Crapfest: The Mutining

It’s a familiar story by now, so let’s skip it. Sudden loss of paying gig, instead embrace life by making each other suffer with a Crapfest. It just turns out that mission statement was a little too literal this time.

Prepping for the evening’s entertainment

In attendance: Myself, Host David, Rick, Paul, Alan and Erik. I also brought my son, Max, who as we know, is establishing his own bona fides in the world of Crap. The beginning of these things is always a fluid matter, as inevitably we wait for one person or another to show up. The filler for this period was episodes of Jason of Star Command, one of Filmation’s wholesomely boring Saturday morning sci-fi offerings after parent groups scoured the mornings of violently entertaining fare like The Herculoids and Space Ghost.

Jason occupies the sweet (?) spot between Star Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Spun off from the previous year’s Space Academy, it thriftily used that series’ models; the most salient features are Jimmy Doohan as the Commander, and Sid Haig as the cyborg villain Dragos. Jason dresses like a Walmart Han Solo, and has a windup toy robot which has a handy deus ex machina function. There is really not enough Sid Haig, but each episode, sans commercials, was only about 10 minutes, so we kept going on until everybody got there, about four episodes worth.

Before we started in earnest, Dave demanded the flash drives of myself and Erik so he could examine the contents for (harrumph) quality. Of the several flicks on Erik’s drive, he singled out one, and I held that I had never seen it, so that is what we started with. And it would set the sad, horrible tone for the rest of the evening.

Because that movie was The Roller Blade Seven.

There are, in all, five – count them, five – Roller Blade movies. Six, if you count a making-of. They are all (except for the making-of) directed by Donald C. Jackson, likely best known for The Demon Lover or Hell Comes to Frogtown. The first two Roller Blade movies (I am told) are generally fun, cheap, sleazy trash full of gratuitous nudity. With this third one, though, Jackson began a long partnership with Hollywood martial artist Scott Shaw. This was an instance of “zen filmmaking”, which translates into “we make it up as we go along”. Also, gratuitous nudity does not seem to be very zen. In effect, I was somehow tricked into watching the Public Access Cable offering of some early 80s wannabe electro pop band.

In a vaguely post-apocalyptic world, Shaw is Hawk, a guy who roller blades around with a sword. He’s supposed to rescue, um… let’s check the Quotes section in IMDb:

Hawk: You have sent for me, Father Donaldo?

Reverend Donaldo: Hawk, sister Sparrow has been adapted (sic) and taken into our worst nightmare.

Hawk: You mean my sister that has become your sister?

Reverend Donaldo: Yes, our sister sister. You must go now to rescue her!

“Hey, I got this cool armor I made in shop class” “And I got this mail-order camo ninja outfit” “You’re BOTH in the picture!”

Donaldo, incidentally, is played by Jackson himself. Hawk’s rescue mission will somehow involve Frank Stallone, Joe Estevez, William Smith, and Don Stroud, each of whom will get a credit just before their entrance, no matter how far into the story. That’s something I’ve previously only seen in some Hong Kong movies, and it’s not the only strange appropriation, either.

Karen Black shows up as a character named Tarot, who keeps stuffing mushrooms in Hawk’s mouth until he begins tripping balls, and I guarantee that Ms. Black was having some Easy Rider flashbacks of her own while shooting this stuff. There are portions of Roller Blade Seven that feel like Jackson and Shaw had really wished they had made Easy Rider, Performance, Circle of Iron  or any given Jodorowsky flick, and those sections actually approach a sort of brilliance. Then again, that is probably the sheer amount of painkillers I was taking to get through this experience talking.

So now the rollerblade is on the other foot, eh, Rhonda?

Another of the celebrities somehow rooked into appearing in this is Rhonda Shear, late of USA weekend movies. “Ha!” I said. “I have a VHS somewhere of Rhonda dissing Forever Evil.” “And look what you’re doing now,” said Dave behind me. He leaned closer, pointing at my phone. “Do it. Find Rhonda Shear on Twitter and tell her what you’re doing. Do it now.”

Alas, I was already too inebriated to pursue such a complex series of actions for the cold comfort of revenge, and in the sober light of day, I’m probably better off for it. But it was sorely tempting. (As a slight digression, I experimented with a keyboard case for my Kindle Fire to livetweet the Crapfest, but it was too dark in the Mancave to type on an unfamilar device. I returned to the phone, but toward the end it was taking me what felt like five minutes to tap out a coherent message and I gave up)

Supposedly there were over 24 hours of footage shot for this and its direct sequel, Return of the Roller Blade Seven, but that doesn’t stop them from repeating every action shot and every shot leading up to an action shot three or four times.

Why weren’t five movies made about THIS guy?

My favorite character was a bizarre Nash the Slash lookalike who rollerbladed around playing the banjo. Everybody else hated him, which only made it better. Of course, he gets killed by a Utility Ninja (who gets his own credit). Dave uses the VLC Media Player to project most of our stuff, and would jostle the mouse every now and then to display the progress bar at the bottom. The official running time is 96 minutes, but the first time he did that – when we were pretty sure we’d sat through about an hour – it was less than 30 minutes in. Many and varied were the amounts of invective hurled toward Erik by Dave, who felt that Erik should have warned him better, louder, and more colorfully.

If there was one good thing about this, it allowed me to find the next night’s Episode 12 of the new Twin Peaks, which pissed everybody else off, hilarious. The one bad thing was it gave Dave the excuse he needed to throw in something he had been saving for ages.

First he had to go to his computer to set the movie up. “This is open matte!” he proclaimed, and then pointed to me. “Explain to them what open matte means!” he said, and departed. The surprising thing is, as out of it as I was, I actually managed a concise and clear explanation. Then the thing started.

It was Showgirls. Well, I thought, I still haven’t seen it, I guess this is the time, though I was puzzled by the corner super about “Celebrating 25 years of great American cinema” and the network bug in the corner, which at least explained the open matte, 4×3 picture. Then the pure horror of what Dave had perpetrated became obvious.

This was the basic cable TV version with superimposed digital underwear.

The digital underwear is certainly something to see. It looks like those lobby cards from the more salacious flicks of the 70s that have really obvious underthings painted on, except here the outlines of the fake bras are subtly writhing as the actresses move. Alan, who, like me, had never seen Showgirls, left the room and refused to return, not willing to see a literally bowdlerized version. Paul kept us informed as to what was cut out, until he, too, joined the general exodus from the room a half hour in, and the only occupants were myself, my son, and Dave. I decided it was time to take one for the team.

“Okay, I’m calling it.”


“You’ve made your point. Let’s end this and move on.”

“Does this mean I’ve won?”

“Sure. You’ve won.”

“Mark this day down!”


“I want the full details of this in your write-up!”

“Fine, fine.”


This was also the point I stopped live-tweeting, an event Dave later likened to radio contact being cut off from the reporter at Grover’s Mill.

Yet things did actually get worse from there, and it was my fault. An earlier discussion of late night televangelists caused me to realize that I had Werner Herzog’s God’s Angry Man, a marvelous short documentary about the deranged Reverend Gene Scott, on my flash drive. In my impaired state, this seemed like kismet, guidance from above. It turns out Herzog is not a good antidote for denied boobie fans, however, and there was another general exodus. Severe misjudgment on my part. I relented and put on a classic cartoon about everybody’s favorite serial killer, The Pincushion Man.

And then Dave proceeded to soothe a whole lot of hurt feelings with Au Pair Girls (1972).

In the name of laziness, I will simply place the IMDb’s summary here:

Four sexy young foreign girls come to England as au pairs and quickly become quite intimate with their employers, host families, and just about everyone else they encounter.

Yep, that’s pretty much it. That is the very loose framework employed to get four very pretty young women to take their clothes off as often as possible. One of them is Me Me Lai, and it is pretty refreshing to see her get naked and then not get eaten by cannibals. Another of them is Gabrielle Drake, which means if, like me, you only watched the TV series UFO for the Moonbase girls, this is the luckiest day of your life. All these nude misadventures find them jobless and back at their agency, but fortunately our young faux Scandinavian has caught the eye of a rich Sheikh and apparently they all go off to Araby for a happy life of sex slavery.

The most remarkable thing is that it’s directed by Val Guest, just one more stop in a long and varied career. Here, enjoy the theme music that would haunt us for the rest of the evening:

I finally hit a better stride with Bloody Parrot, a completely bizarre Shaw Brothers movie from 1981. The Bloody Parrot is some sort of supernatural thingie that, if you see it, will grant you three wishes. The first guy who sees it is looking for 13 treasures that were stolen from his lord, and his first wish is to find them – they mysteriously appear, but in some Monkey’s Paw shit, his son is killed. Of course, he wishes for his son back, the coffin starts shaking, everybody panics and starts stabbing each other, and the 13 treasures disappear.

This is the first five minutes of the movie.

For the rest of the running time, our hero Yeh Tin-feng (Jason Paio Pai, looking a lot like Kuan Tai Chen) is looking for the treasures because everybody seems to think he has them for some reason. He keeps running across the Bloody Parrot, though no wishes are offered – people just die mysteriously. He follows the most tenuous of clues to the Parrot Brothel, where he falls in with the remarkable courtesan Xue Nu (Jenny Liang), who’s the movie’s major selling point, I’m sure, as evidenced by the opening credits:

Ms. Liang is certainly fetching, and is introduced in a costume that renders her literally half-naked. That she does the following lengthy scene – including a strenuous bit where she is apparently possessed by the devil – in that outfit is pretty amazing and much appreciated by the male audience. The plot goes fourteen different directions at once, involving witches, vampires, cannibals, strange conspiracies, hunchbacks, acid (the burning kind) and then we get introduced to this lady:

Who likes to use the skin of her victims to make clothes. Her weapon is embroidery needles. She is also on the side of the good guys, which surprised some, since you aren’t usually introduced to good guys with somebody’s face in an embroidery hoop..

This was the third time I had seen Bloody Parrot, and this was the time I almost understood the plot. (Maybe I should try that with Roller Blade Seven, but then again naaaaaah, fuck that noise.) Finally Yeh and Xue are separated in the villains’ hall of mirrors, and Xue hits upon the strategy of marking her trail with the only thing on her, her clothing. Which is either the stupidest plan ever or the most phenomenal stroke of genius, depending on your gender.

Villains are finally revealed, and the explanation for what’s going on is so blazingly simple, you wonder why it was necessary to swim through such murky chaos to get to it, but then Liang shows up in that half-dress again, and everything’s okay.

Nothing short on the Internets, you can’t buy it on Amazon, so here:

Mind you, that was me being nice. Then it was time to be not-nice, as I broke out the last of my Andy Milligan blu-rays, Torture Dungeon. Milligan had not yet appeared at Crapfest, which, if not a miscarriage of justice, is at least a bit of a surprise. We are no strangers to Milligan here at Yes, I Know, so let me see if I can be as succinct and informative as I was about open matte abominations.

Milligan is credited with 29 motion pictures, but is probably most famous for ten horror movies made between 1969 and 1973 for the grindhouse market, infamous for their gore. The gore would be considered pretty tame these days, but these flicks are (for me) most notable for the fact that parsimonious producer William Mishkin would give him only $10,000 to make each movie, and they are almost all period piecesTorture Dungeon, in fact is a medieval movie, and attempting to do such a thing on that budget without a renaissance festival nearby is insane.

And check out that authentic period set dressing!

Milligan is self-taught, and his background is largely theatrical; this is always made particularly obvious by his love for lengthy monologues with no cuts. There are at least five of them in Torture Dungeon, but there is damn little of the title character. Two scenes, enough to justify the expense of dressing the basement and larding the makeup on a couple of guys.

There is some sort of plot here about a villainous Duke (Gerald Jacuzzo) plotting to kill all the heirs in line for the crown of England, and for some brain-damaged reason this involves marrying the pretty peasant Heather (Susan Cassidy) to his half-wit brother (after killing her equally-peasant lover), and then immediately murdering the half-wit. There is a surprising amount of nudity from Ms. Cassidy, which was at least a welcome distraction. In fact, she body doubles for another actress (Patricia Garvey, I believe) whose nude scene we were actively rooting for. As Dave pointed out, “It’s the freckles that give it away.” Well, that and the ham-fisted editing.

There is so much more. The Milligan Spin, after every blood scene. That the storytelling is so haphazard that we didn’t even know the Duke only had one arm until halfway through the picture. Milligan did his own costumes, so the “Upholstery or Tablecloth?” game.  The cheap library music that is obviously, jarringly from 60s industrial films, which simply cut off at the end of a scene. I used to say I could watch only one Andy Milligan movie a year, and now I can’t get enough of him. He’s like crap movie crack. True outsider art.

Thus bludgeoned by the evening, we packed up and left, sadder but no wiser. And on the way home, my son asked if I could track down a copy of Roller Blade Seven for him. The horror. The horror.

I don’t want to leave you on such a hopeless note. Here is a Charley Bowers short I screened earlier in the evening, in happier times. Though it is predictably racist in its portrayal of superstitious butlers, it is even more racist against Scotsmen.

Though We Cannot Possibly Recommend It:

Buy The Roller Blade Seven on Amazon

Buy The Un-Bowdlerized Showgirls on Amazon

Buy Au Pair Girls on Amazon

Buy Torture Dungeon on Amazon

Q: Quatermass 2 (1957)

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quatermass_ii_quatermass_2-646929776-largeWhy, yes, I will be riding this Quatermass gravy train as long as I keep doing these A-Z challenges.

Last year we re-watched The Quatermass Xperiment, a superb thriller that was the prototype for a particular sub-genre of monster movies. And this year I find myself re-watching its sequel, once more adapted from a Nigel Kneale TV serial, and finding it both more and less than its progenitor.

Quatermass (Brian Donlevy), the American head of the British Rocket Group, has problems, and oddly, they aren’t because his last launch brought a monster back from outer space. His current model rocket has a nuclear engine, and it is so faulty that it can’t be safely launched, putting his whole Moon Base project in peril. Adding to this bad day is the near-accident that opens the movie, as a woman trying to get her injured and seemingly delirious boyfriend to a hospital, nearly runs him off the road. This boyfriend was burned by an apparent meteorite that broke open in his hands.

quatermass-ii-5Speaking of meteorites, the radar at the Group’s rocket base has been picking up strange swarms of small objects, except they’re moving too slowly to actually be meteorites – and they’re all falling at the same remote village where the man was injured. Quatermass takes a road trip there, ignoring various KEEP OUT signs, only to find a ruined village and… his Moon Base.

Much skullduggery and digging up details follows, as Quatermass eventually determines this facility – supposedly a top secret project developing “artificial food” – actually is a Moon Base of sorts – the pressure domes housing not astronauts, but the creatures traveling in the fake meteorites, which cannot exist in Earth’s atmosphere unless they invade and infect human beings. It’s a quiet invasion that’s been going on for several years, compromising even the higher reaches of government, and it’s up to Quatermass – and our old pal from the first movie, Inspector Lomax of Scotland Yard (John Longden, this time) to put a stop to it.

quatermassii1So the breadth of the story this time does not have the same lean, mean quality of Xperiment, and that is perfectly all right – that is what a sequel is supposed to be, and so rarely is – an expansion on the first movie, with new challenges for its heroes. The back-and-forth nature of the plot’s unfolding works against, it, though, and it’s going to take Quatermass three trips into the danger zone to find out what is going on. That’s likely more due to the compression of the original serial, which ran to six half-hour episodes, than any actual fault with the filmmakers.

Nigel Kneale and director Val Guest share screenwriting credit here; Kneale had renegotiated his contract to have more power, but he couldn’t override Donlevy’s return as the title character. Kneale hated Donlevy’s brusque, barking version of Quatermass, and claimed his alcoholism ruined everything (Guest vigorously denied this). Guest trimmed down Kneale’s philosophizing and tried, once more, to produce a movie as close to cinema verite as possible, rendering the fantastic real. There is at least one cast member carried over from the TV version: the Shell refinery at Stanford-le-Hope, Essex, doubling for the ersatz moon base, a tremendous amount of production value, right there, providing the sort of sets that the fledgling Hammer Films would not have been able to afford.

quatermass-2-23Oh, yes, it’s a Hammer Film. The Quatermass Xperiment was such a financial success for them, they had optioned Quatermass II (note the fancier Roman numeral) before the first page of script had passed through a typewriter. Hammer had, in fact, tried to make another Quatermass movie in the meantime, only to be stymied by Kneale’s refusal to license his character; the result was 1956’s X the Unknown, which is actually a pretty effective horror movie, even if it is faux Quatermass. Their anxiety over continuing this fruitful line of production would be forgotten later in 1957 when they released another little movie, Curse of Frankenstein.

Quatermass 2 is generally regarded as the least of the Quatermass movies, but look what it’s up against! Xperiment and Quatermass and the Pit are both superior horror/science-fiction, and dismissing the middle child here is doing it a disservice. It is a darned good tale, and if you want to dig a little deeper, you can even say it is an allegory for corruption in high places, or government being suborned by corporations. It shouldn’t be passed over, because it is, at the end of the day, good entertainment, even if it does feel langorous in pace and yet, somehow at the same time, somewhat rushed.

Of course we yanks wouldn’t go to some movie with a sissy name like Quatermass! We need a more manly title!

You can try to buy Quatermass 2 on Amazon – good luck!

Q: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

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The Quatermass Xperiment _aka Shock_ aka The Creeping Unknown_ _1955_ UK_We’ll get a commonly-known piece of trivia out of the way: the missing initial “E” in “Xperiment” was a clever little nod to the British film classification’s “X” rating – no one under 16 allowed. That wouldn’t have flown for us Yanks, though, who needed none of those fancy-pants classifications, we just relied on good ol’ censorship to make our movie-going safe. So over here we called it The Creeping Unknown, which is much more butch.

So a rocketship crash lands just outside a British farmhouse, and among the folks flocking to the crash site are Professor Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) and Dr. Gordon Briscoe (David King-Wood) of the British-American Rocket Group. Quatermass, ever the pushy American, sent out the rocket and its three-man crew without waiting for official sanction, much to the dismay of the man from the Home Office (the always welcome Lionel Jeffries). And now this! Jeffries sputters. Shut up, Quatermass explains.

3582619_s1_i2It turns out only one crewman is in there – Victor Carroon (Richard Wordsworth). All that remains of the other two are empty pressure suits. Caroon is in shock and can say nothing.

Quatermass has Carroon taken to their base so Briscoe can try to puzzle out the man’s condition while his wife, Judith (Margia Dean) fusses about. Carroon’s body is undergoing strange changes, and he seems to rouse from his catatonic state only when Judith brings flowers into his room…

Cartel+1955+The+Quatermass+Xperiment+7-1024x751Eventually Carroon deteriorates to the point that Briscoe overrules Quatermass and has him taken to a hospital – where Judith, having had enough, hires a detective to smuggle her husband out. During this escape attempt, Carroon can’t hold out anymore and punches a decorative cactus in his room. The investigator notices that Carroon’s hand is now changing into cactus, and Carroon kills him, “absorbing his essence” -ie., sucking all the blood and water out of his body – and escaping into the night.

quatermass-hammer-1955-monsters-armQuatermass, reluctantly joining forces with Inspector Lomax of the London Police (Jack Warner), now must track down the metamorphosing Carroon as he lurches about London, trying not to kill people but failing as the alien thing inside him grows and grows. A piece – or something of a seed pod – falls off, and examining it while it eats mice (offscreen, luckily), Briscoe deduces that once Carroon fully transforms, he will release spores, and then there will be millions of the creatures.

This is, of course, the first of the highly successful Quatermass movies, based on a character created for a popular BBC TV serial, which was, for 1955, “Event TV”. It was written by Nigel Kneale, a name which would become synonymous with intelligent science fiction. Many film companies were interested in turning it into a movie, but they all balked at making something that would surely be rated “X”. Except for this one upstart company, known up to that point for only making “second features” – what we call “B movies” over here. A little studio called Hammer Films.

image4Director Val Guest, heretofore known primarily for comedies, claims that he was the only person in England who didn’t watch “The Quatermass Experiment” when it was first broadcast – he didn’t like science fiction. He intended to put off Producer Anthony Hinds by going on vacation and only grudgingly taking the script with him. His wife, actress Yolande Donlan, teased him about it until he read the script in one afternoon on the beach and fell in love with it.

Kneale’s original serial ran three hours, I believe, and was heavily edited for the movie. What he resented even more, however, was the casting of Donlevy as Quatermass, a necessity for selling the picture to an American market. In the serial, Quatermass is a thoughtful Oxford Don type. It has to be admitted that Donlevy’s brusque, no-nonsense approach to the character propels the movie forward like a barking dog shepherding its flock. Kneale had his contract with the BBC re-negotiated so he would have more control over his intellectual property in the future (though Donlevy is still playing Quatermass in the sequel film Quatermass II – in America, Enemy From Space).

brian-donlevy-bernard-quatermass-hammer-1955Val Guest’s equally no-nonsense direction is what gives Quatermass most of its power – he decided that such a fantastic story – this is still two years before Sputnik, remember – needed a realistic delivery, and tried, as much as possible, to shoot the movie in a documentary fashion, to great effect. And no discussion of Xperiment can be complete without at least a mention of Richard Wordsworth’s performance as the doomed, tortured Carroon. Never speaking, everything the character is experiencing – the horror, the struggle – is delivered only through facial expression and body language. Best known as a theatrical actor with occasional TV roles, this is Wordsworth’s first movie role. Certainly not his last.

2590xper4The Quatermass Xperiment was a tremendous success for Hammer (although the reviews from the local press are amusingly disdainful), and in the next couple of years they would produce Quatermass II and the faux Quatermass movie X the Unknown (Kneale wouldn’t let them use his character), before finally hitting the cash cow they would ride for a decade and more, gothic horror with Dracula. (Horror of Dracula hereabouts, just to distinguish it from all those other Dracula flicks)

This is a ground zero movie, folks. This is the progenitor of its own sub-genre; from this descends First Man Into Space, Monster-A-Go-Go and others. As the first, it demands some respect, and that respect is quite honestly deserved.

And now for a spoiler-iffic trailer!

Buy The Quatermass Xperiment on Amazon