Rupert Pupkin Speaks: VHS Gems Series ""

Monday, August 27, 2012

VHS Gems Series

A few years ago, I did an interview with the amazing Zack Carlson. He is a big VHS advocate and actually gave me a figure pertaining to how many movies are available on VHS vs. DVD/
As of about 2006, roughly 130,000 on films had been released VHS and something like 70,000 had come out on dvd. Granted it's 6 years later, but I think it's safe to say that dvd has not made up for those other 60,000 movies quite yet. As we've seen in those 6 years, many studios have developed their MOD releasing departments and churned out many previously unavailable titles. They've still got a long way to go and so I thought that myself and some of my VHS-loving compadres might offer up some lists of films we think you're missing out on if you jettisoned your VCR years ago. Look a for at least a couple of these lists a week in the coming months. Enjoy!

DEADLY EYES (1982; Robert Clouse)
I have championed this movie a lot on here. I just love it. Cheesy as heck in parts, genuinely kind of freaky in others. One of those 80s era horror movies that does things that no horror movie today would do. I miss the days of films having the balls to kill children in a horror film. I know it's a very taboo thing nowadays and being a father myself I am of course all the more horrified by it when I do see it in a film. Nonetheless, it reminds me that there was a time when filmmakers and studios weren't so caught up in worrying about offending people. I miss that.

HEAVENLY BODIES (1984; Lawrence Dane)
Gloriously silly and fun aerobicise-sploitation movie. Features one of the greatest "dance-off" finales ever.

 RAD (1986; Hal Needham)
Perennial family favorite in my household as a kid. I need a "Bart Taylor The Man' t-shirt.I have the soundtrack on vinyl and my wife's ringtone is the opening notes of "Send Me an Angel". I do adore this film. Goes great with THRASHIN' or AIRBORNE.

GET CRAZY(1983; Allan Arkush)
Despite there having a been a few screenings of this here in L.A. over the past 10 years, I always seem to miss it. I have been quite open about my adoration for ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL and this film is a worthy sort of sequelish type follow-up. It has that same kind of vibrance and irreverence that truly feels Arkush to me. A cult favorite to be sure and one that may remain a VHS and TV classic as I believe there may be some issues with a few elements that would be needed for a proper DVD/Blu-ray master.

RUBIN & ED(1991; Trent Harris)
Trent Harris has a very unique vision to say the least. Watch his BEAVER TRILOGY and you'll certainly see what I mean. RUBIN & ED to me is one of the great unsung buddy comedies. Both Crispin Glover and Howard Hessman are spectacular and hilarious together. I'm talking on par with De Niro & Grodin in MIDNIGHT RUN. The movie itself is quite a strange one, but I've watched it many many times since I originally rented it from my video store when it 1st arrived on VHS. Certainly one of those films I might not have initially checked out had I not been getting free rentals at the time, but one that was such a rewarding discovery for me.

LITTLE DARLINGS(1980; Ronald F. Maxwell)
I currently have this saved in HD on my DVR and I don't plan to erase it until I'm holding the(probably never arriving) Blu-ray in my mitts. It is a tough one to explain the appeal of, but I guess it really boils down to a couple of great performances from the lead gals(Kristy McNichol is particularly compelling) in what should be a straight ahead raunchy comedy. It isn't that though. It has this sense of innocence about it that just can't be seen too often in films these days. Many will find the movie hopelessly cheesy, but they'll be missing the pathos. Plus I find some appeal to camp movies as I didn't go much as a kid and wish I had.

TEST PILOT(1938; Victor Fleming)
Stars Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy. Gable plays a daredevil test pilot who is always pushing the limits of safety. His best friend (Tracy) and his wife (Loy) are trying to keep him from killing himself basically. Good companion piece to another favorite of mine - ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS.

RED DUST (1932; Victor Fleming)
I think I was first made aware of this film via NIGHT OF THE COMET(the poster shows up at one point). Talk about chemistry, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow light it up in this one! I know this has got to be just a heartbeat away from some kind of MOD release and it can't come soon enough.

SHACK OUT ON 101 (1955; Edward Dein)
Great little pot boiler set primarily at a greasy spoon on the California coast. Features Keenan Wynn, the smoldering Terry Moore and Lee Marvin as a fry cook. Marvin's character is named 'Slob'. What more do you need to know?

FIVE CAME BACK (1939; John Farrow)
John Farrow is one of those underrated guys that doesn't fully get his due. He directed such classics as THE BIG CLOCK, HIS KIND OF WOMAN and ALIAS NICK BEAL which are all worthwhile. This film is very much like STAGECOACH except with a plane and in the jungle, replacing the threat of indian attack with that of cannibals. I love STAGECOACH and find it to be the predecessor to many modern and 70s era disaster films. Same goes for this of course. And in the classic RKO tradition, Farrow keeps the tension ramped up not by necessarily showing the headhunters, but by having their drums beating ominously nearby around our stranded victims. Really simple, but so well done.

 ABANDON SHIP (1957; Richard Sale)
Like THE LAST VOYAGE, another great sinking-ship film, this one jumps right into things. In this case, we find survivors of a recently sunken ship trying to find each other and their bearings among the floating wreckage (and bodies) the ocean liner has left behind. Eventually we settle in with a group on a remaining lifeboat and the tension begins. Tyrone Power is thrust into a commanding position early and has to make some tough decisions regarding how to deal with the overcrowded lifeboat and other drama. I've heard this film called "LIFEBOAT with balls" and that is a very apt description. For a film from 1957, it's pretty darned intense and really maintains that throughout.

CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER (1979; Joan Micklin Silver)
A very dark and kind of melancholy love story, some might say the flipside of ANNIE HALL perhaps(that might be a stretch)? Regardless, it is a remarkable tale of obsessive love and a fantastic showcase for the criminally underrated John Heard. You may all remember him from BIG and HOME ALONE, but I am telling you, watch this film and CUTTER'S WAY and you will never forget him.

BUSTER & BILLIE(1974; Daniel Petrie)
Jan-Michael Vincent's filmography is quite literally littered with great little underseen films. I always think of this one and BABY BLUE MARINE in the same sentence. Both great. Set in 1948, here Vincent stars as a the most popular boy in his small-town Georgia high school who has an unlikely romance with the town "tramp"(played wonderfully by Joan Goodfellow). The film takes a darker turn towards the back that always gets me every time I watch it. It also features standout performances from Pamela Sue Martin and Robert Englund.

ODE TO BILLY JOE (1976; Max Baer Jr.)
Another southern love story that is a great sister film to BUSTER & BILLIE for sure. This one has two of my favorite actors, Robby Benson and Glynnis O'Connor. Based in part on the 1967 Bobbie Gentry song, this film is far better than say CONVOY's attempts to do the same type of adaptation. Part of the film's greatness comes from the sure hand of director Max Baer Jr.(best known as Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies) and the fine acting from both leads. Baer Jr., it should be noted also has another great film to his credit in MACON COUNTY LINE(which I highly recommend). If you enjoy this you should also check out the previous Benson/O'Connor team-up in JEREMY(1973).

One of several adaptations of stage plays that Altman produced around this period, this one has slipped more into obscurity than the others(SECRET HONOR, STREAMERS, FOOL FOR LOVE etc). It has only ever been released on VHS(and Laserdisc) as far as I know which is really a shame. It is a wonderful little movie with exceptional performances from it's entire female cast(including Karen Black, Cher, Sandy Dennis, Kathy Bates & Sudie Bond). Don't want to spoil too much but it deals with the reunion of a small chapter of the James Dean fanclub at a Woolworth's in a small Texas town.

 THE BIG FIX(1978; Jeremy Kagan)
Little seen detective flick with an outstanding turn from Richard Dreyfuss(one of my favorite things he did post-JAWS). He portrays Moses Wine, a former 1960s radical activist-type now turned detective and father who is trying to track down another activist gone missing. As you might expect, he gets caught up in a much bigger political situation by film's end. Cast includes: Susan Anspach, John Lithgow, Bonnie Bedelia & F. Murray Abraham. I think I first discovered this one in the back of Danny Peary's Guide For the Film Fanatic where it was marked with a 'CM'(Cult Movie) if I recall. Delighted that this popped up on Netflix Instant for a little while and some more folks got to see it.

Along with GOTCHA!, this film seemed to be capitalizing on some sort college assassination game craze in the 1980s. Nice New World kind of cast with Robert Carradine, Linda Hamilton and Michael Winslow. Carradine is pretty funny. He plays it like a Sam Fuller-ish hard boiled detective.

 RAW COURAGE (1984; Robert L. Rosen)
Starring and co-written by the great Ronny Cox, this film feels a bit like DELIVERANCE or SOUTHERN COMFORT. Being that I love both those films, that's not a problem at all. Hugely underseen and nearly forgotten sadly.

THE KID WITH THE 200 I.Q. (1983; Leslie H. Martinson)
Lookout Doogie Howser, you've got some smarty prodigy competition in Nick Newell. Gary Coleman plays the titular wunderkind, who is constantly trying to impress one of his idols/professors played by Benson himself. Cheesy 80s Gary goodness. My favorite of all Coleman's movies.

 POISON IVY(1985; Larry Elikann)
Michael J. Fox follows up his attempted wooing of Nancy McKeon in the truly classic HIGH SCHOOL USA with more attempted wooing of her in this 80s summer camp comedy.

AMERICAN HOT WAX(1978; Floyd Mutrux)
A biopic-type about famed DJ Alan Freed who had a huge role in popularizing rock 'n' roll in the 1950s. It has a phenomenal soundtrack, which sadly may be the cause of the film's current obscurity. Really hoping for some kind of MOD or blu-ray(maybe Olive Films as they have been licensing many Paramount titles). Worth tracking down.

 HEY GOOD LOOKIN' (1982; Ralph Bakshi)
I believe I own all the available Ralph Bakshi films out on available on Blu-ray. They are quite gorgeous to behold. Bakshi brings a very unique and personal vision to his animation and though I do not find them all completely successful and engaging, I can honestly say I am a big fan of his work. This film is dvd holdout that I truly hope gets not only a release but perhaps a restoration as well.

ROLLING VENGEANCE (1987; Steven Hilliard Stern)
A revenge movie with a unique hook - a monster truck! Also features a wonderfully evil Ned Beatty rockin' it as a redneck patriarch.

SPLIT IMAGE(1982; Ted Kotcheff)
Fans of MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE take note. This film(as well as TICKET TO HEAVEN) is worth seeking out. Also, CADDYSHACK die-hards will be pleasantly surprised to see that Michael O'Keefe can certainly handle himself acting-wise outside the confines of Bushwood Country Club. A spectacular cast(Karen Allen, Peter Fonda, James Woods, Elisabeth Ashley & Brian Dennehy) elevate what could be TV-Movie of the week type material to something much more compelling. Deserves a dvd release.

 TEENAGE BONNIE & KLEPTO CLYDE (1993; John Shepphird)
This one goes back to my crush on Maureen Flannigan for her role as Evie on the TV show Out Of This World. Set in the present day, the movie is a pretty basic knockoff of the Bonnie & Clyde story as the title suggests. Can't say it's amazing, but I enjoyed seeing both the leads in something outside their TV roles at the time.

THE QUEST(1986; Brian Trenchard-Smith)
I was pretty fascinated by this one as a kid. It had a nice air of mystery about it and it was natural progression from CLOAK & DAGGER(a childhood favorite) to this Henry Thomas vehicle. One of my favorite Brian Trechard-Smith films.

THE KINDRED (1987; Jeff Obrow)
From director Obrow(THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, THE POWER) comes this still-disturbing horror story of science gone horribly horribly wrong. Rod Steiger creeps me the f*ck out of me in this one.


deadlydolls said...

So thankful you and the GGTMC introduced me to Heavenly Bodies so I could record it on TCM. Such a cheesy classic! It's like the lighter side of They Shoot Horses, Don't They?!

Rupert Pupkin said...

Well said Emily! I like that(re: THEY SHOOT HORSES). I owe my friend Phil Blankenship (who runs Heavy Hitter Midnites here in L.A.) a debt for first turning me onto that one. It was his birthday movie screening a few years running I believe. I need to see it with a crowd!

Robert M. Lindsey said...

Love the Big Fix. Wasn't aware it wasn't on DVD. A few others of these are also surprises (Red Dust especially). I've wanted to see American Hot Wax for a zillion years, but have never caught it. I'm a huge fan of '50s music.

Thomas Duke said...

Shack Out on 101 is supposedly on the slate for Olive to be put out on Blu-ray. Awesome movie, as are all of these that I've seen.

Blofeld's Cat said...

I used to work in a video store back in the day and its always a pleasure to look at VHS box art; even the video label logos take me back. If you press me, I could probably remember the call numbers assigned to these titles in the store. It was a mom-and-pop store that stocked everything (ok, maybe not THE KID WITH THE 200 IQ) and I could tell you that these titles didnt rent very much, if at all...part of the reason for that was that the store was so small, they really couldn't display the boxes very well but for the most part it was because there werent very many cineastes in my neighborhood...

Indiephantom said...

Poison Ivy! I've always wanted to see that. Thanks for reminded me of its existence.

grandoldmovies said...

Absolutely Red Dust! Have no idea why it's never been DVD-released; it's a major film for both Harlow and Gable. There's also the great 40s noir The Mask Of Dimetrios, which was released on VHS, but not yet DVD. It's a great pairing of Lorre and Greenstreet and was Zachary Scott's film debut.

Kev D. said...

Man, are we ever missing out on a movie like RAD. Holy crap!

Robert M. Lindsey said...

I forgot, you should add Stingray with Christopher Mitchum to you next list. I've seen nothing but praise for it, but it's next to impossible to find.

Marc Edward Heuck said...

In case you didn't see it when I posted it last summer, here is the trailer I made for LITTLE DARLINGS. I think you would approve:

Rupert Pupkin said...

Good stuff Marc!