Thursday, October 20, 2016

Episode 26: When a Stranger Calls Back (1993)

“You should get out of there. NOW.”

Teenaged babysitter Julia (‘80s Scream Queen Jill Schoelen) is startled by the sound of gentle rapping on the front door. Thinking better of twisting the knob, she nervously calls, “Who is it?”

From the front stoop, a stranger claims he wants only to use the phone. That his car has broken down and is in need of a tow. “You can trust me,” he calls from beyond the door and for a moment, Julia believes him. She reaches for the knob, but stops, offering to make the call for him, only when she reaches for the telephone receiver, she finds no dial tone. What ensues is a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse—a game Julia barely escapes with her own life.

Four years later, Julia is a college sophomore, still menaced by a man she’s never seen. While she’s in class, he enters her cramped apartment and makes subtle changes—moving a book’s place on her shelf, setting her alarm clock to wake her in the middle of the night—for no other reason than to let her know he’s still very much a presence in her life and that he’s always watching.

Terrified, Julia goes to the police for help, but she’s seen as a flake with an overly active imagination. It is only Jill (Carol Kane, reprising her role from the original 1979 horror classic When a Stranger Calls) who takes her seriously. With the help of Detective John Clifford (Charles Durning, also reprising his role from the original film), the three set out to discover the identity of this faceless stranger and why he’s fixated on Julia all these years.

When a Stranger Calls Back is a taunt, unrelenting thriller with an opening sequence that truly rivals the original in both suspense and originality. Incredibly strong performances all-around, especially Jill Schoelen, who I’ve always found to be more than authentic in her many woman-in-peril roles and wished she’d leant her talents to more genre films.

You can expect the usual from this episode: stories of viewing the film for the first time, some anecdotes on Jill and where she’s been all these years, and an an exploration of an inconsistency between the way Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) is written/developed in the original When a Stranger Calls, and how the character is seen here. As much as I enjoy both films, this odd little plothole has always bothered me and I never understood why more fans haven’t examined it.

For this episode, I used the original GoodTimes DVD, which runs 1:33:50. During the commentary, I mistakenly refer to the disc as rare and long out-of-print, but after a tiny bit of research, I came to find that it’s pretty easy to nab on Amazon brand new, and at a reasonable price.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Episode 25: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1982)

“Perverts and sluts... They’re doing everything they can to take him away from us...”

At age 3, Billy Lynch (Jimmy McNichol, former teen idol and brother of Kristy) is left to the care of Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrell, in one of the most over-the-top, scenery-chomping roles of her extensive career) after his parents are killed in a horrific car wreck. Under Cheryl’s tutelage for more than fifteen years, it’s time for young Billy to start making plans for college.

But Aunt Cheryl isn’t ready to let Billy go.

When a brutal murder follows an “attempted rape,” Billy finds Aunt Cheryl covered in blood, the lifeless body of a television repairman sprawled on the kitchen floor. As Detective Joe Carlson (Bo Svenson) begins to peel away the crime’s many layers, he discovers that Cheryl’s alleged assailant was actually a homosexual, betrothed to Billy’s basketball coach, with whom Billy shared a close friendship.

As Detective Carlson continues his investigation, Billy, wrapped up in a nightmare whirlwind he never could’ve foreseen, begins to do some investigating of his own. In the process, he comes to find that Aunt Cheryl has a mountain of buried secrets and will do anything not only to keep them hidden, but also to keep Billy close by.

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker, also released as Night Warning, is an odd little gem that explores some very uncomfortable subjects, including rape, implied incest, and...pickling. That’s right, I said pickling—and no, that isn’t a euphemism.

Rubber-faced Susan Tyrell was a woman of many strange expressions, a number of which are present during the final moments of the film. With a wide-eyed glare and an animalistic snarl, she quickly sheds the skin of a happy homemaker and transform into an uncontrollable monster—and man, is it a hoot and a half to witness.

For this commentary, I discuss my frustrations with Code Red for taking approximately four years to finally release the DVD they’d promised (Tyrell actually passed away by the time the disc was available), some behind-the-scenes dirt on the making of the supplemental materials, and some interesting comparisons between the screenplay and the novelization.

Note: During the opening episode’s opening, I reflect upon a comedy sketch involving a car-driving cat who always ends up careening its passengers over cliffs. What I neglected to mention was that this was actually a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch from the early ‘90s, so I wanted to include a little notation here to avoid any confusion.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Episode 24: Night of the Demons (1988)

“Where are you going?  The party’s just begun...”

Happy October, B-movie fanatics! Leaves are changing, the smell of pumpkin spice hangs strong in the crisp autumn breeze, and Halloween is just over four weeks away! I couldn’t think of a better movie to kick start the celebration of the season than Kevin Tenney’s original cult classic Night of the Demons!

Demons is one of those rare horror essentials without need of an introduction. It is a film that sinks its claws deep inside and stays put, leaving the viewer with memories of eyeball-gouging, neck-snapping, lipstick-stuffing good times. Few can forget Suzanne’s (horror icon Linnea Quigley) brilliantly effective disposition of a no longer needed makeup accessory. I’ve known a number of non-horror fans who remember nothing about the film except Steve “Splat” Johnson’s subtle trick-of-the-eye, poorly recreated by Jerry Constantine and company for Adam Gierasch’s underwelming 2009 “remake.”

Other stand-out moments include Angela (Amelia Kinkade) spinning wildly before a raging fire, black wedding dress swirling and swaying, as she performs a haunting demonic death dance to Bauhaus’ “Stigmata Martyr” moments before biting off Stooge’s (Hal Havins) tongue and spitting it back at him. Though Dennis Michael Tenney’s (brother of Kevin) score has its moments, it’s very much a composition of its time. Looking back on it now, it’s easy to scoff at the dated technology, but I’d be willing to bet those synth beats and stabbing violin cues really got theater audiences pumped way back when.

For this edition of B-Movie Bonanza, I, of course, used Scream Factory’s beautifully remastered and restored Blu-ray/DVD combo edition, which runs 1:33:01 (including MGM’s roaring lion prior to the opening title sequence). So, grab a big bowl of Halloween candy because it’s time celebrate the season a few weeks early with one of the best holiday-themed movies of its kind!


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Episode 23: The Fan (1981)

Dear Miss Ross,

I am your greatest fan because unlike the others, I want nothing from you. The only thing that matters to me is your happiness. I have posters, playbills, and a closet jam packed with photographs covering every stage of your magnificent career. Your presence alone makes every one of your films a true cinema classic. I don't care what time they show on television. I will gladly stay awake until any hour in the morning. I bought a gorgeous new Lucite frame for one of your most famous pictures...the one of you singing while President Truman plays the piano. I despise those desperate, pathetic people who intrude upon your privacy. Your happiness and piece of mind must be protected. I know of all the famous men in your life, but I adore you as no other ever has or ever will. Thank you for the inspiration you have given me. You are the greatest star of all.

Your friend,
Douglas Breen

Could you send me your most recent photograph as soon as possible?"

When asked, I always claim I’ve been a writer since age 8, for it was around that time I recall penning my earliest works of fiction (and by “works of fiction,” I mean hastily scrawled recreations of whatever my favorite horror movie or episode of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt happened to be at the time). I was, however, putting pen to paper purely for the joy it brought some time before that.

Prior to crafting stories, I’d write letters to pen pals, cousins out of state, and yes, celebrities I admired, one of whom happened to star on the sickeningly wholesome lip sync fest known as Kids Incorporated, a music-oriented television series made popular in the mid-‘80s. Please don’t ask which cast member, admitting I’d written was humiliating enough.

And no, it wasn’t Fergie. Or Martika.

In the years that followed, I continued this hobby, ever hopeful that one of these idols would take the time out of their busy schedules to draft a personalized response. On occasion, I’d receive an autographed headshot (pictures of these can be found in the memorabilia section) or an automatic subscription to newsletters and/or free fan clubs. Most of the time, though, I’d receive nothing at all.

I’d wait for the postman’s arrival day after day, hoping he’d come bearing a letter-sized envelope personally addressed to me. Much to my disappointment and dismay, he’d come bearing bills, circulars, and mail-order catalogues more than anything else.

Not every experience was a negative one, however. To the best of my recollection, I received the personalized response I so desired on two seperate occasions. The first was a typed letter from an author of mystery/suspense paperbacks no one’s heard of and, not long after that was a handwritten card from none other than Joe Bob Briggs. The rest couldn’t be bothered. Luckily, my coping skills were a little stronger than Douglas Breen’s.

The Fan, based on the novel by Bob Randall, was a very controversial film for 1981. These days, you can easily find a handful of movies or television shows centered around the same theme. Much like 1960’s Peeping Tom or 1965’s The Collector, The Fan explored subject matters audiences wouldn’t be desensitized by for many years, making it a unique premise for this particular era in cinema.

Though there are definite pacing issues and the musical numbers are downright painful (if Lauren Bacall was ever a decent singer, she sure as hell wasn’t at this point in her career), The Fan is a compelling thriller with moments of nail-biting suspense driven by a stabbing violin score by Pino Dinaggio, mostly known for lending his talents to the films of Brian DePalma. In many jnstances, it tweaks character and plot development originally printed on the pages of Bob Randall’s novel, something I found rather frustrating, but nevertheless, it remains a worthwhile contribution to the genre. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Episode 22: Creepshow 2 (1987)

“Thanks for the ride, lady!”

You have no idea how difficult it was to begin this essay without addressing my readers as “kiddies” or using some sort of twisted pun. The Creep has evidently inhabited my psyche and has taken over my voice, so bear with me while I do my best to regain my ordinarily maudlin persona. Deep breath, deep breath. Okay, here we go.

Welcome back, kidd—DAMNIT! HE’S IN THE BLOODSTREAM, I tell you! Let’s try this again, shall we?

Welcome to another nauseating edition of B-Movie Bonanza! For this  titillating episode, I examine one of my favorite anthologies: 1987’s Creepshow 2 (okay, so I haven’t completely exorcised the demon, but I’m trying, mmmkay?).

Stephen King and George Romero take us on another strange, horrifying, and ultra campy journey, where we encounter a murderous cigar store Indian (which comes to life, I’m still not sure how); a gelatinous monstrosity with an insatiable appetite for obnoxious college kids (I still think that thing provided a much-needed service); and lastly, a philandering housewife who inadvertently mows down an unwitting hitch-hiker and flees the scene, not knowing her nightmare has only just begun.

Decent horror anthology films are often hard to come by (I still don’t get the fanfare surrounding Trick ‘r Treat). It’s no easy feat assembling stories that differ in plot/theme (who wants to feel like they’re watching the same movie on a loop?), yet seamlessly blend to create a “morbid masterpiece” of the macabre. Harder still is finding a compelling wraparound that holds the attention of the audience in between segments. Much like its predecessor, Creepshow 2 delivers the goods, and in spades.

My only qualms are the running time and the number of stories. As happy as I was and have always been with the film, I would’ve loved it so much more had they stuck with the formula introduced in the original film: five stories and a running time closing in on two hours.

But Creepshow 2 wasn’t as large a production and they didn’t have that Warner Bros. cizash money backing them, so I understand why they had to take a different route. I still think they did a great job with the budget, tools, and talent they were provided with (c’mon, who doesn’t love the animated sequences?) and I can honestly say that this is a sequel I can’t get enough of.

In this episode, you’ll find the usual: my oh so witty and astute observations, fond memories of seeing the film for the first time, admissions of a crush I once had on a certain cast member (no, not George Kennedy), and...a phantom Blu ray no one seems to know about. As a source, I used Anchor Bay’s DiViMax DVD edition, which runs 1:29:34.

Though they’re both mentioned in the actual commentary, I wanted to give Steve and Pete a quick shout-out and say thanks for helping provide me with some information I needed for the episode.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Episode 21: Massacre at Central High (1976)

“This place is a fuckin’ country club.”

Transfer student David (Derrel Maury) notices something’s off the moment he enters the hallowed halls of Central High. Oddly enough, his concerns have nothing to do with the absence of faculty members or authority figures of any kind. We don’t see so much as a hall monitor throughout the majority of the film. Even the school’s librarian appears to be on a permanent vacation.
Nope, his concerns have nothing to do with classes never being in session, either. When not aimlessly roaming the halls, hangin’ in the quad, or sprawling out on the campus’ spacious lawn, the student body spends what remains of the day taking leisurely laps in the Olympic-sized swimming pool.
And no, his concerns have nothing at all to do with the school’s non-existent curriculum (books are merely props to be held, not read), structure, or routine. Everyone is pretty much left to their own devices. At all times. I don’t think Central High has even a traditional bell to signal the end/beginning of classes. It does have a “student lounge” equipped with leather sofas and (probably) dead animals on the walls. A place where a select few can relax and unwind after (or during) an arduous day of non-learning. Where the hell was this place when I was in school?
What troubles David is an elitist trio: Bruce (Ray Underwood), the Heather Chandler of the group; Paul (Damon Douglas), the Heather McNamara; and Craig (Steve Bond). the Heather Duke. Though they’re merely students, just like everyone else, they’re the ones who hold the authority—and these guys rule with an iron fist. When they enter the quad or advance the landscape, all lowly underlings are expected to scatter. Those excluded from the group are also expected to follow any and all demands, without question. Making matters worse, David discovers that Mark (Andrew Stevens), his closest friend and reason for transferring, is a part of the group, though his rung on the ladder is a few down from the top.
David is appalled by what he’s forced to witness: bullying, vandalism, attempted rape, and a sense of entitlement that goes far beyond being born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth, for these three are so much more than spoiled rich kids. They are, as one student describes, “The Little League Gestapo.”
Though Mark doesn’t participate in some of the more violent and extreme activities orchestrated by those he considers close friends, he does nothing to stop or go against them, either. At times, one is left wondering if a fear of making waves impedes his willingness to intervene, or if he is truly no better than his compatriots.
In the weeks that follow, David is permanently injured in a horrific accident which prevents him from properly using one legs. After a lengthy absence, he returns to Central High with a new limp and a hidden agenda. During his weeks of recovery, David’s had a lot of time to think. In this isolated state, he has decided he is going to rid the school of The Little League Gestapo so the student body can carry on in a more harmonious atmosphere, free of threats and gang violence. However, his efforts backfire, for when he dispatches of Bruce, Paul, and Craig, he creates a much bigger, much stronger monster.
Feeling, for the first time, a sense of freedom, those once forced to fall in line are emboldened. Now they’re the ones calling the shots—or at least attempting to be. Several small groups assemble, each promising “heavy changes,” as the entire school becomes consumed by a quest for dominance. David soon realizes his mistake and attempts to rectify the situation by eliminating those with a ravenous hunger for supremacy. But each death generates further mayhem, leaving the entire school in a state of total upheaval. There is only one thing left for David to do: eliminate Central High altogether.
Massacre at Central High may be a deeply flawed film, but it’s an interesting look at what can happen when power falls into the wrong hands—especially when those hands aren’t even old enough to vote. Though exaggerated, elements of the film are relevant today, as the American educational system has gone completely down the tubes and more and more students are falling through the cracks. I write this on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, one of the greatest tragedies this country has ever seen, and today’s generation, sadly, know nothing of what happened at Ground Zero, or the thousands of lives lost. Why? Because they aren’t being taught.
There is also an examination of the “in/out,” “us/them” mentality so prominent among legions of teenagers. Bullying, something that will never be eradicated, is shown with some realism, but as previously notes, it’s mostly exaggerated. I can’t imagine an attempted gang rape held in an abandoned classroom (this school doesn’t even have a janitor, for fuck’s sake), or even something less intense, like an open-handed slap to the face or a weakling being shoved against a locker, without someone stepping in. Not in an American high school. Not even in the ‘70s.
Though it’s rarely mentioned, Central High was obviously, at least in part, the inspiration for Michael Lehman’s 1988 cult classic Heathers, a film with a similar plot, characters, and an ending where the antagonist, clad in a long, dark coat, attempts to blow up the school, but chooses instead to blow up himself. I find it interesting, too, that in both films, the explosion occurs at the landing of a very long set of stairs directly in front of the school.
As you’ll find, things briefly go awry during the recording of this episode. Rest assured, however, that your grand and glorious host quickly regains his composure (the show must go on, right?) and the rest of the commentary carries on without incident.
From what I understand, the XXX version of the film (no, not a parody, but the standard version with pornographic scenes sloppily spliced in), entitled Sexy Jeans is currently streaming on YouTube. I did not use this ridiculous monstrosity as a source, though I did use the UK DVD release, which runs 1:23:55, and contains a cartoonish cover art depicting an axe-wielding madman that is a monstrosity all on its own.
One final note: I mistakenly refer to Kimberly Beck (Theresa) as star of the Friday the 13th sequel The New Blood (which would be Part VII of the franchise). Beck actually appears in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (Part IV). I suppose I must’ve been so distracted by the horrendous opening title theme song (which is, ironically, performed by the actress’ uncle) because, for a horror aficionado like myself, that’s a pretty stupid mistake and I fully accept responsibility. I wanted to include that disclaimer before I’m bombarded with comments and e-mails from hardcore fans clamoring to address the error.