The TSL’s Grindhouse: The Year of the Yahoo! (dir by Herschell Gordon Lewis)


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At the time of his death last year, Herschell Gordon Lewis was credited with having directed 38 films.  Though he’s best known for ground-breaking gore films like Blood Feast and The Gore Gore Girls, Lewis actually dabbled in several different genres.  For instance, he made one of the first psychedelic drug films when he directed Something Weird.  And, as a public service, he warned us all of the dangers of smut peddlers with Scum of the Earth.

And, of course, there was that political films he made…

WHAT!?  A political film directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis!?

Yes, it’s true!  The man who helped to give birth to modern horror also directed one of the most prophetic films ever made.  The Year of the Yahoo! came out in 1972 but it feels even more relevant today.  The Year of the Yahoo! not only predicted the rise of Donald Trump but also predicted the rise of Barack Obama as well, making it one of the few truly bipartisan satires ever made.  That’s not bad for an obscure film directed by a man who was never given much respect from mainstream critics.

The Year of the Yahoo! opens in Texas.  It’s an election year.  The governor (Jeffrey Allen) would love to get rid of liberal U.S. Senator Fred Burwell (Robert Swain) and he thinks that he’s found the candidate to do it.  The Governor wants to nominate an unimpressive congressman, someone who will be easy to control.  However, the President disagrees.  The President (who is obviously meant to be Richard Nixon, even if his name is never specifically mentioned) has decided that the man to defeat Sen. Burwell is a country singer named Hank Jackson (real-life country singer Claude King).

Hank Jackson has a television show, one that he hosts with his girlfriend, Tammy (Ronna Riddle).  Hank sings songs about how America needs to return to traditional values and how people just need to come together and help each other out.  He may be old-fashioned but he’s okay with the counter-culture.  In fact, when we first meet him, he’s at a hippie party.  He turns down an offer of marijuana but he does so with a hearty laugh.  He’s a traditional guy but he’s got no issues with the long hairs.  Not our Hank!  It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Dallas oilman, an Austin hippie, an El Paso policeman, or a Galveston fisherman.  Everyone in Texas loves Hank!

When Sid Angelo (Ray Sager, the star of Lewis’s Wizard of Gore), a political consultant with White House connections, approaches Hank about running against that lefty traitor, Sen. Burwell, Hank is skeptical but intrigued.  Once Sid get Hank to agree, Sid starts to shape Hank’s message.  As a disgusted Tammy watches, Hank starts to sell out.  Soon, Hank is making jokes about people on welfare.  He’s defending law and order.  He’s taking the side of the landlords against the rent strikers.  Everything from his campaign announcement to interviews with the local media is precisely choreographed by Sid.

Hank’s message starts to resonate with the voters.  This is largely because he doesn’t have a message.  Instead, he just has a bunch of empty slogans and coded phrases.  Hank’s campaign commercial features him riding on a horse while the word “Hope” appears on the screen.  (I mean, who could possibly vote against hope?)  What’s going to happen when Hank’s elected?  Well, as he explains in the film’s theme song, we’re going to run the nation “like a country store.”  Just vote for Hank and “you’ll see how everyone relaxes.”

(At times, The Year of the Yahoo! almost feels like a musical.  The majority of the songs were written by Lewis, who was a legendary figure in the advertising industry before and after his career as a grindhouse filmmaker, and Claude King had a nice voice.  The songs are surprisingly catchy, even if they often are a bit too on the nose in their satire.)

Now, make no mistake about it.  This is definitely a Herschell Gordon Lewis film, which means that it often appears to have been made with more enthusiasm than skill.  At times, The Year of the Yahoo! moves way too slowly.  There’s a riot scene that is embarrassingly filmed.  The action stops for a stomach-churning sex scene between the hairy Ray Sager and a campaign volunteer.  The entire film, in fact, is full of actors who appeared in Lewis’s other films and it’s a bit weird to see familiar grindhouse performers cast as governors and campaign aides.  This is a Herschell Gordon Lewis production, with everything that implies.  While Lewis’s style was perfect for his semi-comedic gore films (Who can forget the “Have you ever had …. AN EGYPTIAN FEAST!?” scene from Blood Feast?), it feels a bit out of place in a film that is attempting to comment on reality.

And yet, it’s hard not to appreciate and kind of resoect just how serious the film’s intent seems to be.  Watching The Year of the Yahoo!, you get the feeling that Lewis actually was trying to say something important.  In The Year of the Yahoo!, Lewis not only attempted to make an important point but it was a valid point as well.  He may not have had the resources to really pull it off but consider this:

In 1972, Herschell Gordon Lewis predicted that a candidate could shoot the top of the polls by enticing voters with vague promises of hope.

In 1972, Herschell Gordon Lewis predicted that a wealthy TV celebrity, one that claimed to speak for the common man, could be packaged as a populist and sold to angry voters.

The Year of the Yahoo! was incredibly ahead of its time.  Say what you will about the film’s production values but you can’t deny this.  Everything that Herschell Gordon Lewis predicted came true.  That’s quite an accomplishment for someone often dismissed as merely being a gore director.

In fact, it’s such an accomplishment that it should give us all one thing for the future:

yahoooooo

4 Shots From 4 Films: Primary Colors, Dick, FDR: American Badass, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies


The greatest President of all time, Rutherford B. Hayes

The greatest President of all time, Rutherford B. Hayes

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Happy Rutherford B. Hayes Day!

In honor of my favorite holiday, I wanted to share 4 shots from 4 films about Rutherford B. Hayes.

However, my plan ran into a little problem.  Despite the fact that he’s the best President that this country ever had, there aren’t any movies about Rutherford B. Hayes.  He is literally the most underappreciated leader this country has ever had.  (In 2011, the President joked about Hayes not being on Mount Rushmore.  For that reason, I voted for Gary Johnson in 2012.  Don’t you mess with Rutherford B. Hayes)

So, here are four shots from four films that deal with other people who exist in the shadow of Rutherford B. Hayes.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Primary Colors (1998, dir by Mike Nichols)

Primary Colors (1998, dir by Mike Nichols)

Dick (1999, dir by Andrew Fleming)

Dick (1999, dir by Andrew Fleming)

FDR: American Badass (2012, dir by Garrett Brawith)

FDR: American Badass (2012, dir by Garrett Brawith)

Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (2012, dir by  Richard Schenkman)

Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (2012, dir by Richard Schenkman)

A Movie A Day #51: The Drifter (1988, directed by Larry Brand)


the_drifterHow much keeffe is in this movie?

Don’t worry.  There’s Miles O’Keeffe in The Drifter. (™ MST3k)

While driving back to Los Angeles from a fashion show, designer Julia Robbins (Kim Delaney, long before co-starring on NYPD Blue) picks up and has a one night stand with a hitchhiker named Trey (O’Keeffe).  Even though Julia does not ever plan to see him again, she still gives him her grandfather’s stopwatch.  Trey is so touched by the gift that he shows up in Los Angeles and starts demanding to see her.  Julia, who already has a cheating boyfriend (Timothy Bottoms), doesn’t want anything to do with Trey.  When one her friends is murdered while staying at Julia’s apartment, Julia finally goes to the police and tells Detective Morrison (played by the director, Larry Brand) about Trey.  But is Trey the one who she should be worried about?

The Drifter is an above average example of the films that Roger Corman executive produced in the 80s and 90s.  The predictable plot won’t win any points for plausibility but Larry Brand did a good job directing and everyone in the cast (especially Delaney) contributed a decent performance.  The film has a twist ending that might take viewers by surprise but probably won’t.  As for where this ranks in the Miles O’Keeffe filmography, it’s better than Tarzan, The Ape Man but it’s still no Ator.

The Drifter was enough of a success that it got a quasi-sequel in 1990.  Larry Brand (and Detective Morrison) returned in tomorrow’s movie a day, Overexposed.

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: FANatic (dir by Jean-François Rivard)


Around 2 a.m. this morning, I watched the latest Lifetime Movie Network premiere, FANatic!

fanatic

Why Was I Watching It?

Okay, so technically, I didn’t watch this last night.  It premiered last night and I recorded it because I was watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead.  However, I don’t think What Lisa Recorded Last Night has quite the same ring to it.

As for why I watched it at 2 in the morning — well, I fell asleep last night around 11:00.  And then I woke up at one.  Seeing as how I had already gotten my usual two hours of sleep, I decided that I might as well watch a movie!

What Was It About?

Nikki Myers (Katy Breier) has finally landed her dream job.  She’s working as an assistant to Tess Daniels (Betsy Brandt), a highly acclaimed actress who happens to be the star of Nikki’s favorite show!  It’s an enjoyably silly sci-fi show, one on which Tess co-stars with her husband, Hunter Clay (Benjamin Arthur).  When the show started, Tess and Hunter were equals and Tess considered her role to be empowering.  But, over the past few seasons, things have changed.  Tess now finds her role to be demeaning and limiting.  While Hunter gets to play the hero, Tess’s role becomes more and more about providing fan service for the show’s male viewers.  Tess wants to leave the show…

But if Tess leaves the show, where does that leave Nikki!?  Nikki’s spent the last few weeks bragging to her two friends about her job!  If the show ends, how will Nikki be able to continue to steal props from the set?  And how will she be able to continue to lie to her friends about the imaginary affair she’s having with Hunter!?

Seriously, when you look at things from her point of view, can you blame Nikki for becoming a little bit homicidal?

What Worked?

Yay!  If nothing else, FANatic showed that the Lifetime-Degrassi conduit still exists!  Perhaps because so many Lifetime films are produced in Canada, it’s not unusual to see former Degrassi actors pop up in supporting (and, sometimes, lead) roles.  On Degrassi, Jake Epstein played the lovable, bipolar, drug addicted musician/photographer Craig Manning.  In FANatic, he plays a slightly less likable character, a misogynistic television producer.  Still, it’s always good to see Jake.

Anyway, FANatic was a lot of fun to watch, mostly because of the loving detail that was put into creating Tess and Hunter’s irresistibly silly sci-fi show.  What’s interesting is that, if that show actually was on the air, it probably would be, at the very least, a cult hit.  I knew more than a few people who would probably watch every episode.

Katy Breier did a good job playing the fanatic of the title.  A film like FANatic is only as good as its villain and Breier brought a lot of life to the role.

What Did Not Work?

Seriously, why are redheads always crazy in Lifetime movies?  Of course, that’s really not something that didn’t work.  That’s just something that I, as a member of the 2% of the world’s population who has red hair, always notice.

But back to the question — hey, it all worked!

“Oh my God!”  Just like me moments!

It’s hard for me to imagine myself ever becoming obsessed with any show to the extent that Nikki does.  Then again, if that show starred James Franco…

Lessons Learned

You can’t spell “fanatic” without “fan!”

Music Video of the Day: America by Kurtis Blow (1985, dir. Claude Borenzweig)


This is another one where I will let the people involved do the talking. In this case, it’s editor Glenn Lazzaro whose work we have already seen several times on here. You can click his name in the tags section to see the music videos I have done so far that he worked on. Credit goes to 99Tigers for putting up a post up containing the following:

Posted by Glenn Lazzaro for his series “Adventures in Television”

National Video Center, New York City, 1985.

In the early ’80s when hip hop & rap were first noticed by the mainstream, most of the music videos were dance tracks and for the most part, devoid of political messages. Then Kurtis Blow released the single “America” and all that changed. It was a political rant about everything that was happening during the Reaganomics-Cold War-Anti-Russian era in America. Claude Borenzweig, then working at Polygram Records, was editing & directing internal projects when he got the chance to direct the “America” music video. Claude came up with the idea of a classroom filled with kids where Kurtis would teach them the “real” history of America. David Brownstein and Len Epand produced the shoot for Claude on the main stage at National Video. They shot on videotape using the giant, old-school studio cameras that were usually used to shoot “Sexually Speaking with Doctor Ruth.”

Claude did a rough cut using the classroom footage he directed, and a second cut using stock footage that we would combine in the edit. As usual, we went into the edit room over the weekend so we’d have all the time and equipment we needed. We needed time because we had no edit list, no After Effects, no digital storage, no tracking marks. Just an old Ampex ADO and lots of “crossed fingers” that we’d match the motion between the camera moves and the composited footage. Sometimes it matched. Most times it didn’t.

Needless to say, the special effects seem crude compared to what is possible today. But at the time they were considered state-of-art. We also used the then very popular technique of running the footage thru a black & white monitor to distort it.

Claude hadn’t shot any footage for the Pledge Of Allegiance section of the song, so I was enlisted to lie under the title camera and lip-sync the part. Yes, that’s my ’80s mustache you see inserted into the blackboard starting at 18 seconds in.

Shortly after we finished the video, I worked with Frank Zappa on a week’s worth of programming called “Porn Wars” for the music show “Night Flight.” Zappa would appear at the PMRC Senate hearings in Washington during the day, then come to National Video in New York to tape his segments for “Night Flight.” One night I showed him “America.” He was really excited that the rap world was finally getting political and asked for a VHS copy. I was very proud.

Here is also an article written on it for Optic Music Magazine.

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According to mvdbase, Claude Borenzweig only went on to do a handful of music videos. According to IMDb, he is, or was working as a Psychotherapist.

Producer Len Epand appears to have worked on around 20 videos.

I can’t find any information on David Brownstein.

John Kraus shot the video. I can’t find any other credits for him.

Here’s an excerpt from Billboard magazine from November 23rd, 1985 concerning Claude Borenzweig:

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Here’s an excerpt from Billboard magazine from May 24th, 1986 about how the video was nominated for several awards:

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Enjoy!