This entry in my column tackling the films released under the ever changing banner of Full Moon has been a bumpy ride, lasting close to a week now. It's been one that I've continuously put off and had troubles getting done, due to the long roundabout way I took to complete it. I hadn't written about one of the films from the Empire Pictures catalog since the very first entry with Trancers. Since this site and column have been going...uh, strong? for a whole year now, I decided to go back to where it all began with the first film released by Empire Pictures and one of, if not the first (the timeline is a little confusing), movies that Charles Band directed with 1983's The Alchemist. That turned out to be a mistake. It's an understandably cheap and incredibly boring film that really has nothing going for it, save for a few moderately impressive effects and a surprisingly beautiful score from Richard Band. I actually fell asleep while watching it, twice.
I quickly shunned that idea and decided to take a look at a film I'd known the cover of since before I even started this column, yet never got around to seeing, with 1994's Sci-Fi/Western mash-up Oblivion. Oh man, did I find a gem with this one. Although it was completely different than I had imagined, I really loved this little oddball film. Going by the cover alone, I assumed that a green reptilian alien somehow crash landed on Earth in the Old West, and would have to defeat some sort of bad guy and become the hero of the town/find his way back home (sort of like E.T. meets a Sergio Leone film). But no, the cover actually shows the bad guy front and center, with his sidekick/lover next to him, instead of our actual hero. While it still seems like an odd choice, I guess you have to lead with your best foot, and Andrew Divoff as Redeye is definitely one of the films strongest suits.
Oblivion takes place in the future on a planet far from Earth, in the titular frontier town with the aesthetic of the Old West. This is really just a simple (and cheap) way to toss a Sci-Fi element (with some well done make-up effects and stop-motion animation) into a basic Western film (with campy sets seemingly borrowed from a tourist trap). The film starts with evil gunslinger Redeye challenging and killing the local law enforcer Marshal Stone, then taking over and wreaking havoc on the town with his band of goons. Gaunt (Carel Struycken), the town mortician that can foresee death, goes to find the Marshal's son Zack (Richard Joseph Paul), who has been in self-exile for years after not wanting to be a part of the violent scene he grew up with (due to him being an empath and feeling the pain of those killed near him), to bring him back to Oblivion and save the town from Redeye. Along the way, Zack saves and gains a sidekick in the form of "native" Buteo (Jimmie F. Scaggs), woos the local General Store owner, Mattie (Jackie Swanson), and gains an ally in cyborg deputy Stell (Meg Foster, also of Full Moon's Shrunken Heads). Yeah, there's a lot of plot.
The tone of this film really caught me off guard, while I thought it would be a more straight up action film with campy sensibilities, it actually turned out to be really funny, with a sense of humor more akin to Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. While it does inject a smattering of B-movie violence and gore like you would expect, it really relies more on a clever script and an excellent cast of committed C-listers, making for a really fun and surprisingly good movie. There are appearances by genre favorites like Issac Hayes, Julie Newmar, and George Takei, with Newmar playing a brothel owner named Miss Kitty (she makes cat jokes, you know, like when she was Catwoman!?!) and Takei adorably selling what should be cringe-worthy Star Trek jokes (like draining a bottle of Jim Beam after saying, "Jim, BEAM me up!"). Andrew Divoff's Redeye is by far the best part of the film, being menacing and goofy, while having the exact vocal cadence of Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood (in fact, I'm sure that's where Daniel Day Lewis got his Oscar winning performance from, being a known Full Moon enthusiast*) (*note: absolutely untrue). The whole cast does a great job of keeping the tone light and self-aware, making this one of the best Full Moon films I've seen.
As the film came to a close, with a great scene of giant stop-motion alien scorpions tearing Redeye to bits, I was ready to write up a glowing love letter to this little known low-budget masterpiece. However, the film ends with "To be continued...", because there is a sequel called Oblivion 2: Backlash (or Backlash: Oblivion 2, depending on how you read the poster) that was apparently filmed back-to-back with the first film and released two years later in 1996. Fuck. Well, being the obsessive unnecessary completist that I am, I had to watch this film too before writing this piece. I did so with excitement as I expected the immediately filmed sequel to be more of the same sugary goodness I had just devoured. Sadly, something went awry and the follow-up is just plain salty.
I don't know if they blew too much of the budget on making the first film look so clean and professional, but the sequel's visual quality drops staggeringly, looking like an amateur exercise shot on VHS (very similar to Trancers II compared to the original). I don't know if the writer completed a single draft that got very unevenly split into two films, but this film's plot is paper thin and contains more padding than a *insert whatever sport requires a shitload of padding* player. I don't know if the actors (all returning, including Divoff as Redeye's twin brother Jaggar) got bored or forgot what made their characters work, but what was once charming and fun turns into annoying, over the top, and half-assed. With a few exceptions, this sequel lost everything that pleasantly surprised me about the original. In fact, I actually fell asleep while watching it...twice. Either I'm an undiagnosed narcoleptic, or Full Moon films are extremely hit or miss (which I guess is slowly becoming the unintentional thesis of this column).
Oblivion 2 starts off more or less where the first film left off. Zack Stone has taken over as the town's Marshal, while also trying to create a relationship with Mattie. Lash (Musetta Vander), Redeye's sidekick from the first film, took over the tavern on the outskirts of town and obtained a mine of Derconium (an extremely valuable mineral that also causes cyborgs like Stell to malfunction) from a guy that won a chance to have sex with her in a poker game. Well, he just winds up getting his dick cut off because he was smart enough to tattoo the map to his mine on it (the sequel is obviously a bit more highbrow than the original). Enter famous bounty hunter Sweeney (Sexy Rexy himself, Maxwell Caulfield), who arrives to arrest Lash on multiple charges. Then there's also Redeye's brother Jaggar, who also wants Lash and the mine for his own devious purposes of power. So they all are after the mine/Lash to varying degrees and a bunch of stuff happens without any of it being very interesting.
I will say that the one shining addition to this film is Caulfield as Sweeney (seriously, he can be my Cool Rider any day). He is the one actor that bothered to bring his A-game and actually have fun with his silly role in this vapid continuation. There are also some more well done effects that give you small tastes of what the film could have been (including a nice transformation scene for Sweeney and a giant turtle creature that I thought was infinitely cool). Yet somehow, this 83 minute long movie, that gives 15 minutes of its running time to a recap of the first film and its opening/closing credits (that's only 68 minutes of actual movie!) manages to drag on and be more boring than entertaining. Sadly, director Sam Irvin and writer Peter David (who has an impressive list of work including tons of great comics and Sci-Fi novels) just can't quite capture the same magic and squeeze Oblivion's charm into a second film.
However, I found out that Peter David also wrote the scripts for Trancers 4 and 5. I'm excited to see his take on the Jack Deth story and hope the wit and skill he brought to Oblivion will elevate those sequels and not be squandered on fare similar to Backlash and Trancers II. Join me next time as I close out the adventures of Jack Deth with Jack of Swords and Sudden Deth, two titles that I think deserve an award just for existing.