Sunday, March 30, 2014

Prison Girls

If you’re looking to recapture the 1970s grindhouse experience, director Tom DeSimone’s X-rated sex flick PRISON GIRLS is the right place to start. Even if you’re unable to see it in its original 3D (exhibitors claimed it was the first 3D adult feature), it will still send you straight to the nearest shower as the end credits flash to get the grime off of you.

DeSimone’s background was in gay pornography, so maybe he considered a picture about men and women getting it on with each other something of a lurch toward the mainstream. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that he was able to escape the sex field for good, although I’ll leave it to you to determine whether directing bad TV shows like SUPER FORCE and SWAMP THING is considered an upward move.

You know you’re looking at a high-class production when you can hear the rattle of the 16mm camera filming during dialogue sequences. Despite the X rating, PRISON GIRLS is strictly softcore, but it jams so much nudity and groping into the frame that DeSimone is really pushing the limits of what he can get away with (I suspect some performers refused to simulate the sex). The wall-to-wall coupling is neither romantic nor erotic, and the hideous period furnishings display more personality than the performers do. So do DeSimone’s playful nods to the 3D gimmick—watch out for that soap!

The screenplay is credited to Lee Walters, which is probably a pseudonym for DeSimone (who hates this film). After six female inmates get into a wet catfight in the prison shower, they each are given two-day furloughs from the joint, which they use to get into sexual shenanigans. Some of them look like fun, but Maria Arnold’s gangrape by bikers is scored with groovy music, so the audience understands it’s supposed to be fun too. Uncool, Tom. Uschi Digard is the only actress who looks like she’s having a good time, but then the Swedish sex bomb always did, even in the direst of films.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fear In The Night

Based on Cornell Woolrich’s novel NIGHTMARE, this low-budget noir, released in 1947, is most notable as DeForest Kelley’s first feature, almost twenty years before he joined the STAR TREK cast as Dr. “Bones” McCoy. Maxwell Shane, who wrote and directed FEAR IN THE NIGHT, must have loved the Woolrich story, because he made it again in 1956 as NIGHTMARE with Kevin McCarthy (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) in Kelley’s role.

The future U.S.S. Enterprise sawbones plays Vince, a bank teller who has a crazy dream about stabbing a man and stuffing the body in a closet (Shane uses some funky psychedelic visuals unusual to ‘40s thrillers). He freaks out when he wakes up and finds evidence in his room that the events in his dream actually happened. He seeks advice from his sister’s husband, Cliff (Paul Kelly), a policeman, who tells him to forget it. Through some frankly farfetched plotting, Vince begins to believe he really did commit murder and so does Cliff, who tries to find some explanation, if only for the sake of his pregnant wife Lil (Doran).

Not really a good movie, FEAR IN THE NIGHT suffers from not only a ludicrous story, but also a laughably overwrought performance by Kelley, whose Vince is too much of a milquetoast to earn the audience’s sympathy. The role seems beyond the range of Kelley, who went on to earn a nice living as a character actor and western heavy before landing STAR TREK. If you can buy Woolrich’s premise, FEAR IN THE NIGHT may be easier to take, and even though the film is pretty silly, it doesn’t bore, even if the entertainment comes from its campy elements.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Give My Regards to Broad Street

20th Century Fox released this Paul McCartney vanity project in the United States, but it didn’t get much traction, even though the soundtrack spawned a hit single in “No More Lonely Nights.”

Designed as a typical day in Paul’s life, McCartney’s screenplay (his first and only) for 1984's GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROAD STREET follows the singer from recording studio to film studio to rehearsal hall, where he performs Beatles favorites like “Yesterday” and “Good Day Sunshine,” Wings hits like “Silly Love Songs,” recent obscurities like “Ballroom Dancing” and “So Bad,” and new songs “Not Such a Bad Boy” and “No Values.”

The songs are great, though their impact is blunted by McCartney and director Peter Webb’s self-indulgent staging, such as the bizarre disco-punk “Silly Love Songs” in whiteface and a long dream sequence involving “Eleanor Rigby.” As a film, BROAD STREET can best be described as inert. The plot involves the disappearance of the master tapes of Paul’s new album and the takeover of his company unless they’re retrieved by midnight. He doesn’t seem too worried about it though, and the day goes ahead as usual while unseen McCartney forces presumably search London.

As a McCartney fan, I have a soft spot for BROAD STREET while still recognizing it isn’t a very good film. It’s fun to see Paul's Beatle buddy Ringo Starr playing drums on the new tunes (he refused to play on the re-recording of Beatles songs) and the two ex-Beatles hanging out with their wives and friends. It was probably more fun for them than for us, but that’s okay. Sir Ralph Richardson made his last film appearance as a man with a monkey.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


Busy Eurotrash star Al Cliver (2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS) stars in the 1983 Italian production ENDGAME as Shannon, the champion of a violent game show called Endgame in which he plays prey to three murderous hunters. Yes, it’s like THE RUNNING MAN, complete with a smarmy emcee.

Who’s watching Endgame is a mystery, because the only people we see in this post-apocalyptic world are mutants and survivors hiding in alleys. All the Endgame contestants wear garish face makeup, and are monitored by automatic cameras (that are miraculously not vandalized by the street people).

After Shannon wastes predators Alberto Dell’Acqua (BATTLE OF THE AMAZONS), Bobby Rhodes (DEMONS), and George Eastman (1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS) during the first half-hour, director Joe D’Amato (ATOR THE FIGHTING EAGLE) and his co-writer Aldo Florio get to the real story.

Psychic Lilith (Laura Gemser) and neurosurgeon Levin (Dino Conti) hire Shannon and his team of warriors to lead them and their group of mutants to a safe place two hundred miles outside the city. Obstacles on their journey include an army of blind killer monks, bare-breasted Amazons, monkey men, and a drooling fish-man that rapes Lilith (I figured there was no way softcore icon Gemser was going to make it to the end without going nude).

ENDGAME is pretty impressive for a cheap Italian post-apoc action movie. It doesn’t do anything new or spectacular (well, the mutant makeup is interesting), but it moves quickly, looks more expensive that it probably was, has nice costumes, and features a ton of action sure to keep you from becoming bored. The ending is fairly silly, but, hey, I’ll take it.

Cliver, who looks a little like a young Chuck Norris, is a rather dense hero, blessed with not a lick of charisma, but most of what he does is punch and shoot, and he’s functional at that.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Great TV Episodes: The Deadly Silence

“The Deadly Silence”
October 28 & November 4, 1966
Writer: Lee Erwin and Jack H. Robinson (Part I); John Considine and Tim Considine (Part II)
Director: Robert L. Friend (Part I); Lawrence Dobkin (Part II)

Sy Weintraub deserves credit for bringing adults back to Tarzan.

Before the Production Code went into effect, Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan were a Tarzan and Jane that you knew were definitely getting it on when MGM’s cameras were pointed the other way. They steamed up the screen in TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932) and the way-ahead-of-its-time TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1933), films that poured on as much sex and sadism as the studio thought it could get by with.

But as time went by, and MGM sold off the cinema rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stories and characters to RKO, Tarzan became just another matinee hero like Roy Rogers and Flash Gordon, catering to kiddie audiences that enjoyed the buffoonish comic relief of Cheeta the chimp as much as the cheap sets, stock villains, and serial-type action. Always a consistent moneymaker, the Tarzan series even survived the loss of Weissmuller, who jumped to Columbia to make Jungle Jim programmers. Lex Barker took over as the Jungle King in five tepid adventures, and then hotel lifeguard Gordon Scott, a bodybuilder with no acting credits, swung into Barker’s loincloth for a couple more.

Even though Tarzan movies had become more juvenile, some of them were still entertaining, since the character and premise are so strong, it’s difficult to completely mess it up. But the films were becoming repetitive, and it seemed that something needed to be done to get audiences thrilled again about seeing Tarzan on the big screen.

Sy Weintraub had the answer. When he bought the screen rights from Sol Lesser, he seized on the idea of making Tarzan for mature audiences again. The result was 1959’s TARZAN’S GREATEST ADVENTURE, a tough, intelligent action picture for adults pitting a nasty gang of diamond thieves, including Anthony Quayle and a pre-007 Sean Connery, against Tarzan, still played by Scott, who was now allowed to be the silver screen’s first fully articulate Tarzan. No more “Me Tarzan.” Burroughs’ original concept of an Ape Man who was educated in civilization was finally being played on film.

Scott next starred in another terrific adventure, TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT, before going to Europe to make movies. Legendary stuntman Jock Mahoney, who played Yancy Derringer on television, as well as the main heavy in TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT, was tagged by Weintraub to play a slightly older and leaner King of the Jungle in two films.

Then television came calling. Weintraub served as executive producer of TARZAN, which premiered on NBC on September 8, 1966 (the same night as STAR TREK). His new leading man was Ron Ely, a lanky Texan who had bounced around television for years, including the co-lead in the shortlived THE AQUANAUTS. Handsome, athletic, and brave enough to tackle most of his own stunts, Ely was a natural Tarzan, and his square-jawed likeability and sense of fair play made him popular with both kids and adults.

Facing tough competition on Friday night against THE WILD WILD WEST on CBS and THE GREEN HORNET on ABC—both fantasy series competing for the same young viewers—TARZAN went to South America in search of natural production values no other network series could equal (except I SPY, which filmed all over the world). Weintraub took Ely and his crew to Brazil, where he could capture jungle terrain, roaring rivers, waterfalls, and animal life that couldn’t be duplicated on a Burbank backlot.

Unfortunately, after five months of production in Brazil, TARZAN could only complete five one-hour episodes, thanks to torrential rains that interrupted filming, crude shooting conditions, and Ely’s penchant to get hurt on the job while doing stunts (he performed one episode wearing a sling after he fell several feet from a swinging vine—footage captured on-camera and used in the episode).

TARZAN relocated to Mexico with Leon Benson (SEA HUNT) replacing Jon Epstein (THE RAT PATROL) and Don Brinkley (MEDICAL CENTER) as producer. Not only did Mexico offer similar terrain as Brazil, but the move also allowed TARZAN to film interiors at Churubusco Studios to help speed production along. Benson produced only five episodes there, but one happened to be a two-parter that also provided Ely with perhaps his finest hour(s) as Tarzan.

Aired early in TARZAN’s first season, “The Deadly Silence” benefits mightily from a terrific guest cast, particularly none other than Jock Mahoney, who had already appeared in one of the Brazil episodes, as one of the jungle king’s most intimidating and sadistic rivals. Lee Erwin (FLIPPER) and Jack H. Robinson (HOGAN’S HEROES) wrote Part I, which plops Mahoney’s The Colonel into an African village that he holds in sway with his bullwhip and total lack of morality. The Colonel and his two men storm into villages and demand all their grain and cattle. Communities that don’t pay up are burned to the ground. By the time Tarzan catches up to the Colonel, he is holding hostage a village led by Metusa (Robert DoQui, later in NASHVILLE, COFFY, and ROBOCOP), who fears the Colonel will do to his people what he has already done to Metusa’s father and brother. Despite pleas from his wife Ruana (Nichelle Nichols, who filmed this before joining the cast of STAR TREK as Lieutenant Uhura) and from Tarzan, Metusa refuses to fight back against the Colonel.

Even though the Colonel is only one man, Mahoney’s performance sells the idea that an entire tribe would be hesitant to rise up against him. A veteran of two wars who claims to know “a thousand ways to kill a man,” including a two-finger jab that supposedly brought down a sumo wrestler, the Colonel is a sadist and a sociopath, played by Mahoney without a hint of camp. Dressed in a blue suit with a red shirt collar that makes him stand out among the browns and the greens of Mexico, Mahoney was one of the few actors doing television at the time who could conceivably be a physical match for Ron Ely, who never appeared wearing anything more than a tiny loincloth.

Tarzan does manage to capture the Colonel after a fracas decently directed by Robert L. Friend (RAWHIDE), but victory is shortlived after the killer escapes on his way to jail with the aid of Sgt. Marshak, who served under the Colonel in wartime and remains loyal to him. Marshak is another casting coup: the great Woody Strode, who had not only guest-starred in a previous TARZAN episode, but played a memorable villain opposite Mahoney in the fun TARZAN’S THREE CHALLENGES. So Weintraub and Benson not only assembled two great guest stars in Strode and Mahoney, but also men with ties to the Tarzan franchise.

Part I ends on an anxious cliffhanger with Tarzan left deaf after being bombarded while underwater by grenades tossed by the Colonel and Marshak. The scene where Tarzan desperately claps his hands together and is unable to hear the sound is played by Ely with the perfect level of panic and fear—two emotions we aren’t accustomed to seeing in our jungle king, not to mention the lead in a 1960s action/adventure TV show. Some scenes are sloppily directed by Friend—for instance, the noticeably wobbly rubber spear tips and explosions that blow several inches away from where the grenades are tossed—but he and Ely nail this one.

It’s unusual for each half of a two-parter to carry different writer and director credits, but Lawrence Dobkin (STAR TREK’s “Charlie X”), a busy actor as well as director, sat in Friend’s chair for “The Deadly Silence, Part II.” Interestingly, the teleplay is credited to brothers John and Tim Considine, both better known as actors who had previously penned a script for COMBAT! and two for MY THREE SONS, on which younger brother Tim was starring as Fred MacMurray’s oldest son Mike Douglas.

Part II is basically a riff on THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME with the Colonel, Marshak, and a second confederate named Chico (Gregory Acosta) chasing a hearing-impaired Tarzan through the jungle. Sparks fly among them after Chico is killed in quicksand and the Colonel orders a hesitant Marshak to leave behind Jai (Manuel Padilla Jr.), Tarzan’s young friend who is wounded by a ricocheting bullet. Marshak, who has followed the Colonel unblinkingly through one war and who-knows-how-many killings, feels a tinge of conscience about leaving an unconscious Jai to be eaten by animals, but reluctantly acquiesces to the Colonel’s commands.

Dobkin was a good choice to handle an episode that’s mostly action, and he really earned his stripes with a knockdown dragout fight between Mahoney and Strode, two of the most physical actors ever to work in Hollywood. Comfortable with one another from their on-screen skirmishes in TARZAN’S THREE CHALLENGES, the two men really go at it, though it is something of a disappointment that Tarzan isn’t allowed to finish off the villain himself.

More than three years later, audiences got the chance to pay admission to see the episode again when National General Pictures released TARZAN’S DEADLY SILENCE to theaters with a G rating—a not-uncommon practice of the day. DEADLY SILENCE was one of four Tarzan “features” to star Ely, although I believe only DEADLY SILENCE and TARZAN’S JUNGLE REBELLION (comprised of the two-part episode “The Blue Stone of Heaven”) played in American theaters.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cutting Class

Despite a genre-friendly cast that includes Martin Mull (SERIAL), Roddy McDowall (PLANET OF THE APES), and Jill Schoelen (POPCORN), the real draw of 1989's CUTTING CLASS is 25-year-old Brad Pitt, getting third billing behind Schoelen and rock-star-son Donovan Leitch two years before his breakout role in THELMA AND LOUISE.

As arrogant basketball star Dwight, Pitt is one of many suspects in the serial killings taking place around the local high school. He’s also one-third of the film’s central love triangle involving his girlfriend, nice cheerleader Paula (Schoelen, adorable as always), and his former friend Brian (Leitch), just released from a mental hospital after he was accused of killing his father.

Rospo Pallenberg, a former colleague of John Boorman (EXCALIBUR) directing his one and only film, and writer Steve Slavkin, who went on to pen a lot of kiddie television, have a tough time finding a consistent tone. CUTTING CLASS isn’t a spoof or a parody, but it’s littered with a lot of silly comedy that meshes horribly with the scary stuff. For instance, Mull, playing Schoelen’s father, the local district attorney, is shot with an arrow early in the film and spends the rest of the running time comically stumbling around the swamp looking for help.

McDowall is very amusing as the school’s pervy principal, seen at one point sneaking around backstage trying on flowery theatrical costumes, but, again, it’s a performance that belongs in a different film. Slasher films were well out of vogue by the time CUTTING CLASS was released, and Republic bypassed a theatrical release for VHS. It’s a rather bloodless film with a couple of ingenious kills and one excellent sense of suspense in Schoelen’s bathroom. Also with Brenda Lynn Klemme, Mark Barnet, Robert Glaudini (red herring), Nancy Fish, Norman Alden, Eric Boles, and BROOKLYN NINE-NINE's Dirk Blocker (hilarious on a trampoline).

Friday, March 07, 2014

Carrie (1976)

Director Brian DePalma (PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE) and writer Lawrence Cohen (GHOST STORY) adapted Stephen King’s first novel for the big screen. It was a smash hit that garnered rave reviews and earned two Academy Award nominations.

Sissy Spacek (COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER) is moving as high school wallflower Carrie White—a stirring performance that imbues the scares with sympathy. Abused at home by her religious-fanatic mother (Piper Laurie, who hadn’t acted in a feature since THE HUSTLER in 1961) and at school by her cruel classmates (notably Nancy Allen’s bitchy Chris Hargensen), Carrie finally cracks under the strain and uses telekinetic powers at the senior prom to enact bloody revenge.

One of DePalma’s most sensitive films—gory special effects aside—CARRIE is a horror classic from the traumatic event during the opening credits that drives Carrie to tears clear through to its startling final shock that wasn’t yet the genre cliché it would become. Both Spacek and Laurie were nominated for Oscars.

DePalma also coaxed good performances from Allen (who became DePalma’s wife), John Travolta (then on WELCOME BACK, KOTTER), and the curly-locked William Katt (THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO) as Carrie’s All-American prom date. Also with P.J. Soles (HALLOWEEN), the sensitive Betty Buckley (later the stepmom on EIGHT IS ENOUGH), Edie McClurg, Stefan Gierasch, Michael Talbott, Priscilla Pointer, and Sydney Lassick. Wonderful score by Pino Donaggio, the first of his seven collaborations with DePalma.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Dr. Giggles

Larry Drake, then known for winning two Emmys as intellectually disabled Benny on L.A. LAW and playing supervillain Durant in DARKMAN, finally starred in his own feature, 1992's DR. GIGGLES, a slasher film influenced by the silly NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequels. There’s little doubt director Manny Coto (24) and Universal intended Drake to star in a series of Dr. Giggles horrors, but the box office for this one just wasn’t there.

Drake plays the eponymous killer, who escapes from an insane asylum (how, we don’t know, and I guess Coto believed we wouldn’t care) and returns to his hometown to wreak vengeance upon the people he blames for his physician father’s death.

Everything in the screenplay by Coto and Graeme Whifler (SONNY BOY) is way over the top, including the telegraphed Kruegeresque one-liners that punctuate all the bad doctor’s kills. Drake’s performance is pitched as far as it can go without teetering over to the other side, and Coto Dutches the camera in a frenzy to accentuate Giggles’ madness (a shot looking out at Giggles from inside his victim’s throat is absurd).

Is the movie funny or scary? Eh, not really. The jokes are corny and obvious, and the horror is based on every cliché you can think of. The doc’s first victims are a black couple and a couple preparing to have sex, and since none of them have anything to do with the people who killed his father, the killer’s rampage lacks a point. Holly Marie Combs, later on PICKET FENCES, CHARMED, and PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, is fine as the teenage Final Girl.

Saturday, March 01, 2014


26-year-old Amanda Seyfried (LES MISERABLES) plays the iconic Linda Lovelace, the DEEP THROAT star who became the first adult-movie actress to achieve household-name status. Any hope that LOVELACE would be more than a standard biopic flew out the window the minute the overplayed “Spirit in the Sky” popped onto the soundtrack.

Co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (THE CELLULOID CLOSET) follow the dotted line without coloring outside of it, accompanying Linda on a superficial journey from life with her martinet parents in Florida to a quickie marriage to strip-club owner Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) to a starring role in director Gerard Damiano’s (Hank Azaria) groundbreaking porno.

None of it has any flavor, and no attempt is made to understand how Linda ended up the most celebrated porn star of the 1970s. Hell, she didn’t even know how to perform fellatio, and ten minutes after Traynor teaches her to breathe while blowing, she’s in New York City auditioning for Damiano and producer Butch Peraino (Bobby Cannavale). What made her decide on such a radical career move? Dunno. LOVELACE doesn’t say, nor does it pry too heavily into her marriage to Traynor beyond his cartoonish spiral into drugs and spousal abuse.

Have fun spotting the silly celebrity cameos: Chris Noth (THE GOOD WIFE) as DEEP THROAT’s deep pockets, Adam Brody (THE O.C.) playing Harry Reems as a himbo, Chloe Sevigny for two seconds, Wes Bentley, Lisa Gay Hamilton (THE PRACTICE), Debi Mazar, Eric Roberts, and a miscast James Franco as Hugh Hefner. Stone and Patrick actually give wonderfully understated performances as Linda’s folks, and they made me wonder whether this story told from their point of view would be more interesting. Lovelace’s drug addiction and LINDA LOVELACE FOR PRESIDENT go unmentioned.