Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

I didn’t go to my senior prom (boo hoo!), but this doesn’t sadden me in the least.  I had no girlfriend at the time, and I was petrified to ask anyone who I thought could possibly have been available to go with me.  I was also fiercely against things like proms and sports and so forth (perhaps because I never participated in them, perhaps because I genuinely just didn’t give a shit about them and still don’t; so punk rock).  I didn’t relish the idea of renting a tux, a limo (or just a nice car; I drove a 1964 Oldsmobile way back then [The Lima Bean Green Machine, it was dubbed]), buying a corsage, etcetera.  It seemed like a whole lot of bother for an evening I likely wouldn’t have enjoyed, especially since there weren’t many people at my school with whom I hung out on the regular who were going.  I did go to a semi-formal early on in my high school days, and the evening was, to put it lightly, a letdown (maybe this soured me; after all, if one time sucked, every time had to suck, right?).  Having seen my share of horror films, proms and their ilk appeared like Hell on Earth, and people always got massacred at them, and movies never lie.  Decades down the road, Bruce Pittman’s Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II arrived to confirm everything I believed in my teens.  I stand justified (or maybe just rationalized).

The year is 1957, and Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage) wreaks havoc on her prom and jilts her boyfriend Billy Nordham (Steve Atkinson) for bad boy Buddy Cooper (Robert Lewis).  Billy comes upon an abandoned stink bomb as the perfect revenge, but the fuse lights Mary Lou’s dress on fire as she accepts her prom queen coronation, killing her (we’re left to guess what the combination of burnt flesh and hair, chiffon, and stink bomb smell like).  Jump forward to 1987, where young Vicki (Wendy Lyon) struggles with her virginity, her ice queen mother, and her forbidden love for Craig Nordham (Louis Ferreira), Principal Billy’s (now played by Michael Ironside) son.  It doesn’t take long for Mary Lou to exact her revenge and lay claim her crown with Vicki as her weapon of choice.
The thing which struck me the most about this film was its refreshingly unglamorous view of the Fifties in America (or Canada where this was filmed, but po-tay-to, po-tah-to).  Usually, this era is glorified for being lily-pure and straitlaced and oh-so-perfect.  Sex and murder and rape and all of the evils of the world didn’t exist back then, if popular media is to be believed, and if these things were portrayed (post-Hayes Code), they were sanitized to the point of blandness, more often than not (perhaps the more egregious crime than denying them outright).  Of course, we know that this isn’t the case; Let’s assume we’re not all that naïve.  But it was a simpler time for many (maybe this is due to putting on the proverbial blinders), and it’s exalted for this (I certainly don’t deny having a fondness for it, myself).  Personally, I like the restrictions that were placed on filmmakers back then to a degree, because if they really, truly wanted to portray darker themes or more salacious elements, they had to get creative in order to do it.  This, for me, adds some depth to many of these films, the fact that they didn’t just wiggle all their naughty bits in your face (just look at Nightmare Alley for proof).  Prom Night 2 states that people were just as awful back then as they were in the Eighties (and now, naturally).  

Mary Lou LOVES sex, and she’s a self-centered asshole every inch of the way (she taunts a priest in a confessional before hitting the prom just to tell him how much she enjoys herself).  She dumps Billy unceremoniously in the middle of the soiree just to get her hump on with Buddy, grabbing his crotch and positively salivating at the prospect of what’s awaiting her within his pants.  Buddy’s also a dick, razzing Billy in a finders-keepers, go fuck yourself sort of way.  Billy is no slouch, either.  We can understand wanting to get back at Mary Lou for his heartbreak, but he takes it too far from his idea’s impetus.  Plus, he’s never punished for what he did (that the audience is made aware of).  In fact, he’s rewarded (like Dorothy dropping her house on the Wicked Witch of the East), being given a position of power in the community.  

Little has changed in the intervening years.  While Billy has put the past incident behind him, Buddy has spent his days trying to make up for it (he feels guilty for not trying to rescue his burning paramour), becoming a priest and swearing off the sins of the flesh.  In high school, however, the kids are still jerks, beset with problems that make their lives a living hell.  Vicki’s mother forces her family to pray all the time (instead of having a doctor look at Vicki after a volleyball “mishap,” mom insists that Vicki simply “needs to spend some time with the Lord”), shades of Piper Laurie in Carrie, in case the similarities weren’t obvious enough.  Craig spends his time trying to be accepted by Vicki’s mother (her dad likes him, though), but he’ll forever be an undesirable to her.  Vicki herself is virginal, but she’s investigating her sexuality (the first shot we get of her is Vicki checking her body out in her mirror) in the face of her escalating puberty and rampaging hormones.  Her room looks like a ten-year old’s, including a rocking horse (which plays a rather creepy role a little later on).  Vicki is friends with Monica (Beverley Hendry), who wants a date to the prom but tells guys who want to talk to her to fuck off.  Jess (Beth Gondek) is a quasi-outcast among this group, looking like a distaff Robert Smith in MC Hammer’s wardrobe.  She’s also pregnant from some jerk who ditched her and is positively miserable about her situation.  Josh (Brock Simpson) is the real humdinger.  He’s supposed to be cool and smart (he’s anything but), and even after he gets a date with Monica he still has time to ask for a blowjob from Kelly (Terri Hawkes), the school’s current queen bitch, in return for rigging the prom’s election.  What this all amounts to is a reflection on the fact that being a teenager is nothing but gloom and doom, no matter which generation you came from or your supposed place in the pecking order.  Not many horror films of this era espoused this viewpoint, but it’s nice that this one did.

MVT:  The film’s misanthropy is prominently showcased from first frame to last.

Make or Break:  The opening prom sequence gives us everything we need to get the idea of how we’re supposed to take this film and its characters.  Plus, it mirrors the finale, so if you don’t want to make it that far, at least you kind of know what you’re missing.

Score:  6.75/10     

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Child of Peach (1987)

If you were a comic book fan in the Eighties, you may have noticed a few titles which came out under the banner of Jademan Comics.  There weren’t very many, but they were all great (the titles, not necessarily the books), like The Force of Buddha’s Palm, Iron Marshal, and Blood Sword Dynasty.  To my knowledge, all but one of the titles were written and drawn by Tony Wong (Blood Sword, not to be confused with Blood Sword Dynasty, was written and drawn by Ma Wing-Shing, perhaps best known for his Storm Riders which was turned into an abysmal film in 1998; Personally, I’ve always been partial to his Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre), and his aesthetic is at once both gorgeous and kind of primitive, hyper-stylized and childishly cartoonishly stiff.  

The American Jademan books, unfortunately, suffer from some seriously bad editing and translations.  Word balloons often don’t line up with the characters speaking, the balloons are out of order, so you’re not totally sure what a character is referring to until after you read the next balloon, and there are typos that require some serious reading between the lines in order to not get completely lost.  For example, the very first issue of The Force of Buddha’s Palm elides about ten years in one page break, and in that time, we’re expected to catch up with such events in the life of the hero, Nine Continents, as the passing of the love of his life (whom we never get to meet) and the growing bond between himself and White Jade Dragon (whom we only meet after they’ve been besties for years).  This amateurishness is despite the supposed English scripting duties of Mike Baron and Roger Salick, no strangers to comic book writing (I can only assume the problem lies in the translation of the translation by the publisher).  

And yet, there’s an undeniable energy at work in these books that transcends the dopier plot aspects or the fact that every martial arts move looks alarmingly similar (the distinction comes in the naming of the moves, apparently).  As with the more entertaining Wuxia films, like Holy Flame of the Martial World for example, the cultural restrictions have to be taken in stride to get to what makes them work; their imagination.  Likewise, in 1987 (one year prior to the American premier of Jademan Comics), directors Chung-Hsing Chao and Chun-Liang Chen brought the world the incredible Child of Peach (aka Xing Tao Tai Lang), and if you’re already a fan of Shan Hua’s The Super Inframan, you’ll find a lot of similarities herein.  Plus, lots of people getting peed on.

In the Peach Garden high atop the Himalayas, a loving martial arts couple practice their techniques and feed drippings from a giant peach to their infant son.  The flagitious Devil King steals the Sword of Sun and kills the couple, but not before their son is sealed up inside said peach and sent off to safety.  Found by a comedically dreary old couple, the child is named Peach Kid, and, after being prematurely aged by Little Fairy, he takes off to fight Devil King and his minions and save the beauteous Apple Princess.

I said that this film owes a lot to The Super Inframan, and I meant it.  There is an opening where the monsters show up and wreak some havoc.  There is the entrance of Grandma and her colorful monster cohorts, who always appear as if they’re waiting for their curtain call and who will individually take on Peach Kid and his pals and be defeated.  There are the super-stylized sets that are just big enough for lots of martial arts action and pyrotechnics to take place (most notably the villain’s lair on Devil Island).  Come to think of it, maybe it just follows the mold of every other wuxia/Chinese genre film from the Sixties onward.  But even more than these are the parallels between Child of Peach and the sentinel of truth, justice, and the American Way, Superman.  Both were sent away from their homes in vessels just before their birth parents were killed.  Both were discovered and adopted by a couple who couldn’t have children of their own naturally.  Both had to deal with the onset of their powers as they grew.  Both decided to fight for what’s right and are the only ones who can defeat the evil that has reared its ugly head.  Child of Peach then incorporates all of the insanity that comes with the fantasy/Wuxia stories of its native culture.  As stated, there’s a lot of urine jokes in the film.  The giant peach pees on the Old Lady, after setting her ass on fire by dragging her all over the place.  Tiny Monkey and Tiny Dog pee in the drinking bowls of Knight Melon and Priest Bowie.  Bowie winds up puking.  Even Devil King is not immune from the micturating.  This is easily one of the oddest fetishes I’ve ever encountered in otherwise mainstream (this would be a subjective distinction) fare, but the Taiwanese assumedly love it.  Fair enough.  I should also mention that two of the main characters, the villainous Grandma and the more matured Peach Kid are played by people of the opposite gender.  I have absolutely no idea why.  None.  Yet, these aspects (along with a particularly groan-worthy fart joke) didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the film in any way.

The element of kid empowerment and the threatening of innocence also plays into the proceedings.  Peach Kid is harder on his parents than any child in their terrible twos, but it’s he who can take on the Devil King (his adoptive father wants to join in the fight, but Peach Kid denies him this, looking out for the people he loves and taking on the responsibility himself).  He isn’t doing this alone, however.  He is joined by Tiny Monkey, Tiny Cock, and Tiny Dog, three animals who transform into kids (or perhaps the other way around?) with wicked martial arts abilities and Knight Melon (who is more young adult than anything else), the requisite fat buffoon character, who actually turns out to be taken a bit more seriously than one would initially expect (though he is also the perpetrator of the aforementioned flatulence humor, natch).  Adults like Priest Bowie show their poltroonish natures, cowering in the face of imminent death.  It’s the youth that can conquer evil, because it’s their youth which, it can be argued, gives them their power (yes, you can say that they are mostly mystical beings, but that doesn’t really account for Melon; he’s all heart).  The kids play in the big leagues, and they are up to the task.  Uncoincidentally, Child of Peach was up to the task of delighting the piss out of me.

MVT:  The whacked-out imagination, combined with the level of the technical effects (with a couple of exceptions).

Make or Break:  The Old Lady’s initial interaction with the giant peach sets the tone for almost every scene involving her and her husband (i.e. ultra-slapstick).

Score:  7/10

Monday, June 12, 2017

Bloody Bloody Bible Camp (2012)

Directed by: Vito Trabucco
Run Time:  90 Minutes

This movie was being advertised on Twitter and like forty percent of the weirdness on that service it of course was brought to my attention. So I checked out the trailer, carried out the hunt for a retailer that had it and shipped to Canada, and once I owned it I promptly forgot about it. Which really was a disservice to this film as it is a fun, crude, and completely insane.

The story starts in 1977 at Happy Day Bible Camp. A vague denominational Christian bible camp in the middle of nowhere USA. The campers and staff are engaged in the sort of things you would expect people in a Christian bible camp to be doing. Mostly sex, drugs, and referencing events that happened in 1977. Like the death of Elvis Presley or commenting about how horrible a certain space opera movie that opened earlier that year. This film is a slasher film, so the nostalgia for the seventies gives way to random bloody murder of everybody except for two people. The added bonus is the killer is dressed up as a nun with a devil mask.

The plot then skips ahead seven years to 1984. Another vague Christian denomination group is test camping at Happy Day Bible Camp to see if it's worth buying. Leading this collection of misfits and dead people walking is one Father Reggie (Reggie Bannister). Sadly this is the point where the script starts to drag because of the who's the killer shell game, crude jokes, and setting up the victims for their slaughter. The jokes are funny and the set up for the third act blood bath is needed but the whole pace of the film just stops.

Eventually the movie crawls to the third act. The murderous nun in the devils mask makes her reappearance and the campers and staff start dropping in amusing fashion. The movie also shifts in tone from tongue in cheek tone to full on camp mockery of the slasher genre. To highlight this, the first person killed is decapitated with great practical effects whereas later the nun kills a girl with a crucifix and penetrating a notorious body cavity. Ron Jeremy makes an amusing and blasphemous cameo.

Overall this is a fun and weird movie. It's a love letter to slasher movies from the seventies and eighties but it is not afraid to make fun of those movies as well. The movie falls down when it come to it's characters and it's pace. The characters are stereotypical cardboard cutouts for comedic purposes most of the time. Like the ditzy girl with nudity in her contract, the dumb fat guy, a few variations on the jock stereotype. Not all the characters are like this but there are enough of them that it does distract from the movie. The pacing issues seem to stem from padding so the movie can get a ninety minute run time.

This is a sold rental and or streaming film for fans of raunchy humor. Also a great film to show at your party for coming out as an atheist.

MVT: Ron Jeremy's cameo. I know it's dickish to not talk about why but it is a spoiler. The spoiler free version is the man can act and is funny, especially in this role.

Make or Break: It's a minor and petty break. But I really would have like Father Reggie to have pulled out a four barreled shot gun.

Score: 5.15 out of 10

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Get Crazy (1983)

The first show I ever went to (I’m talking about shows in the sense of paying specifically to see bands, not go to a bar or something and there’s a band playing) was Seven Seconds.  This would have been around 1988 or 1989, I believe, and the show was at The Silo in Reading, Pennsylvania (the venue was petitioned to be shut down as a “nuisance bar” in 2012; as far as I’m aware, it was not).  I remember I wore my Gorilla Biscuits shirt (which was a medium or a large on a kid who by no means should have been wearing a medium or a large tee shirt at that time) and a pair of slacks (that’s right, slacks).  Of the bands that played, the two that I remember were, of course, Seven Seconds (this would have been during Kevin Seconds long hair and bicycle shorts phase; I don’t know if he ever came out of it) and a band from the Philly/New Jersey area called 200 Stitches (who were pretty good; I still have the demo tape I bought at the show, and I saw them again some time later when I was in college; the lead singer was amazed that someone knew a lot of the words to their songs).  During the course of getting my feet wet slamming, stomping, and basically getting sweated up, my pants tore down the back (did I mention I was a husky lad back then?), but I don’t think that stopped the fun.  I went to dozens of shows following that, but that first one stuck with me (the first time always does), because of the feelings that it elicited, feelings of freedom and commonality and the catharsis of letting out every ounce of the aggression I’d been stewing in up until then.  In its own way, and despite its flaws, Allan Arkush’s Get Crazy (aka Flip Out) does a marvelous job of evincing many of those same emotions in me.

Max Wolfe (Allen Garfield as Allen Goorwitz), owner of the Saturn Theater has a huge bash planned for the New Year’s celebration, which coincides with the fifteenth anniversary of his venue.  Calling in all his favors, he throws together a card of acts with everything from the blues to punk rock.  Stage Manager Neil (Daniel Stern) tries to keep everything together while dealing with slimy rival Colin Beverly (Ed Begley, Jr), a motley crew of backstage misfits, the various eccentricities of the performers, and the hots he develops on sight for Max’s former stage manager Willy Loman (Gail Edwards).

The first thing that will stand out to anyone from the initial minutes of Get Crazy is that it is completely and utterly not intended to be taken seriously.  Sammy Fox (Miles Chapin), Max’s nephew and cutthroat capitalist, punts a small dog across the theater’s dance floor.  Soon thereafter, he gets blown up in classic Looney Tunes style.  The theater’s crew can’t muster up the energy to get the job done, but thanks to Electric Larry, the mystical drug dealer who looks like Tex Hex crossed with the Terminator endo-skeleton, they speed their way through their tasks (see what I did there?) in one of several undercranked sequences (I maintain that undercranking should really be limited to use in episodes of Gilligan’s Island).  Virginal Joey (Dan Frischman) is a walking OSHA violation waiting to happen.  He gets punched, run over, and falls off a balcony, but thankfully pops his cherry at some point.  Every time Neil sees Willy, she becomes a sex kitten from his perspective (he looks like Tarzan in this scenario, complete with chimpanzee companion).  The lighthearted goofiness is at odds with what plot there is because it’s so over the top, but it still works fairly well.  I could see this aspect grating on some viewers’ nerves, but I also think that allowing it to ruin the experience deprives one of the full impact of the film’s core.

At its heart, this movie is a love letter to music and the collective energy of live music-going escapades.  There are ostensibly five bands that Max gathers for the show.  They are King Blues (king of the blues, played by Bill Henderson), massively-populated punk band Nada (fronted by Lori Eastside, a real-life casting director), who bring along the Animal-esque Piggy (Fear’s Lee Ving), Captain Cloud (Howard Kaylan) the totally fried hippie and his hippie entourage/cult/commune, “metaphysical” musician Auden (Lou Reed), and straight up Brit rocker Reggie Wanker (Malcolm McDowell), who, unironically, lives up to his namesake in more ways than one.  King plays first, and two of the following acts cover songs of his.  This is an act of reverence for the origins of rock ‘n’ roll, an understanding of where it came from and what modern acts owe to those who came before.  It provides a unity among the artists, a shared world of musicianship, and this translates to the reception of the crowd (though the acts being this varied might not have been as well received by the throngs of weirdo punk rockers who populate the audience, but you never know).

Further to this, Arkush and company (through some extremely deft editing; after all the man did get his start in film editing trailers for Roger Corman, and he did work in clubs, so he draws extensively from both these backgrounds) do an outstanding job of capturing just what it is that made shows like this great.  This was at a time when individuality was paramount, even within genre/style constraints.  A Fear song doesn’t sound the same as a Ramones song doesn’t sound the same as a Bad Brains song.  Personal expression, visually and aurally was very important, and this isn’t exclusive to punk (though I gravitate toward that as an example, because that’s my background).  But the individual breaks down in the face of the love for the music.  It’s the life’s blood that ties the disparate groups together (there are only so many musical notes on a scale, but everyone plays them differently), and Get Crazy really drives this point home in its pure “let’s put on a show” attitude.  It helps a lot that the actors in the film actually perform the songs on the soundtrack.  It may be nostalgia for me to say that the film took me back to the joy and excitement I used to get from going to shows, but, to be frank, I’m not against nostalgia in and of itself.  Only when it inescapably binds people to the past is it a bad thing, I think.  If more films made me feel as good and brought back as many great memories as this one did, hell, I wouldn’t be against nostalgia at all. 

MVT:  The editing in the film is truly impressive.  It keeps the rip-roaring pace up all the way through.

Make or Break:  The undercranking may be a bridge too far for some.  Thankfully, these sequences are not extensive.

Score:  7/10