Extreme Cinema! “Fu-Man Chews”

Robert Englund makes a cameo as the bus driver in the dream sequence that begins the movie. Christopher Young, an enormously talented film composer, does the score. He did a great score for The Fly II and the Hellraiser movies. I know this because I have several of his scores on tape and compact disc. Mark Patton is the unpopular kid in the schoolbus. Turns out Freddy’s driving. There’s some great visuals here, lots of fun.

So Mark Patton’s having bad dreams. Nice cutaway to the slicing of a tomato, and then a horrible scream that the parents (Hope Lange and Clu Galager, who seem too old to be his parents) ignore. If my daughter screamed like that, me and my wife and every cop in Queens would be in her room in two minutes. Notice the cereal? Fu Man Chews! So Mark’s got a not-girlfriend, Lisa, kinda cute, redhead – reminds me a little of Annette O’ Toole. There’s like 15 different activities going on in the high school sports field. Archery, volleyball, soccer, baseball.

His friend, Robert Rusler, was in Weird Science as Robert Downey Jr.’s friend, the two geeks who torment Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith. He’s a jock-type, probably popular, but he befriends Mark Patton, who seems uneasy in his skin as he dream nightly about the spectre of Fred Kruger.

Three of the four movies we talk about tonight were released (or distributed) by New Line Cinema; A Nightmare on Elm Street 2; Freddy’s Revenge, 12:01. and The Hidden – released in 1987, produced by Bob Shaye, who ran New Line, also produced the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. We have a bank robbery, a high-speed chase – I believe that’s Chris Mulkey as the bank robber – he was also in Jack’s Back as one of the detectives. He’s featured prominently in Jack’s Back, but he only has two words of dialogue, which was weird. Michael Nouri is a cop investigating Mulkey. His partner is the great character actor, Ed O’ Ross. They set up a road-block, with shotguns and everything. The beginning of this movie reminds me of Dead Heat. They riddle Mulkey’s car with bullets. He gets out of the car, battle-scarred, the car explodes.

Next, he’s in the hospital in critical condition. Ed O’ Ross, pissed off as usual tells a doctor Mulkey wreaked all kinds of carnage in two weeks. Clu Galager plays the pissed-off police chief (“cash and dash fuckers!”). Introducing Kyle Machlachlan as an FBI spook, assigned to this case. I’ll wager he’s there to piss off the cops, lots of pissed-off people in the movie. These cops are overworked. This part is a bit of a primer for Kyle, who would go on to play another weird FBI guy in Twin Peaks.
Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs

Running Time: 1:34:35

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Vintage Cable Box: “To Be Or Not To Be, 1983”


“Listen, if I don’t come back, then I forgive you for anything that happened between you and Lt. Sobinski.  But if I do come back, you’re in a lot of trouble!”


To Be Or Not To Be, 1983 (Mel Brooks), 20th Century Fox

The story goes that Mel Brooks sought out the widow of Ernst Lubitsch to get her blessing with regard to a remake he wanted to produce for 1941’s Jack Benny classic, To Be Or Not To Be.  Lubitsch’s widow approved, and Brooks chose Alan Johnson (celebrated choreographer of many films including The Producers from 1968 and director of the notorious Brooksfilms flop, Solarbabies) to direct the film.  I can only assume Brooks decided not to direct because he wanted to focus on producing a faithful remake of a film with potentially controversial subject matter, and stay true to the dramatic material. In fact, this movie (and The Twelve Chairs) is as close to drama as Brooks would ever permit.

Brooks (with wife Anne Bancroft) play Frederick and Anna Bronski, reknowned actors (world famous in Poland!) and owners/operators of the Bronski Theater in Warsaw.  Despite warnings of imminent German incursion, Bronski reasons the show must go on; including a politically satirical musical number featuring a buffoonish Hitler (played by Bronski).  The Ministry of Information threatens to shut down his theater if he doesn’t remove the offending material.  Frustrated, he relents.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Bronski conducts a romantic affair with a brash, young Polish Lieutenant Sobinski (Tim Matheson) during Bronski’s center-piece, Highlights From Hamlet, in which he destroys Shakespeare with his hammy performances.

Soon after, the German war machine rolls into Poland.  Sobinski tells Anna he must leave immediately and connect with the Royal Air Force in England.  The Germans shut down Bronki’s theater, confiscate their possessions (including their home), implement gas rationing, and start rounding up dissidents and enemy agents.  The Bronskis reluctantly start hiding Jews in their basement.  Anna’s homosexual dresser, Sasha, opens his modest apartment to the Bronskis.  The brave Sobinski discovers that a respected member of the underground, Professor Selitski (José Ferrer), is a double-agent for the Germans.  Selitski acquires a list of Polish Underground members.  Sobinski is ordered by the British to paratroop back into Poland and kill Selitski.

Anna, in spite of her obvious infidelity, persuades her husband and his troupe of actors to help Sobinski.  First, Bronski must impersonate Colonel Erhardt in order to obtain the list from Selitski.  After Selitski is dispatched and the list is destroyed, Brooks masquerades as Selitski for the benefit of Colonel Erhardt (hilarious scene-stealing Charles Durning) and his bumbling assistant, Schultz (Christopher Lloyd).  Sobinski devises a plan to steal an aircraft and fly the Bronskis, the theater troupe, and all of the Jews (cleverly disguised as clowns) in hiding out of Warsaw to safety in England.


This is such a fun film I have to admit I enjoyed it much more than the Jack Benny original that inspired it.  Film lovers in my age bracket respond more to Brooks than Benny.  Jack Benny, while a hilarious entertainer, was not in constant rotation on cable television in those days.  Even today (like Ernie Kovacs), it’s difficult to find a good portion of his surviving material.  When I was a kid, Mel Brooks was the king of comedy, and when To Be Or Not To Be debuted on cable, The Movie Channel ran a retrospective of his films.

What impresses me the most about To Be Or Not To Be (above the remake’s requisite respect for the original) is the very thin line the film negotiates between hilarity and pathos.  As an actor, this is Brooks’ strongest performance of all his movies.  In fact, all of the performances (particularly Bancroft) are on equal par.  These are a group of committed and energetic actors giving their all, and putting on a wonderful show.

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: “Romancing The Stone, 1984”

New VCB Logo

“What’d you do?  Wake up this morning and say, ‘Today I’m gonna ruin a man’s life!’?”


Romancing The Stone, 1984 (Michael Douglas), 20th Century Fox

Romancing The Stone begins as a story-within-a-story, the perils of Angelina and her love-interest, Jessie. She exacts revenge on the evil Grogan, while Jessie dispatches Grogan’s equally-evil brothers. Together they hop on a horse and make tracks for a new frontier. In reality, respected novelist Joan Wilder has just finished her manuscript and brings herself to tears. She celebrates with her cat, feeding him tuna. This is the exact moment we fall in love with Kathleen Turner.

It’s obvious she is lonely, lives vicariously through her work and Angelina, and seems to be waiting for her own Jesse. Most men are not Jesse. Her publisher (played by the great Holland Taylor from Bosom Buddies), her sister, and even her little old lady neighbor want her to settle down, but her standards are too high, or maybe she has standards in the first place.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Cartagena, South America, her sister, Elaine is abducted by two sleazebags Ralph and Ira (Danny DeVito, Zack Norman). Back in New York City, Joan’s apartment is tossed, because earlier in the day she received a package from Elaine’s husband, who had died recently under mysterious circumstances. The only clue is something called El Corazon. Elaine calls Joan, tells her to go to South America with the package or else she’ll be killed.

As a typically introverted New Yorker, Joan is immediately flustered in Colombia. She gets on the wrong bus which crashes into a jeep loaded with birds. From there, she hooks up with American fortune hunter, Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas). He agrees to take her back to civilization for $375 in American Express traveler’s checks. Jack has been smuggling exotic birds out of the country and selling them to fuel his dream of having his own boat so he can sail around the world, and his latest booty has flown south for the winter.


What follows is textbook culture-clash comedy. Colton and Wilder don’t like each other at first, but they’re stuck with each other enduring the monsoon season, mudslides, corrupt cops, and Danny DeVito. It turns out Joan has a map in her possession, a map to El Corazon, which is a priceless, rare emerald. When Colton figures this out, he starts to get friendlier with Joan.

Inevitable comparisons with Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark aside, this is a highly enjoyable adventure-comedy, and the leads, Turner and Douglas, are very sexy. Their mutual chemistry recalls Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen. Devito is an interesting balancing act; while maintaining his criminal backstory, he manages to be likable, and he provides a nice counterpoint to Turner and Douglas. They would work together in two more films. The 1986 sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, and one of my favorites, The War of the Roses (directed by Devito).

Romancing The Stone is the movie that made Robert Zemeckis.  A one-time Spielberg protégé, Zemeckis directed a pair of comedies that didn’t make money.  He co-wrote Spielberg’s comedy flop, 1941.  Producer Michael Douglas pushed for Zemeckis to direct Romancing The Stone, which became a hit in the summer of 1984.  After that, he would go on to direct the enormously popular Back to the Future franchise, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Death Becomes Her, Forrest Gump and a slew of other highly successful films.

This concludes a somewhat impromptu tribute to writers here at Vintage Cable Box.  It’s unusual how many fictional movies were made about writers in the early eighties.  In four films, we’ve cycled the through emotions, desires, victories, and failures of these crazy characters.  We’ve seen them live their dreams and hide from their nightmares.  Next time, we take a look at John Carpenter’s 1976 classic exploitation movie, “Assault On Precinct 13”.

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.