Leaping Crap

Getting people together for anything not required by law is, as the cliché says, like herding cats. Ornery cats. Cats with agendas. Cats with agendas and thumbs. So it took a month of wrangling to get people together in order to punish them, and this all took place before that ultimate injustice, an extra Monday foisted upon us by Leap Year.

Artist's Representation

Artist’s Representation

In attendance: Rick, Paul, Alan (intermittently) Erik, Host Dave and myself. Rick had brought some pork tenderloins for dinner, and the grill was set up and flames climbed into the sky, while doubters predicted fiery disaster, burnt meat, horrible diseases and, for some reason, a sequel to Mortdecai. In an attempt to get things started, I put on Futuropolis, and it was roundly ignored in favor of fiery disaster, burnt meat, and etc.

futuropolis2Futuroplis is a short by Steve Segal (no relation) and Phil Trumbo (also no relation), started in the late 1970s and expanded to 30 minutes in 1984, when it was released on VHS by Expanded Entertainment, which is where I discovered it. I understand they expanded it once more in the 90s, but I’ve never seen that version. As far as I know, the only official release was that VHS, currently being sold on Amazon for as much as $150.  Both men went on to careers in animation and design.

vlcsnap-2016-03-09-20h12m22s192Futuropolis itself is a weird blend of traditional animation and what we used to call pixelation – stop-motion animation using real people. It features four Space Patrol members who eventually find themselves in conflict with the villainous Lord Egghead (Mike Cody) and his Mutation Ray. It all ends up in a Battle of the Minds between Egghead and ship’s Engineer Cosmo (Tom Campagnoli), which switches from locale to locale, time frame to time frame, eventually winding up as a Popeye cartoon. It’s silly and creative, and has the best starship-captain-playing-for-time-with-the-captain-of-an-alien-warship dialogue since “The Corbomite Maneuver”. The best because both captains are idiots.

As I said, roundly ignored by the attendees, usually dropping in to watch minute or two, then going back outside to insult Dave’s grill skills. I, at least, sat there and enjoyed it all over again.

Fucking kids.

After Futuropolis wrapped, Dave put on a 1983 oddity he had discovered, Battle of the Video Games. Because it involved Ms. Pac-Man, Burger Time and Frogger, naturally everybody sat down and gave it their undivided attention.

Fucking kids.

Title-Card-e1337350755935Around this time, prime time shows like Battle of the Network Stars were quite popular, so producing one of those involving the video game craze was logical, but only KTLA in Los Angeles was up to the challenge, it seems. The template’s the same: stars compete in feats of skill to earn money for their favorite charities, and plug their current shows. KTLA managed a mixed bag there: the biggest names are Lou Ferrigno and Lynn Redgrave, both probably wondering what the hell they’re doing there, Heather Locklear (shilling for both TJ Hooker and Dynasty) and Scott Baio (he says reluctantly). After that you’re dredging through the ranks of young actors in sitcoms, like Mindy Cohn and Philip McKeon. Each stultifying round of other people playing video games is broken up by interview segments with the stars.

Heather-Pacman-e1337350129288The most hilarious thing about the whole enterprise is the perceived necessity of “color commentary” by future game show host Marty Cohen trying to keep our interest up (also his breathless explanations of how each game is played, so parents and grandparents being forced to watch this won’t be totally lost). Actually, the most hilarious thing was the screams from our personal home audience trying to figure out the scoring methodology; it actually seemed that longevity was the key, the winner of each round being the one still playing on his or her quarter. And poor Lou, who really sucked at Burger Time. No, no, wait, the most hilarious thing was Rick recognizing the incidental music from an industrial film break about the manufacture of an arcade table as being from the “Pac-Man Fever” album, and his resultant shunning by the rest of us.

I will amend myself further that the truly most hilarious thing was that the final competition at a Pac-Man table chased us all out of the room. Every single one of us was in the kitchen, hiding from Battle of the Video Games, a situation which had not happened since Strange Beings.

Fucking kids.

cobraSo I was out for blood at this point, which made me feel better about my choice. Upon watching Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, I had decided that Cobra was a prime candidate for Crapfest.

Stallone plays the Cobra (actually Marion Cobretti), a cop in the Loose Cannon Division of the LAPD (okay, he’s on something called “The Zombie Squad” but you get the picture).  There’s a serial killer called the Night Slasher terrorizing the city, but what the cops and media don’t know is the Slasher is actually a doomsday cult trying to bring about “The New Tomorrow”. When they’re not standing around in an abandoned factory banging axes together, that is.

Cobra’s the guy you call in on tough cases, like when one of the cultists takes to shooting up a supermarket with a shotgun, providing us with many product placement opportunities for Pepsi and Coors, not to mention giving Cobra a chance to say his catchphrases, “You’re a disease, and I’m the cure” and “Hey, dirtbag.” It’s an opening sequence virtually indistinguishable from many other Stallone flicks. Cobra does, however, put away his pearl-handled Colt .45 so he can throw a knife at the psycho, then pulls it again to shoot him several times. It’s not the multiple gun modes from Judge Dredd, but I guess it’s kinda unique. A little.

"Product placement? Don't know whatcha talkin' bout."

“Product placement? Don’t know whatcha talkin’ bout.”

Stallone’s then-current squeeze, Brigitte Nielsen, witnesses a Night Slasher murder and gets a good look at the face of the head cultist (Brian Thompson), and thanks to one of the cultists in the police department (Lee Garlington, and that ain’t no spoiler), they’re tracking her down. Cobra ain’t having none of that crap, resulting in a hospital murder spree, a highway chase, and a final showdown in a small California town whose population gets whittled down very damned quickly. As it must in all Cannon Films, the final showdown is in a factory, though not abandoned because there has to be a bunch of moving machinery and molten steel to kill off the bad guy.

"With this disguise, no one will ever suspect i am an evil cultist."

“With this disguise, no one will ever suspect I am an evil cultist.”

That chase scene does have one of the most remarkably insane and ridiculous bits: when Cobra gets tired of the cultists behind him taking potshots at his ’50 Mercury, he pulls a bootlegger turn and continues barrelling down the freeway in reverse, shooting the offending truck until it explodes. Then he bootlegs again and continues chasing the Head Cultist’s car (the cultist driving that car, who I assume to be an expert in such matters, says “He’s crazy!”)

Another bit which could be interpreted as groundbreaking, is the intercutting of Cobra, his partner and Nielsen holed up in a motel in the aforementioned small California town, intercut with cultists on motorcycles racing through the night, obviously moving toward a nighttime siege and gun battle. Then it’s morning and Stallone’s asking his partner “Howdya sleep?” What a violation of audience expectations! Actually, the mosquitoes were just so miserable at night, they decided to shoot the climactic battle during the day.

"Put out an APB on Mick Jagger."

“Put out an APB on Mick Jagger.”

You know, I actually do like Stallone; but this was made at the height of his power in Hollywood, and also the height of his ego, apparently. Though it didn’t make the money that Rambo or Rocky IV did, possibly due to some last-minute misgivings on the part of Cannon. Violence was cut to avoid an X rating, and then the two-hour run time was cut down to 84 minutes. There is a reason I thought the movie was a tremendously stupid cliche-o-rama when I saw it back in the day; it doesn’t have time to be anything else.

Stallone had also decided the signature quirk for Cobra would be the matchstick permanently stuck in his mouth. This does his already murky diction absolutely no favors, and in every dialogue scene between him and Nielsen, we felt very sorry for the sound recording guy on this flick. No matter how good a job he managed to do, everybody was going to assume he sucked at his chosen profession. I have to admit, though, the Stallone impressions that filled those 84 minutes was one of the best things since the Burton impression marathon during Exorcist II: The Heretic.

phynxMy blood lust being sated, it was time for Dave to make people suffer. Still, in this, I will admit come complicity: Dave had found out about something from 1970 called The Phynx and was gung ho about showing it. I looked at a few screengrabs from his copy and realized it was taken from an old videotape. “You know, I have this on DVD, and I haven’t watched it yet,” I said. So, you know: conspiracy.

After numerous unsuccessful attempts to sneak into Albania (why they didn’t come up with an imaginary country, who knows), the Super Secret Agency desperately consults its supercomputer MOTHA (Mechanical Oracle That Helps Americans), whose solution is to form a successful rock group, because “Beatles don’t need passports” (I’m pretty sure they did, but never mind). The computer then picks four lads who are kidnapped and forced to become musicians in a rigorous three-month training session. Then they become mega-successful and are invited to play a concert in Albania.

MOTHAWhy the desperation to infiltrate Albania? It seems that someone has been abducting American “World Leaders”. The movie’s definition of “world leaders” runs to aging stars like Georgie Jessel, Xavier Cugat, Maureen O’Sullivan, Colonel Sanders and Johnnie Weismuller. Yes this bizarre rip-off of The Monkees’ main reason for existing is the numerous cameos of formerly beloved personalities. Good God, just take a look at the IMDb entry and be amazed. Most of the cameos are for one line, and they’re all playing themselves, or claim to be. Richard Pryor is there to teach them about “soul”. Trini Lopez demonstrates proper fingering on a guitar. James Brown makes an appearance as “The Ambassador of the Record Industry”.

So none of these people get to show much about what made them famous. Martha Raye does have a few lines that lets her shine a bit, but most of the movie’s “story” is fairly tedious. There is a major detour into a subplot about a map into the bad guy’s stronghold that is split into three pieces, each piece tattooed on the belly of one of Martha Raye’s daughters. The three photos that allow the Phynx to track them down have no faces, leading the group to perform concerts “For Redheads Only!” and the use of X-Ray Glasses (relax, horndogs, this is a family film and the specs stop at underwear). This helps the under-developed story reach feature-length.

colonel sanders noInformation about the making of this movie is deucedly hard to find, so we have to put on our deerstalker hats (like the head of the SSA when he’s in disguise in London) and start deducing. The fact that it’s an ironic attempt to cash-in on The Monkees is obvious. The main perps, director Lee Katzin, and producers/story writers Bob Booker and George Foster all have numerous TV credits (Booker and Foster, incidentally, were responsible for one of Dave’s favorite Crapfest entries, The Paul Lynde Halloween Special). Most of the larger roles are taken by TV actors – look at Lou Antonio, who gets billing just under The Phynx themselves, as the hapless SSA Agent Corrigan. Antonio’s mug shot on the IMDb is as Lokai in the classic Trek episode, Let That be Your Last Battlefield, but he has an even more impressive filmography as an episodic TV director.

So we can blame this all on TV.

But – and here’s the thing – it’s easy to dismiss this as a clueless attempt by Hollywood oldsters trying to cash in on the lucrative Youth Culture market, but The Phynx actually has some genuinely subversive elements. The SSA meeting at the beginning has its various departments in attendance, from fake guerillas in “Castro’s Counterfeits” to riot cops in the “Education Division”. The head of the SSA, “Number One” is introduced, and he is in disguise, a box over his head with a face drawn on it – but the voice is Richard Nixon’s (the film debut of Rich Little). (Number One will later visit the Phynx in disguise, a beard being drawn on the box) The Phynx are debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show, just like The Beatles, except with Ed at gunpoint, and the reason the Phynx get their gold record is agents of the SSA (led by Corrigan), wearing gangster outfits from the 30s, attack record stores and smash all the other albums. This is a nasty satire on how the record industry was/is run – now consider that this movie is the sole screenplay credit of one Stan Cornyn, an editor and director at Warner Brothers Records. He won two Grammys for Best Liner Notes.

the-phynx-leader-guy

“I am Number One… and I am not a crook.”

So there’s something under all the bumbling, latching onto youth trends and sad nostalgia. Not enough to save The Phynx from obscurity and derision, but enough to make it my favorite movie of the night. Rick was surprised early on when he recognized one scene: this was a movie that he had seen on TV in his youth in Hong Kong. He had wondered ever since what the hell that was he had watched, unable to get an answer… until Crapfest. “God, that I had to come here to find out,” he moaned. “And took the rest of us down with you,” was the reply.

The other sweetness was the opening animated credits lulling everyone into a sense of false security, especially when the music buffs saw the credit, “Songs by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller”. Now, Leiber and Stoller are in the Songwriter Hall of Fame for songs like “Hound Dog”, “Jailhouse Rock” and “Stand By Me”. Then the songs came out in the movie, one by one, and the music buffs moaned in disappointment. There is one thing I have found about my compatriots in Crap – they have no appreciation for psych-tinged pop from the late 60s- early 70s. The songs are actually okay, but not at all memorable.

Fucking kids.

That's Simon Yuen on the cover. Simon Yuen does not appear anywhere in this movie.

That’s Simon Yuen on the cover. Simon Yuen does not appear anywhere in this movie.

Erik had brought a copy of The World of Drunken Master, and it had been a while since we’d played a kung fu flick. This wouldn’t have been my choice, but as London Correspondent Dave Thomas put it, “It’s not the worst of the not-Drunken Master movies”.

Two scalawags have been stealing grapes from a vineyard to sell in the market, and this is a major mistake, as these are the grapes that go into making “sweet premium” wine, the favored brand of drunken masters everywhere. The two are apprehended by the Manager of the Vineyard, who forces them to work off their larcenous debt. They try to intercede when the usual villainous Tartars start grinding the faces of the poor in the marketplace, and get their butts handed to them, Eagle Claw style. The manager, seeing there is some righteousness in them, teaches them Drunken Boxing, which involves chaining bowling balls to your wrists. Eagle Claw steps up the grinding and eventually everybody fights everyone else, and most of them wind up dead.

Ah, but this is all a flashback, as the two students – now aged Drunken Boxing masters themselves – reminisce about old times. The movie’s still only 70 minutes long at this point, though, so a surprise adversary shows up, and when he doesn’t last long enough, another surprise adversary shows up – his motivation is “I’m gonna kill you!” “Wait, you’re not my enemy…” “I’m gonna kill you! LET’S FIGHT!” So they fight. Then the movie ends.

"Ow! My liver!"

“Ow! My liver!”

All the credits indicate that this is a Hong Kong production, but it’s directed by Joseph Kuo, so it feels Taiwanese. My basic problem with Taiwanese martial arts films is what should be a strength – they really are almost non-stop fighting, but there is a resulting lack in the story area. Shaw Brothers movies might be ridiculously rococo in the plotting department, but there is a story and usually a generous helping of different styles to give the fights an individual feel. We get a lot of Eagle Claw vs Drunken Style here, and as British Dave promised, some of it is pretty good. And then the story ends and the movie goes on for another twenty minutes.

But you know, it’s an okay way to breeze through 90 minutes.

Last call.

LOVE BUTCHER 1Dave started up The Love Butcher, which someone online had assured him was a terrible movie.

People online lie.

There have been a series of murders committed with “uncommon weapons”, and what the audience realizes much more quickly than the cops or even the crusading young reporter is that they’re all gardening implements, like the pitchfork that opens the movie. The audience is also cheating, as we have been watching the neighborhood gardener, the simple-minded and disabled Caleb (Erik Stern), who, in his hovel, has conversations with his brother Lester. Except Lester doesn’t really exist until Caleb takes off his glasses, puts on a wig, and straightens out his withered left arm. Then he becomes Lester, a handsome ladykiller in every sense of that word.

Lester...

Lester…

We watch Lester ply his murderous trade, and Stern employ a number of different wigs and foreign accents to get into homes, have his way with the women who don’t give him a second glance as Caleb, and kill them. If you’re rubbing your head and thinking this all sounds rather familiar, it’s essentially the plot of 1968’s No Way to Treat a Lady with Rod Steiger, except now it has more naked breasts, blood and bad 70s wallpaper.

...and Caleb

…and Caleb

Erik Stern had an okay career in TV, and he rarely embarrasses himself as Caleb/Lester. Really, the most fascinating thing about The Love Butcher is the evidence that the filmmakers (who between them have credits for movies like Sweater Girls, Schoolgirls in Chains, The Black 6 and The Forest on their resumés) were trying for a prestige product. The opening credits are done by the same house who did the titles for numerous TV movies. The script goes out of its way for character moments that would be expected in a much more serious movie. In fact, I would almost bet money that this is a TV movie that tossed in enough blood and nudity to get an R rating and theatrical release.

Not terrible, but not particularly good, either: just more evidence that most people who declare a movie “beyond bad” simply have not seen enough movies.

Fucking kids.

I’d had another surprise for the attendees, but it was close to Midnight, and high time to head home. Next time, suckers… next time.

And lest we suspect that these outings are harmless fun, and no damage is done to anybody, here is my Letterboxd “Recently Viewed” before Crapfest…

before

…and after:

After

Fucking kids.