Slasher Month: Snuff Kill, aka Screen Kill (1997)

This is the one time when the grainy, washed-out, 3/4″ tape production values of SOV films works to the advantage of its subject matter, in this case: a grimy, underground snuff film. And this film wastes no time in getting to the “snuff”: a woman tied and blindfolded to a chair has a knife’s tip navigate her body — then she’s repeatly stabbed. And we haven’t even got to the hung-by-the-ankles head explosion, the torso-leg separation by chainsaw, and the not-so-garden variety decapitation. This isn’t a film for the weak: it’s bloody, the nudity is bountiful, and the psychobabble as to the “why” is plot piffle. (And, as I recall, there’s a bit of coprophilia involved; if not in this film, it was one of the Shock-o-Rama banner’s other titles. So, you’ve been warned.)

Yeah, Snuff Kill has already exceeded the sleaze and gore shock content of the Holy Grail of the SOV/Big Box plains, Spine, which was made with the sole purpose of taking John Carpenter’s Halloween to its next grimy, logical step — and failed.

But not Snuff Kill, baby.

The VHS cover that I remember.

It’s dark. It’s mean. This is a film tricks that you — courtesy of its lack of the usual SOV camp — into believing you’re watching real kills and not Karo-n-food colored special effects. Are there acting and production faux pas? Are some of the SFXs a bit off-the-mark? Sure. This is a zero-budgeted SOV, after all. But for what is, essentially, a bunch of high school friends getting together on the weekends to make a movie, it’s a commendable effort.

The “uncut” VHS reissue I don’t remember. Kevin Smith’s Clerks, anyone?

The noirish tailspin of Doug, a struggling filmmaker who settles as a struggling wedding videographer, begins when, instead of going to the movies to see a horror flick, his squeeze decides they should go to metal concert. And Doug, loving both horror flicks and metal, does as his lady doth request (you know, just another pussy-whipped, bloody-metal lover like myself and Sam, the B&S Movies boss).

Doug comes to realize that the band he and his wife just watched — its members adorned in monk habits who slit their throats on stage — is fronted by his old high school buddy, Ralis (writer-director Al Dargo). And Ralis enlists his old camera-totin’ friend to make the ultimate gore flick scored with the music of his band. Doug (the not bad Mark Williams in his only film role) is, at first, fascinated by the “realistic” gore that Ralis creates; he soon comes to realize the “kills” are real. Of course, as with any film noir protagonist, Doug is repulsed and fascinated his friend’s exploits and becomes his reluctant, murdering accomplice.

Sigh. Thanks for the memories of the good ‘ol days of hitting the ol’ mom-and-pop video store sandwiched between a quickie market and Punjabi eatery with a gym on the corner bay next door to an insurance agency; a dinky-cheesy outlet stocked with way too many titles under the Shock-O-Rama banner (the owner was stocking the shelves more for himself than his clientele, obviously). The label also distributed Doug Ulrich and Al Dargo’s first two SOV entries: the even harder-to-find (than Snuff Kill) Scary Tales (1993) and Darkest Souls (1994). The music of the film is provided by (very cool-named) Thee Enigma Jar and Doug and Al’s band Surefire.

Yeah! There’s an age-restricted, sign-in upload on You Tube! And bless the analog lords, ye uploader loves their SOV horror! There’s several titles that will interest you, along with Doug Ulrich and Al Dargo’s debut feature, Scary Tales. Yes! This is going to be one awesome October, baby!

From the I Did Not Know that Files: Doug and Al returned in 2013 with another SOV blood-boiler, 7 Sins of the Vampire, copies of which you can purchase through Amazon and Best Buy.

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

Spice World (1997)

Bob Spiers had worked in British TV for years — BottomFawlty Towers and Absolutely Fabulous of the shows that he directed — before he was asked to direct the movie of the Spice Girls. He had no idea what they looked like and turned the job down untl Jennifer Saunders told him that he should take it.

If you want to be snooty and say that the Spice Girls didn’t mean anything, they were the first act to reach number one with their first six singles, as well as the first to debut at #1 in the UK charts five times in a row. And this movie, despite critical savagery, is still the highest-grossing movie of all time by a musical group.

At once embracing the pop culture that spawned them and thumbing their noses at it, Spice World is, well, about the Spice Girls avoiding bad press from newspaper owner Kevin McMaxford (Barry Humphries, who is also Dame Edna) and his photographer henchman Damien (Richard O’Brien). There’s also a camera crew led by Piers Cuthbertson-Smyth (Alan Cumming) and two constantly on-the-pitch Hollywood writers George Wendt and Mark McKinney) who want to make a movie about the band.

The band is also playing Royal Albert Hall while making time for their mutual best friend, who is due to have a child any day now. That’s really all it’s about, but I’m certain that their audience was happy to come see the film and hear 15 of their songs in the theater.

The reason for people who may not enjoy the band to see this is becase it’s so delightfully weird and well casted, with Roger Moore as the secretive head of their recording label and cameos from Elton John, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Bon Geldof and more.

This movie also reunited Rocky Horror alums Meat Loaf and O’Brien, as well as O’Brien with his Shock Treatment co-star Humphries.

Perhaps what’s most interesting is what isn’t in this movie. Any mentions of Princess Diana and Gianni Versace were edited out after their deaths, as was a cameo by Gary Glitter.

Beyond having Moore in this, I kind of love that when the Spice Girls’ bus jumps the bridge, a similar slide whistle sound as the jump in The Man With the Golden Gun is heard. Victoria also dresses up as Honey Ryder from Dr. No.

Maybe you weren’t around for the Spice Girls. Maybe you were and couldn’t deal. Either way, you should still check this out. I mean, even as a lifelong metalhead, I could find things to enjoy here.

Scream 2 (1997)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim LaMotta is one of Pittsburgh’s premiere wrestling announcers, as well as a great writer. This article originally appeared on Steel City Underground. You can follow Jim on Twitter.

Earlier this year, I did a write-up on the original Scream film, analyzing how a movie designed to spoof the horror genre actually revived it back into the main stream after the tired cliches of the previous generation. Ironically, as much as Scream flipped the script with the Ghost Face killer, it followed at least a portion of the slasher playbook with an almost immediate sequel, which is what I’m going to discuss here during the week dedicated to the 90s and 2000s of horror.

The 1997 version of Scream made its debut in theaters less than a year after the original, requiring a quick production time throughout the middle of the year, but as he showed with his work later for the WB’s Dawson’s Creek, writer Kevin Williamson was forward-thinking after he finished the script for the original. Prior to Scream’s release or the massive success it had, Williamson already developed the concept for a sequel that would take main character, Sydney Prescott to college. The work put into the next phase of the franchise paid off, as the Ghost Face was the highest-grossing horror film of its time and the turn around time allowed Dimension Films to strike while the iron was hot and a rejuvenated audience anticipated the next chapter of the Woodsboro cast. With legendary director Wes Craven signed on again, and the pieces of the puzzle nearly assembled because Williamson’s work set up for continuity, the stars of the original cast were back to see who would survive this time. But, would the Ghost Face stumble in his sequel the way so many of his slasher peers had before him?

The challenge of a sequel based on a franchise that wants to mock or spoof the major players of the industry is to not became a caricature of itself. If the Ghost Face exploited the success of the original without substance or quality then its legacy among slashers would be short-lived. Another nod to and a way to poke fun at at the horror industry, the opening scene finds the fictional movie Stab set to premiere to tell the story of the Woodboro murders that played out in the original Scream production. Not surprisingly, the audience at the theater is bloody thirsty, as dozens  of movie goers are dressed as the Ghost Face, seemingly with less interest in the narrative and more focused on the gore, perhaps a subtle statement about the expectations of society?

We find Jada Pinkett Smith and Omar Epps, who starred in 1994’s Juice alongside Tupac before he began an eight-year run on the Fox series House throughout the mid-2000s, on a movie date. Epps’ jokes about Stab aren’t received well and Jada opts to go to the concession stand while he takes a bathroom break. With several “Ghost Faces” lined up in the rest room, there’s a sense that you don’t know who is who, a form of foreshadowing to set up the suspense for the film. Omar never made it through his restroom trip, as he was stabbed in the ear, and the killer takes his jacket to return to the theater next to Jada, who unknowingly finds herself in danger with a masked figure sitting next to her that she doesn’t realize isn’t her boyfriend that left a few minutes earlier. Again, the unknown danger is a theme of the film. Seconds later, Jada gets stabbed and staggers onto the platform of the movie screen before she dramatically collapses as her death is the conclusion of the opening sequence.

Next, Sydney, in her college dorm room, is woken by a phone call with the mysterious voice on the other end of the line. Immediately, Syd shuts it down as a prank call with the use of her trusty caller ID and writes it off as hype around the release of Stab. Her roommate, Hallie, played by Elise Neal, who went onto to numerous roles in film and television, including The Hughleys series and the Hustle and Flow film, attempts to invite her to a sorority party that night. Just as Syd deflects the chance to attend the pretentious gathering, a fellow student tells the roommates to check the news, where they see the broadcast about the previous night’s murders at the Stab premiere. Sydney instinctively ask where her pal Randy is, the film buff that correctly proclaimed the rules of horror during Ghost Face’s original spree and survived because of it. With reporters buzzing around campus, it was no shock to find Randy in film class, as the group of students discussed violence in movies, an aspect that was listed as a motive for one of the original Ghost Face killers. Still staying true to the original formula to poke fun at the horror genre, the conversation shifts to the thought that sequels are subpar films in an actual sequel. More than just the irony of the debate, this scene introduces the audience to some of the new cast with the addition of Mickey, CiCi Cooper, and a cameo by Josh Jackson, the kid that was Charlie in the Mighty Ducks before this and would go on to take a role in Williamson’s Dawson’s Creek after it.

Sydney is there to meet Randy after class, but he dismisses the connect between the new murders and those from Woodsboro before Jerry O’Connell swoops in to meet with the two friends. The Vern of 1986’s Stand By Me is grown up as Sydney’s boyfriend, Derek and the two head off to lunch. After the introduction of new faces, we are greeted by some familiar characters as Courtney Cox’s Gale Weathers is never far behind the trail of blood to get the scoop on the story. As Gale is ready to get the inside information, she was pestered by rookie reporter Debbie Salt, and she gives the “cut throat” reporter a taste of her own medicine as she was faced with unwanted questions about the murders as the tables were turned when she was asked for a quote for a story. As Syd and her friends finish lunch, another familiar face pops up as she rushes to hug Deputy Dewey, who now walks with a slumped posture and without full use of his right arm thanks to the injuries he sustained in Woodsboro.

After Dewey tells Syd he asked the local sheriff if he could hang around temporarily to make sure she’s  safe, the reunions continue as Gale greets her with the camera rolling and reveals Cotton Weary, Lev Schreiber’s character, is there to be interviewed with her for the first time since his name was cleared in her mother’s death. In true tabloid style, Gale surprised Sydney with this meeting, something that Weary was unaware of, and Syd decks the reporter with a right hand for the second movie in a row. More than emphasizing Gale is still out for the story despite the near-death scenarios in Woodsboro, these sequences bring the old gang together, while new characters are involved, and following the premise, all of them are potential victims.

With Sydney and Hallie at the sorority party mentioned earlier, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s CiCi Cooper is back at the sorority house as a designated driver, leaving her alone in the house. She’s greeted by the typical Ghost Face phone call and the usual chase ensues before she was stabbed and tossed from the balcony, crashing to the pavement below. There’s nothing ground breaking about the action of the scene, but it’s pivotal to the narrative because it lets the Woodsboro crew know that the Stab murders weren’t just random acts of violence at the theater. At the scene of the crime, Debbie Salt was there to record the gory details when Gale arrives, still brushing off the amateur. The sorority sisters ooze insincerity toward Syd before news of the incident at the house sends the party flocking to the bloody spectacle down the street. This was another indirect example of the public’s fascination of violence.

When Derek was waiting on the porch, Syd goes back into the empty party to get her coat and the phone rings. She attempts to walk away but is drawn back to answer it, greeted by the same mysterious voice that tormented her in Woodsboro. After a short, but tense verbal exchange, Derek is locked outside while the killer pursues Syd inside the house. Finally, Derek gets through a side door and charges inside to confront the knife-wielding manic, while Dewey runs to check on Sydney. Despite the limited use of his arm, Dewey goes to look for Derek, who he finds slashed on the arm. At the hospital, with her friends there for support, Sydney waits for Derek to get bandaged up, and Mickey asked why he went back into the house, prompting her to wonder if another killer boyfriend is stalking her.

While Dewey and Randy munch on ice cream, they review possible suspects, which gives Randy a chance to run down the rules of the horror sequel, something that adds another layer to the narrative because it gives the audience elements to consider as the movie progresses as to who might be the killer now. At the same time, Syd is at theater practice and becomes hysterical when she thinks she saw the Ghost Face on stage. Moments later, Derek pops up again to meet her after practice, but she finds it too suspicious and asked him for some distance. He agrees and leaves dejected. Post-ice cream, Dewey and Randy met up with Gale in the park when she gets a call from the distorted voice. As the trio patrol the park to find someone with a cell phone, Randy is put on the phone with the killer to distract him while Dewey and Gale begin grabbing the clunky 90s phones from those sitting in the park. Randy backs up toward Gale’s news van, another example of the unknown danger that is near him. The killer snatches him inside the van and bludgeons him.

After Randy’s body is discovered, Syd is in the library when she’s confronted by Cotton Weary, who offers her a Dianne Sawyer spot along with $10,000 as payment, but when she declines, Weary is almost obsessive with his insistence on the media attention. Thankfully, her bodyguards intercept him and he was detained at the police station, but released. However, the incident certainly makes it seem possible that Weary might be more dangerous than we first thought. Outside of the station, Gale is bombarded with questions from reporters again, another example of the tables being turned with her as the subject of unwanted inquiries. Her and Dewey find common ground in their pursuit of the killer and decide to check her news camera for any leads on the footage. With the campus on curfew, they find an empty film room to view what clues the candid footage might provide. The tension between them boils over and in a moment of relief from the murder spree, they kiss, but before things can move forward, there’s an impromptu screening of footage projected of the previous victims, which meant that someone else was in the auditorium. The Ghost Face appears in the projector room, prompting Dewey to hobble up the stairs in pursuit. When Gale heads for cover, she almost accidentally runs into the killer, as a suspenseful cat-and-mouse game plays out with the music for added drama. Dewey finds himself in a sound proof booth still searching for the killer when he gets blindsided and stabbed, collapsing against the blood-stained glass of the booth.

At the same time, Sydney and Hallie are put into a car with the body guards that were assigned to her, presumably to be taken to a safe location, but as you might expect, they experience a detour. The car crashes and the killer is there, stabbing Hallie before Syd escapes. Another escape saw Gale look for a way to get out of the film building when she runs into a bloody Cotton Weary, claiming he found Dewey on the floor. Not buying it, the reporter bolts for the exit, running to the nearest pay phone to call the authorities. Debbie Salt was on the line to call in her next story, but Gale snatches the phone away from her to call her help, naming Cotton Weary as the killer.

We find Sydney sprinting toward the theater building, anywhere familiar that might be a safe haven for her. On stage, she finds Derek tied to a symbol, seemingly helpless. As she frantically tries to untie him, the Ghost Face killer appears on stage and suggest that Derek might be in on the plan. The killer unmasks to reveal it was Mickey, the deranged film student that wanted to be the star of his own mystery. Mickey continues to imply that Derek is his accomplice, which Syd begins to believe until he shoots Derek, proving his innocence. Mickey goes on to explain his motive, not to get away with murder, but rather to become infamous with a trial that garners national coverage. Mickey wants to gain notoriety from the typical question, do films cause violence? But, Mickey couldn’t have done all this alone so he was his partner in the killing spree?

Reporter Debbie Salt emerges from the stage, but Sydney recognizes her as Mrs. Loomis, the original killer’s mother. Mrs. Loomis found Mickey online and funded his tuition at Syd’s college and assumed a new name in a plot to get revenge on the girl that killed her son. While Mickey looks forward to the press coverage he will receive, Mrs. Loomis has other plans, shooting him to set up her own plot, pin the murders on Mickey and escape unnoticed. Just as Sydney and the unbalanced newspaper reporter face off, Cotton Weary joins the gathering and must decide if he saves Syd or sides with the reporter that claims she can get him TV appearances. During the tense showdown, Syd finally agrees to Weary’s request for a Dianne Sawyer interview and he shoots Debbie Salt, saving Sydney in the process. Injured, Gale shows up and the trio conclude the dramatic sequence. Before the credits roll, we see that Dewey survived and taken for help and Syd tells the crew of reports to talk to Cotton, who finally gets some press coverage.

I always found the conclusion of the movie to be a little flimsy because while they are a few hints at why Mickey suggest who the killer might be, he’s not necessarily a major character throughout most of the film so there’s not really a shocking revelation for the final scene. In a similar fashion, there’s some foreshadowing about Debbie Salt, but she also a relatively minor role in the narrative. It makes sense why Mrs. Loomis would seek revenge, but again, there wasn’t a lot known about her even throughout both films. Still, the film built suspense well and was well-received, both by critics and at the box office. The sequel ranked in $172 million, just a little less than a million dollars less than the record-setting revenue of the original film.

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Lois Duncan’s I Know What You Did Last Summer was first published in October 1973. Duncan wrote several books that featured young girls in trouble, including Summer of Fear, which was made into a TV movie directed by Wes Craven.

She got the idea for the book when her daughter Kerry told her that she and her best friend had unknowingly been courted by the same boy. She wondered if the boy had deliberately done this, creating a different personality for both of them, and worked his way into their lives to drive a wedge between them. She later read a story about a hit-and-run and put together the story that became the novel (and the loose inspiration for this film).

Sadly, Duncan’s life became tragic after the unsolved murder of her youngest daughter Kaitlyn. Her last horror novel would be Gallows Hill — which filmed for TV as 1998’s I’ve Been Waiting for You  — after which she’d concentrate on non-fiction works about her daughter’s case, psychic phenomena and books for kids, like Hotel for Dogs (which was also a movie). Before her death in 2016, ten of her best-loved books would be reissued and modernized with new covers and bits added about modern technology.

She would tell Absolute Write that very same year that she was upset with this take on her book: “I was appalled when my book, I Know What You Did Last Summer, was made into a slasher film.  As the mother of a murdered child, I don’t find violent death something to squeal and giggle about.”

Screenwriter Kevin Williamson had already had success with Scream, which made him the go-to writer for teen horror. He took the source novel, added some inspiration from growing up the son of a fisherman and added the urban legend — stay tuned for these movies — of The Hook to create a new trope of kids who try to wish away the past. for what it’s worth, the poster originally said “from the creator of Scream” until Miramax sued Columbia Pictures.

Unlike the aforementioned Scream, this movie is very much an old-fashioned slasher, despite its initial lack of blood. A throat slashing and the crab factory death were added after the initial cut was viewed to add more danger, as was the character in danger all over again post-script, which would become a thematic inclusion for all entries in this series.

For those that argue these things and wonder, “Is it a giallo?” I opine that it is more on the side of slasher. Yes, there are gorgeous people in it, but there’s a marked lack of fashion, music and, to be honest, the strangeness that that genre is imbued with. That said, the hook-carrying bad guy very much does feel like he belongs there.

The story takes place in Southport, North Carolina. Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt),  Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Barry Cox (Ryan Phillippe) and Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinze Jr.) are on their way to the beach late at night on one of their last summers together before college pulls them apart when an event unites them all. They hit a pedestrian and instead of allowing their lives to be ruined, they dump the body in the ocean.

By the way, the mountain road that they are driving along is the exact same highway from Hitchcock’s The Birds.

The issue is that their lives are all changed by that one evening with only Julie able to escape the town and go to college. When she returns, the notes that say, “I know what you did last summer,” and the gaslighting campaign begins.

Jennifer Love Hewitt became a big deal from this film, beyond her fame from Party fo Five, even singing the song “How Do I Deal” on the soundtrack. She’d appeared with Jamie Lee Curtis in House Arrest earlier that year and when Curtis was filming nearby, she came over to wish her luck on her first role as a scream queen and would be a consistent visitor to the set.

Director Jim Gillespie would move on to make Eye See You/D-Tox, a Stallone film of which we have much to say. Just check out this link.

While actually written before Scream, when studios wanted nothing to do with slashers, the success of that film allowed for this one, while making it seem like a rip-off. Such is Hollywood.

Vanishing Point (1997)

Did you know their was a remake of Vanishing Point? It’s okay. No one does.

The FOX-TV Network—back when they were in the business of creating original content, in lieu of reality programming and weirdo-dorky Seinfeld (sorry, Sam) wanna-be shitcoms—retooled this 1971 classic made by their sister film studio. Ack! No one should be poking around Richard C. Sarafian’s classic. And how did Sarafian go from this, to Farrah Fawcett’s Sunburn (1979), to become “Alan Smithee” on Solar Crisis (1990)? And so it goes in the B&S About Movies universe. (See? Too many movies, so little time. So many reviews to write!)

Of course, since this is a TV film, the vague existentialism and “thinking road flick” gibberish of the original is excised, thus transforming Barry Newman’s Kowalski into an action hero. Luckily: it features the same model 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T as the original film. Sadly: the messages regarding religious cults, racism, drug abuse, homophobia, and police entrapment are lost . . . and we’re stuck with a Challenger-driven Bonnie and Clyde redux.

And if you thought Sarafian’s transition from Vanishing Point ’71 to Farrah was odd: The director, Charles Robert Carner, wrote Gymkata (1985) for Robert Clouse. Yes. The film starring American Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas—as if no one learned their lessons from trying to turn Olympian Mitch Gaylord into a film star with American Anthem and American Tiger.

In the Challenger cockpit is the always welcomed Viggo Mortensen (who starred in the rock-religious flick Salvation with his then wife, Exene Cervenka of X; and yes, he’s Aragorn from Lord of the Rings) as Kowalski; he’s still employed by a car delivery service, but now he’s a Desert Storm veteran pining for his glory days as a stock car racer. This Kowalski’s “need for speed” isn’t the result of drugs, bets or personal demons: he’s a clean, faithful husband desperate to get home to his pregnant wife who’s suddenly hospitalized. While the ‘70s Kowalski didn’t need a reason to say “Fuck the Man!” to earn his folk hero status, the ‘90s Kowalski becomes an Americana hero as result of being mislabeled as a “terrorist” by an overzealous government abusing new anti-terror laws. 

Helping out on the radio front is a politically outspoken DJ simply known as “The Voice,” (Jason “Beverly Hills 90210” Priestly, a FOX-TV series, natch) on KBHX 106.5, “The Voice of the Rocky Mountains.” At least Priestly’s DJ is hip enough to spin tunes such as “Volunteers” by the John Doe Thing. Not helping matters is a hard-edged, ex-stock racer turned Utah State Trooper (the always welcomed Steve Railsback of Lifeforce) in hot pursuit with a Hemi of his own and a catch-Kowalski-at-all-costs attitude (if this sounds a lot like the Marjoe Gortner-Railsback persuit in The Survivalist, it probably is.) And in with the desert-dwelling assist is rocker John Doe (A Matter of Degrees) as an anti-government tax evader with a knack for repairing Hemis. (And rock trivia buffs take note: This is only time you’ll see the ex-husbands of X vocalist Exene Cervenka—Viggo and John Doe—together in the same film.)

It’s interesting to note that while a TV movie, Vanishing Point ’97 has a 90-minute, theatrical-running time. Movies shot-for-TV run 80 minutes, then 40 minutes of commercials are added to fill a two-hour programming block. Thus, 10 minutes of advertising are lost to fit the film into that 120-minute programming block. That’s bad business. So, considering Viggo’s status at the time, was this intended as a theatrical feature, and 20th Century Fox realized their production faux-pas and dumped it on TV?

What do you think, Eric?

“Jesus. Even the poster for this sucks. What the f**k was Viggo thinking.”
— Eric, purveyor of film quality and Seinfeld hater

Indeed, Eric. Indeed.

You can watch Vanishing Point ’97 on You Tube.

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

Me & Will (1999)

So, did you know . . . sandwiched between the ‘60s original and Phil Pitzer’s 2012 revisiting, Easy Rider: The Ride Back, there was another unofficial “sequel” to Easy Rider, which concentrates on a search for the famed Captain America chopper that appeared in Easy Rider? Never heard of it? It’s okay. No one did.

Be it an unintentional sequel or a loose remake—with a Thelma and Louise twist—of the counter-culture classic Easy Rider, there’s definitely a dash of another late 60’s cinematic classic, Midnight Cowboy, in these engine revs written and directed by its stars, Sherri Rose and Melissa Behr. (Another Easy Rider-inspired biker-epic, the better known Roadside Prophets, made in the early 90’s with John Doe, the bassist and singer from X, and a Beastie Boy, may even come to mind as the story unfolds.)

Told from the point of view of Jane (the “me”), a hard-living aspiring writer, she meets an equally burnt-out artist-cum-party girl named Will in an L.A. drug rehab clinic. After watching a late-night showing of Easy Rider on TV, Jane (Sherri Rose) and Will (Melissa Behr, aka “Doll Chick” from Bad Channels and its sequel, Dollman vs. Demonic Toys) decide to make like Wyatt and Billy and break out of rehab to embark on a trip to find the legendary chopper ridden by Peter Fonda—which is rumored to still exist in the city of Willsall, Montana.

As the road trip unfolds, Jane and Will meet the usual cross section of bikers, hippies, burnt-out garage mechanics, psycho waitresses, abused women, and abusive cops—as well as the rock bands Space Age Playboys (yes! Kory Clarke and Warrior Soul!) and Keanu Reeves’s band Dogstar. (I played Dogstar on the radio and went to their shows back in the ’90s; they were a solid indie, alt-rock band and not the “actor-gimmick” they were smarmy-labeled.)

What helps this lost bikers-searching-for-their-souls flick is the cast featuring those actors we care about at B&S About Movies: Seymour Cassel (Trees Lounge), M. Emmet Walsh (Escape from the Planet of the Apes), Steve Railsback (Lifeforce), and Grace Zabriskie (Galaxy of Terror). (Oh, shite: she was also George’s mother-in-law on Seinfeld. Sorry, Sam.) And keep your eyes open for Johnny Whitworth (Empire Records), William E. Wirth (The Lost Boys), and Tracy Lords (Shock ’em Dead).

Oh, and Jane’s boyfriend, Fast Eddie, is Patrick Dempsey (the ’80s cable comedy-classic Can’t Buy Me Love and “McDreamy” from TV’s Grey’s Anatomy). Of course, when Grey’s Anatomy became a ratings juggernaut—and as with Katherine Hegyl’s equally unknown 2006’s Zyzzyx Road—the DVD reissues of Me & Will feature Dempsey front and center—with Rose and Behr kicked to the curb.

In addition to the ‘Playboys and Dogstar appearing on the soundtrack, there’s music by Dwight Yoakam, Josh Clayton, formerly from School of Fish (remembered for their ’90s hit, “Three Strange Days”), in addition to classic tracks by the Doors and a solo-bound Mick Jagger. Matt Sorum of the Cult/Guns n’ Roses scored the film—with a guitar-style that almost leaves it feeling like a Tangerine Dream-scored film (Thief comes to mind, IMO), sans the synths and moogs.

To dismiss Me & Will as a vanity-driven “female Easy Rider” and to be alpha-male ruffled by its “female empowerment” message is a chauvinistic disservice to Sherri Rose and Melissa Behr’s efforts to dissuade the film from disintegrating into a hail of bullets of a gone-wrong crime caper, ala the somewhat similar Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke buddy-biker action flick, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991).

Me & Will is a gallant effort; a heart-felt, solid indie-film and Rose and Behr certainly deserved better than their exploitation resumes allow. And kudos to Columbia Pictures giving their blessings and not having the proceedings degrade into the legalese haze of Phil Pitzer’s not-as-bad-as-they-say Easy Rider homage. You can watch Me & Will as a free-with-ads stream on TubiTv or without ads on You Tube.

So, as with Phil Pitzer’s Easy Rider: The Ride Black: Me & Will is an alright effort. So do Sherri Rose and Melissa Behr a solid and support indie film by streaming the ad-stream version on TubiTV, will ya?

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

Easy Rider: The Ride Back (2012)

So . . . did you you know Easy Rider was followed forty years later by an unofficial sequel? It’s okay. No one does. . . .

The existential subtext and counterculture viewpoints (somewhat) of the original are lost . . . somewhere on a dusty, Baja road in this “sequel” (also working as a prequel) that explores the family history of Peter Fonda’s character Wyatt “Captain America” Williams through the eyes of his older brother, Morgan: a pot-distributing, Vietnam war deserter and custom jewelry-designer (specializing in Maltese crosses; not for the reasons you think, the eventual reveal is a clever trick-of-the-script) living in luxurious solitude on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

The drama and struggles center around Morgan’s cycle-lovin’ family friend, West Coast (Jeff Fahey of The Lawnmower Man, Psycho III), Williams sister Shane (Sheree J. Wilson of TV’s Dallas and as Alex Cahill on Walker, Texas Ranger; she also produces), and her wealthy-hubby (Michael Nouri of Flashdance) as it flashes to and fro from the 1940s to the present, concerned with Wyatt’s brother, Morgan (Phil Pitzer) visiting his dying, disapproving father. So, along with West as his “Billy,” Morgan mounts Wyatt’s Captain American chopper, which he recovered back in ’69 and restored, slaps on his brother’s old leathers, and takes a “ride back” to bury those family demons.

Of course, when it comes to making a sequel, the smart bet is to file legal actions against Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, the producers of the original through their Raybert Productions (the force behind The Monkees TV series), to block them from reclaiming their expired film rights. And don’t bring back any of the original’s cast or crew. And cavet those emptor for the ol’ home video bait n’ switch: courtesy of the flashing-back-and-forth, Fahey, Wilson, and Nouri are the marquee-stars, but only here as supporting characters. This show belongs to Phil Pitzer and Chris Engen (as the young, troubled third-brother Virgil; who despite his bigger role, is bumped off the marquee).

So goes this vanity-vision by producer and screenwriter Phil Pitzer, a former lawyer who, with a desire to enter the film industry with a bang, manipulated legal loopholes to get sequel rights. His co-writer and director, Dustin Rikert, fared better: his names pops up as a producer and director on a slew of telefilms broadcast on the Hallmark, Lifetime, and Syfy channels. Their Easy Rider part deux was initially completed in 2009 and appears in filmpedias with that release date; however, by the time it went through the festival circuits and film markets for distribution, it was formally released in 2012.

So, is Easy Rider: The Ride Back the most-unwanted-not-a-sequel since the days of Halloween III: Season of the Witch (which I really like) or House II: The Second Story (which I didn’t) or House III: The Horror Show (which I did, because well, it’s a friggin’ Lance Henriksen and Brion James movie)? And is stuffy ol’ Leonard Maltin—who hates everything the B&S About Movies crew likes—justified in calling the Pitzer’s effort “a staggeringly bad, cash-in bomb,” solely based on Pitzer’s clandestine legal maneuvers?

Eh, well . . . to Pitzer’s credit: He does, as you can see, resemble Fonda, so it lends to the credibility that he’s Wyatt’s brother, as well as “being” Wyatt in flashbacks that lend to the film-to-film continuity. All of the bikes (especially Wyatt’s chopper reproduction) and time-period designs (props, costumes, cars, etc.) are correct, the Korean war sequences are well-shot, and the cinematography by Brian Lataille (videos for Incubus and Linkin Park), while not up to the László Kovács-standard in the original, is pretty solid. And yes, as with any indie, flick: there’s a few strained thepsin’ moments. So, while it’s not exactly Easy Rider, Pitzer’s effort is not a Tommy Wiseau (or Neal Breen) biker joint as some threaders and reviews claim. No, it’s definitely not The Room on wheels” as some have said.

While the flashbacks and bike-riding interludes of Morgan’s and West Coast’s contemplations (most in voice overs as majestic “post-card moments” unfold) about life, e.g., homelessness and hunger, ecology, the meaning of patriotism and true freedom, make the film seem a bit longer than its 90-minute running time, Pitzer nonetheless crafted well-rounded characters for his actors to sink their thespin’ teeth into. He also developed a compelling “history” for an initially ambiguous, metaphorical-drifting character. So kudos to Pitzer for giving a structured “focus” to a film that was admittedly an “out of focus,” scriptless-improv in the first place (that Fonda and Hopper openly admitted in interviews).

And besides: I always enjoy seeing senior actors (e.g., the recently-released Nana’s Secret Recipe) given meaty roles and, to that end: Newell Alexander (who’s career goes back to the ’70s TV series Barnaby Jones and Battlestar Galactica ’79, The Kentucky Fried Movie; he also appeared in Walker, Texas Ranger with Sheree) and Ron Howard’s pop, Rance (The Andy Griffith Show, Grand Theft Auto, and Cotton Candy) are both excellent in their roles as Poppa Williams and his ol’ hog-riding Korean War war buddy, so much so, you’d like to see more of them in the film.

All in all, despite Leonard Maltin and the Internet hoards of war, Easy Rider: The Ride Back it’s not as Wiseauian bad as they’ll lead you to believe. (The same arguement we had with our review of Jeremy Saville’s radio dramedy, Loqueesha). And for those who have stated Phil Pitzer “thankfully, has never made another movie” and “hasn’t made another movie since”: Phil produced the upcoming Cannes Without a Plan (2021), the third writing-directing effort from Julie Simone Robb (NBC-TV’s Homicide: Life on the Street) that also stars Pitzer’s The Ride Back cast member, Jodie Fisher (of Charles Band’s Blood Dolls).

Courtesy of a new distribution deal with retro-imprint Kino Loeber, Easy Rider: The Ride Back is available worldwide as 2019-issued Blu and DVD and VOD stream on Amazon Prime and You Tube Movies. Yeah, you’ll find that errant You Tube freebie (you know you look there and TubiTV first before you buy), but do Phil Pitzer a solid and support indie film, will ya? Pay for it, okay?

Like Kowalski said in Vanishing Point: “Fuck the man!” Keep on making movies, Phil. You’re alright, kid. . . .

So, did you know . . . sandwiched between the ‘60s original and Phil Pitzer’s 2012 revisiting, Easy Rider: The Ride Back, there was another unofficial “sequel,” which concentrates on a search for the famed Captain America chopper that appeared in Easy Rider? Never heard of it? It’s okay. No one did. Join us at 3 pm for more tales from the fast and the furious . . . with Me & Will.

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

The Existential and the Furious: Part 3: Vanishing Point (1971)

Author’s Note: Yeah, we know you’ve seen them before and know them well. But we’ve got some movie “Easter Eggs” in these reviews. Thanks for revisiting the classics with the B&S gang, where we coddle the obscure and the forgotten films of the VHS, UHF, and Drive-In yesteryears.

This 20th Century Fox tale reminds a lot of Elektra Glide in Blue, United Artists’ 1973 existential road flick entry about a disgraced biker-cop (Robert Blake) produced-directed by James William Guercio, who managed and performed with the Beach Boys and produced several albums for ’70s pop-meisters Chicago (who appear in the film). We also had Vanishing Point on the short list for “Radio Week,”* thanks to Cleavon Little’s blind DJ. While it was bumped for that week—but it’s prime fodder for “Fast and Furious Week.” Thank god for Dodge Chargers. . . .

Kowalski (Barry Newman) is a Vietnam veteran, disgraced ex-cop and former professional road racer of motorcycles and stock cars. To cope with his personal demons, he lives on the open road as a driver for a car delivery service. Before heading out on his next assignment—transporting a supercharged 1970 Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco—he scores a hit of speed and makes a bet with his drug-pusher that he can make the trip in 15 hours.

As the police follow in hot pursuit, Kowalski becomes a folk hero to the roadside eccentrics and Vietnam-war worn masses, thanks to the on-air updates of the cross country chase by a blind DJ “Supersoul” (Cleavon “The Prince of Darkness” Little of FM) on KOW, an 50,000-watt R&B/Soul station broadcasting across Nevada, Utah and parts of Colorado and California. (Little’s engineer—an unaccredited role—is John Amos of TVs Good Times, but youngins know him for his work in Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Coming to America.) (And, is it just me, or is Outside Ozona a slasher version of Vanishing Point? That’s not critical insult, but a kudos.)

Yeah, we love this movie, but this movie also really wants to be the next Easy Rider, with its replacement of Steppenwolf by way of the equally biker-acceptable Mountain with “Mississippi Queen,” along with the counterculture band Delaney, Bonnie & Friends (see the history of Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac), who also appear in the film as a singing group at a religious revival caravan.

There’s no online streams, but Blus, DVDs, and used VHS-tapes are available on Amazon to watch Vanishing Point. . . .

So, we teased you about the two “sequels” to Easy Rider . . . but did you know their was a remake to Vanishing Point? It’s okay. No one does. Join us tomorrow, August 7 at 6 pm, for more tales of the fast and the furious . . . and the vanishing . . . with Vanishing Point ’97.

How much is this film loved? It has die-cast cars!

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

The Existential and the Furious: Part 2: Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

Author’s Note: Yeah, we know you’ve seen them before and know them well. But we’ve got some movie “Easter Eggs” in these reviews. Thanks for revisiting the classics with the B&S gang, where we coddle the obscure and the forgotten films of the VHS, UHF, and Drive-In yesteryears.

This Universal Studios tale in which the bikes of Easy Rider meet the Dodge Challenger of Vanishing Point was on the short-list for our “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” tribute (ran Sunday, July 19 to Saturday, July 25) of films as result of ex-Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson starring as the “Mechanic” and ‘70s soft rocker James Taylor as the “Driver.”

But wait! There’s those celluloid bonus points, since this is directed by Monte Hellman, who made his directorial debut with Roger Corman’s Beast from Haunted Cave (1959)—a relationship that lasted for several films over fifteen years. And Hellman gave us Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out (another “unwanted sequel,” ala Phil Pitzer’s Easy Rider: The Ride Back, that’s actually better than you think, as result of the Hellman touch), and he executive-produced Reservoir Dogs. So, courtesy of that Corman lineage, Hellman’s not giving you a typical Universal picture. This is an A.I.P-styled romp that’s not for the mainstream cinema folks.

As with Wyatt and Billy’s biker travels, Two-Lane Blacktop is an existential road trip into metaphorical ambiguity—only from inside the cockpit of a Black 1955 Chevy 150. Unlike most major studio buddy-road adventures, this one’s void of exposition to the point of silence: the Chevy’s passengers are perfunctory to the story, operating more like “parts” to the car than actual people.

As the stoic duo travels across country entering impromptu and legalized dragstrip races, they pick up the hitchhiking “Girl” (Laurie Bird, who became Hellman’s girlfriend), meet a homosexual hitchhiker (Harry Dean Stanton, later of Alien and Repo Man), and a New Mexico to Washington D.C. “pink slip” challenge is made by “GTO” (Warren Oates), an insecure braggart who discover a vicarious purpose through the freedom-lives of the Chevy’s “internal parts.”

Regardless of its rock-star casting, neither Wilson nor Taylor provide music to the film and no Easy Rider-styled soundtrack was ever released. The film does, however, features songs by the Doors, Arlo Guthrie, and Kris Kristofferson. Lori Bird, in a James Dean-tragic life, only made three films: two with Hellman, the other being Roger Corman’s Cockfighter (1974; also with Warren Oates), and in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977; as the girlfriend to Paul Simon’s character). Coming to live with Simon’s musical partner, Art Garfunkel, she committing suicide-by-pills in his apartment at the age of 26.

There’s no online streams, but Blus and DVDs (co-issued by Universal through Criterion Collection and Anchor Bay) and used VHS-tapes are to be found on Amazon.

My buddy Eric, as with Easy Rider, takes me to task with this movie as well: “Duke, your idea of “classics” sucks ass,” he tells me. According to him—a car nut, mind you—”nothing happens.” “It’s like watching a stoner version of Seinsuck.” (Sorry, Sam!)

Friends and film, huh? It’s not so bad: chicks and film is worse.

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

UPDATE: Out in the social media ethers, reader Jake Garrett schooled us on this fun car flick fact: The ’55 Chevy in Two-Lane Blacktop is the same car as Bob Falfa’s in American Graffiti. Did you know that? We didn’t. Hey, we’re big enough to admit that we don’t know all of the film trivia out there. Thanks, Jake!

The Existential and the Furious: Part 1: Easy Rider (1969)

Author’s Note: Yeah, we know you’ve seen them before and know them well. But we’ve got some movie “Easter Eggs” in these reviews. Thanks for revisiting the classics with the B&S gang, where we coddle the obscure and the forgotten films of the VHS, UHF, and Drive-In yesteryears.

While The Fast and the Furious franchise began as crime caper flicks that transitioned into spy flicks of the xXx variety, there’s no denying Universal Studios’ “big engine” is rooted in the rock ‘n’ hot-roddin’ juvenile delinquency flicks of the ’50 (we have a “Drive-In Friday” night this week covering a few of those films), the biker-centric counterculture flicks of the ’60s, and revin’-car flicks from the ’70s (reviews for a whole bunch o’ them this week!).

For long before the good intentions of Paul Walker’s LAPD officer Brian O’Conner’s law-enforcement soul was drugged with the scent well-weathered leather, hot metal and oil, and the scent of a Mitsubishi’s exhaust (R.I.P., Mr. Peart), Easy Rider was the godfather of them all—and that celluloid patriarch brought forth two sons. . . . And those sons were fruitful and multiplied with the ’70s “big engines” of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (also starring Peter Fonda) and Gone in 60 Seconds (no, not that one, the 1974 one!).

In between, there was this cop movie called Bullit that starred some guy named Steve McQueen toolin’ around in a 1968 Mustang Fastback going head-to-head with a 1968 440 Magnum Dodge Charger. And they slipped “The Duke” (of all people) into the cockpit of a souped-up 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am “Green Hornet” in McQ. But we were diggin’ Roy Scheider in his 1973 Pontiac Ventura Sprint in The Seven-Ups. And let us not forget: Producer Philip D’Antoni is the guru of rubber who gave us memorable car chase sequences in not only The Seven-Ups and Bullit, but The French Connection, as well. Then, for a twist, instead of a souped-up muscle car, Robert Blake slipped onto a 1970 Harley touring cycle for the “motorcycle cop” version of Easy Rider: 1973’s Electra Glide in Blue.

Released in 1969, Easy Rider became a counterculture epic that set the pace for the early ‘70s car chase classics to come: Two-Lane Blacktop and Vanishing Point (as well as Electra Glide in Blue)—regardless of the transportation and “mission” of their protagonists’ “trips,” each film equated the open road with freedom of the soul.

Wyatt and Billy (Peter Fonda, who became a biker icon courtesy of Roger Corman’s 1966 biker epic, The Wild Angels, and Dennis Hopper, who was able to get financing for his 1971 ego-boondoggle The Last Movie as result of Columbia Studios raking in $60 million worldwide on a $400,000 budget) embark on a western-without-horses motorcycle trip across America from California to New Orleans for a drug deal (instead of gold prospecting or stage coach robbing). Along the way to make their “big score” they meet up with communal hippies (in lieu of Indians), partake of drugs and sex, and frolic about New Orleans (in lieu of say, Dodge City, Kansas, or Virginia City, Nevada) in a Seinfeldian “a movie about nothing” existence (sorry, Sam; quoting my buddy Eric’s take on the movie)—and it all comes to an end by way of the ubiquitous, hippy-hatin’ rednecks (the Indians got ’em).

Jack Nicholson stars as Wyatt and Billy’s gold-football helmeted sidekick: ACLU lawyer and jail cellmate, George Hanson (the trio first collaborated on The Trip, Roger Corman’s 1967 stoner flick written by Nicholson; who did his own biker flick, 1967’s Rebel Rousers, which was released post-Easy Rider fame, in 1970), music Svengali Phil Spector (The Big T.N.T Show) stars as “The Connection,” and future MTV video queen Toni Basil (“Hey, Mickey!”) also appears in a minor role (she worked with Nicholson on the Monkees’ Head). The soundtrack—inspired by the successful use of pop and rock music for 1967’s The Graduate— features music by Steppenwolf (who also provided music to another psychedelic film, 1969’s Candy), the Band, the Byrds, and Jimi Hendrix.

You can watch this everywhere, pretty much, but it streams on Amazon Prime.

Ah, Easter Eggs: So, did you know Easy Rider was followed forty years later by an unofficial sequel? Two, in fact. It’s okay. No one does. Join us tomorrow at 12 noon and 3 pm for more tales of the fast and the furious . . . with Easy Rider: The Ride Back and Me & Will.

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