Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Wrap-Up :: A Pictorial Essay for a Very Good Year in Revival Screenings.


2017 was a very good year for me as far as revival screenings go: managed to catch two of my top ten favorite films of all time -- Vanishing Point (1971) and Blood and Black Lace (1964). Beyond that, no complaints and a lot of awesome. A huge thanks to the World Theater in Kearney, Nebraska, and the Omaha branch of the Alamo Drafthouse for all of these opportunities. Also, a big shout-out to George Reis and the good folks of the Riverside Drive-In for another excellent onslaught of features at the latest Drive In Super Monster Rama. Hope to keep this kinda pace up in 2018.



While in Memphis, my Mama Bear and I caught 
a screening of Viva Las Vegas (1964) and  
Love Me Tender (1956) at the Gatehouse.






Our live riff was a huge success!


And speaking of riffs, caught The Mads vs. 
Walk the Dark Street (1956). The winner? The audience. 







A Friday the 13th (1980) screening on 
Friday the 13th followed by a Sunday showing of...




Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Happy Holidays :: The 12th Annual All-Night Christmas Craptacular Movie Marathon :: The Holly and the Bakshi Will Make Your Mind Done Blown.


With the Holiday Season once more upon us, Boils and Ghouls, I must ask of you to once more rally to my war-cry as we barrel into the breach to do battle anew with a noxious spell of Seasonal Affective Disorder Blues with yet another all-night movie marathon to keep the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future at bay for yet another year.


Now, my dearest B-Movie Brethren, there was a bit of change in the usual menu this year as I skipped the traditional turkey sub sammich and went with a pizza instead, which netted me a free brick of puppy-chow. (Thus, by the middle of this bonkers binge, I was so buzzing on the sweet crunch of yum and covered in powdered sugar I looked like I had invited you all to say hello to my little friend but passed out face-first in the mountain of blow instead.)


Anyhoo, after flailing consideration, this year’s theme kinda came out of nowhere but I quickly latched onto it as it rocketed by and then slapped and dashed a tentative lineup of films together; half of which -- turns out, I had never seen before, while the rest had nearly seen two decades since last viewed on VHS tapes. And so, I decided to spend the Eve of Christmas Eve in the wild and frenzied animated world of one Ralph Bakshi. I don't know, it just felt oddly appropriate this terrible and awful year.


Editor's Note: I should probably pause and also point out this marathon was officially delayed by about two hours due to the timely arrival of Arrow Video's new Bluray screener for Dario Argento's Cat O' Nine Tails (1971), which I watched and anxiously poked around all the extras before jumping feet first into the Bakshi rabbit-hole. So expect a write-up on that some time after the first of the year, and also expect this delay to have a detrimental effect on the tail-end of this proposed line-up -- he typed ominously. Now back to the 12th Annual All-Night Christmas Craptacular Movie Marathon already in progress... 


To kick things off, I hadn’t seen this take on The Fellowship of the Ring embarking on a journey to destroy the One Ring to end Sauron's reign over Middle-earth since well before Peter Jackson's version. And while I still kinda dig Bakshi’s interpretation of The Lord of the Rings (1978) on a visual basis (-- I actually love the rotoscoping process used here), the film is horribly hamstrung by abruptly ending in the middle of the tale due to time and budget woes (-- it inexplicably ends right after the Battle of Helm's Deep). Bakshi claimed this was always intended to be just part one for a sequel that never materialized; and how he wanted “real illustration” as opposed to “cartoons” for his take on Tolkien’s epic. And on that I think he succeeded -- except for a terrible, fuss-budget take on Samwise Gamgee. Thus, while I think the film was ambitious and interesting as an animated endeavor it’s still kinda flawed and ultimately a failure as an adaptation.


Next, I thought I had seen Fritz the Cat (1972) before but turns out I'd only seen the sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974), which Bakshi had nothing to do with. And for the first fifteen minutes, this film was exactly what I thought it would be: an X-rated anthropomorphic furry take on sex and drugs. But then the film takes a startling left turn into a scathing social commentary and vicious satire on the failures of counter-culture ideals and the fizzling hippie movement. Apparently, noted comic artist Robert Crumb, who created the character as a wise-ass hipster, hated the film adaptation. I found it offensive, too, but in all the right ways as it takes everything from drugs, to free-love, to Black is Beautiful, and Kerouac to the woodshed with a “I expected better from the lot of you” switch. Color me pleasantly surprised on this one.


And then, well … OK. I see what Bakshi and William Fraker were trying to do with Coonskin (1975) but, great googily-moogily. I mean: there's a moral grey area this film definitely plumbs the depths of, where it skirts around the notion of fighting stereotypes with even worse stereotypes as it stares into the abyss in this phantasmagorical mash-up of live-action and animated retelling of Uncle Remus' Br'er Rabbit as interpreted by Larry Cohen, Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, but it has definitely gone off the good-intentions rails long before the climax as three slick, hick hucksters and hustlers take back Harlem from the Mafia and a corrupt police department. Visually, it is stunning. Everywhere else, it's kind of reprehensible. Such is art.


Moving on ... Grounded by an assist from Frank Frazetta and a couple of old comic pros on the script, Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas (-- who wrote nearly every issue of Conan the Barbarian for Marvel), Bakshi seems to have really found the temperature with Fire and Ice (1983); a wonderful sword and sorcery and butt-floss tale of good vs. evil. Thus, essentially an old ‘78 van mural come to life, we have a young hero taking up the fight against a dastardly warlock to rescue a kidnapped princess with the aid of a reasonable facsimile of Frazetta’s Death Dealer. And together, they fight to stop the bad guys once and for all. Excellent world building, character designs, and some nifty interpretations and artistic representations of spell-casting and homicidal mesmerism had me hooked when I first viewed this nearly three decades ago and it hasn’t really lost anything in the interim.


As for American Pop (1981), I loved this movie. Loved it. And if Bakshi has a masterpiece, this is it. A sprawling, generational tale of music and family as each generation almost makes it in the music scene of their era only to fall to some tragedy or the fickle hand of fate, only to regroup and try again with each new generation, always gaining more momentum, visually and sonically, until finally making it in the arena rock age. A fascinating family history lesson on the surface, all the while showcasing the evolution of music of the 20th century: ragtime, jazz, big band swing, rock 'n' roll, beat, punk, prog-rock and all points in between. And on such a high I was after this first time viewing of American Pop, I nearly called it a night since it was needling toward 5 in the am.


But the film also kinda gave me a second wind; and so, I decided to keep on going with another Bakshi film I had never seen, Heavy Traffic (1973). Now. A lot of Bakshi's films have there "And then the drugs kicked in" moments. This one is basically a feature length version of that notion. However, I fear I kinda faded in and out of this one as that second wind quickly fizzled; thus and so, I should probably take another run at it before passing final judgement. As of right now, grotesque caricatures of terrible people doing grotesque and terrible things to each other trapped inside a pinball machine-induced metaphor of the big naked city -- stress on the naked. And like always when dealing with Bakshi, artistically it is something to behold, while everything else is a bit of an overwhelming slog. So as of right now, not really sold on Heavy Traffic, but am willing to give it a second chance. Some day.


And there ya go. Originally, I had hoped to squeeze in a viewing of Wizards (1977), too, but that would've meant starting it at 7am and I would've never, ever made it through without falling asleep. (I’d say blame the arrival of Cat O' Nine Tails but I have no regrets on the decision on the delay to watch that one first.) And since I had really fond memories of Wizards, I decided to officially pull the plug on the 12th Annual All-Night Christmas Craptacular Movie Marathon and give that one a spin at some later and more coherent date.


And with that, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Kwanza, Festivus, Life Day, and a Joyous New Year, one and all! Or, Bah! Humbug, where applicable. And see all ya’ll next year for the 13th Annual All-Night Christmas Craptacular Movie Marathon. Until then, Boils and Ghouls, stay cool! And now, to bed! Right after I shower off all that powdered sugar...

Thursday, December 21, 2017

DANGER :: The Atomic Weight of Cheese Podcast :: Episode 2 :: May the Wookie Porn Be With You, Always...


Greetings, Fellow Atomic Cheeseketeers! By some miracle, I and my robot super-pals, Mike Bockoven and Steph Romanski, once again gathered in the Top-Secret Bunker and recorded our second TAWOC podcast episode, which focuses on something very timely: the continuation of an insanely popular space saga. Also, we take a look at The Last Jedi.  So, SPOILER WARNING for those who haven't seen the new film yet, and FAIR WARNING to those who've never seen what happens when you try to hammer the Star Wars franchise into a late 1970s era musical-variety TV special. And if you'd like to avoid those spoilers on Episode VII, you can safely fast forward to 30:50 for a full debriefing on The Star Wars Holiday Special.


Our podcast can be found on Feedburner, iTunes and we're also now available on Stitcher. You can keep up with the podcast at The Atomic Weight of Cheese. Also, please Like and Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, where we'll be posting our latest episode updates, episode specific visual aides, and other oddities, nonsense and general mayhem. So come join us and listen in, won't you? Thank you!


Happy Life Day, Boils and Ghouls!

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Mummy Fungus Is Among Us :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to Tom Kennedy's Time Walker (1982)


While exploring the excavated tomb of the young Pharaoh, Tutankhamen, visiting American archeology professor, Douglas McCadden, marvels at what’s left of the ancient burial site that hasn’t been pilfered by graverobbers or museums, when suddenly, a violent earth tremor opens up an undiscovered burial chamber adjacent to King Tut’s tomb that hasn’t been disturbed for nearly 3,000 years. Calling dibs on the entombed sarcophagus he finds inside, McCadden (Murphy) arranges to have it and all of its undisturbed contents shipped back to California with him, where he teaches at the State’s eponymous University of Sciences. And once there, he will officially break the seal and reveal what’s inside to the world.



Now, McCadden’s discovery is a huge coup for the University, explaining the ginormous impending press conference arranged by the school’s president, Wendell Rossmore (Karen), and his ever present toadie, Bruce Serrano (Chew Jr.) -- who have huge alumni and booster-fed dollar signs spinning in their heads, for the sarcophagus’ grande unveiling the following day. Meanwhile, McCadden and a group of grad students, including his TA / girlfriend, Susie Miller (Axelrod), begin the slow and methodical process of opening the stone coffin to help preserve and catalogue its contents and the mummified remains of whoever is within. Translating the hieroglyphics on the outer shell, Susie identifies the occupant as Ankh-Venharis, which translates loosely as “noble traveler."



With that, the seals are removed and the sarcophagus is opened revealing a large mummy covered in a strange green dust -- most likely a dormant mold or fungus of some antiquity. And while some samples of that are taken, McCadden quizzes his students on what they see. And what they all agree on is it appears whoever this Ankh-Venharis was, he was obviously buried in a hurry sans the usual mummification process -- therefore, the body should be completely intact. More answers for this puzzle will be found once the body has been x-rayed. Unfortunately, the clumsy x-ray tech, Peter Sharpe (Brophy), fails to check the settings before he starts shooting plates; and thus, accidentally bombards the mummy with multiple massive doses of radiation. This is finally noticed too late by Jack Parker (Random), an engineering professor and a friend of McCadden’s, who at least pulls the plug before the mummy starts glowing in the dark. Sharp offers to start over, but McCadden feels their “patient” has had enough radiation for one day.



Later that night, as he develops the plates, Sharpe notices five jewel like objects near the mummy’s skull. Returning to the darkened lab, he finds the compartment they’re secreted in and assumes these crystalline spheres are diamonds, pockets them, and then covers his tracks with one more x-ray at the highest setting to replace the incriminating original, which he must quickly secret behind some electrical equipment when Parker spots him loitering around. The following morning, Sharpe tries to pawn the jewels but is told they’re worthless. And so, to try and salvage at least something from this criminal boondoggle, he arranges to sell them off to a few of his gullible frat-brothers as gifts for their respective girlfriends, unwittingly putting them all in harm's way for reasons we’ll get to in a sec.



Meantime, at Rossmore’s big press conference, the gathered reporters wait anxiously for the mummy’s unveiling. But things get off to a rocky start when one of McCadden’s students notices a slimy green substances exuding from the seams of the sarcophagus’ lid that wasn’t there before, and then does something really scientific by sticking his finger in it only to find out the viscous substance is extremely caustic. (Well, at least he didn't try to taste it.) And as the screaming student is quickly hustled away, McCadden tries to postpone the unveiling until they can figure out what the gunk is; but the impatient Rossmore won’t hear it. And so, McCadden orders the tomb to be opened -- revealing an empty container! Thus, the press conference is a complete disaster. And while an embarrassed and outraged Rossmore feels this is nothing more than an ill-advised fraternity prank, for which the culprit will pay dearly for running off with his mummy, the truth is a little more strange and extremely dangerous. For you see, while those first doses of x-rays managed to reactivate the dormant dust into a lethal flesh-eating fungus, that second blast has apparently awakened something much much worse...




There was an old axiom floating around Roger Corman’s New World Pictures in the 1970s, where the wizened producer would offer these sage words to his underlings whenever they came looking for more money: “Make two successful pictures for me and you’ll never have to work for me again.” To translate this, what he meant was if his filmmakers could make a profitable picture on one of his shoestring budgets, the major studios would some come knocking. And this they did, causing a bit of a brain-drain at New World as the 1980s got to rolling. Gone were the likes of Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, Jonathan Kaplan, Joe Dante and Allan Arkush, who were now all making Corman-flavored movies for the majors. Hell, even the second tier talent from Corman’s effects crews were starting to get pilfered as James Cameron went from doing F/X and production designs for Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) to directing The Terminator (1984).


And as the grindhouses and drive-ins dried up and disappeared, Corman also faced a dwindling venue for his first run product, forcing him to shift gears and focus more on making features for the direct to video market. And so, it was during this weird period between 1980 and 1985, when New World was kinda in its death-throes, theatrically speaking, where Corman started looking outside his own studio for product to distribute, which is how he came to be involved in the production of Time Walker (1982); a delightful little creature feature featuring a rampaging mummy with a bit of a sci-fi twist.


The movie began as a story idea concocted by Jason Williams and Todd Friedman. Williams was an actor, whose main claim to fame was starring in a couple of Bill Osco’s demented softcore porn spoofs, Alice in Wonderland (1976) and Flesh Gordon (1974), where Williams played the title hero. I will assume these two met during the production of Flush (1977), a pretty turgid It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) knock-off that Friedman wrote and Williams had a bit-part in. After, the two would concoct a tale about an alien that crash-lands in Egypt three thousand years ago and is severely injured. The radiation the alien admits is also lethal to the touch and wound up killing anyone who tried to help him, including Tutankhamen.



And so, when the alien died, the Egyptians carefully wrapped the body and hastily buried it. Only the alien didn’t die; it just went into some kind of hibernating stasis until it was accidentally revived in the present by those X-rays. And like any stranded alien on Earth, the creature needed to phone home for a ride -- only someone ran off with the energy crystals he needs to power his communication device. And thus, the mummy goes on a campus-wide rampage -- and I do mean rampage as this mummy doesn't shuffle but glides around at a pretty good clip, to retrieve the parts he needs, crushing all in his path or spreading some of that toxic fungus to all of his victims, leaving McCadden, the University’s hospital staff (Stoker, Bower), and the police (Joston) scrambling to unravel what’s really going on and hopefully put a stop to it.




Williams and Friedman then took their idea to Dimitri Villard. Villard was Harvard man, who had served as an editor on the Harvard Lampoon, which would later morph into the National Lampoon. Upon graduation, he started his own record label and co-founded one of the first pay-TV companies in California before selling it off around 1980 to get into the movie production business. And after a brief internship with producer Edward Pressman -- Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Conan the Barbarian (1982), Villard was ready to produce something on his own, cobbling together a quartet of investors, including Corman, who got the U.S. theatrical and home video rights, to bring Time Walker to the big screen, and who would also serve as kind of a ghost producer on the project, offering all kinds of advice to the fledgling filmmaker; like how to skirt around the unions to keep production costs down by shooting the majority of the film on location at Cal-State Northridge, where campus security kept the teamsters at bay. And how when the film was completed, laying down a content-be-damned edict to cut the running time by ten minutes so it would fit in one film can to save money on shipping, explaining away a few jarring edits and leaps in plot logic.



To direct the film, Villard hired Tom Kennedy, a graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts. From there, Kennedy worked as an editor on Joe (1970) and Silent Night, Deadly Night (1972) before moving to Los Angeles in 1977, where he helped found Kaleidoscope Films, which quickly became one of Hollywood’s goto places for audio-video ad campaigns and theatrical trailers. There, Kennedy supervised the campaigns and trailers for the likes of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), The Terminator, and the Star Trek franchise, running from The Motion Picture through The Voyage Home (1979-1986). And while Time Walker would be Kennedy’s only time in the director’s chair, he does nothing to embarrass himself that couldn’t be rightfully blamed on the film’s low budget, rushed production schedule, and the script’s sketchy material outside the alien mummy rampage.



Still, despite all these hiccups -- like that asinine frat-party interlude, and Rossmore's blundering attempts to frame McCadden for this cock-up, Time Walker still qualifies as one of my most favorite mummy movies of all time because I love the ancient alien angle and the flesh-eating fungus wild card, which is actually exacerbated by all attempts to stop it only making it worse. And the unknown components of the fungus is just one of many clues that McCadden eventually pieces together to reach the improbable conclusion that Ankh-Venharis is not of this Earth. And after the noble traveler, who's actually kind of a dick, manages to retrieve all of the crystals, leaving several dead bodies in its wake, we get one helluva whackadoodle climax, where the mummy makes the call home and reveals his true form before his intergalactic-Uber driver arrives. And the fact that he winds up taking someone with him, leaves the film open for a possible sequel that, alas, had nowhere to go, which explains why we never, ever got one.




Like a lot of folks, I was personally introduced to Time Walker through Mystery Science Theater 3000, when they savaged it under the alternate title, Being from Another Planet. And it’s a fairly under-appreciated episode in my book. I just loved it when the ‘Bots freaked-out whenever the screen turned green to represent Ankh-Venharis' perspective, an ersatz “Mummy-Vision” if you will -- especially the extended stalk ‘n’ chase sequence, where Ankh-Venharis runs Susie in, around, and off a building, and the constant chants of “the fungus is among us.” And I enjoyed the episode so much I tracked down the film on VHS, watched it unadulterated, and still enjoyed the hell out of it.


Today, Time Walker is currently available on a stupidly expensive Bluray from Shout! Factory but is also available at a much more reasonable price on the Vampires, Mummies And Monsters 4-Pack Collection as part of the same company’s Roger Corman’s Cult Classics line. The MST3k version is also available to buy in the Volume XXXV boxset but last check it’s streaming on YouTube on a couple channels. Either way, the film comes highly recommended from me, Boils and Ghouls, as it seems to strike just the right balance between sincere earnestness and monumental stupidity to wind up just plain bonkers.


Time Walker (1982) Byzantine Productions :: Wescom Productions :: New World Pictures / EP: Robert A. Shaheen / P: Dimitri Villard, Jason Williams / D: Tom Kennedy / W: Jason Williams, Tom Friedman, Karen Levitt / C: Robbie Greenberg / E: Maria DiGiovanni, Lucile Jones / M: Richard Band / S: Ben Murphy, Nina Axelrod, Kevin Brophy, Robert Random, James Karen, Sam Chew Jr., Austin Stoker, Antoinette Bower, Shari Belafonte
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