In the latest edition of The Dusty VHS Corner, Tom Jolliffe digs out a trio of actioners from PM Entertainment…
Between 1989 and 2002, PM Entertainment was a strong force in the straight to video action arena. Founded by directors Joseph Merhi and Richard Pepin, they set about trying to deliver big thrills on low budgets. At some stages, largely during a peak period in the mid-90’s, they managed to do that.
Certain stars would become synonymous with the company, and they largely worked with the same ethos as other bigger companies and action specialists, in that you need to have a name attached to sell your picture. PM worked, sometimes repeatedly, with a slew of video action stars such as Gary Daniels, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Jack Scalia and Jeff Wincott.
PM Entertainment would also work largely out of LA. Whilst other rival companies decided Canada or Eastern Europe were cheaper to film in, PM stuck to the heart of Hollywood. One thing in particular that you could rely on with PM was that they used top stunt specialists to craft their action. Spiro Razatos a long standing stunt pro has co-ordinated several PM films with great skill, and certainly his specialist work in particular with car chases would later see him organising the chaos in Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6, Bad Boys II and Captain America: The Winter Soldier to name a few.
If there’s one thing PM like it’s a good car flip and they would become almost routine in most of their films (as well as an unnatural love of smashing sugar glass). If anyone also remembers the TV show Hollywood’s Greatest Stunts, PM films regularly made the show. Indeed some stunts that would appear in a PM film would suddenly appear a few years later in a big budget blockbuster, almost as if PM was in part a stunt man’s show-reel service.
Like many companies before them, they perhaps overextended themselves. During their peak years their films were often packed with action, which comes at a premium price. Five minute car chases were great to see but if they’re not selling enough VHS tapes to cover the costs then problems arise. They were defunct in 2002 after a couple of years of films below the usual PM par. There are plenty of enjoyable little action flicks from PM and the general rule of thumb is, their strongest stuff came between 94-97 when the budgets were at the biggest and the explosions at their explosioniest.
In memoriam of PM films, here is a selection of three of their best…
Riot is perhaps the very best example of the ethos that, at their best, PM entertainment stood for. The plot is simple. Gary Daniels stars as Major Alcott, who is sent into a riot zone to rescue a kidnapped heiress. It’s essentially Escape from New York retreaded but it works.
With some simple but effective production design (a few strewn cars on fire here and there), Riot puts Daniels into something resembling a post apocalyptic wasteland and has him fight his way out through the IRA, gang-bangers, motorcycle gangs, and maniacal roller hockey punks (yes really). The action is genuinely inventive with an array of great stunt work. Not only that but like a good blockbuster, Riot ups the ante throughout the film, before a grandstand finish, ending on the stunt of the picture.
Riot would represent perhaps the best of Daniels too. He makes for a likeable hero. He’s introduced during a bar fight because you need a good bar fight in a film like this. From the moment he’s put into the circle of hell he’s in full on survival mode, and Daniels’ physical prowess comes into full effect. Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard also pops up as Daniels best friend and Patrick Kilpatrick is typically reliable on bad guy duties.
Riot would represent one of the three R’s trilogy that Daniels did with PM. The others were Rage and Recoil, which like Riot, were filled to the brim with expertly choreographed action and insane stunts.
Beer rating: ★ (Can be enjoyed entirely sober)
Last Man Standing (1995)
In Last Man Standing, Jeff Wincott finds himself as a cop being hunted by corrupt police and criminals. As is typical of PM entertainment, the premise is simple and sets the way for a string of set pieces and outlandish stunts. Many an explosion will be seen during the course of Last Man Standing.
Co-founder of PM, Joseph Merhi directs here and by the middle of the 90’s he was becoming more than adept at these video blockbuster spectaculars. Staging fight sequences, and giving a stunt maestro like Spiro Razatos free reign was second nature and the results are up on screen.
There are some fantastic car chases in this with some truly imaginative stunt work. One thing that can be said for PM, is that what they lacked in narrative brilliance and great acting, they made up for in stunts. This was top professionals coming in and given license to show off. They did so with great pride too. Many of the stunt pros working on this film, and other PM specials would be no stranger to films of not only this budget level but the very top end as well. Stand-out sequences here include a chase between two sports cars, and another car chase that sees Wincott’s character jump from motorcycle to the armed truck he’s chasing. He then ends up being dragged behind it in a sequence that looks almost maniacally dangerous and was perhaps pilfered from slightly in a similar scene in Lethal Weapon 4.
Much like Riot, Last Man Standing feels like a Michael Bay film (in a good way). It’s just child-like reckless abandon for cars, buildings and anything that could possibly get destroyed or blown up. It’s like a Bay film with charm. Wincott feels like an extra from Goodfellas but is fairly charismatic as far as video action men go. Breaking Bad fans will recognise Jonathan Banks (Mike) who appears as Wincott’s partner.
The film doesn’t take itself too seriously and is more intent on providing enough carnage to try and stand toe to toe with its big budget cinema rivals of the time. It largely succeeds. You need only check the trailer for this and indeed the others mentioned here, to get an idea of the carnage levels.
Beer rating: ★
Zero Tolerance (1994)
A few years after Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the T-1000 himself, Robert Patrick found himself headlining Zero Tolerance for PM. Patrick stars as an FBI agent whose family is killed by the head of a drug cartel. He sets about taking down the entire organisation in revenge. Reckless destruction ensues.
Whilst PM films won’t generally have the finest examples of acting or intricate plotting, they do often get a capable lead, whether it be an action god who can ably kick all those before him, or in this case a solid actor like Robert Patrick, who whilst improves the general PM standard of acting from the protagonist, doesn’t negatively effect the action. Patrick, having worked for James Cameron in arguably the best action blockbuster ever made, knows how to handle himself in a film like this. Patrick really elevates the picture, bringing something to the formulaic script, and bringing some touch of character where there might have been none.
In terms of the action, as expected, Joseph Merhi does everything in his power to make this seem like a blockbuster. He does this by trying to match your typical 100 million dollar blockbuster, explosion for explosion. Again, typical of PM at their best, he makes a bloody good stab at it. Once more, this features cracking set pieces, filled to the brim with creative brilliance from the stunt pro’s.
Zero Tolerance delivers the goods. It’s a solid action flick that feels a lot bigger than the budget might have suggested. Patrick adds a level of class to proceedings that might almost fool you into believing this could have appeared at your local multi-plex back in 1994, instead of direct to the bottom shelf at Blockbusters.
Beer rating: ★
Next time: Wrestlers body slamming cinema.