Tag Archives: nineties

RetView #62 – Little Devils: The Birth (1993)

Title: Little Devils: The Birth

Year of Release: 1993

Director: George Pavlou

Length: 100 mins

Starring: Russ Tamblyn, Marc Price, Nancy Valen, Wayne McNamara, Stella Stevens

Little Devils: The Birth is one of those films that got lost in the shuffle. Marketed as a comedy horror in the Gremlins or Ghoulies vein, it’s not really funny enough to be a comedy and not horrific enough to be a horror. It didn’t even have a hard rock soundtrack for Christ’s sake, and lacking big industry backing and a massive distribution deal, when it was released it fell between the cracks of the two genres and quickly became forgotten. In horror circles, just being aware of it granted you entry into some kind of exclusive club governed by knowing winks and secret handshakes. It doesn’t get more ‘cult movie’ than that.

It was reportedly conceived as a TV pilot for a new anthology series along the lines of The Hitchhiker and Tales from the Crypt, but when that plan fell through the makers decided to press on and turn it into a feature film instead. It received a timely boost when released by Shivers Entertainment on limited edition remastered DVD for the first time in 2017, but even then flew under the radar, the only media coverage being canned copy recycled from the press release churned out by bored journos with pages to fill. It’s almost as if there’s a conspiracy afoot to ensure the movie stays underground where it can build upon its growing reputation year on year until it eventually grows horns and takes over the world. I for one think it deserves a wider audience, so here we are.

Like all the best films, it begins when an unpopular, debt-ridden mad scientist. This one, Dr. Lionel (McNamara), literally goes to hell and back, and returns with a souvenir in the form of some runny mud that looks a lot like melted chocolate. Possessed and compelled to work, he sets about creating an army of tiny, impish figures who come to life, break out, and start terrorizing the apartment block in which he lives. First stop is the apartment downstairs which is home to Ed (Marc Price, of Trick or Treat fame – in which his character name was also Ed, weirdly enough) a frustrated writer reduced to producing smutty stories for a sleazy magazine to make ends meet whilst being pursued by strange, lust-filled landlord, Clara Madison (Stevens). Clara treats Dr. Lionel with complete disdain, yet has the hots for Ed. Ed isn’t interested, though. Especially after he meets exotic dancer Lynn (Valen) while researching a book at the local homeless shelter and the two begin a tumultuous relationship. Ed and his motley crew of friends, lovers and acquaintances then have to battle the rampaging horde of ‘little devils’ before things get (any more) out of hand.

Though very much a product of its time, given the pedigree of some of the people involved, it was something of a surprise that Little Devils: The Birth didn’t make a bigger splash. It was the brainchild of British director George Pavlou, who’d made his name on the Clive Barker vehicles Underworld (1985) and Rawhead Rex (1986), and writer Elliot Stein, fresh from the similarly-themed TV movie Gray Clay Dolls (1991). The biggest coup in front of the camera came in the form of the legendary Stella Stevens who had successfully made the transition from Playboy to the big (and small) screen, appearing in scores of movies and TV shows in a career spanning half a century including The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Manitou (1978) and Monster in the Closet (1986). Despite the lowbrow, tongue-in-cheek subject material, her star quality shines through in every scene she’s in and its a bitter disappointment when *spoiler alert* the little devils get her half way through. In fact, all the actors do a decent job and the script, though played mostly for laughs, is also surprisingly good (sample dialogue: “You write porno. That doesn’t necessarily make you a pervert, even though you are one”).

Yes, the plot is silly, the effects are cheesy, and at times the whole thing feels a bit like one of those early Ratt videos MTV would play after midnight back when they still played music, but all things considered this forgotten gem is well worthy of its cult status. The title suggests that at least one sequel was planned, but that never transpired. Not yet, anyway. We can but hope.

Trivia Corner

Before becoming an actress, Stella Stevens was a member of the five-voice vocal ensemble The skip-Jacks who performed the theme song from The Flintstones, among other things. She went on to forge a long-term relationship with famed producer and one-time Kiss guitarist Bob Kulick, which lasted until his death in 2020.


RetView #53 – Flatliners (1990)

Title: Flatliners

Year of Release: 1990

Director: Joel Schumacher

Length: 114 mins

Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt

If Lost Boys was director Joe Schumacher’s Highway to Hell moment, Flatliners was his Back in Black. The 1990 blockbuster produced by Michael Douglas (yes, that one) and Rick Bieber, and distributed by Columbia Pictures, took its inspiration from a Jack London short story originally published in 1899 called A Thousand Deaths, which was about a patient being deliberately killed and resuscitated by a mad scientist. Propelled by an uber cool Brat Pack cast, on its theatrical release Flatliners was a smash hit, instantly claiming the No 1 slot at the Box Office and raking in a cool $10 million-plus on its opening weekend.

When medical student Nelson Wright (Sutherland) convinces a bunch of his classmates to help him discover what lies behind the veil of death, you know it’s all going to go wrong. They help him flatline (hence the title) and he ‘returns’ to verify that there is indeed something there. The classmates Joe (Baldwin), David (Bacon), Randy (Platt) and Rachel (Roberts) all decide to follow suit, and each have very different, but invariably harrowing experiences. After the experiments, they begin to suffer what they think are hallucinations, all related to some unresolved issue in their past. One-by-one the students confront the demons of their past, with some coming out of it better than others, eventually allowing them to move on with their lives. The overriding message here seems to concern coming to terms with the more tragic side of life, and learning how to learn and move on from it. Joel Schumacher was intrigued by the spiritual and horrific aspects of Flatliners, and enthused about the possibilities of creating a visually exciting film. He said: “[This] is a story about atonement and forgiveness involving these students who, in a sense, violate the gods and pay a price. I think we would all like to know what’s in store for us after we die. There have been thousands of reports from all over the world from those who have encountered ‘near death’, and most of them have reported pleasant experiences. Our movie, however, is saying that you’re not to tamper with death.”

Despite boasting a stellar cast, the movie has always proved divisive. As with many films of the era, in occasion it falls victim to being more about style than substance and for some reason never quite tapped into that all-forgiving nostalgic vibe. On Metacritic it’s score currently stands at a modest 55% from ten ‘mixed or average’ critical reviews, while on the same site its user rating is a much more healthy 9.2/10. The New York Times said, “Flatliners is a stylish, eerie psychological horror film laced with wit, a movie that thrives on its characters’ guilty secrets and succeeds on the strength of the director Joel Schumacher’s flair for just this sort of smart, unpretentious entertainment While at the other end of the spectrum, The Orlando Sentinel said, “Far-fetched as the premise is, I was willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt for the sake of the impressive cast. But as Flatliners rolled along, its pretentiousness became increasingly toxic.”

A perfect example, if ever there was one, of not being able to please all the people all the time.

In 2017, a new version was released, confusingly with the same name, which functions as both a remake and a stand-alone sequel. Repeating the pattern of the first film, reviews were generally negative, the general idea being that the movie once again failed to live up to an interesting premise. Despite this, again it proved to be a moderate Box Office success. Interestingly, a deleted scene from the movie establishes Kieffer Sutherland’s character Dr. Barry Wilson to be an older version of Nelson Wright having changed his name and begun living under a different identity.

Trivia Corner:

Though they are all supposed to be approximately the same age, in actual fact Kevin Bacon was many years older than the rest of the main cast having made his film debut 12 years earlier in National Lampoon’s Animal House which, ironically, also starred Kiefer Sutherland’s father, Donald.


A Musical Odyssey Part 2: The Metal Years

heavy metal

Something every teenager needs in his life is heavy metal. As soon as I hit my teens I started buying Metal Hammer, Kerrang! and other rock magazines. The first that struck me was the imagery. All that leather and make-up, fake blood and bad attitude. There was something alluringly dangerous about it all. And it also fit nicely with my budding horror fascination.

In the mid-late late eighties there was an explosion of cock rock. Acts like Bon Jovi, WASP, Skid Row, Poison, Motley Crue, Cinderella, Whitesnake, and many others became regular fixtures in the UK Top 40. Rock stalwarts like Alice Cooper and Kiss re-emerged, and even the Scorpions and Winger’s of the world were having hits. For a few years it was like living in heavy metal heaven.

Some of my favourite albums of the time were Who Made Who (AC/DC, 1986), Slippery When Wet (Bon Jovi, 1986), So Far, So Good, So What (Megadeth, 1988), Appetite for Destruction (Guns n Roses, 1987), Hysteria (Def Leppard, 1987), Girls, Girls, Girls (Motley Crue, 1987), Justice For All (Metallica, 1988), Permanent Vacation (Aerosmith, 1987), and 5150 (Van Halen, 1986).

If you’ve read this far, I’m pretty sure I just named at least two of your all-time favourite albums. Heady days, indeed.

Even if Justice For All sounded like it was produced by an eleven-year old, it mattered little as even that was soon eclipsed by the awesome beast that was Metallica, Black Album, or strictly-speaking, the album that had no name. This was the album that defined the era, though it really shouldn’t have been a hit. It was released in 1991, after metal’s heyday, had no title, limited PR, and no cover art, save for a small barely-visible coiled snake on the front. What it did have, though, was power.

Around this time I developed a penchant for limited edition collectors items. Picture discs, coloured vinyl, poster-sleeves, that kind of thing. Like millions of others, I fell right into the record company’s trap. You see, some of these ‘collectors items’ had extra b-sides or remixes and stuff, making them must-have’s for every self-respecting fan, so often you bought multiple formats just to get the extras. Or even just because they looked pretty. Style beat substance every time.

You didn’t even mind spending the money, safe in the knowledge that your limited collector’s edition Rush Prime Mover 7-inch white vinyl would only increase in value over time. You came to think of your record collection, bloated with all its fancily-packaged collector’s items, as some kind of investment for the future. A kind of nest egg. The big record labels tricked you into believing that you were actually being responsible by going out and spending all your disposable income on records every weekend.

But how many people have actually gone to the trouble of painstakingly valuing their record collection, item by item? I have. And I can tell you it was a truly depressing experience. Because what the record companies didn’t tell you at the time was that they produced these ‘limited collector’s editions’ in such bulk, and distributed them so well, that everybody had them. If you happen to have any of these half-forgotten gems gathering dust in your attic, my advice is to leave them there for another couple of decades. Apart from the odd exception (Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast 7-inch red vinyl, anyone?) they are probably worth less now in monetary terms than what you paid for them all those years ago.

Metal is one of those intriguing musical genres made up of dozens of different sub-genres. Apart from the aforementioned cock rock, there was (or has been) black metal, speed metal, thrash metal, death metal, nu metal, rap metal, funk rock, Christian rock, Adult Oriented Rock, progressive rock, glam rock, and industrial rock, to name but a few. The tragedy is that after a certain amount of time has passed, regardless of previous genre, all these bands get lumped together in the all-encompassing ‘classic rock’ category. There’s a line in a Bowling For Soup song… “When did Motley Crue become classic rock?”

That’s a damn good question.

I remember buying Guns n Roses’ Appetite For Destruction as if it was yesterday. I can’t believe it must have been the summer of 1988, which would make it almost 25 years ago. I bought the vinyl LP, in the sleeve featuring the robot rape scene that was later banned. I got the record on holiday in a Welsh seaside town called Porthcawl. We were staying in a caravan. That meant there was no record player, so all I could do for a solid week was stare at that sleeve, read the lyrics, and lovingly caress the record trying to imagine what it would sound like when I was finally in a position to play it.

Interesting sidenote on collectibles… I was one of the lucky few who got the album in its original sleeve featuring the infamous robot rape scene, just before Sweet Child O’Mine turned G N’ R into global megastars, Axl Rose disappeared up his own ass, and the original sleeve was withdrawn due to a public outcry.

In those days, if you were going to be a metalhead, you had to dress accordingly. My uniform during my teens comprised of a pair of black cowboy boots, ripped jeans, and heavily ‘customized’ t-shirt. One of my favourites was a black Madonna t-shirt, which I ripped down the middle and held together with safety pins. I would like to say it was a statement against the evils of pop music, but I wasn’t that deep back then. I just liked the image. The look was topped off with a black leather jacket complete with tassels on the sleeves (yep, tassels), a string tie featuring a stag’s skull, and a single, black, fingerless leather glove, which I wore everywhere. Oh, and before I started having real tattoos, I used to draw them on with a biro. I must have looked like a complete prick. But I thought I looked cool, and maybe that was all that mattered at the time.

I never had long hair. The furthest I ever got to having long hair was maintaining a mullet for a while. This was the eighties, and mullets were still socially acceptable. Having long, flowing, blonde locks never really appealed to me. It would require a lot of maintenance, and I’d probably wake up most mornings with a mouth full of my own hair. Not something I aspired to!

But then, as the eighties gave way to the nineties, something called grunge happened, having the same effect on hair metal as that massive blazing meteorite had on the dinosaurs. Almost overnight, rock and metal virtually ceased to exist.

Well, that isn’t strictly true. Most bands struggled gamely on for a while. Some even lasted long enough to make comebacks years later. But in the immediate aftermath of grunge, most rock and metal bands just looked confused by it all and walked around in a daze struggling to understand how they had gone from playing football stadiums to grimy rock clubs in the space of a few short months and nobody bought their records any more. It was painful to watch, and it also meant the end of the heavy metal clobber. Kurt Cobain has (had?) a lot to answer for.

Coming soon: A Musical Odyssey Part 3!


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