Death Run To Istanbul (1993)

Death Run To Istanbul (1993)- * *

Directed by: Rachel Gordon

Starring: Dean Thomas, Bill Ballis, Sunny Doench, and Fallon

The most we were able to discern is that a guy named Gary Yaeger (Thomas) once was a kickboxer, but fell on hard times and became a heroin addict. He owes a ton of money to a gangster baddie named Alonzo (Ballis, who also appeared in the classic Geteven in 1993). Alonzo realizes he’s basically homeless and has no money to pay his drug debts, so he offers him a deal: Get a cache of drugs to Istanbul and he’ll wipe out the debt. Seems simple enough. But when the briefcase with the contraband inside goes missing, largely thanks to a middle-aged, balding Motorhead fan, Gary finds himself in deep trouble. So his next move is to get help eliminating the baddies from his ex-girlfriend and fellow kickboxer Sammy (porn performer Fallon). Along with Gary’s sister Lola (Doench of Double Deception fame), the two exercise (and exercise and exercise) some girl power on L.A.’s most ineffectual bad guys. What will happen to the DEATH RUN TO ISTANBUL?

You’ve gotta hand it to Vista Street Entertainment. They’re perfectly willing to release what are essentially family home movies to the wider market. Found on the “Women Who Kick Butt” DVD collection, Death Run To Istanbul, which technically qualifies as a movie, can now have a life into the foreseeable future. It seems to have been shot with a standard, consumer-issue camcorder, and without adding any after-market sound equipment. This is another one of those “alien” movies, in the sense that it appears that writer/director Rachel Gordon had decided to make her own movie without ever having seen one before. She likely just landed from an alien world in 1993 and decided to try her hand at filmmaking, only having heard of things called “movies” on her home planet.

That’s why some of Death Run To Istanbul is fascinating - seeing people speak and behave in odd ways, and watch endless scenes of practicing, exercising and even coffee-making, just happens to be strangely interesting. And at only 72 minutes (though it feels longer), it doesn’t tax your time too much. Besides, it’s still better than green-screen, CGI garbage of today, and it doesn’t have that annoying blue-green tint so many modern movies have. There are some trained Martial Artists here, unlike so many other movies (handy tip: if you see an unintelligible Asian man wearing a vest and no shirt, run away).

The whole thing starts with a montage of things we’re about to see, and ends with another montage of things we’ve just seen. Some of these things include a mob boss who looks like John Waters (and is about as threatening and intimidating as John Waters), a hulking female brute who appears to be a transsexual, and a band called The Daze. We’re not sure which is scarier. At one point, the end credits list The Daze as “The Band”. Perhaps this is what they were singing about when they wrote “The Weight”. Whoever typed the credits also listed someone as “Fight Coor”. Either the budget (?) ran out, or the fight scenes were planned out by an empty beer can.

We’ve tried to be as fair as we could with Death Run To Istanbul (which, misleadingly, was shot entirely in the L.A. area but made a stab at sounding international), and a mean person could point out that pretty much every aspect of it, from every technical standpoint to anything else, isn’t up to par. However, it acted as sort of a “demo tape” for Ms. Gordon and some of the other people involved, launching their careers. But the real trick here is this: Don’t compare this to any other movies you’ve seen. If you do that, you’ll think it’s bad. Just treat it as its own thing - from the parallel universe of SOV’s that Bleedingskull.com is always celebrating. Don’t expect quality; expect a strange, amateurish project, and you MIGHT find something worthy of your 72 minutes.  But don’t get your hopes up.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, The Video Vacuum! 


Dog Tags (1985)

Dog Tags (1985)- * *1\2

Directed by: Romano Scavolini

Starring: Clive Woods, Baird Stafford, Robert Haufrecht, and Mike Monty

When an author, in 1984, receives word that a man in Vietnam is willing to finally tell the tale of a series of events that transpired a decade earlier, we are transported back to 1974 and a very dire situation is unfolding in the jungles of ‘Nam. After escaping from a prison camp, a group of soldiers are lost, angry, irritated and disillusioned. Capturing all the angst is a German photographer along for the ride. When they do manage to make contact with Captain Newport (Monty), they are told they must recover some documents from a helicopter that has been shot down, which only adds insult to injury. The final straw is the fact that the supposed “documents” are gold bars, which only adds fuel to the fire of division going on amongst the soldiers. While all this is going on, the men have to avoid various other jungle pitfalls such as a leg amputation, murderous locals, unfriendly nature, and much more. Will these embattled enlisted men be encouraged or entreatied to end it all? Find out...

Dog Tags is writer/director Romano Scavolini’s follow-up to his horror classic Nightmare (1981), and those who have seen that can well imagine what he would do with the “namsploitation” genre. Well, here it is. It’s an exploding hutter with a difference. It’s unrelentingly dark, bleak, depressing and self-serious. Sure, that provides a point of difference with all the other jungle jaunts out there, who never come close to this level of straight-ahead dreary desolation. That said, the movie is very well-shot, with quality camerawork and creative lighting and angles, and the editing reinforces the “masterminds behind the scenes” vibe.

This would have been a home run if there was any character development. Imagine high drama but with a bunch of random people you know nothing about. There are many times when the whole outing becomes dull and loses any kind of drive. Imagine if Scavolini directed Platoon (1986) instead of Oliver Stone, but slower. That should give you some idea of what we’re dealing with. Sure, there are a few blow-ups here and there, but the emphasis is surely on the grimness of ‘Nam and the human toll. In its single-minded fixation on that, the movie forgot to have one strong, clear baddie, a misstep we see all too often, and is another contributing factor to the movie losing focus.  All this is put in a clearly-delineated three-act structure, with epilogue, complete with title cards to help the audience.

In the cast department, we have fan favorite Mike Monty, a Philippines-shot movie mainstay, as well as fellow Romano, Romano Kristoff, who is also credited as being Second Assistant Director. Or maybe the credit-makers just got confused. Nick Nicholson is also credited, but it must be a “blink and you’ll miss him” situation, and we definitely must have blinked, because we didn’t see him at all. There’s also the credit “Chris Hilton as Himself”. Okay. Good to know. Baird Stafford, so memorable from Scavolini’s Nightmare, returns as the soldier who, infamously, gets his leg amputated. If I may quote Scavolini himself, speaking about Stafford, from the book Spaghetti Nightmares: “He was also very effective in DOGTAGS because I managed to get him to accept the idea that he had to be sexually ambiguous. His leg being cut off clearly represents a type of castration, and it is his mutilated sexuality that, in the end, ruins everyone.” So now you know. Consider yourself warned.

Never released on VHS or DVD in the U.S., Dog Tags succeeds stylistically, if not dramatically, and its style and substance seem out of sync with each other. Add to that the distressing, somber vibe, and it can make for a very rocky viewing experience indeed.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty