Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Boys Next Door (1985) review

THE BOYS NEXT DOOR 1985 aka KILLER'S HOLIDAY (working title)

Maxwell Caulfield (Roy Alston), Charlie Sheen (Bo Richards), Patti D'Arbanville (Angie), Christopher McDonald (Det. Mark Woods)

Directed by Penelope Spheeris

The Short Version: A gloomy look into the lives of two young social outcasts heading into the black hole of self destruction--one is an angry, ticking time bomb and another, a confused follower, the very definition of ambivalence. Both embark on a weekend that ignites the fuse and explodes in a murder spree by films end. Noted documentarian, Spheeris delivers a provocative story that is all too real and could come out of any decade.

After high school graduation, Roy and Bo, two outcasts among social circles at school, decide to have a wild weekend in Los Angeles. A deep, seething rage begins to boil within one of the teen boys that eventually erupts in ferocious violence that soon leads to murder. The two young men end up on a senseless murder spree till they're finally cornered inside a mall after hours.

What with Charlie Sheen's recent Oscar worthy performance on television and print in recent weeks, this picture serves as a grim portrait of the future Charlie, a man with little sheen and even less personality. Strangely mirroring the similarly plotted BADLANDS from 1973 (and that film starred Charlie boy's dad, Martin Sheen!), this 80s teenage meltdown is a strikingly potent portrait of two teens succumbing to the effects of societal damnation. Two spree killers in training (more so Caulfield's character than Sheen's), both Roy and Bo begin their rapid burnout upon leaving for the City of Angels. The film foreshadows Roy's proclivity for violence very early on when they've invaded a graduation party. A pretty young girl is standing all alone as Roy watches her with a piercingly evil look that barely contains the rage that will shortly boil over into bloodshed.

Spheeris and scripters, Glenn Morgan and James Wong (FINAL DESTINATION, BLACK CHRISTMAS remake), manages to build the character of Roy as a Frankenstein Monster created by a broken home and shunned by everyone around him save for his best friend, Bo. There's one minor sequence prior to the LA Massacre that clues the audience in to a possible catalyst to Roy's emotional detachment. Roy has a father who'd rather entertain the company of a beer and a small television than talk to his son. What makes this brief scene of note is that as Roy prepares to leave their small trailer home, he talks to his dad as if they have something resembling a bond. We hear a voice that's presumably his dad's, yet his lips never move. It's Roy saying the words he expects, or wants his father to say back to him. We see a close up of his old man's face with its blank stare lost amidst the TV blaring back at him. Roy then closes the door behind him never to return again.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I bet Charlie Sheen (left) has maintained this same expression for what is going on three decades now.

Charlie Sheen is the more "stable" of the two. He's the "Chester" to Caulfield's "Spike" (the bulldog and terrier duo from Looney Tunes Cartoons). Bo is a mischievous troublemaker, but shows little to no interest in predatory stalk and kill machinations. Bo is a follower who disapproves of Roy's actions, but reluctantly goes along with things till the end of the movie. Having brutally beaten a gas station attendant, murdered a homosexual, stalked and cold-bloodedly executed a young couple and another woman, the rebellious, lost and disturbed duo are chased and cornered inside a mall. Upon realizing there's no way out and nowhere to go, it's judgment day for the two friends and Roy's rage intensifies leading to a coda that is both poignant and powerful.

The films final shot echoes the opening montage of B/W serial killer photographs that play over the credits. The very first scene of Roy and Bo drawing a mock chalk line on school property also bears an ironic resonance that crops up during the final moments. When the film begins, these opening moments set a downbeat, horrific tone that is quickly and deceptively undermined by several minutes of footage that could fit in with any teen sex comedy. Immediately after the deadly duo set off for LA, things take an increasing turn for the worse as the violence escalates, spiraling out of control. Nicolas Cage bowed out as Bo, but later regretted not taking the part. Crispin Glover also tried out for the part and his audition ended up being more insane than the role Roy, the true maniac of the duo. Interestingly, Martin Sheen went to the premier and got up and walked out after the couple get murdered in their car. He proclaimed his displeasure for his son participating in the movie despite the elder Sheen starring in the similar BADLANDS (1973), a film based on spree killer Charles Starkweather and his very young lady partner, Caril Fugate.

This New World production is easily one of the best movies from the company after Corman sold it in the early 1980s. The film didn't do much business and never received much of a release, but found a home on late night cable stations like HBO (which is where I first saw it in 1987) and on VHS. Maxwell Caulfield (GREASE 2) steals the show as the angry, mentally unstable Roy Alston. His slow regression into a murderous rebel without a cause is a captivating portrayal emanating a dangerously unpredictable aura. Sheen, in light of his current obnoxious, clueless tirades has recently taken on the personality of his on screen friend, Roy. But as Bo Richards, he could be Roy's savior, but is content to go along with things till late in the film. One gets the impression Bo holds both admiration and fear for his deadly friend. Only after things go horribly awry during Bo's tryst with a tipsy gypsy does he finally reel his friend in, albeit far too late.

Fantasy fans will recognize Kurt Christian as the gas station attendant. He had roles in such movies as HORROR HOSPITAL (1973), THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) and SINBAD & THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977). Penelope Spheeris will likely be best remembered for her DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION trilogy (especially the first two) and WAYNE'S WORLD (1992). Incidentally, WAYNE'S WORLD is a comedic extension of her previous documentaries showcasing the deterioration and decadence of youth lost in an angry world trying to find their place amidst the mud and blood. The same holds true with Spheeris' THE BOYS NEXT DOOR--the title signifying the next generations murderers could be living next door to you. Recommended for 80s cinema buffs and those with an interest in films about serial, and or spree killers.

This review is representative of the Anchor Bay DVD

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Swedish Sin & Skin Edition!


By Daniel Ekeroth

Softcover; 320 pages; Color and B/w

Outside of relatively few instances, Sweden's wide array of exploitation history is a virtually untapped, un-mined territory outside of Europe. With Daniel Ekeroth's new book, SWEDISH SENSATIONSFILMS, Sweden's salaciousness has finally been unleashed on the black masses of sex and sadism sinema. Inside are over 200 such productions featured within the tome's 320 pages accompanied by a gaggle of glossy photos and images ranging from stills from the films, or poster and lobby cards. One of the books most vital attributes is an engrossing chapter by Christina Lindberg (as told to Ronny Bengtsson) covering her career high-points both in her movies and those she worked with. While the subject matter will not be for everyone, this is an undeniable labor of love cataloging the carnality and cruelty of one of the least discussed corners of Euro-sleaze.

Ekeroth's book is not just a sordid collection of Swedish delights, there's also a history of the countries cinematic traditions from its earliest beginnings of misbegotten movies and penchant for showcasing skin on screen to the aftermath once the sex and smoke had cleared. Another chapter is one of the most intriguing and really raises the bar for a book dealing with predominantly unknown productions. The 'Glossary of Curious Swedish Culture' is an educative journey for the uninitiated to grasp a better understanding of the country as well as providing a guide that will likely enhance the experience of the films should the curious seek them out. The 'Rogue's Gallery' divulges information regarding the performers and various behind the scenes technicians on their works both at home and in Hollywood. Finally, the chapter that will be of most interest to those unfamiliar with these movies (and probably a few that are) is a chapter that highlights 20 SensationsFilms that are choice cuts of meaty entertainment.

From its earliest examples of on screen lewdness, to Ingmar Bergman's VIRGIN SPRING, to Christina Lindberg, to Bo Vibenius' THRILLER, to the decline of this controversial cinematic style, prepare for 'Shock & Awe' Swedish style. Filled with skin and sin, the rabid hell hounds of Euro trash cinema will rejoice in getting their killer kicks from yet another exploitation avenue rife for exploration. The book can be ordered at amazon.com, or from the publisher, Bazillion Points at the link below...


Read the interview with Daniel Ekeroth from February 16th, 2011 with CAC...


ESPY (1974) review

ESPY 1974 aka ESUPAI (ESPy)

Hiroshi Fujioka (Yoshio Tamura), Masao Kusakari (Jiro Miki), Tomisaburo Wakayama (Ulrov), Kaoru Yumi (Maria), Katsumasa Uchida (Goro Tatsumati), Yuzo Kayama (Chief Hojo)

Directed by Jun Fukuda

The Short Version: This audaciously daffy science fiction-spy-action thriller is a wild comic book superhero movie from Toho Studios about psychic assassins--one group wants to destroy mankind and the other wants to protect it. If only one or two characters had been sufficiently fleshed out, we'd have a hidden international 70s classic on our hands. As it is, ESPY is a groovy collage of action, intrigue, boobs and blood. It's a breath of fresh air for fans seeking something on the wild side of Japanese cinema during its transitional stage of the 1970s.

The International Psychic Power Group is a covert organization financed by the United Nations. Made up of clairvoyant supermen under the guise of the International Pollution Research Center, they wage a private war against enemies that threaten world peace and the total annihilation of the human race. With hostility between the East and West reaching a boiling point, four Eastern European delegates are assassinated aboard the Milan-Geneva international express on their way to the United Nations for the Mediation Committee of International Dispute. The Baltonian Prime Minister is the next to be targeted for termination. A ruthless psychic assassin named Goro hunts down the psychokinetic saviors, themselves marked for death by an anti-ESPY group led by the insidious and superhuman Ulrov who plans to destroy mankind by initiating World War 3.

More well known for directing five Kaiju films including GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966), SON OF GODZILLA (1967) and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974), Jun Fukuda shows a propensity for modern style action on a James Bondian level with this kooky and kool globetrotting science fiction spy flick with a dose of bloody violence and stunts. Fukuda also helmed the early Toho science fiction film THE SECRET OF THE TELEGIAN (1960) and the later, infantile STAR WARS bandwagon movie, WAR IN SPACE (1977). Of Fukuda's more easily obtainable works, ESPY is definitely one of the most energetic and fun spanning multiple locales much in the same way a James Bond movie would, but with more sleaze appeal and violence such as exploding bodies, gratuitous nudity, a tongue that is psychically torn out of a mouth and a poor soul who is turned into swiss cheese by dozens of bullets.

The various psychic powers on display add quite a bit to the fantastical aspects of the script which deceptively uses its powers to take your mind off of some of the noticeable lack of character depth. Powers such as telekinesis, hypnosis and even teleportation(!) are showcased. At one point, the villain possesses the Baltonian Prime Minister's mind during a crucial peace conference in an effort to jump-start a new war with the countries of the world. These combatants armed with Extra Sensory Perception can sense harm coming to others from afar, stop an enemy from pulling a gun trigger, or manipulate inanimate objects among other tricks. It's also evident Toho spent some money on this one as it's a polished production and several locations all over Europe are visited by the characters in the film. This Euro feel is also recognizable in several of the cues heard in Misaki (LADY SNOWBLOOD) Hirano's score.

From Japan to Istanbul to Switzerland to Paris and back again, we follow this live action, anime styled, pseudo exploitation spectacle from one action scene to the next stopping long enough for minor doses of exposition. Much of what we get character wise is intriguing, but the script would have us believe race car driver, Jiro Miki is the main character. He discovers his hidden psychic powers one day while speeding along on the track and is courted by the covert agency of psychic spies to join them and hone his skills. Not long after, Miki is brushed to the side and we become far more entrenched in the duo of lovers, Tamura and Maria. The script goes back and forth between the various psychic super heroes and heroines, but the bulk of the attention is paid to Tamura and Maria.

As typical of most Japanese movies of the time (Toho in particular), pollution and man's destructive nature of the Earth's resources are a major point of contention throughout the movie. It never gets quite as heavy handed as it does in many of Toho's fantasy and monster movies, but the subject is breached regularly during the 94 minute running time.

Katsumasa Uchida is notable as the ruthless psychic assassin, Goro. We first see him at the start of the film preparing to pick off four United Nations Peace Conference delegates hidden behind the blinds of a train carriage. As the train speeds by Goro aims his sniper rifle and uses his psychic powers to take out the quartet with ease. Uchida is the chief underling of the 'Anti-ESPY group' led by the evil Ulrov, an eccentric villain if there ever was one, living in a Gothic castle surrounded in darkness. Godzilla fans will recognize Uchida as Murakoshi the Interpol agent from TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975). He can also be spotted in such wonderful examples of Japanese action/fantasy cinema as SEX & FURY (1973) and TIME SLIP (1979).

The LONE WOLF himself, Tomisaburo Wakayama (brother of the equally famous Shintaro Katsu of the long running ZATOICHI series) plays the main bad guy, Ulrov with appropriately larger than life zeal. We don't see quite as much of him as we'd like, but his unhinged, Dracula inspired performance will surprise those more accustomed to watching the burly actor cut down assassins and colorful swordsmen in gory chambara films and television shows. Referring to himself as superhuman, Ulrov has a vendetta against mankind (revealed during the explosive finale), a blood debt he demands be paid and doesn't care if World War 3 is started over it. His stronghold is a "House of Traps" that would make Chang Cheh proud.

ESPY is just too good and goofy to not be made more widely available in America in a subtitled edition. Those who enjoy English dubs would likely feel like a kid in a candy store if one surfaced for this film. No doubt the overt seriousness of the sometimes surreal nuttiness would enhance the experience for that cult of fan follower. It's based on a novel by Sakyo Komatsu, but it would make a great anime series what with the vast array of "Force powers" on display. Use your own powers of perception and seek out ESPY.

You can buy the fan subbed DVD here--FAR EAST FLIX
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