25 July 2011


United States - 1989
Director - Peter Manoogian
RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, 1991, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 37 minutes

The list of mostly forgettable science-fiction popcorn films produced by Charles Band’s Empire Pictures in the ‘80’s is for the most part an unchallenging intellectual vacuum. In many cases that is what makes them so mindlessly entertaining. With a naïve innocence that can only come from sincerity and a (relatively) low budget, Arena is a shining example. It doesn’t require any mental acrobatics or ask any hard moral questions, but it was a little better made than most of the Empire Pictures catalog. Arena is at some six years distance, clearly riding on the coat-tails of Star Wars. It is not surprising then that in addition to its Empire pedigree, Arena should suffer from many of the same philosophical shortcomings as its source material.

With nowhere else to go after losing his job on a space-station somewhere in the universe, Steve Armstrong (Paul Satterfield) bunks with his former coworker Shorty in the slums. Here he meets a destitute bum, the last human champion of the Arena, an intergalactic boxing competition that has been dominated by aliens for the last five decades. He anoints Steve as the next human champion of the Arena making him quite literally the Great White Hope in space.

The man in the Sloth suit is future director Steve Wang

There are two categories of aliens that populate Arena and highlight Steve’s messianic status. Both are visibly differentiated from the protagonists. The first are helpers, house-aliens who are silly and or dumb but totally harmless. To remove any ambiguity, the second group, Steve’s rivals, are not only visibly different but especially hideous, making them even more clearly unsympathetic and evil, and giving the good aliens excuse to support the collective restoration of a properly ordered hierarchy  without appearing overtly Uncle Tomish. Steve’s final opponent, the present champion Horn is also a cyborg. As such he is not only a direct threat to and reaffirmation of human physical purity, but a confirmation of the physical corruption and immorality of the non-human which has to “cheat” in order to win. And in fact, that’s precisely what Horn’s manager Rogor does when it becomes clear that Steve is going to beat his fighter.

Jade (Sharri Shattuck) a sultry nightclub performer (Shattuck actually performs several of Richard Band's songs) and Rogor’s lapdog is sent to seduce and poison Steve before the championship fight. Yet despite a romp through the futuristic spacy mylar sheets in Jade’s cat-box, her eroticism does not bode well for the normative settled family relationship. Instead, there is Quinn (Claudia Christian,) a reserved, practical woman carrying on her father’s legacy as a boxing manager. It is with her faithful encouragement and training that Steve will restore hetero normative values to the universe. Can there be any doubt that our ubermensch will succeed in setting all of this straight when the distinction between right and wrong is so clear-cut?

The ultimate Buck?
Despite all of this 50’s era conservative paranoia, Arena is still enjoyable for a number of reasons. The practical special effects provided by Screaming Mad George are better done than most of Band’s films. Arena is also distinctly more working-class than its big budget franchise predecessor. Boxing, which is really all the Arena fights are, has always been viewed as a proletarian sport. Related to this is my final assertion that Arena’s settings capture perfectly the appeal of the mundane. From the diner of the opening sequence, to the slums where Steve is verbally identified as the hero (it’s always been visually obvious), to the contest itself where order is restored, Arena is fiction made tangible. Without throwaway details like burned eggs and garbage, it would be just another space movie. Narrative details that speak to perceived experience are what make good fiction. Unfortunately that’s why audiences rarely question such obviously reactionary symbolism when couched in throwaway sci-fi fluff.

This beautiful VHS insert comes from Japanese VHS Hell, go visit 'em!

18 July 2011

Curse of the Werewolf

Here is a French poster for the 1961 British film Curse of the Werewolf, directed by Terence Fisher. The poster is by Guy Gerard Noel a French artist I talked about briefly back HERE.

Land and Freedom

UK/Spain - 1995
Director Ken Loach
Polygram Video, 1996, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 49 minutes

The sad remains of a beat up box I got from the library.

These two from IMPAwards

Spanish poster from Movie Poster Database

From pastposters.com

Captive Wild Woman

United States - 1943
Director -Edward Dmytryk
Starring - Acquanetta

This poster bears a remarkable similarity to the art from the black-cast film Ingagi

11 July 2011

Talk of the Town

VCII boxes have these cool double side flaps, but they are a bit awkward to scan
Talk of the Town: Shows 1 and 2
United States - 1982
Director - Doug Raymond
VCII Incorporated, 1983/'84, VHS
Run Time - 1 horrific hour per show

You will hear these jokes over and over!
The fiction of time travel plays on idealized notions of history and historical moments. It is a fantasy that needs temporal distance, because the actual experience of those moments we would like to visit were really just as mundane as the ones we’re stuck in now. Given the choice a lot of people would probably choose to travel to the 40’s or the 1920’s or something even older, something with “heroism” or “style”. I would go back into the bad old days of the late 70’s and early 80’s. That era appeals to me because through the fog of time and oversimplification it looks like a badly dressed and desperate exercise in cheap self-indulgence. It appears to be a cultural void, without direction or identity, and it is because of this lack of any redeeming qualities that it appears, from this distance to have been tackier, louder, and shallower than anything before or since. Talk of the Town is exactly the sort of eye-popping time travel experience I’ve always wanted to take.

Hostess with mostest makeup.
Produced by VCX, one of video porn’s oldest names and distributed by their in-house non-porn label VCII, Talk of the Town is a procession of desperate posturing set to the worst musical genre (and a bad example at that) to have ever been shat out the sour infected anus of American pop culture. The guests are the dregs, the tail-draggingest end-throes of late70’s entertainment culture at its diveyest. Co-host Pat Cooper, Murray Langston and Rip Taylor provide a fine cross section of the sleaziest in male interpretation of the Aquarian sexual liberation ethic. Hostess Jaye P. Morgan’s repeated crowing about the “unscripted and uncensored” nature of the show (read off of cue cards) gives her male guests in both episodes license to “liberate” and openly express their ever present lecherous objectification.

The classy nicotine stained lingerie of the Talk of the Town Showgirls

Fortunately, things rarely go as planned in Vegas, and since their jokes have been so mind numbingly shitty up to this point, the most amusing part of this exercise in stamina is watching it self destruct. VCX was apparently unaware of the profound contradiction in hiring both boorish male comics and self-identified feminists to have a casual “adult” chat. In the first show, like hungry dogs chewing at their leashes in the presence of raw meat, the men unleash steady stream of childish innuendoes as soon as 23 year old Linda Blair walks on stage. As soon as adult film star Samantha Fox arrives however, the dick jokes of a few minutes ago transform instantly into embarrassed questions about “thingies” and “doing it”. They talk a big game but blood rushes back to their heads when confronted with a nonplussed and confident woman. Whoa, it turns out that liberation is actually pretty intimidating. The second show’s guests include Redd Foxx, Larry Storch and Jack Carter who in good form generally pour on the vitriol until the godmother of feminist comedy Rusty Warren arrives. On second thought maybe VCX did know what they were doing. By putting these women on last we have to consume some forty five minutes of manly non-comedy before the women arrive to get talked over by earlier guests and then cut short by time constraints.

One of the appealing things about time travel fantasies is the unstated and often unacknowledged assumption that one would be so much smarter than those coarse primitive bastards back then. But this is of course predicated on our present ability to know what they did right or wrong and pick it apart. Hindsight is 20/20 after all, and that’s what makes history and laughing at old and/or dead people so much fun. Talk of the Town is imminently mockable, from Jaye P. Morgan’s embalming makeup to the profoundly tacky ranch-style lingerie fashion show that staggers into the middle of both episodes. I only hope that some yet to be born future asshole has the spare time point out how full of shit I will have been.

Shut the fuck up Pat Cooper! SHUT UP!

One of the things I like about VCII tapes is the label on the cassette itself:

VCII had two logos at the beginning of their tapes. This clip is courtesy of LogicSmash

04 July 2011

Godzilla: Monster of Monsters NES

Who knew? Not me anyway. My partner, witnessing my recent renewed interest in Kaiju picked this up for me at the retro game store.

Godzilla vs. Megalon

Japan - 1976
Director - Jun Fukuda
Goodtimes Home Video, 1985, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 30 minutes

 All three of these are from Wrong Side of the Art

This is only the first page of an United Statesian promotional comic. You can find the rest over at Magic Carpet Burn where they have also been kind enough to share the Godzilla vs. Megalon soundtrack.