DAY 26. THERE’S SOMETHIN’ IN THEM THAR HILLS: Twangy cringers from the backwoods and by-waters.
After seeing Joe Bob Briggs “How Rednecks Saved Hollywood,” the entire B&S About Movies team mobilize and celebrated these films, from a Letterboxd list to making our own picks for top 70’s good ol’ boys movies. But to be honest, we watched so many of these movies, where would we find something new to answer the Scarecrow Challenge for one more day?
Canada, with your tax shelters and movies that are far north of odd, remains our constant bastion and perhaps place to run to after next November.
Director Peter Carter also made a movie called High-Ballin’ and it wasn’t a porno, instead a trucking film, so we need to respect the artist coming in.
Five doctors go on vacation deep in the Northern Ontario wilderness. Every year, one of them gets to pick where they go and this time, it’s D.J. who gets to be travel agent. He takes the guys to the Cauldron of the Moon, which was a practical location that had been created by a fire a few years earlier.
According to the natives, this is where the earth collided with the moon and it hsould be a place of magic, but it’s really just a place for the doctors to get drunk and argue about their lives, their ethics and, well, just argue.
As our guys wake up for another day of cutting up, they end up getting cut up in a much different way. That’s because everyone’s boots have been stolen. I guess these guys never listened to Iron Maiden or cowboy lore.
D.J. had said, time and again, being a backup pair of boots, and he ended up being the only one that did so. That means he has to go back alone through he dangerous woods and bring back four pairs of boots. As the guys wait for their friend, they’re soon confronted by the carcass of a dead deer before they also discover a severed head. That’s a real dead deer, by the way, in case you think the Italians are the only ones willing to sicken you with autentic snuffed out animals on celluloid.
Harry (Hal Holbrook) takes charge, but it seems as if the past — and all the mistakes with it — have come back to haunt the rest of the group.
While this movie was obviously inspired by Deliverance, it’s also a proto-slasher, with a killer setting traps in the woods that predates the work of Cropsey, Madman Marz and Pamela Vorhees’ little man.
You have a lot of options if you want to see this movie. You can watch this on the Internet Archive for free. Or you can allow our friends at Mill Creek to help with either their Drive-In Movie Classics: 50 Movie Pack or Horror Classics: 100 Movie Pack. However, the best version is available from Ronin Flix, who have the Scorpion Releasing blu ray re-release of this.
DAY 25 Vanishing Cities: One with gentrification or real estate development as the setting, also known as a Slasher Month two-kills-with-one-swipe-of-the-blade-studded-plunger entry
You’re David Mickey Evans: A budding screenwriter that wants to break into the business with two, deeply personal screenplays—Radio Flyer (1990) and The Sandlot (1993)—that enrapture the innocence of your childhood and lifelong love of baseball.
Yeah, right kiddo. It’s time for a Hollyweird reality check.
You’re trying to “make your break” during the slasher ‘80s. And this is the movie business—the operative word being business—and La-La Land stands at the foot of Mount Lee to make money, kid. And they’re not here to give people the warm fuzzies about their lost childhood.
So you come to the realization you’ll have to write “for the marketplace,” which means you end up as a writer-for-hire on a WarGames (1983) knock-off. . . .
“Kids and computers, kid. Kids and computers. Smart-ass teen hackers and kiddie tech nerds sell tickets,” stogie-belches the studio fat cat as he perches his wing-tipped spats on his ostentatious oak desk. “But give me a My Science Project (1985) or The Manhattan Project (1986), kid; not a shit-storm Prime Risk (1985). And none of that personal childhood crap. You want to relive your baseball dreams, go play a pick-up game in Griffith Park and gander at The Hollywood Sign from afar. And I want action with those smart-ass remarks and no introspective statements about man losing his humanity to technology, either. Now get out of here, kid. I have a ‘nooner’ coming in, I mean, I’m casting a part.”
And the executive cheeses that script with a “design” for the poster of what becomes Terminal Entry (1987): Black-clad terrorist dudes superimposed-running across and attacking an IBM PC, complete with a Tom Cruise Risky Business-inspired smart ass wearing a chef’s hat in the background.
But Terminal Entry worked out reasonably well on cable and home video, so you’re hired to complete uncredited re-writes on a sci-fi clunker, Class of 1999 (1990; sequel to the superior Class of 1984). Again, the end product wasn’t so great, but it did reasonably from a financial, if not critical, standpoint.
So now the wing-tipped fat cats are willing to take a look at those two “personal” screenplays. And you’ve become the toast of Hollywood as one of the highest paid screenwriters of the ‘90s, with sales of over $1 million for each script.
Yes. The million-dollar scribe behind two of the ‘90s highest paid, and most brilliant, fresh screenplays broke into the business with his screenwriting debut: a slasher script, Multiple Listings. And since were talking David Mickey Evans: I’ll roll the benefit-of-the-doubt dice and gamble his screenplay was once an intelligent statement on class struggle inspired by the literary classics The Grapes of Wrath, Great Expectations, and The Great Gatsby: a statement—with horror overtones—regarding the plight of the homeless and their harsh treatment against the materialistic, narcissistic ignorance of L.A’s high society. (A concept that is not that far off the mark of what 1974’s Homebodies—see my upcoming “Scarecrow Challenge Day 31” review—tried to accomplish, only regarding the plight of the elderly vs. real estate greed.)
And if Open House was lensed by John Carpenter and washed in a stylized Dario Argento giallo color palate or went the Umberto Lenzi trashy-scuzzy route of Nightmare Beach and Hitcher in the Dark (both 1989). And maybe if William Lustig of Maniac (1980) fame got a hold of Multiple Listings as a precursor to his home video slasher-classics Relentless and the Maniac Cop series. Maybe then we’d have a stylized-slasher romp that, like Maniac, left such a strong impression on the rental market, it’d be the subject of a remake, like Maniac (2012), and all of the 21st century Halloween inversions.
But alas: Your screenplay falls into the hands of Indian-American exploitation writer-director Jag Mundra. And it becomes his first American feature film résumé bullet in a long list of exploitive horror and erotic thrillers that he churned out for the U.S direct-to-video market: Hack-o-Lantern (1988; aka Halloween Night; ugh, you can’t fool us), The Jigsaw Murders (1990), and Night Eyes (1990; Andrew Stevens and Tanya Roberts—you see where that ditty is going). And Mundra’s soft-core pseudo-porn roster, tailor made for Showtime late-night cable viewing, goes on and on: Last Call, Legal Tender, Wild Cactus, Tropical Heat, Improper Conduct, Irresistible Impulse, etc.
Now Mundra’s propensity for exploitive, late night soft-core pseudo-porn is important to note: While his films had a profitable “niche” and met a market demand, they are none-the-less, poorly (over) lit, cinematographically-flat productions. Yeah, the quality of Mundra’s oeuvre is analogous the porn movies shot by John Howard; himself an innovator of injecting extended bondage scenes into erotic adult films featuring fleshed-out characters and extended out-of-the-norm-for-porn plots. (See Spine, Howard’s ‘80s SOV slasher; newly reviewed for B&S Movies’ “October 2019 Slasher Month,” coming soon.)
Granted, Open House isn’t exactly an SOV frolic, and it’s not a Howard-lensed erotic potboiler or a porn film—but yikes—it is damn close to it. And David Mickey Evans deserved better. And star Joseph Bottoms (The Black Hole, The Intruder Within)—who fell from winning a 1975 Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year and working with Meryl Streep in the Emmy Award-winning mini-series, Holocaust (1978)—deserved better. And Carpenter’s then ex-wife, Adrienne Barbeau (Creepshow, The Fog; used to full marketing advantage on Open House), deserved better. (According to interviews, she took the film to “pay the bills,” in this case, her son’s tuition fees; god knows what financial straits Joe was in that made him take this real estate slasher.)
I know. I know. R.D, you’re off-the-rails, again. The truth is: This is a case of where the pre-production history of the off-the rails celluloid madness that is Cobra, Tango & Cash, and D-Tox is more interesting than the actual movie itself.
Another truth: The only reason I rented this real estate stinker is because it was set inside a radio station and, because of my career choice, I’m obsessed with radio station depictions in cinema. And I am a stuck up snob in regards to the inaccurate technical depictions of radio stations in film. And outside of A Matter of Degrees, FM, and Outside Ozona (which aren’t technically perfect themselves), most of those radio flicks are epic fails. (Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio (1988) and Kevin Costner’s The Upside of Anger (2005) are the exceptions to the rule.)
Thankfully, Sam B’s talk radio psychologist, Dr. David Kelley, unlike most movie jocks, wears a set of headphones when he opens a microphone—and doesn’t pick up an actual phone to take on-air calls (it creates a “feedback” loop that’ll squeal-your-ears-to-bleed). It seems the production benefited from some free technical advice, courtesy of the staff of KRTH 101.1 “K-Earth 101” Los Angeles that rented out a spare studio to the shoot—so Open House has its realistic studio depictions going for it. But that technical accuracy isn’t enough to overlook the film’s porno-rate acting. It’s bad. Like pick-an-SOV ‘80s horror film, bad. Like Blood Cult inept. Like Spine awful.
Uh, plot please, R.D?
So, Los Angeles, instead of being plagued by Lawrence Aston’s (of Spine) nurse-hating spine-ripper behind “The Linda Murders,” we have a faceless, scruffy hulk-of-a-homeless man, dubbed “The Open House Killer,” who likes to chow down at the to-be crime scenes on a can of dog food (he leaves the can as a “calling card”) before he gives the agents a taste of his razor blade-adorned plunger-to-the-face. But he’s not against changing up his M.O with an electrocution, a hanging, an axe decapitation, and a good ‘ol fashioned neck snap by bare hand (each utterly lacking in suspense or shock).
And what’s Ms. Barbeau have to do with all of this? She runs the real estate office supplying the bodies—and the “kill list” via a real estate listing callously dumped into the back alley trash. And Harry the Homeless (Darwyn Swalve, who’s actually very good here; he went toe-to-toe with Paco Querak! as Anatola Blanco in Hands of Steel!) calls his kills into Dr. Dave’s show, “Survival Line,” on KDRX radio because Barbeau is Dr. Dave’s squeeze. (Hey, Snake is the one who called her a “squeeze,” first.)
“I got something to say. I want to make a statement, man,” smacks the dog food-caked lips of Harry the Homeless slasher, he of the razor blade-adorned plunger.
Not in this movie, Harry. Not in this movie. Alas, you’re not a slasher-champion for social injustice, a la Tom Joad, Pip Pirrip, or Nick Carraway. And your statement is that, while you were an intriguing David Mickey Evans-penned antagonist-cum-protagonist on paper, you ended up being just another misunderstood, Grade-Z slasher.
Welcome to the house of tedium that you’re dying to get out of. Close the door on this open house. Watch the full film at your own peril.
About the Author:You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.
DAY 25. VANISHING CITIES: One with gentrification or real estate development as the setting.
I was just discussing slasher movies and their lack of blackness with one of my friends last week and we struggled to come up with many movies where there was a black killer. Sure, there’s Snoop Dogg’s turn in Bones, which is pretty much a remix of J.D.’s Revenge. Then we remembered — Candyman.
Bernard Rose has directed some really interesting films, like 1988’s dark fantasy of growing up Paperhouse. He was also behind the videos for Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” and “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” before he met with Clive Barker, expressing interest in adapting the story “The Forbidden.”
While the original story is more of an examination of the Birtish class system, Rose moved his story to the inner city of Chicago, where he could better focus on the racial, social and cultural divides of America. Some of its story was inspired by journalist Steve Bogira’s articles about the murder of Ruthie Mae McCoy in Chicago’s Abbot Homes housing project. In particular, the detail that she was murdered by someone who entered her apartment through the opening behind her medicine cabinet becomes an integral part of this story.
Amazingly, Eddie Murphy was the original choice for the titular role, but he was too expensive for the production. Enter Tony Todd. He told IGN that despite fears of being typecast, “I’ve always wanted to find my own personal Phantom of the Opera.” As he was concerned about the threat of being stung by the numerous bees he would contend with, he negotiated a bonus of $1,000 for every sting he suffered during filming. He’s a smart man — he ended up earning an extra $23,000.
Not to name drop, but I had the honor of working with Todd when he came to Pittsburgh to inaugurate the Pittsburgh Public Theater with a performance of August Wilson’s King Hedley II. I’d written a radio commercial promoting it and instead of struggling with a casting agency to discover the right voice, I inquired if Todd would be willing to do the recording session. He was happy to promote the play, as he’d acted in the same play on Broadway. However, the PPT had one condition.
I was told, “No matter what, please do not mention that horror movie he was in.”
I replied, “Do you mean The Crow or the remake of Night of the Living Dead?” Nobody got the joke.
So cut to me standing on the sidewalk of Liberty Avenue, waiting outside Todd’s hotel. Talk about nerve wracking. Suddenly, he was ten feet away from me, his six foot five inch frame even more imposing in person.
“Do we have time for a salad? I’m dying for a salad.”
Not the first thing you’d expect to come out of Candyman’s mouth.
Literally we were ten feet down the street, on the way to a restaurant, when someone jumped in his way and started yelling “Candyman! Candyman! Candyman!” He laughed a jovial chuckle, signed a quick autograph and I said, “They told me you hated that movie and I shouldn’t mention it.”
He smiled and said, “Look, the first one is great. The second one isn’t bad. The third one? You gotta put your kids’ in college. I’m always happy to talk about a movie that let me live the life I live today.”
Of all the moments in my professional career, there is truly nothing quite like closing your eyes and hearing Tony Todd’s deep voice intone your words.
Thanks for indulging me. Back to Candyman.
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is a Chicago graduate student researching urban legends. She learns of the Candyman, a demon that appears whenever you say his name five times into a mirror, at which point he’ll stab you with the hook where his right hand once was. This tale is remarkably similar to the story of Mary Black from my rural hometown of Ellwood City, PA.
She begins to investigate the murder of Ruthie Jean, a resident of the Cabrini-Green housing project who two cleaning ladies believe was killed by the Candyman. She’s not alone — 25 other people have been killed in similar fashion.
That night, Helen and her friend Bernadette Walsh (Kasi Lemmons, who was in Silence of the Lambs and would go on to direct The Caveman’s Valentine) do the ritual, saying Candyman’s name into a mirror. Nothing happens.
As Helen begins her thesis: Candyman is a way to cope with the despair that Chicago’s African-Americans feel as they struggle to survive in the projects. A professor shares the story of Candyman’s origins, which begin with him as the son of a slave who would soon become free and known for mass-producing shoes. He grew up free and became an artist of some fame before marrying a white woman in 1890; however, her racist father hired a lynch mob that cut off his artistic hand, replaced it with a hook and smeared him with honey. The stings of bees nearly killed him before he was burned alive and his ashes scattered across he fields where the Cabrini-Green now exists.
As part of her study of the legend, Helen meets Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa A. Williams, Melrose Place) and a young boy named Jake, who tells her the story of a young boy who was castrated by the Candyman. Helen is attacked by someone when she visits the scene of the crime but her attacker is human. He’s arrested based on her testimony and the world thinks Candyman is gone.
That night, as Helen is getting into her car, the real Candyman appears. She’s made people think his legend isn’t true and now innocent blood must be spilled so that he may survive. Helen wakes up in Anne-Marie’s apartment, covered in blood. The dog has been beheaded and her son is missing, so she attacks Helen, who is arrested by the police.
At each turn, Candyman comes closer and closer to ending Helen’s life as he snuffs out the existence of everyone around her. After she’s committed for a month, a psychologist interviews her to see if she’s fit for trial as she’s suspected in the death of her best friend Bernadette. She offers to summon Candyman to the unbelieving doctor who is soon dead at the hands of the so-called urban legend. I love this scene, as the formerly disbeliving protagonist of this tale has willingly given in to the unreality that her world has become. As for her husband Trevor, he doesn’t care at all — he’s taken up with one of his students in her abscence.
Helen runs to Cabrini-Green where she discovers murals depicting the lynching of the human being who would become the Candyman. He appears and tells her to surrender to save the life of the child, offering her immortality as he opens his jacket, revealing an open ribcage filled with bees. He believes that Helen is truly his lover Caroline Sullivan, reincarnated and ready to become immortal at his side.
Candyman promises to release the child if Helen helps him incite more fear, but he decides that instead, he will set the entire projects on fire. She saves Anthony by shoving the monster into the flames of a bonfire before it takes her life too. The residents of the apartment building all attend her funeral, throwing numerous flowers and finally Candyman’s hook into her grave.
At the end, Trevor must face both grief and guilt in the mirror, where he says her name five times. As he turns, his wife has appeared, along with Candyman’s hook. As we return to the projects, the graffiti of Candyman has been replaced by a woman with her hair on fire. Helen has now become part of the immortal world of folklore.
The music for this film comes from minimalist composer Philip Glass, who was upset that the film came off as a low budget slasher. However, he told Variety in 2014, “It has become a classic, so I still make money from that score, get checks every year.”
Madsen is really amazing in this film and used hypnosis and a trigger word to make her even more frightened for her scenes with Todd. However, this process was too much for her so she didn’t use it for the entire movie. The two actors also took ballroom dancing classes together to create an element of romance between their characters.
There’s a new Candyman film coming from Jordan Peele, which will be a spiritual sequel set in the gentrified neighborhood that has replaced the Cabrini-Green projects. Lakeith Stanfield of the movie Sorry to Bother You will star as the now-adult Anthony, a visual artist who begins to study the legend of Candyman. Thankfully, Todd will return, as who else can play this role? The film is currently untitled, but the working name has been Say My Name.
Until that film comes out, you should grab the original and give it another watch. You can get the Shout! Factory blu ray, which is filled with extras and features a new 2K scan, or the Arrow UK blu ray, which requires a region free player. The fine folks at Diabolik DVD have it waiting for you.
Day 24 Short Attention Span Theatre: Watch some shorts or anthology things
This 24th day of Scarecrow Video of Seattle’s Psychotronic October Scarecrow Challenge of 31 movies in 31 days is tailor made for the binge-watchable sci-fi films at DUST (make your own anthology film!). Their portal features science fiction shorts from emerging filmmakers obsessed with aliens, robots, space exploration, technology, and the human experience in space.
There are so many great films that rival the imagination and budgets of most bloated Hollywood productions to be enjoyed on DUST. But I chose to review two films that eschew dialog. Films that successfully use subtext over dialog is an art form not easily mastered. And these two films are magna cum laude.
Writer/directors Colin West, of Pink Plastic Flamingos, and Marko Slavanic, of Project Skyborn, understand the pitfalls of including more dialogue than is necessary to convey a story. They understand that films conveying a tale with images and not words make for a more lasting impact.
Think about the perpetual jaw-drop you experienced with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Or being mesmerized by Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon (1956) and Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest for Fire (1981) and The Bear (1988). Or the captivation experienced with Kim Ki-duk’s 3 Iron (2004) and Moebius (2013).
Such are these two films.
Pink Plastic Flamingos
In my September 2019 “Post Apoc Month” reviews for the European dystopian dramas Kamikaze ’89 (1982) and Docteur M (1990), we discussed the detriment of technological controls against humanity.
That human-technological dependence on our phones and its related apps—that we use to complete the mundane tasks of ordering food, deciding what food we need to restock the fridge, or cleaning our floors (an iRobot Roomba makes an appearance in the film)—is addressed with Colin West’s sixth film. West, however, goes deeper with his technological statement: it’s also a satire on the drudgery of the domesticated housewife and the human-emotional disconnect.
Pink Plastic Flamingos is comedic tale about a man, his family . . . and his robot. George (Vince Major) hates daily chores. He hates mowing the lawn. Even making sure his daughter, Emma (Dylan Beam), is safe and secure in the car gets on his nerves. He hates any social obligation, even to his own wife, Marilyn (Sara Gorsky).
And how dare she leave a note for him to do the dishes. Then, with the foot bump of a Roomba (that speaks the film’s only “dialog”: a foretelling, “Caution”), George has an “aha” moment to rid him of these bothersome tasks.
So with a lawn mower, a computer, and car parts from his garage out steps a Futurama-by-way-of-Tony-Stark solution to all of his problems. Now he can relax in a lawn chair with a Styro-cooler and lounge at the pool.
And all is well until the robot takes over his life. And he loses is wife and daughter to the more attentive robot.
Technology: Be careful what you wish for.
The purpose of film is to suspend your disbelief and engage your mind. Such a film is the sci-fi actioner, Project Skyborn. As with Anton Doiron’s inventive, sci-fi-on-a-budget space pleasure cruise that is Space Trucker Bruce, Project Skyborn is a case of giving a filmmaker an easily eBay-acquired flight suit, a few feet of 25mm flexible electrical conduit, some hose-band clamps, and two Thermos flasks and you get a film that rivals any Matt Damon or Brad Pitt astroromp.
In this Oblivion meets Hunger Games mind bender, Astronaut 42 (William Buchanan, U.S TV’s NCIS “Devil’s Triad”) wakes up in a snowy, wooded landscape—possibly a moon of a distant planet. He’s been airdropped into a virtual reality game zone, equipped with a technologically-advanced rifle and a photograph. And the rifle’s on-display timer is counting down. And he’s just been acquired in a mysterious opponent’s crosshairs. Then an electronic voice advises how much “breathable oxygen” his suit has left. The first shot rings out. . . .
DUST is always looking for content. The future awaits at Facebook, Watch Dust, and DUST You Tube for science fiction filmmakers with fully completed, ready to watch films.
And speaking of anthologies: DUST edited an hour long “anthology” with a collection of recent sci-fi shorts from their library: Time is a Place, Telepathy, Atoms of Uncontrollable Silence, Falling Apart, Again, and The Two of Us.
Cockpit: The Rule of Engagement
Sara Gorsky of Pink Plastic Flamingos will soon star alongside Ronnie Cox (1972’s Deliverance, In the Line of Duty: The F.B.I Murders) in Demon Star, the feature film that grew from the award-winning short, Cockpit: The Rule of Engagement. You can learn more about the films of writer/director Jesse Griffith at Griffith Pictures You Tube.
About the Author:You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his works on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.
Banner Image by R.D Francis. Pink Plastic Flamingos image courtesy of Colin West. Center image courtesy Facebook DUST; manipulated by R.D Francis. Project Skyborn image is not an official poster; manipulation by R.D Francis based from still courtesy of Marko Slavanic; text courtesy of PicFont.
Day 24 Short Attention Span Theatre: Watch some shorts or anthology things(two-fers allowed)
My Dr. Jekyll promised that my celluloid Mr. Hyde would not spree a master thesis portmanteau for this Scarecrow Challenge with an embarrassing display of my obsessions for the British anthology oeuvre of Milton Subtosky and Freddie Francis. And my nostalgia for celluloid with Amicus and Hammer title cards. And of my indifference to most any modern horror omnibus patch-hack jobs lost in the shadows cast by Dead of Night (1945). And that I would not lecture you on the literary-influence minutiae of the Gothic short-fiction and anthologies of Ambrose Bierce, Sherdian Le Fanu, Nikolai Gogol, Gaston LeRoux and Guy de Mausspaunt, along with the psychological-fictions of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Yes, Goethe and Gogol were right: I’ll never be satisfied. I’ll never be satiated by any modern anthology of psychological, slasher, or British horror-cloned short stories patched together with an asthmatic-weak—or eschewing all together, a strong and crucial—linking device to hypnotically float the viewer through five chilling stories. Or short-sell me with three stories. Or arduously torture me with seven stories. We know that it’s cheaper to film three stories instead of five and it’s special effects-economical to shorten your tales and create seven stories. You can’t fool us.
An jidaigeki or “period drama,” this Japanese ghost tale is based Ugetsu Monogatari (Tales of Moonlight and Rain), an Edo-period 1776 collection of nine supernatural tales by the Japanese author Udea Akinari, itself based on supernatural tales from the Ming Dynasty (1300 to 1600s).
Unlike most anthologies working with a patchwork of three to five tales with no colligative narrative outside of a loose wrapping device, director Kenji Mizoguchi (you know his 1941 film The 47 Ronin via the 1994 Japanese and 2013 American remakes) chose to work with two segments from his literary inspiration: “House Amid the Thicket” and “Lust of the White Serpent.” He binds them as one fluid story—not two separate tales lacking a narrative-relationship beyond an antagonistic storyteller serving a comeuppance to the morally defective.
“Lust of the White Serpent,” with its tale about a succubus as an incognito princess who takes advantage of a man’s lustful desires and disloyalty, serves as the tale’s prologue, while “The House Amid the Thicket,” deals with a man who returns after a long absence on his greedy quest, only to meet the ghost of his dead wife. In addition to Udea’s book, Kenji wove Guy de Maupassant’s 1883 short-narrative Décoré!, a tale about a man who greedily sacrifices his family with his obsession to become a great, honored warrior: he does; and in “payment” his neglected wife becomes a prostitute.
Set in the 16th century, Genjūrō, a poor potter with greedy dreams, takes his wares into the city with his friend, Tōbei, who dreams of leaving his humble farming community to become a samurai. A sage warns Miyagi, Genjūrō’s wife, on the dangers of her husband’s greed and that he must work with the village to prepare for an attack. Genjūrō and dismisses the warning and instead works long hours to finish a pottery lot.
As predicted: the army destroys the village. Not even the aftermath of the attack that uprooted Genjūrō and Tōbei’s families squelches Genjūrō’s greed; he continues obsessing over achieving wealth through his wares. This takes the two families on a supernatural journey, as they first encounter a boat-stranded ghost across a fog-shrouded lake that warned them to go back to their homes; instead Genjūrō and Tōbei return their wives to shore and abandon them as they continue onward to sell the pottery. After taking his share of the profits, Tōbei buys samurai wares and becomes part of a clan. Meanwhile, his wife, Ohama, is raped by soldiers.
Not only greed envelops Genjūrō, but lust appears in the personification of a noblewoman and her female servant. They order several pieces of pottery on behalf of Lady Wakasa, as the cursed Kutsuki mansion that was attacked by soldiers that murdered all who live there, is being rebuilt. Lady Wakasa seduces Genjūrō; assuming his wife and child, in the midst of the upheaval in his land, are dead: he marries her. However, Miyagi and her son are, in fact, alive: she too is attacked by starving soldiers on the quest for food and she’s murdered with her son abandoned (and adopted by others).
The cowardly Tōbei, so desperate for fame, steals the severed head of a general to present to his commander. When he returns home to show his wife he achieved his goals, he discovers that, in order to survive in his absence, she became a prostitute.
Genjūrō meets his comeuppance as well. A priest tells him that the noblewoman is a ghost and Genjūrō discovers that his new wife, Lady Wakasa, and her servant are ghosts—and the Kutsuki mansion burned to the ground months prior. A broken man, he returns home to search for his wife, and he finds her, but comes to discover that, she too, is a ghost. She whispers to him, “I am always with you,” and he continues to make his wares, trapped by the outcome of his greed.
Ugetsu became available for the first time as Region 1 DVD in a two-disc DVD through The Criterion Collection (2005). For the horror fans across the pond: Eureka Entertainment issued a Region 2 DVD as part of their Masters of Cinema series (2008; 2012 Blu-ray). There’s a rip of the Criterion version on Daily Motion. VHS purists can search the aftermarket for the subtitled tape issued by Home Vision Entertainment.
You usually do not hear critics drop the words “beautiful” and “stunning” in the dark realms of horror anthologies (not even for the ’70 Amicus ones), but those other films aren’t Masaki Kobayashi’s hauntingly lush, 160-minute supernatural tale. He breaks away from the omnipresent five-story tales (and the cheap jack three-story tales) with an ingenious “nature” metaphor: he tells four stories set during a different season of the year. This celluloid feast for the senses of Japanese Edo-period horror tales (“Kwaidan” translates as Ghost Tales or Ghost Stories) are adapted from Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1903) by Greek short-story purveyor Lafacadio Hearn, who has a propensity for writing stories based on his love of the orient and his adopted home of New Orleans, Louisiana.
While many U.S horror fans, as with Ugetsu, have not heard of Kwaidan, Hollywood’s directors sure have: déjà vu is in full effect with these tales of Kobayashi’s masterpiece, which inspired many post-witch and vampire tales in its mists. In particular: Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990; the production team is also responsible for the EC Comics omnibus Creepshow 2) lifts Kwaidan’s second story (that’s missing from the 125 minute-chopped DVD reissue) for its own third story, which gooey-trashes Kobayashi’s ethereal vampire tale with a head-tearing incubus-gargoyle.
So caveat emptor ye consumer-shelf stuffers of physical media: While Kwaidan’s two hour forty minute run time grossly violates the Scarecrow Video “short attention span” edict for this 24th day of this Psychotronic Halloween celebration, avoid the 125-minute prints at all costs and stick with the original 160-minute version. Ah, but double caveat: the 1964 original, 183-minute edit is now commercially available.
The seasonal-supernatural linked tales begin—and harkens the earlier fate of Genjūrō and Miyagi in Ugetsu: In “The Black Hair”: A man leaves his faithful wife for his own adulterous pursuits, when he returns to her years later; he discovers she is a ghost.
In the next season, it’s the tale of “The Woman of the Snow” (the story that’s missing from the 125-minute print): A weary traveler who, as did Genjūrō, encounters his own “Lady Wakasa”; he’ll survive his encounter with the alluring vampire if he promises to never speak of her existence.
As the seasons change, we learn of the fate of “Hoichi the Earless”: A traveling madrigal doesn’t get what he expects when he covers his body in magical symbols to protect himself from evil spirits.
Finally, the seasons comes full circle “In a Cup of Tea”: A samurai quenches his thirst, only to discover he’s now possessed by a warrior’s ghost cast inside the teacup.
Janus Film’s The Criterion Collection completed a 2K restoration of Kwaidan (DVD and Blu-ray) of the original, three-hour Japanese version that was initially cut to 160 minutes for its 1965 U.S premiere. It’s the first time the 183-minute version has been commercially available. You can watch this restored version via the official You Tube page of Janus Films VOD and purchase direct from The Criterion Collection.
And while we’re talking Edo-period Japanese ghost-horror stories (but it’s not an anthology): I’d like to suggest Onibaba (1964; Demon Hag) as a companion watch to Ugetsu and Kwaidan. I will give you no plot spoilers on this masterpiece of horror. You can watch the trailer and the subtitled DVD rip on You Tube. Another masterpiece written and directed by Kaneto Shindo is the equally creepy Kuroneko (1968; The Black Cat). There’s no online rip, but you can watch the trailer on You Tube. You can learn more about Shindo and his two films with this 15 minute documentary on You Tube.
* Sadly, the embedded trailers and clips from the films are continuously deleted. Search for them on your preferred video hosting portal.
About the Author:You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.
DAY 24: Short Attention Span Theater: Watch some shorts or anthology things.
Jeff Burr and fellow director Kevin Meyer dropped out of USC to finish their American civil war drama Divided We Fall. Bur would follow that up with this film, which somehow got Vincent Price on board.
So how’d that happen? Burr would tell Michael Varatti, “The producer and I got his address from a celebrity address service, and we went up to his door with the script and a bottle of wine in hand.”
Amazingly, they weren’t shown the door. In fact, Price himself answered it. “He had every reason to ignore us, and even if it was on a polite level, he could have said, “Okay boys, contact my agent,” but he was just so gracious. He invited us in, sat and talked with us for about 15 minutes, took the script, and that’s how it all started.”
Other than Dead Heat, this would be Price’s last horror role.
As for Burr, he’d go on to direct Stepfather II, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Puppet Master 4 and 5: The Final Chapter, Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings and many more.
After watching an execution, reporter Beth Chandler travels to the small Tennessee town of Oldfield, where historian Julian White (Price) tells her four stories about the sinister past and present of the town.
First, a grocery clerk (Clu Gulager!) tries to win over his boss and all hell breaks loose. This segment may be why this movie was retitled The Offspring for its U.S. theatrical run.
Then, a wounded man (Terry Kiser, Bernie from Weekend At Bernie’s) learns the mysterious secret of eternal life.
In the third story — and perhaps the most intense — a glass eater falls for an innocent young girl and pays for it, thanks to his previous relationship with the carnival’s snake woman (Rosalind Cash, The Omega Man).
Finally, after a Civil War battle, Union Sgt. Gallen (Cameron Mitchell!) and his men discover that the town of Oldfield is populated by war orphans who they don’t take as seriously as they should.
Two-time Bond girl Martine Beswick — and Sister Hyde from Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde — shows up, as does Lawrence Tierney and Miriam Byrd Nethery (who would play Mama Sawyer in Burr’s Chainsaw film. It’s also the final role for Angelo Rossitto, who was Master in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, along with roles in Freaks, Galaxina, The Trip, Al Adamson’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein and so many more films.
While not as solid as an Amicus portmanteau, this certainly has its merits. You can check it out yourself on Vudu or order the blu ray from Shout! Factory.
DAY 23. A DAY AT THE BEACH: Be sure to bring your trunks and your tanning butter.
You can say that Umberto Lenzi’s films are trashy, sleazy paens to mayhem and gore. I won’t disagree with you. There’s Cannibal Ferox, a movie that tries to take that genre further and deeper than even I thought it could go. It worked, as its advertising proclaims that it’s “the most violent film ever made” and “banned in 31 countries.” Then there’s Ironmaster, where George Eastman wears a lionpelt on his head and murders his way through a ripoff of Clan of the Cave Bear that’s a million times better than the movie that inspired it. And then there’s Ghosthouse, a slasher haunted house film that’s baffling in its ridiculousness and willingness to get weirder and weirder as time goes on, as just as much time is given to discussing chili and the question “Who is more popular in Denver, Kim Basinger or Kelly LeBrock?” than exploring the House by the Cemetery and watching teens get colorfully pulped into oblivion.
In short, Lenzi is the kind of filmmaker that makes me tear up and yell things at my TV like, “Genius!” and “I love you, Umberto!” Nightmare Beach — also known as Welcome to Spring Break — is his take on the slasher in Miami, halfway around the world from home, celebrating sin, sex and stabbings.
That said, Lenzi for years denied that this was his film.
Supposedly, he had a falling out with the producers and wanted to be taken off the film as he found it too similar to his film Seven Blood-Stained Orchids. Screenwriter James Justice, working under the screenname Harry Kirkpatrick, took over but convinced Lenzi to remain on set as an advisor. Now, knowing what we know of Italian horror, a name like Harry Killpatrick sounds like a fake Americanized name for the director. Lenzi would continually say, “My contribution consisted solely of providing technical assistance. Welcome to Spring Break should be considered the work of Harry Kirkpatrick.”
However, in his book Italian Crime Filmography, film historian Roberto Curti would claim that Lenzi really did direct the film and refused the credit when the film was done. After all, Lenzi and Justice would work with the same producers to make Primal Rage (with this movie’s writer Vittirio Rambaldi directing and heroine Sarah Buxton showing up, too).
No matter — I love this movie. Yes, the kind of love that I’ve only reserved for Lenzi’s films, where I ignore how patently insane the dialogue is. Actually, I love these films because of that. This movie is everything that you want from a slasher and so much more.
Diablo, the leader of the Demons motorcycle club, is about to be executed for killing a young woman. He confronts his accusers, like her sister Gail (Sarah G. Buxton, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead) and Strycher (John Saxon!), the cop who put him away for good. He tells that he’ll see them all in Hell because he’s innocent and plans on coming back to kill all of them.
A year later, it’s Spring Break time in Miami, which brings football players Skip Banachek (Nicholas De Toth, who left acting for editing, working on movies like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He’s also the son of Andrew De Toth, who was behind the camera for House of Wax and Crime Wave. He also had an amazing eyepatch, which he needed after he was attacked by a group of young men as he scouted locations in Egypt. They thought he was military leader Moyshe Dayan. He was also married to Veronica Lake, who was just the first of his seven wives) and Ronny Rivera (Rawley Valverde, who has gone on to a career in real estate) to the beach. Ronny is a pip, saying amazing things like “How would you like her to do squats on your tool?” and “You wanna bump short hairs?”
While all the sex and drinking of Spring Break is happening — this movie becomes a teen comedy like Porky’s for a bit — a masked biker has been offing people left and right. This slasher isn’t content to just use simple weapons. No, he’s custom-built his bike to include an electric chair that fries people just like Diablo. So he’s totally the killer come back from the dead, right?
Of course, Ronny is fated to get in a fight with the Demons and get killed by the biker, just as Skip is due to hook up with Gail. Why does she find him so attractive? Because while everyone else is out and about pouring water all over t-shirts and throwing up all over themselves, he’s refusing beer and being sullen. Seems like perfect mating material, right ladies?
That’s when Nightmare Beachi takes a page out of Jaws, with the town council covering up the murders and pinning the blame on Diablo while the real killer has been running free. This point is hammered home when a jokester puts a fin on his back and swims directly at some partying teens, leading a cop to just open fire without warning.
So it is Doc Willet (Michael Parks)? Strycher? Or Reverend Bates (Lance LeGault, Col. Decker from TV’s The A-Team and Elvis Presley’s stunt double in plenty of movies), whose daughter Rachel is out of control? Or Mayor Loomis (Fred Buch, who shows up in Caddyshack, Shock Waves, Porky’s II and The New Kids)?
Nobody is safe, because the killer even takes out Diablo’s girlfriend Trina by blasting her headphones with electricity, sending her eyeball straight out of her head. So is it Diablo? After all…his body is missing from its grave.
I’m not going to tell you who the killer is, other than to tell you that if you watch enough giallo, it all makes sense. After all, that’s kind of what this movie is, along with the added slashtastic gore that this era demanded.
While shot in Miami, this film boasts plenty of Italian connections. Claudio Simonetti did the score, the aforementioned Vittirio Rambaldi wrote it and his dad Carlo did the special effects. Supplementing the fine score are appearances and soundtrack songs by the bands Kirsten, Animal (whose song “Rock Like an Animal” lives up to the idea that every metal band needs a tune that references their own name), Derek St. Holmes (who played on Ted Nugent’s first solo albums and in the band MSG) and Ron Bloom, Rondinelli, Juanita and the band Rough Cutt, whose members included Jake E. Lee (Ozzy’s guitarist after Randy Rhodes, Badlands), Amir Derakh (Orgy), Paul Shortino (Quiet Riot) and Craig Goldy and Claude Schnell, who both played in Dio. If you liked how Demons mixed metal into the film, then you’re going to bang your head throughout this movie.
No moment in this movie that is boring. It’s like doing drugs with the band backstage and then getting to sit in, then go backstage and they offer you your pick of groupie. It has no morals, it knows no laws and all it wants is to ensure that you have the best time possible.
DAY 22. SEASON OF THE WHICH?: A film set around a holiday. No Halloween though, it’s a challenge!
La Noche de Walpurgis (released in the United States as The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman and in the UK as both Shadow of the Werewolf and Werewolf Shadow) was the fifth time that Paul Naschy played the doomed lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky.
Written by Naschy and directed by Leon Klimovsky (The People Who Own the Dark, The Dracula Saga), this film seems like it came from another planet, perhaps because so much of it is in slow motion. It also kicked off a horror craze in Spain that maniacs like me are still enjoying to this day.
After the last film — The Fury of the Wolf Man — Waldemar Daninsky is brought back to life during his autopsy. After all, you don’t remove silver bullets from a werewolf’s heart and expect him to treat you nicely. He kills both for their trouble and runs into the night.
Meanwhile, Elvira and her friend Genevieve are looking for the tomb of Countess Wandessa de Nadasdy. Coincidentally, as these things happen, her grave is near Daninsky’s castle, so our dashing werewolf friend invites them to stay. Within hours, Elvira has bled all over the corpse of the Countess (Patty Shepard, Hannan, Queen of the Vampires), who soon rises and turns both girls into her slaves.
But what of the werewolf, you ask. Don’t worry — he shows up too, after we get our fill of the ladies slow-motion murdering people in the forest. Also, as these things happen, Waldemar must fight the Countess before the only woman who ever loved him, Elvira (Yelena Samarina, The House of 1,000 Dolls) finally kills him again.
There’s also a scene where our furry friend battles a skeleton wearing the robes of a monk in the graveyard. Some claim that this scene inspired Spanish director Amando de Ossorio to write Tombs of the Blind Dead just a few months later.
Daninsky’s lycanthropy is not explained in this one. Was it the bite of a yeti that made him howl at the moon? Is he a college professor or a count? Who cares!
DAY 21: POWER PLANTS. One where the vegetation fights back.
Swamp Thing can trace his roots — yes, it’s a he — back to “It,” Theodore Sturgeon’s short story that ran in the pulp magazine Unknown in 1940. The story is all about a man — Roger Kirk — who dies and is reborn in a swamp.
This was an influential tale whose roots — pardon the pun — took hold throughout comic books, which were the younger brother of the pulps. In Air Fighters Comics #3, published in 1942, Sky Wolf (a World War II fighting ace given to wearing the mask of a wolf and helping Airboy battle the Axis) the muck-encrusted form of World War I German pilot Baron Eric von Emmelman returned from the grave in the same way that Roger Kirk did two years before.
Thanks to his immense force of will and the help of the goddess Ceres, as the Baron’s body decayed, he became one with the vegetation of the swamp that he was shot down over. Now, he was more marsh than man, and fought Sky Wolf until discovering the fanaticism of his countrymen.
Before long, The Heap was the heroic star of his own backup in Airboy Comics, with adventures lasting from 1946 to 1953. He’d return in 1986 as part of Eclipse Comics’ reboot of Airboy before being bought by Image Comics, where he’s now part of Todd McFarland’s Spawn Universe.
After EC Comics (the creators of Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror amongst others) and other horror comics publishers were taken to task for their extreme material, the Comics Code Authority outlawed all monstrous characters unless they had literary roots. In fact, until the year 1989, you weren’t even allowed to say the word zombie in a mainstream comic book (Marvel got around this by calling them zuvembies, if you can believe that).
As the CCA relaxed its rules at the start of the 70’s, two different characters that both grew from the Heap started at both Marvel Comics and their cross-town rivals, DC.
Man-Thing was created by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas (who’d go on to write Fire and Ice and adapted plenty of Conan stories, including the one that would be filmed for Conan the Destroyer). A series of conversations led to five different potential origins for the character, with the name being recycled from another character that had already appeared in Tales of Suspense #7 and #81.
Thomas would tell Alter Ego that Lee “had a couple of sentences or so for the concept — I think it was mainly the notion of a guy working on some experimental drug or something for the government, his being accosted by spies, and getting fused with the swamp so that he becomes this creature. The creature itself sounds a lot like the Heap, but neither of us mentioned that character at the time.” Lee also had the name for the character, which would lead to perhaps by favorite comic book title of all time: Giant-Sized Man-Thing.
While you’d think that Man-Thing would be a one-note character — he never speaks and he just kind of shows up in the swamps — but he grew from his first appearance, where he battled Marvel’s Tarzan-esque Ka-Zar to become something much different thanks to the deranged hands of Steve Gerber, who made Man-Thing the center of the Nexus of All Realities, which just so happened to be inside his swamp.
Once biochemist Dr. Theodore “Ted” Sallis and a former co-worker with Dr. Curtis “The Lizard” Connors, the man who would become Man-Thing was working on a version of Captain America’s Super Soldier formula with Dr. Barbara Morse (who would become Hawkeye’s wife Mockinbird, man, I read too many comics as a kid) when techno soldiers from Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) and his betraying wife attacked. The result? You guessed it. Fused with the swamp, no brains and a tendency to wander. That said, Man-Thing also gained the ability to burn anyone who felt fear in his presence, so he had that going for him.
Man-Thing became a story engine for Gerber (who contended that he was just a reporter for the very real tales of the character, as he appeared as a fictional character within the comic), who used these stories to introduce sorceress Jennifer Kale, the barbarian Korrek who emerged from a jar of peanut butter, the serial murdering Foolkiller, Dakimh the Enchanter and Howard the Duck. Yep, Gerber’s Man-Thing was pure imagination writ large across the comic book page. After leaving comics, Gerber would write for plenty of cartoons, including Dungeons & Dragons, which his work had a major influence on.
At pretty much the same time, Len Wein came up with the idea for a swamp-based character as he rode the subway. “I didn’t have a title for it, so I kept referring to it as that swamp thing I’m working on. And that’s how it got its name!” Master illustrator Bernie Wrightson (he drew the comic cover for Creepshow) designed the character’s visual image and helped tell his first few adventures.
The Swamp Thing was once Dr. Alec Holland, who was working with his wife Linda to invent a solution for the world’s food shortage problems. After some thugs blew up their lab, his destroyed body was coated in one of his formulas and grew within the swamp, transforming him into a conscious plant with all of his old memories. Of course, once Alan Moore came on board — after this movie brought the character back to comics — we would learn that Swamp Thing was really the latest in a long line of Earth elementals that protect the Green.
If this all sounds like DC was stealing ideas from Marvel — well, they were all stealing from the Heap who was stealing from Theodore Sturgeon — let me blow your mind a little further. Swamp Thing writer Len Wein and Man-Thing’s co-writer, Gerry Conway, were roommates.
Despite the first version of Swamp Thing appearing House of Secrets #92, Len Wein would later say, “Gerry and I thought that, unconsciously, the origin in Swamp Thing #1 was a bit too similar to the origin of Man-Thing a year-and-a-half earlier. There was vague talk at the time around Marvel of legal action, but it was never really pursued.”
It was decided that this was just a strange coincidence and after a while, the characters became so different, no legal action was necessary.
Whew! I told you all that so I can tell you this: In 1982, Wes Craven wrote and directed an adaption of the comic, long before comic book movies were a thing. His intent was to show the major Hollywood studios that he could handle action, stunts and major stars, all while doing it under his $2.5 million dollar budget. Good news — he succeeded.
A top-secret bioengineering project in the southern swamps is dealing with sabotage, so Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau, playing a mix of the comic’s Matt Cable and Abigail Arcade) has been dispatched to replace one of the scientists who has been killed. She soon meets lead scientist Dr. Alce Holland (Ray Wise) and his sister Dr. Linda, who together have developed a glowing plant with explosive properties, as well as a combination animal/plant hybrid.
The real issue is that the secret base is being eyed by the evil Anton Arcane, a paramilitary leader who wants the fruits — and vegetables — of all this labor for himself. He’s played by Louis Jourdan, who is absolutely perfect in the role, oozing menace from every pore while remaining aloof and almost high cultured in his pursuit of evil.
Soon, Arcane’s forces attack, murdering Linda and blowing Alec up real good. However, just like the comic, he now rises as the Swamp Thing, played by stuntman DIck Durock (who was also the pie-eating champion in Stand By Me). Now, he must protect Alice and his notes, keeping them both from Arcane.
The movie differs from the comic in that Holland’s formula unleashes whatever the dominant personality trait exists within each person. For Holland, it’s the ability to heal and transform his inner strength into outer muscle. Yet Bruno (Nicholas Worth, who played the heavy in plenty of films and lent his voice to the Reaper in The Hills Have Eyes Part II), the biggest of Arcane’s henchmen, becomes a small rat-like creature and Arcane himself becomes a gigantic boar.
Another of Arcane’s henchmen — Ferret, the one who gets his neck snapped by Swamp Thing — is played by David Hess, who was Krug in The Last House On the Left. Also, Karen Price, who plays one of Arcane’s messengers, was Playboy‘s Playmate of the Month for January 1981. I tell you that because it’s her centerfold that appears on the tail of Gyro Captain’s copter in The Road Warrior.
There was one bit of controvery this film caused, more than a decade after it was released.
In August 2000, MGM released this movie on DVD and althought it was labeled PG, it actually included the 93-minute international cut, which amps up Adrienne Barbeau’s ample charms and nudity in the skinny dip sequence. Two years after that, a woman rented this film in Dallas for her kids and was shocked and dismayed by what her family saw. Trust me — they should be so lucky!
Durock and Jourdan — along with much of the crew, including producers Michael E. Uslan and Benjamin Melniker — would return in 1989 for The Return of Swamp Thing. It’s directed by Jim Wynorski and features Heather Locklear as Abigail Arcane, who heads to the swamp to confront her stepfather Dr. Arcane. He’s been brought back to the dead by the evil Dr. Lana Zurrell (Sarah Douglas, Ursa from Superman) along with an army of mutant Un-Men, all ready to do battle with Swamp Thing.
If anything, that movie gave us more than a series on the USA Network and a cartoon complete with Kenner action figures (of course I bought every single one). It also gave us this, a PSA where Swamp Thing speaks for Greenpeace.
Good news. Today you learned way more than you ever thought you would about 20th century popular fiction involving swamp based creatures. Would it help even further if I told you that Man-Thing also appeared in a 2005 SyFy movie directed by Brett Leonard (The Dead Pit, The Lawnmower Man, Hideaway)? I sure hope so.
Day 20 Sunday Dinner: From eating scenes to full on foodie fodder
Today, Tommy Wiseau markets his celluloid calling-card, The Room, as an intentional “black comedy.” Opinions vary on that assessment of that successful artistic disaster, but the same can’t be said for the exploits of Clint Howard’s dairy-swirled slasher, Gregory Tudor.
Considering the named cast that stars David Naughton (1981’s An American Werewolf in London; newly reviewed “Scarecrow: Day 10”), Olivia Hussey (1974’s Black Christmas), Jan-Michael Vincent (see my review of Damnation Alley for September’s “Post-Apoc Month”) and, holy crap, David Warner (From Beyond the Grave), I don’t think any of them signed on the dotted line for an “intentional comedy” done as a “campy” take on the serial killer genre. As with Tommy Wiseau’s The Room: The team behind Ice Cream Man, I believe, were making a serious horror film with dark humor touches—sort of a Motel Hell with cannibalism-confectionary treats instead of human-sausage meats—and it just deliciously careened off the rails and into our home video hearts.
Can you really see David Warner willingly—without being duped—signing onto a film where Clint Howard’s dairy slasher is able to stick ice cream scoops into the necks of decapitated heads, and work his thumb on the scoop to make the mouths move for his twisted ventriloquist act? I’ve never dug deep enough into this film to see, although it was made for TV and video, if it was shot-on-video or actual film; but wow, David Warner is damn near close to John Carradine’s SOV-slumming in Blood Cult (my new review for October’s “Slasher Month”). No, I won’t believe it. No way had Gorkon, the chancellor of the Klingon High Council—within four years—fallen willingly from the throne of Paradise City in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country (1991) to a film with heads-on-ice-cream-scoops. There had to be a nefarious scheme involving bogus tax shelters and a film-production covered drug smuggling ring. Was this pitched as Freddy Kruger as an ice cream man? What the fuck is going on here?
Just look at Clint’s lines when he’s about to give someone “the scoop”:
“You’re Ice Cream.”
“I guess not every day is a happy, happy, happy day!”
“You little turds are gonna learn you can’t run from the ice cream man!”
And, when he kidnaps the local fat kid, a cruelly-named Tuna, he chuckles, “Trolling for Tuna!” as he scoops the kid into his ice cream truck.
No. I won’t believe it. There’s no way Stringfellow Hawke, our bad-ass ‘80s Airwolf, is chasing a psycho ice cream man without producer or managerial misrepresentation on someone’s part. Jan-Michael in a film about chopped up dog and human-spiked Butterbrickel and Rocky Road? What the fuck is going on here?
Still, while technical inept, we’re going along for the whole, heartily-hilarious ride with Gregory Tudor. As a child, Greggy was traumatized by seeing a local ice cream man murdered. After being released from the nuthouse all Tudor wants to do is give children the happiness he never had. So he reopens the old ice cream factory and, well . . . you know that ain’t bananas in the Banana Fudge Swirl . . . and that ain’t “fudge.” (Riddle me this, kids: Why is it that guys, like Lawrence Aston in Spine (see my soon-to-publish, October 2019 review for B&S Movies “Slasher Month”), these mentally-toasted FUBARs, are always “cured”—then slaughter someone before the ink on the release papers has a chance to dry?)
One of the great, off-the-rail moments, amid the ice scream slasher sickness, is that it spins-out from being a kid’s movie, like The Monster Squad(1987), with way-to-smart-for-their-age Home Alone-styled brats who’ve given up on the dolt adults and plot to capture the ice cream man on their own. One minute: it’s cute, the next minute: it’s sick, tossing scared kids into the nooks and crannies of a ratty ice cream factory. What the fuck is going on here?
Regardless, I love seeing Clint Howard break from under his brother Ron’s shadow and ditch his second-fiddle status with a lead role. And they don’t come along very often, but when they do, we get Stanley Coopersmith in Evilspeak (1981). Yeah, Clint can screech that fiddle and scare the devil out of Georgia.
Of course, Clint is forever loved as the Tranya-swillin’ Balok, kicking Enterprise ass with the Fesarius (in 1966 and in 2010), but don’t forget: Clint was the school restroom-based entrepreneur, Eaglebauer, in Rock ‘n Roll High School(1979). He was friggin’ Rughead in the automotive-slasher The Wraith (1986). He was Slinky in Tango & Cash (1989). He was the lead as the adult Ricky in Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1991). And the list goes on and on: Carnosaur, Barb Wire, the penis-spotting radar tech “Johnson” in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Rob Zombie showed respect by casting Clint in The Lords of Salem and 3 From Hell.
The completely off-the-reservation and very cool (no pun intended), twisty-treat (pun intended) script was the screenwriting debut for Tisch School of the Arts-graduated David Dobkin. You know him for his directing Jackie Chan in the martial arts romp, Shanghai Knights, and bringing Peter M. Lenkov’s hit underground comic book, R.I.P.D, to the big screen. He directed the always on-the-spot Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers and directed the Tim Allen-fronted Christmas comedy, Fred Claus. That’s one hell of a kick-ass resume. And he gave us this film. And that kicks ass.
But who directed this film? Uh-oh, John Howard directing Spine alert! Yep, we are on the SOV fringes just as I suspected, once you realize that although director Paul Norman directed over 100 films—they were porn movies. And one of them was Edward Penishands (1991). Give a guy $2 million bucks and he goes from penishands to icecreamscoop hands. Only in American cinema.
I never, ever review a movie that doesn’t warm the cogs of
my VHS-pumping heart cartridge. I love this movie in a Blood
Salvage and Baker
County, USA kind-of-way. There’s no way anyone—mainstream or porn—can
direct a seriously-toned story about a demented ice cream man without instigating
squirm-inducing discomfort. You have got
to go for the camp, or you’ll end up on some puritanical nasty list and never
be seen again. And Ice Cream Man is
full on drag-queen, RuPaul camp—and a bag of chips. Or a bowl of Bloody Cherry
(but hold the eyes).
Okay, I am going to have a bewitching scoop with Samantha Stevens—oh, god, Elizabeth Montgomery and Baskin Robbins. Yes, please! And bring along Josie from the Pussycats. Who needs Captain America movie ice cream when you have a sexy ‘60s TV witch serving up two scoops? Like Van Halen says: All of her flavors are guaranteed to satisfy . . . and so will this full upload of the movie on You Tube.
About the Author:You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn about his work on Facebook.