Night Owl (1993)

Don’t be logline or synopsis duped and don’t be conned by the film’s jazz score and soft-focus photography: Jennifer Beals (Flashdance, The Bride, and Vampire’s Kiss, Doctor M) isn’t a “pretty female radio DJ” or a “sultry nighttime disc jockey” and this isn’t a Lifetime-styled, soft-core sex thriller set inside a radio station. This is a ghost story. And it’s a fantasy-horror ghost story and not a romantic-fantasy like its inspirational antecedent: 1990’s Ghost, starring Demi Moore.

Julia (Beals) is a successful New York doctor specializing in audiology and speech pathology. She’s ready to walk away from five years of marriage to Harry, her ne’er-do-well jazz saxophone player husband (familiar TV actor James Wilder), who’s prone to cheating on her—and lying about the affairs.

She begins investigating the sudden rash of men self-mutilating (one gouges his ear drums) and committing suicides (Harry’s bandmate freaks out on stage, runs off, and jumps off a building). The one trait they have in common: they scream “She’s in my head!” over and over.

That “voice” is The Night Owl, a sultry overnight jazz disc jockey newly syndicated on the New York airwaves of WPKZ. “Her” voice captivates men—promiscuous men in particular—and feeds on their carnal desires during the full moon of the autumn equinox. And the station’s manager claims there is no “Night Owl.” And the FCC believers her to be a pirate radio operator broadcasting off the coast of New York. And Julia scoffs at the warnings of Dr. Matthews (Jackie Burroughs; The Dead Zone, Willard 2003), a professor of ancient folklore convinced the men are the victims of an ancient Siren.

And The Night Owl’s newest victim is Harry, who’s to be her Halloween sacrifice. And The Night Owl is prone to attacking the lovers of her victims in bed, raking them with her ghostly hand and wrapping a bed sheet around their necks.

Night Owl is a smartly written mystery by the female-writing TV team of Ann Powell and Rose Schacht; they draw their tale from the Greek folklore of Homer’s The Odyssey in which Ulysses and his ship’s crew comes under the bewitching spell of the Sirens. Using the airwaves to attract male listeners—in lieu of ocean waves and sailors—is a nice twist to an old legend. The script’s only weakness is its constricting 88-minute TV movie running time (this ran as a USA Network original before the channel became a rerun shill for NBC-TV; enough with the Law & Order!) that doesn’t allow for a deeper exploration of its themes.

You’ve seen director Matthew Patrick’s work before with his 1989 debut film, the highly-rated USA Network cable movie Hider in the House; Patrick doesn’t host that Gary Busey-starring movie on his personal You Tube page, since that film is owned by Lionsgate.

Beware of those Night Owl grey market DVD-rs in the marketplace, as this one has never been officially released on DVD. Luckily, Patrick shares a VHS rip of the film on his You Tube page to enjoy. He’s also uploaded his follow up to Hider in the House, the 1993 USA Network horror-thriller Tainted Blood starring Raquel Welch.

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

* VHS image courtesy of himalaya_hardware/eBay.

Night Rhythms (1992)

Nick West (Martin Hewitt) is a nighttime jazz disc jockey of the Dave Garver variety (Play Misty for Me, 1973): as he spins songs, he coos to lonely, sexually frustrated women who, to listen to the Nickster on the radio, must attire themselves in the latest Victoria Secret fashions. Hey, this isn’t KRML 1410 on your AM dial. This is KHPY 108.9 FM.

Yeah, it’s that type of movie: bogus frequency, babes, and boobs.

One night after his show, Nick ends up at a strip club to visit Cinnamon, his latest girlfriend-bartender squeeze, where he comes to the rescue of Honey, a stripper damsel-in-distress—and humiliates Vincent, the club’s owner and her pimp (David Carradine?!?), in the process (with a realistic 45-Revolver squirt gun that he uses to drink water from while on-the-air, you know, as “character development”).

Yeah, it’s that type of movie: bogus guns, babes, and stripper poles.

The next night, to show her appreciation, Honey (Shannon Tweed’s sister, Tracy) comes to the station—and they have sex in the studio, Eric Swann-style (FM, 1978). Nick’s listeners are shocked when the moaning and groaning turns into choking. Meanwhile, back in the studio, Nick’s passed out on the floor next to Honey’s dead body. So Nick goes on the run with Cinnamon to clear his name. But not to worry: Nick may be on the run for his life, but there’s still time in between the sleuthing for hot, sexual encounters.

Yeah, it’s that type of movie: bogus sleuthing, boobs, and FCC violations.

The questions abound: Did all of Nick’s promiscuous sex, chain smoking, booze and drugs lead to a psychotic break? Is it the station manager from his last station that lost its license over Nick’s antics? Is it one of the jealous, profanity-spewing male listeners who call into his show? Did Bridgette, his career-driven, dog-collar wearing producer, do it? Did Vincent set him up? Did Cinnamon set him up? Was it Jackson, a holier than thou cop (Sam Jones) with a grudge against Nick’s on-air antics? What’s that? Honey and Bridgette are undercover lovers?

Yeah, it’s that type of movie: red herrings, boobs, and no 7-second air-delay.

Now, with a down-on-their luck exploitation cast featuring Hewitt, Jones, Carradine, and Gene Simmons’s sister-in-law, you’re thinking this is a video fringe wet dream: only if you’re a David Carradine completest or if you thrive on the bungled careers of others and experience schadenfreude as once popular actors slum for a paycheck.

Martin Hewitt and Sam Jones are a long ways away from their starring roles in their major studio, feature film debuts of Flash Gordon (1980) and Endless Love (1981)—so there’s something to be said of checking your arrogance and ego at the door. And we all know how far David Carradine had fallen, but to end up in this Basic Instinct (1992) backwashed porn slop?

You can call Night Rhythms a “soft-core erotic thriller” all you want. You can market the film in a very hard “R” version for cable, a soft “X” version for a home video release, an “NR” to stick behind the beaded curtain, or cut out 15-minutes of the gratuitous (including ménage and lesbian) sex scenes and stick it on the shelf of a local Blockbuster Video. No matter how you cut the print, it’s disheartening to see Martin Hewitt go from working with Academy Award-nominated Italian director Franco Zeffirelli (1968’s Romeo and Juliet) on Endless Love—which served as the feature film debut of Tom Cruise—to rolling around in cringe-inducing, gratuitous sex scenes.

Yeah, it’s that type of movie: four crappy versions, boobs, and gratuitous everything. And it’s also the type of movie I love.

Sure, Night Rhythms made money. And the acting, directing and cinematography are solid and above porn-grade, but . . . Basic Instinct is a neo-noir masterpiece recognized for its groundbreaking depictions of sex on film. We experienced sympathy, while feeling distain, for Michael Douglas’s dysfunctional cop (also named Nick!). We were engrossed by the cat-and-mouse game between Douglas and Sharon Stone’s Catherine Trammel. But the same couldn’t be said for the 1993 Madonna-starring knockoff Body of Evidence or William Friedkin’s 1995 knockoff, Jade. And Night Rhythms, which substitutes the trouble cop of those films for a trouble radio disc jockey, doesn’t come close in its goals to exist in a world where “Basic Instinct meets Play Misty For Me.”

Yeah, it’s that type of movie: a great pitch, a worn-out fast forward button, and an ending that should have shown Nick the Dick’s set-up punk ass in a prison cell, listening to the producer who set him up, hosting his old radio show. It’s also that type of movie where your producer wears fishnet shirts and a studded collar, and gums up the control room’s electronics with cigarette smoke.

But alas! Wings Hauser fans take note: Director Gregory Dark also wrote and directed the popular B-action sci-fi video rentals Dead Man Walking (1988; full movie) and Street Asylum (1990; full movie). After working with Martin Hewitt on another soft-erotic thriller, 1992’s Secret Games (trailer), Dark reinvented himself as a go-to music video director with Linkin Park’s “One Step Closer,” Stone Sour’s “Inhale,” and Sublime’s “Wrong Way. His long list of clients also includes Breaking Benjamin, Ice Cube, Mandy Moore, and Xzibit. One of the few adult filmmakers (Google “The Dark Brothers” at your own peril) to successfully transition into mainstream Hollywood, Dark had his biggest success with the WWE Films and Lionsgate Entertainment co-production See No Evil. Directed by Dark, the 2006 film starring professional wrestler Kane grossed more than $60 million dollars in worldwide box office. Not a bad day’s work for a film that was produced for $8 million.

Today, Martin Hewitt is retired from the business as a divorced father of two and runs a successful home inspection business in Southern California. Sam Jones is still in the business with two new films in the marketplace: Decapitarium (based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe; trailer) and Axcellerator (a car thief involved in government intrigue with Sean Young and Maxwell Caufield; trailer). Tom Cruise, who worked under Martin Hewitt in Endless Love and came up Hollywood’s ranks alongside Maxwell Caufield and Sam Jones, is back in theaters on June 26, 2020, with Top Gun: Maverick.

That’s how life, rolls.

Two new flicks starring Sam “Flash Gordon” Jones are out now.

Amazingly, Charles Band’s Full Moon Pictures has the rights to Night Rhythms and streams it on their Full Moon Amazon Prime page. Based on its 84-minute runtime, and the fact that Amazon is streaming it, we’ll guess that it’s the edited Blockbuster Video version, but to be on the safe side: discretionary viewing is suggested. (The naughty version runs 99-minutes.)

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

A Cry for Help (1975)

Here’s another winner from the awesome “Big Three” network TV movie-era of the ‘70s. Also known as End of the Line in its overseas theatrical and later U.S TV syndication runs, A Cry for Help stars Robert Culp (Calendar Girl Murders, The Gladiator, Spectre) as Harry Freeman, a cynical and acerbic, Don Imus-styled radio talk show host who abuses his on-air callers. When one of those callers, a troubled young runaway, threatens to commit suicide, Harry dismisses her, but informs the police anyway. However, when the cops dismiss him, he comes to realize his mistake. So he recruits his audience to help him track down the girl—but is it to assuage his own guilt or as a ratings gimmick?

Involved in the mystery are lots of familiar ‘70s and ‘80s TV faces with Bruce “I’m not Bruce Jenner” Boxleitner, Gordon Jump (WKRP in Cincinnati), Michael Lerner, Chuck McCann, and Ralph Manza (you’ll know him when you see him; his career goes back to the mid-‘50s), and Ken Swofford (Black Roses and Hunter’s Blood). You’ll also notice TV actor Julius Harris (Cannon, Ellery Queen, Harry O) from his Blaxploitation resume with the likes of Black Caesar, Friday Foster, Let’s Do It Again, Shaft’s Big Score, and Superfly, and as Tee Hee alongside James Bond in Live and Let Die. (Look out! April is “James Bond Month” at B&S About Movies.)

What is all that stuff? Well, those are carts, cart decks, reel-to-reel decks and VU meters, you adorable, little Spotify youngins. The “radio” in this is, of course, excellent, and Robert Culp did his homework.

If this ABC-TV production plays like a ‘70s TV detective yarn, only with a disc jockey instead of a private eye, that’s because Executive Producers William Link and Richard Levinson were behind the popular TV series Columbo, Ellery Queen, Mannix, and Murder, She Wrote. Writer Peter S. Fincher wrote and directed episodes of Baretta, Columbo, and Kojak, while director Daryl Duke came from the Columbo family as well. Duke also directed the highly-rated 1973 TV movie The President’s Plane is Missing and the 1978 Elliot Gould-starring theatrical The Silent Partner. And for the country music fans: Duke directed 1973’s Payday starring Rip Torn as a burnt-out country singer.

You can watch A Cry for Help for free on You Tube. Caveat emptor on those grey market DVDs, as this has never been officially released on video. There’s no trailer, but you can watch a 14-minute film clip on You Tube.

What’s that? Where can you get more TV movies? Not a problem, we love the TV movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s here at B&S About Movies. Be sure to visit our “Week of Made for TV Movies,” “Son of Made for TV Movies Week,” and “Grandson of Made for TV Movie Week” explorations. And there’s even more TV movies to be had with our upcoming “Dan Curtis Week” on March 22 through March 28. And again: April is “James Bond Month,” so join us, won’t you?

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

 

Melinda (1972)

The film noir and Blaxploitation genres meet in MGM’s follow up to 1971’s Shaft (along with 1972’s Cool Breeze and Hitman), which plays as a more action-packed version of Clint Eastwood’s better known radio romp, 1971’s Play Misty for Me—with a dose of karate.

Instead of a bad mother private eye, Frankie J. Parker (Calvin Lockhart of the box office bomb Myra Breckinridge and Amicus Pictures’ Blaxploitation-werewolf flick The Beast Must Die) is a Los Angeles soul radio disc jockey with martial arts skills, courtesy of a school operated by his best friend, Charles Atkins (Jim Kelly in his film debut, on his way to Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee and lead roles in Black Belt Jones and Three the Hard Way).

As with all of the smooth talkin’, womanizing jocks, Frankie J. cools his heels after his shows in a nightclub owned by another one of his friends, ex-football player Tank Robinson (Rockne Tarkington of Black Samson, Black Starlet, and The Ice Pirates). And Frankie J. meets the ubiquitous, newly arrived-in-town femme fatale Melinda (Vonetta McGee of Hammer with Fred Williamson, Blackula, Shaft in Africa, and Detroit 9000). And she’s the ex-squeeze of a Chicago gangster. And she has a damning tape recording that can take down the operation. And she’s stupid enough to think that Ross Hagan (Alienator) won’t track her down. And she ends up dead in Frankie’s apartment. And it turns out Tank is involved with the mob. And the thugs kidnap Frankie’s girlfriend Terry (Rosalind Cash of The Omega Man and Tales from the Hood) for the tape.

Does Frankie J. recruit Jim Kelly and his karate students to go “Shaft” on their asses and save Terry? You bet. And it’s awesome—snake-filled cage and all.

Oh, and for the Pandora kiddies: Those are reel-to-reel decks and VU meters and the man in the booth is a DJ.

You also known Lockhart from his appearance as Silky Slim in 1974’s Uptown Saturday Night and 1975’s Let’s Do It Again with Billy Cosby, and his late ‘70s appearances on episodes of TV’s Good Times and Starsky and Hutch.

Then again, maybe you don’t. But that’s how I remember the late Calvin Lockhart the most. You dig?

And you can dig it, through Amazon Prime. In addition to the trailer, you can watch two more clips from the film courtesy of You Tube HERE and HERE.

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

Midnight FM (2010)

Ko Sun-Young is an arrogant celebrity DJ on the last two hours of her final overnight shift on a highly-rated radio station. While popular with the listeners, Sun-Young also has her detractors for being “too American” in her tastes and, instead of talking up Korean movies and K-Pop, she’s all about the music of Leonard Cohen and the movies of Martin Scorsese. So it’s no surprise Sun-Young’s decided to move to her beloved America for a groundbreaking medical treatment to cure her young daughter’s neck injury-induced mutism.

Not if her biggest fan can help it.

Someone’s invaded Sun-Young’s home and holds her daughter and sister hostage and forces her to play a deadly question-and-answers game based on the history of her show. And every wrong answer results in a gruesome pain inflicted on her loved ones. Sun-Young is also instructed to play songs featured on past shows and to recreate the introductions verbatim-by-memory.

Now that’s a radio studio! It’s all about the technical details. That, along with great acting, cinematography, and directing and you have a ratings winner.

The best “Americanized” references to guide your viewing on Midnight FM would be Jodie Foster’s Panic Room meets Colin Ferrell’s Phone Booth—only the “room/booth” is the confines of a radio studio. Unlike most Korean thrillers that opt for extreme graphic violence, Midnight FM (Simya-ui FM in its homeland) opts for some good old fashioned, American-styled cat-and-mouse games of the film noir variety between the secret admirer and victim (thus the victim’s love of American film and music). You may also reflect back to the J-Horror hits Pulse (2001) and One Missed Call (2008), only this time the tormenting calls aren’t from the beyond.

You can rent the subtitled version of Midnight FM on Google Play, Vudu, and You Tube Movies. There’s a free version—without subtitles—on Vimeo. There’s also a four-part free version—with subtitles—on the Korean TV Facebook page.

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

Dark Signal (2016)

The mountainous, remote wooded expanse of Snowdonia, North Wales, is terrorized by the Wedlock Killer. The savage and brutal attacks of five women share a common trait: their wedding ring fingers were removed by a bolt cutter. Luckily, Sarah, the next victim, was watching an expositional TV news report so we can learn this useful, bloody tidbit—and save it for later to season this story where The Shining meets The Ring—with a dash of Ju-On and a soupçon of 2005’s White Noise starring Michael Keaton.

Yep. There’s a ghost in the machine and a pseudo-giallo killer on the loose.

After the first kill we’re introduced to the jaded, motorcycle riding and chain-smoking (ah “character development”) Laurie Wolf (Siwan Morris of Britain’s long-running Eastenders). She’s a DJ who can’t find a new gig in the wake of hosting her final show on the soon-to-be-closed down Radio JAB, a local station victimized by corporate network automation. Ben (Gareth David-Lloyd of Syfy Network’s Warehouse 13 and the BBC’s Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood), Laurie’s producer, has on an online affair with Kate (excellent Polish actress Joanna Ignaczewska of 2014’s The Scopia Effect), a single mother dealing with a spiteful ex-husband. Kate’s financial desperation thrusts her into agreeing to be the getaway driver for a robbery planned by her dubious boyfriend Nick, who’s out to rob a “business associate”—in those very same remote woods.

Uh-oh.

When the car’s electrical system fails and the radio turns to static, Kate meets a bloody, long-haired ghost that haunts the woods: Kate’s about to be Yūrei’d.

Now that’s a radio studio! On the air with Laurie Wolf on Radio JAB, the voice of Snowdonia, Wales.

Meanwhile, back on the final broadcast of the “Howl at the Moon” radio programme on Radio JAB, the divine Ms. Wolf and Ben decide that, as a final act of defiance against the station’s owners, they’ll break format and interview Carla Zaza, a questionable psychic (Cinzia Monreale of Dario Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome and Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond) and hold an on-air séance.

A questionable psychic and a skeptical, bitchy chain-smoker who thinks it’s all fake?

Uh-oh.

Cue Sadako’s onryō-creeks n’ crackles and turn up the radio static: the bogus psychic made contact with the EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) spirit of Sarah, the last victim of the Wedlock Killer, who’s now using the airwaves of Radio JAB to extract her revenge.

Way to push that J-Horror angle, Mr. Distributor.

When watching this Wales-shot horror, as with any British, Scottish, or Australian-shot film, Dark Signal can be a hard watch due to the thick Welsh accents. Fortunately, TubiTV’s upload features a closed captioning feature so you can get the full enjoyment from this nicely-shot and acted debut feature from writer/director Edward Evers-Swindell.

Produced by Neil Marshall, the director behind Dark Soldiers (2002), The Descent (2005), Doomsday (2008), and Hellboy (2019), Marshall and Swindell will be back in theatres in 2020 with the Swindell-penned and Marshall-directed The Reckoning.

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

Radioland Murders (1994)

How much does a $15 million film about an early 1940’s radio station earn in box office? Less than a million and a half, that’s how much. And you thought Howard the Duck bombed? Not everything can be Star Wars, eh, Indy?

George Lucas conceived the idea for Radioland Murders during the writing of 1973’s American Graffiti as a homage/remake of the Abbott and Costello films of old, 1942’s Who Done It in particular, which had the screwball comedic duo solving a murder at a radio station. To whip the “who done it” script into shape, Lucas brought on American Graffiti’s husband and wife screenwriting team of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, who also worked on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Howard the Duck (1986) and, of course, they doctored Star Wars. Of course, we ‘80s video fringers and ‘70s Drive-In connoisseurs remember them best for their feature film debut, 1973’s Messiah of Evil (a movie so good, we reviewed it three times: HERE, HERE, and HERE).

For the roles of the estranged husband and wife radio team (Bud and Louella?) who become reluctant detectives to solve the murder of station owner General Walt Whalen on the inaugural night of WBN Chicago’s broadcast, Lucas cast Brian Benben from HBO’s “adult-themed” family-situation comedy Dream On (1990 —1996) and Mary Stuart Masterson, best known for her work in John Hughes’s Some Kind of Wonderful (1986). To say this retro radio romp killed both of their careers is an understatement. While Masterson pressed on with roles in several forgotten indie films, Radioland Murders proved to be Benben’s final film. Director Mel Smith never worked in mainstream Hollywood again and reverted back to British cinema. His most notably effort was Bean, the 1997 film version of the British series Mr. Bean, as well as 1985’s Morons from Outer Space, which he wrote and starred.

So, uh, is Radioland Murders funny? Is it “screwball” funny?

Nope. Not in the slightest. The Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, even The Ritz Brothers and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis are of a time and place. And when we want to go there, we want to see the originals—and nobody is clamoring to see Brian Benben as the lead in a feature film, let alone a send up of a 1930s “who done it” comedy. It makes you wonder how the movie would have turned out if Steve Martin and Cindy Williams starred as the leads as originally planned. . . .

Rounding out the cast is a who’s who of familiar character actors with Ned Beatty (Superman ’78), Michael Lerner (Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla ’98; Senator Brickman in X-Men: Days of Future Past), Christopher Lloyd (Dr. Brown from Back to the Future), Michael McKean (This is Spinal Tap), Jeffrey Tambor (Tom Manning in the Hellboy franchise), and Steven Tobolowsky (Commissioner Hugo Jarry in HBO’s Deadwood). Also be on the lookout for Corbin Bernsen (TV’s L.A Law, the Major League film franchise), Bobcat Goldthwaite, Larry Miller (The Nutty Professor franchise), and Harvey Korman who—ironically—starred as Bud Abbott in the 1978 TV movie bio-flick Bud and Lou.

“Hey, Abbott! Who done it?”

“I don’t know, Lou. The guy who played first base?”

“What do you think, R.D?”

Me? I’d rather skip Radioland Murders and watch you guys in Who Done It? instead. But with that supporting cast, B&S readers would probably want to take a look-see over on Amazon Prime and Vudu.

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

RADIO WEEK REWIND: FM (1978)

Michael Brandon (Four Flies on Grey Velvet) stars as Jeff Dugan, the ultra-cool program director at Q-SKY Radio, LA’s number one rock station. Never mind the fact that the station has the frequency 71.1, which is impossible in the US as the FCC frequency range goes from 87.8 to 108.0. Also, in the US, there are no radio stations with “Q” prefixes: East of the Mississippi, all stations begin with “W,” while stations west of the Mississippi start “K.” There’s only one major exception — KDKA in Pittsburgh. In Canada, stations use “C,” while “X” is utilized for stations in Mexico.

Q-SKY has all manner of crazy on-air personalities, like Mother, who sounds a lot like Alison Steele, the Nightbird, who also inspired Stevie in The Fog (others have said she’s based on Mary “The Burner” Turner from KMET). She’s played by Eileen Brennan from The Last Picture Show. There’s also The Prince of Darkness (Cleavon Little, who beyond Blazing Saddles, Surf II and Once Bitten also played the DJ Super Soul in the movie that inspired Tarantino’s Death ProofVanishing Point), low rated Doc Holliday (former Detroit Lion Alex Karras), his replacement Laura Coe (Cassie Yates, The Evil) and Eric Swan (Martin Mull!) who is obsessed with being a success in show business and with women.

Despite Jeff getting the station to number one in the number two market in the country, his corporate bosses only want him to sell more advertising time. Then, sales manager Regis Lamar gets him a deal to advertise for the Army, he refuses. His bosses order him to run the ads so he quits. The remaining DJs protest by locking themselves in and even physically battling the police.

Everything works out — the station’s owner (Norman Lloyd, Jaws of Satan and Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes) is inspired by the DJs and fires the sales staff. Meanwhile, dumped by his true love and fired by his manager, Eric Swan has a mental breakdown while on the air.

Director John A. Alonzo, then noted as a cinematographer on Vanishing Point, Chinatown, Black Sunday and — after this film — Scarface, made his directorial debut with FM.

Screenwriter Ezra Sacks worked at Los Angeles’ fabled FM station KMET in the early 70’s when AOR — Album Oriented Rock — was in its infancy and being created by KMET program director Mike Herrington. The Army commercial incident depicted by Sacks in the film is based on an actual on-air incident in which KMET’s top-rated nighttime DJ, Jim Ladd (On the Air Live with Captain Midnight) ran an anti-army commentary on the air after running an army spot. The incident is chronicled in Ladd’s autobiography, Radio Waves: Life and Evolution on the FM Dial.

The head of MCA Irving Azoff participated in the making of the film as executive producer, but he disowned it before release and asked that his name be removed from the credits, as he felt that the film was “not an authentic representation of the music business” and that the studio didn’t give him creative control over the film, particularly when it came to the music. Then again, nearly every band in this movie was on MCA. You know — a movie all about rock and roll and rebellion with Jimmy Buffett in it. A negative soundtrack review by Rolling Stone magazine pointed out the music was heavily biased towards “commercial” musicians who Irving Azoff managed — in conflict with the so-called rebellious, progressive-underground rock format practiced by the very stations on which FM’s faux-station was based.

Another funny point of contention is that AM stations made their own edit of the movie’s theme song, Steely Dan’s “FM (No Static at All),” by clumsily interjecting the letter A in the title from the song “Aja” so that the song became “AM” on their channels.

Finally, while some claim that the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati was based on FM — an easy mistake, with so many characters seeming so similar (WKRP’s “Venus Flytrap” vs. FM’s “Prince of Darkness” in particular) — WKRP series creator Hugh Wilson has claimed that the sitcom was already in development and I’ve also read that a pilot had already been shot. Seeing as how the show debuted in September and this movie came out in April, that was a real worry. But by the time the show aired on CBS, many had forgotten this movie.

For years, this has been a difficult release. The soundtrack gave the film issues when it was released, with multiple versions being released due to the lack of clearing music rights. In fact, this movie was originally on our list of movies that have never been on released on DVD until Arrow made the announcement that they were releasing it.

The film includes “acting” appearances by Tom Petty and REO Speedwagon, along with live performances by Linda Ronstadt and Jimmy Buffett (who recite a few lines of dialog in the process); Steely Dan performs the title theme, which became a real-life radio hit. The Eagles, James Taylor, Bob Seger, Dan Fogelberg, Billy Joel, and Queen were also featured on the Platinum-plus soundtrack album. While the soundtrack became more popular than the actual film it promoted and there was a need to repress copies, it was stymied by clearance rights; it was remedied by having a group of session musicians — Studio 78 — cut an all-covers version for bargain label, Pickwick.

In addition to a high definition 1080p presentation of the film — transferred from original film elements — this blu ray also includes new interviews with the movie’s star Michael Brandon, its writer Ezra Stacks and a video appreciation of the era of FM radio and the soundtrack of the film by Glenn Kenny.

You can get FM from Arrow Video or directly from MVD.

Thanks to R.D Francis for his help with this article, as FM is one of his favorite films.

DISCLAIMER: This movie was sent to us by Arrow Video, but that has no impact on our review.

The Lords of Salem (2012)

You know, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Rob Zombie would be a fun person to go see a drive-in all nighter with. But man, when he makes movies, I just get the hives.

But hey — it’s radio week. And Heidi, the recovering addict who has become a radio personality in Salem, fits the bill. Of course, she’s played by Sheri Moon-Zombie, but if you’ve seen one of Mr. Zombie’s films, you know that she’s showing up somewhere. Hell, I’d do the same thing too if I made a film. People would complain that Becca is in everything and I’d just get sad.

One night, as Heidi does her morning show-style show at night with Whitey (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and Herman (Ken Foree, Dawn of the Dead), a box shows up with a record that is supposed to be a new black metal band called The Lords.

You know, you’d think Rob Zombie would know a bit more about black metal. But nope.

Anyways, this music creates visions in Heidi’s head and begins to possess her, which continues in her apartment, as the old women downstairs end up being witches. The fact that they’re played by Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace and Patricia Quinn hammers that point home.

Bruce Davison and Maria Conchita Alonso are in this as a Salem witch trial expert and his wife who try to help Heidi, but she’s already too far gone and trapped in a Rob Zombie movie after he watched a bunch of Ken Russell outtakes.

Andrew Prine also walks on as a 17th century priest putting Meg Foster’s witch character to death. I mean, if you can get Simon King of the Witches and Evil-Lyn in the same movie, why not? Zombie ups the ante with Camille Keaton, Barbara Crampton, Michael Berryman, Sid Haig, Lisa Marie, Clint Howard and Udo Keir, making this movie like going to a horror convention without paying $50 to get a photo with your favorite genre star.

It could have been even better, as Richard Lynch shot some scenes for this film. However, due to his worsening health and blindness, Prine took over his role. The money was so tight that the major scene that would have had Lynch, Berryman, Haig and Prine on screen together was never re-shot.

Wait — so where are Keaton, Keir and Howard? They were in a planned film-within-a-film called Frankenstein and the Witchhunter, which was supposed to look like a Hammer film. It didn’t make it into the final movie.

I guess, of all Zombie’s films, this one comes in second place behind House of a 1000 Corpses. You have to admire the audacity of a movie where the lead character gives birth to a mollusk baby while “All Tommorrow’s Parties” gloomily plays. I mean, I was laughing so hard I fell off my couch. And Becca has tried to watch this numerous times to try to convince herself that it’s a better movie than it is. She’s rarely wrong, but this may be one of those times.

Airheads (1994)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gregg Harrington is a podcaster, freelance journalist, musician and amateur screenwriter, known primarily for co-hosting the ’80s horror podcast Neon Brainiacs along with local filmmaker and actor Ben Dietels. When he’s not talking about Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger, he can be heard playing drums in the heavy grunge revival band, Pummeled and masterminding the straight edge power violence band, Rabid Pigs.

The importance of the radio has waned in the 21st century. The evolution of on-demand content via the Internet and other venues where we take in what we want when we want did a pretty swift job of dismantling the tastemaker privileges of the radio business. You can even hear it when you listen to the radio: Pittsburgh’s local “alternative” station has become an amalgamation of a handful of grunge bands, modern pop and one-hit wonders from the early 2000’s. You can hear Nirvana, Imagine Dragons, Pantera, New Radicals and Three Doors Down back to back. It’s weird. It’s also weird to think of a time where stations dictated what bands were huge and had more of a hand in curating local concerts and festivals.

One bastion of the importance of radio is 1994’s rock comedy Airheads, directed by Michael Lehmann (Heathers, Meet the Applegates). While Lehmann is known more for television directing these days, he certainly hit a home run with me in my adolescence with Airheads. Wearing out my VHS of it and later watching it over and over on Comedy Central glued each line of dialogue to my brain. Boasting an impressive cast and an even more impressive soundtrack, Airheads finds itself acting as a time capsule, capturing the hostile takeover of grunge, usurping the tight grip hair metal had on the American music scene, and recording a time where radio play made or broke local bands. Our absentminded heroes, played by Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler do a bang-up job embodying the spirit of musicians trying to “make it” in the 90s.

Down on their luck rock band the Lone Rangers are trying as hard as they can to get noticed around the Los Angeles music scene to no avail, so they resort to breaking into the local radio station, KPPX Rebel Radio, to force the station’s lead DJ, Ian The Shark (Joe Mantegna), to play their demo. When things go south due to the meddling of station manager Milo (Michael McKean), the gang pulls out an arsenal of toy guns that look extremely real and take the entire radio station hostage. From there, hilarity ensues. The chaos of the whole situation is fueled by the police presence outside and the shenanigans inside the station and over the airwaves, culminating in a feeding frenzy of a music video shoot in the parking lot and, later, in jail.

The musical touchstones of the film are many. For starters, Airheads revolves around the emerging single by the Lone Rangers (“there’s three of you, you’re not exactly lone”), “Degenerated”, which was originally performed by the New York punk band Reagan Youth. Kind of strange to think about that since the Lone Rangers are supposed to lean more towards Guns N Roses than east coast punk music. The movie version features Brendan Fraser on vocals with White Zombie’s guitarist Jay Yuenger and bassist Sean Yseult on the track as well. Speaking of White Zombie, for the club scene in the middle of the film, they can be seen performing “Eat The Gods” at the Whisky. Funny enough, the role of the live band was initially offered to Cannibal Corpse, but after the producers found out they had already appeared as a club band in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, they opted to go with White Zombie instead. It’s been reported that Metallica and Testament also turned down an offer to portray the band in that scene as well. The movie’s background is also doused in music ephemera, mostly of the punk and extreme metal variety. Stickers and posters can be seen with the logos of Cro-Mags, Obituary, and more. I’ve always felt this clashed with the Lone Rangers’ leanings more towards Sunset Strip glam metal, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

Airheads’ soundtrack is also pretty great, which is not surprising given the amount of 90s movie soundtracks that have lived on in the public consciousness (Judgment Night, Singles, Spawn, etc). Kicking off the movie is a re-recording of the Motorhead track “Born To Raise Hell”, which features guest spots from Ice-T (Body Count) and Whitfield Crane (Ugly Kid Joe, Life Of Agony). The original appeared on the band’s 1993 album Bastards. It’s a Motorhead song so you know it kicks ass. It’s also a great song to put over the opening credits, which is composed of the names of cast and crew along with time-lapse animations of random scenarios like making a sandwich and changing guitar strings. There are a few interesting cover songs on the soundtrack as well, including 4 Non Blondes covering “I’m The One” by Van Halen and, even more surprising, Anthrax covering the Smiths deep cut “London”. Coincidentally, Anthrax is also featured on the August 1993 cover of R.I.P. Magazine being read by Carter (David Arquette) during the film. Primus, Prong, the Ramones and the Replacements also make appearances as well.

As far as the movie itself, while it may not have gotten the best reviews or box office return, Airheads has lived on as a great music comedy, which I find to be on par with a film like This Is Spinal Tap. The villain-type characters portrayed by Michael McKean and Judd Nelson are spot-on, and the litany of secondary characters led by Joe Mantegna, Ernie Hudson and Chris Farley knock their performances out of the park. Plus, how many 90s comedies were made featuring three former Saturday Night Live cast members, two Ghostbusters, and a handful of MTV’s mover and shakers? Airheads is a truly fun watch and a visit back to a simpler time where people were radio stations were so influential, they were worth breaking into and taking hostages to get airplay.

You can stream it on Amazon Prime.

We also discuss Airheads as part of our “Exploring: Eddie Van Halen on Film” and “Exploring: 50 Gen-X Grunge Films of the Alt-Rock ‘90s” features.