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 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...."


Sunday, February 15, 2015

It's gonna blow.....Dynamite Chicken!

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!

I was a History teacher once.  A U.S. History teacher to be exact.

If I ever get around to getting my Ph.D - I might do it again some day.

I only mention this because the appeal of some films (perhaps virtually every film I discuss on this blog) is the ability to see the world as it once was...or at least as it was perceived to be.  I know it comes as no surprise to those who enjoy film, and genre films in particular, that it is a medium that often reflects the trials and turmoil of society at the time.  Not always accurately, occasionally augmenting the truth; but, still a lens to focus our perception of the world.  Often, the entire picture cannot be fully understood until some years have passed.  And that is why, thanks to a bit of poking around on Amazon Prime I discovered a picture, heretofore unknown to me.

Dynamite Chicken

The film is a politically and socially aware series of segments and skits loosely based on topics.  Later films would follow, somewhat, the same format - pictures such as The Groove Tube and Kentucky Fried Movie.

Dynamite Chicken is a film whose purpose is to evoke a response - whether the response is laughter or shock is unimportant ( I suspect).  To be entirely honest, although the film is almost as old as I, it certainly caused certain reactions - both positive and negative - in me.  I dare not go into detail on what portions of the film caused intellectual discomfort for me primarily because I write these essays as a simple lover of films.  I'm a political creature - but not here.  And, for me to be completely honest about which segments caused me to cringe would be giving away a bit too much of myself (and, in the world today, tends to lead to name calling).   But, the fact that a film that is four decades old can evoke a reaction is a testament to the brilliance of this picture.

The film is replete with comic genius with segments featuring Richard Pryor, Fred Willard, Bill Saluga (later known for the character Raymond J. Johnson), Ron Carey (Barney Miller) and Marshall Efron.  It also includes commentary by the likes of Paul Krassner, Al Goldstein and Jeff Buckley.  It also features musical performances from the likes of Joan Baez to Sha-Na-Na (yes - Sha-Na-Na).

To suggest the film is surreal is an understatement.  It has a short running time of just over 76 minutes and was clearly meant to be both an instrument to provoke a generation...and part of a well planned "trip".
I'm sure years later, I am not the only person to have viewed this motion picture free of drugs - but, I suspect in the initial run of the film, drugs were an essential element of the viewing experience.  And that is fine - I don't say that in a demeaning way.  If you can stand the overblown and intellectually vapid film Avatar simply because it is in 3D, enjoying a film meant to be viewed after ingesting drugs seems a great deal more honest.

I cannot entirely categorize the film as a comedy (nor would the film makers).  One of the most moving parts of the film is a recitation of the poem What I'm Doing Here by Leonard Cohen.  I'm posting the poem below because it, like much Cohen's work, is amazing; but, I've not been able to find the segment from the film on video, nor a reading of it to post.  Evidently the world thinks Cohen has only ever performed the song Hallelujah and I'm Your Man.

Ultimately, if you are looking for a piece of history meant to cause a reaction, I can absolutely suggest you view Dynamite Chicken. The fact that portions of it managed to get under my skin is a testament to this picture.  I'd love to say more - but, given the structure of the film it is a bit hard to write about it to the extent I feel it deserves.  And, in all candor, having lived through the 70s (and seeing some pretty wacky things during those years) I'm not an unbiased party.

I watched the film on Amazon Prime's free viewing- I'm not able to find it on Netflix. I did, however find a copy on YouTube (see below).  You can in fact  purchase a DVD of the film from Amazon and you can also rent a digital copy of it as well.  I'd encourage you to do.

What I'm Doing Here - Leonard Cohen

I do not know if the world has lied
I have lied
I do not know if the world has conspired against love
I have conspired against love
The atmosphere of torture is no comfort
I have tortured
Even without the mushroom cloud
still I would have hated
I would have done the same things
even if there were no death
I will not be held like a drunkard
under the cold tap of facts
I refuse the universal alibi
Like an empty telephone booth passed at night
and remembered
like mirrors in a movie palace lobby consulted
only on the way out
like a nymphomaniac who binds a thousand
into strange brotherhood
I wait
for each one of you to confess

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Don't Laugh, Children, Laugh at..... Gila!

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! 

The Wicker Man
The Day the Earth Stood Still
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Straw Dogs
The Fog

What do these films (and sadly) many others have in common?

Horrible remakes!

Look, I'm not opposed to a remake any more than I am seeing different people perform the same play.  One cast can bring something totally different to a performance of Death of a Salesman or The Phantom of the Opera.  The difference generally is...when someone does a revival of a formerly produced stage production, they have a deep degree of respect for the source material.  Sadly, however, someone can wave a paycheck in front of Tim Burton or Rob Zombie who can then "reimagine" a film while showing their lack of respect for the original.

Sometimes though, you find filmmakers who respect the original and then make an amazing remake while performing a proper homage to the original.  The Bill Dever produced and Jim Wynorski directed film Gila! is one such film.

If you have never seen the original The Giant Gila Monster, you can still entirely enjoy the 2012 remake.  However, I would heartily suggest that, in order to fully appreciate the remake to the fullest, first watch the 1959 Ray Kellogg version of the film.  I'm going to make an assumption - and that is, if you are reading this blog, you are not the kind of person who will let the 3.2 rating of The Giant Gila Monster on IMDB put you off.  I've never understood the degree of derision the film receives.  Sure, I suppose the title is a bit chuckle worthy, but, if you take the time to watch the original you'll be pleasantly surprised.  The cast, especially Don Sullivan, Fred Graham and Shug Fisher, are simply spot on and is a wonderful reminder of simpler times.  Like when the only people you had to worry about snooping on you were the other folks on a party line.  The original film succeeds not only as a great story, but, a wonderful time capsule of better days.

Bill Dever and Jim Wynorski could have taken the easy way out and updated the story to present day. Easier set dressing, easier wardrobe and easier to find cars.  But, no - they kept it as a period piece.  I've not had the pleasure of speaking to either of them about the film, but, I believe that, by keeping the film in the 1950s time period, they understand that part of the appeal of the original is the often kind-hearted and genuine presentation of small town America at the cusp of a quantum shift.  In a few short years after the original hit drive-ins, kids would go from listening to Elvis, working on cars and smoking cigarettes to doing....well, lets just say other things.

The story is changed just a bit so additional characters could be added. The film still includes the Winsteads, Mr. Compton, the good Sheriff and Mr. Wheeler. But, also adds the character Waco Bob (with some great backstory) and his girl friend Carla.  And, as a extra special bonus is the addition of Deputy Wilma portrayed by the great Kelli Maroney and Vera Wheeler played by the ever beautiful Julie McCullough.

And, although it is great to see Terence Knox, Kelli Maroney and Julie McCullough, the young cast is full of future stars in the making.  If you don't know the names Brian Gross, Christina DeRosa or Jesse Janzen will in time.  In all honesty, I don't think I've seen a Jim Wynorski film that didn't simply have a stellar cast, but, often times his casts are made up of known stars that he has worked with before.  I respect the hell out of that - it is one of the things I respect and admire about Fred Olen Ray and David DeCoteau as well.  But, I simply can't overstate the talent in the cast of Gila!

Trolling through IMDB, the film's budget is listed as only 900K, but, that honestly seems unlikely.  Before I saw that number I would have placed the budget at 5 times that.  And the reason I would only have thought five times is the film has plenty of outdoor scenes to pare down the budget. This production does not give any indication of the small budget.  The special effects were perfect for an "homage" to the original film.  And then take into account a cadre of gorgeous hot-rods, the attention to the details for a period piece, the film Gila! might very well be the best 900,000 dollars ever spent on a film.

I've enjoyed many of Jim Wynorski's less child friendly movies, but, this amazing film is a great little monster movie to watch with the kids on a Saturday afternoon.  And that was another thing I truly respected about this picture - not only does it remain in the original time period, but, the decision was made not to "toughen up" the film - the discussion of keesters and undercarriages didn't come off as pandering or simple - it seemed genuine and entirely true to the characters.

Finally, the inclusion of the Don Sullivan penned The Mushroom Song was not only'd have to be a bit hard hearted to not choke up a bit in the film's final minutes.

Honestly - I could go on and on about both films.  Stop what you are doing right now and watch both films with your kids.  Everyone will love it....and they will thank you for it years to come.