Vintage Cable Box: Jaws 3-D, 1983

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“White sharks are dangerous. I know ’em. My father, my brother, myself. They’re murderers.”

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Jaws 3-D, 1983 (Dennis Quaid), MCA/Universal

Jaws III (in 3-D) was one of my purest, truest pleasures as a child.  There was a long line around the Sam’s Place theater chain on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia waiting to get in, sit down in the dark in an air conditioned auditorium on a hot July day in 1983.  We used to go to Sam’s Place all the time, at least twice a week.  Tickets (first-run, mind you) ran about two bucks each, maybe a buck-fifty for kids and seniors.  We got our tickets and 3-D glasses, our popcorn and soda, got out of there without spending ten bucks.  If I remember correctly, even the previews were in 3-D, which was unusual (even though the most recent 3-D movie, Spacehunter, was released a few months before).  I vaguely remember, one of my earliest memories was watching the original Jaws at a drive-in.  I remember having nightmares.  Jaws 3-D might be considered schlocky celluloid junk to purists, but it was incredible fun for me.

When Jaws 3-D came to cable television (retitled Jaws III, denoting the lack of 3-D effects), it lacked the punch of the big screen in your face, wearing the glasses and watching such items as severed arms, bifurcated fish, and papier-mâché sharks flying off the screen, but the movie still worked as schlock-horror.  Dennis Quaid plays Mike Brody (Chief Brody’s oldest), all grown up and working as an engineer for Calvin Bouchard’s (Louis Gossett Jr.) SeaWorld.  His girlfriend, Kay (Bess Armstrong, again!), the senior marine biologist at the park, wonders why her dolphins are so scared and flighty (dolphins can sense sharks, you know).  Meanwhile, Mike is investigating the disappearance of one of his employees, drunken ne’er-do-well Overman.  Kay and Mike conduct a search, but are soon beset by a great white shark.  They capture the shark, but Brouchard puts it on display, but it promptly dies in captivity.

Pretentious naturalist filmmaker Philip FitzRoyce (an appropriately douchey Simon “Manimal” MacCorkindale) and his trusted unintelligible assistant, Jack Tate are there to document the opening of SeaWorld’s underground tunnels, so that spectators can view sea life from inside the water (actually a great idea).  Overman’s remains are found, but Kay ascertains that their shark didn’t do the damage.  It’s mother did!  A big bitch they estimate to be about 35 feet long, the shark gets into the park and attacks performers.  The sharks blocks the park’s filtration system, so Brouchard tries to flush her out, but she won’t budge.  FitzRoyce, using himself as bait, tries to blow her up with underwater grenades.  He is eaten.  The shark finally breaks through (a very bad 3-D effect) the window of Brouchard’s underwater control room.  Now, why would you put a control room under water?  This park is supposed to be a triumph of engineering, but you put sensitive electronic equipment under the water?

There are some surprisingly good character beats in a script about an enormous shark terrorizing a theme park.  Quaid and Armstrong are exceptional as a couple not quite ready for a long-term commitment.  The running subplot of their relationship has them wondering which partner will give up his/her livelihood to join the other in a great job opportunity.  There’s a great bit where Quaid’s Basset Hound is eating on the kitchen counter and Quaid is holding the dog’s floppy ears up, so the dog doesn’t make a mess.  Quaid’s kid brother, Sean, visits and hooks up with a cute Lea Thompson.  FitzRoyce flirts with Armstrong.  These are nice beats in an otherwise flawed piece of entertainment.

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Despite some of the 3-D pitfalls and gaps in logic, this movie is a lot of fun.  The effects aren’t as bad as in The Man Who Wasn’t There (a film that didn’t really require 3-D visual effects), and admittedly it is a cheap gag to sell a Jaws franchise movie in 3-D, but they look a lot cleaner than previous attempts.  Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone was probably the most successful in terms of the visual quality, but that movie’s inflated budget killed the concept for a time.  Friday the 13th Part III,  Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, and Amityville 3D were also released around this time, to mixed results.  In 2003, 3D enjoyed a resurgence with James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss.  The Polar Express and Cameron’s Avatar would follow in the years to come.  Now, it seems every action or animated film is released in 3D.  I don’t like this particular process (a kind of photographic layering of disparate elements in the foreground) as it makes me somewhat dizzy and a little nauseous.  Give me Jaws 3-D over Avatar any day!  It’s a lot more fun and a hell of a lot less preachy.

Next time, I keep the 3D glasses on for the third installment in the Friday the 13th franchise; Friday the 13th Part III (in 3-D!).

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: “The House Of God, 1984”

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“You can’t learn medicine without killing a few patients.”

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Sorry. No movie posters were made for this movie.

The House Of God, 1984 (Tim Matheson), United Artists

Ten minutes past the hour mark of this movie, a once-idealistic doctor named Wayne Potts (Michael Sacks) looks out an enormous balcony at a never-ending cityscape. He sees ambulances and police cars tearing down dark, oppressive streets. He wonders if anything of what he does matters. All he ever wanted to do was be a small-town doctor; dispense medicine and heal the sick. He jumps.

The House of God is the greatest teaching hospital in the world. Interns who’ve studied at BMS (“Best Medical School”) are assigned to do rounds, plug holes, and practice what is now referred to as “diagnostic medicine”. Tim Matheson’s fiery, young Roy Basch negotiates half-constructed corridors on his way to orientation. In one of his first film roles, Joe Piscopo conducts the orientation. Charles Haid is “The Fatman”. He’s the guy that gets things done. He supervises the rounds of a group of newly acquired interns.

A G.O.M.E.R. (short for Get Out Of My Emergency Room – patients who take up residence in the emergency room and serve as nothing more than impediments to others in need of more attention) named Ida has the unerring ability to “go to ground”, so Fatman puts a football helmet on her head, so that she doesn’t crack open her skull. Tim’s first patient is an old woman whom he assumes has died. The Fatman sets him straight – “Gomers don’t die.” The Interns bond. I think The Fatman’s purpose is to remind these young Interns on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis that what they do matters, and that they should take care of themselves before worrying about others.

I’m reminded of my review for WarGames, in which I discuss the concept of futility, and how computers will never understand it.  They just keep going, regardless of failure, intuition, hope, or chaos.  The body is supposed to give up.  The body is supposed to die, but the machines keep it going, and there is the insidious undercurrent of a medical bureaucracy designed to continue collecting money from all the bodies it keeps alive, whether they want to give up or not.  The doctors who promote this system are known as “slurpers”; essentially the vampires of medical science.

The House Of God plays as a series of episodes in which these young doctors cope with the G.O.M.E.R.s, blanket administer Valium to all patients, scare patients out of their beds with threats of lumbar punctures, and suffer trials of depression and neuroses.  While The Fatman inspires the ire of the conservative medical establishment with his unorthodox practices, he is obviously respected, but because he does not approve of these new-fangled diagnostic procedures, he will never be promoted to Chief Resident.

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Originally shot in 1981, the film was denied a theatrical release.  I’ve heard of a number of theories as to why the movie was never released.  1. Producers claimed it was unwatchable (which it most definitely is not).  2. Harvard Medical threatened to sue (I don’t know about that one – it’s just a movie).  3. The medical community was appalled at the book on which the film was based by Samuel Shem, M.D. (why bother even shooting the movie amid such controversy?).  4.  United Artists (the parent releasing company) was too broke to release the movie (the likeliest theory).  I don’t know which, or any, of these theories is correct.  If any of the first three theories were correct, how could the movie be released to cable (eventually in 1984)?  “The House Of God” was never given a VHS, Beta, or Laserdisc release, which is puzzling.

The movie’s cast is extraordinary.  Haid is a joy to watch as “The Fatman”.  His character very much reminds me of Hugh Laurie’s Gregory House.  Tim Matheson proves he can flourish in a largely dramatic role.  Bess Armstrong, Michael Richards (Kramer from Seinfeld), Amazing Colossal Podcast’s Gilbert Gottfried, James Cromwell, Howard Rollins, and Ossie Davis round out the cast.  The House Of God would go on to influence St. Elsewhere (which took it’s title from a line of dialogue in the book and the movie), Scrubs, Gray’s Anatomy, and House M.D.

Starting next week, we celebrate Mel Brooks (who turns 90 on June 28th) with two weeks of Vintage Cable Comedy Classics!

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: “Jekyll And Hyde – Together Again, 1982”

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“Will a proctologist please report to the Emergency Room?  There’s an asshole waiting!”

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Jekyll And Hyde – Together Again, 1982 (Mark Blankfield), Paramount Pictures

Just before the end credits roll, the camera sweeps over a London cemetery to find the grave of Robert Louis Stevenson. In his coffin, Stevenson’s bones literally turn as he curses the makers of Jekyll And Hyde – Together Again. I know how he feels. It must be how Mary Shelley felt to know that her deep, probing analysis into the Prometheus Complex and the serious deconstruction of reanimating dead tissue was turned into a goofy monster movie directed by James Whale (I’m sorry, but I never much cared for the original Frankenstein). At least, the filmmakers know that they’ve defiled a classic, unlike say Stephen Frears and his dreadful Mary Reilly.

Mark Blankfield is Daniel Jekyll, a somewhat brilliant surgeon who has decided to abandon his practice and conduct research dedicated to non-invasive procedures, namely administering drugs in place of surgery. While working in the lab late one night (“he did the mash!”), he accidentally mixes powders and snorts it up while he sleeps. After a violent fit of coughing, he transforms into a mustachioed sex maniac, decked out in a leisure suit and gold chains, with an electrified jew-fro. A cocaine-scooping nail emerges from his pinky, and his penis grows to impressive lengths. This is really silly. What follows is filler. Mr. Hyde takes to the town.

A respectable schlub, Jekyll is being pressured by his soon-to-be father-in-law (Michael McGuire) into performing a “total transplant” on a Howard Hughes-type character, or else he won’t be able to marry McGuire’s daughter (Bess Armstrong, completely wasted and cast against type in the role of Blankfield’s fiancée). When he becomes Hyde, he hangs out in sushi bars and makes passionate love with a singer and part-time prostitute named Ivy (leader of the hilariously-named new wave/punk band Ivy & The Shitty Rainbows), whom Jekyll had earlier treated for a “foreign object” in her vagina. The foreign object was a small Asian man, but we don’t need to go into that.

Torn between his responsibilities as a “healer”, the chaste relationship with dizzy socialite Armstrong, and his sexually hyperactive libido unleashed upon Ivy, Jekyll begins to lose his mind. Blankfield performs admirably as a physical comedian. Unfortunately his delivery is rife with over-annunciation, and it becomes too much to bear, and because the movie is nothing more than a series of episodes and cheap gags (like lazy Mel Brooks or Carl Reiner), the narrative never manages to probe the deeper metaphysical connotations of Stevenson’s source material. I wasn’t expecting a serious treatise about a dissociative identity disorder, but this movie is almost unbearable to watch and excruciatingly silly. However, the movie does provide a window into the decade of decadence and the rise of cocaine: the drug that is obviously being parodied here.

It absolutely boggles my mind to consider that four extremely talented and prolific writers had their hands in this mess of a screenplay.  Monica Johnson collaborated with Albert Brooks on several excellent screenplays (notably Modern Romance and Lost In America).  Harvey Miller wrote for Taxi, The Odd Couple, Laverne & Shirley, and The Tracey Ullman Show.  Michael Leeson wrote The War Of The Roses.  Director Jerry Belson started writing for The Dick Van Dyke Show in 1961, as well as Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C and I Spy, and uncredited rewrite work for Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.  Later in his life, he produced The Drew Carey Show.  The participation of these exceptionally gifted writers reminds me of a review I read about Brian De Palma’s 1990 fiasco, The Bonfire Of The Vanities:  “Only filmmakers this talented could make a film this bad,” or words to that effect.

Mark Blankfield would later appear in the KISS documentary parody, KISS: Exposed (1987), as a clumsy journalist who interviews Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, with hilarious results.  He would also appear in Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men In Tights (1993) as the blind idiot, Blinkin.  Ubiquitous eighties movie presence, Bess Armstrong, will be making further appearances in the annals of Vintage Cable Box, including Jaws 3D and The House Of God.  This movie was a real struggle to get through.

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.