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Pandemics in Film: Nate’s Top Ten Virus Movies

It’s crazy times we’re living in because of this Coronavirus, and I hope everyone out there is staying safe, taking necessary precautions and keeping a level head about the pandemic. I also hope you all are finding time amidst the chaos to take care of yourselves, have a beer, cuddle your pets, chill with loved ones and do things that make you happy. I myself am continuing the blogging train to stay sane and this week it’s time to take a look at my top ten favourite films about viruses, yay! Not to be deliberately morbid but it does seem appropriate given our situation and there are some really excellent films out there that deal with outbreaks, from procedural dramas to schlocky horror to fascinating science fiction. Enjoy my picks!

10. Robert Kurtzman’s The Rage

I had to include at least one low budget gore fest on this list because it’s an incredibly formative arena in the genre for me. Legendary FX guru Kurtzman makes hilariously scrappy work in telling of a batshit insane evil Russian scientist (the great Andrew Divoff having a blast) who releases a horrific rage virus into human tests subjects. When they get loose and vultures feed on them the vultures go ape shit and become nasty mutants that go after everyone and it’s all a deliriously violent bit of B horror mayhem. Can’t go wrong with mutant vulture puppets done with knowingly crude effects and a whole lot of choppy editing commotion.

9. Breck Eisner’s The Crazies

This one is interesting because the deadly virus isn’t your typical flesh eating zombie kind but rather infects the population of a small county with mental instability and eventual madness. There’s something so unnerving about the afflicted’s behaviour here and the incredibly suspenseful efforts of one sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) to keep the insanity under control.

8. Neil Marshall’s Doomsday

It’s unfair to call this film simply a virus themed horror flick, as there’s just so much going on. It’s part Escape From New York, part Tomb Raider, part Mad Max like several films collided into each other at top speed and yes, there’s a nasty killer virus here too that wiped out most of Britain’s population. Malcolm McDowell’s scientist turned medieval despot puts it best when he observes: “A virus doesn’t choose a time or place. It doesn’t hate or even care. It just happens.” Astute analysis of such an event.

7. Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever

The gross-out factor is to the extreme and the dark humour dial turned up to the max in this ooey gooey tale about a group of vacationing friends who encounter a horrendous flesh eating virus at their rural getaway. Man there are some wince-out-loud moments here, just watch what it does to a girl shaving her legs, as well as the shocked reaction of one dude who goes to finger bang his girl and comes up with a handful of… well, her I guess. Also that running joke regarding the redneck convenience store owner and the rifle above his counter? Fucking top tier comedy gold right there. Avoid the remake, Roth’s original vision is the real deal.

6. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later

I’m trying not to make this list too zombie-centric because it somehow feels like cheating but one slot gets designated and it has to be these two superb films. There’s a ferocity, an overwhelming intensity to those infected by this virus that makes both films feel thrillingly alive, dangerously immediate and gives them a cutthroat edge. Oh and I guess I cheated already anyways by putting two films in one spot but I’m one of the rare people who finds Weeks just as amazing as Days so they get to share the pedestal. Robert Carlyle going full Jack Torrence on bath salts man, can’t beat that aesthetic.

5. The Farrelly Brothers’ Osmosis Jones

This is such an underrated flick and if I ever do a top ten list on films that combine live action with animation it’ll make that cut too. Bill Murray is a slobbish zookeeper who contracts a wicked nasty virus played by… Laurence Fishburne lol. Half the film takes place inside his body where a rogue cop white blood cell (Chris Rock) races to stop the fiendish strain before it gets to all the major organs and it’s game over. The animation is slick, uniquely styled and the film just hums along with cool ideas, colourful imagery and terrific voiceover work.

4. Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil

This film has quite the virus, it doesn’t just stop short of turning people into zombies but mutates than into all kinds of giant horrific monsters for Milla Jovovich’s Alice to fight. I think these films are great, particularly this super stylish, sexy first entry that’s got enough blood, psychotic Dobermans, gunfire and security system gadgetry to bring the house down.

3. Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak

While this one does take the big budget Hollywood approach to the virus motif, it’s still a smart, scary and incredibly suspenseful piece, and holy damn the virus here is one monster. “It’s the scariest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen” says Dustin Hoffman’s virologist guru, and he’s not fucking kidding. It has a kill timetable of 24 hours, which are almost insurmountable odds but these people try their best and provide one hell of an engaging film.

2. Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion

This one, while still a Hollywood release, takes the clinical and detached route. Despite being heavily casted with big time A list talent the real star of the show here is the virus itself and it’s ruthless journey from Hong Kong to the states and beyond. Soderbergh employs crisp, precise editing and a sonic jolt of a score from Cliff Martinez to keep this thing moving along at the same scary pace as the pandemic it chronicles.

1. Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys

This one made the top spot on my time travel movie list too and does the same here, it’s just an all timer for me. We don’t even really see the virus here that wiped out most of humanity or it’s effects, most of the film takes place either just before or long after it’s released. But we get a sense of it, in the desolate snowy streets Bruce Willis walks through in a Mr. Freeze looking quarantine suit, filled with spectral roaming animals turned loose from a zoo. We feel the maniacal nature of the insane doomsday prophet (David Morse) who released it too.

-Nate Hill

John McTiernan’s The Hunt For Red October

John McTiernan’s The Hunt For Red October is considered the big daddy of submarine films and up until today I’d never seen the whole thing front to back. I now get the hype. This would always be on AMC or TBS Superstation when I was a kid, and my dad would always tune in no matter what. What a fantastic, thrilling, well acted film and one that carries a life affirming antiwar message while still containing some hair raising scenes of aquatic combat.

Marko Raimius (Sean Connery) is a legendary Soviet sub commander who has disappeared with the covert nuclear boat the Red October, plotting a course for the US eastern sea board and ditching any orders from Russian command. Is he going to nuke the east coast? CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) believes he means to defect and disarm but that’s a tricky thing to prove based on a series of hunches during a time of such uncertainty as this. Jack has an uncanny intuition about this guy, who remains somewhat of a mystery, even to his own crew and country. A harrowing series of chases, near misses, standoffs, moral wrestling, betrayals and political posturing ensue but at its heart this is a film about one dude who has had enough of war and just wants out, a theme I greatly appreciated and enjoyed.

Connery is superb here and this might be my favourite of his performances. He’s both enigma and beacon of personal integrity whilst fiercely not letting anyone get in his way, including a pesky, short lived political officer (Peter Firth). He carries the film with a grizzled nobility and despite being an antagonist of sorts, is the most likeable and relatable character. Baldwin fares very well as Ryan too and although Harrison Ford is still my tops, he plays this guy to the hilt with spirit and determination. Other standouts include Scott Glenn as a badass American sub captain, Richard Jones as a wry US negotiator and Courtney B. Vance as a keen radio communicator. The cast is amazing with killer work from Stellan Skarsgård, Joss Ackland, Andrew Divoff, Tomas Arana, Sam Neill, Tim Curry, Jeffrey Jones, Timothy Cathhart, Ned Vaughn, Fred Dalton Thompson, Gates McFadden, Shane Black, Peter Jason and James Earl Jones. This is the very definition of a solid film in all arenas and in that of thematic material and character, it excels wonderfully. My two favourite scenes: Connery and first mate Sam Neill discussing how they’d live their lives in America when all is said and done, where they’d live and what vehicles they will drive. Later on Ryan and Raimius share a moment alone on the sub’s deck as River banks pass by, each remembering their grandfathers teaching them to fish in their respective countries. Amidst all the angst, political unease, torpedos and destruction it’s nice to find little oasis moments of character, serving to remind us that whatever side we’re on and no matter how bad the conflict is, we are all just people. We all need reminding of that once in a while, and both Connery and Baldwin do that exceptionally with their work here. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Jack Sholder’s Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies

Everyone knows the expression ‘go fuck yourself.’ But can anyone think of a film where that actually, physically… happens? Well it happens in Jack Sholder’s Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies, and let me tell you, it ain’t pretty. I’ll get to that in a minute. Robert Kurtzman’s original supernatural splatter-fest is a supremely underrated horror flick with a concept that pretty much begs for sequels, and while there’s a bunch, only this one is really worth checking out. The success of these really hinges on Andrew Divoff’s deliciously sinister performance as the ancient evil Djinn, a being who tricks people into making wishes which he grants on his own terms, before harvesting the unwitting soul of the wisher to fuel his powerful dark magic. Raspy voiced, narrow eyed and dripping with dangerous charisma, Divoff is a scene stealer and whoever decided to recast him for Wishmasters 3 and 4 should be fired, but in any case those two aren’t worth checking out. This one sees the Djinn get inadvertently woken up by a cat burglar (Holly Fields) during a botched robbery. In sneaky human form he calmly takes credit for the crime and deliberately goes to prison where he can reap all those juicy repeat offender souls and take advantage of how dumb they all are. It’s a cool setting and gives actors like Paul Johansson and legendary Tiny Lister (who is in every movie ever, apparently) a chance to play assholes who get in the Djinn’s way, but it’s Divoff’s show all the way. Now, the part you’ll want to hear about. During a meeting with his lawyer, an uncooperative felon (Robert Lasardo) makes the ill conceived wish that the attorney should ‘go fuck himself.’ The Djinn, never one to not put on a good show, works his magic and moments later… well. The lawyer gruesomely bends backwards in a way no human is meant to and quite literally does in fact fuck himself. It’s quite a thing to have suddenly show up in your otherwise run of the mill horror sequel, simultaneously surreal, awkward, outrageous and, if you have a sense of humour as demented as I do, pretty goddam hilarious. The film overall does the trick, I mean it doesn’t have the charm, chutzpah or awesome genre cameos of Kurtzman’s balls out original, but it’s still pretty sweet.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Librarians aka Strike Force

Exterior, Miami Beach. A hardened mercenary (everyone’s favourite tough guy, William Forsythe) has just returned the kidnaped daughter of a businessman, and the guy says “I don’t even know what to call you guys.” Forsythe’s Simon replies “Just call us the Librarians… lets just say we return overdue books”, with a straighter face than David Caruso’s Horatio Cain on CSI, another ludicrous Miami tough guy. Anyways, that’s the kind of knowingly asinine B Movie Glory (trademarked at this point) that we have here, but it’s a good bit of fun, to quote a certain Tarantino character. Forsythe’s off the books squad deals in locating the victims of human trafficking, and bringing the pain to those who perpetrate it. He’s joined by Prison Break’s Amaury Nolasco, martial arts star Daniel Bernhardt and former playboy bunny turned B movie maiden Erika Eleniak. Their next task: rescue the kidnaped daughter of a mysterious billionaire (Michael Parks Skypes in a cameo that contains more gravity than the rest of the film combined, not to mention more than it deserves) from the clutches of a slimy crime lord (Andrew Divoff in full villain mode). It’s routine and predictable, punctuated by off the wall one liners, porno lit sex scenes, low grade gunfight last and sloppy hand to hand combat. I still can’t get over that aforementioned snippet of dialogue though, it sums up what glorious little gems like this are all about, encapsulates the B action film and Forsythe delivers it with that knowing little smirk that’s says it all. Watch for familiar faces like Ed Lauter, Forsythe’s own daughter Rebecca, Christopher Atkins and more. Oh yeah, and Burt Reynolds shows up briefly as a shady character credited (he actually had his name removed from the roster, understandably) as ‘Irish’. His first and middle names could be ‘Not’ and ‘Actually’, because the brogue he uses here is worse than Tommy Lee Jones I’m Blown Away and Dennis Hopper in Ticker combined, it’s a perplexing, cringy cameo. Hilarious stuff.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Captured

In a home invasion scenario, where do the lines between stalker and victim get blurred? For cat burglar Robert Breed (Andrew ‘Wishmaster’ Divoff) and hotheaded real estate tycoon Holden Downs (the great Canadian character actor Nick Mancuso), this question leads to a nocturnal game of cat and mouse when the former makes the ill fated decision to bust into the latter’s garage one night and pilfer an expensive automobile. Little does the intruder know, but Downs is a bit of an unhinged basket case and, after several other break ins, has equipped his ride with a self locking, impenetrable steel cage that basically turns it into a prison for whoever is locked inside. This puts both men in an odd position as Downs hold Breed captive inside his car, torments him and projects every little frustration of his own life onto the guy until tempers are high. It’s a somewhat silly concept given the Panic Room style chamber piece treatment, but it’s the two actors who really sell it with their frenzied intensity, particularly serial scene stealer Mancuso who goes for broke with his angry Joker-esque mannerisms. This is blatantly low budget and super rough around the seams, but a serviceable thriller nonetheless, with excellent work from the two actors who make good use of the high concept setup.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory- Brian Yuzna’s Faust: Love Of The Damned 


I think Goethe might do a few barrel roles in his grave if he ever saw Brian Yuzna’s Faust: Love Of The Damned, an unhinged, risible and obnoxious rendition of his literary works, filled with Spawn inspired effects, heavy metal music, extreme nudity and a general sense of debauched commotion running through it. When regular guy John Jaspers (Mark Frost) sells his soul to the mysterious M (Andrew Divoff) in order to exact revenge on those who killed his girlfriend, things don’t… quite go as planned. Before he knows it he’s transformed into some ridiculous walking demon vigilante thing, given snazzy superpowers and set loose on the city. M, being the devil, is naturally not a man of his word and is planning some horrific apocalyptic mayhem using Faust’s unwitting help, and it all goes so monumentally haywire it’s hard to tell what is even going on, for fuck’s sake. Much of the film consists of him just running about with blaring music in the background, killing people in over the top, spectacularly gory ways. Story has little place here amongst the ruckus din of VFX and soft core porn sensibilities. Divoff is in Djinn mode as M, sporting a startling blonde dye job and Mayan inspired costume design, and having as much fun as every Hollywood character actor has playing Old Scratch himself. There’s a scene where he reprimands his hot sidekick by causing her to melt into a moaning pile of her own bodily fluids that will have everyone nervously shifting on the couch and wondering just exactly what the fuck they’re watching. The Reanimator himself Jeffrey Combs has an eccentric police detective role that somehow just gets swallowed up by the orgy of visual and auditory assault that the film consists of. Nothing remotely similar to the original tale of Faust, you’ll either get a sick thrill, laugh the whole way through or get up and walk out. I loved it. 

-Nate Hill

Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift


Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift is curiously one of my favourite adaptations of his work. I say curiously because it’s not a very tasteful film, let alone even a good one. It’s simple schlock and awe, goo and slime for 90 minutes straight, every human character either an unsettling nutcase or cardboard stock archetype. There’s just something so Midnite Movie-esque about it though, a sense of fun to its gigantic, hollowed out mess of a textile mill in which some kind of vile denizen stalks a night crew that pretty much deserves everything they get. People wander about, squabble and are picked off in ways that get steadily more gruesome until the final reveal of the monster in some overblown puss-palooza of a finale. What more do you need in your bottom feeder helping of horror? Steven Macht is the sleazebag who runs the mill at his tyrannical whim, while David Andrews is the closest thing you’ll find to a stoic protagonist. Andrew ‘Wishmaster’ Divoff shows up as a stock character, but it’s Brad Dourif who chews scenery and ends up the only memorable person as the world’s most simultaneously intense and incompetent exterminator, a bug eyed little weirdo who freaks people out with extended monologues about Viet Nam when he should be perusing corridors to find whatever’s lurking there. The monster itself, if I remember correctly, is one big pile of grossly misshappen, poopy prosthetic puppetry, as is often the case in early 90’s King fare. Would you want it any other way? Simple, efficient and impressively gory is what you’ll find on this shift. 

-Nate Hill

A chat with Tammy Lauren- An interview by Nate Hill

  
Excited to bring you my first interview in some time, with the lovely Tammy Lauren!

Tammy has made vivid impressions in numerous films including Wes Craven’s Wishmaster, Costa Gavras’s Mad City, I Saw What You Did, Chains Of Gold, Tiger Warsaw and more. She has also appeared in quite a few television shows including Little House On The Prairie, Criminal Minds, ER, Two & A Half Men, Home Improvement, Crossing Jordan, MacGyver and more. She’s a great talent and was a pleasure to speak with, enjoy!
Nate: What led you to acting? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do or did you stumble into it unexpectedly?
Tammy: My parents put me in the business when I was 8 years old. My parents put me in a children’s acting class, which then led to me auditioning for a play in San Diego (The Music Man) and the director of the play told my parents I should try and do TV and film. So, I’d say I stumbled into it.
Nate: Wishmaster: incredible, iconic horror film. How was your experience working on it, with all those unbelievable special effects, and starring alongside Andrew Divoff?
Tammy: It was exhausting. All that running and crying and freaking out…I loved Andy and Bob, the director and thought having all the horror icons involved was super cool. I just saw Bob and Andy at a horror convention and they taped the three of us watching the film and commenting for the Blu Ray, which brought back a ton of memories. Andy eating jelly beans to get his voice the way it was as the Djinn, Bob FREAKING out about the special effects and Red Room (the part that was supposed to be inside the Djinn’s mind), me FREAKING out that my performance was probably JUST AWFUL. 
Nate: Costa Gravras’s Mad City: How was your experience working on this one?
Tammy: Incredible. I first met John Travolta when I was a kid and he was at Paramount filming Urban Cowboy, I did a film years later that John produced and starred in, Chains of Gold and so at that point, I’d known John for a few decades. I was enamored of Dustin and of course, Costas. And this was the film set I got engaged on! My husband proposed to me in my dressing room and John and Dustin had some cake and stuff brought on stage to throw us an impromptu engagement party. 
Nate: Little House On The Prairie: how did you get involved with that, and how was it working on such a legendary show?
Tammy: I auditioned for it. At the time, it was very popular so I was excited. My favorite memory from that is working with Robert Loggia, playing his daughter. He’s an incredibly talented actor. His character was supposed to terrify me, which he did but he was also SO kind to me.

Nate: A few roles over your career that have been your favorite so far?
Tammy: Homefront was a favorite role of mine. When I was young, it was Mork and Mindy because of Robin. I also really liked doing Criminal Minds because my character had rabies and honestly, how many times do you get to do THAT? 🙂

Nate: Who inspired you (actors/filmmakers) growing up and in your work as well?
Tammy: Actors – Robin Williams, Meryl Streep, Jack Nickelson, Carol Burnett. Filmmakers – Francis Ford Coppola, James Brooks

Nate: The tv movie I Saw What You Did: My favourite role of yours alongside Wishmaster. Lisa was quite the character. How was that experience for you?
Tammy: Awesome. Because Carradine brothers. And Shawnee. That was actually the second movie for television we had done together and we both played similar roles in both. I liked that one too.
Nate: Do you have any upcoming projects, film related or otherwise, that you are excited for and would like to mention? 
Tammy: I’ve been in tech for a while now, I don’t act a lot anymore. It’s more a thing of someone I know is doing something and for some reason, they call me. I am not as active when it comes to pursuing work. But I do stuff occasionally.
Nate: Thank you so much for sharing, Tammy, and for your time, it’s been an honour!
Tammy: Hope this helps Nate. Hope you and yours have a very happy holidays!

B Movie Glory With Nate: Oblivion

  
“It’s high noon at the far end of the universe”, the dvd poster of Oblivion states. Years before the underrated Cowboys & Aliens came out, Oblivion came along, and it’s definitely gives the concept a better, and quirkier run for its money. Granted it’s essentially a B movie, and it’s meagre budget shows to the point where it looks like a grade school play. But therein lies it’s charm. It’s got a cast of supremely wacky old west stereotypes played by some surprising, familiar genre faces who you’d never thought to be seen rough housing together in the same flick. It also has some lovingly crafted, creaky stop motion animation that calls Harryhausen to mind and brings to life some super weird alien hybrid thingies that look almost Henson-esque as well. When a lone spaceship lands on the outskirts of an intergalactic desert town, it’s occupant brings trouble along with him. He’s a nasty, one eyed reptilian alien gunslinger named RedEye, played by the inimitable Andrew Divoff. He growling, bad tempered son of a bitch, and his first order of business is to ruthlessly slay the town’s sheriff, and claim it for himself. What he doesn’t count on is the Sheriff’s son (Richard Joseph Paul), a prospector who soon returns to Oblivion looking for answers, along with his Native friend Buteo (the late great Jimmie F. Skaggs). All kinds of townsfolk end up in the crossfire, including drunken Doc Valentine (a priceless George Takei), slinky brothel owner Miss Kitty (Julie Newmar), a cyborg police deputy (Meg Foster), a pawnbroker (Isaac Hayes) and the town’s elegant undertaker, played by Carol Struckyen who some may remember as the giant from Twin Peaks. RedEye has a smoking hot henchwoman and girlfriend named Lash, played by B movie scream queen Musetta Vander, who gets the vibe they’re going for here and sinks her teeth into the material with admirable abandon. The film sticks to its guns despite being obviously silly and somewhat falling apart in a climax that oddly is too darkly shot to make out properly. What it lacks in resources it makes up for in imagination, which it has in spades. Alien scorpions, cyborg deputies, leather clad babes are but a few of the genre mashing treats to be found here. Great stuff. Oh and check out the sequel as well, called Oblivion 2: Backlash, it’s a nice companion piece. 

B Movie Glory with Nate: For Which He Stands

  
For Which He Stands is a lean, mean, nasty crime drama and cautionary fable about the dangers of pride and ego, and the spiralling disaster ones life can turn into when these qualities within the human nature go unchecked. It’s also a shamelessly slimy B movie treat featuring a tough as nails lead performance from William Forsythe as Johnny Rochetti, a small time Vegas casino mogul who runs afoul of some extremely dangerous South American criminals. He plays the role like Liotta from Goodfellas crossed with Bronson from Death Wish, an initial belligerent cockiness wiped promptly out of his personality by the very real danger stalking him, replaced by a reckless calm and willingness to get his hands dirty to defend his loved ones. One night, a Latin scumbag causes a raucous in his casino by violently threatening a girl. Johnny has a reflex reaction to defend her, and inadvertently kills the prick. This makes him a local hero, but also paints a huge target on his back for the Colombian cartel, who his deceased quarry had connections with. He’s forced to leave his wife (Maria Conchita Alonso) and contend with the dangerous criminal forces aiming to eliminate him. There’s some truly freaky cartel baddies here, including Andrew Divoff in a cameo as a gravel voiced psycho, and Robert Davi in a fire so,e turn as Carlito Escalara, a ruthless assassin hell bent on destroying Johnny. He’s got some legendary villain roles in over the years, and this one is among the nastiest, and best. Johnny’s only help comes from an intrepid federal agent (Ernie Hudson) and a D.A. (John Ashton’s). It’s Forsythe’s show though, and his transformation from untouchable big shot to caged animal on the run to eventual pistol packing hero is fun to watch. The atmosphere is pure crime cinema, told almost like a dark fairy tale that just happens to be set in Vegas. This one is positively buried in obscurity though, I had to seek out a screener VHS copy of a dusty corner of Amazon to get my hands on it. Good luck.