The Wolves of 1981

Frequent Wire: Two Davids Walk Into A Bar 122: The Wolves of 1981

Happy Halloween from Frequent Wire! Bronwyn Knox joins us for a roundtable discussion of the key horror films of 1981; all of them about werewolves or wolf-like creatures. This episode is loaded with great clips and teaser trailers.

The Howling is a 1981 American horror film directed by Joe Dante, and starring Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, and Robert Picardo.

Wolfen is a 1981 American crime horror film directed by Michael Wadleigh and starring Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Gregory Hines and Edward James Olmos. It is an adaptation of Whitley Strieber’s 1978 novel The Wolfen.

An American Werewolf in London is a 1981 horror comedy film written and directed by John Landis and starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter and Griffin Dunne.

Hosted by David B. Anderson, David Lawler, and Bronwyn Knox.
Produced by David B. Anderson and David Lawler.
Written by David B. Anderson, David Lawler, and Bronwyn Knox.
Edited by David Lawler.
Special Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.

© Frequent Wire, David Lawler copyright 2017 for all original vocal and audio content featuring David Anderson, David Lawler and selected guests each episode. 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 television, film, and music clips appear under Fair Use as well.

Advertisements

Vintage Cable Box: The Slumber Party Massacre, 1982

cable-box-001-2696

“All of you are very pretty. I love you. It takes a lot of love for a person to…  do this. You know you want it. You’ll like it.”

slumber-party-massacre

The Slumber Party Massacre, 1982 (Michele Michaels), New World Pictures

I’m going to have to get analytical now.  I knew this day would come, where I would have to do a write-up of Slumber Party Massacre, taking into account the effect of slasher films on the market and then how this movie impacted slasher films moving forward.  If you read descriptions of the movie on other pages, they will, more often than not, point to Amy Jones, the director, and Rita Mae Brown, the writer as they attempted to deconstruct the subgenre and provide a parody of the material in it’s place.  While the movie succeeds in aping the formula, a very thick tongue is planted firmly in-cheek, but only for those who can appreciate it.

We start with the bold red titles, and the sound of organs not out-of-place in a Vincent Price movie.  Mom and Dad are off on a vacation, or something, leaving Trish (Michele Michaels) in charge of the house, so she decides to throw a party (or a “slumber” party, as the case may be – according to my research, slumber parties usually involve pizza and lesbian experimentation, but I can’t be sure).  Meanwhile, a lunatic (who uses a power drill) is on the loose, killing women everywhere he goes.  I wonder what brand of drill he uses.  We get fleeting glimpses of the horrible man as he watches Trish and her friends.  He seriously looks like a sex offender.  He has the glazed-over look of a man who recently had a vasectomy.

After basketball, there is an extended shower sequence with all the girls, and Jones spends an impressive amount of time lingering on naked female flesh (more than in any other slasher movie I’ve seen).  I suspect Jones and Brown set out to indict the male-dominated industry of slasher movies, or possibly call our attention to the amount of violence perpetrated against women in most movies.  Poor Brinke Stevens (Haunting Fear), who won’t be going to the party, gets locked inside the school and has to run from our driller-killer while her friends remain blissfully ignorant and on their way to the coolest slumber party ever!  I’m kidding, of course.  It’s really kind of boring.

Par for the course, we have a couple of fake-out gags, where the purpose seems to be to frighten young women with ridiculous situations.  A hand comes out of nowhere to frighten a female pedestrian.  A drill breaks through a front door because another young lady is installing a peep-hole (come on!).  A shadowy figure walks slowly down stairs and frightens another young woman.  All of these gags occur within minutes.  What’s the point of that?  To show that women are easily horrified?  I get it.  As a matter of fact, I’m easily horrified.  In fact, I’m horrified right now writing this.  Aaagh!  I will say Jones has a great photographer’s eye.  The compositions and colors of interior shots are deep, dark, and rich with atmospheric lighting, but when accompanied by the Vincent Price organ, the whole thing seems incredibly silly.

First order of business is weed.  The girls smoke up and talk about sex, and who the sluttiest girl is, and how to get to first base, and how their menstrual cycles line up, or something like that.  Honestly, I wasn’t paying attention in between fake-out gags (we’re up to two hundred by this point in the running time).  It’s weird that I like the idea of the movie more than the actual movie.  We have extremely dark night shots (I’ve always preferred that realistic lighting to this new-fangled modern lighting where you can see everything in any given exterior shot), sounds of dogs barking in the background, some heavy breathing and POV shots.  The Slumber Party Massacre has all the trappings of a great slasher film (great photography, great editing), but Brown’s premise is lost in the thick, choking fog of social commentary, not unlike many movies produced today.  We need more entertainment, less moralizing!

driller-killer-in-slumber-party-massacre-1982
Poor Brinke!

Second order of business is pizza (no anchovies!).  The pizza guy shows up, in the midst of all the female confessionals and make-overs, but he has bloody holes in his eyes so I’m guessing he won’t be getting a tip.  My favorite bit in the movie has one of the girls eating the pizza while they try to figure out their next move.  A particularly telling scene has a girl collapse to the garage floor and the killer brandishes his extra-long drill bit between his legs.  Brian De Palma would imitate this shot two years later in Body Double, but to much better effect.  The killer cuts the phone line, and off we go!  We’re more than halfway through the movie before these dim-wits get a clue.  I can’t blame the girls, though.  Rita Mae Brown is the true killer of this promising story.  In the end, one of our heroines uses a machete to chop the end off of the killer’s drill-bit, effectively castrating him.  There are some very interesting ideas at play here, but Brown and Jones are more interested in making a bold political statement than in entertaining or scaring their audience, and that’s unfortunate.

Next time, we take a look at the (allegedly) final chapter in the Friday the 13th franchise.  As we know, it doesn’t really work out that way.  Thank you, Corey Feldman!

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: Repo Man, 1984

Vintage-Cable-Box-Cover-Image

“The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.”

repo_man

Repo Man, 1984 (Emilio Estevez), MCA/Universal

A state trooper pulls over a ’64 Chevy Malibu, and asks the bizarre driver what’s in the trunk.  The driver tells him, “You don’t wanna know.”  The trooper opens the trunk and is instantly disintegrated, and all that is left is a pair of smoking boots.  This opening bit sets the tone for what is to come.  The dystopic contemporary depiction of a Los Angeles in the grip of poverty, writer-director Alex Cox’s Repo Man is a landscape of smashed windows and busted televisions, of manipulative evangelists, and UFO nuts.  Emilio Estevez is not quite a punk. more of a poser (the kind of person who admires the lifestyle, but really wants a house in the sticks with a 2-car garage – I know many people like this), because he holds down a steady job (until he loses his cool) in a supermarket, and while he joins his friends for nightly “mosh” sessions, he has more on his mind than getting wasted.

One day, he hooks up with Harry Dean Stanton (always a joy to watch in any film), who asks him to hot-wire a car for $10 because he “lost the keys, and his sister is pregnant.”  Estevez agrees, but wonders why a Mexican man is trying to stop him as he does it.  He drives off with the car, and Stanton leads him to a junkyard, where the car is impounded.  Estevez’s Otto isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he comes to the conclusion he just repossessed a vehicle.  Stanton offers him a job; good money and benefits, but Estevez hates these people, and I can understand why.  They repossess cars (a kind of legal version of theft) when the owners don’t make their payments, or for other reasons (say they’re late on house payments or utilities).  To Otto, they contribute to the downfall of a schizophrenic economy and the cultural wasteland.

When Otto discovers his parents have given his college money (See? Not a real punk!) away to a televangelist, he reluctantly takes up Stanton on his offer, and soon he’s lifting cars at an impressive rate.  He gets to know and bond with the denizens of the Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation.  He listens to crazy theories about alien spacecraft and time travel, life and money, and, inexplicably John Wayne’s sexual orientation.  Otto’s life is turning around, and a schism develops between him and his punk friends (one of them bears a striking resemblance to my buddy, Noah).  He gets a kooky girlfriend, who is obsessed with the UFO culture, and he finds he’s been cased by spooks and weird chicks with mohawks.

The Malibu is making the rounds and a bounty goes out on the vehicle.  $20,000 to the person (or persons) who can repossess the vehicle.  It makes sense the vehicle would be hot (figuratively as well as literally), and Stanton is locked in a battle of wits with the Rodriguez Brothers, the only other hacks in the game as bad-ass as Stanton’s Helping Hand cronies.  You have an unusual convergence of like-minded nitwits in skid-row: car repossessers, alien abduction nuts, Feds, and religious fanatics all coming together to unlock the power of this vehicle.  In the mish-mash of social commentary littered about the grounds of Cox’s narrative, what we see are emerging trends.  Cox’s worldview is not unlike that of a punk.  There are forces out to control you, and none to liberate you.  That makes a whole Hell-of-a-lot of sense if you consider yourself disenfranchised.

The Malibu changes drivers a few times when the Rodriguez Brothers lift the car, which is then stolen by a couple of Otto’s friends.  The original, crazed driver taunts them into opening the trunk, and they get zapped.  He takes back possession of the car, picks up Otto hitchhiking, and promptly dies behind the wheel, after confessing to him that he had a partial lobotomy in order to negotiate the heavy stress of driving this beast.  As government agents, priest, rabbis, and UFO enthusiasts swarm on the vehicle, it emits lightning and fire, and only Otto and his co-worker, Miller (who told him earlier he refuses to drive and does all his thinking on a bus), can get behind the wheel.  The Malibu ascends into the air and flies into space.  We never really settle on what is inside the trunk.  The crazy driver tells Otto it’s a neutron bomb.  Otto’s girlfriend tell him it’s the corpses of two aliens that emanate dangerous radiation.  I’m guessing it’s a MacGuffin, merely to keep up our interest in the movie, but it doesn’t matter.  This is such an interesting and entertaining film populated with incredible characters that it doesn’t need this device (or vehicle, as the case the may be) to tell the story.

Malibu

For this movie to come out when it did, March of 1984, in the middle of the sex comedy and slasher film explosion, and the beginnings of the opening weekend mindset of Hollywood, Repo Man initiated a major smack-in-the-face to the conventions of filmmaking.  Similar in style to something like Jim Sheridan’s Breathless, but with a story and characters we give a crap for, Repo Man is a cultural send-up of science fiction, crime-drama, and tales of government paranoia.  It shows a side of Los Angeles we aren’t used to seeing.  An extraordinarily bold and gifted filmmaker, Alex Cox would follow-up Repo Man with Sid & Nancy, and the much-maligned (although I liked it) Straight To Hell.

Sourced from a VHS tape recorded off the Independent Film Channel (IFC), extended play, circa 2002-2003.  This was back when IFC ran uninterrupted films with no commercials.  Also on the tape were Harmony Korine’s 1997 oddity, Gummo, and the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers starring Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, and Brooke Adams.

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: “Strange Brew, 1983”

Vintage-Cable-Box-Cover-Image

“If I didn’t have puke breath, I’d kiss you.”

1983-strange-brew-poster1

Strange Brew (1983), (Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas), MGM/UA

We start on the big silver screen with a belching MGM lion, and that pretty much sets the tone for the motion picture debut of beer-drinking hosers Bob and Doug McKenzie (Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis); ostensibly a set-up for their movie-within-a-movie, Mutants of 2051 A.D., a hilarious no-budget sci-fi exercise that references Planet Of The Apes and The Omega Man. The crowd watching the movie grows restless and walks out demanding refunds. Moved by a distraught father’s story, Bob gives the man his Dad’s beer money.

Dad (voiced by Mel Blanc) demands beer. They try to scam their way into a free 24-pack of Elsinore with the old mouse-in-a-bottle trick, but they’re referred to the brewery. At the gated, electrified entrance, they rescue Pam Elsinore (the fetching Lynne Griffin) when the gates close on her car. Pam is there to receive compensation for the suspicious death of her father, John Elsinore, the former brewmaster. Bob and Doug fall backwards into jobs at the brewery, checking bottles for mice.

Brewmeister Smith (a fantastic Max Von Sydow) is making a mind-altering drug, which he will use to control the population of Elsinore beer drinkers with violent impulses.  After viewing “improvements” made by Smith (surveillance cameras, an empty cafeteria, and lack of employees), Pam gives him two weeks notice to pack up.  Brewmeister Smith orders Pam’s Uncle Claude (toadie Paul Dooley) to kill her, or at least incapacitate her.  Smith is using inmates from a nearby sanitarium to test his concoction, with orchestrated games of hockey, and it’s up to Bob and Doug to save the day.

Hosehead saves the day
It’s actually Hosehead who saves the day!

This is such a fun movie! After all these years, the material (originally a series of sketches for SCTV) holds up and is given the appropriate celluloid treatment. The characters break the fourth wall. There’s even a brief intermission. One of my favorite gags occurs right after the intermission. After Bob and Doug’s van plummets into the river and they are presumed dead, scuba divers are amazed to find them just fine underwater, drinking bottles of beer. When the diver flashes his badge, Doug reaches into his pocket and produces his driver’s license – all of this underwater!

Bob and Doug are framed for the attempted kidnapping of Pam. They are remanded to the sanitarium after being diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenics by the Court. With the help of retired hockey star Jean LeRose and the electronic “ghost” of Pam’s deceased father (not to mention Bob and Doug’s superhero dog, Hosehead), they rescue Pam and foil Brewmeister Smith’s plan to sabotage the upcoming Oktoberfest.

As directed by Moranis and Thomas, the scenes effortlessly transition, and the narrative is fast-paced. This is serious filmmaking, for a completely ridiculous story. A great deal of the dialogue feels largely improvised. While a sequel was planned (and eventually abandoned) for release in 1999, Moranis and Thomas never directed again, and that is unfortunate because they are gifted comedians, actors, and storytellers. A year or so after the release of Strange Brew, they would famously appear in Pizza Hut commercials.

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: “National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, 1982”

New VCB Logo

“Most likely to die crossing the street.”

MPW-16689

National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, 1982 (Gerritt Graham), ABC Motion Pictures

This is one of those very rare occasions where I remember enjoying a movie immensely when I was a kid, and then looking back at it as an adult and thinking it has either not aged well, or it was my eleven-year-old brain that supplied most of the guffaws. It could’ve been that I had seen Class Reunion right after seeing Vacation (now considered a comedy classic) and was not impressed.

I’ve never been to a class reunion. Never been invited. Because of the reckless and impulsive behavior of my mother, we often found ourselves packing and leaving so I never had the opportunity to finish in schools, nor was I privileged to have a stable mailing address. I’ve certainly seen enough movies and television shows about class reunions. My wife was invited to class reunions, but she didn’t have a much of a desire to attend, either. Something about those gatherings seems sad to me. It’s a reminder of age, having to grow up, having to not be what you were when you were young.

Some of those sentiments are touched upon in National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, though very briefly because this is a silly comedy/spoof of horror movies. Several movies of this type were released in this time period, notably Saturday The 14th, Love At First Bite, and Student Bodies. Attendees gather for the 10-year class reunion at Lizzie Borden High. The cast is filled with familiar names and faces like Stephen Furst (Flounder from National Lampoon’s Animal House), Miriam Flynn (who would appear in National Lampoon’s Vacation the following year) and Michael Lerner (from Barton Fink).

NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CLASS REUNION, Fred McCarren, Zane Buzby, 1982. (c) ABC/ Courtesy: Everett Colleciton.

The participants in the class reunion festivities are being knocked off, one by one, and suspicion points to a less than popular kid (played by Blackie Dammett) named Walter Baylor, who was humiliated by this circle of kids on one fateful night ten years before. Gary Nash (Fred McCarren), formerly the guy everybody forgot – even his best friend – takes charge and leads the investigation, with the help of a mysterious doctor (Lerner). Along the way he attempts to woo the girl he was in love with: Meredith (gorgeous Donna Dixon look-alike, Shelley Smith).

John Hughes started writing for the National Lampoon print magazine in 1979. His first television credit came in the form of Delta House, the failed Animal House spin-off. He wrote Class Reunion, which tanked at the box office, but he followed it with three brilliant comedy scripts: Mr. Mom, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Nate and Hayes with David Odell (a personal favorite of mine), which earned him a three-picture directing deal with Universal.

Looking at the picture recently, I noted that despite the otherwise funny and talented cast, Class Reunion lacked true comic timing. There is no focus, no lead character to propel the story, nor someone we can identify with. The director, Michael Miller, shoots everything in wide shots to assemble his cast, and good comedy screams for close-up shots to break up the tedium. The jokes fall flat, which is odd for John Hughes. The warmth and humor of his later work is missing here, and this script would be his only dud in the early eighties. His creative output was astonishing. He worked fast, and his pictures were economical. His unofficial retirement began in 1994, and he passed away in 2009 at the age of 59.

Next time, we take a look back to the classic era of horror movies on Vintage Cable TV, starting with 1983’s Psycho II!

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.