Tag Archives: film reviews

B Movie Glory: The Rift


The Rift is a nifty little underwater creature feature in the tradition of stuff like The Abyss and Leviathan, a low budget affait that uses neat practical model effects to churn out some gooey thrills, and a cool cast to run around being hunted by them. When an experimental submarine dubbed the ‘Siren II’ (after the disappearance of the Siren I, naturally) descends into a deep fissure in the ocean, things begin to pop up that shouldn’t be down there. By things I mean cleverly designed miniature models that are lit just right enough to fake us out into believing they are actually giant underwater behemoths from the darkest nightmares of marine cryptozoology. Captained by R. Lee Ermey, giving the character gravitas the film almost doesn’t deserve, it’s a doomed mission from the start, especially when you factor in the shady presence of first mate Ray ‘Leland Palmer’ Wise, who has a few tricks up the old sleeve. It’s up to man of the hour Jack Scalia to swagger their way out of danger, but the rift is deep, dark and pretty soon all kinds of gooey things find their way aboard the craft. It’s not half bad, at least nowhere near the second tier hack job some critics dubbed it as. Any effort that puts that much artisan ingenuity into deep sea monsters with as little money as they were given gets a handful of gold stars from me. Plus, you can’t go wrong with that cast. 

-Nate Hill

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Tab Murphy’s Last Of The Dogmen


Tab Murphy’s Last Of The Dogmen is a beautiful story, providing assurance that on a rapidly shrinking modern world there can still be some undiscovered wonder to be found, sometimes in the last place anyone would look. Tom Berenger, gruff as ever, stars as Lewis Gates, a rural bounty hunter charged with pursuing a gaggle of escaped felons who’ve hightailed it into Montana wilderness so dense that the usual branches of law can’t track them. Joined by his anthropologist friend (Barbara Hershey), he searches day and night for these convicts, and in the process finds something far more incredible. Buried far in the heart of this mostly untouched frontier is a tribe of Native Americans, thought to be wiped out by settlers generations earlier, living since then with no contact to the outside world. Gates is wary but fascinated, while Hershey recognizes this for the miracle it is and tries her best to communicate with the people, who in turn are fiercely protective of their land, especially towards the escaped prisoners who have wandered onto it as well. Hot on Berenger’s tail as well is his ex father in law (Kurtwood Smith) who is also the county Sheriff, bitter towards him for a past tragedy, volatile and unpredictable, another risky faction to flare up conflict between all sides. The action is kept to a necessary minimum, and the real meat of the piece lies in the pure spectacle of their situation, a reverence for both parties involved and a keen eye for interaction between human beings who couldn’t be more different yet have shared the same region for eons. The Native actors, including Sidel Standing Elk, Dawn Lavand, Eugene Blackbear and Steve Reevis, are all superb, as are Berenger and Smith. The real magic comes cascading through the lens of cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub, who beautifully captures Banff National Park in it’s full glory, as well as other such locations not far from my Canadian home. The film hangs onto the notion that there is still undiscovered splendour out there, from rushing rivers to ancient mountains, and the mysterious tribes who once, and perhaps still do, call it home. 

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Francis Delia’s Freeway


In the vein of highway set psycho thrillers, stuff like Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher and Steven Spielberg’s Duel paved and pioneered the way, fertilizing the ground for countless other similar efforts, some terrific and others not so much. Freeway falls into the former category, an atmospheric little B movie that delivers more clammy thrills than it frankly has any right to. It’s not to be confused with the classic Reese Witherspoon trash-terpiece of the same name though, this is a different animal altogether. There’s a serial killer terrorizing the nocturnal arteries of the L.A. highway system in this, an unhinged whacko in a Lincoln of or some such automobile of equally austerity, firing off love rounds into people’s faces whilst bellowing out bible verses extremely out of context all over the overpass in the wee hours. He’s mostly heard and unseen, but he’s played by none other than Billy Drago when he does show that leering visage, and the man let’s it rip in a performance that should be legendary. He’s hunted by another cool-as-ice character actor, tough guy James Russo as a Detective of few words and tons of action, namely shooting anyone that won’t give answers or spur his leads. There’s a dark, dreamy nocturnal aura to this, love and care put into atmosphere, showing is that the filmmakers, despite working with a low budget, actually give a darn about quality in their work as opposed to a throwaway second tier genre mad dash where the lack of passion is evident. A low rent classic in the realm of homicidal vehicular themed exploitation. 

-Nate Hill

One Man’s Hero


One Man’s Hero takes place during a conflict that doesn’t get all that much coverage in Hollywood, the Mexican American war. With a sweeping Patriot-esque vibe and a world weary starring turn turn from Tom Berenger, it’s an affecting tale that whether or not is based on truth, still packs an emotional whallop. Berenger is Riley, an Irish American who leads his mostly immigrant troupes through racial prejudice beset on them by their own American superiors, just one more obstacle thrown in with the already taxing war itself. Defecting from the troops, Riley is commissioned to lead his men on the opposing force, banding together with fiery, disillusioned Mexican revels leader Cortina (Joaquim De Almeida) and fight for acceptance and survival while navigating both sides of the conflict. Although there are a few impressive battle sequences staged here and there, the film is more about the private and personal wars fought amongst the ranks themselves, the notion that one army isn’t always just focused on the task and can get caught up in internal conflict, which often, including in this case, leads to unnecessary tragedy. Berenger and Almeida go at it fiercely in a love hate companionship constantly tested by the war and their mutual affection for beautiful fellow freedom fighter Marta (Daniela Romo). Underrated Patrick Bergin shows up in a severely powdered wig, Stephen Tobolowsky plays yet another one of his loathsome, letcherous roles and the late great James Gammon is the perfect embodiment of crusty yet compassionate General Zachary Taylor. Not a title that crosses many people’s vision when discussing war films, but a really solid effort despite a lower budget, a story that needed to be told and a star turn from Tom to remember. 

-Nate Hill

Peter Hyam’s Narrow Margin 


Peter Hyams Narrow Margin is a sleek thriller that attempts to blend courtroom intrigue with a single location white-knuckler, which it does.. mostly successfully. A better way to put it would be that it sandwiches a cat and mouse game set on a speeding train between an intro and epilogue both set in the decidedly more complicated realm of legal escapades. We open as an unfortunate lawyer (J.T. Walsh in a too brief cameo) is assassinated by the mobster scumbag (Harris Yulin, creepy as ever) he had shady ties too. A terrified Anne Archer hides in the shadows, witness to the murder, and therefore a valuable asset to the dogged prosecutor (Gene Hackman) who is trying to bring the kingpin down. The two of them are ambushed on a routine transport via helicopter and escape onto said train, and here’s where the narrative cops out just a little bit. Almost the entire rest of the film is spent on the train, an extended diversion of a set piece that steps in for what I thought would be a more cerebral battle of wills between these factions, in court and out. It’s not a huge deal, I was just expecting a little more, and the bits at either end of the film stand as my favourite sequences. Hackman plays stubborn like no other, having both literal and figurative tunnel vision here, the only one thing he cares about being the life of his witness. They’re harried at every turn by corrupt officials of many kinds, and pursued by a mystery woman (Susan Hogan, my acting mentor in college no less), while the train hurtles through the gorgeous Canadian wilderness, captured pristinely by Hyam’s lens as he dutifully does his own cinematography, the dynamo. It’s a thrilling little piece that benefits from Hackman’s spirited work, the photography and editing backing it up nicely.  

-Nate Hill

Dean Koontz’s Phantoms 


Dean Koontz’s Phantoms is one of those that I was really stoked on for years and would recommend at the drop of a hat… until I got around to reading the book. Koontz’s novel is brilliantly paced nocturnal nightmare fuel, detailed, imaginative and specific in it’s thrills and chills. This film is a brisk, truncated version of that story, not only that but it takes severe liberties and deviates quite a bit from the tale, resulting in a film that bears little resemblance to the book. It’s good on it’s own, for sure, atmospheric and freaky on terms that don’t include the big picture, but when seated alongside the novel it pales like the large number of paralyzed corpses that pop up all over an eerie abandoned village somewhere in the Midwest. Two sisters (Joanna Going and Rose McGowan) drive into town expecting to visit kindly relatives, and find only death and desertion instead. They wander about, plagued by visions and radios that play spooky old timey music of their own accord, spine tingling in this context. The only townsfolk they find are starched cadavers, killed by some unseen force that watches, waits and refuses to be defined. It’s in this first act that the film is scariest, achieving impressive levels of dread through isolation and uncertainty. As soon as Sheriff Ben Affleck and his shitkicking deputies shows up, the effect dims a bit and degenerates into schlocky survivalist gimmicks, still entertaining yet not as effective as the opening. Things get downright silly when the FBI delegates a crusty old professor of cryptozoology or some such farfetched endeavour (a peppy Peter O’ Toole) to come on over to town, analyze the mystical menace and.. well that’s about it from him. Clandestine hazmat teams are dispatched, Body Snatchers/The Thing homages ooze all over the place and the film putts along in standard horror gear, never getting near to as good as it was in the first twenty minutes or so, let alone the quality of the book. Liev Schreiber is memorable as one of Affleck’s boys who goes a little nutty, Bo Hopkins and Robert Knepper score points in cameos as cheeky G-Men, and there’s work from Clifton Powell Nicky Katt. For what it is it ain’t bad, just expect to be a little deflated if you watch this first and then go check out the book, because there’s no kind comparison to make. 

-Nate Hill

John Frankenheimer’s Dead Bang


John Frankenheimer’s Dead Bang makes no apologies for the straight up, down n’ dirty, violently obnoxious ninety minutes of rural crime mayhem it throws at you, containing no lofty subtext, tongue in cheek send ups or heady plot twists, purely and simply Don Johnson wiping out a gang of backwoods white supremacists and pissing off every superior officer along the way. A cop film to it’s roots, it’s a refreshing little diversion for Frankenheimer, who is known for taking on genre outings with ambitious undertones. Johnson is a flippant big city cop sent to the sticks to smoke out some neo-nazi assholes who are running guns, killing folks and all that fun stuff. He’s paired with a hysterically fussy FBI handler (William Forsythe, cast against type and loving it), and at odds with the psychotic ringleader of this gang (real life drill instructor Frank Military, also a solid actor), who proves to be quite a fly in the ointment. The action is rough and tumble and thoroughly R-rated, the villains are formidably nasty and Johnson’s cheeky super cop is wearily exasperated most of the time, out for the count but just gripping the edge as he hunts these yokels and deals with red tape including a department appointed shrink (Bob Balaban) who he hilariously mocks for looking like the Monopoly Guy in the film’s funniest bit, a riotous interlude. There’s scattershot work from Penelope Ann Miller, Mickey Jones, Michael Jeter, Tate Donovan and Garwin Sanford as well. Not a well known effort from firebrand Frankenheimer (I’ve heard some unbelievable stories from this set) but a really enjoyable shoot em up that deserves a far better rep. 

-Nate Hill