This is an Election Year, and I am tempted to just keep that title for the rest of the year, which I’ll likely spend pretending to not be a member of the human race. Have you looked at the paper lately? It’s scary out there.
But this is not about politics. I will freely discuss this morning’s bowel movements before I will discuss politics, and let me be frank here, I will not discuss this morning’s bowel movement. Banging my head repeatedly into a brick wall is preferable to discussing politics, as the brick wall will let me stop, yet the end result is the same.
So now that I’m discussing politics, let me segue smoothly into what this is actually about, which is what I did on President’s Day.
Now, I realize that I am a poor excuse for an American because I did not buy new furniture on President’s Day, which is apparently the traditional method of celebration. No, in a series of mishaps and professional obligations, there had not been a Crapfest in many months. Some of us felt this absence quite keenly, and bemoaned the fact that there was a major project at Main Street Theater that was taking host Dave out of the equation through March.
Then Dave remembered President’s Day.
That was going to be a day off for him, and for Alan, who is another actor who wouldn’t be doing children’s shows on a school holiday. I work at a State college, so I was also free for that day, and the economy had finally caught up with Rick, who was unemployed, or as he put it, “Finally free to find a decent job.” Paul and Jeff had to work, as they are employed by Nazis who care nothing for our great country’s heritage and furniture shopping. The Other Dave had to bow out at the last minute, dealing with a flu epidemic in his household.
So there was just the four of us, the original four. Haha, how we laughed at the others, and indulged in the sudden glut of fabulous junk food that had brought in anticipation of a crowd twice our size. We were the Hardcore of the Apocalypse!
And, judging from the way the evening played out, we were determined to put that to the test.
As we counted coup, doled out the chips and various dips and party trays, the Warner Archive disc of The Mighty Mightor and Moby Dick played in the background. Yes, the glorious days of a caveman superhero and a literary giant reduced to fighting supervillains with two teens named Tom and Tub. You can safely assume Tub was the fat one.
Dave then started the ball rolling with… oh God… with… (just take a deep breath and say it) …Jokes My Folks Never Told Me. You will get nervous during the opening credits when you notice the number of Woolerys involved in this production – not one of which is Chuck. This could generously be called a sketch anthology movie in the vein of Kentucky Fried Movie, though lacking the wit, originality, or energy of that movie. The script for Jokes is apparently taken from one of those “adult” joke books I kept seeing in bus terminals back in the 70s. The reason your folks never told you these jokes were a) your parents likely had some wit and taste, and b) they knew how pathetically ancient the jokes were, and assumed they had long ago been buried in the cornfield.
Actions which – in the source joke, in its original form in that joke book – would be glossed over with a few words, are played out in real time to pad the running time. There are plenty of naked women to make sure you don’t demand your money back, yet not enough to dull the ennui that somehow also cuts like a knife. Here’s a clip. Don’t click on it.
The middle part of the first joke has been cut out, as it involves whichever Penthouse centerfold that is gettin’ nekkid; I am sure you can supply what happens in the middle thanks to the joke’s denouement. The second joke is significant, I am told, because the teen is a young Anthony Keidis from The Red Hot Chili Peppers. That is still no reason to click on this clip, which, incidentally, you should not do.
FOOL! I TOLD YOU NOT TO DO THAT! Well, now, imagine this going on for 82 minutes. I also swear that the movie was actually three hours long. In fact, Dave was surprised to discover that the second gorilla sketch was NOT the end of the movie, and that it in fact went on for another twenty minutes/years.
I took this photo of Rick at the very moment his soul left his body, after about the third “Farmer’s Daughter” sketch:
Dave claims he was introduced to this movie at the age of 12 by some hellspawned classmate whose parents had Showtime or something. Dave is also a horrible War Crimes Nazi whose word cannot be trusted in any way, manner or form.
We started doing serious damage to Dave’s vodka supply during this, and decided to cook up the pulled pork Rick had brought to fortify ourselves, and to let scar tissue develop over our raw, bleeding psyches after Jokes My Folks Never Told Me. During this, we played Sh! The Octopus which I was introduced to by Sandy Peterson at the last T-Fest. Sh! is a darned fine parody of Old Dark House movies, made during the heyday of old dark house movies, featuring some jokes the Three Stooges would later rip-off and that odd comedian who goes “Woo hoo hoo! Woo hoo!” during old Looney Tunes. It is also available from Warner Archive, a gesund on them.
It was also apparently too full of quality, as it was pulled off before finishing, even if it is only about an hour long. Too bad, as we never got to the best damned part of the movie. THIS IS A TREMENDOUS SPOILER, so don’t watch it if you ever intend to see Sh! The Octopus or if you have a head full of drugs:
And what did we take Sh! The Octopus off to watch? Things. This is bitter irony at industrial levels of bitter.
There is an alternate timeline in which I never fell in with the Daily Grindhouse guys, and in which I never saw Things. This alternate me is much happier, and does not have the pale, haunted look which I now sport. Things is a Canadian straight-to-video horror movie, from the spectacular salad days of Canadian straight-to-video horror movies. By which I mean a couple of metalhead hosers decided they liked horror movies, so they should make a horror movie. How hard can it be, eh?
Things is made on Super 8, the sound is almost totally dubbed, the music editing is done, charitably, with a hatchet and scotch tape. In order to get some name recognition for the box, they gave porn star Amber Lynn $2500 to play a news anchor and to read some cue cards which get further and further away from the camera. The only bit I can find on YouTube is a mash between one of Lynn’s more lucid news bumpers, and an appearance by star/producer Barry Gillis on actual Canadian TV to pimp the movie:
Thank your lucky stars that there’s no more of Things on YouTube. This movie is maddening. A horror movie plot is set in place, which is then studiously ignored for most of the movie. Excuses like “Dream logic” and “surrealism” are tendered in its defense – and the trouble is you can almost buy that. Why would characters be doing strange, nonsensical things in these circumstances, unless the script meant them to? Is there even really a script? Is this genius, or hackwork?
If I were to go through every bizarre … thing… in Things, we would be here all night. Here’s The Daily Grindhouse podcast that started this misery. Joe Bannerman says I sound defeated throughout. That’s a fair assessment. I can tell you it hit Crapfest like a neutron bomb. Alan’s brain seemed to shut itself down in self-defense. His wife would later ask us what we had done to him. “Destroyed his ability to ever again feel joy” was the answer.
Curse you, Canada. You fight dirty.
There really is no way to follow up Things; everything tastes like ashes. Dave put on possibly the only thing he could, which was Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. This is the short film that traces the professional life of Karen Carpenter and her ultimate death due to anorexia nervosa – and it’s all done with Barbie dolls. Despite that, it’s a serious look at the disorder, and quite sympathetic to Karen, although this is accomplished by making everybody else unsympathetic. The work with the dolls is pretty remarkable, especially the sets. However, filmmaker Todd Haynes didn’t get permission for the umpteen songs used on the soundtrack, lost a copyright infringement suit, and all copies of the movie were ordered destroyed (though apparently MoMA keeps a copy it cannot show). Therefore, WE WERE STRIKING A BLOW FOR LIBERTY ON PRESIDENTS DAY, YO.
Alan excused himself about midway through Superstar; he had early morning shows the next day. He was currently involved in Jackie and Me, which is about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball, and he was apparently playing Utility Racist #1. Too bad he left early, because we finished up the evening with something Rick had been plugging for a long time, and I finally came over to his side after hearing a Projection Booth podcast on it: Darktown Strutters. If he’d stayed, Alan could have picked up some Racist Tips.
The Darktown Strutters is a small (four members) female motorcycle gang who all ride trikes and have impressively outre helmets. The leader, Syreena (Trina Parks, who played Thumper in Diamonds are Forever) is looking for her missing mother; she joins up with a street gang/doo-wop gang, finds out the corruption goes deep into the police’s reactionary Alert Squad, and is led by the local philanthropist/food magnate, who is a dead ringer for Colonel Sanders.
That short synopsis sounds like pretty typical blaxploitation fare, but what it does not tell is how bugfuck insane this movie turned out to be. This is basically a human cartoon, complete with sped-up foot chases and comedy sound effects. It is so far removed from reality that at its most racist, it somehow doesn’t seem too mean-spirited, and believe me, this movie is racist against everyone. At one point I opined that this was actually the movie Robert Townsend was in at the climax of Hollywood Shuffle, where the white director is telling him that his pimp character should thrust his butt out because “You know how those people walk.”
It is one bewildering moment after another; The Colonel has the world’s smallest cotton patch in his front yard, faithfully being picked by compliant darkies clad in Antebellum clothing, and numbers among his servants ringers for Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben (in fact, Aunt Jemima hands out huge pancakes to be used as throwing weapons in the final fight scene). Syreena, escaping the extensive dungeons under the mansion, comes upon The Dramatics, in a cell, who proceed to sing a medley of their hit, “What You See Is What You Get”, while Syreena grooves nearby (that particular alarm system certainly stopped her escape). There are Klansmen on motorcycles. The Alert Squad has a light the size of a Volkswagen atop their car. And, of course, the fat cop who is always getting stuck in the back seat of that car (and any doorway he encounters) is named Officer Tubbins, which is surely the best name since Porkins. Or maybe he was meant to be the character from Moby Dick, all grown up.
This is where Darktown Strutters – which was later re-titled Get Down and Boogie when it became apparent that no one wanted to see a movie named after a somewhat racist Ragtime standard – becomes a worthy follow-up to Things: is it a parody of blaxploitation movies? Or merely the worst blaxploitation movie ever made? (I still say that’s Blackenstein, but that’s a discussion for another day – we’re already over 2000 words here).
After Darktown Strutters, Dave, Rick and I just sat there for a while, silent, stunned. It had been a brutal evening, to be sure. Usually Crapfests are punctuated by at least one movie that is enjoyable and affirming in its own way – the musical version of Jack the Giant Killer, the unfettered mayhem of Shogun Assassin… this time, though, it was three movies that probably shouldn’t exist, for which there is no good reason, and we felt like we had gone ten rounds with Rocky. Dave later said he hadn’t felt that whipped since we had sat through an evening composed of three movies by or featuring Graydon Clark.
I wish to point out that was Dave’s brilliant idea, and everyone regretted it. Except for Rick, who finally got to see Joysticks again.
I felt tired, but it was a good tired. In a lot of ways, it was facing the worst life had to throw at you, and coming out the other side, shaken but alive and triumphant. There will some day be another Crapfest – and hopefully we will have some movies that have actual plots – but when those who did not attend complain about the movies, we will look at them from our battle-scarred heights and intone, “Fuck you. I’ve seen Things,” but only because it would take too long to say “Fuck you, Tinkerbell, I saw Jokes My Folks Never Told Me, Things AND Darktown Strutters all in the same day.“