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Sunday, April 28, 2024

Bad Movies For Bad People Vol. II


At the time of this writing, it has been two years since the death of my best friend Jeff Siegrist, aka the Marquis de Suave. A few months after his passing, I paid tribute to him in the form of a blog post to which this will act as a sequel. I had meant to follow that post up sooner, and revisiting it now it seems that it's well-past time to do just that. 

Without further ado:

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952, William Beaudine)

I remember Jeff being very excited to receive this one on bluray, and even more excited to show it to me when I dropped by one night. As the title indicates, Bela Lugosi is front and center as the diabolical Dr. Zabor- a mad scientist hiding himself away on a remote jungle island so he can perform experiments in turning men into apes. Crashing into his secluded island world, otherwise populated with depictions of natives very indicative of when the film was made, are Sammy Petrillo and Duke Mitchell- the poor man's Martin and Lewis. Hilarity of sorts ensues, and the whole movie plays like an alternate dimension knock-off of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein or perhaps, more appropriately, Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff. Petrillo is uncanny in his Lewis-esque persona, and at times it's easy to forget you're not actually watching a young Jerry Lewis. He had built his brief career off of the impersonation, originally working with Jerry but eventually drawing his ire for stealing the act. He faded into obscurity and, as Jeff told me with a chuckle, ended up doing a send-up porno called Keyholes Are for Peeping in 1972- playing the part of a peeping tom. ...Broklyn Gorilla was meant to be the first in a series of movies featuring Mitchell and Petrillo, but it also turned out to be the last.

I have rewatched this movie several times, and consider it the very best of the films where Lugosi plays opposite a man in an ape suit- of which there are a surprising amount.

The Holy Mountain (1973, Alejandro Jodorowsky)

In the first "volume", I mentioned Jodorowsky along with David Lynch and Kenneth Anger in the final paragraph as being Jeff's favorite directors. While on any given day he might have given a different answer when asked about his favorite movie, I know with a fair degree of certainty that The Holy Mountain would have been close. I had hesitated to include some of these movies, favoring the more obscure and silly ones, because I am not nearly the cinematic analyst he and other cinephiles present themselves as. Simply put, I don't always feel equipped to speak to the more epic cult movies, and in attempting it grew an even greater appreciation for Jeff's reviews. Writing about movies is more difficult than it seems!

I also had the concern that the title "Bad Movies For Bad People" would be interpreted as a sleight to movies like this- although I think it's clear at this point that genuine appreciation for the movies is the order of the day, and that the title is just a play on the title of a Cramps album. Incidentally Jeff hosted a college radio show called "Bad Music for Bad People". 

With that hedging out of the way, The Holy Mountain is not an easy film to watch. It's long, and there are a lot of mystical overtones and characters to keep track of, mixed in with imagery ranging from the absurd and comedic to the off-putting and disturbing. In Jeff's own words "...only in the psychedelic era could such a surrealistic vision be produced with a high budget. Nothing else in cinematic surrealism has pushed as many boundaries as this masterpiece." The budget was largely due to Allen Klein, who had managed the Beatles. Jodorowsky plays the guru character, the Alchemist, which Jeff saw as equal parts pretentious and self-reflective in an ingenious way. 

If you haven't seen it, set aside the time and do nothing but watch it. Don't fiddle with your phone. It's a movie that demands your attention and rewards you for it.

It's a Bird! (1930) and: There It Is (1928), Charlie Bowers and Harold Muller

This double-dose of obscure "two-reelers" from the days of early sound pictures is really something special, and the kind of thing you only become privy to by friendship with a real film geek. Bowers and Muller worked on a string of films together, only some of which survive. Bowers starred in them as well; an interesting character, he claimed to have been kidnapped by circus people as a child and grew up learning how to perform on tightropes and other such carnivalesque arts. In addition to his onscreen performance, writing, and directing, he was also an animator- and found novel ways of combining live action with his animations. The effect has a level of uncanniness to it that can only adequately be described as surreal; as goofy as these films are, which were intended as comedy, they feel something like a fever dream when you watch them.

In There It Is Bowers plays a detective from Scotland Yard sent to investigate a haunting of sorts in New York. In his attempt to investigate the "Fuzz-Faced Phantom", he brings along an assistant called MacGregor, pictured above. It's not really clear what MacGregor is, but he's tiny, animated, and really weird looking. The story plays out like a lot of the old haunted house / mystery films of the era that came prior, beginning with Georges Melies' La Manoir du Diable (1896), in which the setting is a launchpad for impressive visual effects. It's a Bird! is probably a little less extravagant in that regard, but is impressive enough to feel like a film that should not have existed in 1930. The effects seem too good to be true, yet weirdly crude from our modern standpoint. This short film is really about a guy biting off more that he can chew after capturing a bird who eats metal. The plot is thin, but the short film delivers in weirdness what it lacks in story.

Both short films can be found on YouTube for your enjoyment.

Carnival of Souls (1962, Herk Harvey)

Carnival of Souls is an example of an amateur director trying his darnedest to make a good film on a small budget for the love of doing it, and Jeff argued he achieved more in that respect than many such filmmakers. Contrasted against other examples like Manos: Hands of Fate, it's a masterpiece. It has a cult following, and I've always loved it as something that achieves a type of spookiness in spite of its reputation as a "bad movie". Jeff would go further, and say that Harvey's ambitious drive to emulate Jean Cocteau and Ingmar Bergman as a guerilla filmmaker actually worked pretty well. He saw the movie as a dreamlike, eerie depiction of alienation in its purest sense. More than a ghost story, or the spooky tale I always loved it as, Jeff saw deeper meaning in it- and held high regard for it. Herk Harvey appears in the movie as a mysterious, ghoulish phantom who menaces the main character- a young woman who moves to a new town after a car accident. Looking at some of these weird movies the way Jeff did, one can find ways to appreciate aspects of them that perhaps the director or cast never intended. Secret meanings are to be found all the way from the trash strata to the divine, and Carnival falls somewhere in-between- floating like a car being dragged out of a river.

Kiss Me Quick! (1964, Peter Perry Jr

I had considered doing a whole volume of "NSFW" Bad Movies for one of these posts, as Jeff considered himself an aficionado of sleaze cinema and of pornography. His love of outsider art extended to the most puerile movies, and he would quite literally watch pornos for the plot sometimes. He was unabashed in his interests there and even described himself at times as a pervert.

The thing is that he would, as previously mentioned, cater his choice of movies to whichever friend was dropping by- and in my case, that usually meant something really off the wall but less on the pornographic side. I'll admit to being a bit of a prude, and in light of that and the limited amount of those flicks I actually took in with Jeff, this movie will have to suffice... for now.

Kiss Me Quick! is a truly bizarre movie in the very odd genre of "nudie-cutie" flicks. Being the prude that I am, this minimal exposure to the genre made me appreciate the appeal. Being mostly a send-up of science fiction and horror motifs, blended in the most incongruent ways as a means to showcase scantily clad women, it boggles the mind in its choices. More than anything, it's weird how well it works.

My understanding was it was supposed to be a nudie film parody of Dr. Stranglove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, but for some reason they weren't able to do that. The only remnant of the idea is in the mad scientist's name, "Dr. Breedlove". Breedlove is visited upon by a dopey alien named Sterilox, from the "Buttless Galaxy", where his race has evolved past the need for sex (I think) but needs to reintroduce the idea with some female specimens. Dr. Breedlove is a Dr. Frankenstein of sorts, who creates sexy robot ladies in his lab, and proceeds to showcase them to Sterilox. All of this is goofy as hell, and if you're in it just for the nudity is just filler, but the details are so damned odd they demand explanation.

Breedlove looks vaguely like Strangelove at a glance, but his voice is that of a cartoon version of Lugosi's Dracula. His sunglasses and prosthetic seeming nose evoke Claude Rains' Invisible Man, and all the while he's supposed to be a mad doctor. Sterilox is like the bastard child of TV's Frank from Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Stan Laurel- he's inexplicably doing a pretty dead-on impression of Stan the entire time he's shopping for robo-ladies. Breedlove gets increasingly frustrated as Sterilox proves to be a picky customer, booming out terrible lines in a mock Transylvanian accent while his face remains static and unchanging. Every cut to a nearly naked woman the mind is still cycling through questions such as "Why? Why Stan Laurel? Why this combination? Why am I enjoying this movie?" Invariably such thoughts might lead one to an existential crisis, but thankfully the movie isn't terribly long and throws in just enough B-Movie madness to keep you entertained. It should get tiresome, or annoying, but instead inspires a consistent supply of chuckles if for no other reason than the overabundance of absurdity in it.  

The Music Box (1930, James Parrott)

Since I referred to Stan Laurel in the previous movie write-up, it only makes sense to end with a Laurel and Hardy movie. I loved Stan and Ollie as a kid, and really hadn't gone out of my way to watch them in adulthood until Jeff collected the movies. I think he and I agreed that The Music Box contained the most laughs per frame. We watched it together a bunch of times, along with some of the other short films by the classic duo, and had an inside joke that Stan was just stoned all of the time. As such, "getting laureled" became a code word for certain illicit activities which these days are legal in some states. In addition, he would always say "We need more productivity around here! Less Stan Laurel, more Oliver Hardy!"

In actuality, in their offscreen lives Stanley was the driving force. He would write the scripts, come up with the gags, and plan most of what was to happen. Their affection for each other and commitment to their working relationship comes through in the old pictures, and it's incredibly sweet to see. There were many great comedy teams throughout the history of film, but there's a quality to Stan and Ollie that is as unique to them as it is hard to define. They're inseparable pals, and after Ollie's death Stan refused every offer to partner with anyone else- and the movies they made together remain immortal.

The Music Box is the best example of the short film version of a Stan Laurel story. Their feature length movies are good, but the short film (whether silent or sound) was where they really shined- unencumbered by any complicated plot, they would fill 16-30 minutes with the most wonderful pratfalls, camera-mugging, and slapstick anyone ever performed. The plot in question here is simple: Stan and Ollie have been hired to deliver a player piano to a house. All that stands between them and their destination is an incredibly tall flight of cement stairs on a hillside. Most of the movie revolves around the Sisyphean effort to move the heavy item from the street to the top of the stairs, and the rest with getting it inside the house. One of the only other characters in the film acts as a foil to the boys, Professor Theodore von Shwartzenhoffen, M. D., A.D., D. D. S., F. L. D., F. F. F. and F. He's played by Billy Gilbert, who Stooges fans will recognize as the crazy guy in the classic short Men in Black.

I often felt as a kid that I was alone in my appreciation for classic comedy. In the 80s the average school kid might be familiar with the Three Stooges, but less so with the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, or the Little Rascals. Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin were just names to other kids, and Laurel and Hardy were largely unknown because they were just old black and white movies. The grown-ups knew them, but no one my age. I only mention this as a way to say: if you're younger and have never bothered with some of the old comedy stuff, give The Music Box a watch. It might be old, perhaps a little corny, but it contains timeless qualities about it that lead me to believe it will never be completely forgotten. Let's have some productivity, shall we?

That should do it for this Volume of Bad Movies For Bad People. I hope the reader enjoyed exploring some of the mind-bending and great cinema Jeff felt the need to show me, and do hope you check out any of these selections. Until next time, stay weird, keep it sleazy (within reason) and try to avoid getting mixed up in fine messes.


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