Floy Mutrux wrote the musical theater productions Million Dollar Quartet, Baby It’s You! and Heartbreak Hotel after a career in films, including directing Aloha Bobby and Rose and The Hollywood Knights. He’s also written scripts for movies like Freebie and the Bean and Two-Lane Blacktop.
The strange thing is, this movie failed at the box office while its soundtrack went to #31 on the Billboard charts with no pr. And the movie itself is packed with the real artists of the era playing themselves, like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Frankie Ford and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
This movie was well-reviewed — notorious haters Gene Siskel and Pauline Kael spoke well of it — and yet it died nearly unseen.
Tim McIntire — Blood’s voice in A Boy and His Dog — plays Alan Freed, the first DJ to get black artists on mainstream radio (or at least the first to be recognized for such a brave act). He’s also George Jones in Stand By Your Man, if you want to do a music movie double feature.
It’s also a romance, with Freed’s Freed’s secretary Sheryl (Fran Drescher) getting hit by Cupid’s arrow for chauffeur Mookie (Jay Leno). Jeff Altman, who for some reason has shown up in numerous rock and roll movies this week, plays a record exec. And hey — Larraine Newman is here, on break from SNL, as a young songwriter whose parents don’t approve of her being around black people (Caroline King but not in name, basically).
Planet Records owner Richard Perry — the man who produced Nilsson Schmilsson — is a record producer. There’s also plenty of great music and this film takes a more glowing look at Alan Freed than other films. It’s a shame more people don’t know about this movie.
It all began with the 1964 sand n’ sandal flicks The Revolt of the Pretorians and The Magnificent Gladiator, along with an array of Poliziotteschi flicks. In between was an X-rated romp with 1969’s The Labyrinth of Sex and 1974’s seen-to-be-believed Super Stooges vs the Wonder Women. And it all pretty much ended when Uncle Al decided to take on George Lucas. We never saw him again on U.S. screens—big or small.
So, have you ever met two guys debating the content of Alfonso Brescia’s “Star Wars” rips? Welcome to mine and Sam’s world: a bizarro-universe where he mixes colorful, alcohol concoctions based on movies and we destroy our livers debating superfluous movie facts, much to the chagrin of poor Becca. Not even a Bill Van Ryn smack-on-the-side-of-the-head cures our Bresciamania.
Sam is of the critics who believe Uncle Al’s “Pasta Wars” is comprised of only four films: Cosmos: War of the Planets (aka Year Zero War in Space), Battle of the Stars, (aka Battle in Interstellar Space), War of the Robots (aka Reactor), and finally, Star Odyssey (aka Seven Gold Men in Space, Space Odyssey, Metallica and Captive Planet).
I’m on the side that there was actually five films in the series, which completed with 1980’s La Bestia nello Spazio, aka The Beast in Space in English venacular, aka “Star Wars V,” aka “Porn Wars,” because, well . . . it’s a porn movie.
Five! Arrrgh! Let’s break ’em down! But first, this 2012 trailer remix for the best known of Uncle Al’s “Pasta Wars” flicks: Star Odyssey.
Movie 1: Cosmos: War of the Planets (1977)
Many sci-fi connoisseurs believe Brescia’s “Star Wars” debut isn’t so much a rip-off of Star Wars: they opine it’s a homage to another Italian space epic, one that was produced amid all of those Antonio Margheriti-spaghetti space operas: Mario’s Bava’s Terrore nello Spazio, aka Terror in Space (known in American theatres as Planet of Vampires; then in its U.S TV syndication as Demon Planet).
On this point, Sam and I concure: Look at the costuming and alien-possession subplots of Bava’s and Brescia’s films for comparison. Adding to the celluloid confusion: Cosmos had similarly-influenced—if not the very same-recycled—costumes and sets as Margheriti’s films. In addition: Cosmos was also distributed as War of the Planets—which was the title of the 1966 second film of Margheriti’s Gamma One series.
Amid Cosmos’ self-recycled stock footage and shot-through-sheets-of-sepia-paper-and-cheese-cloth special effects, Cosmos also ineptly-lifted whole scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey (an astronaut completes an upside-down communication device repair-in-space) and Barbarella (sex via touching a “blue orb of light” between beds). The “plot” for those who fell asleep: Our heroes journey to a planet where a green-skinned race is subjugated by an evil computer . . . and the Earth’s Italian “Hal 9000,” “The Wiz,” is possessed by the evil alien computer. . . .
Is this plotline picked up in the next movie? Nope. But all the sets, props, and costumes sure do redux.
Believe it or not, with everyone tricked into believing they were seeing another “Star Wars,” Cosmos: War of the Planets turned a profit in theatres (they got my coin at the duplex; the same plex that played Lou Cozzi’s Starcrash). It also aired forever during the ’80s on Friday and Saturday night and Saturday morning UHF-TV.
You can watch one of the many uploads on You Tube.
Movie 2:Battle of the Stars (1978)
. . . And Uncle Al returned with his “Empire Strikes Back” in the form of Battaglie negli spazi stellar (aka Battle in Interstellar Space), but it was given a new U.S. title because it sounds suspiciously like “Battlestar Galactica.” And since that was Glen Larson’s cheap-jack Lucas rip, that makes this a Star Wars rip twice removed.
Alas, Uncle Al’s “Star Wars II” suffered from poor theatrical distribution and a weak reissue via home video and TV syndication. Then, with all the alternate titling that plagues European films as they’re distributed to the international markets, spacesploitation buffs believed the almost-impossible-to-find Battle of the Stars was Cosmos—with a new title. Of course, when the main cast of familiar Italian actors Gianno Garko, Malisa Longo, Antonio Sabato, Yanti Somer, and John Richardson—along with most of their support cast—keep showing up in subsequent films, that only adds to the confusion.
Regardless, it’s not the same film.
Battle of the Stars is an entirely new film that cannibalizes Cosmos for stock footage—and all the costumes and sets return. As is the case with most “sequels” (Alien vs. Aliens and Mad Max vs. The Road Warrior being the exceptions to the rule), Battle is a just remake/reimage of Cosmos—with a little script tweak: Instead of Earthlings traveling to the planet-home of the evil computer, this time the rogue planet without-an-orbit-and-pissed-off-sentient-being comes to Earth, which . . . was the plot of Margheriti’s Battle of the Planets.
Hey?! What happened to the ship with its computer, “The Wiz,” possessed by the alien computer in Cosmos? Is that cleared up in Part III? Nope, that plotline is done and gone. . . .
You can watch a really clean Italian-language rip of Battle of the Stars on You Tube.
The snack bar is open . . . .
Intermission with Jason of Star Command and Space Academy . . .
Yep, all of the one-piece spandex suits and pull-over headpieces were back for a third sequel . . . with a society of gold-painted skin people pinch-hitting for the green folks from Cosmos. Why? On this point Sam and I agree: There’s no “artistic” meaning behind it. Uncle Al simply ran out of the five-gallon buckets of green grease paint and he found some gold paint in the stock room. Ah, but all of the stock SFX footage, costumes, and sets—and whole scenes lifted from the previous two films—are back.
The “plot,” such as it is: Gold Aryan robots with Dutch-boy haircuts are on the brink of extinction. And the solution is to kidnap a couple of Earth scientists to save their planet. So a crack team of space marines (see Aliens; which wasn’t made yet!) are sent in for a rescue.
What makes “Pasta Wars III” so utterly confusing: All of the same actors from the last two films come back—as different characters. So, it’s a “sequel” . . . then it’s not. Will the fourth film tie up the loose end regarding the possessed Wiz from part one. . . .
You can watch this one of the many uploads of War of the Robots on You Tube.
So . . . George Lucas was still in production with the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back (1980)—and Brescia is already on his 4th sequel with 1979’s “The Gold Ayran Dutch Boy Robots” (as I like to call it) . . . but they really were back in Sette Uomini d’oro nello Spazi, aka Seven Gold Men in Space which, if you’re able to keep up with the alternate-titling of Italian films, became Star Odyssey for English-speaking audiences.
And you thought Roger Corman was the king of set, prop, and wardrobe recycling? Uncle Al’s recycling makes Glen Larson’s cheap n’ shameless footage, prop, and costume recycling from the Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers franchise-axis seem inspired.
The plot: In the year 2312 the Earth is referred to by evil aliens as “Sol 3.” “Darth Vader” is some guy in a (quite impressive) lizard skin mask (but it’s topped with a Farrah Fawcett-’70s feathered hair cut) that “buys” Earth in some inter-galactic auction to cultivate Earthlings as slaves to sell on the open market. And his army is the gold Dutch Boy robots . . . but didn’t we save them in War of the Robots? Welcome to the Brescia-verse. . . .
“Han Solo” is some guy in a shiny-silver Porsche racing jacket and a funky, disco-inspired spider web tee-shirt contracted for a The Magnificent Seven-inspired recruitment of a rescue team of rogues . . . thus ripping off Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars. Part of the “seven” are Uncle Al’s R2D2 and C3PO: a bickering male-female robot couple (the female has eyelashes and red lips) dealing with “sexual dysfunction” and “relationship issues.” And there’s a scrawny n’ skinny Han Solo-replicant acrobat who backflips and summersaults into battles—and makes a living fighting in boxing rings with Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots (know your ’70s toys). And what’s up with the “Luke Skywalker” of this space opera: Lt. Oliver ‘Hollywood’ Carrera? What’s with the obviously drawn-on mustache? Why is he hunching his back and arching his shoulders? Is it a parody of some Italian comedy actor we Americans don’t know about?
As result of Star Odyssey never playing in U.S. theatres or airing on U.S. UHF-TV in-syndication (at least not to mine and Sam’s recollections), the only way we watched this fourth “Pasta Wars” sequel was on numerous public domain DVD multi-packs. And regardless of the distributor, the “cut” of the film is always the same: somewhere along the way, the scissors were taken to the film and there’s several scenes out of sequence. Remember in Space Mutiny, when Lt. Lemont is dramatically killed off in a scene . . . and she shows up just fine in the very next scene? It’s like that, only it happens several times in Star Odyssey.
I keep promising myself that I’ll rip Star Odyssey and do a proper “fan cut” and put it back into its proper sequence in homage to Uncle Al. . . . Don’t hold you breath waiting for that You Tube upload.
You can watch Star Odyssey in all its continuity-screwed glory on You Tube.
Movie 5: Beast in Space (1980)
And now for the movie that’s come dangerously close to destroying a friendship. Alfonso Brescia’s oeuvre has that effect on people . . . well, just me and ‘ol Sam.
Anyway . . . remember the infamous, 1972 X-rated Flash Gordon porn-flick, Flesh Gordon? Did you ever wonder if Reece and Ripley (and we know they did, off-script and off camera) “got it on” in Aliens? Ever ponder if Han threw Leia across the Dejarik Chess Table and undid her cinnabons?
Well, welcome to Porn Wars.
There’s George Lucas, killing the box office with The Empire Strikes Back, and Brescia responds with his “Star Wars V”: 1980’s La Bestia nello Spazio, aka The Beast in Space. The interesting twist to this “sequel” is that it not only occurs in the same Brescia Pasta-verse (courtesy of footage, costumes, props, sets, and actors recycling) continued from Star Odyssey, it’s also a “sequel” to an infamously popular, 1975 Italian exploitation movie, The Beast. The “connection” between both films: erotic/exploitation actress Sirpa Lane sporting a pair of Brescia-space tights.
So how did they come up with the title Beast in Space, you ask? As result of her erotic/exotic films—especially The Beast—Sirpa Lane was a major star (and marketed as the “next Brigitte Bardot”) in Europe and christened with the affectionate stage name by the Euro-press: “The Beast.”
Issued in “PG,” “R” and “X”-rated formats, the “plot” concerns the Earth’s search of the cosmos for a rare element: Antallum, the key ingredient for bomb construction to basically kill off everyone in the universe. But wait . . . Earth already possessed that wonder-metal to accomplish space travel in the first film . . . so is this a prequel?
Eh, that’s plot piffle in the Brescia-verse.
The real story: The crew is “horny,” with chauvinistic men and slutty women astronauts seducing each other on their way to the planet Lorigon to plunder the planet of its Antallum honey hole. Well, the planet’s sentient super-computer (not again!) isn’t having any of that nonsense. That’s his Antallum. So “Hal 9000” sidetracks the Earthlings . . . by inciting them to indulge in their deepest, darkest sexual desires. Oh, did we mention the gold Aryan Dutch Boy robots are back as well? And the well-hung minotaur from Lane’s sexual dreams is real and lives on Lorigon?
The English language upload is gone. All we have is this Spanish-language upload on You Tube for you to sample.
So be it Star Odyssey or The Beast in Space—or four or five films—Uncle Al’s “Pasta Wars” was over. After turning out his “Star Wars” films in a short four years, Brescia turned over the keys to the Millennium Falcon. But let’s cut Uncle Al a break: he was saddled with the cheapest budgets and pressure-shoot schedules that no filmmaker should endure in their careers.
Brescia continued to make non-science fiction films for the remainder of his career—14 more films for the next 15 years. At the time of his retirement in 1995, Brescia completed a career total of 51 films.
Most of Brescia’s post-1980 work was primarily restricted to Italy-only distribution. His career took a financially-positive turn in the late-‘80s with the worldwide-distributed Iron Warrior (1987; the third in the hugely successful Italian rip-off series of Conan the Barbarian) and Miami Cops (1989; violent Miami Vice-inspired buddy-cop flick starring Richard Roundtree). Sadly, even with the success of Iron Warrior and Miami Cops, Brescia was unable to secure distribution for his self-financed final film, the 1995 action-comedy, Club Vacanze.
Alfonso Brescia, the king of the Star Wars-inspired spaghetti-space opera died, ironically, in 2001.
And that’s the story behind tonight’s “Drive-In Friday” salute to Uncle Al.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.
Silver Saddle, also known as The Man in the Silver Saddle and They Died With Their Boots On, marks the end of an era in several ways. It’s the last of three Westerns that Lucio Fulci would direct (the others are Massacre Timeand The Four of the Apocalypse), as well as one of the last Italian Westerns of the so-called “Spaghetti Western” period. Only China 9, Liberty 37,La Ciudad Maldita and Zanna Bianca e il Grande Kid played theaters after.
NOTE: I challenge this fact, which was in the Silver Saddle Wikipedia entry, as you could consider Fulci’s Zanna Bianca (White Fang) and Il Ritorno di Zanna Bianca (Challenge to White Fang) to be Western films, despite them not necessarily fitting the themes of the Italian version of the genre.
This is also the final western role for Giuliano Gemma, who broke out after acting in 1965’s A Pistol for Ringo. Here, he plays Roy Blood, a bounty hunter eternally seeking the man who murdered his father.
Silver Saddle begins with the moment that put Roy on the trail of Richard Barrett, a landowner whose henchman kills the young boy’s father. Barely a man, Roy picks up a gun, kills the man and takes his horse, silver saddle and all.
Decades later and he’s grown into a fearsome killer himself, followed by an old man named Two-Strike Snake (Geoffrey Lewis) who tells the tale of Roy Blood while picking the pockets of the men he’s shot along the way.
Blood takes a contract to kill a man named Barrett and discovers that instead, it is the young son of his enemy, who has died before he can get revenge. He saves Thomas Barrett Jr. from several other killers, but leaves the boy in the wilderness. However, he will soon learn that the son of his enemy will become the closest thing he will get to recapturing his lost childhood.
Speaking of all that change…
Fulci made this movie in between 1977’s The Psychic, where he explored the giallo once more in the waning years of that cycle and 1979’s Zombi 2, a movie which would take his career further than perhaps it had ever been before.
Gemma, who played Arizona Colt and the aforementioned Ringo, would appear in crime films, in Argento’s late model giallo masterpiece Tenebre and even appear in a very late Italian western, 1985’s comic book-inspired Tex and the Lord of the Deep.
Despite this being made at the very end of the “spaghetti” days, there are plenty of faces you’ll recognize from these sun drenched films, like Ettore Manni (Johnny Oro, I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death and Django and Sartana Are Coming… It’s the End), Aldo Sambrell (For a Few Dollars More), Lewis (My Name Is Nobody) and Donald O’Brien (Keoma).
Cinzia Monreale had only been in a few movies before this. She would go on to be memorably cast as Emily in Fulci’s The Beyond and in the dual roles of Anna and Elena in Joe D’Amato’s Beyond the Darkness.
Licinia Lentini made this her first major film role and would also be part of a movie that would herald the short return of the Italian Western nearly a decade later, the finally authorized sequel Django Strikes Again.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Week at B&S About Movies was a smashing success . . . one that can’t be contained in just one Drive In Friday* featurette! So, for this week only, we’ve opened up the Drive In for a special Saturday edition for you old punk codgers n’ sods. You know who you are . . . you were in middle school or high school during the advent of the cable TV boom and a fan of the USA Network’s “Night Flight” Friday night video programming block, channel surfing HBO and, later on, haunting the shelves of your local video store . . . so you’ll remember seeing these four punkumentaries. It’s been years since I’ve watched these gems myself, so this’ll be a fun night for all.
Oi! Hey, ho! Let’s go! All Aboardfor Punk Night!
1. Punk In London (1977)
Director Wolfgang Büld bounced around the Germany film and TV industry since the early ’70s and made his English language debut with this German-produced documentary that accompanied the release of a coffee table book of the same name. The film features live performances — some of the footage and sound is of questionable quality — from some of the scene’s top bands, such as the Adverts, the Boomtown Rats, the Clash, the Lurkers, the Jam, Killjoys, the Sex Pistols, Sham 69, the Stranglers, and X-Ray Spex.
Büld followed up this document on the rise of punk rock with a sequel on “the fall” of punk rock, 1980’s Punk and Its Aftershocks, which featured the rise of the new, more commercial crop of ska, new wave, and mod bands that pushed out the punks, such as Madness, Secret Affair, Selector, and the Specials. As with any old VHS reissued to DVD, the reissues company had to tinker with the sequel and give it a new title (the lame “British Rock”) and edit out some footage from the original cut. Ugh!
The restored DVD digital rip of Punk in London currently streams on a variety of VOD platforms, but you can watch it for free on Flick Vaults’ You Tube channel. You can view a complete track listing of the bands and songs that appear in the film on Discogs.
Büld’s other punk documents include the hour-long 1980 TV document Women in Rock (leftovers not used in Punk In London), which centers on the German tours of British metalers Girlschool, along with Brit punkers the Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Nina Hagen (Cha Cha), along 1978’s with Reggae in Babylon centered on the career of English reggae pioneers Steel Pulse. Büld made his narrative, dramatic debut with the German language (dubbed into English) film debut of Nena (of “99 Luftballoons” fame) in Gib Gas – Ich will Spaß! (Hangin’ Out).
2. The Punk Rock Movie (1978)
And you thought the footage featured in Punk In London was rough . . . the grainy, shaky images and muddy sound of this debut film by British punk scenester and club DJ Don Letts makes Büld’s works look like award winners . . . but we thank Letts for gearing up that Super-8 camera to chronicle those 100 glorious days in 1977 when Neal Street’s fashionable disco The Roxy booked punk bands in the venue where Letts spun records.
The live acts and backstage interviews include Alternative TV, the Clash, Generation X (Billy Idol), Eater, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Slaughter and the Dogs, the Slits, Subway Sect, and X-Ray Spex. So, regardless of its home movie quality, the film serves as a vital document of London’s then burgeoning punk rock scene.
Letts went onto form Big Audio Dynamite with Mick Jones (after his firing from the Clash) and directed a number of short-form music videos (the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah”) and long-form TV and DVD documentaries, such as 2005’s Punk: Attitude (Euro TV/U.S. DVD) and Westway to the World, his 2003 Grammy Award-winning documentary on the Clash.
The Punk Rock Movie is available on a few VOD streaming platforms, such as Amazon Prime (region dependent), but there’s a VHS rip available on You Tube. You can review the film’s full track listing on Discogs.
. . . And Back to the Show!
3. D.O.A (1980)
London-born Polish documentarian Lech Kowalski’s feature film debut (he made a few shorts and TV films) centers around the 16-mm footage he shot during the Sex Pistols’ 1978 seven-city club ‘n’ bars tour of the United States — their only U.S tour — that ended with the band’s demise. The behind-the-scenes interview footage features the now infamous “John and Yoko” bed-inspired interview of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen (You Tube). To fill out the short running time, Kowalski cut in performances and interviews with Iggy Pop, along with the Clash, the Dead Boys, Generation X, the Rich Kids (featuring ex-Pistols bassist Glen Matlock), Sham 69, and X-Ray Spex.
Lech’s other rock documents are 2002’s Hey! Is Dee Dee Home, about the life and times of Ramones bassist Dee Dee Ramone (1952-2002), and 1999’s Born to Loose: The Last Rock ‘n Roll Movie, concerned with the life and career of Johnny Thunders (1952-1991) of the New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers (the second, at one time featured, Richard Hell from Blank Generation). Meanwhile, footage from D.O.A appeared in Julien Temple’s 2000 Sex Pistols document The Filth and the Fury (which I went to see in a U.S art house theatre setting).
This one’s not streaming as VOD, but we found two VHS rips on You Tube HERE and HERE to enjoy. You can view the full track listing of the film on Discogs.
4. Urgh! A Music War (1981)
. . . And we saved the best-produced documentary for last: this one dispenses with the backstage tomfoolery and goes right to the stage with professionally-shot footage compiled from a variety of 1980-era shows held in England, France, and the United States. And there’s a couple of reasons why the Police spearhead Urgh! A Music War: Not only were they the most commercially radio-successful “new wave” band of the groups featured; Derek Burbidge, the director, helmed several videos (the famous “Roxanne”) for the Police (he also did Gary Numan’s “Cars”), while Miles Copeland, the brother of the Police’s drummer, Stewart Copeland, managed the Police and operated IRS Records, which produced the film. The film briefly appeared in U.S. theatres via Filmways Pictures (seen it in an art house theatre, natch), but gained its cult status due to its frequent airings on HBO and the USA Network’s “Night Flight” video block.
Beginning in 2009, Warner Archive (the successor-in-interest to Lorimar Pictures, who co-produced with IRS) released an official DVD-R of the movie — burned on a made-to-order basis. As result, this one’s not available as a cable PPV or VOD online stream and the freebie You Tube and Vimeo rips don’t last long. However, searching “Urgh! A Music War” on You Tube populates numerous concert clips from the film. The bands you know in those clips are the mainstream MTV video bands the Police, Devo, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Go-Go’s, Joan Jett, Gary Numan, Oingo Boingo, Wall of Voodoo, X, and XTC. The lesser known bands featured — that some know and most don’t — include L.A.’s the Alley Cats, the Dead Kennedys (Terminal City Ricochet), Magazine (off-shoot of the Buzzcocks), the Fleshtones (Peter Zaremba hosted IRS: The Cutting Edge for MTV), Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, 999, Pere Ubu, the Surf Punks, and Toyah Wilcox (Breaking Glass).
You can view the film’s full track listing on Discogs while you listen to the soundtrack in its entirety on You Tube: Side A/B and Side C/D.
All images of the ’80s original issue VHS covers — the cover arts I remember when I rented them — are courtesy of Discogs.
“That’s part of the problem with being a kid actor. When your show’s over, nobody informs you that your career’s over, too.” — Luke Halpin, aka Sandy Ricks on TV’s Flipper (1964 – 1968)
To become a child actor; a kid star, to paraphrase British modernist poet David Jones: it is both a blessing and a curse.
And for every Leonardo DiCaprio, who got his start as a kid actor on TV’s Growing Pains, receiving the industry’s blessing to transition into adult roles, there’s a Dustin Diamond, from TV’s Saved by the Bell, who’s destined to experience a fateful, Longfellowian rain fall.
And in the case of Luke Halpin (Shock Waves), his successful ‘60s doppelganger would be Ron Howard who, as a kid actor, got his start as Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show (1960 -1968). If only Luke Halpin had been noticed by George Lucas and cast in one of the most profitable films in history, American Graffiti (1973), or booked a part on ABC-TV’s Happy Days . . . damn the cackling Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos, that trio of witches weaving the looms of fate.
And the witches saw fit to weave Roger Corman into Ron Howard’s tapestry. And the B-Movie King and the strawberry-mop topped sitcom star made a deal: If Howard would star in New World’s hicksploitation romp Eat My Dust (1975), he would give Howard the opportunity pursue his dream of directing a feature film, which became Grand Theft Auto (1977). Both films duplicated the insane box office of American Graffiti: Eat My Dust grossed $5 million against $300,000 and Howard’s directing debut grossed $15 million against $600,000.
So with three box office bonanzas and a hit TV series on his resume, NBC-TV wanted a piece of the Howard action. So they gave Ron an opportunity to direct his second film—his first TV movie (the others were 1980’s Skyward, 1981’s Through the Magic Pyramid, and 1983’s Little Shots)—for his newly formed Major H Productions with his father Rance and brother Clint (Ice Cream Man!!!).
The idea that Ron and Clint came up with was Cotton Candy: a TV movie-length pilot for a weekly series concerning the rock ‘n’ romance adventures between the rival high school bands (starring 30-year-old teenagers, as is the case with all teen comedies of the ’70s) Cotton Candy (the underdogs) and Rapid Fire (the chick magnets) making the race for stardom in Dallas, Texas.
For his leading man, Howard cast his old buddy Charles Martin Smith (Toad from American Graffiti; he later directed the “No False Metal” classic, Trick or Treat!!!). Smith is George Smalley, a geeky high school senior who’s dogged by his mother about dating and girls and a dad (Alvy “Hank Kimble” Moore from Green Acres . . . Ack! Stop right there. This is B&S About Movies, buddy! We remember Alvy from Smokey and the Hotwire Gang, The Witchmaker . . . and The Brotherhood of Satan!!) who wants him to stop wasting his time with the guitar (oh, do I relate). So to get chicks and get dad off his back, he joins the school’s football team, but is quickly cut from the squad.
No matter. George hated football and was only doing it to please dad. What he really wants to do is music. So when one of the guitarists of the school’s hottest band (they do all of the school’s dances, mall concerts, hot parties, and get paid gigs!), Rapid Fire, leaves the group as result of a family move, George decides to ask for an audition after a show. And Torbin Bequette (an excellently dickish Mark Wheeler; portrayed Neil Armstrong for Ron in Apollo 13), the band’s popular singer and big man on campus, humiliates George in front of everyone.
So, together with his best friend (ugh, not another clueless, talentless dork with no musical or legal skills “managing” a band, riding his talented friend’s coattails: this is Ricky from American Satan all over again), Corky MacPherson (Clint Howard), they resolve to form a rock band to perform George’s original tunes and take down Rapid Fire at the big Battle of the Bands competition at the Town East Mall (oh, those teen years of living at the mall!) in East Dallas. Together, George and Corky recruit a set of brothers who play keyboards and guitar, a former gang member on bass guitar (Manuel Padilla, Jr., aka Jai from ‘60s TV Tarzan), and a very cute female drummer (Leslie King, she of the 1979 Drive-In T&A classics Gas Pump Girls and The Great American Girl Robbery; as a screenwriter she penned 1988’s To Die For for Deran Sarafin, yes, he of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Death Warrant!).
So, what about the music, you ask?
It is pure ’70s pop bubblegum. But Cotton Candy ain’t the Knack or Sweet. So instead of “Frustrated” or “Good Girls Don’t,” or “Fox on the Run” and “Love Is Like Oxygen,” we get a rocky-upbeat version of the safe n’ sweet sounds of the Carpenters (girl drummer, hatch), with the George Smalley originals “She Rolls,” “Born Rich,” and “Starship” (damn it: not uploaded to You Tube).
As for Rapid Fire’s catalog: And you thought the Sebastians (of Rocktober Blood fame) securing the right to Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” and Ted Nugent’s “Sweet Sally” for their pirate radio romp On the Air Live with Captain Midnight (1979) was rock ‘n’ boondoggle? How in the hell did Ron Howard get the rights to Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” via Eric Clapton? How did he get the rights to Billy Preston’s (Hammond organist on the Beatles albums) “You are So Beautiful” via Joe Cocker?
Clearly, Cotton Candy, while a bunch of clueless dorks who decide playing strip poker with their female drummer is the mature thing to do, is the more talented band. Sure, Rapid Fire has the slick, silk windbreakers, smoldering good looks and feathered hair . . . and can afford snazzy, three-piece suits and fedoras, you know, to carry through that “gangster” theme to go along with that awesome “Tommy Gun” band logo.
But Torbin and the boys can’t write music; they can only can butcher jukebox-from-hell covers that ’70s sound-alike budget album distributor Pickwick International would reject for release.
Yeah, it’s all very “Pickwick International” with Rapid Fire. If you went on a Sunday “Swap Swap” excursion with the family at the local Drive-In, you know the label. I got burned by Pickwick’s version of Tommy (You Tube) thinking I was buying the Who’s rock opera. Well, that’s Torbin Bequette and Rapid Fire: all the girls, none of the talent, and it ain’t Clapton or Cocker.
Yeah, this is taking me back to those bag-o-dicks from Mad Sire in their silk band jackets and platform shoes and flared jeans churnin’ out their covers of Rick Derringer’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hoochie Coo” and Styx “Renegade” at the school dances . . . and taunting Hot Rats, the underdog Ramones-inspired stalwarts as “Hot Rats . . . more like cold crap,” as we ripped out the originals “Rock ‘n’ Roll Stereo Kids” and “Scene Queen” (which later became “Bitch Queen” as we, pathetically, went “metal”) to a garage audience of five fellow lost souls that were a lot like Sam, my boss at B&S About Movies.
Ack! Tagents and non-sequiturs! Back to the movie. . . .
Because Howard’s TV movie debut tanked in the ratings, and both Ron and Clint expressed embarrassment over the years regarding the project, Ron has publically stated the film will never, ever see (a hard or digital) release. And once Ron’s career took off with the likes of the theatrical features Night Shift, Splash, and Cocoon, he didn’t want anyone to remember Cotton Candy; when the ‘80s video boom hit and stores were hungry for product, the film was never released to VHS.
So how a bad is it?
Well, in our review of It’s a Complex World, we spoke of how revered it is among the movers and shakers of Providence, Rhode Island, where it was filmed. And the rock denizens of Dallas, rightfully, feel the same way. It’s all about nostalgia on this one. If you were in middle or high school in 1978 when Cotton Candy aired, you’ll love it. If you never seen it before and, compare it against Howard’s later works, such as Apollo 13. . . . Let’s put it this way: It’s not as bad as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (is any rock movie?) and not as cool as Eddie and the Cruisers, but not as awesome as Rock Star with Mark Wahlberg (” . . . stand up and shoooot!”).
Cotton Candy recently had an 40th anniversary screening at the Lake Highland Alamo Drafthouse outside of Dallas, put together by Mark Ridlen of the faux Rapid Fire. But do not let that fool you into thinking a DVD restoration is forthcoming.
The bootlegged VHS ripped-from-TV on this one is impossible to find. It’s never been officially released on DVD and hasn’t re-aired on TV since the mid ’80s—so watch out for those grey market TV-to-VHS-to-DVD rips in the marketplace. Perhaps a PPV or VOD, Ron? How about a with-ads stream on TubiTV? Not likely. After Howard’s Imagine Entertainment was acquired by Disney, it’s been buried in their vaults ever since.
So the best we’ve got to enjoy are ’70s UHF-TV rips uploaded to You Tube. And it seems Ron Howard doesn’t mind, since they’ve been there a while. You have three uploads to choose from HERE, HERE, and HERE. (The ending of the film sticks on all of them before we can see the songwriting credits behind Cotton Candy’s tunes.)
Julia (Silvia Pinal, who was a star in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema yet completely unafraid to go for it in this absolutely insane film, but she was in three Bunuel films, so that adds up) is a writer who uses the pen name Cassandra Fuller.
She’s keeping to herself, not leaving her home, obsessed with writing. I relate. What I can’t relate to is her obsession with beauty and youth, as well as how it informs her next book The Dried Butterflies.
She begins to connect with the outside world once several children enter her yard, looking for the dead body of a bird. She brings them into her home to show off her canary and begins to obsess over one of the boys named Olak. Every afternoon, he comes back to see the bird while Julia remembers an obsessive love with another boy named Jorge that was ended by his parents. Unable to give him up, she murdered him and kept his body parts inside a closet near her room, but the smell is too much for her. She’s forced to bury him in her back yard while trying to decide how she will keep Olak with her forever.
If you watched Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker and said, “This movie didn’t get crazy enough,” Mexico realizes this and has you, mi amigo. Necrophilia and pedophilia in the same film, but treated with nuance and skill? This isn’t for everyone, but for those that want a movie that creates an allegory between this story and religion, well, here it is.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This originally ran on the site on August 4, 2018. I’ve brought it back for this week of Mexican horror. Please enjoy!
René Cardona Jr. gave us Tintorera, a Susan George-starring vehicle that is less the Mexican version of Jaws and more softcore three-way porn, as well as Guyana: Crime of the Century, which somehow included Stuart Whitman as Reverend James Johnson leading Johnstown, along with Gene Barry and Joseph Cotten. If these things warm your heart, you’re reading the right website.
Based on Charles Berlitz’s best-selling book, this one has it all. Atlantis. A possessed doll. Black characters dubbed to sound like they’re coming straight out of Amos ‘n Andy. John Huston.
The Black Whale III has set sail for the Bermuda Triangle with the Marvin family leading the way. Sure, they’re looking for Atlantis, but mostly they just argue with one another. Finding a doll in the water, the family’s young daughter Diana becomes possessed, telling people how they’ll die and locking the cook in the freezer.
Oh yeah — there’s also a scuba diving expedition that leads to the oldest daughter getting her legs crushed and her father just can’t decide whether or not to cut her legs off. Such is the drama of this film.
People start getting killed off until the desperate captain tries to call other ships for help. They end up hearing multiple distress calls, including their own being played back to them. When they finally reach someone, they learn that everyone on board died ten years ago. All that’s left is the doll floating in the water.
Claudine Auger (Black Belly of the Tarantula) shows up here, livening things up somewhat. This film is strange, as it wants to be about so many things while struggling to be about anything. And as mentioned before, the near minstrel show dubbing of the black cook is quite troubling at worst or hilariously inappropriate at best.
Let me reiterate: Hollywood legend John Huston is somehow in this piece of shit. Oh the 1970’s, when once big time talent would show up in the strangest of films!
I found this for free on Amazon Prime, so I recommend you do the same. The doll parts are at least somewhat cool, as is the atonal soundtrack and poor dubbing.
Rene Cardona Jr. made Survive!, a movie that gets into the cannibalism after some rugby players on Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 that had to confront the need to survive or eat their fellow players. He followed that up with this movie, also known as El Ciclon and Terror Storm. It’s also kind of stolen from Hitchcock’s Lifeboat.
An airplane goes down during a storm and the few survivors pile on to a small tour boat that is swept out to sea, where they have no food or fresh water. Will they decide to eat one another before the sharks eat them? Or will they be saved?
This movie is ridiculous and even more so because it has an all star cast, and by that, I mean a cast of people I would see as stars, including Arthur Kennedy (The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue), Carroll Baker (oh so many Umberto Lenzi films that I enjoy), Lionel Stander (from Hart to Hart!), Andres Garcia (Tintorera), Hugo Stiglitz (Nightmare City) and Olga Karlatos (Zombie, Murder Rock).
This movie takes things from bad to worse and it gets even rougher from there. I adore movies that put actors through horrible things and this is definitely one of those.
Ugo Liberatore’s Nero Veneziano (Venetian Black) is a strange movie. It’d be easy to just say it’s a ripoff of Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen, but it really is an odd demented little film unique to itself.
Mark (Renato Cestie, who other than being in Fulci’s Challenge to White Fang and Torso, made a career of playing neglected boys who die of some disease by the end of the movie) is a blind boy who is given to disturbing visions. His parents have died and now he’s stuck living with his gorgeous sister Christine (Rena Niehaus, who is in the fantastically scummy Arabella L’angelo Nero) and their strict religious grandparents. That won’t last long because Mark causes an accident that leads to the old lady spectacularly going up in flames.
Yes. The hero of the movie just set his grandmom ablaze. It gets weirder.
Mark and Christine must now go live in Venice — look for Olga Karlatos in several roles — to live with another near-death relative, this time an aunt and her suicidal husband. They soon die and Christine decides that she’s going to start a brothel when she isn’t having a virgin birth.
Some people comment on how brutal she is to her brother. If you have to put up with Mark, you’d abuse him as well. All he keeps doing is claiming she’s having the Antichrist, with the father being the mysterious boarder named Dan that no one can see.
Can Christine’s ex Giorgio save the day? How about Father Stefani? Or Mark just trapped in the predestined end of all there is? And man, how rough is that scene with the baby?
If you loved Don’t Look Now for all the canal scenes but wanted things to somehow be even more downbeat, this movie is your jam. I have no idea what the ending of this movie is all about, nor do I even know what large pieces of this movie are attempting to do. That is the wonder of near-lost Italian ripoff cinema and we should all be so lucky as to be confused at 2:17 AM by a movie just this out there.
This is all about a gorgeous inn in the country that seems like the perfect place for Daniel to do some writing. However, from the moment he meets Veronica, nothing will be as it seems, as guest after guest gets dispatched by the razor of a killer. In the morning, even the luggage of the sex-crazed guests is gone and so are they.
This gets the sex and nudity part of the giallo right, if not the fashion and originality. It’s not a bad film, but not one you’ll remember.