I've been a film buff since childhood, and I love writing about and reviewing my favorites.
A Dollar Store Double Feature
In the early 2000's one of my favorite pastimes was scrounging for cheap movie DVDs. At that time there were numerous bargain-basement DVD labels including EastWestDVD, Digiview, and BCI/Eclipse that kept dollar and discount stores well stocked with DVDs that featured mostly public-domain cartoons, TV shows, and feature films. I was mostly into horror and sci-fi "B" movies at that time (actually, I still am!) and added quite a few such titles to my collection. I rarely see those cheap DVD displays in stores anymore, so I imagine most, if not all, of those companies are now defunct in this digital streaming age. That's a shame, because they dug up some pretty cool, obscure stuff!
While moving things around in my DVD shelf this past week I came across a dollar-store double feature that I had bought about ten years ago, but for whatever reason had never gotten around to watching. It was like receiving an unexpected gift from the B-Movie Gods! The two films - "Creature" (1985) and "Slipstream" (1989) - were obviously dubbed from old VHS tapes, as the picture quality was fuzzy, with washed out colors and of course they were presented in full screen, not widescreen - but then, what do you expect for a buck? Both flicks were fun in a "so bad it's good" kind of way - and you can't beat the price!
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Wendy Schaal, Stan Ivar
Directed by: William Malone
I have only vague memories of "Creature's" short theatrical run in 1985, but even back then I thought it looked like a low budget "Alien" ripoff. Finally seeing it three decades later, my teenage instincts were right on the money. "Creature" may not have an original bone in its body, but it was still a good, goofy, gory ride.
An interstellar archaeology mission on Titan (one of Saturn's moons), has discovered a collection of alien life forms preserved in stasis tubes - which they estimate may be 20,000 years old. While they wait for someone to pick them up the hapless researchers accidentally break one of the tubes open, and its grumpy occupant wakes up and has them for lunch. When a search team is sent from Earth some time later to find out what happened to the first squad, they find a ship from a rival German corporation already in their planned landing zone. Their ship crashes on the moon's surface and is damaged beyond repair. The astronauts then explore the deserted German ship, where they are attacked by the title Creature, which looks pretty much like you would expect a low budget ripoff of "Alien" to look like. Eventually the lone "name" actor in "Creature's" cast shows up - German art-house legend Klaus Kinski, appearing in yet another cheap B-Movie for a quick paycheck, as the only survivor of the German crew. He explains that "We found a child's butterfly collection... but some of these butterflies are not so friendly." Kinski and the American crew plan to reclaim the German ship from its nasty stowaway so they can all return to Earth in it, but as you might expect these plans go spectacularly wrong and the Creature gets to chow on a few more cast members before the remaining survivors manage to mount a do-or-die final assault.
"Creature" has some pretty decent sets and costumes in spite of its obvious low budget, and a sense of humor that's often missing from other flicks in this genre. I could have sworn that this film was rated PG-13 when it was released back in the '80s but I doubt if that memory is accurate because there are numerous "F-bombs," some pretty cool, gnarly gore (including a head explosion, a decapitation, and a dude's face being peeled off of his skull) and some bare boobs - all of which would've called for an "R" rating. "Creature" is worth a look even if you're tired of the "Alien" saga and its endless retreads.
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Starring: Mark Hamill, Bill Paxton, Bob Peck
Directed by: Steven Lisberger
1989's "Slipstream" is mostly forgotten today, despite its cool concept and an impressive cast that includes Ben Kingsley, F. Murray Abraham, the late Bill Paxton, and Mark Hamill. The film was a box offce failure in its native United Kingdom and went straight to video in America, causing financial ruin for producer Gary Kurst (of "Star Wars" fame) and hastening its descent into the shadowy netherworld of Public Domain.
The film's opening narration informs us that we're sometime in the future, when "the continents have split apart" and "massive winds have wiped the planet clean." The "Slipstream" of the title refers to a current of air that criss-crosses the entire planet, which the remaining people of Earth use as a travel route, using hopped-up gliders and airplanes. We're dropped into this post-apocalyptic landscape just in time to witness bad-ass space cop Tasker (played by Mark "Luke Skywalker" Hamill) taking an oddly calm, proper looking suit-and-tie British fellow (Bob Peck) into custody. On his way back to civilization Tasker stops at a spaceport, where he encounters Matt (Bill Paxton in a mullet), a wanna-be bounty hunter looking for a quick score. When Matt overhears that Tasker's charge will be worth a lot of money at the end of the line, he steals the prisoner and takes off with him in his glider/plane, hoping to cash in on the reward himself. Tasker and his equally bad-ass female partner race off in hot pursuit, and the chase is on, as they say.
From here "Slipstream" becomes a pretty standard chase film for a while. Paxton and his poetry-quoting charge drop in on a few ravaged human settlements while avoiding the crazed law officers and end up in a hidden civilization of intellectuals holed up in what looks like the ruins of a museum. By this time the prim-and-proper prisoner has learned to loosen up a little (I will not reveal his secret for fear of violating the Spoiler Warning rules, though most viewers will probably have it figured out way before Paxton's character does) and he and Paxton have bonded and become friends. This section of the film gets a little goofy, as the odd pair suddenly find themselves in the midst of a totally out of place, full-on dance scene straight out of a Fred Astaire musical (!) before Hamill's character crashes the party and thankfully brings us back to action time again.
So yeah, "Slipstream" has a bit of an identity crisis (does it want to be an action packed sci-fi movie or a touching, intellectual exercise about friendship?) but the gorgeous scenery and flight scenes are fabulous to look at, set design is adequately rough-and-tumble, and the performances are all quite good. The exchanges between the oh-so-polite "Byron" and Paxton as they run from Tasker provide plenty of comedy relief, and there's even some decent female eye candy. Hamill is the most fun to watch here; after years of being typecast as goody two-shoes Luke Skywalker, he was obviously having a ball playing the bad guy for a change. "Slipstream" was a pleasant surprise that certainly rose above most of the one-dollar wonders I usually wade through.
That was fun!
Maybe it's time to start trolling through the local dollar stores again! Once a cheap movie addict, always a cheap movie addict!
© 2017 Keith Abt