December 9th, 2008

WICKED, WICKED (1973) ***

Remember that awesome scene in Sisters when director Brian DePalma switched to split-screen after Jennifer Salt witnessed the murder and you got to see Margot Kidder and William Finley hiding the body on one screen while the police were closing in on the other?  Well Wicked, Wicked takes that idea to the nth degree.  It was filmed in “Duo-Vision”, which means literally 95% of the movie is shown in split screen.  For example, on one screen you see the victim getting dressed and on the other, you see the killer slowly approaching her.  Then, when the murderer actually kills his victim, it switches to full screen so you can see every bloody stab.


The plot has a nutty electrician (Randolph Roberts) bumping off blondes in a large resort hotel.  He lives in a secret room on a missing floor and keeps the bodies of his victims preserved and props them up around a table to make it look like they’re having a tea party.  He falls in love with a beautiful lounge singer (Tiffany Bolling from Kingdom of the Spiders), who is more or less safe from his murderous advances because she’s a brunette.  However, once she goes on stage wearing a blonde wig, he snaps and sets out to make her his next victim.


Roberts does a good job as the killer.  He’s sensitive whenever he’s acting “sane” and is pretty out there whenever he kills.  His disguise is just a Halloween mask turned inside out; it’s simple, yet effective and creepy looking.  Bolling is also well cast as the object of his affections and even gets to belt out two musical numbers, including the hilarious title tune.  (“Wicked, Wicked”/”That’s the ticket!”)


The gore is surprisingly decent for a PG horror flick from the 70’s.  The stabbing sequences are pretty cool as is the scene where Randolph uses a guillotine to decapitate his victims.  The best scene though is the climatic fall onto a fence post that takes full advantage of the Duo-Vision gimmick.


That’s basically what Wicked, Wicked is:  a gimmick movie.  It’s easy to see why there were no more films shown in this process.  One obvious reason is time and money.  Since you have two scenes being projected at once, it’s like literally editing two films; something that I’m sure ate up the flick’s budget.  Also, the effect gets a little disorienting on your eyes after awhile.  Not as back as 3-D, but still.


Although the gimmick begins to wear out its welcome as the film progresses, the filmmakers keep the gag from getting stale by making clever use out of the split screens.  Sometimes they use the dual screens for ironic effect.  Like when some old woman tells a story about how she used to be a ballerina who “danced in front of kings”, the other screen projects the truth where she actually was a stripper, shaking her goodies in front of a bunch of drunk and horny men.  Also, whenever the killer starts getting depressed, the other screen shows flashbacks of his troubled youth to make you sympathize with him. 


Wicked, Wicked is a gimmick movie, but it’s a good one and besides, there wasn’t many gimmick movies being made in the 70’s anyway.  There’s no other film quite like it, which means it comes highly recommended.


David Keith and his wife Heather Locklear participated in LSD experiments in college which turned them into psychics who can “push” people into doing their bidding.  (Every time Keith pushes someone he looks like he’s got a migraine and has a nosebleed.)  They have a daughter (Drew Barrymore) who can start fires with her mind and naturally, the government wants to use her as a weapon.  After the government stooges murder Heather, they come after Keith and Barrymore.  Whenever the bad guys close in on them, Barrymore sets everybody on fire with her noggin and turns them into toasted marshmallows.


Firestarter was probably my least favorite Stephen King novel as it seemed more like a hodgepodge of ideas rather than an actual story.  The movie is more or less faithful to the book, but this is one time when the screenwriter should’ve taken a few liberties with the material.  The laboratory scenes where Martin Sheen straps little electrodes onto Barrymore’s head and does experiments on her are dull and the flick is pretty lifeless whenever something isn’t getting burned up.  Also, the Tangerine Dream score is awful.  Awful.


Mark L. Lester directs the picture in a flat, workmanlike style with none of the zest and energy he would later bring to such classics like Commando and Showdown in Little Tokyo.  While the scenes of random government agents turning into baked Alaskas are well done (no pun intended), Lester films everything else with all of the conviction of an FDS commercial.


Acting wise, Barrymore is pretty much the whole show.  She isn’t bad as the precocious prepubescent pyrokinetic, although it’s freaking hilarious when she sets people on fire.  Her hair flies all around and she gets this look on her face that she just ate too many Pop Rocks or something.  That’s pretty classic.  As her father, Keith is more or less a non-entity in the film and Sheen is bland as the man in charge of “The Shop”.  George C. Scott is quite memorable and gets some good moments as Rainbird, the Indian agent who gives thoughtful monologues about brutally killing Barrymore with a karate chop across the nose.


’84 also saw the release of another so-so Stephen King flick, Children of the Corn.

ROLLER BOOGIE (1979) ½ *

Linda Blair stars as a rich musical prodigy who only wants to roller skate all day on the boardwalk.  She falls for a guy from the wrong side of the tracks who teaches her how to roller dance for the beach’s annual Roller Boogie.  (A disco with roller skates.)  When the Mob wants to tear down the roller rink and put up a shopping center, the teens band together to save their beloved establishment.


Basically it’s Romeo and Juliet but with roller skates.  And third rate Mafioso.


First off, I HATE roller skating.  It’s not very fun and I despise all those idiots who always rollerblade around like they’re hot shit or something.  Despite my prejudices, I thought that I’d get a kick out Roller Boogie in a Crown International teen movie sort of way.  It’s also a disco movie that’s got a lot of cheesy 70’s fashions, and I’m usually a sucker for time capsule flicks that feature horribly dated fashions.  Add to that the fact that it stars exploitation superstar, Linda Blair and was directed by Mark L. (Commando) Lester.  With all of these ingredients, you would think that Roller Boogie had a recipe to be some sort of cult classic.  It isn’t, it just sucks.  It doesn’t quite bite the big one like Xanadu did, but it’s still just one big shitfest.


Roller Boogie is mostly nothing but poorly choreographed scenes of people dancing on roller skates with the barest minimum of plot.  Every now and then something incredibly ludicrous will happen that you just have to laugh (like when a roller skating Blair jumps over a mobster’s car), but for the most part, Roller Boogie is just borderline unwatchable.  There’s so-bad-it’s-good, then there’s so-bad-it’s-terrible.  Roller Boogie is a case of the latter.


At one point Blair whines, “What a drag!  What a bummer!”  I agree.

SUGAR HILL (1974) ***

After the nefarious white mobster Morgan (Robert Quarry from Count Yorga, Vampire) murders the boyfriend of Sugar Hill (Marki Bey) in cold blood, she sets out for revenge.  Sugar conjures up the spirit of voodoo priest Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley) who helps her in her quest for vengeance.  Samedi raises an army of zombies who kill Morgan’s men with machetes, voodoo dolls, and killer snakes before tossing Morgan in a pit of quicksand.


Sugar Hill is a competent, well acted and fun little chiller that successfully combines a zombie movie with a blaxploitation action flick.  Director Paul Maslansky (who later went on to produce the Police Academy series) handles the zombie sequences especially well and the scene where they rise from their graves is eerily effective.  The look of the zombies is unique as they all have cool shiny silvery eyeballs that reflect light and are covered head to toe with cobwebs.


Quarry makes for a reliable villain and Marki Bey is excellent as the sexy Sugar Hill.  I particularly liked her catfight with Quarry’s hateful mistress.  Colley really steals the show though as Baron Samedi.  He sinks his teeth into the role and whenever he’s on screen spouting his voodoo jive talk, Sugar Hill rocks.


What prevents the film from being a classic is the fact that the producers went for a PG rating instead of an R.  Most of the murders happens off screen and the flick is low on gore and is completely devoid of sex.  Had Maslansky really ratcheted up the exploitation goodies, we might have had another Blacula on our hands.  As it is, Sugar Hill is still quite memorable thanks to the fine performances and the cool zombies.  There’s also a great theme song called, “Supernatural Voodoo Woman” that adds to the fun.


Bey gets the best line of the movie when she gets her zombies to feed a mobster to a sty full of hungry pigs and says, “I hope they like white trash!”


AKA:  The Zombies of Sugar Hill.  AKA:  Voodoo Girl.

RAW MEAT (1973) *

An inbred cannibal living underground in London’s abandoned subway system comes up from the darkness every once and awhile to chow down on unsuspecting Londoners.  When his pregnant wife dies in childbirth, Mr. Cannibal goes crazy and abducts an annoying chick and tries to put the moves on her.  Eventually, her idiot American boyfriend calls the cops and they come and rescue her.


Raw Meat had the potential to be an entertaining horror flick, but you can tell that director Gary (Poltergeist 3) Sherman has a lot of contempt for the genre.  Sherman is more concerned with complicated camera moves and arty lighting than actually delivering scares.  He squandered every opportunity for suspense and kept things so dark that you couldn’t tell what was going on half the time.  It also didn’t help that this movie was paced like old people fuck:  slow and sloppy.  We’re talking Snoozeville here.


Donald Pleasence is the only memorable thing about this turd.  His off kilter performance as the Inspector on the case who goes bonkers whenever he doesn’t get a cup of tea is pretty funny, even though it obviously belongs in another movie.  Christopher Lee sticks around long enough to cash a check and is very good in his one and only scene with Pleasence. 


There are a handful of impressive special effects of half-eaten corpses and some adequate moments of gore (an axe to the skull, impaling, rat eating, etc.), although not nearly as many as there should’ve been.  One could only imagine what kind of movie Sherman could’ve made had he not overdosed on Nyquil before filming started.  Oh well.  Sherman later went on to direct the grossly underrated Wanted:  Dead or Alive. 


AKA:  Death Line.


Swedish bombshell Anita Ekberg gets assaulted in the shower by a nut with a knife and it traumatizes her so bad that she’s got to be sent off to the loony bin.  Under the care of her psychiatrist (Harry Townes), who’s deeply in love with her, she slowly returns to normal.  When Anita gets a job as a sexy dancer at Gypsy Rose Lee’s night club (the wonderfully named El Madhouse), she begins an affair with a nosy reporter (Phillip Carey) which complicates matters, especially when people start getting murdered.


It’s interesting to note that Screaming Mimi was released two years before Psycho, and both films feature similar scenes where their heroine is attacked in the shower.  Of course, the shower scene in Psycho is about a hundred times better than the one in this flick, it’s just... interesting to note.  Screaming Mimi is more of a muddled melodrama with psychological undertones than a horror movie and for the most part feels like a slightly risqué soap opera.


Anita ain’t much of an actress although she’s hot enough to get by on her looks and considerable bust.  I was particularly fond of her sexy dance routines in which she appeared in shackles, writhing around like an animal in heat.  They’re easily the best thing about the movie and you’ll wish she was on stage more often.  Fans of Gypsy Rose Lee will undoubtedly love the scene where she belts out a song about the Chicago fire.