Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bad Movie Night 2014 Recap (Part One)

 It's an off and off tradition here at the Blogorium to take a Saturday in April and devote it to some of the very least that cinema has to offer. I try to keep the "bad" movies entertaining, and generally speaking am successful, but these one day events are strictly for the willing. I'm not going to promise you're going to have a good time, but the door is also unlocked. That last part will be important in a little bit. Previous Bad Movie Nights have included titles like Mac and Me, Troll 2, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, Hard Ticket to Hawaii, She Devil, and Masters of the Universe. I don't always go for the low hanging fruit (okay, we did watch Batman & Robin the first year), but if you're going to sift through the best of the worst, it helps to have some familiar titles.

 The following winners comprised our 2014 edition, which to date includes the most infamous, most hated of all Bad Movie Night entries. And I knew it would. And none of them left. Remember that.

 We didn't start out at the bottom, but The Neanderthal Man isn't exactly high art. I like to kick off BMN's (and Summer Fests) with a B-Movie from the 1950s, particularly one with questionable "science." In The Neanderthal Man, Professor Clifford Groves (Robert Shane) is furious that his colleagues won't accept his theory that primitive man was as intelligent (or more) than modern man. And why won't they take him seriously? Only because he admits he has no proof for this theory. None. But, it turns out, he does! Using "science," Professor Groves has invented a serum that activates a regressive state in cats (and later, in humans), turning cats into sabretooth Tigers and his deaf / mute / illiterate housekeeper into Tim Curry from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

 The Neanderthal Man is a hoot; it's a hodgepodge of borrowed sets (why the mountains of California hosts a cafe that looks suspiciously like an Old West saloon, complete with cowboys, is never addressed), mismatched footage (the tiger is clearly just a tiger, complete with chain in most shots, and in close ups is a stuffed animal with tusks to indicate it's not just a tiger loose in the mountains of California). Groves' fiance Ruth Marshall (Doris Merrick) is partial to long winded monologues about the meaning of love and science that make it feel like the screenwriters thought five dollar words literally translated to five dollars per word. The titular creature that Groves becomes is clearly wearing a mask and sometimes forgets to put his hairy gloves on. He has a grown daughter, Jan (Joyce Terry), and wears a wedding ring, but has a fiance. Jan only owns one dress and wears it for the entire movie, which takes place over a few days. Groves kicks out a zoologist (Richard Crane) who investigates the shenanigans, but doesn't bat an eye when he's back in their house the next day and the day after that. It's the perfect recipie of "let's get this done and get it in drive-ins" that kicks things off in the right spirit.

 After that, we transitioned to one of the most requested Bad Movie Night entries: Gymkata. At movie designed to capitalize on Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas, it's a perfect example of nothing really working in a movie, and yet still being quite entertaining. Thomas plays Jonathan Cabot, whose father disappeared during a super secret challenge in the nonexistent Eastern European country of Parmistan. In addition to being a gymnast, Cabot is also a spy, so he infiltrates the competition with the help of Princess Rubali (former Playboy model Tetchie Agbayani), who doesn't say anything for the first fifteen minutes, but when she does, you realize why. He father, The Kahn (Buck Kartalian), who looks and acts like a character Mel Brooks would be playing, rules Parmistan, but his Australian right hand man Zamir (Richard Norton, back when Australians were the bad guys, before Crocodile Dundee) is plotting a coup and using the games as a ruse to set it in motion... or something.

 Following a lengthy training montage that never mentions that "gymkata" is the style Cabot uses (a combination of gymnastics and karate) and his ability to walk up stairs while doing a handstand (never used again in the movie), John and the Princess are off to Parmistan to be betrayed in a salt mine, float down a river, be captured, and eventually rejoin The Kahn who apparently was expecting them. Yeah, don't expect coherent through lines in this movie. Just look for hanging bars or pommel horses, because Cabot seems to find them just when he needs to attack many people who happily stand there and let him kick them while swinging. I feel bad for the poor, toothless people of Bulgaria who stood in for citizens of Parmistan - they're clearly excited to be in a movie, but at least one of them is knocked over by a horse on camera and they kept it in the film! The entire fictional country is treated like a shithole that these foreign combatants need to survive through, including the closed off city of the insane, which is at least the most surreal part of a film that involves Kurt Thomas climbing a rope while holding his legs straight out for no good reason. I can understand why we never saw a Gymkata 2, or any other action vehicles starring Thomas. Still, quite amusing in a stupid way.

 The Demolitionist, on paper, sounds like a movie geek's dream come true. Directed by Robert Kurtzman (the "K" in KNB visual effects, and also the creator of From Dusk Till Dawn), this quasi-Robocop knock-off exists in its own heightened reality where "over the top" isn't quite good enough for the cast. Oh, and did I mention the cast includes Susan Tyrell (Forbidden Zone), Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead), Jack Nance (Eraserhead), Reggie Bannister (Phantasm), Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Bruce Abbott (Re-Animator), Joe Pilato (Day of the Dead), a young Derek Mears (Jason Voorhees from Shit Coffin), and an uncredited Bruce Campbell (Crimewave)? Yes, it's a dream come true, until you realize that most of them are barely in the movie.

 Instead, we spend most of our time with Nicole Eggert (Blown Away) and Richard Greico (Point Doom) as the titular Demolitionist and the bad guy, respectively. And wow, do they not know how to play camp like the rest of the cast. I'm not sure what Kurtzman was thinking, but these two blocks of oak drag down everything that could be fun about The Demolitionist and quickly explain why you've never heard of this movie before. Eggert plays undercover cop Alyssa Lloyd, who is seriously injured by "Mad Dog" Burne (Grieco), and dies in the hospital. Her partner takes a bullet point blank to the brain but somehow lives (he also kind of looks like Crispin Glover, but isn't). Burne is one half of a brother team who has a sadistic side and loves brazen daylight robberies (Kurtzman apparently has a favorite "type" here, since you're going to think about how much cooler the Gecko brothers are than the Burnes). When his brother dies from electrified pee (don't ask), he decides to... I don't know. Kill the mayor (Tyrell), replace her with the corrupt chief of police (Peter Jason, wearing a leftover costume from Demolition Man and otherwise known as "that guy!") and generally continue to run wild with his biker gang (which includes Mears, Savini, Campbell, as well as a Greg Nicotero /Howard Berger cameo two-fer).

 But science can bring Alyssa back! Professor Jack Crowley (Abbott) injects nanobots into her bloodstream and she becomes a super cop - for a while, until she needs more injections or she'll rot. There's a LOT of "do I want to be like this" and contemplative staring from Eggert, or maybe she just forgot her lines. I don't know. The potential for The Demolitionist to be schlocky fun pretty much fizzles out before it gains any momentum, so by the time Bruce shows up it becomes the highlight of the movie as you a) recognize him, b) debate whether you really saw him, and c) hear his one line and realize that it is, in fact, Bruce Campbell to save the day. And then he dies when the Demolitionist kills everybody in the biker gang. It's almost as lame as the wasted potential of abandoning a little girl holding two live grenades. Such a shame.

 Peering into the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I returned with Doctor Strange, starring Johnny Depp and directed by Tim Burton. Now that I've sent half of you away squealing with joy and the other hand angrily stomping off to complain on a comic book forum, we actually watched the almost totally forgotten 1978 TV movie version of Dr. Strange. It's 80% origin story, 10% magical showdown, and 10% setup for the continuing adventures of Stephen Strange that television audiences never got. And yet, Stan Lee contends that the only reason that Dr. Strange didn't do well was that it aired opposite Roots.

 Were that true, Dr. Strange might have been a curious case for counter-programming, but the truth is that the movie is just pretty bad. It mostly meanders through its plot, about Morgan LeFay (Arrested Development's Jessica Walter, looking way hotter than you'd ever want Lucille Bluth to) trying to destory Thomas Lindmer (Special Guest Star John Mills) - split his name up and you'll get it - with Clea Lake (Anne-Marie Martin, of The Boogens fame) and Dr. Stephen Strange (Peter Hooten, of The Inglorious Bastards, but looking suspiciously like John Holmes) caught in the middle or their mystical feud. Morgan's demon master sounds like Bane and has an unfortunate stop-motion mouth, while Merlin - er, Lindmer - just has Wong (Clyde Kusatsu), his butler / assistant.

Most of the movie takes place at the hospital where Strange works, and after LeFay possesses Clea and uses her to push Merlin off of a bridge (which doesn't kill him, because he uses his regenerative Time Lord magic powers to get up and walk away), she ends up in the psych ward. Strange tries to help her, ends up meeting Merlin and fighting Morgan (in the last fifteen minutes of a 90 minute movie) and gets two magical costumes, one worse than the other. There are sources of amusement to be drawn from New York in the 1970s, including a prominently featured Seinfeld Book store that hints at what's to come in television. But unless you're a fan of Doctor Strange - and I must admit, I didn't know much about him - this isn't going to ring your bell. People who know Jessica Walter from Archer or Arrested Development will probably enjoy this, although it's going to feel weird seeing her in so many low-cut dresses and showing so much leg. On the other hand, I spent most of Dr. Strange trying to figure out why I recognized Clea, and now I know it's because of my fondness for The Boogens... Oh, The Boogens.

 We're only at the halfway mark, gang! I'll be back tomorrow to wrap it up with A Talking Cat?!?, Mutilations, Things, and Samurai Cop!

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