OCTOBER 27 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : SPACERAGE
Plot: Grange is apprehended after robbing the Bank of Luna and is sentenced to life at the New Botany Bay prison on Proxima Centauri. Upon arriving Grange learns that New Botany Bay is a prison that has no walls – with the planet’s only shuttle landing port heavily guarded, there is no need to keep prisoners behind lock and key as there is nowhere for them to escape to. However Grange is determined to prove the prison governor wrong and organizes the prisoners into an armed breakout to capture the shuttle port.
Spacerage: Breakout on Prison Planet is a dreary effort from the early days of the direct-to-video release. It has been almost completely forgotten since then, which is fitting as there is nothing of any distinguishing note about Spacerage as a film. Spacerage was made by Conrad E. Palmisano who is better known as a stuntman and stunt coordinator and has been working in the industry since the 1970s with a number of high-profile film credits to his name. Palmisano only went onto direct one other film – the equally forgotten martial arts entry Busted Up (1986).
Spacerage almost certainly drew its inspiration from the then-recent hit of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981), which popularized the idea of a futuristic prison. Since Escape from New York, the future prison concept has become surprisingly prevalent in science-fiction with the likes of Turkey Shoot (1983), Dead-End Drive-In (1986), Moon 44 (1990), Story of Ricky (1991), Wedlock/Deadlock (1991), Fortress (1993), New Eden (1994), No Escape/Escape from Absolom (1994) and Death Race (2008). Most of these were pseudo science-fiction films that did little more than transplant the prison movie genre cliches into a science-fictional venue.
This generic transplantation is particularly evident in Spacerage. Indeed if there should be some type of award for the science-fiction film with the least actual science-fiction content, then Spacerage could well be in for a clear win. When you boil the scanty science-fiction elements away, Spacerage is really a Western. The desert locations could be those of any Western and there are stock Western characters like the determined pursuing lawman, while it takes little to imagine horses in lieu of the dune buggies that everybody drives. Indeed the only science-fiction content in the whole of Spacerage comes in a sum total of three (admittedly quite professional) effects shots – a planetary matte-scape and the landing of a spaceship. There are not even any laser guns, everybody instead wields shotguns – the science-fiction content is so cursory that even these stock emblems are not deemed necessary (or perhaps more to the point, the film’s budget was too skimpy to flex any more imagination that that). Without these details there would be nothing that would in any way separate Spacerage from being a contemporary action film about escaped prisoners fleeing through the desert.
Most of the film has been shot on the cheap. For someone who comes from a stuntman and stunt coordinator background, the action that Conrad E. Palmisano directs is surprisingly dull and dreary. Most of this consists of macho posturing and stuntmen pretending to be shot and taking dives. The film also gives the appearance of having been hacked about after principal photography with substantial credits for reshooting. Even so the finished film only runs to a slim 77 minutes.
Michael Paré gives another of his wooden leading man performances. Richard Farnsworth, himself a player in numerous Western roles during the 1950s and 60s and later a Best Actor Oscar-nominee in David Lynch’s The Straight Story (1999), looks bored but provides a dependable solidity as the determinedly pursuing lawman.
OCTOBER 27 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : KILLING CARS (1985)
For Prochnow fans only…
…But if you like the old boy, you’ll enjoy this perhaps more than you might expect.
People who even know who Jürgen Prochnow is tend to already be fans of the character actor. And why not? He’s a talented combination of intense, wry, sexy and slightly nuts. He’ll be genuinely tender with the female characters, in a way that can’t be faked, and then smile mischievously while having another character horribly tortured. He can do more acting with his eyes alone in one film, than the overpaid wads of fluff populating the average DVD collection can do in a whole career.
Too bad he was born in Germany, apparently rendering him unfit to play anything but villains in American films.
I sat down to watch “Killing Cars”, in which Prochnow is the self-absorbed romantic lead, after reading a review elsewhere by a Prochnow fangirl. I wanted to see what was on the other end of the spectrum of his movies from the immortal “Das Boot”, one of my favorite films. I was expecting utter garbage—I mean, a low-budget foreign car movie shot in 1985? I thought I’d be watching it through my fingers. Actually, it was surprisingly entertaining.
The early 80s sleaze factor is turned up to eleven here, especially in the beginning. Porsches, neon, punks, industrial lofts, feathered hair, smoking, spy subplots…it’s utter camp. Prochnow actually puts on sunglasses at night to drive. But the characters—at least the core 3 or 4—become a bit more sympathetic as the movie goes on, largely due to the understated seriousness with which Prochnow approached the role. What is it with that guy?
I thought this would be an interesting case of how a good actor could be dragged down by a bad script, low budget, and subpar supporting actors. In fact, through sheer talent and force of will, Prochnow made the movie gel. Sure, it gels into a barely-comprehensible, badly-lit study in hilarious industrial surrealism…but by the climax of the movie, I actually really gave a damn what happened to that ugly car.
The ability of this movie to make me care about it, despite my plans to mock it, hinged on one obscure German actor. That’s talent.
The most popular movies nowadays are filled with actors dumber than the average viewer, lending a much-needed ego boost to the audience. People seem content to watch what they know is terrible acting disguised with world-class special effects. After all, special effects don’t require emotional engagement, and bad acting presents no mental intimidation.
I guess I just like my actors brilliant and my movies puzzling. If anybody else enjoys feeling their scorn turned to curiosity by intelligent, subtle acting, there are much worse investments of your time than this movie. And if you’re a Prochnow fanatic trying to decide whether this is worth the pain, know that he has a nude scene.
OCTOBER 27 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : KILLING CARS (1985)
Good ol Jürgen Prochnow, character actor extraordinaire. If you have an action movie and you need a foreigney sort of menacing bad guy, Jürgen’s your guy. You may have seen him in such movies as Air Force One, The Da Vinci Code, or Beerfest.
In Killing Cars, Jürgen plays an antisocial car designer who’s just made a revolutionary new car which will make all the existing autos obsolete. However, it gets stolen, and he… gets it back. Wait, wasn’t something supposed to happen in this movie? Maybe some killing or something, I dunno. I mean, it’s your movie, Verhoeven, I don’t want to tell you what to do or anything…
I really just kept waiting for something to happen, almost this whole movie. Towards the end it looks like things might get started (an hour late, but still…), but nothing really ever manages to… happen. It’s just this angry guy being a jerk about his car for an hour and a half.
OCTOBER 27 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : PROJECT SHADOWCHASER
Why rip off one movie when you can make your rip-off seem fresher by stealing elements from three different popular movies? A great example of mushing together two better movies into one low budget whole is Project: Shadowchaser, which aspires to be nothing more than Die Hard meets The Terminator, with the music from Batman thrown in for good measure.
Set in low budget future where the primary architectural style is "cheap set," Project: Shadowchaser starts out with a terrorist force taking over a hospital (which seems to be located in an office building). The terrorists are led by suspiciously Aryan Romulus, played by Frank Zagarino. After the preliminaries are done, we find out that the President of the United States' daughter Sarah (Meg Foster) is among the hostages, and soon the FBI has surrounded the building.
Looking for a way to end the siege quickly, the FBI agent in charge, Trevanian (Paul Koslo), decides that only the building's architect can save the day. (Hasn't he heard of blueprints?) But the architect is currently in a futuristic jail where all the inmates are frozen solid for the duration of their sentences. In this future, the punishment of prisoners has apparently been sublet to the Sara Lee corporation.
There are two problems with Trevanian's plan. First of all, how smart can this architect, Dixon by name, be if he managed to make a hospital look like an office building? And he was dumb enough to end up in jail to boot. Secondly, because the FBI contacts the night help, they end up defrosting the wrong guy. Instead of getting Dixon, they end up with the one guy dumber than Dixon, a football player named Desilva (Martin Kove). DeSilva, who is actually a former football star jailed for manslaughter ("It was an accident!") keeps his true identity a secret, because the Feds offer him a deal: help end the hostage situation with his knowledge of the building and they'll give him a pardon. As Desilva goes through various stages of panic, followed by ludicrous bravery, we're introduced to some subterfuge involving lifelike android technology and a lot of gunplay.
We don't know exactly how Martin Kove landed this part, but we're fairly sure it involved blackmail or nepotism, or perhaps both. After all, who is better positioned to take compromising pictures of one's social life than one's blood relations? In any event, the movie exists for two reasons: to show that Kove's casting as the evil dojo master in The Karate Kid movies wasn't a total accident (he has a few martial arts moves thrown in there, but don't hold your breath for anything good), and to display the sweat glistening on Zagarino's chest. Given that Zagarino's character is an android, though, the question becomes: from whence comes that sweat? Did the scientists in charge of Project: Shadowchaser actually have a line item in their budget for artificial sweat glands? Show us an android who can sweat and we'll show you, uh, a sweaty... android. Yeah. This might not have been such a sticking point if the android hadn't been so pointedly mechanical, as when his damaged neck begins to whir in a noisy and wildly hilarious fashion.
Speaking of things mechanical and wildly hilarious, this film is yet another notch in the thespian belt for Meg Foster. Why is this woman such a prolific actress? Most prominent actors working steadily in the b-movie world had a break-through role of some prestige, something upon which they built their modest career. Rutger Hauer and the late Brion James have Blade Runner, Dolph Lundgren has Rocky IV, and Tim Thomerson has Trancers. Meg Foster, on the other hand, has a long string of TV appearances and her dubious role as the first Detective Cagney on the Cagney and Lacey TV series. And yet, every time we turn around, she pops up, giving that wispy-voiced performance that b-movie directors seem to love.
The final (and perhaps most significant) thing to mention about Project: Shadowchaser is its place in Stomp Tokyo history. This was the first really bad movie we watched together, and it was during that viewing that the seeds were planted for this humble little web site. Sure, it could have been a thousand other bad movies that started us down the path to the review and critique of sub-par cinema, but this was the one in the VCR that night, and for that it will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Don't get too choked up. It's still crap.