In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
The Arrow Video Channel, available on Apple TV, prides itself as the leading cult film video-on-demand service. With international selections of unique cinema of all genres, those amongst us seeking to make quarantine entertainment a little weirder needn’t look any further. The Arrow Video Channel is currently offering 30 days of curated, demented entertainment for free! Take a peek below at some of the wild fare featured in Arrow’s July releases.
Black Rainbow (1989 – dir. Mike Hodges)
Told almost entirely in flashback, Black Rainbow follows the adventures of Martha, a traveling psychic (Rosanna Arquette) and her alcoholic father (Jason Robards), as their tour passes through a factory town. During one of the shows, Martha, who claims to communicate with the dead, has a startling vision involving the murder of a local corporate whistleblower. When her vision comes true, the powers that be decide she should be killed as well, just in case her magic is indeed real. An investigative reporter (Tom Hulce) wants to know what else Martha can envision that may help him with his proposed corporate exposé, while the police compete against a professional hitman to reach Martha before it’s too late.
Black Rainbow is considered one of the best films from Mike Hodges (The Terminal Man, Get Carter), and it’s easy to see why. Right off the bat this film lays on thick the brand of hocus pocus that was big in the late 80s. What I mean is that here, extrasensory capabilities are married to the church, with folks showing no resistance to the belief that someone can communicate with the dead, while scoffing at the idea that someone could predict the future. Hodges has a lot of fun with the notion that a church and a traveling psychic are essentially in the same business — that of making money on the backs of a fearful audience — but also makes it pretty clear early on that Martha’s abilities are indeed genuine.
Arquette and Robards are delightful when they chew scenery together, taking any leaps of motivational logic and making them as fun, melodramatic, and even trashy as possible.
Bonus: Midway through the film there’s a riff on the famous “slap” scene from Jaws. Whether intentional or not, I cannot say, but it rules!
Bloodstone (1998 – dir. Dwight H. Little)
With the energy of a kid making movies in their backyard, Bloodstone delivers a proudly low-budget, absolutely bonkers adventure through the streets and palaces of India. And these streets and palaces are actually in India. Three cheers for on-location shoots! Oh how I miss thee! Part chase movie, part kidnapping film, with a little heist flick thrown in, this earnest action picture moves at a rocket pace, completely disinterested in how powerfully dumb it all is.
Centuries ago, a red gem (bloodstone, get it?) is imbued with a curse after the passing of a young princess. Years later it was stolen by the British. Just the other day it was taken from them by a thief, who then stashed it in the luggage of an American couple on honeymoon (Brett Stimely and Anna Nicholas). Unbeknownst to this couple, one half of which is a former cop, they now have many malevolent forces on their tails. With the help of a skilled cab driver (Rajinikanth, who only needs one name), the couple must locate the titular gem and avoid being killed by others who seek it. It’s gonna take karate, smack talk, and a more than liberal application of villains who can’t shoot a gun in order to save the day.
There’s a lot of Bollywood inspiration in this one, namely in how the action sequences are shot. If a wild stunt occurs, and they often do, you’d better believe it’s happening in slow motion. Large, cartoonish punches land to exaggerated reactions. Everybody is mugging pretty much all of the time, especially the hordes of henchmen, who seem to be less trained in combat than they are in slapstick comedy. Add to that the buddy cop aesthetic put forth by our leading duo and you’ve got an explosively fun time.
Late in the film, the big baddie quotes Shakespeare, to which our hero responds with a quote of his own. I shan’t spoil it, because it may be the greatest dialogue exchange in the history of cinema.
Bonus: The cab driven by our heroes features both a Marlboro sticker and a Cobra sticker. Yes, I am referring to the Stallone movie.
Zombie for Sale (2019 – dir. Lee Min-Jae)
Arrow Video Channel’s big offering for July comes in the form of what can only be described as a post-Train to Busan, post-Parasite zombie rom-com. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, it is, but first time feature filmmaker Lee Min-Jae makes easy work of it. Delicately balancing individual arcs of all the main characters, while also profiling the civics of a small town, just about every moment that isn’t filled with intense horror is filled with character-based comedy.
When a large pharmaceutical company accidentally creates a zombie, and said zombie escapes their grasp, it isn’t long before this undead teen stumbles across the Park family. The Parks run a failing gas station/auto-repair shop, and they are unafraid of dipping into murky ethical waters in order to keep it afloat. Mom is long since deceased, but her widow, his three children, and his pregnant daughter-in-law are doing their best to keep the family together. When their daily grind is interrupted by the zombie that they’ve named Jjong-Bi, they see an opportunity.
You see, when the elder Park patriarch is bitten by Jjong-Bi, he doesn’t turn into a zombie. Nope, instead he is given a new feeling of virility. His joints no longer ache, his wrinkles and gray hairs fade, and his urine stream is hilariously unobstructed. He’s as good as new! And it isn’t long before other older citizens of the town are clamoring to know his secret. The Parks, ever so inventive, decide to charge a few bucks per bite, and before long the entire city has tapped into the fountain of youth. This new source of income allows the Parks to transform their gas station back into a successful enterprise.
But all good things must come to an end.
Zombie for Sale maintains a playful, goofy air for much of its runtime, and when it finally does become a horror flick, the characters are so well-realized that the humor remains and the terror is that much more effective. A few ingeniously designed set pieces are used to maximum dramatic effect, punctuated with moments of inspired, often hilarious imagery.
Bonus: In the world of Zombie for Sale, Train to Busan exists. The Park family watches it for research.
Some other July releases for the Arrow Video Channel include The Gamera Collection (12 films!), Creepshow 2 (which features The Raft, a short that gives me nightmares), and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (starring David Bowie!).