Saturday, May 28, 2022

All Chili Burgers Are Bastards

"Because I'm a pussy" is one answer, I suppose.

Another answer could be "Because I'm afraid of catching COVID”.

But the one that feels the most true to me would have to be: Because I'm afraid of catching and then giving COVID to somebody else, specifically someone with an immune system best described as "lower-tiered".

See, I do have faith that being vaxxed and boosted will keep my symptoms to a passable level of unpleasantness, were I -- excuse me -- when I catch Da Rona.

(By the way, it's nice to know that I still have faith in something, right?)

Anyway, the question to the answer I gave at the top of this tirade is this: Why do I feel hesitant about attending -- let alone buying a ticket to -- the American Cinematheque's Sunshine and Noir movie marathon at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, which at that moment -- Saturday, May 14th, 10:19 am -- was to begin in T-minus 1 hour and 41 minutes?

Having found an answer to that, another question followed: Should I stay or should I go?

A couple quick clicks, a shave, and a shower later, I became the answer, and I was on my way to the freeway. I slowed to a stop at the left turn lane of the intersection, with only a Honda Civic ahead of me. The arrow turned green, but the driver was too busy looking down at his cell phone. As a believer in honking the horn only as a last resort — for example, to tell someone “We're about to crash!" or "I'm about to run you over!” — I flashed my lights. No dice.

He must've really been into whatever was on that phone, that must’ve been a really funny TikTok. After another polite Euro-style flash of the high beams, the light turned yellow, leaving me no choice but to give the inattentive driver a good ol’ ring from the Armenian Doorbell. Sure enough, that did the trick, and the man jolted up in his seat and made the turn. I followed, and as the arrow turned red, I stepped down on the gas, so as not to find myself blocking traffic.

As I entered the straightway, I was surprised by how fast I passed the Honda Civic. See, with the exception of an on-ramp or two, I haven't really opened up and let loose with my now eight-month-old vehicle. Not that I was looking for that. While my car is known for having some extra pep in its step, it was ultimately more of an aesthetic choice for me. I'm a cruiser, not a racer, I just wanted a daily driver that made it clear to everybody else on the road that I have a mid-life crisis and a tiny penis.

But there I was, having placed a wee too much weight on the gas pedal, and I was zooming. It was a safe run, though, because other than the Honda that I just gapped, no other vehicles occupied this four-lane road, just mine. And it was then that I heard someone whisper from the reptilian, little-dicked part of my soul, and it whispered ”Go faster".

I never fully understood Stephen King's novel "Christine" until that moment. But it possesses you, causes you to think differently, act differently. At that moment, I gave in and upgraded from a standard-level douchebag to a Douchebag First Class. I became what I formerly detested -- and I didn't give a fuck. With even more weight on the pedal, I was now going 65 in a 35. I was overwhelmed by the sudden speed, but in a good way, and for the second time in my life, I felt like I was in a Fast & Furious movie.

(The first time, by the way, was about 20 years ago, when I was at a store in Echo Park ordering a tuna fish sandwich with no crust, and an aggravated gentleman strongly recommended that I take my business to Fatburger, which I thought was helpful, but then he called me a “faggot”, which I did not think was helpful.)

Yes, my brother and sister, I was definitely living my life during this quarter mile stretch, and I found myself growing more and more excited, more and more confident, more and more happy. Oddly enough, my penis was turtling itself within my crotch, but what am I gonna do, buy another car?

No, of course not. Instead, I was about to let out a most feminine yelp after glancing over to my rearview mirror. Because that’s when I noticed a small black & white dot that rapidly grew bigger and bigger until it became the form of a police cruiser.

I took my foot off the pedal, but I didn't hit the brake; I felt that would've been too obvious. No, dummy, just slow down naturally and hope for the best. 65 went to 55, which was still much too fast here. But no lights yet, even though the cruiser got even closer.

And that's when I saw it: A dialysis clinic up ahead. Just as I could make out the driver's mirrored sunglasses and salt & pepper mustache in my rearview mirror, I made a hard left into the parking lot of the clinic and screeched into an empty spot -- with the cruiser still behind me. I grabbed my N95 and my phone, got out of my car, and made a brisk fast-walk for the entrance of the clinic. I fumbled my mask over my face while pretending to talk on the phone, mumbling something about my poor mother or my poor sister or maybe the both of them, sprinkling in the word "dialysis" here and there, loud enough for the cop in the cruiser to hear me as he slowly passed by.

I stepped into the lobby, which thankfully was empty, thereby saving me the absolute guilt that would come with seeing the faces of the genuinely ill -- people whose difficult situations I was effectively making a mockery of in order to save my stupid ass -- and I looked back to see the cruiser exiting the parking lot, and getting back to prowling the streets, in search of something darker and more innocent to asphyxiate.

A few minutes later, I went back to my car and proceeded to drive to Santa Monica in a matter more befitting a safe Saturn owner, instead of a douchebag in a Dodge.

After finally finding a parking spot in this Permit Only neighborhood, I strolled down Montana Ave, enjoying the beautiful sunny day while overhearing such sidewalk cafe exchanges as "You need matcha"/"I don't do matcha" before arriving at the Aero, where I showed proof of vaccination, my I.D., and my ticket. 

This was my first time back at the Aero since October 2019; the place looked the same except for some sanitizer dispensers here and there. All of the volunteers and staff were masked, while it was more of a 50/50 thing with the attendees.

It was a very good turnout, but it wasn't a sold-out show either, and so there were plenty of options for me to sit. Before the show started, I took the opportunity to go outside and snap a couple shots of the marquee and the posters, because if you don't take a picture of something, did it ever really happen? I snapped a few shots while overhearing a volunteer telling a curious passerby about today's marathon: Six horror films from the 1980s that take place in and around Los Angeles. 

Unlike the annual Dusk-to-Dawn Horrorthon held at this establishment, "Sunshine and Noir", which was co-presented by the film screening group Cinematic Void and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was not an all-nighter. Instead, this would begin at noon and end by midnight.

(By the way, the name "Sunshine and Noir", is a reference to author Mike Davis, who has written about Los Angeles in various books, articles, and essays. In his book "City of Quartz", Davis describes how depending on who you ask, the city is either beautiful or ugly, sunshine or noir.)

The show began with a short film consisting of clips from various L.A.-set horror films from the totally radical 80s, with Missing Persons' "Walking in L.A." on the soundtrack. Then, James Branscome from Cinematic Void stepped onto the stage and asked us how we were. We gave a polite round of applause, and then he accused us of not having had our coffee yet and made us give him a louder reaction. He must've thought it was Grant Moninger day. It ain't Grant Moninger day is it? Nah man, it ain't Grant Moninger day. So while everybody else cheered louder, I pretended he was Elia Kazan receiving his honorary Oscar and I was Ed Harris and Amy Madigan.

Branscome then introduced a lady by the name of Wynter Mitchell-Rohrbaugh, who was the curator for this event; she talked about growing up in Los Angeles during the 80s, and being entertained by the many horror films she watched on VHS during that period, while being more or less traumatized by the Night Stalker killings that occurred around that time. This combo of fictional and non-fictional slashing in the City of Angels created a "culture of fear" that set the tone for the rest of her life.

She's not alone. I mean, I'm sure I'm around the same age as her, and I feel I had a similar personal upbringing with movies and the world around me -- and I think she's right in that many horror films of that era that took place in our grand metropolis, were also reflections of what all of us in L.A. -- even the very young -- were seeing, feeling, and more importantly, fearing.

I think the first and last movie of the marathon are more like accurate reflections, while the films in the middle were more like funhouse distortions, which is to say, they might be skewed but they're working from something real. And that's why I also agree with Mitchell-Rohrbaugh's belief that "Los Angeles has never been more Los Angeles than in these films".

She then talked about how horror is her favorite genre, and that watching a horror movie every day helped her get through this pandemic -- not that it's over, of course -- and then she thanked us all for coming out to enjoy these films together, before calling out to the projectionist to "roll it".

The first film was John Carpenter's They Live, the 1988 action/sci-fi/documentary starring Roddy Piper as Nada, a drifter who arrives in Downtown Los Angeles, looking for work, only to discover that aliens are the reason why the gap between the haves and have-nots has become wider. It turns out E.T. is the CEO of a multi-galaxy conglomerate that is exploiting our planet and turning it into a third-world, uh, world.

With the help of technology that disguises their formaldehyde faces and allows subliminal messages everywhere, They not only live while we humans sleep, but they also make sure that we remain divided with distractions and disinformation. Some humans in power are well aware of this -- because they were bought off -- and the police are no help because, well, they're the police, they've always been the jackboots on the side of the elite, ready to deploy at a moment's notice, regardless whether the elite get around in Rolls Royces or UFOs.

(Besides, it was never the cops' job to protect people anyway, just to hold them back while some monster goes around shooting their kids for 45 minutes.)

Keith David co-stars as a fellow prole named Frank who's just trying to make a living for his family in Detroit, and his character starts off trying to school Nada on how -- to quote a character David played in another movie -- "the poor are always being fucked over by the rich, always have, always will". Nada, on the other hand, is neither cynic nor defeatist, he's a believer in the American Dream and the concept of working hard in hopes of a better life.

Yet later in the film, after Nada has discovered the truth and is trying to share this info with Frank via a pair of sunglasses that allows the wearer to see the aliens hiding among us, Frank wants none of it. So badly does he not want to know, he actually puts up a fight with Nada that lasts so long that we in the audience couldn't help but laugh each time it seemed as if the dustup had been settled, only to start up again. By the end, we broke out into applause after witnessing what I can confidently call one of the greatest fight scenes in all of cinema, not just because it's an impressive bout of old school street fighting, but because it says so much about the two characters.

It's like, despite all the shit we talk about how fucked everything is, most of us in this life want -- no, we need -- the blissful ignorance that comes with plausible deniability because it will make getting through this life less of a fucking chore, man. To threaten us with the truth is also a threat to said deniability, and we'll be damned if we have to Actually Do Something About It, because that's a road that leads to, well, I don't know what it leads to but it sure as hell has no steady paycheck, no 4K television, no Netflix, no goose down pillow, no medical, no dental, no food on the table, no roof over our heads. Face me with the potential loss of all of that, and, well…I might have to beat your ass.

Look man, I lived half my life with Nada's idealism but have gradually turned into Frank. I wouldn't want to put on the glasses either. But you know what, if any of you fuckin you-foes are listening out there, I will allow you aliens to recruit me for some of that sweet sweet good life, now that I know — more than ever — how stacked the deck is against the rest of us. Like homeboy said, "might as well be on the winning team", right?

I say: Fuck the losing team. They never say "Thank you" whenever I hold open the door for them, and they don't know how to raise their fuckin' mewling hellspawn, letting them run all over public places, screaming their fucking heads off. Yeah, fuck them, fuck them kids, and just me give my fuckin’ fancy teleportation watch.

Anyway, this is my favorite John Carpenter film, and if aliens ever came to our planet, and they were kind aliens, and they wanted to know all about humanity, I'd sit them down to a triple feature of this and Carpenter's remake of The Thing, and George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, and that'll bring them up to speed as to why our species is so fucked, and so rather than trying to get all kumbaya with us, they should instead just nuke us from orbit. Because it's the only way to be sure.

The second film was Brian Yuzna's 1989 dark comedy Society, which focuses on Beverly Hills high school rich boy asshole Bill, who despite having it all thanks to mommy & daddy's money, feels uneasy amongst his family and friends. He attends regular sessions with his therapist, but that doesn't seem to help, because for every piece of advice the doc gives him to take it easy, there's a super-awkward encounter where he walks into his parent's bedroom and finds mom, dad, and sis all on the bed, dressed a tad too scantily and sitting a little too close to each other.

On the other hand, there are nice perks to this life, such as having sexy classmates gleefully spread their legs and exposing their crotch at him. Never mind that's he trying to win a debate over the school's dress code during this, it's the thought that counts, really. 

As Bill is told later in the film, it's really more about what you're born into, rather than being brought into it -- "it" being high society. You're either part of it, and you're living a privileged life with a bright future already planned out for you, or you're one of the have-nots, and you'll most likely be slowly devoured. I might mean that literally or figuratively, I don't know.

OK fine, I do know. If you've ever heard about this movie, it's because of its memorable "shunting" climax -- and for very good reason. It's a wonderfully grotesque orgy of sex, gluttony, and body horror, a kind of mix of Hieronymus Bosch and Salvador Dali come to nightmarish life by way of Luis Buñuel. Thanks to the excellent effects work by Screaming Mad George, bodies writhe and merge into each other, blending into each other, appendages going in and out of orifices, coated in so much icky gooey slime -- or at least I hope it's slime.

But the truth is, take away those final 20 minutes, and Society is just a bad movie. It has hints of being a genuinely satirical look at wealth and privilege, but only skirts the surface level. And maybe that was the intention of the screenplay, to just be a fun little nasty gross-out flick with just a wee mite of socio-economic commentary -- which is why I'm laying the blame squarely on director Yuzna. Mostly everything is captured in a flat and listless — and frankly cheap looking — way. There's a strange alien quality to the performances and the presentation, but only half of it feels intentional.

With little to no grasp of tone, he instead chose to set everything to a Weirdo setting of 11, which eliminates any potential for dread or mystery. It's like, how can I give a shit about Bill's quest to discover the truth about his family, when I'm too busy wondering what in the fuck is up with that lady who likes to eat hair? By the time the twist comes along, it's merely the nuttiest of the nutty things. Yuzna did get much better at the job with his next film, Bride of Re-Animator, so I suppose it's better that he swung and missed with this one rather than that one.

I feel that in stronger directorial hands, this could've been a cult classic worth its reputation. Instead, I can only recommend it if you're gonna skip to those final 20 minutes, or watch the whole thing with an audience, like I did, because the crowd really did seem to dig it a hell of a lot more than I did, based on their audible reactions that grew louder and wilder as the film went on.

The third film was The Slumber Party Massacre, a 1982 slasher directed by Amy Holden Jones, working from a screenplay by acclaimed feminist author Rita Mae Brown. Set in and around the Venice neighborhood of L.A., the film opens with Trish, a high-schooler whose parents are going out for the weekend, and you know what that's like, right? You get the house to yourself, and it's party time, right?

That is, if you're everybody but me. I don't know what the fuck was wrong with me, I was a goody-two-shoes as a kid. My parents knew there was nothing to worry about whenever they left me home for the weekend, all I was gonna do was watch movies and eat pizza by myself. Granted, I didn't have friends, but still. But even if I did, I would prefer, at most, to just have a small intimate get-together, like Trish does here. But unlike Trish's slumber party, mine would not include beer and weed because I was still on some D.A.R.E. bullshit, I really believed in that Hugs Not Drugs bullshit.

Of course, as much as I would be totally fine watching a group of attractive women portraying teenagers giggle and goof around in their underwear for 76 minutes, the film has to live up to the "massacre" part of the title, and so we are then introduced to escaped psycho killer Russ Thorn. This dude is the real deal, he lives to kill; almost immediately he's back at it, snatching an overly-attractive phone repairwoman into her van and using her power drill to metaphorically have sex with her. It's a pretty effective sequence because it happens during the day, while there are people around, but apparently her van is one of those super special soundproofed models, because the guys outside sure as hell can't hear her very loud screams.

I think this movie takes place in an alternate universe version of Venice where the drinking water is contaminated, causing severe hearing loss to the residents. There are many instances where you'd think someone would hear the loud drill, or the screams that follow, and yet, no they don't.

By the way, while there is blood, this isn't one of the gorier films of its type. You'd expect plenty of shots of drills penetrating flesh, but that's not the case here. Jones instead takes the "what is imagined is worse than what is seen" approach, and what little gore there is, is used judiciously. This would be a problem if the movie sucked, but it doesn't.

I think it's because even with the brisk runtime, you get to know enough about these characters that they make an impression on you, and it's mostly a positive one. No one is really a specific archetype in this film, save the killer and a couple of horny dudes who crash the slumber party. They're a little more complicated than you'd expect for the usual Dead Meat types in these movies. Among them is Trish's neighbor from across the street, Valerie, who declines an invitation to the party and stays to babysit her little sister Courtney instead. I liked watching the interactions between Valerie and Courtney, they felt genuine.

There's also a nice sense of humor to the film, coming in at the right moments; my favorite involves a character being so hungry, she's willing to take the pizza from a dead delivery guy. It's over the top, and yet, I can see doing something like that, I mean, I'm probably gonna die anyway, and so long that there's no blood or guts or anchovies on the pizza, I might as well enjoy a last meal.

A lot of it is fake scare city, and yeah, sometimes the characters do dumb things, but it felt like Jones knew that, she knew she wasn't fooling anybody, and so she did the best job possible while working within the tropes and trappings of the genre. But the characters helped carry this a long way, and it is fairly suspenseful at times, I mean, it says a lot that I didn't want any of the characters to die, and when they did, I was like a denied Swiper from "Dora the Explorer": Oh man! And you bet your ass when it came time for the killer to get his, Jones doesn't disappoint. It's a good one, and in conclusion, I still watch movies and eat pizza by myself, it keeps me strong and feeling young.

Following the film, Wynter Mitchell-Rohrbaugh returned to the stage to introduce her guests for a mid-marathon panel discussion: Slumber Party Massacre director Amy Holden Jones and They Live producer Sandy King Carpenter.

Jones talked about how she moved early in her career from editing to directing, even going so far as to film the first ten pages of the screenplay for Slumber Party Massacre on her own dime in order to convince Roger Corman that she was the right gal for the gig. Things got complicated when she was offered to edit E.T. The Extra Terrestrial at the same time; Jones felt that editing a film for Steven Spielberg made the most financial sense, especially since she recently had a baby. But to be given the opportunity to direct was one she always wanted, and it was an opportunity that was almost never given to a woman. So Jones made what she admitted to be an "insane decision", and took the very risky chance at directing what very well could’ve been forgotten drive-in fodder.

Jones felt the original script needed work, and so she gave herself the extra task of rewriting it; despite that, she and almost everyone involved in the film didn't have the highest hopes for what they would end up with. But upon viewing the film for the first time, the cast & crew were elated that the final outcome was pretty good!

She was surprised by some of the negative critical reaction, particularly from those who clutched their pearls that a woman could direct something that was perceived to be misogynistic. Jones disputed that by saying that the violence in the film was much harsher against the male victims, and tamer against the women, and besides, "...that's the friggin' genre, man."

Like Jones, Sandy King Carpenter made her bones working for Roger Corman; she started in animation, then moved on to live-action because she felt it wasn't good to sit in a dark room all day talking to herself. She and Jones then talked about how despite being cheap, Corman fostered a healthy collaborative attitude that resulted in all the people who’ve worked for him to still have fond memories to this day -- something that, King added, cannot be said by people working at Blumhouse. Met with nervous laughter from the crowd, King casually responded "Trust me."

At this point, third guest, actress Kelli Maroney had arrived — traffic was a bitch — and so Mitchell asked for her opinion on how the horror genre compares between the 80s and today; Maroney felt that it has gotten better and more respected, despite some self-conscious attempts at what is known as "elevated horror", a term Maroney hates. She felt that back in the day, horror films were considered disreputable and they were what people worked on to pay their rent, but today, actors and filmmakers genuinely want to be involved in horror, because there's a love for the genre.

Mitchell then asked the panel if there was ever a time in the business when any of them were scared to make a stand and "push back" but went ahead and did it anyway; Jones brought up being vocal about her disapproval of the casting of Woody Harrelson during pre-production on the 1993 film Indecent Proposal, for which she wrote the screenplay. She felt he wasn't a strong enough lead to stand up against Robert Redford's character. Later, she sat in and observed a focus group following a test screening of the film, along with Paramount studio head Sherry Lansing; when the moderator asked the group for things they didn't like about the film, one of them responded by saying they didn’t know why Harrelson was in this movie. Upon seeing Jones' chuffed reaction, Lansing replied "Grow the fuck up."

King's response to Mitchell's question was that she wasn't raised to be afraid of anything, and that she believes that a combination of being married to a feminist and simply not giving a fuck about what people think, makes it very easy for her to share her opinions. She also shared an anecdote about how once on the set of John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness, someone asked "Who exactly are you?" and she responded: "I fuck the director". Upon seeing the man’s aghast reaction, she added "You're gonna say it when I walk out of the room, so let's just get past that."

Maroney's answer was that because she was lucky to have her first three projects directed by openly collaborative women, and so, the rude awakening came later when she found that her input wasn't nearly as welcomed as it had been before. But she found that the best way to register any concerns or complaints was to bring them up in the form of a non-threatening question, asking the other party to explain something to her, and then taking it from there. Somewhere along the way, she felt it easier to make these stands once it became clear to her that as a lead actress, she felt a responsibility to make sure that others in the cast & crew felt safe and taken care of.

Maroney also brought up that she had very little problems in regards to more sleazy types trying to get fresh with her, and she feels that it was because of her wise-guy personality that made it not worth the effort. The way she saw it, they figured she would say something loud and embarrass them. King agreed, saying that her own take-no-shit attitude -- plus not-so-veiled threats of bodily injury towards the aggressor -- made it easy to dismiss such unwelcome advances. She also added that based on talking with younger women working in the business today, it seems like that this happens more often now than it did back then, because the guys doing this kind of shit nowadays are mostly entitled rich kids, whereas in her day, they were just morons.

The question about the future of the horror genre was brought up to the panel, and Jones felt that there was indeed a very bright future for horror, on account of there always being something out there to be afraid of, coupled with the fact that horror remains one of two very profitable types of movies that Hollywood will easily greenlight -- the other being comic book movies.

She also brought up that more serious fare, such as dramas and character-oriented pieces, can be equally enjoyed in the cinema or at home, but watching a horror film in a theater with a crowd is an even more enjoyable and rewarding experience. King added that horror will always be around, because it is a genre that is most capable of telling universal and uncomfortable truths, whereas "important" films are mostly just preaching to the converted.

Maroney added that the cathartic benefits that come from watching a horror film more than guarantees that this is a genre that will always be popular, especially if the world we live in continues to give us reasons to be afraid, and considering what’s going on around us, society is probably more afraid than ever.

Mitchell-Rohrbaugh then opened it up for questions from the audience, which was my cue to get the fuck out of there, and I wasn't alone, as I can hear the unmistakable chorus of CLUNKA CLUNKA CLUNKACLUNKACLUNKA from the suddenly unoccupied seats flapping back into place as those of us with no appetite for extreme cringe made a beeline for the exits to use the restrooms, get more snacks, fresh air, etc.

But I did come back in time to see the ladies get a nice and well deserved round of applause. These ladies were very entertaining, so open were they with their honest opinions and thoughts on the business, as well as particular movies (both Gandhi and The Power of the Dog were thrown some very amusing shade along the way). I really liked them, they all had a healthy amount of Don't Give A Fuck flowing through their veins.

After a half-hour break for dinner — I just had coffee — the marathon continued with the fourth film, 1986's Chopping Mall, a very tongue-in-cheek horror/sci-fi/slasher, directed by Jim Wynorski and starring none other than Ms. Kelli Maroney from the panel discussion. This one is about a group of teens and young adults or maybe they're all teens who look like young adults or they're young adults who look like teens, but c'mon, it's the 80s, these actors are all probably mid-to-late 30s.

Anyway, they have the worst timing in the world, because decided to stay overnight at the shopping mall for a little fuck party, which also coincides with an electrical storm that causes the 3 robot security guards on the premises to malfunction and go full ED-209 on anybody still inside. Now these youngsters have to survive the night, as they're locked in with these killbots until dawn.

The entire movie takes place in a shopping mall, and was shot at both the Sherman Oaks Galleria and the Beverly Center. The opening credits sequence is a montage of various mall activities, and it's all very nostalgic for a kid like me who remembers when shopping malls were, you know, a thing; at one point, there's a shot of a Licorice Pizza record store, which was greeted by applause from the audience, as was Barbara Crampton's name in the credits, because she is the bee’s knees wearing the cat’s pajamas.

It's interesting seeing Crampton play a Valley Girl type given to say stuff like "totally", and to be honest, she's a tad miscast. I know that sounds like sacrilege to say that about genre royalty, but I'm not saying she's bad. She just seems too smart for the role, if that makes sense, she comes off too intelligent for what I felt was supposed to be more of a Dumb Wild Friend role. Of course, her IQ points drop dramatically once the robots start doing their thing, so maybe it was intentional, maybe the filmmakers were going for someone who was pretty With It until things get serious.

Maroney, on the other hand, plays a nice girl-next-door type who is later revealed to be like an ultra-capable chick whose talents get to shine because of this situation. She turns out to be a crack shot with a revolver, because her father was in the Marines -- not unlike her MAC-10-wielding character in Night of the Comet, who also learned to shoot from her military father. Why the armed men in the film don’t give her a gun after this is revealed, I don’t know. Oh, wait I do know: Because they’re men. (Of course the answer was in the question, sorry about that.)

Maroney's character is definitely who I would want to be paired with in a situation like this, whether we're running from robots, zombies, multi-racial gang members. Because she can take care of herself, she can also take care of me, and she has zero problem making the first move in an intimate situation, and that's something a scared and lazy fuck like me absolutely appreciates. But yeah, she's awesome, she doesn't let her emotions get the best of her, the way they get the best of half of these assholes who either run screaming towards their death or run screaming away from it, but either way they're screaming and that just helps a robot get a better laser aim to explode their heads.

Oh yeah, there's a pretty hilarious and well done head explosion here. It got a great reaction from the crowd both times -- the second time being a very inspired replay during the closing credits.

This was actually the second time I watched this film with an audience; the last time was in 2010 at a Jim Wynorski triple feature at the New Beverly Cinema, which I covered in my blog. Maroney was there for a Q&A, and I got a kick out of her garrulous nature, even if I was kind of a dick about it in the blog, likening the contrast between her and fellow guest Wynorski to a slightly tipsy-but-talkative wife and her more buttoned-up husband at a dinner party.

Anyway, it's a fun and fast hide-and-seek thriller that does the job while not taking itself seriously. There are some cool cameos from awesome people like Dick Miller and Mary Woronov, and goofy references to other movies and filmmakers, because it's that kind of movie. Despite the title, nobody gets chopped, there's just that one head explosion as far as gore goes, but there's plenty of nice ownage from the robots, as they electrocute, immolate, drop people from heights, etc. The only thing I didn't like was an early scene of a fat man pigging out at a pizza place, because I never found watching someone shove plates of food in his face -- while getting it all over his face and clothes -- remotely in the vicinity of funny. It's just gross. But ooh, dear reader, if I only knew what was in store for me in the next film.

The fifth film was the very offbeat, off-the-wall, and off-putting 1987 comedy Blood Diner, directed by Jackie Kong. Talk about a movie that hits the ground running and never stops, and so I will: The story begins with two little boys being visited by their uncle, who happens to be an escaped mental patient responsible for a series of brutal cannibalistic slayings. He bids farewell to them, steps outside to get shot to death by police, and then the opening credits begin. After that, we flash forward 20 years to health obsessed L.A., where the two brothers, Mike and George, own and operate a popular vegetarian restaurant, and I'm guessing the reason why people like the food there so much is because occasionally some human flesh finds it way into the recipes.

Turns out, the two brothers have adopted their late uncle's wacky beliefs involving a blood cult and an ancient goddess named Sheetar. They have already successfully reanimated their uncle's brain and eyeballs and placed them into a jar, where he further instructs them as to what is required to bring Sheetar back to rule the world: The body parts of various promiscuous women.

By the way, I'm pro-cannibal. I've talked about this before on social media, and to the people who used to be my friends before I told them this, but I'd have no problem eating a person if it was served to me right. Now, I'm not saying I'd eat all of the person, but if you give me a nice prime cut of human steak, hot off the grill, I'm digging in. I wouldn't go in for, like, guts or entrails or brains, though. Just some butt roast or grilled breast would be enough. I'd be picky about the person, though; I wouldn't eat a really skinny person or a really fat person. Also, they'd have to be attractive, because having a pretty or handsome face goes a long way towards me wanting to eat you.

See, I'm definitely a meat eater, but not all kinds of meat. I mean, I'll eat pork, I'll eat chicken, I'll eat fish, and I can absolutely eat cows till the cows come home -- so then I can eat them too -- but I won't eat cats and I won't eat dogs. Because while I'm indifferent to cows, pigs, chicken, and fish, I love cats and I love dogs. But I sure as fuck hate people -- and I can see getting the most pleasure from eating you motherfuckers. Mmmm, your cruel, selfish, narcissism would melt in my mouth as I chew away your pettiness, and your lack of empathy would go down so smooth with some red wine. Great, now I'm hungry.

That's OK, I just have to think about this movie some more and my hunger will go away, because Blood Diner is one of those movies where everything in its universe is gross. Regardless of what a person is eating, human or vegetable, it's all filmed -- and eaten --in the most unflattering of ways. There's an even worse version of a fat guy eating messily compared to the dude from Chopping Mall, and the film revisits him from time to time. Oh Christ, you watch him get the slop all over himself, he burps nonstop, and at one point, he projectile vomits his meal all over everybody else. Dear reader, this was the only time in the entire marathon where I actually cringed and had to look away -- and remember, I watched Society earlier that day.

Speaking of which, I felt this movie had a much, much better handle at the kind of comedy it was trying to be, compared to Society. This is all-out, wacky-as-fuck, and offensive with its never-ending onslaught of gags, I mean, Jackie Kong is throwing out kitchen sink after kitchen sink, and if one doesn't hit you, the next one will. Sure, there are much better horror comedies out there, but this one wasn't bad, man, I actually laughed a few times.

The audience, on the other hand, laughed throughout, from beginning to end. There was one guy a couple rows ahead of me, he got so overwhelmed with laughter from a scene involving a potential victim defending herself with kung-fu, that even after the scene was over, he couldn't stop laughing, and then he started wheezing and coughing, and that's when my vision was blinded by the giant words COVIDCOVIDCOVIDCOVID and I had to close my eyes and will the words away, lest my night be ruined by unwelcome anxiety. The words did go away, I made sure that my mask remained snug over my nose and mouth, and continued watching the film.

I don't know if this is a good movie, but it plays great. The crowd got pretty rowdy with this, and I'd say half of the laughs were about the movie being funny and half were about the incredibly high levels of WTF-ery to the proceedings. I mean, it's the kind of movie where a ventriloquist and his dummy are being questioned by the authorities and it's all played straight, it's the kind of movie where a woman gets her head dunked into a deep fryer and comes out of it with an perfectly round fried ball where her head should be.

I’d probably like this even more had I seen this 20 years ago, because that’s when I was at the peak of my love for all things Troma, and this is possibly the best Troma movie that Troma never made. I do know I'd like this less if I had I seen it alone, and so I'm glad I saw it with a very appreciative crowd at the Aero.

The sixth and final film of the night was the 1984 thriller Angel, directed by Robert Vincent O'Neil. Set in and around Hollywood Boulevard, this story focuses on Molly, a teenage honor student with a most surprising after-school job; at night, Molly becomes "Angel", and she walks the streets selling her body to various johns. Thankfully, the movie spares us the dirty deeds, and instead focuses on the interactions between Angel and her fellow workers of the night. Among them is a crossdresser named Mae, an old cowboy street performer named Kit Carson, and Crystal, who is not long for this world.

See, there's also a real piece of damaged work prowling the streets, and he's already racked up a few kills, all of them hookers. No sooner are we introduced to Crystal when this nameless killer picks her up and takes her to a motel room for some post-mortem loving. Yup, this serial killer is also a necrophile, and the film does way too good of a job giving us glimpses into his cracked psyche; as we watch the killer get Crystal's body ready for sex, the soundtrack plays music that sounds more at home in a romantic story. So he's one of these sickos who probably thinks this is a way to express genuine affection to these unfortunate women -- whereas when I fuck a dead girl, there is no affection involved at all, it's just about getting laid. But at least I'm not a hypocrite. 

Before Crystal's demise, we are treated to a scene of her having a chat with a young street performer who clearly has a crush on her. It's kinda sweet, and I'm watching this, thinking, "oh, so I guess there's gonna be a subplot about these two becoming a couple?", and well, it clearly doesn't go that way. The next time you see the young man, he's at the crime scene the morning after, utterly heartbroken while being questioned by a cop.

It's these extended non-plot-related detours that result in Angel hitting harder than I expected, because it spends so much time with each of these characters, it feels like the filmmakers care about these people too, and so, I ended up caring about them as well. They don't judge these characters, and neither should we. It's not just Molly that I wanted to see make it out of this situation OK, it's everyone -- well, except for that fuckin' killer, I wanted to see that motherfucker get his big time. And yet, the filmmakers even manage to extend but some touch of pity to this beast that killed women.

Poor Molly's story isn't fully revealed outright, it's given to us piecemeal, as we watch Lieutenant Andrews of the LAPD get to know her more while investigating the murders. He's clearly seen it all, and he knows how girls like Angel end up: either locked up, strung out, or dead. In his gruff tough-love way, he tries to convince her to get off the streets, but Molly/Angel is afflicted by the hardheadedness that comes with being a young person who thinks they already know everything.

When not watching her ply her trade up and down the boulevard, we watch her at private school, and I have to give it up to Molly, for her abilities to burn both ends of this candle. She works late, and is still able to get up early and catch the bus to school. We never see her do any drugs, so it can't be that. We see her do her own homework and we see her study, so it's not like she's banging any teachers to help her pass like that chick from Malibu High did.

I guess she's just really focused, and she's really good with time management as well, because as we see in one scene, she turns down a nerd's request for a date at school, which I think is more about not wanting to toss an extra ball into her juggling act. Hell, she could've just blown him and I'm sure he would've done all of her homework, give her answers to all of the tests, and she could've probably gotten him to do her laundry — even if that would mean losing the occasional pair of socks and undies, and having a good idea why they’re missing. But Molly has her principles, she would never entertain any of that, and I respect the hell out of her for it.

There were a couple scenes involving some scumbag jock at Molly's school that left me just about ready to yell at the screen, because I hated this motherfucker soooo much, that flames...flames on the side of my face, anyway, I'm pretty sure if I had seen this at home, I would’ve yelled.

I’m on Team Molly. Not only am I on Team Molly, I’m on Team Molly's Friends. I'm on the side of Molly's friends, is what I'm saying, I liked her and I liked them too. I liked Mae, Kit, her landlady Solly. They're played by Dick Shawn, Rory Calhoun, and Susan Tyrell. What a difference that giving a fuck about characters makes for me.

It’s the “giving a fuck” part that changes this from a sleazy exploitation joint, to a very gripping drama about these characters just trying to get by. Some of them seem content with their lives, and I found myself wondering if they really did feel that way or if they were deluding themselves. Molly/Angel is clearly deluding herself, because she thinks she has it figured out, but it's more like she needs that delusion in order to have the strength to continue living this double life of hers.

Don't get me wrong, Angel does the job as an exploitation joint, it delivers the thrills, especially whenever that nameless killer gets in the mix. There are a couple of genuinely exciting and suspenseful sequences, including one at a police station that goes shockingly out of control. I wasn't alone in feeling this way, especially during the climax, which had people in the audience break out into applause a couple times.

Donna Wilkes gives a very sympathetic performance as Molly, Cliff Gorman does a very solid 70s/80s-era cop turn as Lt. Andrews, and John Diehl is both scary and pathetic as the killer. There's plenty of gritty early 80s Hollywood atmosphere, well shot by cinematographer Andrew Davis, who went on to direct 1993's The Fugitive, which was really good but could’ve used a teenage hooker or two.

This was a great fucking movie, man, it really took me by surprise. I liked it so much, I think I might just forget about watching the three sequels that followed, because let's be real, after this class act of a picture, there's no place to go but down -- not unlike Angel on a Friday night.

And so, the Sunshine and Noir 1980s L.A. Horror Marathon came to an end; I'm glad I went through with my last minute decision to attend, rather than let my anxiety get the better of me...this time, at least. I mean, here's hoping COVID and Monkeypox don’t get together, fuck, and have a baby, because who knows how I’ll feel then, or if I’ll be feeling anything by then, shit, I’ll probably be dead by MonkeyVid-69 or whatever the fuck that shit’s gonna be.

Anyway, I enjoyed myself at the Aero; it was fun to watch some movies for the first time, rewatch some old favorites, and hell, it was worth sitting through Society again just to experience the final 20 minutes with an audience. With the exception of that movie, which was presented in a crisp digital print, the films were projected in 35mm; They Live looked and sounded the best, while Slumber Party Massacre had a reddish/pinkish tint at times, but otherwise looked good.

By the time Angel ended, it was a little past 11pm, and for the first time in a very long time, I stepped out of a movie marathon feeling just as awake as I did when I went in. It felt nice to know that I could go to bed that night and still enjoy the following Sunday as a full complete day, rather than sleep through most of it, as I usually do after an all-nighter.

I mean, I get the appeal of watching movies till the wee hours of the morning, because that's pretty much all I've done most of my life. But as I get older, I'm also getting the appeal of having a good night's sleep. Which is not to say that I'm anti-all-nighter now, I'm just even more pro-all-dayer.

Anyway, having only subsisted on a couple cups of coffee the entire day, I was starving; I figured I'd follow up a Los Angeles-based movie marathon with a Los Angeles-based meal, so I drove responsibly to the original Tommy's burger stand on Beverly and Rampart near Downtown L.A. and ordered a triple chili cheeseburger, chili cheese fries, and a large Cherry Coke. It hit the spot, man. It was so good, and when I began to imagine the chili being made from people meat -- specifically ground pork from the police officer that followed me that morning -- it tasted even better.