Interview with Lydia Criss

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Lydia Criss was kind enough to take the time to have a conversation with Alex Saltz from the ProAudio Times Podcast and David Lawler from the Misadventures of Blissville Podcast (and head writer at VHS Rewind!)

Lydia wrote an AMAZING book entitled ‘Sealed with a Kiss’ which shows never before seen or published KISS photos and intimate and personal photos she chose to share with the fans.

The book is only $39.95 and can be found here

Vintage Cable Box: Alligator, 1980

“How about cats? I got plenty of cats. I also got a parrot I’d like to get rid of.”

Alligator, 1980 (Robert Forster), Group 1 Films

In what probably originated as an urban legend, a little girl buys a baby alligator from a road stand (Who buys baby alligators? They’re cute and all but they grow up!) and her furious abusive father flushes it down the toilet where it grows for 12 years. It doesn’t just grow. No. It becomes an incredible monster due to sewage and radiation exposure. It proceeds to wreak havoc on Chicago. Tough, disgruntled cop Robert Forster investigates the appearance of body parts washing up, and the death of the hilariously named sewer worker Edward Norton. The Press thinks it’s Jack the Ripper. I would assume these were mob hits, and not a freaking giant alligator, but what do I know?

Sidney Lassick is an evil animal catcher. He’s evil because he sells his quarry to a disreputable pharmaceutical lab, where they put the animals through drug and research trials. They also seem to delight in torturing the animals. Lassick dumps their remains in the sewer. On one such visit to the sewer, he arouses the curiousity of our titular terror. He gets his comeuppance as the first of a series of “snacks” for the beastie. Forster takes young uniformed cop Kelly down for a tour of the sewer. The creature devours Kelly as Forster tries to rescue him, causing severe trauma to awaken in him. Forster had lost a partner a while back, which was the subject of some controversy and scorn from fellow officers.

Cute zoologist Dr. Kendall (Robin Riker, who I remember from the Chris Elliot television series, Get a Life) provides useful background on alligators and makes eyes at Forster.  Together they hunt for the rogue, while a nosey reporter feverishly dogs Forster’s every move.  He manages to snap a few pictures of the monster (ripping off Jaws 2) before becoming another late snack.  Cops try to flush it out with loud noises.  Kendall unknowingly reveals that she was the little girl who got the baby alligator from the film’s opening scenes.  Driven out of the sewer, the alligator makes a spectacular entrance exploding up from the pavement during a stickball game.

While Riker and Forster trade Hepburn/Tracy barbs, Henry Silva chews the scenery as a big-game  hunter hired by the obnoxious mayor to take down the beast.  Friend of the mayor and head of the pharmaceutical firm, Dean Jagger, arranges to have Forster fired from the force after he uncovers a connection between a growth hormone, the disappearance of animals used for testing, and the insatiable appetite of the alligator.  I noted that Craig Huxley is credited with composing the Jaws-like incidental music for the film, but the version I watched utilizes cues from old Twilight Zone episodes, which in turn were credited to Jerry Goldsmith.  Many of these music cues were also used in the William Shatner movie, Kingdom of the Spiders.  Strange.

 

Despite some obvious and clunky references to other monster movies, Alligator is a campy, fun  movie.  Director Lewis Teague (working from a script by John Sayles) would later direct Cujo and Cat’s Eye.  My favorite bit has to be the birthday party where the kids make their host walk the plank at his swimming pool, and he jumps right into the reptile’s waiting mouth!  A close runner-up would be the alligator crashing Dean Jagger’s garden party.  Everyone was there, Yoko brought her walrus, there was magic in the air.  Awesome!

Thanks to Craig Beam for the music clarification.

For more fun stuff related to underwater monster movies, check out Ben Metlis’ YouTube video, Top 10 Underwater Horror Movies!

Happy Presidents’ Day!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

VINTAGE CABLE BOX: “Soggy Bottom U.S.A.”

“These backwater hicks are an ignorant lot, but I’ll say one thing for ’em.  They … sure have a way with lemonade!”

Soggy Bottom U.S.A., 1980 (Ben Johnson), Gaylord Productions

Alligator! Oh wait, I think it’s a crocodile. Nevermind. Crocodiles … oh damn, it is an alligator. Somebody get Robert Forster on the phone! The deck of Soggy Bottom U.S.A. is stacked with a lot of names in the credits I recognize: Ben Johnson, Don Johnson, Anne Wedgeworth, the great crazy-eyed Jack Elam, Severn Darden (thanks to my wife’s Monkees Vs. Macheen articles), P.J. Soles, Dub Taylor, Brion James, and many more! I was thinking about this the other day. They don’t make decent “redneck” movies anymore. Nowadays, you get Deliverance variations where we get a bunch of Northerners, or “carpet-baggers” coming down to the swamps to partake of that fresh air, and being menaced by the locals.

Soggy Bottom is an unusual town, dominated by the marsh, and you have to navigate with a boat instead of a car to get to most places.  I always wonder why people would choose to live there.  Maybe the property taxes are really low.  Who knows?  The town is populated with eccentric characters.  Ben Johnson’s Sheriff is being harassed by a loud and angry Federal agent (Anthony Zerbe) investigating unpaid taxes and wise-ass moonshiner Cottonmouth Gorch (Taylor, a fixture in westerns and comedies for decades) during the Prohibition era.  Dingbat young inventor Don Johnson wants to marry childhood sweetheart Soles, a fledgling singer.  The Sheriff  tries to hold his relatively peaceful little Louisiana swamp town together during the popular 10th Annual Coon-Dog Race while trying to keep his girlfriend (Lois Nettleton, possibly best remembered for her turn in the classic Twilight Zone episode, “The Midnight Sun”) happy.  She wants Ben to make her an honest woman, but he thinks he’s too old to be her husband.  Their relationship is rather sweet.

Seems everybody comes out for the Soggy Bottom Coon-Dog Race.  The grand prize is enough cash for Don to get investors for his unusual swamp fanboat design.  Wedgeworth (I remember her from Three’s Company) plays country music star Dusty Wheeler, and she brings her prize-winning dog, Lord Byron, to the race.  Dusty makes eyes at the Sheriff, inspiring the ire of Lois.  It’s unusual to see Don Johnson (just before he became a big star on Miami Vice) playing such a small, subordinate role in a cast of genuinely interesting characters.  I don’t get the impression these characters exist merely in service to the story, but that there happened to be cameras rolling and gravitating effortlessly to the most intriguing narratives.  Dusty’s shifty manager, Smilin’ Jack, cons P.J. into selling her song for $20 without any stipulation for royalties.  This is like a good Robert Altman movie.

It takes a while before we get back to our central story – the race.  Most of the running time is taken up with ambiance, character development, and humorous episodes, but I’m not distracted as much as I was with the truly dreadful Screwballs.  I like these characters.  Soggy Bottom U.S.A. was a movie that received endless play on cable, particularly The Movie Channel.  I think it might’ve been part of a Ben Johnson retrospective.  I’m reminded of movies like Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (a movie I enjoyed) that take great pains to capture the mood, feeling, and affection for nostalgia of Soggy Bottom U.S.A. – consider the name of the band George Clooney and his friends make up when they cut their hit record: The Soggy Bottom Boys.  In the end, Lord Byron wins the race while Ben’s old dog, Sissy, breaks her leg.  The town bands together to help Ben’s dog, and Lois stays with Ben.  In a double-wedding, Ben marries Lois, and Don marries P.J.  I’d love to see a cleaned-up and letterboxed version of this movie.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.