Friday, November 20, 2020

Flowers in the Attic (1987)

 I see from Twitter that this is an auspicious occasion for fans of campy acting choices:

And if there's one film full of performances that cry out to be boned, pressed, and packed in water like Danish ham, it's this adaptation of the V.C. Andrews novel. So for those who may have missed it, here's Bill S.'s gentle but thorough colonoscopic survey.

Flowers in the Attic, Bats in the Belfry

By Bill S.

Last week, in celebration of Mother's Day, I offered up my annual list of Bad Movie Moms. There are some movie depictions of bad motherhood that need more than just a paragraph or two, but require a column all to themselves. In compiling my list this year, I came across two such films, Flowers In the Attic (1987) and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! (1992). After careful consideration, I determined that if I were to sit through the latter a second time, I'd probably want to shoot myself (I might -- repeat, might -- consider it next year), so I opted for the former. I have to confess I hadn't watched it in over 20 years, but I recalled it featuring not one, but two awful moms, and that I gave it a one-star rating after viewing it. (I should explain: back in the '80's when our family had HBO, I used to watch as many movies as I could, then keep track of them in a notebook, assigning star ratings to them. I'm aware of how geeky that is, which is why I no longer do it.)

So I viewed it again, and it all came back to me, much like a bad lunch coming back up. This picture's not so much creepy as it is "cringy." It's based on a book, the first in a series following the same characters, by V.C. Andrews. I've never read it, or any of her work. Perhaps someone who has can tell me how best to rate the quality of her writing: A-Passable, B-Mediocre, C-Terrible or D-"Sweet Lordy Gordy, How Did the Editors Refrain From Gouging Out Their Eyes After the First Three Pages?" Ms. Andrews passed away before the movie was released into theaters, but was on the set during production, and even makes a cameo appearance as a servant washing an upstairs window. She was reportedly pleased with the script and the casting of Kristy Swanson* in the lead role, both of which makes me think whatever illness she succumbed to impaired her mental judgement.
This is the story of the Dollangangers, a family so blindingly blonde and Aryan they make the Von Trapps seem like Sly & the Family Stone. The mother, Corinne (Victoria Tenant), teens Cathy (Swanson), Christopher** (Jeb Stuart), and five-year-old twins Carrie and Cory, all lead a happy, idyllic life, while the dad, Christopher, Sr.(Marshall Colt) goes to work. Each time the father comes home, the kids greet him by hiding behind the couch, jumping up and yelling, "Surprise!"

Cathy is especially close to her father, who considers her his favorite, and, away from the other kids, gives her a Very Special Gift, a ceramic ballerina. We in the audience begin taking bets as to who's going to the smash the thing. Since we see Corinne peering in with envy, she's our first candidate.

On the dad's 36th birthday, the kids ready themselves, arguing about how many candles to put on the cake, when they hear a car outside and assume position behind the couch. But instead, two policemen greet Corinne, and inform her and the kids that the father's been killed in an auto accident. This really ruins the birthday party, and that's the least of their trouble, because they eventually begin running out of money and have to sell off their possessions, eventually losing their house. At no time does Corinne try to look for a job. Perhaps she's not qualified to do anything useful, which gives her a lot in common with the actress playing her.

The family packs up and hops on a bus. Corinne informs them they're going to her parents' home, a stately mansion known as Foxworth Hall. We learn that she comes from a wealthy family, but is estranged from her parents, because, she explains, many years ago, she did something that displeased her father, and was disinherited. But on the bright side, he's now so old and decrepit, he's likely to kick the bucket, and her plan is to win back his love and put her back in the will before he croaks. I can see no flaw in this plan. No, none at all.

Cathy is a bit more skeptical. She also feels her mother should have prepared the kids better for death. "She never allowed us to have a dog, or a kitten...if we had a pet and it died, we would have learned something about that." Yes, good parenting is giving your child a pet in the hopes it will die eventually. Hey, if she was really looking out for those kids, she'd have gotten them a cute, fluffy kitten, clubbed it over the head with a mallet in front of them, and explained, "Life is short. Get used to it." 

Finally, they all arrive at Foxworth Hall, a place so creepy and forboding, little Cory observes, "Witches in there, Mama. Witches and monsters." Maybe not, but the grounds do have a bunch of noisy hell hounds and a creepy butler named John. The children meet their grandmother, who's identified in the credits as "Grandmother", but I've learned is actually named Olivia, because V.C. Andrews ran out of "C" names, I guess. It may be said that Louise Fletcher***, who plays Olivia, displays the only thing approaching competence in this movie, though she's stuck playing a psycho biddy so cold and heartless she makes Nurse Ratched seem warm and cuddly.

Olivia leads the children to an upstairs room, explaining that they're to stay there at all times. She also instructs them to never speak, or even whimper, without her permission, then exits, locking the children inside. There are bars on the windows. The next morning, she brings them breakfast, then asks if the children know why their mother left 17 years ago, and when they inform her they don't she explains: "Your mother's marriage was unholy! A sacrilege! An abomination in the eyes of the Lord! She did not fall from Grace. She leapt -- into the arms of a man whose veins pulsed with the same blood as hers! Not a stranger, but her own uncle! And you, the children, are the devil's spawn! Evil from the moment of conception!" I'm guessing at this moment, that "World's Best Grandma" mug they were planning on giving her, won't go over well.
This shocking back story is a lot for the kids, and us, to absorb, and it's never addressed in any meaningful way in the movie. We can't imagine how or why it would happen, and the writers don't seem to give a shit about telling us anything. (I'm sure the book it's based on offers a perfectly ridiculous explanation.) Olivia concludes by telling them their grandfather must never know they exist.

Meanwhile, downstairs, Corinne takes her first step towards reconciliation with her father, a creepily ancient man (he looks like he could be her grandfather) with long fingernails, who lies in bed withering away, unable to rise. She stands before him and lowers her blouse. Her mother reaches for a whip. The camera, mercifully, cuts away to an exterior shot of the house and we hear the sound of a whip.
(Did I happen to mention that this is movie got a PG-13 rating? I guess someone decided a depiction of incest and sadomasochism was perfectly acceptable fare for kids in middle school.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Yor, Hunter From the Future (1983)

Yor, the Hunter from the Future (1983)

Directed by: Anthony M. Dawson

Written by:  Anthony M. Dawson and Robert D. Bailey, based on the graphic novel “Henga, el cazador” by Ray Collins & Juan Zanotto


Tagline: He was a powerful warrior from the future, trapped in a prehistoric land, battling for the survival of his people.


Let me get something off my chest right away.  “YOR HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE” has one of those shouty titles that seems to be trying a bit too hard to make me feel proprietary about the hero, the way sports franchises and local TV commercials do.  You know…”Your USC Trojans!” or “at Your Lincoln-Mercury Dealer” or “in Your Grocer’s Freezer.”  What I’m trying to say is, he’s not my hunter from the future.  Personally, I think he’s probably going to do some very stupid things, and I want it completely understood that I’m not responsible for him.


Director Dawson – actually a pseudonym for Italian filmmaker Antonio (Cannibal Apocalypse) Margheriti -- gets right down to business by opening up on a shot of the world’s largest sandstone penis.  While we’re still choking on that image, he abruptly slaps us in the face with the movie’s theme song (“Yor’s World”) which sounds like Kajagoogoo singing “Nature Boy” while being flogged with an extension cord by Giorgio Moroder.


Yor enters, dressed like the old Jack Kirby comic book character “Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth” – loincloth, crude axe, UGG boots, and the blond Prince Valiant look favored by the mascot for Dutch Boy Paints – and played by “Reb” Brown (at least, that’s what the Orthodox Jews call him).


Yor does a couple laps around the fossilized dildo, then exits, pursued by the credits.


A tribe of fur-wearing Neanderthals are lighting the Olympic torch, which seems like a risky pastime for folks who are each sporting about three pounds of crepe hair.  The Elder, who looks like a wizened and slightly confused Ted Neely, says, “Now be about your business.  Let this day be celebrated with feasting and hunting,” and while I wouldn’t presume to tell a barbarian his business, it seems like you might want to do the second thing first, or the feast is going to suck, and you’re going to have to hunt with a low blood sugar headache.


Out in the forest, Ka-Laa (Corinne Cléry, star of The Story of O, Moonraker, and the 1976 Ernest Borgnine sex romp Holiday Hookers) is already being about her business, getting mentored in bush-lore by Paleo-Jack Elam, who’s wearing an off-the-shoulder bear skin that accentuates his armpit hair and man-boobs.  They catch a tiny plush toy stegosaurus, but just then its mother shows up and gores Paleo-Jack, forcing Ka-Laa to attempt a facial expression.


Nearby, Yor pauses to cock an ear.  As an experienced hunter from the future, he recognizes the enraged bellow of a charging Sid ‘N’ Marty Krofft puppet, and he rushes to join the battle. The mother dinosaur is sort of a mash-up between Gamera and a Chinese New Years dragon, and it quickly becomes clear the thing is made from paper mache when our hero hits it with his axe and the head breaks open like a piñata.  A geyser of blood spews into the air while Yor the Hunter gazes at his kill, wondering where Bite-Sized Snickers went.


Like Patrick Swayze in Red Dawn, Yor drinks the blood of his prey, and forces Ka-Laa to guzzle a handful too, because pick-up rituals haven’t yet evolved to the point where he can just buy her an Amstel Light.  P-Jack gets up and introduces himself, apparently none the worse for the goring.


The tribespeople are transfixed by Yor’s big gold medallion, claiming they’ve never seen anything like it before, although the idea that a bunch of Italians in the early 80s have never seen a beefy guy wearing a medallion is probably the funniest thing in this movie.  But it turns out the Elder knows a goddess on the other side of the mountain with similarly gaudy taste in jewelry, and offers to set up a play date.


The Tribe treats Yor to a feast that is rich in barbaric splendor, by which I mean they hand him an underdone brisket while a couple of middle-aged women put on smocks made of cargo netting and spin around like dreidels.  Yor waves his meat in the air and yells “Woo!” suggesting he prepared for the role by studying the lap-dance patrons at Bob’s Classy Lady on Sepulveda Boulevard.


Meanwhile, the music attracts some cave men, who were in the midst of following a Ron Perelman makeover in Sabertooth Tiger Beat!  If anything, these guys are even hairier – dripping with furs and sporting wigs taller than the B-52s.  They attack the village with clubs, but the Tribe has mastered stone axe technology; plus they have Yor in their side, and he’s super cut and knows how to karate-chop a troglodyte.  Our hero fiercely defends his new companions, until it starts to get hard, then he runs away.  


On the way out of town Yor grabs Ka-Laa and takes her to the cave where he grew up.  We expect they’ll throw off their leather thongs and make barbarian whoopee, but Yor just wants to talk, because he’s baffled by his accessories.


“It’s like a fire burning inside me,” he says, fingering his Mr. T-sized medallion.  “A question without an answer.”  Then he gazes off into the distance and waxes poetic.  “Am I the son of fire?  [Unintelligible] mother, father.”


This is the point where I really began to identify with Yor, because my class ring often made me wonder if I was the son of Earth, Wind and Fire, and entitled by birthright to a backstage pass when they played the San Manuel Indian Casino with Kool & The Gang.


The next morning, Yor and Ka-Laa meander until they get jumped by the Ron Perelmans, who proceed to kick Yor’s taut and frequently exposed ass.  The chief Ron Perelman (we’ll call him Captain Caveman) snatches away the medallion and gloats, “His power is now mine!”  Personally, I’d recommend seizing the power of someone who doesn’t habitually keel over ten seconds into a fight, but that’s just me.


The Perelmans throw Yor off a high cliff and he plunges, screaming, to his death, hitting the rocks below with a sickening thud.  Then they drag Ka-Laa back to their lair, because she was won in combat, and now rightfully belongs to them, although for tax purposes she’s legally owned by a shell corporation in the Caymans.


But Yor “doesn’t recognize their laws”, including, apparently, the law of gravity, so he stops being dead and climbs back up the cliff.  He’s met at the top by Paleo-Jack, who saw the battle but didn’t have time to intervene, because Yor hit the ground faster than a pair of panties on Prom night.


They follow the Perelmans back to their cave, and Yor is just about to charge inside and kick ass, or get ass-kicked, when P-Jack points out “the Beast of the Night” soaring over head.  Yor shoots it with an arrow and the beast – a kite with the paper mache body of a moth – drifts gently to the ground.  He charges the wounded creature and pummels it with a rock, but still doesn’t find any Smarties or Twizzlers inside.


Meanwhile, Captain Caveman beats up all the other Perelmans for the right to party with Ka-Laa, but just before he reaches into his loincloth to release his homo erectus, the Kajagoogoo Boy’s Choir bursts out with a triumphant chorus of “Yor’s World,” while our hero hang-glides across the cave, using the corpse of the paper mache moth.


Yor floods the cave somehow, drowning the Ron Perelmans, then he takes Ka-Laa and Paleo-Jack to Penis National Park, which looks a little like a John Ford film, if the tall and craggy formations that loomed over John Wayne in Stagecoachand The Searchers had been ribbed for his pleasure.


Yor kisses Ka-Laa good-bye, leaving her and P-Jack behind as he goes off to find the goddess with the matching commemorative pendant.  He wanders through the cock rocks for awhile, until he’s jumped by mud-smeared savages brandishing large, flaming barbecue forks.


Yor snaps into action, spinning on his heel and running away so fast you expect to hear “Yakety Sax” as he shrinks into the distance.  But the savages had apparently just returned from a road trip to Wisconsin, and they throw a crapload of firecrackers at him.   Yor has a panic attack; then the Mud Dudes gently drape a fishing net over him, and our hero just sort of lays there like a Ken doll under a doily, proving that he’s not exactly the Deadliest Catch.


They drag him into a cave (approximately 71% of this movie takes place in caves, part of a filmmaking incentive program called “Clunkers for Spelunkers”) and we meet Yor’s even blonder female doppleganger, Miss Clairol, who’s rocking a beige cape and a one-piece rawhide swimsuit, and whose strong, rugged features answer the question “What would Yor look like as a cross-dresser?”  They fondle each other’s medallions, then Yor is overcome by a fit of Aryan glee and rhapsodizes, “Now you’re living proof that we represent a race!”  He suggests they run off to find their bleached people and breed some Children of the Damned; alas, Miss Clairol serves as the Mud Dudes’ goddess and she’ll first have to submit a vacation request to the HR Department.


Yor says, “Either you release me.  Or you kill me.  Now.” 


Yor snatches a flaming sword that was just sitting there on the coffee table and starts flailing around with it, setting Miss Clairol’s followers on fire.  The goddess looks miffed, but before she can lodge a complaint, she’s cold-cocked by a falling stalactite.


For some reason, igniting the natives starts a seismic upheaval and the cave collapses, which makes perfect sense, as archeologists now know that the earthquake of 464 BC, which destroyed Sparta, was caused by a hoplite smoking in bed.  Yor hustles her outside.  Ka-Laa sees her man cradling a blonde floozy in a pemmican unitard and flies into a jealous rage, which she expresses in typical barbarian fashion by starting a Spanish moss collection.


Yor and his companions build a crude raft and light out for the Territories.  Along the way, Yor and femme-Yor wander off to be blonde together, and she says, “Do you know I have never belonged to another man,” which I guess is a roundabout way of confessing that she is a cross-dresser.  Then they kiss, and suddenly it’s all blonde on blonde.


Meanwhile, Ka-Laa is worried about Miss Clairol stealing her muscular pageboy-friend.  “That woman,” she frets, “is of the same race as Yor!”  Hell, honey, she’s of the same sex.  But Yor seems like a bit like Captain Jack Harkness – he’s from the future, and he’ll fuck anything.


Ka-Laa pulls a knife on her blonde rival, and the scene quickly escalates to a tomcat-fight, but they’re interrupted by Captain Caveman, who survived drowning because, while he can’t swim, his body lice can.


Yor attacks the Captain and his hairy men, and we get one of those fights you often see in 7-Eleven parking lots, with a lot of pushing, clinching, and the exchange of incoherent cuss words.  Meanwhile, Miss Clairol gets knocked unconscious again.  I swear, this woman is worse than Mannix.


She wakes up just in time to die, whispering to Yor, “You see?  Dreams…are only dreams,” suggesting that just before Captain Caveman delivered the fatal blow, he asked her, “Any last tautologies?”


Then she gets woozy and starts reciting Longfellow’s “Hiawatha,” finishing up with directions to the rest of Yor’s people, proving the old adage that if you can’t find your ancestral homeland, give your doppleganger a fatal head wound and it’ll turn them into Google Maps


They reach the Jersey Shore, where Ka-Laa wades around the surf in her fur boots until they’re soggy and gross, and Yor has to warn her not to drink the ocean because it’s salty.  Then some alarmingly nude kids are attacked by a large naugahyde dinosaur in a cave.  Yor leaps to their defense, and the giant lizard promptly kicks his ass, then licks him, just to be sassy about it.  Fortunately, P-Jack kills the monster with an arrow through the eye, but since he’s old and hairy and has man-boobs, everyone thanks Yor for saving them, and the kids’ dad offers up his nubile Eurasian daughter as a Thank You gift, sort of the Paleolithic version of the Sports Illustrated sneaker phone.


The villagers tell Yor that a god came to them in a metal bird, but they threw clubs at him and he exploded, leaving behind nothing but a speaker from a drive-in and the great smell of Brut.  Then the FX crew shoots the village with a laser and it blows up, and Ka-Laa cries out, ‘Oh my god!”  (Just the one?)


The drive-in speaker squawks out some military radio chatter, leading Yor to deduce that he should scream “Damn talking box!” and fling it across the cave.


The village is a smoldering ruin, most of its people are dead.  To thank Yor for protecting them, the survivors give him a boat that looks like a wicker laundry basket, and he sails off toward the setting sun, and his destiny.  Ten seconds later it gets a little choppy and he falls overboard, washing up on the shore of Coincidence Island.


Cut to the villain’s lair, where an Emperor Palpatine cosplayer is watching Yor, using the same crystal ball surveillance system the Wicked Witch of the West used to spy on Dorothy.  Palpatine points at a robot made from a Darth Vader helmet, the top half of a stormtrooper costume, and a pair of blousy harem pants, and intones menacingly, “The [unintelligible] must be analyzed!”


Storm Darthtrooper finds Yor, but before he can analyze the unintelligible, our hero knocks his head off with a rock.  But there are several other robots milling around, equipped with milk cartons on their forearms that emit bad special effects, and cause Yor to swoon.


Ka-Laa and Paleo-Jack, who, despite being savages who’d never seen the sea, did not fall off the boat, come ashore like normal people.  Palpatine sends his capri-wearing robots after them, but they’re dragged into a cave and rescued by Dr. Carlisle Cullen from the Twilight franchise.


Meanwhile, at Princeton‑Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, Yor is being given an MRI by a Breck Girl.  She downloads his complete browser history from his medallion, and finds out he’s a local boy whose real name is “Galahad” (you may commence snickering).  He’s also the son of the rebel “Asgard,” who was banished, apparently for being a crappy pilot, because ten seconds after leaving Peroxide Island, he crashed and died.  Somehow, Yor survived alone in the savage wilderness, living on dinosaur blood and piñata candy.


Dr. Cullen takes Ka-Laa and P-Jack to meet the rebels – survivors of a nuclear war --  who are basically the advanced humans from Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but without the gross skin condition.  Meanwhile, Yor sneaks out of the MRI machine while Palpatine is monologuing, hoping to escape before they discover he doesn’t have insurance.


Ka-Laa and Yor wander around until they meet up in that hall of mirrors from the climax of The Lady From Shanghai, except now it’s been accessorized with Tiki idols who are enormously proud of their vaginas.  


Yor takes Ka-Laa back to the MRI room, because he has a colonoscopy scheduled at 3:00, but then Palpatine teleports in and reveals his whole plan was to get Yor to bring a fertile woman to the island with whom Palpatine could mate.  In other words, the guy we’ve been watching this whole time isn’t even the hero of the movie, he’s just the villain’s wingman.


Palp explains there’s a breeding problem, because “many of us carried the germs of the radioactive fallout.”  I didn’t realize radiation was bacterial, but it’s nice to know you can survive global thermonuclear war if you just remember to stock up on Echinacea. 


Anyway, the whole thing ends up, as you knew it would, in a Wisconsin cheese factory, where everyone trots around the pipes and catwalks and shoots lasers at each other.  Even Paleo-Jack is wielding a pulse rifle with deadly accuracy, even though he doesn’t know what a toothbrush or a nit-comb is.  The Storm Darthtroopers are pretty easy to kill, but Palp has some even deadlier robots, which you can tell are more advanced because they’re equipped with those plastic neck cones that dogs have to wear after getting spayed.


The neutered bots don’t help, and Yor stabs Palp in the kidney with a barber pole, then blows up the cheese factory, and he and Ka-laa and P-Jack, and all the Cullens and Breck People fly off to the mainland to lord it over the stinky Neanderthals.


The End.

Hallmarked...for DEATH!

OPENING CREDITS: This is gonna be so much fun! Better take small sips, though! Heehee...

1st COMMERCIAL BREAK: (Can't remember cat's name)

2nd COMMERCIAL BREAK: (Alcohol toxemia sets in)

3rd COMMERCIAL BREAK: (Renal failure)

4th COMMERCIAL BREAK: (Liver attempts to escape by crawling out through anus)

5th COMMERCIAL BREAK: (Make ill-advised booty call to ex)

6th COMMERCIAL BREAK: (Clinical brain death)

7th COMMERCIAL BREAK: (Alcohol fumes expelled as death rattle spontaneously combusts, touching off explosion, flambéeing body, and carmelizing couch)