Aug 13, 2023

The Symbol Of 80's Greatness

Shot Out A Cannon: A Dusk Til Dawn Marathon
American Ninja / Masters Of The Universe / Breakin' / Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects
Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA

If you grew up in the 80's and 90's and watched a lot of films on home video, this is a logo that you've probably seen before.  Cannon Films was a studio that made movies in a way that few others have done before.  I won't claim to be an expert on their history, though I'm sure I'll get a lot closer after finishing Austin Trunick's books (more on those later).

I may be a bit off-base here, but my impression of Cannon Films is that they were a studio that made entertaining movies on a budget.  That's not a unique concept, but what set them apart from other low cost filmmakers is the effort that they put forth.  Ed Wood either didn't notice or didn't care if his films were crap.  Lloyd Kaufman seems as if he goes out of his way to deliberately make crap.  Cannon Films was cut from a different cloth.  When you watch one of their movies, you're going to hear a few corny lines and see a few cheesy special effects, but by the time the credits roll, you'll know that you just watched a movie made by a group of folks who sincerely did their best with what they had to entertain you.  Another thing that I think set Cannon Films apart is that they had the goal of becoming a major studio that could produce big budget films, but they didn't quite make it to that next level.  I fully admit that this is a half-educated opinion at best, but in the words of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, that's the impression that I get.

The poster for the show was created by artist Tom Bifulco.  It's not as detailed as most of his work, but I think the simplicity of this design is perfect for a night where we're celebrating the brilliance of Cannon Films.

Speaking of artists, our friend Donnie created two new pins that he was giving away to folks on the lot.  The one on the left features Rico from the Rico's Nachos promo that plays during intermission.  The one on the right is an inside joke for folks who were at VHS Fest for Mr. Nasty's fight for residuals on a novelty tape from the 1980's.

Author Austin Trunick was also on the lot to talk to introduce the films, to sell and sign copies of his books, and to meet and talk with fans about the pure insanity that was Cannon Films.  He's an extremely nice man and he knows a hell of a lot about this studio.  If you're at all interested in learning more about Cannon Films, check out his interview from July 12th, 2023 on the Mahoning Drive-In Radio Podcast, and then check out The Cannon Film Guide: Volume I and Volume II.  I'm only a few pages into Volume I so far.  I can't wait to dig in to the rest of it ,and I'm already looking forward to Volume III.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

Saturday night's event was a dusk-to-dawn marathon of four movies that are very different from one another, but they share two things in common: they all premiered during the 1980's and they were all produced and distributed by Cannon Films.  First up was the 1985 martial arts action film: American Ninja, followed by the 1987 superhero adventure: Masters Of The Universe, then the 1984 breakdancing musical: Breakin', and finally the 1989 Charles Bronson crime thriller: Kinjite - Forbidden Subjects.

I thought I had seen American Ninja before, but I realized a few minutes into the film that I must have mistaken it for something else.  It was a good film to kick off last night's quadruple feature because it encapsulates everything that Cannon Films is about.  It's Rambo meets Shaw Bros in a fun 95 minute flick.  It's currently sitting at 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, mostly from critics who completely miss the point of movies like this.  It's not meant to be a work of art that you enjoy at the cinema and then reflect on its symbolism and its deeper meaning.  It's a movie that you rent at Blockbuster and watch with your friends with a bag of microwave popcorn and a can of Pepsi.  It's a tasty cheeseburger with a side of crispy fries at a roadside diner that you'll never drive past again.  Some people can appreciate the joy that things like that bring into their lives, and I'm thankful to be one of those people.  If you're not, or if you choose not to be, hey man, your loss.

We sat outside for about the first half hour of American Ninja, but it started to rain so we packed up and watched the rest of the movie, and the next one, from inside the car.  It went back and forth between a steady drizzle and some pretty heavy rainfall complete with thunder and lightning, but it didn't hurt our enjoyment of the movies one bit.  I'm still recovering from the mosquito bites from Video Game Weekend, so a night in the car isn't the worst thing in the world that could have happened.

The second movie of the night was Masters Of The Universe, and its screening at the Mahoning has come at a very interesting time.  This movie is based on a line of toys sold by Mattel.  Back in 1987, a movie based on a toy line was the kind of thing that usually would go direct-to-video and no major Hollywood studio would invest their time or money in.  Fast forward 36 years and Barbie, which is also a movie based on a line of Mattel toys, is the #1 movie at the box office for the fourth consecutive week and has grossed over half a billion dollars to date.  It just goes to show you, some ideas that get dismissed and laughed at aren't necessarily bad ideas... some of them are just ahead of their time.

Despite the fact that I was a massive fan of both the Masters Of The Universe toys and cartoon when this movie was released in 1987, I never got to see this in theaters, and that all comes down to a weird quirk that I had when I was a kid that I still can't really explain.  I was perfectly happy to watch cartoons that were based on movies, like The Real Ghostbusters, Teen Wolf, and Ewoks, but for some reason, the 7-year-old version of me was not at all receptive to the idea of a live action adaptation of a cartoon.  I'd take one look at Dolph Lundgren and say "that's not He-Man", and that was all she wrote.  It took the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie that was released three years later to finally inspire me to give the live-action adaptations a chance.

I still haven't seen Barbie, but I think it's a pretty safe bet to say that it's of a higher production quality than Masters Of The Universe.  The stories that Austin Trunick told me about the production of this movie, particularly its final fight scene between He-Man and Skeletor, are every bit as entertaining as film.  In fact, the making of this movie could probably be movie itself, and I'll bet that it would be a damn fun one to watch!

This wasn't my first time seeing Masters Of The Universe, but I was very late to the party with this one.  I think I was in my late 30's the first time I sat down and watched the whole thing, and it's not nearly as bad as people make it out to be.  Don't get me wrong, it most certainly has its issues and your eyebrows are going to get a workout for how many times you'll be raising them to question what it is you just saw, but it's a fun family flick that fits in with all of the other Cannon Films that I've watched over the years.

As much as I wanted to stay all night and watch Breakin' and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects, I just couldn't, and I mean that with absolutely zero percent sarcasm.  Musicals really aren't my thing, but I'm curious to know how the folks behind Cannon Films could take a movie like Breakin' from concept to the #1 picture in America in just 12 weeks.  Meanwhile, Kinjate looked like an interesting thriller, and since I've never even so much as seen a trailer for it, I'd be going in completely cold with no expectations, and those are always fun experiences at the Mahoning.

Unfortunately, the "dusk til dawn" aspect of this show came on one of the few Saturday nights that I just wasn't able to do.  Dad and I have Phillies tickets for this afternoon's game.  I live about two hours away from the ballpark, and the gates are opening at noon for Alumni Weekend, so if I was to have any hope of getting enough sleep to be able to make the drive there and back and enjoy the game, I had to call it a night after the first two features.  It was still a hell of a fun night, and who knows, maybe they'll screen Breakin' and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects again sometime.  Whether they do or not, I am very hopeful that we'll get to enjoy Shot Out A Cannon II at the drive-in next season.