless of level (high-brow vs. low-brow), when a person has been around long enough, they invariably reach the point where they become a viable talking head for documentaries."
That is a true for Dick Miller (above from the documentary) as it was for the producer Harry H. Novak, who, like Miller, appears as a talking head in this documentary — which is why we took a look at Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies way back in 2015, in R.I.P.: Harry H. Novak, Part XV – Other People's Films & Addendum, where we more or less wrote: 
"[Dick Miller] appears as a talking head in this documentary. The description of the film found everywhere online (and now here, too) is written by Mark Denning, who wrote: 'Pauline Kael once wrote that since movies were so rarely great art, if one weren't interested in great trash, there wasn't much reason to pay attention to them, and one could reasonably argue that few periods brought us more top-quality cinematic trash than the 1950s and '60s. With drive-ins and grindhouses across the United States making room for low-budget exploitation films of all stripes (such as horror, science fiction, teen exploitation, biker films, beach pictures, nudies, and much more) as the major studios were focusing their attention on big-budget blockbusters and television, this was a boom time for inspired trash, and Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies takes a look at the low-budget wonders of the 1950s and '60s, as well as the men and women who made them and the social and psychological subtexts lurking behind many of these movies. Schlock! includes interviews with Roger Corman, Peter Bogdanovich, David F. Friedman, Doris Wishman, Samuel Z. Arkoff, Dick Miller, Vampira, and more.'"
"The busty babe on the poster is of course Pat Barrington, and the image itself taken from the poster to one of her 'best' movies, The Agony of Love (1965 / poster above), which we looked at in Part III of [Harry Novak's] career review." Agony is currently easy to find online — for example, here at the porn site XHamster.
Pat Barrington!:

(2001, dir. William Wesley)

Hey! We saw this third-rate horror movie back in 2015 and even reviewed it here at a wasted life — hit the linked title to go to our typically verbose and meandering review. As we said in the first sentence of the review, "The only reason why watched Route 666 is because many, many years ago, when we were but a young spud — so long before this flick was even made — we sort of found Lou Diamond Phillips hunkadelic." That's him directly below in his prime, from some movie entitled El Cortez (2006 / trailer).

Of Dick Miller, in the review we wrote: "Route 666 begins pleasantly enough, once you get through the oddly annoying and overly long credits sequence, in that the great Dick Miller (of The Terror [1963] and much, much more) appears for all of 5 minutes in the opening bar scene. He quickly disappears, and the movie goes downhill real quickly."
Trailer to
Route 666:
(Spoiler!) For another bad movie (with way more boobs and way more badly made) about an un-dead dad that saves his child from other undead, check out the Eurotrash disasterpiece Zombie Lake (1981).
Trailer to
Zombie Lake:

Looney Tunes: Back in Action
(2003, dir. Joe Dante)
Another Dante movie, though word has it he had little to do with the final product and that he found the whole production a nightmare. "Given that Dante's films had so often been compared to live-action cartoons, the pairing of the director with the original Looney Tunes should have been a perfect match. Unfortunately, Looney Tunes: Back in Action — a semi-sequel to the 1996 hit Space Jam (1996 / trailer), which paired Bugs Bunny with Michael Jordan — was a disappointment for many, not least Dante. 'There's some nice things in it, but it's kind of a loud, annoying movie. If I had it to do over I wouldn't do it.'"
The third feature-length live-action/animation hybrid film to feature Looney Tunes characters — it was preceded by Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988 / trailer), which basically featured a guest appearance of any and all important animated character found in film history, and Space Jam, which was a Looney Tunes project — Back in Action was also a major box office bomb and basically killed Warner Bros' feature animation department… which aims, perhaps, to rise from the dead in 2021, when Malcolm D. Lee's Space Jam II is set for release.

"Gee, it was really nice of Wal-Mart to give us all this free Wal-Mart stuff just for saying 'Wal-Mart' so many times."
Bugs Bunny

All that aside, Combustible Celluloid says, "Joe Dante's Looney Tunes: Back in Action […] is a vintage Dante production, full of his passionate regard for cartoons and sci-fi/horror pictures, as well as his funny little cameos (no one does cameos like Dante) and chaotic flourishes. He had one massive hit back in 1984 with Gremlins and he's been successfully revisiting the same material ever since with cold reception after cold reception. The biggest mystery is how kids missed out on the fun." They also point out: " Dante knows he's working with two comedy legends in Bugs and Daffy (both voiced by Joe Alaskey) and he remembers to give them a few great one-liners, independent of his overall vision. Like the original cartoons, youngsters will enjoy themselves, even if they don't get all the jokes. For all the references and product placements […] Dante plants tongue firmly in cheek. In this as well as his other films, he uses these gags to air his mistrust for large organizations, advertising and consumerism, as well as human beings' warlike tendencies. In other words, he wants us to have a good time, but he also wants us to think twice before rushing out and buying a Brendan Fraser doll."

"It's a pain in the butt being p-p-politically correct."
Porky Pig
"You're telling me."
Speedy Gonzales

Trailer to
Back in Action:
Some Fat Guy at the Movies has the plot: "Looney Tunes: Back in Action begins with the standard premise that cartoon characters are real and Bugs and Daffy are actual stars on the Warner Bros. lot. The new lean and hungry VP of Comedy Kate Houghton (played by a shocking lean and hungry Jenna Elfman) is leading a crusade to revamp the Looney Tunes line-up. Her first item of business is to fire Daffy Duck because he only has appeal to chubby guys in their mid-30s living in their parents' house. […] Daffy joins forces with ex-security guard DJ Drake (Brandon Fraser of Passion of Darkly Noon [1995 / trailer] and, as seen below, George of the Jungle [1997 / trailer]) who is also the son of the fake James Bond rip-off Damian Drake (Timothy Dalton, a casting choice that is an excellent inside joke to the industry). Together, Daffy and DJ learn that the Chairman of ACME Corporation (Steve Martin of The Spanish Prisoner [1997]) is trying to get his hands on a magical diamond called the 'blue monkey' and they are the only ones who can stop him."
Some guy named Anthony saw Looney Tunes: Back in Action and thought, "You might remember the live action/animated film Space Jam, in which basketball star Michael Jordan finds himself in the cartoon world and helps the Looney Tunes win a basketball game. It wasn't bad, but what [Back in Action] does is to have an equal mix of live action and animation. We don't have a human character in an animated world. Instead, our favorite cartoon characters inhabit our world. Consider what you see in this movie: Yosemite Sam owning a Las Vegas casino, Marvin the Martian in Area 51, Granny with Sylvester and Tweety as next-door neighbors, Wile E. Coyote working for the Acme Corporation, and Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in a meeting with executives at Warner Bros. […] The movie has a lot of humorous gags and fun action scenes along the way, including a car chase in Las Vegas with Yosemite Sam and his gang and, my favorite one of all, Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs and Daffy through some famous paintings at the Louvre. There are numerous pop culture references that will provide something for the adults, including a spoof of the shower scene from Psycho (1960 / trailer). These jokes may fly over the kids' heads, but they will still love the movie. The point is that the movie works well for both kids and adults. There's a reason for anyone to smile during the film. These animated characters have been around for decades, yet they still can be entertaining in this modern age."
And while most people seem to like Back in Action and feel it underrated, let us offer a word to the contrary from Shadows on the Wall: "The script just isn't smart enough to stay at this level of inventiveness; it falls back on movie in-jokes that are often unfunny, while the amusing spoofs are irrelevant because they're not even Warner Bros films! It's not like Warners doesn't have perhaps the most memorable back catalogs in Hollywood. So why are they satirising things like Psycho (Universal), James Bond (MGM), Star Wars (Fox) and Men in Black (Columbia)? […] And Martin is unspeakably awful, overplaying to extremes that are, frankly, unforgivable. But I blame Dante, who seems to feel that throwing everything at the screen all the time will make a lively, energetic movie. But it lacks coherence and soul; it's just exhausting noise with brief sparks of wit."
Amidst all the anarchy, among other Dante regulars showing face Dick Miller is there to play a security guard. Two non-Dante regulars of note are faces found in many a movie Dante probably knows and loves, Peter Graves (18 Macrh 1926 – 14 March 2010, of Beginning of the End [1957 / trailer] and so much more) and the great character actor Marc Lawrence (17 Feb 1910 – 27 Nov 2005 of The Monster and the Girl [1941] and so much more). In both cases, Back in Action is the last feature film they were to appear in.

Maximum Surge
(2003, "dir." Jason Bourque)

Aka Game Over, this "movie" was "written" by Keith Shaw, who's since gone on to writing and producing a yitload of shitty trash flicks starring has-beens and never-beens, as has director Jason Bourque. Neither name ever promises quality — and neither does this "film" either.

"There are movies out there, like Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010 / trailer) or The Room (2003 / trailer), which are both crazy and wonderful for reasons that we can never fully explain. They're more like emotions that you can't completely put into words, and that's how I feel about a movie titled Game Over; a piece of made-for-TV cinema that stars, at least according to the movie's DVD box art, Yasmine Bleeth and Walter Koenig (of Nightmare Honeymoon [1974 / trailer]). In reality, the movie actually stars Dominika Juillet (aka – Dominika Wolski) and Woody Jeffreys (of Valentine [2001]) […]. [CGM Backlot]"
Trailer to
Game Over:
"Back in the 90s, the gaming industry collectively looked behind its sofa, found a forgotten carton of orange juice that had been sitting next to the radiator for a few years, and decided to see how it tasted. In the fermented insanity that followed, developers everywhere became convinced that the way forward for games wasn't to make them deeper or more exciting, but to make them into films. Interactive movies, if you will. The excitement lasted a couple of years. The hangover and regret never quite faded. Game Over is the obscene tattoo around the nipples of that whole sorry affair. [PC Gamer]"
"Canadian film company Insight Film Studios Ltd. bought old footage from company Digital Pictures used in released and canceled Sega Saturn/Sega CD video games from the 90s! What you are actually watching is the original footage from actual games: 1995's Ultimate Warrior (the Chinese fighting portions), 1994's Corpse Killer (the Jamaican Zombie scenes), 1997's Quarterback Attack, 1993's Prize Fighter, and the canceled game Maximum Surge from 1996! Each of these games has a page on IMDB! […] You can even watch the game footage on YouTube! [Film Obscurities at Wayback Machine]" (Dick Miller shows up in the bits taken from Prize Fighter.)
Plot: "It's fun to watch [Game Over] from the perspective of a gamer, but it's cinematic value is somewhat lesser than most straight-to-DVD releases. When a super computer is hooked into a gaming network, the programmer who designed the game has to enter the virtual reality world of his fantasies and defeat the computer before it causes worldwide catastrophe. Um... yeah, OK. I can't say you'll enjoy this as a movie experience, but you may find it interesting as the footage is readily discernible as film and game segments. [8-bit Central]"

Trapped Ashes
(2006, multiple directors)

Among the five directors that participated in this multi-segment flick is Ken Russell, which why we took a look at the movie way back in 2011 in our R.I.P. Career Review of Ken Russell, where we wrote:

"Russell's last directorial project was his segment for this overlooked and forgotten horror anthology film, which very much follows the structure — as well as the traditional ending — of the classic Amicus horror anthology films of yesteryear. Among the six (sic) directors involved aside from Russell are Sean S. Cunningham, Monte Hellman, [John Gaeta] and Joe Dante — and among the cast are no less than Dick Miller and John Saxon. Neither appears in Russell's segment, however, though Russell himself does as the crazed Dr. Lucy. Entitled The Girl with Golden Breasts, the segment is properly Russellian: The blonde actress Phoebe (Rachel Veltri) is of the opinion that babes with bigger boobs get all the parts, so she decides to lift her career with an augmentation. But she chooses the wrong doctors […] and ends up with a pair of breasts that give breastfeeding a new meaning. Not a segment for the more mammary-obsessed among us..."
Trailer to
Trapped Ashes:
"Joe Dante gets the honor to direct the hardest part of the show (as usual), the wraparound. This time it's the always excellent Henry Gibson […] playing a guide at a sinister, deserted, film studio, driving around with the guests in one of those small open mini-buses. When he tells a story about a mysterious house in the middle of the studio area, the guests — among them John Saxon — talk him into letting them into the house. Bad idea. They're soon trapped in the twisted house and sooner or later they end up telling each other horror stories... […] Trapped Ashes is high on sex, nudity and some good graphic, gory violence. The special effects are very well done, especially the physical effects. It's a damn fine production. I'm pretty sure not everything is for everyone, but I like the mix of styles and how veterans who've done everything can squeeze out excellent productions with very little money. […] Anthology movies […] belong in a grand tradition of Grand Guignol theatre. A new chapter whenever the audience is getting bored, a new bloody surprise around every corner. Trapped Ashes is one of the better films of this fine genre I've seen in the last couple of years. It doesn't reach the originality and high class of old favorites like […] the criminally underrated and absurdly dark masterpiece From a Whisper to a Scream (1987 / trailer), but watch it anyway. [Ex-Ninja]"
Dick Miller, as you may surmise, also appears in Joe Dante's wraparound segment, playing Max the security guard, someone not overly involved in the tale(s) that transpire.

Trail of the Screaming Forehead
(2007, writ. & dir. Larry Blamire)

For years we thought that the trailer to this movie was simply another funny faux trailer that appeared in the aftermath of Tarantino and Rodriguez's Grindhouse (2007) double feature. (Follow the linked titles for our opinion of Rodriguez's Planet Terror [2007] and for our opinion of Hobo with a Shotgun [2011], the latter of which is based on one of the faux trailers of Grindhouse.) Little did we suspect…

Trailer to
Trail of the Screaming Forehead:
Trail of the Screaming Forehead, obviously enough, is a parody of the style of alien invasion movie so popular in the 50s and early 60s (and still made today, if with far less innocence). Over at All Movie, Nathan Southern explains the plot: "Aesthetically and thematically, director Larry Blamire's outrageous camp-fest Trail of the Screaming Forehead resuscitates and satirizes bottom-of-the-barrel 1950s sci-fi movies such as X the Unknown (1956 / trailer) and The Creeping Terror (1964 / trailer). Blamire's tale revolves around the scientific discovery that foreheads (and not brains) house human intelligence. In a misguided attempt to prove this axiom, scientist Dr. Sheila Bexter (Fay Masterson of Sam's Lake [2006 / trailer]) injects a serum called 'Foreheadazine' into the cranium of her colleague, Dr. Phillip Latham (Andrew Parks) — whose head rapidly balloons to the size of a watermelon. Meanwhile, a spaceship packed with 'furrowed brows' crash-lands on Earth, and the brows promptly attach themselves to every human in sight. To complicate matters, dozens of locals also get wind of the scientists' project and decide to investigate; before long, the entire seaside community is swarming with addicts of the Foreheadazine drug, a problem that doubles in size when two liquor-happy sailors arrive in town with a boatload of frozen human bodies. Blamire re-creates the visual look of '50s sci-fi films such as The Blob (1958) by shooting in shockingly bright rotogravure colors — a photographic process he dubbed 'Crainioscope.' Stop-motion demigod Ray Harryhausen — who reportedly inspired this work thanks to such classics as Jason and the Argonauts (1963 / trailer) and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958 / trailer) — is listed as 'presenter,' and his influence can be seen via the special effects of the ballooning heads."
Seriously? The Manhattan Transfer sing the title song to
Trail of the Screaming Forehead:
"As one of the most consistently funny and stylistically pure filmmakers working today, [Blamire's] career spans across different genres, the majority of which are untouched by modern filmmakers. His best works are arguably his forays into horror — the hilarious Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001 / trailer) being a personal favourite.* His films seem simple enough but once one looks beneath the surface it's possible to see just how complex they really are […]. They are non-ironic but deeply self-aware; they are an affectionate piss-take of films that are routinely mocked, but a piss-take that is done with a real sense of what makes those classic movies so wonderful to watch. His films are for those who enjoy The Thing from Another World (1951 / trailer) rather than The Third Man (1949 / trailer); The Cat People (1944 / trailer) rather than Casablanca (1942 / trailer). With this in mind, Blamire's [Trail of the Screaming Forehead] is a triumph. It is a masterpiece of mis-delivered lines, bizarre musical queues and confused dialogue. It's difficult to express just how this is achieved as Blamire always seems in complete control of the chaos. It may well be difficult to make a good movie, but it must be even harder to make a good bad movie. It's standard Blamire territory but somehow he is able to present audiences with something new and fresh every single time. […] If alien foreheads don’t strike you as inherently funny, then perhaps this film is not for you. If that’s the case, you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself. [Rob Bachelor @ Roobla]"
* What grammar.
"One of the most amusing aspects about Trail of the Screaming Forehead (and Larry Blamire's films) is the dialogue. It is as though Blamire has taken the colloquial prose from a cheap 40s pulp novel or 50s SF film and put it through a blender that feeds back on itself. The nearest comparison one can make is to the dialogue in the films/plays of David Mamet [see: The Spanish Prisoner (1997)]. This may seem an odd comparison but Mamet writes the same cornball adverb and archaic colloquialism-heavy dialogue and gives it a rhythm that comes as though actors are often intoning specifically written prose from a bygone era. […] The film is tricked out with requisite cameos from Dick Miller and Kevin McCarthy (of Piranha [1978] and so much more), original 1950s stars whose presence was mandatory in any 80s/90s B movie genre parody, as well as Daniel Roebuck and James Karen (of The Butterfly Room [2012] and so much more) who appeared in a good many other B movies of the 80s/90s. [Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review]"

Just a little more Dick at Part X

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