Mar 20 2017

Camp Massacre (2014)

Now that the costly process of shooting on film — not to mention developing it — is a thing of the past, technology allows anyone to make movies. But just because you can doesn’t automatically mean you should, and some of today’s DIY efforts not-so-secretly make me wish operating a DV camera required a license. Nowhere does the amateur-hour approach ring louder than in the realm of the slasher movie.

What is it about the venerable but nonvenerated horror subgenre that inspires so many would-be Wes Cravens to cry “Action”? (And why do their screenplays drop a “fuck” — or its endless variants thereof — on seemingly every page?) In hopes of finding the next Make-Out with Violence or Puppet Monster Massacre, I’ve sat through many microbudgeted horrors, none more horrible — and that’s really saying something — than Camp Massacre, originally titled as Fat Chance.

Once it gets past the prologue of former porn star Bree Olson (The Human Centipede III) getting stabbed — with a knife, pervert — in the shower for no discernible reason other than killing two birds (nudity, name value) with one stone, the film by 2013’s The Hospital co-directors Jim O’Rear and Daniel Emery Taylor (who also serves as screenwriter) gets down to business. Unfortunately, that business is fat-shaming in the name of alleged comedy, as 10 rather large men — ranging from merely obese to morbidly so — compete in a 30-day boot camp for the fictitious reality show By the Pound, with a $1 million booty at stake. As the show goes on, the competition becomes tougher — and yet easier, because of the serial killer offing the contestants.

O’Rear and Taylor consistently go for the gross-out, so hardcore fans of Troma pick-ups might find it funny. I can appreciate a good fart joke and other scatalogical set pieces when they’re well-executed, but the bottom line with Camp Massacre is that it’s an ugly mess — visually, conceptually, metaphorically — and too witless to offend. Ironically, the film could have mitigated its awfulness simply by slimming down. In an utterly baffling creative decision, Camp Massacre runs a bloated, Cimino-esque 129 minutes long! One By the Pounder pledges, “We’ll fix it in post.” They didn’t. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Read the original review in Exploitation Retrospect: The Journal of Junk Culture & Fringe Media #53

Mar 15 2017

The Ambushers (1967)

Matt Helm adventure No. 3, The Ambushers, finds the ever-sassy, always-sauced spy (Rat Pack crooner Dean Martin) ordered by Intelligence Counter Espionage (ICE) to retrieve the federal government’s super-secret, experimental flying saucer, which has been hijacked. One José Ortega (Albert Salmi, Caddyshack), a millionaire beer magnate, and his precious, all-powerful, matter-moving laser beam are to blame. Luckily for the film, Ortega and the U.S. UFO are located in Acapulco, so what’s a secret agent to do? An assignment’s an assignment, and Matt unconvincingly goes undercover as a fashion photographer.

Accompanying Matt are his alcohol-soaked bloodstream and fellow ICE agent Sheila Sommers. As played by Janice Rule (The Swimmer), Sheila is homelier than the Helm series’ average above-average female foil; compared to forbearing curve-bearers Stella Stevens in The Silencers or Ann-Margret in Murderers’ Row, the stick-like Rule looks like a PTA mom — okay, so a PTA mom who hasn’t given up on joie de vivre, but still, Rule’s casting as eye candy is eyebrow-raising curious. The Ambushers is, after all, a movie whose opening credits serve as a proto-MTV video for Hugo Montenegro’s catchy, teeny-bopper tune about how hot and sexy those hot and sexy girls are in their hot and sexy bikinis. Plus, every woman wants to bed Matt, and he, every woman.

The Ambushers’ cavalier attitude toward coupling makes a subplot of Sheila’s extra-icky and bothersome: When Ortega zapped the saucer out of the sky and onto his turf, Sheila was its pilot … and he raped her into a shadow of her former self. Still shell-shocked from the trauma, she harbors personal reasons to end Ortega’s reign.

Folks, The Ambushers is a comedy. At no point does director Henry Levin (The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm) allow anything to alter the sunshine-and-lollipops mood of the picture (and, by extension, the four-pic series as a whole). But brush all those thoughts aside so we get back to the brass tacks of our businessman/rapist: He has plans to auction the spacecraft to the highest bidder, currently “an Oriental gentleman whose name I cannot pronounce.” Oh, boy. Given those Breakfast at Tiffany’s times, I’m half-surprised Levin and screenwriter Herbert Baker (The Girl Can’t Help It) didn’t Go There and name the $100 million bidder Commander Chow Mein or something.

Sexism, racism, other -isms: all par for the course (coarse?) of that era of pop culture. Through the eyes and ears of today, these elements smart … and yet do not completely ruin the fun, of which the movie offers plenty, right down to a roller-coaster of a climactic chase. The Ambushers is a flick of literal bullet bras, killer maracas, melting belt buckles, insta-tents, giant beer bottles, beer-barrel bowling, magic bartending, deadly fezzes, funny cigarettes (not the kind laced with THC, mind you), sultry Senta Berger (The Quiller Memorandum) and constant jokes at the expense of women having bumps and folds that men do not — hee-haw! —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Mar 13 2017

Three for the Road (1987)

As any child of the ’80s, I always have had and always will have a soft spot for the films of John Hughes. Who doesn’t, right? But as much as I appreciated his output, for some reason I always found myself drawn even more to the Hughes-esque rip-offs of the time: the Morgan Stewart’s Coming Homes, the Fresh Horses and the Secret Admirers that were always on either constant HBO rotation or frequently rented VHS tapes in our house, with the mostly forgotten road-trip dramedy Three for the Road an almost daily watch, for some odd reason.

While I’m sure all of us have those movies that we look back on and ask, “What was I thinking?” — Lord knows I have my fair share — Three for the Road is particularly perplexing because it’s not particularly funny and it’s not particularly dramatic; it’s just particularly there, a rote plot designed to cash in on the available bankability of its three stars without knowing (or caring) what to do with them.

Brat Pack bad boy Charlie Sheen (Hot Shots!) stars as congressional aide good boy Paul Tracy, who, in order to get in good graces with Sen. Kitteridge (Raymond J. Berry, who practically reprised this role nearly 30 years later in The Purge: Anarchy) escorts the politician’s poodle-haired daughter, Robin (a woefully abrasive Kerri Green, The Goonies), across the country to an insane asylum or something. Along for the ride is party animal/apparent writer T.S. (the woefully miscast Alan Ruck, Young Guns II), who believes this’ll make great material for a book, and brings along his typewriter to show the audience this.

Along the way, this trio does everything possible to destroy any type of cinematic goodwill it built up in films like Lucas and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, especially Green, who is forced to eat with her feet at one point because she’s a free spirit that no one understands, except for the wound-tight Paul, of course, which initiates some sort of questionable romantic angle, considering she’s 15 in the film and I’m pretty sure he’s around 25. Then again, that’s Washington, D.C., for you, am I right? Punditry!

Directed by Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend’s B.W.L. Norton, Three for the Road was a massive bomb and did a good job of destroying the careers of perpetual hangdog Ruck and teen crush Green (but let’s be honest: If it wasn’t this film, it would’ve been the next one), while Sheen escapes mostly unscathed, simply because at least he had the foresight to “act” aloof throughout the entire 90-minute running time. Production company The Vista Organization would later go on to make such other Fowler faves as Dudes, Maid to Order and Russkies, all of which I’m pretty sure are just as terrible. —Louis Fowler

Get it at Amazon.

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.