APRIL 24 2016 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : SCREAMTIME (1983)
Well this is an oddity – Screamtime is an anthology of three British stories with a baffling New York set wraparound. Most anthology wraparounds either tie into one of the stories somehow (like in Tales From The Hood) OR has a comic or book or some sort of device for the stories being told. Screamtime actually has both, and proves that more is less in the process, since the movie as a whole probably would have been better without any wraparound at all.
Continental difference aside, the tone of the wraparounds is sort of sleazy; our “heroes” rob a video store located in the heart of old 42nd street (the theater next door is playing Taboo II for Pete’s sake), then head to some girl’s house to watch them, a girl who is frequently nude. And at the end of the movie they’re all killed by the puppets from the first story, which doesn’t make any sense whatsoever since that’s the only story without any supernatural elements built into it. But the stories themselves, while not without some goofiness, are 70s-esque atmospheric tales, the sort of stuff that populated Dead Of Night.
Anyway, the stories sadly decrease in quality as they go. The directors/writers should have known that topping killer Punch and Judy puppets would be hard and saved it for the end, but alas. It’s the usual tale of an old guy getting revenge on the younger folks who are cruel to him, but with the added bonus of him doing all of the killings with his puppets. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Judy beat a woman to death with a 2x4 while laughing creepy puppet laughs, as the saying goes. And even though it’s kind of obvious he’s the one doing the killings, I like that they keep him out of frame even AFTER it’s revealed to the audience that it is indeed him. He also suffers one of the most hilarious deaths I’ve ever seen, swinging at his victim, missing, and toppling into a trash compactor.
Let me digress for a moment here. Back in 2002 my girlfriend suckered me into joining her for something called Bread & Puppet, which took place in upstate Vermont. Basically, it’s a bunch of artsy folks making giant puppets and putting on a bunch of politically charged “skits” (is there a word for something that’s like a skit but doesn’t contain any apparent humor?), and then at the end you get a piece of bread. I shit you not, that’s what it is (there’s no other food on the premises). It’s also one of those “free but donations are appreciated” deals. I was all for following the “free” part of that scenario, but she wanted to donate, so we gave them ten bucks – and the lady taking the money practically POUTED. I believe her response was “Well if that’s all you got...” Go fuck yourself, hippie! Anyway, ever since I’ve been weary of the puppeteer mafia, so part of my enjoyment of this entry was seeing a puppeteer (who is hated by his family) getting his just desserts.
Back on track, the second one wasn’t very good but it had a great twist, salvaging it. There’s an unhappy couple who just moved into a house, and the wife keeps seeing people in their yard and has visions of people being murdered in the middle of the night, which makes the husband get more and more sick of her nonsense since he can’t see them. She even hires a medium to give the house a look, a woman who routinely talks to ghosts, and even she claims the woman is crazy. Finally she suffers a breakdown and the husband has to sell the house to a new family, and then (spoiler) we realize that she wasn’t seeing ghosts – she was having premonitions, as her visions were of the new family, who are about to be killed by a recently escaped murderer. Granted, it doesn’t really make any sense – if she wasn’t having the premonitions she wouldn’t have had to move away and let the family in, which led to their deaths – but oh well, it’s still better than the usual “these were the people who lived here BEFORE you” explanation. A simple preposition change and viola! Cool story. Nice throat slashing near the end too.
The third one should have been the best, since it concerns evil garden gnomes, but it’s sadly the weakest. They throw in a random ancestor ghost chick who has the power to tear dudes’ clothes off with her mind, which sounds awesome but just comes out of nowhere and adds to the main problem - the gnomes don’t get enough action. I don’t know if this was supposed to be a longer story (a full movie?) or what, but it was really unfocused and confusing to boot. And padded! There’s a bit early on where the main guy’s brother calls him to tell him about the gardener job, and instead of just saying “yes” and getting on with it, he turns it down, talks to his boss, then calls his brother back (and we even have to watch someone else answer the phone and call the brother over) and takes the job after all. Less time with your internal struggle about the job that you obviously have to take or else there’s no movie, more time with killer lawn gnomes (or ghost chicks who can tear off your clothes with her mind), please.
But, whatever, it’s still an entertaining enough watch. I was never really bored, and none of the tales were “typical” anthology entries. I was also tickled by the odd concept of having the stories be movies that the wraparound characters were watching – how short are these things? And who robs a video store? You can’t afford 99 cents? It’s also funny how the guy in the wraparound sneers about the British accents (he claims that’s how he can “tell” it’s a British movie), because he has a typical New York accent. Being a Bostonian, I think you all sound wicked fahkin dumb, kid.
Of some interest (beyond the fact that the movie was completed in 1983 and not released until 1986), director “Al Beresford” is actually Michael Armstrong, who wrote (under a different pseudonym!) and directed the notorious Mark Of The Devil, which I still haven’t gotten around to seeing despite keen interest (Udo Kier as a witch hunter? SOLD). He also hasn’t directed a film since Screamtime. Way to go out on a high note, dude.
What say you?
APRIL 24 2016 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : GHOST FEVER
“If you don’t play with my balls. I won’t play with yours.”
When I decided to delve in to the unknown depths of Netflix Instant Watch, I knew that I might unearth a gem or two amongst the ruins. I hadn’t thought about finding pieces of refuse purposely thrown overboard in an attempt to save humanity from having to endure them. One of these rusty tin cans happens to be Ghost Fever.
Ghost Fever isn’t just a bad film. It’s a bad idea, 24 frames a second. I almost don’t know how to begin describing this turd. Now let me reiterate, I love bad movies. The ones that are so bad they make us laugh and endear themselves to us. (I’m looking at you, Troll 2) But there are also films so bad it’s just painful to watch them. That’s why Mystery Science Theatre 3000 was invented; to ease one’s suffering through those 2-hour treks into hell. This movie begs for the MST3K treatment.
I’ll try my best to explain to you this misguided, poorly-developed, poorly-executed, poorly-everything “film”. Now I must say my favorite part of the film was at the end of the opening credits when I saw that Alan Smithee directed it. For those of you who don’t know, Alan Smithee is not a real person. It is a pseudonym that the DGA created in 1969 and is used by directors who are unhappy with the final film. Whether its from a lack of creative control, editing disagreements, final cut or what not, directors are able to distance themselves from a project if they don’t want their real name on it, thus Alan Smithee. I did not see in the Netflix credits that the director was Alan Smithee, so that was a hilarious surprise. The last one I would have for at least the next 84 minutes.
Ghost Fever is about a pair of bumbling cops; Buford and Bennie, played by Sherman Helmsley (The Jeffersons) and Luis Avalos (some episode of Miami Vice?) who are sent to evict two old ladies from a large Southern estate called Magnolia House. Being a Southern plantation estate it has a long and storied history including tales of it being haunted. Before they’re sent on their mission we are introduced to two ghosts; Andrew Lee, son of the also-late Beauregard Lee the slave master and owner of Magnolia House, and Jethro (also played by Hemsley), an ex-slave who also happens to be the great great grandfather of Buford. They appear throughout the film like Jedi visages.
As the film rolls along, its hard to not become distracted at times by a) it’s goofy score, b) it’s moments of super low budget art direction, c) its lower budget special effects, or d) all of the above. At times it’s like a live action episode of Scooby-Doo meets the Harlem Globetrotters. Except it’s not really fun, or funny, and there are no talking dogs. The bad ideas keep coming as Buford stumbles upon the mansion’s dungeon, where he is caught up in one of Beauregard’s torture devices. This one is intended to improve his slaves’ rhythm. It’s basically two sledgehammers that slam down back and forth on a plank raised up between the slaves’ legs, while a spike is jammed up his ass. He can avoid the hammers by swing his hips back and forth in good rhythm. Offensive? Just a little. Luckily we aren’t forced to endure any other racist machines of Beauregard’s.
Bennie and Buford meet the residents of Magnolia House, two young, hot, blonde Southern belles named Linda and Lisa. They are Andrew Lee’s granddaughters. Also inexplicably living in the house is a “medium”, Madame St. Esprit (Jennifer Rhodes) who was Beauregard’s mistress. I certainly hope that Mel Brooks’ lawyers saw this film, since she basically does a ridiculous impression of Teri Garr from Young Frankenstein meets Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles, without any of the humor. Bennie doesn’t believe in the supernatural, but Buford does. Soon they will both believe as Beauregard shakes lamps, swings pictures and apparently uses powerful fans off-camera to scare the two detectives. If the notion of a racist ghost doesn’t get you though, maybe this will. The medium proposes to the sisters that they try to seduce the two detectives in an attempt to save themselves from eviction. So now you got a couple of ghost sluts laying it on thick for these two doofus cops. Yep, two young blonde chicks hitting on these old, short, balding cops? Of course. They invite them to stay for dinner (since the racist ghost won’t let them leave anyways). Do you miss the offensive jokes already? Don’t worry cause dinner consists of chit lens, grits and watermelon. Yay.
Andrew Lee’s ghost is embarrassed by his racist father’s ghost and wants to stop him but he’s still learning his haunting ghost powers. But that’s not the worst of it. At midnight the medium will hold a séance (which I don’t get the point of since the ghost has clearly been communicating the entire time). Turns out at midnight Beauregard’s ghost will become flesh and blood, then he can be killed…again? Well it so happens that the voodoo curse placed on him by his Haitian slaves has made him a vampire as well. But not before he ends up a break dancing mummy having a dance battle against the two dicks. As a vampire he looks oddly like a cross between fat Elvis and Count Dracula. Beauregard wants to harvest Buford and Bennie’s bodies for his army of zombies he is creating. Huh?
Well, how do you kill a vampire? Stake through the heart. BOOM! End of movie, right? Nope. Turns out that the two sisters are cursed too. They can’t leave Magnolia House or they’ll age and die, since they’re really over a hundred years old. Unless they take ecto-plasma pills that will keep them young outside Magnolia House for a couple hours. WTF? So now we must endure another 20 minutes.
Jethro’s ghost smokes a ghost joint that gets Bennie and everyone high enough to believe he can knock out the former boxing champion Terrible Tucker (Smokin’ Joe Frazier). It was established in the first 5 minutes of the film that the ex-champ was offering a $10,000 cash prize to anyone who could last more than 3 rounds with him and $50,000 more if you could beat him. This must be one of the oldest plot devices know to man. I feel like this kind of thing dates back to Chaplin and silent films. If only this movie had no dialogue. All of a sudden it’s a boxing comedy, as Bennie has to fight Terrible Tucker. Good thing they have a couple Southern Jedis on their side. Like a shitty Angels In The Outfield they use their ghostly powers to help Bennie beat Terrible Tucker and get the ghost sluts the money they need to save Magnolia House from being torn down. For failing to evict the ladies, Bennie and Buford are fired. They decide that they can’t stay at Magnolia House with Lisa and Linda because they’d age but the girls wouldn’t. So the two sadly leave them behind. With no jobs and now no ghost sluts, they have nothing to live for. So Jethro decides to help them out by killing them in a car accident. Huh? So now they can live happily forever after with their ghost sluts in Magnolia House. Mercifully, the end.
I’m sure this movie would’ve done better if it were just called “George Jefferson meets the Ghost/Vampire/Zombie”. I will say a couple things I did enjoy about this film, the funky, titular, disco theme “Ghost Fever” sang by Sherman Hemsley is very catchy, and the movie clocks in at just under an hour and a half. Plus, I think this film stands as an example of just how bad the scum at the bottom of the Netflix Ocean can be. Luckily for all of us, the cure for Ghost Fever is in your hand. It’s the remote. Turn it off and watch Ghostbusters instead.