Rolling Heavy in the SuperVan.

Supervan (1977)

I’m going to call it – 1977 was the year of the van movie. I’m guessing that 1977 was about the height of the short-lived custom van craze, because both “The Van” and “Supervan” were released during that year.

“Supervan” begins with the hero Clint, a small town guy who owns a custom van, cutting out of town so he can attend a Van “Freak Out” gathering, where he hopes to win $5,000 in a van competition. His father, the owner of the auto repair shop where Clint works, is none too pleased by this development, but begrudgingly lets Clint go with his blessing. They must have a pretty weird idea of adulthood, because the actor playing Clint (Mark Schneider) looks like he’s at least 30 in this film.

Soon after hitting the road, Clint hears what sounds like a sexual assault in progress over his trusty CB radio, and heads to the rescue, jumping a group of would be rapist bikers trying to have their way with a woman in a junkyard.

Clint manages to beat the bikers, but his van is destroyed in the yard’s car crusher for his troubles. He escapes the junkyard with his new companion Karen (Katie Saylor) who seems to have a fairly casual attitude about the close call with gang rape, even making jokes about it. I guess the 1970’s were just a weird decade.

The two journey to Clint’s friend Bosley’s workshop, a huge high tech place, where he’s been secretly developing a SuperVan called “Vandora” instead of designing a new gas guzzling vehicle for his boss, the evil oilman and owner of Mid American Motors, T.B. Trenton.

It’s obvious that Trenton is evil the moment we’re introduced to him, and he’s the kind of guy that smokes big cigars and sets up trysts with much younger women that have a thing for whipped cream.

The plot essentially boils down to Clint, Boz, and Karen getting the super high-tech Vandora to the Freak Out Fest, and besting T.B. and his henchmen. It’s one of those films where a lot of stuff happens, but not much of it seems to really be connected. There are lots of admittedly awesome custom vans throughout, and some scenes look like they may have been shot at an actual gathering of van enthusiasts. It’s also all very 70’s, peppered with lots of crude sexual humor and casual drug use, but no actual nudity. It was a kinder gentler decade, where a wet t-shirt contest with kids watching, and a creepyImage cameo by Charles Bukowski was just good clean fun. I’m not sure that anything can get more quintessentially 1970’s than the shenanigans on display in this film.

Anyway, Trenton is worried that when Vandora is discovered by the press, he’ll be ruined. Vandora is a high-tech wonder – it’s solar powered, and has inboard computers and lasers. Yes, lasers. The van was designed by legendary car builder George Barris, and it’s pretty dumb looking. The more traditional custom vans it’s supposed to be better than, are way cooler. It also makes an irritating sound, sort of a constant UFO sound instead of the regular engine noises that a typical van would make. That gets old pretty fast. Inside, the sound is accompanied by bleeping computer noises as well.

I’m sure it’s no surprise that Clint and company eventually best Trenton and his toadies, and manage to win the $5,000 in prize money. How that happens involves a lot of not very exciting chase footage, and a drugged out 1970’s van party that’s probably the best part of the film. There are some ridiculous moments in “SuperVan,” although that’s probably to be expected. For instance, we discover that Vandora has a laser gun capable of blowing up a car, but that’s never used to try to disable the cops who are chasing SuperVan for much of the film.

There’s something about this movie that rides a line between two worlds. On one hand, there’s plenty of references to sex and over the top characters. A van full of gay stereotypes comes to mind, as well as scenes involving drug use, but the film almost feels like a late 70’s television movie. Contrast that with “The Van” from the same year, which had ample nude scenes scattered throughout its equally rambling story, and “SuperVan” almost seems innocent in comparison. And let’s face it, that’s weird, because it’s pretty obvious that most people with these custom vans had them outfitted as rolling orgy rooms.

I should point out that I discovered that there are more than one print of “The Van” in circulation, and one has almost all nudity excised from it, really rendering the film pointless. That’s just the kind of film it is. So it’s possible that there’s a sleazier cut of “SuperVan” floating around out there. As it is, the film could have been an ABC Movie of the Week if they cut a few lines of dialogue and some drug use. With the exception of that pervasive 70s era casual treatment of sex and drugs, SuperVan almost seems like the PG kid friendly film companion to “The Van”s R rated horny teenagers.

So did I like “SuperVan?” It’s an interesting look at 70’s-era fads in much the same way a film like “Roller Boogie” is. We know people liked custom vans and roller disco, so it’s cool to see movies trying to exploit interest in those things, but in the case of “SuperVan,” the  plot is taken to an almost Sci-Fi extreme, since no vehicle like the high-tech van ever existed.

On the other hand, I kept finding myself not caring about the plot, or the SuperVan itself, but wanting to see more footage of the Van gathering and the actual custom vans used throughout the film.

So it’s fun to see as a study of 1970’s custom van culture, but the actual film is pretty silly. Without more exploitative material, nudity or whatever, it’s hard to see why anyone would watch this movie today unless they’re interested in old vans, or the weirder aspects of 70’s culture. I’m interested in both of those things however, so if I gave out ratings, which I don’t, I’d give “SuperVan” 5 van lasers out of 10.

The uncut version of “The Van” is still a more sleazy and entertaining van movie though.

The War On Christmas: A Heretic’s Perspective

For many years, there have been occasional cries that a “War on Christmas” is being waged. In the early 2000’s, conservative commentators like Bill O’Reilly began using the term frequently, resulting in it becoming a battle cry for many Christians that feel as if various forces are aligning to eliminate Christmas, or to rob it of all religious connections. Is this a reasonable fear? I am not religious, and decided to look at this “war” from as unbiased a perspective as possible.

In order to decide whether Christmas is under some form of attack from various anti-Christian forces, it is important to understand a bit about the history of how Christmas has been celebrated, and especially how it has been celebrated in predominantly Christian western countries. After all, modern Americans, even those that are upset because they sense that something essential to the holiday is being stolen from them, have been raised in a fairly young country. Many of our Christmas traditions are also relatively young, or borrowed from much earlier customs.

To begin with, many modern Christmas traditions have pre-Christian origins. Caroling, Christmas trees, Yule logs, and Santa Claus himself have nothing to do with Christianity or the birth of Jesus. These traditions have been co-opted into Christmas from much older Northern European pagan rituals, mostly centered around their observance of Winter Solstice. I have even heard that Santa Claus is a reinvention of Thor, although I have not been able to verify that. The point remains that much of the traditions associated with Christmas have nothing to do with Christianity, and it is no surprise that non-believers might still observe some of those traditions in a purely secular manner. They’re fun, and tap into our collective need to cheer ourselves during the bleak winter months.

So how did Christians observe the holiday in the past? Well, up until the Victorian era, Christmas was an almost totally religious holiday for most Christians, although it was secondary to Easter and other holidays. During those times, the remnants of pagan beliefs that had made it into Christmas were very controversial, with fun-loving groups like the Puritans completely rejecting Christmas as a pagan holiday. To this day, certain Christian sects such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t observe Christmas.

Christmas remained a troubled holiday for years. At one point, it was suppressed by Christian churches, because it had devolved into a tradition of rowdy men roaming the streets, demanding alcohol door to door, and generally causing mayhem. In this light, it’s fair to ask, if there is a “War on Christmas,” hasn’t it always existed?

The Christmas that most Americans know is a relatively recent thing. Much of how we observe the holiday has been shaped by depictions in books and movies more than any solid line of ancient Christian rituals, because those just don’t really exist in the case of Christmas.

To be fair, there are some individuals and groups that have criticized the open celebration of Christmas in this country, generally on the grounds that there is a separation of church and state, and that it’s inappropriate to openly celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas in places such as schools or government offices. These outcries are not huge in number, despite getting a lot of media coverage when they occur. If they happened often in a country with as huge a population as the USA, they would be in the news constantly, and they just aren’t.

A lot of conservative commentators that push this “War on Christmas,” and the people that see it as a threat, seem to believe that there is a sinister plot at work, driven by a huge number of atheists and people from non-Christian religious groups, and from what I can tell, this is just not the case.

Yes, there are a few goofy atheists that are so furious at Christianity that they actively try to stop any religious display, and some of them take it to a point that’s ridiculous, like attempting to stop the display of Christmas trees in public. Which is again, an extant pagan tradition. Those people should probably be called out as the joyless buzz-kills they are, just as public school teachers that tell their young students the truth about Santa Claus should earn our collective derision.

But, outside of a small number of activist types, I have never seen any examples of people from other major religions trying to stamp out Christmas. If anything, they’ve shown great restraint and tolerance over the years.

One of the most often cited bits of “evidence” that this “War” is going on are incidences of retailers and governmental agencies beginning to use terms like “Happy Holidays” rather than the once more common “Merry Christmas.” Not a year goes by without this injustice against Christmas and Christians getting attention. But, let’s look at that a little closer. Yes, there have been cases of official state agencies and public schools switching to a more general and secular observance of Christmas. Is that an example of some plot against the Christian holiday, or a reflection that, while the USA is still a majority Christian nation (if we go by percentage of the faithful claiming to be Christians), it is increasingly a diverse nation in regards to religious belief? The bureaucrats that tend to make up the administration of public schools, or run government agencies, usually are going to side with caution, and don’t want to court controversy. If angry Christians are going to complain that “Happy Holidays” is not adequate enough of an observation of Christmas, then they need to understand that overtly religious symbols are not considered appropriate for promotion in certain shared spaces, and it’s not a snub against Christianity unless they are prepared to tolerate the observance of Muslim or Jewish religious rituals in those same places. Heck, let’s bring back some serious Winter Solstice rituals and have them displayed in the town square!

I humbly suggest a burning inverted pentagram to be displayed at every courthouse in the country.

That’s the thing. America is no longer an almost exclusively Christian country, and hasn’t been for quite some time. I know plenty of non-believers, or people with very non-traditional spiritual beliefs that still observe some Christmas traditions. I know Satanists that have Christmas trees. What this illustrates is that Christmas itself has NEVER been an exclusively Christian holiday in this country. Its traditions are borrowed from other, older belief systems, and really show a human need to brighten the winter through celebration than some observance of Christ’s birthday, at least for many people.

As for retailers that have switched to the more generic but inclusive “Happy Holidays” greeting – that too is an acknowledgement that many potential customers aren’t Christians, and that more than one faith celebrates some version of the Winter holiday during the final months of the year. Retailers care about making money, which they perceive is easier by not insulting potential customers by celebrating one holiday while appearing to ignore others.

In many cases, where enough Christians expressed outrage at a retailer’s shift from marketing a specifically Christmas holiday to a more general holiday season, those retailers went back to the Christmas marketing. This illustrates that there is not exactly a “War” against Christmas going on, but that governmental agencies and retailers are scrambling to adapt to our evolving culture.

If there is a war that Christianity, and not Christmas itself, is enduring, it’s a more diversifying cultural landscape, and honestly that’s a problem that modern Christians are responsible for. Change is inevitable, but clearly the Christian “brand” is losing market share over time. There a significant percentage of Americans rejecting Christianity for other faiths, or no faith at all, and while most of them are not specifically antagonistic towards Christianity or Christmas, it is no longer the only game in town, and they shouldn’t be completely ignored.

So a war against Christmas? It’s more accurate to say that Christmas has almost always been a controversial holiday within Christianity itself, and that the “Classic Christmas” traditions most Americans have grown up with are actually a mishmash of both Christian religious observances, older pagan rituals, and invention from literature and film sources. That vision of a classic American Christmas is a fairly new idea. The fact that people of all faiths and no faith have always found a way to celebrate the winter months, and that our own traditions are changing, should not be a surprise to anyone.

What’s also not surprising is that commentators like Bill O’Reilly have a vested interest in creating a “War against Christians” where there really isn’t one. If Christians are worried that Christmas is becoming a secular and generic holiday, without their religious values being represented, then they should reflect that even the Puritans agreed with them.

If American Christians are afraid of a changing cultural landscape that’s not so narrowly focused on preserving their borrowed and made up Yule traditions, then it’s up to them to market their brand more effectively, and increase their numbers.

In the meantime, I will be lobbying for that burning upside down pentagram, and happily burning my Baal log.


Bloodsucking Freaks – Hateful Misogyny or Campy Horror Fun?


On Tuesday, November 26, 2013 7:19 PM, Chris lane wrote:
Bloodsucking freaks (1976)

Bloodsucking Freaks is a 1976 grindhouse splatter film involving a freaky guy names Sardu and his malevolent dwarf assistant, Ralphus. Together, they run a Grand Guignol style theater, where beautiful women are tortured and killed on stage… Of course, the audience doesn’t realize that the horrors happening in front of them are the real deal – The performances are Sardu’s idea of “Art”, Lthough he and Ralphus also are running a slavery operation, shipping female sex slaves all over the world.

Things get messy when the two supercreeps kidnap theater critic Creasy Silo, after he angers Sardu with a bad review, and ballerina Natasha DeNatalie, because he thinks she will give his torture show some form of legitimacy if forced to participate.

Most of the film shows Sardu and Ralphus torturing and killing naked women in between public performances… They keep a cage full of them in the theater’s basement. That cage of seemingly feral women plays into the movies ending, but I’ll leave it at that.

So, sounds like a gem huh? Something for the whole family to enjoy?

The thing about this film is that yes, there’s an awful lot of awful stuff happening to naked screaming women throughout the whole film, and it’s one of those movies that you can’t make excuses for – A lot of people will understandably hate it, and think that the only people who could enjoy Bloodsucking Freaks are horrible misogynistic bastards… It’s one of those films that you really can’t defend.

On the other hand, all of the violence is so over the top, and the tone of the film is so campy, that it’s pretty impossible to take any of it seriously. The closest things in tone that I can think to compare it to are some of John Waters early films – Bloodsucking Freaks could easily be cut from the same mold as Desperate Living, if it was somehow melded with a Hershel Gordon Lewis gore film. Bloodsucking freaks also has a sick but consistently funny sense of humor running throughout, in a weird way it’s a pretty fun movie. The same kind of material has been covered in other films, and either never lives up to the hype, or is impossible to enjoy, because the brutality is presented differently.

It’s also important to note that this film was probably originally shown in seedy theaters on 42nd Street, and is really low budget – it’s one of those gore films where the blood looks like tempura paint, and obvious mannequin parts are used in place of severed limbs… It’s difficult to take the atrocities in this film seriously, and the dark humor is deep in this one – Sardu and Ralphus are one of the more entertaining evil duos I can remember seeing in a horror film.

Basically, if you enjoy campy, over the top horror/exploitation movies from the mid 1970s, and aren’t uber sensitive to obvious fake brutality mostly directed at naked women, than “Bloodsucking Freaks” can be a lot of fun. If you’re easily offended, you’ll likely hate this film. It’s one of those movies that a person will either think is funny, or will think is reprehensible trash. I happen to think it’s a lot of both, and a great example of grindhouse cinema.

If I gave out star ratings, which I don’t, I’d give this film 7 out of 10 torture racks.


Rednecks… Let’s Torment The Rednecks…

If one watches any television, it quickly becomes obvious that it’s popular and allowable to make fun of one group of people in this country, and those people would be the much-maligned southern redneck.

Sometimes the humor is more or less good-natured. Shows like “Duck Dynasty” portray self professed rednecks in a somewhat positive light, making fun of their silly backwoods ways, but never showing them to be genuinely stupid or evil.

Other shows like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” aim low, and revel in the otherness of the redneck family on the show. Then we have other shows featuring weird backwoods alligator hunters, and a southern variation/rip off of “Pawn Stars.”

What is America’s fascination with the lives of rural -living Southern white people all of a sudden? I can’t help but wonder if it’s partially because of the mean aspect of human nature that likes to point and laugh at people we perceive as being beneath us, as being less sophisticated than our own peer groups.

If we turn to the way fictional rednecks are portrayed, things get uglier. Long used as the bad guys in adventure and horror movies, the fictional redneck is either going to fuck you or eat you. In some cases he’ll probably do both, and it’s rare to see a film portrayal of rural whites where they are treated realistically or shown to possess positive traits. But hey! If you’re a hack writer, and need a scary villain for your shitty horror screenplay, create an inbred family of redneck mutants, and you’re well on your way to fulfilling the nightmare requirements of urban film viewers.

My question is why this redneck exploitation isn’t more widely criticized? Why is it alright to continuously pick on a marginalized population of people simply because they were born into poverty, or happened to be white people living lifestyles different than the people either criticizing them or laughing at them?

If the phenomena wasn’t so widespread, I’d just chalk it up to people pointing their fingers at other people they consider weird or outside of their own experiences. In the same way, people will occasionally mock the stereotypes of pretentious urban dwellers, but with rednecks, the mockery seems much more widespread and common. It feels good to have a sense of superiority, and there’s no easier way to achieve that feeling than by finding someone we feel is beneath us.

The term “redneck” is in itself often used as a pejorative, and used to attack people. By calling someone a redneck, many people seek to devalue that person’s opinion or to imply negative traits to them that might not be fair or accurate. At it’s worst, “redneck” is simply used as a stand in for “unsophisticated moron” or “racist.”

People will argue that rednecks themselves embrace their redneckiness, that they choose to be backwards throwbacks, and are thus open for criticism and ridicule. But who decided that being born poor in a rural environment or small town automatically meant that that person was without value? Is it kind or reasonable to expect that such a person should just turn their backs on the lifestyle they were raised with? Even if that lifestyle isn’t harming anyone else?

And just because some folks self identify as “rednecks” does not mean that it’s cool to use that term recklessly. I use it in this entry simply as a point of reference. Just because some folks call themselves rednecks doesn’t mean that they want other people they don’t know using the term.

That’s also an assumption that many people who are critical of rednecks make – that somehow they can’t be as intelligent or cultured as people living in bigger cities. That the conditions they were born into somehow dictate that they will grow up to be uneducated and hateful people, threatened by the idea of progress, and the enemies of those that would seek to improve the human condition.

Some people would point to what they feel is the institutional racism that has plagued the South for generations. I would argue that racism is universal, and just as common anywhere in this country as in the southern states. I’ve heard the word “nigger” thrown around as commonly in New York City as I have most places in the Deep South. Unfortunately, the ugly spectre of racism is everywhere, and is not a uniquely Southern white trait.

Also universal are the rednecks themselves. Poor, uneducated white people live all over this country, and while there are regional variations in the stereotypes, it’s silly to think that only the South is home to them.

And that’s what bugs me the most. I don’t think it’s very accurate or kind to treat people as if they are all the same based on what are often just surface similarities. Not all Southern rednecks are racist throwbacks, and if we’re being really honest, it’s not really a good idea to broad brush huge groups of people as being the same simply because they might be from the country or have an accent that we associate with a certain social class or region.

Most of us would never do that with minorities, or if we did, we’d add some qualifiers to go with any criticism.  Yet it seems to me that not much of anyone has a problem with hurling insults at rednecks. Are they all evil and deserving of that? How is that OK? Should a little girl be treated like she’s less than the rest of us simply because she lives in a trailer somewhere in the country? Because I can’t feel good about thinking like that.      

It just seems to me that if someone is going to criticize another person, they should do it based on that person’ actions or words, not because they belong to some supposedly homogeneous group that it is somehow OK to treat shabbily. That’s a very dark road to wander down.Image

“Blood for Dracula” – The Least Dangerous Dracula Ever?

Blood for Dracula (1974)

The early 1970’s were an odd and experimenal time for horror movies. “Blood for Dracula” is a strange one. Written and directed by Andy Warhol’s film collaborator Paul Morrissey, with Warhol himself tagged as a producer. Perhaps he ponied up some of the funds to make this film, but I’m not certain.

Many of the actors could also have filtered through Warhol’s Factory. Some of them definitely have that vibe about them, and male lead Joe Dallesandro certainly hobnobbed in Warhol’s scene.  In any case, “Blood for Dracula” has an odd mix of actors.

The story takes place in the early 1920’s, with Dracula (played by Udo Kier) wasting away in his Transylvanian castle. In this version of the Dracula story, the Count must feed on the blood of virgins to survive. Unfortunately for him, virgins are a rarity in Transylvania, and the Count is sickly and unhappy. His human servant Anton (played creepily by Arno Juerging) has a clever plan. He and the Count will load up the car, strap Dracula’s coffin on top, and head to Italy where more people are Catholic, and presumably saving themselves for marriage.

So they hit the road (during the day, apparently this vampire can handle daylight with no problem) In short order they meet a once-wealthy family who have landed on hard times, and who just happen to have a bunch of “virgin” daughters that need marrying off to a rich guy. So Anton arranges for the Count to meet the young ladies, under the pretense of choosing a virgin bride, although he’s really just looking for some good eats. The problem is that, of the four daughters this family has, two of them have been secretly fucking the estate’s handyman, Mario, played by Dallesandro. Mario comes off like an asshole, and is a Marxist that talks constantly about the coming revolution, but he’s really good looking, and possesses a seemingly insatiable sexual appetite. The middle daughters seem to like that about him.

Soon, Dracula has tried to feed off of both middle daughters, and discovers the hard way that they aren’t virgins. Basically their blood poisons him, and he spends a lot of screen time vomiting copious amounts of blood and having seizures. The youngest daughter Perla isn’t offered for marriage because she’s only fourteen. The Count decides to feed on her anyway, before he and Anton beat it back to Transylvania. Unfortunately for him, Mario has discovered that Dracula is a vampire, since the middle sisters are all fangy and screwed up, so he arrives at the only course of action. He decides to fuck the youngest daughter to prevent Dracula from getting her. Classy guy, that Mario.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s nothing special really. Dracula is bested, and Mario and Perla live happily ever after. Until the Marxist Revolution comes along, and takes the rest of the estate…or Mario finds more daughters to seduce. Who knows, maybe they end up together long term. We can hope.

As mentioned earlier, this film is pretty strange. It’s got some good stuff going for it. The European locations are very authentic looking and beautiful. The estate house looks the part. Once opulent, but deep in decline, and the rest of the film locations look equally nice. Director Morrissey shows good skills behind the camera, and there are some interesting angles and tracking shots sprinkled throughout the movie.

Everyone except for Joe Dallesandro has a heavy accent of one kind of another. The film was French and Italian co-production, and the actors and actresses all seem to have come from those countries, with a few Germans joining them. So lots of heavy accents, most of which aren’t consistent with one another. Then there is Mario, who according to the film’s plot, is Italian, and whose family has worked at the estate for a couple of generations. Joe sounds like he’s straight out of Brooklyn, he doesn’t even try a different accent. A lot of the dialogue is weird and stilted too. I’ve heard that much of that dialogue was due to improvisation, and it sounds like it. 
Dracula himself is an odd duck in this film. Udo Kier is both ugly and weirdly attractive. He looks like a mixture of Peter Lorre and a female fashion model. It’s hard to describe, but he looked like he could be a creepy blood sucking monster. His portrayal of Dracula is also strange in that he must be the weakest Dracula ever. He’s supposed to be sickly, and he certainly looks the part, even his attacks look like they could be repelled by a twelve year old in reasonably good shape. There are many scenes of him being violently ill, and very few of him being convincingly menacing. His servant Anton is really creepy, much more so than Dracula.

This film was originally given an X rating due to a lot of nudity and sexual content, and it does indeed include a lot of that, but it’s nothing more explicit than I’ve seen in other Eurosleaze films from the 1970’s, and a lot less than I’ve seen in many. There is one scene where Mario forces one of the daughters to give him a blowjob, that was probably pretty strong for the time, but it wasn’t explicit enough to warrant an X rating in my opinion. The film is quite violent for the time, although most of the gore is not particularly convincing.
The film also suffers from being a bit long in its uncut form, clocking in at over two hours, but I can’t imagine wanting to see one of the shorter edited versions, as a lot of the movie’s charm is in how over the top it’s willing to go.Image

I enjoyed “Blood for Dracula” but it’s not a straightforward European vampire film, in the mold of the Hammer productions of the same period. It is a weird mixture of slick film-making, combined with a very European atmosphere, strangely uneven acting and accents, and a few things that betray Morressey’s background as an underground experimental film maker. If I gave out stars, I’d give “Blood for Dracula” five cloves of garlic out of ten. Observant viewers will also spot a Roman Polansky in a cameo as a villager.

The Wizard of Rock.


The Satanic Wizard of Rock

Sometimes I think about what I would do if I was an Evil Wizard with unlimited magical power. What would I do with those dark forces?

The answer is simple:

I would trap people that displeased my inside musical recordings for years at a time… Eternity in some cases. Now, this would not be a simple case of being stuck in their own normal existence with some omnipresent soundtrack playing in the background. I think almost anyone could adapt to that. No, this curse would alter their word on a fundamental level, shaping every aspect of their experiences.

So Mr. 70s Blues Rock lover… Cross THIS wizard, and prepare yourself for a lifetime of horror inside “Kissing to be Clever” by Culture Club… Ms. Pretentious goth Queen, I’m excited to announce that you’ll be spending a decade inside a Molly Hatchet album!

Like synth pop a lot? Welcome to your new home inside Slayer’s “Reign in Blood”!

Any enemies with unknown musical preferences would just get sent to live in “Workingman’s Dead” by The Grateful Dead. Yeah, a small percentage of them might love that, but most people would be praying for the sweet and merciful release of death after a year or so.

So watch out! This Wizard might get even more creative if pushed…

Sammy Davis Junior Works For Satan – “Poor Devil” (1973)

Poor Devil (1973)

This television movie was hoped to be the pilot for a regular comedy show series, which never happened.  Despite the “Anything goes” zeitgeist of the early 1970’s, I guess mainstream America wasn’t ready for a weekly Satanic themed tv show.  A shame really.

I had heard about this oddity for years, and was quite pleased to see that it was uploaded onto YouTube. I’m not sure what I expected from a comedy show starring Sammy Davis, Jr. as a demon trying to rope a chronic loser played by Jack Klugman into a Faustian bargain (seven years of worldly pleasure and success in exchange for his soul) but this is a weird movie. That expectation was definitely met.

Poor Devil starts out strong: in Hell appropriately, which looks like a groovy place, and not a horrible world of suffering. The kitschy set design makes Hell’s lobby look like a very fancy airport or office building, all done in a nice Satanic design scheme. The look of these scenes in Hell are one of the film’s strong points. There’s fire, but with the exception of the “furnace room” where infernal screw-up Sammy the demon shovels coal as punishment for being an ineffective demon, we only see flames reflected on the walls. It’s a neat effect, and whoever was responsible for designing Hell did a cool job.

Hell itself echoes the office building theme, as it seems to run as some sort of corporate office, complete with secretaries and other office types in red outfits. The CEO of Hell is of course Lucifer, played nicely by Christopher Lee, who does a great job in the role. He really captures the sinister yet suave feel that would fit a businessman Devil.

Sammy has been spending 400 years toiling away, stoking the fires of Hell as punishment for never completing a Satanic assignment without screwing things up, and “Mr. Bligh” (played by instantly recognizable Gino Conforti) has it in for him. Mr. Bligh seems to be some sort of infernal management type, second only to Lucifer himself. Sammy has been keeping tabs on Burnett J. Emerson, a sad sack human played by Jack Klugman, who has just been passed up for a deserved promotion after spending 25 years toiling away at his company. Sammy thinks that he has a good shot at capturing Emerson’s soul, and redeeming himself in Lucifer’s eyes, if he can just be allowed back to Earth to convince Emerson.

Despite their resistance to the idea, Sammy convinces Lucifer to give him a chance, and teleports himself into Emerson’s apartment.

After convincing the doubtful Emerson that he is indeed an envoy of The Devil, and can offer him worldly success in exchange for his soul after seven years, we get into the meat of the story. We’re introduced to Emerson’s manager, a very smarmy slimeball played by Adam West, who is responsible for keeping Emerson down, and who also tries to seduce his wife. After some convincing, Sammy finally succeeds in getting Emerson to sell his soul. The terms of the contract stipulate that if Sammy is ever unable to fulfill one of Emerson’s desires, then the contract is voided, which sets up the rest of the film’s plot.

Emerson’s first requirement is revenge against the company that screwed him over. He’s an accountant for a huge department store, and Christmas is coming up. He tells Sammy to steal every item from the enormous store the night before their biggest sales day of the year, deciding that this will ruin the store financially.

This is all fine and good, but immediately Sammy starts to backpedal, because apparently, The Devil has very little power on Earth. He claims that the main thing he can do is teleport back and forth, which seems like a pretty shitty power for a minion of Satan to have. How these demons are ever going to grant wishes of any caliber if all they can do is jump from place to place is beyond me, and that is a major plot point, which struck me as a major flaw.

Faced with defaulting on the new contract, Sammy comes up with a “brilliant plan.” It involves getting other humans who’ve sold their souls to break into the store with him, and physically take everything away, loading all of it onto a helicopter, and then dumping it onto Alcatraz Island. There must be some fine print that forces others that have sold their souls to have to come work in a pinch, which seems like a pretty crappy rule to me.

The rest of the film involves Emerson flip flopping on his wishes, forcing Sammy to work harder and harder, and then after realizing that he won’t get to spend eternity with his pious wife, being let off the hook on a technicality by Sammy, whose just too nice for his own demonic good.

The movie ends with Mr. Bligh chastising Sammy in Hell’s furnace room, where he’s forced to work again, presumably for the long haul. I’m sure had “Poor Devil” become a series, every week Sammy would somehow convince Lucifer to let him try again with some other prospect on Earth.  Sadly, that never happened.

So what do I think about “Poor Devil?”

It starts out stylish and strong, and Hell looks like a neat place. Sammy Davis, Jr. plays a demon that’s a little too sweet for his own good fairly well, and all of the acting is decent. Even Adam West manages a performance that’s not too hammy. Christopher Lee is great, which is not surprising, and the idea of a Faustian TV series is a pretty cool one. The story takes place in San Francisco, and the location shots are also interesting. There are a few fun Satanic references. Very early on , Sammy has a bit of dialogue that references calling The Church of Satan, and combined with the San Francisco location (home to the original COS), those are interesting details. I kept wondering if “Poor Devil” had come about because Sammy Davis, Jr. was an honorary member of the COS, hobnobbing with Anton LaVey at about the same time the film was shot. Who knows?


Sammy Davis Junior Works For Satan – “Poor Devil”(1973)

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of clumsy filler in this movie. There are boring scenes where Sammy consults dead criminals like Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde on the best way to rob a store, and these scenes are just boring. The film bogs down in the middle in general, and the idea that Satan is somehow going to fulfill the desires of anyone, when the only power that his minions seem to possess is teleportation just seems dumb, a bad plot device intended to push Sammy to desperate measures. It also seems ludicrous that an accountant, even a frustrated and bullied one, could be convinced to sell his soul, when the return is basically just being a little more successful at work. That just seems like a lousy bang for buck to me. Maybe “Poor Devil” would have worked better in a shorter format, and that might have been the plan if it had become a series.

It’s not an unenjoyable oddity to watch, but there is a lot of unrealized potential, and combined with the overtly Satanic themes, I’m not surprised that this was a one shot television movie. Still, if you have interest in early-70’s Satanic chic, like the actors involved, or just like kitschy films about The Devil, then you could do a lot worse.

If I gave out stars, which I don’t, I’d give “Poor Devil” 5 broken pitchforks out of 10.

It’s Wise to Walk Away From The Computer Sometimes.

As many of us socialize and interact with each other increasingly online, and less in person, I feel that the way we disagree with one another has taken a turn for the worse.

I spend a significant amount of time on online forums and social networking sites like Facebook, and it’s hard to escape the impression that people are either becoming bigger assholes as time goes by, or are arguing increasingly over differences of opinion. Respectful debate seems to be much rarer than in the past, and I’m always shocked and dismayed at just how quickly a lot of people will take the low road, or allow themselves to become the online equivalent of a screaming psycho just because someone has dared to challenge their opinion about something.

Almost daily I see people go for each other’s throats on sites like Facebook, over politics or disagreements on social issues more often than not.  Many of these scuffles seem to be between intelligent, if emotionally immature people. 

I find myself disliking these folks even when I share their basic values, or agree with their opinions. 

Sometimes, they are an example of “the smartest kids in the room” – a person who is intelligent, but also arrogant, and in love with their own viewpoint. They have little to no room in their life for any opinion that runs counter to their own. You’ll see these folks on both sides of the political spectrum, often at the farthest extremes. They’ve figured it all out, and will gladly tell you how the world should be. Any opinion slightly divergent from theirs is a sign that the person with that opinion is not enlightened or is some sort of nutty Libtard or a throwback Conservanazi.

When these folks are challenged, rather than relying on the evidence to make their case, they will instead castigate the person that they’re arguing with, throwing out insults or using terminology meant to rob their foil of value.  It’s a cheap way to reduce that person’s credibility. A person that feels their point of view is the better one should be prepared to defend it in a rational non-emotional manner. It is a strategy of the weak to just try to shame or shout down another person, unless that person is obviously a racist or something equally horrible.

Yet people throw around terms like “racist” too readily and easily in these arguments. That is an effective way of devaluing an opposing viewpoint, but unless the person you’re speaking to really IS a racist, then it’s a cheap shot.

That’s the thing. Trying to pigeonhole an opponent as being a member of some very broad and disparaged group is a shitty attempt to depersonalize them, and that’s the case whether they are liberal, conservative, or a member by default of some broad group. “Gun Owners” or “Pot Smokers.” Whatever.

Just because a person has a loose affiliation with some huge population of people, it’s rarely accurate to assume that they feel like the rest of that group. “You just feel that way because you’re a Conservanazi gun licker!” Or “Well, you’re a libtard, of course you believe that.” They’re fairly sad attempts to win an argument, and at best, simplify very complicated human behavioral patterns.

So why do otherwise nice and intelligent people fall into these unpleasant interaction patterns?

Because it feels good. Being self righteous about anything feels great, and appeals to the selfish, ego-driven desire to always be “right,” even when most issues are a lot more complicated than simply being right all of the time.

Most people are insecure on some basic level, and forcefully imposing their opinion, which can come across as bullying, feels good to that ego feed.

Throw into the mix an increasingly polarized nation where entertainment and opinion pieces are portrayed as “News,” and people are just itching to fight. And that’s another issue. Yes, some of these folks are unpleasant types that are confrontational bullies in person. But most aren’t. It’s a unique and sad side effect of interacting with each other on the Internet. The fact that we don’t see each other face to face makes us more willing to be mean to each other. It also robs of us some very primal visual cues that have shaped human interactions since day one. We’re more willing to virtually yell at someone online than most of us would ever do in person. We also are less likely to perceive some stranger online as a real person, and to act as if they are just an enemy that disagrees and should be punished.

It’s sad.

The thing is, even when a person has the evidence to prove to most of us that their view is a better one, or at least deserves serious consideration, it’s difficult or impossible to take them seriously when they pepper that opinion with rude assumptions about others, or start throwing around terminology like “redneck” or “libtard.” At that point, the person acting in that manner might as well be an angry baboon throwing feces.

It’s valuable to realize that we can ALL come across like that pissed off simian, because it’s possible to make a good point or to debate well without losing your temper and appearing like an ill-natured child. It takes self mastery to do that of course, so many just never bother.

Finally, there comes a point where a wise person just walks away – There’s nothing to be gained by freaking out, or by going round after round with someone that resorts to cheap bickering or abusive language. What’s the point in that? The chances are that most online arguments aren’t going to change anyone’s mind. Maintaining a certain calm while outlining one’s position  might get the opponent thinking. But if that’s not possible, there is no shame to just leave the conversation. It’s probably healthier for you, and if your position is a good one, outlined civilly, then it will be read later and evaluated against the person that was acting badly.

It’s pretty obvious when some boor derives pleasure in imposing their opinion upon others, but it only works if a person allows them to do it. Just leaving the conversation often leaves the bully with little to say.Image

Pieces (1982) – Mounds of Body Parts, Naked College Girls, and Testicles Crushed… Fun For the Whole Family?

Pieces (1982)

“Pieces” is one of the seedier slasher films from the heyday of the genre. It’s gained a cult following since its release, but also plenty of critics. Although the movie takes place in Boston, it was directed in Spain by Spanish director Juan Piquer Simon from a story written by Eurosleaze veteran Joe  D’Amato, and it shows. Nothing about this film indicates “Shot in the USA using English speaking actors.”

Low budget slasher film veteran Christopher George has a leading role, and Linda Day plays the main female love interest, but most of the other actors and actresses have a distinctly early 80’s European feel to them. Even the locker rooms and other locations look like the Spanish locations they really were.

The story, like most Slasher films, begins with a prologue – in this case, set in 1942. A young boy is caught putting a puzzle together, and his mom freaks completely out because it’s a photo of a naked woman. While she goes ballistic, the boy brutally murders and dismembers her with an ax. The cops that investigate are fooled into believing that a young boy wouldn’t be capable of such an act, so he isn’t a suspect in the crime.

Fast forward to 1982 and someone is murdering and dismembering coeds at a University in Spain…er…”Boston”.

Without going into the intricacies of the plot, basically the grown up version of the little boy from the film’s prologue is chopping up women to make his own human puzzle. That’s really the plot in a nutshell.

So is “Pieces” a good film? No, of course not. It’s a terrible, trashy, and exploitative film. It even looks ugly and cheap, sort of a soft focused “shot on 16mm” look. The blood is too red, everything else is sort of washed out looking.

But is “Pieces” a fun film? Yes, I think so. It’s really violent, but while the director wasn’t shy about laying on copious amounts of gore, none of the effects are particularly convincing. For some reason Euro horror films from the time period tended to be a little more vicious, and a lot more depraved, than their American equivalents. There’s also a lot of violence against women (usually naked or mostly naked) on display. I gave up making excuses for these films years ago. If seeing a nude woman menaced by a chainsaw-wielding guy, and then chopped in two makes you angry, then definitely steer clear of “Pieces.” There are beheadings, stabbings through the head, body parts sewn together, victims reduced to a pile of parts, or cut clean in two…and more. 

None of it is done very well, but the filmmakers really went for the gold in this respect.

Yet nothing in this film is depicted in a way that I can take seriously. Some of the dialogue is surreal in its awkwardness. At one point, a coed waxes on about how there’s nothing better in the whole world than smoking grass and fucking on a waterbed, and the acting throughout this film is cringeworthy.

It’s also hard to take scenes set in 1942 seriously when they include close-ups of a push button phone being used, and even the naked woman on the 1942-era puzzle looks straight out of 1978.

There’s plenty of gore, none of it realistic, a not insubstantial amount of naked female flesh, a ridiculous plot, but lots of slasher movies from the time period contained those elements. Fortunately for anyone watching “Pieces,” the middle section of the story doesn’t bog down and get boring (something all too common within many films of the genre.)

I will add that while almost all of the violence is directed at women in this movie, there is a ludicrous shock ending that remains one of my favorite of all time. After the big reveal of the killer’s identity, the corpse of a woman made from the sewn together parts of many bodies suddenly springs into action (her arm anyway) and grabs the young hero guy’s crotch, crushing his balls like grapes, with a big squirt of blood spraying out. 

Thee is no reason for this weird zombie-like action in the logic of the film. It’s just there “because.” If nothing else, I figure that this scene displays an equal willingness to show horrible stuff happening to males. Almost as if to say “Yes, we hate women, but we hate Men too!”

So if brutality and bad filmmaking aren’t a deal killer, “Pieces” will definitely entertain a fan of early slashers, if for no other reason because the crude attempts to shock us are unintentionally funny in their execution.

If I gave out stars, I’d give “Pieces” 5 out of 10. It’s really a three star film, but goes at the proceedings with a tasteless gusto that earns it two more.Image

The Hole, Or What Heppens When The Abyss Stares Back.

The Hole (2009)

I stumbled across this film on Netflix. Initially, it looked dumb, and I was going to skip it until I saw that it had been directed by Joe Dante. I’m a fan of Mr. Dante’s work, and hadn’t seen anything new by him in years, so I figured I’d take a chance on “The Hole”

The story begins with the Thompson family moving from Brooklyn to small town Bensenville. This move is one of many, and older brother Dane is not particularly happy about being relocated again. His mother tries to reach out to him, but it’s obvious that this is not a new problem. Younger brother Lucas seems happier, or at least more resigned to the move, and while the brothers clash early on, it’s obvious that they share a close bond.

Two things occur quickly – the brothers meet the cute next-door neighbor girl, Julie, and they discover a super creepy wooden trap door in their basement, which is securely locked with multiple padlocks (always a good sign).

Despite the sinister-looking trap door in an otherwise nice and normal looking home, the Thompson brothers manage to get it open. They discover a seemingly bottomless hole that light doesn’t seem to penetrate. After lowering a video camera on a line, they see…something.  Julie helpfully informs them that an old weirdo nicknamed “Creepy Carl” used to live in the house. They attempt to secure the trap door, but it’s pretty obvious that something or things will soon be crawling out of it to wreak havoc on our young protagonists.

The powers of Darkness, or some reasonable stand-ins, do indeed crawl out to wreak said havoc. In short order both Lucas and Julie encounter scary beasties – Julie meeting a spooky little girl (obviously some sort of ghost) and Lucas being attacked by a sinister jester doll.

We soon discover that these are the manifested fears of both kids come to life. A visit to Creepy Carl is in order. He has taken up residence at an abandoned factory, where he has one room that is lit by hundreds of light bulbs. The guy clearly doesn’t like the dark. Old Carl (played by Joe Dante regular Bruce Dern) immediately loses his shit when the kids tell him about opening his trap door (Bensenville must have very loose house inspection policies, for that to have not been discovered before the home sold). Carl starts screaming about “The Darkness,” and how it’s going to come kill all of them.

The kids beat a quick retreat, and a short time later the Darkness does pay Carl a visit. We don’t see what comes for him or what happens, but we can assume it’s a terminal case of “Bad Shit.” Regardless, it’s the last we ever see of Carl.

The kids piece together a theory that the ancient evil contained within “The Hole”  brings the fears of anyone that stares into it to life. It’s apparently a literal version of staring into the Abyss long enough for it to stare back at you…or something vaguely Nietzschean in nature.

While Lucas and Julie manage to defeat and dispel their living fearbeasts, we are left to wonder when Dane’s will make an appearance. When it does, the reasons for the Thompson family’s multiple moves is revealed, and there is a showdown within the endless nightmare world contained within the Hole.

I’ll leave it at that.

So how is “The Hole” over all? It’s not a perfect film, but I enjoyed it for the most part. Joe Dante is a great director, and he establishes mood and atmosphere very well. The central kid characters are portrayed very well by the actors playing them, and it was refreshing to see a film where the teen and preteen characters seemed like they could be real people – not too movie-star attractive or unnatural in some way. They have believable interactions and relationships with one another. It was also a treat to see Dante regulars like Bruce Dern and Dick Miller (in a cameo as the pizza delivery guy). So there are some good things happening in this film.

On the other hand, the story is pretty simple. I like the concept, and simple can work fine when handled well (consider a movie like “Suspiria” for an example) but none of the scares are particularly scary. There’s a pretty nice set piece involving a swimming pool, and I like the fact that the scene takes place in bright daylight and is still effective, but genuine scares are pretty scarce in this film.

The ending confrontation was OK, but also a bit of a let down. I just expected a bigger “Big Bad” or something. None of the other creeps from The Hole were any better.  The ghost girl had an interesting back story, but just wasn’t very scary, and the evil jester doll…how many times are we expected to be scared of an evil doll? We’ve all seen that handled in a more sinister manner than it is in “The Hole.”  

So it’s a mixed bag. You get realistic and like able main characters, some appearances by cult favorite actors, and a slightly new take on the old “Our worst fears come to life” plot device, so “The Hole” struck me as a fun enough way to spend an hour and a half. If I handed out “stars,” I’d give it 6 out of 10. Add another if you tend to like Joe Dante’s movies. I didn’t pay attention to the rating this had, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was PG13. There’s no really strong or violent content, certainly no nudity, and I didn’t even notice much cursing. I might have just phased out any profanity, as I have a potty mouth, and barely notice that stuff anymore.

If you like well-made films with some creepy content, and aren’t put off by a horror film that’s not really scary or violent, then “The Hole” might be right up your alley.Image