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Giving DTV Action Films a Better Rep

Nemesis (1992)

Of all the god-awful Direct-To-TV action pap that gets churned out on a weekly basis (there are some enjoyable features, more on that later) it seems that rough diamonds (and long forgotten) films from the VHS heyday are being re-discovered again. For me, Albert Pyun’s 1992 video rental classic Nemesis, is one such film I have recently re-discovered from my pre-adolescent youth.

Back in the late 80s/early 90s I was not allowed to watch the many horror films that adorned the plastic shelving of my local video store. Some might say that is wise parenting, considering I was only 5 or 6 at the time. But strangely action films were deemed ok to view (such as substandard fare from Cannon Pictures and Guild Video).

Bad action films (mainly lackluster DTV spin-off’s of mediocre originals) were the films that defined my youth (at least until the first horror feature was viewed). Admittedly DTV action has always made a steady profit, because like most things, it has a target audience. Now one would not make assumptions as to who would view these types of films, but suffice to say they tend to get a bad rep off film fans. Obviously film tastes grow and mature over time, but there always seems to be a moment when one heads back down memory lane, usually to see a long forgotten film friend.

Double Impact (1991)

Even most of our action movie heroes of yesteryear have found themselves delegated to the recesses of the budget movie bin, with young upstarts such as Jason Statham and The Rock taking their place. It seems every other month local supermarket chains and DVD retailers are bombarded with a new release from Steven Seagal, a man who has now become synonymous with DTV pap. But then action stars like Seagal, Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren are starting to (and hear me out on this) do some of their best work in years on DTV features.

Yes even the giant swede has managed to karate kick his way back into my action movie heart, with some genuinely well-made DTV revenge flicks. Again very little of these films are original, but I just cannot get enough of this charming action giant. Most of his output is unique when compared to Van Damme and Seagal as he writes and directs (as well as stars) in his recent releases. Both his second directorial and fourth features (The Mechanik and The Killing Machine respectfully) are worthwhile, Friday night viewings.

Don’t get me wrong in thinking these are standout features (far from it), but they do have sparks of what fans (such as myself) liked and found in their old 80s and 90s features. But every few reach the grandiose heights of films such as Joshua Tree (aka One Man Army), Hard To Kill, Double Impact et al. They seem to be lacking that certain spark which made all those previous efforts, enjoyably stupid to watch and entertain.

Drive (1997)

Though lacking that special spark, it still seems that DTV features get a bad rap. But in all honesty (while originality has escaped many of these films) they are still extremely fun to watch at times; the aforementioned Nemesis is one such film. It’s a futuristic slice of low budget trash, which even now needs a viewing (if you have yet to see it).

Its DTV features like this (along with other less recent action titles) that still manages to remain worthwhile as recommendations. Everything from Steve Wang’s Drive, through to the almost unheard of Highway To Hell (or the more recent Undisputed sequels) it seems that DTV action is flourishing more then ever. All of which started (and that was followed with a keen eye by myself) back in that old VHS rental store.

Now leave any film snobbery you might well have at the door and see if you can hunt down some well hidden gems in that little bin of rubbish. DTV videos, you’re not perfect but you are fun.

Dominic O'Brien