Drive-In Friday: Pasta Wars with Alfonso Brescia

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.

2-4-1 Red, White and Blue Bomb Pops!

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.

Four!

Five!

Four!

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 . . .

. . . and back to the show!

Movie 3: War of the Robots (1978)

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.

Movie 4: Star Odyssey (1979)

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.

Fast Company (1979)

David Paul Cronenberg.

The man who gave ex-pornographic actress Marilyn Chambers a vampiric armpit. The man who made us lifelong fans of Micheal Ironside (John Saxon, Part Deux!) when he exploded his head via psychic brain waves. The man who knew we couldn’t pass up a film where Oliver Reed causes Samantha Eggar to “birth” an asexual dwarf-child. The man who turned James Woods into a human VCR. The man who dared adapt William S. Burroughs. The man who gave us “Brendel-Fly,” James Spader sexually aroused by car crashes, and made us lifelong Jeremy Irons fans by splitting him into twin gynecologists.

There wasn’t a body part, bodily function, brain wave, or hunk of technology Cronenberg didn’t like — and worked into his scripts. And when you take the mad Canadian’s “body horror” oeuvre into consideration, it’s not a wild stretch to realize that, in his spare time, he loved cars, racing bikes, and machinery. In fact, over the years, Cronenberg was — following in the burn marks of Steve McQueen and Paul Newman (and Tom Cruise) — a part time race car driver.

Look at that one-sheet! Now how can you pass up a cast (not in this neck of the Allegheny woods, buddy!) starring William Smith (Grave of the Vampire, Invasion of the Bee Girls), the late John Saxon (see our “Exploring” featurette on John), and Claudia Jennings (Unholy Rollers, Truck Stop Women, ‘Gator Bait, Sisters of Death, The Great Texas Dynamite Chase, Moonshine County Express, and Deathsport — yeah, we love our Claudia ’round ‘ere!).

Directing a screenplay written by Phil Savath (Big Meat Eater and Terminal City Ricochet), Cronenberg quenches his love for the scent of well-weathered leather, hot metal and oil in this tale of veteran drag racer Lonnie “Lucky Man” Johnson (William Smith). Driving for the Fast Company Oil team, Lucky deals with Phil Adamson (John Saxon), the “corrupt” team owner who’s more concerned with sponsor dollars and could care less who drives the car — provided he’s winning.

The always divine Mr. Jennings is the screenwriting androgyny-troped “hot chick with a guy’s name” (e.g., Alexandra = Alex, Charlotte = Charlie, no, not another “Frankie,” please!, etc., here, it’s Samantha = Sammy) playing up the romantic angle. The always-welcomed Nicholas Campbell (who went onto appear in Cronenberg’s The Brood, The Dead Zone, and Naked Lunch) is the ubiquitous protégé, Billy “The Kid” Brooker, who ignites a new sense of competitive spirit in Lucky to take on Adamson’s new hotshot driver, Gary “The Blacksmith” Black (iconic Canadian actor and voice artist Cedric Smith).

While this was filmed a few years earlier — around the time Cronenberg made Shivers (1975) and before he gained notice outside of his native Canada for Rabid (1977) — courtesy of Burt Reynolds’s redneck rally Smokey and the Bandit (be sure to check out our “Top 70 Good Ol’ Boys Film List: 1972 to 1986“) creatin’ a need for that good ol’ southern speed, Fast Company, made its way to receptive Drive-In audiences in 1979. And while Roger Corman’s Deathsport (1978) served as her final casting, this Cronenberg race tale served as Claudia Jennings’s final film; she perished in a car accident a few months after the film’s release.

I was funny car crazy in ’79, with centerfold tear outs of Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen on my walls, right alongside magazine rips of champion motorcrosser Roger De Coster. So I got my dad to take me to see Fast Company at the local-quad Drive-In. So — as with all of my reviews for these “classics” from the bygone days of UHF-TV and VHS-shelved dust bunnies — take my nostalgia into consideration when I say that, when compared against most of the ’60s “Fast and Furious” precursors we reviewed this week, this exhaust thrower is one the better racing flicks from the lost Drive-In era.

We found a very clean, four-part upload to enjoy on Daily Motion. You can also get this on a nicely packaged Blue Underground DVD.

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

SAVAGE CINEMA: Burnout (1979)

The Mill Creek Savage Cinema box set has twelve movies, some with great looking pictures, others that have been battered beyond belief. If you’re not a snob, you’ll find something enjoyable on this. I know I did! I started with this film, one of the few drag racing movies that I’ve ever watched.

If you know anything about drag racing — and I sure don’t — this movie is filled with the stars of the 70’s. That’d be Don Garlits, Marvin Graham, Gary Beck, Don Prudhomme, Raymond Beadle, Tony Nancy and Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowny, the only name I know beacuse the movie Heart Like a Wheel is all about her. Shirley is great because she’s super outspoken, claiming that Jamie Lee Curtis should have played her instead of Bonnie Bedelia, who she called a “snot.”

I actually looked up other drag racing films — just to see if there were any other than these two examples. There are! They would be Funny Car SummerSeven-Second Love AffairDrag RacerWheels of FireFast Company (directed by David Cronenberg!), Right On TrackMore American Graffiti and Snake and Mongoose. If you’re now thinking, “I bet B&S About Movies is going to do a theme drag racing week,” you know us oh so well.

Scott (Mark Schneider, Supervan) wants to be a drag racer. His dad doesn’t want him to be one. Soon, they learn that they can bond by being part of the sport. Scott is also incredibly hard to like. And there’s the movie.

Director Graham Meech-Burkestone only made this one movie. But man, he was all over the place in Hollywood, doing Oliver Reed’s hair for Burnt Offerings and makeup for Day of the AnimalsThe Manitou and The Exterminator.

“This picture is dedicated to the men and women in drag racing — they are all winners,” says the credits. Nope. This movie is dedicated to my Letterboxd Crown International list. Someday, somehow, I’m going to get 100% that thing.

Hair (1979)

Made nearly a decade after this play took Broadway by storm in 1967, Milos Forman created his own vision of the stage play, working alongside Michael Weller (they would also collaborate on Ragtime). The changes they made are minor — Claude is a Vietnam War draftee instead of a hippy and Sheila is a high society girl — and major — the focus on the film is the peace movement instead of just the hippy antics and the ending is completely different. Many of the songs from the stage version were omitted as well.

Gerome Ragni and James Rado, who wrote the original play along with composer Galt MacDermot, would go on to say, “Any resemblance between the 1979 film and the original Biltmore version, other than some of the songs, the names of the characters, and a common title, eludes us.”

Hair focuses on Claude Hooper Bukowski (John Savage, The Deer Hunter) and George Berger (Treat Williams, Night of the Sharks) as they deal with the country attempting to handle the Vietnam War, as well as the people in their orbit. There’s Sheila Franklin (Beverly D’Angelo, The Sentinel), Jeannie Ryan (Annie Golden, who was in the 1977 revival of this show), LaFayette “Hud” Johnson (Dorsey Wright, The Warriors), Woof Daschund (Don Dacus, who has been in Chicago and Badfinger), Hud’s fiancee (Cheryl Barnes, who sang backup for Leonard Cohen along with Laura Brannigan), Sergeant Fenton (Richard Bright, Cut and Run), as well as roles for Ellen Foley (who sang “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” with Meat Loaf), Miles Chapin (Richie from The Funhouse), Broadway star Laurie Beechman, Nicholas Ray (yes, the director of Rebel Without a Cause), Michael Jeter from TV’s Evening Shade, Renn Woods (who sings one of the play’s best-known songs, “Aquarius,” she’s also in The Jerk) and an uncredited David Rose as The Acid King. Rose wrote one of the most famous songs of all time — “The Stripper.” Oh yeah! And the Vietnamese girl singing on “Walking In Space” is an uncredited Betty Buckley, Miss Collins from Carrie.

NBC must have been watching this movie, because eventually Nell Carter and Charlotte Rae would be starring in sitcoms on their network, yet they only get cameos in this film.

Olive Films has given this movie a new HD restoration, as well as plenty of extras, such as audio commentary by assistant director Michael Hausman and actor Treat Williams, featurettes with the surviving actors and interviews with choreographer Twyla Tharp, editors Lynzee Klingman and Stanley Warnow, and production designer Stuart Wurtzel. There’s also “Artist, Teacher, Mentor: Remembering Milos Forman,” a remembrance with director James Mangold (Walk the Line) and an essay by critic Sheila O’Malley.

I expected this film to be incredibly dated, yet at the end, as a huge throng of people ran toward the White House singing “Let the Sun Shine In,” I was overcome with emotion. We’ve been protesting for more than half a century and while forward progress has happened, it sure doesn’t feel like it today. Forman’s film remains vital if it can impact me so.

You can order this blu ray from Olive Films, who were kind enough to send a copy our way.

Cha Cha (1979)

Cha Cha served as a multi-media film and soundtrack collaboration by the then romantically-linked couple of Dutch rocker Herman Brood (1979 U.K./U.S. Top 40 new wave hit with “Saturday Night” by his band Wild Romance) and East German musician-actress Nina Hagen (1982 new wave hit with “Smack Jack”), along with Detroit, Michigan-born and London-transplanted Lene Lovich (1979 U.K./U.S. new wave hits “Lucky Number” and “New Toy”).

Since each were at the top of their Euro-chart popularity, it lent to their ability to get their — what isn’t so much a fluid, narrative work, but an art film comprised of a series of vignettes strung together by a series of musical performances — passion project made. Think of 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show crossed with the Richard Hell-starring Blank Generation from 1980 by Ulli Lommell (BrainWaves with Keir Dullea, The Boogey Man with Suzanna Love), and you have an idea of what you’re getting into.

Courtesy of catawiki.es (Spain)

Yes. The words “art film” should give you pause; this one is purely for the uber fans of the musician-stars of the film. You’ll also need additional patience as the film’s dialog bounces between English to Dutch to German; and its amateur student film vibe doesn’t help matters. The “plot,” such as it is, set against Amsterdam’s punk/new wave scene, is part documentary (voiceovers and interviews, natch) and part narrative film — with the cast starring as themselves; Brood is “the star” of the film: a bank robber who wants to “go straight” and believes the path to righteousness lies in his becoming a rock ‘n’ roll star.

Also featured in the film are the notable Dutch new wave bands Phoney & the Hardcore (“Suicide“), the Meteors (“Teenage Heart“), and White Honey (“Nothing Going On In the City“). (While not commercial radio hits on par with Brood’s, Hagen’s, and Lovich’s works, they were popular spinners on U.S. college radio stations and new wave clubs at the time.)

In the end, if you want to revisit the ’80s new wave era — or visit it for the very first time — Cha Cha serves as a fun time capsule of the lost MTV video era.

You can enjoy a pretty clean rip of the full movie on You Tube (it’s been there for 8 years, so it safe to say it’s not going away anytime soon). You can also listen to the full soundtrack on You Tube as well; you can access a detailed track listing at Discogs. You can learn more about Herman Brood in the 1994 Dutch rock documentary Rock ‘n’ Roll Junkie (you can watch the 15 minute television promotional video and 90-minute feature length theatrical on You Tube) and Nina Hagen in the 1994 English document (very arty and avant-garde, natch) Nina Hagen = Punk + Glory on You Tube.

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

Gold of the Amazon Women (1979)

Tom Jensen (Bo Svenson) is looking for adventure. What he finds is a tribe of Amazons led by Queen Na-Eela (Anita Ekberg!) and Clarence Blasko (Donald Pleasence) trying to steal their gold.

Richard Romanus (Mean Streets), Bob Minor (Jackson from Commando) and Susan Miller (Playboy September 1972 Playmate of the Month and at 6’1″, the tallest woman at the time to pose for a centerfold; Cara Michelle Meschter beat her by an inch in December 2000) all show up.

If only this was a drive-in movie and not one made on a TV budget. That said, I wasn’t bored and like all of Lester’s movies, it moves fast.

You can watch this on Tubi.

REPOST: Roller Boogie (1979)

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we celebrate a week of Mark Lester’s films, let’s go back to June 12, 2019 when we shared this epic of skating. 

I’m here to tell you that in my small hometown that the Ellport Roller Rink was the biggest deal when I was seven years old in 1979.

While dead today, this was the front of the Ellport Roller Rink.

I bet you can guess that your author spent more time playing that Gorgar machine than skating.

Most Friday nights and plenty of birthday parties were spent there, rolling around the track that seemed huge as a child but was probably impossibly small were I to see it today. That’s why if someone watches 1979’s Roller Boogie they probably will laugh at its charming anachronisms and wonder if this could have ever been the real world. It was. I am here to tell you, on some small level, when I was a chubby seven-year-old, my birthday party was my parent’s approximation of this film. Also: I got a Rodan doll, so I’ll say that that was my best birthday ever.

Roller Boogie concerns Terry Barkley, rich girl classical flutist (this makes the third movie in a row I’ve watched where Linda Blair’s family just ignores her) and Bobby James (real-life roller skating champion Jim Bray), the man who she hires to train her to be a skater. Also, Terry drives perhaps the greatest car I’ve seen in a film, an Excalibur Phaeton. Luckily, IMDB informed me that it’s actually an Excalibur SSK, which ended up being an overpriced, hard to drive kit car cover version of a Mercedes SSK that cost way more than it should have.

They’re from different sides of the track, the rollerskating track that is. Both of their respective sets of friends and family make fun of them for falling in love as they’re obviously not made for one another.

Sadly, Jammers, the club where everyone skates, is about to be sold to the mafia to pay off a debt. This means that a fancy party gets ruined and a bunch of rollerskaters have a massive chase sequence. Then there’s a Boogie Contest before Terry goes to New York to be the queen of the flute and Bobby goes to the Roller Skate Olympics.

This is the kind of movie where a DJ leans into a mic and says, “It’s time to play you some of that new sound.” Where people lift on Venice Beach. Where more time is given to people leaping on their skates over barrels than character development. Where Linda Blair wears skimpy outfits and bikinis in the film that’s amazingly her last studio film, yet she continues to act today. Impossibly, it looks gorgeous, which I contribute to the talent of Dean Cundy, the director of photography whose magic helped make Halloween stand out so much.

Roller Boogie was written by Barry Schneider, who also wrote two movies based on hit songs, Harper Valley P.T.A. and Take This Job and Shove It, as well as Ruby, Deadly Force and Class of 1984. Irwin Yablans, who produced Halloween and Tourist Trap, helped create the story and also produced. And director Mark Lester would go on to helm Class of 1984Class of 1999Commando and Firestarter.

This movie was a success at the box office and a sequel — Acapulco Roller Boogie — was proposed before disco died. If you’re still in the mood for roller skating movies, however, I can also recommend Skatetown, U.S.A., which features Scott Baio and Patrick Swayze on wheels with Flip Wilson, Maureen McCormick, Ron Palillo and Ruth Buzzi providing the laughs and the love.

This movie came at a crossroads in Blair’s life. She had to fly to Florida right after filming ending to face cocaine possession charges and thought that this film would remove her from being typecast for intense horror fare. However, the very next year, she’d star in Hell Night.

PS: Becca has an eagle eye for movie locations. Terry’s house was also used in the music video for The Cars’ “Magic” and the movie Blind Date.

You can get it from Olive Films.

REPOST: Guyana: Cult of the Damned (1979)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This film was originally written about on January 16, 2019. We’ve brought it back for our Mexican horror celebration as an object lesson in the fact that life and good taste are both cheap in this cinema that is such a part of our hearts.

René Cardona Jr. didn’t stop with making a softcore porn shark movie with Tintorera…Tiger Shark or the utterly baffling Bermuda Triangle. Now, he’s back to shock you senseless with the kind of true retelling of the Jonestown Massacre, Guyana: Cult of the Damned. He’s no stranger to strangeness — after all, his father made Santa Claus vs. The Devil.

Reverend James Johnson — just pretend they say Jim Jones —  the fanatic and paranoid leader of the Johnson Temple — again, let’s just say People’s Temple — is about to move his 1,000 followers from San Francisco to Johnstown — Jonestown — in the jungle of Guyana, all so he can create a utopia that’s far away from the sins of the rest of th world.

If you know anything of the real tale, Johnson soon gets out of control, inflicting brutal punishment on anyone that dares go against him. He becomes convinced that a conspiracy — the same one that killed both Kennedys, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X — is ready to take him out.

That’s when Congressman Lee O’Brien — Leo Ryan — goes on a fact finding mission and discovers that it’s more like a slave colony than heaven on Earth. And if they don’t get the people out now, they’ll soon go to Russia. By the end of the film, Johnson has unleashed hit squads on the Congressman, the reporters he’s brought along and the defectors they’re saving from Johnson. And that’s when everyone starts drinking the Kool-Aid (for the sake of fact, it may have either been that brand or the generic Flavor Aid, which they camp also had in its supplies; the flavor was grape, in case you’re wondering).

This movie is rife with historical fallacies, but what can you expect from a Mexican grindhouse movie that was released 14 months after the actual incident? You may notice that most of Johnstown was white in this film, while the reality is that most of the People’s Temple members were black. Also, Susan Ames — Susan Amos — is murdered in this movie by a man with a knife, but the truth is that she killed her two youngest children and then herself with a butcher knife and asked her daughter Liane to kill her, then kill herself.

There are two cuts of this, with the Mexican cut adding 8 more minutes of torture and gore, if you’re looking for that kind of thing. I mean, if you’re reading this far, you probably are.

Stuart Whitman (the boxing priest from Demonoid) owns this movie as the Reverend. He’s just chewing the screen up, as he totally should, giving huge speeches and being a maniac. This is like a dream scum movie role and Whitman grips it and wrings all he can out of it. It’s pretty much as perfect casting as you can get.

Gene Barry plays the Congressman, Bradford Dillman (Piranha) plays the doctor of Johnstown, Yvonne De Carlo plays Susan and you even get a special guest appearance by Joesph Cotten! And look out for Hugo Stiglitz from Nightmare City and Nadiuska, who played Conan the Barbarian‘s mom!

There was a later TV movie, Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, which won Powers Boothe the 1980 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special. But for my money, I always go with the grindhouse version of things. This is a sordid, grim affair and that’s pretty much why you’re going to watch it.

La Tia Alejandra (1979)

Arturo Ripstein, who also made The Castle of Purity, directed this film, which tells us of the black magic — or maybe not — within the titular aunt Alejandra (Isabela Corona, who started her career as a diva of the screen in the 30’s) causing chaos just by existing.

Alejandra arrives to stay in the house of Lucia, Rudolfo and their three children. A bitter older woman given to mood swings, the children eventually begin to torment her, by which point she reveals her witch nature (if you’ll pardon the pun).

She finds ways to get back at each of them, choking out her nephew through sorcery and setting the house ablaze when one of the children burns her face. This is a film that presents magic as a fact of life — and in some cultures it is — and those who believe that we have aged out of the occult in modern times must pay the price.

As the great conspiracy writer James Shelby Downard once said, “Never allow anyone the luxury of assuming that because the dead and deadening scenery of the American city-of-dreadful-night is so utterly devoid of mystery, so thoroughly flat-footed, sterile and infantile, so burdened with the illusory gloss of “baseball-hot dogs-apple-pie-and-Chevrolet” that it is somehow outside the psycho-sexual domain.”

Except in Mexico. And yeah, Brujeria is real.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video (1979)

Michael O’Donoghue is one of my heroes. A major contributor to National Lampoon and the first head writer of Saturday Night Live, he was also the first performer to utter a line on that series. When he returned to the show in 1981, as Dick Ebersol hoped that he could add back a sense of the old days to the program, O’Donoghue screamed, “This show lacks danger!” As he said this, he spraypainted the word on the wall, but ran out before finishing the word. It must have worked. Catherine O’Hara quit before she was even in a sketch.

O’Donoghue was fired after writing the never-aired sketch “The Last Days in Silverman’s Bunker”, which compared NBC president Fred Silverman to Hitler, with John Belushi coming back to play the man and a giant Nazi eagle clutching the NBC logo already constructed.

He was hired back by Lorne Michaels in 1985 and he wrote a monologue for Michaels’ friend Chevy Chase that started, “Right after I stopped doing cocaine, I turned into a giant garden slug, and, for the life of me, I don’t know why.” Needless to say, he was gone again.

After a lifetime of chronic headaches, he would die from a cerebral hemorrhage but left behind some wicked humor that still adds up. I always refer to his attack on SNL, referring to it as “an embarrassment. It’s like watching old men die.”

Therefore, it makes perfect sense that NBC would pay him to make a parody of Mondo Cane, including using the Riz Ortolani song “More.” It was also to feature a performance of the Sex Pistols playing “My Way,” but the owners of that song’s copyright would not allow that to happen.

The copy I have of this movie was the version released on home video in the early 1980s by Mike Nesmith’s Pacific Arts label. The Shout! Factory release is missing the theme from Hawaii Five-O.

Much like any mondo, this is a journey through a strange world, with everything from Dan Aykroyd showing his webbed toes and worshipping Jack Lord, Kalus Nomi in a dream sequence, swimming cats, a Tom Schiller-directed take on nudie cuties, Laserbra 2000 and a restaurant where patrons are yelled at.

Tons of famous people are in this, including Carrie Fisher, Teri Garr, Debbie Harry, Margot Kidder, Bill Murray, Laraine Newman, Golda Radner and Paul Shaffer.

Oh yeah — the haunting theme to Mondo Video? That’s “Telstar” with singer Julius La Rosa on vocals, both in English and Italian.

Much like a real mondo, this film at times is uneven and makes little sense. But when it’s good, it’s really good. You can watch this on YouTube.