“… If You Liked Lessons In Carpentery, Then It’s Quite Possible You Might Consider This An Inferior Attempt To Rip That Off…”
— Gazz, Stale Popcorn
Between the three of us – me, my friend Porter (writing in this column as ‘Jimm’ – clearly having a swipe at the ‘double Z’ in my name lol) and my other friend Fox (who wanted to be called ‘Gorefest Maniac’ but Porter thinks should be called ‘Foxx’ to help keep the general “name-theme” going) – have pretty mixed tastes in films yet strangely find ourselves able to completely embrace the types of flicks we push upon each other but would never normally make time to view! I’m into anything really as you can all pretty much gather, ‘Jimm’ is open to anything too but is a lot braver and more open to giving the more off-kilter elements of cinema a try then me and ‘Foxx’ essentially will struggle to watch anything that doesn’t have torture, brutality and lashings and lashings of gore. Hostel and Saw, in his eyes, are “for pussies”.
So… once a month we’re going to get together, put on a triple bill of movies (both old and new), sometimes very loosely themed, get drunk, heckle each other, enjoy what the film’s have to offer us and then write it up for your amusement, throwing along some original trailer links etc. to get you in the general vibe of what we’re indulging in!
NB: This is so late in being published (this actual event took place in June!) that ‘Round 2′ will possibly be around sooner then anyone would like – including those involved in writing this (I’m looking at you ‘Jimm’, sir!)
It’s a long read but – for fan’s of cult cinema – it’s a worthy one. Go gentle, be supportive and please make some time to pass comment in the Talkbacks. Both of my friends put a lot of effort into doing this with me!
Anyway… Our ‘introductory’ “3-Way” was SO GOOD and SO ENJOYABLE though, we’re all questioning whether it can actually be topped. Tune in next time to find out. In the meantime, why not join in with us and indulge in…
** HEREBE SPOILERS AHEAD **
NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984)
Dir: Thom Eberhardt
Scr: Thom Eberhardt
(Click here for the original trailer)
Plot: A comet wipes out most of life on Earth, leaving two ‘Valley Girls’ to fight the evil scientist types and marauding undead who have survived….
GAZZ: I came across this film whilst on the hunt for Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps – which I cannot believe is STILL not available on DVD. You would think after the “monster” (pardon the pun) success of Dekker’s retrospective anniversary release of Monster Squad on DVD, they’d rush his other cult classic out but alas that is not the case. Whilst searching for that movie I accidentally stumbled on this flick and I couldn’t help but think “80s cheese? Cheerleaders? Zombies? End of the world type shenanigans? Why the hell not?” and for less then a pound to purchase, I jumped right into acquiring it.
It’s one of the best “accidental purchases” I’ve ever made. I rarely make off the cuff buys when it comes to films (there’s too many important films that I’m well versed in and I wish to own for a start!). What’s most surprising is that this isn’t JUST some throwaway expolitation movie; it’s got a well thought out plot with some neat twists and side-stories and it’s incredibly inventive with what it does on such a low budget. It’s the sort of “shout at the screen” film whereby the three of us, on first sighting a ‘zombie cop’, all said in unison how cool it’d be if he talked – and he fucking did! It’s got a ridiculous quick style of pace and, best of all, Catherine Mary Stewart is in the lead and she’s my big childhood crush as a result of catching her in the likes of The Last Starfighter and Weekend at Bernies when I was growing up.
Things get a little side-tracked when ‘Foxx’ comes out with some statement like “I would love this place to be infested with Zombies, imagine the mess from a chainsaw?” and I take that kind of personally and start asking him what he means by “this place” in the same way a black man interrogates you about your verbal intentions when you use the term “you people” in his presence. After all, I want to know whether ‘Foxx’ is talking about the world being taken over by zombies, or just my flat. Because if it is just my flat then why would he wish something like that on me? That’s not nice. Plus, if my flat – but no where else – got fucking invaded by zombies, why would he want to make an already particularly upsetting situation worse by messing my place up with a chainsaw? Why couldn’t we just leave to a place where there is no other zombies (i.e. the rest of the world) and come back when they’ve gone and hopefully they won’t have messed with my DVD collection? I mean Foxx doesn’t take his empty bottles out to the bin when he leaves, how the hell could I expect him to help clean up after he’s taken a chainsaw to my entire flat?!? (Just joking about the empty bottles thing mate! lol!) Then ‘Foxx’ has us in absolute hysterics because, as if I haven’t done enough “over-thinking” for the three of us, he starts to talk in detail about what he would do if the end of the world came about through the dead returning to life. He delivered the line “I’d go rent a chainsaw!” and me and ‘Jimm’ started pissing it laughing, at the image of ‘Foxx’, amidst the goings on of the apocalypse, standing patiently in a desserted hard-ware store, waiting with the utmost honesty to hire a chainsaw from staff that no longer exist and with currency that is no longer valid. Only ‘Foxx’ could opt to hire rather than loot during the zombie apocalypse, lol!
Anyway, I dug the hell out of this flick. It was so enjoyable. A real cult gem and a great start to the evening’s triple bill! If you’re a fan of trashy 80s low-budget cult fare and you ever get the opportunity to pick this up on the cheap or catch it late night on TV, I urge you to do so!
JIMM: On first inspection Night of the Comet appears to be little more than a standard low-budget end-of-the-world thriller featuring particularly ropey special effects. Gladly it doesn’t take long to discover it’s a significantly more entertaining proposition than that; Night of the Comet plays fast and loose with myriad ideas and clichés from the preceding three decades of exploitation, horror and SF, fusing them into an uneven but highly amusing pastiche.
Beneath it’s painfully Eighties pop-cult surface – Valley Girl slang, on-screen arcade game sequences, a cover of Girls Just Want To Have Fun gratuitously featured on the soundtrack – you discover echoes of such relatively serious Seventies apocalypses as The Andromeda Strain and Dawn of the Dead, as well as remnants of tropes from earlier bubblegum exploitation flicks like the more teen-orientated end of Roger Corman’s output. Authority figures, be they parents or scientists are by turns cruel and clueless; problems that aren’t the end of the world continue to be a problem after the end of the world. Rescuers use deductive reasoning to establish that teenagers with nothing to do will end up at the mall while mutant stockroom boys conduct sadistic games having achieved the American dream… Subtle it ain’t, but for fans of this sort of tongue-in-cheek aesthetic there’s hardly a wasted moment.
While its amusingly talkative zombies under-achieve in terms of action and terror the film itself makes a good go of generating a distinctive and creepy atmosphere. The first few shots of a deserted LA automatic sprinklers and pool equipment coming to life amidst a weird red haze and piles of clothes – is startlingly effective considering the camp tone of the rest of the film and the limited resources available to the film makers.
Bickering sisters – Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney as Regina and Samantha – are the main focus and consistently get the best material. Whether delivering self-consciously ludicrous and quotable lines – “Daddy would have gotten us Uzis” – in their bratty drawl. Scenes like Regina’s debriefing with the head of the villainous think tank are what make the film so pleasing; her flippancy and self-absorption aggravating his patience to the limit begins to approach the tone and sensibility of a classic comedy. The ending in particular is choice; an antidote to the delirious macho bluster and tortuous logic of straight apocalyptic narratives, closing narrative threads you’d barely considered and offering an eternally helpful road-safety lesson. Bitchin’.
It seems to me that at some point in the last twenty years films like Night of the Comet – trashy but inventive, sort of dumb but kind of smart – just stopped getting made; I certainly don’t know what the modern equivalent would be… Shaun of the Dead perhaps? There are parallels between the two but then there are also fundamental differences; for example though both films tread an awkward path between horror and comedy, it’s the more recent films underplayed banality which is both funnier and more “horrific”… I don’t know, even as I type these words I lose faith in them – I should just admit ignorance and hope that if there is a cache of straight-to-DVD nonsense in the vein of Night of the Comet out there I’ll discover it one day.
FOXX: … So the night kicks off with Night of the Comet; for me, the best B-Movie ever bar-none, simply for the sheer genius of the situations, and the twists that unfold as the movie rolls on… Talking “zombies” (I use ‘zombies’ loosely as they aren’t really zombies although they do eat flesh. I would say these were more the ‘hybrid zombie’ types, if I ever saw one). So the movie has the most amazing, cheap-ass sky effects for the comet hitting the earth, but it works well and sparks off the conversation about effects and how you can make a movie on a fiver and still have change for a few pints.
Now this is where things start to trail off into the vast areas of the unknown… and the night’s conversation takes to talking about random zombie moments in other movies, then I interrupt when I realise the guy they meet in the radio station is Robert Beltran a.k.a Chakotay from Star Trek Voyager. I then proceed to talk about how if our local town was overrun by zombies what my plan of action would be and where I would get the likes of circular saws and chainsaws to dispose of the zombies. This gets a few strange looks from the people in the room possibly due to the fact that my sentence began with “I would love this place to be infested with Zombies, imagine the mess from a chainsaw”.
To be perfectly honest with you I can barely remember what was in the film bar some zombie action, the two sisters finding random Uzi’s everywhere they turn and the cheerleader finding a Mac 10 and then all of a sudden explosions and blood start kicking off every where, and I’m being amused enough to piss myself laughing at the sights that lay before me with the offering of the 1980’s finest cheesy music. I would have to say this enters in my top 10 B-Movie list!
ALONE IN THE DARK (1982)
Dir: Jack Sholder
Scr: Jack Sholder & Robert Shaye
(Click here for the original trailer)
Plot: A quartet of murderous psychopaths break out of a mental hospital during a power blackout and lay siege to their new doctor’s house, wrongly believing that he is responsible for the disappearance of their old doctor…
GAZZ: One of my little anally retentive obsessions within the realms of my movie adoration is to try and put together movies with no real strong, obvious connection to one another and treat them as ‘side-sequels’. For example, watch The Deer Hunter and Taxi Driver back to back and focus on the idea that Robert De Niro’s character from the first abandons his life to become the character in the second. Or what about From Russia With Love doubled with The Rock (James Bond is the “codename”, John Mason is the real name!) or Training Day and Assault on Precinct 13 [the remake] following Ethan Hawke’s character? You get the idea right? Well, an online buddy suggested to me I consider watching Halloween and Jack Sholder’s Alone in the Dark, focusing on Donald Pleasance’s psychiatrist character in both. Well Jack Sholder did The Hidden so he’s alright in my book! THAT, in a long-winded diatrabe, is how Alone in the Dark came to be, for the princely sum of £1.49 plus postage and packing, in my collection!
I liked Alone in the Dark. I think I liked it more for what it “tried” to do then what it actually succeeded in doing. There’s so many audacious concepts on show and directions it can go off in that, when you think about it, on this budget and with this running time, it can only but disappoint because it cannot be everything for everyone. I mean I’m a huge ‘whore’ for siege movies but this doesn’t really do as much as it could with the siege climax it works towards. The hockey-masked (the inspiration for Jason Vorhees, not a rip-off!) nose-bleed suffering psycho is a genius idea but it’s so underdeveloped that the third-act beats involving him aren’t effective. The whole concept of a city-wide blackout proving the catalyst for the psychos escape isn’t touched on anywhere near as well as it could have been; we get mere glimpses of the “shit that goes down when the lights go out”. Finally, that last scene and the line-reading contained with in it is so poorly done and so suitably bizarre that it just confused me and everyone else. We went back to that scene three times. I don’t think any of us made a conclusive decision about what the film was trying to get at with it.
However, there’s some suitable old-school scares, some genuinely enjoyable campy performances from Palance, Landau and Pleasance and, although the film is so unevenly stacked that it takes at least 70 minutes for the stuff aluded to in the trailer to get going, it’s a reasonably enjoyable “lost” slice of B-movie horror fare. It’s just frustrating that, with very little actual effort and really not much more money, this could have been vastly better in all areas and quite possibly a classic to rival Halloween.
JIMM: Alone in the Dark isn’t a terrible movie, but while it promises much it ultimately fails to deliver anything but the most obvious and rudimentary thrills. Its trailer on the other hand is fantastic; all of the films brief flashes of brilliance are compressed into one intense, dazzling glare – a precisely controlled barrage of genre clichés and high-weirdness that suggests a better, grander and much creepier film. A master demonstration of how a shrewd and cynical eye can create something that obscures the limitations and exaggerates the strengths of the source material, I was so captivated by that trailer that I insisted we view it three times immediately prior to watching the feature itself. In the cold light of day I can’t believe I was so easily enticed – How did I get so worked up? Why? Looking back it seems almost comically obvious that I could only be disappointed.
Of course this is not news to anyone; to say that trailers can mislead is a facile observation. Maybe however, it is worth considering these shameless and manipulative promotional materials as almost a style or genre of their own, sort of like alternate cuts of their respective movies. Less than an half hour on Youtube is all that’s needed to be convinced that in their condensed and compressed form, the best trailers offer a mix of specificity and vagueness that is profoundly evocative. This was ably demonstrated recently by the fake trailers that padded out Grindhouse; Machete is unlikely to ever be as amusing over 120 minutes as it is over 120 seconds.
Ok, let’s set aside the cynical perfection of the trailer and talk about the sloppy imperfection of the film itself. It does start impressively; the first few minutes are compelling, good enough in fact to mask some of the clumsy plotting that characterises the subsequent hour. The diner-set opening is the first of a handful of great scenes which maintain interest as the initial suspense dwindles to reveal that Alone in the Dark’s only real distinction is that it revolves around four escaped killers rather than the more typical lone maniac. This strength in numbers is something of a double-edged sword, creating space for great characters and performances – notably Martin Landau’s delusional pyromaniac preacher and Jack Palance’s inarticulate mastermind – but by necessity never able to give them space to develop. Donald Pleasance’s blunted psychiatrist is a particular waste, crying out for a better thought out role in an entirely different movie.
There is enough genuinely creepy imagery in Alone in the Dark to keep you watching and entertained for the duration but the experience as a whole is totally undermined by faltering execution, plotting which never properly coheres and an odd tone which manages to be both middle-of-the-road and highly distasteful. A couple of scenes – the opening sequence, a lazy shock moment towards the end – offer direct glimpses into different character’s psyches and perceptions, suggesting that these inconsistencies might be intentional and we are supposed to be witnessing a descent into madness for some (all?) of the characters. This raises the possibility of a more distinctive, more satisfying movie that actually examines the idea of being ‘alone in the dark’. But this true horror – dread of being totally alienated from society and/or reality, the idea that we are unable to perceive the world except through senses that can be mistaken or tricked – is never properly explored, and is instead abandoned quickly in favour of lazy ironies and a twist ending which isn’t so much unexpected as arbitrary.
FOXX: … Then comes Alone in the Dark with Dwight Schultz, one of my hero’s purely due to the fact he was part of The A-Team. Well my friends think I am a bit twisted and sick as I double over laughing at the slightest glimpse of extreme gore. So in the first 30 seconds I am greeted with a guy sitting in a diner then all of a sudden the chef comes out, quoting a passage from the bible, and you see the chains fly for the man at the counter and he is hung by his ankles. We are then greeted with the visual pleasure of a mock machete that is obviously covered in tin foil to give it the metallic effect which then proceeds to be driven in the guy’s crotch and screams follow within milliseconds of the act. This is where I get highly irritated and start kicking off as you don’t get to see the gore, for me this is the ultimate betrayal as I love and demand extreme gore if the opportunity arises. The movie has everything going for it, nut jobs that are out of their minds intent on killing, the classic horror story house, the disposable black guy that seemed to make an appearance in nearly every movie of the 80’s, riots and comedy gore.
This is where I start to see through some of the plot and spot that the guy in the house is actually the nose bleed guy who is out to kill them anyway. This is where the host kicks off and starts recalling the time we went to see Saw and I spotted the guy on the floor in the first 30 seconds breathing and telling him that I bet that is the killer, I don’t think he ever forgave me for that, ha ha. Everything kicks off as the big dude gets the axe in his spine and gets uber man points for being able to get up again and try and kill them, the little girl knee caps the dude with a knife, the copper gets stuck to a tree with an arrow from the crossbow, this was the icing on the cake for me.
RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975)
Dir: Jack Starret
Scr: Wes Bishop & Lee Frost
(Click here for the original trailer)
Plot: Two couples vacationing together in an R.V. from Texas to Colorado are terrorised after they witness a murder during a Satanic ritual…
GAZZ: I invested in Race With The Devil because I’ve been wanting to see it for years and then the intrigue about it passed into real desire when I started reading Kevin Smith’s blog and he’d talk up his upcoming horror movie, Red State, as being “in the vein of something like Race With The Devil” and I thought to myself “I only wanted to see this for pure kitsch value but if Kevin Smith is name-checking it as sort of inspirational to his first attempt at a horror movie then I’m going to check this out, definitely!”
Race With The Devil is a weird beast of a movie. It’s 70s production values are very much on show, dating the movie a little harshly. What’s most interesting is that if this was released today it most certainly wouldn’t be considered a “horror” movie. There’s a brilliantly evoked sense of dread running throughout, that initial scene when they witness the sacrifical murder is well realised, but all in all this doesn’t descend into out-and-out horror in the way you’d expect – instead it rolls itself into a full-blown, bat-shit-crazy slice of ‘car-mageddon’ action extravagance. High speed chases and shoot-outs, cars getting off-roaded in spectacular fashion before leading into that infamous ending that would probably have worked wonderfully well back in its original era but smacks a little of “Really? EVERYONE is in on it?” exasperation!
Race With The Devil is hugely enjoyable stuff and a under-rated cult gem. But I’d be surprised if anyone who watched it these days would categorise it as anything less than “action thriller” because it’s most definitely not a horror!
JIMM: I guess sometime around nine or ten I began to start paying attention to what I thought were “grown-up” – read violent and weird – films. When discussed with friends these films were reduced to lists of on-screen mayhem; flashes of nudity, dizzying explosions, swear words of a sexual nature were tabulated and used to gauge a films worth, totals of 15s and 18s viewed were inflated to impress. I remember begging permission to tape just about any movie shown after 11pm on Friday nights which lead to a precocious knowledge of trash Sci-Fi, old Hammer Horror, early Cronenberg and Halloween sequels. My intense affection for Race With The Devil dates from this time of life; I remember a Saturday night on holiday, the living room to myself and a first gleeful exposure to small town Satanists, on-screen pet murder and Warren Oates.
Has it been on TV since? I didn’t notice if it was ever broadcast on terrestrial and it never seemed to turn up on video and DVD either despite being the sort of smart genre picture that crops up in lists of the overlooked and/or hyper-appreciated. This absence did nothing but slowly and surely reinforce my initial enthusiasm; in my memory the movie grew meaner and more frenzied. When Gazz first mooted this triple bill I was very excited to have another chance to view Race with the Devil even if I was bemused to learn that while it’s rated a 15 in the UK it’s a PG in the USA; my ten year old self would not be impressed. As we watched it I realised that the lurid details I thought I remembered – naked rituals, sporadic automobile collisions, copious gore– are in the distance, out of focus or even off camera and only implied.
Older and wiser I’m no longer dazzled by Race With The Devil’s subject matter and I’m a little more wary of the films tricks and twists. It’s a superlative picture but despite its great cast it never aims to do more than deliver lowest common denominator thrills. Peter Fonda as motorbike racer Roger Marsh and Oates as his manager monopolise the action, screen-time and most of the dialogue, leaving the two men’s wives – played by Loretta Swift and Lara Parker – with little to do but alternate between panic-stricken terror and hastily knocking up meals as they all desperately flee another torment-filled night.
It’s all about atmosphere, Race with the Devil generates a palpable sense of dread and claustrophobia. Despite being filmed on wide open roads and expansive Western skies the film displays an inimitably paranoid mid-seventies temperament. The gradual onset of panic, the chain of authority figures displaying casual disbelief and a callous lack of concern, great scenes like Fonda yelling at other residents on a camp site in the middle of the night, demanding information: “Somebody must have seen something”.
There’s an ambivalence at the core of this cheap shocker which is hard to properly gauge; something is being worked through here… is it fear of the small-town and insular or contempt for the self-evidently wealthy campers in their deluxe van? Like the premise of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers inverted, “they” were always here, it is the protagonists who are intruding. I can’t help but feel that the remake currently in production will do nothing to develop out the story and characters and will simply make everything a bit more spectacular and over the top, burying with CGI and bad dialogue the taciturn fatalism which makes the original so satisfying.
FOXX: Last but not least, we have Race with the Devil. We watch the trailer to begin with and you hear “When you Race with the Devil, you better be faster than Hell!” Great I am thinking, this will be amazing but in all honestly it’s slow off the starting line. The point in the movie is they go on a road trip in their lovely new RV and they come across some Satanists (more like tree hugging hippies but damn these are well connected hippies who seem to know the whole of Texas) who are enjoying their weekly sacrificing. They witness this and all of a sudden they are spotted. Cue me waiting for the carnage to unfold, nope I was wrong, this wouldn’t be the case till the last 20 minutes of the movie. At this point we notice the host has nodded off so we start talking about random crap but can’t really remember what we were talking about as I was preoccupied with another conversation earlier in the night but I will leave this to the end. So skipping the filler apart from the gutted dogs that have been cut, hung and quartered for our viewing pleasure, we are at the final chase of the movie which is all out carnage, shotguns being fired at people, holes being left in torso’s, classic A-Team style crashes and the whole world out to get them.
The best part though is what I think makes the perfect ending, there is no happy/perfect ending, they basically look all smug and think they have made it and escaped but no THEY ARE WRONG HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA they got their shit messed up at the last hurdle much to the delight of myself as the lasses constantly screaming for 30 minutes wasn’t my idea of aural pleasure. I actually find myself thinking along the lines of I would of killed them myself if they continued screaming anymore.
And that’s it! Three movies, lot’s of side-tracking conversations, heckling, banter, booze and (for two of us) cigarettes. I can’t speak for the other two but I had a brilliant time and it would appear that they can’t have had too bad an experience because they’re most definitely up for another “3-Way”. Most definitely in “movie related” terms ha ha.
I leave you with Foxx who manages to capture the rather pathetic nature of my drunken ramblings quite beautifully. Yes, I wasn’t “that” drunk. Yes, I did (and do still kind of) believe that in my childhood years I captured background wrong-doing of a suggested sexual nature in Return of the Jedi but the quick, unrelenting verbal attack(s) that I took upon suggesting such a thing has since made me question whether I didn’t just imagine it. How sick am I to even be imagining Ewok “dry-humping”? Furthermore, a recent e-mail from lawyers representing LucasFilm have urged me to declare that none of what follows is in the least bit true and that is a FACT! Sorry Mr Lucas sir! Anyway, over to you Foxx:
FOXX: So overall the three movies we watched were spectacular in both their pros and cons as films. However I think my reviews and my recollections of the movies themselves are hampered somewhat due to a conversation we had with Gazz whereby he swears that in Return of the Jedi at the moment just before Chewwy is climbing out of the ‘AT-AT walker’ you can clearly see two ewoks simulating a ‘gang bang’ next to a log. This produced a whole lot of “you are taking the piss mate, I’ve never seen that” but this was not the end of it, ohhhhh nooooooo.
Gazz then goes on to regale us with how, at the end of the movie, when they are all dancing in celebration, C3PO is literally “rocking out with his cock out” as it looks as if he is wanking himself off… or some other character off… I can’t quite remember… but you try sitting through a night of three movies only to realise the only thing you clearly remember is this theory of wacked out, deranged theory of your host.
To be honest this is what makes these little gatherings the ‘dogs danglies’ as we talk 99% of the time about crap that has nothing to do with the films but are absolute comical gems. Roll on the next one!
So… Hollywood, if you’re listening; Should you have any cult 80s movies you’re thinking about releasing on DVD, ‘Foxx’ ‘Jimm’ and myself are available to do audio commentaries! Until next time…
Is there seriously anyone who read this through till the end? If so, you may claim the TalkBalk Area as your own!