Category Archives: Low Budget

The Sex O’Clock News (1985)

sex4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: News stories about sex.

KSEX is a TV-station that’s modeled like an ordinary broadcast station that has a 2-person anchor team (Doug Ballard, Lydia Mahan) that delivers the news and a show similar to ‘Entertainment Tonight’ that talks about the latest gossip in Hollywood and is hosted by Bill Wright (Wayne Knight) and Wanda Bennett (Kate Weiman). It even has a sports desk lead by Marty Cohen (Rob Baartlett). The only difference between these news shows and the regular ones is that the reports deal exclusively with sexual topics from nude car washes to abusive game shows.

This was yet another attempt to replicate the success of Kentucky Fried Movie that worked off of a collection of short raunchy skits loosely based around a bawdy theme. The unique genre began with The Groove Tube in 1974 and got imitated by many other independent filmmakers throughout the ’70’s who liked the format because it could be made on a low budget and yet still attract attention due to the outrageous humor. Some of them, which are too many to list here, were mildly funny while others fell flat. By the 80’s this type of movie had pretty much burnt itself out and was no longer in vogue. Only one other Amazon Women on the Moon was made, but since 1987 this genre has gone dark and most would probably say, due to the dubious quality, is probably for the best.

This one is borderline. Not all the skits work, but it does go for a darker edge, which helps. This was part of the problem with the others is that they had this idea that just showing breasts, or making a sexual reference would be enough to get a titillated giggle from the audience, like everybody is just a perpetual 7th grader, but by the 80’s with the proliferation of porn easily attainable at video stores, just making a movie with nudity was no longer provocative enough, so this one digs deeper with material of a very political Incorrect nature.

Some of the ones I found amusing, though others might find offensive especially in this day and age, was the bit promoting suicides by having people jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and captured for posterity on either VHS or Beta. There’s also the report dealing with violent nuns trained to beat-up and even kill anyone that doesn’t convert to Catholicism. A vacation cruise for overweight people is kind of amusing as is a wrestling match between Joan Rivers and Elizabeth Taylor (lookalikes not the actual celebrities) where there’s a lot of quips dealing with Taylor’s weight. There’s also a segment dealing with a transsexual beauty pageant, that might’ve offended more if it were actually funny and a skit dealing with a clinic that does experimental surgery on gay men to turn them straight, or as the anchor states: “they walk in a fruit and leave a vegetable”.

Sprinkled in-between are ads like the Jesse James School where people are sent training materials through the mail on how to become a successful bank robber. There’s also a long segment dealing with a game show called ‘You Bet Your Ass’ where a family, whose father is on death row, must answer each question correctly, or their dad gets fried on the electric chair, which has a decent payoff though it takes too long to get there.

Like with the other films from this genre there’s spotty laughs here and there, but it lacks momentum. Despite the short running time I kept glancing at my watch waiting for it to be over. The production values are cheap giving it a home movie quality and the overall design of the news studio is unimaginative there also isn’t any young future comic star that eventually rose to the top as no one from this cast ever became famous. Unless you like seeing a movie with tasteless humor of a bygone era that could clearly never be made today, there’s really no other reason to watch it.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 9, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 17 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Romano Vanderbes

Studio: Chase Films

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.om)

Dark Sunday (1976)

dark1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Preacher versus drug dealers.

Reverend Lowery (Earl Owensby) works to get teens hooked-on drugs off the city streets and sober, which annoys local drug dealers who order a hit on him. When his family are on a camping trip two hit men (Ron Lampkin, Jac Cashin) shoot both of Lowery’s sons (Todd Reep, Jeff Reep) and his wife (Maggie Lauterer). When Lowery tries coming to their aid he gets shot several times, but manages to survive though with a severe limp and inability to speak. Once out of the hospital he goes on a silent mission to get revenge on those that killed his family while also stopping the dealers from selling anymore drugs and getting them off the streets once and for all.

This is third film of Earl Owensby who in 1973 decided to take a stab at filmmaking by building a studio near Shelby, North Carolina and making movies that he deemed to have ‘old-fashioned values’ and away from the sex and violence of Hollywood. While his movies didn’t have any nudity they did have its fair share of violence, which his critics considered to be hypocritical, but in any event they made money especially on the grindhouse circuit and enough of a profit that it allowed him to continue making movies up to 1991. While other regional directors like John Waters and Charles B. Pierce where able to gain enough attention with their movies to ultimately get a Hollywood contract Owensby never did. Some say it was because he labeled himself a conservative, which automatically made him an outsider with Tinseltown.

Whatever the reason this movie really wasn’t all that different from the Hollywood revenge dramas like Dirty Harry and Walking Tall and I was surprised how watchable it was. It does go on longer than it should and the opening features several jump cuts, which gives it an extreme amateur feel. There’s also way too many scenes that take place in back alleys. Granted it works with the plot, but I still got the feeling it was shot at these locations because it was less likely to get noticed by the authorities for shooting without a permit.

The film was controversial for the amount of violence and was banned from several countries. The shootings could be considered extreme when you see little kids shot directly in the chest and then violently thrown backwards. There’s also a nifty death where one of the drug dealers known as Candyman (Chuck Mines) drowns by having his face shoved into a toilet bowl though this would’ve had better effect had it been shot from above versus to the side. In either case the shootings get redundant and there should’ve been more creative deaths instead of just at the hands of a rifle.

What I did like was that the protagonist suffers lasting injuries and doesn’t just miraculously recover like heroes in a Hollywood movie do. However, with that said, the limp that he gets stuck with, which forces him to walk with a cane, completely disappears during the final foot chase where he’s able to climb ladders connected to buildings even better than the able bodied detective who’s chasing after him.

You would’ve also thought that since he was such a well-loved preacher in his community and lead a big  congregation that they would’ve come to his aid after he was injured by finding him some housing and maybe even a job instead of him becoming this lonely homeless person that no one seemed to know. If he had grown bitter and lost his faith due to what happened to his family and thus rejected their offers of help that’s fine, but a scene showing this needed to be inserted.

It might’ve worked better too had it started from the perspective of the prostitute (Monique Prouix) who takes the homeless Lowery into her apartment because she feels sorry for him and considers him harmless. Then the violent deaths of the drug dealers would force the viewer to connect the dots to Lowery and ultimately through flashback show what happened to his family at the end, which then would’ve given the film an element of mystery and more layers. I was also taken off-guard by the very downbeat ending, which I hadn’t expected and didn’t feel was necessary, but does conform to the ‘everything is terrible’ theme, which was a prevalent in most 70’s movies.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 17, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jimmy Huston

Studio: Intercontinental Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

Dirtymouth (1970)

dirtymouth1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Comedian arrested for obscenity.

Lenny Bruce (Bernie Travis) is a struggling nightclub comedian looking to try to differentiate himself from the others. Tired of doing stand-up at rundown bars where he pretty much is nothing more than a MC introducing the next act he decides to start telling jokes each time he gets onstage and then when that gets a few laughs he begins making them edgier by sprinkling in elements of sex, politics, and religion. This gets him the much desired attention and gigs in bigger venues. However, not everyone likes his brand of humor and when he offends a group of elites at a show in Philadelphia they go on the offense. First they try having him arrested for illegal drug possession and when that fails they go after him for his controversial material where he gets arrested onstage by the police in San Francisco for using profanity during his act. Lenny fights the case in court, but finds that his once blossoming career has dried up as no one will hire him for fear of controversy and with everyone turning against him, even his own agent (Wynn Irwin) and girlfriend (Courtney Simon) he falls into a deep depression.

This obscure, low budget film does start-out rocky featuring vaudeville-like court proceeding skit that attempts to make fun of the trial, but only succeeds at looking dumb and amateurish. The opening credits are shown over a toilet bowl before being ‘flushed’ away, which some may find innovative and creative while others will consider it tacky. There’s also a lot of extraneous footage, particularly at the start, showing Lenny aimlessly walking down the street. While this helps to give a good visual ambiance of the period it certainly does not progress the story.

What I did like was the way we see Lenny go from the bottom up to the top versus already starting it with him famous and in trouble. While it’s been many years, more like a few decades, since I’ve seen Bob Fosse’s better known Lenny, which starred Dustin Hoffman, I did find that element, where Lenny’s humble beginnings weren’t shown, to be a detraction. This film sticks you inside the seedy clubs that he played at and keeps you there. You connect with Lenny and his feelings of being trapped in these places and his urgency to doing whatever he could to stand-out and move-up. You also come to understand his dark humor as anyone who would have to work at these places, and deal with the many drunks that he did, would turn edgy and sarcastic as well.

Bernie Travis, who was a stand-up comedian in his own right, and died at a young age that wasn’t much older than Bruce’s when he died, gives an interesting performance. Some say Cliff Gorman, who played Bruce in the Broadway version, did the best, but Travis comes close. You definitely sense the comedian’s ambition and his annoyance with others. The fact that he’s abrasive and not entirely likable is a good thing as I’ve heard many comedians, even the famous and well-liked ones, can be jerks offstage as there’s so much pressure to be funny that in order to release the tension they can sometimes be unpleasant in private and this film successfully brings out that dynamic particularly when Lenny goes onstage and angrily lashes out at the obscenity charges in a rage-filled rant that’s genuinely electrifying and leaves those in the audience with their mouths agape.

Producer Marvin Worth, who owned the rights to two books that Bruce had written, sued this film upon its release for copyright infringement, which limited its exposure and kept it out of most theaters. When the Bob Fosse movie, which was produced by Worth, came out four years later, this film got totally eclipsed and largely forgotten, which is a shame. Not everything works, but it does have a few memorable moments including what looks to be unscripted, filmed interviews of actual potential jurors, some of whom are quite elderly, who get asked what words they deem to be ‘obscene’ and their responses are priceless.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 10, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Herbert S. Altman

Studio: Superior Pictures

Available: None

Stigma (1972)

stigma1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Venereal disease on island.

Calvin (Phillip Michael Thomas) is a doctor recently released from prison who gets a job assisting Dr. Thor (David E. Durston) at his island clinic. When Calvin gets there he’s given a cold greeting by the islanders who do not like a man of color, nor does the town’s racist sheriff (Peter Clune). When he arrives at the clinic he finds that the doctor has already passed-away as well as a tape he left behind warning of an epidemic on the island, but not saying specifically what it is. While staying at the clinic he’s met late one night by Jeremy (William Magerman) an old man residing at the nearby lighthouse. He complains about being in a great deal of pain and upon further testing is found to have syphilis. Calvin tries to go on a crusade to warn the others while also searching for who else may have it, which ultimately leads him to the sheriff’s rebellious daughter D.D. (Josie Johnson).

It’s always interesting seeing how low budget films from a bygone era before the advent of computerized special effects could succeed or fail on the merit of story alone. This one, which was done by David E. Durston who had previously directed the cult-hit I Drink Your Blood just a year earlier, manages to for the most part, blemishes and all, to hold it together. The difficulties though of filming on a shoestring is still widely apparent especially at the beginning where there’s a lot of shaking camera movement and jump cuts. Where Calvin goes to hitch a ride is particularly amusing. Since they didn’t have money to get a permit, or hold-up traffic on a legitimate highway, the scene had to be done on an isolated dirt road that looked like it hadn’t been traveled on in 10 years and normally Calvin would’ve had to have stood there that long with his thumb out before he ever saw a car and yet here this non-descript road gets quite busy by using the film’s crew members driving by with their own vehicles in order to give it a well-trafficked look.

This is also one of those films were the genre is unclear. Some have listed it as a horror film while others label it a drama, or even a comedy. My guess is that it was intended as a drama with some side comedy thrown-in as ill-advised ‘comic relief’. The story though never gets tense enough to need a lighthearted moment and the funny bits are eye-rolling making the production seem even more amateurish than it already is. There’s also a surprisingly graphic moment where pictures of actual syphilis patients are shown including close-ups of their sores and deformed noses, which some could find genuinely stomach-churning.

Thomas is best known for his co-starring role in the 80’s cop drama ‘Miami Vice’, but I found him far more engaging here. Magerman is memorable playing a mute with no teeth, who never says a word, but does have an amusing giggle. Johnson is certainly beautiful, which makes up for her lack of acting, but Clune as the villainous sheriff is all-wrong. He may have looked the part of an aging bigot, but he never gives the role the necessary energy or panache. Lawrence Tierny was original choice for the part, but due this drinking problems was eventually passed over, which was ashame.

In recent years this film has gained notoriety due to it being directed by David E. Durston (1921-2010) and some movie podcasts connecting him to the mysterious deaths of both Diane Linkletter (Art Linkletter’s daughter) and actress Carol Wayne. Durston was with Diane the night she jumped to her death from her apartment window in 1969, which authorities deemed a suicide though some wondered if Durston may have pushed her out. Durston was also dating Carol Wayne in 1985 when the two had an argument while vacationing in Mexico and she left their hotel room only to be found drowned in a lake later on. Further research though has concluded that the man in question in both of these events was Edward Dale Durston, a Los Angeles car salesman born in 1942, and no connection with the film director.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David E. Durston

Studio: Cinerama Releasing

Available: DVD-R (Code Red)

Loose Shoes (1978)

loose1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lame parody of movies.

In 1967 an improv group, which Chevy Chase was an early member, began that called themselves Channel One, who performed improvisational skits making fun of current events and TV-shows. Instead of doing them on stage in front of audience they filmed it and then played them on three different TV screens at a theater in Greenwich Village. When these proved successful the collection of filmed skits were then toured around the country at college campuses and got a favorable reaction, so the producer decided to turn it into a feature length film. At the time this was considered a novelty as the movie, which was called The Groove Tube, would have no plot and just be a collection of skits, but it proved popular enough that it gave others the same idea. From this came Tunnelvision, American Raspberry, and probably the most famous one Kentucky Fried Movie. 

In 1977 Ira Miller, who had worked with Mel Brooks on his projects and was a member of Second City during the 60’s, became inspired to do his own version of this. He financed it using most of his own money. The concept was for it to be a parody of recent movies and structured similar to movie previews one would see at theaters before the main feature would begin. The working title was Coming Attractions and to keep costs low he cast young, unknown talent like Bill Murray, who agreed to work for a small fee in order to get the exposure, or B-actors that he knew who as a favor would work at below scale for a day in order to help him out. Initially it got such a bad reaction from test audiences that it was shelved for several years, but then after Meatballs was released, which made Murray a star, it was re-released under its new title in order to capitalize on his fame.

The film suffers from production values that are so cheap I’ve seen high school projects that were done better and it doesn’t help that the DVD issue looks like it was copied straight off of a VHS tape. Both IMDb and Wikipedia list the original runtime as 84 minutes, which is incorrect as it was actually 74 minutes, but the DVD version only goes 69 minutes and cuts out several segments including ‘Jewish Star Wars’, which is alright as even with the abbreviated runtime it still felt like it was never going to end and adding in the stuff that was edited out would’ve just prolonged the agony. It would’ve helped had there been some consistent characters like a family going to the theater to see a feature and becoming increasingly annoyed at the ongoing previews. After each skit it could’ve cutback to their reaction, which would’ve given it some minimal structure and focus that otherwise is sorely lacking.

Some of the segments had potential like the ‘Invasion of the Penis Snatchers’, but Miller approaches the material too much like a gag writer where he’s more interested in the punchline instead of playing out a funny scenario. The skit that has Jaye P. Morgan doing a send-up of Nurse Ratched needed to be extended as she could’ve done it hilariously. The segment that spoofs the Woody Allen film Play it Again Sam isn’t exactly funny, but David Landsburg’s impression of Allen is so spot-on that it’s entertaining nonetheless. Murray’s segment where he plays a prisoner on death row is okay and you even get to see him at one point with his head shaved. I also liked the bit with Susan Tyrrell as a woman stuck in the boonies only here the hicks are open-minded and even features a virtually unrecognizable Ed Lauter as a free-spirited, cocaine sniffing, redneck sheriff.

The best moment ‘Dark Town After Dark’ comes at the very end and features a send-up of a Cab Calloway dance number with the song ‘Loose Shoes’ being sung. The lyrics of which came from a comment made by President Gerald Ford’s Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz. He was on a plane flight to California with entertainers Sonny Bono and Pat Boone. Boone asked him why republicans weren’t able to attract more blacks. He responded by making a comment that forced him to resign once it got out: “I’ll tell you what coloreds want. It’s three things: first, a tight pussy, second, loose shoes, and third, a warm place to shit.”

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 1, 1978 as Coming Attractions. Re-released August 1, 1980 as Loose Shoes

Runtime: 1 Hour 14 Minutes (Original Cut). 1 Hour 9 Minutes (DVD Version).

Rated R

Director: Ira Miller

Studio: Cinema Finance Associates

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Rubber Gun (1977)

rubber1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Making cash dealing drugs.

Steve (Stephen Lack) is a cash-strapped would-be artist who hasn’t made any money with his art exhibits in the past 5 years and has turned to drug dealing in order to bring in some income. He lives in a cramped, rundown studio apartment in Montreal with his makeshift ‘family’ who are also dealers as well as addicts. Bozo (Allan Moyle) is a student at nearby McGill University who is doing a thesis paper on drug use with the controversial position that it has positive effects and chooses Steve’s family as his subject, but without letting them know what he’s doing. Steve though is beginning to have second thoughts about being in the business as he sees what it does both on himself and those around him especially Pierre (Pierre Robert) a bi-sexual heroin addict who’s the father of a young daughter that he doesn’t seem able to take care of and whose addiction has caused him to become a narc with the police feeding him heroin in order to get info on Steve and the family.

Fascinating, experimental film that’s quite similar to Dealingbut with much more of an avante-garde flair. Director Allan Moyle, whose first film this was, takes the Paul Morrissey approach where he gives the actors a general idea of what the scene was about, but then lets the performers ad-lib the lines. The result is much more of a conversational quality where discussions ramble on a bit, much like in real-life, but remain revealing and amusing throughout.  Instead of feeling like you’re watching a movie it seems more like a documentary giving one a rare vivid view of the counterculture movement north of the border.

Probably the biggest surprise is Stephen Lack, who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced. I saw him in Scannerswhich he did 4 years after this one, and felt he gave one of the worst performances of a leading man I had ever seen and one of the main reasons that film didn’t succeed as well as it could’ve. Here though he’s amazingly engaging. Maybe it’s because he’s playing an extension of himself as I have no doubt that this is loosely based on his own experiences as a struggling artist, but the guy is quite funny in virtually everything that he says and does and I enjoyed how we see all different sides to his character from his partying one to more of a responsible one and by the end disillusioned with dealing. He even has a scene where he talks about regularly visiting his parents each week, who are quite conservative and unaware of his ‘occupation’, though it would’ve been even more fun to see the actual visit versus just discussing it.

My favorite character was Rainbow a small child, the daughter of Pierre and his girlfriend, who couldn’t have been more than 3 who goes on with her playing as the grown-ups in the room talk about drugs and other things. The image of innocence inside a room of jaded debauchery is darkly amusing. What’s better is that unlike most other movies she’s not given any cutesy lines to say and simply allowed to be herself, which makes her all the more engaging. Despite what’s initially perceived as ‘bad parenting’ you still get the feeling that these fringe adults do love the kid and in their dysfunctional way care for her, which ultimately makes the characters more appealing to the viewer instead of less.

The film has an obvious low budget look, with faded color, grainy stock, muffled sound, and choppy editing. Some may consider this a detraction, but it also helps accentuate the fringe realism with a kick-ass soundtrack to boot. In an era now where everyone his trying to make a movie on their phones with virtually no money this film should be used as a prime example on how to get it done by creating multi-dimensional characters and then allow the actors to fill-out the details through their improvisation, which helped lead writer/director/star Moyle to a Hollywood contract where he went on to make even more interesting movies on a bigger budget.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Allan Moyle

Studio: St. Lawrence Productions

Available: None

Towing (1978)

towing

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting a corrupt company.

Lynn (Sue Lyon) and Jean (Jennifer Ashley) are two friends who work at a bar and become increasingly aware of a corrupt towing company in town run by Butch (J.J. Johnston) that tows away cars for questionable reasons and then demands hefty fees for the owners to get them back. Many people in the city of Chicago have been affected and are considering starting-up protests, but when Jean gets fired from her job when a customer has his car towed that she parked is when things really get going. She then gets a job at a gas station across the street from where the towing company is located. She and Lynn as well as Lynn’s new lawyer boyfriend Chris (Joe Mantegna) trick Butch into towing away the Mayor’s daughter’s car, which soon gets him in on notice with the mayor himself.

Although she’s worked on several documentaries, for feature films this was a one-and-done project for writer/director Maura Smith as she hasn’t done another one since. The film looks cheap right from the start and initially I feared this was going to be rock-bottom fare, but it does improve enough to have a slight amiable quality. The story though is too threadbare to hold much interest and in attempt to ‘go for something deeper’ incorporates a side-story dealing with the challenges of being a single woman and going through a lot of empty, dead-end dates, but these segments don’t mesh with the frivolity and overall silliness of the rest and ultimately give the film an amateurish feel.

This obscurity’s biggest claim-to-fame is that it marks both the beginning and end of two careers. For Joe Mantegna this was his film debut and he does have one funny moment, probably the only funny moment of the whole film, where he tries to connect the chains of a tow truck to a car, but being a lawyer he doesn’t really know how to do it. For Sue Lyon this was her final starring role as her brief appearance in Alligatorwhich she did 2 years later was basically just a walk-on. This was also the final time she wore her patented long blonde hair as it was after this that she became a brunette and then ultimately raven-haired. For the most part she seems to be having fun while sporting an engaging smile and amused laugh throughout. She even at one point puts on a wig and pretends to be a hooker and in another part disguises her voice to sound like an old woman, but the production was about as low budget as you can get and I can see why she felt staying in the business wasn’t going to be worth it if this was all the better she was going to be offered.

Jennifer Ashley lends unique support as the flirtatious one who exudes a sensual energy and Johnston, who was at one time an amateur boxer who has written 4 books on the subject, is solid as the heavy and even, despite the script being written by a woman, allowed say to the C-word. My favorite though was Steven Kampmann, probably best known for playing Kirk Devane in the first two seasons of ‘Newhart’ before turning his energies full-time to screenwriting, who plays an angry citizen who helps the two women get back at the towing company though having him break-off to commit hi-jinks of his own along with his girlfriend (played by Audrie Neennan) takes away too much from the central lead characters and dilutes the plot.

The on-location shooting done in Chicago is nice especially with the way it focuses on the working class neighborhoods though I was surprised that even though it was filmed in October and November the scenery already looked quite cold and the actors appear to be shivering as they say their lines. The cool soundtrack has a funky beat and fun lyrics. Had the music been sold separately it would’ve attained a lot of fans and helps give the film some much needed personality and distinction that it otherwise lacks.

Alternate Title: Who Stole My Wheels?

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 16 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Maura Smith

Studio: United International

Available: Amazon Video

Ice House (1989)

ice1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Transient wants girlfriend back.

Pake (Bo Brinkman) and Kay (Melissa Gilbert) grew up in a small town in Texas and were high school sweethearts. Despite having a good paying job in the Texas oil fields Pake longs to pursue his dream of making it in the music industry, so he and Kay head-off to Hollywood, but Pake finds it more challenging than he thought to break into the business and be discovered. He becomes homeless and eating out of trash cans. Kay turns to prostitution and eventually meets Vassil (Andreas Manolikakis). He is a Greek immigrant looking to marry her so he can become a permanent U.S. citizen while Kay likes the fact that his family has money and feels if she marries him she’ll have a more stable life than with Pake, but just one day before the wedding Pake arrives at Kay’s cramped apartment wanting to win her back.

This was the third film directed by Eagle Pennell who shot to fame with his break-out indie flick The Whole Shootin’ Matchthat won him a Hollywood contract, which didn’t pan out, but it did at least get him enough financing to make a couple of other movies, with this one being one of the few that he did in color. Yet, the production, like in his first film, is mired in the constraints of shooting on a threadbare budget including having the entire thing take place in one tiny apartment. Some films have shot things in one setting and gotten away with it, but this location lacks any visual flair and quickly becomes static. There’s a few cutaways to flashback scenes shot back in Texas, but they aren’t particularly interesting. The most frustrating aspect is having Pake describe a surreal dream he had, but instead of having it recreated onscreen like a smart movie should we just see his sweaty face talking about it, which diminishes its impact.

Having Melissa Gilbert, better known as Laura Ingalls Wilder in ‘Little House on the Prairie’ helps a little though she’s a long way away from Walnut Grove including being dressed in a provocative 80’s style hooker outfit. I realize she wanted to prove herself as an actress by taking on more edgy fare in order to get away from her ‘goody-goody’ image and she certainly does that here where at one point she even described guys ‘cumming in her mouth’ and does a simulated sex scene with Vassil while Pake, tied-up, is forced to watch. Some may be impressed with her acting range, or shocked, but in either case, she’s effective.

Brinkman, who also wrote the script, which is based on his play ‘Ice House Heat Waves’ is excellent in his role as well, but the dialogue needed serious work. Too much of a colloquial sound including such overused phrases as ‘you can talk until you’re blue-in-the-face’ and ‘you don’t have a pot to piss in’, which gives the conversation a remedial quality and like it was thought up by a teenager. At one point the character even describes Hollywood as being ‘Hollyweird’ and he thinks he’s being clever in saying it even though that’s been a mocking phrase used by many to describe the California scene and shows how a script rewrite by a professional script doctor was needed.

Despite the flaws I still found on a modest scale for it to be strangely compelling. Maybe it’s Pennell’s way of capturing Texas showing a couple carrying on an elicit affair under the nigh sky alongside a dark oil rig that gives it a moody vibe that I liked. Pennell, who later became homeless himself, seems to understand the desperation of the characters, which helps give it some grounding and may make it worth it for viewers who are patient.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 21 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eagle Pennell

Studio: Cactus Films

Available: None

The Whole Shootin’ Match (1978)

whole1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to get rich.

Frank (Sonny Carl Davis) and Lloyd (Lou Perryman) are lifelong pals who’ve never been able to get over the financial hump. Both harbor starry-eyed ideas of getting rich, but Lloyd’s inventions never attract the interest of any investors. Then one day while driving his car through the local car wash Lloyd is inspired to create a type of mop that he coins the ‘Kitchen Wizard’. They’re able to sell the rights  and make a thousand dollars with the promise that more money will be on the way, but when the patent gets stolen by an unscrupulous company it sends the normally stoic Frank over-the-edge in which he begins to ponder suicide as the only answer to his despondency.

This film, produced on a minuscule budget where the cast and crew agreed to work for free, became the forerunner of the modern-day indie film movement that not only inspired cult director Richard Linklater to get into movie-making, but also gave Robert Redford the motivation to start-up the Sundance Film Festival. Director Eagle Pennell, who was born as Glenn Irwin Pinnell, even attracted the attention of Hollywood studios after the film’s release, which lead to him getting a development deal with Universal, but when this failed to get any of his movie ideas produced he came back to the Lone Star State feeling as disillusioned as the characters in this movie. Eventually it lead to alcoholism and homelessness where he ultimately died while living on the streets of Houston at the age of 49.

This movie works much like Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 indie hit Stranger Than Paradise, which was also filmed entirely in black-and-white and featured mainly static shots of people having extended conversations. While some of the scenes are funny there are also a few dramatic ones particularly Frank’s dealings with his wife Paulette, played by Doris Hargrave. There are also some moments that don’t work at all. The one featuring Frank and Lloyd conversing while supposedly riding inside a pick-up is particularly problematic as it’s quite clear to the viewer, despite Pinnell’s attempts to camouflage it by editing in shots of traffic, that the vehicle is stationary. The dream sequence where Frank has a nightmare about going back to the company that stole their mop idea is interesting, but then ultimately gets defeated by repeating it almost exactly in real-life, which gets redundant and the music becomes intrusive as we’re unable to hear what anyone is saying as they confront each other.

The characters are not appealing especially Frank who’s quite controlling and possessive towards his wife despite cheating on her. The two lead’s personalities flip-flop near the end where Lloyd, the perpetual optimist, suddenly turns dour while Frank manifests into Mr. positive, which to me didn’t seemed earned, or believable.

For patient viewers the third act is a payoff as it takes place in the Texas Hill Country where the foliage of the forests are quite different than those in the Midwest with trees unique only to central Texas and thus giving the sequence a surreal vibe like the two have traveled off to a strange and exotic place. I also liked the fact that the phony sound effects used in most other movies are non-existent here. This comes into play when a crotchety old man, played by James N. Harrell, shoots at the two from his porch with a rifle, but instead of a loud cannon sound like in most films, it’s more of a realistic fire cracker noise. The fight inside a bar works the same way as there’s not that annoying loud smacking sound when the punches hit their target making this tussle seem more organic.

This also marked only the second movie to be filmed in Austin, Texas with the first one being Outlaw Blueswhich was released 2 years earlier. If you’re an Austinite, such as myself, living in the city now you’ll not recognize the old Austin that gets shown here. No tall buildings, or cosmopolitan look. In fact after watching it you’d be convinced Austin was just a back woods cow town without even a hint of the bustling metropolis that its become.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 19, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eagle Pennell

Available: DVD, Fandor

The Chair (1988)

chair2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The prison is haunted.

Dr. Langer (James Coco) is a psychiatrist who decides to reopen an abandoned prison with the help of his assistant, the beautiful young Lisa (Trini Alvarado). The problem is that the warden, Ed (Paul Benedict) is plagued by nightmares of a prisoner uprising that he had to deal with many years earlier, that cost the life of his friend Joe who he abandoned when he tried to go for help. While he lay hidden Joe was dragged by the prisoners to an electric chair and killed. Now, years later, the prison has become haunted by Joe’s spirit, but Dr. Langer refuses to believe this until he comes face-to-face with the ghostly presence forcing him to apologize to the prisoners who he had initially disbelieved, but the prisoners are seething from a lack of a working fan, caused by the ghost, and the heat in their cells has become stifling and motivates them to take out their frustrations on the defenseless Langer.

This film, which was directed by a man better known for his work in industrial films, is an odd mix of quirky comedy and surreal horror. The first act works as a soft satire to the new wave of ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ psychiatry that has its share of mildly amusing moments. James Coco is perfect as a Dr. who seems confident and in-control to his prisoners, but deeply out-of-control when dealing with his personal life. Had the movie centered solely on Coco, a highly talented character actor whose obesity was the only thing that held him back from receiving better roles, it might’ve worked.This though will be turn-off to the regular horror fan who will likely find the broadly comical overtones as the beginning off-putting and even confusing as at times, at least initially, it doesn’t seem like a horror flick at all.

The second-half gets darker and even features a few deaths though it cuts away too quickly, particularly with the scene featuring the guard named Wilson (Mike Starr) who gets electrocuted in gruesome fashion, but no follow-up scenes showing how they removed his mutilated body, or who discovered him. The flashbacks dealing with the uprising don’t happen until 55-minutes in, which is too long of a wait to be introducing something that’s an integral element to the plot. There’s also numerous shots of an image of an eyeball appearing inside a light bulb, which becomes redundant and isn’t scary.

The man who gets electrocuted on the chair, and whose name doesn’t appear in the credits, is seen too little and needed to have a bigger part onscreen. The shift in tone from playful camp to gory effects is jarring and makes the whole thing seem like it was done by amateurs who had no idea what they were doing. It also features a completely impotent ‘hero’, played by Gary McCleery, who gets for some reason trapped in his cell when everyone else is able to escape and thus cannot not stop, or prevent any of the violence that happens, which makes him a completely useless character that had no need being in the story at all. If anything Coco, who’s fun despite the anemic material, should’ve been the protagonist and having him disappear before it’s over was a mistake.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending features Lisa marrying Rick, but this gets explained through a newspaper headline even though movies are a visual medium and thus should’ve been shown. The twist of some real estate developers deciding to turn the place into a senior citizen center, is novel, but having this occur at the beginning would’ve been better, as watching a bunch of old-timers fighting off the ghosts would’ve been far more entertaining than anything else that goes on.

Alternate Title: Hot Seat

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Waldemar Korzeniowsky

Studio: Angelika Films

Available: VHS, DVD (Import Reg. 0)