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

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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 Six "The Return of Swamp Thing"

The Wynorski Project

Part Six

The Return of Swamp Thing



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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