If there’s one thing that I’m grateful to Grindhouse for, it’s reviving a certain chic about the parts of movie history that are pretty much extinct. Case in point, drive-in theaters. There are still drive-ins here and there. I can think of two that are within an hour drive of where I live now but it’s not the same. You know? When I was five, my folks took me to see The Empire Strikes Back at this drive-in in Vestal, New York. Seeing AT-ATs attack the rebel base on Hoth on a screen the size of your house is the sort of thing that stays with a kid but the back up feature is what sealed the deal for me. They followed it up with that weak-ass Sonny Chiba sci-fi flick, Message From Space and I loved it even though my dad bitched about how awful it was throughout the entire movie. These days, you go to a drive-in and they back up Iron Man with Harold And Kumar. It’s just not the same.
Thank god for grindy double feature DVDs. It’s not even remotely the same as going to see a real drive in flick, but I’m sure you could find a way to park your car in the living room, cram a shitload of your friends into the trunk to make like you’re sneaking them in and then spill popcorn and relish all over the front seat while listening to the audio track through a busted analog speaker dangling from the driver side door. But that’s all crazy talk. This new double feature from Dark Sky won’t get your car in the house but it does its best to bring you back to the good old days.
I’m not sure how to go about summing up the plot of two movies and then reviewing them both in the span of one review and keep it short so I’m going to have to find some kind of middle ground.
Barracuda kicks the disc off with what looks like another Jaws ripoff. But what’s this? Among a plot involving extra bad-ass barracudas that attack anyone in the water is a story about chemical dumping by a shifty chemical company that gives the barracudas low blood sugar, making them grouchy and aggressive in the process. Faculty from the local university make this discovery and then stmble on to some big government conspiracy. Once the cover is blown, everybody has to die.
Barracuda is a thoroughly confusing movie that has to be applauded for the sheer volume of balls it takes for a cheap exploitation movie to reach as high as this one did. It doesn’t make a lick of sense and it’s fairly easy to pick out who’s a part of the conspiracy based on how they behave throughout the entire movie. It could have opted to be a movie about a community terrorized by angry fish but it goes to weird places and winds up miles off course. What’s worse, it’s a PG rated movie.
Don’t write it off just yet, though. There’s a fucking outstanding soundtrack to be heard here by a composer that was probably never heard from again and the barracuda attacks, mostly red food coloring in the water, are a god damn riot involving close-up shots of the victims being beaten savagely by rubber fish. I don’t know much about barracuda, nor do I know how they’d behave if they were diabetic but the aftermath of their attacks is like pirhanna, which Joe Dante directed the same year as this movie. But don’t get too comfortable with this monster fish attack movie because as soon as the conspiracy angle is introduced, the fish are hardly mentioned for the remainder of the flick.
Island Fury, originally bestowed with the hilarious title, Please Don’t Eat The Babies, is as muddled as Barracuda but not nearly as entertaining. Sugar and Bobbylee, two dopey chicks wind up kidnapped by goons and taken back to an island that they had visited many years before when they were little. As it would turn out, told in extremely long, drawn out flashbacks, the girls are, in fact, a pair of kiddie psychos subjected to the wrath of a cannibal family. They survive, of course, but their present captors have no idea what’s in store for them.
Island Fury, like Barracuda, has the audacity to be more than it actually is, but where Barracuda could operate adequately as any single movie that it’s trying to combine into a single, complicated plot, Island Fury is a tepid direct to video entry that is shooting for the moon in order to be all things to potential horror movie rental hounds such as I was back in 1989. You name it, this baby is ripping it off. Seedy, shitty cannibal flicks? Check. The Hills Have Eyes? Check. American Gothic? Check.
What really drags it down is that every opportunity to be a good-times exploitation flick is wasted. Violence is flimsy, at best and the sexy stuff is minimal. It looks like it’s going to go for the gold and at least attempt to cash in on popular foreign market ideas but nothing ever gels. It takes forever and seems to enjoy making you wait while it gets to the point. Simply put, Island Fury is agony.
I somtimes wonder if I’m being too hard on the movies I review. I set out, originally, to shed a little light on some crappy movies and find a silver lining in all of them, but while Barracuda has its MSTie moments, Island Fury is a god damn disaster. The trailers preceding the two movies feature more boobs and violence than both movies combined, not that I’m necessarily out for strictly boobs and violence.
The disc is more than just two movies, though. You must understand this. The Dark Sky Drive-In Double Feature is the total package. You get, without chaper interruption or having to choose them from a menu, a reel of trailers and drive-in advertisements for food and such. It’s a minor addition but adds to the fun factor of the disc. Where I’m in love with the 42nd Stree Forever discs and the old Something Weird trailer reels, the trailers for the movies before the features are suitably psychotronic and a lot of fun.
You can’t be too hard on this disc, though. It’s budget priced around $13 depending on where you buy it and there’s enough on the disc to warrant both a good time and the asking price. The movies might suck, but Dark Sky is trying to communicate something a little bigger here.
Even though both movies on the disc qualify as b-movies, a drive-in would typically pull you in with something first or second run, something major for the a-picture, like the aforementioned Empire Strikes Back and then back it up with a b-picture, something crappy that you probably had never heard of. That’s where the term, b-pitcure, comes from after all.