Directed by Craig R. Baxley
Distributed by The Scream Factory
”I come in peace.”
”And you go in pieces, asshole.”
Chances are, if you’re able to recall anything about director Craig Baxley’s 1990 buddy cop/alien drug dealer action flick Dark Angel – more commonly known here in the States as I Come In Peace – it’s that exchange of dialogue. But, really, there’s much more worth remembering (and revisiting) now that Shout! Factory has finally given the film a proper release. Roughshod-cop-versus-alien films were in vogue for a few years after Predator (1987) became a hit, paving the way for films like this and Split Second (1992, and also in dire need of a remastered home video release). Baxley, who hails from a family of veteran stunt actors, put a great deal of effort into the film’s action, maximizing the paltry $5 million budget he had to work with so well that it looks like it was shot for $20 million. The resulting film is a unique mix of buddy cop, mobster, and sinister alien visitor subgenres that somehow manages to steamroll through 90 minutes without any noticeable lagging.
Dolph Lundgren stars as Houston cop Jack Caine, the kind of guy who works out of his car and survives on little food and less sleep. When a drug sting goes wrong, leaving his partner dead, Jack is paired up with straight-laced FBI agent Arwood “Larry” Smith (Brian Benben of HBO’s “Dream On” fame) to bring down the White Boys, a group of white collar criminals who control the city’s drug trade. The group is led by Caine’s old foil, Victor Manning (Howard Sherman, best known to horror fans as “Bub” from Day of the Dead), who blames him for stealing their supply of heroin. But it isn’t Caine Manning should be worried about because the heroin is being used by Talec, a massive, hulking humanoid, as a means to extract endorphins from victims around the city. A spiked tube on his wrist pumps his targets full of heroin, at which point endorphins are released in the brain just as he slams a giant vacuum tube into their heads, sucking them dry. On his trail is an interstellar police officer who tells Caine and Smith that on their planet our endorphins are sold on the black market as a powerful drug. Armed with this knowledge, and a couple of big-ass alien handguns, the two set out to destroy Talec before he annihilates all of Houston.
First off, gotta say I find it very odd that Shout! has chosen to release this film under the international title (which was also used during production) of Dark Angel. While I applaud the geeky lengths they go to in an effort to please fans, releasing a film with a known title under its relatively unknown name isn’t likely to bolster sales. When I informed one of my friends that “Dark Angel” was coming out on Blu-ray, he had no clue what movie I was referring to. Once I mentioned its more common moniker, he was instantly excited. Point is, how can those people be reached if they aren’t familiar with the title it’s being sold under? Only the nerdiest fans are aware of this alternate title. Short rant there, but it’s just a bit puzzling. Plus, let’s be honest here, I Come In Peace sounds way cooler, while Dark Angel sounds like the kind of safe, generic title a producer would give it.
One thing the film can’t be faulted for is a dearth of action. Baxley put forth all of his cinematic magic, and years of honing his craft as a stuntman, to produce action that is on-par with any big-screen tentpole audiences could have seen that year. It is truly unremitting, and by the end of the picture you’ll likely feel as fatigued as the two leads. Anything that looks like it could explode in this film, does. Buildings, cars, and people are all annihilated with extreme prejudice, but, man, does it look glorious on screen. Baxley allows the film to really showcase his work, with lots of wide shots and unique camera work to heighten much of the action. Talec, the film’s Evil Alien, uses a CD-looking disc that hones in on human frequencies to slice up many of his victims. But rather than having someone off-screen toss a disc at someone as they fall holding their throat, the camera is “mounted” to the disc, taking us along for the ride as jugular after jugular is shredded. Every explosion in the film is massive, and if you actually consider how much of downtown Houston was being exploded in the film it’s a wonder the military wasn’t called in. Also, those aliens have huge guns and everything they shoot acts like it was wired with C-4.
Like any good buddy cop film, our two leads appear horribly mismatched at first. Dolph’s character is the top cop who doesn’t play by the rules. We’ve all seen this guy a thousand times. Brian Benben is the stereotypically uptight, staunch FBI agent who adheres to the rulebook like it’s scripture. And, of course, they eventually come to a mutual understanding right when they have to. All of this is nothing new, but these two guys just have good chemistry. Not every odd cinematic pairing feels genuine. Maybe I’m being a tad biased because Benben’s breakout role on “Dream On” was one of my favorites growing up, and here he’s teamed with Ivan Drago, but I doubt I’m alone here.
If there’s any complaint about the film, it’s the mostly pointless White Boys subplot. Yes, it’s kinda funny that there’s a gang of white collar dicks stealing heroin from the cops and blowing up anyplace Caine is spotted, and they’re led by Bub. But it goes nowhere. The only reason for its existence is to give our Evil Alien a place to acquire the large amount of heroin he needs to drug humans. Creating an organization and tying it in to Caine’s partner being killed seems like an obvious and understandable scripting point, but then it just sort of trails off and the film ends with no clear resolution despite the White Boys constantly popping up as a threat.
Whatever you want to call the film (but, seriously, we all know everyone is flipping over that reversible cover art as soon as it’s out of the shrink wrap to display I Come In Peace), Craig Baxley delivered a wildly entertaining, often brutal ride that is finally getting the release it deserves. Matthias Hues is in full-on creep mode as the 6’5” alien drug dealer, Lundgren and Benben have a believable chemistry to keep their relationship interesting, and there’s something or someone being blown up or horribly dispatched every 10 minutes. It’s got all the trappings of the early-‘90s cult classics genre fans can’t get enough of.
Shout! Factory likely used the same HD master MGM prepared for the previously-issued DVD that was part of their Limited Edition (read: burned DVD-r) Collection. As such, the picture looks very cleaned up and polished without featuring any post-processing deficiencies like DNR. There’s a healthy layer of grain present, which provides a more filmic appearance. Fine details are more apparent than ever, although sometimes they are lost to the picture’s rich black levels. Colors appear strong and have a bit of pop to them, and skin tones reveal nice texture and coloration. Hues of blue tend to dominate the color palette. This is clearly a case where the studio commissioned an HD master with minimal tinkering (probably because they simply didn’t feel the film was worth it), resulting in a natural image that benefits from the added resolution. The back cover only lists a stereo track, but rest assured this disc comes packed with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track. Still, even with the extra channels most of the soundtrack is relegated to the front and center speakers. Jan Hammer – of “Miami Vice” fame – provides a pulse-pounding synth score that echoes his work on that popular ‘80s culture staple show. It can get a little bombastic when there’s action to be seen, but more often than not the rear speakers are on standby.
There’s one main supplement here, along with a few minor ones. A 25-minute featurette, “A Look Back at Dark Angel”, features recent interviews with director Craig Baxley and stars Dolph Lundgren and Brian Benben. Baxley is clearly still exuberant about his work here, talking up every aspect of the production process he can. Did you know that famed screenwriter David Koepp did a rewrite here under a pseudonym? He dispenses with as much information as possible in the runtime, even extending his thoughts into the credits. Dolph and Benben both recall the film with fondness and have a lot of good to say about it. This disc also includes the theatrical trailer (HD) along with a poster and stills gallery that runs for about five minutes, featuring production stills, poster art, etc.
As much as we all love to see Shout! give fans ultra-deluxe editions of our favorite films, it’s fantastic when they tackle titles that have never been given the proper respect on home video. Dark Angel is one helluva fun time, and if it weren’t for Shout!, I don’t know if we’d ever have seen it hit hi-def.
4 out of 5
2 out of 5
Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On
Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston
Directed by Johnny Martin
When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.
Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.
Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.
Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility
Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita
Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita
The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.
The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.
The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.
From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.
The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.
Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.”
The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.
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