Vintage Cable Box: Friday the 13th Part III, 1982

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

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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!

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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, I look at The Slumber Party Massacre from 1982, written by noted feminist Rita Mae Brown.  Apparently, she wanted to show that women could make trashy, violent, exploitative movies as well as any damned man!

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.

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Vintage Cable Box: Deadly Eyes, 1982

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“The son-of-a-bitch was THIS BIG!”

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Deadly Eyes, 1982 (Sara Botsford), Warner Bros.

Divorced, destitute teacher Sam Groom (great name, like something out of a Mickey Spillane story) takes his class to a museum to hear a lecture about rats.  While an interesting study, the kids are obviously bored, so they begin passing around notes.  What are they?  Like five?  No, this is supposed to be high school, and the kids, while well-dressed and reasonably intelligent, are all about getting laid.  This was the early ’80s, for crying out loud.  Ever since the revelations of Animal House, higher education took a back-seat to sex.  No-nonsense Health Inspector Sara Botsford is issuing summons and taking names, while hapless truck driver Scatman Crothers (who gets a special appearance by credit here)  laughs at big balls of fire.  Wait.  What?  There’s something wacky about the editing here.

I’m not a fan of rats.  They can hide and get into places we can’t.  I don’t think I’m much of a fan of movies about rats, either, but my job here at Vintage Cable Box is to remember those movies I watched as a kid on cable television (which unfortunately means I’ll be watching Of Unknown Origin as well).  An idiot is playing electric broom air guitar while dreamy cheerleader Lisa Langlois looks bored.  Lisa has a thing for Groom (she’s almost psychotically obsessed with bagging him), which can’t end well.  If I’m understanding the story correctly, Botsford orders grain to be destroyed (the fire I mentioned) because it contains harmful amounts of steroids.  I don’t know how that happened, but I’m going with it.  A rat infestation grows to humongous size.  They flee the fire and take to the streets.

I remember a few years back, when I was a kid living in Philly, there was a garbage strike which went on for weeks.  Despite the fact we were living in a luxury apartment at the time, we could hear the rats scuttling around inside those walls as the garbage piled up.  There’s a terrible scene early in the movie with a child in a high-chair and a cluster of enormous rats (actually dachsunds wrapped in fur) that tip the chair over for a late snack.  Did I mention I hate rats?  In this movie, they tend to be way more predatory than in any given realistic set of circumstances.  Most rats I’ve seen in real life scurry away when discovered.  I did see an enormous rat one time walking across a train platform in Williamsburg.  Imagine that!  Just walking around like it had a Metrocard!

Back to the movie, Lisa tells Groom she’s in love with him.  Seriously, they’re going to get into a lot of trouble.  She honestly doesn’t understand his rejection of her.  I don’t either, but that’s me.  I love me some Lisa Langlois!  Apparently, they were gonna make him God, but he was too good-looking!  The movie turns into a little bit of Jaws when one of Groom’s students receives a nasty bite from a mysterious source.  Seems like it could be a rodent, but we can’t be sure, damnit!  At the hospital, he meets Botsford (whom you may remember as the killer in Still of the Night) and they hit it off fairly quickly.  Botsford orders the Scatman to inspect the tunnels before the grand opening of a new subway line.  He does so, under protest, but he bites it.  Rather, they bite him!  Scatman is always dying in horror movies.  Why?

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This is an incredibly silly movie.  The “visual” effects (that of dressing those poor dogs to look like rats) fail, especially in close-up shots of rodent-like faces chewing, gnawing, and screeching accompanied by Henry Manfredini-like violin stings.  In wider shots, they run in packs but their strides don’t resemble those of rats, but … well … dogs.  It reminds me of a call-back to the movies of Bert I. Gordon.  Gordon was known for movies about giant spiders, giant tarantulas, giant ants, giant teenagers (yes, giant teenagers), and made with just as much care for reason and believability.  In the middle of a serious movie about a lonely high school teacher, forbidden lust, and health inspections, we have giant rats.

Legendary director Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon, Game of Death) directs a screenplay based on the book, The Rats, by James Herbert.  Herbert was a writer I enjoyed immensely.  He was known for writing disaster/horror novels with characters that ran the gamut from insane to altruistic, who would then turn, behaviorally, into polar opposites.  Among the books I enjoyed from him were The Survivor, Sepulchre, Lair, Domain, Haunted, ’48 (a stand-out for me), and his bizarre, libidinous fairy epic, Once.  He passed away in 2013.

Thanks for reading! 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.

A Year of Vintage Cable Box!

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“Our technology forces us to live mythically”

Marshall McLuhan

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Alyssa! My first crush.

Cable television is a beautiful woman (or man, I suppose) who gets into your brain and relaxes you.  She wants you to sit back and unwind.  Just imagine slender fingers rubbing and squeezing against your tense shoulders, then forming a fist to dig into the middle of your spine, and then you hear a satisfying crack and the ease of your joints.  I love her.  She is, as Homer Simpson would say, my “secret lover.”  This is me as an 11-year-old, unlocking the treasure trove, finding the honey pot, and witnessing boobies and enthusiasm, and strong language; the use of the “f” word.  I remember gasping when I first heard it.  I didn’t gasp anymore after I saw Scarface for the first time.  Cable television is different these days; the Pandora’s Box – she offers too much and gives nothing in return.  I looked at my guide the other day – a little over eleven hundred channels, crystal-clear HD, on-demand – anything I want, I can have.  In 1984, we had thirty channels, and if there was something I wanted that wasn’t on cable, I went to the video store.  Bear with me.  I’m not going to start up a diatribe about how things were better when I was a young’in.

Vintage Cable Box is something I always wanted to do.  I wanted to go back to that time when I was a young man, with burgeoning puberty pounding down the door, and Alyssa Milano’s gorgeous face, and Jacqueline Bisset’s tanned body and wet t-shirt, beckoning me.  I tune into Porky’s and come to the realization that there is a whole other world out there: the world of the coaxial cable and the heavy metal box on top of my 25″ Magnavox color console.  From there, innocence becomes a degree of intelligence (not much, but I was eleven, mind you) where cable television becomes my peculiar form of film school.  I can’t tell you how much I learned about movies, about making movies, about filmmakers, watching cable television at this time.  This is my life.  My life is movies.  I eat them up like popcorn.  The Man with Two Brains was the first; turning it on just as the cable guy was leaving the premises – it was exotic.  On the screen, a buxom blonde with a ridiculous accent flashes her bare breasts at Steve Martin.  The cable guy acted like it was no big deal, but we never had cable.  We seriously didn’t.  No cable television in Philadelphia.  My mother had a great job opportunity in Lebanon, Tennessee.  She had family down there, so we moved.  It was a higher quality of life (in theory, but not really).

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As the old saying goes, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing.” We got the premium (or deluxe) package. HBO and Cinemax (which would alternate premiere movies; sometimes HBO would get it first, sometimes Cinemax would get it first. Either way, and in lieu of a videocassette recorder, movies were repeatedly shown. Sometimes they would even be broadcast simultaneously, perhaps a couple of seconds out of sync, and with slightly different color gradients and schemes – HBO always seemed a tad bit brighter than Cinemax. We had The Movie Channel for a time as well, until my mother started assessing the bill. The Movie Channel was interesting. You would find unusual, even obscure films often programmed as retrospectives, and this is how I learned about filmmakers. You would see a handful of Brian De Palma films like Home Movies, Dressed to Kill, Carrie, and Get to Know Your Rabbit programmed alongside Scarface to coincide with that film’s premiere. Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Rear Window, Rope, and The Trouble with Harry were programmed to coincide with the 1984 re-release of those movies. This is why I can never get behind arguments (usually from older people) that TV rots your brain. I don’t know what they’re talking about. Film, in and of itself, is an education, and television was the vehicle (or the medium – per McLuhan) for this delivery system. Me not dumb! Good, write, good!

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I had always wanted share my specific views and history of cable television in the early 1980s.  For a more in-depth analysis into the history of Pay TV and cable television, I suggest Ben Minotte’s fabulous Oddity Archive.  I had the opportunity to interview (with Mark Jeacoma) Mr. Minotte for the VHS Rewind podcast.  He’s an exceptional (and curious) fellow.  The other channels I remember from those times were CNN, Nickelodeon (and Nick at Nite), MTV, TNN (aka The Nashville Network), and WTBS (not just TBS – it was considered a “superstation”, like Chicago’s WGN), the local affiliates, and a couple of bizarre public access stations.  I remember flipping to one of those stations and seeing our landlord at the time, an old Baptist pulpit-punding minister, broadcasting his own show!  He seemed like a nice man, but he wouldn’t allow us to keep any pets.  Nick at Nite was an astonishing find.  I discovered The Bob Cummings Show, Bachelor Father, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and The Dick Van Dyke Show.  What I remember, in the days before cable television, the UHF stations in Philadelphia: channels 17, 29, and 48.  Channel 17 WPHL would run Star Trek and The Outer Limits.  Channel 29 (WTAF, later to become a FOX affiliate with terrible reception) would run Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Gilligan’s Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle.  Channel 48 WKBS (which went out of business in 1983) would show Creature Double Feature on Saturday mornings and afternoons.  Sometimes, if your antenna was in a good position, you could get the Vineland, New Jersey UHF channel.

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When I launched Vintage Cable Box on August 31 last year, I fully expected to begin the odyssey with Porky’s, but Wes Craven’s passing away over that weekend prompted me to change up my schedule, so I put out three reviews: Swamp Thing, Porky’s, and Rodney Dangerfield’s Easy Money. Looking at the reviews now, they seem more like perfunctory write-ups, descriptions of plots more than any true evaluation. I don’t think I really kicked it into gear until The Osterman Weekend (September 23, 2016). My Big Chill review the following week I rate as one of my best. National Lampoon’s Class Reunion was a sobering reminder that many of the movies I enjoyed as an eleven-year-old I could not stomach today. Some (very few) of these movies are absolutely horrible to watch. Class Reunion kicked off my first Halloween retrospective. I reviewed horror movies for the entire month and got my first big hit with my review of Amityville II: The Possession. Horror movies get great numbers for me. What really sells today is nostalgia, and you could even look back on a failed movie, a terrible movie, and express some level of nostalgia or affection for it, but if you can’t drum up that enthusiasm in yourself, it’s not going to work for your readers or your listening audience.  I know I have this problem on occasion.

Which brings me to those reviews I might have phoned in, because I couldn’t get into it while loving it as a child, and then considering it some form of exquisite torture in my later years.  November brought me The Rosebud Beach Hotel and Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen.  December’s Christmas cheer brought me The Man Who Wasn’t There, but it also brought me my biggest hit, A Christmas Story (to be rivaled only by Midnight Madness).  I think the elements of popularity and nostalgia (not to mention affection) combine to bring about a newfound interest; it’s not necessarily about how well you think you write.  If you are writing about something a reader has in the back of his or her head, that they remember, that they adore, you’ll get a lot of readers.  Get Crazy, a movie that barely had a release yet exploded on cable television, made me think about some hidden gems; the over-budgeted movies that scam-artist financers would sell to investors from which they would pocket the difference and laugh all the way to the bank.  It’s sort of like the plot to Mel Brooks’ The Producers.  Other examples include Somebody Killed Her Husband and (perhaps) The House of God.

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It’s amazing to me how some movies hold up, while others are terribly dated and get worse with age.  I remember adoring Breathless, They Call Me Bruce?, and Jekyll and Hyde – Together Again.  Now I hate them.  I can’t stand them.  In December, I launched a bit of a mini-series in that in appeared to me that several movies were being made at the time with writers as their central characters:  Deathtrap, Author! Author!, Romancing the Stone, Best Friends, and Romantic Comedy.  Nobody would ever dare make a movie about a writer these days.  Romantic Comedy would find it’s way into my series about Dudley Moore.  Moore was all over cable television at that time.  Dudley Moore’s particular skills revolved around his man-child characters, always unsatisfied, depressed, and yearning (or lusting) after women while negotiating his advanced years.  Sometimes, he would take a dramatic detour (Six Weeks), but those digressions were infrequent.  Mel Brooks’ 90th birthday was coming up, and I remembered seeing several of his movies (in another wonderful Movie Channel retrospective tied to the premiere of his To Be or Not to Be remake) so I put together the four that received endless play.

Stacey Nelkin in Get Crazy

There are also the unexpected deaths that changed my schedule (as with my very first review).  I mentioned in my (very quickly cobbled together) review of The Woman in Red that Gene Wilder’s passing forced me to rush that write-up.  I had originally planned to continue my articles up to the point we got the HBO satellite service in Philadelphia, and The Woman in Red would be featured.  The same situation forced me to publish a review for Garry Marshall’s Young Doctors in Love.  After the death of David Bowie, I wrote up the review for The Hunger.  I have a schedule in place, and I tend to write reviews well in advance of publication for this very reason.  So what are we up to?  At last count, 74 reviews have been published.  I had initially expected to put out an article once a week.  I figure I have about another year’s worth of material.  We’ll see what happens, but this has been a wonderful trip back to my past, and I hope you (the readers) will continue this journey with me.

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: The Toy, 1982

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“If you want a friend, you don’t buy a friend, Eric, you earn a friend through love and trust and respect.”

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The Toy, 1982 (Richard Pryor), Columbia Pictures

Jack Brown (Richard Pryor) is a frustrated writer who can’t seem to find work.  What?  Is this 2016?  He insists to anybody who will listen, “writing a book is a job!”  He happens to be right, but as we know, the writer’s “market” is nothing more than a speculative proposition with no guarantee of gainful employment or steady paychecks, and also everybody with a personal computer these days thinks they’re a damned writer, so they sap the market with badly written, terribly edited folderol.  To save you a trip to the Googles, folderol means “trivial or nonsensical fuss” – you’re welcome.  He’s about to lose his house, and his idealistic crusading girlfriend urges him to find any kind of employment to keep the house.

He applies for a job at U.S. Bates Industries, and while Ned Beatty (as the chief hiring executive) is amiable enough, he bristles at Pryor’s qualifications (the fact that he is overqualified).  After Pryor warns Beatty about his litigious lady, Beatty finds him a position as a “cleaning lady”, in which he has to ridiculously wear a maid’s uniform in a very awkward dinner party scene.  Jackie Gleason is U.S. Bates (acquaintances inadvertently call him, “you ass”), a man used to getting everything he wants.  His son is of the same stock of what we would call “white privilege” today.  Pryor is transferred to one of Bates’ department stores in another cleaning position capacity.  His unusual child-like nature, curiosity, and propensity for causing chaos appeals to Bates’ son, Eric (brat Scott Schwartz, last seen in A Christmas Story with his tongue frozen to a pole).  He tells his father’s underlings he wants to “purchase” Pryor.  They throw cash at him, and in his position, he really has no choice, right?  If somebody is paying you to be a character in a child’s fantasy, you take the money!

They seriously put Pryor in a crate and ship him to the boy’s house.  Pryor, for a good portion of the running time in this movie, seems to be nothing more than a human chess piece to be moved around the board of life at the rich white man’s pleasure.  What?  Is this 2016?  I know, I already did that joke, but really how many of us can relate to Pryor’s predicament?  He even calls out the requisite analogy to slavery, and this does seem like slavery.  Gleason offers a comparable salary to one of his newspaper writing staff, but what Pryor wants is a job on the newspaper.  Gleason tells him there are no jobs, so Pryor demands more money.  Gleason relents.  As expected, the child is a terrible little bastard who tortures Pryor to no end.  His bedroom looks like F.A.O. Schwartz (maybe it was named after him … hmm).  He’s ill-mannered, yes, but this being an 80s movie aimed at children, he just needs a little guidance and love from his father.

Wearing Spiderman pajamas, Pryor beweeps his outcast state to an assemblage of stuffed animals and other toys.  He talks about how he is the wave of the future, a “wind-up asshole”, and how every kid will want a personal Jack Brown of their own.  After enduring more humiliation at the hands of Eric and Bates’ trophy wife, Fancy, he decides to leave.  Bates then offers him $10,000 to return when Eric cries that he has “nobody to play with anymore.”  He accepts.  I wonder what the real lesson of this movie is – not that children need fathers who love them and talk to them (not having a father when I grew up, even I knew that), but that people can be bought for the right price.  What?  Is this 2016?  Third time’s the charm!

 So Pryor and the little bastard bond.  Sorry for all the epithets but this child is beyond therapy.  He’s a destructive little thing, a mirror image of his father (a bitter man with a different set of toys), who gets everything he wants, even though what he really needs is a friend.  They start up a small little newspaper called The Toy, (a kind of Street News, remember that?), when Eric tells Jack of his father’s various financial antics.  He buys politicians.  He supports members of the Klan.  He drives poor Ned Beatty to drink when he orders him to fire a loyal employee for trivial reasons.  He seems kind of evil, doesn’t he?  Eric decides to discredit and destroy his father in the Media.  Not exactly mainstream, but still.

Despite the mixed morality of the story, I still love this movie, mainly for Pryor.  Gleason is not the thunderous comedic talent he once was (as in The Honeymooners, for example), but he has good chemistry with Pryor and graciously takes a back-seat to Pryor’s timing and negotiation of a given scene.  He’s also surprisingly menacing.  Pryor’s work with the boy keeps those scenes energized as well.  As a kid, I enjoyed Eric’s world of toys.  As an adult, I appreciate Pryor’s straight talk with the kid, as well as the racial humor.  A lot of this stuff would be considered quite controversial today, but it was interesting that back in those days, we could mine the controversy while still being entertaining, and not terribly preachy.

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: Tag: The Assassination Game, 1982

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“I want to win the game, you silly!”

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Tag: The Assassination Game, 1982 (Robert Carradine), Ginis Films

Xander Berkeley knows he’s being watched.  He runs down the corridor, being chased by a man in a hat, wearing a trench-coat.  Xander pulls out his piece.  The man with the hat stalks, with his own gun in hand.  He ducks and hides under a grate, and just when he thinks he’s free and clear, the stranger corners him.  He aims his pistol and fires.  Xander gets a dart to the head for his troubles.  This isn’t real.  This is “The Assassination Game” (or TAG for short), an admittedly fun-looking role playing game of intrigue wherein the participants (a gaggle of mature-looking college students) receive files (called “victim profiles) on their prospective targets: fellow students they must “assassinate” in order to advance and win the game.

After an obvious (and brilliant) James Bond-esque opening credit sequence, Linda Hamilton (looking hot) accidentally stumbles into student journalist Robert Carradine’s room during a particularly tense mission.  He aids and facilitates her escape, causing two opponents to eliminate themselves.  Carradine, intrigued by the game (and Linda, who can blame him?) digs up information.  He finds her name in the list of active players.  The game is always being played and appears to be causing a commotion on the campus.  The participants, humorously, are always on edge for fear they’ll be tagged.  Unfortunately one of the participants goes too far when he is tagged (in accidental fashion) and goes around the bend completely. You can tell from his rather intense, deep and dark demeanor.

The film takes on a dark tone with a murderer roaming the campus, searching for his next victims, all while playing the game, only instead of darts, he uses bullets!  Under the guise of writing an article about the game, Carradine wrangles his way into spending time with Linda, watching her as she plays.  Their courtship is cute.  Meanwhile Gersh (the aforementioned psycho played by Bruce Abbott) stares through windows, looking intense and crazy.  It’s hard not to see his breakdown occurring right in front of our eyes.  A five-time champion of TAG, he has no problem confusing reality with fantasy.  As life goes on with the game and on the campus, Gersh sizes up his next target, and reports of missing students are circulating.  Unusual that we go from a kind of comedy and misadventure, to a kind of horror movie, with the killer and his victims all lined up, with an accompanying musical score.

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Director Nick Castle (working from his own script) shoots the movie very much like a murder mystery, but with unusual (for this genre) touches of wit and interesting characters.  Castle is best remembered (apart from his distinguished film-making career) as “The Shape”, or Michael Meyers from John Carpenter’s first Halloween movie, as well as co-writer of Carpenter’s Escape from New York.  While the tone of the movie shifts uncomfortably from comedy to romance to horror and then back to romance, there are shades of the kind of dark, sleek exploitation film-making that Carpenter was famous for, and Castle pays appropriate homage to that kind of storytelling, particularly film noir and Hitchcock (though I doubt Hitchcock would play so fast and loose with the dark comedy, such as when Carradine unwittingly gives the killer information about his next target).  In the end, it all comes down to Hamilton and Abbott.

I love this idea.  Psychologically, the killer believes he is still playing a harmless game, and until Hamilton and Carradine finally figure it out, they were led to believe Gersh was harmless, which makes for some incredibly suspenseful scenes.  Castle is adept, working makeup and lighting effects on Abbott’s twisted features (notably his vulnerable-seeming eyes).  The movie reminds me very much of another under-appreciated film I covered: Somebody Killed Her Husband, in which normal people are caught up in something bigger and more dangerous than they initially realized.  The influence of Hitchcock comes full circle.  I’m reminded of the latest fad out there: something called Pokemon Go, in which users, guided by their cell phones, track and collect prizes, capture Pokemon, or whatever, and generally make life difficult for anyone not interested in the game, but it is intriguing in the amount of enthusiasm role-playing games like this can generate.

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: A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, 1982

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“Marriage, for me, is the death of hope.”

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A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, 1982 (Woody Allen), Orion Pictures

Born a little too late to appreciate Woody Allen’s early slapstick comedy, and then the easy transformation to the more thoughtful romantic comedy for which he would become synonymous, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy arrived on cable television at a time with which I would most identify: a middle period in his career that would introduce his new muse at the time – Mia Farrow. A brilliant but under-utilized actress in her own right, she would receive the lion’s share of attention for her work (and unfortunately, her personal life) with Allen. The movie was unfairly maligned as audience enthusiasm dipped after the autobiographical Stardust Memories (1980).

Allen plays a neurotic (of course) inventor, Andrew, married to the beautiful Adrian (Mary Steenburgen) whose cousin, college professor Leopold (José Ferrer) and his fiancée, Ariel (Farrow) are set to join them at their country home for the weekend. Among his startling inventions and flying machines, Andrew has created what he calls a “spirit ball” (a kind of magic lantern), which can communicate with ghosts. Andrew’s friend, Max (Tony Roberts) is also invited, and he brings his latest girlfriend, the youthful and sexually-active Dulcy (Julie Hagerty). Andrew’s sex life with his wife is waning. He keeps trying to initiate sex with her, but Adrian feels as though she might be frigid. Andrew discovers that Leopold’s fiancée was an old flame he never quite got over.

Andrew secretly covets Maxwell’s ease with women. He cries to him about his lack of sex drive. Maxwell recommends hypnosis. Leopold arrives with Ariel, and takes an immediate dislike to Maxwell, who starts to put the moves on Ariel. Adrian displays jealousy at the sight of her. When she confronts Andrew, he lies that he never loved her. Dulcy and Leopold develop a mutual attraction to each other, while Ariel and Andrew take baby-steps to rekindle their romance. Maxwell confesses his love for Ariel to Andrew. He wants Andrew to escort Ariel for a late-day rendezvous. Leopold tells Dulcy he is enamored of her and they arrange their own meeting time. Adrian seeks sexual advice from Dulcy, while Andrew consummates his desire for Ariel.

While Leopold is a worldly man of science who disbelieves notions of a spirit world, Ariel is earthy and bohemian, igniting the interest of both Maxwell and Andrew. Maxwell and Leopold nearly come to blows and Maxwell attempts suicide at the thought of their impending marriage. Before the weekend is over, Maxwell will be shot through the heart with an arrow intended for Andrew, and Leopold will die in the throes of passion and his spirit will take up residence in the woods. This contrived plot very much reminds me of Allen’s Manhattan (1979) wherein these dynamics (and soap-opera-style contrivances) are played against the backdrop of a perfect city, or a sumptuous wooded meadow, but lacking the epic qualities and instead embracing what Allen has referred to as “intermezzo.”

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This is an unusual period-piece (turn of the century) that, if anything else, demonstrates Allen’s skill at dialogue that needs no particular span of centuries in order to be worthwhile.  Images of sprites, spirits, and pixies are conjured by Allen’s characters in the midst of his typical sexual turmoil.  Gordon Willis’ photography is exceptional, and against the grain of his typically “darker” movies like The Godfather, Klute, and The Devil’s Own.  Lush fields and forestry, and gorgeous specimens of nature are given such a beautiful treatment that I was surprised he never received nominations for this work in this movie.  He would receive a much-deserved nomination a year later for Allen’s Zelig.

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: Q: The Winged Serpent, 1982

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“New York is famous for good eating.”

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Q: The Winged Serpent, 1982 (David Carradine), United Film Distribution Company

You can almost hear the surge of John Williams’ famous two-note tone poem, except that instead of swimming the murky depths of the North Atlantic, we’re soaring across the magnificence that is the New York City skyline. We start with a peeping-tom window washer, and his quarry: a temperamental fashion designer, annoyed at the screeching sound of his implements. Before he has an opportunity to get a date with the girl, he loses his head! Literally! Something flies toward him, and we hear a lovely chomping sound effect, and then a scream. This is “Q”, short for Quetzalcoatl, a dragon-like reptilian god, whose soul purpose is to make life interesting for beleaguered New Yorkers already faced with the day-to-day challenges of living in this dilapidated metropolis.

Recovering junkie and small-time criminal Jimmy Quinn (a spirited Michael Moriarty) runs off after a botched jewel store heist, and hides in the rafters of the Chrysler Building. He stumbles upon the nest of this creature, as well as an enormous egg, from which will, no doubt, emerge a baby “Q”. He puts two and two together; reading newspaper accounts of gruesome roof-top attacks, and quickly figures out who (or what) is responsible. No-nonsense cops, David Carradine and Richard Roundtree, are investigating a series of ritual slayings (or skinnings, as the case may be). The skinnings are being executed in service to the Quetzalcoatl. In a scene worthy of Hitchcock, Quinn leads a couple of mobbed-up goons to the rafters (to get their non-existent money), where they are then torn apart by this winged bitch.

While Carradine does his homework, chatting up anthropologists and figuring out how to pronounce Quetzalcoatl: (English pronunciation: /ˌkɛtsɑːlˈkoʊɑːtəl/; Spanish pronunciation: [ketsalˈkoatɬ]), Moriarty, somewhat cleverly, extorts the cops, claiming to know the location of the nest.  He wants a few things in return; a million bucks (tax-free), and an expunged criminal record.  In a brilliant scene in a diner, Carradine and Moriarty face off, with Carradine trying to get Moriarty to spill the location so the cops can keep their money, but Moriarty isn’t falling for it.  What follows is a spectacular shoot-out with the winged creature from the heights of the Chrysler Building.  If only the atrocious visual effects matched writer-director Larry Cohen’s vision.

Cohen’s script (rushed into production with only a day’s notice) is a colorful mosaic of eccentric characterizations (particularly the performance of Moriarty), and lively New York City locales.  Three stories intertwine in haphazard fashion; the junkie, the serpent, and the cult.  In 1982 (and perhaps even now), you would never see a script or a finished movie with such finely drawn characters, such quirky dialogue, Moriarty’s (sometimes annoying) Method approach to Jimmy Quinn, and the high production value of shooting in New York City all in service of what is essentially a modern-day King Kong, a b-movie, or a monster movie.  Q is truly exciting film-making from a master of the genre.

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An incredibly prolific writer and director, Larry Cohen would make Special Effects and Perfect Strangers before producing what many would regard as his masterpiece in The Stuff (1985) also starring Moriarty (kind of an alter-ego for Cohen, appearing in four of his movies).  Before Q, he had written for television (notably Columbo, Branded – which he created, and The Rat Patrol), directed a pair of black exploitation movies, as well as the classic horror movies, It’s Alive and God Told Me To.  Be sure to give my podcast, “Extreme Cinema” a listen as Andrew and I review Cohen’s Q and The Stuff.

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.