Archive for June 22, 2012

Remembering H. Rider Haggard (Part 2 of 2)

Ursula Andress as "She"

She: A History of Adventure

Sir Henry Rider Haggard’s She is one of the best-selling books of all time, having sold 83 million copies by 1965. The story of a lost kingom in the heart of Africa ruled by a mysterious white queen named Ayesha, “She-Who-Must-be-Obeyed,” quickly became a classic of imaginative literature and hasn’t been out of print since its first publication. After being initially serialized in the British weekly The Graphic, it was first published as a standalone novel in 1887, the same year as Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrating fifty years of rule.

She has been adapted for the silver screen ten times, the first six in the silent era, starting with a short film by cinema pioneer Georges Méliès. Méliès filmed La colonne de feu (The Pillar of Fire) in 1899. His 1902 short film, Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) is widely regarded as the first science fiction film. The final silent film version, released in 1925, was the first feature length adaptation and benefited from having its intertitles written by H. Rider Haggard himself. Sadly, he would die later that same year in a London nursing home.

“I suppose as a boy ‘She‘ interested me as much as anything.” — J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings)

Helen Gahagan in "She"
The 1935 adaptation starred Helen Gahagan in the title role. Her lost kingdom was moved from Africa to Arctic Siberia and sported a more
Art Deco/Great Gatsby aesthetic. Produced by Merian C. Cooper, the film was meant to build on the success of King Kong, but RKO budget cuts forced the film into black-and-white rather than color. Gahagan’s depiction of “She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed” was so iconic, that it inspired the look of the Evil Queen in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It would be her only Hollywood production. She would enter a career in politics and, in her Senate bid against Richard Nixon, would become famous for coining the infamous nickname “Tricky Dick.”

“His openings — what story in the world opens better than ‘She‘? — are full of alluring promise, and his catastrophes triumphantly keep it.” — C. S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

In 1965, Hammer Films embarked on their most ambitious and expensive project to date, an adaptation of She starring Ursula Andress as the immortal queen. Andress had already secured her Hollywood fame with vampy roles in Dr. No, opposite Elvis in Fun in Acapulco, and alongside Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in 4 for Texas. The film retains the Victorian setting if not sensibilities of the novel with Peter Cushing leading the expedition to the lost African city of Kuma as Professor Holly.
Olinka Bérová in "The Vengeance of She"
The success of the Hammer venture led to a 1968 sequel, The Vengeance of She. Andress refused to return, so producers went through their Rolodex looking for a replacement, offering the role to model Samantha Jones, Britt Ekland, and Barbara Bouchet in turn. All turned it down, forcing a rewrite to the script and the casting of Czech actress and model Olga Schoberová under the Paramount-provided name Olinka Bérová
(“Baby” Bérová). Instead of the unlikely return of the supposedly immortal Ayesha, The Vengeance of She retells and inverts the tale, with Bérová playing a European ingénue being pursued by the ruler of Kuma, Killikrates (played by a returning John Richardson). Killikrates believes Bérová to be a reincarnation of his beloved Ayesha, just as Andress believed Richardson to be her returning Killikrates in the previous film.
Ophélie Winter in "She"
A 2001 straight-to-video version of She largely serves as an obscure vanity vehicle for French singer and actress Ophélie Winter (2001: A Space Travesty).
Ian Duncan (The Mists of Avalon) plays dual roles as Leo Vincey and Kallikrates. Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) also makes an appearance as Michael Vincey.

Adventure fiction abounds with takes on the white queen amongst the savages, but H. Rider Haggard took a simple concept and used it to transcend its pulp origins, expounding on the nature of civilization, sexuality, and imperialism. The transition of Helen Gahagan from silver screen queen to U.S. Representative is not a coincidence. As gender and race barriers are increasingly broken in the 21st century, it doesn’t hurt to take a moment to reflect on our past and the visionaries like Haggard who questioned the status quo.

“And O you whose eyes shall fall upon these pages, see, they have been translated, and they have been printed, and here they lie before you – an undiscovered land wherein you are free to travel!” — H. Rider Haggard, Cleopatra (1889)

Remembering H. Rider Haggard (Part 1 of 2)

H. Rider Haggard

Literary Legacy

Sir Henry Rider Haggard (June 22, 1856 to May 14, 1925) could easily be regarded as the grandfather of Lost World fiction. His novel, King Solomon’s Mines (1885) inspired a number of classic works that followed, including Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would be King (1888), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1912), Edgar Rice Burrough’s
The Land That Time Forgot (1918), and Michael Crichton’s Congo (1980).

Allan Quatermain

While working reluctantly as a barrister in London, H. Rider Haggard took to writing novels and found them more rewarding, personally and financially, than practicing law. King Solomon’s Mines was influenced by his time in Colonial Africa alongside such notable explorers and “Great White Hunters” as Frederick Selous. With his slouch hat perched on the back of his head and full beard, Selous was the archetype for such adventurers as Indiana Jones and Haggard’s own creation, Allan Quatermain.

Hal Lawrence was the first to take on the role of Allan Quatermain in King Solomon’s Mines (1918) and Allan Quatermain (1919). Haggard was able to attend a private screening of the second film and wrote down his initial reactions in his diary. “It is not at all bad,” he writes, “but it might be a great deal better.” No prints of the films remain, but a South African film archive has some preserved stills.

The first major film adaptation of King Solomon’s Mines was completed in 1937 with Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Allan. A few concessions were made to see the film to the screen. The interracial romance was predictably dropped and replaced with a white female lead played by Anna Lee. As the noble savage Umbopa, the already wildly popular Paul Robeson is given a few musical numbers clearly not conceived by Haggard.
Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger in "King Solomon's Mines"
The 1950 film version of King Solomon’s Mines starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger strayed even further from the novel, giving the fabricated female lead role top billing, but it was arguably the most successful. With no score and enough location footage to supply MGM with stock for decades, this version scored three Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, winning two for Best Cinematography (Color) and Best Film Editing.

MGM tried to recapture the allure of darkest Africa with a sequel, Watusi (1959), but without the chemistry of Kerr and Granger and nowhere near the budget, the results pale. George Montgomery is forced to play Harry Quatermain, son of Allan. New location footage is limited, and the film recycles stock from its predecessor.

Allan Quatermain would lay dormant until the late 1970s. While Amicus was adapting the Lost World fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs (see our coverage of At the Earth’s Core), veteran TV director Alvin Rakoff decided to make his push into theatrical releases with a series of UK/Canadian genre co-productions. King Solomon’s Treasure (1979) is beyond low budget despite starring David McCallum (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., NCIS), Patrick MacNee (ABC/ITV television series The Avengers), and Britt Eklund (The Man with the Golden Gun) in supporting roles. Greek-Canadian stage actor John Colicos (Count Baltar from the original Battlestar Galactica) stars as Allan Quatermain. The film is full of dodgy special effects, including dinosaurs, giant crabs, and a lost city of styrofoam.
Sharon Stone and Richard Chamberlain in "Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold"
Certainly, the overwhelming success of the pulp-inspired Raiders of the Lost Ark caused a resurgence of interest in Allan Quatermain and his ilk. Unfortunately, this caused the character to become even more diluted as filmmakers were focused on capturing a taste of Indiana Jones’ box office rather than draw from his predecessors.

King Solomon’s Mines returned to theaters in 1985 with Richard Chamberlain playing Quatermain. Filmed back-to-back with its sequel to cut costs, the film’s disappointing box office returns didn’t stop Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold from following a couple years later. Director J. Lee Thompson didn’t receive credit for the sequel, but it didn’t matter much, because he was busy filming the even MORE derivative Firewalker (1986) with Chuck Norris.

Somehow, John Rhys-Davies managed to be in Raiders, Mines, AND Firewalker and avoid being typecast so deftly that he would go on to play a damn dwarf.

In the Information Age of the 1990s, period adventure pics were largely forgotten along with Haggard’s creations. The Mummy was originally intended to rebout the Universal Monsters franchise, but the tone of high adventure did more to lure in audiences than the titular monster. The descriptively titled High Adventure (2001) followed on its heels with an unofficial (and, some would say, unnecessary) sequel to the King Solomon’s Mines/Watusi series, making it a trilogy. Following the theme of its previous installments, Thomas Ian Griffith (The Karate Kid, Part III) plays Allan’s grandson, Chris Quatermain. The budget is low, the action tepid, and the connection to Haggard tenuous at best.
Sean Connery in "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"
The 2000s have been even more unkind. Despite making over $100M, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) largely disappointed both audiences and critics, but none more directly than comics writer Alan Moore and star Sean Connery, who played Allan Quatermain. Patrick Swayze took a turn in yet another version of King Solomon’s Mines, this one made-for-TV and nearly three hours long. Sadly, it shows little regard for accuracy, historical or literary, even going so far as to spell his name “Quartermain”. The also made-for-TV Librarian franchise entry Return to King Solomon’s Mines (2006) abandoned both Quatermain and the Victorian timeframe, but at least made direct reference to Quatermain’s route and the fictitious geographical landmarks. Direct-to-video “mockbuster” producers The Asylum managed to tarnish two legends with their half-hearted Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls (2008). Apparently, Mark Verheiden (TimeCop) is writing a spacefaring Quatermain project for Sam Worthington (Avatar), so it doesn’t look like things are going to improve on this front any time soon. I guess I miss the rains down in Africa.</Toto>

Stop the Music! (Part 3 of 3)

Mae West goes for the gold in "Sextette"

10 Bizarre Movie Musicals
You Have to See to Believe
Part 3 of 3

This is it, the home stretch. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, click the links to catch up.

As demonstrated last time, it’s not always so easy to transform a Hollywood star into a singing and dancing sensation. Well, what about in reverse? Surely musicians are used to being on stage in front of others and can be directed to a passable film performance, right? In other instances, big shot musicians just want to play dress-up and make believe, so they put together a humble little project for just $18 million or so to bring their dream to the screen.

3. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)

I wouldn’t go across the street for The Beatles, never mind “across the universe.” Sue me, I’m more of a Stones man, honestly, but even I’m not so pig-headed as to undercut their influence or achievements.

“What, then,” you ask, “is a Beatles movie doing on this list?!” Hold your horses, Eleanor Rigby. There isn’t a single goddamn Beatle in this thing. Not even Stuart Sutcliffe or Pete Best. No, Sgt. Pepper’s the film is based on Sgt. Pepper’s the off-Broadway stage production, which is inspired by the beloved album.

No, Yellow Submariners, this film is a vehicle for the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton. “That changes everything,” you say? I thought so. If Spice World had too much testosterone for you, then this is your new jam.

Steve Martin turns in a bizarre performance of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” some eight years before his role as sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello in Little Shop of Horrors. Aerosmith shows up as FVB: Future Villain Band, shades of the Riverbottom Nightmare Band in Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, but it’s hard to root against them, really, especially when they turn in a perfectly acceptable cover of “Come Together”. Here, they’re accused of being sell-outs. Curiously, after appearing in this film, they wouldn’t have another Top 40 hit until “Walk This Way” with Run D.M.C. in 1986. Ouch.

Rest in peace, Robin Gibb. This was the same year he recorded “Trash” for Oscar the Grouch, so he’s totally off the hook. No hard feelings, mate.

2. Son of Dracula (1974)

In 1972, good friends Harry Nilsson (“Best Friend”, “Coconut”) and Ringo Starr (The Beatles) hit on the same strange idea seemingly simultaneously, a rock n’roll version of Dracula Nilsson paid homage to the idea on the cover to his album Son of Schmilsson, so when Ringo asked him to join in his vanity film project, Count Downe and Son of Dracula were born.

Well, at least this film had an actual Beatle in it, as well as Keith Moon of The Who, John Bonham from Led Zeppelin, the everpresent Peter Frampton, and George Harrison… no bovo… on the cowbell. Forget about putting the lime in the coconut, the only prescription is more cowbell.

Alas, it is not enough to keep this film from succumbing to ennui. Nilsson plays the heir to the throne of the netherworld and detached rock star over a decade before Anne Rice made readers’ loins moisten with thoughts of her beloved Lestat. “Detached” is perhaps a bit generous. All of the acting appears as stiff and wooden as a coffin filled with native earth, even Ringo as Merlin. Yeah, Merlin.

1. Sextette (1978)

Back in her day, Mae West was quite the seductress. Unfortunately, this isn’t her day. If you had any inclination to “come up and see her some time,” hopefully that time was before 1978, when an 84-year-old Ms. West clawed her way on board this train wreck. Described as a sexy musical comedy, the filmmakers and audience aren’t laughing with Ms. West, but AT her. It would be like taking grandma out for some old fashioned line dancing and then laughing when she strokes out during “Copperhead Road.” Thankfully, we have come a long way in our standards of elder care.

Timothy Dalton was producer “Cubby” Broccoli’s hand-picked successor to the role of James Bond after the departure of Sean Connery. Dalton turned the role down, believing he was too young to fill Sean’s shoes. Tim-Tim spent most of the 1970s in the theatre, but decided to make his American debut in this little gem as Mae’s latest conquest, Sir Michael Barrington.

Much like Son of Dracula and Sgt. Pepper’s, Sextette provides ample opportunity for musicians to camp it up. Ringo Starr, Alice Cooper, and Keith Moon surely couldn’t resist. Moon in particular hams it up as the dress designer to Marlo Manners (Mae West). His enthusiasm is almost contagious as he breathlessly proclaims “That dress is so fantastic, that even I would wear it! In fact… I have!” RuPaul would be proud.

WARNING: Slightly NSFW because of some realllly forced innuendo. Of course, even in her youth, that was what Mae was known for. Unfortunately, what was once sexy and sly is now sleazy and creepy. I guess that’s the natural progression, eh?

So, how many of these have YOU seen? I can confess to seeing Can’t Stop the Music, Grease 2, Streets of Fire, and Rhinestone in their entirety. I’ve never been able to get all the way through Xanadu. At this point in my life, I imagine it’d only happen if Marvel Comics tasked me to write their resident disco diva, Dazzler.

I blame mid-80s HBO (back when there was only one) for my fascination with musical movie disasters. I would hold a grudge, but it’s not like they used the Ludovico technique to pry my eyelids open. Nah, it must be part of my deeply ingrained masochism. C’est la vie.

There are some notable intentional omissions from my list. I avoided both The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Little Shop of Horrors because they’ve developed quite the fan following and debatably accomplish exactly what they set out to do. Besides, both have catchy tunes, and that’s something.

Any others I overlooked? Any of these you think are being unfairly maligned? Let me know in the Comments. Toodles.

Stop the Music! (Part 2 of 3)

Diane Lane as Ellen Aim in "Streets of Fire"

10 Bizarre Movie Musicals
You Have to See to Believe
Part 2 of 3

In our previous installment, we looked at 3 films that tried, unsuccessfully, to cash in on the success of Grease. Well, if you can’t bring back the ’50s, then you can always pretend like they never ended. That’s what Walter Hill did with his “rock & roll fable,” Streets of Fire.

7. Streets of Fire (1984)

Another time… Another place… Streets is set in a nebulous dystopian pseudo-1984. Imagine if the entire world were the down-and-out industrial wasteland of a Bruce Springsteen song, perpetually night, neon-lit, wet with rain that never seems to actually fall, in the wake of a war that no one won against a foe no one can identify. It’s actually kind of poetic, but Streets isn’t really going to delve into any of that.

Instead, we’ve got a plot straight out of Donkey Kong, where big bad biker Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe in his first big break) rides up in his rubber overalls and abducts Pat Benatar avatar Ellen Aim (a smoking hot Diane Lane). Ex-soldier Tom Cody (Michael Paré) is called upon to rescue his ex-girlfriend and sets about climbing ladders and wielding sledgehammers and… seriously, this has NOTHING to do with Mario Brothers.

Michael Paré was fresh from Eddie and the Cruisers, a little slice of 1960s New Jersey cheese that managed to find an audience on HBO that it failed to find in theatres. Following the secret to that film’s marginal success, Walter Hill put together a pretty impressive little soundtrack with songs written by Stevie Nicks and Jim Steinman. You’ve also got early appearances by Amy Madigan, Rick Moranis, Bill Paxton, and Mykelti Williamson.

So where did it all go wrong? Maybe ol’ Walt was just ahead of his time. If he’d been patient, he could have found his market with this sort of material, just like such hits as Strange Days and Southland Tales. Or maybe that’s too much to ask, even from a fable.

Singers and dancers may be a dime a dozen in Hollywood, but true movie stars are precious commodities. If you want to make a successful movie musical, simply sign yourself a bonafide draw and teach him or her how to sing and dance. Piece of cake, right? If only it were that easy…

6. Paint Your Wagon (1969)

By 1969, Clint Eastwood’s cowboy credentials had been practically set in stone. He’s already made Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy of spaghetti westerns. He’d starred in Hang ‘Em High, which managed to be United Artists’ biggest opening at that time, eclipsing even the beloved Bond films. Surely someone bought Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites on vinyl, because that’s the only justification for Eastwood’s singing cowboy in Paint Your Wagon.

If Clint’s singing is awkward, Lee Marvin is downright sadistic, warbling his way through “Wand’rin’ Star.” How wretched, then, must Jean Seberg’s singing voice be if she’s the only one in the trinity of stars to be overdubbed? One shudders to imagine.

The plot’s a basic gold rush hootenanny. Marvin plays Ben Rumson, a pragmatic trapper and prospector who finds gold on the grave of a dead man. Said dead man is the brother of “Pardner,” played with uncharacteristic naiveté by Eastwood. Jean Seberg’s Elizabeth shows up as a Mormon wife auctioned off by her husband to the randy Rumson. It isn’t long before she manipulates bawdy Ben into accepting polygamy and adding Pardner as a second husband in a “shocking” gender switch. That love is TOO big.

Just like the film, their little boomtown instead collapses under its own weight. Too bad it takes 164 minutes(!), $20 million, and 14 songs to do so.

5. At Long Last Love (1975)

Cybill Shepherd began her show business career as the pet project of director/producer Peter Bogdanovich, the “Bride of Bogdanovich” if you will. He even produced her debut album, Cybill Does It…To Cole Porter. Poor Cole had already passed, so he had no say in the matter.

At Long Last Love is an ode of sorts to Cole Porter, with sixteen of his classic songs featured in the film. Burt Reynolds was cast as the male lead, no doubt owing to his fancy footwork in Deliverance and The Longest Yard. Unfortunately, here he would be asked to sing.

As if that wasn’t a big enough bag of hubris for a filmmaker, Bogdanovich insisted on recording the songs live on film rather than employing lip synch. One can only imagine the number of takes discarded to distill the footage down to the mess that made it to the screen. This repetition is easy to blame for the insufferably stiff choreography.

Bogdanovich would later issue an open letter of apology in newspapers across the country. There would also be claims that the movie is a parody of its source material. If so, then Cole Porter’s kinfolk should have tracked down Bogdanovich and made him eat his trademark eyeglasses.

4. Rhinestone (1984)

It’s perhaps a bit unfair to put Rhinestone on this list, since it’s more comedy than musical and part of the basic premise is the claim that anyone can be transformed into a country music star. Once you add Sylvester Stallone to the equation, however, all bets are off. Sly turned down Romancing the Stone and Beverly Hills Cop to play Dolly Parton’s personal Pygmalion. I do have to question whether the move from New York City cab driver to urban cowboy is really a step UP. You bet the judge.

Be sure to come back tomorrow for the third, final, and most unbelievable installment of our little extravaganza.

Stop the Music! (Part 1 of 3)

CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC, from left: Valerine Perrine, Bruce Jenner, 1980, © Associated Film Distribution

10 Bizarre Movie Musicals
You Have to See to Believe
Part 1 of 3

Before you go out to watch that little elf from Legend prance around as a “rock god” in Rock of Ages, see how many of these weird movie musicals you’ve heard of, let alone endured in their entirety.

10. Can’t Stop the Music (1980)

By the time Bruce Jenner hooked up with the Kardashian clan, he already had experience dealing with superficial sluts, namely, the Village People. Jenner made his film debut in Can’t Stop the Music after being crowned the “World’s Greatest Athlete.” Despite having set three world records in the Decathlon and a Gold medal win at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, he very nearly added “World’s Worst Actor” to his impressive résumé. Thankfully, this would be his last starring role.

Ostensibly a bio pic, Can’t Stop the Music sets out to tell the story of the formation of the seminal disco ensemble Village People. Producer Allan Carr was coming off a huge box office hit with Grease, and clearly thought he could catch lightning in the bottle once again by capitalizing on the disco craze. Problem is, he and his bottle were a little late as disco had already overstayed its welcome by the time Can’t Stop sashayed into theatres.

This film supposedly has the dubious distinction of being the only PG-rated movie to include full frontal male nudity (during the “Y.M.C.A.” production number) in its theatrical release. I’m not even going to try to confirm that. If you have any doubts, be my guest and seek out the “evidence,” just don’t come back and complain to me if you get it.

Can’t Stop the Music is the reason there is a Razzie (Golden Raspberry) Award given out each year for Worst Picture. This film set the bar pretty damn low, but films like Howard the Duck and Gigli have somehow been able to limbo underneath it ever since. Still, as the first winner ever, it’s place in bad film history is firmly secured.

9. Grease 2 (1982)

If at first you don’t succeed, go back to the well one more time. Producer Allan Carr may have mistimed his previous effort with Can’t Stop the Music, but surely what movie audiences REALLY wanted was a sequel to his smash hit Grease, right? Wrong.

Well, maybe. Maybe if John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John returned. Maybe if Randal Kleiser returned to direct. Maybe if there was a Broadway musical to provide Tony Award-caliber songs. Sadly, none of those maybes came to pass.

Instead, Grease choreographer Patricia Birch was asked to pull double duty and direct as well as choreograph this slap job. A pre-Scarface Michelle Pfeiffer is probably this film’s only saving grace, and her star was rising so fast that even this 115-minute millstone couldn’t hold her down. As Stephanie Zinone, she is the new leader of the Pink Ladies, and is in the market for a little British strange in the form of Maxwell Caulfield’s Michael Carrington. This, predictably, causes tension with her ex, the new leader of the T-Birds, Johnny Nogerelli (Adrian Zmed of T.J. Hooker “fame”). Everyone involved is left with no recourse but to sing and dance about their woes (as well as reproduction, bowling, and atomic terror) for nearly two hours.

Supposedly, as of 2008, Paramount’s straight-to-DVD division, Paramount Famous Productions, was developing a number of undoubtedly shoddy sequels to popular Paramount properties. Grease 3 might be on its way to you on Blu-Ray after all these years. Pink Ladies and T-Birds rejoice while the rest of us weep.

8. Xanadu (1980)

Olivia Newton-John might as well have done Grease 2. It’s not like she was parlaying her Pink Lady cred into a legit career in film. Instead, she was signing up for the romantic musical fantasy Xanadu.

Xanadu is so far removed from its original source material, it might have been carried on the backs of sherpas from Broadway to the Himalayas. Let’s see if I can get this straight. Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) was an adaptation of Harry Segall’s stage play about a man mistakenly taken to Heaven before his time and given a second chance on Earth. It spawned a sequel, Down to Earth (1947). Here Comes Mr. Jordan was remade in 1978 as Heaven Can Wait, starring Warren Beatty and picking up 9 Oscar nominations (winning one). So, naturally, Xanadu is a remake of Down to Earth and, thus, an unofficial sequel to Heaven Can Wait. Surely it can capture a little bit of that Oscar magic from just two short years ago, no?

Well, sure, especially considering the filmmakers were able to identify the one key component missing from its predecessors: Roller disco. Oh, and hey, why not throw in dancing legend Gene Kelly reprising his role as Danny McGuire from Cover Girl (1944). That way they can capture that huge crossover demographic between roller disco aficianados and those with fond memories of 1940s musical romances. Assuming they were in their early teens in 1944, they would be age 50 by the time Xanadu hits theaters and hence in perfect roller disco form. Or maybe it was just a case of the producers throwing enough shit against the wall in the misguided hopes that something had to stick.

Be sure to return tomorrow for Part 2 of our little waltz through the world of weird movie musicals.

The Power of Inference

In the week since its North American release, Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Prometheus has stirred up a hornet’s nest of discussion on the internet. What does it mean? What did I just watch? Why would you ever approach what looks like an alien cobra and talk to it like it’s a skittish squirrel?

Well, despite seeing the film and being underwhelmed, I’m not going to address any of those questions today. Instead, I want to examine why those questions even exist. To do so, I’m going to spoil the ending of one of the greatest science fiction films of the 20th century, The Planet of the Apes (1968). No, not the 2001 Tim Burton remake that totally undercuts the original twist ending, the one with Chuck Heston.


No, not Prometheus spoilers, relax.

Okay, from this point I’m going to assume you’ve either seen the original Planet of the Apes or you don’t care about being spoilered, which is a pity. Charlton Heston stars as American astronaut George Taylor. Along with two out of three of his crew, he wakes up from over 2000 years in stasis (the last crewmember’s pod failed, so she’s long dead) on a barren alien world. The astronauts soon discover that they are on a planet inhabited by talking apes and mute, primitive humans used as slaves or worse.

What follows is largely a cross between Spartacus and Inherit the Wind with Taylor fighting for both his physical freedom and for the dignity of human civilization in a sham of a trial. Once Taylor and his cavegirlfriend Nova have escaped, he is forced to question his convictions in a classic twist provided by The Twilight Zone‘s Rod Serling:

WARNING: Slightly NSFW, as Chuck lets some mild profanity fly in his outrage.

Now, while this film was released in 1968, I was a child of the Eighties, so I didn’t have the benefit of seeing this in the theater. Instead, I caught it like most of the kids my age did, on television, typically on a lazy weekend afternoon. Still, there were plenty of comic books and toys to capitalize on the success of this film and its sequels, so it was certainly on our collective radar.

The funny thing is, I don’t recall a single peer needing the importance or meaning of this scene explained to them. We didn’t need Dr. Zaius or, gods forbid, Rod Serling to step out onto the beach and answer these questions:

  • Q: What does Taylor mean by “I’m home”? (He didn’t spend 2000 years in stasis and reach some far-off world. He crashed back to Earth 2000 years after his departure. It was just so different, he didn’t recognize it as home, despite the fact the apes spoke English. Go figure.)
  • Q: Who are the maniacs? (We are. Or, more properly, the leaders of the nuclear powers.)
  • Q: What does he mean by “We finally really did it”? (A nuclear exchange turned Earth into a barren wasteland.)
  • Q: So, how did the apes get here? (They clearly somehow evolved while mankind, his civilization in ruins, socially de-evolved.)
  • Q: Why isn’t the woman upset and yelling? (Because a planet dominated by apes is all she’s ever known. She doesn’t have the benefit of context through thousands of years like Taylor does. And also, because she’s mute.)
  • Q: How did the Statue of Liberty get there? (This is where it belongs. New York is long gone.)

Now, I have a hard time accepting that Prometheus is more complex and subtle than PotA. I sincerely doubt Prometheus will ever be selected for preservation by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” like PotA was. So what is it? Are audiences really less savvy than a bunch of kids in the 1980s?

“Someone made a comment at the club, going ‘We don’t come to comedy to think.’ Well, gee, where do you go to think? I’ll meet you there.” — Bill Hicks

I think the sentiment works just as well for the movie theater.

Have audiences lost the power of inference? Has entertainment media become so passive and unchallenging that tweeting “IM WATCHN GLEE TOO!” is what passes for interaction rather than engaging intellectually and emotionally with the characters and their motivations? I’d like to keep the discourse civil, please, but tell me your thoughts. Am I just being a cranky old man?

Let’s All Go to the Lobby…

Movie Poster for "At the Earth's Core"

Let’s All Go to the Lobby…
Let’s All Go to the Lobby… and Get Ourselves a Drink!

Some films are so bad they’re good. Some films benefit from a little liquid encouragement. Some people seek out such entertainment. We are such people, and we’re willing to share our discoveries with you.
Please remember to drink responsibly.

Tonight’s Feature:

At the Earth’s Core(1976)

At the Earth’s Core is a Victorian adventure film based on the science fiction novel of the same name written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (of John Carter and Tarzan fame). I suppose it could be called steampunk, but the steam-tech is primarily employed to get our heroes to the subterranean world of Pellucidar, and, aside from a little social revolution, there’s precious little punk. Still, this should be a hoot for the top hat and pocket watch crowd or anyone else who likes pulpy adventure.

Doc Perry and David in the "Iron Mole" from "At the Earth's Core"

Doc Perry and David in the "Iron Mole" from "At the Earth's Core"

Peter Cushing

Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars) is Dr. Abner Perry, the inventor of the “high calibration digging machine,” or “iron mole” as it’s nicknamed. We come into the film on the day of its inaugural “burrow.” Perry intends to dig through the heart of a Welsh hill and demonstrate the effectiveness of his device. Doc is a bit of a scatterbrain, but he has his moments of trademark English bravado and derring-do, making this a very unusual role for the normally stoic and sometimes sinister Cushing.

Caroline Munro as Princess Dia in "At the Earth's Core"

Caroline Munro as Princess Dia in "At the Earth's Core"

Doug McClure

Doug McClure (The Land That Time Forgot) joins Dr. Perry as David Innes, an American financier and son of one of Perry’s best students. David, on the other hand, was amongst the worst, but Doc still sees plenty of promise in “young” David. David’s a Victorian-era meathead, but he’s got guts, and guts is enough.

Caroline Munro

Caroline Munro (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter) is Princess Dia, because every Edgar Rice Burroughs story requires a princess and who better than the nubile Munro. Dia is one of the first inhabitants of Pellucidar that Doc and David meet, and she provides both exposition and motivation to our heroes.

In order to prepare for our voyage, you must first “ante up.”

Ante: A shot of Fireball cinnamon whiskey or alternatively, Firefly sweet tea vodka, or some other fire-themed liqueur. Harder lemonades or tea liqueurs would also be appropriate to the Victorian theme.

Now, once the feature has begun, pick your poison (beer, hard lemonade, etc.).
These are the few simple rules you must obey:

  • Rule # 1: Drink to new acquaintances whenever a named character is introduced.
  • Rule # 2: Any time a named cast member dies, drink to their memory.
  • Rule # 3: Drink for courage any time a rubber monster enters the scene for the first time.
  • Rule # 4: Drink to victory any time a rubber monster is vanquished.
  • Rule # 5: Every time you see a Mahar blink, then you must take a drink.

“What the deuce is a Mahar?” you ask. Patience, old sport. All will be revealed in time.

I recommend a 15-minute intermission about halfway through for cigars (a David Innes vice), restroom breaks, water (hangover-proofing), snacks, etc. Appropriate snacks include hot wings, smoked turkey legs, or, for vegetarians, seven layer bean dip. In any case, I do NOT recommend drinking additional alcohol during intermission.

Beer BottleBeer BottleBeer Bottle
Difficulty Level:
Viewers will typically consume 35 oz.
(3 bottles at 1/2 oz. per drink, 12 oz. per bottle)
of alcoholic beverage if all rules are obeyed.
Running Time: 89 min. (+15 min. intermission)

If you want to check your work or just live vicariously through others, click the link
(“iron mole”) below for the official At the Earth’s Core scorecard:

The "Iron Mole" from "At the Earth's Core"

The "Iron Mole" from "At the Earth's Core"

5 Weird Flix Involving Hockey

Hayden Panettiere shows her affection for the Stanley Cup

I recently took a much-needed week’s vacation at Cedar Point, Ohio. The wife and I stayed in a delightful little cabin at Lighthouse Point. Shortly after our arrival, I became despondent that I would miss the end of the NHL Conference Finals. We checked the cable television guide that came in our room service binder, but, alas, NBC Sports Network was nowhere to be found.

Being on the shore of Lake Erie, with Canada practically in visual distance, we were pleased to find CBC among the list of available channels. Sure enough, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation could be counted on to drop everything and air the Conference Final games with the colorful ex-coach/commentator Don Cherry in rare form. Add in some Canadian culture shock (McDonald’s ads touting their Angus Third Pounders?!), and it was good times ahoy.

Our newfound joy was fleeting, however. The wife and I watched in helpless horror as first her Phoenix Coyotes were eliminated and then my top seed New York Rangers. We even had a little plush cow named Barnie and a little plush triceratops named Dashiell to help with the rooting and rallying, but to no avail. We didn’t win a single game that week. I’m not bitter.

So, in honor of Lord Stanley’s little mug, here’s a countdown of
5 Weird Flix Involving Hockey

I’m not including such notables as Slap Shot, The Mighty Ducks, or even The Cutting Edge, simply because they frankly aren’t weird enough for our purposes. We have to have standards, right?

5. Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

Part III? Yep. The iconic hockey-masked mass murderer Jason Voorhees wasn’t even the killer in the first film of the franchise (Spoiler Alert, I guess. Sorry.). No, he draws his machete for the first time in the 1981 sequel, but wears a hood. It’s not until Jason takes the goalie mask from victim Shelly in Friday the 13th Part III that the look which has become synonymous with slashers was born.

Richard Brooker as Jason Voorhees in "Friday the 13th Part III"

Richard Brooker as Jason Voorhees in "Friday the 13th Part III"

Jason wasn’t the first villain to sport the goalie mask. The Humungus wore little else the year before as the “Ayatollah of Rock-and-Rollah” in Mad Max sequel, The Road Warrior. And unlike Mr. Voorhees, Humungus proved to be a very eloquent speaker. Nonetheless, it is Jason Voorhees that turned a simple piece of protective equipment into a symbol of terror.

The thing I find ironic about the whole look is that, Cam Ward’s goal this season notwithstanding, the goalie is traditionally a purely defensive player in ice hockey. His movements are restricted. He very rarely fights. He’s generally a non-threatening figure.

Okay, there’s always exceptions…

4. The Running Man (1987)

Prof. Toru Tanaka as Prof. Subzero in "The Running Man"

Prof. Toru Tanaka as Prof. Subzero in "The Running Man"

While hockey doesn’t have a prominent role in the overall plot of this LOOOOSE Stephen King adaptation/Ahnold vehicle, the tone of the film was set early with the appearance of the first stalker, Professor Subzero. I suppose they were going for an Inuit vibe with the ice theme and polar bear build, but Kalani/Tanaka is nearly full-blooded Hawaiian. Unlike Jason Voorhees, however, Subzero actually takes to the ice and skates.

But again with the menacing goalie gimmick, sigh. At least his equipment is duly threatening, with a costume that looks like it was designed by Tony Stark, a razor-edged hockey stick, and puck grenades. Even in my youth, I had a hard time wrapping my brain around how those work. Does the first hit with the stick charge them up so they explode on impact, does it activate a timer, or am I thinking too hard about this movie, obviously missing the entire point? Yeah, probably the latter.

3. Dogma (1999)

The Stygian Triplets from Kevin Smith's "Dogma"

The Stygian Triplets from Kevin Smith's "Dogma"

So, Kevin Smith cast buddy Jason Lee as the demon Azrael in his little exercise in religious pedantry/dick jokes, but didn’t have him sport his disturbingly effective sleaze-stache? Wasted opportunity, I says. Even without the lip caterpillar, Azrael is the heavy in Dogma, and these punks are his chief henchmen.

In the opening scene, they actually beat God so bad outside a Jersey Shore skeeball arcade that they put him in a coma. Dave “The Hammer” Schultz should be jealous. Yeah, I know, it’s roller hockey, but as a kid who grew up on a dead end street in the heart of Jersey, I know first-hand that asphalt is just as unforgiving as ice. And while God might typically be depicted as all-forgiving, these three little pukes are going back to the ultimate penalty box for their wicked ways, make no mistakes.

2. The Dead Zone (1983)

Stephen King is apparently back for another shift on our list. This time around, David Cronenberg’s adaptation of the novel is far more faithful than The Running Man, though no less exciting. Christopher Walken plays Johnny Smith, a Maine schoolteacher who is left in a coma after a horrific car accident.

When he wakes, damage to his brain has left him “cursed” with the ability to experience the past, present, and/or future of a person by touching them. He attempts to ignore his gift and get back to the life which has moved on without him by taking a job tutoring a shy and withdrawn boy. An unexpected vision of young Chris’ upcoming hockey game leads to trademark Walken intensity.

WARNING: Slightly NSFW. (A certain name taken in vain.)

1. Strange Brew (1983)

Ingredients: SCTV stalwarts Bob and Doug McKenzie (a kind of Canuck Wayne and Garth or Beavis & Butt-head), Star Wars X-Wing Gold Leader Angus MacInnes, the menacing Max von Sydow, and Hamlet. Soak ingredients in beer for 90 minutes and let sit. Hilarity ensues.

Brewmeister Smith of Elsinore Brewery (Sydow) has perfected a mind control drug by experimenting on patients of the Royal Canadian Institute for the Mentally Insane, conveniently located next door. And what better test for this technique than dressing mental patients up in Stormtrooper armor and controlling them via hockey organ? Looks like fun.

WARNING: Slightly NSFW. (Crude humor in the final comment.)

The rest of the film is utterly bizarre. This part makes complete sense in comparison. Best watched with beer in hand.

Honorable Mention:
Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

While watching this Grindhouse trailer expanded into feature length Canuxploitation film, I couldn’t help but note evil Ivan’s resemblance to a certain Pittsburgh Penguin hockey prodigy. I haven’t seen a lot of people point it out around the web, but with his black-and-white wardrobe, I can’t believe it isn’t an intentional reference to Sidney Crosby. Hell, Ivan even uses hockey skates as his signature weapons, both in melee and ranged attacks, killing Canada’s answer to Ryan Seacrest, George Stromboulopolous, with a thrown hockey skate to the chest.

“Ivan, you’re going to ruin your ****ing skates.” – Slick
“I ruin everything.” – Ivan

WARNING: If you click the link below, this’ll most likely be the most violent thing you will see today. If it’s not, then I’m deeply concerned for your well-being. It should go without saying, but just to be clear, this clip is BEYOND NSFW. You have been warned.

Happy Birthday, René Auberjonois!

René Auberjonois

René’s Early Work

René Auberjonois was born in New York City on this day in 1940. Despite being a native New Yorker, René was treated as an outsider in school, due in part to his exotic name and having spent part of his early childhood in Paris. Being funny may have begun as a defense mechanism, but the positive attention drew René to the theatre.

While his family lived in an artists’ colony in Rockland County, New York, René made the acquaintance of fellow residents and actors Burgess Meredith and John Houseman. After college, René traveled from coast to coast, working with a number of prestigious theatre troupes. In 1968, René made his Broadway debut and secured a Tony Award just one year later.

René’s first big break in film came in the form of Robert Altman’s comedy M*A*S*H (1970), where he played Father Mulcahy. He would turn down the role in the subsequent television series, choosing instead to focus on a wide range of characters in film and television. In 1976, René played geologist Roy Bagley in the much maligned Dino De Laurentiis remake of King Kong.

Eyes of Laura Mars

In 1978, René took the role of Donald Phelps, agent to the title character in Eyes of Laura Mars. The John Carpenter screenplay was originally purchased by producer Jon Peters as a vehicle for girlfriend Barbra Streisand, but Babs found the material too violent and kinky. She did have a huge hit with the love theme, “Prisoner”, which eventually reached #21 on the Hot 100 charts. The title role went to Faye Dunaway, fresh from her Oscar-winning performance in Network.

Eyes of Laura Mars Movie Poster

Movie Poster for Eyes of Laura Mars

Laura Mars (Dunaway) is a controversial fashion photographer, famous for mixing sex and violence in her shoots. Just as a coffee table book of her provocative photos is about to be published, Laura has a nightmare in which the editor, Doris Spenser (Meg Mundy), is murdered. The nightmare rattles Laura, not only because of visions of her friend’s death, but because it was experienced from the killer’s point-of-view and the crime scene closely resembles one of the photographs in her book. As Laura soon discovers, the nightmare was not just a figment of her fevered imagination, but a psychic vision, as Doris was murdered while a sleeping Laura helplessly watched.

Doris is only the beginning, however, and soon the bodies of Laura’s female friends and colleagues start piling up, each preceded by another disturbing first-person vision. This would seem to make Laura either the key witness or the killer, but when she explains that she saw a murder take place blocks away, the police grow predictably suspicious.

A quick perusal of her new book by detectives shows visual connections to a number of unsolved murders, creating a sort of chicken/egg scenario. Are her layouts influenced by a psychic link with a serial killer or is the killer influenced by her photos? This forms a recurring “media violence” theme in the film, questioning whether art imitates life or vice-versa, and to what sinister purpose?

As agent Donald Phelps, René is called upon to bring a very nuanced character to the screen. He is very directly linked to Laura on a professional level. Clearly, he cannot afford to stand by and watch her career disappear under a wash of madness and murder. On the other hand, he is a trusted friend and confidant, personally troubled by Laura’s plight, which puts him directly in harm’s way by proximity. Unless, of course, he’s the killer in question, and that’s a possibility that René’s performance has to convey as well. After all, in a supernatural thriller such as this, everyone is under suspicion, even the title character. Lieutenant John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) leads the investigation with Laura’s driver Tommy (Brad Dourif) and ex-husband Michael (Raúl Juliá) joining Donald on the list of plausible suspects.

Besides, it’s not just any actor who can be asked to dress up like Faye Dunaway and be convincing. René is certainly more believable in drag than Willem Dafoe in The Boondock Saints. Don’t fret, it’s not much of a spoiler. Watch the movie to see the bizarre context for this choice.

Faye Dunaway and René Auberjonois in Eyes of Laura Mars

Faye Dunaway and René Auberjonois in Eyes of Laura Mars

Legacy of Laura Mars

Despite mixed reviews, the film nearly tripled its $7 million budget. John Carpenter would go on to write and direct both Halloween and Someone’s Watching Me! (for NBC television) in 1978 and find success with both. Director Irvin Kershner’s work on Eyes of Laura Mars so impressed former student George Lucas, that Lucas tasked him with directing the sequel to the wildly successful Star Wars (The Empire Strikes Back). Lucas has said of his selection, “I didn’t want Empire to turn into just another sequel, another episode in a series of space adventures… I was trying to build something.”

Singer-songwriter Tori Amos paid homage to the film on her 2002 concept album, Scarlet’s Walk in the song “Gold Dust”:

And somewhere Alfie cries
And says, “Enjoy his every smile
You can see in the dark
Through the eyes of Laura Mars”

As the final song on the album, “Gold Dust” capably echoes the reflective melancholy of the film. Life is fleeting and the future uncertain. “How did it go so fast?” indeed.

René’s Subsequent Projects

After Eyes of Laura Mars, René Auberjonois settled down for steady television work as prissy chief of staff Clayton Runnymede Endicott III on the political sitcom Benson. He also broke into voice acting with work on saturday morning cartoons including Smurfs, Snorks, SuperFriends, and the Rankin/Bass animated feature The Last Unicorn. Of his performance as The Skull, Last Unicorn author Peter S. Beagle said, “He could have played any role in that movie and I would have been happy… He’s that talented.”

When René’s friend, Nicholas Meyer, took the helm of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, René was offered a cameo role months before shooting began. The unbilled cameo turned into a key role as Colonel West, a conspirator who attempts to assassinate the Federation President while disguised as a Klingon. Unfortunately, his scenes were cut from theatrical release, but later reinstated for home video and some television broadcasts.

This would not be René’s last foray into the “final frontier,” however. As the shapeshifting Constable Odo, René was one of the core cast members through the entire run of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Executive producer Ira Steven Behr recalls, “I was told six months before the series began that Odo was going to be a Clint Eastwood type, and when we started creating the first couple of episodes, we sent writers off to write Clint Eastwood. And then I was told Rene Auberjonois. And I said, ‘Clint Eastwood, Rene Auberjonois? Clint Eastwood, Rene Auberjonois? Does not compute.’ And then I saw what he brought to the role, and I had to call up a whole bunch of writers and say ‘Guys, I apologize, but this is better than we even imagined.’” René reportedly had doubts as to whether or not he could play the role, but his daughter Tessa had no such concerns. “Oh dad, yeah, this is yours,” she said, “you’re gonna get this.”

Odo carried on a tradition began with Mister Spock and Data as the nonhuman cast member who gives us an outsider’s perspective on humanity. It was a role he found “completely challenging and fulfilling. I never thought it would go seven years, frankly. I’m thrilled that it has, but I’m also ready to set sail on some new seas. It’s been a wonderful journey.”

When DS9 wrapped at the end of the 1990s, Auberjonois continued to play guest parts and do voice work for television before settling into another steady gig as senior partner Paul Lewiston on Boston Legal. While Lewiston often served as the voice of authority on the show rather than as a fully-formed, three-dimensional character, he lent an air of authenticity to the fictional law firm of Crane, Poole & Schmidt. While a main cast member for the first three seasons, Paul Lewiston was reduced to a guest slot for the final two.

Whether as Donald Phelps or in his many other film and television roles, René Auberjonois often brought wit, style, and panache to the screen. We salute him here at WeirdFlix on his birthday. Many thanks and best wishes always.

Welcome to WeirdFlix!

Welcome to WeirdFlix! I’m RayRay, and I’ll be your tour guide through the wonderful world of strange cinema.

For as long as I can recall being aware of film as a medium, I can also remember my tastes skewing towards the strange and bizarre. I was rarely content watching the mundane, workmanlike movies that everyone else felt obligated to see. I wanted to see the movies people talked about in hushed whispers, the ones children dared each other to watch.

With the advent of home video, I sought out a rental membership card at every little mom-and-pop video store around town. I pushed the envelope of age restrictions as lots of foreign films and independent gems were unrated at the time, meaning I could get my grubby little paws on quite a bit of twisted fare, provided it was screened behind the backs of my parents.

As an adult, I’ve grown to appreciate classic achievements in filmmaking, but my thirst for the more adventurous side of celluloid has never wavered. Here, I’ll share my thoughts and ruminations on the weird flix I’ve seen, those yet unseen, and those I wish I’d never seen. I hope you’ll join me.

Feel free to contact me via e-mail ( with any questions, comments, or concerns. I will try to respond as quickly as my crazy schedule permits. Thanks again and always for giving us a look! Enjoy!