Gone With The Whaaat?: MANDINGO (Paramount 1975)

cracked rear viewer

If you’ve never seen MANDINGO, be prepared for loads of gratuitous sex, violence, debauchery, depravity, racism, incest, nudity, and other such unsavory stuff! Some people today discuss the film in a scholarly manner, dissecting the sociological implications of pre-Civil War decadence in the deep South, the plight of the abused slaves, the overindulgent cruelty of the slave owners, and blah blah blah. I’m gonna talk about what the movie really is: pure, unadulterated Exploitation trash, in which some scenes will have your jaw dropping in shock, while others will leave you laughing at the exaggerated overacting and ludicrous dialog!

The movie centers around the Maxwell family and their plantation home, Falconhurst. It’s no Tara; Falconhurst is a run-down, gloomy, decrepit mansion that looks like it belongs in one of those “hillbilly horror” schlockfests of the 60’s or 70’s. Family patriarch Warren Maxwell wants a grandson to carry on the family…

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Scenes That I Love: Peter Stegman Plays The Piano in Class of 1984

“I am the future!” Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) announced in the 1982 film, Class of 1984, and, in many ways, he was correct.  Though it’s easy to be snarky about the fashion choices made by Stegman’s gang, Class of 1984‘s portrait of a school where teachers have taken to carrying guns to protect themselves is still relevant today.

One thing that set Class of 1984 apart from other exploitation films was that it acknowledged something that most people aren’t willing to admit.  Sometimes, the worst people can create the most beautiful music.  This is a point that was made quite literally in the scene below.

As the scene begins, the new music teacher — Andy Norman (Perry King) — is just trying to start his class when suddenly Stegman and his gang decide to drop in.  At first, Andy tells them to go away but then, suddenly, Stegman sits down at a piano and starts to play.

Timothy Van Patten, who would later go on to become an award-winning television director, reportedly actually played every note heard in this scene.  For a few brief seconds, Peter Stegman is revealed to be something more than just another high school psycho.  When Stegman sits in front of that piano, he becomes an artist and, throughout the film, both Andy Norman and the audience occasionally wonder who Peter Stegman could have been under different circumstances.

Of course, ultimately, it doesn’t matter.  Peter Stegman could have been a concert pianist but instead, he went down a different path.  Over the course of the film, Stegman is responsible for not only Michael J. Fox getting stabbed but Roddy McDowall getting blown up.  When Andy makes one final attempt to reach out to him, Stegman tries to cut his hand off.   Now wonder Andy eventually allowed Stegman to plunge through that skylight.

But even as Stegman falls to his death and discovers that he’s not the future, it’s hard not to think about that beautiful piece of music that he played just a few days earlier and wonder about what could have been.

Peter Stegman.  R.I.P.

Horror on TV: Tales From The Crypt 5.10 “Came The Dawn” (dir by Uli Edel)

Tonight’s excursion into televised horror is the 10th episode of the 5th season of Tales From The Crypt!  

Came The Dawn tells the twisted story of what happens when a mysterious hitchhiker (Brooke Shields) is picked up by a rich man (Perry King).  This one is full of twists and turns as director Uli Edel pays homage to Hitchcock.

It originally aired on November 17th, 1993!


Horror Film Review: The Possession of Joel Delaney (dir by Waris Hussein)


The Possession of Joel Delaney is a film that I watched a few years ago and it totally freaked me out.  It’s a film about possession that has never gotten as much attention as The Exorcist but seriously, this is one frightening movie.

This 1972 film takes place in New York City.  Norah Benson (Shirley MacClaine) is a rich and spoiled socialite, a snob who might brag about how nice she is to her maid but who would never dream of being caught dead visiting the neighborhood where she lives.  On the other hand, her younger brother — Joel Delaney (Perry King) — is a self-styled bohemian.  He’s just as rich as his sister and, in many ways, he’s just as much of a snob.  However, he disguises that fact by living in the “bad” part of town and hanging out with (and both idealizing and condescending to) the poor.  (When people talk about the “bad” part of the town in this film, they’re euphemistically referring to any part of the city where the majority of the residents are not white.)  If The Possession of Joel Delaney were made today, Norah would be Sasha Stone and Joel would be Devin Faraci.

Norah is extremely protective of Joel.  In fact, the film suggests that there might be something more to their relationship than just a sibling bond.  Norah worries about Joel living in a bad neighborhood.  She worries about his friends.  She reacts jealously when she meets his girlfriend, Sherry (Barbara Trentham).

So, you can imagine that Norah is rather upset when Joel is suddenly arrested for trying to kill his landlord.  Judged to be insane, Joel is sent to Bellevue.  Joel claims that he has no memory of attacking anyone.  In order to get out of the mental hospital, Joel lies and says that he was on drugs.

Moving in with Norah and her two kids, Joel starts to act strangely.  He starts to quiz Norah about her sex life.  He plays too rough with the children.  He tries to set Sherry’s hair on fire.  And he starts to speak in Spanish!

Could it be that Joel has been possessed by the spirit of his friend, Tonio?  Tonio, it turns out, was the landlord’s son.  It also appears that Tonio was the main suspect in a series of decapitation murders.  Could Tonio have moved his spirit into Joel’s body?  That’s what Norah’s Puerto Rican maid, Veronica (Miriam Colon), thinks!  Veronica quits her job, rather than have to deal with possessed Joel.

Norah decides to go to Veronica’s home and ask what’s happening with Joel.  What follows is a mix of horror and social satire.  Despite being a total stranger in Veronica’s neighborhood, Norah seems to be shocked when Veronica doesn’t exactly act overjoyed to see Norah standing in front of her small apartment.  As Norah demands to know what’s happening with her brother and Veronica explains that Joel may be possessed, you can’t help but get the feeling that Norah is more upset by the fact that Joel has been possessed by someone poor than by anything else.  In these scenes, Norah becomes the ultimate symbol of wealthy white privilege.

Meanwhile, Joel is going more and more crazy.  It all leads to one of the most horrifying sequences that I’ve ever seen, in which a possessed Joel torments Norah’s two children.  It’s an amazingly disturbing scene, one that is all the more upsetting because, in the title role, Perry King had previously done such a good job portraying Joel as being irresponsible but likable.  I don’t want to give too much away, beyond saying that the scene gave me nightmares and if you’re triggered by scenes of child abuse, you should not watch The Possession of Joel Delaney.

As I said, The Possession of Joel Delaney has never really gotten the credit that it deserves.  It’s always overshadowed by The Exorcist.  But if you want to see a truly scary film and if you like a little social satire mixed in with your horror, The Possession of Joel Delaney is one to track down.

Adventures in Cleaning Out The DVR: River Raft Nightmare (dir by Fred Olen Ray)

Hi there!  As I write this, I am couch-bound with what I’m pretty sure is a sprained toe.  With that in mind, I’ve decided to continue my efforts to clean out the DVR.  I just finished watching River Raft Nightmare, which premiered on Lifetime on September 5th.  That was Labor Day weekend and, like a lot of people, I was too busy hanging out with my family to watch a movie about a mother and daughter navigating rapids while being menaced by three criminals.


River Raft Nightmare, which was directed by the amazingly prolific (and, by B-movie fans, beloved) Fred Olen Ray, tells the story of Sharon (Brigid Brannagh) and her teenage daughter, Cassie (Leah Bateman).  They are looking forward to spending a nice relaxing weekend trying not to drown while river rafting.  The only things they have to worry about are the possibilities of Cassie going into diabetic shock, a sudden wilderness fire breaking out, and maybe running into three criminals who are searching for some stolen money that has been hidden somewhere in the wilderness.

True, it’s easy to imagine that one of those things could happen.  After all, all vacations have their obstacles.  And maybe you could even see two of those things happening because, sometimes, it’s just a mistake to leave the house.   But who would have guessed that all three of those things would end up happening!?  That’s right — Sharon and Cassie have to deal with fire, diabetic shock, and criminals!

The head criminal is named Frank.  He’s played by Ivan Sergei.  From the minute he showed up, I thought he looked familiar and then, about an hour into the movie, I realized that he previously played the psycho boyfriend in another Lifetime mainstay, Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?  Incidentally, that movie also featured Ivan Sergei nearly drowning in a river.  Maybe Ivan should stay away from the water from now on…

Frank continually assures Sharon and Cassie that he’s not going to kill them and that he just wants to find his money.  However, Cassie has already seen Frank kill a man.  That’s one reason why River Raft Nightmare was originally called Eyewitness,  Personally, I think River Raft Nightmare is a better title.  Eyewitness is a bit generic but River Raft Nightmare — hey, it’s got the word nightmare in it!  You can’t go wrong with that.

River Raft Nightmare is a thoroughly predictable film.  You will not be taken by surprise.  But, with that in mind, it’s enjoyable enough.  One thing that I appreciate about Fred Olen Ray is that he is a director who is almost totally lacking in pretension.  A Fred Olen Ray film doesn’t pretend to be anything that it isn’t.  River Raft Nightmare is a low-budget B-movie and it’s totally content with being a low-budget B-movie and you really have to admire that.  Add to that, I always love movies about moms and daughters bonding while kicking ass and Ivan Sergei was hot even when he was killing people.

(By the way, Fred, if you’re reading this, I’ve got an idea for a film called Red River Nightmare….)

One funny thing about the DVR is that it really does work as a time machine.  When you watch something that you recorded two months ago, it’s like stepping back in the past and sometimes, you’re shocked to discover what you had forgotten about.  In the case of River Raft Nightmare, I was shocked to be reminded that — for a few weeks — Lifetime experimented with having Erin Foley pop up during the commercial breaks and attempt to be snarky.  A typical Erin Foley comment would be something like: “So, they’re being hunted by killers but their makeup and hair are still perfect.”  (To which those of us at home would say, “No shit, haven’t you ever watched one of these movies before?  We all got over that a long time ago…”)  Having been reminded of its existence, all I can say is that I’m glad Lifetime ended that experiment.  No offense to Erin Foley but nothing she said ever came close to topping what the live tweeters were saying on twitter.

Seriously, Lifetime, those of us watching provide more than enough snark without it being necessary for you to bring in a “ringer.”

Sorry, Erin Foley, you were not necessary...

Sorry, Erin Foley, you were not necessary…

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #54: Mandingo (dir by Richard Fleischer)

Mandingo_movie_posterUp until last night, I was under the impression that James Mason never gave a single bad performance over the course of his long career.  Oh sure, I knew that Mason had probably appeared in his share of bad films.  But I figured he was one of those actors who was always better than his material.  Just watch Lolita, The Verdict, Julius Caesar, Odd Man Out, Bigger Than Life, or Murder By Decree and you’ll see that James Mason was a great actor.

But then, last night, I finally got around to watching the 1975 film, Mandingo.

I’ve actually owned Mandingo on DVD for a few years.  I bought it on a whim, the result of having seen it listed as one of the worst films of all time in several different reference guides.  But I have to admit that I did not have any great desire to actually sit through the film.  Instead, it was one of those films that you buy just so your very ownership of it can be a conversation piece.

(“Oh my God, Lisa, what’s this?”  “Oh, that little old thing?  That’s my copy of Mandingo…”)

However, when I decided to do Embracing the Melodrama, Part II, I realized that this would be the perfect time to actually watch and review Mandingo.

Mandingo deals with life on a sordid plantation in pre-Civil War Alabama.  Warren Maxwell (James Mason) owns the plantation and he spends most of his time sweating and complaining about his rheumatism.  When a Satanic slave trader named Brownlee (Paul Benedict) suggests that Warren can cure his rheumatism by always resting his feet on the backs of two little slave children, Warren proceeds to do just that.  Seriously, this is a 127 minute film and, nearly every time that Mason appears on screen, he’s got his feet propped up on the children.

Warren’s got a son named Hammond (Perry King).  Hammond walks with a limp, the result of a childhood pony accident.  Warren expects Hammond to sire an heir to Maxwell family legacy but Hammond is only comfortable having sex with slaves.  Finally, during a business trip with his decadent friend Charles (Ben Masters), Hammond meets and marries Blanche (Susan George).  Blanche assures Hammond that she’s a virgin and, on their wedding night, she asks Hammond how to have sex.  “We take off our clothes…” Hammond begins.

However, the morning after, Hammond is convinced that Blanche lied about being virgin because she enjoyed having sex.  Once they return to the plantation, Hammond refuses to touch Blanche and instead ends up falling in love with a slave named Ellen (Brenda Sykes).  When Ellen gets pregnant, Blanche beats her until she miscarries.

And meanwhile, James Mason keeps popping up with two little kids resting underneath his feet…

But that’s not all!  Hammond has purchased a slave named Mede (Ken Norton).  Mede is a boxer and wins Hammond a lot of money.  In order to “toughen up” his skin, Mede is also forced to bathe in a cauldron of very hot water.  “Shuck down those pants!” Hammond shouts before Mede gets in the cauldron.

Blanche, who is now an alcoholic, gets her revenge on Hammond by having sex with the the legendarily endowed Mede.  Soon, Blanche is pregnant and Hammond and Warren are both excited.  Then the baby is born and all Hell breaks loose.

And, meanwhile, James Mason rests his feet on the back of two little kids…

Mandingo is one of those films that you watch in wide-eyed amazement, shocked that not only was this movie made but it was also apparently made by a major film studio and directed by a professional director.  (Before he directed Mandingo, Richard Fleischer directed everything from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea to Doctor Dolittle to Soylent Green.)  I know that some would argue that Mandingo used the conventions of exploitation cinema to expose the sickening inhumanity of American slavery but let’s be honest here.  Mandingo is not Django Unchained.  Instead, it’s a slow-moving soap opera that is occasionally redeemed by some over-the-top dialogue and histrionic performances.

And it’s also proof that James Mason was capable of giving a bad performance.  According to the imdb, James Mason described Mandingo as a film that he did solely for the paycheck.  From his terrible Southern accent to the way that he always seems to be trying to hide his face from the camera, Mason gives perhaps one of the worst performances ever given by a legitimately great actor.

But really, can you blame him?

Back To School #26: Class of 1984 (dir by Mark L. Lester)

“I am the future!” — Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) in Class of 1984 (1982)

In many ways, the classic exploitation film Class of 1984 feels like an update of Blackboard Jungle.  An idealistic teacher Andrew Norris (Perry King) takes a job teaching at a crime-ridden inner city school.  There are a few differences.  For one thing, the teacher in Class of 1984 teaches music.  The graffiti-covered school in Class of 1984 looks a hundreds times worse than the one in Blackboard Jungle.  Sidney Poitier is nowhere to be seen in Class of 1984 though Michael J. Fox does show up as one of the good students.  Bad student Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) and his gang are a lot more colorful and flamboyant than Vic Morrow ever was in Blackboard Jungle.

And, of course, the main difference between Blackboard Jungle and Class of 1984 is that, in the former film, teacher Glenn Ford’s liberal idealism ultimately defeated the forces of juvenile delinquency.  Ford may have been tempted to turn violent but, ultimately, he appealed to the better instincts of his other students and the world was better for it.

In Class of 1984, Andy Norris may start off as a liberal idealist but, ultimately, he reveals himself to be just as violent as his students.  And again, the world appears to be better for it.

(I imagine that, when this film was originally released, a lot of teachers probably watched it as a form of wish-fulfillment.)

Now, Andy’s actions may be extreme but he has his reasons.  Just consider everything that happened to him after he started teaching.

First off, his best friend and fellow teacher Terry Corrigan (Roddy McDowall) was driven insane by the school’s students.  Terry eventually ended up teaching while pointing a gun at his entire class.  (The scene where McDowall finally gets his class to pay attention is one of the best in the film, largely due to McDowall’s excellent performance.  The look of happiness that crosses his face when a student finally gives him the correct answer is both disturbing and funny at the same time.)

Secondly, his best student (that would be Michael J. Fox) ended up getting stabbed in the cafeteria by one of Stegman’s goons.

And finally, Stegman and his gang assaulted Andy’s wife.

Can you blame Andy Norris for taking the law into his own hands?

Now, me,  I have a tendency towards being a bleeding heart when it comes to those living on the fringes of society.  I’m against the death penalty.  I’m against the war on drugs.  I’m against violence.  I believe in compassion.  I believe in understanding.  I believe in love.  But even with all that in mind, I couldn’t help but enjoy Class of 1984.  Some of that is because the film is surprisingly well-acted.  You find yourself really caring about the characters played Perry King and Roddy McDowall and you also find yourself really hating Peter Stegman and his goons.  I don’t care how compassionate you are, there’s something very cathartic about watching Andy finally get back at his tormentors.  And then there’s the fact that, of all the directors to work in what has been termed the “exploitation” field, Mark Lester is one of the best.  He’s one of those directors who knows exactly how to tell a story and what buttons to push to get the proper emotional respect.

But mostly, the film works because of Timothy Van Patten’s performance as Peter Stegman.  Van Patten makes Stegman into one of the definitive teenage psychos.  As intimidating as Van Patten is, his best moments come when the film reveals the type of person that Stegman could have been if not for the fact that he’s a total sociopath.  At one point, when Andy tries to kick him out of music class, Stegman responds by sitting down at a piano and playing a beautiful piece of music.  Perhaps my favorite Stegman moments comes late in the film, when he’s seen sweetly talking to his devoted (and clueless) mother.

Not surprisingly for a film that was released over 30 years ago, Class of 1984 is undeniably dated.  But it doesn’t matter because Class of 1984 captures a universal and timeless truth.  There are always going to be frustrated teachers and dangerous students.  The only thing that changes is how society deals with the frustration and the danger.

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