GETTING TRASHED AT THE MOVIES!Bad movies, good times.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of movies.
If you're a movie fan, you no doubt have tons of memories stored in your brain of movies and scenes that affected you in some way. I will always be fond of The Wizard of Oz and March of the Wooden Soldiers, the first movies I can remember seeing on a regular basis as a kid. Other great movie moments include coming home from a family trip one Saturday afternoon just in time for The Marx Brothers in The Cocoanuts on Channel Five. A special two-night television showing of West Side Story, which was all my friends and I talked about in the schoolyard the next day. Later movie memories have to include the cold chill I got seeing the little red jacket in Spielberg's Schindler's List, walking home from The Passion of the Christ feeling completely numb and humbled, and, of course, seeing actor Burr DeBenning yelling "It's me! Doctor Ted Nelson!!" to a man whose face is falling off.
What???? Burr De Who Yelling What to Whom?
Let me explain.
For what feels like forever but was actually a period of about ten years, my best friend Bob and I used to head to our local cheapie movie theater in Queens without caring what was playing. This movie house had a ticket price of about two dollars and specialized in films nobody would care about, which was fine with us. Yet the theater had a hardcore and faithful clientele, people who were happy to pay the two bucks, get out of the rain (or sun) for two hours and have a grand time watching some of the godawfulest pieces of cinematic nonsense ever made. It was a way to spend an afternoon and have a few hours more fun later remembering the movie, joking about it, recalling our favorite stupid moments, reciting the best (worst) bits of dialogue.
When we weren't sitting in a dark theater watching crap like Orca: Killer Whale (is that colon really necessary?) we were at the local video store looking for crap like The 4D Man ("He goes that one 'D' extra", the video store clerk helpfully explained.)
We didn't devote our lives to bad movies. We would watch classics on TV like old Warner Brothers Cagney and Bogey flicks, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers... anything black and white. Once in a while, we would take a trip into the city to check out movies at one of the revival houses. And we rented or went to see newer movies too. It's just that we didn't ignore bad movies. They were movies too, and we loved movies. Citizen Kane or Children Should Play with Dead Things, it was all good to us. Naturally we wisecracked our way through Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things. Then again, we would do the same with Citizen Kane.
I can't recall much about a lot of the films I saw back then, but I remember a thing or two about a thing or two.
Chosen Survivors. It was a horror flick starring that Master of Horror, Jackie Cooper. Well, not so much Master of Horror as Aging Little Rascal in need of a quick paycheck. The movie was about a group of people transported to a large underground facility designed to withstand a nuclear attack. What they didn't plan on was the facility being inhabited by killer vampire bats. The best laid plans of mice and rascals...
It's Alive. Woman gives birth to killer baby. The birth scene was worth the price of admission. I don't remember the exact dialogue, but it was along the lines of "Here it comes... here it comes... I see the head... here it... AUUUUUUGHHHHHHH!!!!! My face!!! (blood spraying everywhere)". Followed by It Lives Again and Island of the Alive, both of which we dutifully saw. Killer babies. What's not to love?
Orca: Killer Whale. Interesting cast headed by Richard "Not Dumbledore Yet" Harris and Charlotte Rampling. In support, there was Keenan Wynn, Bo Derek and Robert Carradine. It's like Jaws, except that you root for the killer fish instead of the humans. I remember that the people around us in the theater were greatly amused by our running commentary. We were MST3K before there was an MST3K.
The Incredible Melting Man. Astronaut returns from a mission to Saturn as a gelatinous cannibal. This was the single greatest bad movie we ever went to see. Read that plot summary again and then try and come up with a better premise for a bad movie. Great special effects by Rick Baker, who created the gross "melting man" makeup. I still have visions of the melting guy's eye falling out of his head. Unfortunately, Baker's work was not backed up by anything resembling competent scriptwriting or talented acting. Yes, this is the film referenced above with the actor playing hero Doctor Ted Nelson getting much mileage out of shouting lines like "It's me! Doctor Ted Nelson!". For years after seeing this, my friend and I could not resist yelling "Doctor Ted Nelson!" anytime a character on television said "It's me!". A typical example from when we might have been watching, say, the sitcom Three's Company:
JACK: "Janet, open the door! It's me!"
US: "Doctor Ted Nelson!"
Anyway, back to the bad movies.
The Manitou starred Tony Curtis and Michael Ansara (you need more?), and was about an evil ancient Native American spirit who bursts forth from the neck of Tony Curtis's wife. Yep. We've just come up with a better premise than The Incredible Melting Man, haven't we? Want to know how badly this movie got burned into my brain? I think I've seen it twice, once in the movies, once on VHS, and I can still remember the mystical words "Pana Wichee Salatu". I don't have a clue what they mean, but I remember them. Oh, and Burgess Meredith and Stella Stevens were also in The Manitou. Of course they were.
We never found another movie that could live up to Melting Man and Manitou. Still, Chained Heat with Linda Blair and Stella Stevens, was our first taste of sexploitation and we loved it. Back then, anything with Linda Blair was okay by us. She was great as the kid in The Exorcist, but as she grew up, she got prettier and her movies got cheesier. It started with The Exorcist II: The Heretic, in which Linda uttered the deathless line "Call me by my dream name - Pazuzu." which became another running gag between us for years. Linda Blair grew up to be a pretty gal who had chipmunk cheeks, big breasts and made bad movies. In short, she was a Goddess to us. We rarely made fun of Linda Blair. Her movies, yes, but Linda was Linda. Bad movies is what she did for a living, and we were grateful fans.
Wracking the recesses of my brain, more and more movies come flooding back. Mind you, not all of these are bad films, some just weird. They are all sci-fi or horror, the kind of bad movies we loved. Like Prophecy, with Talia Shire and a pollution-created bear monster. Infra-man. Laserblast. The Brood, directed by David Cronenberg, which meant nothing to us at the time. Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, which we saw because of a young Molly Ringwald (another Goddess - we had lots of them). Return of the Living Dead, which was actually a nifty takeoff of Night of the Living Dead. Q: Winged Serpent. That had Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, Richard Roundtree and David Carradine. Wow! A nutjob, a cutie, an action star and a Carradine. You would think with that cast, they wouldn't need a winged serpent to spice things up.
Sadly, sometime after Q: Winged Serpent, the cheapie movie house closed down, and a few months later a sweatshop turned up in its place. The era of bad movies was over.
I've rented plenty of bad movies since, but the newer ones aren't the same. You can hire Samuel L. Jackson, whip up the CGI machines and pour millions and millions of dollars into something like Snakes on a Plane, but what have you really done? The bad movie makers of the 70s and 80s (not to mention the '40s and '50s) had to make due with Michael Ansara, some piss-poor effects and budgets that couldn't even pay for one gecko on a bus, let alone an entire plane full of snakes. And that made them more admirable, more in the spirit of our great cinema pioneers of old, who would set up a camera in a park, hire two guys and a gal, and make up a movie on the spot. I believe if Mack Sennett had ever thought of having Mabel Normand give birth to a wild medicine man from her neck, he would have done it in a heartbeat.
Or maybe that's just me... Doctor Ted Nelson!! But you can call me by my dream name - Pazuzu. Pana Wichee Salatu!