30.01.2016

Tcm underground official

If John Waters hadn’t started out making films underground, somebody would have tried to put him there. Divine and John Waters just went together, like, well, like Robert Aldrich and Burt Lancaster, like Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi, like Christmas and cha-cha heels. I still have an original Odorama card, too bad TCM couldn’t have sent out reproductions with the November listings magazine!
It was tough limiting this list to only ten and, if pressed, I probably could have written a paragraph on every movie we’ve shown on TCMU.
I too have felt like a spoiled child, complaining about what isnt shown on TCM Underground instead of counting my filmic blessings. Wild Guitar (certainly a painfully worse film than Plan 9 and one I wont be able to sit through again. Near the end of his career, and with hardcore pornography having eclipsed his comparatively modest gains in the raincoat market, Novak put his money behind the occasional horror film, guaranteed money-makers in inner city grindhouses and on the Southern drive-in circuit. A long-standing guilty pleasure for the Psychotronic crowd, RATTLERS boasts more than its fair share of unintentionally funny moments – as when the leads find themselves trapped in their desert tent by a rattler swarm and are saved from the death of a thousand bites by the last minute intervention of soldiers from a nearby army base, who spray the flimsy interior with M16 fire. And, finally, what is there to say about Irwin Allen’s THE SWARM (1978) that hasn’t already been said? Last time I saw The Swarm on TCM, it was a pretty horrible pan & scan transfer, very unusual for the channel, but I gave up watching after 30 seconds.
As far as domestic cult product goes, The White of The Eye is far more obscure than it ought to be.
My vote for movies that are due the Underground treatment would be the West German Edgar Wallace adaptations. As an enamored fan, now 74 movies into the genre, it hurts my heart that the US home-video releases of these films are so slipshod and inadequate. One of the eeriest frames in the freakshow of Sixties horror is the penultimate image of Jack Hill’s SPIDER BABY (1964). These films all followed the example, of course, set by THE BAD SEED (1956), Mervyn LeRoy’s adaptation of the 1954 novel of the same name by William March (source also for a successful Broadway adaptation by Maxwell Anderson). Whereas THE EXORCIST and THE OMEN pinned chaos and heartache on the machinations of demons and devils, WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? All of which brings us to BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1981), a low rent but highly entertaining pretender to the throne of killer kid movies. Though raised in relative comfort and given all of the perks of their middle class upbringing (the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale subs for sunny Meadowvale), these kids mark their first decade of life by going on the offensive, taking out Debby’s sheriff father (Bert Kramer), a character coded as a major player (the name Sheriff Brody draws an obvious parallel to JAWS) but disposed of with a suddenness that is truly shocking. Unremittingly sleazy (the copious female frontal nudity will seem an ill-fit on Turner Classic Movies), BLOODY BIRTHDAY is a catchbasin of a movie, offering pop culture seconds in a way that feels like home cooking. How about making sure it really can be called Underground – such as Who can Kill a Child that you mention above?
Hey, now that i think of it and speaking of children of horror AND Larry Cohen, about It’s Alive? I should know better than to simply not record a TCM Underground title unfamiliar to me (thank goodness I clued into Bernie Casey in Hit Man a while back, a ’70s black action remake of Get Carter), setting the recorder will be top of my list of things to do when I get home tonight.
One thing about the movie Who Can Kill a Child, I recommend you skip the prolonged opening which uses real-life atrocity footage to set the stage for the theme of the film- children are ready to strike back.
But the genius of the POLYESTER-…ALL THE MARBLES card is that they are superficially dissimilar movies that nonetheless both look back to the Golden Age of Hollywood and carry that torch with a minimum of mimicry, reference and homage. There's no DVD release for this stuff, and now that Rob Zombie's no longer the host it will probably disappear forever. In a gesture of atonement, I offer my highly subjective, wholly personal, perhaps indefensible Greatest Hits of TCM Underground, those movies that have put me in the zone and made me willing to stay up for three hours after the rest of my family has gone to bed. To this day, kung fu fans remain incensed that Tom Laughlin was doubled for all displays of hapkido by karate master Bong Soo Han. Freaks never phone it in and for that reason (and others) Tod Browning’s 1932 sideshow shocker continues to disturb over 80 years later. One of the things that devil movies get wrong nearly every time is in localizing where our deepest fears come from. Hope it can surface in its complete form one of these days; if I can get a blu-ray of Forbidden Zone, I figure anything is possible. If I held a TCM Underground film festival late night, I would show a Pam Grier double feature with Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974). Before I begin, a confession: when I was a pre-teen I killed a snake in the side yard of my childhood home. Novak got himself onto the RKO Radio Pictures payroll while he was still a teenager, and spent his early years of employment as a go-fer, running movie posters to the studio’s cinemas prior to the federally-mandated divestiture of 1948. If it lacks big tentpole setpieces for most of its running time, the film at least prompts the viewer to ask him or herself: when would I bail? Prior to TCM Underground, we are showing a triple bill of horror spoofs: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974), THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (1967), and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR.
Glad to see some more of them and never knew it would be on TCM Underground which is better!!! It seems like the line-up is stagnating a little in terms of cycling through the same movies every four to five months.
There was a stretch where it felt like we were seeing the same handful of films over and over, and I was worried Underground was fading.


In the climax of this weird family satire, the level-headed protagonists escape the climactic conflagration that takes out the demented Merrye clan (Lon Chaney, Jr., Sig Haig, et al) and their Merrye Syndrome of galloping devolution and unalloyed anthrophagy, and live happily ever after in foursquare suburbia.
Written at a time of great focus in the media on the rise of juvenile delinquency after the Second World War, THE BAD SEED is the mother of all killer kid movies, though it took some time for its effect to be felt.
One filmmaker who was already rising to the challenge was the Narciso Ibanez Serrador, whose ?QUIEN PUEDA A MATAR A UN NINO? While never scary, the film hits an unpleasant vein of tenable menace that, if it fails to make you forget THE BAD SEED or WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?, just may make you jump up to check the children. By 1980, however, Waters was interested in a less direct shock approach and his next film, POLYESTER, seemed to many critics a bid for legitimacy. Born Arthur Andrew Kelm in New York City in 1931, he was, like Rock Hudson (aka Roy Fitzgerald), a discovery of Hollywood agent Henry Willson and, like Hudson and Wilson, gay.
They are stories about personality, about heartache and disappointment and redemption, and really… what could be a better tonic for freeze-dried treacle of acceptable family programming than that?
Time hasn’t been kind to Tom Laughlin or Billy Jack, the character Laughlin created in the mid-60s and played in four feature films between 1967 and 1977. On the performance front, Laughlin has also taken his share of lumps for his stoic acting style. BELOW THE BELT got a theatrical release in December 1980 via the Atlantic Releasing Corporation but it had been vaulted for years.
I’m fairly certain I first saw this while visiting my grandparents in the Bronx, so it was another descent for yours truly into the late night television maelstrom. I loved it a lot even before I moved to Los Angeles, so you can only imagine the whole new level BLACULA and I were able to take it to once I was able to actually walk the streets where it had been filmed. It’s a time capsule of once-essential, now long-gone LA hang-outs (Hully Gully Studios, Hong Kong Cafe, Disgraceland), whose ghostly manifestations give the contemporary viewer a potent sense of architectural haunting.
Like me, you probably first clapped eyes on DEMENTIA as the movie-within-a-movie that the kids go to see in THE BLOB (1958).
The majority of us non-snake-handling folk do not literally fear the Devil, Satan, Lucifer, Old Scratch, the Prince of Darkness, the Father of Lies, Beelzebub, The Tempter, you name Him; we understand that the Devil is a construct, a metaphor for the weakness in Man. Then, I would show Blacula (1972), The Food of the Gods (1976), Motel Hell (1980) and if I can ,show Race with the Devil (1975), Electra Glide in Blue (1973), Scream Blacula Scream (1973) and Orca (1977).
After World War II, Novak acted as a liaison between the studio and the Walt Disney Company, playing an integral role in the distribution of such animated classics as THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. They are Michael Caine, Olivia De Havilland, Ben Johnson, Jose Ferrer, Lee Grant, Patty Duke, and co-star of TENTACLES, Henry Fonda! The Devil’s Rain, The Beast Within and Madman would all make fine additions to the rotation as well. Cast: Lori Lethin, Julie Brown, Jose Ferrer, Susan Strasberg, Elizabeth Hoy, Billy Jacoby, Andy Freeman, KC Martel, Joe Penny. Though its beleaguered protagonists (a vacationing British couple drinking in Iberian authenticity) were effectively blameless, society was clearly the bad guy here, its reliance on warfare as a political bargaining chip having beget a new breed of either psychopaths or saviors, depending on how you looked at it. Next to go is school teacher Viola Davis (prominently-billed Susan Strasberg), whose death is equally unbalancing to any viewer expecting more of the Hollywood veteran.
Yet despite its kettle drum subtlety, POLTERGEIST has a core of genuine heart, catching as it does yet another distracted middle class family unawares when their youngest falls victim to influences from beyond.
While DESPERATE LIVING had been made for $65,000, POLYESTER tipped the scales at $3,000,000, was shot in 35mm, in 1.85:1, and with helicopter shots and everything!
Back in October 2006, on Friday the 13th, TCMU premiered with a two-fer of PLAN 9 and BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1956), both featuring (to some degree) Bela Lugosi and both directed by Edward D.
A self-taught do-it-yourselfer of the first water, Laughlin made the exploitation-minded THE BORN LOSERS to bankroll BILLY JACK (1971), his dream project, but wouldn’t you know that the test cookie was the best of the batch? Therefore, movies that build to the third act arrival of Old Nick cannot help but disappoint because the pay-off could never hope to match what we imagine might happen if such an unalloyed force of evil were to turn up in our living rooms or meet us out on the road. Watching that snake die in front of me changed me in a major way and I will never forget its death agonies, the way its mouth gaped as the life ran out of it. Produced with a painful lack of wherewithal, RATTLERS could not help but prove a money-maker for Novak, who distributed the film to more than a dozen foreign markets, among them the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, Greece, Egypt, Italy, Iran, Israel, and Portugal.
I appreciate what I get but it seems like certain sets of movies make two or three appearances a year and it’s been this way for several years now. Before we fade to black, we hold on an angle on the couple’s first-born, a preteen girl, whose ever-so-slightly mad stare into the camera suggests that lunacy never dies, it just skips a generation. American horror was only picking up on societal anxieties that had been prevalent in British cinema for years. Insight into Hunter’s private life was more of a slow leak and he wound up, or his career did, less a victim of homophobia than of changing times. The actual show has outros for each film as well, which usually explain why the film didn't succeed commercially.
A central concern with the value of family haunts the script, which opens not with the Born Losers riding into a strange town to wreak havoc but returning to the hometown of leader Danny Carmody (Jeremy Slate), with whom Billy has some past history of unnamed grievances. NOTHING LASTS FOREVER is small and quirky and smudgy and dreamlike in the ERASERHEAD mold but for all of the other films it evokes (either by film clip or by inference) it remains its own unique creation.
Part of its cult credibility comes from the fact that it was disowned by home studio MGM and cut down from 90 minutes to just over an hour. But, really, everybody is great in this, and I would be remiss in failing to mention the late, lovely Vonetta McGee and the no less lovely but happily still vibrant Denise Nicholas as the ladies in the lives of the living and the undead.


Both films were shot against the spooky backdrop of Venice Beach (in TOUCH OF EVIL, it subs for a Mexican border town) and I’ve long felt there was a queer kinship between the two movies. Satan movies invariably attempt to show us the awful power of the Devil by having the Fallen One play annoying tricks on the protagonist when he should just show up and render the guy limb from limb as Mephistopheles did that deadbeat Faust. Dan Curtis did a bit of a trade with, of all people, Sergio Leone to get the rights to BURNT OFFERINGS, selling to Leone his rights to an obscure crime novel that became the basis for ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1982).
Shelved upon completion in 1964 and not screened for another four years, SPIDER BABY feels, in retrospect, oddly predictive of the wave of kiddie horror that would come of age in the next generation.
Nearly the whole of the film’s second act is a PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN (1976) style series of botched attempts, from which the intended victims walk away unharmed as their would-be killers gnash their teeth in frustration. Nelson for etching parents who are far from perfect but who become fully sympathetic in the full flowering of their anguish.
Could respected A-list filmmakers such as Nora Ephron, Neil LaBute or even Tim Burton, if denied the studio perks on which they rely to facilitate the creative process, produce a work as enduring as PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, which is still being discussed and enjoyed fifty years after it was made? Although he is the villain of the piece, Danny is nicely shaded as a charismatic group leader, surprisingly slow to retaliate against a teen driver whose VW bug bumps his bike until the idiot unwisely lips off. Those wrestling fans looking for wall-to-wall grappling will likely be disappointed in BELOW THE BELT, which is character-driven and spends more time out of the ring than in… but I really took to this. Thirty three years after it was made, the film is most often sold now on the strength of its Bill Murray cameo but there’s so much more to it that this is something of a disservice. The fact that MGM had the freakout (not without cause – one ticket buyer threatened litigation, claiming the movie had made her miscarry!) lets the modern viewer off the hook, sensitivity-wise, making FREAKS not a lesson in the exploitation of the handicapped or differently-abled but rather a teachable moment in the history of cinema censorship. And Charles Macaulay as Dracula hisself and Lance Taylor Sr., as a mortician whose final line never fails to crack me up. If I’m in a particular state of mind, I think that DEMENTIA is the dream Janet Leigh has while doped up in TOUCH OF EVIL. What’s really creepy, then, is thinking about people dumb enough to believe the Devil is real and going the extra mile of worshiping him.
As a Cub Scout leader it is my job, and my honor, to try and undo some of that damage when I lead scouts into a wilderness setting, to teach kids that they don’t have to go into the woods with an aim to kill animals, even the dangerous ones. Working with minimal budgets but a maximum of showmanship, Novak brought to the less reputable movie houses and drive-ins such peek-a-boo classics as KISS ME QUICK! (1964), THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF GIRLS (1965), THE SECRET SEX LIVES OF ROMEO AND JULIET (1969), and MIDNITE PLOWBOY (1971). But all that to one side, it’s fun to watch these movies back to back and observe the somewhat symbiotic relationship that exists between them. Derivative as writer-director Ed Hunt may be in the broad strokes of this undertaking, BLOODY BIRTHDAY eventually becomes its own animal via a latticework of quietly gonzo setpieces that no other movie would attempt… and perhaps none more bizarre than the scene in which Lethin is pursued through an auto wrecking yard by a hotwired junker driven by a kid in a Halloween bedsheet.
The crazy thing is that, even a quarter century after his heyday, even with most of the world understanding he was queer, POLYESTER still seemed radical back in 1981, with Hunter playing Todd Tomorrow, paramour of harried housewife Francine Fishpaw, played by — who else? We always get our share of complaints whenever TCM Underground shows something not from Hollywood’s Golden Age but I ask you this: who loves classic Hollywood movies more than John Waters? Later, Danny saves his kid brother from a beating by their brutish father and is also shown to keep a wife and son in a conventional (and seemingly happy) suburban home.
The fact that many of us watch FREAKS with our toes curled even as we join the gooble-gobble chorus of tolerance is what makes this bastard child of the Golden Age of Hollywood so indelibly powerful eight decades down the pike. Really, it’s just a great, fun movie that I could watch and rewatch forever, if I should be fortunate enough to live so long.
You certainly don’t have to read DEMENTIA as a gay film to appreciate it, as the Gamine’s encounters with beat cops and sundry grabby males reflect the problems of all women in that time, who paradoxically didn’t exist for society in any appreciable way beyond the kitchen and bedroom but who could not escape wherever they roamed the never-blinking male gaze.
And yet even at that, most devil worship movies fail, too, because too many filmmakers think actors doing the antler dance around a bonfire in red sateen robes is scary. Most scary movies fail because we don’t grow to care about the characters before the splatter begins.
However sociopathic, the Losers represent the film’s only functional family while Billy Jack and sardonic heroine Vicky Barrington (Elizabeth James, spending half the film in an Ursula Andress white bikini) are depicted as alienated, disenfranchised, going it alone and suffering for it. I grew up watching late night movies, blind buys all of them, and that experience shaped my senses and sensibilities.
And for my money, the horrorface of protagonist Richard Backus is right up there for fearmaking with Captain Howdy and Leatherface. However heroically etched, Billy has given up on life and it takes the Born Losers to draw him out. I wish I had seen BELOW THE BELT when younger but I’ll be forever grateful to TCM Underground for letting me see it at all. Why more kids don’t go out as Andy from DEATHDREAM for Halloween is beyond my ken, frankly. A canny commingling of all the elements that made going to the movies in the 70s so worthwhile (car chases, gunshots, nudity, suspense, acceleration, combustion, obliteration), RACE WITH THE DEVIL limits the Satan content to about 1% of its running time (the rural setting adds an unsettling KKK element to the Satanry, which gives it dimension and scope, upping the fear factor appreciably) and never lets you think too long before it rushes to the next setpiece.
It’s the ultimate drive-in experience, made to be seen from inside your vehicle, but watching it after midnight on Turner Classic Movies Underground is pretty damned sweet, too.



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