Category: Cult/Camp

Movie Review: Starstruck (1982)

starstruck

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, borrowed from my friend Ben.

New wave beats and a failing family pub, elaborate pool parties and DIY sequined hot pants: Starstruck takes the excesses of the 80s entertainment industry and clashes them with a working class family struggling to stay afloat financially and emotionally, all set to a truly rockin’ soundtrack. Jackie Mullins (Jo Kennedy) works as a waitress by day but dreams of becoming a hit singer, which her fourteen-year-old cousin and manager/songwriter Angus (Ross O’Donovan) tirelessly encourages. Together they connive to land a spot on their favorite music tv show, hosted by the dashing Terry Lambert (John O’May), but all their hard work may be for nothing when Jackie’s new handlers insist on changing her look, her sound, and her band. She must find a way to kickstart her career, keep her friends, and help her family, all while staying true to her own wacky self.

I feel like the older I get the more I realize that 80s movies are really the only place I want to be. This goes double for horror films and films focusing on women and alternative subcultures. As you might have guessed, Starstruck is one of the latter. Its story is familiar- talented underdogs trying to make it big as musicians is a plot we’ve seen time and time again- and so its success really rides on other factors. Light in tone but throwing in a few elements of drama to make sure you’re really rooting for these characters, it’s a candy-colored rock musical with a low-budget air that soars on the likability of its actors and the super-catchiness of its soundtrack. (I have seriously been singing “Temper, Temper” all weekend.) The script is funny and a little kooky, throwing together low-brow humor with a bit of industry satire. The wild costumes and attitudes sported by our musical protagonists suggest a cool, fun, street-smart, gives-no-shit type of youth that I wish I was when I was a teenager.

I love the relationship between Jackie and Angus, who have a mix of sibling affection, professional teamwork, and age-difference frustrations. They’re both super cute individually, and the effect is multiplied when they’re together. Jo Kennedy has this awesomely bizarre stage presence, jerking around wildly with wide-eyed facial expressions, while remaining powerful and sexy. At first I thought the adorable Angus was meant to be read as gay- he’s shown as uninterested in sports and unpopular in school because of his fashion choices, and he seems to be holding up Jackie’s stage persona as a kind of role model or icon for himself. The film ends with him making out with a hot female stranger sooo my initial assumptions were kind of counteracted, but I definitely think it’s still a relevant deduction. Interestingly, there is a notable gay character in the film, the popular tv host Terry, and he’s not presented as a stereotype or villain, just a guy. He even gets in a great homoerotic dance number that pokes fun at limited perceptions of masculinity.

I love the characters, script, and music, but visually and aurally, Starstruck is already everything I could want. Big hair, big costumes, neon lights, so much taffeta, quick-cut music video editing, synthesizers, tight-rope walking, robotic choreography (with a bit of Busby Berkeley thrown in), cute boys, bedrooms plastered with magazine clippings and band posters, a van with a recliner on its roof. And if that doesn’t sound like a perfect movie already, there’s also a psychic grandma. And you know I love grandmas.

I’m gonna go watch it again.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: A fun counterpart is definitely Smithereens, Susan Seidelman’s feature debut from the same year. It portrays a similar underground music culture full of surface-cool young people, but unlike in Starstruck, its protagonist isn’t talented. She’s just a hanger-on. And everyone is a lot meaner in general because it’s set in New York.

Movie Review: Phantasm (1979)

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Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from netflix.

After his parents die, feathery-haired teenager Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) suffers from nightmares. His older brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) is left to take care of him, but when one of Jody’s friends dies Mike spies on the funeral and becomes convinced that something weird is going down at the cemetery. After some reconnaissance, he determines that the sinister mortician- known only as “The Tall Men” and played with relish by Angus Scrimm- is stealing corpses for some unknown (but likely nefarious) purpose, and he commands a legion of dwarfish demons who help defend the funeral parlor. In fear for their own lives, Mike, Jody, and their friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister) decide to investigate and, if possible, take down The Tall Man and his minions.

Phantasm has been on my radar for a while, but once I finally got around to watching it I realized I didn’t actually know much about it, aside from my previous Don Coscarelli experiences with John Dies at the End and Bubba Ho-Tep. It proved to be a wholly different thing than anything I could have anticipated. It begins as a fairly standard 70s horror-thriller, partnering its low budget effects with a dank, gritty aesthetic and sub-standard acting, with nods to Argento and Ray Bradbury. It’s basically just lots of fluffy hair and bell bottoms and a few boobs, all set to a spooky synth soundtrack. But then it starts to pump up the surrealism and everything gets nice and weird, with a never-explained flying death ball, inter-dimensional travel, and yellow blood. I loved the crazy visuals at the funeral parlor- the interior is gorgeously stark and the effects are nicely realized. The climactic sequence is a bizarre, intense, unpredictable excursion through the Tall Man’s traps, and it somewhat makes up for the so-so plotting leading up to it.

There was a lot for me to like in Phantasm, and it’s definitely an impressive feature for limited budget and a 25-year-old writer/director. But I can’t say I loved it. It’s uneven in both narrative and tone, it meanders blandly for most of its first half, and its characters are super boring. Like I just didn’t care that much about Jody and Mike, they’re just these dumb guys who continually rush head-first into a weird paranormal situation, assuming that guns and a can-do attitude will keep them safe. Idiots. I kept hoping that psychic lady from the beginning would come help them, but Coscarelli clearly decided there wasn’t any room in this movie for women characters, since there’s maybe about 10 minutes total with any women onscreen. And two of them are ditzes. And one of them isn’t even real.

I was generally very into that ending though. The wind effect with the barrels? And the dimensional portal? So cool. And I’ll be the first to admit that the Tall Man is fucking creepy, and I looked over my shoulder once or twice later on to make sure he hadn’t followed me out of the movie. These things have been known to happen.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: It definitely put me in mind of contemporary low-budget horror-thrillers like Halloween. Or its weirdness reminded me of Beyond the Black Rainbow, which has deliberate 70s/80s horror vibes.

Festival Review: The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2014) at 366 Weird Movies

Strange Color of Your Body's Tears

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, part of the Boston Underground Film Festival.

I remember when Amer came out some years ago and it caught my eye first for its truly gorgeous poster, and second for its female co-director/co-writer, Hélène Cattet, since there aren’t a ton of women making horror films. I never actually got around to see Amer, but I did take advantage of BUFF’s screening of The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, the Belgian directing duo’s latest feature. Stylishly surreal, visually sumptuous, and employing a range of different techniques, the film is beautiful and weird in many ways but unfortunately suffers from a dragged-out pace and tedious repetition. I started out really engaged but ended up just feeling really uncomfortable for two hours. I wrote a longer response to it over at 366 Weird Movies, so check it out!

An aside: The best part of the screening was actually the short film shown before the feature, “Belagile” by local director Anastasia Cazabon. It’s got witches and a catchy lo-fi pop soundtrack and self-empowerment and psychedelic color schemes. Cazabon works at the Brattle Theatre (where BUFF takes place) and filmed part of it there, so it was neat to see a recognizable setting!

Movie Review: The Apple (1980)

theapple

Seen: On my tv, streamed from netflix instant.

This was recommended to me a month or so ago by my friend Ben, who could tell it would be 100% My Thing. Set in a dystopian version of 1994, The Apple offers a twisted take on the Adam and Eve tale set to a host of dazzling disco dance sequences. In a world controlled by music producer Mr Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal) and his glammed-up music group BIM, folk singers Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Alphie (George Gilmour) dream of sharing their nostalgic love songs with the world. Instead, Bibi falls under Mr Boogalow’s spell (against Alphie’s better judgment), and in a haze of iridescent outfits and drugs she rises to stardom while he sinks into poverty. After a few musical montages they realize they still love each other and Bibi attempts to break away from the totalitarian music industrial complex with the help of some magical hippies.

Throwing oodles of shiny spandex and glitter at its audience at every turn, The Apple is a weird blend of biblical references, biting satire, and enthusiastic musical numbers. It’s delightfully bizarre, and wonderfully self-aware, making for an ultimately funny experience. I loved the combination of over-the-top glitzy visuals and decidedly low-budget grit, kind of perfect for this futuristic world dominated by a music industry that brainwashes the working class. Honestly, this world seemed kind of awesome to me, I mean the main laws Mr Boogalow enforced involved requisite sequin accessories and mandatory daily dance breaks. What a fun future! Plus BIM’s music is really catchy!

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I know this is probably the kind of movie people watch just to make fun of, but I’m pretty sure it’s not “so bad it’s good”, I think it’s just… good. Like this movie isn’t accidentally funny or anything, it’s intentionally weird and ridiculous, and I loved that about it. The cast is pretty great, singing their hearts out and shaking their best body parts, with Allan Love and Grace Kennedy standing out as the lead singers of BIM, sporting all the best sparkly revealing fashions. The adorable Catherine Mary Stewart, whom I’ve crushed on since Night of the Comet, makes her film debut as Bibi, and perfectly captures that “corrupted ingénue” thing while making crimped hair look good. George Gilmour is probably the weak link, just because he’s so boring. I think I liked Vladek Sheybal best as the devilish Mr Boogalow, he’s all dapper and ambiguously “foreign” as he spouts out manipulative bullshit in multiple languages.

I guess this is just yet another example of me legitimately enjoying a movie that most people watch just to make fun of. WHATEVER. The Apple is seriously great, a fun and odd blend of musical, comedic, biblical, and sci-fi elements. I loved the music and visual style, and the self-aware script. I was most impressed with how prescient it felt, like I could name at least five sci-fi movies that seemed to steal from this. Or at least borrow. Thank goodness The Apple exists, it apparently paved the way for everything that came after it.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I imagine there’s some crossover between fans of this film and fans of Phantom of the Paradise, and that would be an awesome combination. I also think it’d be great to pair with Shock Treatment, since a lot of the same themes are explored but through television as opposed to music.

The 2014 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part II

But first! Read Part I!

So yes, the Thon is about halfway over, many hours have passed. I’ve lost some of my patience with the “Close the door” running joke, and the kids sitting behind me have been way too chatty, but I’m feeling awake, and excited about the next several films, and my companions have been staying strong. Plus I know I’ve got some Dunkin in my future, always a pleasant thought. (God, I’m, like, so New England.) So here we go.

truman

7 The Truman Show (1998)

I always forget how good this movie is, but it’s like, really good. Jim Carrey stars as the titular Truman, a man raised from birth by a television station, with a huge enclosed studio built just for him to create the illusion of reality. Unbeknownst to him, he is filmed every moment of his life, all of the people surrounding him are paid actors, and he is broadcast to televisions across the world 24/7. After a series of strange occurrences, Truman begins to suspect that his seemingly perfect life is not actual reality, and he works to uncover the puppeteers behind it. It’s a strong, scarily believable premise with a great cast and funny script. There’s a lot to like: the blatant commercial satire, Truman’s goofy faces, suburban sitcom stereotypes, Ed Harris’s beret, Ed Harris’s huge face, Ed Harris’s self-imposed deification. And of course, that pitch-perfect final scene. Just gorgeous. This viewing I was struck most by all the people watching at home, as the film frequently cuts to Truman’s viewers and shows their reactions. It’s a good comedic trick, and of course a commentary on our obsession with televised stories, but my favorite thing was the adorable elderly lesbian couple who embroidered pillows with Truman’s face and generally were just cute fangirls in love.

 

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8 Electric Dreams (1984)

I read about this movie ages ago when I was crushing on Bud Cort after my first viewing of Harold and Maude, but couldn’t find it anywhere and forgot about it. The Thon got a rare print, perfectly timed around the recent months’ discussions of Her. The story follows Miles Harding (Lenny von Dohlen), a nerdy architect who gets a computer and hooks it up to everything in his house but then gets mad at it one day and spills champagne on it and it becomes sentient. Naturally. The computer (voiced by Cort) develops a romantic attachment to Madeline (Virginia Madsen), the cellist who lives upstairs. But Miles falls for her too, and they start dating when Madeline hears the music the computer makes (inspired by her) and assumes it comes from Miles. A wacky comedy of errors follows, full of mega-80s music sequences, weird technology jokes, San Francisco scenery, and demonic computer freakouts. It’s a bizarre movie, simultaneously really bad and really great, endearing itself to me mainly through its totally 80s-ness. And von Dohlen is kinda cute. Plus the music! God, I’m still singing that theme song.

 

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9 The Visitor (1979)

Ok here’s where I get a little (more than a little) pissy. Yes, I’m sleep-deprived and my butt hurts a bit from the seat, but I know I would have been annoyed regardless. So. Remember how I was super into The Visitor when it screened at the Brattle a few months ago, but I was sitting next to these really loud, inane guys who laughed uproariously at every single thing onscreen, like maybe they’d never seen a movie before and were just surprised by the moving images? Yeah so I was really excited to see this film again, on a big screen, with what I hoped would be a more appreciative audience. But instead, Major Tom, the Thon’s host, literally invited the entire audience to make fun of it in his introduction, thus spurring a lot of unnecessary running commentary for the film’s duration. Whatever. I still think it’s a wonderfully weird, inventive, visually stunning film, and I think it’s too bad everyone keeps going into it expecting a laugh. I know it’s not for everyone, but it seems to me people aren’t even giving it a chance because they assume it’s going to be stupid or bad before they even see it. Oh well. I did kind of tell off a dude in the screening room when he said it didn’t make any sense: I took it upon myself to explain some of the plot points to him and also to remind him that’s it’s a really awesome movie. Sorry if I was overzealous, there, stranger, I just have a lot of thoughts about The Visitor! The title links to my original review.

 

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10 The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (1959)

This was another one I was really looking forward to, mainly because the concept of a last-people-on-earth movie from 1959 that stars a man of color is pretty neat. Loosely based on MP Scheil’s novel The Purple Cloud, the film stars Harry Belafonte as a miner, Ralph, who, trapped underground for a few days, manages to avoid the apocalypse. He comes up the (seemingly) last man on earth, makes his way to New York City, and does his best to make his lonely life bearable, getting things running again. He finds one other lost soul, a young woman named Sarah (Inger Stevens), and they form a desperate friendship, at times loving and others combative. Though he loves her, Ralph is convinced that race relations can’t change, even in their own new world, and he will always be on a different level than her because of entrenched societal prejudices. When a third survivor (Mel Ferrer) is discovered, Ralph seems content to push them into a romance to ease his own conscience. It’s a dark, somewhat nihilistic film with interesting racial commentary very much relevant to the period in which it was made. I loved the performances, especially Belafonte, who really carries the first half of the movie completely. It’s a bit slow-moving, as these types of stories usually are, but I was totally engaged. Good thing the last surviving people on earth are all so attractive; I really just wanted to see Belafonte and Stevens make out, oh my goodness. And it ends in an implied three-way, aw yeah.

NOTE: I slept through the next film, Irish alien comedy Grabbers. Sorry. I heard it was a fun one, but I was too sleepy.

 

children of men

11 Children of Men (2006)

I don’t think I’d seen this since it was in theaters, though I remember loving it, and damn was it fantastic to revisit. Set in the near future, the premise imagines a world where women can no longer give birth, and humans are suddenly faced with their own expiration date. Nations close their borders, placing blame on each other, and violent rebels fight for better treatment. When one young woman, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), miraculously becomes pregnant, she knows that everyone will want a piece of her and her baby. She enlists former activist Theo (Clive Owen) to transport her out of England, hoping to find safe haven with an off-the-grid group called The Human Project. They must wade through betrayal, death, sickness, and massive destruction, but both are determined to fight for the survival of her child. Another great sci-fi film that touches on race and gender issues, it is a completely intense, dismal story that manages to be genuinely moving. It’s the kind of film that invites closer scrutiny because its world-building is so interesting (and realistic), but ultimately stays with you because of your emotional investment. I cried a lot. Thanks, Alfonso Cuarón.

 

flash gordon

12 Flash Gordon (1980)

I get excited about this movie primarily for the Queen soundtrack, it’s true. I just hear that FLASH!… AHH-AHHHHH and I get so pumped up! The movie itself is not that great, it’s kind of boring but I do love the visuals. Based on the classic comics/serials, it stars Sam Jones as the titular football player, who winds up on a distant planet along with scientist Hans Zarkov (Topol) and journalist Dale Arden (Melody Anderson). Surrounded by psychedelic color schemes and sexy aliens, Flash must fight against Ming the Merciless, a cruel despot who plans to destroy the earth. Lots of people show up to help out, including the sensual Ornella Muti, Robin Hood-esque Timothy Dalton, loud and winged Brian Blessed, and Richard O’Brien for like five minutes. This is the only version of the character I’ve seen so I’ve never been able to comment on its merits as an adaptation, but on its own it’s ridiculous and passably entertaining pulp, notable especially for the amazing theme song and the elaborately trippy costume and set design. Also it really is weirdly sexy, like everyone is constantly talking about boning. I feel like Flesh Gordon didn’t have to stretch the story too far.

Ok all done, 24 hours of science-fiction, (mostly) bested yet again! See you next year!