Friday, April 20, 2018

268. The Young Graduates

268. The Young Graduates (1971)
Director: Robert Anderson
Writers: Dave Dixon from a story by Robert Anderson and Terry Anderson
From: Cult Cinema

A girl has an affair with her teacher leading to a pregnancy scare. While waiting for test results, she and her friend go hitchhiking to Big Sur.

Mindy is heading to the dance with her boyfriend Bill. It’s the night before her 18th birthday and he makes a joke about hooking up “after midnight when you’re no longer legally jailbait.”

Yeah. Bare with me folks, this’ll take a minute. The movie thinks pedophilia is cute. I could say at this point that the joke doesn’t make sense since Bill’s not 18, but, you know what, that doesn’t matter.

They go to the dance where Mindy throws a tantrum over the band having already started and her being denied her big entrance, whatever that would be. Their teacher, Mr. Thompson, is working as a chaperone and taking pictures for the yearbook. Mindy gets mad that he takes what she thinks is an unflattering picture and Mr. Thompson’s wife complains about the music and him hanging out at the dance.

Get it? The movie is setting it up to be okay for him to have sex with a student because his wife has noticed him creeping on students and trying to have an affair.

Anyway, I don’t need to go through the whole plot because there isn’t one. Mindy goes to teachers’ house the next day, “seduces” him, and ends up screwing him in a shack somewhere. Time passes, she keeps hooking up with teacher, and then worries that she’s pregnant. Thompson sends her to a doctor he knows for a pregnancy test and she’s picked up by her friend Sandy. Since it’ll take two days to get the results Mindy and Sandy, through a series of events, end up taking Bill’s car, ditching it on the side of the road, and go hitchhiking to Big Sur.

They’re picked up by a motorcycle gang that tries to rape Sandy. Mindy manages to escape and yells, “Run!” which is apparently all it takes to free Sandy from the situation. They spend the night in an abandoned hayloft where Sandy tells Mindy that she swallowed one of the pills the bikers gave her and doesn’t feel well.

The next morning, Mindy and Sandy steal a motorcycle the gang left behind to continue their trip to Big Sur. Sandy doesn’t want to go, but Mindy forces her. Cause, really, it’s not like Sandy’s been through anything. After an interminable series of adventures that come to nothing, they end up in Big Sur where they’re arrested for being near a bunch of hippies wanted by the cops for peddling dope.

Meanwhile, Bill, Thompson, and Sandy’s boyfriend have been driving to Big Sur to find the girls. They end up at the police station just before the bust happens and see the girls get brought in. Cut to graduation. We see Mindy walk, Thompson and his wife having made amends, and a headline in the paper saying Mindy and Sandy beat the rap. At the dance that night, Bill tells Mindy that he’s been accepted to MIT and will be leaving for prep school on Monday, meaning they’ve now basically broken up. Mindy goes over to talk to Mr. Thompson and his wife who introduce her to the new teacher. Mindy starts dancing with him and the rest of the movie is just still frames of her and the teacher, implying she’s going to hook up with him too. THE END.

I hated this movie. I really, really hated this movie. The characters are completely unlikeable and there are no stakes for anything so nothing matters. The movie is never moving toward something. Even the pregnancy scare doesn’t happen until 42 minutes into this 100-minute movie. The only moment of consequence is the biker gang sequence, and that’s basically Mindy watching her best friend almost get raped. That event, though, doesn’t stop her from continuing on her trip so it doesn’t have actually have any consequences. In fact, after it happens and Sandy says she wants to go home, Mindy threatens to abandon her.

Mindy is a monster.

She’s played as ceaselessly whiny, selfish, and childish, which is the creepiest part. There’s a shot of her talking to Sandy while just wearing a nightie and she’s doing that little kid twisting back and forth while fiddling with the fringes thing. You know, like when a toddler doesn’t want to go to bed. She’s playing an 18-year-old who’s dating a teacher and we’re not supposed to see his hooking up with her as problematic on any level.

No, we’re not. In fact, the movie plays that situation off as though it’s okay. When Thompson finds out Mindy may be pregnant, he tells his wife. He somehow blames her for it, in fact, and she leaves until the end of the movie when they’re all huggy and happy again for some reason.

I basically have to stop writing because I’m just getting mad about this movie. There’s so much more to say, but I don’t want to give this flick any more of my time. My notes include the phrase, “Life is short, but movies like this make it feel very long.” So if you’re a terminal patient, I recommend this movie to you. Otherwise, stay away. It’s not even bad in an entertaining way, just endlessly infuriating.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

267. The Ghost

267. The Ghost aka Lo spettro (1963)
Director: Riccardo Freda
Writers: Oreste Biancoli and Riccardo Freda from a story by Orest Biancoli
From: Chilling

A woman convinces her lover to murder her husband, but the pair begin to suspect they’re being haunted by his ghost.

Scotland, 1910. We open with the end of a séance. The master of the house, Dr. John Hichcock, has a degenerative disorder that’s left him disabled. He has very little strength in his limbs and has to use a wheelchair to get around. His doctor, Dr. Charles Livingstone, is administering a treatment designed by Dr. Hichcock, namely injecting Hichcock with poison and then the antidote. The hope is that the poison will reinvigorate Hichcock’s limbs. During the first treatment we see, Hichcock reminds Charles that, according to documents already signed by Hichcock, Charles will be held blameless in the event of Hichcock’s death. Charles could simply not deliver the antidote and not face any consequences. Hichcock then tries to poison himself, but Charles stops him.

After Charles leaves, he passes Hichcock’s wife, Margaret, entering the house. Hichcock witnesses the brief meeting from the window. When she enters the room, Hichcock bullies her a bit, then tries to shoot himself. Margaret stops and disarms him. He accuses her of having feelings for Charles and wanting him dead.

That night, Margaret and Charles meet up because they are having an affair and do want Hichcock dead. Which raises the question of why they each individually stopped him from killing himself. Margaret begs Charles to kill Hichcock, but he refuses.

And then the next day withholds the antidote and Hichcock dies.

Anyway, strange things start happening around the house. Margaret and Charles hear Hichcock’s bell ring, his wheelchair falls down the stairs, and the maid starts channeling Hichcock’s voice. The key to the safe containing all of Hichcock’s money is missing and Margaret and Charles have to root around in the corpse’s pockets to find it. Once they open the safe, it’s empty.

Things escalate gradually until Margaret starts to suspect Charles is actually gaslighting her: he opened the safe when she wasn’t present and then presented it being empty, the maid found Hichcock’s favorite snuff box in Charles’ room, and a treasure chest hidden beneath Hichcock’s coffin is empty meaning someone else got to it first.

And breaking form, I’ll leave the rest unsaid. The movie is in the public domain so easy to watch if you want to satisfy your curiosity. THE END (of this synopsis)

A gothic haunted house tale starring Barbara Steele. I can’t even say how excited I was for this. Steele is a solid actor and adds real panache to any old-school horror film she’s in. She manages to play her roles at just the right point between damsel in distress and femme fatale, each character possessing innocence touched by darkness or darkness tempered by innocence. That precise sense of no one being wholly good or evil is what makes gothic stories interesting—the monster is sympathetic and the heroes don’t walk away untouched by what they’ve seen. Having said that, I wish I’d enjoyed this movie more.

Despite the solid, if predictable premise—I was assuming some gaslighting situation from the start—things move too slowly. It takes a little bit for Hichcock to die and it’s a bit confusing when you see Charles and Margaret both try to keep him from killing himself. The movie would have been more interesting if they weren’t having an affair and instead were tormented by the vengeful ghost of this petty paranoiac. That they do murder him validates his suspicions and kind of justifies his actions.

Also, there’s not enough haunting. I’m thinking of other ghost/gaslight stories I’ve written up here, and there’s just a lot more incident in those films. This has a phantom bell, a chair falling down a stairwell, and two incidences of seeing Hichcock’s ghost. Otherwise it’s just the stress of being seen as suspicious and gradually suspecting each other. Those elements would be fine, but they’re too spread out over the movie. The film never commits to its ambitions.

Another disappointment was the drab sets and cinematography. Gothic horror like this generally provides some entertainment just in seeing the exteriors and the creepy haunted house sets the crew has put together. In The Ghost, we get one nice exterior of the manor at the beginning and that’s it.

In the end, I didn’t feel like the movie lived up to its promise. IMDB users collectively give this 6.2 stars which is considerably higher than most of the movies I’ve watched, but it missed the mark for me. Much like yesterday’s movie, Alien Contamination, the movie lacked a certain energy. However, for a rainy Sunday afternoon or a nice bit of background for a midnight Halloween party, this may be just what you’re looking for. As I mentioned above, the movie is in the public domain and I’ve added an MPEG2 copy to here.

Friday, April 13, 2018

266. Alien Contamination

266. Alien Contamination aka Contamination (1980)
Director: Luigi Cozzi
Writers: Luiji Cozzi and Erich Tomek from a story by Luigi Cozzi
From: Cult Cinema

Strange green eggs that spray a corrosive acid are found on a ghost ship in New York harbor. It’s up to a scientist, a disgraced astronaut, and a New York City cop to discover the truth and prevent a potential alien invasion.

Hello Italy! Thanks for the dubbing and establishing shots of NYC that we’ll never see again. 1980? Hey movie, thanks for reminding me of what the World Trade Center used to look like.

So a ghost ship docks in New York harbor and Lt. Tony is sent to investigate. He and a team of scientists start finding the bodies of the crew, each of them seemingly having exploded from within. Down in the cargo hold, they find loads of strange green eggs, one of which is glowing. Of course, they all gather over this glowing, pulsating, green curiosity that proceeds to explode. All the scientists get hit with the material, swell up, and explode. Lt. Tony is taken into quarantine.

There he meets Col. Stella Holmes, the new head of this case. They learn that the eggs were to be delivered to an import/export outfit in the city. When they raid it, they find three thugs and thousands of eggs. The thugs shoot one of the eggs, spraying themselves and dying.

In the lab, the scientists explain that the eggs seems to be silicon-based (that means alien!) and that when they get sufficiently hot, they eject this deadly substance. She injects a rat with the substance which then explodes. I’ll admit, that moment was hilariously bad, but it also stands out as being one of the few moments of the movie with any vim.

By this point, I’m thinking this is an Italian Aliens rip-off, but there are no creatures in the eggs. Just lots of eggs all over the place. The team suspects the plan is to hide them throughout the sewers so the entirety of New York could be contaminated. What the endgoal of that plan is, I cannot tell you.

Turns out this is the future, though (which I should have recognized from the cardboard backgrounds doubling as “computer tech”) and there’s been a manned mission to Mars. One of the astronauts, Cmdr. Hubbard, came back saying he’d seen a giant alien an a cave full of eggs. His partner, Hamilton, denied the story. Hubbard was discharged and, six months before the events of the film, Hamilton died in a plane crash.

So, Holmes picks up Hubbard and, with Tony, goes down to Brazil where the ship originated from. There, Hamilton who had faked his death, is working with the alien from Mars to try to contaminate the Earth with the eggs. Various action sequences, Holmes and Tony are captured, Hubbard arrives to save the day.

Not before Tony gets eaten by the alien, though. This was also a lovely moment.

Hubbard shoots the alien to get revenge for it having ruined his career and life and Hamilton, no longer under the alien’s psychic control, explodes in slo-motion, which was a mistake because it lets you clearly see the seams in the giant squib on his chest as well as the tubes running up his pant legs to power it. Holmes and Hubbard leave together and then we cut to an egg sitting in the garbage in some city. The egg explodes and we freeze for, THE END

Not a terrible flick—straightforward, okay Saturday-afternoon movie effects, and a plot that’s a little more ambitious that I expected—but there’s just no energy to it. I’d even say it’s weirdly low-key. The movie isn’t trying to be low-key, it’s just that everything happens in a very perfunctory way. The actors don’t bring any oomph to their parts and the whole thing kind of plods along.

The biggest example of this is the, I think, intended love triangle of Holmes, Hubbard, and Tony. Tony keeps, I think, flirting with Holmes, but she has a seeming history with Hubbard, not the least part her being the head of the committee that said his story was bunk. I have to throw that “I think” in there, though, because not only do the characters not seem invested in flirting with each other, they don’t seem that worked up over alien eggs invading Earth.

Give Gramma a kiss!
The alien itself looks good in a goofy way. The monster looks silly, like a one-eyed version of Mother Brain from Captain N: The Game Master, but they built a full-sized version that grabs one of the actors and then eats him. The crew on this movie built a big silly monster, but they put the effort in and built it well.

There were a few moments that stood out because they showed a bit more inventiveness than the rest of the movie: the exploding rat, Tony getting eaten, and the alien itself. However, they were too few to carry the rest of the movie along at its shuffling pace. The people involved in making it didn’t seem that invested so it was really hard for me to get invested. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s not great. I was hoping for something over-the-top and cheesy when I started this, but it never lived up to those expectations.

We Hate Movies would classify this as a “hangover film”: you can have it on in the background, not pay particular attention to it, and not miss anything. That’s not a recommend, but it’s not a suggestion that this be avoided either.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

265. The Tell-Tale Heart

265. The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
Director: Ernest Morris
Writers: Brian Clemens and Eldon Howard, based on the story by Edgar Allen Poe
From: Pure Terror

Edgar Marsh murders his friend Carl after seeing Carl being intimate with the woman Edgar loves. Now Marsh is haunted by the sound of Carl’s still-beating heart.

Ever want to know the “true” story behind Poe’s classic, “The Tell-Tale Heart”? No? Oh. Well. This is just awkward for all of us.

Much of this movie is very strange. It’s from 1960, but has a very 20’s/30’s aesthetic and ethic and that difference can be very jarring. For instance, there’s a scene where Edgar is sitting in his apartment looking at pornographic images. That’s fine for a movie from 1960 and is used as shorthand to communicate Edgar’s sexual frustration, but the movie is shot in black-and-white and feels very stagey, like it was made during the early period of cinema where they didn’t quite know what a movie should look like. In other words, this doesn't feel like a movie from 1960 so the dirty pictures feel very out of place.

On top of that, the movie tries to do a kind of blending of realities. We open with Poe waking up screaming. His friend Carl comes in and hands him some drugs. Poe stumbles over to a chair and starts examining some papers. Cut to the actor playing Poe going to a bar/brothel and getting scared away by a sex worker. This is Edgar Marsh who is not Poe, but I think he's called "Poe" several times despite that (?) The end of the movie makes it apparent that Poe is dreaming that he’s Marsh, but there’s no indication elsewhere in the movie. Marsh has a limp, we’re told, but it’s not visually clear at all and only mentioned, again, at the end when Poe wakes up.

As for the plot, Marsh lives alone in a big house. He sees Betty move in across the street and peeps in her window from his. He asks his friend Carl for advice about how to talk to girls and approaches Betty. She goes out with him, but he’s a bit of a damp squib and then tries to force himself on her at the end of the night. For some reason, she lets him take her out twice more, each time becoming increasingly uninterested.

Until he introduces her to Carl. She and Carl hit it off immediately and eventually make arrangements to meet at her apartment, a meeting Marsh watches from his room. The next day, he invites Carl over and murders him. From here, it’s the plot of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Marsh is hallucinating the heartbeat while Betty is trying to get the police to investigate Carl’s disappearance. They say Carl's done this before and laugh at her for being a sucker. More than that, it feels like the cops are laughing at the idea of believing a woman. Finally she breaks into Marsh’s house, finds the murder weapon, and delivers it to the police. They eventually see the blood and hair on it and only then go to question Marsh. He reveals all, gets shot, and falls off a balcony and impales himself.

Then Poe wakes up screaming. Carl runs in to check that he’s okay. Poe says he’s had a strange dream, that Carl was in it, and then looks out the window to see Betty moving into the house across the way. THE END.

This has a 5.8 on IMDB and I’m not sure why. I found it incredibly plodding and dull. The movie drags its feet getting to the killing, spending that time seeing Marsh be a bad date and watching him constantly push Betty and Carl together. Time may be a factor in my reaction. I think the movie is trying to make you sympathetic to Marsh’s situation, to see him as a “Nice Guy” that’s just not catching on, but, post Red Pill and GamerGate, I don’t have any patience or sympathy for the “Nice Guy” trope. He’s a creep who won’t take “no” for an answer and murders his only friend out of jealousy. He’s not sympathetic.

The interesting character is Betty. She’s new in town, goes on one date with a guy, and now is trapped in this murder nightmare. Marsh even says to himself after the murder that she’ll come to him eventually because she has nowhere else to go. That’s your horror story. Add the cops not believing her and you’ve got a real source of tension.

This movie is in the public domain (boy does it feel like a while since I've said that) and I’ve added an MPEG2 copy to here, but I can’t really recommend it. The movie’s boring. So much so that I forgot the William Castle-esque opening title cards suggesting that those who are squeamish close their eyes whenever the sound of a heartbeat plays. I guess it was to make people close their eyes through the “tense” parts of the movie where nothing happens and there’s nothing to be afraid of. I’m sure you can make some jokes about the flick, but apart from that, it’s a dud. Skip it.

Friday, April 06, 2018

264. Craze

264. Craze (1974)
Director: Freddie Francie
Writers: Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel based on a novel by Henry Seymour
From: Cult Cinema

An antiques dealer starts sacrificing women to a forbidden idol in exchange for supernatural riches.

With a title like Craze, I expected something much closer to Panic or Romero’s The Crazies, ie. a film about a form of murderous madness or paranoia spreading through a population or at least being exercised by a group of people. Instead, this is Jack Palance with a thin porn stache murdering random women.

We open with Palance as the leader of this oddball cult that meets in his basement. A woman “sacrifices” herself to the idol by either pretending to cut her stomach open or by cutting her stomach open (it’s not clear if it’s supposed to be fake or is just a terrible special effect). After the cult leaves, a former member who’d been expelled bursts in, struggles with Palance, and impales herself upon the idol’s claw. Police come to Palance’s store to ask him questions about the missing woman, but he says he hasn’t seen her in months.

Palance runs an antique shop that’s doing poorly. He tells his assistant to sell a desk to an interested party, but they find a hidden drawer full of gold coins. Palance attributes their good luck to the sacrifice he made so, of course, he goes on the prowl to kill other women.

And that’s really the balance of the movie. There’s a bit of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die in the leeriness of Palance’s hunting. First he’s looking to hook up with someone, then kill her, but even that devolves into just Palance finding someone and killing them. The murder sequences don’t have much drama.

While all this is happening, the police keep pursuing Palance, but there’s never any explanation for why. The lead detective is suspicious of Palance and then, after another murder, is still suspicious, therefore he must be the killer. I’m not exaggerating about his logic there. No evidence connects Palance to the murders which only serves as proof for this cop that Palance is the killer.

Palance’s assistant also knows what’s happening, but is sort of caught in the middle. He’s benefiting from what’s happening, which makes him an accomplice, and Palance is threatening him every time the assistant suggests slowing down the killings.

Even that doesn’t make sense. Palance keeps killing and keeps reaping unrelated economic rewards, but he never seems driven to kill out of mania or a sense of needing the money. So the movie lacks any motive force. Eventually, Palance has a fight with the assistant and throws him through a window which leads the police to rush in. Palance faces off against them in the basement by, I’m not making this up, holding an axe and spinning around, until the cop who’d been suspicious of him the entire movie just shoots him. Palance falls upon the idol and dies. THE END.

The sweet release of farts.
It’s boring. Skip it. Yes, there’s some fun to be had laughing at the way Palance looks, but here’s the picture. Now you don’t need to see the movie. The deaths aren’t interesting and there’s no sense of tension at all, neither in the kills or the cops closing in. The kills lack tension because it’s obvious this character was introduced only to be killed and the cops lack tension because they’re never actually closing in. In that sense, it’s pretty similar to the other Jack Palance “thriller” I reviewed in this series, Man in the Attic. That movie also featured little tension and cops landing upon the killer more through luck than through any investigative action on their part. That movie at least let Palance have some character moments, though. This is just boring throughout.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

263. The Sidehackers

263. The Sidehackers aka Five the Hard Way (1969)
Director: Gus Trikonis
Writers: Tony Huston from a story by Larry Billman
From: Cult Cinema

A man seeks revenge against the people who assaulted and murdered his girlfriend.

As featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 202, which maybe tells you everything you need to know about the film. Curiously, the movie is significant because it’s the one that forced MST3k to change the way they previewed and selected movies for broadcast. Before they watched The Sidehackers, they would typically only watch the first few minutes of a movie before deciding whether or not to riff it. After The Sidehackers, they watched every movie all the way through before selecting them. Excited to hear what it’s about? No, you’re not, cause it’s about nothing.

The movie opens with an actual sidehacking race. For reference, as the movie explains, sidehacking is form of motorcycle racing where a small platform is welded onto the side of the bike. A second rider then uses his body and the bars holding the platform on to help the bike make tighter turns. Interesting enough as a niche form of racing, but if it’s going to be the plot of a movie you’re going to have to either focus on the drama of the people doing the sport and trying to make a living or the work of people trying to get the sport taken seriously.

Which is why this movie runs away from sidehacking as a plot point as quickly as it can.

Our hero is Rommel, a sidehacker and motorcycle mechanic. He’s in love with Rita and the two are planning to get married and move to a ranch in the country. One day, a member of touring motorcycle exhibition brings a bike in for repair. The boss, J.C. comes as well and starts asking about sidehacking. He takes a liking to Rommel, goes to a race that weekend, and then hangs out with Rommel that evening. While they get along, it becomes clear that J.C. is more than a bit unhinged and potentially violent. He invites Rommel to join his exhibition team, but Rommel declines.

Later, J.C.’s girlfriend Paisley hits on Rommel. He turns her down as well so she tells J.C. that Rommel raped her. J.C. and his team then find Rommel and Rita in their house, beat Rommel, and rape and kill Rita.

By the way, if you’re wondering why MST3k changed their selection procedure after this movie, that’s why. The show completely cuts the assault and make reference to it only by having Crow say, "For those of you playing along at home, Rita is dead." I watched the MST3k version, by the way.

So the movie is now about Rommel seeking revenge. He eventually gathers a team which gets infiltrated by a member of J.C.’s crew. Rommel susses out the traitor, though, and goes to confront J.C. All of J.C.’s crew gets killed, two members of Rommel’s escapes, and then J.C. and Rommel fight each other. Rommel seems to have defeated J.C. as the police approach, but J.C. pulls a gun and shoots Rommel in the back, killing him. THE END.

Now, some of you may be asking what any of this has to do with motorcycle racing. That’s the wrong question. Instead, you shouldn’t think about this movie long enough to wonder about it at all. Just let it pass through your consciousness as though it never existed because, in all the ways that count, it doesn’t.

There’s something very strange about a movie that purports to be about a unique activity that then runs as quickly away from that activity as it can. I’d say the movie could just be about motorcycle racing in general, but it really can’t. The movie’s not interested in the racing element at all. The plot is Rommel being a good mechanic and then turning down J.C.’s offer to join his team. The story is about a person having to deal with a sociopath falling into their life. Why add the sidehacking angle?

All of this side-steps the issue of assault at the core of the movie. Paisley uses a false rape accusation to get J.C. to attack Rommel and Rita, which leads to J.C. actually assaulting Rita, which then leads to the rest of the plot. Also, J.C. kills Paisley at the end so you can maybe read that as some sort of comeuppance, but she was flirting with Rommel in the first place because J.C. was abusive and she was trying to get away. Rommel, by the way, brushes her off, implying that her abuse is her own fault.

It’s just a lot to unpack and, ultimately, none of it is worth the effort. This is a boring little exploitation flick that tries to differentiate itself form the teen sport flicks of the time by having a grim core and nihilistic conclusion. None of that is clever, though. Instead, it’s cheap and manipulative. On top of all that, it’s boring. This is another movie that’s not even worth getting mad at. If you can find the MST3k version, check that out. It has some good riffs and the host segments are pretty solid. As for the movie itself, skip it.

Friday, March 30, 2018

262. Karate Kids U.S.A.

262. Karate Kids U.S.A. aka The Little Dragons (1979)
Director: Curtis Hanson
Writers: Harvey Applebaum, Louis G. Atlee, Rudolph Borchert, and Alan Ormsby
From: Cult Cinema

A pair of brothers on a trip with their grandfather witness a kidnapping. They have to use their wits and karate skills to save their kidnapped friend.

A children’s movie about children written by people who hate children. These films are easy to spot since they have kids doing a sort of “kid power” thing—setting off on an adventure to save the day after the available adults refuse to listen—only the kids all suck. They all suck. Insufferable bastards to a one.

Yeah, the movie’s a delight.

Anyway, Woody is late to his karate class and has to wait at the side until the teacher lets him in. Woody’s full of bluster and energy, but not a whole lot of ability. His older brother Zack is a student as well. That’s the full description of Zack.

Their grandfather, J.J., picks them up in his camper and tells them he’s taking them on a weekend trip to the lake. There’s no indication of whether he’s cleared this with the boys’ parents or evidence that he’s prepared for this at all since the boys are wearing their karate gi the whole movie. As they’re driving to the campsite, their dumpy little camper is passed by a bus-sized luxury camper driven by the Forbingers. The Forbingers are a family of three—an 80’s corporate type, his wife who’s mad that he doesn’t have time for the family, and their daughter Carol who exists. Inevitably, these two families’ paths will cross again.

They’ll have to since the movie switches over to the Forbingers for a good chunk at this point.

Anyway, the Forbingers go off the road and get stuck. They’re found by a pair of backwoods brothers who help them get back on the road, but not before getting a good eyeful of the expensive RV and everything in it. They tell their ma back home and work up a plan to rob the RV that night at the campground.

The two families meet again, the kids start hanging out, and they all go to the hoedown. The kids leave together but Carol ends up at the RV when the brothers are robbing it and is taken hostage. Zack follows them and sees the kidnappers take Carol into a cave. The police are useless blunderers and the FBI is called once the kidnappers send a ransom note. Eventually Zack and Woody find Carol, but Woody is kidnapped while Zack goes to get the authorities. Zack and J.J. follow the kidnappers’ path, find their home, and Zack gets his karate class to join him to rescue everyone.

The class rides as far as they can on the bikes of a motorcycle gang…

No, shut up, I’m rushing through this. THIS IS ME RUSHING THROUGH THIS!

and fight the kidnappers. Woody finally does the flying kick that he couldn’t at the beginning and saves the day. THE END.

I was going to ask how this took four people to write, but now I’m amazed that only four people were involved in this script. I mean, it’s fine as an adventure plot. You can see precursors to The Goonies in this with kids facing real threats and having to save the day. The Goonies is a good benchmark, though, because it handles the tone very well. The kids each have their own personality, the villains are distinct and sincerely threatening, and, while there’s humor, the kids and their situation is never played up for laughs. When the kids are at risk, they’re facing real harm. When they’re facing disappointment, it’s specific to that character and played seriously.

In Karate Kids U.S.A., you never get away from a smirking condescension that permeates the film. “Oh, these kids are fighting the kidnappers. Isn’t that cute!” “The kidnapper seems kind of rapey with this little girl. *hyuck*hyuck*hyuck*”

As an example of getting the tone wrong, the cops are played for laughs. Now, dunk on cops in media all you want. Play them up as hateful cowardly monsters striving to work for their own benefit before any pretense of risking anything to help anyone else—you know, as cops. Don’t play them up as lazy gormless morons with generally good intentions. The deputy that comes to get the parents’ report of their daughter’s disappearance is too stupid to write down their statement. The work is so over his head that he has to call the sheriff down to do it. The sheriff is his daddy and hadn’t come himself because the chili he’d eaten earlier was too spicy.

Remember, at this point Carol’s been grabbed in the night by two strangers and stashed on a ledge in a cave where she’s facing the possibility of falling into a deep pit. Rats are milling about her. Hilarious, right?!

So it just sucks. As I noted at the top, you can tell the writers hate children because the children are all annoying. Look at a film like A Wrinkle in Time. That’s a movie made for kids that’s trying to take kids seriously. Because of that, the children in the film aren’t teeth-gratingly insufferable. Karate Kids U.S.A. thinks kids are teeth-gratingly insufferable and so portrays them as such. The only thing that could possibly make this movie a recommend is that it’s directed by Curtis Hanson. Yes, the director of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, L.A. Confidential, and the execrable 8 Mile. If you’re a Hanson completionist or just want to see an early film by a Hollywood careerist, this exists. Otherwise, just watch The Goonies or The Karate Kid again. Don’t waste your time on trash like this.

Next up, number 263 of trash like this!