The Bottom Shelf: Barb Wire, Eve Of Destruction, The Cat O’ Nine Tails

Barb Wire, Eve Of Destruction, Dario Argento and more in our final genre DVD and Blu-ray round-up of the year...

The year is 2017. A fascist rules the U.S, as its second civil war rages on. Baywatch star Pamela Anderson gets her baps out in the shower as a nation’s teenage boys look on. Yep, as with pretty much every other edition of the blog this year, we’re starting with talk of a dystopian future not entirely dissimilar to Donald Trump’s America (strange, that), this time heralding a reappraisal of would-be nineties cult classic Barb Wire, arriving in time for a festive Blu-ray release.

Undeniably still shit (let’s be clear on that), twenty-one years on from its original 1996 skidmark-trail around cinemas, though, it oddly turns out that director David Hogan’s (whose other notable work includes music promos for Sheryl Crow, Shania Twain and Taylor Dayne) loose Casablanca remake (honestly) isn’t entirely without merit. Our titular protagonist owns and performs at the Hammerhead strip joint, a kind of post-Crow, pre-Matrix goth bar, complete with industrial metal and sweaty leather trousers, with her blind brother Charlie (Event Horizon’s eyeless wonder Jack Noseworthy, cornering the market in visually impaired heroes). Barb supplements her income with bounty hunter work (as most strippers in the modern age do), casually offing anyone with the sheer gall to call her ‘babe’ and definitely representing a feminist ideal for all women to aspire to.

The winner of the 1996 Worst New Star Razzy, perma-feisty Pam’s world is thrown into disarray as a rebel scientist turns up at the bar with her ex, Axel (Jango Fett himself, Temeura Morrison), and a dangerous secret capable of overthrowing aforementioned fascist ruler (no, not tax returns). Blending cyberpunk and lunkhead action tropes with some decent cinematography from Hellraiser straight-to-video sequel director Rick Bota, we get talk of retinal implants and future tech gone bad giving way to explosions willy-nilly, and the wonderfully ridiculous set-piece of a fight aboard a forklift carrying a car, suspended hundreds of feet in the air by a crane.

Throw in a reliably oily performance from Xander Berkeley as a dodgy cop and the WTF-ery of a fried-chicken-eating, morbidly obese junkyard gangster called Big Fatso (somehow still better than Berkeley’s own Walking Dead tip-dwelling villain colleagues) and you don’t necessarily have the worst late-nineties vision of the future, despite strong competition from the same year’s Escape From L.A (set in 2013) and 97’s Kevin Costner sap-fest The Postman (also 2013).

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Sensibly avoiding specifying an exact year (we can only assume from the fashions that it’s not set in 2013), though maybe that being the only sensible thing about the production, Duncan Gibbins’ 1991 mansplaining-meets-nuclear-android-assassin lark Eve Of Destruction also makes its way onto 88 Films Blu-ray this month. Gregory Hines, he of couldn’t-be-further-from-this-blog’s-general-fare Waiting To Exhale and The Preacher’s Wife, plays a government anti-terrorism agent who finds himself roped in to some caper involving a Gynoid robot woman, whose silly robot woman emotions have caused her to storm off in a strop, and who just so happens to be a walking, talking, shagging nuclear weapon.

This robot, designed by and based upon scientist and careless ditz Dr Eve Simmons (Renee Soutendijk), seems to have somehow inherited all of her creator’s repressed trauma and sexual dysfunction, which has ended up inconveniently spilling out as sudden violence toward unaware sexist strangers she meets, in escalating, some might say justifiably, nasty ways. Hines’ dickhead special agent learns a lesson in non-macho compassion as he helps our own Eve get in touch with her emotions to in turn sort out her android counterpart (presumably involving kittens and scented candles) before her woman’s problems cause bigger problems for all of mankind. All to a catchy synth score, of course.

There’s a great psychological thriller with huge potential for metaphorical and philosophical pondering lurking somewhere beneath this mix of strange cheese, psychodrama and frequent gratuitous nudity, though this only comes out in brief glimmers, the director’s own ham-fisted script self-sabotaging throughout. Speaking of Gibbins, a quick aside: alongside Eve Of Destruction, he also made movies Fire With Fire and Third Degree Burn before eventually apparently dying of third degree burns in 1993. Fancy that.

We now move on to what I will insist upon calling the Cat and Dog Section of the blog as we, you’ve guessed it, delve into a few canine and feline themed releases, starting with something far classier than most entries in this neck of the woods, Italian director Dario Argento’s second feature, 1971’s The Cat O’ Nine Tails, out on Arrow Blu-ray in early January. The second of his ‘Animal Trilogy’ (after The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and before Four Flies On Grey Velvet), this early Giallo-ish thriller sees a blind ex-journalist (talented character actor Karl Malden; Jack Noseworthy was only two at the time) team with City On Fire star James Franciscus’ battling current reporter to solve a series of murders at a genetic research lab.

Reputedly Argento’s least favourite film for years (he must have said this before filming Dracula 3D in 2012), The Cat O’ Nine Tails’ convoluted plot (the name refers to nine strands of an investigation, rather than any torture device) isn’t the most compelling, and Argento perfected his craft many times over with later productions, though what this film lacks in substance is almost made up for in sheer seventies style. The crisp Blu-ray transfer looks lovely (if a more downcast shade than more flamboyant latter fare), and even a lesser Ennio Morricone score (as is the case here) is leaps and bounds ahead of most composers as our charismatic leads investigate. Bags of extras for the diehard Argento fan don’t do any harm either.

Ennio Morricone crops up again next, scoring Oscar-winner Mike Nichols’ far more mainstream, though seemingly mostly forgotten, lycanthropic Jack Nicholson vehicle, 1994’s Wolf, which gets the full Indicator Blu-ray treatment. A fifty-something Nicholson, already apparently more wolf than man in real life, is perfectly cast as Will Randall, an increasingly (and soon to be literally) redundant editor-in-chief of a publishing house, who is bitten and proceeds to start howling at the moon, savaging enemies and pissing out his boundary-lines.

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As Nicholson spars with an equally wolfish rival (James Spader on trademark sinister yuppie form) and flirts with his boss’s much younger daughter (a thankless role for Michelle Pfeiffer), Nichols’ film is essentially a hybrid of smart satire about male anxiety and gory if sometimes clumsy horror from experienced wolfy special effects man Rick Baker. A strong support cast, including the always-welcome Christopher Plummer, Niles From Frasier and perennial hangdog Richard Jenkins as a cynical cop, do their best, though too often the action falls flat or is cut carelessly short. Likewise, other than the odd laugh-out-loud moment, Jim Harrison and Wesley Strick’s script lacks the bite to fully realise the great potential for black comedy Wolf has in spades.

We finish this month with Man From U.N.C.L.E David McCallum facing off against that man’s ex-best friend in the form of endless marauding pet dogs, in Burt Brinckerhoff’s imaginatively-titled 1976 obscurity Dogs, on 88 Film Blu-ray and DVD. Opening with a P.O.V shot in the style of John Carpenter’s Halloween, we start the film with a faithful hound wandering around a party, getting treated like, well, a dog, before exacting revenge on its bourgeois ruler in a swift, bloody act of violence. This is but the start, though, as according to scientist McCallum, canines of all breeds are rising up against their owners in increasingly brutal ways, and they must be stopped.

This makes for multiple scenes of entirely straight-faced silliness as dog obedience classes go awry, Linda Gray from Dallas has her shower interrupted and Sandra McCabe proves to be one of the most irritating horror movie screamers of the seventies. Bloody idiots regularly deserve their comeuppances, as you can’t help but root for the dogs doing what they can to enforce Darwinian natural selection. Even one hilarious cat gets in on the action, though was sadly never considered for what would have been an amazing spin-off. What we are left with is an agreeably dumb, equally forgettable nature-gone-wild saga for fans of dogs, death and dodgy acting.