Vintage Cable Box: Friday the 13th, 1980

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“It’s got a death curse!”

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Friday the 13th, 1980 (Betsy Palmer), Paramount Pictures

The slasher film was by no means a new idea when Friday the 13th opened to theaters in 1980, nor even Halloween two years previous.  A quick trip to the Wikipedia unearths unusual obscurities like Maurice Tourneur’s The Lunatics from 1912 (which I am stunned to remember watching at some point), which may have inspired the passing of the Hays Code (I would argue that, as the Hays Code was primarily an instrument of sexual censorship).  Thirteen Women from 1932 is more likely the progenitor of the modern-day slasher flick, because of the revenge-obsessed narrative.  The usual pattern of these stories involves an unpopular character, ridiculed, perhaps killed (or assumed dead) who has emerged to exact bloody vengeance on all those who wronged him or her.  This is the impetus of the very popular Friday the 13th franchise.

This is Camp Crystal Lake, a few years back.  The moon is out, and crickets chirp in the woods.  We have a couple of camp counselors getting sexy upstairs, and then we see that famous POV shot.  Young Jason Voorhees (presumably) spies on them, and then murders them.  Henry Manfredini’s iconic score borrows heavily from Bernard Hermann’s idea to use stinging strings to emphasize the acts of violence committed to film, as in Hitchcock’s Citizen Kane of slasher movies, Psycho.

Counselors assemble to repopulate the once-abandoned Crystal Lake.  There are some classic bits in here, as when one of the counselors goes into the town diner to ask for directions to the camp.  Everybody in the place stares at her like they’re all about to tell the story of “Large Marge.”  She hitches a ride to the camp, and the driver tells her about the two kids murdered in 1958, the drowning boy in 1957, and all the fires that have plagued Crystal Lake.  The driver urges her to quit and leave, but she can’t. She’s shaping young minds, damnit!  While her devotion to her work is admirable, her colleagues have other ideas: namely hanky-panky, and this is where we get more of the formula of this sub-genre.  The innocent, or thoughtful characters, usually virginal girls, are spared, while the libidinous of the group die horribly.

For the purposes of the first movie in the franchise, the identity of the killer is kept secret until the end, but we know ultimately that either Jason (or his restless and super-human spirit) are responsible for the subsequent killings.  Adrienne King, the remaining victim, discovers that Jason’s mother, has been avenging herself upon this new batch of counselors in her dead son’s stead.  It seems she was driven mad by his drowning death (as any mother would be) and took to killing as her primary source of communication.  This explains why (from her point of view), she was able to easily dispatch so many unsuspecting and trusting idiots.  As in Psycho (at least for this first entry) Jason exists only as a memory, like Norman’s mother.  After she loses her head (literally!), we’re treated to a De Palma-style leap from a watery grave and King waking from a horrifying nightmare.

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Sean Cunningham (working from soap-opera scribe Victor Miller’s script) crafts a good old fashioned camp-fire story in very economical fashion.  Primarily conceived as a “tax shelter production”, Friday the 13th was shot in 1979 on a budget of about a half a million dollars, and proceeded to make $60,000,000; an enormous box office hit for the time.  While Halloween undoubtedly influenced this film, I believe Friday the 13th to be the most influential horror film of all time.  In the 80s, theaters were blitzed with slasher movies and sex comedies.  Movie theaters were like libraries; the descriptions of so many different kinds of movies were printed in newspapers, and movie lovers could see any type of film they wanted to see.  This was the beginning of the golden age of slasher movies.

Welcome to Vintage Cable Box’s Halloween 2016 Horror Movie Coverage!  Next time, we look at 1982’s Deadly Eyes starring Sara Botsford and Scatman Crothers.  Rats! 

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: Twilight Zone: The Movie, 1983

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“You wanna see something REALLY scary?”

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Twilight Zone: The Movie, 1983 (Dan Aykroyd), Warner Bros.

I popped in the old Warner Brothers clamshell VHS tape of this, because I wanted to watch the movie as I remembered it when I saw it on cable television in 1984.  Of course I had to play it on my old tube TV (the only way to watch a videotape, or a Laserdisc, or a DVD), and the first thing I notice (after the FBI warning) is the Warner Brothers logo, those post-modern oval or stadium shapes forming the W and the B coming toward the screen, devouring the frame while the first chords of Creedence Clearwater Revival play.

We fade up slowly on a deserted road and then the lights of a car passing by.  Inside is hitchhiker Dan Aykroyd and driver Albert Brooks.  To pass the time, they play games of trivia, TV theme songs, and then finally settle on a discussion about Twilight Zone, where they reference key episodes.  After multiple viewings, it only occurs to me now that the movie is commenting upon the television series in a real-world capacity, in meta fashion, but in the style of Twilight Zone.

We start with “Time Out”, written and directed by John Landis, and starring the late Vic Morrow.  Landis also wrote and directed the prologue, and co-produced the film as a whole with Steven Spielberg.  It’s hard not to review this episode without thinking of Morrow’s tragic death during shooting, but I will try.  Though heavy-handed with a lecturing tone, Morrow’s performance is among the strongest I’ve ever seen.  He plays an “angry man,” to use narrator Burgess Meredith’s words, with “a chip on his shoulder the size of the national debt.”

After angrily calling out Jews and blacks as the source of his uniquely American problems, he is transported back and forth through time being given a taste of his own medicine.  Landis places him in the shoes of a Jew during wartime France, and then as a black man in the South, and then as an enemy combatant in Vietnam.  Morrow died when the rotor blades on a helicopter during an intensely energetic barrage of explosions de-laminated and the vehicle spun into ankle-deep water, killing him and two children he was carrying.

It’s fair to say the film’s production was severely altered due to the tragedy, as the narrative of Landis’ screenplay (which had originally included a scene of vindication for Morrow’s character) was changed drastically so that the only scenes remaining (the only complete scenes Morrow shot) are simply examples of catharsis with little to no structure.  Vic Morrow gives an incredible performance, and it’s sad to think of the resurgence his career would’ve enjoyed.  Landis and his producers were acquitted on charges of manslaughter in 1986, and while most people like to think his career suffered after this incident, he made several highly-successful movies after this, including Spies Like Us and Coming To America.

Steven Spielberg’s somewhat sentimental remake of “Kick the Can” improves upon the source material by capturing the spirit of youth, as viewed through the eyes of the elderly.  The great character actor Bill Quinn plays a bitter old man who watches his fellow denizens at Sunnyvale Retirement Home turn into children under the guidance of new resident Mr. Bloom (jovial Scatman Crothers).  Rather than end the proceedings in pathos and irony as the third season episode did, Spielberg (and screenwriters Richard Matheson & Melissa Mathison) decide to bring them back to senior citizenry with “fresh young minds.”  The next day, all but one of the elderly folk have transformed back, and Quinn learns a nice lesson about staying young at heart, while Mr. Bloom is off on his next merry adventure.  Jerry Goldsmith’s score for this episode (and the movie) is spectacular.

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When I was a kid, I loved this next episode: an updating of the classic “It’s a Good Life”.  Mostly because I dug the idea of a kid around my age with insane psychic god-like powers wreaking havoc upon his rented family and a hapless schoolteacher (Kathleen Quinlan), who had the “misfortune” of nearly running him over.  She takes him back to his house, where his frightened family anxiously awaits his return.  He has televisions in every room playing cartoons.  His supper consists of peanut butter, candy apples, and ice cream.  His sister (Cherie Currie!) has no mouth (but she must scream), and when he gets angry, conjures horrifying creatures to scare the Hell out of everybody for his amusement.  Where Billy Mumy’s version of the child was more monster than boy, the child in this episode is simply an incorrigible brat who needs guidance and structure in his life.  Director Joe Dante populates his episode with great character actors from the past like William Schallert, Kevin McCarthy, Patricia Barry (who had all appeared in original episodes), and Dick Miller.  This is still a fun episode to watch.

We wind it up with what is perhaps the movie’s strongest entry, a remake of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” featuring John Lithgow in an Oscar-worthy performance, directed by George Miller (The Road Warrior).  Lithgow plays a white-knuckle passenger on an airliner convinced he sees a man (ultimately a gremlin) on the wing of the plane.  There are some subtle differences between this remake and the original starring William Shatner.  For one, in the Shatner version, his wife is traveling with him, and second, he is recovering from a previous nervous breakdown.  I feel the film version is stronger because Lithgow doesn’t foreshadow any particular breakdown, and his performance is a gradual build-up not to insanity but bravery as he takes matters in his own hands and attempts to vanquish the creature (as Shatner did).  The film version is much more visceral than the original directed by Richard Donner.  It’s interesting the best episodes from the movie were directed by relative novices, compared to the input of Spielberg and Landis.  They both meet the same fate, however, as they are carted off to a loony bin while the airplane’s mechanical crew try to figure out where all the damage to the craft came from.

For a decent stinger prologue, Lithgow’s ambulance driver is none other than Dan Aykroyd from the prologue.  He puts on some Creedence and away we go!  Vic Morrow’s death overshadowed any possible success this movie might have enjoyed, and destroyed any chance of a new film franchise.  Though there were reboots in 1985 and 2002, neither they nor this film stack up to the original series.  I must admit this is how I was introduced to the series.  I was aware of the show, but it never played where I lived, at least until after this movie debuted on cable television.  The series played in constant rotation on Channel 11 WPIX New York, and that’s how I was able to watch it before I got the DVDs.

What can be said about Rod Serling’s immortal Twilight Zone that hasn’t been said already?  I loved the show so much I started my own podcast about it, in which a guest and I discuss two episodes every week.  A new season of “That Twilighty Show About That Zone” starts tomorrow!  Sorry about the plug.  I had to do it.  Today is the one-year anniversary for “Vintage Cable Box”.  Hard to believe I started this enterprise a year ago with reviews for Swamp Thing, Easy Money, and Porky’s.  If you want to check out my past reviews, go to this handy archive.  Again, sorry for the plug!

Sourced from the original 1983 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release.  The movie continued to receive different format releases, and is available in Beta, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu Ray formats.  The accompanying essay obviously down-plays Vic Morrow’s death (“the late Vic Morrow”) as though his passing was not connected to the production.  The film is compared to Creepshow from 1982.  Both movies are referenced as “… the state of the art in cinema horror …”

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: 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.

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. 

Vintage Cable Box: “The Keep, 1983”

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“You have released the foulness that dwells in all men’s minds! You have infected millions with your twisted fantasies! And from the millions of diseased mentalities that worship your twisted cross… what monstrosity has been released in this keep?”

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The Keep, 1983 (Scott Glenn), Paramount Pictures

An Argento/Goblins-like musical collage (courtesy of realist post-punk 80s staple, Tangerine Dream) fills our ears as Michael Mann’s chilling, underrated The Keep begins. Jürgen Prochnow’s strikingly pale blue eye gazes upon innocent Romanian villagers living at the base of an immense citadel. He is the Captain of a German Army sent (for strategic purposes) to control a crucial mountain pass, and the citadel (a castle-keep) is to be their base of operations.

The keep is maintained by a batty old man who warns the soldiers not to strip the walls of crosses made from solid nickel, but their unearthly glow (that a couple of dimwitted soldiers are convinced is silver) is just too tantalizing to ignore. Breaking through a wall, situated at the precipice of what appears to be an enormous temple, the soldiers are killed by a long-dormant entity. The spirit’s resurgence causes a creepy and mysterious (yet hauntingly striking) Scott Glenn to enter the picture. He charters a boat to Romania.

The SS arrives (under the command of the evil – Whew! Here we go – Sturmbannführer Erich Kaempffer played by Gabriel Byrne) and begins executing the villagers as Communists. Prochnow (as a soldier in the regular German army) locks horns with Byrne and warns him of the unusual power of the castle-keep, but Byrne ain’t hearin’ none of it. The Germans retain ailing Jewish professor Theodore Cruza (Ian McKellen, rocking a fedora, though not quite convincing as an old man) and his hot daughter, Eva, to translate the inscriptions on the castle walls. When soldiers try to rape Eva, the entity appears and causes their heads to explode. After confronting the entity, Eva’s father is rejuvenated, possibly cured, as he reasons the spirit feeds on it’s victims’ souls.

Eva escapes (with Prochnow’s help) and takes up residence in a nearby Inn where she meets up with Glenn’s ambiguous visitor.  For reasons that are never explained, they make love.  He tells her he’s a traveler from “everywhere”, whatever that means.  He tells Eva he is to guard against the resurrection of the entity (identified as “Molasar”).  Glenn is arrested by the SS.  He is revealed to possess super-strength and appears to be impervious to bullets.

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By itself – if you know nothing of the film’s troubled production history – the narrative holds up surprisingly well. Upon closer evaluation, I can see that enormous sections of the story were left out of the general release granted by Paramount. There’s simply too much in the way of stunning art design, set decoration, and cinematography to be relegated to a paltry 95 minutes.

Michael Mann’s original cut of the film ran some three-and-a-half hours. It is replete with his early style; that of gorgeous widescreen composition, moody performances, and synthesizer-heavy music, reminiscent of his previous work, Thief, and his later effort, Manhunter. This is a movie screaming out to be restored and released in Mann’s director’s cut; given the Blade Runner treatment. Strangely, the movie is not available in either DVD or Blu Ray format (indeed the version I recently watched was on an old laserdisc), but it did receive heavy rotation on cable channels in the early 80s, which is where I first saw it.

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 Hunger, 1983”

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“Are you making a pass at me, Mrs. Blaylock?”

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The Hunger, 1983 (Catherine Deneuve), MGM/UA

Bauhaus is considered “post-punk”, which is simple short-hand for the in-between years of the death of Disco, the birth of New Wave, the seminal jazz of New Romantic crossed with what would become Goth and Alternative. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” opens The Hunger with Peter Murphy performing appropriately aloof. Can you imagine New York City in 1983? It was a city alive, steeped in bastard culture, the figurative melting pot; millions of people doing what they wanted, all the time stiffs in cheap suits acted as though they were in control. They weren’t.

I love this movie because it speaks to a city that no longer exists, but only in photographs; the difficult photographs you can’t upload. The photographs you have to dig up out of your photo albums and scan if you want anybody else to see them. It was an uncomfortable, even excruciating mix of the pop culture sensibilities of the time.

Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie are a crazy-sexy, chic couple of kooks, fabulous and beautiful, but they also happen to be vampires. They subsist on the blood of the unknowing, live in a fantastic brownstone (with an elevator!) – that’s what comes from immortality; at least you know where to keep your money, but nothing changes. People still want. People are still victims of their stupidity. Nothing changes for this pair. All they seek is food. Bowie begins to notice his aging. It’s not fair. He was promised immortality from Deneuve’s embrace, and now he’s pissed.

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Enter Susan Sarandon’s character, Dr. Sarah Roberts, who seems to be pioneering work in advanced aging, which sparks Bowie’s interest. One of my favorite bits in the movie has to be Bowie waiting all day for Roberts to see him, meanwhile he has aged 50 years in the waiting room, while she ignores him. This is what it feels like in a doctor’s waiting room! Eventually, he is consigned to a coffin, and Deneuve gets friendly with Sarandon, and when I say “friendly”, I don’t mean pleasant, cordial smiles and flowers. Deneuve’s only (albeit predatory) interest in Sarandon is sustenance and companionship; the same, self-serving reasons she chose Bowie’s character 300 years before.  In her highly-publicized (not to mention extremely erotic) love scene with Deneuve, Sarandon is deliberately made up and photographed to resemble Bowie.

The Hunger was unfairly maligned at the time of its release for being nothing more than a feature-length MTV music video. The first time I saw the movie on cable, I was instantly smitten with the visuals and the long dialogue-free passages telling a story in pictures, and the presence of the super-cool Deneuve and Bowie as sophisticated New York vampires who masquerade as music teachers during the day and blood-thirsty creatures by night. When laserdiscs became affordable, I actively sought out this title, so I could see the film unfettered and unmolested in letterbox format.

The bloody and (admittedly) ridiculous finale notwithstanding, The Hunger was an extremely influential film, not only to modern cinema but the mythology of vampire movies as they would evolve in the next thirty years. As depicted in Whitley Streiber’s source novel, they are not dreamy-eyed teenybopper bait yearning to be loved. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing searching for food, and when they find you, they will destroy you.

The Hunger was Tony Scott’s first feature-length film. He would go on to an illustrious career; the director of choice for action movies, Tom Cruise, and Denzel Washington. Scott directed Top Gun, Revenge, True Romance, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State among many other movies. He died in 2012. Mr. Bowie passed away last week, so I rushed this one in tribute to the Thin White Duke.

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.