Vintage Cable Box: “Poltergeist, 1982”

“A terrible presence is in there with her. So much rage, so much betrayal, I’ve never sensed anything like it. I don’t know what hovers over this house, but it was strong enough to punch a hole into this world and take your daughter away from you.”

Poltergeist, 1982 (JoBeth Williams), MGM/UA

I had not intended to cover Poltergeist for a few months, but sometimes the unexpected passing of a filmmaker prompts a publication. Vintage Cable Box started at the end of August, 2015 with a write-up of Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing. Easy Money was intended to be the first article, but Wes Craven’s death changed the schedule. Garry Marshall passed away in July of last year, so I rushed Young Doctors in Love, as did Gene Wilder’s death preceding The Woman in Red. Haven’t we had enough untimely death? Our heroes are dropping like flies!

Before Poltergeist, director Tobe Hooper’s main claims to fame (or infamy, as the case may be) were The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974 (I’ll never forget the death of Kirk) and an excellent television adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot in 1979. A personal favorite of mine, The Funhouse, was released in 1981. Poltergeist, in 1982, appears in the eye of a visual effects super-storm, preceded by Raiders of the Lost Ark, and enveloped by Ghostbusters with striking, visceral animations created by Industrial Light & Magic and supervised by Richard Edlund. After Poltergeist, Hooper would direct Lifeforce (1985), a remake of Invaders from Mars (1986), and a criminally underrated sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Without the combined elements of Hooper, Steven Spielberg, ILM, and the music of Jerry Goldsmith, Poltergeist would be just another horror movie; a generic hodge-podge of ghost movie tropes, jump-scares, and repetitive horror conventions. The Freelings (JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson) are a good-looking, pot-smoking couple living in a planned community in Orange County; part of a new real estate development bulldozing over an ancient Indian cemetery (always a bad decision, especially in horror movies), and they begin to notice strange occurrences on the property (their property specifically). Chairs and other pieces of furniture seem to move of their own volition. Late one night, their youngest, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), starts talking to the static in the television. Well, that’s peculiar.

“But the mother and child reunion Is only a motion away…”

The next night, Carol Anne disappears and little Robbie (Oliver Robins) is attacked by a monstrous tree outside his bedroom. The Freelings call their friendly neighborhood ghost-busters (Beatrice Straight, Richard Lawson, Martin Casella) who then sub-contract to the diminutive, iconic Zelda Rubinstein to “clean” their house of supernatural disturbances. As with most people, nobody likes to be evicted, and the spirit world collides with the material world with slimy veracity. In the film’s climax, the skeletons in the burial ground come alive and terrorize JoBeth and the children as Craig packs up their belongings so they can get the hell out of there. My only question is why does the spirit world have such a ridiculous hard-on for this family and nobody else?

No screaming in the pool!

The Poltergeist franchise suffers from unfortunate coincidences and controversies. Both Dominique Dunne (who played eldest Freeling daughter, Dana) and O’Rourke died tragic deaths at young ages. Two other actors associated with movies in the franchise also died of medical ailments. Speculation about the “Poltergeist Curse” has led people to believe this was due to the production using real human bones and skeletons during the film’s climax. It’s also rumored Spielberg directed most of the movie because, in an early press release, Spielberg stated Hooper wasn’t “…a take-charge sort of guy.” I don’t doubt Spielberg brought a considerable amount of input to the movie. He co-wrote the screenplay, which was based on his story. He produced the movie, but the shots and set-ups are Hooper’s. Poltergeist is Tobe Hooper’s film, from start to finish.

Tobe Hooper

1943-2017

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. 

Advertisements

Vintage Cable Box: “Jekyll And Hyde – Together Again, 1982”

New VCB Logo

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

1982-jekyll-and-hyde-together-again-poster1

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. 

New Episode! “T.n.T. (Terror ‘n Tinseltown)”

hollywood-full

88th Academy Awards with Chris Rock, Angela Bassett, Louis C.K., and Leonardo DiCaprio produced by David Hill and Reginald Hudlin. Directed by Glenn Weiss.

“Act Naturally” (Johnny Russell/Voni Morrison) by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos.
“Til It Happens to You” (Lady Gaga/Diane Warren) by Lady Gaga.
“Mad Max: Fury Road” (a 2015 film directed by George Miller)
“The Road Warrior” (a 1982 film directed by George Miller)
“Bridge Of Spies” (a 2015 film directed by Steven Spielberg)
“Pulp Fiction” (a 1994 film directed by Quentin Tarantino)
“Cast Away” (a 2000 film directed by Robert Zemeckis)
“Joe Versus The Volcano” (1990 film directed by John Patrick Shanley)
“A Woman Under The Influence” (a 1974 film directed by John Cassavettes)
“Batman Begins” (a 2005 film directed by Christopher Nolan)
“Daughters Of Darkness” (a 1971 film directed by Harry Kümel)
“That’s Action!” (1991 film directed by David A. Prior)
“Expert Village” with Kevin Lindenmuth.
“Point Break” (a 1991 film directed by Kathryn Bigelow)
“Point Break” (a 2015 film directed by Ericson Core)
“Open Up Your Heart (And Let the Sunshine In)” (Stuart Hamblen) by Pebbles and Bamm Bamm.

© BlissVille, David Lawler copyright 2016 for all original vocal and audio content featuring 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 music clips appear under Fair Use as well.

Vintage Cable Box: “Romancing The Stone, 1984”

New VCB Logo

“What’d you do?  Wake up this morning and say, ‘Today I’m gonna ruin a man’s life!’?”

romancing_the_stone

Romancing The Stone, 1984 (Michael Douglas), 20th Century Fox

Romancing The Stone begins as a story-within-a-story, the perils of Angelina and her love-interest, Jessie. She exacts revenge on the evil Grogan, while Jessie dispatches Grogan’s equally-evil brothers. Together they hop on a horse and make tracks for a new frontier. In reality, respected novelist Joan Wilder has just finished her manuscript and brings herself to tears. She celebrates with her cat, feeding him tuna. This is the exact moment we fall in love with Kathleen Turner.

It’s obvious she is lonely, lives vicariously through her work and Angelina, and seems to be waiting for her own Jesse. Most men are not Jesse. Her publisher (played by the great Holland Taylor from Bosom Buddies), her sister, and even her little old lady neighbor want her to settle down, but her standards are too high, or maybe she has standards in the first place.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Cartagena, South America, her sister, Elaine is abducted by two sleazebags Ralph and Ira (Danny DeVito, Zack Norman). Back in New York City, Joan’s apartment is tossed, because earlier in the day she received a package from Elaine’s husband, who had died recently under mysterious circumstances. The only clue is something called El Corazon. Elaine calls Joan, tells her to go to South America with the package or else she’ll be killed.

As a typically introverted New Yorker, Joan is immediately flustered in Colombia. She gets on the wrong bus which crashes into a jeep loaded with birds. From there, she hooks up with American fortune hunter, Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas). He agrees to take her back to civilization for $375 in American Express traveler’s checks. Jack has been smuggling exotic birds out of the country and selling them to fuel his dream of having his own boat so he can sail around the world, and his latest booty has flown south for the winter.

kathleenturner08-12-04

What follows is textbook culture-clash comedy. Colton and Wilder don’t like each other at first, but they’re stuck with each other enduring the monsoon season, mudslides, corrupt cops, and Danny DeVito. It turns out Joan has a map in her possession, a map to El Corazon, which is a priceless, rare emerald. When Colton figures this out, he starts to get friendlier with Joan.

Inevitable comparisons with Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark aside, this is a highly enjoyable adventure-comedy, and the leads, Turner and Douglas, are very sexy. Their mutual chemistry recalls Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen. Devito is an interesting balancing act; while maintaining his criminal backstory, he manages to be likable, and he provides a nice counterpoint to Turner and Douglas. They would work together in two more films. The 1986 sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, and one of my favorites, The War of the Roses (directed by Devito).

Romancing The Stone is the movie that made Robert Zemeckis.  A one-time Spielberg protégé, Zemeckis directed a pair of comedies that didn’t make money.  He co-wrote Spielberg’s comedy flop, 1941.  Producer Michael Douglas pushed for Zemeckis to direct Romancing The Stone, which became a hit in the summer of 1984.  After that, he would go on to direct the enormously popular Back to the Future franchise, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Death Becomes Her, Forrest Gump and a slew of other highly successful films.

This concludes a somewhat impromptu tribute to writers here at Vintage Cable Box.  It’s unusual how many fictional movies were made about writers in the early eighties.  In four films, we’ve cycled the through emotions, desires, victories, and failures of these crazy characters.  We’ve seen them live their dreams and hide from their nightmares.  Next time, we take a look at John Carpenter’s 1976 classic exploitation movie, “Assault On Precinct 13”.

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.