How Do You Fight Unthinkable Evil?
Well, when that unthinkable evil comes in the form of a crapulent DVD called Fearful Terrorist Movies, I write a scathing review. It's a small thing, I know, but I like to believe even the tiniest efforts count when you're talking about something as important as fighting unthinkable evil.
Facts of the Case
Deadline—Christopher Walken plays passionless, drunk, cynical American journalist, Don Stevens. He's in Beirut, reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when he scores an anonymous interview with a big-wig member of the PLO who says acts of terrorism are no longer benefiting the Palestinians and they must recognize Israel's right to exist. The PLO freaks out and goes into heavy spin mode, discrediting Stevens and trying to get him to recant his story. Caught between terrorists, Israeli agents, hostile governments, and other jaded reporters, Stevens must sort truth from fiction, defend his own reputation, and reel in the big story.
The Death Merchants (Tod Eines Fremden)—Doctor Hersfeld (Hardy Krüger), an innocent German citizen, finds himself on the run from mideast terrorists when he's spotted unwittingly looking at a message left at the Hamburg airport for a double-agent named Herzog. Off to the Middle East to extricate himself from this dangerous case of mistaken identity, Hersfeld eventually finds help from an Israeli intelligence agent played by Jason Robards.
Dirty Games—In a piece of casting best read as the forebear of Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist in the James Bond flick,The World Is Not Enough, Jan-Michael Vincent stars as molecular physicist, Kepler West. As the film opens, Dr. West is at a nuclear plant in Africa to test his new invention, Synroc-R, which is apparently some sort of super-powerful space-age polymer, so tough it's going to revolutionize the disposal of nuclear waste. Purely by coincidence and because she is a member of the World Health Organization, West's French ex-girlfriend, Nicola Kendra (Valentina Vargas, Hellraiser: Bloodline), also happens to be in attendance at the demo. The two split up a few years earlier because Nicola was under the incorrect assumption that West had murdered her father (you know, the typical stuff people break up over). Turns out her dad was murdered by terrorists and, coincidentally, those very same terrorists are on the scene in Africa to sabotage West's invention, forcing the former lovers to team up in order to defeat the bad guys.
Let's keep this simple and linear. There are plenty of reasons to hate BFS Video's Fearful Terrorist Movies DVD. Here are a few of the more prominent ones:
1. The transfers suck. Actually, maybe they blow. Well…take your pick. Deadline and Dirty Games are so grainy and muddy, with soft and hazy definition and weak color saturation, they resemble an oft-watched VHS copied from HBO or Showtime in the late '80s. This is not…I repeat: this is not hyperbole. In addition, the transfers are full screen pan & scan, crowding the compositions of both films, particularly Deadline which I'd guess was originally 2.35:1 based on how out of whack everything looks. And how's The Death Merchants? Well, being around fifteen years older than the other two flicks, and foreign, you can take everything I just said and add to it some harsh damage to the original source material; I'm talking stuff like vertical scratches that extend from top to bottom in the frame and last 20 or 30 seconds, as well as all manner of pock marks and dust and dirt. This is simply one of the worst transfers I've ever had the misery to sit through. It doesn't help that BFS has stuffed three feature-length movies on a single-sided, single-layered disc.
2. The audio is a near perfect companion to the video: 2.0 mono that is flat and frequently shrill. Hiss is prevalent throughout all three features, but worst in The Death Merchants.
3. I kid you not, Walken and Robards are the only two who succeed in providing what, by normal standards, could be considered good performances. By good, I mean they don't sound like they're reading their lines as part of a literacy test at the Sylvan Learning Center. Jan-Michael Vincent, on the other hand, turns in a good performance by B-movie standards. Let's do the math folks: three movies that run 288 minutes combined, yet offer a grand total of 2 1/2 competent performances. I'm not sure what that adds up to, but it isn't a wonderful evening of entertainment.
4. The movies themselves are the sort of crap that requires gratuitous and poorly-written voice-over narration to ensure the audience knows what the hell's going on. They're bad, is what I'm trying to say. In defense of Dirty Games: at least its makers seem to've been aware they were producing a B-movie, and they went with it; they didn't try fooling anybody. The other two beg to be taken seriously. I wanted to oblige, but it was just too much to ask.
5. The text-based "Infamous Acts of Terrorism" extra has now officially replaced the "Real People" extra on Larry Clark's Bully as the tackiest DVD supplement I've ever had the pain to encounter. It pretty much put aside any doubt I may have had that BFS's intent was to cash in on our post-9/11 cultural fascination with the word "terrorist."
6. The warning before the menu boots up says a lot, but still manages to be disingenuous: "Due to the fragile nature of the original materials used to produce this program, the screen quality and continuity of this film may not be equal to current standards." No kidding? I guess we're supposed to believe BFS did the best they could with the materials they had, but I've got my doubts. Substandard source material doesn't explain it all, folks.
7. The bouncy BFS Video theme song before the main menu boots made me want to commit an act of terrorism.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So as not to be relentlessly negative, I'd like to offer one thing I liked about each movie of the Fearful Terrorist Movies trilogy:
1. Whenever Christopher Walken ran away from terrorists in Deadline, it reminded me of Fatboy Slim's video for "Weapon of Choice," a rollicking good time.
2. The Death Merchants' bongo- and flute-heavy soundtrack was groovy, and also reminded me of Manos: The Hands of Fate, the B-movie catastrophe made famous by Mystery Science Theater 3000.
3. Being a fan of the television show Police Story when I was a kid, seeing Jan-Michael Vincent before he was puffy-faced, raspy-voiced, and wet-brained from years of alcohol and drug abuse brought warm memories. You were a king of B-movie goodness, Jan-Michael. Oh, how we miss you.
Fearful Terrorist Movies sucks. Stay away. Stay very, very far away.
Guilty. Guilty before this court and, more importantly, before the laws of common decency and good taste.
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, The Death Merchants
Perp Profile, The Death Merchants
Studio: BFS Video
Distinguishing Marks, The Death Merchants
• Biography and Filmography for Jason Robards
Scales of Justice, Deadline
Perp Profile, Deadline
Studio: BFS Video
Distinguishing Marks, Deadline
• Biography and Filmography for Christopher Walken
Scales of Justice, Dirty Games
Perp Profile, Dirty Games
Studio: BFS Video
Distinguishing Marks, Dirty Games
• Infamous Acts of Terrorism
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