30 March 2009

Breaker, Breaker!

United States – 1977
Director – Don Hulette
Embassy Home Entertainment, 1984, VHS
Run time - 1 hour, 26 min.

In this one, Chuck Norris plays John David Dawes, affectionately known as JD to his pals, and John David to the single mothers he picks up along his path, an 18 wheel truck driver - and known collectively the nation over as a "trucker". Although we only see Chuck, or JD rather, behind the wheel of his rig for something like a minute of total screen-time, his realistic lingo and friendly peaceful demeanor are sure indicators of his lengthy and well-established membership in that interstate cargo-transportation elite. Returning from a long cargo haul, JD catches up with his younger brother Billy, a promising upstart trucker himself, who also enjoys the hip new sport of riding his dirt bike around.

With little more character development that a boyish homoerotic grapple in the dirt, JD sends Billy off on his first solo-run, head full of lofty glory-filled dreams of driving a reefer full of TV-dinners from one place to another. Billy's fantasies are cut short however by some lawless drunken hillbillies, the crazy occupants of a rural old-time mining village movie set. The hillbillies steal Billy's truck, and throw him in jail. Meanwhile, JD arm-wrestles a fat guy in a cozy inviting trucker bar/diner, and his attractive friends fill his head with all sorts of wild rumors about the lawless and criminal hillbillies. JD gets in his van, a four wheeled patriotic Ford erection, emblazoned from top to bottom on both sides with a giant fierce eagle painting, and goes hillbilly hunting.

Upon arrival in hillbilly-ville, (known by the state of California, by charter, as Texas City,) JD befriends the retarded kid Arney, played with stunning eloquence in the "mentally disabled" equivalent to blackface and naïve after-school-special offensiveness by John Di Fusco, doing double duty on top of his steep responsibilities as casting director for Breaker! Breaker! If Di Fusco's own acting ability isn't enough of a testament to his ability to judge quality, and director Hulette's excellent judgment of the same, then Hulette's own original knee-slapping banjo-laden action music score for Breaker Breaker! surely drives the point home.

His big heart worn prominently on his fists, JD tries friendly reasoning with the drunk recalcitrant mayor, but his hand is forced and he spends the rest of the film beating up Texas City’s entire population (every one a stone dumb redneck.) Slipping out of town just as they all come to for a second go-around, JD finds time to hook up with the mayor's widowed daughter-in-law. After a quick reinvigorating romp between the sheets and a TV dinner, wait a second…

JD returns with a vengeance to resoundingly whoop every hollerin’, up-‘n’-down- inflatable jerk in the entire town. Don't let the parallels to G.I. Joe cartoons and episodes of the A-Team that end with a complete lack of dead bodies or grievous bodily injury put you off. Life lessons can also be taught through the age-old "well intentioned kick-in-the-teeth-with-your-own-medicine" approach - espoused eloquently by Arney, embodiment of helpful and innocent humility, dying in his reticent hillbilly brother's arms. Like a sort of vindicating roadway deliveryman, JD’s utterances are expectedly sparse and curt, and his mere presence exudes enough morally ambiguous brow-beating good-guy jingoism to smooth over any confused nonsensical ending; let that be a lesson to you.
A more dumbpelling crusade there never was.

Some other Breaker Breaker art, a poster and a british DVD and VHS cover. There's lots of other art for this movie, it is Chuck "monotonous asshole" Norris afterall, but I'm pretty much over it.

27 March 2009

Commander Kellie and The Superkids: The Intruder

Commander Kellie & The Superkids: The Intruder
United States - 1992
Director – Stephen Yake
Heirborne Video, 1992, VHS
Run time - 30 minutes

Commander Kellie and the Superkids is a bit like an episode of the Twilight Zone not just because of the crude special effects that illustrate obviously impractical science-fiction, but also because it warps and simplifies reality, in this case into an impressively stark good and evil world painted with ham handed strokes by optimistic Christian ideologues.

Case in point: The Superkids are creeping through some guys house from one closet to another while he sleeps. In the second closet, on the other side of the room, the kids come across a shimmering portal called a “Super Translator” that they all happily march into, the last of them pushing a big floor polisher. So as far as I know at this point, they’re just stealing big-ticket janitorial appliances. The sleeping guy awakens and unperturbed by the closet vortex, follows them in. Right behind him is a guy in a black “NME” uniform who is apparently tracking the kids on behalf of his sinister leader (who looks like his grampa, a friendly toy’s-for-tots biker who plays Santa Claus at the mall during Christmas)
Just to clarify, NME is the top “secret” acronym which stands for “Notoriously Malicious Entertainment” an evil media corporation whose malice is so “notorious” that they keep it “secret” by publicly airing violent TV shows featuring their foot soldiers holding guns to children’s heads while other children wail on Casio keyboards.

The superkids themselves are a mix of middle American white children, with the exception of one minority Alex, unless you consider robots a marginalized population, and after watching this you might. Since it would be to obviously racist to make the black kid the rapper, the producers went for a Steve Urkel clone instead, and unwittingly reinforced the juvenile reactionary racism of cultural "slumming" by making Rapper a confused white-boy.

When they arrive back at what I guess is their base, the kids report to, yes, Commander Kellie, a smokin’ hot southern belle who promptly leads them in song and dance. If ever there was a reason to simplistically rail against evil, the Superkid Acedemy theme is it. In the background poor Techno, cursed at birth with only three small wheels and a boxy unarticulated body, is left to his own devices and spins forlornly just slightly onscreen. No ramp has been installed on the stairs down to the dancefloor, and so only three small steps (so small they are, but like cliffs of injustice!) prevent Techno from rotating along with the kids (who also, cruel fate of organics, get to enjoy the warm supple embrace of Commander Kellie herself.)

The sleeping guy, ostensibly the “Intruder” of the title, pops up after the dance and turns out to be Carman who relates his story of woe when (based on the level of calamity related, I assumed that it must have been) Satan himself took a personal interest in destroying his life. Shocked out of their catatonic awe from meeting such a mercurial celeb and hearing the tale of his fate, the kids break out an inspiring song to lift Carman’s (downtrodden by the devil) spirits. Some clue as to why the antichrist may have made a point of persecuting him is revealed as Carman leans back in his seat, eyes narrowed and nods hungrily at the gyrating children. Oh yummy.

After their song, Carman performs one of his own derivative tunes about faith etc. while guitar-excluding close up shots of him rocking out give the appearance of furious, skin-tearing masturbation while the kids (along with the sudden unexplained bolstering of their number, though still almost exclusively white) clap along. Techno meanwhile is positioned behind all the skin bags, almost out of sight where, cursed with cold hinged metal claws, he can only sadly clank them together in a repetitive pinching motion, depressingly out of time with Carman’s, uh… performance.

After such an inspiring climax, the surplus children are zapped back into ozone, and all that remains is for someone to be saved. The Notoriously Malicious dope who followed Carman through the Super Translator pops up with a blaster while Commander Kellie is alone in the engine room. Shielding herself from the blast of his weapon with a glimmering blue “faith shield” she uses “The Manual” and a bitter tough-love sermon to convince NME tool to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as his savior.

As the kids and Kellie bid farewell to a visibly sweaty and spent Carman, Techno stands motionless amid the chirping preteen crowd considering why such a benevolent god would forsake a lonely robot, and if it’s physically possible to tie a noose with barely articulated iron pincers.

Bonus Program! (AKA shameless advertisement):
Following the 30 minute feature is an extended plug for Carman’s christian evangelism video series Time 2 Club Video in which various faith experts make factual arguments for god, christian musicians rock out and general video prosthelytization occurs. Decked out in a retina assaulting uranium sweater, Carman encourages us to subscribe to his monthly video club which will be “not just fun, nah”, it will be “a straight up blast”. Based on what I’ve just seen him do in front of those kids, I now know exactly what he means by that.

Visit Kellie’s parents ministry online, and apparently all throughout the world as their traveling Christ Circus seems to be perpetually preaching unsophisticated and polarized morality towards the brown people they deign to include in their video propaganda.

1990 - 1992

21 March 2009

Spirit Of Cross Stitch: Volume 6

Spirit of Cross Stitch: Vol. 6
United States - 1994
Director – Chris Wilson
Spirit of Cross Stitch Video Library, 1994, VHS
Run time - 1 hour, 30 min.

The soft focus and soft lighting of the long pan shot really set the atmosphere for this head on head encounter between Hardanger Heirloom Specialist Linda Abel and Spirit of Cross Stitch host, Jean Farish Hulls. A dramatic, tension building piano medley sweeps us into the action with Jean and her guest.
The first thing you should know about Hardanger Heirloom style, is that it launders well, as Linda, clearly uncomfortable in front of the camera has told us, and as the awesome stitching on her house dress proves, her word is bond.
As Jean explains to us how the Hardanger style was passed on to Linda by an elderly member of her husband Bob’s Presbeterian congregation, oral-history style, she displays Linda’s fully loaded cross stitch bandolier, laden with all the weapons any professional stitcher will need.
Now, enter Katherine Huls, Jean’s tender innocent young daughter, a little skittish for her first time doing it in front of the camera, but determined (either through genuine interest or maternal compulsion) to see it through.
Wasting no time, Linda hones in on the first of the stitch patterns, the “kloster”, a five stitch, four thread count pattern that is the workhorse of the Hardanger style, and will be repeated throughout this exciting mission. If, like myself, you’ve been distracted by Linda’s immaculately sculpted and rigid “HMS Haus Frau” hair helmet, a digital animation of the kloster stitch (and others!) will bring you back up to speed.

The action starts stacking up like cordwood from here on out, so be on your toes…

Next is the more complicated “button-hole stitch”, which must go under the trailing edge of the thread to secure the edge of the stitch when you cut the fabric.

Then, they “eyelets”, which are different from Algerian eyelets (if you don’t know why, that means you’re fucking pedestrian, and Linda has no time for foot traffic on this flight) and you must radiate the stitches from the center hole, pulling each stitch toward the outside.

Without respite, Linda strikes out for the central flower motif, which she personally designed.
Watch out! Katherine seems to be getting bored, we’re losing her!
“Wait, now comes the fun part.” says Linda, “The cutting.”
“It’s kind of scary to cut your fabric.” A revived Katherine reveals in a moment of vulnerability.
Yes, yes it is, unless you’re stitching “twisted bars”, an attractive addition to any pattern, and sure to drive a dagger of jealousy into the heart of every woman in the congregation. Katherine, you had better be writing this down, the future of your lifelong happiness depends on it.

Wait. Don’t get a big head yet, we’re only now moving on to the “needleweaving”, one of the most complicated stitches which forms the “pico,” a tiny decorative circle which, when deployed in squads of three, forms the “doves eye.”
Once you carefully trim the fabric away from around your Hardanger Heirloom embroidery, (keeping the scissors to the right of the stitching) you’ll be the most envied housewife in the heartland…

In the bonus program, (this was never mentioned on the box! Sweet! (OK it does but my mind was busy being blown)) Our host Jean visits some fucking museum in the Carolinas (filmed strictly on location) where a frizzy haired clydesdale in white-woman Hammer-pants and a bowl-cut Quaker grandmother describe in detail the “cruel” stitching, and creative process on a series of tapestries depicting the history of Quakerism.

The only way this could have been better was if it was called “Great Spirit of Cross Stitch” and was presented by a Native American woman in war paint and a fringed squaw tunic.

Linda's very own pattern for the Hardanger design demonstrated in the video. It's copyrighted, but without the video, you are not going to be able to rock this doily. And the order form for the entire set of Spirit of Cross Stitch videos. I wouldn't recommend trying to order them though, their website doesn't appear to have been updated in over a decade.

20 March 2009

The Mutilator

The Mutilator
United States - 1985
Director – Buddy Cooper
Vestron Video, 1987, VHS

A bunch of incredibly dull college kids on fall break whine unconvincingly in the local cafeteria because they have no plans, oh what a drag. But wait! Ed’s dad, Ed Sr. calls and tells him to close up his beachside condo for the season. This sudden paternal outreach seems a little bit odd to Ed at first, since, he confesses, he and his dad have hardly spoken since the day Ed Jr. accidentally blew his mom in half with dad’s shotgun, on dad’s birthday, after which dad went on a drinking spree with moms corpse. But since his friends want nothing more than to fill their idle time with three word sentences and light beer, he is quickly won over to the idea of having a party.

Look at that jacket, if you saw these people wouldn'y you wanna kill 'em too?

The kids head up to the condo, swindling minorities and swilling beer all along the way. When they arrive they find Ed Sr.’s collection of exotic weapons, sacrificial masks and texidermied animals all described with more practiced recitation by Ed Jr. (Matt Mitler who appeared in 2 Tim Kincaid movies).
Hey, what usually hangs in that spot on the wall?
Oh, just my dad’s battleaxe, I wonder where it’s gotten to?
I could guess but…oh, there’s Ed Sr. hiding in the closet breathing heavily and fondling said axe. So much for suspense.

After dinner at the rough-hewn raw wood picnic table the three couples settle down for a rousing round of light beer and Monopoly. One bored couple heads off to shag, ending up at a swimming pool where, after she’s kind enough to briefly secure this heavily edited films R rating, they are both dispatched by the censors. (He’s supposed to get it from an outboard motor propeller, but with the edit, it’s impossible to tell) Anyway, after everybody else goes for a walk on the beach, they go back and drink more beer. This has been going on the whole film, yet, none of them is drunk. Maybe they’re always drunk and just trying not to fall below a certain level of intoxication; that might explain the acting and dialogue.

When it gets late, one of the other guys goes looking for the swimming pool couple (only after his girlfriend offers some boob upon completion of the mission, otherwise he didn’t give a shit about ‘em). Soon he too is missing, and the remaining three go and search for the first three. The boob-bribing girlfriend (ok, I admit, they’re probably worth it) is grabbed and “mutilated” (we must assume) with the gaffe-hook of poster fame, and Ed and his girlfriend flee in terror, quickly stumbling in rapid succession across the previously unfindable “mutilated” bodies of their four friends. Apparently, and I can only guess here, all the “mutilation” is so horrible that it drives Ed and his girlfriend to shrieking crocodile tears, our inquiry must unfortunately rest on such circumstantial evidence however, because most of the “mutilation” occurs on the editing room floor. Ed and his girlfriend run wailing to their car where the headlights illuminate something even more horrible, Ed Sr., ready to supply more missing mutilation. In this final goofy scene, there are a few brief splashes of gore, the car lighter which seems to do more stabbing than burning being the most notable. Even if it was all restored, I get the feeling it would be like a low rent slasher-film singlewide trailer with nice lampshades.
I tell you what was mutilated, my sense of cinematic wonder and naive optimism.

This review is based on the 84 minute R rated VHS tape version in the box seen above which has almost no gore whatsoever. According to other peoples accounts there should be some gore, actually quite a bit of good gore, all of which seems to have been edited out of this version. The Mutilator can be found online on a wildly overpriced DVDR rip with footage restored from an uncut VHS tape. Quite possibly one of the saddest moments of my life when a poster which has just about everything awesome going for it turns out to be the only good thing the movie has going for it. I’ve seen bad movies that have good art, but never terrible movies that have unassailably perfect art.

The incredibly awesome poster (OK the title design is pretty bad, but otherwise), same concept as the box, different (better) art.

19 March 2009

Fangoria 8 - Zombie

You've gotta love this toothy fellow, one of the greatest horror film images of all time in my humble opinion, flopped left to right from the original for this cover, published October 1980.

You can tell who the Italian darling of the Fangoria staff was because they screwed up Lucio Fulci's name on the table of contents. I'll bet they never accidentally called the other guy Lucio Argento, I guess they kindof have a decent excuse though, before Zombi 2, Fulci had mostly been doing westerns and White Fang adventure films and hadn't shown up on American genre radar yet.

The article was written by Jim Wynorski who went on to direct Chopping Mall (1986) and Deathstalker II (1987) and more recently a plethora of soft-core skinflicks like The Bare Wench Project series.

18 March 2009

It Happened At the World's Fair

United States - 1962
Director – Norman Taurog
Warner Home Video, 2004, DVD

Of all the many Elvis films out there for consideration, this one caught my eye because it's set at the Seattle World's Fair of 1962. This holds the promise of many unintended contextual amusements when viewed across the yawning expanse of 47 years. The first of these is the Seattle Center setting. Although the majority of the film does not actually take place at the fair itself, it features many shots of the same crumbling architecture we still enjoy today and which intermittently catches fire and shoots sparks into the streets below. Keep in mind, 5 years previous Sputnik had rocketed into space and the interstellar nuclear slapstick was fully underway. Because it was the early 60's, America was hitting the peak of space-race hysteria and if we didn’t get there first and fiercest, the Commies would be delivering a payload of beets and vodka straight into the foyer of every suburban split-level ranch-style bungalow by Friday.
Space car equals 100% awesome.

Our buddy Elvis, or Mike Edwards if you will, is a low-rent crop-duster pilot, out one plane because of his partner Danny's gambling problem. Headed to Seattle to find work, Mike and Danny hit up the World's Fair where they meet a little girl, Sue Lin, and a big girl, a nurse named Diane. Mike falls for both, trying to smooth talk Diane (with the help of 11-year-old Kurt Russel who one year later would star in Guns of Diablo with Charles Bronson) while he feeds Sue Lin cotton candy.

Mike strikes out on the grown one, but when Sue Lin's uncle disappears, he takes it upon himself to care for her until he is found. Already seemingly aware of the clueless idiocy of horny males at the age of 6, Sue Lin fakes an illness so that Diane will see how "tender" Mike really is. We of course already know the truth of this because of the cloyingly saccharine kiddie-Rock-and-Roll songs he keeps warbling.

Danny meanwhile has cooked up a shady deal for the guys to get their plane back for flying some "cargo" to Canada, and calls Child Protective Services to free up Mike for the job. (In my mind, this move really seals the deal on Danny who’s been threatening to go full frat-boy the whole movie, and right now, all I want is for him to break his back and be paralyzed for life from the neck down.) That kooky Sue Lin, she's cooked up a deal too, a sexy deal to get Diane and Mike together after all. In the end they go off and apply for jobs as "space nurse and space pilot". I'm guessing that that works out about as much as the plot: paper-thin and laughably naive. Oh how the past reeks of desperate and heady optimism.

Visit Seattle Center and you too can smell the burning electrical wires in the same luxurious monorail car that once carried the late King.

There is little more point to this than to legitimize the batter-dipped pan-fried hearty-ness of Mike's personality and his inevitable high-fructose, sing-song crystallization of the girl's and audiences sensibility. (Not to mention the socially distractive qualities of such flashy garbage). So thick, so incredibly thick that it cloys at the throat. All I needed to watch was one Elvis film to understand the decay and degradation of a public persona and the fickle, scummy, and fleeting surface fascination of the public.

Want my honest opinion? I can screech a love song or two myself, and if singing them to girls worked as fundamentally as it does for Elvis...well, that would be bad news for lots of people, least of all me.

17 March 2009

I Was A Teenage TV Terrorist

I Was A Teenage TV Terrorist
United States - 1985
Director – Stanford Singer
Lightning Video, 1987, VHS
Run time - 1 hour, 25 min.

Produced by Susan Kaufman, the sister of Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman, I Was A Teenage TV Terrorist is billed on the box (in very tiny type) as a TROMA Team release. Fortunately, (or not depending on your opinion of them) it was not produced by Troma per-se, just distributed. It’s infinitely smarter than anything they’ve done.
Paul is kicked out of his mother’s house for general disorderly conduct at school and sent to Jersey City to live with his dad. Along with his aspiring actress girlfriend Donna, he shows up to find that his dad is the vice president of Romance Entertainment, an extremely low budgetTV station and a raging unmitigated jerk who in order to teach them some responsibility gives them both the lowest pay possible working in the basement cataloguing piles of junk for an equally vicious and cruel ex-military woman named Murphy.

Paul’s dad also sets them up in a seedy roach motel managed by Rico, the awesomest Cuban super the world has ever seen, and the subsequent domestic vignettes are easily the best parts of this film. Even though the production values are really low on I Was a Teenage TV Terrorist (and besides the mega cheap sounding midi-music this is the only similarity to Troma) the acting is actually pretty damn good. It comes across as a very intentional mockery of contemporary (1984-5) television (though it would help if I could remember any TV from those days besides Sesame Street) Paul and Rico deliver some truly hilarious dialogue, but unfortunately with the exception of Martin Scorsese’s Bad movie for Michael Jackson neither of them did much of anything else, ever. It’s the same with everyone in this film with the exception of J. Buzz Von Ornsteiner who was in, among a few other things, Tim Kincaid’s Mutant Hunt and Robot Holocaust and Chuck Vincent’s Slammer Girls before pursuing a career in forensic psychology.

Finding themselves more or less starving to death, Paul decides to make a little extra cash by selling some of the uncounted gear from the basement. Meanwhile Donna is fired by a director (Ornsteiner) when she tanks her first acting role in a commercial for frozen asparagus. When Murphy finds out about Paul’s side income she blackmails the couple into giving her a cut of the profits. So, abused by all parties concerned, Paul and Donna somehow come up with a crazy plan to get revenge by planting a fake bomb in the TV station. In the process of investigating, Paul’s dad finds out about Murphy’s doublecrossery, and she is fired, but Donna, taking advice from an acting instructional book, encourages Paul to continue with the terrorist scheme. During a subsequent attack, one of the news reporters sees Paul on the set and blackmails him into kidnapping the company CEO in such a way that he will get an exclusive of the story. During the kidnapping Paul takes matters into his own hands and delivers a diatribe on the mindnumbing effects of crap TV. Unfortunately this “message from our sponsors” comes across a little flat and too late in the movie to really have any impact, but it doesn’t seem to matter and I’m not sure it was supposed to considering the film itself more or less did this in a sortof subversive Dada-ist aping of television ridiculosity and our eager consumption of it. In it’s own way, I Was a Teenage TV Terrorist does the exact opposite by emphasizing the content at the conscious expense of visual gratification.

According to Wikipedia some guy was arrested for watching this movie on an Alaska Airlines flight to Moscow, but this doesn’t make any sense to me because last time I checked Alaska Airlines doesn’t have a route to Moscow, and the film is out of print and never made it to DVD. Lack of evidence online leads me to believe this is bullshit, but I’m still hopeful, both for the arrest, and the DVD because it’s definitely worth it.

14 March 2009

Silence of the Lambs Production Art

I have no idea if any of this stuff is easily available out here in the internets, but inspired by my friends over at The Scandy Factory, and The Manchester Morgue, I decided I'll share some of the fun stuff I have stashed away in my old issues of splatter mags. Just look for the label "Ephemera".

Anyway, back when I was working in comic book stores I would buy (or steal from the total asshole of an owner) back issues of Fangoria (when it covered the movies I like, which was when they were coming out) and Gore Zone (before it went under) mostly, but occasionally Cinefantastique as well. I managed to get some really good ones over the years, but I haven't bought one in almost a decade.

Although I was too young to appreciate it when it was released in 1991, once I actually saw Silence of the Lambs I liked it. Not because of the violence which is actually a little too realistic to be fun per-se, but because of the drama. It is after all a Jonathan Demme picture, and he cut his teeth under the tutelage of Roger Corman (who has a cameo in Silence) so, well, you figure it out.

These illustrations were done for Silence of the Lambs by the production design team led by Kristi Zea and depict possible ideas for the mutilation of Hannibal Lecter's guards. Ultimately you didn't get to see much in the film, but that's probably good, it wasn't that kind of movie.
These originally appeared in Cinefantastique, Volume 22, Number 4 February 1992.

And here's a sketch and a photo of the corpse in the tub from Gumb's basement.

And a map of his house in order to choreograph the final scene of the movie.