In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast we discuss the witless camp of “Beware! The Blob” – the 1972 follow-up to the original monster movie classic with a surprisingly catchy theme song and galaxy of stars improvising their way through a sitcom version of the original story. Plus, Dean Cundey puts blob goop on a kitten’s cute little paws.
Then, it’s back the the future of Blob technology with the 1988 version, featuring AMAZING special effects but nothing else to recommend it – unless you’re a Del Close completist, in which case you’ll actually need to see both blobs. Be an upright citizen and enjoy!
The legend of Roger Corman could be entirely summed up by the 50-plus years longevity of The Little Shop of Horrors, a film shot under the most chintzy of circumstances which has nonetheless lived on as a musical adaptation and as a perennial staple of cult horror-comedy. What’s odd is how despite being made by his usual gang of misfits and dope addicts, it’s a real oddity in his oeuvre as a producer because he so seldom made comedies. Charles B. Griffith’s screenplay for Little Shop, however, is arguably one of the greatest comedy screenplays ever written and Corman’s few other dark comedies – A Bucket of Blood and Gas-s-s-s are quite excellent. Obviously he preferred more financially reliable b-movie genres, which is our loss.
It’s easy to take a movie like Little Shop of Horrors for granted, but as we discuss in this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, irreverent and even mildly “tasteless” humor was in pretty short supply when the film was made and Griffith’s particular brand of weirdo Beatnik by-way-of Borscht Belt humor is a pretty singular achievement. The film has a unique voice and rather than feeling cramped and slapdash by the nonexistent budget, its comedy feels intimate and casual – which is to say, its flaws become its strengths and that’s the surefire miracle which redeems any film of limited means. The weirdest moments concerning the talking plant Audrey Jr, the sadistic dentist Dr. Farb and a deadpan-ad-absurdum parody of Dragnet have an integrity and conviction which wouldn’t have been present in a more polished film. Little Shop of Horrors paved the way for dozens of weird horror-comedies over the years; its influence can be felt from Spider Baby to Basket Case to less overtly “horror” type comedies that are seemingly populated by genuine crazies – like the films of John Waters or Alex Cox’s immortal Repo Man.
Of course, for a lot of people the only noteworthy thing about Little Shop of Horrors is that it features one of Jack Nicholson’s earliest, and most twisted roles as a masochistic dental patient named Wilbur Force. His two minute scene is certainly the most important part of the film to home video distributors, who were all to glad to trick unsuspecting consumers into thinking he starred as Seymour Krerlboine.
A lame ripoff of the Addams Family theme begins the 1973 Little Shop cash-in Please Don’t Eat My Mother, which is of all things a pornographic remake. Unlike your straightforward pornographic parody film, PDEMM straddles an uncomfortable line between being awful soft porn and simply an unfunny remake of Little Shop. Amazingly, there’s enough resemblance to the original film to strongly suggest that Carl Monson (or at least the writer) was a genuine fan of the Corman movie. Unfortunately everything run through the ringer of Please Don’t Eat My Mother comes out with a filmy, sludgy residue from which no entertainment value can be wrung, let alone titillation.
NEXT EPISODE: SAINT VALENTINES DAY (MASSACRE) SPECIAL! THE ST. VALENTINES DAY MASSACRE (1967, ROGER CORMAN) / SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959, BILLY WILDER)
It’s time, it’s time. Put on your masks and watch…watch. Two days after Halloween, Halloween, the last thing you’d want to do is watch Halloween. An ubiquitous classic, but your reserves have run out for critical analyses of John Carpenter’s horror classic because Rob Zombie so thoroughly sullied the original idea with modern vulgarity and took all the magic away by making Myers a troubled, bullied youth.
You may think those scare us, you’re probably right. Remakes and Zombie on Halloween night? Nah, An Alan Smithee Podcast has waited until the day after Halloween to watch Halloween and an unrelated film (unrelated except by sheer force of a duped viewer’s internal justifications): The Day After Halloween, which was not filmed under that title and has gone by several others. The video distributors knew this Australian turkey (both the Aussie and Golden Turkey sense) called Snapshot wouldn’t sell rentals unless the invisible hand of the market picked you up off a shelf of virtually indistinguishable Halloween ripoffs. Being Australian, they gambled that they’d get away with sticking Halloween in the title and 30 years later, it’s the only reason anyone’s talking about it. So who’s really laughing last?
IMDB being IMDB, they’ve listed the film by its least well known alternate title, One More Minute, just as they’ve reduced the incredibly good Deliverance imitation Rituals to its most exploitative namesake, The Creeper.
To mix things up, the version of Halloween that we’re viewing has a few extra scenes added for television, gently playing with the rhythm of the acts without adding any blatant connections to Halloween II, thankfully. The only element in the mix of Snapshot of interest is the presence of Vincent Gil, the ill-fated Nightrider from Mad Max – the screechy rocker, roller and out-of-controller who gets blow’d up real good in the opening chase scene. Here, he plays a gay fashion photographer who doesn’t raise his voice even once. What a disappointment. There’s another connection the film has to Mad Max (small country, huh?) but you’ll have to listen to the episode to find out.
The larger problem with The Day After Halloween is that Snapshot is only remotely a suspense or a “thriller” film, let alone a slasher flick.
Enjoy this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast as we squeeze out the last few precious drops of Halloween cheer from an already rotting pumpkin.
NEXT EPISODE: FLETCH (1985, MICHAEL RITCHIE) & FLETCH LIVES (1989, MICHAEL RITCHIE)
For a long time, Carrie was a title that evoked a reaction from perhaps more non-fans than fans of the genre, and this is the highest compliment you can pay the authors. The name conjures a very broad idea of high school, with many variations depending on one’s personal memories of that time in their lives, all retaining the common thread of inherent hellishness within the walls of that mythologized American institution. Who among us (who are reading this) has not at one time imagined themselves the social scapegoat of their entire school, and subsequently imagined themselves the avenging angel of the prom that Sissy Spacek became?
Carrie was not merely the first horror film to deal with the unpleasantness of high school, but one of the first American films, period. Incredibly, the film includes John Travolta a mere two years before he helped heap on more of the same bullshit about the best years of our lives in Grease, nearly undoing all the pig-killing work he accomplished for Brian De Palma. As a film, Carrie is so damned good that even though every single detail has been parodied and referenced relentlessly in the past 35 years, it detracts not one whit from the viewing experience. This is the highest and rarest compliment you can pay to anything enmeshed in mass pop culture unconsciousness.
A shame then that Carrie does not enjoy the same reverence it once did for so long, even amongst horror fans. Whatever cache it once held has depleted and wouldn’t you know, there’s a remake on the way to rewrite history for the young unknowing. Tragically the film has suffered a fate cousin to the pain of the bullied – the pain of anonymity.
Before the anonymity, there was an intervening period of post-Scream quasi-recognition for young movie fans: those weird years of normalization when the New Horror of the 70s became accepted and dulled by the mainstream. This was a time of opportunistic revivalist sequels: if a Scream fan was likely to at least have heard of Carrie, some executive somewhere reasoned, then why not make a sequel? Whatever shallow inspirations led to the production of The Rage: Carrie 2, you can at least say on it’s behalf that unlike filmmakers in the modern era of soulless remakes, the authors of this poor sequel at least had some kind of reverence for the original. That doesn’t translate to a good film because unfortunately, the authors were also idiots. They bring back Amy Irving as Sue Snell from part one and, her for exposition and carelessly discard her.
Worse than being stupid, The Rage is also sorely bland. The influence of TV on film can be seen plainly going from Carrie 1 to 2 – for all of De Palma’s visual glossiness, the high school of Carrie felt like it could be a real place. The school of Carrie 2 is a WB (CW now) teen drama, down to each melodramatic story point and especially Carrie 2 herself, who is conventionally attractive and nothing at all like Spacek’s wonderfully awkward misfit.
Incidentally, The Rage: Carrie 2 came out the same year as the Freddie Prinze Jr classic, She’s All That. Both films are alike in their basic teen-soap logic that all an attractive girl needs to do to be made over into someone even more attractive is take off her glasses. They really should’ve been the same movie, with Rachel Leigh Cook torching the big dance at the end. They could’ve just made a film of the infamous Carrie: The Musical.
NEXT WEEK: WITCH MARRIAGE SPECIAL! I MARRIED A WITCH (1942, RENE CLAIR) & BEWITCHED (2005, NORA EPHRON)
With the fabulous, sensational and hyperbolic debut of a new Muppet movie, the online podcasting world has been all abuzz as to how An Alan Smithee Podcast will score one or two extra Google hits on the ensuing carnage by pairing one good Muppet movie with one bad one which isn’t the new one. Just kidding, The Muppets is actually half decent and a welcome relief to millions of parents choosing between it and Fred Claus. The only muppet movie we could really choose for a bad one is Muppets From Space, which like The Muppets is only a bad movie by the standard of other muppet movies.
Our good Muppety film is the very first one, 1979′s The Muppet Movie, a film which not only celebrated the triumph of Jim Henson’s vision on television but stood as a magical achievement in puppetry as well. This and Star Wars really heralded the arrival of puppetry into state of the art special effects for the following decade, as Kermit and company convincingly co-exist with our world to a degree that had never been seen before. In hindsight of Jim Henson and The Muppets’ legacy since 1979, the story of the Muppets meeting each other and banding together only grows more poignant as time goes on. If you don’t get piss shivers when those first banjo notes of “The Rainbow Connection” play over the helicopter shot of Kermit’s swamp and the title “Produced by Jim Henson” appears, you’re one cold fish. Presumably you’re not, as only true misers and curmudgeons could reject the earnest showmanship of the Muppets and if that’s the way you feel, you wouldn’t be watching The Muppet Movie in the first place.
By the way, why didn’t “The Rainbow Connection” beat out stupid “Norma Rae” for Best Song at the 1980 Oscars? Either the Academy is full of Commies or they thought people would be confusing Kermit’s with that other song about rainbows which won an Oscar 40 years earlier.
Two decades later, the diminished stature and ambition of The Muppets as a continuing part of pop culture couldn’t be better represented in the film Muppets From Space. Unlike the other relatively successful, Henson-less Muppets films of the 90s, Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, From Space suffers from a serious lack of scale. The story plays out like an episode of some fictitcious Muppets sitcom, right down to the limited number of locations and reliance on Jeffrey Tambor. Fans of the short-lived Muppet Show revival Muppets Tonight! will at least appreciate the deference to characters created for that series such as Pepe the Prawn, Dr. Phil Van Neuter and Bobo the Bear. The conceit of the film – the Gonzo the Great is finally alerted to the origin of his species by messages from outer space – is less the response to unanswered (and unasked) questions about Gonzo’s animal type than the response of uninspired writers to the wave of interest in paranormal alien activity that washed over docile post-Cold War / pre-9/11 America’s imagination throughout the 1990s.
There’s a famous Onion opinion article about a nerd appreciating the Muppets on a much deeper level than you. It’s hilarious for a couple reasons: first, signaling in on the longstanding appeal the Muppets’ innocence has had to emotionally damaged adult nerds who were picked on way too much. (“I never should have let you go to the kitchen for more Pringles during Kermit’s big ‘High Noon’ speech to Charles Durning—the emotional apex of the film.”)
Second and more to the point of this episode, it details the particular connection those who grew up with the Muppet Show feel compared to those who grew up just a few years later with Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock or even A Muppet Christmas Carol. The 70s and 80s were a hard slog for kids living in the exhausted remnants of their parents’ pop cultural golden age and the Muppets offered a window into old-fashioned children’s entertainment for a generation facing the exponential growth in the mainstream of glib cynicism. No one will appreciate the Muppets on the deeper level that Generation X did – Jason Segel is more than happy to remind us – but the body of work Henson and company left us lives on and beyond.
Enjoy this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast and discover how we felt. Get it?
NEXT EPISODE: POLTERGEIST SPECIAL! POLTERGEIST (1982, TOBE HOOPER) & POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE (1986, BRIAN GIBSON)
This may well be the worst episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast since the last worst episode. That alone should make for required listening. We are defeated by overestimating the entertainment value of a Hollywood “legend” whose golden years may not have been all that amusing, even in what is considered to be her best film.
The icon is Mae “Come Up And See Me Sometime” West, and the nominally good film is She Done Him Wrong (1933). By the time we get to the more auspiciously dire swan song Sextette (1978) our spirits are already broken and discussing the not-so-fine art of double entendres becomes insult to injury.
West’s life would probably make a better film than any films of her own. West worked her way up in vaudeville, rebelling against stuffy social bigotry and sexual repression like every other young punk in the 1920s and crafting the stage persona she came to be known for onscreen: a brassy, wisecracking maneater who dominated and manipulated all those around her and constantly joked between the lines about her sexual prowess. This proto-post-feminist shtick was heady stuff for the time, as were her drag queen inspired fashion choices and shimmy-shawobble hip movements inspired by black nightclub dancers.
What’s headier to think of today is that West was thought of as a sexual object of desire and not merely a comedian – which is exactly how she liked it. People come to see her on Vaudeville for the raunchy laughs while her nudity-free act let her revel in skits and songs about her sexual power as a universally irresistible man magnet. She wasn’t the most attractive broad in show business but there wasn’t yet an official middle ground between glamourous and funny women performers. Women weren’t even legally ruled funny by the Supreme Court until 1927. Her breakout Broadway play Diamond Lil was a saucy melodrama set in the “Gay 90s” at the turn of the century, and by the end of the roaring twenties everyone in New York knew of West.
When she arrived in Hollywood, Diamond Lil was prepared for the screen as She Done Him Wrong, much to the consternation of the Hays censorship office who’d already caught wind of West’s reputation. This was a big factor in my urging of the film as West’s “good” movie for Alan Smithee Podcast – if the Hays office hated it, it must be good, right? Joe Bob Briggs even featured it in his book of essays on sexually liberating milestones in film, Profoundly Erotic. I can’t blame him for recognizing the cultural significance of Mae West and her best known work outside of My Little Chickadee with W.C. Fields, but he should have affixed the same warning that he gave Blood Feast in the similar tome Profoundly Disturbing – this film is more fun to talk about than it is to actually watch.
At just over an hour, She Done Him Wrong crawls like a snail. A film so short shouldn’t need musical numbers but there’s almost as much padding as the inside of Mae’s girdle. The story revolves around her headliner status at an 1890s saloon and dancing hall, which means the songs featured were considered kind of corny even in 1933. Mae’s songs are about as sexy as a slow ready of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.”
You can count the number of sets on your hand as the obviously stagebound nature of the original play relegates everything to either mustachioed fops onstage or West hamming it up with cocktail napkin quality zingers in her private backstage boudoir. Some of her come-ons are directed at young Cary Grant, who had acted in a few prior films including Blonde Venus with Marlene Dietrich, but whom West would claim “discovery” of for the rest of her life.
Mae West’s life after She Done Him Wrong was an experiment in aging timelessness. Far ahead of the cultural curve, West was absorbed into collective consciousness almost immediately by cartoons, quotations and parody. By the 1940s she was already considered old hat and muzzled by stricter Hays Code regulations on the depiction of promiscuity. She left Hollywood, making sporadic television appearances over the years and otherwise supporting herself with live performances around the world. At some point the warm tide of nostalgia that made W.C. Fields and The Marx Brothers hip again revived interest in and respect for her libertine overtones and she returned to film Gore Vidal’s other infamous contribution to cinema besides Caligula (previously discussed in this episode), the infamous Myra Breckinridge (1970). At the age of 77, her looks and timing obviously weren’t what they once were, which is why it may have taken another eight years before two young, eager and likely homosexual fans from Crown International Pictures approached her about filming her last attempt at Broadway, the 1961 farce Sextette.
There are two forces at work in Sextette which have rightfully qualified the film for previous inclusion on “Razzie Award” lists of “the worst films ever made” and the like. The first is obviously that West is, uh, not well. She’s playing herself the only way she can, far past not only the cultural expiration date of her act but that of her corporeal husk. This results in line readings of corny innuendo with pauses so awkward, rumors have persisted for years that she was being fed her lines through earpiece microphones under her wig. This leads to some real ickiness between her and Timothy Dalton, giving his all as her newest husband (the sixth) who can’t wait to make the kind of proper Englishman love to West that she hasn’t had since Cary Grant.
The film would’ve been enough of a mess with her running around on Dalton while occasionally stopping for disco-infused songs. Elevating the film the true clusterbomb status is the gaggle of guest stars playing West’s former husbands who all happen to be staying in her honeymoon hotel, with great wackiness and misunderstanding. The guest star ensemble method of casting had reached a tacky nadir by the late 70s and Sextette combines vintage 70s celebrity scenery chewers sprinkled with West’s geriatric Hollywood pals doing her a favor: Keith Moon AND Ringo Starr, George Hamilton, Tony Curtis, Walter Pidgeon, Alice Cooper, George Raft and who else but Dom Deluise as West’s right hand man. Some acquit themselves admirably, like Dalton. Deluise sings and dances on a piano.
Unfunny comedies are hard to appreciate even if they’re historically significant. Our next attempt to class up Alan Smithee Podcast won’t rely so heavily on dated hipness and sultry sirens. Future bad-movie selections, however, will probably include Dom Deluise again at least once.
NEXT EPISODE: WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988, ROBERT ZEMECKIS) / COOL WORLD (1992, RALPH BAKSHI)
The Alien – capital T, capital A “Alien” – has been the Mickey Mouse of sci-fi horror for over 30 years now. That’s because there wasn’t really a recognized hybrid genre of “Sci-Fi Horror” before screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and his partner Ronald Shusett conceived a version of O’Bannon’s early sci-fi comedy Dark Star (directed by John Carpenter) in which the goofy beach ball-looking alien would be a terrifying monster and another crew of astronauts would be stuck in the black void of the cosmos with nowhere to run. The famous tagline “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream” said it all. Selling the audience on both a realistic spaceship and a seemingly real, unprecedentedly bizarre looking space monster helped change the standards by which space movies were judged. The same can be said of Star Wars, which similarly combined a lot of endearing features from an escapist fantasy genre and portrayed their spaceships and aliens so vividly with state-of-the-art special effects that all around the world, the mainstream was reintroduced to those charms as adults.
The fun hypothetical question to ask of both films is, what if the sequels and multi-media franchise empires had never followed? Just one self-contained Star Wars adventure and one Alien? The impact on the rest of the movie business actually would have remained much the same. Mickey Mouse would have remained in the dark shadows of our imagination, that’s for certain. The most prominent features of Ridley Scott’s original film, compared to the later sequels of James Cameron, David Fincher et all, are the slow pace of the story and the way the alien is shown as little as possible. This was not a case of the effects being unconvincing and necessitating minimal view as with the shark in Jaws, but simply Scott’s preference as the director. He did not consider himself a horror film maker after all, and under the harsh light of a horror movie fan’s experience, the film really ceases to be suspenseful or scary after the first viewing lets you know when the monster is going to suddenly emerge. Coupled with loud noises on the soundtrack when said jack-in-the-box “jump” moments occur, the overall effect of Alien on the horror end of the equation is ultimately rather lacking. No wonder the sequels barely bothered trying to be scary after people had seen the Alien in full view by the end of Scott’s movie – a view which practically reveals the zipper running up it’s back. Whoops. So close.
The residual strength of Alien is ultimately in the science fiction department. While unmistakably drawn from the late 1970s, the film’s cast of characters live and work in their spaceship as if they were born there. Their descent onto the alien planet and discovery of an alien ship containing alien eggs is a masterpiece of wonder in the face of the unknown, a creation of mood helped by Jerry Goldsmith’s awe inspiring score. The methodical arguments between Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm and Tom Skerritt over what actions to take grounds all the fantastic elements down to a practical level and makes the future seem all the more real. Culminating in the unforgettable sight of the mysterious alien “facehugger” wrapped around one of the astronauts, the first act of Alien is as engrossing and impressive an introduction to a possible future as Kubrick’s 2001.
Being a big studio, high profile, new post-Star Wars Summer blockbuster event picture, Alien contained a massive amount of gloss and polish which not every “Sci-Fi Horror” film produced in its wake could compete with when trying the experience. These Alien influenced horror films could, however, afford to imitate the most talked-about grossout moment of the movie: the infamous “Chestburster” scene where a penile hand puppet with teeth explodes out of John Hurt’s belly. Thus in the immediate wake of that infamous demise came a whole spate of fake heads and torsos being busted open from within by ugly sock puppets. Probably the worst among these is Alien 2: On Earth.
Alien 2: On Earth exists in the company of many other Italian knockoffs and unofficial sequels to American genre movies, such as 1983′s Escape From New York cash-in 2019: After the Fall of New York, previously featured on this very podcast. But where 2019 had some resources behind the production and ideas to add to the initial premise stolen from John Carpenter, Alien 2: On Earth appears to have been made for a handful of lira and adds absolutely nothing creative as a fake sequel to Alien. Following a team of modern day geologists on a doomed excursion into some Californian caves, the film does include blobby alien hatchlings which cling to and burst out of faces, but nothing else which could be confused for the original. The sole defense you could make of this film is that its producers did what fans of the real Alien movies waited decades to see – the aliens “on Earth” – but the incompetence of the filmmakers on every level makes any viewing an endurance test of pain.
Only sheer obscurity has kept 20th Century Fox from suing over the title, even after the recent Blu-Ray release by Midnight Legacy – who, like the film’s creators, are probably banking on the title and not the abominable film itself.
NEXT WEEK: NAZI HUNTING SPECIAL! BLACK BOOK (2006, PAUL VERHOEVEN) & BLOODRAYNE: THE THIRD REICH (2010, UWE BOLL)
Some tales are told, then soon forgotten. But a legend…is forever.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been synonymous with the horror genre for almost 40 years now and there’s probably nothing new left to say about it, but that won’t stop An Alan Smithee Podcast from trying! Fortunately one of us brings a fresh pair of eyes to the spectacle, while the other has seen it more times than is healthy. If you’re a regular listener you can probably guess who’s who. This imbalance brings up many elementary points of discussion around the film which have been taken for granted so long that they’ve fallen into neglect: Hooper’s exquisite compositions, the subtle omission of any explicit gore, and the insidiously disturbing reappearance of a friendly character we didn’t yet know was part of Leatherface’s crazy family. Even the annoyances of Franklin, apparently everyone’s least favorite wheelchair–bound lamb to the slaughter, get debated as the podcast’s longstanding TCM fan defends the character’s relative whininess (given his circumstances) against the average moviegoer’s initial take on him. Finally, we’re just like Siskel and Ebert! Even if you’ve seen this film before – and you should – now you can vicariously experience the film’s famous shocks all over again through a TCM virgin’s first bloodletting.
After thoroughly chronicling the tumultuous history of Cannon Films and New Line Cinema’s attempts to turn Leatherface into the next Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, we turn our attention to the most ill-begotten Chainsaw sequel of all.
The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was held on the shelf for three years before finally being shortened and released as Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. The delay was due to stars Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey hitting in big in the interim and their agents throwing a fit over what this movie could do to their careers. Easy as it is to hate those who would blacklist the horror genre itself, this movie really is wretched. The story is a sparse rehash of the original with nothing to add but lame attempts at over-the-top humor, mostly supplied by an unrestrained McConaughey whose face-biting antics would’ve been much more useful in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past or Fool’s Gold.
The only compelling idea Henkel introduces is an infamous last-act twist involving a left-field appearance by the Illuminati, favorite brand name conspiracy of international global domination conspiracy enthusiasts. The revelation of their secret involvement with the chainsaw clan at least explains the absence of continuity between sequels (each movie was some kind of separate Illuminati attempt at a hilarious prank.) We do our best to square Henkel’s intentions against the results, which may or may not have sucked on purpose. Can this documentary reveal the answer? Does it matter? Who will survive and what will be left of them?
NEXT EPISODE: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF SPECIAL! AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981, JOHN LANDIS) & AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS (1997, ANTHONY WALLER)