Feb 1 2017

Bio Zombie (1998)

In Hong Kong’s kung-fu-free horror comedy Bio Zombie, the utterly despicable Woody Invincible (Jordan Chan, 2005’s Initial D) and Crazy Bee (Sam Lee, Man of Tai Chi) spend their days pirating new movies in the theater and then selling copies through their VCD shop in the mall.

While out running an errand, these young pals run over a guy clutching a soda bottle that’s filled with a toxic agent. (Nope, not Mountain Dew, but good guess.) Through a misunderstanding, they feed it to him, transforming the poor guy into a blue-faced, crusty-cheeked zombie. Before you know it, our “heroes” are trapped in the mall overnight with a whole mess of the undead and have to behead their way out.

The misadventures of Woody Invincible and Crazy Bee basically represent a low-rent, lowbrow version of George A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead, but stripped of any notes of seriousness, save for its grim denouement. Often, Bio Zombie gives way to video-game flourishes, when director Wilson Yip (the acclaimed Ip Man trilogy) pauses the action just long enough to give the viewer “stats” on each surviving human.

If I have a complaint with Bio Zombie beyond the sheer unlikability of the two leads, it’s that the film simply is not wild enough. Compared to even some of America’s Romero rip-offs, this one is tame in both the gore and imagination departments — surprising coming from a country whose genre cinema seems to redefine “over the top” every chance it gets. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jan 10 2017

Harper Valley P.T.A. (1978)

If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you have plenty of stories about the time your mother vehemently told off various local government and educational agencies. And as great as those stories are, they will still never come close to the time that Stella Johnson “socked it” to the Harper Valley Parent-Teacher Association over a minor dress code violation.

Before we get to that triumphant socking, however, let’s remember a better time in cinema where, if you were a country singer who had a good enough song with a good enough narrative, it could be turned into a good enough movie. With titles like Coward of the County, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia and Take This Job and Shove It, the screenplays practically wrote themselves.

Jeannie C. Riley’s scandalous chart-topper took the country by storm in 1969, but it wasn’t until a decade later when the titular Harper Valley P.T.A. incident finally would make it to the big screen. This was mostly due, I believe, to the dream casting of I Dream of Jeannie’s Barbara Eden, in the middle of a MILF-based career resurgence with every angle framing her as if she stepped right off the set of a latter-day Russ Meyer flick, as the wanton widow Ms. Johnson, who has been seen wearing her mini-skirts way too high.

Sullen daughter Dee (Audrey Rose’s Susan Swift) is sent home with a note from the Harper Valley P.T.A. that says she is going to be suspended if Stella doesn’t start exercising some moderate decorum in both her private and public life. It really doesn’t help things that our introduction to said mom is her brazenly hot-pantsin’ about the living room, pulling tabs off Schlitz cans and singing bawdy 1920s ragtime tunes with her hairdresser and two dudes from the bar she frequents, all the while ignoring the tears of traumatic embarrassment she’s created for her offspring. Maybe the P.T.A. has a point …

Instead of taking a deep dark look at herself and the environment she’s built for her daughter, Stella embarrassingly marches right up to that board meeting and spills all of the council’s dirty secrets, from light alcoholism and small-time gambling to impregnating secretaries and nymphomaniacal exhibitionism.

And while this is where the song ended, the movie still has an hour and a half to go, so Stella and her hairdresser pal (Nanette Fabray, Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County) pull off various pranks that would eventually be used in every subsequent Police Academy film, from locking someone out of their room naked to replacing a dowdy gossip’s regular shampoo with a very hair-unfriendly product to even some good old-fashioned manure-based shenanigans (bovine feces supplied by “Seattle Slew,” according to the credits).

With an all-over-the map plot that has Stella fighting both the illegal foreclosure of her house and election fraud, all the while stopping a bumbling kidnapping in a finale wherein our heroines dress as nuns, Harper Valley P.T.A. is far raunchier than I originally remember it being as kid, with a lot more near-nudity and compromising situations that I’m sure were toned down by the time it was made into a short-lived weekly series on NBC, produced by The Brady Bunch’s Sherwood Schwartz, who amazingly stretched the song’s already tight-pantsed premise into a staggering 30 episodes, which, of course, led to diminishing sockings with each installment. —Louis Fowler

Get it at Amazon.

Jan 3 2017

Blazing Stewardesses (1975)

Al Adamson only made movies like Al Adamson, so why shouldn’t his approach to the almighty sequel be like everyone else’s? Whereas 1974’s The Naughty Stewardesses was a softcore sexcapade, the Blazing Stewardesses follow-up has next to no nudity and, in a veritable 180˚, what little there is doesn’t come from the leading ladies.

In his final film, former B-Western idol Robert Livingston (The Riders of the Whistling Skull) reprises his Naughty part as Ben Brewster, who invites beautiful, blonde flight attendant Debbie (Connie Hoffman, 1977’s The Van) for a two-week vacation at his gambling-themed Lucky Dollar Guest Ranch. Happily accepting, Debbie brings Barbara (Marilyn Joi, Adamson’s Black Samurai) and new Stew Lori (Dracula vs. Frankenstein’s Regina Carrol, aka Mrs. Al Adamson), who appears to be barely functional as a human being. On the plane ride there, the pilot gets his head stuck in a toilet seat.

Story has so little to do with Blazing Stewardesses that its “details” — broad strokes they may be — slide right off the mind. That Brewster’s Lucky Dollar cash cow is targeted by masked bandits on horseback is not as important as Adamson getting to pay tribute to the cheap oaters of yesteryear, especially those Poverty Row efforts of his multihyphenate father, Victor. That the property also boasts The Beehive brothel is not as important as getting to cast an aging TV star (Munsters matriarch Yvonne De Carlo) as its madam.

Even Debbie and her girlfriends seem incidental compared to ranch hands Harry and Jimmy (respectively played by Jimmy and Harry Ritz, the then-surviving 66.6 percent of ye olde Ritz Brothers comedy trio (1939’s The Gorilla). Adamson gives the guys the leeway to trot out multiple slapstick routines that, while out of sync with the winking style of humor already established, nonetheless contribute perfectly to the “anything goes” feel of his movie mélange. Hence, a fried egg sandwich landing on the constantly mugging face of Harry. Or was it Jimmy? Doesn’t matter. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Dec 1 2016

The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas (1996)

munstersxmasEddie Munster is homesick for Transylvania. It seems Christmas just doesn’t feel very, well, Christmas-y when you’re a transplant to sunny Los Angeles. In fact, says the boy, “Christmas bites,” which is funny — well, in theory — because he can turn into a werewolf during full moons.

In order to make Eddie (Bug Hall, aka Alfalfa of 1994’s The Little Rascals) have a happy holiday, each of his four family members goes all-out. His father, Herman (Sam McMurray, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), squeezes in side jobs to afford that Marquis de Sade dungeon action playset Eddie so badly wants, while his mom, Lily (Ann Magnuson, Making Mr. Right), helps him deck the exterior of their castle with such macabre decorations as a working snowman guillotine. His “ugly” cousin, Marilyn (Elaine Hendrix, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion), plans one monster party, and ol’ Grandpa (Sandy Baron, Leprechaun 2) uses his devil magick to teleport Santa Claus into the home and accidentally turns him into a giant fruitcake, complete with hat, belt and beard!

munstersxmas1That Santa (Mark Mitchell, Inspector Gadget 2) nearly is eaten by a nosy neighbor (Silent Night, Bloody Night’s Mary Woronov, reprising her role from the previous year’s Here Come the Munsters) and then almost drowned in eggnog best signifies this made-for-TV movie’s slight streak of anarchy. The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas could have been pedestrian claptrap that put forth no effort beyond riding on property recognition; instead, director Ian Emes, the man behind many a Pink Floyd music video, and his crew tried — really, really tried. Granted, while it runs a distant second to the brilliant subversion of Addams Family Values, viewers must admire that jokes about phone sex and a woman’s midget-bedding fantasy were able to survive through the final cut of a family-oriented movie — one celebrating the birth of the Christ child, no less!

Despite such early cringeworthy moments as Herman busting into James Brown dance moves for a group of carolers, performances are on-target — even the ones meant to be broad (barring Baron’s), perhaps to honor the sitcom spirit of TV’s original Munsters family. McMurray is the most vicarious, and he is funniest in a throwaway reaction as his Frankenstein’s-monster character passes a lit torch he doesn’t expect to see as he descends a basement stairwell. Hendrix is appropriately adorable as the oblivious Marilyn, per this bar exchange with Tom (Jeremy Callaghan, The Great Raid), part-time rocker and would-be suitor:

Tom: “What’s your poison?”
Marilyn: “Strychnine.”
Tom: “How about something nonlethal?”
Marilyn: “All right. A virgin Bloody Mary — light on the virgin’s blood, if you don’t mind.”

You really shouldn’t mind much, excepting a dated reference to SnackWell’s cookies and Emes denying us the pleasure of seeing Santa make good on his promise to deliver deer shit to Eddie’s bully. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Nov 13 2016

You’re Invited to Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Hawaiian Beach Party (1996)

marykatehbpSo in You’re Invited to Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Hawaiian Beach Party, those little pug-nosed Olsen twins from TV’s Full House go to Hawaii and throw a beach party. Native island women dance the hula, so Mary-Kate and Ashley don grass skirts so they, too, can learn how to seductively sway their 8-year-old “hips.”

The girls are not fast learners, though! In fact, they accidentally rump-bump into the fire-eater, causing his hair to catch aflame. Panicky and disoriented, he runs toward the ocean to extinguish his burning mane, but due in part to his eyeballs already having melted, he instead slams into the wall of a boogie board rental shop and falls into the sand. Clutching their bellies and pineapple juice boxes, the twins just laugh and laugh at the human torch’s third-degree misfortune.

marykatehbp1Things get more twisted as Mary-Kate and Ashley search for a pig to roast. This essentially being a short film, they quickly come across one, sleeping. “Is it alive?” asks Mary-Kate (or maybe it was Ashley). “I don’t know! Let’s see,” replies Ashley (or maybe Mary-Kate; it does not matter). A cartoon light bulb appears over her head and she spots — and then grabs — a nearby stick that conveniently ends in a pencil-sharp point, which she then jabs into the swine’s where-the-sun-don’t-shine hole. As the animal jolts awake and squeals in equal parts terror and pain, the girls again just laugh and laugh.

Then they bludgeon the poor thing to death with a comically large coconut, and the action cuts to the titular celebration, where the partygoers feast on handfuls of pork as Dishwalla and Gin Blossoms rock out live. Proving that birthday wishes do come true, the climax finds Mary-Kate and Ashley being lifted onstage to show off their newfound hula skills as Los del Río perform — what else? — “Macarena.” Okay, so not really, but, man, what if? —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.