Jun 13 2016

Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein (2015)

WTFDCterrorfrankNo matter the budget or number of cooks, film sets are a bitch. Think of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo or Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Odds are you haven’t thought of 1977’s Terror of Frankenstein, but oh, how you should. The Swedish/Irish co-production proved to be a highly peculiar farrago, with one of the actors murdering several fellow cast members!

Now, decades later, all is revealed by director Gavin Merrill and screenwriter David Falks — always heard, never seen — through a DVD commentary track, of all things. To hear it is to witness a mind-boggling, historical record of an unfortunate nexus of cinema and crime, talent and tragedy.

DCterrorfrank1Except that it never happened; Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein is bogus. Given that premise, you can be forgiven if you assume the cheap-looking film at its center to be fake as well — otherwise, I’d be a hypocrite — but Terror of Frankenstein is the real deal, albeit rightfully obscure. The merry pranksters behind this put-on, director Tim Kirk and producer Rodney Ascher (collaborators on Ascher’s Room 237 documentary), have taken great pains to preserve the facade, including starting this meta project with the familiar FBI warning of home media, tracking issues and a shoddy menu our omniscient viewer navigates, taking a gander at the special features’ two-bit slideshow before selecting the filmmakers’ commentary.

From then on, speaking for the entirety are the opportunistic Merrill (Clu Gulager, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) and irascible Falks (Zack Norman, Cadillac Man). At first, we’re in the dark that the ’77 Terror has a tortured backstory, but it doesn’t take long for their conversation to grow contentious, with an uncomfortable Falks blaming Merrill for the deaths, as well as exploiting them for financial gain. Even if Gulager and Norman can’t quite carry the illusion to total legitimacy, they hook you from the start and are a hoot to hear — especially Norman’s sour-puss portrayal of the guilt-stricken scribe. As information is doled out in small chunks, the story builds and builds toward a payoff that Kirk can’t help but fumble because of Commentary’s confining structure. However anticlimactic, Kirk’s unique experiment is as devious as Victor Frankenstein’s in the film within the film. —Rod Lott

Mar 1 2016

Wild Guitar (1962)

wildguitarWTFIn Wild Guitar, Arch Hall Jr. is Bud Eagle, a hopeful musician from Fuckstink, Texas, who takes off for Hollywood with (literally) 15 cents in pursuit of his big break. As with any such case, Bud becomes an overnight sensation in about an hour.

There are lots of bad, warbly-sung Arch songs, like the kind you’re probably still humming from Eegah (“…oh, Vickieeee”) and Bud immediately falls in love with an almost pretty girl, conveniently named Vickie (Nancy Czar, Winter a-Go-Go). Hall Jr. also gets to show off his gift for physical comedy, poolside. Thanks, Dad — er, I mean, Mr. Producer who is not my dad.

wildguitar1But I have to say, this is a very well-made movie. There’s some zingy dialogue, some beautifully shot photography and a biting, cynical view of the music industry (especially for 1962). And Arch Hall Jr., dare I say, is actually pretty good.

This was directed by Ray Dennis Steckler, best known for his really messed-up later works like the superhero comedy Rat Pfink a Boo-Boo and the marquee-busting The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. Even in a black-and-white film, Arch still looks pink, yet Wild Guitar is a solid movie by any standard. —Richard York

Get it at Amazon.

Jan 28 2016

Trailer Trauma (2016)

trailertraumaWTFPackaging for Garagehouse Pictures’ Trailer Trauma makes the dubious claim that while it’s far from the only coming-attractions compilation on the market, “only [it] contains the ultra-rare titles that you absolutely will not find anywhere else.” And dammit, with the likes of Ironmaster, Dr. Frankenstein on Campus and Smokey and the Hotwire Gang — to name only three — the Garagehouse gang actually makes good on that promise!

Elsewhere on the back cover, the consumer is warned that the 137-minute collection “is going to hurt.” This, too, turns out to be true; in the immortal words of John Mellencamp, it hurts so good. For lovers and mistresses of B-movie advertising, this disc is essential.

Speaking of dubious claims and immortal words, the program overflows with gems of taglines and selling points. In this category fall The Incredible Torture Show (aka Bloodsucking Freaks) as “the show that will make anyone retch”; Grave of the Vampire’s dire warning that “if the sight of an infant child nursing on human blood will make you sick, do not see this gruesomely explicit horror film”; and, best of all, the announcer for Nine Deaths of the Ninja proclaims, “A cat has nine lives … Sho Kosugi has nine deaths!”

trailertrauma1Not all of that ballyhoo works as intended, which is half the fun of revisiting trailers of the grindhouse era. For example, Sunn Classics’ Beyond and Back, a 1978 “documentary” about death and the afterlife, presents itself “an exciting experience for the whole family.” Little kids love mortality, right? Meanwhile, Stoner promises “the most dynamic kung fu team ever!” And yet the 1974 actioner pairs that Deadly China Doll Angela Mao with one-time 007 George Lazenby — one of these things is not like the other.

Found among the 65 trailers are early roles for Mr. T (Penitentiary II) and Jean-Claude Van Damme (No Retreat, No Surrender), as well as cinema’s only teaming of Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale and the onscreen comic-book sound effects of TV’s Batman (The Legend of Frenchie King).

Where else can the discriminating viewer find a tribeswoman breast-feeding puppies, Dabney Coleman as a blaxploitation heavy and an ad for Oliver Stone’s Seizure dubbed into French (because, hell, why not), all in a single source? Nowhere, of course! But speaking hypothetically, even if there were, I’d still bet Trailer Trauma bares a higher BPM (breasts per minute). In this realm, that counts for everything. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jan 5 2016

On Her Bed of Roses (1966)

onherbedWTFAlbert Zugsmith’s On Her Bed of Roses begins with a wordless, 15-minute prologue that rivals the surrealism of Vincent Price’s drug-fueled dream sequence in Zug’s own Confessions of an Opium Eater from 1962: In his backyard, the handsome, but shy Stephen Long (Ronald Warren) grabs a rose so hard that its thorns pierce his skin. With bloodied fist wrapped around that plucked flower, the totally clothed, totally dazed young man walks into a swimming pool and emerges at the other side, then retrieves an instrument case from the garage and gets behind the wheel of a car. Paying no attention to the rules of the road and still clutching that rose — hey, hands at 10 and 2, son! — he drives willy-nilly until he comes to a hillside, removes a rifle from the case, and picks off a few wrong-time-wrong-place motorists from his perch. When the police arrive, Stephen turns the gun on himself.

Annnnnd scene!

onherbed1What, pray tell, triggered this college dropout (“I didn’t fit in with the rah-rah boys”) to zonk out and exercise his trigger finger? We learn the answer through flashbacks as Melissa Borden (a breathy Sandra Lynn, Zugsmith’s 1966 Movie Star, American Style or; LSD, I Hate You), tells her shrink. Not only was she Stephen’s nymphomaniac next-door neighbor, but also his kinda-sorta girlfriend. Theirs is the oddest of romances, if Roses can be called that — after all, its alternate title comes from the psychology text from which it is loosely based, Psychopathia Sexualis. That classic 19th-century study on deviant sex was written by Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing, here portrayed by actual psychologist Dr. Lee Gladden (who plays himself in 1965’s The Incredible Sex Revolution, also written and directed by Zugsmith), to whom Melissa spills all secrets.

Those include sexual abuse by her father (“A Taste of Honey” songwriter Ric Marlow) and having her mom (Barbara Hines, The Three Stooges Meet Hercules) steal the boys Melissa brings home to bang. Stephen has “mother troubles” of his own, being smothered by his domineering mom (Regina Gleason, Revenge of the Cheerleaders). Melissa tells the doctor it’s her belief that she and Stephen could have saved one another, and the funny thing is, you want to see them do just that. However, going into the film at Stephen’s suicide, we know that’s futile, so we settle for wanting to see how events A and B and C led to the tragic Z.

Now, don’t mistake that engagement for eminence; we’re still talking about a Zugsmith production — one whose narrative halts in the middle to make way for extended scenes of nude dancing just for the sake of nude dancing (similar to his “hot” cut of 1960’s Sex Kittens Go to College). His dialogue, when he gets around to it, remains histrionic and hysterical, such as the lines exchanged between our Cupid-struck teens during their meet-cute:

Melissa: “Do you like peanut butter?”
Stephen: “Gosh, how’d you know? I like it best on apples!”
Melissa: “I like grape jelly on mine!”

That’s true love. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Dec 2 2015

TV Turkeys: The World’s Worst Television Shows (1987)

tvturkeysWTFWith dumb host patter supplied by Ozzie & Harriet supporting player Skip Young, TV Turkeys: The World’s Worst Television Shows is an hour-long compilation of moments from purportedly the pits of programming, although many of the segments are not so much “the worst” as they are just dull.

Hank McCune was a big-eared comedian who sounded like Elmer Fudd (because he once was). Or maybe he’s the straight man of the piece. Either way, it’s slapstick at its suckiest. The Buckskin Kid is an all-kid Western, starring children with glued-on facial hair playing with guns and knives, and having their voices dubbed by overacting adults. The ambush scene is great, with Indians “riding” on stick horses. The Motor Sports magazine show interviews amateur road racers, but the only thing fast and furious about it will be you reaching for the FF button.

tvturkeys1Penny to a Million is a game show in which all the questions were related to sponsor Raleigh Cigarettes. Up on Cloud Nine follows the daffy misadventures of two stewardesses who humiliate each and every passenger and wrongly inform the cabin that the plane is going to crash. Equally as inappropriate today is The Arnold Stang Show, which relies on footage of a man hitting his wife to the ground for laughs. But that cruelty pales next to The Meanest Man in the World, who pushes down the handicapped, steals clothes from the elderly, knocks glasses of milk from the hands of a little girl and severs a patient’s IV!

The “best” bit among the Turkeys is Suicide Theatre, in which Mr. Lembeck (DeForest Kelley, pre-Dr. Bones on TV’s Star Trek) can’t pay his rent or find a job, so he decides to gas himself to death with the oven. But then he gets a notice in the mail that his gas has been turned off due to nonpayment. He finds this O. Henry turn of events hilarious, laughing to the camera, “Whaddya know? I can’t even afford to die!” At a time when TV couldn’t show a married couple sharing a bed, this was okay?

Most enjoyable are the advertisements, including a disturbingly catchy spot for Belly Bongo, a terribly racist mattress ad and the most suggestive Dole banana commercial I’ve ever seen: “If you feel it, peel it!” —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.