The Good, the Bad, and the So Bad it’s Good

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VHS Revival’s Brad McCormick pays homage to all things Cannon.

If Grindhouse laid their claim back in the 70s, Cannon Films made theirs in the mid-80s with the VHS era.

Not so much a film company at that point, but rather a genre unto themselves. Aerobic-instructor ninjas, Vietnamese prison camps, inner-city gangs, vigilantes, breakdance battles, arm wrestling, excessive rape, Chuck Norris, 357 Magnums and Superman questing for peace, these are just a few of the things that come to mind when the name Cannon Films pops up.

These boys spit out classics faster than the bullets from a Charles Bronson hand cannon, releasing as many as forty-three films during 1986 alone. Hard to choose from so much greatness, but I’ll give it shot by cherry picking.

Please try and remember, this was the 80s…

Ninja III: The Domination (1984)

When Lucinda Dickey wasn’t Electric Boogalooing, she was crushing pool balls under the control of an evil ninja, possessed for the sole purpose of bloody revenge. Considered by many to be “the only ninja movie that matters,” ‘Ninja III’ mixes the 80’s aerobics craze, The Exorcist and a ninja movie all into one big bag of awesome.

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You Fool! You can not stop me! – Black Ninja

The concept is cool, the chick is hot, the ninja kills are great, the cop’s back is hairy as hell, and it all works quite beautifully. Sho Kosugi even arrives just in time to jump fences, ditch police, show up at the scene of a crime before anyone else, but mainly to make sure that a movie with no apparent relation to its predecessors is connected in some way—even if it’s just by a familiar face.

Pound for pound, this is one of the best revenge flicks since Rolling Thunder, and the first ten minutes rival that of anything the company ever produced.

Cobra (1986)

It’s all about the poster, and the laser-sighted automatic pistol on Cobra’s says it all. Matchstick in mouth? Check. Aviator shades but no pilot license? Check. Ever-present five-o’clock shadow? Why not? These are just a few of the things that Sylvester Stallone rocked in order to pull off one of his most iconic roles for Cobra. He’s a cop with a boot for a bad guy’s ass, and his attitude, which he claims is just a little one, carries him, his tight jeans, his kickass car, and his gravel voice the whole way through.

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In America, there’s a burglary every 11 seconds, an armed robbery every 65 seconds, a violent crime every 25 seconds, a murder every 24 minutes and 250 rapes a day – Marion Cobretti

Sly hams it up for us, right to the final showdown, which takes place in some kind of flame spitting factory with ovens and barrels of flammable liquid just lying around for some reason. The fact that the movie’s gang of bad guys take over an entire town just to kill one witness doesn’t make much sense either. But this is Cannon. It’s all good.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Golan and Globus would usually leave directors alone to make their movies, but this was a decision they regretted with Tobe Hooper. Not understanding TCM 2 was intended to be a comedy, Golan was supposedly crushed and confused while watching it. 

I would give anything to see what was going on in his mind when Leatherface danced in the back of that speeding truck, when Chop-Top showed up and picked at his plate with a hanger, or when Dennis Hopper bought those saws—which doubled as pistols I’m guessing—and went apeshit on a wood pile, or when Bubba found a girlfriend.

I’d love to have seen his expression every time Lefty hocked a loogie, particularly after he was skinned alive. He probably shouted, “What the shit? This is fucking crazy! Why is this thing here? Why he do that?”

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Grandpa’s strict liquid diet keeps him as fresh as a rose – Drayton Sawyer

I’ll answer you, Golan, may you rest in peace, because it was awesome this way. We pretty much all agree that this movie is quite ridiculous, far from scary, and completely over the top. It’s also the reason why there’s no other movie like it. It’s one of those movies where people will see the cover art, point, smile, and ask the person next to them if they’ve ever seen it. And of course the answer is usually a Yes accompanied by a head shake.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

With a budget that went kaput and a villain with radiation-laced Lee Press-On Nails of gold, Gene Hackman once again took on the Man of Steel and attempted to mangle the word nuclear at every turn. Plot? Superman takes on the nuclear arms race in exchange for world peace.

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I’m a genius – Lex Luther

Unfortunately, this message gets lost in the shuffle of cheap special effects, a former Chip and Dale dancer with a mullet turned nuclear bad guy, and ridiculous scenes of prison escape, dates, Lex posing as a general and walking on an Air Force base with a well-known arms dealer, and, last but not least, Lex TV. John Cryer also shows up to steal every scene he’s in by embarrassing himself, but I’m quite sure he got it, and I salute him for embarrassing himself for our amusement.

Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo (1984)

This was when the break-dance movie hit its peak. Not even liked by some of its own cast, its spirit can not be tarnished by their negative comments. The movie stands in the tradition of the musical genre, instead of being some street-crazed effort trying to cash in on what was hip at the moment. The music is non-stop, the soundtrack fits the light tone, the colors are neon, and the dancing goes up to the ceiling at one point, literally.

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You can forget your plans, man. Because we’re gonna stop you. We’re gonna stop you cold! -Ozone

This could be considered children’s entertainment for adults I suppose. Works for me. It keeps our gaze on the screen the way Barney might for kids. The story is a simple one. An old tale actually. The evil real estate guy wants to take over. What to do? Play some Dinn Daa Daa (awesome song by the way) and dance your ass off for quarters. Did it work? Let’s just say that unhappy endings rarely happen in Cannon Land, and I bob my head with the beat every time to this one. It’s a feel-good movie with great people doing noble things while break dancing, and for what that’s worth, it’s one of the best.

Over the Top (1987)

Covering your opponents thumbs with your fingers is an illegal move in arm wrestling. You see, it gives you the leverage, and therefore an unfair advantage. It’s also very effective in winning. Don’t believe me? Try it sometime.

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You know all I been hearing on the road lately is this Hawk is the man to beat. -The Smasher

Regardless of this, Lincoln Hawks won the love of his son, Michael, and gained a brand new rig, all with one magnificent slam of a cheating hand. Menahem Golan knew this was going to be a classic the minute he tweaked the script to feature more bicep and sap, while also taking on directorial duties. Armed with a soundtrack featuring songs by Frank Stallone, Sammy Hagar, and Kenny Loggins, this movie screams 80s, while coming off innocent as if from the mind of a child.

Just remember, the world meets nobody halfway. If you want it, you gotta take it. That’s Lincoln Hawks talking. He was a philosopher and a cheat, and his movie was awesomely bad.

Brad McCormick

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