Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On the River with Otter, Flounder and Pee-Wee With Nary a Paddle in Sight :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to Robert Butler's Up the Creek (1984)

Opening on a fairly active Sunday morning at what's left of Lepetomaine University after a wild Saturday night, four miscreants are forcefully rounded up by campus security for an audience with Dean Birch. Apparently, since the only thing any student at good ol' "Lobotomy U" has ever won was an early parole, the Dean (Jonathan "Higgins" Hillerman) wants a Victory with a capital "V" for his Alma Mater in the upcoming Intercollegiate Whitewater Raft Race. And so, Bob McGraw (Tim "Otter" Matheson), a career student with more than twelve years of higher learning under his belt with just as many major and University changes to boot, lovelorn Max (Dan "Pee-Wee" Monahan), who can never get a date, Gonzer (Stephen "Flounder" Furst), a gluttonous halfwit, and Irwin (Sandy Helberg), a nerdy dork with a penchant for hard liquor, have been chosen for this honor because they have nothing left to lose. (They aren't at the bottom of the list, purports the Dean, but they ARE the bottom of the list.) And to sweeten the pot, Birch offers them all degrees, in any subject, if they can somehow manage a win.

Thus, with the set-up neatly tucked away in a helluva hurry, our boozed-up quartet of perennial losers, accompanied by Bob's wonder dog, Chuck, head to the river. At a pit-stop along the way, however, our plot thickens a bit when Bob falls for Heather (Runyon), who just bounced her former boyfriend, Rex (East), head preppie of Ivy University. Meanwhile, Rex and his cronies (-- who all appear to be clones of Vincent Van Patten), are in cahoots with Tozer (Sikking), a crooked Ivy alum, who just so happens to be the sponsor of the raft race. Armed with torpedoes and oars that double as harpoons, any vessel they can't disable Tozer vows to disqualify, meaning victory is all but assured for the Mighty Crimson of Ivy U.

Still, the early favorites to win are the cadets of Washington Military Institute, led by the *ahem* inspired Captain Braverman (Novak). That is, they were the favorites until Bob accidentally interrupts Braverman’s own sabotage attempts, which gets WMI disqualified. Thus, with the start of the race fast approaching, while Bob is a moving target from many scopes, Max strikes out (-- a lot), Gonzer eats (-- a lot) and Irwin drinks (-- a lot). Alas, after Bob and Heather slip into something more comfortable (-- namely, each other), Rex and the Van Pattens come calling, catching them post-flagrante delicto, and pound our hero into mush ... Man, poor Otter. Does this happen to him in every movie?

Do you ever find yourself yearning for those halcyon days of the early 1980's and all those teen sex comedies? Ones like Loose Screws, Spring Break, and Harbodies, where drinking was encouraged, pot smoking was hysterical, wet t-shirt contests spontaneously erupted with an alarming frequency, while every guy tried to screw anything that moved? You know, the ones you wanted to see while your folks dragged you kicking and screaming to Ordinary People ... Yeah, those. Robert Butler's Up the Creek is one such film. Financed by Sam Arkoff's son, Louis, this wild yarn of boobs, beer, and a whitewater raft race was, at the ripe old age of 13 and half, the very first R-rated film I managed to bluff my way into. Don’t tell my mom, okay? She still doesn't realize I've never actually seen Splash.

Released in 1984, Up the Creek kinda brought up the rear for this kind of romp, as these horizontal-bop-fueled comedies tended to cycle around on the same schedule as their boon companion, the horizontal-bop-fueled slasher movie. For the cast, Arkoff plucked a couple of leftovers from Animal House, ground zero for this kind of thing, and a guy from Porky's, which Bob Clark moved inland after John Landis, Belushi and co. established such a firm beachhead. True, this cast of genre veterans were a little long in the tooth to be doing this kind of flick by the time it was made, but they all appear to be having a total blast as they run through the paces one last time -- especially Furst, who finally got to ditch Flounder and play Bluto for at least one film. In fact, everybody appears so comfortable that Up the Creek comes about [-this-] close to crossing the self-awareness threshold and stumble into self-parody.

For those who grew up with their VCR's in the 1980's, Up the Creek p'rolly won't offer anything you haven't seen before, but I think there are enough tweaks and gonzo-performances to keep you entertained as Bob recovers from his beat-down in time for the start of the big, two-day race. See, only the first five teams that make it to a certain checkpoint will be allowed to race the next day, and, somehow, despite the spectacularly failed efforts of Wile E. Braverman, and even though their raft was blown out of the water and sunk on two separate occasions by Rex, our gang of misfits manages to get the last flag -- thanks to Chuck.

Ah, but in true slobs vs. the snobs fashion, later that night, our boys sneak into the Ivy camp, looking for a little payback, and destroy it rather ludicrously. But during the confusion, Irwin is captured by Braverman's rogue cadets and staked out as bait for the others. For, after all that head trauma accrued throughout the day of back-firing retaliations, the good Captain is now a few cans short of a six-pack; evidenced by his logic that there can be no winner of this race if there is no course, explaining why he just ordered his men to blow the river up. And he has enough C-4 to do it!

Meanwhile, Chuck manages to find Irwin and leads the others, after a nifty game of charades, to his eventual rescue. But our heroes barely make it back to their raft before the river goes boom. Caught in the divergent flash-flood, our heroes are soon swept away by the angry torrent ... Is this the end of the boys of Lobotomy U? Well, I wouldn't bet on it...

Yeah, I do love this movie so, and probably more than I should, but, eh. [That's me shrugging right now.] Also of note, Up the Creek also falls into the 1980's fad of having its name covered in the theme song. This time, courtesy of Cheap Trick.

Video courtesy of cheaptrick's channel.

Stranded in VHS purgatory for years and years, Up the Creek has finally made the digital jump, available though MGM's Limited Edition Collection, meaning it's a made-on-demand DVD-R, like the Warner Archive discs. And like the Warner Archives, $20 is still too much to pay for this kind of no-frills return in my humble opinion. But, sometimes, nostalgia can be a bitch that tends to stomp a mudhole in logic, leaving it goobered up and stranded -- hell, no need to spell it out, you know where, without a paddle.

Up the Creek (1984) Orion Pictures / EP: Louis S. Arkoff, Samuel Z. Arkoff / P: Michael L. Meltzer, Fred Baum / D: Robert Butler / W: Jim Kouf / C: James Glennon / E: Bill Butler / M: William Goldstein / S: Tim Matheson, Stephen Furst, Dan Monahan, Sandy Helberg, Jennifer Runyon, Jeff East, Blaine Novak, James B. Sikking

Monday, March 26, 2012

Netflix'd :: Cleaning Out the Instant Que :: Emergency! :: Millie and the Cactus Patch.

"Give me 20ccs of atropine and prepare for an emergency rumpectomy."

From season 2, episode 4, Suprise, Station 51 is called to the scene of a motorcycle accident and find our old pal Millie Helper (Anne Morgan Guilbert) stranded in very prickly situation when a joyride with her hubby goes horribly, horribly wrong after a close-encounter with a chuckhole launches her off the back of his motorbike and into patch of cactus.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Announcements :: Must Be Spring :: I Finally Been Twitter-Pated.

This is what happens when you get together with friends and drink way, way, way too much booze while watching Tarkan vs. the Vikings: You wake up the next morning with an e-mail notification asking you to verify your Twitter account -- and don't even ask because I don't know where to start to try and explain where that handle came from. So, like Flower, I'll just let nature takes its course.

Hunh. Twitter-Pated. Weird.

Feel free to follow more of my ramblings

Monday, March 12, 2012

Netflix'd :: Clearing Out the Instant Que :: Cracking a Very Hard Space Walnut.

When I first took a position in the composing department at a minor micropolitan newspaper sixteen years ago (-- wait. Sixteen years? Really? Wow ...), I soon struck up a friendship with one of the pressmen; an affable guy, with a thing for dragsters, classic cars, and the latter's restoration -- especially a certain chopped '49 Mercury. (That's him below making with the vroom-vroom.) Our friendship was soon forged and melded over a shared kinship for high-octane and existentially-charged road movies, obsessions over the minutia of classic cartoons and TV shows, and an unwavering fondness for Spielberg's comedic ode to mass-destruction, 1941, which most would call a colossal misfire while we championed it as one of the greatest movies ever made. Explaining why, most nights, as we waited for the last few pages to trickle in from the editorial side, before the presses rolled and belched out the finished paper, we would regale each other with tales of movies seen, venues experienced, and crack each other up with the mere mention of dialogue from the likes of Bob and Doug McKenzie's Strange Brew, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and, again, 1941. Seriously, walk up to him and say, "I don't think your gonna hit him, Ward" or "Check him for stilts" and just see what happens. "Yo."

Anyways ... on one particularly slow night back in the fall of 2001, my friend Bill (-- or Not Naked Bill, but that's a tale for another day...), while discussing the finer points of the 1970's version of Battlestar Galactica, told me how he and a couple of buddies, all still feeling the addling after-effect of Star Wars, would go and see anything and everything that even remotely smelled of that galaxy far, far away, science-fictionally speaking. Which is why he found himself at the local movieplex for a film he never forgot (-- except for one really important part, that is, and we'll be addressing that in a sec.) A film that was so unfathomably confusing in spots and equally boring in others that the group almost gave up and left, two or three times, until the film would explode in some insane action sequence, buying it a little more time as they settled back into their seats until the next left turn into sheer stoopidity had them threatening to abandon it again.

When asked for details, his most vivid recollection was a scene described as the Dukes of Hazard in outer-space, where some Rosco P. Coltraine space-cop, complete with a flashing cherry on top of his cruiser, chased a couple of hot-rodders in their souped-up rocket-cars through an asteroid belt, which ended with lawman augering his ship into a meteorite. Intrigued, as I pressed for more details, my friend remembered a trash-can robot that was more Twiki than R2-D2; a pinwheeling space-firefly hunt; a Darth Vader wannabe; lots of explosions; a spaceship that looked like a giant sailboat; and, perhaps strangest of all, something about magic space walnuts that granted magical powers -- or something, and how everyone was fighting to get their hands on one ... Well, don't know about the rest of you, but, he had me sold at Dukes of Hazard in outer-space. And as I listened, occasionally stopping with an incredulous query of Wait. What? for clarification or double-confirmation of these hair-brained details, being the gonzoidal cinema-junkie that I am, was, and ever shall be, had me determined to track this flick down as soon as humanly possible. All I needed was a title. Alas, a title my friend Bill could not remember, no matter how hard we massaged his brain.

Remember, this was back in 2001. In those yonder days, you still had to dial up the internet that was just beginning to stretch its legs, filled with competing search engines that took you everywhere except where you wanted to go, and streaming video was just an itch in some mpeg's pants. Still, I had to try; and over the next couple of days soon exhausted all of my online sources and a search through my sci-fi film compendiums turned up nothing even close to what my friend had described. But, I kept digging and failing, spurned on each evening when Bill asked if I had found it yet. And just when it appeared that all hope was lost, a sudden idea struck with the sound of a cracking space walnut.

I honestly think my love of film was cemented in my formative years by perusing the film ads in the local paper my folks subscribed to. Everyday I'd get the paper, check the index, find the ads, and then read the comics. Now, I had already visited my paper's morgue on numerous occasions, giddily immersing myself in all that history. (Alas, wanting to share my finds, it would still be several years later before I had another genius-attack and started taking my digital camera with me, thus birthing Scenes from the Morgue.) With that in mind, I asked Bill when and where did he exactly see this movie. Turns out he had seen at the Conestoga 4, a local theater no longer with us, and after narrowing it down to the winter of his first year in college meant the film played sometime between November of 1978 and February of 1979. With that established, I wagged a finger at my friend and said "Folly me..." Down into the basement we went, then, into the morgue, where I took the bound volume covering '78, Bill took '79, and, before you know it, I unearthed this:

"Is that it?" said I, pointing at the familiar sounding spaceship. "That's it." confirmed Bill.

So, we now had a title but the ads really didn't add anything else. Back to the internet, then, where we plugged Message from Space into the fairly new Internet Movie Database, which revealed Japan as the film's country of origin; and a quick check of the credits had me gaping at a cast that included Vic Morrow and Sonny Chiba. Wow. The director, Kinji Fukasaku, sounded familiar, too, and clicking on his link soon had me hooting and hollering and explaining to Bill the plot of The Green Slime, another completely insane space-epic Fukasaku had unleashed on the public almost ten years earlier in 1968.

Alas, even though we had a title, we still had no way of seeing the film as Message from Space never had a legitimate release on home video. A quick search of eBay and all the other gray-market sources I was aware of proved equally frustrating and fruitless. With a shrug, we both went back to work. But in between pages, I went back to the IMDB to do a little more research and noticed a squared-off text-box that showed Message from Space was due to air in two days on some cable channel called Flix, an offshoot of Showtime. And while I didn't have that channel, maybe Bill did. He didn't, and neither did anybody else we knew. Striking out for seemingly the last time, we took some solace that we had at least found out what the movie was called as the presses rolled and the evening wrapped up. However, that is not the end of this story...

The next day, see, Bill came into work with the biggest shit-eating grin on his face. As I returned it in kind, asking what's up, he went on to explain how he was talking to another friend about our quest. Turns out this friend's grandmother had a satellite dish with access to every channel known to mankind. And, apparently, this friend's grandma would be more than happy to tape it for us, even though it was airing at, like, 3 in the a.m. And so, three days later, Bill brought the tape to work. And after the paper was put to bed for the night, we retired to my place, popped the tape into my trusty VCR, and I finally got my first, glorious look at the gloriously demented Star Wars knock-off that Message from Space truly is.

Sure enough, there was a police chase through an asteroid belt, space fireflies, all of it, and then some, as an evil intergalactic overlord in Kabuki makeup invades a peaceful planet of Space-Hippies. But trusting in fate and prophecy, these Space Hippies launch a bunch of glowing Space Walnuts that will find the chosen ones, who are destined to deliver them from this evil despot. Now, these chosen ones include Chiba, Morrow (decked out in the most pimpinest outfit you'll ever see) and Bebe-II, Morrow's Twiki-like robot. The rest are four young rocket-jockeys, who spend most of the movie in a highly agitated state, who rescue the Hippie Princess, who was captured by the Evil Kabuki Overlord after he converted the entire Hippie Planet into a rocket ship! And once they reach Earth's orbit, the bad guys blow up the moon to show they mean business. Luckily, and eventually -- and I mean eventually, the Princess rounds up the chosen ones, and they eventually fight, and then eventually destroy the Evil Kabuki Overlord by taking out the entire hi-jacked planet with some well placed torpedoes at the end of a very familiar looking slit-trench. Then, all the good guys board that space boat and sail off on the solar winds to parts unknown.

Sounds great, am I right? And luckily for you all, if you'd like to see this tale of eye-popping space battles, fantastic miniature work, and general Japanese cinematic carnage and mayhem, you don't need to rely on one of your best friend's best friend's grandmother's satellite dish because Netflix has a gorgeous widescreen print ready to stream just a few clicks away. I know I haven't been the same since I saw it.

And as great as this internet age is, I honestly miss the thrill of this kind of hunt to find these obscure and offbeat films. And if you will allow me to continue this not-so-brief coda, after going through all of that, from vague description, to a title, to a dubbed copy in less than a week, two short months later I attended my first B-Fest. And, sure enough, I about crapped my pants when they announced a schedule that included Message from Space. And even though my love for the movie knows no bounds, apparently, I was in the minority as it played out on the big screen, as the audience began to riot due to its meandering pace and wackadoodle characters. I guess they had no faith in intergalactic Space Walnuts. Feh ... heathens.

Message from Space (1978) Toei Company :: Tohokashinsha Film Company Ltd. :: United Artists / P: Tôru Hirayama, Akira Ito, Yûsuke Okada, Naoyuki Sugimoto, Tan Takaiwa, Simon Tse, Banjiro Uemura, Yoshinori Watanabe / D: Kinji Fukasaku / W: Hirô Matsuda / C: Tôru Nakajima / M: Ken-Ichiro Morioka / S: Sonny Chiba, Vic Morrow, Philip Casnoff, Etsuko Shihomi,Peggy Lee Brennan, Tetsurô Tanba, Hiroyuki Sanada

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Recommendations :: What I've Been Watching. And You Should, too. Or not...

William Powell's mid-life crisis personifies itself with a beautiful siren of the deep. Too bad he's married. Mayhem and wackiness ensues in this delightful screwball comedy. Highly recommended.

Ah, Fred Olen Ray ... It has been far, far too long since last we tangled my friend. Let's see. Massive pilfering of stock footage from Battle Beyond the Stars, a mutant Tasmanian Armadillo, and one (1) gratuitous boob-shot. And hey, a cameo by Aldo Ray AND the Alien's Deadly Spawn. Win! Recommendation? Oh, hell yes!

I am so glad that I watched A Cold Night's Death now instead of when it first aired back in 1973. If three year old me had watched this disturbing Made-for-TV flick, I would never've slept again. That is some freaky-deaky shit going on, right there. And that ending? Wow.
Highly, highly recommended.

Focusing on the wackadoodle child evangelist turned wackadoodle actor, consider this documentary the Gortner's Last Crusade. Fascinating stuff. Recommended.
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