Vanity Fear

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

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Back When B-Movies Were An Option....

On Tuesday I commented via the Twitter that were it 25 years ago, Lindsay Lohan would have already starred in a women-in-prison movie by now. Back then former A-Listers whose careers were clearly set on self-destruct didn’t spend their days being constantly monitored by celebrity websites, they made the transition to B-Movies! And, oh, what a wonderful time it was! 

Thus inspired, I thought it would be fun to look at the kind of films she might have once made, when the option still existed.

Texas Lightning (1981)

It turns out that if you lived in Hollywood and had a decent coke connection, there was a very good chance you could get a BJ from The Brady Bunch’s own “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” Suffice it to say, there was a significant time in Maureen McCormick’s life where her career was not her main priority. This explains Texas Lightning, a redneck coming-of-age fiasco written and directed by legendary B-Movie cameraman Gary Graver.


Savage Streets (1984)

Truth is, I could probably just make this a list of Linda Blair movies and save myself the effort. Like Lohan she was a former child star whose career in the majors was stalled by a criminal conviction (specifically, conspiracy to sell drugs, although it seems to have been more a matter of her being in the wrong place at the exact wrong time), and further crippled by her decision to pose nude for Playboy’s less-reputable cousin, Oui. Still a bankable name because of The Exorcist, she went on to become one of the reigning queens of 80s B-Movies. Her defining role from the period was that of Brenda, a tough New York girl who refuses to take the rape of her deaf sister and the murder of her friend lying down. Grabbing a crossbow, she goes after the hoods who hurt those she loved and makes them pay. She makes them pay hard.


Certain Fury (1985)

A truly talented young actress, Tatum O’Neal’s career was derailed by the fact that Ryan O’Neal was her father and it takes a shitload of drugs to get over that kind of crap. No, seriously, if you’ve read even a little bit of inside stuff on the guy it’s pretty hard not to conclude that he’s one major league scumbag. That said, I do love him in Zero Effect. Anyhoo, four years after starring with Richard Burton in one of the creepiest January/December romance pics ever made, she made her B-Movie debut in a film directed by Stephen “Jake and Maggie’s Dad” Gyllenhaal. Co-starring Irene Cara, Certain Fury is essentially The Defiant Ones with chicks in the big bad city, which is admittedly a concept just dying for a remake.


Poison Ivy  (1992)

Am I the only person who remembers how fucked up Drew Barrymore used to be? Christ, she played herself in a TV movie about how messed up her childhood was! Beat that Lindsay! Ironically, her B-Movie debut in this overheated low-rent “erotic” melodrama actually marked the rebirth of her career. Sure there were a few insanely brief marriages and late-show tit flashes to get out of her system, but once they passed she steadfastly crafted one of the more admirable of Hollywood careers, proving that it is possible to hit rock bottom and rise back up to the top.


Embrace of the Vampire (1995)

Alyssa Milano’s B-Movie escapades (which included a spin in the Poison Ivy franchise mentioned above) appeared to be made less out of frantic desperation, as they were the clumsy results of Milano trying to transcend her status as Tony Danza’s TV daughter into becoming Hollywood’s top choice slut. How else do you explain the softcore fangfest Embrace of the Vampire, a film more notorious today as a result of Milano’s litigious attempts to erase all photographic evidence of it from the Internet than anything in it (besides her boobies, natch). She might have made good on this career trajectory, if it were not for Aaron Spelling and a little TV show called Charmed, which ran for so long people forgot about her implants and B-Movie past. Unfortunately for Lindsay, Mr. Spelling is no longer around to once again perform such a miracle.

From the Bottom to the Top to the Bottom: Part Three in a Series

At the moment of her greatest triumph, Louise Fletcher delivered a funny, well-prepared speech that ended with a moving tribute to her deaf parents, which she delivered in sign language. You can watch it here, and if you’re anything like me there’s a good chance it will cause a mighty lump to rise in your throat.

But not everyone was as moved by her speech as I was just now. As she headed backstage, Robert Altman—who she considered a friend and who helped resurrect her career a year earlier in Thieves Like Us—was spotted laughing as he cruelly mimicked her sign language gestures.

But Altman’s assholish behaviour wasn’t completely random—he was pissed off at her because he had based the role of a gospel singer with two deaf children who has an affair with a womanizing folk singer in Nashville on Fletcher and her experience as the daughter of deaf parents. Those of you who remember that film know that Lily Tomlin eventually received an Academy Award nomination for the part. The reason Fletcher didn’t play the role—and the reason why Altman felt compelled to act like such a prick that night she won her Oscar—was because she had been offered the role of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which was scheduled to shoot at the same time. She picked the right one and Altman never forgave her for it—they never worked together again.

I mention this because it’s a classic example of how very few victories aren’t at least a little bit bittersweet. Even one as close to a fairy tale as Fletcher’s—which saw her spend five years toiling in early 60s television obscurity, before giving up on acting completely for 10 years, and then winning the Oscar 2 years after she returned to the profession. It’s a great story, but not necessarily one with a happily ever after ending.

Following her win, Fletcher signed on to costar in the much-anticipated sequel to one of the most successful films of all time. For a 43 year-old actress who just a few years earlier had been completely out of the industry, this was an amazing development. But fate had something else in mind, because that film turned out to be The Exorcist II: The Heretic—a film so despised upon its release at least one poll at the time suggested it was the second worst film ever made, behind only Plan 9 From Outer Space. (It turns out everyone in the world except me is wrong about this. The Heretic is awesome; it’s the first movie that sucks).

Lacking the glamour that might extend the career of another aging actress, Fletcher never got the chance given to most Oscar winners to star in at least one major Hollywood film. Instead she went on to a career on TV and in B-Movies—some good, a lot bad. B-Movies gave her the chance to play the title role in Mama Dracula, but it turned out that probably wasn’t a good thing.

But things wouldn’t get overly dire until 1987, when she suffered the one-two punch of Grizzly II: The Concert and the subject of today’s post, which takes the prize for the lowest moment of her career mostly because Grizzly II was never finished or officially released. Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, today’s subject was a literary adaptation, based on a 1979 book written by an author so popular that her heirs chose to hire a ghostwriter to continue writing books under her name after her death in 1986. It’s a gothic tale of familial secrets, cruelty, and incest, starring The Cute Girl with the Robot Brain and Steve Martin’s future ex-wife, and it’s really, really terrible.

I am, of course, talking about:

I’ve never read any entries in the “V.C. Andrews” canon, so I cannot honestly spend any time discussing her contribution to literature. Speaking dishonestly, I know she sucks because the only people I’ve ever seen read her books are…well…I can’t go there without seeming like a snobby asshole, can I?

Still, Flowers in the Attic is such a disaster as a movie it’s hard not to assume that its deepest flaws emanate directly from the source material. For those unfamiliar with either version, I’ll do you the favour of completely spoiling the experience so you need not suffer either.

Kristy Swanson plays Cathy, the eldest daughter of the four blond-haired Dollanganger children. She’s sad because her dad has died and left the family broke and homeless. Their only hope for survival is to move in with her wealthy grandparents, who so disapproved of her parents’ marriage they cut off all contact with them. Olivia (Fletcher) is still so pissed off by what Cathy’s mom (Victoria Tennent) did she insists that the Dollanganger children will not be allowed to roam freely in her home, but will instead spend all of their time silently locked away in their room.

It’s a terrible bargain, but Mrs. Dollanganger it seems has few options. When she does threaten to take the children away from the house, Olivia just laughs and tells her to go ahead. She then whips her to show her who’s boss. The kids' world expands a little when they find a door in their room that leads to the attic, where they entertain themselves with old clothes and toys. Without anyone else to pay attention to Cathy and her brother Chris become closer than siblings probably should be. Then they all start getting sick, and Cory, the youngest boy, dies.

Turns out the reason Olivia is so intent on hiding the kids is because her husband has no idea they exist. Their existence was kept from him because Cathy’s mom and dad were actually brother and sister.

To make matters even creepier, Cathy’s mom is trying to get into her parents’ good books by marrying a suitor who doesn’t share the exact same biological lineage, but he doesn’t know she has kids, which is why she’s been poisoning their food.

It all comes to a head when the three surviving Dollanganger kids escape, crash their mom’s wedding and confront her for her crimes against them. Cathy tries to force her mom to eat one of the poisoned cookies, which leads to a moment of such incompetent cinematic hilarity my words cannot do it justice:


Flowers in the Attic is so overwrought, laughable, and just plain wrong that it seems doomed from its very conception. Perhaps a more talented filmmaker than the man who gave us Blood Beach might have been able to do a better job, but that’s pure speculation. What we do have is a film that fails on every level, with one of the worst performances given by the sole Oscar winner in its cast. As Olivia, the sadistic grandmother, it’s hard not to see and hear Nurse Ratched in her every utterance and gesture. Only this time, she’s awful. It truly is a testament to the power the screenplay, director and editor have in shaping a performance. Is it possible that somewhere there is footage from Cuckoo’s Nest where she is just as horrible as she is here? Probably not, but it does prove that a lot more goes into an Oscar-winning performance than the work of the one actor.

Following Flowers in the Attic, Fletcher’s career has consisted of bit roles in movies and guest turns on TV. All in all, hers has been a decent career, but not one anyone seems interested in invigorating or giving a great final act.

Speaking of final acts, next week we take a look at a fine actress whose last years were spent making some pretty terrible movies.

Ruth Gordon

From the Bottom to the Top to the Bottom: Part Two in a Series

An amusing exercise in which we pour salt on the wounds of those who temporarily achieved Hollywood glory, but were little prepared to keep it.

Just like Michael J. Pollard, last week’s inaugural victim of Hollywood caprice, George Kennedy is a true character actor. Beyond that though, all comparisons come to an immediate end. If Pollard was odd and quirky, Kennedy was solid and stalwart—a real man with a real face, real hairpiece, and real body.

The same year Pollard was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Bonnie and Clyde, Kennedy won for Cool Hand Luke. In it he played Dragline, a prison tough guy who initially gives Paul Newman’s titular character a hard time, until Luke’s unbreakable spirit inspires his respect and admiration. It was his biggest role in a 10-year career that started when he was hired to be a technical advisor on The Phil Silvers Show (aka Sgt. Bilko), which led to him becoming an extra, which led to his getting the occasional line, which led to bit parts in other TV shows and then eventually movies.

Despite his Oscar, Hollywood was reluctant to elevate him to leading man status. When it did it was in Guns of the Magnificent Seven, the third film in the franchise, and the first to not star any of the original Seven. Notable only for putting him onscreen with his cinematic brother-from-another-mother Joe Don Baker, Guns did little to turn Kennedy into a true star.

The 70s saw him starring in a short-lived, forgotten TV series (Sarge), all four entries in the laughable Airport franchise (making him the series' only consistent character), Earthquake, and another just as short-lived, just as forgotten TV series (The Blue Knight), but it was the 80s where things started getting rough. His B-Movie career actually started promisingly with 1981s Just Before Dawn, perhaps the best slasher film of the period not made by John Carpenter, but the same could not be said for Wacko, Chattanooga Choo-Choo, Bolero or Delta Force. Kennedy’s lowest point, though, came in 1988, courtesy of the same directorial genius who gave us this:


I am, of course, talking about:


Unavailable on DVD, Demonwarp is a movie I only saw once on late night TV sometime in the early 90s, yet it has never ceased to haunt my dreams. Directed by Emmett Alston, the film is a bizarre mish-mash of sub-genres, seemingly created by the careless fusion of several unrelated screenplays. It first appears to be a Bigfoot movie, albeit one made to feel like a slasher film (Alston had previously made New Years Evil) before transforming into a cult/alien conspiracy thriller in which a topless screaming Michelle Bauer is sacrificed on an altar to a century old extra-terrestrial/god.

That one scene with Bauer has never left my mind, but it pales in significance to another she appears in earlier in the movie. In it, she and a similarly busty friend (of the blonde variety) are introduced into the film out of nowhere and without context as two tanning enthusiasts who have come to the forest to bask in the sun’s golden rays. To do this requires they unburden themselves of their tops, which they do quickly and efficiently. But, unfortunately, the baring of their breasts attracts the Bigfoot creature who shows his distaste for their exhibitionism by graphically removing the blonde’s head from her body. Bauer screams, is captured by the creature, and then disappears from the narrative until it’s time to sacrifice her on the slab—making this another feature in which she spends more time onscreen naked than otherwise.

Kennedy’s role as the father of one of the moronic teenage characters is negligible and unnecessary, but enough to get his face featured on the poster and top-billed in the credits. It’s the dictionary definition of a paycheque performance.

Fortunately for Kennedy that same year he co-starred in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! a Zucker-Abrams-Zucker movie based on their very short-lived TV show. It and its two sequels brought him back into the limelight and probably remain the films for which he is best known (at least among my generation). When the franchise ended in 1994 he worked as consistently as any actor of retirement age should be expected to. He’s still at it today, at the considerable age of 86.

Chances are Kennedy had no idea he’d have such a tumultuous career 51 years earlier when he was 35 and guest-starring on a TV western called Sugerfoot. It would be the only time he worked with another future Oscar winner, who was a regular on the show for the third of its four seasons. She too would know the highest highs and the lowest lows, but unlike Kennedy, she has never experienced any significant late-career success.

Next Time On

From the Bottom to the Top to the Bottom

Louise Fletcher

From the Bottom to the Top to the Bottom: Part One in a Series

Hollywood is a fickle mistress. One minute she’s a Brazilian supermodel who goes down on you in the middle of Spago and begs you to have a threesome with her even hotter Australian supermodel best friend, and then the next her lawyers are serving you a restraining order that says if you’re even on the same continent as her, the police are allowed to club you to death in front of your crying children.

And that’s how the pretty people get treated! It’s so much worse for the merely talented, who manage to win the celebrity lottery by being cast in the right role in the right movie at the right time. Oh, man, does Hollywood hate those assholes, especially if they’re unlucky enough to get nominated for an Oscar for their efforts. Sure they’ll give them a movie or two to star in, but once those movies-no-one-asked-for inevitably tank those poor bastards are lucky if their agent can get them an audition for a dog food commercial.

In need of interesting content, I’ve decided to occasionally mock these one-hit wonders by not only pointing them out, but also by singling out the lowest moment of their subsequent careers—the one film that well and truly should have driven them out of the business forever (but probably didn’t).

Tonight’s entry is one of the just plain oddest dudes to ever earn any attention from the Academy. The fact that he was eventually perfectly cast as Mr. Mxyptlk in the dreadful 80s Superboy syndicated TV show pretty much says it all.

I am, of course, talking about:

Michael J. Pollard

A theatre and television actor who specialized in playing beatniks and children (everyone remembers that episode of Star Trek where he played the leader of a group of kids on a planet where going through puberty was fatal—he was 27 at the time), Pollard came to national attention when he was cast as C.W. Moss in Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty’s Bonnie & Clyde (producer/star Warren would get upset if I credited it solely to its director). As Moss, Pollard proved to be a unique and intriguing screen presence, which—combined with the critical and popular success of the film—resulted in a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Despite being the clearest possible archetype of a “character actor”, Hollywood made a game attempt to allow him to carry some movies. He co-starred with Robert Redford in the period motorcycle drama Little Fauss and Big Halsey and played the title character in the very 70s revisionist western Dirty Little Billy. The failure of the last film, combined with his genuine oddness, quickly halted his trajectory and he pretty much disappeared for most of the 70s (the one decade you’d think would appreciate him the most), only to reappear in many terrible B-Movies and the occasional studio picture during the 80s and 90s. Whether in the hilariously misguided American Gothic, the charming Roxanne or blockbusters like Dick Tracy and Tango & Cash, he always played the same role—the really weird elfin guy.

Looking through his IMDb page there are a lot of low moments to choose from. I’ve already mentioned American Gothic, but it’s more weird than terrible. Fast Food is pretty miserable, but it has post-porn unbelievably hot era Traci Lords in it, so it too must be allowed to pass. I reviewed The Patriot for Flick Attack and thought it was horrible, but I now have no memory whatsoever of Pollard even being in it. Night Visitor is more bland than bad (which actually makes it that much harder to sit through) so that just leaves one clear choice for the lowest moment of Pollard’s post Oscar-nomination career. That’s right, folks:


Everyone remembers the original Sleepaway Camp. It’s the slasher classic where the killer turns out to be a twelve year-old girl with an enormous cock (spoiler). Much fewer people remember the two subsequent sequels, and if they do, it’s only because they starred Bruce Springsteen’s sister!

Having set the cinema world aflame with her role as the first Pat Benatar lookalike in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Pamela Springsteen was cast as the now adult version of the original film’s transgendered murderer. Unfortunately this didn’t lead to her achieving iconic horror franchise status, since the filmmakers (the same dude’s responsible for the above-mentioned Fast Food) decided to do something completely different that no one had ever done before and make a slasher movie that made fun of slasher movies! Even better, they did it twice!

Confused folks at the video store might have thought that the existence of Sleepaway Camp III indicated that there was a demand for the story to continue after Sleepaway Camp II, but the reality was that the filmmakers pulled a Salkind (look it up) and shot the two films back to back.

Truthfully it’s hard to tell which of the two are worse. Like all “funny” slasher movies, they are neither funny nor frightening, but Pollard’s only in the third one, so it doesn’t really matter. The sad thing is, he might very well be the best thing in it.

For shame, Sleepaway Camp III.

For shame.

Apparently Pollard’s still alive, but he hasn’t been up to much lately. Rob Zombie cast him in House of 1000 Corpses, which is just the sort of thing you’d expect Rob Zombie to do (he’s such a scamp!). As you probably, guessed Pollard never did take home that Oscar. He lost that year to George Kennedy, who won it for his memorable role in Cool Hand Luke—a great performance in a classic movie!

Next Time On

From the Bottom to the Top to the Bottom Again


George Kennedy