Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Street Trash (1987)

I first rented Street Trash (1987) with a couple of friends in the very late ’80s. I’m not sure if we had any idea of what we were getting into. I was a big fan of horror films, but one of my friends was not. We enjoyed watching B-movies, and what we might refer to as “bad movies”. This generally meant movies that had been intended to be serious, but were instead campy and inadvertently funny to our young, modern minds.

We had discovered The Troma Team, and enjoyed movies like The Toxic Avenger (1984) and Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986). These films were in a slightly different category. They were sometimes referred to as B-movies, but they seemed very different than the black and white B-movies of yore. They weren’t quite “bad movies” in the same way as some of the incompetent films we had watched. They were, it seemed to us, deliberately made to be “bad” or campy. Almost in the vein of, say, Mel Brooks doing a parody of monster movies. The Troma Team knew that they were making “bad” films and they were having a really good time with it. They wanted us to laugh – and we did. Sometimes uncontrollably. 

Street Trash is firmly in the same category. In fact, it has been compared to Troma movies over the years. Lloyd Kaufman, co-founder and president of Troma – and perhaps their greatest auteur – has let on that he is not a fan of Street Trash. He never explains why, and in some ways it puzzles me. It could be that it is simply too much like a Troma movie, and Lloyd feels that the filmmakers were trying to ride his coattails. I don’t know.

I’m not sure if my friends and I knew that we were about to watch a masterpiece of deliberate camp humour, but that’s what we found ourselves doing – and enjoying immensely. The special gore effects were completely over the top, and yet somehow totally convincing. The single most incredible moment, which had us rolling around on the floor laughing, was the very unusual game of “keep away” (which in the interest of not spoiling anything for the uninitiated, I will not describe in any more detail). Suffice it to say that if you are a fan of Troma style insanity, and you have not seen this movie, you really should seek it out. And it’s not hyperbole to say you must see it to believe it.

A few years later, I was lucky enough to buy a copy on VHS. For some reason, it was not a very common tape on video store shelves. And I never saw it for sale brand new, in stores like Eaton’s or The Bay (go figure). it was such an awesome movie, I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t better known. Maybe it was just too edgy and offensive for most viewers. Maybe people couldn’t tell what it was from the title and the box art. Maybe it WAS a successful movie on home video, but I just never saw it in the stores I frequented. I don’t know. But the fact is, that for many years I was the only person I knew who had a copy of Street Trash. And as such, I felt it was my duty to show it to people.

I showed it to my friend Ian, who happens to be a respected award-winning playwright, and I guess he liked it a lot. The next day I accompanied him to a special talk that he was giving to theatre students at a nearby university. One of them asked Ian “Where do you get your ideas?”

He stood in front of the crowd of eager young learners, with all the seriousness that only an award winning playwright can muster, and said “I get my ideas in all kinds of different places. Just last night my buddy Angus showed me a movie called Street Trash, in which people drink old, contaminated alcohol and then proceed to melt…”

I think I started to choke on my water. What the hell was he doing?! He’s describing the plot of Street Trash in a serious theatre class as if it was a source of inspiration for future plays he might write?!

Incidentally, he has never written a play remotely like Street Trash. That is more like something I might do. And in fact, I did write a play called The Inner City Dead which was about gangsters and a corrupt politician dumping toxic waste in the inner city and causing poor, homeless people to turn into zombies. It was, as much as any play could be, a Troma Team styled comedy. I actually named one of the characters Mr Troma, as an homage to Lloyd et al. This was before I showed Street Trash to Ian – and before he told a roomful of budding theatre artists that it could be a source of ideas.

In my humble opinion, a more correct answer that Ian could have given on that day might be something like “I get ideas from real life. The behaviours that I see people engaging in, and the injustices that I perceive in this world.”

That, I believe, is closer to the truth. And that is also why he is an award winning playwright, and I am writing this blog.

That beat up VHS tape served me well for a long, long time. But I am now thrilled to have the super-deluxe, Special Meltdown Edition Blu-ray from Synapse Films. It comes with a ton of great extras (including a two hour documentary on the making of Street Trash) which somehow makes the experience even more mind-blowing.

Street Trash (1987) has been a personal favourite of mine for many years. It is #NotQuiteClassicCinema that is clearly not for everyone. Some of the over-the-top offensive humour would probably be considered politically incorrect today, to say the least. But for those with a taste for edgy and disgusting material that still manages to push the boundaries more than thirty years after it was created, Street Trash just might be the perfect choice for your next  #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Jack the Ripper Goes West aka A Knife for the Ladies (1974)

When my friend Ian gave me a DVD set that contained four movies, I assumed that they were recent(ish) low budget horror films. I have a number of DVD sets that are exactly that, some with as many as 25 movies included. Upon closer examination, I discovered that the movies in this cheap looking release were all much older than I expected. The listed release dates of the movies ranged from 1973 to 1982 – which was exciting news to me, as I am particularly fond of movies from the ’70s and ’80s. The weird part is that these were all movies that I had never seen (or in some cases even heard of). Having spent a lifetime watching movies from the ’70s and ’80s – particularly horror films – it is fairly rare to come across any titles that are completely unknown to me. This is especially true when dealing with what appears to be a cheapjack public domain DVD set. Certain titles pop up again and again on these discs (Night Of The Living Dead (1968), Horror Express (1972), etc.).

The first movie in this set is Jack the Ripper Goes West (1974) and I can honestly say that I had never heard of it. I do recall watching a movie starring David Hasselhoff called Terror at London Bridge (1985), which was about Jack the Ripper killing people in Arizona, but this was clearly not it. A movie about Jack the Ripper style murders in the Old West sounded like it could be a good time to me, but there was only one thing wrong: the movie was listed as 51 minutes long.

As one of my Twitter friends said, “51 minutes? does that qualify as a film?” My first reaction was that this “movie” must really be an episode of a TV series. It made sense to me. The weird mix of Western and Horror (and Private Detective) conventions could also be explained by this. Thinking back, I can recall some of my favourite ’70s TV shows doing episodes that were ghost stories (Charlie’s Angels (1976–1981) for one). I have another public domain DVD set of Western movies that includes episodes of an old (failed?) TV series called Cade’s County (1971–1972) starring Glenn Ford. So, it didn’t seem impossible that there could have been a short-lived Western series in 1974 that included a Jack the Ripper mystery episode.

Of course, it could have also been the pilot for a TV series that never got picked up. Either way, if it was indeed an episode of television, it would not qualify for a screening at the Home Drive-In. After doing more research, I was able to determine that there was a much longer cut of the movie (86 minutes) released as A Knife for the Ladies (1974). This sounded more like my Friday night cup of tea – and it was available to watch for free on YouTube. But I still had a problem. I had the 51 minute cut of the film on DVD and, being a completist, I felt that I needed to watch it. But how could resist seeing the (hopefully) uncut 86 minute version of the film?

So, I did what any insane connoisseur of aging cinematic trash would do: I watched both versions of the film so that I could compare them.

I started with the 51 minute Jack the Ripper Goes West, and I have to admit that it was pretty entertaining. It did feel a lot like an episode of a ’70s TV show, but I grew up watching ’70s TV shows and I happen to like them, so that was no disappointment. There were a few oddities that made me think “there has to be something more to this” – which, of course, I knew to be true. I’ll give one example from early in the movie (no spoiler alert required):

There is a murder in the Old West town of Mescal, and Simeon Hollyfireld, president of the town bank, writes/narrates a letter to a big city private detective asking for help. We see a montage of travel footage while the letter is being narrated. Hollyfield arrives at the office of private detective Edward R. Burns, played by Canadian actor Jeff Cooper. They say two lines and then suddenly we cut back to Mescal, where the town Sheriff (played by Jack Elam) is expressing his anger that a private detective is being brought to town. It happens so suddenly, that for a few seconds I thought that Jack Elam was pounding his fist on some furniture in the private detective’s office. When I realized that we were back in Mescal, I assumed that we were going to cut back to the private detective’s office at some point. After all, why would they bother filming a sequence of travel, and decorating a location (or set) with period furnishings and a hand painted glass door that says “Edward R. Burns Detective Agency St. Louis, Mo.” just for this:

Burns: “Three murders? But your letter only mentioned two.”

Hollyfield: “Night before I left, Lettie Mills, a girl who lived in the hotel, she was stabbed just like the others….”

Before Hollyfield is even done saying his line, we are already watching Jack Elam bursting through a door looking angry (hence my momentary belief that he was entering the private detective’s office). We never actually see Burns’ office again, and that bothered me for the rest of the 51 minutes of Jack the Ripper Goes West.

When I watched A Knife for the Ladies, I was pleased (and not surprised) to see an entire scene played out in Edward Burns’ office, during which lots of important information is revealed – including the history of the town, its important citizens, and details of the murders. Hollyfield even sets up the character of the Sheriff before we cut to him angrily bursting through a door. The scene takes exactly two minutes (from 5:14 – 7:14). In Jack the Ripper Goes West, the scene takes under ten seconds (from 4:00 – 4:09). Needless to say, the two minute version of the scene sets up the entire film and makes it work better. The nine second scene just puzzled and frustrated me.

It would be a stretch to call either version of Jack the Ripper Goes West / A Knife for the Ladies (1974) a good movie, but I actually did enjoy both versions in their own ways. I also enjoyed comparing them. The 86 minute version is clearly the way to go if you are only going to watch this movie once. It’s a strange mix of genres (perhaps a mash-up before anyone ever used the term mash-up). It’s not much of a horror film, although the beginning and the ending do kind of resemble one. It’s not a great western, either. But it does feature a few good moments of western action. It’s probably most successful as a 1970s TV-like detective story. If you have a taste for that kind of show, you may find some nostalgic enjoyment here.

What makes Jack the Ripper Goes West / A Knife for the Ladies appropriate viewing for a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn, is the fact that it IS a strange mix of these three genres. It’s hard to tell what exactly it wanted to be. And the results are at times campy and fun, while occasionally delivering a satisfying more serious moment. It was directed by Larry G. Spangler, who mostly specialized in westerns and ex-football players. He worked on the The Joe Namath Show (1969) and The Last Rebel (1971), which was a western starring Joe Namath. He also made three westerns starring Fred Williamson, as well as the non-western The Life and Times of the Happy Hooker (1974), which featured X-rated legend John Holmes in lieu of a football player. I think it’s fair to say that Spangler has earned his home drive-in credentials. 

It’s also fair to say that Jack the Ripper Goes West / A Knife for the Ladies (1974) is #NotQuiteClassicCinema, that is simultaneously bewildering and accessible. Bewildering for its strange mix of genres, but as accessible as an old TV show. It makes for a perfectly acceptable time passer on a lazy afternoon. I may never watch either version of this film again, but I enjoyed the double-barrelled experience of doing it at least once.

Final Note: It also has a kick ass theme song that plays during the closing credits. It’s called Evil Lady and is written by Bobby Hart, Danny Janssen and Dominic Frontiere – Sung by Michael Stull. Give it a listen and see what you think.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Blue Sextet (1971)

I had never heard of Blue Sextet (1971) until I bought the special edition Blu-ray of I Drink Your Blood (1971) by Grindhouse Releasing. Blue Sextet was included as a bonus feature (along with I Eat Your Skin (1964), which was often paired with I Drink Your Blood as a double feature). In fact, this Grindhouse Releasing Blu-ray marks the first time that Blue Sextet has ever been released on home video.

Blue Sextet is said to be from 1969 on the back of the Blu-ray box. The IMDb and other sites list the release date as 1971. Turner Classic Movies claims 1972. What does this mean? I’m only guessing, but I would speculate that the movie was shot in 1969, and not released until (probably) 1971. It must not have been a very wide release, allowing for some uncertainty about the exact date, which could explain TCM’s calling it 1972.

Blue Sextet centers on an egotistical artist named Jeffrey Amber, played by actor John Damon, who only appeared in seven movies but was known by 4 different names: John Damon, Jack Damon, Don Canfield, & Paul Dare. Damon was also the long time companion of David E. Durston, the director of Blue Sextet. In an interview after Durston’s death, Damon was credited as John DiBello.

David E. Durston is best remembered as the guy who made I Drink Your Blood, which is a #NotQuiteClassicCinema favourite, and I have had a personal relationship with it for many, many years. But that is another story.

Durston also directed a movie called Stigma (1972), which I saw for first time just a few years ago and I loved it. Still, I didn’t know quite what to expect from Blue Sextet, considering that it seemed to be a long forgotten film, but I was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it was. It’s beautifully shot, with a great production design. It also has a cool soundtrack, and loads of psychedelic atmosphere. It could be called an art-house exploitation film. That means there’s lot’s of nudity and sex, but it’s very artistically done. 

As I’ve come to expect from late sixties sexploitation films, the story and the performances are much better than you might see in a more modern sex film. Blue Sextet is a real drama, not just a bunch of erotic scenes strung together with no point other than to be erotic. I have a particular fondness for the styles and sounds of the era, so my experience of the movie may be coloured by that. I can get a lot of joy from just listening to the soundtrack when not much is happening on the screen. I also have a lot of patience for storytelling that takes its time. Some other people have said that they got bored while watching this film. I most definitely did not.

Another criticism I’ve read, is that the characters are not sympathetic. This is certainly a complaint that I’ve made about other films from time to time. Certain recent horror films have been particularly guilty of this. They feature characters who are so obnoxious and unlikeable that you wind up rooting for the killer (or monster) to disembowel them. I did not have this feeling while watching Blue Sextet. Although part of the point may have been that Jeffrey Amber, the character at the centre of all the drama, may have been (literally and figuratively) screwing all of his friends. 

What can I say? I have a soft spot for movies of a bygone era. They literally don’t make ’em like Blue Sextet anymore. The entire sexploitation genre pretty much died out when hardcore adult cinema became the norm in the 1970s. In terms of  David E. Durston’s body of work, Blue Sextet may not be as exciting as I Drink Your Blood, or even Stigma, but you can bet that on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn, I’ll be checking it out again. Maybe it will rise in my estimation upon second viewing. Maybe it will fall a notch or two. Or maybe it will simply endure, an artifact of a mostly defunct genre of #NotQuiteClassicCinema, continuing to entertain nostalgia-prone trash connoisseurs, like me, until the lights of the last home drive-in go out.

The Bloody Brood (1959)

One of my obsessions is Canadian cinema, particularly movies that were made before there was much of an industry for making films in Canada. This would include movies from the 1970s and 1980s – although those decades were in some ways quite good for Canadian filmmaking (the famous Tax Shelter Days as they are often called) – but more importantly, films that were made before the 1970s. I’m less interested in the 1990s and beyond, because by that point there was a fairly healthy system of independent filmmaking in Canada. On the plus side, this meant a lot of interesting filmmakers got to do their thing, including people like Winnipeg’s Guy Maddin (although he technically got started in the ’80s). On the down side, it meant many more serious, art-house pictures were being made – and not so much genre output (which is, of course, my main interest).

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love horror movies, and vigilante movies, and women in prison movies – basically all kinds of B-movies and exploitation movies. And any of those films that were made in Canada are of particular interest to me – especially if they were made a long time ago. The term Canuxploitation is sometimes used to describe those movies, but no matter what you call them, some of my favourites can be found among their ranks.

When Séan Weathers invited me to be a guest on his YouTube series, Rotten Apples FIlm Reviews, I asked him if he had a list of movies he was hoping to feature. He did, and as I skimmed through the titles one jumped out at me immediately: Rituals (1977). It is a movie that could be described as Canuxploitation – and it is also a movie I happen to love. So right away I told Séan that I wanted to do it. I wrote a blog post about the movie, and you can watch the episode of Rotten Apples… on Séan’s YouTube Channel. You can also watch it on my YouTube Channel, but if you go to Séan’s you can watch the entire movie there (as well as many other fine episodes of the show).

For those who don’t know, Séan Weathers is an accomplished filmmaker who, according to Wikipedia, “specializes in making low-budget films primarily in the erotic and horror genres using skeleton crews and guerrilla filmmaking tactics.” How cool is that? He’s got a page on Wikipedia!

Seriously, he makes low budget genre films, which are the best kind as far as I’m concerned. Check out that filmography!

I had a great time talking about Rituals with Séan, and he graciously invited me to come back and talk movies again sometime. Having looked at his list a little more closely, a second title had already jumped out at me: The Bloody Brood (1959).

The Bloody Brood is another Canuxploitation classic (or not quite classic, depending on your point of view). What makes it particularly interesting (and unique) is the fact that it was made in 1959. That’s very early for English-language Canadian cinema of any kind. Yes, there are some isolated examples of earlier films. But it was a pretty rare thing – especially for a genre film – to be made in English-language Canada prior to about 1970. Not that this is the definitive measuring stick, but a quick search on the IMDb reveals a list of 146 movies tagged with the keyword “canuxploitation” – and only three of them were released before 1970. The Bloody Brood is, in fact, the first one on the list.

The Bloody Brood was directed by Julian Roffman, who was a pioneer of Canadian (and Canuxploitation) filmmaking. He is perhaps best remembered for his second feature, The Mask (1961) which was filmed partly in 3D. He went on to produce several movies, including the often admired Canuxploitation classic The Pyx (1973).

I’ve seen The Bloody Brood more than once over the years, and I quite like it. Séan, on the other hand, recently watched it for the first time. What did he think? What weird areas of film and social history did our discussion illuminate? What do Alfred Hitchcock, Roger Corman, Orson Welles and William Shakespeare have to do with it? And what exactly is a Beatnik, anyway? Just go to Séan’s YouTube page and watch the video to find out. And after we’ve finished discussing The Bloody Brood, you can stick around and watch the entire movie – for free. What could be better than that? I can’t think of anything, so head on over and get started.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Monolith Monsters (1957)

This movie is one of the strongest memories I have from watching Not Quite Classic Theatre, that late night TV show of my youth. As I mentioned previously, the show aired on Saturday nights and would present old black and white monster movies from the 1940s and ’50s. When I first started watching, there would always be three of them. The first would start at 10:00 PM, the next around midnight, and the last one at about 2:00 AM. My attention would shift over the course of the night. The first movie would suck me in and keep me glued to my seat. Sometimes during the second movie, I would stand up and pace around the room – still paying attention to the story, but also thinking about how I might write my own version of the story. I would watch some scenes closely, while others would play in the background as I developed my own ideas. By the time the third movie came on, I was often immersed in my own creation and would sit making notes on a pad of paper while the movie carried on quietly in the corner.

I can’t say I have very clear memories of those third movies, but I would occasionally look at the TV and think “This looks pretty good. Next time I’ll have to pay attention to it.” Sadly, there was no next time for most of those films, and now I can’t even remember what most of them were. Actually, even the ones I paid close attention to are mostly lost in time now. I know I saw a whole slew of giant bug movies, but exactly which ones I’m not sure. In some cases, I know I’ve seen a certain movie, but I just can’t be sure that it was Not Quite Classic Theatre where I saw it.

The Monolith Monsters (1957), on the other hand, I know I saw on Not Quite Classic Theatre. The images of the giant monoliths growing taller, and then toppling over to smash into a million pieces, have stuck in my mind for decades. I’m not sure why, exactly. Maybe because those strange rocks from outer space were different from every other monster and giant bug I had seen before (or since). They were threatening the world by merely existing, not by any kind of design or intention – and they looked really cool and convincing. My understanding is that the effects were achieved with miniatures, and they still look good today.

I also know that The Monolith Monsters was not the first feature of the night. It was either the second or the third. The fact that it has remained in my consciousness all of these years leads me to suspect that it was the second feature. I would have still been paying enough attention to it, to able to appreciate it. On the other hand, maybe those monoliths were so unique and eye-catching, that they jumped off the screen at me even during the third and final feature of the night.

Watching The Monolith Monsters again for the first time since Not Quite Classic Theatre went off the air and became an obscure reference that no one but me seems to understand, I was struck by how little of the story I seemed to remember. Basically, it was all new to me except for the monoliths themselves, growing tall and toppling over; smashing into little pieces and multiplying. I did not recognize any of the characters, or the scenes that moved the plot forward. In my memory, the movie focussed solely on the monoliths, with only the occasional interruption by screaming humans in peril. In reality, the scenes of the monoliths were interspersed occasionally throughout the human drama that is front and centre of this sci-fi spectacle. And as an adult aficionado of B-moves, I say bravo!

As cool as the scenes of the monoliths are (and they are very cool), the movie would become tedious pretty fast if that’s all that was going on. The human drama is what makes it all work. And for the record, there is a horrifying side-effect caused by the monoliths – which I had no memory of –  which causes much of the human drama and suspense.

The movie was directed by John Sherwood, who was a prolific assistant director. He only directed three feature films during his career, including The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). The Monolith Monsters was his last film as a director. He might have made more, but he died only two years later at the age of 57. 

Grant Williams stars in The Monolith Monsters as Dave Miller, the head of the local geology department. He most famously played the title role in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). Oddly enough, he died at age 53. It might be tempting to think that this movie was cursed, but co-star Lola Albright, who plays a schoolteacher and Dave’s love interest, lived to the ripe old age of 92. She is perhaps most remembered as a cast member of the Peter Gunn TV series (1958–1961). But she appeared on many shows, including two of my childhood favourites, The Incredible Hulk (1977–1982) and Quincy M.E. (1976–1983)

The Monolith Monsters (1957) is a very special kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema to me. It has all of the elements that I enjoy, but it was also part of the original Not Quite Classic Theatre lineup that inspired me to recreate the experience for myself all these years later (and brand it #NotQuiteClassicCinema). The nostalgia levels are off the charts with this one. And yet it has the perfect mix of stuff I’ve never forgotten, and stuff that seems completely new to me. A pure pleasure through and through. And althought I may be a little biased, I would recommend The Monolith Monsters for any movie marathon, or #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday The 13th At The Home Drive-In: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

As I mentioned in a previous postFriday the 13th Part III (1982) was the first Friday the 13th film I ever saw. And I had the good fortune of seeing it in the threatre in 3D! It was quite a mind-blowing experience, and as is the case with many first time experiences, it would prove very difficult to top. The next one I saw was the original Friday the 13th (1980), and that movie blew my mind for very different reason, which I wrote about in another blog post. I think that the next Friday the 13th film I saw was Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984).

I was so excited when I heard that this movie was coming out – and, of course, I wanted to see it in the theatre. Sadly, it was not to  be. I don’t remember if it was because my Dad had hated Part III so much that there was no way I could convince him to take me to Part 4 (which would have undoubtedly been true) or, if it was because Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was rated ‘R’ in Manitoba. I have a vague memory that the film was indeed Restricted, which meant that no one under the age of 18 would be admitted. 

This was, on the one hand, disappointing. I had really enjoyed seeing Part III on the big screen and I would have loved seeing Part 4 on the big screen, too. But on the other hand, this kind of made me more excited. The movie was rated ‘R’ which meant that it had to be even more violent, more gory – and more scary – than the already extreme (to my inexperienced eyes) Part III!

I rented the movie on Beta as soon as it came out.

And isn’t that weird? The rules were very strict about not letting anyone under the age of 18 into the movie theatre to see a film like Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. But my friends and I would routinely take ‘R’ rated films up to the counter at our local video store and no one would bat an eye. Not once did a clerk ever question us, or ask for I.D., or say “Hey, you’re too young to be renting that!”

Those were good times.

So, I watched Part 4 with bated breath. This was The Final Chapter after all. Somehow they were going to do the impossible: they were going to kill Jason. And I thought that this was pretty darn cool. After all, Jason had already been “killed” numerous times, and he just kept getting back up. How were they going to finally finish him off?

As the movie unfolded in front of me, I found myself feeling anxious, and excited, and scared…  and disappointed.

Huh? Disappointed?! How could I be disappointed by a movie that is now considered to be one of the (if not the) very best film(s) in the entire series?

I think it was a lot of factors coming together to create that feeling of disappointment:

First of all, I saw Part III on the big screen and in 3D. It was a huge, spectacular experience. I watched Part 4 on an old 19″ TV screen – and it wasn’t in 3D.

Secondly, Part III had been my first time seeing anything so violent and gory. It had seemed to me, at the time, that an endless number of people were killed in that movie. Somehow, Part 4 seemed more restrained to me, and I actually thought it had a lower body count. I was wrong, but that was the impression I got the first time I saw it.

Expectations can be a bitch. Part III had raised my expectations through the roof. It probably wouldn’t have mattered what Part 4 was actually like, my expectations would have led me to expect MORE from it.

I suspect that if I had watched Part III again, I would have thought that it was more restrained and had a lower body count.

It should be noted that I did like Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter the first time I saw it. I just didn’t like it as much as I had expected to. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but the movie was directed by Joseph Zito, who had previously made one of my all time favourite slasher films, The Prowler (1981), which I wrote about in an unrelated blog post. Of course, I hadn’t even seen that movie yet, but it’s a high quality production and I believe that Zito brought some of that sensibility to the Friday the 13th series. – which, oddly enough, may have been one of things that threw me off the first time I saw it. 

Over the years, people would tell me that Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was their favourite film in the entire series. Eventually, I decided that I needed watch it again – and this is when I realized what a great film it was. Joseph Zito put more emphasis on character development and storytelling. The characters in this movie feel more real and are more sympathetic, than any of the characters in the previous three movies. There are more killings in The Final Chapter than there were in Part III, but I didn’t experience it that way the first time. This may have been because I was too busy watching the story, and the killings somehow weren’t as front and centre. In Part III, there had hardly been enough story to get in the way, and some of the characters seemed like they were just there to get killed, so the killings and the gore really became the main focus (at least for me at that time). 

So, it may have been the high quality nature of The Final Chapter that caused me to be disappointed in it all those years ago. Now I recognize it as possibly the best made film in the series, and I love it.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984). is not the last movie in the series. Not even close. And that made me angry for a few years, too. I had actually thought that this film would have been a fairly perfect ending for Jason Voorhees. But then again, we would have missed out on a lot of other entertaining #NotQuiteClassicCinema if the series had ended here – and I would have much fewer choices of what to watch on a #FridayThe13thAtTheHomeDriveIn. So, I guess things worked out for the best in the long run. 

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Mission: Killfast (1991/shot in ??)

As I mentioned in a blog post about The Doll Squad (1973), I first found out about Ted V. Mikels in a wonderful book called Incredibly Strange Films, published by RE/Search. His most famous films, it seemed to me, were The Doll SquadThe Astro-Zombies (1968) and The Corpse Grinders (1971). I can’t recall if Mission: Killfast (1991) was talked about in the book, and it was certainly not on my radar at all until I bought the special Blu-ray edition of The Doll Squad released by Vinegar Syndrome. Mission: Killfast was included as a second feature on that disc, and I was excited because I knew absolutely nothing about it.

What I have learned about it, since watching it last Friday, is that Ted V. Mikels shot most of it back in the early 1980s, which makes it primo home drive-In material. There are no hard rules about what qualifies a film as a “drive-in movie”, or “home drive-in movie”, as I like to say. Basically, the “home drive in” is the home video experience that occurred in the 1980s. People used to go to the drive-in to see marathons of horror and cheap exploitation films. Thanks to VCRs, people could stay home and watch the same kind of films all night long if they had the inclination (and you know I had the inclination).

A typical home drive-in marathon would have included traditional drive-in movies of the past (like The Doll Squad and The Astro-Zombies) but also more current horror films and B-movies (current, as in made in the 1980s), such as Chained Heat (1983) and Hell Night (1981) – yes, Linda Blair was a home drive-in superstar.  So now, when I programme a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn, I tend to include movies from roughly 1930 to 1989. I have, on occasion, included a movie from the early 1990s, when it is particularly drive-in worthy for some reason. I figured that Mission: Killfast qualified on both counts, having been mostly shot in ’82, and then released in 1991. 

Mostly shot in 1982? I had thought it was entirely shot in 1982, but according to Ted V. Mikels, he actually shot the bulk of it in 1980, then had to finish it in 1989. He even brought back three of the actors, including (I think) the star, Cheng-Wu Yang, or Tiger Yang as he is sometimes known. Luckily, Yang (if he was indeed one of them) and the others looked exactly the same nine years later!

Tiger Yang plays Tiger Yang in this movie. So, much like The Doll Squad may have been the pre-cursor to Charlie’s Angels (1976-81), Mission: Killfast may have been the pre-cursor to shows like Seinfeld (1989–1998), in which the stars play “themselves”. If only Mission: Killfast had been released BEFORE Seinfeld, Ted V. Mikels might have gotten the recognition for being a trailblazer that he truly deserved. Or maybe not.

Tiger Yang had made several films in Hong Kong, so he was undoubtedly the real deal in terms of martial arts mastery. But you wouldn’t necessarily get that impression by watching Mission: Killfast. I actually spent a few years studying the Korean art of Tae Kwon Do when I was a teenager, and I couldn’t help but notice that Tiger Yang’s martial arts school in Mission: Killfast featured the Korean flag. Was he a Tae Kwon Do master? I’m not sure. But it made me feel a certain connection to him, and I could tell that he was genuinely skilled at martial arts.

However, from what I know about Hong Kong movies, they can spend days or even weeks shooting one complex martial arts scene. Knowing what I know about Ted V. Mikels, they were probably lucky to have a few hours to complete the action scenes in Mission: Killfast. So, you can’t really fault Tiger Yang, or any of the actors, for not looking as good as they might have in another production. 

Don’t get me wrong. Slightly inept action sequences are one of the many charms of Mission: Killfast. The phrase “so bad it’s good” can, and has been, applied to this movie. I would suggest that it’s not quite that simple. The action scenes aren’t totally inept, as they might be in a film that features actors who have no martial arts training. I’ve seen much more over-the-top examples of “so bad it’s good” in my time at the home drive-in – but the camp factor is certainly at play here. 

For my taste, it’s the story that makes this film worthy of (re)examination. I would try to summarize it, but that would require a reasonable understanding of it – and after only one viewing of this film, I’m not sure that I can claim to have that. It seems deceptively simple on the surface, but there are a lot of different pieces in play, and I’m not sure how they all fit together. Perhaps it is a symptom of having been shot during two different production periods – nine years apart. Some story threads may have been suddenly dropped, or picked up, depending on the requirements of the current production. Honestly, I’m not sure. But the movie managed to keep my attention, and I was left with the distinct feeling that I needed to watch it again.

It should be noted, by those who may be looking to me for an answer as to whether or not they should watch this movie, that I have a very high tolerance – and in fact an appreciation – for movies that most people would dismiss as “bad”. And therefore, it is difficult for me to give a definitive answer. “I enjoyed it” is often my response. But this is no guarantee than any other normal human being would enjoy it. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I loved Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) when it first came out, and most of my friends thought I was crazy. Halloween III has recently enjoyed a sort of renaissance, during which it has been re-evaluated and found worthy by many people – which is nice. I don’t think that Mission: Killfast will be experiencing a similar re-evaluation any time soon. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be an undiscovered gem for people with just the right taste – and tolerance – for trash.

I noticed that one reviewer of Mission: Killfast said: “It’s a martial arts film made by Ted Mikels…need I say more?!” and then went on to give it a seriously negative review. The basic thrust seemed to be, if it’s made by Ted V. Mikels you know it’s going to be “bad”. This is a fair review, only in the sense that Mission: Killfast IS a Ted V. Mikels film, and if you KNOW what Ted V. Mikels’ films are like, then you have a pretty good idea of what your response to this one will be. I happen to like Ted V. Mikels’ style of cinematic schlock, and I admire his ability to get things done – even after a nine year hiatus. So I enjoyed Mission: Killfast very much. It is undoubtedly #NotQuiteClassicCinema – although some might say nowhere near classic cinema – and I will definitely be programming it again on a future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

I rented Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) on Beta when it was a brand new release. I had been wanting to see it when it was playing in the theatres, but alas I could not convince my Dad to take me. Perhaps he was still angry about having been convinced to take me to Friday the 13th Part III (1982), I’m not sure. In any case, I did not get to see it on the big screen. But I did my best to make up for it during those 24 hours or so that I had the Beta tape in my possession. I watched the movie three times before having to return it to Video Zone before 6:00 PM the next day. 

I suppose it goes without saying that I really liked the movie. A lot.

In the coming months I would rent it again with friends, having insisted that they NEEDED to see this movie. I think for the most part they were less impressed than I was.

“Where’s Michael Myers?” they would say.

“He died in part two,” I would say. “This is a whole new story about Halloween…”

And as the movie unfolded in front of us, and my friends started to look more confused, I would do my best to explain things to them…  but they basically thought I was crazy.

I also remember trying to convince my Dad that Halloween III was a brilliant piece of filmmaking. He listened to me as I described the plot in painstaking detail. He never once said that anything didn’t make sense, or try to offer any criticisms of what I was saying, but I got the impression that he didn’t quite believe me. He certainly never did watch the movie, as far as I know.

So, it seemed like I was basically alone in my appreciation of this movie, and I guess I kind of accepted that.  I would still tell people, who hadn’t see it, that Halloween III was a smart and clever movie – but I stopped trying to show it to them. I guess I didn’t want to be disappointed if they didn’t agree with me. And maybe I figured it was better to let them imagine that it was a good movie (whatever that might mean to them), than to make them watch it and look at me strangely (as most people tended to do).

In those days, I couldn’t really buy movies. They were available to rent, of course, but none of the stores were selling movies at that point. Well, one of my neighbourhood stores, which also sold VCRs and other equipment, did have a small display of videotapes for sale. But the price stickers said $79.99 or $99.99 or maybe $54.49 – if it was a bargain.

I think my allowance in those days was somewhere between 50 cents and $2.00, so the idea of spending $50 – $100 on ANYTHING was beyond my comprehension.

Incidentally, that video store – which I think had a name like Video Concepts, or maybe Video Connection – didn’t last very long. It was very close to my house; less than a five minute walk. And it was about three doors down from Video Zone, one of our favourite stores. Video Concepts was a much bigger store, and I liked it. But apparently it was repeatedly burglarized late at night. Thieves would pull up in a van, remove the entire front door of the store (so much for locks), and then load out all of the expensive equipment. Nothing that Video Concepts did, in terms of adding security, prevented those crooks from getting in. After about three or four of these incidents the store had to fold.

I remember that place having the only copies of The Concrete Jungle (1982) and Cannibal Girls (1973) that I had ever seen at the point. It was a sad day when it closed. 

Since nobody was selling movies, or only selling them for a ludicrously high price, I couldn’t buy the movies I loved and watch them over and over again. I had to rent them every time (which added up), or wait for them to come on TV (which wasn’t that often). The only other thing I could do was buy the movie tie-in paperback books and read them. Halloween III is one of the ones I bought and read. And I enjoyed it, too.

I watched Halloween III as many times as I could back in the 1980s, but eventually my pace slowed down and I don’t think I watched it at all during the ’90s, or the early 2000s. I’m not sure why, exactly. It wasn’t a decision. I guess I just got busy with other things, and other movies. And Halloween III became a fond memory of my childhood and teenage years.

At some point I bought a DVD copy of Halloween III and, after what must have been a fifteen or twenty year layoff, I finally watched it again. It was every bit as enjoyable as it had been all those years ago. But I was also experiencing it on a completely different level. There was the nostalgia factor, of course. But I think my jaded adult eyes were able to see the tongue in cheek aspects, the satire, the homage, the relationship that Halloween III had to movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). The strong, charismatic villainous character of Conal Cochran, played brilliantly by Dan O’Herlihy, now reminded me of the great horror characters of the  past, played by actors like Vincent Price or Boris Karloff. Conal Cochran was his own unique character, of course, but he (and his complex evil plan) seemed to have more in common with classic horror villains like Dr Phibes or Edward Lionheart than Michael Myers and Jason Voorheyes (who were the more typical horror villains of the ’80s). Maybe that’s why I had liked Halloween III so much: it was new, but it already felt like a classic. 

My DVD has now been replaced by the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, which I have already watched twice. And I can say with confidence that Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) is a #NotQuiteClassicCinema favourite of mine. It has been rediscovered and re-evaluated in recent years, and nowadays many people seem to like it, and respect it, as much as I do. Some of those hardcore fans might wonder why I call it Not Quite Classic, when I clearly love it and also use the word “classic” to describe it. I would urge them to click on the hashtag and take a look at my explanation of the term. But I would also say this: for years the movie got little to no respect at all. It was about as far from being a “classic” as any film could be (in the minds of those who just didn’t get it). Now it’s finally gaining ground, but it’s still not quite as revered and/or appreciated as many other “classic” horror films. Maybe one day it will be. Maybe not. But it is, in my opinion, a perfect example of the kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that I love, and it will be, for me, a welcome addition to any future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn – particularly on, or around, Halloween.

Rituals (1977)

As mentioned previously, I have a lot of records (LPs, EPs,12″ singles, etc). Digging through bargain bins of old vinyl has been a favourite pass-time of mine since I was a teenager. When you do this in a lot of thirft stores, you start to notice certain records (or artists) popping up with varying degrees of frequency. One name that I would come across from time to time was Hagood Hardy. I had no idea who he was, but after inspecting the backs of a couple of his albums I noticed that he appeared to be Canadian. I have a certain affinity for Canadian artists, particularly ones who were recording in the pre-CanCon days, when it was so much harder for Canadian artists to get airplay on Canadian radio stations. Hagood Hardy appeared to be such an artist, having started recording in the 1960s.

A brief look into his past revealed that he was mainly a jazz and easy listening musician, which meant that he fell outside of my usual areas of interest. He had a hit song called The Homecoming in 1975. It’s an instrumental single that charted in both Canada and the USA, and went gold in Canada. A quick internet search provided many ways to hear the song, and I must say that I knew it really well. I had no idea what it was called (being an instrumental), but I used to hear it all the time back in the ’70s (and probably the ’80s). It’s one of two or three iconic instrumentals from my childhood. I’m sure they used to play it on the old Environment Canada Weather Channel, which my parents used to leave on in the background when no one was watching TV.

This gave me a certain respect for Hagood Hardy, and The Homecoming was definitely a nostalgic blast from the past, but it still wasn’t the kind of music I would typically collect, so I continued to pass his records by when I would see them in the bins. One day I stumbled upon one that I did not recognize called Tell Me My Name. For some reason I turned it over and looked at the back…

The second song on side two was called Reunion (Theme from Rituals).

Theme from Rituals?! The Canadian horror film from 1977? A film that I have had a particular fondness for since I was a kid? Could Hagood Hardy have actually written the theme from that movie?

I looked closer. He did write the song. And it was clearly labelled “Theme from Rituals”. And the record was released in 1977 – the same year as the movie. It would be too much of a strange coincidence for this be a different movie, or TV series – or whatever. It seemed to me that I had found an unexpected treasure; an old LP that contained the official theme of an obscure Canadian horror film from the ’70s – and one of my favourites to boot.

It goes without saying that I had to buy this record.

I couldn’t help but notice that two other tracks on the record were also identified as a “Theme” from something. And since that time, I have confirmed that Hagood Hardy scored several films and TV shows, including Anne of Green Gables (1985) and Anne of Avonlea (1987).

The fact that he did Rituals blows my mind.

Rituals (1977) is a movie that I have a had a relationship with since, probably, 1983. It was directed by Peter Carter, who made the Canadian classic The Rowdyman (1972) and the truck-driver comedy High-Ballin’ (1978) – which is a movie I loved as a kid. His final film, Highpoint (1982), seemed like it must have been a good idea that went bad somewhere along the line. I have a copy in my collection, but I really need to take a closer look at it someday to try to figure it out. 

Rituals has a stellar cast of character actors – including Hollywood Icon Hal Holbrook. It’s a horror film, but it’s also a drama, with great scenes of dialogue and character conflict that make it feel almost like a play at times (even though it takes place in the rugged outdoors). Characters struggle through dangerous terrain in a attempt to reach safety, but they are also on a more personal, inner journey of self-discovery – and they must face up to many unpleasant truths along the way.

Rituals could be described as a survival horror film, and it was almost certainly influenced by Deliverance (1972). But in some ways, Rituals is more like a slasher film (and that’s the way that my teenage mind perceived it back in the day) even though the slasher genre really didn’t get started until after Halloween (1978).  

Rituals was made during the Tax Shelter Days of Canadian filmmaking. The Tax Shelter was a double edged sword, because it made getting a film financed a lot easier, but it also meant that the financiers didn’t really care about getting the film in front of an audience – they just wanted a tax write-off. So, Rituals fell victim to that attitude and was never widely seen. I might have never known about it if it hadn’t been for one person: Stephen King.

Yes, THAT Stephen King. Horror writer extraordinaire, whose stories have been made into many successful movies. Stephen King told me about Rituals way back in the winter of ’83… or was it ’84…?

I recently told the whole story to New York City Guerrilla Filmmaker Séan Weathers on an episode of Rotten Apples FIlm Reviews. We talked about Rituals at length, exploring many different aspects of the film. For those who are interested in hearing what we had to say, you can check out the video on Séan’s YouTube channel.  You will also get to see some clips from the movie – and you even have the option of sticking around and watching the entire uncut version of the film for free.

But speaking of uncut horrors, you will also see yours truly sporting an uncut Covid beard. Yes, that’s right. I haven’t trimmed it since this whole pandemic started back in March of this year. It wasn’t a plan, it just sort of happened. I guess I figured why bother trimming it when no one is going to see me…? But now you ARE going to see me. So, be warned about that…

I suppose I could claim it’s thematically relevant to Rituals. I’m paying homage to the bearded characters at the end of the film (played by Jack Creley and Michael Zenon). Watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean.

Some other things I find interesting about Rituals  (that Séan and I did not have time to discuss):

Robin Gammell plays a gay character at a time when that was unusual. His straight friends just accept him as one of the guys, and the fact that he is gay is not even talked about until fairly deep into the movie.

Jack Creley, who plays one of the bearded mountain man at the end of Rituals, also played the iconic Brian O’Blivion in one of my other all time favourite movies, Videodrome (1983).

Hagood Hardy did compose the theme to Rituals, as well as the entire score. I like it very much, because it is a style of melodic soundtrack music that you don’t often hear anymore -particularly in modern horror films. Here is a sample from the very record that I purchased all those years ago (if you like it, consider buying a copy wherever fine music is sold):

Reunion (Theme from Rituals) by Hagood Hardy (from my personal vinyl LP)

But why are you reading this? Head on over to YouTube and watch the video.

Many thanks to Séan Weathers for reaching out to me, and making it all happen. It was my first time as a guest on a YouTube show, and my first time Zooming (my computer is so ancient that I had to borrow another one). I enjoyed our conversation very much, and look forward to doing it again in the not too distant future (about a different movie, of course).

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Horror Express (1972)

I bought a book at a yard sale when I was a kid. It was called Star Streak, Stories of Space and was edited by Betty M. Owen. I was probably inspired by my love of Star Wars (1977), which was pretty all-encompassing for a couple of years back then. The stories in Star Streak…, however, were not much like Star Wars. The first (and longest) one was actually Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell. I knew this to be the story upon which two movies were based: The Thing from Another World (1951) and The Thing (1982). I had seen the former on TV, perhaps on Not Quite Classic Theatre (although I don’t think so). Oddly enough, I had not seen the “remake” by John Carpenter – in spite of the fact that I was a huge fan of Halloween (1978) and The Fog (1980), and that the movie was playing in the theatre at a time when I was going to several movies a week. My friend Phil went to see it and became an instant super-fan – drawing artwork inspired by it, and talking about constantly. He wanted to go back and see it again – and he wanted me to come with him. For reasons that I cannot to this day explain or fathom I said no.

What the hell?!

I could go on at great length expressing the absurdity of this decision in light of all of my feelings, personal tastes – and the fact the I loved the movie beyond belief when I finally did see it. The fact remains, that I did not want to go and see The Thing at that moment – I almost can’t believe that we were ALLOWED to go and see it in the theatres. It seems like a movie that should have been rated R, but I guess it wasn’t.

I also couldn’t believe it when I found out later that the film had been a box office disappointment on its initial release. I’ve always known it to be a beloved fan favourite, and seemingly very popular (at least on video). But apparently it was not so successful during its initial theatrical run. Perhaps I was not the only fan who refused to go to it for some, inexplicable, reason.

The point that I am very slowly coming around to, is that when I finally did see The Thing, I was immediately struck by the fact that it was not a “remake” of the 1951 classic. It was actually a much more accurate adaptation of the original novella, Who Goes There?. It blew my mind to think that a “remake” could be a more accurate version of the story than the original film. And, dare I say, a better film as well (although I do love the Howard Hawks original). 

What I did not know at that time, was that there was another movie that was, in a sense, a version of Who Goes There? – and a more accurate version than The Thing from Another World (although not as accurate as John Carpenter’s film). That movie was, and is, Horror Express (1972).

I had been aware of Horror Express for quite a few years. I used to see cheapjack public domain VHS copies of the film floating around in bargain bins and on video store shelves. And, oddly enough, I never had the impulse to rent it (or buy it). In fact, I had actively avoided seeing the movie, refusing to rent it with friends if it was ever suggested. In that way, it was just like John Carpenter’s The Thing. For no reason that I could ever articulate, I just didn’t want to see Horror Express. It’s almost as if i had an allergy to movies that were (at least somewhat) accurate adaptations of Who Goes There?.

I don’t really think this can be true. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that there was anything in common between The Thing and Horror Express. I think I was just turned off by the plentiful, shoddy looking VHS boxes. But who knows?

I finally watched Horror Express when a friend of mine lent me a copy and insisted that I give it a shot. It was better than I had imagined, but it was a pretty bad print of the film, so I don’t think I was completely convinced. I watched it again a few years later, via another terrible print, and this time I decided that I needed to buy a copy – but only if it was a good, remastered print. Thanks to the Arrow Video Blu-ray, I’ve finally added it to my collection.

The thing that amazed me most about it, aside from how good it finally looks and sounds, is that it is, clearly, a version of Who Goes There?. I’m not sure that I ever quite realized that when I watched the shoddier prints of the film. If I had noticed any similarities, I probably would have written them off as simple borrowings of ideas from other films. In any case, for the first time ever, I realized what an interesting version of Who Goes There? Horror Express truly is.

I won’t bother trying to itemize the parallels, or even synopsize the plot. I’m probably the last person on Earth to catch on to how great this movie is – nobody needs me to tell them what it’s about. I will say that it has an amazing cast, including Christopher Lee as Professor Sir Alexander Saxton,  Peter Cushing as Dr. Wells, Silvia Tortosa as Countess Irina, and Telly Savalas as a Cossack military officer. The music by John Cacavas is also excellent.

I suppose it could be noted that most of the movie takes place on a train, which is a departure from all of the other versions of Who Goes There?. I seem to have a strange fondness for movies that are set on trains. This may all go back to my childhood, when I managed to watch Breakheart Pass (1975) three times on TV (in those days before home taping was possible). I’m still not sure how I did it (once on the US cable network, once on the Canadian channel and…?), but I remember distinctly seeing it three times in fairly short order. Needless to say, I thought it was pretty cool (and still do). But that’s another story…

Horror Express (1972) is an example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that would probably be a lot more revered and respected if it hadn’t spent so many years being passed around on bad public domain videotapes. I personally avoided it for a long time because of that, and I regret it (although not quite as much as I regret not going to see The Thing in the movie threatre back in ’82 – sorry about that, Phil). I am so glad that I finally have a complete and pristine print that I can screen anytime I feel like it, and what better time could there be than a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn?