Alan Smithee Podcast 99: KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978, Gordon Hessler) / Detroit Rock City (1999, Adam Rifkin)

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Alan Smithee Podcast 80: Halloween, the extended TV cut (1978, John Carpenter) / The Day After Halloween aka Snapshot (1979, Simon Wincer)

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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)

Alan Smithee Podcast 66: She Done Him Wrong (1933, Lowell Sherman) / Sextette (1978, Ken Hughes)

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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)

Episode 51: Piranha (1978, Joe Dante) & Piranha (1995, Scott P. Levy)

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Horror franchises and would-be franchises evolve and devolve in the most unpredictable directions. The Piranha series is an illustrious and obscure one, as we began talking about in our look at Piranha II: The Spawning. In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast we complete our preparations for Piranha 3D, the biggest 3D horror event since the last one, with praise for the 1978 Roger Corman-produced original Piranha and abhorrence for the little seen 1995 Showtime channel remake also produced by Corman.

In 1978 Joe Dante got to direct his first film for Roger Corman after working for him as a trailer editor. Piranha announced to the world Dante’s expertise at monster movie nostalgia, a filmmaking role he was destined to practice throughout the special effects driven regressive childhood of the 80s. Alan Smithee has discussed his unjustly ignored monster and boyhood nostalgia throwback Matinee (1993). One of the few filmmakers taken under the wing of Steven Spielberg – that kindlier, cornier purveyor of boomer childhood and other people’s adulthoods – Dante must have known there’s no better way to get his attention than making a smarter and funnier competitor to that year’s Jaws 2.

Death Race 2000 or Rock ‘N’ Roll High School might have been the trash masterpiece that marked the peak of Corman’s second renaissance after the days of Vincent Price, but Piranha gave movie fans a warmup for Dante’s future stories of monster movie tropes intruding on the TV version of reality.

One of Piranha‘s secret weapons was the first genre screenplay of Johny Sayles, who’d go on to become one of the most respected independent filmmakers in America. In 1995, Corman was selling off his assets and remaking old titles for as little money and thought as possible, including the liberal recycling of the old scripts themselves. Piranha ’95 is a photocopy of the original crumbing away on cheap, brittle paper. The piranha themselves are mostly recycled as well, footage from the original film. This movie is almost guaranteed to disappoint fans of the original even more than Piranha II: The Spawning.

Piranha 3D has the good luck charm to be the third reputable follow up to the continuing adventures of good old Project Razorteeth. The cast indicates an appreciation of the original’s b movie eclecticism: Ving Rhames, Elizabeth Shue, a long lost Christopher Lloyd and Richard Dreyfuss in a Jaws spoofing cameo. Director Alex Aja knows how to pile on the grist they way they did 20 years ago. Incidentally, Dante has a 3D family friendly horror film called The Hole coming out later, so all three may now join that exclusive club inhabited by Dante and James Cameron called “What the heck do we have in common? Oh yes, piranhas and 3D.”

NEXT EPISODE: CONDUCT ZERO (2002, JO GEUN-SK) & FAR CRY (2008, UWE BOLL)

Episode 25: Blue Collar (1978, Paul Schrader/ The Hand (1981, Oliver Stone)

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This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we roll up our sleeves and git-r-dun Paul Schrader style with Blue Collar, his directorial debut after becoming a household name writing Taxi Driver. The leads are one part household name, one part Hollywood name and one part b-actor on the verge of breakout. Richard Pryor was in his prime and does a dramatic turn while still being funny. Harvey Keitel was still riding high on the Martin Scorcese train but was about to disappear for ten years. Yaphet Kotto had a bunch of blaxploitation movie credit before Roots but it looks like he’ll always be remembered as the black guy in Alien. He’s in this too – and he’s awesome.

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Schrader’s direction was probably never better after this, and his first time success is all the more impressive considering the accounts that his three leads hated each other’s guts. This is a very underappreciated movie, especially since Richard Pryor rapidly began his descent into lame movie mediocrity almost immediately after this unheralded serio-comic performance. Things kind of fall apart at the end but this odd mix of crime story, comedy and drama shows a ton of best effort from every talent involved.

To say The Hand is not the worst killer hand movie ever made is a backhanded compliment. You’ve got to hand it to Oliver Stone for having a career after this sophomore writing-directing effort (his debut was the even more forgotten Seizure.) Michael Caine is always handy for starring in crappy movies when he needs a new garage and gives Stone a performance just unpleasant enough to match the paranoid, misogynist and mean-spirited screenplay he wrote for him. Stone even gets hands-on and has himself killed in a cameo at one point. There’s more than a handful of things to talk about as we manhandle this rightfully neglected piece of shoddy handiwork.

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Also, someone should have lent Stone a hand directing the “scary” scenes. They’re none too handsome.

NEXT WEEK: HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN (1991, SIMON WINCER) & BLOWUP (1966, MICHAELANGELO ANTONIONI)

Show Notes: Episode 1: Carpenter was a Jesus, Part 1 of 2

On the premiere episode, Matthew and Andrew discuss the first part of John Carpenter’s career–from The Resurrection of Broncho Billy to The Thing.

Films discussed:
The Resurrection of Broncho Billy (1970), Dark Star (1974), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), Halloween (1978), Someone’s Watching Me! (1978), Elvis (1979), The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981), Halloween II (1982), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) and The Thing (1982).