We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.
"The Terminator meets Halloween" as The Dragon and Seagal come out of comas.
THE GUEST (2014)
When you look over the filmography of director Adam Wingard, you can see how his movies gradually start to become more appealing to a wider audience. From low budget, experimental beginnings with Home Sick and Pop Skull he went to the well-received A Horrible Way to Die to the fantastic You're Next, contributed to the high profile anthologies The ABCs of Death and V/H/S, leading up to The Guest, which seems very accessible to me. It's an ascending career that now has him directing a series pilot for Cinemax that's based on source material by the creator of The Walking Dead, attached to make new versions of I Saw the Devil and Death Note, and even being considered to take the helm of the next Fast & Furious sequel (a job he didn't get, but even being in the running for it is huge).
Written by A Horrible Way to Die/You're Next screenwriter Simon Barrett, The Guest has been described as "The Terminator meets Halloween", a very fitting description.
The title character is David Collins, played by Dan Stevens in a performance that makes it clear this guy is on the way to becoming a huge star. David is a soldier who has just been discharged, and the first stop he makes after getting out of the military is at the home of the Petersons, a family grieving the loss of the eldest child, a son named Caleb who was killed in combat in Afghanistan. A soldier David served with. David promised Caleb he would let his family know that he loved them and was thinking of them up until the end, and he has kept his word.
After his message has been delivered, David is ready to go on his way, but Caleb's parents - Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser as Laura and Spencer - are so glad to have this connection to their lost son that they invite him to stick around for a while. So David does... And while he stays, he decides to help the family out in any way he can.
But David has some unorthodox views on what is helpful. For example, he gains the friendship of teenage Luke Peterson (Brendan Meyer) by giving him very questionable advice and putting the bullies who have been tormenting him at school into the hospital.
The audience knows that something is off about David from the start, a huge hint being the moments when he just sits and stares intensely into space. The Peterson who is most unsure about having him around is twenty-year-old Anna (Maika Monroe), but even she gradually starts to warm up to him.
Just as Anna starts to accept him, things really go south. David sets out to buy some guns, then just murders the guys who are selling them and takes the weapons. After overhearing an odd phone conversation, Anna decides to do some investigating and unearths a deep, dark secret about David. When he realizes he has been figured out, his training kicks in and he sets out to eliminate everyone who has gotten close to him here.
I've been following Wingard's career from the start, so I was always interested in checking out The Guest, and my interest was given a boost by all the raving I had seen online about it. I picked up a copy as soon as it hit DVD, but I wasn't as blown away by my first viewing of it as a lot of people were. There seems to be a certain section of the audience that feels the movie goes off the rails once David switches into killing machine mode. They don't like the last 30 minutes of the film. I was the opposite.
For the first hour, I was enjoying the performances, especially those of Stevens and Monroe (who made quite a breakthrough with this movie and It Follows) and I loved how '80s everything felt, from the score by Steve Moore to music choices and little stylistic touches here and there. The movie is set in modern day, but there's something very retro about it. Still, even though I liked these things, I wasn't really connecting with the film. When the insanity began, that's when it fully drew me in. Rewatching it, I've grown to appreciate that first hour more, but those last thirty minutes remain my favorite part of the viewing experience.
The Guest isn't a horror movie, more an action thriller, but Wingard worked in nods to the Halloween franchise throughout. When David is wearing blue and standing near a clothesline, Wingard was thinking of slasher Michael Myers lurking by a clothesline in the original Halloween. The events of the film take place around Halloween, and a decoration from the opening of Halloween 4 was recreated in the Peterson lawn. The climax takes place in a high school gymnasium that has been decorated for a Halloween dance (including a small "haunted house" maze), and among the decorations are the images of the Silver Shamrock masks from Halloween III. At one point in my life, I was obsessed with the Halloween movies. I'm not as into them as I used to be, but seeing this sort of stuff still makes me smile. David even has his own "Dr. Loomis" type of character tracking him down, Lance Reddick as Major Richard Carver.
My reaction to The Guest was more subdued than many others', but all of its elements - great acting, '80s reverence and Halloween references, cool atmosphere, and an awesome final act - do add up to make the film a must-see in my book.
BLOODFIST V: HUMAN TARGET (1994)
I very clearly remember when Bloodfist V came out in January of 1994. Having watched each of the previous Bloodfist movies by that point, I was eagerly anticipating the release of the new entry in the series, even though none of the Bloodfists were actually connected beyond the first two. I had my mom reserve a copy at one of the local video stores, First Stop Video, for the day it was set for release. As soon as a copy became available for rent, it would be ours. Problem was, the release date came and went, but the rental copies didn't arrive at the store. Something had slowed down the shipment. Days passed, and there was no Bloodfist V at First Stop Video. The rental copies were so late in arriving that the store's owner ended up loaning us, for one night, the screener copy that the distributor had provided him with. He didn't even put that screener copy into the usual plastic case, either, he let us take it home slipcase and all. The slipcase looked just like the one that would eventually be on the store's shelves when the rental copies came in, except it had a "screener copy" label on the front of it. As a movie-obsessed 10-year-old, I was fascinated by this peek behind the curtain at how video stores operated.
The film itself didn't stick in my memory as well as the events that built up to my first viewing of it, but that might be fitting given the story. That story centers on a guy named James Stanton, played by franchise star Don "The Dragon" Wilson. In the opening scene, James is being pursued by some kind of criminal element when he catches a bullet in the head. Some time later, he emerges from a coma to find himself in a hospital with complete amnesia. He has no idea who he is or what he does for a living. He doesn't even know that he has a wife, but a woman played by Denice Duff (who I know from Full Moon's Subspecies series) soon shows up to retrieve from the hospital, saying she's his wife.
As James discovers as soon as they reach her car in the parking garage, she's not really his wife, she was just hired by the people who tried to kill him before to get him out of the hospital so they can try to kill him again. And so the action has begun, and will rarely stop until the credits are rolling on this 84 minute flick.
So we have a man with amnesia struggling to regain his memory while fighting for his life against a relentless onslaught of attackers... This is essentially producer Roger Corman's version of The Bourne Identity, released long before the Matt Damon take on the material, although well after the publication of Robert Ludlum's book (and the TV movie adaptation). It's a pretty good movie, too. I may not have remembered very much of it before recently rewatching it, but it's an intriguing movie that's great well told, with Wilson reliably cracking skulls and Duff providing good support.
There are quite a few twists and turns along the way, and the viewer is as in the dark about James's true identity as he is himself. Is he a criminal? Was he working this weapons smuggling outfit that now wants him dead? Or was he, as the NSA claims, an undercover agent working for them? I was invested in finding out, and entertained by the fights and gunplay that James had to get through to reach the answers.
The movie earns bonus points for the horrific acupuncture torture moment, but my favorite element was the inclusion of Steve James, co-star of American Ninja parts 1, 2, and 3. It was great to see him face off with Wilson, and the movie could have benefited from giving him even more screen time than he had. Sadly, he passed away less than a month before Bloodfist V came out, taken by cancer at just 41 years old.
Written and directed by Jeff Yonis from a story by Rob Kerchner, who also provided the story for Bloodfist IV, Bloodfist V: Human Target is one of the better installments in this weird little series.
Oddly, this was the last Bloodfist to reach video stores in my town. The ones that follow I only saw on cable, until the days of being able to rent and buy DVDs from the internet.
HARD TO KILL (1990)
Steven Seagal's second action vehicle starts on the night of April 11, 1983, which we know because the year is superimposed on the screen and the first lines spoken in the film by Seagal's character Mason Storm - a name so good that it has since been used by at least one porn star - are him expressing his dismay over missing the Oscars telecast. Due to his duties as an LAPD detective, he's missing the ceremony where Gandhi beat out E.T., Tootsie, and the less remembered Missing and The Verdict for Best Picture. What Storm witnesses instead is a man named Vernon Trent (William Sadler of Die Hard 2 and Demon Knight) making a deal with the mob, hiring them to assassinate a senator by arranging a plane crash.
This is, of course, very dangerous knowledge for Storm to have. So dangerous that his house is invaded by heavily armed, ski masked wearing men during that night's airing of the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. Uh-oh, Wikipedia doesn't list a Carson episode for April 11, 1983. Did Hard to Kill goof?
I was six years old when Hard to Kill was released. When I was that age, my father did not want me watching horror movies (I watched them anyway), but he never thought twice about having me watch any action movie he wanted to see along with him. So he didn't want me to watch monsters and slashers killing people, but if it was an action hero like Seagal killing criminals and breaking bones, it was all good. So when I was six, I saw Hard to Kill, and this sequence where the bad guys bust into places with shotguns and open fire on Storm, his wife, and fellow police officer, and even try to kill Storm's young son (he dives out a window before he can be shot) was always deeply disturbing to me. This disturbed me more than most things I've ever seen in a horror movie. And stuff like this really happens in real life! I was better off watching the fantasy worlds of Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger.
Less than 20 minutes into the movie, our hero has been gunned down. But Mason Storm is, as the title indicates, hard to kill. Instead of dying, he goes into a coma. In that coma he remains for seven years, his survival kept secret for his protection.
The plane crash happens, Vernon Trent replaces the dead senator, and in 1990 Mason Storm wakes up. In Bloodfist V, Don "The Dragon" Wilson's character went into his coma with long hair and woke up with short. Here, Seagal wakes up with long hair and quite the goatee.
As soon as word gets out that Storm is actually alive, a hitman is sent after him. Although he can barely move at first, Storm manages to escape from the hospital with the help of his dedicated nurse Andy Stewart (Kelly Le Brock), the one who groomed that goatee for him. She takes him to a ranch in Ojai so he can recuperate and, fuelled by memories of his family, train in the martial arts that he learned while living in China, where his father was a missionary. She also takes him there so she can seduce him. She is successful.
Once he's back in fighting shape, Storm is ready to face the stream of henchmen that are coming after him and take down the people who destroyed his life. Trent's catchphrase is "You can take that to the bank," prompting Storm to drop one of the most laughable lines in action movie history, "I'm gonna take you to the bank, Senator Trent. To the blood bank."
A lot of fighting ensues, with fists and feet as well as firearms, delivering a good amount of entertainment, and by the time the end credits are rolling Storm has discovered that his son is also secretly still alive, being raised by his friend in Internal Affairs. Thankfully, we don't have to spend too much time watching father and son get reacquainted with each other. That can happen after the events of the movie, right now we want to see action, and Hard to Kill delivers that even in their reunion scene, where the kid watches as his long lost pops brutally snaps the neck of a bad guy right in front of him.
This movie contains one of the most popular bad guy kills in Seagal's filmography, one where he sticks a broken pool cue into a guy's neck. I can remember my father rewinding the moment where Seagal kills that unfortunate fellow multiple times.
Interestingly, two actors from this film, Branscombe Richmond and Dean Norris, would end up on the Tremors TV show together.
Apparently distributor Warner Bros. ordered that this film be cut down quite a bit in an effort to make it as fast paced as possible and keep it close to 90 minutes (it runs just over 95). I can't say how a longer version would have been, but I find the theatrical cut to be a lot of fun to watch and feel that Hard to Kill a big step up from Seagal's first movie, Above the Law.