The room was dark, or at least that’s how it returns to me in my dreams. The lounge was in the center of the house, so the only light that entered was through a hallway door which often times was shrouded by a deep-green curtain. It was my father who pushed the curtain open this day, three summers and a thousand years ago. He was a giant to me then, but so were all the people in my world. A lumbering, hairy giant with sun-browned skin and hulking features; yet his smile was soothing, and as he entered the lounge carrying two boxes, that smile dominated his face. That smile was directed at me.
He placed both boxes down atop the television set and then disappeared behind it for several minutes. When he re-emerged he took the second box, the smaller of the two, and placed it into a slot, that opened at the push of a button, in the top of the larger box. Then he turned on the television set. The customary snow filled the screen momentarily and then came a flickering. My father fiddled with the big knobs on the front of the set and slowly there came an image, slowly there came sound, slowly there came magic. My life was changed forever.
VHS – come on, you remember. Think back to the films of your youth. Those glorious moments you could stop and rewind and watch over and over again. If you were one of those kids like me that watched 5 videos plus a night, when the rest of the house was in darkness and only creatures stirring were those comprised of cinematic genius and burger grease; those that had no life, except on the small screen in front of me that was a constant, was always waiting to drench my imagination with swords, laser blasters and maniac cops. I came to worship at this alter nightly and then there was the experience of wandering those video stores. Those gigantic basilicas of celluloid splendor; 15, 20,000, 30,000 titles wide. A bold new world I walked into bravely – never came out of really. There are times I feel that I am still wondering among those vast aisles. All those covers curious, strange and ultimately alluring; their siren song still sings to me, on nights when the stars are bright and the wind blows feint whispers and I am alone again . . . watching movies.
But something has changed; as King once wrote: ‘the world has moved on.’ The garden-variety flick experience today is bright and shining and biodegradable. Multi-billion-dollar behemoths or should I say, bottle rockets, that fly high, explode brilliantly and colorfully, and then vanish. Where have all the good films gone, as the Lizard King once put it: “where are the fruits we were promised, where’s the new wine – dying on the vine.” And die they do, in spectacular mutli-million dollars funerals like The Matrix Reloaded and Jupiter Ascending . . . but that’s another story.
I am here to talk about some of the movies I love, movies that they stayed with me, movies I rented so often the dude at the store eventually gave them to me cause well, and I quote:
VIDEO STORE DUDE
. . . No one can love these flicks
like you, you need them more than we do.
Thus I bring to your attention four films that have been featured on several crap film lists or in worst movies of all time articles. These are the movies I dig – and if you don’t, then you haven’t lived.
These four titles came out between 1979 and 1985. They all have bigger, more expensive A-list brothers, but that is not the point. These are prime examples of the glory days of VHS; and you never truly know it when you are living in a golden age. We did, we lived through it. (I’ll attempt to go spoiler free)
Superhero flicks are a common staple in our lives and they are progressively getting worse. Guardians of the Galaxy excluded, liked that one. But in 1979 a hero that rose in Spain in the wake of Donner’s Superman captured my pre-adolescent attention. He was Supersonic Man;and the race the spawned him must have caught wind that this crazy fucker-of-a-scientist, played beautifully by Cameron Mitchel (star of some of my other favorites like Flight to Mars, Space Mutiny and Demon Cop) as Dr. Gulik, has plans to blow the earth to shit. So they send Supersonic down and give him a magic watch that helps him transform from his hilariously dubbed alter ego Paul. Paul meets Patricia, isn’t that beautiful. Her dad Prof. Morgan has been hoodwinked into working for Gulik and tries to get wise but then Gulik starts to use his daughter as a pawn to see that his evil plans are seen through to fruition. Of course Paul is no ordinary smart-casually dressed cat that is loitering around trying to make a nuisance of himself. He is an interstellar hero in disguise. It is full of funky-funny flying footage, unintentionally funny reactions to bad situations, and a recurring drunk character for comic relief with his little dog, Sugar. Comedy, that’s what they want. Laughter and a bit with a dog. Great beer and pizza movie.
Now we jump into one of my favorite fantasy films. And what I ask you is better than a fantasy film? Well one with Reb Brown in it of course. Reb, in case you haven’t heard of him, was the first Captain America and went on to star in Space Mutiny (yes that is a glorious experience), Uncommon Valour and the film of the hour, Yor: The Hunter from the Future. This came out in ’83 and I am proud to report I still have my VHS copy. From its funky theme music to its cast of sexy-creepy-stupid characters, Yor (Brown) is running around in his best loin-cloth and happens upon a father and daughter being lovingly harassed by a triceratops. And it’s all downhill from there. Everywhere Yor goes he is like the angel of death, bringing with him the ravages of destruction and annihilation to just about every place he wonders into; from a seemingly prehistoric village, to the land of the sand people, to the peace-loving folk by the sea and finally to a futuristic fortress on a mythical island. Yor is searching for who he really is and all he has to go by is a gold medallion which every thinks is pretty cool. He fights and beats dinosaurs, really hairy cave dudes, big lizards, sand men, robots and finally the evil overlord (who killed his old man on the island fortress cause he started a coup d’état.) Turns out he saved his son (Yor), by sending him to Prehistoric Forest. Oh, I can here you drooling.
Time now for a fantasy mash up and one I am so relieved I was able to find and replace my dead video copy – yes this is available on DVD – it’s called Star Knight (or Knight of the Dragon.) Leonard Maltin gave this a bad review, to which I say, FUCK LEONARD MALTIN! This is cinematic cannabis. You’ve got Klaus Kinski (how can you not love that guy), Fernando Rey (you might have seen him in the French Connection as Frog #1 and 1492) and Harvey Keitel, yes I’ll say it again for the hearing impaired, Harvey (I’m a pretentious acting cock) Keitel, the only knight in shining armor with a Brooklyn accent. So the story goes: A beautiful princess is captured by what folks believe to be a dragon but it turns out it is a UFO and the due flying it, played by Miguel Bose (who was a very popular Spanish pop-star in his day) as IX. Trust me when I say he is the quiet type and literally communicates via symphonic chimes. Anyway Klever, or should I say Sir Klever (Keitel) who wants to get under the princesses robes sets out to slay the dragon/UFO. Everybody is dubbed but for Keitel and Rey, even Kinski (who speaks English, though it does add a few laughs) and this again adds to the film’s charm.
I saw a shitload of great flicks in ’85 but this is the one I remember. It is wonderful, from the intentionally and the unintentionally funny segments and that’s not including the comic relief in the form of the Green Knight ( and I’m not talking about Sean Connery from Sword of the Valiant.) Like I said (no spoilers) this is available on DVD, what are you waiting for?
Finally, and I never left the video shop without one, a purely science fiction entry. It just so happens that (God, I love her) my beautiful wife found a copy of it on DVD for me, the 1979 classic from Italy (yes STARCRASH is one of them) L’umanoide, or as you may have heard of it: The Humanoid. This has three James Bond performers in the cast, most notably two from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker: personified by Barbara Bach (Mrs. Ringo Starr) and the late/great Richard Kiel. Big Rich was also in Moonraker as the assassin JAWS alongside another character from The Humanoid, Barbara Gibson played by Corinne Clery who was famously savaged by dogs for dropping company secrets on the pillow with Roger Moore. On a side note she was also Ka-Laa in Yor, small world aint it. The story focuses on an evil space Lady Agatha (Bach) who finds herself needing to stay young by draining the life out of other young ladies via a very painful looking needle-bed-thing (you’ll just have to watch it). She’s all buddy-buddy Lord Graal who wants to seize control of planet Metropolis from his brother. They stage a massacre from which Gibson (Clery) escapes, so they capture Kiel, turn him into a mindless automaton to bring her in so she can be subjected to the needle-bed-thing, supervised be the so-cruel-I-shouldn’t-have-a-licence-to-practice-medicine Dr. Kraspin. Gibson is aided by Nick, the telepathic Tom Tom, this little Asian kid who has laser-archer-dudes, dressed predominantly in white, watching his back.
Big Rich nearly completes the evil dude’s mission until Tom Tom helps undo their mental tempering and thus ‘The Humaniod’ is back on the side of good, helping defeat the nefarious Graal and joining his friends in a victory dance before Tom Tom has to go bush with the laser-archer-dudes back to his digs in galaxy far far away. Sniff-sniff. I’m sorry, it’s just so magnificent, I hope you get a chance to check it out. Come round to my house – we’ll watch it with Pepsi and chips.
So as the credits are rolling, I think back to that day in that dark lounge room and how a piece of me still lingers there, locked in silence and wonder. The air about me is eclipsed by electricity and magic, my mind leaves my body and I dance among the manufactured dreams of low-budget masters who didn’t need motion-capture and CGI to still my beating heart, ignite the flames of creativity deep within my being which sent me off on the quest, a quest that I am still on to this day, the quest to manifest my dreams. Kermit the Frog sang about it. His dream was about singing and dancing and making people happy, that kinda dream gets better the more people you share it with. My quest goes ever onward, but I have met some like-minded warriors along the way. We have come together recently to compose a trilogy that harkens back to the VHS days of yore. So if these films here mentioned and the millions of others like them are part and parcel of the spark which catches a fire and sends you off into ever-greater heights of dreaming, then you really ought to check them out. And these books to if you dig a celebration of B movies.
And above all, happy viewing. Be kind, rewind.
THE DUDE IN THE AUDIENCE