The Haunted Mansion (2003)

Originally opening at Disneyland in 1969, The Haunted Mansion was one of the last Disney theme park attractions overseen by Walt Disney himself. Two years later, a similar one opened in Walt Disney World. Originally it was going to be a run-down building, but Walt rejected the notion of a worn building in his brand new theme park. A trip to Winchester Mystery House — filled with straits to nowhere and doors that opened into brick walls — put Disney and his team on the right path.

The dark ride is one that has its own fans who obsess — and rightly so — over the history and multiple versions of the attraction. After Disney’s death in December 1966, the opening of the ride on August 12, 1969 finally brought numbers up to the theme park that has his name on it.

When you talk into the main room and hear the voice of Paul Frees intone, “When hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls, whenever candle lights flicker where the air is deathly still, that is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight…” you know that you’re in for a ride unlike anything else. I am notorious for not enjoying theme parks and I’ve gone through The Haunted Mansion multiple times.

Following Tower of Terror, Mission to Mars, The Country Bears and the Pirates of the Caribbean series, this would be the fifth Disney attraction to get a movie of its own. Written by David Berenbaum (ElfZoom) and directed by Rob Minkoff (the co-director of The Lion King), it opened to near-universal scorn.

The film stars Eddie Murphy as Jim Evers, who along with his wife Sara (Marsha Thomason) runs a real estate business. He barely has time for their kids Michael and Megan and even sells a house instead of meeting his wife for their anniversary. To make up for it, he suggests a vacation before the occupants of Louisiana’s Gracey Manor ask him and his wife to help sell their gigantic home.

The real reason they are summoned is that the lord of the manor, Master Edward Gracey (Nathaniel Parker) believes that Sara is the reincarnation of his long-dead wife Elizabeth. Yet for some reason, everyone else in the house — including Wallace Shawn as Ezra — is afraid of his butler Ramsley (Terence Stamp, who as always deserves better).

Eventually, Ramsley threatens the children and forces Sara into marrying Gracey before her husband returns to save them all and reveal the truth of what happened on the day of Gracey’s wedding.

As interesting and exciting as the original ride is, the movie is pretty lifeless. In an odd choice, it’s based on Phantom Manor, the version of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland Resort Paris, instead of the more familiar versions of the attraction. It’s also funny that Eddie Murphy had a routine about how he’d leave a haunted house immediately when he was a young and vital standup comic, but by 2003, he was willing to sleepwalk through this film.

But hey! Jennifer Tilly is Madame Leota and that has to count for something!

Junesploitation 2021: Delta Delta Die (2003)

June 21: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is Julie Strain.

On January 10, 2021, our world got a whole lot worse when Julie Strain died. In everything she did — and look, not every movie is really all that great, but who cares — she exuded confidence, a spirit of fun and a knowing wink that said, “Just shut up and enjoy it.” So many kids my age had crushes on celebrities and I would just think, “Yeah, but she’s no Julie Strain.”

This movie has Julie, Brinke Stevens and Tiffany Shepis in it, which is really more than we deserve. It’s about a sorority led by Mother Fitch (Strain) called Delta Delta Pi that loves to eat human flesh because, well, who knows and who cares why. As they prepare for homecoming, a student tries to stop their evil acts, so she brings in one of their first member Rhonda Cooper (Brinke).

Julie’s half-sister Lizzy was also in this, so there’s that. I mean, you also get to see Julie dance covered in blood, as well as demand that people grind a man’s scrotum up. It’s not the greatest movie you’ve ever seen, but that’s totally the kind of movie that Julie would make better just by showing up. Except for the Andy Sidaris films she’s in. Those are like perfect with perfect on top.

Oh yeah — this movie also has full frontal dong. If that upsets you, please know that there are also scenes of tallywhackers being devoured and not in the raw. Please enjoy!

You can watch this on Tubi.

Drag Racing Week: Right On Track (2003)

Drag Racing Week Banner 1

Courtney and Erica Enders started drag racing as kids and Erica became the 2014, 2015 and 2019NHRA Pro Stock drag racing champion. This Disney Channel film tells the story about how they had to work harder — because they were women — than the men they raced against. Erica (Beverley Mitchell, Saw II) even quit for a while until she realized that racing was her dream.

Along with her sister Courtney (Brie Larson, Captain Marvel), they with the NHRA Junior Dragster national title and prove themselves.

While not the gritty story of Heart Like a Wheel, you get the idea of how much the girls sacrificed to become winners. Originally airing on the Disney Channel on March 21, 2003, this was directed by Duwayne Dunham, who edited and directed Twin Peaks, as well as the Disney movies Halloweentown, The Thirteenth Year, Ready to Run and Tiger Cruise.

Image courtesy of Vectezzy.

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Snuff Trap (2003)

Snuff Trap feels like Bruno Mattei finally got sick of making all those interchangeable softcore romance movies and said, “You know, I’m at my best when I have no filter.” Welcome back, Bruno. Or Pierre Le Blanc, as you’d like to be known as here.

After her daughter Lauren gets abducted, Michelle (Carlo Solaro, PaprikaTop Girl) must enter the nightmare world of an Italian scum cinema version of a Paul Schrader film. Yet beyond just simple pornography, there’s the danger of snuff films, which seems to make sense when you’re movie is called Snuff Trap. Or Snuff Killer. Or Snuff Killer – Death Live.

Actually, this movie is 8mm, except that no one’s mother thought that the best way to rescue her daughter from a porn ring is to become a prostitute herself. That’s because Michelle’s husband is a politician and he’d rather not have the scandal of a stepdaughter going dietro la porta verde.

Soon, our protagonist finds herself going up against the leader of the pornographer, who has the astounding name of Dr. Hades (Anita Auer) and her henchman Roy.

Oh man, from 2002 to 2007, Mattei was the last Italian filmmaker standing making good old fashion exploitation films. I’m a huge fan of his late career shot on video films, which sure, are total junk, but nearly everything Bruno did was very much the same way. Yet I have such a soft spot in my heart for him, out there in his late 70s making cannibal movies in the jungle and cutting and pasting plots and even big pieces of footage from Hollywood movies. One of those films has the entire budget equal to the total of every movie Bruno ever did and absolutely none of the fun and heart. In a perfect world, we would have figured out how to put the human brain into an eternal robot and I would have paid as much as I had into the Kickstarter to keep Bruno alive, making ripoffs of whatever he could make the most money from at the time.

I mean, who else would make a movie where the password to the snuff empire’s secret inner lair is bondage?

Bruno Mattei forever!

Paycheck (2003)

Some rules that I have established of “Is this an ancient future cyberpunk movie?” I will answer some of these to determine the veracity of Paycheck‘s status.

Does it have the title of a Philip K. Dick book but not really have much to do with it?

Yes, it’s based on his story Paycheck which originally appeared in 1953.

Is there a lot of rain?

Not as much as others in the genre.

Does the male hero wear dress clothes and/or a trenchcoat?

It’s a black tie affair.

Do Keanu Reeves, Ben Affleck, Dolph Lundgren or Udo Keir appear in it?

Affleck makes it.

Does the internet do something it can’t do yet, yet look dated AF?

Yes. Also, there’s a discussion of memory sizes, which no speculative science fiction should have, because people brag about their brain holding meg file sizes or less and in 2021, we just say, “Oh. That’s the size of a text message.”

Are Stabbing Westward, KMFDM, Ministry or God Lives Underwater on the soundtrack?

No, but they did have to pay to use “Happy birthday.”

Is it a crappy version of Blade Runner?

Aren’t they all?

Are there numerous Asian-influenced scenes?

It’s less Asian influenced than made by the man who everyone copied by putting a bird on their action scenes, John Woo.

Do people use future terms that make no sense?

Yep.

Are there a lot of whirring sound effects?

Always.

Do people stare at the camera as it moves through a neon-lit strip club?

Often.

Are there rock stars in it?

No, sadly.

Is there a feral child?

I kind of wish there was.

When this was made, Paycheck was Ben Affleck’s biggest check, earning him $15 million. When asked why he starred in the film, he responds “The answer lies in the title.” He also lobbied to change his character from a Yankess to a Red Sox fan.

Woo was trying to make a Hitchcock-style movie and get away from what he was known for and Affleck begged for a Mexican standoff scene and got his way.

Affleck plays reverse engineer Michael Jennings, who analyzes the tech of his clients’ competitors and then improves it. He keeps his clients’ intellectual property safe by repeatedly having his buddy Shorty (Paul Giamatti) wipe his brain clean. Now, he’s stuck in a conspiracy with only clues from his past self to guide him, which is a lot like Total Recall, another Dick story turned film.

Now that he’s made a machine that predicts the future — then made himself forget — past Ben wants future Ben to stop that machine from falling into the hands of CEO James Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart), who is using a fake version of our hero’s love interest Rachel Porter (Uma Thurman) to get him to reveal the secrets he’s learned.

Affleck won a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor for his performances in this movie, Gigli and Daredevil, going on Larry King Live to accept and break the award, which was auctioned off and paid for the hall rental for the following year’s award show.

Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (2003)

The last Warwick Davis Leprechaun movie, 2003’s return to the urban side of the Irish folklore based horror film series again proves the fact that if you put a movie in my DVD player, give me a Pepsi and a comfy couch, I will watch whatever it is.

This was originally going to be a spring break film, but I guess the lure of seeing a leprechaun get shot in a drive by was too much for some people to pass up.

Sticky Fingaz from Onyx is in this and one day, for one season of a TV show, he would become Blade. So this has that going for it. There’s also a scene where our antagonist tears off a woman’s jaw to get to one of her gold teeth.

So yeah. The leprechaun doesn’t die at the end and they tease he will come back, but fans of the series had to wait until 2014’s Leprechaun: Origins. I always skipped these films and I’ll be honest, outside of the space and Vegas episodes, I don’t know that I was really missing all that much. I realize these films have their fans and tastes differ, but I’m struggling to say anything nice. It’s just, you know, St. Patrick’s Week and these movies seemed like a good idea and I had the box set and…well, maybe the last two in it will be better. Let’s hope.

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (2003)

Every few years, I re-read the Peter Biskind book that this documentary was based on, if only to make myself more depressed as time goes on over the fact that the New Hollywood that changed cinema faded so quickly and was replaced by whatever we have now.

Kenneth Bowser directed this — and several documentaries on another of my pop culture obsessions that had a brief period (s) of greatness followed by mediocrity, Saturday Night Live — and it’s the perfect companion to the book, building on the stories there by featuring interviews with most of the people who survived, like Martin Scorsese, Dennis Hopper, Peter Bogdanovich, John Schlesinger, Johnathan Demme, John Milius, Karen Black, Cybill Shepherd, Francis Ford Coppola and more.

Many of the subjects from the book — including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Robert Altman and William Friedkin — declined interviews. That said, Spielberg and Lucas come off the worst in the book, so I can see them not wanting to be part of a movie that was going to blame their blockbusters for being the end of the artistic aims of Hollywood. To be fair, the movie lays a lot of the claim for that at the fact that so many of the New Hollywood auteurs flamed out or had badly recieved films. But Spielberg and Lucas did slam the blockbuster nails into the coffin.

When asked about the book, Robert Altman said, “It was hate mail. We were all lured into talking to this guy because people thought he was a straight guy but he was filling a commission from the publisher for a hatchet job. He’s the worst kind of human being I know.” And Spielberg was reported as saying that every word in the book about him was “either erroneous or a lie.”

As for Friedkin, who was painted as a bully in the book, he said: “I’ve actually never read the book, but I’ve talked to some of my friends who are portrayed in it, and we all share the opinion that it is partial truth, partial myth and partial out-and-out lies by mostly rejected girlfriends and wives.”

I kind of love that Bogdonovich said, “I spent seven hours with that guy over a period of days, and he got it all wrong,” and still shows up in this movie.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Hanai Sachiko No Karei Na Shōgai (2003)

The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai started life as a pink film — a term that refers to any Japanese film that includes nudity or sex — called Horny Home Tutor: Teacher’s Love Juice. The producers allowed Mitsuru Meike to turn it into a full length film that would eventually play at international film festivals.

Make no mistake, this is one of the stranger films you’ll watch. Also, if you don’t watch much pornography, one filled with an obscene amount of body fluids.

Sachiko Hanai (Emi Kuroda) is a cosplay callgirl who often dresses like a teacher. While relaxing at a cafe after attending to a clint, she witnesses a gun battle between a Middle Eastern and North Korean man that ends with her shot in the head. However, instead of dying — for some reason, she was taking selfies in the midst of the shooting — she gains the powers of ESP, advanced mathematical knowledge, deep insight and being able to speak several languages. She also finds the cloned finger of U.S. President Goerge W. Bush that quickly brings her to orgasm and then reveals that she must run, as everyone wants his finger because it unlocks the nuclear payload of the United States.

Still with me?

Somehow, this all leads to a cave that will determine the fate of the world and an ending that echoes losing a game of Missle Command.

I really liked this, as it’s just on the right side of strange, with a call girl acting as a teacher when she really holds the fate of the free world in her hand. Or Bush’s painted and cloned thumb. It also taught me the terrifying “Bush Technique.”

My Life with Morrissey (2003)

“. . . and now I know how Joan of Arc felt.”
—Morrissey

The greats always come in pairs: Johnny Thunders and David Johansen in the New York Dolls (Mona et Moi). Keith Richards and Mick Jagger in the Rolling Stones. Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Steven Tyler. . . .

And Johnny Marr and (Steven) Morrissey of the Smiths.

How rare is this movie? This is the best one-sheet image we could find.

The Smiths: you either love them or you hate them. There’s no middle ground for this U.K. band that shamelessly—but with integrity—wallowed in self-absorbed self-pity and spiritual anguish. And the songs were all hits—every one of them—from “Big Mouth Strikes Again” to “The Boy with a Thorn in his Side” to “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” to “Girlfriend in a Coma.” Uplifting, dark tunes from a band who gave you albums entitled Meat Is Murder.

So it makes sense that the depression-obsessive lyricist behind that morbid pop-oeuvre would inspire amorous fanaticism. And it comes in the form of Jackie (a stellar Jackie Buscarino, in her acting debut; currently the producer of Cartoon Network’s long-running Steven Universe), an already off-kilter office worker whose cramped flat doubles as a museum-shrine for all things Smiths—and keeps adding to the collection as she obsessively trolls records stores for memorabilia and rare albums by her dream lover. So it follows that she completely unravels (think of a female version of a spiraling Crispin Glover obsessed over Debbie Harry) when she happens to meet her mopish idol: Morrissey.

And when the ephemera wells run dry, Jackie takes the next logical step: stalking her idol’s favorite hangouts in Los Angeles. And she gets the ultimate collectible: his food leftovers. And when Morrissey (Jose Maldondo in shadow and silhouette; his only acting role) assumes she’s homeless and hungry, he takes pity and gives her a ride home. And now they’re a couple—so she thinks.

This is an indie film with low-budget pride. This is an off-the-wall stupid-weird unconventional-demented gem. Even if you loathe Morrissey, you’ll love this movie. No, it’s no Bowfinger. It’s no Being John Malkovich. It’s definitely no Bubba Ho Tep. But this directing debut by long-time Cartoon Network animator Andrew Overtoom is better than most fictional portrayals of a famed musician (or actor) (pick one of the ’80s Elvis “what if’ers”) in comical circumstances. If you dug the off-beat n’ quirky Ed and his Death Mother and Ghost World with Steve Buscemi and its cool ‘n quirky cousins Bartleby, Ed and Rubin, and Twister with Crispin Glover, then My Life with Morrissey will slide nicely into your, well . . . store nicely on your digital shelf hard drive.

The Emptor the Caveats Department: Take into account that Jackie—and her love of the Smiths—reminds me of my former “punk rock girlfriend,” the similarly-named Jessica, in all her granny dress and platformed Dr. Martens Mary Janes, stringy-black haired clipped glory. So the mileage of your particular romantic nostalgia for the movie may vary.

You can stream this on Amazon Prime.

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

Drive-In Friday: Documentaries About Directors Night

“Documentaries are boring. Who wants to watch a bunch of talking heads bragging about themselves?”
—Eric, purveyor of film quality and all things Sein(feld)suck.

And to a degree, I agree with my running-bud Eric: unless you have an interest in the subject matter at hand. As someone who’s spent his life in radio broadcasting and enamored with the craft of filmmaking, I’ve watched more than my fair share documentaries on the subjects of broadcasting and radio personalities, and film with its related actors and directors. And, even in person, those creative individuals can push self-aggrandizing into the new limits of boredom.

Don’t believe me?

The Snack Bar is Open! Free Dove Bars if you buy a hotdog. Darn freezer’s broke again!

Go to a party or any social gathering. Find yourself an actor or director. And I am not talking about running into a well-rounded, educated fellow like Werner Herzog with whom you can have a meaningful conversation about anything from soup to nuts. I am talking about the (always) one-the-way-up-and-after-one-film-they-think-they’re-Elvis types. But since this is in reference to film: Steven Spielberg. And actors are worse than directors. Christian Bale and Klaus Kinski earned the right to set-rant. You, Mr. DeMille and Ms. Desmond, do not.

Don’t believe me?

Watch The Disaster Artist, the (excellent) dramedy about the making of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. There’s a telling scene in the film where actor Greg Sestero confides his career frustrations to a fellow thespian—and all the other actor can do is drone on and on about how great his career is going. And as someone with lots of “under the tent” experience in holding areas, I’ve seen and heard it all, ad nauseam. Sestero tells it true.

And screenwriters? Well, I’ll spare you that paragraph, but here’s the equation: Director ego x Actor oneselfness = the greatest screenwriter in the world, aka “Listen to me, for I am the lord god of all scribes surveyed.”

And heaven forbid if you don’t like that up-and-coming Elvis-Spielberg’s latest entry to their no-one-has-ever-heard-of-or-seen oeuvre, aka a celluloid nobody and never will be: be prepared for the bowels of hell to rip open and for the lathes of heaven to crash into the fiery abyss and scorch to embers. Yeah, sometimes (almost always) the auteur is just another egomaniacal Billy Walsh (know your Entourage trivia) who blesses you with the distinct privilege of viewing their master(shite)piece—just because it received a set of “Official Selection” leaves from some obscure, off-the-circuit, emo-haughty film festival that won’t be in business next year and mainstream Hollywood doesn’t acknowledge because, well, Hollywood is already full up with more talented haughties than yourself. But thanks for asking! We’ll be looking for that star on the walk of fame, DeMille.

But even the established directors can be a handful, as evidenced in The Man You Love to Hate (1979), about the uncompromising director of silent films, Erich von Stroheim (acted in Sunset Boulevard). There’s Luchino Visconti (1999), about the iconic neorealist behind (the incredible, must watches) The Leopard, Death in Venice and Ludwig. There’s Felini: I’m a Born Liar (2002), Carl Th. Dreyer: My Métier (1995), about the director behind the seminal vampire flick, 1932’s Vampyr, and Pier Paolo Pasolini: A Film Maker’s Life (1971). And you can go on and on . . . with docs about Robert Altman, a couple regarding Woody Allen and Roman Polanksi, along with Orson Wells, Howard Hawks, Bergman, Kurosawa, Kurbick, and even producer Robert Evans. The documentary Easy Riders, Raging Bulls examines the industry and careers of ‘60s “bulls” Martin Scorsese, Dennis Hopper, Peter Bogdanovich, and Sam Peckinpah. And, speaking of Werner Herzog: Burden of Dreams (1982) follows the German (deserving of the noun spoken in the same sentence as his name) auteur as he deals with difficult actors, bad weather and getting a boat over a mountain during Fitzcarraldo.

But this is B&S About Movies . . . and you know us crazy, frolicking lads in the wilds of Allegheny County. We’ve got to go just a little bit deeper into the films—the realm of documentaries about directors. You may not know them. You may know them and hate them. But you know what: they don’t care. They, with a Kurt Vonnegut tenacity, just keep on creating. And that’s cool with me.

Image available across multiple sites; source unknown

Movie 1: The Insufferable Groo (2018)

At the time of the filming of this documentary by Scott Christopherson, Provo, Utah, resident Steven Groo’s resume encompassed 166 films—after its release, his resume grew to 200 films. A lesser documentarian would most likely—as so many internet warriors—slag Groo’s ultra-low-budget tales. Instead—what makes this film so lovely and tragic at the same time—is that Christopherson focuses on Groo’s determination to tell his stories. While Groo can be admittedly abrasive, his tenacity paid off with the patronages of actor Jack Black and director Jared Hess of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre fame. And Jack Black starred in Goo’s Unexpected Race (2018). In the end, you root for Groo.

You can watch The Insufferable Groo as a free-with-ads stream on TubiTv. You can also watch Unexpected Race on the platform as well.

Movie 2: Neil Breen Movie Magic (2020)

When Tommy Wiseau’s name drops, the name of ultra-independent filmmaker Neil Breen follows. To say he’s a film cult icon is an understatement. Plug his name into You Tube and you’ll discover the rabid fandom of his works.

A licensed architect by trade, Breen self-financed, directed and starred in his debut feature, Double Down (2005). As of 2018, he’s made five films and is in pre-production on his sixth film.

Love ‘em. Hate ‘em. Say they suck, but courtesy of an underground fan base cultivated on You Tube, Breen’s films—in a Wiseauian twist—have been picked up by arthouse theatres and film festivals around the world.

You can watch Neil Breen Movie Magic on You Tube.

And, in a twist: Breen released his own documentary, Neil Breen’s 5 Film Retrospective, in May 2020, which is another must-watch for Breen fans. You can watch Breen’s insights on himself on You Tube, as well.

Intermission!

In lieu of the usual Drive-In advert or trailer, check out the fun article, “Typing at the Drive-In: Celebrating Correspondence,” by Leanne Ricchiuti at CivMix. It’s about the interesting repurposing of the Greenville Drive-In in Greenville, New York, with the QWERTY Typewriter and Letter Arts Festival held from Sept. 14-19. The Greenville is on Facebook.

The next feature starts in five minutes!

Movie 3: Will Work for Views: The Lo-Fi Life of Weird Paul (2019)

Say what you will about Pittsburgh You Tube star Weird Paul—but the dude has 34,000-plus subscribers. People love him. You can’t help but dig him and his unique brand of retro-‘80s video productions, which he’s been posting since signing onto You Tube on Feb 4, 2007. I’ve been a fan of Paul’s ever since. And so should you. He’d make Kurt Vonnegut proud.

You can watch Will Work for Views as a free-with-ads stream on TubiTV.

Movie 4: Overnight (2003)

It amazes me that for as many people that have watched Boondock Saints—and quote the film, wear the t-shirts, and even have Boondock Saints “double gun” lamps on their end tables in their media room—have no knowledge of this documentary shot by writer-director Troy Duffy’s former friends.

You may have heard the stories about Duffy’s meteoric rise and even quicker fall, but here’s your chance to see it all up close and personal. Even if you aren’t a fan of documentaries or have not the need-to-know about what goes on behind a camera, you’ll be fascinated by this document that tells us the story of a (film and music) career that might have been. For bless the “Holy Fool.”

You can watch Overnight as a free with-ads-stream on TubiTv.

“Documentaries suck and are made by people who can’t make a real movie. I’d rather sit through a TBS Seinsuck marathon.”
—Eric

Indeed, Eric. Indeed.

Like I always say: Friends and film, huh? But chicks and film is (always) worse. (A woman who digs Klaus Kinski and knows Paul Naschy’s works is out there, somewhere! I can hope.)

Again, in the eyes of the many: documentaries just aren’t their canister of celluloid. Yes, documentaries—if you’re not into the subject at hand—can be as pedestrian as a CBS-TV 48 Hours segment or as bone-dust dry as a PBS-TV chronicle. But that’s not the case with these four heartfelt, well-made documents of their equally talented, intriguing subjects—each who make Vonnegut proud.

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