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.