Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Shane Bitterling ""

Friday, February 8, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Shane Bitterling

Shane Bitterling is the writer of over twenty-five feature films, including BENEATH LOCH NESS and REEL EVIL. He doesn’t lay claim to many more. Currently in Development Hell on almost all things involving life, he also explains why celebs die in threes in the Stoker nominated horror anthology, HELL COMES TO HOLLYWOOD and appears in 18 WHEELS OF HORROR. He’s on Twitter as @ShaneBitterling

SKULLDUGGERY (1983)
Imagine if your local Civic Players acting troupe had a camera and a modest budget. Now imagine that the leader of that group was obsessed with DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, but only from what he saw in the television, MAZES AND MONSTERS. This forgotten oddity is the result. It starts with an 18th Century nobleman being killed by a warlock, or maybe it was the Devil, himself. Thus starts the ancestral curse, which Adam somehow remembers as he plays D&D with his unlikely group of friends in the modern day. They take a break to work on their community college talent show. Adam falls victim to the media created Satanic Panic of the game and starts picking off the other players one by one. But is it fantasy or reality? Meanwhile, the Devil hangs around, preferring to hang with stoners and nerds over proper evildoing. This all sounds like great fun, but it’s a messy, befuddling bore, rife with mannered, stiff dialog from actors (Wendy Crewson in an early role) who believe they’re in an romping Agatha Christie stageplay, and a real time “talent” show. It’s almost a slasher, but the Civic Players are above all of that, as we all know.

FUNLAND (1987)
This was one I thought I had seen, but there is no way that I had, as I would have talked about it over the years until I was blue in the face. All the marketing materials sell this as a clown run amok slasher film, but it’s more SHAKES THE CLOWN than KILLER KLOWN. David Lander (Squiggy!!) plays an amusement park mascot, Bruce Burger. As employees prepare to open for a new season, the park owner is waxed by a mob boss who wouldn’t sell to him. The mob cuts every corner to turn a profit, including installing cheaper, not-so family friendly rides and cutting employees. When Burger is finally replaced, he and his hand puppet, Peter Pepperoni, seek revenge. Written by a couple early SNL writers, and directed by the guy who did SLEEPAWAY CAMP II and III, this has some big laughs, a ton of chuckles and a clown car full of jokes that will make jaws drop in today’s environment. If the humor isn’t your bag, maybe the circa 1980s Midwestern Six Flags locale will be. It was a glorious time when a weirdo indie film could shut down a theme park to shoot something like this, rather than be relegated to a single room in a house.
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OUT OF THE DARK (1988) 
Women who work at a phone-sex company are stalked and splattered by a clown masked psycho. This one straddles those waning years of the slasher movie of the 80s and the surge of erotic thrillers we got in the early 90s. I recall the video box on the shelves in the sea of Lone Silhouetted Bombshell keyart, but passed it by many times as it looked more jiggle than jugular. Well, here we are, and boy, did I miss out. A thoroughly entertaining thriller that juggles the best of the two genres. Bud Cort, Karen Black and Geoffrey Lewis all chew the scenery, but are no match for the very hungry Tracey Walter as a hardboiled detective. Make-up fx kills that best many slasher flicks and some super hoot dialog that had me cackling. Add in a bunch of sleaze that was a bit rare at the time and this became an instant winner. The final line from the killer is an all-timer.
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THE MANCHU EAGLE MURDER CAPER MYSTERY (1975)
In this homage to gumshoe detectives like Sam Spade, and THE MALTESE FALCON, specifically, a chicken farm owner, who genetically modifies his cluckers to lay colored eggs, and part-time detective who narrates the story, tries to solve the murder of a local milkman, who was also a serial philanderer with an animal fetish. Co-written and directed by Dean Hargrove, the mastermind behind hundreds of hours of murder mystery and sitcom television (PERRY MASON, MATLOCK and THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, to name a scant few), the humor bounces from broad, AIRPLANE! style gags to subtle jokes to the pitch black. Gabriel Dell, who also co-wrote, is perfect as our hapless Spade, and the surrounding cast couldn’t be more zany. Huntz Hall shows up as a Deputy, making this a mini Bowery Boys reunion. This is a true gem that I can’t wait to revisit, knowing full well already that it will only get better on repeat viewings. I can see many not really getting it, or really appreciating it, but stick with it. If nothing else, the final Peckinpah inspired gunfight had me in absolute stitches like nothing I’ve seen in a very long time. A great companion piece in bonkers tone and rarity to Jerry Paris’ EVIL ROY SLADE and Norman Lear’s COLD TURKEY.
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XANADU (1980)
In fairness, I’ve probably seen this movie a couple of times in bits and pieces over the years, but only experienced it from start to finish for the first time earlier this year. I said, “experienced it,” rather than “watched,” because the movie simply doesn’t allow a passive view. It sucks you into its bizarre world and rules and takes you for an oddball ride that is never quite cohesive, never boring and always a bit fascinating. You all know this already, but Gene Kelly is wonderful and the sequence with The Tubes is one of the most boot scooting things you’ll ever see.
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BLOOD BEAT (1983) 
A psychic, deer hunter’s wife in Wisconsin is somehow possessed by a Japanese Samurai and emerges when she has an orgasm. Or something like that. Not a whole lot happens in this goofy thing, but when it does, it’s completely nonsensical and head-scratching. Since I first discovered it in late spring, I’ve revisited it several times. I haven’t made any more sense of it, but it has a weird pulse to it that calls right to my heart. I love regional fare, and this movie is comfort food for my soul as it comes scarily close to the world of woods and hunters – I could spy on this family all day and night, just listening to them talk - I inhabited all those years in Indiana. Sans, samurai, naturally, but there was a kid who rode a bike to school with a sword strapped to his back. So maybe not.
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