It’s really hard to find anyone who does eighties neon pop surrealism like Empire Pictures. If you want to soak in everything about the decade from the bright colors, weird synth music and massive hair, look no further than films like “Terrorvision,” “Bad Channels” and or “Vicious Lips.” Your experience with Albert Pyun’s rare cult film may vary depending on your love for the decade, but sans the nostalgia goggles, it’s only a moderately entertaining experience that it limitless in its oddities. Something of a mixture of “Rock and Rule,” “Jem and the Holograms,” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Albert Pyun throws so much imagery at the audience and there’s never any kind of substance soaked up.
Karl Thomasson is back and is still tortured by his days serving in the military. After flashing back to his old days with a military buddy named Macy who made him swear an oath before he died while imprisoned, he visits his Macy’s daughter. She so happens to be a teacher at a fictitious college where the dominant force is the school football team, all of whom are juicing up on some kind of experimental steroids. After she’s attacked by local drug dealers, Thomasson takes it upon himself to go undercover as a professor and begin investigating who attacked her. While trying to figure out the identity of her attackers, he uncovers a drug ring and begins learning about the dangers of steroids as players slowly either turn up dead or become increasingly violent.
I was surprised there was even such a thing as a “The Substitute 2” since the first film barely warranted a sequel if at all. Tom Berenger is a fine character actor, but the original film only grants a viewing thanks to some okay action moments. I initially thought the sequel series featured Berenger’s character on various adventures as an undercover mercenary playing a substitute, but thankfully the writers dodge that trap. “The Substitute 2” is a sequel in that it is set in the same universe as Berenger’s character. New character Karl Thomasson, as played by Treat Williams, served in the military alongside Berenger’s character O’Shea, and is helped by the surviving mercenary from the first film. Hey, that’s about all you’re getting.
In the tradition of films like “The Bad Seed” and “Devil in the Flesh,” Gabrielle Stone stars as Jennifer Stone, a young girl who happens upon a small town one fateful day. Alluring and often enigmatic, Jennifer manages to build the good will of a fellow traveler, and begins establishing herself in the small town of Chestnut Hill. Jennifer will do whatever it takes to build the life she wants, including lying, stealing, and murdering just about anyone. “Stray” is mostly a psychological thriller focusing on this truly complex but twisted antagonist who is oddly alluring but incredibly slimy from the first moment we meet her.
Shane Ryan’s “Guerilla” watches more like a proof of concept film more than a short film, but for what it offers I think there’s a ton of potential for a great feature film down the road. With no dialogue and a sweet eighties synth score, “Guerilla” is a mix of “The Goonies” and “Night of the Comet” centering on the apocalypse and an airborne disease that transforms people in to blood soaked maniacs.
Sometimes during these survival films, we meet people that are either too dumb, or too reckless, but “47 Meters Down” chronicles the plight of two of probably the most unlucky women on planet Earth. A lot of what goes down in the film really poses a logical set up, because when we meet characters Lisa and Kate, they’re both anxiously trying to find an adventure and escape from the doldrums of their lives. Mandy Moore especially is the focal point of “47 Meters Down” where she plays a girl getting over a bad break up who literally has to muster up the will to live in an extraordinary situation. “47 Meters Down” is a pretty basic survival thriller, but it’s definitely helped by the very good performance by Mandy Moore.
Shane Meadows previously worked with Paddy Considine in the criminally underseen “A Room for Romeo Brass.” Considine is a man capable of playing many things, and someone without much of a mental balance is probably his best character yet. Paddy Considine is admittedly one of the most unorthodox choices for the lead in a very dramatic and powerful revenge thriller, but he’s a man who can lend a lot of menace and terror to someone who doesn’t quite look like someone who’d knock heads. When he first meets the men that tormented his younger brother, he lays the fear of God in to them by merely glaring at them when they attempt to crowd him. One scene even finds him rattle a power drunk thug in the middle of a crowded bar.