Movies Till Dawn: ’80s Artifacts

* indicates that the film is also available to rent, buy, or stream from various platforms. Please note that streaming version may different from these discs’ presentations.

Cutting Class” * (1989, MVD Rewind) Just who, wonders winsome Jill Schoelen, is dispatching the staff and students at her high school (played by Excelsior High in Norwalk) with ruthless efficiency and diabolical creativity? Is the culprit her athlete boyfriend (a pre-fame Brad Pitt)? The creepy principal (Roddy McDowall)? All fingers seem to point at new kid Donovan Leitch, freshly sprng from an asylum. The answer is, well, largely irrelevant in this curious late-entry slasher film, which lists heedlessly from straight-ahead body count thriller to weirdo comedy; the latter element is best summed up by a recurring bit involving Martin Mull as Schoelen’s father, whose struggles to get home after being skewered with an arrow hinge between slapstick and surreal. The tonal shifts in “Cutting Class” are, undoubtedly, one of the primary reasons for its enduring cult appeal (the others are, of course Pitt, who manfully shoulders his dopey role, and some absurdly gross murders), and in turn, MVD’s deluxe UHD/Blu-ray presentation. The two-disc set includes interviews with Schoelen and Leitch, who have kind things to say about the film’s eclectic helmers – frequent John Boorman scripter Rospo Pallenberg in his directorial debut and writer Steve Slavkin, who later penned lots of kid TV – and their castmates. Devotee will be pleased by the inclusion of the longer and gorier unrated version of the film, the bloody highlights of which are spotlighted in a short kill-count featurette.

Conan the Barbarian” * (1982, Arrow Video) Speaking of pre-fame: bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, still unsure of his screen presence (and the English language), gets the perfect spotlight for his superhuman physicality in this loose but energtic adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s pulp sword and sorcery stories. Director John Milius and co-writer Oliver Stone invest the material with cinematic and philosophical references (“Kwaidan” in the former, quasi-mysticism and Nietzschean tenets in the latter), which lend a sort of teenage stoner gravitas to the material that inspire more giggles than awe; however, these elements can’t undo the film’s best elements – the impressive production design and Spanish locations, which resemble Frank Frazetta paintings come to life; James Earl Jones as the awesomely monikered cult leader/villian, Thulsa Doom, Mako as Conan’s wizard advisor, and the great William Smith as Conan’s father; some absurdly violent battles and Basil Poledouris’s thunderously epic score, which is undoubtedly what it sounded like inside Ronnie James Dio’s head. Arrow’s 4K UHD two-disc set – which requires that particular tech to play it – bundles a 4K scan of the theatrical and international cuts of “Conan” with a 130-minute Extended Cut (all looking great), adds commentary by Milius and Schwarzenegger and a second track by Conan historian Paul M. Sammon, and piles on the extras, including new and vintage making of featurettes, interviews with all of the cast and crew (including designer Ron Cobb and producer Dino De Laurentiis), a tribute to Poledouris, deleted scenes, trailers, and even a glimpse at Marvel Comics’ Conan imprint.

Split Image” * (1982, Kino Lorber) Clean-cut college kid Michael O’Keefe (“Caddyshack”) takes one look at Karen Allen and (understandably) ditches his upper-middle class upbringing in favor of her cult, a quasi-Christian mind control outfit overseen by Peter Fonda (which should have sent up any number of red flags); parents Brian Dennehy and Elizabeth Ashley call in deprogrammer Jamers Woods, who kidnaps O’Keefe and begins the agonizing process of breaking the cult’s grip on him. The script by, among others, “Endless Love” novelist Scott Spencer, seems unsure whether Fonda’s cult, Woods’ deprogramming, or Dennehy and Ashley’s home is the worst possible scenario for O’Keefe (whose final choice further muddles matters); thankfully, all of the performers (especially Woods, whose signature intensity is set for kill here) and Ted Kotcheff’s direction maintain an even keel. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray features a 2K restoration and commentary by critic Daniel Kremer.

The Monster Squad” * (1987, Kino Lorber Studio Classics) Charm-laden horror-comedy, especially for monster kids of a certain age, about a gaggle of pre-teens whose affection for Universal’s stable of horror films proves useful when the real creatures – Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, et al – appear in their small town in search of a magical amulet. Director Fred Dekker and writer Shane Black (“Iron Man 3”) position their kids somewhere between Spielbergian archetypes and real middle-schoolers – the Monster Squad, as they call themselves, are messy, foul-mouthed, and anarchic but rise to the occasion – which undoubtedly found favor with the mid-80s teens who today hold the movie in cultish regard; they also understand that kids like their monsters menacing (which even Abbott and Costello understood) and in the case of Tom Noonan’s Monster and Jonathan Gries’ Wolfman, lovable and pitiable (the excellent Stan Winston Studios designs help immeasurably). Though outshined in the budget department by other ’80s studio horror efforts (like “The Lost Boys,” released the same year), “Monster Squad” is, like its namesake crew, scrappy, rough-edged, and likable. Kino’s three-disc 4K UHD edition bundles the picture on two Blu-ray discs – one a UHD edition and the other a standard Blu-ray – and two commentaries which pair Dekker with various iterations of his (now grown-up). A new making-of featurette, “Monster Squad Forever,” offers an appealing bookend to “Wolfman’s Got Nards,” a feature-length doc by star Andre Gower; both address the film’s enduring appeal and impact on its primary players. A conversation with Noonan in the Frankenstein makeup, deleted scenes and an animated storyboard sequence, and various promotional items (trailers and TV spots) round out this expansive and, for fans, entirely necessary set.

The Inspector Wears Skirts” * (1988, 88 Films) Jackie Chan not only produced this broad Hong Kong action-comedy – the first in a long-running franchise – about competing teams of male and female police recruits, but also seems to have influenced its tone, which echoes the mix of comedy and full-contact martial arts seen in his own films. The mix is less effective here: the self-effacing humor in Chan’s movies is replaced here by slapstick, pratfalls, and riffs on male and female stereotypes. In its more dire moments film itself seems to consider the idea of women cops as an anomaly, given how the female recruits exhibit pettiness, self-absorption, etc. (the dudes don’t fare much better, but they’re strictly supporting roles). Thankfully, “Inspector” also allows for the idea that women can be ferocious fighters when properly trained (by Sibelle Hu from Chan’s “Lucky Stars” film series), and cadets Kara Hui, Ellen Chan, and Sandra Ng all get impressive action showcases (as well as one jaw-dropping roller disco sequence), though Cynthia Rothrock takes top honors as a Stateside agent on loan to Hong Kong. The comedy is, as the kids say, cringey, but the fights make it worth sticking around; 88 Films’ 2K restoration includes always-informative commentary by Frank Djeng, interviews with Rothrock and director Wellson Chang, English-language main and end titles, and numerous trailer.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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