The Lawnmower Man

The Lawnmower Man ~ 1992, Brett Leonard, USA


The Lawnmower Man is a far out early 90’s horror film which boldly jumps into the once exciting world of VIRTUAL REALITY.

Remember when people were excited by Virtual Reality, or VR, if you’re hip? You probably don’t, because holy shit, that was decades ago… but no matter, circa 1992, the people of Pre-Myspace Earth really thought that Virtual Reality was gonna be super awesome, and they also thought, hilariously enough, that the technology needed was practically within our grasp. Let me set the stage for you; at that time, The Super Nintendo was straight up blowing people’s minds. Trying to perfectly replicate an interactive universe inside a digital environment back in the early 90’s was sort of like trying to travel to the moon when mankind was just starting to figure out how boats work. Today, pretty much every bozo on the street carries in their pocket a device which would have left 1992’s most jaw dropping technology in the dust, and we routinely drop the damn things into the toilet. The certainty with which The Lawnmower Man addresses it’s techno-speculation really makes watching it feel like coming upon a photograph of something really embarrassing you did in high school, only this time, the embarrassment impacts Western Civilization as a whole. Man. We sure were stupid back then, huh? Yes, and we still are.

The Plot~ Pierce Brosnan plays Dr. Lawrence Angelo, a cool 90’s scientist who has a pierced ear. Angelo is really smart, and his work is super important. What is his work, you ask? Pretty much he just straps monkeys into those weird gyroscopic things you used to see at the county fair and makes them play Atari Jaguar on stupid Virtual Reality headsets all day. For some reason, he thinks that this will stimulate the growth of brain tissue, which would thereby prove that video games actually make you smarter. Hard sell, Angelo, I think that by simply logging into X-Box Live we can pretty much disprove that little theory once and for all, but regardless, that’s what he does, until his work hits a road block when his test monkey loses it’s shit and attacks some people, who in turn, blow its little monkey head right off. Seeing how distraught Angelo has become after this regrettable setback, his black-hearted employers decide to send him home on a paid sabbatical, so he can chill the hell out and avoid losing his marbles altogether. They were foolish, though, to think that the ever obsessive Dr. Angelo would ever halt his research simply because it was proven to drive his subjects into fits of mindless, violent fury. On the contrary, having just now seen how potentially dangerous these experiments really are, Angelo does the one thing a scientist worth his salt would ever do, and that is to move directly into human trials without the oversight of any regulatory agency whatsoever. He does this in his basement, using a mentally retarded and possibly sexually abused man who mows his lawn. What ethics?

Jobe, the titular lawnmower man, responds well to his time in virtual reality land, and his intelligence does begin to improve. Enthused by his success, Angelo brings his findings to his employers, who are delighted, and Angelo is again allowed to continue his work in their vastly superior facilities. However, without telling Angelo, they also alter the programming for Jobe’s VR sessions to include the same aggression based programming that had previously driven Dr. Angelo’s chimpanzee insane, because scientists just like to do that kind of stuff sometimes. As a result, the now genius level Jobe not only gains godlike super-powers, but also vengeful, homicidal tendencies. That, boys and girls, is how Pierce Brosnan turned Simple Jack into a god-like Super Murderer with powers that rival the mighty Sega Genesis. Quiver in fear!!


No idea what this is supposed to be.

The Lawnmower Man’s strategy is pretty clear; it wants to wow you. This movie wants to throw so many awesome, pixelated, computer generated effects at you that your head’ll just be spinning with disbelief. Unfortunately, today we find the picture absolutely defanged, declawed, neutered, and humiliated by time. Bubsy 3D, anyone? I’m sure that what Lawnmower Man brought to the table may have spun a head or two back in the early ’90s, but for today’s viewers, every single aspect of the film’s main attraction comes across as primitive, and embarrassing. It’s actually somehow worse than what you see in the “Atom-Age’ B-movies of the 1950’s, because at least most of us haven’t actually dabbled in atomic fission firsthand, but we damn sure know about playing video games. That’s a fact. The Lawnmower Man NEEDS to be futuristic, it NEEDS to be impressive, and it NEEDS to convince you that your freaking Nintendo 3DS might be giving you super powers slowly. If it fails to achieve these goals, then what you have is a movie that burdens itself with an impossible obstacle, and therefore simply cannot be taken seriously. It is for that reason that The Lawnmower Man is probably the most dated film I have ever seen.

It’s also sort of sort of offensive, and isn’t directed all that well… BUT…. at the end of the day, none of what bothers me about The Lawnmower Man is going to be enough to detour it’s potential fan base completely. This is a film about a man who murders people with what basically amounts to “Computer Magic,” and there will always be people who want to see that. Hell, the general criteria for what makes a horror film passable to mainstream horror culture is pretty damn lenient, and The Lawnmower Man clears most of those hurdles just fine. From an academic perspective, what he have here is a turkey, straight up, but The Lawnmover Man is somehow enjoyable on some primitive level, and I guess that’s better than nothing.


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Skinned Deep

Skinned Deep~ 2004, Gabe Bartalos

In the bonus features on the Skinned Deep DVD, various cast and crew members speak of director Gabriel Bartalos as though he were some sort of mad genius… That’s a hard sell. I just don’t think if I can buy that, however, I will say this; there is a moment in Skinned Deep where the movie suddenly takes a hard right turn out of inept, and into insane. After this point, the rest of the film is cast an an entirely new light, it stops feeling like it deserves to be lopped in with other low budget, shot on video horror films of the era, like O-Zone/Street Zombies or Darkwalker, and more like it should be viewed as landing somewhere between Basket Case 2/3 and The Last House on Dead End Street. Having seen the whole film, it’s clear that Skinned Deep is a special case. That being said, I’m not sure how to feel about it.

The plot feels unimportant; it’s your typical “Girl get’s kidnapped by mutants and weirdos in the middle of nowhere” type scenario, a cross pollinated descendant of both The Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, but the experience feels more like House of 1000 Corpses by way of Fred Olen Ray. The frustrating thing about the movie is that while some areas of the film’s production appear feeble or dangerously malnourished, there are other areas where talent, effort, and forethought are incredibly evident. Again, I’m not one to jump on the “Bartalos is a genius” bandwagon, but I get the feeling that with a proper budget and a good producer to keep things on track, he might be able to achieve something really special. As it is, this film’s execution is incredibly uneven, and there are more than enough flaws to turn off any audience which isn’t accustomed to this sort of straight to video bullshit.

No review of Skinned Deep would be complete without addressing the film’s real claim to fame, however, and that is the fight scene between Shakes, and Plates. Let’s get into this:

In the movie, Veteran little person actor Warwick Davis plays a deranged mutant (I guess?) called Plates, a name he earned due to his lethal use of dinnerware as projectile weaponry. Yep, he wings dishes at people. Plates and his tribe of freaks come up against a motorcycle gang made up of senior citizens, and one of these over the hill roughians is Shakes, an old man, who shakes a lot. With the stage set, the confrontation between bikers and mutants blossoms in a Psychotronic treasure which is the full on, knock down, drag out, King Kong VS Godzilla style fist fight of the New Millennium; the battle between a shaky old man and a dwarf who throws dishes at people. The Shakes VS Plates scene is worth the cost of admission alone. O-Zone can’t compete with that shit.

So, Bartalos has done lots of stuff, but he’s only directed one other film, which is a shame. I’d like to see more out of him. As it is, Skinned Deep is a curiosity, it doesn’t fit in with it’s peers, and is not so easily dismissed as other shot on video horror films of the past twenty years. I recommend it, because of the Shakes VS Plates scene, but I can’t honestly say that you will like it. More than anything else,  this movie exists as a strange detour, and as evidence that Bartalos may be some sort of relatively undiscovered talent waiting for an opportunity.

Of course, who knows what we would get out of him if he had to play by studio rules.


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Blood Freak – 1972, Steve Sipek and Brad F. Grinter, USA


Blood Freak is a seriously confused creature. Part pious minded morality play on the folly of living an unchristian life, part smutty ass gore film about drugs, sex and mutants, this thing is a two headed monster hauling ass in opposite directions. Needless to say, it doesn’t make it very far.

THE PLOT~ When Herschel, a lumbering, middle aged lummox cruises into town on his motorcycle, he encounters Angel, a nice, old-fashioned Christian girl, with whom he quickly hits it off. Immediately, Angel abandons Herschel at a drug party where he is skeezed upon by numerous ladies, including Angel’s noticeably more attractive sister Anne. Herschel isn’t into drugs or casual sex, so he turns Anne down when she makes a pass at him, and she does not like that shit, not one damn bit. Not about to let her sister’s new friend reject her hard-partyin’ life style in favor of morality or church, Anne kicks the peer pressure up a notch and soon gets her way. Within days, she’s sleeping with a newly drug-addicted Herschel, who will now never again live a normal life and can barely even function in society. Win?

In the meantime, Hershel also takes a job working at a poultry farm, where he is coerced into acting as a guinea pig by two scientists who are testing out some sort of weird, turkey chemicals. Hershel is apparently a serious push over. Anyway, he eats some genetically modified turkey, and shortly thereafter mutates into a horrible, turkey headed monster who is addicted to drugs and must drink the blood of other drug addicts to survive, as do so many of our young people today. Thus begins Turkey-Hershel’s gore laden rampage across central Florida, which claims many lives and is hilarious. In the end, he wakes up, no longer a monster, and we learn that this whole thing was a horrible dream brought on by the side effects of turkey chemicals and the drugs already in Hershel’s system. Apparently, Hershel was in ‘Nam, and since the war, he has self medicated a fair amount. So…. hastily tacked on anti-war message? Hard to say.

As I stated earlier, the most pronounced peculiarity here is just how divided this movie is at it’s very core. It really is fairly churchy, but it’s the “do as I say, not as I do” style churchiness you might see in outspoken community activists from the deep South, the type of person who attends church every Sunday without fail, but who also owns a lot of bondage gear and has a secret torture chamber in their basement. Blood Freak’s message is simple; “Woe to thee who strays from the righteous path of the lord, for he is our shepherd, and only through him can we know the divine kingdom of heaven, but also if you don’t  a damn turkey monster will mutilate you and drink your blood, so now let’s watch some people smoke crack and fuck.” It’s a mixed message, for sure.

One also get the impression that this movie really wanted to present itself as some sort of shocking expose into the wild world America’s drug savvy youth culture, which was just tearing it up in the early 1970’s, but on this front Blood Freak is a clear failure, because it doesn’t look like they were able to get anyone under the age of 40 to even be in the movie. I guess Anne and Angel looked like they could be in their late twenties, but everyone else is firmly plopped into middle age. Herschel especially looks like he must have been cast in a pinch, this man is just old as hell. If someone had handed me a copy of the Blood Freak script in 1971, I imagine the only reason I would have not to throw it in the garbage was out of concern that it may end up being evidence in a murder trial in the very near future, but if I had read it and somehow managed to ignore how insane it was, I feel like I would have envisioned the lead role to be played by more of a James Dean type guy. Herschel looks more like a background extra who bumbled off the set of Hee Haw and into our movie. To make matters worse, Herschel is the worst biker name I have ever heard.

Fun fact; there is like, ONE sound effect for a woman’s scream in this entire movie; they use it over and over again, and it’s super, super recognizable. In one sequence, a woman screams like, thirty times, and it’s the same sound effect, used over and over again. It’s insane. Then in the next scene, a completely different woman screams a couple dozen times, and it’s that same effect again. Damn, Blood Freak. You crazy.

This is a clumsy production, make no bones about it. Blood Freak is marred by many nagging technical shortcomings, it’s full of actors who aren’t very good, and bogged down with outdated tropes that betray the film’s attempt at delivering a more visceral, Euro-style horror gore fest, but as I mentioned before, the greatest folly of Blood Freak is how maddeningly confused it is in it’s very bones. It really seems to think that it’s preaching from the side of spiritual piety, like it’s somehow going to please a super-devout Christian audience, and yet the vin diagram overlap for “goes to church” and “would watch Blood Freak” has gotta be just the teensiest sliver you could ever imagine. This renders Blood Freak more or less unwatchable to it’s target demographic, and that’s a pretty serious problem. For non-churchy audiences, it’s not at all a deal-breaker, but it makes it a lot harder to take Blood Freak seriously, and honestly, a movie about a turkey headed oaf who drinks junkie blood didn’t need another reason for you to not take it seriously. Today, surprisingly, this is why we remember Blood Freak, this mortal wound is now the film’s single most important redeeming quality. After all, in the realm of psychotronic cinema, “insane,” and “great” are synonymous, and Blood Freak is totally bonkers.

For the right audience, this movie is a good time waiting to happen, but it’s a little further down the path than say, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, or Dead Alive. Blood Freak might suck a little too hard for you if you’re not pretty well acclimated to this sort of celluloid nonsense, so you really just need to take a hard look at yourself before you decide if this is a movie you need to see. If, after some reflection, you decide that this is just a little too rich for your blood, don’t fret, they’ll probably remake it sooner or later.



RESIDENT EVIL – 2002, Paul W.S. Anderson


In the late 90’s, the Resident Evil video games were totally the cat’s pajamas. Critics and gamers alike couldn’t get enough of the impressive graphics, spooky atmosphere, and innovate “survival Horror” play style, and absolutely nobody ever companied about the game’s lack of Milla Jovovich doing karate. It seemed inevitable that a movie based on the series would soon enter production, and lo and behold; this prophecy was fulfilled.

Initially, the studio went after beloved horror director and zombie O.G. George Romero to direct an adaptation, which, at the time, seemed like a slam dunk, but after a long courtship, these negotiations fizzled out, leaving producers to apparently just throw up their arms in frustration and ask, “What about that smarmy ballsack who directed Mortal Kombat?” And that, boys and girls, is how Paul W.S. Anderson, who is to film franchises what Jack the Ripper is to 19th Century British Prostitutes, destroyed any possibility of there ever being a good Resident Evil movie, ever.

Here’s the thing, it should not be hard to make a good Resident Evil movie, you guys. For reals, this one should have been in the bag. The problem is, though, that Resident Evil was a game about surviving, not fighting. Paul W.S. Anderson doesn’t care about that. That’s boring, in Paul’s book, he really only makes one type of movie; it’s gotta be an action film, it has to be really, really stupid, and if at all possible, his girlfriend Milla Jovovich has to be in it, so she can pretend to be a bad ass. Though this is an unconfirmed suspicion, most experts agree that the only way Anderson can retain that Leeloo Dallas Multipass to her downstairs Ukrainian bang-situation is by constantly crafting full length motion pictures wherein Jovovich get’s to pretend to be a bad ass and beat people up. Do the math, she’s a model and he’s a squirmy little turd. I’ve seen guys do more elaborate things to seal the deal, but seriously, bro, this is extreme. Just find somebody who likes you for you.

THE PLOT~ Deep underground in a genetic research facility, there is an outbreak of a deadly, biologically engineered virus which turns people into zombies. Immediately, the job is put to Milla Jovovich to be a bad ass and do karate.

Resident Evil is glorified Sci Fi channel tripe, it’s a cheesy, predictable action film full of stupid characters doing stupid things, start to finish. There actually are a few decent scenes here and there, shockingly enough, but the story is boring, and the zombies are seriously downplayed. We do have some zombie dogs that turn up, which are briefly almost neat, but Jovovich just karate kicks them to death in a sequence totally and utterly divorced from the spirit of the source material, so that scene and everything in it is therefore reduced to suckary of the lowest order.

As mentioned before, Zombies do not factor into this “zombie movie” nearly enough. Our most memorable sequence in the whole film involves someone being killed not by the undead, but instead, by….. an elevator. Alright…. It’s a good scene, but I kinda wonder why you’re not doing any zombie stuff in your zombie movie, Paul… Moving right along… The second most memorable sequence in the film… also, zero zombies. Instead, we have a bunch of people who get laser beamed to death in some kind of futuristic, laser-hallway. Again, kinda neat, but one would think that, when sitting down to write and direct a zombie movie, zombies would be something you would want to make sure got in there somewhere. I feel like that would be the very first item on the checklist, so it seems really weird how minimal they are in the grand scheme of this movie. I mean, if any of you out there really have a thing for laser-death, please, step up, this movie has a scene that you should totally see, but given that this was supposed to be a zombie film, it for sure comes across as being far too light in the zombie department.

And that’s not the only thing this movie skimps on, either. It really feels like there must have been a conscious effort to avoid including anything that made the games effective, and the only qualities that made the jump from the game to the film are the qualities that don’t really matter. The crumbling atmosphere, the claustrophobic, tension laden camera angles,  the emphasis on survival over Matrix style karate shootouts like we ended up with, all of that is either minimized or just flat out missing altogether, and replaced with bland cinematography, slick action sequences, and childish, two dimensional characters who nobody ever asked for. This movie sucks, and it could have been really great.

Resident Evil is a massive failure in every way except for commercially, because when Paul W.S. Anderson is on board, you are guaranteed a fate worse than death. Not only do his movies totally suck, but they also make money, thereby guaranteeing a long, miserable line of sequels, each even suckier than the last. If you had any connection to the source material at all, your life just took a virtual belly flop into Hell’s lake of fire.

So, Devil’s advocate time: From a very zen, calm state of mind, one can look at Resident Evil and say, “okay… It’s not that terrible. It’s not the kind of movie we should have received, but as a cheesy, paper-thin sci-fi action flick, this certainly isn’t the worst movie out there.”

That’s true… but is that enough? I’m pretty tired of constantly trying to lessen the sting of how shitty everything is by telling myself that other things are even shittier. That’s a poor excuse, and if we keep on justifying things in this fashion, nothing is ever going to get better. We need to rethink that train of thought right here and right now, if you get stung by hornets, don’t just say “Hey, at least my entire family wasn’t murdered before my very eyes, because that would be worse than being stung by hornets.” That makes no sense, dude. I mean, I agree, the murder of your immediate family would be worse, but you’re allowed to be upset about getting stung by hornets. Too many people aren’t, though, and sadly, by this point we’ve tolerated and even rewarded shitty media for such a long time that now there’s almost nothing decent out there. Now we have people so desperate to actually enjoy something that they’re willing to convince themselves that being stung by hornets is just terrific. Its not!!! Hornet stings are freaking terrible!!! And so is this damn movie! Stop paying for hornet stings!!!

Followed by a spree of horrible sequels. In fact, there are now like, six of these things. Or maybe I’m dead and this is Hell, both seem probable.



Breakin’ – 1984, Joel Silberg


First of all, please- watch that trailer. Click this. Damn. That’s what we’re dealing with here.

Ever the bold pioneers, Golan-Globus, the same bonkers-ass production house that would later give us Over The Top, the Citizen Cane of competitive arm-wrestling movies, comes cinema’s first and most noteworthy foray into the dog-eat-dog world of street-rat dance-combat; BREAKIN’.

People hated this movie when it came out. I hypothesize that they just could not handle the funk. But let me tell you what, you son of a bitch- we can handle it now.

THE PLOT~ Kelly is a talented young woman with a bright future in the prestigious world of professional dancing, but when her strict-ass Dance instructor makes a pass at her, shes all like ‘No way, bro,” and then she promptly peaces out, at which point she falls in with two ragamuffin break-dancers from the streets named Turbo, and O-Zone. Equal parts inspired and excited by the passion and raw, senseless zazz of these dynamic and probably homeless performers, Kelly joins up with them in hopes of guiding the trio into a successful career in the surprisingly strict world of professional dancing- but is the world ready for poppings and lockings of this magnitude?! Also featuring Shooter McGavin, who is NOT a bad guy in this film! Imagine that!

So, immediately with this movie you’re having an amazing time. It’s visually engaging, the costumes are utterly bananas, and the soundtrack is sorta like what I imagine it would sound like to get locked in Rick James’ closet over the weekend. Some of the names in the credits alone are worth the trip- When you see “Adolfo Shabba-Doo Quinones” and “Michael Boogaloo Shrimp Chambers” in the credits, that’s basically a guarantee that shit’s gonna get cray-cray, and let me tell you, it does; more Moonwalking occurs during the opening credits of this movie than has happened on the surface of the actual moon. It’s intense. This thing is about dancing, first and foremost, and you can count on that being made very clear as the film progresses.

Now, time for absolute transparency; I am not a dancer. I know absolutely nothing about dancing, and I do NOT like dance movies… But I HAVE seen a few, be they your Step Ups, or your Stomp the Yards; and I feel confident when I say that Breakin’ is the best dance movie I have ever seen, and maybe the only one I have actually enjoyed. Credit where credit is due; this shit is full on impressive. Some of this dancing looks impossible, borderline Ray Harryhausen-esque, so maybe some of it has been jazzed up with special effects… I wouldn’t be surprised if there was at least frame rate manipulation, Jackie Chan Style, to help give it that visual pop, but one way or the other, it’s downright cool. Also, if this ISN’T fake, then these people are damn warlocks, and should be treated as superior to the race of Man. Actually, at one point in the film, Turbo DOES dance with an enchanted broom, but I’m totally willing to believe that he can just do that in real life at this point.

In keeping with the 1980’s style-guide for pop and genre movies, Breakin’s aesthetic and technical aspects are mercilessly shinny, which absolutely is appropriate, given the subject matter we’re dealing with. The movie actually looks pretty good for what was likely a pretty small budget, and that’s because Golan-Globus really knew how to get three dollars out of a quarter back in those days. They make it all count, and I think the time has come to emulate some of these magical 80’s tricks into the motion pictures of today…. Because our movies all look like shit now. Why so much steady cam?

However, before anyone thinks I’m submitting this film for admission to The damn Criterion Collection or something; I should point out that Breakin’ is also ridiculous as hell, and I totally acknowledge that. It’s pure 80’s nonsense, complete with training montages, a hillbilly fist fight, “you got served” style dance-off grudge-matches, and the tightest pants I have ever seen on a male in my life. They look like they’re damn painted on by the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue people or something. Honestly, it’s pornographic, these pants.

Casting Breakin’s three lead roles had to have been the single most crucial factor in the success or failure of the film, no question. It actually wouldn’t surprise me if Quinones and Chambers were discovered first, and the script was written with them specifically in mind, because writing a movie like this without talent in place would be risky at best and maddeningly negligent at worst. Finding human beings with screen charisma who could dance this well AND act well enough to carry an entire picture is a task which sounds full on Herculean in nature, so thank goodness for Shabba-Doo and Boogaloo Shrimp, the true saviors of Breakin’, and probably my life, if you get down to it. Lucinda Dickey is an asset to the film as well, but the truth is, she’s the weakest link out of the three. Also, Ice-T is in this movie, too…. Was he the worst rapper of all time, or is that just what rap sounded like in ’84? Rough.

Plot-wise, Breakin’ is silly, cheesy, predictable, and overly sentimental- all things a dance movie should be allowed to be, provided it’s also entertaining, which Breakin’ certainly is. Effectively, this is a feel-good, underdog story about challenging the stodgy old status quo, and the merit in being yourself. It’s a simple, dusty old message, but it’s surprisingly easy to feel good for these guys, because when things finally work out for them, they really do deserve it. For the most part, as long as you don’t go into this determined to have a bad time, Breakin’ is damn effective, and also for sure the greatest movie about challenging the status-quo with the power of dance to have been released in 1984. Oh, shit, Footloose also came out in ’84?!?

It’s more than a little ironic that a movie about being yourself and challenging the outdated status quo failed to succeed in doing so itself when the critics got their talons in it. In the same way that these characters had to struggle to win over their opposition, they’ll have to struggle to win you over, too- for me, it was surprisingly easy to temporary abandon my cynicism and condone such blatant acts of funky tomfoolery. Breakin’ gets my recommendation if you can manage to quiet your inner grump for an hour and a half, and if you happen to enjoy dance movies, holy shit, go watch this.

P.S. Avoid Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo like a pack if wild tigers infected with the black death. It’s such an irredeemable stinker that it will retroactively ruin Breakin’ for you. I’m serious.


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