Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Simon of the Desert

(Luis Bunuel, 1965)
I am so blessedly ignorant of all cultures of religious faith that Bunuel's Mexican stuff always feels a little beyond me - I'm sure he's referencing specifics that I can't come close to appreciating. On the most obvious level, this parable of a saintly guy standing on a pole is another showcase of the futility of individual saintliness in a wretched world - in my favourite bit he blesses the food in his teeth, but every interaction with his earthbound lessers is a fresh blasphemy, and it's all very funny. It's also impressive that there is no restlessness with the single-location scenario; it keeps moving, thanks in part to the inspired character interactions, and in part to great use of the vertical line of action to change things up. Interestingly, Simon is not exactly a fraud; he actually does perform miracles. Which makes him more tragic than contemptible, in spite of the jokey (and budget-conscious) disco scene at the end, in which he succumbs to the most banal of temptations.

The People Who Own The Dark

(Leon Klimovsky, 1976)
Things start out terse, with tight little scenes of uncertain continuity drawing us in up to a certain point at which you start to wonder what exactly is going on. Then suddenly we're at the opening remarks of a bourgeois orgy, which, just as suddenly, is rudely interrupted by a nuclear war. At this point the orgy party dubiously decrees that nothing will be radioactive for a couple days so they should go out and loot provisions now. Then they discover that the blast has turned everyone into insane and murderous blind people, all of whom seem to have managed to track down canes and/or sunglasses in their infirmity. And on it goes from there: the hostile attitude toward logic and motivation creates an atmosphere of chaotic incoherence that is pretty fascinating to behold. The producers hew to the formula, "when all else fails, rip off Romero" - various random echoes of Night of the Living Dead give way to a truly tasteless Crazies homage at the climax. The latter also indicates that some kind of Big Statement was intended - anti-nuclear, anti-fascist, anti-something. But while the un-expurgated European version may possibly have been less alienating, there's no way it was more profound. Accidental surrealism, anyone? In the Judith O'Dea trauma victim role there's this naked fat guy running around on all fours, and Paul Naschy's trigger-happy louse comes as close as anyone to establishing a character.

Monday, December 28, 2009


(Harvey Hart, 1976)
This conflicted 'women's movie' is paradoxically at its best when it's wallowing in the sordid details of machismo. Tony Lo Bianco is great as the alcoholic bronco rider, but he's inevitably greater dishing out male-chauvinist invective at the beginning than reciting hushed and wise climactic speeches about letting the lady think for herself. Actually her decision is both a foregone conclusion and a highly dubious fantasy; build the homestead and the wife will come back. Imagine the insights that could have been accessed if she didn't bite. With Harvey Hart and Lionel Chetwynd at the reins, it's all done with an uncommon level of craftsmanship, and for the first half the downcast brutality is delivered with energy and verve. But what follows is so transparent and so wrong that it looks like the good guys gave up. Donald Pleasance's dirt-farming souse gets a great intro before being shoehorned into stock sidekick duties.


(Brad Turner, 1987)
For what it's worth, this is somewhat less juvenile and offensive than most 'balls' movies. The overall mood of the thing is rather amiable and relaxed, the women portray actual characters of sorts rather than functioning as catalogues of anatomy, and Turner gamely gives his performers free reign. This can go extraordinarily poorly - as in the faux-Arab shmucks with their Lorre and Bogart impersonations. It can also get very weird, as in Ron James doing a hopelessly inaccurate Tom Jones impersonation with confused steel-band backing and lots of fog; unfunny but in a kind of fascinating way, like a Second City improv gone awry. Wayne Robson and John Hemphill impress by wringing some mild smiles out of their gangster-golfer routine, even though they're saddled with some of the worst moments in an appallingly lazy, incoherent script. So no, of course it's not actually any good, but it's a better kind of bad than "Fireballs", you know?


(Pete Docter/Bob Peterson, 2009)
Like "Where the Wild Things Are" (and "The Wizard of Oz", lest we forget), this starts as a wondrous fantasy/adventure and ends by damning the imaginative act in favour of the real world. Here, though, they're also scoring real and honest points against the superman impulse and obsessive compulsion. Ed Asner's widowed old man quests for Paradise Falls, and he's matched by his badge-mad boy scout sidekick and an explorer "hero" on a blind quest for his own trophies. They also meet several funny animals who prefer their love and gratification in the present tense. The first act is remarkably concise and controlled as it recaps the old guy's marriage from youth to death, and the pervasive melancholy is artful and earned. I could really live without the barrage of "Star Wars" in-jokes in the climax, and the denouement papers over some serious issues. But the journey of the house is exciting, I love the voice trick on the nasty dog, and overall this is my favourite overhyped kids' movie of the current cycle.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lady Ice

(Tom Gries, 1973)
This movie achieves an uncommon kind of unity for a heist-caper flick; the tedium of the countless dialogue scenes is so pervasive that the scant action bits scarcely alter the rhythm. There's a ton of plot, and I barely caught a word of it; so many ulterior motives and divided loyalties that the stakes are lowered and you don't root for anybody. As usual Donald Sutherland is relaxed and appealing, Jennifer O'Neill less so but nice to look at, and Robert Duvall should have done more supporting character work like this. But aside from a very arbitrary and kinky strip-search sequence, it's all a botched blur; the protagonists' forced laughter at the ending just cries out for a freeze frame and horn fanfare.

Going Berserk

(David Steinberg, 1983)
The most tragic thing about this movie is that once in a while there's a situation with some comic potential - like when John Candy is forced to wait in the hall while the guy he's handcuffed to has sex behind the door. Or when his cohort, now dead, is cornered by an acquaintance for a lengthy one-way conversation. Yes, that's the GOOD stuff - wrecked by overextension and formlessness - and it's downhill from there. What's intended as urbane tastelessness is just gross - Candy beating up some women at a beefcake show, African tribesmen singing "Blue Moon", a gratuitous "Leave it to Beaver" takeoff that prefigures "Natural Born Killers". All the name performers are wasted, and there's not a laugh to be had. But let's leave all that aside for a moment and ponder the following sequence. We're a little over an hour in. Candy meets with his girlfriend (utter nonentity Alley Mills) to apologize for his smutty behaviour under hypnosis at the wedding rehearsal; she is visibly upset. Then the hypnosis kicks in again, and in the middle of his apology he attacks a waitress and gets on stage to sing a song about his penis. And in spite of the laborious setup, Mills does not react; in the next scene they're strolling happily along without discussion or incident. Rarely in the annals of cinema has there been a sequence that screamed 'troubled production' with more volume or clarity; who knows what other atrocities the doctors inflicted in post. But it's clear that they were operating on a cadaver from the git. Perhaps tellingly, the soundtrack features a collaboration between Tom Scott and Lee Ving!

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

(John Trent, 1975)
A wilfully silly, class-conscious farce in the British tradition, and maybe Anthony Newley fans will dig it; I wouldn't know. The multilayered tale of corruption, extortion and blackmail doesn't make much sense, but of course plot is just a device to keep this conspicuously tripartite apparatus on the move. Things do accelerate with gratifying speed as the first act consists of a bunch of rowdies taking over a political fundraiser at Yvonne De Carlo's place and feeding the elite a laxative greek salad. Act two involves Newley's ex and the politico (named Sinclair Burton, a nice in-joke that no one outside Canada can possibly comprehend) menaced by a trained bear and skunk at a cottage retreat, at considerably greater length than the conceit can support. Act three comprises the extortion subplot and introduces Lawrence Dane and John Candy's bumbling cops, and while they're no funnier than the rest of the cast, they are somewhat more appealing - so it figures that they would get their own, equally painful sequel in "Find the Lady". The broad, smutty carnivalesque is friendlier and more tolerable in this version than in its 80s equivalents, but that's not to say it's successful - all the googoo eyes and speeded-up running around and peepee-caca histrionics leave me tapping my foot in the aisles.

Going Home

(Terry Ryan, 1986)
Can you imagine how much more terse and revealing this film would be if it had kept the camera and the narrative locked inside the transit camp with the soldiers? Just think how much more evocative it would be of the actual experience of being stranded halfway home from WWI, how much more time there would have been to evoke the frustration and develop the characters that form the shapeless mob of the shapeless final massacre. But nooo, they gotta have Nicholas Campbell making soft-focus love to the Welsh lassie by the fireside and doing his goddamn monologue by the seashore. What a stilted, contrived disaster that monologue is - what post-traumatic stress case would ever express his dilemma to his girlfriend with the words, "The future has been buried with the corpses of a generation?" Ugh! Such smeary abstraction is an extreme disappointment in a movie that portrays Canadian commanding officers slaughtering their own men out of paranoid hatred for Bolshevism. The movie has the trademark dull grey hush of most 80s British TV movies, and it seems to be operating on a "tell, don't show" basis - too many guys sitting in offices talking about the excitement outside. And with Eugene Lapinski single handedly leading the anti-Commie charge against the protests of his eloquently right-headed colleagues, all the ideological points get watered down into a kind of cinematic Warren Report.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

(Nicholas Webster, 1964)
Well, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And it is reasonably merciful in granting us the spectacularly absurd polar bear and robot in the second act. But by then they have got a lot of ground to make up: the Martians' battle against the stock footage, the ooh-hoo-hee-hee North Pole newscaster, and of course the doddering Yuk Yuk's lech that John Call makes of Santa are all acts of unspeakable cruelty. By the end there's not much left except the Martians themselves, prancing around their echoey cardboard sets, declaiming so frantically in their effort to impart some energy to the material that they almost drive the viewer from the room. The juvenile performances are worthy of Phil Tucker, and the cute idiot Dropo should be trapped in an eternal elevator with Jar Jar Binks.

Girls on the Road

(Thomas J. Schmidt, 1973)
A very strange, boundingly trashy movie that is watchable mainly for its bizarre displacements. Having just graduated, a couple cute rich kids head for their parents' cottage in their parents' car - such rebels! In so doing they occasion a driving sequence which is like a funhouse ride of cheese - weaving all over the road, throwing their bras around, dissing cops and guitar-playing hippies and limp-wristed 'fags'. It's non-stop, outrageous, and very very bad. Soon though they pick up Michael Ontkean, as a manic-depressive Vietnam vet who gets extensive trippy-wavy tinted flashbacks where he recalls army discharge and encounter sessions. These are bad too but also kind of pretentious, in a totally failed way. Given Ontkean's unmotivated inciting rampage against a couple pool-playing louts, it stands to reason that he's the mass murderer they're prattling on about on the radio. But once they get to his guru pal's Big Sur retreat, it's pretty obvious pretty fast that we're in for a 'surprise'. In spite of the relentless parade of outrageous hairy freaks - including Pa Walton himself, Ralph Waite, as the lecherous guru - the wildly misfiring exuberance of the first half gives way to heavied-out psychobabble and dubious romantic interludes. Ontkean, an actual actor who actually acts, is as out of place as the surprisingly explicit commentary on post-traumatic stress. At the end, though, the bald hyperbole is restored, as they try to turn the whole thing into a horror movie by dint of a lot of screaming and some running around. One wonders, though, how the people who came up with this idea managed to avoid shooting an actual ending; the final seconds are desperately patched together with spit and chewing gum. The surprisingly clean, west coast 70s sunshine look of the whole thing only adds to the confusion.

The Glitter Dome

(Stuart Margolin, 1984)
You can tell this is an HBO made-for-early-cable production because it has the square plotting and obtrusively mechanical detective voice-over of any TV movie of its time, but there's some forced swearing and implied sex and the bullets actually do kill people from time to time. There's also a real aura of gaudy sleaze, thanks no doubt to the Joseph Wambaugh source material but also perfect for convincing single guys in motels that their lives could be even worse. Quite a challenge to sustain a light comic undertow in a movie about a kiddie-porn ring, but this movie does a pretty good job at the balance: the desperate futility of everyday existence is played for bitter laughs by drunk codger cop James Garner and for pathos by Catholic divorcee cop John Lithgow. With Hollywood portrayed as ground zero in a family-values armageddon, the movie is also subject to the regrettable pitfalls of cop-flick sentimentality, but at least it's terse and punchy throughout - there's a lot of words here, man. Producer/director Margolin doesn't just cast himself as the unlikely yoga-prone studio mogul's son, he also furnishes the high-rolling sleazeball musical score. Margot Kidder has fun as a jaded starlet.

The Girl In Blue

(George Kaczender, 1973)
AKA "U-Turn" - a very peculiar little drama in which Kaczender imports the relaxed, semi-improvisational tone of his NFB shorts into the realm of slick commercial filmmaking. The juxtaposition is almost shocking; the work is not just technically pristine but physically gorgeous, and yet here these people are goofing off and acting up like they just discovered the Nouvelle Vague. While it is about romance and freedom, it's not a 'youth film' - David Selby's thirtysomething lawyer protagonist is far from a dropout. Instead it's almost a feature-length rendition of Everett Sloane's monologue about the girl with the white parasol; Selby sees Maud Adams at a Thousand Islands ferry and dedicates himself to locating her, seeing in her an impossible promise of romantic perfection. For this type of character, Selby is uncharacteristically watchable, if not exactly sympathetic, and there are all kinds of well-played, surprising and funny interactions with vivid supporting characters major and minor. Too bad, then, that the ending is a total cop-out, retreating at a run from every psychological issue the movie ever raised; Selby's climactic shrug seems to be saying 'the CFDC made us do it'. And they should have left the overbearing, flute-heavy musical scoring back at the Film Board.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


(Jim Makichuk, 1981)
This film is remarkably successful at sustaining its creepy mood - so successful that you don't really mind that there's not much else there. There's hardly a shock effect in the movie; everything seems half formed, ambiguous, dead-ended, like the chainsaw that is produced for half a chase scene then disappears. The deformed guy in the ice room hacks one woman up with an axe, but is a benign puppy in his next and final appearance; the male lead goes mad in one abrupt, awkward ellipse, as if a scene got lost at the lab; who knows what the ending is trying to say about the heroine. And yet somehow all these problems feed an atmosphere of disturbing disorientation appropriate to the shape-shifting Windigo mythology the movie purports to embody. The abandoned resort setting is photographed with extreme creepiness, and the infernal looping of Paul Zaza's atonal orchestral score only adds to the unnerving effect. And while Georgie Collins is a peculiarly un-mysterious ghostkeeper, she weirds you out anyway.

The Gate

(Tibor Takacs, 1987)
A remarkably charming and successful little movie about a couple pre-pubescent pals who discover a gateway to hell in the back yard. The tone is deadpan-funny when it aims to be, which is usually, and it is also remarkably kind: these nice, normal kids form a tight unit whose affection is not shaken by bickering exchanges with sister Al's hilariously dumb teenager friends. Every element from the treehouse to the model rocket to the death-metal album gets put to ingenious use, and that goes double for the dead dog, an unusual device that generates a range of emotional responses in various situations. The effects are startlingly good, especially the army of tiny Shrek-like demons who manage to be amusing and menacing at the same time, and the look of the film is remarkably controlled and textured. I only wish that the ending could have been a little more kinetic and better integrated; with one kid facing off against a big special effect, I find myself missing both the character interactions and the sense of purpose of the rest of the film. But that's a small quibble; overall this is exactly the kids-eye-view fantasia of malevolence that it sets out to be.

VIrgin Paradise

(Ron Standen, 1987)
A big comedown after Standen's inspired "Mark of the Beast", this one centers on three newly-graduated hotties - a rich kid, a boy toy, and a drag - who hop down to Tortola on Daddy's dime and yacht, only to find themselves ensnared in a highly improbable gem-smuggling plot. The girls are charming except for the drag, and the Toronto-based doublecross is amusingly preposterous, but except for Ron Byrd's shticking henchman, the cops, criminals and gangsters are all strictly rote and dull as dishwater. Of course it doesn't make sense - when do Emmeritus movies ever make sense? - but it gives us too much time to ponder this fact as it lingers on interminable sunbathing sessions and telephone conferences. The best thing about the movie is a transparent afterthought - Zuzana Marlow in her linking-narration scenes, fully out of character, surrounded by teddy bears and talking in an absurdly flirtatious little-girl voice. This stuff really is tawdry enough to be least until the script tells the same joke for the tenth, or fifteenth, time.

Survival Earth

(Peter McCubbin, 1985)
The best Emmeritus productions overwhelm their own cheap, shallow essence with pacing, wit or energy. So if you think a post-apocalyptic drama is going to catch them at their best, you are not thinking clearly. You are of course aware that apocalypse movies inevitably use the setup as a peg for philosophic hand-wringing, and the only novelty here is the utter vague aimlessness of the discourse. The 'hero' here is bent on re-establishing nuclear fam domesticity in his old stone foundation, which inspires not the slightest hint of critique - on the contrary, the gender politics here are candidly boneheaded - and ensures that the movie will be hopelessly rooted to the ground in its deadly verdant setting. The opening newsreel montage features a nuclear explosion, but in contrast the dialogue refers only to the end of capitalism, which would explain why the air and water in their park refuge are still so lovely and clean. Loincloth babe Nancy Cser's 'mutant' status and Jeff Holec's mysterious lurking clone are total dead-end diversions, and the outbursts of witty repartee are unbelievably stupid and wrong - check out the uproarious improv-to-fade at the end.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

(Sergio Leone, 1966)
Truly vulgar and truly epic, this is an amazing piece of work. Leone's incredible visual sweep and sure, sustained rhythm are here applied to a remarkable assortment of true lowlife, for whom the director shows great affection. All three are self-interested mercenaries, but where Lee Van Cleef's cunning Army man will kill anyone for the right price, and Eli Wallach's sleazeball criminal is just a greed-crazed maniac, Clint Eastwood operates by an actual moral code - a complex and fallible code, but even at that he's as close as the film gets to 'civilization'. Certainly closer than the indiscriminate slaughter of the civil war which rages in the background of the protagonists' money-grubbing odyssey; Leone doesn't just blow up that bridge, he blows up the idea that built it. From the war-cheerleading coward innkeeper to the wooden Indians on the target range, here is a remarkably informed, ironic and arms-length treatment of Wild West folklore. And while Eastwood may be the spiritual center of the film, it's Wallach that really makes it what it is - conniving, cunning and Catholic, his comedy is as deep as it is broad, cutting a defiant channel through all this spectacularly operatic grandeur.


(Don Dohler, 1980)
The deficiencies are prominent and should by all rights be terminal - Dohler has real trouble with basic framing and composition, the pacing is nonexistent, and the Baltimore-school actors are mostly wooden, if endearing. The special effects are limited to stage blood and a cheapo optical involving glowing hands. But one way or another the deficiencies match the quirky specifics. This is a movie where Evil rises from the dead, moves to the suburbs, and opens a music school! So why should it provide a thrill a minute? The slack tempo and workaday details end up enhancing the movie's portrayal of early-80s suburbia as a scrub-encircled cul de sac, a perfect setting for the bizarrely genteel hulk Don Liefert to drain people's souls. While he may be a murderous demon, the film also gets digs in at the conformist impulse behind the neighbor dad's clumsy sleuthing, and ultimately the banality and improbable mildness of the whole film give it a unique kind of charm.

Nowhere to Hide

(Jack Starrett, 1977)
The very strange and alien terrain of seventies television - this flat, bizarrely homogenized neverland where everyone's got a gun but no one gets shot - is a very strange place to run into Lee Van Cleef, here enacting the usual tough-as-nails but morally upright U. S. Marshall assigned to protect bozo informant Tony Musante. Meanwhile long-suffering wife Leila Goldoni has discordant Cassavettes flashbacks in the domestic-strife snippets. In other words the homogenization is not complete - no style or excitement whatsoever, but some scant pleasure in the transparent goofiness of the details. There's the ambush lesson opener, the attempted church hit, the kid finding the frogman's dynamite. And while the desert-island police protection getaway is a pretty boring (if economical) centerpiece, the writers do manage to wring out a hilariously desperate 'climax' - an out-of-nowhere fist fight over a disloyal cat. After that, what can they do except drive around the block in a postal truck. Be still my beating heart.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Marked For Death

(David Nisbet, 1987)
Businessman witnesses gangland hit from his subway window. Reports to cop. Cop is corrupt. Cop and gangsters conspire to rub out witness while he's out jogging. Sounds simple, right? No sir! Not when you're dealing with about the dumbest and pokiest bunch of gangsters ever to appear on screen. Instead of just grabbing the guy and throwing him off a bridge, they tail him until they run into parked cars, they stake him out and get parking tickets, they wait in the park but get caught up reading the paper, they wait in the park but a little girl wants to chat, they wait in the park, they wait in the park. And if you think THEY'RE stupid, wait until you meet the homicide cops, who have their own tail on the bad guys every step of the way, yet somehow never manage to figure out that their man's in on it even as he shiftily misplaces witness reports and invites guys in trenchcoats over to his place for Chinese. Good thing for them that when bad cop finally does corner the jogger, he considerately takes the time to spell out every last detail of his scheme, because they never would have figured it out by themselves. I suppose it's possible that the comedy is intentional, but the contempt for basic logic still boggles the mind. As Emmeritus productions go, not as horrendously ragged as "The Bounty Hunters", but almost as oafish anyways.

Mark of the Beast

(Robert Stewart, 1986)
A couple Mohawk College TV production students are quietly invited to videotape a 'secret' political rally on the lawn of City Hall. So, what the hell is a 'secret' political rally anyway? And why do the eight working men who comprise the audience still have their hard hats on? That sets the tone for this screamer, and it doesn't even matter: you are virtually obliged to check your brain at the credits, which leaves you free to enjoy one of the tackiest and breeziest of all Emmeritus productions. The kids end up taping a political assassination, and the trail leads to a cult of cowled masterminds of world government - some kind of Mr. Dressup freemasons, a snapshot out of David Icke's nightmares. The beastly cabal's disciples reveal themselves in ever greater numbers, identified by a dollar sign with a coiled snake for the 'S' tattooed on their wrists. While the filmmakers do go for suspense and malevolence, there's no "They Live"-style social commentary here; it's sci-fi-horror stuff, pure showmanship. This jives exceptionally well with the comic shtick of the leads - goofball cinematographer James Gordon and hottie nurse Carolyn Guillet (who comes with even hotter nurse sidekick Charlene Richards at no extra charge). Gordon's wise-cracking lunkhead is an absolutely perfect Emmeritus character. From his megaphone shtick in the outrageous film-within-a-film flashbacks, to the ratatat repartee with Guillet in his brokedown car, the comedy is way livelier than you expect; it overwhelms the heavy stuff and redefines the movie as pure wicked fun.

Niagara Strip

(Jim Makichuk, 1987)
Emmeritus goes to the Falls - and sets a heroin-smuggling procedural in a tiny town where everyone knows everyone else except the 'punks' (who look like A Flock of Seagulls pretending to be W.A.S.P.). The federal cop, the local cop, and the shady businessman are all old football buddies, and the offed drugrunner's widow went to the same school. And while as usual this movie is visually tacky and dramatically overdrawn, it actually does manage to capture a mood - wistful, melancholic, unfulfilled. Essential to this is Paul De La Rosa as the smalltown cop with Hollywood cops on his walls - emotionally stunted and agonizingly immature, his character spells the themes with uncommon precision, so lost that he's tragic. There's also something about April Johnson's pretty, uncomplicated widow that makes you get what these guys see in her. And in it's zero-budget tawdriness it captures its time and place, with a nice eye for detail.

Price of Vengeance

(Alistair Brown, 1985)
Here Emmeritus attempts a narrative of the Hamilton mafia, as an upwardly mobile businessman is called back to his sleazy roots when his hockey-player-gone-wrong brother is murdered. As he pieces things together, he finds himself on a collision course with some Italian gangsters he's known since childhood. Bizarrely, the Don is actually one of the most sympathetic characters in the piece, certainly more so than the protagonist - the more appalling details emerge of his brother's conduct, the more single-minded he seems to become about avenging him. It's self-consciously gloomy, almost 'existential', never a good idea since the shot-on-video production values automatically negate all atmospheric tension. As usual, illogic is rampant - dude recovers awful fast from that beating, and the still-camera-in-the-fish-finder routine is not redeemed by its procedural detail. And lead actor Edmund James does not convey the moral complexities that the director seems to be tilting at. At least there's some nice use of Hamilton Harbour, a climactic shootout on the Skyway, and most impressively a sidekick who's a black hockey player.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Brain Damage

(Frank Henenlotter, 1988)
This being Henenlotter, I knew that it was going to be lurid, vivid, and nasty; and while "Basket Case" might have prepared me for heartfelt, it didn't hint at the visionary poetics on display here. Aylmer, the phallic brain-eating slug, is not only a brilliantly disgusting piece of puppetry; he is voiced with such a delicate mocking lilt (by John Zacherle!!) that it transforms the whole experience of the film. This is your brain on drugs, quietly seductive until it's feeding time. Aylmer's hapless victim/host - cut off from real life, unable to kick the hallucinatory blue gunk, doomed - is only one example of a consuming pathos. As riotous and disgusting as the brain-eating scenes are, they are also overwhelmingly sad; nobody deserves their fate, and Henenlotter takes pleasure only in his craft. Which is pervasive. The hallucination scenes hit the nail on the head, the performances are just hyperbolic enough to keep things from getting oppressive, and the final image is startlingly beautiful. And beneath all this is a virtual tour of the most absolutely desolate corners of skid-row NYC in full bloom. A work of art.

Lady Bear

(Peter McCubbin, 1985)
One suspects that they knew that the plot made no sense, so in order to distract us they piled on twist endings like Jenga. The boss knew it all along, dad isn't dead after all, the shrink is a spy, the librarian is a spy, etc. This is doubly disorienting because, while this is going on, other plot elements implode uselessly. The British guy Lady Bear was supposed to be spying on heads home unannounced after one brief scene and so much for that; her clown RCMP boyfriend doesn't know what the hell's going on even after several scenes of firsthand observation and/or hearty exposition. And anyway, he was gauche enough to put the moves on her immediately after her announcing that he was the Commie's mistress, and she was flaky enough to bite; what planet are we on here? The planet Emmeritus, of course - where women have nightmares about KGB karate class and men film infidelities with Bolexes in the heating ducts of unlit bedrooms. So low energy, sober-sided, and incomprehensible that it takes on a certain fascination in spite of itself.

Greedy Terror

(Steve DiMarco, 1985)
Emmeritus Productions tries its hand at the anthology thriller with this one. While it falls on the earnest side of their sensibility, it can't help but partake of these folks' usual campy underachievement. "Country Hospitality", the middle episode, has the most energy, a plot that comes close to making sense, and an inspired twist at the very end. But I wish the mute got more screen time, and as usual the villain here is a one-dimensional putz. "A Symbol of Victory" is the classic shlub buys a love potion scenario, and it achieves a degree of pathos, but the characters are remote and the storyline is preposterous. The final story, "The Injection", is even more ridiculous in its plot logic, but still there's something compelling about the down-at-the-heels losers at its center, and the production values are so low that it lends the skid-row setting an authenticity that can't be bought. Check out the jaded sex-worker dialogue in the diner for a true highlight that has nothing to do with camp. The framing device is a mother telling the stories of her three sons to a reporter in a church; but weren't the protagonists of "The Injection" brothers themselves? Did I miss something here? Or is this just Emmeritus working their inimitable magic yet again?

Night of the Comet

(Thom Eberhart, 1984)
This bizarrely deadpan, resolutely quirky sensibility of this movie can be disorienting and is sometimes not fully realized - a bit draggy, a bit thin. But if you gear down and roll with it, you are rewarded. Basically, it showcases the resilience and self-regard of Valley Girl culture - the world ends, and while they have some regrets they basically just go on hanging out and dishing and dealing with shit as it arises. Which shit includes Raoul himself, Robert Beltran, as ambiguous and neighbourly enabler; the great Mary Woronov as righteous rebel from the lab-mad brethren of the compound; and some mall working slackers gone wrong. The latter groupings have lapsed into varying degrees of zombiedom, and if there's any logic to how they attained this state while everyone else turned to dust, it must have passed me by. But what really matters are Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney, who have a great thing going with their smart interplay; their force of personality give a humane jolt to such merely witty Eberhart conceits as the trick dream sequence and the MAC-10 target practice. Not to mention the positively Brechtian happy ending, a Reagan-era nuclear fam fantasy so brazenly alienated that it takes the whole thing up a notch.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

(Tobe Hooper, 1974)
The perfect thing to see in a sparsely-populated movie house at sunrise, because that's the ambience it evokes better than any other movie: pure, squalid human exhaustion. It's no surprise to learn that it was intended to be a comedy, because concise shtick and tricky timing effects are at the heart of it, and the hicks-from-hell that make it go are a showbiz ensemble to die for. On the other hand, there's nothing remotely comic about the dread-ridden, punishingly claustrophobic cinematography, or the calculatedly nauseating production design, or the unrelenting industrial shitstorm of a soundtrack. So if this really truly was all a fluke, then it was one of the luckiest accidents the movies ever produced - whether you want to think it out and pick it apart, or just sit there and let it engulf you, it is basically flawless. On an ideological level this is the most outrageous, lacerating class-revenge fantasy imaginable, and also the most penetrating - the hapless teens come from the same place as the crazed perps, and both are monstrous and sympathetic in baffling turns. This is no good-versus-evil boilerplate, and the happy ending is neither. Most impressively though, the movie scores these points without even requiring you to think - it simply embeds its ideas in the closest approximation of actual nightmare that I ever expect to see in a movie. The medium is the message.

Supergirls Do the Navy

(Henri Pachard, 1984)
This pornfest starts out likably enough, with pretty gals, a reasonably humorous setup, and an occasional snatch of actual cinematography. And there's no rule that says a dirty movie can't fake a multi-chambered 'submarine' by continually redressing the same single boxy set. However, I do remember reading somewhere that dirty movies were supposed to be erotic, or at least enthusiastic; one of these shmucks can't even get it up! The absence of any interesting scenarios is not obscured by the desperate cross-cutting, rendered even more distracting by the incongruous hyperactive musical segues. Eventually the entire movie devolves into a single triple-bunk routine with no energy or invention to speak of - they just hump and blow, hump and blow, either hopping around distractedly or obliviously pounding away with their back to the camera. Other demerits: the Asian gets called a 'commie pinko Chinko', the director's flailing hand is in frame for an entire scene, and in general everyone is shown from the most unattractive angle available - one poor soul even has band-aids on her ankles.

The Shape of Things to Come

(George McCowan, 1979)
Here is a movie that gets over on pacing and energy and absolutely nothing else. The plot - intrepid space bureaucrats travel through space to stop nasty man Jack Palance from staging an intergalactic coup - seems to have lost a little something in the translation from the H. G. Wells original. The actors are attractive, and also earnest to the brink of constipation. The achievements of the special effects department are indicated by the teleportation talents of robot sidekick Sparks, who travels through space via jump cuts - I once taught a video class to a room of ten-year-olds who already knew that trick. But while you may be face-palming for the whole 98 minutes, you might just have a good time doing so; it moves from point to point pretty efficiently, and at each stop there's something wacky going on: nuclear rays, jousting, mutant child-shrubs, comically sped up vehicles, 2001-style space psychedelia topped by a perfectly unexpected lunkheaded punchline, planetary implosion. And let us not the priceless running gag of the enemy robots themselves, who spend the whole movie lumbering around uselessly like an army of epilated Ro-Men.