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The Wynorski Project Part Twelve - "976-EVIL II"

The Wynorski Project

Part Twelve




Police think they’ve caught the serial killer responsible for at least 5 local murders, thanks to an eyewitness who saw a community college dean named Grubeck impale a buxom blond with a fake stalagmite (or stalactite? Google it yourself). Little do they know that Grubeck is in the thrall of Horrorscope, a supernatural phone service that bestows gifts upon its callers, so long as they are willing to make certain sacrifices. Thanks to Horrorscope, Grubeck is able to leave his body and escape the confines of jail, allowing him to continue his murder spree and pin his crimes on the lovely co-ed he lusts after. Minimal boobs are shed, stuff explodes and the power of evil is too strong to allow for a happy ending.

In Popatopolis, the documentary that helped inspire me to begin The Wynorski Project, there’s a moment where JW gives his documenters a tour of his house, which serves as a shrine to his decades in the film industry. His walls covered with posters from his past films, he points over to one of them and comments, “976-EVIL II, which I believe is even better than 976-EVIL 1.”

As this project continues, the central question that seems to keep popping up again and again is: Does Wynorski give a fuck? Is it he purely in it for the cash and tits, or does he actually aspire to create worthwhile cinema, but pretends not to because either A) he has never been given the opportunity to do so or B) he couldn’t even if he tried? Watching the films themselves, it would be easy to assume he is the epitome of the hacky opportunist who can’t be bothered with such a pretentious notion as “quality filmmaking”, but then in an interview or commentary you’ll hear him say something like the quote above and it becomes clear that the truth isn’t that cut and dried.

The fact that Wynorski is so quick to insist that a sequel he made to a terrible film no one cares about is better than the original is a sure sign that his seemingly dismissive attitude towards his own work shouldn’t be taken at face value. People, including the Jim Wynorskis of the world, are way more complicated than that.

I know this, because I have a surprisingly lot in common with Wynorski, beyond the obvious simularities found in our portliness, fondness for buxom women and facial hair.

For a major part of my professional life, I worked in a literary atmosphere similar to the one Wynorski found himself in when he started working for Roger Corman. The paychecks were laughable, but were more than made up for by the opportunity to honestly claim I was a working writer. Like Wynorski I ended up working on sequels to projects I did not originate and in genres I disdained. I wrote the books under extremely tight deadlines that did not allow for much in the way of second drafts or revision—if I didn’t get it right the first time, there was nothing I could do about it but hope no one noticed.

To make up for my dissatisfaction, I would amuse myself by sneaking in sly jokes into the material, knowing 98% of my audience wouldn’t get them. The books were inevitably released without fanfare and the feedback I received from the public was minimal at best. If I did find a positive review/comment, chances were I’d soon find a negative one to counteract it. The young goth girl on MySpace who called Gothic Ghost Stories her favorite novel of all time was quickly canceled out by the reviewer who said the same book was uninspired and obviously written by a vocabulary-deprived narcissistic goth lesbian.

I’m not making that up.

For the sake of my own sanity I had to pretend like I didn’t care. That I just wrote the books because it was my job and I had no interest in what happened to them after they were released. But, of course, I did care, because I knew that I was still trying to do the best I could under the circumstances. As much as I hated working on Ghost Stories of Missouri, I never wanted the people who bought it to feel the same way about reading it. It’s impossible for me to believe that anyone but a true sociopath can invest a part of their life into a project—no matter how pathetic or laughable—and not find themselves at least partially invested in it. Just as Wynorski clings to his belief that 976-EVIL II is better than ­976-EVIL, I have to believe that my Campfire Ghost Stories II is better than Campfire Ghost Stories, even if no else is inclined to agree.

That said, is 976-EVIL II better than ­976-EVIL?

Yes, but only because 976-EVIL is actually unwatchable, while Wynorski’s sequel is merely really, really boring. The original has the distinction of being the worst film ever written by a future Oscar winner (L.A. Confidential scribe Brian Helgeland), although I suspect most of the blame for the film’s failure has to go to first-time director Robert Englund, who proved that being a horror movie icon in front of the camera doesn’t necessarily translate to magic on the other side.

Ironically, in continuing the series Wynorski and his collaborators turn not to Englund’s film for inspiration, but to his most famous character instead—Grubeck here being a low-rent version of Freddy Krueger, which Wynorski cheerfully admits via a cheap one-liner.

While in the case of Chopping Mall he was at least semi-successful in combining horror with humour, here they just don’t mix. Instead of making the movie move more quickly along, the obvious “Wynorskian” one-liners only highlight how contrived and hokey everything else is. At its best 976-EVIL II plays like one of the worst episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series, without the charms of Louise Robey to make everything feel okay.

The film is especially hurt by the score of Chuck Cirano, whose work is often the best thing about Wynorski’s films, but in this case is way too old-fashioned to be effective. Instead of placing us in a modern horror film, it transports us to an earlier era in a way that distracts from what is going on onscreen.

Like the Nightmare on Elm Street series, there is some cleverness to be found amongst the mostly sucky bits—especially in a scene where a character is transported into a scene from It’s A Wonderful Life, only to have it transform into Night of the Living Dead (although I will admit I admired this more for the clever combination of two iconic public domain sources than its actual execution), but it’s not nearly enough to make the film worth sitting through.

Other reviewers might be tempted to praise the film’s dark ending, in which the heroine (whose tendency to pass out a lot seems directly tied to the tightness of her jeans) is unable to provide reasonable explanations for the supernatural events that have occurred and is arrested for murder, but I found it to be completely out of step with the film’s semi-jokey tone and another example—a la Sorority House Massacre II—of Wynorski sadistically punishing his final girl in the name of avoiding cliché (which would be a lot more acceptable if he didn’t embrace every other cliché in the book).

Beyond that, the only other thing I wanted to note is the fact that in this, her penultimate appearance in a Wynorski film, Monique Gabrielle plays a buttoned up D.A. whose entire performance is clearly dubbed in by another actress, which marks another indignity she can cross off her list.

Sadly, I have to report that next week marks the first instance of the Internet failing to provide me with a resource I require. Having exhausted every avenue I could think of that didn’t require the spending of actual money, I have failed to locate a copy of Munchie for review. For that reason I shall skip ahead to Sins of Desire and you’ll have to wait for my take on the whole Munchie-verse when I examine Munchie Strikes Back in Part Seventeen.

Next Week

Sins of Desire

The Wynorski Project Part Eleven - "Scream Queen Hot Tub Party"

The Wynorski Project

Part Eleven

Scream Queen Hot Tub Party



Five famous “Scream Queens” (Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer, Roxanne Kernohan, Monique Gabrielle and Kelli Maroney) are invited to the home of Count Byron Orlock to attend a seminar on" How to Make A Good Horror Film." But when they get there, they find the house is empty and decide to pass the time by stripping down into nighties, consulting an Ouija board and then getting into a very small hot tub. While they sit crammed together they discuss the lectures they planned on giving had the seminar actually occurred. Then they take their tops off and lather each other up with soap. (Archival footage) blood is shed, breasts are bared (more often than they are covered), stuff explodes (once again thanks to the archival footage) and the film doesn’t so much as end than run out of video tape.


From a critical standpoint there’s really not a lot to say about Scream Queen Hot Tub Party. The title pretty much says it all. There are Scream Queens. They get into a hot tub. And they proceed to party. Run credits. In a way it’s an even more reduced version of the already bare bones Sorority House Massacre II and Hard to Die, stripping away all notions of character and plot and simply providing the nudity and lame jokes.

Running just 46 minutes, minus the credits, half of its running time is taken up by clips from other movies, meaning it only features about 20+ minutes of original material, the majority of which features its cast in a visually pleasing state of undress. Because of this you would think it would be a relatively easy film to sit through, especially if you fast forward past the scenes from movies you’ve already watched, but the truth is SQHTP is interminable and proves that gorgeous nude bodies alone are an important b-movie side-dish, but virtually impossible to digest as the main course.

And this is not a lightly made statement. SQHTP features five of the hottest b-movie actresses of the 80s and 90s, all of them at the peak of their physical attractiveness, yet the effort is an embarrassing, unwatchable mess that perfectly illustrates the point that it is actually possible for a filmmaker to aim for the Lowest Common Denominator and still manage to miss the target.

According to the commentary track (yes, SQHTP has a commentary track) the project originated when Wynorski and his cinematic doppleganger, Fred Olen Ray, got together for dinner and Wynorski proposed they do a film that eschewed a plot and consisted of nothing more than “Scream Queens” doing striptease routines. It was Ray, inspired by a classic Eddie Murphy SNL bit, who added the hot tub angle. The whole thing was shot on video in the course of one long Saturday. Within 15 years, this kind of production would represent the bulk of both of their careers.

That the film actually proved quite successful when it was released on home video speaks volumes about the affection b-movies fans of that era had for these actresses. With the exception of the previously reticent Maroney, it required no effort at the time to see any of these performers naked, so that alone doesn't fully explain its apparent appeal.

In fact, during this period Michelle Bauer’s name in the credits was a virtual nudity guarantee, as she was frequently cast for no other reason than to remove her top. Probably the most egregious example of this being David DeCoteau’s Deadly Embrace in which she is credited as the “Female Spirit of Sex”—a role that consisted entirely of shots of her staring into the camera while caressing her naked body, which were  then intercut with the film’s abundant sex scenes simply in order to pad its minimal running time.

What this means is that SQHTP is a film that exists only to showcase several attractive bodies that were often harder to find clothed than otherwise. So, yeah, it’s pointless and I’m clearly struggling to come up with anything more to say about it.

Aum…That Monique Gabrielle was sure hot, huh?

Okay, I give up.


976-Evil 2: The Astral Factor

The Wynorski Project Part Ten - "The Haunting of Morella"


I had intended for last week to be my final word on Sorority House Massacre II and Hard to Die, but in the midst of looking up something I remembered reading years ago in Maitland McDonagh’s Filmmaking On the Fringe regarding today’s subject I inadvertently came across Wynorski’s own description of the events that led to those films creation. In it he specifically answers many of the questions I brought up during the course of my past three posts, so it seemed only fair of me to bring them up here.

Though he does not address the issue directly, it would appear that the footage from Slumber Party Massacre was used because Roger Corman wasn’t sure if Warner Bros still held the rights to the original Sorority House Massacre. For that same reason the film Wynorski made was neither filmed or conceived as a straight sequel—its original filming title was Jim Wynorski’s House of Babes, which was changed to The Séance and Nightie Nightmare before the rights issue was resolved and it was released as Sorority House Massacre II.

According to Wynorski the script was written in three days and shot in seven on sets left over from Slumber Party Massacre III and was actually made behind Corman’s back at the behest of his wife Julie. When Corman finally caught wind of the project he was the one who suggested adding a scene in a strip club, which required adding in the cop characters into the movie.

Since the rights issue kept Corman from keeping all of the profits from SHMII, he requested the immediate remake so he could release essentially the same film without having to give anything away. Hard to Die was then shot as Tower of Terror in 10 days with a slightly larger budget with essentially the same script.

Now that I know this, does it change how I feel about the films?

In a word, no.

If anything what this information does is compel the interesting question of how much does marketing affect how we perceive a film product. Would my perception of SHMII have been different if I had watched Nightie Nightmare instead? Honestly, I don’t think so. All of the issues that I discussed at length in the previous three posts would still be the same, except for the film’s failure to address the original SHM. Beyond that, Wynorski’s use of footage from SPM would still be as relevant, as would the film’s ultimately nihilistic, misogynistic undertones.

‘Kay that’s enough about that!

Onto the main feature:


The Wynorski Project

Part 10

The Haunting of Morella




Morella Winthrop (Nicole Eggert) has been tried and convicted as a witch who tried to find immortality through the murder of a serving girl and the attempted sacrifice of her own newborn daughter, Lenora. For her crime she is executed by having red-hot pokers jabbed into her eyes. Before she dies she promises to someday return in the body of her grown-up daughter. 17 years pass and Lenora (Eggert) is almost 18 and physically identical to her late mother. Unbeknownst to Lenora and her father (David McCallum), her tutor, Coel (Lana Clarkson), was once Morella’s acolyte and is ready to set in motion a murderous plan to resurrect the executed witch and help her find the immortality she craved at the cost of Lenora’s body and soul. Blood is shed, breasts are bared, stuff explodes and the film ends suggesting it has all only just begun.


Some people claim The Haunting of Morella is my best picture. I hate it. I think it’s my worst picture. It was tough making the picture and I wanted it to look classy, but the script was a little weak. It looks nice but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

-Jim Wynorski as quoted in Filmmaking On the Fringe, page 12


When he’s right, he’s right. In fact, I’m tempted to be a smart ass and just stop the post right here, but I don’t want to establish a precedent I might fall back on like a crutch in the future, so 1000 reluctant words for The Haunting of Morella it is.

First off, I wanna know who these “some people” are. Have they never seen any of Wynorski’s other films? Have they never seen another film? Of all the words I would use to describe the film, “best” is not one that would ever enter my vocabulary under any circumstance beyond, “The Haunting of Morella is the best example thus far of Wynorski making a really terrible movie.”

Even though I ultimately had little good to say about Big Bad Mama II, Deathstalker II, Not of This Earth, SHMII and Hard to Die, I can honestly say that sitting through them didn’t represent a Herculean struggle on my part. The 80 minutes or so it took to get through them flew by quickly enough and I felt no worse off for the effort. The same cannot be said for THofM, which tried my will and patience throughout its entirety.

The central problem with THofM is that it strains for a credibility it never earns. Watching it made me rethink my proposal that a straight version of Deathstalker II would have been just as terrible as his comedic variation, but vastly more satisfying for the audience that actually wanted to see it. THofM is as straight as Wynorski has thus far gotten and after awhile even I couldn’t help but pray for one of his terrible fourth-wall breaking in-jokes.


A wannabe throwback to the classic Corman Poe pictures of the 60s, as well as Mario Bava’s gothic classic Black Sabbath, THofM suffers greatly in comparison. Despite his blaming the script for its failure, the truth is THofM is a flop for which everyone involved is to blame.

There’s a reason Corman remains best identified with the gothic classics he directed that were based (very) loosely on the work of Edgar Allen Poe, as they represent much of his best work as a filmmaker. The Masque of the Red Death, for example, is easily my personal favourite of his films and I regard it to be as much an art-house masterpiece as Bergman’s similar The Seventh Seal. In the case of that particular film, much of the credit has to go to cinematographer Nicholas Roeg, whose extraordinarily vibrant colours are a major factor in its success.

Despite Wynorski’s insistence that “it looks nice,” THofM by comparison is a drab, poorly shot effort that, unlike Corman or Bava’s films, completely fails to transcend its low budget. Morella’s crypt looks exactly like the Styrofoam it’s made out of, the costumes are bland and ill-fitting, the actresses’ underwear is laughably anachronistic, the thunder-flashes are the same stock footage Wynorski has used in all of his other films, and the mise en scene is often hilarious for all the wrong reasons—witness:


But the biggest problem the film has is its leading lady, Nicole Eggert, who had just left Charles in Charge and was about to go on to Baywatch when she took on the dual role of Morella and Lenora. Though slightly better as Morella, she is completely unconvincing in both roles, her blond California surfer girl demeanor completely at odds with the films gothic tone and atmosphere.

But the biggest distraction she brings to the picture came from her refusal to take her clothes off in front of the camera. This being a Wynorski production, there was no way her character’s nude scenes would ever get rewritten, so a body double was required. (According to the new commentary on the recent Shout Factory release of Not of This Earth, Traci Lords was originally offered the role, but declined because she was no longer willing to perform nude on film, which makes the decision to cast the similarly modest Eggert somewhat ironic).

As a rule I loathe body doubles, as they represent a tremendous insult to the audience and are invariably distracting no matter how well they are integrated into the picture. The insult comes from the idea that we’ll be just as happy with a pair of disembodied breasts as a pair that actually comes with a face, because tits are tits and who knows the difference, right? Wrong. By using a body double, nudity ceases to be fun and becomes obnoxiously exploitative—tits for the sake of tits for the sake of box office and foreign sales. And it doesn’t help that it is so rarely done well.

THofM is especially egregious in its use of body doubles. During her major sex scene, the editing cuts to shots of Eggert’s noticeably thinner and paler double writhing on her co-star while her badly-matched wig covers her face (which she helpfully keeps turned away from the camera), to close-ups of Eggert that—in the print I watched—are so poorly-framed you can see the bra she is wearing every time she moves up.


It’s even worse in this case, since even without Eggert’s participation the film would not lack for gratuitous nudity. Tragic blond starlet Lana Clarkson (who laughably towers over her tiny co-star) is nude throughout, as is Corman regular Maria Ford and Gail Harris, the star of Wynorski previous (and much-discussed) two films. Given this abundance of traditional skin, it’s ridiculous the lengths they went through to throw in a series of distracting and unnecessary additional naked shots.

Speaking of naked shots, next week I’ll be seeing a lot of them, since that’s when I’ll take a look at Wynorski’s first official collaboration with cinema soul mate Fred Olen Ray, Scream Queen Hot Tub Party—which features Wynorski regulars Monique Gabrielle and Kelli Maroney joining Roxanne Kernohan and Ray regulars Michelle Bauer and Brinke Stevens in a nearly plotless stripfest cobbled together using footage from their previous films.

Should be fun?

Next Week

Scream Queen Hot Tub Party

The Wynorski Project Part Eight & Nine Concluded

The Wynorski Project

Part 8 and 9

Sorority House Massacre II & Hard to Die

Part Three

Last week I discussed my belief that by completely stripping his films of any discernable subtext, Wynorski ended up producing works that are ultimately guilty of every criticism (usually unfairly) thrown at the slasher genre. For all his humorous riffing, the results are every bit as misogynist and misanthropic as most ignorant people incorrectly believe horror films to be.

What I didn’t say is that despite (or—more accurately—because of) this the two films are compulsively and irresistibly watchable. As disdainful as Wynorski seems to be of his audience, there’s no denying that he’s giving them massive heaps of what they want. The overt sexuality of the films goes beyond mere prurience to pornographic excess, but the quality of that excess is such that it’s very hard to look away. Wynorski clearly knows this. ‘Give ‘em enough T&A and they’ll forgive you anything,’ being the apparent unspoken motto that defines much of his work.

But is he truly at peace with this? After watching his brief cameo in Hard to Die this becomes a legitimate question. The scene in question occurs when two detectives (who only appear in the film because they also appeared in Sorority House Massacre II and no one could be bothered to figure out how to get rid of them in the rewritten script) break in on a porno shoot to interview an adult film actress (Wynorski regular, Monique Gabrielle, who appears twice in the movie—billed first as“Carolet Girard” in the part of the porn star and then as “Lucy Burnett” for the part of a homely Chinese food delivery woman, which is very similar to her short cameo in Not of This Earth. Two years later she would play the final girl in Fred Olen Ray’s Evil Toons, which is as much a remake of SHMII as HtoD is) who used to work at the lingerie company where all the mayhem is occurring. 

Playing the part of the exasperated director is Wynorski himself, who—when accused of making “pornography”—defends himself by saying “…It’s tough enough making a picture these days without making certain—shall we say— ‘concessions’ to public taste….” On the face of it, it would seem like he’s winking at his audience again. Giving them an in-joke they can chuckle over and appreciate for its self-deprecating irony, but this ignores the fact that when the movie was made in 1990 Wynorski was still a fairly anonymous Corman hack who most genre fans wouldn’t recognize in a police line-up, much less in an in-joke cameo.

This makes me wonder if maybe he cast himself as the pornographer not because a handful of Corman insiders would find it amusing, but as a form of cinematic Freudian slip. Is it possible that Wynorski really imagines himself as an artist forced to debase himself to satisfy the public’s need for sex and violence?

Probably not, but it will be interesting to see if any similar cameo’s are made in later productions where he abandons all pretense of respectability and just flat out makes softcore porn (see future reviews of The Bare Wench Project 1, 2 & 3). I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the cameo is just a goof, but it’s the kind of goof pretentious asshole reviewers like me cannot help themselves from grasping on.


Beyond Wynorski’s cameo, though, the other interesting part about this scene is that it is clearly based on the scene in SHMII where the same two cops (the female half of whom is played by Wynorski regular Toni Naples, working under the name Karen Chorak) go to a strip club to talk to the younger sister of the girl who killed the maniac whose spirit is causing all of the mayhem back at the sorority house.


Watching as a hyper-aware genre-enthusiast, it was this scene that caused my brain to start doing backflips, because with it Wynorski manages to take SHMII and turn it from being an unrelated in-name-only sequel to Sorority House Massacre into an alternative universe sequel to Slumber Party Massacre, from which the flashback footage is taken. Having at that point already written about Slumber Party Massacre II (rather successfully—if a comment made at the 37 minute point of this YouTube video is to be believed) I was dumbfounded to see Wynorski take the character Deborah Brock had cast as a virginal member of an all-girl pop band into a slutty, fishnet clad stripper.

My first thought was of Uatu the Watcher, the big-header star of Marvel Comics What If…. series, in which popular Marvel Universe stories were upended with simple twists of fate. For example, issue #7 dealt with what would have happened if someone other than Peter Parker had been bit by that radioactive spider that fateful day. The most amusing aspect of the series was how it allowed the writers to let loose with their wildest apocalyptic, nihilistic fantasies, as virtually every scenario seemed to end with the destruction of the universe (thus proving that the way it “really happened” was truly meant to be).

As unintentional as this had to be on Wynorski’s part, it does force an inevitable comparison between his and Brock’s takes on the slasher genre and it’s one where he definitely does not come out on top. Whereas Brock was able to make the first slasher film that was set entirely in the pov consciousness of a young woman’s mind, Wynorski was only able to deliver a film that aims for moronic parody and fails.

 More telling, though, is the profession chosen for the character in SHMII. The fact is that in a film already so full of gratuitous nudity the strip club sequence is by far the unnecessary and redundant. Knowing what I do about his previous work, I suspect both it and the rest of the police sequences were added late to the script when it became evident the original draft was too short. I’d even guess they were shot long after the film was first completed, were it not for the fact that the same scenes are all essentially replicated in Hard To Die, making this scenario highly unlikely.

Whatever the reason for the sequence, it speaks volumes about who Wynorski is as a person and filmmaker that in his universe, this character turns out to be a stripper. Brock imagined an innocent girl driven to insanity by her horrific experience, while her Corman co-hort simply saw an opportunity to add another pair of tits into the mix.

I strongly suspect that out there is an alternative universe where I prefer his take on the material over hers, but only Uatu truly knows.


Okay, so that’s it for these two flicks. Next week I’ll discuss a more serious work in the Wynorski canon that the director has gone on record as stating that he personally hates.

Next Week

The Haunting of Morella

The Wynorski Project Part Eight & Nine Continued

The Wynorski Project

Sorority House Massacre II & Hard to Die


Part Two

Two weeks ago I expressed my amazement over the sheer chutzpah of these two films. Sorority House Massacre II being a sequel that not only completely ignores the first Sorority House Massacre, but even goes so far as to us flashback footage from Slumber Party Massacre instead. Amazingly, that same footage appears again in the concurrently filmed Hard to Die, which was obviously shot with a script only slightly altered from the one used for SHMII, making it perhaps the first instant remake of an in-name-only sequel ever made.

As a result of these shenanigans, Wynorski seems to have inadvertently created his first meta-movies—making two unconsciously post-modern films that work far better as his commentary on the state of independent genre filmmaking in the 90s than they do as actual independent genre films.

In a climate where the desire for instant profitability turned the concept of what a sequel actually was essentially meaningless, it makes sense that Wynorski would prove utterly indifferent to the original SHM. If the only thing that mattered was that they shared the same title, why bother even attempting to connect them beyond that? And if flashback footage was needed to flesh out the plot (and add valuable running time) why not take it from a superior film? Why settle for less if you didn’t have to?

And by the same token, if you’re making a sequel that is essentially an original film, why not produce an alternate version that could be sold as just that? With most films feeling so interchangeable by that time, what were the chances anyone was ever even going to notice?


With these two films Wynorski is explicitly stating his belief that plot itself has no bearing or meaning in the genre universe. All that matters is you provide the proper amount of tits, ass and blood, without which SHMII and Hard to Die would cease to exist. The question then is whether or not he is indicting us for watching them or instead freeing himself from the yoke of narrative tyranny. Is it that he's pissed at his audience for being so base in their desires? Or is he thrilled by the opportunity to make movies entirely defined by the elements he himself so clearly enjoys?

The idealistic optimist in me wants to believe it’s the latter, but watching the films it becomes hard not to conclude the former. Despite his reputation as a director who just likes to surround himself with busty babes, both films clearly move beyond the veil of gentle satire into something far more brutal and unpleasant. By boiling down a genre frequently scorned for consisting only of pretty naked girls being murdered in various unpleasant ways to nothing beyond those purest elements, Wynorski removes any potentially vindicating subtext from the films, turning them into exactly the kind of films critics might deservedly condemn. Based on the legal definition of a work designed purely to arouse the prurient interest, it becomes difficult to see them as anything other than grimy softcore pornography.

And what’s wrong with that?

Absolutely nothing, so long as you have access to a shower afterwards.

Of the two films, SHMII is by far the more cynical and disturbing, thanks to an ending that serves as a direct rebuke of the cliché that most often exonerates the slasher genre from frequent accusations of misogyny.

SHMII begins with Linda (Gail Harris, a British “Page-3” model who plays the heroine in both this and Hard to Die and whose strong Yorkshire accent is never explained or justified in either film) begging an unseen force for mercy before flashing back to the moment she and her friends arrived at the location where the titular massacre will eventually occur.

With this she is clearly established as the film’s “final girl”—a designation that is supported by the fact that she is clearly the most sensible, intelligent and levelheaded member of the group (which admittedly is—at best—a negligible achievement).

Her heroics, however, are undermined by a twist presented in both films, in which the characters she plays mistake the creepy neighbor/janitor Orville Ketchum as the maniac, when its really one of her friends/co-workers possessed by the evil spirit of a dead psychopath. In both films the majority of the humour is based on Ketchum’s superhuman ability to absorb her punishment—a trait usually found in slasher stalkers, not innocent dupes. 

The problem with SHMII is that following the climax where Linda manages to dispatch the true killer, there’s a coda where the police arrive at the scene of the crime and discover that she has now become possessed by the killer, which causes Ketchum to jump up from catastrophic injury once more and blow her away. He, naturally, manages to survive the hail of police gunfire that results.


On its face it's simply a semi-clever inversion of the cliché in which the seemingly unkillable killer is finally dispatched by the resourceful pretty girl, but by robbing Linda of her victory it becomes impossible to justify the sexualized carnage that came before it. I suppose the point is meant to be that there’s no good reason why the hero of a slasher film can’t be a creepy fat guy, but this is immediately undone by the simple fact that there is a very good reason why the resourceful pretty girl is almost invariably portrayed as the one who is victorious.

The only way to justify the ending is to assume that the audience should have identified with Ketchum instead of Linda in the first place. The implication being that most of the people watching the movie look far more like him than they do Harris. As true as this may be, the result is not a flattering portrait of the viewer. Instead of following the traditional mode in which the viewer firsts identifies with the killer as they dispatch a series of assholes who don’t deserve to live, then shifts their allegiance once the killer trains their focus on the virtuous good girl who represents the viewer at their best, SHMII asks us to cheer on the deaths of the hot sorority chicks, but then refuses to allow us to identify with the heroine whose actions will mitigate our initial bloodlust. By killing off Linda and leaving Ketchum alive, Wynorski leaves us unable to justify our lack of sympathy for the film’s victims, which ends the film with a disturbingly nihilistic tone.

And this in itself wouldn’t be such a big deal if Wynorski had shown any restraint in his portrayal of the female cast, but by presenting them all as brainless, sex-obsessed bimbos who spend the majority of the film running around in lingerie so ill-defined I would get banned from YouTube (again) if I featured them here in clip form, it becomes impossible to not conclude that his intentions were not merely unintentionally misogynistic, but deliberately so.

Okay, so that’s enough for this week. Next week I’ll conclude my look at these two films by exploring the alternative film universe Wynorski creates in SHMII and the potential indications of self-loathing found in his cameo as a director in Hard to Die.

Next Week

Sorority House Massacre II and Hard to Die


The Wynorski Project Part Eight & Nine "Sorority House Massacre II & Hard To Die"

The Wynorski Project

Part Eight & Nine

Sorority House Massacre II & Hard To Die


Sorority House Massacre II Synopsis

Five voluptuous members of a local sorority find themselves tasked with the clean up and renovation of their new chapter house. Before they begin working they’re visited by their weird neighbor, Orville Ketchum, who tells them the story of how the house’s previous resident, a maniac named Hokstader, went nuts and murdered most of his family before finally being killed himself. After a hard night of work, the girls decide to hold a lingerie Ouija board séance and unwittingly unleash the spirit of the murderer back into their midst. By possessing the bodies of the girls he begins his killing spree anew. Blood is shed, (many) breasts are bared, nothing explodes and Orville’s the only one who doesn’t die.


Hard To Die Synopsis

Five voluptuous temp and fulltime employees of a local lingerie company find themselves tasked with performing the annual inventory. Before they begin working they’re visited by the building’s weird janitor, Orville Ketchum, who tells them about his experience with a maniac named Hokstader, who went nuts and murdered five girls before finally being killed himself. Going through the boxes they have to inventory they inadvertently open a Chinese spirit box that contains the spirit of the murderer. By possessing the body of one of the girls he begins his killing spree anew. Blood is shed, (not quite as many) breasts are bared, nothing explodes and Orville finds true love at last.


Somewhere around October of last year, I sat down and watched Sorority House Massacre II and it kind of blew my mind. Not because I thought it was an amazing piece of cinema—it’s really pretty fucking terrible—but because it played so fast and loose with the idea of what qualifies as a horror movie sequel, going so far as to not only completely ignore the first Sorority House Massacre, but to actually employ flashback footage from a completely different series that had—by that time—already been sequelized twice.

The chutzpah of this is one thing, but when you go on to consider that while making SHM II Wynorski decided to reshoot the same script with only a handful of minor character and location adjustments and release it as an “original” movie called Hard To Die (which despite it’s title and advertising bares no resemblance to Die Hard) and you quickly come to appreciate that the famously bearded director has what must be the biggest pair of balls in the known universe. Or—at the very least—a pathological inability to experience shame.


If The Return of Swamp Thing represents the closest approximation of what Wynorski could have accomplished if he were a more ambitious, less cynical filmmaker, than the one-two punch of SHM II and Hard To Die serve as the harbingers of the jaded, dispassionate hackmeister he would eventually become.

Despite featuring all of the hallmarks of his established oeuvre, the two films mark the first time where his poking fun at the conventions of genre filmmaking no longer seems affectionate, but instead actively derisive. Whereas once his in-jokes seemed to be made in collaboration with his audience, now they seem to come at the expense of them. If before the subtext of his humour was “Hey, isn’t this stuff cool?” here it turns into a much darker and less entertaining, “So, this is the shit you assholes want, huh? Here it is.”

That this anger comes through despite the abundant spectacle of T&A he uses to disguise it, explains why I found the experience of watching SHM II so fascinating. How could something be so simultaneously craven and transgressive? And at what point does a filmmaker abandoning all personal dignity to give his audience exactly what he thinks they want, actually become a form of hostile artistic expression—the cinematic equivalent of the infamous Baltimore stripper described by John Waters, who used to shout “What the fuck are you looking at?” to the men watching her take off her clothes.

Without a commentary to explain the decisions that went into the making of the two films I am forced to guess at the reasons behind them, which is always a dangerous thing to do, but also a large part of what I find so intellectually intriguing about such stubbornly anti-intellectual films.

It doesn’t help that the credits only add to the confusion. SHM II is credited (on the actual print, not via the IMDb) to Bob Sheridan and James B. Rogers (a protégé of the Farraly Brothers who would eventually direct American Pie II), while Hard To Die is credited to Rogers and Mark McGee despite the fact the rewrite required to differentiate the two films couldn’t have taken more than a single day to complete. Wynorski takes full directing credit on SHM II, but credits the job on Hard To Die to Arch Stanton, a pseudonym I’m assuming is a reference to the name on the grave where the gold is buried in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

What I am 100% certain about is that in 1986 Roger Corman produced a movie called Sorority House Massacre. It’s an exceptionally unexceptional slasher effort; made memorable only by how ardently it rips off the plot beats of John Carpenter’s Halloween. And it would have been very easy to use footage from the film as flashback fodder for the sequel, but that isn’t what happened. Instead, at some point the decision was made to use footage from the original Slumber Party Massacre in its place.

And it would seem that this was a decision made while the script was being written, since the backstory Orville Ketchum tells the girls in both SHM II and Hard To Die bears no relation to the story of Sorority House Massacre. It also bears no relation to the story of Slumber Party Massacre either, but that’s easily solved via editing and Ketchem’s narration. Interestingly the story he tells changes in the two movies, despite the fact that the exact same footage is shown in both films.

The biggest question this begs is, simply, why? It would seem to me that the minimal time and effort expended to incorporate the footage from SPM into SHM II could have just as easily been used to change the script enough to justify SHM II’s sequel status, rather than confuse things with scenes from another franchise. Was it a matter of authentic confusion (it’s not hard to mix up the titles of the films), outright indifference, some random legal impediment (such as one of the actors in the original film refusing to have their likeness appear in the sequel) or just a deliberate “Fuck you!” to anyone devoted enough to the genre to notice?

Whatever the reason, the end result is a film that almost becomes its own meta-commentary on the strange relationship genre fans have with horror movie franchises that often seem to exist for no other reason than to anger and disappoint them.

While the motive behind turning a project into a franchise is the same regardless of genre—capitalizing on previous success—the nature of the horror genre dramatically lowers the standard by which that previous success is judged. During the 80s and 90s, the decision to make a horror movie sequel wasn’t based on how many people it was believed actually wanted to see it, but rather by how many video cassette units it was believed the sequel could sell. Video store operators were just as guilty as audiences of preferring the recognizable to the new and were much more likely to order the latest Leprechaun sequel than something original, despite the fact that no one you ever met ever actually claimed any desire to see Leprechaun 4: In Space.

For that reason, there were many franchise films that bore absolutely no relation to each other, often because they were retitled by their distributors simply to capitalize on a marketable name. SHM II would seem to be one of those films, but it takes the added step of implying it’s actually a sequel to a completely different franchise, one that by 1990 was already three films strong. The implication being that when it came to these kinds of films, the title was meaningless, so long as it sold a videotape, which made the actual content itself only an afterthought.

The cynicism of this appears to have inspired Wynorski to make two films that would seem to exist on no other than the most base exploitation movie level—80 minutes of non-stop tits, ass and blood—but he does so in such an extreme fashion that they transcend their LCD ambitions and force the viewer to reconsider what they are watching and why they are watching it. His apparent antipathy infecting the material in such a way that it actually achieves a strange measure of relevance.

Things get even more bizarre when you realize that two years later, Wynorski’s friend and sometime-collaborator would essentially remake both SHM II and Hard To Die as Evil Toons.

But, unfortunately, it’s getting late and I have to wrap this up so I can get it formatted and posted before the day ends. Next week I shall actually discuss the content of the films, such as they are.


 Sorority House Massacre II & Hard To Die



The Wynorski Project - Part Seven "Transylvania Twist"

The Wynorski Project

Part Seven

Transylvania Twist



At the urging of his Uncle Ephram, Dexter Ward seeks out Marissa Orlock, a beautiful blond recording artist whose father, Marinas, disappeared decades earlier with a dangerous mystical tome capable of unleashing terrible evil on the world. Just minutes after they meet, Marissa and Dexter learn that her father has died and they must travel to Transylvania to claim her inheritance and find the book. At Castle Orlock they are joined by her father’s old friend and executor, vampire hunter Victor Van Helsing, Marissa’s evil Uncle Byron, his manservant Stefan and his three busty “adopted daughters” Patty, Laverne and Maxine. Blood is shed, a lot of cleavage is exposed (but no breasts are bared), stuff explodes and there’s a happy ending for everyone but Uncle Byron.


I find myself stuck in a difficult position discussing Transylvania Twist. The problem is that I think there’s a lot of potentially great material in the film. Jokes that—on a purely conceptual level—display a lot of insight and wit. But I never laughed once. Intellectually, I appreciated what Wynorski and R.J. Robertson, the film’s screenwriter, were trying to do, but I never actually connected to the material. And I’ve yet to figure out why this is. Hopefully I’ll figure it out somewhere around the 1000 word mark.

Despite all of the humour found in his previous films, Transylvania Twist represents the first outright comedy Wynorski directed that was actually intended to be an outright comedy from its inception (unlike Deathstalker II, which turned from a straight sword and sorcery movie into a comedy during production).

According to the Internet (an admittedly shaky source of information) Wynorski actually replaced Charles B. Griffith, the screenwriter of the original Not of this Earth, The Little Shop of Horrors and Death Race 2000, as director. While Griffith had moved on from scripting to directing with efforts like Smokey Bites the Dust and Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II, the fact that Transylvania Twist was written by Wynorski’s good friend and frequent collaborator, Robertson, suggests to me that he had always been its intended director, even if Griffith temporarily got the assignment first.

 Unlike their previous three collaborations (Big Bad Mama II, Deathstalker II and Not of this Earth), Transylvania Twist marked the first time Robertson and Wynorski were able to create a completely original work, which I think explains why it doesn’t feel as laboured and tedious as those other films. Unfortunately they chose to strike out on their own in a genre that had already been mined clean over the past few decades.

Successful parody, I find, is very rare. Either filmmakers fail by being too toothless and doing little more than acknowledging a series of broad pop-culture references (see Repossessed or any of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s films) or they become too savage and essentially denigrate any audience knowledgeable enough to appreciate its jokes (Slaughter High strikes me as the best example of this). Even the most famous parodists exhibit, at best, spotty track records. Mel Brooks gave us the transcendent Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (a film whose success I believe should actually be credited more to star/screenwriter Gene Wilder than anyone else), but he also made Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead and Loving It, both of which suffered from being too overtly influenced by the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker Airplane! school of rat-ta-tat-tat 100 JPS comedy.

Not only does a film like Transylvania Twist suffer in comparison to a much better film like Young Frankenstein, but it also suffers when its inevitably compared to a much worse film like Transylvania 6-5000 (a film written and directed by occasional Brooks collaborator Rudy De Luca), because the association alone is enough to bring it down.

In terms of actual content, the film Transylvania Twist most resembles is John De Bello’s Return of the Killer Tomatoes, a film which does a good job of finding the fine line between childish mockery and prescient satire. Many of Twist’s best moments are ones that poke fun more at the medium itself than the horror genre. For example I appreciated the scene shot in one take in which the cameraman has to run through library stacks to catch up with his subjects, only to become distracted by a blonde’s abundant décolletage:


It’s a fun potshot at the pretentious done-in-one camera shots made famous by Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese, even if it doesn’t even come close to matching their bravura grandiosity.

Equally good is the moment where Marissa (80s sitcom star Teri Copley) becomes aware of the sound of the bassoon playing on the soundtrack, only to open her closet and find Patty (Wynorski regular Monique Gabrielle who is oddly credited as “?” in the end credits) sitting there playing the large woodwind instrument. Pretty much the exact same joke can be found in De Luca’s Transylvania 6-5000—with a violin substituted for a bassoon—but it works much better here thanks to the way Copley and Gabrielle downplay it, refusing to offer any acknowledgment of its absurdity.


Unfortunately as clever as these moments seemed, they still failed to make me laugh. Some of this, I think, can be blamed on Wynorski’s failure to maintain a consistent tone. A dilemma faced by filmmakers who enter into this kind of comic territory is that much of the material will inevitably seem juvenile and broadly simplistic, which often makes the more sophisticated and adult material seem out of place. Another explanation is that for every clever conceit that comes close to working, there are several that fail abysmally instead. The best example of this is the scene where Marissa and Dexter wander onto the vacant set of The Honeymooners, which turns their world black and white and causes their every statement to be followed by canned studio laughter. Not only is it a detour away from the film’s horror parody theme, but it’s a terribly dated and tired reference even when you remember that the film was made 22 years ago.

And despite the bassoon episode I mentioned above, Wynorski ruins a lot of jokes by flashing a bright spotlight on them. Not intent on just being the 1000th director to feature Forrest J. Ackerman in a wordless cameo, he also has to make sure we get it by having the former publisher hold a copy of his Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, despite its incongruity with his role as funeral director.

Also adding to the lack of laughter is Wynorski’s tendency to direct his actors to play the material as broadly and over-the-top as possible. Many potential parodists forget that what made the early Z-A-Z films so enjoyable was that they featured recognizable actors playing their roles completely straight. Airplane! succeeds because it features Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges and Peter Graves giving the same performances they would have given if they had been cast in a drama instead. The humour comes not from any feigned wackiness, but instead the hilarious contrast between the normal and absurd.

That said, there is a great performance in Transylvania Twist thanks to Wynorski veteran Ace Mask (also a highlight in The Return of Swamp Thing), who plays Van Helsing. The flashback scene between him and Brink Stevens is about as close as the film came to arousing a chuckle out of me.


The rest of the cast is unfortunately hit and miss. Robert Vaughn as Uncle Byron never gels into his role, while Your Show of Shows vet Howard Morris as Marinas Orlock comfortably plays out the same shtick that made people confuse him with Arte Johnson for decades. Steve Altman as Dexter was obviously cast for his impression skills, which go a long way towards reminding me why I innately dislike impressionists and Angus Scrimm appears to have been cast as Stefan solely to justify the Phantasm joke that comes near the end. Even Boris Karloff, who provides a posthumous cameo via clips from Roger Corman’s The Terror, fails to come off that well.

As per usual in a Wynorski film, the female cast was clearly chosen more for their ability to properly fill out their sexy costumes than to sell jokes. Copley tries her damnedest to do a good job, but at a certain point her Marilyn Monroe act starts to feels too overtly contrived. And I suspect that the kind of professional jealousy alluded to in the most recent commentary for Not of This Earth might explain both Gabrielle’s stilted, unconvincing performance and the bizarre non-credit she receives at the end.


In the final analysis Wynorski’s seventh film is one I wanted to like, but whose simple failure to compel the correct response from me forces me to deem it a failure. I dunno, maybe I was just in an especially assholish mood this week….

Next Week

Sorority House Massacre II/Hard To Die

Part One

The Wynorski Project - Part Six "The Return of Swamp Thing"

The Wynorski Project

Part Six

The Return of Swamp Thing



Beautiful blond Abigail decides it’s time to leave the safety of her plants and find out what really happened to her late mother. This means leaving California and visiting the estate of her evil stepfather, Anton Arcane, deep in the Louisiana bayou. Turns out he’s almost dead himself and requires Abby’s perfect genetic structure to complete the rejuvenation process necessary for him to survive. Fortunately for her, his mortal enemy is a dreamy living plant with muscles known as Swamp Thing, who takes an instant liking to the blond vegetarian. Very little blood is shed, no breasts are bared, stuff explodes and there’s a happy ending for our unique onscreen couple.

It sounds bizarre to suggest that a film that features a love story between Heather Locklear and a stuntman (Dick Durock) in a green plant suit is probably the closest Jim Wynorski has ever gotten to a making a satisfying mainstream movie, but it’s true. Of all his films so far documented on this blog, The Return of Swamp Thing is easily the most entertaining and professionally made. The film especially deserves credit for being better than the first Swamp Thing, a film directed by the more talented Wes Craven, that suffered due to unforeseen budget setbacks and the fact that the original Swamp Thing costume had an unfortunate tendency to disintegrate when put anywhere near an actual swamp.

While still full of classic Wynorski-isms (jokey references to his actors’ past work, Abbott & Costello type comedy, Monique Gabrielle, Ace Mask, running time lengthening opening and closing credits) the film doesn’t suffer under the weight of them like Deathstalker II and Not of This Earth did. I suspect a large part of the credit goes to producers Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan, who both remain best know for their involvement in the Batman franchise, beginning with Tim Burton’s 1989 film all the way to the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises, but it is entirely possible that this is just a coincidence and the film is simply proof that even a broken clock can be right two times day (see also Fred Olen Rey’s Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers).

Despite not being credited for the screenplay (that honour goes to Neil Cuthbert and Grant Morris), Wynorski’s influence on the script is obvious and in his commentary he credits Chopping Mall’s Steve Mitchell and Deathstalker II’s John Terlesky with helping him on the rewrite. It isn’t hard to guess who wrote what in the film, as certain scenes and jokes definitely feel more Wynorskian than others (ie. the subplot involving the two boys trying to get a picture of Swampy, the scene where Monique Gabrielle and Joe Sagal flirt—three years before Lethal Weapon 3by comparing scars a la Jaws, all of Heather Locklear’s one-liners), but in this case Wynorski was fortunate enough to have a cast talented enough to wring some entertainment out of them.

Sarah Douglas, for example, is typically excellent as Dr. Zurrell (an almost Kryptonian sounding name that recalls her most famous role as Ursa in Superman II), as is Wynorski regular Ace Mask, who adds a layer of hilarious banality to his evil mad scientist. Sagal and Gabrielle are both great as Arcane’s chief henchpeople and the scenes featuring the two young boys are all saved by the gleeful performances of RonReaco Lee and Daniel Emery Taylor.

Both Louis Jourdan and Durock return from the first film and both give the weakest performances. Jourdan disdained the movie and returned only for the paycheck and his indifference is evident onscreen (Wynorski gets him back by having a parrot make a Gigi joke in one scene), while Durock was clearly cast more for his physique and experience as a stuntman than his dramatic chops. It doesn’t help that his voice is clearly dubbed by another (uncredited) actor.

That said, a huge amount of credit for the film’s success has to go to Locklear, a TV actress whose comedic talent has often been overshadowed by her seemingly inhuman blond California beauty. I remember that when the film first came out, my local newspaper reviewer suggested in his review that he couldn’t tell if her performance in the film was one of the best or worst he’d ever seen. That it’s impossible to tell whether or not she’s in on the joke is the key to the film’s success. As Abigail, Locklear is often funny, but never campy, a distinction that is also true for the whole movie as well. 

Of course, though, the film’s humour is likely to be the element that alienates most comic book fans, who resent the dark worlds they take seriously being lightened in any way. This is especially true for Swamp Thing, a character who grew infinitely more complex after the 1982 release of Craven’s film via the pen of Alan Moore, whose reputation as the genre’s great literary genius was first earned from his work on Saga of the Swamp Thing. Fortunately for my enjoyment of the film, I’ve never actually read any of those comics and am therefore immune to any of the potential sacrileges committed onscreen, leaving me to admire it for what it is rather than detest it for what it’s not.

Truthfully, though, it is difficult to imagine how any filmmaker could be expected to bring the true comic book character onto the big screen. In comics the Swamp Thing is able to transcend his appearance and become a noble, tragic figure, but on film he’ll always be a guy in a silly green suit or (sometime in the future) a CGI cartoon. That’s not to say it couldn’t be done, just that in 1988—when the sequel was made—the budget Wynorski had to work with simply would not allow for a serious take on the material. And, it has to be said, if that was what the producers actually wanted, they never would have hired him in the first place.

Still, The Return of Swamp Thing isn’t a perfect film. It’s chief flaw being the kind of simplistic plot that people who’ve never actually read comic books typically associate with the genre. Were it not for the humour and absurdity of its central romance, it would be a much less satisfying, empty film where not much of consequence actually happens. The saving grace of Wynorski’s tone being that by reducing the dramatic stakes, it allows us to ignore how small the film really feels and instead enjoy it for what it is.

Six films in and I fear we might have reached the pinnacle of Wynorski’s career. The Return of Swamp Thing truly represents the bizarre miracle of cinematic alchemy in which a hack filmmaker's usual formula for once turns to gold instead of remaining lead. Knowing what I do about Wynorski's later work, it’s hard to hold out hope that I will be happily surprised to see its success replicated somewhere along the way. Perhaps there’s a hidden gem lost somewhere in his Jay Andrews filmography, but since that seems doubtful, it’s hard not to end this review without feeling a touch of melancholy. Is it possible that our subject made his last good movie over 20 years ago? For my sake, I hope not….

Next Week

Transylvania Twist

The Wynorski Project - Part Five "Not of This Earth"

The Wynorski Project

 Part Five

 Not of This Earth



A member of a dying alien species, the mysterious Mr. Johnson is on a mission to determine whether or not the human race can be harvested to provide the blood his people need to survive. To continue his mission he himself requires daily transfusions administered by a beautiful young nurse named Nadine Story, who quickly becomes suspicious about her employer’s activities. Blood is shed, breasts are bared, stuff explodes and the film ends with a question mark regarding the fate of mankind.


A couple years ago I wrote an amusing little diversion called 50 Reasons No One Wants to Publish Your First Book and it occurs to me that #46 on the list is especially apt in the case of Jim Wynorksi’s fifth film. It suggests:

46. Historically, books written solely to settle a bar bet seldom make it to print, especially if they were written during a seven-and-a-half-hour period in the same bar where the bet was made.

I mention this because Wynorski freely brags in both of the two commentaries he’s thus far done for Not of This Earth that before production began on the remake, Roger Corman bet him he couldn’t get it filmed in the same 12-day schedule in which he shot the original. Wynorski took the bet, filmed his movie in 11 and 1/2 days and promptly took home a new car for his achievement.

Had I not listened to the commentaries I think I honestly might have guessed this was the case, because the resulting film very much looks and feels like a movie shot very quickly and indifferently by its director because he had something other than telling an interesting story on the line. At just barely 80 minutes (a nominal running time which he only actually achieves by creating a long opening credit montage of scenes from other Corman sf movies and by outright stealing a full scene from Joe Dante and Alan Arkush’s Hollywood Boulevard) the movie still manages to feel sluggish and dull, despite the clear intention to turn it into a lightly entertaining drive-in pastiche.

Between this and Deathstalker II it becomes clear that one of Wynorski’s greatest faults is his inability to transcend his production limitations. Many other directors have achieved great things under similar budgetary and time restrictions, but in their cases they were all invested in the outcome—they truly cared how the movie would come out. Wynorski, however, wanted to win a new car.

I’ve always found something interesting about the existence of journeyman directors. Without them Hollywood couldn't exist, since so much of their product couldn’t be made by filmmakers who actually cared about what they were doing, yet there’s something paradoxical about their very existence. Given the stress and personal depravation required to make any movie, it seems incredible that there are men and women out there who have worked so long and hard to achieve the position of director only to then subvert their personal vision in order to produce executive-friendly studio pabulum. Those of us outside the movie industry often wonder why its participants earn as much as they do, and the answer is obviously tied to the industry’s acknowledgment of the profound and soul-crushing ambivalence required by its workers just to make it through the day.

But this doesn’t apply to our subject. You cannot accuse Wynorski of “selling out” because he’s spent his entire career making the kind of films he wants to make. Nor can you accuse him of being an egoless director who lacks pride in his achievements. As seen in Popatopolis his home is a monument to his career with posters from all of his films decorating his walls. And unlike other directors who are reticent to discuss their films in DVD commentaries, he’s gone so far to provide them for films he’s directed under pseudonyms.

At this point I can only guess at the reasons behind the disconnect between his equally evident pride and disinterest in his work. The one that currently makes the most sense to me is the idea that the only project that truly interests Jim Wynorski is the myth of Jim Wynorski, but I have no idea if this project will truly bear this out.

Working from the original script by Mark Hanna and frequent Corman-collaborator Charles Griffith, Wynorski and R.J. Robertson (who previously worked together on the script for Big Bad Mama II) did little to the story of Not of This Earth but up the T&A quotient as high as they could.

And while his previous four films were all too happy to thrown in as much sex and nudity as they could get away with, Not of This Earth marks the first time where it starts feeling truly gratuitous. Part of this is because the script remains so true to the original that the film has a slightly dated, out-of-touch feel that is shown in strong relief each time a pair of large breasts intrude upon the screen. Also to blame is the film’s extremely limited production values, which gives the film the kind of low-rent ambiance typically associated with soft and hardcore pornography.

Which makes the presence of former underage hardcore icon Traci Lords, in the role of Nadine the nurse, more than a little ironic, because her performance is easily the freshest, most appealing aspect of the entire movie. Rather than make Not of This Earth feel more sordid than it already is, Lords manages to elevate it to a level it never would have achieved if, for example, Deathstalker II’s Monique Gabrielle had been cast as Nadine (complete with anachronistic white cap and uniform), instead of merely being regulated to a short, unrecognizable cameo as a crazy bag lady.

Wynorski actually deserves some credit for not only giving Lords her first mainstream film role, but for also casting her against type as the good girl heroine. Throughout the rest of her career filmmakers had difficulty looking past her infamy and sultry physical presence and cast her in a series of vixen and bad girl roles. Not of This Earth suggests she could have easily gone another way.

Unfortunately her character is betrayed by a climax that finds Nadine lost in the thrall of her alien employer and about to transport herself to his home planet for immediate vivisection only to be saved at the last minute when her policeman boyfriend’s piercing siren causes the noise adverse “Mr. Johnson” to plunge his car off a bridge. It’s a repeat of the distressing situation I reported in The Lost Empire, where Wynorski takes a strong, self-sufficient female character and turns her into a helpless victim who requires her boyfriend’s intervention to save her.

Despite this, Lord’s performance is almost good enough to redeem the rest of the film. While the most disappointing of his films thus far, Not of This Earth isn’t a complete disaster. Had Wynorski the time, money and inclination to make a better film I think he could have matched the charm of his first two films, but by this early point in his career he had already decided that he was more concerned with winning a bet than making an interesting film.


Return of Swamp Thing

The Wynorski Project - Part Four "Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans"


The Wynorski Project

Part Four

Deathstalker II



Life gets exciting for Deathstalker, the womanizing "Prince of Thieves", when he rescues beautiful blond "seer" Reena from a trio of violent soldiers. After she convinces him that a vast reward awaits the man who stops the evil sorcerer Jarek from his reign of terror, they go on an adventure filled journey (Zombies! Female wrestlers! Amazons!), where our hero learns that Reena is a princess in exile, replaced by a mystical look-a-like who must consume men whole to survive. Blood is shed, breasts are bared, stuff explodes and there are happy endings for everyone who deserves one.

Before I begin, I want to say that the following might read more vitriolic than I intended. It is my belief that Deathstalker II is a bad movie, but the truth is that there's nothing wrong with being a bad movie. Bad movies make the world go round. And the fact is that as bad movies go, Deathstalker II isn't that bad. I just didn’t think it was very funny, which is somewhat problematic for a film that’s supposed to be a comedy.

But then this might be expected for a film that didn’t start out as a comedy. Originally written as a straightforward sequel to the original Deathstalker—a film best remembered today for featuring an early appearance by the late Lana Clarkson and the scene in which Barbi Benton’s see-through robe is rather redundantly torn off her bound body—Wynorski decided just as filming began in Argentina that the only way to save it from being a complete fiasco was to rewrite it on the fly with help from his leading man, Chopping Mall’s John Terlesky. Inspired by Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night and old Looney Tunes cartoons, they decided to turn it into a wacky road comedy.


This ad hoc approach to the screenplay is clearly evident onscreen. The script’s reliance on old jokes and routines borrowed from every comedy team filmed in the 30s and 40s is so blatantly predictable you find yourself mouthing the punch lines before the characters even have a chance to get to them. Though evidence of it could be found in all of the three films that preceded it, Deathstalker II is the first film to really establish Wynorski’s lack of an original voice. He’s the directorial equivalent of that guy at work who thinks he’s being clever by repeating jokes he’s heard in movies or on TV, seemingly oblivious to the fact that true wit requires you to come up with your own quips and observations, not merely parrot someone else’s.

But even more problematic to me is the ethical question Wynorski’s decision raises.

Now I realize “ethical” isn’t a word you hear used a lot in low-budget b-movie film reviews, but in the case of Deathstalker II I think it’s apt. As strange as it may sound to those of us who have seen the original Deathstalker, the very fact that its producers felt it was financially worthwhile to produce a sequel suggests that they believed there was a large group of folks who wanted to see that story continue. This being the case, Wynorski’s on-the-fly decision to turn the film into a comedy strikes me as an ultimately narcissistic move that—at best—represents a breach of trust.

Without a doubt had Wynorski filmed the original script without deviation the result would have been terrible, but it would have been consistently terrible with the first film and would have likely entertained the audience it had been produced for. The irony of Deathstalker II being that rather than save the film from descending into the laughable unintended camp of the Italian-made Ator films, Wynorski’s deliberately comic take only made the film terrible in a different way—one that undoubtedly ended up alienating the very audience who wanted to see it in the first place.

And here, I think, we get the first clue into the potentially unjustified negative feelings I had towards his work that I discussed in the introduction of this project. Despite his subject matter and apparent lack of pretension, Wynorski seems little different from those self-obsessed, self-proclaimed art house “geniuses” who make their films only for themselves and not their audiences. In his case though, his reasons for doing so isn’t to produce a work of “art”, but instead to make some money and hang out with pretty girls with big tits (which is, admittedly, a far more noble motive, but no less selfish and inconsiderate).

Truthfully, though, I’m somewhat dubious about Wynorski’s claim that the decision to turn the film into a farce was made at the last minute, if only because it’s very hard to imagine his chosen cast playing their roles in a non-comic capacity.

With his slim-build and jockish demeanor John Terlesky looks like he should be playing the bully in a teen comedy, not a medieval “Prince of Thieves” and it’s impossible to watch villainous John Lazar without thinking of his hilariously campy performance as Z-Man in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. As Sultana, Toni Naples looks good in a series of fetching outfits but is unable to do anything with the material she’s given. Of them all, it’s Maria Socas as the Amazon Queen who comes off the best, if only because she was the only actor already familiar with the genre (The Warrior and the Sorceress) and had the benefit of having all of her lines dubbed in by someone else.

That said, the film’s most memorable performance comes from Monique Gabrielle, a well-known 80s b-movie star who clocked more onscreen time naked than she ever did fully clothed. Deathstalker II features what is probably her most complex and difficult role, requiring her to take on the dual parts of the innocent exiled royal Reena and her evil, cannibalistic mystical doppleganger Evie. She’s not particularly convincing in either part, but this is more than made up for by her ability to carry off a series of nonexistent costumes that certainly leave a lasting impression on any heterosexual male who’s taken the time to watch the film. At the risk of blowing my already nebulous credibility, these costumes—and the moments she spends out of them—almost make Deathstalker II worth watching despite all of the objections I noted above.

Next Week

Not of This Earth


The Wynorski Project - Part Three "Big Bad Mama II"

The Wynorski Project

Part Three

Big Bad Mama II


In last week’s review I described the strange disappointment I felt when I discovered I actually enjoyed the experience of watching Jim Wynorski’s first two films, since the whole purpose of this project is to eventually justify my ultimately negative views of his work. Watching Big Bad Mama II, it became clear that this happy-goodtime-peace train was about to be derailed, but having spent a couple of hours thinking about the film, I have to admit that as flawed as it is—and it’s flawed to the point of being terrible—its failure is ultimately not Wynorski’s fault.

The truth is that even a much more innately talented and gifted filmmaker than he would likely not have been able to overcome the simple truth that this is a film that has no good reason to exist.

Though I was only 12 when this sequel was made, I can state with some certainty that there wasn’t a clamoring cry for the story of Big Bad Mama’s Wilma McClatchie to continue on in further adventures. In fact, if anyone discussed that film at all, it was only to reference Angie Dickinson’s full frontal nude scene, which everyone seemed to agree was the only reason the movie had been successful when it first came out in 1974.

This was significant because in the intervening 13 years, Dickinson had done what every other person who was 43 in 1974 did: She turned 56. While still attractive enough to be one of your parents’ hotter friends, her naked years had passed her by, robbing the sequel of the original’s only true raison d’etre.

That and there was the somewhat inescapable fact that at the end of the first movie, Wilma was pretty clearly dead.

But, despite these two very good reasons not to make BBMII, Roger Corman had what he thought was an equally good reason to get the sucker on film as soon as he could:

In the same way he would later capitalize on the public’s desire for dinosaur-amok movies by getting Carnosaur into video stores while Jurassic Park was still in theaters, Corman clearly hoped that he could ride a possible wave of depression era gangster pictures by quickly making a sequel to one of his genre-appropriate older hits. It would simply be up to whomever he assigned to make the picture to deal with the two major handicaps described above.

Obviously, our man Wynorski got the gig and he solved the no-naked-Dickinson problem by casting two really hot blondes as her daughters and removing their clothes instead. The dead protagonist problem, though, was a harder nut to crack, so he chose a far less elegant solution to get past it—he ignored the ending of the first movie and didn’t even attempt to explain what had happened or how the now living Wilma had managed to age more than a decade in just the two years that separated the plots of the two movies.

One solution Wynorski might have explored would have been to simply remake the original and pass it off as a sequel, but the film he ended up making has much more in common with another Corman Mama picture, Crazy Mama, than anything else. In this 1975 Jonathan Demme movie (which I reviewed here for Flick Attack), the child who would grow up to become Cloris Leachman watches as her father is brutally gunned down by corrupt sheriffs sent to evict her family from their land at the behest of a greedy banker who enjoys the mayhem from the comfort of his expensive car.

BBMII begins with Dickinson’s very much alive Wilma witnessing the murder of her husband at the hands of corrupt sheriffs sent to evict her family from their land at the behest of a greedy banker who enjoys the mayhem while standing in front of his expensive car. 

From there the similarities between the two films are more coincidental than explicit, but the opening scenes are so similar it’s hard to assume the second wasn’t directly inspired by the first.

After the death of her husband (who managed to completely avoid being in the first movie) Wilma enlists her two buxom blond daughters in a life of crime, robbing banks with the ultimate goal of destroying the banker-cum-governor-wannabe responsible for making her a widow. Along the way she meets up with an ambitious reporter (Robert Culp) who hopes to turn her into a national sensation, and kidnaps the handsome son of her nemesis, who promptly falls in love with her youngest daughter. Blood is shed, breasts are bared, stuff explodes and there are happy endings for everyone who deserves one.

Made for $1.2 million, BBMII had a generous budget for an 80s Corman movie, but it wasn’t anywhere near enough to properly mount a period gangster movie. Yet, despite this, the film’s most glaring anachronism isn’t anything we see onscreen, but the entire film itself. While depression era gangster pictures were a mainstay of 70s drive-in exploitation cinema, fueled by the popular and critical success of the previous decade’s Bonnie and Clyde, by 1987 they were no longer relevant in an age of slasher movies, sword and sorcery adventures, erotic thrillers and sci-fi Alien and Road Warrior rip-offs.

This is further acerbated by the film’s cinematography, which lacks the grainy quality that made the 70s depression films seem so authentic despite their budgetary constraints. Given all of this, BBMII might have actually benefited from Wynorski’s traditional irreverence, but with the exception of a few lines of dialogue here and there, he plays the film uncharacteristically straight.

In past reviews I’ve suggested that one sign of a filmmaker’s indifference towards their script can be seen in their strange refusal to deviate from it even when doing so causes more problems than it fixes. In BBMII we see an example of this in the form of the love scene between Dickinson and Culp’s characters. It’s a scene that not only serves no important narrative purpose (save Corman’s formula mandated bare skin quota), but also completely derails the movie by forcing us to accept that the 56 year-old actress and 57 year-old actor somehow magically look like pornstars when shot from the neck down. It’s the kind of avoidable mistake that can only be made out of apathy rather than by accident.

That said, the film isn’t a complete disaster. While Dickinson is ultimately too mannered to deliver a satisfying performance, Culp is great and makes you wish the film had been about him instead. Bruce (Father of Crispin) Glover also proves to be a compelling villain, bringing a certain oily charisma to his sociopathic banker character. Best of all, though, are the two performances by Danielle Brisebois and Julie McCullough as Wilma’s voluptuous young daughters (“They haven’t grown up,” she complains at one point in the film, “they’ve grown out.”).

While neither is terribly convincing in their roles (they’re both far too healthy looking to properly sell “child of the depression”), together they manage to fill the film with what little joy it possesses. McCullough, who is best-remembered today for being fired from her recurring role on the family sitcom Growing Pains when her conservative born-again Christian co-star/love interest, Kirk Cameron, found out about her Playboy past and accused the show’s producers of being pornographers for casting her, has an undeniably appealing presence that has far more to do with her natural sunny-ness than her performing abilities. Brisebois, a former child actress from Archie Bunker’s Place, on the other hand is a little more grounded and earthy as the older sister, but she also brings far more heart to the role than the script deserves.

Still, they alone cannot rescue BBMII from the cold hard truth that it was a sequel no one asked for in an exploitation genre that was no longer relevant made by a director who clearly wasn’t invested in its potential success. Those are nearly impossible hurdles to overcome and the film doesn’t even come close to trying.

Best remembered as a strange footnote for all involved, Big Bad Mama II marks the first failure documented by The Wynorski Project. I suspect there will be many more to come.


Deathstalker II

The Wynorski Project - Part Two "Chopping Mall"

The Wynorski Project

Part Two

 Chopping Mall




Midway through my revisiting Chopping Mall specifically for this review I found myself slightly annoyed by how much I was enjoying it. Having started this project with the hope that it would go on to justify my prejudices against Wynorski, it didn’t seem right that I would end up liking his first two films as much as I did. Like The Lost Empire, Chopping Mall is a flawed film, but also a good example of what Wynorski could do before he seemingly stopped caring. Even better, it’s one of his few films where the humour is used to good affect, rather than to excuse the production’s obvious limitations. What I like most about it is that it’s a sincere film, making it one of the few he’s directed thus far,

It’s also the film that introduces many of the actors who would go on to become members of Wynorski’s unofficial repertory company, including Kelli Maroney, John Terlesky, Ace Mask, Lenny Juliano and—in an eye blink silent cameo as a bikini clad beauty queen—Toni Naples (see video below), all of whom would appear in many of his movies over the next decade.


Co-written by Steve Mitchell, Chopping Mall (originally released to theaters as Killbots) largely eschews the terrible puns and slapstick humour that defined The Lost Empire and instead replaces it with slightly more sophisticated in-jokes designed specifically to appeal to movie geeks.

For example, in the film’s first scene Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov appear as Paul and Mary Bland, the characters they played previously in Bartel’s Eating Raoul. Also in that same scene we see brief appearances by Lost Empire’s Angela Aames, Paul Coufos (who looks a lot better without the cheesy mustache) and Angus Scrimm (whose appearance is so brief I would have missed it if Wynorski hadn’t pointed it out in his commentary). Dick Miller also appears—once again—as an older version of Walter Paisley, the murderous beatnik artist from Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood, who apparently survived his original fate and went on to become a shopping mall janitor, Perhaps the funniest of all the film’s references comes when the embattled characters decide to head to Peckinpah Sporting Goods to load up on firearms and ammunition.

Shot in the same Californian shopping mall made famous by Fast Times at Ridgemont High (which also featured Kelli Maroney in a supporting role), Chopping Mall is a fast-paced variation on the Spam-In-A-Cabin subgenre (in which a group of people find themselves trapped in a building with a murderous threat of some sort) in which the killers turn out to be malfunctioning security robots armed with unsuitably powerful laser weapons (see video below).


Coming in at just 73 minutes, minus the credits, the film succeeds largely because Wynorski doesn’t give us enough time to become bored and populates the film with characters who manage to avoid being the usual obnoxious assholes normally found in this kind of movie. That said, the film’s brevity and lack of complexity also work against it since we’re never given enough time or any reason to come to care about the poor folks trapped in the shopping mall with the killer robots, robbing the film of any potential emotional impact. There are at least three deaths in the film that in theory should affect us, but Wynorski isn’t capable of exploiting the drama inherent in these moments and as a result elicits shrugs rather than gasps or tears.

To its credit, the film shows no signs of the potential misogyny I expressed concern about in my previous review. Kelli Maroney’s character is given the typical final girl character arch, which I appreciate since that happens to be my favourite horror movie cliché. My only problem with her character’s significance in the film comes from Maroney herself. With her teased 80s blonde hairdo and chubby cheeks, its hard not to think of her as a human version of a certain popular Muppet character who was famously prone to violent rages and deeply in love with a lovable, if slightly milquetoast frog emcee. Perhaps I would feel differently if the film didn’t also feature Karrie Emerson, an extremely attractive brunette (see video below), who retired from acting not long after appearing in Chopping Mall and another film in which her character should have lived to the end, but didn’t—the astonishingly terrible Evils of the Night.


If it seems like I’m not saying a lot here, it’s because there’s really not enough meat on Chopping Mall’s bones to deconstruct. It is what it is and by that standard it’s quite fun and a definite check in Jim Wynorski’s win column, which is good, because I don’t think it will be very long before the other column starts filling right up.

Next Week

Big Bad Mama II

The Wynorski Project - Part One "Introduction and The Lost Empire"

Sometimes a little just isn’t enough.

Near the end of last year the one-two punch of my watching the excellent documentary Popatopolis and the less-than-excellent slasher-spoof Sorority House Massacre II inspired me to begin composing a long essay on filmmaker Jim Wynorski that would serve as the introduction for an even longer deconstruction of the latter film. But about 2000 words into the first essay I began to worry that my negative conclusions were too self-righteous, considering I had only actually seen 8 of his 87 films in their entirety.

How could I seriously argue that Wynorski’s films almost always disappointed me for specific reasons, if I’d only actually been disappointed by less than 10% of his output? If I were an honest essayist I would have no choice but to sit through as many of his films as I could get my hands on. And so far, via the miracle of the Internet, that number is hovering around 40.

With the prospect of so much potential misery (and boobs!) ahead of me, it only made sense to turn this into the weekly blog project I had been looking for ever since I had to move The House of Glib to a new location and sacrifice 99% of its former content to the temple of my laziness. This is why, until my supply finally runs dry, I shall endeavor to review one Wynorski film each week in the order of their release. Based on what I know, this means some minor fun in the beginning, a whole lot of “meh” in the middle and some real pain at the end.

Sure does sounds like fun to me!

But first a brief primer on our subject for those of you unaware of his prodigious career:

Jim Wynorski is a director who is famous for making movies with large-breasted women in them. Having always worked in the world of low-budget B-movies, the majority of his films have been made with very small budgets in very short amounts of time. As a means to protect himself from the pitfalls inherent in these kind of productions, he often relies on either one of two strategies—turn the movie into a spoof that isn’t meant to be taken seriously (ie. Deathstalker II, Sorority House Massacre II) or direct it under a pseudonym (a meaningless gesture in an age where the IMDb reveals all). Because of this, films that should be simple, albeit guilty, pleasures, instead take on an air of defensiveness that negatively effect the finished product. At least that’s the case with the 8 I’ve seen thus far. Perhaps the other 30+ I have yet to see will prove my thesis wrong.

 That said, let’s officially begin:




I get the very real and very terrifying sense that the first Wynorski film I’m reviewing for this project may very well be the best one of them all. While it displays all of the hallmarks that have come to define much of Wynorski’s oeuvre (at least that which he’s been willing to put his own name on), The Lost Empire still feels like a real movie rather than a quickly produced facsimile of one.

Watching it you get the very real sense that it represents what he might have done had fortune allowed him to continue following his own muse, rather than force him to equip the tools of self-parody and denial in order to pay the bills. While nowhere near perfect, or even all that good, one can still feel a sense of playful effort in The Lost Empire normally absent from his later movies. Not only was Wynorski actually trying when he made his directorial debut, but he also appeared to be having fun doing it.

Right from the very first shot, it’s clear we’re in Wynorski territory as a floating optical spotlight moves across the screen before settling on the generous cleavage of Anita Merritt, who you all remember covered in mud, wrestling John Candy in Stripes. The comedic tone of the film is also quickly established by the horny befuddlement of the Asian jewelry shop owner, who is so transfixed by her endowments he runs her cash through one of those old-fashioned credit card machines.


It’s actually these silent moments of comedy that work best in the film. Unlike the jokes found in the dialogue, which are often too deliberately punny and referential to raise anything other than a groan, the film’s physical comedy does a good job of setting the mood required to get the viewer through a plot that is highly dubious even before you have a chance to start thinking about it.

After his busty patron has left, the Asian shop owner (played by an actor named Peter Pan, which I prefer to assume isn’t a stage name) is killed by a trio of mystical warriors whose throwing stars apparently have to do a weird spinning thing for about 10 minutes before they can do any damage. The warriors are in search of The Eyes of Avatar, a pair of ancient Lemurian glowing jewels their master requires for his plans of world domination and, which, the shop owner has been using as the eyes in a really cheap looking statue of a demon/dragon/whatever. The owner is killed in the melee, as are two of three police officers, whose appearance on the scene forces the last living warrior to flee with only one of the two “eyes”.

It just so happens that the lone surviving police officer is the rookie brother of Lieutenant Wolfe, a super bad ass Dirty Harry type who we first see blowing away a roomful of junkie thugs before they can make good on their promise to kill a bunch of school kids.


In a reveal familiar to anyone who played Metroid when they grew up, it turns out that the bad ass lieutenant is actually a smoking hot blond named Angel (Melanie Vincz, who spent the majority of her decade long career working in television) with a mustachioed FBI agent boyfriend (Paul Coufos, who resembles a poor man’s Lee Horsley, which I suppose would make him a poor, poor man’s Tom Sellick) and a preference for skintight outfits.

Her injured brother lives just long enough to give Angel one of the mystical throwing stars, which her boyfriend immediately identifies as belonging to a follower of Dr. Sin Do (Phantasm's Angus Scrimm), a cult leader devoted to worshiping Lee Chuck, a maniac who sold his soul to the devil for immortality, but avoided payment by killing an innocent person every day and giving away their soul instead.

Wanting revenge (I’m guessing, the script is kinda fuzzy on her motivations), Angel decides she has to travel to Sin Do’s hidden island fortress (which may or may not be the titular lost empire, again the script fails to illuminate) and take part in his potentially fatal games, which are only open to beautiful, athletic young women. The catch is that the games only accept participants in groups of three, forcing Angel to find three worthy partners to join her on her quest.

To that end she goes to the local reservation and calls forth the extremely busty spirit of Whitestar (Russ Meyer vet Raven De La Croix, who was dating Wynorski at the time and also appeared as a stripper in Screwballs, which he co-wrote, but did not direct), who appears out of nowhere and then goes on to show absolutely no signs of supernatural empowerment.

After getting a little Thelma & Louise action in a honky tonk parking lot, they travel over to a nearby women’s prison, where all of the convicts are busty centerfolds who settle their problems in courtyard mud fights. Along with the thrilled guards Angel and Whitestar watch as the buxom blond Heather (the late Angela Aames, whose cleavage you’ll recognize from the beginning of Bachelor Party) manages to take down the equally buxom, leather-clad Whiplash (former green-haired Star Trek vixen turned porn star, Angelique Pettyjohn), earning herself a spot on the team.

Together they descend upon the recruitment center and force their way onto the already-full list in what is probably the best scene in the movie:


Strangely, The Lost Empire actually noticeably deflates once the trio makes it to the island. Typically this is where the film would really begin, but the film’s low budget isn’t prepared to deliver on the promise of an island fortress or exciting sexy woman-on-sexy woman games and instead delivers scenes of the actresses running around the grounds of a local L.A. mansion and practicing their archery.


In fact, the only “game” we see is a poorly choreographed gladiatorial fight scene between Angel and a masked behemoth that won’t rank high on anyone’s action scale. Wynorski tries to make up for this by having Sin Do fall madly in lust with Whitestar, giving him the excuse to drug her and thus expose her abundant attributes onscreen.

But beyond this what bothers me the most about the island portion of the movie is the reappearance of Angel’s FBI boyfriend, who comes to the island because he found the missing “Eye of Avatar” hidden in her forgotten purse. Why he would think coming to the island with the one object Sin Do needs for his plan to take over the world is a good idea is never explained, but this is trivial compared to what his sudden appearance does to Angel’s character.

Despite introducing her as a Dirty Harry-esque bad ass, who has no problem kicking the butts of rednecks, cult guards and giant gladiators alike, Wynorski chooses to cut her honorary balls off by turning her into a standard damsel-in-distress during the climax, so her boyfriend can rescue her and save the day. For all her apparent strength and superiority, Angel apparently isn’t able to stop the madman using her own devices. And even when she has a chance to go against an odious minion, he's dispatched by his own incompetence rather than her intervention.

This, I’m afraid, is the first possible sign of a misogynist streak I suspect I may uncover as this project continues. I hope I’m wrong, but based on the other films of Wynorski’s I have already seen, I strongly suspect it is there.

Still, there is fun to be had in the end, most notably the moment where Whitestar preempts a gorilla attack by kicking the guy in the suit in the nuts.


Despite the protestations of no less than two different villains, there never was a sequel to The Lost Empire, which is a shame because even though the film stumbles in terms of plot, it does a good job of establishing an interesting compelling bouncy cast of characters who could have easily been put to good use in further adventures.

I think what sets The Lost Empire apart from what I’ve seen of the rest of Wynorski’s oeuvre is its refreshing lack of cynicism. While it contains the same large-breasted actresses, terrible jokes and references to old movies that define his later work, it features them less out of desperation than with genuine affection and joy. It’s the kind of film a young movie maniac would make after finally getting the keys to the kingdom, simple enthusiasm making up for all the deficiencies of pacing, budget and plot.

It is, for all of its flaws, a genuine movie made by a man who stopped making genuine movies a long time ago.


Chopping Mall