Monday, January 27, 2014

Television Review: BODY BAGS (1993, John Carpenter & Tobe Hooper)

Stars: 4.2 of 5.
Running Time: 95 minutes.
Tag-line: "Zip yourself in tight!"
Notable Cast or Crew:  Stacy Keach (FAT CITY, NEBRASKA), Robert Carradine (REVENGE OF THE NERDS, THE LONG RIDERS), Mark Hamill (STAR WARS, CORVETTE SUMMER), David Warner (WAXWORK, TRON), Alex Datcher (PASSENGER 57, NETHERWORLD), Twiggy (THE BOYFRIEND),  Deborah Harry (of Blondie and TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE), Tom Arnold (TRUE LIES, SONS OF ANARCHY), Peter Jason (DEADWOOD, PRINCE OF DARKNESS), David Naughton (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, MIDNIGHT MADNESS), George "Buck" Flower (THEY LIVE, THE FOG, BACK TO THE FUTURE), John Agar (TARANTULA, MIRACLE MILE), Charles Napier (THE BLUES BROTHERS, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS).  With cameos by Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, Greg Nicotero, Roger Corman.  Written by Billy Brown and Dan Angel (GOOSEBUMPS the TV series).  Special effects by Rick Baker, Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger  Produced by Carpy, his missus Sandy King, and Dan Angel.  Music by Carpy and Jim Lang (IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, RANSOM).  Cinematography by Gary Kibbe (A FEW GOOD MEN, THEY LIVE).
Best One-liner:  "Natural causes, natural causes, natural causes...  I hate natural causes!  Give me a big stab wound to poke at and then I'm happy."  –John Carpenter as "The Coroner"

[Note that this is not intended as a continuation of "Poor Man's Carpy," as though that series will live to see the light of day again, BODY BAGS is in no way indicative of a poor man's anything– this is vintage "Forgotten Carpy."]

In a familiar, darkened alley, two Thunderbird-swilling cineastes make small-talk:

"Watcha got there?"
"What's that?"
–"Only the best omnibus horror movie you've never seen."
"That's a bold claim.  Put it in terms I can understand."
–"Not as good as CREEPSHOW.  Better than CREEPSHOW 2.  Slightly better than TRILOGY OF TERROR.  About on par with TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE."
"Why have I never heard of this?"
–"Well, back when HBO was on the rise and TALES FROM THE CRYPT was enjoying widespread popularity, Showtime decided it was time to get into the horror anthology game and enlisted the likes of John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper.  Carpenter ultimately decided that he couldn't make the work he wanted to for the budget they were offering, so Showtime called it even and made a three-part anthology TV movie."
"Who hosts it?  A rip-off Cryptkeeper?"
–"Funny you should ask.  Why don't you sit down for a spell?"
–"Trust me, you're gonna want to be sitting down for this."
"Okay, so who's their Cryptkeeper?"
–"He's called 'The Coroner,' and it's none other than.... John Carpenter himself! 

Wearing scrubs, ghoulish makeup, and a sort of Beetlejuice-ish demeanor, Carpy does not disappoint as he mugs about, dropping one-liners, handling disembodied heads, and the like.  He's no actor, but it doesn't matter, because he's having fun."

He's also their MGM lion!

–"Yeah, right?  Check it out– here he's making himself a martini out of formaldehyde."

"You said there's ghoul makeup on him?"
"Isn't that what Carpy looks like all the time?"
–"Why don't you just shut it."
"Hey, I'm just telling it like it is."
–"Drop it."
 –"Annnyway, there are three segments and a frame story.  'The Gas Station,'  'Hair,' and the morgue frame are all directed by Carpenter.  The third segment, 'Eye,' is directed by Tobe Hooper.  All the segments are written by Dan Angel and Billy Brown, whose careers as R.L. Stine TV-adapters should give you a pretty good idea of their strengths and their weaknesses.  Angel, Carpy, and Sandy King (Carpy's missus) produced everything, though, so it has a very uniform feel."
"What about the music?  Those TV people didn't clip Carpy's wings, did they?"
–"It's Carpenter and Jim Lang (his collaborator on IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS), so it's definitely a more rockin' soundtrack, as opposed to one of pulsing dread like PRINCE OF DARKNESS.  They keep it light for the most part (I'd compare it to the high-reverb drums and roaming bass of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA), dipping into TWIN PEAKS-ish jazz for the comedic moments.  But it's certainly capable of conveying a darker atmosphere when necessary, sometimes veering into CHRISTINE-ish territory or something similar to Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells' from THE EXORCIST."
"So it feels cinematic?"
–"Oh yes.  And Gary Kibbe (Carpenter's cinematographer in his post-Dean Cundey era, from 1987-2001) provides very workmanlike, evocative visuals, using wide-angle lenses and dolly set-ups to great effect.  It doesn't feel like something intended for the small screen, not by a long shot."
"Sounds pretty good.  Why don't ya tell me about the segments?"
–"Alrighty.  So the first one is called 'The Gas Station,' and yep, it takes place entirely at a gas station.  In tone, it feels a lot like a condensed version of HALLOWEEN (Haddonfield, Illinois even gets a mention!), but it's not too shocking, just a straightforward, well-made suspense piece with those two key elements: a slasher and an unsuspecting lassie.  Alex Datcher is our likable heroine, a college gal who's first time pulling the night-shift solo proves to be a memorable one.
The Carradine named Robert shows her the ropes (it's got that nice blue-collar cred that you see in everything from THE THING to VAMPIRES), and Carpenter uses a great economy of storytelling to
introduce the characters, the rules, and the spatial relationships. 
As her shift begins, we're treated to a rogue's gallery of horror cameos and familiar faces, and it almost begins to develop a quirky, Jim Jarmusch-style flavor of 'late nite slice-of-life,' like NIGHT ON EARTH or MYSTERY TRAIN.  There's 'Buck' Flower, playing (predictably) a scary hobo:
a sleazy Peter Jason wearing a brilliantly awful tie (just as bad as Chris Sarandon's in BORDELLO OF BLOOD, for sure) and urging our heroine to party:
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON's David Naughton as what seems to be an unassuming, decent guy:
and Wes Craven
as a creepy fellow buying himself some cigarettes."
"Oooh, Wes Craven is sooo scary.  I'm afraid he's gonna teach me some liberal arts or something."
–"Oh, hush.  Then it kicks into high gear, and Sam Raimi gets a cameo as a corpse tumbling out of a locker:
–"I must make an aside to mention that in the special features, Carpenter speaks at length about the production, saying 'I thought Wes was especially smooth in his part,' for instance, and of course, he knows everyone's name– except Sam Raimi, whom he refers to as 'Uh...Spider-Man.'  I find this for some reason to be fantastic."
"Anywho, then the shit hits the fan and doesn't let up.  I won't spoil how it ends, but it has a nice visceral payoff while remaining entirely uncomplicated."
–"Sounds pretty good.  What's next?"
"Probably my favorite segment of the three:  'Hair.'  It's played more for laughs than the others, but it's got some freakier elements to it, too.  One of my favorite actors, Stacy Keach, plays a man undergoing a midlife crisis:  he's losing his hair and letting it ruin his life.
For what is ostensibly a 'comedy' segment, Keach infuses his role with an incredible pathos– his misplaced anger, helpless frustration, and existential sadness play effortlessly across his face.
(Keach and Carpenter got along quite well, with Keach comparing Carpenter in the special features to John Huston.  They'd work together again on ESCAPE FROM L.A., with Keach taking on the Lee Van Cleef role.)
Keach tries everything– hairpieces, posh stylists, painted on hair– until he sees genre legend David Warner in an infomercial, promising the results that Keach has found elusive:
He makes an appointment and meets with Dr. Warner and his lovely nurse, Debbie Harry (of Blondie!) who, in an apparent in-joke, does not have her trademark blonde locks.  Coupled with VIDEODROME and her TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE appearances, I think we have to refer to Debbie as a bona fide genre actress!

Warner's having a blast, too– you get the sense that they were on set for a day or so, and just went for it."

"I do loves me some David Warner."
–"Yeah.  I wish he'd get more high-profile work.  I thought for sure TITANIC would have opened some doors for him.  Eh.  Annnyway, Keach receives the hair transplant,

and his childlike glee could move mountains.  Keach is simply phenomenal.  I'd like to take a moment to plug FAT CITY, too, a Huston film that he's masterful in.
"Stay on topic!  So what happens?"
–"As if I'd tell ya.  Let's just say that the hair may have a mind of its own..."

"Well, now I'm intrigued."
–"Good.  So that brings us to our final segment, 'Eye,' the Tobe Hooper one.  It's by far the weakest, but I don't think that's entirely Hooper's fault.  Mark Hamill plays a baseball player with a mustache and a Southern accent who gets into a car wreck and loses his eye.

 Luckily, his doctors (including Roger Corman, pictured center)

have developed a technique for eye transplants, and they think he's a candidate for a new and exciting transplant surgery."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Mark Hamill plays a guy who gets in a car accident and needs reconstructive surgery to save his career?  Don't you think that hits a little close to home?"
–"Yeah, I suppose so.  But Hamill's a trouper.  He even shows his balls in this movie."
"WHAT?  Why are you telling me this?"
–"I don't know.  It seems like it'd be a trivia question.  'What movie does Luke Skywalker show his balls in?'"
"Correct me if I'm wrong, this segment is called 'Eye,' not 'Eyeballs.'  Right?"
–"Yep.  It's just that thing where if you see something traumatizing, you have to tell someone else to lessen your own trauma.  It's this damn HD era, really."
"Well, thanks a lot.  Moving on..."
–"Well, after the eye transplant, he starts wearing sweatpants and having eerie visions and mistreating his wife Twiggy."

"Twiggy?  There's some pretty weird casting in this movie."
–"Yeah, there really is.  In the special features, Sandy King says that some of the Carpenter stable came from her connection to Walter Hill's THE LONG RIDERS, where she was script supervisor.  This includes Stacy Keach, Peter Jason, and Robert Carradine.  As for the others, I have no idea."
"Wow, so Peter Jason is in six John Carpenter movies, just because of a random connection on THE LONG RIDERS.  Pretty cool."
 –"Yeah.  Anyway, Hamill tries to uncover where the unholy eye came from, and..."
"Well, where did it come from?  Lemme guess.  A convict that was executed?  Right?  Am I right?"
–"Oh, hush.  I'm not saying.  Also, his eye surgeon has the vanity plate, 'I BALL,' which I thought was worth mentioning."
–"Yeah.  Then we round things out with the frame story, which closes with morgue attendant cameos by Tom Arnold and Tobe Hooper and delivers one final twist."
"Nice.  This all sounds up my alley."
–"I highly recommend it.  It's out on a new(ish) DVD/Blu-ray release from Scream Factory, and I gotta say, it looks great.  So let me leave ya with one last sentiment, courtesy of The Coroner:

 -Sean Gill

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... THE MIRACLE WORKER

Only now does it occur to me...  that the nearly nine-minute knock-down drag-out brawl between Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller (as the former attempts to pierce the abyss and teach the latter table manners) is probably the most brutal, drawn-out skirmish between stubborn personalities... until the spectacular six-minute fistfight from THEY LIVE.

The scenes are both so brilliantly blocked, staged, and acted (in THE MIRACLE WORKER, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke directed by Arthur Penn; in THEY LIVE, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Keith David directed by John Carpenter) that they really stick out in one's mind as special, a beautiful fusion of stage and screen sensibilities.

The actors are permitted to reach into a deeply primal well as the scene is simplified and streamlined into two visceral, battling motivations:  "Eat with a utensil" & "I refuse!", and "Put on the glasses!" & "No!," respectively.

In each case, words take a back seat to action, and the result is raw, powerful, and riveting.  The scenes' length plays a role, too: as the characters clash beyond the point of reason and into pure obstinance/force of will, a dark humor emerges that somehow only intensifies the scene.  I think any director or actor should find a lot to learn here.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... WORLD WAR Z

Only now does it occur to me...  that if I wanted to watch awkward, unwashed human forms piling on top of each other for nearly two hours...

...I'd have gone to a contact improv class!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

10 Years of Junta Juleil!

 Photo by Ashley Kate Adams.

A big thank you to all who performed and for those who came out to celebrate ten years of Junta Juleil!
For those who couldn't– enjoy this montage, entitled simply "Take My Breath Away":

10 Years of Junta Juleil: "Take My Breath Away" from Sean Gill on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

10 Years of Junta Juleil– Tomorrow!

One last plug for an event ten years in the making: hosted by myself and co-founder Jillaine Gill, the night will pay tribute to ten years of Junta Juleil Productions and feature the RKP ensemble's dancers (Elizabeth Stewart, Michael Porsche, Danielle Marie Fusco, Robyn Nielsen, Brian Rubiano, & Eric Schmalenberger), a short play with Jillaine Gill and Amanda Peck, a celebrity roast of Junta Juleil with Kerryn Feehan, a prose reading by Joe Stipek, a poetry reading by yours truly, and a series of short and feature-film excerpts (dating back to the very beginning, with clips from never-screened fare like Mather Point, In Search of Wenders, and Schizophrenic Love Cinema).
This only happens once every ten years, so don't miss it!

Junta Juleil's 10 Year Anniversary from Sean Gill on Vimeo.

The details:
When: 8:00 p.m., Friday, January 17th, 2014
Where: The Wild Project in Manhattan (195 E. 3rd Street between Avenues A&B)
Run-Time: Approximately 90 minutes
How much: $15, and available

Monday, January 13, 2014


Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 87 minutes.
Tag-line: I couldn't find one, but I believe the poster image of a martini-quaffing Cryptkeeper staring at a pair of partially-clad female legs is probably tag-line enough.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Starring John Kassir (The Cryptkeeper), William Sadler (DIE HARD 2, MACHETE KILLS), Dennis Miller (comedian, THE NET, DISCLOSURE), Erika Eleniak (E.T., UNDER SIEGE, BAYWATCH), Angie Everhart (model, ex-wife of Joe Pesci, LAST ACTION HERO), Chris Sarandon (FRIGHT NIGHT, THE PRINCESS BRIDE), Corey Feldman (STAND BY ME, THE LOST BOYS), Aubrey Morris (LIFEFORCE, "Deltoid" in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE), Phil Fondacaro (TROLL, WILLOW, GHOULIES II, "Greaser Greg" in THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS THE MOVIE).  Story by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis (BACK TO THE FUTURE Trilogy, USED CARS), and a special appearance by Whoopi Goldberg.  Screenplay by AL Katz (FREDDY'S NIGHTMARES, TALES FROM THE CRYPT) and Gilbert Adler (producer on TALES FROM THE CRYPT and SUPERMAN RETURNS) and directed by Adler.  Produced by Adler, Katz, Zemeckis, Richard Donner, Joel Silver, Walter Hill, and the rest of the TV Crypt gang.
Best One-liner:  "Trust me, quit while you're a 'head.'"  –The Cryptkeeper

The second film of its kind, TALES FROM THE CRYPT PRESENTS: BORDELLO OF BLOOD mostly serves as a feature-length reminder why TALES FROM THE CRYPT episodes should not be feature length– but along the way there is ample guilty pleasure to be enjoyed.  In fact, I think I can identify at least seven things in BORDELLO OF BLOOD that, while perhaps not approaching the mantle of "greatness," approach some effortless mantle of "sublime stupidity."  Oh yeah.  BORDELLO OF BLOOD ain't afraid to get stupid.  Real stupid.

Welcome to Angie Everhart's acting school.  I hope you're taking notes!

Produced, written, and directed by a lot of the usual suspects from the TALES FROM THE CRYPT family, BORDELLO OF BLOOD is especially notable for having an original story by Robert Zemeckis and his longtime writing partner Bob Gale.  While Zemeckis has been a CRYPT producer and director from the very beginning of the series, this marks the first time he officially made a writing contribution of any kind.  A word of advice?  Don't expect BACK TO THE FUTURE!  Instead, expect a dim retread of the previous Gale-scripted and directed episode from 1993 called "House of Horror," whereupon fraternity pledges meet their doom in a haunted house-initiation gone wrong.  In BORDELLO OF BLOOD, however, it's dumb teens who visit a vampiric brothel on the outskirts of town.  After they're reported missing, private eye Dennis Miller (?!) is on the case, which ends up involving archeology and intrigue at a local megachurch.  It's corny, slight, and predictable, but here are those seven bits of sublime stupidity that keep TALES FROM THE CRYPT fans comin' back for more:

#1.  William Sadler as the Cryptkeeper's drinkin' buddy.  Also– he's a mummy.

You get the sense that William Sadler is always having a lot of fun, whether he's doing naked kung fu in DIE HARD 2 or playing Twister against Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter in BILL AND TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY.  Technically the story kicks off as a wager between Sadler's mummy and ole' Crypty– apparently based on the quality of their stories, they sometimes cut each other to pieces for laughs or something?  (I think there's a "Cutting Cards" reference in there, too.)  This seems to exist solely for the payoff which I have catalogued under "Best One-Liner."

#2.  Bad boy Corey Feldman.  Look at him– so badass and ambiguously "90s subculture"

with his turquoise-eyeballed skull stud, his grunge jeans, leather jacket, and Bobby Briggs flannel.  He's got a TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT poster in his bedroom, too!  Regardless, this young ruffian's visit to the eponymous bordello is what kicks the plot into high gear.  Also, his (brief) presence here sorta feels like a nod to THE LOST BOYS.

Furthermore, his DEATH BECOMES HER-style demise and famous last words are poetry worthy of Lord Byron, or at least Beavis and Butthead:

"Oh shit!  This sucks! Uhhh..."

#3.  Crooked mega-pastor Chris Sarandon, wearing the worst tie of the 1990s and rocking out with his guitar like he's Chuck Berry.

This is actually what "makes" the movie, to whatever extent BORDELLO OF BLOOD can be "made."  He at first in league with the vampires (and not an actual vampire, like in the glorious FRIGHT NIGHT), helping lure young sinners to the Bordello of Blood.

Note the portrait of Sarandon on the wall behind Sarandon.

He also runs "The Lord's Shoppin' Network," wields a cross-shaped Jesus laser (which adheres to Chekhov's rule of Jesus lasers!), and pronounces laser like "lazzer."  All of this is pretty stupid, but all of this is also really good.

#4.  A rabid, demented supporting role from British character actor Aubrey Morris as an undertaker/pimp.

He knows exactly what movie he's in, and uses that as license to blaze bold and wondrous new trails in the annals of undertaker/pimpery.

#5.  Whoopi Goldberg?!

What's going on here?  She's around for about six seconds– long enough to pop up out of a hospital bed after a vampire battle and deliver the above rib-tickler.  Interestingly enough, this is not Whoopi's first TALES FROM THE CRYPT association– she also co-starred with James Remar and Vanity in the Tobe Hooper episode "Dead Wait" and even appeared as herself in the wraparound segment:

If I wrote the questions for JEOPARDY, you could bet that this would show up eventually.


He plays a vampire archeologist (I can't believe I just typed that) who becomes mixed up in a lot of Angie Everhart/Chris Sarandon intrigue.  This doesn't quite fit as sublime stupidity, as I must really tip my hat to their casting a little person in a role that doesn't necessarily call for one- how often does a guy like Phil Fondacaro get to play a straightforward "role," with no (troll/elf/alien/Ewok) qualification?

#7.  Dennis Miller and Chris Sarandon blast legions of vampire hookers into bloody goo-splosions with holy-water-filled Super Soakers to the resounding rock n' roll glory of The Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz."


In the end, I'll give this two and a half stars.  I think I'm too close to it and I can't tell if I've inflated the rating or lowballed it.  Perhaps I'll let history be the judge.

–Sean Gill