1. Isle of the Damned (2008). Parody is tough, especially when it’s feature-length, but director Mark Colegrove and writer Mark Leake do an admirable job spoofing the Italian cannibal vomitoriums of the 1980s in this extremely low-budget but inspired sendup.
Of course, it has the classic cannibal movie plot—an American detective travels to the remote jungle with his impressionable young son to search for the lost treasure of Marco Polo, and they encounter flesh-eating cannibals along the way.
The cast is game, and everyone speaks in wildly out-of-synch English-language dubbing. There are hilarious inserts of unrelated wildlife footage and recreations of all the atrocities the discriminating viewer demands in this genre: consumption of flesh (and other things), castration, twisted sex…
The filmmakers made a smart decision in pulling no punches. The revolting scenes are delightfully full-blooded, and their cheapness only adds to the sleazy fun. The creators and actors all hide behind hilarious Italian pseudonyms during the opening credits and the Eurotrash drop-needle music by Paul Joyce is spot-on. And it was even banned in 482 countries (there are actually only 196).
It’s set up as a “found footage” movie like 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust (whose full-body piking is reenacted here), and the obviously fake wigs and facial hair are a scream. Most importantly, it does a pretty dang good job of keeping the laughs coming for 85 minutes. A must-see for lovers of the genre.
2. The Manson Family (2003). I’ve been a fan of cinematic madman Jim VanBebber since my mind was blown by 1994’s My Sweet Satan. I’d been reading about his Manson movie for years, so I was stoked to see that Dark Sky Films had finally released it on DVD.
This is VanBebber’s epic (taking 15 long years to complete), chronicling the years Charlie assembled his family and turned them on to murder. Packed with sex and blood, it’s an extreme indictment of how Manson turned the “summer of love” into the “summer of shit.” Cutting frenetically between contemporary interviews with the Family (in 1996) and scratchy, super 8mm-looking footage from the late 1960s, its techniques compare favorably to the films of Kenneth Anger. VanBebber himself plays Bobby Beausoleil in the film, literally baring everything for the camera.
It’s gut-wrenching and polarizing, to be sure. Even Roger Ebert gave it his hesitant admiration. It’s available in a DVD box set with other VanBebber films from Dark Sky and comes with a lot of great extras, including his short films and music videos.
3. Andy Warhol’s Bad (1977). When I ran the film program in college, I booked a number of cult hits to attract the hip university crowd, including Argento’s Suspiria, Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards and this slice of strangeness from the Warhol factory. Much more polished than Paul Morrissey’s earlier films, Bad was directed by former editor Jed Johnson and boasts a professional cast that includes Carroll Baker, Perry King, Susan Tyrrell and Suspiria‘s own Stefania Casini.
Baker plays Hazel Aiken, a woman with two home businesses—electrolysis and murder-for-hire. Beginning her career as a “Hollywood blond,” she worked in big studio productions, but she moved to Europe in the mid-sixties and started making sordid potboilers for Italian directors.
Bad was her first American film in years, and she’s hilarious as a combination of June Cleaver and Al Capone. The way she orders everyone in her life around with a pronounced lack of enthusiasm is a scream. Tyrrell plays her frumpy daughter-in-law, Mary, perpetually lugging an incredibly ugly baby around. Tyrrell was really a very striking woman — I met her when she was doing her “My Rotten Life” stage show in L.A.—so it’s hilarious to see her looking so awful.
Hazel’s gang of assassins is an all-woman crew, but when L.T. (King) comes to her in search of work, she reluctantly takes him on, but he’s hesitant to complete his first assignment — killing an autistic child.
Bad plays like a John Waters film but without Waters’ sunny disposition. Most all of these characters are cynical and hardened by life. Tyrrell’s Mary is probably the most innocent one in the bunch, but she’s also a self-pitying simpleton. It’s a very cynical portrait of urban life, but the dark humor still comes through thanks to some intentionally ridiculous deaths and jet-black dialogue, mostly delivered by Baker.
The scene the film is most famous for occurs when a young mother, trying to talk on the telephone while her baby screams in its crib, picks it up and hurls it out the window and it smashes on the street below, splashing passersby with blood. A mother hurrying by with her child says, “That’s what I’m going to do to you if you don’t shut up!”
Director Johnson was first hired to sweep the floors at Warhol’s Factory, but soon moved in with the artist and became his lover. Bad was the only film he directed. He died in the explosion of TWA Flight 800 in 1996.
4. Motorama (1991). It’s a rare occurrence when a film is made with an intentional camp/cult aspect built in that actually works (John Waters excepted, of course), but Motorama succeeds. It’s strange, hilarious and packed with guest appearances by a cavalcade of cult stars.
Gus (Jordan Christopher Michael) is a 10-year-old who is sick of his parents’ abuse, so he steals his father’s cherry-red Mustang and traverses the country playing a gas station card game called Motorama, trying to collect the pieces needed to spell out the name and win $500 million. On the way, he meets an assortment of strange people who for some reason treat him as if he’s an adult and treat him accordingly. He’s forcibly tattooed and one of his eyes is poked out, but nothing can stop him in his quest to collect all of the Motorama cards.
This quirky film is virtually a Psychotronic encyclopedia of cult cameos—Susan Tyrrell, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, Meat Loaf, Mary (Eating Raoul) Woronov, Jack (Eraserhead) Nance, Garrett Morris, Corman fave Dick Miller…the list is pretty substantial. Drew Barrymore shows up as the “fantasy girl,” and the late Alexis Arquette worked as a storyboard artist!
Screenwriter Joseph Minion is no stranger to strange—he wrote the Nicholas Cage starrer Vampire’s Kiss and Martin Scorsese’s urban nightmare After Hours. Motorama is lighter and brighter…a 90-minute cinematic joyride.