Under Wagstaff’s Watching Movies entry, kenjfuj stated that he enjoys repeat viewings of certain movies “simply because I was mad entertained by them the first time I saw them.” This breaks the cardinal rule of film criticism: analysis trumps enjoyment.
As a critic, you can, without shame, admit to liking a movie because it’s (a) non-linear, (b) not from Hollywood, (c) full of symbolism, or (d) a three-and-a-half hour flick about a sock puppet with a hole in it weeping in German about how it can still taste the foot that once inhabited it.
But god forbid you admit to liking a movie simply because it entertained you. And if you do commit that sin, you must hastily repent by calling it a “guilty pleasure” (i.e., this isn’t really my taste! Honest to God, they made me like it at gunpoint!)
Every film critic–nay, everybody–has at least two skeletons: the one that’s holding them up, and a cinematic one in their closet. It’s that movie that might embarrass you if people found out you actually liked it. It is a shameful movie from your past.
I have a cemetery in my cinematic closet, and I chose to wake the dead by holding the first annual Shameful Movies of Odie’s Past film festival, or SMOOP. These are movies I should be ashamed of myself for liking…but am not. After all, Shame is a stranger I have yet to know. I only called it “Shameful Movies of Odie’s Past” because no respectable newspaper would run an ad for the “You Actually Liked That Shit?!” Film Festival.
The rules of my festival were:
1. Each presentation was a double feature.
2. Each film had to be on DVD, and limited to theatrical films only.
3. No Porn. This was a film festival, not a bachelor party. And Vincent Gallo might have shown up, which was the last thing I needed.
My “festival brochure” follows, but before it does I ask: what movies would you run at your own personal SMOOP, and why? Don’t be shy. If I have to be ruined, I’m taking all of you with me.
SMOOP’s Opening Night Feature: “Thank God Puberty Only Happens Once”
Shameful Movies: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Porky’s
Someone once wrote that you knew you were getting older when Joey Ramone started to look ugly; that person must have been born blind. Joey and his other Ramones join P.J. Soles (as Riff Randell, the greatest music fan to ever grace a screen) in the Roger Corman gem Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979), director Allan Arkush’s antidote to Robert Zemeckis’ too-cutesy I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978). The alliterative team of Randell and the repetitive rhythms of the Ramones brought Sheila the Punk Rocker to the ghetto theater of my youth. The film’s climax grants one of two wishes common to every high school student, even if it’s the fakest explosion since Felton Perry blew up in Magnum Force.
The literal climax of Porky’s (1982) satisfies the other wish of most high schoolers—at least the guys. Before Ralphie, director Bob Clark gave us horny teenager Peewee (27-year old Dan Monahan), who “can’t wait to get laid!” Though it lacks a comparable Why-I-believe-there-is-a-God moment (Phoebe Cates “releasing the twins” in Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Porky’s earns its shameful place with raunch, slapstick and two unnecessary sequels. It is also, with its full frontal nude men hugging and snuggling each other, the most homoerotic teenage sex comedy ever made. Added note of shame: My cousins and I convinced my mother that Porky’s was rated R for profanity, so she was willing to buy our tickets for us when she dropped us off. As a result, I’ve spent the last 25 years preventing her from seeing this movie at home.
“Paul Bunyan: Exterminator”
Shameful Movies: Them! and Food of the Gods
Director Bert I. Gordon’s initials were B.I.G., and so were the creatures in his movies. Food of the Gods (1976), which is supposedly based on H.G. Wells, features giant chickens, giant bees, giant rats, giant maggots…and a normal sized Ida Lupino. Actually, everything is normal sized; Mr. B.I.G.’s less than impressive camerawork supersizes the aforementioned animals through the magic of American International Pictures’ cheapo F/X department. Joining Lupino, one of Hollywood’s first female directors, is evangelist Marjoe Gortner, who apparently didn’t heed the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill Big-Ass Chickens.” Easily the worst movie in the festival, it’s certainly not Citizen Kane. But then again, Welles’ classic isn’t going to satisfy your hankering for huge rats. There’s only one huge rat in Kane.
In 70s horror movies, toxic waste was the catalyst for animal elephantiasis. The 50’s, however, used the timely fear of “nuke-u-lur” testing to justify giant ants in Them! (1954). It’s amazing that, 22 years earlier, the folks at Warners were able to create more convincing giant creatures than anything in Gods; they aren’t very scary, but the noise they made became permanently etched in my brain as a kid. Them! plays its story completely straight, and is shockingly effective for it. Bonus pre-feature short: A re-enactment (by yours truly) of the infamous Muhammad Ali D-Con Roach Spray/Rat Poison commercial from the early 70’s. “Roaches,” said the Greatest. “I hate ‘em! Knock ‘em out with D-Con Four Gone!”
“Neo-Noirs of TV Stars”
Shameful Movies: The Late Show and The Hot Spot
Like her brother, Michael, Virginia Madsen brings cinematic death wherever she goes. See Altman’s latest, A Prairie Home Companion, for her most recent example. If you want to be entertained, however, check out the one good movie in director Dennis Hopper’s oeuvre, The Hot Spot (1990). In addition to Jennifer Connelly, who justifies my belief in God, you’ll see Madsen bring the kind of death most men would be proud to endure. Hopper’s film is full of steamy sex between Crockett from Miami Vice and the actress who saved HBO in the 80’s, but the guiltiest pleasure occurs when Madsen’s Dolly Harshaw murders her husband. During the act, Madsen, wearing a rickety Southern accent and a Victoria’s Secret get-up, announces “I’m fuckin’ ya ta death, George!” The rest of this neo-noir about a used car salesman in Hicksville is as overheated as that line.
Far quirkier, though equally strange, is Robert Benton’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink The Late Show (1977). Art Carney, aka Ed Norton, plays a seen-it-all gumshoe whose age is catching up with him. He has a hearing aid, he won’t run after suspects for fear of a coronary, and he has little patience for his latest client, Lily Tomlin, whose seemingly easy assignment to find a missing cat turns into a surprisingly violent case of murder and deception. The Late Show is like sitting on your remote control; it flips through genres and tones with reckless abandon. Yet somehow it works, broken-down gumshoe and all. And Tomlin’s refrigerator scene is a morbid classic.
The Cinterpiece: What Mildred Pierce Did
Shameful Movies: Mommie Dearest and Strait-Jacket
In Mommie Dearest (1981), Faye Dunaway as Joan yells out “BRING ME THE AXE!!” In Strait-Jacket (1964), Joan brings the axe herself. After catching her husband, played by the Six Million Dollar Man himself, Lee Majors, in bed with another woman, Joan goes all Lizzie Borden on them. Twenty years later, somebody is chopping the heads off wax dummies masquerading as actors like George Kennedy. Is it the newly-freed asylum inmate Ms. Crawford, and if so, is this her response to Bette Davis and her axe murder movie, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte? William Castle, the master of gimmick-filled cinema (immortalized by John Goodman in Joe Dante’s 1993 must-see Matinee) handed out cardboard axes at showings of Strait-Jacket. Adding a touch best appreciated by lovers of Faye’s Crawfordesque freak-out, Castle decapitates the Columbia Pictures lady as well. Crawford was married to the head of Pepsi, Columbia was once owned by Coke…hmmm. Maybe Joan is guilty of that beheading.
Satan Wears a Seatbelt
Shameful Movies: The Car and The Hitcher
You could run a cable channel on all the shameful movies of Universal’s Past. Despite having the blockbuster Jaws in its orbit, Universal was committed to churning out schlock like the Airport sequels, the Sensurround classic Earthquake, and The Car, which stars the titular object, a big black car with black windshields and orange side windows, a truck horn, and a perpetual state of road rage. Said road rage may have something to do with the fact that the car’s driver is Rosemary’s Baby Daddy; it hits people with sadistic glee, from hippies to trumpet players to bike riders.
Sounds like a great amusement park attraction, right? The folks at Universal Studios theme park in Hollywood thought so. Gas prices may make you feel like your car has the devil in it too, so be careful what you say at the pump. This movie shows you precisely why calling Satan a “chickenshit son of a bitch” is a bad, bad, bad idea.
The Hitcher (1986) also has Satan in a car, in the guise of hitchhiker Rutger Hauer. Kicking common sense to the curb, C. Thomas Howell picks up Hauer, who proceeds to make his life unpleasant indeed. The Hitcher is so sadistic that it made Roger Ebert short-circuit, but it is too unbelievable to be taken as anything but a parable. Jennifer Jason Leigh shows up to do what she does best: be a victim. In my essay “Homosexuality and the Horror Film,” I theorize that Hauer is the manifestation of the Howell character’s fear of his own homosexuality. I said the same thing about Freddy Krueger in the execrable Nightmare on Elm Street 2. And Sensurround feels good on your balls.
A Little of the Old 80’s Ultraviolence
Shameful Movies: Marked for Death and Commando
Commando (1985) is my favorite of the non-Terminator Ah-nold movies. Before she was as tasty as a Pepperidge Farm Milano, Alyssa Milano played Ah-nold’s kidnapped daughter. Ah-nold kidnaps Tommy Chong’s daughter, Rae Dawn Chong, then proceeds to kill half the state of Kah-lee-forn-ya to ensure Alyssa’s future on Who’s The Boss. Things to look out for: the scene where Ah-nold circumcises a guy with an ax (Joan would be proud) and the “Ut-oh! Better Get Maaco” Porsche gaffe where the Porsche Ah-nold previously flipped over is miraculously cured of all its damage.
This is the perfect companion piece to Steven Seagal’s gory Marked for Death (1990) which gives us the king of the three-word titled movies (Out for Justice, Hard to Kill, Above the Law) before he got so fat that the film editor had to do his aikido moves for him. Marked is The Believers meets Hong Kong Phooey, a cartoonish horror film that’s so over the top one can’t help but enjoy cringing at the racial stereotypes and Live and Let Die-style voodoo mumbo-jumbo.
Closing Night: So You Think You Can Dance?
Shameful Movies: Flashdance and Hairspray
Joe Eszterhas and Adrian Lyne have each made one good movie. That movie is Flashdance (1983). (Yes, I know Lyne directed Fatal Attraction, but did you see the piece of shit ending to that movie?) I had no desire to see Flashdance as a teenager until one of my friends said it had “women running around with money stuck to their butts!” Flashdance’s plot is the stuff of B-movie legend: Welder by day, Mawby’s bar stripper by night, Jennifer Beals tries to make it as a legit dancer. She bangs a guy, asks de Lawd for forgiveness, does some freaky disrobing gymnastics with her titty coverings, and has her ass allegedly doubled by a man during the dance sequences. It all adds up to Oscar nominations for cinematography and editing, and a win for Best Song, “What A Feeling,” which could have been the theme for Sensurround.
I love John Waters, which is why I saved the most shameful movie of my past for last. Hairspray is PG-rated, which by itself should be a sin for Waters fans. Yet, looking closer, it has everything you could expect from Baltimore’s Bad Boy. There’s puke, pimples, ridiculous hairstyles (one of which holds a bomb), inspired casting (Sonny Bono, Ruth Brown and Deborah Harry), crazy character names (Amber Van Tussle, Penny Pingleton, Tracy Turnblad), Divine, a love of the underdog, and terrible fashion (Ricki Lake makes the greatest entrance ever, dressed in an outfit covered with big, embroidered roaches).
It all centers around the Corny Collins dance show and its refusal to allow Black people on it save for one day a year. Lake and her buddies want to change that, and go about it using the power of every gimmicky 60’s dance there is. Only John Waters could propose electroshock treatment as a cure for jungle fever, have Jerry Stiller married to Divine, and have a guy unzipping his zipper during a dance number on national TV. Sure, it became a big, Tony-winning musical, but not even that can match the candy-colored lunacy of seeing future talk show host Lake ironing her hair and dancing “The Roach.” It’s everything a shameful movie of one’s past can be.
This article was originally published on The House Next Door.