Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '87 - Evan Purchell ""

Friday, May 5, 2017

Underrated '87 - Evan Purchell

Evan lives in Florida and watches way too many movies. He’s @schlockvalue on Twitter and is on Letterboxd at
Blood Rage, dir. John Grissmer
I'm not sure what it is about Florida that makes our genre films so singularly weird, but Blood Rage is no exception. Shot in 1983, but not released until 1987, it's a film that feels torn between the gore-filled regional slashers of the early 80s and the horror comedies that would come to dominate the genre in the back half of the decade and beyond. Despite being the first (and only?) film to proudly boast a 'Jacksonville, Florida' title card, Blood Rage constantly feels out of place, the clashing tones and succession of baffling decisions only accentuating the off-kilteredness. The closest thing we get to a protagonist is Louise Lasser, who seems beamed into the movie from some other galaxy, spending the entire film having a mental breakdown on camera away from the action. This is the most conventionally entertaining horror film on this list, and the most suited to watching with a bunch of friends. Plus - it's only 82 minutes long. Pair this up with Blood Freak for the perfect, insane Florida Thanksgiving.
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Penitentiary III, dir. Jamaa Fanaka
In which Jamaa Fanaka updates his original Penitentiary film for the late 80s—meaning this time there’s a crack-smoking little person named The Midnight Thud. The three Penitentiary films are in no way subtle—they’re loud, angry commentaries on institutionalization and exploitation—but Fanaka uses the trappings of genre to keep his messages from being too overtly didactic. Here, he goes all in on the WWF-by-way-of-Cannon aesthetic, making a film that feels like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 of prison boxing movies. It’s goofy as hell (how could a movie featuring a white General Hospital-lifer playing a mob boss named Serenghetti not be?), but intentionally so, and all in service of the message of self-empowerment and redemption that Fanaka is trying to deliver. Penitentiary III never made the jump to DVD or Blu-ray, which is a shame. Here’s to hoping Shout Factory or Vinegar Syndrome can give this and the rest of the series the treatment they deserve.
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Project Nightmare, dir. Donald M. Jones
How do you even describe a movie like this? Project Nightmare feels like the sci-fi follow-up to Kidnapped Coed or Sweet Trash that Friedel and Hayes never made. The film’s writer mentions on his commentary track that his two primary inspirations were Forbidden Planet and Star Trek, and it shows. The film is vaguely—and I mean vaguely—about a government experiment that creates physical manifestations of people’s thoughts. Shot in 1979, but not released until 1987, it feels like a little bit of both. It looks like something that was made in 1979 (tacky wood paneling everywhere), yet it also possesses the same seemingly endless drone and atonal synth score that are the hallmarks of so many 80s SOV films. The stilted acting, looped dialogue and primitive computer effects all contribute to the film’s woozy, uneasy atmosphere. It’s one of those films that defies easy categorization, existing on some alien plane completely outside the continuum of ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ I’ve seen it twice now and I still have no clue what it’s about. All I know is that I can’t look away.
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Run Coyote Run, dir. James Bryan
James Bryan and Renee Harmon's follow up to their 1975/1985 film Lady Street Fighter feels less like a continuation than it does a complete deconstruction of the concept of the sequel—and of reality itself. The idea of creating a movie by combining new SOV material with old film footage wasn’t new in 1987 (Nick Millard did it four times that year alone with Cemetery Sisters, Criminally Insane 2, Death Nurse and Doctor Bloodbath), but Run Coyote Run ups the ante to absurd levels by reusing short ends from no fewer than four other films. Here, Lady Street Fighter is ripped open, stuffed with footage from The Executioner Part II, Frozen Scream and Hell Riders, and then sewn back together using new video footage of Harmon as Anne, the psychic Sister Lady Street Fighter herself. While other films were content with only using old footage as flashbacks and dream sequences, Bryan and Harmon weave it directly into the narrative: characters from LSF are used as body doubles for new actors, and 1987 Renee Harmon sits in what looks like a diner watching a 1975 Liz Renay striptease at a go-go bar. There’s a sequence near the end that somehow finds a way to combine the finales of Executioner Part II and Lady Street Fighter while inserting both a murder from Frozen Scream and new camcorder footage featuring Renee and a character from Hell Riders. It’s at this point that reality folds in on itself and nothing is ever the same again.
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Sign 'O' the Times, dir. Prince
The central dilemma of the concert film is how you capture the energy and the feeling of a performance. The best of them, like Stop Making Sense and Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture, use the performance as the backdrop to something more dramatic— by focusing on the interactions between band members, or by capturing a specific moment in history. Here, Prince uses what’s ostensibly a simple document of his 1987 European tour as another outlet for the obsessions with sex, love, money and faith that permeated so much of his work. It feels almost like a response to the stark austerity of Stop Making Sense: the concert stage isn’t just a stage, it’s a dream version of Uptown Minneapolis, where street scenes play out mid-song with Prince and his band acting as the Greek chorus. I’m not sure if anyone other than Prince knew what the vignettes even mean, but the focus is never not the incredible music, even when he cuts away from the concert to a mismatched-format music video with Sheena Easton. To Prince’s credit, it somehow all hangs together, never feeling like anything other than the greatest concert you never attended. Sign o the Times has been unavailable in America since the 80s—but you can get an all-region import Blu-ray for $16 on Amazon. You won’t be disappointed.
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Tales from the Quadead Zone, dir. Chester N. Turner
Most discussions about Chester Turner’s Tales from the Quadead Zone center around the film’s rarity: with fewer than 100 VHS copies produced and distributed by the filmmaker himself, the copies that still exist have sold for absurd amounts of money in recent years. It’s a shame, though. While it’s certainly not for everyone, Quadead Zone is, much like Black Devil Doll from Hell, an undeniably unique vision that’s loaded with ramshackle charm. Not to dwell on it too much, but can you imagine just how hard it must have been to write, produce, direct, score, and edit two no-budget video features in the mid-80s as a black man in Chicago? I'm not sure if it's intentional, but I love how Turner structures Quadead Zone to mess with the audience's expectations, setting it up to play like goofy 'so-bad-it's-good' (ugh) schlock—all before transforming it into something that's increasingly unsettling and, ultimately, genuinely sad. Most horror anthologies go for broke with their final segment, pulling out all of the stops to send the audience out screaming. Quadead Zone instead becomes achingly real.
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Venus Flytrap, dir. T. Michael
If I learned anything from this movie, it’s that you should never, ever trust a punk who says they like Moby Grape. Venus Flytrap had long been on my watchlist on the basis of the tape cover art alone, but I’d never actually watched it until I started putting this list together. It was a revelation: a queer-bent SOV riff on House on the Edge of the Park (the exceedingly unpleasant Deodato-directed, Hess-starring Italian Last House on the Left ripoff) which replaces that film’s gratuitous, gross sexual violence and depravity with a more nuanced take on the premise. I haven’t yet seen a review of this that doesn’t mention the film’s rampant homophobia, but the fact that both the writer and producer/star are gay men—both of whom teamed up again in 1993 to make the gay Dracula film Love Bites—makes it clear that there’s a lot more going on under the surface here. I’m a sucker for neon-lit SOV movies—there’s just something so cool about how the colors bleed and streak on video, and this one is full of it. Would pair nicely with Cards of Death for a sleazy, neon-soaked SOV double feature.
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Five more picks not for the faint of heart:

1 comment:

SteveQ said...

Now following on Twitter on the strength of this list. Some of those films need a strong disclaimer: for hardy trash fans only.