Vanity Fear

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

Filtering by Tag: Roger Corman

The Other Side of Corman: Part One "Off Brand Models"

Roger Corman produced a lot of classic B-Movies. This is NOT their story.

Cover Girl Models



Two experienced models join a newcomer on a trip to Hong Kong and Singapore for a photo shoot. Their photographer, Mark (John Kramer), does his best to get them to take off their clothes whenever he can and can’t decide who he wants to bed more, the hard-to-get blonde Claire (Lindsay Bloom) or the eager neophyte Mandy (Tara Strohmeyer).  Barbara (Pat Anderson) has her attentions stolen by a suave Asian spy named Ray (Tony Ferrer) who rescues her when foreign agents attempt to retrieve the microfilm hidden in her couture gown. Claire gets in trouble trying to land a part in an upcoming movie, eventually getting kidnapped by Singaporean rebels while dressed like the American ambassador’s nymphomaniac daughter. It all comes to a head during a brief shoot-out at a bad guys mansion. Claire is a hit with journalists, but only gets offered the part of a model in the movie, not the lead, Mandy gets offered a $50,000 deal from a rival publisher, and Barbara has a date with her suave secret agent hero. Mark is taken to the police department for questioning, despite his hilarious protests.

Pertinent Details

This Says A Lot: Gremlins director Joe Dante has gone on record that Cover Girl Models was the worst film he ever edited a trailer for during his time working for Corman.

Returning Champion: Cover Girl Models was directed by Cirio H. Santiago, the filmmaker response for the previous Vanity Fear B-Movie Bullsh*t entry, Firecracker.

This Had a Script?: The film was “written” by Corman vet Howard R. Cohen who remains best known as the writer/director of the truly terrible horror spoof Saturday the 14th and it’s sequel Saturday the 14th Strikes Back.

Also Starring: Cult queen Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000, Eating Raoul) appears in one scene as the editor of the magazine doing the photo shoot. She’s definitely the best part of the movie. My guess is that this scene was shot in the States and put into the movie after it was finished to pad out the running time a la the nude karate fight in Firecracker (my suspicions about this having been confirmed by the extended special features interview with co-star Darby Hinton on the excellent Machete Maidens Unleashed DVD).

If you read the above synopsis and came to the conclusion that it read less like an actual plot description than a list of random events, welcome to Cover Girl Models—a film so devoid of urgency and momentum you’d might think it was a brilliant European arthouse flick if it had been filmed in Swedish or Italian. Unfortunately, though, it was filmed in English, which means being constantly aware of how terrible it is every single second of its brief (but interminable) running time.

Director Santiago was rather infamous for being so cavalier about his work that sometimes he couldn’t even bother to ensure that shots were in focus or that enough of the script was filmed to make sense or break past the 70 minute running time required to get a movie on most theatre screens. This explains the haziness of some of the film’s moments and why at least one sub-plot—Claire’s attempts to get a major movie role—makes absolutely no fucking sense whatsoever.

The problems with this scenario begin when she decides to pretend to be a hooker to research the role she covets and impress the producer with her knowledge. Naturally, this leads to her almost being raped by a drunken sailor. She’s saved by a guy who we think is the bar's manager, but rather than help her, he starts chasing her, even as she runs out of the club and hops a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. Instead of letting her go, he then has some friends join him on a bizarre Filipino moped contraption and chase after her—risking everyone’s lives in the process. The moped-thingie eventually overturns (and looks like it really injured the poor bastards in it at the time), and in the next scene we see Claire explain that she didn’t know the guy was a cop, because apparently they take arresting prostitutes REALLY seriously in Singapore (which is probably true—even if you can get a legal handjob in most shopping malls—but still seems absured as presented here).

Still, that pales in comparison to what happens next. After this—for reasons never explained—Claire decides her next best bet is to pretend to be the infamous daughter of the American ambassador by putting on a black wig. As a result of this she gets kidnapped by some sort of liberation army (even though the phrase "Singapore Rebel" is pretty much an oxymoron), and just sits there when confronted by their leader, even though he clearly thinks she’s someone she’s not. It’s only in the next scene, when she’s suddenly and inexplicably in his bedroom, that he comes in angry, having figured out she’s an imposter. He then rips her top off and starts to rape her, but stops for some unknown reason.

The next time we see Claire she’s with the other models, apparently unharmed and without a word to say about her traumatic experience. During the gunfight in the smuggler’s mansion, her kidnapper appears out of nowhere (literally, he’s all of sudden just there beside her in the middle of the action with no explanation) and saves her. Then, when it’s all over, he’s gone and never mentioned again.

And this is the most entertaining and intriguing part of the movie.

That said, for those impressed by the sight of attractive women in no clothing, the film isn’t as easily dismissed. Redheaded beanpole Strohmeyer only appeared in 11 movies in her short career, but managed to make a major naked impression in most of them (especially Hollywood Boulevard, Kentucky Fried Movie and The Student Teachers). Her breasts get the most running time, but not because Bloom and Anderson weren’t trying. Perhaps the most imaginative use of nudity comes in the scene where Barbara is being chased by Taiwanese agents and tries to get a beat cop supervising a local dance contest to help her, only to finally get his attention when she desperately flashes the crowd from the stage.

It says something about my affection for such material that as terrible as Cover Girl Models is, I find it impossible to actually hate it. It’s such a harmless, lightweight nothing of a movie that getting worked up about its incompetence is surely a waste of one’s rage reserves. Will I ever watch it again? Nope, but I also probably won’t forget it. If only for this scene featuring the immortal Vic Diaz:

Crappy Corman Rating: 1 Reel Out of 7

Vanity Fear Bullsh*t Synopsis Theater - Part One "Chickfight"

As a kid I loved to go to video stores and look at all the posters and video covers and try to guess what the movies were about based solely on the images they portrayed. I fully believe that these flights of fancy are primarily responsible for the development of the imagination I have used in a semi-successful professional capacity throughout the past 10 years or so.

To honour this tradition, I’ve decided to occasionally take a look at a classic poster for a film I’ve never seen and spend a paragraph or two imagining what it could be about. The twist is that after I’ve written this “Bullsh*t Synopsis” I’ll then watch the movie and discuss what it’s actually about the next week in my “B-Movie Bullsh*t Review”.  The fun will be had in determining which plot is better—the one that actually got filmed or the one I pulled straight out of my butt in 15 minutes.

Yes, it is a very lame idea, but I’m running out of Rejected By Rod(?) reviews and I gotta come up with some filler ideas PRONTO.

Anyhoo, we begin this epic new adventure with a totally fake look at a 1974 Roger Corman produced Pam Grier classic.

Vanity Fear Bullshit Synopsis Theater

Part One

The Arena


Bullsh*t Synopsis

Wanda and June are two happy-go-lucky gals who meet at a local Roman slave auction. Wanda hails from the Nordic region of Europe, while June enjoyed a long boat trip from Africa to get where she is today. That afternoon they’re both purchased by a wealthy lesbian named Patricia, who enjoys mocking her wounded General husband by dressing in the military uniform he no longer has any use for.

At first there’s some tension between the two of them, mostly because Wanda is a horrible racist who’s jealous of June’s abundant femininity (specifically her enormous breasts), but as time goes on they become very close friends. So much so that Patricia becomes so envious of their mutual affection she decides to convince her husband to suggest to the emperor that women be allowed to fight as gladiators.

The idea gives the emperor a total boner and Patricia volunteers Wanda and June as the first two combatants. The emperor gets one look at them and eagerly agrees. Wanda and June attempt to refuse to fight each other, but some erotically charged torture takes care of this and the two of them enter The Arena and battle to the death. Both women prove so strong and courageous that when June has Wanda at the edge of her trident, the emperor denies her the kill with an upturned thumb, sparing Wanda’s life. The crowd cheers his decision, but Patricia is so enraged she berates the emperor. His guards arrest her for her impertinence, much to her husband's delight. The next time we see her it is in The Arena, where she is fighting a losing battle against her two former slaves, who both know the emperor has no intention of giving them the thumb’s up this time.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Eleven "Snap! Crackle! Flop!"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Eleven




American karate champ/instructor Susanne Carter has come to the Philippines to find her missing sister, Bonnie. Her investigation leads her to a drug ring run by Erik, who also holds secret martial art matches where local fighters battle to the death. His champion and lackey is a blond American named Chuck. Chuck’s immediately intrigued by the other hot blond in his midst, and learns she has the black belt goods. Erik tries to convince Susanne to take part in his deadly fights, but she tells him she doesn’t think she could kill a man. Bonnie’s body is dragged from a local river, and a distraught Susanne runs straight to Chuck’s penis. Their romance proves short-lived, though, when an undercover detective tells Susanne that Chuck was the one who killed her sister. Susanne finds Bonnie’s bracelet in Chuck’s apartment and knows what she has to do. She calls Erik and tells him she’s ready to fight in his ring, so long as she can do so under her terms. He agrees, not realizing that her terms mean she will only fight her sister’s murderer. Chuck is shocked to learn that his new fuck-buddy is determined to fight him to the death. In the ring he deliberately goes easy on her and at one-point stops short when he has the chance to kill her. Susanne is not so merciful; when her chance arises, she drives two sticks into her former lover’s eyes, avenging Bonnie’s death.

If you haven’t gotten around to seeing the wonderful new documentary Machete Maidens, I will forgive you if you stop reading this and do so immediately. From the same filmmakers who gave us the equally awesome Not Quite Hollywood (about Australia’s 70s/80s exploitation film boom), Maidens is devoted to the low budget exploitation films made in the Philippines during that same period. Watching it will delight anyone who cares even a little about low budget genre filmmaking, although I would advise that you avoid my mistake of doing so in an airport while waiting for a flight, since virtually every film clip shown in the film seems to have at least one naked woman in it.

Among these many, many naked women was an attractive blond lass named Jillian Kesner, whose appearance was justified thanks to her starring role in a Roger Corman production directed by Filipino filmmaking legend, Cirio H. Santiago. In the clip that appeared in the film, Jillian was shown exercising her karate skills while clad in only a pair of white panties. Needless to say, this made me want to see Firecracker very much. Fortunately for me, the good folks at Shout Company (whose recent spate of Corman releases represent the best thing happening in home video at the moment) allowed the film to make its DVD debut this month in a set that also included the butt-kicking babe flicks T.N.T. Jackson and Too Hot To Handle.

And having just watched the film, I can happily report that it didn’t let me down. But then, that’s because I wasn’t expecting anything close to resembling a good film. That’s because Santiago is much like a Filipino Jesus Franco—his legend has everything to do with his productivity and ubiquity and nothing to do with the actual quality of his films. Even at their best, his films kinda suck. At their worst, even Roger Corman worried they might be unreleasable—although that didn’t seem to stop him.

(According to the commentary on Maidens, Joe Dante--the director of Gremlins--insisted that Santiago’s Cover Girl Models was the worst film he saw during his tenure as Corman’s trailer editor.)

The best that can be said for Firecracker is that it’s pretty coherent and always in-focus (claims that can’t be made for every Santiago effort). In fact, there are actually three very entertaining scenes in the film. The problem is that two of those scenes actually fuck up what negligible plot the film manages to have.

I’ve already mentioned the scene where Susanne kicks ass without the benefit of clothing. It comes just after the scene where Eric the drug dealer invites Susanne to fight in one of his secret matches. She tells him she doesn’t think she can, and then the movie cuts to her getting out of a cab—apparently on her way home.

As she walks down the street, she catches the attention of two street thugs, who decide to get their rape-on. Instead of kicking their butts, as you would expect a black belt karate expert who’s just been offered a chance to engage in deadly combat for cash, she instead runs like a pretty blond girl in a completely different movie. As she runs, her skirt becomes snared on a fence, forcing her to abandon it. Thus unclad, she makes it into a factory where she begs a security guard to help her. He does his best, but is soon killed by the thugs. They chase her around the building, where a similar wardrobe snare-up causes her to abandon her top. She manages to fatally dispatch one of her wannabe rapists with a circular saw, while his buddy slices the front half of her bra in two. Now topless, she finally starts to fight the guy the way we kinda expected her to in the very beginning, and eventually takes him down.

All in all, it’s a pretty great exploitation movie moment. The problem is that it was clearly added to the film after the movie had already been shot. The evidence is pretty insurmountable, starting with the fact that it’s the only scene devoid of a single Filipino actor (including the cab driver, who's very clearly a white dude), which suggests to me that it was shot in the States. That and the fact that it seems a bit too competently done for Santiago to have been responsible for it.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the scene didn’t feature Susanne acting completely out of character. Before this we’ve already seen her take on dangerous dudes without breaking a sweat (including one scene where she grabs a deadly snake and flings it at Vic Diaz, the guy who played the gay prison guard in The Big Bird Cage), so it’s impossible to dramatically justify her decision to flee in this instance. That said, it does make sense from a production standpoint, since the only major drawback of filming Kesner without her clothes on is that it becomes impossible for the dude in a blond wig who’s been doubling all of her previous fight scenes to do so here. For that reason her fight choreography had to be kept to a minimum since she had to do all of it herself.

Even worse, though, is how the scene totally screws up the little bit of a character arc Santiago and co-screenwriter Ken Metcalfe (who also plays Eric) managed to come up for her. In the scene just before this one, we see Susanne tell Eric she doesn’t think she can kill someone, a declaration I suspect was supposed to pay off in the final fight with Chuck, where she dramatically proves she can and without remorse.

Unfortunately the added(?) topless fight scene ruins this by showing us Susanne killing someone immediately after she said she couldn’t. Because of this her killing Chuck (played by Malibu Express's Darby Hinton in a very fun and moustachy performance) at the end of the movie doesn’t feel as significant as it should and robs the moment of much of its potential impact.

(Speaking of the scene where Susanne kills Chuck, it does seem weird that Santiago and Metcalfe chose to make him so reluctant to fight her. Based on what we’ve seen of him, his genuine affection for her seems out of character and—oddly—makes him seem more sympathetic in a scene where we should just want to see him straight up murdered. Ignoring his attempts at mercy does make Susanne more of a badass, but it also makes her seem like a dick. It’s definitely a problem we’d never see in a Chuck Norris movie.)

The other questionable scene might have been part of the original production, but that still doesn’t justify it. In it Susanne has just identified her sister’s body at the morgue and runs to Chuck to take comfort in his arms (and cock). What follows is an extremely long and bizarre sex scene where four minutes (in a 77 minute movie) is spent showing the two of them cutting off each other’s clothes in real-time detail.

Truthfully, it’s a fun scene, but it comes far too late in the film. By this point the only possible reason Susanne hasn’t made the connection between her sister’s death and Chuck’s drug dealing shenanigans is because she’s a complete idiot. Had the same scene appeared earlier in the film, this wouldn’t have been an issue, but at that moment in the picture it’s utterly ridiculous.

But as troubling as these scenes are, I know exactly why they’ve been included. It’s because without them, the film would come in at less than 70 minutes long and—much more importantly—would be robbed of all of its nudity.

The result, then, is an already questionable film undone by two of the three scenes that marginally justify its existence. Leaving only one utterly unspoiled moment of perfection. "And what," you ask, "would that be?"


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.

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

The Wynorski Project

Part Three

Big Bad Mama II


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Deathstalker II

Repost - Slumber Party Massacre

One of the nice things about this internet of ours is how quickly and easily it can solve those little mysteries you’ve always wondered about, but were never before able to answer with any real satisfaction.

Case in point, the subject of today’s Sunday Thursday Horror Movie DVD Index—a film whose significance comes largely from its lack of significance.  One of the few original early 80s slasher movies to have been written and directed by women, the film begs knowledgeable viewers to engage it as a work of feminist comment, but stymies such commentary by presenting the genre’s clichés without any significant irony or insight.

I always wondered why the film’s screenwriter, Rita Mae Brown, and its director, Amy Holden Jones, decided to take no advantage of their unique-for-the-genre perspective and instead chose to make a by-the-numbers reproduction of the slasher template.  What I did not know and only learned as I started to do a little bit of research for this post, was that though Brown received sole credit for the film’s screenplay, the draft she wrote was completely different in tone from the script that was eventually filmed.  Brown originally wrote the film as a satire of slasher movies, but as the script was revised by a handful of uncredited writers the satire was (mostly) lost and the film ceased to be an ironic commentary on the genre and instead became a typical representation of it.

To which I say:
Thank Yahweh we dodged that bullet, because if there’s anything worse than a bad slasher movie, it’s a bad slasher movie parody and—based on the few satiric elements that managed to survive the various rewrites—I suspect that’s exactly what the film would have been if Brown’s draft had been made.  As directed by Jones the film is a taut, well made slasher classic that is smart enough to realize that sympathetic characters equals effective tension and benefits greatly as a result.

I am, of course, talking about:
In truth it is a bit disingenuous of me to claim that there are no examples of potential feminist commentary in the film, but those moments that do make it into the movie bear little distinction from similar scenes in other films made by (if the popular feminist critique of the genre is to be believed) supposedly misogynistic male filmmakers.  A good example of this is the brief sequence that opens the film in which Trish (Michele Michaels), the first of the film's two potential Final Girls, goes through her room and disposes of the items that represent her childhood, including a Barbie doll, a slinky and various other toys.  Having become what she considers to be a woman, she no longer wishes to cling to these reminders of the girl she once was.  But her conviction is not an absolute one, as she does decide to hold onto at least one stuffed animal she cannot bear to include with the other items destined for the garbage can.  Watching this brief scene one gets the sense it's supposed to be at least a little bit important, but--apart from being a nice character moment--it ultimately adds nothing to the picture and is not further developed into any kind of notable theme.


Actually I lied, the scene does add something to the film, since it is as Trish is gathering up her old toys that we hear a newscaster on the radio announce that police are on the lookout for an escaped killer named Russ Thorn.  Apparently Russ is eager to reclaim his old ways, as he appears in the next scene, where he pulls an unusually shapely phone company employee into her van and kills her with a very large (and very unsubtle) electric drill.  In this way TSPM represents the purest kind of slasher movie, in that it makes no attempt to disguise itself as a mystery and is only too happy to identify its killer right from the very beginning of the movie.  Following the linewoman's shocking demise, the movie cuts to a girl's basketball sequence that can only be described as--WAIT!--why should I bother wasting valuable brain cells attempting to describe it, when I can just let you watch the scene yourself?  (God bless you internet--truly you are the greatest boon we lazy-ass writers could ever hope to have been given!)


One Word:
Now in a normal slasher movie, this basketball sequence and the lengthy group shower scene that immediately follows it, wouldn't seem the slightest bit odd or out of the ordinary, but when viewed with the knowledge that they were directed by a female filmmaker, they seem just a tad off-kilter.  The tightness of the uniforms takes on the air of almost-satirical exaggeration, while the slow-panning of the camera as it moves across the sloping curves of the actresses' naked, soapy buttocks gives the impression that Jones is attempting to supply her own withering deconstruction of the Predatory Male Gaze of the Camera's Eye.  The problem with this analysis, however, is that it is impossible to tell how much (or if any) of this is intended and how much comes from our desire as an enlightened viewer to assume that a female director would not be so crass as to fill her film with the requisite T&A without at least trying to meet her obligation with some form of deliberate spin. 
In terms of the actual plot, the sequence does a good job of setting up the dynamics of its main female characters.  Trish, who we met earlier, is the kind, sympathetic girl who is planning on throwing a slumber party that night.  Valerie (Robin Stille --an extremely attractive actress of admittedly limited talent whose 1996 suicide serves as further proof of my thesis that the IMDb is the most depressing website on the planet) is the beautiful new girl, whose perfection has alienated her from her new classmates, especially Diane (Gina Simka), the snob with the perpetually turned up nose who is far too self-centered to be alive at the end of the movie.  And joining Diane on the doomed list is Kim (Debra Deliso), the vaguely tomboyish blond, Jackie (Andree Honore), the black girl and Linda (Brinke Stevens) the skinny brunette whose butt gets the most attention in the shower scene, but who doesn't even make it out of the school--much less to the slumber party. 
After Linda's drill-induced decision to shuffle off this mortal coil, the movie spends the next few minutes introducing the rest of the victims/characters, before it gets to the sweet slumber party action that one assumes is its raison d'etre.  Most important of these is Val's 12 year-old sister Courtney (Jennifer Myers), who spends most of her screen time ogling a copy of Playgirl, providing far too many false-scares to keep track of and inspiring the future writer/director of the film's 1987 sequel to place her at the center of that movie's memorably wacky dreamscape.
Naturally, once the party gets underway (during which beer is imbibed, cannabis is inhaled and nighties are slipped into) Russ decides to join the fun and quickly (literally given the movie's abbreviated 75 min running time) drills his way through the relevant cast members.  With the exception of the scenes where a hungry Jackie lifts and eats a piece pizza off of the back of the murdered delivery boy and the one where Val's first attempt at an offensive attack is stymied by the shortness of her extension cord, the film resists any signs of obvious comedy or satire.  Considering how short the film is, Jones actually does a commendable job establishing a sense of suspense and tension, largely because she has managed to make us like some of these characters and thus makes their situation horrifying and tragic, rather than karmically just.  That said, she is unable to resist the temptation to provide the kind of obvious symbolic imagery the murderer's weapon of choice (perhaps too) easily provides:
Despite playing mostly by all of the rules, TSPM does deviate slightly from the formula in that it presents two of its characters as possible Final Girls and waits until the film's final moments both deciding who is going to earn this important honorific.  Though both characters survive the night, Trish remains more a victim, while Val clearly establishes herself as the capable heroine who gets the job done.
In the final analysis, I believe one could argue that the reason Jones elected to not make her debut movie a work of overt feminism is because she was smart enough to understand that despite its unjust reputation for misogyny the slasher formula is one that openly embraces the concepts of female empowerment.  One need only look at the most important of the genre's archetypes and appreciate that there is a very good reason that it is virtually never referred to as the "Final Boy".
Slasher Movie Statistics
Body Count: 11 (six women and five men, which--interestingly--makes it one of the rare slasher movies in which female victims outnumber the males)
Shower Scenes: 1 (and it's a long one)
Instances of Nakedity: 8 (7 and 1/2 if I wanted to get all pissy and deduct half a point for use of an obvious body double) 
Obligatory Has Beens: N/A
Instruments of Death: Electric Drill, Butcher Knife and Machete.
Creepy (and therefore suspicious ) Old Guys: 0
References to Pot:  It's a slumber party in a movie from the 80s!  You expect me to keep count?
Amount of Time Required to Correctly Identify Killer: N/A
Cheesy References to Other Horror Movies: Val spends some time watching a horror movie I couldn't identify on TV.
Number of Seriously Awesome All-Girl Basketball Scenes That the Folks Who Run the WNBA Would Be Wise to Watch: 1
Utterly Pointless Trivia: Amy Holden Jones is married to the guy who shot Raging Bull and also--more importantly--directed Clan of the Cave Bear.  


Final Girl Rating: 7 (out of 10)