Posts Tagged ‘drive-in movie’

"Bonnie's Kids" Movie Poster

If you’re looking for the prototype exploitation film, the one that has it all and then some, then friends, look no further than writer-director Arthur Marks’ 1973 low-budget opus Bonnie’s Kids.

First off, there’s the matter of the title — Bonnie And Clyde, despite being a couple years old, was still doing brisk box-office business at the time — and as the titular Bonnie in this film, the mother of the two protagonists we’ll get to in a moment, is dead, and never so much appears even in flashbacks, this flick’s name is an obvious cash-in attempt to “tie in” with the Faye Dunaway-Warren Beatty classic.

So far, so good. Let’s turn our attention, then, to the advertising campaign. Just take a look at that poster, dear readers — it features the lead actress’s (highly exaggerated, of course) measurements prominently displayed! I ask you, does it get any better than that? Your host thinks not.

Next up there’s the matter of the cast — exploitation veterans all around, from Tiffany Bolling (The Candy Snatchers, The Centerfold Girls) to Alex Rocco (Brute Corps, The Wild Riders) to Steve Sandor (Stryker, The No Mercy Man) to Robin Mattson (Candy Stripe Nurses, Phantom of the Paradise).

And finally, of course, there’s the plot — or rather, the sheer, perverse tawdriness of so many of the plot elements. Bad-news sisters Ellie (Bolling) and Myra (Mattson) Thomas, a small-town waitress and high school student, respectively, live with their good-for-nothing alcoholic stepfather, a guy so foul even his own poker buddies hate his guts and tell him so, frequently. One night after the game breaks up, step-daddy overhears Myra engaging in a little titillating phone talk with one of the many junior Romeo pricks she’s teasing. Slapping the phone out of her hand, he picks her up and hits her, kicking and screaming, to the bedroom. As he attempts to mount her, Ellie walks in and, resisting his charming entreaties to “come over and join them” and “give stepdaddy a kiss, like when you were a little girl” (or words to that effect), she decides, instead, to pull out a shotgun and blow his ass to kingdom come.  And did I mention (okay, I didn’t) that Myra’s phone frolicking takes places after she’s already taken a shower in full view of the leering eyes of both her stepdad’s poker pals and the local cops?

So we’ve already got bare teenage boobs, voyeurism, phone sex, attempted rape, implied child molestation, pseudo-incest, and bloody murder of a (sort of) family member — before the opening credits even roll!

From there’s things just get sleazier. Ellie and Myra split town and seek out their rich uncle, Ben, a fashion-industry mogul who puts them up on his expansive ranch-cum-estate and has a little plan : a couple of his —ahem! — “associates” (the aforementioned Rocco and Scott Brady) are arranging to pick up a package he’s sending them at the local bus station, but first Ben needs  someone to drop the package off, and the thugs he’s dealing with need someone to pick it up and bring it to another bus station, where it will be shipped to the one they intend to pick it up at (unnecessarily convoluted? You betcha). Ben enlists Ellie’s help to bring the package tothe drop-off-spot, a relatively seedy motel, and the two sorta-gangsters hire a dim-witted private eye (Sandor) to pick it up from her and take it to the Greyhound terminal for shipment.

At this point the two sisters, pictured as essentially inseparable in most of the film’s advertising, are split up — for the rest of the movie. While the main plot revolves around Ellie and her newfound PI boyfriend opening the package to discover a half-million dollars in cash, at which point she decides their best bet is to make off with it, the film turns back to Myra solely, it seems, to keep the sleaze quotient high.

The two we're supposed to thank God Bonnie stopped after

Not that Ellie’s story is, you know, classy — there’s plenty of pure, unadulterated raunchiness going on there, including gratuitous nudity (Bolling, a prototypical good-lookin’ 70s blonde bombshell bares almost all, I’m willing to bet, in every single movie she was ever in), amoral (we’ll get back to that word shortly) theft from a family member, the (temporary) selling out of her new boyfriend in order to get a shot at all the cash to herself, and the calculated making-up with the guy (guess he’s a real sucker) when she needs his help. Oh, and there’s accidental murder along the way, too — the two toughs kill the wrong couple in another motel room and Ellie and her beau mistakenly do away with the guy she’s trying to catch a ride off in her attempt to abscond with the cash by herself (it’s a long story).

But geez, our gal Ellie is positively a candidate for sainthood compared to her kid sister.

Back at Uncle Ben’s, Myra is busy bedding an older ranch-hand more out of boredom than anything else, stealing trinkets from her aunt, and teasing said aunt, a lecherous older lesbian, with her teenage charms in order to woo stuff out of her when she realizes that outright theft probably won’t be necessary.

And now we get back to that word amoral again. It’s pretty clear that either one of Bonnie’s little darlings will do whatever it takes to get them selves ahead, and when the aunt who’s taken a shine to young Myra is — uhhhmmm — “dispatched” from the ranch, in a truly shocking manner, the younger sister shows no more qualms about it than the elder does in selling out the guy who’s been risking his as for her.

And that streak or amorality plays all the way through to the film’s conclusion, when Ellie and her fella finally come face-to-face with the two small-time gangsters (and by the way, Rocco and Brady’s characters are the obvious prototypes — there’s that word again,  I guess amoral isn’t the only “Pee-Wee’s Word of the Day” in effect here — for John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s cons in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction) who’ve been on their tails, precluding the happy reunion of the two sisters (I’ll spare the specifics, since you really need to see this flick) at the end — and Myra, true to form ,brushes off the nixed meeting with astonishing nonchalance.

"Bonnie's Kids" DVD from Dark Sky Films

After years of clamoring from fans, Bonnie’s Kids has just been released on DVD from Dark Sky Films. For a so-called “Special Edition” it’s pretty light on the extras, but there are theatrical and TV ad spots included, and he disc features a fairly comprehensive interview with Arthur Marks (who also gave us exploitation gems like Bucktown and Detroit 9000 among other exploitation gems). The remastered anamorphic picture looks great and the mono audio track is crisp, clean, and largely distortion-free. A commentary would’ve been nice, but on the whole it’s a fairly solid little package.

There are better drive-in/grindhouse movies than Bonnie’s Kids, but few that tick off so many boxes on the unofficial comprehensive exploitation checklist. It’s sleazy, it’s violent, it’s surprisingly dark in tone and nihilistic, and there’s very little by way of pure filler in its 105-minute run time. Whatever you’re looking for in a B-movie sleazefest, this one;s got it, along with plenty you probably quite frankly weren’t looking for. You certainly couldn’t make a film anything like this today, it’s a sheer product of its time.

You’ll enjoy it, and hate yourself for enjoying it. What more could you possibly ask for?

"The Stuff" Movie Poster

B-movie veteran Larry Cohen (God Tole Me To, It’s Alive) could always pull a project together, it seems. The guy was just plain never out of work for long — and still isn’t, although he seems confined primarily to scriptwriting duties these days with projects such as Phone Booth and Captivity. In 1985 he was still a genuine low-budget auteur, though, writing as well as directing projects for the smallest-scale indie distributors, mid-size outfits like New World (who handled the financing for the subject of our — ahem! — “analysis” today), and occasionally even the big Hollywood studios. Working primarily out of New York, Cohen was usually able to put together a pretty decent cast to handle his uniformly well-written and well-executed, if a bit “old-school” horror in terms of their occasional less-than-complete originality, flicks.

Simply put, you generally knew what you’d be getting from a Larry Cohen film — nothing groundbreakingly awesome, but always better-done-than-it-felt-like-they-probably-should-be, some decent budget effects work, a fe laughs, and generally a pretty solid little story. And so it is with The Stuff, in many ways probably the quintessential Cohen flick.

It’s probably a bit ironic that ol’ Larry became best known for his horror (more precisely his horror-comedy hybrid) work, given that he got his start with blaxploitationers like Bone and the truly classic Black Caesar, but if there’s one thing Cohen has proven over the years it’s that he’s a movie industry survivor — when times and tastes change, he’s smart enough to change with them and go with the new flow enough to keep getting work. When blaxploitation started to slow down, it’s only natural that a guy with his keen survival instincts would gravitate toward horror, but one thing he didn’t lose along the way was his nose for making his stories stick with an audience by injecting just enough contemporary social commentary to give his films relevance. It’s never an overpowering element of his M.O., so to speak, but it’s always in there somewhere. Sometimes that makes his projects feel pretty dated, as the issues he’s addressing are no longer of front-burner importance in today’s world. At other times, though, it makes him look downright prescient, as the issues he’s tackling actually grow in importance from the time of the movie’s initial release.

That’s certainly the case with The Stuff, a movie about gelatinous goo oozing out of the center of the Earth and packaged as an ice cream-type dessert that eventually takes over and expels itself from the “host bodies” who are consuming it.

Just can't get enough of The Stuff!

Okay, so the parallels to the horror classic The Blob are pretty painfully obvious here, but like I said, sparkling originality has never been a Larry Cohen signature. What’s remarkable is that the issues he’s tackling in this story — fake foodstuffs, slick marketing (the fake TV commercials for the The Stuff, with their scarily-catchy “Just can’t get enough of The Stuff” jingle are one of this movie’s highlights), and environmental disaster oozing from the ground are more pressing than ever in in 2010, when our grocery store shelves are full of genetically-modified “frankenfoods,” our airwaves (and the internet) are bombarded with with ever-more-aggressive ad campaigns for shit we don’t need, and oil is spilling out of an underwater hole into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of 200,oo0 barrels (or something) a day with no end in sight.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a true Larry Cohen film without a plethora of fairly-well-realized characters. Our main protagonist is a corporate espionage specialist named David “Mo” Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) , who;s been hired by a consortium of ice cream manufacturers to find out the secret of The Stuff and why it’s eating up their market share (and, quite literally, their customers). In his quest to find out what The Stuff is, where it comes from, and why people just can’t resist its appeal, he teams up with a wide variety of crackpots, independent sleuths, and various hangers-on, including PR-exec-turned-gal Friday (and sorta-love interest) Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci), down-on-his-luck cookie magnate (and obvious Famous Amos stand-in) “Chocolate Chip” Charlie (SNL alum Garrett Morris, who meets and awesomely spectacular stuff-induced demise that you have to see to believe), and right-wing militia commander Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears (Paul Sorvino), who basically functions as a cross between Rush Limbaugh and Curtis “Bombs Away” LeMay (needless to say, he’s convinced The Stuff is a commie plot to destroy America and he’s determined to wipe every trace of it from the face of our fair land).

If all this sounds like a weird amalgamation of The Blob, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Soylent Green, well — that’s because it is. But goddamn if it doesn’t all work.

Here comes The Stuff!

The effects, as mentioned, are terrific fun. The huge masses of stop-motion Stuff are well-realized and frankly look a hell of a lot better than most of today’s CGI garbage, and for smaller-quantity servings, they just used gobs of yogurt and soft-serve ice cream. Again, damned if it doesn’t work just fine. There are several impressive death-by-Stuff scenes, the just-mentioned one with Morris being the best, but truth be told they all look good, and I’ve watched plenty of flicks with ten, a hundred, or even a thousand times the budget of this one not pull off their supposedly “shocking” death sequences with anywhere near this much effectiveness and aplomb. All told, it’s a genuine visual delight.

And finally, on the trivia front, be on the lookout for appearances from Danny Aiello, the Brothers Bloom, Eric Bogosian, and a very young Mira Sorvino.

"The Stuff" DVD from Anchor Bay

The Stuff is available on DVD from Anchor Bay. It features a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that’s been digitally remastered and looks great, the sound likewise has been remastered and is presented in a crisp, clear 5.1 mix, and as far as the extras go, while the overall selection is pretty light, there’s a feature-length commentary track from Larry Cohen himself that’s flat-out awesome to listen to.

Is The Stuff a classic? Nah. But it’s plenty good, about 50 times better than your first impression of it would lead you to believe, and a downright professional piece of work. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s incisive, it’s smart, and it’s well-acted, well-directed, and amazingly well-realized visually. It’s one of those movies that, if you own it, you find yourself watching it again three or four times a year just because — well, it’s so damn solidly done.

And with that, I’m off to the Dairy Queen for a heaping pile of soft-serve Stu —- errr, ice cream.

King Frat DVD

King Frat DVD

“Holy Shit! A fart contest!”      — J.J. “Gross-Out” Gumbroski, “King Frat”

Does that quote tell you literally all you need to know about “King Frat” (also released under the titles “Campus King” and “Delta House,” among others)? Probably. But just in case you want some more information—

In 1979, hot on the heels of “Animal House,” some Canadian investors, lead by producers Jack  McGowan  and Reuben Trane, figured they could make a quick buck by knocking off AH’s success and shooting a cheap rush-job imitation with no established(or, for that matter, future) stars,  an low-cost production crew, and, at the time, no script. To that end, they hired screenwriter (and I use that term loosely)  Ron Kurz (credited under the pseudonym of Mark Jackson) and director Ken Wiederhorn (who would go on to helm “Meatballs 2”) , who went on to, respectively, cobble together a “script” and get a cast and crew together to go down to Florida and make a fraternity movie of their own. The rest, as they say, is history.

Who wouldn't respect an insitution of higher learning with a name like this?

Who wouldn't respect an institution of higher learning with a name like this?

At Yellowstream college (Get it?  If you don’t, rest easy, the movie will explain it to you in great detail),  Pi Kappa Delta (or the “Pi-Kaps,” as they’re better known) is the rowdiest, hardest-partying  Greek house on campus. They live to drink and—well, drink some more. And some more. And some more. And some more. I’m sorry, am I repeating myself? Well, so does “King Frat.” A lot. This is a movie that doesn’t rest until each and every “joke” is literally pounded into your head with a goddamn sledgehammer. The Pi Kaps’ head-honcho hellraiser/low-rent John Belushi clone is a guy named J.J.  Gumbroski, better known around campus as “Gross-Out” (played by John DiSanti, who was—get this—42 years old at the time).  Our guy Gross-Out basically has a routine of farting, drinking, eating, drinking some more, farting some more, drinking some more, farting some more, and—okay, you get the idea. Oh,and when he’s not drinking, farting, and occasionally eating, he fucks blow-up dolls. So you basically know everything about Gross-Out that you need to. Suffice to say, when the college announces that they’re having a campus-wide farting contest (with farts measured on the precise scientific instrument known as a “fartometer”—automatic disqualifications issued for “drawing mud”—and yes, you guessed what that means correctly),  Gross-Out is the guy to beat.

And that’s the plot. Really. Okay, there are a few little sidebar items thrown in so the whole thing isn’t over in ten minutes—the Pi-Kaps cruise around campus in their house care (a hearse), Gross-Out moons the dean while driving by, farts on him, and kills him; they have a party; they crash the deans funeral and make off wish his casket and corpse for no other reason than—hell, they can; Gross-Out meets up with an old girlfriend with even more wretched hygienic habits than him; a Pi-Kap named Chief Latrine fills us in on the history of the school’s name (as mentioned earlier) and reveals the secret that the school is built on his tribe’s land; they throw beer cans on the lawn of the preppie jock-asshole house and get in a big fistfight with them towards the end; the new Dean is out to shut down the Pi-Kaps by any means necessary (think “double-secret probation”); the Pi-Kaps go on trial — okay, that’s about it.

I mention these various subplots offhandedly because none of them amount to squat, for the most part, and the movie is really more a strung-together series of scenes than an actual, coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end. Shit just happens. In fact, one could state in all fairness that “King Frat” doesn’t so much as have an ending (it’s implausible as all get-go and completely arrives out of nowhere) as it just stops.

The Pi-Kaps' house car

The Pi-Kaps' house car

All of this probably leads the reader of average or better intelligence to conclude that I think “King Frat” is stupid. I do. In fact, that’s not an opinion, it’s just a fact. “King Frat” is stupid. It’s stupid beyond the mere capacity of language to describe. Said reader of average or better intelligence would then most likely assume that your host hates this movie. That. dear reader of average-or-better-intelligence, is where you’d be wrong.

Gross-Out and his "date"

Gross-Out and his "date"

Fact is, I love “King Frat.” There, I’ve said it. Not in spite of its unparalleled idiocy, but because of it. “King Frat” is truly the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the barrel, and it pretends to be nothing else. It’s not seeking to make you laugh. It’s not seeking to make you like it. Hell, it’s not even seeking to do anything. It just is. If you were going to crank out a quick “Animal House” knock-off and wanted to spend no money doing so, this is exactly the film you would make. Your only hope to get noticed (and “King Frat” did have a modestly profitable run, particularly on the drive-in circuit) is to be grosser, louder, and dumber. You don’t need a plot. You don’t need characterization beyond a few crude stereotypes. You don’t need “motivations” for what takes place. You don’t need anything but the grossest set in movie history, the grossest character possible, the grossest excuse for “humor” the human mind can conceive of, and some people to run the cameras and lights and play the parts. Apparently “King Frat” was made for less than $100,000, and honestly, I don’t know where most of the money went. Probably on developing costs at the lab. And as a viewer, all you need to do is watch the thing. There’s nothing to “understand.” Nothing to think about. The film not only has no plot, it has no point. This in itself is a marvel to behold.

Your host first encountered “King Frat” in its purest form—we had an old beat-up copy of it on VHS at my fraternity house in college. And while “Animal House” and “Revenge of the Nerds” are rightly considered the Holy Grails, if you will,  of all fraternity movies by frat boys, “King Frat” is so mind-bogglingly meritless, tasteless, and clueless that I actually prefer watching it to either of those two (admittedly far better, but what’s that got to do with anything?) films.

"King Frat" t-shirt

"King Frat" t-shirt

In the years since its release, in addition to becoming a staple viewing item in Greek houses everywhere, “King Frat” has also enjoyed a healthy (in terms of size, if not mental capacity) fan following in the UK, where there is apparently quite an interest in American fraternity and sorority “culture” since they don’t really have a direct equivalent to it in the British university system.  Several British dudes on a forum I frequent (http://www.gallifreybase.com —best Doctor Who forum on the web) have mentioned that this movie was on TV all the time over there for years (although presumably not on the BBC) and that people loved it.  There are also “King Frat” t-shirts, as shown above, and there’s  even a dedicated fan group for it among the Netflix movie “communities.” One thing there never was, though, at least in the US, was a “King Frat” DVD release—

—until now, that is (come on, you just knew that was coming). While it’s been a popular cult cinema item on Region 2 DVD in the UK for years, it’s never been released here until this year, when we have been “blessed” with not one, but two “King Frat” releases in less than 6 months’ time.

The first, as pictured at the top of this review, came out in May from an outfit I’ve never heard of before (and presumably never will again) called New Star video. It’s a bare-bones release with no extras, and looks like a direct-from-VHS transfer. Which is absolutely appropriate, when you think about it (or even when you don’t). Crap should look and sound like crap. Next up, though, as pictured below—-

Saturn Drive-In "Cheering Section / King Frat" Double Feature DVD

Saturn Drive-In "Cheering Section / King Frat" Double Feature DVD

—is a release headed our way next month from the (I thought defunct since the days of VHS) Saturn label, who are back on the scene with a new series of low-budget in-no-way-gems under the “Saturn Drive-In” tagline. These will be double feature releases and “King Frat” is paired with a movie I know nothing about (but it’s safe to assume it’s another college “comedy”) called “Cheering Section.”  I have no idea what this will look like or sound like, but I’m betting that a widescreen anamorphic transfer and a 5.1 surround mix aren’t in the works.

I’ll leave you with an anecdote direct from the IMDB. A guy posting on there was apparently a member of the band that played in the party scene in the film. He and his bandmates went to see the film when it came out in their area, and the audience reaction was about what you’d expect. Thrown popcorn, soda, even a few tomatoes. An usher (remember them?) walking down the aisles shortly before the movie was over recognized the guys from the movie and, fearing for their safety,   offered to get them bags to put over their heads so they could leave the theater without being recognized.

And that,  like the line from Gross-Out quoted at the beginning, probably tells you everything you need to know about “King Frat.” So we’re back where we started, a perfect circle. I didn’t even come up with a coherent reason along the way for why I like this movie, let alone why you should see it. I just scribbled down a run-down that has  no beginning, no middle, no end, and quite likely no point.  More by accident than design, it seems  I’ve just written the perfect “King Frat” review.