Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Guilty Pleasures

“Learn to see the ‘worst’ films; they are sometimes sublime.”
— Ado Kyrou, Surrealisme au Cinema

By Steve Evans
What does bad cinema share in common with strawberries covered in Belgian chocolate? Beer-simmered bratwursts smoked over hickory and served with peppers and onions? Tortilla chips slathered with melted Monterey jack, jalapeño peppers and spoonfuls of extra-hot salsa?

Hell, I dunno. But I do enjoy a guilty pleasure now and again. Here's a short list of movies that probably aren’t good for you, but taste mighty fine:

The Horror of Party Beach (1964), directed by the incomparable Del Tenney, was billed as “the first horror monster musical.” I s’pose that counts as a recommendation, although it’s basically a retread of the Creature From the Black Lagoon on a wee budget. We do get good value for our entertainment dollars: Babes in bikinis go-go dancing. Bikers. Beaches. Beefcake brawling over Cheesecake. Radioactive sea monsters with their mouths stuffed full of bratwursts (see it for yourself, then believe). And the great surf-rock band The Del Aires (from Connecticut!) perform 6 rockin’ tunes, including the Zombie Stomp. A maid named Eullabelle saves the day. Verily, friends, this is one of the greatest movies ever made. Filmed entertainment just doesn’t come any better.

Point Break (1991) delivers terrific action set pieces and the greatest football game ever filmed at night on a beach, which almost compensates for the fact that this is one of the dumbest movies in cinema history. A pre-Matrix Keanu Reeves stars as the improbably named Johnny Utah, an FBI agent who gets so angry in the second act that he leaps from a plane -- without a parachute -- to pursue a bad guy getting away. Now that's square-jawed determination. Long before that ludicrous moment, we get some great surfing sequences, a bank robbery with crooks wearing rubber masks with the likenesses of ex-presidents, a rare opportunity to hear Arthur Lee's psychedelic band Love on a movie soundtrack, and a shoot-out involving drug dealers and a lawnmower. Patrick Swayze did his own skydiving stunts, but Gary Busey steals the film as a smart-ass Fed who likes Calvin & Hobbes and meatball sandwiches. Look fast for Anthony Keidis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as a surfer dude. Whoa.

Jaws: The Revenge (1987) is a ridiculous-looking giant, rubber shark with frequently visible control cables dangling from its belly. Michael Caine appears in a supporting role, looking decidedly embarrassed to be in this one. He has this expression in several scenes as though he just farted loudly and is hoping no one will immediately blame him for the crime. While Caine was filming this flick in the Bahamas, he passed on an opportunity to attend the Academy Awards in 1987, when he would win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Woody Allen’s Hannah and her Sisters. Later, a reporter asked Caine if he realized how awful Jaws: The Revenge would turn out to be. Caine admitted candidly: “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”

Mesa of Lost Women (1953). Jackie "Uncle Fester" Coogan plays a mad scientist (is there any other kind?) who wants to infuse beautiful women with the strength and agility of tarantulas. WTF?! Several ding-dongs land a plane on his mesa and start snooping around. Shot on a budget of about three dollars, the picture features the saddest-looking giant spider puppet yet committed to film. It was also the sad beginning of a long career descent for Coogan, a former child actor from the silent era whose mother and stepfather squandered his fortune. A millionaire at 7, Coogan was broke by the time he turned 18. That's more tragic than anything in this inept picture.

If you can endure the annoying-as-hell flamenco guitar and piano soundtrack that plays incessantly throughout this picture (and was also used by Ed Wood in his hypnotically awful Jail Bait), then the first round of beers is on me. Trivia note: the composer for this mind-numbing soundtrack was a young musician named Hoyt Curtin, who would go on to compose the familiar “Scooby Doo” jingle for the popular cartoon. Aren’t you glad you know that, now?

Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973) was a “blind-buy” I purchased for five dollars on the strength of the title alone. Seriously. Rare indeed is a film that lives up to its title: There are bee girls. They invade. Some of them prance around nekkid. Others hang out in a laboratory and say pseudo-scientific things while holding their instruments incorrectly and frequently upside-down. Bee girls will do that, don't you know? I got my money’s worth.

I also enjoy everything written or directed by Ed Wood, especially Bride of the Monster (1955) and The Violent Years (1956), which he wrote but did not direct. In the latter, a gang of delinquent girls runs amok. They break into their school and shove desks around, hold up gas stations and, in the scene that will have you staring in disbelief, they kidnap a guy in the park, drag him out of his car and into the woods, where they “have their way” with him, despite his strenuous objections. This sort of thing never happens to me.

I have no use for the jackals of bourgeois sensibility who would look upon these delightful movies with a disdainful eye. Those who criticize mindless fluff are mental lightweights themselves – too insecure to realize what they’re missing, much less to open their minds long enough such that they might experience some serious fun.

Pass the popcorn.

Copyright © 2009 by Steve Evans // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

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