Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Remembering New Year's Evil

Happy Days star Roz Kelly stars in this early 1980s slasher film directed by Emmett Alston. Like so many horror films of the 1980s, this one is an attempt to cash in on the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween franchise.

Kelly is a punk rock mother hosting a New Year’s Eve party at a hip New Wave music club in downtown Los Angeles. Her teenage son comes to see her at the club with flowers, but she completely ignores him. A maniac killer, played by Kip Niven, calls Kelly at the club hotline to inform her that he will commit a murder every hour until 12 midnight as part of his New Year’s resolution. A club worker named Yvonne is the first victim to be killed in a bathtub in a club dressing room.

The second victim is a pretty blonde nurse at the local hospital. The killer predictably poses as a new hospital orderly who lures the nurse into a hospital room with champagne and proceeds to stab her to death after making out with her. Another nurse at the hospital discovers her body in a closet.

The killer continues to call Kelly at the music club in a disguised voice to inform her that he is committing murders. He even plays a taped recording over the phone of him stabbing the nurse at the hospital. Kelly is now forced to take his threats seriously. She asks the local police department for police protection.

By now the viewer has been exposed to lots of really bad punk rock performances, zebra striped T-shirts, and 1980s mullet hairstyles. Where are The Ramones, The Misfits and The Sex Pistols when we need them?

Feeling rejected by his mother, Kelly’s son sees his mother performing on television at the club with a punk band. In a fit of anger, he tears apart the roses he brought for her, and stretches one of her red nylon stalkings over his face as if he is about to become a killer himself. This is a particularly confusing scene because by now we already know who the killer is and what he looks like, so any attempt to suggest that the killer could be Kelly’s son seems unnecessary. The killer now shows up at another dance club in L.A. dressed in an obviously fake moustache and three-piece suit. He tells another pretty blonde girl at the bar that he is a business agent for many Hollywood actors in town. He convinces her to leave the club to attend a business party. She refuses to go alone with him, so she takes one of her club friends with her.

This spoils the plans of the killer to get her alone. The three drive in the killer’s Mercedes to a gas station, where the killer strangles one of the girls with a bag full of marijuana. He hides in a Dumpster to attack the second girl as she comes out of the gas station with a bottle of champagne. The killer stabs her to death. As the killer flees the scene, he is harassed at a stop light by a motorcycle gang. The killer speeds away from the motorcycle gang and hides out at a local drive-in theatre.

The movie screen advertises a film entitled Blood Feast as a feature playing at the theatre, but it is not Herschel Gordon Lewis’ schlock masterpiece from 1963, unfortunately. After stealing another car from a young couple making out at the drive-in, the killer shows up at the New Wave club, manages to club a police officer in the head at a back entrance, and puts his police uniform on, which conveniently fits him perfectly. Under police protection outside her dressing room, Kelly sits in front of a mirror putting on make-up as the killer suddenly appears in her room in a jogging outfit and a Halloween mask.

She sees him in the mirror, but is not frightened. He removes the mask, and reveals himself to be Richard Sullivan, her husband. She is not frightened by his presence because she has no idea he is the killer. As the couple gets into an elevator, it becomes evident to Kelly that her husband is the killer.

He holds a knife up to her and saying:“I’m fed up . . . You’re just like all the other women in my life. Women are manipulative, deceitful, immoral and very, very selfish!”

His reasoning for killing here seems very petty and unnecessary. Wouldn’t his actions make him “manipulative, deceitful, immoral and selfish?” If he was so fed up with his wife, why didn’t he just request a divorce from her? Why go through the troubles of killing several innocent women to get to her? In the post O.J. Simpson and Scott Peterson world we live in today, it seems highly unlikely that a man would go on a killing spree killing innocent victims just to prove a point with his wife.

However, I realize this film was made long before the O.J. Simpson ordeal of the1990s, and the Scott Peterson ordeal early in this decade. As the film comes to an end, Richard chains his wife to the bottom of the elevator and is chased by policemen who fire shots at him. He is chased to the top balcony of the building, where he puts the Halloween mask back on and jumps off the building, committing suicide. His son emotionally removes the mask from him.

The film ends with a shot of Kelly being wheeled into an ambulance. The driver of the ambulance is wearing Richard’s Halloween mask, and the paramedic on the passenger side lies dead on the floor of the ambulance. Could the killer now be Kelly’s son?

NEW YEAR’S EVIL follows in the long line-up of so many 1980s slasher/horror films. Like Silent Night, Deadly Night, My Bloody Valentine, Christmas Evil, Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas, April Fool’s Day, Mother’s Day, and so many others, NEW YEAR’S EVIL is an attempt to use a holiday title to cash in on the slasher craze of the 1980s.

-- Steve D. Stones

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holiday terror: Silent Night Deadly Night

By Steve D. Stones

Just how sleazy is the holiday horror film SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT? Paige Hurley, a concerned parent from Minnesota said: "My 3-year old son saw the television commercial for SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT last week and now refuses to sit on Santa’s lap for our annual Christmas picture this year. What next? A marauding turkey at Thanksgiving?" Roxanne T. Mueller of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said: "SILENT NIGHT, DEALY NIGHT is a sleazy, miserable, insulting piece of garbage!" Actor Mickey Rooney said: "How dare they! I’m all for the First Amendment, but … don’t give me Santa Claus with a gun going to kill someone. The scum who made that movie should be run out of town." As you can see, critics were not very kind to this movie.

Like DON’T GO IN THE WOODS . . . ALONE, this film has a special appeal to me because it was filmed locally in Heber City, Utah. In fact, directors James Bryan and Charles Sellier Jr. both worked on the Grizzly Adams TV show of the 1970s.The story begins with a young family traveling to a Utah mental facility to visit their grandfather on Christmas Eve. For years, the grandfather has pretended to be unconscious and mute. After greeting the grandfather, the parents leave the room to attend to some formalities with the superintendent while Billy stays to watch his grandfather. The grandfather begins to warn little Billy that only good children can receive gifts from Santa, and Santa severely punishes all naughty children.

On their way back home, Billy expresses a lack of interest in Santa visiting their home on Christmas because he is afraid of being punished. Soon they encounter a man dressed in a Santa suit pulled off the side of the road with car trouble. The Santa has just robbed a local convenient store. The father pulls over to offer help, but the man points a gun at him. He quickly puts the car in reverse, crashing into a nearby ditch. The father is knocked out unconscious. Santa pulls the mother out of the car, raping and murdering her. Billy witnesses her murder after fleeing from the car and hiding in the brush near the ditch.

Four years later in December 1974, Billy is now living at Saint Mary’s Home For Orphaned Children. Mother Superior disciplines Billy for showing a violent crayon drawing of Santa to his classmates. While walking in the hallway to his room, Billy witnesses a young couple having sex in their room. This triggers a flashback in his mind of the rape and murder of his mother. Even sitting on Santa’s lap at the orphanage seems to trigger the violent flashbacks of his mother.
It is now Christmas time 1984, and Billy is a grown up teenager working at a toy store. One of his co-workers constantly teases and bullies him at work. He develops a crush on a pretty brunette girl who also works at the toy store. He even has sexual fantasies about her in his dreams. His boss insists that he dress up as Santa to greet costumers. He is very hesitant to take on this assignment because of what he witnessed of his mother many years ago, but soon agrees to dress up as Jolly O’ Saint Nick.

One night while leaving the store, he witnesses his bully co-worker raping the pretty brunette girl in the back storage room. Once again, this triggers another flashback of his mother being raped. This time he becomes violent and kills the man by hanging him with Christmas lights. For the rest of the film, Billy goes on a murdering rampage with an axe and dressed in his Santa suit.
One particularly sleazy and gratuitous scene in the film shows Linnea Quigley, the most famous star of the film, having sex on a pool table with her boyfriend. She hears a cat outside the house and decides to open the front door topless to let it inside. How many women would really open the front door topless to let a cat in the house? This is not very believable. Soon Billy enters the home and picks Quigley up, impaling her on the antlers of an antelope head hanging above the fireplace. The real Santa will have quite a surprise when he comes down this particular chimney tonight!

Although I’m a fan of this film, I do have my criticisms of it. This film is an obvious attempt to cash in on the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween some six years earlier. The 1980s ushered in the "slasher genre" as a result of Halloween, and this is one of many 1980s films that fits this category.

What makes Michael Meyers such a believable killer is that we really do not know why he kills, and we never see his face. Plus, we feel Meyers is evil and has no remorse for his actions because he is not aware they are wrong. The Billy character in this film is not quite believable because we are given a long history into his life, and he appears to be the typical all American boy up until he witnesses the girl at the toy store being raped by his co-worker. He does not come across as being evil and seems to be killing for only the sake of witnessing a rape. Perhaps this is one of many reasons why parents all across America were protesting and banning movie theatres for screening this film.

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT is a film I would only recommend to fans of the "slasher genre" of the 1980s. If you’re looking for a well-made, classic holiday horror film, I would highly recommend BLACK CHRISTMASfrom 1974. BLACK CHRISTMAS pre-dates the "slasher genre" by nearly a decade, and is said to be John Carpenter’s inspiration for Halloween.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Tribute to Bettie Page

BETTIE PAGE: The Sultry Smile of a Nashville Girl

By Steve D. Stones

Just what is it about a sexy girl with jet-black hair dressed in a bikini and nylon stockings that gets our heart rate pumping so rapidly? When it comes to pin-up queen Bettie Page, it’s the sultry smile and look of innocence mixed with naughtiness that really sweeps us off our feet.

Bettie Mae Page was born April 22nd, 1923 in Nashville, Tennessee to Walter Roy Page and Edna Mae Pirtle. She was the second of six children. After the stock market crash of 1929, the Page family struggled to survive like so many other American families. This caused a break down in the Page home. Edna was forced to place Bettie and her two sisters in an orphanage while she worked as a laundress and hairdresser to save enough money to bring the family back together. Bettie soon learned to cook and sew, which proved to be very useful when she made many of herown dance costumes for her 1950s performances.

From a very young age, Bettie exhibited great talent and excellence in everything she did. She was voted "most likely to succeed" at her High School and became the co-editor of the school’s newspaper and yearbook. She also served as program director of the drama club and secretary-treasurer of the student council. At the time of her graduation, she was at the top of her class academically and received a $100.00 scholarship to Peabody College, where she majored in Education. She married Billy Neil in 1943.

After a brief period of teaching, Bettie decided to move to San Francisco to pursue her first passion; acting. While in San Francisco, she landed her first modeling job and was able to travel all over the world for her work. She developed a strong interest in Haitian culture, which would later have a large impact on her "bondage and discipline" work in the 1950s.

In 1947, Bettie divorced Billy Neil and headed to New York City. At this time, New York had become a Mecca for young people trying to make it in the entertainment industry. The post-war era of the late 1940s and early 1950s saw an economic boom in the United States. Television was the new medium, and opportunities to be a part of the entertainment business were endless.
Also at this time, an off duty police officer with an interest in photography named Jerry Tibbs spotted Bettie on the boardwalk at Coney Island and asked her to pose for some pictures. Tibbs suggested she cut her bangs, which has become the trademark look of Bettie’s now iconic appearance.

Bettie soon met Irving Klaw and his sister Paula, who were running a small mail order business to market photographs of pin-up girls. During her brief time with Klaw, Bettie created some of her most memorable photos and films that were thought to be lost or destroyed forever as a result of the McCarthy era witch hunts that took place in the 1950s. Both Bettie and Klaw were subpoenaed to testify before the U.S. Senate because of these "lewd materials." This was a time of strict moral restrictions in American culture, and Klaw’s photographs and films strayed outside those strict codes of the time. Feeling the pressures of the McCarthy inquisitions, Klaw eventually gave up his mail order business for good.

After Bettie’s appearance in the January 1955 issue of Playboy, and some photos taken by Bunny Yeager on a beach in Florida, Bettie seemed to disappear forever. In 1958, she had a religious conversion, and decided to devote her life to her newfound faith. That may have been the end of Bettie’s former life and her photos, as far as she was concerned.

Then, the 1960s ushered in a new generation of sex entertainment that immediately became mainstream culture. Audiences were treated to "nudie cutie," nudist camp and other soft-core features, which were rapidly becoming popular forms of enterainment. The strict moral codes of the McCarthy era were breaking down very quickly. The films of Barry Mahon, Harry Novak, Doris Wishman, Russ Meyer and David F. Freidman were popular drive-in fare at this time. Collectors were also seeking out the Irving Klaw films made with Bettie a decade earlier.

The 1970s saw entertainment becoming even more liberal by introducing hard-core sex films. Stars such as Linda Lovelace, John Holmes and Marilyn Chambers all were new names familiar to a sex-starved public.

Soon a cult following developed around Bettie Page and her photos. Her image could be seen everywhere, including posters, t-shirts, trading cards, comic books, fine art paintings, and even lunch boxes. Bettie became familiar to a whole new generation of fans. Collectibles of Bettie Page are a sought after commodity.

Sadly, Bettie passed away on Thursday December 11th, 2008 of heart failure at the age of 85. She was not able to achieve her life long goal of living until the age of 100, but her images and films will live on forever in the hearts and minds of her devoted fans all over the world. Her sultry smile and sexy girl with the jet-black hair image will live on forever.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A look at The Milpitas Monster

By Steve D. Stones

In recent years, Millcreek Entertainment has released a series of 50-movie DVD box sets with cheap public domain films that would normally be unavailable to buy or rent. These boxed sets are a real treasure for any serious film buff of low budget horror and monster movies. The DVD sets are very affordable and amount to around 40 cents a movie.

Chilling Classics is just one of many sets put out by Millcreek. This set contains an interesting and very rare mid-1970s film called: The Milpitas Monster. The small town of Milpitas, just forty miles past San Francisco, is experiencing a series of neighborhood garbage raids. Locals are waking up every morning to giant slimy footprints in their driveways and garbage scattered all over the yard. Meanwhile local scientists are conducting experiments on water samples of the nearby-polluted Milpitas Lake.

It turns out that a giant creature was spawned from the pollution of the lake, and is now terrorizing the local citizens. It’s up to the town drunk and some local high school students to save the day and destroy the beast.

The climax of the film shows the monster on top of a TV transformer as a helicopter knocks the beast off the tower, similar to the ending of the 1933 classic King Kong.

The most interesting aspect of this film is the cheap, yet strange-looking monster. The monster has bat-like wings, and wears a mask that looks similar to a gas mask. His eyes light up like many of the monsters that confront Godzilla in the Japanese monster movies.

Although the film ends with the monster’s claw rising out of Milpitas Lake after he has fallen from the TV tower, a sequel to the film was never made. Perhaps the locals of Milpitas were unable to raise the funds to produce a sequel?

It’s interesting to note that Ben Burtt, who created the sound effects for all the Star Wars movies, also contributed to the effects of this film. Burtt’s career after this film obviously took a much more successful path.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A look at Leonard Gardner's Fat City

Hello blog-readers, it's been a little quiet the past few weeks. Steve is busy with end-of-semester stuff on a large scale at the classes he teaches at Weber State University. I am busy at work and finishing up the class I teach at the University of Utah. We plan a lot of posts and reviews as the year ends and begins.
I've decided to throw up a book review I had published too many years ago in the long-gone Salt Lake City Event magazine. It is of the novel, Fat City, by Leonard Gardner. It's the nest boxing novel published since The Harder They Fall. It's also a great John Huston-directed film, which is slated to be shown on Turner Classic Movies in February. So here goes!
Fat City

Fat City, by Leonard Gardner, reminds me a lot of a John Steinbeck novel. It takes place in northern California -- Stockton, to be exact -- and is a story about lost dreams, skid row, alcoholism, self destruction and day labor workers picking crops and being bossed around by callous overseers. The time is the late 1950s. Billy Tully is a washed-up 29-year-old ex-boxer who barely survives life in a downtown hotel. Tully carries a major torch for his ex-wife, who left him when his fighting career went south. He works picking fruit and spends his nights drinking. Sometimes he flirts with Oma, a young, alcoholic, bitter widow who lives with a black man.

One day Tully goes to a YMCA, and coaxes an 18-year-old named Ernie Munger to spar with him. To Tully's surprise, Ernie whips him handily that day. Prodded by Tully, Ernie goes to the gym and starts training under the eye of Ruben Luna, who used to train Tully. Ernie, who works nights at a gas station, marries his girlfriend Faye when she becomes pregnant. Tully keeps working the fields, but begins to imagine a comeback. He moves in with Oma, and then follows Ernie to the gym to start his own comeback under Luna s watch.

Fat City is a lot more than a boxing tale, however. Gardner's writing is superb. He has a talent for getting inside the heads of and fleshing out the personalities of even minor characters. For example, there's this young boxer named Wes Haynes. He trains hard and is filled with dreams of success. In his first fight, Wes is knocked out in the first round. "Wes ... was overcome with dejection. He had made no secret of his training. Acquaintances at school had spoke to him as if he were a professional, and he had not cared to correct them. He had believed he would be one soon enough ... Now he felt he should have known all along that he was nothing."

There is no glamor in the fight game in Gardner s novel. Tully and Ernie are brought to the gym for quixotic reasons; Tully to regain the glory he had in his youth (and maybe his ex-wife, although that's a pipe dream more fueled by booze than love). Ernie just wants enough extra cash to support a wife and baby. But there's no money in fighting. Ernie gets $10 for fighting four round bouts. Tully's comeback fight -- a main event 10-round tough win over a fading, ring-wise veteran from Mexico -- nets him only $100. He soon returns to booze -- even Oma has left him. Alcoholism destroys Tully. It makes him a self-pitying whiner. He blames his manager Luna for a long-ago boxing loss. Soon after Tully's comeback win, he is filthy and homeless, struggling to find a place to sleep on the street.

Perhaps Ernie is meant to be a younger Tully. However, he lacks the talent of his mentor and we're left with the impression that boxing won't consume his life. He's roped into marriage with Faye before he's ready. There is a scary scene where the usually mild-mannered Ernie is consumed with jealousy after seeing an ex-boyfriend of Faye's. In a mild yet chilling manner, he demands from Faye to know about her past sex life, all the while insisting it's no big deal. Faye, never having seen this insecure, possessive side of her new husband, eventually bursts into tears. "...that deep animal moaning, terrifying in its immodesty, rose from behind her hands. It was a sound he had never heard before. ... Faye, it doesn t bother me. It doesn't bother me. It really doesn't bother me."

Fat City gives voice to the shadow people of the streets. The ones who spend hours in the bars, wake up in ratty hotel rooms, hang out at bus stops waiting to be driven to a field to pick crops, and earn just enough cash to be able to go on a week-long bender in their hotel room. For Tully, there is no difference between winning and losing. His long-term fate has already been determined. His boxing ability can only provide a short respite from another slide. But Gardner does not see Tully as a quitter. No one s a quitter among Gardner s street people. They re survivors. They claw out lives any way they can, regardless of the baggage that keeps them down.

A footnote: Fat City was made into a movie in 1972. It was directed by John Huston and starred Stacy Keach as Tully and Jeff Bridges as Ernie. It garnered excellent reviews and is available on video and DVD.

-- Doug Gibson