Top Secret (1984)

Val Kilmer picked the right debut. This ZAZ — Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker — feature packs in takes on Elvis films, spy movies and World WAR II movies all in one huge package of rapid fire jokes, allowing the star to sing, dance and pretty much act like a maniac. It’s perfect.

He plays Nick Rivers, whose hit song “Skeet Surfin'” takes him to East Germany, which is still Nazi Germany despite the Cold War taking place. Somehow, within the mashup that this film throws together also finds time to pretty much be a pastiche of the 1944 noir The Conspirators.

Unlike past ZAZ films, there aren’t many cameos here, other than Omar Sharif as Agent Cedric and an appearance Peter Cushing playing a Swedish bookstore proprietor who is filmed backward.

While this movie has its fans — Weird Al claims it’s his favorite movie — the studio was upset with its performance. And David Zucker would claim that it may be a funny movie, but it isn’t a very good one.

Me? I kind of love any movie that has the French Resistance still fighting Germany in the 1960’s, a battle that takes them to a Swedish pizza place where Nick can win over the girls with his song “Straighten Out the Rug.”

Frank Harris Two-Fer: Killpoint (1984) and Low Blow (1986)

Frank Harris and Leo Fong! My head is swimming. Where do I begin with this review?

Well, first off, you can get both of these Crown International releases on Mill Creek’s “Explosive Cinema” 12-pack (along with Scorpion, Skydivers, and 9 Deaths of the Ninja). Second: You also get Troy Donahue (Omega Cop), Richard Roundtree (Q: The Winged Serpent), and, say what? Cameron Mitchell (Space Mutiny) appears in both?

Harris. Fong. Mitchell? Sign me up!

What’s that? Harris also did the post-apoc romp Aftershock and the cop actioner Lockdown (1990; trailer) with Richard Lynch from Deathsport and Ground Rules? What? No way! And Fong did Showdown (1993; full movie) with Lynch as well? Rock on! Richard Friggin’ Lynch. Rock on, Ankar Moor, you post-apoc bad ass.

Frank Harris

Writer, director, producer and cinematographer Frank Harris got his start as a reporter for a small California TV station. But his true love was film. He got his start in the movie business courtesy of the fifth film from Asian action star Leo Fong, 1976’s Ninja Assassins (aka Enforcer from Death Row), who hired Harris as a cinematographer. (I have wonderful memories of my older cousin, Bobby, who studied martial arts and was ready to go into the military, taking me to the Drive-In after seeing the film’s commercial on TV. Yes, I rented it when it came out on VHS.)

After putting one more cinematography gig under his belt with the 1984 actioner Goldrunner (trailer: race cars, motorcycles and kidnapping), Fong hired Harris to not only serve as the cinematographer, but as the producer, director and screenwriter for his eighth film as an actor: Killpoint.

Then there was Harris’s directing gig with 1996’s Skyscraper, an awful attempt to turn famous-for-being-famous ex-Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith into—not only into an “actress” and not only into a “leading lady”—an “action star.” Anna Nicole as a hot, corporate helicopter pilot who goes “Die Hard” when terrorists take over her employer’s office tower? Huh and W.T.F. It’s one of those movies where you simply can not turn away. And let me make this point perfectly clear: there’s a lot of people to blame for it, but Harris isn’t one of them; he was just a director-for-hire. (Watch the full movie at your own peril; the trailer might even be too much to bear.)

Killpoint (1984)

Cameron Mitchell returned from Ninja Assassins, this time as Joe Marks, an illegal arms dealer who robs a Californian National Guard Armory with plans to sell the weapons to L.A’s street gangs. Lt. James Long (Fong) a bitter, troubled L.A detective still dealing with the rape and murder of his wife a year earlier, gets his chance to go “Dirty Harry” —well, “Jackie Chan,” actually—when he discovers Mark’s sidekick, known as Nighthawk (professional ex-boxer Stack Pierce; worked on several of Fred Williamson’s Blaxploitation films), was responsible for her death. Teamed with FBI Agent Bill Bryant (Richard Roundtree), they bring them to justice.

Of course, while Fong was already a major star in the Eurasian marketplace, he was an unknown commodity in the States. So while Roundtree’s part in Killpoint is a minor one, as you can see from the below poster images, that didn’t stop the distributors from highlighting Roundtree’s contribution—and giving Leo Fong the short shift on the U.S Drive-In and video campaigns.

Where’s Leo?

Low Blow (1986)

Karen Templeton (Patti Bowling; her only film role) is a young, wayward Patty Hearst-type heiress brainwashed-kidnapped by the Church of Universal Enlightenment, a Jonestown-styled religious cult run by Cameron Mitchell’s Jim Jones-inspired Yarakunda.

After seeing Joe Wong (Leo Fong), a harried ex-San Francisco detective take down a couple of thugs who mugged an old lady, Karen’s tycoon-father (Troy Donahue) decides Wong is the man for the job to rescue his daughter. So Wong recruits a Vietnam vet and ex-pro-boxer (Stack Piece is back!) to get her out. Once inside, Wong fights the cult-camp’s ninjas and world-renowned martial artist and Tae Bo exercise program guru Billy Blanks (Tango & Cash, Lionheart) in his first film role.

Leo Fong

Leo Fong is still going strong at the incredible age of 91. He starred in three films in 2018: Hidden Peaks, Dragon to Dragon, and the most recent film: Challenge of the Five Gauntlets. And he has four more films in various stations of filming and pre/post production: Pact of Vengenance (with Jon-Mikl Thor!), Asian Cowboys, Runaway Killer, Hard Way Heroes, and Junkers. You catch up with Leo and his Sky Dragon Entertainment at LeoFong.com.

Other films in the Harris-Fong oeuvre include 24 Hours to Midnight with Cynthia Rothrock (1985; clip), Hawkeye (1988; full movie) (seen them on VHS), and the direct-to-DVD releases Brazilian Brawl (2003; trailer) and Transformed (2005; full movie) (honestly, never heard of them or seen them; I need to change that).

You can watch the TRAILER and the FULL MOVIE for Killpoint, the TRAILER and FULL MOVIE for Low Blow, and the FULL MOVIE of their first film, Ninja Assassins, on You Tube.

Join us tomorrow as we take a look at another Harris film on the “Explosive Cinema” box set: The Patriot.

Bought at Eide’s Entertainment in Pittsburgh.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Box Office Failures Week: The Cotton Club (1984)

Sometimes, the story behind a movie takes over the actual story of the movie. I can think of no better example than this film.

The Cottom Club was Robert Evans’ baby. Inspired by a picture-book of the famous nightclub by James Haskins, he was set to produce and direct, with Mario Puzo writing the original screenplay and William Kennedy and Francis Ford Coppola doing re-writes.

But wait? Didn’t Evans and Coppola famously hate one another after two go-arounds making The Godfather films? Didn’t Evans even claim, in his book that influenced everything I write, The Kid Stays In the Picture, that “Francis and I have a perfect record; we disagreed on everything?”

Production designer Richard Sylbert played good cop bad cop with both, telling Evans not to hire Coppola because “he resents being in the commercial, narrative, Hollywood movie business” while at the same time telling Coppola to steer clear because Evans was crazy.

Yet Coppola needed the money. One from the Heart had tanked and he’d done the one thing you should never do — he spent his own money.

Evans needed Coppola too — at least $13 million had already been committed to the film, then Vegas casino kings Ed and Fred Doumanu put another $30 million down, then Adnan Khashoggi — yes, the arms dealer — got involved. And then there’s Roy Radin, who cut a drug dealing associate out of the movie and got killed for it.

Let’s stop this Cotton Club train and get into Roy Radin, who touches all the hot button subject matter that I love so much. Back in 1991, Lydon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review stated that Radin’s murder had been carried out in style. To wit, the murder was conducted in Satanic ritualistic fashion: 13 bullets to the back of the head; a Bible left near the body, opened to a passage from the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 22, which reads in part, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.””

Radin was killed by William Malony Mentzer, who was identified by “Son of Sam”  killer David Berkowitz as Manson II. He was also, at the time, the bodyguard of Larry Flynt and had two dozen similarities with the Zodiac Killer. 

Radin also had ties to the occult underground in New York and Long Island, purchasing much of his cocaine from the group that Maury Terry fingered in The Ultimate Evil as a national Satanic underground that also included the Process Church of the Final Judgement and Charles Manson. Radin was also a member of the Crowley order the Ordo Templi Orientis.

I went to one of their parties once and was shocked how boring it was, as everyone ate guacamole and discussed Debbie Harry for hours. And hours.  Also, of note, the Process successfully sued Terry and had the passage that connected them to Manson removed from future printings.

But I digress.

The budget had ballooned out of control — $65 million by some accounts, which would be $162 million in today’s money. When he became the director, Francis Ford Coppola added to the budgetary issues by firing nearly all of Evans’ crew, which meant large payoffs. Then, a whole new crew went to work, with six hundred people were constantly working at building sets, making costumes and playing music, like some demented Winchester house of a film, costing a quarter million a day as star Gregory Hines claimed that the rehearsals of the film were being filmed as the movie was shot during rehearsals.

At one point, five new scripts were written in 48-hours and at least thirty — if not forty — versions of the screenplay exist. Evans got forced out. The producers began suing one another. And the movie was still far from playing theaters.

Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere) is working with the mob to help his career as a musician, but he’s fallen for Dutch Schultz’s (James Remar) woman Vera (Diane Lane). Meanwhile, Sandman Williams (Heinz) and his brother Lucky (real-life brother Maurice Heinz) start working at the Cotton Club, which is owned by Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins) and policed by his right-hand man, Frenchy Demange (Fred Gwynne!).

Dixie — who is pretty much George Raft — goes off to become a star thanks to Madden, but he pisses off Schultz along the way. Yet his brother remains in Schultz’s gang (and is played by a very, very young Nicholas Cage). And Laurence Fishburne is also in here as a Harlem-based mobster.

This movie again connects so many of my pop culture loves, from Warhol Factory star Joe Dallesandro playing Lucky Luciano to Tom Waits, Woody Strode and Julian Beck (Kane from Poltergeist 2!) having roles in the film.

Roger Ebert said that despite the movie having such a troubled birth, “what difference does that make when the result is so entertaining? Whatever it took to do it, Coppola has extracted a very special film out of the checkered history of this project.”

In 2015, Coppola found an old Betamax video copy of his director’s cut and spent a half million of his own money — oh Francis, you never learn — to restore the film. This new version, called The Cotton Club Encore, debuted at the Telluride Fim Festival.

The Cotton Club Encore has just been released to blu ray. It’s remastered, restored and has musical sequences and never-before-seen scenes that have been added back to the film. You can follow the link to order it.

DISCLAIMER: This movie was sent to us by Lionsgate. This has no impact on our review.

ANOTHER TAKE ON: Monster Shark (1984)

The list of talent involved in Monster Shark should get you pretty excited about the film. It took seven writers to get this movie made, including Lewis Coates, who you’d probably know better as Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash); Martin Dolman, who is really Sergio Martino (All the Colors of the Dark); Gianfranco Clerici (Cannibal Holocaust); Frank Walker, who is truly Vincenzo Mannino (The Last Shark); Hervé Piccini (Rats: Night of Terror); Dardano Sacchetti (who wrote pretty much every Italian horror and science fiction movie worth watching) and finally, John Old Jr.

Perhaps you know his infinitely more talented father, John M. Old. Yes, that’s just a pseudonym for Mario Bava, which means that the John Old Jr. who crafted this thing called Devil Fish, Monster from the Red Ocean, Devouring Waves or Shark: Red in the Ocean is truly Lamberto Bava. Whew. Sometimes watching Italian genre cinema means that you have to play investigatore.

Somewhere in Florida, the tourist trade is being attacked by a mysterious undersea beast. It’s not a shark. That’d be too easy. No, it’s a secret military operation that combines the worst parts of the octopus with the prehistoric Dunkleosteus.

While just a baby devil fish right now — an infant monster shark, a babina monster from red ocean, a toddler octopi — the beast has still broken loose to gnaw on swimmers, sailors and random females. 

It’s up to Peter (Michael Sopkiw, Blastfighter), an electrician and TV repairman whose sole qualification seems to be the amount of beer he can drink; Dr. Bob Hogan, another rampant alcoholic; and dolphin trainer/marine biologist Dr. Stella Dickens (Valentine Monnier, who was also in 2019: After the Fall of New York with Sopkiw) to stop the beast. If you know anything about Luigi Cozzi, you probably realize that amongst his contributions to the script, one of them had to be the name of this character, as he names every female lead in his movies Stella. 

Instead of Sheriff Brody, we get Sheriff Gordon, who is played by John Garko, who is better known as Gianni Garko, and who is better known as Sartana. Other Italian horror stars of note include Cinthia Stewart (actually Cinzia De Ponti, who is the bicyclist that gets eviscerated in the beginning of The New York Ripper as well as the ironically named babysitter Jamie Lee in Fulci’s Manhattan Baby); Iris Peynado from Warriors of the Wasteland and Iron Warrior; and Dagmar Lassander from Hatchet for the Honeymoon and The House by the Cemetery.

This is a movie that needs so much padding that it features not one, but two title sequences, yet features only three adult film-sounding Fabio Frizzi on a Casio created music cues. 

By the end, when Professor Donald West (William Berger, Keoma) solemnly intones that the creature is “A marine monster, almost indestructible. And whose genetic characteristics are as fearsome as the white shark’s. A gigantic octopus with the intelligence of a dolphin, and as monstrous as a prehistoric creature,” you’ll think to yourself that in better hands, Monster Shark could have been a halfway decent affair. 

There is a scene where a botched rescue leads to a man violently losing his legs. And that man was played by an actual amputee, which I guess we should applaud. And whoever decided to this needed spiced up with a subscene where a woman is attacked and electrocuted with a hairdryer? You may not know how to plot, but kudos for trying to keep this plodding affair from being a total snoozefest. And you know how you should never show the monster for the first half of the film? Bava goes one better than that, never clearly showing his titular undersea antagonist for the entire running time.

Lamberto’s Demons films are much better than this, but that’s the kind of bar that you don’t just stumble over, but one that you also stub your toe on. Sopkiw claims that he’s a great director, yet the budget here hampered his talents. I just don’t know how a movie about a giant eyed prehistoric octopus hybrid battling alcoholic flamethrower enthusiasts can be so sleep-inducing. 

This article originally appeared in Drive-In Asylum Special Issue #4, which you can buy here.

Fatal Games (1984)

The Killing Touch. Olympic Nightmare. These are both great names, but they want with Fatal Games. If you watch this movie and think, is this Graduation Day, good news. You are not alone. Amazingly, this movie — a slasher from the late era of the genre — has never been released on DVD or blu ray. Give it time — everything is getting rediscovered these days.

The seven member gymnastics team of the Falcon Academy of Athletics could make the nationals, but there’s someone wearing a black tracksuit that is killing everyone with a javelin.

This movie has plenty of interesting folks — Sean Masterson (who wrote for nearly every show Drew Carey has worked on), Michael O’Leary (Dr. Rick Bauer on Guiding Light), stuntwoman Spice Williams-Crosby, Sally Kirkland (who was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar and won the Best Actress Golden Globe for Anna) and short moments of Brinke Stevens and Linnea Quigley.

It was created by two children of famous people. Writer Christopher Mankiewicz is the son of writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and actress Rose Stradner. And Rafael Bunuel is the son of Luis Bunuel. Yes, the sons of the men who created All About Eve and Un Chien Andalou came together to create a slasher that has all of the acting power of a porn without the payoff of hardcore sex.

Also, if you recognize the setting, it was also the same high school used for Jawbreaker, Los Angeles’ University High School.

PURE TERROR MONTH: Mutant (1984)

Mark Rosman started his directing career with The House On Sorority Row before working with Hillary Duff on Lizzie McGuire and directing two of her films, A Cinderella Story and The Perfect Man. He was the original director of this film, before his vision clashed with producer Edward L. Montoro.

Yes, Edward L. Montoro, the man behind Film Ventures International, the same guy who brought you movies like Grizzly and Day of the Animals before taking a million dollars out of the company and disappearing forever.

Mutant is one of the reasons why Film Ventures International was failing, which is why Montiro bounced forever. No one even knows if he’s still alive.

Taking over the directing duties of this film would be John “Bud” Cardos, who broke in to Hollywood as a result of his father and uncle managing the Graumann’s Egyptian and Chinese theaters. He started as a child actor in Hal Roach’s 1940’s Our Gang shorts,  was a rodeo rider and a bird handler on The Birds before he began appearing in biker and exploitation films like Hells Angels on WheelsPsych-Out and Satan’s Sadists before directing his own films like Kingdom of the SpidersThe Day Time Ended and The Dark. Ironically, he was also a last-minute replacement on that movie, taking over for Tobe Hooper.

He’s kept working in Hollywood, even appearing in credits as a driver on films like Memento. You can see him in the recently reviewed Danger God.

When brothers Josh (Wings Hauser, looking and acting bonkers throughout) and Mike (Lee Montgomery, the full-grown star of Ben who is also in the made-for-TV blast The Midnight Hour) are run off the road by local rednecks — it’s Josh’s fault — and forced to spend the night in a small town.

Bo Hopkins — who has been in so much of our redneck favorites like White Lightning and What Comes Around, where he played lookalike Jerry Reed’s brother — plays the local sheriff.

Cary Guffey, the child actor from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, is also here, but unlike most movies that keep the kids safe, Mutant truly does not care. The scene where he’s taken over by mutated children is pretty harrowing and I’m glad I saw it as an adult.

Jennifer Warren, who played the wife of Paul Newman in Slap Shot, gets a special appearance credit. Man, Mutant looks like such a stain on her resume, considering other films she was in like Sam’s Song and Ice Castles. 

Somehow, this movie has a score that was recorded by the National Philharmonic Orchestra. It was composed by Richard Band, the brother of Charles Band.

It’s pretty interesting to me that the fortunes of Montoro’s company rested on this film, which is probably why directors were replaced and the title was changed from Night Shadows.

To be perfectly blunt, this movie is a mess. It never even gets its footing before it starts killing off characters left and right, unsure if it wants to be a redneck movie or a zombie film. That’s OK. I kind of like it just the same.

You can watch this movie on Amazon Prime and Tubi, if you don’t have the PURE TERROR box set. There’s also a Code Red blu ray that you can get from Ronin Flix.

PURE TERROR MONTH: Death Warmed Up (1984)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Roger Braden runs the Facebook group Valley Nightmares, which is all about the history of the films that played at the drive-ins and theaters in his home state of Kentucky. He’s a great guy and I’m excited to read his take on this movie.

Also known as Death Warmed Over and Robot Maniac, New Zealand’s first splatter film pre-dates Peter Jacksons Bad Taste by 3 years, and was quite the shocker when first unleashed to theaters and later on VHS.  

A group of friends and myself would have a movie night every weekend during the 1980s VHS rental boom, usually at my friend Marty’s place. The dude had a killer “Great Room” with a huge projection TV and quadraphonic sound system. Just bring something to watch, your own beer, snacks and smoke and the night was set. We watched everything, but I could always be counted on for bringing some obscure Horror flick that nobody had heard of, many thanks to Fangoria magazine for the knowledge.

One of those nights I brought over Death Warmed Up.  The reaction from my friends that night are still vivid, and for me, hilarious. They were shocked, grossed out and had no idea what was going on. After muliple recent viewings  I’d tell those friends today (and you), it still shocks and is gorily gross. And you’re still not going to have any idea of just what the fuck is going on while watching it.

The movie opens with some brain surgery being performed, and we’re talking drilling through the skull first just to get to the brain! We meet our hero Michael, whose dad is a research scientist with a Dr. Archer Howell, the two doctors that are doing the brain surgery. Seems Howell wants all the credit for what the two doctors are working on, so he brainwashes Michael into blasting his parents to death with a shotgun, then Michael is thrown into the looey bin.  This is in the first 10 minutes of the film. We flash forward 7 years. Michael, formely dark haired and now sporting a blonde Rutger Hauer look is getting released, and his girlfriend, best friend and his girl pick him up so they can go vacation to the island that Dr. Howell has set up as his research facility (yes Michael knows where he’s going, he’s out for revenge!).  On the ferry to the island we meet “Spider” and his partner, two of the facility workers, who clash immediately with our vacationing friends.

It only gets more bat shit crazy from here, and it’s fantastic.  Our friends go exploring and discover a massive tunnel system under the island linked to Dr Howell’s facility patrolled by  Spider and coworkers on their motorbikes. Howell’s patient’s brains start exploding, gun battles, squirting bloody violence, more brain surgery with wet walnut looking tumors discovered, mutants released from the bowels of the island to run amok destroying everything in their path, and an act of revenge that is not the best course of action.

I’m hoping this is enough to convince you to watch this film for the first time or the 100th.  Remember Spider’s words

 Thanks for having me in the Mill Creek Pure Terror series at bandsaboutmovies.com.  

Severin has a loaded blu of this movie also.

 

2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge: Day 16: Option 3 and Option 4: Thunder Alley (1985) and Second Time Lucky (1984)

Day 16 Rock ‘n’ Roll Miscreants: Give some screen time to the punks and/or metal heads

Ask any male teenager haunting the racks of video stores in the ‘80s who their two favorite actresses were—this writer included—and the answer inevitably comes back: Diane Franklin and Jill Schoelen. No matter how good or bad the movie: you saw either of their names on the box, you rented the flick.

Chiller, Cutting Class, Popcorn, Rich Girl, and The Stepfather  for Jill Schoelen—check.

Amityville II: The Possession, Better Off Dead, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Last American Virgin,  and Terrorvision for Diane Franklin—check.

And the subject of this Scarecrow Challenge review, Roger Wilson, hit casting gold by being cast with both of them in Thunder Alley and Second Time Lucky. It’s been many, many years Roger, and we, the now low testosterone, hair-thinned curmudgeons of the VHS and vinyl epoch, continue to worship you in a Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar-tribute. We bow to you before the altar of the stage of The Palace, the faux-Phoenix, Arizona, rock club where you showed the world your rock ‘n’ roll “balbricks.” You are worthy, for you rawketh our analog, teenaged memories.

Born in New Orleans, on October 8, 1956, actor Wilson came to notice at the age of 25 in his first starring role as “Mickey” in the hugely successful Animal House-inspired comedies Porky’s (1981) and Porky’s II: The Next Day (1983).

As with Lane Caudell, Kim Milford, and Rick Springfield before him, Wilson was an aspiring and accomplished rock ‘n’ roller who fronted a band called Num for several years. It was through his acting endeavors that Wilson was able to get two of his written/performed songs, “This Time” and “Radioactive Tears,” on the soundtrack for the obscure and rare New Zealand-shot Second Time Lucky (1984), an “Adam and Eve” rock musical-comedy in which he co-starred with our teenaged dream queen—Diane Franklin. Then writer-director J.S Cardone gave Roger’s musical skills a spotlight in Thunder Alley, which co-starred the soon-to-be girlfriend of Brad Pitt: Jill Schoelen. (Pitt and Schoelen became engaged after meeting on the set of a pre-stardom Pitt flick, the 1989 slasher romp, Cutting Class. The story of how Jill and Brad split before getting married is epic.)

A reformed rock ‘n’ roller who spent several years touring with rock bands in the early ‘70s, Cardone made a huge splash on the burgeoning home video market with his debut film, the 1982 slasher “video nasty” The Slayera film so “nasty” that it was banned from distribution in the land that loves-to-ban anything entertaining: the United Kingdom (see it on B&S Movies Exploring: Video Nasties Section 2 List). Cardone then hit his career peak in the early ‘90s through his association with Charles Band’s Full Moon Pictures. For us reformed teen denizens stumbling through our twenties in the pre-dawn years of the grunge era, we rented everything with a Full Moon logo on it—and with J.S Cardone’s name front and center on Shadowzone and Crash & Burn (both 1990), it was a no brainer: there was entertainment to be had.

After Cardone made a bloody splash in the post-Halloween slasher market and proved he could turn out economical, quality product, he was able to secure financing for his second film—a personal pet-project that drew from his early ‘70s band experiences.

So, in the glut of rock ‘n’ roll films permeating the cable transmission waves and video store shelves, with the likes of such rock ‘n’ roll classics as Eddie & the Cruisers (1980), Ladies and Gentleman: The Fabulous Stains (1981) and Streets of Fire (1984) (a “punk rock” Diane Lane two-fer?!), and Scenes from the Goldmine (1987; Catherine Mary Stewart from Night of the Comet!), there was Cardone’s 1985 rock ‘n’ roll love letter: Thunder Alley. And he cast Roger Wilson as; it seems, to be the onscreen pseudo-version of his younger Cardone-rock ‘n’ roll self.

Sadly, there’s no DVD version of Thunder Alley with an audio commentary to learn the backstory of Cardone’s hungry rock ‘n’ roll years. This writer ventures that Cardone made connections during those times and knew Surgical Steel’s Jim Keeler and Jeff Martin, Canadian hitmaker Gary O’Conner, and Shooting Star’s Gary West and Van McLain—and brought them onto the project to craft the music for the film’s faux band fronted by Roger Wilson: Magic.

Phoenix, Arizona’s Surgical Steel—where the film was shot—appear in the film as themselves, as the “biggest band in town” and Magic’s main competition. In real life, they were; but as with their critically acclaimed, hometown brethren, Icon, a Quiet Riot rise-to-stardom wasn’t meant to be for the ‘Steel. The film spotlighted their songs “Surrender” and “Gimme Back My Heart.”

In addition to casting Roger Wilson, Cardone provided ex-bubblegum teen-idol Leif Garrett with his first gritty “adult” roll as the egotistical-insecure “Skip” (we wonder who Cardone’s “model” was). Garrett not only turns in a wonderful performance as an actor—but does a stellar job on lead vocals singing “Do You Feel Alright,” which previously appear on Shooting Star’s third album, III Wishes (July 1982). Other songs expertly done by Garrett (take the overly critical bubblegum out of your ears, Garrett really can sing) are “Just Another Pretty Boy,” written by Gary O’Connor (who provided “Back Where You Belong” to 38 Special), and “Danger, Danger” by Frankie Miller (revered British singer from Jude with Robin Trower).

However, the real star of this show was Roger Wilson. Although Roger is an accomplished guitarist in his own right, and proves those skills with his spot-on playing, he’s actually doubled by Scott Shelly—one of Shelly’s most prominent students was Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne’s Randy Rhoads. There’s no doubt Cardone believed in Roger; to promote Wilson’s career, Cardone released a promotional 7” 45-rpm that was given away in record stores and movie theatres. It seemed Wilson’s dream to make it as a musician was happening.

Then as quickly as his star rose, it came crashing down in a blaze of thunder, oddly enough, in an alley.

The story starts with Academy Award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio when, fresh from his breakout roll in Titanic, partied with friends in the “Wolf Pack,” which is alleged to be a post-stardom euphemism for the group’s original, more nasty (and allegedly a press-generated) moniker of “The Pussy Posse.” The wolf-posse included an HBO-esque Entourage that included magician David Blaine and actors Kevin Connolly (ironically, later a star of Entourage; directed the John Travolta box-office bomb, Gotti), Jay Ferguson (“Stan Rizzo” of Mad Men), actor Lukas Haas, writer/director Harmony Korine, Tobey Maguire of Spider-Man fame, screenwriter Josh Miller (“Tim” in River’s Edge), and Ethan Suplee (TV’s My Name is Earl). Regardless of how the actor-amalgamate referred to themselves: they were notorious for their allegedly misogynistic and rebel rousing behaviors on the “upscale” New York City club scene.

One of those “incidents” that led to the wolf-posse’s ill repute involved actress Elizabeth Berkley, known for her attempt to break away from her squeaky clean teen-idol image cultivated by Saturday morning TV’s Saved by the Bell with a starring role in a “grown up part” in the critically lambasted Showgirls.

According to multiple media reports, Berkley attended the premiere of DiCaprio’s latest film, The Man in the Iron Mask—and visited the film’s VIP area, which was in full party mode courtesy of the Wolf Pack. It’s alleged that through DiCaprio’s L.A publicist, Karen Tenser, Berkley was invited by the actor and Jay Ferguson to party at the club Elaine’s after the premiere. Berkley politely declined, as she was dating Roger Wilson at the time (other media reports say Roger was there at the club by Berkley’s side when the invite was made).

Not taking a “no” for an answer, Berkley alleged that is when the “harassment” started, with an incessant barrage of invites from Tenser and Ferguson for dinners and parties. Wilson, as any chivalrous boyfriend would, intervened on one of those phone calls from actor Jay Ferguson—this time inviting Berkley to party with the pack at New York’s ritzy Asia de Cuba. Ferguson’s incensed response to Wilson’s intrusion was to invite Wilson to the club for a showdown.

Wilson accepted. And the thunder was about the roll in the alley.

Upon arrival at the club, Wilson took Ferguson’s offer to “step outside.” It’s then alleged DiCaprio (who ironically starred in Gangs of New York) interjected, “let’s go kick ass,” and led his wolf-posse into a West Side Story-styled, street-alley rumble. At that point, the recollections are hazy: a member of the posse—allegedly Ferguson—punched Wilson in the throat and damaged his larynx. Of all the body parts to suffer a blow: not his head or face, stomach or back: his throat.

Wilson’s singing career was over.

The unchecked testosterone melee resulted in a Manhattan judge tossing out Wilson’s $45 million lawsuit in 2004 against DiCaprio and “two other men” for the assault. It was determined that DiCaprio not only didn’t throw a punch, he didn’t encourage the fight—and Wilson was cast as the “aggressor.”

After the May 4, 1998, assault, Wilson’s career floundered with a series of little-seen TV movies and haphazardly distributed direct-to-video releases. Another TV series in the wake of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers wasn’t forthcoming. Meanwhile, DiCaprio moved up to the A-List and worked with Martin Scorsese.

Wilson, however, remained in the business behind the scenes. He moved into screenwriting, doing numerous uncredited rewrites (like the highly respected Carrie Fisher of Star Wars) for projects supervised by producer Steve Tisch (who produced Risky Business and Forrest Gump), Penny Marshall, and actress Sharon Stone. After teaching screenwriting at the college level, Roger Wilson forged a career in real estate development, which he still pursues today.

The bottom line, Roger: We love your work then and will love your work now. So clear out the vaults and upload your old material (especially from the hard-to-find Second Time Lucky)—and newer tunes—to a Spotify account for all of us Roger Wilson and Thunder Alley fans to enjoy. For in our analog-beating hearts sustained on digital life support, you are still a rock star. We want to rock with you again. You, my friend, are worthy to rock Thunder Alley.

Be sure to check out the “Music of Roger Wilson and Thunder Alley” YouTube Playlist that features the studio and video versions of all the songs from Thunder Alley with Roger Wilson and Leif Garrett, along with music by Gary O (and 38 Special), Frankie Miller (and Nazareth), Surgical Steel and Shooting Star. The playlist also includes the trailers and full films for Second Time Lucky and Thunder Alley. And there’s my off-the-rails thesis paper on Roger’s career, overflowing with photos and trivia, “Sex, Balbrick, and Rock ’n’ Roll: The Music of Actor Roger Wilson,” on Medium.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

2019 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge: Day 16: Option 2: duBeat-e-o (1984)

Day 16 Rock ‘n’ Roll Miscreants: Give some screen time to the punks and/or metal heads

Strap yourself in. Get ready for the rock ‘n’ roll adventures of film and television visionary Alan Sacks (aka Alan ‘duBeat-e-o’ Shapiro) and the film debut of Joan Jett.

While the pioneering, all-female rock band the Runaways were unable to repeat their explosive, overseas radio and retail chart acceptance (they were huge in Japan and the Pacific Rim countries) in the U.S, the Suzi Quatro-inspired rockers nonetheless became ubiquitous, sexy fodder for the late ‘70s U.S rock press — especially in the teen-oriented pages of Circus, Crawdaddy, Creem, and Hit Parader (dude, do I miss those mags!).

Were those magazines’ Runaways-centerfold posters on this wee-tween’s walls? You better believe it: right alongside the tear-outs of my motocross idol, Roger DeCoster. My Runaways albums spun alongside Frampton Comes Alive and Kiss’ Dressed to Kill.

“Hey, why don’t we make a female version of A Hard Day’s Night to promote the band?” rubbed the greedy little hands of their songwriter-svengali, Kim Fowley. “Frampton did that dumb Sgt. Pepper movie; Kiss did that Phantom of the Park mess, so why can’t we make a disaster-rock flick too? This dumb kid with the DeCoster pictures on his wall will eat it up.”

“Turning the Runaways into the Beatles? You’ve done it again, K.F!” says KROQ disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer. “It’ll make millions! And to stick it to Capitol Records and the Knack, you should title it: Eight Days a Week.”

So, in a September 22, 1979, issue of the radio & records industry newspaper, Billboard, the marketing-machine genius of Kim Fowley began to grind:

LOS ANGELES—Production has started on the feature motion picture “We’re All Crazy Now,” loosely based on the career of the all-girl rock act the Runaways. The Zane-Helpern independent production stars Arte Johnson, Runaways’ member Joan Jett and former Herman’s Hermits leader Peter Noone. Cheryl Smith, along with Karen and Kathy Fallentine, round out the cast as the remainder of the original Runaways.

Okay, so did you hear the one about the on-the-downward-slide comedic actor from the ‘60s TV variety show, Laugh-In, a washed-up Beatles clone, and Rainbeaux Smith from the infamous women-in-prison flick, Caged Heat (1974), walking into a bar?

Oh, this is going to work out quite well, Mr. Fowley.

And we trip in Doc Brown’s DeLorean to a 1984 where Joan Jett scored a worldwide #1 solo hit with “I Love Rock & Roll” and formed a faux-rock band with Marty McFly and David St. Hubbins from Spinal Tap to sing a Bruce Springsteen-penned song in a film written by the guy who dreamed up Travis Bickle — who inspired Mark David Chapman to assassinate John Lennon so he could impress Jodie Foster — who starred with Cheri Currie of the Runaways in Foxes alongside keyboardist Greg Guiffria and his band, Angel.

My mind is in FUBAR crash mode. I need a Dr. Pepper and Pringles sleeve reboot.

“So, Mr. Du-beat-e-o. How about you make me a movie?” says Uncle Leo from TV’s Seinfeld to Ray Sharkey from The Idolmaker.

And out of the Fowley-chaotic womb, instead of birthing a Beatlesque twin, an acid-infused, bizzaro-Jerry version of the Monkees’ incomprehensible debut film, Head, was born. It turns out Jack Nicholson was right: dropping acid while making a narcissistic rock ‘n’ roll movie without a script and no mainstream commercial appeal, actually works.

“. . . a punk movie that matches it’s style to its music.” — Filmex

“Aesthetically with its heavy doses of callous violence and flashy technique, the film recalls ‘A Clockwork Orange’. . . .” — Variety

Thank you, Uncle Leo, for giving me an f’d-up Stanley Kubrick punk rock movie! I’m all in! 

And . . . what the hell is with all these breakaways to porno-smut Polaroids? Why are their pictures of dead animals? Who’s this weird, punk-rock Stevie Nicks chick dancing around in black lace? And where’s Joan Jett? Where’s Malcolm McDowell and the rest of the Droogs? Where’s the Laugh-In dude and the Beatle-wannabe? Why is there so much El Duce of the Mentors in this film? You’re telling me the guy who dreamed up the loveable characters of Vinnie Barbarino and Arnold Horseshack, and paired Jack Albertson from The Poseidon Adventure with Freddy Prinze — 

“You made this?” interrupts the unknown actress who supported Johnny Depp in Private Resort (1985), starring as duBeat-e-o’s actress-valley girl-hostage in the editing room.

“Take a flying fuck to paradise, Derf Scratch,” duBeat-e-o barks his ubiquitous quote to anyone who doesn’t understand his “artistic vision” — even the bad ass, take-no-crap-o bassist from the L.A punk band, Fear. duBeat-e-o clutches a gun to the head of Derf, forcing his editor-character of Benny to feverishly splice a psychotic montage of five year old, left over footage of Joan Jett, along with porno-smut Polaroids, religious kitsch images, and El Duce of the Mentors providing voiceovers.

So, Nora Gaye, I think the real question is: Why did you agree to star in this? But I get, Nora. You were duped. But you really should have stuck to the Trapper John, M.D guest spots.

It turns out the guy who really made this sack-o-crap-o was Alan Sacks: Yes, the creator of the hit ‘70s TV sitcoms Welcome Back Kotter and Chico and the Man was given the job of somehow turning the half-of-a-movie celluloid table scraps of We’re All Crazy Now into a functioning, full length feature film. And he gave the cinematic sewing gig to his writing partner, Marc Sheffler, a former actor who starred in Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left.

“Hey, let’s hire that Sacks kid,” ponders the cigar-chompin’ executive over his desk-perched wing tips. “He did a pretty decent job with that skateboard movie, Thrashin’, the one that starred that kid who grew up to be George W. Bush in that movie directed by that guy who made The Doors movie. He’ll make this steaming pile work. Look what his little Sweathog show did for that kid in the Bees Gees disco movie.”

“I think a more contemporary reference for the younger readers is to reference Josh Brolin’s work in the Deadpool and Avengers universes,” mentions Marc Sheffler to the executive.

“Don’t tell me how to do my job,” kid,” chomps down the leg breaking financier on his stogie.

So, in a typical life-imitating-art fashion, the reimaging of We’re All Crazy Now . . . also ran out of money . . .  just like original We’re All Crazy Now did. And when you’re brimming with the über cool, nihilistic I-don’t-give-a-fuck altitude of Alan Sacks, what do you do?

You “F” the bastards by having the art-imitate-your-life: Director Alan “duBeat-e-o” Sharpiro (read: Alan Sacks) is given the job by Hendricks, a greedy, leg breaking producer-financier (read: loan shark; played by Len “Uncle Leo” Lesser) with no film experience, to make a movie about “Joanie Jett.”

That’s it. That’s the plot.

And where in the hell is Joan? So far, all I’ve seen is Ray Sharkey fluttering around on a cheap, one-set stage play environment that would give the makers of Bela Lugosi’s worst cardboard-films pause, screaming at Derf Scratch and Nora Gaye, with an occasional appearance by Uncle Leo in a wheelchair —  all backed by a musical accompaniment courtesy of a couple of Social Distortion tunes and some punk band, Even Worse, lamenting “We Suck,” while another band, Dr. Know, sings about giving someone a “Fist Fuck.”

What in the hell did I rent?

That’s right. Squint and look at the monitors on Derf’s editing suite, because that’s how Joan “stars” in this “movie” — via the five year old footage shot in 1979 by Bernard Girard (more on him, later).

“Okay, well, that’s ten minutes of a movie,” says Sheffler to Sacks. “What do we do to fill out the remaining 80 minutes?”

“Here, start spicing-in images of these,” duBeat-e-o suggests with the toss of a stack of Polaroids.

“Smut photos?” says Derf.

“Yeah, I took them during one of my sex-coke binges. And create stills from that stack of porno magazines over there and, uh, yeah, use that shelf of old porn movies over there . . . and I have some random stock newsreel footage around here, somewhere,” creates duBeat-e-o on his stumble-bumble apartment search for the reels. “Oh yeah, and see if you can find or take some pictures of fresh road kill.”

“Road kill? Alan, are you okay?”

“And give El Duce from the Mentors a call. I want him to roll around in the sack with Johanna Went and that Linda Texas Jones chick from Tex and the Horseheads in a nightmare sex scene where El talks about foreskin and uncircumcised appendages.”

“Okay?”

“And Ray will think he’s having sex with Johanna and Linda, but it turns out he’s bangin’ El Duce.”

“And what I am supposed to do for dialog, Alan?” Marc wonders.

“After you splice it all together, we’ll have El invite over some of his friends, we’ll all watch it, and make funny comments. You know, it’ll be a like nihilistic, punk rock version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.”

“Alan, Joan will sue us if we do this to her. And I don’t think Tomata du Plenty will be happy we stole the Screamers’ Gary Panters-designed band logo,” reasons Marc. “I mean, the Screamers aren’t even on the soundtrack, let alone in the movie. And I might add that Kim’s rights to the Runaways’ songs are so screwed up, we can’t use them on the film’s promotional soundtrack album.”

“Look, Marc. This project was a flea-bitten piece-o-dog crap-o when I got snookered into doing it. So we might as well have some fun and “fist fuck” the producers. As for Joan: She can take a flyin’ fuck to paradise. That’s what she gets for getting involved with Kim Fowley in the first place.”

“Well, you better hope that R.D Francis, that “Remember the Phantom” freak-o-dude, doesn’t mention duBeat-e-o in the same breath as the Camp Rock and Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience movies you’ll make later on. He already reminded them you made Thrashin’.”

“Hey, Thrashin’ was certainly better than Space Mutiny, that Battlestar Galactica rip-off piece-o-crap-o that David Winters has on his directing resume. He should be thankful for the gig I gave him directing that one.”

“This thing is nuts. It played in theatres!” — The Psychotronic Video Guide

And so, there it was, five years later, on this writer’s local video store’s shelf alongside the 1984-released copies of Rocktober Blood and Terror on Tour. It seems the mullet-haired and acne-scarred, video-clerking film dorks of America couldn’t even make head or tails of what the hell was up with duBeat-eo — and filed it in the horror section.

So how did Joan Jett get into this mess, running around Hollywood surrounded by faux-Runaways like it was 1964 Liverpool — sans the Beatles’ touring school bus breaking down at, what seems to be, a woodsy summer camp filled with butch motorcycle-riding lesbians? Are Joan and the rest of the Runaways floating around inside a spaceship? They were abducted by aliens? What in the hell is going on?

Well, it’s no secret the Runaways’ career was a tumultuous one amid the creative differences-brew that was Joan Jett and Lita Ford — with Joan wanting to take the band in a punk direction (she saw that vision through with guys from the Sex Pistols and Blondie backing her eponymous solo debut, also known as Bad Reputation) that conflicted with Lita’s metal urges. They were, however, united in their Cheri Currie-resentment: she sang most of the songs they wrote — at Fowley’s insistence — and his referring to Cheri as the band’s “Cherry Bomb,” didn’t help either.

So, as with Jimmy Page left holding the contractual bag with the Yardbirds and making the best of it . . . Joan Jett stayed with the project. And where’s Fowley? He ran away with the Runaways’ Laurie McAllister to form another all-girl group, the Orchids.

Subsequent Billboard production teasers reported We’re All Crazy Now would be directed by James Roberson, known in the Drive-In exploitation trash universe as the cinematographer who worked on the low-budget portmanteau Encounter with the Unknown (1972), along with Charles B. Pierce’s Winterhawk (1975), The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976), and Grayeagle (1977), The Great Lester Boggs (1974; aka Redneck Country), and the big kahuna of rock ‘n’ roll trash films: Don Edmonds’ Terror on Tour (1980; not released until 1984 on video).

Then Billboard reported Roberson was out and the industry-respected Bernard Girard — who directed James Coburn in Dead Heat on a Merry Go Round (1966), Burt Reynolds in Hunters Are For Killing (1970), an early Christopher Walken film, The Happiness Cage (1972; The Mind Snatchers), and Robert Culp in A Name for Evil (1973), along with the Sammy Davis, Jr. and James Caan co-starrer, Little Moon & Judd McGraw (1974; aka Gone with the West) — was behind the lens.

And we know how that worked out, don’t we?

“Hey, what’s the deal with the artwork from the Screamers you were talking about earlier that appears on the theatrical one-sheets and video boxes,” you ask. “Who are the Screamers?”

The legendary L.A underground punk band the Screamers began in Seattle grunge country fronted by Tomata du Plenty and some guy named Eldon Hoke — who became El Duce of the Mentors (their 1981 debut single, “Get Up and Die,” appears on the duBeat-e-o soundtrack). El Duce received his infamous “mainstream” recognition as result of his suspicious death via a drunken-stupor-train track-nap two days after completing an interview for Nick Broomfield’s sensationalistic and unauthorized Nirvana documentary, Kurt & Courtney. In the film, El Duce claimed Courtney Love offered to pay him to kill Kurt Cobain — which led rock ‘n’ conspiracy theorists of the Jim Morrison variety to believe the train death was, in fact, a murder set up by Love.

“You watched this and know all of this trivia about the movie?” Nora Gaye scrunches her face at this writer like I’m some kind of loser duBeat-e-o groupie. “Do you, like live in the basement of your mother’s house or something, reading film books all day?”

Yes, Nora, I did, I do, and I am. And I love every continuity-confused and logic-out-the-window minute of duBeat-e-o. Why? Alan Sack is epitome of “punk rock” and understands the ethos like no other writer-director before or since. He’s proof you can sans a guitar and take a camera and screw with the establishment. Sacks did with duBeat-e-o what Nicholson did with Head: he gave us a punk rock Monkees movie.

“. . . duBeat-e-o is destined to become a cult classic.” — L.A Weekly

And with that . . . I’ll go into my Mom’s basement and spin my vinyl copy of the duBeat-e-o soundtrack and pop my VHS copy into the VCR and take a pleasurable, flyin’ ‘you-know-what’ to my trash-cinema paradise. (Add this one to the “10 Movies That Were Never Released on DVD” or soundtracks never released on CD, for that matter.)

Need more Alan Sacks? Here’s a Proudly Presents podcast interview with Alan — who went from creating Welcome Back, Kotter, to going deep into the LA Punk scene, to making Disney Movies. Need to know more about El Duce? Check out this documentary on his life and career with The Mentors: The Kings of Sleaze (2017) and you can watch his insights in Kurt and Courtney (1998), both on TubiTV.  He’s also the subject of a new 2019 document, The El Duce Tapes (you can learn more about the film with this review at POV Magazine).

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn about his work on Facebook.

Splatter University (1984)

Richard W. Haines edited Stuck On You! and The Toxic Avenger and directed Class of Nuke ‘Em HighHead Games and this slasher film, which features actress Elizabeth Kaitan (Robin from Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood and Candy from the Vice Academy series) on the poster when she’s not even in the movie!

Years ago, a killer named William Graham escaped from a mental hospital and killed numerous students at Saint Trinian’s College. Years later, new sociology teacher Julie Parker has just started at the college but she can already tell that something just isn’t right. Much like a giallo, this foreigner must become the detective as bodies pile up around her and she becomes the killer’s next potential victim.

This movie was made for around $25,000 and originally called Thou Shall Not Kill. It came at the end of the slasher boom and is a pretty standard stalk and slash, save for a few cool scenes like when Parker discovers her best friend’s body, which has been festering in a locker for several days. It feels all over the place as several of the kills were added after the original running time only came in at 65 minutes, so the padding is evident.

For all of the faults you can find in this movie — the effects aren’t that great, the kills aren’t very spectacular, the characters are pretty much universally annoying — the ending makes up for all of it, transforming what has been a pretty campy affair into pure nihilistic bleakness.

Known as Campus Killings in the UK, this film played double bills with An American Werewolf In London. If you want to see it for yourself, you can grab the blu ray reissue from Vinegar Syndrome or watch it on Amazon Prime.