Friday, October 01, 2021

My TUBI Cue (Deadly Women Edition): 10 Weird Vintage Gems for the High and Inside

Unlimited constant availability makes choosing movies daunting. Now Tubi! With so may platforms and titles stretching into infinity, one can feel eternally stranded at some giant video store, paralyzed by indecision, while mom waits ever more frustrated in the car (a recurring dream I have). But Tubi! At least in the days of the video store you could narrow it down to 2-3 choices, so when you got home your selection was much narrower. Nowadays you take home the video store in its entirety and no title is ever unavailable / already rented out. Is it heaven or a hell of indecision?


Everything on Tubi is free, including the Charles Band catalogue, so no unpleasant surprises. Not only is all the weirdest, wildest stuff here, but the occasional spate of commercials bring a lot of nostalgic and strange value if you were a child in the pre-cable / VCR era. Commercials provide breathing and bathroom space, and since the titles aren't censored there's a lot of great ironic counterpoint to, say, having a screamin bloody R-rated vivisection interrupted by an ad for Geico's new bundling service, at least if you're old enough to remember old time network TV. Some of these babies have never had a commercial break in their lives, and it gives them a kind of subliminal network respectability. The only drawback is, unlike on Youtube, there's no way to get it to automatically play the next title in your list once what you're watching ends. Instead Tubi picks some random, less weird title and shoves it down your throat sometimes before the credits even start. I have no intention of watching Shrek Forever After when I'm done with Blood and Black Lace or Are we There Yet? after Shivers but there you are.

PS - In book news, I've been digging the new Bleeding Skull!: A 1990s Trash-Horror Odyssey, in glorious glossy color (finally), with reds that bleed all over your Polonia tube socks. If, like me. you only heard of a handful of the titles mentioned in BS, then you too might start looking for the ones they wax gushingly on about. Then welcome to TUBI! 

PPS - Needing a theme, this list ties in also with my ongoing Dangerous Women collection, a round-up of women who kill without getting all whiny about it. The women who can just kill and kick ass and not let it bug them -these deadly woman are the incarnations of Kali, the patron goddess of Acidemic! In the words of "Old Toad Face" in Gunga Din, Kali! Kali! KALIII!!!!

Anastasia Woolverton as Connie Sproutz
1. DISEMBODIED
(1998) Dir. William Kursten
***

If the tough "gamin" from Dementia kept her brains in a jar in her Basket Case-x-Eraserhead-style motel room, wandered around the desolate nighttime cityscape killing people with her grotesque facial mutation ala From Beyond  and tinkered around with strange animated objects and post-industrial fixtures, well, you'd have Disembodied, the artsy feature debut from experimental filmmaker William Kursten (!)

Weird homage and surrealist abstraction, it's part post-industrial sci-fi, part grungy punk meditation on urban decay, mostly occurring in a fleabag hotel room that seems ever ready to devolve into one of Tarkovsky's moldy crumbling walls. Connie Sproutz (Anastasia Woolverton) doesn't fit any one mold; what is her deal? She can dance around in garish summer dress, give herself a coffee buzz by pouring a whole pot into the brain vat, organize her bouncing rock collection, dream of cool claymation Yves Tanguy-esque space anemones, spy on her cute redhead freelance hustler neighbor (Hanna Nease) through a hole in the wall and avoid the skeevy hotel clerk who keeps asking her over to watch his old 16mm reels of industrial stock footage. And then--when even the night owls are asleep--she hits the town, rarin' to dissolve any lone passers-by with jetting puss from her facial tumor so she may consume the gooey remains (ala Troll 2)Dashes of Repo Man, Brain Damage, and Liquid Sky pepper the events to come as her old employer at a research lab comes gunning for her. 

I don't think it really pays to try too hard to figure out what's going on, but surrendering to the high (hint hint) concept weirdness may give you that out-of-body experience. Resisting might give you a headache, existential nausea, and/or the skeeves

It's worth the ride, though. Recently restored and remastered, Disembodied looks gorgeously wretched in a glowing matte palette of mossy greens and browns. If Eraserhead were colorized it would look a bit like this (I'd hope). The occasional dreams of strange alien worlds glisten with all the bright purples missing from Connie's day-to-day world, creating a sense of eventual unification. In space, everything will be fine as a warm radiator.

For her Bleeding Skull 90s Odyssey review, Ann Choi instantly likens the film to the sort of acid trip one endures rather than enjoys: "you need a certain kind of mental constitution to handle hallucinogens --an ability to understand that reality will be on hiatus for the next 12 hours and maybe you'll see the Grim Reaper, but it also might just be a bathrobe. (...) It's best to accept it all without questions and escape into a trance, one where you're rarely bored even when you literally see a goth girl fall asleep in a chair." (p. 86) Challenge accepted. 

Adrian Barett as "the Gamin"
2. DEMENTIA
(1955) Dir John Parker
****

One of the likely inspirations for Kursten's Disembodied, the surrealist paranoid night fancy of and high flyin' Bunuel meets Ed Wood-sy psycho-beatnik weirdness is a must see, and now thanks to a great HD print on Tubi it looks amazing. Long forgotten after it fell afoul of censors, Dementia floated in the abyss until it acquired an Ed McMahon narration and was released as Daughter of Horror, where it became enshrined as the movie playing when the original The Blob attacks the local theater having an all-night horror festival (for which it is perfectly suited.)

This version, the original, contains no narration, nor even a word of dialogue (only the occasional mocking laughter or hysterical sobbing). The wolfish and demented grins of the men, the haughty scorn and weary loathing in the eyes of the women, speak way more clearly than words. We start the night waking up from a dream in the fleabag motel room of a tough-looking beatnik chick, the 'Gamin' (Adrienne Barett) who then gets dressed (black turtleneck, sports coat and big round medallion, very beat), tests out the spring on her switchblade and begins her midnight creep  through a desolate nighttime nightmare Venice Beach, CA. 

She sees many sights. She stares at a neglected child sitting in her hotel's rickety stairwell; she laughs at a drunk being sapped by a sadistic cop on the street; little person and real life news hawker Angelo Rossitto gleefully shows her the nightly edition: "Mysterious Stabbing" (she laughs rather than winces); a smirking pimp sells her to a rich fat guy in a limo (Bruno Ve Sota!); she doesn't even care! En route to his club, she dreams of a masked figure who leads who her through a graveyard where her dead parents are boozing it up and slapping each other around on their living room furnishings. She stabs the father after he kills her mother! She's followed by a detective who laughs at her confusion --he looks just like her murdered father! A demented looking flower girl's basket hides a severed hand! It's clutching her medallion! The people who watch as she cut it off Bruno Ve Sota had no faces. ARGGHH!

All the while, George Antheil's weird horn-heavy score steadily amps up the noir tension and the wordless eerie whooping of Marni Nixon's vocalizing grows progressively unhinged. Paranoia is inexorably pushed past the point of endurance or even conceivable reality and even into the realm of Bunuelian black comedy. She hides from the cop in a jazz basement club where he finds the pimp gives her a drink and a cigarette. Booze and nicotine cure her! She literally throws on a cocktail dress and gets onstage to sing with Shorty Rogers and his Giants. At the tables, sleazy dudes grope drunken party girls and lonely old guys with five-o-clock shadow drink up. Everyone starts laughing at our onstage gamin, pointing their fingers, once the detective shows up. A cop shoves dead Ve Sota's head through the window bars, so he can dig the swinging Shorty sounds. After awhile, even the Gamin laughs between her screams. Bunuel fans will remember the climax of El as Ed Wood fans will remember the devil dream blackboard sequence in Glen or Glenda (which is on Tubi, colorized). If Glen's crazy finger-pointing snips and snails dream was extended to a full hour, given a whooping Marni Nixon soundtrack, and turned loose on the empty nocturnal boulevards of Hollywood, USA, Dementia would result.

Watching it now you may wonder about why it could ever have run afoul of censors. There's no nudity or onscreen violence aside from all the beating and stabbing and blood and amputation. In a way I guess it's nudity of the soul that scared them-- to watch Dementia is to see the dark seething Freudian unconscious of America's urban spaces suddenly erupting out of every sewer at once, covering recognizable plotting of an average film noir with a flood of paranoid Maya Deren-esque experimentalism that easily could have warped 1955 reality so thoroughly it would never re-straighten. Those censors wanted their unconscious out of sight, their noir conventions used in the service of a romantic plot. They wanted a mixer with their whiskey. This is the straight up hard stuff. No futzing around with conventional plot trimmings, just a switch blade straight through the eyeball into the part of the brain where your dreams go to die. 

Either way, censors, you lost! 65 years later and reality is now officially bent beyond recognition despite your best efforts! G'head, Gamin! Carve your way to jazz freedom! Over and over and over....

Other Recommended Tubi Viewing: Glen or Glenda, Cat Women of the Moon, Mesa of Lost Women

Joanna Arnold as June
3. GIRL GANG
(1954) Dir. Robert C. Bertano
***

There are so many boring 50s girl gang movies from the mid-50s that a hip viewer--a cat that's in the know, that's wise to the action--may want to shut the door on the whole sub-genre. Usually, there's some clean cut teen girl whose parents too busy to spend time with their wayward daughter as the local chief of police lectures absentee parents about responsibility in dry and lengthy paternal monologues. The girl gang she joins is as dangerous as Potsy at a sock hop and so clueless about the life they depict (i.e. getting so hooked on reefers you go into the shakes without your 'maryjanes'), it's adorable. Finally one of the gang shoots and kills a gas station attendant or a security guard and the "fun" is over. Sadly, even Ed Wood's The Violent Years (also on Tubi) falls into this well-worn rut. Well, forget everything you ever saw or heard about those other 50s girl gangs and come join this one! It may end the same way (those poor gas station attendants!), but 'til then there ain't a parent or cop to be found. 

Timothy Farrell (the psychiatrist who narrates most of Glen or Glenda) is intensively memorable and eerily familiar as the pusher antihero, Fagin to an ever-expanding rolodex of teenage junkies Olivers.  Hosting a never-ending pot and 'H' party where the only the first shot is free, he nicely helps the kids pay (him) for their drugs via coordination of prostitution, blackmail, and robbery schemes. Extended scenes of his day-to-day drug pushing alternate between the kitchen--where people shoot up and discuss business--and the living room where the new kids puff their mary janes, make out, and fall asleep. It's the exploitation equivalent to those Warren Williams Warner Brothers pre-code big business satires, where we watch him seduce his secretary, fire her boyfriend, pay off a chiseling ex-wife, and instruct a high-end prostitute how to entrap his rival, all while still in his pajamas in his boudoir over the course of a real time twenty minutes. Sure Farrell wears a tie and has that authoritative voice, but he's far sleazier, and his 'ex' could care less if he's making out with the new talent, long as she gets her fix. 

For those 'in the know,' the feeling of deja vu should be strong: this movie will evoke the vibe of hanging around your dealer's apartment, trying to find the door while too high to stand up. "You got 'em comin' and goin'" says one of his girls, almost admiringly after he stiffs them on the take for their stolen goods, then takes it back to pay up their drug tabs. Wising up to the trap she finds herself in doesn't mean, however, she's able to escape it. We also see Joe help one of his ace procurers tie off a mainliner in this kitchen (the boy's reward for bringing new kids over for their first reefers). Joe also makes out with the procurer's willing girlfriend June (Joann Arnold) before showing her how to do a "joy pop." Joe sets the newbies up with reefer cigarettes (one each, and one to take home "on the house") which they smoke fiendishly before making out or dancing or falling asleep in his living room.

In short, Joe's apartment is also his place is his business --the kitchen even has a pay phone. Nothing is free. It seems like you're chilling after school at some hip older guy's pad, but really you're becoming indoctrinated and indebted. He keeps track of every hit. He also keeps a drunken doctor ("I'm... competent") on call, to show kids how to go the hypodermic route ("I don't feel like breakin' a kid in on a habit,") and --though we never see it--probably saving their lives if they OD. Most girl gang movies would have maybe a two minute scene of this stuff, then right back to the police station and the broken home for more tired soap opera and censor-pleasing polemics. Girl Gang wouldn't be caught dead around parents, cops, homes, precincts, or podiums. 

June, realizing she'll soon be free of all the Jim-Jims in this town

As a former addict, I really relate to this movie. The weed stuff isn't quite believable (the kids smoke what look like cigarettes so savagely they seem to be suffering from nicotine poisoning rather than highness) but the heroin stuff seems pretty legit and I appreciate the level of close-up detail we get: Joe patiently explains how to cook the dope with a spoon and a match, drawing the liquid into the hypo, and the difference between mainlining (right into a tied-off arm vein for a very intense--"feel just like Jesus' son' but much shorter kind of high) and a "joy pop" (just under the skin, absorbed more slowly for a less intense high but one that lasts much longer and with a more gentle come-down). I can't think of any other gang movie that even comes close to this level of detail about all the aspects of being a drug user and a drug pusher. The weirdly nasal but deep voice that made Farrell convincing as a psychiatrist talking about cross-dressing in Glen or Glenda makes even this sordid business sounds like a video you'd see in health class. Most drug dens in these movies are hilariously over the top, but Girl Gang's 'day in the life' extended scenes are never boring as the focus is all on sex action, drugs and crime. One of the things the girls get up to is a special sorority they have where in order to be initiated you have to get your virgin card 'punched' five times by random guys. They all meet down at a school gym where they smoke reefers, bop around to a boogie-woogie pianist, and the girls grab the guys for seven minutes of whatever in the back room. You almost feel sorry for the poor guys, being treated like objects. "Not again," one of them pleads. 

That brings us to the real scene stealer of the film: the lovely and very capable Joanna Arnold as June. Initially brought over as the girlfriend of Farrell's chief operator/procurer (and the guy who likes to mainline, so he always needs money) she becomes a very cool regular by the end of the scene, seducing Joe and earning a full "H" demo. Some of the girls in the cast are strictly amateur, but Arnold is as to the exploitation manner borne. Moving effortlessly from newbie to weed "addict"(!) to entrapping her nervous real estate manager boss, getting him to fork over big bucks for sex to pay for her heroin habit. Boom! She seems to love every aspect of 'the life.' You may feel sorry for some of these enslaved kids but it's clear from frame one June is meant to be a master not a slave. She all but sprouts bat wings and soars. Look at her in the shot at top, eating an apple and showing off her gams while her boss fishes $50 out of the safe (offscreen). She radiates the confidence of someone who truly loves her work as an exploiter of male desire. She was Playmate of the Month, May 1954! That figures. Figures too that Girl Gang was her only starring role (Imdb has most everything else she did as 'uncredited'). Joanne, you're too good for 'em! 

Rosie Perez as...
4. PERDITA DURANGO
Aka "Dance with the Devil"
(1997) Dir. Alex de la Iglesia 
*** 1/2

By all rights Alex de la Iglesia should be a cult name like Tarantino or Jodorowsky. For those of us who were introduced to him via Dance with the Devil back in the late-90s (Perdita's idiotic US release title) it was like finding a secret vein of Tarantino x Jodorowsky gold. No one else seemed to know about it. Fierceness incarnate, Rosie Perez plays an itinerant hustler bringing her sister's ashes back to Mexico (or vice versa). Along the way she winds up in the van of Romeo, a totally infectious lunatic played with great zeal and sexual warmth by Javier Bardem. Suddenly she feels like she's home; he's legitimately magic. The movie takes off with a romantic-dangerous whoosh and never looks back.

Back in 1997, most of us in the US had no idea who Bardem was, but we fell in love with him as Romeo. He's since gone on to become an icon but we saw him first!  Playing a kind con man / witch doctor, he's got charms galore and makes his money by holding Santeria ceremonies at his compound with his partner (Screamin' Jay Hawkins!!) and dug up corpses. After a tense van ride across the border, (Romeo has one of his exhumed corpses in the back of the van) Perdita sets up shop with him and together they come up with mad sick impromptu dares, like kidnapping a pair of doe-eyed American tourist teenager couple (the girl is Heather Graham's sister Aimee) for a human sacrifice, bringing them along at gunpoint as they flee the federales and try deliver a truckload of human fetuses to an illegal rejuvenating make-up company. Yes!  These two naive white kids get an unrestrained glimpse into the wild edge-of-seat desperado life but could get killed at a moment's notice. Perdita's mothering instinct may kick in and free them or they may just get sacrificed to get them out of the way. Meanwhile, they drive in Romeo's van and play his favorite tape, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass! Watching them bump and sway, delighted, to Herb's indelible but pasteurized rhythm while the traumatized kids in the back seat look on with white kid terror, really cinema gets no better. Add Screamin' Jay Hawkins to the mix, rattling his skull cane and doing the voodoo shakes and you don't even need James Gandolfini as a bruised FBI agent trailing Romeo and winding up hospitalized repeatedly due to accidents no doubt indirectly caused by encantos de Romeo's abuela.


If you're a Lynchian you of course recognize the name Perdita Durango as a character from Wild at Heart, (she babbles about buffalo in a shamanic trance before killing Harry Dean Stanton). Here, while Perdita is the one we follow, Bardem's charismatic Romeo steals the film and we feel the pain of his absence when he's not around. It's to Perez' credit she lets him run with it; she's more than able to match his intensity and let us feel her love for him as well as her concern, as the limits of her own bloodthirsty psychopathy are eventually tested against his limitless homicidal momentum. She's not used to someone who's able to match her crazy for crazy and then some.  

SIDE PRAYER:  

I pray for Alex di la Iglesia to break through in los Estados Unidos. He seems to have been cursed by a witch who tells his parent companies to pick the absolute most stupid English titles they can think of, like Dance with the Devil (Perdita's original dump-to-video title) Witching and Bitching (when Bitches' Sabbath was right there); 30 Coins (means nothing to anyone not overly well-versed on the New Testament), The Last Circus, which means absolutely nothing, - and so on. The result, he's the best kept secret awaiting any fan of weird darker-than-black comedies who don't mind reading subtitles and looking past dumb US titles that are either misleading, vague, bland or corny. Alex, next time drop me a line, I'll help you find a catchy title and finally break the curse!

See also Di Iglesia's: Day of the Beast and The Last Circus - also on Tubi!

Sabrina Siani as Okron
5. CONQUEST
(1983) Dir. Lucio Fulci
 * /  But for Bad 80s Italian Movie Lovers: ***

It's bow vs. boa in this severely cracked and cloudy costume gem from Italy's early-80s sword and sorcery binge. In a world that is still, apparently, cooling down from its volcanic conception (the foggy air is almost opaque throughout), a young archer named Iliad (Andrea Occhipinti) is given a magic bow and bid travels across the water, that his presence may spook the druggy dreams of a brain-eating lady sorceress named Ocron (Sabrina Siani). Naked but for a metal mask, black feather-collared fur cape, and a slithering boa constrictor (that 1981 Nastassja Kinski photo was still 'in') she sends wave after wave of her wolf-and-ape-headed minions out into the fog to bring her back the tasty brain-filled head and magic bow of plucky Iliad before he can fulfill his prophecy.  Iliad too gets help, from wandering hunk named Mace (Jorge Rivero), who is loved by all animals but has no problem killing the men who kill them, then easting the animal that the person he killed has already killed --a guilt-free PETA-approved carnivore diet if ever there was one. A hawk overhead warn Mace of approaching monsters; dolphins bite off his bonds when he's crucified at the bottom of the sea, etc. A nice guy to have around. Naturally they decide to travel together...  Iliad will teach of the magic bow; Mace will teach Iliad the tricks of this new land, the animals shall look out for danger, and the monsters shall come at them fast and furious. And always... always... in a cloud of murky fog. What could go wrong?

It's a nice little mess, this, highlighted by the weird druggy brain-eating rites performed deep in and out of focus in Ocron's cavern. Looking a bit like what might happen if Shanghai Lily gave birth to an Oscar, Ocra does a lot of gyrating on her black feather and fur-covered stone bed, dreaming of Iliad without. a face. At one point her wolfheaded underlings pass around a weird combination coke straw/toothpick/joint from nostril to nostril. We never learn what is in the straw, but the passing the straw vibe evokes the extended drug orgy scenes in Abel Ferrara movies! Way to get high, dream of faceless archer boys, and eat brains, Ocron! When her hairy minons attack they do a lot of slow motion jumping in the air with their limbs akimbo and making "Grrr" and "Greaaa" sounds.

Despite her alienating (and rather overtly misogynist) metal mask, we come to kind of root for this evil brain-eating sorceress named Ocron and her grunting supplicants. Pulling off limbs and heads of their 'conquests' (!) and falling into druggy reveries, they are way cooler than Iliad and his boyfriend who can't seem to open up about their burgeoning feelings. Yes, like so many of these films, human women don't have much of a presence or if they do it's as sex objects and/or food or in one sad case, both. A groovy homoerotic subtext could compensate. Hunky Mace knows some rivers are best left uncrossed, he's even too repressed to suck venom out of each Iliad's leg wounds the way, say, Xena and Gabrielle would do just a decade later. It's been such a long road.. 

In today's more enlightened times, the lack of overt queerness seems bashful while the misogynistic choice of making the most powerful woman in the film a monster who is both naked and faceless is riling. Add the uptight toxic homophobia that won't let one man suck the venom out of another man's ankle and it might be as ostracized as Cruising or Windows. Good thing that the sort of critic who would dig deep enough to be offended will probably never take this fogbound journey into the unknown. No one but me seems to like Conquest, if that is the right word. It's been released to DVD only because Fulci has such a fervent following. But even Fulci disowned it, walking away right after shooting. 

Prepared with rock bottom expectations, I loved it.

The passing of the straw

As most of the mise-en-scene unspools behind that crazy white misty fog, it's important the soundtrack pick up the slack, and man does it ever: Goblin's Claudio Simonetti gives us a lake-dragging mellotron, echoing flangers that evoke his work on Argento's Phonemena while a medley of distant animal grunts, names chanted in druggy ecstasy, howls, and distant hollers--a lot of which is picked up only if you listen in on good headphones--meld and merges with the tinkling arpeggios. The result: otherworldly embryonic warm sludginess that makes what could have been a wearying slog through an outdoor steam room into something like drug dream poetry, especially if you watch it through half-asleep eyes, with headphones on, and glasses off so you can't tell if it's the onscreen fog or your baked eyes making the blur.

I'm not joking about that fog, though. I hear a lot of the kids who rented this back in the day actually thought the tape was defective it's all so foggy. Fulci used mist/fog to a great effect in his earlier films (The Beyond, City of the Living Dead - both on Tubi!) so what went wrong this time? Was it the weather? Lack of a wind machine? In the words of Tim Gunn, make it work, people!

It might not be 'great,' but there's nothing to keep me awake or bum me out in Conquest... as long as I don't look too close; I don't want to put on my glasses and see some close-up of an oozing pus wound but lucky I know where those are. And a stilted tint to the screams here makes them more like some kind of ritualized breathwork, or cursing, rather than something liable to wake one up. There is so little dialogue that when someone speaks it carries weird charge as if words have only recently begun to form amidst the growls, honks and ostentatious breathing. Ocron's voice sounds far away though she is right next to the camera: "only great Zora can help me find the wanderer!" she says between boa constrictor-grinding orgasms. Suddenly a panting white dog is right by her side (Zora, I presume?). Were I fully awake I might go WTF, where'd that dog come from? But half-asleep I know. It came from the foggy zone between consciousness and dreams, where the mind fills in every blank foggy white space with anthropomorphic shapes. Look up at the rolling clouds while half-asleep and you'll see Zoras in every twirling puff. 

As with all the films on this list, the occasional breaks for ads on Tubi actually help the experience. When the sight of a woman torn in half is interrupted for the comforting sight of a sloshed threesome on the couch ordering from booze-delivering service Drizzly.. (oh Drizzly, where were you when I needed you?) - then bouncing back to the severed head, all is right with the world. 

That's the key - that's when it all comes together in some divine Woodsian masterpiece. The platform, advertising + half-asleep eyes + pareidolia fog + the Brooklyn accent of the voiceover artist doing Iliad's dub (the same guy who does Trash in 1990: The Bronx Warriors), the primordial synths, the Clan of the Cave Bear make-up on the cute girl who lives just long enough to shag Iliad, the web people emerging from their cliffside crevice, looking like Pillsbury snowmen and talking like Herve Villechaize ("where is your friend?" he asks Mace, who says "I have no friends."  Herve shouts "you lie!"), Ocron with her snake, wolf men and "great" Zora, the feeling of manly friendship, the sudden surprise beheading, the way Iliad goes "yayayayayayaya" when batting away at the bat (Fulci loves the bats), gross close-ups of Iliad's venom and pus-engorged dart wound, it's all still here, for all time. Will Iliad turn his widdle waft awound and go back to save Mace? No need to answer. Just dig the weird sand-blown rocks and dunes and the way the webbed snow boys blend in with the sand dunes. Or the way Iliad comes back and shouts up at his crucified friend "I'm not afraid!" before firing his magic multiple laser bow which instantly kills everyone all at once in a web of blue light. 

Fulci also adds lots of weird angles to artsy the film up: the camera is seldom at eye level. Usually, it is kept low so the boys loom as giants with the magic hour sun behind their heads, or it swoops high up on a crane, as if some friendly giant beaming down at their foggy folly. If you need an aesthetic reason, honey you're in the wrong place. He does it to keep it interesting, because he's Italian and even bad Italian films are interesting. We can barely even see what's going on through all the fog (did they get water on the inside of the lens, is that what happened? And they didn't realize it because it at the time, so they pretended they meant it that way, and that the land was enshrouded in fog in those pre-Ice Age times?) ]

I don't care what the answer is because I'm not giving Conquest my full attention either, that's why it's such a gem. As Stephen Thrower puts it in his Fulci book: "half the fun of sleeping pills is in fighting the effects, staying awake to experience their weird pharmaceutical slurring: but few would want to feel that way whist trying to crawl through a Conan the Barbarian rip-off. " (183). Count me as one of the chosen few, Stephen! Fulci Forever! 

'Further Recommended Viewing on Tubi: Deathstalker, Sorceress, Ator, the Fighting Eagle

Fay Spain as Queen Antinea of Atlantis
6. HERCULES CONQUERS ATLANTIS
Aka "Hercules and the Captive Women"
(1961) Dir. Vittorio Cottafavi
***

Considered one of the better peplum out there, this big budget easy-going but occasionally disheartening epic has some impressive sets, outrageous events, and Reg Park as the mighty Hercules. Most peplum on streaming services are dodgy full-frame solid print (though the recently released Film Detective" HD Blu-ray using the alternate title, Hercules and the Captive Women is even better, with a great peplum documentary attached.) Both titles are correct, as Hercules trashes Atlantis and rescues a captive girl from a shape-changing monster (left). Fay Spain plays the wicked Queen of Atlantis. She's also the captive girl's mother and the one who ordered her to be the sacrifice! The prophets say the girl must die or Atlantis shall crumble into the sea! Yikes. Talk about evil mothers. She sends her daughter out to die again while trying to mate with and/or drug the mighty Hercules. Failed on both counts, Queen! 

One drawback is too much of Herc's family life at the start which leaves us feeling kind of Ulysses-style guilty while he's off fighting and rescuing. Usually I can't wait for our hero to escape home obligations and start the quest, but this time we're kind of rooting for him to stay home. It seems like his poor wife and family can't get him for a moment, and he clearly doesn't want to go either, his 'friend' has to drug him and basically shanghai him. It's pretty comical to think of Thebes as so full of cowards and duty-shirkers that the king can get only convicts and shanghaied demigods to save their country from vague prophesies. Either way then you have Herc's son stowing away too and oh man. Luckily the son is a capable adult, despite his anachronistic pompadour. 


I love this movie, for the most part, but it has very cold and painful stretches involving family life. Herc's family seems like an impossible ideal one can never get fully back to, while the evil queen's family life is a gruesome trap where the old eat the young. In each case, the youth fear the wrath of their parents: Herc's son stows away in the cargo area of the ship to avoid his dad's wrath (he forbade him coming); the cold, loveless reception the queen grants her own heartbroken daughter isn't the kind of camp fun we get in something like (in my mind the best of the lot),  Bava's Hercules in the Haunted World (1961). Things are a bit off in this one, which makes it unique but not a favorite. For one thing, there's the obligatory sexy dance of the maidens - but the camera follows not the comely maidens but the shape-changing lead male! What? Seems like a real opportunity missed for the straight males in the audience to finally be able to ogle some non-beefcake. We don't get it. The princess is too young to ogle, just barely, and the queen is too evil. We got nothing. Where is the gorgeous Sylva Koscina when you need her?  

Luckily, Reg Park's deadpan comedic brilliance saves the day. Once Herc knows who his enemies are, and commences his mighty column toppling, all is well. I like Park's interpretation of Hercules best, as you get the feeling he isn't afraid of anything and doesn't give much of a shit, and that's in a nutshell why I prefer his version to Steve Reeves. Blasphemy, you say? Hey, man, Reeves is great too, but is much more into posturing, ever alert to his own mythic nobility; he's always trying to imitate a statue. Park's Herc on the other hand is a little lazier and fun to be around. Rather than pose and flex all day, he'll seize any chance to drink and eat and laugh even at himself, albeit in a very deadpan, cool (non-slapsticky) kind of way. If you watch carefully you can see one of his disbelieving Jim/Hardy-style cheats to camera before the scene cross-fades.

With a pretty big budget for massive sets and extras there's a lot to see and do here: cloned hood-eyed super soldiers; gas chambers; a shape-shifting monster; narrow escapes that rely on the level of strength not granted mortal men; Uranus as a meteoric rock ready to rain blood upon the Grecians; iron bar bending; multiple counts of attempted filicide; a floor that slides open to reveal an acid bath ala House on Haunted Hill; a girl half swallowed up in stone; volcano footage from other films and shot specifically for this one, including--and this is pretty daring since Hercules causes the eruption--a woman and her child slain in a lava deluge; a very impressive and well-lit giant cave set for Herc to climb impressively upon, and a great deep red reception hall with all sorts of shady black pagan god statues.  For those new to the Italian 'peplum' tradition, or those who may be eternally turned off after trying to watch badly cropped, dubbed and faded prints on TV back in the day, there's never been a better time to get your feet wet. If you're looking for the gateway drug, the way Sergio Leone's "Man with no Name" trilogy is the gateway of Italian westerns, then start with Hercules in the Haunted World, (1961) then go for this one. After that, try to find a good source for the un-as-yet restored Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959) and --though this one is super rare even in an unrestored letterboxed version -- Goliath and the Vampires (this last one was supposed to come out as a blu-ray but the company that announced it pulled it due to Covid, Please sirs, resume thy labors!)

Fans of Mario Bava will drool imagining the painterly beauty of shots like this one --from his work on HERCULES (on Tubi) --restored to its former gorgeous glory ala the recent Bava Blu-rays of Erik the Conqueror and Blood and Black Lace. Come on, someone! If Arrow did a double of Hercules and Hercules Unchained as gorgeous as their other Bavas, you can bet it would be a hit. With Tim Lucas, of course, doing the commentaries! Zeus, hear our collective plea! 

SMALL PRAYER:

 One of those I mention, Steve Reeves in HERCULES (1958, above) is also on Tubi, Check it out and you'll see what I mean about the difference between Reeves and Park. This one starts out instantly bogged down in flashback court intrigue narrative as Dejanara tells the story of the evil way her father came to power, so rather than becoming enslaved by momentum we're already dozing as our brains are filled with Macbeth-style machinations mused through the faraway recollections of a child. Yeesh. When is Herc gonna bend some bars and throw some discuses? Finally he does, and it gets good, but what a tease that we can't even enjoy the gorgeous Bava-lit sets (he was art director and you can see his thumbprint on every night interior shot,) since it's so unrestored/remastered. Oh Zeus, if it is your will that mortal men may once again delight in Bava's lighting for HERCULES and HERCULES UNCHAINED, please make it so.

Further Tubi Viewing: Erik the Conqueror (1961), Hercules (1958)

Angela Featherstone as Veronica Iscariot
7. DARK ANGEL: THE ASCENT
(1994) Dir. Linda Hassani
****

I had to put one of the many Full Moon gems on here; Tubi is rife with them! I'm no fan of 90% of all that stuff, i.e. the Puppet Master series, not that I've given it much of a chance, but I love this little gem so much so that this is the four hundredth time I've written about it!! Shot through a haze of red and blue with just the right amount of imagination (neither too whimsical nor grungy), this demon daughter meets human doctor love story is like The Little Mermaid x Species with a refreshing lack of hangups about sex, God, or killing. Hell, we learn, is part of God's kingdom, and God hates sin so much he punishes it with eternal damnation. Thus, demons do god's work! Angela Featherstone stars as the young, wistful demoness Veronica, who's about to come of age and take over torturing the embezzling bankers of Hell, but she dreams instead of seeing the surfaces of Earth and walking under the sky. Even thinking such a thing is forbidden by her sputtering, over-acting demon father (the "psycho's psycho," Nicholas Worth) but Veronica and her dog Hellraiser ignore his outbursts and sneak up to the land of men anyway, where she immediately fathoms there is plenty of evil up there to punish. Soon she's tearing the spines and hearts out of rapists and racist cops, feeding their hearts to Hellraiser, and shacking up with a handsome sweet-souled doctor named Max (Daniel Markel) who takes care of her after she's hit by a car. And if any homicide detective tries to get in her way, she just shows him the hellfire behind her glowing eyes, while making dire announcements about the grim future that awaits mankind if they continue to sin. After that, they're in no condition to arrest anyone. 

Here's what I wrote in older review: 

Like some Satanic bible school instructional video, this confusingly-titled (there are about 100 shows and movies named Dark Angel) female-directed little miracle has become one my go-to favorites the last few years, thanks to its Shelly Duvall-meets-Val Lewton-in-Ed Wood's basement mythopoetic aesthetic, its great cast and its dusky red and black color scheme (ala another favorite, Ghosts of Mars). Sure, Featherstone isn't the greatest actress in the world, but that's why she's perfect. She has a unique ability to project complete confidence and emotional vacancy at the same time.  Better (or worse) actresses would either try to be sexy (and come off campy), imperious (and come off stuffy), mean (and come off bitchy) or tough (and come off over the top), but Featherstone's assertive confidence and deadpan demeanor is such that she gets away with the actor equivalent of murder, which is just right for Matthew Freeway Bright's genius script (full of great lines like: "I don't require the blessing of the one true church to engage in sexual relations, Max.") And when she unfolds her true form--wings, horn, tail--after orgasm--while luxuriating out in the bed post their first hook-up, it's somehow very reassuring that he accepts her instantly, just as he accepts her matter-of-fact way with wrapping human hearts in newspaper to feed Hellraiser. I've only ever seen her kind of deadpan female genius--commanding both adoration and respect--in German science fiction film female characters from the 70s (as in Eleoma and Im Staub her Sterne) and in Christine McConnell, whose Curious Creations with Christine McConnell was unfairly canceled after one short season. It's still on Netflix though, and should be seen asap.. I will never forgive you for cancelling Christine McConnel after just one season, Netflix. And I will never forgive you Charles Band, for not commissioning 12 more Dark Angel sequels, each written by Bright and starring Featherston (and keeping Markel, he's great too - never tries to oversell, overreact, judge, or otherwise hinder the way 99% of other male characters surely would.) Special shout out too to Michael C. Mahon as homicide detective Greenberg, who manages to make his every reaction funny, intelligent, deadpan cool and warmly alive all at the same time. 

SMALL PRAYER

Oh Charles Band, oh Matthew Bright, please make those sequels happen. You could have Featherstone and Markel as being older and having a wayward half-mortal daughter, one who longs to go down to Hell the way her mother once longed to go to the surface world. She could also take a secret order to infiltrate heaven and expose a ring of sinners or something. Please mighty hands and winds of Full Moon and Freeways, make it be so... 

Also Check-out on Tubi Freeway and if you dare  (it's far, far darker) Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trick Baby (both written/directed by Bright.) and other Full Moon gems: Trancers, Trancers II, The Lurking Fear, From Beyond, Re-Animator, and Dagon

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And for another movie where the human guy acts just like what any cool guy would do when the girl in bed with him turned out to be a daemon.

Josephine De La Baume and Roxane Mesquida as Vampire Sisters in:
8. KISS OF THE DAMNED
(2012) Dir. Xan Cassavettes
***1/2
The smoldering eyes of cool, reserved, bearded screenwriter Paolo's (Milo Ventimiglio) meet those of the alluring but stand-offish Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume) at the local video store one night. They're both impossibly gorgeous and both giving off very lonely vibes. They're perfect for each other. They both love movies. Every lonesome dude at the video store fantasizes about this happening one night. But they can only hook up if he chains her to her bed, as she finally tells him, because she grows fangs and glowing eyes when aroused. After an impressively short bout of initial disbelief, Paolo obeys, but once he sees she's for real h's just too turned-on to care; let the bites fall where they may. It's like when you're so in love you don't bother with a condom. "I would have done anything to be with you," Paolo says, "however insane." This movie gets that. It's a level of romantic attraction that can no sooner stop for 'sanity' than a tidal wave pause to spare a sandcastle. "I know it would be wrong to stop it," Djuna says, "for both of us." So now he's one of 'them' and who are they? They've covered the entire plot of the first four Twilight films without even getting out of bed. They're legal adults, and they're cool, so it's all ok. It's paradise. She has a great place and wants him to move in - he even has an office for his writing overlooking the bay, The only problem is - Djuna has a sister - a bratty out-of-control monster who likes to kill club boys so she can feast on all the drugs in their system. (Djuna prefers hunting deer in the forest, which is kind of a cop out but whatever). Wait, was it a deer? "Everything just feels so.....heightened."


In this day and age the vampire heterosexual love thing may seem trite, but Paolo and Djuna are so good together, so model-perfect without being smug or arch about it, so clearly designed for the gorgeous lights and furnishings of Djuna's home, that it's hard not to swoon regardless of any initial impulse to hate him on principle for being yet another privileged SWM screenwriter who gets the girl and loses his agent to bloodsucking relatives. La Baume and Ventimiglio are both so beautiful on their own but have genuine 'cosmetic chemistry' that's both skin deep and soul deep. They transcend mere window dressing smolder and merge with the sets and atmosphere in a way the screen hasn't seen since Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong in Shanghai Express. The result is a kind of sublime cinema crack cocaine for the eye, so when Djuna's wild child vamp sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) shows up, needing a place to crash after laying waste to the clubs of Amsterdam, we recoil in frustration like we're Gene Tierney cockblocked by apple-cheeked cherubs in Leave Her to Heaven in reverse... There's also a great mix of All About Eve and an alcoholic relapse as the evil Mimi brings a human virgin Eve-type fan up to Xenia (Ana Mouglalis) the den mother famous actress vampire lady's, who owns the house Milo and Djuna live in. ("I haven't tasted blood in 40 years, you can't just bring her here,") something snapped on me remembering the circumstances of my own relapse. That Mimi is something else. And her cold ingenious machinations by which she sustains her life of club ravaging is almost inspiring in a grim, icy kind of way. These vampires may be classy, and may strive to avoid human blood, but willpower will only get them so far. 

With its impeccable color schemes (all the better to perfectly bring out La Baume's gorgeous red hair and pale skin) the occasional bouts of sex (not so much it too tiresome or tacky), and the vintage mellotron and cello slink and occasional blazing electric guitar of Steven Hufsteter's score, this fits easily into the momentary blip of brilliance that was the post-60s Eurosleaze school of filmmakers in the mid '10s (see: Let the Darionioni Nuovo Entrain your Dissonance). Xan Cassavettes (daughter of John) proves she's more influenced by the early 70s Le Fanu-adapting erotica fantastique era of European 'adult' cinema than her father, which is A-OK by me. It almost doesn't even matter if Kiss of the Damned goes anywhere other than 'not very not far' - because it goes there so very coolly. There's six billion shitty softcore vamp love stories cranked out every year but Xan took the same budget and parameters and delivered a groovy, cool, retro head trip, easy on the eyes and ears while delivering all the sexy shocks the genre demands. It would be a classic like Daughters of Darkness or Vampyres if it was made in 1969. It will be.... it has all the time in the world, and vill never age. These vamps can even drink wine if they want to, and eat human food, if the mood strikes them, they can even deliver bourgeois European dinner party style dialogue and/or cut loose in club kid threeways. But not forever.

See also on Tubi: Scarlet Diva, Daughters of Darkness, Vampyres, and...

Maria Rohm as Wanda
9. VENUS IN FURS
Aka "Paroxismus"
(1966) Dir. Jess Franco
***
Made in swinging 1966, this is one of Jess Franco's most accessible films a solid kind of gateway not only into the oeuvre of the most prolific filmmaker of all time. If you take only his first features in black and white (Awful Dr. Orloff, Diabolic Dr. Z, Attack of the Robots) plus a judicious selection of the films he cranked out in the mid-late-60s-70s: Venus in Furs, Succubus, Vampyros Lesbos, etc. you'd have a picture of a  pretty psychedelic, sexually disturbed cinematic genius whose works seem designed for the kind of deep dish acid trips wherein you feel trapped in an expensive European bordello, waiting for buddy Klaus Kinski to finish up and come downstairs so you can escape.  You're way too stoned to be able to get out though, and maybe you just saw a girl you thought was dead--you saw her body! you saw her killed for kicks by three jaded jet-set freaks (Dennis Price, Margaret Lee as a sadistic lesbian photographer and your buddy Klaus is a decadent aesthete) at a jaded jet-set party where you were blowing some crazy trumpet. And now she's back, in various wigs, with a fur coat and nothing underneath, seducing and destroying those three swinging drugged out jet set murderers, one at a time, via various druggy trippy seduction tableaux. Meanwhile you continue blazing away on your trumpet with jazz combo that includes the composer Daniel White on piano and Franco himself on trombone. Every night she comes in a different wig, seducing and destroying each in turn, as portraits on walls, mirrors, and great Daniel White drug music blearies and interlocks and skittles and grind and galderflaps. 


Each erotic kill seems to stop time itself in a languid and very Franco way. Afterwards, the blazing soul anthem sung by co-star and romantic rival Barbara McNair comes rising up ("Venus in Furs will be risin' / when the moment arrives.") a soulful anthem of phoenix style vengeance and affirmation. Nair is the one likeable person in the whole film and we feel her heartbreak at losing her trumpeter boyfriend to this living dead avenger in the fur coat.  McNair's need for warmth and connection runs like a live heating coil through an icebox, giving great balance to the cold dead inexorability of Rohm's Wanda. 

The whole film moves like some dreamy jazz until the druggy Daniel White plodding comes in and everything changes color and moves to slow motion. Slowing things down in a unique and vivid way while saturating the colors until time stands still onscreen and in your mind, Franco shows you the effect Corman was going for during all those color-tinted image distorted dream sequences in his Poe films. Those sequences didn't really work but Franco's do. They capture the sluggish druggy dragging clock-melting tempo just right. 

Save this for the last film of the night, when you're mostly drunk and/or falling asleep. The best Franco films, like his compatriot Jean Rollin's, seem to facilitate trances. You can call that 'boredom' if you want, but you can say that about Tarkovsky too. The trance state doesn't put you all the way asleep, just about half-way; then the movie goes the other half, and meets your unconscious self beyond some border  our conscious minds are not allowed to cross, but they can watch.

Caroline Munroe as Stella Starr
10. STARCRASH
(1978) Dir. Luigi Cozzi (Lewis Coates)
****1/2

All right - this list is all over the map. But whatever,  I had to add this too, I've written about it before. Why? Because I've seen it twenty times since I wrote about it last (in my Cozzi pean) and, a few caveats aside (El's Texas accent, Marjoe Gortner's hair), I love it unconditionally and am so glad it's on Tubi, where I can get at it quick if I'm too messed up to pop in my DVD. Mesmerizing with its naive gusto, it's the kind of movie my 14 year-old self would have made if I was given the budget, the cast, and told to imitate Star Wars but also imitated Golden Voyage of Sinbad and the 1936 Flash Gordon at the same time. I can't believe I avoided it all these years due to being a snob about dubbing. Well, I have found it now, and will never let it go. the spray red, blue, and gold, lavender and yellow-green spray painted ships and Lite Brite stars alone make me delirious with happy place serenity. 

Moving with a breathless narrative speed and bedecked with cool modular space ship interiors and imaginative costumes, it's a film determined to cram as many wild moments as possible rather than explore any one tangent. Cozzi has been called by many--including me--the 'Italian Ed Wood' and I hope he realizes that's the ultimate compliment. For Wood's popularity stems from the purity of his love for horror and sci-fi fantasy apparent in his almost underground aspirations and love for the genuine oddities from the unemployment offices of Tinseltown. Starcrash covers not just Star Wars everything from the 1936 Flash Gordon serial (sexy amazons, an escape from space furnace slavery, a lack of concern about the realities of space travel), the 1974 The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (which is why he cast lovely Caroline Munroe as Stella Starr and kept her sultry midriff, and why there's stop motion sword fight vs. two skeleton-like "golems") and even a nod to the glass-encased head of Invaders from Mars (1953). 

Naive touches abound: rather than painting everything battleship grey or adding lots of wear and tear on the ship exteriors like in Star Wars, here the ships and floating cities are painted in great spray painted swaths of gold, blue, red, and pink; stars too glow all the colors of the Lite-Brite rainbow. At one point prince David Hasselhof's emperor dad (Christopher Plummer) commands the cosmos to "stop the flow of time," with the perfect measure of over-the-top fatherly gravitas (he could teach a masterclass in silky, hypnotic cue cared reading). Explosions are rendered n cheap video infinity effects. The best is the the big star fighter climax, where two person missiles (painted gold) shoot through evil Joe Spinell's command ship windows (!) and soldiers in cool Flash Gordon helmets and brown leather uniforms pop out, blasting their laser cannons. Cozzi cares not for tiresome laws of outer space, such as the need for pressurized cabins and/or space suits! He digs there's no oxygen; that's why Stella just needs a cute bubble helmet before she leaps through the open ship window but that's it.

And to top it all off, there's Plummer again, for the end, that gentle, fatherly tone practically tucking in the universe after a long busy day. Looking straight into the camera, telling us that 'for a little while.... we can rest." - then BAM that John Barry music kicks up again and you're like man, now that's how you end a science fiction movie. Plummer is the perfect choice, reading us his cue cards like he's trying to calm down a wild horse. In his crazy Versace-gone-wild gold armor, he's how I hope God turns out to be. I hope he's in heaven now, wearing that outfit, waiting for all of us to come up so he can hold our hands in his giant silver gloves. 

Karen Mok and Kit Ying Lam as the Spiderweb Sisters
11 - BONUS!. A CHINESE ODYSSEY - PART 1: PANDORA'S BOX
(1995) Dir. Jeffrey Lau 
***

Sure it can get ridiculously slapstick with more kicks and burns to the crotch than in all of Stephen Chow's other films combined, but A Chinese Odyssey is also relentlessly imaginative and packed with lunatic detail. The familiar story of the Monkey King, his monk teacher guiding to reincarnation, his pal who gets turned into a pig, etc, and becomes romantically entangled with spider women in their Cave of Silken Web, on their journey to the West, is apparently a big mythic deal in China, akin to a combination Wizard of Oz and New Testament. It's been told numerous times in numerous ways, but HK funnyman Stephen Chow is a natural Monkey King, and Karen (Naked Killer) Mok, a most kickass HK superstar, is his spider woman love interest. Things are way weirder here than you get in the Wizard of Oz or even the bible. Like most HK films, this breezes by in a giddy high-octane rush of action, wild (analog) effects and sometimes groan-inducing slapstick. But if you stick with the confusion long enough, you can bask in the strong confident performances of Mok and Chu as the spider sisters who wind up bonded to two hapless bandits when they all hole up in the same blasted desert battlement, trying to patch up their romance and/or protect their newborn whom is slated to grow up to be the 'longevity monk' so eating him means immortality! The sisters are there to find the monkey king so they can eat him and get his powers before any of the other demons arrive, but who and where is he? Since he's reincarnated he could be anyone. The 'good' sister is furious because he was slated to marry her and then ran away like the commitment-phobic monkey shitheel he is. But who and where is the longevity monk?  


The big climax helps us to find out as the two women use their dazzling sword skills to protect their hapless mortal mates from a giant, sarcastic bull god who can shoot lasers out of the ring in his nose (just as the sisters can shoot spider webs out of their mouths). It's all very romantic and feminist: the girls have vast powers and sword skills and the men are helpless idiots, I still haven't finished part 2 (also on Tubi) as my yen for HK fantasy ran out (it periodically does), as I moved my obsession over to 50s-80ss bad cinema classics like The Brainiac and Frozen Scream. Of them, now, I just can't get enuff. They're coming in my next Tubi Cue list - Tubi Cue 2: Where are you?

------
RIP Christopher (from Starcrash) 'for a little while, we can rest.' 

6 comments:

  1. Kanopy last year, and now Tubi? Thank god for alt streaming services and weird distribution loop-holes!

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  2. Absolutely will Czech out Tubi. Thanks bud!!!

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  3. That first still image that you have for Starcrash is a real gem. Unbelievable image.

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  4. If they ever get around to cloning humans they should start with Caroline Munroe circa 1979.

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  5. bruh, we are waiting for a new post eric you slacker

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  6. Sorry bruh - there are a whole bunch in the works, a series! Coming by the end of the week - THE 10 DAYS OF ED WOOD!

    ReplyDelete

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