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November 24, 2005

Guilty Pleasures

During the brief time it existed, around 1980, Denver had a cinematheque. On Thanksgiving evening there would be a showing of "Thanksgiving Turkeys", two films that could be described as extemely low budget productions with aspirations that exceeded the filmmakers' abilities or financial resources. I recall seeing a double bill of Plan Nine from Outer Space and Roger Corman's The Saga of Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent. One could argue that presenting films in this context is something of a, yes, cheap shot, for people who want to easily feel superior to their entertainment. For myself, I enjoy these films just as I periodically enjoy a McDonald's hamburger or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I know that junk food is just that - junk, but just as their is a certain pleasure to Ho-Hos, there is pleasure to be found in these films that are cinema's equivalent to Little Debbie's snacks. My list is somewhat random, and neither reflects aesthetic nor nutritional value. Happy Thanksgiving!

1. The Brain that Wouldn't Die. A doctor drives so recklessly that he gets in an accident, causing his girlfriend to be decapitated. The doctor saves her head which is kept alive. The head telepathically converses with a monster in the closet that looks kind of like Mr. Potato Head. Made in 1959, critics had to wait until 1962 to be appalled by this tale of medical madness. I've seen this film a couple of times on television. Even a viewing on Mystery Science Theater 3000 has failed to diminish the delight this film brings.

2. High School Confidential. I've seen this film about five times including a theatrical run. Still, I can not make sense out of the relationship undercover cop Russ Tamblyn has with Mamie Van Doren. Jack Arnold's classic features sons of silent screen legends John Drew Barrymore and Charles Chaplin, Jr. and William Wellman, Jr. plus the co-star of Chaplin's The Kid, Jackie Coogan. Best of all is the title song opening featuring Jerry Lee Lewis wailing and banging at the piano.

3. Attack of the Crab Monsters. I wrote about this film a few days ago in remembering star Pamela Duncan. All I can add is that as one always remembers their first love, I will always have a place in my heart for my first Roger Corman movie.

4. The Giant Claw. Earth is attacked by a giant vulture. Not only are the strings clearly visible, but little effort was placed in making the monster look like anything other than what it was, a big, cheap puppet. Produced by legendary cheapskate, Sam Katzman, and directed by his frequent hired gun, Fred Sears. The prolific Sears had five films released in 1958. What makes this notable is that Sears died in 1957. I saw this film on AMC back in the glory days of introductions by Nick Clooney and Bob Dorian.

5. Beat Girl. I read about this film in a 1969 article in Rolling Stone magazine that surveyed Rock and Roll movies. Gillian Hills decides to get back at Daddy and his French trophy wife by being a stripper. This British film is notable for featuring some nascent talent: Cinematographer Walter Lassally, John Barry, with music that later resurface in Fatboy Slim's Rockefeller Skank, and Oliver Reed who basically glowers at everyone. Christopher Lee took a break from playing Dracula to portray the strip club owner. The most complete version of this film is only available on VHS from Kino.

6. The Cool and the Crazy. I'll give this to Quentin Tarantino, this is one of William Witney's most watchable films. Juvenile delinquency in the heartland. Richard Bakalyan looked so convincing that he was arrested at one point by Kansas City police.

7. Return to Macon County. This stars Don Johnson a few years before Miam Vice, and an unknown Nick Nolte in a sort of sequel to the tale of Max Baer, Jr. as one very bad Southern sheriff. Robin Mattson is the loose cannon the boys pick up on the road. I saw this film twice on the big screen and enjoyed it as much as I enjoy meals at Cracker Barrel restaurants, even if neither is authentically Southern.

8. Horror of Spider Island. I saw a very abridged version on the cult television show Reel Wild Cinema. prior to seeing the original film on DVD. This was one of the first films on my Netflix list. Pete Tombs also discusses the film in his book Immoral Tales. Chubby German starlets are stranded in a Pacific island where the insects are the least of their problems.

9. Back to the Beach. Most of the Frankie and Annette beach party films were at best silly. I never saw any of these films in theaters, but suspect they appealed to an audience that were uncomfortable with pop culture that followed in the advent of The Beatles. Back to the Beach is what those beach party movies should have been: smart and hip. Where else are you going to see Annette Funicello sing with Fishbone?

10. Venus in Furs. To appreciate Jesus Franco sometimes means setting aside such notions as good taste and logic. Franco managed to make almost 200 films around the world in spite of questionable artistry and insufficiant financing. Venus in Furs is actually one of Franco's most polished films, about a trumpeter modeled after Chet Baker. James Darren falls for Barbara McNair in Rio, but can't escape from some very dubious jetsetters led by Dennis Price and Klaus Kinski. As lurid as the title may be, there is less BDSM than is to found in other Franco films, which doesn't get in the way of enjoying this existential story.

Posted by peter at November 24, 2005 11:59 AM


"Chubby German starlets are stranded in a Pacific island where the insects are the least of their problems."

That might just be my new favorite one-line synopsis of all time.

I have to see this movie now.

Posted by: Filmbrain at November 25, 2005 11:25 AM