Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '88 - Sean Whiteman ""

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Underrated '88 - Sean Whiteman

Sean Whiteman is a writer/filmmaker living in Portland, Oregon. His most recent shot-on-VHS short, BRAMBLE ON, played the Portland International Film Festival and the Portland Underground Film Festival. He just finished his new script (a paranormal police horror) called: BLUE LIVES SPLATTER.

Sean's Underrated '86 picks
Sean's Film Discoveries of 2016
Sean's Underrated '87 picks
Sean's Film Discoveries of 2017
Letterboxd and Twitter: @seanwhiteman
instagram: bombnumber20

Pass The Ammo (dir: David Beaird)

“That man is so horny not even the crack of dawn is safe.”

I would dare anyone to watch the first thirty seconds of this movie and then say out loud, with sincerity, “I’d rather not continue watching.” Personally, I don’t think it’s possible but I’d love to hear if you were able to pull it off. The prologue features Tim Curry as a televangelist staring directly at the camera while simultaneously floating in space and preaching tacky gospel to us while wearing a shit-eating grin on his face. I don’t have the vocabulary to tout the brilliance of this opener any further so I’ll dish another key detail to keep you on the hook. It stars Bill Paxton as a man who commandeers one of Curry’s live broadcasts and turns it into a hostage situation in order to recoup money that the preacher’s church has scammed his girlfriend out of.

So we have Paxton in one of his very first leading roles, as an outlaw going toe-to-toe with Tim Curry’s hypocritical church (fellow members of the congregation: Annie Potts and Brian Thompson). If this somehow had made it onto the TBS/TNT circuit, it would be burned into the nostalgia-slates of anyone who chanced upon it while growing up. It’s infectious as hell and filled with good people, great lines and a real deft directorial touch. It is an instant rewatchable.
Amazon Button (via

Cameron’s Closet (dir: Armand Mastroianni)

“Can I play with this?”

I’m gaga for this one. I’ve seen it a handful of times and can hardly tell you why I’m so fond of it. There’s something about the way it’s shot and the way it sounds that evokes the rounded-edge safety of an afterschool special. But then, there’s something about the machete-beheading and the ongoing demonic battle that makes me feel like there’s some diamond cut precision horror hiding underneath the soft-spot music cues and the tender interplay between Cameron and the police officer investigating his demonic closet on his behalf.
Amazon Button (via

The Chocolate War (dir: Keith Gordon)

“This is more than a sale, it is a crusade!”

I wonder if Wes Anderson realizes how much this movie influenced him. In 1988 Keith Gordon dropped a perfect RUSHMORE inspiration-bomb precursor, filled with beautiful production design, immaculate music choices, and a prep-school kid who dictates commands to a note-taking subservient classmate while stationed on the bleachers.

There’s a slight artifice to the performances which feels intentional. It’s as though the actors (like John Glover, Bud Cort and Jenny Wright) know humans don’t emote or articulate in these ways, but they also know the lines are juicy enough that they’ll be able to really sink their teeth into the deliveries.

The plot itself feels kind of shallow compared to the undercurrent emotions Gordon and the ensemble are able to imbue into each sequence. The music (Kate Bush and Yaz as highlights) makes the tale of a kid who doesn’t want to participate in his religious high school’s chocolate sale feel like an epic. Eventually the conflict between John Glover (as the chocolate pushing Brother Leon) and Ilan Mitchell-Smith (as Jerry Renault, a motherless sad-sack who doesn't want to sell the chocolate) takes on an existential urgency for the characters.
Amazon Button (via

Deadly Dreams (dir: Kristine Peterson)

“I keep dreaming about this hunter. Then I wake up and see him.”

I’ll take any opportunity I can to beat the drum for Kristine Peterson. Even in the trenches of genre fandom, people have been sleeping on her output. This was the movie that made the name stick for me. I put it on because of the cover art on the VHS but it quickly won me over beyond the superficial appeal. There’s a sweetness and realness to the two brothers at the core of the tale and it takes some twists and turns that I certainly didn’t anticipate. The real calling card is the dream-tone, for a movie that peddles in the terror of the subconscious, Peterson is able to manifest it visually and sonically in a way that instilled an astounding amount of low-level dread in me.
Amazon Button (via

Terrorgram (dir: Stephen M. Kienzle)

"Here is where evil is stamped and posted, fate is wrapped and sealed. For here the darkness in your soul is not a shapeless void but a horrifyingly real package of your own creation. A package that is not a deliverance but a reckoning. For this package holds the consequences of your past. A past you'e forced to accept when you sign next to the X."

Picked this up off the shelf because of the punny title and the fact that on the back of the VHS box it lists James Earl Jones as the voice of Retribution. For a thirty year-old horror anthology it was impressively ahead of the curve. Over the course of three segments it spun some heavy-duty thematic plates while keeping the tone light. Felt fully realized, rehearsed and reliable.

The sleazy Jim Wynorski-esque film director who ends up in a scenario where he's harassed by every female he meets feels like a WHITE MAN'S BURDEN concept experiment for the #METOO era. The second installment is a media critique that plays like ACE IN THE HOLE gone supernatural and the last segment throws a draft-dodging conservative into Vietnam to force him to meet his hypocrisy head-on.

Put this on the shelf next to TALES FROM THE HOOD for a socially-conscious anthology double-header.
Amazon Button (via

Vibes (dir: Ken Kwapis)

“I like to breathe. I’m good at it.”

A rare film that manages to supplement Goldblum’s idiosyncratic beats with a cast and script that makes him part of a whole rather than an anomalous bit of strange. Peter Falk and Cyndi Lauper have excellent comedic timing and the paranormal adventure comedy genre found itself a new classic.
Amazon Button (via

Plain Clothes (dir: Martha Coolidge)

“You’re supposed to be helping your brother Matt. Not getting nippy with some cheerleaders.”
Martha Coolidge is the shit. She’s got her go-to touchstones (REAL GENIUS, VALLEY GIRL) and some underrated stabs at award-caliber legitimacy (RAMBLING ROSE, ANGIE). Then she has a whole tier of watchable non-classics like PLAIN CLOTHES (and LOST IN YONKERS).

I hadn’t seen this one until recently and I was engaged throughout. Despite my reluctance to accept Arliss Howard as a credible candidate to go undercover-cop in a high school setting (he very much looks like a 30+ year old) I still enjoyed his low-key charisma. He never pushed a scene too hard, which is good, because they had a flimsy quality that was kept upright due to Coolidge’s light touch and the spirited performances from Howard, Suzy Amis, George Wendt, Dianne Ladd and Seymour Cassel.

If you’re searching for a sunny-afternoon-but-don’t-wanna-go-outside pick, look no further.
Amazon Button (via

The Unnamable (dir: Jean-Paul Ouellette)

“Randolph! They’re all dead!”
“That’s to be expected.”

While sifting through H.P. Lovecraft joints I came across this little number. It gave me two things that guarantee a positive review from me when dealing with titles wedged in the horror crannies. It gave me satisfying creature design and at least one satisfying internal thought process. This time, the heady thinker was played by Mark Kinsey Stephenson (as Randolph Carter). Basically it means there’s a rad thing to look at and at least one character makes decisions which don’t allow you to switch your mind over to scoff-mode. If Randolph Carter still thinks there’s hope, maybe there is. Apparently he returns for the sequel, which will totally be enough to get me back to this unnamable franchise in the future.
Amazon Button (via

Lair of the White Worm (dir: Ken Russell)

“Do you have children?”
“Only when there are no men around.”

Don’t have much to say about this one except that it actually does feature a white worm. The tone was sure-footed and carefree while the performances were charismatic and practiced. I’d been watching a lot of Ken Russell when I finally caught-up to this and it separated itself as a wholly coherent plot told with a campy flair that never inflated the piece beyond the stakes necessary for tension. It was a blast.
Amazon Button (via

Gandahar (dir: René Laloux)

“In a thousand years, Gandahar was destroyed, and and all its people massacred. A thousand years ago, Gandahar will be saved, and what can't be avoided will be.”

It’s a bit stodgy and a bit dry but that might be a translation issue (as the American version was overseen by human stain Harvey Weinstein -- he even brazenly gave himself “director” credit on this version despite this being a creation of FANTASTIC PLANET creator RenĂ© Laloux). Whatever version of the plot us we got, it felt like someone adapted an unsolvable riddle into a feature animation film. And while I still feel befuddled, I’m also very intrigued.

The character-work visuals are some of the most imaginative creations I’ve ever seen and one particular group of deformed heroes remind me of the M.U.S.C.L.E. Men toyline from the 80’s -- which is a rare compliment.
Amazon Button (via

The Brain (dir: Ed Hunt)

“I suggest you look into your own neurotic behavior. Then perhaps you will understand your continuing negativity.”

I burn through a lot of tape hoping stumble upon a VHS that leaves such a fiery imprint on me. This is one of those classic “it never came out on DVD or you probably would’ve heard of it” titles. I think it has resonance because of the satisfying thematic structure. Sure, it’s about a giant killer brain but it’s the methodology of the brain’s sinister plan that gives opportunity for gratifying opposition.

The titular brain exerts its power by psychically taking over a research facility headed by Dr. Anthony Blakely (RE-ANIMATOR’s David Gale playing another nefarious medical professional). Blakely hosts a public access show out of his facility called INDEPENDENT THINKING where he indoctrinates viewers with the Brain’s subservient line of thinking. Those who don’t respond to the mind control experience hallucinations that drive them to kill themselves and members of their family. Pretty tidy little plot, right?

Here’s where you get to indulge in your inner rebel. The lead character is a high school kid, who does brilliantly on his exams but also has a giant middle-finger attitude toward his teachers and any authoritarian figure. In one of his first scenes he’s blowing up the plumbing in his school bathroom,he’s that sort of kid.

He’s taken to the research facility as means of punishment for the exploding bathroom gag and, after running some tests, it’s proven that he’s almost immune to all the mind controlling effects of the brain. It appears he’s such an independent thinker that he’s humanity’s only hope against the mind-numbing effects of our villain. It’s a simple but excellent way of demonstrating the sort of catharsis you can find in something as superficially low-brow sounding as this. Any horror movie that casts a giant FUCK YOU as its lead character is forever timeless.

No comments: