Even casual Americans will soon be called to bear witness to what promises to be the most bizarre election in the history of our frail democracy: the battle between the mighty Donald, his hair Reichstag-fiery as he struts and curses before his bloodthirsty throng, and a woman. How did America get to this?
Only the drive-in knows for sure. That's where it all started, whatever it is, and it's been slithering up from those tawdry mosquito-covered screens, across the abandoned strip mall Blockbusters and up through Amazon Prime, waiting, for you! Presuming you have the Prime (and if not, you should): walk tall, sit proud, and keep watching the skies for his shiny wings. The Russians are here; the werewolves are coming; the rats are leaving in droves.
|Switch it off and turn to STONE!|
NOTE TO THE WISE: Prime is stocked with loads of cool niche pyschotronic cast-offs but 95% of it is crap, cropped, or corny. What you need, my friend, is the right guide, some madman who likes to sink his hand into the muddy mire, but has a jeweler's eye for hidden sparkle and would only recommend things in a correct anamorphic ratio, things shot on 35mm film! Donald wouldn't have it any other way. He can afford film, "people." Besides being more expensive and tactile, it's shinier, like the head of the Donald.... like the Donald... (you) like the Donald....
(PS - All screenshots on this post taken directly from Amazon Streaming for quality assurance)
1. THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE
(1967) Dir. Roger CormanNever one to miss a chance for collateral production value, Corman utilized Fox's still-standing Hello Dolly! 1920s street sets, and added lots of comic book vibrancy and deadpan Paul Frees narration to tell the story of the last 24 hours in the lives of all the key Chicago players for the titular massacre: Jason Robards is too tall to be Capone and terribly hammy, especially when he chokes up his voice in Italian language curses, but seems to be having a blast and frankly, deserves it. Ralph Meeker makes a good-natured, beery Bugs Mroan; George Segal turns on the smilingly sadism as a key North Side provocateur; for the nameless thugs there's Alex Rocco, Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller, and Bruce Dern mix with venerable greats like John Agar and Studs "Lloyd the bartender" Turkel - all cleaning their guns and waiting by the phone for the signal. Sexy Jean Hale (below) provides the perfect mid-film breather from all the toxic masculinity as Segal's sexy girlfriend. Her way-too-expensive new fur coat triggers an extended, lamp-bashing brawl that's a joy to behold. The print Amazon's been streaming is HD perfection. Sure it leaves you kind of 'so-whatting' once it's all over, but what a rush getting there! Isn't that kind of like the presidential run itself?
Trump Factor: Check Robards' eyes (above) as he prepares to 'fire an apprentice.'
(1971) Dir Roger CormanCorman's final film as a director, this countercultural comedy (written by George MIAMI BLUES Armitage) functions as a kind of DR. STRANGELOVE (1964) meets WILD IN THE STREETS (1968), imagining a near future that a lot of hippies were hoping for, one where the army accidentally releases a poison gas that kills everyone over thirty, lifting the world out of the button-down conservative repression of the establishment and into some kind of San Francisco guerrilla theater troupe / Firesign Theater post-apocalyptic wild west.
Turns out though, man, that not all young folks are groovy, man. What about rapey jocks and bikers? Well, we'll find out soon enough, as across dune-buggy deserts and down tumbleweedy main streets comes a ragtag group of sensible peace-loving (straight) couples, regularly forced to escape the clutches of various agitprop start-ups and desperadoes. Even worse, they wind up at a Country Joe and the Fish show. God Himself narrates with a hammy Jewish accent, and--just so you know it's a Corman film--Poe, raven and Lenore at his side, rides up on a chopper to make worldly comments,
|Poe and Lenore on the open road (you can hear Johnny Depp stirring in his |
day care center nap room.)
The next great chapter finds the heroes ensnared by an outlaw biker gang who've taken over a Palm Spring-ish golf course/country club. Their biker leader assigns them groundskeeper duties, and takes them on long stern golf cart ride-length talks about lifting themselves up by their bootstraps. Armitage's sociological double-entendre dialogue really takes flight with these savagely American moments. I think Paddy Chayefsky or Terry Southern couldn't do it half as well.
If GAS-S-S-S stayed at that dark comic level, it could have been a great absurdist assault on the cinematic conventions of bourgeois patriarchy. Taken as a whole, while it might be blind to its own male chauvinism, at least it's also realistic about the difficulty of staying peaceful and nonviolent when your community is threatened by an invading malevolent force. That it actually finds a solution without a deux ex machina or other compromise is far more radical than just hoping for the arrival of some enigmatic drifter (In case you forgot, BILLY JACK had made a tidy bundle that same year).
Not helping matters any is that the lead of the hearty band of straight lovers (Bob Corff) is a wan little long-haired ginger with a high little voice and no discernible charm. Clearly cast because THE GRADUATE had made so much money everyone wanted a blank nebbish as their Candide, Corff might well be a nice person, but for free love to not seem skeevy we have to believe the guy getting it is charming enough he could succeed without it, otherwise he's just a carpetbagger. That's why they do screen tests! An when there are so much spry future stars playing along the sidelines-- Ben Vereen, Talia Shire, Elaine Giftos, Cindy Williams, Bud Cort --one wants answers why we don't see more of them instead of this irritatingly smug little pisher. Oy Vey! God, vot were you thinking?
'Whew', glad I got that off my chest. Living in smarmy Park Slope with all its anemic hipsters clearly has really gotten to me.
Trump Factor: You can't get more Trump than those bikers on the country club links! The "free-spirited independents trying to make peace with those still clinging to the crumbling hetero-white-Christian-male authority illusion is-- based on all those Trump rally disruptions--an important lesson I hope we remember soon.
3. UNHOLY ROLLERS
(1972) Starring: Claudia Jennings.
**1/2An early capitalizer on the 70s' lady roller derby craze (Raquel Welch's KANSAS CITY BOMBER came out the same year) this is a fine example of what I've just now termed 'libsploitation,' i.e. a film about a bloodsport hottie who feels outraged at all the sexual harassment she has to endure on and off the track, all while the camera ogles her undressing in the locker room before and after games. Luckily the late, great super brawler and Playboy superstar Claudia Jennings is the star of both film and team, and she tears into both the sex and loathing with admirable relish, becoming the bloodiest, most combative female roller derby player in town. The team owners would shut her down except the fans go nuts for it, goading her on to ever wilder displays of violence that eventually leave the track and erupt in the crowds. And when the PR hypocrisy finally gets to be too much, she just bashes the team owner over the head with her trophy and goes on a parking lot rampage, rolling down the rink parking lot and onto Main Street like she's three stories tall, ready to roll over the cars rather than the other way around.
It probably sounded better on paper, but even though it seems kind of ridiculous, it works because Jennings really lets it rip, taking full advantage of the opportunity to lunge for banal consumer-driven bile-spewing mainstream America's jugular like a rabid but very sexy monster. We wouldn't see such a batshit go-for-broke attempt to punch a hole through the wall of first-world consumer society hell until 2002, with Mickey Roarke rampaging through the grocery aisles in THE WRESTLER.
What a cast! Victor Argo is the team's trainer! Roberta Collins Jennings' nearly-as-fierce teammate. It could have been a classic in the hands of Jack Hill, or good in the hands of Steve Carver--but it's in the hands of hilariously amateurish Vernon Zimmerman (who only made one more feature after this, the portentously-titled FADE TO BLACK).
But, hell, anyone who was a kid in the 70s has a 'soft' spot for this type of film, for it's the kind of thing you can follow even when you're too drunk or young to understand half the dialogue. Often we can't tell who's supposed to have punched who, for fights are not well choreographed and shot. But they still rock.
Side Note: In case you don't remember, under the inter-sibling play fighting accord of 1971, all slow-mo fake punches are created equal. No matter how much smaller they are than you, or how widely they missed, you have to react like they really nailed you, falling down or staggering backwards etc. It's a rule that kept our childhood aggression always on the surface, where it could be quickly expelled and evaporated the moment it bubbled up.
I'd forgotten about that great rule until I saw UNHOLY ROLLERS. Fuckin' A. Claudia Jennings brings the same glint of genuine madness she brought to the insane and divine GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE (and TRUCK STOP WOMEN). As she brawls her way around the great rotating roller rink of heaven, let us pray for her soon return -- to kick more ass in whatever form she chooses to occupy!
(1986) Dir. Ted Nicolau
Good natured mid-80s MTV/New Wave/mall culture/punk horror/sci fi comedy in the vein of EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY, NIGHT OF THE COMET, REPO MAN, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, and BUCKAROO BANZAI, this Charles Band joint is the story of an ugly but hilarious blob-crab-style alien materializing via a then state-of-the-art satellite TV of swinging Malibu parents Mary Woronov and Gerritt Graham. Diane Franklin their Cyndi Lauper-ish teen daughter; Chad Allen plays the younger kid, a tow-head young gun nut under the tutelage of his crackpot survivalist war vet grandfather (Bert Remsen) who lives in the adjoining bomb shelter. TV horror hostess Madame Medusa (Jennifer Richards), a pair of fellow swingers (Alejandro Rey and Randi Brooks) and Jonathan Gries as the daughter's metalhead boyfriend ("too rude!") drop by to round out the stellar cult-ready cast of dinner. They're all on the same page, sitcom-from-Hell overacting-wise, which makes it all click together deliriously. With its loud 80s colors and bizarro decor it might be a nightmare under the influence of household solvents, but underneath the gross-outs and decadence lurks a loving spirit that triangulates its genial signal somewhere between 60s John Waters, 80s Tim Burton, and 50s Roger Corman (I kept expecting Dick Miller to show up as a door-to-door salesman or disgruntled neighbor).
Trump Factor: I could make some parallel with the all-devouring monster coming out of the TV and Fox News (and Hillary as the other--benevolent---alien trying to clean up the mess and get the family's attention but not being heard over the din), but I'd rather just consider it a pleasing reminder that the extended American nouveau riche families of the 80s weren't all insufferably materialistic or rabidly conservative. Some still wanted to swing, baby. And they made good parents - there, I said it! Zeroing in on the macabre heightened reality in the cracks of mall culture (rather than just being 'quirky'), TERRORVISION brings back memories of the early days of VHS when whole families would get together to watch the X-rated movies mom had rented from the back room of the local appliance store, all rather curious and innocent.
It didn't last of course, we never watched more than one or even a half as a family before turning it off kind of ashamed, to never speak of it again, the shame net of the early 80s closing around us like a shroud. The word 'inappropriate' began to swirl in the back of our minds for the first time. I'm always wondering if it was this sudden access to excessive sex and violence after so many decades of variety show pap that helped turn once-swinging free-spirited middle America into the panicky prudes we still are today, or whether we're just trying to reclaim our lost innocence so we can have fun re-losing it (i.e. the highs are higher when you've been sober for awhile). Maybe Trump doesn't drink or do drugs (neither did Hitler, or Osama bin Laden) but he'd fit right in at the Caligula-like marble jacuzzi room of this crazy family, despite his half-assed nods to the conservative Christian sect.
Because right or wrong, this is America, baby, and no matter how virulently we shout across the lines tomorrow, we can still party together tonight.
If we sometimes forget how hard we rock, it's only 'cuz we rock so hard.
5. THE VISITOR
(1979) Dir. Giulio Paradisis
***The crowning plume on Italy's many-feathered Omen / Close Encounters imitation helmet, this tale of a telekinetic devil child named Kaity (Paige Connor), caught in a bidding war between ancient alien forces of good and evil, has nearly everything that made the 70s great: peregrine falcons, mall ice rinks, NBA basketball, enigmatic patriarchies, video pong, gymnastics (Nadia Comăneci rocked the world in the '76 Olympics), a giant old school projector TV, and aging former-A-list stars mixing with young up-and-comers as if meeting on an up-down escalator. Joanne Nail (who rocked it so very, very hard in Switchblade Sisters) is Barbara, the mom with the cosmic womb; Glen Ford is a suspicious detective killed by Katy's peregrine familiar; Shelly Winters is the astrology-guided housekeeper; Sam Peckinpah (!) is Barbara's abortionist ex-husband; John Huston is God or Lord Enki, or the substitute babysitter; Lance Henriksen is Raymond, Barbara's boyfriend, pressured by his Satanic board of directors (headed by Mel Ferrer) to get Barbara pregnant again because the antichrist still can't be a girl. When Barbara resists Raymond's marital overtures, the Illuminati arrange an alien abduction to artificially inseminate her! Man oh man! Nick Redfern should love this movie!
If all that wasn't 70s enough, there are car crashes, bird attacks, baldheaded cult members, ferns, aquariums, and kids using curse words (Kaity tells Ford to go fuck himself, but haltingly, like a real kid would in the 70s when foul language still had some mystical power).
Most 70s of all: the script fuses ancient alien theory, Gnosticism and Buddhism together to underwrite its cosmology (as opposed to just another Catholic exorcism). If you've read my 'other' blog, Divinorum Psychonauticus, you know I support that decision. Franco Nero in an electric yellow hippie wig makes a helluva great Jesus, and Franco Micalizzi's funk-galactic score effectively conjures memories of 2001 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind as re-imagined by Meco?! (How the fuck was that ever a hit? But It was).
Trump Factor: As a scheming CEO pressured into a virulently pro-life position by Satanic illuminati benefactors, Raymond lacks only Trump's ambivalenza vulgare to up his polls. Still, no matter how persistent and bluntly the devil woos us, even if he arranges 'accidents' (ala the Reichstag burning) to make us feel desperately dependent on him, we needn't vote his way. God, aka Lord Enki (alias Jerzy aka The Visitor) is clearly pro-choice, but also insists that, before he takes you to his heavenly realm, your selfish malice (and hair) must be ripped from your soul by cleansing bird swarms aka paying higher income tax.
Have you paid yours yet, dear reader? Capone didn't. Does he look worried? Salut!