Sunday, June 5, 2022

Junesploitation 2022 Day 5: Free Space!


  1. The Assignment (2016 Dir. Walter Hill)
    I've avoided this movie because of the enormous social pushback against it, but I can only imagine it's from people who haven't actually seen the movie. Pedro Almodovar explored the exact same concept of whether you can surgically force someone to be a different gender than the one they identify with, and no one batted an eyelid. Perhaps that's because with his movie you actually had to see it to know that's what it was about. Almodovar came to an arguably more controversial conclusion - that you can create a woman out of a cis man. Hill seems to disagree with this, with Michelle Rodriguez's character never feeling comfortable with his new body. That's a viewpoint I would think is more in line with how trans people see gender than Almodovar's.

    Now that's not to say this movie is particularly good - but it's damn entertaining and not the edgelord piece of transphobia that twitter made it out to be.

    The Bad:
    It unfortunately has a framing device of a person in a mental hospital recounting certain events that just stops the movie cold and is so pompously written that it pulls you right out.
    There's twist at the end of the second act that is more obvious than obvious. You'd have to have been in the bathroom during several scenes not to see it coming.
    The movie puts almost no effort into creating a world of interesting gangsters and monsters - almost as soon as most of them are introduced (by voiceover narration) they're killed.
    The movie plays everything surprisingly safe - I wanted scenes of grizzly surgery and vicious revenge... The worst you'll see is a few squibs bursting. This movie needs to be a whole lot more Walter Hill than it is.

  2. Danger USA aka Mind Trap (1989, dir. Eames Demetrios)

    I can't describe the plot of this incredibly bizarre movie. Something about mind-control device? Reanimation? Russian spies? You just have to see it for yourself. This movie alternates between so-bad-it's-good and sublimely brilliant. There's also meta ideas because a film is being made in the movie so you don't know if what you're watching is real or part of the film-within-the-film. This is one of those movies where the dialogue is written and delivered like no humans have ever spoken before, similar to The Room or Troll 2. Definitely worth a watch if you want to see something weird, it's on YouTube. Recommended.

  3. My unifying theme for free space days this year: 1999 blind spots.

    Lake Placid (1999)

    A fun little monster/adventure flick led by a super charming cast of Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman and Brendan Gleeson (and I guess Oliver Platt, who's not as charming as the others, but also gets saddled with a lot of cringy late-90s humor, so maybe it's not all his fault). The crocodile action is quite impressive (they went the Jurassic Park route by combining CGI and puppetry, which was a smart choice), the deep lake surrounded by even deeper woods is a naturally cool setting, and the plot moves swiftly and without any major hiccups all the way to the satisfying conclusion (I especially appreciated the direction in which the heroes chose to go at the end). Sure, this movie is basically Jaws Lite, but that should be seen as a compliment, not a dig. Also, it reminded me how great Bridget Fonda was back in the day.

    1. This is one I've been meaning to watch for awhile. It's available for free (with ads) on CTV here in Canada, so maybe will be a Monsters! day watch .

  4. Curse of the Blue Lights (1988)

    As the world has grown smaller thanks to all of us being connected 24/7/365, the weird pockets of regional filmmaking may not exist. After all, you can download the latest Polonia movie or watch it on Tubi, right? But in 1988, odd little movies could still just show up at your video store with nothing telling you what they were all about or where they came from.

    Dudley is a nothing happening town that only has a few things for teens to do and all of them get you in trouble. The Blue Lights of the title are both a place for them to have furtive backseat car sex and also see the strange glow that could either be aliens or the ghosts of a train wreck from long before any of these kids were born.

    Four kids back from college for the summer — Ken (Patrick Keller), Alice (Becky Golladay), Paul (Clayton A. McCaw) and Sandy (Deborah McVencenty) — and three guys who are probably never getting out of Dudley — Bob (Kent E. Fritzell), Max (Tom Massmann) and Sam (James Asbury) — decide on one of those boring long hot summer nights to go see the lights for themselves.

    Oh yeah — that train fire also had a petrified monster within its wreckage known as The Muldoon Man and that’s what they find. Now, if I discovered a ten-foot-tall monster in my drunken teens, I would totally not touch it or even be anywhere around it, no matter how much Pucker, Yuengling or Fireball I had to drink. No, instead they decide to haul it off in a truck — what no one wanted to go mudding instead? — and try and make money off it.

    If you guess that the creature gets away — or someone steals it — you’ve seen enough horror movies. So instead of doing the sensible thing like drinking on someone’s porch, the teens all head to Sunny Hill Cemetery, more specifically the tunnels under the graves. That’s where they learn the truth: the Blue Lights are to signal the return fo Loath (Brent Ritter), a gigantic undead leader of a cult of zombies who want to return the dreaded Muldoon Man to life by devouring the living. Somehow, they get away, with Paul stealing the disc they need to complete their ritual, and the zombies follow.

    How do you stop them? Maybe the witch (Bettina Julius) can help.

    If you’re reading this and think, “That’s way too much for one movie,” you’re right and also wrong, because gloriously regional movies existed outside the purview of La La Land and studio notes so deliriously madcap things could happen. Like, well, this movie.

    Also, perhaps most amazingly, this movie looks like a million bucks thanks to the sets and special effects by Michael Spatola (Return of the Living Dead, Predator 2) and Mark Sisson (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Subspecies). Sure, there are way too many primary characters and yes, perhaps too many monsters to keep track of, but isn’t it nice sometimes to totally lose track of something and have it still be fun?

    Even better, Curse of the Blue Lights is based on several suburban — rural? — legends of Pueblo, Colorado, which is where it was made. The Blue Lights really is a parking spot for teens where they would see mysterious blue lights in the nearby river bottom.

    The Muldoon Man was real, too.

    This supposedly prehistoric petrified human body was discovered in 1877 — seven years after his infamous Cardiff Giant hoax — by a con man named William Conant at a spot now known as Muldoon Hill, near Beulah, Colorado. The figure had a brief tour of the United States before it was revealed to be a hoax. Named after pro wrestler William Muldoon, it was made of clay, plaster, mortar, rock dust, bones, blood and meat.

    Director and writer John Henry Johnson also made two documentaries, Zebulon Pike and the Blue Mountain and Damon Runyon’s Pueblo. Turns out that the Consumer Infomation Catalogue isn’t the only great thing to come out of that town.

  5. Catching up on some classic Junesploitation categories of years past that weren't included in this year's calendar (meaning I already had movies picked for these categories before the announcement).

    Post-Apocalyptic!: The Last Border (1993, dir. Mika Kaurismäki)

    A Finnish Mad Max ripoff. In the distant future of 2009, pollution has made almost the entire planet uninhabitable, leaving only the areas north of the Arctic Circle fit for human life. The leader of a vicious motorcycle gang rules the area with an iron fist, but a man from his past has returned and wants revenge.

    The cast is a mix of actors from Finland (many of them regulars of the Kaurismäki brothers, like Matti Pellonpää and Kari Väänänen) and from other European countries (most notably Jürgen Prochnow), almost none of whom speak English as their first language.

    The story's as generic as they come and a lot of the acting is pretty clumsy, but the stark landscapes (shot in northern parts of Finland and Norway) are great and the handmade feel of the shoestring budget sets adds charm. Prochnow brings some much-needed gravitas.

    New Horror!: Choose or Die (2022, dir. Toby Meakins)

    A bad movie. There's very little logic to the plot, the acting isn't great, the thematic elements are all over the place, and it's trying hard to both ride the 80's revival wave and criticize it.

    Gotta hand it one thing though, it's the only movie I've seen where someone prays by reciting the lyrics to a Gary Numan song.

    Teensploitation!: Death of a Cheerleader aka A Friend to Die For (1994, dir. William A. Graham)

    Tonight, on a very special episode, a high school girl obsessed with being popular goes too far in her efforts to make the school's most popular girl like her.

    For some reason, I thought this was gonna be a murder mystery, but turns out it's a character study and morality tale about an obsessed girl. And turns out it's based on a real life murder, which made the whole thing feel... icky.

    I'll be honest, this was a bit of a struggle to get through. Just a blandly written, directed and acted movie.

    Bonus short film: Flame (Polte) (1937/2018, dir. Teuvo Tulio and/or Sami van Ingen)

    For each Free Space! day, I'll include a bonus Finnish short film.

    This is a fascinating one. Teuvo Tulio, a prolific Finnish director, made a film called Silja - Fallen Asleep When Young in 1937, all copies of which were subsequently destroyed in a fire. In 2015, one surviving 20-minute reel of it was found, but it was badly damaged. Director Sami van Ingen then used those damaged frames to compose his short film, a "fractured melodrama".

    A weird and hypnotic viewing experience. Hard to say whether it was a good or a bad film, but it's definitely something I hadn't seen before.

  6. Breakheart Pass (1975, dir. Tom Gries)

    Mr. Vargas had recommended this Western last year, and it was available on Tubi. There are a lot of familiar faces such as Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Charles Durning, Richard Crenna, and David Huddleston. This is first and foremost a great TRAIN movie. There are trains going forward and backwards, over bridges, derailing. And people getting flung from the train, into the snow, off of bridges, fighting on top of the train. I was getting a little confused by the end, where a bunch of natives and soldiers show up and there's a big battle (with lots of great horse stunt work), but that didn't detract from the entertainment. Thanks Mr. Vargas!

    Get this: Anthony Hopkins plays John Kellogg, inventor of Corn Flakes, who runs an old-timey health spa for wealthy patients. Matthew Broderick and my fave Bridget Fonda play a sexually frustrated couple, while John Cusack is a ne'er-do-well hoping to make a quick buck in the cereal business. It's just so aggressively quirky, as we're meant to giggle over the outdated medical concepts and technology. But if you look beyond the many, many enema jokes, you'll see this a sad story about emotionally broken people. This is based on a novel that's written in a very specific observational tone, one that doesn't translate well to film, I'm afraid.

    Bonus Lloyd Kaufman-sploitation, day 5: WAITRESS (1982)
    Two women pursue their dreams in the big city while also waiting tables in an especially disgusting restaurant. Kaufman must have instructed his actors to yell every line as loud as they could, and they certainly did. Everyone's over-the-top energy gets tiresome after a while. It almost feels like this movie invented TikTok, because after one 10 to 15 second skit is done, another one comes along, and then another and another and so on. It's exhausting, and yet you can definitely see the Troma house style begin to form.

  8. Scissors (1991)

    For the first half hour I was starting to think this was a fairly aimless film, but the last hour or so really zeroes in on being a campy The Tenant meets that British TV show The Prisoner. I kind of adored this movie. It's overwrought and everything is in service of a ludicrously contrived murder mystery, but Sharon Stone is a fascinating presence on screen and the cinematography is fun and engaging. At its best, it feels like Argento's Deep Red or Suspiria. I'm definitely overselling this, but it's a very cool gem of the 90s, warts and all.

  9. Escape from New York (1981) on the big screen for the first time (Senator Theatre - Baltimore, MD)

    The first time I watched Escape from New York was during the pandemic, alone, in the middle of the day.

    That's not the way to see this movie. That's not the right flavor.

    Seeing it today for the second time really changed my feelings on it. It's a big screen movie - plain and simple. It's still not my favorite Carpenter (and never will be), but I appreciated so much more about it today.

  10. VIBRATIONS (1996)
    D/W: Michael Paseornek / P: John Dunning,
    Dan Lieberstein / M: Bob Christianson
    VIBRATIONS is a classic tale. Boy loves girl. Boy is in a band. Boy gets lost on the way to a music competition & brutally loses his hands. Boy discovers the rave scene in New York. James Marshall (“Twin Peaks”) is given a glimmer of hope & some needed help from good-vibe-riding Christina Applegate. Fortunately, the building she lives in is also home to a welding landlady (Faye Grant from ”V”, “The Greatest American Hero”), a computer geek & a techno musician with a recording set-up (that includes lighting programs). Never has the hero’s journey been so perfectly adapted for ‘90s gen-X rave culture. Steven Keats (SILENT RAGE, THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE) is Marshall’s supportive cop father & Paige Turco (who took over as April for TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 2 & 3) is the old flame. The relative absurdity of this adventure has nothing on how much of a feel-good flick it is. Curly-blonde Marshall looks like he’s trying out for the lead in ”Peter Greene: The Early Years”. His eventual stage persona, Cyberstorm, looks like a RoboCop for outer space. While Paseornek’s only time in the director’s chair is this meisterwerk, he was a writer with John Dunning on SNAKE EATER & SNAKE EATER II: THE DRUG BUSTER. Most of his work is in the producing department, with films ranging from AMERICAN PSYCHO, FRAILTY & BUFFALO ’66 to SHATTERED GLASS & MONSTER’S BALL. It would be tempting to double feature this with LONG JEANNE SILVER, but I think RYAN’S BABE might be a more appropriate choice. “Stumped? I know I am.”

  11. Vegas Vacation (1997) 90's Comedy!

    This is the movie where Clark Griswold goes from being a well-intentioned but unlucky oaf, to a completely unaware doofus. I'm not sure what anyone was really thinking here. Clark is somehow a man who will both cause traffic accidents because he's distracted by the plane tickets he just bought, and in capable of scaling a shear concrete cliff with no problems. It's somewhat saved but a few sequences I find inspired, the "cheap casino" probably being the best part of the whole movie, but my god.

  12. Dark Glasses (2022) (aka Occhiali Neri)

    Argento's latest hasn't hit the US yet, but it's already on blu-ray in Italy so I went ahead and imported it for some Junesploitation viewing. While it doesn't feel particularly ambitious, it's also better than his last few movies, so it's certainly worth a watch.

  13. Tremors (1990) dir. Ron Underwood

    Been an exhausting weekend and woke up to a sick pup, so I needed something familiar. Platonic ideal of a monster movie, and such a good example of how to make an old school genre feel contemporary without resorting to pastiche. It works so well, and they make it look so easy and fun that when your watching it it’s hard not to wonder why they don’t just always make stuff like this- which is basically the equivalent of asking bowlers why they don’t just always throw strikes.

    See y’all tomorrow, just past that gas station with the guy giving vague ominous warnings!

    1. R.I.P. Fred Ward. :'( May you enjoy eternity sipping cold beer from that big toilet full of iced bottles up in the sky. :-D

  14. The Clonus Horror (1979)
    This might be my discovery of the month, and definitely one of my discoveries of the year, which is not what I expected from The Clonus Horror. I’d always heard how much Michael Bay ripped it off for The Island but I’d also heard that it was a pretty dull movie. Dull my ass. This is one of the finest sci-fi films I’ve ever seen. Ok ok, there are technical and philosophical masterpieces like 2001 and Blade Runner… But on the corny cheesy side that includes A Boy and His Dog or Planet of the Apes, this movie is a damn contender. It’s a movie full of interesting political ideas about immigration and health care. It’s a movie filled with genuinely terrifying imagery. It’s a movie filled with ideas that never forgets to be entertaining. Look, it’s no Soylent Green… but then, what is? That The Clonus Horror is so underseen, thought of only as a prelude to a Michael fucking Bay movie, has no decent release and is basically forgotten – that’s a tragedy.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I had never heard of this, but it sounds like something I would love. It's on Tubi too.

    2. "Clonus Horror" is also a classic "MST3K" episode, one of their funniest ones from around the end of its Comedy Central run. 🤟😅

  15. JOE KIDD (1972)
    D: John Sturges / W: Elmore Leonard
    P: Sidney Beckerman / M: Lalo Schifrin
    Another first-time-in-20-years rewatch, yielding the same positive opinion. I was struck again that seeing Leonard's name on the script from a post-'90s place in time tends to give one an incorrect sense of how the story might flow. The players & the music are all solid. This was the only film Clint made in 1972 & the first western post-DIRTY HARRY. It's rather tame, taking that into account & how gritty westerns were getting in the wake of THE WILD BUNCH.

    1. Overflow from an ambitious "Westerns!" stack...

  16. SIGNS (2002):

    My favorite Shyamalan film by a country mile. Gets better every time I watch it.

  17. THE CAMERAMAN (1928, dir. Edward Sedgwick)

    Got to see a Buster Keaton movie I've never seen on 35mm with live organ accompaniment. Not exactly Junesploitation fare, but hard to pass up.

  18. Sisters with Transistors (2020)

    A documentary about the female pioneers of electronic music. Excellent watch. Not very Junsploitation for subject matter. But the music they created really seems to fit.

    (Side note, I interviewed Laurie Spiegel, one of the interviewees, last year and she was super cool)

  19. Halloween Resurrection (2002)

    Just the absolute worst. Watched it for a column that runs this week.

    Mad Max (1979)

    First time watch. #SaveItForThePodcast

  20. Eraser (1996) 90's Action!

    The first Schwarzenegger movie I got to see in a theater and the official end of his Golden period. Dare I say, it's gotten worse with time. The editing of the action is really bad and distracting. The characters are paper thin, even for am Arnold flick. Worst of all, the action is really uninspired. Perhaps I expect more because it's Arnold and Chuck Russell, but this movie always just let's me down.

    Btw, the "known for" section on IMDb lists Arnold's top movie as the 6th Day. Who puts these things together?

  21. The Devil is a Woman (1974)

    This one was picked entirely for the Morricone soundtrack, although you can't go wrong with Nuns during Junesploitation. There aren't a lot of "songs" to the score but what's there is good.

    The story is that a journalist is invited to stay at a convent to help write a biography of one of its residents. Turns out the people staying there all have dark pasts (incest in one case, another person there was a Nazi collaborator, that sort of thing), and the journalist finds himself at odds with the Sister that is running things as he disagrees with her methods for helping the residents.

    Doesn't get anywhere near as crazy as the title and some of the summaries of the movie might suggest, but it's an interesting kind of philosophical study, with at least a few Junesploitation moments in it.

    D: Renny Harlin / W: Shane Black
    “Easy sport. I got myself out of Beirut once. I THINK I can get us out of New Jersey.”
    “Yeah? Well don’t be so sure. Others have tried & FAILED. The entire population, in fact.”
    Rewatched after a healthy period.

    1. And carryover from an ambitious "'90s Action!" pile.

  23. Spider-Man 3 (2007, dir. Sam Raimi)

    Still like it better than a lot of modern superhero movies.

  24. The Wizard of Oz (1939, dir. Victor Fleming)

    Movies can be magic.

  25. I wasn't sure what to watch on Prison! day, but this will fit the bill. I've owned for a couple years but never got around to watching it. It's had very glowing reviews from people during previous Junesploitations.

  26. I went with a 1960's sexploitation double feature today. They are two of the highest quality films in that genre.

    MOONLIGHTING WIVES (1964, dir. Joe Sarno) – Joan Rand is an enterprising woman trying to build a stenographic business. Quickly realizing that more money can be made providing sexual services, she recruits “stenographers” among the financially struggling and bored housewives of her suburban community. An engaging drama with decent acting, Moonlighting Wives delves into the sexual underbelly of American suburbia, which was a favorite theme of the director. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the film is that there is no nudity or sex scenes.

    PAMELA, PAMELA, YOU ARE… (1968, dir. William Rose) – After starting an affair with a kinky young man she meets at a wild party, a rich housewife has to deal with the consequences. That woman is, of course, Pamela. Things get more complicated when her step-daughter is wooed by the same man. What sets PAMELA, PAMELA apart from other sexploitation films is the avant-garde editing and filmmaking techniques utilized. The weirdness really ramps up for the acid trip sequence, which combines B&W and color scenes, strange sounds, and sophisticated optical effects. The version on the Something Weird DVD-R looks terrific. Hopefully AGFA puts this out on blu-ray someday.

  27. Top Gun (1986 – Tony Scott)
    I never had as much fun with Top Gun than this viewing in preparation for Top Gun: Maverick. With the room full of female friends, all prepared for the 80s bromance in the hot Californian sun, the sound system blasting on the edge of being painfully loud during the flight sequences and surrounding us with maybe the best synthesizer-heavy soundtrack of that time, it just played. The dialogues are not great, but I do like the character dynamics overall. Nobody in the force is openly mean, probably thanks to the involvement of the military that wanted to have a good showing, so the drama on that level is mellow. And it looks so awesome.


  28. Silent Target (1996, dir. Russell Mulcahy)

    After M. Killerby mentioned the director yesterday, I decided to watch this movie with Dolph Lundgren. It was slow in parts, but still pretty good, and then got really wild at the end. I stayed up way too late.

  29. The Quick & The Dead (Sam Raimi)

    Finished what I started on Western day. Wow! I don't think a second watch 30ish years (?!?!) later has ever improved a movie this much for me. What was once too goofy now strikes me as the perfect blend of Raimi humor and a straight story. Stone is unbelievable in a way that makes me want to rewatch her films from this period to see if her expressions and reactions are as flawless as they are here. Dicaprio is heartbreaking. Hackman is perfect. Crowe is fine. The rest of the supporting cast is stacked beyond reason. WOW. It's so damn good.

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  31. "Man From Hong Kong" (1975)

    First Time Watch

    I enjoy many Flicks from Director Brian Trenchard-Smith, and this movie is no exception. I bought it a few years ago but had not watched it yet. I made a move in the last year and most of my discs, including this one, and my All-Region Blu-ray player are tucked away in storage. Found it on Prime Video to rent for only $1.99! A Fuckin' Bargain, if you ask me...

    This Classic Aussie Ozploitation Flick is Brian's First Feature Film and It's a hoot! Drugs, Dames, One-Time James Bond Actor George Lazenby as the Main Baddie, Guns, Sharp Objects, Kung-Fu, Car Chases, Car Crashes, Fake-Lookin' Blood, and Hang Gliding. A Fun Time For All, So Says Dick Hollywood ; )