Unkle Finster says that Matilda is our best layin' hen...

...but I don't know why he says that since she don't give no eggs a'tall.

One of these days I gotta work up something new instead of going through the movie review archives again. I could review some music or somethin'. I've been listening to a lot of Drive-By Truckers lately, after getting turned onto 'em in a big way by some kick-ass covers done by KickerOfElves' bands. Dirty South is my definite favorite, with Southern Rock Opera in second place. And the new Overkill is good. They were never the greatest thrash band, but I've started liking 'em just 'cuz they've always been consistent and never handed me a "Load" album. New Slayer roolz. New Jello Biafra project - Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine - is pretty good... sounds like the Dead Kennedys sounded on their last albums. New Hatebreed's good. New Last Resort is good. The Antiseen DVD is insane, noisy, and stupid (but that's kinda the appeal - if you're listening to songs like "Fuck All Ya'll" or "Death Train Comin'" you're not looking for intellect, really.). And that's about all the newer stuff I've picked up in the past several months... so, I guess I'll just throw a few random movie reviews atcha.


First Spaceship On Venus (C, 1960) aka Der Schwigende Stern, Planet of the Dead, Silent Star, Spaceship Venus Does Not Reply. German-Polish sci-fi that’s dated but still interesting. A spaceship with a rainbow-coalition crew (guess the Germans were trying to prove they weren’t all Nazis) travels to Venus to investigate a mysterious “spool” that was found on Earth, which contains a mysterious coded message. After a long voyage in which they kill time by playing chess with a robot that looks like an old-fashioned vacuum cleaner modified with a Lite-Brite, they land on a misty, radioactive, empty, dead Venus, where they find metal insect-things that have recordings on them. There are melted cities where they are attacked by an ocean of boiling slime. And they may have accidentally started the whole nuclear catastrophe over again… and they may be trapped in the middle of it. Some of the scientific explanations are pretty wacky, but the special effects aren’t bad for the time period, and the good parts are a worthwhile payoff for the slower ones. The whole movie has an odd, unique look. Most of the versions on cheap DVD are edited, but you can find longer, German-language versions.

Watch the whole thing starting here.

Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies (C, 1994) Documentary on the infamous punk rocker/one man disaster area, GG Allin, filmed shortly before he died… in fact, you can see his funeral at the end. Mainly this is an attempt to explain the freak show that was GG and the weirdoes who are his hardcore fans. He shoves things up his (or somebody else’s) ass, then puts it in his mouth, gets people to piss in his mouth, shits on stage and then eats it or smears it all over himself, bashes the microphone into his head until he bleeds, bashes his audience until they bleed, and, oh yeah, sometimes he does music. Was GG a profound statement on the decline of American society? Or was he just a mentally-unstable cretin taking the cheap road to get some attention? The answer may lie somewhere in between. Highlights include all the aforementioned disgusting acts, bits from the Geraldo Rivera show, interviews with one of GG’s fans (a goof named Unk), talks with Dino the naked drummer (who is weirder than GG but in a peace and love and exposing-himself-to-children way), a bit with a former band member named Chicken John beating himself up like a moron, and footage of GG’s funeral. The documentary is only 52 minutes long, but if you buy the DVD (or at least the old version - I’ve heard the extras aren’t on the “special edition” but I’m not sure of that) it has lots of extras, including GG’s last show at The Gas Station, which turned into a riot. That includes rehearsal footage of songs like “Highest Power” and “I Kill Everything I Fuck,” then the actual concert where he does about two songs and then struts prissily around covered with blood and shit, attacking his fans, and wandering the streets of New York naked with cops looking for him. He gets away and goes looking for the drugs that killed him while his fans riot in the streets. A lot of it is jerky footage of GG and his crew trying to get a cab (one of ‘em is a girl who’s much scarier than the oddly-affable GG). Then they show the fans who filmed it standing around and comparing it to other shows (“His shit stunk, but not as bad as usual. The Denver show? That was some bad shit!”). The footage runs over an hour and you probably don’t want to really watch most of it ‘cuz it’ll make you dizzy. Love him, hate him, or love to hate him, this is as close as you’re going to get to seeing GG Allin anymore. At least you’ll get to see for yourself what the legend was based on, and won’t even have to get anything on you.

Nosferatu (B&W, 1922) aka Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens. Rarely does anyone nail something the first time, but this silent German masterpiece -- the first vampire film -- is still the best. It’s an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with a few incidental changes. Stoker’s widow was so mad at the movie being made without authorization that she ordered all prints destroyed, but luckily some escaped the burning by being in other countries, so we still have it. Jonathan Harker (or a reasonable facsimile) travels to Transylvania to make a real-estate deal with Baron Orlock, who is the Dracula figure. As portrayed by Max Shreck (a pseudonym meaning “terror”), this is one of the creepiest figures ever to cross a movie screen. He’s bald with long pointed ears, a hawk nose, crazy eyes, and two ratlike fangs for front teeth. And he’s tall and thin, with hunched shoulders; he looks like he’s spent so much time in a coffin that he’s become deformed to the shape of it. His fingers are long, spider-like talons. As a kid, our school library had a book with pictures of him in it, and we all got the hell scared out of us just looking at the stills. Orlock makes a sea journey to Germany, killing all aboard the ship and bringing plague-rats with him. There are too many classic images in this film to list (Nosferatu’s shadow going up the stairs has been copied many times) and it’s a nightmarish masterpiece. Werner Herzog remade it in 1979, and his film is good in its own right, but it doesn’t hold a candle to this. Another film, Shadow of the Vampire, was released in 2001, detailing the making of this film and suggesting that Shreck was a real vampire who was unwittingly cast as one. I could almost believe it.

Suddenly (B&W, 1954) Kinda like “Lee Harvey Oswald Comes to Mayberry” (Oswald did supposedly watch this a few days before shooting JFK). The president is going to make a brief stop in a town called Suddenly, and Frank Sinatra plans to assassinate him because person or persons unknown have offered him half a million dollars to do so. He sets up shop in a house overlooking the train station, and he and his two goods have to keep several people hostage while they wait. Sherriff Sterling Hayden and a little boy named “Pidge” are among the captives who have to wait this whole thing out, and try to stop it, while Frank defensively talks about the Silver Star he won in the war. Neat, intense little drama, with a believable psychotic performance from ol’ blue eyes. (Who, in the colorized version, becomes ol’ brown eyes! Doh!) There are rumors that Sinatra wanted all prints of this destroyed, but in actuality it was just pulled from distribution for a while after the JFK assassination, then fell into the public domain, making it one of the best movies you can buy for a buck. Recommended.

Surf Nazis Must Die (C, 1987) First up, this is a Troma movie. Now that you know it’s going to be an inept, moron-pleasing, boring, time-wasting piece of dreck with no attempt even made at anything approaching even passable acting, direction, or special effects, we can dispense with expectations and see what’s there. In a futuristic society where cheesy surf gangs rule the beaches, a large cigar-smoking black woman named Eleanor Washington moves into a retirement home when her house is leveled by an earthquake. The worst gang, the Surf Nazis (who have names like Adolph, Eva, and Mengele - you get the idea) luckily don’t seem all that sincere about their Nazi beliefs; most of the swastikas are backwards. They rig spikes into their surfboards, rob people on the beach, and battle with another surf gang called The Samurai. See, they don’t even know that Japan’s supposed to be their ally, jeez. The fights aren’t much of anything and last for seconds. Then the Surf Nazis kill Eleanor’s son, and she overhears one of them bragging about it, so she buys a Walter P38 and some grenades. After about a half an hour of footage of people standing around, sitting around, or driving around, and the occasional surfing footage, there’s a brief, full-lack-of-contact fight between surf gangs, which looks more like people with weapons hugging each other. Then you get a few minutes of Eleanor riding a motorcycle and getting payback, just so there’ll be something to put in the trailer. The Nazis are so dumb they try to get away from her on their surfboards -- only an effective vehicle when heading toward the beach. Most of the movie is drawn-out padding and every scene seems to take forever, but I guess it’s nice that there’s still a job market for filmmakers who don’t have enough talent to work in the porno industry. I’m not sure if this is an action film with no action, or a comedy with no jokes. Eleanor comes across as likeable, but that’s about all it has going for it. My best advice is, either tune in about ten minutes before the end, or just watch the trailer. Troma Films: wasting potential guitar picks since the mid-80’s. Fuck ‘em.

Young Hannah, Queen of the Vampires (C, 1972) aka Crypt of the Living Dead, La Tumba de la Isla Maldita, Hannah Queen of the Vampires. The credits won’t tell you this, but this is based on “The Tomb of Sarah” (link is a PDF) by F. G. Loring… and that’s not a bad source. A guy comes to an isolated and superstitious island because his father was killed there when some hippie cultists crushed him beneath a tomb he was studying. His son gets interested in the tomb, because it’s 700 years old and inscribed with a warning not to open it, because it contains Hannah, a beautiful vampire. And of course that’s true, as they find when they move the tomb to get the father’s body out from under it. She rises in green mist and turns into a wolf (I think it’s actually a coyote, but what the hell) and starts a killing spree, with her cult members helping her out. In other words, pretty much the usual vampire-movie thing, but not badly done and has a creepy atmosphere. Most of the copies on DVD are black and white for some reason, but a color DVD is available. The old videotapes were struck from a really beat-up print, which almost worked better, as the artifacting added to the atmosphere.


Forever 'n' ever endeavor

That's what typin' up all my movie reviews is gonna be. Someday I'm gonna have to play around with the digital camera and scanner and show ya'll my notebooks. Remember the psycho in Se7en? Boyo's got nothin' on me when it comes to reams of tiny writin'. Some people who visit my house go, "Hey, show me the notebook again!" I impress (or, in moments of clarity, horrify) myself with my obsessive craziness.

Oi, what a fuckin' week. 'Twas an endless cavalcade of little humiliations and frustrations and futile exercises in grinding my muleheaded stubbornness against pisswit attempts to make me conform to pointless and abusive foolishness. Who will win this war of attrition? No one but my ulcer. And, possibly, people who like to hear me use too many adjectives when I kvetch. The mighty monumental marathon o' miserable was interrupted only by seeing a way-badass-cool band Friday night (finding out my sometimes-skangy little town actually has great (albeit too-well-hidden) love for songs like "Ace of Spades," "Seek And Destroy," and almost anything by Black Sabbath, is always gratifying and gives me a happy case of the fuck-yeah's, no matter how eeeeeyarrgh the rest of the week went. I'm not the only person here who gets it! So, fuck yooooou people-who-don't-get-it! So there!), and re-reading "Bartleby The Scrivener." (I'm weird, but I actually love that friggin' story and re-read it every year or so. It's dangerous to read when I'm ticked off at my workplace, though, because I get the perverse urge to just go in on Monday and start saying "I would prefer not to" while staring at a wall, 'n' see what happens. As opposed to saying "yes, right away" while staring at a wall, which is pretty much what I'm doing these days. Interesting tile grout, we have. If that Bodhidharma-staring-a-hole-in-the-wall story is true, I should have a window soon!

Anyway, did we come here to listen to my vexations, or read movie reviews? I see no reason why a semi-talented sumbitch like me can't pull off both at once, so here's reviews of movies, a couple of which vexed me somewhat. :)


Fists, The Kicks, and the Evils
(C, 1979) aka He Quan, Stork Fist. Bolo Yeung and some other bad guys beat up the teacher of a kung fu school (Lee Tso Nam) and take it over. Bruce Liang is very upset with the thugs and wants to fight them, and when they murder his father he vows revenge. The beaten teacher tries to train him in the crane fist style that Bolo‘s trying to wipe out, but the beating he took left him permanently damaged and he can’t do much. Bruce learns a little, gets overconfident, and takes them on too early. They kill his teacher and friend, so now he has even more reason to seek revenge, but has no teacher to train him to get it. An old vegetable salesman and his daughter realize Bruce isn’t going to give up and will surely be killed if he doesn’t know what he’s doing, so they start training him in secret crane fist styles. Finally Bruce is good enough to take on his enemies one by one. Bolo amazingly never takes his shirt off, and uses a strange tiger style that involves never looking directly at his opponent. The other main bad guy (Phillip Kao Fei) uses an opium pipe as a weapon. Strong kung fu movie with lots of well-done fights and a plot obviously influenced by Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master.

Get Thrashed (C, 2006) aka Get Thrashed: The Story of Thrash Metal. Documentary on the birth, rise, decline, and rebirth of thrash metal is kind of like the metal version of American Hardcore, including lots of interview footage with major and minor players. Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Exodus all get in-depth coverage, with special segments on German bands like Kreator, Destruction, and Sodom, plus coverage of crossover bands like Suicidal Tendencies and D.R.I. If you’re a fan of this music you probably won’t learn much you didn’t already know, but you’ll still be glued to the screen to hear it all again from the people who created the whole scene. Well done, with plenty of access (the fact that Rat Skates from Overkill was an associate producer probably opened a lot of doors), and the extra feature on the DVD, talking about different bands from different areas, is as valuable as the feature itself, covering a lot of the lesser-known bands and celebrating them. It’s pretty thorough (‘cept no Blessed Death?). This is essential for metalheads.

Hitcher, The (C, 2007) I may be in the minority on this, but I consider the 1986 original a classic, so any remake is doomed to inferiority. But I had to see it anyway, just to see if it actually earned the inferiority that would be thrust upon it. Yep, but not abysmally so. A guy and his girlfriend (an addition to the first film) who’s characterized mostly by the frequency of her urination take off for spring break. The lame alterna-pop song they leave to in the morning must be really long because it’s still coming out of the radio late that night. They get stuck picking up a hitchhiker who proves to be a sadistic psycho, and even though they escape from him, he decides he wants to play games with them and stalks them around the highway. He murders a family and frames boy-and-girl for it. When the police catch them, the hitcher kills all of the cops, too, deepening their trouble. The remake follows the original pretty faithfully except for a gender reversal, making the girl the main focus of the hitcher’s mayhem (which is cool because I like badass girls), and also removing a lot of the “is this some weird sadomasochistic game between these two?” weird vibe that made the original disturbing and elevated it above just being a highway-bound slasher movie. Basically, the took the plot and scrubbed it of anything challenging or uncomfortable, leaving you with a much-more-vanilla, less intense “product” that was easier to sell. Still, if you’ve already seen the original this is okay as an action (more than horror) film with a likeable cast and some great stunt work. One weakness that cheapens the whole thing is playing horrible pop songs over all the action scenes, which takes you out of the story and drops you into a music video for a bad song, and also reminds you that this movie is a unit-shifter; they’re also hoping to sell a soundtrack CD and doing a clumsy goddamn job of it.

Horrible Sexy Vampire, The
(C, 1970) aka El Vampiro de la Autopista, The Vampire of the Highway. Make up your mind! It can’t be both. Highly obscure Spanish horror film known more for the title than for anyone actually having seen it, but now that it’s been released on cheap DVD (Mill Creek’s Undead Vampire Collection of 20 movies) all can witness the horrible sexiness. A vampire (who can turn invisible) preys on couples, usually after they’ve had sex or gotten nude to shower. Even though he strangles most of his victims, a professor (based on a reading of Dracula, which made him an expert) feels certain the killer is a vampire, and specifically a guy named Baron Vinegar! (It’s spelled more Germanically, but that’s the gist). Suddenly a Count Oblensky -- an albino-blond aristocrat whose hobby is taxidermy -- shows up, claiming to be a descendent of Baron Vinegar. Oblensky is played by the wonderfully-named Waldemar Wohlfart. His real name’s Val Davis, but for some reason he decided that (a) “Waldemar Wohlfart” was a really cool pseudonym, and (b) he needed to use a pseudonym for this film even though he’d apparently been doing some softcore porn work. The fact that he used his real name for all his other movies, and starred in such films as Virgin Among The Living Dead, Lustful Amazons and Love Camp should tell you something about how he regarded this film. He spends a lot of time wandering the crumbling old castle he’s inherited, reading the diaries of Baron Vinegar and looking for whoever’s making the evil laugh he keeps hearing. He meets the vampire (or strangler or whatever -- the title makes it clear that the filmmakers don’t know what to make of their monster, either), who pleads with him to drive a stake through his heart… then carries on with his killing spree while Oblensky romances a girl who’s towheaded enough to be his sister. Most of the victims are people we never saw before, who drop peacefully dead as soon as the Baron gets his hands on their neck. There’s no blood but there’s an uncomfortable suggestion of necrophilia. When it’s not boring it’s silly, with lots of actors throwing themselves around the set as they pretend they’re fighting an invisible man, and an attack predictably happens any time a woman takes a bath. But, it’s likeably junky somehow, and it’s nice to finally be able to see the beautifully wretched thing.

Last Man On Earth, The (B&W, 1964) aka L’Ultimo Uomo Della Terror) Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend gets its first and maybe best film version in this Italian production starring Vincent Price as the last man alive in a world overtaken by vampire. He spends his days turning stakes on a lathe, hunting for protective garlic and mirrors, killing any vampires he finds sleeping, and clearing away corpses in a silent, empty city. At night he stays barricaded in his cluttered apartment, playing records to try to drown out the calling dead who stiffly batter at his doors and windows (you can tell that Night of the Living Dead was heavily influenced by this). It’s a lonely hell, coupled with guilt since he used to be a scientist working on a cure for the bacillus that caused the vampirism, and of course he failed, losing his wife and daughter (and the rest of the world) to the plague. Then he discovers that other people are alive, but they view him as a monster… Atmospheric and well-done, and much better than the more widely-seen The Omega Man. Widely available on cheap DVDs of varying quality.


Whole Movie:

Monstrosity (C, 1989) Infamously bad gore-flick director Andy Milligan kept his career going in the 80’s with slightly-improved quality (it’s still awful but at least you can usually hear what people are saying, and he seems to have the camera on a tripod now and then), but with most of his usual quirks (hateful bickering characters, sadistic violence, and graphic gore). His effects work improved a little, as an early disembowelment scene will attest. The plot’s about a gang beating and raping and killing until -- after a 30-second discussion about it -- three friends of one of the victims decide to build a golem out of body parts from the morgue and a few limbs from a gorilla that got run over by a lawnmower (it was at this point that I decided Milligan must be trying to be intentionally funny). He ends up a bucktoothed stitched-together goon wearing a red afro wig… he looks like a “John 3:16” sign guy jackass who’d finally gotten the beating he deserved. The goofuses manage to fumble their way to resurrection and try to train him to kill by showing him posters from Schwarzenegger movies, but “Frankie” would rather hear about the Three Bears. That doesn’t stop him from using a meat cleaver on some ridiculous bad-guy punks, then bringing home a punk girl with a big dragonfly on her head and a personality apparently borrowed from Laverne DiFazio. She becomes his girlfriend after a few chaste kisses that cause him to leak blood. He goes on to tear out throats, drive nails into skulls, chop off a hand and a head, and other lame gore effects. Probably the worst effect is Frankie’s bugged-out eye; after a while the paper it’s made of starts to curl up and you can see the tape holding it on. This horror comedy looks like an attempt at a Troma-type movie and is somewhat funny just because it’s so stupid… but this time you get the feeling that Andy was in on the joke, at least. This was Milligan’s last movie, and he was dying of AIDS as he made it (although some sources claim he actually made this before his movie, Weirdo). The end credits promise (or maybe “threaten” is a better word) the return of Frankie in Monstrosity II. It sucks that Andy Milligan died and all, but not having more of this movie isn’t exactly tragic….

Tuff Turf (C, 1985) Possibly the most 1985 movie of 1985. James Spader (before becoming a medium-sized big thing, and who’s now a “oh, yeaaaaah, I remember that guy!”) is the new smartass in town, and he’s a “rebel” -- he wears sunglasses and rides a ten speed and gangs don’t intimidate him. That comes in handy since he has to stand up to a pack of hoodlums when he gets attracted to bad-girl, damnit-she-wasn’t-in-enough-movies-and-that’s-one-reason-life-SUCKS Kim Richards, who sports waist-length crimped hair (and a headband that almost ruins it). She tries not to like him but his extroverted-yet-sensitive ways get through to her, and this really gets the Tuffs on his case, ‘cuz she’s their leader’s chick. It’s all the 80’s teenmoviestuff -- fast cars, clothes that were cool then but are hilarious now, nonstop new-wave-pop (with lotsa music-video-like scenes), wise guy comedy, clean and unrealistic violence, be-a-good-guy-even-if-you’re-a-misunderstood-rebel message, but, most importantly, it’s got Kim Richards, who was so ‘80’s that she disappeared off the radar before the decade was even done. A big shame, that. Definite Moped-movie; lots of fun until somebody catches you with it. It’ll probably entertain you in some way or other, and I think everybody over 35’s seen it on video but you’d be hard pressed to find anybody who saw it in a theater.

Werewolf Vs. The Vampire Woman, The
(C, 1970) aka Werewolf Shadow, Shadow of the Werewolf, The Black Harvest of Countess Dracula, La Noche de Walpurgis. Classic Paul Naschy Eurotrash horror that set off a small industry in Spanish horror pictures and was one of many featuring Naschy’s Waldemar the Werewolf character. Before the credits he’s brought by from the dead by doctors who, in the course of an autopsy, remove the silver bullets from him. In his human form he helps two girls look for the tomb of a blood-drinking witch (based on Countess Bathory). O’ course they find her and bring her back to life (she makes for a pretty creepy figure, all veiled in black like some funeral nun) and she vampirizes one of the girls. Naschy warns that the reign of terror will only get worse. The remaining girl gets a ride to town with a very weird guy, while Naschy disposes of her contaminated friend (crude but effective gore here). But the vampire woman and a new girlfriend go around doing more blood rituals; they’re ghostly and fade away while dancing and laughing, and it’s pretty spooky. After more mayhem, there’s the promised climactic battle. Not as bad as the silly title would lead you to believe, and includes some pretty eerie scenes. Omnipresent on cheap DVD, but most of those copies are really dark and you’ll miss a lot. It’s worth searching for the Anchor Bay “Werewolf Shadow” version if you’re a Naschy fan.


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We Were Out of Syrup, So I Used Dishwashing Liquid

The day I tried to cook waffles for the lovely Naomi Shatbritches could best be described as fateful. I knew that waffles were her favorite (she’d certainly screamed so in my face enough times, and never for any reason) and I desperately wanted to impress her, due to my fascination with clowns and the deformed, and so far the only thing I’d seen that impressed her was the Zippo lighter that she was always playing with. Clack, clack, it would say, like a pyromaniacal chromium puppet. It was a Richard Simmons signature series, a very limited run and rarer than a John Lennon commemorative pistol.

Alas, I no longer had a waffle iron. I’d loaned it to my neighbor, Chet, who used it as a tennis racket; he’d been drinking Clorox again, or else he’d never have done it, because he has no business playing tennis. For one thing, one of his legs is a foot shorter than the other so if he starts running he whirls in circles until dizziness takes him to the special place. And for another, his good leg has strep knee, so when he walks he looks like he’s being picked on by invisible dwarf-bullies. He drifts to and fro (mostly fro) like a schizophrenic trying to macarena. Complete (and sometimes incomplete, in the case of that guy with the flipper arm) strangers sometimes stop him, asking what the hell he’s listening to on his IPOD. And he doesn’t even have an IPOD. Frankly, he disapproves of them. In fact, he disapproves of the word “frankly,” because he knows a guy named Frank who’s the most duplicitous, evasive liar in the world. Ironically, Frank’s middle name is Earnest (or so he says; I‘m not sure we’re to believe him), which leaves Chet without a leg to stand on. Or, at least, not a good one. In any case, Chet can’t afford an IPOD (or a tennis racket) to begin with; it’s hard to make ends meet when you’re a door-to-door Sea Monkey salesman.

Anyway, without a waffle iron, I had to improvise (something which I am not good at at all since the unfortunate escapade with the trombone; in fact, improvisation is a parole violation for me, just like pointy scissors). I tried to put a pattern on the Bisquik batter with the sole of an old Ked sneaker. That had worked kind of well, in reverse. But that’s where my luck ran thin and my ingenuity surpassed my common sense, and so Naomi was not impressed. Fortunately, she also wasn’t aware, distracted by an azalea bush she thought was trying to impart something to her, so I escaped incarceration.

(As this is an impoverished county (our main cash crop is decorative gourds), we don’t have a jailhouse, but there are old cardboard boxes to put you into, and a convincing man there to talk you into staying in them.)

Anyway, as the Naomi waffle-adventure was a wash, I went on down the road, feeling bad. Several famous songs were written about it, and perhaps you’ve heard a few as you desperately lunged for the dial, cursing. Naomi eventually grew very enchanted with an ornamental fern, and carried on an unhealthy and inappropriate relationship with it for a time, which scandalized the community and led her to be labeled such things as “demented” and “scatological.” I, however, still carried a torch, because she had the funniest teeth I’d ever seen. The word “goofus” probably describes them as well as any, and I have, I’ve been diagnosed, a fetish for goofus. Her awkward, toddling walk and her habit of loudly interrupting others to express her needs (“Wipe!”) also endeared her to me in a way that makes me shudder.

She is, however, hard to have a conversation with, as she tends to yell “NO!” at you over and over as soon as you start talking. The only person around here who likes that kind of talk is old Ezeriah Kudd, and he’s a wizened old weirdling who’s built sentry stations in his yard where he keeps a constant watch for garden gnomes. They could invade us at any time, he says, and enslave us and have their little way with our women. Most of us dismiss him (or, if you’re Septimus Toole, you chase him around with a hedge trimmer because you think he’s after your sort-of girlfriend, Steve), and the few who don’t need tending to. They just can’t be left to wander around, touching themselves and then other things, befouling random surfaces with their taint-grimed hands and turning this world into a hamper.

Twice a week the ladies’ auxiliary (with honorary member Harold Witherfork) attack this town with scrubbing brushes and good strong borax, going at everything -- curbs, parking meters, street, rooftops -- with a furious vigor, ensuring that the germs that spread insanity have no chance to take root. If an object is so much as gazed upon by an icky person, it is ruthlessly scoured. Once Mayor Naise’s nephew, Hiram, farted in the cathedral, and the ladies’ auxiliary burned it to the ground just to be safe. They used Naomi’s Zippo to start the fire, in fact, and it was that day that Naomi first uttered her famous catchphrase: “Arson, ha ha!”

This is why a picture of Naomi hangs at City Hall, and why a mysterious figure in a shimmering green robe like that of a monk sometimes steals in and leaves before it offerings of marshmallows and absinthe. Once a horse was sacrificed, but that was going too far, and was an action attributed to a case of February Fever (one of the early stages of March Madness).

They’re trying to cure that, by the way. To all the schools they send around a doctor or nurse dressed as a silent clown to give the children shots. He frolics in with his hypodermics and pantomime, but the children are just terrified by all the theatrics. I’m fascinated with clowns, as I may have mentioned, and so I keep a scrapbook on all our county’s shot-needle clowns, of which there have been many. Each is buried in a special section of the cemetery (after they die, of course, except for the unfortunate Boppo incident), and everyone has their favorite. Mine is a rather unpopular choice, Charlie Barrett, who was shot-needle-clown from 1958-1964, up until his murder-suicide in the House of the Bent Weathervane. There’s a famous picture of Charlie Barrett in his clown gear, taken for the newspaper. In it, he’s crouching next to a hysterical little girl, gripping her arm with one hand so she can’t run away, brandishing his hypodermic with the other. The girl is screaming and crying and Charlie is leaning into her face, trying to amuse her by making crying faces of his own, mocking her terror. I find it charming and wish that Norman Rockwell had survived his attack by that Ecuadorian rapist squad, so he could paint it. Others, however, hold a grudge against Charlie for his alcoholism (he drank until he became a hepatitic), and for the bludgeoning murders of those seven people (eight if you count the infant). I thought he redeemed himself with his suicide (one has to be sincere and determined to beat oneself to death with a steam-iron) but others are less generous, and there are fewer balloons left on his grave than the others.

Ah well, c’est le pontaire, I always say, although I don’t know what that means and so often wonder why I always say it. It may be a compulsion, a Eurofetishistic twitch that’s manifesting itself. I’m not sure but perhaps I ought to be concerned, as such things can be a warning sign of a greater malady developing, like Earmuffism or Mrs. Butterworth’s Syndrome, or even a case of the Creeping Schwarzeneggers. More tangelos in my diet can’t hurt, I think, perhaps more time spent squatting and staring into the distance. America doesn’t do nearly enough squatting. Our readily-available chairs are killing us.

We ought to be out afrolic in the meadows, leaping about through the weeds, the whore’s hair and parson’s bonnet, the sweet-scented babyscrote and bitter preacher’s clap, the bristly warlock’s taint and fragrant spinster’s beard. We ought be chasing rabbits through the chicken-nip bushes, and poking sticks into the dens of the corpse-nibbler gophers so we can set fire to them when they emerge, so they won’t raise their babies in a nest in our mouths when God’s let us down and mortality’s laid us low. We spend too much of our time doing nothing, when we’d never spend our money that way, and money -- all the money there is -- won’t buy you more time when yours has run out. Time is a non-renewable resource; you’re born with your gas tank full and you drive a road without stations, until you finally sputter, stop, and become someone’s sanitation problem. So while you’re here, you ought to have a delicious pot pie now and then, and a cola, then a brisk trot across the glen, where you can watch the little animals trying to climb atop one another and thrust each other full of genetic gland-water. Where their seed is spilled there grows the rank skeet-weed and the stunted spoogemuffin, called “nature’s clown” by botanists.

I believe that previously I have mentioned my fascination with clowns. I like to go to their funerals, especially. Once the circus came to town and late at night after a show the clowns got drunk and went out driving and ran their car under a freight train, mangled them all, thirty-two clowns dead, no survivors. Someone apparently made off with one of the decapitated heads as a souvenir. People think it was me, but they should know that if I had it I’d hang it over my bed so I could admire it in the moonlight during my long sleepless nights. How wonderful it would be to have the severed head of a clown, to drag through the streets on a string! That, my friend, is glory. To everything else we simply reconcile ourselves.

(sorry, I just felt a weird urge to turn in crazyshit this week... hope somebody thinks it's funny besides me... :) )


The Region Where the Air Is Music

This post concerns the magical, mysterious, honeydew-fed process that is songwriting.

I wrote my first song with lyrics, “U.V.A.,” when I was 19. I had been wanting and trying to write a song for years by that point, but when I sat down to play my guitar that day (2/24/89, in case you’re wondering), I had no idea I would actually write one.

I started tinkering around with some songs I already knew (probably by Elvis Costello or Billy Bragg) but grew bored and soon realized I didn’t want to play anything I typically played. I came to a full stop, looked at my still left hand resting on the fretboard, and started strumming. Liking what I heard, I opened my mouth to see what would come out. Two hours later, the song was finished.

This is the point at which I should have said (and maybe did say) “Man, that was easy.” I was more preoccupied, however, with one central question: where in the fuck did that song come from? I don’t mean the raw material, because that much I knew all too well: a girl, longing, and all that that entails. After looking at her across rooms, sending her anonymous love letters (complete with epigrams of Romantic poetry and the just-coined phrase “unrequited visual affection”), writing a terrible short story about her, phoning her pretending to be someone else, and finally telling/showing her who I was, I stuck it all in a song.

What I mean is, how did this song come leaping out of me? Answer: I don’t know. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now.

This same process has repeated itself many, many times over the last 21 years, and one running theme that became apparent early on was my propensity to horde song titles and write a song based on one of those horded titles. Below is a list of some of the songs I’ve written title first, from whence they came, and about what they are (as Yoda would ask), at least as far as I can recall.

“When I Grow Down” – A friend of mine and I were walking in between classes when she saw an unctuous frat boy we both disliked and said, “I like Barry SO much. When I grow down, I want to be just like him.”

“Bowhead” – As I once said to introduce this song, I wrote this while trying to learn the Greek alphabet off shirts in Perry Cafeteria.

“Beneficial Neglect” – This was the title of a paper my wife wrote in grad school. The song itself is about the one and only day I ever spent in daycare. And what a traumatic day it was.

“Going Dutch Means You’re Ugly” – I’m proud to say I just thought this phrase up out of nowhere, all by myself.

“Mullet Boy Enumerates” – While watching TV one day, I witnessed a local commercial that featured a mullet-sporting dude who was counting off on his fingers the benefits of whatever business he was hawking. Almost reflexively, I said out loud, “Mullet boy enumerates.” Months later, while consulting a list of titles to select one for a newly written song (which ended up being called “Life-Size Stencils”), I found “Mullet Boy Enumerates” atop this very same list and vowed that I was going to write this song tonight, by gum. So later that night, I picked up my guitar, said “here goes,” and wrote the song in 30 minutes. It was coming so fast that I had to write the lyrics down on a notepad lying nearby; I used one sheet from the notepad for each of the song’s verses, and I still have them as mementos (hear it at http://www.myspace.com/thepersiansms).

“Tomorrow Wants to Extend” – This is one crazy story. Back when I taught freshman comp, in the midst of a grading marathon, I leaned back in my chair, resting my head, looking up at the ceiling. Except that, due to my location in the room, I ended up looking not at the ceiling but at the backside of a student’s folder (at the bottom of a stack of research papers, probably as yet ungraded), the lower third of which extended out beyond the shelf, which is why I could see it at all. On the folder’s backside was (nay, is – I still have the folder, am looking at it right now) written the following, in this layout:

Florida Power & Light
Wants to extend

I must have sat there for five full minutes staring at that phrase, wondering how a selfish, smug, agnostic fool like me could deserve such a gift. I still wonder, actually (hear it at http://www.myspace.com/thepersiansms.)

“Spasmatron” – Thank you, Alec Eiffel, thank you, for discarding this gem of a song and title into my grubby mitts. When Alec and I were in Men from Nantucket, he offered me the music to a song called “Spasmatron,” the vocal melody and lyrics for which he apparently no longer liked. The music kicked unholy ass, so I wanted to do something with it. After months of nothing at all, inspiration struck on my way to the Gulf Coast for a vacation. Following a pit stop in Hattiesburg, my family and I piled back in the car and headed south. My wife and daughter went immediately to sleep, and my mind started looking for something to do. For reasons unexplained, Alec’s song leaped to mind, and all of a sudden (or, as an old redneck boss of mine used to say, “all of the sudden”), words started coming. Fast. By the time we got to the hotel in Biloxi, I had written every word and sussed out the entire vocal line and had, in fact, been singing it all softly to myself for miles so as not forget what I’d wrought (no pen or paper, no confidence in my ability to use pen/paper and traverse Highway 49 safely, no desire to awaken the ladies). The nanosecond we got up to our room, I grabbed the hotel stationery and wrote down the words, and then I called our answering machine at home (no ubiquitous cell phones at that point, kiddies!) to make sure I’d remember the vocal melody. The song exists in more or less that very form to this day and is, in fact, one of the Persians songs people seem to like the most. Sadly, I no longer have the hotel stationery or the recording of my frantic late-night, long-distance phone call (hear clips of this song at CD Baby and iTunes).

“So Help Me Something” – I earlier called myself an agnostic, though the older I get “atheist” is a more apt description. My irreligiosity can be petty, and one manifestation of this is my tendency to avoid saying the word “god” in any oath or adage (I find replacing “god” with “Bob” to be particularly rewarding, partially in honor of one of my heroes, Guided by Voices founder Bob Pollard – “In Bob We Trust,” “A Mighty Fortress Is Our Bob,” etc.). Yet one day I subconsciously decided to replace the deity with an all-purpose placeholder, and out popped “so help me something,” followed in close succession by the vocal melody and the song’s structural idea (chorus first and immediate). All this came so fast I sang into the VoiceNote function on my cell phone for safekeeping and then spent several weeks fleshing out the rest of the song’s details. (BTW, I posted about this song on the Persians’ myspace blog – you can read that at http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.ListAll&friendID=44061880&MyToken=ffaca06d-b665-4b77-b27c-70499250f78fML; scroll to the entry for May 26, 2006.)

“Orange Is for Eyebrows” – My Persian drummer’s younger daughter is a hellacious artist, and one of her drawings had this phrase as its title. What I like most is that such a sunny creation helped spawn a most malevolent-sounding song. Yar.

“That Kind of Funny” – This is a weird one too. While listening to They Might Be Giants’ fantastic “kids’” album No! for the umpteenth time, I started focusing on just why I find these songs funny. During the very first song, “Fibber Island,” I homed in on a couplet that had always caught my attention: “Here on Fibber Island we have mittens in our hair / You might need to stare to see the mittens in our hair.” I find this pair of lines hilarious but not in a knee-slapping, ow-my-face-hurts kind of way; something about the bald-faced repetition, coupled with the question of whether these lines even can legitimately be said to rhyme since they’re mostly composed of the same fucking words, made me say out loud, to absolutely no one, “It’s funny, but not that kind of funny.” Later that night, I sat down to play guitar, and this song came pouring out, a slacking, smartassed tale of two people on the outs who crumple to an end over a cynically metaphoric card game. Probably one of my better compositions all around (hear it at http://www.myspace.com/johnbrocatomusic).

“Are You Wearing Argyle?” – I spent many, many undergraduate hours scribbling song lyrics inside notebooks while sitting in core courses devoid of all pedagogical objective. I’m semi-proud to say I’ve carried this tradition over into alleged grown-up life, using worthless “meetings” as opportunities to forge things from the smithy of my soul, etc. So it was that one day I sat in a meeting with my legs stretched out in front of me (we were in an auditorium), and I happened to get a peek at my argyle-patterned socks. For reasons I will probably never understand, I instantly had this vision of a Tim Gunn-type maven standing over me asking, with barely contained derision, “Are you wearing argyle?” I actually laughed out loud, and then I quickly sobered up and commenced to writing the song, which was finished by the end of the meeting. I even had tiny chord-change notations above the lyrics so I’d remember what I wanted my hands to do (hear it at http://www.myspace.com/johnbrocatomusic).

“Mallory-Free” – Wife said to sister-in-law, “So, how’s your brother doing?” Sister-in-law said, “Oh, he’s fine. He called me the other day to tell me he’s officially Mallory-free.” And I just sat there, outwardly mute but writing and strumming decisively inside (hear it at http://www.myspace.com/thepersiansms).

The “Sparkler” songs – This, in my not-so-humble opinion, makes for the best story of all. The music and ethos of Dayton, Ohio’s Guided by Voices (defunct since 2004) have had an incalculable influence on me, and one of my favorite direct effects comes from the 1996 GBV documentary Watch Me Jumpstart, in a scene where Bob Pollard discusses how he’s been writing songs his whole life (3000 total is his estimate at that point) and what the process is like. Pollard says when he was in high school, he used his yearbook to create bands and their oeuvre: he would cut out (with scissors!) head shots of people and put them together, and then he’d create album covers and liner notes, and then – for me, this is the critical part – he’d create song titles for the albums. And then he’d write those songs, which is supposedly how some of the best GBV songs came to be.

I cannot describe how much I love the idea of this process, and from the time I heard it I wanted to do it myself. So, while driving around in the summer of 2006, I got behind a car with a bumper sticker that read as follows:


I thought two things: (1) What a stupid bumper sticker (yeah, like every other one’s a peach); and (2) What a kickass album title. I chewed on this for a few days, wrote down the bumper-sticker phrase, and (cue the Magic, the Mystery, the Honeydew Feeding) tried to let my mind pick the band name that would appear above and the song titles that would appear below the album title. I honestly don’t know how to explain the “tried to let my mind pick” thing; it’s sort of like seeing it on paper (through the, um, mind’s eye, etc.), but it most definitely involves a lack of effort – if I push too hard, the good stuff gets blown away. After 30-40 seconds of faux-clairvoyant not trying, what I had on the page was as follows:

Sparkler – Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, Hold On

1. Welcome
2. Being a Saint
3. Pony-Stolen Sickness
4. Sometimes a Ghost Is All You’ve Got
5. Football Blood
6. At Five in the Morning
7. Whose Notepad Are You?
8. Swing on By
9. Nobody Said You Couldn’t Say…
10. Lifetimes of Bionic Shyness
11. Harrumph

This I liked, but what happened next was even better. I’ve always let the muse come to me; this time I wanted to get all up in her ambrosia-sucking grill and shit. I made a solemn vow I would actually force myself to write these songs. (The only other time I’d forced myself to write was a country song called “Me and My Kind,” which went rather well.)

A week or 10 days probably went by before I could make time to attack this little project with the available time I hoped it would require. When the night came, I walked into the practice room, set down the Sparkler list in front of me, turned on my amp, strapped on my guitar, looked at the first song (“Welcome”), and began. About two minutes into the song, I stopped to turn on my recorder, because what was coming out seemed so good I was afraid of losing it all. I restarted “Welcome,” this time with the “record” button pressed, and when I was finished I began “Being a Saint,” again while recording. I performed these steps for every song on the list. After three hours, nine of them had discernible, sustainable content and structure, and six of them were damn near finished. I was amazed but cautious, since I was all too aware that a few hours could show me how good the new songs weren’t. Mais non – I woke up the next morning (unable, by the way, to remember from memory how any of those tunes went) and was ecstatically surprised to find that I thought all of the nine near-songs were keepers. Hell, more than that, really – I thought they were badass. Still do.

If memory serves, in two weeks I was totally done with the damn-near-finished six; I then made completed demos for my brother Persians, as always, and – happy day! – they liked them. We have since played them live many times. Some of these are available in raw demo form at http://www.myspace.com/johnbrocatomusic.

Since Sparkler, I’ve repeated this process several times in head and on paper but haven’t written the songs yet. My two favorites are below. The first is a band name inspired by GBV, whose song titles and lyrics provide me with a limitless supply of ideas: Kicker of Elves, my handle on this blog, is a GBV song title; I also occasionally gig as Ex-Supermodel, another GBV song that features a loud snore and the repeated lyric “So I write music for soundtracks now”; and the documentary title Watch Me Jumpstart is also a very excellent GBV song.

Sheetkickers – Daze of Wine and Poses

1. No Thunder
2. As You Were
3. Time Is In My Side
4. Hallowed Ground
5. Respectable Neighbor Society
6. Sunstroke
7. Have You Ever Made a Mistake?
8. Be There When the Lights Go Out
9. Shorten It Up
10. Daze of Wine and Poses
11. Ask Around
12. There Is a Better Way

This second example just popped out last week. While reading Cormac McCarthy’s biblically awesome Blood Meridian, I stumbled upon several pristine phrases that I wrote down for future use, including “drygulch phantom,” “deputation of spastics,” and “Whitneyville colts.” This last phrase, which refers to a famous make of Old-West gun, really stuck in my head as a badass band name, and this badassedness peaked to a point last week where I spewed forth the following.

Whitneyville Colts – Berate This Place
1. Ancient Jazz
2. Berate This Place
3. Conqueror Worms (Are At It Again)
4. Dams Have No Soul
5. Executioner’s Revenge
6. False Confessions
7. Get ‘Em While They’re Warm
8. Happy for Me, Sad for You
9. I Can’t Explain No Satisfaction
10. Jesus Was a Tenor
11. Knock-Knock (Give Me Back My Underwear Blues)
12. Left at the Y
13. Malediction Forbidding Morning

I envision Whitneyville Colts as equal parts Johnny Cash, Josh Homme, and the Drive-By Truckers. I fully plan on recording these songs this coming summer.

OK, all done now.


Pants on the ground!

Greetings, miscreants (and mistercreants). I would like to begin today's blog with this thing which mystified me. What's up with the song Jeffy (or Billy - I've been readin' the damn strip my whole life and I still don't know which is which) is singing here?

I googled it and apparently it's some song that's gotten popular on American Idol, but since I don't watch that crap, to me this was something Billy-Jeffy invented, and I was quite horrified at the implications. People tend to drop their pants for two main reasons, and neither of them would tend to be fodder for a lame family cartoon.

Anyway, that's the first Family Circus strip that's made me laugh since the Not Me and Ida Know ghosts waxed the stairs at Grandma's house.

Now, it's time for more movie reviews, and I slacked off last week so I gotta make it up to ya, so... pants on the ground, everybody!


Blood of Heroes, The (C, 1990) aka Salute of the Jugger. In the bleak post-nuke future, the world’s a wasteland and ragtag bands of “juggers” walk from town to town, playing a very violent sport where a player called a “qwik” tries to make it through armed fighters in order to put a dog skull on a stake. Rutger Hauer leads a very successful group of juggers, which is joined by Joan Chen, who has ambitions of getting into The League -- a professional rank of juggers who play in a city deep underground. Rutger used to belong to The League but got kicked out for messing with the wrong guy’s woman. Even though he’s lost an eye, he wants to challenge The League again, under Chen’s goading (which turns to fear when she sees how tough they really are). Filmed in Australia (look for Hugh Keays-Byrne -- the Toecutter from Mad Max - as Lord Vile) and written by David Peoples (who did Blade Runner), who also directed. The DVD is of the American print, which is 12 minutes shorter than the Aussie version; hopefully somebody will put the full version out someday. The film has a small cult, and supposedly there are guys in Germany who actually play the game (with padded weapons). It looks similar to duels that people in The Society For Creative Anachronism put on, with all the homemade armor and such. Might make a good double feature with the original Rollerball.

Dead Men Don’t Make Shadows (C, 1970) aka The Stranger The Kneels Beside the Shadow of a Corpse, Inginocchiati Straniero… I Cadaveri Non Fanno Ombra! Should a movie’s opening credits disprove its title? I don’t know, but it does. Hunt Powers is Lazar, a ruthless (but rather wooden) bounty hunter whose gimmick is a screw-on barrel extension for his pistol. Why he doesn’t just get a longer-barreled pistol or use a rifle, I don’t know, but I guess this looks cooler, even if he does a lot of his killing at point-blank range anyway. Chet Davis is Blonde, a gunfighter who’s foolish enough to let his enemies borrow his gun. He and Lazar are after each other, but agree to put off their duel long enough to shut down an oppressive mine owner (who looks like a 70’s wrestling manager), who’s been exploiting peasants. One of the people he’s been pushing around is a gypsy girl who’d be beautiful if she’d wash the soot off of her face. Come to mention it, everybody in the movie has sooty faces, and there’s a lot of pumpkin-colored fake-tan goop lathered on any exposed skin, too. This is one of those spaghetti Westerns where twenty bad guys can’t hit anything with rifles, but a good guy can nail them all by shooting back with a handgun from the hip, 100 yards away. If you’re into these movies, that won’t bother you too much, though, and the music score (always an important competent in these movies) is good.

Don Is Dead, The (C, 1973) aka Beautiful But Deadly, The Deadly Kiss. A mafia leader dies of a heart attack and his son Frankie isn’t quite experienced enough to take over his territory, so it’s divided between Anthony Quinn’s crime family and another, with the condition that Frankie will eventually inherit all of Quinn’s empire when he passes. Frankie is making deals with heroin, a business Quinn isn’t fond of, and while Frankie takes care of part of his drug dealings in Italy, Quinn does a favor for a friend involving a female singer. He starts an affair with her, not knowing that she’s Frankie’s girl. When Frankie gets back and finds out she’s been cheating on him (not knowing who with), he beats her up, enraging Quinn to the point of putting a hit on Frankie. Eventually Quinn cools down and tries to call it off, but it’s too late and an attempt has been made. Frankie aligns with a rival mob family and a gang war erupts, resulting in much murder. Excellent, violent gangster saga packs in hit after hit without sacrificing the plot or the quality of the filmmaking. This one deserves to be better known to fans of Godfather-type movies. Too many familiar faces in the cast to even try to list.

Driver, The (C, 1978) Ryan O’Neil is an icy cold wheelman, doing the getaway driving for bank robberies. Bruce Dern is a smarmy cop who’s determined to catch him… determined enough to let a couple of bank robbers go free if they’ll help set O’Neil up. O’Neil is suspicious but finally takes the bait, or at least makes it look that way so he can pull off a few tricks of his own. An old-school film noir plot is punched up with the maximum amount of car chases, crashes, and other action scenes (and it’s directed by Walter Hill so you know it’s all good). Underrated, with pared-down dialogue, hardboiled performances, and some of the best stunt driving around. One oddity: nobody in the movie has a name.

Electra Glide in Blue (C, 1973) Highly stylish cop film starring Robert Blake as a motorcycle cop named John Wintergreen, who is driven by a burning ambition to become a detective. He and his partners roust hippies and use Easy Rider posters for target practice, but his heart’s not in it. When an old desert rat ends up dead from an apparent shotgun suicide, Wintergreen figures out it was actually a murder. This puts him on the instant fast track to being a detective, but then he sleeps with the wrong woman and is sent back to his bike. Then he figures out what really happened with the “suicide” case and makes a rival detective look bad, then tries to carry on with his job… as far as that gets him. Kind of an existential establishment version of Easy Rider with excellent cinematography (the director waived his salary to hire top cameramen) and composition, and a good performance from Blake, warming up for Baretta. This film had to field accusations of being “fascist,” as did just about any movie about police at the time, but it also shows that there was plenty of corruption going on in the force, too -- it’s not a condemnation but it’s far from being a glorification.

Hanzo The Razor: Sword of Justice (C, 1972) aka Goyokiba, Sword of Justice. Shintaro Katsu has eyes! I’ve seen in in many Zatoichi movies and still barely recognized him here. He’s a samurai-era cop who’s good with a sword… and even better with his enormous male organ, which he uses to interrogate female suspects (he rapes them… but then stops if they don’t tell him what he wants to know). He’s also a big masochist, spending his off hours torturing himself and beating his meat… with a club. He refuses to sign a loyalty oath due to corruption in the police department, and uses informers who hid under outhouses to see if female suspects have public hair or not. He’s not above running total scams on suspects, either, planting bogus corpses and even fooling his own department. He also invents new torture/pleasure tactics, such as spinning women in nets over his member. The plot is hard to keep up with given the outrageousness the film is constantly distracting you with, so don’t feel bad if you forget about the story entirely and just view it as a freakshow. If you’ve watched Zatoichi before seeing this, it’s a very weird experience, since Zatoichi is such a humble good guy and The Razor is a cold, cruel, arrogant character. Ichi would be shocked by this guy. The violence tries to keep up with the sex, getting in some bloody massacres, all backed up by some funky music that sounds inspired by Shaft and Superfly. The lack of respect for women in this thing is offensive and indefensible, but the whole movie is so over the top and impossible to take seriously that few will bother working up much outrage.

House of Mad Souls, A (C, 2003) You know what’s a bad sign? When a movie starts off with a guy breaking up with his girlfriend, and then she goes home to brood… which is depicted by showing the entire scene again. Pacing isn’t going to be one of this director’s concerns. Anyway, the jilted woman in question is a doctor, and she’s so upset by the breakup that she leaves town to work in a new hospital. Her fool boyfriend then decides he misses her and gets mad at her for leaving. Screw that guy. Anyway, he gets scared off by the ghost of a little boy who’s haunting the hospital. The girl goes away, broods, and the scene plays over again. She keeps meeting this little Casper-like ghost boy under strange circumstances, and this triggers more flashbacks (but at least these are some we haven’t seen before) of her being nice to a little sick boy when she was an intern. Oddly enough, he looks exactly like the ghost boy! Do ya… do ya think… nah, couldn’t be! When she left to become a doctor, the boy got depressed, refused to eat, and died. His father, a doctor, went crazy and tried to resurrect him, and his been keeping his perfectly-preserved body at home, which keeps the child from going to the afterlife. Can our heroine save him? Very cheap-looking unscary Thai horror with a few really terrible special effects and an overly-melodramatic Hallmark-Channel-quality weak storyline. There’s not much to recommend this beyond the fact that the lead actress (Cindy Burbridge -- Miss Thailand World) is quite pretty. She looks mostly Caucasian, which is unusual for an Asian film’s lead. You won’t be missing much by avoiding this, but that’s okay because the DVD Tai Seng is marketing is so bad it’s hard to track down a DVD player that won’t choke on it; it froze up on almost every one I tried. If you manage to get it to play, you’ll see an ending that’s just another flashback-filled mess that looks like a video for a country music ballad.

Hurt Locker, The (C, 2009) War as an extreme sport. Sgt. James is a bomb-disarming expert in Iraq who’s made it through nearly a thousand bombs without blowing up, so he’s gotten a bit reckless and addicted to the adrenaline, and the challenge of pitting his skills against those of the bomb-makers is the most interesting thing he’s ever encountered. The other experts on his team (who see disarming bombs as a necessary evil and not an opportunity) have been at war long enough to think that punching each other in the stomach is a good time, but they’re still not quite as far gone as Sgt. James, and they’re afraid his addiction to intense situations is going to get them all killed. When a local wise-guy kid James likes is found murdered so an explosive device can be made from his corpse, even James starts getting rattled and more on-the-edge than even he wants to be. Very well done war film is packed with more suspense and intensity than just slam-bang action, and it’s more involving, engaging, and powerful because of it. The message isn’t exactly new (an old TV movie, The Ballad of Andy Crocker, came to some of the same conclusions back in 1969) but it’s still worth listening to. War is hell… and for some, hell is home. A must-see and should get the Oscar.

Impulse (C, 1974) aka I Love To Kill, Want A Ride Little Girl? When he was a little boy, William Shatner’s character used a samurai sword to kill a man who was trying to rape his mother, and it had an effect on him as an adult, triggering a rage that causes him to strangle his girlfriend. He has no problems find new girls, though, and is promptly hooked up with the pretty young mother (Ruth Roman) of a bratty blonde girl who shouts a lot and breaks dishes. Shatner plans to steal from his new girlfriend, but her pesky daughter keeps witnessing murders he commits, which gets in his way even though no one believes her. If you’ve ever wanted to see a man (specifically Harold “Odd Job” Sakata) go through a car wash without a car, this is your chance. Despite what Leonard Maltin’s book says, Shatner’s character isn’t a child molester, although he would like to murder one. Director William Grefe (a Florida-based semi-hack responsible for snakes-instead-of-rats Willard variant Stanley, and human-jellyfish monster flick Sting of Death, among others) can’t control Shatner, whose usual overacting really gets out of hand now that he’s playing a psycho. He weeps, bounces around childishly, gets overwrought, and leaves no bit of scenery free of his teeth marks. The film may have been sponsored by a leisure suit company, because Shatner’s polyestered to the maximum allowable by law. Perhaps scariest of all, he shows up in one scene wearing bright red pants and a striped tank top. Now that’s horror. Entertainingly incompetent.

Kansas City Bomber (C, 1972) Y’know something? Raquel Welch can act. And you also have to admire how game she is, because she did most of her own stunts in this roller derby drama, and they’re rough (she broke her wrist). Raquel loses a loser-leave-town match and gets traded to a new team, where she faces professional jealousy from her teammates, especially since management is trying to push her to the top spot on the team. The executives try to seduce her, and her main rival on the team tries to smash her into the rail at every opportunity. In her personal life she argues with her mom and tries to maintain a relationship with her kids -- Jodie Foster, who idolizes her, and her son, who’s very quiet and alienated (and if he’s like any other male whose mom looked like Raquel, probably suffering from an Oedipus complex!). Raquel does a good job at being rough and belligerent on the track and vulnerable and sympathetic off of it. Not very plot-heavy but has enough action and drama (and maybe just a wee bit of unintentional comedy, which any serious movie about roller derbies is destined to have) to keep it moving along nicely… if you really need anything beyond looking at ‘72 vintage Raquel for an hour and a half, that is.

Kitten With A Whip (B&W, 1964) Breakdown-of-the-social-order delinquent nightmare starring Ann-Margaret as a feral, manipulative runaway who breaks into candidate-for-senator John Forsythe’s house. She tells him she’s running from an abusive home, and out of pity he helps her out and puts her on a bus… then finds out from a TV news bulletin that she’s a violent escapee from juvenile hall. She comes back to his house, blackmailing him (by threatening to accuse him of rape) into following her orders. She phones up three fellow psychotics (two guys and a girl) who have a party in his house, then force him to drive them to Tiajuana. Fairly intense and has style; pretty underrated and strongly plays on the early-60’s paranoia that hip, nonsense-talking nihilistic teens would steamroller the establishment and spread anarchy. As others have noted, this would make a great double-feature with Lady in a Cage (and if you’ve got time for a third, throw Hot Rods To Hell in there, too). Unfortunately the only DVD available is one of those overpriced home-burned DVD-R’s that Warner and Universal are putting out now; you pay more for a less-durable product, but if it’s the only way you can get it, go for it. TCM shows it sometimes, so you may hold out for that. (It's on Friday night/Saturday morning of the 20th of this month, at 1 a.m. Central, so set yer timers, it's worth it!)

MST3K version (but fuck MST3K for thinking this is a "bad movie" - they know nothing!)

Nightmare Alley (B&W, 1947) Superior film noir based on William Lindsay Gresham’s classic novel. An ambitious carnival worker named Stan (Tyrone Power) experiences a great rise but an exponentially-worse fall when he gets a mind-reader named Zeena to teach him a secret clairvoyant act. He connives everyone around him and breaks away from the carnival, marrying a pretty showgirl (Coleen Gray) and making her a part of a nightclub act that rakes in big bucks. But his single-minded selfishness -- and meeting a psychologist who’s his moral equal -- will land him in a nightmare worse than he’d ever dreamed. Well-made and unjustifiably hard to track down until they finally made it available on DVD. It’s ahead of its time in that it serves as a parable about money-and-power-grubbing televangelist types. If there was a god, this is how Pat Robertson would end up…

Pontypool (C, 2008) An interesting idea ultimately undone by too-implausible ridiculousness, this zombie-style outbreak film is as much akin to Talk Radio as 28 Days Later. In the small Canadian town of Pontypool a former shock-jock (given the cowboy hat and that his face looks like an old wallet I’m guessing he’s patterned on Don Imus) starts his new morning shift job. The station starts getting reports of rioting and acts of bizarre violence down the street, and soon the station’s under siege by townspeople who’ve turned into homicidal crazy zombie-types, due to some kind of plague. And the movie’s great to that point… but then a doctor shows up and they figure out that the zombie-psycho-whatever virus is spread by the English language, and that’s where the premise gets too stupid to bear up under its own weight. The rest of the movie has the DJ and the girl who does his programming hiding in the station, stringing random words together and trying to turn the language into nonsense, and it’s too silly to deal with anymore. Even a zombie film needs some basis in plausible cause-and-effect, and ordinary, commonly-used words suddenly turning magically viral is just too blockheaded for me. Other than that, broadcasting-on-the-night-of-the-living-dead is a great idea (and one I independently came up with about 10 years ago but unfortunately never did anything with). Too bad it took a wrong turn. The filmmaking is decent, though, and there are good performances, so it’s still worth checking out.

Prison Break
(B&W, 1938) A happy-go-lucky fisherman named Joaquin Shannon wants to marry a girl, but her family’s opposed to it. She walks out on them to be with Joaquin, but her brother comes around starting trouble and ends up getting murdered by a mugger. Joaquin thinks a friend of his did it while drunk, so he confesses to manslaughter to protect his friend, figuring he’ll be out of prison in a year for good behavior. But good behavior in prison isn’t as easy as he’d figured on, because a notorious tough guy named Red Kincaid (the underrated Ward Bond) comes back into prison and tries to boss Joaquin the way he does everyone else. Joaquin’s not impressed and won’t go along with Red’s schemes, and that earns him a dangerous enemy and puts his good-behavior plans in jeopardy. His parole is denied and he ends up with a 5 year sentence. Joaquin foils a prison break that Red tried to pull off and that earns him a parole, but life on the outside has its problems, too, since his fiancĂ©’s father is determined to make his life miserable. Standard B-picture stuff, but entertaining.

Sorority Row (C, 2009) Six cunty Theta Pi girls are trying to play a prank on one of them’s brother, making him think he killed their friend Megan with some bad date-rape drugs. They drive to the middle of nowhere under the pretense of helping him hid the body, and the fool decides to help dismember Megan by stabbing her in the chest with a tire tool. Now that Megan is actually dead, they hide her body for real and decide to cover the crime up and carry on with their sybaritic little lives. But somebody with a grudge decides they’d be better off dead and starts impaling them (usually through the mouth - there’s a definite objects-in-girls’-mouths obsession going on here) with a tire tool that’s been customized to incorporate blades and such. This may be the stupidest idea for a murder weapon every scripted. Rather glib, we-know-our-audience-is-stupid-so-we’re-not-going-to-make-much-effort slasher film that exploit’s a fact that everyone but sorority girls are in on, and that’s that nobody really likes sorority girls. The characters are so vapid and self-centered that I’m not sure if you’re supposed to fear for them or root against them. Luckily a few frat guys are around to get snuffed, too. Score! This is somewhat of a remake, but more a re-imagining of, The House On Sorority Row, which isn’t exactly a classic. It’s still better than this one, though, which is pretty much a Girls Gone Wild video with less nudity and an occasional mild gore effect. It never builds any fear, partially because even the girls don’t seem particularly frightened, reacting to the corpses they find as inconvenient at worst, making jokes and looking for their boyfriends and trying to get this whole “crazed killer” problem dealt with so they can get back to their kegger. It’s not boring, but it sure is stupid. I pretty much suckered myself into watching it because Jamie Chung was cute in a preview, and the film makes it clear right off the bat (in a lazy-way-to-characterize “I love you because” session) that she’s only in it for “diversity.” Despite the sledgehammer approach to character development, I never really got a sense of two of the girls… and the survival rate means they’re the heroes! Go figure. Greg Evigan’s daughter and Bruce Willis’s daughter are in this, which means nepotism isn’t always beneficial.