The late great George Carlin once posited, “Did you ever notice that their stuff is shit, and your shit is stuff?” While I don’t believe Carlin was specifically referring to guilty pleasures, his statement certainly fits the bill here. It’s all a matter of taste. Following in the footsteps of Dumb Movies That I Like Anyway and Dumb Movies That I Like Anyway, Part II, this third installment continues my fascination with the cinematic equivalent of junk food. There’s nothing here that can possibly be good for you. Like eating a fried confection at the county fair, it’s all just empty calories and you’ll likely regret it an hour later, but it sure tastes good going down. Without further delay, I’ve submitted another dose of my more questionable favorites for your approval (all ratings are 3 stars unless otherwise noted):
One Crazy Summer (1986) Almost no one seems to remember this little comedic gem from director Savage Steve Holland, although most are probably familiar with his other John Cusack-starring vehicle, Better Off Dead. I’m stepping off on a limb by arguing that this is actually the better of the two. Cusack plays would-be animator “Hoops” McCann who’s unlucky at life and love. After graduating high school, he decides to spend the summer with his best buddy George (Joel Murray) on Nantucket. The numerous gags that ensue are more hit than miss. One of my favorite scenes involves comedian (now director) Bobcat Goldthwait in a Godzilla costume. Underrated comic actor Joe Flaherty also has a nice turn as the gung-ho owner of a military surplus shop. A low point is Demi Moore’s singing (!), which is mercifully confined to one song. There’s nothing new in the plot department, with its slobs-versus-rich-kids storyline and a climax that will surprise no one, but it’s all about the shtick.
My rating: *** ½
Hobo With a Shotgun (2011) Hobo With a Shotgun originated as a fake trailer in a contest for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, and evolved into a feature-length movie that harkens back to the days of 70s exploitation flicks. Director/co-writer Jason Eisener’s retro-flavored exercise is one of the best examples of this short-lived trend. Rutger Hauer checked his dignity at the door when he signed up for this project as the eponymous Hobo, and we’re all the better for it. He vows to clean up the streets “one shell at a time” as he roams the streets of Scumtown with his $50 shotgun. Normally I don’t go for depictions of sadistic violence, but in this case it’s over the top to the point of being cartoonish (along the lines of Dead Alive or The Toxic Avenger).
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) Halloween III did what few sequels dared, trying different. Probably just as many people love this flick as hate it for deviating from the formula of its predecessors, but in my book, that’s a huge plus. Director/co-writer Tommy Lee Wallace took the series in a completely new direction, with a film that has nothing to do with Michael Myers and his killing spree. According to the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, this is how the Halloween series would have gone if the filmmakers had their way, with unrelated sequels telling their own unique stories. I preferred that concept, compared to repeating the same story ad nauseam, but alas, the movie-going public of 1982 wasn’t quite ready.
Tom Atkins is Dr. Dan Challis, who’s determined to get to the bottom of the sinister goings-on at the Silver Shamrock novelty plant. Dan O’Herlihy plays evil Silver Shamrock magnate Conal Cochran, and provides one of the most ridiculous explanations that you’re likely to hear for the mayhem. The movie doesn’t make a lick of sense, but that does nothing to deter from its pure entertainment value. If nothing else, Halloween III is to be commended for following through with its silly premise. Oh, and try as you may, you won’t be able to shake the diabolically infectious “Silver Shamrock” theme that counts off the days until Halloween This is on my short list of must-see Halloween movies, including, of course, Halloween and Trick ‘r Treat.
My rating: *** ½
Popeye (1980) Another example of gutsy filmmaking is Robert Altman’s much maligned take on the classic cartoon of the same name. Some people inhabit a role so completely that you couldn’t imagine anyone else doing justice to it. Nope, I wasn’t referring to Robin Williams as the titular spinach-loving sailor, but Shelley Duvall as Popeye’s anorexic girlfriend Olive Oyl. It’s almost as if she had been genetically engineered to play the character. I recall watching this in the theater as a kid and not knowing what to make of it. Somehow, I keep returning to it periodically, perhaps to remind myself that I actually saw the film and didn’t hallucinate it. Strangely enough, it’s aged quite well, thanks to its (gasp!) memorable songs and stagey appearance that perfectly embodies a cartoon world. Altman conveys a sense of being in a different time and place, which is why I go to the movies.
Rollercoaster (1977) Just when you thought it was safe to go to an amusement park… There’s two reasons that I find this hokey thriller noteworthy: an appearance by the under-appreciated band Sparks and the fact that it was partially filmed at Magic Mountain, where I held a summer job after graduating high school in 1986. George Segal plays federal safety inspector Harry Calder. He must hunt down a madman played by Timothy Bottoms (imaginatively named “Young Man”) with a penchant for blowing up roller coasters. I was never really sure what his motivation was for his destructive pastime, but for the sake of this film, let’s just say he’s crazy, in a Hollywood, non-specific sort of way and leave it at that, okay? It’s a movie that could only have been made in the 70s. Call me cynical, but I can’t imagine today’s Six Flags executives agreeing to showcase their parks in a movie about terrorist activity in their theme parks.
Blacula (1972) Before he was the King of Cartoons in Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, classically trained William Marshall earned his fame by starring in this cheesy blaxploitation movie with a supernatural twist. Marshall really lends weight to a film that’s so lightweight it’s in danger of floating away. You can’t help but pay attention to him whenever he’s onscreen. The rest of the movie? Not so much. Well, at least the vampires in the movie don’t sparkle. Also watch for legendary character actor Elisha Cook Jr. in a small role.
Mystery Men (1999) Based on a Dark Horse comic series, this mixed bag failed to win over critics or audiences, but something clicked with me. At 122 minutes, it’s a trifle overlong and suffers from some pacing issues. I also can’t shake the feeling that the filmmakers were trying too hard to make everything quirky. While the movie itself is clunky, its strengths rest in its main characters. William H. Macy provides much-needed pathos as earnest blue-collar family man and part-time superhero The Shoveler. Hank Azaria is hilarious as The Blue Raja, who fights crime with silverware and horrible puns. Wes Studi is dryly amusing as the enigmatic Sphinx, who spouts quasi-profundities at every turn. And it’s always nice to see Paul Reubens in something, even if it’s playing a flatulent crime fighter called The Spleen. The best role is reserved for Geoffrey Rush as flamboyant supervillain Casanova Frankenstein. It’s a shame that there was never a sequel, where problems from the first movie could have been ironed out, but it’s nice to dream.
My rating: *** ½
The Toxic Avenger (1984) It’s stupid, infantile, and filled with sophomoric humor. In other words, it’s everything that you’ve come to expect from Lloyd Kaufman and Troma Entertainment over the years. In the tradition of the superhero origin story, The Toxic Avenger chronicles the exploits of nerdy Melvin Junko, who falls into a vat of toxic waste, and becomes the Toxic Avenger, defending the town of Tromaville from evildoers. There’s even a Beauty and the Beast subplot as the Toxic Avenger finds the (blind) girl of his dreams. This isn’t likely to end up on the Sight and Sound Poll anytime soon, but it’s a load of fun if taken in the right vein. Best viewed late at night!
The Poseidon Adventure (1972) I remember seeing this Irwin Allen production on TV sometime in the 70s, and it really left an impression on my developing mind. It’s an all-star extravaganza with a mismatched set of bickering survivors, including the late Ernest Borgnine as an uptight cop married to an ex-hooker (Stella Stevens) and Gene Hackman as a self-doubting priest. The goofy Academy Award-winning song “The Morning After” will haunt your nightmares. This one really brings back memories. I remembered making up a sort of home game, wondering how I’d fare if I had to go through all the trials that the characters had to do to survive. Play along; it’s fun!
Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) Director Darren Lynn Bousman’s undercooked, overblown Grand Guignol sci-fi/horror/musical never fails to capture your attention, like a moth to a light bulb. Anthony Stewart Head (best known from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series) stars as Nathan, a repo man who repossesses organs when the recipients fall behind on their payments. Paul Sorvino is Nathan’s ruthless employer, Rotti Largo, head of GeneCo. It’s probably the only movie with Paris Hilton (as Largo’s plastic surgery addicted daughter Amber Sweet) that I’d recommend, simply because she’s playing herself: self-absorbed, talentless and heavily modified. This exercise in style over substance suffers from some of the same issues as Mystery Men – it almost seems to be a pre-fabricated cult film; but it’s fun in a Rocky Horror sort of way.