With global isolation in full swing, everyone’s attention has inevitably turned to how to pass the time at home and what to watch. Naturally, with so much choice at our disposal, it can be overwhelming. So, I set out to select ten lesser-seen gems from Amazon Prime Video and Tubi in Australia; two streamers that have been quietly collecting an impressive cache of action, horror and sci-fi movies.
These are not necessarily five-star classics, but a mix of weirdo curveballs and genuinely great films that don’t deserve to get lost among the deluge of options. Movies that don’t just think outside the box, but tear the box into a million pieces, set fire to the box and then rub your face in it.
You’ll need a subscription to watch Prime Video, but Tubi is completely free (!), so long as you’re prepared to endure a couple of advert breaks. Otherwise, their catalogues are pretty similar and remind me of an online video store. At risk of showing my age, it’s fair to say that nothing will ever replicate those formative video shop experiences of being scarred for life by the cover of C.H.U.D., or terrified of the Re-Animator poster hanging above the counter. But the online version does have the advantage of letting you watch films with impunity – no power-hungry video store clerk is going to stop me renting Die Hard 2, for example.
Unfortunately, a list of ten proved to be much too hard to narrow down. So it evolved into twelve movies (seventeen if you count the trilogies individually) currently streaming on Prime Video and Tubi in Australia that really deserve to be on a few more watch lists.
Let’s get stuck in.
12. Sabotage– Streaming on Tubi
Sabotage is an underrated 1996 action thriller from director Tibor Takács, who is probably best known for cult horror movie The Gate (also streaming on Tubi). Sabotage stars Mark Dacascos, a pre-Matrix Carrie-Anne Moss, the hugely underrated Graham Greene (seriously, why is he not in more things?) and Candyman / Star Trek legend Tony Todd on superb form as the villain. Dacascos plays a bodyguard hunting down the killer of the man he was protecting. If I’m honest, there’s not as much martial arts action as I would like from a Mark Dacascos movie, but that doesn’t take anything away from a really good thriller with lots of double crossing going on and a bunch of great performances.
Dacascos is well represented in Direct-To-Video action circles and is an actor whose extensive filmography is worth a bit of scrutiny, particularly in the interests of scoping out his exceptional martial arts prowess. My personal favourite is the brilliant French genre mash-up Brotherhood of the Wolf (is it a historical epic? Is it a creature feature? Is it a martial arts movie?), which you can currently catch in Australia on SBS Player. And Dacascos will likely be familiar to many as sushi chef / assassin, Zero – one of the solid gold highlights of John Wick: Parabellum. As a side note, Dacascos is also an excellent social media follow, if you are so inclined – a source of cheerful positivity when the entire rest of the internet is eating itself alive.
11. Red Scorpion (1988) – Streaming on Prime Video
It would be fair to say that Dolph Lundgren has a fair share of Prime Video (eight movies) and Tubi (three movies) content, but it’s really hard to recommend anything other than the classic action of Red Scorpion. It’s a solid slice of 80s cold war propaganda, as Lundgren’s red army soldier defies his bosses and goes AWOL to help downtrodden rebels. Lundgren, in only his fifth movie appearance, is still channelling Ivan Drago (from Rocky IV) a little bit, but then character actor M. Emmett Walsh appears and almost walks off with the movie. Red Scorpion’s idiotic anti-commie bravado can be taken with a pinch of salt, because everything about it is ludicrous. Unlike the distasteful right wing, Reaganite politics of Rambo 2 and 3, you can enjoy Red Scorpion at face value as the knuckleheaded, violent action adventure it is.
10. Shakma (1990) – Streaming on Tubi
A bunch of science nerds decide to do some Live Action Role Play in the medical science building where they work, because that’s just an obvious, totally normal thing to do. Unfortunately, they did not count on a hyper-aggressive baboon escaping the lab and murdering everything it looks at. Nerds + murder primate = total carnage. Sound like a good time? It is.
9. DeepStar Six (1989) – Streaming on Prime Video
Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham ditches Camp Crystal Lake in favour of the sea bed – and DeepStar Six delivers, thanks to a very enjoyable last half hour. It features Matt McCoy aka Lloyd Braun from Seinfeld and the ever reliable Miguel Ferrer (R.I.P.) who, to the surprise of absolutely no one, is playing a douchebag. Clocking a spectacular zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes, DeepStar Six is pretty far from terrible, although it does take a frickin’ HOUR for anything interesting to happen. However, once it kicks off and they throw down against a large, angry crab, it’s a lot of fun.
8. Seedpeople (1992) – Streaming on Tubi
Seedpeople is a classic slice of apple pie Americana. And by that I mean, a meteor plummets to earth and fucks up Smalltown USA. Seedpeople is clearly looking to Invasion of the Bodysnatchers as its inspiration, but it downplays the paranoia in favour of an angry-Muppet angle. Seedpeople also tips its seed pouch to Night of the Creeps, The Blob and Contamination, but keeps its greatest reverence for that titan of science fiction celluloid… Critters. The movie almost oversteps when some curious farmers are turned into pod people by a gelatinous, white goo – adding an alarming sexual dimension to the proceedings – but it gets back on track by virtue of its sheer madness. Of course, there’s no logic to anything in Seedpeople. Some fellas turn into monsters and some fellas don’t. But, you know, why are you watching this for logic, you nerd? This is some grade-B, primo, extra-terrestrial-seed-monsters-ravaging-the-populace fare.
Side note: if you truly dig Seedpeople (and Re-Animator, which is also on this list), Tubi features an entire channel dedicated to B-movie legend Charles Band’s Full Moon Features. So you might want to see Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton reunite to battle a freak in a castle, in Castle Freak; or get yourself acquainted with the eight (!) movies in the Evil Bong franchise (note within side note: I am, at present time, unfamiliar with the Evil Bong oeuvre, so this is for information purposes only and should not be considered endorsement).
7. The Oily Maniac (You Gui Zi) (1976) – Streaming on Prime Video
Keeping things weird with this 1976 Shaw Brothers revenge / horror picture. A mild mannered legal clerk rights wrongs and punishes injustice by turning himself into a crude (get it?) monster. How does he do it? Via black magic and rubbing oil on himself, of course! It does get a bit unsavoury at times and internet know-it-alls seem to delight in trashing the effects, but the Maniac looks fantastic in my opinion. If you’re on board with an oily monster wreaking bloody vengeance on the criminal underworld, Oily Maniac has you solidly covered. And as if that’s not weird enough, it claims to be based on a true story!
6. Caliber 9 (Milano Calibro 9) (1972) – Streaming on Prime Video
Classing the list up with an absolutely banging Italian crime movie, or poliziotteschi, from 1972. Caliber 9 sees cue ball ex-con Ugo (Gastone Moschin) released from prison, but not his criminal obligations. With every underworld thug and crooked cop in the city believing he stole a thick wad of Mafia cash before he got sent down, Ugo has his work cut out avoiding reprisals and re-arrest. Caliber 9 is an incredibly great crime movie that forms the first part of director Fernando di Leo’s Milieu Trilogy. The third film in the trilogy, The Boss (Il Boss), is also streaming on Prime, although frustratingly the second movie, The Italian Connection (La mala ordina), is not. Regardless, Caliber 9 should sit right at the top of your list if you’ve not seen it.
5. White Tiger (1996) and Firepower (1993) – White Tiger streaming on Prime Video/Tubi and Firepower streaming on Prime Video
Prime Video and Tubi have at least six Gary Daniels movies between them and while that is quite a bit to get through, there are still SIXTY of his movies unaccounted for on streaming services. While this means Gary’s agent probably has a firm ‘quantity over quality’ policy, it does also mean there are some real gems to be rooted out – as proved by Firepower and the quite excellent White Tiger.
There are definite similarities between Gary Daniels and current action movie dynamo Scott Adkins. Both are British, both very adept at kicking the living crap out of almost anybody and both ply a solid trade in entertaining action movies (in fact, they have also both made films with action director Isaac Florentine, who is ace). I live in a pro-Scott Adkins household. That is to say, I am a huge fan. But on the evidence of Firepower and White Tiger, I do not think it would be unfair to state that Gary Daniels walked, so that Scott Adkins could fly.
In White Tiger, Daniels’ hero cop gets caught up in a vicious war between drug gangs, with good guys and bad guys on each side of the law. During a fight, main bad guy Victor Chow (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) punches Daniels in the face with a telephone and shouts “it’s for you.” I don’t know what won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 1996, but it wasn’t White Tiger.
I’ll let that sink in.
In Firepower, there’s quite a lot going on for a low budget dystopian sci-fi, with some big ideas it can’t quite follow up on. Chad McQueen and Gary Daniels are part of a militarised police force who have authority everywhere but the Hell Zones – which are lawless, anything goes, criminal neighbourhoods. There’s also an intriguing sub-plot about a counterfeit A.I.D.S. vaccine that they completely forget about and then suddenly remember right before the end. However, it’s not long before Firepower ditches the sci-fi and turns into a kickboxing movie with too many supporting characters. Also, The Ultimate Warrior is in this and has absolutely zero lines of dialogue, preferring instead to holler and growl at regular intervals. So not everything works, but you can’t accuse them of not having a go. Finally, Firepower completes a 360 degree turn back to science fiction and goes absolutely shit-or-bust crazy for a final 15 minutes that makes the whole thing exceedingly worthwhile.
4. Brain Damage (1988)– Streaming on Tubi
Brain Damage is just your average, run-of-the mill, phallic brain slug monster movie / drug addiction allegory, from Frank Henenlotter, the lunatic responsible for sleazoid classics like Basket Case and Frankenhooker. Ancient parasite, Aylmer, convinces his host, Brian, to commit unspeakable acts of murder in return for the release of some high-end endorphins into his brain stem. Everybody wins! Basket Case (also streaming on Tubi, with sequels on Prime) is Henenlotter’s classic, but Brain Damage will always be my personal favourite. The bonkers concept, Aylmer’s comforting vocal tones and the authentically grotty effects work give Brain Damage a seedy underbelly, as it skilfully balances children’s animation with a psycho killer baseline and the horrors of substance abuse. You can’t pigeonhole this insanity, other than to say Brain Damage is a berserk potpourri of 80s New York sleaze, science fiction mind bending and bloody, nauseating horror. Total Perfection.
3. Re-Animator (1985) -Streaming on Tubi
Although the idea of this list is to furnish you with movie recommendations that sit more on the obscure side of the fence, it would be utterly criminal of me to leave Re-Animator off this list. I would not be able to look myself in the mirror if I did not recommend Stuart Gordon’s splatter masterpiece to every single person on planet Earth. Despite having that poster that terrified me as a child, Re-Animator’s absurd excess makes it one of the goriest, funniest and memorable horror movies ever made.
Loosely based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, Re-Animator follows Dr Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) as he attempts to cheat death with his fluorescent resurrection reagent. His only problem… it doesn’t quite work, and the recently re-animated turn out to be a lot more aggressive than expected. Re-Animator’s cult classic status is well and truly cemented as it spawned two sequels: Bride Of… (good) and Beyond… (bad), and there was a third unmade treatment that put Dr Herbert West in The White House. There is also a comic book series, an action figure and they even made a musical. So what are you waiting for? One of the greatest horror movies of all time is just sitting there, waiting to be watched whenever you feel like it.
2. 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1990: I guerrieri del Bronx) (1982), Escape from the Bronx (Fuga del Bronx) aka Bronx Warriors 2 (1983), and The New Barbarians (I Nuovi Barbari) aka Warriors Of The Wasteland (1983) – All streaming on Tubi
Italian director Enzo G. Castellari saw Escape From New York, Mad Max and The Warriors and decided that he, too, wanted a piece of that sweet, sweet post-apocalyptic action. Delivering unto us a magnificent triple whammy of low budget actioners. In the finest tradition of Italian exploitation cinema, each movie rips off its more accomplished source material with shameless abandon, yet with no less charm. Defying every law of logic and common sense, the result is a series of films that are waaaay more fun than they have any right to be. Meaning that 1990: The Bronx Warriors and Escape from the Bronx are absolutely essential viewing.
Starting with 1990: The Bronx Warriors, the Bronx is a no-go area, very much like Manhattan Island in Escape From New York (except it’s not technically a prison, if you want to get nitpicky about it). The daughter of a dodgy multinational corporation flees to the Bronx and is saved from a roller skate gang, by a motorcycle gang (this being where the Warriors homage comes in) and their leader, the brilliantly named Trash (Marco Di Gregorio aka Mark Gregory). Gang violence and corporate duplicity are to follow.
The direct sequel, Escape from the Bronx, opens with Trash shooting at a helicopter with a pistol, causing it to explode, and it just gets better from there! More corporate duplicity this time, as The General Construction Corporation aims to destroy the Bronx to make way for the construction of a brand spanking new future city. This is a plot device that RoboCop really took to heart, four years later, when it pitted Old Detroit against Delta City. The evil corporate bastards take to the streets of the Bronx with flamethrowers, guns and a small army. Only Trash and the remaining gangs can stop them.
The third movie, New Barbarians, kind of lifts out because it’s not a sequel (and therefore this is not a true trilogy), but I’m still including it for the sake of completion. It’s not as much fun as the Bronx double whammy. Some lame laser effects and an unexciting chase around a quarry let the side down a bit. But it’s still very watchable, and it has a cool poster, and if you’ve invested this much time into Castellari’s vision of a dystopian Rome / New York hybrid, there’s no point half-assing it.
1. The Street Fighter (Gekitotsu! Satsujin ken) (1974), Return Of The Street Fighter (Satsujin ken 2) (1974) & The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge (Gyakushû! Satsujin ken) (1974) – Streaming on Tubi
The top spot is a bit of a cheat as I’m awarding it to a trilogy. But not just any trilogy. The Street Fighter series, starring the legendary Sonny Chiba, is an absolute blast. Chiba has a filmography as long as your arm, but The Street Fighter was his breakout hit with western audiences, and frankly, it’s not hard to see why.
If you’re thinking yourself unfamiliar with the work of Sonny Chiba, you’re probably aware of him if you’re a Quentin Tarantino fan. Chiba plays the sword master Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill and in True Romance, Clarence Worley’s birthday treat to himself is The Street Fighter / Return Of The Street Fighter double bill, where he first meets Alabama. Considering that Tubi has all three movies, there’s no excuse not to take a leaf out of Clarence’s book and treat yourself to the triple bill, is there? It’s worth noting that the versions streaming here feature the English dub, but don’t let that put you off, because this series is all about seeing Chiba beat the crap out of any chumps who dare to cross his path. It’s also quite amusing that his character name in the dub is changed from Takuma Tsurugi to the very traditional Japanese name of… Terry.
The first movie, in particular, is really quite exceptional thanks in no small part to Shigehiro Ozawa’s inspired direction. It’s also super violent and very bloody. Terry / Tsurugi is a bit of an anti-hero (see: utter bastard), but as he goes about his mission to protect a young woman from the Yakuza, we observe him infamously X-Ray punch a henchman, fight an entire dojo on his own and in a total shout-at-the-screen, what-did-I-just-watch moment, dispense some eye watering justice to a sexual predator.
Return of the Street Fighter gives us more of the same, which is precisely what we want. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, because the wheel has been doing just fine for thousands of years; and by the time we get to the vaguely James Bond-like The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge, you will likely dig the hell out of the Street Fighter series. The good news is that once you’ve seen them all, Tubi also has the first movie in the spin-off Sister Street Fighter series. But let’s save Sister Street Fighter for the next list.