For some, the eighties is the era when cinema took a nosedive quality-wise, particularly after the revered second golden age of Hollywood of the previous decade. Many of those movies which could be cited as examples of the downturn sprung from the infamous Cannon Films slate, a studio which ushered in a low-brow period in mainstream filmmaking. And yet much of Cannon’s output nonetheless proved to be thoroughly entertaining, and the films exist today as fun, entirely watchable, curio pieces: very much products of their time.
The exploits of Cannon Films – the brainchild of Israeli cousins turned wannabe Hollywood players Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus – have been well documented and are instantly familiar to movie lovers who came of age in the era of the video shop. A couple of shameless opportunists – as well as being hugely delusional – Golan and Globus were forever labouring under the hilarious misapprehension that they were making timeless works of cinema and Oscar-calibre work. If their impression of the type of films they were churning out was brutally wide of the mark, the duo still had a canny knack for being able to spot and capitalise on trends, particularly with the breakdance-inspired Breakin’ – a gigantic hit at the time.
They also piggybacked on the eighties worldwide ninja craze with their ‘Ninja Trilogy’ with the third films in the series, Ninja III: The Domination, being one of the studio’s most outlandish offerings. In the film, a female aerobics instructor/telephone technician is taken over by the spirt of a dead evil ninja which emerges from an arcade machine in her apartment. It’s no surprise Cannon’s slate of deeply jingoistic Chuck Norris titles – a wooden actor whom Golan and Globus were desperate to turn into an A-lister – found a loving fanbase on US turf during the Reagan era. But even amongst the dross, Golan and Globus occasionally managed to up their game and deliver some serious auteur-led work, with the likes of John Cassevettes’ Love Streams and Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly.
Above all, the filmmaking partners were most notorious for their penny-pitching. One of their biggest disasters, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace – a films which regularly finds itself on ‘worst films ever’ lists, and for good reason – had its already modest $36m budget slashed to $17m, resulting in an incoherent mess and featuring some truly jaw-droppingly awful visual effects –the YouTube clip of Superman repairing damage to The Great Wall of China is a must-watch. Using Milton Keynes as the location for the film’s pivotal United Nations Building in Metropolis is another visual howler. The only real positive to come out of the Superman debacle was that it caused the company to put their planned adaptation of Spider-Man permanently on ice.
Even when they had money, they spent it unwisely. They lavished director Tobe Hooper with a nearly $25m budget – big bucks thirty years back – for his bizarre vampires from space sci-fi/horror mash-up Lifeforce, it only to see the film make less than half it’s money back. Their impulsive decisions and rash spending is brilliantly captured in director Mark Hartley’s documentary, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. In the film Hartley assembles some great storytellers, many of whom were behind-the-scenes employees who all have priceless anecdotes about the pair. The story of Golan’s uproarious attempt to hold a serious business meeting with Clyde – the popular orangutan from Every Which Way but Loose – is gold.
One of the film’s contributors Frank Yablans, retired head of MGM/UA – a studio which shared a brief partnership with Cannon – is still visibly embittered by his working experience with the men. While it’s hard not to sympathise with his troubles back then, the very fact that Golan and Globus had such high expectations for their output, pitching themselves as the Hollywood outsiders who wanted to grab of the slice of the American dream, is undeniably endearing. For best or worst, their showmanship shone brightly through, and their films are still enjoyed in much the same way they were intended to be viewed all those decades back.
Watch Superman IV: The Quest for Peace on CHILI
Watch Death Wish 3 on CHILI
Watch Breakin’ on CHILI