Cleansing the lens of cinematic perception, for your aghast befuddlement

Thursday, March 31, 2016

5 Awesomely Psychotronic films on Amazon Prime can Prepare YOU for the coming of TRUMPMERICA!


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!
Whiter your conscience allows you to vote for him or not, Prime has five films avail. to stream that might prepare you for his coming. At the very least, these grandiose offerings may remind us of headier days, a time when feminism was called women's lib and didn't preclude casual, unsafe sex; diversity was called black power and didn't preclude pimp strutting; and liberal caterwauling was called just a lot of radical hippie nonsense.

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 Corman
****
Never one to miss a chance for collateral production value, Corman utilized Fox's still-standing Hello Dolly! 1920s street sets to tell the story of the last 24 hours in the lives of all the key Chicago players. Told with comic book vibrancy and wryly narrated by the great Paul Frees, TSVDM hops along like the best of all three worlds (documentary, action, and drama) twirled together into a meth soft serve. And -- ah, Marone --what a cast!: Jason Robards is way-too-tall to be Capone, but plenty feral; Ralph Meeker makes a good-natured, beery Bugs; George Segal turns on his smilingly sadistic streak as a key provocateur heating up the turf war. Menawhile Alex Rocco, Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller, Bruce Dern, John Agar, Studs "Lloyd the bartender" Turkel clean their guns and wait by the phone for the signal. Sexy Jean Hale (below) provides the perfect mid-film breather from the boardrooms and hit planning when a fur coat triggers an extended, lamp-bashing brawl with boyfriend Segal. The print Amazon's been streaming is HD perfection. Sure it leaves you kind of 'so-whatting' the joint, but what a rush getting there. In short, patron, it's sublime - one of Corman's best (non-Poe) films.

Trump FactorCheck Robards' eyes (above) as he prepares to 'fire an apprentice.'





2. GAS-S-S-S
(1971) Dir Roger Corman
***
Corman'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. But 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 tumbleweedy main streets comes a ragtag group of sensible peace-loving (straight) couples. Navigating the terrain, loving each other and anyone else, and escaping the clutches of various agitprop start-ups and desperadoes as way too many Country Joe and the Fish "songs" play on the soundtrack. God narrates with a Jewish oy-vey accent, and, just so you know it's Corman film look up high on yonder hill! It's Poe himself, on a chopper! His raven on his shoulder, Lenore at his side, he's realy to make worldly comments on the strivings going on below.

Poe and Lenore on the open road (you can hear Johnny Depp stirring in his 
day care center nap room.)
As with similar odysseys (CANDY, BARBARELLA, WEEKEND, BLACK MOON)--moments of brilliant sociopolitical satire run episodic counterpoint to tiresome stretches of draggy, dated, sexist puerility. Luckily, as with CANDY, the best segments have an air of violent desperation and historical savvy underwriting the lunacy, which ages far better than the tedious post-HAIR backseat fumbling, making the slog to get to them worth the eye rolls. For GASS the best stretch occurs about  a half hour or so in, when our gang is ensnared by a deranged college football quarterback and his marauding band of teammates and cheerleaders (his rousing pep talk, a fusion of big game college football cliche with plans for rape-and-pillage marauding, brilliantly bends all the smug hippy heros; criticisms and evasions back into his grand metaphor), Like the violence in CLOCKWORK ORANGE, the football rape and loot practice sequences are genuinely anarchic, far more so than, say, the doctors endlessly shouting "Kill! Kill!" during their football game in the much more favorably reviewed (but in my opinion inferior) M*A*S*H (1970). The next 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 the trapped hippies on long stern golf cart ride-length talks about lifting themselves up by their bootstraps. Armitage's sociological double-entendre dialogue soards into brilliance in these scenes.

 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. It might be blind to its own male chauvinism, but 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 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).

Alas, the next dune buggy montage is always just around the corner. Ach! So many dune buggies, so many strobe light show 'sex' scenes, so much Country Joe. 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 in movies we have to believe the guy getting it is charming enough he could succeed in seduction without it. Sorry, Bob, that's just the rules. That's why they do screen tests. And in this instance, 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, what 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 biker hoods on the country club links!  The "free-spirited independents trying to make peace with those still clinging to the crumbling mantle of hetero-white-Christian-male authority" aspect of the film is-- based on all those Trump rally disruptions--an important lesson I hope we remember soon.



3. UNHOLY ROLLERS
(1972) Starring: Claudia Jennings. 
**1/2
An early entrant in the 70s' lady roller derby phase (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, Karen Walker. Driven nearly psychotic with bloodlust by the nonstop pawing she undergoes from the male world, walker becomes the bloodiest most combative female roller derby player yet. The team owners would shut her down except the fans go nuts for it, and goad her on to wilder displays of violence, spilling out into their midst to incite massive brawls. 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 pit bull. We wouldn't see such a batshit go-for-broke attempt to punch a hole through the wall of first world consumer society hell again until 2002, with Mickey Roarke rampaging through the grocery aisles in THE WRESTLER.

Victor Argo is the team's trainer! Roberta Collins is her teammate and almost as fierce. Hell yeah, it's great for what it is, a pretty roughshod piece of shit that could have been great in the hands of Jack Hill, or good in the hands of Steve Carver, but is just hilariously amateurish in the hands of 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.

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, if you're swung at you have to act like they really socked 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 all that until I saw UNHOLY ROLLERS the other day, where the fights are only moderately more believable than ours as kids. 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!

TRUMP-Factor. - Turning a public event into a shouting match for the sake of ratings and whipping up the blood frenzy in rowdy audiences? Count Karen Walker (Jennings) in! She says and does anything she feels like and her managers can't argue since her outrageous behavior gets her more and more fans, i.e. no such thing as bad publicity. As her momentum builds, her rivals become more and more abusive to try and keep up, and the crowds grow more and more infused with bloodlust, until even her handlers wonder if they've created an uncontrollable monster. Sound familiar, CNN?



4. TERRORVISION
(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, newly installed in the home of a looney upscale Malibu family. Cult icons Mary Woronov and Gerritt Graham are the swinging parents; Diane Franklin their Cyndi Lauper-ish teen daughter; Chad Allen 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) who come over for a dip in the pool and to-ah-hah-swing, and Jonathan Gries as the daughter's metalhead boyfriend ("too rude!") round out the stellar cult-ready cast. 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). 

Trump Factor: 
I could make some parallel with the all-devouring monster coming out of the TV and Fox News (and Hillary as the 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. 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 X-rated movies we and mom had rented from the back room of the local appliance store, just because we were finally could, and were 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 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 this is America, baby, and no matter how virulently we shout across the lines tomorrow, we can still party together tonight. 

If we forget how hard we rock sometimes, 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 Com─âneci 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 rather than resorting to the usual Catholic icons. 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 being 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) 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!

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