Vintage Cable Box: The Atomic Cafe, 1982

cable-box-001-2696

“We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies.”

the-atomic-cafe

The Atomic Cafe, 1982, Libra Films

It was an unexciting, routine mission until they saw the damage. New Mexico, normally a parched, barren section of little Earth; sand and dust, before and after, shows no real effects until you throw in the half-constructed homes and livestock. The “Trinity” Test yields an image of great beauty, often repeated, but as beauty can be a drug with effects that diminish over time, the first mushroom cloud, the report of the first bomb detonation arouses the scientific community, and the first parties of people involved are labeled “mad-men” and “lunatics”; it’s eerie and strange how those voices were silenced over the ensuing years.

Not long after, Harry S. Truman appears in newsreels announcing the destruction of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which effectively end the war on the Asian continent.  The information is edited to remove the consequences of the attacks, but “The Atomic Cafe” pulls no punches.  We see the singed earth resting beneath stacks of bleached bones and graphic depictions of horrifying injuries sustained by the survivors.  The delicate sensibilities of pre-Eisenhower nuclear families that had no truck with unimaginable violence were too tender to witness the actual effects of the primary blasts, let alone the ash-ridden winters and radiation poisoning.

“PEACE!  It’s Wonderful!”  This is the post-war boom of America; the prosperity and the marching majorettes, returning soldiers, and dancing in the streets.  Operation: Crossroads begins with the “Bikini” Test, July of 1946.  The natives of the island sing “You Are My Sunshine” as the bomb is dropped, and an unbelievable cloud appears over the island.  The next year (1947 – “The Year of Division”), a new cloud forms headlining the “global struggle between East and West.”  In other words, Soviet Russia versus the United States.  The Cold War begins.

Propaganda films are quickly produced to demonstrate the threat of communism (like a virus) as it spreads throughout Europe and threatens to land on our shores.  Our “values,” or “freedom of speech” will be diminished, censored, and destroyed, and ideas like “humanity” and “emotion” are considered obsolete in Soviet Russia.  To counter this philosophy, our propaganda sells capitalism to the hilt as an antidote to the concept of communism.  Americans are encouraged to buy products, visit newly-built shopping malls; eat, marry, and reproduce – beef up our numbers.  Truman warns of atomic tests in Russia.  Protective devices, including boxes, suits, and bomb shelters are tested and then sold.  The police are militarized.

In 1950, as our government has enormous confidence in the ability to end any war with an atomic bomb, Korea is invaded.  The populace remains uninformed as to the true dangers of these new war technologies, and this is where the programming starts – by misinforming the public.  A character actor I recognize as James Gregory appears in a training film, wherein those preaching peace are ridiculed by the Military and civilians alike.  Paranoia reigns supreme; the impetus of which seems to have started when the Russians began testing their own atomic devices and then Senator Richard Nixon suspected espionage.  Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are sentenced to death for selling secrets to the Russians.  These initial bursts of fear snowball, or mushroom into a full-fledged witchhunt.  HUAC proceedings begin, and those who question our government’s actions, or display sympathies that go against the grain of nation-worship are blacklisted, their lives threatened and their actions monitored.

Ladies and Gentlemen – I give you the Hydrogen Bomb!  Even more awesome destruction is guaranteed, but Russia remains one step ahead and devlops their own Hydrogen bomb.  Testing of animals near bombing sites is accompanied by “Atomic Cocktail”, a jaunty Django Reinhart-like ditty, and then there are badly-acted training films made to assauge and calm fears of devastation and radiation sickness.  Fallout shelters are constructed with emergency preparedness kits, and rudimentary haz-mat suits become the norm for fashion.  This new age of paranoia even has a mascot – Burt the Turtle.  Burt comes with his own theme song, “Duck and Cover.”

theatomiccafe19822

Produced at the absolute height of United States fear and suspicion, where even my generation was indoctrinated to hate Russia and the principles of communism and socialism, The Atomic Cafe is a devastating documentary comprised of newsreel footage, Military training films, and flimsy speeches about safety, and broadcast news, as well as preaching the doctrine of capitalism and false analogies of free speech, and religious exceptionalism.  I have friends (my age) to this day who still possess a strange, undeviated, irrational hatred (read: fear) of anything that is not uniquely American, including our system of government, accepted systems of religion, and finance.  Why?  Why would they still continue to feel this way?  If they (as I) feel that our Nation, our system of government, and our potential for wealth and prosperity are unmatched in this world, they should have no fear.  Yet, the dogma persists.

As Americans go to the polls tomorrow to elect a new President, keep this in mind (as evidenced by The Atomic Cafe): politicians yearn for war, but soldiers pray for peace.  Politicians thrive in division, to keep us fighting each other instead of questioning our government’s practices.  Politicians exist to keep themselves employed; all of them, regardless of religion, race, or gender, with no exceptions, no Party rules, and no compunction about dropping mindless, soulless bombs on innocent people.  We’re capable of so much more than this.  Keep that in mind.  Please.

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: Firestarter, 1984

cable-box-001-2696

“John, the friendly orderly, will make her happy because he’s the only one who can. And when John feels she has reached the moment of her greatest happiness, he will strike her across the bridge of the nose, breaking it explosively and sending bone fragments into her brain. It’ll be quick. And he’ll be looking at her face at the time. He will know her power. And when he dies, which I hope is very soon, perhaps he can take that power with him… into the other world.”

mpw-59321

Firestarter, 1984 (Drew Barrymore), MCA/Universal

We pick up in mid-story. David Keith and daughter Drew Barrymore are on the run from nefarious government agents working under the auspices of “The Shop”, a kind of CIA Science Branch that specializes in chemical warfare and drug experimentation. Some ten to fifteeen years before, a drug called Lot 6 is tested in a double-blind study. Andy and soon-to-be wife Vicki (Heather Locklear) are participants in the study. While some are not affected (by means of placebo), and some have extremely violent reactions (one poor bastard gouges his own eyes out), Andy and Vicki begin communicating telepathically.

They marry and have a child, Charlie, with pyrokinetic powers, but members of “The Shop” (short for the Department of Scientific Intelligence) have been watching and studying the child’s growth, subjecting them to harrassment. Eventually they murder Vicki and attempt to abduct Charlie, but Andy has the power to push people; that is, he can manipulate them to do what he wishes, but his power comes at a cost. He suffers hemorrhages that will eventually kill him.

For a year, Charlie and Andy stow away in motels and keep running from “Shop” agents, who want to exploit Charlie’s power, and perhaps assemble a race of firestarters for use in future war campaigns. The scientist (Freddie Jones) involved in the original Lot 6 tests discourages any further study of her, while “Shop” head Captain Hollister (a wicked Martin Sheen) and psychopathic assassin Rainbird (George C. Scott) want to kill Andy and train Charlie to control her powers, where her father has always discouraged using them.

firestarter-george-c-scott

They hitch a ride with kindly farmer Art Carney, who takes them back home to meet his wife (Louise Fletcher), but “The Shop” is right behind them. Carney does his best to fend off the enemy agents, and Charlie and Andy escape. They hide out in an old lakehouse, but are then quickly captured by Rainbird. Once imprisoned in a “Shop” facility, they are separated. Testing begins on Andy, while Rainbird ingratiates himself to Charlie, and pretends to be her best friend.

Under the tutilege of Hollister and Rainbird, Charlie’s powers increase. She is able to selectively set fires with her mind. Andy has not been taking the medication he has been prescribed to dampen his own telekinetic activity. He pushes Hollister into reuniting him with his daughter, but Rainbird has other ideas (he wants to destroy her and, in my view, gain her power – “the power of the gods”), and the movie ends with an incredible and violent showcase of fire effects (a variation on the climax in Carrie) in which Charlie destroys the “Shop” facilities.

Stanley Mann’s screenplay is slavishly faithful to the Stephen King book and Mark Lester’s direction is spot-on.  Tangerine Dream’s memorable score is one of the best I’ve ever heard.  Keith and Barrymore are incredibly believable as a desperate father and his precocious and dangerous daughter, and Scott and Sheen make excellent, mustache-twirling villains.  Barrymore was such a gifted young actress in this movie that King wrote a part specifically for her in 1985’s Cat’s Eye.  Reading King’s books, I’ve noted his distrust of authority and government (The Stand and Under the Dome spring to mind) as well as his fascination with children (Carrie, The Shining).  Several movie adaptations of King stories played on cable at this time, such as Cujo, The Dead Zone, and Christine.

burn-it-down-firestarter-01

On a personal note, enjoying this movie as a kid (as I’ve said before, I love stories about kids with insane, god-like powers), I never thought I’d have a daughter of my own.  Barrymore, in this movie, reminds me so much of my daughter; not that she has the ability to summon fire, but the sweetness, the innocence of childhood imparted.  Firestarter is one of the very few movies out there to stress and comment upon the importance of fathers and their daughters, and for that reason, this movie earns very high marks from me, and it is one of my favorite adaptations of Stephen King.

Anyone who listens to a child’s crying with understanding will know that psychic forces, terrible forces, sleep within it, different from anything commonly assumed: profound rage and pain and lust for destruction.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Thanks for reading Vintage Cable Box’s Halloween 2016 Horror Movie Coverage.  I had a lot of fun watching these movies and I hope you had fun reading! 

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: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, 1984

cable-box-001-2696

“Die! Die! Die! Die!”

friay-the-13th-the-final-chapter-poster

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, 1984 (Crispin Glover), Paramount Pictures

As is the course for the Friday the 13th franchise, we start with a clip show. This is like watching Happy Days, Family Ties, Friends or any number of sitcoms where the actors’ contractual demands per episode outweighed any reason to shoot new episodes, so the producers would cobble together “flashback” episodes to complete production runs. We get a few minutes of the back-story. The dreamy camp coordinator from Part 2 sits his kids around a fire to regale them with the story of Jason. We go backwards to the old man and the “death curse”, forward to Pamela’s shrine, backward to Pamela’s beheading, and forward to our previous survivor, character (actress) putting an ax in Jason’s hockey mask.

Like Part III (in 3-D!) before it, we pick up the action right where the previous movie left off.  Cops in raincoats take all the bodies out of the crime scene (including Jason’s) and off we go to the local hospital.  This time, we spend a good portion of the movie away from the camp, or any forest-like locale, which is refreshing.  You think it’s going play like Halloween II (which took place in a hospital as well, which made it a little boring for me), but just as soon as Jason rises from the dead (the first traces of his super-human stature), and kills a couple of medical staffers (nice to know they’re horny too, Jason works much better as a form of birth control than an instrument of vengeance), we’re back at Crystal Lake, or at least within the vicinity.

Playing as a slight variation from Part III (in 3-D!), we have another group of friends off to spend a weekend at idyllic Crystal Lake.  Perhaps tragedy-plus-time equals comedy, so the locals aren’t so crazy-ass nervous about the whole thing, but what is it about Crystal Lake that seduces teenagers to drink of it’s pristine shores, or skinny dip, or engage in any other number of activities?  The archetypes are almost identical to the previous movie; you have the popular guy, the pretend- popular guy, the hotties, the dweeb (memorable Crispin Glover), and the virgin (her name escapes me).  We meet a friendly family: the Jarvises, a mother and her two kids, daughter Trish and little boy Tommy (Corey Feldman).  Tommy makes halloween masks and enjoys makeup effects, much like expert makeup artist, Tom Savini (who returned to work on this movie specifically so he could kill Jason).  He is a joy to watch in this movie, particularly when he’s checking out the girls undressing through his bedroom window.

Meanwhile, there’s a pair of cute twins looking to make life interesting for Glover and his douche-bag friend.  Tommy watches the gaggle of them swimming naked in the lake, and instantly becomes a man!  What with all the characters running around, I almost forgot we were watching a Friday the 13th movie.  Our favorite hockey player shows up right after Trish and Tommy meet tall, handsome hitchhiker, Rob (Erich  Anderson), who bonds with Tommy after seeing his eclectic collection of monster movie paraphenalia.  The screenplay briefly flirts with the idea of making Rob the killer, because of his similar build to that of Jason.  The teens party on, and Crispin does a ridiculous dance (think Elaine and her “full-body dry-heave” from Seinfeld) that is forever etched in my mind.  In addition, the ending is a better variation of the second movie’s ending that has Tommy shaving his head to resemble a young Jason in order to distract and then murder him.  His story will continue in the next two movies.  Long live Tommy Jarvis!

Shake it, Crispin!

This is the movie I most remember (other than Part VI: Jason Lives) from the franchise, because, as it happened, The Movie Channel ran a marathon of the first three movies to mark the premiere of this sequel.  For some strange and spooky reason, I always watched this movie in quiet surroundings (at least until I watched it again for this review).  The first time I saw the movie, I was living in cricket-infested Tennessee.  Another time, I was upstate in Putnam County (with lots of freaking crickets).  One snap of a fallen tree branch and I was hanging from the ceiling fan, even though Jason never truly frightened me.  By the time this movie rolled around, he was almost a robot, an indestructible entity (regardless of what becomes of him at the end of this movie).  In the formula of how these movies were made, we have story, gruesome death, story, gruesome death – rinse and repeat, so you can pretty much tell what’s going to happen next.  The fun was figuring out how the kids were going to die.

You can also sense the “cold war” of competing slasher movie enterprises.  In looking over the comparative histories of these franchises, I found several similarities.  Halloween was intended as an anthology series, as was Friday the 13th, until the producers changed their minds.  Similar concepts were brought out, such as The Burning (one shot in The Final Chapter imitates the famous canoe scene) and the Sleepaway Camp cycle.  Other concepts were direct parodies (though not marketed as such), like The Slumber Party Massacre and The Dorm That Dripped Blood.  Wes Craven’s Scream franchise deconstructed the genre for a new audience, and in turn, caused a resurgence, resulting in self-referential films like Adam Green’s Hatchet series.

I had a wonderful time catching up and reviewing the first four movies of this franchise.  It seems Friday the 13th (like Jason) will go on forever and ever.  The franchise was rebooted in 2009 (not a terrible movie, but lacking the D.I.Y. qualities and rough charm of the original movies) and produced by Michael Bay, who would also produce reboots of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror, andA Nightmare On Elm Street.  It’s sad to think we’ve rendered a particular era of filmmaking obsolete; most movies released these days are not temporary distractions and fun diversions, but full-blown epics with philosophical and psychological underpinnings that the audience must digest and process in order to get a sense of entertainment, or else they completely miss the boat.  Remember when movies were fun?

Next time, we look at the superior rat movie, Of Unknown Origin, starring the great Peter Weller!

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: Friday the 13th Part III, 1982

cable-box-001-2696

“Look upon this omen and go back from whence ye came!  I have warned thee!  I have warned thee.”

friday_13th_3_poster_01

Friday the 13th Part III, 1982 (Richard Brooker), Paramount Pictures

We pick up right where we left off with the previous installment, and then I begin to suspect these opening scenes exist only to pad out the running time. Basically, we have Ginny (the survivor from Part 2, and, not coincidentally, a thoughtful and intelligent young woman) trying to pass herself as Pamela in order to confuse and delay Jason (now revealed to be the killer) so she can get away. There’s a subtle character bit here with Jason that I neglected to mention in the previous review. When Ginny admonishes him for disobeying her, he cocks his head in a quizzical manner, as though he were a puppy who just heard an unusual noise. So Ginny escapes, we go back to the grotesque shrine of Pamela, and we’re off to the races!

This is Friday the 13th Part III (in 3-D, as evidenced by the credits, but for some reason we’re treated to a disco theme this time around). I’m assuming the credits are supposed to be smacking our faces if we’re wearing the 3-D glasses, but here they mercifully stop before messing up my monitor. Phew! Steve Miner directs an immediate follow-up to the first sequel with the discovery of all the dead teens from Part 2. Jason is somewhere still out there, clutching a machete, and it isn’t long before we get our first confirmed kill. This is the first sequel (in my worn-down memory, at least) to step up the action and get right down to business. We get the fake-out jolts, of course accompanied by Manfredini’s violin stings (his score emulates Bernard Hermann’s score for Psycho), but we also get a handful of enhanced shots for 3-D; snakes coming toward us, assorted weaponry, and a “clever” gag with a yo-yo. There’s a refreshing amount of quiet that escalates the tension, because at this point we’re waiting for Jason to strike.

After vanquishing an argumentative couple with a fondness for pets, we’re introduced to the requisite teens with the van that’s a rockin’.  These guys aren’t as likeable as the previous batch, but it is admittedly easier to watch them buy a one-way ticket to the bone orchard.  I remember being somewhat upset and alarmed that Adrienne King was the first to go in the previous movie, but as I get to understand and appreciate the formula, I realize this is the only way to move forward in a franchise.  We can’t have long-term heroes (or heroines) in slasher films.  It gets boring after a while.  This is evidenced by the on-again, off-again presence of Jamie Lee Curtis in the Halloween franchise.

The formula of the franchise represents a deviation from the first two movies.  These kids aren’t camp counselors, but a group of old friends (though they don’t act all that friendly with each other, the girls are somewhat bitchy to each other, and the guys are deliberately dense) spending a weekend together in a town that neighbors Crystal Lake.  They are menaced by a strange ’80s version of a multicultural biker gang.  So, in addition to weathering the storm of Jason’s vengeance, they have to deal with these idiots, who also swear vengeance.  There’s a lot of vengeance in New Jersey, isn’t there?  The biker idiots show up, attempting to rain on the kids’ parade, but they get knocked off by Jason, in increasingly inventive ways, and it’s interesting to note several of the killings are done off-screen.  While continuing to use POV shots for Jason, this is the movie in which we get to see more than just a few shots of him.  He dons the iconic hockey mask (as played by Richard Brooker) for the first time and shoots an arrow straight through a victim’s eye!

f3-10-1024x447

Visually, the movie looks a lot better than most of the 3-D films being released at the time.  Earlier today, I wrote up my review for Jaws 3-D (which didn’t look terrible, but it didn’t look that great, either) and I was reminded of the terrible photographic process shots of the Steve Guttenberg nudie classic, The Man Who Wasn’t There.  Shot on a budget twice that of the previous film, Friday the 13th Part III did a little better at the box office, but not quite as groundbreaking as the first movie in the franchise, but by this time, slasher films took over a good portion of the market.  Friday the 13th Part III is likely the last movie in the franchise to show Jason as a human being with physical vulnerabilities, unlike what he would eventually become: that of a super-human killing machine.

Next time, we take a look at the (allegedly) final chapter in the Friday the 13th franchise.  As we know, it doesn’t really work out that way.  Thank you, Corey Feldman!

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: Friday the 13th Part 2, 1981

cable-box-001-2696

“I told the others, they didn’t believe me. You’re all doomed. You’re all doomed.”

f13_2_poster

Friday the 13th Part 2, 1981 (Adrienne King), Paramount Pictures

Adrienne King is having nightmares.  Specifically, nightmares about the carnage from a few months prior.  Pamela shakes her, tells her Jason should have been watched.  He wasn’t a very good swimmer, you see.  Pamela targets poor Adrienne as the source of her anguish.  Adrienne tries to flee, but dead bodies are in her path.  She struggles with Pamela and grabs an ax.  One lucky swing later and Pamela is liberated from her head.  We then see the final image of the first movie, that of Adrienne lazily languishing in a canoe, until Jason emerges from his watery grave and pulls her under.  She talks to authorities and wonders what happened to the boy.  Adrienne wakes up.  The phone rings.  She argues with her mother, which is interesting considering that previous flashback.  What we’re seeing here is a fragmented individual who, unfortunately, will not make it past the opening credits.  She opens the refrigerator door to see Pamela’s decapitated head looking at her (the old Osterman Weekend gag!), and then she gets a ice-pick in her head (the old Basic Instinct gag!).  At least the killer is kind enough to take the whistling kettle off the heat.

We jump to five years later, and a fresh, healthy batch of good-looking camp counselors are en route to a training center just outside of the camp.  Their no-nonsense (yet dreamy) coordinator set them to work making preparations, or something like that.  The script doesn’t waste much time on character development.  This would, unfortunately, become a trope of slasher movies as the years progressed.  As they are want to do, they engage in fornication, smoking dope, telling scary stories or whatever the kids got up to back in those days.  The crazy old man (“It’s got a death curse!”) shows up again to freak out the young people.  That seems to be his primary job.  Dreamy coordinator-guy sits everybody by the campfire and tells the story of Jason, for no other reason than to take up the creepy old man’s mantle (not before being killed himself, goodbye old man, we’ll miss you!) and scare the Hell out of these kids.  Why?  Camp Crystal Lake is off-limits!

As with the first movie, there are a few fake-out jolts to be felt.  What tends to happen is a one or two people trounce off the beaten path, walk through the woods, take a stroll around back, and then we go to a POV shot.  Somebody’s following somebody, a couple of violin stings from Henry Manfredini’s once-again effective score.  Sometimes we see a pair of legs following our hapless kids, and then we get the fake jolt, usually from a portly authority figure, who warns of danger, which is what I don’t understand.  Sooner or later the person doing the warning gets garroted.  You have all these townies warning of danger and yet they continue to live there.  If there was bad ju-ju afoot, I’d book and I mean proper!  Crazy, hemp-smokin’ kids don’t buy this adult plastic hassle, and they keep on keepin’ on.  My favorite bit this time around is two kids doing the nasty and the killer impales their bodies together with the bed.  Fun stuff!

f132

On a technical level, this second part in the franchise has better lighting and camerawork.  Steve Miner makes use of slow-moving tracking shots and creeping shadows.  Miner would go to direct the next sequel, House (a personal favorite of mine), and, inexplicably, Forever Young with Mel Gibson and Jamie Lee Curtis.  It seems this movie has a little more psychology going for it, with fear of the dark and vulnerability (such as the kids’ propensity for going skinny-dipping at night) driving those in the audience to clutch their boyfriends and girlfriends in sheer terror.  Several of these gags would be repeated in the third sequel.  I recognize one of the counselors as being the crazy bell-hop from the X-Files episode, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.”  Shot on a budget twice that of the first film, this sequel did not make as much money at the box office, but it was enough for Paramount (who purchased the worldwide rights) to justify another sequel.

Next time, I put on my 3D glasses for the third installment in the Friday the 13th franchise; Friday the 13th Part III (in 3-D!).

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: Friday the 13th, 1980

cable-box-001-2696

“It’s got a death curse!”

friday_the_thirteenth

Friday the 13th, 1980 (Betsy Palmer), Paramount Pictures

The slasher film was by no means a new idea when Friday the 13th opened to theaters in 1980, nor even Halloween two years previous.  A quick trip to the Wikipedia unearths unusual obscurities like Maurice Tourneur’s The Lunatics from 1912 (which I am stunned to remember watching at some point), which may have inspired the passing of the Hays Code (I would argue that, as the Hays Code was primarily an instrument of sexual censorship).  Thirteen Women from 1932 is more likely the progenitor of the modern-day slasher flick, because of the revenge-obsessed narrative.  The usual pattern of these stories involves an unpopular character, ridiculed, perhaps killed (or assumed dead) who has emerged to exact bloody vengeance on all those who wronged him or her.  This is the impetus of the very popular Friday the 13th franchise.

This is Camp Crystal Lake, a few years back.  The moon is out, and crickets chirp in the woods.  We have a couple of camp counselors getting sexy upstairs, and then we see that famous POV shot.  Young Jason Voorhees (presumably) spies on them, and then murders them.  Henry Manfredini’s iconic score borrows heavily from Bernard Hermann’s idea to use stinging strings to emphasize the acts of violence committed to film, as in Hitchcock’s Citizen Kane of slasher movies, Psycho.

Counselors assemble to repopulate the once-abandoned Crystal Lake.  There are some classic bits in here, as when one of the counselors goes into the town diner to ask for directions to the camp.  Everybody in the place stares at her like they’re all about to tell the story of “Large Marge.”  She hitches a ride to the camp, and the driver tells her about the two kids murdered in 1958, the drowning boy in 1957, and all the fires that have plagued Crystal Lake.  The driver urges her to quit and leave, but she can’t. She’s shaping young minds, damnit!  While her devotion to her work is admirable, her colleagues have other ideas: namely hanky-panky, and this is where we get more of the formula of this sub-genre.  The innocent, or thoughtful characters, usually virginal girls, are spared, while the libidinous of the group die horribly.

For the purposes of the first movie in the franchise, the identity of the killer is kept secret until the end, but we know ultimately that either Jason (or his restless and super-human spirit) are responsible for the subsequent killings.  Adrienne King, the remaining victim, discovers that Jason’s mother, has been avenging herself upon this new batch of counselors in her dead son’s stead.  It seems she was driven mad by his drowning death (as any mother would be) and took to killing as her primary source of communication.  This explains why (from her point of view), she was able to easily dispatch so many unsuspecting and trusting idiots.  As in Psycho (at least for this first entry) Jason exists only as a memory, like Norman’s mother.  After she loses her head (literally!), we’re treated to a De Palma-style leap from a watery grave and King waking from a horrifying nightmare.

1901krvxtyrm0jpg-0

Sean Cunningham (working from soap-opera scribe Victor Miller’s script) crafts a good old fashioned camp-fire story in very economical fashion.  Primarily conceived as a “tax shelter production”, Friday the 13th was shot in 1979 on a budget of about a half a million dollars, and proceeded to make $60,000,000; an enormous box office hit for the time.  While Halloween undoubtedly influenced this film, I believe Friday the 13th to be the most influential horror film of all time.  In the 80s, theaters were blitzed with slasher movies and sex comedies.  Movie theaters were like libraries; the descriptions of so many different kinds of movies were printed in newspapers, and movie lovers could see any type of film they wanted to see.  This was the beginning of the golden age of slasher movies.

Welcome to Vintage Cable Box’s Halloween 2016 Horror Movie Coverage!  Next time, I watch and dissect the first sequel in a big franchise; Friday the 13th Part 2 from 1981.

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: Avanti!, 1972

cable-box-001-2696

“Here we do not rush to drugstore for chicken sandwich & Coca-Cola. Here, we take our time. We cook our pasta, we sprinkle our Parmigiano, we drink our wine, we make our love…”

avanti

Avanti!, 1972 (Jack Lemmon), United Artists

A pre-credit sequence Jack Lemmon wears what looks like golfing togs, propositioning a well-dressed fellow American a few seats behind him in an airplane. We can’t hear what they’re discussing, but soon after, they get up and retire to the tiny bathroom. As this unusual exchange has aroused the curiousity of just about everybody on the plane, including the pilots and stewardesses, they emerge from the bathroom wearing each other’s clothes. This is a five-minute set-up that bids a fond arrivederci to the conventions of a decent attention span in order to set up a visual joke and ciao to the more permissive sexual humor of the seventies. Avanti! is a groundbreaking achievement in that regard.

Lemmon is on his way to Naples to claim the body of his deceased father, Wendell Armbruster, Sr., a corporate Baltimore-money tyrant, who appears to have expired in a car crash. It’s interesting that Lemmon’s approach to the material, the reaction of his father’s death, and the ensuing romantic adventure is one of mild annoyance at every person and every situation that threatens to road-block his return to the States. Lemmon discovers his father was not alone in the car. Under the guise of traveling to Naples every year for ten years of spa treatments, Lemmon’s father has been having an affair with a British tart in a Same Time, Next Year kind of capacity. He hooks up with the daughter (Juliet Mills) of Armbruster’s mistress, takes an instant dislike to her (as he does with everyone in this movie), and sets about making preparations to ship the body back to Baltimore.

Lemmon is a man embarrassed by his father’s dalliances, and would do everything he could to keep those secrets, but Juliet (knowing well in advance of Lemmon her mother’s escapades in Naples) is a romantic at heart, and as lonely a person in her own right as Lemmon, but at least she admits it. She wants their bodies buried up on a hill overlooking the bay. Lemmon, of course, disagrees. He doesn’t want to publicize and celebrate their flagrant and careless behavior. In fact, he’s such a sour-puss in this movie, it’s shocking Mills is attracted to him at all (and personally speaking, I would’ve kicked him right in the nuts after his “fat-ass” remark). Of course, this being Italy with passion and romance in the air, it’s not long before they conduct their own clandestine affair. Unfortunately, their romance feels perfunctory to a romantic comedy set in Italy.

The bodies go missing, and Lemmon is convinced Juliet had something to do with it.  This subplot involves a romance between the hotel maid, Anna, and her lover, the valet Bruno, which is extraneous and adds to the running time (a whopping 2 hours and 20 minutes!).  What’s a romantic comedy without a little murder and intrigue?  In one of the more publicized scenes from the movie, Lemmon and Mills sunbathe nude together on a large rock in the middle of the bay, under sight of boats, curious onlookers, and helicopters.  It seems they are recreating the exploits of their parents.  Bruno wants to extort them for their behavior.  This enrages Anna (who always liked the old man and his mistress), who kills him.  What I enjoy about the film is that it seems to be a mere excuse to travel to Italy and photograph the gorgeous views(good enough reason for me).

As I inferred, this is an unusual movie; produced at the end of a creative cycle of sex comedies that only made vague implications with regard to carnal passion, expectation, and lust. I’m reminded of director Billy Wilder’s more successful entries,The Seven Year Itch (a personal favorite), The Apartment, and Irma la Douce, but these were unusual times. Nudity and sexual content became more prevalent in adult-oriented films, as did contemporary ideas about the sexes.

One particular element of the screenplay (and the stage play upon which Avanti! was based) has characters consistently commenting (in mean-spirited fashion) on Juliet’s character’s weight and physical characteristics.  Her character is written as being “short and fat”.  According to other sources, Wilder even asked Mills (the older sister of Hayley Mills) to gain weight for the role, yet to me and others with whom I have watched the movie, she doesn’t appear to be overweight at all, and what’s more, she’s actually quite beautiful.  Perhaps her wide face and frumpy manner existed in strict defiance to the new era of Twiggy; the anorexic, tall supermodels of the late 60s.  Watching this movie, I can understand why women are under such tremendous pressure to maintain an attractive physique.

maxresdefault

As we usher in a new season here at “Vintage Cable Box”, I reflect on the long, hot summer; the chaos and the politics, the terror and the splendor and remember the movies and the daydreams into which I have always fallen, and I remember the door to those dreams is always ajar.  No need for permesso here.  Avanti always!

Coming Next Month! Halloween all month at “Vintage Cable Box!”

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: Rhinestone, 1984

cable-box-001-2696

“All right, we’ll go to your place and you can show me your organ. But I’m warning you, it’d best be having music coming out of it.”

rhinestone-movie-poster-1984-1020362806

Rhinestone, 1984 (Dolly Parton), 20th Century Fox

Sylvester Stallone is a smart guy.  Betraying his brutish looks, muscular physique, and propensity for violence, Stallone understands his incredible history, and his ability to re-invent his image.  He’s played rogue cops, underdog boxers, and disillusioned soldiers.  He’s gone down the road of pristine drama (Cop Land), and screwball comedy (Oscar), but pairing him head-to-head with Dolly Parton proved to be such a misfire from inception that it isn’t hard to see why he stayed away from this kind of culture-clash comedy for the better part of his career.  Given the opportunity to rewrite Phil Alden Robinson’s (Field of Dreams) screenplay, and then turning down Beverly Hills Cop to appear in this movie, Stallone shows he’s not afraid to take ill-advised chances in film.

Like every decent screwball comedy, this one begins with a bet.  Dolly’s Jake Farris is contracted to perform nightly at an admittedly popular tourist trap country bar smack dab in the middle of New York City run by Ron Leibman.  She makes a deal with Leibman to turn the first person he spots into a country music star.  If she succeeds, she can get out of the slave contract with Liebman (who can’t help but be sleazy about the whole thing).  They go out to the street and Liebman picks a dizzy cab driver named Nick for this Pygmalion-like transformation.  Of course, given the multi-cultural climate of New York City, Nick would be the very last person Dolly would agree to tutor in the ways of country music, but Leibman wants to make this as difficult as possible for her.

For a moment there, Nick thinks she’s coming on to him.  He takes her back to his home, where his Mama (playing it to the hilt, constantly circling the table to babble in a foreign language and deposit more food) makes spaghettis and gravy.  See, Dolly’s all skin and bone as we know.  So it’s unusual that in addition to a clash of cultures, we also have a clash of stereotypes.  Stallone is a good-natured meathead and Dolly’s a sassy redneck chick (and hot, to boot!).  Dolly decides to take Nick down to her ancestral home in Tennessee.  It’s funny that I was living in Tennessee at the time this movie premiered on cable television.  There didn’t seem to be much hootin’ and hollerin’ going on when I was living down there.  She teaches him to walk and to talk like a redneck (or “rhinestone”) cowboy-type; chewing tobacco, and developing a John Wayne swagger.

Dolly makes for a charmingly baroque figure in her dusters, cowboy hats, and leather boots, but Stallone, I think, tries too hard to be funny here when playing it straight would have benefited the humorous idea.  The rolling of his eyes and mugging for the camera, along with Travolta-hair style make him more menacing than endearing to me.  You can tell Dolly is really trying to teach him, not only about country music, but the unspoken language of dependency with which actors must relate.  In fact, Dolly is the saving grace of this movie.  Nevermind her looks – this broad is insanely talented; as an actor, as a singer, as an entertainer!  The only time the story doesn’t feel genuine is when the screenplay forces them to be closer.  The way I see it, the movie’s not a love story.  It’s a dare.  A dare to turn a cab driver into a star.  A dare to cast Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton in a movie together.

55af5067bd0a5c1f2eaccb99468f6acd

It’s here that we get into what makes a bad movie (although I disagree with that notion).  Watching or reviewing and evaluating a movie is, was, and always has been a subjective experience.  For example, you might consider Rhinestone to be a seminal work of art, a masterpiece; it did it’s job, for you.  You come across an imposing cluster of terrible reviews.  You talk to people who say the movie is “terrible”, or worse.  Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie a 15% “tomatometer” rating.  In those days, before the advent of blanket advertising to guarantee good opening weekend numbers, box office was the only indication of a movie’s failure.  This doesn’t mean you’re wrong for loving the movie.  It only means fewer people agree with your opinion, and it doesn’t mean you have bad taste in film.  If, in your view, the movie does it’s job (the outlandish prospect of pairing Parton with Stallone, and the silly screwball narrative), then it succeeds.  Rhinestone succeeds.

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.