Friday, August 30, 2019

Strange Days in PA

This is my entry in the Alan Smithee Blogathon hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlogII

"Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh???!!  Are you serious, Quiggy?"

If you don't know me by now, that's what you're probably asking yourself.  Hell, even if you do know me, you may be asking that....

I thought it was high time to get back to the original intent of this blog, though.  That of highlighting the obscure, quirky or sometimes even downright insane movies that were the meat and potatoes of the drive-in movie theater in it's heyday.  Of course, this movie was made long after most drive-ins had been paved over to make way for condominiums, but it still has the essence of the themes intact.

Spoiler alert! of sorts.

There are no bloodsuckers in Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh.  There are no pharaohs in Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh.  It doesn't even take place in Pittsburgh... OK, so that part is not true.... it actually IS set in Pittsburgh...

This movie is one that requires more than just an "acquired taste".  (and if you know me, you know how much I dislike that phrase).  It requires a pretty jaded sense of movie style.  It was directed by Dean Tschetter who, after the snippers got through with the original cut, decided to use the Alan Smithee clause to credit the movie.

Alan Smithee, for those of you who don't know, is a legal loophole for directors.  It is used when the finished product is so far gone from the original, due to outside influences, that the director feels he has the right to remove his name from the credits.  After finishing watching the Smithee version, you may wonder just why it was deemed so far from the original.  It's pretty gory and bloody.  Well, apparently, Tschetter's version had way more blood and gore.

While not nearly as sick as, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Saw, or The Evil Dead, it is pretty bloody.  It has the added effect that humor is used throughout, although you may be so disgusted by the gore you may miss some of the funnier parts.  (Just for example:  During one scene where the cops are investigating a murder the background music becomes very intense and loud, until one of the cops yells "Turn that stuff down!" at which point one of the cops turns off the radio in his cruiser [the source of the background music] . At least it was funny to me...)

A short background.  I think this movie was "straight to video".  I know I never saw an ad for it and I avidly read the counterculture magazine "The Austin Chronicle" which usually had ads for any movie that is currently showing (even if they don't review it).  I originally rented it on VHS from Hastings when they acquired a copy.  I don't think its even available on DVD.  But you can watch it on YouTube if this review piques your interest...

Most of the actors you probably will have never heard of.  With the exception of Veronica Hart (credited as Jane Esther Hamilton here), who was a fairly prolific porn star, most of them only had a handful of credits outside this movie.  The only name that is likely to trigger a memory is Tom Savini, a makeup artist who has his name in the credits of such movies as Creepshow.

Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh (1991):

(Note:  I'll spare you any graphic pictures from the film.  You'll thank me later.)

Detectives Sweeney Birdwell (Jake Dengel) and Joe Blocker (Joe Sharkey) are called to the scene of a bizarre murder.

Sweeney and the rest of the the police ridicule Joe because he has a weak stomach and has to step aside and puke every time he sees one of the victims (part of the aforementioned humor).  The murders have a bizarre twist as each one involves removing certain body parts (brains, intestines, etc.)

Part of the background is that Joe was a former detective in Las Vegas where a similar series of bizarre murders occurred.  And we learn that Joe knew each one of the victims there.  Apparently he is also familiar with the victims in the current series occurring in Pittsburgh.

The Las Vegas murders ended when Joe's partner shot the culprit (multiple times, another sick, but funny scene).  The victims in Las Vegas and the ones in Pittsburgh are all hookers, which says something about Joe, who comes off as rather misogynistic, due to the fact that his wife left him for another man back in Vegas.

Clues abound in the fact that the serial killer keeps leaving messages in Egyptian hieroglyphics on the bodies of the victims.  So Joe and Sweeney end up going to investigate in "Egypt town" (is there really an "Egypt town" in Pittsburgh?  Your guess is as good as mine.  But it may be another factor in the humor aspect of the film.)

The daughter of Joe's former partner, Deedee (Susann Fletcher) shows up trying to discover what has happened to her disappearing father as well as to help the two bumbling detectives solve the current series of murders.  Although she is treated as an inferior (mainly because she is a woman, and a meter maid, at that...) it turns out she knows a hell of a lot about what happened in Las Vegas and sees the parallels in the events in Pittsburgh.

A side attraction (and one of the best humor points) is Sweeney's wife, Irma (Beverley Penberthy) as she tries to quit smoking.  She goes to an aversion therapy session where she views videos of people smoking in a building, which is subsequently demolished, and a plane, which subsequently crashes.  This is followed by a alternately a bunch of guys in gorilla costumes bursting in to the room and soaking her with hoses or a group of guys with shock rods shocking the crap out of her.

Eventually we get down to the meat (no pun intended) of the matter; who is actually responsible for the killings.  (It won't be who you think...)

I don't recommend this movie to anyone who may be a little skittish to the scenes of blood and gore.  And it's not really all that great a movie even if you like this sort of stuff.  But it is a diversion from the typical fare I have been reviewing of late, and I certainly want to thank Steve for being so accommodating as to let me include it in his blogathon.

Drive safely, folks.


Monday, August 26, 2019

Hypnotic Pipes

This is my entry in the Van Johnson Blogathon hosted by Love letters to Old Hollywood

Van Johnson could act.  (I particularly liked his acting in such war movie classics like Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Battleground, Go For Broke! and The Caine Mutiny, but he had a distinguished career as a leading ladies man, too.)

Van Johnson could sing.   (As The Minstrel, one of the nemeses of the 60's Batman, he doesn't get too much singing time, but Brigadoon features some singing, as well as a few others that I haven't seen.)

Van Johnson could dance.  (Hell, he started out his career in the chorus line, and anybody whou could keep up with Gene Kelly deserves some praise.)

Van Johnson (probably) couldn't play the flute, however.  Wikipedia says the flute playing he did in The Pied Piper of Hamelin was dubbed.  But that shouldn't be counted against him.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin was a made-for-TV film from 1957 which starred Van Johnson in a dual role; as Truson, a native of Hamelin, and as the Pied Piper himself (although "pied" is kind of a misnomer.  You see, "pied" means multi-colored, but the Van Johnson piper is only wearing red and yellow.  Not exacly "Multi" colored.)

The story follows the plot of the original fairy tale with some added plot devices to help flesh out the stoty, and is rather well done from a 50's standpoint.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957):

In Hamelin, the whole town is striving to get a special tower and clock completed in time for the arrival of the King's emissary.  The are in competition with every town in the country to win the banner for best improvement (or at least something of that nature)

To this extent the Mayor (Claude Rains) and his council outlaw school, play and general fun for the kids in an effort to get them to help build the clock tower in time for the eminent arrival of the King's emissary.  The thorn in the Mayor's side is a rival town, Hamelout (HamelIN, HamelOUT, *groan* the writers don't get any points from me for originality and creativity...).

Truson (Van Johnson), the town's schoolteacher objects to the Mayor's hard hearted handling of the production, but his pleas fall on deaf ears.  The Mayor is determined to beat his rival of Hamelout in having the best display for the banner.

The Mayor's daughter, Mara (Lori Nelson) agrees with Truson.  She and Truson are also in love, but the Mayor has other designs for his daughter (namely to get her wed to the King's emissary, which since he hasn't shown yet, and thus unseen, is only a ploy by the Mayor to get more prestige for himself and his town.

Fate lends a hand when Hamelout is devastated by flooding.  But Hamelout's woes also become Hamelin's woes as all the rats that previously had their homestead in Hamelout migrate to hamelin and make a grubstake their instead.  The people are outraged and demand that the Mayor do something about the influx of rats.

To the rescue comes the mysterious figure of the Pied Piper.  He tells the council that he can get rid of the rats with his magical flute, but he demands basically every red cent in the city's coffers for the job.  Eventually the Mayor reluctantly agrees, fully expecting the job to not be a success and therefore he won't have to pay.  but the Piper is true to his word and leads all the rats to drown in the river.

Of course, if you are familiar with the fairy tale (and who isn't, I wonder), the Mayor reneges on his deal.  Truson, of course, insists that the mayor pay up, but he is jailed as a traitor for his efforts.  And the pier goes off, swearing revenge.  Which happens that very night as he leads off the children of Hamelin with his flute into a cavern in the nearby mountain.  A cavern that seals off behind them and no amount of artillery can seem to break through.

Of course, since this is 50's TV and not Grimm's fairy tales (which actually ends with the children NEVER returning), all things come to an end and everybody lives happily ever after.

Drive safely, folks.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Blue Meanies

This is my entry in the Vive la France! Blogathon hosted by Silver Screen Modes and Lady Eve's Reel Life

When the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, things turned topsy-turvy.  A film that was being made at the time, Fantastic Planet, had to relocate its production to France.  The themes of social unrest, racial prejudice, oppression and genocide, you see, were not very well received by the Czechs' new masters.

But the French were sympathetic to the themes and production went in to making the film in Paris.  Rene' Laloux, the French director and animator, worked in conjunction Roland Topor, a French animation artist to bring the novel by French science fiction writer Stefan Wul to bring the story to the screen of a race of blue-skinned aliens, called Draags, and their relationship to tiny humans, the Oms (a variation of the French word for human, "homme"). 

The Draags consider the Oms to be nothing more than pets.  Apparently at some point in the past Draags had brought Oms to Ygam, the Draag world, unaware that even though they had a lifespan that was much shorter than the average Draag, they were also quite a bit more active in the rocreation category.  This leads to a relative infestation of Oms on the planet.

The Draags spend most of their time in meditation.  Which is revealed later to be instrumental in their own form of procreation.  But they also seem to resent the prevalence of Oms and have a cycle in their year in which they wipe out much of the Om population (much like we do with roaches).  The political and social themes of Fantastic Planet hinge on the fact that the Oms just want to live but find themselves at odds with the Draag population.

The film won a special prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival.   It made the top 50 of the greatest animated films in an article by Rolling Stone.

Fantastic Planet La planete sauvage (1973):

Several young Draags torture a female Om and her young baby and end up killing her.  Just at that point Tiwa and her father Master Sinh, one of the leaders of the government happen to come by and the young Draags run off.  Tiwa sees the young baby Om and pleads with her father to let her keep him as a pet.  He agrees, but only if she collars the thing so it can be controlled.

As the young Om, whom she names "Terr" ( a variation of the French word for "Earth"), grows up, she ends up brining him along for her lessons in school.  A short circuit in Terr's collar ends up with him learning the same things she is learning, thus becoming just as educated.

When Tiwa begins to lose interest in her "pet" as he grows older, eventually Terr decides to run away, taking with him the headband Tiwa uses to learn her lessons.  he eventually meets up with a band of renegade Oms, and using the headband educates his newfound tribe of Oms.

When Terr and his band learn of the proposed mass extermination of Oms by the Draags, he attempts to lead them to safety.  They find temporary safety at an abandoned rocket factory, where they make plans to leave Ygam and go the one of the moons of the planet, appropriately named "The Fantastic Planet".

But the Draags discover their new place and continue their genocide at the rocket factory.  Terr and some of the Oms eventually do escape and make it to the Fantastic Planet where they discover the truth behind the Draags' obsession with meditation.

Despite this being a cartoon, it is not really anything that would be appropriate for youngsters.  It is truly an adult cartoon.  The political themes alone make it tough for family viewing.  What director Laloux refers to as "schizophrenic cinema" is definitely only for a rather limited viewing audience, and the themes may leave you a bit shattered.  But it is entertaining in it's own right.  Fortunately a version exists in which it was dubbed in English, making it easier on those of us whose French is limited to "haute cuisine" and a few other food related French terms.  (featuring the voices, among others, of Barry Bostwick, Hal "Otis Campbell" Smith and Marvin "Robby the Robot" Miller).

Drive safely, folks.


Friday, August 23, 2019

A Nightmare in Oz

This is my entry in The Wizard of Oz Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room

When I was a kid growing back in the 60's and 70's, there were only the three major networks; NBC, ABC and CBS, not including any number of UHF stations which were independently owned.  We didn't have cable in those dark prehistoric days, kiddies,  so unless the weather was just right, we only had 3 stations to choose from for our nightly entertainment.

Beginning in 1956 (5 years before I was even on the face of the Earth), stations started showing the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz, and it quickly became an annual tradition.  Once a year one of the major networks would replace their regular programming that night with the movie.  In my vague memory I want to say it was the day after Thanksgiving, but that is probably wrong, since that would have meant substituting the film for potential ratings for the newest season of their regular shows.

More than likely it was during the summer, when reruns of their regular shows would not have been inhibited by the substitution.  But then again,  a wikipedia article on the subject says it was put in place of a regular TV movie slot on those networks, aired instead of, say, The Night They Raided Minsky's or In the Heat of the Night, (both of which I recall seeing when they made it to TV.)

My sister and I would watch it almost every year when we were growing up.  I don't know whether either of us understood it when we were 6 and 7, but as the years went on we began to appreciate it.

I do recall a very early viewing in particular.  This must have been in the late 60's because I recall my sister and I shared the same bedroom at the time, and I moved from there to my own bedroom (a converted porch) about 1968-69, the same year I started grade school.  I do remember that I was still in the same bedroom with my sister at the time, even if I can't recall the exact year.

We had watched The Wizard of Oz that night.  (Was it our first time?  I think it just might have been.).  We went to bed that night with visions of dancing munchkins.  Or my sister did.  I apparently went to bed with visions of flying monkeys.

I woke up in the middle of the night convinced that the flying monkeys were out to get me.  I screamed for my mother in near tears from the nightmare that had awoken me.  Why I didn't fear the wicked witch being out to get me is beyond me, but I guess she wasn't all that scary, even at 6 or 7 years old.  But those flying monkeys were real and they scared the shit out of me that night.

Needless to say, I never went Halloween trick-or-treating as a flying monkey.  Hell, I wouldn't even go to a costume party today as one.

Even today, those damn things still give me the willies (although I never had another nightmare about them.)  It gives me great relief, however, to know that I am not alone in my trepidation about airborne chimpanzees.

That such a thing has such a widespread effect on people is a tribute to the makers of the film.  I'm pretty cold-blooded, hardhearted and cynical in real life.  I've seen hundreds of horror movies over the years.  Not one single damn one of them has ever freaked me out.  I could almost laugh at Freddie Krueger, and the zombies in Night of the Living Dead remind me of nothing so much as a few of the drunken friends I saw at parties I've attended.  But those chimps can make me feel wary even at 57.

Maybe I'll sleep good tonight.   And, then again,  maybe I won't.


Friday, August 16, 2019

Horndogs from Outer Space

This is my entry in the Jeff Goldblum Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews and Emma K Wall Explains it All

Imagine if you will a film with Jeff Goldblum as an outsider trying to cope with the changes in his life.

Imagine Geena Davis as a woman who is struggling with feelings for the outsider.

Imagine the two developing a relationship, despite the significant differences between the human Davis and the "not-so-human" Goldblum.

No, it's not the David Cronenberg adaptation of The Fly.  It's a piece of late 80's fluff called Earth Girls are Easy.  Featuring Goldblum as well as early appearances by Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans as aliens who end up crash landing in Valley girl Davis' swimming pool.  And a story, not entirely uncommon, of the aliens trying to adapt to the "strange new world" that they find themselves in.

It also stars Julie Brown, the iconic singer of such Dr. Demento type songs as "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun" and the song that inspired this movie "Earth Girls are Easy".

Earth Girls are Easy (1988):

Mac (Jeff Golblum), Wiploc (Jim Carrey) and Zeebo (Damon Wayans), a trio of furry aliens (who look like they are wearing carpets for clothes, but it's their fur) are traveling through space when the ineptness of Wiploc and Zeebo cause the ship they are on to crash land in the swimming pool of Valerie (Geena Davis).

(L-R: Valerie, Mac, Wiploc and Zeebo)

Of course, the main reason that the three crash is because they are suffering from that stigma that affects all males, apparently even aliens, from time to time...they are horny.  And attracted to the strange but extremely attractive hairless girls they have seen on the scope in their ship.  So the crash may not be entirely an accident.

Valerie, for her part, is having a difficult time with her fiance.  Dr. Ted (Charles Rocket) is committed to the impending marriage with Valerie, but he is also prone to having flings on the side with attractive nurses.  And when Ted comes home thinking he will be alone with his new conquest of the moment, he finds Valerie and she discovers his infidelity and kicks him out.

Meanwhile the rocket ship from space crash lands.  In her pool.  And out come the blue furred Mac, red-furred Wiploc and yellow-furred Zeebo.  Valerie initially freaks out, but she is very adaptable, apparently, because she gets over it rather quickly.  She invites them into her apartment where they begin to learn English (by watching TV, no less.)

She takes the three to her job as a hairdresser where she convinces her friend and fellow hairdresser Candy (Julie Brown) to shave the three and make them look normal.  And what a job she does of it.  At least they "look" normal.  But their adaptability to life on Earth may be a bit more complicated.  First, their initial learning of the English language comes from watching TV.  Which leads to some hilarious moments, especially when Candy and Valerie take them to the local dance club.

Eventually, Valerie's on and off relationship with Dr. Ted leads her to be a bit sullen and it's Mac to the rescue.  He consoles her (in more ways than one) and she finds herself becoming more attracted to him.

Chaos ensues when Zeebo and Wiploc inadvertently rob a convenience store and try to escape driving a car (which of course they have no idea how to operate, but since they were responsible for crashing the spaceship, too, it's not surprising...) 

All of this leads to them being brought to the emergency room where Dr Ted, who thinks they are really a rock band that Valerie is flirting with on the side, decides to examine them and discovers, lo and behold, they aren't exactly "human".

Two things about this movie come up as a little strange.  First, about 15 minutes into the movie I found out something I didn't know before committing to reviewing it.  It suddenly turns into a musical!  (OK, so Julie Brown's presence and credit for writing it should have been a clue, but I'm not always quick on the draw...) 

It wasn't the first science-fiction musical to ever come down the pike.  That credit (probably) goes to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The second thing is, when I tried to find this movie on Amazon, one of the options was as one of the films in a multi-pack of horror movies.  Note:  there is almost no horror in this film, unless you count the bizarre nightmare Valerie has after spending an evening in the sack with Mac.

The musical aspect didn't put a damper on the shindig for me.  The songs aren't entirely memorable, but they had a feel of the late 80's pop culture, something I still like, so it wasn't entirely bad.  The goofiness of the movie is endearing, and maybe if it had had nobodies as stars it might have been annoying.  But Carrey and Wayans work together great.  (If you liked In Living Color, you'll probably like this film, too.)

The movie also features Michael McKean as a ditzy surfer dude.  Gotta tell you.  I saw his name in the opening credits, but I had to watch the closing credits to see which character he played.

Well, folks, the Plymouth rocket ship is finally repaired.  Time to head back to my home planet.  Drive safely, folks.


Thursday, August 8, 2019

Murder is a Joke

Neil Simon was pretty much box office gold in his heyday of the seventies.  A playwright by trade, of course, but many of his Broadway productions eventually made their way to the big screen, including such fondly remembered films like The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys, Barefoot in the Park,  and The Goodbye Girl.

We lost Neil Simon in August of last year, but he left a legacy that will be forever remembered.  Quotes that appear in such diverse mediums as TV (Seinfeld for one), books and even comic strips pay tribute to Simon's wit.

In 1976, Simon tried his hand at parody with the screenplay Murder by Death, a pastiche of the typical locked room murders from the golden age of mystery fiction, which included parodies of well known fictional detectives.  As Simon stated in an interview, he had to write it for film as opposed to stage because many of the cinematic tricks needed to pull it off would have been impossible on stage (including the disappearing room scenes).

Robert Moore was his co-conspirator in bringing the movie to the screen.  Moore only had a handful of credits to his name on screen before his passing in 1984, but he was a prolific Broadway stage director, winning several Tony Awards, including one for Deathtrap.  He was also the director of the stage version of one of the first plays to treat gay characters in a more sympathetic light, The Boys in the Band.

The all star cast that Simon and Moore tapped into for Murder by Death included David Niven, Peter Falk, Eileen Brennan, James Coco, Maggie Smith, Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. 

Murder by Death (1976):

A rich and eccentric millionaire, Lionel Twain (Truman Capote) sends an invitation to "dinner and a murder" to the most preeminent detectives in the world.  Each detective arrives a Twain's mansion with an associate to discover what is really going on, their curiosity peaked by the unusual invite.

The detectives, which are caricatures of classic fictional characters consist of Inspector Wang (Peter Sellers, doing an imitation of Charlie Chan) along with his #1 "adopted" Japanese son,  (Richard Narita),

Dick and Dora Charleston (David Niven and Maggie Smith, playing on the Nick and Nora Charles characters from "The Thin Man"),

Milo Perrier (James Coco, doing his best to essay a Hercule Poirot character) along with his French chauffeur, Marcel (James Cromwell),

Miss Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester, who is playing a Miss Jane Marples type) with her nurse Miss Withers (Estelle Winwood)

and Sam Diamond (Peter Falk, doing a bravura performance as a Sam Spade private eye, a la Humphrey Bogart) with his secretary Tess (Eileen Brennan).

The comic aspect of this film never lets up as Simon throws every cliche in the book at you.  As well as some play on phrases.  (The address of the mansion is "22 Twain".  Choo Choo Train in case you are slow on the uptake...)

After navigating a rickety bridge and barely escaping falling gargoyles from the top of the mansion above the door, the 10 detectives arrive to debate just what the hell Twain is up to with his shenanigans.  They are greeted by the butler, Jamessir Bensonmum (Alec Guinness), possibly the funniest character in the movie (and that's saying something, considering the all-star cast...).  Bensonmum is blind and some of the funniest scenes occur as a result of his not being able to see.  (Politically correct this movie is not.)  Additionally on the scene is a newly arrived cook, Yetta (Nancy Walker), who is deaf and mute.  The exchanges between Bensonmum and Yetta are particularly funny, if you aren't sensitive to the politically incorrect treatment of the handicapped.

Eventually Twain shows up to the dinner party and announces that he has brought them all together because he wants to prove that they are NOT the world's most premier detectives and that instead he, Twain, is.  He announces that there will be a murder at midnight and that he will give a million dollars to the one detective who can solve the crime.

Thus begins a comedy of epic proportions as nothing is ever what it appears to be.  You have locked rooms, disappearing rooms, vanishing bodies, vanishing CLOTHES, and the essential one-upmanship that is bound to occur when a group of self-satisfied experts compete with one another to win a prize and the prestige of solving the "unsolvable" murder.

All of the actors on hand seem to be enjoying themselves immensely (although it is on record that afterwards Guinness thought the movie would be a dud.  He was wrong.  It was both a critical and financial success.)  As hinted at earlier, I think Falk pulls of the Sam Spade parody the best. He went own to work with Simon and director Moore to make The Cheap Detective, in which he played basically the same character (albeit with a different name.)  Sellers, as usual, is the essence of wit as he manages to essay a damn good imitation of the movie version of Charlie Chan.  Of the additional characters, i think only Lanchester's Miss Marbles suffers, mostly from lack of enough screen time I'm sure.  She is upstaged in almost every scene by either Sellers or Falk or even Coco in his Poirot mode.

Be sure to hang on for the final denouement.  Remember what I said about nothing being what it seems?  You won't expect the final reel, no matter how bizarre your sense of comedy is.

Well, folks, time to see if this old Plymouth is up to the trek home.  Fortunately there are no rickety bridges to cross.  Drive safely, folks.