Lots of little personal projects going on this month behind the scenes at Branded, but of all the stuff I’m working on the thing I’m probably the most excited for is the launch of Season Two of the Cult Film Club! It’s been just over a year since I helped launch the CFC Podcast with my bitchin’ co-hosts Paxton Holly (of the aptly named Cavalcade of Awesome & the Nerd Lunch Podcast) and Jaime Hood (who runs my favorite blog on the interwebs Shezcrafti.com.)
We do our best to get together about once a month to talk about all the cult movies that we love to death. Outside of 80s era kids junk (and the branding that goes with it) my other main passion/hobby is watching movies and deconstructing them with friends. So the Cult Film Club has been a great outlet for me to help start the conversation on some of my favorite flicks. Now we’re not limiting ourselves to just the 80s, but readers of this site will surely be interested in a good chunk of the movies we’ve tackled so far as a lot of them have fallen square in the domain of what I’d normally cover here at Branded like Miami Connection, Better Off Dead, Karate Kid III, Zapped, Beastmaster, Troll 2 and The Wraith. We just kicked off our new season with an episode dedicated to the late Mr. Harold Ramis (where we cover a trio of his films, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.) So for anyone who might enjoy hearing me blather on about 80s stuff in a podcasting format and who hasn’t checked out the show, you might enjoy it.
In honor of the CFC gearing back up, I wanted to take a moment and talk about a segment of an film I just caught last night that is the sort of stuff the Cult Film Club was built to discuss, which also just happens to fall directly into the middle section of the CFC/Branded Venn diagram. There’s a horror flick from the early 80s that I’ve been meaning to watch forever called Nightmares (released in 1983.) I first stumbled upon this flick years ago when I was hunting for some of those elusive foil prism horror vending stickers that I had when I was a kid. I ended up winning a lot on eBay and included in with the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th Part 6, and Vamp stickers was one with a couple of hands, a pair of eyes and the text Nightmares. I thought it was just some sort of generic horror sticker the seller threw in, but it turns out that it was for this obscure anthology movie starring Richard Mauser (the dad from License to Drive), Lance Henriksen (Aliens and Near Dark), Billy Jacoby (Just One of the Guys), and an early performance by Emilio Estevez.
It’s been on my radar to watch for years as I love horror anthology flicks (all those wonderful Amicus films from the 70s and stuff like Creepshow, Tales From the Darkside or The Monster Club.) Well I saw that the full film was on youtube last night so I threw some pizza rolls in the oven, popped the top of a Red Rock grape soda, and finally caught up with this movie.
For the most part the flick is a snooze fest, but the second chapter titled The Bishop of Battle was amazing! Where do I begin? First off, this segment stars Jacoby and Estevez as a couple of arcade junkies. Estevez plays J.J. Cooney, a cross between Newman’s The Hustler and Doug Masters from Iron Eagle. The segment opens with Jacoby and Estevez hopping a bus from their suburban neighborhood in the Valley to Venice Beach so that they can hustle the local gangs that hang out in the arcades. Estevez’s Cooney is an game wiz, the best in California, and he needs some quick cash that he owes to the mysterious Bishop.
Cooney finds his mark playing a Pleiades machine and he goes in for the kill setting him up with a spiel from Jacoby’s character about how Cooney is always blowing his money on arcade challenges. Before you know it Conney is down $6 and decides to go for broke and up the ante with one final game for a whopping $25. The gang member has to go check with his boss, but gets cleared for the dough and the two battle it out in one final game which of course Cooney wins.
So aside from the fact that it’s kind of ridiculous how “serious” it becomes when $25 is at stake, I love this sequence because Estevez’s Cooney gets into “game mode” by slipping on his Walkman headphones and blasts some rad early 80s punk. This is way before similar sequences in Iron Eagle that I also love, and a full year before Estevez would play punk Otto in Repo Man. In fact this whole segment is set to the music of Black Flag, X, and Fear which is amazing.
The gang is onto Cooney unfortunately and they end up chasing the two out of the arcade into the streets where Estevez and Jacoby narrowly jump another bus to the safety of the Valley. The two make their way to the local mall and after an argument about going to see the Bishop, Cooney leaves Jacoby behind and continues on into the local arcade. Can I just say how sad it is that there aren’t arcades in malls anymore? You’d think with the amount of teens that still hang out in local malls these wonderlands of video games would still manage to be profitable. I mean I know that gaming has evolved past what a lot of these machines were capable of and most kids get their fix with apps on their phones, but still there’s something magical about the noise and lights and standing at a cabinet that I miss so much.
Anyway, we quickly learn that the “Bishop” isn’t a person, but rather a game called The Bishop of Battle, a game that Cooney has yet to beat and is his sole focus. In fact at one point he tells his parents that after he beats the Bishop he’s going to retire from gaming and concentrate on school again. No more late nights and missed classes. No more stealing quarters and hustling Latino street gangs for bread to feed the Bishop. Cooney decides that today is the day he will finally get to the 13th level and take down his rival.
The game is very much like Beserk or Nightstalker with a maze-like grid and wandering aliens you have to blast with a laser gun. As the game opens you hear: “Greetings Earthling. I am the Bishop of Battle, master of all I survey. I have 13 progressively harder levels. Try me… if you dare!” Cooney pumps up the volume on some punk and then proceeds to the 12th level where he’s promptly taken down by the Bishop. The crowd that gathered dissipates as the arcade closes and the owner literally has to pry Cooney off the machine.
This is where the film takes a turn for the speculative and horrific. Later that night after having a huge blowout with his parents, Cooney sneaks back to the mall and breaks into the arcade so that he can have his final showdown with the Bishop. He’s hot and ends up finally beating the 12th level at which point the arcade cabinet freaks out, overloads, and literally crumbles to pieces…
Cooney thinks he’s finally beaten the Bishop, but it turns out that the 13th level was way more than he bargained for as he has inadvertently freed the Bishop who sends his pixelated minions to do battle with Cooney in the real world.
Looking down, Cooney sees he still has the laser gun from the cabinet in his fist so he instinctively starts zapping the flying enemies in the middle of the arcade, destroying arcade games left and right. It’s sort of like the opposite of Tron and is kind of freaking awesome!
I can’t believe I went 36 years without catching up with this 25 minutes of pure awesome cinema. Estevez is at his best, cockily grinning up a storm and is really into the role no matter how cheesy some of the dialogue is. The effects in the live action arcade sequences are pretty top notch as well and totally hold up 31 years later. Between the Tron homages, Estevez and the rad punk soundtrack, Nightmares: The Bishop of Battle is well worth seeking out. Just be careful you don’t buy it on the 13th level because the consequences are much worse than the game being over!