Monday, October 21, 2019

R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part VI (1981-84)


25 Dec 1928 – 30 Jan 2019

The American thespian treasure known as Dick Miller, one of our all-time favorite character actors, entered the Great Nothingness on January 30th, 2019.
A Bronx-born Christmas Day present to the world, Miller entered the film biz doing redface back in 1956 in the Roger Corman western Apache Woman (trailer). He quickly became a Corman regular and, as a result, became a favorite face for an inordinate amount of modern and contemporary movie directors, particularly those weaned and teethed in Corman productions. (Miller, for example, appears in every movie Joe Dante has made to date.) 
A working thespian to the end, Miller's last film, the independent horror movie Hanukkah (trailer), starring fellow low culture thespian treasure Sid Haig, just finished production. In it, as in many of Miller's films, his character is named Walter Paisley in homage to his first truly great lead role, that of the loser killer artist/busboy Walter Paisley in Roger Corman's classic black comedy, A Bucket of Blood (1959).
What follows is a multi-part career review in which we undertake a highly meandering, extremely unfocused look at the films of Dick Miller. The films are not necessarily looked at in the order of their release... and if we missed one, let us know. 

Go here for 
R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part I (1955-60)
R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part II (1961-67)
R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part III (1968-73)
R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part IV (1974-76)
R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part V (1977-80)


Firecracker
(1981, dir. Cirio H. Santiago)

A.k.a. Naked Fist. Ah, the great Cirio H. Santiago (18 Jan 1936 – 26 Sept 2008), Filipino trash-film director extraordinary. Officially, Dick Miller has absolutely nothing to do with this project. But the fact of the matter is: Firecracker is basically a remake of the Blaxploitation trash anti-classic T.N.T. Jackson (1974, see Part IV), but with a white babe (Jillian Kesner [9 Aug 1949 – 5 Dec 2007]) as the avenging angel instead of the chocolate delight that is Jeanne Bell. Dick Miller, you might remember, is officially credited alongside Ken Metcalfe as having scripted T.N.T. Jackson. Ergo, although Miller isn't credited here (but Metcalfe is), we still see this as a movie involving Miller, if once or twice removed and un-credited. (Ditto with Angelfist [1989], which we'll look at in Part VII.)
Trailer to
Firecracker:
Kult Eye Bleeder, which rightly bemoans that "they don't make movies like this anymore", has the not-very-complicated plot: "Our heroine Susie Carter (Kesner) has a 6 dan black belt in karate and she has come to Philippines to find her sister (Carolyn Smith of H. G. Lewis' Something Weird [1967 / trailer]), who has gone missing. After numerous fights and some investigation work, she finds out that her sister is dead. Now it's revenge time."
"[...] An entertaining romp from the prolific director Cirio H. Santiago. It mixes unintentional laughs with quite a bit of natural beauty as it works in some great scenery and documents images of traditional native culture from stickfighting training to a parade with garish masks. Maybe they got more production value by skimping on the music budget. [...] Although the score is credited to Susan Justin and Paul Fox, it's mostly tracks lifted from Shogun Assassin (1980 / trailer). [Daily Grindhouse]"
Rubber Monster Fetishism offers "Five reasons why Firecracker probably is the best movie ever made", and we agree with all of them. In the end, however, they also admit that "No, Firecracker is not a good movie. Actually, it hasn't any qualities that would make it come even close to being a good movie. But all that cheezy acting, the nudity and the violence and the general throwing in the kitchen sink feeling of it all just makes it so damn fun to watch." So true, so true...
Firecracker aka Naked Fist should not be confused with the indi art film Firecracker (2005 / trailer below), from the underappreciated indi auteur Steve Balderson, the director of Pep Squad (1998).
Trailer to
Firecracker:


Heartbeeps
(1981, dir. Alan Arkush)

"In the late 70s, comedian Andy Kaufman (17 Jan 1949 – 16 May 1984) was at the top of his game [...]. But he'd yet to prove himself capable of carrying a feature film on his own, despite a blink and you'll miss him appearance as a gun-totin' cop in Larry Cohen's God Told Me To (1981 / trailer) and a larger role as the improbably named Armageddon T. Thunderbird in the Marty Feldman vehicle In God We Trust (1980 / trailer). Kaufman had wanted to build a film around his obnoxious alter ego, Tony Clifton which he pitched to Universal. The studio were unwilling to allow Kaufman to take a lead role until he'd had a hit but were willing to sign a blank cheque for this witless science fiction comedy, scripted by John Hill and directed by Allan Arkush, to capitalise on the success of Star Wars (1977) — the company's research had suggested that the kids loved the Star Wars robots so a film just about robots was bound to be a box office smash, surely? No. The film was a massive flop at the box office and pretty much killed Kaufman's ambitions for a big screen career — he only made one more film, turning up as himself in the barely seen experimental comedy My Breakfast with Blassie (1983 / film), a spoof of Louis Malle's [unbelievably boring] My Dinner with Andre (1981 / trailer). [the eofft review]"
Plot: Two robots, ValCom-17485 (Andy Kaufman) and AquaCom-89045 (Bernadette Peters), meet on a factory shelf, decide to explore the great wide world, and fall in love along the way.
Trailer to
Heartbeeps:
Though hated by most when released, some people now see the film with less critical eyes. Over at All Movie, for example, Donald Guarisco says, "[…] Time has been a little kinder to Heartbeeps than one might expect. John Hill's script has some significant problems (the plotting is weak, the human characters are ciphers) that were exacerbated by studio tampering but there is a sweet, naive quality to the romance between the two robot heroes that is genuinely intriguing. Allan Arkush's direction brings a nice visual sweep to the film, a tactic that is aided nicely by lavish scope-format photography by Charles Rosher, Jr. Tina Hirsch's editing gives everything a punchy pace and John Williams contributes an unique orchestral/electronic musical score that does a lot to set the film's unusual mood. Most importantly, Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters manage to infuse their necessarily mannered performances with a level of heart that makes the proceedings more compelling than one might expect. The end result is definitely a specialty item but Heartbeeps can be an amusing if deeply twee diversion for those viewers in the right forgiving mood. One's reaction to it will depend a lot on nostalgia for this era, the performers involved and eccentric Hollywood misfires."
That's Bernadette Peters below, by the way, but from a Playboy pictorial and not the movie. Dick Miller shows up as a factory watchman somewhere in this generally reviled kiddie film ritten by John Hill, who later wrote the not-too-bade Aussie western Quigley Down Under (1990 / trailer).


Smokey Bites the Dust
(1981, dir. Charles B. Griffith [23 Sept 1930 – 28 Sept 2007]) 
"Similar to the Porky's (1981 / trailer) sequels and early Troma efforts, the comedy is over the top to the point that it starts to become painful to watch. [Varied Celluloid]"
Dick Miller is in this car-crash time-waster playing "Glen Wilson", the guy whose car gets stolen. Despite the movie's title, director Griffith's second-to-last feature film has nothing to do with the once popular and now mostly forgotten Smokey and the Bandit trilogy, Part One (1977 / trailer), Part Two (1980 / trailer), and Part Three (1983 / trailer).
Trailer to
Smokey Bites the Dust:
"With Smokey and the Bandit and its sequel being huge hits […] it comes as no surprise that rip-off king producer Roger Corman would jump on the comical 'good 'ol boy' chase film bandwagon (like you couldn't tell what film it ripped off from the title). This alone doesn't mean it's going to be unwatchable, as Corman produced many loveable rip-offs in his heyday: Piranha (1978 / see Part V) was a loveable rip-off Jaws (1975 / trailer) and Big Bad Mama (1974 / see Part IV) was a loveable rip-off of Bonnie and Clyde (1967 / trailer). Well Smokey Bites the Dust is from the director of the mega-lame Jaws rip-off Up from the Depths (trailer below) and is a pieced-together project stitched around stock footage of previous, much better Corman productions. In other words this royally sucks. [...] Smokey Bites the Dust is bad, god-awful. It's so god-damn bad that it even makes Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 look like a respectable sequel. It's a cluster-fucked mess that insults redneck audiences that even like the southern good 'ol boy chase flicks. [Blood Brothers] 
Trailer to
Up from the Depths:
DVD Drive-In has the plot: "Set in the fictional Cyco County in the deep south (actually Southern California), mischievous teenager Roscoe Wilton (Jimmy McNichol of Night Warning [1980 / trailer], with Susan Tyrell) steals cars on a daily basis to make fools of the local Sheriff (Walter Barnes [26 Jan 1918 – 6 Jan 1998] of Day of the Animals [1977] and Daddy's Deadly Darling aka Pigs [1973 / trailer], seen below from his football days in he '50s) and his bumbling deputy Bentley (Kedrick Wolfe). He also has his eye on Peggy Sue Turner (Janet Julian of Humongous [1982 / trailer]) who happens to be the Sheriff's daughter. On the day of the homecoming parade at the high school, Roscoe steals the main car owned by Glen Wilson (Dick Miller) and with Peggy Sue in the passenger side, it's a wild, non-stop chase through five different counties and police cars careening in every direction."
Trash Film Guru didn't like the movie, but does find one positive thing to say about it: "If there's one thing — and I should stress here it's one thing — I found rather charming about this idiotic mess of a film, it's that director Charles B. Griffith takes the 'idiot cop' stereotype so popular at the time to absurd, self-parodying heights, and God help me if that doesn't fill this reviewer with a warm dose of nostalgia. Today, of course, the boys in blue are pretty much always portrayed as 'heroes' in the popular media, and even the most flagrant excesses and abominations these guys commit on screen are shown in a sympathetic light — after all, these are the good guys, and sometimes you gotta go to extremes to protect 'us' (meaning God-fearin' middle-class Christian white folks) from 'them' (everybody else). If they gotta cut a few corners, bust a few heads, and wipe their asses with the US Constitution along the way, well — it may not be pretty, but it's all in a day's work, and it's all for our own good."
He also goes on to point out what should be obvious about the movie's nominal hero: "While Smokey Bites the Dust does feature a relatively talented cast of actors, the characters simply don't inspire any kind of conviction or interest to endear them to the audience. In fact, outside of the confines of a comedic action movie the character of Roscoe really isn't much of a hero. Here we have a kid stealing car after car, damaging private property, buying ten packs of cigarettes for a seven year old (in possibly the funniest bit of the entire movie, and also the most morally questionable) and all of it for no real purpose whatsoever other than the fact that things are boring in small-town America. When you really start to look at motivations, this movie doesn't really hold up that well. Roscoe literally travels across the country in order to evade boredom and in the context of the movie he potentially ruins the lives of a handful of people and we ultimately have no idea why."


The Howling
(1981, dir. Joe Dante)

Based ever so slightly on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner (31 May 1930 – 22 Sept 2013), The Howling is a modern werewolf classic. Numerous sources list this film as one of Dick Miller's favorite projects: he has a small but pivotal part in it as Walter Paisley, occult bookstore owner (and not a wanna-be beatnik artist), who both explains how werewolves can be killed and also happens to have some silver bullets lying about. (By the way: in The Howling, werewolves can change at will, not just when the moon is full.)
Back when we first saw The Howling, the year it was released, it bowled us over despite an ending we thought shit: the movie was both scary and funny, and but for the werewolf sex scene it had mind-blowing special effects. We recently re-watched it and found that the ending is still shit and the werewolf sex scene still embarrassing, but despite the movie's now creaky bones it still holds up pretty well in most places. True, now more than then we find that PTSD or not, the lead female character, Karen White (Dee Wallace of Popcorn [1991] and Boo [2005] and soooooo much more), is a whiney wet rag* and not the woman of the film that should have survived — that would be her friend Terry Fisher (Belinda Balaski) — but the movie still enthralls and is never boring (rather unlike the last werewolf movie we saw, The Wolfman [2010 / trailer], which both bores and seldom enthralls). 
* We admit, we seem to be almost the only person that finds her so. Further down, Zeta Minor also is one of the less enamoured.

"Silver bullets or fire, that's the only way to get rid of the damn things. They're worse than cockroaches."
Walter Paisley (Dick Miller)

on The Howling:
Keep your eyes open for Robert "Doc" Picardo (of Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus [2010]) in his feature-film debut: he's always in the shadows or transforming into a werewolf, but he plays a very important character, namely Eddie Quist, the "sex-murderer" werewolf whose early appearance drives the whole plot.
Supposedly the late Golden Age porn icon Annette Haven, above, was offered the role of Marsha Quist, Eddie Quist's hot and bloodthirsty sister, who is also integral to the plot, but turned it down due to the violence. The part ended up going to the beautiful Elisabeth Brooks [2 July 1951 – 7 Sept 1997)], below from the movie, who died much too young of cancer and, likewise, whose captivating screen presence promised a possible future that never really materialized.
A financial and critical success, The Howling went on to spawn a franchise consisting of another six movies and a failed re-boot — The Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985 / trailer), The Howling III: The Marsupials (1987 / trailer), The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988 / trailer), The Howling V: The Rebirth (1989 / trailer), The Howling VI: The Freaks (1991 / trailer), The Howling: New Moon Rising (1995), and The Howling: Reborn (2011 / trailer) — all of which pale in comparison to the first film.
The plot, as found at the AV Club: "Played by Dee Wallace […] the film's Karen is vulnerable, but she's not a damsel in distress. Introduced taking part in a sting operation designed to lure serial killer Eddie Quist […] out into the open, Karen knowingly puts herself in harm's way for the police and her TV station, getting more than she bargained for when Eddie turns out to be more than your garden-variety lunatic. In fact, their encounter — during which Eddie is shot to death by the police — so traumatizes her that her therapist, Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee [6 Feb 1922 – 25 June 2015], one of a number of actors playing a character named after the director of a werewolf movie), recommends a stay at the Colony, which he reserves for his 'special patients.' This turns out to be code for werewolves, and in short order her husband, Bill (Christopher Stone [4 Oct 1942 – 20 Oct 1995], Wallace's real-life husband), is bitten by one of the locals, the alluring Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks), and Karen appears to be next on the list — should she prove receptive to the idea."
Since almost everyone who has ever seen The Howling likes the movie, let's hear a voice of dissent. Despite the movie's "rather nifty cast", the easily distressed Zeta Minor hates the movie, arguing that: "Joe Dante is a director […] unable to stick to a single genre within one film. He always manages to mess it up — for instance Gremlins (1984) starts off as being quite a good horror/thriller… but slowly descends into black comedy, and then back to horror again. […] And then there's The Howling — at first seemingly a horror film but again it slowly lowers itself until by the end you're left with a film so very confused that it even goes against its own werewolf rules. […] I've not seen this film in almost fifteen years and it really hasn't aged well. I used to love it, but watching it fresh now has made me realise it's really not the film it's remembered for being. The effects and make up are laughable and while one could blame that on the era, Bottin's work in Carpenter's The Thing (1982 / trailer) still looks bloody good and there's only a year between the two. […] It's impossible to put the film of a woman being raped in a porno house at the beginning of the film, and the final minute of the film together. What the hell is that all about? I'm not sure these two plot devices belong in the same film. […] While none of the main characters have any real background or soul to them, the side characters, as is typical in a Dante film, are well developed. Dante stalwarts Dick Miller and Robert Picardo turn up and actually deliver the best performances in spite of very limited screen time. Patrick MacNee is also on hand to prove once again that he really is only good in The Avengers (1961-69, trailer). Add to that […] Kevin McCarthy, Slim Pickens and Robert Carradine and you're doing well — but alas Dee Wallace Stone was not a good choice to lead this film. […]"
"In the context of Dante's broader filmography, The Howling does seem something of an anomaly given that, for the most part, it's outwardly played straight. The script from John Sayles and Terence Winkless […] seems to be aiming quite high for much of the time, taking stabs at the post-hippy trend for gurus, alternative therapy and pop occultism. Efforts are also made toward a realistic portrayal of a marriage in breakdown, via Karen and Bill's strained relationship. However, it seems clear that the director is far less interested in the psychodrama and any pretence of social commentary than he is in making a simple, fun B-movie; which, as we know, has always been Dante's strength. […] Better to focus on this and have fun than get too worried about a script which tends to get a little bogged down with dull subplots, the worst offender being the investigation thread back in the city, with Dennis Dugan and Belinda Balaski's characters. [Warped Perspectives]"
"[T]he opening scenes reflect a grimy, urban sensibility and sense of real-life monstrosity close to Taxi Driver (1976 / trailer) and The Driller Killer (1979 / trailer) — 'I don't know where they come from but they've got to where they're going,' [Kenneth] Tobey's veteran cop notes gruffly as he surveys the mean streets from his cruiser — as Karen ventures into Eddie's hunting ground. Karen, in turn, anticipating media philippics like Nightcrawler (2014 / trailer), is taking a chance in the name of netting a great story to prove herself more than a decoration for the news desk, entering into a foreboding pas-de-deux of sick obsession as the shadowy pervert (Picardo) has insisted on her because he loves watching her on the news. Dante and Sayles correlate their own on-the-make enthusiasm with Karen's careerist escapade, flirting with the seamy side of life to get their own, more specific ambitions off the ground. Eddie's calling card, a smiley face sticker beaming out with blank cheer in the midst of decadent surroundings, might well have inspired the same device in Watchmen (2009 / trailer). The core of Bradner's novel is still present in the depictions of Karen and Bill's crumbling marriage being subjected to a truly cruel and gruelling metaphorical amplification. [This Island Rod]" 
Seen in The Howling,
the public domain short Pigs in a Polka (1943):
"The Howling came out after a decade in which science-fiction and horror cinema started to loosen the shackles. […] Not only was it a second generation building on the backs of their predecessors and improving what inspired them but also filmmakers that started paying tribute to their inspirations, quoting from and spoofing the originals. […] Without the jokes, The Howling would otherwise be a competent B film — but for one scene. It was a scene that made audiences at the time sit up and pay attention and turned The Howling into a cult film — this being the scene in the middle of the film where Robert Picardo transforms into a werewolf. It is a show-stopping set-piece that for once and all put the old Lon Chaney-type lap dissolves into their grave. […] It is a dazzling showstopper of a set-piece. [Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review]"
"The Howling is an incredibly intelligent and entertaining werewolf movie. Scriptwriter John Sayles' clever skewering of pop psychology and the media aligned with Dante's considerable directorial talents and soft spot for sight gags and referencing, topped with the beauty that is anything Rob Bottin comes into contact with and the audio wonder that is Pino Donaggio makes this a must own (and must watch repeatedly) classic. [Kindertraume]"


The Aftermath
(1982, writ., dir., prod. & starring Steve Barkett)
 
A.k.a. Zombie Aftermath — and once banned in Great Britain as a video nasty. Death count: 32. Supposedly made in 1978, but (supposedly) massive reshoots resulted in a much later release date — assuming it was ever officially released as anything other than straight-to-VHS. One can only wonder what was re-shot, for it looks very much like a one-shot-only-per-scene movie…
OK, you ain't gonna see Dick Miller anywhere in The Aftermath, but you do hear him: he supplies the familiar Bronx-accented broadcaster voice. Some claim that Survivor (1987) is a loose remake of this film, as both feature astronauts returning to a post-apocalyptic earth… but if such similarities indicate a remake, then this thing here must be a loose remake of the original Planet of the Apes (1968 / trailer) — which it probably is, but without apes and/or any budget.
The plot: "Two astronauts crash land and find that civilization is gone. The Apocalypse happened while they were gone and no one told them. The cities are empty, there are hordes of hungry mutants wandering around, and the few normal people are at the mercy of the evil Cutter (Sid Haig [14 July 1939 – 21 Sept 2019] in yet another vicious role) and his gang. So naturally, there's murder, violence, lots of blood, major characters die left and right, and there are also two cute little kids who both happen to be Steve's real-life kids. [Rivets on the Poster]"
The Aftermath is one of those kinds of films that assumes that if nothing else is still around post-apocalypse, clothes washers will be: everyone in the movie wears totally spotless clothing. "You really don't need to see the film after watching this trailer. [The Big Movie House]"
Trailer to
The Aftermath:
"A 1980s post-nuclear action flick as good, as bad, as macho and as pulpy as they come: Basically, the storyline is very thin and overly clichéd, and the more thoughtful sequences seem out of place — but the plot serves as a good hanger for action and violence, sprinkled with bits of nudity, and all of this is charmingly in your face, with blood squirting from every wound, fights not always following the laws of nature when pure brutality doesn't permit it, plenty of stuntwork and grappling, mean shootouts, and quite a number of killings. So no, it's not a very brain-heavy affair — but massive nostalgic fun!!! [(re)search my trash]"
The Big Movie House might add: "The Aftermath is a film that was made because the filmmakers have a love for the craft and the sci-fi genre. So it should be a good film […]. Yes, it should be a good film, but it isn't. The Aftermath is one of those rare films where love and respect don't mean a damn thing. The film wasn't made for the money, but the heart and respect that the filmmakers have doesn't really show up on camera. What we are left with is a film that has almost nothing going for it."


Vortex
(1982, writ. & dir. Beth B. & Scott B.)
OK, here's one that we find listed everywhere but for which cannot find any confirmation. Dick Miller supposedly has a "Bit Part" in this, "the last no wave film" and last film that the New York "transgressive" filmmakers Beth B and Scott B made together before they went their separate ways. His presence goes unnoticed in all online write-ups we found, so if he really does do a bit part in the flick, it must be really teenie weenie, sorta of like a yellow polka dot bikini. More likely, however, is that some other Joe Schmoe in the movie simply has the same name as our Dick Miller, thus the confusion. 
Trailer to
Vortex:

Plot: "[…] This fun and imaginative neo-noir offers one of the best illustrations of how to make an interesting genre picture for very little money. Private eye Angel Powers (punk musician Lydia Lunch, of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks) gets hired to investigate a case where two nefarious corporations are competing with one another for an elusive government defense contract. The head of one of the outfits is a physically impaired, Howard Hughes-like weirdo (William Rice [17 Oct 1931 – 23 Jan 2006]) who manipulates people and situations while sealed up in his private office; he orders the murder of a corrupt congressman (David Kennedy), and instructs his cronies to present plans for an interstellar weapon to a defense subcommittee ahead of his competitors. Meanwhile, his thuggish subordinate (James Russo of American Strays [1996] and Voodoo Dawn [1998]) recoils from the boss's attempts to dominate his life and behavior, and finds his way into Powers's bed…. [All Movie]"
"The very accomplished (and self-consciously wry) first 16mm feature by NY new wave underground film-makers Scott and Beth B […]. Made on a tiny budget, with striking chiaroscuro visual effects, the movie pulses with punk sensibility. It meanders and is sometimes chaotically makeshift, but it's all of a part: tough and buzzing with New York zip. [Time Out]"


White Dog
(1982, dir. Sam Fuller)

The last Hollywood film directed by Samuel Fuller (12 Aug 1912 – 30 Oct 1997). Dick Miller appears as an animal trainer. This movie got critically vivisected with dull knives and unsharpened pencils before it was even released, which resulted in its blink-and-you-missed-it release and eventual shelving. Dick Miller appears briefly as a dog trainer.

"No movie is ahead of its time, just ahead of cultural gatekeepers. Sam Fuller knew this better than any other filmmaker after his 1982 White Dog waited almost ten years to get a theatrical release. Despite Fuller's career-long penchant for giving controversial subjects a punchy, exploitation-movie spin, White Dog (his twenty-first feature) was the first to suffer outright suppression. Due to the film's impudent premise, in which a Los Angeles actress, Julie Sawyer (Kristy McNichol, seen below with her brother, Jimmy, of Smokey Bites the Dust [1981]), innocently discovers a guard dog trained to attack African Americans — a metaphor for socially indoctrinated racism — Fuller met with extraordinary industry and public resistance. His deliberate provocation, indicting social naïveté as well as film industry routine, worked too well. The film couldn't slip under Paramount's radar like earlier Fuller outrages, since B-movie exhibition no longer existed by the 1980s. Instead, White Dog was [initially shelved and then] dumped in a television graveyard, before it was eventually released to theaters as a specialty art movie in 1991. [Criterion]"
Basically: knee-jerk reactions resulted in the profoundly anti-racist film being labeled racist. Today, however, White Dog is even held in relatively high critical regard as one of Fuller's better movies. How things change...
on White Dog:
White Dog is based on the 1970 novel of the same name by Romain Gary (21 May 1914 – 2 Dec 1980). According to imdb (Date: 26.08.19): "The film is based on a true story. While she was living in Hollywood with her husband, writer Romain Gary, actress Jean Seberg (13 Nov 1938 – 30 Aug 1979, of The Corruption of Chris Miller [1973 / trailer]) brought home a large white dog she had found on the street that seemed friendly and playful. However, when the animal saw her Black gardener, it attacked him viciously, injuring him. Afterward, the couple kept it in the backyard, but one day, it got out and attacked another Black man on the street but no one else. After this happened a third time, they realized that someone had trained the dog to attack and injure only Black people. Gary wrote a magazine piece about it for Life in 1970, which eventually became a fictionalized full-length book."
"White Dog begins as aspiring young California actress Julie Sawyer […] befriends an injured stray dog she finds abandoned on the highway. Soon she finds out that hers is no ordinary white dog, it's a white dog. This German shepherd has been trained by its previous owners to attack all black people. The discovery of this chilling truth is horrifying in its disturbing bluntness and its dog's-eye point of view. Julie takes her dog to Noah's Ark, a training center for movie animals run by the equable Caruthers (Burl Ives [14 June 1909 – 14 April 1995], of Zalman King's Two Moon Junction [1988]). There, animal trainer Keys (Paul Winfield [22 May 1939 – 7 March 2004] of Gordon's War [1973 / trailer]) […] takes on the task of retraining the white dog by exposing a tiny bit more of his own black skin to the animal on repeated encounters. It's tedious, treacherous, exasperating work that truly puts Key's body on the front lines of the race wars. He'd just as soon shoot the dog but knows that tactic would only shift the battle line to someone else's backyard. He believes in scientific reprogramming, in possibility, in the capacity for change. But by the end of the movie, we're forced to wonder if the basic emotions of love and hate can ever really be altered. Perhaps they can only be redirected. [Austin Chronicle]"
Dunno if the critic here is Afro-American or Lily White, but over at Black Horror Movies, they were not impressed by White Dog: "White Dog plays like a twisted after-school special, ripe with heavy-handed allegorical content, hate crimes and Burl Ives. If this movie had been more popular, it would've been the subject of countless high school English papers about how the dog symbolizes racism and how hard it is to control. The A-plus students might've brought up the fact that dogs are color-blind, and the uber-nerds may have even mentioned that Winfield ironically played Martin Luther King, Jr. in the miniseries King. Sure, the message of White Dog is nice and all, but watching a man 'break' a dog for 45 minutes could only be considered entertainment below the Mason-Dixon line."
"White Dog shines in its silence, breathes in Ennio Morricone's plaintive background score, all through mocking the hatred that only a human can harbor. It's tragic that perhaps the most poignant soul-searching motion picture against racism was deemed too dangerous for public viewing and shelved for a fair decade before it was re-released. [Dog with Blog]"


Movie Madness
(1982, dirs. Bob Giraldi & Henry Jaglom)

Original poster illustration (above) by Rick Meyerowitz. Dick shows up in the episode Success Wanters, playing Dr. Hans Kleiner.
We took a look at this flick way back in 2013, in R.I.P.: Harry Reems, Part V (1980–84), where we scrounged the following together:
Once upon a time there was a humor magazine called National Lampoon, and they made a flick called Animal House (1978 / trailer) and it was such a big hit that they thought they could shit gold. So they shat this film out and had, well, shit.
Originally a four-segment film meant to satirize popular film genres, the movie was trimmed down to three segments upon release. Music video and commercial director Bob Giraldi did the segments Growing Yourself and Success Wanters, while Henry Jaglom, who hasn't made an interesting film since his mildly interesting début hippy-film oddity A Safe Place (1971 / trailer), directed the other two, Municipalians and the cut segment The Bomb.
The praise for this film is fairly consistent, always of the same tone as over at Reel Film, which says "The folks at National Lampoon have released some awful movies over the years (i.e. Van Wilder [2002 / trailer], Gold Diggers [2003 / trailer], etc), but this is surely the worst." Blogger Jerry Saravia, who admits not making it through to the third and final segment (the one with Reems), says: "[...] I cannot imagine a single soul finding anything of comedic value in National Lampoon Goes to the Movies, which is the worst comedy I've ever seen. Let me make that painstakingly clear once more: it is the WORST COMEDY I'VE EVER SEEN. EVER. In the history of the comedy genre, nothing is WORSE than this movie. NOT ONE!"
Bad Movie Planet, which says the movie us "is a poorly conceived anthology that falls flat on its face early on and stays there", is particularly put off by the episode in which Harry Reems flits by somewhere playing a Vice Squad Cop: "As bad as the previous segments are, nothing can prepare you for Municipalians. Not a moment goes by in which it this section doesn't make you feel like someone is shoving a dead possum in your face, and this is mostly director Henry Jaglom's fault. [...] Jaglom's whiny, navel-gazing autobiographical style doesn't lend itself to the silly excesses of a low brow comedy. Jaglom has no comic timing and keeps the film moving at a snail's pace. [...] Municipalians also boasts the film's worst performances." And, according to Uncle Scoopy, the final segment of this "totally unfunny movie performed with desperation by people begging the audience to laugh [...] doesn't even have the gratuitous nudity which spiced up the other two vignettes."
A crappy film, in other words, and not exactly a stepping stone to a career in films that doesn't focus on your meat lollipop. 
Trailer to
Movie Madness:


Lies
(1983, writ. & dir. Jim & Ken Wheat)

Directorial debut of the bros Jim and Ken Wheat, who went on to write Pitch Black (2000) and have a hand in its sequels. Dick Miller shows up to play the "Producer" (of the film the female character bales from at the beginning of the movie).
"[…] The brothers Jim and Ken Wheat, […] produced and jointly directed (and wrote) this intricately plotted story about a young actress (the very good Ann Dusenberry), struggling to make both a decent living and a living decently in Hollywood, who is unexpectedly hired by film-maker Gail Strickland. The actress is to play the life story of a young woman whose plight opens the film; a girl traumatized by witnessing the brutal killing of her mother and father. Her brother (Bruce Davison) burst onto the scene, killing the attackers and saving his sister, but not her sanity. Since this horrifying incident, (which earns the film its 'R' rating), the young woman had been in a mental institution and had only recently committed suicide. [LA Times]"
Trailer to
Lies:
"A little fun can be had with this mediocre horror. But ultimately it's too convoluted to be taken seriously. […] Similar to both 1976's Scalpel (a better version of this sort of thing) and Dead of Winter (trailer), this has a few good moments, but tries to be too clever for its own good; its twisty plotlines lose you in the end. Think of 16 different editings of the classic Vertigo (1958 / trailer) running all at the same time and you have an idea of how this one plays out. Actually, that might sound more complimentary than it's meant to be. […] [The Terror Trap]"
"The story follows a struggling young actress named Robyn, played by the talented Ann Dusenberry from Jaws 2 (1978 / trailer) and that fine picture Cutter's Way (1981 / trailer)! After walking off the set of a zombie movie being produced by none other than Dick 'Sorority Girl' Miller (see Part I), she gets what she imagines to be the role of a lifetime: playing a young heiress who had committed suicide after a violent break-in took the lives of her parents! A very stern lady is evidently the director of this heiress epic, and what do you know, Clu Gulager himself, the dad from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (1985), shows up as the late heiress's psychiatrist! [Ha ha, it's Burl!]"


Get Crazy
(1983, dir. Allan Arkush)

Arkush's follow-up film to his flop, Heartbeeps. Dick Miller shows up as "Susie's Dad". (Susie, in turn, is played by Stacey Nelkin, who came fresh off the set of that misunderstood flop known as Halloween III: Season of the Witch [1982 / trailer].)
In a 2009 interview at the Hollywood Interview Blogspot, Arkush says "Everything in [Get Crazy] is based on real stuff, and I wish I could remake it as a realistic movie. But the only way I could get it made at the time was to do the Airplane! (1980 / trailer) version of it. […] There was this small company called Sherwood Productions that had some capital. We had meetings, and they liked my idea of a comedy set in a theater like the Fillmore. Airplane! was really big then, and what they wanted was that kind of whacky comedy. We started working on the script… and I realized during that process that the executive, Herb Solow, was pretty much of a jerk. […] Then the company was taken over by David Begelman,* who was already on his way down. In the end, they never really understood the movie, and the scam they came up with to release it was to sell the shares in it to some Wall Street tax shelter group, and then put it out so it would lose money… just like The Producers (1968 / trailer)! So nobody saw it—on purpose! It was so horrible to work so hard on something, and then see it just thrown away."
* "David Begelman (26 Aug 1921 – 7 Aug 1995) was an American film producer, film executive and talent agent who was involved in a studio embezzlement scandal in the 1970s. [Wikipedia]"
Get Crazy:
Get Crazy had a limited theatrical run, was eventually released on VHS, and has yet to be released on DVD (a format itself which will soon become obsolete).
The plot: "Max Wolfe (Allen Garfield) is the owner of the Saturn Theater, and has been for a long time. On New Year's Eve, Max plans to throw a HUGE party, yet his plans are slightly dampened when he finds himself on his death bed, much to the delight of Colin Beverly (Ed Begley, Jr.) and his nephew Sammy (Miles Chapin of Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse [1981 / trailer]), who want the Saturn torn down and turned into a large office building. However, Max decides that the show must go on and puts Neil (Daniel Stern of Leviathan [1989]) and his newfound love interest Willy (Gail Edwards) in charge. The show does go on as planned, but little do they know that Colin has planted a bomb set to go off at the stroke of midnight! Can the two lovebirds stop Colin's evil plans? Will Max survive? Will British punk rocker Reggie Wanker (Malcolm McDowell of Tank Girl [1995] and so much more) get the emotion back into his music? And most importantly, will the show go on as planned? [Obscure Cinema 101]"
"Made during a time when superficial mayhem wasn't even close to being frowned upon, the little seen Get Crazy is a stark reminder of how playful music used to be. Of course, I'm not saying that music isn't fun anymore (Karen O. seems like a fun gal), but the music world presented in this film is not same as the one we live in — you know, the one where a teen pop star gets scolded for displaying her naked back, or touching a pole in an erotic fashion. For one thing, sex and drugs are openly pursued, and behaving irresponsibly in public is not only encouraged, it's mandatory. Hell, even the seemingly straight-laced Paul Bartel jumps willy-nilly from a lofty balcony at the behest of a screaming punk singer named Piggy (Lee Ving — the most Aussie-looking Minnesotan ever). Promoting the convergence of rock and roll, new wave, blues rock, glam rock and punk, director Allan Arkush presents a universe where these distinct styles can commingle and thrive all under the same roof. [House of Self-Indulgence]" 
Seen in the background of Get Crazy: The Sunshine Makers (1935), directed by Burt Gillett (15 Oct 1891 – 28 Dec 1971) and Ted Eshbaugh (5 Feb 1906 – 4 July 1969)*:
* Interestingly enough, Ted Eshbaugh is credited in many places, like here at Frankensteinia, as having directed, in 1933, a fab short animated horror film entitled The Snow Man. Just as many websites, however, claim that Mannie Davis & John Foster made The Snow Man in 1940, as does the Internet Archives here. With the latter info, we presented The Snow Man as our Jan 2019 Short Film of the Month.
Over at All Movie, Donald Guarisco says, "Though it rarely gets mentioned in round ups of rock and roll movies, Get Crazy is one of that genre's best outings. The script offers a savvy satire of the rock business, put forth in an appealing lighthearted style that makes it accessible. Allan Arkush directs the proceedings with flair, keeping the multiple plotlines moving forward while still delivering plenty of music and laughs. Get Crazy further benefits from a fun cast: Daniel Stern makes an appealing average-Joe lead, Malcolm McDowell delivers a sly comedic turn as an egotistical Mick Jagger-styled rocker and Ed Begley Jr. is a deadpan delight as an evil mogul trying to steal the concert hall's real estate. Rock fans will also want to look out for punker Lee Ving and alternative-rock legend Lou Reed in fun cameo roles (Reed in particular has fun satirizing Bob Dylan). In short, Get Crazy is a funny and fast-paced rock and roll flick that deserves a bigger cult following."


(1983, writ. & dir. Howard R. Cohen)
We reviewed this film way back in 2010, and were not impressed. Click on the title above to go to our typically wordy, long-winded review. Oddly enough, we made no mention of Dick Miller, though he is credited as playing someone called Crazy Mel in the flick. We don't remember seeing him… but then, we hardly remember the movie anymore, either. 
Trailer to
Space Raiders:


Twilight Zone – The Movie
(1983, dir. Joe Dante, John Landis, George Miller and Steven Spielberg)

The once (in)famous and by now relatively overlooked big budget film version of the classic TV show with four different segments by four different directors. Dick Miller appears very briefly as Walter Paisley in the second-best segment of the film, Joe Dante's It's a Good Life (the arguably best segment is George Miller's take on Nightmare at 20,000 Feet).
"Twilight Zone: The Movie is in the upper tier of anthology films. It starts with science fiction and fantasy then slowly escalates into terror. It was written and directed by the best filmmakers around and is way ahead of its time. On a technical level, this production is nearly flawless. If the two first tales don't stick with you long after you've watched this, the last two will... [Tales of Terror]"
Original, boring trailer to
Twilight Zone – The Movie:
The plot of It's a Good Life: "Helen Foley (Kathleen Quinlan of Event Horizon [1997]) accidentally knocks young Anthony (Jeremy Licht) off his bicycle outside a diner. Concerned, she drives him home. She meets Anthony's family who seem to live in terror of him. She then learns that he keeps them prisoner, as he has the power to manifest anything he wishes. [The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review]"
We spoke a bit about Twilight Zone – The Movie, and It's a Good Life, in our blurb to our October 2011 Short Film of the Month, Sally (née "Sarah") Cruikshank's Face Like a Frog (1987), where we wrote: "Remember that big budget remake of the Twilight Zone from 1983? The infamous one for which the actor Vic Morrow and two child extras lost their lives to a helicopter while filming the John Landis segment? Among the various segments is one directed by the ever-entertaining Joe Dante, a remake of the 1963 episode It's a Good Life about a mutant kid (Bill Mumy) with the powers of god. (The episode was also the subject of a sequel episode It's Still a Good Life in the 2002 revival of the TV show in 2002.) In the remake, at one point the little brat [now played by Jeremy Licht] sends one of his 'family', Ethel (Nancy Cartwright), to her demise by popping her into a cartoon hell on TV, where she ends up being eaten by demonic monster rabbit. The episode itself may not have been as good as the original TV version, but damn! That cartoon hell was great! And it was created by Sally (née 'Sarah') Cruikshank, the animator behind a wasted life's Short Film of the Month for October, 2011."
Over at Spirituality and Practice, they are less enamored by the segment: "Joe Dante directs the third segment which is centered around the demonic exploits of a young boy (Jeremy Licht) who has strange psychic powers. […] The surreal dimensions of this portrait warp the tale."
And warped it is: "One of the best episodes of the series is also one of the best segments in the movie, adapted here by director Joe Dante. […] Visual effects had grown by leaps and bounds in the 20 years since the original episode aired, and Dante uses puppetry, makeup, and special effects to achieve some memorably gruesome and shocking moments that weren't possible to depict on television in the early 1960s. With wacky sets and sound effects, the segment plays out like a live-action cartoon, populated by creatures that resemble a Looney Tunes version of hell. It's pure lunacy, but it's also fraught with a profound sense of dread for anyone in Anthony's life who unintentionally displeases him.* [The Horror Honeys]"
* Including Anthony's mouthless "sister" Sara, played by Cherie Currie, seen below not from the film.
Rio Ranch raises justifiable quibbles, however, regarding the segment's ending: "And while there are some pleasingly nasty shocks, the end is kind of ridiculous. The teacher decides to become a real mother to the boy and he promises to no longer use his powers for evil — she'll look after him and give him a proper life. […] Sounds okay, doesn't it? But then the teenage years will hit and bad things will happen. Just think about it. Say there's a girl in school that he likes but then she turns him down. Is he really going to accept that? I don't think so. He'll do something hideous to her. Or even if he has a girlfriend but she won't perform an act that he desperately wants. For example, say he wants her to perform oral sex on him but she doesn't like it. He'll probably go and have her mouth turned into a vagina and have her transported into a maximum security prison. […]"
BTW: The original story to It's a Good Life was written by Jerome Bixby (11 Jan 1923 – 28 Apr 1998), who among other things wrote the screenplay to It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958 / trailer), the movie that inspired Alien (1979 / trailer); the cheap but oddly depressing and underrated sci-fi flick The Lost Missile (1958 / trailer); and the guilty pleasure that is Curse of the Faceless Man (1958 / trailer below).
Trailer to
Curse of the Faceless Man:


Heart Like a Wheel
(1983, dir. Jonathan Kaplan)

The feature film biographical story of Shirley Muldowney: "Shirley Muldowney (born June 19, 1940), also known professionally as 'Cha Cha' and the 'First Lady of Drag Racing', is an American auto racer. She was the first woman to receive a license from the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) to drive a Top Fuel dragster. She won the NHRA Top Fuel championship in 1977, 1980, and 1982, becoming the first person to win two and three Top Fuel titles. She won a total of 18 NHRA national events. [Wikipedia]" 
Trailer to
Heart Like A Wheel:
We caught this one at the movies years ago… don't remember a thing about it, 'cause it was/is a totally forgettable film. Dick Miller shows up to play someone called "Mickey White".
Fulview Drive-In has the plot: "Shirley (Bonnie Bedelia of Needful Things [1993 / trailer]) started drag racing as a young woman in the late 1950s to make a few extra bucks. Because she was a woman, she wasn't supposed to succeed, but she ended up winning a lot of amateur drag races, and decided to turn pro against the advice of practically every male she came across. Married to her high-school sweetheart, Jack Muldowney (Leo Rossi of Maniac Cop II [1990 / trailer]), Shirley started out racing just on weekends with Jack as her mechanic, but did well enough in competition that she eventually wanted to make it a full-time pursuit. Her determination to become not only the first woman racer in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), but a champion as well, eventually was too much for Jack to handle, leading to the dissolution of their marriage. With Jack out of the picture, Shirley, by this time nicknamed 'Cha Cha,' began a long relationship with fellow hot rodder, Connie Kalitta (Beau Bridges of Village of the Giants [1965 / trailer below]), who turned out to be an incorrigible, lying womanizer." 
Trailer to
Village of the Giants:
"Director Jonathan Kaplan wisely avoids trying to hit all the 'key points' in Shirley's life; instead, he takes the time to develop a three-dimensional character with real-life goals and heartaches. Shirley is portrayed as a strong, independent, driven woman who 'finds disappointment in her relationships with men' yet continues to strive 'for triumphs in her profession'. [Filmfanatic]"


Rod Stewart: Infatuation (1984)
Dick Miller shows up in the original music video to Rod "Gag" Stewart's generically 80s song, Infatuation. But then, the video was directed by Jonathan Kaplan.


The Terminator
(1984, writ. & dir. James Cameron)
The first of six films to date, it is easy to imagine that many of those who see the latest installment, Terminator: Dark Fate (2019 / trailer), have probably never seen the film that started it all; and if they did or do, they would also find the special effects extremely dated. But when this movie was first released, it pretty much blew everybody away — and that despite some effects that even looked laughable at that time, namely the segment in which the Terminator (Arnie) "fixes" his eye at a mirror. (OK, the stop motion effects at the end were sort of dodgy even then, but by then the adrenaline the film instigated saved everything.) Dodgy aspects or not, the original Terminator is probably James Cameron's first "masterpiece" and a fucking good film, regardless of its roots (it was, basically, a B-film… only the subsequent ones were A productions). Time Magazine, which was once considered a conservative news magazine,* even did the unbelievable and placed it on its "Ten Best Films" list of 1984. In 2008, the Library of Congress chose The Terminator for preservation in the National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
 
The Terminator:
* Actually, it still is conservative. Unlike the average American conservative of today, however, Time has somehow managed to preserve its ability to think and is thus seen, like most the press, by the braindead masses of our doomed nation as a liberal enemy of America.
The Terminator:
"Cameron originally wanted Lance Henriksen to play the Terminator, reportedly enlisting the actor to dress the part as part of Cameron's pitch. The studio wanted O.J. Simpson, perhaps because they knew a killer when they saw one. The role eventually went to bodybuilder-turned-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had supporting roles in a few movies before breaking out in Conan the Barbarian (1982 / trailer) two years earlier. Schwarzenegger has stated he was reluctant to take the role, feeling that at this stage in his career he should only be playing the hero but eventually giving so much thought to how the Terminator should be played that he knew he had to do it. The rest is movie history, as it was really The Terminator that turned Arnold Schwarzenegger into a huge superstar and a household name. That's because he's fucking awesome in the movie: impossibly enormous, flat voice and cold, dead eyes. [F This Movie]"
Over at All Movie, Hal Erickson has the plot: "Endlessly imitated, The Terminator made the reputation of cowriter/director James Cameron […] and solidified the stardom of Arnold Schwarzenegger. [Seen below, not from the film.] The movie begins in a post-apocalyptic 2029, when Los Angeles has been largely reduced to rubble and is under the thumb of all-powerful ruling machines. Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn of Planet Terror [2007], Cherry Falls [2000], and so much more), a member of the human resistance movement, is teleported back to 1984. His purpose: to rescue Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton of The Children of the Corn [1984 / trailer]), the mother of the man who will lead the 21st-century rebels against the tyrannical machines, from being assassinated before she can give birth. Likewise thrust back to 1984 is The Terminator (Schwarzenegger), a grim, well-armed, virtually indestructible cyborg who has been programmed to eliminate Sarah Connor. After killing two 'Sarah Connors' who turn out to be the wrong women, he finally aims his gunsights at the genuine article. This is the film in which Schwarzenegger declared 'I'll be baaaack' — and back he was, in 'kinder and gentler' form, in the even more successful Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991 / trailer)."
"Schwarzenegger's Terminator is a cyborg of very few words, speaking only a handful of times throughout the film, and when it does, it's usually short and to the point […]. But then, this is a machine that doesn't need words; it may speak softly, but it carries a big arsenal. Upon its arrival in the past, the Terminator gets right down to business, murdering one punk rocker (a young Bill Paxton [17 May 1955 - 25 Feb 2017]) before stealing the clothes of another. From there, it's off to a small gun shop, where it has the proprietor (Dick Miller [!!!]) pull all his best weapons off the shelf, then shoots the man with his own merchandise. To ensure the success of his mission, the Terminator next turns his attention to killing every Sarah Conner in the phone book, taking out the first one (Marianne Muellerleile) by pumping six rounds into her as she stood defenseless in her living room. The Terminator is a killing machine, programmed with a single goal and a driving determination to see it through. Reese fills Sarah in on just what they're up against when he says, 'It can't be bargained with, it can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and it absolutely will not stop… ever.' We've seen Schwarzenegger play tough before, but in The Terminator he's also damn scary. [2,500 Movies Challenge]"
"The time travel concept and the post-apocalyptic flash-forwards are all window-dressing that masks the fact that The Terminator is very much a slasher movie, just one with guns and explosives instead of hatchets and chainsaws. […] The Terminator adheres to two of the main slasher conceits. First, and most obviously, it follows a single-minded killer who offs a series of victims. The Terminator even follows a specific pattern murdering Los Angeles-area Sarah Connors in the order in which they appear in the phone book. Second, The Terminator clings almost religiously to the concept of the Final Girl. As Carol Clover, who coined the term, describes it, the Final Girl is a female who 'alone looks death in the face … she alone also finds the strength either to stay the killer long enough to be rescued (Ending A) or to kill him herself (Ending B).' Sarah Connor fits this mold perfectly, especially in regard to Clover's 'Ending B'. She comes into the film an innocent, and leaves it wiser and perhaps a little more dangerous, having destroyed the monster with his own weaponry a piece of machinery. [Classic Horror]"
But to end with a voice of contrariety: Derrick Carter of Are You Not Entertained? says, "I did not grow up with The Terminator and therefore, I don't have much nostalgia for it. As it stands, I only consider one film in the whole series to be great thus far and it's not this one. The Terminator holds up as a cheesy, very 80's sci-fi actioner that's entertaining, but has its share of flaws that stick out to me. […] Sarah's character is a hapless waitress who is timid, shy and feels like she belongs in a romantic comedy as opposed to an 80's sci-fi classic. […] She's a bit bland and Kyle Reese is even more of a dull character than her. He's the typical hero who's been sent to save the day. When romantic chemistry forms between them, it all feels forced and bland…just like both characters. […] The Terminator is very much an 80's movie, too. It's complete with a cool synthesizer score, an over-the-top cheesy sex scene, and silly dialogue (one character threatening to knock the Terminator's block off is kind of hilarious). Though a majority of the film plays out like an elongated chase scene between man and machine, director/writer James Cameron doesn't skimp out on the action scenes either. While one futuristic battle sequence drags for a bit too long […], the finale is truly something to behold. The special effects that constructed the Terminator hold up very well (save for one rubber Arnie head), especially what appears to be a blend of stop-motion and practical work during the final confrontation. […] As it stands for me, the first Terminator is cheesy 80's fun that went on to spawn a far superior sequel."
Followed by the excellent Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), the unnecessary and uninteresting Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003 / trailer), two we didn't bother with — Terminator: Salvation (2009 / trailer) and Terminator: Genisys (2015 / trailer) — and a new one, Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), due soon.


Gremlins
(1984, dir. Joe Dante)

BTW, the original poster design above is by John Alvin (24 Nov 1948 – 6 Feb 2008), who designed many a classic poster we can't stand.

"The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas. Oh, God. It was so horrible. It was Christmas Eve. I was 9 years old. Me and Mom were decorating the tree, waiting for Dad to come home from work. A couple hours went by. Dad wasn't home. So Mom called the office. No answer. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. Neither one of us could eat or sleep. Everything was falling apart. It was snowing outside. The house was freezing, so I went to try to light up the fire. That's when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And me and Mom were expecting them to pull out a dead cat or a bird. And instead they pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He'd been climbing down the chimney... his arms loaded with presents. He was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck. He died instantly. And that's how I found out there was no Santa Claus." 
Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates)

Complaints over the violence of this PG-rated movie and the similarly PG-rated Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984 / trailer) resulted in the creation of the PG-13 rating, which is currently worded: "Parents Strongly Cautioned — Some Material May Be Inappropriate for Children under 13." A financial success, Gremlins was followed six years later by the Dante-directed Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) which also has Dick Miller pop up as Murray Futterman, the same role he plays in this movie. Chris Columbus is credited as the scriptwriter to this anti-Christmas classic, something we here at a wasted life find hard to believe because the movie is so typically Joe Dante. We assume Dante added a lot to the script along the way, uncredited… 
Trailer to
Gremlins:
Plot: "Inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton [25 March 1938 – 26 Oct 1999]) is searching for a special Christmas present for his son, Billy (of Eaten Alive [2002]). When he stumbles across an underground store in Chinatown, it seems that he's found the perfect gift: a furry, adorable creature called a Mogwai. Billy begins to care for this Mogwai, named Gizmo, as an unusual pet. However, there are three rules that come with Mogwai. You can't expose them to bright light. You can't get them wet. Most importantly, you can't feed them after midnight. Billy accidentally breaks all three of these rules and soon after, reptilian-looking Gremlins are wreaking havoc in his small town on Christmas Eve. It's up to Billy and Gizmo to put a stop to this monstrous mess. [Are You Not Entertained?]" 
Written by Hoyt Axton,
a hit for SteppenwolfThe Pusher:
"PG exteriors harbor an R-rated dark side in this seminal '80s hit about a cute furry creature that births an army of sadistic gremlins that destroy a quaint American town. For all its special effects wizardry, the centerpiece of Joe Dante's Gremlins is the setting: Kingston Falls, the fictitious small town […]. There's a logical connection there, as Reagan's America had many '80s filmmakers looking back towards the country's last period of stifling conformity. But while Dante takes pains establishing Kingston Falls as an idyllic vision of a by-gone American way of life, there is a persistent undercurrent of something untoward even before the Gremlins arrive. Many townspeople are struggling to make ends meet, businesses are closing, and the picturesque town square is blighted by a jarring Burger King. […] Gremlins has been justifiably praised as a showcase for Dante's technical brilliance, as the mischievous monsters allow him to pack the screen with a frantic chaos inspired by the Golden Age of cartoons. But while Dante's tonal juxtapositions are ambitious, Gremlins never quite achieves the menace it aims for in scenes where the villainous creatures wield chainsaws and guns. It's also clear that a lot was left on the cutting room floor, as Corey Feldman and Judge Reinhold play characters that are built up in the first half of the film before completing disappearing in the second half. [Arthouse Grindhouse]"
"[Gremlins] has the awesome feel of the 80's; it has comedy, pure insanity in the form of marauding hell-bent creatures descending on suburbia, and even romance for the ladies! It has cute little Gizmo (to fill seats and sell a million dolls in stores by x-mas), the evil twisted Stripe and his army of pure clusterfudge, and you even get to see a mean old lady (this xmas story's Scrooge) get her well-deserved comeuppance. The action is cool, the story has a positive moral backdrop, and you get to see some badass little monsters raise hell and blow the hell out of everything! In my opinion the tavern scene as well as Billy's Mom (Frances Lee McCain) nuking one unfortunate defenseless gremlin in the microwave is worth the price of admission. [Buried.com]"
"The underlying message is spelled out for the viewer toward the conclusion, informing audiences that William and his family did with the Mogwai what society has done with all of nature's gifts. Failing to understand it, not retaining any accountability for mistreatment, and being wholly unready for such great responsibility can only lead to corruption and chaos. It's not terribly far removed from the standard examination of a superhero's super powers, aided by authority figures (primarily the sheriff's department) expectedly refusing to acknowledge the danger. Never has the annihilation of an entire town (dubbed the 'Christmas Eve Riots') come in such a darkly humorous form (except, perhaps, for the apocalyptic marshmallow juggernaut in Ghostbusters [trailer] from the same year). [Gone with the Twins]" 
One of the earliest appearances of a gremlin in film —
with Bugs Bunny in Falling Hare (1944):
As per the changing times Gremlins is now seen as "culturally insensitive" because "the gremlins 'reflect negative African-American stereotypes' in their dress and behavior. They are shown 'devouring fried chicken with their hands', listening to black music, breakdancing, and wearing sunglasses after dark and newsboy caps, a style common among African American males in the 1980s. [Wikipedia]" Gremlins went on to inspire an untold number of B-movie deadly little critter franchises, the most well known probably being Critters (four films from 1986-92 and a fifth on the way), Ghoulies (four films from 1985-94) and Munchies (three films between 1987-94).


Swing Shift
(1984, dir. Jonathan Demme)

Dick Miller has a super-tiny, uncredited part in this financial flop as a military man who asks the lead character, Kay Walsh (Goldie Hawn of Death Becomes Her [1992 / trailer]), to dance at a military dance but walks away when she can't stop talking about her absent husband Jack (Ed Harris of Appaloosa [2008 / trailer], Paris Trout [1991 / trailer] and more), who is In the Navy.
Swing Shift is considered a classic example of "star/producer/director conflict": Hawn, a huge star at the time, took control of the final product and redhot numerous scenes and re-editted the movie to put more focus on her character; result, the budget skyrocketed and the release was delayed, director Demme (22 Feb 1944 – 26 April 2017) removed his normal "A Jonathan Demme Film" credit, the screenwriters Bo Goldman, Nancy Dowd, Robert Towne and Ron Nyswaner took the pseudonym "Rob Morton", and the film flopped (it barely returned a third of its costs).
Speaking of Swing Shift and a then still young and buff Ed Harris, the movie has one of those kinds of towel slips that keep fans of celebrity penis happy — as the blogspot World of Male Embarrassment mentions in their article 10 Unfortunate Moments of Male Nudity, whence the image below is taken, "This is one of the most iconic nude accidents to ever happen. Ed Harris, still young and sexy, comes out of the shower shirtless wearing just a towel. The 'just' part becomes more apparent when he sits down with his legs widely open giving us a quick look of his reddish long dick flopping! If it wasn't for this cute accident we would have never seen Mr. Harris since it's his only nude scene." (They're actually wrong about the last, but in his other nude scenes, like that in China Moon [1994 / trailer] — or was it in Knightriders [1981 / trailer]? — the distance removes the details.) As Junta Juliel points out, however, "The DVD censors the notorious Ed Harris balls-flashing scene. I know everybody's really disappointed." 
Trailer to
Swing Shift:
The plot, as described by For It Is Man's Number, which says the film's "drama isn't all that dramatic, the light moments of comedy are few and far between and any air of romance that might seep from each frame is polluted by the fact that this is a story about a married woman": "Hawn plays Kay Walsh, a woman who ends up discovering a whole new world around her when her husband (Harris) heads off to war and she lands a job at an airport plant. She becomes friends with the neighbor (Hazel, played by Christine Lahti) that her husband had always looked down his nose at and, more importantly, she starts to hit it off with Mike 'Lucky' Lockhart (Kurt Russell)."
The normally laughable site Spirituality & Practice catches a few aspects about the "straight-laced and submissive wife" Kay's story that the Man's eyes missed, in part by asking some questions about the sudden influx of working women during the war effort: "How did these women handle responsibilities outside the home? What was the reaction of men who worked side by side with them in defense plants? And how did the experience of working alter the women's view of themselves and their future?"
And so they note: "Kay and her feisty next-door neighbor Hazel (Christine Lahti of Hideaway [1996 / trailer]) become friends at the plant. Ignoring sexism on the job, they enjoy their newfound independence. Hazel, a former dance hall singer, introduces Kay to a wider world than she had experienced as a housewife. Lucky (Kurt Russell of The Thing [1982 / trailer] and 3000 Miles to Graceland [2001]), a foreman at the plant exempt from the draft because of a bad heart, seduces Kay, and despite her loyalty to Jack, she begins an affair with him. [...] [Demme] convincingly captures the workers' pride in their labors, the suffering brought by death notices from overseas, and the escape from anxiety to be found doing the fox trot in dance halls. Swing Shift effectively clarifies how the war changed men, women, work, and family. When Jack learns of Kay's adultery during a leave of absence, she must choose between the two men she loves. [...] The film ends on an ironic note. Following the conclusion of the war, the working women are dismissed by MacBride Aircraft and told to go home where they belong. For Kay and Jack and for millions of others, the war made it impossible for them to resume the status quo; their lives would never be the same again."
Elsewhere, a man not disturbed by cheating housewives says, "Despite a screenplay that just cannot quite pull it all together and direction that just does not quite take a grip, the intriguing premise, ideal atmosphere, good period re-creation and sparky performances still keep it swinging along quite nicely. It remains pleasant and enjoyable. [Derek Winnert]"
BTW: For years there's been a bootleg of Demme's original director's cut going around, if only amongst the type of people most Jane and Joe Schmoes don't know. Over at Salon, they are of the opinion that: "[...] Hawn's public stance on her hand in the release cut of Swing Shift has been that it was 'the best job well-meaning [people] could cobble together under impossible circumstances.' Releasing Demme's cut would show that stance to have been bullshit. It would also reveal a big star's fears about how her public might perceive her. But it could also win Hawn more acting praise than she's ever had, and might even make her seem like a big person for, at last, allowing the public to see an authentic American masterpiece that for 15 years has been hostage to her ego." 
The same year Demme directed Swing Shift, he also released one of the better concert films ever made, Stop Making Sense, with the Talking Heads.
Trailer to
Stop Making Sense:


More Dick coming soon....
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