I pounced in Cathie's way and jabbed my hand out towards her like a T-1000's stabbing weapon, watching as the look in her eyes blink-changed from a happy "I'm so excited for tonight" to a frightened "Is this how it's going to end for me, in the aisle of my favorite movie theater, at the hands of a fat weird-looking douchebag with bad breath?" I then identified myself with a rapid-fire volley of smashed-together mumbles, and she was very nice about the whole thing. After our chat, she went to her seat and I proceeded to horrify my fellow audience members by going Cookie Monster on my large bag of popcorn, with nothing resembling even an inkling of shame.
Brian Quinn of the Grindhouse Film Festival came down for the introduction, telling those not in the know about how Phil Blankenship was like the DJ Screw of the New Bev's All Night Horror Show (in that he was The Originator of it), and told everyone what to expect -- 6 movies (including a "secret film"), trailer reels, and shorts. Then the lights went down and the fun began with a bunch of trailers for films about teens getting owned by power drills, blades, and fangs. What's up with all these dead kids, I thought to myself, before our first feature of the night started: Strange Behavior (aka Dead Kids).
If you hated the film adaptation of Dreamgirls, then you'll probably like the opening scene of this film because the writer/director of that joint (and co-writer of this joint) Bill Condon, gets stabbed in the fucking head as Victim #1. Why? Maybe the killer was psychic and wanted to spare Condon the fate of directing The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. No, it's far more complicated than that, and the chief of police (played by Tanner '88), is getting all confused about these teens getting killed in manners that don't involve the usual teen-killers like drugs, drunk driving, asphyxiation games, or stupid videotaped stunts. It gets to where he has no choice but pop open yet another beer and clip his dirty toenails right next to the kitchen table, even though he's literally a foot away from all the food and beverages.
His son is played by Billy the Kid from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, and his entrance came at just the right time because while I was watching Tanner '88 shave in the bathroom, I was wondering when I was gonna see some naked man-ass in this film. Well, in struts Billy and his tight cheeks to save me from non-buttock boredom. Anyway, the son wants to go to a local college but his dad would rather that he attend an East Coast university, probably because he's tired of the sight of his naked son in the house and wants to have the place to himself. I mean, Jesus, can't a man shave in his own bathroom without catching a glimpse in the mirror of his son's approaching dong? For Christ's sake, kid, I'm trying to bang Louise Fletcher over here and you're muckin' up the works -- I can't make any headway as long as your head's getting in the way!
You'd think it was a third-world country or an ethnic-heavy neighborhood with all the kids killing kids here, except this is Wholesome White God-Fearing Peopleville, U.S.A. (played by New Zealand), so obviously something's amiss, right? Can it have something to do with Fiona Lewis and her fellow godless liberal scientists conducting experiments at the university, paying these teens to take some new drug that helps make them feel smarter, more assured, and pumps up their energy while turning them into insufferable assholes and yet isn't cocaine? I don't know. I guess you'll have to see the movie to find out.
This film was directed by a cat named Michael Laughlin, but I'm calling bullshit because I'm convinced that David Lynch secretly made this movie between The Elephant Man and Dune. It has that Blue Velvet borderline-languid dream feel with everything in this small town looking very idealized/picturesque and yet it's all unsettling, and that's even before the Tangerine Dream synths kick in to either lull you into a false sense of comfort or to creep you the hell out because Something Bad May Or May Not Happen In A Moment. It's also very Lynchian in that the characters are all such weirdos and that the film has a wacky sense of humor.
Shit, it's not even a wacky sense of humor so much, more of a wacky sense of everything. There's a party scene with a bunch of costumed teens getting their drink and dance on, to an endlessly looped track of Lou Christie's "Lightnin' Strikes". We cut between the various teens doing their thing, and it builds up to a shot where the camera pulls back to take in the entire room as all the dancers suddenly go into a synchronized routine to the song. The movie went flash mob on us!
A lot of the dialogue and interaction between characters is very funny too; one of my faves is a scene with a possibly hungover Tanner talking in his office to one of his very, very old staff. It's a nicely-composed wide shot (of which this film has many) and done in one long take -- then some 1950's detective-looking motherfucker suddenly enters the frame. Tanner looks up at the guy, and says in a more-annoyed-than-startled tone what all of us in the audience probably thought at the moment: "Who the hell are you?" We all busted out laughing. I don't know, I guess you had to be there. Or better yet, just find the goddamn thing and watch it, because it's an awesomely weird flick that lives up to its title while also managing to be very creepy at times. And if you like movies where people stab other people in the slowest possible manner, well, there's that too.
(Also, there's a scene where some dude pisses blood and all the men in the audience audibly winced/moaned in sympathy while the girl a few seats down from me was all HAW HAW HAW.)
We then watched a Three Stooges short titled "If a Body Meets a Body" (and if any women laughed during this, they were drowned out by the men's guffaws), a trailer reel that included some William Castle productions, a couple haunted house flicks, and What's Up, Tiger Lily? (because seeing Woody Allen smugly ogle a young Asian woman is kind of a horror movie in and of itself).
Then came our second feature, Night Monster, which is not about a mad scientist declaring to his creation that he intends to kill himself by the end of the night. Instead, it's about some old dude in a wheelchair named Ingston whose bad condition is now worse, thanks to the three shitty doctors who looked after him. That's fuckin' Obamacare for you. Poor Ingston had a hard enough time having to be carried up and down the stairs like he's Uncle Jack from Arrested Development, but now thanks to these three medical stooges, he can't even move his arms and legs anymore.
So he invites the docs over to his estate and already you know shit's gonna go down because Bela Lugosi is the butler and one of the guests is introduced wearing a turban and you Just Fucking Know what that means. (It means he's a yogi, that's what it means.) Meanwhile, Ingston's mentally fragile sister is tired of finding blood all over her pad, so she calls up a female doctor because only she can understand and I just realized what I wrote so let me clarify that by "pad", I mean the mansion she lives in with Old Man Ingston.
On the way to the estate, the woman doctor (haha, women doctors, that'll be the day) has some car trouble but thankfully there's a man around to give the helpless dame a lift to the old man's place. She brings the lug along because you never know when you'll need a man to take care of business, if you know what I mean, amirite ladies? (No, thank you, I can't possibly have another Cosmo.) They arrive and have dinner with the old cripple, his quacks, and the terrorist, then they're shown a demonstration by the now turban-less yogi that is basically some hocus-pocus involving materializing things with the use of the mind and vibrations and some other bullshit. It's impressive and all, watching homeboy teleport a skeleton from Egypt into the old man's den, but it always results in leaving behind fresh bloodstains on the floor, so don't try this at home unless you've already had your place Scotchgarded, otherwise you are fucked.
But not nearly as fucked as the people staying at old man Ingston's place; throughout the night, something is sneaking around and indulging its inner Wayne Brady by choking these bitches. The local head pig, Cap Beggs, shows up to investigate, and he is quite possibly the best/worst fictional lawman since Chief Wiggum. This crotchety old screw is far more interested in arresting someone -- anyone -- than actually having hard evidence. Besides, due process is for Commies. He's also a real asshole to everyone; he has no tact, this Beggs, and it's a real hoot to watch. It's too bad they never made a spinoff series with this guy, with more opportunities for him to do a shit job at enforcing the law while making smart ass remarks to those around him. But as entertaining as it is to watch him put in so much effort in accomplishing nothing, it's also disturbing because I bet Beggs railroaded many an unfortunate Negro in his heyday. After all, it is 1942 and Beggs is a very old man, so he's probably very old school in the worst way.
I'd say Beggs shares My Favorite Character honors in this flick with Ingston's chauffeur, who I'm just gonna refer to as The Walking Erection because that's what he is, the horniest hetero on both coasts. This creep is always trying to mack on some broad (no matter what age she is), and if he can't cop a feel or swap spit, he'll get by with some good ol' peeping tom action. Were it not for the existence of cavemen long ago, I'd say that hulking sex fiend was the man who invented the concept of Date Rape.
Night Monster is a good old-fashioned mystery/scare flick; I dug the cast and the atmospheric setting (big mansion, dark roads filled with fog, unseen asshole dogs that don't stop barking), and while it never scared me, that's less a reflection on the film itself and more a reflection of the time it was made. It's rather quaint, the way they used to scare people at the cinema. The director was a dude named Ford Beebe, which is a name that still makes me laugh when I remember the way Joel and the Bots would make fun of it on MST3k.
After some more trailers, our programmers took us to the Great White North to show us how the Canadians get down with their horror in Curtains, starring Samantha Eggar as an actress who wants the title role in "Audra", which I assume is some Oscar Bait biopic about the lady who played Mrs. Roper in "Three's Company". If so, I had no idea Mrs. Roper was super crazy; how did poor Norman Fell handle that shit behind the scenes? So nuts is this Audra character, that Eggar feels she must do time in an asylum for a while, in order to truly get to know what it feels like to have a slippery grip on The Real. Unfortunately for her, the only other person she let in on this plan is played by that bad John Vernon, and if you're looking to trust your fake insanity over to the man who not only betrayed muthafuckin' Lee Marvin in Point Blank but also tried to screw over Delta House, then you're dumber than me, my friend. And I'm really fuckin' dumb.
Vernon plays a big deal director named Jonathan Stryker, which is also the name of Curtains' director. I can only assume it was a cute way for the director to not take credit for the film. But why? Is it because he or she thought it would add an extra level of mindfuckery to the proceedings, or did he or she think the movie was no good and didn't want to be connected to it? (I'm leaning towards the latter.) While Eggar is doing the Girl, Interrupted thing and soaking up perhaps a little too much residual craziness from her fellow nutters, Stryker invites five actresses to his winter home to audition for the part of Audra -- and by audition, I mean he fucks with their heads and then just straight out fucks them. Stryker's awesome. He's probably one of the many illegitimate children left behind by Night Monster's chauffeur, because he's definitely his father's son in the libido department, except he's not nearly as forceful on the ladies. Stryker's more of a Chicks Dig Jerks student in the art of scoring.
It's too bad Stryker didn't count on the asylum having a subscription to the Daily Variety, because that's how Eggar finds out about his little 5-girl-shuffle; soon she escapes from the nuthouse and is on her way to Casa de Bastard for a little talk with the man. There's also a freaky-masked psycho killer going around and ensuring that our starlets will never warm another casting couch again. These two different plot threads might possibly be related to each other.
I can't say I cared much for this film, because I didn't. For the most part it felt pretty disjointed, like it wasn't sure what kind of movie it was going to be. Some elements feel less organic with the plot of the movie and more like they were placed there by rote, because that's what they had in other successful scary flicks. Masked killer? Check. Fake-out nightmare scene? Check. Scary dolls? Check. With the exception of an offbeat scene involving Our Psycho Killer ice-skating towards a potential victim (who somehow can't hear the approaching skater), I actually got impatient every time Curtains would go into slasher mode, and much preferred watching the scenes between the actresses and Stryker. I wanted that movie instead.
Curtains is also like a rogue cop in that it plays by its own rules, completely changing its focus on certain characters willy-goddamn-nilly just because it can; there's what felt like a 10-minute sequence focusing on another actress where we learn quite a bit about her -- she gets off on having her boyfriend break into her apartment in a stocking mask and forcefully take advantage of her, among other things -- then the movie dispatches with her and moves on and I realized that her character ultimately made no real difference in the overall plot of this story. Curtains featured a genuinely scary mask, Michael Wincott, and an interpretive dance routine that has to be seen to be believed -- yet still underwhelmed me. And I doubt that any additional follow-ups to the scene where one actress nervously paws another actresses' breasts would've helped the movie out. But I would've certainly appreciated the effort.
The fourth film was Neon Maniacs, which is absolutely dripping with 80's ambience -- and that's a good thing, as far as I'm concerned. The film takes place in San Francisco, and you have these things...creatures...uh, I don't really know what they are. The narrator calls them Neon Maniacs, and they're a group of mostly zombified killers wearing varying shades of ugly; you have a samurai maniac, a soldier maniac, a Native American maniac, a Cruising maniac, a reptilian maniac that is all mouth and eyeball, a maniac who kinda reminded me of Emil in Robocop after the toxic waste incident, a Missing Link maniac, etc. They appear to kill only for killing's sake, using weapons like swords, M16s, nooses, arrows, and other things I'm sure I left off. I don't know what they do with the bodies of their victims afterward, only that they gaff 'em away and leave behind puddles of slime. They also have their own trading cards and live under a bridge, despite -- or maybe in spite of -- water being deadly to them.
Anyway, Sharon Stone's chick from Basic Instinct plays a newly single high schooler named Natalie, who goes out for an evening fuck-around at the local park with her friends in their van only to become the Final Girl in the first 15 minutes of the movie after our Maniacs show up and murder everyone else -- effectively saving these popular kids from the inevitable horror that is life after high school.
But alas, the horror is merely beginning for our girl because she has to deal with asshole cops who don't believe her, the Maniacs trying to finish what they started (they don't like unfinished business, or she's just too fuckin' pure to pass up), and the angry/desperate relatives of her dead friends demanding answers. Even her own school kicks her out for an indefinite period of time because having her around is just too much of a drag, which I'm sure does wonders for her self-esteem. I think the biggest bummer from this whole situation is that her parents are out of town and she has this big house all to herself, awesome swimming pool included. But now that her friends are dead and no one at school wants to hang with her, who is she gonna invite over?
At least she has this delivery boy from the local deli stopping by to deliver groceries and keep her company while taking her to the movie theater (when Natalie tells him "No horror movies", the audience booed). He's the "hero", in that he's the guy accompanying our girl as they both run for their lives from the Maniacs. Aside from that, he's pretty goddamn ineffectual in his designation.
Meanwhile, there's Paula, a fellow student who believes Natalie's story because she's seen these Maniacs as well. As far as I'm concerned, Paula's the real hero of this movie. She's a horror/sci-fi geek with monster masks and movie posters on her bedroom wall (she was into Blade Runner way before all of you) and is usually wearing a cap from the USCSS Nostromo. Paula also likes to make movies with her friends on one of those giant old video cameras that requires a separate shoulder rig for the tape deck. She even has an impressive linear video editing setup in her room to put together her little masterpieces; two tape decks, two monitors, and an edit controller. I would've killed for that gear when I was her age.
I dug this movie; it's lots of cheesy fun, not meant to be taken seriously (for the most part, anyway; there's a phone call between Natalie and her recently deceased friend's mother that kinda harshed my buzz), and like I said earlier, the 80's fashion and music alone (there's a high school dance that felt like it took up a third of the running time with love songs and hair metal) make it worth a watch. The film never explains who or what the Neon Maniacs are, or why they do what they do, which is fine because it kinda works in a Phantasm kind-of-way -- even though Phantasm does it a whole lot better and is a genuinely scary film.
Another thing Phantasm did better is the ending; that film ended in a way that can pass for both a disturbing closure or a to-be-continued deal. Neon Maniacs, on the other hand, not only pisses it all away, it closes out on a note that is less of a question mark and more of a shrug, like "I guess this is where we'll end it" and my initial reaction to that was FUCK YOU, MOVIE. But I've since chilled out about it, and want to warn anyone interested in checking this flick out not to expect anything satisfying after the high school dance sequence.
The fifth film was also the eagerly awaited "secret film"; Quinn told us that it was a lesser-loved film from an Italian director and hadn't been screened around these parts for about seven years. But first we watched one final trailer reel that included some Argento, Fulci, and Lenzi joints plus Torso and Cemetery Man, followed by an animated adaptation of "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allen Poe, with James Mason doing the voice-over.
The secret film turned out to be The Psychic, directed by Lucio Fulci, and it was at that moment that a sizable portion of the audience got up and left. Which is not to say that The Psychic isn't worth a shit -- oh no, quite the opposite. I've already seen this film three times (VHS, 35mm screening at the Egyptian, DVD), so it's safe to say that I like it. I'm guessing most of the walk-outs were from people who were already well into fighting off sleep and would only stick around if the mystery flick was some crazy, mind-blowing, once-in-a-lifetime madness that you'd have to be a damn fool to miss. But after realizing that, no, the secret movie isn't Valentine, they were like Fuck This Shit and left.
I left too, but only because I felt that perhaps 4 A.M. was not the best time to watch this rather quiet and deliberately paced mystery joint, not to mention that staring at the beautiful Jennifer O'Neill for 90 minutes carries with it a risk of hypnosis to the point of being lulled into a tired state. I went for an early morning stroll and came back for the last 20 minutes; in the spirit of that action (besides, this post is already too long), I'm gonna step out for a bit and link to a far better review (that I agree with) from the homegirl over at Seven Doors to Cinema. I'm trusting you to come back here when you're done. Maybe I'll come back as well.
The final film of the evening was Frank Henenlotter's Frankenhooker; his Brain Damage was the secret movie last year, so it's kinda like a natural progression or something to have it wrap up the marathon. This movie stars the guy from King of New York, the one who learned the hard way that nobody rides for free; he plays Jeffrey Franken, "a bio-electro technician, whatever that means" who has been kicked out of three different medical schools, so in the meantime, he pays the bills working for New Jersey Electric. The film begins with the man giving his father a remote-controlled lawnmower for the old man's birthday, which Jeff's fiancee promptly demonstrates by having it run over her and chop her up into a hundred pieces (not on purpose).
The accident puts Jeffrey in a bad place and now he's doing the mad scientist thing, having kept some of his fiancee's body parts (including her head) and looking for a way to bring back his beloved Elizabeth Shelley with the use of his crazy bio-electro knowledge. Whenever he's stuck in a rut, Jeff busts out with his power drill and bores a hole into his skull, comparing what he does to (more normal) people doing drugs. He actually makes a good point, because you're pretty much doing the same kind of damage to your head in the long run, so it's a matter of whether you prefer your damage to be more internal or external. After a couple of trepanation sessions, Jeffrey finally comes up with a plan, but he's going to need more body parts to put his Humpty Dumpty back together again -- so why not hit up a few hookers across the bridge and use them for raw material?
I'm glad Henenlotter decided to have fun with this story, rather than play it straight; it's a very funny movie that keeps its silly tone throughout the running time and never feels gruesome or gory despite all the severed limbs, exploding bodies, and freakshow genetic combos. If anything, I think it's all the tits, ass, and whore-fucking in bathroom stalls that got this film its R-rating (unrated on home video), not the violence. I remember the VHS box had a quote from Bill Murray, something about "if you can only see one movie this year, see Frankenhooker", which now reminds me of an interview he did a few years back where he talked about how Kung Fu Hustle was like, one of the greatest films ever made. What can I say, the man has great taste.
There are two performances that stood out for me in this flick; the first is the muscle-bound pimp Zorro, played by some raza who also showed up in Brain Damage as a friendly muscle-bound naked man in a shower room. Here, he gets to wear clothes and act tough, except it's clear that he's not much of an actor. And yet, his performance (which favors getting the lines out correctly over saying the lines convincingly) works in some strange neo-realist kind-of-way. I'm particularly a fan of this spiel he delivers near the end of the film, where he goes on about how he's going to get his ladies back into ass-selling mode with the help of "some of this sweet, sweet rock!" In the hands of a better actor, that wouldn't have sounded as awesome, if that makes any sense. Good job, Zorro the Pimp!
The second one, goes to the fuckin' MVP of this film, and that's the titular hoo-er herself, played by Patty Mullen. I'd put her interpretation of Frankenstein (which is what she's doing, no matter what they call her in this movie) right up there with Karloff & Lanchester, man, no bullshit. But whereas those actors were giving us some prime dramatic shit, she's kicking ass in the comedy department. Mullen plays the reincarnated Elizabeth with all of these hilarious facial tics and ultra-spastic body movements, and every word that comes out of her mouth is spoken as if she was built without an indoor voice. Her eyes are wide open but it's clear that she isn't really taking anything in as she repeatedly propositions everyone she comes in contact with. Mullen's performance is a fascinating thing to watch, and it's too bad there isn't as much Frankenhooker in Frankenhooker as you'd expect from a movie with the title of Frankenhooker.
(The movie, by the way, is called Frankenhooker.)
And so ended another All Night Horror Show at the New Bev. After, my friend and I went to a restaurant for a post-movie marathon breakfast; while waiting for our pancakes, he noticed that there was no more syrup at our table and looked for a waitress to ask her for some. I told him that we wouldn't need any syrup, because we watched the opening credits to The Psychic. He slowly nodded, then gave me a long look, before finally asking "What?"
It wasn't the first time I got that reaction from someone, and I sadly reckon it won't be the last.
Click here for Cathie's recollection of the marathon.