If my work on Couchzone Movie Club reveals anything about me it’s that films have always played a major part of my life. And in 1992 a film was released that exploded that passion even higher. I saw the film on my birthday with three friends, none of whom “got it,” and couldn’t figure out why I was in a rapturous frenzy over this stylish, heist drama that they considered really weird.
The film became an obsession, which only became more intense when it was denied a video release in this country. Due to it’s cult status it stayed around cinemas with late night showings and I went to them whenever they would pop up. Eventually I managed to track down a decent bootleg copy (converted from laser disc) after fighting through a hangover to attend a film fair in Manchester.
Because of this film and it’s maverick and enthusiastic director who was said to be behind the rebirth of Independent cinema (an exaggeration as Sex, Lies and Videotape in 1989 was just as much a game changer) I got more deeply into the history of film. I attended more film fairs, collected merchandise, started reading film magazines, books and scoured TV listings for showings of cult and obscure films to videotape and add to my ragged VHS collection.
The film was Reservoir Dogs.
But I’m not going to talk about that film. Instead I’m going to talk about a film I saw a week earlier, that being………
Midnight Sting/ (Diggstown)
I’d been hearing about this amazing, incredibly cool movie that everyone was raving about and fellow students in my film studies class were speaking of in almost spiritual tones. So when I visited the multiplex in Hanley I was keen to seek out this movie, the only problem was I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was called.
Wishing there was some sort of pocket magic computer that you could look stuff up, I looked at the board behind the counter and examined all the titles of the movies for one that either jogged my memory or sounded like it may be a crime movie.
I went down the list passing the likes of Dracula, Under Siege, A few Good Men until finally seeing a title that made me think “Yes, I’ll bet that’s the one. That must be it……MIDNIGHT STING!
Obviously this wasn’t the one, and I realised I’d made a mistake and wasn’t going to be seeing Reservoir Dogs when I saw a poster for Midnight Sting outside the theatre and discovered I was going to be seeing a boxing movie. Yet has it turned out this was a very pleasant mistake to make, because looking back I don’t think I would ever have encountered this really fun movie.
Midnight Sting (known as Diggstown in the US) is a hybrid of the scheming and twists of The Sting, the boxing action of Rocky and the small town, crooked setting of the Dukes of Hazard.
James Woods plays a recently released from jail conman who has his sights set on pulling a con on a crooked businessman (Bruce Dearn) who practically owns the small boxing obsessed town of Diggstown. Woods plans to orchestrate a bet that journeyman boxer Honey Roy Palmer can beat any ten boxers from Diggstown (Lou Gossett Jnr) in one day.
In pulling off this feat Woods also contends with the mobsters he’s borrowed money from to cover the bet and strives unearth the conspiracy of how Dern was able to take control of the town (a plot involving the crippled boxer Charles Macom Diggs, a local legend the town is named after. A battle of wits ensures between Woods and Dern, both trying foul means to win the bet with Woods attempting to rig the a good many of the fights with bribes and often hilarious means of sabotage.
Midnight Sting bombed at the box office, taking less than five million against it’s seventeen million budget and pretty much disappeared without even gaining much of a cult audience. It’s a shame as it really is a fun movie. The cast seems to be having a blast, Woods is in one of his more lovable roles and has great chemistry with Gossett, while Dern makes a enjoyable to hate seedy villain.
The fights alternate between serious and comedy, building the intensity of the gauntlet Palmer has to fight through. It will come as no surprise that the really tough fights are saved for the end. While it’s no Rocky in terms of fight choreography, the variety of fights and the way the film makes you invested in Woods and Gossett really draws the audience in. There is also one of the great surprising twists that can’t fail to bring a rousing cheer.
Midnight Sting or Diggstown is definitely worth giving a chance if it ever comes across your way, as a fun caper movie especially for boxing fans.
In my late teens I had developed a taste for pulpy style action and crime novels and naturally low budget movies that stocked the shelves of style of the still healthy video rental stores. Around this time I saw a trailer for a movie that looked just up my street, with a B-Movie premise but with a recognisable cast.
The film was Trespass and the trailer told the story of two firefighters (Bill Paxton and William Sadler) who happen across a dying thief who tells them of a cache of stolen gold hidden in a run down, deserted industrial estate. The two venture into this neighbourhood to retrieve the gold but stumble across a gang hit in progress which results in them in a standoff with gangsters led by Ice-T and Ice-Cube. Gunfights and hostage taking ensures as a battle for the gold commences.
I really liked the look of this film as it looked a blast, with a hint of blaxplotation about it a genre I’d recently been exploring Unfortunately it seemed I’d put a kiss of death on it, as a little event called the LA riots occurred right around the time it was meant to be released. Thinking that a whites vs blacks violent action film may not be the best thing to release in the mid 92 climate, the distributors soured on the film, especially wary of it as it’s original title was “Looters.”
While the film was released it was done so halfheartedly (controversy over Ice-T’s song Copkiller probably didn’t help). As such I never got to see the film in cinemas, instead having to settle for watching on video. Trespass was refreshing at the time, an action movie that felt gritty and dirty and had very human protagonists at it’s core. The two are normal working guys, terrified at the situation they find themselves in and a far cry from the unstoppable action heroes in vogue at the time.
There is also a fair amount of grey amongst the two warring factions, as neither have a moral claim to the gold they’re fighting for. For the early stages of the conflict the gangsters aren’t even aware of the existence of the gold and they’re main concern is getting Ice-T’s younger brother Lucky back who the firemen have taken hostage.
Trespass is another movie that disappeared without making much mark on audiences, although due to the inclusion of Ice-T and Icecube (both of who are great in it) seems to have attained a mild cult status in the memory of 1990’s action fans.
I enjoyed Trespass. It’s an cheap, urban style Die Hard, with a hint of Treasure Island. Plenty of oneupmanship between morally dubious rivals (it’s actually quite possible to root for either side, or none at all) and a prize that changes hands many times, keeping you guessing who’s going to come out on top.
In 1992 Quentin Tarantino was being hailed as a genius for what he was able to achieve with a 1.5 Million budget and access to a high quality cast.
This was nothing compared to what another first time director was able to accomplish. In a genuine example of guerrilla film making, Robert Rodriguez set out to make a action packed Mexican Western on a budget of only $9,000. Incredibly he managed to come under budget, completing the film for around $7,000. Without a Harvey Keitel to woo investors, Rodriguez had to raise even this paltry (in film making terms) amount by himself, which he did by volunteering his body for a month of medical experiments.
In order to understand the creative lengths Rodriguez went to in order to cut costs and improvise during the making of the movie, I really recommend seeking out his book “Rebel without a Crew” as well as the commentaries on the DVD releases. There really was a “let’s do the show right here in the barn” mentality as he used every trick he could come up with to make El Mariachi look like a genuine movie.
El Mariachi sees a travelling aspiring Mariachi who has the misfortune to run across an out for a gangster out for revenge against a drugs cartel and who carries his guns in a guitar case. Because of his guitar case the Mariachi is mistaken for the gangster and is drawn into the bloody conflict, the situation becoming even complicated when he falls for a local bartender who just happens to be the object of affection for the cartel boss.
Because of it’s low budget El Mariachi has the grainy look and tone of a spaghetti western and because it was so different to the crisp looking action films of the 90’s has a really fresh feel to it. The budget also inspired Rodriguez to be creative, grabbing whatever extras he could find on locations and employing tricks such as pausing the action to move the camera to a different position and resume shooting thus creating the same effect of having several camera angles.
What sets El Mariachi apart from so many other ultra cheap “films,” is Rodriguez’s eye for framing professional looking shots that look interesting even when done on a economy. It’s a skill that he shares with the likes of LLoyd Kaufman of Troma fame, where his cheap productions still retain the aura of an actual film despite their obvious low budget. This is something which is lacking in the majority of micro budget streaming films today, which are full of passion but lack the film making craft.
While El Mariachi was intended for the Mexican home video market (with the idea this would fund a bigger budget film) it caught the eye of Columbia pictures who bought and distributed the film in the US where the story of this tiny budgeted movie became legendary and almost rivalled Reservoir Dogs at the box office.
El Mariachi is a splendid, authentic feeling movie. Full of charm (helped by the likeable charisma of it’s leading man Carlos Gallardo), humour and a gritty violent action style, this came around at an exciting time to be a film fan. Where Hollywood was starting to get a new, deserved kick in the arse from a new rebellious wave of film makers.
WTF????? Oh My God!!!! It’s a Vagina!!!!!!!
I guess in this day and age of the internet we take for granted that getting to see a person’s naked bits is always just a few clicks away. But in 1992 it seemed a really big deal that a film was coming out where we got to a woman in a short skirt uncrossing and crossing her legs to reveal that she was wearing no knickers and thus were going to get to see a vagina. And not just anyone’s vagina, but the vagina of the really hot blonde who was in Total Recall and I for one really fancied in that workout gear even if I didn’t bother to take in that her name was Sharon Stone.
This bit of exploitation weirdly became one of the most iconic scenes of 1992 movies, was the subject of countless parodies, and helped to make the notoriety of Basic Instinct pushing it to the fourth highest grossing film of the year with over 350 million at the boxoffice.
The scene itself is massively unsettling, due mostly to the reaction of the police interviewing Stone as she flashes them. One of them is particularly loathsome as he drips with sweat, his mouth hung open almost hungrily as he watches her.
Audiences may have been shocked to see Sharon Stone’s bare vulva on a massive cinema screen, but no one it seems was as shocked as Stone herself when she saw the film for the first time at a test screening. It’s claimed that Stone was led to believe that her knickerless state would be hinted at not shown, and that she only went commando when director Paul Verhoeven said the white underwear was causing a glare on the camera lens. When she saw the scene, Stone apparently socked Veroeven and walked out.
Stone wasn’t the only one pissed off by the movie. Gay rights campaigners objected to the stereotype of a villainess lesbian and held protests at some screenings. Prudes objected to the explicit sex scenes and the inclusion of lesbian scenes, while people who saw the film expecting lots of lesbian scenes were pissed off they had to settle for effectively one kiss. Even anti smokers were angry at the film for apparently glamorising the use of cigarettes.
In truth the people who really should have been pissed off were everyone who paid to see this piece of shit movie.
Basic Instinct is a really unpleasant film. It’s so blatantly trying to be “erotic” it’s actually a turnoff, the sex appeal of the actors stifled by their harsh looking characters and the cold delivery of some absolutely cringe dialogue. There is even a really oily look to the film, as if the film has been shot through a camera lens with a sleeze filter on it.
No character comes across as likeable and maybe someone can argue that this is a satire on 90’s social disillusionment or some shit, but honestly I couldn’t give a shit about anyone in it. Even the murdered guy sounded a dick and I couldn’t care if his killer was caught. Spoiler: it may have been Stone after all cos sh has an icepick under her bed while her and Michael Douglas are grinding on each other with the sexiness of a couple of salmon flapping around out of water.
Basic Instinct is horrible, but not to worry for unsatisfied audiences, we only had three years to wait for Bound.
til next time