“An American Werewolf in London, 1981”

“A naked American man stole my balloons.”

An American Werewolf in London, 1981 (David Naughton), PolyGram Pictures

To appreciate An American Werewolf in London is to understand David Kessler’s predicament. Back-packing with buddy Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) through the moors, they come upon a quaint pub called The Slaughtered Lamb. The locals can sniff out the Colony blood and take an immediate dislike to them. Before they hurriedly leave, they are warned to stick to the roads and “beware the moon.” Jack is attacked and killed by a large, fur-covered beast with fangs, and David (David Naughton) is injured. While David recuperates from his injuries and flirts with pretty nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter), he is visited by undead Jack, who informs him they were attacked by a werewolf, and that David will transform into a werewolf at the next full moon. David writes off Jack’s warning as symptoms of impending madness.

What if he’s right? What if he’s going mad? A lot can be ascribed to psychosomatic underpinnings; that the brain controls the body to a certain extent, and if you truly believe and adapt to your surroundings, you can control those surroundings (including the suspicious appearance of fur and fangs). If what you believe is your reality, and in your reality, you believe you are a werewolf, you will become that thing. The same predicament befalls Nicolas Cage in Vampire’s Kiss (one of Cage’s few movies I can stomach) with similar results. The core of the movie’s logic depends on the character’s disbelief of the facts as they are handed to him by his undead friend who, in various stages of realistic decomposition, continues to warn him and then to advise him on the best (or most efficient) ways to off himself so that he doesn’t murder innocent people.

Nurse Alex has taken him into her home and he avails himself of her unexpected British hospitality. A charming romance blossoms between the two, even if she thinks he’s completely off his nut for insisting that he will become a werewolf. They have a wonderful, foreshadowing conversation about David’s theory that a werewolf can only be killed by someone who loves it. The next day, she goes to work and later that night, he transforms into a werewolf, and the sequence is truly frightening. If not for the immense pain Naughton appears to be going through, then for his complete astonishment at what is happening to him. The transformation puts us, the audience, in the room with him, and as we watch it, we become complicit in his secret. He charges off into the night and kills six people; all of whom join Jack to visit him in a porno theater in Picadilly Circus the following day.

With the central conceit (the suspension of disbelief) of the story out of the way, we can enjoy the strange humor of David’s condition. Not completely a comedy and not all the way serious, director John Landis shopped his script around for ten years before he found financing. It was only when he had three box office hits in The Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House, and The Blues Brothers under his belt that he was able to finally make the movie. An American Werewolf in London, along with The Howling, were the two big werewolf movies of 1981 and, while sharing Rick Baker’s startling tutilege, also exist in a world of werewolf movies. Both movies reference the classic 1941 Lon Chaney Jr. movie, The Wolf Man, written by Curt Siodmak. An American Werewolf in London is a fun, sexy, horror movie that transcended both horror and comedy genres and was enormously influential on movies that would follow.

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.

 

“Wolfen, 1981”

“You don’t have the eyes of the Hunter. You have the eyes of the dead.”

Wolfen, 1981 (Albert Finney), Warner Bros.

Albert Finney loves to eat! I mean, he loves food. There is nary a shot in Wolfen (at least up through three-quarters of the movie) where Finney doesn’t have something in his mouth that he is chewing. Come to think of it, a lot of people in this movie are eating something. The problem with a filmmaker like Michael Wadleigh (Woodstock) is you don’t know if he’s making a comment, or if he’s just being cheeky. Wolfen is very much a “social justice” type of movie, before such a thing became fashionable. Beautifully shot and visually spectacular in showing us a New York City that no longer exists, Wolfen isn’t really a werewolf movie; more a schizophrenic shape-shifter movie.

A series of brutal murders kicks off with a rich real estate developer and his well-dressed wife. Cop Dewey Wilson (Finney, with an obviously affected New York accent) is called in to investigate. Criminal psychologist Rebecca Heff (striking Diane Venora) and soul brother Medical Examiner Gregory Hines join Dewey as he attempts to unravel clues (some of which are quite clever) as to the identity of the perpetrator or perpetrators. Along the way more bodies fall, and despite the Mayor and Dewey’s superior, Warren’s (great character actor Dick O’Neill) assertion that the murders were conducted by “terrorists,” Dewey is convinced the murders are linked to a development project in the Bronx. This is where the movie loses me.

The scenes of contemporary Bronx (in 1980/1981) are horrifying; buildings torn apart, scenes of devastation, dilapidated structures and foundations. The decay doesn’t do anybody any good, and it’s looks crazy dangerous to boot. Why protest the demolition of this place in order to build up newer, safer, and more practical properties? The Bronx depicted in this movie is a war zone. It looks like it’s been hit with a hydrogen bomb. I understand the need to preserve culture and history (provided that culture and history is preservable) but when a conglomeration of progress, entropy, and indifference all collide to topple buildings, why let those buildings rot? Regardless, the local “Indigenous” population (that’s 2017 Newspeak slang for American Indians) are, dare I say it, restless, and do not approve of these developments.

Leader of the pack (so to speak) is Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos with his creepy eyes), who boasts to Finney that he and others are capable of shape-shifting (the ability of a being or creature to completely transform its physical form or shape – thanks Wikipedia!). Finney and Hines (with the help of liberal naturalist/white-guiltist Ferguson, played by Tom Noonan) deduce that the attacks were perpetrated by wolves, or wolf-like creatures. From the audience’s perspective, Olmos looks like a nut-case, but the murders are all too real, and Finney has no other suspects. There is no real resolution to this narrative other than that Finney guesses the wolves will be placated if he makes a grand gesture of destroying the impressive model demonstrating the construction. This works as the wolves all howl to each other and take off.

“If you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes.”

Wolfen is beautifully photographed by Gerry Fisher with Panavision lenses. New York City is an ominous landmark with a topography similar to animal habitats with high peaks and low valleys represented by buildings in various states of decay. The wolf “point-of-view” appears to be a form of solarization or thermal photography and traverse is shown as a series of Steadicam shots. There are plenty of symbolist visual markers in the movie; the most pronounced being the similarity between the state-of-the-art lie detector technology used by the cops and the wolf’s vision, which seems to show that wolves can see when other creatures are being deceptive. Unfortunately, there are too many inconsistencies with regard to character motivation to justify the plodding narrative.

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.

Conan The Barbarian (1981)

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Made in 1981, but delayed until May of 1982 due to various cuts, mostly for violence, Conan the Barbarian was a decent hit, and made all concerned a good chunk of money, and, while it also may have spawned a series of inferior knock offs, it stands out as probably the best of the Sword and Sorcery genre, mostly because it takes itself seriously, and had the budget to back it up. The star of the movie is, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and while the film is not quite the combination of quips and violence we come to expect from an Arnoldfest, his charm is undeniable.

So, with that in mind, join Mark and David as they discuss, and disagree, but also discover the warmth of friendship, the passion of love, and the wisdom of one who has suffered, all while watching a film which has what is sorely lacking today. A quote by Nietzsche.

 

“The Cannonball Run, 1981”

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“Officer, I sincerely hope you’re not a Catholic.”

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The Cannonball Run, 1981 (Burt Reynolds), 20th Century Fox

Early ’80s cable television was a dumping ground of racing movies; most of them starring Burt Reynolds and directed by the legendary stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham. You had your Hooper, your Stroker Ace, your Six Pack, your Smokey cycle, and you had The Cannonball Run (which spawned two sequels), which plays more as an excuse to hang out with your friends and make a fun movie than an effort to produce a serious racing movie. We’re not even fifteen minutes in and Burt (with buddy Dom De Luise) are working on hot cars, flying single-engine planes, and riding speed-boats as they try to figure out what vehicle to race in the famous “Cannonball Trophy Dash” from Connecticut to California. Burt gets the idea to use an ambulance after sustaining injuries in the resulting speed-boat crash, but first they need a patient and a real doctor, so they abduct (what?) Farrah Fawcett and a junkie doctor (hilarious Jack “I just gave her a little prick” Elam), so they can drive at high speeds.

The film is a veritable Who’s Who of late 70s/early 80s celebrities, both minor (Terry Bradshaw, Rick Aviles, Jamie Farr) and major (Dean “Father Putz” Martin, Sammy “The Chocolate Monk” Davis Jr., Roger “The Fly Who Bugged Me” Moore), as well as a few up-and-coming stars (Adrienne Barbeau, Jackie Chan).  Farr, as an Arabian Sheik, drives a Silver Shadow Rolls.  Chan drives a state-of-the-art Subaru GL with all kinds of gadgetry.  Roger Moore spoofs his “James Bond” persona as Seymour Goldfarb, a nice Jewish boy who thinks he’s Roger Moore, and drives a gorgeous Aston Martin.  Dean and Sammy are dressed as priests, driving a red Ferrari.  Buxom Barbeau and Tara Buckman drive a Lamborghini (the ultimate winners, but it doesn’t matter) and get out of speeding tickets by showing off their cleavage, until they come upon a similarly stacked State Trooper (Valerie Perrine).

We, of course, have a bad guy, but he’s not really a bad guy.  George Furth (a dependable character actor mainly known for ’70s television) is Arthur J. Foyt (a clever play on racer A.J. Foyt), a crusader (or what you’d call social justice warrior), looking to shut down this silly “Cannonball” competition.  The whole idea seems insanely dangerous, but the lure is a big money cash prize, so who can blame some of your more reckless racing enthusiasts for giving it a shot.  The only real problem in the narrative is that the movie takes too long to get going.  It’s like one of those old Plymouths you had to warm up in the garage for twenty minutes, except in this case it’s more like 35 minutes before we start up the engines.  This is understandable given the many characters and their vignettes, and that the screenplay (screenplay?) plays as a series of episodes rather than a cohesive narrative, but that’s okay.  This is such a fun movie – and never boring – that I don’t care.  It’s obvious everybody’s having a great time.  Burt Reynolds barely represses the urge to laugh in every scene with Dom De Luise.  Dean Martin is obviously drunk throughout the movie, and Sammy’s not that far behind.

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I’m not a fan of NASCAR, or any kind of professional racing (though I have good friends who are).  I don’t get it the same way I don’t get hockey.  I’m a baseball guy.  I tend to agree with David Cronenberg in that the ultimate “man-machine interface” is the man or woman who gets into his or her car in the morning and drives to work without thinking about it.  Plus, these competitions seem to be a serious waste of gasoline (also I suspect a good portion of the audience is there to see horrific crashes), but that’s none of my business.  I do, however, enjoy this movie quite a bit, mainly because it doesn’t take itself seriously.  There’s a brief shot I always remember when I think about The Cannonball Run.  Dean and Sammy pull over the ambulance to let the air out of the tires under the guise of offering a “blessing”.  They slide the door open and see a drugged Farrah smiling back at them.  She was truly beautiful.  Critics, at the time, steeped in Scorsese and Coppola-isms, were not appreciative.  A film snob myself, I don’t necessarily believe all movies should be serious masterpieces of style and form.  In fact, I think we should have an even (and wide) distribution of movies that stimulate our minds, and movies that go for the big belly-laugh.  Nothing wrong with that.

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: “American Pop”, 1981

cable-box-001-2696“A stripper gettin’ dressed ain’t beautiful unless she’s ugly to begin with.”

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“American Pop”, 1981 (Ron Thompson), Columbia Pictures

“American Pop” is a song with a simple rhyme; the condensed history of recorded music from big-band to punk, where the journey begins over a hundred years ago with Russian émigrés traveling to the United States to escape Cossack persecution. The descendants of an extended family fight in wars and face episodes of tragedy while trying to realize their musical aspirations. The story settles with young Tony, a Long Island punk who writes songs by night, washes dishes by day, all the while fighting an increasing dependency on heroin.

Tony reunites with his long-lost son, Pete, who also shares an interest in music. Together they deal drugs to high-profile musicians. Tony’s addictions grow worse and he sells his musical instruments in order to pay for more drugs. He abandons Pete after taking all their money. Pete, obviously learning from his family’s missteps in life in pursuit of their own musical dreams, is hired on-the-spot by a musical group whom are stunned by his talent.

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This was the nadir of adult animated features, and because of rights issues with the music used in the soundtrack, a forthcoming video release was blocked until 1995. The same problems arose with a pending video release for “Heavy Metal”, another cult favorite. Animated adult movies are not produced anymore. The market is now consistently geared for children.

“American Pop” is an incredible movie to behold; predating “A Scanner Darkly” by 25 years, this mixed media marvel uses rotoscoping to create realistic movements in astonishing dance and music sequences (which recall classic Disney), and the result is tremendously rewarding. Ralph Bakshi, most notably, directed the first X-rated cartoon, “Fritz The Cat”, as well as a popular adaptation of “Lord Of The Rings”, and later, “Cool World”. “American Pop” serves to remind the audience that talent and dreams are not enough to succeed in this increasingly cold world. Sometimes all we need is a little luck.

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. You can hear my podcast at Misadventures In BlissVille and you can visit my Facebook group page.

“Vintage Cable Box” artwork by Bronwyn Knox.

Vintage Cable Box: “Porky’s”, 1981

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“That … tallywhacker had a mole on it. And that mole is the key to it.”

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.

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“Porky’s”, 1981 (Kim Cattrall), 20th Century Fox

As a standard teen sex comedy narrative, “Porky’s” is based on repetition, and a curious parochial attitude in which something good (read: sexy) happens to one of our protagonists, and then almost immediately, that protagonist is punished for his pleasure. In one key scene (the basis for the poster, no less) our plucky heroes are spying on girls through peepholes in the shower. One of them decides to tempt fate by sticking his … ahem “tallywhacker” through the peephole. It is then that girls coach, Miss Ballbricker, grabs the offending appendage and pulls on it, causing our hero a respectable amount of pain.

“Porky’s” follows our teen heroes from one sexual misadventure to another. The story takes place in 1954. Imagine “American Graffiti”, but with significantly more skin. It’s a low-budget coming-of-age movie with a top-rate cast, excellent acting, photography, and a story that doesn’t condescend to, or patronize it’s audience (other than a haphazard subplot about bigotry, but I’ll forgive writer/director Bob Clark for that misstep). The movie was a tremendous hit for Fox, earning over a hundred million smackeroos at the box office, but it was on cable television that the movie’s success truly blossomed, as it were. While our parents forbade us from the pleasures of Pee-Wee and Wendy in the theater, they couldn’t stop us from checking it out on our vintage cable boxes!

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“Porky’s” was followed with two sequels, the competent “Porky’s 2: The Next Day”, and the dreadful “Porky’s Revenge” (with music from George Harrison!). Most memorable is the beautiful Kim Cattrall, hilariously nicknamed “Lassie” because of her penchant for high-pitched squealing during sex. Dependable character actors, Alex Karras and Susan Clark (from TV’s Webster), as well as Art Hindle, and Nancy Parsons, fill out the cast of mostly-unknown young actors. Bob Clark directed one of my favorite 70s horror movies, “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things” as well as the perennial holiday classic, “A Christmas Story”. Sort of puts a different spin on “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. You can hear my podcast at Misadventures In BlissVille and you can visit my Facebook group page.

“Vintage Cable Box” artwork by Bronwyn Knox.