Somewhere along the way, according to Jim Wynorski, the B-movies started getting A-picture budgets. He should know because he's directed a bunch of B-movies, as well as C-movies, D-movies, and straight-up Z-movies (those are usually the ones he does under one of his many pseudonyms). He's made movies that have played on the big-screen as well as the fuckin' SyFy channel. This guy's been around, so I wouldn't take his word lightly. And as part of Phil Blankenship's week of programming at the New Beverly Cinema, Wynorski had a night devoted to 3 of his movies. Me, I like Wynorski, but more importantly, I like having something to do on a Saturday night, so off I went.
It was close, but unlike the Stallone triple feature, I managed to catch the first movie of the night, albeit 5 minutes into the fuckin' thing. This meant I didn't catch the intro, trailers or anything else that may have preceded The Lost Empire. I walked in late and tried to make out any available seats in the darkness, while on-screen, a blonde woman was taking an older Asian gentleman's credit card for services rendered, I guess. Then 3 masked ninja-types show up, the old Asian man shoots them with his revolver, and they deflect the bullets through the use of a spinning ninja-star thingamabob. Then they give him a good killing, complete with slow-mo toss through plate-glass window. Then the camera dollies over to this statue of a tiger or something with glowing jewel eyes. The movie doesn't get any less nutty after that.
Even if I didn't wait a few days to write this, I'd still probably be at a loss to explain just what the fuck I saw. There's a crazy opening crawl that fills you in on all the backstory, something about an alien race long ago and two jewels called The Eyes of Avatar or something, that if brought together will give the owner the power to rule the world or some shit. That's just the opening crawl. Then we're introduced to this supercop chick, who has a nice body but is very 80's in that she has kind of a mature face -- attractive, but mature. I would say this chick, the lead actress -- hell, all the leads, are mid-to-late 30's. That's something you don't see anymore; you make this movie today and she's got to be 21 at the oldest.
So this supercop chick, she's introduced saving a classroom of little kid hostages from getting shot up by 3 dudes who I guess just felt the need to shoot little kids that day. She busts in on her motorcycle and takes them out, including the leader, played by this Latino actor who pretty much was the go-to guy for playing scumbags. Because back then, if you wanted scummy, you'd cast brown. I don't remember his name, but my favorite role of his was in Speed, where he didn't play a scumbag, he played the proprietor of what looked to be a mom & pop coffee joint. "Jack, you forgot your muffin." I felt proud for my raza brother right there; he politely told Keanu he was about to take off without his muffin, he didn't pull out his filero and threaten to cut his wife's tetas off like 99 percent of roles require him to. That was nice.
Supercop chick's brother is an average cop, and he happened to be at the scene of the crime at the beginning of the movie. Unfortunately for him, he got a nice sharp instrument through his chest for his troubles, so after telling his sister about how the Devil does in fact exist, he dies. I guess the Devil made a deal with some asshole and the deal involved the asshole having to kill one person a day and sending his/her soul to Hell, and in exchange, he can live forever. Or something like that, I really didn't get it then and I sure as shit don't remember now. So off she goes to hook up with some Native American chick (was it me, or did this chick appear like a ghost or something? she had some weird optical effect lasers introducing her, I'm not sure) and then they go off and hook up with some prison chick (who is introduced fighting a fellow prisoner who is dressed up in a leather corset and boots and looks like someone you'd have to Double Dragon your way out of in a video game in order to get to Level 5) and off they go to take part in some kind of Enter The Dragon tournament on some crazy rich dude's island for some kind of ultimate prize or something. Somewhere along the way, a disintegrating ray/laser cannon shaped like a cock and balls figures into the plot. For real. It's like Wynorski (who also wrote and produced) figured since this was his first movie, he was gonna throw everything including the kitchen sink. I know this because that's what he pretty much said during the Q&A. But at least he knows the shit is ridiculous, because then he'll add touches like the cock & balls laser cannon having a UL safety label on the side.
The right-hand henchmen is played by Robert Tessier, this big mean-looking bald motherfucker who was one of the go-to bad guys for movies up until the early 90's when he decided to fuck up his career royally by dying. I'm kicking myself for not asking Mr. Wynorski about this during the Q&A, but Tessier's character is introduced with super-bushy eyebrows, then in his next scene, the eyebrows are gone. I figured they just fucked up continuity-wise, or decided that shit looked ridiculous and maybe they couldn't afford to film that shit again so they solved it by having a looped line thrown in where one of the girls says something like "He probably Nair-ed his eyebrows". Genius! Anyway, the main bad guy is played by Angus Scrimm from the Phantasm movies and the author of a bunch of liner notes and shit, and I think he's supposed to be Asian in this movie, I don't know. I'm going to be writing I Don't Know a lot with this movie, probably.
God bless Wynorski, and God bless moviemaking back-in-the day; The Lost Empire is just one more example of showing tits in a movie just because you fucking can. Two girls are fighting in a mud pit? Bam -- titties! Having naked girls in a movie for no real good reason is about as dying a cinematic artform as using miniatures for special effects. The girls back then, I guess they didn't get too Serious Actor on us, they seemed to be down for whatever as long as there was a goddamn camera on them. There was a long lingering ass-shot while one chick was taking a shower, and I thought I heard a girl in the audience mutter "gross", which makes absolute perfect fucking sense that a girl would say that.
It was also a glorious time in the 80's if your leading man had a porn mustache, because no one gave a shit about it, apparently. You could also get away with the most horrible of gay jokes; Porn Mustache Boyfriend tries to give Supercop Chick her purse before she leaves on her flight to Kung Fu Island, but it's too late, she's gone. He walks off, but not before a couple of supergays walk by and give him an approving glance or something, I'm sure "girlfriend" or a variation thereof was used. You get it? Because gay guys carry purses!
I appreciated the goofy tone of The Lost Empire, but overall I didn't care much for it. This is a rare case where I think a movie actually suffers on the big-screen; I think the best way to watch this flick is on a Sunday afternoon circa 1988 on some far off UHF channel with halfway decent reception. That makes sense to me, at least.
After the movie, I went to the concession stand for some of that insanely reasonably priced popcorn and soda. Michael Torgan was manning the counter, and is it just me or is he always this nice a person? I don't come to the New Bev as often as I'd like (I might as well live on the other side of the world, since I'm not in L.A.) but it seems like every encounter with Mr. Torgan, I've noticed how well-tempered he is. He always says "Thank you" too, after you pay for your snacks. I don't know about the rest of you fuckin' hipsters, but that Thank You means a fucking lot to me.
Because some other like-minded theaters, they're awesome and all, but I never feel the friendliness that I get at the New Bev, for the most part. I don't wanna start some shit, and I'm gonna restrain from naming fuckin' names, but some motherfuckers at these places come off like they have a fuckin' disdain for your ass and I'm like, Motherfucker, just because I'm at a midnight show doesn't mean I'm going to be one of those Look At Me assholes fucking shit up, treating everything like a Tommy Wiseau movie. Don't make up your fucking mind about me already, I just want a fuckin' Diet Coke. I go out of my way sometimes to show I'm one of the good guys, being super-polite. My voice even gets higher when I do this, I don't know why!
I wish they were more like Michael Torgan or Phil Blankenship, who seems to be supercool to people as long as they're not using their cell phones, and it's then and only then that he'll kick your ass out and suck the soul from your eyeballs until you become a dessicated husk to be tossed in the back alley for the winos to sleep on or something -- and rightly so! But other people in other places, they've condemned you as soon as you walk into that motherfucker. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I just carry with me the aura of the Asshole. I certainly write like one, that's for sure.
So before the next film, Chopping Mall, there's an intro with Wynorski, Steve Mitchell (co-writer) and two of the movie's stars, Kelli Maroney and Tony O'Dell. Maroney, I remember from Night of the Comet, and O'Dell I remember from Head of the Class and The Karate Kid. There was lots of talking over each other, particularly from the spunky Maroney, who at times gave the proceedings a vibe similar to that of having dinner with a chatty, tipsy women and her slightly embarrassed husband (in this case, slightly embarrassed husband played by Jim Wynorski). I can make that judgment because usually in group conversations, I'm the Kelli Maroney of the bunch, and if you were to ever see me and Ms. Maroney headed your way, RUN motherfucker, because you will die before you get a fuckin' word in edgewise. During the intro/chat, some dude joined his lady friend behind me and said to her in a gargly Max Hardcore type of whisper, "you smell delicious". Fuckin' A, brother.
The movie begins, and the last time I saw it was also the first time I saw it; it was the late 80's and that shit was on HBO late at night. I knew about the movie before catching it on cable because I saw the VHS box at the local video store, and I was all MOM LEMME RENT THIS ONE and of course she was like No Way. My parents were usually cool about me watching R-rated movies, but horror films were out of the question, probably because they wanted to get some sleep without dealing with my dumb scared ass tugging at their sheets, keeping them up. Thing is, that cover is a straight-up fucking lie; Chopping Mall isn't a horror film, it's more like a hide-and-seek chase thriller. In fact, no one gets chopped up, but they do get some hardcore robot-style ownage. Yeah, it's about killer robots.
Man, Wynorski is fuckin' racist against all robots; in The Lost Empire, a robot tarantula gets smooshed by the supercop chick and in Chopping Mall, our heroes have to deal with these 3 killer robot assholes. Or it could just be a coincidence. They're supposed to be the newest high-tech thing in mall security, but wouldn't you know it, one of those thunderstorms that contains evil murderous energy ends up striking the main computer and now they're out of control. Lucky for them, there's a group of young mall employees who happened to pick that night to have a little fuck party after hours, leaving our Killbots with plenty of fresh meat.
It's kinda like a slasher movie too in that we all get introduced to the fresh meat and get to know them, and like a slasher movie, these kids' names are all Buck and they're here to fuck -- except for two innocent, virginal, nerdy types, so I guess you can see how this is gonna play out. Difference is, unlike most slasher flicks, I kinda liked most of the characters. Most, I said; there's two very annoying chicks (et tu, Barbara Crampton?) and one douchey dude and they happen to be the first ones dealt with, and in appropriate ways too, so right on. After that, I wanted to see the rest make it to the end, even that Heineken-drinking, Michele Soavi-looking motherfucker, so you see, there's actual suspense going on in this fuckin' movie. I actually got excited a few times during this flick, even more than when I saw it as a kid.
Chopping Mall's manages to be exciting, fast-paced and overall just fun as hell to watch. It's cool to watch people run around the Galleria and shoot shit up, and better yet, it's cool to watch motherfuckers get owned by Johnny Number Five. There are quite a few in-jokes to add to the not-so-serious vibe; a pet store is known as "Roger's Little Shop of Pets" (Roger Corman's company was behind this pic) and a sporting goods store known for its large assortment of assault weapons is called "Peckinpah's". Lots of movie posters throughout the mall too, the pizza joint Maroney's character works at prominently displays a one-sheet for The Lost Empire (wait a minute, I just saw that!) and a few more are found in the employee restrooms and stockrooms.
A few familiar faces show up as well; Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov show up as their Bland characters from Eating Raoul, Gerrit Graham plays one of the tech guys watching over the robot computer system (what the fuck were those guys eating, by the way?), and muthafuckin' Dick Miller shows up as a janitor. This guy rules, but according to Wynorski, was not easy to get along with. I hope that's just a one-time deal and maybe he was just having a bad day or Wynorski wasn't giving his A-game or whatever. I'd hate to find out that Dick Miller lives up to his first name. I'd have to ask Joe Dante next time I see him in my fantasy dream world where I hang out with cool people.
After the movie, there was a Q&A and I don't remember much about it. Plus, I'm tired. So before I move on, I will point out that Wynorski brought up a mini-Killbot on-stage and if I had a cell phone worth a shit, I'd share pictures, but I don't, so I won't, and you'll just have to imagine it. I then went to use the restroom, and saw a guy who looked like Adam Rifkin but probably wasn't. While I got rid of the excess Cherry Coke in my system, I could overhear someone chatting up the co-writer, Steve Mitchell. Turns out, Mr. Mitchell also worked as 2nd unit director. He talked about how the movie took 22 days to shoot, and a few of those days involved him shooting stuff with the robots, some of the air-duct scene and what was really funny was -- FLUSH! went the toilet in the stall behind me and I couldn't hear shit after that. I should've just waited for him to go inside the restroom and ask him there. Yeah, that wouldn't be awkward. Better yet, I should've stood right behind him as he pissed and then say in quiet amazement "It's just so big!" and see if he got all Vincent Gallo in his reaction. These are the kind of thoughts that go through my head.
They had some really cool trailers, but the one that stood out was for a 1982 Roger Corman produced Alien ripoff called Mutant (aka Forbidden World). Holy shit, what an awesome trailer! I tried to find it on YouTube, but I can only find the German version which seems to be the same except some fuckin' former Nazi keeps interrupting to narrate the fuckin' thing, ruining the tone of what I remember being a completely dialogue-free trailer. Creepy as fuck, too. I really want to see the movie now. I can't wait to be disappointed.
There was one more Q&A before the last film of the night, the 1996 Corey Haim/Alan Thicke Die Hard-in-a-High-School flick Demolition High. I zone out for most Q&A's because these things have great potential to give you the douchechills and I try to keep those to a minimum. But I do remember a few things being brought up; this was a movie that was intended to go straight-to-video but was still shot in the 1:85.1 ratio for foreign markets, and the screening of this 35mm print (all 3 films came from Mr. Wynorski's personal collection) would make it the official theatrical premiere. When asked how Corey Haim was like, Wynorski's response was something like "Never speak ill of the dead", and then I guess he could feel the audience get all Ohhhh Shiiiit, so he then went on to explain that Haim was a good dude but you just had to more-or-less babysit the guy and stay on top of him to get what you needed from him. I don't know if he was backtracking or clarifying his statement, but there you go.
So Corey Haim plays the new kid in a small-town school, he's from the Bronx or some shit, so he knows how to take care of himself. Some douchebag bullies try giving him shit and he makes them look like outright asses in return. Lucas is not taking shit from anybody. He's just trying to get by and stay out of trouble, but a misunderstanding leads him to the principal's office and we have a return appearance from Gerrit Graham. This fuckin' guy keeps a gun in his drawer, talking about how he took it from a student and had him sent to prison, yet all I can think is "whaaa? they let you keep that gun?".
Whatever, it really doesn't matter because there's more important things going on; a group of garden variety terrorists (complete with hot terrorist chick) have taken over the school and thankfully it's right after classroom hours, so only like 20 students and faculty are taken hostage. The leader of the terrorists is that dude from The First Power and I think he played a mutant kangaroo in Tank Girl and he has that odd way of speaking where sometimes a slight hint of accent will come out yet you have no fuckin' idea what kind of accent it is. Maybe it isn't an accent; I remember an interview with David Arquette where he talked about how sometimes he'd get so nervous, he'll pronounce words with a tiny bit of what he called "a Mexican bandit" accent. I've seen Jennifer Tilly do something similar in interviews too. But most importantly, I've done it from time to time. I have a tape of a video I had to do for a class, and at one point I pronounced "dressed" as "draysed". I don't know what that is.
So the cops show up, and they're lead by the awesome motherfucker who wrote the theme song to Diff'rent Strokes, the great man who raised a family that included Christian motherfucker Kirk Cameron, drunk-driving motherfucker Tracey Gold, and all-around motherfucker Leonardo DiCaprio. I'm talking about Alan "Because what happens in Vegas, should be happening to you!" Thicke, and he's here to kick ass and take names. Well, not really. He mostly stands around drinking/spitting out coffee and putting up with Kober's demands. It also turns out Thicke is Haim's father, who moved here so his son could stay out of trouble. Eventually Thicke becomes Sgt. Al Powell to Haim's John McClane, as they keep in contact through phone or radio. I noticed that Haim would call his dad "Pops", which reminded me of Fast Getaway -- except Haim would always call his father in that movie "Pop", but if you ask me, he should've called him Steve, as in Steve Perry, because that's who that motherfucker looked like.
Early on, while the terrorists are taking over, they find the principal and stick a gun in his face. The principal just about pisses himself, and it's kinda funny at first. But then I started thinking about it, and decided that Gerrit Graham was actually doing a very realistic portrayal of how most people would react to staring down an automatic. I mean, we can't all be Joe Hallenbeck in a situation like that. His character, although minor, has quite possibly the closest thing resembling an arc in the entire movie. Dude's kind of a dick to Haim, and comes off like he's probably that way with all the students. But at one point, he sacrifices his life to save a couple of the students. Goddamn, that's a big deal, and a wasted one. He took a bullet for those assholes. As the terrorists tossed his corpse out the second-story window, and all I could think about was how those kids aren't even going to remember him, let alone what he did for them, by the time they're getting hummers in college. Can't blame them, though -- who wants to remember their dead principal while getting a hummer in college?
I'd seen Demolition High before, back in the late 90's, and thought it was OK for what it was, and for what it was intended for; a late-night watch on cable. But I think watching this on the big-screen actually improved the experience. It's still an OK flick, but watching it with an audience really added to it. Stuff that was merely amusing at home, wound up being fuckin' hilarious with a crowd. Some things that I hadn't paid much attention to before, really stood the hell out, particularly the character of Bennie. Bennie fuckin' rules. Bennie is a dude who works at the town's power plant, and his job appears to be always standing by the phone. Every time the guy in charge needs to get in touch with someone downstairs at the floor, there's fuckin' Bennie, already on the phone. The audience loved Bennie, and every time we sensed a possible Bennie moment, you can feel the crowd getting hyped up. Nothing was more disappointing than when a power plant scene didn't lead to Bennie.
So the movie ended, and I had to take another post-Cherry Coke break. I noticed a couple guys standing in front of the restroom, and I had to be sure, so I asked one of them if they were waiting in line. He said yes, then went on to say "The director's in there producing something, I'm sure." Then he looked over to another friend who was passing by and flashed a big smile, all proud like, saying "Did you hear that? That was good!". Wynorski then stepped out and went up to the projectionist booth, where I can hear him sincerely thank the projectionist for doing good work. You see that, people -- that's a class move.
Speaking of class moves, someone either shit him/herself or gave out the most horrific of farts right there in the lobby/concession stand, because that unfortunate scent started filling the air. I considered going over to Mr. Wynorski and thanking him for showing up and bringing his prints, but that smell was going to make things way too awkward. So I left and decided to breathe in the far more pleasant in comparison scent of cigarette smoke instead.
3 days ago