Wednesday, November 20, 2019

R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part VII (1985-89)



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 deceased low-culture thespian treasure Sid Haig (14 July 1939 – 21 Sept 2019), 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 an extremely meandering, highly 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) 
R.I.P.: Dick Miller, Part VI (1981-84) 


After Hours
(1985, dir. Martin Scorsese)
 
After New York, New York (1977, see Part V), the second and last Scorsese film that Dick Miller appears in, this time in a small part as Peter the Waiter. (After Hours is also the second Scorsese fictional film after Alice Doesn't Live Here [1974 / trailer] in which Robert DeNiro doesn't appear.) After Hours, which was written by Joseph Minion, the same guy who scribed the bat-shit-crazy Nicholas Cage flick Vampire's Kiss (1989 / trailer). Unlike that film, however, people seem to like After Hours.

Originally intended as the feature film directorial debut for Tim Burton, Burton bowed out when Scorsese came slinking around, bruised and battered (after, once again, a major studio bailed on his Last Temptation of Christ project) and in search of a small project with which to heal. While not as lambasted as the flop that was Vampire's Kiss, After Hours wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms by the critics and was only a moderate success. More so than Vampire's Kiss, however, After Hours has since gone on to become a respected if mildly culty film as the "underrated" Scorsese film that you really should see: "The best of the urban nightmare movies. Surreal, frustrating and hilarious. [80s Movies Rewind]" And possibly easier to stomach now than when it came out, during the generation that first saw the Rise of the Undead Yuppie. 
After Hours:
The plot, from Combustible Celluloid: "[Griffin] Dunne plays Paul Hackett, a word-processor who ventures out into the night and meets a beautiful woman, Marcy (Rosanna Arquette, seen below not from the movie, of Voodoo Dawn [1998]). She invites him back to the flat she shares with her artist roommate, Kiki (Linda Fiorentino of Unforgetable [1996]). Their 'date' turns out awkward and Paul decides to go home. But he's lost all his money out a taxicab window* and subway fares have gone up — just this night — so he's shy the fare. A horrible comedy of errors follows, involving Paul's lost keys, a suicide, a papier-mâché sculpture, an angry mob, a couple of thieves, and a clingy waitress with a 60s-era beehive hairdo (Teri Garr). It ends, not with any kind of vindication or revelation, but with a perfectly placed 'Screw you, pal.' [...]."
* Even in 1985, the concept of anyone, much less a NYC Yuppie, going out for the night with only 20 bucks in their pocket required a greater suspension of belief than anything else that happens in the movie. Likewise, SoHo was hardly the artistic den of iniquity and craziness that Scorsese presents — indeed, compared to Lower East Side it was positively establishment, a place where any yuppie would feel at home.
As Cinema Clock puts it, "Scorsese's sweetly ominous screwball starring a-never-more-watchable Griffin Dunne as a fish-out-of-East Manhattan yuppie trailing bohemian bunny Patricia Arquette into the rabbit hole of a sinister, surreal SoHo where he is preyed upon by one arty inhabitant after another. Eventually pursued by locals roaming in packs, dream logic collides with foreboding and Hitchcockian-informed suspense in this Kafkaesque comedy exploring the premise that just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't after you."
As normal for a Scorsese film, the soundtrack employs a lot of great music, including Peggy Lee's classic version of Is That All There Is? But there is actually a better version of that song out there, one that the original songwriters initially tried to suppress when it was released in 1980.... 
Cristina sings
Is That All There Is?
"After Hours is a comedy [...] in the blackest sense of the word. Martin Scorsese's style and mood set this apart from the rather cosily predictable feel of most American comedies of this era. For one thing, there's an undeniable horror/nightmare atmosphere running through the film; it's visually dark and tightly wrapped up in Paul's farcically escalating predicament. It basically homages the whole 'survive the night' trope [...]. Further underneath the horror though is something equally dark but far closer to social satire than anything else. Paul is a bit of a neurotically clean-cut 'yuppie' type who thinks he can seduce a woman after finishing his day at the office and then walk away when he feels uneasy — an uneasiness that comes very naturally to him, as he is so straitjacketed in his yuppified world. While Dunne is a likeable enough actor to make the audience root for him, when watching the first half of After Hours carefully it's clear that he is more intolerant towards the motley collection of punks, bohemians and other oddballs than they are of him. While each has their individual quirks, many of the people he encounters are all well-rounded characters who put themselves out of the way to help Paul with his predicament only to be greeted with a frenetically rude response. It's unsurprising that the inhabitants ultimately turn against him en-masse. [Cinema's Fringes]"
Coincidentally enough, the bee-hived waitress character Teri Garr plays is a fan of the Monkees (we are too, actually). Long ago, one of her first [credited] feature film roles was a tiny one (as Testy True) in the Monkees' great movie, Head (1968 / trailer). In After Hours, she even plays one of their records, namely: 
The Last Train to Clarksville:


Explorers
(1985, dir. Joe Dante)
 
The feature film debut of both Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix (23 Aug 1970 – 31 Oct 1993), Explorers got rushed into the cinemas two months early, without reshoots or a director's final cut — and is all the weaker for it. Oddly enough, considering that this movie was less than a hit when it came out, a remake of Explorers is currently caught in development hell; a result, perhaps, of the movie's later mild success on cable TV and VHS.
Retrojunk has the plot: "Ben Crandall (Ethan Hawke of Daybreakers [2009]), an alien-obsessed kid, dreams one night of a circuit board. Drawing out the circuit, he and his friends Wolfgang (River Phoenix) and Darren (Jason Presson) set it up, and discover they have been given the basis for a starship. Setting off in the Thunder Road, as they name their ship, they find the aliens Ben hopes they would find... but are they what they seem?" 
Trailer to
Explorers:
"One of the many sci-fi adventures in the '80s to pop up after the success of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982 / trailer), Explorers is a pretty standard genre effort. Director Joe Dante makes constant references to movies and TV shows with some comedic effectiveness. For all of his evident knowledge in pop culture, he misses an opportunity for a critique of it. The story remains a fun juvenile quest, while the kids find that the alien is as much a product of media-saturation as they are. [...] Explorers was quickly overshadowed by the superior fantasy-adventure film of the same year, Steven Spielberg's The Goonies. [All Movie]"
"Dante has always had a subversive streak as a filmmaker and it pops up in the last third of Explorers when our heroes finally make contact with aliens. Ben expects to meet some solemn being a la The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951 / trailer) and instead is confronted with two beings educated by American T.V., communicating mostly in famous soundbites. It has a bit of a jarring effect after the earnestness of the first two-thirds but one can see that Dante wasn't interested in repeating what Steven Spielberg did with E.T. [...]. [Radiator Heaven]"
"Though it sports the debuts of River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke, a quality performance from Dante regular Dick Miller [below, from the film], and some fun special makeup effects by Rob Bottin, the flick has one major problem: it's a Nothing Happens flick. Given its setup of aliens reaching out to contact small town kids — kids who build their own spaceship, no less — this film meanders for long stretches, and doesn't make the most of its premise. [...] At one point, Miller's helicopter pilot seems like he may be the enemy, but he's dropped just after he becomes interesting. [Death Ensemble]"
"The film is very much in keeping with the notion that our first contact will be with technologically advanced, benevolent beings who mean no harm, though Dante goes further by showing the protagonists that the threat of contact will not come from the aliens, but by humans who fear the things they do not understand, going through montages of films and television transmissions that explore those very issues in our science fiction. [...] Fans of Joe Dante will recognize many of his trademark elements, starting with the aforementioned alliance with the wide-eyed outlook commonly associated with Steven Spielberg's style of filmmaking. Dante also pays many homages to early animators and cinematic influences stemming from a lifelong love of B-Movies, cartoons, and 1950s and early 1960s television. He also continues to employ a plethora of in-jokes for the adults to wax nostalgic over, while still dishing up enough exciting visual elements to keep the kids entertained in the audience. [Qwipster]"
And before you corrupt your kids, Common Sense Media tells the world that "Parents need to know that, overall, Explorers depicts smart, curious junior-high kids who stumble upon a way to make their dreams of space flight a reality. But there's a scene in which they drink beer, and they work unsupervised with a welding torch and an electric saw as they construct their spaceship. One boy mentions his dead mother; another, preparing for a trip to outer space, writes his will as a precautionary measure. There's also some lower level cursing by kids ('ass,' 'hell,' 'pissed') and some sexuality. Younger kids may be scared by a suspenseful scene in which a giant mechanical 'spider' frisks the boys after they arrive on the alien spaceship." Where, by the way, one of the aliens, Wak (Robert Picardo), performs a Little Richard song for the kids...
All Around the World:


Armed Response 
(1986, dir. Fred Olan Ray)

A.k.a. Jade Jungle. A Fred Olan Ray movie from the days when one thought that he actually liked films and making films, with his usual eclectic cast of nobodies, familiar faces, and cult names. As the grammar-garbling Boba Fett says, "[Armed Response] makes you wonder if perhaps Ed Wood also wouldn't have been capable of making some decent movies if he was given some mony to work with."
Trailer to
Armed Response:
The plot, from Comeuppance Reviews: "Jim Roth (David Carradine [8 Dec 1936 – 3 June 2009] of Dead & Breakfast [2004] and Q [1982]) is a Vietnam veteran, family man, and owner of a bar. His father Burt (Lee Van Cleef [9 Jan 1925 – 16 Dec 1989] of Kansas City Confidential [1952]) hangs out there, as do other brothers Tommy (Brent Huff) and Clay (David Goss). It's a close family, as Jim's wife Sara (Lois Hamilton [14 Oct 1943 – 23 Dec 1999]) and young daughter Lauren (Dah-ve Chodan) also stop by on occasion. But the Roth family is about to encounter some trouble in the form of Yakuza boss Akira Tanaka (Mako [10 Dec 1933 – 21 July 2006]), who desperately wants a valuable statue and will stop at nothing to get it, mainly because he will use it as a bargaining chip to prevent a Chinatown mob war with the Tongs. When Clay stupidly gets involved with Tanaka and his evil bodyguard F.C. (Michael Berryman), it sets off a chain of events where various members of the Roth family get in trouble — and Jim, who suffers from Vietnam flashbacks and nightmares, must team up with his, and I quote, 'pappy', Burt, to go back into an American-Asian war by gearing up to blow away the Yakuza. Add into this mix the slimy Cory Thorton (Ross Hagen [21 May 1938 – 7 May 2011]), as well as other various and sundry unsavory characters, and there's going to have to be an ARMED RESPONSE!"
"Sometimes you come across a film that perfectly delivers exactly what the cover art promises, and what you are hoping for; nothing more, nothing less. This is that film. If you're looking for a solid little low-budget action flick that delivers just the right amount of awesome, action, and 80's vibe, then this is the film for you. [...] Aside from the fact that [Fred Olan] Ray actually turned out a solid film, the casting of this thing is just fantastic. First and foremost, you have the legends Lee Van Cleef and David Carradine. But it's really the little bit parts filled to the brim with genre icons that really stand out like Micheal Berryman, Brent Huff, Mako, Dick Miller (!!!), Laurene Landon, and David Goss [not to mention Ross Hagen]. [...] It's got a great cast, a fun vibe, and shockingly, it's made competently well. Too bad Ray couldn't keep up with this type of quality of work. If anything, Armed Response shows that the guy has the goods. [...]. [Robot Geek]"
Dick Miller in
Armed Response:
"The 80's-ness of Armed Response is spectacular. All the clichés you want to see are here. Carradine has a Nam flashback (I swear this footage is pulled from one of Carradine's numerous Nam films, too) when he pulls a shotgun on a guy in his bar. The ubiquitous scene at a titty club. Yakuza vs. Tongs. A car chase that involves a car smashing through a phone box and a trolley full of tin cans, and a cop car flying up the back of three other crashed cars, then exploding. Carradine quipping 'Go in pieces' after blowing up a guy. The electro-rock soundtrack with wailing guitar solos. Chicks with machine guns. Armed Response never bothers itself too much about a complicated plot or any subplots at all. It's a very simple revenge-vigilante flick and it works so well for that. It's all here, folks, and it's all amazing. And at 82 minutes long it never, ever gets boring. [Explosive Action]"
Spinning Image offers a different viewpoint: "When you see a film whose title is immediately preceded by a tiger claw slash on the screen, then the words come up, then they are broken by a bullet hole, you pretty much know what you're letting yourself in for [...], as if that action template title that tells you very little about what it was about was not enough. [...] Carradine's career was somewhat overshadowed by the fact he masturbated himself to death, but he was a tried and true action star. Probably prefer to be remembered for that too, rather than his exit from this life, but when you saw him in material like this which constituted too much of his later work, it's no surprise that he would be recalled in the public imagination for that rather than blasting bad guys with great big guns in such efforts. Undistinguished to a fault, this puttered along from scene to scene, occasionally offering as much bullets, fists and explosions as the low budget would allow, though to be fair Ray seemed to have a bit more at his disposal than was often the case, possibly down to the cast who included a handful of names who for his work were fairly starry — when Dick Miller and Laurene Landon team up, fans get interested."
The topless cheesecake dancing in the background at the Exotic Bar when Tanaka shows up with his men to talk with Jackie Hong (Sam Hiona) is no less than now mostly forgotten Scream Queen Michelle Bauer, aka as porn actress Pia Snow (Cafe Flesh [1982 / scene]). That's her above, not from the film and in her prime.

  
(1986, writ. & dir. Fred Dekker)

Dick Miller appears all of one scene as Walt — in other words, Walter Paisley — in this, one of the great cult horror movies of the mid-1980s, a movie that still holds up today.
Scene with Dick Miller:
Inspired to an extent by Cronenberg's Shivers (1975 / trailer), Night of the Creeps went on to inspire James Gunn's Slither (2006 / trailer), both classics in their own right. (It also inspired at least one fun non-classic zom com, Zombie Town [2007 / trailer] — which was even marketed in Germany as a sequel to Dekker's movie.)
Trailer to
As so often, Night of the Creeps didn't do so well when it was in the cinemas, and gained its later reputation via pay TV and VHS. Click on the linked title to go our review of the movie.



Chopping Mall
(1986, dir. Jim Wynorski)


"Thank you, have a nice day."

Amazing what used to get released as a PG movie. Also known as Killbots and R.O.B.O.T. and Shopping. An early movie from present-day hack Jim Wynorski, co-scripted with Steve Mitchell, made in the day when some of Wynorski's movies at least indicated an appreciation of the medium — but then, the film was only his second directorial credit after The Lost Empire (1984 / cheese). By the time he regurgitated Vampirella (1996), total disrespect was already obvious.
Dick Miller dies in
Chopping Mall:

Chopping Mall was produced by Julie Corman, wife of King Roger, and since the flick is from the Corman factory (this time in its Concorde iteration) it is perhaps not all that surprising that Dick Miller shows up in a small part as Walter Paisley. In this iteration of the former killer bus boy, Walter is a janitor cleaning at the shopping mall who meets an electrifying end. While not much of a hit when it was released, like so many movies Chopping Mall has achieved a sizable cult following.
Trailer to
Chopping Mall:
World Film Geek, which calls the movie "an underrated cult classic" and says "this one to check out", has the plot: "Park Plaza Mall has taken the job of creating two forms of security by installing a new state-of-the-art security system in which the doors will shut the mall down from midnight to dawn. In addition, they have employed tech experts in the creation of three mall security robots who will use various methods of disarming and capturing robbers. The plan is set to go off without a hitch until a freak lightning storm causes the robots to malfunction. A group of teens who work at various places in the mall decide to spend the night there after their shifts end. Alison (Kelli Maroney of Night of the Comet [1984]) is set up with the nerdy Ferdy (Tony O'Dell of the psychotronic flick Evils of the Night [1985 / trailer]) by best friend Suzie (the great Barbara Crampton of Re-Animator [1985], Castle Freak [1995] and so much more) and her boyfriend Greg (Nick Segal of the psychotronic filmic mistake known as School Spirit [1985 / trailer]). Couples Mike (John Terlesky of Deathstalker II [1987 / trailer]) and Leslie (Suzee Slater) and Rick (Russell Todd, current-day DILF, seen shirtless below) and Linda (Karrie Emerson) join the group as well as they party in the furniture store where Mike, Greg, and Ferdy work. When Mike leaves the party to get cigarettes for Leslie, he is killed by one of the robots. When Leslie finds Mike, she is confronted by the same robot who kills Leslie in front of the others. The others soon find themselves trapped and fighting for survival when the doors shut the mall down for the night."
Made at a time when exploitation still had copious female nude scenes, many of the gals show boobage before dying: directly below is Suzee Slater, who has since retired from acting and literally disappeared, and further below is Barbara Crampton. Of course, for the safety of the world and society, no guy has a full frontal. In one of the gore highpoints of the movie, Slater's head is "blown up like an overripe melon".
Like so many horror movies of yesteryear, Chopping Mall is supposedly in redevelopment hell: a remake was announced around 2011, and nothing heard since.
Wynorski has said that his inspiration for the movie was the 1954 3-D sci-fi flick Gog (trailer) and not, as most people assume, the 1973 TV movie Trapped (a trailer). But then, he set the movie in a shopping mall specifically because that was the setting demanded by Julie Corman; the killer robots were his idea (and there are no killer robots in Trapped).
In regard to the appearance of Dick Miller — and Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel from Eating Raoul (1982 / trailer) — co-scriptwriter Steve Mitchel once told Mondo Digital, "We wrote the characters with those names, and then we went to get the actors. I don't think we had cast the actors first; we had the idea to maybe get them. I'm a huge Dick Miller fan and still believe that his scenes in the picture are hilarious. Sometimes I'm laughing louder than anyone else! And he's a very nice guy; I loved that one night we worked with him. Paul and Mary, well, slightly different experience. Dick was basically written as a cameo. I don't know what we paid him for the night, but there was never really any design to have him in more of the picture. If we'd wanted we probably could have had him in an earlier scene crowbarred in, but that was basically it."  
Trailer of the movie the Final Couple watch at one point —
Roger Corman's Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957):
"It probably goes without saying, but I [Misan[trope]y] highly recommend Chopping Mall for any bad movie fans. This is just about a must-see for hardcore aficionados of cinematic awfulness, and a good choice for introducing people to the style. The pacing is good, the deaths are memorable, and it infuses enough humor to be entertaining and plenty bearable for even casual audiences. If you are looking to show a bad movie to a mixed audience, this is a pretty good selection for you."

  
Amazon Women on the Moon
(1987, dir. by multiple directors)
"In some ways, Amazon Women on the Moon is a return to roots for John Landis. Landis […] got his entrée into mainstream filmmaking with the mid-1970s success of Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), a zingy low-budget collection of sketches and parodies. Amazon Women is in much the same vein, and Landis serves as the film's executive producer; he also directed some sequences, along with Joe Dante, Carl Gottlieb, Peter Horton, and Robert K. Weiss. [What a Feeling]"
Indeed, it was originally conceived as a sequel of sorts to the earlier and much more popular portmanteau comedy The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) and for a while even bore the working title The Kentucky Fried Sequel. Shot in 1985 and finished in 1986, Amazon Women on the Moon didn't get released until 1987 — and disappeared from the cinemas relatively quickly. 
Trailer to 
Amazon Women on the Moon:
Backseat Mafia has the plot to this portmanteau film: "WIDB-TV (channel 8) is showing 1950s sci-fi 'B' movie Amazon Women on the Moon as its late-night film. Whilst Captain Nelson (Steve Forrest) and Queen Lara (Sybil Danning) battle space monsters, the TV studio is having trouble keeping the show on the air. During these breaks, an unseen viewer jumps between the offerings available on other channels. These range from banal commercials to niche shows and old films." The film-within-the-film of this multi-sketch comedy, Amazon Women on the Moon, is an obvious homage to classic trash films (and Creature Feature and late-night staples) like the Zsa Zsa Gabor vehicle Queen of Outer Space (1958 / trailer), Cat-Women of the Moon (1953 / trailer), and Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1955 / trailer).
"Ultimately, Amazon Women on the Moon is Saturday Night Live with slightly better production values: the jokes are hit and miss, and there's a lot of work to get to the end of each sketch. It's not the worst of its kind (that would be the execrable Movie 43 [2013 / trailer]*), but it's far from the finest. That honor probably belongs to Kentucky Fried Movie, and the filmmakers know it […]. But bad news, Sam: Amazon Women on the Moon is no Fistful of Yen.** [366 Weird Movies]"
* A portmanteau comedy favorite here at a wasted life. 
** A skit now pilloried by many as being culturally insensitive. (So Solly.)
But Last Movie Review on the Left, which notes that the movie has "a number of great big titties as well as a fantastic full nude while walking around in public", disagrees: "It's rare for comedies like this to stand the test of time, but Amazon Women on the Moon definitely does. It's very cynical, which probably helps. Also, it has naked chicks!"
Most of the nudity comes from Landis skit Video Date and two Carl Gottlieb skits, Pethouse Video and Son of the Invisible Man, but whereas the nude male of the last (Ed Begley Jr.) is kept discrete so as not to shock the masses by showing penis, in Pethouse Video Monique Gabrielle — the Penthouse Pet of the Month for December 1982, seen further below — shows enough boobs and pubic hair in the original cinema version to appeal to the teenager in every adult male.
Joe Dante directed the skit featuring Dick Miller, entitled The French Ventriloquist's Dummy. The segment was cut from the original cinema release, but later added for the TV broadcasts (for the last, and for the cuts added to the trailer above, the Pethouse Video sequence features Monique Gabrielle dressed in sexy white lingerie instead of being buck-naked). Miller's sequence is now found on the available DVD releases as well. Cinema Fringes has the plot to it: "The French Ventriloquist's Dummy, directed by Joe Dante, featuring Dick Miller as a ventriloquist [who] picks up the wrong suitcase at the airport. This results in him going on stage with the dummy belonging to his French counterpart. As a result, the dummy speaks French! There could conceivably have been a funny sketch made from this idea but sadly, in this case, it largely fumbles the ball."
Fun cast facts amidst a massive fun fact cast: Russ Meyer (21 Marc 1922 – 18 Sept 2004) plays a video salesman in Video Date segment, while future Phil Spector murder victim Lana Clarkson (5 Apr 1962 – 3 Feb 2003) as one of the slutty moon women.
In season three of the dearly departed TV series Futurama (1999-2003), Matt Groening and Co. pay homage to this film by having an episode entitled Amazon Women in the Mood in which "Gigantic feminist Amazons give Fry, Kif, and Zap a grueling workout." The episode is considered one of the best of the series...
Scene from
 Futurama — Amazon Women in the Mood:


Innerspace
(1987, dir. Joe Dante)

Dick Miller has a small appearance as a cab driver near the start of the movie. Also on hand in the movie, but in a much bigger part as Dr. Margaret Canker, the beautiful (if icy) Fiona Lewis, who made our heart go pitter-patter in such fun movies as Ken Russell's Lisztomania (1975), Robert Fuest's Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972), Michael Laughlin's Strange Behavior (1981 / trailer) and Strange Invaders (1983 / trailer), and The Fury (1978 / trailer). We always saw her as an actress who made too few movies, had too few nude scenes, and retired too early.
Innerspace:
Anyone remember the classic mid-60s science fiction movie Fantastic Voyage (1966 / trailer below)?* The film was the source inspiration for Innerspace, which was originally intended as a "serious" movie but slowly evolved into a comedy as it went through development hell. Retro Junk has the plot: "Lt. Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid), a former Air Force pilot, volunteers to be miniaturized with the help of two experimental microchips. But as techno-thieves steal one of the chips, he is injected into supermarket clerk Jack Putter (Martin Short of Mars Attacks! [1996 / trailer]). Now they must find the missing chip with the help of Tuck's ex-girlfriend Lydia (Meg Ryan of In the Cut [2003]) before the air supply in the pod that Tuck is piloting around Jack's insides runs out."
 
* Trivia: Contrary to popular thought, Fantastic Voyage is not based on an Isaac Asimov (2 Jan 1920 – 6 Apr 1992) novel; Asimov was hired to write the novel version of the screenplay written by Harry Kleiner (10 Sept 1916 – 17 Oct 2007), which was based on a story by Otto Klement (7 Jun 1891 – 28 Oct 1983) and Jerome Bixby (11 Jan 1923 – 28 Apr 1998), but as Asimov's book came out before the film people came to assume he was the original creative source.
 
As the SciFi Movie Page puts it, "Fantastic Voyage gets the 1980s treatment: improved special effects, slapstick comedy, loud soundtrack and breakneck pacing. Loads of fun is to be had, but the movie is not too memorable in retrospect."  
Trailer to
Fantastic Voyage:
Like so many Dante films, Innerspace didn't do well at the cinemas but became a hit on video and DVD. Unlike any other Dante film, it won an Oscar — for Best Visual Effects.
Unlike the SFMP, however, some people find the movie memorable — indeed, Innerspace "is a hilarious film that never gets old" for Not This Time, Nayland Smith: "The movie is just plain rewatchable […]. The characters are so much fun, and the evolution of Jack Putter's character from a frail wimp to a self-assured in-control guy is a joy to watch! This is a really well-written film from beginning to end, and that includes the end credits! The movie ends on such a high, and plays such a good song over the credits that you'll be glued to your seat until the 'theatre's lit up'. The leads in Innerspace are perfect! […] While the three main actors all do great jobs here, the villains really shine! There are four unique and distinctive antagonists in this movie, from the silent heavy Mr. Igoe (Vernon Wells of), to the eccentric thief-for-hire the Cowboy (Robert Picardo of Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus [2010]), as well as the two baddies, played wonderfully by Kevin McCarthy, and Fiona Lewis."


Project X
(1987, dir. Jonathan Kaplan)
 
Kaplan's animal rights cum love story film that ended up getting accused of animal cruelty by Bob Barker (!), whose insurance ended up paying an out-of-court settlement. Dick Miller shows up briefly at the start of the film as Max King, the boss/owner/CEO of King Imports.
The plot, as found at What A Feeling: "We follow the story of […] a simian who goes by the name Virgil. Virgil is trained at a university program by a graduate student (Helen Hunt of Into the Badlands [1991 / trailer]) and reaches an advanced capability with sign language and conceptual thinking. But eventually that program ends, and Virgil is carted off to a military base in Florida. Seems he's been drafted to participate in a government test, along with a few dozen other apes. The test requires chimps to train on flight simulators, so they might, uh, ape the behavior of human pilots under severe conditions. The exact nature of those severe conditions is not revealed until late in the film. But it's something that gives pause to Virgil's trainer and pal (Matthew Broderick), a would-be Air Force pilot who's been busted down to monkey duty because of some lapses in military etiquette. (He got caught with a girl in a plane during an unauthorized night flight.) The swift-moving second half of the film has Broderick bucking his superiors and getting Virgil out of a very hairy situation." 
Trailer to
 Project X:
"Though nobody will ever accuse it of redefining the adventure genre, Project X is nevertheless an extremely enjoyable (albeit entirely unbelievable) romp involving chimps, over-the-top bad guys and Matthew Broderick. […] Project X is peppered with an extraordinary amount of implausible plot developments, yet it's easy enough to suspend one's disbelief thanks primarily to the film's brisk pace and Broderick's exceedingly ingratiating performance. [Reel Films]"

  
Angel 3: The Final Chapter 
(1988, writ. & dir. Tom DeSimone)
The third of four Angel films, an exploitation franchise that was originally about a "fifteen-year-old [italics ours] honor student Molly Stewart [who] attends private prep school in the Los Angeles area in the daytime, but transforms herself to 'Angel' at night: a leather mini-skirted, high-heeled street prostitute who works Hollywood Boulevard." (We sincerely doubt that plotline would make it far past the initial pitch nowadays.)  The poster below is to the first movie of the franchise.
By this movie here, Angel 3: The Final Chapter, which proved not to the final chapter (it was followed in 1993 by Angel 4: Undercover), Angel, now played by Mitzi Kapture, the third of four actresses to play Angel,* had long since left Los Angeles and given up her studies to become a lawyer. Instead, she is now a successful freelance photographer with absolutely amazing 1980s big hair in New York City. Dick Miller shows up briefly to play Molly/Angel's boss Nick Pellegrini, a part that isn't "much to brag about in terms of screen time".
* She was preceded by fellow brunettes Donna Wilkes (Angel [1984 / trailer]) and Betsy Russell (Avenging Angel [1985 / trailer], which we looked at in our Career Review of Susan Tyrrell), and followed by blonde Darlene Vogel (of Extracurricular Activities [2019 / trailer]).
The plot, as found at Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot: "After glimpsing a woman she believes to be her long-gone mother, Molly hops a flight to Los Angeles to discover that not only is her mom, Gloria (Anna Navarro [18 Aug 1933 – 27 Dec 2006]), a successful art dealer, but she also has a 14-year-old half-sister Michelle (Tawny Fere). Unfortunately, just a few hours after Molly's tearful reunion with the mother who left her alone to a life of child prostitution, Gloria is murdered by drug-smuggling white slaver Nadine (Maud Adams of Hell Hunters), who also holds Michelle in her mansion to 'entertain' wealthy criminals. Rounding up a new posse of colorful helpers, including gay hustler Spanky (Mark Blankfield) and bland film editor Neal (Kin Shriner), 'Angel' tarts up and becomes an actress in porn movies in an attempt to infiltrate Nadine's harem."
 Trailer to
 Angel 3: The Final Chapter:
While LaRue doesn't find Angel III "as gritty or sleazy as it should be", despite some quibbles of their own, the House of Self Indulgence might not agree: "The series has been completely overhauled and retains hardly any of the charm of the first two films. For starters, Angel creator Frank Vincent O'Neill has been replaced by Tom DeSimone, a man who definitely knows his way around a bag of sleaze. Yet, this guy just doesn't have the same visual flair as O'Neill. I mean, Los Angeles looks so drab and boring in this chapter. And jettisoning all the colourful characters that made the first two films such a pleasure to wallow in was an unfortunate turn of events. I do, however, have to commend Mr. DeSimone for devising a plot that contains sexual slavery, cocaine distribution, x-rated cinema, and an ice cream truck. Oh, and not to mention, thank him for filling the screen with a cavalcade of naked breasts."
But not, oddly enough, those of Angel, as Dr Gore notices: "There were plenty of gratuitous naked breast shots as well. The only thing a little off about this one was Angel. Angel does not get naked. That seems odd as she is the star of this sleaze fest and she is playing either a hooker or a porn star throughout most of the movie. She also doesn't really blow anybody away. She wasn't the avenging Angel I thought she would be. But even though the Angel action was a little light, I still liked this one. The sleazy exploitation vibe coming off Angel III was strong. It's worth a look."
Director DeSimone seems to have retired by now (he would be around 80, after all), and even his website is no longer in existence. But in his day, he made some good clean fun, both under his real name and his porn director nom de plume Lancer Brooks… we took a quick look at his career in our review of his Linda Blair horror flick, Hell Night (1981), where we mentioned: "Hell Night was the third non-X-rated film of Tom DeSimone, who had honed his directorial skills the prior 13 years as a maker of gay pornography both under his own name and as Lancer Brooks. His earlier projects of note include his only non-gay and non-hardcore films, the extremely idiosyncratic comedy Chatterbox (1977 / trailer one and two), which could once be found in both an R and X-rated version, and a 3-D women's prison film with Uschi Digard entitled Prison Girls (1972 [see Uschi Part VI]), as well as a couple of gay porn "classics", The Idol (1979 / trailer) and Heavy Equipment (1977, in 3-D and featuring both Al Parker and Jack Wrangler, two icons of the Golden Age of gay porn, as well as the legendary Christy Twins). After Hell Night, DeSimone went on to add some life again to the flogged-to-death girls in prison genre with The Concrete Jungle (1982 / trailer) and Reform School Girls (1986 / trailer) as well as a few more porno films — such as Bi-Coastal (1985 / scenes) — before first disappearing into television direction and then from the face of the earth."
While DeSimone's earlier non-"classic" gay porn films are generally ignored, most are still available; all tend to have plots, of sorts, and can be entertaining in an oddly psychotronic fashion. His first "Lance Brooks" film, The Collection (1969) is even claimed by some to be "the first 'homosexual feature film' with sync dialogue, original soundtrack, and a plot that went beyond the basic collection of sex scenes. [Gay Erotic Video Index]" Wakefield Poole's more artistic Boys in the Sand (1971, film, poster below), which is generally honored as the first feature-length gay porn film, came out two full years later... but Poole's film, at 90 minutes in length, is arguably truly closer to being a feature film than DeSimone's.
In turn, Dust unto Dust (1971 / trailer) could well be the first semi-feature-length (i.e., 59 minutes) gay western. Confessions of a Male Groupie, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Electric Banana (1971 / 6 NSFW minutes), for a change actually credited to the director Tom DeSimone, is also of interest, and the truly wacko non-"classic" porn horror Sons of Satan (1973 / review), which even saw a re-release by Something Weird, is also worth a gander if male-2-male activity and lots of body hair doesn't offend thee.


Under the Boardwalk
(1988, dir. Fritz Kiersch)

A.k.a. Wipeout. The fifth feature film directed by the untalented Fritz Kiersch, who is perhaps best remembered (if at all) as the director of the visually static horror hit Children of the Corn (1984 / trailer). The same year that scriptwriter Robert King wrote this turkey, he also scribed the far more entertaining piece o' trash known as The Nest (1988 / trailer). A Roger Corman production, Under the Boardwalk features future Republican congressman Sonny Bono (16 Feb 1935 – 5 Jan 1998, of Good Times [1967]) once again trying to act. Dick Miller, whom you see in the trailer for all of a second, shows up to earn some rent money.
Although Under the Boardwalk features a cover version (by the Untouchables) of the Classic 1964 pop song of the same name by The Drifters — "#489 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" — the real inspiration to the movie is Romeo and Juliet. 
Trailer to
 Under the Boardwalk:
The plot: "When two rival groups of surfers face off on a Southern California beach prior to a big surfing contest, things get a little tense. However, when surfer Nick Rainwood (Richard Joseph Paul of Vampirella [1996]) meets up with a pretty girl, Allie (Danielle Von Zerneck), the two start off a romance, in spite of the fact that they belong to opposing sides of the surfing feud. [Up! All Night Brasil]"
AFI has a full, detailed synopsis, but much as we imagine the movie to be, the synopsis is too long and too boring to bother with. 


Dead Heat
(1988, dir. Mark Goldblatt)

As Filmreference.com points out Dick Miller makes an uncredited appearance in this "horror" action comedy as a cemetery security guard. The screenshot below, taken from Moviecensorship.com (the movie seems to have had problems at getting an R-rating) even proves that his part, however small, is a speaking part.
Director Goldblatt, who went on to direct the wonderfully entertaining and sorely underappreciated first screen version of The Punisher (1989 / trailer) — starring Dolph Lundgren, and our personal favorite of all three Punisher films made to date — made his directorial debut with this movie; prior to and thereafter, he was and is active as an editor. 
Trailer to
Dead Heat:
"After the success of Lethal Weapon (1987), buddy cop films that became all the in thing. Over the next few years, there were several bizarre fantastical combinations: cop and alien — The Hidden (1987 / trailer) and Alien Nation (1988 / trailer); cop and vampire — TV's Forever Knight (1992-6 / fan trailer); and the utterly whacked notion[s] of cop and gnome in Upworld/A Gnome Named Gnorm (1990 / trailer) and cop and dinosaur in Theodore Rex (1995 / trailer). Dead Heat offers a unique slant on the spate of buddy cop films — it is construed as a Lethal Weapon in which one of the cops is a zombie. (Indeed, Dead Heat scriptwriter Terry Black is the brother of Lethal Weapon films' scripter Shane Black, who also makes a cameo appearance in the film as a cop). The concept is an amusing one — the entire film seems to have been constructed to lead up to an ending parodying Casablanca (1942 / trailer) with the two corpses walking off together, saying 'This could be the end of a beautiful relationship.' [Science Fiction, Horror & Fantasy Film Review]"

Pulsing Cinema has the plot: "Roger Mortis (Treat William of The Phantom [1996] and Venomous [2001]) and Doug Bigelow (Joe 'Unfunny' Piscopo) are two wisecracking detectives assigned to the case of a ring of jewel thieves who seem impervious to gunshots or any other kind of physical trauma. After the autopsy of one thief proves that the guy was already dead before the cops killed him, Mortis and Bigelow are led to a mysterious medical corporation and a special device which can bring the dead to life. After investigation of the company proves fatal for Mortis, he's brought back using the machine but with one catch; re-animation only lasts for 24 hours, after which the re-animated subject degenerates into a pile of goo. Mortis must race to find his killer, ultimately involving a suspicious doctor (Darren McGavin [7 May 1922 – 25 Feb 2006]) and a deceased billionaire (Vincent Price [27 May 1911 – 25 Oct 1993] of The Mask of the Red Death [1964], Witchfinder General [1968], The Last Man on Earth [1964] and so much more) who may have plans beyond the grave."
Dead Heat seems to be one of those films that disappoints many, as most reviews more or less echo what Cavett Binion says as All Movie: "Although many genre filmmakers have managed to blend horror and humor with great success, movies employing this formula often run the risk of both elements canceling each other out, resulting in a horror comedy that is neither scary nor funny. Alas, Dead Heat is a textbook example of this kind of failure. […] The potential for 'splatstick' comedy in the mode of Evil Dead 2 (1987 / trailer) or Peter Jackson's Bad Taste (1987 / trailer) is defeated by two major obstacles: first, the painfully unfunny mugging of Piscopo, who was unwisely allowed to ad-lib much of his performance; and second, the MPAA's trimming of several minutes from Steve Johnson's sensational makeup effects in order to avoid the dreaded X rating — including a clever scene involving a zombie go-go girl played by Linnea Quigley (of Creepozoids [1987])."
Others, like Eat Horror, sees something good in the bad: "This is one of those eighties cop buddy movies where everyone is trying to unleash lame wisecracks every couple of seconds. It would be indistinguishable from the action flick crowd except for the fact that the bad guys are zombies, there's a fair bit of gore and Vincent Price pops up. All of which drags it into the horror genre, somewhat reluctantly. If you like hammy acting and a cheesy script this is the kind of bad movie that should appeal. Your buddy duo is Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo and there's quite a large supporting cast, but thankfully no one is labouring under the apprehension that this is a serious film. […] Everyone in the film has an Uzi (obviously an essential accessory in the eighties) and the special effects and gore are pretty well handled. It doesn't really make sense and it's not funny in the way it intends to be, in fact it's pretty awful, and yet somehow it manages to be nostalgically entertaining."
The last sentiment is echoed by Horror Fanzine, which gushes: "When I was growing up, I was an avid collector of Fangoria magazines, much to my mother's dismay. I remember many articles surrounding the Treat Williams/Joe Piscopo horror comedy Dead Heat and lots of groovy special effects photos. I was not disappointed by the film at the time — for a kid, it has almost everything one could ask for: one liners, gun battles, zombies, and decomposing bodies. (The only thing missing was the female nudity). Watching Dead Heat more than 20 years later, I find, surprisingly, that many elements still hold up. Some things — like Piscopo — do not. The movie, ultimately, is big dumb fun, but I see in it the occasional flashes of brilliance that manage to break through the clumsy 80s veneer. If Dead Heat is an immature teenager, I get the impression that part of it really does want to grow up."
The B&W movie on television in Dead Heat when Randi (Lindsay Frost) discovers Doug's dead body is the classic public domain film noir, D.O.A. (1949), a fact we mention only as an excuse to embed the full public domain film — a noir truly worth watching if you haven't yet — directly below. 
For your viewing pleasure,
D.O.A. (1949):
The concept of a zombie cop was regurgitated three years later in Akron, Ohio, in J.R. Bookwalter's no-budget fiasco, Zombie Cop (1991 / trailer).


Elvira, Mistress of the Dark 
(1988, dir. James Signorelli)

Back in the day when we lived in La La Land, which was probably before you were born, one of our favorite TV shows was Movie Macabre (1981-85), hosted by the hot tamale known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (Cassandra Peterson). True, we did find that Elvira interjected too often into the films and that many of the movies weren't always as terrible as she made them out to be, but: What personality! And what chesticles! We even had a treasured copy of some men's magazine that reproduced one of Peterson's numerous earlier nude shoots (example below) — we got rid of it after our roommate "borrowed" it one night and returned it with all relevant pages stuck together.*
* Fans who enjoy both ways might want to search out Playgirl's Nov 1974 issue featuring a breif pictorial Peterson snuggling close to the family jewels of the bisexual beefcake Bill Cable (2 May 1946 – 7 Mar 1998), who began his career in Wakefield Poole's arty porno Bijou (1972 / arty penis) and ended his career as the guy who gets ice-picked at the beginning of Basic Instinct (1992) — you see him in the trailer. He shows up here in Elvira, Mistress of the Dark as a cop, a role he also played in Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985 / trailer). The hirsute hunk's untimely death in real life was due to complications resulting from a motorcycle accident.
Trailer to 
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark:
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark was her attempt to make it onto the big screen, much like her real-life pal Pee-wee Herman. Hardly a hit when it came out, it did go on to VHS success and an eventual sequel, the arguably better Elvira's Haunted Hills (2001 / trailer).

The plot, as found at: "Elvira (Cassandra Peterson of Working Girls [1974 / trailer below]) is down and out on her luck. Quitting her job due to her new sexist boss, Elvira learns her luck could be turning around when a long lost Aunt Morgana leaves Elvira her house and prized cookbook. Travelling to the small town in Massachusetts, Elvira becomes the target of the decency board led by Chastity Pariah (Edie McClurg of Breaking Dawn [2004 / trailer]). When Elvira and her new boyfriend Bob Redding (Daniel Greene of American Rickshaw [1989 / trailer]) discover the 'cookbook' desperately wanted by Elvira's great uncle Vincent Talbot (W. Morgan Sheppard [24 Aug 1932 – 6 Jan 2019] of The Keep [1983 / trailer]) is actually a spell book, trouble is coming! [Basement Rejects]" 
Trailer to
Working Girls:
In any event, Dick Miller doesn't really appear in the movie... but he does appear in a movie in the movie: "Elvira's first big-screen outing begins in full meta mode, with her filming one of her small-screen outings, as she presents — and affectionately ridicules — Roger Corman's cheapo sci-fi schlocker from 1956, It Conquered the World. [Featuring Dick Miller as Sergeant Neil!] Appearing in her trademark low-cut black dress, and in her black-dyed hairstyle that improbably merged a fifties beehive and an eighties mullet (bridging the decade of cinema that her show celebrated, and the decade in which it was broadcast), Elvira is all s[n]arky, smutty sex positivity, making a prominent display of her two best assets: her verbal wit, and her ability to laugh at everything and everyone including, first and foremost, herself. [Projected Figures]" We of course took a look at It Conquered the World in Dick Miller, Part I.
By the way, we really must agree with Cinema's Fringes when they say: "Cassandra Peterson's turn as Elvira here was nominated for a Razzie for Worst Actress in the 1989 Golden Raspberry Awards. One can't help but feel, however, that the board who was responsible for shortlisting her was entirely missing the point. While I certainly wouldn't argue the case for her being one of the world's best actresses by any stretch of the imagination, this film is clearly meant to be a spoof and, as such, her performance is deliberately campy and hammy. Moreover, she has enough in the way of personality to just about carry this otherwise very slender movie on her shoulders." (Or at least on her chest.)


Ghost Writer
(1989, writ. & dir. Kenneth J. Hall)
 
Dick Miller shows up here somewhere as a club manager, he's even seen in the trailer below. The director/writer of this obscure, low budget, "comedy" bimbo-bomb, Kenneth J. Hall, has pretty much disappeared as of late, but for a while he was active both in special effects (i.e., the snowman in Jack Frost [1997] and the monster suit for Biohazard [1985]) and as a scriptwriter (see Blonde Heaven [1995]). Ghost Writer is the second of four obscure feature-length film projects that he wrote and directed, but as obscure as it is, Ghost Writer can be found on online streaming services, where it generally gets positive feedback as fun fluff from the 80s. (Indeed: take a gander of the Big 80s hair of the Landers Sisters, seen below on the cover of the Jan 1983 Playboy, for which they did a  very discrete semi-nude pictorial.)
The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review, which pretty much lacerates the movie in its review, has the plot: "Angela Reid (Audrey Landers), a journalist for Hollywood Beat magazine, goes to stay at her aunt's Malibu beach-house to work in peace and quiet. There, the ghost of Billie Blaine (Judy Landers), the previous owner, an actress who drowned after taking an overdose of barbiturates in 1962, appears to her and the two strike up a friendship. Angela decides to interview Billie and write up her memoirs for the magazine, pretending they are extracts from a diary that she found. However, this attracts the attention of Billie's murderer (Anthony Franciosa [25 Oct 1928 – 19 Jan 2006] of Web of the Spider [1971 / German trailer]), a former mobster who is now running for public office, and comes determined to silence Angela."
Trailer to
Ghost Writer:
"At what point does a movie go from being a collection of bad jokes to a thing of beauty? I can't say, but Ghost Writer crossed that line somewhere in the first act and didn't look back. Perhaps more importantly, this is a lightning-fast movie. While almost all of its middle act is a big, circuitous detour, it never slogs. It never thinks it's being more clever than it is. It sets things up, pays them off, and moves on. Angela is on that damn beach within ten minutes and she's living it up with her dead aunt within twenty. The cast is a lot of fun. They all know exactly what they're here to do and they do it well. Nobody has any depth, but that's okay, because that's not the kind of movie this is. The entire production is 100% committed, knowing full well that it's just some dumb sex comedy about a ghost with boobs. [Movies or Minutes]"
Ghost Writer also features a rare appearance of the Barbarian Brothers, who have always impressed us here at a wasted life by their incredible muscles and incredible lack of thespian talent. We've searched long and hard for a full frontal of either bro, but they always seem to keep at least a loincloth on, even in their tow-page spread in the July 1986 issue of Playgirl. That's them below, not from this movie here but probably one of their wonderfully terrible barbarian flicks.

  
Far from Home
(1989, dir. Meiert Avis)

The movie that features Drew Barrymore's first on-screen kiss. We took a quick look at Far from Home in our career review of Susan Tyrell, where we wrote: "A rare feature film from music video director Meiert Avis. [His feature-film directorial debut, actually.] Drew Barrymore, at the age of 13, had just bottomed out as a child drug and alcohol abuser — in fact, she was technically still in rehab when she made this film — and Far from Home was the first film of her brief B-film phase during her teens that included appearances in the surreal Motorama (1991 / trailer); the trashy Poison Ivy (1992 / trailer); Guncrazy (1992 / trailer); Doppelganger (1993 / trailer), the last of which had a, uh, 'nice' nude scene in which she premièred her surgically reduced boobs; the generally forgotten No Place to Hide (1993 / trailer); and the proto-feminist western Bad Girls (1994 / trailer), in which she also bared her boobs but basically made the full jump back to full Hollywood respectability. In Far from Home, Susan Tyrrell plays Agnes Reed, the owner of the trailer park where 14-year-old Joleen Cox (Drew) and her dad Charlie Cox (Matt Frewer) get stuck when they run out of gas. As the nymphet Joleen — cringe as she asks "Did you ever do it?" — attracts the attention of the two local youths, it becomes obvious that a serial killer is on the loose in the small Nevada town. (Agnes gets electrocuted to death when the killer pushes an electric fan into her bathwater.)" 
Trailer to
Far from Home:
Far from Home is based on a story by Mary Woronov's first husband, Theodore Gershuny (30 Oct 1933 – 16 May 2007), who directed Woronov in the public domain Christmas classic, Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972 / trailer), and the sexploiter Sugar Cookies (1973 / trailer).
Dick Miller, above, is on hand in Far from Home — in the end, much longer than Tyrell — as the two-bit town's upholder of the law, Sheriff Bill Childers. He dies when the killer gives him an ear-to-ear, under-the-chin smile. Another name of note who makes an early career appearance in Far from Home is Jennifer Tilly (of Bride of Chucky [1998] and American Strays [1996]), who meets her end in an exploding car.
"[Far from Home] was shown on the movie channels regularly around 1990 and I was always into watching it whenever possible. It's got a weird atmosphere and tone that has stuck with me over the years. Watching the film now, it comes off as even stranger, especially given how inappropriate some of the elements are. Joleen is played by Drew Barrymore, who was the same age as her character when this film was made, thirteen going on fourteen, and there are all sorts of moments dealing with burgeoning sexuality. When she first meets Jimmy, he immediately, wordlessly starts rubbing an ice cube on her arm. Soon after, she goes swimming and while wearing a bikini spies on a couple having sex (a cameo by porn star Teri Weigel [pre cheap boob-job]) and gets cornered by a lascivious Jimmy, who is so enraged when she gets called away that he punches a wall. Attempted rape and attempted loss of virginity follow later. I thought nothing of all this when I watched the movie in my younger days, I totally forgot about it until my most recent viewing, when it was uncomfortable to see and added a whole new layer of sleaze to the proceedings. [Life between Frames]"


The 'Burbs
(1989, dir. Joe Dante)
Dick Miller in yet another Joe Dante movie, this time round playing a trash collector alongside Robert Picardo. Filmed during a writer's strike, The 'Burbs was shot in sequential order and, since it was forbidden for anyone to write anymore on the script, the actors were asked to improvise a lot. Like so many Joe Dante movies, The 'Burbs was not the biggest hit when it came out — but it found its audience on VHS and became a money-maker that (almost) everyone seems to like now. But once upon a time, as Dante mentions in an interview at The NY Times, "The movie got terrible reviews. I can still remember, your own Vincent Canby said it was as empty as a movie can be without creating a vacuum. [Very close! The actual sentence reads: 'The movie is as empty as something can be without creating a vacuum.'] It's nice to learn it's become a cult movie since."
Ti West @ Trailers from Hell on
The 'Burbs:
Dread Central, for example, even lists the movie as 5th on their list of the Top 7 Joe Dante Films, where they write:"In 1989 Dante got a chance to work with Tom Hanks in The ‘Burbs. Now, Tom Hanks wasn’t quite 'Tom Hanks' just yet. He was more The Money Pit (1986 / trailer), Nothing in Common (1986 / trailer), Joe Versus the Volcano (1990 / trailer) Tom Hanks with the Saving Private Ryan (1998 / trailer), Forrest Gump (1994 / trailer), Philadelphia (1993 / trailer) Tom Hanks yet to come. And although The 'Burbs isn't remembered as the strongest film for either Dante or Hanks, it's fantastic in that it is truly a black comedy. And as we'd seen from much of Dante's previous work, comedy is a very important component for him. Creating the true black comedy is not an easy thing to do. You need to attempt to conjure levity out of the most upsetting of situations. The 'Burbs is one of those rare cases where that is done spot on. The combination of Hanks' manic performance (not to mention Bruce Dern's hilarious supporting work) and Dante's solid directing makes The 'Burbs a fun romp, and it's a sleeping gem we should all go back and revisit."
But before we get to the plot, perhaps Common Sense Media can share with us "What parents need to know": "Parents need to know that The 'Burbs is a slapstick comedy with some light horror but no real gore. […] Blood's seen once on clothing and is smeared during a handshake; many skeletons are shown in the trunk of a car. Strong language is not frequent, but one character says 'goddamn' half a dozen times, and there are curse words such as 'p---y-whipped' and 's--t.' A teen staying home alone has a party and drinks beer. Adults drink beer and smoke cigars."
Seen on TV in The 'Burbs
Felix the Cat in
Over at McBastard's Mausoleum, McBastard has the plot: "In The 'Burbs we have a small group of neighbors living in a suburban cul-de-sac, our main guy is Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks), an average family-man on 'vacation' for a week, his wife Carol (Carrie Fisher [21 Oct 1956 – 27 Dec 2016] of Sorority Row [2009])  wants him to go for a weekend getaway to a mountain lake, but instead he stays at home and along with a trio of busy-body neighbors get completely wrapped-up in paranoia and suspicion when new neighbors, the Klopeks, mysteriously move into a house on the street seemingly overnight. Their arrival coincides with the disappearance of elderly neighbor Walter (Gale Gordon [20 Feb 1906 – 30 Jun 1995]), leaving behind his lawn-cigar-dropping, ankle-biter dog 'Queenie' and his treasured hair piece. The nosy neighborhood's suspicions are bolstered by a weird light show emanating from the Klopek's basement, in addition to some late night digging in the backyard. They're a kooky new addition the neighborhood and Ray and his crew are certain something awful is happening in the neighborhood, and the Klopek's are behind it."
"For a film not particularly well received at the time, The 'Burbs has dated very well, its mixed tone balanced perfectly. The horror, while dark at heart, is presented in slapstick fashion, and the comedy remains laugh-out-loud funny, boosted by at times improvised dialogue — the shoot took place during a writers' strike — that contributes a sense of mayhem as the characters agitate themselves into a frenzy. It's testament to the actors' chemistry and effectively underlines the sense of community the premise hinges upon: that of suburban values versus the unknown, a wry look at small-town xenophobia. [Exquisite Terror]"
"However, the script's final attempt to eat its cake too by confirming all the paranoias and suspicions and showing that the Klopeks are exactly what they have been accused of all along defeats the satire. It is as though Dante, in having abandoned his low-budget zest by entering the Spielberg stables (and here working for Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment production company), has bought into the dumbed-down anti-intellectualism of mainstream American sitcom thinking and is unable to produce a black comedy that leaves an audience unsettled without having to turn around and reaffirm traditional values. [Science Fiction, Horror & Fantasy Film Review]"
Seen on TV in The 'Burbs
Little Boy Blue (1936):
In the end, most people who have seen the movie tend to think like artsforum, which gushes that The 'Burbs is "a laugh-out-loud funny look at the wastelands of suburbia — and the quirks, suspicions, and nosiness of its inhabitants. The result is at once silly and very funny — thanks to its appealing cast, which also includes Carrie Fisher, Wendy Schaal (of Creature [1985 / trailer]), and Gale Gordon."

But a rare few, like SFHFFR further above, find the movie shite: (Spoilers) "The ultimate revelation as to who the neighbors are or what they were doing is quite stale and almost like a non-event. If you are actually considering thinking of sitting through this thing just to find out that answer I would suggest that you don't bother as it's not in any way worth the effort. Also, there is never any explanation for what the neighbors were really doing, why they have a trunk full of human skulls, or why they would summon the police when they think their house has been broken into. There is incriminating evidence at their residence, so why bother risking having the police come over to find it? Since they clearly didn't have any problem killing people, why didn't they just attack the would-be intruders like they had done to their other victims? [Scopophilia]"
The 'Burbs features the final feature film appearance of both Gale Gordon, as the disappearing neighbor Walter Seznick, and the performance art personality Brother Theodore (11 Nov 1906 – 5 Apr 2001), as Reuben Klopek. Brother Theodore's diverse film credits include Captain Carl Clitoris in the X-rated Gums (1976 / censored trailer), the fun but unknown blaxspliotation film Devil's Express (1976 / trailer [which totally ignores the demon loose in NYC aspect of the plot]), the rediscovered grindhouse crime flick Massage Parlor Murders! (1973 / trailer), and the disco vampire comody Nocturna (1979 / trailer) — one and all psychotronic movies of note.
Trailer to
My Great Chagrin: The Unbelievable Story of Brother Theodore

More Dick coming soon…
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