Category Archives: Cult Classics

Problem Girls (1953)

“One step before the state asylum.”

Problem Girls (1953) from director Ewald Andre Dupont is a B film. Make no mistake about that. Why bother watching it you ask? Easy: its HCF (High Camp Factor) joined with its theme of Delinquent Dames. How could I resist?

Problem Girls begins with a voiceover narration from John Page (Ross Elliot), and in this sequence, he explains that the jungles of Burma and a Japanese concentration camp are NOTHING compared to the dangers he faced at The Manning School for Girls.

Yes, it’s post WWII and Page is all set to be a certified psychiatrist. All he has to do is sit for the board exams, but in the meantime, he needs a job and so he takes a place at the exclusive Manning School for Girls. Here he can’t practice medicine, but he’s supposed to act as a therapist. Well he’s landed at the right spot because everyone at the school is either DERANGED, DISTURBED or DELINQUENT.

Although Dr. Manning (Roy Reigner) is the nominal head of the school, he’s too drunk to function. Page is employed by the shapely closet dominatrix-type Miss Dixon (Helen Walker), a woman who has the hots for the biceps belonging to instructor Max Thorpe (James Seay). Thorpe is married to a young girl who’s kept drugged and locked up in a room upstairs. What the hell is going on?

What I enjoyed so much about the film (and this added substantially to its camp factor), is that all these crazy things are going on and everyone acts as though it’s normal. The faculty is laced with psychos, murderers, and various antisocial types, but Page (who never cracks a smile or looks in the least uncomfortable ) sits through dinner as though everything is perfectly normal. He doesn’t question why these people are employed to collectively teach the delinquent debutante pupils, and neither does he stop to speculate where he fits into Dixon’s little schemes. Soon Page is up to his neck in intrigue and in cahoots with murderous professor Richards (Anthony Joachim), Page is sneaking around the school shooting up students with sodium pentothal.

As for the pupils, well they consist of spoiled rich girls who’ve “embarrassed” their families in one way or another. The girls are a motley assortment of psychos, nymphos, pyromaniacs You get the picture.

The film’s plot is fairly sedate given the raw material, and the girls are never fully unleashed. Put this film in the hands of John Waters and no doubt we’d see some results. As it is, Problem Girls could have been a lot more interesting, wilder film. There’s a couple of girl fights, a tepid riot but the best scene occurs when the girls are forced to listen to a piano concert. The film more or less plays it straight and ends very abruptly. I suspect that the film isn’t wild enough to be picked up by Something Weird video, but Problem Girls was good for a few cheap laughs and in spite of its many flaws, nonetheless I enjoyed it for its campiness.

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Poor White Trash (2000)

 “You’re hotter than doughnut grease.”

The premise of the very funny comedy film Poor White Trash is that poor people have to resort to crime in order to maintain that American dream of sending their children to college. It’s a “Robin Hood kind of thing” with the have-nots taking from a corrupt society that includes the embezzling manager of a retirement home and a nasty fast food restaurant.

poor-white-trashCollege bound Michael Bronco (Tony Denman) and his nefarious chum Lenny Lake (Jacob Tierney) are caught stealing a six-pack of Near Beer from the local mini-mart, and as a result, Michael’s college plans seem destined for the toilet. An inept Public Defender bungles the case, and the lads realize they need a lawyer to get them out of the mess they’ve created. Lenny’s brilliant plan is to get his Uncle Ron (William Devane)–who owns the Land O’Law to represent them ‘pro-bono’ (Lenny says this is Spanish for ‘half-price’). Uncle Ron, “the best lawyer in town since he got out of jail” isn’t cheap, and so Michael and Lenny burglarize a neighbour’s trailer as a quick way to get cash. Soon the lads embark on a crime spree, and Michael’s mum, Linda (a deliciously cast Sean Young) forms an inept gang with Michael, Lenny, and Brian Ross (Jason London)–the son of the local sheriff (and Linda’s one-night stand).

Linda Bronco just wants to be a “normal mother,” but that’s not in the cards for this latter-day Ma Barker. In fact, there’s nothing normal in the entire film. Everyone lives in a trailer–even Uncle Ron–the legal eagle–who has made a formidable beer can sculpture garden to enhance his trailer’s attractiveness. And Uncle Ron has a pool–not quite the traditional idea of a pool–but a pool, nonetheless.

It’s the perfectly drawn characters in this film that make it so hilarious. Michael’s desire to be a psychologist runs as a standing joke, and Lenny treats his friend’s ideals with respect while noting “psychology causes people to have mental problems.” Michael’s dad is a pro-wrestler hoping for the cash to get a false eye–this is the one roadblock in scheduling a grudge match with an opponent. William Devane as sleazy lawyer Ron Lake plays the role to perfection–the clothes, the swagger, the jewelry–and don’t forget his t-shirt slogans–all add up to the lawyer who practices law with the intent of getting away with what he can. Ron Lake’s nymphette wife–the manipulative and grasping Sandy (Jaime Pressly) is the perfect complement to Ron.

But my favourite character of all the great characters in this film has to be Lenny Lake. His one-liners, antics, and faulty logic–along with the looks he casts–simply make this film one of my all-time favourite comedies. Poor White Trash is crude at times, has no socially redeeming values, and no moral message, but the film doesn’t compromise on laughs. The script is deceptively clever and moves along rapidly from the first hilarious scene at the mini-mart right up to the finale. From director Michael Addis.

Favourite lines:
“It ain’t your job to execute shoplifters.”

“I am not robbing some place with my mother.”

“For your information, my life is in the toilet.”

“You’re grounded–with the exception of your trial.”

“If you use the word angst in prison, you’ll have a five car pile up on your Hershey highway.”

“Sometimes the best way to deal with depression is to drink.”

“Disrespect me, and I’ll break it off and beat you with it.”

“Anyone fucks with us, they’ll be eating hot rifle grease.”

“Mikie, I’m a bad mother. Go to college, get good grades and write to me in jail.”

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The Tingler (1959)

 “I know a wonderful psychiatrist with a perfectly divine strait jacket just your size.”

After reading that The Tingler is on director John Waters’ top film list, this made it a must-see for me, and I wasn’t disappointed. Campy and strange–nonetheless, The Tingler is a surprisingly good film. It’s from William Castle, perhaps cinema’s most eccentric director, and The Tingler is considered one of this cult director’s best. It would be so easy to dismiss this film as campy fun, but it’s really much more than this. It’s a very well crafted exercise in weirdness.

tinglerThere are only two normal people in the film, and their roles are kept to a minimum and serve as a contrast for the film’s collection of bizarre characters. Vincent Price as gently spoken, well-mannered pathologist William Chapin heads the cast. Chapin has theories of the “fear tensions” within the human body, and he’s long since come to the conclusion that the “force of fear” unleashed in the human body can result in the cracking of vertebrae. At the beginning of the film, he becomes convinced that there’s actually something physical living in the base of the spine–a parasitic creature known as The Tingler that grows with the host’s exposure to fear. Chapin’s theory is that screaming releases these tensions and ultimately this freezes or immobilizes the Tingler, thus saving humans from dying of fear. Obviously proving the Tingler’s existence by examining the spinal cords of people who are either paralyzed by fear or who die of it, is not an easy matter, but then again, Chapin is a pathologist….

The film begins with a terrified man being dragged screaming down a hallway to his execution by two prison guards. A few minutes later, a body on a gurney is wheeled into the autopsy room, and here pathologist Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price) proceeds to conduct an autopsy on the dead man. And this is where the film begins to get bizarre–the dead man’s brother-in law, Ollie Higgins (Philip Coolidge) stands by and watches Chapin perform the autopsy. Now perhaps Chapin performs autopsies on a regular basis, but this must be a unique experience for Higgins, who owns a cinema that caters to silent film. But the two men have a nice calm chat while Chapin carves up the corpse, and by the time he’s done, Chapin and Higgins have established enough rapport for Higgins to ask for a lift home.

Higgins introduces Chapin to his wife Martha (Judith Evelyn) who just happens to be a deaf mute. When Chapin discovers that Martha also has a terror of blood, he realizes that he has the perfect subject–someone with a built in mechanism for terror who cannot release her “fear tension” through screaming…

The Tingler hits all the right notes to create a very strange tale with a very bizarre tone. Peculiar things take place in the film, but the characters all act as though these things are perfectly normal. Chapin’s assistant, for example, is running around town kidnapping animals to serve as guinea pigs for Chapin’s latest wacko experiments. All the characters in the film accept this as perfectly normal, and the film’s insistence on the normalcy of outrageously bizarre behaviour is a tactic that Castle uses within the film many times–Higgins attending the autopsy of his brother in law, for example. Higgins should express at least some distaste of the autopsy. He could turn away, vomit, or even faint. These reactions would all be within the range of normal for a person who’s attending the autopsy of a relative. But instead Higgins doesn’t even swallow hard–he’s perfectly at home in the autopsy room watching his brother-in-law get carved up. This presentation of the bizarre with the ho-hum reaction to an every day event creates the atmosphere of a lunatic asylum. As we watch the story unfold, we realize that what is happening is not normal, but it’s presented by the characters as perfectly acceptable. The dissonance between normal and abnormal created by the film forges a fascination between the audience and the film characters. Just how far off the deep end is Chapin prepared to go? Do his gentle, refined manners and voice mask the mind of a madman?

This acceptance of the abnormal as normal is also demonstrated in the two marriages depicted in the film. These marriages are pathological and laced with murderous intent, but this is masked by the politics of polite behaviour, so that leaves only two people in a ‘normal’ relationship–courting couple, Chapin’s sister-in-law, Lucy (Pamela Lincoln) and Chapin’s lab assistant David (Darryl Hickman). Chapin’s first appearance in the old homestead immediately establishes marital discord when he addresses Lucy with the heavily sarcastic question “where is my darling wife?” Isabel, who obviously doesn’t trouble herself with putting hot meals on the table for hubbie appears some time later. Isabel Chapin (Patricia Cutts) seems to be a very unsuitable partner for Chapin. Sexy, blonde Isabel has the naughty habit of floozing out on the town with a series of strange men.

Another tactic used by Castle is that most people (with a few notable exceptions) in the film remain perfectly calm–almost frustratingly so. They should be objecting, refusing, questioning, but they tend to very calmly go along with the action, accepting the nuttiness as everyday stuff.

The Tingler really is a very clever film. The first time I watched it, I loved it, but the second and third times, I began to really appreciate it. The first time through, for example, the film leads us to certain conclusions about Chapin’s character, and with subsequent viewing, I came to appreciate Castle’s manipulative skill a great deal more.

Anyway, thanks to John Waters for pointing me towards this gem of a film. The DVD is excellent quality, by the way–in black and white–except for one scene that contains…well, a lot of red. The picture is clear and crisp, but the whole package is so well put together with some interesting extras, including an introduction by William Castle. Well worth the purchase, but I still wish I could persuade someone to release a version of The Tingler with commentary from John Waters.

“Scream for your lives. The Tingler is loose in the theatre!”
“Don’t tell me you’ve abandoned corpses for peeping out of windows.”

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She-Man (1967)

“I’ll dig ditches. I’ll empty the garbage, but I’m not letting her turn me into any drag queen.”

Leave it to the eclectic minds at Something Weird to reprint She-Man and unleash it on the unsuspecting public. She-Man is a tawdry tacky tale, hilariously campy, packed with bad acting and cheap sets. Given my strange tastes, I loved it, and if you’re a Something Weird watcher, then chances are you will enjoy the film too.

she-manHunky playboy Albert Rose (Leslie Marlowe), Korean War veteran and son of an affluent senator receives a message to attend a mysterious meeting. Flown by private plane, and then driven by a female chauffeur to a motel, he’s blackmailed into giving up a year of his life to serve as a maid to husky-voiced dominatrix Dominata (Dorian Wayne), who’s really a transvestite. Taken to Dominata’s “place in the country,” Albert is given hormone pills, shaved, and dressed in a blonde wig and a kinky little maid’s outfit….

She Man is hilarious and ludicrous camp fun. This was obviously a low budget film, and it shows in every scene. Albert is flown (off camera) in Dominata’s private plane, and this would indicate she has money, but then Albert is taken to a cheap, sleazy motel room for the blackmail portion of the deal. In a pitch-black room in which we can only see Albert’s face glowing in this black and white film, he listens to Dominata’s plans for his moral degradation. Some film clips include Dominata speaking while we see a silhouette of a woman’s profile, and the fact that the silhouette’s mouth isn’t moving just makes for a lot more fun.

Something Weird Video releases choice cheesy film and you really have to leave your normal film barometers of taste behind when you decide to watch of their many, many perverse titles. I love Something Weird–the trailer alone is worth the price of a DVD. That said, Something Weird titles, and that includes the immortal She-Man are not for everyone, but if you’re a camp lover, like me, when you discover Something Weird Video, you know you’ve hit the Mother Lode.

Director Bob Clark also made Porkys and Porkys II–two films I often rewatch when I need a few laughs. Clark and his son were tragically killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver in April 2007.

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The Woman Chaser (1999)

 “Thanks for the party, kid. Any night, you feel like you want it, come on over.”

Bizarre, perverse and subtly subversive, The Woman Chaser from director Robinson Devor is difficult to define and will, unfortunately appeal only to certain tastes. If I knew you, I’d take a guess whether or not you’d appreciate this unusual gem, but instead, read this review and decide for yourself whether or not you want to take a chance.

I recently came cross The Woman Chaser reviewed on the marvelous Film Noir of the Week blog (see link on blogroll or http://filmnoiroftheweek.com ), and I’ll happily accept the genre of noir in order to categorize this strange yet wonderful film. Based on the pulp novel of the same name by Charles Willeford, The Woman Chaser is the story of Richard Hudson, a used car salesman who “possesses a pimp’s understanding of the ways in which women (and men) are most vulnerable–and justifies his seductions with a highly perverse logic.” I took that definition, by the way, right off the back of the VHS box. This isn’t something I normally do, but this description is so perfect, I can think of none better.

woman-chaserAnyway, Richard (played brilliantly by Patrick Warburton) arrives in L.A. and buys an existing used car lot for his San Francisco based employer. He then hires a manager, and then sets out to start raking in the money. He’s halted, however, in his drive, by a different kind of ambition–the creative urge. Richard becomes obsessed with the need to create something. He returns to his home–his bizarre, vain and self focused ex-ballerina mother (Lynette Bennett), and his stepfather, Leo (Paul Malevich), a has-been director. In Richard’s mind, Leo is the only man he knows who possesses any principles. Richard comes up with an idea for a film, and he wants Leo to direct. Together they approach the Man at Mammoth Studios….

I don’t know what I expected when I watched this film, but The Woman Chaser was so good, so unique, so damn peculiar that I watched it three times in a row–each time seeing something new and catching subtle things that I’d missed before (at one point for example, Richard is reading a book titled Much Ado About Me). I think it’s sadly quite possible that a great number of people could watch this film and dismiss it as campy trash, but it isn’t. The Woman Chaser is pure genius.

The main character, Richard, uses people–particularly women–without the slightest remorse whatsoever, but as he uses them, he rewrites his actions, and his motivations in the most off-kilter style. This is all achieved by a heavy voiceover narration by Richard throughout the entire film. This allows the viewer into the most peculiar corners of Richard’s twisted thinking. He’s a living, walking example of moral dissonance, and he unabashedly, proudly boasts of exactly how he manipulates people into getting what he wants.

Richard’s film, his baby, is called The Man Who Got Away. It’s a slim story about an angry, anti-social truck driver who runs over a child and her dog, and then proceeds to lead the police on a chase throughout California. It’s unclear whether or not the truck driver commits his crime deliberately out of a sense of misplaced rage or whether it’s just an accident. Richard grasps so many accuracies of human behavior, and yet the utter perverseness of his plot (which reflects his nature) seems to elude him.

Filmed in glorious black and white (which is perfect for this film), Patrick Warburton plays Richard as if he was born for the part. Operating with the sociopath’s emotional detachment, Richard is a large man, confident, with a large black hole when it comes to conscience. He is a frightening construct of all that’s wrong in society. Perfectly happy to dominate, intimidate and manipulate his way to the top (and to the bedroom), he’s crushed when the same thing is done to him. And one of the film’s great ironies is that Richard, the master manipulator, who understands just what fears, vices and vanities appeal to the human consciousness, finds himself outmaneuvered and out manipulated.

I was so intrigued by this film, that I chased down a copy of the book wanting to see if the novel was as perverse as the film or whether the film’s off-kilter look at life through Richard’s warped perceptions was the creation of the filmmaker. I was thrilled to discover that the film is amazingly like the book with the dialogue taken directly from the novel. That said, the film does add one embellishment in creating a very well done frame story, but at the same time the film leaves out one very disturbing detail that takes place between Richard and his secretary Laura (Emily Newman). Too bad this was cut from the film as I think this act of Richard’s really puts his moral depravity in a nutshell. Special note too for the film’s fantastic camera shots: Chet Wilson throwing a match into a puddle in which the clouds are reflected, front shots of Richard’s car, the lift traveling to the basement of the L.A. Museum, the angle of the camera during the scenes with the head of Mammoth Studios….

Anyway, The Woman Chaser is brilliant, bold and one of the most faithful adaptations of a novel I have ever come across. I suspect author Charles Willeford, who died in 1988, would be satisfied with the film version of his “psycho-pulp” classic.

Quotes:

I didn’t want Becky involved with some immature, tattooed youth who’d work the word love into his pitch. That would be unnecessarily emotional for her.

I had saved the girl from any physical or emotional involvement for a long time.

When a man starts doing stuff like that, he needs a woman in the worst way.

His evil parody made the notion of love and tenderness obscene.

Somehow, I had got dreams mixed up with reality.

I felt as though I was an unreal person creating a reality that might become unreal.

This movie isn’t cynical, it’s bitter.

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Track 29 (1988)

 “Do you ever wish you were someplace else?”

Track 29 is perhaps the strangest film ever made by Nicholas Roeg. A very incompatible married couple, Doctor Henry Henry (Christopher Lloyd) and Linda (Theresa Russell) share a boring routine. He plays with his impressive train set (and it encompasses an entire room), and she stays at home–bored out of her mind. They have a perfect showplace home, and she wears jogging suits with matching headbands–anyway, you get the picture. But Henry has a nasty secret little habit he indulges in at work with Nurse Stein (Sandra Bernhardt). Henry and Linda have all the worldly trappings of a happy and contented life, but they loathe one another.

track-29Into this sick little domestic drama enters a mysterious drifter–Martin (Gary Oldman), and his presence resurrects long-buried desires and resentments. Martin claims to be Linda’s long-lost child, and he tells her “I’ve come a long, long way to find you.” But is Martin what he appears to be?

Gary Oldman really excelled in this role–he alternates between bouts of Oedipal complex and demon-child rage. Oldman shows his range as he vacillates between fury and inappropriate affection. Watching Oldman loose on the screen, I asked myself, ‘what sort of monster would we conjure up to smash all the mistakes we have made in our lives?’ It’s quite a concept, and I think Oldman does justice to the role of Linda’s Juggernaut. Roeg plays with the characters on screen, and leaves just enough doubt and just enough skepticism to ensure edge-of-your-seat-attention. Sandra Bernhardt is splendid as Nurse Stein who indulges Henry’s habit when he should be paying attention to his geriatric patients, and Christopher Lloyd was also wonderfully cast in this role. He’s at once eccentric (and believably obsessed with his mega-train set), but there’s also a nasty hostile side which aggressively exposes itself at key points throughout the film. Even the relatively minor character of Linda’s friend, Arlanda (Colleen Camp) is very well done. Linda confides to Arlanda, and Arlanda’s face expresses hunger and eagerness for dirty gossip. The confidences are made against the appropriate backdrop of Cape Fear. The flashbacks are exquisitely achieved. Close attention is mandatory for this film–clues can easily be missed. What is real–and what is the imagination?

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Die Mommie Die (2003)

 “They found me being spun around nude on the lazy susan.”

 

die mommie dieFormer glamorous songstress Angela Arden (Charles Busch) is unhappily married to Hollywood director, Sol Sussman (Phillip Baker Hall). Spoiled brat, daughter Edith (Natasha Lyonne) has a slightly incestuous relationship with her darling daddy, but loathes her mother. Angela can’t stand Edith, but pampers son Lance (Stark Sands). Angela and Lance even share a secret language. To console herself for her unhappy marriage to her misery of a husband, Angela amuses herself with toyboy gigolo/ tennis coach, Tony Parker (Jason Priestly). But when grumpy Sol (who suffers from chronic constipation) puts his foot down and cancels Angela’s credit cards, she decides to kill him with a poisoned suppository.

If you love camp, then Die Mommie Die is the perfect film for you. Some films end up being campy without intending to be so, but Die Mommie Die is a campy homage to 50s tearjerkers, and the film succeeds very well indeed. Die Mommie Die uses some passe filmmaking techniques to add to the general campiness and cheesiness of the film. For example, there is one scene in which actors sit in a stationary car against the backdrop of moving traffic. Other scenes recall some of the great films from the era (Sunset Boulevard, for example). Some of the lip synch singing scenes are deliberately off on the timing, and most of the acting is over-the-top.

Die Mommie Die is incredibly funny. I think my favourite scene (and it’s hard to choose) takes place when Angela is persuaded to sing again, and she decides to entertain the guests. The lines in the film are original, cheeky and some of the funniest ones are too rude to place here:

I own you just like I own every toilet in this house.
You eat normal or we’re going to shut you up in an institution.
There were 8 of them.
You can’t discard me like one of your false eyelashes.
I’ve got money now. Stocks, bonds, and a supermarket in West Covina.
Being a man of the world, I have friends in interesting places.
I always knew you were nothing but trash washed over from the Canadian border.

Charles Busch plays Angela Arden, in drag, of course, and he plays the role with a serene, resolved, yet slightly pretentious Bette Davis air–although there are a couple of scenes worthy of Joan Crawford thrown in for good measure. I read several professional reviews of the film, and the reviewers seem to be less-than-amused. Most reviewers refuse to see camp as the art form it truly is, but for me, as a lover of the tacky, the bawdy and the camp, this film was perfect. From director Mark Rucker.

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