Guilty Pleasure No. 46: Spiker (dir by Roger Tilton)


The 1985 film, Spiker, is an attempt to make an exciting movie out of the one of the most boring sports in the world, men’s volleyball.  Not only does the film attempt to make volleyball look exciting but it attempts to do it on absolutely no budget.  Anyone who doesn’t appreciate the combination of guts and foolishness necessary to even attempt this is not a real film fan.

Spiker follows a group of college volleyball players as they train to qualify for the Olympics.  Or, at least, that’s what I think is supposed to be going on.  The plot is really difficult to follow, not because it’s complex but just because it’s volleyball and who cares?  We learn that the coach of the team (played by Michael Parks) is a tough taskmaster.  We learn that one of the players needs to get his act together and be more mature.  We learn that another member of the team has a wife who is jealous of all of his volleyball groupies.  Eventually, the team competes in Japan and Poland.  In Japan, the teammate who needs to get his act together gets drunk and wanders around with two prostitutes.  Poland, meanwhile, is represented by a high school gym and four women doing the polka.  One Polish woman asks a member of the team to smuggle out some letters.  Which he does.  Yay.  Exciting.

As I said, there’s a lot of volleyball in Spiker but you’re never really sure if the American team is winning or not.  Unless it’s being played on a beach and everyone’s wearing a skimpy bathing suit, volleyball is a thoroughly uncinematic sport.  I mean, what do you think of when you think about volleyball in the movies?  You think about Carrie White not hitting the ball and then burning down the school.  What you don’t wonder is, “I wonder who was winning when Carrie missed that hit?”

What makes Spiker a pleasure is it’s determination.  The film is truly convinced that it can somehow make volleyball exciting and you have to admire it for being so sure of itself.  It’s kind of like those people who spend night after night in Marfa, waiting for the UFOs to arrive.  They may be crazy but you can’t help but admire their dedication, even while you’re laughing at some of the absolutely atrocious dialogue.

The other thing that makes Spiker a guilty pleasure is the extremely intense and almost unhinged performance of Michael Parks at the volleyball coach.  Parks plays the coach as being tough-as-nails and always in a bad mood.  The film’s best scene features him throwing volleyball after volleyball at a player who has displeased him.  Parks does so with a look of grim determination on his face, the sign of a dedicated method actor giving it his best even in a B-movie that he probably agreed to do because he needed to pay the rent.  What makes Parks’s performance so memorable is that he never really seems angry.  Instead, he just seems to be perpetually annoyed and that makes him all the scarier.  Anger, after all, passes.  Annoyance is forever.

Spiker is a bad film but it’s endlessly watchable precisely because it so misjudged.  You can’t help but find both it and Michael Parks’s performance to be oddly fascinating.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
  44. Paranormal State
  45. Utopia
  46. Bar Rescue
  47. The Powers of Matthew Star

An Offer You Can Refuse #5: The Happening (dir by Elliot Silverstein)


The 1967 film, The Happening, opens with two “young” people — Sureshot (Michael Parks) and Sandy (Faye Dunaway) — waking up on a Florida beach.  The previous night, they attended a party so wild that the beach is full of passed out people, one of whom apparently fell asleep while standing on his head.  (It’s a happening!)  From the dialogue, we discover that, despite their impeccably clean-cut appearances, both Sureshot and Sandy are meant to be hippies.

After trying to remember whether or not they “made love” the previous night (wow, how edgy!), Sandy and Sureshot attempt to find their way off of the beach.  As they walk along, they’re joined by two other partygoers.  Taurus is played by George Maharis, who was 38 when this film was shot and looked about ten years older.  Taurus is a tough guy who carries a gun and dreams of being a revolutionary and who says stuff like, “Bam!  Et cetera!”  Herbie is eccentric, thin, and neurotic and, presumably because Roddy McDowall wanted too much money, he’s played by Robert Walker, Jr.

Anyway, the four of them end up stealing a boat and talking about how life is a drag, man.  Eventually, they end up breaking into a mansion and threatening the owner and his wife.  Since this movie was made before the Manson murders, this is all played for laughs.  The owner of the mansion is Roc Delmonico (Anthony Quinn).  Roc used to be a gangster but now he’s a legitimate businessman.  The “hippies” decide to kidnap Roc because they assume they’ll be able to get a lot of money for him.

The only problem is that no one is willing to pay the ransom!

Not Roc’s wife (Martha Hyer)!

Not Roc’s best friend (Milton Berle), who happens to be sleeping with Roc’s wife!

Not Roc’s former mob boss (Oscar Homolka)!

Roc gets so angry when he find out that no one wants to pay that he decides to take control of the kidnapping,  He announces that he knows secrets about everyone who refused to pay any money for him and unless they do pay the ransom, he’s going to reveal them.  We’ve gone from kidnapping to blackmail.

Along the way, Roc bonds with his kidnappers.  He teaches them how to commit crimes and they teach him how to be anti-establishment or something.  Actually, I’m not sure what they were supposed to have taught him.  The Happening is a comedy that I guess was trying to say something about the divide between the young and the middle-aged but it doesn’t really have much of a message beyond that the middle-aged could stand to laugh a little more and that the young are just silly and kind of useless.  Of course, the whole young/old divide would probably work better if all of the young hippies weren’t played by actors who were all either in their 30 or close enough to 30 to make their dorm room angst seem a bit silly.

It’s an odd film.  The tone is all over the place and everyone seems to be acting in a different movie.  Anthony Quinn actually gives a pretty good dramatic performance but his good performance only serves to highlight how miscast almost everyone else in the film is.  Michael Parks comes across like he would rather be beating up hippies than hanging out with them while Faye Dunaway seems to be bored with the entire film.  George Maharis, meanwhile, goes overboard on the Brando impersonation while Robert Walker, Jr. seems like he just needs someone to tell him to calm down.

But even beyond the weird mix of acting style, the film’s message is a mess.  On the one hand, the “hippies” are presented as being right about the establishment being full of hypocritical phonies.  On the other hand, the establishment is proven to be correct about the “hippies” being a bunch of easily distracted idiots.  This is one of those films that wants to have it both ways, kind of like an old episode of Saved By The Bell where Mr. Belding learns to loosen up while Zack learns to respect authority.  This is an offer that you can refuse.

And that’s what’s happening!

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight

Cinemax Friday: Stranger By Night (1994, directed by Gregory Brown a.k.a. Gregory Hippolyte a.k.a. Gregory Dark)


Detective Bobby Corcoran (Steven Bauer!) is a cop with an anger problem.  Whenever he and his parter, Troy Rooney (William Katt!!), catch a criminal, Bobby just loses control.  Since, for some reason, they seem to catch a lot of criminals on rooftops, this often leads to Bobby threatening to throw someone over the edge.  Even when his boss, Detective Larson (Michael Parks!!!) tells Bobby to stop trying to kill all of the suspects, Bobby still struggles to control his rage.  He’s seeing a Dr. Anne Richmond (Jennifer Rubin!!!!), a psychiatrist, about his anger issues but since their sessions usually get interrupted by bouts of soft-core, saxophone-scored sex, it is debatable how much time they actually spend digging into the roots of Bobby’s problems.

Bobby also suffers from frequent blackouts.  While he’s unconscious, he’s haunted by black-and-white memories of his abusive father (J.J. Johnston) beating up his mother.  When he wakes up, he’s often in a different room from where he blacked out.  Anne says that Bobby must be sleep-walking.  Bobby says that he’s not sleep walking because he’s stubborn and doesn’t feel safe letting anyone into his mind.  Lately, whenever Bobby passes out, a prostitute ends up dead.  An unknown killer is stalking them and chopping off their ears.  Bobby, with his anger issues and his dislike of prostitutes, is an obvious suspect.  Is Bobby the killer or is he being framed?

Stranger By Night‘s credited director is Gregory Brown, who is better known as Gregory Dark.  Dark is one of the best-known of the directors who specialized in erotic thrillers in the 90s.  Dark was responsible for some of the classics of the genre but, unfortunately, Stranger By Night is not one of his better efforts.  The action frequently drags and, with the exception of Bobby’s black-and-white flashbacks, Stranger By Night has none of Dark’s usual visual style.  The film looks and feels flat and the plot is never feels as involving as it should.  The discovery of the killer’s identity inspires not shock but an indifferent shrug.

On the positive side, it’s got a cast of skilled genre vets and all of them do what they can to elevate the material.  William Katt is jittery and frequently funny while Jennifer Rubin, who deserved to have a much bigger career, is as sultry as ever.  (Rubin brought both intelligence and sex appeal to almost every role that she played and it made her one of the best genre actresses around.)  Steven Bauer, another actor who probably deserves a bigger career than he’s had, does a good job in the lead role.  Bobby isn’t always a likable character and Bauer doesn’t try to make him one.  On the other hand, it’s frustrating that Michael Parks does not get to do much, other than frown.  There’s nothing more frustrating than watching a film that doesn’t take full advantage of the casting of Michael Parks.

Stranger By Night does seem to have a serious subtext.  It tries to deal seriously with how Bobby’s abusive childhood has scarred him and there’s a lengthy scene where Bobby finally talks to his aged father.  The scene is played straight and it’s not the sort of thing that you’d normally expect to see in a direct-to-video erotic thriller.  (It’s a good example of what set Gregory Dark apart from some of the other directors churning out these type of films in the 90s.)  For the most part, though, Stranger By Night is a forgettable trip to the world of late night Cinemax.

18 Days of Paranoia #3: The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (dir by Larry Cohen)


The 1977 film, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, opens in 1972.

J. Edgar Hoover, the much-feared and long-serving director of the FBI, has just been found dead at his home and it seems like the entire city of Washington, D.C. is scrambling.  Not only are people jockeying for Hoover’s job but they’re also wondering what might be found in his secret files.  As quickly becomes apparent, Hoover had a file on everyone.  While Presidents lauded him and the press portrayed him as hero, Hoover spent nearly 50 years building up a surveillance state.  Hoover said it was to fight criminals and subversives but mostly, it was just to hold onto his own power.  Even President Nixon is heard, in the Oval Office, ordering his men to get those files.

Hoover may have known everyone’s secrets but, the film suggests, very few people knew his.  The film is narrated by a former FBI agent named Dwight Webb (Rip Torn).  Dwight talks about how he was kicked out of the FBI because it was discovered that he not only smoked but that he was having an adulterous affair with a secretary.  “You know how Hoover was about that sex stuff,” he says, his tone suggesting that there’s more to the story than just Hoover being a bit of a puritan.

We flash back to the 1920s.  We see a young Hoover (James Wainwright) as a part of the infamous Palmer Raids, an early effort by the Justice Department to track down and deport communist subversives.  Though Hoover disagrees with the legality of the Palmer Raids, he still plays his part and that loyalty is enough to eventually get him appointed, at the age of 29, to be the head of the agency that would eventually become the FBI.  Hoover may start out as a relatively idealistic man but it doesn’t take long for the fame and the power to go to his head.

Hoover (now played by Broderick Crawford) serves a number of Presidents, each one worse the one who proceeded him.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Howard Da Silva) is an avuncular despot while the Kennedy brothers (William Jordan as John and Michael Parks as Bobby) are two rich brats who think that they can control Hoover but who soon discover that Hoover is far more clever than they realize.  Hoover finds himself a man out-of-place in the 60s and the 70s,  Suddenly, he’s no longer everyone’s hero and people are starting to view the FBI as being not a force for law enforcement but instead an instrument of oppression.

Through it all, Hoover remains an enigma.  He demands a lot of from his agents but he resents them if they’re too successful.  Melvin Purvis (Michael Sacks) might find fame for leading the manhunt that took down Dillinger but he’s driven to suicide by Hoover’s cruel treatment.  Unlike Clint Eastwood’s film about Hoover, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover suggests that Hoover was not gay but that instead, that he was so repressed that he was essentially asexual.  When one woman throws herself at him, he accuses her of being a subversive and demands to know how anyone could find him attractive.  He’s closest to his mother and when she dies, he shuts off his emotions.  His own power, for better and worse, becomes the one thing that he loves.  He’s married to the FBI and he often behaves like an abusive spouse.

The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover is an interesting film.  It’s an attempt to do a huge American epic on a less than epic budget.  At the start of the film, the low budget is undeniably distracting.  The 1920s are essentially represented by a back lot and two old cars.  The scenes of the FBI dealing with gangsters like Dillinger and Creepy Karpis feel awkward and slapdash.  But, as the film’s timeline gets closer to what was then the modern era, the film’s story tightens up and so does Larry Cohen’s direction.  (One get the feeling that Cohen was, perhaps understandably, more interested in the Hoover of the 60s and the 70s than the Hoover of the 20s and 30s.  There’s a sharpness to the second half of the movie that is just missing from the first half.)  Broderick Crawford gives a chilling performance as a man who is determined to hold onto his power, just for the sake of having it.  The scenes were Hoover and Bobby Kennedy snap at each other have a charge that’s missing from the first half of the film.  Michael Parks does a great job portraying RFK as basically being a spoiled jerk while Crawford seems to relish the chance to play up the resentful, bitter old man aspects of Hoover’s personality.  The film ultimately suggests that whether the audience previously admired RFK or whether they previously admired Hoover, they were all essentially duped.

Though the film never quite overcomes the limits of its low budget, it works well as a secret history of the United States.  In 1977, it undoubtedly took guts to make a film that portrayed Roosevelt and Kennedy as being as bad as Nixon and Johnson.  (It would probably even take guts today.  One need only rewatch something like The Butler or Hyde Park on Hudson to see the ludicrous lengths Hollywood will go to idealize presidents like Kennedy and dictators like FDR.)  While this film certainly doesn’t defend J. Edgar Hoover’s excesses, it often suggests that the president he served under were just as bad, if not even worse.  In the end, it becomes a portrait of not only how power corrupts but also why things don’t change, regardless of who is nominally in charge.  In the end the film’s villain is not J. Edgar Hoover.  Instead, the film’s villain is the system that created and then enabled him.  The man may be dead but the system remains.

Previous entries in the 18 Days of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau

 

The Hitman (1991, directed by Aaron Norris)


When cop Cliff Garrett (Chuck Norris) gets shot by his corrupt partner, Ronny Delaney (Michael Parks), he dies and nearly gets to go to heaven.  However, at the last minute, the doctor’s manage to bring Cliff back to life.  Since everyone believes Cliff to be dead, his superiors come up with a brilliant plan.  What if Cliff changes his name to Grogan, grows his hair long, and goes undercover as a hitman?

Cliff’s up for it and is soon working for an Italian mobster named Marco Luganni (Al Waxman).  Marco wants to eliminate all of the other mobsters in town but he also has to deal with a bunch of drug-dealing Iranians who are trying to move in on his territory.  Cliff soon works his way into the inner circle and plays all sides against each other.  What’s strange is that Cliff manages to fool everyone into thinking that he’s Grogan despite the fact that all he’s really doing is wearing his hair long.  In fact, the only person who he doesn’t fool is his former partner, Delaney.  Delaney is not happy to discover that Cliff is still alive and sets out to take him out once and for all.

Because this is a Chuck Norris film, there’s a subplot where Cliff helps a bullied youth named Tim (Salim Grant) learn how to stick up for himself.  One thing that set Chuck Norris apart from other 80s action heroes is that Chuck always tried to teach all the kids in the audience of his R-rated films a good lesson about staying off drugs, standing up to bullies, and not doubting the American way.  I always have mixed feelings about this aspect of Chuck’s films because the message scenes usually don’t fit in with the rest of the narrative and it’s always questionable if a film featuring Chuck killing people is the right place for a wholesome life lesson but, at the same time, Chuck is so sincere that these scenes usually feature his best acting.  When Tim beats up a bully and then Chuck beats up the bully’s father, it really makes you realize that someone missed an opportunity by not making a movie where Chuck Norris played a computer science teacher who prepared his students not just for a career in STEM but also taught them how to put the members of football team in their place.  In the case of The Hitman, the crime subplot and the bullying subplot come together when Delaney decides to use Tim to strike at Cliff.

The Hitman is one of Chuck’s later films, which means the budget is lower than the films he did for Cannon and the action scenes are not as elaborate.  Chuck’s brother, Aaron, directs and he does okay but he’s no Joe “Missing In Action” Zito or Menahem “Delta Force” Golan.  The fight scenes are competently done in a workmanlike manner but they’re never as exciting as what we’ve come to expect from the Norris brand.  The main appeal here is to see Chuck Norris and Michael Parks in the same movie.  Chuck, as always, underplays while Parks, as always, overplays and it’s always entertaining to watch them go at each other.  Otherwise, The Hitman is for Chuck completists only.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Deceiver (dir by Jonas Pate and Josh Pate)


I have long contended that the most annoying serial killer of all time was Paul Michael Stephani, a resident of Minneapolis who killed three women in 1980.

Stephani was known as The Weepy-Voiced Killer.  (Even his nickname was annoying.)  Whenever Stephani committed a murder, he would promptly call 911 and confess while sobbing.  As you might expect would happen to someone who was enough of a dumbass to call the police right after murdering someone, Stephani was eventually captured and convicted.  Sentenced to 40 years, Stephani died of cancer while in prison and nobody misses him.

Unfortunately, because all of Stephani’s 911 calls were recorded, he’s recently become a very popular subject for true crime shows.  It’s not there’s anything particularly interesting about Stephani’s crimes.  It’s just that it’s easy (and cheap) to build a show around the sound of him whining on the phone.  As someone who probably spends too much time watching true crime realty television, I’ve had to listen to Stephani’s voice more than anyone should ever have to.  Making it even worse, there’s currently a show called Evil Calls, which uses a recording of Stephani in its commercials.  I’ve actually stopped watching Investigation Discovery just because I’ve gotten so sick of hearing that loser whining, “Please don’t talk, just listen… I’m sorry I killed that girl. I stabbed her 40 times…”

However, the Stephani tapes do provide one valuable service.  The sound of Stephani’s pathetic voice reminds us that most serial killers are not the urbanely witty and intelligent figures that we’ve gotten used to seeing in the movies.  Most real-life killers are whiny losers who kill for very basic reasons and who are stupid enough to call 911 and confess.  Movie killers are a different breed all together.

Take the 1997 mystery Deceiver, for instance.

In Deceiver, Renee Zellweger plays a world weary prostitute.  We only see her in flashbacks, largely because she was murdered before the film’s opening scene.  Her name was Elizabeth, which brings to mind Elizabeth Short, the legendary Los Angeles murder victim who is better known as the Black Dahlia.  Much like the real-life Black Dahlia, Elizabeth’s body was cut into two pieces and left in a park.  (According to the film’s imdb trivia section, Elizabeth was also named after Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist who pioneered the study of false memories.)

Suspicion immediately falls on James Walter Wayland (Tim Roth).  The youngest son of a wealthy and powerful South Carolina family, Wayland is an infamous alcoholic.  Wayland admits that he knew Elizabeth.  He even took Elizabeth with him to a fancy party, all the better to offend his parents.  Wayland may be a black-out drunk with a history of erratic behavior but he also swears that he didn’t kill Elizabeth.

Two detectives are determined to trick Wayland into confessing.  Detective Edward Kennesaw (Michael Rooker) is a respected veteran, the type of detective who can get a confession out of almost anyone.  His partner is Detective Philip Braxton (Chris Penn), who is a bit less impressive.  As we’re informed early in the film, Braxton graduated at the bottom of his high school class and has been waiting for a promotion for quite some time.

From the minute that Kennesaw and Braxton start to interrogate Wayland, it becomes obvious that Wayland is hardly your typical murder suspect.  He’s certainly more impressive than the Weepy-Voiced Killer.  He’s witty.  He’s smart.  He’s cocky.  He admits to being an alcoholic and to suffering from black outs and seizures but he also claims that, unlike every other man who Elizabeth dealt with, he actually cared about her.  Wayland also reveals that he knows some details about Kennesaw and Braxton.  He knows about Kennesaw’s troubled marriage to a woman (Rosanna Arquette) who has a history of cheating on him.  He knows that Braxton is in debt to a local bookie (Ellen Burstyn).  And, as the interrogation continues, Wayland starts to suggest that one of the interrogators is hiding an even darker secret.

Deceiver‘s a frequently fascinating film to watch, even if it’s not always easy to follow.  If there’s any film that would seem to demand multiple viewings, it’s this one.  The majority of the movie takes place in one darkened room and directors Joan and Josh Pate do a wonderful job capturing the claustrophobia of that setting.  (Fortunately, there’s enough flashbacks to keep the film from getting too stagey.)  Roth, Rooker, and Penn all give intensely stylized performances.  They may not feel realistic but they fit in perfectly with the fever dream atmosphere of the film.  Roth, in particular, gives a performance that is both mannered and intriguing.  It even feel appropriate that his Southern accent is in no way convincing.  It just makes sense that Wayland wouldn’t sound like anyone else in the world.

It’s a heavily stylized film, full of odd dialogue and skewed camera angles.  It’s a film that often feels like a journey right to the center of an extremely twisted mind.  (Of course, the movie is designed so that you’re never quite sure whose mind you’ve entered.)  There’s nothing realistic about it but that’s okay.  It’s certainly preferable to watching a movie about The Weepy-Voiced Killer.

Bronson One Last Time: Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994, directed by Allen Goldstein)


To quote Geoffrey Chaucer, “All good things must come to an end.”

Death Wish V: The Face of Death marked the end of the original Death Wish franchise, concluding the violent saga of Paul Kersey 20 years after it began.  It probably should have ended sooner.

After the box office failure of Death Wish IV and the subsequent bankruptcy of Cannon Films, future plans for the Death Wish franchise were put on hold.  After the collapse of Cannon, Menahem Golan started a new production company, 21st Century Film Corporation.  In 1993, needing a hit and seeing that the previous Death Wish films were still popular on video, Golan announced that Paul Kersey would finally return in Death Wish V: The Face of Death.  Charles Bronson also returned, though he was now 72 years old and in poor health.  Death Wish V would also mark the end of Bronson’s feature film career.  He would make appearances in a few television movies before subsequently retiring from acting.

Death Wish V finds Paul in the witness protection program.  His latest girlfriend, Olivia (Lesley-Anne Down), just happens to be the ex-wife of a psychotic mobster named Tommy O’Shea (Michael Parks).  Throughout the entire franchise, the Death Wish films argued that crime is so out of control that no one was safe and that Paul had no choice but to pick up a gun and shoot muggers.  But, judging from Death Wish V, Paul just seems to have incredibly bad luck.  What are the odds that a mild-mannered architect would lose his wife, his maid, his daughter, his best friend from the war, his next two girlfriends, and then end up dating the ex-wife of New York City’s craziest gangster?

The district attorney’s office wants Olivia to testify against her ex-husband so Tommy gets his henchman, the dandruff-prone Freddie Flakes (Robert Joy), to kill her.  Looks like it’s time for New York’s favorite vigilante to launch a one-man war against the Mafia!

The only problem is that New York’s favorite vigilante is too old to chase people down dark alleys and shoot them.  He has to get creative, which means using everything from poisoned cannoli to a vat of acid to take out his targets.  One gangster is killed by an exploding soccer ball!

With both Bronson and Lesley-Anne Down giving an indifferent performances, it is up to the supporting cast to keep the movie interesting.  Appearing here after his bravura turn as Jean Renault in Twin Peaks but before Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino introduced him to a whole new generation of filmgoers, Michael Parks is flamboyantly evil as Tommy O’Shea and injects the movie with what little life that it has.  Speaking of Twin Peaks alumni, Kenneth Welsh (who played Windom Earle in the last few episodes of season 2) plays this installment’s understanding police detective.  Saul Rubinek plays the district attorney who is willing to look the other way when it comes to killing gangsters.

Dull and cheap-looking, Death Wish V was a box office bomb and it brought the original franchise to a definite end.  Will the Eli Roth/Bruce Willis reboot of Death Wish also lead to a reboot of the franchise?  Time will tell!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Nightmare Beach, a.k.a. Welcome to Spring Break (dir by Harry Kirkpatrick and Umberto Lenzi)


Did Umberto Lenzi direct the 1989 film, Nightmare Beach?

That’s a question that Italian horror fans have been debating for a while now.  The film’s credited director is Harry Kirkpatrick.  Due to the fact that Kirkpatrick has no other known credits, it’s generally agreed that Kirkpatrick was a pseudonym.  But was it a pseudonym for Lenzi, screenwriter James Justice, or both of them?  In an interview for the book Spaghetti Nightmares, Lenzi said that he was originally hired to direct but, at the last minute, he changed his mind because he felt the film was too similar to his 1972 giallo, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids.  Lenzi says that he withdrew from directing but that he remained on set to provide technical assistance to the film’s actual director, “Harry Kirkpatrick,” who Lenzi also says co-wrote the script.  That may sound simple enough but skeptics point out that worrying about repeating himself didn’t dissuade Lenzi from following up Eaten Alive with Cannibal Ferox.  (Add to that, would Lenzi really have been concerned about duplicating a film that he made 17 years previously?)  As well, James Justice only has two credits listed on the imdb, one for writing this film and one for 2006’s Lesser Evil.

(For the record, I did a google search on James Justice and I didn’t find much.  However, I did comes across several Scientology sites that featured testimonials from “James Justice, screenwriter.”)

As for what the film’s about, it’s a strange combination of genres.  It starts out with a prisoner named Diablo (Tony Bolano) being sent to Florida’s electric chair.  Diablo was the leader of an infamous motorcycle gang.  He was convicted of murdering a teenage girl but, as he dies, Diablo yells that he’s been framed and that he was innocent.

However, no need to worry too much about Diablo!  No sooner has Diablo been sent to the chair then suddenly, Nightmare Beach turns into a spring break comedy!  Teenagers and college students are flooding the beaches of Florida and all they want to do is have a good time!  The local fire-and-brimstone preacher (Lance Le Gault) can’t stop the party, no matter how many times he says that everyone’s going to Hell.  The police chief (John Saxon) puts extra patrols on the beach.  The local doctor (Michael Parks) prepares to treat a hundred cases of alcohol poisoning.

The beach turns into a huge party!  Bands play.  T-shirts get wet.  For some reason, one dorky frat boy does the whole pretending to be dead while floating in the pool routine.  A young woman tries to stay in a hotel for free without getting caught.  Meanwhile, two college football players, Skip (Nicolas de Toth) and Ronny (Rawley Valverde) roll into town.  Skip is depressed because he lost the big game but Ronny is determined that his best friend is going to have a good time and get laid!  Whenever Skip gets depressed, Ronny pelts him with condoms.

It’s Spring Break!  Everyone’s going to have a good time…

Except, suddenly, a mysterious figure on a motorcycle rolls into town.  He never speaks.  He never takes off his helmet.  However, he does electrocute everyone that he meets.  Sometimes, he uses live wires and sometimes, he just has them sit on the back of his motorcycle, which has been designed to act as an electric chair.  Could it be the ghost of Diablo, seeking vengeance?  When Ronny disappears — NO!  NOT COMEDY RELIEF RONNY — Skip is determined to find out what’s going on.  Working with him is Gail (Sara Buxton), the sister of the girl that Diablo was convicted of murdering…

One reason why so many Italian horror aficionados are convinced that Umberto Lenzi must have directed Nightmare Beach is because, with its odd mix of genres and its weird combination of comedy and extreme gore, it just feels like an Umberto Lenzi film.  Add to that, around the same time that Nightmare Beach was filmed and released, Lenzi also filmed and released another film about teenagers being murdered during spring break, Hitcher In The Dark.

Because it’s such a strange mix of genres, Nightmare Beach is a much more interesting film than Hitcher In The Dark.  The motorcycle-driving killer is somehow both ludicrous and frightening at the same time. Plus, how can you resist a movie with both John Saxon and Michael Parks as ineffectual authority figures?  It just can’t be done.

One Hit Wonders #3: LONG, LONESOME HIGHWAY by Michael Parks (MGM Records, 1970)


cracked rear viewer

Did you know the late actor Michael Parks (1940-2017) once reached #20 on the Billboard charts with the song “Long, Lonesome Highway”:

Parks was appearing at the time in the NBC-TV series THEN CAME BRONSON, a sort of ROUTE 66 on two wheels, riding his Harley across America in search of meaning. The show aired during the 1969-70 season, and was a nod to the counterculture movement going on at the time. THEN CAME BRONSON had some good writing and featured guest stars both established (Iron Eyes Cody, STAR TREK’s James Doohan, LA Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale, Beverly Garland, Gloria Grahame, Jack Klugman, Fernando Lamas, Elsa Lanchester, James Whitmore) and up-and-coming (Dabney Coleman, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Penny Marshall, Kurt Russell, Martin Sheen, folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie), but lost it’s ticket to ride because of CBS’s ratings powerhouse HAWAII FIVE-O, and was cancelled after 26 episodes.

The song was written by James Hendricks (not…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: RIP Michael Parks (1940-2017)


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 lets the visuals do the talking. Cult actor Michael Parks died yesterday at the age of 77. In honor of his passing, here’s a visual look at the films and TV appearances of Michael Parks:

Bus Riley’s Back in Town (1965, D: Harvey Hart)

Then Came Bronson (TV series, 1969-1970)

Twin Peaks (TV series 1990-1991)

From Dusk to Dawn (1996, D: Robert Rodriguez)

Thank you, Michael.