Movie of the Week: Night Train to Terror (1985)

This anthology was mostly assembled post-mortem in an editing suite, condensing three features - in order, Scream Your Head Off (unfinished), Death Wish Club (1983) and Cataclysm (1980) - to digestible length. Voiceover dialogue tries its best to fill in the plot holes. There's also the train scenes: newly shot interstitial footage to  allegedly link the stories together. It's a disorienting, fun, stupid, short-attention-span experience. It could be the strangest, dumbest filmmaking you've seen in all of your years, and yet, few other films have this much entertainment value to offer.

Technical note: this youtube rip is surely copied from one of those bargain basement "50 movies for ten dollars" DVD box sets. The picture quality is wretched. Embrace it as a nostalgic VHS experience, or rent/buy the hi-def blu-ray that was released last year.


Movie of the Week: Just Before Dawn (1981)

New to me, but apparently it's had an enthusiastic following for years. Easily the finest film I've seen from director Jeff Lieberman, best known for Squirm, Blue Sunshine and Satan's Little Helper, movies that aren't all that great. But this has a nice on-location Oregonian setting for the entire film, talented cinematography, and a buildup of suspense that takes its time and doesn't transition to full-blown horror until the third or fourth reel.

Unfairly grouped into the Slasher genre because of the era in which it was released, as well as the teenagers-in-peril scenario. But if you except the opening and closing scenes, there's almost no onscreen violence. It's more closely related to Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes and Blastfighter: crazy redneck retards hunting down unarmed civilized people in a remote environment is a tried and true, can't-miss formula when done well. It's an assured, practically tasteful thriller.

This youtube video resolution sure is crummy. Looks like a VHS rip. Maybe even a rip of a copy of a VHS done at the cheapskate six-hour EP speed that I always used. There's a better free version here. Or you can always buy or rent it on disc, if you're the type who does that sort of thing.


Jack Hill Double Feature: The Big Doll House (1971) and The Big Bird Cage (1972)

A double-dose of feminist / misogynist Filipino thrills! Doll House invented the genre, with a 125k budget and a 10 million dollar box office draw. But I way prefer the followup Bird Cage for being more technically accomplished and fun. Also, unlike the first film, Bird Cage had a screenplay written by Jack Hill, so his tongue-in-cheek satirical edge makes the inherently sleazy scenario more palatable.

Related: if you have Netflix streaming, don't miss Machete Maidens Unleashed, a recent documentary regarding exploitation movies shot in the Philippines.


Bizarre: The Show for 11-Year Old Boys at Sleepovers

The above title describes how I personally experienced Bizarre, which began airing in 1980 (when cable television first became available in our neighborhood). Staying over at a friend's house, watching a premium channel I didn't have at home, late at night on a weekend, with the volume way down so his parents wouldn't hear, slogging through unfunny skits just for those couple seconds of nudity at the end. It was quite the treat in the pre-internet era for a kid in the sixth grade, let me tell you.

Amazingly, this show was produced by CTV in Canada. It was broadcast there without nakedness or swears (they filmed alternate takes, with the actresses wearing bras or shot from the back) and sold the uncensored version to the Showtime network here in the states for syndication. But without the "adult" content, there seems to be no point. The script is just a means to an end. Witness these three examples, below. They're the Showtime versions, but nudity is obscured by the uploader in accordance with Youtube policy. Even so,  if your co-workers see you watching this, they'll think you're a creep. And a dumbass. Enjoy!


The Strange Fate of Elmer McCurdy

(edited from atlasobscura.com)

In December of 1976, crew members from the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man were preparing to shoot on location at the Pike Amusement Park in Long Beach, California. The plan was to capture Steve Austin riding in one of the cars along the track of a spooky ride called the "Laff in the Dark." The ride featured a tunnel in which ghouls, demons, and skeletons would pop up and scare visitors as the car jolted from side to side in the dark.

While sprucing up the set, a Six Million Dollar employee spotted a mannequin hanging from a noose in the corner. He reached for the mannequin's arm, which broke off in his hand. Looking at the dismembered limb, the worker was astonished to see what looked like bone beneath layers of desiccated skin. This was no mannequin. This was a man.

The hanging corpse in question was once Elmer McCurdy, an outlaw who died in a gunfight with police 65 years before being found in the funhouse. In 1911, the mischief-making vagabond robbed a train near Okesa, Oklahoma, then took his spoils — $46 and two jugs of whisky — north, where he holed up in a barnyard on the Kansas border. Police pursued him and ended up killing him in a shootout among the hay.

McCurdy's body was taken to a funeral home in Pawhuska, but no-one claimed it. Seeing a money-making opportunity, the undertaker embalmed him and allowed visitors to view the preserved corpse if they placed a nickel in its mouth.

Five years into this lucrative scheme, a carnival man turned up at the funeral home claiming to be a long-lost relative of McCurdy and requested to take the body so it could be laid to rest properly. He was, of course, lying through his teeth. Within weeks, the McCurdy corpse was the star attraction of a traveling carnival.

For 60 years, McCurdy's mummy made the rounds of carnivals, wax museums, and haunted houses, until it turned up, inexplicably, at The Pike in Long Beach. By this time, the legend of Outlaw McCurdy was long forgotten, and the body was assumed to be a fake. After the Six Million Dollar discovery, police identified McCurdy and sent the body to Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma, for long-delayed internment. McCurdy's grave is marked by a stone that lists his death date as 1911 and burial date as 1977, with no elaboration on the matter.


Movie of the Week: God Told Me To (1977)

If you're over the age of 30 and you haven't yet seen Larry Cohen's God Told Me To, then there is something wrong with you. I'm disappointed. Broaden your horizons. 

Cohen's filmography speaks for itself: It's Alive is a great horror movie. Bone is a great piece of absurd social commentary. Black Caesar may be the greatest film of the Blaxploitation genre. The Stuff is a great satire. Q: The Winged Serpent is a great monster movie. But God Told Me To can only be described as "Cohenesque", as it defies all film genres. Maybe it starts as a routine police procedural, but soon takes many outrageous turns from there. Essential.


This Is Odorama

Polyester (1981) remains my favorite John Waters film. Previous to this, his movies were a belligerent assault on the American Middle Class. Extremely funny and often witty, but an assault nonetheless. But Polyester is more of a satire, referencing the melodramatic style of the mid-century Douglas Sirk movies and adding pitch-black humor. And of course there's the William Castle-inspired Odorama gimmick.

I saw this in a revival theater in '89, where they supplied the largely gay male audience with the original 1981 Odorama cards. They'd been found in a warehouse somewhere. I took mine home and tucked it next to my VHS cassette copy, but somehow lost it in later years. That's okay, the smells remain in memory. But the cards have been remade for DVD, and even a cable broadcast, so you can easily find one on ebay. I recommend you do so, wait a few days for it to arrive in the mail, THEN click 'play' below.

(I'm embedding the free youtube movie because that's what I do, but it looks awful. Just pay the $1.99 to stream the official hi-def widescreen print already.)

Bonus Documentary: A 30-minute chronicle of the Pink Flamingos phenomenon, produced by the AMC network, way back before they just showed The Walking Dead and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies.

Horror Featurette: Dreamhouse (1984)

This is the middle segment of a three-part British anthology feature entitled Screamtime. The first and third stories are terrible, as are the wraparound segments (shot in New York City, probably in the course of an afternoon, and probably by the U.S. distributor to make it more VHS-friendly). But this story is both concise and super-scary, better than anything I've yet seen from boring British shorts of the era like Tales of the Unexpected or Hammer's House of Horror.

Start at 32:00. 


Moe, Larry and Tor

Shemp Howard, the original and greatest third stooge, died in 1955. He was soon replaced by Joe Besser, and we all know how that went.

Also in 1955, Tor Johnson starred in Bride of the Monster. This fine video, which was uploaded by a youtube member nine months ago and yet has amassed only 145 views as of this writing (proof that there is no accounting for the taste of the general public), demonstrates the opportunity Moe allowed to pass him by. Tor Johnson might have been just the ticket the Three Stooges were looking for to revitalize their career.

Maybe it's because Moe, a short old Jewish guy, was intimidated by the 400-pound Swedish Meatball that was Tor. Moe was in charge of the act, and Shemp and Curly were his brothers, so he could do with them as he pleased. But slap Tor on the head a little too hard, and he'll crush you between his fingers. You must not anger Tor. Still, his natural timing, physiognomy and heavy accent could have been comedic gold, and well worth the risk to life and limb. Just keep a variety of artisanal cheeses in your pocket to treat his frequent tantrums.

On a related note, I'm selling this thing in my Etsy store, but who cares whatever.


The Warriors - Director's Cut

from wikipedia:

The Warriors opened on February 9, 1979 in 670 theaters without advance screenings or a decent promotional campaign and grossed USD $3.5 million on its opening weekend. The following weekend the film was linked to sporadic outbreaks of vandalism and three killings - two in Southern California and one in Boston - involving moviegoers on their way to or from showings. This prompted Paramount to remove advertisements from radio and television completely and display ads in the press were reduced to the film's title, rating and participating theaters. In reaction, 200 theaters across the country added security personnel. Due to safety concerns, theater owners were relieved of their contractual obligations if they did not want to show the film, and Paramount offered to pay costs for additional security and damages due to vandalism.

The Warriors received negative reviews from contemporary critics, (but) President Ronald Reagan was a fan of the film, even calling the film's lead actor, Michael Beck, to tell him he had screened it at Camp David and enjoyed it.

This "director's cut" has nothing to offer in way of additional or re-edited footage. The only updates are the introduction (directly likening the film's narrative to the Anabasis by Xenophon), and, significantly, the comic book panel transitions between scenes.

I'm generally not a fan of retrofit movies, but I consider this, like Blade Runner, to be an improvement. Bear in mind that director Walter Hill wanted to do these transitions when he originally made the movie, but Paramount didn't allow it. So this is what he intended it to be, and it works well with the cinematography, editing, music, everything. It's always been a pop art masterpiece, but now it wears its pulpy, sensationalist allure on its sleeve all the more proudly.


Movie of the Week: The Beastmaster (1982)

My best friend in the seventh grade couldn't stop talking about this movie. Every day for a week, on our long walks home from school, he'd detail everything that happened in the film and how great it was. That weekend, the two of us were dropped off at the theater by his dad, so he could see it a second time and I could finally experience the magic. I fell asleep within the first 40 minutes (of a two-hour movie) and didn't wake until the lights went up and the end credits were rolling.

I was disappointed, of course. I didn't get to see much Beastmastering, but at least I made it to the part with Tanya Roberts' titties. And that was no easy feat in the pre-internet era for a 12-year old, let me tell you. In a PG-rated film, no less. Anyway, I had my chance to catch up on the rest via cable TV for many years after. It was such a programming mainstay by the mid-80's that the HBO network was jokingly referred to as an acronym for "Hey, Beastmaster's On".

No wonder. Despite being lengthy, it's an entertainment juggernaut, standing up to repeated re-viewings, whether in whole or in part. It's almost like a collection of Saturday morning serials. Directed by Dan Coscarelli, genius behind possibly the greatest of all movies, Phantasm (1979).


Movie of the Week: The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies

Thee inimitable one and only!  I worked hard to find this film on VHS cassette at a hole-in-the-wall video rental store about two hours train ride from my house back in the late 80's. But now you can get it streamed to your computer or iphone or appletv or cyberwhatever instantaneously for free. This is a golden age of enlightenment we're living in, and let us not take it for granted.

1980 Johnson-Smith Comic Book Ad

I found this in the back of one of the many Marvel comics pulled from my collection to add to the free library I installed outside our house. This one page hits all the classics: x-ray specs, hovercraft, 8-foot balloon, gorilla mask, lie detector, and perhaps the ultimate in mail-order chicanery, the U-Control Ghost. I made a high-rez scan and uploaded it to my server, so you can download, or use your browser, to zoom in on all the thrilling details.


When Basic Cable Was Good

Someone has posted a clip from the USA Network's Night Flight, which aired for a total of eight hours(!) every Friday and Saturday evening, from 1981 to 1988 (it was also brought back for three years starting in 1990, but that incarnation was related by name only, and consistently unwatchable).

 I discovered tons of music, art and film via this program, which spanned the entirety of my teenage years. Here in this segment is a rapid-fire collage of exceptionally outré art and entertainment, the sort of which, in the pre-internet era, I'd only otherwise find on homemade VHS tapes from collectors procured via mail order or film conventions (which I was also doing in my teens). In order, I'm recognizing a Betty Boop cartoon with Cab Calloway, a clip from The Mascot by Ladislas Starevich, a clip from possibly my favorite Three Stooges short Disorder in the Court, a vintage toy commercial, a mondo newsreel, a trailer, Georges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon scored to Pink Floyd,  a collection of Atom Age Sci-Fi trailers, a worn 16mm reel of Star Trek bloopers, and a Mr. Bill short. There are worse ways to spend 24 of your minutes, both on a weekend night in 1985 and in here in 2014. What else are you going to do, turn on the TV so you can zone out to a six-hour back-to-back marathon of Storage Wars?

(bonus clip here and here: an example of Night Flight's original programming, a typically irreverent interview with DEVO)


Doc of the Week: Corman's World (2012)

See this on youtube while you can, because it was playing theatrically just a year ago. (film is not embeddable; click image to link to video page)


Movie of the Week: The Innkeepers (2011)

It has some faults. I don't find either of the two lead actors to be appropriately cast, and I strongly dislike the score. And in terms of pacing, it may be even more glacial than director Ti West's previous critical smash, House of the Devil. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, although it's a style that's not to everyone's liking. I think it's genuinely scary, and a true anomaly in the current trend of movies; the slow-burn horror film.