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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Thursday, November 24, 2005
No More Threshold

Looks like my wife Carla Gugino is out of a job again. Just two years after the incredible KAREN SISCO was cancelled way too soon, CBS has axed her latest series, THRESHOLD, after it finished third in its first airing in its new Tuesday timeslot. Any dummy could have predicted that it wouldn't be able to compete longterm with NBC's LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT and ABC's BOSTON LEGAL (LEGAL was preempted this week), so the news doesn't surprise me. I thought THRESHOLD was a good show with an incredible cast...and it was preparing to add a new cast member: the mega-hot Catherine Bell (JAG). No word on whether THRESHOLD will be allowed to play out the rest of its filmed episodes; I believe nine have so far aired, and three or four more are ready to go.

Posted by Marty at 11:58 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, November 24, 2005 11:59 PM CST
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Too Heavy To Hang, Too Big For The Gas Chamber
Now Playing: KILLDOZER
Many of you under-30s are going to think I'm full of shit, but I swear to you this is a real movie. Oh, for the days of THE ABC MOVIE OF THE WEEK, which, back in the '70s, served up a whole mess of deliciously silly and sometimes genuinely creepy and effective horror and science fiction movies. KILLDOZER, as you can imagine from its ten-cent title, falls into the "silly" category.

KILLDOZER, which aired on ABC on February 2, 1974 in a 90-minute timeslot, has received much notoriety in recent years from viewers who remember seeing it on television back then. Helping to ground the ludicrous story in some sort of reality is its small cast, which consists of six (then-)familiar television actors who play construction workers digging up a six-square-mile island 200 miles off the coast of Africa, transforming a World War II refueling site into a base camp for an oil company.

The deadline is short and morale is low, partially due to the strict work ethic of reformed alcoholic boss Kelly (Clint Walker), whose charges resent his taciturn manner. With five days to go, the work schedule hits a major snag when young Mac (a not-yet-famous Robert Urich) is felled by a sudden and mysterious ailment that seems to have been triggered when his DC-9 bulldozer ran into a strange metallic rock. Mac dies that night, but not before muttering something about "warning" and "blue light" privately to Kelly. The rest of the men--snide Dennis (Carl Betz), mechanic Chub (Neville Brand, just off playing sicko masturbating rapist George Fromley in THE MAD BOMBER), happy-go-lucky Dutch (James Wainwright) and young Al (James A. Watson)--take Mac's death hard and are repelled at Kelly's seemingly cold orders to get back to work. What Kelly is afraid to admit and the others eventually learn is that the 'dozer has been possessed by an alien presence with a real mad-on for the crew. Impervious to fire, explosives or even an empty gas tank, "Killdozer" chases the cast around the island for the rest of the movie, leading to an electrifying finale.

Of course, the concept is as hokey as the campy title implies, but no-nonsense direction by Jerry London and the professional cast's wise insistence upon playing straight makes KILLDOZER a lot more watchable than you might think. None of the actors has much more to do than look suspicious and act frantic, but the old pros pull off the silly proceedings with admirable aplomb, particularly Betz as a snarky jackass. Gil Melle's score adds some menace, while the teleplay by noted SF author Theodore Sturgeon and Ed MacKillop, based upon Sturgeon's lauded novella (producer Herb Solow lands a confusing "adaptation" credit), conjures up some creative methods for a bulldozer to murder people. Wainwright was just coming off his shortlived JIGSAW series, whereas Walker (CHEYENNE), Betz (THE DONNA REED SHOW) and Brand (LAREDO) were already well-known television leads. Urich's first series, BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE, had been cancelled a couple of months earlier.

Believe it or not, I own a Marvel comic book adaptation of KILLDOZER, printed in WORLDS UNKNOWN #6 and carrying a cover date of March/April 1974. Ostensibly based on Sturgeon's story, "Killdozer", as scripted by Gerry Conway (currently a writer on LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT), drawn by Dick Ayers and Ernie Chan, and edited by Roy Thomas, is a faithful adaptation given a bit more oomph by the movement in the art. "As seen on TV!" blares the cover blurb. For some reason, Thomas and cover artists Gil Kane and Ralph Reese put a talking killdozer on the front of the book! Maybe it talks shit ("You dared DEFY ME--and so you must DIE!!") in the novella, but, sadly, not in the movie.

After conquering print, film and comic books, I can only assume a KILLDOZER video game is on the horizon. Can you imagine playing something similar to Halo 2, except you and your party are fighting a killdozer? Make it happen, game designers!

Posted by Marty at 9:16 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, November 24, 2005 9:20 PM CST
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Happy Thankgiving, Gang
That goes out to all the American readers of this blog. To you Canadians, happy Thursday. Geez, just because you guys don't know when Thanksgiving is supposed to be... (although I will always, this time of year, think about that SCTV gag about Canadians inventing Thanksgiving because you celebrate it earlier)

I'm meeting my dad over at my aunt and uncle's house in Urbana. I presume my two cousins will be there too. This is the first Thanksgiving since my mom passed away that I haven't gone to my brother's mother-in-law's house. Which is a good time with nice people, but it will also be nice to be with my family for a change.

It'll also be nice to eat something that isn't wings. Had 18 mild wings at Buffalo Wild Wings last night, which I didn't think were particularly great. Monday night during football, Chicken, Grady and I plowed through 60 (!) Mo Joe's wings with ease. When they were gone, we were sitting around going, "Damn, we need some more food."

I think I could eat wings everyday. And spaghetti.

Posted by Marty at 10:07 AM CST
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Monday, November 21, 2005
Quick Notes
Well, I did it. I'm an automobile owner. Well, actually the Ford Motor Company is for the next five years. I bought a used 2005 Chevy Malibu Classic. Tan color, 4 doors, automatic, power windows, power locks, power seat, tripometer, automatic trunk opener, driver's side cupholder, CD player, plenty of storage, cruise control and more. Plenty of head and legroom for someone 6'1" tall, very important.

Go here to find out more and to see photos.

Posted by Marty at 11:35 PM CST
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Sunday, November 20, 2005
Spend That Dough
Well, I'm a step closer to buying a car. Not a Nissan, not a Ford. A 2005 Chevrolet Malibu Classic. Automatic, four doors, V4 2.2L, A/C, CD player, power everything, cup holders, tripometer, blah blah blah. 24,000 miles on it. Still covered under the factory warranty, plus the dealer offers a free 3-year, 75,000-mile warranty to go with it. They had me take it home to "test" over the weekend. It's got a few little flaws, but at $199 per month for 60 months, I have to admit it seems like a nice deal.

The rough part was withstanding the barrage of pressure from the saleswoman and the finance manager at the dealer, who use a little basic psychology to pressure you without it seeming like they're pressuring you. Basically, they act as though you're obviously buying the car and just go about setting up the paperwork and handing you things to sign without even asking if you really want to buy the thing. I was trying to convince them that I needed a day or two to think about the purchase, and they were all, "Oh, gee, I was under the impression that you were all ready to sign the papers and drive it home tonight." Were they really? I doubt it. Keep in mind that, at that point, I didn't even know for sure if my loan had been approved or even what the price and monthly payments were going to be! I sure wasn't signing anything without that information!

The other thing slowing me down is that the settlement check from the insurance company, which I'm using as my down payment, hasn't arrived yet. I told them I felt skittish buying a car and promising a down payment that wasn't yet in my hand. They were willing to let me bring it in next week, but I have this fear that the check might be lost in the mail or that maybe USAA General is still spinning its wheels, and I don't want to have a deadline to deliver a down payment if I don't know the money is going to be in my hand by that date.

I took it over to Chicken's this afternoon so he could give it a good glance. We wondered why it was smelling like burning oil--that's a bad sign--and when we opened the hood, we got our answer. Whoever the last mechanic was to look at it apparently forgot to put the cap back on the oil tank! So oil had spurt out all over the engine and under the hood. Oops. On the bright side, the oil was clean, so I guess it's been changed recently.

I've got to drop the car back off at the dealer tomorrow night after work. I'll call the insurance company tomorrow and see if they've sent that settlement check yet. But the car feels good to me, and I hope it will be mine by the end of the week.

I've been very happy with my recent cable switch from HBO to Showtime, which shows a lot of crappy movies, and often letterboxes them to boot. Today I caught ROLLING VENGEANCE, which isn't really very special, but does have a kickass monster truck.

Joey Rosso (Don Michael Paul, who wrote HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN!) is a young trucker who works with his dad (Lawrence Dane from RITUALS and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME). Ned Beatty plays Tiny, a sleazy used car dealer and strip club owner with five drunken redneck sons. When the sons cause a car accident that kills Joey's mom, little brother, and little sister, you'd think that would be enough to quench their animalistic lust, but they later kill Dane by dropping cement blocks off an overhead onto his semi, and then they rape Joey's virginal girlfriend (Lisa Howard from BOUNTY HUNTERS). Man, is Joey pissed. He builds an enormous monster truck with fire blazing from the top and a huge corkscrew built in to the front, and drives around the "Ohio" (filmed in Ontario) countryside squashing Tiny's family and his dealership and his bar and his warehouse and anything else that needs crushing. The script and performances are paint-by-numbers, and there isn't really enough trashy stuff to warrant the R rating, but the monster truck is very cool and kicks major redneck ass.

Posted by Marty at 4:39 PM CST
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Friday, November 18, 2005
What A Week
It's been a pretty busy one, which is why I haven't posted a lot lately. It worked out well for you if you have a crush, man- or otherwise, on Chuck Norris.

I test-drove a 2001 Nissan Altima last night. On a whim, I went out to a different dealer to check out a 2002 Sentra I saw online, but when I actually sat in it, I realized that Sentras were not made for drivers 6 feet 1 inch tall. I also saw a Ford Taurus out there that might be in my price range.

The Nissan dealership is clear over on the other side of town, so I wasn't planning to go there last night. I rambled around a bit, stopped into Border's and Meijer and Wendy's for a triple. Drove through a couple of low-rent used-car lots just to see what they had. Then, even though it was after 7pm and I had not yet gone home from work, I decided to head out to the Nissan dealer. They only had a couple of cars that might fall into my price range, one being this Altima that stickers at about $12,000, which I think is more than my budget can handle, but the salesman, of course, claims that it can. If there's decent weather on Saturday, I'll hit some other places. There's a big lot up in Rantoul that has plenty in my price range.

Yeah, I also got a new couch. I found one while browsing through Homeworks downtown, which is a resale store associated with Habitats for Humanity. It cost only $75, and I gave them an extra $20 to have them deliver it and remove my old couch (it's downstairs now, and I don't know yet what to do with it). It was well worth that $20, since those two poor bastards who did the moving had a bitch of a time. I don't remember how we got my old couch in here, because it doesn't fit through the door. It's about 1/4 or 1/2 inch too wide. Those guys were sweating and panting like madmen. I still need to get used to the new one, but it is soft to lie on. I think it belonged to some smokers before, so I need to try to get that smell out.

And happy birthday to Cheeseburger, who's partying this weekend with her sister and Shark Hunter, pounding Diet Pepsis, eating Italian ice cream, and catching up on all the SUPERNATURAL episodes on her new DVR.

Posted by Marty at 8:01 AM CST
Updated: Friday, November 18, 2005 8:02 AM CST
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Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Gay Chuck
Too busy to blog, so I'll just post the gayest image of Chuck Norris I can find.

Is that an 8-Time Karate World Champion or is that David Soul?

Lots going on. I started writing this week's review of FIREBALL 500 and THUNDER ALLEY for The Hub. I spent some time on the phone last night chatting with friends. And I'm waiting for my new couch to arrive. I thought it might be delivered last night, but probably tonight. Also, the highly anticipated (by me, anyway) guest appearance by Dean Cain on LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT was a real letdown, through no fault of the performers. What started out as an intriguing tale of a control-freak surgeon (Cain) who rapes women he meets through speed dating took a dull turn into a completely different plot, one about Cain's plain-Jane girlfriend that echoed the Terri Schiavo story. Which is a valid concept for a plot, but this episode already had one and didn't need another one shoehorned in.

Posted by Marty at 10:50 AM CST
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Sunday, November 13, 2005
Working For The Weekend
Working on the weekend, actually. I love that I occasionally get paid to watch Crappy Movies. Not a lot of dough, but some. Tonight I watched MGM's double feature DVD of FIREBALL 500 and THUNDER ALLEY to review for The Hub. In case you're just tuning in, I write a weekly column for a local alternative weekly newspaper called The Hub, which you can find free of charge at businesses all over Champaign-Urbana. The column is called "Marty's Cult Movie Classic"--a little dry, but I didn't come up with it--and runs in just about every issue. The current issue is running my piece on the SABATA trilogy--three Italian westerns starring Lee Van Cleef and Yul Brynner as a gunfighter named Sabata. Next week will be my piece on TERROR BENEATH THE SEA, a fun 1966 Japanese monster movie starring a young Sonny Chiba.

I won't write much now on FIREBALL 500 and THUNDER ALLEY, but I'll let you know when my review runs. Both films were produced by American International Pictures, the most successful independent Hollywood studio of the 1960's, and revolve around the world of stock car racing. Annette Funicello, at the end of her AIP contract, and Fabian star in both, with Frankie Avalon taking top billing in the former. They were shot in widescreen 2.35:1 and look fantastic on the MGM DVD.

Those of you who don't live in the area can read my weekly column online at The Hub's Web site.

Friday night we said goodbye to Stiner, who's leaving Horizon for a new gig in Chi-town, with happy hour at Jupiter's. Saturday I went out to dinner with her, Grady and Chicken, and then we all came back to my apartment for Crappy Movie Night: CREATURE, a gory '80s ALIEN ripoff with exploding heads and torn-off faces; THE BEASTMASTER, the oft-broadcast sword-and-sorcery adventure with Marc Singer and his merry band of animals; and, since Chicken said, "How about something with a car chase?", LAST MAN STANDING, a direct-to-video action movie from PM Entertainment, masters at wild chases with cars jumping and flipping in the air through exploding fireballs. Plus, all three movies have boob shots, so how could we go wrong?

Today I took a little trip around town idly looking at used cars. I'm leaning towards taking my insurance settlement and plopping all of it down on a purchase, so I won't have to deal with any monthly payments. That would give me around $3000-$3500 to spend. I actually saw a 1992 Mercury today with only 54,000 miles on it for about $3500. I don't know--it's such a huge decision for me. I'm not used to buying cars, and I resent being forced into buying one now. I have avoided making monthly car payments for most of my life, and I would really like to avoid the hassle of making any now. On the other hand, what's most important to me in making this purchase is that the car last me a long time. I don't want to be buying another car 2 or 3 (or more) years down the road, so I want something that is going to be dependable and resiliant. I don't know that a $3000 car is going to be that.

I've thought about leasing a vehicle. Of course, that means I'd be making payments, but I could probably get something decent to drive that way. What happens if it breaks down? Do I have to pay for repairs if it isn't really my car? Or I could get an $8-9000 vehicle to own and make payments. Or I could just pay cash for a cheaper one. Anyone have any advice?

Posted by Marty at 10:47 PM CST
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It's Hot In The Hot Tub
Now Playing: PINK LADY
I've written way more on the blog than I ever intended about Fred Silverman's incompetent reign as the head of NBC in the late 1970's. Really, it's been just a coincidence that I have in recent months been catching up with or reacquainting myself with some of the worst shows in television history...that just happen to have been broadcast on NBC during Silverman's reign. PINK LADY may not be the worst series in the history of the medium, but it's one of the most notorious and usually pops up on anyone's list of Worst Ever.

Usually referred to as PINK LADY AND JEFF or PINK LADY...AND JEFF, the series was officially known as PINK LADY, thanks to Pink Lady's shrewd management that contractually shut Jeff out of the title. Jeff was Jeff Altman, a relatively obscure standup comic with a few pilots and guest-starring TV gigs under his belt, as well as a good reputation among comedians at L.A.'s Comedy Store. Pink Lady was Mie and Kei, two cute women in their 20's who were then among the biggest pop stars in Japan. Even though they were filling stadiums with their concerts and selling millions of records in Japan, they were nothing in the United States. Hell, even Jeff Altman was more famous than they were. Oh, and they also didn't speak a word of English.

Well, NBC didn't let that considerably important fact stand in the way of giving Pink Lady their own prime-time variety show. When PINK LADY debuted on March 1, 1980 with the girls performing "Boogie Wonderland" while clad in shimmering evening gowns, a new benchmark for Bad TV was set. The show began with an uncomfortably lame Altman monologue, followed by Mie and Kei coming out to banter with him. Since they actually had no idea what they were saying, as the scripts were taught to them phonetically, the whole experience is given an otherworldly feeling, like Altman is carrying on a conversation with spacemen.

For six episodes, the ladies sang, bounced, giggled and jiggled in tight pants, evening wear and bikinis, as Altman attempted to explain to the audience--and to Pink Lady--what was going on. Guest stars, which were reportedly often booked at the last minute, since few performers wanted to be seen anywhere near this turkey (one of them, B.J. AND THE BEAR star Greg Evigan, played his sax on an episode), floundered in ill-conceived sketches that rarely featured the girls in any meaningful manner. And every episode ended with the sexy women enticing a strangely reluctant Altman into a hot tub, where the trio said their goodbyes.

It's difficult to blame the creative team too much for PINK LADY's dismal quality, as the very concept seems an unlikely one for continued success. Not only were Mie and Kei very frustrated at the show's production, which, among other indignities, forced them to wear clothes with their names stitched on them, so stupid Americans would be able to tell them apart, but they were also maintaining their touring and recording schedule in Japan, resulting in several exhausting around-the-world flights.

If you're curious to see more of PINK LADY, a TV series often spoken of in the exalted company of other Worst Shows Ever like MY MOTHER, THE CAR, HELLO, LARRY, THE CHEVY CHASE SHOW and COP ROCK, it's available from Rhino in a 3-DVD box set. It's been out for four years, and I'd love to see Rhino's sales figures.

Posted by Marty at 6:05 PM CST
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Friday, November 11, 2005
No One Ever Escaped From Prison Camp #4
Since REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER went on hiatus last week, I had no reason to keep my HBO package, and, on a whim, I replaced it with Insight Cable's Showtime package, which includes several Showtime channels, two The Movie Channels, and Flix. All of them do a nice job of showing older exploitation movies and newer DTV stuff, but what I did not know is that they also, unlike HBO and Cinemax, often letterbox their programming. HBO and Cinemax never show widescreen prints. Also, unlike HBO and Cinemax, these channels are not copy-protected, which means I can record them on DVD-R.

Last week, I recorded a nice LBX print of X--THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES, which I'm sure is the same print used on MGM's DVD. But today I was stunned--stunned, I say--to realize that MEAN DOG BLUES, an AIP action movie released in 1978, was a really beautiful, clear letterboxed print. It opens with the Orion logo, then the AIP logo, and ends with the MGM logo. I don't know if this is coming out on DVD or not, but I could not have been more shocked to see that this relatively obscure and unimportant drive-in movie was receiving better treatment on cable TV than most major contemporary studio movies do.

I'd only seen the good trailer for this movie, buoyed by Ernie Anderson's typically energetic voiceover. Gregg Henry, a blond leading man still extremely busy in films and TV guest shots (GILMORE GIRLS, 24), plays Jack Ramsey, a wannabe songwriter driving cross-country to Nashville to audition for a music producer. His car breaks down, and he's picked up by an obnoxious alcoholic politician (William Windom, usually dependable, but overacting in this one) and his horny wife (Tina Louise). A drunken Windom runs down a 10-year-old girl with his car, but he and his sympathetic wife frame Jack on manslaughter charges and convince him that he'll receive a suspended sentence if he goes along quietly. Windom crosses Jack up, however, and the young man ends up on a Southern chain gang run by the hardnosed Captain Omar Kinsman (George Kennedy), who wanders about sleeveless and loves his killer Doberman more than he does any one person, including his horny jailbait daughter (the delicious Christina Hart, who performs her obligatory topless scene as well as she did in the earlier JOHNNY FIRECLOUD).

After running into trouble with a big tough con (John Daniels of BLACK SHAMPOO), Jack volunteers to be Kinsman's new "dog nigger" after the Doberman chomps on the current job holder, Mudcat (Scatman Crothers). What the gig entails is running your ass off six hours a day through the swamp while Kinsman's #1 guard (James Wainwright) and his trustees chase you with the tracking dogs...and the Doberman, which Kinsman may decide to run without its muzzle if you give him enough trouble...or get caught in a compromising position with his daughter.

Meanwhile, as Jack designs a plan to exercise the dogs for real by making an actual break for freedom, his wife (Kay Lenz) appeals to Windom and Louise to make things right and admit who the real driver of the car was.

Also in the film: Gregory Sierra (BARNEY MILLER), Felton Perry (MAGNUM FORCE), Ian Wolfe, Marc Alaimo and Edith Atwater. Mel Stuart (WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY) directed it, probably in Southern California. As you can see, MEAN DOG BLUES is worth watching for its cast, if for nothing else. It's not often you see a group of actors like this hanging out together. Henry hadn't done much film at this time, besides appearing as Nick Nolte's son in RICH MAN, POOR MAN: BOOK II. Despite a choice role in Brian DePalma's BODY DOUBLE, he never really broke out, although he has been a dependable performer in films and television ever since. A year later, he reunited with Kennedy in Jeff Lieberman's DELIVERANCE takeoff JUST BEFORE DAWN.

The uncredited executive producer was Bing Crosby (!), whose company appears in the titles only as BCP (Bing Crosby Productions). Der Bingle died on a golf course before MEAN DOG BLUES ever hit theaters, and a year or so later, so did his production company.

Posted by Marty at 11:42 PM CST
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