Get Crazy (1983)

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Get Crazy (1983)
D&P Productions
Director: Alan Arkush
Embassy Home Entertainment

After his failed, if not somewhat misunderstood, attempt to bring Andy Kaufman’s unique humor to the screen in 1981’s Heartbeeps, director Alan Arkush tried to rekindle some of the anarchic humor that made Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979) a success with 1983’s Get Crazy. Utilizing an excellent ensemble cast, Get Crazy is essentially a loosely connected chain of anecdotes of rock stereotypes surrounding a converging plot line involving a New Year’s Eve party at the Saturn Theater, a small Fillmore East-type venue. The converging plot lines are little more than a series of sight gags with an underlying anti-corporate message. But a load of clever rock jokes and a couple of interesting musical performances is far and above with what could be expected from a music related film these days. It’s an excellent pull for fans of jokes about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.

The main plot line surrounds Saturn Theater owner Max Wolfe (Alan Garfield). Wolfe’s failing health brings him close to death hours before the yearly Saturn Theater New Year’s Eve concert where rich and famous rock stars return every year to perform out of respect for their roots. Wolfe’s failing health inspires music mogul Colin Beverly (Ed Begley Jr.) to make a play for Wolfe’s lease for the purposes of destroying the small venue and putting up a building of his own. Wolfe is relying on stage managers Neil Allen (Daniel Stern) and Willy Loman (Gail Edwards) to keep the show running on time and to thwart Wolfe’s greedy nephew Sammy (Miles Chapin) from sabotaging the show and obtaining the lease. Stern’s long underrated straight man routine plays well as the befuddled stage manager whose diplomacy bonds the eccentric rockers. Mining the rockers’ outlandish behavior is what works best about the film.

One of the most intriguing bands is Nada, an over-the-top punk stereotype of the kind you have never seen outside of a Tony Basil video. Every member of Nada’s fifteen piece band is a representation of an eighties caricature of a punk rocker. Nada (Lori Eastman), the vocalist for whom the band is named, leads the band and is in charge of Piggy portrayed by Fear front man Lee Ving. As silly as they are together, their party antics are big fun; their involvement peaking during a version of “Hoochie Coochie Man” obviously recorded by Fear, but frames the antics of Ving and the other actors chaotically. Ving begins the song with a world-class stage dive that rivals the best 80s hardcore footage and the chaos that ensues reflects some great, albeit staged, punk footage.

Other acts arriving or racing to get to the venue are egomaniac Reggie Wanker (Malcolm McDowell) the legendary King Blues (Bill Henderson), metaphysical folk singer Audin (Lou Reed) and Jerry Garcia inspired commune leader Captain Cloud (Howard Kaylan of The Turtles). If you are into a certain type of silly humor, none of these characters are especially weak. McDowell plays an excellent jerk and Reed’s overly laid-back recluse is oddly meta.

Arkush sadly went on to direct Caddyshack II (1988). Caddyshack II at least got a DVD release. Get Crazy is difficult to find as it has only been released on home video as a VHS. It’s a silly film, but if you pine for the humor of Airplane! (1980) and love a little punk attitude, Get Crazy is a must-see. (Billups Allen)

Memorable line: “Okay! This building is coming down and 88 stories are going up. So fuck you, and fuck rock and roll!”

So many memorable lines: “God, this is my man, and you better take care of him. Or I’m gonna wax your ass.”

***Hot tip for record people: The soundtrack features Fear’s manic version of “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Lou Reed’s “Baby Sister” also isn’t found anywhere but on the soundtrack. I’m also kind of partial to the song “Hot Shot” Malcolm McDowell sings in the movie.

(A version of this article was published in Lunchmeat Magazine, Issue #8.)

 

Christmas Evil (1980)

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Edward R. Pressman Films
Director: Lewis Jackson

I have for a long time been particularly fond of a scene in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart where Laura Dern’s character Lula describes in disturbing detail her demented cousin’s obsession with Christmas. I would like to know if Mr. Lynch saw Christmas Evil. There are better-known Christmas themed horror movies, but to me Evil is a classic among classics. It’s the It’s a Wonderful Life for horror films.

After witnessing mommy and Santa Claus in the beginnings of having a “not-so-holy” night as a child, Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) becomes psychologically damaged and obsessed with Christmas. Thirty-three years later, Stadling collects Christmas ephemera, works in a toy factory, and spends his spare time skulking around his neighborhood keeping tabs on which kids are naughty and which ones are nice. His extended skulks create a sense of great unease driving the movie. What he’s thinking or what he’s capable of are never telegraphed. Maggart plays the neighborhood suspect as just about to unravel, but occasionally dropped into the position of being a good guy.

There is occasional gore, but the movie would not be nearly as scary without ride-alongs as we follow Harry on his various steak outs. There is not much open violence as there is a fear of not being able to follow his train of thought. The fun here is seeing his bizarre behavior and not knowing at any given time what he’s capable of. The movie knows that you know he’s going to snap at some point, but as to when and how far he will go the movie the movie plays cat and mouse by through various roadblocks including having him react nobly in the Christmas spirit in several scenarios.

The sound design is an extended series of ominous tones, tense music, and uneasy sound effects, some of which feel a bit ahead of their time as horror movie tropes. Some are quite strange including an extended segment of Christmas carols warbling through a busted tape recorder. The sound design is creative and produced a surreal atmosphere in a clever manner.

Maggart’s acting carries the character nicely as he delivers a paced unraveling predating the influx of the popular trope of the quiet man psycho killer that dominates so many 80s slasher movies. Maggart broods. When the movie permits, he takes a break, and acts genuinely human. His predicaments shift him in and out of reality to the point of farce.

Stadling’s younger brother Philip (Jeffery DuMunn) worries from his nice home in his well-adjusted life about his brother not coming over for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The brother’s concern and the phone call leading up to the climax is oddly convincing in a way that adds a human element to the killer often not found in horror movies. The phone call might sound a bit silly in light of the events of the film, but their conversation is definitely thoughtful in a way that gives pause.

The movie works so well as a slow burn it’s a pleasure not to see Harry go into full slasher mode. Even at his worst, he’s a wild card. More than just a slasher film, Evil is an awesome portrayal of an already unstable man coming apart at the seams in a Santa suit. It might be a lot of things, but it’s more than a guy going nuts in a Santa suit.  (Billups Allen)

Sharkey’s Machine

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Sharky’s Machine (1981)
Orion Pictures
Director: Burt Reynolds
Warner Brothers Home Video

For a movie star with 143 films listed on IMDB, Burt Reynolds was in surprisingly few good movies. An obvious high point is Deliverance (1972). If you include Smokey and the Bandit (1977), that’s two. I’d make it three to include Boogie Nights (1997). Despite being an excellent performance, it was an opportunity as a turning point into a second act in his career. But Mr. Reynolds hated the movie and denounced the role. He left his lo-brow, sleazy producer with a good heart persona behind, which for my money, had tread left. If you look at the rest of his career, he was in some pretty bad movies. However, there’s a gem in the mud for me: Sharky’s Machine. Reynolds delivers as both an actor and a director this noir-inspired thriller that succeeds fusing a common Mickey Spillane-inspired cop drama with Ninjas, a government conspiracy, and a hit man portrayed by the intense Henry Silva who values PCP as much as his shotgun.

Tom Sharky (Burt Reynolds) is a tough cop demoted from narcotics to the vice squad after he is blamed for a drug deal gone wrong. The vice squad seems to be a haven for misunderstood good guys as Sharky’s buddies all operate above their forced position on the police force. His “machine” includes Papa (Brian Keith), an older cop keeping his head down in the vice squad until he retires, but capable of inspiring the gang to get involved in a case that’s above their head, Arch (Bernie Casey) a laid back Zen master who comes in with wisdom as the plot requires, Nosh (Richard Libertini) a smarter-than-all-this tech who’ll begrudgingly get his hands dirty, and a frustrated police chief played by Charles Durning.

Sadly, there’s not much in the way of female empowerment. Most of the women in the movie are hookers and exist in the short and long-term only to be saved by our mustachioed hero. There’s a scene where Sharky interacts with an associate’s young daughter, but that only seems to be shoved in to indicate he’s capable of not killing something. But the movie is good as an old fashioned shoot-em-up and manages not to offend directly. It might sound too much like a refuge for clichés, but the cast sells it. They play their roles aware of what they’re involved in and each one of them helps to sell the ensemble as a solid group of flatfoot misfits working together. Reynolds is at the helm, both in the film and behind the camera, but steps aside enough in both duties to leave room for the rest of the cast. Reynold’s signature good ‘ole boy arrogance takes a back seat playing Sharky’s flaws with grace. And the plot has enough twists to keep it afloat.

Sharky’s Machine is an engaging action movie. It also still holds a world record for Stuntman Dar Robinson’s 220-foot wireless jump. If you enjoy flawed cop narratives, it’s a cut above the standard. (Billups Allen)

Memorable line: “Somehow I get the feeling that your rear end is puckering up.”

Memorable speech to a bad guy: “I’m gonna pull the chain on you pal. And you wanna know why? Cause you’re fucking up my city. ‘Cause you’re walking all over people like you own them. And you wanna know the worst part: you’re from out of state.”

***Hot tip for record people: The soundtrack is often found in dollar bins and includes an excellent version of the The Crusaders’ “Street Life” not found elsewhere.

 

Nightmares (1983)

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Nightmares (1983)
Universal
Director: Joseph Sargent
MCA Home Video

The 80s was a great time for low-budget horror anthologies. Creepshow (1982) helped revive the horror anthology going strong in Britain in the early seventies with comic adapted films like Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Vault of Horror (1973). While Creepshow had a one two punch with a script by Stephen King directed by George Romero, 1983’s Nightmares did not have the same cache. However the film has a respectable cast and a few good short stories with some interesting twists.

The film opens with “Terror in Topanga,” a story about an escaped psychopath terrorizing a small community. It wouldn’t be a story if someone didn’t go out for cigarettes. The twist in the story closely resembles an urban myth, but it’s a fun story and Fear front man Lee Ving is among the players.

The most unique story in the anthology is the second story: “The Bishop of Battle.” This chapter finds Emilio Estevez between his success in The Outsiders and his eventual ascension into cult stardom in Repo Man. Estevez plays J.J. Cooney, a video game hustler (I only hope there really were video game hustlers) who goes from arcade to arcade listening to Fear on his walkman and hustling people out of their allowances with his video game prowess. Cooney does this because he’s obsessed with a video game called The Bishop of Battle. Cooney is convinced there is an unreachable 13th level that will validate his existence. A clandestine moment can be had with fans of the movie with the game’s opening warning: “Greetings Earthlings. I am the Bishop of Battle, master of all I survey. I have 13 progressively harder levels. Try me…if you dare.” If you consider what can go wrong here for a moment, you can probably work out the twist ending, but for a glimpse into early Estevez and a good representation of early arcade culture, the second chapter of Nightmares is a must see.

Story three has two things working for it: one is the ever effective Lance Henriksen playing a priest, and two, it recognizes the length of time the man vs. car plotline can remain interesting. Henriksen plays Macleod, a priest struggling with his faith until he is faced with battling a satanic car. It sounds a little trite, but Henriksen makes it work. His ability to struggle with evil is inherent and he makes the story work. There is a similar dynamic in “Night of the Rat,” where professional hysteric Veronica Cartwright improves the typical giant rat narrative. Cartwright is a freak out expert bringing her pushed-over-the-edge persona to films like Alien (1979), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and The Right Stuff (1983). Nightmares won’t blow your mind, but it’s a great Saturday night horror anthology with good performances, punk undertones, and a few surprises. It’s been released a couple of times on DVD, but it’s an easy video to run across in s dollar bin as it’s usually in the throwaway section of stacks of horror VHS. It’s easily a dollar or two’s worth of fun. (Billups Allen)