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!