Posts Tagged ‘zalman king’

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You gotta hand it to Crown International — they knew how to market their merchandise. Even when their promo campaigns had little if anything to do with the actual goings-on in a particular film itself — as was the case with Best Friends, a flick we took a look at around these parts a couple days back — they could still find a lurid, sleazy peg around somewhere to hang their metaphorical coat on. It didn’t always take that much effort and creativity, though, when the movie they were pimping was generally scummy enough on its own merits.

One-and-done writer/director Earl Barton’s 1975 rape-revenge mini-thriller Trip With The Teacher is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. I don’t know about you, but when I see a poster as shamelessly exploitative (a compliment around these parts, I assure you) as the one reproduced above, my first thought is “come on — this thing can’t possibly be as bad as all that.” And then, of course. I sit down and watch it to find out whether my cynicism is justified or not.

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In this case, I’m happy to report that Barton definitely delivers the goods. On paper, the story actually seems pretty tame in comparison to the plethora of similar fare out there for the discerning viewer — pretty high school teacher Miss Tenny (Brenda Fogarty) is taking a mini-bus with four of her youthful charges and a typically useless driver  out to spend a day exploring some Navajo ruins in, I’m assuming, California someplace. The bus breaks down, and the nubile young flesh is quickly set upon by a gang of three horny bikers (well, in fairness one guy’s not too bad and hardly knows the other two, who are brothers) led by the always-dripping-with-menace Zalman King , who plays a hard-core psycho with the disarmingly blase name of Al.

Everything you’d pretty much expect to happen from this point on does, with Miss Tenny “giving” herself over to Al’s lustful tendencies if he promises, just promises, to please leave her students alone. Do I even need to tell you whether or not he keeps his word?

Speaking of words (every writer does), I dropped the word “tame” a moment ago, and it actually does apply here, after a fashion : the body count here is pretty low, with only one of the girls and the driver not making it out alive, and the rape stuff is certainly not I Spit On Your Grave-level material, by any stretch. Yeah, it’s unpleasant enough in its own right, but you’ve seen worse (although hopefully only in the movies). It’s almost as if Barton, after “dreaming” the whole plot up in the first place, decides he really doesn’t wanna go there and tries to put the brakes on things a bit.

Funny thing is — Zalman King just won’t let him. Behind those bug-eyed sunglasses and that blank facial expression lurks a very palpable and genuine menace. This dude is just plain bad fucking news. He may not speak much, but he doesn’t need to — evil is just radiating from him like stench from a three-day-old burrito left out in the sun. Ladies, this definitely isn’t someone you want to bring home to meet your mother. Ore even your least-favorite sister or aunt.

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Honestly, if you want a textbook example of how one performance can elevate a flick weighed down with a mediocre script and a director who apparently only knows two words (those being “point’ and “shoot”), Trip With The Teacher is it. King doesn’t go the over-the-top route of, say, a Wings Hauser in Vice Squad, but damn if he doesn’t seem almost as dangerous. This guy’s just straight-up unhinged, and you know it before he even proves it (not that he doesn’t prove it — on multiple occasions, no less). His work alone makes this a memorably unpleasant affair, and for that we thank and congratulate the late Mr. King.

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Now, this being the movies and all, it goes without saying that Al’s gonna get his comeuppance, and unfortunately that’s where Barton’s lack of imagination really hampers things. King’s made such a thoroughly reprehensible bastard  of him that you really want him to meet a spectacular, up-in-flames finish. I won’t give away how he does finally meet his maker, but be prepared for a disappointment. It’s not pretty, I suppose, but it could — and should — have been both much more clever and much more ugly.

Still, every time I see Trip With The Teacher (which is, by the way, available on about a half-dozen different DVD packages, all bare-bones with no extras whatsoever — your humble host recommends Mill Creek’s “Drive-in Cult Classics” 12, disc, 32-movie box set since you get great value for ten bucks and the occasionally-blemished-and-choppy widescreen transfer looks pretty solid all told while the mono sound is likewise perfectly adequate) I find myself appreciating it a little bit more, and honestly not just for King’s amazing performance or composer Igo Kantor’s awesome beyond words theme tune. Not quite rough enough to be a “roughie,” but certainly not watered-down enough to appeal to those with sensitive stomachs or strong consciences, this is a movie that’s sort of out there on its own, carving out space no other films either could, or cared to, occupy. Its subject matter is hardly unique, but it remains a singular work nevertheless.

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Not that singular necessarily translates as good to any and all parties, mind you. Those looking for balls-out graphic nastiness, for instance, are probably going to find this to be a bit disappointing and maybe even dull. We’re not talking about a Harry Novak production here or anything. But if you’re the sort of person who gets a bigger case of the heebie-jeebies from Hal’s voice in 2001 than you do from Darth Vader’s costume in Star Wars, or if Michael Myers’  blank mask creeps you out more than Freddy Krueger’s burned-up remnant of a face, then I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised by Trip With The Teacher. It may not spoon-feed it to you as blatantly and obviously as some, but it definitely serves up everything you’re expecting and then some, and leaves a mighty unpleasant aftertaste.

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.