Sunday, December 15, 2013

IT’S A TREMENDOUS LIFE


As my X-mas gift to you, I will unravel the true story behind the making of what could have been the greatest holiday picture of all time: Frank Capra’s IT’S A TREMENDOUS LIFE. So sit back, pour yourself a hot cup of cocoa, and follow the tragic tale that hindered my early career in Hollywood.

Brooklyn, 1945.  I was defending my the World Tag Team Championship with my partner Angel Perdido against the hefty Germanic tough man Gunter Gallahad and the foppish Gentleman Monty Armbruster.  Unbeknownst to me, Capra was in attendance scouting my every move for a possible picture. At the time, I had been in negotiations with other directors such as Orson Welles, John Ford, and toddler Martin Scorcese. But I was holding out for the right script.

And the right script turned out to be one Capra has just completed set during X-mas in upstate New York. And nothing screams rural upstate New York than burly Mexicans and wrestling.  Right? 


After the match, Capra met me backstage and showed me this synopsis:

"George Hailey has spent his entire life in Deadford Springs where he has sacrificed a career of travel and study to help taxi drivers, floozies and Italians buy affordable homes. Dragged down by his selfish family, including a senile syphilitic uncle, a mouth-kissing marriage-obsessed mother, and a skirt-chasing Army-guy-saving jerk brother, he becomes trapped in an uneventful small town life.

The remains of pure f*cking brilliance.
Constantly in conflict with the Scrooge-like bowling alley baron Mister Pooter, George is unable to prevent the rich old kingpin from taking over the entire town. All that he has is a moldy old building and loan company, which was founded by his dopey stroke-prone father (deceased).

George eventually marries a pretty hot lady named Mary who turns out to be a baby factory and saddles poor ol' George with five rugrats (including one dangerously obsessed with flowers), a drafty old house, and an ass-load of a mortgage. Also there's this guy who torments him with donkey impressions. 

Blink and you'll miss me in SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS.
One Christmas Eve, George's Uncle Willy drops the company's total assets down a street gutter while on his way to spend it on hookers and lollipops. Pooter retrieves the money and hides it from the Haileys hoping to put them out of business.  George realizes that he will be held responsible, be sent to jail, and lose the business. But at least he'd be away from those caroling posey-sniffing brats. In a whiskey-drenched moment of realization he believes luscious Mary will be better off without him and he contemplates suicide.

George wanders to a nearby bridge and prepares to jump. But the prayers of his loved ones result in the appearance of angel El Tremendo who has been sent help George. Unable to convince George that pills is a quicker alternative to drowning, Tremendo tries a different tactic. He shows George what things would have been like if he had never been born.

MIRACLE ON TREMENDOUS STREET, another unmade dud.
In a well-shot, widescreen vision in which the Pooter-controlled town has efficient trains, milk fountains, and lots of Dunkin Donuts, George discovers that his family and friends are pretty much the same, only with sturdier bones and protruding guts. But George ultimately decides suicide is not the answer when he finds Mister Pooter nailing Mary harder than an Amish barn. 

In the end, El Tremendo transports George to a mystical wrestling ring, trains him in the ways of lucha libre complete with Frank Stallone soundtrack, and returns him to Deadford Falls where he chokes out Mister Pooter, gets the money back, and makes baby #6.”

I was sold. Capra got Jimmy Stewart to play George, but only one scene was shot: the first meeting between El Tremendo and George after his rescue where I try to convince him I'm a otherworldly messenger of a God who still thinks wrestling is real. The next day I was informed that I was out of the picture. They dumped me, re-titled it, hired another guy as the angel, and completely perverted Capra’s initial vision into some nonsense about a spiritual journey to discover the value of familiar love, mapping your own destiny, and the joy of giving to others blah blah blah.

Luckily, the reworked IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE wasn't a big hit and no one has ever heard or seen it multiple times over and over again every frickin' year since. But at least...

... I'll always have my MEAN GIRLS cameo.

Friday, October 18, 2013

DEADLY DREAMS (1988)


THE CARD:

Mitchell Anderson, Juliette Cummins, Xander Berkeley, Thom Babbes, and a bucket of deer face. 

Please Note: It’s not a dream!  It’s not a dream!  It’s SPOILERS!

THE ANGLE:

X-mas Eve, a while back.  In the home of a the wealthy Torme family, young Alex waits for Santa and begs to open his presents as his parents hem and haw over the youngster’s enthusiasm.  But ungodly terror disrupts the holiday fun when a killer in a deer mask breaks into the house and shotguns Mom and Dad.

Rudolph had a very shiny nose...of vengeance.
The boy survives the ordeal and years later, he grows up to be college student Alex (Anderson).  We learn that the killer was a rival of his father who bankrupted his business. Alex still struggles with the memories of that tragic night while pursuing a career as a writer.

They nailed it.
But Alex has to deal with pressure from his older brother Jack (Berkeley) to join the family business while he's tormented nightly by dreams where the deer-masked killer hunts him down and …

Shoots ol' Jack,
Slices his throat,
And, um, other things.
Meanwhile, Alex’s jokester pal Danny (Babbes) fun-lovingly pokes fun at his friend’s tragic past.

Not cool, bro.
Fortunately, a diversion from bad dreams, tortured prose, and shitty friends arrives in the form of Maggie (Cummins), a cute dancer with a dream and a smile who unfortunately has lousy gift-giving skills.

"Um, thanks?"
Things get complicated when Jack accuses Maggie of being a gold-digger and Danny is suspected of secretly drugging Alex to alleviate his nightmares.  All of this creates a rift between the four that intensifies Alex’s psychosis further when he starts to see the killer in real life.

Louis C.K. was right.
But there’s something more sinister at work within the illusions of Alex’s dreams.  Something dirty and nasty and deceitful.  And it’s up to Alex to escape this wide awake nightmare and solve the riddle and learn the true identity of the deer-face killer.

Oh, and get the laundry done.

THE FINISHER:

Deadly Dreams is a nifty thrifty little thriller, an unexpected surprise found in a box of VHS cheapies. Based on the box cover and the title, you would expect the movie to be a Nightmare on Elm Street inspired flick like Bad Dreams, Sleepstalker, Shocker, and Candyman which – don’t panic – all vary in quality from bad to good to great. But this movie is decidedly not another quippy Freddy Krueger exercise.  Despite a TV-movie feel and lead Anderson as the oft-screechy protagonist, the cast delivers solid performances especially the stalwart and always reliable Xander Berkeley (24, Terminator 2, and the classic Magma: Volcanic Disaster) who is as scummy and delightfully repellent as always.  They are all amiably directed and keep a thin plotline afloat until the very end.  Speaking of the end, it’s revealed that Jack was behind Alex’s torment in order to get to his inheritance which is really messed up, that is until the REALLY messed up surprise ending added a twist to the relative torturing another for money routine.  Deadly Dreams is a neat little psychological puzzler that wisely side-steps slasher conventions, delivers some genuine scares, and wraps everything up under ninety minutes.
   
EL T’S HORROR MARATHON ADVICE:

If you’re doing a Halloween marathon, I’d schedule Deadly Dreams early because it’s engaging enough to hold your attendees’ attention and it’s short enough to allow you sneak away and trick-or-treat, snatch candy bags, or get murdered by a disgruntled employee.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

HIDE AND GO SHRIEK (1988)

THE CARD:

Scott Kubay, Sean Kanan, Donna Baltron, Scott Fults, Ria Pavia, Bunky Jones, Brittain Frey, Judy Ramteize, and Mikey the Misleading MacGuffin.

Please Note: Not Olly-Olly-Oxen-Spoiler-Free!

THE ANGLE: 

Summer, 1988. A masked killer stalks the streets in search of easy prey.

Also, the latest G.I. Joes.
Meanwhile, high school is over. A group of bored white teens in Reagan’s America want to go nuts, have some fun, and cut-loose-footloose or whatever the hell kids did back then. The gals prepare for their big night out by hanging out in my sister’s room.

"And he wears that mask, like, everywhere! GRODY!!!"
While the guys engage in gleeful homoerotic shenanigans. 

"One day, our kids will call this bro-something!"
So the gang plans a night out of raising Hell, adult beverages consumption, and the losing of their virginity and virdignity in a dark and depressing furniture warehouse.

JUST LIKE WE DID IN THE 80S! WOOOOO!!!
Meanwhile, a creepy loading dock worker who the owner allows to sleep in the warehouse gradually becomes aware of the horny devilishness and randy goings-on happening elsewhere in the building.  

"But first, I gotta work out my stranglin' hand."
So the teens decide to up the ante on the evening’s tomfoolery and start a game of hide and seek in the warehouse that’s filled with the eeriest mannequins this side of Kim Cattrall.

Unfortunately, this is not the only wooden performance in this movie. Thank you! Thank you!
And soon the maniac who lurks in the shadows hunts the coitus-engaged teens and picks them off by various means such as:

Bathroom sink drowning.
Elevator decapitation.
And staring directly into this guy's chest. (Thank you.)
As an added bonus, the killer likes to dress up like his victims post-kill. 

"I just murdered Tim Curry!"
In the end, the surviving members of the humpy-pumpy massacre discover the haunting link between who they thought was the killer (creepy warehouse guy) and the real killer.  And it’s perhaps one of the most unsettling but remarkable resolutions of any 80s slasher I have ever seen (except for Sleepaway Camp). Yeah.

"Really? That's the ending? GHAACCK!"
THE FINISHER:

Sure you can call Hide and Go Shriek just another cookie-cutter 80s slasher movie, yet another clone of other successful slashers like the seminal Halloween and Friday the 13th series with hypersexual teens and a generic psycho devoid of believable murderous ambition. Sure, go ahead. I dares ya!  But this bare bones basic and abjectly low budget movie somehow manages to be entertaining and – dare I say it – rise above its fundamental horror movie formula. First of all, the performances are worthy of note. The kids physically and verbally interact with one another naturally and with ease, almost as if they were real life friends who were oblivious to the rolling camera. This is highly unusual for a subgenre that emphasizes gore and cheap thrills over actual character development. They engage in authentic-sounding conversations with each other and not all of them end up in the sack. For example, the requisite “annoying joker” character drops his a-hole shtick when alone with his girlfriend and actually ends up respecting his her desire to hold off on sex. Yeah, it was weird, but unexpectedly appreciated. Don't get me wrong; the movie's got plenty of boobies. Plenty, my friend. Unfortunately, all this character progression is canceled out by the cringe-inducing killer plot resolution. As you may have guessed above, the loading dock creep (an ex-convict) is a red herring. The killer is revealed to be his former “prison bitch” who is still love with him and is slaughtering people to protect their life together, which in addition to making no friggin’ sense, is ridiculously and grossly homophobic. I can only surmise that the filmmakers were aiming at either "honest" or comedic commentary on relationships but the result is instead pretty gross. The producers also had the cajones to set up a sequel with the killer surviving his brutal demise. Fortunately, Hide and Go Shriek II: The Faggening did not happen.  

EL T’S HORROR MARATHON ADVICE:

Sorry, but I cannot recommend Hide and Go Shriek for a horror movie marathon unless you have folks over who are interested in watching a historical example of pop culture homophobia that falsely purported the belief that them gays are coming to slay our virgins.  (Tea Partiers: please read the opposite of the preceding sentence).

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

NIGHTFLYERS (1987)

THE CARD:

Catherine Mary Stewart, Matthew Praed, John Standing, Lisa Blount, Glenn Withrow, James Avery, Helene Udy, Annabel Brooks, and Michael Des Barres. 

Bonus Match: Based on a snack in between lunches by George R.R. Martin.

Please Note: In space, no one can hear SPOILERS.

THE ANGLE:

In the future, a hodgepodge group of experts including biologists, astrophysicists, and of course, psychics board a mysterious space ship to encounter something called “Volcryn”, a rare cosmic event that ends up being just a hula-hoop on fire (this spoils nothing).  The ship is called Nightflyer and is so awesome and futuristic, you’ll want to punch Syd Mead in the face.

The Nightflyer (formerly S.S. Pottery Barn Steam Iron)
Psychics are needed because the head scientist D’Brannin (Standing) believes that Volcryn has intelligence and may be the key to finding extraterrestrial, non-hula-hoop shaped life. This team of bickering scientists is managed by Project Coordinator Miranda (the lovely Stewart) who classes up the dump with her mere presence.

Rest assured that even in the far future, the 1980s are not forgotten.
The group soon discovers that the Nightflyer does not have a crew and is controlled by a sentient hologram named Royd (Praed). Royd falls in love with Miranda and contemplates his existence and desire to leave the ship. This disturbs the crew immensely, especially the tightly wound psychic Linderman (Des Barres), because this is the future and cool futurey innovations like self-aware holograms in control of enormous space ships who pitch a virtual tent for a honey are not to be trusted in the future.

Unless it's at Coachella.
So more bickering and a lot of blah-blah-blah about the objectives of the mission ensue.  Whittling away the hours and the first two acts on the voyage to Volcryn, the Nightflyer passengers ...

Vamp in the hallways...

Sip wine and whine...

And, um, do other stuff.
But something sinister is seething within the walls of the Nightflyer, and it’s not Chef Darryl’s fried octopus platter. By the way, Chef Darryl is played by James Avery, aka Fresh Prince’s Uncle Phil.

"Yeah, Will? Can you get me out of this buuullshit?"
We discover that the Nightflyer was designed by a woman named Adara and that her spirit, or her artificial intelligence gone haywire, or something *SNORT* something is the true force behind the ship.  Feeling threatened by Royd and Miranda's burgeoning relationship, she hunts and kills each member of the team with lasers, robot arms, and gravitational compression (pending approval by Neil deGrasse Tyson). Eventually, Miranda learns that Royd is not just a hologram but an actual person who is held prisoner somewhere deep in the ship.

And he's got a nasty bout of crotch lightning.
Oh yeah, we also discover that Royd is Adara’s biological son who describes his relationship with her as a “companion and a lover”.

Goddamn you, George R. ARRRGGGHHH!
Momma Adara takes on a humanoid form and and is like a total party pooper and takes son/boyfriend to the woodshed for a talkin’ to.

"That Cersei biatch got nothing on me!"
But Royd ain't having it and so he and Miranda must confront the spirit/ghost, hologram/monster, Mom/thing/stuff.

"THERE CAN BE ONLY SON!"

THE FINISHER:

Nightflyers is a weird movie. It’s slow, confusing, and flat.  I’m sure the original book by George R.R. Martin spends more time expanding on its themes of artificial intelligence, extraterrestrial life, and banging good ole Mom, but this adaptation falls flat and feels incomplete. The movie's inconsistent tone and muddled plot points suggest a troubled production and a difficult adaptation of the original material. The first half seems endless and padded with relentless scenes of gibberish and unnecessary exposition and a generous helping of overacting. But Nightflyers hints at bigger ambition as it is influenced by ideas and visuals from preceding films 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Alien.  Some of the movie’s more interesting elements presages future films like Event Horizon (possession and cosmic terror) and Prometheus (robot surgery and nonsense).  It wants to be a big science fiction romance about a couple whose love is spurned by Mom who just happens to be a huge fricking space ship. The end result is cheeseball sci-fi with failed attempts at horror that most of the time look like 80s perfume commercials and Air Supply videos.

"We made this movie ... out of nothing at all."
Nightflyers’ good points are its nostalgic video-age feel and brave New Wave aesthetic combined with the presence of the underrated Catherine Mary Stewart, star of 80s classics Night of the Comet and The Last Starfighter.  I would only recommend the film if you are space horror and/or Stewart and/or Uncle Phil completist.

EL T’S HORROR MARATHON ADVICE:

If you’re doing a Halloween marathon, I would schedule this film early in the evening and possibly with the sound low so the old timers you invited can ogle the short hairdos, floral print blouses, and other 80s oddities. Also, it’s not very scary.  That is, unless, outer space incest is scary.

Monday, October 7, 2013

WITHOUT WARNING (1980)

THE CARD: 

Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Tarah Nutter, Christopher S. Nelson, Lynn Theel, Cameron Mitchell, Neville Brand, David Caruso, Larry Storch, Darby Hinton, and Kevin Peter Predator Harry Alien Hall. 

Bonus Match: Dean Cundey cinematography.

Please Note: Here, there be SPOILERS.

THE ANGLE: 

A hunter (Mitchell) wanders the woods and tries to either man-up his hippy son Randy (Hinton) with some hunting or murder him.  Seriously, he points the rifle at the guy’s head when he’s not looking and fantasizes about blowing it off.  Ah, 70s parenting.  Unfortunately, before the attaining of masculinity through skinning skewy wabbits can begin, the old man gets offed by a bloodsucking flying pancake.

Easy on the pus syrup, please.
And soon flower-power Randy ends up an alien pancake breakfast as well.

Daddy didn't love my lazy eye-hole!
Deadly creatures who can attack at will and suck the live out of you are infesting the lake.  What do we do? Get laid, of course!  Sorta-kinda teens Greg (Nelson), his buddy Tom (Caruso), Tom’s squeeze Beth (Theel) and sweetie pie Sandy (Nutter) decide to hit the lake and hop into an airtight junky serial killer vehicle which in those days were known as “vans”.  And yes, seriously it’s that David Caruso in an early role.

DISCLAIMER: No sunglasses were dramatically removed in the making of this film.
They stop for gas at the perfunctory rural creepy gas station where they are treated to a perfectly normal and pleasant encounter and conversation with locals Sarge (Landau) and Joe (Palance) who are normal and do not do un-normal things at all.  

See? Normal.
Perfectly, um, normal.
Bugged-eyed and close to tears, Joe warns them about the dangers at the lake and urges them not to go. They take his advice thoughtfully and cautiously with the utmost concern for one another’s safety.  Once they arrive at the lake, Tom and Beth get to bangin’, while the awkward Greg gets to know the pretty and soft Sandy.  Meanwhile, a Scout Leader (Storch) hikes around the lake with his rowdy and sarcastic Cub Scout troop.

They all received an "F". (Thank you! Thank you!)
So yeah then Storch gets a toothy flying omelet up the keister and suddenly Sandy and Greg can’t find Tom and Beth, that is until they stumble across their bodies strung up like beef hides in a nearby shack.

Ready to tenderize!
There is cause for concern. So our young heroes rush back to the creepy gas station which is now a creepy bar where the locals gape in disbelief at their story.  Well, except for Joe and Sarge.  

And he'll have to explain those pants. (Thank you!)
Loony Sarge thinks it’s an alien invasion and that Sandy and Greg are part of the conspiracy.  Joe is more grounded in his whiskey-soaked presumptions.  He merely believes that there is something out there hunting people down and that it is using the gut-sucking flesh Frisbees to paralyze its prey.  And he knows how to stop them and it.

Believe it, or ... well, you know.
It’s 1980.  There are no cell phones, Lyft cabs, #HolyShitAliens hashtags, or Abrams computer lens-flares to help.  Hell, Men At Work won’t break out in the states for another year.  So it’s up to crazy hobo Sarge, vaguely Matthew Star-ish Greg, likeable twist-knot-top-attired Sandy, and the very normal Joe to stand up to the menace from the stars that came … hence the title. 

All I can tell you is that the line “Push the plunger, Sandy!” will haunt you.

THE FINISHER:

Probably all you need to know about director Greydon Clark (Uninvited) and Without Warning can be found in his tellingly-titled book On the Cheap which I am plugging here for no reason.  Really.  I’ve been wanting to watch Without Warning since I saw the trailer at the drive-in back in the days when you didn’t need to use Wikipedia to look up “drive-in”.  (Seriously, if you don’t know what a drive-in is, why are you even reading this?  Also, you can read?).  I kid.  The trailer scared the baby luchador crap of out me. Check out the trailer here.  Cool, huh?  Why don’t they make trailers like that anymore?  Why are there no more drive-ins?  What is Wikipedia?  Forgive an old man.  Like most of director Clark’s horror movies, Without Warning runs a tad over 100 minutes, has a creepy atmosphere provided by 80s ubiquitous cinematographer Cundey (Back to the Futures), but unfortunately is padded with slow-paced scenes.  The gore is standard to pretty good but doesn't exceed beyond the frightful sight of burnt cinnamon buns oozing boogers.  But what’s very much remarkable about the movie is the cast.  Firstly, it features the Olivier of monster actors, he late great Kevin Peter Hall who portrays the creature who controls the killer flying bloodsuckers like an outer space ninja. Here’s a shot of the man in action:

ACTING!
Hall would go on to play Harry from Harry and the Hendersons, the title character in Monster in the Closet, and, of course, Predators in both Predator and Predator II. Then you have the team of Landau and Palance who ham it up like Karloff and Lugosi only without the mutual hatred or threats of sniffing shit. They would next team up in the remarkable Jack Sholder movie Alone in the Dark (1982) with Donald Pleasance and Dwight Schultz of A-Team fame. Please see that one as well.  The movie also features a cast of stars from a range of my favorite movies including Theel (Humanoids from the Deep), Ralph Meeker (Paths of Glory), and Neville Brand (Riot in Cell Block 11). By the way, you can see Without Warning for free here.  Oh wait, that is the 1994 CBS TV about a fake newscast about meteor heading for Earth which was shown on Halloween night that year. You can see that one, but I think you will have more fun watching Greydon Clark’s Without Warning, which I did. 

EL T’S HORROR MARATHON ADVICE:

If you’re doing a Halloween marathon, I would schedule this one in the middle, especially if you have hungry sleepyheads with short attention spans over.  The long stretches of padded scenes will allow your guests to get up and stretch themselves.  Also, serve pancakes with butterscotch pudding and raspberry jam.

You'll know why.