Saturday, October 31, 2020

Teenage Hormones in Hyperdrive

This is my entry in the Spooky Classic Movie Blogathon hosted by K N Winiarski Writes

"Holy crap, Little Joe!  Get  a grip!"

"My God!  Pa! What are you doing with that girl?"

"Jonathan, I think we need to talk...

(NOT quoted from Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven...)

Whether you were a fan of Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie or Highway to Heaven it's a sure bet you never saw Michael Landon get more than just a little out of sorts.  The crystal clean image we have today, for those of us who remember him, is that Michael was an inspirational character in his three notable television series.  One of his nicknames according to IMDb was "the Jesus of Malibu".  Let's face it, when those of us of a certain age think of family values as presented in Hollywood, most of us likely to picture Michael Landon.

So it probably will come as a shocking surprise that Landon got his big break in Hollywood as an angst ridden teenager in a low budget horror flick called I Was a Teenage Werewolf.   Or maybe it won't be a surprise... after all he was born on Halloween...  (I bet I caught you off guard there...  That's right.  If he were still with us, Michael would be celebrating his 84th birthday today.  OK, I didn't know it either until just now...)  But his start in Hollywood got kicked off in high gear when he was cast as the lead in that movie.

So many people got their start in the most unlikely of places (just check out some of the big names of today who had to start their careers in low budget soft core porn...)  Landon got his playing in what, in retrospect, may seem to be an odd character choice.  Certainly it would if he had played him after we had gotten used to the type of characters he played in later years.





So happy birthday to Michael in the hereafter.  This wasn't intended to be a birthday tribute, but it is now.

I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957):

Tony (Michael Landon) is a typical young lad.  Well typical except he seems to get into a lot of fights.  And he has a hair-trigger temper.  Pop a balloon behind him and you'll likely get your block knocked off for the effort.  But besides that he is a good kid at heart.

At least he is until the grownups decide he needs to do something about his temper.  And what do most of them suggest?  Therapy.  Good old Dr. Brandon (Whit Bissell) over at the local aircraft plant supposedly can do miracles with hypnotism (hypnotherapy).

But Tony is wary of hypnosis.  After all, when you are hypnotized, they can make you do things that you really don't want to do.  You know, like jump around like a bunny rabbit, or make a fool of yourself in front of others, or even, ye gods! like, buckle down and become a good student.

But shortly after wailing on  good friend for an innocent prank at a party, Tony decides to go and see the good doctor.  Except the "good" doctor is not so good as he seems.  He gets the idea to use Tony s a guinea pig for his new theory in trying to get man to regress to his more primitive instincts.

Using a secret serum, Dr. Brandon gives Tony some gentle subconscious suggestions that ultimately turns him into a werewolf.  Talk about baser primitive instincts!  And one of the things that really sets him off (aside of his temper) is seeing a girl work out in her gymnastics outfit.   That's a pretty base primitive instinct.

When Tony realizes what is happening to him, he goes back to Dr. Brandon to try to work things out, but Brandon dismisses his fears and puts him through the therapy session again.  By now the whole town is on the lookout for Tony.  Because they recognize the outfit the werewolf wears is the same as the one Tony wears.  (I guess no one else has ever seen anyone but Tony dressed in a letterman's  jacket and jeans...)

The man hunt is on for Tony after he kills a couple of people and the story is bound to not arrive at a happy ending.  But it does leave us with one lesson learned: man shouldn't interfere with the realm of God.  (Not to mention don't trust a psychiatrist who has his own personal laboratory in the back room). 


That's it from the back seat.  Drive home safely folks.





Saturday, October 24, 2020

The 5th Anniversary of "The Midnite Drive-In"

Dateline:  Oct. 24, 2015.  The Midnite Drive-In, a somewhat part-time blog with no sense of purpose had been idle for 6 years.  Then in 2015 I discovered the inspiration that triggered a now 5 year journey to recreate the blog.  What was the inspiration?  Blogathons!  If you have been a regular reader over those 5 years you will have noticed that many of the entries were inspired by blogathons.  I am much better at writing when shoe-horned into a concept rather than just winging it.

You won't find those earlier entries in the first iteration of The Midnite Drive-In.  I erased them all.  They were pretty bad.  My initial attempt was to mimic my movie review idol, Joe Bob Briggs.  I even copied his style of injecting a fictional bunch of malcontents to hang out with.  But I lost interest, probably because I really didn't think the homage was any good.  It's best to leave those entries in the internet grave.

Joe Bob was better at it anyway.  The writer, whose real name was John Bloom, worked for years as a drive-in movie critic for The Dallas Times Herald, and his work has been collected in two books, Joe Bob Briggs Goes to the Drive-In and Joe Bob Briggs Goes Back to the Drive-In.  If you are interested in what originally inspired me to try this gig, check them out.  I have both, but since they seem to be OOP, you may have to haunt used book stores to find them.  (And, no, you can't borrow mine...:-D)

I retained some of the humor that I had tried to inject in the original entries, but I opted for some more real, personal  background to the experiences I've had watching these movies rather than with some fictional friends.  As a result, I am still interested in doing this blog, and 5 years is a milestone.  (The original Midnite Drive-In only lasted about a year, if I recall...)

So here's the deal.  I had to find movies that meant a lot to me to celebrate this anniversary.  I've been doing a lot of standard fare over the years, but the original intent, highlighting the drive-in experience, has been shoved to the side way too often.  So for this 5th anniversary I selected two movies which, although I didn't actually get to see them on a drive-in screen, exhibit much of the same themes that made the drive-in experience so great in it's heyday.  To wit:  two films about aliens, nuclear disasters and giant monsters.  Both of these movies may never have been paired at a drive-in theater, but man, what I wouldn't give to experience both as a double feature in that atmosphere... preferably with a date by my side.  (Note:  According to wikipedia, the original screenings had The Amazing Colossal Man paired with Cat Girl, and Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman  was released with War of the Satellites.  But that doesn't mean it has never been shown as a double feature in later years.  I would do it if my dream of opening a classic drive-in were to come to fruition.)

The Amazing Colossal Man (1957):

Col. Glenn Manning (Glenn Langan) and a group of soldiers are preparing for an exercise to advance into the nuclear zone after the aftershocks of the detonation of a plutonium bomb.  (In those prehistorical days right after the development of bombs, this was a standard exercise.  For more interesting looks at attitudes towards atomic bombs in those days, I highly recommend a documentary called The Atomic Cafe, which is just a collection of newsreels and educational films from the era.  It gives you some insight into the ignorance (or chutzpah) of the government's attitudes towards nuclear power.)

Anyway, Manning and crew are waiting, but something goes wrong.  The bomb does not detonate on time.  Meanwhile an unidentified and unauthorized airplane enters the forbidden zone and crashes.  Manning, against orders, tries to go to the rescue of the pilot, but while out of his bunker, the bomb does go off, and Manning is hit with full force of the blast of plutonium.  (Quite a bit more plutonium than it would take to send a modified DeLorean into the past, to be sure).

Amazingly, Manning survives the blast.  But the result of it is that he grows, day by day to astounding proportions.  And the result also affects his mind as he becomes rapidly resentful of what nature has inflicted upon him.

As Manning continues to grow, the doctors behind the scenes look for a way to return him to his normal state.  One of them succeeds in developing a serum which, when used on an elephant and a camel, reduce their size so that they fit in a cage on the tabletop of the laboratory.  So it seems that maybe they might just be able to help manning return to his normal size.


But time may be running out for the doctors.  As Manning's mind continues to deteriorate he escapes the confines of his place on the base and goes on a rampage, tearing through the desert and winding up in Las Vegas, where he proceeds to destroy Sin City.  (The casinos must've denied him credit.  After all, where would a 100 ft. giant get a viable way to earn money?)



 Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman (1958):

A rich heiress, Nancy Archer (Allison Hayes), is married to a rather emotional vacuous man, Harry (William Hudson).  Nancy is portrayed as having alcoholic tendencies and has spent some time in an institution prior to the start of this movie.  But she is out right now and travelling down a desert highway when she runs into a round satellite.

From the sitellite emerges a giant hand (that's all we see at this point) and she runs screaming back in to town to tell the news.  Of course, no one believes her, since of course everyone knows she is an alcoholic and a former mental patient.  Harry, more concerned with making time with a local chippie Honey (Yvette Vickers) is oblivious to her rantings.  The sheriff and his deputies are equally unsympathetic.

Nancy is in a love/hate relationship with Harry.  Although she despises his philandering ways she still wants him to love her.  And manages to convince him to go looking for the satellite.  But when they finally find it and a giant alien  (Michael Ross, who also was cast as Tony the bartender) emerges from it, Harry empties his gun at it and runs off, abandoning Nancy to the alien.

The authorities, as well as Nancy's butler, Jess (Ken Terrell) suspect foul play.  It doesn't help that everyone in town knows that Harry has been fooling around.  But the sheriff and his deputy run across the satellite and it's inhabitant, also discovering that the alien has commandeered Nancy's diamond necklace.  (It is suggested that the alien needs the diamond to somehow power his ship, but it isn't explained how that's possible).

As a result of contact with the alien, Nancy grows to tremendous size (eventually.  It takes almost the entire movie for this to happen).  She breaks free from her restraints and goes on her own rampage like Col. Manning from the previous entry.  But she has a goal in mind.  She's seeking out her philandering husband.

The quality of the graphics in both movies is pretty shoddy.  Because the trick of making the people look like they are of monstrous size, apparently the trick was to superimpose the image of a normal sized person against a backdrop of a significantly reduced town.  This has the effect of making the giants look somewhat transparent.  (You can sometimes see trough the giant to the background behind them.)  I understand this was in the primitive days of special effects, but it still looks a bit ridiculous sometimes.  But the story is interesting enough to hold interest.

Drive safely foks.  And keep an eye out for 50 ft people.  They may be more dangerous than they look.


Saturday, October 17, 2020

Romance in the Ranchos





This is my entry in the Jean Arthur Blogathon hosted by  The Wonderful World of Cinema




 A Lady Takes a Chance (1943):

So the movie begins with a rather fairy-tale-ish opening crawl:


Once upon a time.

It was so long ago that people drove sixty miles an hour {horrors!} And skidded their tires {I imagine so...} And ate big gobs of butter (no wonder they drove so fast and skidded tires!} And drank three cups of coffee all at once {ditto} And there were more fellows around than there were girls { yeesh!}  And everybody was having a good time without knowing it (well, maybe the girls...} That's when our story happened.  Away back then in 1938. And here's hoping that "once upon a time" goes on again some quick tomorrow (that last was an added reference to the then ongoing WWII.  This being a 1943 movie}

 First a comment.  The movie starts out with our heroine Molly (Jean Arthur) beginning a vacation on a 14 day trip across the United States on a tour bus.  I don't know if you've ever had the "pleasure" of riding a bus cross country but at least in the late '80's it was no "tour".  I once rode from south Texas to Washington D.C.  It was the worst time of my life (even though the destination was pleasurable).  It took 64 hours, including the interminable exchanges and I bet I got all of 2 hours sleep.  And here she is taking a 14 day round trip.  And apparently they were expected to sleep on the bus!

Anyway, apparently Molly is a popular girl.  She has three, count 'em three beaus show up to see her off.  All of them are anxious to have her return and maybe break down and finally be a wife.  Malcolm (Grady Sutton), Bob (Grant Withers) and Gregg (Hans Conreid) all try to one-up the other with going away presents and goodbye kisses, much to the astonishment of her ailse mate Flossie (Mary Field) who wonders why she is going away in the first place with such exhibits of manliness waiting.

The first few days are filled with the excitement of picture taking as well as the obviously uncomfortable rigors of trying to find comfortable sleeping positions on a bus.  But when she gets to the west all things go the way these romantic comedies go.  While at a rodeo she has rodeo star Duke (John Wayne) fall head over heels for her (literally, he flies off his bucking horse and lands on top of her).  With such mild first encounters blossoms love.  At least it does for Molly.  Duke, on the other hand, is just being courteous by showing her a good time, unaware of the effect he is having on her.

Eventually Duke makes the wrong move on Molly and she becomes disgusted with him.  Especially after she finds out his watch is broken and she has missed catching up with her tour bus.  Stranded she has to stay the night, but when Duke tries to take a few liberties she is offended and dismisses him.  Unfortunately she also dismisses her opportunity to tag along to the next rodeo where the tour bus will be making a stop after it starts on its return journey to New York.

Molly's on and off again infatuation with Duke causes several problems along the way, including her causing poor Duke's prized horse to become sick.  Of course it all works out in the end for the horse (it is a romantic comedy, after all) but will things work out between Molly and Duke?  Ah, there's the real question.

I have to admit this is not one of the better John Wayne movies.  He;s a bumbling fool, nothing like the he-man idol that attracted me to his movies.  I have never seen Jean Arthur before (at least not that I can recall).  But she comports herself well in the role of the lovesick female.  I guess it all depends on what your opinion of this type of movie is.  Myself I've never really been a fan of romantic comedies.

But all in all, I guess its not really all that bad.  The comedy relief supplied by Charles Winninger as Duke's sidekick Waco, as well as a brief appearance by Phil Silvers as a tour bus emcee are pretty good.  And other than the bad memories sparked by those scenes on the tour bus, I enjoyed myself.

Well folks I'm headed back to the old homestead (fortunately in my car..)  Drive safely.



Sunday, September 27, 2020

KISS in the Dark


"Check it out, man. The question you gotta ask yourself is how badly do you wanna see the greatest f*****g rock and roll show on the f*****g Earth, right? We're talking about Gene and Paul live, dog! I'm talking about the most voluptuous women hanging out in the audience. I'm talking big breasteses, and tight vesteses, my friend! You're talking people passing around joints in the audience. You're talking about f*****g Detroit Rock City, brother.  "  -Detroit Rock City


 When I was growing up there were plenty of rockers in my school.  Although I was raised on country music and grew up listening to Willie and Waylon and the boys, I was aware of the existence of both pop and rock music.  I admit that early on I had some apprehension for some of the more hard core stuff.  You have to remember I was raised in an evangelical church which preached that most of the music of the world was the spawn of the Devil.

One of my earliest recollections of experiencing rock music was hanging out with some seniors when I was a freshman.  The guy whose car we were in had a collection of sme serious hard core tapes of bands like AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Kiss.  Much to my surprise I wasn't possessed by the Devil after hearing this stuff.  And I realized that the style and tempo of the music was to my liking.  I never became a serious headbanger like you see in some films and music videos, but I could rock out with the best of them.

As far as Kiss was concerned, I learned that glam rock was just another variation of the same type of music that some others used.  The members just used makeup as a gimmick.  It is a false rumor that the letters of KISS stand for "Knights In Satan's Service".  The name was actually just a response to a statement made by one of the band members.  Peter Criss commented that he had been in a band called "Lips" so Paul Stanley suggested they call their band "Kiss".  (BTW the band had formerly been known as "Wicked Lester" before Criss joined the band)


For a brief period, the band abandoned the makeup gimmick and just produced albums without makeup.  But their prominent years involved the personas they created   They played under their real (or in some cases, assumed) names of Paul Stanley (born Stanley Eisen), Gene Simmons (born Chaim Witz), Ace Frehley (born Paul Frehley) and Peter Criss (Peter Criscuola).  But they also had names for their personas in makeup (Stanley: "Starchild", Simmons: "The Demon", Frehley: "The Spaceman" and Criss: "Catman")















 Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park: (1978)

By 1978, Kiss had such a following that they were even granted their own TV movie special.  Airing just before Halloween in 1978 (fitting, dontcha think?) the movie was panned by critics and fans alike.  The band famously forbid anyone in their crew to even mention the movie in their presence.  And, in retrospect, it is pretty ridiculous.  The producers seemed to not know what they had.  The Kiss characters come off looking like cheap knockoffs of the3 worst comic book superheroes, and the acting is substandard even with Anthony Zerbe, who probably should have known better.


The script sounds like it was written by amateurs.   The comments from some of the members of the band are instructive.  Gene Simmons has said that it is "a classic movie... classic if you're on drugs."  I compare it to the "Star Wars Holiday Special" (which coincidentally aired just a few weeks later in 1978...), just another desperate 70's attempt to cater to the whims of the teenage viewing audience who weren't watching much TV in the first place.

None of the members of Kiss can act worth a damn (at this point, although Gene Simmons has proven himself capable in a few later endeavors.)  BTW, is it just me or does Ace Frehley sound like Curly from the Three Stooges?

So what's the plot?  (Plot?  Are you serious?)  Anthony Zerbe plays Abner Devereaux, a genius who has devised much of the animatronic attractions for a theme park.  But because the bottom line is getting the theme park to make money and much of the funds are being drawn on by Devereaux to finance his increasingly expensive new ideas, he is given the ax by the management, in particular the head of operations, Calvin Richards (Carmine Caridi).


Of course, Devereaux is put into the mold as a mad scientist whose goal is to make them all pay for his troubles.  The thing is, Devereaux has the ability to turn actual humans into robots.  As well as create his own robots.  And he plans to use them all for his nefarious purposes.


Devereaux's big complaint is the scheduled performance of the band Kiss as a major attraction to opening day.  Devereaux doesn't like rock and roll.  (I bet he is still miffed that classical music has gone out of style.)  So he plans, among other things, to create robotic versions of Kiss, kidnap the real band, and substitute the robots for them.  With the robots thus in place, he will proceed to have them trash the park and incite a riot, thus shutting down the park.


The superhero aspect comes into play when it is revealed that each of the members of the band have their super powers given to them by a set of ancient talismans.  When Devereaux has one of his human/robot henchmen steal the talismans from their dressing room, he is able to neutralize them and kidnap them.


Of course, good will always in out in the end in these kinds of movies.  The trouble is getting to that end.  Trust me when I say, if you're not laughing at the ineptness of the plot, you are probably wondering how this thing ever escaped from the drawing room in the first place.  





Detroit Rock City: (1999)


The time is 1978.  Four would be rock and rollers who have formed their own Kiss tribute band (called "Mystery") anxiously are awaiting the upcoming concert of Kiss coming to their home stadium.  They have tickets on hand.  Unfortunately, the tickets are in the possession of Jam (Sam Huntington), whose mother (Lin Shaye) is a religious zealot who subscribes to the belief that rock and roll in general is evil and that Kiss in particular is the spawn of Satan.

She finds the tickets that Jam has stashed and proceeds to burn them in front of him, to the horror of his band mates/friends; Hawk (Edward Furlong), Lex (Giuseppe Andrews) and Trip (James DeBello).  With their hopes dashed the boys are devastated.  That is until a local radio show has a call-in contest with four tickets in the offing as the prize.  Trip is the lucky guy who calls in and wins the tickets.


The four set out to travel to the concert.  In the course of the trip they have a confrontation with a group of disco fans and prove that no disco malcontents are a match for a group of hardcore rockers.  Which ends up with one of the girls accompanying them on their trip and one of the funniest scenes in the process>

"Don't pick her up!  It's a teenage girl walking along the side of a highway!  I mean, they make scary movies that start out like that!"

"Yeah, but they make porno movies that start out like that, too!"

Upon arriving in the city, the boys find out that ditzy Trip forgot to stay on the phone long enough to give his personal information to the DJ at the radio station and the tickets were given to the next caller.  Stuck in the city without their precious tickets each boy goes his own way to find a way to scavenge tickets for the precious concert.

The various ways in which each of these guys tries to get tickets is a treat in itself.  I won't give away all of them, but at least one of them will have to shed his inhibitions to get the money the needs to buy tickets from a scalper (see the quote at the beginning of this blog piece.)

The fly in the ointment is that Jam's mom is in town too, as part of a group of religious witch hunters to protest the evil presence of Satan's musicians.  And of course, you just KNOW that Jam and his mom are going to cross paths at some point.

The band members only appear at the end at the concert, so we aren't subjected to an attempt to make restitution for the 1978 debacle of a TV movie.  And this flick is by far better acted by its cast.

Well folks, time to take that ride home.  Drive safely.



Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Music Time




It has been 4 months since I was last able to see a movie in the theater.   It was during the current pandemic that I heard that the people behind the Bill and Ted franchise had finally completed the long rumored third movie in the franchise and I, within reason, anticipated that it would be one of those films that I would have to wait until its release on DVD to finally see, since the pandemic had seemingly shut down theaters as we know them.  


But as it turns out there are a few, albeit in Austin and San Antonio that are making the effort to make some movies available to us.  So I made the 20 mile trip north to Austin to catch a viewing of this movie.  It's not often that I review a film currently in the theater (only 3 times prior to this one).

As i said in my review of the first two films in the series, I was about 10-15 years older than the average person to whom the franchise was aimed, but I liked the two characters.  I think they are kind of like the 90's answer to Cheech and Chong (except neither of these guys does drugs, at least not on camera).  

First off an observation;  Keanu Reeves has gotten OLD.  He looks every bit of his 55.  By comparison, Alex Winter doesn't look much older than he did in the originals.  Maybe he really IS a vampire. (He played one in The Lost Boys, in case you were unaware.)  











Of course, I too no longer look like I did at 25.  (Somebody keeps replacing my natural dark brown hairs with grey hairs while I sleep).




Bill and Ted Face the Music (2020):

It has been 25 years since the young duo Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) were approached by an emissary of the future, Rufus (George Carlin) and helped along in the journey to create peace and harmony in the universe with their music.  The two have still not had success and are now reduced to doing stage shows at things like birthday parties.  Their future as prophesied by Rufus has not been as bright as predicted.

In that context they are approached by Kelly (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of Rufus and taken to the future to meet the Great Leader (Holland Taylor), who just happens to be Kelly's mother.  The Great Leader informs the duo that they have to have created their song by 7:17 that night or the whole universe as we know it will collapse.

Knowing they don't as yet have the song, the two decide to use their old phone booth time machine to go into their own future and steal the song from their future selves.  But they keep running into the same problem; their future selves are still just as much losers as they are and have always been.

In the meantime, the Great Leader  decides that the future may depend on the death of Bill and Ted and sends a robot back to kill them.  In the meantime, Bill and Ted's daughters Billie Logan (Bridgette Lundy-Paine) and Thea Preston (Samara Weaving) decide that the key to helping their fathers is to accompany Kelly and kidnap some of the greatest musicians of all time (which include Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong and Mozart, among others).

The convoluted story ends up with several diverse plots coming together, including an excursion in to Hell to rescue people.  It doesn't all entirely make sense, but the myriad of plot devices were apparently needed to drive home the need for everybody to come together.  And therein is the ultimate point of this adventure (and the point of the film itself) ;  a universal plea for that age old adage of "can't we all just get along?"

In my opinion the movie is just only OK.  I could have done without the political message that was the underlying point.  After all the original two films were just about having fun and the goofiness of it's main characters and if there was a political agenda in them it sure didn't slap you in the face.

Was it worth the 4 month wait for me to withstand between my last venture into a theater?  I would say yes, at this point.   But was it worth the 25 year wait to see how the characters were getting along from the last film?  I would have to say no.  This one didn't have near as many funny moments.

Drive home safely folks.  



Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Maximum King






Stephen King has always been one of my favorite authors.  (For an in depth discussion of King and his influence on me, see my article on him here.)


King has often been vocal about adaptations of his work, and not shy about expressing his displeasure in the way Hollywood has made a butchery of some of his stories.  In 1986 he decided that the best way to get a true adaptation was for him to take the reins himself.  He not only was the screenwriter for the adaptation of his short story "Trucks' but he even went so far as to be the director of the film (so far his only endeavor in that role,)

The movie preview is a study in cheese in it's own right.  King himself guarantees that he is "going to scare the hell out of you" and it ends with probably the most laughable tag line "Maximum terror.  Maximum King.  Dino de Laurentis presents Stephen King's 'Maximum Overdrive'".  (OK it may not be laughable in print, but to hear the voice of the classic movie trailer narrator, I think it might be Don La Fontaine who did a lot of these types of movies, it sounds kind of hilarious.)


The movie itself does not live up to King's prediction, I have to admit.  At least I wasn't scared.  But it is a pretty good movie nonetheless.  Possessed semis have it hands down over most of the possessed cars movies out there (not including Christine, another Stephen King entry which was one bad bitch) {Could've sworn I reviewed that one but it's not in my archives}.



 Maximum Overdrive (1986)

The essence of Maximum Overdrive is the appearance of a comet that, after it passes by Earth, leaves a tail in it's wake (green and funky, much like that nasty orb Loc-nar from Heavy Metal.)   The upshot of this lingering comet wake (which the prologue states will be with the Earth for 8 days) is that everything electrical and mechanical goes haywire.  (A scene, early in the movie, with Stephen King giving a nod to Alfred Hitchcock with a cameo, has an unsuspecting person being called an "asshole" by an ATM machine.

The scene shifts to the Dixie Boy Truck Stop where our main action takes place.  Here, obnoxious lowlife owner Bubba Hendershot (Pat Hingle) runs the operation with an iron fist (and a less than reputable hand).  He tell employee Bill (Emilio Estevez) that he wants him to work 9 hours a day, but only clock-in for 8.  As an incentive he holds up a time card with a star that indicates that Bill is on probation from the law, intimating that if he doesn't comply, Hendershot will turn him in to his parole officer.

Meanwhile, the comet's tail starts to do it's dirty work on the diner.  All the trucks gain a life of their own.  The ringleader of the gang of mechanical monstrosities is a truck carrying "Happy Toyz" with a front end decked out with the face of the Green Goblin (to home in the fact that these trucks are the epitome of evil.

The diner eventually garners a crew of people who straggle in from the onslaught of these new rulers of the earth, including a drifter, Brett (Laura Harrington) and the sleazy tavelling Bible salesman who picked her up, Camp (Christopher Murney).  Also a newlywed couple (Yeardley Smith and John Short) and a kid (Holter Graham) who has spent most of the movie biking across the country trying to avoid getting nailed by these trucks.  (The kid, it turns out, is the son of one of the truck stop employees


A battle occurs between the refugees in the truck stop and the trucks  that surround them.  This is helped by the fact that Hendershot has an entire armory stored in his basement.  (A survivalist, maybe, expecting the end of the world?)  But the trucks have their own arsenal, including a bulldozer and a portable rolling machine gun cart.

About the only hint of anything totally ridiculous (if the concept of possessed machines isn't already making you question that), is the hint, late in the movie (in dialogue) and in the final closing credits that the comet may have been the product of an alien invasion to try to get rid of the humans so the aliens could take over the planet.  Really?  Please, Steve, I give you much better credit than that.  (But then again, King says he was "coked out of his mind" during the production so maybe his mind was a bit warped by drugs...)

The reviews on this movie at the time were pretty much all bad.  It only has a 15% Fresh rating on the  Rotten Tomatoes website.  According to a website a looked at Variety said this is the kind of movie that makes people want to talk back to the screen.  (Remember the Seinfeld episode where the gang were on  their way to watch Plan 9 from Outer Space just so they could talk back to the screen?  Or for those of you of that bent, every episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000?)  To add insult to injury the movie garnered two Raspberry nominations One for Emilio Estevez for worst actor and one to Stephen King for worst director (both of which ended up going to Prince for Under the Cherry Moon.

But the movie is not as bad as the film critics would lead us to believe.  It does get a bit ridiculous in places and is not nearly as scary as, say, Carrie  or The Shining, but it is fun. Plus it has a killer soundtrack by AC/DC which includes the made for this movie song "Who Made Who?".

Well folks, time to head for the home font.  Drive safely.


Break Time is Over. Back to Work.

 Well look at that!  It's been over two months since I bothered to check in.  This current pandemic situation has changed my lifestyle in different ways.  No I haven;t been sick.  Just entirely unmotivated to do much of anything.  Which is a shame because my work current schedule has left me with four whole days with nothing much inhibiting me but my own malaise and inherent procrastination.

I do have a lot of time on my hands, and have been doing some reading, catching up with books I have bought but never got around to reading.  And we can all thank (or curse, depending on how you feel about this blog) Scott Phillips for inspiring me to get the blog underway again.  Mr. Phillips published a book a few years back which I found on the shelves of my used bookstore a few weeks ago. Unsafe on Any Screen: Cinematic Sleaze and Cheese.  

Of course, just the title alone was enough to attract my interest.  But the topic, trashy movies and movies that garner some bad reviews, but that the author liked was enough to hold me.  A review of that book may be forthcoming soon.  But I will get back to movie reviews as a result of reading this book.  The first will be coming a little later today.


Monday, June 22, 2020

Wise Guy: Book Review of Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures by J. R. Jordan

It's astonishing that I have seen so many of Robert Wise's movies that I like and yet never really added him to my list of favorite directors.  Maybe it's just the fact that he stayed under the radar over the years.  A workman-like attitude towards his craft without actually having to be the face of his movies (unlike some I could name). Some of those movies I wasn't even aware that his name was lisyed as director.

Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures by J. R. Jordan:

The format of the book is well laid out.  It takes a look at each of the movies that Wise directed in chronological order.  One of the things I like about this book is that it is not a biography as such, which I probably would have found tedious.  Although it does include a few tidbits about his life, the author keeps that at a minimum.

The depth of the research behind the movies was really impressive.  The film analysis portion of each chapter gives one a better viewpoint into the content of the movie.  And it opened my mind up to movies that I'd either heard about or knew of remotely but hadn't seen.  It was a discovery that Wise had directed them.  Being a big fan of film noir I discovered several movies that fit the film noir mold that I should check out.

Of course, Wise is also an Academy Award winner, albeit two of those Oscars are for movies that I would be hard pressed to watch (much less review) since they are musicals  (The Sound of Music and West Side Story).  But given his talents, it was a phenomenal career and the author doesn't stint on the info.

One thing that bothered me about the book was that sometimes I got lost when reading the encapsulations of the films.  It seemed to me that the author talked as if his readers had seen every movie, kind of like as if we had watched it together and were discussing it after the fact.  I was OK when it was a movie I had seen, but in some cases, if I hadn't seen the movie, I got lost with what was happening. 

Overall, if you are a fan of these films, you will be sure to learn some new things.  The author is engaging without being overly gushing about the man himself.  And I liked that.

I am going to review a few of the movies that Wise directed over the next couple of months as a result of reading this book.  (It has been WAY too long for a scheduled comparison of Wise's classic The Day the Earth Stood Still with the less than stellar remake from a few years back... I get way too bogged down with life and blogathons, it seems.)


Saturday, June 13, 2020

Standing Tall in the Face of Disaster

This is my entry in the Disaster Blogathon hosted by Dubsism and Me

Stephen King has been off and on one of my favorite authors.  (I published a blog piece last year on how he influenced me, which you can read here.)  One of my favorite novels of his is The Stand, which was published way back in 1978.  In the summer of 1984 I had a job as a security guard in a manufacturing plant.  Since my main duties were to watch out for the computer room (this being back in the days when computers took up whole rooms and probably had less processing power than your current smart phone, but were extremely valuable), I had a lot of free time.  One of the books I read that summer was the original publication of The Stand.

In 1990, twelve years after the publication of the original, King brought out the "Complete and Uncut" edition of the book, in which he included much of the stuff that his publishers had forced him to leave out.  (Apparently, according to his preface, the publishers balked at releasing a 1200 page manuscript by a relatively new author and forced him to reduce it to a more manageable 800 page book, still a big book for a fledgling author, but compare that to the average book King puts out today.)

Was King a psychic?  The current spread of the Coronavirus is not near as devastating a disaster as the one described in the book, but one can't help but think of the current situation in the world today if one reads the book's first part (or watches part one of this miniseries).  Note: I would be less than honest if I did not tell you that King himself has recently tried to distance himself from comparisons of the "Super Flu" or "Captain Trips" described in The Stand from the current virus.  But when this blogathon idea first came to my attention back in November, it was the first film I thought of, and now it seems almost prescient that I chose it.

The book and film are both, by necessity, America-centric.  King himself, in the novel, never really delved into what happened in the rest of the world after he outbreak of the "Super-Flu".  Maybe the same thing happens in Russia and China and the rest of the world in some fashion. To be sure it's hard to imagine that some people didn't take the Super-flu with them outside of the continental United States.  That is the only flaw I see in the story however. 

The Stand (1994):

The whole thing starts with a mistake.  OK, so its not really all that much of a mistake.  The US military and the government have been working to create a lethal virus, ostensibly to be used in warfare.  But it is a series of mistakes and mishaps that gets it out into the open.  A mishap inside the military compound releases the virus and a security guard at the gate is told to shut down the complex.  But instead he panics and goes back to his home and gathers up his wfe and baby and hightails it before the override security can shut the gates.

Thus the beginning starts not with a bang but a whimper.   The next time we see the guard is when he crashes his car into a gas station in a podunk town in Texas, where Stu Redman (Gary Sinise) and some assorted friends hang out.  The guard's wife and baby are already dead from the virus and the guard himself is not long for this world.  But he has been spreading the virus everywhere, including Hap's Gas Station where Stu and friends are hanging out.  Eventually Stu and the entire town are packed up and taken to a government facility, not necessarily with their consent.

Not long afterward the virus is everywhere.  In Manhattan, Larry Underwood (Adam Storke) arrives to visit his mother.  He recently left home to become a singer in Los Angeles, but he has overspent his advancement and has gone home to escape  his creditors.  And in rural Maine Frannie Goldsmith (Molly Ringwald)is helping her father who has come down with the disease.  Eventually only she and her nebbish admirer Harold Lauder (Corin Nemec) are survivors in the town.  Into this cast of characters is also cast Nick Andros (Rob Lowe), a deaf mute who is stuck in rural Arkansas after being attacked by a gang of hoodlums.

On the other side, there is a malcontent named Lloyd Henreid (Miguel Ferrer) who has been jailed after a foiled holdup in which his partner killed the store owner.  Lloyd's partner is killed, but Lloyd ends up in prison as an accessory.  There is also a character known only as Trashcan Man (Matt Frewer), an arsonist who likes setting fires to things.

With 98% of the population dead from the virus, the survivors are called by superior powers (God and the Devil, or what have you).  The good guys feel themselves being called to rural Nebraska where an elderly black lady, Abigail Freemantle (Ruby Dee) is the instrument of good calling them to her.

On the opposite side is Randall Flagg (Jamey Sheridan) (who may or may not be the embodiment of the Biblical Antichrist, calling the not so good guys to Sin City, Las Vegas.

The second part of the movie involves the gathering of these assorted characters.  Nick meets up with a good but retarded man named Tom Cullen (Bill Fagerbakke).  Frannie and Harold eventuall hook up with Stu and an older man Stu encountered, Glen Bateman (Ray Walston).  All are being haunted by dreams of both Abigail who is calling to them and Randall who scares the shit out of them.

Eventually the good guys end up having to move to classier digs, since after all there's not much room for them all at Abigail's home/farm, and they pack up to move to Denver, where the rest of whats left of the good guys end up meeting them.

While both sides try to recreate society in their own way, the good guys eventually have to come to the conclusion that the Las Vegas contingent isn't going to sit on their haunches and expect a mutual piece.  What happens next constitutes the second two parts of the movie. Even though the good guys would like to coexist with the bad guys and have it be let each other alone, they know the truth that Flagg and Co. are not going to let it be such a mutual co-existence.

There are some traitors among the good guys, as to be expected.  And eventually the Denver group decides to send spies to see what's going on.  But Flagg is a bit more cognizant of their intentions than they would like to believe.

The movie as made takes a few liberties with the text.  After all, even at a 6 hour running time (it was made into a 4 part serial), some stuff had to be condensed to make it manageable.  And it should be noted that there is not much from the "unexpurgated" version that made it to the film; it's primary source is the original 800 page version.  The good thing is Stephen King had a hand in writing the script, so it stays pretty true to the book (unlike some other films I could name... Lawnmower Man anyone...?)

The cast includes a lot of familiar faces.  Even the author gets a brief cameo.

Watching The Stand may be hard on anyone who has lost friends or loved ones during the current situation.  At least the first act.  But the story is rather intriguing.  And it may or may not encourage conspiracy theorists on their views of the government,  (Again, especially in the first act).  One thing.  I rarely cry when watching movies, but if you watch it I will tell you that the scene in which Kathy Bates makes a cameo caused me to well up immensely.And not necessarily because she dies.  It's more of the circumstances surrounding her death.  You have to watch the scene to relate.  It has to do with my being such a strong advocate of free speech.

Time to head home, folks.  Drive safely.


Friday, June 12, 2020

Masters of Disaster: The Disaster Blogathon Arrives

The world is coming to an end.  You just have time enough to stick your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.

So the Disaster Blogathon will probably have you believe anyway.  We have all kinds of scenarios of imminent destruction; from plagues, to sinking boats, to planes in imminent danger of crashing.  We have alien invasions, to erupting volcanoes and even a giant octopus.

Keep coming back over the weekend to find out who is going to be still among the living after the spectacles befall us.  Also check out my co-host's website for a more current update until Sunday.  Dubsism  has more time to keep it current than me until Sunday... LOL

The Disaster Roll Call:

Moon in Gemini:  The Andromeda Strain

Realweegiemidget Reviews:  Airport

John V's Eclectic Avenue:  Miracle Mile

Angelman's Place:  Deep Impact

Caftan Woman:  The Hurricane

Charity's Place: Pompeii

Hamlette's Soliloquy:  The High and the Mighty

And You Call Yourself A Scientist: No Time at All

An Aging Broad with a Scrapbook: Deluge

The Spirochaete Trail: Hero

Sports Chump: Independence Day

Cinematic Catharsis: It Came From beneath the Sea

Taking Up Room: The Towering Inferno

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society:  Titanic (1953)

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies: The Poseidon Adventure

Crítica Retrô: The Last Days of Pompeii

and another entry by

The Midnite Drive-in: The Stand

Movie Rob: The Swarm

Movie Rob: (again) Mars Attacks!

Movie Rob: (again)  The Wandering Earth

Silver Screenings: When Worlds Collide

The Stop Button: Ashfall

Horseback to Byzantium: Exit

Totally Filmi: Virus

I think we had 100% participation on this.  A new one for me.  Thanks to all entrants.  And thanks to Dubsism for letting me in on ground zero.