Sunday, May 24, 2015

You know you want....The Apple

Please - before you email me - read the disclaimer.

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!


Some films are, sadly, simply before their time.  One film that comes to mind is Shock Treatment. However, another film that was simply ahead of it's time is the brilliant Menahem Golan film - The Apple.  Set in the year 1994, the film revolves around the trials, tribulations and temptations of a duo from  Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart), competing in a a Eurovision type singing competition called Worldvision.  We see quite early in the film that  BIM (Boogalow International Music) head Mr. Boogalow  (Vladek Sheybal) is willing to be less than fair to make sure his duo Dandi and Pandi win the competition.



Although Alphi and Bibi did not win the competition, Mr. Boogalow still has big plans for them... or at least for Bibi. It is at this point in the film, where the story goes from standard rock opera to Judeo-Christian allegory.  However, the thematic turn the film takes is far from subtle and, I suspect, played some part in it's initial critical pillory. However, when I look back on films from the late 70s and early 80s, subtlety is certainly not something they are known for.



Many of the competitors arrive at the home of Mr. Boogalow where they are essentially forced to wear "BIM marks" and as the picture goes on, other visual cues begin to provide a more sinister impression of Mr. Boogalow and his "BIM Family".  In time we are presented with a scene that takes place in Hell where Mr. Boogalow and his assistant Mr. Shake (brilliantly performed by Ray Shell) present Bibi with "The Apple" and encourage her to take it and eat it.



Eventually, Bibi's desire for fame is stronger than Alphie's ability to warn her about the path she is going down.  The duo split and go their separate ways to live their specific Hell.  At this point the film has a number called "Cry for Me" that, in fact, is very moving.  It's a strong song and sold by Catherine Mary Stewart and George Gilmour.  I believe if you have ever been separated from someone either by choice or chance the song and that segment of the film will affect you.



The religious symbolism continues until the end of the film.  Watch for the wonderful Joss Ackland as the Hippie leader Mr. Topps to bring the film to its ultimate Biblical conclusion.

As I've mentioned, the film is about as subtle as a gold brick to the back of the head.  Nevertheless, I find myself enthralled with this film.  I believe as cautionary tales go it is sound, although, I believe I perceived some possible homophobia in some of the parts of the film, mostly in background characters and some of the visual points the film was trying to make.  But, I give the film kudos for predicting the future must the same way Shock Treatment did.  Although, the film misses the mark regarding what technology and fashion would be like only 14 years later - it certainly felt to me as if it was spot on regarding the desire for fame for fame's sake.



Although the Eurovision singing completion has been a staple since 1956, I also see the rise of such time wasters as American Idol and The Voice in this film.  A world controlled by essentially a single media conglomerate deciding what is art, what you'll listen to and what you'll watch.  I believe the 1994 of The Apple is similar to the 2015 of today in that you have 500 channels to watch, with 492 of them controlled by the same three media firms.  How is that choice? And why have we let it come to that?

 If you read about this film on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes you'll find very few kind words about the sound track.  However, I found, with the exception of the first two numbers, most of the film's music is not bad.  I have found myself humming 3 or 4 of the songs when I'm driving or just at work.  The piece I mentioned earlier, "Cry for Me" is good as are "Showbizness" – Vladek Sheybal & Ray Shell and "How to Be a Master" – Vladek Sheybal, Grace Kennedy, Allan Love & Ray Shell.



The film is available currently on NetFlix and Amazon Prime.  I'd encourage you to check it out with a fun and open mind and I think you'll discover a lost nugget that deserves some praise.







Friday, May 22, 2015

In Defense of Bad Movies.....Defined

After some comments and emails I've received, I feel it might behoove me to explain definitively the title of my blog, as well as define the type of films I "defend".

As I've mentioned for some time in my disclaimer, the title of the blog came from a conversation that took place some years ago at the University of Redlands.  I worked with two individuals who seemed, for the most part, incapable of understanding my love and enjoyment of genre films.  It was they, in fact, who labeled the films I would discuss with them as "bad".



One Friday afternoon as we were attempting to ensure we broke nothing before the start of the weekend, the topic came up and I was once again trying to lay out the very argument I will provide later in this essay.  I opened with the line "Well....in defense of bad movies.." when one of them stopped me and said - "There, that should be the name of your blog."

It seemed like a good idea then, and given my feelings today, I still feel like it was a good idea.  But, I should point out - there is not a film I've written about yet on my blog that I believe to be a bad.... genuinely.  Each film I've written about I believe has a quintessential element that allows me to define the film as "good" rather than "bad".



Let me explain.

I tend to write about films from 1950 through 2000.  There have been some exceptions when I find a film that I feel has qualities similar to films from that time period (Jim Wynorski and Bill Dever's Gila! is one of those films).  I choose that period because I find that four decade period "bookends" both the rise and fall of the drive-in and the rise and decline of the "Mom and Pop video store" and the rise of digital film making.  All of those elements are important in how I perceive a film.  My thinking goes like this.



Today, if you really want to make a "film", you can grab your digital camera and a couple of friends and very likely knock something out that has a certain polished look.  You can do it for very little money and perhaps even less effort.  Are each of those efforts bad?  No.  Are each good?  No.  But, I think if you listen to the new director's commentary featuring Fred Olen Ray and moderated by David DeCoteau on the Blu-Ray release of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers you'll get a better understanding of what some of the greatest film makers working today had to go through to make art just thirty years ago.

You needed a crew, lights, a 16 or 35 millimeter camera.  For 35 mm your were going to need to rent a Panavision camera.  Then you had lab costs, color correction.  And you certainly weren't going to edit the film on your PC.  My point is - no matter how "bad" a film by Andy Milligan may seem, a great deal more effort went into making that film and distributing it than need go into films today.



Don't get me wrong, I'm glad David DeCoteau, Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski have these digital tools at their disposal now.  But, I'm also inclined to give them a pass these days because they had to make films the hard way. So did George Romero, John Carpenter, Charles Band, Dan O'Bannon, H.G. Lewis...Hell, the list goes on.  So, I'm sure there are new films shot on digital that are good- I do watch them from time to time.  But, my blog is really meant to show some love and respect to film makers that blowhards like Roger Ebert denigrated for years.

Sure, some of the films I defend aren't good in the conventional sense.  But, in the world of lower budget film making some very talented people were working against the clock.  A low budget meant there wasn't always time for that last polish of the screenplay, extra work on a set, or getting that makeup effect down perfectly.  But, a film like Transformers 2, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, or the God-awful Indiana Jones film from a decade ago have no excuses.  They had huge studios with pockets full of cash.  None of those films should have sucked...and they did.  Those film makers cared less about their audience than the genre directors.  Michael Bay laughs all the way to the bank - where Tobe Hooper was trying to make a great film.



I'm pretty certain if you had given Andy Milligan a budget like Michael Bay had for Transformers, or hell, even for a film like The Sixth Sense, his work would have more respect today.

So, please remember - I didn't call my blog In Defense of  Bad Movies because I think Lust in the Dust or Barracuda are bad films.  Quite the contrary.  I think some amazing people busted their asses to make the best film they could with the resources they had - and that should be celebrated not sneered at.

Art is Art!











Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Rewritten Ode to.....Kristine DeBell

I'd like to apologize briefly for the lack of updates.  I'm happily employed and very thankful for that, however, like everyone else, I find work, on occasion, leaves little time for other things - like writing. But, I appreciate the positive emails and the messages wondering about new articles.



This is the second article I've written about the actress Kristine DeBell.  The first is now long gone, not even captured by the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive.  Some of you might recall a period roughly a year and a half ago when this blog went dark. Not only did I stop writing new articles, I removed all the essays I had previously written.  Some of the articles I had copies of and I have re-posted them.  Some are gone, never to be retrieved.

I knew almost the instant they were gone I would regret it.  However, I was trying to make people happy who were, I can only speculate, letting their own insecurities blind them...and then blind me. There are things worth getting offended by, but, I don't think writing about unappreciated films, writers and actors is one of those things - no matter the genre.



That said - I'd like to to this opportunity to write (once again) about one of cinema's most under under-appreciated actresses - Kristine Debell.

Growing up, I was a very lucky kid.  My dad loved going to the drive-in and so, thankfully, I saw some films that other kids my age didn't get to see...or probably shouldn't have seen.  I won't mention the first film I saw Ms. DeBell star in because it doesn't need to be mentioned. However, her beauty and purity made the film somehow believable and, I was smitten from this first moment.



It might be hard to understand for younger readers, but, in the days before social media, keeping up with a specific genre actor or actress was not entirely easy.  There was no Twitter or Facebook, no Instagram or Pinterest.  If the actress you truly appreciated flew under the radar, finding out about upcoming film roles and getting news about them personally could be a daunting task, if not essentially impossible.  It was my father's yearly purchase of Leonard Maltin's book that allowed me to seek out and watch other films starring Kristine DeBell.

I saved my money to watch (and re-watch) Meatballs and wondered, as I sat there, how Kristine was not the star of the film.  I stumbled upon Battle Creek Brawl, and even her small role in The Main Event.  Each week I'd scour the TV Guide for films featuring her, making sure, in those pre-VHS set the VCR to record days, that I set my alarm clock to get up and watch the film.



As the age of the Internet gave way to sites like IMDB and newsgroups, I began to trade for tapes of films she starred in but I was unable to find at any of the video stores in the Inland Empire.  And although access to some of the more obscure films increased, it appeared Ms. DeBell had left acting. Thankfully, technology did make DVDs of some films I was still lacking available...and they are treasured disks in my collection.

I remember asking for any updated information about her on a couple of the newsgroups and was only ever met with the replies that were asking the same thing.  In my head she was teaching college somewhere - English or Math - with her students unaware of who their brilliant professor was or perhaps she was running a business - now far too busy closing deals to worry about acting.



Then one day, a new picture of her showed up on IMDB.  I was completely overjoyed because it was a recent picture and she appeared to be the same beautiful, bright-eyed spirit she had been in my youth.  After that I began to check the page regularly looking for new roles....and they came - shorts and cameos.  And then thanks to one of my favorite people and directors, David DeCouteau, feature length films.

It brings no end of joy to me that I can now go to Netflix and Hulu and find films starring Kristine DeBell - She was then and is now, a monumental talent. And I know her best work is still in front of her.  The Oscars and Emmys are still in her future.  I'm convinced of that.

I've always wanted to meet Ms. DeBell and thought I was going to have a chance last year at a Dark Delicacies event, however, as is too often the case these days, work called and instead of a quick drive to Burbank it was a quick drive to campus to resolve a problem.



Nevertheless, some day I hope to meet her and shake her hand.  As the first star I was ever truly enamored with, she will always hold a special place for me. The 70s and 80s were great because Kristine DeBell was making films....and the world is an even better place now that she is once again


Kristine DeBell's IMDB Page

Be sure to follow Kristine DeBell on Twitter  - @KristineDeBell

And also check out her Official Facebook Fan Page at https://www.facebook.com/kristinedebellfans?fref=ts

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Tale of a....Midnight Movie

Please - before you email me - read the disclaimer.

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  

Sometimes I really disappoint myself.  Sometimes I let a jewel of a film go unwatched for far too long.  Tonight film is one of them - a modern day classic with jolts and scares to spare.



The film begins in a mental institution, where the writer, director and star - Ted Radford (played with creepy perfection by Arthur Roberts) of a 40 year old slasher film has been committed.  The key to his madness appears to be the very film he made - a picture called The Dark Beneath.  Radford's doctor decides perhaps the best therapy will be to show Radford the film and confront him with his own obsession in spite of the warning from Dr. Wayne (played by Michael Swan).  The film is started for Radford and Dr. Wayne has to leave.

When he returns he finds the hospital a bloody mess.  Clearly many people were murdered but not a single body can be found.  This was one of the most effective opening sequences I've seen in modern horror film in quite some time.  Creepily atmospheric and engaging...I knew then I had made a wise choice in my evening film viewing.

Five years have passed since the events at the hospital, and a small, single screen theater is showing a midnight movie....The Dark Beneath.  Before the film begins we are introduced to the films protagonists.  Some of the characters are better developed than others, however, they are not the standard cookie-cutter late teens you generally find in films.  Also in attendance is a biker dude and his girlfriend, who were two characters I thought would be cast offs, with little development and nothing to do.  Nevertheless, those two characters play against type and I felt really showcased the fine writing and directing skill of Jack Messitt.

With our characters in place, including the ten year old little brother of the theater manager, The Dark Beneath is started and what begins is a spooky and well done film within a film.  Not an entirely uncommon trope (Purple Rose of Cairo and The Last Action Hero) but never has it been played for scares.  And be patient while watching because you'll believe there are flaws in the logic of our heroes, but, as the film continues the apparent logical mistakes are absolved.



The cast is small but amazing -

Rebekah Brandes as Bridget
Daniel Bonjour as Josh
Greg Cirulnick as Mario
Mandell Maughan as Samantha
Stan Ellsworth as Harley
Melissa Steach as Babe
Jon Briddell as Detective Doug Barrons
Michael Swan as Doctor Dave Wayne
Michael Schwartz as Sully
Justin Baric as Timmy
Brea Grant as Rachael
Shawn Ausmus as Kenny
Arthur Roberts as Ted Radford



Despite many in the cast being quite young you'll see some familiar faces, including Daniel Bonjour who just finished a small stint in a recent season of the Walking Dead.  I have to admit I was very taken with the cast.

However, I'm clearly in the minority if you do some reading about this film on other sites (except that the "kills" are good - c'mon folks - even a hardcore genre movie lover like me gets a little put off when reviewers discuss "good kills".  What can I say, I'm an old fart).  Still, I will share one of the less enthusiastic  reviews so that you can  get both sides.

Review of Midnight Movie from Horror Movie A Day

But, in my point of view, there are worse ways to spend 85 minutes.  I caught the film on Hulu but, it may be available elsewhere.  Also, for those who enjoy having the actual disk, there is a special edition floating around that is probably worth a look and I will try to pick up a copy at the next Con I go to or perhaps Dark Delicacies in Burbank.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

A trip to The Beyond by way of The Bay of Blood

Please - before you email me - read the disclaimer.

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



First - my apologies for the length of time between posts.  My job is a bit 24/7 and so carving out time has become an issue.  But, in any case, onward and upward.

When people think of Italian artists, the names that initially come to mind may well be Botticelli, Raphael or Michelangelo.  But, if you are grindhouse fan you may also think Fulci, Bava and Argento.  Tonight lets take a look at classics by Bava and Fulci.  I'm consolidating these two films because they are both very well known, but I wanted to add my two cents.



First - the Bava classic The Bay of Blood (Netflix title)
or Bay of Blood
or Twitch of the Death Nerve
or The Odor of Flesh
or Carnage
or Last House on the Left - Part II (although it has nothing to do with the Wes Craven film)

Well, you get the point.  Rumor has it, but honestly I can't confirm, this film has more alternate title than any film in history.  In the 80s, when I was first dabbling in Italian horror films, I knew the film as Twitch of the Death Nerve, and was unaware of the multiple titles.  Then, when I started going to conventions, you'd see the film listed under different titles at the tables selling legit (and on occasion non-legit) copies of films.  I wondered how many people picked up tapes with different titles but ended up with the same film?


The plot is quite intricate and belays the reputation some cinema snobs have as grindhouse films being a bit simplistic.  It revolves around the titular "Bay" mentioned in at least one of the titles of the film, and desire for a number of people to take control of the property owned by Countess Frederica (Isa Miranda).  Mere moments into the film, the Countess is murdered in such a way to make it appear a suicide.  From there, various characters pave their roads to hell attempting to eliminate anyone else who may be able to lay claim on the valuable property.


The rest of this picture plays out as part Agatha Christie "Ten Little Indians" as those who can lay claim to the property are dispatched, and part biting black comedy (the final scene is both dark and head-scratchingly humorous in a very dark, dark way ; because, let's face it - Greed can be Deadly.

I'm not one to discuss "kills" in films.  I find that a bit odd.  However, the 13 "Kills" in this film were essentially part of the initial advertising.  Two things the viewer should note; the first is the clear homage director Steve Miner paid to this picture in Friday the 13th Part 2.  There are two murders in the Bava film that are done almost shot for shot in the FT132 almost ten years after the release of Bay of Blood.  In the days before social media, these were fitting "shout outs" from one artist to another.

However, the other thing I noticed is, for all the talk of killing in this film, there is nothing in this picture that isn't blown out of the water in the first ten minutes of an episode of Bones.  In fact, I read a review of a special edition of this film by someone who shall remain nameless and they stood firmly atop their soap box decrying the degree of violence in this film (which makes one wonder if they had heard of Mario Bava at all) but all I could think was "You don't watch television do you?"  It is not uncommon for me to walk through my living room and find my wife and daughter watching something on prime time television that looks like some of Savini's best work from 1979.  I don't mean to sound like an old man, I just think it is an interesting observation.


In any case, this is considered one of Bava's mot influential works and is often credited for jump starting the "slasher craze" of the 70s and early 80s.

If you are interested in watching this picture - it is available on Netflix, and the picture was....okay.  Watchable, but, appears to have an old VHS as its source material.





Thanks to a benevolent benefactor at my place of employment, I was able to watch a gorgeous special edition copy of the Fulci film The Beyond ( a restored copy recently played at the Nu-Art but...24/7 thing - I was unable to attend).  In any case I feel as though this is one of Fulci's best known works and it is one insanely evocative and atmospheric film (but, lets face it - that was one of Fulci's strongest abilities).



Again, like most Italian giallo affairs, this is not a simple or one dimensional film.  Beginning in 1927 New Orleans,  a lynch mob murders a man they believe to be a warlock at the Seven Doors Hotel.  This, in fact, opens one of the Seven Doors of Death.  Opening the door permits the dead to enter the world of the living.

Fast forward to 1981, a young woman from New York named Liza (played perfectly note for note by Katherine MacColl) inherits the hotel with plans of re-opening it.  Unfortunately, her attempts at renovating the hotel reactivate the door...and soon she and Dr. John McCabe (the late David Warbeck) find themselves having to deal with an increasing number of strange incidents culminating in one of the most disturbing endings of a film I have ever encountered.



The special edition from Anchor Bay that I watched had a 1997 audio commentary recorded for Laserdisc (remember those?) featuring MacColl and Warbeck.  The commentary was recorded only weeks before Warbeck was succumb to cancer.  It was fascinating to hear their memories of working with both Fulci and the locals of New Orleans during the making of this picture.  It is clear their respect for the great director was sincere.



Again, it is odd to think back to the 80s when Fulci's works seemed edgy and insanely violent.  Of course, The Walking Dead has picked up where Fulci left off and amplified it ten fold - which I like to hope is Greg Nicotero's homage to Fulci.

As I mentioned, I was lucky enough to get my hands on (if only for a time) the special edition DVD.  However, this film is available on Hulu, and the transfer is not bad.  So, if you're feeling like some Italian - order some pie and take in these classics by Bava and Fulci.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Because in the End....Surf Nazis Must Die!

Please - before you email me - read the disclaimer.

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!



Popular culture has always been a mirror on the fears of the general population.  In the 50s there were films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, On the Beach and Invasion of the Body Snatchers - each film an example of specific prospects of a Soviet rise to power after the second world as well as the Soviet Union becoming a nuclear power.  This followed through the 60s and 70s with classics such as Dr. Strangelove, Fail-Safe, and Twilight's Last Gleaming



Although the fear of nuclear war continued to be a topic of popular culture in the 80s (The Day After and even The Terminator), violent crime was a topic that was used to bring in box office bucks as well.  The country's fear of falling victim to violent crime was stoked immensely by the 1974 classic Death Wish (and its many sequels) and continued through the 80s with films such as Robocop and the topic of this essay - Surf Nazis Must Die!



I have watched this film every two or three years since I picked it up on video in the late 80s.  It is often classified as a comedy, and I can only assume that has to do with the title.  When I mention this film to those who haven't heard of it, or seen it, there is generally a giggle (or even the occasional guffaw). Nevertheless, the film is not a comedy.  There are no real chuckles in this film, nor, I am convinced, is there meant to be.  Unless you find the film The Warriors to be funny also.



A major earthquake has demolished the LA coastline, leaving most areas in ruins and making the beaches lawless zones giving rise to a number of gangs.  The most brutal are the Surf Nazis who consider themselves the rulers of "The New Beach". The Surf Nazis are ruled over by Adolf (portrayed by Barry Brenner) and his female moll Eva (played by the always beautiful and talented Dawn Wildsmith).  Despite tensions among the other Nazis, such as Mengele (the brilliant Michael Sonye AKA Dukey Flyswatter), Hook ( Joel Hile), Brutus (Gene Mitchell) and Smeg (Tom Shell), the Surf Nazis attempt to consolidate their power to allow them to lord over the New Beach.

However - they did not anticipate the scorn of Mother Washington.



Mother Washington (the amazing Gail Neely) is put in a rest home by her son after the destruction of her house by the great earthquake.  Already upset at losing her independence, her breaking point is reached when her oil executive son is murdered after crossing the Nazis.  Mama Washington sets out to avenge her son's death.

The film could have played out as a straight actioner, with little or no character development.  But, that is not the case.  When Adolf asks around the bonfire "What was your worst moment?" the responses provide insight to the creation of the characters.  And, the beautiful Bobbie Bresee also makes an appearance as Smeg's Mom and provides insight to the tensions at home as she attempts to keep her son away from the Surf Nazis.

Certainly, like most any film, this one has its minor flaws. However, let me quote the Wikipedia article on this fine film.

Surf Nazis Must Die was criticized by reviewers as boring and hard to follow, and its acting, dialogue, and camerawork were widely panned. Janet Maslin wrote "Not even the actors' relatives will find this interesting." Roger Ebert stated that he walked out of the film after 30 minutes.



I simply take umbrage with this.  The film is not boring in any way.  As for hard to follow...perhaps if you have a below room temp IQ or no concept of social interaction.  To be entirely honest...if Roger Ebert walked out of this film, that is reason enough for me to love it.  On a side rant - I've said this before and I will say it again - I will never understand the idol worship of Roger Ebert.  He was a caustic, petty man who made a living tearing down the hard work of others.  Sure, I understand that as much I love this film, it isn't Casablanca, but, perhaps it could have been given additional pre-production, another rewrite and a slightly bigger budget.  Sometimes it is worth looking deeper and seeing what might have been.  People worked hard to make this film - so nice of Mr. Ebert to walk out on people he didn't even know.



In any event, I watched the film on Netflix.  I couldn't find it on Hulu or Amazon Prime.  I have to be honest - the Netflix version was a bit pixelated and not the finest transfer but, nevertheless, very watchable.  However, it appears the Troma YouTube channel has a very nice version (see below).







Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Twisted Brain goes to....Horror High

Please - before you email me - read the disclaimer.

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!



Gone for the most part are the days of the drive-in and the video store.  Also gone is the independent television station.  Those small bastions of entertainment unsupported by a network franchise that filled their broadcast hours with glorious wonders like My Favorite Martian and Dobie Gillis in the afternoon and then pulled out the real gems for the late night movie.



On an August night in 1982, it was the independent KPLR channel 11 (which appears to now be a CW affiliate ) that aired an amazing little piece of Americana.  And, if I've learned anything in researching this brilliant film it is this - everyone remembers the paper cutter.

When I saw the film the title was Twisted Brain - and when I re-watched the film recently on Amazon Prime, that is the title card still used.  Given that the film is essentially a Jekyll and Hyde story, I'm not certain that title was accurate, but, it certainly whetted my appetite on that August night as I settled in with a couple of Mello Yello sodas and a bag of Doritos (back when I could consume 10,000 calories a day and not put on weight).



The film, directed by Larry Stouffer and written by J.D. Feigelson (who also wrote the wonderful Dark Night of the Scarecrow), is the story of nerdy and put upon Vernon Potts (played perfectly note for note by Pat Cardi).  Vernon is convinced he can change the physical appearance as well as the mental state of a test subject.  In Vernon's case, his test subject is a Guinea Pig named Mr. Mumps.

Sadly for Mr. Mumps and Vernon, they are both endlessly tormented. Mr. Mumps by Mr. Grigg's (portrayed almost too well by Jeff Alexander) rat killing cat and Vernon by virtually everyone else in the school except for the beautiful and kind-hearted Robin (played by Rosie Holotik).



In a turn of events that involves janitors, cats, flashlights and sulfuric acid, poor Vernon consumes his formula and unleashes the...Twisted Brain.  And from that point the film is one part Jekyll and Hyde and one part revenge.  The film culminates in an ending I wasn't expecting in the summer of '82 and was no less bothersome to me today.  I wouldn't say the ending affects my interest in this film - it was certainly the most realistic ending. But, at 2 in the morning perhaps not the ending I wanted.

I cannot suggest this is a forgotten gem.  A simple web search suggests the picture is fondly remembered for its late night showings at drive-ins and on television alike.  Many of the fine people associated with this film continue to work in the industry including the always amazing Austin Stoker who portrays  Lt. Bozeman in this film, but is also remembered by many film lovers from classics like Battle for the Planet of the Apes and Assault on Precinct 13.  Pat Cardi went on to work extensively behind the camera. I was lucky enough to find a great interview with him on www.terrortrap.com and I've included the link below.



Code Red release a special edition DVD in 2010 that is a bit hard to come by - I'm seriously considering picking up a pricey copy.  My review is based on the rather poor transfer available on Amazon Prime, but, when you see the comparison pictures of the Code Red edition you realize how glorious this film can look.  There are even some collector priced VHS tapes available out there as this title has been released multiple times in various formats.  To date, no Blu-ray is available yet, but, perhaps if interest continues to build for this wonderful little film a Blu-ray may yet happen (with many extra features!!).

So, if you are feeling nostalgic and missing the 70s or the 80s - track down Horror High AKA Twisted Brain and remember why you fear the paper cutter!


An Interview with Pat Cardi from Horror High

Sunday, February 22, 2015

You need a little.....Shock Treatment.


Please - before you email me - read the disclaimer.

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! 

"Once upon a time, in a town not far from yours, there lived a real fast guy. 

His life was fast, his friends were fast, and, even his food was fast. But, he was still not satisfied. He wanted to share his fast philosophy with someone else... a beautiful girl. 

Trouble was ...she was in the arms of another man."

And thus begins one of the finest films ever made; and I truly mean it.  A film three decades ahead of its time.

Shock Treatment.


Like almost every college student in the mid 80s, I spent many a Friday and Saturday night at the student union watching the midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (and picking rice out of my hair the next morning).  Only one thing could make that film better...stumbling upon the follow up film on video in 1984.



Shock Treatment was initially released in November 1981, only to receive a reaction similar to that of RHPS upon its release 7 years earlier.  It did not perform well. At the time of its release, I'd never seen the original film, but, thanks to many of the fanzines available at the time I was very aware of it and looked for the film to play my small town...it never arrived.

However, I stumbled upon a lone copy of the video tape in November 1984...and I've had a torrid love affair with the film since.  And, at each viewing of the film, I am endlessly amazed at how accurately it predicted (intentionally or not) America's endless fascination with reality television, groupthink and celebrity.



In fact, to accurately describe the plot of this film I could simply say - take a look at America today...and add Brad and Janet.  The film Shock Treatment takes places in a world where Denton (The Home of Happiness) is nothing but a television sound stage...and let's face - in Denton and America today - if you aren't on television you're nothing and if didn't happen on television, well then, maybe it didn't happen at all.

We find Brad and Janet having marital woes (now played by Cliff DeYoung and Jessica Harper). Roles have reversed (perhaps due to the events portrayed in RHPS). Where Brad was the strong reassuring one in Rocky, he is now milquetoast, clumsy and unable to stand up for himself.  Janet is strong and resents his failings.  After a stint on one of Denton's most watched shows - Marriage Maze - Brad finds himself committed and Janet is catapulted into fame by mogul Farley Flavors (also portrayed by Cliff DeYoung) who intends to use her as a poster child for "Sanity for today".  Or, as Flavors says "We're going to package and sell some mental health to the nation with my dream of the girl next door".  To help Flavors get what he wants (because Farley Expects!!), are a colorful cast of characters: Bert Schnick (portrayed brilliantly by Barry Humphries), Dr. Cosmo McKinley (Richard O'Brien) and Dr. Nation McKinley (Patricia Quinn).



But, as the Criminologist was the all-seeing voice of reason in RHPS, Judge Oliver Wright (played by the late, great Charles Gray) and divorcee Betty Hapschatt begin to investigate the odd events happening in Denton...and what part Brad plays in all of it.



Although I am endlessly stunned by the biting criticism of commercialism and ego portrayed in the film, this was not the film the creative team set out to make.  The film was to be shot in Denton, Texas and include Frank's love child borne of Janet...and even crazier scenarios.  However, an actor strike in the US and Alan Ladd Jr.'s departure from 20th Century Fox (do film lovers really understand how much they owe Alan Ladd Jr.?) derailed the initial plans. The brilliance we have today was plan B! And B stands for brilliance.



I will say this, although I fear having my home firebombed, I honestly prefer Shock Treatment to RHPS.  Please don't misunderstand me - I love RHPS and always will.  It is a beautiful and twisted tribute to horror and sci-fi from the 30's through the 60's. It allowed me to hang out with people who understood me and didn't judge.  It has a storied and vaunted past; how it came to be should be turned into a film.



Nevertheless, the story is certainly more layered and nuanced in the follow up and the songs...well, I just love the soundtrack.  It was only 15 years ago, with reality TV taking over television as shows like The Lone Gunmen, Freaks and Geeks and Firefly were being thrown into the ash bin, that I began to love the film for an entirely different reason.  Now the warnings of Shock Treatment are complete and I'm more likely to hear about Bruce Jenner's transformation or that Kim Kardashian farted in public than I am to hear about literally a trillion other things..... that actually matter.


In the last minutes of the film, things are wrapped up in a way only Richard O'Brien could conceive and the film closes with an anthem to doing what you have to do...with one of the most poignant lines you'll ever hear in a film...

" The Sun Never Sets On Those Who Ride Into It...."

 Indeed.