Tag Archives: B-Movie

CAPSULE: TOURIST TRAP (1979)

DIRECTED BY: David Schmoeller

FEATURING: Chuck Connors, Jocelyn Jones, Jon Van Ness, Tanya Roberts

PLOT: A group of teenagers have car trouble in the back country and find themselves stuck at a closed museum exhibiting creepy, realistic mannequins.

Still from Tourist Trap (1979)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though it be an excellent cult horror classic, this one ranks in the bottom half when it comes to real weirdness. If 2013’s Evil Dead or 2012’s The Cabin In The Woods don’t make the list, what chance does Tourist Trap have? While it’s a memorable horror film, Freddy Kruger picks weirder things out of his teeth.

COMMENTS: Weird movie fans approaching Tourist Trap will have reason to get their hopes up when they see the director, David Schmoeller. He also directed Crawlspace (1986), which is one of the better examples of a cult horror classic and a decidedly offbeat production. And nothing says “you came to the right movie” like the opening music theme, which is a perfect blend of whimsy and dread. Soon we will encounter the ISO standard horror cliches: carloads of young folks, a flat tire, the creepy old rest stop in the middle of nowhere, and the first sacrificial lamb killed off in a sentient room full of laughing mannequins. Ten minutes in, you’ll swear you’re watching an Evil Dead installment, until you remember this was done two years before Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell first ventured into the Tennessee woods. However, by the halfway mark, after you’ve gotten a better map of this film’s universe, there will be no doubt in your mind that Crawlspace’s director made this. Unique villains are David Schmoeller’s forte.

So a carload of teenagers on some kind of outing stumble upon the “Lost Oasis,” a museum now long closed ever since the new highway went through. Stranded with the typical horror-movie car malady, the broke-down kids soon meet Mr. Slausen (horse opera vet Chuck Connors), who runs a decrepit museum of mannequins. Slausen is chock full of exposition about this creepy place, a locale that practically begs for Scooby-Doo and Shaggy to run around stumbling into the trap doors and secret passageways. As it is, the gang of kids do a knock-out job of being dim-witted horror movie teens, insisting on going skinny dipping in muddy ponds in the middle of nowhere, or splitting off alone from the group to inspect deserted houses at night—even after they’ve been warned—because they’re just so darned curious. To the movie’s credit, once we put all the pieces together and gotten to know our antagonist, we get a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. For a low budget flick with little to work with beyond old theater parts and department store fixtures, it wrings out every ounce of scare value from its limited arsenal.

Tourist Trap suffers from Trope Codifier syndrome, causing it not to age well even though it originated many of the characteristics we now view jadedly. We see it today as a derivative mad slasher flick, but that genre was just being born when this movie came out. The wayward teens might as well have numbers branded on their foreheads to show the order they’ll be picked off. The story is loaded with creepy atmosphere, but very thin on logic. Gosh, those mannequins sure seem life-like, as if their eyes follow you around… now you see where this is going. Tourist Trap is redeemed if you recall that it came out one year before Friday the 13th and just one year after Halloween. Dyed-in-the-wool horror/slasher fans will want to see this movie to check it off the must-see list, but weird fans will find little to hold their attention past the sheer offbeat charm of it all and the occasional hilarious one-liner. Make no mistake, you’ll at least get a shiver from the mannequins the next time you’re browsing in the department store at your local dusty, half-deserted mall, which just goes to show that Tourist Trap has done the job it set out to do.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Even though the pic couldn’t be dumber or more senseless, for some it might have some appeal because of its oddness.”–Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

This movie was made for Kindertrauma:

Tourist Trap

Crawlspace (also by David Schmoeller) review at Tenebrous Kate’s:

Crawlspace [1986]

283. THE TINGLER (1959)

“Now please don’t fool with that stuff alone, Warren, it can produce some pretty weird effects.”—Lab assistant warning Vincent Price against taking LSD in The Tingler

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: William Castle

FEATURING: Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts

PLOT: Scruple-challenged scientist Dr. Warren Chapin discovers that a creature called “the Tingler” lives within the human spine. This creature grows when the host experiences fear, and shrinks when they scream. When an extracted Tingler escapes, Chapin and his assistant must race to re-capture the beast before it unleashes its terror—maybe right here inside this very movie theater!

Still from The Tingler (1959)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director/producer Castle, master of publicity-grabbing gimmicks, applied several such techniques to The Tingler, including hiring actresses to play nurses to stand outside the theater, and planting audience members to scream and faint at key moments in the picture. The most notorious gimmick in his oeuvre, however, was undoubtedly “Percepto.” For the theatrical release, Castle arranged for a handful of auditorium seats to be wired with war-surplus electric airplane de-icing engines. At a key moment during the film’s climax, the projectionist would activate the zappers, buzzing unsuspecting (or eagerly-hoping) viewers with a jolt of electricity, thereby breaking the fourth wall in a way 3-D never could.
  • Although best known for his B-movies, Castle’s resume is not exclusively low-budget shockers. He was an as assistant director on The Lady from Shanghai, and produced ‘s horror classic Rosemary’s Baby. (He has a cameo as a man wanting to use Mia Farrow’s phone booth.)
  • Price’s self-administered LSD experience was reportedly the first ever cinematic acid trip. Castle was so eager to clue in the audience to what was going on that he printed the name of the scientific monograph Price is reading on the back of the volume.
  • Directors and John Waters included The Tingler in their Top Ten lists for the Sight and Sound 2002 poll of the greatest films of all time.
  • Shane Wilson’s Staff Pick for the Certified Weird list.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: A blank projection screen, onto which ambles the shadow of a large rubber insect puppet, followed immediately by blackness, the sound of audience members shrieking their heads off, and the unmistakable command of Vincent Price: “Scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in this theater!”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Even without the electrified seats, The Tingler is an odd little enterprise. Between the confident pseudoscientific explanations, the wildly shifting tone, and the utter commitment to the absurd and goofily executed premise, it’s a strange and silly cinematic experience. But “Percepto” ups the ante considerably. Whereas previous auditorium gimmicks were content to merely startle theater patrons and to play upon their emotions, The Tingler was now actively threatening the audience with physical harm. By bringing the actual audience inside the film, Castle’s gimmick becomes a means to shatter the fourth wall completely, paving the way for the interactive experiences viewers treasure so much now.


Original trailer for The Tingler

COMMENTS: Let’s not kid ourselves. The Tingler is very silly. Consider that the entire premise of the film is based on literalizing the Continue reading 283. THE TINGLER (1959)

CAPSULE: DEATH RACE 2050 (2017)

DIRECTED BY: G. J. Echternkamp

FEATURING: Manu Bennett, Marci Miller, Yancy Butler,

PLOT: In a dystopian future, drivers compete in a cross-country race where the competitors score points for speed and vehicular homicide.

Still from Death Race 2050 (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Aside from being the fifth film to bear the Death Race marque, the 2050 incarnation is a pretty straightforward race picture, with some absurd gore and strident satire glommed on for extra measure.

COMMENTS: The title card identifies this movie properly as Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050, and when you get to be 90 years old and won an Oscar just for the sheer volume of your output, then you’re damned right you get to throw your name up there. But now that he’s put himself front and center, it’s important to remember that a lot of Roger Corman movies are bad. When we think of filmmakers like , James Cameron, or Ron Howard getting their start in Corman’s low-budget film factory, the context is that they are all talented filmmakers who overcame humble origins. Death Race 2050 does not manage to outshine its pedigree, whether that be the Corman exploitation mill, the shadow of the original Death Race 2000, or the many films from which it liberally borrows. In that sense, it’s a fitting addition to the Corman canon.

Allegedly, Corman instigated the idea after a journalist suggested that his original Death Race had much in common with The Hunger Games. Evidently, he opted to solidify the connection by carrying over as many elements of The Hunger Games as he could legitimately steal, from the bread-and-circuses atmosphere to the preening chief executive to the destitute-man’s Stanley Tucci who emcees the whole affair. But it owes just as much to the rock-stupid future depicted in Idiocracy, to say nothing of the original film, whose beats are carefully replicated here.

Ostensibly the tale of a fallen America’s favorite bloodsport, Death Race 2050 pits five cars against each other in a race across a country that is largely free of people, presumably because they all remain indoors to enjoy the race from their squalid-yet-VR-enabled homes. Given how many of the remaining citizens wind up dead at the hands of the racers, it’s hard to tell whether reality TV is the ultimate killer, or the only thing keeping our descendants alive.

As for the racers themselves, one is a robot car susceptible to brain damage, while two are stereotypes (a black nationalist rap star whose hit song consists almost entirely of the poetic lyrics, “Death Death Kill Kill”, and a fundamentalist Christian televangelist who proudly builds her pulpit on terrorism). That leaves two for our primary showdown: Jed Perfectus, the probably-gay prima donna with a chip on his shoulder who struts around practically naked (he has a spectacular chin, but beyond that is not exactly a flawless specimen), and Frankenstein, the world-weary champion who is pretty much annoyed with everyone. Overseeing all of this is Malcolm McDowell, honing his accumulated phoning-it-in skills with a barely-trying American accent and a floppy hairdo that might remind viewers of another arrogant leader who cons the public and suffers from narcissistic personality disorder.

The writers want to have fun with the rampant commercialism that has destroyed the country (the best such joke is this wonderful location card: “Washington, D.C. [formerly Dubai]”), but the humor is paper-thin. For every joke that carries a little weight if you stop to think about it (i.e. the aerosol cheese that’s also a mood stabilizer), twice as many are simplistic (the new American flag replaces the stars with dollar signs), depraved (a passenger literally has sex with the robot car), or low-hanging (fans drink paint-can-sized beverages labeled “Zoda!”). The film is aware of its limitations (a conversation between two women takes place in “The Bechdel Lounge”) but helpless to overcome them. Characters switch sides just because, abandon long-held beliefs just because, and generally do whatever is required to get them to the next jokey part of the country.

But you’re not really watching Death Race 2050 for its Thurberian wit, so who cares as long as there’s some thrills in this Death Race? Which turns out to be an even bigger problem: no one believes for a minute that these cars are going faster than 30 mph, even fewer will imagine that these actors got anywhere near the steering wheel, and most of the carnage consists of bloody entrails being hurled at windshields. When you aim to combine satire and action, and don’t really score on either count, you’re setting yourselves up for disappointment.

Death Race 2050 wants to be a few different movies, but doesn’t really score at any one of them. As a result, it’s never actively bad, but not particularly good, which makes it very disposable as entertainment. Fortunately, there are four other Death Race films you can try.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Death Race 2050 is grating and insane … Even more than the original, this flick is a garish cartoon and as such, it will likely isolate audiences looking for the humorless thrills of the previous Death Race series or those just looking for a straight action flick. No, this incarnation of Death Race feels like a smutty app from Hell, rather than a conventional genre film.” — Chris Alexander, ComingSoon.net

CAPSULE: BRAIN DEAD (1991)

DIRECTED BY: Adam Simon

FEATURING: , , , Patricia Charbonneau, Nicholas Pryor

PLOT: At the request of a pushy corporation, a neurologist performs experimental surgery on a paranoid mathematician, but when he starts having hallucinations he questions whether he may be the patient rather than the doctor.

Still from Brain Dead (1991)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s definitely within the weird genre, but held back by its budget and by subtext-free sensibilities that stay firmly nailed to the plot’s surface.

COMMENTS: Brain Dead is like what would result if directed an unproduced script. (In fact, Roger’s wife Julie produced this for their Concorde/New Horizons B-movie outfit, and it came from an unproduced script by “Twilight Zone” scribe Charles Beaumont). That sounds like a recipe for fun, and to a large extent it is, although there is not as much senseless sex and violence as you might hope for.

Before it spins into hallucinatory tangents for its entire second half, the plot is relatively simple. Bill Pullman is Rex Martin, a brain scientist researching paranoia; old college buddy Bill Paxton is a corporate stooge for Eunice Corporation who needs a favor. Halsey (Bud Cort), a former Eunice employee and mathematical genius, killed his family and is now locked in a mental hospital believing himself to be an accountant for a mattress company, but he actually has crucial corporate secrets locked inside his schizophrenic brain. The deal: perform experimental brain surgery on him, or lose all your research funding. After a homeless man tries to seize a brain in a jar Dr. Martin is inexplicably taking home after work (“he’s got my brain!”), a car accident results in the paranoid schizophrenic’s grey matter being splattered on the asphalt (the one in the jar, not the one in the homeless guy). Soon after, Martin agrees to perform the procedure. It’s a success, but with a side effect: Martin is now seeing the white-coated, bloodstained figure Halsey claims killed his family.

After this setup, things get really wild as Martin loses grips on who he is. Is he really Halsey, under the delusion he’s Martin? Or has his mind been somehow tampered with by Eunice corporation so that he won’t be able to rat on them? Whatever the case, reality becomes plastic as Martin fights to keep his identity against the mounting evidence that he is not who he believes himself to be. He sees his wife murdered and is blamed for the killing; he’s incarcerated at the same hospital as Hawlsey and drugged; fleeing from orderlies, he ducks into a room inspired by Shock Corridor‘s nympho ward; he has an out-of-body experience and falls into Hawlsey’s brain (depicted as an ocean), and so on. There’s a sensible enough literal explanation at the end, for those who care for such things. The rest of us will wonder if David Lynch saw Brain Dead before deciding to cast Pullman in Lost Highway, and thought “I can do this better—and without the safety net.”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Yep, it’s Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton in the very same (and rather weird) little sci-fi horror cheapie from producer Roger Corman and director Adam Simon… Notably better written than it is directed, Brain Dead isn’t any sort of hidden cult classic or B-movie masterpiece, but there’s something to be said for a twisted little science-fiction story that gets to the meat of the matter and doles out a generally tasty little meal.”–Scott Weinberg, DVD Talk (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “renwad,” who called it “a strange tale about a brain specialist who’s work is being manipulated by the large company he works for, or is it ? Starring Bill Pulman and Bill Paxton, i think this is a must for the certified weird movie list.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: GAS-S-S-S (1970)

AKA Gas! -Or- It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Bob Corff, Elaine Giftos, , Cindy Williams, , (as Tally Coppola)

PLOT: After an experimental gas kills everyone over the age of twenty five, young lovers make their way across the desert looking for a hippie Shangri-La in New Mexico.

Still from Gas-s-s-s (1970)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: More zany than strange, Gas-s-s-s lacks bite as satire and doesn’t go far enough with its crazy to earn a place among the weirdest movies of all time.

COMMENTS: Unlike monster movies, which could be churned out according to a reliable formula, comedy was always an iffy proposition for Roger Corman. When he had a dark, focused script like Little Shop of Horrors, he could produce a classic; but when the screenplay indulged in budget wackiness, as with Creature from the Haunted Sea, the results ranged from tedious to tolerable. Gas-s-s-s falls into the latter category; it’s not actually very funny, but it moves so fast and ranges so wide that it keeps your attention despite the fact that none of the individual gags land.

An appealing young cast (without the usual Corman regulars) helps. It’s not a star-making turn for either, but Bob Corff and Elaine Giftos do well enough as the central couple, he a puckish hippie and she the liberated love child. In his first major speaking role, Ben Vereen is a lot of fun as an ex-Black Panther, and future “Shirley” Cindy Williams (also in her first big part) wrings most of the film’s legitimate giggles from her character, a perpetually pregnant ingenue obsessed with 1960s rock and roll. Working with the legendary Corman, even in a bad picture, was a feather in any young actor’s cap, and Gas-s-s-s is cool credit for Talia Shire and future cult icon Bud Cort, even though both of their characters are underdeveloped and generic. Together, this sextet makes its way across a post-adult landscape where the marauders are organized as football teams (complete with rape-and-pillage pep rallies) and the Hell’s Angels have civilized themselves and taken over an abandoned country club. also rides around on a motorcycle dispensing advice and commentary. The jokes—stuff like calling out the names of cowboy actors instead of firing bullets during a shootout— are too goofy to be called absurdist; the film is almost childlike, as if the survivors are just kids pretending that the world has ended one afternoon. The result is like what might have happened if Mel Brooks had taken the script for The Bed Sitting Room, removed the dark nuclear gags, and filmed the results cheaply and quickly on an off day. I’ll resist the temptation to say Gas-s-s-s stinks; it’s a breezy wisp of a satire.

Gas-s-s-s was the last film in Roger Corman’s groovy “psychedelic” period, which began with Wild Angels and peaked with The Trip. It was also Corman’s final picture for American International Studios; he didn’t have final cut and was upset at the way the picture was edited, including the decision to cut certain scenes involving his God, who spoke with a stereotypical Jewish accent. Corman formed New World Pictures soon after and rarely directed again, serving almost exclusively as producer. Gas-s-s-s was paired on DVD in separate double feature sets with either Corman’s The Trip or the thematically similar Wild in the Streets. In October 2016 Olive released it as a standalone Blu-ray with no special features.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s not a good pic by any means (in fact it’s a terrible plotless ramble of an idiotic film), but it’s probably worth a look for certain curious viewers because it’s so raw, audacious, bizarre and diverting.”–Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews (DVD)

258. BLOOD FREAK (1972)

“The World’s Only Turkey-Monster-Anti-Drug-Pro-Jesus-Gore Film!”–Blood Freak Special Edition DVD box cover

DIRECTED BY: Brad F. Grinter, Steve Hawkes

FEATURING: Steve Hawkes, Dana Sullivan, Heather Hughes, Brad F. Grinter

PLOT:  Herschell, a Vietnam vet biker, helps good Christian girl Angel fix a flat tire and then accompanies her to a drug party. Angel preaches to the sinning partiers and warns Herschel not to sample marijuana, but temptation of the flesh comes via Angel’s bikini clad sister, Ann. Once hooked on the wiles of the devil, Herschell gets a job at a turkey farm, transforms into a gobbling vampire, and goes on a rampage before finding out he has been hallucinating on pot, which leads him and the now “saved” bikini babe to Jesus.

Still from Blood Freak (1972)

BACKGROUND:

  • Co-writer/producer/director and star Hawkes took the job to help pay medical bills he incurred as a result of skin grafts necessary to repair third degree burns he received doing a stunt while starring in a Spanish Tarzan film. He referred to Blood Freak as “a sad chapter in my life.” He later started a shelter for wild animals (before being shut down by Florida authorities for not complying with state regulations).
  • The cast consists mostly of acting students from Grinter’s class (yes, he actually was an acting teacher), including an amputee who came in handy as a victim who gets his leg cut off.
  • The original financier backed out of this labor-of-love-by-idiots (apparently, he saw some of the footage), leaving Steve Hawkes and Brad Grinter to finish Blood Freak out of their own pockets.
  • The film was originally rated “X” for violence.
  • Hawkes made a twenty-first century celluloid “comeback” in a pair of zombie movies that no one has seen.
  • Grinter’s only other film “of note” is Flesh Feast (1970), which inspired Veronica Lake to come out of retirement (!?!) to play an insane plastic surgeon whose patient is a zombified Adolf Hitler. Naturally, she comes to her senses and disposes of  the former dictator with chemically bred maggots. After getting saved, Grinter, like Hawkes, retired to a life of Christian anonymity in Florida, dying in 1993.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: An Elvis imitator donning a papier-mâché turkey head and butchering rubberneckin’ potheads.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Chain-smoking anti-drug narrator; proselytizer in Daisy dukes; bad pot/experimental turkey interaction

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Just for starters, the opening narration, delivered by a pencil-mustachioed, gold-chain wearin’ co-director Grinter as he chain smokes: “We live in a world subject to constant change. Every second of every minute of every hour changes take place. These changes are perhaps invisible to us, because our level of awareness is limited. Take for example, how the things we do and say to the people we meet, all these things affect our lives, influence our destiny. And yet there seems to be some kind of fantastic order to the whole thing. We never know how or when we will meet a person who will become a catalyst. Or, who will lead us to one. What is a catalyst? Well, in this case, a catalyst is a person that will bring about changes. They could be good, or bad. But there will be changes. You can meet one almost anywhere, in your everyday life. In a supermarket, drugstore, anywhere. Even riding down the Florida Turnpike. A pretty girl with a problem. Who could resist? Certainly not Herschell.” Take that irresistible intro, add a “grass is bad, Jesus is good” message, and mix it with some gory mayhem perpetrated by a mass murdering turkey Nosferatu. Although, viewers may ask: Why a turkey? Do turkeys crave blood?


Original trailer for Blood Freak

COMMENTS:  The Christian scare film to end all Christian scare Continue reading 258. BLOOD FREAK (1972)

366 UNDERGROUND: FIRST MAN ON MARS (2016)

DIRECTED BY: Mike Lyddon

FEATURING: Marcelle Shaneyfelt, Benjamin J. Wood, Gavin Ferrara, Kirk Jordan

PLOT: An eccentric billionaire flies to Mars, mutates into a monster, then returns to Earth to terrorize the silly citizens of Black Bayou, Louisiana.

Still from First Man on Mars (2016)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Ironically, this movie is only 9/10ths bad enough. Movies like The Room or Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny are low-budget and bad, but done with a sense of conviction, albeit mis-aimed. First Man on Mars is just bad on the boring, no-ideas level, not even interesting enough to make the so-bad-its-good category.

COMMENTS: First Man on Mars is an intentional parody of ’60s-’70s sci-fi horror drive-in B-movies. We open on a coroner in an office giving us a desktop lecture a la Rocky Horror Picture Show, a scene that ends with a chant of “Keep watching the stars!” Then we get to Cletus and his chum hunting in Louisiana. They run across an abandoned space capsule and a rubber-mask monster who disembowels Cletus’ hunting buddy with no foreplay, sending the terrified hick running for the cops. Flashback: the monster from the capsule was once astronaut Eli Cologne, a very obvious parody of real-life billionaire, philanthropist, and visionary Elon Musk. Eli came to Mars seeking shiny gold, despite already being rich enough to buy his own rocket to go there. Grabbing his first nugget, however, results in a tear in his glove, which soon leads to an infection which will transform him.

Mission Control argues that he’s not allowed to come back infected, but Eli is hearing none of it. He returns just in time to transform into a growling monster in the backwoods of Louisiana. The rest of the flick is pretty much people scrambling around in forest either chasing or being chased by said monster, with only the thinnest veneer of justification. That cast includes Cletus and two cops who don’t believe his story; a sleazy photographer and two models from “Bullets and Bimbos” magazine who hire Cletus as a guide to the dark swamps of Black Bayou for a woodsy photo shoot; a group of scientists from Eli’s project; an innocent girl going fishing and being fished; and a coroner who investigates Cletus’ mangled remains in between bites of lunch.

“Low budget” doesn’t begin to describe it, and cash isn’t the only thing this flick is short on. It is very stingy with the alleged classic sci-fi references. Unless you blink and miss it, you’ll catch one of the bumbling scientists being dismissed as a “red shirt” (Trekkie, check), a clumsy bit of banter with a “Bullets and Bimbos” model name-dropping (Elephant Man, check), a scene where two scientists pitch a tent just so they can play D&D (gamer nerds, am I right, ha ha?) before getting slaughtered, and so on. However, the film is generous with poop humor, boob humor, gross-out humor, insulting stereotypes of country bumpkins and geeks alike, Dollar Store props that are milked for all the lead-painted rubber they’re worth, and an extremely fuzzy understanding of the meaning of the word “humor.” At one point, one of the scientists screams over and over that he needs to defecate, before wandering off and accidentally dumping a steamer (rubber doggy doo, $0.99) on a  yet undiscovered body. Said pile of doggy doo is referenced again and again, traveling with the body even to the coroner’s office. And that, apparently, is the movie’s best foot forward.

Let it be known, being low budget does not disqualify a film from the list of 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made (see Robot Monster and After Last Season). And simply being bad is no barrier to entry, either. But there is low budget, and then there is being stingy beyond all reason. At least Robot Monster had the imagination to try to sell a bubble machine as alien technology. Imagination costs nothing. First Man on Mars seems to be done with no intention of being taken seriously, on any level, and nothing shows anybody seemed motivated to put in much effort, either.

Viewers who like sitting through every amateur production made by kids goofing around with mom’s camera on YouTube will find First Man on Mars right up their alley. It at least passes that standard.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an absurd blast from low-budget director Mike Lyddon and his team of willing actor and crew participants, putting everything on the proverbial line to make this ambitious project first and put their seemingly absent shame second.”–Steven T. Lewis, It’s Blogging Evil

CAPSULE: PETEY WHEATSTRAW (1977)

Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law

DIRECTED BY: Cliff Roquemore

FEATURING: Rudy Ray Moore, Jimmy Lynch, Leroy Daniels, Ernest Mayhand, Ebony Wright, Steve Gallon, G. Tito Shaw, Ted Clemmons

PLOT: Comedians Leroy and Skillet borrow a large sum of money from the mob to put on a show. Unfortunately for the duo, rival comedian Petey Wheatstraw’s show is the very same week. When Petey refuses Leroy and Skillet’s request to change the date of his show they use more aggressive tactics. The young brother of one of Petey’s entourage is shot and killed by Leroy and Skillet’s goons, who then shoot all of the attendees at the boy’s funeral. Lucifer is on hand at the tragic event to make a deal with Petey. Petey and his friends will get to live and enact righteous revenge if Petey agrees to marry Lucifer’s ugly daughter and give him a grandson. Petey makes the deal, but he has no intention of keeping his end of the bargain. Will Petey be able to outsmart the Devil?

Petey_Wheatstraw

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Selling your soul to Satan plots are practically as old as film itself. This fact alone does not disqualify Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law as a contender for the List. But while Wheatstraw is a potpourri of genres—a comedy, crime, action, horror film that is completely ludicrous and full of wacky hi-jinx—there are only a couple of “what the hell?” moments. Generally speaking, it is funny and not particularly weird.

COMMENTS: Rudy Ray Moore was an American stand up comedian who recorded his first comedy album, “Below the Belt,” in 1959. In 1975, Moore used the proceeds from his comedy albums to finance his first film, Dolemite. Moore plays the title character Dolemite, a ladies’ man skilled in kung-fu, hell bent on defending the ghetto. Dolemite spawned the sequel The Human Tornado, my personal favorite Rudy Ray Moore film. Moore only made five films throughout the Seventies, and thanks to his presence they are all pretty entertaining. Moore is funny, foul-mouthed, charismatic and energetic. Moore is not an actor, he is a comedian, and he brings his comedic persona with him to his films. He is also one mighty fine dresser. If you can’t enjoy Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law for its humor, you should at very least appreciate Rudy Ray Moore’s sensational wardrobe! Moore dons about a dozen super Seventies ensembles over the course of the film.

Petey Wheatstraw opens with a flashback of his birth during a storm; exiting his mother’s womb as a seven-ish year old boy, he attacks both the doctor and his own father. Petey, like Dolemite, is also a ladies’ man, a master of kung-fu, and a defender of the ghetto. In an early scene Petey teaches three junkies a lesson while the neighbors gleefully cheer him on. The movie keeps a good pace with goofy antics at regular intervals, but most of the funniest bits happen after Petey makes the deal with the devil around mid-film. Once the plastic devil horns, the guys in tights, and Lucifer’s magic cane make their appearance, things get livelier. After Petey discovers the power of the magic cane he uses it without abandon. He grants one woman a wish to prevent her from stabbing her cheating husband to death:

Petey: Don’t kill him ma’am. I have one wish I will grant you. What might it be?

Angry wife: He’s a dog! He’s a damn dog! Just turn him into a little black puppy.

Petey: That wish will be granted.

You can look forward to a she-demon orgy, but don’t count on seeing more than a couple of bare breasts. There are some poorly executed fight scenes with a bunch of demons with bad makeup in tights and capes that were absolutely hilarious! Every fight scene in the film is quite ridiculous and thoroughly amusing. Moore has some funny lines and priceless expressions that alone make the film worth watching.

I always walk away from a Rudy Ray Moore movie with at least one awesome quote. Bar none, my favorite from Petey was “Romance without finance is a damn nuisance.” So true, Petey Wheatstraw, so true. I enjoyed the heck out of Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law; it is good old-fashioned entertainment that made me laugh regularly. I definitely recommend picking up the 2016 Vinegar Syndrome release which contains both the Blu-ray and DVD. This copy is worlds better than the Xenon Pictures (“The Dolemite Collection”) version I had previously owned on DVD (see comparison below).

Petey_Wheatstraw_dvd_vs_bluray_comparison
(DVD vs. Blu-ray comparison: click for larger version)

More images at Goregirl’s Dungeon!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Though you get the usual low budget issues and awkward fight scenes here as the prior two Moore films, the approach somehow fits the story perfectly with the dime store demons and stylized lighting creating a weird cinematic experience unlike any other.”–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: TROLL (1986) & TROLL 2 (1990)

Troll (1986)

DIRECTED BY:  John Carl Buechler

FEATURING:  Noah Hathaway, June Lockhart, Micheal Moriarity, Sonny Bono, Phil Fondacaro, Julia Louis-Dreyfus

PLOT:  Trolls invade the human realm and turn people into food (and baby trolls).

Still from Troll (1986)

Troll 2 (1990)

DIRECTED BY:  Claudio Fragasso

FEATURING:  Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Robert Ormsby, Deborah Reed

PLOT: A family vacations in a town full of humans disguised as “trolls.”

Still from Troll 2 (1990)

WHY NEITHER MOVIE SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The roots of these strange fantasy worlds don’t dig deep enough to be seriously affecting. The corniness is shallow, and the oddness feels contrived, lazy even.

COMMENTS: Picture a grandfather named Seth.  He confers with others, predominantly family members, emphasizing the existence of goblins. He says they are evil, impudent creatures that revel in torment, then proclaims that goblin blood is green, the color of sap. Somewhere in this parallel universe organic tentacles erupt from the ground and unsightly trolls sprout from organic pods. Multi-hued backdrops dribble with green, mossy earth while peculiar teenage characters experience transcendentally vacant confrontations. In this world, at least one pre-pubescent teen chokes on popcorn during a hot fantasy while trolls hide in his closet. All of these happenings are punctuated by strange flashes of slimy gore in the world of Troll and its sequel, Troll 2.

Eons of insomnia can be obtained attempting to decipher the enigmatic qualitative properties of Troll and Troll 2. Most of what’s on screen in both films seems like a vague attempt to conjure horror and suspense, but it’s all blatantly artificial. Chains of inconsequential science fiction and fantasy ideas are glued together with sticky green goblin slime. It’s assumed that some ironic entertainment value can be siphoned from the bizarre haphazardness, but the darker elements (e.g. the exploding heads in Troll, people being turned into plants and then masticated in Troll 2) indicate a tone of cynicism surrounding the offbeat exchanges. Thus, despite their puppet and slime fetishes, these movies are not really suitable for kids to enjoy. On the contrary, it would be quite unfortunate for an unsuspecting child to see either one of the Troll movies. With little understanding of life, witnessing the queer squabbles, blundering cheeseball romances, and mini-monsters coveting veggie-morphed organs could cause permanent psychological impairment. (It would also be not be constructive for a youngster to watch Troll 2 and get the idea that it’s OK to urinate on the family dinner table).

Examining Troll and Troll 2 as horror appropriation pieces with villains that contort traditional fantasy creatures, the streamlined awkwardness is overwhelmingly grotesque. Loopy symphonies are performed by homicidal puppets with a skew-whiff gawkiness. Unlike other weirdo B-movie monster flicks of the late Eighties, like Bad Taste or Society, the narrative enjoyment never approaches transcendence, nor does it dally with the chaotic fun of cornball monster movies of its time (such as Critters). Rather, the fun gets lost in boredom and confusion while the camera moves from one set piece to the next, while side characters explode with green slime that was most likely borrowed from Nickelodeon Studios before they went prime time. It’s not difficult to imagine both films as extended, graphic episodes of the 90s children’s TV series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” While the woozy plots focus on property conflicts between parallel dimensions, the camera gives a smidgen of solace in its visual homogeneity with its whorls of evanescent greens and browns. The most enduring aspects of the Troll universe come from its vivid color palette and imaginative set pieces.

The goblins (not trolls) of Troll 2 exist within the same logic-deprived chaos as the first film. They kill for pleasure perhaps, but more for the warm green globs of organic flesh that fill their bellies. Issuing the same gruff, nasally bark while performing all tasks, the “trolls” have the power to turn people into plants and the strength to bend steel barrel shotguns, the shells of which they are immune to. The accord between the troll and human world is like a massive, perverted phase shift. Somehow, none of this brain candy prevents the viewing of Troll and Troll 2 from being a generally dull experience.

The repetitive musical score coupled with the amateur acting will, at its best and most cheesy moments, bring to mind the lack of awareness of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, but the strength of Troll  and its sequel as amusing cult films lie more in the lurid sci-fi and fantasy aspects of their productions. In Troll‘s first troll attack, a partier gets zapped into a lush array of green foliage, with a splatter effect that uses green slime in place of blood. Scenes like this are interspersed with arbitrary, half-baked filler dialogue, which can be mind-numbingly dull. In the first film, relief is found with the introduction of an anachronistically-dressed diva with a talking head for a desk lamp. Her role leads to surreal insanity. Another amusing scene in Troll involves a character named Harry Potter Sr. (no kidding) rocking out in his living room, with dance moves that may have inspired those in Dogtooth.

The total freedom of expression on display is liberating.  At a glance, both Troll and Troll 2 can resemble grisly Muppets’ films or B-movie cousins of Labyrinth, but the scene in Troll where baby goblins emerge from animatronic green monsters best describes what the vibe is like throughout both films. Slimy, graphic, and morosely odd, Troll and Troll 2 possess enough surface qualities to be labeled as terribly bizarre, but there’s not enough magic, passion, or unusual ideas behind the bad acting and green slime to rise above the multitude of B-movies that aspire to be on The List.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a predictable, dim-witted premise executed for the most part with surprising style.“–Variety on Troll (contemporaneous)

the kind of cinematic experience that must be experienced firsthand. No description of it can quite contain its misguided ludicrousness or the way its infinite and varied sins against the traits of good cinema combine to produce one of the most uproarious unintentional comedies ever made.”–James Kendrick, Q Network (DVD)

CAPSULE: SEXINA (2007)

AKA Sexina: Popstar P.I.

DIRECTED BY: Erik Sharkey

FEATURING: Lauren D’Avella, Adam West, Luis Jose Lopez

PLOT: When the shadowy CEO of Glitz Records devises a diabolical plot to take over the world’s music industry, it is up to Sexina, a top star at a competing label, to thwart him. A mix of huge egos, cyborgs, and assassins all collide as things build to a big showdown at a free high school concert.

Still from Sexina (2007)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Eliciting more “okay then…”s than “what the…?”s, Sexina is certainly quirky and scattershot. But while there are moments when it hits the better side of absurd, Erik Sharkey’s pet project is more of a low key late night romp than an oddball masterpiece.

COMMENTS: “In the fine tradition of …” are generally not words a director likes to hear at the start of a review, but my suspicion is that Erik Sharkey, the man behind this pop-boy-band send-up, would not only be okay with it, but perhaps be flattered. Seeing as he did work with that venerable movie studio back in the ’90s, it is unsurprising that this has the budget studio’s unmistakable trashy aura—just without the gratuitous violence or nudity.

There’s no doubt that Sexina had more bite to it when it was released some eight years ago. Back then, to quote the Professor, “boy bands roamed the earth.” While never a difficult subject for lampooning, Sharkey ably takes the various flavors of pop sensation to their extremes. Luis Jose Lopez’s performance as the latest flash in the pan is something close to excellent. His Latino singer persona, Lance Canyon, is perhaps the most accurate distillation of commercialized machismo put to screen. His main obsession, reiterated in increasingly sexist ways, is women. (Or, more precisely, things which a male might, if one were so inclined, do with women). This slime-ball’s boss, known, appropriately, as “the Boss”, is the always-delightful Adam West. Ever since he finished his rounds at Batman lo those many decades ago, Mr. West seems to have maintained a successful career through the unlikely route of just showing up on screen and being Adam West. In Sexina, he does not disappoint.

Working less well, unfortunately, is much else in the movie. Plenty of jokes and scenes fall flat. This is somewhat made up for by the rapid pace, but there was a point about half way through that I realized I was just watching one- to two-minute vignettes loosely interspliced with each other. While I often found I was laughing despite myself, I kind of wished that there were more care given to the dialogue and timing. All the actors involved were, at the very least, competent, and it would have been good to see them given a clearer sense of the mania I felt the director was striving for. Alas, while his cast brought B-movie acting to the grade of Nigh High Art, there is only so much anyone can do with dialogue that’s “sorta funny” presented as “really funny.”

In the end, I wouldn’t recommend the movie; but I have no regrets that I’ve seen it. Despite clunkiness throughout, there was an undeniable charm to the whole thing, with the bits showcasing Adam West or Luis Lopez bringing the movie up from tolerable to amusing. Sharkey’s only follow-up to date was the fairly critically acclaimed documentary, Drew: the Man Behind the Poster, for which he was able to rally the likes of Steven Spielberg, Leonard Maltin, Michael J. Fox, as well as bunches of other A-List Hollywood types. It would be neat to see Erik Sharkey use his talent-gathering powers for the forces of good instead of the mediocre.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It feels like a gentle, nostalgic trip through some of our favorite tropes from detective/spy TV combined with a disdain for contemporary boy-band culture (a target that even by 2007 was a bit dated). Even the film’s nods to drug culture and the over-sexualization of pop stars (including a weird dialogue about the size of a guy’s penis) feel more goofy than sleazy.”–Gordon Sullivan, DVD Verdict (DVD)