Posts Tagged ‘Mary Woronov’

HELL-ROLLER

It sounds like a perfect set-up, doesn’t it? A past-her-prime (assuming she ever had one, and as she’s played by Z-grade actress Penny Arcade that’s a dubious proposition at best) hooker (to judge by the way she’s dressed, at any rate) drops the baby she’s carrying on its head while she’s being accosted (and later, apparently, raped and murdered) by two fully-grown conjoined twins. The kid, named Eugene,  ends up being mentally retarded, wheelchair-bound, and raised on the streets by his homeless aunt. When she — how’s this for coincidence? — is also raped and murdered by a couple of winos (one of whom is portrayed by L.A.-area cult semi-icon Johnny Legend), wheelchair boy (brought to less-than-convincing life by Ron Litman, who’s at least 35 fucking years old) swears revenge on all “normals” — shorthand, I guess, for mentally and physically functioning folks like you and me. Anyone’ll do — if you can walk and talk, you’re dead. Bums, strippers (porn legend Hyapatia Lee), aerobics chicks (a slumming Michelle Bauer), steroid-pumped muscle-heads — it just doesn’t matter. If you’re of sound mind and body, Eugene’s out for your blood. Honestly, what could go wrong?

The answer, apparently, is plenty, because 1992’s shot-on-video, straight-to-VHS production Hellroller, the “brain”child of co-writers/co-directors/co-producers Gary J. Levinson and Stuart Wall is, without doubt, one of the most rancid, incompetent, thoroughly lame flicks ever unleashed on the world.

In other words, it’s all kinds of awesome. Provided you have the same warped definition of “awesome” that your humble host here does.

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First off, it looks like shit — even for SOV. Half the time Wall, Levinson, or whoever was manning the camera doesn’t even bother to clean off the fucking lens. Secondly, it sounds like shit — you can hardly parse out the dialogue underneath the actually-almost-passable music score half the time, not that it probably matters much. Thirdly, no one involved with this thing can act, especially Litman, who’s probably the least likable slasher ever — you actually want him to get killed himself, rather than do any more killing, and speaking of killing —

This production is so goddamn cheap (notice that well over half the film is shot on the exact same rooftop, for instance, including the purported TV news studio scenes) that they only show ketchup/blood twice, with all the other “murders” being implied through the use of standard camcorder effects like negative images and washing out the screen in red. I imagine the entire “budget” was blown on Bauer and Lee, who spend about ten minutes each getting naked (naturally) before getting killed, and that left Levinson and Wall with 60 minutes to kill and no money to do it with. Hell, Eugene doesn’t even ride around in a real wheelchair — it’s a standard household wicker chair with a couple wheels jerry-rigged to the bottom.

Still, the absolute disregard and/or basic knowledge of what makes for passable film-making exhibited by monsieurs Levinson and Wall results in the creation — entirely by accident, mind you — of a universe all its own for Hellroller, where the normal rules of style, competence, and even space and time themselves no longer seem to apply. When Eugene encounters the conjoined twins who did in his mom again decades later, for instance, they don’t appear to have aged a day (and they’re still wearing the same two purple shirts with their “attached” middle arms visibly dangling freely inside), while he’s grown to adulthood. Script continuity, anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

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Of course, all of this could be forgiven, I suppose, if the film-makers were playing things purely for laughs, but that doesn’t appear to have been the case here. Legal wranglings surrounding the post-production of Hellroller lead one to believe that Levinson, at least, thought he’d made a genuinely passable piece of cinema here. First off, both men sued another fly-by-night (did I mention this was released on VHS by a one-and-done outfit called Dark Side Home Video?) shady home video operator for the supposedly “unauthorized” use of one of their stills of Bauer on the cover of a cheap “scream queen” documentary he put out — the case was taken up by none other than Judge Wapner himself on The People’s Court, which saw our two — uhhhmmm — “heroes” walk away in defeat. Then, Levinson bought out Wall’s 50% stake in the film, struck his former partner’s name from the credits as co-director, and seems to have launched a one-man campaign to redeem his pride and joy’s image all by himself. Witness, for instance, the three positive reviews (among nine total) on IMDB for this flick that all say more or less the same thing — that this film is “not a ripoff, unlike so many other slashers,” that the “effects (which, according to the VHS box, were done by the “creator” of Evil Dead 2 and Luther The Geek — yeah, right) are awesome” and that it has “the best cast ever assembled for any horror movie,” including “Ruth Collins, Elizabeth Kaitan, and Mary Woronov.” Ya don’t say? I saw Kaitan and Collins for, oh, roughly ten seconds apiece, but I must have blinked when Woronov made her purported “appearance,” because I didn’t see her at all — nor is she listed anywhere in the credits. My bet is that all “three” of these glowing appraisals originate either from Levinson himself or a friend that he put up to it, using different names, and given that none of the “three” people have posted reviews of any other movies on  IMDB, so I feel this is a pretty safe assumption I’m making.

Still, this kind of blatant hucksterism  — attributing the effects work to people who have worked on larger productions (even billing them as the “creator” of said bigger productions), claiming that the movie stars people it doesn’t, and then putting up phony “shill” reviews online to promote this piece of shit over two decades after it was made — are the kind of things we salute around here, so my hat is off to Levinson or whoever might be behind this no-budget guerrilla “marketing” campaign. The spirit of carnival barker-style publicity a la Herschell Gordon Lewis and William Mishkin definitely lives on, even in the internet age.

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And while we’re at it, I also doff my cap to the triumvirate behind VHShitfest.com, who have had the audacity to recently release Hellroller on DVD as a completely bootleg effort. I’m not sure how much publicity the guys want for this, but shit, it’s on the front page of their website, so I guess they don’t have too much to hide. While I can’t for the life of me understand why they chose to blow the image up to widescreen rather than just leave it full-frame — unless they wanted the movie to look even shittier than it already does — they’ve otherwise assembled a terrific package here. There’s a text interview with Wall; an on-camera interview with actor David H. Sterry, who plays two parts in the movie; two commentary tracks, one of which is a mash-up of them and some friends reading the film’s original shooting screenplay with the other being a more “traditional” track by the guys accompanying the flick itself; their original YouTube review is presented in its entirety; and they’ve even included the People’s Court segment mentioned earlier! Plus, as if all that weren’t awesome enough, in my package containing the DVD that arrived the other day, they included an actual paper copy of the flick’s original shooting script, complete with hand-scrawled, last-second director’s annotations! Sure, the fellas don’t have the encyclopedic knowledge of all things cult cinema that we’ve come to expect from the folks behind labels like Code Red, Scorpion Releasing, Vinegar Syndrome, Blue Underground, etc. — they seem to have no working knowledge of who Hyapatia Lee or Johnny Legend are, for instance (although their description of Legend as an “Alan Moore-looking motherfucker” is pretty awesome) — they more than make up for it with sheer enthusiasm for what they’re doing. This is one killer disc they’ve put together that’s well worth the under-twenty-bucks they’re asking for it. Not that we encourage the piracy of copyrighted works around here, of course, your honor.

Seriously, folks, if you’re looking for the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the barrel, this just light be it. 555 and even Black Devil Doll From Hell look like Hollywood blockbusters in comparison to Hellroller. Shit, even Nick Millard’s shot-at-home-in-one-afternoon numbers exhibit more professionalism and ability. How many ways can you say “move this to the top of your ‘must-buy’ list immediately”? What are you waiting for, an invitation?

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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, it’s probably safe to say that David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is one of your favorite films of all time. You probably watch it several times a year and can recite lines from it by heart the way most people — well, okay, some people — can with Star Wars. It really is just that fucking good, isn’t it? I mean, when I think of a movie that I can never get bored of, and that I’m sure to pick up something new from every time I watch , I think of Videodrome (and a few others, sure, but that’s beside the point). Anyway, we all agree it’s a great flick, right?

Now — if you’re not a regular reader of this blog, or you are and, somehow,  haven’t seen it, Videodrome is the movie where James Woods plays an amoral cable TV executive who gets hooked on watching a pirated satellite show from (he thinks) southeast Asia that features nothing but torture and punishment. Little does he know the signal’s really coming from Pittsburgh, the broadcast is going out on a frequency that triggers hallucinatory impulses in the mind of the viewer, the people behind it are planning to use Woods and his cable station to essentially take over the world by hooking the populace on the frequency and then ushering in a new age of barabrism,  his girlfriend (played by Blondie lead singer Deborah Harry) is somehow involved in the whole thing (if she’s even real at all), and oh yeah — along the way he grows a vagina in his chest that has a gun hidden inside it, and his TV set grows a mouth and lips and starts breathing.

Okay, okay — there’s a lot more to it than that, but a brief recap is all that’s in order here because this review isn’t about Videodrome at all. There’s a line in it, though, that definitely strikes a chord when it comes to the movie we actually are here to talk about, though — when a TV show sales agent named Masha tries to warn Wood’s Max Renn character away from the whole Videodrome operation, she tells him “it has something which you do not, Max — it has a philosophy. That is what makes it dangerous.”

Which brings to mind the question — what if a filmmaker who had no philosophy decided to make a Videodrome-style movie about evil that emanated from a satellite TV signal? Well, that’s something we needn’t ponder over for too long, because it’s already been done — ladies and gentlemen, I give you 1986’s TerrorVision, a slapstick farce about a mutant trash-eating alien that accidentally gets beamed to Earth, ends up getting nabbed by a wealthy dysfunctional family’s new satellite dish, and ends up coming through their TV set and causing all sorts of mischief.

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What’s all this got to do with my “no philosophy” query, you ask? Easy. Whether you love David Cronenberg, hate him, or are indifferent to him, it’s safe to say that the mind behind not only Videodrome, but seminal works such as ShiversRabidThe BroodThe FlyDead Ringers and A History Of Violence — to name just a few favorites of mine — definitely has a philosophy. And it’s equally safe to say that Charles Band — the  ultra-low-budget producer extraordinaire  behind not only TerrorVision but such films as The AlchemistMetalstorm : The Destruction Of Jared-SynSubspeciesDollmanTrancers, and Puppet Master (again, to name just a few) doesn’t. Unless we’re counting ” get in, get out, try to get it all in one take, and whatever you do come in under budget!” as a “philosophy.” Which, I dunno, maybe it is — in which case Charles Band is one of the most “philosophical” minds Hollywood has ever produced.

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The story’s pretty much as I described it — the well-to-do-but-hopelessly-fucked-up Putterman clan, consisting of swinger parents Stanley (Gerrit Graham) and Raquel (cult icon Mary Woronov), rebellious teenage daughter Suzy (Diane Franklin), “good son” Sherman (Chad Allen),  and their survivalist nutcase/prototype Tea Partier grandpa named, well, Grampa, have one of those hopelessly huge-and-ostentatious early-’80s satellite dishes and they have no clue in the hell how to work the thing. Meanwhile, far off in space, an advanced alien civilization has come up with an innovative method for disposing of its garbage that we probably ought to give serious consideration to here on Earth sometime in the near future — they zap it down into pure energy and beam it off-world. There’s just one hitch in their latest — uhhmmm — “shipment,” though : they accidentally atomized (or whatever) a giant, garbage-eating mutant monstrosity along with the rest of their payload, and the beam he was zapping around the cosmos in got picked up by the Putterman’s dish.

Now, it’s going going to fall on this Ordinary People-on-crack family, together with Suzy’s metalhead boyfriend, O.D. (Jonathan Gries) and a low-rent Elvira knock-off named Medusa (Jennifer Richards, who certainly has the “real” Elvira —errrrmmm — “topped” in one department, if you can believe that) to save the Earth from the monster that came through the TV! Add in the obligatory “hijinx ensue” line and you’ve pretty much got TerrorVision wrapped up in a nutshell.

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Obviously, the only way to play this kind of thing is strictly for laughs (a phrase that’s always made as much sense to me as “this is funny stuff — I’m serious!”), and writer-director Ted Nicolaou — who would go on to helm all three Subspecies flicks for Band’s Full Moon Entertainment — does just that. This is sabsolute, OTT , farcical nonsense of the highest order, mixing equal parts dumbshit humor, fourth-wall-busting pantomime acting, and inventive-on-a-budget creature effects for a finished product that is by no means innovative or distinct, but sure is a lot of good, stupid fun. In fact, if you’re drunk and/ or stoned off your ass, I might even go so far as to say that this movie’s flat-out hilarious —but really, you needn’t be to enjoy it. I watched it sober as a judge last night and had a damn good time, even though I really should (okay, really do) know better.

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TerrorVision was just released on a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from Shout! Factory’s new(-ish) Scream Factory imprint, where it’s paired with 1987 cult favorite The Video Dead. The remastered widescreen transfer looks phenomenally good, the sound is 2.0 stereo, and there are lots of special features (at least on the Blu — I can’t speak for the DVD as I haven’t popped that in the player yet), including a nice little “making-of” featurette, a full-length commentary track featuring writer/director Nicolaou and actors Franklin and Gries, and a fairly comprehensive poster and still photo gallery. Scream Factory, as we’re quickly coming to expect, has outdone themselves once again.

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So, then, to take us back to our original question (or at least a convenient-for-the-purposes-of-my-wrap-up variation on it) : is there a philosophy behind TerrorVision? Abso-friggin’-lutely not. And that’s the best thing about it.

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Jim Wynorski is one of those guys whose continuing appeal as a supposed “cult auteur” has always mystified me. I mean, I like low-budget crap as much as anyone — obviously! — and he’s spent his entire career on the lower rungs of the independent exploitation/straight-to-video ladder, but for a variety of reasons, most of the B-movie fare he’s cranked out has just never appealed to me. For every rule, however, there is an exception, and in this case that exception is 1986’s Chopping Mall, a Roger Corman-produced quickie that Wynorski shot at the Sherman Oaks Galleria shopping center that’s certainly nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary, but is nevertheless a damn fun little way to while away a mere 77 minutes of your time on this planet.

Packaged and sold as a slasher-type flick after it went nowhere under its original (and far more honest and accurate) title of Killbots, the “crazed psychos” in this movie have a lot more in common with ED-2000 from Robocop (which, to its credit, this film preceded in release by a year) than they do Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers because, well — they’re malfunctioning robotic security guards, not flesh-and-blood lunatics in masks. They’re just as tough to bring down as any of the superstars of slasherdom, though, with the extra added bonus of their near-indestructibility actually making a kind of logical sense being that they’re, ya know,  machines and all.

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The basic premise, as you’d expect in a movie with a duration of under 80 minutes, is simple enough : mall hires robots as security guards, a group of kids who work at a carpet store in said mall decide to have an after-hours party complete with the usual drinkin’ an’ fuckin’ teen shenanigans, said robots go haywire when a bolt of lightning hits their central control antenna (or something), and soon it’s a horny high schoolers vs. killer mechanical sentries battle royale (with plenty of cheese).

A lot of the fun to be had with Chopping Mall comes in the form of playing “hey, look! isn’t that —?,” since soon-to-be-more-recognizable stars like Re-Animator‘s Barbara Crampton and Tony O’Dell from TV’s Head Of The Class are cast among the group of randy teens and Wynorski populates his merry troupe of supporting players with long-time cult favorites like Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Mel Welles and Angus Scrimm, all of whom are obviously having a good time picking up a check for a quick day’s work, but the film certainly has a little bit more going in its favor than that. The “killbots” are effectively designed and move around pretty nicely, the body count they rack up is fairly impressive, the various murders themselves are fun to watch (go ahead, phone my shrink now) and people don’t necessarily die in the order you expect them to even if the choice of final two survivors is pretty — okay, I’m being polite :entirely — predictable.

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On the minus side, well — let’s be honest here, any horror movie set in a shopping mall is going to suffer in comparison with Dawn Of The Dead, even if the horror movie in question isn’t doing much of anything to invite such comparisons. There’s no commentary on rampant American consumerism and greed to be gleaned from Chopping Mall‘s subtext as there was in Romero’s masterwork because, well — this flick has no fucking subtext! What you see is what you get, and what you see is a competently-executed, fast-paced, absurd-on-its-face 80s teen horror with a fairly timeless fear-of-technology twist. It’s all in good fun, and Chopping Mall is both good and fun. Plus, nobody can overplay getting zapped with a couple thousand volts like Dick Miller. The man’s a legend for a reason.

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Wynorski, to his credit, also knows when to cut and run with this one, a trait he doesn’t show with some of his other, more heavily-padded (even if the runtimes are always short anyway) work. Ten more minutes of this thing probably would have been too much, and it’s always nice to welcome a guest into your home who knows when it’s time to leave. At a lean and mean 77 minutes, Chopping Mall doesn’t hang around for one drink too many. It hits the road in plenty of time for you to get up rested and ready for work the next day and doesn’t bore you with one or two extra anecdotes from its life that you don’t care about anyway. Don’t you wish your friends and relatives were this considerate?

To my knowledge, this flick is available in a couple of different ways on DVD, both from Lionsgate — there’s a stand-alone release that includes a commentary from Wynorski and a “making-of” featurette, and it’s also included as part of a two-disc, 8-movie set bearing the less-than-inspired titled of “Horror Movie Collection,” where it shares space with other also-ran features like Slaughter HighWaxwork, and The Unholy, among others. Both feature the same decent-enough widescreen transfer and equally-decent-enough 2.0 stereo sound, and you can probably score either for less than ten bucks.

 

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I don’t know about you, but I’m not always in the mood for a movie that’s out to expand my horizons, tax my mental capabilities, or even do anything remotely different or unorthodox. Just get me from point A to point B and keep me reasonably entertained along the way. Next time you’re in one of those moods, Chopping Mall would be a fine choice for your evening’s viewing.