Vanity Fear

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

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B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Ten "An Allegory With Tits and Explosions"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Ten

Massacre at Central High



New kid David learns a lot during his first day at Central High. It turns out the small school is run with an iron first by a quartet of rich male students, including his old friend Mark, who just happens to be dating Teresa, the very pretty girl David immediately takes a liking to. Mark tries to get David into the exclusive clique, but David refuses to associate himself with such overt bullies. His impatience reaches its boiling point when he catches them (without Mark) trying to rape two female students. He beats the snot out of them, and—in retaliation—they drop a car on his leg. Once a dedicated runner, David is now left with a permanent limp. He gets his revenge by arranging fatal accidents for his three assailants. At first, the students at Central High enjoy their newfound freedom from the clique’s tyranny, but as that freedom turns to chaos, the various factions try to convince David to help them takeover the school and run it in their image. Realizing he’s merely created more bullies, David begins to systematically murder the new crop of wannabe rulers. With no other way to end this eternal cycle, he decides to blow up the school during the annual Alumni Dance, but when Teresa arrives at the gymnasium and tells him she’s not going to leave, even if it means dying with everyone else, he grabs the bomb and runs outside. It detonates while in his hands, ending the violence once and for all.


Massacre at Central High is a fascinating film. Viewed from every possible angle, it’s an exploitation movie down to its very core. It’s a revenge thriller with creatively planned murders; it has a mega-buttload of impressive explosions; and it features more than its share of gratuitous nudity. Even its title was chosen specifically to capitalize on the popularity of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yet for all of its exploitative elements, there’s no getting around the fact that writer/director Renee Daalder (Dutch and male) was trying to do something more ambitious than create another drive-in movie.

One of the reasons I prefer writing about low budget genre film is because I take a lot of pleasure out of mining gold out of areas where others insist it cannot exist. To look beyond the surface and imagine what the filmmakers might have been thinking when they agreed to work on another cheap blood and tits movie. I am not so delusional to not accept that most did so only with “Hey! Great! A paycheck!” in their minds, but—based on my own personal experience as a writer—I also know how hard it is to completely bury one’s own personal pretensions in even the most cynical of creative enterprises. I love the “Bullsh*t” artists come up with to justify their artistic degradation, and I considered it my duty to support their delusions with the kind of self-indulgent analysis typically only reserved for more respected, mainstream material.

In the case of Massacre at Central High, though, I don’t have to expend any effort at all to figure out what Daalder was trying to say in his blood and tits drive-in movie. In fact, it would take far more effort to deny the film's pretensions and dismiss it as just another horror movie. In the case of this film, the question isn’t whether or not subtext exists, but whether or not that subtext allows the film to transcend what might otherwise be some pretty fatal flaws.

Based on plot description alone, the film is a revenge thriller with horror movie elements, but when you actually see it, it becomes clear that its genre elements only exist to appease the producers who financed it. In actual fact, Massacre at Central High is an allegorical film—with blood, explosions, and plenty of tits and ass. Made by a filmmaker who grew up in post-war Europe, it’s a film about fascism whose theme is so explicit the characters actually comment on it (but not in an overt, self-referential post-modern way).

And the thing about allegories is that, as an audience, we allow them more creative leeway than we do more traditional stories. Once we realize that the message of the film is its defining purpose, we become less pre-deposed to judge it as a whole work of art and instead focus on how well it communicates its point.

Because of this, Massacre at Central High gets away with the implausible in ways other less-ambitious genre films couldn’t. We not only accept the tiny student population, the complete absence of adults (until the very last dance sequence), and the unlikely murder scenarios, but actually understand how they work to strengthen the film’s message. What would otherwise be considered budget-related flaws, now seem like deliberate choices made for intelligent reasons.

When I wrote the above synopsis of the film, I actually made several attempts to not give away what it was really about, but—as an allegory—its theme is so directly interwoven into its plot that I couldn’t untangle it. David’s motivation for killing the other students once he’s killed the three who originally hurt him only makes sense in an allegorical context. When Mark confronts him late in the picture, he describes himself as a “psycho madman”, but the film doesn’t abandon him as its protagonist and makes no attempt to condemn him for his actions as he commits them. After he kills himself in order to spare the life of the girl he loves, the film ends with her telling her boyfriend that they’re both going to say he died getting rid of a bomb other (now dead) students hid in the school—making it clear that even in the world of the film only two people will ever know he wasn’t a hero.

So, then, if the film is an allegory, is it a good one? Does it get its point across? Is it intelligently argued? Or is it overtaken by the cheesy self-importance that often dooms such projects?

For the first three points, my personal feelings range from “I dunno,” to, “Probably not.” For an allegory about fascism, I’m not sure what ultimate point I’m supposed to take away from it. It’s clearly bad, but am I also supposed to conclude that it’s impossible to avoid? Each of the different student factions are obviously drawn to represent parts of modern society, including the wealthy, poor, educated, liberal, and middle-classes. All of them are deemed capable of creating their own forms of tyranny, suggesting that true freedom is impossible, which would mean more if the film didn’t also suggest that true freedom leads to anarchy without someone in charge. Thus David’s decision to blow up the whole school represents a clearly nihilistic worldview in which the only solution is the final solution. Of course, he fails to do this for the most romantic of reasons, but the hopelessness of his decision remains. Are we to then read the film as a treatise against armed revolution? If so, does that mean the film thinks David should have given in like everyone else and let the bullies rule Central High? That doesn’t seem likely, which explains my confusion. The point of an allegory is to have a point, which Massacre at Central High may have, but which is the only aspect of its production left at all ambiguous.

(Then again, if you avoid the sexist assumption that the protagonist of the film has to be a male, and view Teresa as its hero--or, at the very least, its moral center--then I suppose there is some hope in the film after all. While never an overt rebel like David, she also isn't afraid to confront abuse of power when she sees it. She's the one who first tries to stop the clique from raping her two friends, and she shows zero interest in the power struggle that follows after they are overthrown. In the end, to stop the madness she proves herself willing to be a martyr, yet understands the importance of David's cause enough to spare him his reputation after his death. I'm still not sure how this works overall, but I find it infinitely more palatable.)

That said, the film still works for me because the very elements that make it an exploitation movie allow it to avoid that trap of cheesy self-importance I mentioned above. The great thing about violence, tits, and explosions is that they go a long way from overcoming self-importance. These necessary elements humble the film, and make it seem much less pretentious than any “art” film about the same subject.

Still, Massacre at Central High is far from perfect. Its biggest flaw is the quality of the actors' performances, which range from passible (at best) to terrible (at worst). The worst offender is Andrew Stevens as Mark, which is ironic considering (apart from Robert Carradine) he would go on to have the most successful career out of anyone associated with the film (albeit mostly as a producer). Its also poorly served by a terrible music score and the strange costume decision to dress Teresa’s Kimberly Beck (who co-starred in Roller Boogie and possessed one of the most amazing bodies of the era) in outfits that look like they were directly stolen from the set of Little House On the Prairie.

Despite this, though, the film works. This was proven to me during the sequence where Teresa tells David she’s going to stay in the gym and die with everyone else. I found her decision genuinely moving and there’s no way that would have happened if I hadn’t invested myself into the story. The same is true of how I felt watching David try to run on his crippled leg in order to get the bomb out of the school on time. I was invested not because I didn't want to see the school blown up, but because I wanted to see him succeed in saving the girl he loves:


And I suppose I could end this here, but there is one great big, giant, white elephant in the room that should be addressed. Namely:


Is Heathers a remake of Massacre at Central High? No, but only because Heathers creators have resolutely avoided giving any credit to the older film. In terms of actual plot, they are definitely close enough to justify a lawsuit. My understanding is that Massacre is something of an orphaned production (which is why it has never gotten the DVD treatment it deserves) lost in legal limbo, which may explain why no such action has been taken. Either that or maybe some money was exchanged, but never acknowledged.

Even so, Heathers is clearly superior in its execution and overall themes. It avoids being an allegory about fascism and instead serves as one of the best satires of high school life (and society in general) ever made.

Still, a little credit given where it was due would have been nice.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Nine "Deeds Not Words (Or Deeds)"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Nine




The desert country of Something-or-other (seriously, the geography of this movie is completely fucked) is under siege by a military dude named Duke Guerera. Without any other option to stop him, the attractive Major Zara and prissy General Edward Byrne-White turn to the world’s best last defense—Megaforce! Secretly funded by each of the world’s free nations, Megaforce only accepts the best of the world's best, which apparently includes a redneck named Dallas, and a bunch of ethic folks who aren’t given enough screen time to show any discernable personality (except for the Shakespeare quoting, Vivaldi listening, Rubic’s Cube solving African-American member, who’s rejection of traditional black stereotypical behaviour is obviously meant to be hilarious). We’re told that there are no ranks in Megaforce, everyone is equal save for the commander, Ace Hunter, who happens to have a history with Guerera. Ace and Zara quickly grow fond of each other, and even though she proves herself to be worthy of joining Megaforce, he refuses to allow her to accompany them on the raid against Guerera. The Zara-less raid appears to have been successful, but Megaforce learns that if they attempt to leave Something-or-other by land, their crossing the border will be considered an act of war by Someone-who-can-declare-such-things. This leaves the dried lakebed as the only place their bombers can land and pick them up, but Guerera is there waiting for them. In order to live to see another day, the good ole’ boys of Megaforce are going to have to do some quick thinking and extra cool motorcycle riding!

If you read the above synopsis you might have reasonably felt that I left something out—mainly an actual plot capable of sustaining a 96-minute movie. You’re not alone. When I finished revisiting Megaforce—which I hadn’t seen in its entirety in decades—I was shocked by how little story had actually been told. The entire movie breaks down into the following acts:

Act One – We’re introduced to Megaforce.

Act Two – Megaforce completes a four-minute mission (there’s an actual timer on the screen when this happens).

Act Three – Megaforce escapes from the bad guy’s country (without actually accomplishing anything beyond killing the guys in that one four-minute mission).

The brainchild of stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham, Megaforce is what happens when a man utterly devoid of self-awareness or irony is allowed to become a major force in Hollywood. There’s a picture in his recent autobiography (which I dissected at length at Bookgasm) of an ad he took out after the opening of Smokey and the Bandit II, in which he’s shown sitting on a wheelbarrow filled with money, clad in a collared shit, unbuttoned to expose his hairy chest and gold chains.

So, yeah, he was a major asshole, but—as the comical wheelbarrow full of cash would suggest—he was a successful asshole. Prior to Megaforce he had managed to catch the interest of a public weary of 70s cinematic innovation with the two Smokey and the Bandit movies, Hooper, and The Cannonball Run. Most canny observers, however, would note that these four films all had something besides Needham in common—star Burt Reynolds. In fact, Needham’s lone failure up to that point had been The Villain, a Western comedy made in the style of the Chuck Jones Warner Brothers cartoons, which Reynolds took a pass on. Clearly, Needham’s career depended on the patronage of his good friend and former housemate.

And even though Needham lacked introspection, he clearly wasn’t an idiot. Watching Megaforce it becomes painfully obvious that he developed it as another Reynolds vehicle. The moments that actually come closest to working in the film are the light comic exchanges Ace shares with Zara, Dallas and--strangely--the villainous Duke, in which Reynolds onscreen voice screams out so loud it rattles your back molars.

But, as he had been with The Villain, Reynolds appears to have been smart enough to recognize a disaster in the making. This is pure speculation on my part, however, since Megaforce rates only the following mention in Needham's book:

The first time I was supposed to meet with Al Ruddy, who produced my Cannonball Run movies and Megaforce, was at Nate & Al’s, in Beverly Hills.

So the actual development and production history of the film are completely unknown to me. That said, Needham is not what anyone would call a closed book. Given what we know about him, the whys and the hows of the film aren’t at all difficult to imagine.

For example, it’s abundantly clear that the main reason Megaforce exists is because of Needham’s raging, rock hard boner for anything with an internal combustion engine. In fact, the cost of the machinery on display in the film is the only possible explanation for its $20 million budget, which sounds like nothing today, but was an extremely significant investment in 1982, especially for a film with no significant above the line costs.

The problem is that Needham clearly wanted cars and cycles that he could ride around on himself, which meant that none of the fantastic futuristic fighting vehicles look all that fantastic or futuristic. The one time in Needham’s career where he demanded some measure of verisimilitude was in the one project where an utter disregard for reality would have been most appropriate.

As someone who has absolutely no interest in motorized vehicles, I’m not the right judge when it comes to determining the awesomeness of Megaforce’s gas-fueled raison d’etres, but I do know that despite clearly being designed with toy shelves in mind, I didn’t know any kids who played with Megaforce toys in 1982. This link to images of the toy line, does an excellent job of explaining why. The fact that they felt compelled to release a toy version of the fucking pickup truck that Dallas and hilariously-educated-black-dude pick up the Major and General with is seriously messing with my brain.

To my eyes, the cars, trucks, and cycles, look like nothing more than expensively retooled cars, trucks, and cycles, which by itself does not a movie make. Ruddy and Needham (who both receive screenplay credits along with Bob Kachler, James Whittaker, and Andre Morgan—yes, Megaforce has five credited writers) try to make them seem cooler than cool by adding lasers and special paint jobs that do this:


But the lasers are barely used and the special paint thingee is never brought up again after Dallas demonstrates it (clearly none of the five writers are up on their Chekov). And, beyond the cars, the rest of the film barely rises above that of a TV movie. One reason it's impossible to figure out the film’s geography (beyond the incoherent screenplay) is the fact that the entire film was obviously shot in the same desert location, which just happened to be right next to Las Vegas, Nevada. (I’m guessing the decision to shoot there might have been connected to Needham’s deserved reputation as a dude who loved to par-tay!) Megaforce’s base is nothing more than a few large rooms and an unconvincing matte painting. And the non-driving effects range from the cheesy to the infamously hilarious.

The result is a very expensive film that looks little different than similar projects made with a tenth of Needham’s budget. It doesn’t help that Needham films with the eyes of a stuntman, not a director. Many of the stunts in the film are presented as events, rather than as part of the overall narrative. Personally knowing how difficult they are to pull-off, he isn’t able to cut them apart like a better filmmaker would.

Of course, none of this would matter if Megaforce had an exciting story filled with interesting characters, so the fact that it doesn’t is the true source of its failure. I’ve already described the film’s strange lack of story—it ends at what would be the halfway point of a modern action film—but the cast and characters also deserve some attention.

Unable to lure Reynolds into their trap, Ruddy and Needham went a fascinatingly different direction. Seven years had passed since Barry Bostwick had played Brad in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when he was cast as Ace Hunter. He had spent those years jumping from TV to Broadway, where he specialized in musical theater. This made him an odd choice for an action movie hero, but there are moments where you can see why he got the job. Ironically, they’re the same moments that make it clear Hunter was supposed to be played by Reynolds.

Thanks mostly to his own douchebaggery, people today forget that Reynolds had an easy light comic charm onscreen that was often surprisingly self-deprecating. It’s this quality that Bostwick brings to the part, and in some moments it almost works, but he’s brutally handicapped by the film’s bizarre costume and grooming choices. The first moment we see him, he’s shown wearing a blue headband that makes him look like Olivia Newton-John’s gay brother. This is exacerbated by his beard and blow-dried hairdo, which must have looked ridiculous even in 1982 when such things were marginally forgivable.

It’s largely because of Hunter’s appearance that many asshole critics such as myself suggest that the film has a secret gay subtext. It doesn’t help that Bostwick’s most famous onscreen role featured him dancing around in women’s lingerie, but as much as I would like to pursue this line of thought, I simply have to conclude that this is more the result of Needham’s cluelessness than any hitherto undiscovered latent tendencies—the film’s camp quality is actually the result of Needham being so resolutely, unironically masculine that he was simply unequipped to notice how gay the (presumably) gay costume and hair team conspired to make his star appear.

This is the only way to reconcile Bostwick’s appearance with the inclusion of Edward Mulhare’s General Byrne-White, who is portrayed as exactly the kind of fussy, uptight, British dude who Needham would determine was probably homosexual (you can just tell by the way he has Mulhare look concerned about his luggage).

Xanadu’s Michael Beck plays Dallas, and is convincing enough as a redneck yahoo anyone who hadn’t seen The Warriors would assume he was cast to type. The rest of the Megaforcers somehow manage to seem distressingly interchangeable, despite the attempt to cross a wide swath of ethnic lines.

Persis Khambatta (the late Indian actress, best remembered as the bald alien chick in Star Trek: The Motion Picture) is the film’s only significant female presence (which is another reason for some to make the gay subtext argument) and is clearly there because someone reminded Needham there has to be a girl in there somewhere. Her romance with Hunter takes up a large portion of screen time, even though it ultimately goes nowhere.

As the “villain” Henry Silva isn’t actually allowed to do anything villainous, which kinda sucks the tension out of the movie. The worst thing we seem him do is cheat at chess, which is probably something a typical Needham hero would do in the same situation. The film takes pains to establish that he and Hunter were once friends, and their big scene together is actually the best moment in the movie, but it has no place in a cartoonish action picture where the concepts of good and evil should actually matter. Guerera is very much alive at the end of the movie. When we last see him, he shouts at his escaping friend that they’ll meet each other again.

This is the first clear sign of the obvious fact that Megaforce was intended to become a major franchise, but we’re given absolutely no reason to want to see these two friends/rivals meet again. Especially since we didn’t actually see them do anything here the first time!

That said, Hunter’s escape from Guerera and his tanks results in Megaforce’s most infamous scene, which Needham and Ruddy clearly thought was going to be the most amazing thing anyone had ever witnessed on film. I could spend the next half hour trying to describe it, but I’ll just let you watch it for yourself instead.


So, yeah, that happens. I’d end this here, but special mention also has to be reserved for the film’s final shot, which I admit goes a long way to tearing my “Megaforce isn’t intentionally gay” theory to shreds.

This is how Hal Needham ended his major action opus, folks

Need I say more?

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Eight "Welcome to The Monster Club"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Eight

The Monster Club




Horror author R. Chetwynd-Hayes is accosted outside a bookstore by a desperate looking man, who claims to have not eaten for weeks. The kindly author attempts to give the poor soul a few dollars, but the man refuses the offer and instead sinks his large fangs into R’s neck. Luckily for R, Eramus is a rare ethical vampire, who only takes enough blood to quench his thirst, leaving his victim both alive and human. It turns out he’s a fan of R’s work and invites him to The Monster Club, the local spot where all of the area’s vamps, werewolves and ghouls like to hang out. R agrees and stays long enough to hear 3 tales of terror, listen to some fine 80s British rock music, enjoy the performance of a very unique stripper and, finally, become the club’s latest member—an honor made possible once Eramus explains to his fellow monsters that as a human, R belongs to a species responsible for more horror than all of theirs combined. Then they all dance.


While the popularity of the horror genre is one of cinema’s few constants, the various sub-genres that make up its existence come and go as quickly as the zeitgeists that inform them. Like all fashion, there comes a moment where what was hip and stylish yesterday, now looks oddly ridiculous today, only to become retro-cool sometime in the future. Pinpointing this moment, though, is frequently very difficult. Just as there were folks still wearing bell-bottoms when skin-tight jeans were the rage, there are always going to be movie producers who insist on repeating past successes, even when they no longer resemble the kinds of movies current audiences actually want to see.

Born in New York, Milton Subotsky was a writer/producer/fanboy who eventually moved to England and formed Amicus Productions with Max Rosenthal, a fellow genre enthusiast. Today Amicus remains best known for the 7 British Horror Anthology (BHA) films it produced between 1965 and 1974, starting with Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and ending with From Beyond the Grave. Each film consisted of several short horror stories combined together via wraparound segments whose settings ranged from the clever (From Beyond the Grave’s curio shop) to the lazy (The House That Dripped Blood’s…uh…house).

The main benefit of these productions were that they allowed Amicus to fill their films with talented actors on very low budgets, since it cost far less to hire them for only a few days, than it would for the month or so required for a regular movie. The presence of talented, charismatic actors not only elevated the material, but also made up for the fact that the short segments essentially made significant character development impossible. By casting actors such as Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasance, Jack Palance, Michael Ripper, Burgess Meredith, Tom Baker, Ian Oglivie, Joan Collins, Michael Gough, Donald Sutherland, Denholm Elliot, Joss Ackland, Ingrid Pitt, Terry-Thomas, Glynis Johns, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Herbert Lom, Barry Morse, Charlotte Rampling, Lesley-Ann Down and David Warner, Amicus made it much easier for audiences to forgive flaws that might have doomed films with less-accomplished performers.

It also helped that the very nature of the films kept them from the potential narrative pitfalls that can affect more conventional films. If an audience member was bored by one particular segment (and each film seemed to feature at least one boring and/or unsuccessful segment) they at least knew it would end soon and be replaced by one they’d likely enjoy a lot more.

And chances were there would be at least one segment that would leave an indeliable mark on your psyche. A fun game to play with any true horror movie fan is to ask them to describe their favourite BHA moments. Personally I'd begin with a detailed description of Torture Garden's possessed piano sequence, which actually ends with the piano coming to life and attacking poor Barbara Ewing, and then go on to tell the tale of that same film's wonderful "twist" ending (turns out, Burgess Meredith is actually...well...I won't spoil it for you).

Amicus’ anthology formula proved so successful that it became easy for people to forget that they produced close to 20 more traditional films (including some hard sci-fi, several “lost world” fantasies and even a romantic comedy) and assume those were the only kind of films they made. But by 1974, when From Beyond the Grave was released, the formula began its inexorable slide into irrelevance. For all the reflected class of their talented thespians, there was always something slightly childish and goofy about the Amicus anthologies. They were cinematic versions of the kind of campfire ghost stories we told as children, and those stories no longer seemed as frightening in the wake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Horror films were now either deadly serious (The Exorcist) or disconcertingly realistic (The Last House On the Left) and anything that mixed humor with the supernatural suddenly felt childish and old-fashioned.

But old habits die hard. In 1977, Subotsky produced the Canadian co-production, The Uncanny, an anthology featuring feline-inspired horror tales and—seven years after the last official Amicus anthology hit the screens—he tried again with The Monster Club.

By 1981, movie houses were dominated by a new kind of horror, best typified by the slasher film, in which sex and violence took precedence over everything else. Compared to that same year’s An American Werewolf in London, Friday the 13th Part 2, and The Evil Dead, The Monster Club seems as dated and quaint as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Ironically, this has as much to do with its blatant attempts at relevance than it does the antiquated sensibility of its horror tales.

As if fully aware of how old-fashioned the whole project was, the filmmakers (including Hammer warhouse Roy Ward Baker, who ended his long feature film career with this effort) decided to attempt to bring it screaming into the 80s by featuring ­the most popular affordable musical acts of the period and have them perform their appropriately themed songs on camera. And the club itself was clearly inspired by the cantina scene in 1977’s Star Wars, the key difference being that the monster mask budget for The Monster Club was less than what it cost to manufacture C-3PO’s codpiece.

The overall effect of this attempt to “modernize” the Brit-horror anthology is that The Monster Club actual feels twice as dated as any of its predecessors. Nothing dates a movie faster than the use of “current” pop music, and the ludicrous monster effects adds a lair of camp ridiculousness that the other Amicus anthologies mostly managed to avoid.

It doesn’t help that the 3 horror tales have to rank amongst the most anemic of all the Amicus films and prove far less memorable than the club sequences that surround them. The overall effect is closer to that of a children’s film than anything else, and I’d suggest it wouldn’t even be scary enough for that audience, if I didn’t know for a fact that this wasn’t the case.

I can’t place an exact year when it occurred, but it would have to have been around 1985-1987. It was around Halloween and we were visiting my Auntie Lynne (I really wish I could be cool and identify my mom’s late sister as “my Aunt Lynne” instead, but the sound of it is so unnatural I have no choice but to use the more juvenile alternative. If you had ever been lucky enough to meet her, you'd know why) and Uncle Joe. With us was the family of Uncle Joe’s brother, including his two sons, Darren and J.P., who not only closely matched me and my brother in age, but also in interests and overall personalities.

Darren and I were the older brothers and were both bookish geeks with precocious interests in popular culture, while J.P. and my brother, Chris, were much more athletic types who considered reading more of a punishment than a recreational activity. That night we found ourselves downstairs in the basement, where the TV was, while the adults did whatever adults do. Because of the approaching holiday one of the local stations was showing a week’s worth of horror movies and that night’s selection was today’s subject.

I adored movies, but my young fertile imagination had a tendency to become inflicted by brutal nightmares whenever exposed to horrific imagery, so when The Monster Club came up during our exploration of the programming landscape, I demanded that the channel be turned ever onward. Darren, who also shared my “big pussy” sensibilities, agreed with me, but we were stymied by the fact that our younger brothers sadistically enjoyed exploiting any opportunity to torture us.

In front of us the movie played out as either Chris or J.P. (I think it was J.P.) paused with their hand on the dial and allowed it to continue. This is what we saw:

25 years later and it seems amazing that we could be disturbed by something so benign, but Darren and I both protested loudly enough to finally compel the channel to be changed. I have no idea what we ended up watching, but I’ve never forgotten that moment of The Monster Club, so I know for a fact that in at least one instance it proved to be an effective horror vehicle.

Not surprisingly, Darren and I both went on to become professional writers. Eventually we found ourselves reunited years later when we both worked for the same publisher. Ironically, we found ourselves working in the genre we were once too sensitive to endure—specifically, tales of the supernatural. He would write Werewolves & Shapeshifters, I would write Gothic Ghost Stories and together we would collaborate on Native Ghost Stories (which, for various complicated reasons, I chose to have credited under the pseudonym of Amos Gideon).

Life, as they say, is fucking weird.

And perhaps it’s the nostalgia of this memory that forces me to admit that for all of its flaws, I kinda loved The Monster Club when I finally revisited it a few days ago. In fact, if anything it’s those flaws that I find so endearing. It’s a film that ultimately understands it has no right to exist, yet continues to do so anyway, defying its own irrelevance if only for the pure joy of it.

It doesn’t hurt that—as dated as they sound—the songs provided by now-forgotten Brit pop acts like Night, B.A. Robertson and The Pretty Things are all pretty awesome, especially The Viewers’ “Monsters Rule O.K”, which I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I first heard it. (Ironically the only band in the movie you’ve likely heard of—UB-40 of ”Red, Red Wine” fame —are regulated to being the background house band and don’t get their own moment in the spotlight.)

We also can’t ignore the presence of Vincent Price, who somehow managed to avoid being in any of the other Amicus anthologies (despite having starred in their productions of Scream and Scream Again and Madhouse), but who adds his trademark touch of amused class to the proceedings. There’s a reason why he remains my favourite all-time actor. He was that rare performer who could be both sincere and glib at the exact same time—a trait that I like to think defines the existence of this particular blogging enterprise.

Of the film’s three narrative sequences, the first—from which the clip that once so frightened me is taken—is easily the most effective. Interestingly, it and the second story both invert the traditional formula and feature monsters as the sympathetic characters. The first story goes so far as to take its cue from the old E.C. comic books (which Subotsky clearly loved, having made not one but two movies based on them—Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror, both of which feature early adaptations later remade for the popular HBO TV show) and features an ethically challenged protagonist, who eventually gets what’s coming to her, as its lead.

Angela (Barbara Kellerman) is engaged to George (Simon Ward), a con man looking for one last score they can use to move away and get married. In the want ads he finds the perfect mark in the form of an antiquities collector who requires an assistant to help him index his collection. Angela goes to get the job, but runs away when she sees the cold, dead face of Raven (John Laurenson), a pathetic recluse who has grown quite used to people reacting to him this way.

George convinces Angela to return and she manages to swallow her revulsion long enough to take the job, which delights the extremely lonely collector. It’s clear that Raven is a wounded, sensitive soul, who counts the pigeons he feeds as his only friends. What Angela does not know is that he is a Shadmock, a creature whose status as the lowest creature in the monster hierarchy doesn’t stop them from being the most feared and dangerous. For all his meekness, Raven can wreck untold damage merely by deciding to whistle at the object of his displeasure.

Raven, unused to being in the presence of a beautiful woman, quickly falls in love with Angela and proposes marriage. She agrees, but only as a pretense to carry out her and George’s scheme. During their engagement party (where all of his monstrous family members disguise themselves with masks) she breaks away from their dancing and is caught by Raven as she attempts to empty his safe. He tells her that she can have his money and everything else he owns, so long as she stays with him and loves him. Angela screams at the mere thought of this, which compels the wounded Raven to lash out at her the only way he can--he whistles.

For all the film’s camp, this segment’s final shot of the devastated monster sitting, weeping, on his ballroom floor while surrounded by his relatives does manage to pack an emotional punch. It’s less frightening than genuinely sad, thanks to Laurenson’s moving portrait of the misunderstood monster.

The film’s second segment is an example of one of the odder BHA traditions—the overtly comedic story. This goes all the way back to the pre-Amicus days and one of the best BHA’s, 1945’s Dead of Night, whose otherwise chilling effect (bolstered largely by the justly famous segment featuring Michael Redgrave as a ventriloquist haunted by his caustic dummy) is somewhat undone by the comic sequence in which a golfer’s game is hamstrung by the ghost of a romantic rival who committed suicide after losing the match that determined which one got to marry their mutually beloved. In the case of The Monster Club the comic sequence is especially egregious since it isn’t actually funny, which kinda goes against its only reason to exist.

Introduced as a film clip by a vampire film producer (which Price admits is somewhat redundant), the story focuses on a wimpy boy named Lintom Busotsky (William Saire) who wonders why his tuxedo-clad father sleeps all day and works only at night. His father insists he isn’t a waiter, and both of his parents warn him to never talk to strangers, especially those who carry violin cases.

One day at school, Lintom is approached by a man dressed as a priest (Donald Pleasance), who attempts to befriend him. Lintom recalls his parents’ warnings and gets away, but the next day the same man—now dressed in regular clothes and carrying a violin case—accosts him and, along with two partners, breaks into his house while his mother is out shopping and his father is asleep in the basement. Turns out the men work for the government department devoted to keeping people safe from vampires and Lintom’s father has proven to be their most elusive target.

With a great sense of accomplishment the head vampire hunter drives a stake into Lintom’s father’s heart while he and his mother watch with horror. But before he can celebrate, Lintom’s dad awakes and manages to sink his fangs into the hunter’s neck before he dies. Lintom’s mother points out to the man’s partners that the bite was deep enough to ensure that their leader is about to become a vampire himself. He protests, but his long fangs prove she’s right and his partner’s have no choice but to stake him right then and there.

Fortunately for the Busotsky’s, Lintom’s father was only pretending to be dead. Fearful of such an unwanted intrusion ever happening, he took the precaution of wearing a stake-proof vest (along with a ketchup packet over his heart to achieve the proper bloody effect). And at that point everyone watching can be heard to groan, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

I suspect I’m being a bit too hard on this sequence. It’s a light, innocent piece of fluff, but there’s simply no "there" there to justify its inclusion. We know right from the beginning that Lintom’s father is a vampire, because the vampire producer who introduces it tells us that its based on his childhood, so the only twist is that there is no twist, apart from the hunter being the true villain of the piece. That said, if you rearrange the letters of Lintom Busotsky, you get Milton Subotsky, which I suspect explains everything about why this particular story made it into the final script.

This now brings us to what is probably the film’s most famous sequence, which occurs between the second and third stories. While Night performs their big hit (I’m guessing, I’d never actually heard it before) “The Stripper”, the camera focuses on an attractive, blond exotic dancer (Suzanna Willis) who goes that extra mile during her performance:

It’s a fun moment, achieved by some great animation, but it does seem to feel somewhat at odds with the childish tone of the rest of the film, which suggests that the retro-innocence of the film is more the result of the filmmakers’ outdated view of what constituted proper cinematic horror than a deliberate attempt to appeal to young viewers.

For fans of BHA, the film’s third sequence is easily the most typical of the genre. It starts out VERY promisingly with a shot of a buxom gothic beauty walking down a flight of stairs with a candelabra in her hand, as the light from the above doorway allows us to catch glimpses of what is occurring beneath her diaphanous gown. But before we can get too excited, it turns out we are on a film set. Sam (Stuart Whitman), is the film’s director and he is insistent that his latest production requires the realism of a proper out-of-the-way English village for the affect he’s wants to achieve.

To that end he decides to drive to just such a village and determine if it has the look he’s aiming for. He doesn’t seem to notice the thick cloud of strange fog that separates the village from the outside world, but soon realizes he should have when he finds out that it’s populated by flesh-eating ghouls, who—he soon learns—are supported by powerful outside authorities.

While not quite as disappointing as the second story, the third lacks both a sympathetic protagonist and a compelling villain, meaning we ultimately feel nothing when the director’s escape turns out to be futile, as we don’t care who wins this battle either way.

Thankfully, the film still manages to end on a high note when Eramus asks the club’s secretary (a werewolf) to admit his author guest as a permanent member. The secretary informs him that they couldn’t possibly allow a human to become a member of The Monster Club, but Eramus eloquently convinces him otherwise in a moving speech that argues that humans are really the worse monsters of all.

It’s a great moment, made even greater by its being followed by Price and Carradine dancing together while The Pretty Things play “(Welcome to) The Monster Club”, which is really as sublime a moment as any BHA fan can ever hope to expect.

So, yeah, on an objective level The Monster Club is definitely a dated failure—a film whose tone and relevance would have been questionable even a decade before it was made—but on a purely subjective level, it’s a delight and proof that what once could so easily terrify me as a child is pretty much my main reason for living today.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Seven "Rip 'Em!"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Seven

No Holds Barred




Rip (no last name given, no last name NEEDED) is the heavyweight champion of the World Wrestling Federation and a thorn in the side of Brell, the sociopathic network president of WTN. Unable to convince Rip to jump to his channel through bribery or violence, Brell decides to make a star out of Zeus, a demented ex-con behemoth who quickly becomes a national sensation fighting in anything goes “No Holds Barred” matches. Rip succumbs to Zeus’ taunts for a match when he cripples Rip’s beloved younger brother, Randy. The night of the big match, Brell kidnap’s Rip’s girlfriend, Samantha, and orders him to give Zeus a good ten minutes before throwing the match. For a time it seems like Rip won’t have to throw anything, but when he sees that Samantha is safe, he finds the inner-strength he needs to defeat his opponent and ensure that Brell never hurts anyone else ever again.


Like most children of the 80s, I fully embraced the lovably theatrical world of professional wrestling. With their inhuman bodies and high-flying acrobatics, professional wrestlers were the closest we ever got to watching real live superheroes in action. The best matches had a beauty, drama and grace to them that was as compelling as any movie you could name. I can still feel the pure joy I experienced when Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat finally pinned Randy “Macho Man” Savage during Wrestlemania III, after the most tense and excruciating 15-20 minutes of my life. Even though I first saw it on videotape months after it actually happened, I clapped and cheered so loudly I’m sure Steamboat must have heard me wherever he was in the world at the time.

But despite the enjoyment I derived from wrestling, I can honestly say that I never really understood the phenomena of Hulkamania. Even at a very young age I appreciated the fact that the “professional” part of “professional wrestling” was pretty much synonymous with “bullshit” and therefore enjoyed watching the wrestlers who I thought told the best stories in the ring and made it seem almost-kinda legitimate. For all of his enormous popularity, Hulk Hogan was clearly not one of these wrestlers. While many of my peers marveled at the size of his “pythons” I couldn’t help but notice how slow he was, how few moves he seemed to have and how predictably tedious it was whenever he came back from the brink of defeat by feeding on the cheers of the crowd.

It didn’t hurt that as the smallest boy in each and every one of my classes, I was naturally inclined to be suspicious of those whose only claim to fame was that they were bigger and stronger than everyone else was. Hulk Hogan clearly benefited from the phenomenon that causes most young kids to assume a nickel is worth more than a dime, because it seems ridiculous that the smaller coin could ever be the more valuable of the two. I, however, knew bigger did not mean better and therefore had little time for those wrestlers who brought nothing else but bulk to the table (although that didn't stop me from loudly cheering for Andre the Giant that same night I cheered for Ricky Steamboat).

I’d like to say that by 13 I had grown too old for all of this, but that would be a ginormous lie. I was still a faithful fan when the Hulkster’s leading man debut was released to theaters (hell, I even occasionally bought the fucking magazine), but my disdain for him kept me from seeing it. If they had released a movie starring Randy Savage, Jake Roberts or (most especially) Miss Elizabeth, I would have probably been there opening day, but I had no time for No Holds Barred, especially since even at that age I could tell that there was no way it could be anything but awful.

Twenty-two years later and my relationship with pro-wrestling is now exactly like the one I have with hardcore pornography—I find the actual product to be mind-numbingly tedious, but the industry itself endlessly fascinating. I can’t get through more than five minutes of any episode of Raw, Smackdown or Impact, but I still enjoy reading the behind the scenes stories about the men and women who made wrestling famous and those who continue on the tradition today.

For this reason I decided it was time to check out Hogan’s famous folly, a film supposedly so terrible that it somehow tarnishes the filmography of the man who starred in Mr. Nanny, Santa With Muscles and Three Ninjas III. Before I even pressed play on my AppleTV remote, I knew I was in for some serious pain, but I never would have dreamed what I would feel when it was over and the end credits began to roll.


Now before you assume I’m writing this while trying to fatally overdose on crazy pills, please understand that I never for once thought that No Holds Barred was a good movie, but instead that I quickly realized that what I was watching wasn’t terrible as a result of filmmaking incompetence, but instead the result of a phenomena I myself know only too well.

There were two groups of people on the set of this film when it was made. The first group consisted of Hogan, producer Vince McMahon and—I’m guessing—leading lady Joan Severance. They believed they were making a real movie—one that would entertain and excite a large mainstream audience. The second group consisted of everyone else who worked on the picture, including director Thomas J. Wright, (the unfortunately named) screenwriter Dennis Hackin, and—especially—co-star Kurt Fuller, who played the part of Rip’s evil network president antagonist.

The folks in the second group did not share the first group’s delusions of grandeur. They knew full well that they were trapped in the middle of a ridiculous vanity project that had no hope of being anything approaching good, so they all said a collective “Fuck it!” and decided that if it was going to fail, it might as well fail on their own spectacular terms.

I came to this conclusion when I finally realized why the film felt so familiar. There was something about its tone that felt so oddly recognizable. It was only a few minutes after Hogan’s character so completely terrified a potential kidnapper that he literally shit his pants that I realized I was watching the greatest film Lloyd Kaufman never made.

As the co-owner of Troma Studios, Kaufman is responsible for such films as The Toxic Avenger, Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, Tromeo & Juliet, Terror Firmer and Poultrygeist. His films are (in)famous for reveling in bad taste, but in such a way that feels deliberate and—almost—artful. There’s a rebellious quality to his nudity, violence and scatological jokes—each film serving as a cinematic middle finger to what he sees as mainstream Hollywood’s embrace of mediocrity in favor of originality. “You want terrible?” he asks. “I’ll fucking give you terrible.”

As bizarre as it may sound, I finished watching No Holds Barred convinced that it was made with this same attitude in mind. And I completely understood why.

I’ve written before that few, if any, artists, whatever their medium, take on a project expecting it to fail, but it doesn’t take long for the signposts of failure to become impossible to ignore. And once you’ve seen enough of them, you have two choices—succumb or rebel. Succumbing means biting a bullet and creating something that you know is shitty and nothing else; rebelling means becoming subversive and creating something that’s still shitty, but on your own terms and not in the way the people paying your paychecks expected.

Whether it’s an artist who plants a subliminal penis in a Disney movie poster or an author who writes a ghost story called “A Boy and His Instrument” in a book called Haunted Schools that’s all about masturbation if you read it correctly (hey, that was me!), these acts of rebellion often go unnoticed by even the most perceptive of audience members, who simply assume that the artists lacked talent and nothing more. But we brave few who have been in these situations ourselves know deliberate, subversive shittyness when we see it and have no choice but to salute and admire it when we do.

It definitely helps my case that the film bears little relation to those found in Group Two’s various filmographies. Although Wright only got the chance to direct one other feature, he’s still managed to amass an admirable amount of credits directing some of the best (The X-Files, Angel and Firefly) and most popular (C.S.I. and N.C.I.S.) episodic shows found on television. Hackin began his career with the critically acclaimed Clint Eastwood comedy Bronco Billy and Fuller remains one of the funniest character actors working today (his crowning achievement being his role in The Tick, where he played Destroyo, a genocidal supervillain whose hatred for mankind derived from the cruel taunts of “Dance, Fatboy, dance!” he received when he was an overweight ballet prodigy. I still quote the line he delivers to Liz Vassey’s Captain Liberty—“You’re not needy, you’re wanty. There’s a difference!”—whenever I can get away with it).

This is not your standard collection of deluded, untalented assholes. These are skilled professionals who found themselves caught in an absurd situation and decided to not go gently into that good night in order to deal with it.

The question then is how did Group Two manage to make a movie that was deliberately and subversively hilarious without Group One noticing?

To answer this, I’m going to go back to the connection I made between wrestling and hardcore pornography a few paragraphs back by looking at two films that were doomed in their conception due to the inability of their directors to appreciate how much their perspectives had been shifted by their previous work.

Starring Clint Howard as the serial killing title character, 1995s Ice Cream Man sets itself apart by being a violent, r-rated, nudity-filled slasher movie whose reliance on pre-pubescent protagonists makes it feel like the most socially irresponsible kids movie of all time. Too violent and profane for its target audience and too juvenile for adults, it was a film that could have only been made by someone whose sense of what was and was not appropriate had been lost a long time ago.

Norman Apstein was just such a someone. Before making Ice Cream Man, he had—as Paul Norman—directed over 120 hardcore adult movies, including Edward Penishands (in which Tim Burton’s famed romantic hero was reimagined as dude with penises where his hands should be) and Cyrano (in which Edmond Rostand’s famed romantic hero was reimagined as a dude with a penis where his nose should be--sense a theme here?).

Having spent so much of his life focusing his frame on the most intimate of human acts (and putting penises where other body parts should be), Apstein had lost all sense of what did and did not work in the context of a mainstream film.

The same thing happened to Shaun Costello, another hardcore filmmaker, who in 1977 attempted to break into the mainstream big time with Water Power. Intended to be a gritty crime drama, Costello crucially misunderstand the limits of mainstream tolerance by making his villain an obsessed rapist who kidnaps women in order to give them enemas, which Costello showed in close-up pornographic detail. Rather than be hailed as a breakthrough in crime cinema, it was retitled The Enema Bandit and played in exactly the kind of grindhouse porn houses Costello wanted to break away from.

In the case of No Holds Barred, I believe the members of Group One were too immersed in the world of professional wrestling to see how inappropriately it translated into the medium of long-form narrative filmmaking.

Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes watching anything the WWF produced in the 80s, can appreciate how Hogan and McMahon would have developed this blind spot. They worked on a spectacle designed to appeal to the folks in the cheap seats, who did not demand—and thus were not given—anything approaching subtlety. Pro-wrestling during the Reagan era was a time of black & white and good & evil. The babyfaces were brave, virtuous men who said their prayers, ate their vitamins and loved America, while the heels were capricious cowards who lied and cheated and—worst of all—saluted the communist flag.

You can only produce this kind of entertainment for so long before you either a) buy into it wholeheartedly or b) become so innately cynical that you lose all sense of perspective of what is and is not appropriate. I can’t say for sure which applied to Hogan or McMahon, but if I had to guess it was probably a combination of both.

The reason why people my age loved the WWF in the 80s was because it was squarely aimed at 10 year-old audiences at the exact moment when we were 10 years old. This was a departure from previous decades, where wrestling was considered a largely adult entertainment—boxing with a bit more flair and drama. Yet this change in direction did not drive adults away. If anything wrestling reached its highest peak of mass popularity during this period (Hogan forever supplanting Gorgeous George in the public’s consciousness).

You could be generous and say that the WWF’s 80s product reflected the innocence and simplicity of the era, or you could say that it was adored by morons who wouldn’t know quality entertainment if it set its testicles directly upon their faces (Tea Party reference totally intended). To be fair the exact same thing could be said about the majority of low-budget action movies produced during that time (see, for example, Invasion U.S.A.). I think in order to successfully produce this kind of product you really have to believe in it and disdain it at the same time.

While it is popular for artists to suggest that they are no different than the audiences they work so hard to entertain, I think most know in their hearts that this is bullshit. The difference between creating and consuming product is that the creator has no choice but to be aware of everything that goes into the process required to make the art happen. At the time No Holds Barred was produced the wrestling industry still practiced the tradition of kayfabe—keeping up the pretense of wrestling’s reality into everyday life so as not to betray its essential artifice. That’s why the industry’s slang word for fans was the exact same one con men use for their victims—mark, a term synonymous with “sucker”.

(Kayfabe, more than anything else, is the most fascinating part of wrestling’s history. Imagine if Laurence Olivier had to pretend he was a Danish prince every time he went to a town and played Hamlet. Or if Joan Collins and Linda Evans had to catfight in a water fountain whenever they were spotted somewhere off the set of Dynasty. The only real Hollywood equivalent would be all of the gay and lesbian performers who have pretended to be happily married heterosexuals over the years.)

McMahon and Hogan clearly made a film they thought the “marks” would love, demanding that it be filled with the same black and white moral dramatics that made them so rich to begin with. Hogan’s “Rip” character had to be virtuous to the point of audacity—proclaiming that he was far more interested in charity than self-promotion, gentlemanly setting up a privacy curtain when circumstances force him to share a one-bedroom hotel room with one of the most gorgeous women in the universe, and heroically spending all of his time rehabilitating his injured brother instead of training for the most dangerous match of his life.

At the same time his opponents are as venal and mindlessly evil as any ever seen onscreen. Made just a year after Ted Turner bought Atlanta’s NWA promotion with the intention of turning it into the nationally televised WCW (and thus become the first non-regional competition that the WWF faced in years), it doesn’t seem like an accident that the main villain is a network president with the moral compass of a dung beetle. That said, Brell bears no signs of Turner’s distinctive manner or personality. I’d say this was to avoid a potential libel suit, but I remember a few years after No Holds Barred was released McMahon aired a series of skits featuring a Turner clone behaving like a redneck buffoon, so it’s not like he wasn’t afraid to go there.

Even more hilarious is Zeus, who plays the same role Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago did in Rocky III & IV, but without any of their depth, subtlety or nuance. Tommy (“Tiny” to his friends) Lister’s performance is so perversely over the top that it takes on a kind of absurdist genius. With his crossed eyes, tatooed head, and penchant for uncomfortable metallic clothing, he actually seems too over the top even for wrestling, which turned out to be true when the character was unsuccessfully transplanted into the real WWF to promote the movie (it didn’t help that Lister had no professional wrestling experience and managed to be even clumsier in the ring than Hogan). Amazingly, out of all the performers in the film, he’s probably had the most consistently successful career, having not only worked non-stop since his appearance in No Holds Barred, but also making his mark in high-profile productions like The Fifth Element, Jackie Brown and The Dark Knight.

That said, the bad guys are at least given the chance to develop actual onscreen presences, which cannot also be said for Rip’s friends. The brother who inspires him to win all of his matches is just a handsome blond guy with a goofy 80s haircut (who would, funnily enough, go on to become Jacob, Lost’s mysterious protector of the golden spring). His trainer is just an old black dude and at least two of the other people who hang with him are never even introduced onscreen.

The film’s only other character with a personality is Sam (short for Samantha, which just boggles Rip’s mind), Rip’s new business manager who has to work harder at her job than a man would because she looks just like Joan Severance and everyone within a hundred mile radius wants to have crazy-hot-monkey-sex with her. There’s no doubt that Severance is astonishingly attractive, but in such a way that detracts rather than adds to her credibility. She’s one of those actresses who is simply too good-looking, since it becomes impossible to imagine her in any other role than that of model or actress. It doesn’t help that she’s precisely the kind of limited performer required to make sure that Hogan doesn’t get wiped off the screen.

As I’ve already said, there are two films at play here, although sometimes the lines do seem to cross. The film’s bizarre penchant for scatological or inappropriately sexual jokes(turns out the bed’s noisily jiggling is the result of Rip exercising, not furiously masturbating) has a direct connection to similar material that has shown up on McMahon’s wrestling shows over the years, but at the same time they are taken to such perversely extreme levels that they extend beyond the realms of mere bad taste to that of deliberate transgression.

This is most evident in the moments Hogan and McMahon obviously did not intend to be funny. I’ve complained in the past of films that were so badly made that they transformed into inadvertent self-parody, but in the case of No Holds Barred I am certain this is only half the case. Hogan and Severance are clearly sincere, but everyone else around them is just as clearly cognizant of how ridiculous the whole enterprise is and they show it.

For someone like me the result is fascinating, but for the average wrestling fan for which it was intended it was clearly bewildering. For most people deliberately shitty is still just shitty and a waste of time and money, which explains why the filmmakers’ efforts here went almost completely unnoticed.

I say “almost”, because I know the film has at least one acolyte out there. Back when I was 19, I was in my second year of university (the last that would actually count, as my third and final year was pretty much a write off) and taking a film studies course that examined the auteur theory by looking at the films of Dreyer, Bresson, Fuller and Kurosawa (among others I may have forgotten). Among the students was another young man, whose name has been lost to time. He suffered from Down syndrome and was there as part of a program that allowed those with special disabilities to enjoy the university experience. It was a noble idea to be sure, but in practice it meant we all had to listen to his loud snoring after one of the boring foreign films or lectures inevitably put him to sleep.

Near the end of the year, he finally lost his patience during a lecture and threw up his hand. Professor Beard (who would go on to write The Artist as Monster, an excellent analysis of the films of David Cronenberg) asked him what his question was and it became clear that he had spent all of this time in class waiting for the subject of his favourite film to finally be discussed and he could no longer wait for this to happen organically.

With the floor now his he proceeded to describe in detail the climatic match between Rip and Zeus. Everyone listened patiently and it was only when it became painfully clear that he wasn’t about to stop that Professor Beard interrupted him and explained that he couldn’t answer the “question” because he hadn’t seen the film.

In retrospect, I wish he had. I would have vastly preferred to debate the symbolism of Rip’s “Rip ‘Em” T-Shirt than hear another word about Diary of a Country Priest ever again.

Of course, the greatest irony of the film is that five years after the failure of No Holds Barred, Hogan did what Rip would not and jumped over to Turner's WCW following the promise of a bigger paycheck. As the innocence of the 80s turned into the cynicism of the 90s, Hogan eventually abandoned his babyface image and became Hollywood Hogan, the leader of the renegade N.W.O. He would eventually return to McMahon's company, but by that point he was purely a nostalgia act. Though he would gain fame as a reality tv star, his film debut clearly represented his jump the shark moment. No Holds Barred was supposed to be proof that he was more than a mountain of muscle, but it ended up being proof that he was little else. The lesson being that it's better to be the biggest of all fish in a disrespected pond than the asshole who's crying while everyone else is trying not to laugh out loud.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Six "I Wouldn't Want to Change THAT Diaper"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Six

The Baby




Ann Gentry, an attractive social worker still mourning the loss of her architect husband, becomes unusually involved with one of her district’s strangest cases. The Wadsworths are a somewhat trashy family made up of a blowsy middle-aged mom, her two sexy daughters and—most uniquely—“Baby”, her fully-grown adult son who has never intellectually matured past infancy. Ann appears to be convinced that there’s nothing wrong with “Baby” and that his infantile state is the result of severe negative reinforcement from his bitter, man-hating mother, but, then again, her interest in the case may not be as philanthropic as it seems….


Sometimes the best gift you can give an unconventional script is an extremely conventional director. As counter-intuitive as this sounds, the danger of giving a script with a strange premise to a “daring” and/or “imaginative” filmmaker is that they will push the strangest aspects of the work past the breaking point into either incoherence, pretension or self-indulgence. A journeyman, on the other hand, will simply shoot the story as straightforwardly as possible, with the result that the strangeness fades into the background and ceases to be a potentially alienating element, allowing the audience to enjoy the film as a narrative rather than a spectacle.

Ted Post, the director of The Baby, was just such a journeyman. Having spent most of his career in television his most famous film work came as the result of his directing a sequel none of the original filmmakers wanted anything to do with (Beneath the Planet of the Apes) and his ability to take a back seat to a superstar performer who was less interested in a director than a yes-man willing to make the films he wanted to make (Hang ‘Em High and Magnum Force). A textbook “point and shooter” Post briefly flirted with the 70s counter-culture with three films that actually bore little connection to the zeitgeist they were based on. The first was the strange psychodrama under discussion today, the second was the “free-love” drama, The Harrad Experiment, and the third was the miserable M*A*S*H-wannabe, Whiffs. Of these, only The Baby can be considered a success, but more so for what Post failed to bring to the project, rather than what he actually did.

From a visual standpoint The Baby looks and feels like a somewhat standard TV movie from the era. This is understandable considering its budget and the fact that Post did the majority of his work in that medium (including the classic Dr. Cook’s Garden, which featured an unusually dark turn from Bing Crosby in the title role). Rather than detract from the experience, the film’s lack of visual interest gives it an authenticity that obscures the lapses in logic that could have easily derailed the film from the very start.

Sold in the poster and trailer as a bizarre expose of the depths of human depravity, the actual film has more in common with the “social message” TV movies of the era than it does with other sleazy grindhouse depictions of torture and perversion. In fact the moments that do extend into the perverse stand out to such a degree that they feel like last-minute additions to the script thrown in to please concerned financiers—every one of them could be excised completely from the film without affecting the plot.

The film's avoidance of obvious exploitation is made evident by how accepting everyone is of Baby’s condition right from the start. Not only is Ann, the social worker, not horrified by the site of a grown man acting like a baby, but it’s also made clear that the Wadsworth’s have made no effort at all to hide his condition. Along with semi-annual visits from other social workers, they’re completely comfortable hiring young babysitters to watch him while they enjoy a night out and have no problem inviting all of their friends to his birthday party. Rather than being presented as something perverse and strange, Baby is shown in the film to be exactly what he is, and though it does flirt with the idea that his condition is instilled rather than inborn, the film pretty much abandons this theme by the end, when it finally becomes the horror movie everyone’s been expecting from the very beginning.

Written by Abe Polsky (who also co-produced), the script for The Baby is a surprisingly adept affair. Having been previously clued in to expect a “twist ending” I assumed it would inevitably feature the revelation that Baby was merely faking his condition all along or that Ann’s interest was much more sexual than philanthropic in nature. Turns out I was wrong on both counts and found myself genuinely surprised by the film’s last scene, despite the clues I retroactively realized Polsky had peppered throughout his screenplay.

Polsky’s work is especially commendable for how he keeps us from siding too strongly with Ann. Though the Wadsworth’s do often come across as outright antagonists (younger daughter, Alba, repeatedly shocks Baby with a cattle prod, insisting, “Baby doesn’t walk! Baby doesn’t talk!”, while the oldest daughter, Germaine, is shown using Baby as an effective late night male substitute) the script works equally hard to show that things are not entirely what they seem. Mrs. Wadsworth (Ruth Roman, giving a great performance) is actually more often shown as a fierce mama bear ready to protect her unique child than the monster who made him what he is. When she catches Alba with the cattle prod, she grabs it away and uses it on her to show her what it feels like. She beats the snot out of a teenage babysitter who allows Baby to suckle at her breast (which strongly suggests she does not know about and would not approve of her daughter Germaine’s nocturnal visits), and she becomes extremely angry when Alba later suggests the family should have sold Baby to a circus freak show when they had the chance to years ago.

It’s these moments that suggest her suspicions regarding Ann are less self-protective than genuinely maternal. We’re so intent on blaming her for her son’s disability that we naturally assume she’s a villain with something to hide, which the film’s conclusion suggests isn’t exactly fair. But, then again, her actions are not entirely blameless. The fact that the family owns a cattle prod to begin with doesn’t speak entirely well of her mothering methods, and the solution she comes up with for the problem of the pesky social worker (a problem, the film suggests, she may have dealt with murderously at least once before) is clearly criminal and inexcusable.

Both Post and Polsky are well-served by their cast, who manage to keep the film from rising to the level of camp most viewers are going to insist on stamping the film with regardless (that terrible trailer does not help matters any). The actresses all adeptly keep up with the film’s moral ambiguities and the effectiveness of the film’s denouement rests largely on their shoulders. David Manzy (now Mooney) has the most difficult role in the film as Baby and is mostly able to keep his scenes from being ridiculous, if not entirely credible. He isn’t helped by some poor ADR that asks us to believe his mental deficiency has wrecked havoc on his vocal chords as well.

I suspect the very aspect that allowed me to enjoy The Baby as much as I did is what’s going to disappoint the kind of person likely to seek it out. By avoiding kitsch and camp in favour of an actual plot with some compelling twists and turns, it’s an admirably straightforward thriller with an admittedly bizarre premise. As I mentioned at the beginning of this short essay, I suspect this can be attributed to a director who simply lacked the ego to paint outside the lines or get wild and overly creative. The result is a film that’s made unique by its almost perverse lack of distinction.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Five "A Funny Man With a Horn"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Five

The Horn Blows At Midnight



Athanael earns his living as a trumpeter for the Paradise Coffee Program; a radio hour of soothing lullabies intended to help listeners go to sleep. It turns out the programming works only too well, as he falls asleep on the job and dreams that he’s an angel in Heaven’s celestial orchestra. Thanks to the machinations of his lovely harpist friend Elizabeth he’s called out of the orchestra to help The Chief in charge of Small Planets to aid in the destruction of a small, unimportant orb called Earth. To do this Athanael must blow his trumpet at precisely midnight; a seemingly simple task turned awry through a combination of inadvertent human intervention and the deliberate interference of two fallen angels who know that once their life on Earth ends, their stay “Down There” begins. Much amusing mayhem ensues until our hero finally wakes up and gets his chance to really toot his own horn.


One of the strangest aspects of the artistic world is the way in which certain works attain a reputation for failure that often has nothing to do with their actual quality. Most often this happens to projects with famously tumultuous creative processes that upon their release do little to justify the heroic effort and expense required for their creation. Ishtar and Waterworld are two very famous examples of this. Since their release the titles for both films have become quick and easy shorthand punch lines available to anyone who wants to make a joke about an obvious financial fiasco.

Yet when either film is discussed amongst people who have actually seen them, more often than not someone will express the opinion that neither film is as bad as their reputation suggests. “Actually, Ishtar is pretty funny,” someone will say, while another will point out, “Y’know once you factor in worldwide gross, Waterworld turned a profit.” 

As is so often the case, perception has little to do with reality—the punch line mattering more than the truth. Nowhere is this more apparent than with a now-forgotten B-Movie (from back when the term described the shorter, less-expensive second feature of a 4-hour movie program and not the kind of exploitation fare people associate it with today) that—thanks to its star—was once famous for being one of the worst movies ever made, despite the fact that the handful of people who actually did see it had to admit that it was actually pretty good.

As time marches on, people talk less and less about Jack Benny. Once one of the most popular comedians of his time, his work garners less attention that it deserves these days for a handful of reasons. The first is that his greatest triumph came in radio, a medium many no longer have any interest in. The second is that having died in 1974; he didn’t live long enough to earn the fourth act career resurgence enjoyed by his best friend George Burns (a fourth act that was spurred on by Burns Oscar-winning performance in The Sunshine Boys in a role originally offered to Benny, but given to Burns after his friend’s unexpected death). And the third is that the key to Benny’s success as a comedian had been his ability to develop one of the most recognizable characters in radio and television history. Anyone who encounters Benny’s comedy today will likely be lost if they come to it without knowing of the famous quirks he and his writers spent decades nurturing.

In fact the character of “Jack Benny” is a major reason why his film career never took off like it should have. Having so perfectly established his famous persona on radio (and later on television), people had difficulty accepting him in other roles. Even when he appeared in a controversial masterpiece like 1942’s To Be or Not To Be, his audience made it clear that they preferred it when he played “himself.” 

Of course the irony is that the character of “Jack Benny” bore little resemblance to the man who shared his name. Rather than having been developed fully formed, “Jack Benny” was instead the culmination of whatever jokes had gotten the biggest laughs during the course of his career. When, early on, another character suggested Benny was cheap and it got a laugh, Benny and his writers took note and escalated his penny-pinching ways until he was one of the cheapest men in the world. Somone whose personal vault was guarded by alligators and who could earn one of the longest laughs in radio history merely by having a criminal threaten him with, “Your money or your life.”

So it was with The Horn Blows At Midnight. At the time of its release the film had been a mild B.O. and critical disappointment, but in the hands of Benny and his writers, it soon became the hugest debacle in cinema history—the worst film ever made. Whenever a guest appeared on his show who had suffered a public personal embarassment, Benny would soothe them by reminding them that he had starred in The Horn Blows At Midnight and the guest would concede that was far worse than what they experienced.

Since so few people had actually seen the film, Benny’s mockery of it was taken at face value and everyone assumed it had to be as terrible as he suggested. But as is so often the case, this perception had little to do with reality and those who had seen it could be heard to protest that it wasn’t anywhere as bad as people claimed. Having just watched it myself, I can report that this is the case. In fact, far from being a disaster, The Horn Blows At Midnight is actually a very entertaining light-weight comedy that had me laughing out loud several times during its brief 78-minute running time. What few faults it does have I suspect are more the result of interference from the censoring Hays Office than any outright artistic error on the part of its filmmakers.

While many of those who worked during that period have been known to suggest that the edicts of the Motion Picture Production Code (Hollywood’s self-appointed censorship body which was better known as the Hays Code after the former Postmaster-General, Will Hays, who was chosen by the studios to organize it) forced filmmakers to be cleverer than they would have been without it, I’ve always felt it ultimately did more harm than good. The Horn Blows At Midnight offers a good example of this with a very interesting premise that is neutered by its “Only a dream” narrative and inability to actually name the biggest danger the hero faces (the word “Hell” being verboten by name if not concept). 

The most fascinating aspect of the film is that it is one in which the protagonist’s goal is the destruction of our planet—“…A six day job…” that has ignored all of the obvious signs its Heavenly lords have thrown its way and “…gotten completely out of hand.”


Unfortunately the chutzpah of this is significant lessened by the film’s main action taking place in a consequence-free dream. Without the Wizard of Oz-esque wraparound segments (as in Oz all of the characters in Athanael’s dream have real world counterparts) the film would have forced us to truly question where to place our loyalties. Do we cheer on Athanael in his quest to destroy our world merely because he’s a likable protagonist we can identify with or do we cheer for the villainous cads who are out to stop him purely for their own selfish needs, even though their interests are ultimately our own? 

Today filmmakers would have the freedom to play with this concept however they wished, but in 1945 audiences were saved from such uncomfortable moral ambiguities. This is especially apparent in the film’s climax where Athanael is awaken from his dream just when he’s supposed to blow his horn. Even in a dream we are not allowed to see him succeed in blowing up the world, which not only leaves the viewer who spent the film cheering for him feeling unsatisfied but also leaves the film’s overall theme as something of a dangling question mark. 

Still, for all they couldn’t get away with, director Raoul Walsh (White Heat and The Roaring Twenties) and screenwriters Sam Hellman and James V. Kern do manage to get some amusingly cynical licks in. The world Athanael sets out to destroy is one filled with some really lousy people, typified by Reginald Gardiner’s charismatic thief who can barely be bothered to ask, “What stopped you?” when a spurned lover admits his rejection caused her to try to jump off a hotel’s roof the night before. 

That said, there are some benefits to the dream narrative. Mostly in how it allows us to forgive the film’s frequent lapses in logic (Apparently Heaven and New York are in the same time zone) and focus on the most charming aspect of the film, the nascent romance between Athanael and Elizabeth. 

Benny does great work in the film, but the performance I found myself focusing on was Alexis Smith’s. Based on the IMDb she’s one of those actors who I have seen many times before, but never actually noticed until a specific role caught my eye. She’s great here—the perfect love interest and not just because her heavenly robes were clearly tailored to flatter her admirable figure. More than anyone, she’s responsible for us siding with Athanael as he valiantly attempts to destroy our world, because he’s clearly doing it to impress her and we want her to be impressed.

But as much as I enjoyed the romantic aspect of the picture, the parts I’m most likely to remember are the wild slapstick set pieces that build on the film’s dream logic and allow it to achieve a true cartoon reality. This is most evident in the film’s climax which finds Athanael, along with his allies and foes, on the edge of the hotel’s rooftop attempting to claim the trumpet before midnight. It all comes to a head in the kind of massive advertising creations that do not exist anymore and—I suspect—never really existed to that degree even then.

So the message of The Horn Blows At Midnight is that you should never base your judgment of a movie based solely on its reputation alone. Too often such reputations have little to do with the actual quality of a work, but instead outside factors that have absolutely nothing to do with the enjoyment you feel while watching them.

An Experiment in Geekdom 06/18/11

This is the photo I took before I found out I wasn't supposed to take any photos.Standing a few feet away from her, I can tell that Linda Blair is pissed. A last minute replacement for beloved zombie-movie director George Romero, she faces the indignity of being a horror icon at a convention where most of the attendees are science-fiction fans, there to meet Captain Kirk, River Tam, Commander Riker and—if they have time after waiting in all of those long lines—maybe, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. The middle-aged woman who once masturbated with a crucifix in The Exorcist when she was 13 is a curiosity at best, and not worth paying $25 for a brief moment of her attention (especially after waiting three hours and shelling out $75 to do the same with Mr. Shatner). 

In another place and time, she’d be the center attraction and have a line of autograph seekers as long as her fellow celebrity guests, but not today and she’s clearly not happy about it. It doesn’t help that hers is already a hard and somewhat humiliating task—charging folks for the nostalgic thrill that comes from a handshake and a signature from someone who used to be a lot more famous than they are now. The gentleman in front of me wants her to sign a Blu-ray and 3 posters (all for the The Exorcist, an inevitability she has clearly come to accept since all but four of the 20 or so photos she has displayed on her table are stills taken from that film and the four exceptions are all devoted to her first love—animals—and none of her other 60+ film or TV performances). He’s paid for three signatures ($75—she charges her fee every time her pen touches paper), but wants her to donate the fourth to a charity devoted to helping the victims of the devastating fire in Slave Lake.

An American, she hasn’t heard of the recent Albertan disaster. Plus, the gentleman doesn’t appear to be very bright and has difficulty getting his point across. He doesn’t tell her he’s already paid for 3 of the 4 signatures and she assumes he wants her to sign all of his items for free. Naturally she’s wary and asks if he has any documentation to prove that the charity he’s talking about is legit. For all she knows, he’s just a hustler trying to get some free signatures so he can make a quick profit on e-bay, which would mean money being taken away from her charity, an animal rescue organization to which the majority of her fee goes.  After minutes of bargaining (there’s no hurry, only a handful of us are waiting) she discovers he only wants one free signature and gives it to him. He thanks her and leaves and I take his place at the head of the short line.

It definitely beats Skatetown U.S.A. for best roller disco movie ever made.She’s clearly distracted by something and doesn’t make eye contact. I greet her with the same gregarious, “Hello!” I use for store clerks and bank tellers as a means to indicate that I am not another asshole customer to be endured, but a friendly ally grateful for their service and attention. She doesn’t respond. An awkward second passes and she looks at me and says, “Hi,” as if I’ve rudely refused to greet her first. I repeat my greeting and hand her the small poster I’ve brought from home. It’s for Roller Boogie, a guilty-pleasure she starred in six years after the film that made her famous and cannot escape. Without comment she asks my name, grabs a black felt marker and writes To Allan, Keep on Rolling, Linda Blair. She does not show any indication of pleasure signing something unrelated to the reason she has been invited to the Expo and it’s clear that I have received the rote sentiment she reserves for all Roller Boogie related merchandise. Having signed my poster, she proceeds to get down to her real life’s purpose and gives me two computer printed handouts devoted to the efforts of her personal charity. I thank her, wish her a good day and leave. 

Unlike many other fans, whom I imagine would take her coldness far more personally; I find it impossible to begrudge her obvious displeasure. I understand that hers is a strange form of customer service job and—having worked those myself—I know how unfair it is for every random asshole you encounter to assume the honour of their patronage always merits a sincere smile and your heartfelt gratitude. People can be a pain in the ass and no Academy Award nominee (1973 “Best Supporting Actress” The Exorcist)—living or dead—is a good enough actor to always pretend otherwise.

Still, I cannot help but wonder why I felt compelled to put myself through that experience. I find my introductions to normal everyday people are usually awkward at best, why would I assume one with a celebrity I admire would be any different? 

Best. Book. Cover. Ever.Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. An hour before I met Ms. Blair, I had a brief encounter with Adrienne Barbeau that was just as uncomfortable, but far more satisfying. Her line was also short, but she seemed to be taking it in stride. Unlike Ms. Blair who had nothing to say about my Roller Boogie poster, she visibly brightened when I handed her a copy of her autobiography. “That’s what I like to see,” she announced to everyone within earshot, obviously proud of her work. Sensing this was my best opportunity, I launched into the spiel I had been preparing in my head since I found out I was going to be able to attend the event.

“You probably don’t remember this,” I told her as she opened up the book and grabbed a marker, “but I interviewed you last year for a website called”

“What site was that again?” she asked me. 


“That was the one where I answered the email?”

“That’s right.”

There was then a pregnant pause as I waited for her to make a comment regarding the quality of the interview or the fun she had doing it. Instead she broke the short silence by saying, “Of course you realize I don’t remember your name.”

Rather than be stung by her terse honesty, I couldn’t help but revel in it. It was the exact same quality that drew me to her performances and writing in the first place. Any other response would have felt false and insincere. I could honestly say I met the real Adrienne Barbeau.

I gave her my name and she signed my book before getting up and throwing an arm around my back. Her assistant took a photo with my cracked iPod touch and that was that. The line continued and I left happy. (That said, I must have made a tiny impression. The following Monday I found I had a message from a new Twitter follower. It turned out to be the assistant who took the photo.)

It's taking all of my effort and will not to edit the fat fucking dork out of this photo.

As happy as I was when I left, though, the point of the encounter still eluded me. Why did I want to do that? What did it mean to me? Why does this matter? 

At least I got off lucky. As a b-movie horror fan, I didn’t have to wait three hours to share an uncomfortable moment with my idols (although I would have liked to have seen Cassandra Peterson up close) and pay a truly outrageous fee to do it. I enjoyed my awkward connection without much effort and for bargain prices. Still, why?

Awesome.Of all my encounters that afternoon (not counting the moment where I literally bumped into a very attractive woman in cat ears, who I later learned was once the pretty young star of Hellraiser) the only one I “got” was the 10 minutes I spent as I watched Amanda Conner, my favourite comic book artist, doodle a portrait of one of my favourite comic book characters. For my time and money I got to see the actual creative process happen right before my eyes. I got to see someone I admire do something I myself could never do. It was beautiful and moving and I got to take the result home. 

For all my confusion, though, I must admit to deeply enjoying my first geek expo experience. Part of this was purely the pleasure of the company of the friends from work who joined me on the adventure. Much male bonding was had and the joy of it cannot be dismissed. But on a larger level it’s always comforting to be reminded that you are not alone out there in your beloved enthusiasms, even if the downside of this reminder is the knowledge that you are not quite the precious snowflake you imagine yourself to be. Every time I saw another short, overweight dude with a beard in an amusing pop-culture t-shirt with archaic headwear and dress pants, my precious sense of uniqueness died just a little, but the toys and comics and clothes I brought home were worth it.


I think. I hope. I don’t know.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Four "Always Bet On Blacula"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Four

Scream Blacula Scream



Following the death of his high priestess mother Willis is rejected as leader of his local voodoo cult. To get his revenge he buys some bones from another of the cult’s cast-offs, unaware that the ritual he will perform with them will result in the resurrection of the centuries old vampire known as Blacula. Once an African ruler named Prince Mamuwalde, Blacula was cursed to walk the earth as a member of the bloodthirsty living dead by a racist Count Dracula. Desperate to get the evil demon that compels him to murder out of his body, Blacula enlists the aid of a beautiful voodoo priestess named Lisa in the hopes that she can free him from his curse. But Lisa’s boyfriend—an ex-detective turned wealthy writer and African artifact collector named Justin—has different plans and intends to put a permanent end to Blacula’s legacy of blood.


Whether the term “dated” is an insult or affectionate compliment depends entirely on the person who is using it. In both cases it refers to a work whose style, themes and relevance are entirely of a different era, which for some viewers means feeling alienated from what they're watching, while for others it means being given a historical snapshot of a time long past, be it one they remember or never got to experience on their own.

Most often, though, “dated” is an indicator of obvious artifice. A film that is so fully realized it feels less like a composed narrative than life caught on film inevitably transcends its "best-before" date. A film that looks “dated” today probably looked just as ridiculous the year it was released. In some cases this is the result of tone-deaf filmmakers trying to capture the flavour of a zeitgeist they themselves don’t understand. In others it’s a case of focusing on a cultural event so ephemeral you could literally mark on your calendar the moment it would cease to have any meaning. But mostly it’s just the result of a generalized failure of all involved.

Making movies is hard.

Not every one can be a timeless classic.

That said,

Scream Blacula Scream is dated.

Profoundly dated. Exquisitely dated. Exuberently dated. It’s also wonderful in that way only 70s Blaxploitation can be with its equal parts racist stereotype and affecting humanity. Capturing an age I’m pretty certain never existed, it’s an all out fantasy made deliriously transcendent by one of the greatest combinations of role and actor ever put to film.

In a fairer world William Marshall never would have had to settle for playing Dracula’s tragic African cousin. Standing six foot five and possessing a classically trained baritone that demanded your full attention, he was every bit the equal of Christopher Lee--the most famous Dracula of his generation. Instead he had to settle for Blacula (and I suspect we’re better off for it).

Speaking of Christopher Lee, it’s hard not to watch Scream Blacula Scream and not think of Hammer’s regrettable attempt to move their most successful gothic horror series into the 20th century--the previous year’s Dracula A.D. 1972. Replace that film’s “swinging” London setting (which includes a scene where the crazy hipsters crash a private party featuring a band that must have been terribly important at the time, since they’re mentioned in both the opening credits and by the party’s host during their performance) with Los Angeles’ black yuppie voodoo community (?) and the films are markedly similar, right down to both title characters transforming from bleached white bones to fleshy bloodsuckers.

But unlike Hammer’s film, the two Blacula films (the first came out the same year as Dracula A.D. 1972) rise above their questionable taste and premise through their insistence on portraying their title character as a sympathetic, tragic figure. Less a monster than a genuine victim of circumstance, the cursed prince is a character we root for, not against.

Several years before playing Blacula, Marshall understudied for Boris Karloff’s Captain Hook in a production of Peter Pan and it’s easy to see why someone would think to have the two actors play the same role. He brings so much desperate humanity to Blacula that its closest horror equivalent is Karloff’s performances in both Frankenstein and (especially) Bride of Frankenstein. Both actors present us with so-called “monsters” who did not choose to be monstrous and whose most horrific acts are either the result of misunderstandings or uncontrollable rages that cloud their better judgment.

If Karloff’s monster is the ultimate portrait of a lonely, ugly man frustrated by his inability to find love, then Marshall’s is one of the horrors of addiction. At his best moments, he retains all of the honor, power and dignity that befits his royal station, but when his hunger strikes he loses his rational mind and is forced to act out in the most antisocial of ways. That said, he tries to select deserving victims when he can. In the case below, he even goes so far as to lecture his next two meals about the damage their crimes are doing to their people: 


Suffice it to say, William Marshall’s performance is not dated.

Nor is that of his leading lady, Pam Grier.

Her Afro, on the other hand, most certainly is.

Filled equally with serious black professionals who expertly discuss African history while drinking fine wine, and over-the-top preening pimp daddies in your choice of either ridiculous hat or enormous James Brown hairdos, the film presents us with a clear one-step forward, one-step back situation that is admittedly only a few steps away from your typical Tyler Perry production.

And just like a Tyler Perry movie, the overtly racist characters are much more entertaining than the serious ones, especially Blacula’s resurrectionist and subsequent lackey, Willis, who is played by Richard Lawson in the kind of gleefully over-the-top performance many black actors give when presented with possibly questionable characters to play.

Admittedly a failure as a horror movie, Scream Blacula Scream succeeds instead as a bizarre character drama that just happens to feature scenes where black folks walk around in ridiculous vampire makeup. Ironically its biggest failure comes about as a direct result of its biggest success.

I say this because the film doesn’t so much end as it just freezes mid-scene. Having tried and failed to rid Blacula of the demon that dwells within him, Lisa is horrified by his true face and—as he attacks her boyfriend—tries to stop him by stabbing the voodoo doll she crafted for the occasion with a wooden arrow. This causes him to stumble with pain, but does not kill him. Instead, the film freezes as our sympathetic villain looks up to the heavens and screams in frustration. (Or at least that’s how it ends in the version I saw. According to Wikipedia, “Lisa stabs the prince's voodoo doll killing Mamuwalde and forever destroying Blacula.” I’m not sure if this description is the result of an alternative cut of the film or the writer coming to a conclusion not actually justified by what is presented on-screen.)

From a script standpoint, this ending doesn’t make any sense (even if it does provide the film with its title), but from a marketing standpoint it’s the only one the filmmakers could present without filming a whole new sequence. The problem with making Blacula so sympathetic is that as an audience we don’t want to see him vanquished, even though the film has gone to the trouble to present us with a more typical hero in the form of Lisa’s boyfriend, Justin.

Interestingly, the tension we feel during the climax where Justin and the police are besieged by Blacula’s legion of vampires while on their way to rescue Lisa doesn’t come from our fear that they won’t get to her in time, but instead that they will. For this reason Blacula’s subsequent rage over the interruption of the ritual meant to make him human feels totally justified and we resent both Lisa’s turn against him and Justin’s attempt to kill him. My guess is that the ending once did explicitly show Blacula dying as a result of Lisa’s voodoo magic, but that test audiences roared with disapproval over this outcome. Having no other option, the filmmakers chose to go with a non-ending rather one guaranteed to piss the audience off.

The good news was that this ending easily allowed for another sequel. The bad news was that the film didn’t do well enough to justify one. It’s a shame, because Marshall’s performance more than deserved a lengthy franchise. Sadly, he never received as good a role again and probably remains best known to members of my generation as the second King of Cartoons.

Still, two great performances are better than none, especially when—unlike the movies they’re in—they’re guaranteed to stand the test of time.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Three "Vroom-Vroom!"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Three




The annual Trans-America road race is so secret it doesn’t even have an official name. Announced via a single, unadorned want ad, it’s open to anyone with a valid license and four wheels. The goal is simple, start in California, finish in New York. The person who punches in with the quickest time wins the prize--$100,000. This year’s contestants are a motley group including: an arrogant German champion, two lovesick teens in a “borrowed” Corvette, three carhops in a rented van, a psychotic hothead sponsored by his traveling companions, a country-western singer and his manager mother, a family man with a cunning plan and a jiggly blonde waiting for him on the east coast, a jive hipster in a swank suit driving another “borrowed” car, and—most significantly—Coy “Cannonball” Buckman, who’s on probation after taking the fall for his best friend for the death of a passenger during a past race. Luckily for Coy, his probation officer is also his girlfriend and she’s joining him for the ride; unluckily for him, his brother has bet more than he can afford on Coy’s winning and his interference will end up having tragic consequences for almost all involved.

There are many frustrating aspects of working in creative industries. None are actually worse than those that come from having real jobs, but they are still incredibly irksome nonetheless. By far the worst has to be the shocking disparity between the works you take great pride in and that which is actually successfully received. The sad truth is that no one ever has any real idea which ideas will connect and which ones won’t. Very often the passion projects inspired by the blood, sweat and tears of your own personal experience will end up ignored in favour of (what you think are) uninspired brain farts that you offered up only out of desperation, rather than any faith in the quality of the material.

The thing is, though, the reason this happens is because artists are seldom worthy arbiters of their own material. The very closeness that connects them to one work over another is often the very thing that alienates the rest of us. The cinematic landscape is littered with terrible films made by talented artists whose previous “sell out” successes gave them the carte blanche they needed to make the film they’ve had playing in their head since they were 10 years-old. Distance, interference and a lack of faith in the material can sometimes be a good thing—forcing a filmmaker to try harder and reach further than they would on something that was completely their own. Reluctant works of art—those born of frustration, self-doubt and misery—are often the most satisfying, regardless of how the artist may feel about them once they are completed.

I write this, because even though I appreciate why Paul Bartel was dissatisfied with Cannonball! and regarded his work on it as a professional setback and personal failure, it and it’s immediate predecessor, Death Race 2000, remain—by far—my two favourite films he ever made.

Bartel may have regarded Cannonball! as nothing more than a paycheck, but I personally find it much more entertaining and enjoyable than more personal films like Private Parts, Eating Raoul and Not For Publication. Those films, though much reflective of his true voice, have always struck me as being essentially John Waters-lite (a comparison his Lust in the Dust makes unavoidable through the casting of Waters’ late muse, Divine), while his two Corman films remain utterly unique precisely because of the creative concessions forced upon him. Left alone and his whimsical gay satire proved ultimately as bland as the couple he and Mary Woronov played in Eating Raoul; forced to sell out and the result was corrosively biting satire no one else could have ever made but him.

Given its murdering-pedestrians-for-sport premise, Death Race 2000 should feel much darker than Cannonball!—and it does—but not as much as you’d think. Set in the present day, Cannonball! doesn’t have the previous film’s funny, futuristic art direction and special effects to lighten its load. Therefore, when it gets dark, we feel it that much more. The consequences in Cannonball! have more bite than in Death Race 2000. We feel them more. Bartel appears to have noticed this and sadistically goes for the jugular with a spectacular highway pile-up sequence that is virtually apocalyptic in its destruction. “You assholes want to see car crashes?” he asks us. “Then I’ll fucking give you car crashes!”

The sequence is so unrelenting and out of place in what is otherwise a somewhat light-hearted picture, it stands out as the most extreme moment in Bartel’s directing career. As a filmmaker who aimed to be a comic provocateur, it’s easily his most provocative moment. It’s thrilling, devastating and unlike anything you’ll ever see in any of the films his two drive-in hits inspired.

In a decade where “car crash pictures” (as Joe Dante, who has an acting cameo in Cannonball! and edited Grand Theft Auto, Ron Howard’s classic example of the oeuvre, calls them in his recent commentary for that film) supplanted westerns and musicals in terms of popularity, Cannonball! was the first in the sub-genre of films depicting the real world tradition of secret, illegal road races across the United States (unlike Death Race 2000, which depicted a fictitious government-sanctioned race that involved running over people for points).

It was followed by the much more light-hearted The Gumball Rally (which took its inspiration more from the “wacky” ensemble farce of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World than anything else), as well as the truly terrible Hal Needham duology The Cannonball Run 1&2. Though the title of Needham’s two films owe an obvious debt to Bartel's, their actual content is much closer to The Gumball Rally’s. The main difference being that in Rally the characters are played by talented, but non-famous character actors, while in the Run films they’re played by either slumming has-beens or well-known television personalities.

Though it would be a mistake to refer to Cannonball! as being a more realistic variation of the material, it is easily the least broad and cartoonish example of this strange sub-genre. Of them all, it’s the only one to depict the dangerous realities of participating in races such as this. In the other films, none of the characters so much as yawn as they go two days without sleeping to reach their destinations, while in Cannonball! the film’s hero wrecks his car when he briefly dozes off behind the wheel.

In the other films the sabotage the drivers inflict on each other is played off as comic—the real world equivalent of what you’d see in Hanna-Barbara’s Wacky Races cartoon—while in Cannonball! the majority of the attempts to stop other drivers are deadly in their intent and are often fatally successful.

Though this willingness to kill off characters likely had more to do with producer Roger Corman’s mandate that the film contain a certain amount of trailer-friendly explosions, it ultimately is what allows Cannonball! to work better than Rally or the Runs. Unlike those films, Cannonball! is a much more moral film where actions have consequences. In it, cheaters do not win, corruption isn’t rewarded and the prize goes to the young couple who go out of their way to take Coy’s injured girlfriend to the hospital and who decide to continue racing only out of a sense of completion, rather than monetary desire.

But that’s not to say Bartel’s film is anything close to being a drama. His particular comic sensibility dominates much of Cannonball! especially in the portrayal of country-western singer Perman Waters by Gerrit Graham, who appears to be playing the straight southern cousin of Phantom of the Paradise’s Beef. Bartel also gives himself a nice comic role as an effete gangster more interested in composing show tunes than breaking legs. And as the German driver who dies when his sabotaged car explodes as planned, James Keach is allowed a few inspired comic soliloquys before his demise.

That the film earns genuine laughs, while Needham’s Run films don’t is a perfect example of how a director’s seeming suitability for a project can actually be a negative rather than a positive for a production. Needham was a southern redneck car-nut who had actually participated in the real world version of the race, while Bartel was a sophisticated gay New Yorker who had no interest in cars at all. Yet Bartel’s film works and Needham’s two films don’t. Bartel’s initial lack of investment in the project forced him to find ways to keep himself interested, which elevated the material. Needham made the films that were in his heart and they really, really sucked.

Beyond the reasons noted above, another reason genre fans should go out of their way to check out Cannonball! is its excellent cast, filled with Corman and Bartel regulars. As Coy, David Carradine is essentially playing a less damaged version of Death Race’s Frankenstein and as his probation officer girlfriend, Veronica Hamel is given at least one great moment of kick ass awesomeness with which to shine. As the winning couple, Robert Carradine and Belinda Belaski are charmingly naïve, while Archie Hahn does an excellent job as Zippo, Coy’s best friend, whose cheerfulness barely masks the guilt he feels for his role in Coy’s imprisonment. Cormon fixture, Dick Miller gets one of the meatiest roles of his career as Coy’s desperate brother and Deliverence’s Bill McKinney is alternately comic and frightening as Cade, whose psychotic need to win proves to be his undoing.

Co-financed by Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers, the film also boasts a larger than normal budget for a Corman feature, which is evident on screen. The film especially benefits from the work of frequent Jonathan Demme collaborator Tak Fujimoto, who brings a colourful, yet realistic look to the film’s cinematography.

That said, b-movie fans are likely to get their biggest kicks out of the innumerable cameos of soon-to-be famous filmmakers found throughout the movie. I won’t spoil all of them for you, but I will say that there is a special delight to be had in seeing the future directors of New York, New York and Staying Alive pretending to be dangerous wiseguys with Bartel, while enjoying a meal of KFC.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part One "Chuck Amok"

So, as I announced this past Monday, today’s post marks a transition away from THE WYNORSKI PROJECT (which had unfortunately become a joke I no longer found amusing) into an enterprise I hope will turn out to be much more personally fulfilling. By broadening my focus to the vast world of low-budget, independent genre cinema in general I will be better equipped to write the kind of essays I enjoy.

If you’ve ever found yourself tempted to check out one of Bookgasm reviews found in my link section, you might have guessed that I’m not someone who thinks of criticism as a kind of artistic consumer protectionism. Rather than pretend that I’m Ralph Nader on a mission to protect the public from poorly made movies "unsafe at any speed," I prefer to use criticism either as a form of autobiography (see my recent “review” of Hal Needham’s Stuntman for probably the best example of this) or as a means to entertainingly discuss an interesting quirk of pop culture (see my “review” of Evil Laugh, in which the film isn’t actually discussed until the final paragraph).

The truth is that more often than not, the essays/reviews I write are not actually inspired by their subject, but were conceived with the hope that I might someday find a subject that justified my writing them. This is why I have to admit that THE WYNORSKI PROJECT proved to be such a disappointing failure. I simply am not capable of being interesting, funny or even fitfully amusing if the only point I have to make is, “This movie sucked.” It’s only when a movie’s specific suckiness allows me to discuss a much larger and more interesting issue that I find myself inspired.

So, with B-MOVIE BULLSH*T I hope to give myself the freedom to do what I do best—write overly-long, self-indulgent celebrations of terrible movies that random people across the globe might read a sentence or two of while they search heroically on for “HEATHER LOCKLEAR SWAMP SEX”

That said, let the BULLSH*T begin!



Invasion U.S.A.



Matt Hunter thought he was done with “The Agency” for good, but then his old Russkie rival, Mikhail Rostov, decided to kill his Native American friend, John Eagle, and lead a terrorist invasion of the good ole U.S. of A. Once certain that his killing days were done, Hunter has to leave the Everglades and become a one-man-army dedicated to avenging his friend and saving a little freedom-loving land called AMERICA!



After watching seven of these movies, one after another, I can definitely answer,“Yes. They’re for boys only.” And not even eighth-grade boys in the case of Chuck Norris, whose films had obviously been made by the fourth-grade boys who follow the eighth-grade boys around, awestruck.

--Merrill Markoe, “Evolution of the Species. Not.” What the Dogs Taught Me

Leave it to the creator of Stupid Pet Tricks to come up with the best and most succinct evaluation of Chuck Norris’ filmography I’ve ever come across. I was 16 when I first read it and even then I marveled at its accuracy. As a young boy who eagerly played “guns” as much as every other red-blooded Canadian pre-teen male, I knew there was always something slightly off about Chuck’s movies, especially in comparison to the ones that starred Arnold, Sly, Mel and Bruce. They never seemed to feel like fully formed “real” movies. Instead of being a genuine action movie hero it always felt like Chuck was just pretending to be one and everyone let him because he seemed to be really good at karate.

Now that’s not to say this was unique to Chuck. Replace his name with Steven Segal and “karate” with whatever Asian kickamaboo he mastered and that previous paragraph’s last sentence remains equally accurate. Hell, their onscreen careers were so identical both of their “best” movies (Code of Silence and Under Siege) were directed by the same guy!

Still, it does seem clear to me that when Chuck's legendary "toughness" became a popular Internet meme a few years back it was less a direct reflection of his talent or charisma, but instead the fact that--more than any of his peers--he perfectly represented the kind of absurd machoismo that irony had long since banished from polite society.

Last summer a lot of folks got excited about The Expendables because they felt it marked the return of a kind of movie that had vanished from the screen—the 80s action movie. And despite their half-hearted protests otherwise, they left that movie disappointed because they were looking for something that simply cannot be replicated. The 80s action movie is as much a product of its time as the original silent films of the early 20th century. No matter how hard you try to mimic one, our modern sensibilities will always mar the brushstrokes, ruining the authenticity.

The major reason for this isn’t hard to figure out. The 80s action genre was defined by the conservative politics of the era. Reagan was president; the cold war was still a thing that totally existed. People still believed in stuff and—with the exception of some folks on the east coast—didn’t pepper their conversations with invisible quotation marks.

In retrospect it seems incredibly obvious that nearly all of the action icons from that period would go on to become the most vocal Hollywood conservatives of today. Arnold, the ultimate immigrant success story, became the Republican governor of California. Mel won an Oscar for directing the nearly pornographically violent depiction of the martyrdom of a largely-fictional historical figure with Braveheart and then got really crazy after that. Sly would go on to suggest that the nation’s first black president was a Manchurian Candidate inserted by a foreign power to take down America from within and Bruce appeared in North, the film that marked the beginning of the gradual creative decline of Rob Reiner, the most liberal member of Hollywood’s liberal elite.

These guys didn't fit perfectly into the 80s action mold because they were strong, capable actors, but because their personal philosophies allowed them to act like mindless, gun-toting killing machines without any shame or self-consciousness. They happily killed commies without irony because commies needed killing and they made bad jokes after they killed bad guys because bad guys didn’t deserve good ones.

And of all the unironic 80s action movie stars, Chuck was easily the most unironicist and has proven only too happy to display his conservative bona fides on his sleeve. He occasionally subs in as a guest host for the notorious FOX NEWS spew-meister Sean Hannity, “wrote” a whole book about his right-wing political views and starting syndicating a weekly newspaper column that frequently features him taking creative cut & paste liberties with other people’s work.

Incapable of actually playing a three-dimensional character, he instead devoted himself to being the living embodiment of “the hero”, which his own conservative values defined as “the guy who could kick other guys the hardest.” And he was especially happy when the guys he was kicking were philosophically inclined to support the political rhetoric of Marx, Engals, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao and Streisand.

The first film for which he took a writing credit, Invasion U.S.A. is easily the most archetypally 80s action movie he ever made. No cliché goes untouched. No character gets developed. Stuff never stops ‘sploding. It’s kinda racist. The hero is so ambivalent about the hot reporter who keeps popping up around him (for reasons the plot never gets around to justifying) that you start to wonder if he even likes girls. He also has a cool holster-vest-thingie for his machine guns that lets him walk around without his arms getting tired. And he drives a pickup truck!

Based on the title and advertising, I suspect most folks went into the movie assuming it was essentially the previous year’s Red Dawn with ass-kicking Chuck in place of a bunch of wimpy teenage pretty boys, but the invasion in Invasion U.S.A. is much more small-scale and—based on what we’re shown—apparently limited to Florida, which you’d think is the last place an invading army would want to descend. Truthfully, it would kinda have to be, if the whole thing is supposed to be stopped by one bearded dude with a mullet and a pet armadillo.

In perhaps the film’s most prescient move, it presents the possibility of America being taken down not by a huge military force but instead by a series of strategic terrorist attacks. Posing as police officers and soldiers, the film’s ragtag group of commies (shown in both Russian, Chinese and Cuban varieties) attempt to sow distrust amongst the citizenry towards the actual authority figures they must depend on during such a crisis.

Problem is, the people don’t really seem to notice. We’re told that they’re freaking out on a massive scale, but whenever we see them they don’t actually look overly concerned. We’re also told that for every attack Chuck prevents, 100 succeed, but we only actually see the ones he prevents, so it’s kinda hard to accept the enormity of the situation. Based on what we’re shown a more accurate title might have been Inconvenience U.S.A. (ZING!)

But this lack of urgency could easily be ignored if the film’s action scenes made up the difference. They don’t, though, so it’s a wash. The problem, once again, is a lack of scale. A lot of stuff ‘splodes in Invasion U.S.A., they just don’t ‘splode big enough. The bomb the psycho commie tries to leave in a crowded shopping mall barely has enough juice to blow up a single kiosk. The other bomb used to blow up a whole church manages to only randomly scatter a few commies when Chuck throws it back at them.

Plus, screenwriter Chuck is too patriotic to even hint that anti-American terrorists might show even the tiniest measure of competency. Sure, he’ll show them firing a rocket at the house of the adorable little girl who we just saw place the ornament on top of the Christmas tree, but he’s also going to make sure that he shows us that the little girl and her family are okay despite the whole fiery inferno and everything. Same goes for when they try to blow up a bus full of kids being evacuated to the countryside. It’s kinda hard to take the bad guys seriously as a threat when the only time we hear about them successfully killing a bunch of defenseless kids is when Chuck visits a burned out carousal at an abandoned carnival site.

That’s not to say that we don’t get to see the bad guys kill people, but the ones they do actually get to kill are drug dealers, sleazeballs, an old guy and a bunch of desperate Cuban refugees destined to become illegal aliens sucking greedily on the teat of American exceptionalism, so obviously their deaths have no emotional impact whatsoever.

It also doesn’t help that screenwriter Chuck clearly abhorred the notion that hero Chuck might even show a single moment’s worth of weakness. At a certain point his ability to always get the better of his opponents seems less like skill and talent and more like deluded vanity. Dude doesn’t even get his clothes messed up. Arnold, Bruce, Sly and Mel all let their clothes get messed up. They even bled on occasion.


As noted above, Invasion U.S.A. is like the majority of Chuck’s movies (the notable exceptions being the already mentioned Code of Silence and the multi-genre oddity that is Silent Rage) in that it feels less like an actual movie than an overly-earnest facsimile of one made by folks without much talent and even less self-awareness, but rather than make the film feel less authentic, it only makes it more so. Absent of the skill and guile that helped disguise the absurdities of other, better-produced 80s action movies, it stands out as the (extremely im)perfect exemplar of the wholy ridiculous phenomenon.

In the wise words of Courtney Love, Chuck fakes it so real, he’s beyond fake.


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 "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 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

Repost - Slumber Party Massacre II

There is a theory in Hollywood that the last 10 minutes of a movie are by far the most important for its overall success.  The argument goes that a mediocre film can be saved by a memorable conclusion, while a disappointing ending can easily derail an audience’s appreciation of an otherwise great film.  The reason for this is simple—many people are linear thinkers who base their judgments solely on their most recent experiential data.  Ask them what they thought of a film and they’ll base that judgment on how they felt when they walked out at the end.  Even if they sat bored for the first 80 or so minutes, it’s the rush of excitement they remember from the last 10 that will cause them to praise the picture and—vice versa—cause them to denounce a film with an unsatisfactory climax that they otherwise enjoyed.

It is for this reason that any filmmaker who employs the infamous “It was only a dream!” device, no matter how cleverly or innovatively they do so, ultimately dooms their work to popular failure.  Over the years audiences have come to think of this ending as a hackneyed rip off and as a result are inclined to revolt against it and any film it appears in—no matter what the context or how it is employed.

The best example of this is the vehement reaction Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky engendered during its 2001/2002 holiday release.  As documented by Chuck Klosterman in his essay “The Awe-Inspiring Beauty of Tom Cruise’s Shattered, Troll-like Face” (from his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs), audience members walked out of the movie visibly hostile in a way that bore no relation to the quality of the film they just sat through.  “…[I]n the parking lot outside the theater, I overheard one guy tell his girlfriend he was going to beat her for making him watch this picture,” he writes in stunned amazement.  A well-made film filled with excellent performances (I personally have never found Penelope Cruz more enchanting) that features at least one truly amazing sequence (Cruise’s desperate jog through a deserted Times Square), the reaction the film received ultimately had everything to do with its final few minutes, in which we learn that everything we have seen has been the computer-programmed dream of a man in cryogenic stasis in preparation for his rebirth in an unknown future.  Having primed viewers to expect a more complex explanation for its events, the film’s creative variation of “It was only a dream”—alongside its refusal to show the future world it alluded to—alienated viewers to an extreme degree.  I strongly suspect that if the Brothers Medved had conducted a poll that year, the movie would have easily made the list of the worst films of all time, even though it wasn’t even the worst film released that particular weekend.

I mention this as a way to explain why the utterly harmless and fitfully amusing sequel to the subject of my previous DVD Horror Movie Index was only until very recently ranked as one of the IMDb’s Bottom 100 rated movies.  Rather than enjoy it as an entertaining—if also occasionally cheesy—comedy nightmare, most people upon seeing it choose to dismiss it as nothing more than a weird/stupid slasher movie with the lamest of all possible endings.

I am, of course, talking about:


Roger Corman is not the kind of dude to fuck up a good thing.  Having made enough of a profit from video and cable revenues to produce a sequel to 1982's The Slumber Party Massacre, it must have occurred to him that the fact that the film had been made by women might have had a hand in its success, so when it came time to assign the sequel to the sort of starving and desperately ambitious film school graduate upon which he built his low-budget movie empire, it only made sense that in this case this person would also be a female-woman type.  After what I'm sure was an exhaustive search, he settled on UCLA grad Deborah Brock, who had been making no-budget 8mm films since she was a teenager, but had yet to helm an actual feature at that point.  But although she shared the same chromosomal makeup and genitalia as Amy Holden Jones and Rita Mae Brown, she came to the project with a different attitude than her predecessors.  Her intention in making the film wasn't to--as Brown wanted--to mock the genre or--as Jones successfully did--simply create a highly-effective representation of it, but rather to instead do what they could not and create the first slasher film that effectively represented an entirely female point of view. 
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To that end she wrote a screenplay that attempted to include all of the necessary slasher movie cliches, but that also explained them away as the nightmarish imaginings of a severely traumatized mind--in this case, Courtney, the 17 year-old version of the 12 year-old girl who survived the events of the first film.  Right from the very first shot of our sleeping main character it is clear that what we are going to be seeing isn't a literal representation of a horrific event, but rather the extended dream of a disturbed young woman whose traumatic experiences have left her incapable of willingly making the transition into female adulthood.
In Courtney's dream she imagines herself as an attractive woman (future Wings star Crystal Bernard) who is at least 8 years visibly older than her actual age.  The same is true for all of her friends (one of whom looks just like 1982's January Playmate of the Month) and the handsome boy she has a crush on, who looks far more like a 30-something teacher than one of her peers.  She and her friends are in a band and though their songs really, really suck, it is clear that music means something important to her--something deep and intimate that is innately connected to her own nascent sexuality.
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We know this because whenever her dream turns nightmarish she is tormented by glimpses of a leather clad psychopath, whose look, cadence and demeanor is that of a 50s era rockabilly performer.  And though the identity of this dark, evil Elvis Presley manque is forged by Courtney's love of music,  he actually represents her inner sexual conflict.  Now a young woman dealing with natural carnal desire, she cannot help but associate the loss of her virginity with the massacre she survived five years earlier, due to the overtly phallic nature of the murderer's weapon of choice.  That is why she imagines Val, her now-insane older sister (who also became a lot less attractive in the intervening half-a-decade), urging her from underneath her mental hospital bed to "Don't...go...all...the...way...."
But despite these strong inner fears, Courtney's attraction to the handsome Matt is too powerful to be denied, which is why she invites him to join her at the slumber party being held at her friend Sheila's father's condo. 
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Now, If there is any validity to the idea that every person you dream of doesn't represent that actual person, but rather an element of yourself that they best exemplify, then Courtney's three friends (and bandmates) can be viewed like this: Sally (Heidi Kozak) is the self-loathing Courtney feels for not being able to overcome her minor imperfections (ie. the shallow bimbo), Amy (Kimberly McArthur) is the voluptuous symbol of the impossible physical ideal that plagues many women's psyches (ie. the busty centerfold), Sheila (Juliette Cummins) is the overt expression of Courtney's sexual desire (ie. the exhibitionist slut), while she imagines herself as a near-perfect symbol of purity and innocence, struggling to retain her virtue in a dangerous world (ie. the final girl).  Beyond her love of music, she imagines herself and her friends as a band because it allows her to better appreciate them as the cohesive aspects of her own identity and the music they create together allows her to more creatively ponder such ideas as her own personal dissatisfaction and desire for new experiences, which she addresses in a song that asks "Why do you want more?":    

It's only a matter of time, though, before Courtney is unable to keep the two separate halves of her dream--the one based in a normal reality and the overt nightmare--from colliding together.   
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First she dreams of a dead chicken coming back to life in her hands--an incident whose symbolic relevance is lost to me, but could be dismissed as merely one of the random elements that naturally pop up in these unconscious inner narratives.  Next she images her bathtub filling up with blood--an obvious allusion to menstruation and the inevitable loss of her girlhood.  Most disturbingly she imagines Sally's face transforming into a pus-spewing monstrosity--an image that works to confirm her terror that at the end of the journey through adolescence (Sally spends much of the movie fretting about the kind of nearly invisible facial blemishes that is the bane of many teenagers life experience) there is only disease, ugliness and death.
When the Sally aspect of her identity disappears following the projectile-pus incident, Courtney dreams that she and the others contact the local police (one of whom she--in a nod to her narrative's subconscious state--names Officer Krueger after the famous villain of the similarly dream-inspired Nightmare on Elm Street series).  Rather than take her concerns seriously, they question her sanity and berate her for wasting their time--especially when Sally eventually reappears unharmed and without a care in the world.  It's clear that there's no help or comfort to be found from the adult world.
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It would seem that her only comfort from the terror of her nightmare comes in the arms of Matt (Patrick Lowe), the symbol of romantic perfection, but as the two of them finally attempt to "Go all the way"--Valerie's dire warning proves entirely wise.  With a weapon that grafts a guitar with the electric drill of her previous tormentor, The "Driller Killer" (Atanas Ilich) penetrates Matt before Matt can do the same to Courtney.  The rockabilly killer then proceeds to lay waste to the rest of Courtney's subconscious identities, with superficial Sally being the first to go.  Throughout the ordeal it is clear that the killer--and therefore also the young woman responsible for manifesting him--takes a special joy in seeing these less-ideal aspects of her personality die at his hands.  This is most obvious when he turns the death of Sheila into a musical number:   
Soon only Amy (arguably the least objectionable of her three female aspects) and Courtney remain.
The police express only indifference to Courtney's pleas on the phone for help, so she and Amy have no choice but to escape from the condo and attempt to outrun the mysterious guitar-drill wielding psychopath.  Unfortunately, he easily catches up to them and quickly dispatches Amy, leaving Courtney only with the most idealized version of herself to battle against her own fear of personal corruption.  For a time it seems as though she is victorious, when she is able to set the Driller Killer ablaze with a blow torch, but her victory is short-lived.  No matter how much she wants them to be gone, her aspects cannot be so easily disposed of.
Witness the resurrection of Amy:   
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Of course this also means the resurrection of Matt, but her fear of sex is too strong to allow him to remain for long and she quickly replaces him with the killer.

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The film then ends with the implication that Courtney, not Valerie, was the person driven insane by the experience of the first film, as we see her screaming and tormented on a hospital cot in a dingy unfurnished room, but even this is called into question as it becomes clear that her nightmare hasn't ended as the credits being to roll.  This is no "It was all a dream" happy ending, but rather the discomfiting suggestion of a torment without end--a perpetual state of insanity from which its victim, whoever it may be, cannot ever escape.
Viewed this way, Brock's Slumber Party Massacre II is a much more interesting film than it's low IMDb rating and negligible reputation would suggest.  The problem, no doubt, is that most viewers come to it expecting another straight-ahead slasher tale in the same mold as its predecessor--thus they are alienated by deliberate choices Brock made that make no sense in that context, but that fit in perfectly with the nightmare narrative  she instead chose to pursue.  That's not to say the film isn't without its faults (bad acting, low production values, truly terrible music and the utterly inexcusable failure to get Kimberly McArthur naked, considering that her famously copious breasts remained explicitly visible throughout the entirety of her previous three screen credits), but when viewed as a whole and with the right mindset, many of these faults actually work to the film's advantage--making it seem that much more like the dream of young woman (if that is indeed the person who is doing the dreaming) who is familiar with the genre only through its most obvious weaknesses and cliches.  It's precisely the kind of narrative tomfoolery that has made David Lynch a cult icon, but without the self-congratulatory pretentiousness that I personally find so alienating in much of his work.  For that reason I was surprised and impressed by the film, although I suspect that my admiration for it is definitely going to remain the minority position.
Slasher Movie Statistics
Body Count: 6 (three men and three women) 
Instances of Nakedity: 1 (Sadly, not from the playmate)
Instruments of Death: Guitar drill
References to Pot: o (Courtney apparently isn't a subconscious toker)
Amusingly Dated References to 1980s Culture:  At their band rehearsal, Sally requests a can of Slice, while Sheila gets pretentious with some Perrier.
Cinematic Girl Band Comparison: Not as good as: The Carrie Nations or Josie and the Pussycats/Better than: Mystery (from  Satisfaction)
Cheesy References to Other Horror Movies: I already mentioned Officer Krueger, but I didn't mention that his partner is Officer Voorhies.
Utterly Pointless Trivia: Bernard and McArthur both had roles in Garry Marshall's feature film directing debut Young Doctors in Love.  As mentioned above, nearly all of McArthur's screen time is spent without a top. 

Final Girl Rating: 7 (out of 10)