Sunday, July 24, 2016

She Should Have Said No (aka Wild Weed)
70 Minutes
Director: Sam Newfield
Writer: Richard Landau, Arthur Hoerl

Four things about this film: It is introduced by the one and only Kroger Babb, it was Jack Elam’s film debut, it co-stars Lyle Talbot and, has a fascinating back story involving the female lead Lila Leeds and her unfortunate run in with the law, marijuana and Robert Mitchum just a year prior to the films production.

SSHSN is common to the morality movies that were churned out in the 30’s and 40’s by production companies such as Roadshow Attractions, Hallmark Productions and many more like them. Movies like Reefer Madness, The Pace That Kills, and Marihuana Assassin of Youth were amazing frenetic concoctions that used cautionary tales combined with wildly exaggerated melodrama to lure both those in the know and those ignorant of drug culture into the movie house. SSHSN focuses  on marijuana’s hyperkinetic effects and association with violence, immorality and insanity. You might say “what a terrible thing to do.” Maybe so, but it was a money maker and could be done on the cheap with a guaranteed audience. The legendary Kroger Babb – producer, distributor, showman - knew this better than anyone. Concerning this movie we have the following from Wikipedia:

With other films, Babb would try different approaches. For She Shoulda Said No!, an anti-marijuana film of the 1950s, he highlighted the sexual scenes and arranged "one-time-only" midnight showings, claiming that his company was working with the United States Treasury Department to release the film "in as many towns and cities as possible in the shortest possible length of time" as a public service. David F. Friedman, another successful exploitation filmmaker of the era, has attributed the "one-time-only" distribution to a quality so low that Babb wanted to cash in and move to his next stop as fast as possible. At each showing of a film, a singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" was also required.

And of course this film has no sex scenes. However, that was not Mr. Babb’s primary concern; ticket sales were. An excellent account of his amazing antics can be found in exploitation filmmaker Dave Friedman’s autobiography A Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash-Film King. Read it you fool!!
It is also Jack Elam’s film debut and co-stars the always steady Lyle Talbot. But the most interesting story concerns Lila Leeds who plays the female lead and her history with Robert Mitchum. Ms. Leeds and “Bob” were arrested just a year before this movie was made when she, another couple and swaggering Bob were busted at a pot party at the house she was renting in Laurel Canyon.

She's The One With The Weed!

 They both ended up doing 60 days in county. Mitchum – who often bragged  about walking around LA with a joint tucked behind his ear - claimed the whole thing was a set up. When he and Lyla arrived at the LA police station immediately following their arrest there were already a number of press agencies and photographers present. The LAPD had been criticized in the press for their lax effort against the perceived drug problem and Mitchum said they were just making an example of him to improve public relations. Mitchum’s career suffered none. Sadly poor Lyla became hooked on heroine while in jail and, as far as I can tell, had a rough time of it after getting out with a couple of kids and two broken marriages. In her mid 60s she turned to our Lord Bejesus Christ for comfort. She died at the age of 71. Shit, I knew jail was the best place for pot smokers. 


So, according to the timeline Lyla was probably addicted to or in recovery from heroin when this thing was being shot. The movie was to capitalize on her and Bob’s arrest and it surely did. As for the movie she and the supporting cast do a pretty decent job. Lyla, who plays Anne Lester the obligatory young innocent, is corrupted by one slick talking dealer “Markey” played by Alan Baxter with a nasty nasal reminiscent of Jack Nicholson (who was about 12 years old at the time.) Jack Elam, credited as Henchman Raymond, doesn’t have a lot to say but plays it well and with both eyes pointing the same direction. Overall this movie has very good production values, above average acting and, as mentioned, includes the inimitable Lyle Talbot (Captain Hayes) with that wonderful somber, resonant voice.  What can I say? I love listening to the man’s voice whatever he is talking about: high school punks, transvestites, UFOs or pot-heads. There is also a scared straight segment where Lyla is being leaned on for info that is done dead-on and has true dramatic impact. So I say watch the movie, enjoy Lyle’s voice and the attractive Ms. Leeds, and wonder just what that pot party was like long ago on a balmy LA night in August of 1948. Four Tightly Rolled Merkins.

Psycho Shark (aka Jaws in Japan)
70 Minutes
Director: John Hijiri
Writer: Yasutoshi Murakawa

After watching too many first rate Asian Extreme movies (Miike, Gaira, Ikeda, etc) it’s nice to find Japanese cinema producing thin noodled cable fare for US distribution. Oh, Amazon prime, that $99 has brought me so much ramen in so little time. To be kind perhaps Psycho Shark is a meditative piece on the predatory nature of man. The filmmakers had something in mind. People just don’t go out and point a camera and say they? Supposedly filmed in Okinawa, where the water is oh so blue, there is a lot of splashing, not nude shower scenes, and some very nice Japanese bikinis on display not to mention the ample flesh that fills them.

 There are dreams of sharks and there is a symbolic Shark that appears at the end of the movie. There is murder but not much mayhem. I enjoyed this movie. Man as shark. I will watch it again when properly medicated to ensure maximum absorption. Three Ample Asian Merkins. 
Beasterday: Here Comes Peter Cottonhell – Available on Amazon Prime
87 Minutes
Director: The Snygg Brothers
Writers: The Snygg Brothers

I have great affection for B movies not shot in southern California or New York City. Regional they’re called and the smaller the town the more interested I am in watching. So it goes with Beasterday from Allentown Pennsylvania. The directors, Spencer and Zachary Snygg, were close enough to Baltimore to get a strong whiff of John Water’s fetishistic whimsy when they were growing up. And fetishistic whimsy, when deployed well, is a wonderful ingredient in Z grade genre films. These films are often intolerable to normal people owing to a certain lack of pacing and sub-par acting. Fair enough. But here’s the thing, if you have  obsessed characters that hoot and howl with a fetishistic twist you have a hook to win over genre obsessed movie fans like myself. There is no exposition in this flick,  just a giant horribly animated stop-motion bunny – Peter Cottenhell - that starts ravaging the residents of Allentown on Easter.

Always Head First

The Roger Corman nudity rule is in play: If you show women’s breasts do it early and often and then get on with the story. Our protagonists are a guy and gal who work for “Dog Catchers in the Rye” animal control company (they have adorable uniforms; would love to own one - have to track down the Snygg Brothers.) The young lady wants to move back in with her dad and step-mom after failing as a dancer to become a poet. Her father is having none of it and insists she get a real job. The young man is obsessed with being the world’s best dog catcher and really enjoys shoving objects – stuffed bunnies, socks, pencils – down his pants. The young ladies father is on a restrictive diet and has a really interesting pork fetish complete with baby clothes and bacon on a string. Neither the young man nor the father are the least bit embarrassed about their behavior which is what makes this so fun. I won’t give away the ending but it involves a lobotomy and a man dressed as a giant carrot. Hey Snygg brothers.....keep making movies! The movie stars Peter Sullivan, Marisol Custodio, John Fedele, Jon Arthur, and Bill Joachim and features cameos by scream queens Darian Caime, AJ Khan, Kerri Taylor, Jackie Stevens, Autumn Bodell, and Violetta Storms. Three Carrot Orange Merkins.

Friday, July 15, 2016

It Follows (2014)
100 Minutes
Director: David Mitchell
Writer: David Mitchell

David Lynch, David Cronenberg and David Robert Mitchell. Well, not quite. While It Follows at times envelops you in the wet and rotting Detroit environs, and while there are a few uncomfortable scenes that may make you squirm, it is at heart a teen slasher.  The original element  being the sex act, instead of luring the monster as in all those 80s franchises,  is now a chore that must be accomplished to divert it. The origin of the monster-zombie apparition thing is never really explained other than to say some young guy got it from a one night stand with a gal who made a hasty departure. Once cursed (fucked) you must spend your life pursued by this implacable apparition, that is, until you have sex and pass the curse on to the next victim. Although, having done so like herpes, the curse hangs around and may flare up during times of stress. The apparition can only be seen by the fucked one and the fucked one’s predecessors; you know, the kids who brought herpes to your high school in the first place. The apparition can only walk; no skipping and no heel-to-toe shit. It can take any human form – a mother and father make an appearance - and appear at any time like when you are staring off into space, trying to sleep or just trying to get away from that thing that keeps appearing and walking at you. Like a dream you say? More like an angry friend who thinks you were the one who ran over their cat. And get away the teens do by foot, by bike and by car. So what is all this shit? Is it a metaphor for Detroit’s fall from great city to ghost town? Maybe.  Is it a reflection of the general economic decline of the middle class which is, after all, being fucked as the super rich laugh?  Could be. Is it the Devil? Had the teens arranged a hasty Baptist wedding before fucking would the apparition have grown wings and flown away? Don’t know. The hero/final girl wanna be Jay (wonderfully played by 21 year old Maika Monroe) has several scenes of being immersed in water.

Wash My Sins Away

Does this represent her desire to return to a state of innocence? It is made clear early on that she is not a virgin. And after the initial deception of receiving the curse from the “young guy” in an abandoned parking lot she has sex with every guy in the movie out of scared shitless self-preservation.  There is no time for contemplating innocence; only for keeping your head above water. I’m thinking they should have had a dog. Dogs can sense things and have very sharp teeth. And with a dog alongside they would have resembled a pot-smoking version of that 1970s animated series concerned with ghosts, snacks and such. Aside from the narrative aspect, with all its fucking and running, the movie has some nice touches for us older folks. The production design consists of old homes, old American cars built in Detroit, and old schlocky sci/fi horror films viewed on old not so flat-screen TVs. Thank you Killers from Outer Space, Godzilla and The Vulture. Oh, and then the movie ends. Three wet and soggy Merkins. Check it out.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Santa Claus (1959)
94 Minutes
Director: Rene’ Cardona
Writers: Adolfo Torres Portillo, Rene’ Cordona

Before Cuban born  Rene’ Cardona hit his low budget directorial stride in the 1960’s with messy horror exploitation shockers such as Dr. Doom, Night of the Bloody Apes and Mexican wrestling absurdities like Santo and the Vengeance of the Mummy and Santo Contra Los Cazadores de Cabezas ( “Head Hunters”) he directed this tender, warm hearted, and absolutely bizzaro Santa Claus film which relies heavily on Christian lore and literally elevates Santa to the celestial heavens above the North Pole in a floating crystal palace lined with silver and gold. From this vantage point he can keep his eye and ear focused on all the children of the planet. He is assisted by an absent minded wizard Merlin and a cheerful group of small children from all over the world. The opening scene introduces the children in what looks like a hastily thrown together Worlds Fair exhibit hosted at Disneyland. “Here are gathered the boys and girls of different races and creeds,” explains the omnipresent narrator, “They have come from many lands to help Santa bring joy and happiness to all of the Earth’s children.” They all sing and play music from their native lands and do so rather poorly. But what really catches the eye in Santa’s “Toyland” is the observation tower where a giant pair of lips reports, a creepy master eye surreptitiously observes, and a very big disembodied human ear listens. A machine the “Dream Watcher” is also employed to see into a child’s dreams.  Pee Wee would have a blast in this place!

The Master Eye

The Conflict: In Hell, Lucifer assigns his minion Pitch with sabotaging Santa’s mission lest he be forced to eat chocolate ice cream instead of his required diet of hot coals.  A long dance routine of Lucifer’s minions – reminiscent of the Right of Spring dance in the Big Lebowski -   punctuates how serious he is about ruining Christmas. For Santa’s part, we know who he answers to and it’s not the FISA court and it’s not Dick Cheney but a higher power. One of the first things we see Santa do in his palace is fuss with his miniature nativity scene to get the baby Jesus positioned just right before his trip to earth. But Santa is also burdened with a punishment: If he doesn’t get his shit done by dawn his four hardworking Mexican reindeer will turn to dust!! Why only four? The others are in an ICE detention facility if you know what I mean. Santa f-ing Christ I love the tension in this story.

Pitch Blows

The Principle Players: Still in his crystal palace, Santa uses the Dream Machine to enter the mind of a rich Mexican child who wants nothing more than to be loved by his self-absorbed parents. He dreams of waking on Christmas morning and rushing downstairs to find two giant boxes next to the Christmas tree. Guess what’s inside? Is it Mr. and Mrs. Pee Wee Herman? No, you guessed it:  His parents covered in blood. No, of course not, his parents covered in love and smiles. Santa then focuses the Dream Machine on a poor Mexican girl named Lupita. She wants nothing more than a doll. She is in the midst of her own Devil dream brought on by Pitch who blows on her – yes that’s what he does in this movie he blows on things to fan the flames so to speak - to induce a dream filled with creepy life size rag dolls emerging from 11 boxes into a room of fog to dance  around poor little Lupita begging her to steal what she so covets. But Lupita resists because she is poor and good hearted and too ignorant to understand the advantages of white collar crime.  Finally, there are three bad boys whom Pitch nudges to throw rocks through a department store window to get what they want. Easily influenced by the Devil they don’t deserve shit and Santa doesn’t bother to look into their minds at all but levels a stern warning from his crystal palace. This scares the boys and they skidaddle but their naughty impulses are nigh abated. Oh well F them.  As a result, Pitch easily corrupts the boys as the story continues and later, when on earth, Santa will give them nothing but coal. Sooooooo Santa eventually gets his ass into the sleigh and sets off from his crystal palace larded with presents and a bag of tricks to distribute judgement.

Santa’s Got a Brand New Bag: Santa’s bag of tricks consist of a magic electrified key that will unlock any door on the planet, a beautiful flower with which to appear and disappear and “The Powders for Dreaming”   that enable post hypnotic suggestions for those he decides need it. In the interest of time, money, and your own sanity the story sticks to the five kids introduced in Act 1.

Santa Gives Hope to Some: Santa drops by each of the kids houses and makes a special visit to the rich kids’ parents at a hoity toity restaurant. He wards off pitch at each turn except with the 3 bad kids. Granted the bad kids’ parents are never present but should they be punished for shitty parenting? Santa does however give extra attention to the rich kid. While his parents are out on the town Santa visits the somber child at his home with his heart aching for his parents to come home and be with him on Christmas Eve. He induces a dream state in the child and reminds him that his parents truly love him and will see the error of their ways. He then shows up as the waiter at the posh dinner the parents are attending and,  as with the movie Ben Hur, we never see Jesus’ err Santa’s face, but we do see his arm extending a “Cocktail of Remembering” to the rich and forgetful SOBs. They partake and remember they miss something, their beloved child and rush home post haste to be with him. Santa then makes it to Lupita’s house where her parents look really depressed about their abject poverty on Christmas Eve. What can they do? The mother clutches her cross and prays for a miracle.  Her prayers are answered as Santa leaves a doll on the door step. No time for dreams, lectures or cocktails just a doll that mysteriously appears at the nadir of their holiday misery. Not actually seeing Santa, the mother then thanks Jesus for the doll and at least one night of drunken recriminations is postponed. Two snowy white Merkins. Check it out over the holidays.