Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Vintage Tuneage :: Pon Farring With an Awesome One Hit Wonder!




Video courtesy of Original Channel.  

Carol Decker, Ronnie Rogers, Tim Burgess, 
Michael Chetwood, Paul Jackson, Taj Wyzgowski

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Recommendations :: Arrow Video Plumbs the Depths of Douglas Cheek's C.H.U.D. (1984)

We open well past the midnight hour on a quiet urban street, where a woman walks her insistent dog, looking for a place to relieve itself. Unbeknownst to them, a manhole cover has slid open, moved by unseen inhuman hands from below, and opened just enough to snatch the dog and pull it into the darkness with a distressing yelp. And when the owner, still attached by the leash, moves to save her pet, whatever snatched the dog decides to just take her, too, before she can even scream. But even if she did, the horrific roar coming from below probably would’ve drowned it out -- not to mention the follow up noises that can be best described as someone -- no, make that some thing, messily “masticating."

And after that fantastic opening salvo, next, we kinda get a rapid character dump in a meanwhile, meanwhile, meanwhile sense, beginning with George Cooper (Heard), a burnt-out fashion photographer, who is now branching out into photojournalism with a soon to be published expose on New York City’s “Mole People” -- the homeless who live underground in the subway and sewer tunnels, and his girlfriend, Lauren (Griest), who have just moved in together and are currently celebrating the news of their impending parenthood; then we move to Bosch (Curry), a captain in the NYPD, who has been heading up an investigation into a rash of robberies by homeless people and a disturbing amount of missing persons reports filed in his precinct, which takes on a new sense of urgency with that latest victim from the opening sequence -- who just so happens to be Bosch’s wife; and then there’s “The Reverend” A.J. Sheppard (Stern), a muck-raking rabble-rouser whose rundown soup-kitchen is mysteriously running out of customers; and finally we have Murphy (Quinn), a reporter who has stumbled onto something big going on beneath the streets of their city and is >this< close to cracking the case wide open.

And from there, all of these plot threads start converging, including a few stray prostitutes and a couple of lost tourists who meet the same gruesome, manhole-originating fate, when the highly volatile Sheppard gets a visit from Bosch. Seems these two have a history, which is why Bosch is still listening while Sheppard raves about how he knows why so many people have been disappearing and it has something to do with the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been doing an “extended study” of the sewers and subways most of his constituents call home. His evidence: torn pieces of a hazmat suit with a Nuclear Regulatory Commission patch and a Geiger-counter, which starts ticking louder and louder the deeper they go into the sewers, meaning something highly toxic and deadly is going on right beneath their feet.

Meanwhile, meanwhile (-- see what I mean?), Cooper gets a call from a Mrs. Monroe (Maleczech), one of the Mole People he photographed for his article, who got arrested while trying to steal a cop’s gun. Cooper pays her bail, and she takes him to see her brother, Victor (Raymond), in one of the many underground nooks and crannies; and here, we find out why the homeless have been trying to steal any kind of defensive weapon. Seems they need them to fight off the Ugly F@ckers, one of which bit a huge chunk out of Victor’s thigh! Always with a camera in hand, Cooper snaps several shots of the wounds but cannot glean any more information on exactly what an Ugly F@cker is.

When he returns to the surface, he runs into Murphy, who claims the police had Cooper followed when they left the station. From there, the reporter convinces the photographer he is about to break open a vast conspiracy as to what is really going on and it traces all the way up to the Feds. And now all he needs is some concrete proof that he hopes to find underground -- an area Cooper is somewhat familiar with and who knows some of the witnesses he needs to talk to. With that, the two head back into the sewers, where Murphy does indeed find his proof -- which promptly eats him...

Perhaps unjustly overlooked as a prime example of 1980s schlock -- that also just happens to be a smart and effective social and political satire, first (and only) time director Douglas Cheek really gets his Larry Cohen by way of early John Sayles on in C.H.U.D. (1984); and when one considers the troubled production history of the film the effective end result appears nothing short of a minor miracle. Now, the exact nature of this trouble is shrouded in some mystery but what we can glean from a raucous commentary track it had something to do with the film’s script, credited to Parnell Hall, which was extensively rewritten with new characters and sequences by stars Daniel Stern and Christopher Curry, claiming 50% of the finished film is theirs but remain unjustly uncredited. This battle over the shape of the film continued in post production when the film’s producers re-cut it, eliminating about eleven minutes, before selling it off to New World for distribution. But when the film made it to TV, a lot of what was cut out wound up back in the film, causing some mass confusion among loyal viewers, especially the location of the pivotal diner massacre sequence, where several fresh but familiar faces meet a gruesome demise.

Thankfully, Arrow Video has seen fit to include both versions of C.H.U.D. in their fantastic two-disc release of the film, which is available on DVD and Bluray. Frankly, I prefer the extended Integral Cut (96-minutes) over the Theatrical Cut (86-minutes), where that aforementioned diner massacre makes much more sense when it happens earlier in the film, which signifies the C.H.U.D.s are out of the sewers and invading the surface in search of more fresh meat.

Yeah, for those of you under thirty, C.H.U.D is an acronym for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers”. Actually, what it really stands for is “Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal.” See, under the supervision of some bureaucratic weasel named Wilson (Martin), since New York would not allow the NRC to move toxic waste through the city limits, they decided to just store it in those abandoned subway tunnels, where it subsequently breached containment and started mutating all those Mole People into a horde of savage mutations, which are realized pretty effectively and rather gruesomely by the FX team; which is one change I think the producers got right as the cannibals were originally conceived as nothing more than glorified zombies instead of the rubbery, eye-glowing gooey grotesques we got.

And as Wilson conspires to throw a discrediting net of denial over the whole disaster to stifle those who know the truth and clandestinely works to clean up his mess and eliminate all the proof of the mutants (and a few stray witnesses), his first attempt with a team of flamethrowers goes staggeringly awry and ends in another massacre. But, fear not, his backup plan is to flood the sewers and tunnels with gas, where Cooper and Sheppard are currently trapped, and then toss in a match. What could possibly go wrong, right?

Once again, Arrow Video jam packs this release with all kinds of bonus features. As mentioned already you get both versions of the film. (Both work, the extended cut works better.) And then there’s that audio commentary with director Douglas Cheek, writer Shepard Abbott, who came up with the original idea, and actors John Heard, Daniel Stern and Christopher Curry. And while it is a lot of fun listening to these guys crack on each other and the film, it is a little disappointing on the nuts and bolts aspect of the film, like how we wound up with two different versions; but all involved essentially refused to discuss it. There’s also a second commentary track with composer David A. Hughes.

Featurettes include A Dirty Look: an interview with production designer William Bilowit; Dweller Designs features creature creator John Caglione Jr. with plenty of hilarious anecdotes on putting those monsters in motion; Notes From Above Ground is a tour of the film’s New York City locations with Michael Gingold and Ted Geoghegan as your tour guides. There’s also a trailer, a gallery of stills and photos, and one deleted scene with Kim Greist, which extends the shower sequence that kicked off her solitary battle with the C.H.U.D.s as they invade her apartment.

Grim, grimy, gross and gritty, and a helluva lot of fun, if you missed C.H.U.D. the first time around, despite what you’ve heard based on the title alone, I highly recommend you check it out as soon as possible. And as a public service announcement, I implore you all, each and everyone, to avoid the truly awful sequel, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D. So that’s a yes on one, and a no on two, Boils and Ghouls. Until then, keep watching those manhole covers.

C.H.U.D. (1984) C.H.U.D. Productions :: New World Pictures / EP: Larry Abrams / P: Andrew Bonime / AP: Thomas H. Field, Alfonso Tafoya / D: Douglas Cheek / W: Parnell Hall, Shepard Abbott, Christopher Curry, Daniel Stern / C: Peter Stein / E: Claire Simpson / M: David A. Hughes / S: John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry, Kim Greist, Ruth Maleczech, Bill Raymond, George Martin

Thursday, January 19, 2017

YouTube Finds :: When the Assignment is Too Big for a Secret Agent but Too Small for an Army, Just Call Codename: Foxfire (1985)

I have no idea how I wound up at this video while plumbing the depths of a certain YouTube hole the other night but trip over it I did: the opening credits for Codename: Foxfire (1985); a show I kinda remember, and kinda remember enjoying, but couldn’t really recollect any episodes at all. Anyhoo, let's take a look shall we?

Video courtesy of RetroTy: The Pulse of Nostalgia.

Wow. Joanna Cassidy as a super-spy decked out in a wet-suit, armed with a sub-machine gun. Wow, again. And, with that indelible image, you’d think I would remember this show better than I do! 

Well, there are a few bits and pieces and notions that have since broken loose and reformed after poking around the web looking for info on the show, which is pretty scarce. And from what I found mixed with what I kinda sorta remember, especially after taking a look at the trailer for the home video release of the pilot movie, despite being overly-maligned everywhere I looked online as nothing more than a poor-woman's Charlie’s Angels knock-off, Codename: Foxfire actually comes off as a gender-swapped version of The A-Team. The problem was, instead of having Stephen J. Cannell as a showrunner, what Foxfire got instead was Joel Schumacher, which might explain it’s glitzy, gung-ho-ness but also goes a long way in explaining its brief seven episode lifespan as a mid-season replacement when that pilot movie scored some respectable ratings.

Now, in that pilot we find Elizabeth “Foxfire” Towne (Cassidy), a disgraced former CIA agent, in prison, framed for a crime she did not commit. But now, her ex-fiance (David Rasche), and the guy who framed her, 'natch, has teamed up with an ex-Nazi scientist (-- as you do), stolen a nuclear missile (-- as you will), set up shop on a secret base in the Caribbean (--who wouldn't), and intends to use it to frame the United States as the instigator of World War III (-- sure, why the hell not). And since she is familiar with this dastardly villain, the CIA offers Towne a full pardon if she will help take him down. She agrees on the condition of forming her own team, which consists of Maggie Bryan (Sheryl Lee Ralph), her former cellmate, who also just happens to be a notorious cat burglar and con-artist, and Danny O’Toole (Robin Johnson), a street smart stunt driver and daughter of Towne’s former wheelman, who, sadly, is no longer with us. And together, after a bit of a rough start, they manage to destroy the missile and thwart the dastardly plot.

Again, only six more episodes would follow before this series faded from its brutal Friday night time-slot and into the ether of foggy TV memories to be confused with Velvet (1984), Masquerade (1983-1984), and Cover-Up (1984-1985). Aside from the pilot, the only other episode I remember at all is when the team is hired to protect the daughter of some dignitary only to have Danny get kidnapped for ransom by mistake. That's it. I had hoped to rectify this but, alas, after several days of massaging the web I can find nary a trace of any episodes of Codename: Foxfire streaming online anywhere, with only the pilot garnering a home video release on VHS that is currently going for a ridiculous amount of money on Amazon. You’d think it would be easy enough to get some of these old shows and short series a venue somewhere online or a DVD on demand release but, nope. And that is too bad because I like Cassidy a whole lot and would love to see her in action in this thing again.

Codename: Foxfire (1985) Universal Television :: National Broadcasting Company (NBC) / EP: Joel Schumacher, Richard Chapman, Bill Dial / SP: Alex Beaton, Douglas Benton / P: Victoria Tarazi / D: Corey Allen / W: Richard Chapman, Bill Dial / C: Frank P. Flynn / E: David Hill, John C. Horger / M: Joe Sample / S: Joanna Cassidy, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Robin Johnson, John McCook, Henry Jones, David Rasche

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hail and Happy (Belated) 82nd Birthday to the King :: When the Bikini Met the Beat and Bombed Both On Screen and Off in Arthur Nadel's Clambake (1967)

And you all thought I forgot, right? Think not, says I. For it's that time of year again, where we celebrate my man Elvis Presley’s birthday by throwing Moody Blue on the turntable, frying up a peanut butter and 'nanner sammich, with bacon, and taking a look at one of The Big E’s fractured forays into feature film. And today we’re gonna take a look at Clambake (1967), a film I could’ve sworn I had already seen but, turns out, I had not. And so, we went digging for some clams on a virgin beach but all we really found in the sand was big giant cat turd of a movie. Okay, stop me if you heard this one before:

Scott Heyward (Presley), a Texas good ole’ boy through and through, and son and heir to the Heyward oil fortune, is in the middle of an existential crisis that only those with great wealth can have: do people like him for who he is or do they only like him for his ridiculous net worth and all the crap it buys -- including the pretty boss Corvette Stingray he is currently driving along the Florida coast with no real destination in mind. Stopping for some gas and a burger, Heyward relates his tale of woe to the guy one stool down, telling Tom Wilson (Hutchins) how his father, Duster Heyward (Gregory), had his son’s entire future all planned out, grooming him to take over the family business one day; and how he wanted none of that and basically ran away, wanting to make it on his own.

Wilson, like any normal person, scoffs a bit at this, saying he wishes he had those kind of problems; and if Heyward ever wanted to trade places with him all he has to do is ask. And with that, a light snaps on in young Heyward’s head and he and Wilson conspire to do just that: switch identities, with Heyward taking over Wilson’s position as the new water-skiing instructor at some posh hotel on Miami Beach while Wilson takes up residence at the same hotel in the presidential suite. But Heyward barely has time to stash his borrowed gear before his first lesson commences for impatient guest, Dianne Carter (Fabares). But it soon becomes apparent this was all a ruse by Diane to show off some mad aquatic-skiing skills to draw the eye of James J. Jameson (Bixby), a wealthy young playboy and heir to a female undergarment empire (-- whose brand is so sheer it’s hard to tell where the negligee ends and the skin begins).

Seems Diane is a gold digger, who put herself in hoch for this grand scheme to marry a sugar daddy. And, assuming Heyward is just a beach bum out to accomplish the same thing, she convinces him to help her land this big fish. And while he agrees to this, as their scheme unfolds and appears to be working splendidly, the plan soon develops a fatal hitch when Heyward starts to fall for Dianne himself...

You know, I always forget that “Do the Clam” number isn’t in Clambake. Nope, that belongs to Girl Happy (1965), which I believe I mashed up with Speedway (1968) into a false memory of having seen this film. And while the title song “Clambake” is actually pretty catchy, and the production number surrounding it is pretty keen, there really isn’t a whole lot else to recommend in this thing; a rare outing where Elvis just walked through the production as fast as humanly possible. He’s made overall worse films, sure, but he always appeared game in them -- well, at least professional, and put in the required effort while honoring these obligations. Here, though, it is readily apparent Presley just did not give a single shit about anything and would rather be anywhere else but ‘here’.

The run up to the production of Clambake was kind of a watershed moment in Presley’s life both personally and professionally. On the homefront, under pressure from Colonel Parker, Presley’s impending (and slightly reluctant) marriage to Priscilla was fast approaching. And on top of that, a constant state of depression over his floundering film career and plummeting record sales found a despondent Presley binge-eating, with his weight blooming to over 200lbs. When execs at United Artists got a look at him and his sizeable paunch, with the start of shooting on Clambake mere days away, they ordered him to lose some weight fast and by any means necessary, adding a plethora of diet pills to Presley’s ever-growing drug regimen.

Around this same time Presley purchased and started renovating the Circle G Ranch in Mississippi, and there he found a refuge and embraced the life of a cowboy -- so much so he didn’t want to leave. And for awhile, he didn’t, moving his entire entourage there, installing eight house trailers around a central lake on the property. Ensconced there, he blew off recording sessions for Clambake’s soundtrack, and when the first day of shooting arrived he again tried to postpone the inevitable. But the Colonel, feeling pressure from the studio, told his cash-cow that he would need a “note from a doctor” or he would be in breach of contract. And when his regular doctor proved unavailable, a friend of a friend hooked him up with the notorious Doctor “Nick” Nichopoulos and his endless supply of prescription pads for the first time. Here, Elvis got his note. The cause of distress: saddle sores.

Thus, the production was delayed while Presley malingered on the Circle G. And then it was delayed again after five days of filming for another two weeks when the star, under a haze of prescription medication, suffered a minor concussion when he stumbled and fell in the bathroom and cracked his head on a bathtub. This was the last straw for the Colonel, who came down hard on Presley’s enabling entourage, sending several packing, and banishing Larry Gellar, Presley’s hair dresser and newly minted spiritual guru from the group, whom Parker decried as a distracting nuisance, and requiring a 24-hour watch on his money-maker to make sure something like this never happened again for the duration of the shoot. Alas, the damage had already been done.

Sadly, due to it’s delayed and haphazard shooting schedule, as you watch Clambake unfold it’s easy to spot Presley pre- and post-diet, and it’s quite startling the way some scenes are edited together that include both versions of the character, with some obvious costume and wardrobe changes to hide his girth that magically appears and disappears from scene to scene. This is most evident during the “Confidence” number -- which is essentially “High Hopes” with the serial numbers filed off, resulting in one of thee worst musical numbers ever in a Presley picture, and that is really saying something. And on top of that, there are a ton of scenes, close-ups even, where Presley says his lines and then simply zones out while others gyrate around him.

Not helping matters much is the use and abuse of rear-projection shots and obvious doubles. Technically set in Florida, but, aside from a few stock inserts, the film was shot entirely in California. All of the water-skiing is done against a green screen, as is the majority of the climatic speedboat race, which really derails things as the majority of the live-action second unit location work is really quite good.

But all of that was pretty much for naught as Heyward schemes to win the girl away from Jameson by beating him in the big boat race and dethroning the three-time defending champion. And this he accomplishes all on his own by -- well, having a lot of stuff conveniently fall into his lap, starting with befriending a benevolent boat manufacturer (Merrill), who gives him a derelict speedboat to fix up for free, which he does by sciencing the shit out of some “goop," fixing the fatal flaw in this petroleum extract developed by his father’s company, and uses it as a protective sealant to hold the shambling wreck together until he wins the checkered flag. And with that, he wins the race, the girl, and the respect of his father in one soggy swoop.

One of the few bright spots in the production are Presley’s co-stars. Shelley Fabares leveraged her role in The Donna Reed Show into a singing career, where she scored the hit, “Johnny Angel”, and would eventually star in three Presley pictures: Clambake, Spin-Out (1966), and Girl Happy (1966). She is absolutely adorable, and the scene where she loses her top while trying to impress Jameson is a rare comical highlight in this turgid production. James Gregory is always a welcome sight and does a pretty good job as the one note Duster Heyward. As for Will Hutchins, well, I always felt he looked like one of the Midwich Cuckoos all grown up. He’s fine in small doses, but the film calls on him to carry a lot. Bixby is equally fine and manages to make something out of nothing.

Perhaps director Norman Taurog, who always seemed to coax a performance out of Presley no matter how asinine the premise, might’ve been able to salvage something out of Clambake that Arthur Nadel couldn’t. This time, however, most of the blame, I am sad to report, goes on the disinterested star -- though one cannot really blame him as his film career went up in flames around him.

1967 was a pretty dire year for Presley, cinematically speaking, where his movies hit rock bottom with the rock-stupid Clambake, Double Trouble and Easy Come, Easy Go. When he signed up for Clambake, Presley had accumulated so much debt over fixing up the Circle G that he would’ve done just about anything, which, obviously, came back and bit him in the ass. And with this succession of flops and declining box-office, Clambake would also be the last of Presley’s million dollar paydays -- half of which always went to Parker, whose client, through his own meddling and greed and squandered opportunities, just wasn’t as big an attraction as he used to be. Thus, Clambake was a sign; a sign that Elvis Presley’s movie career was done. It was over. And despite a brief comeback, all the earmarks of the impending disaster to come were slowly clicking into place. And then, it was only a matter of time before everything was over. And over for good. 

Other Points of Interest:

Clambake (1967) Levy-Gardner-Laven :: Rhodes Pictures :: United Artists / P: Arthur Gardner, Arnold Laven, Jules V. Levy / AP: Ernst R. Rolf / D: Arthur H. Nadel / W: Arthur Browne Jr. / C: William Margulies / E: Ernst R. Rolf / M: Jeff Alexander / S: Elvis Presley, Shelley Fabares, Bill Bixby, Gary Merrill, James Gregory, Suzie Kaye, Angelique Pettyjohn
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