Tuesday, August 31, 2010

SCHOOL SPIRIT (1985)

Believe it or not, there once was a time when you didn’t have to make a second guess as to whether putting a naked woman in your movie was a good idea or not. It was always good thinking, and it still is. The only difference now is, if even the faintest pink of some chick's areola should rear for just a second, you have a thousand epic ham beasts spraying their disapproval all over place. These days, if you want to enjoy a good titty flick, you have to practically meet up in the Catacombs like the goddamn Templar. It's not that people are incapable of making sex comedies like "School Spirit" anymore, but rather, they are prevented by fear of burning crosses and hanging ropes.

Nudity has always been used to titillate. No matter how arty or tasteful the presentation of bare skin is, it’s almost always going to be considered erotic by the vast majority of the audience. I just don’t understand how American adults went from thinking stuff like “Behind The Green Door” and "Deep Throat" was sophisticated and enjoyable to labeling even SIMPLE on-screen nudity as a human rights violation. At some point between the late 80s and now, someone decided that showing tits or ass was a political humiliation tactic and women were getting the short end of the stick. Never mind that male nudity was prevalent throughout the seventies and eighties. There’s a huge cache of notable male actors who’ve strutted their junk on screen. No one ever really speaks negatively about seeing dong in mainstream film, though. And I don’t necessarily think that it’s a male liberty. Men just don’t give a shit about other guys, and if they feel inadequate by comparison they’ll keep it to themselves. However, anytime a hot chick shows her shit off, you can bet your bottom dollar that some uptight broad is going to lose her fucking mind about it. Let’s face it, women are competitive. They rat fuck each other’s looks in wolf packs. They congregate in bathrooms to trade nasty gossip about the bitches they don’t like. Women buddy hug each other, and then once out of ear shot they’re giggling over her cellulite ridden ass. Women, in general, don’t like one another, no matter what they claim. Any woman who claims she doesn’t hate other women is either a lesbian or a bald-faced fucking liar. When a woman balks at onscreen nudity, it’s usually because she feels inadequate by comparison to the standard of beauty on screen, and so she masks her jealousy by acting offended. She’ll say the nudity on screen is exploitive – which is an obvious statement. Fuck yeah, it’s exploitive, but exploitation and degradation aren’t even remotely linked. Women only stick up for other women when they feel threatened by the other woman. Need proof? What about Kathy Bates’ nude scene in “About Schmidt?” No one was protesting that nauseating spectacle because they didn’t feel threatened by her. If the naked woman on screen is fat, ugly, or past her prime, the girls in the audience will either laugh, or go, “oh, gross!”

Recently, a slew of female reviews vilified the makers of "Piranha 3D" for allowing a meager flash of vagina. However, they all roared with approval when some dude got his wang bit off by prehistoric fish, as if it vindicated the poor exploited women who'd been forced to show their skin throughout this movie. I often sense that male nudity in film exists out of pure vindictiveness. When we see a dick in a movie, it’s like a strike back for all those boob shots women have had to endure over the years. But in reality, men have been naked for years in mainstream films. In fact, if someone were to comb through all the major releases from 1970 to 2010, the ratio of dicks to pussies on screen would be outrageously disproportionate. Male nudity only exists to humiliate now because of the wildly incorrect perception that “women have appeared nude in movies for years.” Newsflash, honey: the female equivalent of the penis is not a breast shot.

With all that out of the way, "School Spirit" has tons of awesome nudity. And it's not just fear of reprisal that prevents producers from making movies like this anymore, but it's also out of self interest. Most producers don't want to risk turning off any demographic group. People are too worried about who they're going to offend, so they wind up cutting corners simply because they don't want to deal with the grief. There are tons of faggy people out there who stay bland just so they have something to complain about. Being offended is like a hobby to them. I've seen people whip out their sensitivity level like they're in a dick measure contest, to see who can get offended first or more by something. They dig and even contrive. It is because of these bleeding heart fuck buckets of misery that there is no bravery in the world of entertainment. These assholes guard the limit of decency, fighting their own cold war. They write hate mail in vanilla, but ironically, their intolerance is stoked by the same ignorance that motivates your most common hate monger. Seriously, never pass up the opportunity to punch a PC twat in the fucking face.

Once again, I can’t really comprehend WHY people write negative reviews for films like “School Spirit.” Doing such a thing is a certification of your idiocy. It’s like picking a fat chick up at a bar, going back to your place, and then getting pissed at her when she’s still fat once she gets undressed. What do these people require from a movie about a horny ghost in order for it to qualify as competent or good? It's basically an impossible task because the concept is absurd to begin with. But then again, that's the entire point. “School Spirit” cannot possibly be bad because it’s completely self aware. It ASPIRES to be sophomoric and perverted, and it delivers. This movie is so stupid that it approaches the genius level.

The story follows Billy Batson, counter culture’s answer to the big man on campus. Cast from the usual sex comedy protagonist mold, Billy is both handsome and cunning, but he just doesn't seem satisfied by status or materialism. Drifting through his college experience, Billy has focused more on his own happiness than he has on the approaching future, so he spends most of his time partying and getting laid. He's carefree, but occasionally somber and completely aware that he's going absolutely nowhere in life.

The movie begins in the midst of Billy's attempt to nail the conquest of his dreams. But there's just one small problem: no condom. He solves his prophylactic dilemma only to get creamed by a truck. Batson later regains consciousness as a ghost in the county morgue, where his body lays on a cold slab, still clutching the rubber he'd scrambled to find.

Billy is soon in the custody of his dead dirt bag uncle Pinky Batson, whose primary goal is to usher his nephew toward the light. But Pinky gets distracted by a horny nurse, and reveals that ghosts can actually turn flesh and blood by simply waving their hand above their head. Billy picks up on this, and while Pinky is wooing the nurse, he wrenches the condom from his cold dead hand, and heads back to the campus to cure his spirit boner.

Billy gets distracted by some French broad with a guarded identity, and sparks start flying. The rest of the movie is kind of a fiasco, with Batson pissing off the crusty old dean, making time with the babes, humiliating rich kids with his ghost powers, and trying to avoid Pinky, which isn't hard sense his uncle pretty much spends all his time molesting sleeping co-eds.

Batson knows he can't run forever, though, and he's got some unfinished business with his weird pseudo frat known as the Hogs, which is a sort of club for poor kids and misfits. As their leader, he's got to find a suitable replacement president for his rowdy band of party animals.

Coincidentally, I actually watched this back-to-back with “The Entity,” which was oddly complimentary. Both movies have roughly the same theme, with a ghost molesting vulnerable women, but “School Spirit” plays the whole thing for laughs. In or out of context, some of the scenes in "School Spirit" are actually kind of fucked up as hot, nubile girls are ogled and felt up unwillingly by invisible forces. The absurdity of the concept barely exonerates what is essentially supernatural rape.

Perhaps the best thing about this movie is that it features Sparks-related band, The Gleaming Spires. Many may recall this Posh Boy group for providing memorable soundtrack cuts for such eighties classics as “Revenge and the Nerds” and “The Last American Virgin.” The Spires actually perform in the film as the Hog’s party band, making this film a relevant piece of punk rock culture. Record jerks, take note: you need to see this movie. Check out this rad video for “Are You Ready for the Sex Girls?

Breasts are great, but even the sweetest pair of knockers can't save a movie with poor performances. Otherwise, you're just sitting there, fast forwarding. TV veteran Tom, or Tommy Nolan, as he was often billed throughout much of his child-hood career, plays Billy Batson, and he actually comes off as both funny and likable, but he's also sympathetic at the same time, which is a unique spin for the character type. Usually, the sex comedy hero is an untouchable jerk who can't lose. Batson on the other hand is completely capable of dropping the ball. Another TV notable, Larry Linville plays the crusty old dean, while John Finnegan plays Pinky Batson. Beyond that, there are a slew of attractive women throughout the movie who bare all. Perhaps my favorite performer in the movie, though, is Brian Frishman, who plays Barducci, a tall, goofy, party animal. Generally shirtless and almost always with a beer in hand, and a girl on each arm, this guy totally fuckin' rules. He steals almost every scene he's in.

Overall, this is an unsung eighties classic which represents a time when people knew how to shut the fuck up and just cut loose. I recommend this movie, highly. In fact, it deserves its own drinking game. And that's forthcoming, I assure you.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME (1989)

I’ve got to begin by sending a huge thank you to my good friend Paul Parks, of the Wax Museums, for donating a landslide of sun bleached tapes he rescued from an East Texas mom and pop shop. This was a godsend, considering I spent most of August in and out of the hospital. Sadly, mounting medical expenses have smoked out the adult in me, and he’s quickly put the kibosh on tape hunting. But through the kindness of others, I’ve still managed to pull in a decent take this month. It's the only thing that's saved me from cabin fever.

It was a happy coincidence that a copy of SGE Home Video's “The Wizard of Speed and Time” was amongst the ex-rentals Paul found. Weeks prior, my pal Joey Gravis intercepted a copy at Half Price Books, where he works at the “buy” counter. He's in a prime position to cherry pick the sweetest shit as it rolls in, pretty much, so he always has amazing stuff to share. The weight of Joey’s affinity toward horror and pop culture castaways equals my own, so when he proclaimed that the film was one of his new favorites of all time, my curiosity piqued. Based on this glowing review, I immediately bumped this one up to the front of the cue.

I'm conflicted as to whether or not I liked this movie. The whole affair has the sterile aura of the World of Disney, but underneath this candy-coated cornball, a defective heart pumps out pure cynicism. The film's creator actually had loose affiliation with Disney at some point in his career, though, and the studio was a definite influence on this particular movie. Sure, up front everything's painted bright and stinks like cotton candy, but it masks frustration and grief. This is the Halloween candy bar with a razor in the nougat, but somehow it's purely accidental.

This movie was a lot of fun on the surface, but there was something about it that left me feeling pretty despondant. In this somewhat autobiographical satire, key creator Mike Jittlov at least attempts to use his bitter perspective to swath a path of hope, though.

Playing the part of himself, Jittlov is a wild and altruistic artist struggling to share his vision with the world. But the reality of the business thwarts his every attempt to make his dreams come true. The story begins as Jittlov distributes his special effects reels between two networks, both racing to produce FX television specials. With no legitimate credit to his name, he’s nearly drummed out of the opportunity to present his ability. But when TV director Lucky Straeker gets a hold of his tape, he recognizes Jittlov’s potential. Sleaze ball producer Harvey Bookman blows a gasket when Straeker insists they give the kid a shot. Harvey relents, under the condition of a 25,000 bet against Jittlov producing anything usable for the special.

Not only is Mike given a measly budget to work with, but Bookman works against him every step of the way. Meanwhile, the studio system’s impossibly convoluted series of hoops are practically strangling poor Jittlov. Fed up, Mike decides to buck the system and goes renegade, creating a masterpiece by the skin of his teeth. Still, he winds up getting screwed by Bookman, who takes the film and never pays him for his work.

The line separating reality from fantasy dissipates like a burning fuse, and the film’s finale ends with a surreal explosion, where good triumphs over evil, and talent ultimate wins out over cold greed.

Jittlov's whole point is that with a little ingenuity and imagination, you can create fantastic things even on a thread bare budget, and this fun little ride is proof of that. Ultimately, this is an artistic triumph. However, I'm more impressed by the film's bitter sweet qualities than I am by any of the optical illusions he conjures here. It's a Goofy depression.

Anyone who's ever been involved in the industry will get a kick out of Mike's over-the-top yet accurate rendering of the studio system's inner workings. They are a complete reality, and while Mike's actual film is a success, his zippity-do-da ending is nothing but idealistic bluster, and it does little to stave off the bleak reality which awaits us once the lights come up. But damnit, Mike tried.

Here's the most fucked up thing about this movie, though: Richard Kaye, the real life producer of "The Wizard of Speed and Time," also appears in the film Harvey Bookman, the asshole producer who's out to sabotage Jittlov. Ironically, Kaye apparently screwed Jittlov out of the film's rights, and Mike never saw a dime for any of his work.

The film was apparently shot in 1983, but wasn't released until 1989, and was based on Jittlov's 1979 short film of the same name. The original short is recreated in the feature as Mike's segment for the network's effects wizardry special.

This is another one of those movies that hasn't yet been put out on DVD, and the likelihood is pretty nil, though fans have been trading the film on torrents for years with Jittlov's blessing. You can read more about the Wizard at Mike Jittlov’s site.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

THE ENTITY (1981)

Before the dark cloud of progressive illiteracy drenched Hollywood in its oppressive shade, there were sunnier days, when studios would pillage books for film ideas. I’m not sure how everything got so grim, but it probably has a lot to do with the film industry’s bloated structure, and their unwillingness to gamble on untested properties. That would involve risk, and at their current critical mass, one false investment could bring the whole precariously stacked mess crashing down with a visceral splat. That’s probably the logic behind the remake trend. Stuff like “Halloween” or “A Nightmare On Elm Street” already have built-in audiences. Why bother beating your own path out when someone else has already done it for you? There are still great, original scripts out there waiting to be realized. A remake of a proven formula, though, usually can’t lose. In challenge there is potential failure. Why chance it? As of this entry, there are even plans to remake “The Entity,” which is ironic since the original film was based on the novel by Frank De Filetta (“Audrey Rose,” “Dark Night of the Scarecrow”), who also adapted his work for the screen.

"The Entity" is probably one of the most heavily discussed horror films of all time. I’ve seen it put down as shoddy by some and revered by others as a feminist masterpiece. I saw “The Entity” for the first time in my early teens, and it evoked within me a genuine sense of dread and discomfort.

The movie focuses on Carla Moran, a single mother of three children, who inexplicably finds herself the sudden and target of spectral rapists, which repeatedly assault her throughout the film. Carla eventually finds herself questioning her own sanity when she seeks the aid of practical science. But when her children witness one of the assaults, she seeks out an alternative explanation. Soon, Carla finds herself caught between a group of well meaning paranormal investigators and a down to earth psychologist who’s grown emotionally attached to her.

There are a lot of potent ingredients that help this thing over hurdles to make it an effective horror film. The foremost driving element is Charles Bernstein’s nerve-rattling score, which almost feels like a tribute Bernard Herrmann’s work on “Psycho.” Bernstein, who should be considered amongst the best film composers of all time, elevated the quality of numerous cult and genre flicks with his scores and themes. Bernstein is also responsible for creating the iconic score for “A Nightmare On Elm Street.” Bernstein’s work on “The Entity” may well be the one thing that keeps this movie from eating shit, though. In fact, I think it makes the movie feel bigger than it actually is.

Barbara Hershey’s performance as the overall frayed Carla is this film’s other main flotation device. In fact, most of the performances in this film are strong. While “The Entity” is definitely augmented by great performances, a fantastic score, and an interesting topic, the actual story telling is pretty muddy. The monotony of the movie is only slightly cured by the jarring rape scenes. That might sound fucked up, but let’s face it, no one goes to see a horror movie for the exposition. You’re there to see the creepy shit happen.

One element that really bugs me about the story is that they never really explain why Carla has been targeted by these entities. The attacks begin abruptly and that’s all there is to it. In fact, there is one scene where the doctors ask Carla why the spirits have chosen her. Her response carries a hint of arrogance and sexual confidence that makes me wish Carla were more of an unreliable narrator who might actually be a nut job.

I’ve never read the book (though I own it), so I have no idea how it flows, but I suspect the script is a painfully condensed version of the story. I often find authors who adapt their work for the screen usually aren’t very good at editing for the screen. The whole thing usually winds up a casualty to the writer's desire to remain faithful to the source material.

The bright spots are almost tarnished by an ending that squats right over them and unleashes a three foot tide of total shit. It is truly the largest unintentional middle finger any movie has ever delivered. Check this out: so, these paranormal goofballs concoct some bullshit proto-T2 plot to trap the entities by building a replica of Carla’s home inside the local University gym. The set is outfitted with robotic arms that will capture the ghosts by hosing them down with liquid helium. You got that, right? LIQUID HELIUM. THEY'RE GOING TO FREEZE THE GHOSTS. Of course, shit goes awry and Carla narrowly escapes as the spirit is encased in a virtual polar cap, which it then proceeds to slowly fuck its way out of. Ultimately, it's a non-ending, and basketball season is pretty much fucked for that school. It's so bad it's infuriating. I think they knew that, too, because the film ends with the entity delivering the best movie quote ever that isn’t uttered by Kurtwood Smith.

"The Entity" is a marvelous book-end to 1979’s “The Amityville Horror.” Both movies are based on popular non-fiction novels. Both are incredibly flawed, but still effective and atmospheric. Both also have horrible fucking endings. And certainly not least, they both feature young Natasha Ryan, who plays Amy Lutz in “The Amityville Horror.”

Like "The Amityville Horror," "The Entity" was based on supposedly true events. The Carla Moran character is a composite of the real life Doris Bither, a woman who claims she was subjected to supernatural sexual assaults during the early 70s. Interestingly, Doris believed there were three entities, two of which would hold her down while a larger one would rape her. In the film, Carla has three children; two girls, and one boy. Doris had four children, one female, three males. The number of boys obviously correlates with the number of entities responsible for her rape. I always thought the gender of Doris’ children was somewhat relevant, and probably shouldn’t have been changed. Doris also seemed to have some familiarity with the entities, and was quoted as saying that they were Chinese. One of the most awesome aspects of the Bither case is that the eldest son claimed that the paranormal activity would intensify whenever he was blasting Black Sabbath or Uriah Heep. You can read about the case right here. You can also find an interesting interview with the middle Bither son on this site.

Over the years, many productions that dared delve into the supernatural world have encountered mysterious on-set problems. The foul luck which beleaguered both "The Exorcist" and "Poltergeist" perpetuated the myth that both films were cursed for meddling with topics best left alone. Well, there were apparently some problems on the set of the "The Entity," too. During one particular scene, Carla is attacked by the entity. Her son, Billy, attempts to intervene and is hurled across the room by the unseen force, breaking his arm. This is based on an identical anecdote from Bither, who's son apparently broke his arm trying to fend off the invisible assailant. When it came time to recreate this scene on set, David Labiosa, who plays Billy Moran, actually broke his arm while performing the stunt. Simultaneously, a curtain rod in the background was ripped down, inexplicably.

For some bizarre reason, 20th Century Fox produced an Atari game based on “The Entity.” In this lame duck piece of shit, you play a spirit trying to get to the other side. It’s not very vivid, though, so I guess you could pretend you’re trying to get into Barbara Hershey’s vagina. The game was actually never released, but you can download it right here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

PUNK VACATION (1990)

You know how socialite families would squeeze out a fucked up looking kid, and then stuff them up in the attic to avoid town ridicule? Well, owning “Punk Vacation” is similar to buying a house with a hideaway mutant inside. As the seller hands the deed over you mention that you have more doors than you do keys. With doomish intonation proportionate to their grave expression, they utter, “some doors are best left unopened” before they pull away.

Any logical man would leave that shit alone. You hear the occasional moaning and shuffling from beyond the door, but fuck that, right? The man said stay out of the fucking attic. But then there comes that dark and rainy night. You’ve been drinking since eleven a.m., so you’re totally combative. And you’ve seen this episode of "Forensic Files" like a billion times. These conditions ultimately align to create a destructive curiosity. The next thing you know, you’re kicking the shit out of the attic door. Within minutes, there you are, lording over some emaciated snot bag with a club foot, more Charlie Brown than Castle Freak. Not as bad as what you'd been picturing in your pickled brain.

There isn’t a whole lot of information on “Punk Vacation” floating around out there. Whatever reviews you will find go out of their way to discourage you from wasting time on the movie. In fact, some of the reactions are downright venomous. I know it’s uncharacteristic of me to buy into the opinions of others, but for some reason it rubbed off on me. Most likely it was the low volume of consistently bad reports that initially turned me against the film. If I’d found fifty bad reviews that would constitute a popular opinion, which I never trust. In the case of “Punk Vacation,” I found six or seven at max. A small number of consistent reviews is always way more reliable than a thousand assholes all shouting the same thing.

I’m terminally hopeful guy. I really try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Now, look at that box. That shit doesn’t scream high art. You’d think the man who plucks that thing off the shelf would have adjusted his standards according to the presentation. You’d think he’d have a sense of humor. On the mean streets of slum cinema, rare is the oyster that looks like a fucking turd. Do you go to bars, pick up fat chicks, and then get angry when you find out they’re still fat when they’re naked? I mean, it’s okay to be angry at fat women in general, but that’s neither here nor there. My entire point is, if this box screams Fellini to you, your tongue should divorce your brain.

So, it took boredom for me to let this thing out of the attic, and once again, I regret ever listening to anyone. What I found was not so beastly. I’m not going to try and sell you some bullshit line. This is not a good film. I think we’ve established, though, that a film doesn’t have to be good to entertain, and "Punk Vacation" most certainly manages to be compelling.

This thing is vacant of the obvious flotation devices, such as gore and tits, which is probably enough to turn off a lot of the people I know already. In fact, the thing that makes this movie great isn’t obvious at all. Tonally, this thing is a huge fucking mess. It almost has no direction. In fact, the script almost feels like a stream of consciousness confined to a basic plot. Imagine the story itself represents an empty canal, but the parameters are filled not with water, but with Jello, mustard, and Astroglide. Why? I don't fucking know. Blame drugs. Blame a concussion. All I know is that the ultimate concoction is too weird to turn off.

Straight away, the story begins total revenge flick primer, but by the end the whole thing feels like "Police Adademy." In between these points you get a Jekyll & Hyde mash-up of near horror and sophomoric comedy.

One thing I don’t think a lot of people can get past are the punks in the film. They’re actually no more punk than the gang in “Class of 1984,” except those guys did drugs, raped pregnant women, and went to Teenage Head shows. Apparently if you have Fear on your soundtrack, you can get away with all the New Wave faggotry you want. Unfortunately, the one validating element this piece of Punksploitation lacks is actual punk rock.

The basic premise of the film is absurd to begin with. Come on, Punk Vacation? That’s like the homeless going on a camping trip. What the fuck do a bunch of jobless drunks need a vacation from?

So, the punks retreat to a rural community, where they murder the owner of a diner and traumatize his pubescent daughter for kicks. A deputy interrupts and apprehends one of the punks played by Rob Garrison, whom you may recognize from "The Karate Kid" as Tommy, the guy who screams the immortal line, “get him a body bag” as Daniel writhes around on the matt like a pussy during the film’s finale.

The diner owner’s older daughter craves vengeance against these hooligans, and just when you think we’re in for some small town justice, they shift focus from the locals to the punks, who are kind of child-like and charming. A few scenes create an odd sympathy for the supposed antagonists that you rarely ever see in any film. It's actually kind of reminiscent of the gang in "The Born Losers," who are rapist scum, but the scenes with Danny's abusive father and his infant son humanize him to the point that it creates the occasional lapse in perceiving him as a total monster.

The rest of the plot revolves around the capture of the diner owner’s daughter, her violent rescue, and the punks’ attempts to liberate Garrison from the local hospital. Humanizing the villains completely destroys their mystique and menace, and whatever tension the writer sought to erect through the craven murder we saw at the film’s onset goes completely flaccid. Toward the end of the film, the punks are kind of bumbling, and are almost as comedic as the town's redneck contingent.

I can’t call “Punk Vacation” a good movie. I do think it’s a compelling piece of film making, though, due mainly to its absolutely schizophrenic nature. As a piece of punk rock culture, though, it has absolutely no value. As a slice of cult cinema, it has tremendous worth and deserves to be appreciated by connoisseurs of the obscure.

THE UNRULY GENT presents: ARENA (1989)

The Unruly Gent has returned to VHS Summer with his rapier-like madness, this time to carve the bowels out of the Charles Band-produced "Arena." This one was directed by Peter Manoogian, who also helmed "Seedpeople" and "Demonic Toys." Call me crazy, but I've always thought that John Buechler's alien creations in this looked pretty cool despite the fact that they move with Palsy-like grace. Take it away, Gent.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

SLAUGHTERHOUSE (1987)

Here on the bed of woe, pain snips through the opiate shroud, nicking my nerves and keeping me from sweet unconsciousness. In other words, some shit went down that left me bed ridden. Ironically, I'm in so much pain, though, that I can't sleep. The most fucked up part is that there's no TV remote in my bedroom, so I've been acutely conscious through TBS airings of "Drumline" and "Madea Goes To Jail." All week I've kept imagining Ted Turner channel surfing past his old Flagship station only to find Tyler Perry sashaying around in drag. Ted then gasps and fire poles into a casket, like Bruce Wayne into the Bat mobile, for a cathartic little spin. I know when I walk again, suffering will have made me stronger, crazier, and maybe slightly black, too.

This has been a foul week for me. Even the most minor details have snowballed into a steaming shit Frosty, magic hat and all. Not one thing has gone my way. Everything is breaking. And if it was already broken, it broke even more. Sweet VHS, too, has given me nothing but grief lately.

I may get the occasional lemon that doesn't quite live up to its advertised grade of quality, sure, but EVERY tape that arrived this week played like it had been spun from Frankenstein's asshole. You gamble with your trust on these things, and more often than not it pays off. But my unusually consistent losing streak could serve as an argument for cosmic bias.

Quality of the collectible is a big fat gray area when you’re talking VHS. In the realm of Video, the idea of a mint copy of anything is near mythical. Back when a lot of this stuff was initially retailed, it went for pretty hefty prices. If you look on the backs of a lot of these big box tapes, they sold for anywhere from 30 to 80 bucks. I can only speculate that very few consumers bought shit like "Devilfish" for their private library. Video stores on the other hand could eventually earn the investment back. So, most of the tapes I find are ex-rentals that some video store dumped.

You will often see tapes listed on eBay and Amazon for high prices at mere “Good” grade. However, the pictured item will yield evidence of sticker damage, fading, and general shelf ware from whatever Podunk Video rental center it came from. While I think that sort of damage is part of the charm, wear and tear like this would get most collectibles ranked “acceptable” to “poor."

So, when it comes to collecting Video, “good” is typically the best you’re gonna find. Beyond that, when you're talking tapes the criteria for “good” has a wider gape than a Manila hooker. Some of this shit looks like it came out of a battered women’s shelter. I can handle a few black eyes, but I draw the line if that bitch’s innards are scrambled.

I’m gonna lay down a little gospel on you people right now: if you list a tape as “good,” then that motherfucker better PLAY RIGHT! And I'm not talking about the occasional line or small break. Some wear is acceptable. Never mind the genre label on the box. Fuck the fact that the art is cut. What’s that? A “Be Kind Rewind” sticker? Pile those faggots on! I don’t care! If you list a tape as good and the box is pretty pristine, but the tape itself is a mangled pile of stratus, then you deserve to be duct taped to a chair and forced to watch the dismemberment of your family, and then released in health to let the memory haunt and eventually drive you into a poorly run state institution. It may sound harsh, and I’m sure I’m just possessed by pain right now, but fuck it: I’m legit pissed off about some of the shit these walking Friedman drawings pawned off on me.

So, earlier this week, I hobble to the mail box to find that a recently won copy of the 1987 slasher flick “Slaughterhouse” has come home. Hadn’t seen this son of a bitch in years, and I was really looking forward to reviewing it. I gleefully rip open the package and I’m flooded with hazy recollections of all-night Hungry Howie’s buddy bashes fueled by Jolt Cola. I remembered Buddy Bacon’s pig leg butcher knife. But the one thing that impressed me the most was that this is one of those movies that trumped its own cheapness with a strong dose of atmosphere. So, I fire up the projector, eager to contrast and compare my recollections. I pop that shit in. It’s a little shaky to start with, but fuck the FBI anyway, right?

And then comes the first trailer, for “Rolling Vengeance!” Fuck yeah!

Only Youtube makes that shit look like HiDef compared to what I was watching at that moment. The top portion of the screen looked possibly warped, while the machine chugged through huge gnarled sections of the tape. And when it was playing “clean,” I was still getting flurries of lines every five seconds.

I hit eject, turned up the flap, and the tape looked like that roast beef pussy you'd see in an issue of Hustler Magazine. The top of the tape was actually serrated. There was no harming this thing, so I pulled the guts out to see what else the casing was hiding. Almost every other inch was chewed up. Some dumbshit had even spliced an amazing number of breaks back together with FROSTED Scotch tape. I guess he was out of semen and toilet paper. Later, the tape ROLLED OVER, and went to black. After that, God had a good laugh and I slipped into the sleep of powerful depression. So, at least I got something out of it.

I can think of a lot of colorful descriptions for this acquisition, but this would have to come packaged between the breasts of an unconscious Shenae Grimes for me to call it “good."

I wish I had a fresh take on the movie, but I'm just going to have to wing it for now. One thing which distinguishes this from being what many have called "average slasher fair" is that the villains have distinct faces and personalities, owed most likely to the influence of Hooper's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2." However, the Bacon family are never quite as witty as the Sawyers. The antagonists were timely though, because these are essentially the sort of people that Willie Nelson was trying to save with Farm AID. They're defending their long-lived family livelihood from an encroaching modern world that doesn't give a fuck about real people.

The bare basics have the Bacon's pig farm approaching foreclosure, so daddy decides to unleash his fat retarded son, Buddy Bacon, on trespassers. Really, the only clich├ęd thing about the movie is that the main interlopers happen to be drunken, sex-crazed teenagers. I can't remember if there's any nudity, but I sure not, because the few girls I saw in the beginning looked like they probably got their dicks chopped off in Tijuana.

Rural settings are par for the course in this sub-genre, and while the script still depicts salt-of-the-earth folk as totally fucking nuts, they give them real identity and purpose. They're crazy and fucked up, sure, but they're also contending with a major bummer looming on their horizon. So, we don't just get a bevy of bucked tooth hicks who spew forebodings about some one-dimensional villain. The bad guys here are actually socially relevant. Check out the trailer.

There are two cuts of this film. Only in Germany and America does the film retain its most graphic situations. Meanwhile, English Parliament still had the video nasties' stick up its pale keister, so the thing got hacked to pieces. While doing a little reading about the various cuts I ran across a great website which provided a rather detailed comparison between the cut and uncut versions. If you're one of those people who's really fascinated by regional differences in films, then bookmark Movie Censorship.

In the mean time, I guess I’ll just have to seek out another copy… and maybe some duct tape.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

THE EVICTORS (1979)

Charles B. Pierce may be the first director I was really cognoscente of. You can’t even call his style distinct, though. Most of his work looks and feels like it was produced for the Wonderful World of Disney. But that’s part of its appeal. The guy made flicks based around dire urban mythology with the warmth of a 1950s family film. It’s a baffling concoction that works, which makes him a director of note in my opinion. I’m sure the subversive presentation is wholly unintentional, though.

Pierce’s “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” a hybrid of documentary and dramatic film making, is grossly underestimated as a pop culture influence. I have no doubt that television programs such as “In Search Of” and "Unsolved Mysteries" would not exist had it not been made. If you haven’t seen it, the movie basically explores the urban myth of a big-foot like creature which allegedly roams the swampy recesses of Fouke, Arkansas. What really sets it apart from other documentaries of this nature though are the dramatic re-enactments, which Pierce executes with relish in his desire to scare the pants off of his audience.

Several years later, Pierce followed up with “The Town That Dreaded Sundown,” a film that feels kindred to Boggy Creek. More fully dramatized, the movie details a real life masked serial killer who wrought bloody havoc on a TexArkana lover’s lane following World War II. This is probably his grizzliest treatment, but it still retains that weird Disney-esque voiceover, which lulls you into thinking you’re in a friendlier place.

I had seen a handful of other films from his catalog, but “The Evictors” had eluded me until recently. I wasn’t too sure what to expect here since I’d read several reviews which stated that this was a lamentable way for American International Pictures to go out. Granted, it’s not nearly as graphic as a lot of their other releases from the seventies, it’s still a worthy release, and far from representing a low point for either AIP or Pierce.

Our story begins in the days of yore, during the great depression. Some dude tries to serve an eviction notice, and gets the documentation blown plum clean out of his hand by the property owner, thus inviting open fire from yokel authorities inexplicably armed with Tommy guns. We’re cut off mid proto-Waco, and thrust forward into the forties.

One of the weirdest things about this movie is that it feels incredibly dated. And this has nothing to do with the fact that this is a period piece. This thing was shot in 1979, but it feels more like something that was filmed a good ten years earlier. We do not feel like we’re at the cusp of the eighties in terms of production value.

Anyway, moving right along, we join a young couple as a realtor shows them the death house from earlier. The couple takes a fancy to the rustic joint and move right on in. It isn’t before too long, though, that the couple receives some of the most polite letters of harassment I have ever seen. Case in point, the first letter reads, “I want you to move.” I mean, it’s not written in semen, or blood, and they don’t even use any profanity. Nevertheless, that’s enough to put the couple on the defense.

Over the course of the next week or so, the wife is told numerous stories from the town’s folk about the gruesome fate of several other families who lived in the house during the 30s, all revealed in unnecessarily sepia-toned flashbacks.

These particular scenes are perhaps the greatest detriment to the film’s story. In one instance we’re told that one woman was trampled to death by a donkey as we’re lead into a flashback. But in the flashback itself we’re treated to the horrific reality that she was beaten to death by a culprit with a horse shoe on a big stick. I was a little annoyed, because I think they reveal too much here, but the idea of the horse shoe stick won me over.

By this point, we’re well aware that someone is out to bump the couple off. The story itself is fairly obvious, and there are a few surprises along the way. But ultimately the payoff and the twist are nonsensical. In spite of the flawed script, Pierce proves to be a fairly capable director and manages to provide us with some genuinely creepy and suspenseful moments. As always, the movie stays well within G-rated territory in spite of the fact that it was obviously influenced by the emerging slasher genre. Yet still, it’s effective when it needs to be.

This is Grade-A Pierce. If you enjoy his movies you'll get absolutely everything you'd expect or want out of this thing. We even get that patent blend of real yokels on screen. I've heard some people criticize Pierce's decision to use locals in his films, stating that they think they come off as wooden, but I think it adds an odd realism to his films since most people in real life are pretty stiff anyway.

Jessica Harper ("Suspiria," "Phantom of the Paradise") is the life’s blood of this movie. She turns in a legitimately strong performance as the paranoid house wife at the center of small town secrets. Harper is one of those chicks who possesses a remarkable charisma that will not fade. Seriously, if I ever get famous, her husband better lock that shit up because I will destroy it.

Sure, this movie has flaws, but it has some redeeming qualities as well. Anyone who calls this AIP's sad last whimper however is delusional and needs to go back and look at some of the bullshit they put out.

When I watched this film for the first time this week, I was overcome with a strange feeling of nostalgia. Strange only because I usually only experience this with films that are directly linked to my childhood. A Charles B. Pierce production is infested with overwhelming vibe, which is its ultimate vindicating value.

This film is not yet available on DVD or BluRay.

TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE (1983-1988)

I’ve said before that 1988 was the final milestone year for the horror genre. It was also one of the last years that independent theater owners were still kicking and screaming. Meanwhile, the straight-to-video market was blossoming. The cosmos aligned, the gates flung open, and we got a slew of small but remarkable movies during that particular year, both in theaters and on tape. It's a long story, but after that, everything went to hell.

In 1988, horror was seemingly everywhere, and a large part of it had to do with the mainstream success of slasher movie icons like Freddy and Jason. If you didn't live through it, then you can't quite understand how pervasive their likenesses were. New Line and Paramount signed off on an alarming bulk of nonsensical merchandise. Never mind the fact that one of them was a dream stalking pedophile and the other was a vengeful titty-hating mongoloid. These guys were approaching apple pie status.

Freddy was kind of like John Cena back then. You couldn't go anywhere without seeing his face on some Mexican kid's backpack. The man had lunch boxes. He had a board game. He ripped off Pee-Wee's talking doll. I actually had Freddy shampoo, which gave me some kind of skin rash. I guess I kind of deserved that for using it in the first place. He even did a music video with the fucking Fat Boys. Fuck man, Will Smith was rapping about the dude. You don't get more mainstream than that. And then of course, he got his own hour-long syndicate show, “Freddy’s Nightmares.”

By this point, Renny Harlin had mucked up the “Elm Street” franchise with an ice cream paint job, and Krueger had morphed into a general audience-friendly cornball uncle character who told cheesy jokes. He was just a rung above or below (depending on who you ask) Ghoulardi or Zacherley. In fact, if you look up the Wikipedia entry on horror hosts, Krueger is sadly listed amongst Commander USA and Elvira. Anyway, “Freddy’s Nightmares” wasn’t all that good, but it certainly added to the momentum of horror-related programming on television at that particular time.

The year before that, the Jason-less “Friday the 13th: The Series” debuted, and was going strong still. And though they had ended years earlier, revivals of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Twilight Zone” were still in heavy weekend rotation on both the USA Network and a ton of other independent stations across the country.

I’m always surprised that very few people remember the HBO produced “The Ray Bradbury Theater” anthology, which also wound up in syndication, and was often shown on USA Network. The Bradbury show was easily the best of the anthology shows of its time. Check out the episode below, entitled “The Screaming Woman” starring a young Drew Barrymore.

Also produced by HBO, “The Hitchhiker” was yet another anthology program that went into syndication after a relatively short run. USA Network picked this one up, too. This was the crusty end of the TV horror anthology loaf that aired on my local station every weekend. If I wasn't asleep by the time it aired, it would put me out. “The Hitchhiker” was a weird hybrid of “Red Shoe Diaries” adult drama mixed with EC Comics twists. Zalman King as the Crypt Keeper kind of sounds like an awesome idea, but it never really lived up to its potential. Check out the badass theme song. I like to sing this in the shower a lot.

Another anthology show, “Monsters,” also hit the airwaves in 1988. Most of the episodes were kind of forgettable, though the show’s intro was anything but.

While the show I’m about to mention ended its run in 1988, “Tales from the Darkside” remained in syndication for years afterward with a healthy episode count that began some time in 1983. In fact, SciFi Channel still runs day long marathons at least once a month.

This Romero-produced horror anthology was a continuation of “Creepshow”’s nostalgic embrace of EC Comics moral plays. “Tales from the Darkside” had more going for it than most other shows in its vein, particularly in terms of credibility. Guys like David Odell, Clive Barker, Stephen King, the legendary Robert Bloch, and the fabulous Michael McDowell handled writing duties on various episodes, adapted from works by King, Bloch, and even Harlan Ellison. Jodie Foster even directed an episode. Meanwhile, there was a solid rotation of familiar featured faces, including Danny Aiello, Christian Slater, Brent Spiner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Cab Calloway, Jerry Stiller, Seth Green, William Hickey, and Debbie Harry.

I just recently received three volumes of the ThrillerVideo releases of the show, which by far trump any of the other releases on any format just for the incredible box art alone, which look more like album art for an awesome metal band. I don’t know who did the art for this shit, but it’s absolutely stunning. The box art has obviously been cut, of course, as these were acquisitions from Salzer’s Video in Ventura, California. Special thanks to my mom for rescuing these very special orphans.

This is some personally magical stuff for me, and conjures up many fond childhood memories of staying up way too late on weekends drinking Jolt Cola and eating junk food. Truly, it was nights like those that made me into the CHUD that I am today. Sadly, it wasn’t too long after that time when late night television stopped meaning a damn thing.

In 1990, "Tales from the Darkside: The Movie" was released. I haven't seen it since originally enduring it at the local Drive-In, but I remember being bored by it.