30 April 2010

Yorythmics: Sweet Hunter From the Video Future

What do Yor The Hunter From the Future and the Eurythmics: Sweet Dreams the Video Album have in common?

Why, those crazy tab-boxes from RCA/Columbia Home Video of course!
Allow me to wax nerdy for a second; these boxes are super cool, even more so than those crazy double-flap boxes that VCII was putting out in the early 80's. What can I say, I like technical packaging. I also like that the brand was identified by the similar package design. This was typical of the period when home video was still a new concept and studios wanted people to associate a certain level of quality with their brand. Branding and trademarking took place in packaged food products in the late 1800's in exactly the same way. Of course, when home video took off they realized it was a big waste of money to have to make thousands of fancy die-cut boxes like this and everybody switched to the standard single flap-top/open bottom. And who said the future would be better?

Italy - 1983
Director - Antonio Margheritti
RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, 1983, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 28 minutes

United Kingdom - 1983
Director - Derek Burbidge
RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, 1983, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 2 minutes

Rental Store - George's T.V.

Hard Times

United States - 1975
Director - Walter Hill

One of Hill's and Bronson's better films, this is my favorite poster for Hard Times. It reminds me of a poster and/or hand colored photograph from 1933. Maybe that was the point? I'm going to label it as drama rather than action because it's more about the relationships between Bronson and other folks than it is about the boxing. Appropriate and timely. At the moment you can watch the whole movie at IMDB, and I recommend it.
Bronson had appeared earlier as a boxing instructor, coaching none other than Elvis in Kid Galahad.

 This Japanese ad if from CinemaisDope.com

All of these posters come courtesy of IMP Awards.

The poster above looks like work by by Bob Peak, but it's too small to see any signature and it may just be a copycat. IMP Awards has a page of his artwork including the iconic Apocalypse Now and Star Trek posters here. You can also Google his name and come up with an assload of great 70's Peak art like this sweet Old Hickory Bourbon advert.

26 April 2010

Can't Stop The Music

United States – 1980
Director – Nancy Walker
Anchor Bay, 2002, VHS
Run Time – 2 hours, 3 minutes

My assumption about the Village People up to this point had been that they were simply another shitty disco group that earned their cultural status for wearing costumes. Of course, there was much more back story, I’d just never stopped being annoyed with the music long enough to look deeper. Suffice to say that upon watching this movie I was surprised at how unabashedly gay it was. I was glad that nobody even mentioned it though, it was simply an established factor of the plot that didn’t require attention or apology. As a breeder I have at best an outsider’s perspective, but it seems like it would be profoundly demeaning to have to perpetually identify oneself by other people’s labels. Why then should gay film, or in this case simply a film with gay people, openly identify itself as such any more than a straight film should? Ultimately I understand the struggle between demanding acknowledgement and respect for ones differences, and simply wanting to be left alone. But again, I’m a white male breeder, so I can't really know. The fact that I notice it however suggests that it is still uncommon enough to be grab one's attention when it does appear, which I’d like to point out is thirty (30) years after this film was made. What this means is that we still need more films in which gay characters are just characters whose sexuality is simply not an issue. Really, we need more of that in general.

I’ll make no excuse for thinking the music was pretty bad, for I am a child of punk, the natural enemy of disco. But years ago after seeing The Apple and Skatetown USA, something strange and unspeakable happened. Put it this way, a year and a half ago I was watching Thank God It's Friday with my friend who was grumbling and squirming in his seat like he'd just swallowed the worm. A year later he called me up one night saying, "Hey I just bought all these disco movies for my girlfriend." As he was telling me this I could hear her in the background yelling, "What? For me? I don't think so, I didn't want any of that shit!" I can understand his conflicted behavior.

In the case of Can't Stop The Music, I was able to overlook the music largely because I found it refreshing to watch a film that wasn’t totally focused on horny breeders and tits. There was a little of that thrown in (Valerie Perrine), but it was intentionally comedic and illustrated the ridiculousness of the male-female social interaction. If nothing else, Can’t Stop the Music forced me to read up on the Village People and think about the status and role of non-hetero characters in mainstream film. And as a capsule of American pop culture at a particular instant, it’s definitely got something going for it.

Plus it stars Steve Guttenberg and you get to watch full length “music videos” of YMCA and Milkshake. Y’know, if that’s a selling point for you.

23 April 2010

Charley Varrick

United States - 1973
Director -Don Siegel

All of these posters are from IMP Awards.

Charley Varrick is opens with a bank robbery in a  tiny town in NM called Tres Cruces. I know of no such city, but there is a town called Las Cruces just a few hours from the place I grew up.
It was an entertaining movie, available to watch instantly on Netflix, but not terribly exciting. Some people refer to it as a noir film, but I think that's a bit of a stretch. Maybe a cross between a caper and a noir, the former being a close cousin of the latter anyway. My first exposure to Walter Mathau was in Grumpy Old Men and The Odd Couple, so I had a hard time buying him as a crook. In retrospect, taking a personality type one would never expect and casting them as a well versed criminal is a pretty clever move.

This film was directed by Donald Siegel, director of some epic American cinema in the 60's and 70's. In 1971 he directed Dirty Harry, bringing back Andrew Robinson (Hellraiser) to play Mathau's unhinged accomplice in Charlie Varrick. Joe Don Baker of Joysticks also costars as a bounty hunter on Charley's trail. Siegel also directed numerous other western, crime and war films starring the likes of Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Michael Caine, John Wayne and Steeve McQueen. Wow, that's quite a pantheon in your pocket sir.

A German poster from Filmstarts.de.

A German super 8 reel of the film.

A Polish poster.

A Japanese VHS from this site.

There's some stills and lobbycards at Mr Peel's Sardine Liqueur, check 'em out!

19 April 2010

Shrunken Heads

Shrunken Heads
United States – 1994
Director – Richard Elfman
Paramount Home Video, 1994, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 26 minutes

I recently watched The Forbidden Zone on a recommendation from Shelby Cobras over at Illogical Contraption and I immediately began to feel the stirrings of recognition deep in my gut. I had seen this sort of debauchery before in one of my favorite movies of the last decade; Shrunken Heads. A twisted locale like The Forbidden Zone is the only possible place to similarly conjure heroes out of fascist State policeman/senile graverobbing voodoo priests and their reanimated shrunken heads.

Tommy, Bill and the new neighborhood arrival Freddie are not quite old enough to be totally concerned with chasing girls. Instead they remain focused on candy and comic books. However, their tiny sugar and newsprint utopia is repeatedly harassed by an older generation in the persons of Eddie and The Vipers, a cheap not-quite-adult street-gang striving to assert its status as something no longer juvenile. Having suffered enough of their abuse, our nerdy heroes decide to document the Viper’s petty criminal activities and submit the evidence to the police. But the Vipers have their own niche in the generational pecking order and at the behest of their transgender crime boss Big Moe (Meg Foster) they haul the boys in for a discussion on “how the real world works,” which as we all know really means “how I, the adult, say the world works” and boils down to a brief delineation of the inevitable, dream crushing pragmatism of adulthood. To quote one of the babysitters of my own horrific childhood, “There are no what-ifs!” A truism she repeatedly drilled into our optimistic eight–year-old brains whenever we waxed fantastic.

But in a far more cuddly and understanding world Tommy, Bill and Freddy escape captivity and steal Big Moe’s daily numbers-slips. To get them back she orders the disillusioned middle generation to gun the boys down in the street. Understandably eager to prove their maturity and be treated as adults, the Vipers comply. But what could have become a typical soul crushing “learning experience” actually takes a sudden turn at the intersection of WTF? at the hands of Aristide Sumatra (veteran blaxploitation actor and cuddly old guy Julius Harris), ex member of the Tonton Macoute turned corner newsstand operator and source of Tommy, Bill and Freddy’s comic books and candy. Sumatra’s resounding answer to all the petty struggles of youth is to collapse the whole misguided intergenerational dialogue into a surreal comedy. He is the grandpa whose dementia clouded foul mouthed nonsense makes everybody laugh uncomfortably. A perfect excuse to get into trouble with the grandkids.

To revenge the innocence of youth upon the responsibilities that crushed it, he attends the tripartite funeral of our heroes, saws off their heads then "boils and lovingly dries them." But it’s only starting to get good, for he also reanimates them and trains each of them to use a special power with which to punish malefactors. Furthermore, their deceased victims revive as pants-shitting zombies compelled to perform community service. From start to finish it is a send-up of a whole mosaic of social taboos; death, race, underage sexuality and poop jokes, adult themes within a framework of childhood fantasy, the merging of Sumatra’s disregard for convention and the boys desire to keep from falling into it.

 Tommy gets some post-shrinkage lovin' from his new ladyfriend.

“Aristide Sumatra” also happens to be an alter-ego/nom de guerre of director Elfman, one of the founding members of The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo and all around madman. The fact that he plays such a crucial role here both off-screen and hypothetically on-screen as well suggests that it is something of a pet project. The dissonant logic and mild discomfort of Shrunken Heads, while polished to appeal to a larger audience, clearly comes from the same distorted imaginations that created The Forbidden Zone. It is a kid’s film steeped in a rich dose of adult rebellion just barely on the safe side of excess; drunken Saturday morning cartoons in epic proportions.

“Mr. Sumatra, there’s been a terrible stench, coming from your apartment.”
“As you can see, this cat has not been well at all, that is the source of that terrible stench. But please, be patient, the doctor of cats has predicted that he will soon be bursting with health.”

Spooky Midnight VHS Assault #1: Dirty Tennis

Dirty Tennis
United States - 1989
Director - George Bloom III
MCA Home Video, 189, VHS
Run Time - 33 minutes

Dirty Tennis was written by and stars Dick Van Patten of 8 Is Enough. If you've ever wanted to know what a hairy middle aged New Yorker doing a bad Benny Hill impression while dipped in Vaseline looks like, here it is. I have nothing more to say.
This movie will be shown during the Awful Hour, tomorrow night before the Kung Fu Grindhouse 5th Anniversary Opener. If you live in Seattle, I pity you.

 Bwaaaahhhhhh! Drink Tea, be greasy!

16 April 2010

Death Wishes

The Death Wish franchise ranks right along side Eatswood's Dirty Harry series for sheer teeth-gnashing counterrevolutionary backlash. After years of social dialogue about rights and due process, the Seventies saw the advent of the rogue cop and vigilante archetypes as an answer to cries of rehabilitation and rights. If the legal system was more concerned with doing things according to procedure, these guys were willing to step outside the law to see justice done. No more cuddly talk about warrants and probable cause, time to meet Jesus, punk.

Early on the Death Wish series was remarkable for the sheer number of unknowns who made appearances in bit parts and later went on to bigger things. In the latter entries of course many of the bit parts were filled by TV actors and such, but there are still a lot of familiar faces in every installment right on back to number 1.

United States - 1994
Director - Alan Goldstien
Vidmark Entertainment, 1994, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 35 minutes
United States - 1987
Director - J. Lee Thompson
Media Home Entertainment, 1990, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 40 minutes
It's been years. I hardly even remember what happens in this one.

United States - 1985
Director - Michael Winner
MGM/UA Home Video, 1986, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 32 minutes

For several reasons this is my favorite film in the  series. It's the first film in the series that escalates the firepower to absurd extremes. Charles Bronson really revels in his use of a LAW rocket and refers to his Wildey in the first person. If the menacing goons in Death Wish 2 were a little silly, in DW3 they go totally over the top, starring Gavan O'Herlihy as the lead goon and Alex Winter as his second. For the longest time I confused O'Herlihy with Jake Busey, both are toothy and creepy looking, but definitely not the same.
To bring it back, what is fantastic, neigh unasailably brilliant about DW3 is that it recognizes the goofyness, the absurd extent to which it takes the already reactionary violence and trauma of the Death Wish series. DW3 is American exploitation at its finest, one of the keystones of tough-guy, post Vietnam-era sleaze, and Bronson grins and booby-traps his way through it with typical wrinkly grace. Thank you sir.

Death Wish 2
United States - 1982
Director - Michael Winner
When I bought my copy of Death Wish 2 it didn't come with a box, so I borrowed this Norwegian one from Cannon.org.uk. They have a whole Bronson Gallery you can check out here.

 Death Wish
United States - 1974
Director - Michael Winner

The classic DW image rendered in obnoxious colors. For some reason I like this better than the usual black and white version that is on my DVD. Maybe because it reminds me of the light from a bug zapper. Bet you didn't know it was based on a novel by Brian Garfield.

Rental Store - Home Video Plus

13 April 2010

Black Belt

United States - 1992
Director - Charles Philip Moore
New Horizons Home Video, 1992, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 20 minutes

I wrote a piece about this film for the ongoing bands in movies series I'm contributing to Illogical Contraption, go read it here, you'll learn something.

 The stars of Black Belt, Shanna and the Bad Girls.

12 April 2010

St. Ives

United States - 1976
Director - J. Lee Thompson
Warner Home Video, 2005, DVD
Run Time – 1 hour, 43 minutes

Separating the art from the artist is no easy task, particularly in the case of an artist you admire so dearly as I do Charles Bronson. His is a time when many a macho American actor went abroad to seek work in Europe or Asia when the roles for type-cast tough-guys were slim in the States. It was a time of peace, love and like, getting mellow, man. Only in places like France and Italy could craggy faced actors like Bronson get decent work, earning himself the nicknames Monstre Sacre (Holy Monster) and Il Brutto (The Ugly) in each of those countries respectively. Sadly, many of these foreign films lack the bluntness of American narrative and are pretty boring and difficult to watch. Still, this was also a time that earned Bronson several roles that would catapult him to fame; The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Sergio Leoni’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).

It wasn’t until the counterrevolution of the 70's put those dirty hippies back into their proper place that tough guys could make it again in American film. It was the opening of a floodgate that resulted in some of the best films of both Eastwood’s and Bronson’s careers. But before I take this metaphor too far, this post is really about Charles Bronson’s 1976 film St. Ives. After the success of Death Wish in 1974, Bronson could not be stopped. It was to be the dawn of his golden age.

The following year he starred in Walter Hill’s classic first film Hard Times, and a year after that in St. Ives which has Bronson in a much more subdued role. Forgive me if I draw a parallel to Raymond Chandler, but St. Ives centers around a caper in the Marlowe tradition but carries the narrative and setting into a modern (1976) setting rather than trying to update the theme. Thomas wrote a series of novels centered on the Philip St. Ives character, of which the third, The Procane Chronicle was the basis for this film. If it’s any indication of the quality of Thomas’ writing (which some critics deny) It would be unfair to compare him to Chandler apart from their shared genre.

I always got the impression that in the long run, Marlowe thought he was better than everyone else, and was bitter because his lifestyle didn’t reflect it. St. Ives atmosphere is much seedier than anything Marlowe encountered. The lunch counters and residential hotels have continued to accumulate all the wear and detritus of the three decades since the 40's without repair. St. Ives himself seems much more pragmatic than his predecessor, and perfectly at home in the shabbiness.
Returning to the Chandler comparison, St. Ives is a much more tactile and working class way of re-looking at classic noir than was Altman's The Long Goodbye. Bronson is after all a the people's hero.

The still above this spanish one-sheet is from a scene in which St. Ives is attacked by a bunch of goons among whom is Robert Englund as you can see, but also Jeff Goldblum rehashing his role from Death Wish.

09 April 2010

Vigilante Force

United States - 1976
Director - George Armitage

I don't know much about this film apart from the synopses I've read various places. Sounds like a reactionary film with a vengeance. Vietnam Vet Kristofferson (a role he will reprise) recruits his bored combat vet buddies to crack down on some liberal labor types. This turns out to be largely unsubstantiated as virtually none of the characters are given any development with the exception of the three leads, Kristofferson Jan Michael Vincent and Bernadette Peters, so we get virtually no explanation of who or why.

The top poster is from Wrong Side of the Art,
this one is from IMP Awards.

I haven't been able to find Vigilante Force on DVD or VHS, but at the moment you can watch the whole movie at IMDB which is what I did. Reviews there and elsewhere describe it as exceptionally harsh and unforgiving, and Kristofferson's Aaron character as ruthless and brutal. I found none of the above to be true. It seemed like an hour and a half long episode of The Dukes of Hazzard with a little more violence and no shitty comedy. If like me you're a Vietnam completist, this might be worth watching for Kristofferson's villainized veteran, but otherwise, the posters are the best part.


United States - 1989
Director - Michael Anderson
Avid Home Entertainment, 1990, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 48 minutes

05 April 2010

Trouble In Mind

Trouble In Mind
United States - 1985
Director - Alan Rudolph
Charter Home Entertainment, 1986, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 51 minutes

There is an interesting result that comes about from the combination of the science fiction and noir genres. The future-noir or tech-noir, is more about atmosphere than plot, though this certainly doesn’t preclude the latter. There are certain visual elements that are largely indispensable to general expectations of noir and science fiction film individually. A gritty darkness and mystery on the one hand, and broadly plausible future technology and fashion on the other can each predictably invoke the feelings respective of their genres. The tropes of each enforce a narrative restraint on the other, allowing neither to stray too far into fantasy, and giving the film a subdued dreamlike and depressing quality. The future in these cases is never as wonderful and amazing as you want it to be, for the past keeps dogging its step.

No wonder they filmed it in Seattle. With the addition of a few old cars, what was once the site of the 1962 World’s Fair serves once again as the backdrop of this never-to-come future. This time, instead of Elvis’s gambling debts hounding him, we have Kris Kristofferson’s ex-cop just out of prison with his guilt hounding him.
My initial expectation from reading the box was that this was a low budget Blade Runner spinoff, starring Kris, Keith Carradine and Divine out of drag. But it has lacks the profound existential questions and emotional struggle. Nor is the rainy urban squalor very crowded or futuristic, and it’s quickly intercut with a drippy evergreen forest and secondary hippie characters.

Here the mix of the two genres winds up being much closer to the alternate present of Streets of Fire. Where that film made the 80’s seem like the future because it was combined with a gritty fantasy past, Trouble’s 1980's future goes largely undeveloped and relegated to a few odd hairstyles. It ends up being much more of a movie about an unsympathetic worn out old cop clutching at a last-ditch chance for happiness. Crouched under the grimy skies and decrepit optimism of "Rain City" (an actual nickname for Seattle), makes it even more depressing. Nevertheless it is that non sequitur ending that makes it a little intriguing. Doesn’t it?

02 April 2010

Fangoria 102 - Caroline Munroe/Luigi Cozzi

Luigi Cozzi is a director of unparalleled shoddiness. He may only be the duke to Alfonso Brescia's King of Cheap and Trashy, but Cozzi is the undisputed tyrant of Italian exploitation, challenged by many, but matched by none. The instant I saw Contamination I was sold, but Starcrash absolutely curdled my tender brain, and I mean that in the most flattering way.
This issue of Fangoria was published in May 1991 and features an article about Caroline Munroe one of the stars of Starcrash. She had gone on to star in his film Black Cat which I was attempting to find here, but afterwards as you will see, she had some problems getting Mr. Cozzi to pay her. Makes the guy sound like a real upstanding fellow lemme tell you.