Mr. Brian Kelley is a long time contributor to this blog and a fan of excellent cinema. Follow him on twitter @BTSjunkie.
2012 was, as usual, full of new discoveries of all kinds for me. I watched Jean-Claude Van Damme movies for the 1st time, enjoying BLOODSPORT, LIONHEART and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER back to back to back on the big screen in one night. I dove into the ROCKY series for the 1st time (I've gotten through IV and I say III is by far the best and I despise Adrian as much as I love Rocky). I also continued my hunt in the wilds of the world of VHS to find underseen gems. Below is a completely random sampling of some of my favorite discoveries (VHS, DVD, big screen or otherwise) of 2012.
THE CARRIER (1988)
When random inanimate objects start melting the townsfolk that touch them, the master plan of the suddenly shrinking community is to dress in trash bags and use cats to test things before touching them. This soon creates a divide in a community as the sinners and the churchies try to out-horde each other, collecting kitties that are desperately needed to test lamps, toothbrushes and other crap. It's medium-brow allegory that includes dialogue like this: "Is it cats or is it death?" "Cats aren't what YOU need!"
WILD TEXAS WIND (1991)
My enjoyment of this film has a lot to do with my current place of residence as a good chunk of it is set in Austin, TX. While I don't condone or enjoy violence towards women, I can't say there isn't something oddly compelling about Gary Busey hitting Dolly Parton on Congress Avenue in front of the historic Paramount Theatre in downtown Austin. The great cast and unreleased soundtrack featuring Parton and Ray Benson elevates this TV movie about a swing band singer caught in a violent relationship to something quite entertaining and fairly endearing.
THE ART OF DYING (1991)
Wings Hauser directs this and stars as Jack, a tough LA cop who winds up on the tail of an evil director who lures in young aspiring actors and stages their real deaths on film. Once you get past the jazzy '90s soundtrack, this is a fun thriller with some interesting kills and plenty of the Wings we all know and love. An additional bonus comes in the form of one of the greatest sex scenes ever captured on film, a love-making session that factors in some sort of berry preserves and milk.
...tick... tick... tick... (1970)
I blindly bought this after reading a recommendation from the legendary Zack Carlson. When the standing white sheriff (George Kennedy) is voted out of his post in favor of a black man (Jim Brown), racial tensions strain to the breaking point in an incredibly humid Southern town. Typical of the films of this era dealing with this subject matter, there is little in the way of subtlety, but the performances all around are exemplary making this one of the more powerful and engrossing of its kind. It doesn't hurt that the film opens with one of the best title sequences I've seen in forever, a stunning couple of minutes that sets the tone and feel of the film with god-like perfection.
WELCOME HOME, SOLDIER BOYS (1971)
Another film that could be conveniently overlooked as one of "those movies" (this time about soldiers coming home from Vietnam), WELCOME HOME, SOLDIER BOYS earns points for excellent performances and an inner core of raw, enraged power. Mothereffing Joe Don Baker is Danny, a soldier who joins his fellow Vietnam vet buddies Shooter, Kid and Fatback to pool their money and hit the road for California. Of course, there is debauchery and violence along the way and in a completely insane and explosive finale it becomes obvious just how much of the war these boys brought home. Save your eye rolls, this is the real deal, a venomous and fascinating film that is quite unsurprisingly hard to come by.
PERFECT VICTIMS (1988)
I'm hesitant to include this film lest someone assume it is a reflection of my character. I fully admit I'm into trashy and extreme cinema (for example, I'm a champion of Bo Arne Vibenius' soul-sucking, face-bashing, boner-crushing hardcore porn/satire/"f**k you" to Sweden, BREAKING POINT). Every once in a while, though, a film comes along that is so completely devoid of soul, so utterly irresponsible and mind-blowing in its very existence that I can't help but be a bit floored. This year I found PERFECT VICTIMS, a movie with a simple one-liner: Tom Dugan is Brandon, an HIV-positive psychopath who blames women for his disease and, therefore, stalks, rapes and infects them. Admittedly there is a bit more to the plot than that, but that core concept drenches every scene in unfiltered scumminess. The complete lack of humor and unflinching, voyeuristic camera make this a thoroughly unpleasant but fascinating experience that I wouldn't recommend to many people. Bonus: To thank for PERFECT VICTIMS we have Shuki Levy, the composer of the "Inspector Gadget" theme song (and about 6,000 others) and the man responsible for making American TVs Power Rangers-positive.
GHOSTS... OF THE CIVIL DEAD (1988)
Before LAWLESS, before THE PROPOSITION, there was GHOSTS... OF THE CIVIL DEAD, the first collaboration between John Hillcoat and Nick Cave. Loosely based on the book "In the Belly of the Beast" and the information provided by a real prison guard, GHOSTS is a gripping, brutal look at life inside a maximum security prison on lockdown due to outbreaks of violence. Even though it's apparent to everyone that the violence was carefully crafted and provoked by prison officials, a totally-for-seriously unbiased committee seems to think there is a need for shiny (expensive) new prison. Hillcoat's eye, a stellar soundtrack and a seriously out-of-control performance by Nick Cave make this a truly riveting film.
Other stuff I saw for the first time and really, really liked:
THIGH SPY (1967), DESIGN FOR LIVING (1933), A HERO NEVER DIES (1998), THE GRAPES OF DEATH (1978), HAVE A NICE WEEKEND (1975), ODDBALLS (1984), ENEMY TERRITORY (1987), WINTERBEAST (1991), SALVATION!: HAVE YOU SAID YOUR PRAYERS TODAY?