The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
The Video Vacuum
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DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT: MARK L. LESTER

Mark L. Lester has had an up and down career. For every Class of 1984 there’s a couple of Firestarters. However, because he directed Commando and Showdown in Little Tokyo, the man gets a Lifetime Pass from me. Today, we’ll be taking a look at three of his lesser works from various stages in his career.

First up is…

TRUCK STOP WOMEN (1974) **

Anna (Lieux Dressler) runs a brothel out of her truck stop and also makes money on the side by stealing rigs and selling the inventory. She naturally gets pissed off when her hot daughter Anna (Queen of the Drive-In, Claudia Jennings) falls in love with the Mafioso who’s trying to muscle in on her turf. Anna is eventually able to get some good ol’ boys to help her fight off the Mob, but is her money-making racket really worth losing her daughter over?

Truck Stop Women is a mostly dull melodrama parading as a drive-in exploitation picture. Most of the movie revolves around the dysfunctional relationship between Dressler and Jennings, and very little time is spent on the sleaze the audience came for. Sure, there’s a smattering of nudity here and there, but not nearly as much as you’d expect from a movie called Truck Stop Women. And the unexpectedly downbeat ending just does not work at all.

The thing that really stops the movie on a dime though is the annoyingly shrill performance by Dressler. Every time she opens her damn mouth, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. Luckily, Jennings is around to get naked every so often, which is about the only redeeming feature of the entire film. Uschi Digart also pops up (or should I say, pops out) in a bit part too, so that helps.

Occasionally, director Mark L. Lester will liven the proceedings up by tossing in an action scene or a car chase or two. I will admit that some of the action is handled fairly well, especially when you consider the budget. When the movie isn’t being totally boring, you can see glimpses of the greatness yet to come from Lester. Yet that’s about all you get… glimpses.

AKA: Highway Truck Stop. AKA: Road Angels.

MISBEGOTTEN (1998) **

Misbegotten is a late 90’s From Hell movie from director Mark L. Lester. It’s notable for three things. 1. It reteams Lester with Nick Mancuso, who previously collaborated with one another on another From Hell movie, The Ex. 2. It was written by Larry Cohen. 3. It’s the only Sperm Donor From Hell movie I know of. Other than that though, there’s no real reason to get excited about it.

Infertile yuppie couple Nick Mancuso and Lysette (Krull) Anthony receive a sperm donation from someone they think is a musician. Really, it’s from a psychopath (Kevin Dillon) who killed the donor and assumed his identity. When he learns the couple’s whereabouts, Dillon begins stalking them, with the intention to kidnap and torment Anthony.

I’m a sucker for a good From Hell movie and while I think the raw materials were there, Lester is just unable to make it all work. For starters, Lester takes an ungodly amount of time getting the ball rolling. Once things get going, the film offers one or two memorable moments, but the movie goes off the tracks after Dillon kidnaps Anthony. It’s also here when Lester unwisely and unsuccessfully tries to turn the flick into an action movie.

Another debit is the fact that Dillon is just kinda there as the villain. The role needed someone with a bit more menace. The upshot is that Mancuso and Anthony are very good as the couple. Their domestic scenes have a measure of believability to them and they have genuine chemistry together.

There is one great moment here that almost makes the flick worthwhile. It comes when Anthony opens a present at her baby shower and recoils in horror when she finds out it contains a severed head. (I definitely don’t think she put it on the registry.) This moment is just SOOOOO Larry Cohen. Too bad the same can’t be said for the rest of the movie.

GROUPIE (2010) ** ½

A rock band named The Dark Knights are famous for having the guitarist set his arms on fire during his guitar solos. One night, he winds up catching the arena on fire too, resulting in the death of one of their fans. During the band’s comeback tour, a slutty groupie (Taryn Manning) worms her way backstage and into the heart of the pyro guitarist. Pretty soon, she starts killing off the other groupies (including My Bloody Valentine 3-D hottie, Betsy Rue), the manager (Eric Fucking Roberts), and eventually the band members.

Groupie is a solid little thriller that hits all the usual notes you’d expect from a From Hell movie. If you’re a fan of the subgenre, you should enjoy the way director Mark L. Lester keeps the plot chugging right along. The flick clocks in at a scant 78 minutes (one minute less than Lester’s Showdown in Little Tokyo), so it never gets bogged down with useless subplots. It doesn’t overstay its welcome; it comes in, does its thing, and gets outta Dodge. For that and that alone, you’ve got to respect it. If however you aren’t particularly fond of From Hell thrillers, you’ll probably want to skip it.

I only wish the rockers were likeable or at the very least, played music that was actually decent. As it is, these guys aren’t worth stalking. And I do have to take points off for the lack of backstage rock n’ roll debauchery. Sure, we do get a couple shots of topless girls frolicking around, but with Betsy Rue in the cast, I was expecting a bit more.

Rue is very good as the main bitchy groupie. She and Manning worked well together as the competitive star fuckers. And of course, Eric Roberts (who was also in Lester’s Hitman’s Run) just killed it as the band’s manager. Because of their efforts (and Lester’s judicious pacing) Groupie is able to rise (slightly) above the formula.

Tags: .director spotlight, eric fucking roberts, exploitation, g, m, t, thriller
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