The Catch-Up: Somewhere in There Was a Crapfest

I guess the title says it all, eh? I unfortunately had a Saturday off, so a Crapfest was thrown together. Due to its thrown-together nature, a couple of the regulars couldn’t make it: Erik and Paul, leaving David, Alan, Rick, my son Max (having arrived that same day for Spring Break), and myself. Erik usually handles the meal for the evening with great aplomb, and Alan stepped in to fill the void with an exceptional chili with several different meats: beef, steak, venison, narwhal, sasquatch, and I believe I detected the slight tang of unicorn.

Yes, obviously a Jackie Chan movie.

Alan made up for that largesse by bringing Cannonball Run, claiming that it was due to the fact that Max had likely never seen it (he hadn’t) and so it began.

(There was an odd dynamic about this Crapfest – David, Alan and Rick have known each other since high school, so this event was largely a chance for them to catch up and shoot the breeze. Not much movie watching was accomplished by that side of the room.)

Now Cannonball Run – if, like Max, you were not alive during that period of HBO/Cinemax showing it 24 hours a day – is a supposedly comedic retelling of a high-stakes and illegal transcontinental race that actually existed. The first half of the movie shows the gathering of the contestants and star Burt Reynolds’ and Dom DeLuise’s quest to find the vehicle that will score him the million dollar prize. He finally settles on a souped-up ambulance (director Hal Needham had actually run the race in just such a vehicle), but he needs a doctor and a patient to make the ruse work (so did Needham), Enter the movie’s MVP, Jack Elam, who so effortlessly upstages everybody that I wanted him to get a standalone sequel. The patient role is supplied by Farrah Fawcett and her nipples (the bar where Reynolds first spots her must have been very cold). The fact that Fawcett is essentially kidnapped and transported across state lines by Reynolds and crew is only one of the problematic aspects of the movie.

Our last chance against Thanos.

Among the other participants: Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman as racers who use their spandex outfits to get out of any traffic stops (until they run into a female cop); Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. as gamblers disguised as priests; Jamie Farr as a sheikh who just sort of vanishes; Jackie Chan as a Japanese driver with an experimental high-tech car (being cast as Japanese reportedly pissed Jackie off); and Roger Moore as a guy who thinks he’s Roger Moore and has a different girlfriend in every scene (who, when they are allowed to talk, are all voiced by June Foray).

He, too, would like to hit Dom Deluise.

This section of the movie concerns the dirty tricks played by the racers on each other and the various subterfuges to avoid the law. The whole thing has no significant plot to speak of, just an excuse for comic vignettes (and, to be fair, some pretty damn good stunts). I’d only seen this movie piecemeal over the years, and my experience of it this time remains just as piecemeal. I was wondering if Needham’s comic chops had improved since The Villain, and…

Well, most of our amusement that was not Jack Elam-based was shouting at the screen for Reynolds to hit Dom DeLuise again.

This pissed off David enough (really, anything pisses off Dave enough to justify his choices) that he sprang Incubus on us. Not the Cassavetes horror movie, the Shatner Esperanto one. (Paul later admitted that a contributing factor to his non-attendance was the possibility of Shatner, so there is a Crapfest insider trading scandal brewing)

Kia (Allyson Ames) is a succubus who lures men to their doom at Big Sur (although the ambience is 16-17th century European). They’re all wicked men, though, so she finds the work boring, and wants to test her mettle against a good man – Marco (Shatner). The results are disastrous – Kia passes out from the exertion and the innocent Marco carries her into a church to recover. The succubus world regards this as an act of rape and they summon the Incubus (Milos Milos) to deal with him. Kia turns to the light side of the force to protect Marco (Polo) and is attacked by Black Phillip (a cameo which I must admit surprised me). The end.

Talky films are death at a Crapfest, and talky films in a foreign language, well… This is where the kaffee klatsch nature of the other side of the room truly kicked in. Most of the time was spent in using Google Translate to find out what “Shatner is a dickbag” is in Esperanto (Shatner estas pikilo, if you were wondering) and other such wonders while occasionally asking Max to explain what was going on in the movie.

Incubus is actually fairly intriguing, and I’m still not sure why Esperanto was used, except that it was 1966 and stuff was starting to get weird. Shatner was reportedly an enthusiastic supporter of the man-made language, but everybody in the flick learned their lines phonetically, and the more serious Esperanto community is very critical of their skills. Shatner, being Canadian, is habitually defaulting to the French pronunciation for several words, for example. It remains a curiosity at best, but it is far better than its reputation, its inclusion in Crapfest, and the trailer below would have you believe.

And everybody who complains about Woody Allen’s earlier mature films being overly imitative of Ingmar Bergman really needs to see Incubus. Or ĉiuj, kiuj plendas pri la antaŭaj maturaj filmoj de Woody Allen, kiuj tro multe imitas de Ingmar Bergman vere bezonas vidi Incubus, if you will.

It was my turn, and I admit that I phoned it in. If you look at the chronological listing of Crapfests, you will note that its origins lie in the realm of R-rated drive-in movies, or to use the (appropriately) vulgar, T&A. If I was into the introspection thing, I might wonder if I took the lazy route because I knew there would be fewer people to hurt with my choice. In any case, I brought Orloff and the Invisible Man, a movie which I hate, but it has to be admitted, has lots of T&A. There is one lengthy sequence where a servant girl undresses for bed to convince her loutish boyfriend to go grave-robbing, and when he agrees, undresses again to don her grave-robbing clothes. It also has the most luxuriant thatch of pubic hair seen this side of actual vintage porn. All ignored, probably because they were still translating stuff like “luxuriant thatch of pubic hair” (luksa tegmento de publikaj haroj) into Esperanto on their phones.

Hell, even the big pay-off, that the Invisible Man is actually a guy in a cheap gorilla suit, went unnoticed.

Bah.

The Original

Dave wrapped things up with the definite high point of the evening, and I wasn’t even displeased about having to watch Revenge of the Sith againIt’s a bit of internet lore about a (bootleg?) version of the movie with subtitles translated into Chinese, then translated back into English via Google Translate (there it is again), with hilarious results. This is the origin of the “Do Not Want” meme.

That’s good enough, but someone went to the trouble to actually re-dub the movie using these mammocked subtitles. The result is astoundingly disorienting at first, because it’s really well done – the guy they found to dub Christopher Lee is spectacularly on-target. Yoda may have somehow become an old woman, but that’s part of the fun. The other part of the fun was figuring out what certain repeated phrases meant – “Sector Ratio” for “General Kenobi” and the Jedi Council’s transformation into “the Presbyterian Church”.

The rest of the fun was listening to the other side of the room bitch about how many years they had looked forward to the final showdown between Anakin and Obi-Wan and the many ways in which they were dissatisfied with what they got. “Do not want!” indeed.

We will be having another Crapfest this coming Sunday, with hopefully better attendance and a better choice from me (no promises). Max will be bringing his first selection, and new vistas of hurt will open for everybody, I am sure.

 

 

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.