Before we get started, I want to be clear about my motivations. I want to know what JR Bookwalter thinks of his films. One that has long fascinated me is just how negative he is about his own work. And in one case, this is very bad.
Now, I have a soft-spot for Chickboxer, but let’s be real: it’s a weak film. I think it shows that Scott Plummer could be a good director — but he should stay away from action. As it is, it doesn’t compare well to Brett Kelly’s Avenging Force: The Scarab.
Robot Ninja Changes Everything
With the recent (Last!) Tempe release of a restored version of Robot Ninja, it seems that Bookwalter finally gives it the respect that fans long have. And I get it: there were always problems with the film. But it’s not like the new release suddenly made the film a gory masterpiece. It was always that! (Just ask Burt Ward!)
I have something of an obsession with micro-budget films. So it isn’t surprising that I would shine the glorious light of my film-analysis brilliance on Bookwalter. In fact, I’ve written a rather long article about The Dead Next Door that has been sitting around waiting for some final research.
But Bookwalter is hardly alone. I’m just as big a fan of Michael Kallio. And there are many others that I won’t name because I don’t want to insult him. There is something really special about films that cost little money. It allows filmmakers to fly their freak flag. And sure, Bookwalter never reached the heights of George Barry, but there’s much to delight in.
JR Bookwalter’s Films Ranked
In the following list, I have made no effort to be quantitative. These are just my gut reactions to the narrative feature films he’s directed. And certainly, I would probably change the exact order on any given day.
What I think I can say is that I consider 7 of these films to be quite good. Two of them are marginal but very watchable. And the last four, well, I love them, but they’re weak. And I say that knowing that two of these are considered by many to be classics.
Am I being unfair? Absolutely! And I’ll discuss that below.
- Ozone (1995): the film JR Bookwalter was born to make. It has some of his best make-up effects combined with a solid script. Also, it stars James Black, and he really is irresistible as a leading man.
- Kingdom of the Vampire (1990): a coming-of-age vampire picture. Matthew Jason Walsh is perfectly mopey as the protagonist Cherie Patry is wonderfully theatrical as his mother. That dynamic is what makes it work.
- Witchouse II: Blood Coven (2000): this is a solid film no matter how you look at it. And it gives Ariauna Albright a chance to really shine.
- Polymorph (1996): a great combination of horror/sci-fi and crime. The effects may not have aged well but the conflicts between the characters work as well as ever. Really: it’s up there with Night of the Living Dead in that regard.
- Robot Ninja (1989): in a world of almost weekly vanilla superhero films, this one stands out. It is amazingly gory and violent while also being campy in the extreme. My big problem with the modern comic-book film is that somehow Hollywood takes them seriously. Who could take this kind of thing seriously? And what about that great Terminator homage with him repairing his arm?! I still have trouble watching that.
- The Dead Next Door (1989): I’ll admit that I may rate this low because I’ve seen it way too many times. Of course, it doesn’t help that Bookwalter has released it with two different soundtracks and in two different aspect ratios. I still love the film. And it’s very funny.
- Witchouse 3: Demon Fire (2001): the position of this is one that would be different on a different day. In its way, it’s as good as the second one. I really enjoy it. I’m just not as keen on the look of the film. Really good writing and acting, regardless.
- Mega Scorpions (2003): I’m still shocked at how well this film turned out. I think it shows just what a professional Bookwalter is because it also seems like he really isn’t that inspired. But it works and it annoys me that it isn’t available on disc.
- Maximum Impact (1992): probably the best of the six-pack films. It works remarkably well, even though I had to watch it a couple of times before I could remember the plot. Films like this highlight the fact that Bookwalter’s true love is horror.
- The Sandman (1995): I told you I was just going for the gut. There’s lots to like about it but tonally, it’s a mess. All the geeky humor goes away after the first half. And the ending doesn’t help. I know I’m being unfair and I know a lot of people love this film. So make your own list!
- Galaxy of the Dinosaurs (1992): this is one of the best examples of idiosyncratic art ever made. And I understand: this was just David DeCoteau trying to make some money. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to him that the rich filmed animation of Planet of the Dinosaurs would never merge with the original video being shot. But the combination is something to behold. And Jon Killough did a great job integrating the whole thing. Whoever came up with the ending deserves a prize!
- Humanoids From Atlantis (1992): it was all a fake! No it wasn’t! I don’t know. This is such a silly film that it is basically impossible not to like. It is Bookwalter’s ultimate “Let’s put on a show!” film.
- Zombie Cop (1991): not a bad film. I just don’t connect with it. Truthfully, I think a big part of it is the choice of locations. It just looks so much like the suburbs that it is hard to take any more seriously than Humanoids From Atlantis. But it doesn’t have the charm.
JR Bookwalter’s Career in Sum
There you go. What’s interesting is that I enjoy watching all of these films. I haven’t thought about Bookwalter’s career before. It’s remarkable when you consider that the budget of all 13 films combined is only that of one normal low-budget film.
It’s a reminder of what we’d get if instead of every $100 million movie, 100 filmmakers were given a million each.
My hope is that JR Bookwalter will put out his own ranking, if for no other reason than to make up for fans having to listen to him slander Robot Ninja for such a long time.
Image taken from JR Bookwalter’s YouTube channel under Fair Use.