Movie of the Week: Sugar Hill (1974)

Finally on youtube, it's the greatly underrated Blaxploitation / Zombie mashup that is Sugar Hill. You get righteous vengeance, necromancy, hordes of undead, lots of irresponsible violence and a good-looking chick, so what more do you want of your entertainment?

 Much of the film's watchability hinges on Marki Bey, a.k.a. Sugar Hill. Inexplicably, this is most of her legacy. She otherwise did some supporting roles in small films and a few episodes of Starsky and Hutch, and that's about it. According to imdb.com, she currently operates murder mystery cruises in Los Angeles. She's a fine actor, and looks like a cross between Pam Grier and Lynda Carter. I don't understand why she didn't go on to more substantial roles.

 Likewise for Don Pedro Colley, who has as much onscreen charisma as Sid Haig. He did some small, subdued roles in THX1138 and Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but here he's acting full stop as evil incarnate. What a presence! And those zombies are creepy. I freakin' love this movie, man.



Movie of the Week: Night Tide (1961)

This enjoyable little thriller/noir has a slim narrative at its core, but lots to offer around the edges: an authentic time capsule of the Southern California Beat scene (specifically Venice and Santa Monica), the first starring role of a very young Dennis Hopper, the only starring role of hip chick Linda Lawson (a lounge singer who recorded just one LP), and notable appearances by artist/occultist/ all-around-nutcase Marjorie Cameron (best known for being the wife of Jack Parsons when he was at his craziest, as well as her unforgettable appearance in Kenneth Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome).

The plot is a little pulpy, and Linda Lawson doesn't have much screen presence. But the movie sustains a pleasant dreamlike quality, and since it was restored by the Academy Film Archive in 2007 some nice transfers have shown up on youtube.


Movie of the Week: Uninvited (1988)

Quite possibly the best Mutant Housecat Movie to emerge from the late 80's is available uninterrupted for absolutely free, lucky you. Directed by the legendary Greydon Clark, a.k.a the man who gave us King Vidiot.

If you want to read something stupid, here's a review from 3.5 years ago, when I thought I was funny.


Freaky Florida Friday Features

Hey gang, let's all watch two extreme low-budget exploitation movies made by weirdos in Florida!

Our First Feature: Blood Freak (1972)

Yes, THE one and only Blood Freak. We've all seen it before, I know. But on the off-chance that you haven't, then you'll need to leave this blog now. Really, if you're over the age of, say, 25, and you haven't yet seen Blood Freak then get out, I don't want you around here no more.

Now that we've separated the wheat from the chaff, just here to let you know that it's on youtube, so you don't have to rent the DVD from Netflix for the fifth time. This, arguably the greatest of all anti-marijuana, pro-religion, turkey-mutant movies to come out of Florida in the early 70's continues to enthrall over multiple viewings. Some may be offended by the fact that it briefly shows real-life turkey-cide, but so does your Thanksgiving dinner.

Because of this, I can't think of a more appropriate film to screen for your extended family during this upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. I tried with my relatives a few years ago, but they didn't go for it. Doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a shot, though. Worth the effort. Just tell them it's about Jesus.

Our Second Feature: Satan's Children (1974)

Shot under such budget limitations as to make Blood Freak look like an A-picture, this somewhat less family-friendly and considerably more arduous film to sit through will reward the patient.

It moves slower than ant-baiting syrup most of the time, but the Florida ambiance is a big reason to stay tuned. You could almost feel the sweat and smell the mildew emanating from the screen. Plus it's outrageously amoral and hugely homophobic to a laughable degree. I'll just quote some IMDB comments to better describe what I'm having a hard time putting into words myself:

"Sensationally sick, twisted and depraved low-budget 70's drive-in horror flick. The stark, no-frills style of the picture adds an immediacy to the warped proceedings that's both skin-crawlingly creepy and strangely compelling in comparable measure."

"I thoroughly enjoyed this movie because it was so unlike anything I've ever seen. I loved the weird looking people who star in this, especially the main guy, a red haired skinny kid who looks like he should be in a 70's stoner band. His step sister looks like a cartoon character. Sherry has strange teeth and a evil glare that reminds me of a girl I knew in kindergarten."

"The ending (is) even more offensive than everything before it, but its a reasonably effective and nihilistic endnote. A very bizarre conclusion to a very bizarre film.
Satan's Children is politically incorrect like few other films manage to be, but its a uniquely disorienting experience."


Movie of the Week: The One-Year "Evilspeak" Anniversary

I first sung the praises of "Evilspeak" a year ago on this blog, but regret having been too focused on the last ten minutes of the movie as the part to skip ahead to. Not that I oversold it; those ten minutes are still gold. But really, the whole feature is worth anyone's time, based largely upon the magnetic star power that is Clint Howard, and the rest on Satan. And as is the wont of youtube, those video links from last year are dead anyhow, so here's a new link to a crispy new improved transfer. Hail Satansploitation!

"The Blob" by The Five Blobs

from imdb:

The title song "The Blob" was co-written by Burt Bacharach and is on his album "Look of Love: the Burt Bacharach Collection." Paramount tapped Bacharach and Mack David (brother of Hal David) to come up with a non-threatening theme that would prevent the faint of heart from going into nostril-flaring terror during the opening credits. Together the two men concocted "The Blob," a goofy musical creature that is one part "Temptation" to two parts "Tequila." Session singer Bernie Nee does the champagne-cork-popping honors by pulling his finger out of his cheek seven times. Only Ralph Carmichael's score received a screen credit, giving credence to the notion that the song was a last-minute addition. The Five Blobs turned out to be a phantom group that consisted of Bacharach, a bunch of musicians for hire, and Nee, who tracked his voice five times to achieve that Boris Karloff-esque quality.


Five Days of Double Features: Trick r' Treat (2007) and Satan's Little Helper (2004)


Can't say much more about Trick r' Treat than what's already been said by many others. Since it premiered on home video in 2009 (after two years of film fest screenings) it's steadily built up a reputation as a holiday go-to classic, among the ranks of It's a Wonderful Life. Last year a cable channel ran a 24-hour marathon of the movie on Halloween day, and earlier this week it screened theatrically here in Hollywood, where the filmmakers made an appearance and announced that a sequel is in production.

I wouldn't mind seeing a director's cut, and it seems the movie is loved enough to justify one. The producers cut up the stories in post (originally they ran in sequence, like the fictional comic book the movie was trying to emulate) and made other egregious errors like swapping out Peggy Lee for Marilyn Manson in the musical soundtrack. But even with the studio meddling, it's a great piece of entertainment. And fairly tame; appropriate for kids over ten, by my standards. Doesn't look to be available via subscription services, But Amazon has it on instant view for $1.99.


This is second only to Trick r' Treat in how extremely Halloween-y it is. The setting helps; filmed entirely in the Hudson River Valley area of New York and Connecticut in the Autumn, you couldn't imagine a more authentic vision of Americana. John Carpenter's eponymous movie is all isolation and dark space, but here is a small New England town bustling with lively holiday spirit.

Something about this doesn't quite work. The concept is better than its execution. The balance between black humor and real horror is never decided upon, and some of the scenes are very tasteless, to the level of Troma movies, even, which drains it of its fun. So you'll want to put the kids to bed before this one, and this is a halfhearted recommendation, but it makes for a good double feature with Trick 'r Treat.
(click posters to link)


Five Days of Double Features, Extra-Depraved Edition: Pieces (1983) and Maniac (2012)


These two are paired up because they're thematically similar, even though they couldn't be more different stylistically. We've discussed Pieces before, and I have little to add, other than that despite the misogyny and extreme violence, it's a total hoot. I first saw this during a dusk-till-dawn horror-thon at a vintage theater in Hollywood on Halloween, and even though it was two a.m, the audience was virtually in hysterics. How many movies have you been to that ended in applause? So that was the ideal setting, but here we'll be using Hulu Streaming instead so forget it.


I put on Maniac last week because it showed up in the Netflix Streaming recommendations. I had no intention of finishing, because I generally don't like the mean-spirited, surgically graphic torture sessions that pass for horror movies these days. And I figured there was no way a remake of one of the nastiest films of a nasty genre could be any good, but I was curious, and quickly got into its unique charms.

If you haven't seen the infamous 1980 film its based on, then at least you won't have a basis of comparison, because it's almost too different to compare. Both films are products of their times. The setting here is downtown LA, which is not gritty nor intimidating, or even all that urban-looking. It's trying to copy the ugliness and hopelessness of the Times Square-set original, but the setting is too plain. And Elijah Wood is equally plain, delivering his lines in monotone from offscreen. It's supposed to be a subdued performance, I know, but he's the only developed character in the movie so there isn't much to engage with. Another difference with the update is that it feels necessary to explain why he's a maniac, with childhood flashbacks of his prostitute mother that are too cliched and outrageous to be effective or believable.

What probably saves this is the POV gimmick, even though it could have been handled with more finesse, and the filmmakers sporadically shift from it when dramatically beneficial. But it's a trick you don't often see sustained through an entire movie, and it's more interesting than any of the shorts in  the two similarly-styled V/H/S film anthologies, which are simply childish. Anyway, nothing great here, but worthwhile, and big content warning for this one; it goes far beyond an R rating.

(click posters to link to movie streams)


Five Days of Double Features: Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula

Click the above images above if you have Netflix Streaming. Otherwise, look elsewhere.


Five Days of Double Features: House by the Cemetery and The Beyond

For the next five consecutive days, we'll be offering five Halloween-friendly double features immediately available via online streaming.

By way of Hulu, let's start with a big kick to the consciousness: Lucio Fulci's two best films, House by the Cemetery and The Beyond. I'm listing them in that order (reverse chronology) because I think it's the best sequence to see them in a double feature paradigm; House by the Cemetery, while extremely scary, is a straightforward narrative. But The Beyond is a plunge into total madness, so your fatigue and exasperation will better serve the agenda of the film. Best to watch both of them late, preferably after midnight, as this is when your feeble mortal mind is at its most malleable. Read more about these two special films here.

Unless you subscribe to Hulu Plus, you'll have to sit through commercials. Also, they've decided for their own perverted reasons that The Beyond is rated X, so you have to create an account or sign in with Facebook. But they're HD transfers,  which are the only appropriate way to see Sergio Salvati's beauteous, Gothic cinematography, so well worth the hurdles.

(not embeddable; click posters to link)


The Dario Argento Triple Feature

For some reason, all of Argento's best films are currently available on youtube, and they look to be high-quality transfers. Ideally, you'd be seeing a movie like Suspiria as a pristine 35mm strike from the original technicolor negative, in a theater with stereo sound cranked way up and an enthusiastic audience. But this is the 21st century, and people don't go out to the movies anymore. Youtube will have to suffice. Here are my three favorites, in diminishing order:

Inferno (1980)

Suspiria (1977)

Phenomena (1985)

You could expand this beyond a mere triple-feature if you wanted to; Deep Red, Tenebrae and Opera are also all on youtube in their original, uncut international versions. Everyone seems to like those. I suppose they're fine, but I was never a fan of his giallos. They don't speak to me the same way as these three surreal, maddening, insane horror films.

Bonus Feature: the 1985 documentary Dario Argento's World of Horror, an enlightening 70 minutes focusing largely on Phenomena (which I consider to be his last great movie). Some of the montages are too lengthy, making it drag in spots, but like Cronenberg, Argento makes for a good subject due to the insightful and articulate manner in which he's able to analyze his own work.


The Witch's Dungeon Is Now Showing

Somehow this has missed my radar my whole life, but it's been running for 47 years. Unfortunately, it's about as difficult to see as a lunar eclipse. You not only have to get yourself to Bristol CT, you also have to attend during their extremely limited hours; five days out of the whole year, all of them in October. You have this Friday and Saturday to get up there, and then Halloween day, then that's it.

I met the guy, or one of the guys, who runs it at last weekend's convention. Buy one of their DVD's and support the museum. More info here.


Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel: Let's All Watch "Monsters" Now

It was only a matter of time before Monsters would show up here. I did the Amicus collection, then the Tales from the Dark Side and Night Gallery posts, then last week came one of the worst, Tales from the Crypt. But I'm a chump for horror anthology television, I guess, even when it's somewhat bad. I feel it necessary to explain that I watch this stuff while I'm doing other things, like sculpting. I'm a stay-at-home dad, I have lots of time for crappy television.

The budget of Monsters was very low. Most episodes were shot on a single set, no exteriors, with an average of three actors. But despite this, and the retarded opening sequence, and a theme song that sounded like it was played on a Casio, some of it isn't so bad. It's basically a continuation of Tales from the Darkside, since it's from the same producers, and it started when Tales stopped, in '89.  And like that show, it was independently produced to sell directly into syndication. Think of it as the TV equivalent of the crudely illustrated, lurid black+white horror comic magazines of the 70s. I just saw the show for the first time a couple weeks ago. I wasn't about to sit through all three seasons, though, so I skimmed the online reviews and checked a dozen or so of the top-rated episodes. Here are my four picks.

The Match Game


Bug House



Movie of the Week: Android (1982)

This near-forgotten, small-but-substantial movie rates a tepid 5.8 on imdb.com (user reviews) but a solid 83% on rottentomatoes.com (critic reviews). To me, this indicates that most people who rent a movie called Android, produced by Roger Corman and allegedly starring Klaus Kinski and with no previous knowledge are probably going to be disappointed. This is not a drive-in action-horror like Creature, it's a philosophical drama that has haunted me since I saw it in the mid-80's.

Like several other Corman science fiction productions, this was filmed on leftover Battle Beyond the Stars sets in Venice, CA. The budget was a mere $500,000. But the limitations in resources are made up for with sensitivity to the material. This is a touching little film, and it's also fun, with a black comedic streak.

Here's what might interest me about it, and I don't even have to give away any plot, just the premise: Max the Android (credited simply as "himself" in the end titles, but actually a human co-writer of the screenplay) is sharing a remote space station with Klaus Kinski, who created him. But Max is an old model, so he's largely ignored while Kinski develops more technologically advanced androids. Max is left to fill the days on his own, assimilating Earth culture through old movies, living a life of isolation. This is an existential scenario: if your creator has forgotten you, then how do you give your own life meaning, especially when existing in a literal vacuum? How does one live a life after God?

But soon a crew of three with mysterious motives shows up on the station, including a female, the first Max has ever seen. Then the movie delves further in what it means to be human. Some smart and reflective people made this film, and it should be better known. On a related note, Corman decided it wasn't Corman-y enough, and sold the rights back to the filmmakers after completion. It sat around for two years before it was theatrically released in '84.

The actor/writer who plays Max is perfect as the center of the film, and the Maggie character is a charmer. This was the only real role of her career. She was a drummer in a all-girl band when the (first-time) director met her at a party, and he recommended her to audition. And if you're going to sit through this just because you're a Klaus Kinski admirer, be advised that you'll be seeing him for about 10 cumulative minutes.


Movie of the Week: The Pit (1981)

More like movie of the year. Did I say year? Nay, Movie of the 20th Century. Ah, Pit, where have you been all my life? I only discovered you a few weeks ago, but it seems like we've been together forever.

This 1981 aberration is a Canadian production shot in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, and as you'll often find with Canadian horror, it sustains a surreal and uncomfortable-yet-irresistible vibe throughout. The whole movie is from the perspective of little Sammy, who looks like an average 12-year old boy, but has the voice of a 50-year old alcoholic midget. Plus he likes to play sadistic psychosexual games with grown women. He talks to his teddy bear, but it's not so weird, because the bear talks back (and, in a sequence that I find to be very scary for its sheer oddity, it also moves when the kid isn't around). Plus there's the titular pit, which Sammy uses to dispose of people he doesn't like. Plus there are troglodytes (whom the kid affectionately refers to as "Tra-la-logs") living in the pit, eating anyone who is pushed in. Plus a lot of other things happen.

Call it a conflation of The Bad Seed, Private Lessons, Child's Play and C.H.U.D. In other words, call it the best movie you've probably never heard of before. You're welcome.

(a minor note: my one complaint with this superlative work of cinema is the first three minutes, a flash-forward that is entirely replayed later anyway. I recommend skipping ahead to the title at 3:07. And the teacher in the opening scene is Bianca O'Blivion, from Cronenberg's Videodrome).

Weird Worlds: The Magazine for Proto-Heads

I recently dug up Weird Worlds #5 in my garage. It was the original copy that I got through the Scholastic Book Club in my fifth grade class when I was ten (1980). Despite only being 40 pages from cover to cover, it's loaded with enlightenment, inspiration, and general neat stuff:

 -An article on cult movies, describing such non-kiddie fare as The Harder They Come, El Topo and Reefer Madness

- A graphic three-page horror comic drawn by Steve Bissette (one of his earliest jobs)

- A five-page color monograph of paintings by the Hildebrandt brothers

-A Ripley-style compendium of odd facts and freaks from the news of the day

-"Wolfie's Howlers", a collection of monster-themed jokes ("I sent my girlfriend a heart for Valentine's day." "So? Everyone does that. I sent my girlfriend a heart, too." "Yeah, but this one was still beating.")

-Short stories by Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury

-An interview with the inventor of the Laserium light show

-Fortean articles about UFO's, the Hollow Earth Theory, psychic dogs and the Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919

-And a feature about the Creature from the Black Lagoon, with a fold-out poster.

That's all in one issue, and it came out frequently, while it lasted. Edited by R.L. Stine (who went on to success with Goosebumps), it ran just eight issues for one and a half years. #5 is the only copy I still own, but I once had 6 and 7 as well, and I remember them being just as interesting.  I carried #6 to and from school for a few weeks, because I couldn't stop looking at the portfolio of paintings by Rene' Magritte during class. And issue #7 was especially treasured, because it had an article on the Flash Gordon movie, with a fold-out poster of a concept painting: Flash on his rocket cycle, with his army of hawk men swarming War Rocket Ajax. I hung that over my bed, it was so boss.

Weird Worlds seems to have been largely forgotten, which is… weird. There's no wikipedia page, even. I think it's very readable to this day, and much of the content belongs more in a head shop than in a Scholastic publication. These guys were heads.

They're rare, but not too expensive considering their rarity. Last week I bought a couple issues for $6-10 each through ebay and Amazon third party. I probably won't be inspired to acquire the whole run, but I haven't yet found the elusive #7 for sale at any price, so let me know if you do.


Tales from the Crypt: Three Somewhat Good Episodes from a Generally Terrible Series

Tales from the Crypt ran seven seasons. Most of the stories had potential, but were ruined in translation by bad television tropes: overacting, lowbrow "black" humor, boring production design and music cues, and the gratuitous violence and language audiences demanded in the early days of the premium cable TV series. It had no sense of atmosphere, in other words. This is perhaps best exemplified by two things: Danny Elfman's typically carnivalesque theme song, and the Cryptkeeper, who looks about as scary as Count Chocula, and has the voice and dialogue of an abusive lounge comedian. Oh lord, how I hate the Cryptkeeper. It's no wonder that he became a Saturday Morning franchise. Anyway...

So with these three episodes that I consider to be exceptional with a grain of salt, credit mostly goes to the writing team of William Gaines and Al Feldstein, creators of the original comic stories. These are all fairly successful translations of the originals' Eisenhower-era comic book vibe, without too much of the stylistic awfulness that defined most of the series.

Dead Right (Season 2, episode 1)

This was one of my favorite stories from the original Shock Suspenstories comic, since I read it in a reprint when I was 12. You can see the end coming from a mile away if you have any familiarity with E.C. plotting. But it has a cool period atmosphere and nice comic book art direction and pacing. The young Demi Moore looks like she was drawn by Jack Kamen, holy smokes.
(sound mutes for a short time in the middle, due to a music copyright)

Abra Cadaver (Season 3, episode 4)

Variations on this have been done better in film, dating back at least to Vampyr (1932). But it's suspenseful, and it takes a couple of unexpected turns.

Three's a Crowd (Season 2, episode 5)

A tragic and horrific story of marital jealousy, miscommunication and self-hatred, the kind Gaines and Feldstein specialized in (was there ever a single E.C. story that ended with a happily married couple?) Be warned, this one has especially upsetting content, and use discretion in general with the whole series: no episodes of this show are family-friendly or work-friendly. Violence, swears, tits, etc.


Movie of the Week: Blastfighter (1984)

Hey cool, this is the first Lamberto Bava movie I've seen that I really like. And it's very atypical for him, looking more like a PG-rated action movie from a major U.S. studio. 

There are probably some debts to First Blood (1982) here, as well as the Death Wish franchise and Deliverance. But never mind the predecessors, this stands on its own as a well-paced thriller, with a grueling manhunt sequence that lasts for over 40 minutes (until our hero gains access to his futuristic SuperWeapon, and the true Blastfighting begins, only to end a few minutes later to roll the credits). I'm just going to spoil it for you: a whole town full of demented hillbillies with guns chase a guy for a long time, then he turns the tables and blows them all up. It's very edifying.

This Italian production was filmed entirely in Georgia, where life is cheap. Nice original score by Fabio Frizzi, who also composed for Fulci's best known films (The Beyond, City of the Living Dead, Zombie). 

If the movie's title seems inappropriate, it's because the production company was planning on a science fiction film. When they lost the budget, they made this instead, but were locked into using "Blastfighter" as the title. Hence the deus ex machina ending. 


Labor Day Weekend Special: Alone in the Dark (1982)

I've been searching for this in Youtube at a near-weekly basis for about four years now, ever since I started the Movie of the Week feature on this dumb blog. And now, for this Labor Day weekend, the fruit of my labors is finally here, to remind me (a) to cancel my Netflix subscription, and (b) that I have great affinity for some things that I can't begin to explain to myself.

Why does it have such strange appeal? Outwardly, it's a formulaic early 80's slasher/thriller, but in many other ways it's like nothing else. There's a certain honesty here; the kind that makes the audience feel complicit, for better or worse. "You're really there.... you know? You're really there...." I find this moral ambiguity to be both disturbing and funny. I'm having a hard time validating it, but it sure is entertaining.

With star turns from Jack Palance, Donald Pleasence and Martin Landau. Plus we get the massive mountain of a man who stole the show in Stir Crazy, The Wanderers and The Running Man, and a very special and pivotal role by punk-novelty band The Sic F*cks, performing, among others, their Solid Gold hit "Chop Up Your Mother". One of the killers wears a hockey mask, a year before Jason started doing it in the Friday the 13th movies, but who cares. Filmed entirely in New Jersey.

SPECIAL PRELIMINARY FEATURETTE: Also from 1982, the seven-minute cable TV classic must-see short  The Dummy (not embeddable).


A Pair of Russ Meyer Classics

Since Haji died a few days ago, I thought I'd look up whatever Russ Meyer films were currently accessible on youtube.

As far as legit home video is concerned, all of his movies except for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (made for Fox studios) seem to be tied up in litigation; the reason Meyer got so rich is because he was his own producer and distributor, so whether it was theatrical prints or home video, he got all the profits. He passed away a while ago, so availability of DVD's from "RM International", now handled by his estate, have been declining. Anyway, I found a double feature from his late (1970's), most raunchy period, Supervixens (1975) and UP! (1976).

 How can anyone pick a favorite Russ Meyer film? I certainly can't, but perhaps it would be easier if I were to divide his oeuvre into three chronological eras:

 First Wave- Little more to offer than footage of nude women: The Immoral Mr. Teas, Eve and the Handyman, Wild Girls of the Naked West, Mondo Topless… this comprises at least half of his filmography. Burlesque dancers take off their tops. It's all very dated, and doesn't interest me much, although, like all of his work, they're very well shot and edited.

 Second Wave- His exploitive Southern Gothic morality plays: Mudhoney, Faster Pussycat, Lorna, Motorpsycho, Black Snake… titillating around the edges, but with a deeply cynical core. Good stuff.

 Third Wave- Finally, his colorful, fun, hyperactive, hyper-sexualized cartoons: Vixen!, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens… and the two films we'll be seeing here tonight on Futurechimp.com.

 I still can't pick a favorite, although UP! is definitely in my top three. It opens with Hitler getting sodomized, then becomes progressively more outrageous from there. And if you haven't seen these before, then, like, definitely NSFW. They're rated X, and look to be uncut. Also, they each contain individual scenes that I still find to be very off-putting for their extreme misogyny. I love them anyway, against my better judgement.



Depressing Dog Days of Summer Special: Degrassi High - School's Out (1992)

Several months ago, catalyzed by a sudden change of lifestyle, I began watching Degrassi Junior High from the first episode of the first season onwards. I was a little too old to see it back when it aired on the local PBS station in the late 80's, when I was in high school, but had no problem discovering it at the age of 43. Plus the episodes were 25 minutes, almost perfect for a bottle feeding / burping / rocking session at 4:30 in the morning.

Then I moved on to the two seasons of Degrassi High (which was still excellent by any empirical television standard, but a little trite when compared to its predecessor, ironically). Then I finished with School's Out, a post-graduation followup TV movie that only aired in its native Canada. And this, readers, is the movie I offer to you today as the 1,320th post of Futurechimp.com.

I'll try my best to curb my ecstatic fanaticism for the entire Degrassi saga, except to say that if you've never seen the show, and plan to, definitely do so before seeing this (if you're subscribing to Hulu Plus, all of the Degrassi universe, including this movie, is available there). And I recommend approaching it the same way I did, from the beginning. If you aren't sold by the third episode of the first season, then you can feel free to quit, but give it a chance until then.

However, if binge-watching five seasons of a TV series from the 80's that was made for children doesn't seem appealing to you, then (a) you're a well-adjusted adult with better things to do, and (b) the movie holds up fine enough on its own, and can be seen regardless of familiarity with the characters, so I think you should trust me and give it a go.

It's set during the Summer after High School graduation, and the realism of that retrospectively short time - the feeling that you're growing apart from your closest, oldest friends and starting a new path… it's something I believe most of us can relate to, bittersweet and perfectly realized. And if you've seen even a handful of episodes of the television show, then you know to expect one happy ending for every four tragic endings. It's a sad and dangerous world, but it never preaches or provides easy answers, it only prepares kids to make difficult decisions for themselves.

This was allegedly the first time the word "fuck" was used on CBC. And it's not simply used as an expletive, but in its literal meaning as a verb, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes you'll ever see. It's not exploitive, it's painfully familiar. Quite a moment for a show whose audience was 11-year olds at the beginning. But what made Degrassi so great is the way it evolved with its audience over the five-year run, and continued to respect its intelligence and maturity. It makes Beverly Hills 90210 and everything on the Disney channel look even more like the phony pandering boring corporate consumerist bullshit than it already so obviously is.

(movie is not embeddable: click the links below)

part eight

Postscript: The cast were mostly untrained as actors, so the show's creators seemed to go through the effort of learning who they really were, and writing those qualities into the characters they played.  For example, while looking up this movie just now, I learned that the most consistently troubled character on the show, "Wheels", was played by a kid who grew up with alcoholic parents. His father died of cirrhosis early in the production of the show, when his character was still in the seventh grade. In the second season of Degrassi Junior, Wheel's TV parents were both killed in a car accident. His personal turmoil was written into his character, and he continued to play the role of a deeply disturbed teenager for another three years.

Real life "Wheels" ending up dying alone in a trailer in 2007, at the age of 35. His body wasn't discovered until 2012. Not everyone is granted the privilege of a Disney ending.


Movie of the Week: Get Crazy (1983)

Allen Arkush's highly underrated and supremely entertaining followup to Rock and Roll High School is finally on Youtube in its entirety, lucky you. As far as I know, it's otherwise only available on VHS. Why is that? Music licensing issues? And why didn't it catch on the first time around, when it played theaters? It should have become a midnight movie. 

But maybe it was too late, because I personally consider Get Crazy to be the last studio movie of the counterculture, before the Reagan era destroyed everything fun. After this film, 80's pop culture was all about materialism and complacency and conformity and wealth. So it's a little out of its time, maybe, but that makes it all the more exceptional. A threadbare plot about a New Year's concert serves its purpose to throw as many jokes as possible onto the screen. It's Rock and Roll High School on speed, and I think it's the bee's knees.

Allow me to describe a small portion of the cast:

Lou Reed, poking fun at himself for a change
Malcom McDowell drops acid and hears voices from his penis
Ed Begley Jr. as an archetypal 80's yuppie
Lee Ving, who steals the whole Goddamn movie
Paul Bartel and his movie-partner Mary Woronov
Lori Eastside, front woman of Kid Creole and the Coconuts
Robert Picardo of The Howling and one of those Star Trek television series
Linnea Quigley as a groupie
Derf Scratch of FEAR as Reggie's guitarist

Plus the little sister is played by the hottie "tsatske" from Halloween III: Season of the Witch, who, as a teenager, dated Woody Allen and was the inspiration for the Mariel Hemingway character in Manhattan.

Also keep an eye out for Dick Miller, Clint Howard and Fabian. There are a bunch of other faces I'm recognizing here, but I'm not going to look them all up. 


Horror Anthology Mashup Super-Special

Dead of Night (1977) - "Bobby"

This is a less-known television anthology than Trilogy of Terror (1975) made by the same folks: writer Richard Matheson and director Dan Curtis. But like that film, it's the last of the three stories that's the most memorable by far. This segment was remade in Trilogy of Terror II (1996), with greater production values but far less creep-factor. It starts scary enough, then patiently turns the screw for half an hour.

The Offspring (1987) - "Swamp Renewal"

A chapter with some nice atmosphere and tight story in an otherwise lackluster anthology film. Start at 34:00.

Body Bags (1993) - "Eye"

The possessed organ transplant is a cliche that dates at least back to the silent era, and this follows the formula pretty closely, but it's still effective. Starring Mark Hamill. He's married to Twiggy. His doctors are Roger Corman and John Agar, and his boss is Charles Napier. It's a star-studded spectacular. Start at 53:00.


The Lucio Fulci Appreciation Post

Over the last couple weeks I've revisited Fulci's four most famous films: Zombi 2 (1979) City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981) and House by the Cemetery (1981). I'd seen them all before, by my late 20's, beginning with a midnight screening of The Beyond when Tarantino distributed it to theaters in '98.

Not so much a narrative as a series of virtually disconnected set pieces, each more shocking and outrageous than the preceding one, I was immediately enraptured.  I thought it was tasteless, scary, and completely absurd all at once, yet with some beautifully composed widescreen compositions and music. In the theater, the crowd was shouting, laughing and applauding at the end of nearly every scene. The response was phenomenal.

It inspired me to rent every Fulci film I could find, and I found another masterpiece with City of the Living Dead. Unlike The Beyond, which keeps changing gears, it establishes a consistent, moody atmosphere of doom and dread throughout. 

There are many H.P. Lovecraft references, but there's also a premature burial sequence that's straight out of Poe, and a graphic murder of an innocent teenage boy by an ordinary guy that is so unnecessary and irrelevant to the plot that it becomes all the more disturbing and indelible.

It's these excruciatingly torturous scenes that Fulci is known for, but I believe they're rooted not so much in the 80's splatter genre as they are in the Surrealist movement. As Wikipedia says, 

Fulci explored metaphysical concepts — in particular, the ways in which the realms of both the living and the dead might bleed into each other, and wanted to pay homage to his idol, the French playwright Antonin Artaud, who envisioned theatre being less about linear plot and more about "cruel" imagery and symbolism that could shock its audience into action.

He's often compared to Herschell Gordon Lewis, but by my estimation, all Lewis did was try to make the audience vomit. I think a more apt comparison would be Cronenberg, or even Buñuel and his show-stopping opening scene from Un Chien Andalou; using corporeal and upsetting imagery to stun the audience into a new frame of existential reference. A standard of surrealism.

His execution is often bafflingly shambolic. In The Beyond, while being chased by zombies, the two heroes run into an elevator. As the doors close, you can easily see one of them putting bullets down the barrel of his prop gun and the other one starting to laugh. Was Fulci even watching when he directed this? Did he not do a second take? Couldn't he at least have cut the shot early in post?  

Another example, from House by the Cemetery: it's morning, and the house's owner walks into the kitchen, where someone was stabbed to death the night before. She looks down at the pool of blood on the floor, being cleaned up by the babysitter, and asks, "what are you doing?" The babysitter says, "I made coffee", then they talk about something else. It's a universe devoid of logic, but that's what makes it work in its own unique way. 

And it's House by the Cemetery that now stands out as my favorite Fulci movie. The plot is simple and straightforward, especially by his standards, and straight from a 1950's comic book: a monster is living in the cellar, and only the kid knows about it. It's violent and sick and mean-spirited and incredibly pessimistic, but it's also very stylish and super-scary.

The camera movements, lighting, musical score and sound design all combine to set us on edge. There's no explanation as to why we hear a crying child on the soundtrack whenever the creature appears, but the effect is undeniably chilling. And that slow, low camera that tracks from outside the house, in through the door, down the cellar stairs, panning across the doctor's lab… holy smokes. It's a very well-realized film. Also, Brother Theodore narrates the trailer:

Zombi 2 is okay. Saw it too many times in high school, maybe. It was the only Fulci film that was a hit in the U.S., and easily available at video rental stores, with an unforgettable cover.

I do like how he did something different from Romero, and moved zombies back to the New World where they came from, allowing for his own social commentary in the process. But it largely exists to be a gore film, and doesn't have the same dreamlike horrific vibe of his Death Trilogy (also called his "Gates of Hell" Trilogy: City, Beyond and House, from 80-81).

City of the Living Dead is currently on youtube. You can find the others if you know where to look.


Zombi: Argento's Dawn of the Dead

You've certainly seen Dawn of the Dead already. But you might not have seen this version. There have been a few. To briefly recap what's been written in countless blogs already: the U.S. theatrical version is 126 minutes, identical to the one that went to home video. In the 90's more versions appeared on DVD: the 139-minute Director's Cut, an Ultimate Cut that's longer, and something called an Ultimate Final Cut that assembles all the footage Romero used in all the versions. That clocks in at 156 minutes. To add to the confusion, many of the more violent scenes were removed for distribution in multiple countries.

This is the original European cut, which Dario Argento put together for all non-English speaking European countries, as was the agreement he had with Romero when he helped finance the film. According to Wikipedia it's supposed to go for 119 minutes, but the one I'm embedding here is 105, still plenty long enough for a movie about zombies in a shopping mall. The editing is tighter all around (within the first 16 minutes we move from the newsroom to the tenement to the fuel station to the mall), and the music is all by Argento and Goblin (as opposed to Romero's edit, which uses a lot of library music). Most interestingly, Argento shot some additional footage and spliced it in.

Even if you've seen Romero's Dawn recently, this is worth watching. Especially so, actually, since it's interesting to see how editing and scoring choices can make such a different movie.