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In its wake came the Cyborgs: Remembering Knights with Gary Daniels by Kent Hill

There is a person I need to acknowledge here at the beginning, and that is my sister. More than once over these long years of obsessing cinema, she has been the one that has unearthed little gems of movies that I, either by ignorance or simple momentary blindness, have unwittingly passed by. Now I’m tough to recommend to. Meaning that if you are going to try and sell me on a film you think is great, I must state, I am not won over easily. Aside from my sister there has been only one other person that has recommended films to me that I (A) haven’t seen, and (B) were right in their prognostication – which is to say, they weren’t lying and the film was really grand.

And so it was on one of these rich but rare occasions that my sister presented me with a film I hadn’t seen, and that she foretold was right up my alley, as it were. The film was Albert Pyun’s Knights.

KNIGHTS

The video store we were in that day is long gone now. I was one of the last that still had a liberal mixture of the then new DVDs and the old, faithful, VHS tapes. Now from memory, which isn’t always accurate, my sister had watched the movie prior to this visit and, upon seeing me struggling to find something to watch, picked up the tape and gave me the rundown.

Then as now, the premise, in this man’s opinion, is most alluring.

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A Western/Vampire/Cyborg/Kickboxing flick set in a dystopian future – what more can you ask for? Wait – there is more.  It’s the screen debut of kickboxing champion Kathy Long, you get to see Kris Kristofferson (Heaven’s Gate/Fire Down Below) , or at least his stuntman, do Kung fu, be blown in half and keep fighting. There’s a deliciously villainous performance from Lance Henriksen (Aliens/The Quick and the Dead), wonderfully unintentionally funny moments with Pyun’s Red Skull, Scott Paulin (The Right Stuff). This film was touted to be a sequel to Pyun’s other post-apocalyptic success CYBORG and even stars it’s villain in the person of Vincent Klyn (Point Break) – the hits just keep on coming.

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To summarize, the story follows the journey of an orphan girl named Nea, growing up in a world where 1000 years of nuclear war has knocked society back to the stone age – and then come those Vampire Cyborgs. Feeding off the blood of the living and seeking to become ‘real boys’, they follow the plans handed down from the Master Builder. They also command human soldiers who have betrayed (the scene in which this plot point is tackled has a sweet little cameo from Tim ‘Jack Deth’ Thomerson) their race and help the Cyborgs harvest blood.

Into the chaos comes Gabriel (Kristofferson), a Cyborg terminator if you will, sent to end the brutal reign of his kin. He’s in town with a year to kill, literally, and to destroy the likes of Job (Henriksen), Simon (Paulin) and David (My Guest) (The Cyborgian Wild Bunch) with the aid of some rusty machetes and devastating martial arts manoeuvres like the Mont Blanc offensive along with the Crimean and Valhalla attacks.

Having been charged to take out the City of Taos and gather the blood of 10,000 souls to make them all powerful, the evil cyborgs might have pulled it off to if it weren’t for Kathy and Kris. Our heroes ultimately save the day and we are left with, what feels like, the beautiful promise of more to come (sequel). Sadly it never did. And though Nea finds her long lost brother who is captured by the elusive Master Builder, who we are then told via Nea’s voice-over that they chase across time and space till they catch up and kick some ass in Cyborg City – the movie is over, and all I want to do is watch it again.

I love the movies of Albert Pyun. From the seminal The Sword and the Sorcerer to his Captain America to Cyborg and Nemesis, Pyun is a filmmaker of such passion and diversity in his choices that you can only sit and let your mind dance in the splendor of his visions. But – Knights, I have to say is my favorite. To that end I have long wanted to do a little write-up on it and thought it a perfect fit for my ‘Remembering’ series here for PTS.

As always I have a guest who was a part of the film, and in the case of Knights it is martial arts action legend Gary Daniels who is here to share is tales from days of old – when Pyun’s Knights were bold . . .

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Gary Daniels

KH: Firstly Gary, thank you for giving us your time, you’re a busy man and we appreciate it?

GD: Cheers Kent. Knights happened 26 years ago so I haven’t thought about it for a long time. But since you brought it up, little memories are coming back.

KH: How did the role in Knights come to you?

GD: Knights came very early in my career, I had just arrived in LA, signed with my first manager, Hiley Elkins (who represented James Coburn and Lou Gossett Jnr). Hiley got me an interview with Albert Pyun for a role which I think was originally written for a woman. I didn’t have to audition, just had a chat with Albert and fortunately I got the role.

KH:  The locations used gave the film grand scope – what were they like to film in?

GD: Yes we shot in Moab, Utah. It was a small town with only one main road, kind of isolated but the surrounding countryside was beautiful and had some amazing landscapes that really enhanced the movie. Albert always had a very artistic eye and a clear vision for his films.

KH: You’ve played a diverse group of characters in your career – but what was it like playing a vampire/cyborg?

GD: Well as i mentioned this film came very early in my career so it was kind of a blessing for me to play a cyborg that didn’t have such a wide range of emotions, lol. Basically he was a robot that could fight. It was a good film for me to get my feet wet working on location with some great people and beginning to learn my trade.

KH: This film for me had echoes of another post-apocalyptic film you did; Fist of the North Star. Do you think there are parallels?

GD: For me personally I do not see any parallels between ‘Knights’ and ‘Fist of the North Star’.  In FOTNS I was the lead so it was a much more demanding job and there was more pressure on me to carry the film. Also with FOTNS there was a source material that we needed to honor.  ‘Knights’ was shot on location and 99% of FOTNS was shot on a sound stage. As a lead actor your relationship with the director and fight choreographer is much more in depth than when you are playing a lesser role, so I actually learnt a lot more from the FOTNS experience.

KH: As with Fist, on Knights you worked alongside some big names like Kris Kristofferson, Lance Henriksen – not forgetting five time world champion Kathy Long?

GD: Yes we had some great actors. Kathy and I got along great and would go to the gym together to work out, she was a very tough lady but also a very sincere person. On days off we would go on long hikes exploring the beautiful surrounding areas. At weekends the cast and crew would get together for barbecues and Kris Kristofferson would play guitar and sing so we were all treated to a private concert. My room in the honey wagon (changing room/trailer) was connected to Lance Henriksen’s so we would slide back the dividing wall and chat for hours. He was such a nice guy and gave me loads of advice. I was about to go and shoot ‘City Hunter’ with Jackie Chan so he gave me loads of advice on playing a villain. He had just received an offer to reprise his role as the android Bishop in the ‘Aliens’ sequel so he was in a good place at that time. As well as these great actors it was on ‘Knights that i got to meet and work with Burton Richardson who was the fight choreographer, a good guy and a talented, knowledgeable martial artist – also the stunt coordinator Bobby Brown whom I have been fortunate enough to work with several times since. He specializes in high falls and was once a high diver so can add tumbling to his falls, an incredibly talented man.

KH: Knights has gone on to become one of Albert Pyun’s more notable works among many in his prolific career, what it like working with him?

GD: Albert Pyun is one of the nicest, most easy going directors I have ever worked with, he has that Hawaiian island laid back attitude. I personally owed him a huge debt of gratitude as when I was on my way to Moab my plane had stopped for a layover in Salt Lake City and I was paged by the airport PA system.  My manager was calling to say that Golden Harvest had called and wanted me in work on ‘City Hunter’ with Jackie Chan but they needed me in Tokyo to board the ship we shot on at a date where I was still scheduled to be in Moab on ‘Knights’.   When I arrived in Moab I told Albert about the call and the situation and knowing who Jackie was he actually graciously rearranged the shooting schedule so I could finish my work on ‘Knights’ in time for me to get to Tokyo before the ship/cruise liner left. Not many directors would do that for a new actor so I will be eternally grateful to Albert for his kindness.

KH: Can you share with us any interesting tales from the shoot?

GD: One story from that shoot I remember other than the one above was  . . . One day Kathy and I were driving to set and she accidentally ran over a rattlesnake in the road, a pretty big one I might add. Kathy was driving and she stopped the car, we looked back and saw the snake writhing around in the road. Kathy got out the car, walked back to the snake, picked it up and carried it to the side of the road so no other cars would hit it. That is the kind lady she is.

KH: What do you think are the ingredients for a cult classic?

GD: I don’t think that when you are making a film that you are planning on making a ‘cult classic’, it is really up to the audience and the fans that make that a reality. While shooting I think everyone just does the best work they can but some films just touch a nerve with certain audiences. They are not always the biggest budgets with the biggest stars but usually there is something original and unique that appeals to people.

KH: Before we finish, have you the desire to return to the post-apocalyptic actioner if gifted the opportunity?

GD: I would happily return to the post-apocalyptic genre, as always decisions are mostly based on the script and the character I am offered (and sometimes the money, lol). I was offered a lot of films early in my career that I would love to revisit as after almost 30 years in this business I feel I am a much more seasoned actor now and I have a lot more life experience to bring to my roles. The post-apocalyptic genre allows such a great scope for creativity as the future is unwritten so the only limit is your imagination.

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Big thanks again to my Guest, the awesome Mr. Daniels for his time. Please do, however you can, seek out Knights – you won’t be disappointed I promise. And if you are not familiar with the cinema of Albert Pyun (https://www.albertpyun.net/), there’s no time like the present to start checking out his movies. The glorious thing is, despite struggling in a battle against dementia, Albert continues to keep his cameras rolling. C’mon! That’s gotta inspire.

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Gary Daniels has performed in over 70 films since his start as an extra in an episode of the 1980s television series Miami Vice. He is best known for playing Kenshiro in the live-action version of Fist of the North Star. He is also known for his roles in the Jackie Chan film City Hunter, and as Bryan Fury in the 2009 live-action film Tekken, based upon the popular fighting game series. He was also seen in the Sylvester Stallone film The Expendables as Lawrence “The Brit” Sparks, an ally of the villain James Munroe.

If you wish to stay up-to-the-minute-informed with the awesome cinema of Gary Daniels, please follow the link below:

https://www.facebook.com/therealgarydaniels/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Joyce Chopra’s The Last Cowboy

I’m a huge fan of the Hallmark style drama films, and anyone who scoffs at the inherent melodrama or perceived schmaltz is missing the point completely and deliberately robbing themselves of the therapeutic, diversional catharsis one can find in them. When you’re feeling shitty about the world, your problems or any other negativity, they can be a life affirming escape because they almost always are just small stories about kind people, families overcoming trouble or getting together for various holidays, just pleasant, earnest entertainment for entertainment’s sake, simplicity itself. Joyce Chopra’s The Last Cowboy is a fine example, and especially a treasure for the way it casts usually edgy, frequently villainous character actors in sympathetic, against type lead roles. The great Lance Henriksen is Will Cooper, a stubborn, salt of the earth old school rancher whose land is in danger of being seized by the bank. After his estranged daughter Jake (Jennie Garth) returns home with her young son after many years absence, it becomes clear that it’s up to her and Will to reconcile their differences, put the pain of the past behind them and work together to save the ranch before it’s too late. Henriksen is always a dynamic actor and imbues Jake with grit and grace, while Garth, who I haven’t seen in a single other thing, does a great job too. The real scene stealer is character actor M.C. Gainey as Amos, Will’s lovable farmhand, friend and confidante. This is a special role for him because he’s almost always found playing roughneck bikers, evil criminals or redneck truckers, but here he’s an honest to goodness decent human being and he just nails it. Bradley Cooper shows up as well in a more subdued role as a horse owner who brings business to Will and stirs Jake’s heart. This is a small, very low budget TV movie and has barely ever seen the light of day in terms of exposure (it took me like five years to track down a DVD), but it’s heartfelt, really well acted and if you’re a fan of anyone in this cast it’s a rare gem.

-Nate Hill

Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead

Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead is the kind of giddy visual treat you get when you give a special effects wizard like him the director’s chair as well as animatronics duties. A kind of bizarre, atmospheric backwoods fable infused with slasher sensibilities, it’s gory, grisly with a hellish supernatural vibe and an eleven foot tall monster that makes a real impression. Before all that though, there’s a surprisingly touching setup that’s sees small town farmer Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen rocks it as usual) living the quiet life in rural USA with his dog and young son (Matthew Hurley), until a roster of big city punks show up and inadvertently cause the kid’s death via an idiotic dirt-bike stunt. Devastated and heartbroken, Ed turns to a local witch (Florence Schauffler, terrifying) who skulks around the bayou in hopes of retribution. He isn’t quite careful enough what he wishes for though, for the cackling old bitch unleashes aforementioned Pumpkinhead, a nigh unstoppable demon who hunts down the teenagers one by one and starts to tear them limb from limb. Ed, not being an evil man but blinded by rage and heartbreak, sees his fatal mistake, suits up with shotgun, flamethrower and true grit and aims to do a little hunting of his own, perhaps to put an end to Pumpkinhead’s teenage mutilation derby. The monster here is actually a really scary creation from Winston and his team, all gnarly clawed fingers, gaunt skin over a skeletal gargoyle frame and leering fangs, like a Xenomorph after six rounds of chemo as it butchers these hapless kids. Henriksen is awesome in a rare lead role and really kicks ass both physically and in terms of showing the smouldering emotion in Ed’s broken soul. The forests are filled up with eerie lighting and scores of smoke machines for the unmistakable 80’s atmosphere, while Winston & Co. ensure that not only are the special effects top tier, but setting feels authentic too, having its own personality. A horror classic. I won’t weigh in on the sequels as I’ve never really gone for the plunge, but from what I’ve read they seem like garbage for the most part.

-Nate Hill

Paul W.S. Anderson’s AVP: Alien Vs. Predator

Here’s the thing: much of what is needed was in place to make an epic, badass Alien/Predator crossover flick. They had a solid premise, a director with a sure footing and visible background in horror, an able cast with a genre/franchise titan as a callback to earlier entries, and all the special effects they could want at their disposal. So how did AVP: Alien Vs. Predator end up being an oven roasted, inexcusable slice of shit? Well, script and execution I suppose, the whole thing just has a murky, suspiciously rushed feel to it and no trace of memorable pedigree at all. However, to me their first mistake and cardinal sin was to rate the thing PG-13. These are two intense, extremely graphic and gruesomely violent horror franchises, and as such any amalgamation should, of anything, step up the carnage, so whoever had final say as far as that goes should have a face-hugger attached to every orifice of their body. So what does work? Well, Lance Henriksen for one, but he has a history of being the best thing about many films he’s been in and it’s hard for him not to shine through any amount of muck. He plays the dying CEO of infamous Weyland Yutani corporation and gives all the grit and gravity he can amongst a flurry of inconsequential CGI. Recruiting a team of scientists and mercenaries, he plans to descend into an Antarctic pyramid where centuries ago, the mythic Yautjas and the primal Xenomorphs had a Royal Rumble. Star Sanaa Lathan is actually great as the ‘final girl’ of sorts in this slasher game, other team members include Ewan Bremmer, Raoul Bova and Tommy Flanagan, but most are lost in the confusion, poorly written or forgotten entirely. The battle scenes are haphazard and sloppy, the dialogue barely there and the colour scheme is this kind of shitty, subdued blue-hue nonsense with no personality it’s own, like an icy deodorant commercial that just happens to have monsters in it. Many people blame director Anderson, but who really knows. People forget that he’s responsible for the first Resident Evil film which is solid, gutsy horror and has the type of energy meant to be found here, as well as Event Horizon, one of the scariest, well wrought sci-fi/horror flicks of the century, so he was a reasonable candidate to helm this. In any case, it’s a big ol’ mess, a titanic wasted opportunity and a dark stain on both respective legacies. There’s a sequel which I haven’t seen, but it’s probably just as wretched.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Baja

Baja is one of those dusty, hazy B movies that seems to serve no other purpose other than to fill the 90 minute cable slot between 2am and 3:30 on TBS Superstation (yes I still remember that). But these flicks have their niche in the cinematic zeitgeist, and there’s a spot in my insanely busy schedule for each and every one, when time allows. This one is a lonely little piece of hard boiled desert pulp starring Molly Ringwald and Lance Henriksen, concerning drug deals gone wrong, betrayal, a hitman, a crime boss (Corbin Bernsen, whatever happened to him?) who chases his meds with hard-bar, lots of sand and washed out sun-bleach colour, some Cessna action and a hazy vibe that’s best attained by skulling a few brews before you settle in. Ringwald and Donal Logue play a couple trying to broker a deal out there near the Salton Sea, a deal that goes horribly wrong and ends up with eccentric contract killer Burns (Henriksen) being dispatched to find and kill them, or something vague like that. He spends less time actually being proactive though and instead wanders around, gets drunk, bitches about his wife, searches for hookers and basically does everything but the job he was hired to do. It’s hilarious watching Lance chew scenery and have a sand blast with his performance, seemingly a dude that wandered in dazed and heavily confused from a Coen Brothers flick. It all just kind of meanders past without a lot of fanfare until the final few frames when Henriksen hires a drunken bush pilot (Jack Conley) and flies off in his rickety plane out of the film, leaving us in the dust trying to decipher what is a fairly convoluted, strange little story. It’s fun for what it is though, has gorgeous scenery of rural California and Lance’s central performance is fun. Good luck ever finding it though, I snagged a battered old VHS tape in some forgotten store on Vancouver Island years ago.

-Nate Hill

JACK DETH IS BACK . . . AND HE’S NEVER BEEN HERE BEFORE: An Interview with Tim Thomerson by Kent Hill

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I was mid-way through my interview with C. Courtney Joyner when Tim Thomerson’s name came up. Joyner of course, had directed Tim in Trancers 3, and cooler still, he had just had him round for breakfast earlier that day. You might call it an imposition, but I mentioned that if there was even a remote possibility that he could put me in touch with Tim, I would be forever grateful. Courtney told me he was seeing Tim again on the weekend and would put forward my proposition. Soon after, I received a message with a phone number.

Now, I’m usually in the habit of arranging an appropriate time and day to call, but Courtney had left it open. I remember for the first time, in a long time, being nervous to make the call. After all this was Tim Thomerson who was going to be picking up the phone; a guy, a legend that I had watched for years. So I summoned my moxy and dialled the number. The familiar international ring-cycle began and then . . . “Thomerson,” the voice on the other end of the line said.

I’m going to come off as an idiot here, but I.D.G.A.R.A. “Damn,” I remember thinking. “He sounds exactly like he does in the movies.” Stupid, I’m well aware. But the moment was profound, and I was instantly transported to that time when I sat in the theatre watching Metalstorm, and that glorious afternoon I first sat down to watch Future Cop (aka Trancers). Here was Jack Deth now, on the end of the line and talking to me like we had been buddies since forever.

I did kinda wish we could have jumped into our chat right there. Tim was at once disarming, candid and as cool as i had expected him to be. He was off to his retreat in the desert to do “old man shit” as he put it, and, while I realize he is an aged gentleman now, that voice, the larger than life character that he is still packed all of the vitality, swagger and youthful exuberance that very much belies his years.

I didn’t have to wait long before we would talk again, and when we did, the conversation picked up right where it left off. I would take a significant amount of time to go through the length and breadth of his career, so I restricted myself to personal favourites among his credits. We talked about his beginnings, his great friendships, his bumping into Mel Gibson at the doctor’s office, him working with his idols, Australian Cinema and his meeting with the legend that was Sam Peckinpah.

For those of you who regularly check out my stuff here on the site (God bless you), I fear I might be starting to sound like a cracked record. A number of times in the past I have found myself gushing about the opportunities I have enjoyed whilst writing for PTS, and how humbled and indeed awe-struck I have been as a result of these encounters with the folks who make the movies. Sadly I’m now going to do it again. Tim Thomerson is a hero of mine and it was at once spellbinding and an indescribable treasure to have had the chance to shoot the breeze with an actor I have long held in high regard . . .

. . . and an equal pleasure it is, to now share it with you.

Enjoy.

Brian Taylor’s Mom & Dad

I read an article a while back saying that at the premiere of Brian Taylor’s Mom & Dad, the director attended the screening and prefaced it by saying that his film has “mental problems.” Well… he wasn’t wrong. Taylor is one half of the Neveldine/Taylor genre filmmaking team, a blitzkrieg duo responsible for both of the Crank movies, plus Gamer, and if you’ve seen any of those you’ll have an idea of the way their sense of humour slants towards the bizarre. With this one it kind of trundles headlong into willfully fucked up territory though, and before you know what’s happened, it’s scant 86 minute runtime is up and you’re left there in the dust, feeling somewhat violated. The concept is blunt and visceral: everywhere, all at once, the nurturing instinct in parents is savagely reversed and they immediately start to murder their own children. Only their children, mind you, and with a disturbing lucidity that I couldn’t decide whether to laugh at or get spine chills from. An amped up Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair play your average upper middle class parental unit, and the film mainly focuses on their eventual snap, and a subsequent tooth & nail fight to snuff out their poor son and daughter (Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur). That’s pretty much the film, although for such a seemingly simple concept within a short piece it somehow manages still clearly articulate its narrative amidst the ruckus and even comment on something deeper than it’s 70’s Midnite Movie veneer initially suggests. Cage treats this as the ultimate midlife crisis, and indeed his acting these days is more gonzo than ever. He’s got a mental breakdown midway through the film and before the killer epidemic even breaks out that is so over the top it reaches a kind of feverish harmony, not to mention appearing scarily un-faked on the actor’s part. Though quick and fierce, the film could have still tightened the pace a bit in the opener and extended the super violent, Home Alone-esque second act a smidge, but oh well. Watching Cage and Blair overact to the heavens as they try and kill their own kids with every household item they can grab including a meat tenderizing hammer (ouch) and a Sawzall (“Sawzall… saws…. all…”) hits some blissfully transcendent notes, if you have the twisted mind to stomach it. There’s a scene that will test boundaries though and walks a fine line between crazy and flat out uncalled for (one of my friends walked out of the room in disgust), but hey, that’s the kind of stuff this director is known for, so try and roll with it. Things get really bizarre when Cage’s own parents show up to add to the cluster-fuck, his demonic veteran daddy personified briefly and perfectly by a ferocious Lance Henriksen. Accompanied by a sketchy, warped and nerve-shredding score and some off kilter editing, this will either be your thing or it won’t, there’s just no middle-ground in an arena this fucked up. Good luck.

-Nate Hill