The more the world changes the more it stays the same. During the reign of VHS, there were those notorious films that for one reason or another (usually the rights being mired in legal battles) never made it to tape. DVD and Blu-ray experienced the same woes. Now that content is available through so many sources it’s easy to forget that a lot of fun and underseen films get lost in the shuffle. Some of us still married to the idea of having our own copies of films scratch our heads about those films that fall through the cracks. Here are seven films we love that iTunes still hasn’t made available.
A lot of amazing things were born from the success of Goodfellas. Mob films came back into vogue. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing style became an institution. Joe Pesci was able to miraculously become a star. And for a finite amount of time, Ray Liotta was a headliner in actual movies. No Escape was one of the big movies the actor chose to do and though it was a commercial failure it’s a lot of fun. It’s also the movie that helped director Martin Campbell land Goldeneye. No Escape is a messy romp that owes a little to Mad Max, a little to Lord of the Flies, and a little to Escape from New York. It’s a great B-movie and while it won’t make anyone’s Top 100 list it’s a great way to kill an hour and a half. [Nick Nunziata]
Riki-Oh: Story of Ricky
When it comes to over-the-top action, you don’t get any crazier than Riki-Oh: Story of Ricky. This adaptation of a Japanese manga is what happens when Sam Raimi meets Bruce Lee. It’s gonzo gore and furious fists for nearly every second of its running time.
The story takes place in the not-too-distant future of 2001. Our hero Ricky is sent to prison after killing a crime boss that was instrumental in the death of Ricky’s girlfriend. Ricky is as pure a hero as you can get. He also knows the most powerful kung fu ever, allowing him to literally explode people by simply punching them. He runs afoul of the corrupt people who run the prison and begins getting into fight after blood soaked fight.
Riki-Oh: Story of Ricky is cartoonish to the extreme. It’s an exercise in serious silliness that never fails to put a smile on my face. If only this joy was easily accessible through Apple’s premiere storefront. The more people who see the insanity of Riki-Oh: Story of Ricky, the better. [Drew Dietsch]
Heaven Help Us
There’s something very special about Heaven Help Us, and though it doesn’t get the love of the early John Hughes movies though it tackles similar territory. It features some memorable moments but it’s not knee-slappingly funny. The film offers insight into the Catholic School life but without teeth bared or any deep meaning. Heaven Help Us just does a lot of things really well and for those of us raised in the early days of cable, it was a staple on HBO. Kevin Dillion is terrific. A pre-Fright Night (and pre-porn) Stephen Geoffreys is a blast. Donald Sutherland wears monk clothing. Plus it features two John Hughes legends in Andrew McCarthy and Mary Stuart Masterson. It is as vital as any other 80’s teen comedy. [Nick Nunziata]
There are simply not enough movies where Jeff Goldblum plays the Devil. In fact, there’s one. This underseen little gem is almost wholly dialogue driven and it is supremely effective despite the lack of action. Goldblum and Kathy Baker are terrific as they square off over religion, human nature, and weakness. It’s a thought-provoking and quirky movie and while it doesn’t have any major hooks to make it a mainstream recommendation, it’s truly inventive. A great reminder that a good idea and an interesting script are the only special effects you need. [Nick Nunziata]
Errol Morris is still one of our most valuable documentary filmmakers. The Thin Blue Line, lovingly spoofed on Documentary Now!, is his magnum opus. But seven years before he released The Thin Blue Line, he made Vernon, Florida. Originally, Morris set out to make a movie about a strange phenomenon in a Florida town where residents were amputating their own limbs for insurance money. But after the subjects of the documentary pushed back, Morris re-assembled his footage into this wonderfully weird movie.
Through Morris’s lens, the eccentric residents of this panhandle town occupy the perfect space between creepy and endearing. Vernon comes across as the town time forgot, a tiny anachronistic bubble from The Twilight Zone. If you’ve seen The Thin Blue Line (and you should), Vernon is a great next step into Morris’s documentaries. I’d tell you to rent it from iTunes, but as luck would have it you can watch it on Netflix (US). [Travis Newton]
There are countless low budget horror films that have never made their way to the digital mass market. This entire list could be made up of forgotten or underappreciated gems from that genre alone. If we can only highlight a few, Tourist Trap certainly needs to be mentioned.
As far as horror plots go, Tourist Trap seems pretty standard. A group of young people are frolicking in the woods and run across a bizarre roadside attraction run by a kindly old man. Too bad for the kids that the old man’s brother is a psychopath with telekinetic abilities who like to turn people into mannequins. What makes Tourist Trap so effective is how atmospheric it is. This is a PG rated horror flick but it’s far more unnerving than most movies that rely on buckets of blood to create chills.
The film was somewhat remade in 2005 as House of Wax, but this version is far more important. It’s a stripped-down thriller that feels like a genuine nightmare at times. But, you’ll have to look somewhere else besides iTunes for this hidden horror classic. [Drew Dietsch]
With six Hobbit-infused films under his belt and billions and billions of box office dollars in the bank you’d think Peter Jackson finally peaked. But he peaked before The Lord of the Rings. Creatively at least. That’s not a slag on the first three masterpieces he created based on J.R.R. Tolkein’s books. That’s how inventive and insane Dead Alive/Braindead is. The unrated version of Jackson’s splatstick opus features so much gory mayhem that it’s impossible to pinpoint a favorite. It’s a zombie film that serves as delivery on the promise Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 made to horror fans. If you’ve ever wanted to see a person take on a room full of zombies with a lawnmower (yeah, Dead Rising doesn’t have any original ideas), look no further. And if you like garden gnomes you are in for a treat. [Nick Nunziata]