Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Never believe that.....There's Nothing Out There.

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART!



I love bad movies - I really do.  That said, I need to cleanse the palate a bit after Monster A-Go Go (I'm still glad that film was made - but...)  So, I decided to breakout "a" special edition of the 1991 classic There's Nothing Out There.  I say "a" special edition, because evidently there is a special two-disc edition with an additional director's commentary released in 2011.  However, that edition appears to be out of print now.  I will be writing based on the 2001 Image Entertainment DVD.



You may recall a little film titled Scream from 1991. In fact, for a time Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson almost single handedly revived the flagging horror genre with the Scream franchise.  For many horror fans, what made the first film was Jamie Kennedy's portrayal of Randy, who, because of his extensive knowledge of horror cinema, made everyone aware of the "rules".

But, what if I (and many others) were to suggest this brilliant, self-referential device had been used years earlier, and equally as well?  It's not a suggestion, it is a fact.  And this same self-aware, comedic approach is what makes Rolfe Kanefsky's There's Nothing Out There the genre classic it is today.

The film begins like many other late 70s to late 80s horror films.  A cadre of teenage kids (one of the few failings of this film is everyone looks about 35) head to an isolated cabin for spring break.  The seventh (the third wheel so to speak) is Mike (portrayed by Craig Peck) and he begins to explain the "rules" once they pass a horrible accident scene on the way to the cabin.  Mike implores the others that nothing good can come of the rest of the trip.  However, three couples looking for fun in the woods won't be dissuaded from heading to the cabin.  Once there - Mike continues to explain to Doreen, Jim, Stacy, Nick, Janet and David (Portrayed by Wendy Bednarz, Mark Collver, Bonnie Bowers, John Carhart III, Claudia Flores and Jeff Dachis respectively) that certain events and environments are certain indicators that few will survive.



And how right Mike is as the cabin is now part of an extraterrestrial's hunting (and breeding?) ground.



The frights and the laughs begin almost the instance David and Janet decide to take a stroll through the woods - and virtually every standard horror film convention is made fun of in the next sixty minutes.

Originally, I rented this on VHS not long after I had seen Scream, and was struck by certain similarities in the "rules" gag.  But, I was also very pleased by how well the camera work and many of the special effects belied the picture's modest budget.  Additionally, considering the director and cast were just starting their careers - the acting was better than acting I've seen recently in major theatrical releases (ahem....Evil Dead remake).



This film was the first screenplay by Rolfe Kanefsky, who has gone on to write 40 additional produced screenplays and directed 21 films (including several from his own screenplays).  Several of his screenplays have gone on to be directed by one of my favorite directors - Dave DeCoteau.  In my world this what we call "living the dream"!

So, if you are a fan or horror/sci-fi/comedy films - by all means start off the new year by checking out There's Nothing Out There.  It is currently available for streaming at Amazon. Afterward, be sure to check out other Kanefsky films!  And by all means, if you get a chance to pick up either version of the special edition DVDs do so and listen to the commentary.


When it comes to lower budget or independent films, often the commentary is like a 90 minute film school.  The trials and tribulations that are overcome to finish a piece of art are discussed and, I very much believe, can spare beginning filmmakers (especially genre filmmakers) a great deal pain as they begin their careers in film.





There's Nothing Out There IMDB Link

Monday, December 29, 2014

You can't unsee....Monster A-Go Go

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART!


I've always meant my disclaimer.  In fact, I can only think of three films (that I've seen) that should be purged from the face of the Earth - 1. Thomas and the Magic Railroad, 2. Six Days Seven Nights and 3. The Evil Dead remake.  And, in all candor, I might simply have been in a bad mood when I saw those films.  In any case, I realized the films I've been writing about, though not loved by all, certainly have their admirers, and, as such, I wasn't really "defending" them at all.  So, tonight I decided to pay a visit to the bottom 100 at IMDB and choose a film almost universally derided and endeavor to say something positive about.  Turns out - not an easy task when it comes to the 1965 film Monster A-Go Go.

The plot of the picture, as best as I could fully ascertain, revolves around the disappearance of US Astronaut Frank Douglas.  As the capsule he was in is descending to Earth, he vanishes.

In his stead, evidently, is a hulking radioactive monster which begins to kill and evade capture, while being tracked by scientists and the military.

The picture is very disjointed, characters seemingly disappear without reason, and the threat to mankind never feels terribly real.

However!  This is a film that almost didn't happen.  And I think it is a testament to the dedication and capitalist spirit of two filmmakers who brought this picture to fruition - Bill Rebane (The Giant Spider Invasion) and H.G. Lewis (2000 Maniacs). The film initially began production in 1961 with a screenplay and direction by Bill Rebane.  But, as was often the case with independent filmmakers, funds dried up, and the film was unfinished.  In the meantime, H.G. Lewis was beginning a run as one of the premier exploitation auteurs of the time, and he had just finished Moonshine Mountain and was looking for a second film to show with it (since it was very common for Grindhouse and Drive-in films to be at least a double feature).  As Rebane had much of the film in the can, Lewis bought the film, shot a handful of extra scenes and some voice over narration and soon had his second feature.


No one would suggest this made for a great film.  But, I think most frustrated filmmakers and fans of 60s Grindhouse fare, would agree it is impressive this film managed to see screentime. Sure, the film appears to have nothing resembling continuity, or any genuine character development.  But, I remain impressed that Bill Rebane got the ball rolling, and H.G. Lewis managed to piece a film together and have it exist today.  In fact, I read that Bill Rebane is working on a special edition DVD of the film. I have to admit, that seems odd as the title is on Something Weird Video, and Rebane did not finish the film. I seem to recall an issue between Rebane and Retromedia Entertainment (and I will ALWAYS back Retromedia).  However, if Rebane releases a special edition on DVD, I would certainly track it down and be interested to see if the film is a bit more coherent.




In addition to the film being completed by sheer tenacity, it was also one of the most popular episodes of MST3K (show 421), and, Joel and the Bots certainly do make the film a bit more palatable (I'm watching that episode as I write this).

So...I know this post wasn't as hearty a defense of this film as I had originally intended. But, I did enjoy the film in my own odd way.  And, I'm glad it saw screen time on drive-ins across America - I'm sure there a few people my age who were conceived at that H.G. Lewis double feature.





Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I don't look good in.....Chrome and Hot Leather


DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART!  




An argument could be made that no genre of film had a better run than the biker film.  Beginning with Brando in The Wild One (1953) to Chopper Chicks in Zombietown (1989) to Sons of Anarchy and covering sub-genres from crime film to horror; for over 30 years, the biker film was the go to genre for exploitation filmmakers.  Certainly in the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies, the reason for the prevalence of biker movies had as much to do with the news (and fears of the day).
 Hell's Angels had been founded in March 1948 in Fontana, California, and with that founding stories of criminal activity such as drug dealing, prostitution and extortion. Fear of the Hell's Angels only increased with the 1967 publication of Hunter S. Thompson's "Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs" and the death of Meredith Hunter at the hands of Hell's Angel Alan Passaro (who was acquitted when footage showed Hunter was brandishing a pistol).

By 1971, the Vietnam War continued to rage on and it was only natural for filmmakers to combine the elements into a single film - bringing us to our film - Chrome and Hot Leather.  This film is exceptionally well done, though, the most tame of many of the biker films that had preceded it.  Although the acting in the film is very good, there are three stars that particularly stand out.   First, it is interesting to note this was the first film for Cheryl Ladd (who is credited as Cherie Moor).  Less than a decade later she would be known for role in Charlie's Angels.



Also in the film is music legend Marvin Gaye as Jim. I was surprised to find that, even with his good looks and great voice, this film was one of only two he ever appeared in. And this film was his last.  I felt he did a wonderful job in a fairly limited role (only a handful of characters get the development or screentime they deserve).  Obviously he prefered music over acting - but, it is certainly interesting to note he could have been quite successful in both endeavors.

Finally, I want to touch on one of the most interesting people in history. Someday someone should write a many volumed work about his life.  And it is a life that could make a series of about eight films.  William Smith is just stone cold fascinating.  Born in Columbia, Missouri in 1933, his family moved West (as did many) during the Dust Bowl years.  He began his acting career very young, appearing in the films The Ghost of Frankenstein and The Song of Bernadette.  When he wasn't busy being friggin' awesome, he earned a B.A. from Syracuse and a Master's in Russian studies at UCLA.  He was working on his Ph.D when he became a contract actor for MGM.  In time, Smith became fluent in Russian, Serbo-Croatian, French and German and performed a great deal of top secret work during the Korean War for the CIA and NSA.  Smith continues to work and is also a poet (seriously - I think there is nothing this man can't do).



In Chrome and Hot Leather, Smith plays T.J. the leader of a biker gang. While causing trouble along the highways and byways of America, one of the gang's members causes a car accident (a very well shot sequence) that causes the death of the fiance of an Army Green Beret.  When he learns of her death, he asks the local police what leads they have.  When he discovers they have precious few leads, and what appears to be very little interest in finding the murderer(s), Mitch and three of his friends from the Army decide they will ferret out the gang and bring them to justice.

This film is a quick and entertaining piece of work.  It really has no weak spots with possible budgetary constraints such as the use of Kawasaki motorcycles (for promotional consideration) and one somewhat poorly shot "day for night" sequence.  Otherwise, the acting is solid, the story is paced well, and has some great quotes that I'd include here, but, just writing them wouldn't do them justice - you have to see Big Bill Smith in action to appreciate them.

I couldn't help but think, as I was watching this, how easy it was to disappear in the 70s.  Mitch has to pay a gas station attendant to get a message to his buddies who were scheduled to meet at that location. No cell phones, Facebook or Twitter - so much easier to be off the grid.

In any case, this film is available from many sources, but, I watched via Amazon Prime and the picture and sound were outstanding.  I can truly recommend this film - but, in full disclosure my favorite Bill Smith biker film is Run, Angel, Run from 1969.

The Trailer for 1971's Chrome and Hot Leather

The Office Site for Hollywood Legend William Smith

Friday, December 12, 2014

Stay for awhile at....Tourist Trap

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART!

This is one of those occasions where I've decided to write about a picture that is actually very well regarded and needs little defending - Tourist Trap.



Co-written and directed by David Schmoeller - and also based on his own short film The Spider Will Kill You, Tourist Trap is a well done, atmospheric and sufficiently creepy film shot in 1978 around the Los Angeles area and released in 1979.  The film would be one of several collaborations between Schmoeller and the brilliant Charles Band.

At first blush, the film has the appearance of so many late 70s, early 80s horror films.  A group of beautiful young people, lost in the wilderness and easy pickings for the local forest faring lunatic.  However, thanks to the spot on writing of Schmoeller and his collaborator, J. Larry Carroll, you have an almost instant rapport with the characters, including the beautiful Becky, played by a pre-Charlie's Angels Tanya Roberts.

By the time we are introduced to Mr. Slausen, played brilliantly by the ever-missed Chuck Connors, we are invested enough in the characters to have genuine apprehension about what fate awaits our intrepid travelers.

We find our cast at a small, off the beaten track, roadside museum - the kind of thing that used to exist in the 60s and 70s when excitement was more often found traveling the roads of the United States instead of on our smart phones.  Once at the small museum, Schmoeller craftily leads us into a vision of madness and telekinesis (yes - both!).

I really can't recommend this film enough, and I'm not alone - Stephen King himself has lauded this film and its quality.  But, just as impressive as the picture itself is its co-writer and director. Schmoeller, who is currently teaching film just a few hours from here at the University of Nevada - Las Vegas, went on to write and direct some of the greatest genre films of the 90s (usually for Charles Band's Empire/Full Moon pictures) - The Seduction, Puppet Master and Netherworld are absolutely wonderful films (yes....I enjoyed The Seduction!).  In fact, a quick perusal of his IMDB page represents a renaissance man.

By all means, when you watch this film, listen to the director commentary.  If you are in film school, if is full of great tidbits and advice that are as relevant today in the world digital filmmaking as it was over 30 years ago - ultimately, no matter what medium you are using - 16mm to digital video, you have to deal with actors, plot points and special effects.

This is a film I saw years ago in high school, and it has bounced around in my memory ever since (I'm sure Tanya Roberts wardrobe may have played some small part in that).  It was refreshing to watch it again with older eyes....and yes, I'm still impressed by the film (and Tanya Roberts).



Tourist Trap


Tourist Trap Soundtrack CD