2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 29: Shriek of the Mutilated (1974)

DAY 29. ONE NIGHT IN APE CANYON: Watch a Bigfoot story.

There are tons of Bigfoot films to watch. Trust us, we know. We have an entire Letterboxd list packed with the ones we’ve made it through. And we know that Scarecrow has an even larger section in the store that’s all Yeti, skunkape and sasquatch based.

We decided to go back to the classics and rewatch this 1974 Michael Findlay film, in which Professor Ernst Prell takes four of his graduate students — Keith Henshaw, Karen Hunter, Tom Nash and Lynn Kelly — into the woods to discover if the Yeti really does exist.

Despite a mysterious dinner the night before — their dish of gin sung is broken up by a drunken former student and his wife who loudly proclaim that the last trip to see a Bigfoot got everyone killed — everyone decides that going into the brush to find the beast is a dandy idea.

As if that isn’t enough, that lout keeps drinking and decides to cut his wife’s throat with an electric turkey knife before she responds in kind by dumping a toaster into the bloody bathwater as he tries to clean himself up.

When the students get to Boot Island, they have more gin sung, meet a mute Native American named Laughing Crow and listen to Tom strum a little tune he wrote about the Yeti, who liked that song so much that he rips Tom apart, leaving only his leg as evidence.

The professor isn’t someone I’d like to have as a teacher, as he’s willing to use that leg and the body of another of the students, Lynn, as bait to catch his white whale. Or white Yeti, you get the allusion.

That said, the reveal of this all — spoiler warning for a 46-year-old movie — is that there’s no Bigfoot at all, but a big society of cannibals looking for either victims to be fresh meat or those willing to help them consumer the flesh of their fellow man.

If you’re a big film geek like me — seeing as how you’re reading about a Sasquatch film from the last century when you could be doing something much more productive, I get the feeling that you are — you’ll wonder, did the print Sam saw have Hot Butter’s “Popcorn” in the soundtrack? Yes. It did. It sure did.

In 1982, if you were lucky enough to still have a drive-in around ou, chances are you could have seen this movie as part of an event named 5 Deranged Features. Don’t be fooled by some of these titles, as you may have seen them all before! They’re Coming to Get You is not All the Colors of the Dark, but instead Al Adamson’s Frankenstein vs. DraculaHouse of Torture is The Wizard of GoreNight of the Howling Beast is The Corpse Grinders. And Creature from Black Lake wasn’t so lucky as to get a name change.

You can watch this for yourself on Tubi if you don’t already own it. Trust me, across Mill Creek comps, bootlegs and official releases, I think I have at least four copies.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 28: The Hitcher (1986)

DAY 28. OREGON TRAIL: A road tripper where people get picked off one by one. Kind of like this challenge, eh?

When I first saw The Hitcher, I was probably 14 years old and saw it as a straight-ahead story of violence on the highway. I probably cheered at the end when Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) blew a hole into John Ryder (Rutger Hauer). But age and the miles wear on every man and now when I watch it, it does more than make me raise my fist in the air and shout. It makes me ruminate on the journeys life has taken me and how I’d rather be launched through a window and blasted down a hillside than live a slow, tedious and quiet death.

Halsey starts the film with the kind of confidence that someone at the end of their teens has. He picks up Ryder, who immediately confides to him that he’s killed someone else. But he says something else. Something we don’t expect. “I want you to stop me.”

That’s the whole point of this film. Ryder will transform Halsey into the empty man he is, whether through attrition or forcing him to blast him into oblivion. This road only goes one way.

What does it take to get Halsey to realize this isn’t a nightmare, but reality? Of course, it’s easy to think that this could all be a dream, in the same way that long stretches of drives with no one speaking seem to be visions that last and last. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m still driving and every moment up until here, up until this realization, is just me imagining my life and any moment now, I’m going to wake up with my fiancee asleep next to me.

For our hero, it takes seeing trucks plow into truck stops, station wagons filled with the blood of all American families and the typical movie love interest torn in half by two semis.

Halsey is stripped of his identity, not just because his license and keys — let’s face, the manhood of most red-blooded boys — have been taken away. Everything he may have believed was true — the goodness of giving someone a ride when they need it, that love can conquer fear, even that the role models and lawmakers that society sets up can protect us against one lone man who isn’t just unafraid to die but willingly chases it — is a lie.

Not even suicide can save our hero.

So who is at fault for all the crimes that come out of this spree? If Halsey just shot Ryder in the truck, while Nash (Jennifer Jason Lee, looking like the gorgeous girl who surely will survive all of this madness, right?) is tied between it and another, life would be different.

Look, when a killer says, “I want you to stop me,” you listen.

Eric Red wrote this story while traveling across America, wondering about the lyrics to The Doors “Riders On the Storm.” Pretty simple, really: “If ya give this man a ride, sweet memory will die. Killer on the road, yeah.”

Critics hated it. Both Siskel and Ebert gave it zero out of four stars, with Ebert even decrying the film by saying, “I could see that the film was meant as an allegory, not a documentary. But on its own terms, this movie is diseased and corrupt. I would have admired it more if it had found the courage to acknowledge the real relationship it was portraying between Howell and Rutger, but no: It prefers to disguise itself as a violent thriller, and on that level it is reprehensible.”

Whatever.

The end of this film, as Halsey stands against the sunset and smokes as we process what has just happened just attacks the viewer. The credits just stand there as we feel no celebration or victory. Maybe not even relief, because while it seems like this is over, there’s no way it is over.

The fact that this movie spawned a sequel and a Michael Bay remake are two things that I have added to the many things that I have tried to forget so that I can keep on living my life*. Kind of like how director Robert Harmon makes the Jesse Stone TV movies for Tom Selleck now instead of getting to create more movies like this (that said, I’ve heard good things about They, a movie he did with Wes Craven and I kind of don’t mind his Van Damme film Nowhere to Run). Red would move on to write a few other films that break the mold and are on my list of favorite films: Near Dark and Blue Steel.

The last thing that this movie makes me feel is loss. Rutger Hauer is such an essential part of my film nerd stable of actors, someone who always makes a movie way better than it seems like it will be just by his presence. Nighthawks is so intense because of him. Films like Wanted Dead or AliveThe Blood of Heroes and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (with Hauer getting to finally play the vampire lord that Anne Rice, who always wanted him as Lestat, saw him in) are actually great because of Hauer. And Blade Runner means nothing without him as Roy Batty.

Hauer astounded the stunt people in this movie, pulling off the car stunts by himself. And he also intimidated Howell, scaring him even when they weren’t acting. He even knocked out a tooth when he flew through the windshield himself. There is no one who could have played this character quite so well and stayed with me so long after the film was over.**

*The fact that René Cardona III made a Mexican version of this called Sendero Mortal does give me the energy to keep on living.  I’d also like to recommend the absolutely insane Umberto Lenzi in America  Hitcher In the Dark, which makes me wish that more Italian directors made their own versions of The Hitcher.

**Hauer said in his autobiography, All Those Moments, that Elliott “was so scary when he came in to audition that Edward S. Feldman was afraid to go out to his car afterward.”

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 27. 666: Beware the End is at Hand (2007)

DAY 27. ALKEBULAN: Watch something from the second largest continent.

Religious men try all ways to reach out to the unwashed. There were those that tried TV shows like Davey and Goliath. Jack Chick gave out billions of tracts. And then there are those like Ron Ormond and Estus Pirkle, whose If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? is a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie in ecclesiastical finery. Hal Lindsey, whose tabloid end times film The Late Great Planet Earth made me not sleep for most of the late 1970’s. Russ Doughten, whose apocalyptic saga that began with A Thief In the Night converted thousands. And pastor Kenneth Okonkwo, who seems to have inherited their willingness to go absolutely and wonderfully bonkers just to make you see the light.

Lucifer has sent his demons to Nigeria, impregnating a woman — in horrifying 1980’s direct to video gore detail — with the Antichrist, who ends up being a small child dressed in a bootleg Jordan jersey with glowing rainbow eyes.

Only Pastor Lazarus can stop him, as he and Pastor Chucks (Okonkwo) walk through the streets, screaming the word of God at real people like some Christian ministry version of Jackass while the demon child beats up homeless women and gets yelled at by his father before committing patricide, then engaging in Street Fighter style battle with the priest.

By the second film, gay sex is equated as always rape and often demonic possession and demons pay women $10,000 to lick their scabs. The demon child has also grown a horn and is able to leave the Mark of the Beast on the foreheads of anyone he touches.

Take it from someone who listened to Bob Larson’s Talk Back every single afternoon, this is the real deal. Everyone in this movie believes completely in what they are saying, despite having the effects budget of a trip to the grocery store. Imagine if the worst public access show decided to make a two-hour blockbuster and you have a good idea of what you’re about to watch.

There’s really no other movie-watching experience that can prepare you for this. Bouncy pop music plays alongside cheap flames that dance across cardboard visions of Hell while little kids smoke cigarettes. Also: a devil baby.

You know how you should build up to the really hard drugs? I recommend that if you haven’t watched enough religious films or handled snakes after drinking poison that you ease your way into this. Here’s the YouTube link, but trust me. This isn’t for everyone.

You can also download this from the Internet Archive.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 26: Nail Gun Massacre (1985)

DAY 26. DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS: What to get? Watch one set, clap clap clap clap, deep in the heart of Texas.

What can one say about the movie that uses the tagline “It’s cheaper than a chainsaw!”?

Written and co-directed by one-time The Dukes of Hazzard stuntman Terry Lofton (along with Bill Leslie), this movie was inspired by a story that he heard about a nail gun fight at a construction site. While the original script was eighty pages, the final shooting only used twenty-five of those pages and went from a serious film to a sillier tone, as Lofton figured no one would ever take this movie seriously.

At a construction site in east Texas — yay, the theme makes sense — six men assault Linda Jenkins. Months later, a camoflaged killer in a black motorcycle helmet hunts down the men one by one.

This is honestly the only slasher I’ve ever seen where a victim accidentally urinates on the killer, which you think would have had to have happened by now.

Beyond just the men who wronged Linda, the distorted voiced killer is pretty much indiscriminate about who he kills. Usually, it’s people having sex, which seems to happen in every other scene. In fact, the director claims that John Rudder’s wife divorced him over his scene with Shelly York as she believed they were really aardvarking.

There’s an astounding scene in this where a cashier looks directly at the camera. That’s Lofton’s grandmother, who worked in the store they used for the shoot. She has the script near her — you can see it — and was really upset when she saw the movie and realized how much sex was in it. The violence, as always, is fine. Just don’t have any horizontal mambo, please.

I guess there was construction all over East Texas at this time, which is certainly reflected by this film, which also has a nail gun fight for fun, because why not?

This movie has the longest takes, the most penises, the biggest freakouts, the most Dairy Queen product placement and the strangest synth score I’ve seen in a film. Normally just one of those things would be enough to make me fall in love with a slasher, but somehow, this one manages to get all of those into the same movie.

So yeah. I totally love this one.

Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 25: Playing for Keeps (1986)

Day 25: Hey, Baby, Can You Dance to It? This one has to have at least one substantial dancing scene in it.

We spoke of this feature film writing and directing debut from the Weinstein brothers Harvey and Bob for their Miramax Pictures imprint in passing during our review for the somewhat similarly-premised Rock ‘N’ Roll Hotel and during Videoscope‘s Robert Freese’s overview “Exploring: ’80s Comedies” featurette for B&S About Movies. And now, courtesy of the gang at Scarecrow Video coming up with their 25th theme day—and the fact that, Marisa Tomei, in her feature film-starring debut (she gets an “Introducing . . . As” title card in the opening credits), soft shoes a roof-topped dance number with a paint brush in-hand during a renovation scene—we’re finally giving it a review proper. (Thanks, Scarecrow dudes, for thou doeth suck. Just kidding. No, not really.)

So, before we get into the film itself, let’s unpack the film’s history and get the bad film Intel out of the way because this is one of those cases where the backstory (Playback, Spring Break ’83, Zyzzyx Road, Rocktober Blood 2: Billy’s Back) is much more interesting than the actual film.

First: Yes, Jimmy Baio—best remembered as the smart-mouthed Carmen Ronzonni in 1977’s The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and Billy Tate in ABC-TV’s Soapis the cousin of Scott Baio (TV’s Happy Days, Charles in Charge). Matthew Penn, however, is not related to Sean Penn. And Matt’s dad is Bonnie and Clyde and Little Big Man director Arthur Penn. And Sean’s dad isn’t Arthur Penn; his dad is acclaimed network TV series director Leo Penn. Chris Penn, the actor, and Michael Penn, the singer, aren’t Matt’s brothers, their Sean’s.

Second: While Matthew made his feature film acting debut in the never-released Rock ‘N’ Roll Hotel (1983) alongside a pre-Breakfast Club Judd Nelson, none of the footage from that film was recut as, nor repurposed as stock footage for, Playing for Keeps.

Are you enjoying your stay at the Majestic? Not!

Third: Playing for Keeps was finished and in the can in 1984 (and also known as Rock Hotel Majestic in some quarters) and sat on the shelf for two years before its theatrical release. And while Matthew Penn awaited its release, his second feature film was a support role in the Kristie McNichol-starring Dream Lover. And, yes. The name “Matthew Penn” you’ve seen listed as an executive producer on Law & Order: TOS and USA Network’s Queen of the South is the same Matthew Penn.

Fourth: Playing for Keeps was all but forgot, and found a new audience, in late-2017 when the New York Times mentioned the movie as the scene for one of Harvey Weinstein’s earliest, alleged sexual harassment episodes; this according to 20-year-old aspiring actress and college-attending waitress Tomi-Ann Roberts (who subsequently didn’t appear in the film).

Fifth: Much like with Alan Arkush basing his lesser-known Rock ‘n’ Roll High School follow up, Get Crazy (1983), on his experiences working at New York’s The Fillmore East, Playing for Keeps was inspired by Harvey and his brother Bob’s experiences of owning the Century Theater in Buffalo, New York, and operating it as a rock ‘n’ roll club from 1974 to 1978.

Sixth: The film began production back in 1983 at the shuttered Bethany Colony Hotel in the northeastern Pennsylvania city of Honesdale—and while the old girl was in still pretty decent shape, the production trashed the joint and left it in worse condition than they found it. Nice going, Harvey.

Seventh: Playing for Keeps wasn’t the debut release for Miramax Pictures; it was the writing and directing debut for bosses Harvey and Bob. The film served as the only director credit for Bob; Harvey would direct one more feature: 1987’s animated The Gnomes’ Great Adventure. The brotherly duo’s first-distributed film was a chronicle of Paul McCartney’s 1976 Wings Over America Tour—1980’s Rockshow. Their first produced film (distributed by Filmways) was the 1981 slasher The Burning, which served as Bob and Harvey’s only other writing credit. And Miramax only produced; Universal distributed Playing for Keeps.

Eighth: MTV aired a 22-minute making-of documentary, Playing for Keeps: The Team Behind a Dream, as part of the film’s promotional efforts. It didn’t work: the film tanked, making just over two and a half million in box office.

Courtesy of Billboard Magazine; October 11, 1986/Google Books.

Playing for Keeps—like most of those ’80s snobs vs slobs, aka lovable losers, aka men behaving badly comedy knockoffs (as pointed out by Robert Freese) in the backwash of Animal House, Meatballs, and Caddyshack, i.e., Joysticks, My Chauffeur, and Hamburger: The Motion Picture—is a film of a time and place. The appreciation of a film—whether it is good or bad, well-made or poorly made—is based in the age of the viewer; if you were in middle school or just starting high school at the time of its release, re-watching the Weinstein’s film will warm your analog cockles as a “classic” film.

Me: I was already ensconced in adulthood, wearing shirts with collars, even ties, when Playing for Keeps was released. Those ’80s Harold Faltermeyer-gated synth drums and Herbie Hancock keyboard-noodles of the film’s score were the bane of my punk-new wave-metal upbringing—and the Atlantic Records-produced soundtrack (Discogs) was loaded with more than I could bear. At least the later, somewhat similar The Runnin’ Kind had a pseudo-punk snarl to it. Here, we get the annoying Duran Duran splinter group, Arcadia (What?! No Spandau Ballet?), appearing alongside side freakin’ non-Genesis Phil Collins to nullify any coolness Pete Townshend brings to the proceedings (and it’s not even a “cool” Townshend tune). And, wow. What producer showed Peter Frampton the way to a career resurgence was to go with the Def Leppard-sellout drum cacophony?

It’s amazing that Marisa Tomei course-corrected out of this into a 20-plus episode stint on NBC-TV’s Cosby spinoff A Different World—and discovered Oscar gold with My Cousin Vinny six years later. Then again, it’s not amazing, because, even in her minor role (regardless of the later VHS and grey-market DVD repacks pushing her to the forefront) with her sub-par acting, she’s the best actor in the movie. No, I take that back. Her, and the 200-plus credited (and Shakesperean-trained) Harold Gould, are the best actors in the movie. The rest are just as awful as they wanna-be (as you’d expect they’d be) in an ’80s snobs vs slobs, aka lovable losers, aka men behaving badly ripoff-programmer.

So the “snobs” in this one are a corrupt chemical company executive and town politician with their eyes on the dilapidated Majestic Hotel property in upstate New York. And everything is going according to their sinister plan . . . until Danny (seriously annoying and totally unlikable; you just want to give him an ol’ Corky Ramono-Chris Kattan nut punch), a ne’er-do-well dreamer n’ schemer high school graduate (this really needed a Michael J. Fox or Tom Cruise to pull it off) discovers his down and out divorced mom inherited the deed to the hotel from a dead aunt. (Comedy: you gotta love it.)

So, with his two lazy-Meatballs buddies—the trio runs around New York with their other Porky’s-friends playing some goofy inner city street game called “Christopher Columbus” (there was no water around to play “Marco Polo”)—they ditch their manual labor employment agency jobs to turn the Majestic into a rock ‘n’ club and hotel. But they need to pay off the $8,000 tax bill. But how? They dress up as boy-scouts and sell cookies to earn the doe. Seriously, that’s the level of comedy here . . . and common sense. Why not work your asses off at the employment agency jobs . . . oh, because that’s not “funny.”

You tell ’em, Rocko. And get me a coke.

Now, I know this is sexist (Sorry, Harvey. Send your complaint to Sam; he’ll stick ’em in my employee file with the rest of ’em; I’ll see you at the annual review, Sam), but the gag could have worked . . . if we were dealing with three just out-of-high school women, say Marisa Tomei, with, say . . . Deborah Foreman and Elizabeth Daily. The whole scene of these three Stripes-dopes hocking thin mints in little Boy Scouts pseudo-military uniforms is utterly painful to watch. (Are you sure James Gunn didn’t make this? Nope. The Weinsteins did. Oops, Sorry, bad joke, Mr. Gunn. The awfulness of Playing for Keeps is inspiring me, I tell ‘ya!)

Okay, so we have dead aunts, overgrown pedo-boy scouts, and “Christopher Columbus” parkour dance numbers ripped from West Side Story, you got that? You keepin’ up?

Okay. Of course, when Shaggy and the Mystery Machine gang get there . . . the hotel is a rotted, rat-infested dump (that reminds of the Delta House, natch) that’ll fall over in a stiff wind. But Freddy, Thelma, and Daphne meet The Majestic’s kindly, ‘ol resident squatter (again, the-deserves-better-than-this Harold Gould) who inspires the misguided high school grads with good advice and nuggets of wisdom. And there’s sexual fantasy daydreams with Toni “Hey, Mickey” Basil doing her choreography thing (or was that Paula Abdul?). And Marisa Tomei doing a “Phoebe Cates” from Fast Times of Ridgemont High sexual fantasy daydream-ripoff holding a plate of cookies and candies. (“Oh, Brad, Spikes, you know, I always thought you were cute. are you hungry?”) And there’s “home improvement” dance numbers to Sister Sledge songs. And dancing—as per the Day 25 Scarecrow requirement—just breaks out without any particular rhyme or reason. And we wish Ferris Bueller had another day off and showed up with a hammer. And Bill Murray with a weed wacker and a brick of C4. Or Kevin Bacon took a day off and did a dance number with a broom. Or Michael Beck took a break from Xanadu. And that Tomei, Foreman, and Daily were selling the cookies to finance the paying off of the tax bill: Seriously, Weinstein bros. You already made a bad “cookie and candy” joke with Marisa, so why not put her in a sexed-up Girls Scouts uniform? Oh . . . because she wasn’t really hocking “sex cookies,” it was a “day dream.” Oh, okay. Screenwriting semantics. Got ‘ya, Harvey.

“You need to show ass to sell this movie! Is no ass here!”

Tommy Wiseau? What in the hell are you doing here? Didn’t I already make enough comparative critiques of your oeuvre in last October’s “Slasher Month” and “Scarecrow Challenge” reviews for Spine and Ice Cream Man, and last November’s Mill Creek Pure Terror*˟ box set tribute for Joy “J.N” Houck’s Night of Bloody Horror?

“Is plot twist. Oh, hi doggie.”

Anywhoo . . . in the end: Playing for Keeps took Miramax to the next level as they became America’s leading distribution purveyor of foreign and indie films. Then they met some kid named Quentin Tarantino* and distributed Reservoir Dogs. And some kid named Kevin Smith and distributed Clerks**. And you know the rest of the yada, yada, yada on Miramax. (Sorry, Sam. And I was doing so darn well with your Seinfeld References Ban.)

Anywhoo . . . you can stream the nostalgia for free on You Tube because, due to the usual licensing snafus regarding soundtracks with these old films, Playing for Keeps has never been officially transferred to DVD, so there’s no digital streams available in the regulated PPV and VOD marketplace.

* Be sure to join us in our review of the films distributed by Quentin Tarantino’s Miramax-backed Rolling Thunder Pictures imprint with our “Exploring: The 8 Films of Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures” featurette.

** Be sure to check out our “Exploring: 50 Gen-X Grunge Films of the Alt-Rock ‘90s” featurette that takes a look at Clerks and many others.

*˟ As we do every November, we’re blowin’ out another Mill Creek’er all of next month with their Sci-Fi Invasion 50-film box set.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 25: Etoile (1989)

DAY 25. HEY BABY, CAN YOU DANCE TO IT?: This one has to have one substantial dancing scene in it.

For this day of the Scarecrow Challenge, I decided to do that Italian movie about ghosts and murder in a dance academy. Oh, there’s more than one?

You know, the Italian horror movie that Jennifer Connelly did. Oh, there’s more than one of those, too?

Etoile. Everyone knows this one, right? It’s that movie where a girl gets possessed as she dances Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. There’s a more famous movie like that, too?

But seriously, this is the film that is not Suspiria or Phenomena or Black Swan.

Connelly plays Claire Hamilton, a ballerina who comes to Budapest to further her dance career and loses her identity to a 19th century dancer named Natalie Horvath who was killed in a tragic carriage accident. But this movie is not content to merely homage — or rip-off — one Argento film. The end was called out by critics for how close it is to Opera and the entire basement sequence reminds one of Inferno, except you know, there’s a giant swan pecking at the hero.

Also — Argento didn’t somehow get Charles Durning into his movie.

Peter Del Monte is better known for his film Julia and Julia. While not a bad movie, this would really benefit from a more artistic eye, but there I go comparing this movie to Argento all over again.

You can get this from Ronin Flix or watch it on YouTube.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 25: The Rosebud Beach Hotel (1984)

Day 25: Hey, Baby, Can You Dance to It? This one has to have at least one substantial dancing scene in it. (And this one has a LOT!)

“Where Sex and Laughter Run Riot.”
“Make your reservation for an explosive time at . . . The Rosebud Beach Hotel.”
— From the Harry Tampa-employed copywriter’s department

Remember the crack I made about Concentration, the ’70s NBC-TV game show and its subsequent board game, in the context of our 2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 4 review? In that review I remembered little Jennifer Bates from the Georgia-shot Evil in the Woods grew up to work with director Bret Wood of Kino International, who recently returned to the big screen with Those Who Deserve to Die.

Well, this review is another “concentration” moment: for who else would remember the name of actor Daniel Green and go, “Holy Concentration, Batman! That’s Paco Querak!” And seriously: who else do you know that remembers the character names of D-grade Max Rockatansky and Snake Plissken knockoffs?

“I’d like to solve, Bill. ‘Daniel Green as Paco Querak!'”

Answer: me. And I am damn proud of my gifted “superpowers” that can’t save the world for shite . . . but Sam is lucky to have me on the staff at B&S About Movies to remember such things. Even Bill Van Ryn is amazed of the utter celluloid shite I can recall . . . for an VHS-analog-programmed brain is a terrible thing to waste. (Bill? You’re two weeks behind on the Groovy Doom and Drive-In Asylum plug payments. Don’t make me send Mr. Querak to collect and go apoc on your ass.)

So, back to Paco . . . sometime after doing the network TV rounds with episodes of Three’s Company, Matt Houston, and The Scarecrow (!) and Mrs. King, and The A-Team — and before his entry in the annals of Apocdom with Sergio Martino, aka Martin Doleman (2019: After the Fall of New York), in Hands of Steel — Daniel Green made his big screen debut in this Harry “Tampa” Hurwitz production.

“Oh, no, R.D! Not the Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula and Safari 3000 guy?”

Yes, the same guy who thought meshing vampires and disco was box office gold and that the road to the Oscars was paved with Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run good intentions. And ‘ol Harry’s never one to pass on a trend: a “trend’ that Robert Freese of Videoscope Magazine expertly pontificated in his “Exploring: ’80s Comedies” featurette for B&S About Movies. (I accept Paypal, Roger. Again, Paco’s only a phone call away.)

Vampires, African Tundras, and South Beach Hotels, oh, my!

As Robert pointed out, after the Snobs vs. Slobs subgenre (Animal House, Meatballs, Stripes, Caddyshack), the next popular and most common comedy subgenre of the ‘80s was the Sex Comedies/Teen Sex Comedies or — what Robert accurately refers to as — the “Everybody gets laid” movies. And while sex comedies were bountiful in the ’70s and continued in the ’80s, with Tom Cruise’s big screen debut in Goin’ All the Way, Private Lessons, and Waitress!, it was Bob Clark’s Porky‘s, released in 1981 amid those films, that set the stage: for Porky’s was the Star Wars of comedy films.

And Harry Tampa jumped on that porcine ripoff train, baby.

Hey, but wait a minute . . . Harry was already in the sex comedy game! In 1970 he brought us The Projectionist starring Chuck McCann and Rodney Dangerfield (aka the requisite slob vs. snob actor with Caddyshack and Easy Money). And how can we forget that 1978 dirty-ditty Fairy Tales, starring Sy Richardson of Charles Band’s softcore version of Cinderella. And how can we forget Harry’s other Charles Band co-production: Auditions, a documentary on the casting call for the never-made sequel to Fairy Tales. (And while I don’t recall it as “sex comedy”: did you know Harry made Richard, a 1972 satirical biopic on President Richard M. Nixon. True story.)

“R.D. Dude? We get it. You’re a fan of Harry Hurwitz films. So, what’s this all have to do with ‘dancing’ and the Scarecrow Challenge?”

Well, in the universe of Harry “Tampa” Hurwitz, not only do you get lots of beach frolicking and dancing . . . and Paco Querak. You also get Colleen Camp (Valley Girl), Bobbi Flekman from the Polymer A&R Department, Eddie Deezen, Chuck McCann, Hamilton Camp, a has-been Bosom Buddy, and an ex-Runaway. And since Harry had Christopher Lee on the hook from last year’s Safari 3000, he’s shows up, too.

Yes, you heard me right: Sir Christopher Lee in a sexploitation movie.

You heard me right: Runaways, Paco, Draculas, and Buck Rogers. Oh, my!

And “Oh, my!” is right, because this thing — as most ripoffs are — is a mess. Like a Golfballs! ripoff mess. Like a Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel mess — only with a few just-for-the-hell-of-it shots of topless bellhop women (by adult film stars Monique Gabrielle, Julia Always, Durga McBroom, Tina Merkle, Julia Parton, and Paula Wood), you know, to sell those tickets . . . but this, like Nocturna, didn’t sell any tickets. . . .

So, the ol’ Count owns a dying hotel on Miami Beach that he’s ready to torch for the insurance money. But his daughter Tracy (Colleen Camp) convinces him that her milquetoast-workaholic fiancé (Peter Scolari) can run the hotel. And Papa Drac hates ol’ Pete, so he’s got a plan in place for the hotel to fail so his daughter dumps him. And to make it all work: Tracy hires hookers (led by Madam Fran Drescher) to work as bellhops to “service” the clientele. And Eddie Deezen . . . is Eddie Deezen . . . the same Eddie Deezen we just reviewed in Beverly Hills Vamp. And if you know your Eddie Deezen you know what we Deez, ah, mean.

“Hey, what about the Runaways?”

Well, Cherie Currie, who long quit the Runaways (of duBeate-o fame) at this point, was attempting to forge a solo career with her sister Marie Currie, which put out their only album, 1980’s Messin’ with the Boys (their cover of Russ Ballard’s — by way of Rainbow and St. Louis’ Head East — “Since You’ve Been Gone” hit #95 on the U.S. Top 100). So why they’re here — as dialogless singing maids — four years after the failure of that album, is anyone’s guess. Well, there’s no guessin’ necessary because, hey, it’s a Harry Tampa production and common sense goes out the 10th floor of the Rosebud (well, actually, the hotel is the “Fiesta,” but that’s plot piffle).

“Hey, wait a sec, R.D? So, is Buster Crabbe in here? You mentioned Buck Rogers.”

Nope, he died in 1983.

“Gil Gerard?”

Nope. The red jump suit.

“The . . . what the frack, R.D?”

The Currie sisters rock out wearing the same jumpsuits Markie Post from NBC-TV’s Night Court wore during her season one guest stint as Joella Cameron on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (the 1979 two-parter “The Plot to Kill a City” if you’re interested). As it turns out, the Universal Studios’ wardrobe department made two suits for the episode — and were shocked to re-discover the matching wares, when fitting the Currie sisters for the film.

Oh, and get this: the sci-fi connection continues . . . as Jay Chattaway, who scored the film, went on to compose the music for the Star Trek TV franchise. Oh, and he scored Maniac, Maniac Cop, and Maniac Cop 2.

Sadly, the Rosebud soundtrack — which the Currie sisters co-wrote with producer Dan Ferguson and their bassist, Stephen Crane — intended to be their follow up to Messin’ with the Boys, was never released. The Currie Sisters’ band also featured ex-Boz Scaggs and soon-to-be Cinderella drummer Jody Cortez (he recorded their hit album Night Songs but left the band before its release). Their guitarist, Duane Sciacqua, was a member of Marie’s husband, Steve Lukather’s, (Toto) solo bands and, with Stephen Crane, Sciacqua recorded an album for MCA Records under the KICKS moniker (“All My Love“). Sciacqua’s since toured and recorded with Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, and Paul McCartney, and scored Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra.

You can enjoy several songs from the soundtrack, via film clips, on You Tube — and yes, each of the clips features LOTS of dancing, as per the Scarecrow requirement!

  1. Romeo
  2. “Where’s the Music”
  3. Here He Comes
  4. “Come Down to Miami”
  5. “Meltdown”
  6. “Don’t Like No Parties”
  7. “Baby Baby”
  8. “Scratch”
  9. Steel

You can watch — and dance to, and drool to Fran Drescher in a bellhop uniform — The Rosebud Beach Hotel on You Tube. And all kidding aside, Harry. We love you. Thanks for VHS and cable memories.

Hey, be sure to check out our “Drive-In Friday” tribute to five of good ol’ Uncle Harry’s films!

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 24: The Alien Factor (1978)

DAY 24. AT THE GIG: Something with live band scenes.

Man, I have so many movies with live band scenes that I’ve already used for this challenge, but I decided to look for something that has a band appearance that doesn’t fit into the actual narrative of the film, which is one of my favorite things in film.

I went with this Don Dohler made in Baltimore alien epic — that word may be stretching it — all about a spaceship containing specimens for an intergalactic zoo crashes on Earth, with the creatures escaping in killing all manner of small town folks.

What can you say about a movie where an astronomer doesn’t know the difference between a meteor and a meteorite? Oh well — it was Dohler’s first film and he certainly had no shortage of ideas and a definite finite cash supply. There are also moments of low tech effects glee here, like when the aliens make dotted fuzz patterns that possess people. Sure, they could have paid for a much better effect, but when it works this good, why worry?

The best reason to watch this — beyond the awesome monsters, which are really creative — is a trip to the AnIr Lounge, which promises discount liquors and has a bartender whose bottle blonde beehive would make my wife jealous. The band Atlantis is on stage, featuring Dohler’s brother on bass, and they look and sound like a band that was around at least a decade before when this movie was made in 1978. The movie completely stops so that they can play the song in its entirety when, let’s face it, deadly aliens should be on everyone’s’ minds at this point.

Isn’t it amazing that two underground voices rose from Baltimore? On one hand, you have the anarchy and boundary-breaking films of John Waters and then, there are the rubber-suited alien invaders of Dohler. What a magical place you are, Charm City.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge: The Antichrist (1974)

DAY 23. A REST IN THE PIECE IS ANOTHER WAY OF SAYING DRAMATIC PAUSE: Morricone soundtracks only.

The beauty of Morricone is that for every big budget or quality film that he did music for — The Hateful EightDays of HeavenOnce Upon a Time In America — you can find scores he did for movies that aren’t as well thought of, from giallo like What Have You Done to Solange? and A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin to outright ridiculous films like Butterfly and, well, this movie.

And I love it.

I love every single minute of it.

Ippolita (Carla Gravina rocking a Mia Farrow haircut) is a paralyzed young woman with major issues, all because her mother has died. So her shrink does what any psychologist would do in 1974: he sends her brains back in time to remember when she was a witch getting killed during the Inquisition. That ancestor takes over and before you know it, our heroine is screwing and destroying men. It’s time for this movie to stop ripping off Rosemary’s Baby and start being The Exorcist!

Also released as The Tempter, this was directed by Alberto De Martino, who also made the amazing poliziotteschi/giallo hybrid Strange Shadows In an Empty Room and the downright weird superhero film The Pumaman, not to mention Miami Golem.

There’s a decent cast, with Mel Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, George Coulouris, Alida Valli (Miss Tanner!), Anita Strindberg (Your Vice Is A Locked Room and Only I Have the Key), Umberto Orsini  (Jean from the Emmanuelle movies) and Mario Scaccia (The Perfume of the Lady In Black) all on hand.

There’s way more nudity and sexuality than the majority of American The Exorcist clones, but this is Italy and Aristide Massaccessi is the director of photography. That’s Joe D’Amato, in case you didn’t know, so when Ippolita says cock numerous times and there’s a lengthy Satanic orgy, one of the few I can think of set to tunes by Morricone (that said, he did so many films* that I’m sure there’s at least one more key party for the First of the Fallen set to his music), you can just say, “Hell yeah, the Italians might be all repressed Catholics, but they sure know how to make a Satan movie.”

The scene in the ruins at the end? That’s the kind of stuff my dreams are made of. More movies should be this unabashedly out of control, you know? Another great example of this level of craziness is another De Martino ripoff that somehow has great Hollywood actors in it, 1977’s Omen Xerox film, The Chosen, also known as Holocaust 2000.

*Notable Morricone soundtracks that I love include Danger: DiabolikThe Bird with the Crystal PlumageShort Night of Glass DollsWho Saw Her Die?, The Fifth CordMy Name Is Nobody, AutopsyExorcist II: The HereticOrca and so many more.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 22: Jaws 3D (1983)

DAY 22. MURKIN: Something underwater or ocean related. It sure is dark down there, what was that?

If you are a regular visitor to our site, you may realize that we love shark movies. We have a whole Letterboxd list devoted to them. While Sam’s taste may veer toward the ripoff side of the Jaws equation, Becca’s heart is with the sequels, even Jaws: The Revenge.

After a career as a production designer — he built the awesome New York City model in Escape from New York — Joe Alves took his experience on Jaws 2 to make this one. Earning the 1983 Golden Raspberry for Worst Director, he went back to production design for movies like Starman and Freejack.

But this wasn’t even the movie the producers wanted to make.

David Brown and Richard Zanuck, the producers for the first Jaws films, brought in Matty Simmons, who produced National Lampoon’s Animal House, and Lampoon writers John Hughes and Todd Carroll to write a script called Jaws 3, People 0. With Joe Dante directing, it would have started with author Peter Benchley being devoured in his swimming pool. The studio didn’t want to turn what was fast becoming a joke into a joke and demanded another legitimate film. Brown and Zanuck responded by quitting the studio.

Richard Matheson was brought on to write this script, which was filled with studio demands, including needing to have Brody’s sons in the movie and a part for Mickey Rooney. The studio heads had never checked to see if Rooney was available so that shoehorning was all for naught. As for anyone from the previous films, Roy Schnieder said, “Mephistopheles couldn’t talk me into doing it. They knew better than to even ask.” He specifically took the movie Blue Thunder so that he would be unavailable.

“The third dimension is terror.”

Yes, in 1983, 3D was back, thanks to movies like Comin’ At Ya! Any movie in its third iteration — I’m looking at you Friday the 13th Part 3 and Amityville 3-D — were made ala Dr. Tongue, with things coming directly at your face.

Back in the days before Blackfish, Seaworld was a big name. Somehow, the producers were able to talk the brand — specifically SeaWorld Orlando — into being the location for this movie. I remember as an 11-year-old seeing ads all over the Cleveland park for this movie and wondering, “Why are they advertising something that scares everyone inside a place that is supposed to be making us happy?”

Young Mike Brody has grown up to be Dennis Quaid, who told Watch What Happens Live that this movie had the biggest cocaine budget of any film that he worked on. He told Andy Cohen that he was on cocaine in every frame of the movie. He and Kathryn Morgan (Bess Armstrong) are in charge of the park, which has somehow allowed a great white shark to swim on in and kill people, including some dudes who are there to steal some coral.

Louis Gossett Jr. is also here as Calvin Bouchard, the park manager, who for some reason is best friends with a hunter played by Simon MacCorkindale, which feels counter-intuitive to running a park that is all about the love of animals. Then again, knowing what we know about SeaWorld today, it all makes sense.

There are also two dolphin stars, Cindy and Sandy, who were not on blow but have a bigger role than many of the humans, including Kelly Ann Bukowski (Lea Thompson) and Sean Brody (John Putch). You have to admire the stupidity of someone who wants to ride in bumper boats when the deadliest predator known to man is on the loose.

Somehow, the stupidity continues to the point where a second and much larger shark gets in the park, which seems like the kind of thing that should get everyone fired and the park closed. There’s only one way to deal with this kind of thing: we gotta blow another shark up real good*. Luckily, the 3-D effect is here to show us this in graphic — and below-average even in 1983 — detail. You know how some effects look bad years afterward and you attribute them to the fact that the movie has aged? This looked bad in the time it took from filming to playing in theaters.

Ironically, this movie has a lot in common with Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Both of their original films were big successes in the 70’s that made their directors big names. Those directors didn’t come back for the sequels (well, Carpenter did reshoot plenty) and both were directed by the production designers of the original movies. They also moved the location and tried to do something different. While the Silver Shamrock caper is today much more well-regarded, Jaws 3D is still a joke to many.

By the way, for all the scorn through at Bruno Mattei for outright ripping off shark footage for Cruel Jaws, this movie had to pay a lawsuit to National Geographic for taking scenes from its 1983 documentary film The Sharks without authorization. Strangely, that makes me love this movie even more.

*Some of the entrails that fly out of the screen in 3-D are actually a brown leather ET doll.