Tag Archives: John Landis

CAPSULE: AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON (1987)

DIRECTED BY: Joe Dante, Carl Gottlieb, Peter Horton, John Landis, Robert K. Weiss

FEATURING: “Lots of Actors”, including Arsenio Hall, , , Steve Forrest, David Alan Grier, B. B. King, , Steve Guttenberg, , Kelly Preston, , , Andrew Dice Clay, Griffin Dunne

PLOT: A collection of sketches parodying late-night TV content, anchored by a specific parody of goofy 1950s space operas.

Still from Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The sketch film has always been rare enough to merit a double take when one appears in cinemas, but this particular example of the form isn’t especially unusual, with nothing particularly outlandish or shocking, and the majority of sketches being of the one-joke variety.

COMMENTS: Although anthologies have been a recurring genre since early cinema, the heyday of the “sketch film” variant was the early 1970s: The Groove Tube, TunnelVision, and king-of-the-form Kentucky Fried Movie all parodied television’s challenge to attention spans. The form was also fairly economical, providing quick work to underemployed actors and aspiring comedy writers alike. None of these were box office bonanzas, though, so when Amazon Women on the Moon came along more than a decade later, it was fair to ask if it was a bold attempt to refresh the formula, or a last gasp for a format that had never truly lived.

Let’s go with B. First and foremost, Amazon Women is a comedy, but while it has quite a few solid jokes, it reveals time and again that it doesn’t have much else. Let’s consider one of the film’s best sequences, a vivid re-creation of 1930-era Universal horror movies starring Ed Begley, Jr. as the son of ’ Invisible Man. The black-and-white atmosphere is rich, and Begley even gets to repeat the famous bandage-removal scene. The catch: he’s not invisible at all. It’s a funny joke, as he obliviously cavorts about the room in the nude. The problem is, the sketch has another two minutes to go, and so we get more variations on the same joke, searching for an end.

This happens a lot. Scenes have a funny premise at their core, but then they have to keep going to justify their presence in a Hollywood motion picture: David Alan Grier sings in a super-white way—then he does it some more. A funeral turns into a Catskills roast—and we get the whole roast. Other sketches are shorter, but their jokes are smaller, too, and the scenes still feel stretched and padded. Amazon Women on the Moon has a tight five minutes; it gets an hour-and-a-half.

The film is not without its charms. The parodies have a clever eye for their sources, such as a 30s-era scare propaganda film that subtly re-dresses the same set over and over. Several performances capture the desired anarchic spirit, such as Griffin Dunne’s incompetent doctor and Carrie Fisher’s gullible ingénue. And every now and then, the film manages to tap into something sublimely silly; my personal favorite is an In Search Of/Unsolved Mysteries amalgam that manages to mashup the sordid deeds of Jack the Ripper with a more supernatural tale. But Moon’s a film that earns smiles more than laughs.

Ultimately, Amazon Women on the Moon is “Saturday Night Live” with slightly better production values: the jokes are hit and miss, and there’s a lot of work to get to the end of each sketch. It’s not the worst of its kind (that would be the execrable Movie 43), but it’s far from the finest. That honor probably belongs to Kentucky Fried Movie, and the filmmakers know it; references to fictional producer Samuel L. Bronkowitz mark Moon as Movie‘s spiritual sequel. But bad news, Sam: Amazon Women on the Moon is no Fistful of Yen.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Amazon Women on the Moon is everything that Movie 43 wished it could have been, trenchant, hilarious, weird, and just plain fun.” — Sean Patrick, Geeks

(This movie was nominated for review by roastphoenix. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Mark Hartley

FEATURING: Roger Corman, Eddie Romero, , Pete Tombs, , , ,  Marlene Clark, Judy Brown, R. Lee Ermey, Danny Peary,

PLOT: Documentary covering exploitation films made in the Philippines in the 1970s and 1980s, both by Filipinos and by American companies looking for cheap labor and exotic locations.

Still from Machete Maidens Unleashed!

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A few of the films mentioned (For Y’ur Height Only?) might be worthy of consideration for the List, but this documentary survey is a curiosity piece—and possibly a place to get ideas for your Netflix queue.

COMMENTS: There are two strands to Machete Maidens. One is the history of an enterprising but anarchic third-word film industry and the American carpetbaggers who flocked there to make cheap pictures, packed with war stories from those who were there. Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos (who loaned army helicopters to American filmmakers in the evenings after they’d spent the mornings strafing Islamic rebels) and notorious first lady Imelda (who allegedly ordered dead workers’ bodies to be left in the cement of the Manila Film Center so the project could be completed in time to host a film festival) remain in the background as villains throughout the entire epic. On the front lines, American filmmakers and actors relate stories of pistol-packing makeup men and cockroach-infested living conditions (at one point Sid Haig describes his accommodations by saying “I saw a rat carrying a kitten out the window”).

But as interesting as this backdrop might be, the main attraction is not the island’s political scenery, but the movies made there for export. These reflected the evolving shock aesthetic of the American drive-ins, not tropical politics. The scandalous profit margins of native filmmaker Eddie Romero’s “Blood Island” horror movies, with their cheap rubber-masked monsters menacing topless Filipino babes, were the proof-of-concept legendary low-budget producer Roger Corman needed to ship contract director Jack Hill off to the islands to produce his smash hit The Big Doll House.  This revolutionary sleaze introduced the world to the concept of women’s prisons as topless entertainment centers, and also to the enormous talents of burgeoning bust icon  Continue reading CAPSULE: MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! (2010)

CAPSULE: TRAILERS FROM HELL!, VOL. 2 (2011) (WITH THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS)

DIRECTED BY: None credited

FEATURING: Roger Corman, Joe Dante, , Ernest Dickerson, Mick Garris, Jack Hill, Larry Karaszewski, Lloyd Kaufman, Mary Lambert, John Landis, Josh Olson, Michael Peyser, Brian Trenchard Smith

PLOT: Industry professionals deliver commentaries on twenty movies as their trailers play.

Still from Trailers from Hell Vol. 2 (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: In itself it’s not weird, though it features some occasionally weird directors discussing some occasionally weird films.

COMMENTS: Schlock movie fans who came of age in the pre-YouTube era of the 80s and early 90s remember the VHS phenomenon of the “trailer tape”: feature-length compilations of “coming attractions” that showcased just the “good parts” of some bad movies.  With titles like Terror on Tape and The Best of Sex and Violence, these tapes always covered B-movies (I never saw a compilation tape dedicated to tear-jerking British coming-of-age-dramas, but there were plenty packed with grindhouse-era sexy shockers); they often featured footage from obscure, otherwise unavailable titles.  They were a nice way to spend an evening when you couldn’t find something that caught your fancy at your local VHS venue, and, if you were like me, you’d jot down “must-see” titles from the most bizarre and salacious trailers (which almost always turned out to be letdowns when you saw the real thing).  Director Joe Dante (Gremlins, Amazon Women on the Moon) remembered trailer tapes, too, and decided to resurrect the dormant phenomenon with a 21st century twist: he added DVD-style commentary on the films from an array of his knowledgeable Hollywood buddies.  Launched as a website in 2007, the Trailers from Hell project has now annotated hundreds of films, mostly B-movies, but with a sprinkling of classics like Casablanca and even the occasional weird art film like Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.  The free trailers on the website are representative of what’s available on Vol. 2—although these selections are exclusive, there’s nothing especially premium about the ones chosen to be burned to disc.  Each pundit provides basic background on his or her movie, some trivia, some opinion, and a lot of enthusiasm: John Landis cracks himself up remembering how he responded with awe to the British Godzilla ripoff Gorgo as a kid.  If you don’t like it when loudmouths yammer over the coming attractions, you can turn the commentary off for a true circa 1989 trailer tape experience.  Films covered include several Hammer films, creature features, and the occasional overlooked mainstream film or blockbuster hit like Jaws.  The trailer of most interest to weird movie fans will be ‘s reverent analysis of Dario Argento’s Deep Red (“a very strange movie made by a very strange, and thin, man… doesn’t make logical sense, but makes lyrical sense.)”  Other commentaries you may want to check out are writer Larry (Ed Wood) Karaszewski’s take on Polanski‘s The Tenant, Lloyd Kaufman discussing his own Terror Firmer in his typical carnival barker style (he provides the collection’s only trailer with graphic violence and nudity), and Mick Garris on Flesh Gordon, the only-in-the-70s porn parody mixing silly sex with some remarkable Ray Harryhausen-inspired stop-motion effects (leading Garris to the odd observation, “the great god Porno and the penisaurus really [stand] out”).  Trailers from Hell defies recommendation: you’re either a B-film geek who finds this stuff fascinating, or you have no idea why anyone would actually spend money and waste an hour watching experts discussing ads.

Many people will find the “extra” feature more intriguing than the main feature.  It’s a remastered version of Roger Corman’s cult classic man-eating plant horror comedy The Little Shop of Horrors, presented (for the first time on DVD) in its original widescreen format.  It’s unclear just why Little Shop has never been released in anamorphic widescreen before—it seems whoever had access to the original prints would have thought of putting it out a long time ago to stand out from the glut of full frame public domain copies made from old TV prints.  I guess a widescreen Little Shop wasn’t considered economically feasible as a standalone release, but as an extra, it’s horribly cool.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…these movie-mad merry pranksters make a bunch of mostly forgotten sci-fi and horror curios sound a whole lot better than they really are.”-Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly (DVD)

DISCLAIMER: A DVD copy of this film was provided by the production company for review.