Rock's Cheapo Theatre of the Damned

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I bailed on this one pretty early, shortly after Popeye shows up.
You should give it another chance. It's strong to the finish.
Last Great Movie Seen
Crossfire (Dmytryk, 1947)

I see Private Lessons is on Tubi. Can anyone vouch for that one?

Is that the one withHoward Hessman?

If so, not so good. But I was also probably 10 when I saw it so it's cinematic nuances may have been lost on me

You should give it another chance. It's strong to the finish.
It seemed to blow its wad in the opening credits. (Didn't he also kung-fu Father Merrin?) I'll give it a good will shot if I find an acceptable copy. The one I saw looked like someone placed a VHS camera at a 16mm projection, blurry with heads and margins severely cropped and a little crooked.

I see Private Lessons is on Tubi. Can anyone vouch for that one?
I prefered My Tutor, but they're both trash. Maybe try Class instead, which is still trash, but Jacqueline Bisset has an amazing orgasm.

Soldier Blue (Nelson, 1970)

I consider myself a pretty hardened viewer when it comes to onscreen violence. It would be pretty hard to sustain an interest in horror and exploitation were I squeamish. But Soldier Blue bothered me in this respect. I mean this in a good way. This is a movie about the Sand Creek massacre, and the climax depicts the event in unflinching detail. The opening scene, where the Cheyenne attack a paymaster's escort, hints at the level of violence to come, but doesn't fully prepare us for the bracing impact of the massacre. Certainly, I can't think of a movie where this many women and children are murdered, and in such nauseating detail, being subject to headshots, decapitations and disembowelments, which the camera captures with perfect clarity. (The handsome cinematography makes the violence more startling as well. One would normally expect such gruesome images in a dingier presentation.) One might take issue with the splatter movie gusto with which this is delivered, but I think there's a certain integrity here, matching horrific events with horrific images. I understand the version released into theatres had twenty minutes of even more gruesome violence cut out. From the sounds of it, it would have made the movie play like Cannibal Ferox and the like. Would it have been too much? Perhaps for most viewers, but I can respect when a movie goes all out.

Outside these scenes however, the movie fumbles. Now, I don't expect a fifty year old Hollywood movie to measure up to modern notions of onscreen representation, and I do think there's a way to make a movie about historical injustices towards Native Americans framed through a white perspective. (I know there's been a lot of discussion in recent years about who should be allowed to tell what stories. It's a tricky subject, and I'm sympathetic to arguments on different sides of the debate, but I do find it sometimes gets conflated with the subject of representation in front of and behind the camera.) The bigger problem here is that there are none of the Native Americans in the movie are actual characters. We're supposed to feel for their plight, but the movie never bothers to engage with them as actual human beings, just plot points and ultimately victims. The final scenes are ugly and unpleasant enough that they make the point the movie pushes, but the surrounding film doesn't do much of the heavy lifting, and I can see why some found the movie ultimately dehumanizing. (While I alluded to this debate being somewhat modern, it was interesting to see that Ebert had the same criticisms in his review.) This movie was intended as an allegory for the Vietnam War, and specifically evokes the My Lai Massacre, but its distance makes this dimension ring hollow as well. (In contrast, I think of The Beast of War, an underrated war movie about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and how that movie functions as a Vietnam allegory by having us directly identify both with Afghans, with their dialogue entirely in Pashto, and the Soviet aggressors, even as they commit war crimes.)

In between the violence of the opening and climactic scenes, the follows two white survivors from the opening attack: a greenhorn Union soldier played by Peter Strauss and a woman played by Candice Bergen who was formerly married to a Cheyenne leader. The tone of their scenes is oddly humorous, like the dynamic between Robert Redford and Jane Fonda in Barefoot in the Park. I like that movie, and I didn't find these scenes entirely uninvolving, but they strained the movie's credibility. Bergen gives speech after speech about injustices towards Native Americans (again, in place of us spending much time with any of them), and her overall vibe is that of a hippie chick, not someone who may have plausibly lived in the 1860s. Meanwhile, Strauss is so inept and clumsy that it's hard to buy him as a soldier, even an inexperienced one. One would have guessed he'd shot his foot off in basic training or something, and Bergen spends the majority of the movie saving his ass in all manner of situations. (Of course they get at least one extremely '70s-style montage.) It's worth noting that all of this is exquisitely shot by Robert B. Hauser, who until this point had mostly worked in television. (The following year he would work on Le Mans, the Steve McQueen movie which translated a Formula 1 race into pure feeling.) Anyway, it's a shame that the movie is largely a mess, because it is fairly well intentioned despite its failings, and worth seeing on the strength of the climax.

La Femme-Object (Mulot, 1981)

Hey, let me ask you a question. You like that movie Frankenstein? (Or book, whatever, nobody likes a smartass.) You do, do you? How about if Dr. Frankenstein made the monster so he could have sex with him? Would you like it then? Would you like it if Colin Clive did the horizontal mambo with Boris Karloff in monster make-up? No? Not even if it was captured in stunning German expressionist inspired cinematography? No?!? What if it was shot in colour and Frankenstein's monster was a good looking lady? Now that I've subjected to all these guiding questions (would you like if the monster was sleazy and demure?), if that last scenario is something that tickles your fancy, do I have the movie for you. It's called La Femme-Objet, also known by titles such as Programmed for Pleasure and, in a German Blu-ray release, Science Fiction Lady, which one is only allowed to say in a Jerry Lewis voice.

The plot concerns a science fiction author played by Richard Allan whose sexual appetite so voracious that it presents him with a distinct problem: he keeps wearing his partners out. (Allan resembles a bearded Ringo Starr; I understand there's a new Beatles documentary, so if you're looking for some complementary programming, this is one option. It's also worth noting that he has amazing fashion sense. It's probably a good indication of where my head is at these days when I was more intrigued in one scene by the texture of his sportcoat and the reverse pleats on his trousers than the fact that he was jacking off.) His girlfriend at first seems cool with it, until he starts ****ing her while he's doing the dishes. (It's a miracle she doesn't drop any.) He then hires a secretary, who seemingly quits after a day, during which he subjects her to hourly trips to Bonetown (population: you and me, baby!). After starting work on a film adaptation of his book, he gets a brilliant idea: why doesn't he just create a robot to fulfill his sexual needs? And of course, after having somehow picked up the necessary brain genius knowledge, he ends up bringing to life a sexy female robot played by Marilyn Jess who is perpetually DTF. Yet it's only a matter of time until the tables are turned...

This is a movie from Alpha France, the big French porn studio at the time. I'd previously seen a few productions and had found myself left a bit cold by most of them. Part of this is because I'd watched subpar transfers with dubbing, which likely hampered by enjoyment. And there's the fact that I don't have the same context for classic French porn that I do for the American Golden Age, where seeing certain performers brings me an innate amount of joy and the creative influences I find easier to engage with. But there's also a certain condescension I've found with most of these Alpha France movies (and granted, I've only seen a handful), where the movies seem to pursue viewer enjoyment at the expense of the characters. (The most egregious was Indecencies 1930, which played an extended sexual assault for lowbrow laughs.) La Femme-Objet is directed by Claude Mulot, whose Belles D'Un Soir I'd previously seen, and both films deal with subverting fantasy scenarios. That movie dealt with a bunch of bored housewives pursuing sexual freedom from their inattentive husbands and having the plan go hilariously sideways, while this deals with a hero completely beholden to his appetites.

More than most vintage pornos I've seen, this movie is pretty much wall-to-wall sex (and primarily with just one male performer), with the scenarios almost uniformly off-the-cuff. The effect is a little monotonous (even well filmed hardcore ****ing carries only so much inherent interest, and when it's pretty much nonstop, one's mind can wander), but intentionally so. While the hero is creative enough to invent a ****-robot (and the movie satirizes the process with cheaply stylized mise en scene), his erotic imagination remains pointedly limited, and there's a certain poetic justice with the ending. Allan and Jess play their roles with relative magnetism (I'm not sure how good an actress the latter is, but she nails the role of a hot lady sexbot), but the former's one track mind and the latter's lack of humanity result in a certain hollowness that made it hard for me to really be moved by the conclusion. All that being said, this is executed with a decent amount of style, thanks to the attractive decor, handsome cinematography (the Pulse Video blu-ray is stunning and renders vividly the rich colours on display) and a soundtrack that sounds like if Kraftwerk scored a porno.

High School U.S.A. (Amateau, 1983)

I recently revisited John Hughes' Sixteen Candles. It's a movie that has certain, uh, problems (*cough*racism*cough*date rape*cough*). But it's also grounded in a certain emotional reality with respect to high school life. The moments that feel more artificial, like the presence of the "Peter Gunn" theme on the soundtrack, feel more cohesive than the musical interludes in Hughes' later The Breakfast Club, as the movie convinces you that this is a song that would be playing in the heads of its most hopelessly geeky yet supremely confident character. And with a couple of extremely winning central performances from Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, the overall experience is warm and affable enough to make it a pretty engaging watch despite its flaws.

High School U.S.A. is similar in that it contains some pretty endearing performances, but differs in that seems divorced from any realistic sense of high school life. The movie takes place in a high school that's seemingly run by the school bully. I don't mean in the figurative sense where all the other kids are afraid of him. Here the bully is obscenely wealthy (yet his parents are never seen; is he a self-made man?) and seems to control the administrative side of the school as well. You see, he dangles his wealth over the teachers with a promise of a $10,000 cash prize and a trip to Europe in order to get them to do his bidding. This is also a movie where the hero, despite not living with his parents (or any adults) and seemingly being destitute, somehow lives in a comfortable suburban home. And when the hero challenges the bully to a dangerous, ill-advised race, the adults around him (including the principal) cheer him on, instead of trying to smack some sense into him like any sane adult in a movie even close to real life would. Like the vigilante genre slid into the unreal and hyperbolic during this time, so did the high school movie extract its tropes from the plane of reality and launch them into the realm of fantasy.

The most notable thing about the movie is the cast. A pre-Back to the Future Michael J. Fox plays the hero, and displays some of the same liveliness and star quality he would show in his breakout movie. A pre-Revenge of the Nerds Anthony Edwards plays the villain, and given how good he is at playing nice guys, it's pretty novel to see him as a preppy *******. There's also an especially dweeby Crispin Glover, seemingly playing the even lamer brother of his Jimmy "Dead ****" Patrick character. Truth be told, there are probably too many characters, and the movie shuffles through them like throwaway gags on a sitcom, a feeling enhanced by the television background of many of its stars. Why does Todd Bridges invent a robot ready for space travel and then bring it to the prom? Why are the two nerdy girls trying to get a picture of Anthony Edwards' ass (a nice, gender-bending twist on the usual horndog antics in these movies)? Why does Michael J. Fox fake an accident involving Bob Denver's brand new sportscar? These are questions that High School U.S.A. raises without answering with much satisfaction, but the vibes were good enough for me to let it slide.

The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher (Steckler, 1979)

Ray Dennis Steckler had been making slasher-esque movies since the early '70s, but by the time the slasher wave actually arrived, it's interesting how out of time his efforts felt. Take The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher, which follows two parallel killing sprees by the eponymous murderers. The Hollywood Strangler is played by Pierre Agostino, who perfectly embodies the kind of person you'd cross the street to avoid and usually looks like he's bitten into a lemon. (He also wears a Canadian tuxedo, which I maintain can be a great look in the right hands. These are the wrong hands.) Over the course of the movie, he books model after model for a number of racy photoshoots, only to be repulsed by (in his esteem) their tawdry nature and therefore feeling the need to strangle them to death. (One wonders if this isn't a self fulfilling prophecy, given that he's setting up the shoots. A bit of a hypocrite on top of being a murderous lunatic, if you ask me. Also worth noting that one of the models pokes her breast and goes "Boop!", and folks, I laughed.) Meanwhile, the proprietor of a pornographic bookstore, played by Steckler's ex-wife Carolyn Brandt, goes around stabbing hobos to death, an act usually captured with a barrage of shadowy, canted angles. (I did notice one shot where her switchblade had blood before she'd stuck her victim. Sticklers for technical proficiency are best to steer clear of the director's work. No sticklers for Steckler, is what I'm saying.)

Brandt is a reliably cheerful presence in Steckler's movies, but here she looks surly, which is perhaps in character but still dampens the proceedings noticeably. What happened to the actress who danced so joyously with Rat Pfink, Boo Boo and the gorilla in Rat Pfink a Boo Boo, or who made time to play catch with a briefcase full of heroin in Body Fever? One wonders if the years spent helping Ray on his pornos, including doing porno dialogue over narration in Red Heat, didn't take its toll. This borrows that movie's structure with its parallel murder/crime stories, but perhaps due to the absence of the obligatory sex scenes, it holds together a bit better. Like that movie, there's a fair bit of padding with Vegas street footage, but this one finds more squalid locations to complement the bright lights, giving the whole thing a seedy atmosphere, a tour of Vegas' B-sides, the parts the tourism board doesn't want you to see. (Yes, I realize Hollywood is right there in the title, but there's a good amount of Vegas in the finished product.)

Probably the most intriguing reading of this movie is through the lends of Steckler's relationship with Brandt. Agostino's character is reeling from his ex-wife having left him, and the connective tissue between the two plot threads is provided by Brandt catching Agostino's eye and Agostino then trying to work up the courage to ask her out (more or less). One wonders if between takes, Steckler didn't nudge Brandt here and there, suggesting that the two of them made such a great team that maybe it'd be nice to get back together, completely oblivious to any signals she's sending to the contrary. Perhaps that's why Brandt spends the whole movie frowning. I assumed the divorce was amicable, but also suspect the goodwill had started to run out.

While it's probably not appropriate for me to speculate on the status of Steckler and Brandt's relationship, one must note that she did not return for the follow-up, Las Vegas Serial Killer. This one brings back Agostino (now with a much more unpleasant speaking voice) and replaces Brandt with two guys in black shirts who make untoward comments about women and occasionally try to rob them. There's a half hearted attempt to cast Agostino as a Richard Speck analogue, as well as some references to the movie star Cash Flagg, which was a pseudonym Steckler used as an actor. Brandt's absence is definitely felt, and this one has even more Vegas street footage (but without the dingier locations for atmosphere), but shares an intriguing sense of narrative drift in light of the maddeningly uneventful proceedings. (Like Blood Shack, we even take a trip to the rodeo.) Both movies have soundtracks that are chintzy but sometimes atmospheric, at least when the synths start droning, and at a time when the slasher genre had become increasingly codified, their conceptual and structural crudeness give them a strangely archaeological quality. Truth be told, I wasn't concentrating too closely when I watched these, but found them strangely engaging on that level. Had I tried to pay full attention, I suspect my brain would be leaking out of my ears.

I think Steckler might end up being my most watched director this year, heh.

An interesting selection of films.