Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Movies I probably shouldn’t like (but do)

I was planning a scholarly dissertation on gay subtext in Martin and Lewis pictures for this week (well, not really, since that would require actually watching the things), but instead I’m bowing to requests various and sundry that I augment my spiel on overrated movies with one on bad movies I can’t resist. In all honesty, I won’t say that all of the titles I selected are bad—some of them just aren’t terribly respectable and one (at least) qualifies as a noble failure.

Since just about everyone knows I can rattle off a string of 1930s-40s crapfests that I find irresistible without half trying—just put Bela Lugosi or George Zucco in an Old Dark House and I’m pretty happy—I decided to limit myself to more or less modern titles, which in this case means nothing prior to the mid-1960s. (Hey, from my perspective that’s kind of modern.) One thing I did not stint on, however, was the horror genre. This would be a fairly short list if I had, since I have a much greater capacity for fairly awful horror pictures than any other kind. Even so, this wasn’t as easy a task as I’d envisioned. I felt like Zero Mostel in The Producers (1968) looking for Springtime for Hitler and rejecting things like The Punisher (2004) because it was too good. That’s why I ended up including titles that just aren’t very respectable—things that look odd on a shelf if you place them next to Citizen Kane (1941).

Seaside Swingers (1965). “When the Dreamers meet the swingers it’s the swingin’est hit that ever swung,” claimed to U.S. poster for this Hard Day’s Night (1964) wanna-be that set out to do for Freddie and the Dreamers what the earlier film did for the Beatles. Well, it didn’t. In all fairness, the ridiculous title was an American contrivance to goose the movie’s prospects (since I first saw it on the bottom half of a double-bill of a kiddie matinee, I don’t think it worked). The original Brit title was Every Day’s a Holiday (which isn’t too hard to guess because a song by that title crops up two or three times), and it’s a rather endearing little movie that features rather than stars Freddie and the Dreamers.

In reality it’s a British seaside, or rather holiday camp (a strictly Brit institution that was captured more fancifully, and less romantically, 10 years later in Ken Russell’s Tommy)—musical comedy. The slightly rodential-looking, but pleasant John Leyton (best known to Americans for a short-lived WW II TV series, Jericho, a year later), the sneeringly snobbish Mike “Whiz Kid” Sarne and the improbably named Grazina Frame (who sports about two acres of teased blonde hair). For the uninitiated, Sarne was a writer, critic, musician and ultimately a filmmaker, who made something of a splash with Joanna in 1968 before crashing and burning with Myra Breckinridge in 1970. He’s still around—you can spot him as the long-haired musician in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises (2008), where you will note that much time has passed.

Throw in a pre-Oliver! Ron Moody as a bogus Italian singing teacher, the Baker Twins (always around when someone wanted pretty blonde twins—for the movies, I mean), cinematography by soon-to-be-filmmaker Nicolas Roeg, Hammer horror favorite Michael Ripper as a retired music hall artist and some not too bad songs and you have a good notion of the film. Freddie and the Dreamer completists should note that the two songs they perform in the film—the mind-numbingly strange “What’s Cooking?” and the straightforward “Don’t Do That to Me”—are not on any compilation albums.

It’s not a great movie, not even a particularly good one (though an interesting document of its time), but I admit to unreservedly loving it. I even tracked down a used VHS pan-and-scan copy a few years back and burned it to DVD. I lie awake nights thinking about a properly letterboxed DVD release. That sounds like an exaggeration because it is, but it would be nice to be able to see the silly thing where Leyton, Sarne and Frame actually fit on the screen. Should you ever be inclined to track this down, be prepared to have somewhere to go during Leyton’s “Crazy Horse Saloon” number. After a minute of this, you’ll thank me for the advice.

At Long Last Love (1975). I’ve mentioned Peter Bogdanovich’s famous musical disaster in the past, but it’s such a powerhouse of a flop—and such a personal favorite—that I can’t ignore it on any such list as this. Actually, it’s the movie here I think of as a noble failure, but it’s the kind of failure that’d be a lot more noble if Bogdanovich himself weren’t almost single-handedly responsible for why it tanked. OK, let’s forgive him the idea of making an Ernst Lubitsch-styled musical comedy in 1975 and filling it—almost non-stop—with Cole Porter songs. In fact, that part’s pretty darn noble in my book.

But then turning around and casting your girlfriend (Cybill Shepherd) in the lead, despite her lack of much of a singing voice, is dubious. Casting Burt Reynolds—who pretty completely just can’t sing—as the male lead is worse. Then having the arrogance to decide that these non-singers would perform their songs live comes close to the realm of a creative death wish. And it’s a wish the film pretty much fulfilled, since Bogdanovich never again had the kind of clout that allowed him to make At Long Last Love in the first place.

Bogdanovich has tinkered with the film in the intervening years. Following the lead of Chaplin, who cut down former girlfriend Georgia Hale’s footage for a re-issue of The Gold Rush (1925), he tried to prune a lot of Shepherd’s footage, but that was a vain hope, since she’s in most of the film—and she’s hardly the main problem. Rumor has it that it’s Bogdanovich who keeps the film from a DVD release (believe it or not, there’s a market for it). I’ll confess now that I’ve talked to the fellows who produce a lot of the special features on 20th Century Fox DVDs in the hopes of getting the ball rolling. Warts, bad choices and all, I’d be first in line to upgrade from my bootleg copy.

The Sentinel (1977). I can never quite decide if Michael Winner’s horror picture The Sentinel is an underrated little gem or just an outright disaster I love regardless. It’s probably somewhere between the two extremes. Of course, it’s long been fashionable to simply hate Michael Winner, and I’ve just never been able to do that. Winner’s made some losers, it’s true, but a few titles like The Jokers (1967) and I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Isname (1967) are terrific movies, while his updated (and transplanted to England) version of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1978), for all its faults, retains far more of Chandler’s novel than does Howard Hawks’ 1946 version. (It also bears the distinction of once being cited by Jimmy Carter as his favorite movie. So there.)

I always thought that Winner’s biggest problem lay in a basic inability to choose the best material. After all, who in his right mind would follow up the brilliantly cynical What’s ‘Isname with Hannibal Brooks (1969), a ridiculous WWII yarn with Oliver Reed transporting an elephant across the Alps? Years later, another British filmmaker told me that Winner’s problem was that he’s simply more interested in being a director than he is in making a good film. Actually, the two faults could neatly dovetail.

Even so, Winner’s movies are invariably fun—and if you ever listen to his commentary track on the DVD of What’s ‘Isname, you’ll find him an intelligent personality and a great raconteur—and infused with a sense of a filmmaker who’s having a great time making the movie (or having a great time being a director, take your pick). That’s certainly one of the things I get from this much maligned horror film that’s generally dismissed as either an Exorcist (1973), or a Rosemary’s Baby (1969) rip-off. I’m never clear how it can be both, but in fact, it’s neither. Even if it were, I’d gladly admit I’ve seen it and enjoyed it more often than the other two.

The movie, adapted by Winner from Jeffrey Konvitz’ novel, is way over on the far side of preposterous and requires no little suspension of disbelief. If you can accept that the entrance to hell is in a Brooklyn apartment building, you’re part way there. If you can also buy into the idea that—starting with the angel Gabriel (or maybe Uriel)—there’s always been a sentinel guarding this entrance to keep the denizens of darkness out of the world so much the better. (Just what Gabriel was doing in Brooklyn is never addressed—since this clearly before the move to Los Angeles, maybe the Dodgers were playing.)

Now, somewhere along the way, you see, this responsibility got transferred to one of those ubiquitous super secret branches of the Catholic Church, who have taken to having the entrance guarded by failed suicides (who thereby earn a free pass out of damnation). By the time of the film the sect has been ex-communicated and is being run by Milton-spouting (Paradise Lost gets a workout here) Jose Ferrer and Arthur Kennedy. That brings us to the film’s “what a cast!” cast.

As he had just done on Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), Winner piles on old movie stars in small roles with a vengeance. Here we get not just Ferrer and Kennedy, but Ava Gardner, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, Eli Wallach, Sylvia Miles and Burgess Meredith—not to mention such not-yet stars as Beverly D’Angelo, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken and Tom Berenger. The bulk of the film is in the hands of model-actress Cristina Raines and Chris Sarandon (fresh from Dog Day Afternoon), while Burgess Meredith gets the lion’s share of supporting cast time.

The whole thing centers around Raines—who, wouldn’t you know it, has attempted suicide twice—being manipulated into the building in question where its bizarre inhabitants do bizarre things to unnerve her. Of course, they’re really all demons trying to drive her to suicide. Some of it is actually pretty creepy, especially Raines’ encounter with her zombie-like father. As filmmaking, a lot of it is creatively done, even if Winner recycles a few tricks from his earlier films. Nearly all of it is melodramatic (John Carradine’s one coherent line, “The entrance to Hell!” is pricelessly ripe), silly and in appallingly bad taste—which is what gives the movie much of its charm. The ending in particular was singled out for censure at the time of its release because Winner used actual circus freaks for his depiction of damned souls. Whether or not this is tackier than Beverly D’Angelo’s masturbation scene is a matter of taste.

Beware the TV print of The Sentinel! Not only is it heavily censored in some pretty amusing ways—the cutting of the aforementioned D’Angelo scene makes it appear that Raines is highly offended by Sylivia Miles offering her tea—but things have been added. All references to the Catholic Church have been removed, as have any shots of the sect’s crucifixion rings, while inserts of a painting of Satan (cribbed from a Night Gallery episode) and close shots of a Satanic ring have been spliced in. No, it doesn’t make any sense—why would an apparent group of Satanists try to keep ol’ Lucifer from gaining entrance to earth?—but it’s apparently less offensive. In any case, if you tackle this baby, ask yourself this: Just where does the sentinel reside while the building is being torn down and replaced with a more modern apartment complex?

The Manitou (1978).  Now, this is a truly guilty pleasure if ever there was one—and there’s some bonus guilt to make sport of a movie where the filmmaker, William Girdler, was killed in a helicopter crash just before his final opus was released. However, I’m just not sure what else you can do with a movie about a deformed 400 year old slimy, demonic Native American medicine man named Misquamacus emerging from a “tumor” on Susan Strasberg’s back. Throw in Tony Curtis as a wisecracking bogus psychic, Stella Stevens as a more legitimate psychic, Burgess Meredith as a doctor, Michael Ansara as John Singing Rock (a modern day good guy medicine man) and Ann Sothern as some kind of window dressing for a seance scene—now, there’s a recipe for splendid silliness. Top it all off with an evil spirit battling it out with the bare-breasted forces of good on an astral plane (I guess) and it just doesn’t get any better.

I admit I haven’t seen this in years (I may have to buy it now), but I fondly recall seeing it on opening night. A friend and I did a triple feature of moviegoing that night—Damien: Omen II, this and a midnight show of Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (1974)—and, I fear, annoyed part of the audience at The Manitou. When the doctors started debating just what the growth on Ms. Strasburg’s back could possibly be while standing in front of a human embryo growth chart, we burst out laughing and never quite regained our composure.

Fear No Evil (1981). OK, this is rubbishy stuff. It’s overheated, badly acted (Barry Cooper in particular ought to be forcibly restrained from even considering acting again—and may have been, since this is his latest credit) and in explosive bad taste. It’s the bad taste that gives the movie its appeal—well, that and the low-budget creativity of writer-director Frank LaLoggia, who went on to make a pretty credible ghost story, Lady in White (1988). Actually, this is one of those movies—Carnival of Souls (1962) and the weirdly overrated Session 9 (2001) are others—where you get the sense that the filmmaker had access to a really great location (in this case Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay, NY) and decided to work a film around it. Some of it actually succeeds.

The movie’s pretty much your standard son o’ Satan yarn—except I guess the constantly reborn character in question is supposed to be the old boy himself. But then the movie’s not all that clear on that or several other points. All in all, it’s a Carrie rip-off, but with a pretty charmless male lead (Stephen Arngrim) of hellish lineage as the much beleagured teen. It’s also extremely peculiar in being both wildly homoerotic and somehow homophobic at the same time. There’s a male version of the Carrie shower scene with a particularly odd payoff, but it’s hard not to notice that all the gay content is associated with matters Satanic. At the same time, it’s equally difficult not to enjoy the spectacle of androgynous sub-Travolta school bully (Daniel Eden) sprouting breasts by way of payback for kissing Satan—who for some unknown reason plays these last scenes in a kitschy black chiffon negligee and g-string—in the shower.

Woolly-headed to the nth degree, the film rarely seems to be sure what it’s about and I question if it really has an agenda of any kind. Whatever it is or is meant to be, though, Fear No Evil is your chance to see a very odd beachside Passion Play go wildly wrong (complete with a nod to Eisenstein’s Potemkin) with cheesy effects and lots of gore—not to mention the (not very) special effects-driven big climax that’s unfortunately powered by effects that are less chilling than they are evocative of the end of Yellow Submarine (1968). And it’s all covered in a largely inapt selection of punk and new age rock—the Sex Pistols, Patti Smith, the Boomtown Rats, the Talking Heads—that were foisted on LaLoggia by the distributor. Frankly, I think these add to the film’s perverse fascination.

Adventures in Baby Sitting (1987). Like just about everyone else I’m pretty much in the anti-Chris Columbus column. OK, so his Harry Potter movies were good (but everybody after him did better), but it’s going to be a cold day in hell before I forgive Home Alone (1990), Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Nine Months (1995) or Rent (2005). That said, I am totally charmed by his debut film, Adventures in Babysitting. From its energetic opening with Elisabeth Shue lip-synching the Crystals’  “Then He Kissed Me” to its bittersweet ending shot, I can find nothing in the least wrong with this little movie.

Yeah, it’s a teen comedy of the John Hughes school, but it’s a skillfully made one that never seems to run out of charming surprises like the bit where the protagonists have to make up a blues song to get out of a blues bar (“Nobody gets out of here without singin’ the blues,” bluesman Albert Collins tells them). And there’s a nice shock effect moment where Shue stands up to some gang members (“Don’t f*ck with the babysitter”). Plus, there’s an almost magical moment involving Shue’s young charge (Maia Brewton) and her encounter with her comic book hero, “Thor” (Vincent D’Onofrio). But what really puts it over for me is the chemistry of the cast—Shue, Brewton, Keith Coogan, Calvin Leeds, Anthony Rapp and Penelope Ann Miller all play off each other beautifully. OK, call me a sap if you like, but I love this movie.

House on Haunted Hill (1999). I know I’m not supposed to like William Malone’s remake of William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill (1959). I’m not exactly sure why except for the persistent impression that William Castle was a great filmmaker (he wasn’t) and that a 1950s Vincent Price horror film has to be good (it doesn’t). Really, apart from Price (not really at his best) and the quaintness of Castle’s ballyhoo gimmicks, there’s not a lot going for the original—other than nostalgia and fond memories of the acid vat business.

Malone’s remake certainly has its problems—like the fact that the ending doesn’t make a lot of sense and goes a little CGI happy—but it also has a much better atmosphere going on than anything Castle managed. (Malone’s Feardotcom (2002) is even more atmospheric, even if it makes almost no sense.) In fact, parts of the film are truly unsettling—especially any of the flashback material dealing with Jeffrey Combs (his presence is always a plus) and his mad doctor sadistic experiments in the former asylum for the criminally insane that has been turned into the house of the title. These are some of the most lingeringly disturbing scenes I’ve encountered in a modern horror movie, yet they’re surprisingly brief.

The whole cast is a plus, actually. Taye Diggs always makes a film better than it otherwise would be (Malibu’s Most Wanted, anybody?). It’s something of a shock, however, to find Chris Kattan delivering a solid performance. But the show stealer most of the way—apart from Combs—is Geoffrey Rush in what amounts to the Vincent Price role. Rush is even given a Priceian mustache, but wisely he chooses not to imitate Price. Instead, his character comes across like a 50-50 mix of Price and showman William Castle himself. This may not be a great picture, but it, like Dark Castle’s other William Castle remake 13 Ghosts (2001), isn’t a travesty of some great masterpiece.

House of 1000 Corpses (2003). No, it’s not a good movie. I even gave it a pretty bad review when it came out. At the time I wrote, “ Corpses—depending on where you are in it—is a lot like an art film, a porno loop, a gross-out horror movie, and a music video. But none of these elements—intriguing though some of them are individually—ever turn into a single coherent idea.” I still kind of feel that way—and I still keep waiting for that 105 minute NC-17 version to replace this 89 minute one to maybe alter that view. (Are you listening, Mr. Zombie?) So why do I seem to find the film utterly fascinating? I’m not sure, but for a movie I panned, I’ve seen the damned thing at least half a dozen times, which is more than I can say for the demonstrably better (or more coherently) made Devil’s Rejects (2005).

I know a lot of the appeal lies in Sid Haig’s Captain Spaulding, but Haig is just as good—and more in evidence—in Rejects, so that’s not enough. I know part of what I liked about Corpses stemmed from Zombie’s belief that it was just cool to name these characters after ones from Marx Brothers movies. And it was, Rob, it was! (Though it would have been even better if Karen Black had comported herself like Margaret Dumont!) So why did you have to go and ruin it by not only explaining it, but proving these were aliases in Rejects? At least, you didn’t spoil all the neat clips from James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932) and George Waggner’s The Wolf Man (1941) by explaining those—you kept the faith with your fellow old movie geeks there.

In all honesty, I think what appeals to me is the very thing I bitched about—that it never becomes a coherent whole. I like the fact that the film shifts in tone and style. I admire the way Zombie weaves together his “monster movie” TV-watching childhood, a sense of an old-fashioned “spook house,” and his particular take on drive-in movie horror. In much the same way, I get a kick out of a soundtrack that includes Zombie’s brand of rock (even if I don’t quite know what that is), Helen Kane singing “I Wanna Be Loved by You,” and Slim Whitman. There’s just something inherently appealing about that to me. It helps that both the Helen Kane and Slim Whitman sequences (especially the latter) are brilliantly done.

When the film came out, a number of people complained that it was too much like one of Zombie’s rock videos. I hadn’t seen one then, but when I finally did, I was fascinated by the fact that Zombie didn’t allow himself to be hampered by format restrictions. Instead, he threw in everything from Academy ratio full screen to 1.85:1 to full-blown 2.35:1 widescreen. That’s exactly the same spirit I like about Corpses and its “everything and the kitchen sink” approach. It’s also what’s missing from The Devil’s Rejects and even more from his Halloween (2007) rethinking.

Am I turning around and making a case that Corpses is good? No, not really. I think its first half hour is a good—occasionally brilliant—movie, but after that its pleasures become spotty. It’s also just a little—sometimes a lot—too sadistic for my taste. Thankfully, it stops way short of torture porn, but it is undeniably sadistic. Still, something keeps pulling me back to it.

EuroTrip (2004). Raunchy, silly and maybe even stupid, Jeff Schaffer’s EuroTrip just plain suits me. It’s simply the ne plus ultra of dumb teen movies—except I don’t really think it’s dumb at all. On the contrary, I find it marvelously inventive and surprisingly funny even on repeat viewings. Granted, its absolutely funniest sequence—Joanna Lumley as the preposterous proprietor of an Amsterdam youth hostel (“If you do not wish to have your valuables stolen, I suggest destroying them or discarding them right now. You can also try hiding your valuables in your anus”)—ended up on the cutting room floor and wound up as outtakes in the ending credits. (But, hey, when’s the last time the outtakes in a movie were really funny?) The full scene is, however, available on the DVD.

Whatever EuroTrip‘s limitations as art—depending perhaps on your definition of art—it’s that rare thing these days: a comedy with lots of random gags that actually has a structure and doesn’t rely on a bunch of post-modern references to other movies. It also boasts a great cameo by Matt Damon and a terrific song, “Scotty Doesn’t Know,” that ought to have been up for an Oscar in that long irrelevant “Best Song” category. And about that song—when I screened Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour in 3-D, I kept telling people that her “Rock Star” song sounded suspiciously like “Scotty Doesn’t Know,” no one paid any attention. (This, I think, had much to do with a desire not to watch the movie to find out.)

Vindication came last week when it was announced that the band, Lustra, who were responsible for “Scotty Doesn’t Know,” have claimed copyright infringement against “Rock Star.” I only hope that one of the areas of recourse the band is looking into involves making Cyrus sing the song with its original lyrics.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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47 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Movies I probably shouldn’t like (but do)

  1. I’ll admit that I’ve seen [i]The Last Starfighter[/i], [i]Weird Science[/i] and [i]Just One of the Guys[/i] more times than I can justify. And I actually kind of liked [i]Jersey Girl[/i], and have seen [i]Mallrats[/i] probably at least two-dozen times over the years.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Weird Science at least has the marginal excuse of clips from Bride of Frankenstein and the Oingo Boingo title song. Stretching a point, I think I could make a very marginal case for Jersey Girl for the staging of Sweeney Todd. Mallrats loses points on the Shannen Doherty factor alone.

  3. Dionysis

    I can think of a few that I really shouldn’t like but do more than I might admit in polite company. A few such titles would include two with Patrick Swayze (Red Dawn and Roadhouse, which features the most ridiculous ending imaginable). Also up there is Lifeforce (with the sexiest space vampire in all the cosmos).

    I’m sure if I thought about it more, I could add some titles, but for some inexplicable reason, when any of these titles are on my screen, I get pulled into them.

  4. [i]Mallrats[/i] is a film you have to approach with VERY low expectations, otherwise it doesn’t work. It’s not a good film by any standard measurement — largely thanks to the post-focus-group edit, which encouraged Smith to cut out whole the set-up of the film thus ensuring that the final product doesn’t even make much sense — but it does have some fragments of greatness here and there, particularly in the soon-to-be-catch-phrase dialogue (which, let’s face it, is really the only thing Smith is [i]really[/i] good at).

    And, from a historical perspective, Shannen Doherty’s appearance is offset for me, as it helped launch the careers of Ben “Who’s your favorite New Kid?” Affleck (a fact I’m mostly neutral on), Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee (without whom there would be no [i]My Name is Earl[/i], another guilty pleasure).

    It also was the film that set Smith to making films his own way, rather than listening to studio feedback. While this has been mostly a wash (one good film in [i]Chasing Amy[/i], versus the four increasingly hard-to-watch films that followed), it has given Smith his own kind of relevance, making movies that — for all their awkwardness — are willing to explore turf that most mainstream movies never even approach.

    I have nothing much to say about [i]Jersey Girl[/i] other than it was the first time I’d seen a Kevin Smith movie that actually looked and felt like a [i]real[/i] movie, and it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I’d been told it was.

  5. [b][i]Red Dawn[/i] and [i]Roadhouse[/i][/b]: Are both wonderful films when you’re a 13-year-old boy. I spent a large portion of the early 1980s hoping for a Soviet Invasion so I could camp, shoot guns and spray paint “Wolverines” on random buildings and rocks.

    I’d add [i]Bloodsport[/i], [i]Enter the Dragon[/i] and [i]Conan the Barbarian[/i] to that teenage-power-fantasy list as well.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Also up there is Lifeforce (with the sexiest space vampire in all the cosmos).

    A much maligned Tobe Hooper masterpiece. I admit a soft spot for Hooper, even if the two Texas Chainsaw movies are perhaps his primary claim to legitimacy (based on your definition of legitimacy). Still, I like Eaten Alive, The Funhouse, the Invaders from Mars remake (any movie where Louise Fletcher gets swallowed by a frog cannot be all bad — that’ll teach her to walk off with Ann-Margret’s much deserved Tommy Oscar) and, yes, Spontaneous Combustion. (Do not vex me over this last title, since star Brad Dourif is slated to be the guest at this year’s Asheville Film Festival, and I might program it, if pushed.)

    However, Lifeforce — wisely tagged by the Village Voice as the “best film about intergalactic vampires” to come out that year — really needs no apology. I understand it’s a letdown if you’re famiiar with Colin Wilson’s source novel, The Space Vampires, but on its own, there’s much to recommend Lifeforce.

  7. Ken Hanke

    I spent a large portion of the early 1980s hoping for a Soviet Invasion so I could camp, shoot guns and spray paint “Wolverines” on random buildings and rocks.

    This explains ever so much…

  8. Ken Hanke

    Speaking of Patrick Swayze, does To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar qualify as a movie worth being embarassed by liking? I mean, it’s not good and it’s pretty much a rip-off of the genuinely good Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but it’s so sweet-tempered that I can’t help but like it.

  9. [b]Speaking of Patrick Swayze, does [i]To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar[/i] qualify as a movie worth being embarassed by liking?[/b]

    I remember liking it well enough for what it was, even though I’d never place it in my list of favorite films. I thought it was certainly a brave film, particularly for Snipes and Swayze, who were both risking their tough-guy images by playing drag queens.

    Strangely enough, the first non-Superman movie I saw with Terrence Stamp was [i]Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert[/i], and I tend to think of that role, rather than the more iconic Zod, when his name comes up.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I thought it was certainly a brave film, particularly for Snipes and Swayze, who were both risking their tough-guy images by playing drag queens.

    What really surprised me was that they didn’t take the “we’re really manly men who just like to wear women’s clothes” approach.

    Strangely enough, the first non-Superman movie I saw with Terrence Stamp was Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and I tend to think of that role, rather than the more iconic Zod, when his name comes up.

    And well you ought. Stamp’s performance in Priscilla is one of the (many) great Oscar oversights of all time. By the way, is General Zod really iconic outside of comic book circles?

  11. Dionysis

    “Are both wonderful films when you’re a 13-year-old boy.”

    I guess that means I’m a 13 year old boy trapped in a middle-aged carcass, then. I agree about Enter the Dragon and Conan the Barbarian.

    I’ll add They Live, with wrestler Roddy Piper, and another of his cinematic gems, Hell Comes to Frogtown. Of course, there are slews of Roger Corman films to cite, but two of my favorites are Humanoids from the Deep and Big Bad Momma. In a different genre, one of my all-time favorites is a little-known film titled Local Hero (although I think it’s a nice little film by any standard.)

    A couple of others that come to mind are The Giant Behemoth (the second of three similar films by Eugene Lourie…I like the ‘blasts of electrified radiation’ twist) and Night of the Comet.

    I could see how this topic could burn up a lot of time. I’m still thinking of films.

  12. [b]By the way, is General Zod really iconic outside of comic book circles?[/b]

    Absolutely. I’m not even sure if he was a character in the comics (I’ve never been much of a [i]Superman[/i] reader), but the whole “Kneel before Zod” thing seems to be part of the Gen-X experience.

    (Which, being born in ’78, I’m really a bit too young to have truly been a part of, and have gotten these references much the same way that others ended up with hand-me-down shoes.)

    And, even if I’m overstating things a bit by calling his turn as Zod “iconic,” I think it’s safe to say more people know him from that role than from [i]Priscilla[/i].

  13. Ken Hanke

    Absolutely. I’m not even sure if he was a character in the comics (I’ve never been much of a Superman reader), but the whole “Kneel before Zod” thing seems to be part of the Gen-X experience.

    Actually, I asked partly because I didn’t know if Zod was in the comic books or not. I confess — and I probably don’t know my Xers as well as I might — I had no idea that there even was a “kneel before Zod” thing!

    And, even if I’m overstating things a bit by calling his turn as Zod “iconic,” I think it’s safe to say more people know him from that role than from Priscilla.

    Undoubtedly — and from my perspecive, unfortunately — true.

  14. [b]What really surprised me was that they didn’t take the “we’re really manly men who just like to wear women’s clothes” approach.[/b]

    Indeed. Although I’ll readily admit that my experience with drag queens is very, very limited, I will say that I found the characters to be a lot more believable than I had expected they’d be.

    Of course, I’m dredging this information up from 13 years ago, as the one and only time I’ve seen it was when it was still in theaters, and I don’t remember being particularly excited about seeing it. But, from what I recall, I expected it to be tough guys playing at being cliché effeminate gay men — like a reverse version of [i]The Birdcage[/i] or a variant of [i]Tootsie[/i] — and instead was a little surprised to find a degree of actual depth being given to the characters.

    Again, a brave move for Snipes and Swayze, and not a bad role for Leguizamo, who I’d never been aware of before [i]To Wong Foo[/i].

  15. [b]I had no idea that there even was a “kneel before Zod” thing![/b]

    When I was growing up, it was the epitome of bad-guy dialogue. If you wanted to seem like a badass on the elementary-school playground, you merely had to knock over some poor kid, stare down at him menacingly, and then utter those terrifying words.

    It’s as much a cultural touchstone for children of the ’80s as “What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” and “I pity the fool.” It’s a surprise our culture has survived without them.

  16. A few of my many guilty pleasures

    BACHELOR PARTY – The only film that I can watch over and over and over… and I do.

    THE MARINE – The most explosions in one film ever!

    STUDENT BODIES – One of the first slasher spoofs is a terrible film, but for me I can’t stop laughing.

    Swayze holds a special place in my heart. He had such an amazing run of bad movies. Remember STEEL DAWN?

    It’s hard to call EUROTRIP a guilty pleasure. I’m sure that the studio wanted an AMERICAN PIE knockoff, but what they got was a good script with fleshed out characters and a likable cast.

  17. Ken Hanke

    BACHELOR PARTY – The only film that I can watch over and over and over… and I do.

    Another song festooned, I believe, with an Oingo Boingo song. (If someone will dredge up Summer School we may have the set, exempting Back to School.) Also, it’s not an awful movie, though I’m not sure about seeing it over and over.

    THE MARINE – The most explosions in one film ever!

    And hysterically funny in the bargain.

    STUDENT BODIES – One of the first slasher spoofs is a terrible film, but for me I can’t stop laughing.

    Uh…you’re on your own with this one.

    It’s hard to call EUROTRIP a guilty pleasure. I’m sure that the studio wanted an AMERICAN PIE knockoff, but what they got was a good script with fleshed out characters and a likable cast.

    I’d agree, but you gotta remember I’m supposed to be an elitist bastard and above such things. (Of course, in that I just this afternoon threatened the city with showing Spontaneous Combustion, I’ve probably ruined that.)

  18. [b]I’ll add They Live, with wrestler Roddy Piper, and another of his cinematic gems, Hell Comes to Frogtown.[/b]

    How could I forget [i]They Live[/i]?! “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum.” I mean, that’s one of the dumbest, funniest lines in any movie starring a pro-wrestler. Not to mention the wrasslin’ break in the alley. Brilliant, in a rather stupid way.

    [i]Hell Comes to Frogtown[/i] should be on my list, too. I’ve only seen it once, but I remember thinking it was wonderfully fun for such a horribly made film.

  19. Ken Hanke

    I’ll add They Live, with wrestler Roddy Piper

    They Live kind of annoys me because it’s so close to being actually good, but then succumbs to the usual John Carpenter pitfall of being a really terrific concept (Bush the First as an alien?) that he doesn’t really know what to do with. For me, the Carpenter masterpiece is Big Trouble in Little China, but it requires no guilty pleasure status.

    All of this reminds me that I kind of enjoyed Tank Girl, but haven’t seen it recently enough to commit to that as a choice.

  20. Dionysis

    “All of this reminds me that I kind of enjoyed Tank Girl, but haven’t seen it recently enough to commit to that as a choice.”

    So did I when I first saw it shortly after its release. However, I recently (well, maybe a year ago) watched it again and found it pretty bad. It came across to me as self-consciously quirky. While it was fun to see Naomi Watts in her (I think) first role as ‘Airplane Girl’, and I did get a chuckle seeing Ice-T as a talking kangaroo (other than the makeup, it was the same persona he projects in Law and Order), it just didn’t really entertain me much.

  21. Dionysis

    “For me, the Carpenter masterpiece is Big Trouble in Little China, but it requires no guilty pleasure status.”

    I like that one too, but for me, In the Mouth of Madness edges it out.

  22. Ken Hanke

    So did I when I first saw it shortly after its release. However, I recently (well, maybe a year ago) watched it again and found it pretty bad.

    The perennial potential peril of looking back like that (I remember when I saw an episode of a much-loved TV show from my childhood — I Married Joan — as an adult. Ye gods!) Perhaps I will forego a fresh look at Tank Girl and leave it to dimly pleasant memory.

  23. Kevin F.

    One movie that I have recently been watching–and will probably soon write about, in one form or another–is Ralph Bakshi’s universally-panned COOL WORLD. I think that Bakshi is absolutely fascinating, though not always on point. COOL WORLD is a guilty pleasure that takes a lot of chances (it is not a ROGER RABBIT wannabe, but rather the anti-ROGER RABBIT). HEAVY TRAFFIC is an absolute masterpiece. As for COONSKIN/STREET FIGHT, I’ll have to track down a copy and rewatch it, because its been nearly 7 years since I saw it (this is the film that everybody seems to claim as the best Bakshi film). According to Tarrantino, who wrote a preface to a recent book published about Bakshi, his best film is HEY, GOOD LOOKING. Anyway, I was riffed onto mentioning this because TANK GIRL and COOL WORLD are generally remembered as cult travesties, but I think they both deserve better reputations.

  24. Ken Hanke

    I think that Bakshi is absolutely fascinating, though not always on point.

    Oh, Kevin, you’re gonna have a hard time selling me on this one. I’m not sure I’ve ever made it all the way through a Bakshi film, except for American Pop, which I absolutely hated. I will admit, though, that I have never seen Heavy Traffic even in part. I don’t remember much about Cool World, except that it sounded like something I might like that turned out to be unable to hold my interest — and that’s a response I tend to distrust, since there’s a chance it’s strictly mood of the moment.

  25. Ken Hanke

    I like that one too, but for me, In the Mouth of Madness edges it out.

    I know I’ve seen that, but I remember almost nothing about it. Looked it up and I still remember almost nothing about it. Certainly has an interesting cast, though.

  26. [b]I think that Bakshi is absolutely fascinating, though not always on point.[/b]

    I’m close to agreeing with this. Bakshi tends to make interesting films, but he always loses his momentum in the final act. [i]Wizards[/i] is a great example of this, which sets up a unique world with an interesting mix of sci-fi and fantasy, only to blow it with crappy-looking rotoscope of stock army footage at the end. (Granted, the wizard versus wizard payoff is pretty clever.)

    His [i]Lord of the Rings[/i] was great until the last third of the film, where he once again inserted rotoscoped stock footage (and it really didn’t work for orks) and totally lost the narrative.

    I’ll stick up for [i]Heavy Traffic[/i], which actually seems like fully realized film, rather than a half-baked one.

    I have no love for [i]Cool World[/i], however. I thought it was more than a little charmless, sleazed-up and lazy riff on [i]Rodger Rabbit[/i], and suffered from the final-act disorder I’ve come to associate with Bakshi.

    [b]Perhaps I will forego a fresh look at [i]Tank Girl[/i] and leave it to dimly pleasant memory.[/b]

    Good idea. I remember loving that film when it was in theaters, and thinking it was a fun, wild ride of a flick. I saw it again shortly after the DVD release, and my experience was almost exactly the same as Dionysis’ — it had a few OK moments, but otherwise was really horrid.

  27. Ken Hanke

    What kind of surprises me is that no one has popped in here to praise The Apple. It’s so indefensibly bad — and strange — that it seems like a natural. I’ll admit it’s one I find myself preferring to think about than actually watch (my stance on all movies made by Yoko Ono), but I know of people who actually watch it with some frequency.

  28. Dionysis

    “I know I’ve seen that, but I remember almost nothing about it. Looked it up and I still remember almost nothing about it. Certainly has an interesting cast, though.”

    It is loosely based upon H.P. Lovecraft’s work, and is probably the best rendition of any of his works yet (including Re-Animator). The movie creates a weird, surrealistic atmosphere, and is very much a ‘thinking person’s’ horror film. Good performances too.

  29. Ken Hanke

    It is loosely based upon H.P. Lovecraft’s work, and is probably the best rendition of any of his works yet (including Re-Animator).

    I’d have to see Madness again, but I doubt you could sell me on it as better than Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator or his follow-up film From Beyond. Even his later — badly constrained by budget — efforts like Dagon and Dreams in the Witch House strike me as the most interesting film adaptations of Lovecraft. Now, when — or maybe if — Guillermo del Toro actually gets around to At the Mountains of Madness, Gordon will face some stiff competition.

  30. “What kind of surprises me is that no one has popped in here to praise The Apple. It’s so indefensibly bad—and strange—that it seems like a natural. I’ll admit it’s one I find myself preferring to think about than actually watch (my stance on all movies made by Yoko Ono), but I know of people who actually watch it with some frequency.”

    Guess what TV Eye’s Weird Wednesday’s first film is going to be Ken?

  31. Ken Hanke

    Guess what TV Eye’s Weird Wednesday’s first film is going to be Ken?

    What a gentle way of breaking it to me that my future involves a screening of The Apple. Just remember to remind me of the when and set me up with a copy, because I admit — painful though it is to do so — that it’s a title that doesn’t adorn my shelves.

  32. Dionysis

    “it’s a title that doesn’t adorn my shelves.”

    Believe it or not, it does adorn my shelf, although I’ve never seen this movie. I first heard about it a while back, found a copy for a few bucks and, based upon all that’s been written about it, bought it. I assumed I’d get around to watching it sometime. Perhaps that ‘sometime’ will be this week.

  33. Ken Hanke

    I assumed I’d get around to watching it sometime.

    I have shelves and stacks (ran out of shelves) of things that come under that heading, especially if I factor in titles I picked up to watch again at some vague future time. Only Saturday night, I picked up Luchino Visconti’s The Damned in a remainder bin on that basis. (What do you suppose that was doing in a dump bin in a grocery store in the first place?) Ask me in a year if it’s still in the shrink-wrap.

  34. Ken Hanke

    By the way, I think I now have to include this week’s World Cinema offering, Candy (1968), on my list of movies of debatable quality that I have a fondness for. Actually, large chunks of it are not of debatable quality, but are terrific examples of filmmaking technique. And the film overall is a fine example of the movies responding to the new freedom of the rating system. That the plot is wafer-thin, that it goes on too long, and that it makes The Magic Christian look like a masterpiece of formal structure are possible downsides.

  35. Kevin F.

    Ken —

    If there is any chance of you liking Bakshi, it is through HEAVY TRAFFIC. Strongly autobiographical, visually excessive, excellent (and multi-layered) use of music, and a feel and rhythm that are definitely “of its era.” Sound like any other films you like? I am almost certain that the man’s reputation will increase over the next ten or fifteen years.

    Then again, I have been wrong in some of my predictions of what you would and would not like watching.

    THE APPLE recently played at Durham’s Carolina Theatre and I missed it. It is definitely something that I will watch on DVD.

    One series that I really like but can hardly justify enjoying is the MAD MISSION (ACES GO PLACES) series. Somewhere between buddy cop and espionage, these Hong Kong action films were very popular in the 1980s and have probably been sitting on video store shelves collection dust for years. Anchor Bay put out a box set of the first four movies in the series.

  36. Ken Hanke

    If there is any chance of you liking Bakshi, it is through HEAVY TRAFFIC. Strongly autobiographical, visually excessive, excellent (and multi-layered) use of music, and a feel and rhythm that are definitely “of its era.” Sound like any other films you like?

    In broad strokes, yes, but the specifics might be the kicker. Is it, for example, excellent use of excellent music? One of the drawbacks to American Pop lay in the fact that I hated the music. That could be a big sticking point. I will admit that part of my resistance to Bakshi has something to do with not much caring for the crowd that doted on everything he touched back when this stuff was new. I found the whole “Man, this is so heavy” schtick off-putting and tiresome. It’s been years since I attempted any Bakshi — I think American Pop was clincher. Perhaps it’s time to try him again.

  37. Kevin F.

    The film uses the Sergio Mendes version of “Scarborough Fair” as a motif that is repeated (through instrumental variations and repetition of the song itself) at various points in the movie. The song in general–and this version in particular–are absolutely crucial to making sense out of a film that may seem slightly sloppy and unintelligible in moments. I tend to think of Bakshi a bit like Larry Cohen…constantly called-out for ragged execution of good ideas, though this rougher, improvisatory stance is crucial to understanding how they view the world and how they critique social and cultural institutions.

    The “house band” composers on HEAVY TRAFFIC were Ed Bogas and Roy Shanklin (also of FRITZ THE CAT and BLACK GIRL–kind of “house composers” for Fantasy Records on soundtrack projects in the early 1970s). The real star of the original music is Merl Saunders (mainly an organist, also plays some Fender Rhodes electric piano), most famous for his stints in Jerry Garcia’s sidebands. You’ll like the original themes if you enjoy soul jazz, funk, and jazzy rock.

    Other songs used include Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene,” the Isley Brothers version of “Twist and Shout,” and Dave Brubeck’s famous “Take Five.” Does that border on “excellent?”

    I can totally understand not liking the original “woah, man” Bakshi crowd. I am coming from a very different place than the crowds who only watched ALTERED STATES for the hallucination sequences, so hopefully I can be trusted.

  38. Ken Hanke

    I can totally understand not liking the original “woah, man” Bakshi crowd. I am coming from a very different place than the crowds who only watched ALTERED STATES for the hallucination sequences, so hopefully I can be trusted.

    Kevin, I’m certainly aware that you’re not coming from that perspective. I was merely stating a bit of background on part of why I have always been resistant to Bakshi. As for the music, I’d call it all respectable and wouldn’t criticize it, but it’s not, I admit, quite to my taste. But, I will give Heavy Traffic a try soon.

  39. Robin Anderson

    THE MANITOU!

    I remember this playing in a second-run movie house in Detroit for months. Probably saw it a half-dozen times, and loved every sleazy-assed moment of it. Tony Curtis slurring the line “In Ha NECK?” positively slayed me, over and over.

    A while ago, I picked up the deeveedee at Best Buy, and was shocked–SHOCKED, I tell you!–to discover I still really enjoyed the flick. Not because it was good, mind you…

    Now, I don’t have any guilty pleasures. I refuse to feel guilty about anything I take pleasure in, be in reprints of old EC comics or NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, but I think the least defensible movie I actually enjoy is BEYOND THE POSIEDON ADVENTURE.

    Perhaps its’ the cinematic equivalent of gawking as one passes by a traffic accident; or perhaps it’s seeing some actors that pretty much everyone loves but me (Jack Warden? Never liked him. Sally Fields, anyone? Damn, but I despise her…) get conned by Irwin Allen to be in this rubbish. Though, in all honesty, I thought Telly Savalas sort of floated above it all, as if he were pretending he was actually in a decent flick.

    Idiotic plot, cheap-looking sets, jaw-droppingly stupid dialogue…man, this movie has everything.

    It used to show up on HBO or Cinemax every few weeks; now I have it on deeveedee. And I’ve actually watched it twice. Oh, sure, I could’ve spent the time watching Raymond Bernard’s WOODEN CROSSES or something worthwhile…but that’s not nearly as fun.

  40. Ken Hanke

    A while ago, I picked up the deeveedee at Best Buy, and was shocked–SHOCKED, I tell you!–to discover I still really enjoyed the flick. Not because it was good, mind you…

    Hmmm, the name is Robin, you use the term “deeveedee” and you do a Claude Rains impression. I believe, sir, that I know you!

    Now, I don’t have any guilty pleasures

    I don’t know of any movies I actually feel guilty about liking. I know there are movies I like that I probably oughtn’t, but that’s not the same.

    By the way, I must report that Mr. Kaufman dropped off a copy of The Manitou for my inspection the other day, but I have yet to have the chance to reacquaint myself with its contents.

  41. Ken Hanke

    I can now say I have rewatched The Manitou and it’s everything I remembered, but might actually be a little better in a few respects. Michael Ansara is surprisingly good as John Singing Rock. Of course, being surprisingly good mostly means delivering lines like, “We don’t know what demon Misquamacus will come up wih next,” and not bursting out laughing. Some of Curtis’ lines are pretty clever and the showdown between Misquamacus and Strasberg is a fairly credible light show. Bonus points for the frozen nurse whose head snaps off and goes flying past.

  42. Sean Williams

    Hey, uh, Cranky…I believe you omitted Sleepover and The Adventures of Shark-Boy and Lava-Girl from this list!

  43. Ken Hanke

    I don’t really find the latter without some merit, especially if you’re looking at it as part of a larger body of work by the director. As for Sleepover, that’s a case of the movie being okay on its own limited terms — and for its audience — but I can’t say I really like it, nor has it even briefly occurred to me to see it a second time.

  44. Sean Williams

    Excuses, excuses!

    Personally, I didn’t hate The Bucket List as intensely as did many critics. Then again, I generally avoid sentimental male bonding movies on principle, so I wouldn’t recognize the cliches which Sneider employed so freely.

  45. Ken Hanke

    Well, it doesn’t exactly stop at the cliches for reasons to, if not hate it, at least hold it in contempt.

  46. Sean Williams

    I do object to the fact that the film typecasts Morgan Freeman, world-class actor, as a docile Magic Negro whose ambitions extend no further than a desire to shepherd the white characters toward enlightenment. (Of course, it’s not like any other film has ever had the audacity to pull that stunt before….)

    I also object to the fact that the film conflates enlightenment with the ability to fulfill one’s dreams, which is a narcissistic worldview at best. And I object to its portrayal of cancer as a disease without any apparent physical symptoms.

    Note that I merely said that I didn’t hate the film as intensely as some critics. I still acknowledge its certain, ah, lack of quality, shall we say. But the last film I saw before screening The Bucket List was Eragon (Tagline: “It’s not that the bear dances well…”), and even Scheider can’t achieve that sort of Richter-scale idiocy.

  47. Ken Hanke

    When you see a film can have great bearing, I grant you. I’ve no idea if The Bucket List might have looked better to me if I’d seen right after Eragon. I suspect that I’d have still found Bucket List particularly obnoxious in its phony profundity. I will have to admit, however, that I saw it during awards season, which means that I was being bombarded with films like There Will Be Blood, Sweeney Todd, Juno and No Country for Old Men — as well as revisiting screeners of Eastern Promises, Talk to Me, etc. At the same time, though, I also had to slog through Margot at the Wedding, Things We Lost in the Fire and as much of Reservation Road as I could stand. (In the case of the last, I gave up after 30 minutes, deciding that I’d only watch the rest of it if it ever actually opened here. It didn’t.)

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