Fiend (1980)

John Waters is from Lutherville. Don Dohler was in the next neighborhood over in Perry Hall. Together they made some astounding movies on a small scale that remain influential within their very specific genres. Waters is the Pope of Trash. Doehler was more on the side of comix, horror and science fiction.

Writer, teacher and film historian Donald Leifert plays the dead body of Eric Longfellow, which has been brought back to life by an evil spirit — that’s all the reason the movie gives — and starts roaming suburban Baltimore and choking the life force of people into his body.

Fiend stayed unwatched for years, which is a shame. It’s a blast with basically no story to get in the way, just a monstrous force out to kill everyone.

Doehler didn’t just shoot this in his hometown. He shot it in his house. This is lo-fi regional horror, which is pretty much all we love around here. At one point, people made movies because they wanted to, not because Amazon monetized content. Watch this and dream back on better days, like, well, 1980.

The Psychotronic Man (1980)

Psychotronics are a conspiracy theory that believe that “government agents make use of electromagnetic radiation (such as the microwave auditory effect), radar, and surveillance techniques to transmit sounds and thoughts into people’s heads, affect people’s bodies, and harass people.”

This film uses that term and ended up inspiring Michael J. Weldon to create his magazine Psychotronic Video, which sought to discover and get the word out about movies that the mainstream ignored.

Chicago barber Rocky Foscoe — what a name! — has discovered that he has psychotronic powers that he uses to blast his wife and create enough of a problem that a SWAT team — and government agents that want to use him for their own dark agenda — have to be called in.

Produced completely out of the studio system, shot entirely in Chicago and self-financed, The Psychotronic Man is the very definition of a regional film. As a result, you can watch this secure in the knowledge that no matter how dangerous the stunts look or how great the downtown settings are filmed, they were all done with no permits.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Toxic Zombies (1980)

Writer, director, producer, editor and star Charles McCrann made this low budget — but hey, it played USA Network — movie where drug crops are sprayed with chemicals and turn growers into zombies. That’s a novel idea and this movie started a subgenre of zombie films all about rednecks.

McCrann was a Princeton University and Yale Law School grad, senior vice-president of the Marsh & McLennan Companies financial services company and worked high up in the World Trade Center, where he sadly died on 9/11.

Under that suit and tie, you would have found the heart of a horror movie fan who finally got to make his own movie. It’s not the best zombie movie you’ve ever seen, but hey, John Amplas (Martin) and Judith Brown (The Big Doll House) are in it. It also made the grade as a legit video nasty.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Shake Hands with Danger (1980)

“Shake hands with danger/ Any guy oughta know/ I used to laugh at safety/ But now they call me… Three Finger Joe.”

Shake Hands with Danger is perhaps the best industrial training movie about Caterpillar equipment that I have ever seen, twenty transcendent minutes.

“Glenn knows the risk of striking hard against badly chipped metal, but he’s wearing safety glasses and there’s a macho thing involved here. Glenn doesn’t want his friend to sneer at him for being overly cautious. So, Glenn shakes hands with danger.”

What makes it even more amazing was that this is directed by Herk Harvey, the same man whose 1962 Carnival of Souls influenced so much of the horror that would follow, most importantly Night of the Living Dead. Harvey spent most of his career making movies just like this, films with titles like Pork: The Meal with a Squeal and Case History of a Sales Meeting.

This movie has real practical effects in that big machines are really crashing and breaking and destroying bodies in their wake. Sure, the song — written by Jim Stringer, John Clifford and Charles Oldfather Jr.* — is silly, but the film is effective.

It’s written by John Clifford, who also wrote — you guessed it — Carnival of Souls .

“Shake hands with danger/ Take the chance that you won’t fall/ You’ll save yourself a minute/ But you may damn well lose it all!”

Herk Harvey had a great perspective on the movies that he made. He said, “I took a vacation and shot Carnival of Souls in two weeks. I’ve been to festivals and people always ask, “How come you made only one film?”, and I say, “Hell, I’ve made over 400″.”

*Charles Oldfather was the son of a high administrator at the University of Nebraska who has a building named after himself on campus. He taught every course at the University of Kansas School of Law and was the University Attorney. He also is in this movie acting, which he did in local productions, and one assumes that he met Harvey in that capacity, as the director also taught at Kansas University.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie (1980)

Roger Ebert said, “This movie is embarrassing. There’s no invention in it, no imagination, no new comic vision, no ideas about what might be really funny — instead of just dope-funny, something to laugh at if you’re in the bag anyway.”

Variety called it “a laborious disappointment in which the freshness has vanished and the laughs come few and far between.”

As for me, I’ve been watching it for forty plus years and laughed out loud before I even knew what a drug was.

There’s less of a story than just meandering around in search of something, which is usually a source to gain marijuana. It’s all about the gags along the way, like Chong playing his guitar so loudly that flowers die, travel down Sunset Boulevard, get abducted by aliens and do stand-up before Paul Ruebens calls the police (his line, “I think they’re Iranians!” has been censored for years, ADR’d to say “I think they’re hippies!”).

Evelyn Guerrero plays Donna, the name she uses in most of the Cheech and Chong films. The first Latina to pose for Playboy, she’s also in The Toolbox Murders and was married to Pat Morita. Bob McClurg — who founded The Groundlings — and his wife Edie — who is hilarious in every bit part she got — are in this, as are other Groundlings like Gary Austin, John Paragon (Jambi!), Phil Hartman and Cassandra Petersen (Elvira!).

Plus, Rita Wilson is in this, as are Lupe Ontiveros (Selena), Faith Minton (Big Mama in …All the Marbles), John Steadman (Papa Jupiter’s dad in The Hills Have Eyes), Michael Winslow (Police Academy), Jake Steinfeld (who did the exercise show Body By Jake, as well as playing the killer in Home Sweet Home), Paul “Mousie” Garner (whose vaudeville career stretched back to being one of Ted Healey’s Stooges) and Marcus Chong (who was Tank in The Matrix and is Tommy Chong’s adopted son).

Strangely enough, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi were filming The Blues Brothers on the same lot and when they visited, Tommy Chong turned over the director’s chair to Aykroyd for the scene where Chong urinates from out of his window.

I can totally see why some people would hate this movie and I have no defense why I love it. Sometimes you just have to enjoy things.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Act of Love (1980)

In between playing one of America’s most beloved teenagers and directing its favorite movies, Ron Howard took several against type roles. This is one such example, as he plays Leon Cybulkowski, who puts his brother Joseph (Mickey Rourke!) out of his misery as he asks to be killed instead of living out his life as a quadriplegic.

Director Jud Taylor started his career as an actor before becoming an in-demand director of TV movies. Some of his best-remembered films include Revenge!The Disappearance of Flight 412, Search for the Gods (which has Kurt Russell and Stephen McHattie seeking ancient astronauts), Out of the Darkness and The Great Escape II: The Untold Story (he was an actor in the original).

Based on the book Act of Love: The Killing of George Zygmanik by Judith Paige Mitchell, this NBC TV movie originally aired on September 24, 1980. It’s an emotional watch and Howard is pretty decent in it. It also has Robert Foxworth (the voice of Ratchet in the Transformers movies), Jacqueline Brookes (The Good Son), David Spielberg (Christine), Mary Kay Place (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), Chris Mulkey (Hank Jennings from Twin Peaks), Pat Gorley (Kiss My Grits) and David Faustino in his first acting role.

You can watch this on YouTube.

The Excellent Eighties: The Day Time Ended (1980)

Sam, the Bossman, gave this a Compass International release a run through back in November 2018, just because, well, we are obsessed with Compass flicks as much as Crown’s crap o’ reels. When this film was included on Mill Creek’s Sci-Fi Invasion set, Dustin Fallon from Horror and Sons came on board for his take on the film in November 2020.

Sigh. But Mill Creek has to “go green” and recycle. So I now have the job of doing a third take for their Excellent Eighties box set. The joy. But it’s not so bad. Again, this is a Compass International flick directed by John “Bud” Cardos and produced by Charles Band. Compass was the distributor for John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978, and producer Charles Band’s Tourist Trap in 1979, in case you didn’t know.

This is movie is not even close to being as good as either of those films. But John “Bud” Cardos is still the man.

Look at that short — but hit-packed director’s resume: Kingdom of the Spiders. The Dark. Mutant. Gor II: Outlaw of Gor. Well, they’re “hits” for the B&S About Movies lover in your life. Then there’s Bud’s cable and VHS potboilers starring Ernest Borginine, Robert Vaughn, Oliver Reed, and Herbert Lom — in the same movie: Skeleton Coast (1988). Then there’s Act of Piracy (1988) with Gary Busey and Ray Sharkey. Then there’s Bud’s acting resume with Al Adamson and the films Hells Angels on Wheels (1967), Psych-Out (1968), The Road Hustlers (1968), The Savage Seven (1968), Killers Three (1968), Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969), Satan’s Sadists (1969), Five Bloody Graves (1969), and Hell’s Bloody Devils (1970).

After entering the annals of Bikerdom with his third acting gig in Hells Angels on Wheels (he had support roles in 1965’s Deadwood ’76 and Run Home, Slow), and paying attention on all of those Al Adamson sets and Roger Corman AIP productions, Bud Cardos transitioned behind the lens for the blaxploitation-spaghetti western with The Red, White, and the Blue, aka Soul Soldier (1970).

Then he hooked up with Charles Band. And you thought Compass International’s Catholicism Aliens was nutso. Now we’ve got a hippy-dippy Eco-friendly film about aliens and solar power. It’s Laserblast and End of the World rolled into one . . . uh, a film that exists. Yeah, David Schmoeller (the director of Tourist Trap and the Puppet Master franchise) and Ted Nicolaou (Terrorvision and the Subspecies franchise) are on board to help out, so all is well.

Well, not really. Let the extraterrestrial shenanigans, begin.

Jim Davis, who probably expected his stardom on TV’s nighttime drama Dallas to net him better film roles, stars as Grant, the patriarch of the Williams family. He’s moved them lock, stock and barrel to the desert to get away from it all. Grant’s wife, Ana, is Dorothy Malone, who won a Best Supporting Actress for Written on the Wind . . . then was so hard up, she had to take a Corman car flick, The Fast and the Furious. Their son is Chris Mitchum, who probably sees this as a career high point — after the like of The Serpent Warriors. Then there’s his Ed Wood School of Awful Acting wife Beth, and their equally annoying kids, Steve and Jenny — who we wished ended up as xenomorph vittles in the first act to “wrap them” and get them the fuck off the set because they’re interfering with the Jim Danforth and Dave Allen SFX that we came for in the first place.

So . . . back to the plot:

The world is enthralled by an expositional, deep space, triple-super supernova.

Said supernova opens a black hole.

Aliens and UFOs — of all shapes and sizes — and stop-motion lizards — all of it stocked out of other Band boondoggles, such as Laserblast and End of the World, show up. But some of it is new — again, Jim Danforth and Dave Allen made them. So, all is well (not really).

There’s “atmospheric interference” and “electrical storms” and the car won’t star to get the Williams family out of there.

Then, we go into our “Night of the Living Dead” phase as everyone hides in the barn. Only with aliens and not zombies.

The family is “beamed up” to a UFO. They time travel to the future. They’re going to live in a domed city on some alien world because “time ended” back on Earth. Or something.

Yeah, you can order it from Full Moon, which issued it as Blu-ray in 2019. But why buy the cow when we found the milk for free, over on You Tube.

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.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: The Kidnapping of the President (1980)

Editor’s Note: We first reviewed this Canadian political thriller on February 7, 2021, as part of our unpacking of Mill Creek’s B-Movie Blast 50-Film pack. It’s back again — with new, second take — as part of their Excellent Eighties 50-Film pack. Hey, it’s a Hal Holbrook flick, so we must!

I love my wife so much. I mean, Hal Holbrook is her idea of a crush. So is Gerald McRaney. In fact, so is pretty much anyone that dated the Designing Women. That means that she actually sat and watched this movie, just to see Hal play the President who gets involved in, well, a kidnapping.

At least he has Secret Service agent Jerry O’Connor (William Shatner) — the Canadian side of this American/Canadian production, one imagines — to save his life.

For some reason, this movie reunites two Golden Age MGM stars, as Ava Gardner and Van Johnson — who were in 3 Men in White and Two Girls and a Sailor together — play the Vice President and his Second Lady. As for the First Lady, she’s played by Elizabeth Shepherd from Tomb of Ligeia.

Director George Mendeluk went on to make Doin’ Time, a movie I’ve been trying to find for a long time, and Meatballs III, which is the one where Sally Kellerman plays porn star Roxy Doujor. Strangely, Maury Chaykin is in that movie as well.

The Excellent Eighties: Agency (1980)

A millionaire is suspected of buying an ad agency to use it as a way of brainwashing the public for his political ends. Hmm . . . subliminal messaging through inaudible sounds and images hidden in TV audio signals and magazine spreads . . . John Carpenter’s They Live, anyone?

The millionaire here is the mysterious Ted Quinn (Robert Mitchum) who buys out the giant Montreal ad agency Porter & Stripe where Philip Morgan (Lee Majors) serves as its top copywriter and project manager. Of course, as with any corporate takeover, half of the firm’s staff is soon blown out the door and replaced by “Quinn’s people.” And Morgan is getting the old “do you like your job” trope when he complains about being kept out of the loop on the firm’s new accounts.

Next thing you know, the firm’s geeky-and-too-nosey-for-his-own-good Sam Goldstein (very familiar Canadian actor Saul Rubinek), who discovered Quinn is using the firm’s new slew of commercial spots to influence a political election, ends up dead. Now it’s up to Lee and Valerie Perrine, as his love interest, natch, to get to the bottom of the advertising-cum-political tomfoolery.

I love Lee Majors, and Robert Mitchum is always cool in-the-role (but barely here; this is a Lee Majors joint, after all), but when cheapo Canadian tax shelters films masquerade as an American-made film by casting beloved U.S. actors in lead roles, what we usual end up with is, not a theatrical film, but a telefilm that pisses us off by baiting us with Lee Majors.

If this had been made in the early ’70s by a major U.S. studio, say MGM or 20th Century Fox — and cast Charlton Heston as the ad man discovering the subliminal political campaign — and had Paddy Chayefsky adapt Paul Gottlieb’s superior, best-selling novel for Sidney Lumet to direct — Agency could have been a twisted sci-fi version of the Academy Award-winning Network. Or we could have had Madison Avenue taken to task in a political paranoia thriller that reminded of director Alan J. Pakula and screenwriter Robert Towne’s The Parallax View.

I love my Lee Majors joints, but — through no fault of his own (his Fawcett-Majors Productions didn’t back this one) — Agency is a flat-as-a-pancake conspiracy thriller providing a non-intriguing conspiracy devoid of thrills. If you’re in the market for sci-fi conspiracy thrillers of the ’80s HBO-variety, then stick with Micheal Crichton’s Looker from 1981 starring Albert Finney — at least that one had some computer 3D modeling and funky light-hypnosis guns to wow us. Of course, when it comes to subliminal conspiracies of the Canadian variety, none is finer than David Cronenberg’s Videodrome.

You can watch Agency on You Tube or watch it as a free-with-ads stream courtesy of IMDb TV’s Amazon Prime channel (caveat: both are fuzzy VHS-to-DVD rips). In 2001, Anchor Bay issued a now out-of-print DVD version, which, no surprise, is the best of the DVD transfers in the market. If you’re a Lee Majors Canadian film completist, then you’ll want to seek out the 1984 TV movie The Cowboy and the Ballerina (we found a clip on You Tube).

Luckily, the fine folks at Mill Creek Entertainment come through in the clutch by including Agency on their Excellent Eighties 50-Movie Pack.

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

B-Movie Blast: The Kidnapping of the President (1980)

Why am I remembering this Canadian-made political thriller from Crown International Pictures as, not a theatrically-run film, but as a U.S. network TV movie? Yeah, I remember watching this William Shatner and Hal Holbrook effort on HBO at one point. . . . Perhaps it’s because director George Mardeluk worked primarily in television throughout the ’80s and ’90s on several TV series, along with LOTS of TV movies into the mid-2000s. He made his feature film debut with the great Richard Crenna (The Case of the Hillside Strangler) in the neo-noir crime thriller Stone Cold Dead (1980) — a film that I also don’t recall being in theaters, but enjoying immensely on HBO.

Well, one thing is for sure: Crown International upped their game with this, Mardeluk’s second thriller, to get their studio out of the exploitation gutter (with far like Superchick, also reviewed this month) by acquiring the rights to Charles Templeton’s 1977 international best-seller of the same name; not a bad feat for a first-time novelist.

President Adam Scott (Hal Holbrook) is one of those leaders who tosses common sense out the window when it jeopardizes his image in the political arena. So when Secret Service agent Jerry O’ Connor (William Shatner) warns Scott of a potential threat and that he should cancel his state visit to Canada — Scott scorns his protective attache and takes the trip anyway — and is subsequently abducted by terrorists for ransom.

Of course, as is the case with such recent political action-thrillers as the battling destroy-the-Whitehouse features of White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen, we have Ethan Richards (Van Johnson), Scott’s politically ambitious Vice President ready to take his seat of the most powerful office in the world. Meanwhile, O’Conner races against the clock to rescue the President from a booby-trapped armored truck. Ava Gardner practically copies her role as Charlton Heston’s overbearing, bitchy wife from Earthquake . . . as Van Johnson’s overbearing, bitchy Second Lady of the United States. And there’s lots of Canadian actors afoot that you’ll recognize, most notably the always welcomed Maury Chaykin (Def Con 4, WarGames) as the world’s most ill-organized terrorist.

I never read the novel, but critics say the book is better and the movie is slow. Whatever, I liked this movie back in the day and enjoyed revisiting it these years later. In fact, we discussed George Mardeluk’s career and my enjoyment of his first two movies in our review of one of his latest films, Ants on a Plane (2019). For you Lifetime damsel-in-distress fans, his last directed film was The Wrong Babysitter (2017), which currently plays on Netflix.

Look, The Kidnapping of the President is a Crown International flick, after all, so don’t expect Clint Eastwood’s fantastic In the Line of Fire (1993) — and I name drop that flick because, well, take a look at the clip below. Does that guy in the cap with the explosives on his chest look a bit like John Malkovich’s Mitch Leary from that film?

You can watch the full movie on You Tube and get your own copy on Mill Creek’s B-Movie Blast 50-movie set.

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