Friday, March 30, 2012

PSYCHO COP (1989) - this little piggie likes to kill teenagers

We all know how a proper slab of blue pork goes about his business. He’ll abuse his authority for personal gain (i.e. free donuts). He’ll hide behind the badge to cover up his own crimes, or maybe drudge up some petty, arcane law just to fuck with people. Not to mention, these captains of bacon like to verbally provoke people into becoming aggressive, therefore giving them the go-ahead to crack open a noggin with a nightstick, or, better yet, empty their firearm. This is exactly the kind of service we have come to expect from the boys in blue. 

However, for the love of god, please don’t start coming with the one liners. Throw my ass in jail, go Rodney King on my buttocks if you must, but please, stop it with the Freddy Krueger wisecracks. The titular psycho cop manages to squeeze in an avalanche of one liners, usually along the lines of “you have the right to remain…deceased!”, or “do you have your license and registration? Well, here’s your death certificate too! I hope you have a proper filing system for all this paperwork! HAHAHAHA!!!” You get the idea.   Anyway, shit like this is a big reason we can't just all get along.

So, a newly married couple find themselves lost on a dark deserted road, and promptly seek a friendly policeman that will “serve and protect” them. They get served all right. Some time later, we see a carload of teens, drinking and telling jokes, like “what has 18 legs and 2 tits? Answer - the Supreme Court”. However, this dated bit of humor is no longer hilariously funny, as Sandra Day O'Connor has since retired, thus rendering the Supreme Court titless.  Regardless, a psycho cop car mysteriously follows them to their party destination. The group arrives at the party house and the caretaker immediately sneaks up on everyone with an axe, politely explaining that he makes his residence in a nearby shack. Normally, he would just be an obvious red herring, but keep in mind he may be tag teaming with the psycho cop.  Even The Big Boss Man, normally a lone wolf of Cobb County justice, was once in a tag team with Akeem the African dream.

Ominously, the psycho cop draws a satanic star in the dirt, as if to say “not all police officers are maniacs, just merely all satanists”. The teens pass the time by hanging out by the pool, listening to some cool rock on their sweet ghetto blaster. The dude with the walkman hears on the radio that a woman that lives nearby went missing, and a dog was sacrificed on her front lawn, and “666” was carved in a nearby tree. They also can't find the caretaker, but Zach, the cool dude with the jet black hair, denounces this ominous revelation along with everything else (“don't worry guys! Just because someone goes missing doesn't mean their dead!”).  After all, nothing ruins a beer party like the analiyzation of obvious clues.

Not completely swayed by Zach's Fonzirelli hair, they decide to search the woods together, and find a couple of large, makeshift wooden crosses. The lame walkman dude happens upon the cop, who explains that the caretaker accidentally cut himself with an axe, and that he is healing up in a hospital somewhere. Well, that settles that then.  

Back to the party, the blonde and brunette have a champagne bubble bath (HEY NOW WONKA WONKA), but still have the where-with-all to keep their walkman on in case any more satanic-cop murder spree related news flashes are broken instantly via modern technology. Sure enough, they hear that a cop suspected of police brutality is missing, and to be on the lookout.  So, apart from the standard police brutality that is par for the course, this cop likes to teleport around, hiding objects from the teens so they can wander around trying to fetch them (whether a can of beer, a brush, a purse, the boom box, etc.).  Really, the movie is an Easter egg hunt masquerading as senseless police brutality. 


The teen’s plan of surviving this proverbial Easter egg hunt hits a literal speed bump when Zach drives over a tree branch, causing the car battery to die. The survivors try to get away in the caretaker’s car, but the psycho cop jumps on it like he’s the Terminator (well actually, he sorta is). Unfortunately, they drive over another tree branch, and this kills yet another useless piece of shit automobile.  Tree branches used to destroy cars, and now hippies use them to fuel their own automobiles ("automobile" is a strong word; maybe "go-kart with roof" would be more appropriate).  Technology is truly an ironic nutbar sometimes.

In the twist ending, the real (non-psycho) cops show up and provide psycho cop exposition, explaining that every barrel of apples has a couple of spoiled psychopaths, etc., blah blah. Just when this psycho cop fable gets to and that's when he turned to Satan…, psycho cop shoots one of the real cops and then rips the other cop’s heart out. Of course, he utters the line "have a heart" while doing so, which, incredibly, is exactly what happens in the film Dreamscape (1984), and, more coincidentally, in Hellbound (1994). 

You see, Hellbound is the touching story of Chuck Norris, a Chicago cop who’s grizzled and on the edge (in that order), and whose mission is to roundhouse the shit out of Satan. However, old scratch is, as one would expect, pretty much a bad ass. He throws a hooker through a fifth story window, and follows it up by ripping a rabbi’s heart out. Satan shows officer Norris the still beating heart, and utters the aforementioned line. So you see, Hellbound is really the ying to Psycho Cop’s yang, at least as far as heart ripping scenes involving police officers go. 

Anyway, despite being killed at the end, the psycho cop returned for the cleverly named sequel Psycho Cop Returns (1993). However, it’s really just a spoof of the original, as you apparently couldn’t do a serious Psycho Cop movie in the nineties, what with all those flannel wearing hipster assholes running around.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.22

Old Oklahoma Plains (1952)

The army is using a large stretch of land to test a super mini-tank, and this is annoying the locals, especially a ranch owner who supplies the Army with horses, and is therefore screwed if they use tanks instead. It is up to singing cowboy Rex Allen and friends (including Slim Pickens) to protect the testing site from the ranch owner and his gang, while seeing to it that a race between the tank and a bunch of horses through a minefield (!) goes off without a hitch. You see, if the tank beats a bunch of horses in a race through a minefield, the public will start to realize that horses are inferior to tanks and they'll stop trying to sabotage the Army. I guess that makes sense. The director is William Whitney, famous for his wild stunts in B-westerns and serials. While the movie lacks the crazy stunts (good stunts, but not crazy), it’s certainly a batshit crazy variation on the “horse race to save the ranch” kiddee plot, and the little tank looks pretty cool. An oddity well worth checking out.

A very good transfer, and never released on home video. Rex Allen stars in some other rare westerns on Netflix instant:

Hills of Oklahoma (1950, never released on home video)
The Arizona Cowboy (1950, never released on home video)
Rodeo King and the Senorita (1951, previously released on VHS)
Silver City Bonanza (1951, previously released on VHS)
Old Overland Trail (1953, never released on home video)
Iron Mountain Trail (1953, previously released on VHS)
Shadows of Tombstone (1953, previously released on VHS)
Phantom Stallion (1954, previously released on VHS)

Romance of the West (1946)

Eddie Dean is an Indian liason, hanging out with Chief Eagle Feather and friends on their reservation (Coincidentally, there was an Eagle Feather in Comin’ Round the Mountain too). Eddie explains how these are good people who worship the earth, and he gives them gifts, like cattle and a pilgrim hat. However, his town government gets together and decides to hire outcast Indians to commit crimes, in order to pin the crimes on Eagle Feather’s tribe to get them kicked off their land so they can come in and steal silver reserves. What a bunch of scumbags. Even worse, they immediately send their white cronies out to the reservation and start shooting indiscriminately, killing the lovely Indian girl Eddie was just befriending. She now has an orphan son that Eddie adopts and makes a cowboy. So, Eddie investigates and takes care of the crooked white villains while taking time out to sing some pretty good songs. Despite being cheap and stagey, Eddie excels as the truly heroic and sensitive hero (more so with the script), and the script also has a villain plot more developed and interesting than usual.

Probably one of the few PRC westerns of the 40’s to be shot in color (I haven’t heard of very many PRC movies being shot in color period), and never released on home video. Unfortunately, it's no longer on Netflix.

Cheyenne Takes Over (1947)

Lash LaRue, the bullwhip toting, Bogart looking man-in-black and his sidekick Fuzzy investigate the El Lobo ranch, and find out from local saloon owner Nancy Yates that the owner of the ranch may have killed a man in her bar, but no body has been found. Lash and Fuzzy investigate, even lying to get on the actual ranch to snoop around, and occasionally Lash kicks some ass. Although it takes a while to get going, it’s a fairly twisty and well done detective variation on an “evil rancher” B-western, and Lash is certainly one of the coolest B western heroes ever.

Previously available on VHS, but no longer on Netflix.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

RUNAWAY NIGHTMARE (1982) - when the nighmare never ends, it becomes your reality

One of my favorite kinds of films is the cult movie that lacks a cult. Maybe this has to do with feeling like you’re the first to discover a hidden gem, or maybe it has something to do with the fact that I enjoy films that are so utterly weird and on the fringes of sanity that no one would ever want to watch it. I’m leaning towards 30% of the former and 70% of the latter, for the record. Either way, these movies are few and far between, especially in the internet age when millions of hipsters are scouring the earth looking for the next “so bad it’s good” movie find.

One such "cult movie without a cult" is Runaway Nightmare. Like many of these films, it seems to exist in a genre of one. I might best describe it as an S & M western co-directed by Doris Wishman and Rainer Werner Fassbinder filtered through the minds of the Manson family as their brains bake under the heat of the desert sun. I think if you actually watch the movie (unlikely), this will all make perfect sense (assuming you’ve also seen films by Wishman and Fassbinder). Or, you can just trust me since I’m super smart. Really I am! I even own a couple books about quantum physics. Granted, I haven’t read them, but it’s mostly because I am super busy watching and writing about nonsensical horseshit like Runaway Nightmare.

The objects of bondage are two worm farmers (!?!) who happen upon a girl buried in a coffin out in the middle of the desert. They pull her out, still alive incredibly, and the men are kidnapped by a female cult, who are under the impression that the two men are responsible for burying the girl (who is one of their own). The girls try to steal some platinum from the mob, but end up accidentally stealing plutonium instead (?!?!?!), forcing the two worm farmers to assist them along the way. Most of the movie is a bunch of random weirdness, where the men are held against their will and forced to hang out with these women. As far as the bondage aspect goes, this is as light as it gets. It’s sort of like tying a man to a chair just so a group of women have an object of weirdo conversation sitting in the room while they stand around in vamp poses, like Russ Meyer-esque heroines frozen in stoic dementia. I guess the lesson is that most women are less perverted than us dudes.

Periodically, the film includes cutaway inserts featuring shot-on-video nudity. These shots are, needless to stay, completely incongruous. Having said that, one of the insert chicks kinda looks like Lydia Lunch, and that's pretty cool I guess. The movie has a release date of 1982, but the main part of it was probably filmed a few years prior, and the insert shots were then added to “spice” things up, but only end up making the whole experience stranger. The movie runs for a whopping 105 minutes despite being virtually plotless, yet the off-kilter, lackadaisical editing creates a hypnotizing rhythm that defies any sort of logical progression. It’s a nightmare all right; a nightmare of a male/female S &M dynamic slowly rotting under the desert sun.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.21

Comin’ Round the Mountain (1936)

Gene Autry is a mail carrier who is robbed and his horse killed, and he is left to die out in the middle of the desert, but he manages to save a new horse named “El Diablo” from a pack of wolves. I knew wolves were badasses, but I didn’t realize that they would try to kill and eat a live horse. Anyway, El Diablo is not initially friendly, but Autry manages to tame him in insane fashion, grabbing him and holding on like the greatest bullrider in history. He rides out to Ann Rutherford’s horse ranch, as part of the mail stolen was a bundle of cash she needs to save her ranch. Autry then aids her in a horse race against the evil horse rancher that masterminded the robbery. Life is fucking crazy sometimes.

The movie is not bogged down with too many songs. The song “Chiquita” that Autry sings to the adorable Rutherford is pretty good, but there is a “comedic” song sung by a “bullfighter” that the movie stops for in the middle. However, the resulting bullfight against two guys wearing a bullsuit is amusing. Then there’s the title track sung by Autry in the beginning, a song I can’t stand for some reason. As Eagle Feather says after hearing it, “white men make too much noise”. You tell ‘em Mr. Feather.

Transfer is excellent, except for a night scene that is riddled with blocky artifacts (I guess the darkness of the scene screwed up the compression or something). Never released on home video. This appears to just have recently been booted off of Netflix, but Gene Autry has a ton of other movies on Netflix instant, a few of which have never been released on home video, and some others that have only been released on VHS.

The Savage (1952)

Evil Indians attack a wagon train, killing everyone except for a young boy, before being chased off by Sioux Indians. The Sioux save the boy and raise him, and he grows up to be a Sioux version of Charlton Heston (shirtless, of course). There is an impending war between the Sioux and Heston’s former white society, and this leads to a lot of debates about the dividing line between an Indian and a white man, nature vs. nurture, etc. Interestingly, Heston insists that he has the heart of a Sioux, and that makes him a true Indian. Even so, he is forced to become a peacemaker of sorts between the whites and the Sioux. Some well staged fight scenes and nice photography, and there is an attempt to humanize Indians and debate the nature of race and tribe. However, “debate” is the operative word, with lots of standing around and talking about what it means to be a Sioux and what it means to be white.

Technicolor transfer is a little dull, but is very good otherwise. Never released on home video. Heston also stars in Pony Express (1953), which is on Netflix instant and was only released on VHS.

The Gambler Wore a Gun (1961)

Jim Davis plays a professional gambler that tries to go straight by buying a ranch through the mail. On the trip to the ranch, he happens upon a man that was lynched and a marshal that was knocked unconscious. The marshal tells Jim that the lynched man was the man from which he bought the ranch. Meanwhile, the former ranch owners son and daughter are being threatened by four cattle rustlers who also want control of the ranch, claiming that their father made a deal with them and that he was also part of an illegal rustling scheme. Davis is forced to investigate to stake his claim in the ranch, and is also framed for murder at one point, raising the stakes. The Gambler Wore a Gun could have been a bland “misfit goes good by taking on bad guys” story, but instead, it doesn’t show its hand right off the bat and maintains interest with well written characters. Very well acted too, except for the guy that plays the ranch owner’s son; he tries a bit too hard in an “aww shucks” kind of way.

Excellent transfer, and never released on home video. Jim David also starred in Noose For a Gunman (1960), which is also on Netflix instant and never saw a home video release.

Friday, March 16, 2012

SPIDERHOLE (2010) - kitchen sink torture porn

With both the economy and the housing market collapsing, it’s been estimated that 11% of American homes are vacant, according to my inside source (which is Google). If people are broke and houses are empty, why not become a squatter? Sure, breaking and entering is illegal, but if there is no one living in the house, there's no one to report the crime. Sort of like how a foul didn’t occur if the referee doesn’t see it. There are ways to steal internet access from neighbors who actually pay bills, or you could just plug your laptop in at Starbucks and use up their WiFi and electricity. They’ll just pass the expense onto the customers by jacking up the price of the Pumpkin Spice Latte yet again. Squatting might also inspire one to finally get around to reading all those books you have lying around considering you can’t just sit on the couch all day and watch the Food Network. You know, people make fun of bums and rightfully so, but once in a while I think they get some shit right. You’d already know this if you’ve been paying attention to the lyrics of Tom Waits.

So, four art students decide that squatting is the way to go, and they drive around London (I know it’s not the U.S., but close enough) looking for a new home that is completely free. They don’t want to get real jobs because that would cut into their creativity time, and they exist to create, so squatting becomes a romantic solution rather than the last resort of a hobo (or maybe the first resort of a hobo). Supposedly, squatting is only unlawful in the U.K. and not actually illegal. Yeah, tell that to an angry bobby with a big stick after a couple of pints.

They happen upon what looks to be the perfect house, someplace big and classy, but inside it’s a shithole of truly epic proportions. This should probably register as a bad omen, but they are probably looking forward to a crucial cleanup montage, tastefully repainting the walls with Patrick Nagel murals (well, that’s what I would do if I was an art student fixing up an old shitty house). They move in and quickly make it home, dressing it up by tossing a Marilyn Monroe Warhol pillow on a diseased couch. Of course, they start to hear creepy noises, and later they stumble upon a closet filled with bloody clothes. Well, that’s pretty darn creepy, but they decide to just sleep off the fear and leave in the morning, and after all, it’s already deep into the night. God knows there are drunken soccer hooligans roaming the streets at this hour.

Of course, they wake up and every window and door in the house has been welded shut. I’d have probably not slept through all of that racket, but maybe they each drank a ton of Sleepy Time Tea before bedtime. Either way, that’s the setup, and you can probably guess what happens next if you’ve ever seen a movie (or even if you haven’t). I guess it’s de rigueur for the torture porn genre to have a killer with unlimited funds and teleportation skills and a cloak of invisibility and a ring of silence +5 in order that he can build elaborate traps for teenagers to succumb to. Yet the movie acts like everything is gritty and real. Maybe I’m an old fuddy duddy, but you can’t have it both ways. Either place the characters in a fantastic horror environment or place them in the real world. While we're on the subject of torture porn, maybe the most annoying thing is that these killers seem to be torturing and murdering out of some moral obligation (although less so in Spiderhole). If Jigsaw or whoever wants to torture a young woman because she’s an alcoholic, why not try talking to her instead? At the very least, see if an intervention works first. If not, THEN you can think about going ahead with the torture and the killing and the what-have-you. I know, I’m over thinking things.

This setup would seem like ripe material for a good stalker movie, even if getting there is nonsensical and forced. You have a psycho hidden in a creepy house with secret passages while the teens are desperately trying to break out. However, the teens see that the boarded windows and doors are impenetrable and are left running from room to room, and once in a while one of them mysteriously disappears, only to reappear in harms way. There is little sense of geography, and not even much in the way of simple cat and mouse antics.

Even so, the fact that the teens are British is an actual innovation within the genre (in the same way that Cold Prey was innovative in that it was a slasher movie where you had to read subtitles). Maybe I’m being generous, but such razor thin distinctions are necessary when you are analyzing a “teens in a creepy house being stalked by a killer” movie. The most interesting aspect of the movie to me was simply the juxtaposition of hot final girl Molly (Emma Griffiths Malin) with the creepy and decrepit setting. Specifically, her outfit; tight magenta jeans, a pop art jean jacket, a leopard print blouse and cowboy boots. I know some people might call that outfit tacky, but I call those people tacky.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.20

El Paso (1949)

John Payne is a lawyer that heads to El Paso to get a judge’s signature, when he finds out that the town is being held in terror by Sterling Hayden, who strongarms citizens by employing a crooked justice system. The judge is a drunk pushover, and Hayden makes himself and his cronies jury members in order to unfairly imprison people who don’t follow Hayden’s law. Payne sees this corrupt process at work and tries to reason with everyone, explaining how a proper law system needs to function. He gets bored with reason, so he trains with a Mexican gunfighter named “Del Nacho” (that’s Spanish for “of the nacho”) and becomes a double barrel ass kicking machine. Way too long at 103 minutes considering the slight plot, but the movie does make a considered attempt to explain what makes a fair justice system, and that vigilantism is not a good long term solution. The movie is also beautifully photographed (in Cinecolor), and there are some nice stylistic flourishes, like the fast cut gun training montage, and the final shootout in a windstorm.

The transfer is excellent most of the time, but certain sections look “off” in different ways (either grainier, or with orange skin tones, or looking washed out). Never available on home video. John Payne also starred in two other rare westerns on Netflix instant that have never been released on home video: Passage West (1951) and The Vanquished (1953)

The Redhead and the Cowboy (1951)

Glenn Ford is smitten with a redhead he spots in a dancehall, but little does he know that she (Rhonda Fleming) is a confederate spy sent on a mission to provide secret information to a confederate official about a Union gold shipment. In pure North by Northwest fashion, a liaison of Rhonda is murdered by getting knifed in the back, and he happens to stumble into Glenn, who then becomes framed for the murder. He is forced to flee with Rhonda as he tries to prove his innocence, with Rhonda being the only witness who knows he wasn’t the murderer. Along the way, they bump into numerous shady characters using spy passwords and secret meetings to talk to people along the spy chain while avoiding shady characters trying to intercept the information about the gold shipment. This could be categorized as a noir western, but strikes me more specifically as a 39 Steps-esque “on the run” spy thriller transplanted to the Civil War. Not quite Hitchcock-esque, mind you, but overall a tense, twisty, and very watchable western thriller that is fairly unique, and Ford is pretty excellent in the “innocent man” role. Highly recommended, and definitely not your standard B-western.

The black and white transfer is pretty solid, but has ghosting issues and could be sharper; it’s certainly watchable. Never released on home video.

The Lawless Nineties 1936

Anti-democracy marauders threaten townspeople in Wyoming to keep them from voting, and John Wayne and his buddy come to town to take care of the leader of the outlaws. Wayne hooks up with and protects the owner of a newspaper (Gabby Hayes) who is trying to use the paper to expose corruption and help Wyoming become a state (also, he has a beautiful daughter, played by Ann Rutherford, that catches Wayne's eye). The Duke’s partner is killed by cronies of the “committee of law and order”, which is actually a democracy smashing front, and Wayne kicks ass and takes names and wins Ann’s hand in the process (although you probably saw that coming). A fairly raucous and exciting B-western with an interesting villain that opposes democracy for selfish reasons, but under the guise of “law and order”. However, the movie occasionally stops to showcase “comic relief” from Hayes’ two black servants, a bit more egregious than usual and extremely forced. Otherwise, this is probably a good example of the kind of B-westerns Wayne made before Stagecoach made him a star.

Previously available on VHS. The transfer is pretty good, several notches above VHS, and certainly acceptable for a B-western from the mid 30’s.

Monday, March 12, 2012

POOLBOY: DROWNING OUT THE FURY (2011) - action spoof movie cocaine for your eyeballs and your earholes and your groinspot

Sal Bando (Kevin Sorbo) is a true American hero who believes in apple pie and baseball heroes and Betsy Ross and maintaining a nice lawn. He served his country through 48 tours of Vietnam, and returns home to the greater Los Angeles area to finally reunite with his loving family. He wants to start anew as a pool cleaner, just as he had promised a fellow soldier and fellow aspiring pool cleaner right before he was blown to smithereens. However, his homeland no longer resembles the one he left behind to go to war. The streets of Van Nuys have turned mean, overrun by Mexicans and crime and stock footage, in that order. Not only that, but pool cleaning has become the domain of the illegal immigrant, taking jobs away from hard working white folks who pay their taxes and put their faith in Jesus.

Even so, family is the most important thing. He knocks on the door to his own home after 12 years in the shit, only to find that his wife (Alanna Ubach) now has a relationship with some Mexican (Bryan Callen), who is also the defacto father to his son (some kid). To add insult to injury, he’s also her poolboy. Not only can he no longer live in his own house and sleep with his own wife and play catch with his own son, but he can’t even clean his own pool. In retaliation, he steals the Mexican’s pool cleaning van (which of course advertises that they keep pools “spic n’ span”). Unfortunately, this sets off a war between the Mexicans (headed by Danny Trejo) and Bando, and Bando quickly finds his wife and son dead, their bodies floating in the pool, of course. This is the last straw for Mr. Bando. He was already too old for this shit, but now he’s been pushed over the edge…and everyone in his way is under the gun. It’s time to take out the trash…and his fists double as compactors. He came to mow the lawn and chew bubblegum, but your ass is grass and he forgot to bring bubblegum. You get the idea.

If this sounds silly and racially insensitive, it’s because it totally totally is…like totally. However, the racial insensitivity is explained away by the fact that Poolboy is a “movie-within-a-movie” spoof of the 80’s action genre, and Bando’s racially insensitive heroic quest, a ludicrous furthering of Reagan-era entertainment that took itself completely seriously, is being poked fun at. However, it’s not merely enough to make fun of low budget action movies by pointing to racial stereotyping or technical shortcomings or latent homosexuality. That’s frankly shooting fish in a barrel. However, Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury goes further than that. There’s the unintentionally campy action movie (Cobra) and the intentionally campy action movie (Action Jackson), and then there’s the spoof of the campy action movie (maybe something like National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1), and then there’s Poolboy, which is like a postmodern comedic reconfiguration of the spoof of the campy action movie. If you couldn’t follow that train of logic, don’t worry; I couldn’t either.

It might be easy to pithily describe Poolboy as “Black Dynamite for lame honkeys who grew up freebasing Pixie Stix while watching Lorenzo Llamas kickboxing movies on premium cable” and call it a day, but I don’t think that truly and accurately describes what is going on here. It’s closer to something like Tim and Eric Awesome show, Great Job!, which could ostensibly be called a parody of public access television and infomercials and other forgotten artifacts of filmed media, but Tim and Eric seem more interested in constructing their own weird comedic aesthetic based on forgotten video clips. Poolboy kinda does that but instead uses shitty direct-to-video action movies of the late 80’s and early 90’s. For the record, “shitty” in this context is a compliment.

Let’s take one scene as an example. A gang of Mexicans confront our hero at his home to take him out, and Bando, armed with a pool cleaning net outfitted with razor sharp blades, goes to work. He hacks their limbs off in a series of one-on-one confrontations, including severing the hands of the guitar playing Mexican and quipping “sorry about that…you were my favorite, hands down”. The guitar player retorts “was that line really necessary? I was in Menudo!” Bando responds with “I HATE Menudo!” before decapitating him. He then impales the Mexican that boinked his wife and his body falls into the pool. “Now THAT’S what I call a wetback!” he exclaims, and he walks away in slo-mo, lighting a cigarette while some crucial hard rock blares. He then tosses the cigarette at the boom mic operator, who catches fire and runs into the frame in order to jump into the pool and douse the flames. Now, a normal “bad filmmaking” spoof would have the boom mic operator creep into the edge of the frame to point out how a low budget action movie might not bother to do a retake even though you can see the boom guy in the corner of the frame. However, Poolboy just incorporates it into the movie. So, you can see the boom guy? Good. Set him on fire; that’ll be awesome. So you see, a regular spoof might point and laugh at these so-called “bad movie gaffes”, but Poolboy just uses it as another bit of comedic weirdness, sanity be damned.

The fourth wall breakage is not limited to technical gaffes and intentionally ridiculous stock footage, but is present in virtually every shot and in every conceivable permutation. Like I was saying, the movie is apparently a mockumentary about the making of Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury, starring director St. James St. James (Ross Patterson, who wrote the real movie), who at the original time of filming was a 10-year-old coke fiend who got the gig because his dad owned the studio. St. James chronicles the shooting of the movie while also premiering it (via VHS), as it sat unreleased for 20 years, and it was also a sequel to a movie that was never released because it was destroyed soon after completion. Not only were there certain scenes where Bando was played by a different actor (Jason Mewes) added at the original time of filming because of star Jan Van Hammer (also Sorbo) being accidentally killed during filming (although he actually wasn’t), but St. James also plays the Poolboy in modern day reshoots in order to appease the studio with gratuitous nude scenes and product placement in order to finally get the movie released. St. James also shows deleted scenes as part of the documentary, including inexplicable male nudity (for the ladies). Oh, and the documentary is somehow tied to a Russian conspiracy that was tied to the plot of “Poolboy” (the movie-within-a-movie). If all of this sounds confusing (and let’s hope it does), keep in mind that it doesn’t really matter if you can follow the “reality” of the film or not. These different reality threads are there so they can collide into each other with hyperactive screwball gusto. Also, when you have a framework that is constantly disregarding its own reality, it makes it impossible to predict so much as the next frame. Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury doesn’t just break the fourth wall; it firebombs it and snorts the ashes off of a hooker’s ass. Or, if you prefer…”Brechtian”.

The mighty Kevin Sorbo (Jan Van Hammer/Sal Bando/maybe himself at times) holds it together, playing the sorta-straight action hero shtick to perfection while also nailing the intentional comedic bits (his maniacal laughter during the Deer Hunter parody made me laugh harder than anything, although I’m not sure why). He is the rock at the center of a neverending parade of action schlock and comedic weirdness, and everyone else pretty much nails things from a comedic timing standpoint (like the always funny Alanna Ubach). Then there’s the straight killing soundtrack featuring Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days” during a rad montage, as well as “I Can’t Wait” by Nu Shooz and a fantastic AOR hard rock original over the opening credits that might be called “I Want to Suck a Donkey’s Cock”.

To describe the movie further is to simply make a list of outlandish horseshit that warms the cockles of my coal black heart. There’s the ubiquitous action cliché of a bottle of J&B being inserted as product placement (this time drunk through a snorkel, no less). There’s also the Poolboy’s dead son playing catch with Hitler in heaven. Then there’s the inside information that Van Hammer was a volatile actor that would “occasionally punch his female co-stars in the tits”, and also the part where a victim pleads for his life by saying “I don’t want to die as stock footage homie!”. Oh yeah, there's also a clown that keeps accidentally advertising that he rapes children. Well, the clown stuff is more creepy than heartwarming, but why not throw some creepiness in there too. Let’s please everybody.

It might sound like the filmmakers are just throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks, hoping that enough punchlines hit, but I would argue that so much shit is thrown against the wall, with a complete disregard for the mechanical comedy of a conventional spoof, that the aesthetic becomes one where part of the humor is that you’re watching someone throwing as much shit against the wall as they possibly can. Perhaps that’s too fine a distinction to bother making, but I’m the kinda guy that goes that extra mile. You’re welcome.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.19

Untamed Frontier (1952)

A powerful cattle baron is doing everything he can to fend off incoming settlers that want to live on land that he would otherwise use to raise cattle, so he can therefore become even richer and more powerful, sort of like a king holding sway over local resources for his own gain. Meanwhile, we become privy to the personal drama of the rest of the family, chiefly son Scott Brady who is quickly wooing the lonely Shelley Winters, but only as a ploy to get out of an impending murder charge. You see, apparently in Texas at the time, it was illegal for a spouse to testify against the other spouse, and she was the star witness, so just he’ll just marry her and get off scot free. Joseph Cotton is Brady’s cousin and family advisor, a detached protector of the family who is eventually caught in-between when Shelley falls for him instead after she becomes wise to Brady’s scheme.

While the character drama may seem unlikely and forced (including the way in which Brady ends up killing a man), the relationships between the characters are played much more for psychological motivation (in the direction and the photography) than cheap soapy drama. Things unfold unpredictably and unrealistically, but they do so springing forth from the characters, rather than the characters being forced to execute an unlikely plot. Overall, very well photographed and directed, and a subtley layered and interesting variation on what could have been a soapy B-movie plot. This one is mostly completely unheralded, so I guess it qualifies as a bit of a hidden gem.

Never released on home video, despite starring Joseph Cotton and Shelly Winters, and featuring Lee Van Cleef in a supporting role. Unfortunately, it is no longer on Netflix, but maybe it'll pop up again or get released on DVD.

Flaming Feather (1952)

A mysterious masked bandit dubbed “The Sidewinder” is employing a group of Indians to rob and destroy towns and wagons. The U.S. cavalry can’t even identify him, let alone capture him, so they enlist the services of rebel cowboy Tex McCloud (that’s a god damn name right there), played by the unstoppable Sterling Hayden. The gorgeous Barbara Rush plays both the love interest of Sterling and the damsel in distress. While the main plot is not especially compelling or original, the movie is filled with some nice touches (check out the wicked montage at the beginning showing The Sidewinder’s various misdeeds), the Technicolor photography is gorgeous, the fights are exciting and well executed, and Sterling Hayden owns the screen (and the supporting cast is very good also). A pretty bad ass and beautifully photographed (in Technicolor) version of a typical B-movie plot.

The image is a little soft and there are some speckles, but otherwise it is very good. The sound is a bit scratchy, but not distractingly so. Never released on home video.

California Firebrand (1948)

Singing cowboy Monte Hale, in order to investigate the death of his uncle, adopts the identity of the chief suspect Gunsmoke Lowery, whose body he happens upon. He heads out to the mining town where his uncle was killed, and teams up with dress shop owner Lorna Gray to take care of the local thugs and investigate. I’m not much for singing cowboys, but this was somewhat enjoyable despite the standard plot, considering the songs aren’t half bad, and there is some goofy humor that actually works. The two-strip trucolor process also give the photography an otherworldly teal pastel look; Lorna’s blue vests really pop. It’s like a singing cowboy B-western from another planet.

Occasional ghosting issues, but the transfer looks very good considering the source (which seems a little smudgey). Other Monte Hale films also co-starring Lorna Gray that are on Netflix instant:

Under Colorado Skies (1947, previously only available on VHS)
Ranger of Cherokee Strip (1949, and never released on home video)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

FATAL GAMES (1984) - take it to the limit before you get impaled with a javelin and your dreams crumble into dust

Falcon Academy of Athletics. U.S. regional competition. Brookfall, Massachusetts. An opening montage poses a plethora of daring questions, such as "will you take it to the limit?", and "will you take it all the way?”. Not to mention "winners always take it all" and "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing". While no doubt providing a modicum of inspiration, I think they could’ve done with a few more phrases, such as:

-Don't look back, you have the balls of a machine

-Anything other than first place is pathetic and gay

-Make your dreams come true, or go home and die in a corner

-You better haul ass into oblivion, lest failure catches you from behind and body slams you into a dumpster filled with broken promises

Oh, and by the way, Fatal Games spends the next 80 something minutes subverting this sub-mental horse wind.

Our soon-to-be-dead heroes are Olympic hopefuls in various competitions; swimming, track and field, gymnastics etc. During a banquet, one of our boneheads decides to toss a hot dog into a girl's lap, which I suppose is supposed to represent that the meat industry is living the lap of luxury while exploiting the underprivileged. They also have an impromptu team rope pull (albeit for no socially symbolic reason whatsoever). Being that this is a gym slasher, we get endless training sequences. People swim, work the shit out of the pommel horse, throw javelins around like nobody’s business, and take the shit out of their vitamins. This is acceptable to the audience in narrative terms, being that these activities will eventually end in showering ladies (for the guys), and men snapping towels at each other and playing grab ass (in case Elton John rents a copy of the video).

A group of them decide to go out for a drink after practice, but one girl stays behind to beefily work the free weights, but is promptly javelined to death. Of course, the astute viewer may remember the sequence three minutes earlier where there was a javelin tosser guy who is shown to be a bit of a hothead, and put two and two together, realizing that he is obviously a red herring. Meanwhile, Sally Kirkland learns that the athletes are receiving "retardation injections", which sounds like a really awesome party drug, but is really just a fancy, unappealing name for roids. We are also privy to Sally's apparent homosexual tendencies toward the female athletes (i.e. grabbing the vadge) and mild shame in having to play this part.

One girl is chased by the killer while in the buff (you shoehorn the nudity in wherever you can) through the hallways of the academy before being javelinized. We also get javelin POV shots as others are being scoped out. Our red herring, the javelin tosser himself, is impaled on the practice field from an incredibly impressive 100 yard hurl by our masked maniac. At this point I’m starting to think that the killer is a disgruntled javelin tosser. We then get a short lesbian drama scene (they’re full sized lesbians; it’s the length of the drama that’s compact) between two athletes, which may have been put in to further the stereotype of women athletes being lesbians…or maybe one of them is a man. Honestly, I should pay more attention.

By this point, the staff of the academy begins to get suspicious about all of the missing potential Olympians. However, nothing much comes of it, and we are left with further bits of minutia that further illustrates the Olympic dreams of these characters (like annihilating Bratislava in synchronized swimming, snagging a gold medal, and getting your picture on a box of Hero Flakes). Also, the head of the academy is presented as a suspect, being that he is a bug collector, "impaling" the bugs with pins (a la the red herring in Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood). Lost in all the hustle and bustle of the plot is the fact that Linnea Quigley and Brinke Stevens flashed their asses at some point during one of the shower scenes. This has gone unnoticed by most scholars, but I have the dedication to go through slasher shower scenes frame by frame like it was the Zapruder film (if I can fix my DVD-burner, pics will be coming).

More and more javelin murders ensue, and the ending unsurprisingly involves bodies falling out of lockers and a final girl running around, all the while the score prattles about in the background, sounding like chipmunks being sodomized with a keyboard. In the end, the lesson here is that living life only for athletic victory (and similarly, capitalism) turns you into a roid injecting, transsexual monster; a mad slashing casualty of society. This message may have spread far and wide, but, alas, Fatal Games remains relatively unknown. I think I know why. The title logo uses the same font as Star Wars. George Lucas probably sued the pants off the movie, sold the movie pants, and then told it to go fuck itself.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.18

Jubilee Trail (1954)

A newlywed couple (Joan leslie and John Russell) help New Orleans showgirl Vera Ralston escape a detective trying to pick her up for supposed crimes she’s committed. Apparently she has an honest enough face that the couple are sure of her innocence. Anyway, they bring her along on a wagon trip to California, and in pure soap opera fashion, Russell finds out that he’ll have a new baby waiting for him when he arrives in California…from another woman. Uh oh. This gives the wagon ride two strains of dramatic conflict, however soapy and forced, on top of the requisite Indian attack. The movie really drags at 103 minutes, padded with several lame musical numbers featuring Ralston (including a hand clapping song that predates Pia Zadora). However, the color photography is nice, Joan Leslie is adorable, and Buddy Baer is memorable in his small role as a Siberian bear trapper that flirts with Ralston.

Very good Trucolor transfer, and previously only released on VHS.

The Great Sioux Uprising (1953)

Lyle Bettger plays a crooked horse trader that steals horses from some Sioux Indians
in order to sell them to the U.S. Calvary, killing several Sioux in the process. Jeff Chandler plays an army doctor who tries and prevent an impending war between the Sioux and the local whites, while also thwarting Lyle and overcome his fear of performing surgery. Caught in the middle is the lovely Faith Domergue, a competing horse trader who takes a shining to Jeff while avoiding Lyle’s advances. The movie suffers from a main plot largely conveyed through boring exposition, and the central triangle and the side plot of Jeff overcoming his fears as a doctor are both pretty limp and uninteresting. However, Jeff and Faith are very likeable and make the movie watchable.

A bit dull and fuzzy, looking like it originates from a very good analog master. Still, a pretty solid color transfer. Previously only available on VHS. No longer on Netflix instant, but maybe it'll pop up again at some point, and also some kind soul put it up on Youtube.

Wild Horse Ambush (1952)

The “Rough Ridin’ Kids” Michael Chapin and Eilene Janssen are out to foil two alleged wild horse tamers who are running a Mexican counterfeit scheme. We’re talking fake-o pesos out the wazoo. Instead of being useless or merely kidnapping fodder, these kids are resourceful to the point of cartoonish absurdity (in a good way). Michael doesn’t initially trust a Mexican agent investigating the fake bills, so he manages to get a horse to knock him out so he can bring him to the authorities to check if he’s kosher, and the agent doesn’t mind in the least being knocked out by an 11-year-old. Then there’s the best scene, where Eilene hides from the counterfeiters by sitting under a blanket and playing a Mexican song on guitar, singing in perfect Spanish. Sure it’s a little racist, but talent is talent, and the kid’s got it in spades. While these kiddie B-westerns can easily become annoying, these kids are unlikely, wish fulfillment heroes for other kids, but doing it in a borderline surreal and entertaining way, and both young actors are cheerful and amusing (well, Eilene mostly). A fun, curious breeze at only 54 minutes.

The black and white transfer is excellent, and it was never released on home video. The “Rough Ridin’ Kids” starred in several other movies, including The Dakota Kid (1951), which is also on Netflix instant. The transfer on The Dakota Kid is also very good, but a notch duller and less detailed than the transfer for Wild Horse Ambush, and it was also never released on home video. While not as fun as Wild Horse Ambush, Dakota Kid does have an amazing banjo/song and dance number by Eilene.