Shortlist – PM Entertainment

This will be the first of a new segment on this site that will give a personal shortlist of movies from different production companies, directors or actors, together with a brief description of each movie. Sort of a best-of list that will allow the reader to skip the bad ones, of which there are always plenty. The selection will be subjective, of course, but I’ll try to explain why a particular movie ended up on the list.

We start with PM Entertainment, a company that can firmly be classified as belonging to the C-tier list of movie production companies of their time. To put things in perspective, Cannon Video would be in the B-tier. I’m not going to go into much detail about PM Entertainment, everything you need to know can be found in this informative and entertaining article. These guys were churning out around 100 movies within less than 15 years, all of them aimed at the home video market. They’ve made movies in different genres, but the majority was in the action category. Their first outputs were of fairly low quality, even when taking a benevolent stance towards direct-to-video movies. The quality improved with time, and their best years were in the mid 1990s, in my opinion. So let’s have a look.

Rage (1995)

Alex Gainer is an elementary school teacher, who lives a happy life together with his wife and daughter. One day, he gets carjacked by a Mexican immigrant, who is fleeing from a secret terrorist organization. Their plan is to conduct genetic experiments to create a clone army of super-soldiers. Alex gets caught in the crossfire, is captured, and chosen as the perfect specimen. Imbued with supernatural powers, he flees from the laboratory, leaving a trail of destruction. Now he must fight for his survival, but also for that of his family.

Rage was directed by PM co-owner Joseph Merhi himself, as was the case with a large number of PM movies. Generally, the acting quality in PM movies is on the lower end of the spectrum, and the plot is typically heavily inspired by other movies. While this may be off-putting to some people, it also adds a coarse and naive charm to practically every movie they ever made. This is also the case with Rage, in principle. What elevates this one from the rest, though is the focus on relentless action. Rage may be PM’s most action-packed movie, as it’s basically one giant chase filled with shootouts, car crashes, explosions, and hand-to-hand combat.

The highlight of the movie is an epic car chase on a highway, that is really one of the most impressive scenes of this kind I’ve seen. There’s cars flying around, getting crashed and exploding all the time. Gary Daniels is the star of the movie, and I think it may be fair to say that he more or less started his acting career in the 1990s when starring in several PM movies. I’ve always liked to see Gary Daniels on screen, he’s a decent actor, and he actually looks and behaves like a normal human being, as compared to Schwarzenegger and some of the other action heroes. He gets to showcase his martial arts skills also often enough in the movie. Rage is a great movie from PM which were at the zenith of their creative energy in the mid 1990s.

Hologram Man (1995)

In the future, terrorist Slash Gallagher is on a rampage against the government and big corporations that control all aspects of public life. When he gets caught by the police, his mind is incarcerated into a hologram, and he is scheduled for reprogramming into a model citizen. He gets hacked out of his virtual prison, and now possesses superhuman powers, as he effortlessly switches between his physical and digital form. The only person who can stop him is cop Kurt Decoda, who arrested him in the first place, and still has a score to settle with Slash.

Hologram Man may be the wackiest entry in PM’s oeuvre. It starts with the ludicrous premise that human minds can be stored in holograms, and be reprogrammed over the course of time. The name selection of the main protagonists Slash Gallagher and Kurt Decoda also speaks for itself, but is in line with all the other stuff that is going on. We got a semi-futuristic setting with weird-looking cars and laser pistols. The movie rips its plot from better genre productions like Robocop and Virtuosity, including a few cheap VR sequences. There’s not a lot of big action scenes in Hologram Man, but still plenty of shootouts and melee combat to provide cheap thrills. The special effects related to the virtual reality setting are hopelessly outdate, but work well enough. The tech-talk in the movie is so far out, it even surpasses Star Trek’s craziest outbursts in that area. All these things put Hologram Man in one of the top positions of PM’s movie list. Highly recommended!

Dark Breed (1996)

A spaceship launched for a secret mission crashes back on earth, with all of the crew being infected by evil aliens that want to conquer the planet. Secret government agent Nick Saxon gets sent to investigate, and picks up the trail of the alien invaders. A capsule with alien eggs also lands on earth, that the aliens need to find to breed more aliens. Soon after that, he runs into his ex-wife, who was also aboard the spaceship, but whose body has been taken over by a good alien that hunts the evil aliens. Together they take up the fight, and also discover a massive conspiracy surrounding the spaceship’s mission.

Dark Breed features Jack Scalia as lead actor, who starred in many direct-to-video productions of the 1980 and 1990s. He’s got a face that also would have been a good fit for playing James Bond, but unfortunately he never made it that high up in the Hollywood ranks. Dark Breed does not feature anything particularly exciting, but it’s a nice package of action, suspense and Sci-Fi, while staying firmly embedded within the quality spectrum of PM entertainment. There’s even a couple of gory scenes, which were fairly rare in PM movies. As for the story, it’s a ripoff of previous blockbuster productions, such as Predator and The Hidden, but that’s okay. There are some nice car chases, and the ones in Dark Breed are some of the best PM has done. The method of shooting an explosion from several angles at the same time, and then playing the sequences after each other to pretend the scene lasts longer, is utilized in Dark Breed, as in many other PM movies. On top of that, we get lots of shootouts, and some nice rubber alien suits/masks. Overall another decent piece of entertainment, where nothing stands out in either direction of quality, though.

Steel Frontier (1994)

In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the town of New Hope is the last safe haven for righteous people to rebuild civilization. The town gets invaded by General Quantrill’s posse “United Regime” which starts to terrorize the town population. Lone wolf Yuma arrives shortly thereafter, and intends to join Quantrill’s crew. After witnessing the criminal behavior of the gang members, he quickly changes sides, and fights with the town people. Together they devise a plan to bring down Quantrill and his mob of motorcycle gangsters.

Steel Frontier was directed by Jacobsen Hart, who wrote the scripts for many of PM’s movies, and also directed two of them. While the plot is a sub-par ripoff of The Road Warrior, the hybrid Western/post-apocalypse setting was not too common until then. The lead role is taken by Joe Lara, who had some success as lead actor in a number of direct-to-video action movies in the 1990s, and who is also a self-proclaimed prolific musician, falconer, pilot and ex-model. The action scenes are composed of car chases à la Mad Max with the usual satisfying amount of crashes and explosions. There’s also some traditional wild-west style shootouts, and even a tavern brawl. The highlight of the movie is the detonation of a huge chimney in an abandoned industrial complex. The explosion looks amazing, and features an actual mushroom cloud. This must have been the largest item that had the honor of being blown up in a PM movie. Steel Frontier is an entertaining genre mash-up and certainly one of PM’s more original movies.

Direct Hit (1994)

CIA hitman Hatch is sent on one last job. He is ordered to kill an ex-prostitute that slept with a Senator, to erase any tracks of their encounter. He hesitates to kill her, and eventually goes back to his boss and refuses to take the job. With a squad of hitmen sent after her to do what Hatch can’t do, he discovers his conscience and protects her and her daughter at any cost.

Direct Hit would probably have been a rather unspectacular entry in PM’s record if it was not for William Forsythe who plays the lead role. Mostly known for playing sleazy and grumpy bad guys, he’s playing the good guy for a change, but then also sleazy and grumpy. His look in the movie is one of a kind. His hair is perfectly gelled and combed all the time, and is nicely complemented by the CIA version of an 80s shell suit (i.e. all black).

A lot of the movie was shot with a blue filter, which I guess is supposed to give many scenes are certain dark, noir-like atmosphere. Because everything is blue, it fails to do so, but it still looks interesting. There’s also an unusually high amount of fog in the movie. This may have been done to make things more mysterious, as this movie is about CIA operatives, so it makes sense, of course.

The amount of action is a bit on the low side for a PM movie, and for a change most of the action is story-driven. There are a couple of shoot-outs, and the obligatory car chase in the beginning of the movie. The showdown was shot in an old industrial complex, with an orange/brown filter laid over all the scenes. This strong over-coloring looks also a bit weird, but makes for a nice bleak atmosphere. Also, it has a fairly upbeat music playing through all the violence, which makes it a bit of a bizarre sequence. Direct Hit is entertaining, but is only lifted above bargain bin level because it has Forsythe in it.