Snakes On A Vacation: Curse II: The Bite (1989, directed by Frederico Prosperi)


Clark (J. Eddie Peck) and his girlfriend, Lisa (Jill Schoelen), are vacationing in New Mexico.  It’s a romantic getaway, except for all of the snakes.  Clark manages to save Lisa from one snake through the use of his trusty rifle but then he himself gets bitten once they go to a motel.  Luckily, traveling salesman Harry Morton (Jamie Farr!) has a suitcase that’s full of anti-snake venom antidotes.  Unfortunately, the one that Harry gave to Clark doesn’t do much good because not only does the bite on Clark’s arm get worse but it starts to turn into a snake!  In fact, his entire body is full of snakes, just trying to slither out!  It’s a vacation from Hell as Lisa tries to find a cure for Clark, Clark tries to control his serpent-like instincts, and Harry tries to find the young couple so that they don’t sue him.

This is an unrelated sequel to a film called The Curse.  In fact, it’s probable that this film was just called The Bite until the first Curse did slightly better at the box office than anyone expected.  The two films share not a single character or plot point in common.  There’s not really even a curse in this so-called sequel!  Clark’s problems are all due to the snake being radioactive.  (Once again, science is to blame.)  It’s a typically cheesy, low-budget 80s horror film but it does have a few things to recommend it.  The special effects range between being enjoyably cheap and effectively gross.  Jamie Farr is entertaining as Harry Morton and seems to be happy to not be playing Klinger again.  The truckers that Harry enlists to help him search for Lisa and Clark are all colorful characters and they are a little more interesting than the usual horror movie canon fodder.  Bo Svenson also has a good cameo as the sheriff.

Best of all, the film features one the greatest scream queens of the late 80s and early 90s, Jill Schoelen.  Schoelen is best remembered for her role in The Stepfather but she actually appeared in several horror movies between 1987 and 1993.  As she was in almost all of her roles, Jill Schoelen is both sexy and believable in The Bite.  She had a talent for making even the worse dialogue sound natural and that was a talent that The Bite gave her many chances to display.

The Bite is hardly a great film but, by the standards of late 80s cable fare, it’s undeniably entertaining.

 

Everyone’s Crazy: Committed (1991, directed by William A. Levey)


After her lover and employer commits suicide, nurse Susan Manning (Jennifer O’Neill) needs a new job so she applies at an experimental mental hospital that is known as the Institute.  The director of the Institute, Dr. Magnus Quilly (William Windom), explains to her that he cures his patients by allowing them to live out their fantasies in a controlled environment.  He asks Susan is she’s prepared to “commit” herself to being a nurse.  Susan says that she is and signs the papers that Dr. Quilly hands to her.

Too late, Susan discovers that Dr. Quilly didn’t hand her an employment contract.  Instead, Susan has just signed her own commitment papers and is now a patient at the Institute!  Dr. Quilly tells her that, as he does with all of his patients, he will allow her to live out her fantasy of being a nurse.  After discovering than an electrified fence makes it impossible to escape, Susan starts working as a nurse but she soon discovers that she is not the first person to be tricked into working at the Institute and that almost all of her predecessors died under mysterious circumstances.

Committed is one of many films about what happens when the lunatics literally take over the asylum.  (This is a plot that was first used by Edgar Allan Poe in The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether.)  The film is hurt by its low-budget but veteran B-movie director William A. Levey does a good job playing up the claustrophobia of being trapped in one location and Committed features eccentric performances from actors like Robert Forster, Ron Pallilo, and Sidney Lassick.  Committed asks, “Who is actually sane in an insane world?” and answers, “Everyone’s crazy!”

The best thing about Committed is that it stars Jennifer O’Neill, a beautiful model-turned-actress who found brief stardom when she appeared as the war bride in Summer of ’42.  Though O’Neill’s career never lived up to the promise of her first film, she was a better-than-average actress and she’s pretty good in Committed.  Both she and the film keep it deliberately ambiguous about whether or not Susan is really a nurse or if her whole backstory is just something that she’s fantasized.

Committed is a well-made B-movie from the golden age of straight-to-video thrillers and late night HBO premieres.  Despite a low-budget, this movie shows the good work that a cast and a director can do when they’re fully committed.

Back to School Part II #11: Skatetown U.S.A. (dir by William A. Levey)


Poster_of_the_movie_Skatetown,_USA

Now that I’ve fully recovered from the trauma of writing about Grease, let me tell you about a little movie from 1979.  It’s a movie about teenagers, love, and competition.  It’s also a movie about disco and some actors who had some extra time on their hands.  It has a great soundtrack and the whole movie is pure 70s.  It even features the debut performance of a future movie star!

What film am I talking about?

SKATETOWN, USA, of course!

But before I talk about the movie, check out the trailer.  This is one of my favorite trailers of all time.  It pretty much tells you everything that you need to know about the movie.  There’s not a deceptive moment to be found in this preview:

Skatetown, U.S.A. is one of those movies that you watch and think, “This could only have been made in the 70s.”  Remember how watching Hollywood High caused me to doubt whether or not the 70s were actually all they were cracked up to be?  Well, Skatetown USA has renewed my faith!  Skatetown is such a 70s film that I personally think someone should send me an honorary coke spoon to reward me for watching it.

(Maureen McCormick, who is best known for playing Marcia Brady and who had a small role in Skatetown, wrote in her autobiography that the main thing she remembers about Skatetown is all the cocaine on the set.)

Skatetown USA doesn’t really have a traditional plot.  Instead, it’s a collection of “comedic” skits mixed in with roller skating performances and a nonstop soundtrack.  There is not a second that music is not playing in the background and, for what appears to be a low-budget film, the soundtrack is truly impressive.  Basically, almost every great disco song from the 1970s is heard at some point during Skatetown USA.  (Even that “Boogie Nights” song that Paul Thomas Anderson was apparently not allowed to actually use in Boogie Nights!  Imagine being the copyright holders who said yes to Skatetown but no to Paul Thomas Anderson…)

The film’s main character appears to be an unnamed DJ (Denny Johnston).  The DJ wears a big white afro wig and is always dancing in his booth.  Occasionally, he shoots a lightning bolt from his middle finger and suddenly, professional roller dancers appear and do a routine.  At the end of the movie, he looks at the camera, says that it’s all a fantasy, and winks.

Skatetown is the most popular disco roller rink in town.  Clean-cut teenager and all around nice guy Stan Nelson (Greg Bradford) wants to win Skatetown’s roller dancing contest.  (The prize is $1,000 and a moped!)  His best friend, Richie (Scott Baio), accompanies him and hopes to win a lot of money by betting on the outcome of the contest.  Stan angrily reprimands him, “This isn’t the streets!  This is Skatetown, U.S.A!”

That’s right — don’t mess with the good name of Skatetown!

Anyway, Stan’s actually a pretty good performer and he does this trick where he rides a skateboard while wearing roller skaters so you would think he would be a sure bet to win.

BUT NO!

The reigning Skatetown champion is Ace Johnson (Patrick Swayze, making his film debut) and we know that Ace is a bad guy because he wears all black and he occasionally snaps a whip while he’s rolling around!  Ace isn’t above cheating to win but really he doesn’t have to cheat!  Ace may be the bad guy but, seriously, he totally kicks ass while wearing roller skates.  As soon as he rolls out there, you understand why he’s the reigning champion.

See, here’s the thing with Skatetown: We’re supposed to be rooting for Stan but Ace really is a hundred times better than him.  There’s a reason why Patrick Swayze went on to have a career after Skatetown while Greg Bradford only has 8 credits on the imdb.  Swayze, even in this silly role, had movie star charisma whereas Bradford — well, he’s comes across as a nice guy but there’s nothing special about him.  Swayze, meanwhile, is dangerous and smoldering.

For instance, when Stan does his routine, his background music is The Village People singing “Macho Man” and you can’t help but snicker a little.  Whereas, when Ace performs, his background music is a slightly menacing cover of Under My Thumb.  Stan is the Village People.  Ace is the Rolling Stones.

Anyway, the film might not be good in the traditional sense but I absolutely loved Skatetown, U.S.A.  Why?  Because it’s a total time capsule! Watching it is such a totally 70s experience that I was even tempted to get a frizzy perm, start wearing bell bottoms, and stop wearing a bra.  Fortunately, the temptation passed but still, I enjoyed getting to use my cinematic time machine.

Add to that, the film itself is just so over-the-top and silly that … well, you can really believe that everyone involved in the movie was snorting mountains of cocaine in between takes.  There’s not a subtle moment to be found in Skatetown, U.S.A.  Instead, it’s all bright neon, loud music, flamboyant characters, silly melodrama, and corny humor.

(My personal theory is that Skatetown, U.S.A. was taking place in the same cinematic universe of A Clockwork Orange and it was showing what normal teenagers were doing while Alex and his droogs were seeking out the ultraviolence.  The over-the-top design of Skatetown reminded me of the similar flamboyance of the Korova Milk Bar and the droogs’s bowlers and oversized codpieces weren’t that different from some of the costumes worn by the cast of Skatetown.)

Anyway, Skatetown is one of those films that everyone should see once.  Unfortunately, because of all the music in the film, it’s never been released on DVD or Blu-ray and it probably never will be because life sucks.  It is on YouTube, though it was recorded off an old VHS tape so the transfer is not the best.

Here’s Skatetown, USA:

One final note: Skatetown, USA was directed by the same William Levey who also directed Blackenstein, Hellgate, and The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington.  It was written Nick Castle, who played Michael Myers in the original Halloween and directed a film that is well-liked by several of the writers here at the Shattered Lens, The Last Starfighter.