Alligator II Review

(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. This week’s journey can be blamed on the new movie Crawl which left me with a hankering for more alligator fun.)

This past weekend saw the wide-release arrival of a creature feature, and we’re all better off for it. All. Of. Us. They’re good fun and a nice break for horror fans from the ghost stories that typically make it to theaters. Crawl is a killer alligator flick, and a pretty great one at that, but while it’s the latest it’s far from the first.

Sergio Martino’s The Great Alligator (1979) probably has that honor, but it’s 1980’s Alligator that set a high bar for gator fun. It’s one of the best stabs at piggy-backing on the Jaws (1975) formula, and as is befitting of its greatness the film earned a sequel. Unfortunately, but necessarily for the purpose of this column, Alligator II: The Mutation went straight to DVD.

Did it deserve a better fate, or does it belong in the sewers? Keep reading as this week’s descent into the world of direct-to-video sequels pits a modern-day dinosaur against Joseph Bologna.

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(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week’s column offers up a primer on the varied complications that arise when you attempt to overthrow the government.)

The United States just celebrated this year’s Fourth of July holiday, and for many it’s a day off from work and for others it’s an excuse to placate their inner pyromaniac, but the historical backdrop involves one of the world’s most important coup d’état… of sorts. Obviously those of us in the US view it as a fight for independence, and sure, the Revolutionary War wasn’t technically a coup d’état as the Americans didn’t seek to overthrow and replace the British government, but they did act with the express purpose of unseating those in power here in what would become the US.

Is it semantics? Maybe. But it’s enough of a reason to jump-start this week’s look at underseen movies about coups d’état both successful and attempted. Some of the best known include John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May (1964), the Tom Cruise-starring Valkyrie (2008), and Costa-Gavras’ heartbreaking and true Missing (1982). One of my personal favorites is 2015’s No Escape which takes an entertainingly Cannon Films-like approach to its near xenophobia and over-the-top violence. You know the drill by now, though, meaning that while those are the popular ones we’re here to talk about ones far less appreciated.

Keep reading for a look at the best movies you’ve never seen about coups d’état!

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Annabelle Comes Home trailer

Dolls can be inherently creepy, particularly ones made to resemble us. From their glass eyes and rictus grins to their stubby fingers and obvious maliciousness, dolls suggest a soulless reproduction simply biding their time until they can strike at our kneecaps or steal our breath while we sleep. They’re empty vessels, and while we can ostensibly fill that hollow void with the emotion or action of our choosing – aggressive combat tactics for our Barbies, deciding what tactical gear to pack for our G.I. Joes – each of us has thought at one point or another that our dolls might have ambitions of their own. The movies have been confirming that theory for years.

Some horror fans enjoy slashers, others love creature features, and a small contingent like seeing pint-sized inanimate dolls come to life and begin slaughtering anyone within reach of their tiny hands. Okay, maybe the contingent isn’t that small as movies about killer dolls are often good fun and occasionally creepy. This month is a big one as two of the sub-genre’s heavy hitters are returning to theaters – Child’s Play is a reboot of the popular seven-film Chucky franchise, and Annabelle Comes Home is the third film about the dead-eyed doll that was first introduced to viewers in The Conjuring (2013).

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New Shaft films have been in and out of theaters five times over the past forty-eight years, and that’s one hell of an accomplishment for any franchise. It’s made even more impressive and unprecedented, though, by the realization that the same actor has brought John Shaft to life through those five films and across nearly five decades. That’s a feat not even the Star Wars films can claim yet. Richard Roundtree headlines the first three films – Shaft (1971), Shaft’s Big Score! (1972), Shaft in Africa (1973) – and while he’s only a supporting player in the most recent two, both named Shaft (2000, 2019) for Hollywood reasons, his presence is still an important one.

Samuel L. Jackson and Jessie Usher take the lead in those later films as Shaft Jr. and Shaft III, respectively, and with a changing of the guard comes more than a few changes in approach and tone. While two entries in the 70s trilogy fit the mold of the decade’s blaxploitation films with plots involving street thugs and mobsters both black and white, the third takes Shaft on a James Bond-like adventure around the globe. The ones from 2000 and 2019, though, are shaped more for their respective times. Shaft (2000) is a sex-less action/thriller touching on racism and police corruption, while Shaft (2019) is an action/comedy – with an emphasis on the comedy – involving disgruntled military vets, booty, and drug trafficking. They’re entirely different beasts from that original trilogy, but the common thread between them all remains the cool cat whose name is in the title.

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(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: Keanu Reeves never needed a comeback and the underrated Street Kings proves it.)

Keanu Reeves has been in the public consciousness since the mid-80s, and while he’s had his ups and downs success-wise, he’s currently enjoying the biggest popularity wave of his career. That’s no small thing as he’s been in a whopping 64 movies since his debut in 1986’s Youngblood with a filmography that includes critical darlings (River’s Edge, 1986; My Own Private Idaho, 1991) and box-office hits (Speed, 1994; The Matrix, 1999). As an example of how quickly his tides can turn, Reeves made three movies in 2018, but while you might have caught Destination Wedding – and you’re a fool who hates love if you haven’t – you probably haven’t even heard of Siberia or Replicas. Just one year later, though, and Reeves is a global sensation again thanks to John Wick: Chapter 3, Always Be My Maybe, and the upcoming Toy Story 4.

This past weekend even saw him take the stage at E3 to help announce his role in a new video game called Cyberpunk 2077.

So, yeah, I’m thinking Keanu Reeves is back, and with this newly invigorated interest in all things Keanu, I’m hoping people take the time to dig into his extensive and varied filmography to seek out some gems they may have missed along the way. Man of Tai Chi (2013) is a fun flick with terrific fight action, The Replacements (2000) is a sweetly satisfying underdog sports tale, and The Night Before (1988) sees him sell Lori Loughlin to a pimp. How are you not already heading to the video store?!

If I could only pick one of his past films for people to rediscover, though, it would be David Ayer’s Street Kings (2008). Yes, the same Street Kings currently sitting at 36% on Rotten Tomatoes alongside an underwhelming 58% audience score.

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(Welcome to Seeing Double, a series where two strangely similar films released around the same time are put head-to-head. This time, we look skyward for falling objects that are closer than they appear.)

The premise of this column is to take a closer look at those not-so rare instances where two competing film studios raced to theaters with remarkably similar projects. They’re typically high-concept ideas involving volcanic disasters, doomed expeditions to Mars, or terrorist attacks on the White House. Sometimes, though, they’re about bad guys skydiving.

Okay, one time it was about bad guys skydiving, but that still feels like one time too many. The world had already been gifted with Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break in 1991, and among the many memorable scenes in the film are sequences showing playful criminals enjoying the high of falling through the sky. Paramount and Disney’s Hollywood Pictures, never ones to shy away from a hot trend, immediately got to work developing films about murder, theft, and the perils of skydiving with murderous thieves.

The race was on, and three years later – and released just three months apart – the world was made witness to two high-flying action romps with killer tag lines. “It’s not the drop the kills you…” warns the poster for Terminal Velocity, while Drop Zone‘s points out that “Something dangerous is in the air.” How can you not love the 90s?

Keep reading for a head-to-head look at 1994’s dueling movies about irresponsible skydiving.

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(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. This week’s descent sinks lower than usual into the world of DTV T&A.)

It seems like a lifetime ago, but once upon a time “sexy” “teen” comedies were a popular and frequent presence in movie theaters. Teens, of course, have always been a part of the movies, but a sub-genre emerged built on the formula of wise-cracking young men, frequently naked young women, and forgettable plots. The 80s were particularly rife with them, and while some rise above the fray (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982; Risky Business, 1983) quite a few of the others exist mostly for the fleshy displays and cheap laughs (Private Lessons, 1981; Private School, 1983; Screwballs, 1983).

The 90s saw a sharp turn away from teenage shenanigans as the T&A market shifted towards direct to video adult thrillers starring Shannon Tweed and Andrew Stevens, but they started bouncing back with the rise of films like American Pie (1999), Eurotrip (2004), and Sex Drive (2008). That first film became a seemingly unstoppable franchise complete with seven sequels – granted, four of them are DTV sequels I’ll be covering here eventually, but it’s still impressive – but it’s a different film we’re here to talk about today.

Road Trip was a big hit in the summer of 2000 as it delivered plenty of laughs and copious amounts of nudity to an eager audience, but it never got a sequel until now. And by “now” I mean back in 2009, but you’d be forgiven for having missed it along with the rest of us. So join me won’t you? Hop in as we take a ride with Road Trip: Beer Pong!

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The Best Killer Dog Movies You’ve Never Seen

(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week’s column is going to the dogs.)

This weekend’s theatrical offerings include two heavy hitting sequels in the form of John Wick: Chapter 3 and A Dog’s Journey. The two don’t share much in common plot-wise, but both feature scenes of dogs viciously attacking gun-toting baddies. Probably. I haven’t actually seen A Dog’s Journey, but I am pretty darn good at making educated guesses.

Dog attacks are a common enough occurrence in both real life and cinema, but there really aren’t that many films making the dogs, the attacks, and the threat of attack the key focus of the movie. When you think “dog attack” flicks you most likely land on one of the big dogs of the subgenre – the foolish dogs who dare stand against Joe Don Baker in The Pack (1977), the racist mutt in White Dog (1982), the pitiable canine in Cujo (1983), or the Terminator-like pooch in Man’s Best Friend (1993). These are all solid movies, but they’re not the only ones to find terror at the wrong end of our four-legged friends.

Keep reading for a look at the best killer dog movies you’ve probably never seen!

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Backdraft 2 Review

(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. This week’s descent sees us enter the unexpectedly light on fire sequel to 1991’s Ron Howard hit, Backdraft.)

Ron Howard is often viewed as something of a journeyman director making crowd-pleasers across genres, but while his filmography certainly supports the idea, I’d argue he’s also delivered more than a few legit great films. Rush (2013) was his last high-point, but his strongest run among his twenty-six features is a creative cluster that started with Parenthood (1989) and ended seven years later with Ransom (1996).

Nestled amid those six movies sits Backdraft (1991), and while it has some cheesy bits, it delivers where it counts with thrills, emotion, a stellar cast, and Kurt Russell’s intensely quivering cheek. It’s been twenty-eight years since that drama involving firefighters, arsonists, and political shenanigans, though, and if you’re like me you’ve probably been wondering where the story goes next. Right?!

Well, today’s your lucky day friends, as Backdraft 2 is new to DVD this month.

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Bodily Fluid Scenes in Movies

(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week we get a little gross.)

Bodily fluids. Mention the term to someone and you’ll get a variety of responses as their thoughts move between the biological and the sexual, but the shared reaction on all of their faces will most likely be a slight cringe. Bodily fluids. It’s gross! And that’s precisely why movies will occasionally go overboard with a bodily fluid visual as it’s guaranteed to earn a reaction.

Think the blood in Dead Alive (1992), the vomit in The Meaning of Life (1983), the – stuff – in Happiness (1998), or the sweat in Airplane! (1980), and you’ll see what I’m talking about. But what happens when you’ve already seen these movies and are still craving more of the on-screen bodily fluids? Well lucky for you this week’s column is here to plug that hole.

So with an apology in advance for what you’re about to endure, please keep reading for a look at the best movies you’ve never seen featuring bonkers bodily fluid scenes! (Seriously, there’s some pretty gross stuff below and this is your final warning.)

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