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Posts Tagged ‘Julius Harris’

Shrunken Heads

Thursday, April 8th, 2021

Richard Elfman is the son of novelist Clare Elfman. He grew up in L.A., then worked as an Afro-Latin percussionist in the San Francisco musical theater troupe The Cockettes before moving to Paris to perform, and later returning to form the “commedia dell’arte ensemble” or “surrealist street theatre troupe” The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. They performed Cab Calloway covers and Russian ballet songs in whiteface, won an episode of The Gong Show, released a doo wop song about the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, and played demons in a hallucination scene in I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN. In the late ‘70s Elfman turned filmmaker, directing the Mystic Knights’ black and white cult musical FORBIDDEN ZONE (released in 1982).

It’s a pretty obnoxious and completely amazing movie, filmed on theatrical sets beautifully designed in a German expressionist/Max Fleischer cartoon style (and sometimes noticeably made of paper). It’s a short but unrelenting burlesque nightmare of tap dancing frogs and skeletons, adults dressed as children and/or only wearing underwear, lots of Mickey Mouse ears, fezzes and boobs, every single character (and there are tons of them) a weirdo or a grotesque caricature. They move bizarrely and at fast speed, lip sync to old timey big band jazz tunes, simulate humping. It stylishly switches to animation as they plummet to Hell or through the intestine shaped tunnel from the Hercules family’s basement to the Sixth Dimension, which is ruled by Susan Tyrrell as the Cruella-meets-drag-queen Queen Doris, and Herve Villechaize as her cheating husband King Fausto.

Elfman’s younger brother Danny made some great songs for it and has a scene as Satan, singing “Minnie the Moocher” with a band of hooded, lumpy ghouls. Joe Spinnell shows up as a sleazy, drunk sailor. To me it’s soiled by its use of historical racist imagery – I know this is vintage hipster irony or some shit, but opening with a blackface pimp character looking for his heroin is a problem. And you also have to be patient with the inside joke art school forced weirdness nonsense humor ethos that thinks it’s hilarious to have  a main character named “Squeezit Henderson,” who has a twin sister played by the same actor, who is credited as “Toshiro Boloney.” (That’s actually Matthew Bright, better known for directing FREEWAY. His well-meaning drama TIPTOES, which infamously co-stars Gary Oldman as a little person, was inspired by the director’s friendship with Villechaize.)

Around that time Richard passed the creative direction of the Mystic Knights to Danny, who soon decided to ditch all the theatrics and strip down to the rock band Oingo Boingo. They became very popular and had songs on movies ranging from WEIRD SCIENCE to TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. And during this time, of course, Tim Burton convinced Danny to score PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, which led to other scores, and all the sudden he was an A-list film composer.

Meanwhile, Richard directed a few of the band’s videos, but didn’t make any more movies until 1993, when he resurfaced with a silly but pretty straight forward Mimi Lesseos b-action vehicle I’ve already reviewed called STREETS OF RAGE. For that he was credited as “Aristide Sumatra,” which is the name of a character in his third movie, SHRUNKEN HEADS. Released in 1994, SHRUNKEN HEADS was written by Elfman’s old friend Bright (pre-FREEWAY) and produced by Charles Band and his company Full Moon Entertainment. So you better believe it has some tiny little guys in it. Shrunken, like the title says. (read the rest of this shit…)

Trouble Man

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

TROUBLE MAN is a solid tough guy movie from the early ‘70s Black action cinema movement. Director Ivan Dixon was an actor (PORGY AND BESS, A RAISIN IN THE SUN, NOTHING BUT A MAN) turned TV director (The Bill Cosby Show, Room 222, Mod Squad) making his first theatrical feature. He followed this with the much more politically radical THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he went back to TV after that.

The script is by John D.F. Black, a white TV writer who had worked on some of the same shows as Dixon and then wrote SHAFT. The feel of this one is closer to SHAFT than SPOOK. It’s a serious and gritty movie, but it’s less concerned with militancy and more the standard staples of the genre often referred to as Blaxploitation: the wish fulfillment of larger-than-life manliness, some garish period style, and an outstanding soundtrack album by a genius soul artist – Marvin god damn Gaye!

The hero (Robert Hooks, STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, King David in POSSE) is actually called Mr. T, or sometimes just T. Though he might be able to make a claim for Toughest Man in the World, he has little else in common with the other Mr. T. He has regular hair and wears suits and ties. Sometimes a little flashy, I guess. And the ties are almost as wide as your head, but everybody else in the movie is wearing those too. (read the rest of this shit…)

Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

August 23, 1991

Dump all the macho pop culture of the ’80s – movies, TV shows, music videos, beer and cigarette ads, wrestling – into a strainer, shake it around, and the chunks you got left are HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN, a buddy-action movie that plays at first like a satire of, but then maybe a tribute to, our basest ideals of masculinity.

It starts with a disclaimer that no, this is not affiliated with the two products it’s named after. The title characters are not supposed to be advertising mascots come to life, some weird meta thing like FOODFIGHT!. It’s tempting to think so, though, when you see them sitting on billboards, Harley (Mickey Rourke, DOUBLE TEAM) always wearing his patch-covered motorcycle jacket, Marlboro (Don Johnson, DEAD BANG) his cowboy gear, cigarette dangling from his lip (though he supposedly quit).

It’s more like it takes place in a pure world of action movie tropes. In the first 10 minutes there’s both an interrupted convenience store robbery and a bar brawl. (Marlboro, being a cowboy, has a disagreement with some Native Americans at the pool table.) They drive motorcycles and leave women naked in hotel beds without saying goodbye. They start in Amarillo and Colorado is mentioned but for the most part their whole world seems to be Las Vegas, L.A. and the dusty desert roads (and train tracks) between them. (read the rest of this shit…)

Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

tn_maniaccop3In the tradition of MANIAC COP 2, MANIAC COP 3: BADGE OF SILENCE begins with footage from the end of the last one. Undead Maniac Cop Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar)’s honor guard funeral is intercut with new scenes of a voodoo priest (Julius Harris, also in Larry Cohen’s BLACK CAESAR) stabbing a head with a ritualistic dagger and chanting. So now we know that part 2’s CARRIE-esque ending is actually a voodoo curse. Man, first Chucky, then Screwface, now this. What the bloodclot, voodoo?

Robert Davi returns as Mac, who is investigating these voodoo guys and suspects a connection to Cordell. Claudia Christian’s character Riley doesn’t show, but there’s another female lead (Gretchen Becker), a younger officer nicknamed “Maniac Kate” for her Dirty Harry type approach to law enforcement. Mac knows her mother and considers her a kid sister, but seems kind of flirtatious in their first scene together at the gun range (hopefully now renamed The Six Target-Shooting Officers Killed By Maniac Cop In Part 2 Memorial Gun Range) where they take turns shooting the target while she vents about getting in trouble for shooting an attempted rapist. Mac says she should’ve waited a little longer so she could’ve shot more than just an attempted rapist. Classy.

Maniac Kate responds to a pharmacy holdup by a crazed pill-feaster (Jackie Earle Haley in the movie that came before the one that earned him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor). Kate and the junkie end up in the hospital, the hostage dead, and a pair of sleazy tabloid video journalists film the whole thing and broadcast an edited version that makes her look like she was in the wrong. (read the rest of this shit…)

Friday Foster

Monday, July 16th, 2012

I didn’t realize this until recently, but the Pam Grier movie FRIDAY FOSTER came from a comic strip. It ran from 1970-1974 and was the first syndicated comic with an African-American woman in the lead. It was created by a journeyman writer named Jim Lawrence who also wrote for radio shows such as Green Hornet and comic strips based on James Bond and Dallas (!). The artist was a Spaniard named Jorge Longarón until the last year, when it was taken over by Gray Morrow, co-creator of MAN THING.
(read the rest of this shit…)