Thursday, August 18, 2016

Episode 18: Eyes of a Stranger (1981)

Jane Harris (Lauren Tewes, pre-Love Boat) is a local TV newsanchor reporting on a series of brutal murders, each at the hands of a faceless killer who makes telephonic threats before striking. With some rare exceptions, his victims are attractive young women, whom he sexually assaults before asphyxiating with a belt, or slicing into with a switchblade.

As the murders continue to make headlines, police investigations go nowhere, and Jane fears for the safety of Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh in her first major film role), her younger sister, who shares her high-rise apartment. Left blind and deaf after a childhood trauma, Tracy is more vulnerable than most. Partially to blame for her only sibling’s current state, Jane is determined to do all it takes to protect her, including seeing the killer behind bars before he strikes again.

With a keen eye and some investigating of her own, Jane comes to the horrifying realization that the killer might very well be Stanley Herbert (John DiSanti), an everyman who keeps steadily to himself. Strengthening her resolve is the knowledge that Herbert lives in the high-rise opposite Jane’s. Not only is he on the same floor, but his sliding patio door is well within eyeshot of Jane’s own. “You should be able to see each other,” their unknowing apartment manager merrily  informs.

Eyes of a Stranger was released at the height of the slasher craze of the early 1980s. Literally every week, new splatter flicks reached drive-ins and cinema screens across the United States. Sadly, this one seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle, as it never really matched the popularity or attracted the following of movies like Friday the 13th, Prom Night, Final Exam, and the like.

Though there were more than enough body-count movies of the era to go around, Eyes of a Stranger always stood out for me. While there is a fair amount of nudity and undeniable sleaze, the screenplay, penned by Eric L. Bloom and Ron Kurz (credited here as Mark Jackson), contains a multi-layered story and strong character arc, qualities many films of the time simply didn’t carry. In addition, Eyes of a Stranger contains an antagonist viewers can easily relate to and, most importantly, root for. Lauren Tewes gives a particularly strong performance and though I’ve seen the film countless times, there are moments where her strength and fearlessness still give me chills.

Many fanboys and horror devotees (not to mention professional film critics, whose opinions I couldn’t give a flying fuck about) would, and more than likely will, scoff and guffaw in response to much of the above, as it is easy to dismiss Eyes of a Stranger as “just another slasher flick.” I, however, stand by these passionately-written opinions and continue to hope that through online streaming, the film will some day earn the appreciation I feel it so deserves.

For this episode, I used the DVD included in the Warner Bros. Twisted Terrors Collection boxed set, which contains another of my favor lesser-appreciated titles Dr. Giggles. This version runs 1:25:02  and presents, for the first time, some of Tom Savini’s omitted special effects.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Episode 17: Angel (1984)

“Remind me NEVER to get murdered.”

High school honors student Molly Stewart (Donna Wilkes) has been leading a double-life for close to three years. By day, she portrays the facade of the all-American teenager, but by night, she becomes Angel, one of Hollywood Boulevard’s most popular flesh-peddlers. Abandoned by her single-parent mother, Molly hustles the streets night after night, selling her body to the highest bidder just to keep her head above water.

Soon, Molly and her street-walking comrades become the target of a ruthless killer (John Diehl), who butchers women without rhyme of reason. One by one, those closest to Molly fall prey to a psychopath with an unquenchable blood thirst. Determined to nab the killer before the body count rises, Lieutenant Andrews (Cliff Gordon) remains hot on his trail. In the process, Andrews develops a paternal relationship with Molly and his need to put an end to the madness builds when he realizes she could very well be the next victim.

Angel is a classic experiment in both exploitation and sleaze, painting a vivid and accurate image of Hollywood Boulevard in the early-to-mid ‘80s. While it’s hard not to be riveted by sordid scenes shot on the city’s streets, there is much to appreciate during Molly’s day-to-day life, in particular her interactions with such whacky, off-the-wall characters as Solly (Susan Tyrell), apartment manager; Mae (Dick Shawn), a middle-aged transvestite; and Lana (Gram McGravin), a young prostitute who longs for a normal life as as much, if not more, than Molly.

Though Donna Wilkes was in her mid-twenties playing a character only fifteen, she really shines here. Her portrayal of a young girl thrown into an adult world before having the ability to fully enjoy life as a child is touching, honest, and stands out among the actresses who went on to play the character in the subsequent sequels (Betsy Russell of Avenging Angel, Mitzi Kapture of Angel III: The Final Chapter, and Darlene Vogel of Angel 4: Undercover).

As a source for this episode of B-Movie Bonanza, I used the Blu ray edition, which runs 1:32:51. So, slip into a pair six-inch stilettos and your favorite booty shorts because it’s time to strut along Hollywood Boulevard, circa 1984, as we follow Molly a.k.a. Angel on a touching, and oftentimes frightening, journey.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Episode 16: Demented (1980)

“You hurt me... You’re never gonna hurt me again...”

While tending horses in an isolated stable, Linda Rodgers (Sallee Elyse) is viciously assaulted and savagely raped by a gang of cackling thugs, their identities concealed beneath bizarre jester masks. Though she is beaten and left for dead, Linda survives the attack, but the trauma gets her carted off to a psychiatric hospital. During her stay, the men who’ve accosted her are apprehended and sentenced to serve an undisclosed prison term. With the belief that she’s recovered, she is released to the care of her big-time doctor husband, Matt (Harry Reems, of Deep Throat fame, credited here as Bruce Gilchrist).

On the day of her return, Linda begins experiencing emotional meltdowns and suffers a multitude of terrifying delusions. It seems that everywhere she turns, the jester mask is leering over her shoulder and the men who’ve previously attacked her are somewhere lying in wait.

Though he’s promised to look after her, Matt’s priorities are elsewhere. He’d much rather spend time with Carol (Kathryn Clayton), an opportunistic mistress in constant search of a handout. Consistently left to her own devices, Linda’s downward ascension soon develops into a complete mental breakdown. It seems that everywhere she turns, there’s someone out to cause her both physical and emotional harm. Are Linda’s fears truly imagined, or is some menacing presence lurking somewhere in the shadows?

Produced on the heels of the rape/revenge sub-genre made popular in the 1970s, Demented differs from its formers in that the assailants are caught before the end of the first reel, so unlike I Spit on Your Grave or The Last House on the Left, the film doesn’t necessarily follow the same formula. Does this minor difference make Demented a superior film? Not a chance.

Demented is not what any sane individual would deem a “good” film. The script contains more holes than a brick of Swiss cheese, the amateurish dialogue is oftentimes cringe-worthy, and Sallee Elyse’s portrayal of Linda certainly garnered no acclaim. She spends most of the film’s running time chewing the scenery with an over-exaggerated portrayal of a woman in peril and, during the more “intense” scenes, expresses anguish by unleashing a shriek so impossibly shrill, it’ll be a small miracle if both your windowpanes and eardrums remain in-tact by the time credits roll.

I chose Demented for this episode of B-Movie Bonanza because it has been one of my go-to “so ridiculously bad, it’s good” movies for a number of years. Looking at it now, however, I realized (and convey this during the commentary) the film just doesn’t hold up, even as a novelty. Though there remains some minor camp value, Demented is downright boring at times. There are lengthy sequences where absolutely nothing happens. Not even a trace of dialogue can be heard during some of these scenes (which is probably a good thing, on second thought). Because of this, I run out of things to discuss about three quarters of the way through, making this by no means a stand-out episodes of B-Movie Bonanza. Nevertheless, I hope you’ll accompany me on this strange little journey and try as best you can to enjoy the show.

I used the Netflix streaming edition of the film, which runs 1:31:53, for the purposes of this commentary. If you’d like to watch with me, this would obviously be the best source. However, there are a handful of rips available on YouTube, which may also be adequate. I’m not sure if these versions are edited, but it’s worth a look. One source I would avoid is the Desert Island Films DVD available for just under $10.00 via Amazon. According to one review, this edition is a bootleg disc taken directly from the original Media VHS released way back in the early ‘80s. According to the product information included on the page, this version runs 87 minutes, which would make it trimmed by at least 5, so consider yourself forewarned.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Episode 15: The Crush (1993)

“Ever do a virgin?  I know you want to...”

While apartment-hunting, photojournalist Nick Eliot (Cary Elwes) stumbles upon a quaint guesthouse owned by a middle-aged couple (That ‘70s Show’s Kurtwood Smith and Gwynyth Wash). Soon after settling in, their fourteen-year-old daughter, Darian (Alicia Silverstone in her first major role), insinuates herself into Nick’s life, becoming a constant and inescapable presence. With her ever-present smile and flirtatious demeanor, it’s quite clear she’s developed an intense infatuation with her new neighbor. As they always do, things start out innocently enough, with Darian appearing on his doorstep at odd hours, giving him little gifts, making “casual” phone calls (one of which to reveal she’s begun her menstrual cycle), and sunbathing, in a very revealing swimsuit, well within eyeshot of Nick’s window. Events take an ugly turn when Darian realizes her love is destined to go on unrequited, and an even uglier turn when Nick begins dating a colleague (Jennifer Rubin). What begins as an innocent adolescent crush quickly becomes a deadly obsession, as Nick discovers how dangerous this fourteen-year-old girl can be, especially when she doesn’t get what she wants.

Okay, so The Crush isn’t a B-film. It’s not even a cult classic. It is, however, one of my favorite Fatal Attraction-style thrillers and the film that spawned my decades-old adoration of the gorgeous Alicia Silverstone. I also chose The Crush because of its interesting history. It’s rarely mentioned that the movie was loosely inspired by a true story and screenwriter Alan Shapiro based the script on his own experiences. He even gave the film’s antagonist the same name as the girl who, at one point, made his life very unpleasant.

I suspect Shapiro elaborates on this during his on-camera interview, as well as on the commentary track featured on Scream Factory’s new Blu ray/DVD combo, but sadly, I cannot confirm this, as I refuse to buy this release. As a matter of fact, I refuse to watch any version other than the original Warner Bros. VHS. Why? Because all subsequent releases of the film were (poorly) dubbed to remove any/all mentions of the name “Darian,” replacing it with “Adrian.” This was due to a lawsuit orchestrated by the real-life Darian, who saw the film as defamatory. I elaborate on this, as well as other bits of trivia, during the actual commentary.

Since we live in a hyper-sensitive age, where anything can be misinterpreted, especially on the Internet, I felt compelled to include a disclaimer explaining a moment during the episode (in particular, during the scene in which Darian files false sexual assault charges against Nick), where I make some odd comments and laugh sort of inappropriately. Just in case I didn’t make myself clear during the recording of the episode, I wanted to state here that I WAS NOT laughing about or making light of rape or sexual abuse of any kind. I WAS NOT poking fun at anyone who’s fallen victim to sexual assault of any kind. Most importantly, I WAS NOT trying to insinuate that all women who make sexual assault claims are lying. The point I was trying to make (and I don’t think I did a very good job of it) was that girls like the Darian character, i.e. girls who make false claims, are one of the main reasons those who’ve actually been abused are reluctant to come forward. They fear they won’t be believed and, in many cases, fear those reporting the crime will assume they’d “asked for it.” I was laughing AT MYSELF because it was late, I was more than a little slap happy, and couldn’t clearly verbalize my thought. I was laughing at being so tongue-tied, NOT at anything involving sexual abuse. Now that my conscience is clear, please enjoy this edition of B-Movie Bonanza.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Episode 14: Strip for Action (1996)

“My name’s not Einstein.”

Tipped off by a trusted employee, Jones and Halleck (Kevin Alber and Emile Levisetti), a pair of sociopathic gunmen, creep into an L.A. strip joint through an unlocked back door. They intend on making off with the club’s lucrative earnings, approximately $1,000,000.00 in cash, but almost immediately, their plans veer off-course.

What should’ve been a simple in-and-out heist quickly becomes a bloodbath, as Jones and Halleck realize things haven’t been as tightly planned as they’d thought. Inside, they discover more armed guards, more patrons, more employees. Worst of all, the safe they’ve come to unload is on a timeclock, set to open at 6:00 AM, when an armored truck is scheduled to collect the accumulated funds.

A tense game of waiting ensues, with the club’s owner lying in a pool of blood and the few surviving staff members bound at the wrist and held at gunpoint. When finally they get what they’ve come for, Jones and Halleck decide that taking along a pair of hostages might come in handy, should there be a police standoff. Forced to join them are Kim (Maria Ford), shift supervisor/assistant manager, and Crystal (Nikki Fritz), a sassy. melon-breasted stripper. Needless to say, poorly-executed mayhem ensues.

Oh boy. Where do I even begin? Well, within the first five minutes, it’s abundantly clear that the term “B-movie” is a little too kind for  a for a cheesy, slapped-together action/thriller like Strip for Action (formerly titled Hot Ticket). As is the case with a large number of Roger Corman’s straight-to-video time-wasters of the 1990s, we’ve got lots of sex and nudity, cringe-worthy dialogue, clichés aplenty. and practically as much stock footage as original material.

If I haven’t already stated my case, Strip for Action is not one of my favorites, but like Showgirl Murders or Saturday Night Special (both starring the lovely Maria Ford, no relation), it’s a Corman title I’ll revisit when I want to just turn my brain off and spend 80 minutes with a little Z-grade silliness. So, in a sense, it’s a movie I enjoy purely on a “guilty pleasure,” “so bad, it’s (sort of) good” level.

If you’ve watched a lot of the latter Corman movies (“latter” meaning the late ‘80s on up, when he focused mostly on erotic thrillers like the Body Chemistry series, with the occasional Edgar Allan Poe retelling thrown in for good measure), you’ll note that when Concorde started releasing these movies on DVD in the early 2000s, they went through a series of bewildering cuts (a topic I elaborate on during the commentary). This is not to say they made a habit of only releasing the R-rated version to DVD, when the VHS contained a longer, jucier unrated cut (although they did do a fair bit of this).

What I came to find was that Concorde trimmed a number of these scenes not for sex and/or violence, but for...well, I’m not entirely sure. On many discs, bits of dialogue (and sometimes entire scenes) have been omitted. It’s like watching an old Seinfeld or Friends re-run and noticing that one of your favorite jokes has been removed, not for questionable content, but essentially to make room for more commercials. With the Concorde discs, I really have no explanation for this odd phenomenon, but as a long-time fan of these movies, I can guarantee that it’s ever-present.

Why the lengthy rant? Because Strip for Action also fell victim to the scissor-happy editors over at Concorde prior to the disc’s pressing. There are a number of shots, lines, and some short scenes included on the original VHS, but not the DVD. However, someone out there (and God bless this guy, because he’s the only person in the world who’d go through the painstaking efforts to do something this time-consuming for absolutely no reward) made a composite version of the film, which contains the “remastered” version included on the DVD, with all the cut scenes found on the VHS edited back in (kinda like the way Anchor Bay put together their original, uncut version of Silent Night, Deadly Night some years back). Because this was such a rare find (and I’d rather not say where I found it), I wanted to share it with other B-movie fanatics like myself. I uploaded the file to YouTube and to my surprise, it received well over a thousand views in just a couple weeks. I couldn’t believe how many people had stumbled upon this micro-budget cheeseball and how quickly. So, I thought I’d add it to the B-Movie Bonanza roster.

Unfortunately, in between the recording of the commentary and its addition to the blog, I felt compelled to remove the upload from my YouTube channel due to the nonsense that took place between myself and the doofballs known as “slasher // video” (yes, because of their doofball-ery, they will be forever known by this title). What isn’t mentioned on the original blog chronicling the ridiculousness of the story is that I attempted several times to reach out to the “slasher // video” doofballs to apologize for my transgression (I guess that’s what we’ll call it) and pleaded with them to remove my YouTube strike so I could continue posting episodes of B-Movie Bonanza there. Each and every one of my attempts went unanswered, so to the doofballs, I say: “Suck it. I didn’t mean one goddamn word of my apology anyway. It was merely an attempt at making you rectify your douchiness.”

I was under the impression that due to this strike against my account, I wouldn’t be able to post anything longer than 15 minutes until December, when the strike would be removed. However, I came to find that I am once again permitted this option, though other restrictions will remain on my account until the 6-month probationary period expires.

Don’t worry. You can still enjoy this episode of B-Movie Bonanza. As with almost all the commentaries I’ve recorded thus far, I spend less time discussing what’s on-screen, and more time sharing personal stories, bits of trivia, and in this case, my fandom for the underrated B-Queen Maria Ford.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Episode 13: Sleepaway Camp II (1988)

“You pissed away your good looks and God-given talent your whole life and turned into nothing but a cynical, dirty-mouthed waste of flesh!”

If the Angel of Death had no trouble finding fault with the horny, pot-smoking teenagers of the Reagan era, can you imagine how she’d react to the crazy kids of today? The thought evokes a streamline of gore-soaked images; possibilities of how the notorious Angela Baker would  “handle” 21st Century post-adolescents. With their iPhone obsessions, sexting, bath salts, and this odd new Pokémon Go craze, we’ve got bad campers coming out of the woodwork, not mention falling into open manholes, leaving a mountain of easy prey for the predatory counselor.

In the sequel to Robert Hiltzik’s 1983 cult classic, everyone’s favorite transgender (transgendered? Anyone?) psycho returns, this time as a Camp Rolling Hills counselor, and within the first five minutes of the film, we come to find she has even less tolerance for those who don’t play by the rules. All you have to do is give Angie the ol’ side-eye and you’re doused with Jack Daniel’s and set ablaze atop a barbecue pit.


For a time, Unhappy Campers was not only my favorite installment in the Sleepaway Camp franchise, but it was easily one of the most viewed and most quotable movies in my extensive collection. I vividly remember sitting cross-legged on my basement floor, reciting every line in the script (without the aid of a VCR, thank you very much) just to impress the few friends able to tolerate my questuinable eccentricities. So enamored with the demented sequel, I could even recite the synopsis printed on the back of the old Nelson Entertainment VHS, word for word, without so much as glancing at the box. What can I say? I was quite smitten with Fritz Gordon’s (a.k.a. Michael Hitchcock’s) quirky writing style, this brand new incarnation of the Angela character, and, most of all, with Pamela Springsteen’s portrayal of the murderous camp counselor who can’t stand the idea of anyone having any fun.

For those of you who’ve been listening to my silly little fanboy commentaries from the beginning, you basically know how I operate and what to expect from an episode of B-Movie Bonanza. This is not an excuse to rip an ‘80s cult classic to shreds, but to show both my appreciation and undying love for a movie that has brought me so many years of twisted entertainment.

I used Scream Factory’s Blu ray/DVD combo as my film source, so for those of you who want to watch along, this would obviously be the best option. The running time is 1:20:22, including the MGM intro prior to the opening titles. After recording this episode, I popped in Anchor Bay’s 2002 Survival Kit edition, just for the sake of comparing lengths (good grief, that sounds filthy) and their version runs, sans MGM intro, 1:19:53, which would leave you about 30 seconds off. So, join me as I revisit Sleepaway Camp II, but please, pack only the essentials and remember, “nice girls don’t have to show it off.”

Brandon Ford's B-Movie Bonanza - Episode 13: Sleepaway Camp II (1988) from Brandon Ford on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Episode 12: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

“How pretty. All of you are...very pretty...”

Don’t you just hate it when things don’t go according to plan?

It was supposed to be an intimate gathering of girls only; a slumber party wherein old friends gorged themselves on junk food, sparked a little Mary Jane, and reminisced about old times. Unfortunately for Trish, our party’s hostess, things start off on the wrong foot. A lecherous neighbor has made himself a little too available, some male classmates show up to pull a prank or two, and Diane, Trish’s closest friend, is more concerned with getting it in (with her horned-up boyfriend, not Trish) than spending quality time with longtime contemporaries. As if poor Trish doesn’t have enough on her plate, an escaped maniac convicted of five brutal slayings has decided to crash their little gathering—with his portable electric drill.

Plans. Makes me wonder why any of us even bother with ‘em. I myself had a plan for this particular episode of B-Movie Bonanza. Since The Slumber Party Massacre has been in my top five horror films for well over two decades and I’ve spent years talking about it at length, I wanted to do something other than yammer on about my obsessive appreciation for the film and the hundreds of times I’ve seen it, as well as its successors. . I do a fair amount of gushing during the actual commentary, but for the blog post accompanying it, I thought it would be interesting to include something different.

As I’m sure you all know, the screenplay for The Slumber Party Massacre (formerly titled Sleepless Night) was penned by feminist author and activist Rita Mae Brown, who made a name for herself in the early 1970s with the publication of her debut novel Rubyfruit Jungle, and throughout the ‘90s with a series of mystery novels centered around cats. In 1997, she released an autobiography entitled Rita Will: Memoir of a Literary Rabble Rouser. In this 500-page tome, she delves deep into her personal life. sharing hundreds of stories involving her early years living in the south, the homophobia she later experienced during her college years (when closeted faculty members looked down their noses at students, like Rita, who were comfortable enough in their sexuality to publicly embrace it), a rocky relationship with her aunt and adoptive mother (who were always at odds), as well as high-profile lesbian relationships with tennis pro Martina Malinova.

She also spends a fair amount of time discussing her literary career and, from what I’d been told prior to picking the book up, talks briefly about the original screenplay for what is now known as The Slumber Party Massacre. As far as I know, Rita Mae has never spoken publicly about the film and I’d always been curious about her original intentions, as well as her reaction to the final product. I knew the script was written as a Student Bodies-style parody of the era’s slasher films, but shot in more of a straightforward manner. Other than this microcosm of information, I knew nothing of the movie’s origins. So, I was very excited to read what she’d have to say and planned on including excerpts from the book in this blog. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the book’s mid-point, so I never actually made it to the section devoted to the film.

While Rita Mae’s stories and life experiences are interesting enough, the book rambles on endlessly about her formative years, going into everything without sparing the smallest detail. It was a seemingly endless array of stories, anecdotes, and rites of passage. After a while, I simply couldn’t take it anymore, so I put the book down sans reaching the finish line. From what I’d been told by a previous reader, the Slumber Party passage is quite brief. Even so, I was excited about reading Rita Mae’s memories of this particular endeavor, not to mention sharing this information with devoted fans of the series. However, much like Trish’s ill-fated get-together, things didn’t go according to plan.

Despite my shortcomings, I recorded what I think is a pretty decent commentary, wherein I discuss the usual: how and where I discovered the film, memories of seeing it for the first time, how I obtained my VHS copy, and, believe it or not, how The Slumber Party Massacre has helped in my quest to master the French language. As a source for this commentary, I used the Scream Factory Blu ray edition, which runs 1:16:15. So, get ready to kick back and enjoy the show, because it’s time to revisit “the ultimate driller killer thriller!”

Brandon Ford's B-Movie Bonanza - Episode 12: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) from Brandon Ford on Vimeo.