Malibu Beach Vampires

vlcsnap-2012-12-18-20h02m20s40I’m glad I watched this.  I’ve never really had an answer to the question “What’s the worst film you’ve ever seen?” Now I do.  I’ve only seen two films that even come close, Da Hip Hop Witch and Latin Spring Break, and considering how low this film has now set the bar for my already degraded tastes, I would have to revisit the other two titles to qualify the first half of this sentence.  This film is so bad it has tracking problems on the DVD (seriously, see below).  The case description includes strong language, nudity and violence; it has nothing of the sort.  I’ve seen PETA films more entertaining than this.

Malibu Beach Vampires is nothing more than a dung hill of musical numbers recorded with awful sound on terrible video or 8mm film (for the first time in my life I can’t tell and it’s not worth looking up), and the sync is completely off for the bulk of the film.  The only thing that could have possibly made this worse would have been a longer running time. I wouldn’t be surprised if I am the only person who’s ever watched the entire thing in one sitting unless they are using it to extract confessions in Gitmo in which case someone really needs to shut that place down.

Return to Horror High: Not a Sequel

vlcsnap-2012-12-05-12h41m10s250Or at least that should have been the subtitle.  Apparently I’m not the only person who has been mislead into searching for the original Horror High (there isn’t one), but maybe this is appropriate since the only consistent attribute of this film is the constant misdirection, both purposeful and accidental.  It’s a messy dish for sure, but one worth trying if you’re attracted to puzzling spectacles.

vlcsnap-2012-12-05-12h43m11s93The whole time I was watching this film, Robbie Rice’s face was bothering me. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I had seen him before. He has the kind of face you don’t soon forget. I wrote a note to look him up later and holy shit if it isn’t Marvin J. McIntyre, or as I know him, Harold Weiss from The Running Man. I love The Running Man. I love any movie featuring a game show in which the contestants can die. It’s such a great premise and says so much about who we are as a species. This is the type of thing I was concentrating on during Return to Horror High. It’s not a bad film and in many ways it predicted (if not outright inspired) the Scream franchise in more than a couple of ways that would probably hold up in court. But for all of the film’s prescience, the narrative is seriously unstable and the entire thing finally implodes on itself in the messy final act that I don’t think even the (four!) writers understand.

Return to Horror High follows a film crew producing a movie in an abandoned school where a string of murders occurred years prior. Their film is about those same murders and working as technical advisers or writers are town folk that were present during the real murders. The entire story about the making of the film is being told in flashback to Officer Tyler (Maureen McGormick, AKA Marsha from the Brady Bunch) who rubs blood all over herself and eats sandwiches. To add to the confusion, the editor decided to cut all transitions that might help the viewer figure out which of the three stories is being told when until the entire thing starts to drift into the realm of Das Unheimliche.  This might have worked, unfortunately very little is ever resolved and entire chunks of the film are simply unnecessary. So while one scene in the film tells us the back story of the murders in the school where murders happened, another is an excuse for a gratuitous group shower scene followed by a diatribe against gratuitous scenes during another equally gratuitous scene. It’s all quite clever until the situation unravels into a pile of used jokes and confusion.

George Clooney has nice hair.If it sounds like I don’t know what I’m talking about, it is because I don’t.  The plot is just too silly.  I can’t even attempt to sum up the ending because it doesn’t make sense. One of the characters in the film is the writer whose attempted craft is undercut by everyone on the set whether it be for more nudity, gore or to simply stroke the ego of a scream queen that decides to get political half-way through filming a rape scene. Considering this thing has four writers I wonder how much of that situation pertains to the actual writing of this film. I hope not, otherwise I would have to reconsider how clever the film really is. I’ll need to revisit this one in the future, even if only to watch George Clooney get choked to death a second time.

Funland

Bruce Burger, Peter Pepperoni, Bogey and a Corpse play poker.When Bruce Burger, Humphrey Bogart, Peter Pepperoni and a reanimated corpse started playing poker, I started paying closer attention.  Everything that makes surrealism great is there: death, juxtaposition, throwaway culture and a serene balance between chaos and beauty, and just when I thought I might have discovered a classic, the film opened up a dime store joke kit full of tedious gags.  This is the tragedy of Funland, it’s a mess of ideas that don’t quite fit together strangling a handful of genuinely captivating moments.

David L. Lander plays NeilA Clown with his PuppetStickney, a cracked accountant who plays Bruce Burger, a localized version of the national mascot for Funland, a theme park played by what looks like a foreclosed bowling alley.  The executives of Funland feel that Bruce’s nervous breakdown has made him a liability and want him gone.  The idealistic park owner, Angus, values loyalty over profits and so Bruce Burger keeps his job.  Of course like all decent men, Angus dies under mysterious circumstances, so his wife sells the park to a cartoon mafia family.  These gangsters plan to fill the park with sensational rides such as a Celebrity Death and Disease Exhibit and replace the musical theater with strippers.  They also fire Bruce Burger who then retreats to a shuttered wax museum where he is is free to nurture his delusions and plot revenge.

If the plot sounds interesting, ignore it. The story is just a framework for the writers to jam full of barely related gags, a pointless romantic subplot about a photographer, and crude stereotypes offensive mainly for their laziness, but the occasional brilliant absurdity does slip through, and that alone makes Funland worth viewing.  The cafeteria musical number would be a viral YouTube sensation if the great unwashed had any taste at all.  Halfway through the song the angel of death enters the cafeteria while the park employees are dancing wildly.  We don’t see her again for the rest of the film.  Was a later scene cut?  Is this a clumsy attempt at symbolism?  I hope it happened by accident, but I’m sure that isn’t the case.  It’s too deliberate and it’s one of the many details that makes the film disturbing.

A manager trains employees at a watermelon stand.Another scene, which takes place in a watermelon stand and seems racially weird if not anachronistically insensitive even for the 80s, involves a junior manager training new employees.  After introducing himself he holds up a large cleaver and asks “is anyone good with knives” to which the employees jump back in fear.  The manager isn’t violent and as far as we know has no questionable history involving blades, so what are the employees afraid of?  The dialogue is presented as the punchline to the scene but it makes no sense in the context of the film.  Was an earlier scene involving knives deemed too dark for a comedy about a psychotic clown and cut?

Bruce Burger’s breakdown is rarely played for laughs.  If the unrelated gags were cut out and only his story remained, this would be a very different and much shorter film.  David L. Lander does a fantastic job of portraying Burger’s agonizing delusions.  Unfortunately the sound department tossed goofy synthesized music on top which is about as effective as using party decorations to take the edge off of a head injury. It doubles the horror and it’s something someone who didn’t know the difference between humor and suffering would think up. A distinction I’ve heard sociopaths have trouble sorting out.  Anyone good with knives?

It’s a rare film that undercuts amateur execution with a lunacy twisted up enough to question the sanity of the filmmakers themselves.  When I first heard the producers of Bloodsucking Freaks died within a year or two of its release I was not surprised.  I expected the same from Funland only to find out that the writers went on to successful careers as well adjusted professionals.  Still, there is something disturbing about Funland that drags the film away from comedy and closer to horror which explains why some video rental shops kept it in that section and why, at least a few places, it’s so arresting.

Prayer of the Rollerboys

I would be lying if I said I didn’t like The Prayer of the Rollerboys. It’s one of my favorite films. Some days it is my favorite film – most days in fact. But I really can’t recommend it. Even people generous to bad films dislike this one. I don’t hold it against them. In fact, my own affection for this cheese can only be chalked up to some kind of unusual fetish that simply can’t be explained. The acting is bad, but not bad enough to be laughable. The music is mostly cheesy pop, but nothing too out of the ordinary for action films. I never liked rollerblading. So what’s the catch? I don’t know. The closest I can come up with is the style: the way Los Angeles looks during sunset, the bending echo of electric guitar during action scenes, and the hairstyles. Prayer of the Rollerboys happened between the demise of pop metal and before the ascendancy of grunge, in a time when youth culture didn’t know what the hell it was going to do next. It was a good time for hairstyles.

Corey Haim’s hair, like that of Nicolas Cage, has always veered dangerously close to the edge. In this film he hit the apex of what he had been working towards since The Edison Twins. An electric shock bowl cut bleached Sun-In Orange. This is the perfect look for wearing headbands because of the shaved circumference of the perimeter. After this film Haim cut the top shorter and evened the length out over his entire head and that is largely what led to the downfall of his career, but here his hair is at the height of its powers.

The antagonist Gary Lee, played by Christopher Collette, takes a very different and some would say more daring route. Gary Lee is a neo-fascist racist that blames immigrants for the downfall of America and he is bent on buying the country back and exterminating what he refers to as “foreign hordes.” Now the mullet is no stranger to the white power community, but it usually accompanies the toothless meth lab variety and not the well-organized cartel variety that prefers crew-cuts or salt and pepper old man quaffs. For this reason Gary Lee’s well-permed fashion mullet would normally be out of place, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t work.

Bango is played by Mark Pellegrino, who is probably the best actor involved with the film, but not as risky with his hairstyle choice. He has the standard crew cut bleached get-‘em-outta-here white, but I can’t imagine another style that would work for him as well as this one. Still, the best hair award goes to Bullwinkle.

Morgan Weisser approached the bleeding edge of hairstyles for the time. The big hair days of Sunset Blvd. were in their twilight years, and the Manic Panic undercuts of mall grunge were just a glimmer in the eyes of Seattle food courts, so most people were veering somewhere in-between shock-gelled punk, permed mullets or some throwaway square hair while waiting for the next big thing. Bullwinkle said “fuck that” and grew the type of feathered 70s drapery that would have given Jaclyn Smith a heart attack. Thank god her husband is a cardiothoracic surgeon.

If you imagine these hairstyles blowing in the wind to Satriani-esque guitar theatrics under the warm glow of a Venice Beach sunset and you smile, then this is the film for you. If you liked Point Break or the Fast and the Furious but wished they had concerned rollerblading nationalists instead of surfing bank robbers or drag racing truck heists, then this is the film for you. In fact, if you’re still reading this, you may want to check the film out. I certainly love it.

But it’s really fucking awful.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Two men stare off in hopes of attracting a girl band.An exploitation director, a film critic and a cheap lurid novel walk into a bar; specifically, Russ Meyer, Roger Ebert and The Valley of the Dolls.  Oh, and the bar is 20th Century Fox who gave the duo permission to do whatever they pleased.  Things like this simply don’t happen anymore and that’s a shame because it proves something I’ve long suspected: if guys like these were given major budgets to work with more often, they would Godzilla stomp Hollywood right into the Pacific.

The story, penned by Ebert, seems simple enough.  A young rock group travel to Los Angeles in search of fame and fortune and they find it.  They also find out that the wiener isn’t always tastier on the other side of the grill.  In fact, sometimes it tastes like crow.  In this case, it tastes like overdoses, suicide, Nazis, violence, infidelity, decapitations and a lawyer.  That Meyer and Ebert procured studio approval for this subject matter is a minor miracle, both in that it is impossible and the world is much better for it.  The peculiarity of the situation was not lost on the production of which Ebert himself explains:

We wrote the screenplay in six weeks flat, laughing maniacally from time to time, and then the movie was made. Whatever its faults or virtues, “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” is an original — a satire of Hollywood conventions, genres, situations, dialogue, characters and success formulas, heavily overlaid with such shocking violence that some critics didn’t know whether the movie “knew” it was a comedy.

The film knows it is a comedy all right, so much so that it uses Fox’s own theme song as the coup de grace to a broadsword attack.  That attack is perpetrated by Z-Man a character based loosely (although eerily prophetically so considering recent events) on Phil Spector and played here by John LaZar with so much gusto the character threatened to steal all of the attention off of our protagonists, the Carry Nations.  John LaZar himself sees this success as a detriment to his career believing he was typecast from that point on.  That’s unfortunate for Mr. LaZar, but great for Costume Box Theater because he was amazing in Deathstalker II and likely wouldn’t have taken that role had he become famous.

The Carrie Nations are played by Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers and Marcia McBroom, three young, and like everyone else in this film, extremely attractive actresses.  They are voiced by Lynn Carey, the singer of Mama Lion who’s urgent and powerful vocals drives the surprisingly good soundtrack.  I’m not particularly a fan of pop music and have a special distrust of anything from the Woodstock era, but I honestly do like these songs.  I guess it’s to be suspected from a woman that breastfeeds lions.

Mama Lion breastfeeds a cub.

It’s not just the people that are beautiful.  Everything in the film, the sets, the locations and especially the vulgar Technicolor that saturates each frame threatens the spoil the viewer off of everything but Douglas Sirk melodramas and trips to Versailles.  The fact that all of this beauty is in the service of a broad lampoon makes the visuals that much more poetic.  Beauty in the service of humor is so rare it is the highest form of art.  Imagine a porcelain sculpture of an angel that squirts condiments out of its mouth.  Unfortunately it was a one-time affair.  Even though the film was a financial success, this team never got the freedom to create another masterpiece such as this.  A searing shame for anyone who’s ever read Ebert’s Who Killed Bambi? Instead, after Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Meyer filmed a couple of smaller features for Fox and then went back to working outside of the studios, while Roger Ebert disappeared into obscurity never to be heard from again.

A young man learns to walk again.