Hail to the Bandit, Baby

So there I was, tooling around, stacking up my reviews in advance of Hubrisween… and then Burt Reynolds up and died.

Whenever a famous person goes to their reward, I don’t usually do the “Well, I guess I know what I’m watching tonight” thing. The one exception I can think of was watching Head the night Davy Jones passed away, but then I don’t need much of an excuse to watch Head again. For some reason the passing of Reynolds was different. Maybe it was because I was approaching horror movie overload:

Remember, most recently watched is at the left. This is the obstacle I hit.

I wasn’t a big Reynolds fan. I didn’t dislike him, it’s just that, by and large, he decided to make movies that didn’t much appeal to me. When I did watch one, I was okay with the time spent. He was immensely likable and smooth in delivery. He was very good at what he did. But I watched him more in Dan August than I did on the big screen. Nonetheless, that was a legend passing, and I did have this $5 DVD of Smokey and the Bandit sitting around in its original shrinkwrap against just such an emergency.

And no, I had never seen it before. I have this snob reaction to popular movies, and man, saying Smokey and the Bandit was popular in 1977 is like saying Star Wars might have been popular around the same time (Smokey was #2 at the box office that year. guess what was first).  Oddly, I had no problems watching Star Wars multiple times…

Anyway, now I can say I’ve seen it. It was, as I expected, largely harmless redneck fun.

  • In case you passed over watching it as much as I did, Burt is the Bandit of the title, a trucking legend who, along with his partner Snowman (Jerry Reed) agrees to a challenge made by rich douchebags Big and Little Enos (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams), to run 400 cases of Coors Beer from Texarkana to Georgia in 48 hours for their big party.
  • It was impossible to get Coors east of the Mississippi at this time, as it wasn’t pasteurized and had to refrigerated constantly. Therefore, this was considered bootlegging.
  • As a lifelong Texan, I am amazed at this mythic quality attributed to Coors. It was available in Texas by the time I hit drinking age -18 in 1976 – and it was worshiped like a heathen idol. Eh.
  • Anyway, the plan is for Snowman to drive the truck with the beer way over the speed limit, and Bandit in a Trans-Am to run interference.
  • It is safe to say that Pontiac had a very good year thanks to this movie. My friend Scott points out that my opinion of the ubiquitous Trans-Ams on campus was “I want to either own them or blow them up.” I replied that was my attitude on a lot of things.
  • For the record, it still is.
  • On the way, Bandit picks up a literal runaway bride (Sally Fields), who will be his love interest for the rest of the movie and its sequel (and several years in reality).
  • I’d like to say that this viewing made me fall in love with Sally Fields all over again, but that would be a lie. I never fell out of love with her. She is just so goshdang adorable.

  • This pickup will also put him in direct conflict with Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), whose idiot son (Mike Henry) was the groom in the wedding Sally is running away from. Yes, this is the Smokey of the title.
  • They have adventures. There are many car crashes.
  • Besides Pontiac, makers of Citizen’s Band radios probably had a very good year.
  • God, remember CB radios? Never mind, you’re all children.
  • I wish Jackie Gleason had actually been given something funny to do. Richard Boone was up for the role, but Reynolds wanted someone who could actually be funny, and not quite such a drunk.
  • I have bad news for him about that. Gleason was a comedy genius, but whenever he asked his assistant to bring him a “hamburger”, he meant a glass of vodka.
  • This is director Hal Needham’s first movie – before this he had been a well-respected stunt guy (and this shows in his movies). This one of the least episodic of his flicks, but it’s still… pretty episodic.

Generally speaking, as mentioned above, I didn’t begrudge Smokey and the Bandit the time I spent on it. I probably resent the flood of truckers-as-modern-cowboys movies that followed more, like High-Ballin’ and Convoy. And The Villain. I will never stop resenting The Villain. Thank God Needham returned to car crash movies for most of his directing career (*cough* Megaforce *cough cough*).

Recovering from a Burt hangover

I’m more interested in how this derailed my planned movie watching for a while. As you can see below, I tried to jumpstart the Hubrisween train with Eaten Alive, which is a good documentary about Italian cannibal movies (Umberto Lenzi’s claiming to invent the genre is almost as entertaining as his claims in the similar documentary Yellow Fever that his giallo flicks are the best of all time), but obviously that didn’t take. Hence, Bikini Drive-in, which my Crapfest compatriots hardly suspect will be dropped on them at our next gathering (don’t tell them). That seemed to satisfy whatever beast had been awakened by the rural drive-in charms of Smokey, and I’ve got back into my questionable groove.

I hope whatever way you chose to give tribute to Reynolds’ career was as painless and somewhat nostalgic as mine.

Hubrisween is coming, so gird whatever version of loins you may possess.

There is Some Progress

Well, as you probably noticed from the last post, work is progressing on this year’s Hubrisween marathon. Progressing very well, in fact. Progressing so well that I briefly considered adding the more popular (and populated) Letterboxd event Hooptober (led by the redoubtable @Cinemonster, since there was the possibility of some overlap between the two lists…

And then I slapped myself back to sanity again. Because that would have been sheer madness. Hooptober does appeal to me, because it has a certain puzzle aspect to it. Here’s this year’s requirements:

That might have been fun – it was certainly fun coming up with a possible list that covered all those, but the overlap wasn’t big enough to make it feasible. There were a lot of movies on it I had intended to watch for some time, but I’ll have to find another way to force myself to find the time to watch them. Cinemonster’s full list is here if you’re on Letterboxd and so inclined.

The reason my Hubrisween stuff is going so swimmingly is twofold: first, I always try to write more on the lean side for marathons. I still find myself willing to go the blather route on some flicks, but overall I try to keep it brief. Add to that when I like a movie, I clam up even more. The discovery phase of a movie is very important to me, and it’s truly delightful when a movie surprises me, whether it’s by conceits or concepts or approaches or acting or imagery, so much so that I’ve started avoiding my beloved movie trailers (I had already been giving most production press a miss). I want you to have the same experience when I find a movie I like. And so far, I have liked almost every single movie I’ve watched.

Gosh, I wonder what movie it was that I hated?

In the interest of transparency, I should mention that’s only nine movies out of 26. Okay, so I only really liked six of those. Two were a “meh” and one I violently disliked. So a bit of truth-stretching is being engaged in here. But I’m ahead of my personal schedule, so much so that I’m taking tonight off because I scored a copy of the new Detective Dee movie, The Four Heavenly Kings, and I’m just

This is probably me and the rest of the movies on my list

going to soak in that. Overall, though, I’ve really enjoyed having structure applied to my blogging, so much so that, although I wasn’t stupid enough to do Hooptober, I’m looking at doing another marathon in December, and even considering bringing back March Movie Madness.

Yes, I really am that stupid.

The Horror of Boutiques 2018

After an evening of frustration dealing with a graphics program I only use once a year, and the program not willing to save the graphic in any form I wish to use it, then finding Facebook refusing to post this in any form for my fellow bloggers, or a link to a private page on this blog, I am finally forced to throw up my hands and say, here! It’s a preview! Coming your way in October! And then pour myself a double.


 

 

The King of Jazz (1930)

I always forget how hectic August becomes. Probably because I’m usually fixated on just surviving July.

Local Government: Artist’s Interpretation

As some of you know, I put a bit of bread on my table by working tech support at City government meetings, usually meaning sound, sometimes camera. August is the end of the fiscal year, so there’s a lot of budget crunching. Politicians like to be on the TeeVee, so damn near everything must be televised. Ergo, I get a lot of extra work in August. Whereas the money is extremely welcome, there is nothing that clears away the movie malaise I spoke of last time, like hearing a politician going off on the same subject a third time while the legal department tries once more to explain to them why something is being done the way it is being done.

Look, I already know I’m not going to get to watch every movie I want, or read every book, and I begin to actively resent anybody who willfully steals more of my dwindling hours on earth.

That is a major portion of the reason for my absence from this digital page; another is the approach of October, and the return of the traditional Hubrisween event. I am usually much further along on that project, and its time to buckle up, down, or under, or whatever the appropriate figure of speech might be. TL;DR: don’t expect anything on a regular basis from me until October, when you’re going to get heartily sick of me.

That being said, I actually managed to watch a movie! I did something!

Who…? What…?

Criterion recently put out a blu-ray of 1930’s The King of Jazz. Now, I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable about film as I’d like to be, so Criterion putting out a movie I’ve never heard of is not unusual. On top of that, I’m not an aficionado of jazz, but I could have sworn that the King of Jazz was somebody like Duke Ellington. But, you know, it’s Criterion, so it’s going to be worth a watch on some level.

The King of Jazz, in this case, is Paul Whiteman. As mentioned earlier, I’m not a particular fan of jazz – I find it listenable, by and large, but other musical genres are closer to my heart. So I’d never even heard of Paul Whiteman. Since my viewing, I’ve done some research. He was quite popular in the 20s and 30s, where he picked up the sobriquet, and still has some renown as a band leader and musical arranger. His was the orchestra that premiered Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, and that orchestra was the farm team for musicians like the Dorseys, Benny Goodman, and and Bix Biederbecke. The aforementioned Duke Ellington speaks well of him. Jazz, as we have come to know it today, has a lot to do with improvisation; the jazz that Whiteman is monarch of is best described as “syncopated dance music”. Perhaps literally, white man’s jazz.

Not the King of Jazz I was expecting.

Hollywood had been trying to do a Paul Whiteman movie for years, with various starts and stops. This was apparently going to be a typical romantic comedy with musical interludes, but after many delays John Murray Anderson took over and made it a revue, complete with comedy blackouts and a cartoon. It’s an early two-strip Technicolor movie, and that opening cartoon is the first in that process; it’s made by Universal’s house animator, Walter Lantz, which animation mavens will instantly deduce from Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’s cameo.

The King of Jazz cost $2 million to make – and that’s two million in 1930 dollars – and was a colossal flop. After The Jazz Singer broke movies’ silence in 1927, there was an absolute glut of musicals. By this time, ticket buyers were sick of them, and apparently they absolutely hated revues. Which is too bad, because – much as I hate musicals – I actually wound up enjoying King of Jazz. The music is quite good, but it’s the audacity of the visuals – most of them quite trippy to my jaded eyes – that take it over the top.

Wait… where’s the King?

The first big number is “My Bridal Veil”, where a young bride, on the eve of her wedding, witnesses a costume parade of brides from every period of time. This is some gothic romance woman-in-nightgown-running-from-spooky-manse-with-one-light-on-in-the-upper-story stuff, but it’s played for pure spectacle and sentiment. One reviewer has mentioned it primarily exists for the elderly people in the audience. On the cusp of elderly myself, I can safely say that what 1930 needed was either more heavy metal or more techno.

One of the prize gems in Whiteman’s crown, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is introduced by several men playing a giant grand piano; the lid raises, and the orchestra is lifted up from within the piano (there is a lot of that 2 million on the screen).

“Ragamuffin Romeo” is an impressive contortionist dance number with a beggar putting together a girlfriend from scraps of fabric. It impresses mainly as a tribute to dancer Marion Stattler’s acrobatic abilities and flexibility.

John Boles was Universal’s big male vocalist at the time, and he gets a couple of solos, but the singer you’re going to notice – if you didn’t notice him in the Rhapsody clip above – is in Whiteman’s vocal trio, The Rhythm Boys – a very young Bing Crosby. In fact, Crosby was going to get one of what was ultimately Boles’ solos – “The Song of the Dawn” – but der Bingle was in jail for drunk driving at the time of filming.

The big final production number is perhaps the most egregious to modern eyes – every single form of white music in the world – from Scottish bagpipes to Spanish flamenco to Russian balalaikas (and their associated dancers) are lowered smiling into an enormous boiling cauldron and out of that soup Whiteman conjures – jazz music.

I am frankly skeptical of this origin story.

(The color here is sadly inferior to the new remastered version, but what do you want from YouTube?)

It’s 1930, and though Whiteman wanted to use black musicians, this was not allowed. There is only one person of color in the entire movie, a little girl in traditional pickaninny garb who is used, not actually as a punch line, but more a punctuation mark (There is one dancer used to illustrate African rhythm who is not actually black – it’s Frenchman Jacques Cartier, wearing a black lacquer of his own invention). Whiteman though, is so affable and self-effacing throughout, it’s hard to hold this or that odd misbegotten musical ancestry number against him.

Walter Brennan, comedian.

The comedy blackouts are mercifully brief (the comic songs are longer and much worse) but the best things about them is one of the actors: If you thought he was perpetually a dried-up old coot, here’s Walter Brennan at 36 years of age:

Okay, one last clip. If “My Bridal Veil” was for the elderly, “Happy Feet” was for the kiddos, featuring the Rhythm Boys and Al “Rubber Legs” Norman:

To show how spoiled I was by Criterion’s blu-ray, I feel like I have to keep apologizing for the quality of those clips – for a movie I didn’t even know existed a month ago. Before, they would been delightful to run across, a “huh, wow” experience. Instead, I’ll just leave you with this New Zealand preview for the restoration, which gives you a far better idea of the quality of Criterion’s blu-ray.

Distractable Me

The word “distraction” has been getting a workout in the last year or so, generally applied to actions of a *harrumph* certain administration. And I’m all like, dude, distractions is how I’ve been surviving that administration. Even when I’m properly medicated, I need something to keep my mind off the impending Second Civil War, in which I am probably going to die, because I’m on the side that hasn’t been stockpiling guns and ammo for the last umpty years in the hopes of someday shootin’ me some fellow Americans.

After the last few weeks, I found myself oversaturated with movies, so my usual distraction, watching movies while acting as a pillow for the Monkey Dog, was a non-starter. Don’t get me started on MoviePass, either. Oh, look, I just got myself started on it.

Good times, good times.

I admit, it got me into a movie theater more than any other year; I saw some movies on the very big screen that normally would have waited for home video. But corporate’s sudden decision that it could only be used once on any given movie went into effect just after Infinity War opened, and that was one I actually wanted to see again. Don’t @ me that I could have just paid for the extra ticket, I’m on a limited income, which is why MoviePass was ideal for me.

Apparently there’s a price increase coming in addition to blacking out movies for the first two weeks of release, so I’m pondering if I can manage five bucks over the new MoviePass charge for AMC’s subscription plan, which doesn’t have all the petty limitations of MoviePass. Maybe if I ditch that impulse-buy Shudder subscription. Though I’m really enjoying that…

In any case, Infinity War has hit digital, which means I finally have a shot at seeing it again. By Friday I may be over my movie malaise enough for the death of half a universe. That might cheer me up.

OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH OONCH

So, absent movies, what’s for distraction in my tiny life? Podcasts are, sadly, of limited use to me, though I enjoy them. Can’t listen to them while I work, my job involves sight and sound. My commute is not lengthy enough to justify booting one up. No, I generally listen to them at bedtime, which means I have to rewind the next day to see what I missed. In the current play (or as I said, replay) list: 80s All Over, The Projection Booth, No Budget Nightmares, LRC presents All The President’s Lawyers, Eric Roberts is the Fucking Man, Apocrypals, Uplifting Trance Sessions.

There’s my old friend, reading. Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, which was a fast, fun read. Picked up James S. A. Conroy’s Leviathan Wakes, the first book in The Expanse series, which is good, but is illuminating to me mainly to see how well the TV series opened up the stories and added a ton of depth to the characters. Maybe those things are harvested from later books – guess I’ll find out. Eventually.

The best thing about the Kindle Fire is having a book you can read in the dark. Yes, I use the Blue Shade setting.

Which I guess leaves games.

LINE UP TO DIE, MOTHER HUMPERS

I been reflecting what a difference a decade and more (almost two) makes. At the beginning of the century I was heavily involved in developing several video games, and I was playing the damned things near constantly just to keep up with trends and possibilities. Okay, truthfully, I’d been playing them since the Atari 5200, but that was the first time I’d been paid for that knowledge and experience (though my abilities as a storyteller helped, too).

I’ve left consoles far behind me – too expensive. My tastes have aged along with me, too, or perhaps they just got fossilized in those early days. My favorite flavor is still JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games). The RPG is going to be a given for me – my first insane gaming obsession was Dungeons and Dragons back in the mid-70s, when they were still just three cardstock-bound booklets. My next obsession was on the first Nintendo Entertainment System, Zelda II: Link’s Adventure. Although, I’m not a big fan of button mashing combat in the long run; I prefer turn-based combat, where everything stops while you issue commands. This means that slowly but surely the Final Fantasy series left me behind as they moved toward a more action-based combat system. This also explains why I absolutely freaking loved Battle Chasers: Nightwar last year. Characters I loved, turn-based combat.

Ah, so dear to my superdeformed heart.

There are a lot of JRPGs out there, most made with the RPG Maker software, and some of them are really good, and best of all, cheap. Almost all of them have the failing of a final Boss battle that is beyond ridiculous in difficulty. That’s a failing in professionally-developed games, too – I’ve abandoned more than a few when I hit a wall, and checked online reviews to find out that yes, Boss battles throughout the entire game were way overpowered. I don’t mind a challenge, but artificially lengthening your game time through opponents with a hundred thousand hit points and one-hit kill attacks is not something I’m looking for in my entertainment.

This desire for turn-based combat also means that my nemesis among game genres is real-time strategy games, where you have to manage a variety of systems at the same time while the game is actively trying to kill you. I can’t even do that shit well in real life, I’m not going to pay money to do it for supposed entertainment. The antsy little sidekick to that nemesis is platformers – I’m too easily frustrated by them.

Poking my head back into gaming after leaving that hornet’s nest alone for so many years has been a fun voyage of discovery. There’s been new terminology to learn. “Rogue-like” is pleasantly vague and seemingly applied to almost everything. “Bullet Hell” and “Metroidvania” are charmingly self- explanatory.

NOT CURRENTLY SUPPORTED

The downside to abandoning consoles and relying on my PC is twofold – one, keeping a PC up to spec to play games with gosh-wow technology. Not too big a problem, given my prejudices listed above. The other is when the faithful PC fails completely and I have to revert to a dumpster-dive model that can’t even accommodate my old mid-level graphics card. At least I can use my work laptop, which is also devoid of graphic muscle, so I’m limited to older, less-demanding games. No giving myself over to the occasional hack-and-slash adventure game.

Which leaves, hm… solitaire games. I wrote about those before, during my last period of having-no-movies-to-blather-about, almost exactly a year ago. So… puzzle games? I do enjoy a good puzzle.

So let me end this interminable ramble with my current distraction, a bizarre little, yet totally endearing, Czech puzzle game that’s as much interactive cartoon as game.

As you can tell from the above, Chuchel is some sort of hairy dust bunny creature with the top of an acorn for a hat, who is going to spend the game trying to get a nice cherry to eat. He has some sort of purple cat/dog/otter thing (who I am told is named Kekel), who either aids or hinders him in this quest. And if all other obstacles fail, there is always the Hand of God to come down and snatch the cherry, depositing it in the middle of another puzzle.

Chuchel has an astounding variety of alarm devices, and an endless supply of crap to throw at them.

It’s all non-verbal, in the great tradition of animated shorts from (just off the top of my head) the Croatian outfit Zagreb Film, utterly beguiling, and, as I am into approximately the twelfth puzzle, starting to get challenging. Still fun and hilarious, but challenging.

And just in case you didn’t know what I was talking about viz Zagreb Film, here’s a sampling – the last short even has a sort of proto-Chuchel:

There. We finally managed to make it back to movies after all.

 

Crapfest: The Milestone

Due to the arc of my life’s pursuits, I don’t have normal nightmares. In high school you usually get the didn’t-study-for-the-test nightmare. Instead mine were about missing the bus for a speech tournament. I aged into the actor’s nightmare of here’s-the-script-show-starts-in-twenty-minutes. What about the blocking? We’ll get it to you, plenty of time Oops, places!

So it came to pass that I actually had a dream about showing up to a Crapfest, but forgetting my movies. That was understandable, since I had apparently spent most of the day driving hazardous cargo through some dangerous roads in a third world country (Sorcerer comes back to haunt you at the weirdest times). So I immediately left to get the movies, which is when the meteor struck a few blocks away.

I’m still kind of pissed that I didn’t go to investigate that meteorite, no, the movies were too important.

Me, trying to drum up excitement for our 200th movie

I have only myself to blame. I had noticed that on the Letterboxd page I use to keep track of Crapfest offerings, we were approaching our 200th flick, and started drumming up that event like Kroger Babb with a new movie showcasing the miracle of childbirth. In the interest of transparency: Dave does not like that I count short subjects. Letterboxd does not have a means of crediting us for viewing five out six episodes of Pink Lady & Jeff, the very first episode of Hee HawBattle of the Video Games or Movin’ With Nancy. Yes, a definite case can be made it was not our 200th movie, but screw it, I was having fun.

How much fun? The 200th movie was on a flash drive, and I had altered the file name to, simply “200th Movie” to keep its identity a secret. There is a bag of DVDs, full of lamentable movies, that I used to bring to every Crapfest before moving to the Flash Drive of Doom; I brought this once more to provide a Bag of Red Herrings. I had one of those clickers that are used to count crowds at sporting events and the like so there would never be any doubt what number movie we were on. That’s how much fun.

We had the band back together again: Myself, Host David, Rick, Erik, Alan, Paul, and my son Max. Dave’s friend Eric-with-a-C had been threatening promising to come for some time, was apparently going to actually make it this time, so the movie Dave had on for background noise while we arrived was allowed to play out, to give Eric-with-a-C time to arrive, and that is how The Great Gabbo became Movie #195.

The Wrong Eric arrived early.

This is a 1929 early talkie. Erich von Stroheim is the title character, a stage ventriloquist who “does the impossible” by drinking and smoking while his dummy, Otto, sings a song. (a version of “the impossible” which seems to be the standard of ventriloquism these days, eh?) Gabbo also has a serious problem in that the only way he can interact with other people is through the dummy. This severely messes up his relationship with his assistant Mary (Betty Compson), who eventually leaves Gabbo’s abuse to become a singer. She still works at the same theater with the increasingly famous Gabbo, until he finally manages to tell her of his love for her, but haha, in the intervening years she’s secretly married her dance partner, who was actually nice to her. Gabbo loses it and rants at his audience, gets fired, downer ending.

One of my many friends smarter than me, Mark Konecny, pointed out that the early movies’ relationship to Russian and Yiddish theater traditions was rarely stronger, and indeed, Gabbo seems more interested in presenting lavish musical production numbers than its tale of an insane ventriloquist. One of these production numbers, now lost to time, was done in a process called MultiColor. That still didn’t help its box office at the time, as the movie was not, shall we say, well-received.

Here, have a taste of what we did not realize was going to set the tone for the evening:

Eric-with-a-C had not yet arrived, so we started without him. Sort of.

As you may recall last time, we started out with Who Killed Captain Alex?, a $200 action flick from Uganda that utterly gripped the Crapfest audience. VJ Emmie, who kept up amazing commentary during its hour length, plugged the sequel, Bad Black, about 45 minutes in. I haven’t been able to find Bad Black anywhere, even on Wakaliwood’s YouTube page, but I did find its opening sequence, promising a premiere at the 2016 Fantasia Fest. Here is movie #196, and thankfully, VJ Emmie is there:

Also thankfully, there are no production numbers. There were, however, plentiful production numbers to be had in some Beatles cartoons. There was still no Eric-with-a-C, you see. I try to stock the Flash Drive of Doom with some filler, and this was from the third season – 1967 – after Revolver had been released. Suddenly Saturday morning TV had a half hour where children could be exposed to dime-store psychedelia:

STILL NO ERIC-WITH-A-C so we moved on to #197, the truly horrific and embarrassing 1944 short, Eliza on the Ice, which showed even Mighty Mouse was not exempt from not-so-casual racism: (you’ve been warned)

Had I known the bent the evening was going to take, I would have made a special effort to track down one of the operetta-style Mighty Mouse cartoons, which were much better made, and ten (if not a hundred) times less offensive. But Eric-with-a-C finally arrived in the middle of this, and we proceeded to make him regret it.

We nipped into Erik (with a K)’s dinner offering, a spicy pork dish called (concentrates extra hard to get the spelling right) puerco pibil, served over coconut rice, and daaaaamn. Possibly the last good memory we would have of that evening. We moved on to #198, a movie which Erik had tried to get on the agenda several times, and on this night of nights, he finally succeeded: Birdemic: Shock & Terror.

Featuring the SCREENSAVER OF DEATH

As you all know, I watched Birdemic years ago. In fact, I think at least half, if not more, of the attendees had also already seen it. But here is the miraculous democracy of Crapfest: it meant each of these people got to experience the usually solitary pleasure I often derive from the event. It’s an experience honed from years of going to film festivals for the Cinema of Diminished Expectations like B-Fest and the late, lamented New Orleans Worst Film Festival. (edit: holy shit, apparently it’s back?) The joy of knowing what’s coming, and hearing the lamentations of the uninitiated around you. Paul was especially vocal in his dismay, and that was appreciated.

What’s that you say? There are no musical numbers in Birdemic? Pfft! You have apparently forgotten the singer who croons an entire fucking song to our young lovers in an empty Irish bar. So empty his band isn’t even there. Maybe it’s a sparsely attended Karaoke Night? Anyway, here’s the most entertaining version of it I could find:

Speaking of movies that hadn’t quite made it to the screen over the years, there was one Dave had been toying with showing many times, and by thunder, if I was going to hog the #200 slot, then #199 was going to be 1978’s Rabbit Test.

Yes, this was Joan Rivers’ first (and only) movie in the director’s chair, also Billy Crystal’s film debut. After his very first sexual encounter, he finds out he is pregnant (because the woman was on top, duh), and the twists that puts in his life. At first a celebrity, then excoriated as a devil (because male pregnancy will result in overpopulation), there’s material for a thoughtful flick there. In other hands.

What you get is a fairly chaotic, often wacky, and even occasionally funny movie where the biggest draw is picking out all the TV personalities who are onscreen (crossovers like that were fairly rare at the time). Paul Lynde, Alice Ghostley, Imogene Coca, Alex Rocco, Norman Fell, George Gobel, Keene Curtis, Fanny Flagg, Richard Deacon (wearing a toupee!), Tom Poston, Peter Marshall (announcing The Hollywood Squares has gone bankrupt because Crystal’s pregnancy rendered a lot of wrong answers suddenly right), Michael Keaton in a tiny role, and I’m pretty sure I spotted Dick Sargent and William Smith as Secret Service agents. It’s the most amazing lineup of minor celebrities I’d seen since The Phynx.

Was there a production number? Why, of course! Crystal goes on a world tour, meets the Queen of England (Charles Pierce) and The Pope (Jack Fletcher). Try to hang on through this scene, as we meet “A. Touch of Darkness”:

Did you make it through Jimmy Walker’s parody of Willie Tyler and Lester, with Billy Barty in blackface?

Compare with Eliza on the Ice. In 34 years, we didn’t make it very far. If at all.

Anyway.

Is it time? Is it the 200th movie? It is? Does it have production numbers? Of course! Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you…

Yes, The Apple. It had been repeatedly requested by Alan and Rick, and I thought it was time. Eric-with-a-C was unimpressed. Eric-with-a-C was however, impressed that when we named it Crapfest, we were serious about it. Too bad he hadn’t come all the times I had brought an actual good movie. Also, Eric-with-a-C was the one who recommended Teen Witch, so some payback might have been involved.

If you are unfamiliar with The Apple (I guess that’s possible), it is a notorious rock musical produced by Golan & Globus early in their career – the poor bastards thought this was actually going to be their ticket to Hollywood, not something like Enter the Ninja. In the far-flung future of 1994, the devilish Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal) actually controls the world through his Boogalow International Music (BIM). Everyone loves his acts, and everyone has to wear the BIM mark at all times, in the most naked Mark of the Beast metaphor outside a christian scare movie. Dudes, when I said devilish, I meant it. He is almost foiled by a folk-singing young duo from Moose Jaw, Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart), so of course he has to corrupt them and bring them to the Dark Side. However, on the signing day, Alphie can see what is really going on:

…and doesn’t sign with BIM. The rest of the movie is a musical struggle for Bibi’s soul, until, at the end, God flies down in a golden Rolls Royce and takes all the nice people away, the Disco Rapture. The end.

To say that The Apple bombed would be understatement worthy of a saint. It was hated and reviled, driving Menahem Golan to almost commit suicide. Check out the movie’s Wikipedia page – the story of its genesis as a too-expensive-to-produce stage show, about the musical business itself as a 1984 dystopia, until the Go-Go boys got their hands on it. It’s actually pretty interesting stuff. The entire opening number, “Paradise Day”, which cost $1 million to produce, was dropped, supposedly because Golan wanted to “not get too extreme with the religious overtones” (which is laughable when you see the movie as released), most certainly not because it was legendarily dreadful. I believe I first heard of The Apple through one of the Golden Turkey books, and saw the videotape once in the Sound Warehouse rental department. Was tempted, but probably rented Shogun Assassin again instead.

Then came B-Fest 2005, where a group of fans sponsored its showing. This was the ideal venue for my first viewing – in a reasonably packed house, with a bunch of people who loved movies (especially that kind), buzzed on caffeine and their own creativity. There was dancing in the aisles. Lyric sheets were handed out for singalongs. Everybody did the BIM. I bought the DVD on Amazon upon my return. That was the source for the Crapfest showing.

And this is where it gets weird, because honestly, I had never watched it again. And at Crapfest, it seemed kind of… streamlined. I recalled a Phantom of the Paradise-style subplot where one of Boogalow’s other clients sang a version of “Speed” and that song was BIM-ed up and given to Bibi (That’s right, we got to hear “Speed” twice). Those were missing. Sure enough, there at the bottom of the Wikipedia page, there was an original preview print floating around, with those scenes and longer cuts for other songs. It’s been played at places like Alamo Drafthouse. So hey there, all you cool cats from 13 years ago: we got to see something special.

And remember: all this is coming from a guy who hates musicals.

So there we had it. Our 200th movie. It was time to pack up and go home, right?

Oh, hell no. It was still relatively early.

As is traditional, every poster for this movie is ten times more awesome than the movie itself.

So Dave put on 1985’s Warriors of the Apocalypse, also known as Searchers of the Voodoo Mountain, because I swear to God he is on a mission to make us watch every Italian post-apocalyptic Road Warrior rip-off ever made. At least this time it was a Filipino post-apocalyptic Road Warrior rip-off, so that was theoretically refreshing.

This post-apocalypse couldn’t afford any dune buggies though, so our plucky band of warriors just walk around the rocky landscape in order to find other, supposedly less-savory bands of warriors to attack. In the skirmish that opens the film, a badass Filipino comes to their aid. They find out their new friend has fresh food to eat, and that he comes from the Valley of Life, just past Voodoo Mountain, and oh yeah, he’s 130 years old. Why, of course he’ll take them there!

Somehow these brainiacs had managed to miss that there were some mountains nearby with a jungle inside them, which has to be one of the nicest post-apocalyptic settings ever. There is the problem that they keep running into natives who want to run them through with spears, but fortunately our heroes have explosive bullets. Those don’t help them too much with the dwarves who keep coming back from the dead, though.

The guy in the center is Captain Hat, my & Max’s personal hero.

They are eventually led to a lost village of scantily-clad white women, but they have to wait until the full moon before the fertility gods will allow them to do what comes naturally. I’ll save you a lot of time and pain and reveal that there is still an atomic reactor under the village, which is why they have nice things like immortal dwarves and a queen with laser eye beams pew pew pew. Also, any men that our Filipino pal brings in from the outside world will get press-ganged into working the reactor (after they get the women pregnant to continue the tribe), resulting in a bunch of radiation-burned sorta mutants to rise up at the end. The Queen decides to raze the entire village and kill everybody with her eye blasts pew pew pew. Which seems only reasonable.

There was almost certainly a production number in there somewhere, as all lost civilizations made up of mostly women have to do one sometime. Frankly, this movie put certain parts of my brain to sleep, so that may have been wishful thinking or an hallucination.

But come on! Pew pew pew!

Surely that would be enough for everybody, you would think, Surely. Ha! You do not know this crowd! It was time for a movie with no production numbers whatsoever! It was time for… Gary Busey: Action Hero!

Bulletproof was made the year after Lethal Weapon, and the year before the motorcycle accident that arguably turned Busey into a non-superpowered Incredible Hulk. It’s produced by Fred Olen Ray, and directed by Steve Carver, who among other action flicks, gave us Big Bad Mama, two guys who are okay in my book.

As you noticed, Busey is the original McBain, a loose cannon cop who plays by his own rules (you probably also noticed a cleaned-up Danny Trejo in that clip). After the utterance of his catchphrase, above, he had our audience in the palm of his hand, by which I mean everybody finally shut up and actually stayed awake for the whole thing.

(The movie is called Bulletproof because that’s McBain’s nickname. Everytime he’s shot, he digs the bullets out himself and saves them in a mason jar)

I’m positive that is actually Busey.

Another thing we will find out is that McBain is ex-CIA. You see, there is a gathering of insurgents in Mexico, some of them Cuban and even (gasp!) Arab. And the magnificent plan cooked up by the spooks is to task Colonel L.Q. Jones to command a convoy delivering an experimental supertank code-named “Thunderblast” to “accidentally” stray into Mexico, and get captured. Since the Army captain in charge of the Thunderblast team is Darlanne Fluegel, McBain’s old flame (plus he also accidentally shot her husband in a dust-up with some mobsters), they will convince McBain to sneak into Mexico and, being McBain, kill everybody. Problem solved!

Yes, this is a remarkably stupid plan. I’m kind of pissed that it actually works. Eventually.

Good cast. Didn’t mention R.G. Armstrong, Henry Silva, Rene Enriquez, William Smith (again!) and Thalmus Rasulala as McBain’s cop partner who actually does not get killed! (Radical!) Yes, this movie is stupid as hell, but it’s also entertaining as hell.

Don’t get used to that, Eric-with-a-C.

Look, I know what you folks are here for:

Who the hell wears a fur hat in Mexico? EVIL SOVIET BASTARDS, THAT’S WHO!

So we are now officially at 202. Only 98 movies to go to 300!

Sleep well. Butthorns.

There Are No Metaphors in Halloween Hell

Oh, hai there.

I’m medicated again.

It’s a sad truth in modern America that sometimes you try to go without your meds in order to pay other bills. Blood pressure pills seem pretty necessary, but we can probably go without this statin that’s seemed to have no effect for five years, we can probably tough it out without the mood elevator.

Until a week ago when I realized that I temporarily had a little extra money and likely the best thing I could do was get the refill on the mood elevator I had put off for two or three months. And I have to say that waking up the next morning without thinking of suicide was quite refreshing. (My doctor says it takes two or three days for the pill to take effect, but I’ve not found that to be the case. Maybe my serotonin imbalance was minor enough that it only needed a nudge in the right direction. In any event, one less dragon to fight)

While my writing has been the most visible casualty of the crushing mantle of despair, I haven’t exactly been slacking. Still watching Prestige TV With A Capital P, though Real Life work has put a crimp on the time allowable for that. Having finished the current seasons of Legion and The Expanse, my sense of symmetry told me I needed to find two other series to accompany the second season of Westworld, so it was time to start Sense8 and the first season of Luke Cage. I’d been putting Cage off to watch the Netflix Marvel series in order, but hit my usual getting-sick-of-Netflix-series-around-episode-8 wall with the first season of Daredevil. Really enjoying these series so far, although I’m only two episodes in of each.

DON’T DO IT DON’T DO IT DON’T YOU DO IT

Noted Canadian war criminal Doug Tilley (he made me watch Science Crazed) asked me to guest on one of his podcasts, Eric Roberts is the Fucking ManHe then asked me to be a participant in my own damnation by having me select the Eric Roberts movie we would be discussing. That’s harder than you might think – Roberts’ IMDb page lists 513 actor credits, with probably 200-300 in the last few years. He’s like the modern-day John Carradine.

I discounted all the movies where he played “The Devil” – there are several – as that meant he was likely on set for twenty minutes or so. But there was one that drew my eye, and that was Halloween Hell, where he is listed as playing “Count Dracula”. And it was on Prime Video. You can listen to that episode of the podcast at the site above, but you’re already here, so I might as well use my notes and grumble about the stuff I never got to in the podcast. (ERITFM likes to clock in at an hour, which is something I appreciate in a podcast, my fanboy love for The Projection Booth notwithstanding)

We start with a bunch of kids wandering through a warehouse with a video camera (you are going to become very familiar with this warehouse). They find a misshapen black statuette with Sculpey fangs (ditto the statuette). These teens are three guys and two girls, basically the Scooby Gang without the budget for a Great Dane with a speech impediment. One girl freaks out and tries to run, resulting a door magically slamming shut and The Demon (I think it’s a Type IV) appearing from the statuette and offing the kids one by one.

  1. We start with a disembowelment, shot at floor level, behind the victim. Classic movie cheat.
  2. A throat slash. First appearance of CGI blood, notable for its neon color.
  3. The demon presses a face mask on a girl’s head, then pulls it away, revealing that the other side of the mask was coated with blood. Oh, wait, I think he was supposed to be pulling her actual face off.
  4. The last girl starts flailing around on the floor and screaming while hoses pump blood through her clothes. This will be our first example of death by overacting.
  5. The last guy almost gets away, but the Demon shows up and get our B-movie deal sealed by my old favorite: facial lacerations are fatal.

Blah. Blah.

Eric Roberts tells us those deaths were “years ago” and remained unsolved. He then informs us that he is Count Dracula, and he is hosting a once-in-a-lifetime Internet event: He has the statuette, carved by Haitian slaves “from lava from the depths of Hell”. It houses a demon, and there will be six contestants who will spend 24 hours in a camera-festooned room with it, those 24 hours being midnight-to-midnight on Halloween. Each will earn $100,000 for getting through the day. The cost for the pay-per-view is a mere $24, “One dollar for each hour.”

The contestants are basically what used to be defined in Dynaman as “six good-looking young friends from all walks of life”:

  1. Nerd Boy, who wants the money to open his own high tech company and become Bill Gates
  2. Gothia, a Russian import and stripper exotic dancer, needs $100,000 worth of clothes and make-up
  3. Jessie – “The All-Star’s sweetheart”, who is given no motivation for the money
  4. Toby – who wants the money to start his country music singing career
  5. Rose – an undocumented immigrant who wants the money to go to nursing school and help her brother open a car repair shop (no stereotypes here)
  6. Mr. Jones – our token black who intends to use the money for an independent film

It’s the tusks that get me.

The statuette is in a room in that damnable warehouse which has been tricked out with the entire contents of somebody’s storage locker where they stuffed their Halloween decorations each year for the past decade or so. This is, I guess, meant to be ironic, but god it is cheesy.

Toby the country boy was obviously instructed to go over the top and given no further direction. When you do something like that to an actor, they keep trying to find the top, and getting no further instruction, keep going further and further out. In short, Toby looks like he’s being prepped to be the first to die, just to give us some relief. However, as Mr. Jones points out, “The Brother Man is always the first to go.”

This brings us to another bizarre sidetrip: Dracula is also running a website where you can bet on who will die and in what order. The janitor for the building where Drac is hosting his part of the show logs on to bet that Mr. Jones will be the first to die, causing the Demon to manifest and kill him by making blood gush from his scalp. In a few scenes, a woman will come in looking for the janitor, find his body, and she will be our next Death by Overacting.

Neither of these scenes are long enough to actually qualify as the sort of padding you do when your picture is not an agreed-upon length for distribution. It asks the question, is this happening to everyone who bets on the site? If it is, it would certainly mean more money for Dracula, since he’ll never have to pay out, but that’s never explored. If the Demon can just manifest anywhere, why the hell is the statuette even necessary?

Back at the reality show: we’re basically trying to make what is known as a “submarine film” here, with all the action taking place in a single room. The thing about those are they’re cheap, but you need to have crackling dialogue, something interesting for the characters to do. We don’t get the former, and for the latter, we have Toby singing a song, and strip poker. At least Friday the 13th had the class to switch that up with strip Monopoly.

(At one point, one of his “brides”, either “The Dragon Lady” or “Nectar-feel-ya”, asks Dracula “Where did you get him?” about Toby. “Texas! Where else?” which led me to a hearty “Fuck you movie!” which had been building up for at least a half-hour. Then I realized I could pinpoint within 30 miles which town Toby came from)

“You’re getting CGI everywhere!”

Mr. Jones does indeed get his throat slashed, with a fair amount of CGI blood sweetening so they don’t get the couch he’s lying on messy. Rose demonstrates why she needs to go to nursing school by attempting CPR on a guy with a cut throat. Jessie stabs herself in the eye with some dagger that was obligingly stuck in the wall. Toby and Nerd Boy start yelling to be let out or an ambulance to be called, allowing Roberts to have the best line of the whole movie, “Children of the night! What music they make!”

Now luckily, as our cast keeps getting whittled down, Nerd Boy, before showing up, had gone to a “Voodoo Lady” to find out about demons. “Voodoo Lady” is never given a name, so I dubbed her “Mama Machina” (first name Deus, middle initial X). She gave him some “magnets” (which look more like those stick-on lights for your closet you see on late-night TV)  and a steel urn to capture the Demon.

Guh.

This was written and directed by Ed Hunt, who I was familiar with from Starship Invasions, which I admit I had only seen because it was shown at a Crapfest. He also did Bloody Birthday and The Brain, which are both better regarded (I’ve seen neither, though). This is his first movie since 1988, make of that what you will.

Roberts makes sure Hunt gets his day rate’s worth. Almost all the rest of the money went for that Demon makeup, which is pretty damned good – which is fortunate, because he gets more screen time than Roberts. Also thrifty is the design choice that from the waist down he’s CGI flames, a type III floating torso, as Ray Stantz would say. As for the rest… I’ve seen worse. The script does them no favors.

Really, the tagline of this blog should be, “I’ve Seen Worse”. That doesn’t mean you have to.