It's late at night, you're bored and you flip through the channels to see what's on. Then it happens...
Suddenly you stumble upon a movie that you can't turn away from. Maybe it's a musical montage, maybe it's the cinematography, an action scene or maybe it's an special effect you can't believe you saw. Either way you're watching it and although it looks low budget, cheap, or old, you're entranced by it. These, ladies and gentlemen are when you have fun watching a movie. We all have those films we stumble onto and somehow become favorites. What follows is a list hitting most of these gems I discovered. So indulge me and hopefully you'll come across things you haven't seen in years, haven't heard of, or wonder "what the hell was he thinking?"
Full Moon Entertainment
I was first introduced to the world of Full Moon Entertainment through the Puppet Master films. When I was a kid there was nothing cooler than these movies. They were killer dolls who often ended up being the heroes of the films (depends on which ones you watch) but my favorites have to be 4 and 5 which is really one big story. The puppets end up being heroes against these evil Totem dolls controlled by a demon named Sutek. Sure, the effects weren't perfect but they were fun movies with awesome dolls having pretty cool fights. When you're a kid this stuff is awesome. As an adult, I love them even more.
The other film, Blood Dolls, was a random find one summer night. I noticed the similarities and thought it was a Puppet Master rip-off. Boy, was I shocked to find out it was the same company that did it. The story revolves around a racist billionaire with a head the size of an avocado with an assassin in clown make-up, a midget who tortures a captive girl band in a cage to play music, and of course, the blood dolls. This is truly a bizarre movie but as you watch it, you can't take your eyes off it. The music plays a heavy roll in why it's so memorable.
These movies were made on a very low budget but the true star is creator Charles Band. This is a guy who doesn't care how much money he's given; all he wants to do is tell fun stories. More power to him!
Phantom of the Paradise was an amazing late night find for me. I saw the Phantom and thought there was a superhero movie out there I had somehow missed. I was half right. This Brian De Palma cult classic really stuck with me as a pre-teen. Was it the costume? It had something to do with it. Was it the fact the guy who did Penguin's voice on Batman the animated series was the villain and Beef was played by the father from The Critic? Sure! Was it Jessica Harper? Maybe. Ultimately, it comes down to the music. It's downright haunting but awesome. I dare you watch this movie and not have the songs play over and over and over in your head. Go on... I dare you! This take on the Phantom of the Opera with a 70's flavor really made me fall for this film
Shock Treament was just as random and just as memorable. I've always been intimdated by the fan base of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That and Columbia reminds me of Harley Quinn. But when I heard there was a pseudo-sequel, well my interest was high. I never saw it though. Then one night, when I came home and I was feeling sick, I turned on the TV and there was Shock Treatment! I caught it in the middle of the song "In My Own Way" Again... Jessica Harper. Oh the irony! While not as popular as The Rocky Horror Picture, and down right bizarre even for the people who created it, I still enjoyed this movie enough to get the DVD a week after I had seen it on cable. It's a testament to what haunting music will do to you.
Streets of Fire came on a Friday night when I was bored to tears. A Walter Hill film with TONS of future stars: Michael Pare, Diane Lane, Willem Dafoe, Amy Maddigan, Robert Towsend, E.G. Daily, and for some strange reason Ed Bagely Jr is there too. This is a what was dubbed a Rock and Roll fantasy. Musician Ellen Aim is kidnapped by a biker gang. Tom Cody, Ellen's ex is brought in to bring her back. The biker gang's leader, Raven, doesn't want to give her up. It sounds hoaky but the plot is pretty damned good. Good enough to serve as the inspiration for the video game Final Fight. What elevates this movie is the setting. It's unclear when it's set. Everything looks to be in the 50's but there are music videos playing in the background and the music is definitely 80's! It has become one of my favorite movies and while it sucks no one has ever heard of it, it's a treasure I call my own.
Hudson Hawk... now before you all kill me or laugh me into the ground, allow me to explain. I'm a Bruce Willis fan. I love the man's movies. I had heard of this movie before and even seen bits and pieces of it twice. But one day when I was feeling especially low (girl trouble) this movie comes on and it's so silly and ridiculous I can't help but laugh. Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello singing? Dealings with the CIA and a major corporation against the Vatican who act more like S.H.I.E.L.D. than a church? It's all in good fun. By the end of it, I didn't feel as shitty as I had before and I was actually laughing. It's a movie that never fails to put a smile on my face. And while I love everything until they get to Rome, it's a movie I'm proud to say I own 2 copies of (regular and special edition)
The B-Movie Martial Arts
Kickboxer was what I like to call "In case you missed Bloodsport". Come on, it's the same movie! But I remember catching it randomly one night while I was playing with my Ninja Turtles action figures. I'm sitting at the coffee table watching a movie and reenacting the fight scenes with my Rafael and Foot Clan figure. I've always remembered that for some strange reason. As I got older I watched the movie more and it was decent but I'll always remember that night I watched it for the first time with my action figures. Kids do silly things like that, but they end up being the most fun.
American Ninja movies were special between me and my cousin. We loved them... though looking back at them now, I can't figure out why. But when American Ninja 4 hit... forget about it! The guy from the first 2 (Joe) and the schmuck from the third one (Sean) in the same movie?! No way! Sadly they only ever were on screen together towards the end, and not even for that long, but it was the biggest thrill. It was like a crossover... only not! While hoaky as hell and with a stupid plot, this movie was fun for the action scenes and for the wow factor of having both American Ninjas in the same movie.
And that's only a few of what I remember. I hope this has inspired you to remember the films you randomly stumbled upon when you were younger. While none of these films may be perfect, we love them for what they are. They're entertaining, they're creative, they make us play with our toys and they pick us up when we're feeling our lowest. We catch them and we never let go. They stay in our memory and forever remain late night gems.