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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Sunday, January 29, 2006
B-Fest 2006
Now Playing: 15 Power-Packed Features
Another year over, and a new one just begun. You might use January 1 to demarcate one year from the next. I use B-Fest, Northwestern University’s annual 24-hour marathon of “B-movies.” This weekend marked my fifth consecutive year of staying up 39 consecutive hours with little more than Coca-Cola, Hostess products and lunchmeat sandwiches for sustenance. This year, Tolemite, Kevin and I introduced five new B-Festers to the event: Chicken, Stiner, Grady, Liz and Lara. All (except Lara, who had a Saturday appointment) survived to the end, as brutal as the journey may have been, and deserve much applause for their patience, stamina and sportsmanship.

Like last year, I arrived at B-Fest two hours early, which I highly recommend. It gives you an opportunity to stake out comfortable seating, survey the crowd for crazies to stay away from and hotties to scope, and relax a bit before diving right in. Change into some lounging clothes, arrange your munchies for easy, quiet access. There isn’t much time allotted between features to stretch with the lights on, so it’s good to get comfortable while you can.

If you don’t know, B-Fest is a communal experience where you don’t just watch movies, but shout at the screen MST3K-style. Some of these movies can only be endured in this manner, although the image and audio are good enough that you can follow the films if you’re not familiar with them. Screaming at something like SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2 is very cathartic, believe me. The downside is that you’ll be surrounded by people who are not nearly as funny as you are, and sometimes their jokes are worse than the movie you’re all screaming at. Most of the movies are 16mm prints, although an occasional 35mm print is shown. B-Fest has traditionally been all-celluloid, but there is discussion of adding DVD projection next year. I see the pros and cons of this, and if it happens, I’ll approach it with an open mind.

At 6:00pm Friday, B-Fest 2006 got off to a strong start with SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR SPACE, a good B-Fest movie, since it has a lot of action, familiar actors, a stupid premise, and much to mock. Christopher Reeve returned to play Superman only on the condition that the producers use his anti-nuke story, so the clumsy slapstick humor held over from SUPERMAN III and the cheapo special effects and lack of attention to detail common to producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus mix awkwardly with a mawkish plot about Superman tossing all the world’s nuclear weapons into outer space and then fighting a nuclear-powered supervillain created by escaped con Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman). Yes, this is a Cannon movie. There’s also Jon Cryer as Luthor’s annoying Valley dude nephew Lenny Luthor (!), Mariel Hemingway as a debutante who falls for Clark Kent, and John Williams’ music rearranged and conducted by Alexander Courage. It’s bad, but enjoyable schlock. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be better than the upcoming SUPERMAN RETURNS.

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON was a controversial choice, if only because it’s too good for B-Fest. In all, this year’s lineup was the weakest of my five B-Fests with many movies being too good and others being too bad (as in, not entertainingly bad, just boring). There’s also a continuing trend of adding too many selections from the ‘80s and ‘90s. At least CREATURE was shown in 3D. We even got free glasses. I don’t think the 3D really worked all that well (it was the red/blue kind), although Julie Adams in a swimsuit in 3D should be experienced by all. You should know the story by now: an expedition exploring the Amazon runs across a unique half-man/half-fish in an extraordinary costume designed by the Universal special effects department. Adams is in love with Richard Carlson, but hotheaded Richard Denning has the hots for her too. For that matter, so does the creature, who stalks her in a lovingly filmed underwater sequence. Great movie given not-so-great treatment.

GODZILLA, the horrid 1998 American version starring Matthew Broderick, is a good example of a movie that doesn’t work at B-Fest. It’s too long, too dull, not fun, and an insult to B-Fest’s audience, who are there precisely because they love movies like the Toho Godzilla series. This movie was like a kidney punch to monster fans when it came out. Nobody wants to see this version of GODZILLA anyway--do you know anyone who has it in their collection?--but B-Festers certainly don’t. Broderick is a Greek (?) biologist who is recruited by the army to stop a giant lizard from destroying New York City. The military fires him (?) after his old flame, a dizzy wannabe TV journalist played by the supremely untalented Maria Pitillo, steals some top-secret info from him (I swear, it was a VHS tape with TOP SECRET written in big letters on the label) and airs it. Broderick is then kidnapped by the French Secret Service (!), in the personage of Jean Reno, and invade Madison Square Garden, which is overrun with dozens of baby ‘Zillas hatched from eggs. Directed by Roland Emmerich and produced by Dean Devlin, each of whom was the recipient of copious booing when their credits flashed on-screen.

THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME is a short made by a California-based visual effects whiz named Mike Jittlov. He also made a feature version, but this is the original short, a delightful FX-filled fantasy. In B-Fest tradition (I don’t know why), the short plays while much of the audience lies on the stage and stomps their collective feet in time to the music. Then the short is run backwards and upside down with more stomping. Doesn’t make sense to me. WOSAT is good enough to stand on its own.

Midnight always brings about PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, which is a ROCKY HORROR-like experience filled with props and preprogrammed audience responses to the film. Even if you’ve seen it a zillion times, you should still experience it with a barrage of paper plates flying through the air whenever one of director Ed Wood's cheap pie-plate flying saucers whizzes across the screen. You haven't lived until you've seen hundreds of paper plates whipping past your head. After the film, the auditorium floor will be littered with thousands of paper plates, many inscribed with messages ranging from philosophical one-liners, bits of PLAN 9 dialogue and jokes. To Johnson‘s appearances are met with shouts of “Tor!” Scenes with Bela Lugosi and his body double are met with “Bela!” and “Not Bela!” The strangest battle is between audience members who argue whether Gregory Walcott‘s patio furniture is made from wicker or rattan. “Because people of Earth are idiots!”

The post PLAN 9 slot is usually blaxploitation. Unfortunately, they ran COFFY again, which ran here three years ago. I have no argument against COFFY, which is great for B-Fest: wild dialogue, action, nudity, crazy fashions, funky music and the sexy Pam Grier. Shouting was at a minimum, I think because the crowd was really into it. However, there’s enough blaxploitation out there that they could have gotten something else.

I must admit, I saw very little of GAS! OR IT BECAME NECESSARY TO DESTROY THE WORLD IN ORDER TO SAVE IT. This was in the HIERONYMOUS MERKIN/BEAUTY AND THE ROBOT/ALICE IN WONDERLAND slot, which is usually filled with something obscure, unusual and often unbearable. GAS!, one of Roger Corman’s last movies as a director, appears to be an aimless, pretentious youth allegory about an American Southwest devoid of human beings over the age of 25 (they were killed by a strange gas). It’s on DVD, so maybe I’ll give it another shot in a proper context someday, but it took the opportunity to wander around the facility and spend some time cooling off in the lobby while it ran.

The deep hurting continued with TROMEO AND JULIET, which is, IMO, too extreme and rough for B-Fest. Being a Troma production, you know immediately what you’re getting into: gore, profanity, sex, cannibalism, incest, bodily fluids, close-ups of nipples being pierced. I only watched it with one eye open, since I thought this would be a good time to grab a nap. It didn’t really work, as the audience’s groans whenever something gross occurred had me glancing at the screen out of curiosity. I was usually sorry.

I hate Prince. So you can imagine what I thought of GRAFFITI BRIDGE, an extremely self-indulgent musical that Prince wrote, directed and starred in. A good drinking game would be to drink whenever Prince the director awards Prince the actor with a closeup. It feels like a remake of PURPLE RAIN with Morris Day back talking shit to Prince and Prince’s girlfriend (Ingrid Chavez) getting killed. I hated PURPLE RAIN too.

GRAFFITI BRIDGE is too boring and superficial for B-Fest. EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY is just too uninteresting. In fact, it’s a pleasant little comedy that provides a bit of fun, but it isn’t remarkable or memorable in any sense, except for the many scenes with Geena Davis wearing a tiny bikini. It also stars Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans at a period in their careers when nobody knew who they were (IN LIVING COLOR was still a couple of years away). Carrey, Wayans and Jeff Goldblum are colorful, furry aliens who crash their spaceship in Geena’s swimming pool and become fish-out-of-water as she battles cheating boyfriend Charles Rocket and hangs with horny pal “Just Say” Julie Brown, who also co-wrote the screenplay.

Now RHINESTON seems like it was tailor-made for B-Fest. Two big stars, one absurd premise, plenty to mock. Country singer Dolly Parton bets her sleazebag manager (a typically OTT Ron Leibman) that she can transform a loutish taxi driver (Sylvester Stallone) into a country-western star in two weeks. Yep, Sly Stallone plays a country singer. Awesome! Apparently you all have to do to become an expert at it is spend two weeks on a farm, where romantic rival Tim Thomerson (yeah!) teaches him to walk like a country singer by pretending you have jock itch. The beauty of RHINESTONE is that it forces you to believe that, when Stallone sings at the climax to thunderous applause from an appreciative audience, he’s a much better singer that he was earlier before Dolly went all Henry Higgins on him. Of course, he still sucks as a singer, and you know damn well this movie only exists because Stallone, a huge star then, decided he wanted to sing in a movie, and no Hollywood sycophant had the balls to tell him what a terrible idea that was. RHINESTONE, directed by Bob Clark, is also notable for Sly’s bizarre T-shirt collection, which had us in stitches.

COBRA WOMAN was disappointing in that it was filmed in Technicolor, but we received a black-and-white TV print. It’s kinda talky for B-Fest purposes, but I’d like to check it out again something under optimal conditions. Jon Hall and sidekick Sabu journey to a South Seas island to retrieve Hall’s fiance Maria Montez. Turns out she was nabbed by Maria’s evil twin (!), who plans to sacrifice her to her people’s cobra god and then steal Hall for herself. A lot of swinging on ropes and rubber snakes in this one, plus Lon Chaney as a heavy.

Dear God. BABY GENIUSES may well be the worst Hollywood film to ever receive a sequel, and SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2 might be the worst sequel. I don’t even know for what audience it was made. Jon Voight (!), of all people, plays an evil German (who talks like Werner Klemperer) who plans to brainwash the world’s babies with subliminal messages in a TV commercial. He’s opposed by an 8-year-old secret agent who recruits for diaper-clad babies to be his sidekicks and imbues them with superpowers and costumes. I understand why Scott Baio and Vanessa Angel would be hard-up enough to star in this, but I don’t know why Voight is here, except I see from the Internet Movie Database than the blond teen hottie who plays the babysitter is Voight’s goddaughter. Giving her a help up perhaps? Talking babies always suck, but talking babies that fly helicopters and know kung fu achieve new levels of suck.

Only one more movie to go, and it was a controversial choice. Much too good for B-Fest, it still worked out well, because it played in the traditional “monster movie” slot and served as a bit of a cleanser after 22 ? hours of crap. 1933’s KING KONG is a remarkable film. The 16mm print is terribly washed out; I was spoiled by watching Warner’s pristine, detail-filled DVD a few weeks ago. It was still fun to see with an appreciative audience.

B-Fest is also punctuated by a number of obscure short films that fill time between features. Most of these are disposable at best, but two of them were really interesting. One was Alan Arkin’s 1969 Oscar-nominated PEOPLE SOUP, which stars his sons Adam and Matthew as brothers who mix together incompatible kitchen items to create a soup that transforms them into animals. It’s a sweet, funny fantasy. Also of note was TOMB ITMAY CONCERN, a kitschy piece starring the very short Little Jack Little. It was unfortunately cut off well before the end, which was a shame. It was silly but watchable, an odd piece of Hollywood history, plus I understand there was an Egyptian princess in the tomb who does a striptease, but we never got to see it. Drat.

KING KONG finished around 5:45pm Saturday, and it was off to Leona’s on Sheridan for our customary post-fest bloating in the form of heavy Italian food. I always get more or less the same thing, which is a giant bowl of pasta covered in tomato sauce, sausage and meatballs. It's so big I can't even finish it, but that's okay, so long as it pushes the Ding Dongs and corn chips out of my system. The drive home on I-57 is rainy, but Chicken and I make it in good time, inside, unloaded and unpacked well before 11pm. Time to sleep and, more importantly, brush my teeth and shower.

Only 364 more days to B-Fest 2007.

Posted by Marty at 11:33 PM CST
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Friday, January 27, 2006
Off To B-Fest
24 hours of Crappy Movies. Tell you all about it when I get back.

Posted by Marty at 10:55 AM CST
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Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Barbi, Don't Get Hooked On Me

Sitcom actress, recording artist and Playmate Barbi Benton went all the way to Israel to receive her first above-the-title billing in an American film. Unfortunately, it was to star in a Cannon slasher movie. A Golan/Globus production. Made by the director of THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN. Poor Barbi.

Benton was relatively popular during the late 1970's, mostly due to her longtime intimate relationship with Hugh Hefner. A few PLAYBOY spreads and Hef's love landed her a country-western record deal, which led to a television acting career guest-starring on ABC shows like THE LOVE BOAT and FANTASY ISLAND. After she and Hefner broke up, Barbi landed a regular gig on the ABC sitcom SUGAR TIME!, which was cancelled after a few weeks.

Her mainstream Hollywood film debut (she had appeared with Hefner in a West German sex comedy when she was about 19) came out in 1981 as HOSPITAL MASSACRE. No star, not even one of Benton's stature, would make a film called HOSPITAL MASSACRE, but Golan and Globus shot it as X-RAY and pulled the switch later. I believe it actually did play theatrically, at least overseas, as X-RAY, but it's better known in the U.S. as HOSPITAL MASSACRE. Which is at least an accurate title.

The film's major problem is that it relies on every character to act in a completely idiotic manner at all times to keep the story moving. If you have half a brain, you'll figure out who the masked killer is within the first half-hour, which doesn't prevent director Boaz Davidson from stacking up red herrings like cordwood. Besides Benton, every major character fails to behave like a normal human being. Doctors are oblique and rude. Her fiance (Jon Van Ness) is ineffectual. People wander into rooms where they have no business. An entire hospital floor is filled with fumigation fumes (to provide a spooky, foggy atmosphere, doncha know), as well as mannequins (?) and one convenient can of red paint!

Following a prologue (set at "Susan's House 1961") in which a young girl's suitor is found mangled with his head caught in a coat rack, HOSPITAL MASSACRE is almost entirely set inside a poorly-lit, sparsely-populated big-city hospital in which Susan Jeremy (Benton) drops to pick up the results from a recent physical examination. A quick errand turns into an extended bout of terror, as creepy doctors, creepy patients and even creepy janitors jerk around Susan while a surgical-masked killer bumps off hospital personnel left and right. Plenty of red herrings are introduced, including the seemingly sinister Dr. Saxon (John Warner Williams), amiable intern Harry (Chip Lucia), Susan's ex-husband and even a perverted drunken patient who constantly wanders the hospital's hallways for no good reason.

This is a stupid movie, but the body count is quite high and the murders appropriately gory. Also, Benton provides a juicy nude scene, which is perhaps the movie's most idiotic moment. Creepy Dr. Saxon orders Barbi to not only submit to a physical exam in a large, dark room, but he also has her strip to her panties so he can take her blood pressure and listen to her heartbeat. I don't know, her clothes didn't appear to be that thick. In painstaking closeup, Barbi lies topless on the examination table while Dr. Sleazeball slowly fondles her foot, leg and calf muscles, thumps her tight tummy with his fingers, and listens to her heartbeat by placing his stethoscope on her boob. Sheeyahhh, nice gig if you can get it.

HOSPITAL MASSACRE isn't very scary, but it does move, and the preposterousness of the screenplay by Marc Behm adds plenty of unintentional NAKED GUN-style laughs--the hospital appears to be nearly deserted, although Susan is forced to share a room with three cranky old ladies, while nearly every character is shown playing with knives or acting unbelievably nutty, so they can be set up as possibly being the killer.

Benton is definitely no thespian, but she looks great, and is at least believable as a confused and freaked-out victim. Not so much, though, as a smoker. Most contemporary actors are terrible pretend-smokers, but very few are as unconvincing as Barbi. She went on to do a Roger Corman sword-and-sorcery cheapie in Argentina called DEATHSTALKER, which is even more hilarious than HOSPITAL MASSACRE, but hardly more dignified. That was pretty much the end of her screen career and her singing career.

And, cool, Netflix sent Disc 1 of THE NEW AVENGERS today. Seven years after THE AVENGERS wrapped up production in England, star Patrick Macnee returned as British secret agent John Steed with two new young co-stars: Gareth Hunt as studly Mike Gambit and Joanna Lumley (ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS) as sexy Purdey. I'd never see it before. It aired in the U.S. in the late 1970's as part of THE CBS LATE MOVIE, which, as David Letterman used to remind his LATE NIGHT audience, wasn't really a movie at all, but reruns like KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER and MANNIX and occasionally new imports like THE NEW AVENGERS. WCIA did not air CBS programming in late-night, instead running their own syndicated fare like IRONSIDE, THE ROOKIES, HAWAII FIVE-0 and THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO.

THE NEW AVENGERS started with a slambang episode, guest-starring the great Peter Cushing (who played Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS around this time) as a German expert in suspended animation who is kidnapped by a band of Nazis disguised as monks taking residence in a Scottish castle. There they've been keeping the comatose body of Adolf Hitler and need Cushing to wake him up and resuscitate the Third Reich. Accompanied by funky wah-wah guitar, the Avengers foil the Nazi plot using some well-placed karate kicks, old-fashioned ingenuity and witty bon mots. Macnee is so smooth, it's as if he never stopped playing Steed. And in fact he really hadn't, having appeared with one of his AVENGERS co-stars, Linda Thorson, in a champagne commercial.

Judging just from the first show (they did 26 over two seasons), THE NEW AVENGERS was pretty good, though not up to the standard set by the Macnee/Diana Rigg episodes in the late 1960's. The final scene, with Steed, Purdey and Gambit skipping away from a job well done and whistling Colonel Bogey's theme from THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI, is very much like the end of THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI (and, by extension, the end of THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU).

Posted by Marty at 11:47 PM CST
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Monday, January 23, 2006
He's Got The Biggest Balls Of Them All
Now Playing: DEATH RAGE
I've been curious about DEATH RAGE ever since I used to have the one-sheet hanging on my kitchen wall. All I knew about it was that it was an Italian crime drama starring Yul Brynner as a pissed-off dude out for revenge. Hey, that's good enough for me. Hard to screw that up.

I picked it up on DVD awhile back as part of Mill Creek's CHILLING CLASSICS collection. You've seen these--50 movies for under $20. At that price, you can imagine about what you're getting--ugly, tacky-looking prints taken from inferior sources (often just ripped from an old VHS release) and likely unauthorized. DEATH RAGE runs 96 minutes, according to Leonard Maltin, but the Mill Creek print is only 84. No wonder I couldn't figure out what was going on much of the time. It's not an edited TV print either, no way, not with Barbara Bouchet's naked body prancing into frame every 15 minutes or so.

DEATH RAGE was one of Brynner’s last films; both this and FUTUREWORLD, the sequel to WESTWORLD, were released in 1976. Yul famously died of lung cancer in 1985, and made sure he filmed a series of anti-smoking PSAs before he did. I don't know whether a dead Yul Brynner lecturing on the hazards of lighting up ever prevented a kid from smoking, but the message was certainly a persuasive one.

The bald-pated star plays Frank Marciani, an American hitman recruited by the Mafia to perform one last job--the touch of the Italian gangster who murdered Frank’s brother. Frank was present at his brother’s death, which left him with psychosomatic eye pain whenever he witnesses a violent act (director Antonio Margheriti demonstrates this by “painting” the lens with red animation). In Naples, Frank shows the hitman ropes to an eager young man--shades of THE MECHANIC--and fools around with a frequently nude stripper (Bouchet). A couple of car chases and shootouts, Yul’s steady performance (draped in a black turtleneck and blazer) and Barbara’s luscious body make this one an adequate timewaster.

On iTunes tonight:
Theme from GET SMART!
"For Your Eyes Only"--Sheena Easton
"There He Is Again"--Hues Corporation (from BLACULA)
"It Must Be Him"--Vikki Carr
"Colt in Agguato"--Bruno Nicolai from $100,000 FOR RINGO
"Commotion"--Creedence Clearwater Revival
"Captain Groovy and His Bubblegum Army"--Captain Groovy and His Bubblegum Army
"Say What I Mean"--The Shandells, Inc.
"Backstage"-Gene Pitney
"Tomorrow Never Knows"--The Beatles
"I Think I'll Just Go & Find Me A Flower"--Moorpark Intersection
"Cool, Calm & Collected"--The Druids
"The British Menace"--Lalo Schifrin from RUSH HOUR
"Michael, Row The Boat Ashore"--The Highwaymen

Posted by Marty at 11:10 PM CST
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Sunday, January 22, 2006
Five-Year Plans And New Deals
My iTunes library now has 5354 songs in it. Here's what I've been listening to for the last hour:

"Hot Love"--T. Rex
"You Don't Have to Say You Love Me"--Dusty Springfield
"I Live in the Springtime"--The Lemon Drops
"What Am I Going to Do?"--The Dovers
"Weightless at Zero Return"--Man Or Astro-Man?
"Who'll Stop the Rain"--John Fogerty live from the Capital Center in 1987
"Shining"--The Bumps
"It's A Sunshine Day"--The Brady Bunch (!)
"The Idols of Your Mind"--The Hinge
"Tape Machine"--Lalo Schifrin from the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE episode "Underground"
"Amos Moses"--Jerry Reed
"Daniel"--Elton John
"End Credits (March)"--Lalo Schifrin from THE EAGLE HAS LANDED
"Between the Lines"--McDonald's Farm
Theme from HARDCASTLE & MCCORMICK by Mike Post & Pete Carpenter
"Don't Worry Baby"--Beach Boys
"In the Idol's Temple"--John Williams from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
"Body Surf"--Aki Aleong & the Nobles
"Take A Giant Step"--The Monkees
"Chick-A-Boom"--Daddy Dewdrop
"Delirium"--Herschel Burke Gilbert from THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN
"Believe It Or Not"--Joey Scarbury

An interesting appearance by Brad Renfro on tonight's LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT. I don't believe Renfro has ever done episodic television before, but maybe his career options are becoming scarcer following his heroin arrest last month. He's battled drug and alcohol addictions for several years now, although you wouldn't know it from his performance tonight. He was quite effective as one-half of a serial-killing team and surely didn't look like a junkie. His partner was played by Ethan Embry, who has bulked up since his familiar roles in CAN'T HARDLY WAIT and the recent Dick Wolf series DRAGNET. Not "buff" bulked up, but "beefy" bulked up. He'll never score with Amanda Beckett at this rate.

Posted by Marty at 10:58 PM CST
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Such A Subtle Title
One thing's for sure with a title like NAIL GUN MASSACRE: you know exactly what you're getting. Something like the currently acclaimed THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, who knows what the hell that's about? But with NAIL GUN MASSACRE, it's a sure bet it isn't a sequel to BLEAK HOUSE.

It's also from Texas, the state that gave us the stinker R.O.T.O.R. It's probably about as bad too, if slightly less boring. Feel safe concentrating all the blame on Terry Lofton, who served as co-director, writer, producer, casting director, stunt coordinator and special effects man.

Six months after a bunch of construction workers gang-rape lumber-yard owner Michelle Meyer, a masked killer clad in combat gear begins murdering local townspeople with a powerful nail gun. Dumbass cop Ron Queen and dipshit doctor Rocky Patterson notice that most of the victims were named by Meyer as her attackers, but not all of them. You’ll be forgiven for guessing that Meyer is the killer, considering the actor hidden beneath all that gear is obviously a woman. You'd be wrong, but no one could blame you.

The level of incompetence is really breathtaking. One actress (Lofton’s grandmother) looks at the camera during a take, just after blowing a line. Some victims have trouble holding their breath while playing dead. Nails that are supposed to have penetrated bodies wiggle around on the actors’ skin (the nails are sawed off and glued to the skin). A blonde actress with large breasts plays her only scene completely topless while Lofton’s camera zooms into her chest. Characters come and go with no reason to exist except to get killed. A radio plays a terrible rock song about, of all subjects, foosball. Twice. Some dialogue can scarcely be heard over the racket made by the camera.

NAIL GUN MASSACRE at least has a lot of blood and nudity (including a surprisingly graphic sex scene against a tree) that will keep you awake, fighting against the terrible acting and production values. Magnum Entertainment released this straight to video in 1987. For some reason, Synapse, an independent distributor of some repute, made it into a deluxe DVD last year. Among the disc's extras is an interview with Terry Lofton, where he tries to dis critics who put down his movie, all the while apologizing to his actors for not writing a full script and asking them to ad-lib dialogue. He seems like a nice guy, but he appears to believe his movie is good. It is not.

On a side note, I watched another episode of DAVID CASSIDY--MAN UNDERCOVER, "Rx for Murder", which is only of note because one of the guest stars was Kristine DeBell. B-Festers (and those who have been to my house for Crappy Movie Night) may recognize her as the star of 1976's ALICE IN WONDERLAND, a pornographic musical comedy. A lot of eyebrows were raised the year ALICE screened at B-Fest around 3am, and doubly so later that day when Kristine appeared in the Jackie Chan vehicle THE BIG BRAWL. What's unusual is that, unlike someone like Traci Lords, DeBell was not a porn star who crossed over into mainstream Hollywood. She was a mainstream actress who happened to star in a porn film. As porn goes, ALICE is pretty tame, and Kristine doesn't really do much more than Chloe Sevigny does in THE BROWN BUNNY.

Actor Larry Gelman from CHATTERBOX and THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (who doesn't perform any sex acts) and arranger/conductor Peter Matz (THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW) also worked on ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and it doesn't appear that any of them suffered in Hollywood as a result. Nor should they have. I suspect this could be because ALICE, though filmed with hardcore sex scenes, was trimmed of several minutes by its producers and released theatrically with an R rating. The few people who likely saw it as a spicy musical spoof were probably unaware of its hardcore origins. I don't think the X-rated cut was released until many years later, maybe even after DeBell's acting career had run its course.

The movie, by the way, is pretty fun, if you're open to the theatrical performances, cheapo production values, and songs about Humpty Dumpty falling off his wall and breaking his penis.

Posted by Marty at 3:05 AM CST
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Wednesday, January 18, 2006
From Last Week's Issue Of THE HUB
In the 187 minutes it takes for the current remake of KING KONG to unspool, you could watch both KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and KING KONG ESCAPES. Since Peter Jackson’s opus contains neither a fire-breathing Japanese dinosaur nor a giant robot monkey, it seems obvious where your Kong time would be best spent.

KING KONG VS. GODZILLA is perhaps most notable for marking the big ape’s second appearance on the big screen and first in nearly thirty years. In retrospect, it seems amazing that America’s foremost movie monster never returned in a sequel (admittedly, the final scene of the 1933 KING KONG would have made it difficult, but in Hollywood, a dollar sign always seems to trump dramatics). Instead, RKO lent Kong out to Toho and special effects craftsman Eiji Tsuburaya, who eschewed Willis O’Brien’s painstaking stop-motion techniques for stuntmen in rubber suits stomping miniature cities and countrysides.

Some dopes in a nuclear submarine accidentally crash it into an iceberg, releasing Godzilla from his frozen prison. The Big G beats feet for Tokyo, where he resumes his normal practice of stomping the city into matchsticks. Meanwhile, a pharmaceutical company looking for a way to improve its television show’s ratings sends two dudes to Pharaoh Island, where it is rumored the natives offer non-addictive hallucinogenic berries to the mythical beast they worship. The natives capture the drug company flunkies, who win them over by offering a radio that plays crummy J-Pop and giving cigarettes to the children. Sure enough, Kong is there, too. After defeating a giant octopus in battle, he chugs some berry juice and passes out long enough for the expedition team to strap him to a raft and pull him back to Japan. Unsurprisingly, this turns out to be a bad idea, resulting in Kong’s explosive escape, his destruction of much of Tokyo and an epic battle royal with Godzilla at Mt. Fuji.

Besides the lovely Mie Hama, who wallows in a large mockup of a monkey’s paw in the role of Kong’s love interest, the human actors don’t make much of an impact under Ishiro Honda’s direction, not that we really need them to when giant monsters are kicking the crap out of each other. KING KONG VS. GODZILLA was made before Toho’s kaiju movies got really silly (we’re getting to that), so there is a bit of political subtext concerning the possible use of nuclear weapons against the monsters — an interesting point in a Japanese production made less than twenty years after Hiroshima.

In 1967, Toho brought Kong back in KING KONG ESCAPES, which was inspired by a Saturday morning cartoon and plays much like a spy movie. Square-jawed sub commander Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason), an American nurse (Linda Miller) and a Japanese cohort (Akira Takarada) take a cool flying sub to Mondo Island, where they discover Kong. Meanwhile, evil villain Dr. Who (Eisei Amamoto) is in cahoots with the sexy Madame X (Mie Hama again), an agent from an unnamed Communist power, who wants the radioactive Element X. She builds a 60-foot King Kong robot to mine Element X (“the strongest thing there is in the world today”), which will ensure Madame’s country’s nuclear domination. The damn thing doesn’t work, though, so Dr. Who kidnaps the real Kong and hypnotizes him into doing Who’s bidding. Before you know it, Kong and the newly refurbished robot Kong are fighting atop the Tokyo Tower.

For KING KONG ESCAPES, Toho and director Honda joined forces with Rankin/Bass, producers of animated TV specials like FROSTY THE SNOWMAN, which resulted in ubiquitous American voice artist Paul Frees dubbing nearly every male actor in the film. That’s okay, it just adds to the fun, which includes Kong fighting a dinosaur and a giant sea snake and Nelson’s bunch being kidnapped to Who’s Arctic lair, where the megalomaniac commands an army of jumpsuit-wearing henchmen.

Universal presents both movies on DVD in striking widescreen prints, the first time since their original U.S. theatrical releases that they have been seen in their proper 2.35:1 aspect ratios. Akira Ifukube contributes majestic scores that add much-needed gravitas to the rubber-monster cage matches. If the busy Mie Hama looks familiar, it’s because she played one of Sean Connery’s Japanese lovers, Kissy Suzuki, in the James Bond adventure YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE the same year she filmed KING KONG ESCAPES.

Peter Jackson’s KING KONG remake appears to be the must-see event picture of the season, but if you’re looking for simpler entertainment at half the running time, you can’t go wrong with two of Kong‘s biggest opponents. If Jackson had only thought to include a giant robot in his movie. Then he might have had something.

Posted by Marty at 10:44 PM CST
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Monday, January 16, 2006
Why Me All The Time?
Let’s face it--AIP’s BEACH PARTY series wasn’t very sophisticated or even funny most of the time, but everyone involved seems so damned cheery and energetic that it’s difficult not to get caught up in the hijinks. And so it goes with 1965's HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI, made around the time the "long-running" series (American International made about eight of these in just three years and a few imitations too) was running dry. Just don’t let the misogyny of Leo Townsend and director William Asher’s screenplay smack you on the rear end.

Frankie Avalon, busy shooting SERGEANT DEADHEAD for AIP, pops up long enough to romance sexy native Irene Tsu while serving Navy reserve duty in the South Seas. He’s paranoid about galpal Annette Funicello making time with another guy back home though, and hires witch doctor Bwana (70-year-old silent screen legend Buster Keaton) to spy on her through the eyes of a nosy pelican. For good measure, Bwana conjures zaftig redhead Beverly Adams (who married Vidal Sassoon), stuffs her into a wild bikini, and drops her onto the beach to distract smoothie Dwayne Hickman (THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS) from Funicello. I’m willing to bet that Annette was pregnant at the time, since she’s the only woman in the film not to appear in a bikini, and, frankly, the concept of the frumpy Funicello luring Hickman away from a bevy of frugging cuties is laughable.

In a way, these movies foreshadowed the gag-a-second approach revolutionized by AIRPLANE with their frenetic comic atmosphere. Sight gags, slapstick, chases, one-liners and “breaking the fourth wall” abound, and when someone isn’t joking or falling down, they’re singing a song. The lumpy plot also involves Adams and Hickman getting recruited for a new advertising campaign orchestrated by Mickey Rooney, as well as a surrealistic motorcycle race pitting stud Hickman against uncouth biker Eric Von Zipper (Lembeck). Asher and cinematographer Floyd Crosby masterfully squeeze as many tight bodies as they can into the widescreen image, and guest stars such as Brian Donlevy, Len Lesser (Uncle Leo!), Jody McCrea, John Ashley (soon to ditch L.A. for Manila to star and produce gory horror movies like MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND), Bobbi Shaw, Marianna Gaba, Salli Sachse and The Kingsmen keep the ball rolling. Asher’s wife Elizabeth Montgomery (BEWITCHED) even twitches in an unbilled cameo.

Posted by Marty at 11:09 PM CST
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Sunday, January 15, 2006
Top 10 DVDs of 2005 (In Alphabetical Order)

Thank you, Warner Brothers, for releasing this seminal TV superhero series with such lavish care. The audio commentary tracks (by so-called SUPERMAN experts) could have been better, but that’s the only black mark against this box set of 26 episodes and extras. 104 episodes were made, but the first year, lensed in crisp black-and-white in 1951, was the best. Under the tutelage of producer Robert Maxwell, the scripts fell into the rein of crime drama with gangsters, robbers and molls threatening the good people of Metropolis and no-nonsense Kryptonian Superman (superbly portrayed by George Reeves) knocking the bejeezus out of ‘em with a couple of right crosses.

Before later seasons became cutesy and sillier under new producer Whitney Ellsworth, the Maxwell episodes benefited from noirish cinematography, a slightly more mature approach to the comic-book material (more so than the National Periodicals comics of the period) and actress Phyllis Coates, the sexiest Lois Lane of all (and I’m a Teri Hatcher admirer). But no one would care about or even remember THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN today if not for George Reeves, a consummate professional who not only made you believe that the guy beneath the obviously padded costume was an invulnerable superhero, but also made his alter-ego, reporter Clark Kent, a full-blooded three-dimensional man who was as important to the show as its title character.

The Warners box set also benefits from its exceptional, colorful packaging and the inclusion of SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE-MEN, the first live-action Superman theatrical film that starred Reeves and Coates and was later split into a two-part episode.


Subversive Cinema presents a major coup in cult cinema, the first-ever home video release of director Guerdon Trueblood’s 1973 sleazefest. This downbeat crime thriller is no less than one of the best and most disturbing drive-in flicks of the 1970's. From its witty theme song, "Love Is The Root Of All Happiness", to its daringly pessimistic final crane shot, THE CANDY SNATCHERS is full of story twists, amoral but well-developed characters, sex, violence, social commentary and good acting. It isn't a fast-moving, action-packed thriller, but I can‘t imagine anyone with an adult sensibility not becoming fully absorbed in writer Bryan Gindoff‘s taut story and fascinating characters.

Unfortunately, Subversive’s menus are among the worst I’ve ever seen, but the extras are pretty astounding, especially for such an obscure picture. The audio commentary featuring actresses Tiffany Bolling and Susan Sennett is a rare case of candor and honest human emotion being captured on a DVD extra, and you’d have to be pretty cold to not feel something for these women after hearing it.


A dwarf flying over the jungle with a jet pack strapped to his back. Topless women playing tennis in slow motion. A kung-fu brawl against a charging bull. Whenever you think you’ve seen everything film can offer, something like Mondo Macabro’s DVD release of FOR YOUR HEIGHT ONLY and CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER comes along, leaving you with your mouth open and your faith in humanity restored.

FOR Y’UR HEIGHT ONLY, a cheapo Filipino movie with 2’9” “actor” Weng Weng as a karate-kicking, nut-crunching, chick-loving super spy, and CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER, wild Hong Kong chopsocky with Bruce Le and Richard Harrison as CIA agents, are two of the most memorable movies I’ll ever see. And here they are together on one DVD. With CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER in a beautiful 2.35 print even! I can never get tired of these two.


Anchor Bay went the extra mile with these seminal ‘70s car-chase thrillers, both starring Peter Fonda at the peak of his fame as a drive-in icon. Both offer terrific-looking prints and cleaned-up audio, as well as informative audio commentaries, documentaries, trailers, etc. While RACE WITH THE DEVIL has its share of entertaining moments, DIRTY MARY is terrific entertainment with jaw-dropping stuntwork at a danger level you’re unlikely to see in today’s Hollywood.


This is the Retromedia disc that was scrapped after it was learned that a rival DVD company actually owned the rights to the film. I believe only about fifty of them were ever pressed, making it a real collector’s item, I presume. It’s a decent letterboxed release of a grim, gritty independent horror picture that takes an unexpected turn into science fiction in its final reels. The DVD’s real treat is its audio commentary by FLESH EATERS writer Arnold Drake, historian Tom Weaver and Retromedia’s Fred Olen Ray, an informative, entertaining examination of one of the 1960’s oddest genre outings.


I can’t believe I now own every episode of one of my all-time favorite TV series. Anchor Bay put out all three seasons of this eccentric ‘80s Stephen J. Cannell production, which benefited from warm, likable performances by its stars: William Katt, Connie Sellecca and Robert Culp. With Katt playing a reluctant superhero learning to use his powers while forced into an unlikely partnership with gung-ho FBI agent Culp, the show’s simplistic plots were merely clotheslines on which to hang Cannell’s trademark flip dialogue and appealing group interactions. The special effects don’t hold up today, but they didn’t look good in 1981 either. That’s not what this show is about. Katt has never been better, Sellecca certainly never again got a part this good, and it’s a testament to Culp’s great talent and longevity that this is just one of his well-remembered character parts.


Not only is this 1933 adventure one of the best movies (forget monster movies) ever made, Warners’ 2-disc set also contains an enormously entertaining making-of docu that runs more than two and a half hours…and never drags. That’s just one of the many extras that makes this disc, the first time KING KONG has ever been released on DVD, an essential one for fantasy film fans.


On the other hand, I found these Toho productions to be nearly as entertaining…in their own way. Universal put this 2-pack out in appealing, colorful 2.35:1 prints that will have you cheering, giggling and having a great time, especially if you’re watching them with a group of good friends. The only thing better than a giant monkey fighting a giant dinosaur is a giant monkey fighting a giant robot double. The lovely Mie Hama appears in both movies, as if they weren’t already irresistible.


Media Blasters released several Japanese science fiction/horror movies in 2005. I only saw these two, which were definite eye-openers for me. MATANGO is a low-key horror thriller that relies on mood and atmosphere, rather than monsters, to achieve suspense. Don't let the silly monster suits keep you away from this Gothic chiller, which relies on complex characterizations and story turns, as well as remarkable, colorful production design, to create a feeling of paranoia and terror. THE MYSTERIANS offers a giant robot and invading aliens in a fast-moving, colorful collection of setpieces and space battles that blows away the memories I have of seeing pan-and-scan TV prints as a kid.


This might be the finest complete TV-series collection ever on DVD. Not only has every episode of one of TV’s greatest genre shows been presented in pristine-looking prints, but nearly every episode has at least one related extra, be it an audio commentary by one of the original stars or filmmakers, a radio adaptation or an isolated score. These four boxes (Season One came out in 2004) represent an important artifact in American pop-culture history. Image really jacked up the retail price on these sets, but it’s difficult to argue that they aren’t worth it.

Honorable Mention:

OK, it’s schlock, but as a rabid William Shatner fan, how can I ignore the release of Bill’s iconic ‘80s TV crime drama? How could I have ever predicted that I’d be able to see Bill in blue riding on the hoods of speeding cars, taking down bad guys using sweet karate skills, flirting with bikini-clad women half his age, or talking smack to his tight-panted partner Adrian Zmed on crystal-clear digital prints?

Posted by Marty at 1:38 AM CST
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Thursday, January 12, 2006
Straight From The Cutter's Mouth
Yesterday I received an e-mail from Doug Bryan, credited as film editor, music editor and sound effects editor on R.O.T.O.R. Doug is a friend of my former THE ONLY THING ON partner John Riley, and I asked John to help me get in touch with Doug so I could learn more about the film. A big thanks to John and, of course, to Doug, who graciously allowed me to reprint portions of his email:

It lives!!!! That was the first feature I ever cut. It was a disaster from the word go. Every frame they shot is in the movie, because their budget was so lean, they would often shoot just one take. The lead actor [Richard Gesswein] was one of the investors and spoke with a really annoying nasal tone. Toward the end of post-production, they decided to loop his lines using a "professional" actor. I had to edit in all of that shitty re-recorded dialogue that rarely synched up properly, giving all of his scenes a Japanese feel. Boy, that guy was pissed off.

The director, Cullen Blaine, was a character designer for Hanna-Barbara and did some of the design work on JONNY QUEST. The movie sucked complete and total ass, but was a great/weird experience. A few weeks into editing, the writer, Budd Lewis, showed up. Turns out he was one of the main writers for the Warren comic mags CREEPY and EERIE that I loved so as a kid. I got the real dirt on many of my favorite artists. I have to say that Budd and Cullen were really cool people, and we had a lot of laughs. They just shouldn't have been making movies. I don't think they ever did again.

My band at the time, Larry's Dad, contributed 2 songs to the soundtrack, and to this day I receive royalty checks for up to $1.21 from places like Burma and Thailand.

I should mention that when ROTOR re-charges, they didn't have any money for FX. He was basically just holding a set of jumper cables. I cashed in a favor down in the film lab and pulled an interpositive of that scene. I cut back and forth between the print image and a negative image to have SOMETHING going on. Jeez...

How anyone could sit through that God-awful mess is beyond my scope of understanding. Hats off, mate!

I don't mind if you put my comments out there as long as you mention what great guys Cullen and Budd were. Budd and I got drunk together one night and talked comics endlessly...

Doug and I have never met, but he did participate in one of my life's shining moments. John and I were preparing to tape another episode of THE ONLY THING ON, a weekly TV gig we were doing for KBSI-TV in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. I knew who Doug was and that he was working as an editor in Dallas. This day, John mentioned that Doug was cutting the latest Fred "The Hammer" Williamson movie, it might have been STEELE'S LAW. So, for the heck of it, John called Doug at work.

"How's Fred?"
"Fred's great. You wanna talk to him? He's sitting right here."

So John and I each spent five or ten minutes just chatting with The Hammer. He and I talked a lot about Super Bowl I, in which Williamson played as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, but I had just recently seen THREE THE HARD WAY, and I told him how great it was. He brought up the "sequel", ONE DOWN TWO TO GO, which he claimed was the most-stolen videocassette from video stores in the world, apparently because it was so awesome that customers had to own it for themselves. I have no idea whether that's true (a lot of what the colorful, charismatic Williamson says should be taken with a grain of salt), but I like to believe that it is. And now you can get ONE DOWN TWO TO GO on DVD, complete with an audio commentary track by The Hammer! I wonder if any of those are mysteriously missing from video store shelves?

Posted by Marty at 10:16 AM CST
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