31 December 2012

A Gun in the House

 Full box scan at bottom

A Gun in the House
United States – 1980
Director – Ivan Nagy
VCII, 1983, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 40 minutes

Unfortunately no matter how many times we’re told, or how often we see it on TV, we don’t seem to realize that good hardworking Americans have been left to their own devices, vulnerable and out in the cold. Our traditions have been effectively disenfranchised and our cultural righteousness stripped away by decades of so-called social “progress.” Unfortunately, it oftentimes requires a very personal encounter with terror for people to realize that in the hands of liberals our nation has effectively been emasculated by degrees.

The Cates family finds themselves in precisely such a vulnerable position. With her airline-pilot husband frequently away for extended periods, Emily is left alone with her daughter in that fragile suburban bubble that is the imperiled “average.” Without a reassuring man in the house, Emily opts instead for his symbolic replacement. Just in time too. Moments after completing her last shooting class, two hoods break in. Just as it looks like she is going to be violated, Emily escapes to the bedroom where she retrieves her cold steel surrogate man and kills one of her attackers. You would be justified in thinking this was the end of Emily’s ordeal, but you would be wrong. This is not that kind of revenge film.

Instead, an overworked, understaffed and totally impotent police force are at a loss to pursue, much less prosecute Emily’s assault. Instead, lacking any evidence to corroborate her claim to have been attacked at all, (clearly she seduced him right) Emily herself is arrested for the murder of her attacker and forced to go through the institutional humiliation usually reserved for a lower class of people. And so, the Cates’ ideal averageness is hung out to dry by a "justice" system so burdened with  ridiculous notions of due process and habeas corpus that it cares more for protecting the rights of the accused than in actually punishing them. It's been a problem since the 60's when longhaireed barefoot hippies and feminazi's have waged an unrelenting war on our national traditions, emasculating the American Dream with social programs and "rights." Thank God for the Second Amendment and frontier justice.

Fresh from her gig as the naïvely optimistic Gloria Stivic on All In the Family, Sally Struthers is the perfect symbol of dewey-eyed liberalism to dangle over the abyss. Combining all the best reactionary ranting of the 70’s into one succinct package, A Gun in the House is a ray of powder-burned redemption beamed into a darkening world. It is a lesson to all of us to be prepared lest we care too much about anyone else. If we go on believing that we’re somehow immune to the growing epidemic of predatory savagery seething just on the other side of the tracks, we’ll find out the hard way exactly how precariously perched our fragile bubble of suburban quietude really is. As Harry Calahan and Paul Kersey knew; one day soon these liberals are going to be begging us for protection. Once they realize they've legislated themselves to the edge of a cliff and their rainbow world of hugs and group therapy can't save 'em, they'll be wishing there was a gun in every house.

28 December 2012

Rental Store - Casablanca Video

This little sticker is all that remains to tell us where The Final Terror was once available for rent... Where Casablanca might have once been located is anybody's guess. Mine, well I'm thinking probably Seattle area since that's where I picked it up...

24 December 2012

My Demon Lover

United States - 1987
Director - Charlie Loventhal
RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, 1987, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 30 minutes

It's been some time since I saw My Demon Lover, and I watched it then almost as an afterthought. In retrospect after a little bit of research, that cool side-opening VHS box from RCA is not necessarily the coolest thing about this movie.

The primary sales pitch on the box focuses on Scott Valentine, then a supporting actor on the show Family Ties (Michael J. Fox was the star,) but My Demon Lover is much more about the lead female, Denny played by Michele Little. Women writers do not of necessity write films for a female audience, but they can certainly add a depth of character to women's roles that male writers tend to lack. And, despite the pitch on the box, Leslie Ray a woman who has written mostly for TV sitcoms managed to make My Demon Lover far more about Denny than it is about Kaz.

17 December 2012

Bad Medicine

Bad Medicine: 
Natives Helping White Folks Clean up their
Spiritual Dirty Laundry since 1492

There is no shortage of films in which white folks play at being The Other. Playing at being Japanese or Chinese is certainly not limited to Mickey Rooney, nor Latino/Mexican to Marlon Brando and Telly Savalas. Still, it is not often that we think of white folks breaking out the Red-Face and play at being 'Injuns.' But it wasn't uncommon. The assumption that 'Others' cannot sufficiently portray themselves (or more accurately cannot act the way white folks need them to be in order to justify various forms of racism) is not a distinction meted out to any group exclusively.

If the examples of Blackface are many, replaced only by stereotypes sufficiently disguised to maintain the illusion of superiority, then Redface is hardly any different. From the stony-faced war-chiefs of the 30's an 40's, Redface gradually gave way by the 1960's to more acceptably romantic notions of a people somehow closer to the Earth and like, in tune with the spirits man.
And that's a power that us white people need to expropriate. In the world of cinema, there is nothing worse than helplessness in the face of sheer supernatural terror, or aimlessness in the wake of cultural banality. Fortunately Indigenous peoples have provided us with a convenient release valve for all our Anglo-Saxon spiritual hangups. Whether helping us find meaning in our privileged but ultimately hollow lives or defeating wacky demons of our own creation comes the White Man's spiritual savior: The Medicine Man.

Roughly paralleling the 'Magic Negro,' the movie Medicine Man imparts some kind of Earthy spiritual knowledge or healing upon the bereft white man. Like the Magic Negro who uses soul, rhythm or a clever ruse, the Medicine Man uses sacred smoke, animals or a fetishized notion of extra-natural powers, something mysterious and beyond the comprehension of urbane whites. In most cases, like his black analogue, the Medicine Man is mysterious, arriving physically from nowhere, i.e. a spirit, or historically from nowhere. In either case this 'pastlessness' makes stereotypes easy to swallow because it dissociates them from any historical subjectivity but the immediate-white-present. After imparting his knowledge the Medicine Man inevitably moves on (literally and/or just from the script), disappearing as "mysteriously" as he came. All he asks in payment for his services some symbolic and often trivial token and the satisfaction of having helped. This reiterates the infamous and oft repeated assumption that Native peoples don't understand "true" (acquisitive) value and is quite fortunate because a deeper relationship might require that we white folks actually change ourselves (and our racist assumptions) rather than our (temporary) circumstances and gosh, that's really hard. Our need to fetishize and objectify Indigenous peoples (and other Others) says far more about us than it does them.

Here is an ongoing list of fortuitous Medicine Men (and Women I suspect we shall discover) who have helped us white folks clean up our dirty laundry, without having to clean up much else, throughout the years:

The Manitou
Director - William Girdler 
Syrian born actor Michael Ansara portrays John Singing Rock, a member of an unnamed Plains tribe who helps Tony Curtis defeat an evil Medicine Man that emerges from Curtis' girlfriend's neck in this woman-hating horror film from 1978.
Medicine: Prayers and 'charms'
Token Payment:Tobacco

Poltergeist II
Director - Brian Gibson
Creek actor Will Sampson played Taylor, the Medicine Man whose butterfly summoning power helps the Freeling's defeat spooks a second time around in 1986. Sampson, who died the following year, had played Native Americans in a number of famous roles including those in Outlaw Josey Wales and One Few Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Medicine: Sacred Smoke
Token Payment: A beat up station wagon

Forest Warrior
Director - Aaron Norris
A tired looking Chuck Norris played McKenna in the 1996 film Forest Warrior. The character is actually a Scotsman who "went native" and whose spirit now protects Mt. Hood, Oregon. When a group of kids go up the mountain to play in their tree-house, spirit-McKenna transforms into various animals and helps them defeat a group of nefarious loggers. While not technically a Medicine Man with magic spells, the use of assumed native atributes to help white folks is clear. The noble savage and super warrior being venerable tropes of USAmerican frontier literature and cinema. McKenna's round-housing spirit-power helps the kids to become stand up for themselves and become mature.
Medicine: Warrior spirit
Token Payment: Satisfaction in having helped

Free Willy
Director - Simon Wincer
In the 1993 film Free Willy and its two sequels, August Schellenberg plays Randolphe Johnson, a Haida Indian who teaches the hero Jesse a tribal song that helps the troubled product of multiple foster homes to communicate with the titular whale, teach it tricks and learn to love someone other than himself.
Medicine: A Haida prayer-song
Token Payment: Satisfaction in having helped

Director - William Clark
This little gem from 1995 features the iconic Russel Means as the ghost of Jim Thorpe helping young Craig overcome his parental hangups in order to achieve high-school football stardom. The film itself is something of a Karate Kid clone with the familiar training sequences and nasty rival sports star, in this case played by Jake Busey. Although the relationship is nominaly reciprocal, Means' Wa Tho Huck character is definitely a 'mysterious Native American elder' whose primary role is to help Greg before vanishing. Despite his historical foundations, the film character remains a wandering spirit.
An emerging trend in these films appears to be the white-boy's missing father figure whom the Medicine Man temporarily replaces until the boy can become a man on his own or, as in Windrunner, forgive/reunite with his own (or new, see Free Willy) father.
Medicine: Warrior spirit/confidence
Token Payment: A Superbowl ring (which he gives back of course) 

Band of the Hand
Director - Paul Michael Glaser
From the maker of Miami Vice comes this gorgeous time-capsule of mid 80's television and raw stereotype. Stephen Lang plays Joe Tegra, a Vietnam Veteran and member of the Miccosukee tribe of north Florida. When a group of young delinquents is dumped in his care in the Everglades, he trains them in survival and guerilla warfare before returning to Miami to confront the drug cartel. Joe himself doesn't appear mysteriously though he has zero back-story, but he is the recipient/teacher/savior of the five punks. Nor are the punk kids, recipients of his Medicine, exclusively white but they are all introduced via back-story.

Nevertheless, Joe still disappears from our narrative with nary a reward.
This begs the question, what if the Medicine Man doesn't use "Medicine" (i.e. indigenous 'magic' or 'sprituality') Joe for example, and McKenna and Wa Tho Huck all impart a warrior knowledge more in keeping with the legendary tracker/hunter icon of legend. Actually, Joe really epitomizes this with his 'Nam Vet guerilla stylings, demonstrating that regardless of the metaphysical quality of the gift, the Medicine man imparts secret knowledge in service of the protagonist. That the latter is not on the surface literally white is largely moot, Band of the Hand being a case in point. Our vigilante heroes fight (ethnic) criminal drug users in the service of (white) law and order, feeding a mythology of racist stereotypes in abject denial of real life drug use statistics. No matter, the Medicine Man can help save white culture writ-large from it's own cognitive dissonance. 
Medicine: Warrior spirit/confidence
Token Payment: Satisfaction in having "saved" the boys

And that, until the next update, is Bad Medicine. We'll post more as they hit the radar screens...

I highly recommend the excellent documentaries Imagining Indians and Reel Injun, both films by indigenous filmmakers about the cinematic portrayal of Indigenous Americans. The latter is presently streaming at Nitflex.
There is also a fantastic article on the total erasure of Indigenous peoples from Hollywood cinema (and USAmerican "history") at Tequila Sovereign.
By all means if you dear reader know of any film in which a Native medicine man or woman helps white people get over themselves, let me know, I want, no, NEED to catalogue it here. And finally, in case I haven't been clear enough; This project, whatever it amounts to, is not meant to disrespect or insult indigenous peoples. Its purpose is to point out white use of stereotypes and appropriation of native cultures in furthering our own agenda, that is as a project of expropriation and colonialism. This is intended as an anti-racist project.

14 December 2012

Star Slammer

a.k.a. Prison Ship
United States - 1988
Director - Fred Olen Ray
Vidmark Entertainment, 1988, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 26 minutes

12 December 2012


United States - 1983
Director - Howard Avedis
United American Video, 1991, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 35 minutes

How many times do you have to be told, nothing good ever happens at a mortuary.
Alas, this is another of those movies that sounded so promising but proved to be less than awesome. I must say I was thrilled to see wife-husband team of Christopher and Lynda-Day George again. It had been a while, probably since Day of the Animals or something. In a roundabout way the Georges were a little like an early version of Bronson-Ireland with a little less reknown.

Since this tape was such shit, I'll have to watch the DVD that was released this year.

10 December 2012

The Magic of Martial Arts

The Magic of Martial Arts
United States - 1995
Director Marsha Scabrough
Rainbow Tribe Productions, 1995, VHS
Run Time - 30 minutes

03 December 2012

Helter Skelter

United States - 1976
Director - Tom Gries
Key Video, 1985, VHS
Run Time -1 hour, 59 minutes
(cut by nearly an hour from its original TV length)

The time honored tradition of Hippy hating was born mere moments after its target. Twinned from the plaid-jacketed, buzz-cut mid-century Company Man, the Hippy was an ideal scapegoat for an isolationist generation. Representing social rebellion, the Hippy also promised an escape from that same stifling society. The Hippy was the repressed desire of a frightened culture. Having spilled itself from the television screens of the nation for nigh on a decade, Vietnam had poisoned the cultural pool and a populace addicted to the visceral lunacy of social breakdown was jonesing for their next fix of televisual carnage. Based on the bestselling book of the same title, this 1976 TV epic was perfect. Written as it was by Vincent Bugliosi, the attorney who prosecuted the case against Manson, Helter Skelter is an exemplary case of spectacular polarizing demonology.

First our competing protagonists, each inseparable from the other for each is a negative image of the other. The Tate/LaBianca victims constitute the America we admire and envy; rich, famous and beautiful socialites, as clean and untouchable as they are unattainable. They are essentially the American Dream promised. Contrast this with Manson and his “Family,” a pack of unwashed, filth encrusted, fatherless maniacs inspired by a group of drug-taking foreign musicians to do the unthinkable: literally and figuratively puncture the barrier between the dream and the nightmare. Manson was the leakage of sin (the fringe, poverty and non-conformity) into the blinding promise of salvation (the center, success, comfort.)

The irony is that, though the film is cloaked in the trappings of secularity and rational legal procedure as the machinations of justice move inexorably onward, the puritanical framework of the whole debacle can’t help but reveal itself with handwringing glee. Consisting of roughly two halves Helter Skelter first uses an appeal to visceral emotion to elicit an endorsement of the preeminence of judiciary law.

The crimes and their lead-up are presented in classic TV true-crime expose fashion complete with time signatures at the bottom of the screen and stern narration provided by that icon of objective justice, the prosecuting attorney. One of the great selling points of the movie was that it was filmed on location at the actual crime scene using actual pieces of evidence as props. Friends of the victims are shown weeping and vomiting at the sight of the dead bodies that litter the yard of the lavishly furnished home. The proximity of the holy artifacts, the imaginary irrational inspires in its audience (both TV and actors) a visceral reaction and a rapturous appeal to the logic of legal justice.

Yet in the second half of the film when it transitions to the trial (again recreated but ‘present tense’)  it is the very idea of justice elicited by the sin/crime that now demands the condemnation of emotion. The crushing normalcy of modern culture is what inspired Charlie and his cohort to ecstatic messianic prophesying. Now that the film has elicited our emotional endorsement of the rational, it uses that rationality to condemn ‘irrational’ emotion.

Ending with the threat of further spectacle, Helter Skelter reminds us that in just two years time (1978) Charlie, and by proxy his transgressive ‘vision’ would be up for parole. Listening to Charlie’s courtroom ranting as delivered by a young Steve Railsback one can’t shake the realization that he’s right, the culture that condemns him is the same one that created him. The world loves to hate a Hippy because s/he is a necessary illusion, a foil for our own normalcy.

Innumerable serial-killer and real-crime films and television programs have come since, but Helter Skelter was exceptional because it kicked down the gate. Hippys were the perfect scapegoat because like Commies, they were easily painted as outsiders, not because of what they were but for what they represented; opting out, rejection of the establishment. In that case Charlie Manson, at least insofar as Television was concerned, was the perfect Hippy. He transformed secular right and wrong into religious good and evil merging marketplace and mythology and making the Puritanical sin and atonement binary commercially palatable to a “secular” mass audience.

I found this flick on that sweet, sweet Key Video box above, but it is available on DVD. This cover is from DVD Covers.

 This VHS sleeve insert and the courtroom image above are on loan from Black Hole Reviews
Top image of George DiCenzo as Vincent Bugliosi and bottom image of shaven Charlie are from The Stuff You Gotta Watch