Years ago at this point, Jesse Bullington and I co-wrote a column called Films of High Adventure that ran on a semi-regular basis. For those of you who never read it, but are for some reason reading now, the deal was basically this: I never really watched most of the big-budget cheesy fantasy/action/scifi/whatever movies that came out back when I was a wee Tanz, only developing a love of such things in later life. Jesse, who’s watched like every movie ever, plus used to manage a video store, made suggestions and watched them along with me. Then we’d write up some Stalter and Waldorf-style commentary. Anyways, we had to drop the column due to being pretty busy, but when a friend said she wanted a “full report” on Masters of the Universe (she kindly let me borrow her DVD—see below) I figured this would be a fun way of providing her with such. Here’s our old intro:
The Film: Masters of the Universe (1987)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? A Golan-Globus production (The American Ninja Series), because of course it is. Direction by Gary Goddard, who never made another feature length movie but went on to direct numerous theme park attractions, including Star Trek: The Experience and Jurassic Park: The Ride. Written by David Odell, whose experience in writing dialogue for lifeless puppets in The Dark Crystal and The Muppet Show served him well when it came time to work with Dolph Lundgren. Shameless Star Wars rip-off soundtrack by Bill Conti. Acting, such as it is, by Dolph (chemical engineering Masters grad, Olympian at the 96’ Summer Games, and recipient of a Fullbright scholarship to study at MIT … and star of the first, fifth, and sixth Universal Soldier movies), Frank Langella (the world’s sexiest Dracula, at least until Gary Oldman came along), Meg Foster (They Live, Hera from Hercules and Xena), Billy Barty (Frequent Films of High Adventure alum; see our columns onLegend and Willow), Robert Duncan McNeill (uh, a leading role on Star Trek: Voyager? Molly adds: That… that was Tom Paris? WTF?!), James Tolkan (“hey, it’s the bald principal from Back to the Future!”), Chelsea Field (Dust Devil, The Birds II: Land’s End, and wife of Scott Bakula), and Courtney Cox (something called Cougar Town? Ouch). Aside from a bunch of extras, there are maybe five other people in the whole movie with speaking lines—one of said extras won a contest toymaker Mattel held to be featured in the film, and this lucky lad, Richard Szponder, got to play the stirring role of “Pigboy.”
Quote: “Where are your friends now? Tell me about the loneliness of good, He-Man—is it equal to the loneliness of evil?”
Alternate quote: “You mean this used to be an animal…?”
First viewing by Jesse: Right after the video release arrived at the local Uni-Mart gas station from which we rented most of our movies when I was a kid. So probably a few years after it actually came out, which would put me at maybe seven or eight years old.
First viewing by Molly: A few weeks ago. Jesse and I had wanted to do Masters of the Universe for Films of High Adventure back when we were doing the column regularly, but the local video store doesn’t have a copy. Go figure! Anywho, somehow this became a topic of conversation at StarFest, a local Denver con, whilst hanging out with Stephen Graham Jones and Carrie Vaughn, both of whom were appalled I’d never seen it before (specifically because of the Teela-thinks-meat-is-gross moment I quoted above … they know me). Carrie very generously volunteered to loan me her personal copy, much to my husband John’s extreme pleasure, so we watched it on his birthday weekend.
Most recent viewing by both: A few weeks ago
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Moderately high, but for all the wrong reasons—this turkey was the first time I remember experiencing deep, palpable disappointment from a film. I was young, stupid, and loved all things He-man, so a live-action movie couldn’t possibly let me down, could it? Turns out, it could and it did. I remember that right up until the end I kept expecting Battlecat to show up, or for Dolph to don a pink tunic and turn into Prince Adam, or even just have Teela pop her collar and/or take off her pants. Not even one maniacal Skeletor cackle? Weaaaak.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: None. I totally played with He-Man toys (still have a scar from where one pinched me badly), loved the show. Loved She-Ra too, of course. I wasn’t aware there was a feature film until I think John told me about it.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Weaaaak. I would estimate that between my first childhood viewings and the modern day, I’ve watched previous Films of High Adventure entries Conan the Barbarian, The Beastmaster, and Yor: The Hunter from the Future a dozen times each, easy. Masters of the Universe I never rewatched, not even when it came on tv—some wounds never heal. I unsuccessfully petitioned that instead of watching it, we instead screen some episodes of the (total classic) cartoon, or even just watch the ten-hour version of this:
Did Molly listen? No she did not.
Molly’s thoughts prior to watching: I was super-stoked, no lie. I … kind of love He-Man. I spent some quality time revisiting the cartoon a year or so ago, and while I had to stop watching due to how much Orko is crammed into every 22 minutes (what is up with that? NO ONE EVER LIKED ORKO), some of the earlier episodes are really quite good. “The Creeping Horak” in particular was kind of … cosmically horrible, if I may? Also: Teela! Also also: Skeletor and Evil-Lynn’s kinky, weird-ass relationship. Also also also: Skeletor and He-Man’s kinky, weird-ass relationship. Okay … so the obvious fight between those two over who is the leather-daddy and who is the leather-boy is pretty much the best thing about watching the show as an adult.
So obviously when I heard there was no Orko in the film, plus Teela was a vegetarian, kind of, and also Frank Langella was playing Skeletor, despite everyone in the world save John, Steven, and Carrie telling me the film sucked, there was no turning back.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: It’s pretty much as stinky as I remembered, though as grown-up I’m (somewhat) more able to articulate my displeasure then I was as a tot. I’m also better equipped to parse just why it’s so bad, which doesn’t really redeem the film, but does make me even more depressed about the fan-fucking-tastic He-Man movie that never was. So, yay for adulthood?
As a kid, I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t on Eternia for most of the film, where all the cool monsters were, why did the costumes suck, etc. Looking back on the project, it seems likely a one-two punch of frugality and copyright law. A movie that largely takes place on California backlots with stupid American teenagers running around is easier on the investors than a movie set on an alien planet populated by freaky creatures. Apparently for the film they secured the rights to the toyline, but not to the cartoon series, so it was probably also easier to just invent new characters and storylines then to, you know, adapt the source material that everyone loved. Like I said, understanding why it burns you like an eyeful of Skeletor’s crazyjuice doesn’t do much to mitigate the pain, but whatever.
Yet for all that, watching it with little hope of actually liking it did let me appreciate some of the subtle nuances I never appreciated as a kid. For example, Evil-Lyn, Teela, and Man-at-Arms were perfectly cast, even if there costumes were lacking. And Skeletor’s gold lamé Godmode outfit at the end does answer the age old question of, “What if the What if comic series had an issue titled “What if … Galactus Ran Studio 54?”
Frank Langella was certainly game, and contrary to the above image, kinda took Skeletor in a slightly less-campy direction. That said, I generally prefer my Skeletor like I prefer my friendly neighborhood street musicians: coked to the gills, shuddering with deranged laughter, and just plain weird. But Langella’s take on the villain has more, uh, gravitas, and points for trying, I guess. By the Sorceress’ ridiculous bird suit, did I really type that? I did. That’s what happens when you look for a silver lining on this brown cloud.
Here’s the thing: He-man, being a toyline that grew into a narrative instead of the other way around, is totally fucking insane. Everyone in the show is either howling mad or balls-dumb, and the plot follows suit. It’s just a bazonkers storyline, and it needs to be in order to provide the joy one feels when Prince Adam explains his backstory:
What kind of powers does He-man possess? Oh, that’s right, fabulous secret powers, with that allusion to the world’s dumbest origin story delivered with an animated smirk that Dolph Lundgren could only dream of pulling off. Rather than embracing the random craziness of the toyline and the cartoon, however, the filmmakers decided to make things comparatively coherent, which results in a cinematic disaster that is nowhere near as campy as it needs to be. Which is saying something, considering that camp is about all that the movie has going for it. Alas, I say, alas and alack.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Everyone lies! Well, everyone except my husband, Stephen Graham Jones, and Carrie Vaughn, I guess. Masters of the Universe is totally good. It’s as if Warlock and Beastmaster had a moviekid, and that kid was a Mattel tie-in film ripping off Star Wars. What’s not to like about that?
I mean, there is certainly enough about MotU to incur frequent skeptical head-tilts, especially in re: the plot, the quizzical lack of Prince Adam, Battle Cat, or SNNNNAKE MOUNTAIN! (sorry, but you gotta always scream it like Skeletor), the whole conceit that 80s teenagers would assume any old piece of equipment with lights on it was a “Japanese synthesizer,” the ending, Billy Barty playing an Orko substitute somehow just as annoying as Orko … but I dunno. Even with all that, it was awesome. Sure, the writing is leaden, Dolph is terrible, and it makes no sense overall, but it’s great in a super-80s kind of way. I mean, come on! That scene where Teela shoots stuff and turns around, grinning like it’s Christmas on Eternia and she just got a new jumpsuit, saying “Woman at arms!”? Has there ever been a fluffier “Take that, patriarchy!” moment in 80s cinema? I challenge you to think of one.
Additionally, while they abandoned most if not all of the stuff I love about He-Man (what can I say, I can’t get enough of that one recycled animation of He-Man throwing a big rock at stuff, and there is ZERO big-rock-throwing action in MotU!), they kept the central weirdness of the love triangle between Evil-Lyn, He-Man, and Skeletor, and they should be commended for that. I mean, even calling it a love triangle is too simple. While Wikipedia, source of all unbiased knowledge, lists Evil-Lyn as Skeletor’s “significant other” there is so much more to those two than that, right? They’re certainly a couple, but more of a “She makes him tea and listens to his feelings and also on slow Saturday nights she lets him read her his bromance fanfics about how on “Alternate Eternia,” Skeletor and He-Man are on the same side and also sometimes are girls and sometimes they also invite over Prince Adam, that goody two-shoes, to have adventures” kind of couple than … anything else. AND FOR ONCE THIS ISN’T JUST ME, OKAY? The movie pretty much proves it, right? I mean, what exactly are Evil-Lyn and Skeletor doing in that scene where he’s staring at her while she kneels in front of him? Furthermore, why else would He-Man shout at Skeletor that it’salways been about the two of them, while getting laser-whipped, or whatever? Uh huh.
High Points: That one moment when Skeletor is being weird to Evil-Lyn, staring right in her eyes but not making out with her; when Dolph finally belts out I HAVE THE POWER whilst getting whipped by a laser-whip, much to Skeletor’s obvious titillation … when the cop stays in Eternia because duh, and also, pretty much everything. (So sez Molly: Jesse will save his points for the next section)
Low points: Billy Barty as not-Orko, being goddamn Orko. The whole “instead of making a He-man movie, why don’t we just make another bland, broke-ass ‘warriors from another time and place comes to earth’ picture” thing. Everyone except Dolph wearing entirely too many pants.
Final Verdict: Molly gives it two thumbs up. Jesse remains solidly a Skeletor-sized “hater.”
After next week’s post up at Fantasy, “Films of High Adventure” is going on hiatus for a while due to Jesse and myself needing to devote more time to other projects. But! This week we celebrate my dad’s birthday by watching one of the movies he showed me as a wee Tanz: it involves Mars, red money (Mars is red!), red dust, red blood spurting out of people, and a red-faced Austrian body builder as a secret agent who thinks he’s a construction worker who thinks he’s a secret agent. Maybe. What could it be?
Film: Total Recall (1990)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Direction again by dirt-dog par excellence Paul Verhoeven (Starship Troopers, Basic Instinct), his follow-up to last week’s RoboCop. Final screenplay by half a dozen people after dozens of attempts (including one by Pier Anthony) to adapt a Philip K. Dick short story that featured very few gunfights and mutants—of those who penned the final version, most notable is Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Return of the Living Dead). Soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith (Pretty Much Every Cheesy Action Film From the Last Three Decades) and some decent special effects by frequent Verhoeven collaborator Rob Bottin (RoboCop, The Thing). “Acting” by Films of High Adventure All-Star Arnie Schwarz, Sharon Stone (so, so many turkeys), Rachel Ticotin (uh, Con Air), Ronny Cox (the main OCP baddie in RoboCop), Marshall Bell (the coach in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Magistrate Claggett in Deadwood), and the dependably angry Michael Ironside (Scanners, Starship Troopers)
Quote: “You blabbed, Quaid! You blabbed about Mars!”
First viewing by Molly: I have no idea. Young, young, young. My dad got really excited when it came out, and so it was one of the rare grown-up sci-fi action movies I saw as a kid.
First viewing by Jesse: Elementary school—another one my dear, departed grandmother showed me.
Most recent viewing by both: A couple of weeks ago.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: I thought it was pretty fucking cool, that’s for sure. I was never a huge Arnold fan—I found him alarming as a child, and still do, honestly—but I remember being impressed by the things that impress children inclined towards mutants, three-tittied hookers, psychically-implanted memories, and x-rays that show guns, too.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Decent. I generally preferred fantasy to sci-fi but this one had mutants and ultra-violence, so it was alright by me. I remember not understanding that atmospheric pressure affected the human body and thought the reason Arnie et al inflated on the surface of Mars was that the red sand was poisonous or something. That shit freaked me right the hell out:
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Pretty excited. My dad’s birthday was the 16th of November, and I wanted to do this review this week in celebration of his enthusiasm for science fiction and fantasy that was so formative for me. I didn’t recall (oh ho!) much of the film other than the asphyxiation sequence at the end and the three-tittied whore, quite frankly [Jesse says: also, dude, three-tittied whore is not the preferred nomenclature. Tri-breasted sex worker, please].
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Cautiously intrigued, as I am with most Verhoeven screenings these days. That he has talent is undeniable; that he uses said talent in the service of vicious, intentionally trashy indulgences of his nihilism is equally undeniable. Yet I seem to remember this one having an honest-to-goodness, no-strings attached happy ending. . . which of course made me think I must have missed something the first time around.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: I feel like there’s a whip-smart sci-fi action movie lurking behind the façade of Total Recall. By this I mean that the film could have spent a lot more time exploring the nature of memory and subjective reality, but chose instead to over-rely on chest-thumping and man-worship. That said, it’s still fucking awesome in the way only big-budget sci-fi action movies can be: loud and bullet-riddled, and filled with questionably-futuristic technology, hot babes, awesome dudes, evil corporations, and cool stuff.
I think I prefer RoboCop of these two films simply because it manages to be (1) gorier, (2) smarter, (3) populated with more interesting characters, (4) more violent, and (5) less misogynistic all at the same time. That’s no small feat, but it’s true. That said. . . Total Recall will always have a place in my heart, like Legend, in that even though they’re both questionably good, I saw them at a young enough age that they were utterly mesmerizing and highly educational. Also, Total Recall is obviously the forerunner of Tank Girl, which I didn’t realize until this re-watch. Really! Tank Girl substitutes post-apocalyptic earth for Mars and a suit-wearing corporate grey-haired water lord for a suit-wearing corporate grey-haired air lord. Psychic mutants become warrior-kangaroo-men, and hey! Presto! A script! Sort of [Jesse says: think I still prefer Tank Girl, though—Ronny Cox is good, but he is no Malcolm McDowell, and Arnie sure as shootin’ ain’t half the thespian Lori Petty is].
Anyways, there’s apparently a remake in the works, and it’ll be interesting to see what a 21st century overhaul of this film might look like [Jesse says: maybe with Colin Farrell! I have no idea what his career did to make him hate it so. . .]. I really like Verhoeven’s grimy futures as seen in Total Recall and RoboCop, and if the new film is all shiny and Mac store-looking, I can’t imagine it will be as good. I like that these two films look like they could be our real future; that they could be the near-future that will one day be the far-future of Wall-E. Verhoeven is far too cynical to make near-future films where somehow the world has, I dunno, decided all of a sudden that polluting rivers, littering, strip mining, and overproducing unnecessary commodities so we can all enjoy the planet’s resources is Not Cool Anymore, since. . . well. Yeah. The evidence for that happening anytime soon is not particularly compelling. But in the true Verhoeven style, what we get is all that in the background, for the nerds to ponder. For everyone else, there’s explosions and boobies and one-liners! Thanks, Mr. Verhoeven, for giving us what we want and then sneering at us for wanting it, as you laugh all the way to the fucking bank. It’s what you do best.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Molly’s summation directly above is pretty much the most accurate description of his Hollywood output that I’ve ever read, and she also managed to connect Mr. Showgirls himself to Wall-E, no mean feat. For my money, Total Recall is decent viewing both by Schwarzie and Verhoeven movie standards, with many a well-executed effect, action scene, and bit of tawdry silliness to help grease the rails. The movie, as Molly pointed out, isn’t nearly as clever as it should have been, and compared to the superficially simpler but surprisingly nuanced RoboCop it’s fairly one-dimensional. Of course, that one dimension has mutants and nudity and mutant nudity and guns guns guns and fights fights fights, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.
The scenes where the film strains to be more than a simple action movie and almost succeeds are easily the most interesting, such as when Sharon Stone and the doctor from Rekall try to persuade Arnie to take the red pill to wake up from his artificial reality (and no, I don’t know why we didn’t cover The Matrix for this month, either, other than neither of us could bear re-watching it anytime soon). Although the scene in question quickly devolves into grunting and punching and shooting, it’s interesting to note that everything the doctor predicts comes to pass in the course of the film, which leads to the possible interpretation that Total Recall really is about a construction worker going crazy from a virtual vacation and not, as is usually thought, about a secret agent rediscovering his identity only to reject it for a nobler one.
The concept is never again overtly referenced in the film, but in the commentary Verhoeven somewhat gleefully offers that the fade to white that concludes the happy ending could be Arnie’s character finally being lobotomized following the hallucinations that have made up the bulk of the film. Given the director’s bleak track record, it’s easy to hypothesize which version of events he favors. So much for that happy ending—thanks for another bedtime story about the human race, Uncle Paul.
High Points: All the classy moments, from Arnie using an innocent bystander as a human shield to just about any scene with Sharon Stone—such as when Arnie greases her and says “considah that a divorce.” The part where Arnie takes the bug out of his nose. Definitely not Arnie’s acting. Johnny cabs, which are an infinitely cooler method of knowing where you are than Garmin or Magellan:
Final Verdict: ARGHHHHHH!!!!!!! But, you know, in a good way.
Next Time: We conclude Memory, Humanity, and Dystopia Month with Blade Runner over at Fantasy Magazine.
Memory, Humanity, and Dystopia Month continues today with a film about a robotic police officer. I wonder what it could be?
Film: RoboCop (1987)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall, Basic Instinct), perhaps the nastiest, most cynical director of the modern age. Screenplay by Edward Neumeir (who later “adapted” Heinlein’s Starship Troopers for Verhoeven) and Michael Miner, both of whom would probably rather be remembered for this collaboration than their sophomore pairing, Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid. Suitably epic soundtrack by Basil Poledouris (Conan the Barbarian) and impressive special effects by Rob Bottin (The Thing). Acting by Peter Weller (Naked Lunch, Buckaroo Bonzai) Nancy Allen (Carrie, Dressed to Kill), Kurtwood Smith (the dad from That 70s Show causing the same sort of alarming OMG-it’s-that-guy reaction that Paul Riser evokes in Aliens), Ronny Cox (Total Recall), Robert DoQui (Coffy, Nashville), and Twin Peaks alum Ray Wise (Leland Palmer), Miguel Ferrer (Special Agent Albert Rosenfeld), and Dan O’Herlihy (Andrew Packard) as scumbags of various stripes.
Quote: “Excuse me, I have to go. Somewhere there is a crime happening.”
Alternate quote: “I’d buy that for a dollar!”
First viewing by Molly: Last week.
First viewing by Jesse: In the fourth grade, at this kid Nathan Fisher’s house.
Most recent viewing by both: Last week.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Very little. I remember it being on the TV at my friend Amanda’s house (Amanda had not one but two older brothers and parents who didn’t give a crap if their kids watched R- or X-rated movies) and being vaguely intrigued. I remember inquiring of one of these aforementioned older brothers, “is RoboCop human inside the suit?” and the answer being “No, he is a robot.” Being a mere child, I did not realize that robots, too, could have feelings and experience angst (thank god the internet was created to teach us such lessons—link NSFW, but worth your time if you like robots and ruffly underpants), and thus figured I would not care about RoboCop’s fate. How wrong I was.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: High. I remember being totally unprepared for the wanton violence, and, of course, totally impressed by it. The toxic waste scene freaked me out more than just about anything else from my childhood—I’d seen The Toxic Avenger, so I knew these things were plausible.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Molly’s thoughts prior to watching: Uneasy. I don’t really like Paul Verhoeven’s movies in general. I mean—the ending of Starship Troopers, where a haz-mat besuitted scientist gives an unsolicited gynecological exam to an alien still troubles me (around the 3:30 mark), and Verhoeven also directed the only movie I genuinely wish I could un-see: Flesh and Blood. Even Ladyhawke had some moments I didn’t loathe—not so with Flesh and Blood, which made me actively wish I had never been born so I would not have then grown up into a person who was watching Flesh and Blood. Christ. BUT N-E-WAYZ Paul Verhoeven also directed Total Recall, which is pretty awesome, and Jesse assured me that RoboCop was more in the TR mold than F&B. . . even though he also mentioned that it was “a movie that would probably make me hate everything.” With that sort of endorsement, what could go wrong?
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Wary. Verhoeven’s mean-spirited, bleak view of humanity has depressed Molly before, and though the pleasure I take in Molly’s reactions to some of these turkeys may appear to be sadistic, I don’t actually like making her unhappy—at least not in the way that Paul Verhoeven makes her unhappy. For one thing, it’s hard to tell if he’s misogynistic or simply nihilistic to the point of hating everyone regardless of their gender. His tendency to cater to the lowest common denominator while simultaneously mocking said denominator for being so low and common is something that puts as many people off as it wins over, and though I enjoy a good-natured torture session along the lines of a Yor: The Hunter from the Future or a Beastmaster I’m not so keen on making her genuinely miserable with the screenings I select.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Man, was I ever surprised by RoboCop! It’s really good! Who knew, besides everybody but me?
Jesse’s review pretty much encapsulates my feelings on the film, but I have to say, I was impressed for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I was amazed by the ridiculous amount of violence of the film—wowza. I mean, I’ve seen enough movies to know something bad was going to happen to the dude who trained the gun on the ED-209, but I was surprised by the sheer number of bullets pumped into that poor bastard. Same goes for the scene where the dad from That 70s Show and his assorted thugs kill Murphy—that shotgun blast to the hand was pretty agonizing to watch, as was the rest of that scene. And oh god oh god where the ginger-bearded bad guy drives a truck into a silo of toxic waste and survives long enough to melt and wheeze in a completely nauseating manner. . . I am going to stop thinking about that right now.
I was also impressed by how merciless and accurate the depiction of a privatized future America was, too. Interestingly enough, Jesse and I watched this the night of the overwhelmingly depressing mid-term elections, as America was voting tea baggers and other sundry assholes into office. Though it feels ridiculous to even type the words, I’mma say it: RoboCop hit a little too close to home for me that night. The fact that an overwrought parable like RoboCop (fucking RoboCop, man) made me so uneasy is both a testament to the state of America in 2010 as well as the overall quality screenwriting and directing of the film.
It’s obvious that the team that brought RoboCop to fruition love their dystopian novels about the dangers of capitalism and what treating people as commodities does to the world, and were intelligent enough to update the old warhorse of Brave New World into relevance. The early shout-out to Henry Ford Hospital pleased me immensely, but then later when a Lee Iacocca Elementary School is referenced. . . that’s brilliant. It’s those little flourishes—as well as updating the shiny bright nobody-has-feelings-but-at-least-they-have-bread-and-circuses of BNW into the more reasonable if ickier future of environmental pollution, lowered standards of living for disposable segments of the population, and general public despair and dilapidation as the rich get richer—that make RoboCop a much better film than Verhoeven’s Total Recall, which I felt had a smart movie lurking somewhere inside of it. Alas, with Arnold in the lead, couldn’t really rise above anything more than him shooting Sharon Stone and saying “considaaah this a divorce” or whatever the fuck happens in that moment. RoboCop, by contrast, is much smarter, much more pointed in its critiques, much better.
In the end, RoboCop is a really weird movie, and watching it for the first time at age 29 is a pretty weird experience, too. I do wonder what I would have thought of it had I seen it at a significantly younger age. I don’t think I would have been able to handle it as a child at all. . . I mean, I had nightmares for quite literally weeks after watching the tequila- and monster-fueled rape scene in Poltergeist II. In high school I probably would’ve resisted the core message of the film due to my objectivist leanings at the time (or re-framed it into a parable about how Man’s Greatness Shines Through and blamed the corruptness of the individual corporate bad guys instead of capitalism as a system). In college I. . . I dunno. Might have become enraged, as that was my default mode? Probably. But as a seasoned adult (or something) I must say: RoboCop is a damn fine movie.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Hey, very nice! And by very nice I mean incredibly dark and nihilistic and devoid of any sort of catharsis, but by Verhoeven standards this is positively charming. I pretty much agree with Molly’s take on his work in general and this film in particular, although I’m perhaps less turned off by the filmmaker’s unrelenting pessimism.
Verhoeven may be subtle as sledgehammer, but he’s also archly subversive, and certain scenes carry far more weight and gravitas than one would expect from an action movie about a robotic police officer. When RoboCop/Murphy and his partner Lewis are all kinds of fucked up following the penultimate shoot-out and lie bleeding to death in a lake of polluted sludge, Robo reassures Lewis that OCP, the corrupt corporation responsible for the events of the film, “will fix everything. They fix everything.” Murphy may have rediscovered his humanity but he’s still a literal tool of OCP, and though all the Hollywood villains are dispatched by the time the credits roll nothing has really changed—the status quo has been protected, and OCP can continue with business as usual.
For being a movie about a moralistic cyborg cop cleaning up corruption, RoboCop studiously avoids buying into the chest-thumping and flag-waving of most 80s action movies. On the contrary, part of what makes it such a fascinating film is how Verhoeven rejects these conventions of the genre and instead fashions a cautionary tale of the dangers of unfettered capitalism—the privatization of the public sector is nothing short of catastrophic in Verhoeven’s universe, and has led to tv addiction, public apathy, desensitization to violence, environmental collapse, and general misery for the majority of the population. That Verhoeven’s film satirizing America’s desensitization to violence was so bloody its initial cut was rated X plays into what we were talking about earlier regarding the director’s tendency to simultaneously give the audience what they want even as he mocks them for enjoying it. He may be a nasty man with a mean sense of humor and utter contempt for humanity, but at least he’s interesting.
High Points: All the weird Korean commercials it spawned. The effects, which hold up incredibly well and kick the shit out of most CGI nonsense. That such a nihilistic “hey, fuck you dumb Americans” movie spawned a stereotypically American kid-friendly franchise complete with toned-down sequels, action figures, video games, comic books, and cartoons. The mingling of ultra-violence with blacker-than-the-chambers-of-a-dead-nun’s-heart humor, such as this early scene:
Final Verdict: Pretty awesome.
Next Time: We continue Memory, Humanity, and Dystopia Month with Total Recall.
Jesse Bullington and Molly Tanzer have decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of their childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on their blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. This week, as they prepare to go out of town for a conference, they asked us, their respective spouses Raechel and John, to take over for them. Sure, we said. We’ll take great care of your column. We’ll treat it like our own. Hey, it’s October. How about a classic Halloween film? Something classy and intelligent, yet terrifying. Leave it to us. Really, don’t worry about a thing. Have fun at the conference!
Film: Ernest Scared Stupid (1991)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Jim Varney and the gentle hand of a loving God. Mostly Jim Varney (Ernest Goes to Camp, Ernest Goes to Jail, Ernest Rides Again, and The Beverly Hillbillies) as Ernest, of course. Written and directed by John R. Cherry III (Ernest Goes to Camp, Ernest Goes to Jail, Ernest Rides Again, and shockingly enough not The Beverly Hillbillies). Child acting by a bunch of children who went on to do literally nothing else (with the notable exception of Shay Astar, who rockets from the success of this film right into your nightmares as the “imaginary” friend Isabella in a terrible early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.) The voice of Ernie Fosselius as the voice of Trantor the Troll! (Who’s Ernie Fosselius? Only the director of Hardware Wars, the greatest Star Wars parody ever made! Also, apparently, the voice of most of the “ack-ack” noises in Mars Attacks!) Oh, and Eartha Kitt (classic Catwoman, of course) setting this film apart from all other Ernest films by actually acting and being awesome in that way that only Eartha Kitt could.
Quote: “You’re the seventh son of the seventh son, you’re the baby, you’re the boy. . . you are the great redneck hope!”
Alternate quote: “You don’t want to fight me. . . I know tai chi, kung fu, chow mein, and. . . I saw Hulkamania three times, once in slow-mo!”
Alternate alternate quote: “Oh! I sure hope you’re from Keebler!”
And one more for good measure: “Well, nobody’s home! I guess they’re out robbing graves or biting the heads off of chickens or whatever’s in voodoo vogue.”
First viewing by John: The moment it came out on video. I’m guessing ’92, making it pretty much the perfect end to the Reagan/Bush years. I imagine W watched this at least a million times while he was supposed to be running his father’s re-election campaign.
First viewing by Raechel: Same here. Also, I’m pretty sure this movie was the cause of my dad’s dramatic breakup with Blockbuster. Upon returning Ernest Scared Stupid for what must have been the hundredth time, he incurred yet another $4/day late fee and finally snapped.
Most recent viewing by both: Too long ago, that’s for sure. Two weeks ago? Maybe more. Too long.
Impact on John’s childhood development: Huge.Ernest Goes to Camp was the Ernest film that kicked my childhood in the nuts (Molly says: wait, what? What does that even mean? Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? How did it come to pass that I married you?), but I only saw it once, at a friend’s house. Scared Stupid came out when my younger brothers were coming of age, and someone gave it to us as a gift, so it was screened in my living room pretty much every day between its release and the release of Major Payne. If I wasn’t watching Ernest I was hearing him in the background or listening to my brothers quote him. Sometimes when I listen to the rain I hear it tap out a soft, whispering “knowhatimean” on the rooftop.
Impact on Raechel’s childhood development: Like John, I was hooked on Ernest after seeing Ernest Goes to Camp, and really, how could one not be? Scared Stupid is the first cinematic masterpiece I ever watched, and I watched it over and over and over.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
John’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Hells yeah! It’s like Christmas in October!
Raechel’s thoughts prior to re-watching: What the fuck is wrong with Molly and Jesse? Who wouldn’t want to watch this!? Whatever, they’re probably watching some period piece about ladies who die of sadness and people who live off of accrued interest. (Editorial note: Molly believes at least the latter half of that was actually true at the time.)
John’s thoughts post-viewing: God, this movie is even better than I remembered! Seeing Jim Varney and Eartha Kitt in a movie together is like watching a ninja make love to a supernova. It takes your breath away, but it leaves you with a feeling of deep, untarnished joy (Raechel says: this is perhaps the only time I have ever agreed with John’s assessment of a movie). Ernest Scared Stupid has everything that a movie should have: Ernest, Eartha Kitt, a troll named Trantor, an ancient prophecy, Jim Varney playing Ernest’s great-great-etc. grandfather, Ernest driving a garbage truck, a dog. . . everything! And it’s only an hour and a half! You can watch it twice in the time that it takes to watch a lot of movies that have neither Jim Varney nor Eartha Kitt! This movie is perfection.
Raechel’s thoughts post-viewing: Okay, confession time: I developed a severe allergy to slapstick and potty humor quite early in life. I hate most things that can be described as “silly,” and of all the silly things in the world, one of my least favorites is the category of Halloween movies that aren’t about people being gruesomely murdered (Jesse says: someday you’ll have to fess up to owning the Criterion Collection dvd of Hocus Pocus. . .). In short, if I must suffer a Halloween movie that is not rated R for “graphic horror violence and gore,” it’d better be a damn good one. Ernest Scared Stupid is just that. In truth, I was a little worried about re-watching this one because it prominently features children, which I dislike almost as much as slapstick. But in the end, it didn’t matter because Eartha Kitt screaming at Jim Varney while wielding a motherfucking flamethrower is pretty much the best thing ever to grace the big screen. Also, the main troll’s name is Trantor. Oh, and I’m glad I didn’t watch this film with Jesse because I cried when Ernest’s tiny dog, Rimshot, was transformed into a wooden doll, and while John at least tried to comfort me, Jesse is dogscriminatory and would have laughed at my tears. (Molly says: I just asked John “Is the dog really named Rimshot? Like. . . the thing that happens in a bad comedy routine?” John replied: “Yes, it is a joke about humor.” Oh my god.)
High Points: Jim Varney as Ernest. Jim Varney as a dozen other characters. Eartha Kitt. Eartha Kitt screaming and brandishing a flamethrower. The opening credits, which feature Jim Varney making silly faces interspersed with clips from old horror movies. Also, for all you history buffs out there, Ernest’s take on the Ottoman Empire’s attempts to expand into south Africa:
Low Points: The sad, sad fact that it does, no matter how hard you wish it wouldn’t, end.
Final Verdict: Watch it every October and you will achieve enlightenment.
Next Time: Who knows? Probably not an Ernest movie, so who cares?
Jesse Bullington and I have decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. This week Jesse decided it was time for me to see a movie wherein the monsters are called graboids and Kevin Bacon displays his trademark floppy hair. . .
Film: Tremors (1990)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Direction by Ron Underwood, he of City Slickers and The Adventures of Pluto Nash, um, “fame.” Script by Brent Maddock (Short Circuit 2, Wild Wild West) and his longtime writing partner S.S. Wilson, who, in addition to the aforementioned masterpieces, also co-wrote the Tremors sequels and Ghost Dad with Maddock. Zydeco soundtrack by Ernest Troost, with some help from Reba McEntire and some other country music standards. The acting of a lifetime from Kevin “You Can Do It In Six, Guaranteed” Bacon, Fred “Remo Williams” Ward, Victor “Egg Shen” Wong, Michael “J. Fox’s Dad in Family Ties” Gross, Finn “Whatever Happened To Your Career” Carter, and, of course Reba.
Quote: “That’s how they gitcha! They’re under the gottdamn ground!”
Alternate quote: “Who died and made you Einstein?”
First viewing by Molly: Last Thursday.
First viewing by Jesse: As soon as it came out on video. I was eight, and as we were watching it my dad decided I was too scared and so he kicked me out so he could finish it by himself. After much begging it was re-rented and finished a week or two later.
Most recent viewing by both: Last Thursday.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development:None. I don’t think I even ever saw a preview.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Big. To this day I have no idea why, but for some reason graboids were the coolest thing ever to young Jesse—chalk it up to my phobia of/fascination with snakes combined with my love of monsters. I would jump from tree to tree in the woods behind our house to avoid them, and run along the rim of the nearby shale quarry to trick them into falling to their splattery doom. I rarely fell from the trees and never from the quarry, which is why I’m alive today despite the odds I stacked against myself.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Somewhat mystified and suspicious, given the variety of reactions. Jesse couldn’t believe I’d never seen it and insisted it was amazing. John just laughed and shook his head sadly, as he does at every movie Jesse and I watch for FoHA. Raechel cackled. I told my ace dawgg Brad that we were viewing it and he said “I sincerely hope it’s for your column,” but then I recalled that Brad has a serious but perhaps not wholly unwarranted longstanding hatred for Kevin Bacon, so I chalked it up to that.
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Oh hells yes.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Well, OK, the thing is, I like Footloose and absolutely love Dune, so one would think I should enjoy what is essentially a mashup of the two. . . but Tremors has in abundance pretty much everything I hate in movies: comical movie-style rednecks gaping at things, painful set-ups such as the whole rock-paper-scissors gag that you know from the first time it’s trotted out for something trivial that it will later-on be trotted out for more sincere reasons, doo-doo jokes, “scientists” who are highly versed in every field, “and then this happens”-style plots. I could go on. But I won’t, because oddly enough, I. . . I didn’t hate Tremors.
I found it baffling, and balls-dumb, and not really my sort of film, but I think the last complaint is really just a packaging issue. Tremors is basically Big Trouble in Little China with dusty yokels in the mountains instead of Chinese people in San Francisco, and I’m not just saying that because both have Victor Wong doing. . . whatever it is that he did in movies that I suppose we’ll call acting but really just amounts to saying things ominously and scowling in a comical fashion. Seriously, though—both are films about men having no clue what’s up in a complicated, unfamiliar, and potentially dangerous situation, and yet by virtue of playing along and being crafty, they overcome monstrous adversity. It’s not Tremors’s fault that I personally find Chinese apothecary shops more appealing than “the local diner,” six-demon bags more interesting than shotguns, odd subterranean lairs with neon-lighted skulls policed by elemental forces more. . . just all around better than pretty much everything else in the universe. But my preferred brand of stupid doesn’t make it objectively better, and I’m willing to admit that. At least on the internet.
That said, Kurt Russell is better than Kevin Bacon. Objectively (Jesse says: well, yeah, but can you connect Kurt to Goldie Hawn or Sly Stallone in only…oh. Never mind.).
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: The old magic is still there. I went in expecting to be amused by Molly’s reactions, given that this has high quantities of banter, macho posturing, potty humor, and everything that else she has limited patience for in the best of times, but what I got was so much more. What I got was the thing of beauty that is the motion picture Tremorsand Molly’s reactions to the same, which is about as good as it gets, although Molly was admittedly more sedate during this than many a FoHA.
I buy the Big Trouble comparison, and agree that it is the superior film. But one of the greatest things about this damn fine country is that here in the US of A we don’t have to pick between Russelling up some adventure in Chinatown or frying some Bacon to Perfection, no, here in America we can have both, and that’s a beautiful thing. Especially since in both cases monsters are involved.
Monsters movies are better than just about any other kind of horror movie, hell, they’re better than just about any other kind of movie, period, and self-referential ones are maybe the best of the bunch. Taken as an homage to the giant monster movies of the fifties and sixties, Tremors works perfectly, and manages to both be dumb as a sack of hammers and aware that it is dumb as a sack of hammers, and thus never takes itself seriously. It is, in a word, schlock, but the best schlock imaginable, and highly quotable—though admittedly not nearly so quotable as its urban, urbane cousin Big Trouble in Little China. To diss this stupid, clunky action-comedy-monsterfest is to diss everything that is awesome about America, and for all this country’s faults I for one hope the wings of liberty never lose a feather.
High Points: The part where the survivalists battle a graboid. The part where Earl and Valentine are chased into the culvert. Egg Shen’s nigh-Shakespearean death scene. Hell, let’s just say “everything” and leave it at that.
Low Points: These are all Molly’s: the septic tank joke, the annoying hippie-mom and her terrible male child, the absence of one of the characters being a slick city-bred out-of-towner trapped in the boonies due to circumstances, which was pretty much the only monster-movie cliché Tremors lacked.
Final Verdict: “GET OUT OF YOUR PANTS!!!”
Next Time: It’s goddamn October already, and thus for the next two weeks, expect Halloween-themed Films of High Adventure. Next week we allow two special guests to pick the film and review it; for Fantasy we’re doing an iconic movie featuring Tim Curry that just so happens to be watched quite frequently around Halloween. . .
Jesse Bullington and I have decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. This week we re-watched a movie that Wikipedia tells us was awarded the somewhat dubious honor of being “the 7th highest grossing movie since 1980 dealing with the genre of witches.” With a pedigree like that, it can’t be bad–right? RIGHT?!
Film: The Craft (1996)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Direction by Andrew Fleming (Dick, Hamlet 2), from a truly odious script by Fleming and Peter Filardi, who wrote Flatliners and TNT’s Salem’s Lot remake. Soundtrack allegedly by Graeme Revell (Pitch Black, Sin City), but mostly it’s Letters to Cleo, Juliana Hatfield, Elastica, and other 90s bands you’d expect to find in such a production (I, Molly, will admit here that I owned a CD by every one of those artists). The teenagers are played by a host of 20-something actors, including Fairuza Balk (Return to Oz, American History X), Robin Tunney (End of Days—the movie where Schwarzenegger fights the devil), Rachel True (Nowhere, Half Baked), Neve Campbell (Scream, the perfectly respectable Wild Things), and Skeet Ulrich (Heh, Chill Factor) and Breckin Meyer (Clueless) as douchey high school dudes.
Quote: “If God and the Devil were playing football, Manon would be the stadium that they played on.”
Alternate quote: Bus driver: “watch out for weirdos, girls.”
Fairuza Balk: “We are the weirdos, mister.”
First viewing by Molly: Lord, I guess. . . 1996 or 1997? Soon after it came out. I remember watching it while lying on the floor of my friend’s bedroom. We had met at drama camp (!) and she decided it was high time I watched more movies about witches and serial killers, thus we watched The Craft and also all the death scenes from Se7en, which I have still yet to see in its entirety.
First viewing by Jesse: Around the time it came out on video—maybe 97? Early high school, probably.
Most recent viewing by both: Last week.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development:Thankfully less than it might have been? I remember thinking it was pretty OK but being underwhelmed by the conclusion, which had far too much of Fairuza Balk’s teeth-baring craziness and the obnoxious rich girl being rewarded for her highly-questionable virtue.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Negligible. I was really excited about the movie when it came out, especially the prospect of Fairuza Balk playing some badass witch wrecking havoc at a Catholic school, but remember being disappointed and never bothered re-watching it.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: EXCITED. All I remembered was gothed-out schoolgirls successfully executing the “light as a feather, stiff as a board” trick and a scene wherein an icky racist blonde girl tells the lone black character that her hair looks like pubes. I had high, high hopes—the sort of hopes that only make the gods laugh and rub their hands together, as it turns out. Also, Jesse has a huge crush on Fairuza Balk and is totally and weirdly embarrassed about that, and so I anticipated teasing him a lot during the screening (Jesse says: I am not, in fact, embarrassed about respecting her work and talent, but I am hurt at the allegation that this appreciation for an actor’s ability and seemingly pretty cool personality stems from a simple “crush.” Which I also have for her). This anticipation was only bolstered by knowing that 10 Things I Hate About You is in no way a candidate for FoHA and thus I was immune from similar taunting regarding Heath Ledger.
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Hopeful it would be better the second time around, but not exactly counting on it—the odds that the movie had miraculously altered into a state of not-sucking since my inaugural viewing seemed unlikely.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Shit, this movie sucks. It sucks so, so hard. Harder than any movie about teenage schoolgirl witches has a right to suck because really, who could screw that up? These screenwriters, apparently. I just. . . OK. Pretty much any plot that only works if you believe the old chestnut “Girls! Ha ha! They just don’t get along!!” is stupid and should be called out as such ruthlessly and tirelessly. As Jesse will point out below, the “characters” are all dreadful stereotypes who act the way you’d expect dreadful stereotypes to do, especially when those stereotypes are thrown into a movie so classically sexist and repulsively classist I can’t even speculate as to what the writers must have been thinking. I mean, ok, here’s a brief run-down of the main players in this travesty and what they do with their magic powers:
The Pretty White Rich Girl who tried to commit suicide for no stated reason and likes the Male Lead even though he’s a complete fucking douchebag to her and her friends. When she casts a magic spell it’s to make the Male Lead like her even though. . .yeah. She gets to win at the end because she realizes what she has done is wrong and that she’s better than everyone else by virtue of being pretty, white, and rich. YAY!
The Token Black Girl who is. . . mad. . . about racism? And swims? And. . . is overlooked constantly because the only reason she’s in the movie is to be the Token Black Girl because it was 1996 and they knew they needed one? Her spell is something like “help me resist the hatred of haters” or something and it makes the aforementioned racist blonde girl’s hair fall out. Which in turn makes the swim coach notice Token Black Girl is a good diver? OMG.
The Ugly White Girl who is generally treated as a heinous monster by her classmates because she has a few totally average-looking scars on her shoulders from being burned as a kid. OH NOEZ. Let us note that her face is totally fine—more than, as it is NEVE CAMPBELL—and yet. And yet. All she wants is to be pretty!! ALL SHE WANTS IS TO BE PRETTY. Her spell is, you guessed it, to be pretty, and it makes her burns go away! But once she’s pretty she’s a bitch! Women, amiright?
The Batshit Crazy White Trash Girl who is batshit crazy and white trash. Let me say right now I tried like hell to find a different way of describing Fairuza Balk’s “character” but it’s so obvious the writers were thinking “she’ll be white trash!” as they wrote her that it’s literally impossible to think of her as anything else, as problematic as we all know that term to be (Jesse says: at least Fairuza does what she can with the role, turning a lemon role into a delicious Tom Collins of camp craziness). She (1) lives in a leaky trailer with her (2) wandering-handed wifebeater-wearing stepdad and (3) bleach-blonde mother who gets beat on when she’s uppity and then later-on (4) buys a jukebox with her insurance money and (5) wears a lavender silk pants suit while (6) smoking in her new house. Jesus Tapdancing Christ. Her spell is something like being powerful and stuff I guess? But it mostly just makes. . . a bunch of sharks die? Or something. God. GOD.
The Gypsy Woman Who Owns the Local Witch Emporium and what can I say other than that? Her magic spells are all about nurturing the white girl because the white girl is a “natural witch” of course.
I’m too disheartened to continue this. Honestly, I had to struggle to type anything other than “this movie is stupid” over and over again but I gave up my freebie on Aeon Flux. I had every intention of being amusing and teasing Jesse for crushing on Fairuza Balk but I can’t even (Jesse says: I guess that makes this week my “freebie?”). I’ll just conclude with the ardent wish that I never ever have to think about this movie again because it is enraging me simply to write about it.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Yup, it’s still terrible. The thing is it could have been awesome, it should have been awesome, and yet it’s not. I suspect the reason for this falls entirely on my gender—I can’t be sure, but I suspect if this movie had been at least co-written by a woman it wouldn’t be so offensively bad.
The reason it pissed me off so much as a teenager, I remembered as we were watching it, is that as an erstwhile outsider I really wanted the teen coven to use their powers to fuck up the jocks and bullies who had been making their lives miserable. That is what this movie should have been about. Instead, we get some of that before, natch, the young women either a) realize that they were too hard on their tormentors, or b) go bugfuck crazy from the power they have gained and turn on each other. Only the rich, pretty white girl maintains perspective, and natch, the rest of the coven— rich black girl, poor white girl, formerly “ugly” white girl—tries to murder her fucking ass. Why? Well, uh, cause they’re crazy? And stuff? You know, like women get when they’re allowed to have too much power without being white and rich, I mean, mature enough to handle it.
As a teenager I felt like my intelligence was being insulted watching this turkey, and the only thing that’s changed is that I can better articulate what makes it so horrible. I’m going to cover some of the same ground as Molly did above, but like a fire marshal investigating arson, just because the earth is scorched doesn’t mean you can’t look closer at it for clues to how the house burned down. What better place to start than with the main character, Pretty White Rich Girl (PWRG)? PWRG thinks Hunky Jerk is cute, so they go on a date—when she doesn’t want to go back to his place he acts like a turd about it, and then tells the school he slept with her and she’s “a bad lay.” When she confronts him he makes fun of her, and the rest of the coven tries to cheer her up by telling her that he does that to girls all the time.
So, what do the male screenwriters think would be a sensible reaction for PWRG? If you guessed “cast a spell to make Hunky Jerk fall in love with her” you win, except we’re talking about this stupid movie so actually you lose just by association. Anyway, the love spell works, and because of this he tries to rape PWRG. Yeah, I know, classy film. So PWRG gets away, tells her coven, and Fairuza Balk’s character, who is poor and therefore incredibly mean and jealous of PWRG, sees an opportunity to try to get with Hunky Jerk. You see, Hunky Jerk also treated Fairuza badly but of course she also still has teh hotz for him because she is a female character in this idiotic film. When he doesn’t want to get with Fairuza she freaks out, because she is also crazy as well as poor and jealous and mean, and she thus uses a glamour spell to make herself look like PWRG, whereupon dry-humping ensues. Blah blah blah, Hunky Jerk is a jerk some more, so Fairuza uses her witch powers to kill him (which, in case you forgot, is what this movie should have been about—Fairuza Balk and company offing or at least punishing high school d-bags). So where do we go from here? Directly to a scene of PWRG crying on her father’s shoulder because she knows Hunky Jerk was good on the inside—that taste in your mouth is bile, just choke it back down.
I can’t even talk about the class trash going on where Fairuza’s character is concerned without getting so pissed off I just started mashing the keys unintelligibly, but trust me when I say her character is handled just as poorly as PWRG and everyone else. What could have been an awesome film about empowerment and solidarity and a cautionary tale for bullies and oppressors instead turns into a disenfranchising pile of garbage where the clear lesson is that seeking to redress the racism, misogyny, and general cruelty of your so-called peers inevitably leads you to corruption, jealousy, and madness. Better to just accept that you’re a freak and accept the abuse than try to fix things, amiright bullied teenage girls? What a fucking terrible, terrible movie.
High Points: Seeing Fairuza Balk enroll at the Hammer Horror School for Camp is pretty amazing, and she gets to wear a lot of great outfits to pair with her screaming tirades, so that’s something. The soundtrack, while nowhere near as good as, say, the Tank Girl CD, at least instills one with a sense of nostalgia for an age when this movie hadn’t yet been released but the music videos were on MTV and so you didn’t know how much the film itself was going to hurt your brain. That’s it.
Low Points: Just about everything else. Like, why couldn’t the girls worship Hekate instead of the bogus-sounding male entity Manon? Oh, because that would be cool, that’s why. (Molly adds: don’t forget that Hekate is a girl, and in this movie, only men may award women power and a sense of security.) Ugh.
Final Verdict: Stink, stank, stunk—but we still love you, Ms Balk!
Jesse Bullington and I have decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. This week we tackle a TV show that. . . well. . . was a TV show in the mid-90s on MTV that taught me a lot about life, and no, I’m not talking about Beavis and Butt-Head.
Show: Æon Flux (animated series1991—1995)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Created by Peter Chung, who also wrote and directed several of the episodes—Chung’s oeuvre includes Phantom 2040, the disappointing Sci-fi take on Alexander the Great Reign: the Conqueror, the Chronicles of Riddick animation Dark Fury, a segment for The Animatrix, and Nickelodeon’s Rugrats. The distinctive character design, Chung’s trademark, is based heavily on the work of early 20th century artist and Klimt disciple Egon Schiele’. Scripts were by a lot of different people; I recall Japhet Asher, Liquid Television executive producer, wrote one of the episodes we sampled. Æon is voiced by Denise Poirer, a true 90s tv actor who one-off jobs for everything from Seinfeld to Frasier to Murphy Brown to 3rd Rock from the Sun, as well as a regular stint on the Spawn animated series; Trevor Goodchild is voiced by John Rafter Lee, who voiced the main bad guy in the US dub of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, as well as providing “additional voices” for the Yankee version of Princess Mononoke. Music by Drew Neumann, who also did the soundtracks for The Wild Thornberrys and Aaaahh!!! Real Monsters.
Quote: “That which does not kill us makes us stranger.”
Alternate quote: Æon: “You’re drooling on me!”
Trevor: “I’m a genius; therefore I can afford to drool.”
First viewing by Molly: I think they aired prior to The Maxx, which I somehow found out about and watched during 7th grade? I think? Maybe 8th?
First viewing by Jesse: Back in the day, when the short first started showing up on Liquid Television.
Most recent viewing by both: Last night
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: High as a Georgia pine. OMG. I had a poster up in my room FOR YEARS of Aeon that was signed by Peter Chung, and I wanted her hair more than anything in the whole world. Aeon Flux was a show that taught me a lot about things. . . things like time travel, bondage aesthetics, the grossness of watching two people’s tongues moistly connect outside their faces, how sometimes it’s OK if your plot doesn’t make a lick of sense, and the heady combination of power and sex. Also, bird-people.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Moderate. The aesthetic of the show really worked for me on most levels, but the character design always squicked me out—everyone was too angular, like they were descended from greyhounds or something. I recall digging the earlier shorts more than the full length show, although I suspect that may have simply been a matter of exposure—I saw less of the actual episodes than I did of the Liquid TV shorts, and this Diet Pepsi commercial.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Hesitant. I own the whole series on DVD, as a few years ago I got a gift certificate to a Borders and that was what I bought, for some reason? I was vaguely underwhelmed when I watched them, though—a sentiment I become increasingly more familiar with, due to this column—and promptly forgot I owned the series. Then Jesse and I were like “oh fuck, it’s Tuesday, what are we going to do for FoHA?” and I saw them whilst trawling for something to watch in my collection.
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Fairly pleased by the prospect. As I said, I didn’t see a lot of the episodes when they first aired and have never been much of a tv person in general so I never caught any re-runs, but it always seemed like something I should like. Then again, I watched the live action movie and was less than impressed, so I had some grounding to not be too excited.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Oh, I dunno. Jesse kinda summed up everything I felt about the experience below, bizarrely enough. . . so I’mma take the week off. PEACE (Jesse says: WTF, dude—you’re gonna get yours. Maybe not next week, maybe not the week after, but one of these columns you are totally in for it)!
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Fun, in small doses. Overexposure strips some of the gloss, and this show is more about gloss than a Claire’s crossed with a Cinderella II’s. OK, so I feel really, seriously, intensely creepy about that last line (Molly says: as well you should, man. . .why do you even know those stores exist, unless it’s because you hang out there, offering to buy some girls a glittery barrette or something? [Jesse says: really? Really? You’re taking the week off from writing a proper column, but not from saying stuff like that? One of these days, Tanz…]), but it’s been chiseled into the stone of this dying loaner mac that hes…it…ates before letting me do anything, so I ain’t going back to take it out—just saying the show is style-heavy, is all.
Surprisingly, however, it isn’t a case of style over substance—the scripts of the episodes we sampled were very tight, if intentionally overwrought, and delectably weird. We watched three, of them, which I think had plots as follows: the episode “Thanatophobia” is about a couple who want to escape from their totalitarian city-state to the freedom-loving country literally next door, but instead wind up as disfigured sex-pawns for Æon and Trevor, who use their new conquests to make each other jealous though highly kinky, exhibitionist methods. At one point the couple manage to fuck through a gap in a border wall thanks to the woman’s missing vertebrae allowing her to stretch under a fence and provide him access to the surgical hole in her back where her artificial spine pops into place, presumably, but “it just isn’t the same.” (Molly adds: also, the title? What? “Fear of Death?” I still can’t figure out what the fuck that has to do with the episode, but given that the bird-people episode detailed below is called “Isthmus Crypticus”. . .”)
The next episode had to do with Trevor keeping a bird-woman as a possibly willing sex-slave, only to have Æon roll up in to liberate her. Unfortunately, Æon’s female assistant has a thing for a bird-man also in captivity, and before you can say don’t-touch-that-or-the-mother-will-abandon-it the assistant has shacked up with the bird-man, who is infested with deadly mites. For serious. The last episode we screened was the season finale and had Trevor getting hot and bothered over a psychic alien that doesn’t have orifices (“one would have to be creative”), Æon trying to prevent Trevor from killing half the planet only to kill the entire planet herself, and plenty of other weird shit that creeps me out just to think about.
Obviously the show is better than I remembered, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m in a rush to re-watch the whole series. Æon and Trevor’s ever-changing but ever-present kinkiness gets to be a bit much after a while, and as every episode seems to revolve around Trevor wanting to fuck someone/something and/or achieve ultimate power, and Æon trying to thwart him for dubious reasons, the show becomes repetitive despite its disconnected, fragmentary nature. I also feel a little weird about Æon seeming to be defined solely by her jealousy/sexuality, but since that’s how it seems to roll for all of the characters I guess that makes it less rubbing. See, you can’t even talk about this show without sounding like a perv.
High Points: The high level of kink which, when combined with the high level of camp, comes across less as exploitive and more as simply freaky. The self-referentially nonsensical nature of the show, which works better than it has any right to. The tidy action sequences, which still look pretty cool.
Final Verdict: Even after all these years, it’s still a weird, nasty, but ultimately intriguing little program.
You are all aware by now that Jesse Bullington and I have decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. This week we do some good work filling in yet another Arnold-shaped gap in my movie knowledge. . .
Film: Predator (1987)
AKA: Hunter (insert Frisky Dingo reference here), and Primevil—would it still be a classic if it had been saddled with this horrible title?
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Direction by John McTiernan, who once gave a less than convincing explanation for how his film Die Hard is actually an adaptation of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Screenplay by Jim and John Thomas, who also penned the De Palma not-classic Mission to Mars. Not-really-all-that-appropriate soundtrack by Alan Silvestri (The Abyss, Lilo and Stitch), with a number by the always-appropriate Little Richard. Starring more beefcake than is really reasonable for a single film: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Sonny Landham, Kevin Peter Hall, and some other people who don’t deserve mention by virtue of not being super beasts, except maybe action movie screenwriter Shane Black, who plays the terrible nerd commando. Oh, and Elpidia Carrillo as the film’s single female character, who spends most of the time cowering.
Quote: “You’re ghostin’ us, motherfucker. I don’t care who you are back in the world, you give away our position one more time, I’ll bleed ya, real quiet.”
Alternate quote: “If it bleeds we can kill it.”
Alternate alternate quote: Not as strong guy: “You’re bleeding, man.” Stronger guy (Jesse the Body, specifically): “I ain’t got time to bleed.”
First viewing by Molly: A couple of nights ago.
First viewing by Jesse: Around eight years old.
Most recent viewing by both: A couple of nights ago.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Honestly, I had no idea there was even a monster in Predator until, seriously, I saw the trailer for Alien vs. Predator and I laughed bemusedly along with the rest of the theatre.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Sizable. Mind, I didn’t actually watch the movie with sound for years after my initial viewing, which makes a pretty big difference in appreciating the film, though the muted viewing wasn’t the impediment to understanding that it would be for most movies.
See, when I first watched this I was a really little kid visiting my family in California because my grandfather was dying. He was at home, hospice being the only real option, and wasn’t conscious most of the time. Since the only tv was in his room—he loved to watch horse racing when he was awake—when my brother Aaron and my cousin John rented Predator they had to watch it with my semi-comatose grandfather right behind them, and obviously all the shouting and explosions and gunfire and flaying of human skin wouldn’t help a dying man find peace, so they did the considerate thing and put on head phones. There weren’t enough jacks for me to listen as well, so I had to watch in silence; well, not quite silence, since the wheezing of my grandfather was right beside me. Thinking back on it, I really hope he slept through the film and didn’t awake to images of skinned people strung up in the jungle where his ponies should have been. Even without sound the film made no small impression on me, I assure you.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Molly’s thoughts prior to watching:
(cell phone rings)
John: Hey, Beez! What? Hold on, lemme ask. Hey Molly—Jesse wants to know if we want to watch Predator tonight?
Me: What? OK? I guess?
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Pretty happy—Molly’s reactions to seeing these movies for the first time are usually every bit as entertaining as the films themselves, and I very much doubted Predator would be the exception to the rule. I also had beer and freedom fries, which enhances the viewing of such things exponentially. The only thing I was really worried about was whether or not the movie would set off my beef allergy, and so I kept benadryl at the ready lest I break out in hives.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: I know I have a degree in Women’s Studies, but fuck that noise, I’ve seen the light (hallelujah!) and that light is men. MEN. In the jungle. With MUSCLES. Solid, rippling man-flesh and man-cunning, and also sometimes a Native American with sixth sense to go with his man-flesh and man-cunning. Oh, and guns! Guns with lots and lots of bullets. But in the end, what matters is men. In the world of jungle, where a predator stalks the unwary, bullets can only take you so far. I know this now. It is man-muscles and man-brain that determine whether you’ll be skinned and hung from a tree by a snatch-faced alien, or standing above said alien until it’s time to book it away from a nuclear explosion. (Jesse says: really, it’s a small nuclear explosion, so it’s not as implausible as she’s making it sound. Also, Molly is forbidden from describing movie monsters in the future—not cool)
But seriously, wow. Wow! This movie. I got into trouble with my friend David for alleging that the first part of Predator has nothing to do with the actual movie itself, documented here in this Facebook conversation:
David: Molly, the beginning of that movie is the plot. Coincidentally an alien shows up, guns are fired, people die, but the real question remains–who is the strongest (physically that is) warrior? Only a power handshake can tell us who the greatest of foes for the predator can possibly be.
Molly: David, no. The beginning of the movie is entirely irrelevant. They could’ve plugged in any “reason” to get Arnold and Jesse the Body into South America to bazooka a bunch of huts (is that a verb? it is now!) and then get messed with by the Predator. I was unmoved at the time and remain nonplussed that Arnold’s team “only does rescue missions” or whatever, it makes no difference to his “character” since his character was mostly biceps and tying spikes to tree limbs with vines and the awesomeness of being called “Dutch” as a nickname. Which is pretty cool, don’t get me wrong–but the plot has nothing to do with the beef between the CIA and the Army or whatever Arnold and Carl Weathers argue about intensely for a few minutes before the explosions start.
David: Molly, you are mistaken and this is why. The power handshake (Jesse says: see clip below) determines not only who is the most powerful, as in who will be the champion, but also to show us the audience exactly what kind of champion we actually have. It is Dutch that will defeat any foe. As you can see, he [can] and will beat all foes in the way most fitting. Carl Weathers (or Dillon) tries to subdue Dutch with politics, but Dutch will hear no lies and defeats him with his own tactics. A handshake of unmatched power is the weapon against the enemies of freedom.
Regardless, it is silly, and I liked it a lot. It’s not often that you find a film as educational as Predator—being in the Army is awesome; mud negates your body heat—as well as explaining perfectly why the citizens of California have elected Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Governator (a phrase that Wikipedia earnestly informs us is a “portmanteau” of Terminator and governor!) more than once. Seriously! Why? Because in one scene Dutch demands that Anna tell them what she saw; Anna has, up until that point, spoken only Spanish, but then, through the sheer willpower of man, Arnold Schwarzenegger (apparently) makes that girl speak English. From what I hear out of CA these days, that really, really matters to folks out there.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Jesus, man—fucking Predator. Molly’s reactions ranged from a mild gape to a full-on gawp at points, and I know my arms gained about three inches of thickness just from exposure to the testosterone levels. Really, there’s not much to be said about this film that hasn’t been said elsewhere, but holy goddamn hell, it is one stupid, loud, awesome film. My friend David wrote a paper in college breaking down the worth of the characters by their physical strength and BMI, and I’ve gotta say he hit the nail right on the head—strength is everything; well, strength, and an ability to set traps that would make Wile E. Coyote jealous.
Jean Claude Van Damme actually played the Predator for a few days before quitting and leaving the role to Kevin Peter Hall (who played Harry, of the Henderson Harrys); van Damme was apparently pissed that his face would not be shown. Sixty-four people die in the course of the film. The Predator’s blood is, indeed, made of the stuff inside glowsticks. All this is incidental, anecdotal, irrelevant: Arnold fights an alien badass in the jungle. That’s it.
High Points: The unapologetic and unintentionally hilarious machismo, which starts at farcical levels and only increases as the movie progresses. The Predator itself, which remains a pretty sweet cinematic monster. Arnold’s trap-building montage. The hand shake, which sums up the whole movie perfectly, as does the giggling in the background of the clip:
Final Verdict: Though Molly prefers her Arnold with long hair, sword, and loincloth, in terms of modern action movies where shit blows up and guns are fired, Predator is hard to match.
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Direction by Tim Burton, back before he came the thing he is today. Screenplay by Sam Hamm (the M.A.N.T.I.S. tv show) and Warren Skaaren (Beetle Juice), from characters created by Bob Kane. Atmospheric soundtrack by Danny Elfman and Prince—the atmosphere of the film changes quite a bit, dig? Suitably campy performances by Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Bassinger, Robert Wuhl, Billy Dee Williams, Pat Hingle, and Jack Palance.
Quote: “Never rub another man’s rhubarb!”
Alternate quote: “I have given a name to my pain. . . and it is Batman.”
First viewing by Molly: When it first came to VHS, my parents shockingly allowed me to rent it, so def. still in grade school, possibly as early as 2nd or 3rd grade?
First viewing by Jesse: At the pictures, when I was seven years old.
Most recent viewing by both: Last night.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Substantial. Violent and/or scary movies were rarely allowed in my house—seriously, when I was in high school (yes, high school) my father forbade me from watching Deliverance after a friend told me it was pretty awesome—so anything mildly spooky that squiggled through the cracks made an impression because I was always pretty hungry for dark or weird stuff. Batman was deemed acceptable for some reason, probably because of my father’s fondness for the Adam West Batman, or perhaps because it was directed by Tim Burton, and my parents enjoyed Frankenweenie and Beetlejuice. Super heroes generally held little appeal for Young Molly—too much machismo, not enough decent female characters—but the aesthetic of Batman tempted me, because while my parents were iffy about allowing violent weird movies in the house, they were dedicated to the laudable project of exposing me to Quality Cinema from Days of Yore from an early age. I’d at that point already seen quite a bit of Hitchcock, screwball comedies, and other such fare that tended to have art-deco movie magic goin on, so I could relate to the aesthetics of Batman as seen in the trailers. . . also the little snippits of the Joker really spooked me out in a way that I found interesting, so I begged and begged and lo, Batman was rented.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: High. As far as tights went, I was always a Bats fan—the Adam West series was one of the few programs I watched with any real regularity growing up, and so my appreciating a big budget film about the caped crusader was never really in question. I was a weird kid, though, and thus recall harboring a strong desire to see the Weird Al Yankovic vanity piece UHF instead of Batman when the choice was put to me, but my parents wisely vetoed that selection. The sequel had a bit stronger of an effect, I think, but we’ll get to that when we get to that—the point is, this movie pretty much solidified Batman’s place as my favorite superhero growing up, which is no small thing for children of my temperament.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Excited. I own the movie, as my husband is in the process of building his Michael Keaton Collection. I can’t remember the last time I sat down to watch Batman all the way through, but it had been, as they say, a while. I’d seen the Nolan Dark Knight in the theatre as part of the process of mourning Heath Ledger, but as much as I loved Heath’s take on the Joker, it wasn’t Jack Nicholson, who will always, for me, be the person who defined the role.
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Pretty pleased about the prospect—I hadn’t watched it in maybe ten years, long before the Christopher Nolan reboots arrived. The circumstances leading to that last screening involved my going to a flea market, which is every bit as tawdry as it sounds. A greasy creep was selling old vhs tapes, most of which were lacking any kind of case, and there amidst the rubber-banded-together Titanics and Bravehearts I saw a copy of Batman.
“How much is this?” I asked.
The merchant squinted at me through horn-rimmed glasses that hadn’t been wiped off since the Reagan administration. If then. “Two bucks.”
Casually inspecting the dusty plastic vhs, I noticed the tape had long ago snapped off inside, and peering closer through the clear plastic windows that exposed the reels I could see several dead cockroaches. I said, “The tape’s broken off inside, and it’s full of dead bugs.”
“Huh,” said the merchant, wiping funnel cake sugar off on his shirt and inspecting the tape. After a moment he handed it back and said, “No charge, then.”
So I did what any eighteen year old weirdo would do—I took the vhs home, opened it up and cleaned out the bugs, and then spliced the ends of the snapped tape using the special silver splicing stickers I had gotten from a video store through some equally bizarre sequence of events. I realize this diversion had gotten rather far from the point of the movie itself and is instead show-casing my legendary—and unfairly mocked—frugality, so perhaps it would be best if we simply pretended I never said anything beyond, “Batman, yeah, awesome flick, looking forward to rewatching it.”
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: It’s really good. The aesthetics and effects have aged reasonably well for a movie from that late 80s era of OMGNOOOOOO-ness, with excellent set-design and cool costumes—in particular the purple tailcoat the Joker wears is amazing, and Michael Keaton in nerd-glasses is a nice touch, too.
Given that Tim Burton directed the film, I spent a lot of time being just so, so happy that Batman wasn’t being played by Johnny Depp and Vikki Vale’s character wasn’t obliterated by the comedic stylings. . . excuse me, acting, of Helena Bonham Carter. The triple wowza of Batman, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands has long been the reason I get so irritated with the recent epicness of Tim Burton’s directorial failures. Every single damn time a new Tim Burton movie comes out these days to disappoint and horrify all but the most dedicated Hot Topic employees, the 5th grader in me remembers crying her eyes out at the ending of Edward Scissorhands; thinking Beetlejuice was the coolest movie ever; being terrified by the Joker. I’d throw in something about how viscerally I responded to The Nightmare Before Christmas when I saw it a million times in the theatre in 6th grade, but I don’t want to perpetuate the mistaken belief that Burton directed that film. One only need compare Corpse Bride to Coraline to see that Henry Selick was responsible for the awesomeness of Nightmare. Him, and Danny Elfman.
Enough—back to Batman. The script is pretty awesome, especially the Joker’s one-liners, though this time round I kinda noticed there are some. . . problems with the movie. I mean, OK. So at the beginning, it’s mentioned a bunch of times that Batman is a newcomer to the Gotham city crime scene. . . but then later on Bruce Wayne goes on and on about how he “has” to do this, and all this additional weirdness that makes it seem like he’d been the World’s Greatest Detective for a lot longer than, say, a month or two? I mean—did he just get all his Batman gear at once, plane, car, suit, computer station, and all? How? Who manufactures it? How does he know how to research stuff? Where does he get all his files on criminal proceedings in a pre-The Smoking Gun age? Is he naturally good at detective-ing? Was it like in Kick Ass and he started out in a black jumpsuit punching people in the face? If he’s such a great crime fighter, why isn’t he going after Jack Palance’s skyscraper full of organized criminals, instead of beating up street punks, some of whom are likely turning to crime due to, and I’m just speculating here, a damn-plausible lack of social services available in Gotham City?
But none of that seriously takes away from the film as a whole, though. I know Jesse will follow my write-up with a burn on the decision to make the Joker responsible for Batman’s parents’ death, but I like it. I think the single best thing about Tim Burton’s Batman is the careful effort to make the Joker and Batman mirror-perfect foils for one another. This is illustrated so perfectly in the scene where Bruce Wayne tries to tell Vikki Vale about being Batman, which I could not for the life of me find on YouTube, but no matter—at first, it just seems like a nice gag when Wayne says “Nice apartment—lots of space” and the Joker reiterates that same sentiment verbatim. It becomes more apparent what’s really going on when the Joker goes on to break his former girlfriend’s mask after placing it on Vikki’s mantle, and then Brucie proves himself to be just as fucking. . . well, nuts, as the Joker:
After all, they’re both grown men who put on elaborate costumes to shape the world according to their unique vision, whether or not anyone thinks that’s a good idea or not, right? I think it’s handled lusciously, and the “we made each other” weirdness at the end works for me.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: When Batman Begins came out people were falling all over themselves to point how much darker it was than the previous four Batman films. “It’s just so dark,” they would say, as if they had just spent two hours sitting in a cave. “The old ones weren’t, you know, so dark, but this one was just, like, a really dark movie. Dark dark dark.” Sometimes that was a bad thing, as in, “it’s way too dark,” but more often than not it was a sign of respect, because we all know darkness is totally cool. Personally, although I enjoyed Nolan’s films I hate his fight sequences—they’re not “dark,” they’re muddled (Word! exclaims Molly), and while he’s obviously trying to convey the frantic feel of actually being in a fight, I for one like to see what is going on in a movie, especially when something cool is presumably happening inside all that dark dark darkness. The thing is, Tim Burton’s first crack at the Caped Crusader is plenty dark in its own right—the tone is much, for lack of a better word, darker than the Adam West series, which admittedly isn’t such a feat, but it also manages to retains some of the camp and humor of the old show while still bringing bite to the proceedings.
Jack Nicholson is clearly having the time of his life, and both his impressive costumes and accompanying Prince jams compliment his Joker nicely—but for all his campy lines and dances, this is a Joker who doesn’t think twice about murdering anyone he can get a hold of. Though he isn’t played as straight as Heath Ledger’s take on the role in The Dark Knight, Nicholson is no mustachioed Caesar Romero, either. Then there’s Batman himself, who doesn’t even attempt to take the Joker alive in the end, and Burton does some nice—if not always subtle—layering to highlight the similarities between hero and villain, though the decision to make the Joker the one who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents is a bit overkill. Michael Keaton makes a surprisingly satisfying Batman, though his Bruce Wayne is more late eighties super-nerd than playboy.
Batman is Tim Burton near the top of his game, with a superficial noir atmosphere layered nicely over the timeless Gotham his set design team assembled. The problematic class issues inherent in the Batman mythology are on prominent display here—blue collar good guy Knox gets his ass handed to him when he tries to take on the bad guys with a baseball bat, whereas Batman swoops in with his private plane and not only saves the girl Knox is after but also the whole city—but that’s always been an issue with the character, and even Christopher Nolan’s ham-fisted swipe at subverting it in The Dark Knight didn’t quite wash the taste of moldering class trash from the mouth, but so it goes. Batman may be a crypto-fascist, but he’s always been a damn cool one.
High Points: The Joker doing his thing, especially the scene in the museum. Being reminded of how impressive Tim Burton is when working with a good script and predominantly practical effects—the small uses of jarring animated effects here are a grim reminder of the over-reliance he would put on CGI in his later films. The soundtrack—Danny Elfman and Prince, together at last. The part where Conan’s sidekick from Destroyer gets shot in the gut and left in the dirt (Jesse Says: Molly’s hatred for Tracey Walter is kinda spooky—I like the guy, personally). The costumes. And, really, the Joker, who steals the show from Bats every moment he’s onscreen:
Final Verdict: We’ll dance with that devil in the pale moonlight any time.
After a hiatus of some amount of time, Jesse Bullington are once again doing Films of High Adventure, you know, where we watch “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. This week we recap something we viewed a while ago, which was definitely a film, but the adventure in it was more bizarre than high, at least in the sense of the word “high” that we usually intend to evoke. . .
Film: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
Also Known As: No joke, the first two times I started writing the title I wrote The Awesome Dr. Phibes, and then, catching myself, started typing The Amazing Dr. Phibes instead. Ok, so not technically alternate titles, but a telling sign nonetheless. . .
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Direction by Robert Fuest, who also helmed The Last Man on Earth (I Am Legend with Vincent Price in the lead!), The Devil’s Rain (The Milk and Cheese favorite starring Ernest Borgnine!), and a bunch of episodes of The Avengers (if you’re not familiar with John Steed and Mrs. Emma Peel it’s high time you made their acquaintance). Script by James Whiton (uh, an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and William Goldstein (screen story credit for The Amazing Dobermans, a movie featuring Fred Astaire fighting crime with a pack of pinschers), although Fuest apparently rewrote most of it. On one side of the ring of absurdity we have Vincent Price (everything that is good in this world) as Dr. Phibes and Bond-girl (On her Majesty’s Secret Service) Virginia North as his assistant Vulnavia (!), and on the other we have Joseph Cotton (The Third Man), Hugh Griffith (Tom Jones, the whacked out Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad), Peter Jeffrey (Count Grendel in some old Dr. Who episodes), and a host of other actors looking to chew some scenery and get done in by the good Dr. Phibes. Bizzaro soundtrack by various artists, including lots of organ music and Vincent singing “Over the Rainbow.”
Quote: “Nine killed you! Nine shall die! Nine eternities in DOOM!”
Alternate quote: “A brass unicorn has been catapulted across a London street and impaled an eminent surgeon. Words fail me, gentlemen.”
First viewing by Molly: Pretty recently
First viewing by Jesse: Really young
Most recent viewing by both: The aforementioned “pretty recently”
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Well, none, given that I’d never even heard of this weird little movie, but given that my early adolescence was largely me thinking The Phantom of the Opera was like, the single most amazingly romantic book evarrrrrrrr and why didn’t Christine go for the Phantom when he was clearly so much more interesting than that milquetoast nothing-master Raoul, I feel like I was a pump well-primed for this omgwtfbbq-fest, especially the bizarre Phibes/Vulnavia relationship.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: High. Of all the old horror movie icons, Price was my favorite, and of all his roles, this was perhaps the most important to Young Me.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: “WTF is this?”
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Excited. Price undeniably made some stinkers in his time, but I was confident that this film had aged like a fine Roquefort. I had no idea if Molly would love it or hate it, and, frankly, didn’t give a damn—nothing could possibly diminish the experience, though I of course hoped she would dig it. . . contrary to what this column might occasionally imply, I don’t actually enjoy punishing Molly with cinema.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Awesome. I really, really liked it, even though now, as an adult, I often find things that have a sort of Phantom of the Opera-ish sensibility about them to be pretty tiresome—obsession is really only sexy on the page or on the screen, a lesson I hope the legions of Twilight fans realize before they end up in problematic relationships with dudes who like to creep into the bedrooms of girls that smell real good and only have two emotional modes—constipated disapproval or condescending amusement.
N-E-WAYZ, I had my doubts during the opening sequence that has Dr. Phibes in a hooded robe playing an organ, but as the movie progressed into unapologetic insanity, I warmed to it, and then thoroughly enjoyed it. At the center of my affection was the Phibes-Vulnavia relationship, which is just so outright bizarre that it works perfectly without explanation. Wikipedia says that originally it was to be revealed that Vulnavia was one of Dr. Phibes’ clockwork creations, but I call bullshit on that, and I’m glad they left it undefined. For me, it’s a much more amazing scenario if Vulnavia is. . . just. . . some girl he met somehow? Who was totally OK hunting down and murdering doctors and nurses as long as Dr. Phibes kept her in furry hats and let her pose like a Mucha girl while he put on his gold lame cape and played music. Sure! Why not?
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Such exquisite film-making! Fitting tidily into the “Vincent Price whacks a bunch of people according to a theme” sub-genre of the great man’s career, I say, with only slight reservation, that this is the best of the bunch. Theatre of Blood makes it a tough call, as the murders in that film are all based on scenes from Shakespeare instead of biblical plagues, and it features a fencing match on trampolines, but Phibes still comes out ahead if no other reason than I saw it first and that has to count for something.
I suppose the main thing I had forgotten over the years was how bugfuck the movie really is—virtually no effort is put into explaining how Phibes manages to pull off his outlandish murders, let alone build a clockwork band and, maybe, girlfriend. . . he’s a doctor, sure, but a doctor of divinity and musicology (for serious). I suppose if they had started worrying about logic and realism they would have had to scrap the scene where fruitbats suck a guy’s blood, or the part with the locusts that. . . well, it really has to be seen to be believed, but the point is if reality intruded then all the fun would be gone and you’d be left with, I dunno, Se7en.*
The thing is, other than the poster and spoiler-heavy trailer, the movie seems to play it fairly straight-faced. Maybe? As a kid I certainly took it very seriously, yet rooted unreservedly for Phibes—he did what he did for love, after all, and is that so wrong? As an eight year old I had a hard time holding him accountable for his nefarious deeds, and as a twenty-eight year old I still refuse to pass judgment on the doctor.
It’s a bizarre, campy picture even by Price standards, and the script gives him ample room to do what he does best, even if he is talking out of his neck. It’s impossible not to root for Phibes, if only to see what insanely complicated murder he will pull off next, and I still get choked up thinking about what happens to poor Vulnavia. To say they don’t make them like this anymore is a bit of an understatement—gone are the days when studios would be like “this makes absolutely no sense, and doesn’t seem to be a comedy but definitely isn’t a horror film, either, and will use up a decent sized budget. . . but what the hell, go nuts—have your proto-slasher lead cover Judy Garland while you’re at it.” Alas.
High Points: Vincent Price doing what he does best. How straight everyone is playing it. The unsettling—and unaddressed—relationship between Phibes and Vulnavia. Vulnavia herself, and apparently we’re not the only ones to realize this—somebody out there on the internet not only recognized her importance, but also the importance of mistakenly attributing the Flashdance theme to Hall and Oates:
Final Verdict: Excellent.
Next week:Batman? This column needs an enema, so. . .
*Uninteresting Facts about Molly’s Youth: I’ve never seen Se7en all the way through because when I was in 8th grade or thereabouts, I had a friend who wanted me to see it, but she claimed most of the movie was “boring” and thus fast-forwarded her VHS copy to all the murders. So to this day, my only notion of that film is something along the lines of Brad Pitt being Angry (or something) at Keven Spacey for asploding a fat man and raping someone with a bizarre BDSM-inspired knife harness? Yeah.