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Monday, February 28, 2011

Plan9Crunch review: Surgikill


In 1988, underground filmmaker Andy Milligan embarked on directing his final full-length feature film. Media Arts Productions LLC produced it. The film was to be a black comedy set in a small community hospital called Goode Community Hospital, named after Dr. Grace Goode, a character in the film played by Darlene Van Harlingen, also known as Bouvier. Her husband, John Van Harlingen, was the executive producer. This film is quite departure from the canon of other Milligan films, which were over the top sex and gore epics. The film was shot in an abandoned neighborhood clinic near downtown Los Angeles.

Dr. Goode is desperately trying to keep her small hospital in functioning order as some of her staff and patients are being murdered one by one. Not to mention that she is constantly being hounded to sell the hospital for other greedy business prospects.

The film is full of over-the-top gags and gimmicks that are occasionally funny and sometimes overstated and juvenile. For example, one particularly funny scene, at least to me, shows an old woman arriving at the hospital reception desk with a bedpan stuck to her butt. Two hospital orderlies attempt to pry it off her as she stands in complete embarrassment. Other scenes show characters being hit over the head with a bedpan, or splashed with urine from bedpans. These scenes quickly become overstated. Some of the characters constantly repeating: "We care about the people we care for," quickly gets exhausted too.

Another particularly funny scene shows an old woman lying on her back in the operating room with an arrow sticking out of her butt. Apparently her husband had mistaken her for an archery target and accidentally shot her in the butt. Perhaps her husband was on a hunting trip with Dick Cheney at the time, long before he became Vice President?

A latter scene in the same operating room has Dr. Harvey and Dr. Schweitzer performing a gallbladder surgery. They can’t seem to find the patient’s gallbladder, so they end up tearing out several of the organs from the patient. This particular scene has some connection to earlier Milligan films because it is intentionally and graphically violent, even if the organs used in the scene are obviously unconvincing and fake. Herschel Gordon Lewis would be proud of this scene.
A connection this film has to earlier Milligan films is the nurse-receptionist character and drag queen Ronna, who is very similar to the drag queen in Milligan’s excellent Fleshpot On 42nd Street, played by Neil Flanagan. Ronna is later revealed to be Robert Goode, who is Grace Goode’s cousin and the murderer in the film. Robert is murdering hospital staff and patients in hopes to inherit the family hospital for himself.

Nurse Ronna and Dr. Grace Goode are the two characters I enjoyed the most, and felt the audience would have the greatest connection to. The young, fresh out of medical school Dr. Schweitzer, seems a bit unconvincing to me as he constantly sucks on a baby’s pacifier, implying that he is young, inexperienced and "wet behind the ears." This character gets a bit annoying too. Many of the actors in the film are way over the top in their acting, and frequently shout their lines, much like in an early John Waters film.

Is Surgikill a great film? No, but who cares? I like movies to occasionally be campy, over-the-top and unbelievable, otherwise I would not be writing articles for this web site. Is Surgikill Andy Milligan’s best film? Probably not. I place my vote with Torture Dungeon, which I regard as his greatest masterpiece. Still, any die-hard fan of Andy Milligan cannot afford to miss this entry in his filmography. It may not have the same low-budget, gritty charm as his films of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but it is worthy of a viewing, if only to see what his last film looks like before his death in 1991. Like Milligan’s earlier films, I am confident that Surgikill will continue to gain a strong cult following as the years go by. Fans are eagerly awaiting a DVD release soon.

-- Steve D. Stones

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Surgikill gets its long-awaited DVD release!




Andy Milligan's final film, the black comedy, Surgikill, received a DVD premiere at the Art Theater in Long Beach, Calif., on Feb. 17. Sherman Hirsh, who co-wrote the film, was there and offers these observations:

Well, the big night has come and gone and the afterglow is still bright. My cousin, Steve, and I drove down to Long Beach from the San Fernando Valley and found the Art Theater, where Lo and Behold SURGIKILL was emblazoned on the marquee, and the poster I designed was in the frame by the entrance.

Now, I figured this was going to be my only premiere and I wanted a red carpet, so I brought my own. Hollywood is lousy with tourist trap souvenir shops and they often carry Hollywood themed party kitch decorations. Amid the giant tickets and cardboard cameras and fake "Oscars" there was a 15' roll of garish red plastic sheeting pretending to be a red carpet. I never thought the people at the screening would go along, but when I joked that I had brought the red carpet, they grabbed it and laid it down at the main entrance.

I shot video of Bouvier and Doug Eames arriving and walking the Red Carpet. We even had a papparazzo. A photographer from a local paper shot a few pictures of the event and sat behind me at the screening. I got to see his reactions to the show. He liked it. We pigged out at the buffet and at 9PM sharp the Q&A started.

We answered a bunch of questions from the audience and seemed to be well received. One of the actors from my zombie movie showed up with his wife and asked a few questions. Among other things, Doug talked about how he got the part of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, and I talked about how I came up with the character. Bouvier talked about how she became involved and we had a great time.

Then the movie started and I got to see my name on the big screen. When it was over, we signed a few autographs and Bouvier sold a dozen DVD's. Once people saw SURGIKILL, they liked it. Overall, it was a great night.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Brigham Young

This review originally ran in Nothing Standard blogs, of the Standard-Examiner newspaper website.

By Doug Gibson

Just watched the 1940 film, “Brigham Young”: Two major observations; It was a pleasant surprise to see how favorably a major Hollywood studio would treat the Mormons less than 20 years after “Trapped by the Mormons” scared British audiences. The anti-Mormon mob characters were as evil as any bad guy in an action film.

Second, the film is a bland, sugar and spice look at the LDS’s Church’s second prophet — it’s chock full of historical inaccuracies. But celluloid license was not unusual in that era. Better films, including “The Good Earth,” “Pride and Prejudice,” and “Of Mice and Men” were harmed by irresponsible changes by directors. Examples: Joseph Smith is convicted of insurrection just prior to being murdered; The Saints abandon Nauvoo, more or less entirely, in just a few hours!; the prophet Young doubts his calling through most of the film; polygamy is barely discussed, most notably in playful dialogue between romantic leads Tyrone Power (a young Mormon man) and Linda Darnell (a non-Mormon woman accompanying his family to the Salt Lake Valley).

The film entertains at times, although Henry Hathaway’s direction is sluggish and overwrought. The plot is derivative, and Mormonism’s historical eccentricities and religious uniqueness are not explored. Though in black and white, producer Darryl F. Zanuck used many film strategies that were used in “Gone With the Wind,” such as large text with grave music to transfer scenes and settings, melodramatic characters, such as a Mormon grandma who dies on the plains, and there are impressive high-budget special effects, such as the burning of Nauvoo, framed beyond a freezing lake the Saints use to escape, and the miracle of the seagulls eating grasshoppers threatening Mormon crops in the Salt Lake valley. The latter scene is particularly effective.

The cast is great, even cultish. A young Vincent Price plays Joseph Smith, a wild-looking John Carradine is great as Mormon vigilante Porter Rockwell. Dean Jagger not only plays Brigham Young well, he looks a lot like him as well. Mary Astor is great as Young’s first wife, Mary Ann. Another interesting cast member is Brian Donlevy as “villain” Angus Duncan. Those familiar with Mormon history will notice that “Duncan” actually is a composite of three real characters: John C. Bennett, who turned against the church for financial and prurient reasons; Sidney Rigdon, who left the church after losing a power struggle to Young after Smith’s death; and finally, “Duncan” is also Samuel Brannan, an early church leader who apostasized after failing to convince Young to move the Saints to California.

The film is easy to find on VHS or DVD, but I have not seen it on TV. It seems a natural to be scheduled on Turner Classic Movies. According to the book, “The Hollywood Hall of Shame,” written by the Medved brothers,, Harry and Michael. the film was a financial flop at the box office. However, Medved-authored film books have not always been completely reliable. Moroni Olsen, an Ogden-born actor who played “Doc Richards,” was a faithful Mormon. Jagger, by the way, was so impressed by then-LDS Church President Heber J. Grant’s praise of his performance that he began a long interest in Mormonism that resulted in his baptism to the church in 1972. A recent DVD release of “Brigham Young” includes newsreel footage of the film’s premiere in Salt Lake City.

A Variety review published on Dec. 31, 1939, included this paragraph: “Jagger brings to the character of the Mormon leader a personable humaness and sympathy. Astor turns in one of the finest performances of her career. Power and Darnell are overshadowed by the above twain.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Bloody Valentine – Get Your Heart Broken This Valentine’s Day

By Steve D. Stones

My Bloody Valentine is an early 1980s horror film that follows in the tradition of other holiday horror features, such as Halloween, Friday The 13th, April Fool’s Day, Christmas Evil, New Year’s Evil and Mother’s Day. The film was directed by George Mihalka and takes place in a small Canadian mining town called Valentine’s Bluff.

A group of miners is trapped in a shaft on Valentine’s Day twenty years ago. One of the surviving miners, Harry Warden, survives the accident by resorting to cannibalism. After being rescued, Warden is committed to a mental institution and escapes to kill one of the mining foremen responsible for the mine disaster. He cuts out the foreman’s heart and vows to kill anyone in town if they ever have a Valentine’s Day celebration.

The town sheriff receives a heart shaped box on Valentine’s Day with a bloody human heart in it. Despite this horrific event, some of the town’s young citizens decide to have a Valentine’s Day dance. Another victim is killed at a local Laundromat. Some of the youngsters attending the dance decide to go to the local mine just for kicks. One by one a man dressed as a miner with a pick ax murders them.

The film ends with a surprise ending. Although the acting is questionable with some of the characters in the film, My Bloody Valentine manages to be a fun and entertaining movie. A 3-D remake of the film was made in 2009. The DVD of the remake comes with four 3-D glasses. Fans of the original film may want to consider watching it back to back with the 3-D remake. Happy Valentine’s Day!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bride of the Monster!



By Doug Gibson

Plan9Crunch fans in Utah, make sure that you don't miss the inimitable Ed Wood's classic "Bride of the Monster." It airs Friday, Feb. 11, at 9 p.m. on UEN Channel 9's Sci-Fi Friday night. I love this threadbare film starring Bela Lugosi. It was his last speaking role! Also, cast in a bit part was Wood's soon-to-be-ex paramour Dolores Fuller. Lugosi gives it his all despite the rushed shooting schedule and very low budget. Tor Johnson lumbers around effectively and the "Monster" certainly looks different up close compared to its stock shots But it's a film you can't hate, and like everything Wood made -- IT IS UNIQUE!

Here's a short review: This 1955 film is probably the best film Ed Wood directed in a technical sense. An emaciated, drug-addicted Bela Lugosi gives it his all in an inspiring performance as embittered, exiled mad scientist, Dr. Eric Vornoff, who "vill perfect ... a race of atomic superman who vill rule the vorld!" Tor Johnson, all 500-pounds of him, lumbers around the cheap sets menacing a young lovely newsgal with a detective for a boyfriend. Rubber octopuses and a photo enlarger substitute for a monster and an atomic energizer.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

RIP: Tura 'Varla' Satana



Plan9Crunch has a sad note to pass on: Cult actress Tura Satana, best known for her kick#@@ roles in Russ Meyers' Faster Pussycat Kill Kill and Ted V. Mikels' The Doll Squad, has died of heart failure, her manager states. A New York Times arts blog report is here

Above is a memorable scene of Tura in Mikels' The Doll Squad. If you time tonight, watch Faster Pussycat ... again. It's a classic cult film. We'll hopefully have more on Tura in the next few days.
Doug Gibson

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dick Tracy versus Cueball



By Doug Gibson

The Medved brothers list Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball as one of the 5o worst films in their book, The 50 Worst Films of All Time, that was popular generations ago.

They're wrong, of course, "Dick Tracy vs. Cueball," from RKO Radio Pictures, is a lean 62-minute programmer that provides exactly what is offers. A cartoonish detective story of the famous detective stopping a dangerous mug, Cueball, who starts strangling people with a hatband who get in his way of getting full value for the diamonds he stole.

Morgan Conway as Tracy lacks the facial looks and screen presence that Ralph Byrd brought to the role but he does an OK job. The funny-pages feel to the picture is accentuated by colorful characters, including Anne Jeffreys as Tess Truehart, Tracy's girl and Lyle Latell as Pat Patton, Tracy's silly sidekick.

The other characters have names that highlight their personalities, such as Jewels Sparkle, Percival Priceless, Vitamin Flintheart, Filthy Flora and, of course, the baddie Cueball, played in sinister fashion by Dick Wessel. A chief clue toward catching Cueball is learned when a youngster tells Tracy all the kids bought hatbands made by a prisoner who was recently released. ...

A 50 worst film? ... NONSENSE. I loved this action programmer from director Gordon Douglas. Why don't we watch the trailer above! YouTube also shows the entire film in parts.

Dick Tracy versus Cueball

By Doug Gibson

The Medved brothers list Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball as one of the 5o worst films in their book, The 50 Worst Films of All Time, that was a popular a generation ago.

They're wrong, of course, "Dick Tracy vs. Cueball," from RKO Radio Pictures, is a lean 62-minute programmer that provides exactly what is offers. A cartoonish detective story of the famous detective stopping a dangerous mug, Cueball, who starts strangling people with a hatband who get in his way of getting full value for the diamonds he stole.

Morgan Conway as Tracy lacks the facial looks and screen presence that Ralph Byrd brought to the role but he does an OK job. The funny-pages feel to the picture is accentuated by colorful characters, including Anne Jeffreys as Tess Truehart, Tracy's girl and Lyle Latell as Pat Patton, Tracy's silly sidekick.

The other characters have names that highlight their personalities, such as Jewels Sparkle, Percival Priceless, Vitamin Flintheart, Filthy Flora and, of course, the baddie Cueball, played in sinister fashion by Dick Wessel. A chief clue toward catching Cueball is learned when a youngster tells Tracy all the kids bought hatbands made by a prisoner who was recently released. ...

A 50 worst film? ... NONSENSE. I loved this action programmer from director Gordon Douglas. Why don't we watch the trailer below!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVOZRFEk5Pk