Monthly Archives: July 2011

And now, a word from…AAAaaargh!

Now there’s a brilliant marketing idea: a toy based on an R-rated film.

This was before action-figures were deemed “collectibles”.

I do remember this commercial when I was 16 and it had me writhe in agony.

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This town is big enough for all of them

Legend has it that two producers were joking around one day about how using midgets to make movie would make set-building and costume budgets cost less.

Legendary Midget Actor Billy Curtis (right) worked with all the Hollywood greats.

In 1938, they made good on that “joke” by producing this “novelty picture”: a western starring an all-midget cast (save for the announcer at the beginning used for “size comparison”):

The Terror of Tiny Town

Billed as a ‘Rollicking, Rootin, Tootin, Shootin Drama of the Great Outdoors”, the film starred Billy Curtis, who was one of the Munchkins on The Wizard of Oz (where he reportedly hit on Judy Garland repeatedly) and went on to have a long and distinguished career in Hollywood. One of is most memorable roles is as the appointed sheriff in the Clint Eastwood film High Plains Drifter.

If anything, the “midgets” fare pretty well in the film. The low budget production values and exploitative nature of the film is what is good for a laugh but anyone looking to poke fun AT the little people should just move along.

I should, however, leave you with this warning:

WARNING! This picture contains singing in what seems to be an atmosphere composed mainly of Helium. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Children of all ages,

I give you the classic The Terror of Tiny Town. In it’s entirety:

Pain Level: 6/10 – 9/10 when they burst into song!

Quality of Pain: Like a very tiny saddle sore.


100% Genuine Imitations

It was way too early in the morning to get a call from a perplexed friend.

“Turn on the TV and go to that new station” he urged. “I need you to identify this film. It’s driving me crazy.”

The TV station in question was a new one, bidding for an affiliate license and not yet on the cable grid. As I fiddled with the tuner to try to make the picture clear, my friend continued.

“I’ve just about seen every damn picture made by Jerry Lewis but I’ll be damned if I can recall this one.”

At that moment, Bela Lugosi’s awesome puss became visible through the snow on my set. Immediately, I clued in on what was going on.

“That’s not Jerry!” I revealed.

“No. No. Not that guy! That’s Bela Lugosi! I never knew Jerry made a movie with Lugosi.”

“That’s because the guy who looks like Jerry isn’t Jerry.”

“Yes, it is. He’s just very young. Wait until you see him. They’re so young, Dean Martin is barely recognizeable.”

“That’s because it’s not Dean martin but a nightclub singer by the name of Duke Mitchell.”

“Jerry had another partner before Dean? Wow! I knew you were the guy to call.”

At that moment, “Jerry” appeared on the screen, jumping around in Lewis’ patented “idiotic behaviour” style. I cut in again.

“That’s not Jerry. That’s a Jerry Lewis impersonator by the name of Sammy Petrillo. The movie you are watching is called Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.”

Sure enough, the station was filling it’s airwaves with public domain titles. And it seems that whenever you get your hands on a bunch of old films whose rights have expired, you’ll most likely find this 1952 curiosity.

The director of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, William Beaudine acquired the nickname “one shot” for his close adherence to the “If you can see it and hear it- the shot’s good” school of directing. It apparently came from his early days as a director of silents, when one of the producer’s cronies showed up on set and urge him to “pick up the pace”. Beaudine reportledly replied “You mean to tell me someone’s actually in a hurry to see this shit?” and never did a retake unless absolutely necessary. Shot in less than a week in the basement of Desilu Sudios, it has been reported major TV stars like Lucy and Desi used to go down on their lunch break just to watch Beaudine work. In all fairness, Beaudine was fast but he was efficient. He directed over 500 features in his carreer and has countless TV credits (like the classic Lassie show of the 50s).

Sammy Petrillo was the undisputed King of Jerry Lewis impersonators. In fact, it was Jerry that gave him his first big break, featuring him a his son in a sketch of one of the Colgate Comedy Hour specials he did with Martin.

Jerry started it! Sammy (center) just didn’t know when to stop.

The only problem was, Sammy never stopped impersonating Jerry and, with time, Lewis got really annoyed. We’re talking “Cease and desist” annoyed here.

In what has to be one of the sweetest scams ever in showbiz history, Mitchell and Petrillo went touring, booking themselves with pay-or-play contracts in hotels across America. Once checked in, they would call Lewis’ management and inform them of their location. It was just a question of time before the Hotel Manager would appear, apologizing profusely, to let them know that they had received a phone call from Lewis’ people informing them of the consequences of letting these two on stage. The pay-or-play contract would be honoured and they were welcome to stay at the hotel as guests. And so, Mitchell and Petrillo toured for well over a year, living the high life and never having to perform once.

After Dean and Jerry split, Duke and Sammy parted on amicable terms.

Sammy, for the most part, billed himself as “The World’s Youngest Has-Been”. Until his death in 2009, he was a fixture at autograph shows happily boasting that “Jerry never got $20 for his signature”.

I’ll give him credit. His Jerry was good enough to fool a fan into dragging me out of bed early half a century later.

Duke Mitchell, on the other hand, dubbed himself “King of Palm Springs” and went on as a crooner often under his italian name Dominic “Mimi” Miceli. He is credited as being the Elvis-like voice of Fred Flintstone on thos episodes where Fred signs. Other sources (like Michael J. Weldon’s Psychotronic Video Guide) claim he was Barney Rubble’s singing voice.

Duke Mitchell. Crooner, Director, Hitman?

It’s here that Duke’s career takes a bizarre twist as director of two very bizarre obscurities. His first film Gone with the Pope reportedly never got a theatrical release but was finally released to video by Grindhouse releasing a couple of years ago.

But it’s his second film that delivers the goods for bad movie aficionados. Originally titled Like Father, Like Son, this grungy little independent feature also was released to home video as The Exeutioner and now as a DVD entitled Massacre Mafia Style. reportedly autobiographical, it tells the story of a crooner/hit man who goes up in the ranks after devising a money laundering scheme involving making low-budget films so crappy they lose money. Really? Now where would “Mimi” have found such a preposterous idea?

One thing’s for sure; It’s real hard to sit through. Fortunately, the best bit on this film is the opening scene, as “Mimi” and his cohort blast their way out of an office building after executing a rival boss by electrocuting him in a urinal. The combination of stupendously bad stunt choreography and Italian sing-along make this one of the Cinémasochist’s all-time favoritest clips ever. Just try and watch it just once!

Both Sammy and Duke are gone now, but their brief association with the immortal Bela Lugosi coupled with the film costing nothing to show, assure their immortality.

Here is their feature in it’s entirety.
Enjoy!

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla

Pain Level: 6/10

Quality of Pain: Benign. It barely tickles.

Like Father, Like Son/The Executioner/Massacre Mafia Style

Pain Level: 8/10

Quality of pain: Famiglia size!


Return of the Monkey Cam

Zippy the Chimp, operator of the

Back in the mid-eighties, David Letterman was playing around with cameras. He’d have them mounted directly above him, behind his desk, even worn by guests (The “Late Night Guest Cam”). He would have one mounted on a track that came down on him like a roller coaster he dubbed the “Late-Night Thrill Cam”. Then he decided to push the enveloppe further with the idea of monting a camera on the back of a monkey that would be let loose in the studio. The “Monkey Cam” was a disaster as the tiny camera still managed to be too much for the poor primate given that it still had to have a rather heavy battery pack to function. Not one to be defeated so easily, another attempt was made, this time affixing the camera onto a chimpanzee. Thus, in march 1986 “Monkey Cam II” was born and television history was made.

As Zippy the chimp ran wild on the set, it became obvious the images from the camera itself would prove disastrously un-telegenic. The lens would just flay randomly as Zippy swung on a rope or climbed on chairs- never actually managing to keep anything worthwhile in frame.

The concept was pushed a step further when Zippy was fitted with roller skates and dubbed the “Late Night Monkey Cam Mobile Unit”.

As is typical with Letterman, failure became part of the comedy derived from the attempt but the concept of the monkey cam was quietly mothballed.

Until, that is, the makers of Battle:Los Angeles resurrected the technology earlier this year.

Never mind the “making of” extras on the DVD, I can recognize old Zippy’s camera work when I see it! The entire credits for the “camera crew” of Battle: Los Angeles is a scam designed to keep the party poopers at PETA off their backs.

Want a synopsis? Meteors land. L.A. go boom!

Battle: Los Angeles, Hollywood’s latest entry in the “Alien Invasion” genre, is so enamoured with the barf-o-cam style that they use it in scenes that have no use for it: like the “visit to a cemetery” scene or the “saying goodbye to the girlfriend scene”.

Medic! We have a cameraman in serious need of Gravol here!

Oddly enough, there are shots where the camera is rock steady. For some reason, these are the shots where aliens get hit with rockets and explode. I’d venture to say that that’s because the pyrotechnics were so loud, they decided to give the camera crew a banana break and use tripods instead.

Also, puzzling is the odd interpretation of the 180 degree rule of cinema meaning “do the exact opposite of what should be done here”. Camera angles abound for no other reason than to show the action from a zillion angles. Soldiers would be tripping over cameramen constantly had this been really shot documentary style.

Could this be an attempt at realizing the old “infinite number of monkeys with typewriters” philosophical puzzle? The logic being that movies are a more attainable goal than literature?

Perhaps the whole point is to communicate that Los Angeles has been hit so bad, this is the only motion picture crew left. If that’s the case, then Battle: Los Angeles suddenly transforms itself into the scariest thing ever to come out of Tinseltown.

I owe Michael Bay an apology.

The world’s greatest cities have fallen, we are told through CNN reports that pepper the film. It seems Atlanta is immune to worldwide devastation and that, later tonight, Larry King will be taking to Carol Channing about what she hopes from our new alien overlords.

I owe Roland Emerich an apology.

For all it’s millions spent of post-production work and special effects (rumours and accusations abound that the reason why the Strause Brothers were able to deliver the dreadful Skyline for a mere $8 Million was because they worked on their effects while under contract for this film), BLA is a giant reverse evolutionary step in the history of the moving image. This film is more than a waste of time and money- It’s a waste of light!

The makers of this POS should grab a shovel, dig up the corpse of Thomas Edison and give him an apology.

Pain Level: 9/10

Quality of Pain: Awful. It’s the sort of pain that’s no fun- not even for masochists.

Note: Battle: Los Angeles is now on home video. So here’s a handy step-by-step guide to fully get the best possible experience from playing it on your DVD or Blu-Ray player:

1- Turn DVD/Blue-Ray player ON
2- Insert disk
3- Press PLAY
4- Set all speakers and monitor to OFF position.
5- Leave room and go attend to whatever unpleasant task you’ve been putting off (like cleaning behind the fridge for example).

If you have downloaded the film, either legally via iTunes or illegally (via ShameOnYou), the best enjoyment will be derived from deleting the file after viewing.


Sleazy, Preachy and just plain Wrong!

In the early days of sound, a “Production Code” was imposed by Hollywood on itself in order to stem the rising threat of government censorship. Film not abiding by the code would not have access to the mainstream cinemas nor be able to buy advertisement in major national newspapers. They also opened themselves up to local censor’s scrutiny.

On the other hand, independent producers could tackle the tasteless and often outrageous subjects considered too risqué or controversial for mainstream America. They would bypass the mainstream, publicize the films themselves and distribute them directly to Main Street theatres across the U.S. of A. educating the great unwashed and separating the suckers from their sheckles in the process.

Showing the sin in order to preach against it was a huge part of Exploitation cinema’s  ability to weasel their way around both the production code and local censors. And nowhere is this most obvious than in the genuinely creepy 1938 offering Child Bride, a vile little film which purports to preach against the Hillbilly tradition of marrying underage girls.

How sleazy is this film? MST3K flat out refused to "riff" on it.

Set in the Appalachians, the film begins with a typical (for exploitation films)”square-up” crawling title to reassure you of the film’s intent “not to exploit but to educate”.

As the film opens, we are introduced to little Jennie (Shirley Mills) who lives in a shack with her mom and pa. What is genuinely disturbing right off the bat is the “glamour” photographic style which is equivalent to slathering layers of makeup on her – Jon Benet Ramsey style.

Later Jennie and her friend Freddie sneak off to a pond in a secluded part of the woods. Jennie informs Freddie they can no longer skinny dip together as they are “not what they used to be” and turns to reveal her underage budding breasts.  She then pops into the pond and starts paddling about.

Her swimming is spied upon by Jake (Warner Richmond), a sleazy old Hillbilly with designs on Jennie. Perhaps this justifies the photographic style but I seriously doubt the filmmaker was thinking about that nuance.

Jake, we get to learn, is a wicked two timing sumbitch who thinks nothing of mercilessly killing a man in cold blood or worse, tossing the local dwarf around (Angelo Rossito of Freaks fame). (That’s right, folks. This movie also features the evil of “dwarf tossing” but, to be fair, they justified it in the script.)

Jake cooks up a plan to blackmail Jennie’s mom into granting permission to marry the child. He threatens to bear witness to her killing her man while she was drunk, offering instead to keep quiet in exchange for shady nuptials.

What's wrong about this picture? Just about everything, really.

Without spoiling it, I can assure you that Jake will meet his comeuppance. Exploitation films, after all, may be bypassing censors but they still needed to see sins punished if they were to make their preachy point. How the story sorts itself out, however, I will leave you to discover for yourself. Make sure your water heater is full up- you’re going to spend a lot of time under that nozzle once you’re done screening this.

Pain Level: 9/10

Quality of pain: Scalding! The shower you’ll take after this film won’t be a cold one to cool you down but the hottest possible in a feeble attempt to wash off the ickiness of this durn thing.


Movie Nazis are fun!

To be completely fair, we have to weigh the good and the bad. Nothing is ever entirely one or the other.

Take Hitler for example. He did give us the Autobahn and Volkswagens. But his biggest contribution to our modern culture is in providing generations of filmgoers with villains we can all hiss at collectively.

Yes, from Raiders of the Lost Ark to the new release of Captain America: The First Avenger, movie nazis are the best damn villains ever.

And the cheesier the better. Whether it’s from their portrayal in Looney Tunes propaganda shorts from WWII to the plethora of Nazis in countless serials and B-movies, there is a definite Keystone Kops sort of cathartic enjoyment at seeing the most fearful war machine in history portrayed as a bumbling collection of euro-snobs.

One such crackpot representation is in the 1963 espionage potboiler Madmen of Mandoras. In this long forgotten title, spies track down nazi refugees to the fictitious South-American country of Mandoras to thwart their plot to release a deadly nerve gas. This is all in an attempt to reclaim the glory of the Reich and continue on their mad quest for world domination.

The film was photographed by Stanley Cortez, who worked for Orson Welles. he did a fairly good job of imbuing the film with a dash of Film Noir which in turn was derived off German Expressionism.

Now comes the moment in “Sprockets” vhere ve dance!

Back to our story, the agents’ surprise turns to astonishment when they discover an even more shocking reality: “Mister H” himself will be leading that conquest as his entire head, it turns out, had been surgically removed during the “final hours” and placed in some kind of preserving device that looks like a cross between a cristal radio set and a fishtank. (Matt Goening credits it with inspiring his “head in jar” method of preserving historical figures in Futurama).

Pickled Fuehrer anyone?

Frankly, Der Fuehrer’s Face doesn’t do much besides barking “Mach Schnell!” a lot from his Hitlerium but it does provide us with one of bad-cinemadom’s classic images.

The film clocks at around 75 minutes so the distributor, Crown International (the people who brought you The Creeping Terror) hired a bunch of UCLA film students to pad out the film with an extra 20 minutes of new espionage footage in order to make the film compatible with a two-hour TV slot (with room for commercials). This is where it acquired the juicy (if not spoilerish) title They Saved Hitler’s Brain.

Sure, the title spoils the surprise but would you watch Madmen of Mandoras not knowing where it all leads?

The result is a crazy, disjointed mess where night turns into day, hair styles grow from short Eisenhower era cuts to greasy unkept Nixon era dos.

That is soooooo 1963!

This is one gruelling cinematic experience which has laid waste many a synaptic connection. It needs to be experienced to be believed. No amount of snarky copy on my part can even compete with the sheer surrealism of the experience.

So here it is. In it’s entirety for you to *ahem* enjoy.

PAIN LEVEL: 10/10

QUALITY OF PAIN: Gott in Himmel!


Why watch RUBBER? No reason.

When it comes to movies, nobody can rationalize all the fun out of the artform like the French. To a lot of them, the sheer joy of watching entertainment can only be justified if you can attach some sort of intellectual exercise to it. It could be a valid exercise but, more often than not, it’s a contrived argument to make an unpalatable piece of pretentious shit attractive.

Case in point: RUBBER by Electro-musician/director/visionnary Quentin Dupieux.

I am french -therefore visionary.

The film divides audiences despite getting glowing reviews from people at film festivals whose job it is to speak glowingly of all their selections, no matter how dull and incomprehensible they are. In fact, “dull and incomprehensible” is all the better since it imbues snobby viewers with an air of superiority to others. After all, if they didn’t fall asleep or writhe in pain, it’s obviously due to their higher intelligence and the bovine masses’ lack of appreciation for true art.

As someone who has both a (useless) Fine-Arts degree and an (equally useless) IQ of 140, I tend to disagree. I find it takes more talent to make people believe there is a killer tire on the loose than make a film where you constatly remind the audience of its obvious fakeness. Birdemic constantly reminds its audience it’s fake and I doubt anyone will make a case for the film’s director being a genius (unless they’re ironic hipsters or way beyond help). Edward D. Wood Jr. constantly makes us “aware of the filmic process” yet I don’t see intellectual snobs tripping over themselves to organize a tribute that isn’t either derisive or humorous in intent.

“Robert” is one mean metaphor for tires.

Contrarily to what you are being told in ad copy, RUBBER is not about a living tire with the psychokinetic power to make beer bottles, tin cans, crows, rabbits and, eventually, human heads explode. No siree, it’s about people stuck out in some desert-like limbo being forced to watch this nonsensical story -about a living tire with the psychokinetic power to make beer bottles, tin cans, crows, rabbits and, eventually, human heads explode – unfold from afar through binoculars. They do so for (drumroll please!) no reason! (Unless, of course, you count metaphor as one.)

THIS is what the film is about: YOU – the audience.

“No reason” is the force that drives cinema- or so we are told by a policeman (Stephen Spinella) who opens the film by coming out of the trunk of a car. The driver hands him a glass of water which he holds as he delivers a speech about how things happen in movies with no reason given- just like in real life. He makes his point by pouring his glass of water on the ground. Oooooh, how clever! How philosophical!  He was holding it FOR NO REASON.

You say SPOILER ALERT! I say FAIR WARNING!

So the people watch as “Robert” inexplicably comes to life and goes about discovering his killer psychokinetic abilities and murderous ways. Of course, he’ll have to begin stalking a “mysterious woman” who likes to shower naked (for no reason- other than the director being french.)

They’re in a turkey- eating turkey! See how clever this film is?

The members of the “audience” are denied food until, mad with hunger, they are fed a poisoned turkey by their captor/caretaker (Jack Plotnick). This, for some reason (although none is given), was to put an end to the story – as Lieutenant Chad explains to his deputies that nothing is real and pointless without an audience. However, one weelchair bound spectator (Wings Hauser) did not partake in the turkey eating frenzy and has survived- forcing this crap to continue until the tire gets reincarnated into a tricycle who leads a discarded tire uprising. (There! I just saved you the cost of rental).

Frankly, the whole psychokinetic power thing feels like a giant copout. Instead of witnessing people run over in many creative ways, we get to see “Robert” shiver and shake as its victims to go all Louis Del Grande on us – with brains ‘splodin’ all over the place. It’s a lot like a Van Damme fight where his “ability to down a man with one punch” robs us of a decent and satisfying martial arts routine. That certainly is the case as the tire’s grandiose rampage is conveyed via a slow pan across countless headless bodies days after it happened.

Come to think of it, had this been a short, I probably would’ve been all giddy about it. The problem is that, as a feature, the premise accumulates too much mileage and eventually falls flat. At 82 minutes, it feels a couple of hours too long.

 So what unfolds is a stream of scenes designed to have us ask “why?” only to dismiss them as “no reason”. My personal theory on this is that the french have been subjected to so much bad dubbing over the years that they’ve been led to believe everything happens “for no reason” in cinema.

Warning: If you hate our movie, it’s because you’re stupid. Not clever punsters like us!

Frankly, I would’ve preferred a straightforward “killer tire” movie where I was made to believe the premise rather than feeling like some pseudo-intellectual asshole was sitting next to me and demonstrating his insecurities by pointing out every little bit of nonsense.

So the torture ends up coming not from the film’s premise itself but from the excruciating lecture that comes with it. We are denied a truly goofy premise that, in all its inherent stupidity, was promising to make my nipples hard with cinemasochistic delight.

So even as a guilty pleasure, I see no reason to watch this. No reason at all.

If this is originality, I’d rather an old retread.

 

PAIN LEVEL: 6/10

QUALITY OF PAIN: TIREsome (like these bad “clever” puns).