Archive for February, 2012

There must be something in the water in Maryland, because I honestly think no other state has produced more backyard cinematic auteurs. I’m not talking about Baltimore-born-and-bred Oscar winners like Barry Levinson here, obviously. No, I’m thinking more the kind of guys who figured all they needed to make a movie was either a 16mm camera or a hand-held VHS camcorder, some friends, a few thousand bucks, and most importantly, the will to just get out there and get the job done. The kind of guys who watch a movie and think to themselves “heck, this shit doesn’t look that hard, I bet I could do it!” Maryland’s been damn generous when it comes to producing moviemakers of this ilk — after all, John Waters, Don Dohler, and Tony Malanowski all hailed from there, each with less ability, experience, and money than his predecessor, but arguably more determination. The name Pericles Lewnes should be added into that list somewhere as well, I’m just not quite sure where.

Who, you say? And why the uncertainty as to his placement in the dime-store pantheon?

First, the who — like the other esteemed folks just mentioned, Lewnes hailed from the Baltimore suburbs and didn’t know anything in particular about movies other than the fact that he wanted to make one and had some like-minded acquaintances (a good many of whom chose to have their work on his picture credited pseudonymously — hence the deliberate lack of reference to actors and actresses, screenwriters, etc. that you’ll find for the balance of this review — no, I’m not just being lazy) who were willing to chip in with the scripting, acting, and “special” effects —so in 1989 he set about to make what he considered to be the most outrageously stupid movie he could think of, a tongue-in-cheek (to put it midly) shot-on-video splatterfest with perhaps one of the more deliberately no-frills, here’s-what-this-flick-is-about, take-it-or-leave-it titles in cinematic history,  Redneck Zombies (whether or not Lewnes and company were aware of the earlier super-8 effort out of Texas, Ozone! Attack Of The Redneck Mutants, I have no idea).

The total budget for their movie was just under $10,000, it was shot in Maryland farm country, and the “plot,” such as it is, can be summed up more or less completely in one sentence thusly : “Incompetent army fuck-up loses barrel of “chemical warfare toxic wate” (the script’s exact words) somewhere in the sticks, local inbred hillbilly clan uses said barrel as part of their new still, green moonshine comes out, everyone who drinks it turns into a zombie, and gory hijinks ensue when a group of city-folk campers who apparently barely know each other (and frankly have no reason to given their diverse cultural backgrounds etc.) and can’t seem to talk about anything other than sex and how fucking tired and/or lost they are encounter aforementioned redneck mutant zombies.” Damn if that wasn’t the quickest and easiest story recap I’ve ever churned out in a couple years of movie blogging.

So that’s who Pericles Lewnes is, and what he made. Now, as to why I’m not quite sure where he should fit in on the list of homemade moviemakers out of Maryland —

"Care to try a drink from our new still? I just had one ---"

First off, chronologically speaking it’s pretty cut-and-dried — Waters preceded Dohler who preceded Malanowski (who got his start working for Dohler) and they all preceded Lewnes. But Lewnes shot his first (and, until 2007’s highly experimental distributed-via-online-download effort Loop, only, apart from working as an FX man on a couple of Troma’s Toxic Avenger sequels) movie on video, and all those other guys shot on film. Furthermore, Lewnes had a very specific goal in mind for his picture — he wanted it to be the first-ever (so he thought, in truth BoardingHouse beat him to the punch by a few years) SOV feature to be blown up onto film and distributed for theatrical release (a pretty lofty ambition for a guy with no cinematic experience whatsoever — and damned if he didn’t get his wish, since Troma picked this flick up and it got some east coast movie-house play before enjoying a long and semi-prosperous run in the home video rental market). So there’s our first key difference between Lewnes and his Maryland-based cinematic progenitors.

Next up is the budget — Lewnes hustled up $10,000, which is frankly  a bit more than more than probably Dohler and certainly Malanowski had to work with on their earliest forays into moviemaking (albeit not by much, and any flick produced in the, say, $5,000-$25,000 range is gonna look pretty cheap regardless), and unbelievable as it sounds this actually proved to be more than enough to give him and his cohorts the ability to produce some pretty damn solid (for the homemade variety, mind you) gore effects (as with most SOV horror or horror/comedy hybrid efforts, it’s pretty clear that this is where more or less all the money went — certainly the uniformly (in this case self-aware) atrocious acting “talent” probably didn’t cost a dime, not should it have, but at least in this movie they’re clearly having a good time across the board hamming it up).

"---and now I'm hungry!"

Following on from the budgetary differences, minscule as they may be, we have the issue of actual technical competence, and for that we need to get a bit hypothetical for a moment here. Certainly if you gave Don Dohler a couple million bucks, he could at least deliver some solidly cool special effects, but you would probably still get straight-forward “point-and-shoot” style camerawork and a script about a killer alien or three on the loose in the woods being hunted down by townsfolk (in this case played by, I dunno, Brad Pitt and Sylvester Stallone or something), with no self-aware humor whatsoever. In short, instead of a backyard evil-alien runaround pretending to be something more, you’d have a medium-budget evil-alien runaround pretending to be something more (and I mean no disrespect by this — Dohler’s absolutely serious efforts to deliver a product of at-least-near- passable quality with no reference at all to its own obvious budgetary limitations is one of the things I love about his work — he was more about showing off what he could do with limited means while keeping more or less something of a straight face about what he couldn’t do and still giving even that a go regardless), and if you gave Tony Malanowski a Hollywood-sized budget you’d probably get a semi-respectable middling-quality “supernatural thriller” of some sort.  In short, both these guys took their jobs seriously. Lewnes, quite obviously from the get-go, doesn’t. But that doesn’t automatically mean that he’s a bad filmmaker — he’s just a guy who has no illusions that he’s making anything other than a bad film (or video, as the case may be).  Redneck Zombies knows it’s a piece of crap right out of the gate and never tries to “rise above” (whatever that even means) its blatantly less-than-humble origins. Lewnes, opearting without the budget to actually scare you, is more than willing to settle for grossing you out and making you laugh instead.

Any mother who lets her baby play in a washing machine and drink green hooch ---

Beyond all the obvious and stupid laughs, though (look! a baby drinking moonshine! and a gay hillbilly (played by the director himself, no less)! and lots of dick jokes!) there is, dare I say it, some intelligence at work here — the “tabaccky man” scene, with a backwoods tobacco farmer hustling his produce (is tobacco actually considered a form of produce? oh well, too late to wonder about it now) from out of the back of his truck while dressed as the Elephant Man and talking like, I dunno, the angel of fucking death or something, is both hilarious and genuinely unsettling (if you’re in the right mood) and shows that Lewnes has probably at least watched, if not understood, a Bergman flick or two, and the lame-brained spoof of the infamous hitchhiker scene in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre shows that he’s counting on most of his audience to at least have enough smarts to get an admittedly blatant in-joke (which may not sound like much but I’ll take brainless entertainment that assumes its audience has a brain over pseudo-brainy mainstream Hollywood product that actually insults your intelligence and plays to the lowest common denominator at every turn). So who knows? To return to our “if you gave these guys a budget —” hypothesis, maybe with a couple million on hand Lewnes could have produced a seriously sardonic black comedy of some sort.

---shouldn't be too surprised when this happens.

So for all that digital “ink” spilled, I think we’re back at the beginning — quite clearly Pericles Lewnes has a lot in common with the Maryland homemade moviemakers who came before him, but there are key differences, as well. He’s got the “I’m making shit here and I know it” attitude of John Waters mixed with the “I can make these effects look decent” gumption of Don Dohler combined with the “maybe I can try to at least be creepy here for a second” ambition of Tony Malanowski, yet stands on his own as perhaps the most at-the-end-of-the-day- unclassifiable of the whole bunch. Certainly Redneck Zombies never for one instant displays any pretenses of being anything apart from the brainless gore-fest-mixed-with-overtly-stupid-humor romp in the woods that it is, yet it at least tries to, as weird as this may sound, show the audience for that kind of crap some level of, inherently blasphemous as this may sound, respect. Even if said audience isn’t much in the habit of looking for any, much less caring whether or not they actually get it. There’s an attitude of “hey, turn your brain off and have a good time here, because we did, too”  in Redneck Zombies  that’s missing from a lot of other blatantly lame shit of this ilk that just seems satisfied with topping itself on the outrageous gore front as the movie progresses and has no other ambitions apart from that. It’s this reviewer’s steadfast belief that if more “dumb movies” were as smart as this one, then more of them would be genuinely entertainigly stupid, rather than just stupidly stupid for the sake of nothing other than — well, being stupid. Anyone can do that kind of stupid. The kind on display here at least takes some forethought and planning.As mentioned earlier (and speaking of stupidly stupid instead of smartly stupid — some notable exceptions like Combat Shock and Screamplay aside), Troma picked up Redneck Zombies for theatrical as well as home video distribution, and a couple years back released the definitive, 90-minute “director’s cut” of the movie as part of their “Tromasterpiece Collection” DVD series (it’s billed as the “20th Anniversary Special Edition”). Picture (full-frame) and sound (mono) have both been remastered and are of respectable-enough quality, and extas include a pretty good commentary track from Lewnes, a selection of outtakes and deleted scenes, a plethora of interviews with, it seems, damn near everybody inovlved with the making of this thing, trailers for some other Troma prodcut, and the usual annyoingly unfunny Lloyd Kaufman ego-boosting crap. It’s literally a packed -to -the- gills release and even includes the complete original soudtrack score on a second “bonus disc” CD. Good stuff, Maynard.

If you’re up for a swim on the absolute bottom of the SOV barrel, Redneck Zombies is a fun way to while away an hour and a half of your existence. It knows what it is, knows that you know it too, and never thinks you’re an asshole for digging this kind of —- uhhhmmm — “entertainment.” It’s reasonably well-executed, refreshingly self-aware, and completely devoid of even the basic ability to sets its sights any higher. That’s never going to make it a “respectable” piece of moviemaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it never figured to be  and frankly has an attitude about it that seems to state that it honestly could care less. As somebody somewhere else once said (about something else entirely, and I can’t remember what) “it sucks — but it sucks with integrity.”  Who can’t go for a little bit of that every once in awhile?

I’ve never considered myself much of a traditionalist. I support decriminalizing all drugs, including heroin and crack. I favor legalizing gay mariaige (not that I mean to compare it with drug use, but bear with me as I attempt to illustrate a point here). I’d be cool with lowering the voting age to about 12. I think religion should be taxed like any other money-making enterprise. I feel that the traditonally-defined “family unit” is a hopelessly outmoded construct that’s probably done more harm than good (although what it should, or even could, be replaced with I have no idea).  So the supposedly venerable institutions that our society unquestionably relies on to form its rather wobbly backbone are things I’d be perfectly comfortable leaving in the dust. And yet —

Maybe for all my pseudo-radical posturing, I really am just a sucker for the old ways at heart. I say this, friends, because goddamnit, when it comes to post-apocalyptic action flicks, I really do think the tried-and-true set-ups work best. The heroes should be tough as nails and have names to match, like Stryker, Hunter, or Slade. The villains should be barbaric savages with tattoos, facial piercings, mohawak haircuts, or any combination thereof  if they don’t have all three. The women should be sexy, but clearly in possession of enough moxie to get by in the post-nuke wasteland. There should be at least one super-rare commodity that’s valued above all others that everyone is fighting for (water and/or gasoline being the best, and most frequent, choices). The action should take place in an irradiated desert wasteland (okay, the Australian outback will do in a pinch). And finally, the overall tone of these flicks should be dripping with hilariously absurd levels of way-over-the-top machismo. After all, every character in every one of these Road Warrior-inspired stories was tough enough to survive being hit by a nuclear fucking missile! This ain’t no place for wimps.

In 1985, though, apparently Canadian filmmaker Paul Donovan (credited in the film as being the sole director although according to the IMDB he had help from a couple others) thought a lot of those old tropes had played themselves out and, together with a couple of screenwriting partners gave us a decidedly different take on life after the shit hits the fan called Def-Con 4, a movie that pretty much breaks all the post-nuke rules merely for the sake of doing so (at least I can’t discern any other logic at play here), and ends up being a decidedly mixed bag as a result.

To be sure, things start out promisingly enough — there’s a slick opening credits sequence, complete with stirring and dramatic theme music, that would feel right at home in any Hollywood blockbuster, and from there we go to some sort of NORAD-sanctioned orbiting nuclear arsenal designed to — uhhmmm — protect the world with its payload of heavy-duty atomic warheads, staffed by the timid and homesick Howe (Tim Choate), hard-ass commander Walker (John Walsch), and token female crewmember Jordan (Kate Lynch). When some Libyan terrorists obtain some nukes of their own that don’t end up going off (or something like that), though, it’s too late as the US has already decided to strike a bunch of Soviet cities (the film is set, according to its opening scroll, “the day after tomorrow,” but today’s “day after tomorrow” ain’t much like yesterday’s given that the Soviet Union no longer exists — I’ll give them points for accurately predicting a future scenario where the US would end up attacking a different country altogether than the one that had supposedly “threatened” it, though) and those dastardly Russkies have emptied their missile silos in return, so now our intrepid orbiting crew find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being (I think) the last folks to fire back, and soon a bunch of their own bombs get auto-dropped on the Reds and now they’re hovering in space above a burned-out cinder. And you think you’ve had a rough day at the office.

Fast-forward a couple months and suddenly their ship’s auto-controls kick in out of the blue again and send the craft hurtling down towards Earth, apparently in the direction of the Canadian Maritimes, which according to their own caluculations ain’t exactly the best place to be if you want to avoid radioactive fallout. In addition, their remaining warhead payload self-sets itself to go boom in 36 hours, so if the crash doesn’t kill them, then their own cargo surely will in pretty short order, thus leaving us with the two-pronged question of “will our heroes survive, and if so for how long?”

I’m happy to answer the first part of that question right now — they do, in fact, survive. And that’s where the problems start —

Survivalist. Kilt-wearer. Areola fetishist. Maury Chaykin.

While the opening “space scenes” are damn-near-amazingly well-done, with good-looking sets, interesting characterization, and well-realized effects acting in concert to further a reasonably involving, if convoluted, plot, once Def-Con 4 (the name comes from the abbreviation for “Defense Condition 4,” the highest state of warning for an imminent nuclear attack in old Cold War-era military lingo, in case you were wondering) gets down to Earth, it’s pretty much all downhill, both for the characters and the audience.

Walker is the first to go, attacked and presumably killed by unseen assailants the second he opens the ship’s hatch, thus leaving us with the rather lackluster duo of Howe and Jordan from here on out — and since Jordan’s knocked out cold it’s gonna be Howe we’re stuck with at least for the forseeable future. He’s lucky enough to survive an initial encounter with some hostile natives (who look pretty much just like you and me only scruffier and filthier), although his insanely high wimp factor is on full display when he starts offering them at least half the food in his ship right off the bat. He’s “rescued” from this apparently dire situation by one Vinny (veteran Canadian character actor Maury Chaykin, the only cast member on hand to turn in anything like a reasonably involving and/or entertaining performance), a Kilt-wearing survivalist who apparently knows the woods like the back of his hand and immediately asks Howe about the color of fellow crew member Jordan’s areolae. Lame-ass that he is, of course, Howe ends up volunterring both the — uhhhmmm — information Vinny’s after, as well as more than half his ship’s food. Guess he just can’t wait to give the shit away.

Moving right along, then, once imprisoned at Vinny’s cabin, Howe finds our (apparently) Scottish perv is keeping a youngish (even though the actress playing her, one Lenore Zann, looks to be about 35) prep-school girl (she’s still got the jacket and everything) named J.J. imprisoned in his cellar. Together they effect an escape, but soon find themselves in the clutches of another dastardly horde of woodland marauders who operate out of the remnants of the local military base. And here’s where we really double down on the lameness —

"As far as first dates go, I've had worse"

So far we’ve had a limp and ineffectual hero traipsing from one siutation he’s on the verge of fucking up to another — not in an arid desert, mind you, but in a lush and beautiful Canadian forest. That’s a recipe for a pretty harebrained postapocalyptic thriller right there, in my book. But once we learn that the local armed encampment isn’t run by some military strongman or bloodthirsty mohawked savage but is instead under the command of an effete and immature 17-year-old kid named Gideon who apparently was able to take charge of the opearation because his dad, now deceased, was a rich military general with a private helicopter and fast cars and a fancy house, we’ve lost all credibility in a film that, let’s be honest, is operating within a genre that didn’t exactly pride itself on tremendous degrees of said commodity to begin with. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part, but I doubt that kind of line-of-succession nepotism would continue in a harsh and brutal postapocalyptic world, even if the Bush family somehow survived intact, and just to ratchet up the absurdity to an even greater degree, it turns out that Gideon is J.J.’s ex-boyfriend, he’s still carrying a torch for her, and if he can’t have her, then he’s going to kill her and everyone she knows!

If this is all starting to sound like some sort of mash-up between Enzo G. Castellari and John Hughes, you’re not too far off the mark.  Needless to say, the only reason at this point that you might wonder whether or not Howe’s going to make it out alive is because he might be even more incompetent in the art of survival than his teenage nemesis. Oh, and somewhere around here is when  Jordan turns up alive, there’s talk of a sailboat that can get them all to safety, Gideon determines to have our whole motely crew, which now includes a captured Vinny, hung, and oh yeah, just in case you forgot,  the nukes back in the ship are now only hours away from detonating.

One sure-fire way to avoid being killed an atomic blast --- get strung up by the neck first

I’ll avoid the temptation to give away the ending too explicitly, but I will say this — any story that concludes by positing that the best way to clean up a lawless, dog-eat-dog, post-armageddon makeshift “society” is by nuking it again has clearly run out of anything even remotely resembling clever ideas, and only furthers the already-firmly-established-by-this-point idea that Donovan and company (whose Nova Scotia-based production company that they founded to make this mess, Salter Street Films, would go on to give us the likewise-wildly-uneven sci-fi TV series Lexx) pretty much shot their wad, both in terms of budget as well as creativity, in the opening 20-or-so-minutes of this film. If you hit “stop” on your DVD player the minute the orbiter crashes,  trust me —you’re doing yourself a big favor.And speaking of DVDs, Def-Con 4, which was originally released by Anchor Bay as a stand-alone title, has recently been reissued by Image Entertainment as part of a post-apocalyptic double-bill along with the equally-absurd-but-frankly-much-more-entertaining “Rowdy” Roddy Piper “starring” vehicle Hell Comes To Frogtown. There are no extras to speak of but the widescreen picture transfer on both films looks like a million bucks and they’ve both been remastered in 5.1 surround sound. You couldn’t ask for a better-quality presentation as far as the technical specs go, but if you want anything beyond that, sorry folks — you’re on your own.

At the end of the day, Def-Con 4 is as close to a cinematic case study in wasted potential as you’re ever likely to find. An impressive opening third (or so) quickly gives way to a tedious and uninvolving runaround featuring characters that, apart from Vinny the kilted pervert, you all wish woulda died when the missiles started flying. Never has the gap between a film’s poster art (which, let’s face it, is beyond freaking awesome) and its actual on-screen product been so great. Honestly, it’s enough to make you wonder if maybe this whole apocalypse thing just ain’t all it’s cracked up to be after all.

If you’re anything like me, besides having my sympathies, you’ve probably sat through a countless number of movies in your life and thought to yourself “I could make something better than that.” And it’s true — even with no particular background in filmmaking or any sort of technical knowledge required to do the job, you, dear reader, could probably come up with something better than, say, current box office champion The Vow. Not that I’ve seen it, but that’s beside the point. And before I lose said point here entirely —

A native Chicagoland area resident named Wally Koz had that same thought back in the 1980s (you know, before the sprawling exurban soul-dead wasteland outside of Chicago forced the nauseating term “Chicagoland” into existence in the first place — apologies to any and all residents of places like Schaumburg who might be reading this) but, unlike archair critics like you and me, he fucking did something about it. Wally was (the past tense being appropriate here, unfortunately, as he passed away a few years ago now) a guy who, besides having one of the most instantly-ready-for-cult-status names in the history of the world (“Dude, you’re a Wally Koz fan? Me too!”) also had a few thousand bucks in the bank and some friends and family members (counting the number of people with the surname “Koz” listed in the credits would make for a pretty good drinking game — the most notable being his brother Roy, who wrote the script and also “acts” in the movie) who were game to play along with his mad scheme. The end result? 1988’s shot-on-video, direct-to-VHS horror mini-epic (okay, invoking the term “epic” here in any sense might be a stretch) 555.

Like many of us, our guy Wally spent a lot of time and money in the 80s watching SOV/DTV horror movies like Blood Cult, Cannibal Campout, The Ripper, and Video Violence, and was dismayed at how infrequently most of these backyard numbers well and truly delivered the goods (well, okay, Video Violence is an exception to that and probably doesn’t belong on the list — maybe we should substitute Revenge or something instead), especially in relation to their always-lurid box cover art. Figuring (correctly) that most of the folks behind these homemade flicks had no more aptitude for the job than he did, he thought he’d just go ahead and make the kind of SOV horror that he wanted to see, since nobody else was making them. It would be violent in the extreme. Gory in the extreme. Tasteless in the extreme —

—and, in fairness, for many long stretches dull in the extreme. But hey, he shot this thing on 1″ videotape and from my understanding that stuff was a real bitch to edit, so looooooong, lingering takes without much necessearily, you know, actually going on are to be expected, as seasoned viewers of 1980s SOV are well aware. But apart from that one minor quibble more forced on 555 by dint of necessity than any sort of intentionally bad creative decision-making, by and large I think we can congratulate Mr. Koz (and his friends and family) on a job at least reasonably well-done here.

The plot revolves around a killer dressed as a hippie who has this habit of killing couples mid-coitus, hacking them up in whatever gruesome fashion strikes his fancy, and then getting a little post mortem lovin’ from the ladies. Rather than shying away from the nastier elements of this set-up (well, okay, all the elements in this set-up are inherently nasty), Koz positively revels in this shit. You want to see corpse-fucking? You got it. Decapitation? It’s in there. Red -Karo- syrup-blood flowing like a river? Got that too. In short, nothing’s left to the imagination, and while many of the plastic-torso-and-dime-store-fake-innards effects are, admittedly, seriously lacking, some are actually pulled off pretty damn admirably (the lopped-off head on the VHS, and now DVD, cover pictured at the outset here being a notable example).

With the cops, who it must be said occupy the most sparsely-appointed police precinct office you’re ever likely to see (Wally’s garage, anyone?), the media (in the form of a would-be-hot-in-a-real-movie-with-a-budget-but-isn’t-here reporter who’s more than willing to spread her legs to get a lead), and a cheeseball supposedly young(ish) hot-shot DA on his tail, the killer’s MO is quickly (well, okay, not so quickly) discovered — every five years, he kills for five straight nights during the fifth month of the year. Hence the title.

Suspense during the “investigation” is minimal to put it kindly, with lots of scenes of the cops (particuarly one Sgt. Connor) sleeping on the couch, getting up to make coffee, drinking said coffee, then sitting back down on the couch again, etc., and the acting on the whole is pretty atrocious (although hialriously so in the case of the aforementioned Connors, played by Greg Kerouac (I’m assuming no relation to Jack), who’s quite obviously having the time of his life chewing the hell out all the scenery, minimal as it usually is, and spits out epithets and profanity-laced dialogue with the kind of relish with which a starving person might undertake, say, a $10,000 shopping spree in a grocery store), but give the Koz clan credit — when it comes to those kill scenes, they’re all-in.

Look, I won’t kid you, by the time we get around to discovering who the killer is and the incredibly convulted and overwrought reasons for why he’s doing what he’s doing, you won’t (or at least shouldn’t) much give a shit. If you’re here for anything more than seeing how one guy can see his admittedly not-for-all-tastes (hell, not for many tastes) cheapo vision come to life, then you’re watching 555 for the wrong reasons. But if you’re into low-rent production values, ham-fisted acting, gleefully over-the-top grisly slaughter, and have no problem sitting through some of the most unintentionally-nearly-sublime stretches of nothing whatsoever of consequence going on, then you’ve just found one of the best ways to spend just under 90 minutes of your life.

Massacre Video have recently seen fit to finally release this admittedly small-cult obscurity on DVD, complete with a faithfully reproduced version of the nauseating pink-and-yellow-dominated cover that stared out at us from the racks of horror sections at so many video rental shops back in the day. Extras are minimal, consisting of some profesionally-enough-done interviews with some surviving cast and crew members and a selection of trailers for some forthcoming rather, uhhhhhhm, interesting-looking Massacre titles, but the full frame picture has been remastered pretty nicely and looks about as well as this thing probably ever could, and the sound quality (by the way, be on the lookout for the same canned scream being used in every single one of the murders of members of the fairer sex) is likewise about as good as we’re gonna get given the technical unevenness of the source material. They also have a deluxe version that includes a full-sized poster (put that up on your wall and have guests over immediately) and there was a very limited edition VHS reissue of 50 copies(!) that sold out more or less immediately.

No one involved with 555, either in front of or behind the camera, ever worked on anything else again. This is their one credit, across the board, without exception. But Wally Koz, with a little help from his friends and family,  saw this thing through to completion, got a video distribution deal, and apparently at the end of the day he even came out ahead on the whole thing by a few bucks. That’s worth no small amount of respect right there, as is the obvious gusto with which he went about regaling home viewing audiences with some of the most grotesque and tasteless bloodbath scenes ever committed to videotape. All in all, that’s proven to be more than enough to ensure that we’re (well, some of us, at any rate)  still talking about this thing nearly a quarter-century later. It’s not the most auspicious legacy any moviemaker has ever left behind, fair enough, but it’s a damn sight more than most of us will ever achieve.

Question : what kind of a movie features Uschi Digard, Rene Bond, and Marsha Jordan — and doesn’t have any of them, as Joe Bob Briggs would say, git nekkid?

If you answer is “a dull one,” or “one that doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing,” you’d be correct. You’d also be correct if you simply answered Swingers Massacre.

To be sure, director Ron Garcia’s 1975 subpar (at least on a purely aesthic level) exploitation effort, filmed back-to-back with Don Jones’ superior Abduction and featuring much of the same “talent” both in front of and behind the camera (be on the lookout for Jones regular Gary Kent as one of the swingin’ husbands in this one, for example — and I probably shouldn’t have put those quote marks around the word talent in the dismissive way I did given that Jones himself was the cinematographer on this one, with Garcia assuming those responsibilities on Abducted, and both are pretty good, and certainly well-respected, talents-minus-scare-quotes-to-imply-derision, with Garcia continuing to work as a cinematographer on mainstream prime-time network TV dramas like the new Hawaii Five-O to this day and Jones going on to direct much more fondly-remembered films than this one such as The Forest) is plodding, drawn out (105 minutes!), and hopelessly predictable — but don’t hold all that against it, because depending on your sensibilities, it’s also one of the downright sickest and most repugnant pieces of business you’ll ever come across, and for that alone, it’s certainly worth watching.

But first, a little plot background — and believe me when I say a little is all that’s needed. Charlie Tishman (Mikel Angel, here working under the impenetrably weird pseudonym of “Eastman Price,” and best known for his directorial work in the exploitation biz himself on such “roughie” softcore fare as The Psycho Lover) is an (apparently) successful criminal defense attorney in the Los Angeles area. He’s got money, status (the cops seems to actually like the guy, which isn’t a common thing when it comes to law enforcement and defense lawyers) and a loving-and-none-too-shabby-in-the-looks-department wife at home, Amy (Joyanne Mitchell, working pseudonymously here as well under the handle of “Jan Mitchell”). So of course he’s bored out of his mind. In between swigging down VO-and-7s (I counted him drinking at least a dozen of them over the course of the flick), he convinces the Mrs. that maybe trying out the local swingers scene isn’t such a bad idea and might jazz things up a bit as far as their love life goes. At first she’s reluctant, but after a few scenes of him doing nothing but prodding her on the subject, and a “love scene” that shows him getting on top of her and getting his rocks off in, I shit you not, exactly eight seconds, she finally agrees. You would too.

They hit a local night spot for the swingin’ set called, again I shit you not, Filthy McNasty’s (a bar that apparently even has its own theme song as the lame-ass band on stage there is playing a number called “Filthy McNasty”), meet up with some other local fun-loving couples (cue the appearances of Digard, Jordan, and Bond mentioned earlier — and again, I stress that while there is certainly a fair, though hardly copious,  amount of nudity in this flick, none of these three extremely-popular-at-the-the-time-and-all-damn-nice-looking ladies ever sheds her clothes in front of the camera — surely some kind of bizarre record, because I don’t think I’ve seen a single other film these women were in, either separately or together (and they often appeared in the same large-cast softcore productions in different scenes) where even one of them, much less all three, kept their assets concealed) and find themselves invited to a little private party at one of the couple’s homes. And that’s where the troubles begin.

That’s because the party is a big hit — but not for Charlie. Ya see, even though this whole swinging thing was his idea, once called upon to perform (geez, how’s that for putting things in the cleanest terminology possible), our guy Charlie’s junior member just can’t rise to the occasion. Amy, meanwhile, is the belle of the ball, getting down and dirty with all the guys and having, as she so demurely puts it afterwards, “a lovely time.” Soon, the other couples — guys and gals both! — are calling the Tishman home and asking for more and more of that good stuff Amy was serving up. At subsequent soirees, though, Charlie always has the same — uhhhmmm — issue : he just plain can’t get it up, while his wife is off having one “lovely time” after another.

So what’s a guy to do, I ask you? Charlie’s answer is a simple one — time to assume the role of impotent superman and kill all the guys who’ve fucked his wife. Again, even though this whole thing was his idea in the first place.

It all sounds like pretty standard stuff, doesn’t it? A mid-70s exploitation flick with an inherently anti-sex, pro-traditional-values message, in this case on the “evils” of wipe-swapping, disguised as a titillating softcore skin parade would certainly be nothing new, after all. But wait — didn’t I say this was one of the “most repugnant pieces of business you’re ever likely to see”? Why’s that? Do things get unexpectedly bloody when the killing starts or something? Nope, in fact the murders themselves are nothing particularly special or memorable (and thanks to Apprehensive Films’ recent DVD release of this film, the ones that occur at night can barely be seen at all due to the shitty, unremastered “quality” of their full-frame transfer that seriously must be a direct-from-VHS job — there are no extras on the disc to speak of apart from a few (quite hastily assembled, by the look of things) trailers for other Apprehensive titles) in the least. But the tone director Garcia takes here — well, dear readers, that’s another matter altogether, and that’s where this film really strikes sleazy gold.

From the moment Charlie can’t get his prick to pop up (for Marsha Jordan, no less), it’s pretty clear that Ron G. wants the audience to both empathize with, and frankly to assume, the limp-dicked lawyer’s point of view! In her very first tryst with another guy (on the floor, how’s that for classy?), we’re “treated” to the movie’s de facto theme song, a lazily oozing little number called “Who Knows What Goes On Inside Amy?” (the movie itself was also released under the title of Inside Amy, which at first sounds a lot less prurient and sensationalistic than Swingers Massacre until you take a moment to really consider how that moniker would sound to patrons of the still-hanging-on-for-dear-life-at-the-time softcore theatrical market — “Yeah, I’d like to get Inside Amy, too!”) , the lyrics for which tell her (and, by extension, us) that it’s Amy herself who’s headed down the road to ruin, that she’d better get home and start being a housewife again, that the nasty, filthy fantasies inside her head are going to tear her loving marriage apart — as if all this shit were her fault! Hell, once Charlie starts killing, he’s just doing what any normal, red-blooded American guy who’s wife has had a fair number of strangers’ pricks in her would do, right?

Weird as that may sound, especially given (and this is the last time I’ll bring this up, I promise!) that the whole idea of fucking around with other “good-time” couples was cooked up not “Inside Amy” but “Inside Charlie,” that’s exactly the editorial viewpoint that Garcia assumes with the rest of this flick.  It doesn’t take long for the cops investigating the case to realize the common thread that unites all the murder victims that have come their way in the last few days, and once they do it’s just a matter of doing a little more dot-connecting before the trail leads them right to the Tishman household, but this enitre time it’s pretty clear that the director’s sympathies lie with the killer, even when (stop right here if you don’t want the ending given away) Amy guns her husband down while he’s attacking her during the film’s climax (which is about as exciting as one of Charlie’s probably is to his wife given that the script telegraphs the fact that there are guns in the home via police radio a few minutes earlier) — she’s the one who wanted to step out on her old man, and he’s a martyr to her insatiable sexual desires. Or something like that. Who the hell wrote this script — Rick Santorum?

So what we’ve got here goes well beyond the simple anti-sex, puritanical messaging inherent in so many exploitation flicks that market themselves as being transgressive, footloose, and fancy-free. This crosses the line from being anti-pleasure into being straight-up, and muscularly, anti-women, in a way that even the most transparent slasher flick that kills all the girls who like sex while having the virgin save the day and be the sole survivor never could. You’d certainly never get away with anything this stridently patriarchal, not to mention openly afraid of female sexuality, today — which is probably for the best, I suppose. But seeing such retrograde attitudes displayed so openly and without pretense definitely makes Swingers Massacre an interesting viewing experience, even if it’s by no stretch of the imagaination, or definition of the term, a good one.

Get back in the kitchen, ladies — or it’ll all end in tears!

Let me know if the following setup sounds at all familiar to you —

Somewhere in deep space, Commander (of what we’re not exactly sure) Steve Krieger (the always-trying-too-hard-but-still-never-quite-understanding-that-he’s-just-not-leading-man-material Beastmaster himself, Marc Singer) is involved in a pointless shoot-out with a couple of other ships that won’t have anything to do with the rest of the story and is cribbed together from footage borrowed/swiped from an earlier production (in this case Battle Beyond The Stars). He and his robot buddy, Tinpan, survive the “ordeal,” but their craft is damaged in the process, so when they make an emergency landing in response to a distress signal issued from a top-secret scientific research lab on the isolated and remote planet of Phaebon, they’re pretty much gonna be stuck there until they can get the parts or whatever to get up and running and go “command” outer space again.

Once they’ve arrived at the lab, they find the assembled brainpower there is seeking a cure for the deadly Delta 5 virus that’s currently the scourge of the galaxy/universe (take your pick), but the eggheads start playing coy and insisting that everything’s under control and gosh they just didn’t really mean to send that distress signal after all. It’s not like they’re doing anything that could be potentially dangerous here, no sir — they just figured that they’d combat the virus by genetically engineering an even more destructive counter-virus (is that what they’re called? I honestly have no idea) and then maybe these two super-viruses can, I dunno, battle it out for viral supremacy or something. Basic logic might dictate to the average viewer at this point that any virus strong enough to kill another virus that’s already in the business of decimating the galactic (or, again, maybe it’s universal) population might pose not just a threat, but an even greater threat to us pesky humans than  the original Delta-5 bug itself, but hey, you’re thinking a little too hard there, friend.

In any case, that’s not really the problem here at all — the problem is that the new virus has mutated into an honest-to-goodness alien life form (hey, shit happens),and it’s escaped (rather forcefully, I might add) from one of the dumb suckers —- err, test subjects — it was implanted into, and now it’s changing its shape, growing in size, and stalking the humans at the base as its prey from its new home in the ventilation ducts.

Oh, and a few of the scientists are women who seem to have the hots for Krieger to one degree or another, and one is a youthful Bryan Cranston, who would of course go on to huge television success with Breaking Bad.

I’m not sure what we’re supposed to call a rip-off of a rip-off, folks, but this (admittedly snarky) synposis for first-time director Fred Gallo’s 1991 straight-to-video , Roger Corman-produced (okay, executive-produced — and to be perfectly fair, calling this film an SOV job isn’t technically accurate, as Corman still pulled together nominal theatrical runs (think one theater for one week in six or eight cities) for most of his Concorde releases, including this one, at this point — but he knew that home video was where the action was gonna be, so to speak, for this type of project, and put the whole thing together with an eye toward that market) shot-on- one-set, super-low-budgeter, Dead Space (no relation to the apparently-quite-popular video game or anime thing or whatever it is that came about quite a bit later) sure sounds a lot like another, admittedly much better, Corman production, namely Forbidden World, doesn’t it? And Forbidden World was pretty much just a straight cash-in attempt on the success of Alien. So what we’ve got here is, to put it kindly, pretty damn derivative in the extreme.

Of course, around these parts being derivative — hell, even being doubly-derivative — is hardly a cinematic crime. Some of my favorite films are obvious rip-off jobs. But let’s be honest — when you take Forbidden World and remove about 75% of the gore, 99% of the nudity, replace the hot women in the base with average-looking middle-aged ladies (no offense to any who may be reading this, I’m an average-looking middle-aged guy, after all), swap out Jesse Vint for Marc fucking Singer fer chrissakes!, and take the talented-and-inventive-on-a-budget Allan Holzman out from behind the camera and insert a kid right out of film school who you’re paying $7,000 (by Gallo’s own recollection, according to the commentary track on the DVD that we’ll get to in a second here — he also didn’t get to see the script until the morning they started shooting!) who’s just going with a strict “point-and-shoot” approach, the results are going to be both a)short (let’s not forget that Forbidden World itself was only 77 minutes long — this flick clocks in at a merciful 71) and b)anemic, because you’re taking out pretty much all the cool shit. The fact that the monster itself isn’t all that terrifically impressive doesn’t help matters much, either, given that this is supposed to be, ya know, a monster movie.

These days, with this production far in the past, Corman and company aren’t at all shy about admitting where this whole project originated from, although I still think the terminology they use is letting themselves off the hook a bit too easily — the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” DVD from Shout! Factory that I caught this on (told you I’d get back to it in a second — it’s double-billed with another early-90s Corman DTV feature, the somewhat better The Terror Within, features the above-mentioned commentary with director Gallo that’s actually pretty interesting and some other Corman trailers as extras, and is presented full-frame with 2.0 stereo sound for serviceable if unspectacular visual and audio quality) even says right on the back-cover blurb that it’s “a loose remake of Forbidden World,” and I’ve seen it referenced on IMDB and elsewhere as “an uncredited remake of Forbidden World.”

Well, piss on that. I know it’s hardly the most rigidly-definable line to draw, but I’m sorry — there’s a big difference (although, frankly, I’m not entirely sure what the difference is — I just know it when I see it) between a “loose remake,” or even an “uncredited remake,” and Roger Corman saying “look, I’ve got this old script laying around, we can just tinker with it at the margins, re-shoot it with a different cast, put it out right on video under another title, and presto, we’ve got ourselves a whole new movie that won’t even cost us $100,000.”  I think calling it a “remake” of any sort is frankly being a little too generous — it’s more a recycling.

Look, the late 80s and early 90s probably weren’t the easiest time to be Roger Corman. The kind of stuff he cranked out was too cheap for then-contemporary theatrical audiences, but it was a little too expensive, for the most part, for the then-nascent straight-to-video market,  and Saturday night SyFy network movies were still well over a decade away. I’ll give the man credit for figuring out some angle, any angle, by which he could still survive financially in Hollywood. But when you’ve hit the point when you can’t even come up with a new idea for a blatant rip-off anymore and just start re-shooting scripts you’ve done previously and done better, then you’ve really hit rock bottom in the creativity department, not that creativity in anything apart from marketing was ever a Corman strong suit. In short, Roger should have to stuck to stealing other people’s ideas, rather than his own. Even if they weren’t his own to begin with. Does that make sense?

The second of Roger Corman’s Alien knock-offs, 1982’s Forbidden World (originally titled Mutant, a name that never made it into theaters but was resurrected for the film’s home video release in certain international markets) is more directly —- uhmmmm — inspired by, to be polite about it, Ridley Scott’s soon-to-be-sullied-by-a-completely-unnecessary-prequel “dark science fiction” masterpiece, although you’d never know it by the first few minutes of the film.

That’s because this sequence of garden-variety, none-too-carefully-explained “space chase” nonsense was put together over one weekend by director Allan Holzman to show Corman that he had the chops to tackle a Lawrence Of Arabia-in-space project that our guy Roger had long been cooking up in his head. Corman agreed that the de facto short film was pretty good stuff, hired Holzman to direct the full feature he had in mind, then decided the whole Lawrence Of Arabia thing was gonna be too expensive and said yes when Holzman suggested they just rip Alien off instead. Ever the budget-conscious B-mogul, though, Corman decided to go ahead and keep the five-or-so-minutes of footage Holzman had already shot as the eventual finished product’s pre-opening-credits sequence, even though it would end up having nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the flick apart from introducing the two main characters.

And that, my friends, is how legends (bear with me, it sounds dramatic and I’m in a dramatic mood) are born.

Okay, fair enough — to call Forbidden World a “legendary” movie is one hell of a stretch. But, like 1981’s Corman-produced Galaxy Of Terror, it’s a surprisingly none-too-shabby piece of admittedly throwaway entertainment that’s more concerned with delivering the goods on time and on (hell, let’s be honest, given Roger’s notorious penny-pinching ways under) budget than it is about setting the world on fire with the next great genre  “game-changer.” The audience will get it’s money’s worth, New World Pictures will get more than their money’s worth, and everybody walks away happy.

Once we do get into the story proper after all the opening nonsense, we find, none-too-shockingly of course, that the setup is simple enough — intergalactic bounty hunter Mike Colby (Jesse Vint) and his robot sidekick SAM-104 (Don Olivera) are called to the remote planet of Xarbia to help investigate (polite-speak, as we all know, for “come in here and do some killing”) why a genetically-engineered super-creature known as “Subject 20” has gone rogue and started killing when the elite scientific team that developed it were just trying, bless their hearts, to produce an organism that was going to be used to help alleviate a vaguely-alluded-to universal food shortage (go figure that one out). Once there, he discovers that the two main female scientists at the top-secret research lab (June Chadwick and Dawn Dunlap, respectively) are hot to trot and will drop their lab coats for him more or less instantly (when they’re not busy soaping each other up in the communal shower, of course), and that things are a hell of a lot worse than they had let on because the creature is changing its genetic structure constantly for reasons the researchers are loathe to admit (here’s a hint, though : the fact that it not only understands, but can communicate in, English via computer later in the film, largely seen as a laughable and absurd plot hole of the highest order, is actually a pretty clever hint as to the true nature of “Subject 20” — although it seems to have a radically different idea of what it means to “coexist” than its human counterparts do, as evidenced by its actions taken when asked if they can do just that , and I still don’t know how the hell it’s able to type — but I’ve said too much already).

In any case, if your idea of a good time in front of the home-viewing screen is ugly giant monsters going on tear-ass kill sprees interspersed with pretty-nice-looking women getting naked half the time they’re on screen, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Forbidden World. Holzman’s a pretty capable director who uses moody lighting and interesting camera perspectives to cover for the deficiencies in his (largely assembled from styrofoam McDonald’s containers (remember those?) and Carnation milk cartons — really) sets, the creature itself is very nicely realized in all its various permutations, and the story, while dry and straightfoward, delivers all the goods.

But hey — did I just say dry and straightforward? Please forgive me, because that only applies to the 77-minute , theatrically-released Forbidden World cut of the film. Allow me to explain —-

The friendly crew over at Shout! Factory have seen fit to release this flick in both its versions as part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” DVD and Blu-Ray series (it’s a double-disc set on DVD, but they jam it all onto one for the Blu-Ray) and the longer, original Mutant cut (preferred by director Holzman), while still only a lean and mean 82 minutes in length, actually has quite a bit of self-deprecating humor and shows that the folks behind the camera knew they were making not just a knock-off, but a send-up here. Unfortunately, Corman hated the humor (he even slapped a patron in the head at a preview showing for laughing at the film, and ended up getting a Coke dumped on him by another unruly customer apparently having too much fun later in the same screening) and had all of it excised from the film, along with redubbing SAM-104’s robotic voice with a more bog-standard human-sounding one.

Anyway,  onto the specs — the theatrical version on Shout! Factory’s release is presented in a stunning 1.85:1 high-definition widescreen transfer with full 5.1 surround sound (the Mutant cut is presented 4:3 full frame with mono sound and essentially no remastering done from what I can tell — guess Corman still isn’t too fond of it, but hey, it does include a commentary from Holzman — be warned, he stutters quite a bit, but is obviously a very bright and inisghtful guy and his memories of the production are sharp — and Mondo Digital webmaster/DVD Delirium author Nathaniel Thompson) and, as far as extras go, in addition to the parenthetically-mentioned commentary, we’ve got some great behind-the-scenes featurettes including one on the special effects and set work done on the film,  one on the genesis of the project with Corman and Holzman interviews, one on the actors featuring an interview with Jesse Vint, one on the movie’s remarkably atmospheric electronic music score with composer Susan Justin — you get the picture. All are playable as stand-alone segments or in one long interlocked documentary, as is the case on the Galaxy Of Terror disc. Rounding out the whole thing we have an extensive poster and still gallery, the original theatrical trailer for the film, and trailers for some of the other “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” titles. All in all, an exhaustively well-done package that makes for a fine addition to your home viewing library.

In short, then, any way you slice (or edit) it, this is a pretty decent little cash-in-on-a-cinematic-trend-that-was-hot-at-the-time. Forbidden World delivers the goods without much pretense or flair but with a refreshing dose of pride in its workmanship and an eye for quality (as well as on the bottom line, of course), while Mutant does the same with a bit of a twinkle in its eye and a knowing grin towards the audience. Hardly classic stuff, but definitely better than at least a couple of the actual Alien sequels — and probably a hell of a lot better than Prometheus is going to end up being.

Worm rape.

There, that got your attention, didn’t it? And in some ways I’ve said all that needs to be said about the semi-infamous 1981 Roger Corman production (almost universally lumped into the Alien knock-off subgenre, although truth be told it has a lot more in common with later films like Event Horizon than it does with Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror masterpiece) Galaxy Of Terror (also released under the alternate titles of Mind Warp — which has more of a 2001 ripoff feel to it, in this reviewer’s opinion — and Planet Of Horrors, for those of you keeping score at home), thus making the rest of this review an exercise in redundancy, but what the hell, since we’re already at it (and since we’ll inevitably return to the subject of worm rape again later) —

At some point in the distant future, our descendants, who have spread out to the farthest reaches of the galaxy (or, hell, it could be the universe for all I know) decide to do away with all that pesky freedom and democracy nonsense we kid ourselves into believing we have and just put everything in the hands of a guy called the Planet Master (most commonly referred to simply as “The Master” for the less-than-90-minute duration of this film — maybe it’s a term of endearment?), whose only qualification for the job of ruler of the galaxy (or,again, maybe it’s the universe for all I know) seems to be that he has a glowing red orb for a head. Fair enough.

All is not well in the galaxy (or, again, and hopefully for the last time, the universe) though — an expedition ship has gone missing on the mysterious and hostile planet of Organthus (I shit you not) and for reasons only known to his glowing red mind, “The Master” decides this is such a calamity that he must hand-pick a special team of deep-space adventurers to go and find the remains of the ship and, if they’re still alive, its crew.

Welcome to the starship Quest, then, and its hastily-assembled, ragtag band of spacefaring voyagers, assembled not, apparently, due to any particular aptitudes on their part, but simply because this is the bunch that “The Master” wants. Oh, sure,they’re a competent enough grouping of soon-to-be-cult-stars (Robert Englund, Zalman King), sitcom stalwarts (Erin Moran), Corman veterans (Sid Haig), has-beens (Ray Walston, bless him) and almost-weres (Edward Albert, son of the guy from Green Acres), all ably (despite her role in the apparently-calamitous “Hesperous incident” we hear some talk of ) led by grizzled Space Corps (or whatever) vet Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie, best known as Laura Palmer’s mom on Twin Peaks and here wearing some less-than-convincing age make-up to make the at-the-time-mid-30s actress appear to be more of a Captain Janeway type, even though this was about 15 years or so before anyone knew who Captain Janeway was).

Once on Organthus, though, our heroes discover that the wreck of the ship they were searching for couldn’t possibly have yielded any survivors, but hey — what’s that (admittedly well-realized, especially for a $700,000 Roger Corman flick) giant, dark, foreboding pyramid off in the distance? And that, of course, is where all their troubles begin.

Once inside the ominous structure (and it has to be said that director Bruce D. Clark, working under the name “B.D. Clark” here and ably assisted by second-unit director/unofficial head special-effects man/unofficial assistant production designer/jack of all trades/future most successful filmmaker in Hollywood history, James Cameron, does a very nice job of conveying atmosphere and mood on a scale much bigger than anything he’s got to work with would logically allow for) the crew of the Quest are subjected to every sort of nightmare they can imagine as their most deep-seated fears are realized and brought (mostly rather convincingly, it must be said) to life right before their eyes.  And then, of course, these living nightmares kill them — that’s just how this kind of shit works.

And that, dear readers (if assuming the plural there isn’t assuming too much — whoops, just assumed twice in a row there, that makes a double-ass of you and me both — how does it feel?) brings us back to worm rape. The most hapless of all our stellar explorers, one Dameia (Taaffe O’Connell, who honestly has enough to contend with in life with her absurd — albeit more than likely self-chosen — name, but would simply never live this down even though the scene in question was excised by censors in numerous international markets for home video release) is deathly afraid of worms, maggots, and all that slithery stuff. And when a solitary worm mutates to enormous size with all kinds of dangling, vaguely penile appendages limply drooping from its slimy underside, it’s pretty obvious how her goose is gonna be cooked.

Oh, sure, there are some other things that transpire after this point in the film — one of the crew is not who he appears to be, the whole doomed mission (and presumably the one before it that the folks aboard the Quest came to find) turns out to have been set up for one very specific purpose that I won’t give away, etc. — but honestly, once a woman gets raped to death by a giant worm, what do you do for an encore? Not that I’m in any way condoning such a vile, prurient, exploitative, probably-misogynistic-if-the-whole-idea-weren’t-so-fucking-weird thing. Who, me? Of course not. Fear not, dear readers, your friendly neighborhood Trash Film Guru states unequivocally, and for the record, that I am against giant worms raping women. How’s that for a brave political stance?

And yet — it definitely makes for a cinematic moment that’ll stick with you. And it’s a good thing it comes towards the end, because like I said, you’re just not going to be able to one-up that. And that’s been both an inherent blessing and curse to Clark’s film over the years — sure, everybody who follows cult horror and sci-fi, or just B-movies in general, knows about Galaxy Of Terror. It’s the worm-rape movie. But, as I hope I’ve been able to convey, it’s also a pleasingly twisted, better-than-we’ve-probably-got-any-right-to-expect, sleazy slice of Corman ungoodness. The sets are well done for a shoestring production, the camera work is solid, the performances are of a uniformly high standard, the effects, though dated, are generally impressive, and the story’s not a half-bad admittedly-somewhat-by-the-numbers- mind-fuck-in-outer-space. But it always comes back to worm rape, doesn’t it?

Fortunately for everyone except Taaffe O’Connell, the good folks at Shout! Factory saw fit to release Galaxy Of Terror as one of the first titles in their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series on DVD and Blu-Ray, and they pulled out all the stops — we’ve got a widescreeen high-definition picture transfer that looks spectacular, a nice 5.1 surround sound mix, and extras galore including a full-length commentary track featuring four members of the cast and crew (including Ms. O’Connell, who appears to be more than a good sport about the whole thing), no less than six “making-of” featurettes that can be played either separately or all in order (a nice idea I wish more DVD and Blu-Ray releases made use of), extensive photo galleries including stills, production shots, posters, artwork, production design sketches, and more, the original screenplay in .pdf format, a really cool reversible cover featuring the poster artwork for the Galaxy Of Terror title on the front side and the Mind Warp title on the other — suffice to say it’s packed to the gills with great stuff and is a flat-out essential purchase for any and all true conoisseurs of low-budget cinema. It’s one of those all-too-rare releases that really enhances your appreciation of all the effort that went into making the finished product, and anyone who walks away from it still thinking that this film is essentially just a one-trick pony (or, hey, worm) clearly hasn’t been paying attention. All that being being the case, I have just one more thing to say before I sign off —

Worm rape, worm rape, worm rape.

These days, everything’s viral. Seriously, you can’t even have a good, old-fashioned shouting match with your significant other without running the risk that the whole thing — or snippets conveniently edited to portray you in the worst possible light — end up on YouTube. If it sounds like I speak from personal experience, I can happily report that I don’t. That doesn’t mean I don’t live in a permanent state of fear that it could happen, though.

In the late ’80s, though, that wasn’t the case. The average person had a degree of privacy — or better yet, the even-more-preferable-yet- now-even-more-alien concept of anonymity — that one has to go actively out of their way to achieve these days. Basically, if you wanted to get the level of notoriety that so many instant internet sensations either have thrust upon them or, more perversely, go out of their way to cultivate in this day and age, you had to seriously piss somebody off.

Enter San-Franciscans-by-way-of-Wisconsin Mitchell D (real name Mitch Deprey) and Eddie Lee Sausage (real name who the fuck knows) and their two (well, three if you count Tony, but more on him later) elderly, alcoholic neighbors, Peter Haskett and Raymond Huffman. Little did Eddie n’ Mitch know when they moved into the notch-above-skid-row apartment that they less-than-affectionately dubbed the “Pepto-Bismol palace” in late 1987 (due to its nauseating pasty-pink paint job) that the old-timers in the unit next door would keep them up all night with their knock-down,drag-out, verbally (and occasionally physically) violent inebriated uber-arguments.

Given that Haskett, a flamboyant homosexual, and Huffman, a raving homophobe (talk about a truly odd couple), were both long-term welfare recipients, they didn’t have jobs to get up and head for in the morning, so the very concept of time seemed downright lost on them and the fact that their brains were both pickled from countless decades of alcohol abuse didn’t help matters much, either. After a few weeks, our intrepid midwestern transplants decided they’d had enough, and set about recording the nightly wars-of-words next door through the apartment’s paper-thin walls when a first attempt at asking them nicely to tone things down resulted in death threats.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Mitch was into recording mixed tapes for his friends and would often include choice segments of Peter and Raymond’s — uhhhmmm — “dialogues” in between songs for a laugh. As time went by and their recording of the less-than-dynamic duo next door became more blatantly obvious (and you won’t believe how blatantly obvious until you see the film), they eventually started putting together 60-minute cassettes of nothing but Monsieurs Haskett and Huffman raving at each other. Their friends would pass the tapes on to their friends, who would pass them on to their friends, who would pass them on to their friends — and eventually the phenomenon known as “Shut Up, Little Man!,” the title taken from Peter’s favorite expressive command directed (several times per day, apparently) at Raymond was born.

And so was a semi-profitable, if non-copyrighted, mail-order business. When Mitch and Eddie left the cozy confines of the “Pepto-Bismol palace” and returned to the midwest (Mitch to Ohio, Eddie back to Wisconsin), they began selling tapes of the “best” of Pete n’ Ray. The tapes begat CDs. The CDs begat comic books. The comic books begat a stage play. The stage play begat movie production deals (no less than three at one time, although only one had involvement from Senors D and Sausage themselves —for the record none of them went anywhere due to the obvious legal implications of semi-surreptitiously recording these guys in the first place). And by the time our intrepid audio engineers decided to get off the fence and actually copyright this material, the whole thing was out of their hands.

Australian director Matthew Bate’s new documentary (well, new on DVD at any rate — it played the film-festival circuit last year and is now available for home viewing from New Video as part of the Tribeca Film Festival DVD series (sponsored, as they prominently remind you all the goddamn time all over the disc’s start-up and extras menus, by American Express) — it’s presented in 5.1 surround sound with a widescreen picture and extras include re-creations of some of Pete and Ray’s more memorable arguments by a couple of actors, a return visit to the freshly-painted “Pept-Bismol palace” by Eddie and Mitch, and an extended interview with Ivan Brunetti (who we’ll get to in a second), for those of you who keep track of such things when weighing a potential purchase or rental), Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, is frankly more about the convoluted twists and turns of all these divergent projects spun off from the original “Shut Up, Little Man!” recordings took than it is about any of the principles themselves, with “celebrity” (of a sort, at any rate) fans like comic artists Daniel Clowes and Ivan Brunetti and Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO offering their takes on the genuinely underground phenomenon, but at its heart it does return to the question all of us dedicated fans of SULM! have had over the years, namely — just what was the nature of the relationship between Raymond and Peter and why the hell did they keep living together all those years if they obviously hated each other so much?

Enter Tony, the third wheel on the Haskett-Huffman insanity wagon, a redneck drifter with a violent streak who occasionally crashed out at Pete and Ray’s place and is the only surviving member of the trio, Raymond having passed away back in 1992 with Peter joining him in the afterlife in 1995. There have been as many theories about just who the hell Tony was (were he and Peter lovers? was he just a drinking buddy?) as there have been about why Ray and Pete stayed together (was Raymond a self-loathing homosexual who was secretly in love with Peter but covered for it with his foaming-at-the-mouth anti-gay diatribes? were they a couple at one point in the past?) over the years. Fortunately, for all of us who have wondered about this crap since we first heard the “Shut Up,Little Man!” recordings (my own first exposure came courtesy of noticing the CD in the racks at the late, lamented Let It Be Records in downtown Minneapolis sometime in the mid-1990s and thinking to myself “this looks like something I absolutely must buy!”), Tony agreed (eventually, after much prodding) to talk with Eddie and set the record straight about everything. The answers are both more simple, and infinitely more complex, than we could ever have imagined.

Those answers, along with Mitch and Eddie’s reunion after many years to talk about how the whole experience quite accidentally changed their lives for both better and worse, along with some jaw-droppingly juicy anecdotes in regards to some of the crazy shit that went down amongst the principal players trying to get a “Shut Up, Little Man!” movie production deal off the ground,  give this documentary more humanity than any long-time fan of SULM! probably had any right to expect — but truth be told, if you’re not already familiar with the audio exploits of Haskett and Huffman, there’s not necessarily a lot here for you grab onto and you may feel like everybody’s speaking in a language you don’t quite understand. There’s frankly just not enough given by way of example of the original “Shut Up, Little Man!” recordings to draw in casual viewers on anything but the most cursory level. All of which is probably quite understandable given that the two people this whole things started with are dead and lead lives they could barely remember even when they were around, anyway.

For those already on the wavelength, though, Bate’s Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure is pure gold. As Ray himself might say, go watch it right the fuck now you poor little  goddamn lying piece of shit queer cocksucker.