Allan Mott was once accused of being a narcissistic goth lesbian by a disgruntled Amazon reviewer. That pretty much sums up his writing career (which includes 12 and 1/2 books and frequent contributions to such sitesas xoJane, xoJaneUK, The Good MenProject, Canuxploitation, Bookgasm and Flick Attack). His most personal writing can be found at VanityFear.com, where he uses the subject of B-Movies to mostly talk about boobs and stuff. Tweet him on the Twitter at @HouseofGlib.
The Supergrass (Peter Richardson, 1985)
Debuting in 1982, “The Comic Strip Presents….” was essentially the “SCTV” of British television of that period—a program that not only introduced many of the comedians who would come to dominate the country’s pop culture landscape over the years, but one that also allowed them a creative freedom more traditional shows would not have gave them.
Perhaps their most famous episodes in North America were the two dedicated to the struggling heavy metal group, Bad News. Shot in mockumentary style a full year before This is Spinal Tap hit theatres, “Bad News Tour” expertly played many of the same notes while also skewering the realities of documentary production itself.
The Supergrass (British slang for a police informant)marked the group’s first feature length effort and it plays to all of their strengths. Adrian Edmondson (most familiar asViv in “The Young Ones”) plays Dennis, a young loser who fabricates a criminal liaison to impress Andrea (Dawn French), but who instead gets pinched by a local constable who takes his story seriously. Before he can fully comprehend the situation, Dennis finds himself joined by undercover cops Lesley (Jennifer Saunders) and Harvey (co-writer and director Richardson) with £3000 in his pocket, driving in a swank Jaguar to stop a drug deal he made up.
Frequently laugh out loud funny; the film manages to walk the tightrope between reality and absurdity in a way that The Comic Strip mastered almost better than anyone else in that period. The fact that it looks like exactly what it is—a low budget effort filmed for TV—actually suits the material and gives it a general air of verisimilitude, even when Robbie Coltrane takes it upon himself to dismantle what he thinks is a drug ship by himself, armed only with a chainsaw.
Turk 182! (Bob Clark, 1985)
A year after he brought Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton together in the unforgettable (really, I’ve tried) Rhinestone, Bob Clark presented us with an urban fairy tale that was met with critical raspberries and box office indifference, but that I loved with all of my 10 year-old heart.
Turk 182! stars Timothy Hutton as Jimmy Lynch, a ne’er-do-well NYC artist who becomes outraged when his firefighter brother Terry is refused medical benefits when he’s seriously injured during an off-duty rescue attempt. When he brings his brother’s plight to the attention of the city’s mayor (Robert Culp), the mayor insults Terry and Jimmy decides he will do whatever he can to ensure the man loses his upcoming election. Using what we would now consider Banksy-style public art installations, he mocks and belittles the mayor under the name Turk 182, becoming a folk hero in the process.
I place Turk 182! in the same category I do Allan Moyle’s Times Square, in that both are set in the grim, dirty, corrupt world of pre-Guiliani New York, but still possess a sense of magic and wonder that makes them feel far more like fables than realistic depictions of the era. Turk is often clumsy, melodramatic and obvious, but there is genuine joy to be found in its hero’s triumphs. When I was a kid, I loved watching Jimmy’s stunts escalate in size and scope and watching it today those feelings haven’t diminished, even as I recognize the film’s lapses in logic. It remains—30 years later—a film completely capable of getting me to shout “FUCK YEAH!” every time I see it.
Avenging Angel (Robert Vincent O’Neill, 1985)
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this movie on this site. It also made my list of “Bad Movies We Love”, butthere’s nothing in the rule books that says I can’t talk about it some more, especially when it means discussing a subject near and dear to my heart—the films of Betsy Russell.
The chief appeal of Avenging Angel is that it frequently feels like a film lost out of time. At its heart it should be an 80s exploitation movie set in the dark, disturbing world of the streets (like Vice Squad for example), but throughout most of the movie it forgets all about being a gritty expose and instead feels more like a 40s era screwball comedy.
It’s a deeply and almost heroically inauthentic movie—often playing like a movie within a movie parody of a movie made by people incapable (through either incompetence or blithe indifference) of recreating anything close to the reality of the situations they are dedicated to depicting. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, because there are much better movies out there about the “life”, but there’s only one Avenging Angel.
Russell shines—utterly unconvincingly—as the titular Angel, a former underage hooker saved from the streets by a good-hearted cop who is killed in the film’s opening minutes. Looking to avenge his death, Angel takes a break from law school and returns to the streets—donning her old “uniform” so she can go undercover and find out who was responsible.
Words will always fail to describe how silly it all is, but it’s a special and unique silly you won’t find in any other film made in 1985 or quite possible ever.
Le avventure dell’incredibile Ercole (Luigi Cozzi, 1985)
There is something about the demented dreamscape of Italian fantasy filmmaker Luigi Cozzi (aka Lewis Coates)that I find supremely appealing. Most (including myself) would agree his masterpiece is 1978’s Starcrash, but my first exposure to his mad genius came in 1983 via Cannon’s bizarre post-Clash of the Titans entry into the Greek mythology sweepstakes. While Starcrash was clearly an example of the famous Italian “peplum” format in a Star Wars rip-off body, Hercules allowed Cozzi to fully explore the genre he grew up with as far as his imagination would allow.
I must have seen that first film a dozen times during my childhood, but its sequel always eluded me. I was enough of a full-blown movie geek to know of its existence, but finding a copy in Edmonton proved to be impossible and if it ever played on TV during that era, I somehow managed to miss it.
So it wouldn’t be until I was in my 30s before I finally got a chance to see Le avventure dell’incredibile Ercole (akaThe Adventures of Hercules II), which seems like precisely the wrong moment to take in such a film. But rather than finding myself dismissing it as a juvenile trifle laughingly based on mythological characters it only barely seems to understand (which—to be honest—would have also been a fair assessment), I found myself rapidly amazed by what I was seeing for several reasons.
The first of which being the degree to which the film SHATTERS the Bechdel Test. Of the 20 credited performers in the film, 14 are women—a statistic unheard of in an 80s fantasy action film with a male lead or pretty much most movies ever. And it doesn’t hurt that all 14 of these women are GORGEOUS.
But beyond that fact that almost every shot in the film features at least one insanely beautiful Italian lady, the other aspect of the film that caught my attention is its brilliantly demented final battle in which Hercules and his resurrected arch-enemy, King Minos, battle in the heavens with the hero representing the power of faith and the villain representing the mastery of science.
Philosophically I’m actually on King Minos’ side in this battle, but the bare bones rotoscoped animation used throughout the scene is so effective in its low-budget enthusiasm (reaching the point where Cozzi actually recreates a famous scene from King Kong) that the actual message is beyond the point. I can think of few sequences from all of 1985 that better communicate the sheer joy of filmmaking for its own sake than this one, which makes this forgotten sequel well-worth seeking out.
IMDb doesn’t know what year to include this one in. On its own page it’s listed as belonging to 1984, but it’s also included in the list of films from 1985 I used to assemble this post, so that’s the one I’m going with.
At this point, Jim Wynorski has directed just shy of a 100 movies, most of them under various pseudonyms depending on the genre he’s working in (Jay Andrews is his preferred choice for generic action movies, while Harold Blueberry and Sam Pepperman are two of his favourites for his softcore pornos). The Lost Empire was the film that started it all and—as is often the case in such things—it remains his best, if only for being the one that best manages to reconcile his immediately identifiable voice in the mostenjoyably entertaining package.
Like most of his films, The Lost Empire is fervently dedicated to his appreciation of large-breasted women and features a cast full of them, including the very appealing Melanie Vincz as the badass cop hero, Angel Wolfe, former Russ Meyer-actress Raven De La Croix as the only vaguely racist Native American stereotype, Whitestar, and the buoyant-but-doomed Angela Aames as ex-convict, Heather McClure.
Together the three kickass vixens join forces to avenge the death of Angel’s brother at the hands of an evil cult located on a hidden island where they recruit beautiful young women to compete in gladiatorial combat. But the plot doesn’t matter here. It’s a film whose joys live and die in the exuberant enthusiasm of the filmmaker and—being his first film—Empire lacks the cynicism that clouds over much of the similar antics in Wynorski’s later films.
It’s clearly the effort of a filmmaker who didn’t know if he’d ever be able to make another movie, so he threw in everything he ever wanted to do in this one and it works in oddly charming ways. It’s the kind of film where you see a woman with breasts as big as her head, dressed in a white fur bikini, kicking a dude in a gorilla suit in the nuts and you don’t question it.
And that’s a pretty good kind of movie to be.