Friday, December 27, 2013

Everything I Needed To Know About The 1970's I Learned From Watching "Logan's Run"

Hi ho, movie lovers!

As one generation follows the next, it's not uncommon for the youngsters to asks the oldsters what certain decades were like.

Naturally, some eras are easier to describe than others. The 1920's, for example. That's pretty easy: flappers, bath-tub gin, the Charleston, silent movies, the Crash of 1929.

Then there are decades that defy description because they were so rotten.

Like the 1970's.

However, I have found a great way to explain the yucky "Me Decade" of the 1970's to those lucky enough to have escaped it: just watch "Logan's Run" (1976).

Yes, this sci-fi cheese combo platter, although technically set "in the future", pretty much encapsulates everything that hellish, polyester-drenched era had to offer--and then some.

First, a little background.

The future belongs to mall walkers: the citizens of "Logan's Run" walk and walk and walk. To bad they never get anywhere.

As "Logan's Run" begins, we learn that what remains of humanity resides in a large, domed city complex that resembles the Mall of America. (Editor's note: This is not just a cheap shot. Well, yes it is. The movie was actually filmed in an unopened shopping mall.). Because all of life's more mundane functions have been taken over by automation and computers, mankind is free to enjoy themselves 24-hours-a-day, which they do.

Unfortunately, the party is over when you hit 30--just like in real life! (Rim Shot!). See, in the future, every new born baby is fitted with a "life clock", a crystal embedded in the palm of your hand. The life clock turns colors as you age. When you hit the big three-oh, it turns red.

Once your "Last Day" arrives, citizens must participate in something called "The Carousel". At the same time every night, people gather at a big stadium and the participants (who wear red feetie pajamas and hockey masks) file in. Then a gigantic Swedish underarm crystal is lowered. As the spectators cheer "Renew! Renew!", the pajama wearers float up to the underarm crystal and get zapped. Those that are zapped are said to be "renewed" or "reborn" and start their lives over again.

At least, that's what the government tells you. But it's all a lie! Nobody is "renewed"--ever. The poor saps participating in The Carousel are just being vaporized, i.e. killed. This is how the government controls the population.

Of course, some people, either out of fear or because they know the government is a bunch of big fibbers, try to dodge the inevitable and make a run for it. These people are called (what else?) "Runners". To catch these so-called Runners is a police force known as "Sandmen". Our hero Logan 5 (a very '70's name if there ever was one) is played by Michael York--and he's a Sandman.

Michael York as Logan 5 and the late Richard Jordan as Francis 7 are best buds as well as "Sandmen".

Jenny Agutter is Jessica 6. Her hair is pure 1970's, even though it's the 23rd century. FYI: I tried to wear my hair like this in middle school and couldn't pull it off.

One day, Logan is called into work by the all-knowing, omnipresent computer. In the personal effects of a recent Runner was a metal charm known as an "ankh". It seems that there is an underground movement helping folks escape The Carousel and find "sanctuary". The ankh is their secret symbol. Logan is charged with infiltrating this group and then destroying the "sanctuary."

Logan, who appears to have more on the ball than the rest of his fun loving fellows, has had his doubts about "renewing", but he's basically been OK with his society over-all. However, he's shocked when the computer informs him that over a thousand runners have been "unaccounted for". And no, they haven't been renewed. This makes Logan realize that his world is a lot crueler than he believed possible. However, he doesn't have time to do anything about it: to make sure Logan completes his assignment, the computer pushes his life clock to red, meaning he's toast.

As it happens, Logan knows exactly who can help him: Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter). Earlier in the week, Logan was relaxing at home, wearing a caftan he must have borrowed from "Maude" and he turned on "The Circuit". The Circuit is like a closet/big screen TV where you can flip through the channels to find yourself a cuddlemate. Logan chose Jessica, who seemed strangely reluctant when he announces "Let's have sex" two seconds after they meet.

Turns out one of Jessica's closest friends just went on Carousel and she was lonely and sad and at loose ends--that's why she was in The Circuit. Most important, though, Jessica had an ankh dangling from her choker.

"Welcome to my home. Let's have sex." Sandman Logan cuts to the chase when Jessica arrives at his swingin' bachelor pad.

At first, Jessica denies knowing anything about "sanctuary". In due course, however, she falls for Logan and agrees to help him.

What follows next is a long chase sequence where Logan and Jessica run away from various gun-totin' Sandmen as they try to reach "the outside." By far the biggest menace the couple face is Box (Roscoe Lee Brown), a tin foil robot who was suppose to catch fish for the domed city's food supply. Instead, he switched to freezing runners in their underwear and stacking them up like cord wood for safe keeping.

"It's my job," Box replies proudly.

Luckily, Logan and Jessica laser Box into oblivion and make their way to "the outside"--which is a weed choked and broken down Washington, DC. It's there, living among dozens of cats, they meet "The Old Man", Oscar winner Sir Peter Ustinov. Bunking down with Peter (who is a bit dotty), Logan and Jessica learn about life before the domed city was built, a society where people married, had kids and died naturally, not forcibly at 30. Deciding they must tell their fellow citizens the truth about their world, Logan, Jessica and The Old Guy trek back to the city in order to spread the good news.

Box (Roscoe Lee Brown) gives "Logan's Run" two thumbs up.

 Crazy cat lady Sir Peter Ustinov gives Logan a tour of his digs.

Of course, Logan and Jessica are caught. Then our hero has his mind probed about "sanctuary." When Logan refuses to knuckle under and gives the computer answers it doesn't want, its circuits overload. A series of explosions rock the domed city and people pour outside in vast waves. They are greeted by Peter Ustinov, living proof that life doesn't end at 30--which, for the record, it doesn't. Realizing they are now free to live a long and natural life, the citizens cheer their new existence. Logan and Jessica, happily reunited, decide to get married.


OK, so how does watching "Logan's Run" explain the 1970's? Like this:

The characters in "Logan's Run" pursue pleasure 24-hours a day. So did the people in the 1970's. Everybody wanted to "do their own thing" and party like it was 1999. And so they did. Literally. We had some hippie neighbors when I was a kid, and they hosted a wild party every Friday night and it didn't end until we saw all their guests passed out in the front (and back) yard on Sunday morning. No wonder my mom kept the back drapes closed a lot.

Furthermore, in "Logan's Run" all the characters have no-strings-attached-sex all the time. It's practically their only sustained activity, after shopping and working out. There are no marriages, families or monogamous couples. In the 1970's, real people decided to toss "middle class morality" out the window, along with all it's assorted "baggage", "hang-ups" and "guilt trips". Folks then devoted themselves to wife swapping, key parties, swinger's groups--just like in "Logan's Run"!

Fashion during the 1970's was pretty awful, too: wide legged pants, thick stack heels, polyester. Yuck! Hair, meanwhile, was either long, layered, feathered or cut in a "wedge". The characters in "Logan's Run" model these styles in all their sartorial suckiness. Moreover, the undisputed glamour girl of the 1970's was a former Texan named Farrah Fawcett-Majors--and she's in this movie! Farrah plays Holly 13, the dim bulb assistant to a plastic surgeon. Although her role is small, Farrah would achieve greater fame later that same year by co-starring in "Charlie's Angels", a jiggle TV show about three female PI's who solve crimes without wearing bras for a man named Charlie. Her appearance in "Logan's Run" was just the start of Fawcett's career.

As mentioned earlier, "Logan's Run" ends amid explosions and the citizens of the domed city rushing out--for the first time--into the sunlight. They are all astounded by what they see and our completely flummoxed by what to do next.

That's how the 1970's ended in real life, too. After a decade of hard partying, ugly clothes, horrible music and blue eye shadow, everybody woke up on January 1, 1980, gazed out at an unfamiliar landscape and went, "OK, now what do we do?"

So if the Twenties roared, the Thirties depressed and the sixties Rebelled, the seventies...just sucked. But you don't have to take my word for it; watch "Logan's Run" and experience all the '70's suckiness for yourself.

Until next time movie lovers, save the movies!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"The Mole People" Or A Whiter Shade Of Pale

Beaver Cleaver's dad! Shirley Temple's ex-husband! The original Alfred the Butler from TV's "Batman"! Watch this all star cast battle Sumerian albinos--and Mole People!--at the center of the earth in Virgil Vogel's 1956 epic "The Mole People"!

It all starts with a rather tweedy, tedious professor yammering about different theories concerning the position of the earth. This prologue has no direct bearing on the events depicted in the flick, so let's just skip it, OK?

Next we find Judd Ballamin (Hugh Beaumont) and Roger Bentley (John Agar, Shirley Temple's ex) on an archeology dig in Asia. After they find ancient tablets and trinkets, the gents decide to scale a snow covered volcano in search of a lost Sumerian tribe.

Now, if it seems like I'm rushing past these early plot points it's because, well, I am. Why? Because they are BORING. However, if you enjoy endless (and I do mean endless) shots of guys climbing up snowy mountains and then climbing down into dark pits, well, savor these scenes with my compliments.

"Because I said so..." A tweedy prof shares an early design of the Jack'n the Box restaurants mascot Jack in the opening of Universal-International's sci-fi epic "The Mole People."

John Agar (left) and Hugh Beaumont (right) try to convince an expendable extra to continue filming his scene in "The Mole People."

 For all practical purposes, "The Mole People" doesn't really get going until Hugh, John and a rather tubby Frenchman are snatched by the said Mole People and brought before Elinu, the high priest of Ishtar (Napier). Although these folks have a king, Elinu appears to be the boss around here.

This society is descended from an ancient Sumerian tribe that was displaced by a flood. The survivors set up shop in the bowels of the earth, which left subsequent generations to become albinos. They worship the Goddess of Ishtar and believe there is no other world but their own. Folks sip goat's milk and munch on mushrooms, which are harvested by the Mole People.

The Mole People, alas, are a badly treated minority. They spend their days toiling for mushrooms and their white-skinned over lords whip them mercilessly just for the hell of it. They aren't fed well, either.

Oh, hi! One of the Mole People pops up to say hello.

Elinu, the high priest of Ishtar (Alan Napier) prepares to lead Sunday services with his sacred salad tongs.

While I was watching "The Mole People", it occurred to me that this flick was very much like "Logan's Run" from 1976. That '70's shlocker had survivors of some catastrophe all living in the Mall of America, which they also believed was the only world left. Both societies strictly controlled their populations. In "Logan's Run", folks hitting the big three-oh must die. "The Mole People" sacrifice their unneeded citizens to the Goddess of Ishtar; actually, they are just bar-b-qued by the sun. Meanwhile, the poor saps in "Logan's Run" must participate in something called "the Carousel"  where, supposedly, people are "reborn." Of course, they just die, but the citizens have been hoodwinked into believing otherwise.

An interesting set of commonalities, don't you think? Anyway, back to the action.

Elinu sees the scientists as a threat to the albino people's way of life (and his power), so he wants them dead. But Hugh and John possesses a mighty weapon that crushes both the albino soldiers AND the Mole People: a flashlight! Living underground for so long has caused the albino people's peepers to become sensitive to any light. Thus, all John has to do is waive his flashlight around and everybody cowers in fear and awe.

There is one albino, however, who doesn't have this problem. That's Adad (Cynthia Patrick), a non-albino chick who has been dubbed "The Marked One." Not only does Adad have normal eyes and skin pigmentation, she plays a mean 3-string banjo. She and John fall madly in love because the movie says they do.

"OK, what do we do now?" Folks from "Logan's Run" prepare to "renew" themselves in "the Carousel".  Little do they know, they are toast.

Meanwhile, over on the set of "The Mole People", unneeded citizens prepare for the "honor" of sacrificing themselves to the Goddess of Ishtar--where they will become toast. Literally.

You are probably wondering what all this is leading up to. Well, it leads up to this: the Mole People finally get fed up with harvesting mushrooms on an empty stomach and decide to revolt. During the uprising, an earthquake hits and the heavy doors that have sealed this Sumerian society off from the outside world are flung open. In pours the sun, which kills everybody off--except the Mole People (they are moles, after all) and Adad. Hugh and John survive, too. After wishing the Mole People the best, our three survivors decide to head back home.

John and Adad appear to heading for a happily ever after future--until another earthquake strikes. Unfortunately, this quake unleashes a big boulder which promptly flattens Adad. If this ending strikes you as a bit abrupt and out of place, it has good reason to: after "The Mole People" was already in the can, the producers worried that movie goers would think John and Adad were a "mixed race" couple--which wouldn't fly in 1956. So they shot a new ending with Adad dying. Of course, this was silly and dumb, but, then, so is the movie.

Although the flick is titled "The Mole People", the actual Mole People have a rather small part in this production. And they aren't the bad guys. Ads and stills for this movie show the Mole People attacking women, but they actually do no such thing. No, the real bad guys are the whip wielding, skirt wearing albinos and high priest Elinu, who is secretly angling for more power.

For leading man John Agar, "The Mole People" was just one of the many, many grade Z shlockbusters he toiled in after making his debut in 1948's "Fort Apache", directed by John Ford and co-starring new bride Shirley Temple. Despite his manly appearance, poor John couldn't act for beans and his string of cinematic stinkers ("Revenge of the Creature", "Daughter of Dr. Jekyll", "The Brain from Planet Arous" and "Curse of the Swamp Creature" among other efforts) would eventually earn him a coveted nomination as "The Worst Actor of All Time" by the beloved Golden Turkey Awards in 1980. Unfortunately, the Agar-Temple marriage did not last long and their divorce made headlines--especially when charges of alcohol abuse and domestic violence were made public. Happily, Shirley remarried and began a new career as a diplomat. Agar would eventually embrace sobriety and appear in an occasional film role, such as the mayor of New York in the horrible remake of "King Kong" in 1976.

Even the Mole People managed to survive "The Mole People." In the 1966 caper "The Wild World of Bat Woman", scenes from the 1956 flick (as well as bits from a Mexican wrestling movie) were added to flesh out the story of crime fighting Bat Woman and her bevvy of Bat Girls. Later on, The Golden Turkey Awards
would choose "The Mole People" (along with "The Killer Shrews", "The Food of the Gods", "The Nasty Rabbit" and "Night of the Lepus") as contenders for "The Worst Rodent Movie of All Time". The ultimate winner was "Food of the Gods", but, remember, it's an honor just to be nominated.

Until next time movie lovers, keep a bad movie in your VCR/DVD player and SAVE THE MOVIES!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hawaii Five-Oh My God

Greetings, movie lovers. Have you heard the news? Adam Levine has been named People's "Sexiest Man Alive" for 2013.

A great honor, to be sure. Not the same as winning a Noble Prize, but, you know, still pretty nifty.

Of course, not everybody agrees with People's choice. Personally, I'd throw my weight behind Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe or Guy Pierce for this coveted title.

However, should People ever decide to give a "Sexiest Group" award, the cast of "Hawaii Five-0" would surely win hands down.

The "Five-0" I'm talking about is not the cast of the original CBS series that ran from 1968 to 1980. Except for it's way cool theme music (provided by The Ventures), the first "Five-0" was a talky, dull exercise in tedium. Granite-faced Jack Lord played Steve McGarrett, head of "The Five 0" unit, a super-duper crime fighting force located in, yes, Hawaii. A cross between a monolith and a 2x4, Lord never smiled. Or blinked his eyes. Or changed out of his blue Gaborone suit. In fact, long time viewers of the show never knew if McGarrett had a wife, kids or even a home outside the 5-0 building.

The new and improved Steve McGarrett, meanwhile, is played by Australian hottie Alex O'Loughlin, who is a force of nature--and an army of one. Unlike the stolid Lord, this Steve can shoot any weapon, drive any vehicle, pilot any plane, scale mountain tops, sail stormy seas, surf, pick locks, break into (and out of ) prison, speak several languages, walk on a bed of hot coals, you name it.

And that's not all! This Steve McGarrett also has the world's highest pain threshold and can perform life saving surgery... on himself!

What's more, this Steve McGarrett  packs more into one day than some folks do in an entire week. For instance, on a recent episode, Steve learned his beloved Aunt Deb (Carol Burnett!) had been diagnosed with incurable brain cancer; thwarted an Albanian hit-man from offing an innocent dental hygienist who had inadvertently witnessed a Russian mob hit; ran interference to assure the safety of the President of the United States (who was secretly meeting with some North Koreans for high level nuke talks); and still found the time to organize his family's Thanksgiving Day celebrations at a cushy restaurant where Bobby Vinton sang.


The old Steve McGarrett played by Jack Lord.


The new and improved Steve McGarrett.

 Of course, Steve isn't the only multi-tasking hunk on this show. Next up is Scott Caan, the son of James Caan. He plays detective Daniel aka "Danny" aka "Dan-o" Williams, a New York transplant who joined Five-0 to be near his daughter. His ex-wife Rachel had moved to Hawaii after she remarried. Danny and Rachel are still friendly, in fact. How friendly? So friendly that there was a 50-50 chance Danny was the father of Rachel's new baby!

I'm not sure how Danny found himself in this situation, but I do know that when Rachel went into labor (and her knuckle-headed new hubby was nowhere to be found), Danny selflessly stepped in to help. He not only kept an eye on their daughter, but he coached Rachel through her labor and delivery and still managed to check in with the Five-0 gang and offer any assistance in catching that week's bad guy.

Perm pioneer James MacArthur as Danny Williams.

The new and improved Danny Williams, minus the perm.

Then we have Chin-Ho Kelly. In the original "5-0", Chin-Ho was played by a rather portly, middled-aged fellow in a three piece suite. Not any more! The new Chin-Ho is played by Daniel Dae Kim, a lean, mean fighting machine with killer cheekbones and washboard abs. This guy is also a computer whiz, a crack shot and can speak several languages.

But Chin-Ho is NOT just another pretty face. Like all the 5-0 guys, Chin will do anything for his family. For instance, a while back Chin-Ho's uncle was accused of corruption and dipping his hand into the 5-0 money bag. But that was a lie! Sort of. See, his uncle's wife was very sick and needed a kidney transplant and he just didn't have the money to pay her medical bills. So, yes, he did take the money-- to pay for his wife's medical treatment. Chin-Ho, when told the truth, was not only horrified by what his uncle had done, he must have been shocked at what a crappy health insurance plan his uncle had. Thus, he stepped in and said he took the money, not his uncle. And he refused to rat his uncle out. Eventually, Chin-Ho was cleared of all charges, his uncle never had to go to prison and his aunt got to keep her kidney.

Steve McGarrett, by the way, doesn't need health insurance. Steve McGarrett is health insurance.

This is your father's Chin Ho.


This is NOT your father's Chin Ho.

Now, did I mention that Steve McGarrett has a rather complicated family life, too? Well, he does. First, his father John was a hot shot police officer guy who was just obsessed with solving this case about the Japanese mob. So much so that Steve's kid sister Mary (a bit of a screw up, I must say) felt their dad never really loved them. Then, one day, John McGarrett sent his kids over to the mainland to" protect them." This was the last time the siblings saw their pop.

Steve and Mary's mom, Doris, was also a super duper secret agent who worked very dangerous cases. Then the kids learn mom is dead. Only she wasn't! Doris faked her death to "protect" Steve and Mary. So when mom pops up one day and announces she's not dead, Steve and Mary were, well, a little confused. And just as soon as the siblings had gotten it around their heads that mom was alive, she up and disappears again! While Mary finds all this back and forth too much too handle at times, Steve takes it all in stride--because, really, what else is he going to do? His job at 5-0 keeps him busy 24 hours a day. Plus he has to work out to keep in shape, practice his marksman skills, keep up with the latest computer upgrades AND keep his ear to the ground about all those baddies that circle the globe causing all kinds of murder and mayhem. In short, Steve just doesn't have time to sit and brood.

Once you start watching "Hawaii Five-0", you will agree with me that this police force/special unit is the best looking police force/special unit EVER. Seriously, the 5-0 recruiters must have contacts with the Chippendale's organization, because NOBODY on this staff is less than drop dead gorgeous. And they all have to go around shirtless and take a shower AT LEAST once an episode. I think it's the law.

 Adam Levine, I'm sure, has his partisans. However, one look at the "Hawaii Five-0" gang and you know "The Voice" co-host just can't hold a candle to the karate-chopping, sharp-shooting, speed-racing, surgery-performing, multiple language-speaking zero body fat crime stoppers Steve McGarrett, Dan-o and Chin Ho Kelly.

Book 'em, Dan-o.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Oh, Bite Me: "Dracula Rising"

Leading lady Stacey Travis encourages leading man Christopher Atkins to try and act in the Roger Corman creeper "Dracula Rising".

A hail and hardy hello to you and yours, movie lovers.

Say, are you in the mood for an atmospheric gothic romance? You know, the type of tale where a couple must vanquish incredible forces to be together? Where the setting is a remote, mysterious place full of secrets and lies? Where the cast of characters may not appear to be who they say they are?

If so, go read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.

However, if you want to partake in a "gothic romance/chiller" that's an unintentional laugh riot with a large helping of cheese on the side, then, please, beg, borrow, steal or download "Dracula Rising"(1992) right now--but finish reading this article first, please. I mean, it's only good manners.

"Dracula Rising" comes courtesy of the Roger Corman Cinematic Assembly Line. Since the 1950's, Roger has been one of the most trusted names in Junk Cinema, providing bad movie lovers with outlandish tales of giant leeches, teenage cavemen, talking plants and psycho sorority girls on budgets smaller than Kim Kardashian's skirts. And "Dracula Rising" is no exception. In fact, it is pure Corman corn from start to finish, with all the tacky sets, cheap F/X, horrible music and acting that veers from basically competent to down right nutty. Everything, really, we have come to expect from the Master of Ultra Low Budget Film Making. Processed cheese at its finest! Take that, Hickory Farms!

However, what drew me to "Dracula Rising" was the improbable casting of fallen teen idol Christopher Atkins (last seen in my "Mutiny on the High C's" post) as the lead: a supposedly suave, enigmatic European (!) who also happens to be (gasp!) Vlad the Impaler's son.

Dumb Enchanted Evening

 The fun begins in the present (well, 1992) at a fancy pants black tie gala at an art gallery. Artist/restorer Theresa (Stacey Travis, who resembles both Kelly McGillis and Katherine Hiegel) meets a mysterious fellow named Vlad (Atkins, stiffer than a board but still a looker). She has this feeling that they've met before; Theresa even asks if Vlad has volunteers at the same food pantry she and her buddies regularly help at.

"You help the poor?" Vlad pants. "Doesn't surprise me."

The two smitten kittens slow dance the night away and, just as quickly as he appeared, Vlad disappears.

Oh, another thing: when Theresa's friend takes a picture of the two dancing, Vlad's image doesn't appear in the photo.

Later that evening we see Theresa asleep. As a gentle breeze ruffles the sheer netting that drapes her 4-poster, Vlad (all in white) suddenly emerges. He paces for a bit, then throws off his cape, revealing his pajama bottoms. Slowly, he crawls over to Theresa's sleeping form. Vlad begins to kiss her gently. Theresa awakens and returns Vlad's affections. The couple then begin to...GOTCHA!! It's a dream sequence! Theresa dreamed it all up! Isn't that...annoying?

"Can I sleep with you tonight? I had this horrible dream..." Reunited cuddlemates Theresa and Vlad share a close encounter. Check out Chris' jammies.

Anyway, Theresa begins having these weird dreams about Vlad. Hmmm. What could that mean? Were they related somehow? Were they bowling partners in a past life? She also accepts a job "in Eastern Europe" to restore a painting in "The Church of Lost Souls". It's there she meets Alec (Doug Wert), apparently a priest of some sort, and (surprise!) Vlad. Atkins seems miffed that Wert (who has a vaguely Italian accent) hired Theresa for the restoration job. Why? Did he know somebody in town who could do the same work at cost? Vlad never says. He also insists that Theresa should "stay at the Inn" and NOT at the church. Why all the fuss? Well, it's complicated. So settle in for the back story.

A Hunk Of Burning Love

 A long, long time ago, in Eastern Europe, maybe somewhere in the Balkans, Theresa was a devout and humble village maid, the sort of gal who liked to paint pictures and pick flowers. Alas, The Black Death has decimated her village and the people were starving. Good hearted Theresa begged the local monastery to share its bounty, which they do, begrudgingly.

Low and behold, Vlad is a monk at this monastery and he gets hot under the clerical collar for Theresa. Watching this growing attraction with alarm is Father Alec (Wert, again). See, Vlad is the son of Vlad the Impaler, Dracula himself, and Father Alec is just obsessed with keeping Vlad, Jr. pure, considering his family history and all. To this end, Father Alec pesters Vlad, Jr. about the dangers of human copulation so much you begin to think, well, he might be a little nutty. After Alec learns Vlad, Jr has been canoodling with Theresa, he whips Atkins soundly.--for his own good, of course--yet the good father seems to enjoy it just a bit too much.

However, Vlad, Jr.'s and Theresa's forbidden love cannot be denied. Soon the duo move from feeding the poor to snuggling innocently on a blanket in the countryside to getting naked by a water fall to doin' the nasty under water. Personally, I'm always amazed at how virgins in movies are such pros when it comes to having sex. I mean, how is that two people who have supposedly had no previous sexual experiences can suddenly perform like trained acrobats in a sex instruction video? And under water, no less! Talk about beginners luck...

Don't go chasing waterfalls...Theresa and Vlad get back to nature in "Dracula Rising"s back story.

"I'm doing this for your own good! And it's fun...for me." Father Alec (Doug Wert) tries to beat some sense into Vlad, Jr. (Atkins)

Well, after our little under water exhibition, Father Alec decides that Vlad, Jr. has to be taught a lesson. So he accuses Theresa of witchcraft. With the help of a band of pitch fork toting yokels, poor Theresa is tied to a stake and burned to a crisp. Actually, she melts. Theresa screams in pain; poor Chris yells out "Noooo!" The whole thing would be heartbreaking and horrifying if it didn't remind you of that scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" where bored townspeople falsely accuse Connie Booth of being a witch, simply because they enjoy watching witches burn. All that's missing is John Cleese saying, "She turned me into a newt!" and then sheepishly admitting, "Well, I got better..."

After his lady love is bar-b-qued within an inch of her life, Vlad, Jr. is just, you know, devastated. He wanders around half dead until he comes upon the castle of his long-lost-pop, Vlad, Sr. aka Vlad the Impaler aka Dracula. He's played by Zahari Vatahov, who is easily the most fun person in the whole movie. Vatahov has a voice like Darth Vader and looks like a member of The Insane Clown Posse. "Come to me, my son..." the imperious blood sucker intones to his hapless kid. Promising to help Atkins avenge those who have wronged him and reunite him with his crispy cuddlemate, Vatahov says, "Turn from the light...serve me and live forever!"

Hmmm...a kid who thought his father was dead...learns he's alive...learns he's a real bad tells him to come over to the dark side and they will rule the world together...where have I heard this plot before..."Bonanza"?..."Fantasy Island"?... "Star Trek"?'ll come to me later, I'm sure...

Well, the next thing you know, Vlad, Sr. gives Vlad, Jr. the biggest hickie you ever saw and then mixes their blood. Soon, Chris is sucking the red stuff out of all kinds of people, including Father Alec. "What have I become!?" Chris screams at the top of his lungs.

The monk is now a vampire. In fact, so is Father Alec. While Chris is upset about this, Alec embraces his new life. He is the one who brought Theresa to town so Vlad, Jr. could "turn" her and the two could live happily ever after. Atkins, however, won't allow Theresa to become one of the undead like him. That means Alec and Vlad, Jr. must have a show down in Hell. A Hell that is draped with black sheets and features really cheap F/X, by the way. When these two guys battle it out, the lightening bolts they hurl at each other remind you of a knock-off Laser Floyd show. Anyway, Chris manages to burn Alec. Alec manages to hurl a wooden stake at Vlad. Vlad catches it in the palm of his hand. Then he drives it through Alec's heart. Alec screams. Seconds later, his soul wafts away. Theresa, meanwhile, standing off on the sidelines, has managed, somehow, to keep a straight face. Even more important, considering the heat and humidity of where all this is supposedly taking place, her perm doesn't wilt at all.

Of course, we're not done yet. There is one more piece of business Vlad, Jr. must attend to to make things right.

"I was a fool to think I could resist you," Vlad tells Theresa. "Only through death will the hunger end...And only through my death will you live in peace..." So Chris does what any good, right-minded vampire would do: he steps into the sun. While your jaw drops and your eyes pop, Atkins grabs his face, screams, sways back and forth, sweats, grabs his stomach and doubles over. Without a doubt, it's the best Joe Cocker impression I have ever seen. Too bad Chris dissolves into a pile of goo at the end...

A Bad Romance...And An Even Worse Movie

Christopher Atkins experiences an extreme sensitivity to light in  his final moments in "Dracula Rising."

 OK, I know a lot of women find vampires sexy. I have friends who find vampires sexy. There are movies, books and TV shows dedicated to sexy vampires. That's all fine and good. Unfortunately, Chris is just not sexy vampire material. He's not mysterious. He's not European. He's not suave. He's not much of an actor. For such a good looking guy, he has all the charisma of Walter Mondale. And charisma is one thing all vampires must have. On screen, he moves stiffly, like his pants are too tight. When he wants to look intense, he bugs his eyes. In the end, casting Atkins as a tortured romantic hero makes about as much sense as hiring Dick Cheney to head The UN Commission on Human Rights.

The other actors fare slightly better. Doug Wert clearly enjoys playing the bad guy, Father Alec. He even gets to say a nifty line once in a while, such as this: "She has very sweet blood. What we call 'Blood Light'." Stacey Travers isn't asked to do much as Theresa. However, she is an appealing actress and could fit right in in a "Lifetime" movie-of-the-week. Zahari Vatahov as Vlad, Sr. is a real scene stealer. Tall, rather beefy, with a stringy mullet and sporting a weird metal face mask, he could also double as member of ZZ Top or one those "Duck Dynasty" guys--but The Insane Clown Posse should snap him up while they can. I couldn't find anything else about him, so I don't know what other parts he's played. But he makes the most of his small role. And he acts Christopher Atkins off the screen.

Another intriguing element of the flick is music. Usually, vampire movies feature over-the-top classical music with booming choirs going "AHHH!" a lot. Not here. "Dracula Rising" may be the first and only vampire movie with a doo-wop soundtrack! The theme song of the movie is "Be My Angel Tonight" and it sounds like something Richie Cunningham and Potsie Webber would have sung on the old "Happy Days" sitcom. As it is, it's just another element that makes this crazy quilt of a movie, well, crazy.

Well done, Roger Corman! Once again you have shown why bad movies can be so much fun. Horrible acting, cheap F/X, irritating music--that's why we go to the movies! Roger Corman: will you be my angel tonight?

Until next time, keep a bad movie in your VCR and help me SAVE THE MOVIES!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Short Takes: Glenn Beck Goes Over The Rainbow...And Out Of His Mind

Hi ho, movie lovers!

I just saw a terrifying clip of Glenn Beck using dolls to re-enact "The Wizard Of Oz.". It seems the former Fox News fellow believes the MGM musical/ fantasy from 1939 mirrors the woes the country is currently experiencing.

Or something.

Anyway, as Glenn played with his toys and earnestly tried to make sense, he completely mangled the movie's plot and it's message.

As a fan of this beloved classic, I cannot be silent. The key discrepancies is Beck's re-telling were as follows:

  • Beck claimed that Margaret Hamilton's Miss Gulch was an authority figure Dorothy should have respected. She is no such thing-- and the movie never presents her as one. Instead, Miss Gulch is a self-appointed authority figure who regularly abuses her power. That is why Auntie Em told her off.
  • Contrary to what Beck implied on his program, Dorothy took FULL RESPONSIBILITY for Toto's biting Miss Gulch.  More humane options were discussed about the dog, but Miss Gulch refused them all. She wanted Toto dead, period.
  • Dorothy DID NOT runaway from home to "join the circus" as Glenn said. She ran away because Toto escaped from Miss Gulch and she feared for her beloved pet's life.   
  • When Dorothy sings "Over the Rainbow", she is merely expressing a normal wish to find a place where she is loved and accepted for herself. Nothing radical there.
  • When Dorothy meets Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan), he convinces her to return home, which she does. The tornado hits when she arrives and the rest of her family has gone down into the cellar.  
  • Dorothy is knocked unconscious, therefore she had no way to "steer" her house or prevent it from landing on the Wicked Witch of the East--as Beck claimed. It was an accident.
  • Glenda the Good Witch puts the ruby slippers on Dorothy--Dorothy doesn't put them on herself, as Beck also claimed.
  •  Dorothy is told to guard the slippers because the Wicked Witch of the West will abuse their power.
  • The Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion all want something they already have. The trip to the Emerald City and the saving of Dorothy allows them to finally see that.
  • These characters are meant to allegorical not literal.
  •   Dorothy's journey over the rainbow is what is known as "A Rite of Passage." After her adventures in Oz, she returns home stronger and wiser, which is the whole point of the flick.
  • Toto is NOT a "yip yap dog" as Beck states. Toto is actually pretty quiet and very smart--and this is coming from a cat lover.       
   Beck, however, is like the Wizard of Oz in that he uses props, double talk, smoke and mirrors to weave total nonsense. Like his fictional counter part, he is a fraud--even Toto knows this.

Besides mangling and misrepresenting a beloved classic for his own crazy purposes, Beck is also an awful actor. However, before he decides to raid the country's movie vault and needlessly destroy another classic flick, I urge Glenn to keep in mind the following points:

"The Awful Truth" is NOT about the IRS or any other government agency. It's a comedy about a couple who rashly divorce, then set about ruining each others new romances so they can get back together.

"High Noon"  is NOT about drugs. Instead, it is about a sheriff who is deserted by the entire town after some bad guys return for revenge--on his wedding day, no less.

"The Miracle Worker" is NOT about Karl Rove or Dick Cheney. Instead, it's about a dedicated teacher named Annie Sullivan and her pupil, Helen Keller.

"Singin' in the Rain" is NOT about the "hoax" of climate change or global warming. It's about the arrival of the talkies in 1920's Hollywood.

"The Bad Seed" is NOT about the perils of organic farming or the dangers of genetically altered food. It's about a sociopath named Rhoda, who is about ten. Made in Beck's favorite decade, the 1950's.

Mr. Beck, you can keep doing what you're doing...whatever that is...just keep your hands off Dorothy, the Muchkins, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Toto, too!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Short Takes: Tori Spelling's Husband Can't Afford A Vasectomy And It's All Reality TV's Fault!

Greetings and salutations, movie lovers. I'm sure you've heard the awful news that Tori Spelling's financial situation has become so dire that her hubby can't afford that vasectomy he wants.

Of course, some would blame Tori's money problems on bad investments, irresponsible spending, the economic down turn, failure to stick to the family budget or just a run of bad luck.

I, however, know the REAL culprit in this unfortunate development: "Reality TV".

As more and more network and cable broadcast hours are being devoured by the army of Reality TV termites, is it any wonder that actors of both genders are feeling the loss of their livelihoods? Where once network TV brimmed with dramas, comedies, movies of the week and mini-series, it is now a barren desert of singing contests, cooking contests, dancing contests, dating contests and designing contests. And  that doesn't even include those other "Reality TV" shows where rich housewives, mafia brides, teen moms, irresponsible men and endless branches of the Kardashian family tree are filmed talking on the phone, boozing it up, turning over tables and calling each other "Whore!" for hours upon end. They take up space, too--and not in a good way.

Where once Tori could count on, say, 3 or 4 movie of the week acting jobs a year, now there are none. Is it any wonder her family has had to economize and her hubby has been forced to put off that little snip-snip he wants?

Granted, Tor-Tor isn't the only TV movie titan that has been affected by this Reality TV-inspired drought. Jacklyn Smith, Pam Dawber, Lyndsay Wagner, Cheryl Ladd, Jane Seymour, Melissa Gilbert, Ann Jillian and Lisa Hartman (before she married Clint)Black are just a few of the actresses who have disappeared from the movie-of-the-week universe that they used to call home.

Sure, a few of the these gals have other gigs to support themselves. Jacklyn Smith shills for K-Mart, after all. Lyndsay Wagner hocks those mattresses. Jane Seymour paints and designs jewelry. Lisa Hartman has hit maker hubby Clint to support her.

Tori, on the other hand, has no such options. Yes, she and her hubby did a Reality Show, but who wants to watch that? Nothing Tori could cook up for her "Home Sweet Hollywood" program could compare with the stuff she's done in her TV movies.

In her movie career, Tori has fought off psychotic boyfriends, evil pimps, nutty surrogate mothers, ghosts and mobsters. She's been a lawyer, a pre-med student and a co-ed call girl. That is much more exciting to watch than Tori and her hubby bickering about the phone bill or dressing up for the red carpet. And it's much more interesting than Tori's forays into books, fashion and stuff.

If Reality TV were not hogging all the television schedule, not only would Tori be able to practice her art, but the offerings on television would be more varied and interesting. An endless parade singing/dancing/designing/cooking/decorating/duck calling/diving/dating contests is not what television was created for. Bring back the dramas! Bring back the mini-series! Bring back the movies-of-the-week! Bring back the real actors, not the fake ones!

Tori: I feel your pain. End Reality TV and save the movies!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mutiny On The High C's

Is this suppose to be funny...or symbolic?

"The Pirates of Penzance" is a delightful Gilbert and Sullivan comic operetta about a gang of bumbling pirates, a modern major general and his virtuous daughters.

"The Pirate Movie" is a listing, smelly garbage barge about two teens who travel back into time (via a sadly un-fatal blow to the head) to find lost treasure, battle pirates and dance with ugly animated fish.

"The Pirates of Penzance" has had its lead roles sung by the finest voices around, including (in more recent times) Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt.

"The Pirate Movie", on the other hand, relies on the golden throats of teen wet dream Christopher Atkins and TV actress Kristy McNichol (best remembered for the drama "Family").

After a hugely successful production staged first in Central Park and later relocated to Broadway, "The Pirates of Penzance" was made into a film in 1983.

"The Pirate Movie" was made to cash in on "Penzance"s popularity, clearly hoping to drain the pockets of gullible teen fans who A) would easily confuse the two productions and B) hope that dyed-and-permed within an inch of his life Atkins would appear in another skimpy loin cloth, such as he did in "The Blue Lagoon".

Guess which flick is going to be made to walk the plank, kiddies?

"The Pirate Movie" is yet another example of the insane idea of making a movie musical without any musical talent. "Lost Horizon", "At Long Last Love", "Paint Your Wagon", "Can't Stop The Music" and "From Justin To Kelly" are a few more entries into this unique sub-genre. "The Pirate Movie", however, goes one better by not only featuring actors who can't act, singers who can't sing and dancer's who can't dance: it also adds ugly costumes, plenty of limp penis jokes, bad '80's hair, horrible animation, dreck-y songs AND shameless product placement into the mix. The final result is a noxious mutiny on the high Cs.

How bad is "The Pirate Movie"? To paraphrase Hedda Hopper, while watching this flick I envied my feet--they were asleep (rim shot).

Christopher Atkins: Bad Frederick

Rex Smith (with Kevin Kline): Good Frederick

Our saga begins in 1982 Australia, where something called "Pirate Days" is being celebrated. Strutting onto the scene are a group of bikini-clad girls, trailed by the uber-geek Mabel (McNichol). It's never made clear if these swim-suited gals are sisters, friends or strippers--and what Mabel's connection to them is. However, because Kristy is toting a boom-box the size of a flat-screen TV, I vote for strippers, which makes McNichol their sound person.

Anyway, these ladies crowd around Christopher Atkins, who gives fencing demonstrations. The hapless Mabel is pushed up to mock-fight with Chris and, when she hits him, she cries out "Ole'!".

These are the jokes.

Later, Chris invites Mabel and the strippers to go sailing with him. Unfortunately, the strippers send Mabel off to (product placement!) McDonald's and promptly ditch her. Plucky Mabel, however, hires a small boat to scuttle after them. She hits a spot of bad weather or high waves or something and not only falls over board, but gets bonked on the head--alas, not fatally.

Kristy McNichol (don't ask): Bad Mabel

Linda Ronstadt: Good Mabel

That smack on the skull sends Mabel back to (yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!) pirate days. We are also introduced to pirate apprentice Frederick (Atkins), who decides to ditch the pirate life and chase girls. Lucky for him, a gaggle of sisters are frolicking on a near-by beach. In a parody of "Jaws", Atkins steams after them, but they all run away--except for Mabel (Kristy) who is now duded up to be the hip one. The two teens meet, fall instantly in love and warble the truly awful ballad called "First Love."

Fred and Mabel decide to marry ("Boy! That was a fast love scene!" McNichol mugs to the camera), but there are several problems. See, the local custom states that the oldest daughter in a family must marry first--and poor Mabel is the youngest in her clan. Then there is Fredrick's pirate past. "Pirates!" squeals Mabel. "You mean walking the plank? Buried treasure? Hack, slash, off with his head and the jolly Richard and everything?"

Remember, these are the jokes.

Seconds later, Fredrick's old pirate posse arrives. All hell breaks loose, but Mabel grabs a sword and sets out to defend herself and her sisters. This is merely an opportunity for some lame dick quips. For example, when Mabel warns the Pirate King (Ted Hamilton) "You'll be hung! You'll be hung!" He jauntily replies, "Oh, I am! I am! And very well, thank you!" When the Pirate King chides Mabel for not being able to aim high enough to pierce his heart, she parries back "I wasn't aiming for your heart." See what I mean?

Now, all of this might might seem light-hearted and funny if A) it actually was light-hearted and funny and B) the performers were talented enough to carry it off. And sing. And dance. And had quality material to sing and dance to. "The Pirate Movie" has none of these. Worst of all, it has Christopher Atkins in the lead role. Cute as he is, Chris' talents were always painfully limited to what his ever present loin cloth covered up. Like most teen idols, his career was based on looks and hype and faded faster than a cheap spray tan. Of course, appearing in movies like this didn't help, either.

 "May I have this dance?" Christopher Atkins attempts to frolic under the sea with some cheap animation.

Now, no review of "The Pirate Movie" would be complete without mentioning its wretched musical interludes. Which is the worst? That's hard to say, because there are so many of them. Should it be "First Love", where our stars warble "Some kind of miracle brought you here/Just when I had given up hoping./ From the moment when you first appeared/I could feel my whole life opening"? Or perhaps it's Chris "singing" the ditty "How Can I Live Without Her (When She's All I'm Living For)", in which the love-lorn Atkins winds up in a coffin? Maybe it should be the horrible reworking of "A Model Major General", where '80's cultural references are tossed in, the cast cavorts like spiders on a hot plate and poor Kristy McNichol sits on the grass and claps along (my guess is McNichol couldn't dance and thus sat this production number out)?

 Actually, the "winner" belongs to a jaw-dropper called "Pumpin' and Blowin'". It goes like this: Hoping to win Mabel's hand by finding the treasure pirates stole from her daffy dad, Fred dons a skimpy loin cloth and a deep sea diving helmet. Meanwhile, Mabel (in a small boat) mans his air hose and harmonizes that in the name of love "you have to swallow more than water--it's your pride!" While all this is going on, Chris is under the sea "dancing" with cheaply animated and very ugly fish. It should be noted that Atkins' "dancing" is limited to shaking his shoulders, kicking up sand and waiving at ugly fish. At one point, Atkins' helmet even threatens to (ha, ha ha!) fill with water. Little wonder the esteemed Golden Raspberry Awards chose "Pumpin' and Blowin'" for its "Worst Song" basket of berries that year.

Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea: Mugging in flicks like "The Pirate Movie" helped Christopher Atkins' career sink to the bottom of the ocean, never to be heard from again.

Oh, yes, and about those double ententes that float around this movie like so much illegally dumped medical waste? I couldn't find an exact count, but I would say there are far too many of them. I don't have a problem with dirty jokes as long as they are funny. The jokes in "The Pirate Movie" are not funny. Take, for instance, this thigh-slapper: Chris arrives on the beach and announces himself to the unsuspecting sisters. They scream and run away, dropping their flowers. This causes Chris to exclaim, "Wait! I didn't mean to deflower you!" Later, Mabel will ask Fredrick, "Are you a virgin?" When he relies "I don't know", Mabel quips back, "Close enough!" Then there is the scene where Fred sets off in a boat to look for girls...while eating a very large banana.

The Aussies (who financed and filmed this flick) are known to have a ribald sense of humor, but this stuff would embarrass Benny Hill.


Relieved that their ordeal is finally over, the cast of "The Pirate Movie" dances in celebration.

In the end, "The Pirate Movie" more than earned it's critical brickbats and Razzie nominations (8 total, with 3 "wins"). It also offers undeniable proof that musicals should only be made with people who have musical talent. It's just smarter that way--and more cost effective. It cost $9 million (in 1982) dollars to produce this flick and it didn't make a plug nickle--causing one wag to quip that "The Pirate Movie" was "the biggest bomb developed in Australia, unless the Aussies unexpectedly decide to acquire nuclear capacity."

On that cheery note, we end this post. Until next time movie lovers, save the movies!






Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Laserblast" or Did I Really Watch This Movie?

Misunderstood loser Billy (Kim Milford) stumbles upon the most awesome leaf-blower ever in the crackpot classic "Laserblast".

OK, here's the deal: I wasn't feeling too well, so I decided to watch a movie. It was called "Laserblast" from 1978. It's about this kid named Billy (Kim Milford), who has Shaun Cassidy hair and never buttons his shirt front. His mom, who dresses like a stewardess, decides to fly off to Acapulco, leaving her son alone. Feeling blue, Billy hops into his van and drives over to see his Jan Brady-ish cuddlemate, Kathy (Cheryl Smith). Unfortunately, her deranged grandpa (Keenan Wynn!) runs the poor kid off. Then a pair of dope smoking cops pull Billy over for speeding and hand him a ticket. Billy complains that the ticket will up his insurance rates even more.

Still with me? Good. Billy next pulls into an ARCO station for a fill-up and some so-dee-pop. After wrestling with the Coke machine, he's harassed by two nerds named Chuck (Mike Bobenko) and Froggy (Eddie Deezen). Fed up, Billy drives off into the desert and discovers what appears to be an alien leaf-blower or some such thing. Our protagonist just has the best time shooting the thing off...

No, stop. Before the movie really begins there is this prologue/dream sequence where a guy with green skin and bad hair wanders around in the desert. Then these cute stop-motion aliens, who resemble the Geico gecko, show up. They mumble some gibberish and have a rather wimpy flash-fight with the chap with green skin. In fact, they disintegrate the fellow. Then an airplane flies over head, which scares the aliens off, and they leave without grabbing either the green guy's leaf-blower or this amulet-thingy.

They do not come in peace: the aliens of "Laserblast". Check out the one guy's tube socks!

"I have a leaf-blower and I'm not afraid to use it!" An unidentified alien is ready to rumble.

After all that happens, then the plot kicks in about loser Billy stumbling upon the alien leaf-blower and amulet.

Now, remember those aliens? Well, I'm going to call them Bob and Ray just for fun. Anyway, they are contacted by their boss who tears them a new one for leaving the leaf-blower and the amulet behind. 

"Idiots!" I can imagine the boss alien shrieking in his alien gibberish. "What do I pay you people for?! Get back down to Earth and find that leaf-blower or it's the Slime Pits for both of you! Do you understand?!!"

A clearly chastised Bob and Ray do as ordered.

Aliens Bob and Ray receive a bad performance review and return to Earth to make good.

Meanwhile, a federal agent (or some such person) with plastic hair and a no-nonsense attitude named Tony Craig (Gianni Smith) arrives on the scene. He orders the Sean Hannity-ish sheriff to seal off the town and orders a news blackout. He clearly knows something, but he's not telling. Then Kathy notices Billy has a chest wound and insists he see a doctor.

Billy's mom, still partying in Acapulco, must have GREAT health insurance because Billy is ushered in to see Dr. Roddy McDowell in no time flat AND without a co-pay! So what is Roddy, the star of "How Green Was My Valley", "Cleopatra", all those "Planet Of The Apes" movies and many other flicks of note, doing in this movie? I have no idea. Roddy extracts some metal from Billy's chest, which he asks a friend to analyze. While driving over with the sample, Roddy is laser blasted into kingdom come. His total screen time is 15 minutes, tops.

Who killed Roddy? It was Billy! Why? Because that alien leaf-blower he is toting around MAKES HIM EVIL. It also turns him into a green-skinned freak with bad teeth. And the catch? Billy HAS NO MEMORY OF HIS EVIL LASER BLASTING DEEDS!

Because "Laserblast" is a mercifully short film, Billy doesn't waste a lot of time using his alien leaf-blower to blast the stuffing out of various people and their cars. When the end nears, Billy--green skin, bad teeth, looking wild-eyed--staggers into town causing endless mayhem. Loyal cuddlemate Kath, with Agent Craig in tow, cries out to him. Suddenly Bob and Ray reappear and zap Billy with rays from their spaceship, creating quite a pot-hole in the process. Their target toast, the aliens zoom away. Kathy rushes to embrace her boyfriend's corpse and our feature film concludes.

Billy before "Laserblast"...

...Billy after "Laserblast". Not much of an improvement, really.

OK, a few questions.

First, what the hell was this movie about? Was it a revenge drama? A cautionary tale? A sci-fi thriller? A teenage reworking of "Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde" with a bit of "Carrie" thrown in? Or did the producers just throw a bunch of plot points in a blender, punch "puree" and then toss the whole mess up on screen hoping something would stick?

Second, who is Billy? Does he attend high school? Community college? Work part-time at Walmart? A kid with hair like his is never going to never going to be believable as a nerd--especially when Eddie Deezen in the cast. Yes, he's having a string of bad luck, but Billy is far from being a bullied loser shoved into one too many lockers who finally snaps.

Third, the opening sequence. Did Billy actually dream this series of events--which would explain his being jolted out of his sleep--or was it meant to serve as foreshadowing? The green skinned alien was clearly not Billy, so were the opening scenes meant to stand alone? And just who, exactly, was that alien? What did he do? How did he arrive on Earth? Why were aliens Bob and Ray after him? Did the leaf-blower make him evil or was he already evil to begin with? The film never tells us. And if the green skinned alien wasn't meant to be significant to the plot, why include him at all?

Fourth, the aliens. Bob and Ray are cute, if deadly, and the best part of the flick. I'm a fan of stop-motion and "claymation", so the aliens had my attention. But what was their story? Were they police officers, bounty hunters or free-lancers? They clearly had a mission, but was it? Why were the leaf-blower and the amulet so important that they could not to be left behind? If the leaf-blower made its operators evil, then Bob and Ray, trying to keep it out of the wrong hands, might have been the film's heroes. However, because the filmmaker clearly kept all this information to himself, we'll never know.

Furthermore, Bob and Ray were such scene stealer's, why weren't they the movie's stars? They acted circles around the humans and were much, much cuter.

I did a little research on "Laserblast" and found out, not surprisingly, that the flick is considered one of the worst ever made. However, movie critic Leonard Maltin gave the flick two-and-a-half stars in his review. I don't think he saw the same movie I did. Perhaps the best comment read about "Laserblast" came from a gentleman who took issue with the film's advertising poster: he claimed the illustration made leading man Kim Milford "look like Mark Hamil possessed by Gary Busey." He makes a good point.

Still, I can't quite believe I really watched this flick. Bad movies are my stock-in-trade, but this one was beyond the pale. I don't know if it was the shoddy cinematography, the shoddy acting, the shoddy script, the ugly clothes, Eddie Deezen as a bully or the total waste of a pair of cute stop-motion aliens, but "Laserblast" was like every gym class I was ever subjected to: I survived, but what else could I do? Perhaps when I feel better, I may revisit the flick and give it a second chance. After all, any film that features two stop-motion aliens wearing tube socks and packing heat can't be all bad.

Until next time movie lovers, save the movies! And get your flu shot!

Bob and Ray, the best part of "Laserblast" congratulate themselves on a job well done.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

If You Think Your Life Sucks, Then Please Watch...

A fine hello to you and yours, movie lovers!

Boy, the world sure is in a mess, isn't it? They shut down the government over health care. Health care! The world may run out of water in 17 years. The price of stamps is going up. And Jennifer Aniston may be pregnant/adopting/using IVF/hiring a surrogate to have a baby/twins/triplets before Angelina pops another one out--all to spite Brad, of course.

What's that? Your life isn't going much better, either? I sympathize. But please remember this: even if your life is down in the dumps, someone, somewhere has it much, much worse. Don't believe me? Then please partake of this blog's semi-regular feature "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Then Please Watch..."


Yes, this hysterically over-the-top trash-fest (based on the hysterically over-the-top trash-fest novel) is not only the perfect cinematic prescription for what ails you, it's also a perfect example of the mini-series genre that once flourished on the tube before that deadly plague of locusts known as "Reality TV" descended from on high.

The formula was simple: take a best selling book, the trashier the better; shoot it in "exotic locales"; lure respectable actors with fat paychecks to slum it as "guest stars"; hype the dickens out of the thing; then sit back and watch the ratings (and the cash) roll in.

"Lace" not only followed that formula, it went one better: the producers hired former teen model Phoebe Cates in the role of Lili, a controversial movie star/sex pot out to find the birth mother she blames for her rotten childhood.

The performance Cates gives in this two-part sudser is the stuff of Junk Cinema legend. As Lili, Phoebe bugs her eyes, flares her nostrils, tosses her head, unsheathes her claws, bares her fangs, shrieks like a dental drill and stomps around like she's trying to extinguish a camp fire. She does everything but act which, of course, is beyond her capabilities. Cates' co-stars, meanwhile, are rendered mute as Hurricane Phoebe not only blows them off the screen, but into the middle of next week. Not until Elizabeth Berkley fatally hammed it up in "Showgirls" would a young actress display the bravura badness Cates does in "Lace".

The Girls Most Likely To...

 Meet Judy (Bess Armstrong), Maxine (Arielle Dombasle) and Pagan (Brooke Adams), the "teenage" heroines of "Lace".

 Our saga begins in one of those fancy, exclusive European boarding schools where the "teenage" student body is made up of actresses moments away from experiencing a mid-life crisis. In this case, the guilty parties are Judy (Bess Armstrong), Pagan (Brooke Adams), who is suppose to be British, and Maxine (Arielle Dombasle) who is (oui, oui)  French. The girls each lose their virginity around the same time, which is against the school rules. Then one of the trio gets a bun in the oven--we are never told who--and to prevent being expelled, the girls blackmail the snooty principal (Herbert Lom). After graduating, the pregnant gal secretly gives birth to a baby girl. The tot is placed in foster care and the friends vow that the first one to get her life in order will collect the child.

Of course, this being a glamorous soap-opera, things don't quite work out as the gal-pals planned.

As the girls each start to make their way in the world and begin having affairs (with the wrong men, of course), they find endless excuses for not retrieving the child. Then they hear that the little girl has died. After mourning her passing, the friends resume their careers (becoming a publisher, architectural restorer and charity fundraiser, respectively) and having more affairs. 

However, the child, nicknamed Lili, is not dead. Instead, she and her foster parents were inadvertently caught up in some Commie-type uprising and Lili was put into A) a Stalin-ish orphanage and later B) a Stalin-ish labor camp. Morphing later in Phoebe Cates, Lili escapes to France where she becomes A) a hooker and then B) a porn star. As often happens in show business, Lili's dramatic skills are eventually noticed by a real director ("The little whore can act!" he marvels) and she makes the jump from porno purgatory to legitimate movie star status.

I'll Make Them An Offer They Can't Refuse

 Porno Queen of the Jungle: movie star Lili (Phoebe Cates) rehearses her latest blockbuster for the cameras.

Even though she's supposedly a big time movie star/sex symbol, Lili isn't happy. She's still smarting over her mother abandoning her. So Lili hires a private investigator and learns the names of Judy, Pagan and Maxine. She also visits Maxine's Aunt Hortense (Angela Landsbury) to gather extra info on which one of the friends her mom might be. Deciding that all three are equally responsible for her rotten childhood, Lili vows revenge. "They sent me to hell!" Cates screams. "I'll teach them what I learned there!"

Like an evil little troll, Lili lures her prospective moms to her penthouse by A) allowing her next movie premiere to serve as a benefit for Pagan's cancer charity B) offering Judy an exclusive interview  for her magazine and C) promising to break it off with Maxine's son, who Lili has wantonly seduced. The three friends arrive for their appointments and when Lili emerges (in a lacy robe) to greet her guests, Cates utters the words that are destined to be her epitaph: "Incidentally, which one of you bitches is my mother?"

When neither Pagan, Maxine or Judy will fess up, Lili goes ballistic. What's more, she knows the reason why her birth mother won't come forward: it's not because she's illegitimate, it's because of her shameful reputation as an easy sexpot.

"Who wants to claim Lili?!" Phoebe snarls. "Whore to every man! Naked in front of the whole world! Who wants a porno queen for a daughter?!"

After tearing each of the friends a new one, Lili orders them out of her penthouse. "None of you are good enough to be my mother!" she shrieks.

Consumed by guilt, Lili's real mother finally declares herself. It's publisher Judy, the drabbest of the group. As the exit music swells, mother and daughter embrace. All is forgiven...until the sequel, where Lili goes on the hunt for her father.

Bad Company

Why so mad? The cast of "Lace" stare down their critics (including me).

 Phoebe Cates' titanic badness in "Lace" is without question the mini-series' main draw. But this sudsy saga has other lame brained charms worth savoring. First, there are the mysterious "accents" flaunted by Adams (who was suppose to be British) and Cates (who was suppose to be "European"). The actresses tend to slip in and out of them at will--one minute they are trying to sound like Deborah Kerr, the next they sound like Paris Hilton. Next, there is the over-the-top looks the gals sport: big hair, killer blush, shoulder pads that give their suits and gowns the wing span of a 747. Why was any of this ever considered fashionable? Finally, there is the smoking. Would one of the world's leading fundraisers for cancer research puff away like Pagan does? Or does she believe that cigarettes are no more dangerous (and addictive) than Twinkies?

So you see, movie lovers, your life is not so bad. You may not be rich or famous, but at least there isn't a visual record of your horrible acting floating around YouTube. And hopefully you'd have enough sense not to call your mother (whom you've just met) "a bitch"--at least until you got to know her. And I bet you haven't touched a shoulder pad in years.

Until next time, save the movies!