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A Pretentious A**hole's Guide to B-Movie Bullsh*t

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B-Movie Bullsh*t - Part Twenty "The Anatomy of an Action Star"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part 20

In the Blood



Ava and Derek are both recovering drug addicts, but their future seems bright now that they have found each other. While he comes from wealth and privilege, she was raised by a psychotic outlaw who taught her how to defend herself and survive at all costs. At their wedding, his father tries to convince him to make her sign a prenuptial agreement, but Derek refuses--saying he'd sooner be disowned first.

At first their honeymoon seems idyllic, but things turn dark at a nightclub when a local pimp takes a liking to Ava and starts a flight where she quickly proves how dangerous she can be when she and someone she loves are threatened.

The next day, the two of them go out zip-lining. Ava hates it and begs off from going any further after her first attempt. Derek continues, only to have his harness break before he makes it all the way across. Ava finds him still alive in the forest and an ambulance is called, but when she tries to get in it, she is told she cannot ride inside for "insurance reasons" and is given the card of the hospital he is being taken to.

Ava gets to the hospital only to find out that a Derek Grant hasn't been admitted to it or any other local hospital. The local police not only seem reluctant to help, but think that she likely killed him for his money. Desperate to find him and to learn the truth, Ava takes the violent skills she learned from her father and proceeds to beat a bloody path of rescue and revenge.

Of all the kinds of movie stars there are in the world, the action hero is the most inherently cinematic. Comedians can be funny onstage or on records; sex symbols can radiate their sensuality in photos; serious actors can seriously emote in plays or anywhere where the ability to recite dialogue and prose is an asset--but an action star truly depends on all that cinema has to offer to become the superhero the genre demands.

They rely on the skills of their directors, cinematographers. editors and--especially--stunt people to achieve their iconography, but that doesn't mean they are merely puppets--just the opposite. You can't MAKE someone a great action star. It's in their bones. You can see it in them. You can always tell when an imposter is thrust upon you.

It has nothing to do with acting. Very few of the truly great action stars have ever been adept at dialogue and those who are usually stumbled into the role, like Bruce Willis or Liam Neeson. In some cases it's purely a matter of physique--Arnold and Sly being the best examples of this--but more often than not the quality that separates the wannabes from the greats is this--the greats know what it's like to get punched in the face.

Charles Bronson was only 5'8", but he looked like a man who would keep getting up no matter how many times you tried to knock him down. When he went after punks in the Death Wish series, he was more silent, relentless and frightening than any terminator from the future. He was a man possessed, filled with darkness and ready to embrace the worst aspects of his humanity for the sake of his mission.

Gina Carano is also only 5'8", but she--unlike Charlie--is also a very beautiful woman. In interviews she comes across as shy and normal, but this is at odds with the fact that she first became famous because she is extraordinarily skilled at hurting people.

I've never followed MMA and couldn't tell you the difference between a Strikeforcer or an Ultimate Fighter. This is why Carano's career as a breakout ass-kicker was completely unknown to me the first time I ever saw her--when she was billed as "Crush" in the short-lived network attempt to reboot the syndicated 90s American Gladiator phenomenon. Despite this, I instantly saw her as someone special. Even though she wasn't much bigger than the contestants she was pitted against, she stood out as someone unique and exceptional. She had a physical credibility that was louder than anything she could say.

And clearly I wasn't the only person who noticed this. Steven Soderbergh saw it too. He had the screenplay for Haywire written specifically for her after seeing her interviewed on television--in much the same way he made The Girlfriend Experience after becoming intrigued by a young porn star named Sasha Grey.

Despite being heavily influenced by the action films of the 80s, Soderbergh's instincts are far too tasteful and cool to ever resort to out and out pastiche. This explains why Haywire ending up being more a mediation on the nature of such films--one that tailored itself to stand apart as singular even while it attempted to tell a story we'd seen hundreds of times before.


And though its pretensions left some genre fans frustrated, there was no denying how well the film showcased the attributes that brought Carano to Soderbergh's attention. But it did beg the question of how she would fare once she started working with other filmmakers who lacked his skill, taste and attention. People noted the lengths he went to put her in the best possible light--limiting her dialogue, keeping her character stoic and (most significantly) digitally lowering her natural speaking voice in the sound mix.

The general assumption was that she would be set adrift into the same world of dreary low-budget DTV/Netflix films where so many of her male action predecessors now dwell. And--on the surface--it would appear that her second starring feature, In the Blood, is exactly that--except that beneath that surface there's something far more interesting than its current 44% score on RottenTomatoes would suggest.

Directed by former My Science Project star John Stockwell, In the Blood features several of the tropes found in his previous work--the exotic tropical locations of Blue Crush, Dark Tide and Into the Blue, as well as the xenophobic western-distrust of brown foreign people depicted in Turistas.

In terms of plot, the film most immediately conjures up recollections of the Taken franchise (with additional shades of Breakdown and Roman Polanski's Frantic), but switches tradition by placing a male character in the role of the loved one who needs to be saved by the unrelenting, unforgiving badass whose past has made her perfectly suited for this exact situation.

Many might roll their eyes at this gender swap, but I don't consider it insignificant. There is a marked and undeniable difference in how this world regards men who look like Liam Neeson and women who look like Carano, and within the expanse of this disparity there are tensions that make these films as different as they are the same.

I've seen several critics who have been taken aback by the level of Carano's ferocity in the film, arguing that at a certain point her lack of mercy makes her unsympathetic. Many viewers will surely be disturbed by the bloody footprints her sandals leave after she has compelled a crooked cop to cut his own throat with a box cutter rather than have his young sleeping daughter awakened by a gunshot.

Yet her actions don't feel out of place within the context of the plot and--especially--the genre, where mercy is inevitably compromised in the name of the mission. Carano using a shovel to split open another crooked cop's face is no more violent than Ryan Gosling stomping a thug's face to oblivion in Drive, yet it packs a harder, even more visceral punch.

Films haven't regulalrly conditioned us to expect such brutality from a female protagonist and those that have often resort to a degree of visual hyperbole that allows us to dismiss what we're seeing as a fantasy. In Kill Bill, Uma Thurman's Beatrix Kiddo decimates dozens and dozens of sword-wielding gang members in the House of Blue Leaves, but the onslaught of decapitations and arterial sprays is played more for laughs and ultimately feels more akin to Monty Python and the Holy Grail than The Wild Bunch. Compare this to the much briefer bar fight in In the Blood, where Carano throws bottles of beer, smashes a cocktail glass against another woman's face and breaks a man's arm using a fighting hold viewers have actually seen her employ in real life combat. In this case we aren't given the luxury of willful disbelief--instead we get the sense we're viewing something that could actually happen if you pissed Carano off enough.

And I suspect that it's this authenticity that disturbs some viewers. Carano's background makes it harder for us to deny the plausibility of her actions. Unlike Angelina Jolie in Salt or Wanted, Carano's presence has a density that makes us wince every time it's inflicted upon someone--regardless of how much they deserve it or not.


Which is why I feel like the question mark hanging over Carano's acting career can be justifiably erased. While the quality of her films is going to vary, I believe what she brings to the genre is too interesting to be ignored or dismissed. She is literally too powerful a presence to be denied.

And her performance in the film suggests she might end up becoming a much better actor than anyone might expect. Though some of her line readings here are a bit clunkier than one might like, she also excels in quieter moments that require her to show her emotions rather than express them. Her increasing fear and desperation as she travels from hospital to hospital in search of her missing husband is palpable and totally convincing.

More often than not the moments that don't work fail because they've been poorly scripted and staged. An important scene at the restaurant where she and her husband meet the character who will set the entire plot in motion is cringe-worthy in its awkwardness, especially since the film can't disguise the fact that the only reason the character introduces himself to her is because the film can't officially begin until he does. It's so poorly thought out that not even Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis could make it work.

The film is also betrayed by its use of digital video. While many filmmakers working today have managed to do great things with the technology, In the Blood's early scenes look too much like something you would see in a low-budget cable TV drama than a present-day feature. Gradually this inauthentic gloss fades once the film starts using darker and grittier tones, but those first 20 minutes definitely dig a hole the movie has to spend the rest of its running time climbing out of.

But its biggest failure comes in an ending that hinges on what can only accurately be described as "Danny Trejo ex machina". Not only does it come out of nowhere and feels completely unjustified, but--for the sake of a happy ending--robs Carano of her agency and control over the situation. It's the only moment in the film where she is put in the position of having to be saved and it feels like a betrayal to the character and what she has gone through. Given what we've seen her do, it's impossible not to feel cheated when Machete suddenly appears and allows her to escape back to her comfortable life without consequence.

A better film might have still allowed Ava to get away with what she did, but it would also have required at least some degree of personal sacrifice.


As a low-budget B-movie action film, In the Blood is not without its many flaws, but I found it surprisingly compelling once the action began. As ludicrous as it often was, I never doubted its star, which in an effort like this makes it more the exception than the rule.

And while I expect Gina Carano will appear in much worse films as her career goes on (and hopefully many betters ones as well), I look forward to seeing them all because there is no other action movie star like her working today and--with all apologies to you Cynthia Rothrock fans out there--probably never has been.

Barbarella--An Introduction

A few weeks ago, Erin Fraser and Matt Bowes asked me to co-curate their screening of Barbarella - Queen of the Galaxy, which was to be the 3rd film of the 3rd season of their Graphic Content series, devoted to comic book cinema.

My duties would be two-fold. First, I would have to write an essay about the film, which would appear on the website, and, second, I would have to join them as they introduced the film at the screening.

Because I am not the sort to half-ass these things, I decided not to attempt to pull an extemporaneous intro out of my butt and instead wrote what amounted to a second, shorter, essay. And since I quite like it a lot and it seemed to get the desired response, I thought I would post it here for your entertainment.


There are certain films that are timeless—made with a sophistication that feels as right and relevant today as it did when the work was originally created.

Barbarella is NOT one of those films.

In fact, Barbarella is so much a product of a specific era that there was really only like an 8-month span in the entire 20th Century where it could have ever been created. And it is to our good fortune that the universe aligned in such a way that it did in fact actually happen.

Barbarella is not just dated. It is transcendently dated—to the point that it actually ends up lapping itself and achieves its own special kind of timelessness. It’s like an ancient mosquito frozen in amber, but in such a way that if you tried harvesting DNA from the blood in its belly, you wouldn’t be able to recreate anything, because nature can’t find a way if there was never anything natural to begin with.

This film is a monument to the artificial, in a way that the 1970s auteurist wave tried its best to make sure never happened again. And it mostly succeeded, because even though there are examples of films that have tried to rise up to this level, almost none of them get beyond the point of homage and pastiche. Barbarella, though, is the real deal.

It is the genuine fake article.

And how did this happen? Was it planned or a glorious accident? The answer, of course, is that it was both and that is what truly makes it wonderful—the synthesis of the canny and the campy. You are going to laugh watching this film, because it is very funny, but sometimes you are going to laugh with it and sometimes you are going to laugh at it and often you’re going to find it difficult to determine which you are doing at any given time.

Now, traditionally, we would assume that the director Roger Vadim was responsible for all this, but the problem is that there’s a very good reason why he is best remembered today as a dude who hooked up with some of the most beautiful women in the world and not as an amazing filmmaker and that’s because he was not an amazing filmmaker. In fact, there are signs that he wasn’t even a good filmmaker. His best films are saved by two basic factors—interesting screenplays written mostly by other people and really, really beautiful women.

In the case of Barbarella, that screenplay had as many as 8 people who worked on it, but the most important of these is the only one who is actually credited on-screen with Vadim—Terry Southern. Now, Terry Southern was one of the defining comic voices of that era, best know for his work with Stanley Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove. It’s safe to say that every time you find yourself laughing with Barbarella, he’s the one responsible.

And it is interesting to note that prior to working on Barbarella, Southern once co-wrote a novel called Candy that was a parody of Voltaire’s Candide. It was about a young beautiful innocent who meets a series of strange men, who she proceeds to have lots and lots of sex with. A famously terrible film version of that novel was made the same year as Barbarella and Southern did not write the screenplay for it—Buck Henry did. So it may be a coincidence that Barbarella is also about a young beautiful innocent who meets a series of strange men, who she proceeds to have lots and lots of sex with, but I personally like to think of it as a kind of cinematic FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK YOOOOU!

In the piece I wrote for the Graphic Content website, I specifically mention the behinds the scenes folks primarily responsible for the aspects of Barbarella that make it a work of both deliberate and accidental genius—but I only have 90 seconds left to talk, so I’m now going to focus on how hot Jane Fonda was in 1968.

Jane Fonda was REALLY HOT IN 1968. She would have been 30 when this movie was filmed and when it was being made no one could have any idea that she would go on to become one of the most culturally significant figures of the past 50 years. More than just a movie star, she has managed to successfully ride in the middle of the zeitgeist throughout every decade of her fame.

And you would think that because of this she might look back with shame at a film as strange and silly as Barbarella, but Jane Fonda is too awesome for that. When she’s asked about it in interviews you can see a special twinkle in her eye. She doesn’t back down or shy away from it. Instead she tells her interlocutor about how many men over the past years have come up to her and said how much of an impact their posters of Barbarella had on them during their adolescence.



And that hotness has been captured here forever in a silly, wonderful film that will stand the tests of time, because it is so utterly of its time. This movie is a snapshot of a moment that never really existed—a history that never was. There wasn’t a single second in recorded time when this movie wasn’t ridiculous and because of this it is special in a way so few films are.

I Hated Pieces to Pieces

Yesterday I realized all of my videos no longer could be viewed on the blog, so I've begun the process of re-uploading them to Vimeo, which I thought would serve as a good way to reintroduce them to those of you who have not witnessed their glory and majesty. 

First up is my vid for Pieces , a popular Euro-slasher that I happen to think is the rare horror film that is every bit as terrible and unjustifiable as critics of the genre claim all such films are. In the vid I make reference to "the people have spoken," which was my nod to the fact that I had a poll about what movie to review next on the blog at the time and Pieces  won with 3 votes.

I never ever claimed to be popular. 

Anyway, here's me trashing a movie a lot of people inexplicably love. Probably NSFW, unless you're feeling brave.

Starting At the End: Part Two "Leaving On a Jet Plane"

What better way is there to get into a franchise than through its final film? They must have perfected the series by that point, right? Right?!?!?

The Concorde… Airport ‘79



The first North American owned Concorde jet is disembarking on its maiden flight, flying to Moscow with a stopover in Paris. Among the diverse group of passengers is beautiful news anchorwoman, Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely), who has recently obtained proof that her defense contractor lover, Dr. Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner), knowingly sold weapons to enemy nations. Harrison tries to shoot down the jet by sabotaging a test of his new smart missile system, but thanks to the deft piloting of Captains Paul Mertrand (Alain Delon) and Joe Patroni (George Kennedy), his plan fails. They also manage to outmaneuver the fighter plane he sends after them, although the attack does force them to undergo a tense emergency landing in Paris. Determined to stop Whelan, Harrison hires a member of the plane’s mechanical crew to insert a timer that will open the storage cabin door and cause the plane to break apart through explosive decompression, but—once again—Mertrand and Patroni save the day and “thread the needle” by landing the Concorde in the middle of the Swiss Alps. At the scene of the emergency landing, Whelan reports on TV that she has important breaking news she’s going to share with the world as soon as she reaches Moscow, causing Harrison to take out a pistol and end his own life.

Pertinent Details

Comes After: Airport (1970), Airport 1975 (1974) and Airport ’77 (1977).

Was Not Followed By: Although the TV movie Starflight: The Plane That Couldn’t Land was released as Airport ’85 in the Philippines (and was directed by ‘77’s Jerry Jameson) it wasn’t actually an official entry in the series, just a really entertaining rip off.

Returning Players: George Kennedy—the only actor to appear in all four Airport films—returns as Joe Patroni. Monica Lewis, the wife of Jennings Lang—who produced the three sequels, but not the original—also appeared in ’77, but as a different character.

Most Surprising Credit: The film was written by Eric Roth, who would go on to win an Oscar for his script for Forrest Gump, and be nominated three other times for his work on The Insider, Munich and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

You know what I miss? Movie posters like the ones up above. The actual images are pretty bland, but I love the rows of pictures on the bottom. Even as a young kid I came to appreciate that this was a marketing technique only ever employed by terrible movies. You especially knew something was up when the lineup of famous faces featured people who weren’t all that famous or whose golden years had long since passed.

Just take a look at the first one and see who you recognize. You’re on this site, so you’re probably an obsessive like me and know most of them (bonus points if you recognized the woman who played the demonic voice of Regan in The Exorcist), but I suspect most folks over the age of 30 could only pick out one or two and even then as the guy from Austin Powers, the other guy from reruns of Green Acres, and the old woman from those 80s Polident commercials.

This marks a noticeable decline from the other films, whose rows of famous faces feature a few true cinematic legends, including Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemmon, and Dean Martin. True, none of them would have considered these films a high point in their careers, but they were all smart enough to stay the fuck away from what would turn out to be the series’ final flight.

Clearly the reason for this lies in Concorde’s low budget. Despite featuring some okay-for-the-era special effects, the majority of the film resembles a bland TV movie and is obviously making due with the best it can afford. That it chose to try and sell itself on its collection of TV stars, foreigners, old folks, Cicely Tyson and two pretty ladies (one of whom was the star of the softcore Emmanuelle franchise), indicates the kind of desperation that makes bad film lovers salivate like Pavlov’s dog.

It’s a promise the film delivers on with enjoyable grace. The Concorde… Airport ’79 is a great bad movie—the kind that never once approaches competent storytelling or filmmaking, but still manages to be rousingly entertaining from start to finish. I credit a lot of this to Roth’s amazingly uneven screenplay, which is filled with some truly epic plot-holes and logical fuck ups, but still manages to be populated with characters who never seem truly real, but are utterly charming nonetheless.

I liked this entire collection of broad stereotypes, including the aging Russian gymnast in love with the handsome American sportscaster, the cartoonish Russian coach with the deaf 6 year-old daughter, the old barn-storming owner of the airline who’s lucky enough to be married to Sybil Danning, and pretty much everyone else--especially Kennedy’s Joe Patroni, who comes across like a genuinely great guy.

It actually helps that they never seem like real people, since that would only highlight how little sense the film’s plot makes when you stop and think about it. This way you can just roll along and accept the stupidity without any tedious verisimilitude ruining the fun.

But now that I mention it, I should talk a little bit about how dumb the film’s story really is. You can tell the plot is going to take a beating right from the start when we see Blakely give a national news report that consists entirely of stories about a) the Concorde’s maiden flight, b) the new missile invented by her boyfriend, and c) the soviet gymnast who’s going to just happen to be on the flight. It’s the kind of shameless exposition dump that immediately places the narrative in a world we know doesn’t exist.

But that’s nothing compared to Wagner’s solution to his dilemma. While being accused of treason is probably the worst thing that could happen to his company, it’s very closely followed by having his multi-billion dollar missile system screw up during a launch test and accidentally kill hundreds of innocent people. In fact, in terms of pure negative publicity, I’m willing to call it a draw.

Less egregious, but still hilarious, is that after the missile fails to work, he gets in his private plane in order to fly to Paris and basically arrives there at the same time the Concorde does. This, despite the fact that he’s chasing after a supersonic fucking jet that had a head start!

We also have to ignore that literally the next day after they are almost blown out of the sky and endure a terrifying landing, none of the passengers have any problem getting in the exact same plane to fly to Moscow the next day. Plus, instead of just killing Blakely when he sees her during the layover, Wagner instead has a mechanic sabotage the jet, because apparently he really does want to kill a planeload of innocent people instead of the one person giving him trouble. What a jerk!

I don’t know enough about science and aeronautics to cast doubts on the action scenes, like the one where Kennedy manages to set one of the fighter jet’s missile off course by firing a flare gun out his window, but I will say that no matter how theoretically plausible they may be, the execution of these scenes do render them appealingly unrealistic.

But none of this matters, since I enjoyed every second of this foolishness. As easy as it is to understand why this effort killed the Airport franchise, I really wish they’d gone on and made a few more.

Chances of my watching other films in the franchise: 100%. I especially can’t wait to see 1975, where cross-eyed stewardess Karen Black has to land the plane all by herself!

Final Franchise Entry Rating: Four George Kennedy’s out of Four

B-TV: Part Six "Unsuspended Disbelief"

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century



Nasa astronaut Buck Rogers’ (Gil Gerard) 1987 solo mission in space does not go as planned and through a fluke of the universe he is frozen and left to float alone in the cosmos for 500 years. Found by an alien space station on its way to a mission to Earth, Rogers is defrosted and meets Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) and her second in command, Kane (Henry Silva). Before Rogers even has time to comprehend what has happened to him, they put him back on his ship and send him back to Earth, hoping the bug they implanted will informed them how to break through the planet’s defenses. Back at Earth, Rogers is examined and is determined to be honest and reliable by Dr. Theopolis (Howard F. Flynn), a sentient computer carried around by a tiny humanoid robot named Twiki (Felix Silva & Mel Blanc), but that doesn’t stop military commander Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) from being suspicious of him. Declared a spy by the Earthlings once the bug on his ship is discovered, Rogers is sentenced to death but is spared after an act of heroism during a space pirate raid. Suspecting that Kane and the Princess are secretly behind the pirates, Rogers seduces and drugs Ardala and manages to sabotage their attack force, ensuring their planned invasion of Earth fails before it even has a chance to start. At last, he earns Deering’s respect, as well as a new home in a strange future.

Pertinent Details

B-TV or Not B-TV: Originally conceived as the first of a series of TV movies made to capitalize on the success of Star Wars, this eventually became the pilot for a regular series instead. When the pilot of producer/co-writer Glen A. Larson’s similar sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica found success as a theatrical movie in Europe and some parts of North America, the decision was made to release Buck Rogers to theatres instead of debuting it on television as had originally been planned. There it grossed a very respectable $21 million and was later split into the first two episodes of the series that followed and would go to last for a season and a half.

Too Ballsy For Primetime: Some changes were made between the theatrical and TV versions. The theatrical version featured a memorable (see more below) opening credit sequence set to the song “Suspension” (performed by Kipp Lennon and co-written by Larson) in which Rogers lays around unconscious while Gray, Hensley and several anonymous models pose seductively, while the split TV eps used the show’s standard credits, set to an instrumental version of the song. Beyond this, scenes where Rogers calls Deering “ballsy” and Twiki refers to freezing his “ball bearings” were cut from the TV version. Several new scenes were also added to the TV version, so the resulting two episodes both came in at then-standard broadcast length. These new scenes haven’t been seen in awhile, since the released DVD set only includes the theatrical version.

An Old Established Character: Proving that 21st century executives didn’t invent the habit of going back to the past to follow and capitalize on new trends and viewer nostalgia, Buck Rogers was based on a property that was over 50 years old by the time the movie hit theatre screens. The character first appeared in a pulp fiction magazine in a story written by Phillip Francis Nowlan and subsequently became famous in other stories, a comic strip, a 1939 movie serial starring Buster Crabbe (who would go on to play a role in the first official episode of the 1979 series), and an earlier short-lived TV series that ran from 1950 to 1951.

My parents are often bewildered by my ability to recall certain details of the past that they had long ago obliterated from their memories. I don’t think I necessarily possess a better grasp of my childhood than any other average person, but it probably isn’t a coincidence that many of the most powerful remembrances of my youth are tied directly to film and television. Even at the earliest possible age I found that such entertainments mattered to me more than most.

It’s because of this that the earliest memory I have that I can specifically date (as opposed to those that might have come before but are impossible for me to determine when they actually happened) occurred in the summer of 1978, when I was two years old. In it, I’m sitting/standing (I was small enough that I could comfortable do both) in the back of the Dombroski’s station wagon. It’s parked at the Twin Drive-in and I am watching a movie I would later realize was called Star Wars, which had been re-released to theatres a year after it’s original run because home video hadn’t been properly invented yet. As much as the movie impacted me later on, the film itself is secondary to my memory of the interior of that car and the salty-buttery taste of the popcorn.

That’s the earliest memory I can put a general date on. The second comes several months later, in March of 1979 to be exact. This time I’m not in a car, but a regular old-fashioned movie theatre, where I’m sitting with my parents (who may or may not have been there with the Dombroskis—who I definitely know were around in May of 1980, when I saw The Empire Strikes Back at the age of 4). Predictably, I have very little recall of the film itself. Even though I’ve always known that I saw Buck Rogers in the 25th Century in a theatre, it wasn’t until I just watched it again 33 years later that I realized the only thing I actually remembered about it was this (embedding has been disabled by the copyright owner, so click on Erin to see the whole glorious video):

So, yes, this proves without a doubt that even at three years old, all I really cared about in movies was the pretty girls, which obviously still stands today, because were it not for the presence of Pamela Hensley and Erin Gray, I would now consider the film to be a total snooze. I actually feel compelled to thank my parents (and possibly the Dombroskis) for sitting through it all those years ago, as this obviously proves that they loved me and would endure all sorts of terrible entertainment for my benefit.

Viewed with the eyes of an old, old man, the film exists in an unhappy limbo where it’s too self-conscious to descend to the cheesy heights of absurdity that transform a film like Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash from a bold-faced rip-off to an original classic of its own, while also being too inelegantly formulaic and commercial to disguise the disinterested rote-ness of its clinical professionalism.

In other words, it’s too well made to be “so-bad-it’s-good”, which is unfortunate because it also doesn’t have the budget or imagination to transcend the innate absurdity of its concept. This isn’t a problem for television, but for a theatrical movie it’s the touch of death. (Having gotten into the series itself, I can happily report that it itself manages to satisfyingly reach the “so-bad-it’s-good” status required to redeem its existence.)

The only way most sci-fi TV shows can afford to stay on the air is to use costly action and special effects as sparingly as possible—to the point that many such shows fall under the trap Joss Whedon refers to as “radio with pictures”. It’s a trap Buck Rogers cannot avoid, partially because of a lack of resources, but also because its chief creative mind, Glen A. Larson, was a television man through and through (his other more successful efforts included Simon & Simon, Quincy, Magnum P.I., Knight Rider and—my personal favourite—The Fall Guy) and the project’s small screen origins are so inherently a part of its DNA there’s no disguising them.

There’s no question that the movie or series would not exist were it not for the success of Star Wars, but as is typically the case, everyone involved failed to properly analyze the reasons for its success. Instead of determining that kids adored C-3PO and R2-D2 because they were a compelling comic duo who served as our gatekeepers to this strange and special universe (everything that had to be explained to them was actually being explained to us!), Larson and associates figured that kids just liked cute funny robot teams and thus gave us Twiki and Dr. Theopolis.

It’s a crucial miscalculation. Though kids were actually delighted by the comic antics of Twiki (because kids are stupid, see also Ewoks), he feels completely out of place in the context of the other characters. R2-D2 was adorable to be sure, but he not only fit in with all of the other characters, he actually managed to be as fully developed as they were—proving capable of genuine acts of heroism and generating affecting emotion. Twiki, on the other hand, is clearly just there to sell toys and make theoretically comedic comments in a voice straight out of a Loony Tunes cartoon. And Dr. Theopolis, rather than being the neurotic, tight-assed C-3PO, is just a boring clock with a face who spends all of his time telling Buck (and us) what’s going on. He’s so forgettable it wasn’t until I re-watched the movie that I remembered he existed and realized Twiki’s main purpose was to carry him around.

As Rogers Gil Gerard manages to have a few fun moments, especially those that compel him to channel his inner Han Solo, but the script both requires him to accept and deny his situation in frustratingly implausible ways, having him act more often to propel the plot than as a fully developed character.

This is also true for Erin Gray, who your eyes will note was about as gorgeous as any human being was capable of being in the late 70s, but who is poorly served by a script that has her acting like an unreasonable military tight-ass in one scene and a moony-eyed dish-mop the next. The scene were she gets upset watching Buck dance with the equally-gorgeous horndog Princess Ardala is supposed to be funny, but it actually makes no sense in the context of what we’ve seen before. She’s acting that way because in television that’s how the female co-star is supposed to act when the leading man dances with the other pretty lady, not because a human being would actually act that way.

But the biggest problem is the film’s lack of urgency, which is most tellingly illustrated in the scene where Rogers, Deering and crew engage in a dogfight with what they then believe are space pirates, but are actually Princess Ardala’s men in disguise. The pirates pick off the other crewmembers with ease, leaving just our two main characters alive. No sense of weight is given to any of these deaths, and Buck even makes a joke as they turn around and fly back to Earth, apparently indifferent to the human loss. If we can’t be expected to feel anything in a moment like this, then everything else is destined to feel similarly lifeless and flat.

That said, I do love that opening credit sequence I wish I could have embedded above. It’s the closest the film ever comes to feeling at all cinematic. Had the rest of the movie shown that kind of gaudy flair I suspect I would have one more treasured childhood memory, instead of one I can just attach a specific month and a year to.

Que sera sera.

The Other Side of Corman: Part One "Off Brand Models"

Roger Corman produced a lot of classic B-Movies. This is NOT their story.

Cover Girl Models



Two experienced models join a newcomer on a trip to Hong Kong and Singapore for a photo shoot. Their photographer, Mark (John Kramer), does his best to get them to take off their clothes whenever he can and can’t decide who he wants to bed more, the hard-to-get blonde Claire (Lindsay Bloom) or the eager neophyte Mandy (Tara Strohmeyer).  Barbara (Pat Anderson) has her attentions stolen by a suave Asian spy named Ray (Tony Ferrer) who rescues her when foreign agents attempt to retrieve the microfilm hidden in her couture gown. Claire gets in trouble trying to land a part in an upcoming movie, eventually getting kidnapped by Singaporean rebels while dressed like the American ambassador’s nymphomaniac daughter. It all comes to a head during a brief shoot-out at a bad guys mansion. Claire is a hit with journalists, but only gets offered the part of a model in the movie, not the lead, Mandy gets offered a $50,000 deal from a rival publisher, and Barbara has a date with her suave secret agent hero. Mark is taken to the police department for questioning, despite his hilarious protests.

Pertinent Details

This Says A Lot: Gremlins director Joe Dante has gone on record that Cover Girl Models was the worst film he ever edited a trailer for during his time working for Corman.

Returning Champion: Cover Girl Models was directed by Cirio H. Santiago, the filmmaker response for the previous Vanity Fear B-Movie Bullsh*t entry, Firecracker.

This Had a Script?: The film was “written” by Corman vet Howard R. Cohen who remains best known as the writer/director of the truly terrible horror spoof Saturday the 14th and it’s sequel Saturday the 14th Strikes Back.

Also Starring: Cult queen Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000, Eating Raoul) appears in one scene as the editor of the magazine doing the photo shoot. She’s definitely the best part of the movie. My guess is that this scene was shot in the States and put into the movie after it was finished to pad out the running time a la the nude karate fight in Firecracker (my suspicions about this having been confirmed by the extended special features interview with co-star Darby Hinton on the excellent Machete Maidens Unleashed DVD).

If you read the above synopsis and came to the conclusion that it read less like an actual plot description than a list of random events, welcome to Cover Girl Models—a film so devoid of urgency and momentum you’d might think it was a brilliant European arthouse flick if it had been filmed in Swedish or Italian. Unfortunately, though, it was filmed in English, which means being constantly aware of how terrible it is every single second of its brief (but interminable) running time.

Director Santiago was rather infamous for being so cavalier about his work that sometimes he couldn’t even bother to ensure that shots were in focus or that enough of the script was filmed to make sense or break past the 70 minute running time required to get a movie on most theatre screens. This explains the haziness of some of the film’s moments and why at least one sub-plot—Claire’s attempts to get a major movie role—makes absolutely no fucking sense whatsoever.

The problems with this scenario begin when she decides to pretend to be a hooker to research the role she covets and impress the producer with her knowledge. Naturally, this leads to her almost being raped by a drunken sailor. She’s saved by a guy who we think is the bar's manager, but rather than help her, he starts chasing her, even as she runs out of the club and hops a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. Instead of letting her go, he then has some friends join him on a bizarre Filipino moped contraption and chase after her—risking everyone’s lives in the process. The moped-thingie eventually overturns (and looks like it really injured the poor bastards in it at the time), and in the next scene we see Claire explain that she didn’t know the guy was a cop, because apparently they take arresting prostitutes REALLY seriously in Singapore (which is probably true—even if you can get a legal handjob in most shopping malls—but still seems absured as presented here).

Still, that pales in comparison to what happens next. After this—for reasons never explained—Claire decides her next best bet is to pretend to be the infamous daughter of the American ambassador by putting on a black wig. As a result of this she gets kidnapped by some sort of liberation army (even though the phrase "Singapore Rebel" is pretty much an oxymoron), and just sits there when confronted by their leader, even though he clearly thinks she’s someone she’s not. It’s only in the next scene, when she’s suddenly and inexplicably in his bedroom, that he comes in angry, having figured out she’s an imposter. He then rips her top off and starts to rape her, but stops for some unknown reason.

The next time we see Claire she’s with the other models, apparently unharmed and without a word to say about her traumatic experience. During the gunfight in the smuggler’s mansion, her kidnapper appears out of nowhere (literally, he’s all of sudden just there beside her in the middle of the action with no explanation) and saves her. Then, when it’s all over, he’s gone and never mentioned again.

And this is the most entertaining and intriguing part of the movie.

That said, for those impressed by the sight of attractive women in no clothing, the film isn’t as easily dismissed. Redheaded beanpole Strohmeyer only appeared in 11 movies in her short career, but managed to make a major naked impression in most of them (especially Hollywood Boulevard, Kentucky Fried Movie and The Student Teachers). Her breasts get the most running time, but not because Bloom and Anderson weren’t trying. Perhaps the most imaginative use of nudity comes in the scene where Barbara is being chased by Taiwanese agents and tries to get a beat cop supervising a local dance contest to help her, only to finally get his attention when she desperately flashes the crowd from the stage.

It says something about my affection for such material that as terrible as Cover Girl Models is, I find it impossible to actually hate it. It’s such a harmless, lightweight nothing of a movie that getting worked up about its incompetence is surely a waste of one’s rage reserves. Will I ever watch it again? Nope, but I also probably won’t forget it. If only for this scene featuring the immortal Vic Diaz:

Crappy Corman Rating: 1 Reel Out of 7

The WWTTM Pantheon - Part One "Eastbound and Down, Down, Down for the Count"

WWTTM: A film so misconceived and obviously doomed for failure that it forces the viewer to ask one question: What Were They Thinking?!?!?

Smokey and the Bandit Part 3



After twice failing to get his hands on the legendary speedster known as Bandit, Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) has decided to retire and move to Florida with his simple-minded son, Junior (Mike Henry). Almost immediately bored, he decides to return to Texas, but before he can leave, the father and son team of Big and Little Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams) compel him to make a bet. If he can make it back home from Florida in 35 hours, he wins $250,000, but if he can’t they get his badge. The Burdette’s aren’t above cheating to win, but when their roadblocks prove less than reliable, they call on the Bandit’s partner-in-crime, Cledus Snow (Jerry Reed), who seizes the opportunity to literally step into his hero’s shoes. Partnered with a hitchhiker named Dusty Trails (Colleen Camp) he repeatedly steals the plastic fish Sheriff Justice needs to have to win the bet, but he ends up letting the sheriff win, because, “You can’t have a Bandit, if you ain’t got a Smokey.”

Pertinent Details

Urban Legend: The production of this WWTTM sequel is so mired in secrecy and bad decisions it’s literally the stuff of Urban Legends and has been discussed on More on this below.

Not a Good Year: Coming off the success of the first two Smokey and the Bandit movies, Jackie Gleason’s movie career came to a sudden halt when this and another WWTTM sequel, The Sting II both bombed at the box office.

First and Last: This was the first and last feature film of Dick Lowry, who remains best known for his work on such memorable TV movies as Angel Dusted, Kenny Rogers as The Gambler, Pigs Vs. Freaks and the Mr. T vehicle, The Strongest Man In the World.

Inconsistency: The film is titled Smokey and the Bandit Part 3, even though the previous film, Smokey and the Bandit II, used Roman numerals to indicate its sequel status.

Despite the fact that many of the folks involved in its production are still very much alive, the full official story of the debacle that resulted in Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 has still never been fully revealed. The film’s failure and terrible reputation have spared the participants from ever being interviewed for DVD retrospectives or participate in Alamo Drafthouse screenings, which means the facts of what happened are still open to debate and conjecture.

The one thing everyone knows is this—when it came time to make the film, both star Burt Reynolds and director Hal Needham decided to pass and make Stroker Ace instead (an admittedly lateral move in retrospect). Co-star Sally Field, who by then had already won one of her two Oscars, also passed, as did Jerry Reed. This left only the series' Smokey, Jackie Gleason, willing to return.

In a more sensible time, this would have been enough to cancel the project and enjoy counting the megabucks the first two films brought in, but the studio and producers believed there were more dollars to be mined from the franchise and decided to try and think of ways the series could continue with only its antagonist at the wheel.

And here’s where things get murky. One thing we do know is that this teaser trailer was made:


From this we know the film was original conceived not as Smokey and the Bandit Part 3, but as Smokey IS the Bandit, but the question no one has completely been able to answer is just what exactly that film was meant to be.

Popular myth has it that—in a bizarre bit of post-modernism—the decision was made to have Gleason portray both Sheriff Justice AND the Bandit in the film. Legend has it that when they showed this version of the film to an early test audience, they were so confused that the decision was made to scrap the scenes with Bandit-Gleason completely.

Less fantastic, but much more plausible (until the above trailer was found), is the theory found in the Snopes piece linked above (a theory I personally came to on my own as I was watching the film for the first time in preparation for this post). It suggests that the “IS” in Smokey IS the Bandit wasn’t meant to be taken literally, but instead indicated that in this third film, Sheriff Justice’s situation had been reversed and he had in essence taken on the role the Bandit served in the previous two films—the chaser had become the chased and the lawmen was now the outlaw. In this case, the test audience complained not because they were confused, but because they hated the idea of a Smokey and the Bandit sequel that had no Bandit in it.

This second theory makes more sense owing to the fact that it isn’t totally fucking stupid, and—despite its popularity as a filmmaking legend—years had passed without anyone seeing a single piece of evidence that supported the idea that scenes of Gleason as the Bandit had ever been filmed. That was until a couple of years ago, when this photo appeared online:

This puts us right back at square one. Whichever version is true (and it is possible it is a combination of both), the result of the test screening debacle was that the producers managed to convince Jerry Reed to return and shoot new scenes of him as Cledus, dressed as the Bandit, driving around with an utterly superfluous Colleen Camp (who wears such a ridiculously conservative outfit, she doesn’t even seem to be there for added sex appeal). These scenes were edited into the previously shot material (which explains why Gleason and Reed never appear in the same shot during the entire movie) in a way that almost makes sense, so long as you acknowledge how hopelessly ridiculous the film’s entire premise was to begin with.

If the notion of Gleason playing both the hero and the villain took the film in a strange meta direction, the decision to have Reed play a character “playing” the Bandit isn’t any more conventional. Just watch this scene and try to comprehend how it must have been viewed by fans of the original movies who came to this expecting a traditional sequel experience (Note: The clip isn't embeddable, so click the picture to go to the YouTube page--AND THEN COME RIGHT BACK!!!!):

As a premise, Cledus IS the Bandit is no less strange than Smokey IS the Bandit, and it puts the film in the same uncomfortable territory as the Pink Panther movies that Blake Edwards kept making after Peter Sellers died. Rather than merely glossing past Burt Reynolds' legacy in the role by recasting the part with another actor, the filmmakers instead highlight it by having a character from the other films acknowledge his transition into the Bandit persona. However, instead of placating the audience, all this does is make us even more aware of Reynolds' absence. The lesson is the same one the computer learned at the end of War Games—the only way to win is not to play the game.

Since Reed winning as the Bandit didn’t match the ending with Gleason that had been shot, the filmmakers were forced to contrive an excuse for his losing, and what they came up with is the film’s most explicit recognition of its own meta-narrative (Note: For some reason this one was embeddable. YouTube is fucked):

Without even wanting to, the film's very existence forces Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 into Charlie Kaufman territory.

The other reason why Cledus/Bandit has to lose the chase seems especially ironic, considering how quickly the failure of this film killed the franchise—Smokey needs to keep his badge in case they wanted to make Part 4 (or IV). It also allows for Reynolds’ brief cameo in the film, in which the delusional sheriff hallucinates that Reed is the actual Bandit and makes the decision to let him go rather than wither away in the Bandit-less world of retirement (Note: Click for video):

Strangely, for all of its behind the scenes mythology and utter failure to resemble anything like a normal movie, you don’t hear a lot of people discuss Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 in Bad Movie circles. Having just watched it for the first time, I think it definitely qualifies for cult status. There’s something extremely compelling about watching a successful franchise permanently self-destruct right before your eyes. There's no doubt that this was a film made for the most craven and desperate of reasons, even though everyone involved had to clearly know it had no chance of ever succeeding. For that reason it is an essential entry in the WWTTM Pantheon.

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves: Part One "The Squad With the Misleading Name"

Girls just want to have fun, but there are so many psychos out there who refuse to let them. Mark my words, those bastards are gonna pay.With their balls!

Rape Squad



Linda (Jo Anne Harris) is a part-time student and food truck operator whose peace is forever shattered when she’s raped by a maniac in an orange jumpsuit and hockey mask. Based on his nasty quirk of forcing his victims to sing “Jingle Bells” while he attacks them, the police determine she’s his fifth victim, but haven’t figured out a way to identify or stop him. Frustrated by the law’s impotence, Linda convinces her fellow victims to form a “Rape Squad” dedicated to protecting other women and getting revenge on rapists who’ve escaped the law. Their attacker notices their efforts and devises a plan to relive his vile experiences—this time with all five women at once. Only fate will tell if the “Rape Squad” is ready for him.

Pertinent Details

Alternate Title: Probably because Rape Squad sounds more like a movie about a squad dedicated to committing rape, rather than avenging it, the film was also released—and is currently available—under the title of Act of Vengeance.

Use of Sporting Goods: Rape Squad’s villain disguised himself with a hockey mask a full eight years before Jason Voorhies famously adopted the same look in Friday the 13th Part III.

Feminist Fake Out: Though some viewers might be led to believe that the presence of female writer Betty Conklin would result in a more tasteful and less exploitative depiction of its difficult subject matter, the reality is she didn’t exist and is instead the pseudonym of David Kidd, who also co-wrote (with Jack Hill) The Swinging Cheerleaders as Conklin that same year.

Of all the various exploitation genres, rape/revenge films are easily the trickiest and most problematic in today’s cultural landscape, especially those made in the 1970s, when many of them were made to titillate as much as they were to educate. Even those with the noblest of intentions remain controversial and find themselves accused of contributing to the misogyny they would appear to be fighting against.

Rape Squad isn’t one of those noble efforts. As much as it pays lip service to the way the justice system violates women as much as any rapist and allows its characters to confront the asshole dudes clueless enough to mock their violation, the fact is the film remains mostly an excuse to showcase their bodies in various stages of undress. Each of the film’s various rape scenes are clearly more focused on exposing the breasts of each actress rather than the crimes they are supposedly depicting.

It also hurts the film that each member of the “Rape Squad” is so poorly drawn. It wasn’t until the end of the movie that I finally knew all of their names, and—besides Linda—none of them are given a clear personality to separate themselves from one another. They’re all just victims, several of whom only seem mildly interested in the project that unites them.

Still, there are some good moments to be found and nuggets that suggest director Bob Kelljan (Scream Blacula Scream) could have made a better movie if he had a less feeble script to work with. The scene where the squad confronts a rapist who was acquitted by a court biased against women is as good as any you’ll find in this kind of film, even if it chickens out in the end. Even better is the scene where the squad take down a pimp trying to force a woman who wants to escape “the life” back out onto the street.

Ultimately, though, Rape Squad is too timid for its own good. The sudden violence at the end feels out of place in a film previously more interested in exposing flesh than depicting vigilante justice. The result is far more Lipstick than Ms. 45.

Cut Their Balls Off Rating: 1 measly testicle out of 5.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Twenty "The Hips, The Legs, The Torso!"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Twenty




Michele, a Las Vegas dancer, watches helplessly as her friend Nikki is shot by Alan, her disturbed ex-husband. Alan blames Michele for the end of his marriage and makes it clear that he’s going to kill her too. She flees to Los Angeles to get away from him and quickly finds work in a club called The Losers, where she meets Joe, a handsome parking valet who instantly takes a liking to the gorgeous young woman. Alan soon learns where Michele is and hitchhikes to L.A.—killing an innocent motorist along the way. He confronts Michele and chases her through a zoo at night, but she’s saved by a pair of cops. Suffering from traumatic shock, she’s kept safe in a local hospital, but she decides to run and escapes through her window, only to find Alan waiting at the apartment she shares with Joe. Alan tells her he’s going to make her watch Joe die before killing her, but she manages to set him on fire before that happens. Even though Alan is dead, Michele still feels compelled to run and tries to get Joe to come with her to Mexico. He refuses and she drives off, only to turn back around and jump into his waiting arms.

There is a melancholy aspect to Raquel Welch’s career that I personally find very affecting. She was a performer whose appearance was so extraordinary that it transcended mere sex appeal to that of an onscreen joke—she was so gorgeous that she actually became a caricature of herself. But unlike other actresses who possessed this same quality—Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Anita Ekberg—she bristled at the notion of being portrayed as a living cartoon.

It didn’t help that her career really began to take off just as living cartoons were becoming passé in favour of more realistic representations. Jane Fonda could make the transition from Barbarella to They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, but she possessed a gift for dramatic acting Welch did not share. Welch’s gifts were best suited for light-hearted fare (her best performances can be found in such amusing trifles as Bedazzled, One Million Years B.C., The Last of Sheila and Richard Lester’s two Muskateer films), but her desire to be taken seriously compelled her to seek out roles that only served to prove why no one did.

A perfect example of this is found in Flareup—a film seemingly designed to exploit Welch’s sex goddess persona, but which turns out to actually be a misbegotten attempt to transform her into a dramatic leading lady. While the film’s memorable trailer plays up her character’s career as a go-go dancer, it fails to mention that it shows all of the dancing she does in the film. What we’re left with instead is a very poorly written thriller featuring a lot of unconvincing performances in a production as ambitious as any TV cop show from the era.

Writing about Sophia Loren and Gary Cooper, Pauline Kael once wondered why audiences were so invested in their acting abilities. Why wasn’t it enough that they simply looked better on camera than anyone else in the world? Watching Welch dance at the beginning of the film, it does make you wonder why this isn’t an achievement worth truly celebrating. The fact is that Welch isn’t even a particularly talented dancer, but she’s such a magnetic presence it’s impossible to take your eyes off of her. Then she stops dancing and starts emoting and all of the joy is sucked out of the picture.

It does make you wonder why one form of performance is considered so much more important than another. While it is true that Welch could have never played Jane Fonda’s role in Klute, it is equally true that Fonda—for all her big hair and abundant Barbarella curves—could never have held the screen as expertly as Welch does in Flareup’s one dance sequence. Both feats require skill and charisma, yet as far as everyone is concerned, Fonda’s is the only one that counts.

That said, even Fonda couldn’t have saved Flareup from self-destructing. Watching the film, it feels like it’s based on a first draft of a script that needed at least six more revisions before it was actually filmable. The structure is terrible. The first act is so rushed that we never get a sense of why we should give a fuck about anyone we’re watching, while the second meanders interminably with scenes between Michele and Joe that are so banal as to be ridiculous (until they get on the horse, where it’s just flat out ridiculous).

But the script’s biggest problem is Michele, whose impulsive need to run is a character trait screenwriter Rodgers had to establish to justify the idiotic decision she makes at the beginning of the final act. Rather than making her seem wounded and complex, he only succeeds in making her appear confused and flat-out stupid. Despite this, I was about to give him credit for a least staying true to the character he created during the film’s final scene, until he caved in and gave me the happy ending I’d been dreading.

The script is also unnecessarily homophobic, including not one but two gay characters whose sexuality ultimately adds nothing to the plot. I have no problem with a scene where Michele rejects another dancer’s advances if it were to pay off later in the movie, but it’s an utter non sequitur that goes nowhere. And apparently it wasn’t enough to justify the bartender's snitching on Michele to Alan by making him a junkie; he also has to be a gay junkie with a crush on his dealer. Again, I wouldn’t mind this if it had anything to do with the rest of the plot.

It doesn’t help that director James Neilson, who was 60 at the time, directs the film like a glorified TV episode—the only thing at all cinematic being the nudity seen in the first few minutes. I’ve long argued that the clearest sign of a filmmaker’s indifference isn’t when they ignore their script, but rather when they remain faithful to it even when logic dictates a change should have been made.

A good example of this comes in the scene where a police officer reads out the details from the killer’s file, including his year of birth—1945. The problem with this is that this establishes that Alan is 24, even though Luke Askew—the actor playing him—was 37 at the time and very much looked his age. It literally would have taken a second for Neilson to tell the actor playing the cop to say “1935” instead, but the fact that he didn’t proves how little he was invested in creating a credible product.

(I should also mention the hilarious onscreen error where—as the stuntman playing Alan flails around in flames—the nozzle of a fire extinguisher can clearly be seen rising up into the camera's frame. Apparently the shot was deemed too important to sacrifice even though it's impossible not to spot this blunder, no matter how hard you try.)

Sadly, the best thing about Flareup is the performance by James Stacey as Joe. I say this because—once again proving my thesis that the IMDb is the most depressing website on the Internet—it turns out the Emmy-nominated actor was forced to “retire” in the 90s when he served a six year prison sentence for molesting an 11 year-old girl. This shouldn’t affect the experience of watching him, but it really kinda does, especially since Joe is portrayed as the ultimate good guy.

Welch followed Flareup with Myra Breckinridge, another attempt at relevance that ended up being an even a bigger (albeit much more memorable) disaster. She had slightly better success with Hannie Caulder and Kansas City Bomber, but it wasn’t until her supporting performance as the clumsy Constance in The Three Musketeers that audiences got to see how much fun she could be onscreen when she stopped trying so hard.

By then, though, it was too late. Within a few years she found herself spoofing the image she tried so hard to shed on Mork & Mindy (in an episode Robin Williams has publically described as the mark of the show's decline) and was fired from David S. Ward’s 1982 film Canary Row after 5 days of shooting (reportedly for her diva-like behaviour, but in her successful multi-million lawsuit against the producers, she argued that she had been given the part so the film could obtain its financing, only to be fired and replaced by the director’s preferred choice—Debra Winger—after filming began and it was too late for the financiers to pull out).

In his great book Hype and Glory, Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman asked us to consider who the better actor is—Laurence Olivier or Arnold Schwarzenegger. A seemingly no-brainer, he went on to remind us that while Arnold would be terribly cast in productions of Hamlet or Richard III, Larry would have been equally as useless in The Terminator or Conan the Barbarian. In other words, there’s a huge difference between being a great actor and a great movie star.

Raquel Welch was never going to be the former, but in a different place and time she could have been the latter. I know this because I’ve seen and own a copy of her greatest achievement—her million-dollar 1970 TV special Raquel! which I’m going to have to discuss in detail sometime soon.

Until then, I urge you to give Flareup a miss.

Repost: Of Sex Sirens Past (and Paster)

(I've decided to repost this in anticipation of tomorrow's new B-Movie Bullsh*t, which shares a very important connection to this particular film. The reason why it's taken me so long to repost it is because doing so represented a major reformating challenge. I think I managed to take care of most of the problems, but I ask your forgiveness for the places I missed or was too frustrated to spend any more time trying to fix.)

Since this is the third time I have taken it upon myself to discuss a WWTTM (a What Were They Thinking Movie, for those of you who are just coming in) I suppose I should take a moment to explain the difference between a film that has earned the above honorific and one that merely sucks ass.  It all comes down to two factors, the first of which is that the film itself must be constructed upon an idea, philosophy, casting choice, artistic vision or adaptation that any sane person could instantly tell had no chance of succeeding, and the second is that the resulting movie must be—either despite or because of its inherent flaws—constantly compelling to watch from beginning to end.  A WWTTM can be many things—ridiculous, offensive, desperate, cheap, lavish, tacky, dignified, ambitious, lazy or even (in the case of one movie I plan on discussing in the future) genuinely good—but the one thing it CANNOT be is boring.

The subject of today’s discussion can be described by almost all of the adjectives above, with the only exceptions being dignified and genuinely good.  It is a film that reaches a level of being one can only attain by accident and not deliberate will—a satire so confused and muddled that it becomes a grotesque self-parody that is easy to laugh at, but impossible to laugh with.  It is a filmed adaptation of a novel that is so misguided and distracted by its occasional attempts at plot that one doesn’t have to be familiar with the original book to appreciate how badly the filmmakers failed to do it justice—one has to assume that the book at least made some kind of sense and had an actual point upon which its satire was constructed.  It is a film that badly wants to make fun of the period it takes place in, but instead only serves to illustrate the era’s excesses rather than mock them—its desire to be hip being the very thing that renders it square.

I am, of course, talking about:

Our humble little film begins with a note, written by the films hero, just before he is about to become its heroine.  It reads:

Aum, shouldn't this be written in yellow ink?

Randolph, we will later learn, is Myron's psychiatrist/dentist--a revelation that is somewhat dampened by the fact that the character doesn't appear in the film until its last 15 minutes (and even then his appearence is completely unnecessary), by which time the contents of this note have been completely forgotten and his introduction is more than a bit confusing in its seeming randomness.We then cut to the most annoyingly “surreal” operating room ever committed to celluloid, where our hero is impatiently waiting for his operation to get underway.

Sadly, this marks the high point of Reed's performance.

This is Myron Breckinridge, as played by the famous confused shoplifter and film critic, Rex Reed (whose only other cinematic credits include cameos as himself in Superman and Lost in America, a small part in the Drew Barrymore vehicle Irreconcilable Differences and a performance that didn't make it past the editing room in Inchon, one of the biggest flops of the 80s).  And while you may assume that since Myron is about to undergo a sex change operation that will--rather improbably--transform him into Raquel Welch, this will be the last we see of him, do not fret. He's not going anywhere.

According to director Michael Sarne, the spectators represent film directors who want to celebrate emasculation.
He says a lot of stuff like that in his commentary.
He's an asshole.

With a group of spectators and a young woman with a whip in attendence, the good surgeon undertaking the operation (b-movie stalwart and father of Robert, Keith and David--John Carradine) finally arrives (to applause) and attempts to talk Myron out of going through with it.  "You realize once we cut it off, it won't grow back," he warns him.  "I mean it isn't like hair, fingernails or toenails...,"

See that nurse there?
She appears several times throughout the movie, making references to "nuts".
Sarne calls her appearances a "leitmotif".
Did I mention Sarne's an asshole?

"How about circumcision?" the surgeon suggests as a compromise, but Myron won't have any of it."C'mon, c'mon, let's get it over with," he says impatiently, "Myra's waiting!"The doctor shrugs and gets to work, while Myron starts to sing "I've Got A Secret Place" to himself.

It is then at this point that we are first exposed to an editing decision made by director Michael Sarne that involves cutting to scenes from classic films to either comment on or serve as ironic counterpart to specific moments in the movie.

Here we cut to a scene from a Shirley Temple movie in which the adorable lil' moppet tells us that she's about to sing a song called "S-M-I-L-E".  True to her word, she starts singing the song and we see Myron as he walks down the street in a snazzy white suit.  But wait!  Didn't Myron get a sex change in the previous scene?  Yes he most certainly did, but this seeming inconsistancy is soon shown to be a dramatic device--Myra still sees herself as Myron, so his presence is always with her, even though the rest of the world only sees this:

I'm going out on a limb to say this, but Raquel Welch was hot.


Now I know what you're thinking,
how could


I have no fucking idea.

After she has entertained us by dancing with her male half along the sidewalk, Myra explains to us that Myron died so she could live and that she is "...a dish and don't you ever forget it you mot-BLEEP-herfuckers--as the children say nowadays," (you can definitely tell that this is a film from 1970 in that they chose to bleep the word "mother" rather than "fucker"):   


She also tells us that her "...purpose in coming to Hollywood is to witness the destruction of the American male in all its particulars..." and that the best place to witness said destruction is at the drama school run by Myron's uncle, a former cowboy actor named Buck Loner (John Huston in a performance that makes you truly forget what a great filmmaker he was).

Apparently Huston actually lobbied to get this role (Sarne wanted Mickey Rooney instead).
This makes me incredibly sad.

Myra introduces herself to Buck as Myron's widow and explains to him that her late husband left her the property he had inherited from his mother.  Since this property consists of half of the land upon which Buck's drama school is built, she expects him to buy her out to the tune of $500,000.  Rather than hand her the cash right away, he accepts her offer to hire her on as a teacher at the school (specializing in the subjects of Posture and Empathy) for $1000 a month.
After we are introduced to Irving, one of Buck's longterm students (who tells Myra that most of the school's pupils have been there longer than most of the faculty), we cut to a scene of Myra teaching a class while dressed in a navy officer's uniform (which, of course, comes after a clip of Marlene Dietrich in the same outfit).  Buck watches her from a monitor in his office as she tells the class that it is a "...hard fact that American women are eager for men to rape them--and vice versa--and that in every American there is a strangler longing to break a neck during orgasm":

We then cut to scenes of life at the school.  Students practice archery, western saloon antics and onscreen lovemaking, as Irving gives Myra (who we see as Myron) a tour of the facilities.  In a moment that is meant to be bitingly satiric, but only comes across as lame, an asian janitor stumbles out from behind the bushes of the archery target with an unconvincing arrow sticking through his chest.  He collapses to the ground, just as a hippie dwarf and his lady walk on by.

It's just not the right kind of pretentious if you don't get a Little Person in there at some point.


Unsurprisingly, Buck is hesitant to give up half of his property to someone who claims to have married his "fag" nephew, so he decides to investigate Myra's claims and see if they hold up to any scrutiny.  Meanwhile, Myra is lecturing about the importance of "star power" to a group of mouthbreathing students at a table in the school's saloon.  Among these students are a studly young hillbilly named Rusty Godowski (Roger Herron in his first and only major film role) and his ultra-blond girlfriend Mary Ann Pringle (a 23 year-old Farrah Fawcett) who Myra--quite accurately--calls "retarded".


This picture completely fails to convey the complete vacuum that is this couple's onscreen film presence.

It is at this point in the proceedings that the film takes it single biggest leap into the nonsensical and bizarre, as it is here that we are introduced to:

It really is best that you don't think about what's coming next.

Leticia Van Allen is the top agent in Tinseltown, specializing in--as her sign makes explicitly clear--LEADING MEN ONLY. Leticia, as it turns out, is something of a Renaissance Woman, as she is not only a top agent, but also a movie star, recording artist and nightclub singer.  But these various pursuits rank far behind the true raison d'etre of her existence, which is to get laid and speak only in an endless stream of embarrasingly unsubtle inneundo.  This in itself would not be to bad, were it not for the fact that Ms. Van Allen is portrayed by none other than Mae West herself, who was 77 when the movie was filmed and looks it.

Among the gaggle of handsome men waiting to see Ms. Van Allen is a young Tom Selleck, who is selected by the horny geriatric to sit down on her casting couch:

Selleck's ability to convincingly play a man who isn't revolted by West's creepy overtures
sure doesn't help squash the gay rumors that have dogged him for years.

If you're wondering what West's character has to do with the plot of the move, don't expect the film to supply an answer.  Despite West's top billing and generous onscreen time, her character could have been excised completely from the film without it effecting the story in any way.  Instead all she manages to do is remind the viewer that Raquel Welch is actually doing a pretty good job with the material she's being given, which inspires the hope that she'll return onscreen as soon as possible.

Let's hear it for gratitous panty shots!

Following the unpleasentness of the previous sequence, the movie cuts to the the much more attractive sight of Myra and Mary Anne relaxing at Myra's apartment.  After giving a short lecture on the glories of singing stars from the past ("Why the Andrew Sisters really did "Roll out that Barrel" and no one yet has ever rolled it back.") Myra tells the young woman that of all the students at the school she has the most star potential.  Mary Anne recieves the compliment graciously, but admits that she only goes to the school to be with Rusty and all she wants from life is to marry him and have four children--a revelation that sickens Myra to her very core.

Can you feel her frustration and rage?  Or do you expect her to start ranting about wire hangers?

After she has ranted to Myron about Mary Anne's ignorance of popular music from the 40s and her selfish desire to help populate an over-crowded world, Myra once again recites her mission statement, telling us that:"My goal is the destruction of the last vestigal traces of traditional manhood," in order to "realign the sexes," while "decreasing population," thus "increasing human happiness, " and "preparing humanity for its next stage."How exactly she is to do this by working at a low-rent drama school and fucking around with a hillbilly and his retarded blond lollipop of a girlfriend is anybody's guess.But before we can start pondering this too deeply, we are then treated to the most bizarre tribute to masturbation ever lensed in the 7th decade of the 20th century.  In a scene that is best not overly contemplated, lest it cause migraines, Myra proceeds to give her male counterpart a blowjob:

Oh, the horrible waste of it all.
They could have at least hired someone who would have enjoyed pretending to be fellated by the lovely Ms. Welch.

While he in turn fantasizes about being fed bananas by a lingerie clad Mary Anne.

There are no words.

After a few--way too long--shots of Reed pretending to pleasure himself (sans Myra) we cut over to a scene where his female half is giving a lecture on the incredible star presence of Johnny Weismuller in Tarzan and the Amazons, which infuriates one of the faculty members who complains that the film is "trash" and "lacks a single moment of truth in it".

Sarne thinks it is amusing to cut to a shot of himself (he's got the beard)
just as Myra starts talking about actors who have played Jesus.
That's something an asshole would do.

Thanks to his TV monitors, Uncle Bucks hears Myra speaking and decides to abandon his massage in order to tell her that her crazy ideas are having a negative affect on the students.  Myra will have none of it and tells him that his school has "...assembled...the national dregs, the misfits, the neurotics--in short, the fuck ups of our culture."  Buck defends his pupils and threatens to fire her, to which she responds by threatening to take away the entire school from him.  This gets his back up and he tells her that he isn't certain that she was "...even ever really married to that fag."  Myra responds to this suggestion like a true lady.

Oh, snap!  Oh no, she dinnit!

This brief bit of action (which has to be the most poorly shot punch I've ever seen) is followed by another appearance by The Mummy--I mean Leticia Van Allen.

And this is with ten pounds of make up and an industrial strength wig!

Here the next three minutes of the film are dedicated to propping up a poor deluded old woman's ego as some poor Italian actor is forced to play a scene where he declares his eternal love and devotion to West, having flown all the way from Italy just to see her in person.  Again, this has nothing to do with the actual plot of the movie.Speaking of the plot, it makes an appearance again when Uncle Buck confronts Myra with the news that there is no record of her marriage to Myron anywhere in the country.  Rather than admit the truth of her ruse, Myra is able to explain this decrepency with the explanation that the reason there is no record of the marriage in the U.S. is because the union occurred in Mexico, which she proceeds to prove by pulling out a (forged) wedding certificate from her riding britches (no, seriously, she's wearing riding britches).

Britches people!  Britches!

In his commentary Sarne complains that the film's second screenwriter, David Giler (who remains best known for producing the Alien series of films), inserted a lot of irrelevent political commentary into the script, which he had no choice but to film.  Though my inclination is not to believe a single word Sarne says, the next scene goes a long way to giving credence to his alibi.  In it Buck meets with his lawyer, Charlie Flager Sr. (character actor Robert Lieb), who rants about the pornographic movie he just watched for the third time.  As the two oldtimers complain about the commie perverts who are taking control of the culture, a couple make out behind them and a hippy is beaten (very gingerly) by a group of cops outside.  This is as hamhanded and obvious as political commentary can get, but before we can feel any sympathy for Sarne, he caps the scene with the second appearance of his "leitmotif" who asks if Flager wants any "nuts" on his banana split.


We then go on to a sequence where Myra mindfucks Rusty as she gives him a lesson in posture (one of her two specialties remember).  She eventually gets him against a wall, where she proceeds to pull down his jeans with a gleeful "Gotcha!"

Why Sarne?  Why?

We are spared the sight of Rusty's reaction to this humiliation, as the film instead cuts to a short party/orgy sequence that adds nothing to the plot (which comes as no surprise since it features Mae West's character) and only seems to exist to provide some nudity to justify the film's X rating.  That done, the movie then gets back on track and returns to the school's saloon where Mary Anne tearfully tells Myra that Rusty has been arrested for violating his parole.  It is at this point where Mae West's character actually comes closest to being relevent to the film, as she now appears in the saloon with Buck, who treats her with the respect her status deserves.  As they sit down she complains that "...all the gay boys are going to take the business over.  There's no more studs around anymore.  Everyone's poppin' pills and smokin' grass."  What this has to do with anything is anyone's guess, but she does deliver her lines with gusto, reminding us just how annoying a bad Mae West impersonater (which is really the best way to describe her performance) can be.

It was most likely this movie that propagated the rumor that West was really a drag queen
who kept a really big secret for 50 years. I don't think it's true, but she is more manly than Rex Reed.

Speaking of performances, it's probably a good time to mention that Welch's take on her transexual character largely involves her wearing a different outfit and hairstyle in every single scene she appears in.  Each ensemble is more outrageous and fambloyant than the next, but if I were more open with my inner homo I would spend the next paragraph rhapsodizing about the frilly black number she wears in the only scene in which she is onscreen with her chief onset rival (the two actresses loathed each other; West hated Welch for her lack of respect and rudeness, while Welch resented the fact that West got top billing for a role that adding nothing to the film and was truly pissed off that the filmmakers acquiesced to all of the older star's bizarrely inappropriate demands).  Instead I will merely say that I find it very attractive and it makes me wish I could have sex with her, which I think is the appropriate hetero response.

Isn't it just so utterly fabulous!

But then it might be a bit of a stretch to say that the two actresses appear together in this scene, since we never actually see both of their faces in the same shot.  It's fairly obvious that the two divas hated each other so much that they refused to work together and the entire scene was shot using body doubles.  This probably explains the look on John Huston's face:



Through their body doubles, Leticia and Myra are able to bond--imagining a time when they will have as many handsome young men to bed as they desire.  Myra is also able to convince Leticia to help her extricate Rusty from his legal woes.  In the scene that follows, Leticia calls a judge she knows intimately and gets Rusty released into Myra's care.  This is literally the only moment when her character does anything relevent to the plot of the movie we are supposed to be watching.  Somehow I think they could have figured out another way to get Rusty out of jail, but that's just me.  After having to listen to another "politically satirical" rant from the judge, Myra reunites Rusty with Mary Anne and the three of them go out for a night on the town, where that evening's entertainment consists of--who else?--Leticia Van Allen.  Among the demands that West made that irked the holy living bejesus out of Welch, the oddest had to be her insistence that she be giving not one, but two musical numbers in the film.  Considering that a) the movie wasn't supposed to be a musical, b) West's character was supposed to be an agent, not a night club performer and c) she was too old to do anything a real musical number physically required, I think Welch had a good reason to be enraged that Sarne agreed to the older star's insane stipulation.  That said, the musical numbers are entertaining in a Faces of Death kind of way.

I think I've done a good job of establishing my belief that Raquel Welch was a smoking hottie.

As the old woman "sings" her song onstage, Rusty and Myra engage in a debate about homosexuality which goes like this:

Rusty:  Hell, jail wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for all those faggots.  There's alway some fruit after you. 
Myra:  That shouldn't bother you Rusty.
Rusty:  Well, the whole idea makes me wanna puke--a man should act like a man.  Know what I mean?
Myra:  How should a man act?
Rusty: (after a loooong pause)  He should ball chicks.  That's how.

At this point Sarne inserts another appearance from his "leitmotif".


After pondering Rusty's last piece of wisdom, Myra waxes philosophic.

Myra:  What is normal?
Mary Anne:  Well, it's what everyone does.  I mean, it's what the majority of society does most.
Rusty: (after a slightly shorter pause than before)  Yeah!

Thus ends the great human sexuality debate of 1970, just in time for another musical number during which West does something truly attrocious to Otis Redding:  

This cuts to several scenes that give us unneeded and unwanted insight into Buck's home life and fondness for massages.  And here we finally come to the scene for which this WWTTM is best remembered.  Sarne calls the scene the film's "sine qua non," but he's an asshole so ignore him at your leisure.  That said it isn't unreasonable to declare the scene the film's raison d'etre, which is unfortunate because when it ends the movie still doesn't make any sense.On the pretext that Rusty needs his spine "traced" for a back brace he requires to tend to a recent injury, Myra calls him into the school's infirmary late at night and proceeds to weigh and measure him.  She also makes him provide a urine specimen, which seems like questionable medicine to me, considering he's there about his back and she's not actually a nurse or doctor.  Finally, after she has adminstered the "cough" test, she gets to the real reason she called him into the infirmary and orders him to drop trou so she can "take his temperature."  He protests the need to have it taken "that way," but she threatens to go to the judge and have him sent back to jail if he doesn't comply.  He gives in and--to keep him still--she ties him to the examining table. 

The stupidest man alive, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you and good night. Having ensnarled him in her trap, she explains to him that he "...has a lot to learn.  All you men have a lot to learn and I have taken it upon myself to teach you."  "What are you going to do?" he asks her.

And cue dramatic!

"I shall ball you Rusty," she answers him diabolically.  "It's very simple." And then she sodomizes him as the movie cuts frantically to footage from classic films:


Insert lame Brokeback Mountain joke here.

The first part of her plan now complete, she lets Rusty go.  If he is upset about her horrible desecration of his body, he does not show it (or at the very least Roger Heron lacks the ability to express that particular emotion).

I don't quite get why she is the one who looks like she's just gotten some junk stuck in her trunk.

"Can I go now?" he asks her as he gets dressed.She nods and tells him he's free to leave, but before he goes she asks him one last question."Aren't you going to thank me for all of the trouble I've taken?""Thank you, ma'am," he answers her quietly, before he leaves.

I have nothing funny to say in this caption.

Back at her apartment, Myra recieves a call from Mary Anne who is downstairs and wants to come up and see her.  She happily invites her up and explains to Myron that "...having raped Rusty's manhood, I must now complete the cycle and seduce his girl.  Only then will my victory be complete.  Thus exuding power over both sexes and indeed over life itself."  Before Myron can correctly accuse her of being a crazy bitch, Mary Anne arrives at the apartment.  Then, under Myron's disapproving gaze (which Reed rather amusingly illustrates through the use of single cocked eyebrow), Myra attempts to seduce innocent young Mary Anne, who is distraught by Rusty's disappearance following his declaration that he "...was sick of women."  Gee, I wonder why?  (One has to assume that in Vidal's book Rusty's rejection of all things female was meant to suggest a reversal of his contention that the definition of manliness is the inclination to "ball chicks", but here it seems more like the understandable result of the resentment anyone would feel after having a woman rape them up the ass.)

Note the disapprovingly crooked eyebrow. Now that's acting!

Myra manages to convince Mary Anne to change into a pair of men's pajamas and stay in her bed that night.  As she (and Myron) comfort the beautiful retard, she gets a call from Leticia, who thanks her for sending Rusty over to her place, where they have done things I refuse to think about.  "Is it the right colour?" asks Myra, referring (I'm assuming) to Rusty's penis.  "Well, I guess so," says Leticia.  "It's the usual colour.  Didn't you ever make it with him?"  "Not in the classic way, no," answers Myra.

In his commentary Sarne tells us that Rusty's position in the bed is "obviously" based on Dali's Crucifixion.
It is his use of the word "obviously" that makes me conclude that he is an asshole.

Back at the drama school, Buck and his lawyer's son confront Myra with accusations that her Mexican wedding certificate is bogus and demand proof that she and Myron were really married.  Myra calls their bluff and informs them confidently that "Proof will arrive before the end of the week in the person of Dr. Randolph Spencer Montag."  This news stops the two men dead in their tracks.  "M-montag?" stutters Flager, Jr.  "The great dental psychiatrist?"  Yes, that Dr. Randolph Spencer Montag, who just happens to be the Randolph mentioned in the note at the very beginning of the film.

Okay, would you trust your teeth to guy who looked like this?

Your mind, maybe, but your teeth?  Never. Randolph is only too happy to help Myra out of her jam and agrees to fly over to California and confirm her and Myron's wedded status.  In the end, though, it proves to be a wasted trip, since Myra is able to prove her connection to Myron with only a few words of encouragement from the good doctor (in fact the only reason the character appears in the film at all is to justify his being mentioned in the earlier note--I'm guessing he had a much more significant role in the book).Upon being told there is no record of Myron's death to be found anywhere, Myra finally tells her Uncle and his lawyers the truth--that she is in fact Myron.  To prove her point, she gets up on Buck's desk, lifts up her skirt and drops her panties.

I don't quite get what this would prove.  Did the surgeon not give Myron a vagina?
We know he doesn't have a penis, so is there just a Ken doll blank spot where his cooter should be?

"That's the ballgame," sighs Uncle Buck, knowing that he's been beaten.Her finances secure, Myra focuses her attention back on Mary Anne, who is willing to share a bed but won't "seal the deal" if you get what I mean (ie. have sex with her).  She thanks Myra for all of her care and attention, but can't go through with a full-on descent into lesbomania.  "If only you were a man," Mary Anne laments, unaware of the irony of her wishes.

Now this here is some deviant sexuality I can get behind and give my full support!

We then cut to a shot of Myra attempting to cross a busy road, where she is almost hit by a car.  Who is at the wheel?  Why, it's Myron!

What could this possibly mean?  Wait for it....

"I'll get you this time," we hear Myron think to himself.  "It's a dangerous thing, ambition.  It ruined Mickey Mouse's whole career.  Well, now it's eight bars and out, honey.  You were no more than a Linda Darnell paper doll; a Disney cow that got over the fence.  You got ambitious.  You were great in Cinemascope and Technicolor, but you can't cut it in black and white."Before we have time to figure out what the fuck that all means, Myron gets another chance to plow into Myra and this time he does not miss.

Oh, snap!  Oh no, he dinnit!

But soon we learn that it wasn't Myra who was hit by a car, it was:

Confused?  Don't worry, enlighenment is nigh upon us.

As he is taken away by the paramedics, Sarne gives us one last final look at his "leitmotif":

Apparently her appearance in the film was inspired by a Fellini movie Sarne had seen.
Assholes tend to steal ideas from more talented people.

The DVD of the film includes two different versions of the movie that are identical save for the very last scene.  In the regular version of the film (which features an entertainingly honest commentary by Welch), this scene is in colour, but in the "Director's Cut" (which features a weaselly commentary by Sarne) it is in black and white, which--the director tells us--is meant to remind us of The Wizard of Oz.Like Dorothy, Myron wakes up in a bed, but instead of being surprised to discover his friends and family keeping watch over him, like she did, he grabs his chest and asks "Where are my tits?  Where are my tits?":


Somehow I think we're still not in Kansas here.

Turns out Myron is in a hospital, where he is visited by a doctor who resembles the world's most famous lost millionaire.

With this one small cameo, the film is saved by the "Jim Backus Rule",
which clearly states that you have to love any movie that features an appearance from Mr. Magoo.

The two men engage in a brief and completely nonsensical discussion about movies, as the brunette nurse who is giving Myron an injection transforms into:

Thanks to sloppy editing (the "transformation" could just as easily be confused for a continuity error, which it might have actually been)it is unclear if Mary Anne's appearance here is a fantasy or something that is really happening.

As Myron takes in this vision of loveliness, he realizes that his life as Myra was just a dream.  The proof of this being the movie magazines on his night stand, which feature a famous actress on their cover:

Thank God they didn't go with Mae West.

And that my friends is the end.

As the credits roll Sarne insists that it is perfectly clear that the film we have just seen is about a movie critic who got hit by a car and dreamed he was a woman and that the only way he could make this any clearer would be to remake the whole film again.  I think you know by now what word I shouted at my TV set when he said this, but in case you don't, I'll give you a hint--it rhymes with "mass pole".

So that's Myra Breckinridge.  Having read about it you would all do well to remember that it won't grow back if you cut it off--unless you do it in a dream.

Lemme Know How It Is....

So as I was browsing on YouTube yesterday I discovered that someone had courteously uploaded the 1986 Italian movie Vendetta dal futuro (aka Hands of Steel) in its entirety for all to enjoy. Since this just happens to be the movie from which the dominant image of this site's banner originates, it seemed appropriate to post it. I've never seen it and it's at the end of a very long queue, so feel free to let me know if it's worth my increasingly valuable time.

Rejected By Rod(?): Part Sixteen - A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

Not everything I've written for FLICK ATTACK has made it to the show. Mr. Lott insists that these rapidly aging reviews will be posted eventually, but until then I'm just going to assume that they have been:

Rejected By Rod(?)

A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge


Jesse (Mark Patton) has been having terrible dreams since his family moved into their new house on Elm St.  Each night he is confronted by Freddy Krueger, the steel-clawed maniac who haunts the dreams of Elm Street’s children, but this time Freddy isn’t looking for a victim, he’s looking for a partner—someone who can set him loose into the real world.  Will Jesse succumb to the dream maniac’s desire to be a real boy or will he be saved by the love of a girl (Kim Myers) who looks a lot like a young Meryl Streep?

If you ever hear a genre fan refer to Freddy’s Revenge as the “gay” Nightmare, don’t immediately dismiss them as one of those tiresome assholes who ignorantly use the term as a synonym for lame.  Truthfully, the movie is pretty lame, but it’s also really, really gay.  That is to say the homosexual subtext of the film (intended or not) is about as subtle as a Tennessee Williams play. 

And that’s not a criticism, since that subtext really is the only thing that significantly sets the film apart from other 80s horror movies.  Directed without much tension or suspense by Jack Sholder (The Hidden), this first sequel to Wes Craven’s landmark original manages to completely forget that as a character Freddy only works as the master of his own dream domain (*cough*).  When you bring him out into everyday reality, as this film does (albeit rather incoherently) it just makes him seem like another run of the mill slasher with a fedora fetish.

Vanity Fear Bullsh*t Synopsis Theater - Part One "Chickfight"

As a kid I loved to go to video stores and look at all the posters and video covers and try to guess what the movies were about based solely on the images they portrayed. I fully believe that these flights of fancy are primarily responsible for the development of the imagination I have used in a semi-successful professional capacity throughout the past 10 years or so.

To honour this tradition, I’ve decided to occasionally take a look at a classic poster for a film I’ve never seen and spend a paragraph or two imagining what it could be about. The twist is that after I’ve written this “Bullsh*t Synopsis” I’ll then watch the movie and discuss what it’s actually about the next week in my “B-Movie Bullsh*t Review”.  The fun will be had in determining which plot is better—the one that actually got filmed or the one I pulled straight out of my butt in 15 minutes.

Yes, it is a very lame idea, but I’m running out of Rejected By Rod(?) reviews and I gotta come up with some filler ideas PRONTO.

Anyhoo, we begin this epic new adventure with a totally fake look at a 1974 Roger Corman produced Pam Grier classic.

Vanity Fear Bullshit Synopsis Theater

Part One

The Arena


Bullsh*t Synopsis

Wanda and June are two happy-go-lucky gals who meet at a local Roman slave auction. Wanda hails from the Nordic region of Europe, while June enjoyed a long boat trip from Africa to get where she is today. That afternoon they’re both purchased by a wealthy lesbian named Patricia, who enjoys mocking her wounded General husband by dressing in the military uniform he no longer has any use for.

At first there’s some tension between the two of them, mostly because Wanda is a horrible racist who’s jealous of June’s abundant femininity (specifically her enormous breasts), but as time goes on they become very close friends. So much so that Patricia becomes so envious of their mutual affection she decides to convince her husband to suggest to the emperor that women be allowed to fight as gladiators.

The idea gives the emperor a total boner and Patricia volunteers Wanda and June as the first two combatants. The emperor gets one look at them and eagerly agrees. Wanda and June attempt to refuse to fight each other, but some erotically charged torture takes care of this and the two of them enter The Arena and battle to the death. Both women prove so strong and courageous that when June has Wanda at the edge of her trident, the emperor denies her the kill with an upturned thumb, sparing Wanda’s life. The crowd cheers his decision, but Patricia is so enraged she berates the emperor. His guards arrest her for her impertinence, much to her husband's delight. The next time we see her it is in The Arena, where she is fighting a losing battle against her two former slaves, who both know the emperor has no intention of giving them the thumb’s up this time.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Eighteen & Nineteen "Dark(ish) Shadows"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Parts Eighteen & Nineteen

House of Dark Shadows (1970)

Night of Dark Shadows (1971)


Vampire Barnabas Collins has spent the past 200 years locked away in a coffin. It’s only when local caretaker Willie Loomis opens the casket in search of some fabled lost jewels that he is finally free to see what has happened to Collinwood, his family estate, in the centuries that marked his absence. With the exception of the main house, the estate has gone to seed, which is strange since his ancestors appear to be quite wealthy—enough so to afford a houseful of servants, including a pretty young governess named Maggie. Barnabas is shocked to discover that Maggie is a dead ringer for his beloved Josette, who committed suicide rather than join him as a member of the living dead. With the help of the Collins' live-in doctor, Julia Hoffman, Barnabas is able to hold back the effects of his vampirism through injections, but his treatment ends before he’s fully cured when Hoffman becomes jealous of his affection for Maggie. Returning to his full-on vampire ways, Barnabas spreads his affliction amongst the Collins clan, but is finally stopped from marrying Maggie and turning her into a vampire through the combined intervention of Willie and her fiancé, Jeff Clark.


Quentin and Tracy Collins are a young married couple who are leaving the big city to take over Collinwood, his family’s ancestral home. There they find the manor’s only two current inhabitants, housekeeper Carlotta Drake, and stable hand, Gerald Stiles. Within minutes of arriving, Quentin is taken by a painting of Angelique Collins, an ancestor through marriage who was hung for being a witch. That first night he has a dream in which he sees himself as Charles Collins, a direct ancestor who enjoyed an adulterous affair with Angelique—his brother’s wife—before she was executed. Within days Quentin finds himself blanking out and acting like Charles—including walking with his distinct limp—while vivid memories from a past life hit him at every turn. He confronts Carlotta about what is happening and learns that Angelique vowed to live on so long as her memory was kept alive by someone who loved her. It turns out Carlotta is the reincarnation of the little girl who did just that. Carlotta warns Quentin that Tracy has to leave or risks suffering from Angelique’s wrath. Quentin refuses to heed her warning and almost drowns Tracy himself while possessed by Charles. Carlotta sends Gerald to try to get rid of Tracy and her friends, the Jenkins, but he’s killed in the process. Convinced that Carlotta must be killed for them to be safe, they chase after her, only to have her fatally jump off Colinwood before they can get to her. The nightmare appears to be over, but it turns out Carlotta wasn’t the only person keeping Angelique’s memory alive. When the Collins return to retrieve Quentin’ paintings, he becomes Charles and strangles Tracy while Angelique’s ghost watches and the Jenkins are killed (off-screen) in a car crash.

The enduring popularity of the late 60s gothic TV soap opera, Dark Shadows, is one of those things I have to take on faith, since I have never seen so much as a single episode of the show, despite that fact that there are over 1200 of them in existence. According to Wikipedia, the show was syndicated to TV stations across North America throughout my childhood, but never to a single channel that ever appeared on my screen. I had never even heard of the show until I first read about it in Stephen King’s classic non-fiction look at the horror genre, Danse Macabre.

As obnoxious as it sounds, a part of me couldn’t believe that something could actually be as beloved as Dark Shadows was supposed to be, if I had never had a single opportunity to experience it. I wish I could say that this attitude of mine has changed, but that wouldn’t be the truth. If anything, having just sat through the two cinematic spin-offs the original show inspired during its run, the cult popularity of the show seems like an even bigger urban legend than it did before.

“There really are people out there who are obsessed with this?” I found myself wondering throughout the two films. But then it occurred to me that this was probably an unfair question. The better one would be, “There really were people out there who were obsessed with this?”

That I can believe. It’s easy to imagine how a production like this might have caused a cult sensation when it originally aired, over 40 years ago. Where I stumble is at the idea that this fervor still exists today, because—unlike Star Trek—all of the attempts to recreate the magic since then have met with failure—most notably a weekly prime-time TV remake made in the early 90s that died after just 12 episodes.

Many will point out the upcoming feature version directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp is proof of the show’s lasting power, but I actually think it proves the opposite. Most folks who will go to see Burton’s Dark Shadows will likely do so without any previous knowledge of the original. They will be drawn instead by the continued collaboration of one of cinema’s most successful actor-director teams. Despite interviews both will give about how much they loved the show when they were kids, the more likely truth is that the project went ahead because it was a property seemingly tailor-made to suit their mutual talents. It was either this or The Munsters (which just happens to be receiving its own “re-imagining” in an upcoming hour long dramatic pilot called Mockingbird Lane).

From what I’ve read, the two feature films the first incarnation spawned aren’t that well respected among Dark Shadows cultists—enjoying the same disreputable status as the odd numbered Star Trek films. Even though I have never seen the series I can understand why this would be true—especially in the case of the first film, House of Dark Shadows, which does just about everything wrong a film adaptation of a popular TV series can.

Rather than create an original story using the series’ characters that would have benefited from bigger production values (apparently the show was notoriously low budget and regularly featured atrocious special effects and sets) and more opportunities for sex and violence (the film takes some bloody advantage of the latter, but does nothing with the former), House of Dark Shadows re-visits the main storyline of its breakout character, vampire Barnabas Collins (as played by Canadian Jonathan Frid).

(Perhaps the biggest leap of faith newcomers to the Dark Shadows legend have to make is to accept the idea that Frid became a genuine sex symbol as the result of playing Barnabas, even though he makes Bela Lugosi look like George Clooney in comparison. Lacking the danger of Christopher Lee or the tragic nobility of William Marshall, Frid—at his best—most resembles Harry Dean Stanton’s less popular older brother, not a panty-wetting heartthrob in the Robert Pattison vein.)

My guess is that Frid’s popularity had less to do with his natural charisma (which is definitely not apparent in this, the first of only two movies he starred in—the second being Oliver Stone’s feature debut, Seizure) than the novelty of the character he played. When Dark Shadows originally aired it was designed as a moody, gothic soap opera without any supernatural elements. It was only six months into the series’ run that everyone figured out how fucking boring it was and decided to inject some monsters into the mix. The debut of an actual vampire in a “serious” daytime drama was a truly revolutionary concept and Frid rode a brief wave of success as a result.

Unfortunately vampires were old hat in the movie game and Barnabas Collins didn’t seem at all extraordinary compared to the other bloodsuckers who had filled the screen since Murnau’s Nosferatu. And this is a serious problem for House of Dark Shadows, because his is the only character who makes the slightest bit of an impression.

It’s a dilemma everyone who tackles such an adaptation must deal with—how much time should be spent developing characters at least some part of your audience is already familiar with? Spend too much and you alienate the fans of the TV show, who’ll just want you to get on with the story. Spend too little and you alienate newcomers who will spend most of the film focusing on who everyone is and how they're connected, rather than what’s going on.

House of Dark Shadows went the “too little” route and the film suffers dearly for it--a problem that is further exacerbated by the decision to compress a story that took months to unfold on television into 90 minutes of screen time. As a result, the film feels overstuffed, even though not much actually seems to be going on. The nature of soap opera is to extend drama as far as it can go—with a whole week’s worth of episodes often spent on a single afternnon in the world of the show. Because of this, the focus is set on microscopic, which means a story as slight as this one strangely feels far too big for one feature film.

This compression also explains the odd turns the characters take throughout the film. The show had weeks and even months to set up these developments, while the movie forces characters to change their behaviour without any justification from scene to scene, simply because the series' previously established plot led them organically to those points.

The best example of this is the strange journey of Dr. Hoffman (Grayson Hall, who would also play the role of Carlotta in the sequel), who goes from identifying the strange cell found in Barnabas’ victims’ blood to offering to cure him of his vampirism to falling in love with him to betraying him to being murdered by him in what seems like ten minutes worth of screen time. The entire film could have focused entirely on their relationship, but is instead treated like a necessary side-plot.

Beyond this, the Hoffman scenes also feature one moment I found interesting for its possible evidence of self-plagiarism. In the scene where Barnabas discovers that she has betrayed him, he is shown to rapidly age off screen. When we next see him he appears as an old man who bears a distinct resemblance to Dustin Hoffman’s 121 year-old character in Little Big Man, which was also made in 1970 and featured the handicraft of makeup legend Dick Smith. Did Smith make a genuine effort to differentiate the two makeup effects (and subsequently failed), or did he just do what most of us would and got lazy and handed in secondhand work? Whatever the answer, I would be curious to know which film gave him the assignment first.

As disappointing as House of Dark Shadows was, it must have found an audience, since the sequel, Night of Dark Shadows, followed a year later. With Barnabas having been staked to death in the first film, the decision was made to focus on another villainous character from the show—Angelique Collins (as played by the gorgeous Lara Parker), the witch who turned him into a vampire when he rejected her for Josette, the true love of his life.

With a lower budget and smaller cast of characters, Night is a more satisfying and enjoyable film than House, but isn’t without its own major problems. While lacking the first film’s need to fit in all of the requisite story beats, Night instead suffers from the opposite problem—it takes too long to get to the places we know it’s going all along. Thanks to all of the constant dream sequences and flashbacks, the pacing of the first hour is extremely uneven and frequently irritating. When the final act is set in motion, the action picks up considerably, but the payoff doesn’t feel earned.

This is especially true of the ending, which feels as though it was tacked on sometime in the process to avoid a predictable happy ending. Unfortunately the end result is less chilling than it is lame, especially since it is predicated on its protagonist being a major idiot and going back to the house to pick up his worthless paintings.

Beyond Parker, Night’s major saving grace is a charming performance by a young pre-Charlie’s Angels Kate Jackson as Tracy. Whatever impact the wannabe-bleak ending does actually have is the result of the natural affection we’ve developed for her charming character.

Removed from the context of their origins, both films suffer from feeling like Americanized rip-offs of the established Hammer Studio formula, but without all of the cheesy good stuff (namely hot babes in revealing clothing) that make those films worthwhile. Viewed today its easy to see why the audience they were made for rejected them, even if the idea that such an audience actually existed still strikes me as a little hard to believe.