Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Episode 29: Dee Snider's Strangeland (1998)

“We must all go through a rite of passage...and it must be physical...it must be painful...and it must...leave...a mark...”

In today’s world, just about everyone has a web presence. There’s video, audio, and thousands of images associated with essentially every name, whether you’re an A-list celebrity or an everyman selling carnations on a freeway off-ramp. I got online way back in 2000, long before terms like “blog” and “selfie” had entered the zeitgeist. MSN was my Internet provider and I connected to the web by way of a 56K modem that was not only slower than hell, but frequently booted me off. In addition, the good ol’ Microsoft Network always seemed to be down. I can’t begin to count how often I’d endure that obscenely shrill dial-up dissonance and just when I thought I could log on to check my e-mail or visit one of my favorite chat rooms, an error message pulled the plug on my online adventure before it even began. It’s amazing I didn’t spend more time wailing at customer service representatives over their many, many connectivity problems. Rot in hell, flawed technology.

Speaking of chat rooms and online personas, it’s so strange to think of the way it was in comparison to the way it is. While the flow of text was endless, the faces behind the words were, more often than not, absent. I rarely knew the actual identity of those I corresponded with and it wasn’t until some semblance of a friendship was established before first names were exchanged, let alone photographs. Internet paranoia ran ridiculously rampant, as so many web users were convinced they could, at any time, be in communicado with a mass murderer who could track them down if they revealed even the smallest fragment of their true identity. I remember engaging in a very pleasant conversation with a girl around my age. Even though she didn’t live in the same state, she refused to give up her first name when asked for it. She chose instead to initiate a game of 20 Questions, where it took at least a half-hour before I came to find that the person I’d been chatting with was named Marisa. And then I never chatted with her again.
On some level, I was a part of this group of paranoids who feared they were putting themselves in immediate danger just by entering certain chat rooms and communicating with the wrong people. During one of my earliest chats, I came in contact with someone in Florida who was quite unbalanced. Due to our differences of opinion, he saw me as his mortal enemy and went on to describe how much he’d enjoy ripping me to shreds. His threats became so violent and disturbing that I felt comtpelled to log off, shut down, and unplugged my PC from its electrical outlet, as if this cyber menace could somehow come crashing through the monitor and disembowel me just as he’d promised.

I’m willing to bet Twisted Sister front man Dee Snider had similar experiences, but being the total badass he is, I think it’s safe to say he handled himself a little better than I. It’s these experiences that must’ve inspired the original screenplay for Strangeland, the tale of a deranged, yet highly intelligent, serial killer, who uses the Internet to lure victims of all shapes and sizes to his chamber of horrors, where he not only murders them, but uses needles, hooks, and an array of surgical instruments to torture them before doing so. He even performs home-piercings, but the holes he punctures couldn’t be further from the victim’s earlobes.

In addition to writing and producing, Dee Snider plays the demented villain known by the screen name CaptHowdy. His online profile describes him as an average nineteen-year-old dude-bro, whose priorities are sports, keg stands, and good times. However, the figure lurking behind this carefully crafted profile rocks a long, thick wave of pink hair, dozens of facial and body piercings, and a tribal tattoo that carries up his arm and conceals one half of his face. While not perusing the web for his next victim, or inflicting further torment on those already held captive within his basement lair, he thuds around the house wearing not much more than a loin cloth and knee-high combat boots. Online, CaptHowdy is the party-hungry friend anyone under 20 would love to have. In the flesh, he is the epitome of sadistic evil.

Though it’s since garnered a minor cult following, I’ve always considered Strangeland to be one of the most underrated horror films of its time—a time when all everyone wanted was Scream. Soon after the Wes Craven phenomenon hit theaters in December of 1996, it spawned a slew of copycats that put an exhaustive effort into producing horror films that were hip, polished, and most importantly, self-aware. An endless stream of characters who’d seen these movies before and went through painstaking efforts to avoid the mistakes made by their predecessors became an almost unavoidable plot element, and a very boring one at that.

Strangeland brings horror back to a much grittier time, before slasher films became a mixture of blood-and-guts and Dawson’s Creek-style drama. The good ol’ days before teenage characters regularly threw around five-syllable words, as though the entire ensemble never left the house without a pocket thesaurus. One of many reasons Strangeland is far superior to the likes of Urban Legend, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and the rest of the paint-by-numbers movies of the time was because it went against the grain, not with it. At the same time, going off in an entirely different direction could’ve hurt Strangeland’s chances of success among fans and critics, who wanted a very watered-down version of the genre.

For this episode, I chose the Blu ray edition of Strangeland, which runs 1:26:37, as a source. I believe the unrated Artisan DVD will also work just fine, should you decide to watch along. So, listen and enjoy. I’m off to get myself an ampallang. Dee Snider, you have inspired me, sir.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Episode 28: Stripteaser (1995)

“I dunno about everybody else, but I certainly got a hard-on.”

It’s closing time at Zipper’s Clown Palace, one of Hollywood’s sleaziest strip clubs, when a deranged gunman (Rick Dean) strolls on in and holds the remaining patrons, as well as its employees, hostage. As a long night wears on, we come to find that our verbose villain has developed an unhealthy infatuation with Christina Martin (Maria Ford), one of the club’s most popular dancers, and decides this is the night they meet face to face.

Like many Roger Corman productions, especially of this era, Stripteaser is very much a family affair. Dean and Ford have appeared in numerous Concorde / New Horizons Home Video quickies (a handful of ‘em together), as have Nikki Fritz and Duane Whitaker.  Duane, most often seen in front of the camera, penned the screenplay directed by Dan Golden, who stood at the helm of several Concorde films. Fans of low-budget thrillers will undoubtedly recognize the name Andrea V. Rossotto, cinematographer on more than 70 productions, a good percentage of them for Corman. Tossed into the mix is R.A. Mihailoff, who played the title role in Jeff Burr’s under-appreciated Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Here, he’s wielding bottles, as opposed to power tools, playing “Little,” the bearded, beer-bellied bartender.

Though I’ve been a long-time fan of this micro-budget, straight-to-video epic, I never before noticed the endless padding throughout its 74-minute running time. From extended dance sequences to opening titles that seem to go on forever, Stripteaser utilizes a number of methods to maximize what couldn’t have been more than a 50-page script. It’s actually over 7 minutes into the film before any dialogue is spoken. Nevertheless, there’s enough here to keep the viewer entertained, especially if said viewer enjoys excessively gratuitous nude scenes. There’s a moment in the film where one of the dancers, fully disrobed, stands over a strategically-placed stage light and there’s practically a near-glimpse of cervix.

While there’s no doubt that Stripteaser is a T&A film (the title pretty much says it all), some of the performances are particularly strong. Rick Dean plays a pretty convincing psycho and delivers every line (and demented cackle) as though this were a mainstream film meant to be seen by a much larger audience. Maria Ford, who probably holds the world record for playing more strippers than any other actress, has always given her all, despite the lackluster material she’s so often given. Here, she plays the doe-eyed woman-in-peril to the letter.

Much to my surprise, Stripteaser is available for streaming via YouTube and in its uncut, unrated version. However, if you’d like to watch using the Concorde DVD, which runs 1:14:06, please feel free to do so.

Brandon Ford's B-Movie Bonanza - Episode 28: Stripteaser (1995) from Brandon Ford on Vimeo.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Episode 27: Serial Mom (1994)

“Are those...pussy willows...?”

While many hardcore John Waters fans prefer his early, grittier works (Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Desperate Living), others gravitate more to his family-friendly titles (Hairspray, Cry Baby). There’s a small group of about four who actually enjoy A Dirty Shame (I mean, come on. How can you not bust a stitch when Tracey Ullman, known for a slightly different brand of comedy, delivers such insane lines as “Now that’s what I call sneezin’ in the cabbage!” or “Something is the matter with your vagina!”) and I’m proud to say I’m a card-carrying member.

My absolute favorite Waters opus has always remained Serial Mom, a “June Cleaver with an actual cleaver” story of a domestic goddess, who discovers there’s a more efficient way of dealing with people who don’t properly take care of their teeth, refuse to recycle, and yes, steal her parking space. This was a role tailor-made for Kathleen Turner, who gives what I humbly consider to be the performance of her career. John himself has said no one could’ve played the role of Beverly Sutphin the way she has and I wholeheartedly agree. With conviction and a motherly smile, Turner is well within her element brandishing such weapons as a leg of lamb, scissors, a hairspray blowtorch, and, of course, a butcher knife.
Sadly, Serial Mom did quite poorly at the box office (didn’t even make back its $13,000,000.00 budget) and received mixed reviews from critics. As so many other cult classics of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the film did, however, find an audience on home video—an audience who obviously loves reciting quotes like “IS THIS THE COCKSUCKER RESIDENCE?!” and “You can’t wear white shoes after Labor Day.” The Blu ray edition, running 1:33:46, was used as a source for this episode, which contains lots of anecdotes on John Waters and his extensive library of trash cinema (and I mean “trash” in the best possible way), not to mention what it was like meeting the man himself at a book signing here in Philadelphia way back in the fall of 2005.

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!