Vintage Cable Box: Of Unknown Origin, 1983

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“Watch and weep, you furry fucker.”

Of Unknown Origin, 1983 (Peter Weller), Warner Bros.

1983 was the year of the yuppie. The unusual, one-line Google search engine description defines “yuppie” as a well-paid young middle-class professional who works in a city job and has a luxurious lifestyle. The term, being coined in 1982 by Joseph Epstein, points to the rise of baby-boomers finding employment (usually along executive, financial, and administrative lines) in the big cities; many of them living there, but others succumbing to the phenomena of white flight, the grand mass-exodus of white people to the suburbs when inner-city crime and racial tension was at an all time high. Peter Weller’s Bart Hughes is the test-case of encroaching yuppiedom in New York City (although expertly shot in Montreal).

Living with his wife, Meg (Playmate Shannon Tweed, in her first film), and their son, Peter, in a renovated brownstone, his apartment is astonishingly beautiful, tastefully decorated, with lots of space.  Bart has his sights set on a raise and promotion which will enable him to buy the apartment, and from the beginning of the film, he is depicted as straightlaced, clean-shaven, rocking suits and ties, and glad-handing everybody he comes across (but also, strangely, obsessive-compulsive as my wife observed).  His wife and child take off for a vacation and leave Daddy in the big city to make the money.  This movie is a kind-of Seven Year Itch but with a pesky rodent subbing for Marilyn Monroe.

It only takes a couple of days for Weller to lose the fragile grip he thought he possessed with regard to his controlled world.  It turns out he has a rodent problem.  Contacting exterminators proves futile, as the city is overrun.  With the help of his Super, he starts doing his own research, and in a very interesting scene (a dinner party with guests chewing on Cornish hen), he disgusts attendees with admittedly interesting factoids about rats, about the diseases they spread, about the food they consume.  The scene is revealing to me because the director, George P. Cosmatos, and screenwriter Brian Taggert, are obviously citing parallels between rats and yuppies.

Earlier this month, I chose to watch and review another horror movie about rats called Deadly Eyes.  Compared to Deadly Eyes, Of Unknown Origin is a virtual masterpiece of form.  Deadly Eyes is absolutely dreadful and silly, mainly because the visual representation of the monster in question looks so damned silly.  Little dogs, covered with “rat-like” fur but wiggling and moving like dogs.  As if the obsessive Weller at the end of his rope isn’t enough, we have more parallels; as in when he pounds on his ceiling with a thick copy of Melville’s Moby Dick.

The very beautiful Ms. Shannon Tweed.

By the final third of the film, Weller has completely lost it.  His work is suffering.  He earns the sympathy of his secretary, the ire of his rivals, and the befuddlement of his boss.  He constructs a torture and killing device out of a baseball bat, and he becomes completely obsessed with the idea of destroying the rat, even at the cost of his apartment and sanity.  He learns the logic of his enemy, and he revises his attack, eventually emerging victorious.  The movie reminds me of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) wherein our protagonist must dispense with his own logic in order to survive his ordeal.  This is such a fun popcorn movie, and Weller (as my wife noted, a child of James Woods and Jeff Goldblum in his unique mannerisms) is immensely entertaining to watch.

Sourced from the original 1984 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release (Canadian release – the paper is flimsy and oil-stained, I’ve noted this on the Canadian videos).  Also released on Beta, this movie did not have a release on Laserdisc, but it was produced for DVD.  As of this writing, the movie has not yet been released on Blu Ray,  The accompanying essay claims, “If it can’t scare them to death, it will find another way!”  The essay calls the movie, “… provocative and shocking suspense …”  Next time, we wrap up Vintage Cable Box’s Halloween 2016 Horror Movie Coverage with Drew Barrymore in Mark Lester’s Firestarter from 1984.

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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“The Painted Face”

Painted-Face

Written by David Lawler
Additional Commentary by Nicole Phelps
Original Music by Alex Saltz, APS Mastering
Introduction Music: “9PM” by Howard Shore (from the 1985 film, “After Hours” directed by Martin Scorsese) and dialogue sampled from “The After Hours”.
Audio Clips: “Science Fiction/Double Feature” (Richard O’Brien/Richard Hartley) (from the 1975 film, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” directed by Jim Sharman), “Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery” (a 1997 film starring Mike Meyers), “Twilight Zone: The Movie” (a 1983 film starring Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd), The Odd Couple “It’s All Over Now, Baby Bird”, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” (Albert Hammond, Diane Warren) (from the 1987 album “No Protection” by Starship), “Mr. Bevis”, “The After Hours”.

Recorded January 26, 2016

© BlissVille, David Lawler copyright 2016 for all original vocal and audio content featuring David Lawler and selected guests each episode. Original Music © Alex Saltz copyright 2015. This podcast, “That Twilighty Show About That Zone” is not affiliated with CBS Entertainment, the CBS Television Network, or The Rod Serling Estate. Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. I do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

Running Time: 37:19 Direct Download

Vintage Cable Box: “Baby It’s You, 1983”

New VCB Logo

“We’re not in high school anymore.”

Baby It’s You originally premiered on The Movie Channel as part of a John Sayles retrospective that included some of his work with Corman: Alligator and The Lady In Red, as well as The Return of the Secaucus Seven and The Brother From Another Planet, his unusual and clever take on science fiction and race relations starring Joe Morton.

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Baby It’s You, 1983 (Rosanna Arquette), Paramount Pictures

As soon as they bump into each other at school, we know they’re going to be inextricably drawn to each other. Sheik (Vincent Spano) appears overdressed for high school. He wears a suit and tie. He has dark skin and slicked-back hair. Jill (Rosanna Arquette) is a nice Jewish girl, destined to meet and marry a nice Jewish boy. She can’t help but be drawn to Sheik. She studies acting and spends most of her time being bored out of her skull, and attempting to fit in with her friends. It’s 1966, but everytime we see Sheik, Bruce Springsteen comes on to the soundtrack. He wastes no time asking her out, but she rebuffs him. Like any good anti-hero, rebel-type, Sheik gets under her skin (no pun intended there), and she can’t stop thinking about him.

Sheik is a monkey-wrench in Jill’s plan for her future. She daydreams, sees her name up in lights on a marquee. She wants to make it big in the city. Sheik wants to be a singer in the tradition of Frank Sinatra. Underneath his sauve, almost-manufactured, ethnic image, he is an angry young man and extremely passionate. Arquette’s Jill puts on a brave face, full of bravado, but she is shy and frightened, especially when in Sheik’s presence. They both want to entertain. They have that much in common. He takes her out on a date, and he ignores her to hang with his guy-friends, which irritates her, or maybe I read irritation in Jill’s face.

Sheik is expelled from school – it seems all he does is wander the corridors. He turns to crime while Jill’s burgeoning acting career takes off. She goes to college, while he lipsyncs Sinatra tunes in dive bars. In the penultimate scene, Jill visits him and they make love. I’d been exposed to sex scenes before, but nothing plays quite so real for me as this scene between Arquette and Spano, no doubt due to their chemistry and mutual affection. It’s uncomfortable to watch at times. You almost feel like a voyeur watching them. It’s also unbelievably erotic though it is understated. Even for all their fighting, he worships her.

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John Sayles adapted and directed an autobiographical story written by Amy Robinson, which she and Griffin Dunne produced for their Double Play Productions. Robinson had starred in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets in 1971 as Harvey Keitel’s epileptic girlfriend. She and Dunne produced After Hours in 1985 (also starring Dunne) for Scorsese. They would go on to produce Running On Empty and White Palace. John Sayles started his career writing low budget scripts for Roger Corman like Alligator, The Lady In Red, and Piranha. Baby It’s You was his first “studio” movie in that it was financed from outside sources and released by Paramount Pictures.

Sayles’ elusive style (or lack of) focuses on eccentric stories with unusual characters, and while Baby It’s You walks familiar paths (the rebel, the good girl), he imbues the story with an unusual energy that bridges generations. This story can be told in any time with any group of characters. Sayles would go on to direct four unqualified masterpieces, Eight Men Out, Matewan, The Secret of Roan Inish, and Lone Star. It’s frustrating to see such a brilliant filmmaker make so many films and not have astounding box-office success.

Rosanna Arquette had notably appeared in The Executioner’s Song and The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, but it was this movie that launched her career. She would later appear in Desperately Seeking Susan, After Hours, and Pulp Fiction, to name a few. Vincent Spano appeared in Rumble Fish that same year, and later, Alive.

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.