"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Worm on a Hook

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Elvis

Any musician biopic, pretty much, is gonna be a legend or a tall tale. What’s great about Baz Luhrmann directing one is that his entire style leans into that. Condensing a whole life and career into an entertaining 2 1/2 hours requires shortcuts, cheats and artistic license that prevent it from being literally true, so here we have a director whose work is rarely about the literal truth anyway. It’s more about how something feels and looks and sounds, or making it look and sound like it feels. Biopics depend on montages to move quickly across time, and this guy speaks fluent montage. He’s also a director whose films have generally been on the verge of being jukebox musicals (going all the way in the case of MOULIN ROUGE!). So what could be more perfect for him than an Elvis Presley biopic?

ELVIS is absolutely presented as a legend, one told by Presley’s long time manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks, DRAGNET), who admits “there are some who’d make me out to be the villain of this here story,” and in between his justifications does come off as something of an evil mastermind. He addresses us decades after Elvis has passed, when he’s on his own death bed in a Las Vegas hospital room with a view of Star Trek: The Experience (1998-2008), but in his mind he’s also dragging his I.V. drip around an empty casino. (read the rest of this shit…)

Waxwork / Waxwork II: Lost in Time

“Eh, waxworks are out of date. This is the video age.”


WAXWORK (1988) is an American movie, but it’s the debut of English writer/director Anthony Hickox, the son of legendary editor Anne V. Coates (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, OUT OF SIGHT) and director Douglas Hickox (who directed one of my favorite Vincent Prince movies, THEATRE OF BLOOD).

My first association for the younger Hickox is always HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH, but WAXWORK is what put him on the horror/cult movie map. A very small, light dot on the map, but it’s on there if you squint. WAXWORK is not quite an anthology, but it’s an odd mix of different types of movies, using the characters in a wax museum as excuses to visit different dated horror subgenres.

College students China (Michelle Johnson, BEAKS: THE MOVIE) and Sarah (Deborah Foreman, REAL GENIUS) notice a wax museum in a residential area (“Kind of a weird place to have a waxwork” – I like how this movie acts like “waxwork” is a totally normal word everybody knows and uses casually.) A strange man (David Warner, TRON) appears and invites them to return at midnight with no more than six people for “a private showing.” So they convinced their friends Gemma (Clare Carey, ZOMBIE HIGH), James (Eric Brown, Mama’s Family), Tony (Dana Ashbrook, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II) and Mark (Zach Galligan, who had only done GREMLINS and NOTHING LASTS FOREVER) to come with them. (read the rest of this shit…)

Stepfather 3

On June 3, 1992, historians will tell you, Bill Clinton played saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. Arsenio made his usual big entrance, and sitting in with his house band The Posse was the former Arkansas governor, then presidential candidate, wearing sunglasses, taking a solo on “Heartbreak Hotel” and later “God Bless the Child.” Whatever you think of his playing (or politics, or whatever), Clinton’s willingness to campaign outside of the accepted outlets and methods may have helped end 12 shitty years of Republican rule.

Have you considered, though, that a more important factor might’ve been STEPFATHER 3, which premiered on HBO the very next day, June 4, 1992? Maybe its trashy mockery of phony Reaganite assholes gave the pendulum that extra push it needed. And by maybe I mean definitely, I bet. Citation needed.

Part 3 is from yet another set of filmmakers – writer/director Guy Magar (a veteran of TV shows like The Powers of Matthew Star, The A-Team and Hardcastle and McCormick) and co-writer Marc B. Ray (Lidsville, New Zoo Revue, SCREAM BLOODY MURDER, Kids Incorporated) – but this time Terry O’Quinn did not return. Accordingly, there is an escalation in tawdriness. It’s supposed to be the same character, but now he’s played a little more broadly by Robert Wightman (AMERICAN GIGOLO), the guy who took over as John-Boy for the last two seasons of The Waltons. That’s a reference I remember people making when I was a kid but honestly I never saw the show to verify my hunch that it’s pretty good stunt casting to have him play this corrupted version of a family sitcom character. (read the rest of this shit…)

Stepfather II

“You will NEVER find a better family man than me, Pumpkin!”


This is a flashback within my current retrospective series. STEPFATHER II: MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY was a theatrical release in November of ’89 that got itself a made-for-cable sequel in ’92. I reviewed the original THE STEPFATHER way back in 2005, but I hadn’t revisited part II since around the time it came out on video, so I thought I should do that before part 3.

THE STEPFATHER is (like POISON IVY) the template for about forty thousand made-for-cable domestic suspense thrillers, but it’s a damn good movie. Terry O’Quinn (SILVER BULLET) is outstandingly creepy as the family values loving psycho who serially creates new identities, marries suburban single mothers, loses his shit when life isn’t perfect, massacres the family and starts over.

This first sequel comes from different filmmakers. It’s actually the first sequel by director Jeff Burr (FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM), who would go on to direct LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III, PUPPET MASTER 4 and 5, and PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS. It’s produced by Darin Scott (who later produced TO SLEEP WITH ANGER, FEAR OF A BLACK HAT, MENACE II SOCIETY and TALES FROM THE HOOD) and written by John Auerbach (sound editor on Jim Jarmusch’s STRANGER THAN PARADISE and DOWN BY LAW?). (read the rest of this shit…)

The Black Phone

(beware The Spoiler)


THE BLACK PHONE is a solid, straight forward horror tale set in a Denver suburb in 1979, when a succession of boys have gone missing. Locals blame it on someone they call “The Grabber.” The story centers on a kid named Finney (Mason Thames, young Walker in the new version of Walker: Texas Ranger), who’s either in middle school or high school (definitely pre-driver’s license age).

His life is not the easiest, but he gets by. He and his sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw, AMERICAN SNIPER) have to walk on egg shells around their alcoholic father (Jeremy Davies, punk rock Toyota commercial) as well as various bullies closer to their own age. On Fridays Gwen sleeps over at a friend’s and Finney “takes care of” Dad – tucking him in and watching Emergency! by himself.

It’s a pretty tight movie, but I appreciate that it doesn’t rush the section where it establishes Finney’s daily life and the ominous mood of the place and time. One day there’s a fight outside of school, some big creep named Moose (J. Gaven Wilde, HALLOWEEN KILLS) calling a smaller kid named Robin (Miguel Cazarez Mora) a slur and taking a swing at him, at which point we learn that Robin is some kind of junior high Billy Jack who this kid absolutely should not have fucked with. Finney doesn’t know how to do that when he gets chased into the restroom by three dickheads, so it’s a relief when Robin walks in. Turns out they’re friends, though I get the sense it’s one of those friendships where one (Finney) is in awe of the other and feels surprised and lucky the guy even talks to him. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sister Act

SISTER ACT was released on May 29, 1992 and is of course the Golden Globe nominated feel-good fish-out-of-water comedy smash hit starring Whoopi Goldberg (last seen in THE PLAYER) as a lounge singer who witnesses a murder is put into witness protection pretending to be a nun in a convent and then ends up leading and reworking their choir. It’s not the type of movie I usually review, and I don’t really know how to dig as deep into it as I do on some of these, but I want to write about it if only to make this point: this, the most mainstream middle-of-the-road normal movie in this summer of ’92 retrospective so far, has kind of the same story as the (no pun intended) most alienating one, ALIEN 3, which came out the week before.

Think about it. Deloris is trying to escape from an unpleasant situation (dating mobster Vince LaRocca [Harvey Keitel in the same year as RESERVOIR DOGS and BAD LIEUTENANT]) when catastrophe forces her to seek shelter and live primitively within a tight knit community of same-gendered (female in this case) devout Christians. She’s made to look like them (wearing a nun’s habit rather than having her head shaven) and is unwelcome to some, particularly the person in charge (the Reverend Mother [Maggie Smith between HOOK and THE SECRET GARDEN] rather than the warden). But she ends up using her unique skills to lead them all in accomplishing the seemingly impossible (in this case making their choir sing well rather than killing a xenomorph without weapons). (read the rest of this shit…)

Rubin & Ed

“It’s gonna get weird now, isn’t it?”


I know I’m way behind on this summer retrospective, still doing May releases well into June, but some new information and my perfection-ish-ism have forced me to skip back a little bit. It turns out there was another lowbrow comedy released in May (approximately May 15th) but in a limited enough capacity that it didn’t show up on any of the lists I used for research. Unlike ENCINO MAN this is one that I did see – more than once – after it came out on video, and it’s a better representation of what I personally was into at the time. But I can’t argue whether it’s better or worse than ENCINO MAN. That is for each individual patron of the arts to decide for themselves. What’s relevant here is that it’s very on brand for Weird Summer. Arguably too much so. (read the rest of this shit…)

Zentropa (a.k.a. Europa)

“But I haven’t done anything. I’m not working for either side.”
“Exactly.”


It was May 22nd. The day Ripley died in ALIEN 3. The day they found ENCINO MAN. The day FAR AND AWAY came out but I can’t review everything man, I’m already way behind on this summer series. The day of Johnny Carson’s last Tonight Show. Also it was the day Miramax released ZENTROPA in North America, according to various sources.

But I found a poster that says May 5th (maybe for video?) and Roger Ebert’s reviewed of it is dated July 3rd. I guess the relevant thing here is that, like other limited releases such as DELICATESSEN and ONE FALSE MOVE, it was playing various theaters at various points during the summer. That’s how it worked back then.

ZENTROPA is really called EUROPA – that’s the original title and what it’s now called on video (like THE PLAYER and NIGHT ON EARTH this has a Criterion Edition). But the North American theatrical release was retitled ZENTROPA for the honestly reasonable purpose of avoiding confusion with Agnieszka Holland’s EUROPA EUROPA. I distinctly remember going to see NIGHT ON EARTH and seeing a literally hypnotic trailer that I think was probly the same as the one I’ve found on Youtube except it was “LARS VON TRIER – ZENTROPA” that kept appearing on screen instead of LARS VON TRIER – EUROPA.” So for historical accuracy I’m labelling this review ZENTROPA. (read the rest of this shit…)

Alien 3

“We tolerate everybody. Even the intolerable.”


May 22, 1992

Let’s get this out of the way first: many things went wrong with ALIEN 3 (or ALIEN3 if you prefer). After Ridley Scott’s sci-fi-horror masterpiece in ’79 and James Cameron’s ass-kicking miracle sequel in ’86, producer/writers Walter Hill and David Giler struggled to develop a worthy followup. After numerous reworkings with a series of writers and a late-in-the-game switch of directors from New Zealand’s Vincent Ward (THE NAVIGATOR: A MEDIEVAL ODYSSEY) to MTV’s David Fincher (Madonna’s “Vogue” video, the “Would you give a cigarette to an unborn child?” American Cancer Society PSA), they finally got the ball rolling. With an unfinished script. The 27-year-old first time feature director fought for (and lost) creative control, eventually quitting during post-production, at which point the studio recut the movie without his input. Never great when that happens.

Based on what we learned from THE PLAYER, studio interference should mean they gave it an unearned happy ending that changed the whole spirit of the thing. Like when they reshot the ending of FATAL ATTRACTION, or later when they tried to make Fincher get rid of the head in the box in SEVEN. This is a different situation. What came out of that battle was a mean, dark, anti-crowdpleaser that disappointed, outraged or depressed many fans. Artistically I never thought it was the outright disaster it was initially received as – in fact, I always liked it – but I could never pretend it matched its predecessors.

30 years later – after it’s been in my life so long I can’t remember anything else – it requires no effort to drop all the baggage and admire ALIEN 3 as a singular-ish vision or, at the very least, an act of sheer audacity. Another ’92 blockbuster sequel I’ll be reviewing caused a commotion for allegedly being “too dark,” but I think this baby is still the undisputed bleakness champion of big studio sequels to mainstream hits. To illustrate how unusual the approach is, let’s imagine if the summer’s earlier part 3, LETHAL WEAPON 3, had made some of the same decisions. What if rather than bring back the whole gang, including Leo, they only brought back Riggs? Murtaugh and Leo are said to have died in between 2 and 3. We see brief glimpses of Murtaugh’s mutilated corpse. Riggs goes to the morgue to see Leo’s body, then demands to watch the autopsy. He spends the movie working with murderers and rapists, almost all of whom die, and then the triumphant ending is that he commits suicide. How about that? Do you think that would go over well?

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sneak peek of ALIEN 3 on Patreon now

There are really two specific movies that were released in the summer of ’92 that were the primary reasons I wanted to do this Weird Summer thing. One of them is David Fincher’s audaciously anti-crowdpleasing ALIEN 3. I’ll be posting the review here on Monday but I thought I would give Patreonites a chance to read it early if you want. (It’s nearly 6,000 words, so it might take the weekend.)
 

CHECK IT OUT HERE