Monday, February 29, 2016

February Quick Picks and Pans: ‘80s Edition

Shock Treatment (1981) This lesser-known semi-sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show brings back some of the cast, along with the two main characters, Brad and Janet (now played by Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper). Jim Sharman returned to direct, and co-wrote the script with Richard O’Brien (who also co-wrote the music and stars as Dr. Cosmo McKinley). The overall soundtrack isn’t quite as catchy as its 1975 predecessor, but it does have its moments (the title song is a standout).

If the previous movie represented the trials that newlyweds face as they’re figuring each other out, then the follow-up explores the rut some married couples end up in. Brad is stuck in an emotionally stagnant state, committed to an asylum and heavily sedated for most of the film. Meanwhile, Janet is seduced by fame, and a sleazy TV producer (also played by De Young). Not unlike its predecessor, it’s an essentially plotless excuse for one musical number after another. While Shock Treatment isn’t without its share of loyal followers, it never gained the same status as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It didn’t deserve to fade into obscurity, though. The film is worth re-discovering for its commentary on our television-obsessed society, as well as domestic malaise.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD

Maniac Cop (1988) The title says it all. Maniac Cop delivers on its premise, with a deranged cop (Robert Z’Dar) roaming the streets of Manhattan, killing innocent citizens. Directed by William Lustig, from a script by Larry Cohen, Maniac Cop features B-movie superstars Tom Atkins and Bruce Campbell. Atkins is especially good, playing the particular brand of world-weary cop he was born to play (his laconic delivery and deadpan expressions are priceless). It rises (a bit) above its schlock roots, thanks to some good performances and a story that plays with the issue of blind questioning of authority. Naturally, the open-ended conclusion leaves the door wide open for the sequels.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Hulu

Trancers (1985) Full Moon Entertainment isn’t generally known for quality films, and this movie might not dissuade you, but it’s not terrible, either. At least director Charles Band and writers Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo attempted to try something a little new.  Tim Thomersen stars as Jack Deth (yep, expect a bunch of jokes about his name) as a cop from the future tracking down a dangerous crime lord named Whistler (Michael Stefani). Whistler possesses the ability to make people bow to his will, transforming into mindless zombies known as “trancers.” Deth travels back in time to present-day Los Angeles (well, the mid ‘80s version, anyway) to catch the villain. During his travails, he runs into his direct ancestor (a homeless former pro-baseball player) and falls for a local girl (Helen Hunt in an early role). Don’t even try to think about the time travel paradoxes. The filmmakers didn’t, and you shouldn’t either.  Fun fact: Look for Frank Darabont’s name in the credits, in the Art Department.

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Hulu

Def-Con 4 (1985) In a classic case of poster art promising far more than a film can deliver, Def-Con 4 sets the bar high but falls short of the mark. Writer/director Paul Donovan’s movie starts out on a promising note, but ultimately suffers from a lack of imagination or interesting characters. Astronauts on a top secret space station armed with nuclear missiles passively watch as World War III breaks out on earth. Due to a technical glitch, they return to the planet’s surface to find a landscape devastated by nuclear fallout. What’s left of society, at least in Nova Scotia where this was filmed, has degenerated into roving cannibals and a paramilitary organization. The last hope for humanity is a sailboat, headed to an uncertain future. The movie suffers the fate of many would-be post-apocalyptic epics with half-assed art direction, substituting heaps of junk for any attempt at rendering a believable setting (Contrasted with the Mad Max films, where everything had a cobbled-together look, but served a function).  A must miss.  

Rating: **. Available on DVD and Hulu

Fire and Ice (1983) A collaboration between Ralph Bakshi and fantasy illustrator Frank Frazetta seems like a match made in heaven, but the results are hampered by a pedestrian story and ho-hum animation that barely rises above Saturday morning cartoon standards. In a land where men are men and women are sex objects, an evil ice queen and her malevolent son threaten a benevolent kingdom. Only a brave young warrior stands between the antagonists and certain annihilation. None of the scantily clad characters rise above their superficial, two-dimensional confines, or contribute anything we haven’t seen many times before. In addition to the rampant sexism, Fire and Ice raises some disturbing implications by depicting the queen’s evil minions as dark-skinned sub-humans who grunt in guttural tones. If you’re not an adolescent male, you might consider looking elsewhere to scratch your fantasy itch.  

Rating: *½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD


  1. Fire and Ice, yeah what happened there? Frazetta on screen should've been a visual epic; sadly the production just didn't have the resources, to live up to expectations. Can't recall much about the narrative, except for the effete male type as the antagonist and did he have an evil sister as well? The scene where Tigra(I think that's her name) gives up the role of damsel and asserts her credentials as a heroine in the Burroughs mould, is quite nice though. Rendered without dialogue, a neat trick in an animated film, it stands out as a high point.

    Trancers, one of my regular routes back to the 80's, highly recommended. I've even seen Shock Treatment, just the once mind you, courtesy of Lazerdisk, the bright shiny new indestructible medium of the 80's.

    1. Glad I'm not alone about being underwhelmed by Fire and Ice. It had potential, but it failed to impress.

      I still have quite a few of the shiny discs in my collection. Once in a blue moon, I'll even play one!

  2. Shock Treatment is the only one I've seen of these, and I enjoy it...a lot. I think it is also a satire on middle America small town attitudes. Plus, for whatever reason, I find myself listening to its soundtrack more than Rocky Horror, which sounds shocking!!

    1. The more I think about Shock Treatment, the more I like it. Although it was rough around the edges, it was definitely my top pick. I may have to re-rate it one day!