Shout! Factory, though a deal with MGM, has unleashed four low budget B-grade action movies and bundled them together on two DVDs as the Action Packed Movie Marathon set. Though none of these are big time marquee hits, once you realize how many super rad cult movie stars pop up in this set you really won't be able to help yourself. If you hold a special place in your heart for the low budget action films of the pre-CGI era, it's pretty much a sure thing that this set will belong on your shelf. Here's a look...
The first of two films in this set directed by Fred Olen Ray, 1987's Cyclone begins when a pretty blonde woman named Teri Marshall (Heather Thomas) leaves her friend Carla Hastings (Ashley Ferrare) after their work out at the gym. She's got to head over to a used motorcycle repair shop (look for Huntz Hall as the man behind the counter reading porno!) to pick up some stuff for her man on the way home, but before she can split, she's accosted by some punks who are up to no good. She makes short work of them and heads home where Rick Davenport (Jeffrey Combs), a man she claims is 'too sexy to be an absent minded professor' is waiting for her. It turns out that he's been working on a super secret motorcycle called Cyclone that can run off of a fuel cell that converts oxygen into a viable source of energy and that he's pretty much got this thing perfected. He's also equipped it with rocket launchers and built some lasers into the helmet, just for good measure.
With his work done for the day, he and Teri head out to Lava, some sort of horrible punk new wave club for a night of dancing (look for obscure L.A. punk-metal band Haunted Garage performing!) - or so they think. While out on the floor Rick is stabbed to death. The cops show up and some investigators too but the only one who seems to be able to offer much help is Waters (Martine Beswick), but even she isn't speaking. When Teri gets home she finds a pre-recorded message from Rick letting her in on what he's been up to and instructing her to get the bike into the right hands. She follows his instructions but the contact he gave her winds up dead. Before you know it, Teri finds herself on the run with Cyclone as various factions close in on her and try to steal the bike out from under her. With a local gangster named Bosarian (Martin Landau) behind all of this, she's soon in deep trouble. But as we know from the opening scene, Teri is a tough lady and she's not about to let the bad guys win the day...
Cyclone is not particularly original, in fact it plays out like an episode of Knight Rider or maybe Streethawk with a bit more violence and some foul language put in to earn it an R-rating. It is a lot of good, dopey fun though. Heather Thomas isn't the most charismatic actress you'll ever see and her attempts to show sorrow when Rick is called are laughably bad but she handles herself reasonably well in the action scenes and there's just something completely likeable about her here. Throw in supporting efforts from former Hammer glamour/Bond girl Martine Beswick as a mysterious agent, a sinister Martin Landau as a greaseball gangster, and yeah, Dr. Herbert West himself as the love interest and you wind up with a pretty awesome cast of B-movie veterans, the kind of cast who knows how to do this sort of material right.
Fred Olen Ray milks his budget for all it's worth. Though some of the effects are goofy by modern standards we get a pretty great chase scene in which a station wagon is decapitated, we get some impressive explosions and car crashes all done the old fashioned way - with stunt drivers and explosives, and we get cameos from the likes of Robert Quarry, Huntz Hall, Troy Donahue, Michael Reagan (yes, that Michael Reagan, the adopted son of the late President!) and Tim Conway Jr.! Is it a good movie? Not by the standards of most folks, no, but you didn't come to a collection like this for mainstream thrills. This is a Friday night beer and snacks movie through and through. Oh, and no, Heather Thomas does not get naked. Admit it, some of you were wondering...
The second film from Fred Olen Ray in this collection is 1990's Alienator which begins somewhere deep in space on some sort of prison planet lorded over by a nameless commander (Jan-Michael Vincent, who seems slightly intoxicated here) who is assisted by a cute woman named Tara (P. J. Soles) whose job it is to press the buttons that execute the various prisoners under their authority. As the movie begins, they're about to send a criminal named Kol (Ross Hagen) to meet his maker but he manages to escape in a shuttle of some sort and make his way to Earth. It's here that he's promptly run over by a carload of obnoxious teenagers (Dyana Ortelli, Jesse Dabson, Dawn Wildsmith and Richard Wiley) who aren't entirely sure what to do with the strange man clad in a puffy silver suit. With nowhere else to turn, they knock on the door of a game warden named Ward Armstrong (John Phillip Law), who lets them in and helps them nurse Kol back to health.
Everything should be hunky dory from here on out, right? No dice! The prison commander has called in an Alienator to head down to Earth and bring Kol back regardless of who gets in the way. Wait... what the Hell is an Alienator? Well in this particular instance it's a female bodybuilder named Teagan Clive (you may recognize her from David Lee Roth's California Girls video!) who runs around the woods in a black bikini with a metal faceplate and a powerful laser strapped to her arm. As it all starts to hit the fan, Ward decides they could use the help of a gun nut living not too far away named Colonel Coburn (Leo Gordon), who happens to have a healthy supply of AK-47s and landmines handy in case of emergency.
Man oh man, where do we start with this one? We get toy space ships flying through the night sky, we get an obviously inebriated Jan-Michael Vincent slurring his continuous string of bad one-liners, we get a blonde She-Hulk blowing up piles of dirt with a laser gun and we get the girl from La Bamba running around looking scared. If that weren't enough Robert Quarry pops up in this one too, playing a doctor, and Ross Hagen? That consummate tough guy of TV and film credits galore? He looks ridiculous here in a costume that looks like it was made out of a child's snowsuit and with silver face paint smeared around his eyes. John Phillip Law just looks depressed but he does what he can while Leo Gordon chews through the scenery like nobody's business. P.J. Soles shows off her cleavage and presses buttons and reminds us that no matter what, Riff Randall will always own our hearts, while the rest of the cast just sort of run around and try not to get killed. You'll see the twist coming a mile away but you won't care because it's all just so awesome and horrible and great and terrible that the story barely even matters. This is one where the cast, so bizarre and eclectic, really make it but again, to Olen Ray's credit, he keeps things moving at a good pace and throws in enough goofy action scenes and head-scratchingly bizarre dialogue that you can't help but love it. Oh, and lest we forget, the late, great Robert Clarke shows up as an alien named Lund who is out to inspect the prison planet that Kol escapes from. How does he factor into all of this? We can't tell you but he wears a pretty cool red cape and watches P.J. Soles throw her shoulders back and press buttons!
Eye Of The Tiger:
Richard C. Sarafian gives Fred Olen Ray a rest as he gets behind the camera and calls the shots for 1986's Eye Of The Tiger. Surely the man who directed Vanishing Points could do great things with Gary Busey headlining a movie about an ex-con taking on a gang of bikers, right? Right!
When the film begins, Buck Matthews (Busey) has just been let out of the bighouse. He's walking down a lone and dusty road on his way back home when one of his fellow former inmates, a Scarface wannabe in a fancy car, insists on driving him home. Buck finally accepts and is stoked to be back with his wife Christie (Denise Galik) and young daughter Jennifer (Judith Barsi). Buck chills for a bit, sucks back a cold Coors or two, and hopes to start a new life, putting the horrors of prison and war (he's a Vietnam vet) behind him to build a better future for he and his family. All of this seems well and good until Buck is wandering around and finds a bunch of bikers raping a nurse (Kimberlin Ann Brown) - Buck's not going to stand for that so he fights them and then they have the gall to not only kill his wife but show up on their bikes and trash her funeral!
Buck is understandably pretty pissed about all of this and wants to take matters into his own hands but the town's sheriff (Seymour Cassel) has no qualms whatsoever about sending him back to the clink if he gets out of line. Things go from bad to worse for Buck when the bikers kidnap Jennifer, at which point another cop named Deveraux (Yaphet Kotto) decides to help him out. Buck figures out that the gang is lead by a man called Blade (William Smith) and sets about trying to find him, but before he'll be able to pay him back in kind he'll have to set up a trap to chop off some bikers' heads and he'll have to shove a stick of dynamite up a man's ass while Deveraux flies around in a red biplane and shoots stuff. Oh and for the final showdown he'll also have to trick out his truck, A-Team style, with a bunch of weapons that will definitely come in handy when it comes time to whip the remaining bad guys off of the face of the Earth.
Admit it, once you read Gary Busey shoves a stick of dynamite up a guy's ass you were sold, right? Eye Of The Tiger, which was not only named after the Survivor song but which also manages to play it ad naseum during the movie, takes about forty minutes or so to get going. The first half of the film is Buck just sort of wandering around getting used to having his freedom back and it's not until the half way point that this becomes much of an action movie at all. Once it hits, however, the kid gloves come off and Busey wreaks holy vengeance down upon any bikers stupid enough to mess with he and his kin. The biker's drag Christie's coffin out of her grave and leave it on Buck's lawn. Yaphet Kotto goes all Snoopy And The Red Baron on the fiends. Busey drives his truck through a pile of cocaine and William Smith scowls at everyone and swears a lot while looking not at all unlike Rob Halford from Judas Preist. This one might be a Death Wish rip off named after a popular song (the Scotti Brothers, who produced this movie, happened to be responsible for signing Survivor - go figure!) but Busey and the rest of the cast completely sell it and while it starts off slowly, the last half of the movie more than makes up for any sins the first half may commit. Eye Of The Tiger is truly and underappreciated gem of low grade action movie insanity.
Last but not least we have Exterminator 2, Mark Buntzman's 1984 sequel to James Glickenhaus' awesome 1980 vigilante revenge film, The Exterminator. Buntzman produced the first movie and even had a small cameo role in it and he managed to get leading man Robert Ginty back to reprise his role as Vietnam veteran John Eastland. When the film begins, he's really just sort of hanging out, doing his thing and taking out deadbeats and troublemakers aplenty with his handy flamethrower. When a drug peddling street gang lead by X (Mario Van Peebles) starts making trouble, John's past starts to catch up with him and old habits truly prove to die hard. When he kills some of X's gangsters after a liquor store robbery, they make him a marked man.
As X's men start appearing around pretty much every corner, John befriends a kindly garbage man named Be Gee (Frankie Faison) and even meets a lady friend named Caroline (Deborah Geffner), a dancer at a gentleman's club John pops in to from time to time. We all know what happens to lady friends of vigilantes, however, and before you know it Caroline's been roughed up and then later stripped naked and eventually found dead with a big red X spray painted on her backside. At this point, John takes off the kid gloves and declares all out war on X and his crew. Thankfully he gets access to Be Gee's seemingly indestructible garbage truck and manages to give it an A-Team style makeover complete with machine guns and other handy weapons. This won't end nicely at all...
If Disc One of this set was the 'Fred Olen Ray' disc, then Disc Two is the 'guys lose their lady's and make A-Team vehicles' disc. Fast paced and ridiculously violent, The Exterminator 2 doesn't have quite the same amount of soiled seediness that made the original such a fascinating tour of the dirty old New York City that once was, but there are times where it does come close. Ginty busts out his flamethrower fairly often here, likely because the image of him with it became fairly iconic thanks to the oddball success of the original movie, and so he spends a lot of time roasting bad guys rather than just beating them up or shooting them this time around. You can't take this film as seriously as you could the first but it's definitely not wanting for chaos, carnage and good old fashioned violent entertainment!
Ginty is a bit wooden here, but that was the Robert Ginty way. He's not a super charismatic guy, but maybe that works in favor of the character as he comes across as a bit of an everyman rather than a superhero. The real goofball star of the show this time out is Van Peebles, who looks ridiculous decked out in what appears to be some sort of football padding and a frizzy hair cut. Frankie Faison is amusing too, as are the random break-dancers that appear sporadically throughout the movie. All in all, this one works well. Like the rest of the movies in this set it isn't in the least bit concerned with realism but is instead a gleefully over the top action fest, the kind that lets actions speak louder than words and that isn't afraid to have a middle aged white guy beat up on a young black dude in football pads with some help from a middle aged black dude in a garbage truck. This is the type of movie where the hero romances the lady by taking her for a ride in said garbage truck and sharing some Miller High Life (the Champagne Of Beers), the kind of film where a man can date a stripper who isn't crazy but who only dreams of one day dancing on Broadway. It's the kind of movie where the bad guy's hair sometimes takes on a completely different shape than that which it had in earlier scenes and the kind of movie where a man can run around with a flamethrower and a welding mask and makes the streets safer for folks like you and I.
Each of the four movies is presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and for the most part, they all look pretty good. There is some minor print damage in the form of small specks here and there, each movie has this, but it's not a problem and you won't likely notice it unless you're consciously looking for it. Black levels are strong and fairly solid, and as the four movies are split across two dual layered discs with minimal extras, there aren't any serious issues with compression artifacts. No edge enhancement or noise reduction shows up while color reproduction tends to look quite good across the board - be it the fiery orange explosions towards the end of Cyclone, the goofy face paint on the alien in Alienator, the dusty locales of Eye Of The Tiger or the awesome tricked out dump truck in Exterminator 2. Most should be pretty pleased with the visuals here - for older, low budget B-action movies, all four films look quite nice.
It's English language Dolby Digital 2.0 across the board here, there are no subtitles or alternate language options provided for any of the four movies nor are there any closed captions. That aside, the sound quality here is also pretty solid. Levels are well balanced and there are no issues of note with any hiss or distortion. You've got to wonder if surround sound remixes might have been a bit more fun for some of the action set pieces scattered throughout this set but the tracks as they stand here are just fine. Dialogue is clean and clear in each of the four movies (a mumbling, slurry Jan Michael Vincent being an exception in Alienator but you can't fault Shout! Factory for that) and the scores, as hokey as they can be at times, also sound good. Sound effects generally pack enough punch to work and all in all, there's really nothing to complain about here in the audio department.
Exterminator 2 includes a commentary track from director Mark Buntzman and actor Mario Van Peebles that offers up some fun insight into the making of the movie. It's a decent talk that, when it's happening, that covers some of the more eccentric characters in the movie but there are frequent pauses and moments of dead air throughout. Not enough to kill the track, but it does sometimes suffer from some pacing issues. Other topics discussed include Ginty's involvement in the film, some of the locations and stunt work and what it was like following up the original picture. Van Peebles talked about how he actually auditioned for the role of Be Gee but wound up being cast as the lead villain, while Buntzman notes that in the movie he actually tried to make the vehicles seen in the movie into characters, the garbage truck in particular.
Aside from that? We get static menus and chapter selection for each film. It's a shame we didn't get any trailers for any of the films, but life goes on.
Shout! Factory bundles up for super entertaining B-grade action films and spreads them out over two discs in the Action Packed Movie Marathon collection. Though it's light on extras containing only a single commentary, the four films here look about as good as you could hope they would on DVD and the amount of entertainment value that the films provide more than makes up for that. When you consider that this one is selling for less than ten bucks, it's a no-brainer. Fans of low budget action films already know this one comes highly recommended, and you really can't beat the price.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.