Friday, August 26, 2016

Episode 19: The Last Slumber Party (1987)

“If you want me, just whistle. You do know how to whistle. Don’t you? Just part your lips...and blow.”

No, the above is not a typographical error. It’s an actual slice of dialogue from the movie. The quote, a variation of the famous line from the 1944 Howard Hawks classic To Have and Have Not, is meant to be a sultry, seductive lure, but spoken in a mechanical, almost robotic monotone by a less-than-gifted “actress” is more effective than Ambien. Evidently, writer/director Stephen Tyler (not to be confused with the Aerosmith front man) believes that to produce a beckoning whistle, one need only open their mouth and expel a little carbon dioxide. Not sure how the mechanics work on his end, but the rest of us have to put our lips together.

Now that I’ve gotten that mess out of the way...

I keep saying I’m not going to trash these movies. Keep promising I won’t write negative reviews. But when an irredeemable stinkpile like The Last Slumber Party is a selected feature, the absurdity of its many, many flaws is too great to ignore. With a slice of amateur fare as thick as this one, Tyler makes Rob Zombie look like Alfred Hitchcock.

The plot, as most of these “so bad, it’s...well...bad” shot-on-video time-wasters often are, is threadbare. On the eve of his lobotomy, a nameless maniac (played by none other than Tyler himself) escapes a mental hospital, utilizing the old “pillows and blanket stuffed beneath the bedclothes” illusion made popular in the 1600s. Clad in standard issue scrubs, his identity concealed by a surgical mask, he heads for the suburban home of Dr. Sickler, the surgeon scheduled to slice into his brain come morning.

Unfortunately, The Good Doctor’s only offspring has chosen this night to gather a few friends for a slumber party to celebrate the school year’s end and summer’s beginning. Needless to say, the bevy of novice performers (some of whom appear older than the adult characters) fall victim to the scalpel-wielding slasher. One wouldn’t know it, however, as the majority of the cast shows less emotion than Hillary Clinton on her best day and the special effects are strictly amateur hour.

Why choose a movie like The Last Slumber Party for B-Movie Bonanza? Artistic merit and entertainment value obviously aren’t part of the equation. The stories centered around acquiring the United Home Entertainment VHS, as well as my initial viewing are probably the main reasons I pulled the trigger on this one. I also have a few anecdotes about how I made a hobby of pestering star Lance Descourez via AOL Instant Messenger some years later. I suppose this delightful pastime was a form of subconscious retribution, as sitting through The Last Slumber Party is a pretty painful and torturous experience only the strong-willed can endure.

I have no legitimate reason for buying VCI’s 2004 double-feature DVD (which includes Terror at Tenkiller). Obviously, I knew exactly what I was in for, yet I shelled out the five bucks anyway. Nevertheless, it’s a disc I can’t seem to find anywhere, so I was forced to watch this mess on YouTube. The version I chose runs 1:10:53 and, to my knowledge, is uncut. Not that there’s anything offensive in its short running time—well, other than the awful soundtrack provided by then, and still, unknown hair metal band Firstryke.

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.