The Bottom Shelf: Space Truckers, Shock Treatment, The Barbarian Brothers

Our latest round-up of horror DVDs, Blu-rays and more features Stuart Gordon's classic Space Truckers...

Charles Dance’s chain-powered vibrating robot schlong. Any reader would surely agree that from that epic starting point, this piece basically writes itself. In fact, it’s all this writer can do to resist just copying and pasting that line over and over and over again in lieu of actual sentences. Still, damned convention dictates that the film in which the above features, Re-Animator maestro Stuart Gordon’s mostly (perhaps rightly) forgotten sci-fi lark Space Truckers, which has its UK Blu-ray debut this month, should get something resembling a review, and who am I to argue?

So, Gordon and (somehow) Deadwood/NYPD Blue writer Ted Mann’s 1996 high concept oddball flop follows one John Canyon (a very restrained Dennis Hopper), a country music fan, southern everyman and intergalactic haulier of square-shaped pigs (aren’t they all?). Our John gets into a fistfight with his client, Cheers’ George Wendt (seemingly just as confused by his casting as the audience), with said client ending up sucked out into space through a broken window, meaning Canyon, diner waitress Debi Mazar (of Goodfellas and, more memorably, 2012’s Home Alone: The Holiday Heist), whom he’s kind of engaged to, and young apprentice trucker Stephen Dorff (who stood up for him) must go on the lam.

Their cover has them leaving the station, carrying a package of sex dolls for a rival client, which actually turns out to be a batch of lethal cybernetic killers bound for Earth (a regular problem for truckers, I’ve heard). This is where Charles Dance comes in, in classic nineties OTT villain guise, as the co-creator of these robots, left for dead and now a ‘half-electric asshole’ himself, as Dorff quips. Dance’s space pirate employees (led by ridiculous Commando and Circuitry Man 2: Plughead Rewired blockhead Vernon Wells) cause our heroes all sorts of problems whilst their boss goes all Weinstein on a scantily clad and scantily written Mazar with such timeless chat-up lines as “You have a strong, distinctive body odour: it’s gratifyingly approachable” putting his earlier RSC career to shame.

All of the above is presented with the colourful, uninhibited excess (and questionable sexual politics) of late nineties Hollywood as Gordon’s kind-of-terrible but highly enjoyable romp takes its rightful place alongside the likes of Super Mario Bros., the Matt LeBlanc Lost In Space and Barb Wire, complete with Rednex’s Cotton Eye Joe playing over the end credits for good measure.

Ad – content continues below

So we go from one bad taste, Day-Glo, WTF crawl to another, then, as Richard O’Brien’s truly one-of-a-kind Rocky Horror follow-up (equal, not sequel, as he puts it), Shock Treatment, comes to Arrow Blu-ray in its own inimitable style. Released in 1981, six years after the original, Shock Treatment follows Janet and Brad Majors from the first film as their sexual awakening fizzles out into an afternoon nap.

Rocky Horror writer/director Jim Sharman returns to the helm, having scripted with O’Brien, and it shows – though lacking some of the catchy sing-along choruses of its predecessor, this cutting deconstruction of small town, square-jaw America and supposed ‘mental health’ is perhaps the better film. Boasting a great cast, Suspiria star Jessica Harper seems a strange replacement for the departing Susan Sarandon, until her strong vocals come into play; Cliff De Young plays poles-apart twin brothers alongside fun cameos from Ruby Wax and Rik Mayall, whilst fan-service via several alumni from the first instalment ticks all the right boxes.

After being selected for marriage counselling on a reliably grotesque Barry Humphries’ Marriage Maze game show, Brad’s wilting libido and waning lust for life sees him committed to a surburban mental institution which isn’t quite as it seems to be. All of this is, of course, just an excuse for song and dance numbers about psychoanalysis, macho homophobia and middle-age malaise, albeit with more of a new wave/post-punk vibe to proceedings, as opposed to Rocky Horror’s outrageous glam rock ‘n’ roll. It’s no surprise, then, that the end result is delicious high-camp hijinks with a sweetly progressive message beneath its gonzo tomfoolery.

There’s no such message, thank Christ, in our next release, seventies angry bear thriller Grizzly, out on 88 Films Bluray this month, with the only lesson to be learned being that you don’t mess with an outlandishly large, marauding Yogi unless you want your body parts to be torn off and hurled around, willy-nilly. Obviously, this happens quite a bit in Blaxploitation turned horror director William Girdler’s biggest hit, as our park rangers do their best to stop campers ending up as snacks for an unpredictable ursine on the prowl outside of its normal habitat.

An obvious Jaws cash-in, we have Brody (lead ranger Christopher George), Richard Jaeckel’s tree-hugging Hooper and even Mayor Vaughan in the form of park head honcho Joe Dorsey, who just won’t close the forest, basically because he’s a dick. The real star, though, is our lumbering anti-hero Teddy, perhaps the best cinematic bear this side of Anchorman, doing a Thanos on all and sundry, be they human, horse, or observation tower. Full of the sort of realistic extras Jaws’ Bruce loved chewing on, Grizzly is good fun, as far as rip-off nature gone wild also-rans go.

A bit of light relief in theory comes next in the first of two portmanteau releases this month, the 1987 sketch travesty Amazon Women On The Moon, gaining a presumably largely unasked for Blu-ray release on 101 Films. If you picture a B-movie-themed collection of sketch spoofs that are somehow even less funny than The Kentucky Fried Movie, you’re near the mark for this production that wastes the considerable talents of Joe Dante and John Landis behind the camera and the likes of Steve Guttenberg, Rosanna Arquette and Michelle Pfeiffer in front of it.

Ad – content continues below

The ‘gags’ come thick and fast as we veer from the slapstick of one character’s Frank Spencer-style lunch break to The Sopranos’ Joe Pantoliano selling a wig for bald men, to the titular sci-fi would-be classic, mostly executed in mirthless fashion. Fleeting moments of amusement come in the form of a Jack The Ripper/Nessie crossover, a funeral carried out in the style of a TV comedy roast, and the genuinely funny Don Simmons soul singer with no soul skit, though nothing here approaches the hilarity of WWE wrestler Titus O’Neil tripping up approaching the ring at Wrestlemania.

Thankfully, our second portmanteau this month, 1983’s Nightmares, featuring four po-faced shorts, also out on 101 Films Bluray, offers solid, meat ‘n’ veg horror in an undemanding eighties fashion. As if to prove it, none-more eighties stalwarts Lance Henriksen and Emilio Estevez show up as a troubled priest and gamer obsessed with a mysterious arcade game respectively whilst Veronica Cartwright deals with a terrifying alien rat grown to monstrous size in her attic.

Essentially a collection of tributes to better and bigger films, albeit put together lovingly by The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three director Joseph Sargent, Nightmares rips off borrows liberally from the likes of Duel, Tron, Poltergeist and Halloween to varying success. Hey, if Stranger Things can get away with it in the present day, why not check out some genuine eighties cheese for good measure?

We end this month’s whole messy charade exactly how we started it – with a splendidly ridiculous nineties not-quite-classic coming in the form of the unbelievable Double Trouble, just added to Netflix and really something that just has to be watched. Consider the wave of rubbish post-Arnie muscle-bound action stars who emerged in his wake, and you’d be forgiven for not paying much heed to Peter and David Paul, perhaps better known (by one or two fans) as The Barbarian Brothers. This 1992 release sees the fantastically mulleted twin brother weight-lifters play siblings, one a cop, one a cat burglar, who join forces to stop a real (to quote Partridge) rotten shit of a bad guy, the tea-drinking, camp as hell, scenery-chewing career-on-the-rocks Roddy McDowall.

From start to finish, Double Trouble provides endless joy. Sub-Beverly Hills Cop synth score accompanies one brother (I don’t know, the one who plays the thief, ok?) as he taunts the hard-ass detective other brother (let’s call him Clive for argument’s sake), who happens to be wearing an L.A Raiders crop-top on duty. Clive lets off steam by lifting weights in his flat whilst grunting obscenely, as Peewee’s Playhouse star John Paragon, directing, zooms the camera into a pair of disturbingly veiny biceps. Crime-fighting techniques include chucking a massive satellite dish through a perp’s windscreen, guzzling bodybuilding supplements at a crime scene and intimidating a corrupt politician through the medium of sun-bed overexposure as James Doohan’s blustering Scotty-as-police-chief busts their balls with aplomb.

Everything about this light-hearted – though not an actual spoof – action thriller is perfect, in its way: the sort of film you’d imagine Mac and Dennis in Always Sunny enjoying immensely. From Barbarians, in which they play mullet-sporting muscle-bound twin brother slave fighters through to Twin Sitters, in which they play mullet-sporting muscle-bound twin brother babysitters protecting twin kid pranksters from an evil uncle, Double Trouble is the gateway drug to a whole host of cinematic glory.

Ad – content continues below