Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media

WARNING – Turbulence Ahead!

It's true confession time boys and girls.

Other "film critics" may turn up their noses at sequels like I regard the "chili" on the Wendy's 99-cent Value Menu, but I've got a soft spot in my heart for the damn things.

But like any love, this one doesn't come without its price. You probably think it's easy watching stuff like UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY, EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN or BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO. Unfortunately, those simple joys are often cancelled out by dreck like REVENGE OF THE NERDS 2: NERDS IN PARADISE, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION or FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 7: THE NEW BLOOD. And that knowledge doesn't make my job any easier. Just knowing that the next DVD I handle might contain another MANIAC COP 3 makes it hard for me to sleep at night.

On those nights when I can't sleep, I take a deep breath, cast my eyes skyward, and thank the gods for creating digital cable. Because it's comforting to know that I'll be able to flick on the tube and tune in something good and mindless like TURBULENCE 2: FEAR OF FLYING or – dare I say it – TURBULENCE 3: HEAVY METAL.

I know what you're saying. "But Dan, I haven't seen TURBULENCE 1." I know, because I said the same thing. As it turns out, you don't have to see T1 (as I like to call it) to get maximum enjoyment from T2:FOF or T3:HM. In fact, I watched T1 after T2:FOF and T3:HM, and found nothing in its monotony-filled running time that added my unabashed enjoyment of its successors.

Frankly, watching Ray Liotta chew up the scenery as TURBULENCE's villainous Roy Weaver only made me long for the subtle, soothing presence of Craig Sheffer, the man who has become synonymous with "The TURBULENCE Franchise".

Sheffer, of course, is fondly remembered as the impossibly-named "Hardy Jenns," the Spader-like villain of 1987's SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL. The role of Rob, the hunky subway conductor who chases chubby Rikki Lake in the TV flick BABYCAKES, only cemented Sheffer as A Guy Who's Willing to Do Anything for A Paycheck. Which might be my ultimate working actor's compliment. (See Boothe, Powers and Hauser, Wings for further evidence.)

It looked like Sheffer's star was on the rise with 1990's NIGHTBREED, an underrated horror flick from the mind of Clive Barker, and the sensitive smash hit A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, the 1992 melodrama that unfortunately launched Brad Pitt towards superstardom.

But while Pitt was setting his sights on sitcom stars and projects like SEVEN, Sheffer found himself in the alien-abduction thriller FIRE IN THE SKY and the controversial football flick THE PROGRAM. Unfortunately, he must've spent those shoots taking career advice from DB Sweeney and James Caan, because it wasn't long before the wonderful world of straight-to-video action-thrillers started calling.

Which brings us to TURBULENCE 2: FEAR OF FLYING (2000). Here, Sheffer plays Martin Messerman, an airplane engineer who hasn't been able to fly since his wife was killed in a plane crash that he survived. Psychological trauma and mental anguish ensued, which is why he's in a "Get Over Your Fear of Flying" class with Jennifer Beals (the chick from FLASHDANCE who has held up better than expected) and Jeremy Nordling, whose presence in the film puts me in a dicey predicament.

You see, if I don't reference Nordling's best-known work I'm sleeping on the job. If I tell you that he played Sela Ward's ex-husband on the TV show 'Once & Again' I'm potentially exposing myself as some kind of fruit who sat home and watched a show about 40-year-old divorced people. Let me put any doubts to rest by telling you that as far as middle-aged broads go, Sela Ward's pretty hot and THAT is why I was watching.

By the time Nordling gets out his first line of dialogue caked in a fake-Brit-accent you know damn well that he's a bad guy. You don't get any points for that one. Nor do you get points for knowing that engineer Sheffer will use his intimate knowledge of the plane's inner-workings to save the world – or at least a portion of the west coast – from the release of a bio-terror agent.

You do get points, however, for the number of Tom Berenger flicks you can name once he arrives on the scene as The Guy in the Tower Who Helps Land the Plane. Bonus points if you named SHATTERED or Abel Ferrara's brilliant FEAR CITY and not SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME or the overrated PLATOON.

Having saved the day in FEAR OF FLYING, Sheffer turns up again – albeit in a completely different, yet similar, role – in TURBULENCE 3: HEAVY METAL. Having watched thousands of cheesy thrillers, cliché horror flicks and snooze-inducing sex comedies, I guarantee you that this is the only time in known cinematic history that a series has actually improved as it has gotten further along.

That's right. I am here to tell you that far from being the worst of the series, T3: HEAVY METAL is easily the best of the bunch. How can you not love a flick that revolves around a Satanic plot to plummet an airliner into one of the Gates of Hell while millions watch a concert by the Marilyn Manson-esque Slade Craven, which is being broadcast over the Internet from the plane?

Need more? How about Rutger Hauer, yeah THAT Rutger Hauer, as the plane's pilot. Or Joe Mantegna as an FBI agent working the case from the ground. Or a bevy of fabulous chicks in Goth-metal gear. Throw in sultry Gabrielle Anwar – a long way from her role in SCENT OF A WOMAN – as an FBI agent who tracks down hacker Nick Watts (Sheffer) and you've got yourself a bona fide straight-to-video classic.

By the time TURBULENCE 3: HEAVY METAL screeches to a halt, you'll be calling the video store to see if DEADLY VIRUS or MOB DOT COM – two, count 'em two, more Sheffer/Anwar pairings – are out for rental.

Six Sequels You Probably Skipped... But Shouldn't

1. BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003): Jeffrey Combs returns as Herbert West in this second sequel to 1986's RE-ANIMATOR. We caught the American premiere a couple months ago and are pleased to report that it's a gore-filled old school horror flick with its tongue - and other body parts - firmly planted in the right place.

2. JASON X (2001): After JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY, the odds of this high-concept horror being any good were pretty slim. Let's face it, this is the ninth sequel to FRIDAY THE 13TH, but I'm as surprised as anybody that something that can be summed up as "FRIDAY THE 13TH IN SPACE" is an entertaining time-waster. Fascinatingly, belly shirts are all the rage in the 25th century and series fans will eat up the Virtual Reality Camp Crystal Lake.

3. MEATBALLS 3: RUDY'S LAST STAND (1987): What happens when you cross the teen-sex-comedy genre with a Capra-esque "feel good" vibe? You get this head-scratcher starring Patrick Dempsey in the Chris Makepeace "Rudy" role and Sally Kellerman as a recently-deceased porn star who needs to do a good deed to get into heaven. She, of course, decides to get Rudy laid and the geek-to-chic transformation is on. Also starring Shannon Tweed as a scantily-clad sociology scholar. (And no, I am not making any of this up!)

4. AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION (1987): Sam Firstenberg and Michael Dudikoff were Cannon Films' low-budget 1980s answer to Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood. Only this time the hero cut the bad guys down to size with his fists instead of guns. Partnered with on-screen buddy Steve James, Dudikoff smashes a nefarious scheme to create a race of Super Ninjas. The best mindless kung-fu flick since James Ryan starred in KILL AND KILL AGAIN.

5. CARNOSAUR 2 (1995): In the wake of JURASSIC PARK, low-budget dinosaur flicks were all the rage... for about two weeks. This is the only one that stars the dream cast of Cliff DeYoung as a government windbag, Don Stroud as a grizzled captain with an eye patch, John Savage as the tough but tender voice of reason and the amazing Rick Dean as Monk, the anti-authority, take-no-shit bad-ass. Delivers more than you'd expect from something called CARNOSAUR 2.

6. ZOMBIE 3 (1988): Stories differ on what happened with ZOMBIE 3, but this much is known: part of the flick was directed by Italian horror legend Lucio Fulci and part was directed by Italian horror semi-legend Bruno Mattei. The result is a schizophrenic mix of SCIENCE GONE AWRY when the "Death 1 Compound" is stolen by terrorists and turns a cheap-looking hotel in the Phillipines into a wasteland. Zombie mayhem, billowy smoke and bad synth music ensue.

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