Friday, January 13, 2012

Mike & Ike Go to The Grindhouse

We don't usually review things we like, because to do so would violate the mission statement implicit in our blog title.  S.z. and I always regarded WO'C as a kind of Distant Early Warning System for bad movies and worse pundits, but occasionally something comes along that makes us happy, and it would feel selfish to bogart it (this would include things such as Bogart [the noun, not the verb, which actually makes us unhappy] ).

I've mentioned Mike and Ike in the past, and linked to some of their videos and podcasts (full disclosure: I've appeared as both an interviewee and a panelist on their show, the All Star Summer Jamboree, or ASSJAM).
Mike and Ike are a couple of pop culture gadflies who started off posting savagely funny YouTube rants about movies, and are now in-house media mavens at Geekplanetonline, a portal for all things of a genre-related or nerd-bait nature.  Like most critics they have their bete noires and their irrational enthusiasms, but what I enjoy most about M&I is their habit of viewing everything -- even things they love -- with the same jaundiced eye.  Their stoned, snarky critiques remind me of two buzzards perched on a tree, writing a restaurant review of the dead, bloated cow below them, and getting sidetracked by a philosophical discussion on the morality, let along the esthetic value, of using  tumbleweed as a garnish.

Mike and Ike have also written and directed two well received horror shorts, Surprise and Skeletons, and are about to start production on a third.  In between all that, they wrote and performed a live show entitled The Grindhouse, featuring their peculiar brand of brainy low comedy and sober, informed heckling.

Now, I going to just come right out and admit something: I am a devoted admirer of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (and while we're on the subject of shocking revelations, I hear that Kristy McNichol is a lesbian!).  I generally take a dim view of imitations (although I make allowances for MST3K's legitimate progeny, Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic), but while Mike and Ike's style, which they call "CommentaRIFFING," follows in the grand tradition, it's sufficiently different to be its own thing -- a satisfying hybrid of DVD commentary and stand-up comedy.

After road-testing the Grindhouse, they recorded a studio version, and the result is both funny and weirdly enlightening.  The show consists of three segments, each stranger than the next, and all laced with jokes, little known facts, jokes, bizarre trivia, dirty jokes, and some surprisingly savvy observations from two guys who know movies and love weirdness.

The appetizer, if I may call it that, is the 1931 Merrie Melodies short, Hittin' the Trail for Hallelujah Land, which features singing swine in blackface, and is sort of a bizarre Uncle Remus rip-off for people who liked Song of the South but wished it was more racist.   Seriously, this thing makes Birth of a Nation look like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?  Hallelujah Land is one of the "Censored Eleven" cartoons that were banned from television in 1968, and while I'm opposed to bowdlerization on principle, it's amusing that this ossified chunk of minstrelsy was undone by a blacklist.

Still, it must be seen to be disbelieved, including its shameless pickpocketing of other, better cartoons (it all but traces the opening sequence of Steamboat Willie.)

The middle portion is an abridged (and with this film, the more abridged the better) version of Beach Girls and the Monster (1965), an effort by faded matinee idol Jon Hall (he both co-stars and directs) to cash in on the vogue for Beach Party and Teen Monster flicks.  The result is an abomination that makes The Horror of Party Beach look like The Creature From the Black Lagoon.  (If Hall's name sounds familiar, you may know him as Dorothy Lamour's beefcake paramour in 1937's The Hurricane.  That proved to be Hall's professional peak, and from there he took his John Agar-sized acting talent on a long, slow toboggan ride to obscurity.  His career climaxed with the title role of Ramar of the Jungle, a 1952-54 syndicated series which, if you ever happened to catch one of the episodes where Hall took off his shirt, might more accurately have been titled Man-Boobs of the Backlot.)

The entree is Jack Hill's cult classic Spider Baby (1964), which features one of Lon Chaney, Jr.'s last (and oddly, least drunken) performances, and which, if seen without proper protective gear, will warp your brain like a bra in a dryer.  This is a rich slab of hot-buttered What the Fuckery, and it inspires Mike and Ike to some of their best work (although I take issue with a few of their satirical jibes, particularly about Mantan Moreland, who I think deserves credit for invariably rising about the thin and demeaning material he was given, even in the Monogram Charlie Chan films).

Those caveats aside, my only real complaint is with their decision to let the cartoon unspool without any commentary from the boys, because it doesn't really set you up for what's to come.  But I'm a sucker for these forbidden and forgotten film curios, so it's a minor lapse. Overall, I found the Grindhouse funny and entertaining, and I give it 5 out of 5 Racist Minstrel Pigs.

Mike and Ike's Grindhouse, Volume I is available from Geekplanetonline as "a DRM-free download, provided as a thank you gift in exchange for a $10USD donation."  All three featured films are in black-and-white.  Running time is approximately 84 minutes.  Joe Bob says check it out.


Anonymous said...

"I hear that Kristy McNichol is a lesbian!"

And with that new knowledge, my childhood is officially dead.

trashfire said...

Early 90s, bought a cartoon collection on a VHS tape (remember those?) from a supermarket bargain bin, all public-domain stuff, one of the segments dating from many decades ago, a "Showboat" style piece with every conceivable black stereotype on parade, when it came on I would have been less mortified if they'd stuck some hardcore porn in there for my kids to watch, but I was able to use it as a sort of "teaching moment" about (1) it's a good thing you can't attack people like that on TV nowadays; (2) these VHS tapes are so flimsy you can't even watch them a second time, I wonder what happened....

Mike and Ike said...

Wow. Thank ya for the kind words, good sir. (We were a little worried after our check bounced).
I still maintain, however, that except for his name, we were not bashin' Moreland as much as we were bashin' the stereotype he was forced inta.
And no, we didn't want the cartoon ta prepare anyone for what is ta come ;) That bein' said, we will be commentaRIFFin' on the cartoon in Volume 2.
Thanks again, man. Means a lot comin' from you!

Stacia said...

I have seen that cartoon. I have boggled and been infuriated and then sad, so very sad, because of that cartoon. Still, I'm probably going to dig into Grindhouse because I've been meaning to get into M&I for a long time. Yeah, I suck, don't waste your breath 'cuz I already know.

Anonymous said...

Are Mike & Ike using AssJam to produce their candies ?

Anntichrist S. Coulter said...

Just droppin' by to say that I R not ded. My phone & ISP were slaughtered b/c some drunk drove into a transformer or whatever in the fuck that AT&T calls their big green boxes that look like the ones that run the red lights, and I was without phone and ISP until tonight. So if anybody tried to holler at me and fell into a black hole, it wasn't 'cause I didn't pay the bill!

Ackshually, THEY owe ME money, having overcharged me every fucking month since I returned to NOLA. Just can't get the pigs to put it in WRITING yet.

And please, if y'all can, cross yer fingers that I can get the fuck OUT of Desire, 'cause I cannot FATHOM the concept of being trapped here for another YEAR, let alone signing another fucking LEASE with these psycho-cunt racist stalker whores!!!!!!

Damned shame when the OTHER "most dangerous" projects in town won't even let me get onto the damned WAITING LISTS, ain't it? Just saw body bags #7 & #8 night before last, less than 100 feet from my front porch, in front of the SAME FUCKING DRUG-DEALING HOUSE where most of this year's homicides have happened. 16 in Desire this year, and all of 'em within a block or two of my apartment.

Why they hadda spare ME and make me survive another day in this hellhole, I have no idea, I just know that I was a bad, bad person in my last life...

And on THAT cheerful note, I'M BAAAAAAAACCCCCCKKKKK!!!!!!