Rupert Pupkin Speaks: "Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: Justin Bozung ""

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: Justin Bozung

Justin Bozung is a feature contributor at Shock Cinema Magazine, and is the host of the sporadically aired in-depth film podcast, The Mondo Film Podcast.  His favorite filmmakers are Jerry Lewis, Stanley Kubrick and Kenneth Anger.  Don't follow him on Twitter or Facebook, read a book instead.

------------------------------


10.  IF I HAD A HAMMER (1999: Unreleased/Becker Films)   Directed By: Josh Becker
The as of yet unreleased 4th feature film from writer and director Josh Becker (THOU SHALL NOT KILL, RUNNING TIME, LUNATICS: A LOVE STORY) IF I HAD A HAMMER is a period piece set in the summer of '64 just days before the Beatles appear on the Ed Sullivan show for the first time.   Goofy daydreamer and wanna be musician Phil Buckley meets the cause-of-the-moment caring Lorraine in a music store and the two hit it off, and agree to spend the evening together at a local beatnik coffee house which offer it's patrons an open mic to perform the  ever so popular "folk" music of the day.   
With a synopsis like that it's difficult to not assume anything but an over abundance of clichés from Becker in IF I HAD A HAMMER.  After all, just the title alone...IF I HAD A HAMMER (which is clearly an homage to folk music) is a rather difficult title to digest.   But Becker manages to give us a wonderful little independent film.  Shot for a mere $350,000 dollars, Becker gives us anything but clichés in fact.  While it would be easy for Becker to go that route, instead he gives us a click of quirky little oddball characters that while on the outside appear in the physical form as completely cliché, their actions and reactions give them each an interesting and very original aspect that anyone will appreciate.  Without this quirkiness, this film would fail big time.
Josh Becker has always been obsessed with the Orson Welles masterwork THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942).  What Becker loves about AMBERSONS is the moment of time in which the film's characters exist. These characters transition from one point into another in their lives, and Becker uses that concept here in IF I HAD A HAMMER to great success.
Being an indie film, of course IF I HAD A HAMMER does have it's problems.. It suffers from some bad acting here and there, but Becker (as usual) does give us interesting frames to look at with his great use of lavish but overly saturated purples, reds and blues.  The great colors in the film enhance the heavy cigarette smoke ever present here, as in many low-budget films of the '90s.
In addition, the use of music in the film is quite wonderful as well.  The high point of IF I HAD A HAMMER is Becker's clever script, in which he manages to keep us all seated at practically one setting the entire duration of the film, and he avoids the boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back scenario.  IF I HAD A HAMMER is more about a fleeting moment in time. A chance meeting between a teen boy and girl and the times that they live in, and the transition that both of them are smack in the middle of, but don't realize. It's a dreamer's film.  
I'm only including it here cause I think it's a great work that is aching to be discovered.  It's Josh Becker's best film.  It's available for purchase at Beckerfilms.com



 09.  GIGOT (1962; Warner Brothers)    Directed By: Gene Kelly
While Jackie Gleason did get "lucky" with films like THE HUSTLER (1961) and REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT (1961), "The Great One" never did have much success translating onto the big screen over the course of his larger than life lifetime, and GiGOT is a perfect example of this.
Shot in Paris and directed by the great Gene Kelly, Jackie Gleason stars as the shy and innocent man-child mute Gigot (pronounced Gee-Go) who befriends a french prostitute named Collette and her daughter Nicole, taking care of them after they are abandoned by a man in town.   Taken advantage of by the locals for his heart-of-gold nature, Gigot is often blamed in his neighborhood when something is stolen.  His neighbors contact the local sanitarium to have him committed.
Wanting a life filled with love with the prostitute and little girl, Gigot steals the money of a local baker in an attempt to prove to his new firends that he can have a life with them and take care of them as a man.   The man that abandonded Collette and Nicole comes looking for them, asking Collette to come back to him.  Collette leaves Nicole behind with Gigot, however there is a accident, and Nicole is badly injured.  The townspeople accuse Gigot of hurting the little girl and attempt to hunt him down mob style like he's Shelley's Frankenstein monster.  Falling into the water, and being washed out to sea, the townspeople learn Gigot's innocence in the aftermath of his death and they have a funeral for him to pay tribute to a simple man whom they had all took for granted previously.   But is he really dead?
When GIGOT was released in 1962, film critics lambasted the film as being overly sentimental.  Gleason originally conceived of the story and character and had originally wanted friend Orson Welles to direct the film, but Warner Brothers squashed the plan with worries of Welles going over budget per his reputation.   Gleason wrote GIGOT's screenplay as well as wrote the music for the film.  The later of which would earn him an Academy Award nomination.
There's just something that just doesn't quite work with GIGOT.  It's difficult to a finger on it. Regardless of how one feels about the film's snails pace plot or Gene Kelly's direction, one thing is for certain with GIGOT, Gleason's performance is magical.  The film just isn't.   There is something joyous in watching Gleason emotionally naked, and while he was clearly channeling the asethetic of his boyhood idol, Charlie Chaplin, the difference between Chaplin's tramp, and Gleason's Gigot is the fact that Chaplin's tramp films were silent, but his tramp wasn't a silent character. So what if Gigot would've talked?  GIGOT would be remade in 1997 for television under the title THE WOOL CAP with William H. Macy in the Gleason role ?!?!
While Gleason wasn't the first comic to experiment with pathos, his GIGOT is an unforgettable and sympathic character.  GIGOT will be a doorway for new Gleason fans to explore his work in films like THE LAUGH-MAKER (1953), SOLIDER IN THE RAIN (1963), PAPA's DELICATE CONDITIION (1963), and HOW TO COMMIT MARRIAGE (1969).  Gleason was so very much more than 'The Honeymooners.'  His nickname was "The Great One" for a reason.


08.  MORTUARY ACADEMY (1988)   Directed By:  Michael Schroeder
I love Paul Bartel.   You'd think that Bartel's EATING RAOUL (1984) was the only film he ever made in his lifetime the way it's been discussed in the last 2-3 years. As it's always mentioned alongside any "internet critics" mention of Bartel.  Sadly, people have yet to discover Bartel's '80s ingeniously clever and black comedies like NOT FOR PUBLICATION (1984), THE LONGSHOT (1985), SCENES FROM THE CLASS STRUGGLE IN BEVERLY HILLS (1989) or this film, MORTUARY ACADEMY in which he wrote but didn't direct.
Part POLICE ACADEMY (1984) low-brow and part mean spirited black comedy, MORTUARY ACADEMY has the Grimm Brothers (Perry Lang and Christopher Atkins) as two losers who inherit their uncle's mortuary school on the conditition that they study the profession before they take it over.  They, alongside a band of weirdo misfits and a sex starved teacher (Mary Woronov) are sabotaged by the Don Juan necrophilic school's dean (Paul Bartel) who's been embezzling the school's funds to finance his upcoming fantasy of taking a recently received teen female corpse at the school on a getaway to the St. Thomas Islands.
MORTUARY ACADEMY might not be for everyone.  It's overly demented, and is often very mean spirited.  In fact, the tagline on the film's poster reads "When the dearly departed meet the clearly retarded."  There is also a very dark sequence midway through the film that's played for laughs where some repo men come into the school, interrupt a funeral to repossess a casket which hosts the body of a very young boy in it.  The repo men flip over the casket, flinging the body onto the floor, and the camera focuses in on the young boy's contorted body on the floor  for way too long of a duration.
But MORTUARY ACADEMY has complete moments of sheer genius as well.  These include a sequence with Bartel and a Latino female corpse recreating the ultra famous Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr beach love scene from FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953), and there's also another moment where a fictional rock band named 'Radio Werewolf' is slaughtered and the students of the school bring them back to life as animatronic robots to play a Bar Mitzvah ala the defunct Showbiz Pizza "The Rock-A-Fire Explosion" to make some dough to save the school from total bankruptcy.   I suppose I should mention the cameos by Wolfman Jack and Cesar Romero as well.
The casting of MORTUARY ACADEMY is great fun.  Oddly, the film's main characters  Max Grimm (Christopher Atkins; THE PIRATE MOVIE (1985) and Sam Grimm (Perry Lang; THE BIG RED ONE (1980) are given little to do.  The film plays moreso as an true ensemble piece with the standout performances belonging to Paul Bartel and Mary Wornov. It's a sick sick sick little black comedy that you've got to see.



07.  WAY WAY OUT (1966; 20th Century Fox ) Directed by: Gordon Douglas
Jerry Lewis in space?   Why not, right?   Well, when Lewis did a favor for friend and actress now director Connie Stevens in 1966, I can't imagine he anticipated how fans and critics alike would respond.   Lewis has always had a negative track record with American film critics,  and attaching his name as an actor-for-hire to a mid '60s romantic screwball comedy set on the moon didn't make any attempts at trying to get into their good graces.  With that being said, WAY WAY OUT is actually an incredibly under-rated gem.  Lewis plays an astronaut / ladies man whose asked to go and live on the moon for a year with a female scientist whom he must enter into an arranged marriage with. This is done in a attempt to beat out the Russians, to see who can be the first country to conceive a child on the moon!  A totally logical premise indeed!   
But don't let the the premise of WAY WAY OUT fool you, because it  is actually hiliarous.  By this time, Lewis has grown wary of his trademark and genius "Idiot" character and developed a character that was more adult but still very Lewisian at the core, and it works here, but just barely.   
WAY WAY OUT has a swinging '60s score by the great Lalo Schifrin, as well as features a groovy theme song count-down done by Jerry's eldest son, Gary Lewis and his band, The Playboys. The film also boasts a dream cast. Brian Keith ala an homage to Sterling Hayden's General Ripper in Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE (1964), Dennis Weaver, James Brolin, Dick Shawn, and the lovely Anita Ekberg all rocket their way through the film with the help of mid '60s pop art inspired fashion and set design.
What makes WAY WAY OUT worthy of repeated viewing is the performance of the very under-rated actor/comedian and director, Howard Morris.  Morris started out on the seminal Sid Caesar sketch comedy television show YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS in the mid/late '50s alongside show writer's Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, and performers Imogene Coca, and Carl Reiner.  Morris would befriend Jerry Lewis and work with him often over the subsquent years that followed. He would appear in the 1963 Jerry Lewis masterpiece, THE NUTTY PROFESSOR as Julius Kelp's father, Elmer Kelp, and Morris would also direct a film that both Brian Saur and I are huge admirers of, WHO'S MINDING THE MINT? (1967) with Jim Hutton and "Uncle Milty" Milton Berle.   
Morris's performance in WAY WAY OUT steals the show.  He plays "Schmidlap"  a psychotic astronaut who's been on the moon way way too long without female company and obsessively attacks (but at unpredictable times) Connie Stevens, draws lude and crude photos and shares them with everyone (but the audience), and knocks Dennis Weaver around the space station like Muhammad Ali in zero gravity.   His performance in WAY WAY OUT is nothing short of genius, and he plays the character as if he's a certified Charles Manson in heat.
Where WAY WAY OUT goes wrong is in it's lengthly second act, where the comic bits and single scene punchline's slow to a snail's pace, and everything begins to play out like a outer-space sitcom with some unfunny Benny Hill esque hijinks and Lewis and Stevens playing grab-ass with the damn vodka loving Russkies.  
Lewis and Stevens have great kismet as they'd worked together previously on the Frank Tashlin directed remake of THE MIRACLE AT MORGAN'S CREEK (1944), ROCK-A-BYE BABY (1959), and while Stevens doesn't have as much to do here as you'd like her to, she is sexually blinding in WAY WAY OUT, but not as bright of a light as she would shine a couple years later in Robert Aldrich's 1971 gangland poke, THE GRISSOM GANG.  WAY WAY OUT will become your alter of worship for the great comic chops of Howard Morris.



06. THE IN CROWD (1988)   Directed By:  Mark Rosenthal
I'm a sucker for any sort of coming of age film that is set in the early/mid '60s.   I can't get enough of them.  Coming of age in that time is the definition of innocence, and to be honest I'm also a mega-sucker for a great musical, and that's exactly what THE IN CROWD is.  Or is it a coming-of-age film?   Or is it both?
Donovan Leitch (son of '60s rock folk trobadour Donovan, and brother of actress Ione Skye) plays Del, a mildly effeminate danceaholic kid who penatrates the "in crowd" when he gets asked to dance on an American Bandstand type show in his New Jersey boardwalk town by it's host - a Dick Clark ripoff, played wonderfully by Joe Pantoliano.    Realizing his dream, he's forced to chose between going off to college or being a teen dance celebrity and getting the opportunity to spend time with the girl of his dreams Vicky, played by Jennifer Runyon.
As great as THE IN CROWD is, it has a major problem which stops it from being something very special like a similar film set in the '60s, SHAG (1989).  It's the extreme weakness of Larry Konner's script (THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN (1985), Tim Burton's PLANET OF THE APES (2001) that causes the film to suffer.  The characters in the film just aren't very well written.  While they are fleshed out somewhat, they don't exhibit enough emotion or transform or transtition themselves to the point where THE IN CROWD could be deemed a coming-of-age film.  At times it's difficult to decide if THE IN CROWD is a coming-of-age film or just a light and fluffy musical. At the end of ninety minutes the film, which has tried so hard to be a coming-of-age story, fails. It's too much of a struggle as an audience to get behind the characters in the film enough to actually care about what happens to them over the course of the film.
With that being said, THE IN CROWD has some incredible dance numbers in it, the music is a early '60s rock-n-soul fan's wet sweaty dream and it will have you looking for the soundtrack online once you've finished watching it, and it features some stunning cinematography that will remind you of the great Hollywood musicals of the '60s and '70s.  These dance numbers are so well done, and so much fun that it's easy to overlook the script's inherent flaws.   The standout moment in the film comes when Del and Vicky at the height of their regional fame visit a pavilion on the boardwalk for a meet and greet with their fans.  If it doesn't touch a emotional chord inside of you, then shame on you. I love this film, I just wish I cared more about the characters.


05.  POINT OF TERROR (1973; Crown International)  Directed By: Alex Nicol
To dream of killing or to actually kill? That is the question!  1960's B-movie actor Peter Carpenter never did make it into a big Hollywood film before he died suddenly in 1979.
In his last film POINT OF TERROR, Peter Carpenter plays a hungry for success night club singer who meets the horny wife murderess Andrea (played by Dyanne Thorne of the ILSA Nazi series) of a crippled record executive and the two begin to use each other.  As the two began an affair, and Carpenter's singing career begins to take off,  Andrea kills her wheelchaired husband by pushing him into a swimming pool while Carpenter witnesses the murder without her knowing it.
Both characters seem to have the desire to control one another, in a sex is power motif,  and as their relationship sours they begin to blackmail each other with everything eventually spiraling completely out of control.  Carpenter beds Thorne's young naive daughter, Thorne takes away his singing career, and at the end of ninety minutes someone must die.  Or is this just a dream?
As an actor, the adonis physiqued Carpenter (a former model, born Paige Carpenter) got his start acting in Russ Meyer's cult classic 1968 film VIXEN.  Sadly, he would make only four films in his career before passing away in 1979.
POINT OF TERROR was Peter Carpenter's baby.   As with his previous film, BLOOD MANIA (1970), he wrote the screenplay, then recorded POINT OF TERROR's groovy soundtrack (which I've been looking for in dust bin's for many years, but have had no luck), as well as had a major hand in casting the film.    Carpenter's first film, BLOOD MANIA would be voted onto the list as one of the best horror movies of the 1970's by UCLA's film school facility in the '90s.
For POINT OF TERROR, Carpenter and Thorne had worked together the year before on the B-movie neglected suburban housewife soft core drama LOVE ME LIKE YOU DO (1970), and Thorne agreed to play the role of 'Andrea Hilliard' in POINT OF TERROR as a favor to Carpenter.
What I adore about POINT OF TERROR is it's extreme soap opera aesthetic. Plus, as a mega Dyanna Thorne fan, POINT OF TERROR does feature the best performance of her career.  Every frame of POINT OF TERROR blindingly explodes with vibrant swinging '60s technicolor, from it's swinging night club scenes to the film's incredible Faustian and surreal opening credit sequence. POINT OF TERROR really gives something like BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970) a run for it's soapy money.   Fans of over-the-top melodrama peppered with sex and great music will fall completely in love with POINT OF TERROR.
02. RED BLOODED AMERICAN GIRL (1990; Prism Entertainment)  Directed By: David Blyth
From Canadian writer and director Alan Moyle (PUMP UP THE VOLUME, EMPIRE RECORDS) comes a very unconventional conventional vampire film.
Outcast experimental DNA scientist Andrew Stevens (son of actress Stella Stevens) is recruited by an arm wrestling loving rich scienctist vampire (Christopher Plummer) to help in developing an experimental cure for AIDS, but what really is to be a cure for  vampirism. 
Now, we've all seen this film. It's the - outcast character who is recruited into a company, and discovers mysterious wrong doings taking place and takes it upon himself to investigate and stop it - film.   And that's exactly what RED BLOODED AMERICAN GIRL is.  But what makes the film worthy of searching out, is the performance of Ms. Heather Thomas (ZAPPED, THE FALL GUY, CYCLONE).
Thomas plays a medical study volunteer who's bitten by a vampire and as an actress gives us a completely fuckin' zany bat shit sky high over the moon and back  performance.  Thomas is completely insane in RBAG, and if her performance isn't the worst in the history of film, it's may just be the absolute very best.    Thomas claws her way through RED BLOODED AMERICAN GIRL by constantly and unpredictably twitching, giggling and muttering to herself. In fact there's a scene in which she attempts to seductively dance on a kitchen countertop while giggling to herself in sexy red satin pajamas as she starts cutting her own top off with a butcher's knife.  Thomas also verbally lashes out in a Tourette's symdrome fashion at her fellow actors all throughout the film. This includes a hilarious scene in which Thomas suddenly screams back when asked a question, "No Way Jose!" 
As Thomas tranforms completely into a vampire, she get's dressed up in a sort of kabuki face paint, and puts on biker leathers that make her look like the keyboard player from the '80s band A Flock Of Seagulls. It's an unbelievable performance, that probably was the stake in the heart which convinced her to cut back on her acting career and become a novelist and self-help book author.
The first three minutes of RED BLOODED AMERICAN GIRL are absolutely stunning cinematography wise, but from there everything falls apart. Even the film's incredibly sexy poster art can't save it. Moyle's script is predictable, but yet unpredictably insane. Characters have no motives to get from Point A to Point B and everyone reacts to anything and everything in the film completely out of context. It would be like if Wallace Shawn decided to pull out a gun on Andre Gregory and shoot him sudddnly in the face in MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (1981), get up and walk out of the restaurant and onto the set of STAR WARS (1977).  These surprise turns and character situations/reactions occur in RED BLOODED AMERICAN GIRL every five minutes without fail.
At the end of ninety minutes Andrew Stevens saves the day, turning Heather Thomas back from a vampire into a human with a magically developed blood transfusion process which has barely been discussed in the film up to this point, but yet reminds one of the same thing Ringo Starr and Harry NIlsson did in SON OF DRACULA (1974). Literally two seconds later Stevens is fucked passionately in a moonlight lit, smooth jazz montage by Thomas, without previous provocation as if it's his payment for his hard work.  The film is so bloody absurb that even fans of absurb and surrealist cinema find it too absurb for them.  RED BLOODED AMERICAN GIRL is cinema for the mind-fucked speechless. Heather Thomas fans rejoice!

3 comments:

SteveQ said...

So a sequel to "Sexbomb" would be a rock and roll zombie Elvis movie... wasn't that "Bubba Ho-Tep?" (which is a bad movie I happen to love)

sleestakk said...

Justin, SOME NUDITY REQUIRED sounds like a must-see. I recall viewing Naked Obsession on late night rotation; would like to see again (the early 90s were so ripe with DTV trash and I loved it). Thought Hard to Die might make it on your list (it a way, it does. Interesting to see that connection). btw, I name-checked you in my list. Thanks again for that awesome time!

Justin Bozung said...

Naked Obsession is a gem. The grand-daddy of the naked noir, minus the fact that the low budget aspects of it are so easily seen. I'm about half done with my book on '90s Naked Noir now, and it will feature over 300 late night obscurities / direct to video trash films from 1987-1999 as well as about 30 interviews with many of the filmmakers that made them.