I actually recovered from a week and a half of Extreme Bizzitude the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Wednesday night was spent brining the turkey, Thursday, of course, was cooking and eating, then eating after a nap, then eating some more. Friday was more restful, as old chum Cabot Parsons was down from Noo Yawk to visit, and we made each other remember stuff from our more youthful days that we had good cause to forget (and then I ate). That was the restful day my body had really needed. And Saturday… ah Saturday… was the rest my soul needed, as I had no Show and therefore bullied everyone into a Thanksgiving Crapfest, or, as it is known, Crapsgiving.
I think I actually stuffed myself more at Crapsgiving than I had at Thanksgiving. Host Dave had cooked up some excellent beef-and-venison sausages and sautéed the hell out of a mix of mushrooms and peppers and some dirty rice – nay, filthy rice – to accompany them. As the evening wore on we would also tuck into a huge pepperoni pizza Rick had snagged from Costco – I believe the crust was also made from pepperoni, as were portions of the box. In any case, there was a hell of a lot of pepperoni. Then the usual snacks, and Paul brought supplies for root beer floats. After a year spent losing weight, I am finally back to my fightin’ weight of 500 pounds.
While various people arrived, I played a disc of terrible things from, appropriately, everythingisterrible.com. Alas, the only people to be scarred by this were myself, Dave, Rick and one of two new guys who had arrived early, Erik. Erik brought his A-game, I must say; he came with some movies of his own, about the worst of which (that I had seen, anyway) was The Angry Red Planet, and I love The Angry Red Planet. But I don’t think he was entirely prepared for the brain-blasting awfulness we put ourselves through on a regular basis; though Everything is Terrible should have been a fair intimation.
We started off Crapsgiving Proper with The Big Doll House, Jack Hill’s first Filipino Women In Prison flick for Corman’s new company, New World Pictures. It isn’t the absurd perfection of The Big Bird Cage, but it is still pretty entertaining in its own right. This is apparently Pam Grier’s first big movie role, where Sid Haig is giving her acting tips as the shoot progresses. Their chemistry is damned good, so much so that Hill would pair them again for The Big Bird Cage the following year.
There is really only one plot in these movies: there are women in a hellish Filipino prison, and they want to escape. What sets each apart is the bizarreness of the setpieces. Granted, there must always be at least one shower scene, one wrestling match (usually in mud, if Corman has anything to say about it), and at least one torture scene involving nudity, ideally several. Doll House also has a food fight followed up by a general fire-hosing of the inmates (which, legend says, the inmates didn’t know was coming). This particular prison is also, for some reason, run by female Nazis, though there is also a shadowy hooded military man who seems to operate things behind the scenes, leading Erik to deduce that the prison is actually being run by Cobra Commander. (“I hate you, Joe! Now get undressed!”)
Surprisingly little nudity, given the movie’s ultimate venue was the drive-in, but some little caution was apparently called for in 1971. The next year Deep Throat would put “porno chic” on the cultural map and things would loosen up considerably for a few years, providing the teen-aged me with a short Golden Age at the Drive-In. The Big Doll House’s major problems are a Shakespeare-sized cast list (with an identically Shakespearean body count), getting rid of Pam Grier way too soon, and that there is no Vic Diaz. If I had been Ferdinand Marcos, I would have required every movie made in the Philippines to cast Vic Diaz. Dammit, A Filipino movie without Vic Diaz is like a Women in Prison movie without a shower scene.
Also best line of the night comes from Dave: “Sid Haig is like the Cary Grant of Women in Prison movies.”
Best of all, Big Doll House was one of the movies from The List – I now only have 15 to go before the end of the year (oy). Thank you, gentlemen.
Alan and Paul and the other newb, Joe, sauntered in toward the end of Doll House. Paul might have gotten to see an exposed breast, or two; Alan was not so lucky. Dave called upon me to put something on while he prepared martinis to fortify ourselves against his choice. I put on my new Shazzan disc, but when Dave sneered at it, I huffily withdrew it and substituted something I had promised Paul a long time ago: the very first episode of Hee Haw.
Most of you sneered just then. But then, most people are familiar with Hee Haw from its later, syndicated years, when the bits were old and worn and the writers were desperately pawing through whatever joke books they could find in resale shops to fill up time between country stars. But the first year, all this stuff was new, and the material was smart, surreal and sharp. There was no doubting the musical ability of the visiting stars (in this case Charley Pride and Loretta Lynn, who sang a feminist song about squaws going on warpaths) and there is no gainsaying Buck Owens. No, there is not, because Buck Owens kicks ass. The very first song, on Hee Haw, on the country & western version of Laugh-In, is not a country song. It is “Johnny B. Goode” with Dogpatch-styled go-go dancers.
(You know, when I wrote this, all these things were available on YouTube. I leave this horrid placeholder up by way of protest)
This is your monthly reminder that Buck Owens always disclaimed he played country. “I play American music,” he would say, and go back to rocking out. The twin brothers in the background were the Hager Twins, there for youth appeal. Their songs were likewise good, and I always find myself infected with their “The Gambling Man” for weeks after watching this first episode. Dig the kazoo action:
So despite initial disbelief, the room wound up enjoying Hee Haw. It opened up old memory through-ways and if nothing else, it was a memory you could sing along with:
Then, finally, Dave was ready to spring his horrifying choice of the evening on us. But it was a digital copy, running off a server in a back room, so while it transferred itself to a closer hard drive (honestly, we were one hot chick with short hair shy of a 90s hacker drama), we popped in an emergency disc I had gotten from Warner Archive some time before: Hollywood Party (1934). The trailer will give you some idea of the surrealism packed into its 69 minutes:
Yes, that’s a shockingly young Jimmy Durante going mano a mano with Mickey Mouse, and that is not the weirdest thing on display in this movie. The contents are surprisingly saucy – Hollywood Party just barely slipped out before the Hayes Code started being sternly enforced. This is the sort of movie that gives you some context into older Looney Tunes gags. We never made it to Mickey Mouse, much less The Three Stooges (still shackled to Ted Healey) or Laurel and Hardy. We never had time to ponder the allure of Lupe Velez, the Mexican Spitfire, whose act consisted of combining a spoiled brat with the worst psycho girlfriend you ever had. Hollywood Party was interrupted by the completed transfer of Dave’s choice: Abby (1974).
Abby is William Girdler‘s blaxploitation version of The Exorcist; it was reportedly more successful than Blacula, and one of several Exorcist knock-offs suppressed by Warner Brothers. I was a bit bemused by the other members of our gathering saying, “Abby? Abby? What’s that?” I sometimes forget what a strange little specialized bubble I occupy.
Abby is the fourth of five movies Girdler made in his native Louisville, Kentucky; he was known for making them fast and cheap, even when he moved on to Hollywood. I’m pretty sure most of Abby‘s budget went to paying William Marshall, and that is always a wise investment. Marshall plays Bishop Garnett Williams, who heads off to Nigeria to aid in pestilence and famine relief, but winds up unleashing an ancient demon who possesses his innocent daughter-in-law, the title character, played by Carol Speed. Again, there’s not much budget, so any demonic activity is limited to cursing, flailing around, popping an alka-seltzer into the mouth, renting a fog machine for one night, and scaring white women to death. And, oh yeah, screwing a bunch of men, much to the dismay of her husband, Williams’ son, himself a minister. I guess that’s a valid (and economical) path to take when your possessed character isn’t a schoolgirl.
Well, Pop comes back from Nigeria and after his son and Abby’s brother, a cop, track her down to a local nightclub, Marshall dons his holy dashiki and lays the righteous smack down on the devil. There’s a lot of not-quite subliminal flashes of Speed in some monster makeup (to echo the one in Exorcist) in the lengthy exorcism scene. They even pull out the stage illusion levitation trick, possible because they didn’t have to bother lifting a bed. Genius!
I’ve never been a big fan of The Exorcist, for much the same reason The Omen leaves me cold; I don’t have much in the way of religious roots to shake. So I’m afraid a cheap copy of The Exorcist (and Girdler, whatever his shortcomings, was refreshingly honest about that) isn’t going to do much for me. At least now I can say I’ve seen Abby.
Really, the most frightening thing about it: It has thrown the door open to a viewing of Exorcist II: The Heretic. Which, surprise, surprise, I have just gotten from the Swap A DVD Club.
You can take that earlier phrase “At least now I can say I’ve seen Abby” and use it for our next movie. Its possibility as a Crapfest entry had been danced around for some time, and finally, it seems, it was time to actually experience it.
Sweet Sassy Molassy. We’ve been through a lot at Crapfests. We’ve subjected ourselves to Dondi, Things and Strange Beings. We keep thinking we’ve developed scar tissue. But The Room punched us in places that hadn’t been touched before.
Writer/director/producer Tommy Wiseau also stars as Johnny, who is a saint, I tell you, a saint. His girlfriend, Lisa (Juliette Danielle) lives with him, and he buys her flowers, dresses, a ring, soon a car and a house. They are to be married in a month. Lisa, though, confesses to her Mom and everyone who will listen that she finds Johnny “boring”, doesn’t love him anymore, and isn’t going to marry him. Then she has an affair with Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero).
The Room is like a vanity novel about human relationships written by Martians; they know what relationships look like, but not what they sound like, what truly makes them tick.
Characters keep getting introduced, right up into the third act – at least I think that was the third act – mainly to tell us how awesome Johnny is and how evil Lisa has become. “She’s a sociopath!” Conveniently Introduced Psychologist tells us. Lisa also finishes every conversation with “I don’t want to talk about it!” and we were really sorry we hadn’t known to count those.
There are four sex scenes in The Room. One is simply the first sex scene between Johnny and Lisa played again, with a different fake rock song on the soundtrack. These scenes make you wonder if you haven’t accidentally flipped to Cinemax; in fact, if not for the tragic ending, I would assume this was Wiseau’s audition tape for directing Cinemax flicks.
Wiseau is working through some issues here, and I don’t need a Conveniently Introduced Psychologist to tell me this. Johnny is just a wonderful human being, everybody agrees about this, even Mark while he’s schtupping Johnny’s girlfriend. So after everything is revealed at Johnny’s birthday party, and he makes everyone leave, Johnny tears the place apart (“I saw Orson Welles do this in Citizen Kane and it was awesome!“) and then blows his brains out, leaving Lisa and Mark to boo hoo hoo over their loss and transgression and doubtless the President to declare a day of mourning.
It’s that last scene, the oh-what-have-we-done scene, that leads me to believe that the vanity novel was written by an adolescent Martian. God, how many stories have we constructed in our little hormone-cooked brains where we died and everybody agonized over how badly they’d treated us? That’s what the last scene in The Room is, and the difference is that Wiseau managed to pull together a reported $6 million to make a movie version of it.
I also can’t help but laugh at the last part of that trailer, the “quirky black comedy” part. That’s the part that finally makes it salable, but The Room was not shot as a black comedy. It’s a teenage I’ll-show-them-all put to film, and I’m glad that Wiseau got some catharsis out of this, even if I and everyone who’s seen it has not.
My first encounter with The Room:
It’s the “Oh, Johnny, I didn’t know it was you” followed by “You’re my favorite customer” that still gets me.
Of course, I was live-tweeting the Crapfest, and about three-quarters of the way through The Room, I had to say this:
Little did I know that there is a Room bot out there, and I came home to this:
AAAAHHHHH! Stop haunting me, Tommy Wiseau! STOP HAUNTING MEEEEEEEEEE!
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