The Last Crap of Summer

It actually happens, every now and then, that I get a Saturday off. This is a mixed blessing; no work on Saturday means no pay, but it also means that it is possible to throw together a Crapfest WITH NO HOLDS BARRED! IT’S A SATURDAY! ALL BETS ARE OFF! WHAT YOU GOT TO DO ON A SUNDAY, ANYWAY?

(Well, I had to get up at 8am to read at Hippie Church, but why should I get more sleep on a Sunday than I do any other day?)

We had a fairly full roster, with only The Other David absent, as in a mirror image of my plight, he had a show that evening. Host Dave had rearranged the furniture in the Crapfest Room, and we lolled about in spacious luxury as Hell unspooled before our very eyes.

santo-titleDave started off with a movie that, like the devil, has many names: the one plastered on the screen as a subtitle was Sex and the Vampire. If you are looking for it on the IMDb, it is better known as Santo and Dracula’s Treasure or Santo en el tesoro de Drácula. In my peculiar little world, El Santo requires no introduction; I find in this world, however, such is not the case. So there was some discussion about lucha libre and pro wrestling, and everybody missed the plot set-up, which is Standard Operating Procedure for a Crapfest. (In lieu of such discussion, I will simply direct you to the Wikipedia page for El Santo)

El Santo, besides being a famous wrestler, crimefighter, and monster-killer, is also an accomplished scientist, it turns out, and has invented a time machine. But it is INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS and has not been tested yet, so the scientists he invited to ooh and ahh at it instead go “Poo-poo!” and march out. The machine will only send a person back to a past incarnation, and for some reason it is safest to send a woman with voluptuous curves into the past,  so Santo’s plucky girlfriend Luisa (Noelia Noel) puts on a high-collared silver suit and walks into a very short Time Tunnel.

timetvWouldn’t you know it, she appears in a household that is being bedeviled by a foreign gent who calls himself Alucard (Aldo Monti), and yes, our local brainiac Professor Van Roth (Fernando Mendoza) has to write that name down and hold it up to a mirror. This version of Dracula, it should be pointed out, has a propensity for taking off women’s clothing, and has a harem of brides who take “clothing optional” very seriously. This convinced Paul that Dracula was the true hero of the movie.

Now, about the time we start wondering “Didn’t this movie used to have El Santo in it?” We see El Santo watching the unfolding Dracula movie on a Time TV; and he’s getting increasingly worried when Luisa’s previous incarnation is vampirized and about to be staked by Van Roth right after he put paid to Dracula. Santo brings her back in the nick of time.

Dracula, Prince of Nudies

Dracula, Prince of Nudies

Now how, you may wonder, did I know about Santo’s time machine, and the shadowy black figure who is watching Santo watch Time TV? Well, much to my consternation, el tesoro de Dracula is in large part an uncredited remake of Attack of the Aztec Mummy, which I had watched a couple a months ago in preparation for an October roundtable (plug plug). Santo decides that finding Dracula’s resting place, and getting his medallion, which will lead to the titular treasure, will prove to all those scoffers that his time machine works.

There follows a shot-for-shot recreation of the tomb scene in Aztec Mummy, right down to the odious comic relief spotting the villainous Man In Black and mistaking him for a ghost. The only deviation is a fight between Santo and the MiB thugs, after which they find Dracula’s coffin, the stake still in his remarkably preserved body, and they take the medallion. But! Dracula’s ring has the key to decoding the medallion’s map, and the MiB steals the ring, then has his burly henchman Atlas wrestle Santo for it (I was wondering how they were going to work a wrestling ring in, and they promote the match for two weeks). Santo, of course, wins, and the MiB hands over the ring, which you have to admit is kind of classy.

AlucardBut he then has his thugs take the stake out of Dracula, figuring that the Count will track down his jewelry, and we’re back to Aztec Mummy territory again. Paul said, “Yay! Dracula’s back! Maybe we’ll have boobs again!” (speaking of titular treasure, har de har) Paul is remarkably psychic, as we did indeed, and then Drac goes ahead and revives all his clothing-challenged brides again, to boot. Santo still wins, which in Paul’s book, means that evil (and clothing) won the day.

It was time to start preparing the evening meal, and the folks doing the planning had outdone themselves: Erik had personally hand-wrapped and skewered a small army of shrimp in bacon, and Rick had an assortment of artisan sausages and pork tenderloin. Science and physics were employed to grill this meaty menagerie without making the Crapfest Room any hotter. All these efforts were highly successful, and damn Rick, but you work magic on a grill. In medieval times, you would have been burned at the stake as a sorcerer. I had a meat hangover the next day, and couldn’t look at anything but salad.

zapin1But it also fell to me to throw in some filler. We had already been through all my trailer compilations, but I had brought something else, something that could also be turned off at anytime with no loss of story: Miss Nymphet’s Zap-In, which had been offered by Vinegar Syndrome as a free download.

There is nudity in the first scene. There is nudity in every scene following. ‘Why are you being so nice to them?” Dave asked me, dismayed. “Because I know what is to come,” I replied. Zap-In is a blatantly obvious rip-off of Laugh-In. right down to go-go dancers (topless in this case) doing their thing while supposedly humorous text is displayed over their gyrating forms. Every now and then we see the cast walking in a circle as if they were playing musical chairs, until someone off camera throws the signal, they all freeze in different positions and say “ZAP!” One lady keeps falling over, which is the funniest thing in the entire movie.

False advertising, and overpriced, to boot.

False advertising, and overpriced, to boot.

You see, this is an H.G. Lewis movie, produced and directed under two of his numerous pseudonyms. And you haven’t lived until you see H.G. Lewis doing comedy. Wait, I should have said you have never experienced a slow, lingering death until you have seen H.G. Lewis doing comedy. So, in a 75 minute movie, at minute 40, I hear a haunted voice from the back of the room moaning, “I never thought I would be tired of seeing tits.” They made it to minute 50 before they begged to shut it off like George C. Scott in Hardcore. I felt like Victor Von Doom after one of his plots against the Cursed Richards had achieved fruition.

All right now, seriously, folks. It was time for a movie I had been trying to force into a Crapfest for months, if not years. The Stabilizer.

It's the Drunken Master's Grand Theft Auto! It says so right on the box!

It’s the Drunken Master’s Grand Theft Auto! It says so right on the box!

The Stabilizer is an Indonesian action movie from 1986 starring Peter O’Brian, a teacher who was vacationing in Indonesia when filmmakers noticed he looked sorta kinda like Frank Stallone and offered him lots of money to extend his vacation and make a couple of movies. He wound up making five more over the next six years, ending up with Angel of Fury, with Cynthia Rothrock.

O’Brian is Peter Goldson, a CIA guy called The Stabilizer because the CIA likes to nickname guys the opposite of what they do, I guess. He comes to Jakarta to help his old friend Captain Johnny (Harry Capri) find Professor Provost (Kaharudin Sayah) who has invented a “narcotics detector”, and who has been abducted by Goldson’s old enemy, the musically-named Greg Rainmaker, whose supervillain gimmick is big boots with golf cleats.

Both The Stabilizer's girlfriend and his archenemy have this photo of him. And that's all you really need to know about this movie.

Both The Stabilizer’s girlfriend and his archenemy have this photo of him. And that’s all you really need to know about this movie.

What follows is pretty much non-stop action with sweet 80’s fashion, all leopard print spandex and triangular pockets with zippers. The only way to respond to this movie is the line from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure: “Great movie, Pee-Wee! Action-packed!” Seriously: it is quite possible to see the seed of movies like The Raid in this, with a desire to create Raiders of the Lost Ark-style action setpieces without the real talent – or coherent story – to back it up.  Whatever else it may be, The Stabilizer is not boring, and is totally committed to insane action.  It presents a country where doors are never used when there is a motor vehicle to drive through a wall, and bad guys have maps on their person labeled “Location Map”, causing the heroes to say, “This could lead somewhere.”

ZAP!

pulgaposterWhen trying to come down from the mind-searing momentum of The Stabilizer (“Situation… stabilized!!!“) Dave determined that the very best way to go was with Pulgasari. Again, a short class was required.

In 1978, Kim Jong-il, then only the son of the ruling despot of North Korea, decided he wanted to make some movies and had one of his favorite directors, the South Korean Shin Sang-ok kidnapped (Shin’s actress ex-wife, Choi Eun-hee, was abducted first, possibly to lure Shin to Hong Kong) to direct his films.

Shin directed seven films for Kim Jong-il, until he and Choi managed to flee to an American Embassy while attending a film festival in Vienna – in 1986, eight years after their abduction. This story is probably better than any Shin was forced to make under orders; I may never know, because Pulgasari seems to be the only one generally available.

Pulgasari01Based (of course) on a North Korean fairy tale, Pulgasari starts with the usual despotic King (but it’s okay, because he’s an imperialist despot, not a beloved despot like Kim Il-sung) crushing the peasantry and confiscating all their cookware and farming implements to make weapons. A heroic blacksmith refuses and is tortured and imprisoned. He makes a little figure out of rice and mud before he dies; his daughter pricks her finger while sewing, and a drop of blood falls on the figure, bringing it to life as the metal-eating monster Pulgasari.

The more metal it eats, the bigger it gets, and it is soon helping the rebel army take on the evil forces of the King, despite all the kaiju size deathtraps the army prepares for it. (Kim Jong-Il was also a big Godzilla fan, so it’s really kind of interesting that his kaiju flick owes more to the Daimajin movies than the Big G). Eventually the King gets smished and the people triumph, except that Pulgasari is still hungry and starts eating all the cookware and farming implements (because Pulgy represents unchecked capitalism, you see) until the blacksmith’s daughter sacrifices herself to save the villagers.

Pulgasari.jpgPulgasari has a professional sheen but stolid pace; Jong-il hired technicians from Toho, including Kenpachiro Satsuma, the stunt performer who was operating the Godzilla suit in that period, to play Pulgasari. As I said, very professional, good-looking… and more than a little tedious. As Dave said after the movie was over, “I feel like I was kidnapped by North Korea.”

Something extremely insane was necessary to raise us from the Pulgasari doldrums. There was a small vocal minority that was fomenting for The Apple, to mark the passing of Menahem Golan, but it was noted that none of these people had actually seen that movie, and they were in large part the same people Rick had conned into demonstrating for The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, so they were roundly ignored. After tossing The Apple under the bus, we, for some outlandish reason (I personally blame lots and lots of vodka), went for another movie Rick had been pushing for ages: Skatetown USA.

Poster_of_the_movie_Skatetown,_USAWe must note that Skatetown has never had a legitimate video release, likely because its soundtrack has a lot of really recognizable songs from 1980, marking it as being from the same era as FM and Americathon, when movies were marketing tools for what were hoped to be hot-selling soundtrack albums. Rick’s copy was apparently one of a number of nefarious versions floating around struck from a 16mm print.

This is one of those movies that you can tell was based firmly on the Official Drug of Disco, Cocaine – and that is the only possible excuse for its existence. Roller Disco had come and gone in the time it took to make this movie, much less get it released. But let’s see what sense can be made out of what came from this cauldron of coke and something else beginning with a K sound.

skatetownbradford2

Here is everything wrong with the late 70s, in one picture.

There is this roller disco presided over by a Wizard in a white afro. It’s actually owned by Bill Barty and run by his son, Flip Wilson. Okay, I’ll wait a few minutes while you work the cramps out of your brain. Okay? Halfway through the movie, we’ll discover that Mrs. Barty is Flip Wilson as Geraldine, so that explains THAT.

skatetown_usa_pdpNOW. There is some sort of contest held every year at the roller disco (in this wizard-run fantasy realm, roller disco has been going great guns for two years), for the best roller disco dance number, and the prize is a thousand dollars and a moped. Scott Baio is training his friend Stan (Greg Bradford) to win the contest, making them the Rocky and Mickey of this movie (Bradford actually has less range and versatility than Stallone). BUT. The fix is on, and the leader of the local gang of disco hooligans, Ace (Patrick Swayze, in his film debut) is sure to win for the second year running.

I really do not miss the days of roving bands of roller disco hooligans.

ALSO. Some illegal drugs have been spilled in a grinder so every body is getting hooked on the Most Delicious Pizza Ever (made by professional fake Avery Schrieber Vic Dunlop), including Ruth Buzzi, who is there as part of a church group to shut down this Den of Iniquity. I’m also told Joe E. Ross is in there, too, going “Ooh, ooh!” but I missed him. Also Dorothy Stratten in a halter top and hot pants. Her I saw (mainly because Rick would scream “Dorothy Stratten!” every time she appeared).

love cocaineTHEN. The competition happens, with Ace’s treacherous band of hooligans sabotaging all the other solo acts, led by Ace’s right hand man, Ron Pallilo as Dark Horshack. One of the contestants is a guy who, for some reason only apparent to the cocainated, is dressed like a Mexican bandito, right down to floppy mustache. He became known to us as “I Love Cocaine Man”, especially after Dark Horshack douses him with itching powder just before his number. Knowing the rest of this movie, it was probably itching cocaine.

DARK. HORSHACK.

DARK. HORSHACK.

Swayze’s entry, partnered with his belt, is actually pretty good (Swayze was a competitive skater, after all). Stan’s entry is even better (we’re told), and goes un-sabotaged when Dark Horshack is ambushed by an over-acting Bill Kirchenbauer. Admittedly, at one point, Stan does ride a skateboard while still wearing roller skates, which is sort of the Platonic ideal for skating. The fix is still on, though, and Ace wins – and it’s time for SUDDEN DEATH OVERDISCO!!!

Marcia! Nooooo!

Marcia! Nooooo!

This is a couples event, so Swayze and his main squeeze – and of course, his belt – smoke up the dance floor while Dark Horshack takes Stan’s partner out parking with a drug pizza. Stan’s partner, incidentally, is Maureen McCormick, better known as Marcia Marcia Marcia Brady on The Brady Bunch, and here, sadly enough, lapsing back into cocaine addiction, given the work environment. She is so out of it, we can’t even call her Dark Marcia, it’s more like Trash Marcia, and I just came through this movie feeling badly for her. Especially since she’s now hooked up with Dark Horshack, thanks to the drug pizza.

Ace’s squeeze defects over to Stan (replacing Marcia Marcia Marcia) and Stan wins, leading to a roller race down a pier resulting in Stan’s saving Ace’s life when a bit of sabotage goes wrong. Everybody now likes and respects everybody else, and we all go back to the roller disco for happy dancing and lots of cocaaaaaaaaaaaaaine.

A Photo of everything ELSE wrong with the late 70s.

A Photo of everything ELSE wrong with the late 70s.

Scott Baio says he kept turning this movie down until they offered him a ridiculous amount of money, and he still wound up regretting it, saying “It was just a guy making a film who didn’t know how to make a film,” by which he means William A. Levey, whom we all know from (ack) Blackenstein. Case closed.

And, for all that, Skatetown USA was still accorded to be the highlight of the evening.

“The Greatest Story Ever Rolled” hahahahahaSHOOT ME

Surprisingly, this poster doesn't lie THAT much...

Surprisingly, this poster doesn’t lie THAT much…

The rest of the wusses headed out, leaving only Rick, myself and Dave, who then proceeded to tempt me with a movie with which I was unfamiliar. A Philippine flick featuring Vic Diaz and Sid Haig, Wonder Women. “Sold!”

Ross Hagen is Mike Harber, who is hired/blackmailed by Lloyds of London to find a missing jai alai star player, only to find that he has been kidnapped by Dr. Tsu (Nancy Kwan) for spare parts in her organ-legging operation. She offers youthful, strong body parts (and in some cases, total brain transplants) to rich old men to finance her other… stuff, I guess, including her army of mini-skirted murderesses. Harber isn’t shy about mowing them down with his sawed-off shotgun, either, when they shoot at him, which is often.

"Ba-OOGA! Ba-OOGA! Escaped mew-tant alert! Ba-OOGA!"

“Ba-OOGA! Ba-OOGA! Escaped mew-tant alert! Ba-OOGA!”

Vic Diaz, the patron saint of Philippine exploitation movies, plays Lapu Lapu, the driver of a fantastically pimped-out taxi who serves as Harber’s guide. Sid Haig, on the other hand, has a pretty uncommon role, as Dr. Tsu’s lawyer and organ broker, given to suits and shirts with enormous ruffles. Dr. Tsu has some failed experiments in cages (which I immediately dubbed “Mew-tants”), and if you think they’re going to eventually get loose and start roaming the compound, get yourself a cookie from the Crapfest jar (You can’t miss it, it looks like Vic Diaz). There is also a really good chase scene using those tricked out taxis through crowded streets – very Bondian.

Because Dave demanded (and supplied) it: a picture of Dr. Tsu’s operatory, including surgical scrubs by Glad®, all the better to continue showing off their kicky miniskirts and go-go boots:scrubs

Past that, though, there isn’t that much to remember. It seems an unnecessary remake of The Million Eyes of Su Muru, but what the hell, badass babes in miniskirts provides a good cooling down period. Oh yeah, Dr. Tsu has invented something called “Brain Sex” so you can also throw in ripping off Barbarella to the list. And the assassination at the cockfight from Man With the Golden Gun. And… oh, never mind, this piece is already too long.

So we woke up Rick (“I tried. I really tried.” “But what? It wasn’t bad enough?”) and went on our weary ways. It was a good Crapfest. You can tell a really good Crapfest by the way it eats holes in your memory, rendering you unable to be totally certain that you really saw what you think you saw. So we leave you with the two things that make the world go ’round:

ZAP!

and

TEI2ufq

 

(Dave worked hard on that. Feel free to praise him, or pity him.)

How to Waste A Labor Day Weekend

Ah, Labor Day. You are a welcome surcease, a chance to sleep in a bit, to attend an impromptu lunch honoring a returning comrade, a chance to catch up on this blog. You are also a cancellation of The Show, which I may find tedious, but is a vital part of my patchwork economy in these troubled times. I could moan about that, or I could drown my sorrows in crap cinema, which I did. Rick was the only one of the Four Horsemen brave enough (or, alternately, in town enough – curse you, Final Weekend of Summer!) to attend. I was determined to make a dent on The List of movies I had required myself to see this year, which left us a whoooooooole bunch of leeway in our viewing, as I still had 33 movies to go, 24 on the B-Movie List, 9 on the Quality List. How’d we do? Well, the list is now down to 30, thanks to our valiant efforts. First, though, I put on a DVD-R I had gotten from Something Weird Video. To be precise, I got it for Adventures in Balloonland, but I am saving that in retribution for Strange Beings, which was inflicted on me at the last official Crapfest. No, I went for something Rick had once expressed interest in, even though he will deny it: the unaired pilot for a children’s TV show, Polly Pockets.

The King and Queen of Gloom. There goes the budget.

As the box copy points out, Polly Pockets has nothing to do with the toy line of pocket-size dolls; Polly Pockets is an effervescent brunette with a skirt composed of nothing but pockets, and theoretically anything can be pulled from them. Her accomplice is a Royal Dano-type named Dandy Andy, who is notable for failing at everything in a komedic fashion. At one point, Polly pulls something – an onion? – out of a pocket, reminding her of her trip to the Castle of Gloom, at which point the entire thing turns into a community theater production of Marat/Sade complete with songs. We were especially appreciative of the King and Queen of Gloom, whose crowns were so-very-obviously made of construction paper. The King’s was decorated with Magic Marker, but the Queen’s had some fancy glue-and-glitter detailing. Rick pointed out that the box copy also promised “A Visit to Santa”, and we figured what the hell, we’re here, and proceeded to suffer through the worst damned Christmas themed thing we had endured since The Magic Christmas Tree. Two kids write and ask Santa if they can visit him at the North Pole, and Santa – I’ve seen worse Santa beards, but not many – thinks, “Well, it’s Christmas Eve, my busiest night of the year… but what the hell,” and sends an elf to pick them up and bring them to his split-level ranch living room so they can tour some shopping center Christmas displays. Just when it starts to get really stultifying, apparently Something Weird thought, “Christ, this is boring,” and slapped in a puppet show.

But this is not just any puppet show. No, this is Labor Day weekend, after all, so this is a Union puppet show. I am duty-bound to inform you that I Cannot Make Shit Like This Up. That title card just sort of passed us by, but then we find ourselves confronted by the happy worker puppet, telling us the sammich his wife made was so good, it practically had a beer on top. He is then bedeviled by some sort of boxer with a glass bottle for a body, who claims he is “the champion”, only to be set straight by the Worker, who informs him that the AFL-CIO is the true champion. The scene then changes to a kitchen, where another glass-bottle homunculus tells us how safe he is because he’s sterilized, which gets reallllllllly creepy when the Mom puppet shows up to be told how she needs more sterile men like himself in her life (for instance, she had been buying milk in those horrible opaque paper cartons and last evening, when she discovered it was actually empty, her husband almost left her!) . The camera keeps cutting to an audience of children who must actually be at a Howdy Doody taping or something, because they are not banging at the doors begging to be released. Then it ends, threatening us with “50 TV stations”. I don’t know what that was about, and I sure as hell ain’t going back to find out. Until I spring this on the next Crapfest, anyway, because the workers control the means of production.

Well, enough of our civic duties, it was movie time, We started off with Big Bad Mama, something I had been trying to work into a Crapfest for ages. Pity I never did get it in, because the first bare breast shot is about two minutes into the movie, and the boys of Crapfest dearly love their gratuitous nudity.

Roger Corman had a nice little cottage industry remixing Bonnie and Clyde throughout the early 70s. This time the gang is all-female, Mama (Angie Dickinson) and her two nubile daughters (Susan Sennett and Robbie Lee), trying to make it in 1932 East Texas. If you actually live in East Texas, this will amuse you, as mountainous Southern California is not really a good match. Anyway, the girls wind up helping hapless bank robber Fred Diller (Tom Skerritt) whose heist is going terribly wrong, and thus begin their lives as felons. Mom sleeps with Diller while the girls fume over the unfairness of it all, until Mom runs into William Baxter, a smooth con man who takes Diller’s place in bed, while the two girls share the discarded Diller.

The plot structure owes a lot to Corman’s own Bloody Mama, with stress in the gang finally leading up to a kidnapping that goes wrong. Throughout, you can sense the presence of Corman, doubtless wearing a green visor and holding an open accounting ledger, nudging director Steve Carver and saying, “Excuse me, but we haven’t had a bare boob in almost four minutes.”

Yes, once again we find ourselves ogling Angie Dickinson’s unclad charms, and viewers of a certain age can get a bit of a pleasurable thrill by realizing that this hit the drive-ins just as Police Woman was gearing up on TV. Now a word about Shatner: I have always liked Shatner, even – perhaps especially – when he goes way over the top. There’s not a lot of it here, but I will say this: he doesn’t cheat in his nude scenes. America being what it is, the little Shatner isn’t going to hove into view, but it comes close. By God, if Angie was going to be in the altogether, so was he.

In a less salacious light: there is one scene where, in the foreground, Dickinson and Skerritt are having a yelling, screaming argument. In the background is Shatner, who, with no lines, no blocking, still manages to steal the scene. I have to respect that.

Then came the Blu-Ray (!) of The Exterminator, starring Robert “Paper Chase” Ginty, embarking on his 80s career as an action hero. Exterminator  spends a lot of money in its pre-credit sequence, showing Steve James saving Ginty’s life in Vietnam. Then we go to New York, where Steve James again saves Ginty’s ass from a gang called the Ghetto Ghouls. You might think be thinking “Hey, I hope this movie is about Steve James,” but stop thinking like that, because the Ghouls mug James the next day, breaking his neck and paralyzing him for life. Ginty starts thinking positively, tracks down the people responsible, and lets them get eaten by rats.

Hey, good movie, you might say, but no, we are only 20 minutes in. Ginty then goes about stealing money from the local head of the Beef Mafia (the cops refer to them as “meat mobsters”) to take care of James’ family. The meat mobster doesn’t tell Ginty about the trained attack dog at his house, so once Ginty dispatches the dog with an electric carving knife, he feeds the mafioso through an industrial grinding machine.

We still got tons of movie left, so Ginty just sort of starts wandering around, looking for lowlifes who need exterminating. He finds them in great plenitude in 1980 New York. There is also, needless to say, a cop on his trail: no less than Christopher George, who, like Ginty, is going to be going back and forth between USA and Italian sound stages a lot in those years. George’s story is teased out over most of the movie – very slowly teased out because we spend a lot of time on his romance with a doctor played by Samantha Eggar, which slows the plot down to a crawl.

The most interesting bit is when Ginty pulls out what we referred to as his “Vietnam Box”, a case holding a ton of weapons, including grenades, that he supposedly stole from the Army. Later, when he has a solid lead on The Exterminator, George reaches into his locker and pulls out his own Vietnam Box, with a .45 auto and a tactical shotgun.

We also get some political intrigue, which feels rather half-cooked and shoe-horned in. There’s CIA agent demanding information from George because “The Exterminator… is making the incumbent look bad.” Man! Politics! Can’t even get away from it in a crap movie!

I have to say, The Exterminator  does deliver on what it promises. If you want a gritty Death Wish type rip-off, you could do a lot worse (I know I have). And that Synapse Blu-Ray is gorgeous.

Next up: a movie my pal Dave has been pestering me to see forever: The Cell.

In The Cell, there is an experimental procedure that allows a child therapist (Jennifer Lopez) to journey into the mindscape of a catatonic boy. The procedure is suddenly, urgently pressed into use to send Lopez into the mind of a comatose serial killer (Vincent D’Onofrio), to attempt to find his latest victim before she is killed in an automated death trap.

This is Tarsem Singh’s first movie, and his penchant for manipulated images serves the trips into mental spaces quite well. Rick tells me this is a pre-nose job Lopez, and I’ll trust him on that. If there were any misgivings about Lopez as an actress, The Cell should have put them away; she does very well. D’Onofrio is, as usual, fantastic, though I think there are a few times that Singh either let him, or directed him to, go too far. Vince Vaughn is the federal agent tracking down D’Onofrio, and it was shocking to see how thin the 2000 Vaughn was.

If I have one problem with the script, it’s that when Vaughn figures out how to find the death box (after he himself has a traumatic trip into D’Onofrio’s mind), the clue that he’s sussed out is so obvious, it could only have been missed by sloppy detective work. Given the number of men working on the scene, it’s pretty unlikely.

If I have two problems with the movie, it’s that it bears some resemblance to a script I wrote back in college. My tragic mistake? I didn’t think to put a serial killer in the plot. What was I thinking?

A good enough movie. I don’t think I would have been more impressed with the visuals in 2000, though. There is just some level that it doesn’t engage me like I feel it should. I don’t delight in the process of discovery, so it fails as mystery (I’ve already bitched about that final clue). It’s not intense enough to qualify as horror, but it does come close a couple of times. It is even too busy trying to tell a touching story as Lopez struggles to save the little boy version of D’Onofrio trapped in his head to qualify as a thriller or a science fiction story. It’s an odd creature, not fish, not fowl, and I can’t find its own terms to meet it on.

But enough of that flighty stuff. We ended the evening with Women in Cages, classy fare if there ever was.

I think this may be at the start of Corman’s Filipino Women In Prison cycle; it’s directed by Gerardo de Leon, an old pro in the Philippine film market – you can thank him, at the very least,  for two of the Blood Island movies and Terror Is A Man, a surprisingly effective Island of Dr. Moreau rip-off. So Women in Cages is a well-made, efficient WIP movie, with the usual demeaning work in the sugar cane fields, showers, and catfights.

One of the very few things that sets it apart from its kin is the casting of Pam Grier as a bad guy, the Chief Matron, Alabama, a lesbian who picks her lovers from the convict pool and has a torture chamber stocked with bizarre instruments called “The Playpen”.  Alabama – who’s from Harlem, go figure – has issues, to be sure, not the least of which is the immediate assumption that the three Americans under her charge are “racist bitches”.

Alabama gets taken hostage when our heroines, such as they are, escape, and finds herself on the receiving end for a change, then in deep trouble as the savage hunters – whose job it is to bring escapees back dead or alive, usually dead – assume she is also an escapee.

There is hell of backstory here – our main prisoner is only guilty of trusting the wrong man, who is trying to have her killed in prison, and after a while you lose track of who’s double-crossing who, and then we’re back where the movie started, on a floating whorehouse where the same topless dancer has apparently been dancing for the past three months without a break. Some guy who I didn’t know was a cop for most of the movie rescues our heroine, leaving her junkie cellmate (who was the one trying to kill her) to her floating whorehouse duties in a pretty disquieting ending. Serves her right, I guess.

Women in Cages isn’t quite up to the follow-ups, Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage, both directed by Jack Hill, which had a lot of subversive humor buried in them. Also missing is Vic Diaz. I demand Vic Diaz in all my Filipino movies, because whenever he’s around, I’m sure to be delighted with the results. Diaz retired in 2001, but he’s apparently still alive. If that is indeed so, I hope he’s well, and continues to have a long, happy life.

Vic Diaz! Praise his usefulness! (ululate)

This may be the only place on the Web where you can start out talking about the quantity and quality of boob shots in movies and wind up with a love letter to Vic Diaz. (Actually, I can think of several other places where that could be the case, but never mind that) That is the world of crap cinema in a nutshell, my friends: you often start in one place, then the journey takes you to another, surprising place. The trick is often finding a way to enjoy that journey.