Thursday, November 4, 2010

A fake country-music song by Robert Altman is one that feels way too real for the hatefully sober and sensitive

After picking up my ticket this past Saturday night for the 5th Annual Dusk-to-Dawn Horrorthon at the American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre, a zombie walked up to me. Rather than begin the expected process of chowing down on my flesh or tearing open my skull to get at the chewy brainy goodness inside (joke's on him, I say), he was actually very friendly with me. Either that or he wasn’t in the mood for Mexican. He told me about the 35mm print of Fright Night, and how great it looked, and I told him about how I’d only seen it twice -- once when I was 6, and the second time when I was 13 (around 5 am on Cinemax on a Friday morning). It was then that I discovered of my rare ability to bore the shit out of anybody, even the undead. So I went inside and sat down.

Before showtime, the audience did what they could to distract themselves from the acoustic droning of some morose self-fellating-songwriter bullshit music coming from the speakers. Even the zombie made a comment to the audience about it, the kind of annoyed criticism disguised as a good-natured joke. I wanted to locate this depressed Cat Stevens-wannabe singer, throw him out of a goddamn window, and watch him fall to his death as he flails his oversized arms like Dick Jones at the end of Robocop. I could imagine Elliot Smith listening to this shit on that fateful day, while his girlfriend was in the shower. Hey, I like a lot of lame shit too, but I'm not inflicting it on anyone -- headphones are my friends. Texas is the reason why the President is dead. It soon dawned on me that we were listening to acoustic covers of songs by The Misfits. And I like The Misfits. Wow.

The music finally ends and Grant comes out to do the intro. I haven’t been to the Aero since ‘07, and it was nice to return and to see a familiar face like Grant doing his thing. Yet somewhere along the way, the guy appeared to trade his McConaughey-esque demeanor for one more befitting of Al Pacino, post-Dick Tracy. The microphone worked and so did the speakers, but it didn’t matter, Grant was going to bring you Death Wish At 120 Decibels. Every word from his mouth was never spoken below the volume of Total Fucking Carnage and Nuclear Fucking Weapons as he paced the stage back and forth, up and down, like some dynamite big-shot comedian in the 70’s. I will hopefully never witness the sight of Dane Cook and Robin Williams having a night of wild, sweaty unprotected man-sex, only taking breaks in between orgasms to suck in Scarface-sized piles of coke and to watch that scene in There Will Be Blood when Eli Sunday was giving his fire-and-brimstone sermon -- but after tonight, I certainly know it would sound something like what we in the audience experienced.

Then came the first of many giveaways; the man hurtling bags of Reese’s Pieces, Tootsie Pops, and DVD copies of Door Into Silence at people like he was goddamn Nolan Ryan. You want free prizes? Be careful what you wish for, assholes. It was scary. Some guy and his date turned towards me and we shared a WTF look between us, worried that the next prize would have our name on it. You never hear the bullet that kills you, which is why my eyes widened as I turned back to see a DVD of Nightmare Castle heading towards me at 110 mph. It was by the purest grace of God that I managed to avoid having it smash through my head; I ducked and it hit the seat instead, bouncing back to the floor where I immediately dove for it and snatched it away before my partner in fear had a chance (sorry buddy, every man for himself).

Based on what I experienced at the ’07 Horrorthon and this recent one, it appears to be a tradition to play random clips and short films created specifically for the event between films, rather than movie trailers. The short films were by Mr. Damon Packard; they were a couple clips from T.J. Hooker where Packard made fun of the endless credits that continue way past the start of the show by providing his own. One involved some poor girl having a bad trip on the high school roof, the other involved Alex Rocco and his boys shooting the fuck out of a van that Shatner and Adrian Zmed were inside of, but thankfully they survived and Shatner put that Moe Greene motherfucker in his place. The non-Packard clips included:

-- a commercial for Red Roof Inn that past attendees of the Horrorthon are familiar with by now, everyone joining in with "multi-tasking" or "remote"

-- a marmot trying to catch Alan's attention

-- a really badly acted skit on the show Homework Hotline, couldn't find that one, but I'll link the one that played previous Horrorthons.

-- constant loops of what appeared to be a commercial advertising various food products

-- some song from some fuckin’ kids show about juggling and how you have to go about it “one by one” or “step by step” or something

-- a report on ABC 7 news about coyotes prowling the streets; some lady saved her dog from being taken away by one by threatening to “Eat. It.”

-- another quick snippit of a ABC 7 news report about how apparently the British like to fuck.

-- this clip from a movie called Going Bananas

-- a quick 5-second commercial spot begging the viewer to stop using dirty catheters

-- “Kids Talkin’ About Death” or something like that, where kids did just that. This was either real or some fuckin’ Wonder Showzen type of shit. One kid talked about how screwdrivers reminded him of death because they can be used as a stabbing weapon.

-- a clip from some 70’s or 80’s television show where this old guy who had Vaudeville written all over him would douche up the first class section of an airplane with his neverending joking and mugging and flirting. This is the kind of guy who makes it a point to be the life of the party, yet he probably has an alcoholic wife at home and a daughter who doesn’t want to talk to him. Anyway, Vaudeville ends up getting a stroke, which is God’s way of saying How Dare You Make Lemonade Out of Life’s Lemons How Bout You Chew On This Muthafucka, I'm God Nigga, Don't You Dare Enjoy Your Shit Life.

-- a video called “Strong on Crime” hosted by an ultra-intense former law enforcer named Sanford Strong. He extolled the virtues of having plans in mind to avoid possible crimes being done to you and your family. The main rule he tries to instill in his rapt audience -- while wildly over-gesticulating at every given opportunity -- is “My safety first, their feelings second”. In other words, if you’re in a car and some dude walks up to you asking if you can give him a jump because his battery died, you hit the fuckin’ gas and leave the motherfucker. Who cares if he’s assed out, he could’ve been a carjacker trying to fool you. I kept expecting him to Shake The Crime Stick, but alas, he did not.

If there were any more clips, I don’t remember them, which is odd considering that these clips were played over and over again, between every film, all night long. Sometimes they’d repeat the same clip, and then repeat it again, and then repeat it again, and then repeat it again. It was like they felt that after hooking us up with free Peet’s Coffee and Monster Energy Drinks and tea and Oreos and chocolate chip cookies and chips and pretzels and deli sandwiches and Little Caesars Pizza (did I mention this was all free?) in addition to the free DVD’s and candy being fired at us during the breaks, lots of stuff, all for free -- we also deserved some kind of PSYOPS style of punishment for putting them out like that, so that by the end of the night we would be brainwashed enough to be subservient to them. It must have worked, because right before the last movie, Grant had the zombie return with some more DVD’s and told the audience that the zombie would only give them to those who begged enough for them, and like good little sheep, we did. And that’s how I scored my 2nd DVD of the night, Psychomania.

The first film of the evening was Fright Night, starring Herman’s Head and Marcy D’Arcy. Herman thinks there’s a vampire living next door to him, but I think he’s just jealous because the new neighbor is played by that smooth motherfucking Chris Sarandon. Goddamn, this guy’s awesome, he’s got that 80’s good-looking cool about him with his nice 1985 clothes and his awesome tape deck stereo system taking up a couple shelves. He’s also got this tall goofy-looking dude who reminded me of homeboy from Truth or Dare?: A Critical Madness living with him, and you figure these dudes probably live a life of tagging chicks at the same time from both ends while high-fiving each other.

Unfortunately, Herman’s Head is right; Sarandon is a vampire and it’s not easy convincing anyone -- not his girlfriend Marcy D’Arcy, nor his future gay-porn-acting best friend -- about the poor hot prostitutes who are walking into his neighbor’s house in miniskirts and high heels, but exiting in garbage bags. So he goes to see awesome Roddy McDowall, playing a dude who’s like Vincent Price or Peter Cushing except his film career hit a skid somewhere and he’s now hosting a local horror movie show on television. This was a fun film back in the day, when I saw it on pan-and-scan video, and many years later, I think it’s actually gotten better with age and is even more fun to watch. The movie’s over 20 years old, making it old-school, but I wonder if it felt old-school even back in ‘85. It’s funny and scary, and it’s beautifully shot too (the print looked great).

It’s also realistically acted, these actors (not to mention Tom Holland’s writing/directing) make the characters come off like real human goddamn beings; Herman’s Head isn’t some annoying asshole prick, he’s just overly-curious about shit. Marcy D’Arcy is understandably frustrated with the motherfucker for concentrating on his neighbors when she’s finally ready to put out, but she tries to be civil about shit when he starts crying Vampire, she doesn‘t immediately get all Get Out You Crazy Creep. Gay Porn Guy is the comic-relief nerd who seems content with his status in high-school life, but later that smooth Chris Sarandon calls him on it, and he’s right -- it’s all a protective shield from being ostracized for being different, for being a weirdo, and that’s when the people in the audience start giggling because you can look at that scene as the Gay City Mouse opening up a new world of acceptance for Gay Country Mouse. Even the vampire isn’t above such human frailties; I really dug how his character wasn’t so much Evil as he was just a real asshole -- and you can tell he enjoys being an asshole. He’s at peace with what he is; he has to kill people in order to drink their blood and survive, why should he put up any airs like he’s a decent dude? Decency left the building a long fuckin’ time ago. Might as well go with it, play it to the hilt, and enjoy yourself.

During the 1st break, I saw that someone showed up dressed as the dog from Beethoven. What a fantastic costume, I thought. Very realistic. Then I got closer and saw that it was actually a real St. Bernard, with a harness that declared it a “Safety Dog” or "Service Dog" and asking us humans not to pet her so she can do her job. A couple of people Aww’d and the owner said it was OK to pet her and then gave the dog (Phoebe, I believe) the command to chill. Phoebe wasn’t a seeing-eye dog; I didn’t hear all the details but she was needed to help with another kind of disability the owner suffered from. Phoebe eventually rested on her side and stuck her paw out for one of us to shake. Phoebe knew not to pass up a good thing, so she rolled onto her back so that her paws were up in the air, happily accepting belly rubs from people. Phoebe the Dog was awesome.

The 2nd film of the night was Don’t Look in the Basement, a 70’s film that takes place in a sanitarium out in the middle of nowhere (an old 2-story house, actually) where all the doors are opened and unlocked and the patients are allowed to roam freely. This is the kind of bullshit hippie idealism that gets a motherfucker killed, and that’s exactly what happens to the head doctor when he hands an axe to a patient and goads the poor schmuck into chopping wood and then makes the mistake to turn around to brag to a nurse about how awesome he is.

Since the asylum is down 1 head doctor and 1 nurse (who tried to quit but was then fired, the hard way), the head nurse is now in charge (and the only staff member left). Why she won’t call the authorities and tell them what happened is entirely up to you to figure out, you’re smart. What she didn’t expect was the arrival of Hello Nurse, this hot young blonde who was hired about a week before the head doc got the literal axe. Hello Nurse should be a model or a porn star but she’s probably got this stupid I Want To Help People deal going on, so she’s doing this kind of gig. She meets the various nutters -- there’s some asshole who looks like the offspring of Richard Simmons and Marissa Ribisi when she was in Dazed and Confused, a nymphomaniac who can‘t get any play from anyone, some asshole who either used to be a judge and still thinks he is or never was one and thinks he is, some chick who thinks her doll is a baby, some John Coffey Magical Negro type who has a thing for popsicles, and I don’t remember who else. It’s a crazy place filled with crazy people.

Basement was a pretty decent film, one that I don’t think deserved as many catcalls and comments throughout the running time. I mean, it definitely has it’s WTF moments and flaws, but I think the problem here (one that continued throughout the night) was that those weird pre-show deals with the ALAN ALAN ALAN marmot and the repeated catheter commercials pretty much set the tone for the evening, and that tone was Let Your Douchebag Flag Fly, Baby. You rile up the audience to the point that they’re singing along with the juggling song or going “Remote!” and “Mulllllti-tasking!” and then repeat the shit ad nauseum? Of course they’re going to carry that behavior over to the movies themselves. I think the audience eventually started going with Basement near the end, when it all came together and the main character realizes what we kinda already guessed about an hour ago. The laughter and cheering at this point no longer came from an ironic standpoint, it came from a Hey I Liked That standpoint. Also, the nurse was very pretty.

The 3rd film, Candyman, I caught once during Thanksgiving weekend in ‘94 with my cousins and I dug it. 16 years later in 35mm, I’m going as far as to declare it a goddamn genuine horror classic. Holy shit, was this a good movie! If you’re like “Whaaa?”, then you’re probably thinking of the sequels. Forget those sequels, the 2nd one was ehhh but at least it got Bill Condon’s career going -- it led to him making Gods and Monsters and to us watching Jennifer Hudson sing her goddamn fat heart out in Dreamgirls (a scene I am still teased about to this day for digging). The first film, on the other hand, aged like a fine wine -- and the cork on the bottle is Ted Raimi's brief appearance as a motorcycle jacket-wearing badass. His HEY MAN! I AIN'T GOT NO CHANGE, MAN! scene in Hard Target is still my favorite thing he's done.

Some people think composer Philip Glass is a piece-of-shit no-talent and I am not one of those people. I think he’s awesome. Maybe I’m a fan because I’m like the Philip Glass of conversations; always repeating myself, always restating statements that I had already stated many times previously, the same shit, the same words, over and over in these fuckin’ arpeggios of pointless stories and anecdotes I tell. It's a similar reason as to why I won't eat crab, I'm a Cancer. That makes no sense to me either. Anyway, the audience seemed to dig Glass too, because they applauded when his name came up (they also applauded Clive Barker’s name, and yet, only a smattering for writer/director Bernard Rose).

That fine Virginia Madsen plays a graduate student, which is an awesome way to not have to go look for a job, besides, her man Xander Berkeley is paying the bills with his job as a college professor. Anyway, she and the future director of Eve’s Bayou are trying to go out and finish their thesis on urban legends, basically saying that they’re all bullshit because they don’t have any sister’s boyfriend’s uncle’s roommate telling them not to look in a mirror and say “Candyman” five times otherwise Sammy Davis Jr. comes out and guts you like you were a fish who said something about his eye. 

There are jump scares and the occasional gory kill, but what I really dug about Candyman was the increasingly hypnotic feel it had going on (Philip Glass' score! Tony Todd's voice! Virginia Madsen's face! And titties!) as the film went on. I’m also a sucker for movies that put the main character through that horrible, maddening I’m Not Crazy, Why Won’t Anyone Believe Me peril too. It’s also got some things to say about class/race differences; you got a pretty white girl like Madsen traipsing through the projects of Cabrini Green without a care in the world, like she never heard the last part of Naughty by Nature’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (Ghetto Bastard)” before. Then you have the whole backstory about Candyman, a real fucked-up tale about the son of a former slave who grew up with money (daddy invented some kind of shoe-making thing) and attended the best schools, yet made the mistake of getting some white girl pregnant, and you know what that means. You know what that means. We wouldn’t have a movie otherwise. At the very least, you gotta give it up to Madsen and that badass Tony "You know how this shit works?” Todd for allowing live fuckin’ bees put into their mouths and all over their faces. What the fuck, that’s some shit you gotta pay me extra for, or at least give me the weekend off.

As I helped myself to some free Little Caesars Pizza and pocketed extra cans of Monster in my coat, I noticed two pretty girls standing together, one dressed in all white, the other dressed in all black. The only thing betraying their color-coordination was their brown shoes. I also noticed the pretty girl working behind the counter, wearing a black leather jacket. It was tough, but between those 3, I designated the leather jacket concession stand girl as my Imaginary Girlfriend for the night. Shut up, asshole, I know I’m lonely, I don’t need you snickering that shit behind my back.

The 4th film was Bloody Birthday, which I've seen before and I’m not really that big a fan of. It’s OK for what it is, I guess, but I hate movies about evil kids killing people, probably because they always end with them getting away with it while smiling and because I think the idea of “evil kids” is fuckin’ redundant at best and annoying at worst. Little bastards. I always want to see them get the shit beat out of them. I know he's not an evil murdering kid, but I loved that scene in Friday when that bike-riding asshole kid gets his ass whipped by Chris Tucker. HA HA HA.

So we have 3 kids, all born at the same time during a solar eclipse, and ten years later on their birthday they suddenly start to indiscriminately kill motherfuckers. Sheriff Daddy? You dead, sucka. Hot Sister? No prom for you, hussy. School teacher? School’s out forever, bitch. They’re like junior mafia hitmen, they’ll take what they can get and make it work. If they can’t shoot you with a gun, they’ll strangle you with jump rope or bash your head in with a shovel or impale you through the fuckin’ eyeball with a goddamn arrow. The coldest badass of the group would probably be the nerd in glasses and Members Only jacket, but my fave would have to be the blonde girl, she was really creepy. The Blues Brothers dodged a bullet with that girl. Anyway, this was a good-looking 35mm print and if you like seeing adults getting owned by kids, then by all means, acquire the print, unspool it and rub it all over your naked body. Me, I prefer Home Alone, even though it's sorely lacking in Julie Brown nudity, which Bloody Birthday has.

There was an on-stage skit between movies, where a booming voice on the speakers called Grant out for his behavior, then they crowned the evening’s Mr. Horrorthon. Some guy was pulled out of the audience and put into a robot-like costume made of cardboard boxes and decorated with flyers and candy boxes (I think, I was pretty far from him). Then Grant sang the Mr. Horrorthon song while the winner showed off his unwieldy costume and took the box of prizes that came with the honor.

Hey, real quick -- Hooray For Boobies. I’m just now remembering that all the films, or damn near all the films, featured titties. I know we can see naked breasts on the internet now, shit, that’s probably the tamest thing one can look up on the Internet, nowadays. But what Mr. Skin and all these other assholes fail to realize is that there’s something magical about seeing jugs projected onto the silver screen in 35mm. It’s a different thing altogether, even different from seeing them in real life, where you would then fumble with them and constantly apologize while she looks at you with disdain and boredom, right before wondering aloud whether or not she should try being a lesbian. Wait, that's just me? OK, fine.

The 5th film was Phantasm and this is where I invite hisses and booing after admitting to never having seen it, nor any of the sequels. I don’t know, it just worked out that way. I did see one scene from Phantasm III on cable where Reggie Bannister meets up with these two militant black chicks, and looks-wise, one was the Mary and the other was the Rhoda -- and the Mary immediately gets killed off! I was like Fuck That Bullshit and changed it to whatever was on USA’s Up All Night instead. I was a different person back then -- I hadn’t seen the original Phantasm yet, I did not have the proper respect.

So this kid wants to know what the fuck is going on at the local mausoleum; there’s coffins minus the bodies, small Jawa-like motherfuckers are running around, and there’s this scary old man roaming the place and picking up occupied coffins like they were paperweights. He tries to get help from both his Knight Rider-looking brother and some dude who drives an ice cream truck (played by the above-mentioned Reggie Bannister) who's a friend of the family.

From what I understand, the ice cream guy gets to do a lot more in the other Phantasms, and if it’s true about the shit he pulls off in those flicks, then I consider him a blue-collar badass and that makes him A-OK with me. Ash from the Evil Dead series started off the same way, paying the rent by working at the local S-Mart, and while he was a little bitch in the first one, he becomes All Man in the 2nd and a fuckin’ God by the 3rd. Then you have big-rig driver Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China, totally out of his element when introduced to Lo Pan, the Wing Kong, and the Chang Sings, but by the end of the movie, when the chips came down, he did his part and paid his dues in spades (the check was in the mail, remember?).

Phantasm might not make the most sense storywise, but it’s got a very unsettling feel from beginning to end and that is what ends up working for it. There’s an odd, otherworldly feel to the proceedings; everything is so fucking quiet and spare and underpopulated, there’s hardly any music (which is moody and subtle for the most part) and even the brightly-lit daytime scenes feel dark (if that makes any sense). Plus, you never know for sure what’s a dream and what isn’t -- something weird and/or fucked up will happen to someone, and then it’ll cut to the next scene with that same character going about his business, like nothing ever happened, never acknowledging what happened before. It’s like the director had an outright religious hatred of those moments in movies where a person wakes up in a cold sweat after a nightmare, he hates that shit and he sure as fuck won’t have that shit in his movie. I like that.

Writer/director Don Coscarelli seems like a really nice guy, but with Phantasm, it’s almost like he’s sitting behind you in the movie theater, smacking you in the back of the head once he senses any confusion in you, screaming “Whaddya want, you want me to draw ya a fuckin’ roadmap? Get da fuck outta heah!” and then he storms off, angry at your stupid wanting-to-be-spoon-fed ass. On his way out, the ghost of Lucio Fulci looks down at Coscarelli, smiles, and declares “Thatsa my boy!” even though Fulci was still alive at the time Phantasm was released. This was a pretty fuckin' awesome flick, perfect viewing in the dark at 5 in the morning. Can't wait to be disappointed with the sequels.

They played a video of our zombie co-host shambling around the Santa Monica Pier, then we moved on to the last film of the evening, Cemetery Man (or Dellamorte Dellamore everywhere else) starring Rupert Everett and directed by the guy unfortunate enough to be in the car with the chick that pukes her intestines out in The Gates of Hell (aka The One Where The Chick Pukes Her Intestines Out), even though you'd think it was directed by Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi with all the inventive camera movement going on.

Before he became the Gay Friend Of The Stars (from 1997-2001), Everett played the caretaker of a cemetery that's plagued with the pesky problem of the undead. It seems that some of the new inhabitants rise from their graves after 7 days, which means that Everett has to either shoot them in the head or split it apart with a shovel to put them back to bed. When we meet Everett's character, he's already been long used to having to deal with this bullshit, and the only reason he hasn't taken this Living Dead problem with the mayor is that filling out the paperwork is a bigger pain in the ass than just shooting the zombies. Plus, he's afraid if this issue becomes public, they'll close the cemetery down and he'll be out of a job. If that doesn't make things worse, his partner is some fat bald mongoloid that made me feel like an asshole because everyone else in the audience is going Awww when he grunts something and I'm like You Disgusting Piece Of Shit Get Outta My Face.

It took me a while, but eventually I was able to settle in with this one. A big part of it is that Cemetery Man's one of those movies that doesn't have anything resembling a Three Act structure -- not that it's required, I'm just saying that in some of those cases, the movie ends up feeling kinda aimless and all over the place; just a string of random vignettes that end up making the movie feel much longer than the running time. Once I told myself not to look for a plot (besides, there's plenty of plots all over the cemetery), I was able to sit back and trip out on Everett, because ultimately this is a character piece, and what an interesting character he is! He's got women problems (all the women he gets involved with are played by the same actress) and somewhere along the way, it gets kinda heady when he starts wondering what's the point of it all -- his life, his job, the world in general. The way he decides to deal with this existentialist funk is pretty fucked up, but thankfully, the movie plays it in a mostly comedic sense (and a pitch black sense, at that).

This was one of those flicks that I liked, but didn't love -- yet as the days go on, I find myself thinking about it more and more, and my opinion of it growing higher as a result. I'll probably check this one out again. It's gross, absurd and funny -- but it's also really fucking sad. At least to me it was. The final shot of the movie kinda fucked me up with the thoughts it left filling into my empty head, especially given some recent shit that's gone on in my life. Listen, Cemetery Man, I mean no disrespect, you're a good movie and I know Martin Scorsese is a big fan of yours, but fuck yo' mama.

The lights came up, and the 5th annual Dusk-To-Dawn Horrorthon came to an end. It was now Halloween morning. There were free donuts in the lobby to accompany the coffee and tea. It was a good time, even with Grant's over-the-top This One Goes To 11 hosting. Whatever. I'm just being a wet blanket; nobody else seemed to have a problem with it -- aside from the guy sitting next to me with his date. Maybe I'm just becoming one of those old guys telling you kids to keep it down (I already told you kids to get off my lawn). Sigh. Whatever. When it comes down to it, I enjoyed 6 movies (well 5 out of 6), free coffee, free snacks and free pizza, and I walked out with 2 free Monster Energy Drinks and 2 free DVD's and my way of saying thanks is to point out that maybe our gracious host was enjoying himself too much? Yeah, I know what I am.

I didn't take a donut, because I wanted to leave some room for a meal at a nearby pub I wanted to try out. It was nine in the morning. Inside this place I found some Brit expats at the bar, watching soccer on the monitors (they call it "football", how cute!) and the waitress was wearing a sexy cat costume and kept calling me "love". For some reason, all I could think about while I tucked into my Full English breakfast and downed my beer was the movie Frenzy. I don't know why.