Saturday, July 12, 2014

Summer Fest Recap: Day One

 Greetings, virtual Summer Fest-ers! Welcome to Cap'n Howdy's handy recap-o-rama-rama, covering all of your Hyde Park Summer Fest Massacre Part 6 needs!

 This year I'm going to try something a little different in covering the films watched during the Fest. Instead of full write-ups that take much longer and give away too much, I'm going to appropriate the structure of "Hamlet Week" from a few years ago to give you some idea how these movies work in tandem with each other. Fest entries often have some shared elements, and you'll find that many selections this year overlap in the most unusual ways.

 We started the Fest with:

 Creature with the Atom Brain

 Year of Production: 1955

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Gangster Frank Buchanan (Michael Granger) wants revenge on men who betrayed him, so he forces ex-Nazi scientist Dr. Wilhelm Steigg (Gregory Gay) to reanimate the dead using radioactive blood and electrodes implanted in the brain. They are controlled by Buchanan's voice and take vengeance on his enemies. Police are baffled and eventually declare Marshal Law on "Our City."

 Who's the Hero?: Dr. Chet Walker (Richard Denning), who works in the police laboratory, along with his brother(?) Capt. Dave Harris (S. John Launer). They try to work out the source of the radiation and the common element between murders, until (SPOILER) Buchanan kills Dave and uses him to get to the targets in police custody. Dave also shows up at Chet's house, confuses his wife, Joyce (Angela Stevens), and daughter Penny (Linda Bennett). Zombie Dave breaks Penny's doll, presumably because, in death, he's a jerk.

 Bad Science: Chet mixes up a radioactive concoction in the police laboratory using chemicals on his desk to prove that the blood they found wasn't blood. Buchanan and Steigg's highly radioactive lab is accessed through a plastic tunnel that's open on both sides and is attached to a door that anybody could open at any time. Planes specially rigged to detect high amounts of radiation repeatedly fly over Steigg's "shed" and never find anything. The device that controls Steigg's zombies kinda looks like The Tingler.

 Other Bad Ideas:  Chet jumps out of a car moving at high speeds and shows no signs of injury. He also shares confidential police investigation information with Joyce, who then tells Zombie Dave / Buchanan everything needed to kill men in protective custody. Nobody notices the obvious scars from brain surgery. Buchanan's suit is too big. Never give your producers a role that requires them to say more than one line of dialogue. Other characters calling Dr. Chet Walker "Joe" throughout the film.

 Unusually Progressive Moments: Penny gives her girl doll a boy's name, and argues with Dr. Chet Walker when he protests. This is offset by Chet's casual ass-slap of Joyce when he comes home from work. The Ex-Nazi scientist objects to Buchanan's plan and wanted to use his experiments for good, although it's not clear how.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Geiger Counter, Questionable Science, Using the Dead for Nefarious Purposes, Marshal Law, Monsters That Hate Radios, Explosions in Close Proximity to Actors, German Doctors.

 Final Prognosis: Creature with the Atom Brain starts off with a bang, becomes a boring procedural, and then has a surprisingly violent conclusion. Lots of bad science and examples of 1950s casual sexism. We're continually introduced to characters by seeing their name and job title on an office door. It wasn't clear that Dr. Chet Walker was the hero until about halfway in, but the ending kind of makes up for the lackluster mid-section. It's always nice to start the Fest with some Bad Science.

 Remote Control

 Year of Production: 1988

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Aliens are using a videotape called "Remote Control" to beam a signal to Earth. Anyone who watches the tape is driven to murder, and only two video store clerks can save the day...

 Who's the Hero?: Cosmo (Kevin Dillon), Georgie (Christopher Wynne), and later on, Belinda (Deborah Goodrich). Jennifer Tilly appears briefly as Allegra (with a truly 80s hairdo), but is killed by Victor (Frank Beddor), Belinda's boyfriend. Oops, SPOILER.

 Bad Science: Ummmm the aliens also try to send their signal through a plastic antenna in the "Remote Control" store display?

Other Bad Ideas: Cosmo kills a police officer, steals his car, and wonders why people are chasing him. When our heroes discover the company responsible for Remote Control (run by Asians, plus the grandpa from TerrorVision) has a truck full of tapes with a delivery list, they follow the list but don't destroy the tapes inside. Cosmo tries to woo Belinda by watching a dubbed version of Truffaut's Stolen Kisses, and it doesn't work out for him. Never give Cosmo a gun - he's a terrible video store employee, but a great killer.

Uniquely 80s Moments: Other than everything about Jennifer Tilly in the movie? Well, Remote Control is about video stores and tapes, so if you tune out of the movie, there are many opportunities to get lost in background details. Posters and VHS artwork are just about everywhere in the film, and director Jeff Lieberman (Squirm, Satan's Little Helper) and his production designers have a great eye for finding weird juxtapositions. In what other movie would you find a copy of Tess next to the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice? Also, every video store in Los Angeles had the poster for House, according to this movie. Make sure to check out the Retro club, which for 1988 is anything but.

 Wait, Did You Say All the Villains Are Asian?: According to the IMDB trivia, Lieberman did this as a tribute to Japanese sci-fi movies from the 1950s and 60s, so I guess that's... okay? I should point out the Main villains are Asian - lots of possessed people are just normal 1980s Caucasians.

Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Aliens, Films Released in the Same Year, Explosions, Mind Control, Killing the Most Interesting Character Off Too Early, Boring Main Character, Vehicular Chicanery.

 Interesting Sidenote: During Remote Control, not a single person could name one other movie Kevin Dillon had been in. I forbade the use of IMDB until after the film was over, at which point we realized how many he had been in that we had seen. Still, without looking it up, name one.

Final Prognosis: Remote Control is an amusing sibling to TerrorVision. It's not quite as campy, and Kevin Dillon has about as much charisma in this film as a toaster, but it moves at a brisk pace, is unusual enough to keep you invested, and has a ton of background details to smooth over the bumps. The only way to get it at the moment is to order it from the director (like I did), but if you like TerrorVision, it's worth considering.

 The Visitor

 Year of Production: 1979

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Uh... Well, have you ever seen The Omen? It's kind of like that, except not.

 Who's the Hero?: Well, I guess maybe the title character, played by director John Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre). He's from outer space, and after interrupting Space Jesus (Franco Nero)'s story about the evil General Sateen, he flies - via Eastern Airlines - to Atlanta to hang out on rooftops with a bunch of bald dudes. Eventually he starts stalking Katy Collins (Paige Conner), the improbably Southern daughter of Barbara Collins (Joanne Neil) and Dr. Sam Collins (Sam Peckinpah). Katy is also somehow the progeny of Sateen, and has psychic powers that she uses to mess with basketball players and people ice skating. Oh, and she has a pet falcon, that she keeps inside of their apartment.

 What the Hell is This Movie???: I know, right? Nothing about The Visitor makes any sense, and I'm not even halfway through the setup of the plot. Barbara is divorced from Sam and is dating Raymond Armstead (Lance Henriksen), who owns The Atlanta Rebels basketball team and is also part of a secret cabal of Sateen worshipers run by Dr. Walker (Mel Ferrer), who want him to impregnate Barbara with a boy, because that would be better than Katy. Also, when Katy accidentally(?) shoots her mother in the spine during a birthday party, a nanny / housekeeper (Shelley Winters) comes in and slaps the living hell out of Katy. Detective Jake Dunham (Glenn Ford) is investigating the shooting, until Katy calls him a pervert and the falcon causes some serious vehicular mayhem. Did I mention that most of this paragraph happens before the halfway point of The Visitor?

Bad Science: Take a look at the first two entries. See anything that sounds remotely plausible in there? I guess after Raymond fails and Dr. Walker sends him away, the cabal stages an "alien invasion" that results in Barbara being pregnant (how she drives while paralyzed and without hand controls isn't even addressed), so she has to go to Sam for an abortion. Peckinpah was so drunk that most of his scene is dubbed, with random cutaways to cover points where they clearly had no usable footage. I guess the worst science involves Huston, who stands on the roof and makes lights appear. He also takes a plane from outer space to Atlanta, and can't seem to walk down stairs in a timely fashion.

 Other Bad Ideas: Well, when the Italian producer and director decided they didn't like the screenwriter's rip-off of The Omen, they continued changing it and eventually fired the writer. The music is jarringly inappropriate for almost every scene, but my favorite is what we dubbed the "walking up the stairs" theme for the titular character. It's so bombastic and juxtaposed with, I kid you not, walking up stairs. Nothing else. We couldn't wait to hear it again. The final scene, where pigeons and a few doves attack Katy, features one of the fakest looking plastic birds I've ever seen. The Visitor is pretty much just one Bad Idea after another.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Aliens, Evil Scientists, Animal Related Mayhem, Psychic Powers, Southern Accents, Vehicular Chicanery.

 Final Prognosis: I'd be hard pressed to call The Visitor a good, or even competent movie. It's almost impossible to follow in any way, so you're better off not trying to figure out what's happening or why. However, as movie watching experiences go, there's really nothing quite like The Visitor. It starts out like a realized version of Jodorowsky's Dune, and just gets weirder from there. Just be prepared to say "What?!" a lot, and collapse into fits of uncontrollable laughter.

 Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight

 Year of Production: 1995

 What's the Haps, Cap?: Brayker (William Sadler) is a man on the run. He's somewhere in New Mexico, in a high speed chase with Billy Zane (Billy Zane) in hot pursuit. Brayker runs out of gas and decides to bring a gun to a car fight in the middle of the road, which works about as well as you would think it might. But somehow both of them survive and Brayker sneaks into Wormwood, NM, where he tries to steal a car, but some dumb kid (Ryan Sean O'Donohue) rats him out. He has some wino booze with wino "Uncle" Willy (Dick Miller) and decides to crash at a motel that used to be a church. He meets the owner (CCH Pounder), a prostitute (Brenda Bakke), a mailman (Charles Fleischer), and Jeryline (Jada Pinkett), who is on work release and cleans the stoves (badly). When Billy Zane and two cops (Gary Farmer and John Schuck) show up shortly after Roach (Thomas Haden Church), we hit the magic number on Brayker's palm, and... demons.

 Who's the Hero?: I guess that'd be Brayker, although nobody seems to agree with that until almost everybody is dead. One could make an argument that the Cryptkeeper (John Kassir) is our hero, since he's presenting this here movie, but if it's not Brayker, I guess it's Jesus. SPOILER if you say that out loud 45 seconds before the first flashback, like Cranpire did.

 Wait... Jesus?: Yeah, but not Space Jesus. Just regular old crucified Jesus. His blood is what the first Demon Knight captures in a "key" to the universe that Demons want. The blood protects you and prevents Demons from crossing thresholds. Demon blood, on the other hand, makes more Demons. Or, at least, Billy Zane blood does anyway. It's the same color as what I imagine the radioactive blood in Creature with the Atom Brain would look like.

 And You're Saying Billy Zane Plays Himself?: I can understand your confusion, but we can all pretend he's more like the boring characters he plays in Titanic or The Phantom if you prefer. I'd like to think that the dude who is practically gnawing on the scenery in Demon Knight is the REAL Billy Zane, and that he had one opportunity to let loose and just be himself. Even if the rest of the cast weren't a "who's who" of "that guy!" Demon Knight would be a no brainer just to watch Zane own the screen.

 Bad Science: None that I can think of. Maybe Brayker surviving the car explosion. I get why Billy Zane survived, but not so much Brayker. Demon Knights are surprisingly when it comes to injuries. Also, when Zane punches through the Sherriff's skull (SPOILER), his arm gets stuck, which seems more plausible than when Jason Voorhees does it. Roach also lets someone hook jumper cables to his nipples - that doesn't seem safe.

 Other Bad Ideas: Well, Billy Zane uses his demon powers to lure people into doing his bidding - also known as turning them into Demons who try to steal they key. Uncle Willy is lured in by Zane as a bartender and surrounded by topless woman and at least one porn star. Since Willy is a lush, I don't even know why he needed the women, but Gratudity sells, right? Roach doesn't even try to make a deal, he just gives the damn thing to Billy Zane, because Brayker is "kinda bossy." At least we get to see Billy Zane pop a sponge out of his mouth. I can't leave this section without mentioning how unhygienic Jeryline is for (SPOILER) covering herself with the blood in the key just to kill Billy Zane's buzz when she (DOUBLE SPOILER) takes over as Demon Knight. I mean, yeah, Jesus and stuff, but that's blood going back millenia. Gross. Also, it came from (TRIPLE SPOILER) Brayker's heart, and (QUADRUPLE SPOILER) Demon Possessed Kid's Gene Simmons Tongue had been all up in there. Not very sanitary, if you ask me.

 Uniquely 90s Moments: The opening credits / car chase play over Filter's "Hey Man, Nice Shot." If there's a better time capsule of something that was cool for one year and one year only, that'll do it. I guess there's another post-grunge song that plays during the credits, but I already forgot what it was.

 Recurring Summer Fest Themes: Gratudity, Vehicular Chicanery, Mind Control, Using the Dead for Nefarious Purposes, Southwestern Locations, Religious Imagery

 Final Prognosis: As Tales from the Crypt movies go, I still prefer the Amicus version from the 1970s, but if it's post-TV show, I'm going with Demon Knight over Bordello of Blood. This is far and away the best thing Billy Zane ever did, and he owns every moment he's on screen. It's cool to go back and see a pre-Big Willie Style Jada Pinkett take control of the movie, or that someone built a film around William Sadler. The cast is so much fun because you don't usually get to see any of them showcased, let alone all of them (this was almost ten years before Sideways, and if you say "I liked Thomas Haden Church on Ned and Stacey," you're lying. Maybe Wings - I know Cranpire likes Wings.) Anyway, Demon Knight is just fun, and if you somehow think "Ernest Dickerson... why do I know that name" after the "directed by" credit, it's because he was Spike Lee's cinematographer. The director of Demon Knight shot Do the Right Thing. And that's a good thing.

 Join us tomorrow for even more Summer Fest madness, gang! We have so many movies to come...

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