Thursday, March 22, 2012

Jeepers, Creepers: "Creepers" (1985)

I want to start this review with another personal story.

When I was in elementary school, I saw "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" starring Diane Keaton. Keaton was naked, I was in love. I was a movie buff, even back then, so I decided to write my own movie. It was called "Looking for Mr. Goodbar 2," in which Keaton's character survived her stabbing, and kept sleeping with other men. This dramatic milestone ran eight pages, in screenplay form, and I was very proud of my sophisticated use of the word "fuck" throughout. Then I showed it to my dad...I did not try another screenplay until I was in college, and my screenwriting still sucked.

Why the story? First, this will serve as proof that I thought up the idea for Goodbar 2 if Hollywood tries it (anything's possible, just look at "Species II"). This also draws an analogy to the script for "Creepers." "Creepers" is one of the most juvenile-written movies of our time.

Argento is such a good director, there are scary scenes here, scenes you have never seen before. Connelly is gorgeous, but a little stiff as an American girl who is sent to a boarding school in Switzerland, and becomes involved in solving a series of murders. Pleasence is wasted, as he always is, as a bug doctor who befriends Connelly.

There are two different good film ideas in the script. One is "A crippled bug doctor and a young student solve some horrific murders at a Swiss boarding school." The second is "A young student gets through her lack of friends by finding out she can communicate with bugs." Blending the two ideas is a serious flaw. There are parts of this that scared me to death, and parts where I yelled "oh, Dario!" because what he was giving me as a viewer was so poorly thought out.

I realize I saw the butchered 82 minute version of the originally titled "Phenomena" but there are plot points in here that are so beyond the reach of belief, they must be seen to be believed. (* * *) out of five stars.

Creature Featured: "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954)

This famous Universal picture features the giant gill man, who has risen in infamy to take his place right up there with the Wolf Man, Dracula, and Frankenstein's monster.

On a dig in the Amazon, Antonio Moreno discovers the fossilized skeletal remains of a hand that has webbed fingers. He takes it back to a biological institute, where hunky guys Richard Carlson and Richard Denning await. Carlson is the good guy, Denning runs the institute and is just out for fame and fortune, Mother Earth be damned. Accompanied by Carlson's girlfriend, Julie Adams, the group return to the site in a rust bucket of a boat. Someone (or something) has killed the natives left to guard the site.

The group puts a strange theory together that the rest of the fossil must have been washed down to a local lagoon, called the Black Lagoon. Adams thinks it should be called "the Beautiful Lagoon" when they arrive there (thanks, Julie, go lie down). As Carlson and Denning put on aqua lungs and bicker, we see a strange creature in the water, a half man and half fish.

The creature from the black lagoon starts offing some of the boat's native crew, and is captured. Then it escapes, only this time hurts a white scientist guy. NOW we are mad. A couple of natives is one thing, but when you hurt Anglos, you are in for it. The film then falls into an unfortunate routine: the burly men come up with a plan, gill man outsmarts them and kills or maims somebody, burly men come up with new plan. Toss in Carlson and Denning fighting worse than George Jefferson and Flo, and you have a cult horror sci-fi flick.

Some of the stuff here is silly. Adams' only role seems to be to look cute in a one piece and scream every time the stealth-like gill man gets on the boat, which is often. Denning and Carlson's arguing grates. At one point, to flush out the gill man, they poison the entire lagoon with a drug that renders aquatic life paralyzed for an hour or two! The gill man is shot twice with a harpoon yet still manages to live through it all.

On the positive, the gill man's makeup is awesome. The suit is totally believable, and the effect is creepy. The suit seems pliable enough that the actor encased inside can still move around, and he gets involved in the action. James C. Havens directed the underwater sequences and did a great job. The shots are crystal clear, and even a silt filled fight between the creature and Denning comes off well. Director Arnold does well on dry land, turning the lagoon into a claustrophobic trap when the creature blocks the exit with a dead tree. Arnold seamlessly blends studio shots with location filming.

All things considered, "Creature from the Black Lagoon" is not a bad film, but no classic. It is scarier and more entertaining than ninety percent of the horror and science fiction films that have come out since the mid 1950's. For nostalgia, you cannot beat it. (* * *) out of five stars.

Jackasses: "Crazy White Boys" (2003)

The video opens with the following important disclaimer: "Warning: The shit in this video has been performed and supervised by Crazy White Boys. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. If you do, and get fucked up, it's on you asshole. We're not responsible for your bullshit antics." What follows is fifty minutes of junk, but with a couple of inspired segments that lift this above a "Jackass" clone.

The opening stunt involves a bunch of motorcycles flying down a California freeway, when one of the riders stands on the tank of his bike with a bus right behind him. The cops then pull him over (something you never see on "Jackass"). For every one of these segments, you get three on the level of the drunk college student on spring break unknowingly chugging pee. The cops arrive again after the Boys buy a used car and proceed to destroy the thing, all for the cameras. Another disclaimer reads "Non-professional driver on an open course."

The video is at its worst when it was at its most repulsive. Vomiting, fights, a night vision video of a mousetrap in action, a guy biting the heads off of live fish, all were not only gross but a little dull to anyone who has been jaded by shockumentaries and reality TV. Scott Lane does a boring stint about how to get free food from McDonald's. The guys destroy the interior of a house with motorbikes. Man lights genitalia on fire. More and more vomiting. There is a drive-by paintball shooting, which is going to be real unfunny some day when a victim pulls a Glock and blows some of these merry pranksters away. The worst segment might be a bunch of drunks commenting on terrorists.

However, once in a great while something funny or entertaining would work. The Boys spoof bum fighting by giving the participants actual martial arts skills. There is a pornographic segment involving what look like Barbie and Ken dolls. Two large breasted women box topless. Lane goes to meet his hero, "Jackass"'s Steve-O, by tackling him onstage during a live performance. Steve-O is pissed-o, which makes Scott, and me, laugh out loud. The Boys booby trap a bicycle, then plant it in Newport Beach and videotape it. No one steals it, so they run it to Compton and find a victim. Another piece of tape captures a world record setting cross country wheelie.

"Crazy White Boys" works when they are not being "Jackass" and doing their own original wild stuff. Drop the vomit and stick to the comedy, guys. You could call this a negative review, but I doubt my opinion is going to matter to these maniacs. (*) out of five stars.

Skin Crawlspace: "Crawlspace" (1986)

David Schmoeller writes and directs this angry little slasher film that should have been better than it was.

Dr. Gunther (Klaus Kinski) runs an apartment building. He strictly rents to attractive young women, and watches them from a giant crawlspace that runs the length of the building. But that's not all... He also has Martha (Sally Brown) locked in a cage in his attic. He kills the assorted boyfriends of his tenants. His father was a Nazi, and he has carried on this obsession with death by meticulously documenting all of his murders in Argentina and the United States, inventing torture and murder devices to use on unsuspecting people, and playing Russian roulette every morning before breakfast. Journalism student Lori (Talia Balsam) moves in, and Gunther takes a special interest in her, before finally going completely off his rocker.

Klaus Kinski has one of the faces that always enabled him to portray "the bad guy" really well. He looks like the ideal sadomasochistic lunatic bent on killing. Kinski is the only reason to see "Crawlspace." He does an excellent job portraying Gunther, and the film is told from his side, not the assumed heroine Lori. The rest of the cast tries, but they were not given much to begin with. Poor Kenneth Robert Shippy portrays the brother of one of Gunther's victims, but he sometimes comes off more creepy than Gunther does. The rest of the tenants are all picked because they are cute (as Gunther did), and they do not have much more to do than die.

Schmoeller does score points with his direction. The editing is very good until a badly done crawlspace chase toward the end, where you can see the actors roll along on small trolleys, before Gunther laughably grabs a giant device to give chase. The film is eighty minutes, and it feels stretched. This may have worked better as a short. The budget is tiny, only a handful of characters and basically no exterior shots, but the gore effects are good.

I was hoping for a film along the lines of "Apt Pupil," given the basic plot of "Crawlspace." As times marches on, modern Nazi war crime stories are becoming a thing of the past as major players in the Holocaust pass on. This should have been a tight psychological thriller, instead of following the formula of "cute girl and boyfriend have sex, one dies at hand of maniac." Kinski seems up to the role, Balsam looks like she would rather be somewhere else, and flashes of characterization and suspense are lost in some goofball plot devices like the executive toy that attracts victims like Dobermans to a flank steak.

"Crawlspace" is yet another missed opportunity on the four lane highway paved with missed opportunities that the horror genre has turned into. (* *) out of five stars.

Cowboys & Immigrants: "Cowboy Smoke" (2008)

While making a modern spaghetti western with a social conscience may be a tall order, writer/director Will Moore comes up with a watchable little flick.

Wes (Chad Mathews) is a criminal on the run from Texas Ranger wannabe Travis (Matt Johnston) and Travis' father, a full-fledged Ranger. Travis accidentally shoots his father, and Wes escapes, after knocking Travis unconscious.

In the meantime, Joe (Mike Lutz) is fired from his dead end convenience store job for obsessively playing a wild west themed video game, complete with a plastic six-shooter. Joe wants to be a real cowboy (the film is set in Texas), yet the only skills Joe knows are what he has seen in western films and television shows. After failing at regular cowpoke jobs, Joe uses his video game skills to land a hunting job that pays $500 a kill. Joe hits the open country with his new employers, but realizes too late that the men get $500 for every illegal Mexican immigrant they kill on their ranch land. Joe bolts.

Travis, still tracking Wes, meets Joe in jail when Joe is mistaken for Wes. Joe was given a gun in a chance meeting with Wes, and uses the weapon to defend himself against his still angry former employers. Indio (James Paul) is the local ruthless immigrant smuggler- a "coyote." He takes in Wes, then uses his power to make Joe sheriff, after murdering the old one.

Wes', Joe's, and Travis' paths continue to cross as the three men see Indio murder and pillage the helpless Mexican prey. This being a western, there is a climactic shootout that does not go the way you might expect.

My biggest problem with Moore's film is all the busy-ness. I didn't even mention Joe's love interest Elysa (Estella Perez), Indio's sick father, Wes' nationwide infamy, or even former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips' cameo! There is a lot of stuff here, and occasionally scenes don't work- Travis shooting his father, and Joe being handed the sheriff's job without so much as a peep from anyone, to name two.

I did find plenty to like here, though. The main trio of actors are all fine. While the screenplay's tone is a little weird, Moore's direction and Stephen Acevedo's photography give the film a big budget look. Brian Satterwhite's musical score compares favorably to Ennio Morricone scores of old, paying homage to them without blatantly ripping them off. Finally, it's a treat to see a Texas-set film actually shot in Texas! I am a fourth generation Texan born in Fort Worth and transplanted to North Dakota, and I hate that "Alberta-as-Texas" crap Hollywood often attempts..."Texas Rangers" being a terrible example.

"Cowboy Smoke" doesn't go Tarantino on the audience, it just delivers a good story with decent characters. Following a weekend that finds "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" the number one film in the country, that's saying something. (* * * *) out of five stars.

How Could a Film With So Much Nudity Be So Bad?: "The Coroner" (1999)

"The Coroner" has placed itself on the much heralded list of worst films I have ever witnessed.

I am fighting the urge to end every plot summary sentence with a (!) because it is unbelievable to me that someone actually thought this up. This review contains spoilers, but do not let that stop you from skimming and deciding this would make a decent rental after all.

Emma (Jane Longnecker) is a tough as nails public defender in the San Francisco area. She frees prostitutes like Nadine (Christine Burke) and tries to get them to turn their lives around. Emma has a boyfriend named George (David Aimerito), a Kenny G clone. There is also a string of serial murders in the Bay Area (Nadine is offed), and Emma takes some vacation time to solve the crime. Little does she know the killer is targeting her as his next victim.

Using a blow dart gun, Emma is kidnapped by Leon (Dean St. Louis) and held in his basement, where he keeps assorted medical examiner instrumentation. Leon is nuts, Emma stabs him and escapes, she is recaptured, Leon is nuts, Emma escapes again, and runs out in traffic and is hit by a car. In the hospital, Emma is sedated, but is released and returns to the house with Detectives Manley (Bob McFarland) and Striker (Robert J. Pouliot). No one believes Emma, even with a severed finger, and they discover Leon is none other than the local city's coroner. He covers up his crimes because he does the autopsies!

The detectives poo poo her story, and this video poo poos my VCR. Emma then goes to the jerk district attorney Flossman (Eric B. Gerleman) for help as Leon keeps kidnapping and killing. Since the basement where Emma was kept could not be found, Emma goes to Leon's and uses a bomb to blow a hole in the house for evidence (!- allow me this one). She breaks in, is arrested, and then turns the tables on Leon when she finally takes him captive in her basement...

The film wisely opens with a montage of strippers, always a good way to hook a viewer. The sex and nudity here are spaced throughout, so when the urge to shut the stupid thing off builds, a nipple is flashed; and like Pavlov's dog, I keep watching.

Both Leon and Emma have flashbacks to other bloody murders which are in fact gory scenes from other horror films. The music soundtrack is not original, it also consists of clips from other films. The acting and editing are atrocious, as cheap set walls vibrate during action scenes. I think I could have funded this thing based on my paycheck from last week.

The film is anti-woman, as no one believes Emma to the point of stupidity. Leon sees himself as god like, trying to kill off suicide survivors, a lot of whom live in San Fransisco, since he has no shortage of victims. The gore effects are standard, the suspense is nonexistent, and yet Roger Corman enjoys his stature as a respected film maker.

"The Coroner" is currently in the bottom 10 rankings for horror films at IMDB.com. It should be at the bottom of anyone's list, it is truly one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen, including "Asylum of Terror." (*) out of five stars.

Tromatized: "The Cops Did It" (2009)

I have seen many Lloyd Kaufman films over the years. His Troma Team releases the kind of stuff mainstream film studios would never touch. Unfortunately, his independent movie spirit has spawned dozens of imitators who, armed with the germ of an idea, a couple of friends, and a camera, think they, too, can make a movie. This is what I suspect happened with "The Cops Did It," but the film isn't even up to Troma standards.

Nick Barnes and Craig Chamberlin play a couple of racist, farting, criminal cops in Florida. They burn down the house of a couple of pot-smoking brothers, who decide to go interview their even stranger neighbors to get evidence to get one of the brothers out of jail. The cops try to stop them. That's about it...

Admittedly, the basic pitch of the film has potential written all over it. Who would believe a bunch of weed toking slackers? The weird neighbor angle also should have scored. I sat watching this (and it is way too long at an hour and forty-five minutes for the material they have), and just got sadder and sadder.

Aside from the professional sounding music, I'm not sure writer/director/almost-everything-else Anthony Azar had a plan going in. The scenes that worked the most (I write "the most," since they wouldn't work in any other movie) are the ones featuring Kaufman, who always seems to be up for a foul-mouthed cameo no matter the subject matter. It's almost impossible to review this except to say the obvious- if Troma Team product is your thing, you'll love it. Troma Team product is not my thing.

"The Cops Did It" guns for the stupid-comedy audience, but it is so badly made, even they won't be forgiving. Come on, Mr. Azar, the bones were here. I know you can flesh it out more your next time out. (*) out of five stars.

Meet and Greet: "Conspiracy" (2001)

Fifteen men meet for a boring sounding meeting now dubbed the "Wannsee Conference." They smoke, eat, argue, and eventually agree (or are forced to agree). The direct result of this meeting is the annihilation of six million men, women, and children.

As the German army was stalled in their bid to reach Moscow, the Jewish problem was getting out of hand and draining Nazi resources. Adolf Hitler orders a group of men to meet in private to discus the final solution to the Jewish problem, and this film, based on the only surviving transcript of the meeting, shows agreement was not unanimous.

Kenneth Branagh plays General Heydrich, the military architect of the plan, with the loyal Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann (Stanley Tucci) at his side. They are criticized and questioned by Stuckart (Colin Firth) and Kritzinger (David Threlfall), who worry about the lawfulness of an action such as "evacuating" eleven million Jews. The original meeting was only two hours, the film runs ninety five minutes, but the viewer will be chilled for days after watching this.

Frank Pierson smartly keeps the entire film in just a couple of rooms and some brief outdoor shots. Claustrophobia immediately sets in, much like "12 Angry Men." The entire cast is brilliant, with Branagh scoring extra points for playing evil so charismatically, and Tucci, who plays Eichmann as a humorless efficient just following orders. Loring Mandel's screenplay shows the division right away between the military and the politicians, with the military basically taking control of the final solution.

The creepiest aspect of the film are scenes involving the specifics of what makes a person a Jew (in Nazi eyes), and the vast numbers of people they planned to murder in order to rid the continent of Jews, eleven and a half million in one year, as soon as the camps were built. The meeting was called under the guise of finding a way to rid the continent of the Jewish race, but many of the military men involved already had their marching orders about what they were to do and how to do it. Tucci quoting the figures concerning the thousands of Polish mental deficients already gassed with carbon monoxide is scary enough, but when the men joke about the color of the bodies, it was very difficult.

"Conspiracy" is another fine entry in the World War II genre of film. Every aspect works, you may find yourself in utter disbelief, as I was, when you see how many of the participants survived the war and returned to civilian life, living decades after the meeting's subjects. Another HBO film that truly disturbs. (* * * * *) out of five stars.

Conceit: "Conquest" (1984)

Ah, Lucio Fulci, rest in peace. This infamous Italian is most famous for "Zombie," and the absolutely unwatchable "The Psychic" and "Manhattan Baby." Well, add this to the unwatchable list.

The plot, as it were, concerns a nekkid woman who wears a gold mask and a G-string. She wants the power of a young dubbed stud who has a set of magic arrows and a bow. They are magic because they glow. Arrow boy teams up with a guy in a bad wig, and they spend most of the movie rescuing each other from flat action sequences. In the end, the nekkid chick is defeated, but not before taking the mask off and reminding me why I broke up with my high school girlfriend.

Fulci bathes every shot in an orange glow and fills the screen with smoke. Nothing like a smoky orange action sequence to make you crave Sunny Delight and a cigarette. The special effects are laughable. In one sequence, our ambiguously gay duo are attacked by dozens of arrows that are obviously pin scratches on the film itself. The majority of the effects budget must have been spent on the Fulci-licious gore, which consists entirely of spurting wounds. Hey, we can all use a good spurting wound once in a while, but when you get into spurting wound overkill, it gets boring. I kept having to play with the brightness setting on my TV anyway just to see what the heck was happening.

There is lots of talk of fulfilling omens and prophecies, so let me do a little look into the future...if you find this movie and watch it, you will regret it. The scene on the video box (by Media) does not appear in the film in any context whatsoever.

"Conquest" is a con job. What MST3K could have done with this! (*) out of five stars.

Abandoned Cabin Fever: "Conjurer" (2008)

Director/co-writer Clint Hutchison treads into overly familiar territory with this well made horror film.

Photographer Shawn (Andrew Bowen) and wife Helen (Maxine Bahns) head to the countryside after the tragic loss of their unborn child. They move into an old farmhouse formerly owned by Marlin's (Tom Nowicki) mother. Helen's brother, Frank (a seemingly ageless John Schneider), is going to build the still hurting couple a new house on the land near the old house. City bred Shawn reluctantly tries to settle in to country life, as Helen transforms back into her old self. But what about that little abandoned cabin on the back of the property?

While exploring the cabin, Shawn finds a jar containing some teeth, and punctures his thumb- an oozing wound that doesn't seem to heal. Helen and Shawn become sexually active again and Helen is pregnant right away. A progressively nervous Shawn seems happy, but he begins hearing creepy sounds coming from the surrounding woods, and a large crow is suddenly haunting the farmhouse. Shawn tries to get back into photography again, which opens up a whole new aspect to the creepy weirdness (including one jump scare involving Shawn's photographs that had the remaining seven hairs on my head stand up straight).

Shawn investigates and according to a neighbor, and Marlin's elderly mother (Edith Ivey), the cabin was cursed by a Civil War era "conjurer," or witch, who has a special interest in pregnant women...as Helen blissfully goes about setting up the new baby's nursery.

I recognized leading man Andrew Bowen from some regional electric co-op ads on television, and he is fantastic as Shawn. His character is nicely written, including a past family tragedy that adds some depth without seeming forced, and Bowen is natural and likable. Bahns also scores as Helen, she brings a sad undercurrent to the role that often had me ill at ease. Schneider plays a good protective older brother to Helen, not once could I think of a "Dukes of Hazzard" joke.

Hutchison's direction is also sure and solid. The photography and locations are great, and the creepy sound design works. I did have huge issues with the screenplay, though. The pacing lags near the middle as a viewer can only watch a character enter an abandoned cabin so many times. There are many creepy small moments but not enough big scares, and the very pat ending was so frustrating and overly convenient (and makes little sense the more I thought about it), I had to rein in my initial enthusiasm.

"Conjurer" has enough to very slightly recommend it, and I found it an improvement over Hutchison's ultimately forgettable "Terror Tract"...what's with this guy and housing developments, anyway? (* * *) out of five stars.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Our Sweet George: "The Concert for Bangladesh" (1972)

In 1971, George Harrison and Friends staged one of the first benefit concerts ever at Madison Square Garden. The concert alone raised almost a quarter of a million dollars to combat poverty and starvation in Bangladesh, and the ensuing live album also generated funds. The concert was filmed, blown up to 70mm and shown in stereo, also contributing to the cause. George Harrison had some very highly regarded friends.

The film itself, directed by Saul Swimmer, does not provide much information about what exactly we are benefiting in Bangladesh. There is a brief opening press conference, and heart breaking footage of the starvation that was occurring half way around the world, but the film makers (Harrison co-produced the film) jump immediately into the music. All of the performers played for free, with some flying long distances just to take part in the event.

Harrison also co-produced the music with Phil Spector, whose Wall of Sound touch is brought into a live format. The superband here is huge. George Harrison is the main player, with Eric Clapton and Jesse Ed Davis on guitar. Piano features Leon Russell, bass is Klaus Voorman, and the drummers are Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner (both playing at the same time). The acoustic guitars are made up of the rock group Badfinger, and Billy Preston plays organ and provides vocals. Bob Dylan uses some of the musicians for his stripped down set. There are half a dozen back-up singers, and a brass section consisting of the Hollywood Horn Players featuring Jim Horn.

The first few minutes of the film are very odd, and very rewarding. Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan come out to play native the Asian Indian instruments sitar and sarod. Harrison begs for patience, Shankar begs for more patience, the audience applauds the tuning of the instruments, and then Shankar and his small group of three other musicians launch into a song entitled “Bangla Dhun” that stops everyone in their tracks. The sitar and sarod look like giant banjos with tumors on them, but the sound produced, along with another stringed instrument and small bongo-looking drums, is dramatic and listenable. It reminded me of a very good film soundtrack. The audience showed their appreciation, and then Harrison took the stage.

The band starts with “Wah-Wah” before tearing through “My Sweet Lord.” Spiritual songs continue with “Awaiting on You All,” which suffers from awkward camera shots of Harrison and Starr on the same stage ("look, two of the Beatles!"). Billy Preston does “That’s the Way God Planned It,” a hopeful and uplifting song punctuated by Preston’s spontaneous dancing. Ringo Starr vocalizes in a huge sounding “It Don’t Come Easy,” and then Harrison and Leon Russell team on “Beware of Darkness,” a depressing tune that sounds a bit like a James Bond theme.

After the band is introduced, Harrison does the classic rock radio staple “Where My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Russell helms a strange combination of the bluesy “Young Blood,” book ended by “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” After this section, the purely acoustic version of “Here Comes the Sun” was welcome.

Bob Dylan comes out, and Russell and Harrison back him with Starr on tambourine. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” comes from a much darker stage as the rest of the super group takes a break. Dylan uses the harmonica with “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”- long title, but a good short song. The group does a nice version of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and then Harrison and Russell do backing vocals on “Just Like a Woman.”

Everyone returns for “Something,” and the band encores with “Bangla Desh,” a strong song interspersed with more too brief footage of the suffering going on in Bangladesh.

Because this type of event had not been filmed before, “The Concert for Bangladesh” does have a few problems. One of them is NOT the running time. This comes in at under one hundred minutes, and is the perfect running time for fans and non-fans alike. The physical appearance of the 1971 era performers is kind of funny as the long hair and beards make everyone look about twenty years older than they were. The majority of the songs are recognizable, as are the names of the band.

I was not thrilled with the way the songs were often ended with footage of the audience. The audience footage was obviously shot after the lights went up and attendees were leaving. Going from the darkened stage to the lighted audience was jarring enough, but the audience members are obviously leaving as well, which sends the wrong message to the film’s audience. You can spot some film cameramen here and there during the concert (edited together from two shows), but they don’t distract from this kind of talent. The DVD copy has some grain, but the film was blown up from 16 mm to 70 mm, explaining a lot, and the digital sound was excellent.

“The Concert for Bangladesh” is also as well known for its behind-the-scenes fights over things like the album’s distribution, and Clapton’s questionable performance (which I did not think was as bad as some have written). This came out years before Live Aid, and while the super group era seems to be over now, this concert serves as a nice reminder of what rock stars used to do- play their music and release their albums to a waiting public. No reality shows, no hip-hop or rap, just good music. (* * * *) out of five stars.

The Biggest Shock is That This is From Troma: "Combat Shock" (1984)

Frankie (Rick Giovinazzo) has not had a good time of it since coming back from Vietnam.

He lives in Staten Island in a disgusting apartment. His wife (Vernoica Stork) is pregnant, and their one year old son looks like (and is fake like) the baby in "It Lives." He is unemployed, owes the local tough Paco (Mitch Maglio) money, and his best friend is a junkie named Mike (Michael Tierno) who is trying to rob people in order to score a hit. Frankie is also having flashbacks to Vietnam, to finding an entire village slaughtered, and he was blamed for it. The viewer watches Frankie meander through his bleak existence before a bloody finale that is not for the squeamish.

Despite Troma's name on the credits, "Combat Shock" does not become "Combat Schlock." The film makers seem earnest in depicting the hopelessness of this character. The film was released in the mid-1980's, when a glut of Vietnam war films hit the screens, and this may be the most depressing. The cast of unknowns is fine, the direction is straight-forward and often imaginative, but the script meanders as much as Frankie does. I admit I was bored often, and if this was the intent of the film makers, then it worked.

Except for the fake deformed baby, the gore effects are disgustingly real. Also real is the cesspool locations in Staten Island. I have never seen urban decay shown so vividly onscreen, as Frankie's world consists of abandoned store fronts, graffiti, overgrown weeds, and garbage lined streets.

From the video cover, you might think "Combat Shock" was another typical Vietnam war film. This film deals with the mental anguish one veteran goes through once back home. If it hadn't been for some ill advised moves on the film makers part, this could have been an equal to "Platoon."

Instead, "Combat Shock" does shock, and not do much else. (* * *) out of five stars.

Waaaay Off-Broadway: "The Cockettes" (2002)

The brazen devil-may-care attitude of this avant-garde theater troupe is infectious, and I mean that in a good way.

In the late 1960's and early 1970's in San Francisco, the hippie movement was in full force. The Palace Theatre showed midnight movies, everything from art films to big budget Hollywood musicals from the 1930's. The shows were popular because they were cheap. On a few occasions, people would get up on stage and entertain the crowd during intermission. Thus the Cockettes were born.

George was a young actor who changed his name to Hibiscus. He and other members of his commune dressed in loud drag, wore more glitter than a person has a right to, and performed theater pieces lampooning current events and the old musicals. The ball started rolling as the performers became more popular than the films, and the Cockettes were headed to New York City and Broadway...which turned into a bigger disaster than anyone ever anticipated.

There is nothing funnier than seeing a person the same age as my parents talk about all the LSD they used to ingest, complete with full nude photos from back in the day. The Cockettes were doing the drag thing long before Rocky Horror came along, but the group fell victim to infighting and success, just like a lot of rock bands.

Not all the men in the Cockettes were gay, interview subject Marshall wasn't (he wishes he was after what women have done to him), but drug abuse took some of the members, and AIDS took more. One of the interview subjects here died of AIDS shortly after the filming, which almost brought me to tears.

You may be wondering: why should we care? The Cockettes, in their prime, were doing their own thing and not giving a flip what other people thought. They lampooned then-current events like Tricia Nixon's wedding, showed their love for the Hollywood musical, and just had a lot of fun doing it. There was a East Coast-West Coast drag rivalry that shows how stupid the rap rivalry is more than anything! Gay men in drag tripping each other in Max's Kansas City in NYC is funnier than the shootings of Tupac and Biggie.

The film was directed by Bill Weber and David Weissman. They found a ton of backstage and onstage footage, and a lot of interviewees who were not embarrassed with what they did. Watch for Jilala, who models many of his bizarre fashions, still making a statement today. The pacing is excellent, the rise and fall of the Cockettes over a three year period follows a classic story arc, and I came to feel real affection for all the "characters."

"The Cockettes" is a great documentary about a time we cannot possibly relive or recreate. Thank goodness Hibiscus put that dress on and dropped that acid. (* * * * *) out of five stars.

Well, the Cocaine Would Explain the Awful Film: "Cocaine Cowboys" (1979)

Beware: This film features Andy Warhol, trying to act.

The premise of this 80 minutes in purgatory is as follows: A rock band smuggles 20 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia to Montauk, Long Island. They throw the cocaine in the sea right in front of their palatial home, then land at the airport. They double back to the house and try to find the cocaine, but are not successful. Drug smugglers begin calling the band's manager, wondering where the cocaine is. The band members argue amongst themselves, wondering where the cocaine is. This reviewer questions his video choice, wondering where the plot is.

This was shot at Andy Warhol's home, so they had to give him a part in the movie. He does his Andy things, taking Polaroids, and not playing himself very convincingly. Jack Palance plays the band's manager, and is way too old for the part. He chomps on a cigar and talks about "our music." The rock band, full of people I have never heard of, is pretty awful. The handful of songs, including the title ballad, are all terrible.

Most of the film consists of the following scenes: angry drug smugglers call up Palance and yell at him, rock band members half-heartedly search for the cocaine on the beach, at night they rehearse, angry drug smugglers call up Palance and yell at him...see a pattern?

The best scene involves the nerdy gofer of the band who found the cocaine and hid it (there were only three people in the house when the cocaine was dropped, you do not have to be Hercules Poirot to figure this one out). The gofer entices the maid into bed with him, promising lots of dough for all that blow. She then dumps two containers of baby powder on him as he writhes in ecstasy. The scene lasts less than fifteen seconds, but it is almost worth the video rental price...almost.

This is a very bad film. Palance looks shocked he got roped into this, and Warhol fans will be sorely disappointed. The instrumental soundtrack sounds like those heartfelt moments they used to have on TV's "CHiPs," when the little boy was finally reunited with his alcoholic dad, and the songs here are nothing the Grammys will be criticized for overlooking.

"Cocaine Cowboys" is as enjoyable as a nosebleed. (*) out of five stars.

Clubbed Senseless: "Club Vampire" (1998)

I will never be a member of any club that would have me, especially this one.

Starr Andreeff is a single mom/stripper who gets attacked by a female vampire and left for dead. She begins to get a hankering for blood, and meets up with John Savage, looking like he's wondering where he left Michael Cimino's phone number. Savage is also a vampire and wants to let Andreef join his little vampire family, which consists of a British vamp, the blonde vamp who attacked Starr, and a green haired midget (I am not making this up). The family does not want Starr, so they try to kill Savage and Starr and Starr's kid.

Someone forgot to tell John Savage that this was a drama. He spends most of his screen time exhibiting more facial tics than Hugh Grant on a Jolt Cola bender, and he reads all of his lines like he is making a Farrelly Brothers film. Andreeff tries to make the most of a badly written role, but screenwriter/director Ruben goes for all the vampire cliches, like Starr eating her son's pet hamster and buying a lot of raw meat to fight the craving for blood. The kid also gets knocked around a lot, for those who think watching violence against children is really entertaining.

The film is extra gory, but not in a wild, over the top way like "Killer Tongue." Here, the gore is gross and never justified, it just occurs. It is just in the budget. Most of the R rating goes to Andreeff's coworkers, who are put through embarrassing strip routines in the background of conversation scenes. The budget does not include vampire fangs! All the vampires here must stab their prey to eat. Nifty idea, unless you have already seen George Romero's "Martin."

Even at 77 minutes, and once you throw in Ruben's attempts at arty direction (skewed frames, blurred scenes), this is one tiresome, dull, and dirty ride. Leave this club and take a shower, you will need it. (*) out of five stars.