Box Office Failures Week: Zyzzyx Road (2006)

Three aspiring actors have a dream to take Hollywood by storm and become movie stars.

One of those actors was named Billy Bob Thornton.

He made a vanity-starring projected called Slingblade. If you don’t know how that movie turned out, you deserve to be banished to Hell’s Video where you’ll check out copies of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and Corky Ramono (and all other SNL-bred movies) for all enternity. (Sorry, all the copies of John Travolta’s Gotti are rented at the moment. Can I interest you in a copy of The Fanatic?)

The second actor was Tommy Wiseau.

He made a vanity-starring projected called The Room. In spite of its critical panning, it became a worldwide hit that is still playing in theatres around the world to this day. The film’s production was chronicled in a New York Times best-selling book that was adapted into a critically-acclaimed film: The Disaster Artist.

Then there’s the fate of Leo Grillo, an actor who knocked around the industry since his 1977 film debut with a bit part in Between the Lines, a little seen film that featured the pre-stardom bound John Heard and Jeff Goldblum. On TV, Grillo made his debut with a bit role in George Peppard’s (Battle Beyond the Stars) Banacek (NBC-TV, 1972-1974).

And Leo made a vanity project called Zyzzyx Road—a film that earned the distinction as the lowest-grossing movie of all time, earning a measly $20 dollars in domestic box office against its $1.2 million budget. Adding insult to injury: It would have made $30, but Grillo personally refunded $10 bucks to a crew member who purchased two tickets. Adding more salt in the wound: Grillo had to pay a $1000 week-long theatre rental fee for the screening (at Highland Park Village Theater in Dallas, Texas), in order to comply with the Screen Actors Guild’s release-distribution regulations regarding low-budget movies (shot for under $2.5 million).

Huh? But why was the film premiere held over 1,400 miles away from Los Angeles, where it should have debuted?

To hear Grillo tell it all these years later, Zyzzyx Road was never intended to be released theatrically.

It’s a darkside of the film industry: Low budget productions sign the dotted line on SAG’s low-budget agreements with the nefarious purpose of low-balling their actors—and “legally” not have to pay them the full SAG rates. Then, once the production fulfills the agreement by showing the film in at least one theatre, once a day for one week—they issue their film on DVD. Those DVDs were released later that year in 23 countries across Eurasia, South America, and Indonesia and cleared just under $400,000 in sales—still a long “road” to recouping its original production cost (and the cost of the DVD production). Inspired by its midly successful overseas showing, four years after its (purposeful) failed theatrical release, Zyzzyx Road was issued on video for the first time as a 2010 DVD in the U.S, while the first online streams appeared stateside in 2012. (The DVDs are currently out-of-print and the streams are no longer commercially available. You can find used DVDs in the online marketplace.)

It almost makes the film’s bad luck and unwanted attention as the lowest-grossing movie of all time more deserving, doesn’t it?

That bad luck for the film that was to be Leo Grillo’s industry calling card began in the summer of 2005. During the course of its 20-day shoot in the Mojave Desert, lead actor Tom Sizemore and his friend/personal assistant Peter Walton were arrested for failing drug tests while on probation. (Yes, and there are more actors and crew members “on probation”—with long criminal records—on film and TV shoots than you realize. How do you think all that coke makes it to the set? Opps! There’s another “hot” background-extra being “bumped” to a day-player role in the trailers out by the honeywagons, you rascally, scuzzy P.A, you!) Fortunately, Sizemore was able to make bail (out of his own pocket or the film’s production budget?) to complete filming. (Walton’s bail was revoked when police discovered he had a warrant out for his arrest—for child pornography. Keep that factoid handy for the later irony, coming up.)

According to Grillo’s promotional materials, Zyzzyx Road is a Tarantinoesque road where Death of a Salesman meets Lolita—he being the “Willie Loman” and Katherine Heigl being the “Lolita.” In reality: Zzyzx Road (yes, that’s another unfortunate problem with the film: they misspelled the name of the road that’s the title of their own movie!) is a mostly dirt, rural collector road in the Mojave Desert that runs just over 4 miles long—and has an infamous, creepy reputation for its use by various criminal elements to dispose of bodies.

What a great place to dump this movie.

The real road sign . . . with the correct spelling. Courtesy of Wikipedia. It’s pronounced “Zizzix” (Zzz-icks), by the way.

It’s along this road were we meet Grant (Leo Grillo), a philandering accountant with a young daugther who’s stuck in a bad marriage. While on a road trip to service his clients, he starts a torrid affair with Marissa (Hegyl), a femme fatale he meets in a Las Vegas casino. When Marissa’s violent ex-boyfriend Joey (Sizemore) shows up to kill the lovers, Grant ends up killing Joey in self-defense—and Marissa convinces him to drive into the Southern California desert to bury Joey. Of course, Joey isn’t dead. . . . (Now, I don’t know about you, but a chick that knows about a dumping ground in the desert . . . no “boink” can be that good!)

The post-Hegyl stardom overseas DVD version—with the much better title— that kicks Grillo and Sizemore in the ass. Ouch. Zyzzyx Road’s overseas titles are, in their respective languages, Road of the Death, Dead Road, Side by Side Lies, A Corpse in the Desert, and Road to the End of the World.

Granted, the biggest “star” of the film is Katherine Hegyl (2001’s Valentine) who, shortly after filming Zyzzyx Road, found herself cast in a lead role on ABC-TV’s Grey’s Anatomy. Then she found stardom on the big screen with 2007’s Knocked Up.

But the real reason I picked up Zyzzyx Road at Goodwill for a buck (along with Ground Rules, starring another one of my favorite actors, Richard Lynch) was for Tom Sizemore. He always delivers us film geeks the goods in films such as Striking Distance, Quentin Tarantino’s Natural Born Killers, and Sly Stallone’s Lock Up. These days Tom specializes in direct-to-video features and is currently working on his 226th film, Circle of 3s. He most recently starred in 2019’s Abstruse and The Pining.

Oh, and get this. Rickey Medlocke—from Blackfoot (Train, Train!) and Lynyrd Skynyrd—stars as a crazed desert meth dealer who doesn’t take to kindly to those city folk poking around his lab.

“Okay, so much for the backstory,” you say. “Is the movie any good?”

The trailer pretty much sums up the whole movie. And since there’s no online streams, it’s all you really need.

Well, let me put it this way: In the various articles written about Zyzzyx Road over the years, Heigl and Sizemore refuse to comment on the film—and they didn’t show up for its Dallas premiere.

And let’s put it another way: Have you ever read one of those reviews that inserts an actor’s name into the phase: “For ____________ completists only? This is one of those films. And in this case, it’s Tom Sizemore’s name that completes the sentence. His deciding to go deliciously hammy and overboard as the villain is this film’s only saving grace (well, that, and Ricky Medlocke showing up), but it’s also Grillo’s demise. Against Sizemore (A Matter of Degrees), Grillo’s dry and woefully out of his element. It’s not that he’s incompetent. He’d be great with bit parts on say, a Law and Order or Blue Bloods—but not as a lead actor carrying a feature film.

“Hey, what about the ‘irony’ regarding child pornography you mentioned earlier?”

Oh, right. So, throughout the film it’s implied that Hegyl’s character is underage (under 18, that is), which means that Sizemore’s and Grillo’s characters (again, Grillo’s a father with a young daugther) are both pedophiles—and rapists by definition.

Ick.

We’ve seen Hegyl’s work before and we know what she can do on screen. Sadly, at the time of the production, Hegyl was already 27 years old—and she’s utterly unconvincing as an evil, high schooled-age seductress. What the film needed was a Christina Ricci (who excels in that type of role (see her Dedee Truitt in 1997’s The Opposite of Sex) or a Thora Birch (Ghost World!) (Thora was initially offered the role—and turned it down).

Director John Penney’s writing and directing resume—Zyzzyx Road was his debut—includes 2011’s Hellgate, which stars William Hurt (Altered States) and Cary Elwes (Saw, Kiss the Girls), 1993’s Return of the Living Dead III, and a baker’s dozen of direct-to-video flicks, such as 1996’s Past Perfect starring Eric Roberts. As a film editor, Penney worked on the U.K “video nasty” The Dorm that Dripped Blood and Return of the Living Dead. Casting director Valerie McCaffrey worked on 1998’s American History X and 1999’s Detroit Rock City and made her directing debut with 2001’s Wish You Were Dead.

What’s this, pray tell? Is this an alternate DVD reissue—with the correct spelling of the road?

You can watch the trailer on You Tube. Did this movie bomb as well? Probably. It’s doubtful it even ‘broken even’ on its million dollar budget—and it’s still swimming in red ink. The only reason it’s remembered is because it’s confused with Zyzzyx Road.

Nope.

Also known under its alternative title of Burned, Zzyzx is an unrelated, low-budget romp (also released in 2006) about desert-bred greed and corruption. It’s directed by Richard Halpern, whose most recent film is the 2019 Lifetime-styled thriller, Suburban Nightmare.

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.

Box Office Failures Week: Gods of Egypt (2016)

Remember Alex Proyas? He directed The Crow and the promise of that movie led to chance after chance, with films like I, Robot and Knowing baffling folks and still making money. He also made Dark City, a movie that I’m still kind of shocked emerged out of Hollywood. And in trivia that only my pal R. D Francis would care about, he also directed Crowded House’s video for “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”

Way back in 2016, before cancel culture became a thing, I remember sitting in the theater and seeing the trailer for this movie and saying, “Oh no.” Even back then, in the unenlightened world of five years ago, people realized that all white people playing Egyptians was just plain wrong.

This movie would have been eviscerated today.

Gods of Egypt grossed $31.2 million in North America — and $119.6 million in other countries — for a total of $150.7 million against the $140 million it cost to make the film. But when you throw in the marketing, the studio lost around $90 million and their dreams of making this a franchise.

So let me try and make sense of this movie, which looks like it’s a SyFy Original more than a movie that cost more money than my entire bloodline has ever and will ever earn.

Bryan Brown plays Osiris and before you can say, “I loved you in F/X!,” he’s killed by his brother Set, who is played by Gerard Butler, who was once a thing. Remember when he was going to be Snake Plissken? Yeah. Me too.

A thief named Bek is given the plans for Set’s pyramid by his lover Zaya and this is where I really lost any sembleance of caring about this movie. But let’s try. Bek steals of our Horus’ eyes, his lover is killed and he gets to bring her back to life by giving the god back his eyeball. Who wrote Egyptian mythlogy, Lucio Fulci?

Nearly every god is either Austalian or British, kind of like Nazis usually are in other movies. Like Geoffrey Rush plays Ra. At least one African-American person, Chadwick Boseman, shows up and the Hollywood Illuminati was probably like, “Please be in this horrible movie and we promise, some day you can be Black Panther.”

I’m sure there were dreams that kids would someday scream, “I want to be Bek for Halloween!” But it was not to be. Not even a $10 million dollar Australian tax credit could make anyone feel good about this movie.

This is a movie that feels fifty years old, with none of the great Ray Harryhausen effects or Lawrence Olivier yelling things to make you feel better. I’m still kind of shocked that this movie is only four years old, because it truly feels like it came from another planet, a world of glossy metallic CGI and a yearning to be better than Prince of Persia.

Even the logo sucks.

Proyas would later do what all great directors do, turn to Facebook, where he ccused critics who usually hate his films of having an axe to grind with him and using claims of white-washing to do exactly that before calling those who dared critique his film “diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass…trying to peck to the rhythm of the consensus. I applaud any film-goer who values their own opinion enough to not base it on what the pack-mentality says is good or bad.”

I value my own opinion just fine. And if it looks like a turd and walks like a turd and smells like a turd, guess what?

It’s a turd.

Box Office Failures Week: Hello, Dolly! (1969)

While Hello, Dolly would win three Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Best Score of a Musical Picture and Best Sound — while also being nominated for four other Academy Awards including Best Picture — the movie was a failure and took years to finally break even.

The filming of the movie was filled with arguments between nearly everyone. Co-stars Barbara Streisand and Walter Matthau came to blows on the hot June day with Robert Kennedy was killed. All it took was a sneeze to set the cantankerous Matthau off, who supposedly yelled, “You might be the singer in this picture, but I’m the actor! You haven’t got the talent of a butterfly’s fart!”

Streisand remembered it differently, that Matthau just went off on her, leaving her crying for days.

Director Gene Kelly saw it as a typical dispute about stepping on each other’s lines and thought that a quick meeting resolved everything.

But to the public, the story became the diva Streisand against the henpecked and suffering Matthau.

Matthau definitely had no love lost for the singer. When he and co-star Michael Crawford visited a nearby racetrack and noticed that a horse named Hello Dolly was racing. Matthau refused to bet on it because it reminded him of Babs. Crawford placed a bet anyway and that horse won the race. As a result, Matthau now also refused to talk to Crawford.

That said, Streisand also battled Kelly over the “Before the Parade Passes By” scene, with the singer going over the director’s head and bringing in the producer, behind Kelly’s back. 

To top all that off, choreographer Michael Kidd warred with costume designer Irene Sharaff and Kelly to the point that he and the legendary song and dance man were no longer speaking to one another.

This was an incredibly expensive film and the costs started when the movie hadn’t even been filmed yet. In order to get the play off Broadway — a clause in the 1965 film sale contract specified that the film could not be released until June 1971 or when the show closed on Broadway, whichever came first — Fox had to pay $2 million dollars for an early release escape payment.

The film’s final budget — $24 million dollars ($186 million in today’s money) nearly took down 20th Century Fox.

But hey — the movie is awesome. Seriously, it’s the loudest, biggest, play it to the back row musical extravaganza ever. Just by 1968, did the kids want to see a musical like this any longer? One wonders, as the same studio also released Star and Doctor Doolittle, two more musical stinkers. Only a re-release of The Sound of Music in 1973 would reverse the studio’s fortunes.

All of New York City is excited because Dolly Levi (Streisand) is back in town. Never mind that Barbara was about twenty or more years too young to play this part, robbing the original play of its emotional resonance.

She’s here to find a wife for Yonkers-based half-a-millionaire and full grump Horace Vandergelder (Matthau), but of course, she really wants him all for herself. There’s also the matter of artistic Ambrose Kemper (Tommy Tune), a young artist who wants to marry Horace’s niece Ermengard. And then there are the two employers of Vandergelder’s Hay and Feed, Cornelius Hackl (Michael Crawford, yes, Condorman) and Barnaby Tucker (Danny Lockin, who played the role on Broadway afterward; he was killed after being stabbed a hundred times in the 70’s) who are looking for love themselves.

One of the women they’re after is Irene Molloy, who is played by Marianne McAndrew. After this movie, she’d marry Stewart Moss and star with him in The Bat People. The other is Minnie Fay, who is played by E.J. Peaker, who is also in Graduation Day.

The highlight of the film is the Harmonia Gardens scene, where Dolly arrives to great bombast and Louie Armstrong singing in a scene that never fails to make me cry. Hijinks, of course, ensue and everyone winds up with the person they deserve and all live happily ever after, even if it seems like Matthau’s character will always be cantankerous.

Seriously, that Harmonia Gardens set is unlike anything we’ll ever see again. In all, this sequence took an entire month to film. It filled an entire sound stage and had three levels, with a main section, a dance floor and an upper mezzanine. It’s so massive that the wall behind the check-out girl is the same wall as the ballroom from The Sound of Music and the ornate glass windows were reused to create the dining room skylights in The Poseidon Adventure. You can also see the sets reused as the mutants’ Grand Central Station tribunal room and ruined St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. And the fountain also shows up in The Towering Inferno.

If we didn’t have this movie, how else would WALL-E learn about love? And believe it or not, this was the first movie commercially released on home video in the United States.

BONUS: You can listen to us discuss this movie on our podcast.

Joe Stryker (2019)

There used to be a time when Joe Stryker was the best damn cop in the business. Then his wife got killed by a bunch of drug pushers and he spiraled out of control, just as the city he served fell apart. Now, Joe’s on the comeback, ready to make the people who made his life hell on Earth pay. And that receipt? Yeah, it’s gonna be paid in blood, baby.

The brainchild of Ryan Cadaver and Kevin Slayfield, Joe Stryker is what happens when you let a bunch of maniacs loose with movie-making equipment and what can only be several nights worth of intoxicants.

You ever drive through a small town that only has bars, four Dollar Generals and a run-down convenience store and wonder what kind of shenanigans go down once the sun fades away and the lower tier booze starts flowing? Well, I grew up in a place exactly like that and can tell you that Joe Stryker would have fit right in.

Training montages? Glowing green drugs? Drug-dealing devil dudes? A band called The Casket Creatures? Gratuitous nudity of both the breast and ball variety? Montages of the neon city at night? Dudes wearing Zubaz with face tattoos carrying bazookas? Plenty of scenes set in bars? Faces getting smashed into a mucky paste? Rusted out storage units? Lots of swearing? Car trunks full of semi-automatic weapons? Yeah, this movie has all that and then some, including dialogue like, “We’re just here to party. You know, do drugs? Fuck goats?”

It’s shot on video and has the budget of my last big date with my wife, but don’t let that hold you back. If you love the kind of movies that I do — and if you’re on this site, I think that you do — then this is the kind of movie that I think you’re going to love.

I’ve had nights like this at the bars of my hometown, except, you know, I never had to hide someone’s ripped off leg in the back of my toilet tank. Yeah, I’m no Joe Stryker. Not many people can be.

You can learn more at the official Facebook page and order the movie right here.

Box Office Failures Week: Abduction (2011)

So this whole month is about flops. And this movie, well, it made $82 million worldwide against its $35 million production budget, so that’s anything more than a flop. But it’s also John Singleton’s last movie — a career that had the promise of Boyz n the Hood ended with a vehicle for the werewolf boy from Twilight. Then again, he also made Four Brothers and 2 Fast 2 Furious, so maybe I’m being too generous to his promise.

Maybe I’m just upset because Abduction is the limpest of limp action movies and has the balls to be set in my hometown of Pittsburgh. Then again, most of it was shot in Hampton and Mount Lebanon, two neighborhoods rich with privileged folks who look down on our town’s yinzer soul. None of this will mean anything to you if didn’t grow up within earshot of the voice of Myron Cope, but Taylor Lautner is exactly the kind of kid who hung out at South Hills Village or Ross Park before his dad’s pals from the country club got him a cushy job so he could ogle and harass the interns, always a step ahead of you because there is no middle class here.

Ah, maybe I’m being hard on Taylor. After all, he was a wolf boy. And here, he plays a kid with Jason Isaacs and Maria Bello as his adoptive parents and a kindly Sigourney Weaver as a therapist who maybe isn’t all that kindly, but lives in one of those wacky houses you always stare up at Mt. Washington and wonder — who lives there?

Soon, his kinda sorta parents are dead, his house has been blown up real good and Alfred Molina is trying to kill him. What’s there to do but fall in love with Phil Collins’ daughter and try and find your real dad, only to discover that he’s Dylan McDermott or Dermot Mulroney?

Michael Nyqvist, who played Mikael Blomkvist in The Girl With…films, is also in this. Perhaps this is out American take on these spy thrillers, where instead of sexy and fashion-forward Lisbeth Salander, we get young Taylor rocking out his best American Eagle duds?

This movie got the kind of reviews that I can only dream of making, with one claiming that Bert from Sesame Street had more range than Taylor and the fact that an actual abduction would be preferable to watching this film.

Abduction and Lautner won the Teen Choice Awards for Choice Action Movie and Choice Action Actor. Meanwhile, the man who was once Jacob Black lost his bid to win a Razzie to Adam Sandler, who had the year actors like Cash Flagg could only dream about, as in 2011 he made Jack and Jill and Just Go With It.

If you want to hear exactly how much I hate this movie — and didn’t get the gist from reading the above words — then you should listen to our podcast where I basically went off on the movie for nearly an hour.

PS: Fuck Upper Saint Clair and Seven Fields, too.

Box Office Failures Week: Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

When I saw the first trailer for this movie, I thought, “No one but me is going to go see this movie.” But you know, it’s the most successful movie Robert Rodriguez ever released. And I guess it was a success — the film grossed $85.7 million domestically and $319.1 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $404.9 million.

That’s good, right?

Well, to break even against marketing costs, the movie had to make around $500 million, so it either lost $53 million or barely broke even. Dude, I’m sweating making my minimum payments on my credit cards and these dudes are farting around with figures where $53 million — the amount of money that Mario Bava could have made Danger: Diabolik thirteen times.

PS: I had to do the math for what that movie cost in Italian lira versus U.S. dollars, then do the inflation calculation from 1968 to today. I laugh, because I once said that I would never use math.

So yeah — how did a movie based on Japanese manga artist Yukito Kishiro’s 1990s series Gunnm and the 1993 original video animation adaptation Battle Angel ever make it to U.S. screens?

Guillermo del Toro told James Cameron about it — way back before Avatar. The film sat for years before Cameron asked Robert Rodriguez to condense and combine his 186-page screenplay as well as 600 pages of notes into a shooting script. That work led to Rodriguez getting the directing job and hey — we have a movie.

2563 and we’re already three hundred years after the Great War nearly killed everyone on Earth. That’s when cyborg scientist and part-time bounty hunter Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) finds a disembodied female cyborg in the scrapyard of Iron City. He names her Alita after his dead daughter and saves her human brain.

Alita is in love with the city and meets all manner of people, from Ido’s ex-wife Dr. Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) and a kid named Hugo who introduces her to the sport of this new world, Motorball.

However, Hugo has a big secret: he really works for Vector (Mahershala Ali, who was astounding in the third season of True Detective), the man who runs Iron City and Motorball.

Alita also learns her father figure’s secret — he’s a bounty hunter — and when she trails him one night, she saves him from a gang of cyborg killers. One of them, Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley), hounds our heroine for the rest of the movie.  Alita dreams of bigger things and her past life where she was a Berserker, one of the soldiers of the enemy United Republics of Mars.

You know, maybe reading the manga would have made this all much easier.

Alita goes off and registers herself as a Hunter-Warrior, but is unable to rally any of the other hunters to help her stop Grewishka, who is working for Nova (Ed Norton). Alita’s body is nearly destroyed by the killing machine before Ido, Hogo and dogmaster McTeague (Jeff Fahey!) save her.

Now in a new Berserker body, Alita soon takes over the Motorball league, but loses the love of her life due to the machinations of Nova and his soldiers. The film ends with Alita as a Motorball star, promising that she will someday get her revenge.

You know all that money I mentioned at the top? It didn’t really matter in the long run. That’s because this ended up being the last Fox movie ever made, as Disney purchased the studio, moving us closer to the corporate-controlled world that this movie portrays.

I enjoyed this, but I have no idea how anyone else would react to a movie based on a manga from the 90’s made for a worldwide audience. It’s one of those movies where it cost so much that there’s no way that anyone would see any money from it. But man, it looks really cool, right?

Deadly Manor (1990)

Arrow Video put out José Ramón Larraz’s Edge of the Axe earlier this year and I loved every minute of it. While Deadly Manor isn’t quite as good, it’s still plenty strange. Just when you’re lulled into near-sleep by the numbers slasher plot, something absolutely and wonderfully bizarre happens, like the flashback to the bikers causing the accident or shocking nude photos of living, dead and perhaps not so dead people that show up throughout the film. Seriously, if nudity bothers you, this is not the movie for you.

On their way to a lake that no one can pronounce, some kids pick up a drifter with a dark past — don’t they all have those — and head to an abandoned mansion that has a car shrine up front, coffins in the basement and a closet full of scalps. And oh yeah — the same gorgeous yet evil woman has a photo up every few inches.

Everybody is soon about to be snuffed, but you knew that just from the first few seconds of the movie.

Greg Rhodes is in this movie and Ghosthouse, which would make a great movie to pair this up with if you’re looking for a fun evening. Jerry Kernion, who is Peter, has had a pretty nice career after this debut. And Jennifer Delora, who is pretty fun as the killer, was the second woman in Miss America history to be dethroned after her nude scenes in Bad Girls Dormitory became fodder for those easily upset. She’s also in all manner of genre favorites like Robot HolocaustSuburban CommandoBedroom Eyes II and Frankenhooker.

Seriously — hang out for the first hour or so of this movie. You’ll be rewarded with something really special when it comes to the final girl and the last twenty minutes or so.

As always, Arrow has gone all out for a movie that not many people were all that concerned about. So what! This features a new 2K scan, interviews with actress Jennifer Delora, Brian Smedley-Aston and Larraz (archival, not new, as he died in 2013) and a trailer for the Savage Lust VHS release. There’s also a commentary track with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan.

You can buy Deadly Manor from Arrow Video, who were kind enough to send us a review copy.

Box Office Failures Week: Sorcerer (1977)

We, the music and film loving dorks at B&S About Movies, remember Sorcerer for Tangerine Dream’s accompanying soundtrack*, which served as the Krautrocker’s first Hollywood film score and ninth album overall. The law-degree carrying Hollywood bean counters remember Sorcerer as a $22 million picture that made $15 million during its initial release and ended up losing the studio $42 million in production costs.

While William Friedkin’s instant classics The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973) raked in the cash and the critical raves, Sorcerer gained mixed to negative reviews on the worldwide critical front. Today, while it is critically lauded as one of Freidkin’s finest, and considered an amicable follow up to his influential hit, The Exorcist**, it bombed at the box office as result of Universal and Paramount underestimating the potential of 20th Century Fox’s new science fiction-fantasy that was released one month prior: Star Wars, George Lucas’s follow up to his own 1973 hit, American Graffiti.

Luckily, for Tangerine Dream the film’s poor critical showing didn’t trickle down to their soundtrack work. The album reached the U.S Top 200, a domestic-retail milestone for the band. In the U.K the album went to #25 on the charts and became their third highest-charting album. The critical and sales plateaus reached by the band with their soundtrack debut so impressed Hollywood, it led to the band’s fruitful career of soundtrack work.

As for William Friedkin: he bounced back with the Al Pacino-starring Cruising.

Sorcerer, in addition to poor scheduling, also suffered from bad casting choices. Reflecting on the film in the pages of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (a highly recommended read for you movie lovers), Friedkin believes he shouldn’t have done Sorcerer at all, once plans with Steve McQueen fell through, as the film’s leading role was written specifically for the Bullitt star. The fallout was the result of McQueen wanting his new wife, Ali McGraw (Convoy), to be either cast in the film or hired as an associate producer. Friedkin said no and McQueen left the project. While Roy Scheider recently came off the back-to-back hits of 1975’s Jaws*** and 1976’s Marathon Man (where he was only a co-star and not a lead), it wasn’t enough to entice ticket buyers, considering the rest of the cast were international names unknown to U.S domestic audiences.

While Friedkin disagrees with the assessment, this second adaptation of Georges Arnaud’s French novel Le Salaire de la peur (1950) carries the majority of critical opinion that Sorcerer is not so much a Friedkin reimaging of the novel than it is a straight remake of Wages of Fear (1953), the first film based on the novel. Initially conceived as a $15 million project, the film’s Dominican Republic shoot went “Heaven’s Gate,” near doubling its budget and required the resources of two studios—Universal and Paramount—to complete it.

Both of the Arnaud-inspired films are concerned with four unfortunate outcasts of varied backgrounds from around the globe running from their individual demons. They come to work together when they find mutual employment transporting cargoes of unstable, aged stocks of “nitroglycerin sweating” dynamite across a treacherous South American jungle. Sorcerer, as with Werner Herzog’s (excellent!) similar jungle romps Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcaraldo, is an intelligent thriller—beyond the usual Hollywood action tripe—that ponders the questions of man’s control over his own fate and the absurd situations one can find themselves cast as result of their poor life choices. It’s certainly an apropos lesson, considering this film’s fate and the effects it had on Friedkin’s post-Exorcist career.

While we look upon Sorcerer today as a forgotten masterpiece, it came at a price beyond the financial: In an Esquire magazine interview about the film, Freidkin stated he contracted malaria in the Dominican Republic jungles and fifty crew members had to be replaced for contracting gangrene and other various jungle-based diseases.

You can stream the film on Amazon Prime and iTunes.

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.

* You can learn more about Tangerine Dream’s soundtracks with our “Exploring: Ten Tangerine Dream Film Soundtracks” retrospective.

** You can enjoy more Friedkin-inspired horror films with our “Ten Possession Movies that aren’t The Exorcist” retrospective.

*** If you missed it, be sure to check out our “Bastard Pups of Jaws” week and our “Ten Jaws Ripoffs” retrospective.

 

Box Office Failures Week: Glitter (2001)

Mariah Carey went into this movie as probably the biggest diva on the planet, having emancipated herself from her first marriage to Tommy Mottola and her contract with Columbia Records to become exactly who she wanted to be.

She also pretty much lost her mind.

As she started the publicity tour for this movie, she’d leave long and rambling voicemails to her fans — her lambs, as she called them — on her website. And then there were the TV appearances. On BET’s 106 & Park, she hid behind pillows and claimed that she was living “one day that was continuous.” There was also the infamous TRL appearance on MTV,  where she emerged in a nightshirt giving away ice cream to the audience before discussing therapy and stripping on stage, ending with her yelling, “Mariah Carey has lost her mind!”

See — I told you.

By the end of the month, Carey was hospitalized for extreme exhaustion and had both a physical and emotional breakdown. The movie and soundtrack were delayed for a few weeks, then the attacks on September 11, 2001 happened. And no one wanted to think about music or fun or Mariah Carey going bonkers for a while.

I’m lying. I was ready for this trainwreck the whole time.

Carey herself said, “Here’s the thing that a lot of people don’t know, that movie was released on September 11, 2001 – could there be a worse day for that movie to come out? … I don’t even know that many people even saw the movie.” She’s since referred to the movie as the biggest mistake of her life.

Mariah is Billie Frank, the daughter of a 1970’s nightclub singer who once set their house on fire. She grew up in an orphanage with her two best friends, Louise and Roxanne (Da Brat and Tia Texada), but now all three girls are the backup singers to the host of Top Chef (Padma Lakshmi, the only person in this movie to probably has read The Satanic Diaries, much less be married at one point to its author).

Billie falls for Dice, a DJ who gets her out of her contract with Timothy (Terence Howard) for $100,000, an action that ends up costing him his life just as Billie is about to finally play Madison Square Garden. Man, I fast-forwarded the plot, but that’s pretty much it. Think A Star Is Born without all the crying in bathtubs.

As amazing a singer as Carey is, her five-octave voice does not translate to her ability to emote or carry the lead role. No one else is ready, willing or able to carry her. And look, I may be writing this in my sweatpants, but even I know that some of the fashions in this movie do anything but glitter.

Director Vondie Curtis-Hall — he’s also an actor, you may have seen him on Chicago Hope as Dr. Dennis Hancock — has mostly moved into TV movies about celebrities. Here’s hoping he goes meta and makes a Mariah film.

This movie has left me with so many questions. How old is Billie’s cat? It has to be at least twenty years old or longer. How did she and Dice learn how to telepathically write songs together? Why is no one interesting in this movie? Why did Ann Magnuson sign up for this? Why has the two-and-a-half hour length original cut never surfaced? Could Dice’s pants be any tighter? Are they perhaps his skin? And what’s up with that bicycle outfit that Mariah wears?

Glitter made $5.3 million on a $22 million dollar budget and the soundtrack album ended up being the worst selling record Carey released up until that point, so she was dropped from her Virgin contract, losing around $100 million dollars. Man — I can’t sleep and my total debt is so insignificant next to that amount. And I’ve never showed up and thrown ice cream sandwiches to Carson Daly yet. Maybe there’s hope for all of us. Thanks for showing us the way, Mariah.

Kill Ben Lyk (2018)

Three Ben Lyk’s have been murdered in London, so Scotland Yard puts all of the people with that name together until it can figure out why. Yes, a masked killer with a strange mask is wiping them all out. And that would be a bad thing for anyone but one of the Ben Lyks (Eugene  Simon, Lancel Lannister from Game of Thrones), a YouTuber looking for a chance at the celebrity that he’s always dreamt of.

This is the first feature from director Erwan Marinopoulos, who has an assured style and opens the film with quite a bang. Literally.

I really like how Scroobius Pip shows up in this movie. I’ve meditated on his lyrics for the song “Thou Shall Always Kill” for years, so it was fun to see him in this.

So what happens when every Ben Lyk is in the same spot — including a former Falklands hero and a female Ben? Well, all Hell breaks loose and hijinks ensue. Plus, the design of the villain is just plain awesome.

This film will be released sometime in 2020. You can learn more at the official Facebook page.

DISCLAIMER: We were sent this movie by its PR team.