Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Happy Crapiversary!

Eleven years ago today, Sheri Zollinger founded World O' Crap. Why? Because we like you!  Then she let me play in the sandbox (which might argue against that whole "we like you" thing, but whatevs), and mock was made of Family Circus, and Meghan Cox Gurdon, and Dr. Professor Mike Adams, and then we wrote a book about bad movies, and now here we are: celebrating an odd-number anniversary for which the traditional gift is steel. (I presume they don't mean the alloy, since I've never heard Emily Post telling husbands to "give your wife a girder," except in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, or certain Rust Belt towns in Ohio, where it's considered polite. Probably they mean Danielle Steel, and while I'm not trying to cadge a present here, I wouldn't say no to a nice trade paperback of Season of Passion, or Passion's Promise, or particularly Thurston House, which I assume is a prequel recounting the Howell's marriage before they were swept away in a tempest that mirrored their stormy passions.)

Today also marks another historic event, one as difficult, in it's own way, as stretching out this blogging thing for more than a decade. I'll let the pages of Riley's own journal, stained by the elements and brittle with age, tell the story:
DAY FIVE: Though our provisions and our numbers are both diminished, our spirits remain undaunted, for today we reached the summit of Mount Laundryhamper. Our ascent, though successful, has not been easy: Jennings lost two toes to frostbite, and Fraiser's bag of apples broke open, leading him -- despite our remonstrations -- to chase the tumbling fruit down the sheer and icy north face of the peak, where he fell face first into a crevasse.  We can't quite make out what he's screaming, as his head is wedged tight and all that remains visible are his desperately flailing feet, but no doubt he feels abashed.

Jennings, should I mention the part where we ate the sherpas?...Oh stop whining, man! It's only two toes, and you were a polydactyl to begin with!

Thanks for sticking with us all these years.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Post-Friday Beast Blogging: The Cafe Voltaire Edition

RILEY: I don't need Feminism because I'm wearing a sleep mask like a hat.

MOONDOGGIE:  That...makes no sense.

RILEY:  Exactly.

MOONDOGGIE:  Whaaat...?

RILEY:  You don't need Mama...when you've got Dada.


Friday, August 15, 2014

From Lagos (and K Street) With Love

It's the Battle of the Email Scammers!  On the left, Ibrahim Lamorde, EFCC Chairman! On the right, Kate Walsh, RNC Finance Director!
Well, I don't know. I guess it it depends on whether I can pull a sword out of a can of Spam.
I am writing in regards to an unattended file in your names that has been on the EFCC's desk for over some years, which is supposed to be for the transfer of some huge sum of money to your bank account 
Spoiler alert: this sentence goes on for another paragraph, so let me pause for a moment and make sure I've got it all straight...Somebody in Nigeria left a manilla folder lying around the office and forgot about it -- maybe it slipped down behind the copier, or under the credenza -- for an indeterminate number of years, despite the fact that it contained my various cognomens (I can only assume that Lagos Vice is onto the multifarious pseudonyms, aliases, Mob-style sobriquets, and overly evocative porn names that I've been using to cheat the filling system employed by Sub-Saharan con artists, because I'm all about the irony).

A friend once said, You can usually tell someone is lying when they offer up an excuse and it comes garnished with a lot of unnecessary and unwanted detail. But the author of this missive -- "Mr Ibrahim Lamorde" -- didn't do that. Quite the opposite, in fact. He claims to represent the "EFCC" but doesn't bother to inform me what the acronym stands for ("Elephants Fart Candy Corn"? We just don't know). Presumably it's an Economic or Financial ministry, and you'd expect that sort of institution to be staffed by anal retentive accountant-types who are painfully rigorous about dates and numbers. But my payment, which has been languishing "for over some years," comes to exactly "some huge sum." I don't know about you, but that's the kind of weirdly repetitive evasiveness that no one would try to get away with, except a very honest man or an incredibly lazy crook.
by the Central Bank of Nigeria during the stewardship of Mr Charles Soludo(May 29, 2004 – May 29, 2009) and Mr Sanusi Lamido Sanusi(June 3, 2009 - February 14, 2014) as CBN Governors and the Chairmanship of the EFCC under Mr Nuhu Ribadu(2003 - 2007) and Mrs Farida Waziri(May 2008 – 23 November 2011).
Who are they? Who knows! The important thing is, they're individuals who have names, unlike fictional people who must make do with descriptives like "The Man in the Yellow Hat" or "The Girl with the Pearl Earring," although I think Sanusi Sanusi might be the guy who shot RFK, so I'm not sure he's all that great a character reference.
Recently, it has come to the commission's notice that you have been in constant communication with people who claim to be what they are not, people who frequently impersonate the identity of real government and bank officials to help make themselves and their scam appear legitimate in order to deceive and defraud you of your hard-earned money persistently!.
I flatter myself that after 15 years of knowing Karl Rove exists, I'm a pretty fair judge of projection, and I can safely say that Mr Lamorde's concern trolling compares favorably with RNC Press Secretary Kirsten Kukowski's confession that she misses George W. Bush because Obama takes too many vacations.
I will be ready to help in delivering your fund sum to you with your honest and sincere co-operation with my office but i do not know if i am in contact with the true fund beneficiary
Probably not. I can't get this sword to budge, and I just snapped the pull-tab off the lid.
if i am, do inform me accordingly through this email:, if i am not then honestly ignore this letter. Thank you for your anticipated co-operation. 
Yours Sincerely, 
Mr Ibrahim Lamorde,
I wish I could satisfy your anticipation, Mr Lamorde, but knowing me I'm probably going to ignore your letter in the most deceitful manner possible, by posting it on World O' Crap and inviting our readers to guess what "EFCC" stands for.

Now on to Kate Walsh, RNC Finance Director:
Nancy Pelosi again just emailed her liberal supporters saying, “I’m doing everything I can to defeat Boehner this November.” 
The Democrats are getting desperate. 
They're actually trying to win elections!  Even worse, they mean to win Wimbleton!
They’re pulling every trick, scheme and stunt to try to defeat our Republican Majority in the House and block us from gaining a Republican Majority in the Senate. 
These Washington Democrats are launching the same smear and scare campaigns that got Obama elected in the first place.
I'm a little fuzzy on the exact smears and scare campaigns the Democrats were launching back in 2008 (I started drinking heavily after John McCain announced his VP pick), but I think Obama's supporters trafficked in racist conspiracy theories about how McCain wasn't a "natural born citizen" because he was born outside the U.S., and accused Sarah Palin of "pallin' around with terrorists," just because her husband belonged to a secessionist party whose leader proclaimed, "I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America or her damned institutions."
They have even gone so far as to create “phony scandals,” tell flat out lies, and sensationalize and spin anything that they think can make them money.
If I were you I'd sue the Democrats for theft of your intellectual property. You'd never see Disney stand for that kind of copyright infringement.
We can’t sit back and watch these desperate and reckless attacks any longer. 
Democrats are banking on extreme fundraising tactics and the deep pockets of the Liberal Elite — but we have you.
Oooh. You're fucked.
I’m fed up with the Democrats bragging about their successful scare tactics. I need you, Scott, to step up and help us set our own fundraising record this month.
So you don't care if the Democrats take the House or keep the Senate, you just can't stand to see them boasting about it? Can't you just settle it with an 8 Mile type freestyle rap battle?

That's it for our International Spam Dance-Off.  Text "FRAUD" to vote for Mr. Lamorde, and "RUBE" to vote for Ms. Walsh.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

We're Gonna Run Out of Understudies

As Ivan says on these occasions when the Grim Reaper seems to toss aside his surgically-targeted scythe and just starts mowing down people en masse with a McCormick Threshing Machine, "Death, take a holiday!"  Play some chess. Get some sun. Just give it a rest, because this week has generally sucked, what with the suicide of Robin Williams, followed in quick succession by the natural but nonetheless regretted demise of Golden Age icon Lauren Bacall and B-movie fixture Ed Nelson. 

Now I'm hearing that cynosure of Sixties television, and one of my favorite "I Know That Face" character actresses, Arlene Martel has passed on at the age of 78. 

At the moment there doesn't appear to be much in the way of online tributes, but I can't think of a better obituary than this 2012 appreciation of her life and work by our own Chris Vosburg.

Finally, on a less mortality-related note, I appeared as a Special Guest Villain in the gang-bang segment of Mike and Ike's new All Star Summer Jamboree podcast (better known as the ASSJAM), along with some rather funny and smart subject matter experts in the field of Geek studies.

 So if you have time to waste (I mean, besides the time you waste here) and this kind of thing is your kind of thing, please click and check it out.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Guest Column: Jack the Giant Rip-Off

By Hank Parmer (aka grouchomarxist):

The story so far:

After reading Scott's epic takedown of Jack the Giant Slayer, I mentioned that Netflix streaming has a movie called Jack the Giant Killer, which came out the same year. (IMDB says it was released a remarkably coincidental 12 days after Giant Slayer.) It's been lingering in the Netflix SF and Fantasy list for a while now, like the faint aroma of something that crawled into the wall and died.

Exhibiting my customary near-Holmesian powers of deduction, I opined that, improbable as it might seem, Jack the Giant Killer was virtually guaranteed to be worse than Jack the Giant Slayer. In a spirit which in hindsight seems suspiciously like that of your good buddy, who, when you tell him you have a bucket, a can of gasoline, and some M-80s, encourages you to "Go for it!", Scott suggested I should investigate, then report to the class.

So began my journey into the heart of shoddiness. Forgive me for the length of what follows, but there's simply no other way to convey the richly layered stupid, lavishly garnished with big, chewy chunks of "No fuckin' way!", which awaits the unsuspecting viewer.

I'm sure it won't surprise anyone to learn that the poster for a film which has been created for the sole purpose of glomming onto a far more expensive and better-advertised production and feeding, remora-like, off the scraps shed in its wake, is in fact an utterly shameless lie. The monster is nowhere near this cool, or ferocious. No buildings were even slightly damaged, much less scuffed, during the making of this film, and the hero never wields two mighty swords. Not even one not-so-mighty sword. Would you believe ... the toothpick from a Swiss Army knife?

Now, on to the movie:

Jack the Giant Killer lurches into action with a low-angle shot of a huge beast ambling past in the murky twilight. (It might be the unintended by-blow of Anguirus, the Toho kaiju character, allowing beer goggles to mislead him into a one-night stand with a bobtail brontosaurus.) For one glorious moment, I let myself hope Netflix had screwed up and this was an episode of "Walking with Dinosaurs" -- but no such luck. (Since the script never names the critter I've decided to steal a march on those fancy-pants paleontologists and dub it "Ersatzosaurus Ugottabekiddingus". In your face, Bob Bakker!)

And it has four long pointy spikes sticking up from its back. And six eyes, because -- magic!

Cut to: guy with his head sticking out of his Gumby-Meets-Gundam-Wing mecha. He confronts the Ersatzosaur -- well, "confronts" isn't exactly right, because all he actually does is stand there while the it strides up to him. Bravely defying the monster, he yells "Come on!" -- and the beast promptly gobbles him up whole.

Blackout, then credits roll as the camera swoops above Lancashire's pleasant pastures green. Wow, this is one short movie! This is gonna be way easier than I thought. Silly Billy: this is what's known as a "teaser". It's meant to cozen your average gullible viewer into hoping if they stick with it long enough, there might actually be something entertainment-like embedded somewhere in this pathetic mess. [cue hollow laughter]

I'd like to digress here for a moment to mention what I've discovered to be a near-infallible early-warning indicator for bad movies: if the director has more than one other credit on the film, odds are you're in for rough doings. And the director, DoP and proud author of the screenplay for Jack the Giant Killer, Mark Atkins, is living proof of this maxim. This is definitely a name to watch for -- and run like hell for the nearest exit!

The film proper opens with boy genius Jack Krutchens and his spunky girlfriend Lisa tinkering with his Mecha-Gumby. Since this is taking place before he would have even suspected the Ersatzosaur's existence, I have to wonder: what exactly prompted young Jack to build the thing? And none of the adults in his life exhibits the least bit of concern that their moody teenager is spending all his spare time in the shed out back, putting together a giant death machine that has big, serrated nippers in place of hands?

And what, the director's come over all French Existentialist on us, since we've already seen this ends with Jack and his invention being eaten?

Today is Jack's 18th birthday. He's unhappy, because he's never met his real dad, Newald Krutchens. (Newald disappeared under mysterious circumstances a few months before Jack was born.) Though they live in a fairly posh two-story "cottage", his mother, Sharon, and stepdad, Nigel "The Prick" Mason, are such consummate jerks they won't even spring for a birthday cake big enough to hold 18 candles! Before they can dole out this meager pastry, pony-tailed Crazy Jeff -- who looks a bit like Duane Allman might have, fifty years after "Eat a Peach" -- shows up to carry out a promise he made to his friend Newald 18 years ago. He wants to give a small drawstring pouch to Jack.

Nigel the Prick demands Jeff give it to him first, then he'll decide if Jack can have it. So what if Jack's supposed to be an adult now? I think I'm beginning to appreciate why he's been constructing that killer robot ... and I've got a pretty good idea who's slated to be his first victim.

Jeff tosses the bag to Jack, then gets run off by Nigel the Prick. Then Nigel, Jack's mom, Lisa and Jack stand in the yard while Jack and Nigel argue, and triple-threat Mark Atkins shows off his mad DoP skillz by circling his camera round and round the actors. Around and around and around and ... ohhhh ... I think I'm getting nauseous ... urrrrrrp!

When Nigel the Prick tells Jack he'd better not open that bag, our hero whips out the classic "You're not my real father!" conversational checkmate and storms off. Jack and Lisa blow this bogus scene on his sweet motorbike. (I should mention at this point that judging by props and costuming, "Jack the Giant Killer" is apparently set in the early 1960s. Definitely pre-swinging, though.)

Jack goes off-road and stops in a grassy meadow to check out his inheritance. Instead of something decent, like Daddy Newald's stash of primo Panama Red, it's just a very disappointing handful of lacquered cat droppings. Jack chucks them away in disgust.

Next morning, an excited phone call from Lisa summons Jack to the meadow, where a giant beanstalk has sprouted overnight. Oh, right ... those were beans. There's a surprisingly small crowd, even by rural standards. Just to remind us once again that it's the Sixties, a couple of tourists are filming the stalk with their 8mm Bell and Howells.

Now the obligatory Government Guy -- Ben Cross, the only semi-recognizable, honest-to-God actor in the bunch -- arrives on the scene, accompanied by his assistant, who mostly just keeps to the back, and doesn't get in anyone's way. Cross tackles his role as Agent Hinton with all the gusto you'd expect from an accomplished thespian who's just realized he's committed to a potential career-killer.

We get the first of many interminable reaction shots.

A vaguely sleazy-looking bystander does his homage to the 1950s' version of War of the Worlds, cackling at the prospect of capitalizing on this attraction by putting up some picnic tables and a fish-and-chips stand. Crazy Jeff is there, naturally. He tells Jack this is the boy's beanstalk, because Jack planted the bean, and only he can traverse it. It is his pathway. Before Jeff can haul out his dogeared copy of "Iron John" and start an impromptu drum circle, an unwary female tourist wanders too near the giant beanstalk. Long reaction shot, as she casts a worshipful eye on her new vegetable overlord. A whip-like runner from the stalk suddenly knocks her down.

Jack sprints over and helps her to her feet. Perfect little gentleman that he is, he also gives her his jacket. The tendril reaches down again and snatches Jack into the clouds. Thereby saving the production tons of money, by dispensing with any actual beanstalk-climbing.

Jack regains consciousness, in what may be the most unconvincing I'm-waking-up sequence ever filmed. (The role of Jack, by the way, is played by Jamie Atkins. Although that seems kind of suspicious, neither Jamie nor Mark acknowledges a connection in their IMDB bios. I can see why. And panning his performance would be like kicking a puppy.)

Jack has been magically transported to a desolate mountainside in Wales -- er, I mean, the "Land of the Clouds". Which sounds like it might be a pricey new development near Aspen, but is in fact a place of wonder and enchantment. (Oh, hell, who am I trying to kid?)

Cut to: a chrome-plated castle on an icy peak -- ooo, symbolism! -- which looks something like what might happen if a Hindu temple choked to death halfway through its heroic attempt to devour an I. M. Pei skyscraper. In its lavish though sparsely furnished Late Victorian/Edwardian interior, a spooky-looking brunette (she must be eeeevil, because she's dressed in a black cocktail frock and wears a chintzy-looking black-and-silver necklace with an amulet) is slouched in a chair, legs propped up, in front of her crystal ball. She looks bored -- probably because the only thing on the crystal right now is "Matlock" reruns. She perks up when she spies Jack's image while channel-surfing. She touches her amulet and regally commands, "Bring him to me!"

Her name is Sirena. Get it: Siren-a? Good. Mr. Atkins, you've done it again!

(continued below the fold)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

I'm Not Helping Your Legacy, Am I?

I read that Menahem Golan, of The Cannon Group and Golan-Globus fame, passed away yesterday at the age of 85, and while my enjoyment of his films was somewhat impaired by how much I didn't enjoy them, I do admire the guy's work ethic.  He produced 200 movies, directed 44, and undeniably left a mark on film history; one might even say a bruise.

So I thought, "attention must be paid to such a person," and tried to recall if we'd written about any of Mr. Golan's pictures in the past.  There're probably several examples, but the first thing that came to mind was this piece on the 1983 Hercules, starring Lou Ferrigno:

Hercules (1983)
Directed by:  Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates)
Written by:  Luigi Cozzi

The screen is black. Sadly, it doesn’t stay that way.

A string of Black Cat firecrackers explode, representing the Big Bang, and leaving some flakes of charred paper stuck to the camera lens.

“From the primordial explosion,” our deep-voiced narrator explains, “Emerged the Fire of Chaos.” At this performance, the Fire of Chaos will be played by a flaming Kingsford Charcoal Briquette, confirming Stephen Hawking’s theory that while the Universe has no boundary in space-time, its edges light quickly.

“Chaos merged with Darkness, and from this union were born the elements: Night, day, matter, and air.”

I think you’re missing a couple elements there – fire, water – and according to the Periodic Table, Night and Day is actually a Cole Porter tune from The Gay Divorcee.

Due to layoffs and budget cutbacks, the Greek pantheon has been reduced to just three gods. This understaffed celestial call center is ruled by Zeus, father of gods and men, lord of creation, and judging by his wig and beard, an off-season Salvation Army Santa with one of those crowns you get when you taste Imperial margarine.

The gods live in a crater on the moon, in a temple which recalls the majestic architecture of Classical Greece; except the columns look like giant plaster dildos, and appear to be covered in melted wax like Chianti bottles, so it’s sort of like ancient Athens if the Parthenon were a gayer, more fetish-oriented Shakeys.

Zeus creates a champion “who is stronger and more intelligent than all other men,” a process which involves watching Lou Ferrigno go through his Mr. Universe pose down routine in the middle of a planetarium show. Ordinarily this would just be horrifying, but Hercules goes the extra mile by having Lou wear a flesh-toned G-string to simulate nudity. And for those who’ve wondered whether steroids actually shrink genitalia, check out the contrast between Lou’s bloated musculature and flat-front thong; it’s like someone grafted Barbie’s pelvis onto a Stretch Armstrong’s torso.

Zeus plays flashlight tag with the earth, before depositing a glowing glob into a baby, in a scene about which the less said, the better.

Sybil Danning, who is dressed like one of King Tut’s molls from the old Batman TV show, conspires to kill “little Hercules,” (apparently she saw the flesh-toned jockstrap too), and her troops offers another fresh perspective on the founders of Western Civilization. In addition to their Illyrian helmets, Boeotian shields, and bronze spears, Greek soldiers were also equipped with Bedazzlers, judging by their heavily rhinestoned armor. Apparently there’s a previously unnoticed footnote to the Iliad which reads, “Fashions by Bob Mackie.”

A maid snatches up “Poor Little Prince Hercules” and flees through the forest, although the Foley guy seems convinced she’s running through corn flakes with a goat in her arms.

She puts Baby Hercules in a boat and sends him floating down the river, where he bumps into Moses going the other way. The boat drifts past some View-Master slides, then goes over a waterfall, but the infant is saved when his boat is caught in mid air by a giant cartoon hand from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Hera is one of the three remaining gods and is pissed that she has to work a double shift, so she sends two snakes to kill Hercules. And when I say “snakes,” I mean “two yard long turds that have been flocked like Christmas trees and spray-painted the color of split-pea soup, then given two bicycle reflectors for eyes.” It doesn’t work out.

Herc is plucked from the river by two Greek peasants who live in the Flintstone’s house for some reason (possibly Fred was laid off from the quarry after the transition from stone to bronze tools, and he and Wilma walked away from their mortgage. Or maybe Dino matured into a velociraptor and learned how to open the front door).

Herc’s foster mother is barren, but likes to press the infant to her dry breast just to mess with him. Nevertheless, he grows up into big ‘n’ tall Lou Ferrigno, who mercifully trades in his invisible G-string for a Naugahyde diaper.

Herc is out in the forest, harvesting Styrofoam trees, when his father is mauled by stock footage of a bear. Hercules is so enraged that he screams and punches the camera, then throws a Build-A-Bear into orbit. It passes a bone hurled by a slightly more intelligent hominid from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and stages a brief Laser Floyd show before eventually turning into the constellation Ursa Major (better known by its common name, "Explosive Decompression."

Meanwhile, Minos has abandoned Crete and is also now living on the Moon, where he has been crowned king of an old Star Trek set. He uses the transporter to summon Dedalus, who as we all know is an alien woman dressed in a plastic unitard and a shower curtain with a cellophane Dracula collar, a baseball infielder’s cup, green spray-painted cowboy boots, and a golden leather football helmet with fish fins.

Minos believes in Science!, so he commands Dedalus to create some mechanical monsters which can destroy Hercules. She responds with a couple of Mexican Day of the Dead figurines and a Millennium Falcon model someone assembled while on acid, then burned in the driveway.

Back on Earth, Hercules is plowing a field by dragging some rocks behind him. Weaker men might have preferred to plow using something with an edge on it – like a plow – but Herc likes to flaunt his demi-godly strength, and frequently uses rocks in place of ordinary household items, like forks, or toilet paper.

Suddenly, Hercules’s friend Mulletus gallops over the hill and screams, “Your mother is in danger!” Then he turns and trots off. Herc’s expression is rather blank, but he undoubtedly appreciates Mullutus telling him that his mom is about to be killed. He probably would have appreciated a ride even more.

By the time Hercules jogs home, his foster mother has been killed by Dedalus’ machine (it’s supposed to recall the mechanical owl from Clash of the Titans grown to Brobdingnagian proportions, but more closely resembles a Norelco shaver made out of Legos and despair).

After an implied fight with the Tinker Toy monster, Herc cremates his mother, then torches the Flintstone place. Mulletus asks why he’s burning down his own house, and Herc replies, “I don’t have a house anymore.”

Well, no, now that you’ve set it on fire. Burns good for a big granite mushroom, though.

Hercules goes off to audition for some king who’s looking for bodybuilders with a reasonable amount of stage combat training. Our hero doesn’t qualify, but his Fairy Godeditor helps out by enchanting Herc’s sword, so that whenever he smacks someone it farts out a crappy video effect.

Next, Hercules must fight twenty men at once. Unfortunately, he never learned the complicated rules of Greco-Roman wrestling, so he just picks up a giant log and crushes everybody. Then he hurls the log into deep space, where it becomes the Duraflame constellation.

The king’s daughter Cassiopea wears a veil, because it is foretold that she will marry the first man who sees her face, or maybe because she just hasn’t waxed her mustache lately. She’s Greek, after all. The king subcontracts Hercules to escort Casio to Athens, but first he has to clean all the horseshit out of the stable, then see what he can do about rinsing some of it out of the script.

Herc tosses a rock into the Grand Canyon, which somehow makes the Colorado River ride an elevator to the top and drown all the horses. It also turns the stable into a sparkling gay bathhouse.

The mildew-free tile and wet, dead horses arouse Calliope, and she removes her veil in slow motion. She and Herc kiss, but a badly superimposed Zeus appears and tazes them with a lightning bolt from his forehead (my dad used to do this too, but at least he’d wait until I got to second base).

Sybil kidnaps Cassowary and Herc washes ashore on that island where H.R. Puffnstuf is mayor, and is immediately molested by Witchiepoo. She takes him to the Cave Room at the Madonna Inn and tests him for steroids and diabetes, then drinks his blood sample and transforms from a hideous crone into a beautiful maiden! Or at least into a pleasant-looking MILF with only the usual amount of dried rubber cement on her face.

The woman, Circe, takes Hercules to the Los Angeles County Arboretum, where they gawk at a waterfall.

“This,” Herc exclaims, “is a Garden of Eden!” Apparently it’s the beta version.

Meanwhile, Casserole is imprisoned in one of those cardboard jails where people pay “fines” to get “bailed out” at Rotary Club fundraisers.

Circe leads Herc across the “Rainbow Bridge,” which leads to “the Gates of Hell.” They don’t find his missing girlfriend, but they are greeted by lots of dead pets.

Charon, the skull-faced boatman ferries them across the Styx (at this performance the role of the River Styx will be played by a cement floor and a fog machine), then Circe transports them to a Beach Party movie, where Herc has to fight the King of Africa, who arrives on a sedan chair borne by the Washington Generals. Circe uses her magical powers to transform Hercules into Ultraman, and he grows large and tall enough that we really can’t help but look up his skirt. Thanks Circ.

Unfortunately, one upskirt shot and Circle falls in love with Hercules, which makes her lose all her powers. But they accidentally arrive at their destination anyway, where Circe is immediately shot with a laser by – I’m not kidding – a robot Cyclops centaur. Hercules smacks the thing around until it makes a sound like a 1970 Plymouth Duster swallowing a valve, and then, in it’s death throes, it performs anal sex on itself with its own tail.

I’m still not kidding.

Herc wakes up chained to the floor, just as Sybil arrives with a chalice full of “The Black Lotus” and tells Herc they’re going to get high and then boink, suggesting the screenplay drew upon several classical texts: Hesiod’s The Shield of Herakles, Euripides’ Children of Hercules, and Sophocles’ Letters to Penthouse Forum.

Minos takes Cassette into Mount Doom, where he plans to stuff her into a picnic basket and lower her into the lava. She seems okay with this, probably because the “lava” appears to be Campbell’s tomato bisque on a low simmer.

Herc surprises Minos, coming prematurely to do battle after coming pre—well, you get it. But the king is armed with a glowing, flaming, multi-colored sword that’s kind like a light saber if they came in Neopolitan flavor. So it's on, bitch!

The fight is kind of dull, until Hercules accidentally makes the volcano erupt with stock footage. Castrol and Herc panic and run around the tiny set, while we cut to shots of burning Styrofoam pyramids and hear the ADR folks shrieking gamely from the looping stage.

So, Herc has managed to kill everybody on the island, but he did get the girl. He just doesn’t seem to know what to do with her, as Cassaba tries to give him a kiss, but he deflects it and retaliates with a little pack-patting hug. Then they suddenly shoot into the stars, where they become the Just Good Friends constellation.
Two bears goin' at it (feel free to supply your own caption).

R.I.P., Mr. Golan.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Happy Birthday Ike! I Got You The Alligator People!

Long time readers know my abiding love for Mike and Ike, the perpetually stoned and improbably smart culture critics who supply some of the world's most entertaining rants about movies and TV.  Their Twitter feed is a heady mixture of spleen and ejaculate (@itsmikeandike), their videos are funny and inexplicably informative, and their podcast, the All Star Summer Jamboree (or ASSJAM) is my second favorite thing that can go in the human ear, right behind that armadillo-looking larva Ricardo Montalban drops down Walter Koenig's eustachian tube in Wrath of Khan.

Anyway, today is Ike's birthday, and after looking around for an appropriate gift, I decided on The Alligator People, since it contains a particularly ripe and repellant performance by Lon Chaney, Jr., whom the boys riffed so memorably in their commentary track to Spider Baby (see Mike and Ike's Grindhouse, Vol. 1).

The Alligator People (1959)
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Screenplay by Orville H. Hampton, Story by Orville H. Hampton and Charles O’Neal

A psychiatrist who looks like Mr. Dithers from Blondie arrives at a Sanitarium, where he meets with the Amazing Transparent Man (here playing the Ordinarily Opaque Doctor). Dithers has been called in to consult, because Dr. Transparent is “having trouble with a young girl,” one of his patients. Dr. Dithers smiles a weird, mustache-warping grin and says, “Is she…pretty?” I don’t know. Are you…creepy?  Ha, ha, just kidding. Now let’s go paw her through her flimsy paper gown.

The patient, Beverly Garland, is actually Dr. Transparent’s nurse, except he’s been giving her roofies and secretly psychoanalyzing her behind her back. (I know we’re only two minutes in, and I hate to jump the gun, but I’m really beginning to wonder if this is the best date movie I could have chosen.).  He makes Bev lie down on a couch beside his huge reel-to-reel tape deck (presumably cued up with bachelor pad-quality cocktail jazz), then prepares to shoot her up while Dr. Dithers leans way over and tries to score a peek down her smock. Dr. Transparent holds the syringe up and murmurs to Beverly, “A nice sharp one for you, this time.” I can only assume he administered her previous injections with a heroin-dispensing Bizzy Buzz Buzz.

Beverly goes into a trance, and the two psychiatrists – Dr. Feelgood and Dr. Feelup) perform hypnotic regression therapy on her (little trivia: in 1965 The Alligator People was adapted into the Lerner and Lane musical, On a Clear Day you Can See Forever).

Beverly confesses that she’s secretly married to Rocky Jones, Space Ranger. Flashback to their wedding night: we meet the newlyweds on a moving train (you know what that means) as a porter pops a champagne cork (you know what that means! Jeez, Rocky, try double-bagging it, or maybe get one of those topical anesthetics they sell out of the back of Hustler).

Now that they’re married, Rocky has a confession to make about why he’s still alive even though his body was previously destroyed in a plane crash. Alas, his story is interrupted by a bunch of telegrams. Bev gets a dirty message from her fellow nurses, while Rocky receives a singing telegram; it’s from the soundtrack, and while there aren’t any lyrics, the ominous trilling doesn’t seem to be saying, “Happy birthday.” Rocky abruptly leaps off the train, leaving his wife bereft on their wedding night. Fortunately, her girlfriends did just wire her some porn, so…

Bev eventually tracks Rocky to his hometown in bayou country. She gets off the train, finding the station deserted except for a wooden crate covered in stickers that read, “CAUTION RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL” and “COBALT 60” and does what anyone would in her place; she sits on the box of isotopes and bathes her cooter in gamma rays. I’m hoping this will pay off later in the movie when, angered by Dr. Dithers’ sexism, her vulva becomes huge, green, and indestructible.

Lon Chaney, Jr. shows up sporting a straw hat, hook hand, and cirrhosis of the liver. One of the few local Cajuns who doesn’t have a cooking show, he makes his living hauling nuclear waste to The Cypresses, which by an amazing transparent coincidence is the very plantation where Rocky used to live.

Lon and Beverly drive through some scenic Spanish moss, but stop so Bev can be vaguely nauseated by the sight of Steve Irwin dry-humping an alligator. Lon delivers a litany of the many ways she could die in the swamp – quicksand, water moccasins, foreshadowing – before building to a spittle-flecked rage about the “nasty, slimy gators!” He’s a fun tour guide, kind of like those guys who operate the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland, except maimed and screaming.

Beverly arrives at The Cypresses, which comes equipped with black servants and a sinister widow, Mrs. Hawthorne, who claims to know nothing about Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, insisting she’s more of a Tom Corbett, Space Cadet fan, although she’ll watch Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers if nothing else is on. 

Bev spends the night in the creepy mansion, per monster movie law, when suddenly there’s a hail of gunshots just outside her window. She runs to investigate, but the bedroom door won’t open! They’ve locked her in, and for the first time, we really begin to worry if there’s a bathroom.

The maid comes to Beverly’s room to deliver dinner on a tray and exposition on a silver platter. It seems the house has “trouble,” Widow Hawthorne has “sorrow” and the swamp has “evil.”  Or maybe Mrs. Hawthorne has “evil” and the swamp has “sorrow.” Or possibly it’s like a key party, and they just get drunk and randomly swap nouns.

Widow Hawthorne calls George Macready, who does what he usually does in movies: stands around in a lab coat. In this case he has an alligator stretched out on a slab and elaborately bound with leather straps, making it look like we’ve interrupted an autopsy at The Pleasure Chest.

Meanwhile, Beverly hears music and sneaks downstairs, where she finds a man in a trench coat and a Don Post monster mask playing the piano. He sees her and runs away, leaving Bev to touch the instrument and muse, “The piano keys…still wet…from his fingers.” So presumably he was playing Beethoven’s An die Freude, or Ode to Joy of Sex.

Beverly gives Mrs. Hawthorne the third degree, and the old woman admits to being Rocky’s mother.  Bev gasps, “His mother…?” and we immediately fade out like it’s a soap opera. The effect is so perfect I'm disappointed they didn’t add an organ sting and a Duz detergent commercial.

Rocky sneaks into the house to leave his sticky emissions on the piano again, and comes face to face with Beverly. He runs out into the rainy night and she chases him through the swamp in her bare feet, the tight bodice of her dress getting all wet and clingy and sheer and how this film didn’t win an Oscar for Best Picture I’ll never know.

Lon hears the unmistakable sound of moist, muddy girl and emerges from his shack. Meanwhile, Bev stumbles toward an alligator, which is clearly supposed to react and startle her, but it just lays there.  So Beverly – and you can all but hear the director off-camera yelling, “Kick it! Kick it!” – nudges the gator with her bare foot, and it obligingly thrashes around a bit. Its jaws are clearly wired shut, but still…if the dictionary definition of “trouper” doesn’t read “See Garland, Beverly,” me and the OED are gonna throw down.

Lon rescues Beverly from a snake and takes her back to his shack, where he offers her traditional southern hospitality by suggesting she drink moonshine and “take off them wet things.” When she demurs, he cuts straight to the sexual assault by wrapping her in a blanket and trying to kiss the back of her head while crowing, “Didn’t I save your life? Don’t you feel like you owe me sumthin’?”  Yes, noted Men’s Rights activist, Lon Chaney, Jr.

Bev screams and he knocks her cold. Just then Rocky bursts into the cabin and gets in a violent fistfight with a stunt man while Lon has a beer in the catering tent, because he’s ogled, manhandled, and coldcocked his co-star; now comes Miller Time.

Rocky carries Beverly back to the plantation, then goes to the lab and demands that Dr.  Macready hit him with a massive dose of gamma radiation from the Cobolt 60, since it’s his only hope of returning to human form. And since his make-up looks remarkably like the Jack Kirby Hulk, there’s at least a slim chance he’ll transform into Bill Bixby.

Macready tells Bev how he planned to give human beings the reptilian power of regeneration by shooting them up with alligator juice.  "I injected this substance into the veins of volunteers.  Horribly injured, hopelessly mangled accident victims on the point of death.” Fortunately, they all had time to listen to his presentation and sign the consent forms.

Bev and Rocky are reunited at the lab, and being a good 1950s helpmate, she completely supports his decision to get his scaly ass fatally irradiated. Nothing can possibly go wrong, unless a drunken, hooked-handed sex offender bursts into the lab at exactly the wrong moment and excess radiation causes Rocky to abruptly develop into a bipedal reptile, complete with paper-mache alligator head. But what are the odds of that?

Lon somehow electrocutes himself, then blows up the lab, Rocky's mom, and Dr. Macready. Bev and Rocky-Gator survive, but he runs off into the swamp for some reason; perhaps he’s embarrassed by his crappy costume, perhaps he’s late for his mascot tryout with the University of Florida. Bev chases after him, arriving just in time to see him drown in quicksand.

Cut back to the Amazing Transparent Doctor’s office, where he and Dithers study the recording of Bev’s session, then play it backwards to see if Paul is really dead.  They conclude that Beverly has totally suppressed the memory of this horrifying and traumatic experience, and the two psychiatrists debate whether they should play the tape for her, possibly bringing on a complete psychotic break. They decide it would be unethical, but probably pretty funny.

The end.

But wait!  What about you, the viewer at home? What would you do?

Happy birthday, Ike.