Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '89 - Allan Mott ""

Friday, September 13, 2019

Underrated '89 - Allan Mott

Allan Mott is the person you want to meet if you ever want to talk about that Italian poster of 1990: Bronx Warriors that has the Village People on it. Tweet him @HouseofGlib, Letterboxd him @VanityFear and check out some of his old essays at VanityFear.com.

Oh, what a difference a decade makes! Several months ago Brian was kind enough to ask me to contribute an Underrated ‘99 list and I happily said yes only to completely flake when I realized I couldn’t find a single movie from that year I honestly considered “underrated” (and I didn’t want to bore anyone with my thoughts on obvious movies you already know and have opinions about). But now that we’ve moved back 10 years, I have the complete opposite problem. The list you’ll find below only represents one-third of my initial picks, so be thankful I held myself back!

The Return of the Swamp Thing (Jim Wynorski)
I have a lot of affection for the films of Jim Wynorski and I think it’s fair to say that The Return of the Swamp Thing is his crowning achievement. It’s not my favourite (that would be The Lost Empire) or most cult-worthy (Chopping Mall), but it's the closest he ever got to making a film that is obviously his while also looking like a real honest-to-goodness-played-in-theatres movie. With all apologies to Wes Craven, it’s definitely a solid entry on any superior sequel list, adding a sense of humour that I’m sure is anathema to Alan Moore fans, but a boon for those of us who only willingly sit through the first film for a solid dose of Adrienne B.
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She’s Out of Control (Stan Dragoti)
Yeah, I’m surprised as you are this is on my list, but whaddaya gonna do? I didn’t see this when it came out, because as a pretentious 13 year-old the idea of seeing a Tony Danza movie seemed laughable, so it was only a few years back that I caught up with it as I embarked upon the spiritual journey of seeing as many Ami Dolenz movies as I could find. Remembering only Siskel & Ebert’s blistering review and its general reputation as a flop, I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Sure, it was problematic even then, but Stan Dragoti (Mr. Mom) gave me a completely different experience than the glorified TV movie I was expecting and I found myself laughing in spots where they clearly wanted me to laugh. Also, did I mention Ami Dolenz is in it?
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Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (J.F. Lawton)
I’m a big fan of movie titles you can use to test relationships with. All you have to do is mention them and the reaction you get says everything you need to know about your potential future with that person. Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death is the gold standard of such titles. If a potential partner’s immediate reaction is to remark how dumb that movie sounds, then jump out the nearest window--they are NOT worthy.

The title also plays the unusual trick of being completely accurate (the movie really is about a tribe of cannibal women found in a deadly jungle famed for its avocados) and deliberately parodic at the same time. Written and directed by the man who wrote Under Siege and Pretty Woman, it doesn’t resemble either of those films and is instead a madcap burlesque satire of then-contemporary feminism (as represented by the cannibal women and Shannon Tweed’s uptight anthropologist) and toxic masculinity (as represented by Bill Maher’s wannabe Indiana Jones-style adventurer and every horny dude who catches eyes on Return of the Killer Tomatoes' Karen Mistal). It doesn’t all work and the politics are as dated as you’d expect from a 30 year-old satire about gender dynamics, but it deserves to be on lists like this just for living up to that title.
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Nightmare Beach (James Justice, Umberto Lenzi)
As a horror fan who counts the 80s slasher wave as his favourite sub-genre, 1989 is a bit of a sad year, since it marked its very last gasp before Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson resuscitated it seven years later. Out of the handful of slashers that came out that year, Nightmare Beach is the clear winner (sorry Cutting Class, although I do like that your surprise twist is that there is no surprise twist) namely for a great b-movie cast (including one of the era’s most underrated starlets, Sarah Buxton, who I think may hold the record for most “introducing” credits in one career). Also released as Welcome to Spring Break, the film stretches its running time with wet t-shirt and bikini contest footage, so that alone makes it worthy of a view.
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Penn & Teller Get Killed (Arthur Penn)
Now some of you are going “Those Fool Us/Bullshit guys made a movie?” But many of you have already skipped ahead and are going, “Wait. The guy who directed Bonnie & Clyde made the movie with those Fool Us/Bullshit guys?”

It’s true!

And I don’t think it’s as surprising as it sounds, since Arthur Penn not only made Bonnie & Clyde and Little Big Man and Night Moves, but also the film version of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, which I consider the spiritual predecessor to this darkly jovial effort.

P&T wrote the screenplay in which their lives are seemingly upended when Penn jokingly suggests on a late night talk show that it would be really cool if someone were trying to kill them. What follows is less a taut thriller and more a shaggy collection of practical jokes the two play on each other, but it all leads to the title being proved accurate and finding out why Teller is the quiet one (he sounds like Snuggle the Teddy Bear).
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Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (Paul Bartel)
I feel like any underrated list that doesn’t take an opportunity to celebrate Paul Bartel is a waste. Fortunately for me, 1989 gives us Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, which is best described as his (and screenwriter Bruce Wagner’s) raunchy Californian take on The Rules of the Game. Jacqueline Bisset stars as a former sitcom actor whose houseboy (Eating Raoul’s Robert Beltran) bets her best friend’s (Bartel’s frequent onscreen partner, Mary Woronov) chauffeur (Ray Sharkey) that he can bed Woronov before Sharkey sleeps with Bisset. Oh, and Paul Mazurksy shows up as a ghost.

Despite its amazing cast, Scenes hasn’t had a physical North American video release since it came out on VHS, which is a shame because it’s probably the only time where Bartel got to showcase his humour and sensibility in a film that always looks and feels like a mainstream Hollywood comedy from the period.
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Hellgate (William A. Levey)
In the case of Hellgate, a bizarro horror oddity directed by the man who gave us Skatetown USA, I’m doing a reversal on what the “rated” in underrated usually means. Because I think this isn’t a case of a movie that deserves more attention because it’s actually really good, but one of a movie that deserves more attention because it is almost transcendently terrible.

The film stars Welcome Back, Kotter’s Ron Pallilo as a nearly 40 year-old 20-something who ends up in a deserted town with his friends, where they are confronted by the ghost of a developmentally disabled young woman* who was murdered by bikers over 30 years ago. Throughout the narrative you can expect to see:
  • A vicious snapping turtle attack
  • An unforgettable axe vs chain showdown
  • The ghost of a woman who died in the 50s but still found a way to get very 80s breast implants
  • Horshack naked
  • Standup comedy from beyond the grave
  • Gratuitous can can dancing
  • Door sign decapitation
A movie just as ludicrously horrible as Troll 2 and just as worthy of being celebrated as a truly fantastic disaster.

*It is impossible to tell if this a plot point or just a performance “choice”.
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