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PM Entertainment - The oiled action machine

Shootings, car chases, explosions, at least every seven minutes, please. Production company PM Entertainment delivered low-budget action on the assembly line in the 1990s. At the start of our direct-to-video series, a short journey through time that begins in musty video stores.

When exactly DTV action became a thing, which was the first action film shot exclusively for the video market, I don't know. Action films about tough cops, super soldiers or mercenaries were very popular in the 1980s and after their theatrical release they usually started a very successful second career in video stores. The demand for this type of film was huge and so a number of video distributors licensed smaller productions from the USA, Italy, the Philippines or the Far East that were not shown in theaters in this country and brought them out on video with pithy titles and gaudy covers, often cheeky as "Cinema hits" marketed.

The era of video stores

In order to understand how it could be a lucrative business model for at least a few years to bring shabby ninja films from Godfrey Ho's cut-and-paste forge into German video stores, one has to delve into the cultural history of the video store, which can be found in the early and the mid-1980s was still very different from the aseptic rental supermarkets that dominated the scene until a few years ago. On the shelves of these establishments run by mustached video fans - aptly called "Mom & Pop Stores" in the USA - was what was available at the time and what the owner probably liked to see himself, wildly mixed up, still without a recognizable concept, and often without knowledge about what was actually being offered. The clientele who visited these shops formed a subculture of their own, because the VHS recorder was by no means part of the basic equipment of the average household. It was mostly men who had dedicated themselves to the video boom, and among other things, action was very popular with them. And the new mercenary film with Richard Harrison was worth just as much in terms of shared values ​​as the "new Stallone".

It took a few years for the large studios to consistently include the home cinema market in their exploitation and marketing plans and for the video stores themselves to gentrify their heterogeneous programs. The wider range and the falling price of playback devices eventually made video a mass topic, which first brought about a change in the audience who visited video stores, then brought about a change in the video stores themselves. The untidy, musty smelling corner shop, in which the operator enthusiastically advertised the latest Eastern (and secretly put the newly arrived porno in the bag), gave way to the family-friendly multimedia library with no access restrictions. The porn and shooting films first disappeared in the course of the nineties in a separate 18-movie area and were then finally thrown out completely, around the 160 newly received tapes of Titanic To make room.

At the same time, the action film also changed: First, national film industries collapsed in the arms race with Hollywood and the supply dried up. Then the Traumfabrik discovered the family-friendly event film and put an end to the bloody action rioters. Of course there was still a market for action films and production companies that wanted to serve it. They just had to go to other sales channels. The initial spark for the DTV action was the video release of the Cannon produced Bloodsport (1988) starred with the upcoming action star Jean-Claude Van Damme. The cheaply produced film only played a small role in the cinema, but it became a super hit in the rental market. A new market and a new genre were born: the action and kickboxing film produced for direct video exploitation. And PM Entertainment became one of the defining suppliers for this new market.

Action from the assembly line

PM Entertainment was founded in 1989 by Syrian immigrant Joseph Merhi and cameraman Richard Pepin (the name PM stands for their initials). Together with director Richard Munchkin, the two had previously had a comedy called Hollywood in Trouble(1986) filmed that they just couldn't sell. Wherever they put the low budget film on, they heard the same thing: “Bring me something to sell. Bring me action! ”So Merhi, Pepin and a man named Ron Gilchrist founded the City Lights production company, with which they made 15 films for the smallest of budgets in just a few years. In 1989 the three heads of City Lights fell out, and Pepin and Merhi founded PM Entertainment.

The company's goal wasn't to make great art, but rather to create a product that would sell well. In the end, the recipe for success could be broken down into a mathematical formula: there had to be a shootout, a fight, a chase or an explosion at least every seven minutes. The cost of an average PM production was $ 350,000, but what was extracted from that budget was substantial. It was the old Roger Corman school: in order to be profitable in the field of low-budget exploitation films, one had to work quickly and efficiently. Or as Richard Munchkin put it: “You had to design your day with speed in mind. It wasn't about 'What is the best way to tell the story?', It was' how can I shoot 11 pages in one day? '“

One of PM's specialties was spectacular car stunts with rollover: While a large studio shoots a maximum of one vehicle rollover per day, PM Entertainment managed four. The efficiency and technical perfection with which the small film forge, whose crew consisted of barely more than 30 people even in the high phase of their work, carried out elaborate, sometimes breathtaking stunts, explosions, chases, crashes and shootouts, did not bring PM world fame - only real ones Aficionados will know what to do with the name of the little studio - but still some attention within the industry. Just as Roger Corman's New World Pictures earned the reputation of the film school in the 1970s, where talented, committed artists could learn the craft from scratch, PM became a stepping stone, albeit on a slightly lower level. When Splatting Image magazine covered the now huge DTV action market in an influential column called "Action Slurry" in the 1990s, PM Entertainment was one of the prominent names whose publications often received enthusiastic reviews.

The early years

The first film from PM Entertainment has the pithy title L.A. Heat (1989) and was directed by Merhi himself, a cop film whose plot is somewhat reminiscent of John Flynn's Seagal grenade Out for justice (1991) recalls: It's about a serious criminal, mafia-linked cop killer who is hunted by the hero, the African-American cop Jon Chance (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) - it was his partner who fell victim to the killer. The crime and the subsequent police manhunt stirs the entire underworld of the city into excitement. L.A. Heat is very typical of the early PM cohorts. The budgets were noticeably smaller than they would be in a few years, the lavish action scenes that the studio is known for today were missing. Instead of between the glass high-rise office buildings, which later shaped the clean look of the PM films, it is located in the less attractive districts of the west coast metropolis, the actors are not convincing across the board, sometimes appear to have been recruited from friends and family.

One cannot deny the film a certain charm, however, and the idea of ​​intensifying the central conflict of the film by the fact that the protagonist suffers from acute shooting inhibition - his police father once accidentally shot an unarmed youth - enhances the standard plot. L.A. Heat learned a sequel with the title in the same year L.A. Vicein which the scruple-torn opportunity was then, astonishingly, mutated into a clichéd cop acting on the edge of legality. From 1997 to 1998 Merhi and Pepin also produced a series under the title L.A. Heat, in the - based on Lethal weapon - a white and a black cop hunt criminals together. Instead of Hilton-Jacobs, Steven Williams, known from 21Jump Street, the part of the African American cop.

Some other titles from the early PM years are about the cute one Deadly Breed (1989), the directorial debut of L.A. HeatScreenwriter Charles T. Kanganis, in which a probation officer (Blake Bahner) takes on a paramilitary gang of white nationalists led by Addison Randall (also a PM regular during the period who also directs several films for Pepin / Merhi). Toughie veteran William Smith can be seen in a supporting role, he was also a regular during these years and refined the still very grubby productions with his rough-and-tumble sovereignty. East L.A. Warriors (1989) by the aforementioned Addison Randall represents an attempt to deal with the gang theme that was popular at the time (think of Dennis Hoppers Colors, 1988) Scoring points with Hispanic audiences.

In ColdfireWings Hauser appears for the first time, making his directorial debut with this co-film about a designer drug. As an actor he can be seen in a supporting role, but his name and his striking face were of course brought to the fore on the video cover. Here, too, it shows that the young studio was still in a development phase: the budget does not yet allow major material battles, with the cumbersome plot, one tries desperately to please as many as possible.

With Night of the Wilding (1990) Merhi plowed the genre of the justice thriller with moderate success, with ChiPS star Erik Estrada taking the lead. More interesting, if not really good, is Repo Jake(1990), whose title role was tailor-made for the bearded Dan Haggerty, who as The man in the mountains (The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams) gained some popularity in the 1970s. Living to Die (1990), Wings Hauser's second directorial work, offers the B-film Eastwood a leading role and turns out to be a sleazy neo-noir that benefits significantly from its location in Las Vegas.

Marked an important step in the evolution of PM Ring of Fire (Richard Munchkin / Rick Jacobson, 1991), with kickboxing champion Don "The Dragon" Wilson in the lead role. (In Germany the film was sold as Bloodfist Fighter II - Deadly Revenge published.) With this title Pepin and Merhi open up the kickboxing film, which in the wake of the success of Bloodsport saw a real boom in the video market in the early 1990s. The script, which is pieced together in no time at all, uses Romeo & Juliet or the West Side Story and stretches around ten minutes of kickboxing action with a soap opera plot around the smart doctor Johnny, whose love interest is linked to an arena fighter. Ring of Fire is rather remarkable for its involuntary comedy - and because it is one of the first films by action star Gary Daniels, which should become a permanent guest in PM films in the next few years.

More importantly, the film was the desired success in the home video market, which paved the way for more PM kickboxing films - Final impact (Joseph Merhi / Stephen Smoke, 1992), Ring of Fire 2 (Richard Munchkin, 1993), To be the best (Joseph Merhi, 1993), Guardian Angel (Richard Munchkin, 1994) - as well as further collaboration with martial artists such as Wilson or Daniels, but also Lorenz Lamas, Jeff Wincott, Michael Worth, Cynthia Rothrock or Evan Lurie. However, PM has always tended towards big city thrillers rather than pure spanking films. So put films like Final impact, but also titles like Deadly Bet(Richard Munchkin, 1992), Fist of Honor (Richard Pepin, 1993) or Fire force (Richard Pepin, 1993) on kickboxing action, but embed the corresponding scenes in neo-noir, crime or end-of-time scenarios.

The machine is running

In 1992 PM Entertainment really got going. For the one mentioned Final impact one wins the Falcon Crest- and Renegade-Star Lorenzo Lamas, in Maximum force (Joseph Merhi, 1992) work alongside the former Flash Gordon Sam Jones also starred in character actors such as Richard Lynch, Mickey Rooney and John Saxon. In CIA Code Name: Alexa (Joseph Merhi, 1992) plays O. J. Simpson side by side with Lorenzo Lamas and Kathleen “Bride of Re-Animator“Kinmont, for A time to die (Charles Kanganis, 1991) and Intent to kill (Charles Kanganis, 1992) the former porn star Traci Lords is engaged. Production is in full swing, the films are becoming more ambitious and complex. In 1993 the up-and-coming studio expanded the genre spectrum to include the science fiction film: In Alien intruder (Ricardo Jacques Gale, 1993) is among others "Lando Calrissian" Billy Dee Williams with.

In the years to come, Richard Pepin will be primarily responsible for PM Entertainment's sci-fi / action hybrids. Most of them are rip-offs enriched with kickboxing action and shooting Universal Soldier, Blade Runner or Cyborg, later then to Alien Invasion Movies that made the hit TV series X-Files or Emmerichs Independence Day are influenced. So arise Cyber ​​tracker(Richard Pepin, 1994) with Don "The Dragon" Wilson, which is about human-like machine policemen, T-Force (Richard Pepin, 1994), which is about a special unit made up of cyborgs, Hologram Man (Richad Pepin, 1995), a dystopia in which a felon is condemned to exist as a hologram, but then "breaks out", the sequel Cyber ​​Tracker 2 (Richard Pepin, 1995), The Silencers (Richard Pepin, 1996) around a mysterious special unit of the CIA and Dark breed (Richard Pepin, 1996), one Body snatchers-Paraphrase in which astronauts become host bodies for aliens.

Much more interesting and better than these titles, however, are the straight actioners by Joseph Merhi, who was in top form in the mid-nineties. Zero Tolerance (Joseph Merhi, 1994) brings together the remarkable cast from T-1000 Robert Patrick, Battle giant Miles O'Keeffe and music legend Mick Fleetwood as gang bosses in a brutal gangster film with a neo-noir flair. Firecrackers like the cop actioner are unbeatable Last man standing (Joseph Merhi, 1995), who brings wild car crashes, flaming explosions and bloody shootouts into a handy format that is almost incomprehensible in his breakneck car stunts Rage (Joseph Merhi, 1995), a speedClone with fist-sized eggs and Gary Daniels in the Keanu Reeves role, and The Sweeper(Joseph Merhi, 1996), who is congenial with C. Thomas Howell, Jeff Fahey, and Ed Lauter.

Unfortunately, it is precisely at this time that the portfolio is also being watered down: by half-baked comedies like Busted (Corey Feldman, 1996) with Corey Feldman and Corey Haim, children's films à la Little Bigfoot(Art Camacho, 1997) or the Disneyesque Hollywood Safari (Henri Charr, 1997). Behind this is the attempt to survive through diversification, because the big majors are also starting to produce for the home theater market, and PM cannot keep up with them.

Dreams that last

Before Pepin and Merhi sell their company and with it the entire catalog of 150 titles in 2002, they still deliver their magnum opus: Recoil (Art Camacho, 1998) lets the inclined viewer crack the jaw on the sternum with his perfect, simply insane car stunts and carom stunts. The film is a masterpiece of the modern low-budget action film (the costs are likely to have been in the low single-digit million range) and beats its comparatively toothless competition from Hollywood in matters of wanton automobile destruction and negligent endangerment of stuntmen by far. A must for everyone who likes to go fast and fast.

Merhi's last IMDb entry was in 2014, but after PM ended, he was still on some notable titles like the Van Damme actioner inferno (John G. Avildsen, 2000) or Spartan (David Mamet, 2004) involved. Richard Pepin was no longer quite as productive, but he too can boast that he used PM Entertainment to sweeten the everyday lives of millions of video rental customers. Now the only thing left is to work on the extensive work on loan and to publish the highlights in a beautiful edition. Because that's the problem on the HD market: Many films are simply not available, others only in very sad, loveless versions. So there is still something to dream about.

Oliver NödingPrint page

You can find the other texts in our direct-to-video special here:

Tiny Toons Adventures: Totally Crazy Vacation (1992)

Total Image Formation of Sex: The Films by Gregory Dark

UFO. Abduction (1989)

Dark pathos and pure pulp - The Darkman sequels

Domitilla (1996)

California Blue: Pornstar Melissa Melendez

Stranger (1991)

Bloody Buns: A serial killer in the remake meat grinder

Our Last Day (1999)

The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (1998)

Latex (1995)