Rupert Pupkin Speaks: "Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: Marc Edward Heuck ""

Friday, June 29, 2012

"Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: Marc Edward Heuck

 Marc Edward Heuck runs the excellent blog, The Projector Has Been Drinking which should be added to your feeds forthwith. Marc is a truly talented film writer and I am always honored to have his contributions as part of any series I am running. I did this interview with him a while back for the GGTMC and I recommend you give it a listen also.

It may strike many of you as odd, but it is surprisingly difficult for me to offer up a contribution to this current RPS summer series.  Like many other contributors have pointed out in their prefaces, I don't believe in guilty pleasures...85% of the time anyway...and like The Tick pointed out, bad is just plain BAD - you don't cotton to it, you gotta smack it in the nose with the rolled up newspaper of goodness: BAD DOG! BAD MOVIE! I would liken my dividing line to, say, the difference between a beleaguered city-appointed attorney defending a maligned client who he genuinely believes is good and innocent, and the slick intelligent professional who represents scoundrels he knows damn well are guilty because there's just something about them he can't resist.  As such, many of the movies that have been cited by my esteemed colleagues fall into that first group, and I will not put the "bad" word on them.  But yes, there are a fair number of films that, for me, are in that latter camp of criminality.  I once wrote about these kinds of unlovable movies and why I stood by them when I offered a huge mea culpa for SUCKER PUNCH, a movie which served the same purpose as a cheap bottle of bitter vodka would if I had spent a month in captivity with that wing of my family that don't allow drink, cable, or dirty jokes, in a house where the walls are too thin for any noisy private stress relief.  And after dusting off the skeletons in my closet, I have found a few more rogues for this gallery.

It seems that on the subject of Brian DePalma and his less-than-loved movies, you can find apologists for THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, you can find defenders of SNAKE EYES, hell you can find sincere appreciations for MISSION TO MARS, but it's readily apparent that nobody wants to stand up for THE BLACK DAHLIA.  And with good reason.  The acting is wooden, the story perfunctory and predictable, and...goddammit, there were NEVER any clandestine lesbian nightclubs in the late 1940's with that level of production value! There's poetic license, and there's GILLIGAN, YOU'VE GOT TO BE SHITTING ME! This movie is so phoned in, that instead of spotting those red antipiracy watermark dots on screen, I spotted a caller ID number from Bulgaria. And's still DePalma, with the excessive cranes and the tracking shots and the super-slow-motion reveals and the lush music score. For as much as the last generation of film school brats say they love him, you rarely see his technique being emulated in a world of "Oh my god, I've let this scene run for 10 seconds without cutting? BLAM!", so even when it's executed badly, there's that part of me that's happy to be there.

I'm lumping these two movies together, because I saw them in the same marathon screening event back in my early L.A. days, they are both films about the dead and their thirst for blood, both made by Italians in the '80's, and films I remember playing drive-ins in Cincinnati as a kid, but never saw then. The first, BURIAL GROUND, struck me as the horror equivalent of one of those "wall-to-wall" porn highlight tapes that were so popular in the dying days of VHS smut: almost no plot, but nonstop action and gore. No explanation for why the dead have come back, or the characters' links, or that creepy "kid" who, dubbed by an adult trying to emulate a teenager, came across even more freaky. In short, ludicrous, stupid, but filling. It was so obvious this thing was cut by an impatient American trying to save money on film stock.
The second film, NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES, was even more gonzo. This one I was familiar enough to know that the director was Bruno Mattei, not "Vincent Dawn" as the badly Anglicized credits would have you believe. This one did attempt to present a plausible explanation for the dead's return, a covert conspiracy by world governments (See, the man is keepin' us down, bro!). But it had been padded out with an absurd amount of stock footage of random jungle animals and weird "native" rituals, like someone stole some cans from Discovery channel or something. Then again, that's pretty much what Terrence Malick did with THE THIN RED LINE, and his movie didn't have much of a plot either. Maybe Mattei is a genius. NAAAH! Again, lots of story lost along the way from Italy to America. Looking at the posters for these two films, I seemed to recall a story, maybe in Fangoria, that for a while, certain mobsters were operating film distribution companies as legit fronts, and I think at least one these movies originally were released by one of these folks. That would explain the choppy editing: "Explanation? Fahgeddaboudit--let's see some more blood."

 KING FRAT (1979)
Joe Bob Briggs once said that part of the effectiveness of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE was that it looked as if it were filmed by actual cannibals. In a sense, that is the same aesthetic that makes me appreciate a completely derivative and puerile wallow in the muck like Ken Wiederhorn's KING FRAT, a college comedy so tasteless that after me pressing him to watch it, fellow blogger Witney Seibold actually wrote "Screw you, movie!" in his review. I cannot argue that there's any originality to this low-budget ANIMAL HOUSE ripoff, or any characters worth sympathizing with, or anything redeeming about the horrid behavior depicted in the name of comedy.  But what it does have that I can't resist is a peculiar stench of authenticity: it looks as if it were conceived and shot by actual drunken frat boys!  It's as if some producer said, "OK, here's a 16mm camera, here's three kegs of Schlitz. Knock yourselves out!"  As such, you get the sensation that, compared to the wild but well-thought-out and smartly-scripted hijinks of National Lampoon's classic, this level of lowbrow stupidity is closer to the real mentality of the average alumnus of your local I Bea Dipshit chapter.  I would daresay that if one called ANIMAL HOUSE the Big Star "Radio City" of fraternity movies, KING FRAT is The Memphis Goons "Teenage BBQ" - a much more crude punkish creature that, well, is still kinda groovy. An ultra-cheap DVD, mastered from 3/4" tape and paired with Harry Kerwin's CHEERING SECTION, was briefly released by Code Red, and for reasons I still do not understand, an extremely unflattering picture of me wound up gracing the cover, which of course makes my father REALLY proud.  "That's my son: the retro slob!"

After Dario Argento had kept people waiting for over two decades for the completion of his "Three Mothers" trilogy, the general consensus is that he should have just never completed it.  In interviews, he stated that he wanted to try a different approach to this installment, to not indulge in the saturated surrealism of SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, and instead set it in a more realistic environment.  A noble idea, except for the fact that consequently, the first half of this movie plays like an episode of "C.S.I. ROMA", and his budget, higher than recent memory but still a pittance, means that while we are supposed to believe an ancient curse has fostered chaos in the streets, the best he can summon up to demonstrate that notion looks merely like two Italian soccer hooligans fighting over a game ball.  Thankfully, once Udo Kier shows up we finally begin to get more of the classically batshit Argentoverse us faithful fans have loved him for. And while she's not as hypnotic as Ania Pieroni was in her brief INFERNO tease (which the now-retired Pieroni refused to reprise for Argento), Moran Atias is certainly an alluring Mater Lachrymarum.  Besides, there's always la ragazza Asia. In short, between reminisicing on the better days and watching his daughter running from scissors, I'm willing to forgive ending this series on a whimper.

There are plenty of fond memories of multiple Disney eras for multiple generations - the rise of their animation brand in the '40's, the family dramas of the '50's, the exquisite Sherman Brothers musicals of the '60's, the Eisner/Katzenberg revolution of the '80's, the Jerry Bruckheimer action epics of the '90's - oops, did I leave out the '70's?  Yes I did! Because nobody wants to remember that period.  It's a time of TV stars collecting slightly bigger paychecks, former greats trying to stay active or do one for their grandkids, and theatre operators dutifully running this treacle in order to get the lucrative reissue of MARY POPPINS in a year or so. When you watch Paul Schrader's AUTO FOCUS, do you sense that Bob Crane's lowest point is his sex and videotape addiction, or when SUPERDAD is playing to an empty El Rey theatre?  If, in trying to be generous to the Ron Miller era of the studio, you consider that comedy lovers like me will look kindly to the Knotts/Conway chemistry of the APPLE DUMPLING GANG series, and that FREAKY FRIDAY, ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN, and even friggin' Herbie the Love Bug were considered worthy of remaking for new generations, that there is still a whole body of films that are never discussed and have been left to the memories of sugared up Baby Boomers and their barely-patient may just understand how badly back then, beneath the Magic Kingdom, the ground was sour.  And SNOWBALL EXPRESS is just one of many forgettable fluff flicks that let the multiplex pretend they were family friendly while they knew teens were buying these tickets and sneaking into THE EXORCIST.  So why do I remember this one and speak for it today?  Well, it's an early movie memory for me: I went to a drive-in with my parents, while they were still together and ostensibly happy, to see it on a double bill with THE WORLD'S GREATEST ATHLETE, another dim Disney comedy.  I remember that I liked it though I could recall very little of it, so much that years later, when my grade school would have that monthly Arrow Book Club order solicitation from Scholastic, there was a novelization available and I bought it, and liked what I read.  Then it popped up on that pre-cable subscription service ON-TV, and I taped it and rewatched it, and it still amused my tweener-anxious-to-get-grown-up sensibilities.  I like that it had Johnny Whitaker who played Jody on "FAMILY AFFAIR" in it, because I thought he seemed nice, and nowadays I always think of him when I see the fine UK actress Jodie Whittaker from VENUS and ATTACK THE BLOCK, and wonder if she'll ever play a character named Jonni?  And I think at the core, I just have a soft spot for Dean Jones.  Disney will treat and talk up Dick Van Dyke and Hayley Mills and Annette Funicello like royalty for life and beyond, but you're never going to see them acknowledge this steady friendly face that spent so many years keeping families in theatre seats.  There's no "Dean Jones Golden Collection" on DVD!  Watch the long loud character parades at Disneyland and you'll never see a tribute float for THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE!  (At least a certain murder specialist in HORRIBLE BOSSES seems to appreciate the man.)  Maybe that's why I'm so compelled to speak fondly of this artifact, so that history will not forget a dying Dean.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad to see someone else who shares my appreciation for THE BLACK DAHLIA. I also enjoyed BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES and SNAKE EYES, enough to have had repeated viewings of them. MISSION TO MARS however disappointed me big time. It definitely helps to either appreciate or share De Palma's sense of humor on a lot of his work (like two other favorites of mine: RAISING CAIN and BODY DOUBLE).