2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 12: Campfire Tales (1997)

12. CAMPFIRES & FLASHLIGHTS: One where a character tells a scary story and then… flashback.

This challenge was a bit rough, as my goal is to watch movies I’ve never seen before during every Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge, which meant that I couldn’t write about MadmanFriday the 13th, the Friday the 13th remake, Friday the 13th part 2The FogThe HowlingMeatballsThe BurningThe Final TerrorSorority House MassacreThe PreyDon’t Go in the WoodsThe WilliesBlood SistersEvil LaughMemorial Valley MassacreGrim Prarie Tales,

I nearly did an overview of Are you Afraid of the Dark?, the Nickelodeon series that was bold enough to name a character after Lucio Fulci (in the 2019 reboot), but the whole show was after my time.

Then I remembered: there’s not just the 1991 Campfire Tales and the 2020 non-sequel remix/remake/ripoff Tales from the Campfire 3, there’s also the 1997 movie with the same title.

And yeah, I know, I’m a beyond confirmed hater of Scream, but for some reason, I tend to like the movies that come after it, like the Urban Legend series. And this fits right in, even if it was made concurrently with Wes Craven’s execrable film.

It starts with the story of the Hook, which has been used in a multitude of movies (it shows up in everything from Meatballs and He Knows You’re Alone to Lovers Lane and Final Exam, but its message of teenage sex equals death is pretty much the engine that powers every slasher ever made). James Marsden and Amy Smart are in this opening, which is something that you’ll notice about Campfire Tales: it’s packed with talent that would have great careers after it was made.

This leads us to the connective story which is — did you guess? — a campfire tale, as Cliff (Jay R. Ferguson, who is now on The Conners) wrecks a van on the way home from a concert, leading his friends Lauren (Christine Taylor, who is probably best known from the Brady Bunch movies), Eric (Christopher Masterson, Malcolm in the Middle) and Alex (Kim Murphy, Houseguest) to light a fire until help passes by. They start telling the stories that form the rest of the movie.

“The Honeymoon” has Ron Livingston (Office Space) and Jennifer Macdonald as a married couple being stalked on their RV wedding vacation. “People Can Lick Too,” which is one of my favorite urban legends, updating it (well, in 1997) to have internet chat rooms. The final story, “The Locket,” is less friend of a friend story and more time travel slasher, with another Roseanne-related actor (the late Glenn Quinn, who was Mark) romancing a mute woman (The Real World star Jacinda Barrett, who is also in Urban Legends: Final Cut) and being chased by her ax-carrying monster of a father.

The film ends dark Wizard of Oz style, as everyone except for Cliff disappears as paramedics attempt to save him. As the camera pulls away from the accident, everyone from the stories plays the roles of the emergency crews and, you guessed it, a hook is on the door of the car, the real cause of the crash.

Campfire Tales was the passion project of writer and co-director Martin Kunert (who would make the MTV horror anthology series Fear) and producer Eric Manes (who wrote and produced 3000 Miles to Graceland; he also produced Phat Beach in case you cared). In fact, this was originally called either Fear or All American Campfire Horror Stories.

The other directors of segments include Matt Cooper and David Semel, whose career has mainly been in TV (Buffy the Vampire SlayerWatchmen, Heroes).

Released by New Line Cinema in 1997, this movie inspired the Bollywood film Darna Mana Hai and while it’s been released on DVD, it’s never made the leap to blu ray.

Perfect Blue (1997)

In her article Excuse Me, Who Are You?’: Performance, the Gaze, and the Female in the Works of Kon Satoshi,” Professor Susan Napier says that Perfect Blue “…announces its preoccupation with perception, identity, voyeurism, and performance – especially in relation to the female – right from its opening sequence. The perception of reality cannot be trusted, with the visual set up only to not be reality, especially as the psychodrama heights towards the climax.”

In effect, this Japanese animated film is a giallo, despite coming twenty years after that genre had its best efforts and being made 6,000 miles away.

Mima Kirigoe has left the J-pop group CHAM! to become an actress on a detective show called Double Bind. Many of her fans are upset that she’s left behind the innocent character that she had portrayed for a more adult role and some of her fanbase are not the young girls who traditionally love this style of music; Mima’s fans are dangerous stalkers that send mail bombs and create websites that don’t just describe her daily life but somehow her thoughts in way too knowing detail.

As Mima’s part in the show grows — including a graphic scene of assault that will destroy her clean image forever — she becomes increasingly disconnected from reality, obsessed with the website of her life and even seeing her past self.

And then everyone close to her starts dying and the evidence points to Mima.

Through it all, our heroine finishes the show and learns that her character has killed and assumed the identity of her beloved sister because of dissociative identity disorder. As the crew leaves, one of her stalks attempts to make the assault scene real under orders from the real Mima.

So who is the real Mima? Does innocence have to be lost for us to move beyond our past? And how many times did Darren Aronofsky watch this? Not only did he take a scene directly out of it for Requiem for a Dream, he had to admit that there are similarities in his movie Black Swan.

Bandwagon (1997)

The later DVD reissues of this love letter to the college rock era proclaim the film as “This Is Spinal Tap meets The Commitments” on the box copy. However, I feel a more accurate pitch to inspire your viewing is “Kevin Smith’s Clerks meets Singles.”

I’d pair this delightful (and accurate) indie comedy about the trials and tribulations of musicians alongside its college radio chronicle counterpart, A Matter of Degrees (1990), long before double-featuring it with the faux-band tomfoolery of This is Spinal Tap. In fact, Bandwagon plays better as a two-fer with Steve Buscemi’s feature film writing/directing debut Trees Lounge, as both films carry that same looser-with-hopes vibe — only Buscemi’s flick didn’t have a rock band in it (but did give us a great, college-rock title cut theme song by Hayden).

When it come to films encapsulating the Athens, Georgia, to Chapel Hill (and Raleigh-Durham), North Carolina ’80s college rock scene — spreadheaded by that scenes “Nirvana” in R.E.M — no film does it better than this debut feature film writing and directing debut by John Schultz, the original drummer for Raleigh, North Carolina’s the Connells (he left the band prior to their debut recording to pursue film).

If you had a college rock or community/non-commercial radio station (that supported indies and local music) in your area, or if you stayed up late on Sunday nights to watch MTV’s alt-rock programming block 120 Minutes, or perhaps you picked up copies of Alternative Press, Option, or B-Side magazines instead of the faux, non-commercial ramblings of Spin, you come to know the Connells melodic Elvis Costello-cum-the Smiths sounds with their underground hits “Hats Off” and “Seven” from their well-received debut album Darker Days (1985), and “Scotty’s Lament” from their sophomore effort Boyland Heights (1987). Both albums should have taken the Connells to the commercial heights of their contemporaries, R.E.M — but did not.

Instead, the Connells settled into a comfortable, college-rock star status with their albums Fun & Games (1989), which produced the modern rock hit “Something to Say,” and One Simple Word (1990), which produced the Billboard hits “Stone Cold Yesterday” and “Get A Gun.” Their fifth album, Ring (1993), while still not finding any headway on commercial U.S. radio stations (even in the “Rock Alternative” craze flipping hair-metal oriented AOR stations at a dizzying rate), none the less expanded the Connells audience to Europe, where the album and its related singles, “74-75,” and the should-have-been-the-hit-that-broke-them-in-America (on the level of Cracker with “Low”), “Slackjawed,” charted in several Euro-counties. Not even a national television appearance with “Slackjawed” on NBC-TV’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien (it didn’t work for John Doe* on David Letterman’s show, either) could breach the commercial inroads afforded to the drek spewed by the likes of the Crash Test Dummies and the Spin Doctors.

The film’s connection to the Connells, by way of the band’s ex-drummer John Schultz, continues with the band’s lead singer Doug MacMillan starring as the legendary band manager Linus Tate, who takes the film’s scruffier, ersatz-Connells of the film, Circus Monkey, under his wings to college rock stardom.

Courtesy of John Schultz writing what he knows (a lesson that many first time screenwriter-directors fail to realize; keep it intimate) for his first feature film, Bandwagon displays a well-honed grace against its low budget, a skill that Schultz developed while creating feature documentaries for Steven Spielberg’s Hook and Jurassic Park. If you enjoyed Kevin Smith’s grungy, Gen-X debut, Clerks (released two years earlier in 1994; both the film and its soundtrack), then there’s something here in this North Carolina-shot musical chronicle for you to enjoy.

Courtesy of his connections working on those documents, and Bandwagon being well-received at Sundance, Schultz came to direct two major studio projects that you may have come across on cable or plucked off your local video store shelves: the Melissa Joan Hart-starring Drive Me Crazy (1999) and the basketball comedy Like Mike (2002) starring Lil Bow Wow. His most recent features (his 9th and 10th) were the Netflix-backed A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding and The Royal Baby (2018/2019). His sophomore screenwriting credit to Bandwagon was the comedy When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (2003) (from the days when the kid from Jerry Maguire was a “thing” set to be the next Macaulay Culkin).

There’s more films from the alt-rock ’90s to be found with our “Exploring: 50 Gen-X Grunge Films of the Alt-Rock ‘90s” featurette.

In an interview with The Boston Globe (the city was a major college radio hub/market at the time), John Schultz said, “On the shoot, we (as with most of the crew, as himself, it was their first-ever film) didn’t really realize what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong [during their six-weeks shoot in 1993 in Raleigh, North Carolina] and a lot of the problems we found in the editing room.”

Musician Greg Kendall, hired to write the songs for the faux Circus Monkey, met Schultz through their mutual friend, Doug MacMillan. “They were to have good songs,” Kendall told The Boston Globe‘s Jim Sullivan, “but they had to be believable. They couldn’t be too stupid and they couldn’t be too ornate.” Schultz, Kendall explained, supplied the titles to the songs and Kendall wrote and sang them. The songs were recorded at the world famous (well, at least in college rock circles) Fort Apache Studios in Cambridge, Massachusetts (know you Dinosaur, Jr. history). In addition to the film’s eight songs, Kendall also scored the film. “There’s nothing ‘MTV’ about it [the film]. It’s naive, some would say to a fault. I would say it’s a strength,” explained Kendall.

You just gotta love humble musicians and filmmakers who know their strengths and weaknesses, and are truthful in their quest do their best to create their art.

As far as the original tunes go: If you enjoy the Connells, or the lighter, less fuzzy-distorted side of Dinosaur, Jr., and the poppier-sloppy sounds of the Replacements, with a dash of Uncle Tupelo/Wilco, you’ll enjoy the tunes crafted by Kendall. For me, “It Couldn’t Be Ann” is a real stunner (the link takes you to the video single of the tune that features scenes from the film). Sadly, the official soundtrack was an elusive one to track down . . . so, yeah, this was one of those patch the VCR into the cassette deck movies to get the songs for your car, type of films.

The elusive soundtrack — easier to find in today’s online marketplace.

The band Circus Monkey comes together as three slacking Raleigh musicians — Eric (Steve Parlavecchio), a jock bassist; Wynn, a drug-addicted guitarist (the always great Kevin Corrigan; Ray Liotta’s brother in Goodfellas); and the always-babbling drummer, Charlie (Matthew Hennessey) — deal with their own issues of friendship and relationships and career frustrations on the local indie scene. The label signing of the rival “frat-band” Spittle (think Pearl Jam’s “fake grunge” vs. Nirvana’s righteousness) instills a resolve for our ne’er-do-well six-string slingers to get their you-know-whats together and net a record deal . . . if only they could win Rival Records’ upcoming Battle of the Bands talent showcase . . . and not become a Faustian record company victim . . . and end up like the bane of their existence, that is their rivals, Spittle.

The only problem: none of them can write a decent song. So they recruit Tony (a really fine Lee Holmes), a shy, neurotic garage mechanic whose songs — perpetually about a girl named “Ann” — never leave his makeshift studio in the back of said garage. And when Tony is finally coaxed out of the garage and onto the stage — he stands in the corner with his back to the audience . . . if only the elusive Ann (who no one believes is real) would turned up at a show and notice him. . . .

Is the script a bit uneven, punctuated with some directorial missteps and a wee-bit of thespian weakness? Sure. But, again, John Schultz lived the life and he expertly encapsulates the romanticism for his college-home town roots.

As we discussed in our “Drive-In Friday: First Time Directors & Actors Night” featurette**, not every celluloid neophyte is hitting a Quentino Tarantino over the 410 at PNC Park, or infield-homering a Boondock Saints. But make no mistake: John Schultz is no Tommy Wiseau and Bandwagon is no The Room. Unlike Matty Rich, who wowed us with his heartfelt simplicity in his debut Straight Out of Brooklyn, only to scuttle his career Troy Duffy-style, Schultz, gave us an admitted strained, but technically adept film that, like Alex Kendrick before him with his first film, Flywheel, came not from a quest for fame, but to express his soul though a lens instead of behind a drum kit.

And I am glad John Schultz came out from behind that drum kit to create one of my favorite — and not just rock films — but films, period. It was a blast watching this again (how many times does that make, now).

You can enjoy the full film as a free-stream on You Tube.

* We blew out a week’s worth of films starring John Doe of X, so do check out our “John Doe Week” of reviews.

** In a continuation of our Drive-In Friday feature on first time filmmakers, we also discuss the careers of other first-time Tinseltown hopefuls with our “Drive-In Friday: Documentaries About Directors” and “Drive-In Friday: Movies About Movies” featurettes.

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

Vampire Journals (1997)

Zachary is something like a hooker with a heart of gold. He’s a vampire with a conscience, hunting down the bloodline of vampires that made him like a gaijin Alucard from the Castlevania games. So yeah, the vampires have even turned the love of his life into one of them, so he must destroy her and her master Serena — last seen in Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm which comes out a year after this so, you know, it’s alright if you’re confused — with the enchanted sword of Laertes.

The rest of the film is all about Ash trying to take out our hero, using a pianist named Sofia to draw him out by drinking her blood and making her one of his followers. And then there’s another vampiric consort named Iris who decides to throw a wrench in destiny.

Consider this one a side mission in the world of Subspecies, as all of these characters will get involved in the next one. Full Moon would later remake this as Decadent Evil.

If you’d like to see a cutdown version of this movie, it is the “Undead Evil” chapter of their anthology film I, Vampire.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Hideous! (1997)

A Full Moon shot in Romania movie directed by Charles Band himself, this one is all about a fleshy speciman that washes up in a water treatment plant that everyone wants for themselves. There’s a scene with a woman in a bikini and an ape mask stealings aid specimen by gunpoint, so there’s definitely a few memorable moments, right?

There ends up being four different specimens. One has a little body and an enlarged deformed head with two pairs of eyes and two mouths, plus tentacles. There’s also a blob with a face, a hairless ape that likes breastfeeding — another memorable moment — and a skeleton with porcupine-like spines.

That said, this is the kind of Full Moon movie that really leaves me cold. It makes time stand still and you keep looking at how much time is left, the only joy being the moments when the little guys are on the screen. More goopy fetus babies! Less human beings talking in rooms!

You can watch this on Tubi.

Quicksilver Highway (1997)

It was a smart idea to take a story by Stephen King — “Chattery Teeth” — and Clive Barker — “The Body Politic” — and turn it into a portanteau. Oddly, the whole idea came about because of agents.

Creative Artists Agency met with Garris about writing the pilot script for a John McTiernan-directed horror series that would have the same actors every week and a storyteller named Aaron Quicksilver — played here by Christopher Lloyd — introduce each story.

After writing a pilot script based on “Chattery Teeth,” Garris pitched the series to Fox, who wanted a two-hour movie, which brought in the Barker story. McTiernan then left the project, with Garris taking over.

In the film King-penned tale — the home video flips the order — Quicksilver meets a hitchhiking couple who are newly married and tells them the story of a man who grabbed some poorly made novelty teeth at a gas station, teeth that somehow become alive and devoted to protecting his life. Then, a pickpocket learns the Barker story, all about a world in which our hands become their own people and rebel against the people they are attached to.

Matt Frewer being in both stories really helps. He’s the kind of actor who improves every role he touches. And Garris is able to turn this material into a gripping film; it helps that he was friends with both authors, as they had cameos in his film Sleepwalkers and Garris also directed the original The StandThe Shining TV movie, Riding the Bullet Desparation and Bag of Bones.

Troublesome Night 2 (1997)

The second in this series of 19 — 19! — films starts with Anita (Amanda Lee, House of Mahjong) mourning the death of her boyfriend and calling DJ Cheung Fat (Allen Ting, who is in the first three of this series), who jokes that maybe she should kill herself if she misses him so badly. She does and her ghosts haunts him. Wow — what a downbeat way to start off what was set up as a fun horror anthology.

In the second chapter, a group of friends on a boat trip save a mysterious woman from the wreckage of another vessel. The moment she is on their boat, the supernatural comes with her, leaving the young people all alone, surrounded by uncaring waters and an army of ghosts.

Then, another DJ — DJ Sam (Louis Koo, who was in the first seven of these movies) — quits his job because of the deaths of his co-workers in the past stories. To get over his grief, he starts street racing but then encounters a ghost of his own as he races through the night streets.

With most of the same cast as Troublesome Night and more of an edge, you may find something to enjoy in this one.

Troublesome Night (1997)

Imagine my surprise as I started putting together anthology week to learn that there weren’t just a few Yam Yueng Lo or Troublesome Night movies. From 1997 to 2003, they made 19 of these movies and a 20th edition to celebrate the 20th anniversary in 2017.

The streets of Hong Kong are haunted, as we learn from four loosely connected stories in this film. It starts when several young people decide to camp outside a cemetery, which is never a good idea when you really think about it. One of them, Ken (Louis Koo, who was in the Hong Kong remake of Cellular that was entitled Connected), meets a mysterious woman (Law Len, the spider demon from the Journey to the West movies) who changes his life in a supernatural way.

His friends return to the city without him as Mrs. To (Christy Chung, who was born in Montreal and ended up in Hong Kong where she won the Miss Chinese International Pageant without being able to speak the language before becoming an actress in movies like The Bride with White Hair 2) waits in vain for her husband (Sunny Chan, Hold You Tight) to arrive for their anniversary.

This leads to a ghost story where Jojo (Teresa Mak, who is also in the eleventh and seventeenth movies in this series) falls in love with a spectral entity. This segment might not be frightening, yet it is steamy and nearly approaches art. That said, I’ve never seen someone have passionate sex with a ghost as blood streams down the walls all over their Mission: Impossible poster.

Finally, we catch up with the survivors joining Peter Butt (Simon Lui, who was in nearly every one of these movies) for a movie, but the restless ghosts in the theater go all Demons and trap everyone in a 60s world of endless hallways.

While a few of these stories were directed by Victor Tam Long-Cheong and Steve Cheng, The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome director Herman Yau seems like the real force behind this. They made one or two of these movies every year, so some of the humor may be dated — and localized for Hong Kong, but when has that stopped us from enjoying their films — yet this movie is plenty of fun.

Junesploitation 2021: Dobermann (1997)

June 23: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is 90s action.

Dobermann (Vincent Cassel, Black Swan) got his first gun at his baptism. Now, he leads a gang of bank robbers, made up of his knife-throwing deaf girlfriend Nat the Gypsy (Monica Bellucci!), Olivier who is also a woman named Sonia, Pitbull and even a priest who likes to put grenades into the helmets of motorcycle cops.

A sadistic cop named Christini (Tchéky Karyo) has been chasing Dobermann for what seems like an eternity and he decides that this will be the night he catches him. He sets up an ambush in a club as the gang celebrates their latest bank robbery and his methods are even worse than the villains.

This film may have an opening CGI animation that looks dated and sure, it’s highly influenced by Tarantino, but it’s packed with action and incredibly cool villains as protagonists. There’s been a sequel planned for a long time and I hope that it gets made. If you’re into gunplay set to music by Prodigy, I mean, you really should watch this. I also realize that this is a very small subgenre of action film fans, but so it goes.

Director Jan Kounen and Cassel would go on to make Blueberry, which is based on the comic books by Jean “Moebius” Giraud. That makes sense, as this film is also based on a comic book by Joel Houssin.

Deadly Instincts (1997)

The alien in this movie has a funny way to go about saving its planet. It’s mating with us, but also killing us, so that seems kind of over the line, you know? How lucky for that alien to land in an all-girls school, I guess. Or unlucky, if I’m taking the side of the humans.

Also known as Breeders, this movie left me with so many questions. Why is Ashley the only teacher? Who is that woman in the leather running about the place? Why is she called Space Girl? Is this a remake of the 1986 film Breeders? Can a shotgun kill a breeder alien? Was the ending setting up a sequel?

Sadly, the actress who played Space Girl, Kadamba Simmons, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend not long after this movie was finished. I really enjoyed her in this film, a true bright spot in a film that’s kind of dull.