Sunday, July 11, 2010

Grade A Cheese and Total Sleazy: A great night at the movies

Wow, the theater was empty last night as Seth's Birthday Double Feature opened at the Clinton Street Theater. Maybe it was the weather, maybe other events happening around town. But all you horror and exploitation fans still have 5 days to take in a great double feature and I strongly suggest you don't miss it.

Maximum Overdrive
Only a few movies make me smile like a little kid when the main title music starts playing. One is The Creature from the Black Lagoon, which has thrilled me since I was a young boy. Another is Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive, which I caught on VHS back in the 80's. I wore out my personal VHS copy, thanks to continuous viewings, though I have yet to replace it with a DVD version. After viewing the film for the first time on the big screen, I'm intensifying my search.

The plot is simple. Earth is passing through the tail of a rouge comet and all mechanical devices are suddenly brought to life with a taste for mayhem. This is illustrated in the opening scene, as a drawbridge decides to open on it's own. Cars slide into each other to the sounds of AC/DC's "Who Made Who?" (oh, I'm grinning again) in a grand, destructive hint of things to come.

The action then moves to the Dixie Boy Diner in North Carolina, where Emilio Estevez and a group of overblown Southern stereotypes hunker down as animated big rigs circle them like a school of sharks. Good thing the diner's sleazy owner (Pat Hingle) has a surplus of munitions in his basement that would make the NRA swoon.

Okay. let's face it. This movie should be awful. The direction is pretty pedestrian (King admits to being "coked up" during the shoot and having potential errors corrected by the crew), the acting is pretty bad at times, most of the characters are little more than stereotypes and the plot makes no sense. The film doesn't bother to explain how the machines can see and target their prey, how they can move non-motorized parts and why some vehicles retain human control longer than others.

But, whether intentional or not, this movie just seems to come to campy life. The stereotypical performances demanded by the script are hysterically broad and WAY over the tip at times ("You can't do that. WE MADE YOU!"), adding to the films charm. Yet, the dialog veers into vintage King at times. One example is the banter between Estevez and John Short as they crawl through a sewer pipe, which sounds and feels surprisingly realistic.

And the carnage is just stunning. Vehicles crash and explode with such energy and beauty, you almost feel you're watching clips from The Road Warrior. And King doesn't skimp on the gore, which forced several scenes to be trimmed to appease the MPAA (including one shot that King said made George Romero cringe!).

And the print is amazing. When I talked to Seth before the film, he claimed it was possibly the best 35mm print out there, and I'm inclined to agree. The picture is amazingly clear, with few skips and scratches, and the soundtrack is crisp and clean.

If you like this movie, or are just a fan of classic cheesy films, don't miss this screening! If you do, you'll be sorry.

Chained Heat
I'm not fan of the women in prison genre, but as I paid for a double feature, I decided to stick around for the sleaze classic Chained Heat. And boy, did I need a shower later.

Linda Blair stars as a young woman sentenced to 18 months in prison for vehicular homicide. Unfortunately, the big house she's headed for is more interested in exploitation than rehabilitation.

For starts, the warden (John Vernon) is making pornos with several of the female inmates, as well as selling heroin to the rest of the population. He's a bit worried that someone on his staff is cornering the market with their own supply. That would be the assistant warden (Stella Stevens), who is not only selling drugs for her partner (Henry Silva), but also supplying him with sexy young inmates to act as whores for his extravagant parties. Stevens is also playing the white gang (lead by Sybil Danning) against the black gang (lead by Tamara Dobson of Cleopatra Jones fame). Add in sadistic guards, murder and double crosses, and you know a riot is inevitable.

As mentioned, I'm not much of a fan of the genre, but this is a well made exploitation film. Though nowhere near as sleazy as some foreign entries, it still hits all the notes. Gratuitous nudity a prolonged shower scenes, lesbianism, sadistic rape and violence, it's all there. And, as you might expect from the cast, the acting is pretty good for a picture of this type. Vernon really hams things up, Stevens comes off tough as nails, Danning and Dobson are pitch perfect and Silva is charmingly sleazy. All while Blair walks about with her big, innocent doe eyes, getting slapped around and abused until she reaches her breaking point.

For fans of the genre, this print is well preserved and a treat. For others, it's worth watching, as an example of a type of movie that will never be made again (as it's sequel, Chained Heat 2, demonstrates). Be forewarned, it is offensive and VERY un-PC. But you don't get a chance to wallow in such sleazy very often, so indulge your wild cinematic side and stay for the second feature.