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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“Movies At The Colonial”

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It was in a rotten part of town; the high-crime, low-rent section of South Philadelphia now known as Lower Moyamensing. The place has cleaned up considerably since (had to be about thirty years) but the old Colonial is no more; demolished in 1989. It looked like a palace in 1910 when it first opened. All glitter, all neon, art-deco lighting piping, beveled curves and thick red carpets, I could imagine the ticket-takers in red uniforms and little pill-box caps opening the double-doors for the next show. You’d probably get a newsreel, cartoon, two short-subjects, and a feature for a nickel. Even had a pipe organ in residence, just off to the side of the screen.

The pictures were the only place you could escape to in those days. No television, no internet, no cable. Even radio would be interrupted with little snippets of reality from time to time. News of the wars, tragedies, epidemics hung on the limited airwaves. So they went to the movies – en masse, flocks of the curious watching projected stories and eating popcorn and Black Cow chocolate caramels. People still dressed up for the movies. Men in suits with ties, and ladies wearing laced walking gloves and snoods.

All that changed by the time I walked through the double doors under the marquee. In big, red blinking lights, the word “COLONIAL” lit up dark Philly skies. South Philadelphia was very dark and flat at night and you could hear crickets. Strange that you could hear crickets in an area almost completely made up of row houses with very few trees.

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It was creepy but well worth the rather long walk from my house. It was cheap. Anybody could afford it. I’m dating myself a bit, but I remember the shows were a buck a ticket, and it could be any kind of show – double features, triple features. I saw “Ghostbusters”, “Fright Night” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” on a triple bill for one dollar. I saw “Jaws” and “Jaws 2” for one dollar. So it goes.

This was not a multiplex with stadium seating. The seats sloped up to a point and then there was an enormous (off-limits around the time I was a customer) balcony that stretched to both sides. This could just be nostalgia since I was a young man, but everything looked big to me. I was amazed every single time I went through the double doors.

Time was not kind to the Colonial. It had fallen into disrepair starting in the late sixties. The thick, red carpet had worn down. There were gashes in the walls. The incredible chandelier hanging from the ceiling teetered threateningly, and even in packed houses, people moved away from it when the Dolby soundtrack of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (due to the Lucasfilm theater alignment program) thundered and vibrated all across the room. The chandelier would shake and we would gulp and say silent prayers that the crystalline beast would not collapse and devour us all.

The homeless would sneak in after hours and help themselves to the Colonial’s comforts. There was the unmistakable odor of urine in the aisles. There was no maintenance or janitorial upkeep, so popcorn, candy, and sticky soda would litter the floors. In those later years, the Colonial had a roach and rat problem, but people still came to see the very cheap shows. A triple feature I was not permitted to see consisted of “Porky’s”, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, and “The Last American Virgin”. You might get the occasional trailer for a movie the Colonial was scheduled to show, but there were no commercials, no pleas from Roy Rogers for donations, and nobody telling you to turn off your cell phone and shut up.

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In recent years, movies have been turned out to be more of an event. The rising ticket prices and 3D glasses, and the cattle-herding of audiences into and out of the theaters has transformed us into what we suspected we were all along – mindless consumers looking to kill two-plus hours in the dark. As early as the late 70s, Hollywood put all it’s money into the first weekend, and as the quality dropped, the prices for tickets went up dramatically, $15 to $20 (or more) a pop.

Repertory houses were the last thing we had that was close to the roadshow/Roger Corman rollout from many years ago. Movies would roll out in selected territories, do their business and move on, and not all the advertising money was spent in the first week. Very few prints were made (none of this 4,000 screen business), and very rarely did any of those movies lose money.

Sometimes I could hear the ghosts of old, shuffling in and out of the theater. You’d suspect there were well-dressed patrons, the sound of a big band down the street, sailors home on leave making their way into the Colonial to catch the latest James Cagney or Humphrey Bogart. With that news that more than 100 theaters will close by the end of the year because they refuse to make expensive digital improvements to their screens, the Colonial’s demise seemed to be the first warning sign that simply taking in a movie was going to be a thing of the not-so-distant past.

Originally published December 2, 2014.