Sunday, December 30, 2007

Video Paradiso

"This is awesome," says Jason. "I can't believe one guy has so many shitty movies."

"Dave, I can't believe you brought over a whole box of crappy videos," adds Lee.

Meet Jason and Lee, two young brothers from Gaithersburg who know their shitty movies and their crappy videos. In fact, they seek them out. When I first met the engaging pair at a family gathering, they asked me whether I was familiar with the film Jack-O. My god, I thought -- that was the very first video I reviewed, oh so many years ago. It stars John Carradine as the "Judge of Hell," even though he'd been dead several years by the time his scenes were cut into the story to add "marquee value." Who would know of such a film?

Realizing that I was in the presence of genius, I made arrangements to share the Videocrity experience with them, and on a recent Friday the 13th, I grabbed as many tapes as would fill a large storage box and sped to their cozy suburban home for an evening of professional video viewing. Their mom had pizza waiting. Life is good.

"Wanna see what we've got?" asks Lee, eager to show off their own stash of important works. He produces a well-viewed copy of the original Rumpelstiltskin. This film is a touchstone of wonderful awfulness to the boys. They enthusiastically quote Max Grodenchik's insane dialogue often. "Did you notice Jason's shirt?" asks Lee. Jason displays his Jerry Springer T with a proud laugh.

After they demonstrate their latest Japanese N64 game, at which I totally suck, we get down to business. The big box o' tapes is set on the coffee table, and the brothers begin digging into it with feverish glee.

"Oh, he has PHANTASM [IV: OBLIVION]," says Jason. "We've got that one." Of course they do. "POINT BLANK, I think I've actually heard of that," says Lee of the Mickey Rourke actioner (Sterling; slogan: "They're the Most Dangerous Criminals in Texas. And They're Seriously Out of Control"). "Oh, God, Lee, look at this," says Jason, holding up the Talia Shire picture THE LANDLADY (Trimark) and reading the slogan: "Evil Doesn't Knock -- It Has the Key." "I dunno," says Lee.

Jason spots Michael Ironside on the cover of BLACKLIGHT (Peachtree; co-starring Tahnee Welch; slogan: "Her Darkness Was His Searchlight"). "This guy's from Total Recall. I just saw that again."

"Hey, J, why don't you turn off the 64," says Lee. The incessant video-game music was becoming a distraction to the important work at hand.

"I like Madchen Amick," Lee says, admiring the former Twin Peaks gamine emoting on the cover of WOUNDED (Paramount; slogan: "She Was a Woman Devastated by Loss. Frightened for Her Life. And Hungry for Revenge"). "She's hot. Career's not."

Another Michael Ironside tape pops up, CAPTIVE, co-starring Playmate Erika Eleniak. "Where's his career going?" Jason sadly wonders, putting the box aside.

Lee finds a chopsocky lode: "Oooh -- Chow Yun Fat," he says, examining HONG KONG 1941 (Tai Seng; slogan: "A Story of Love and Courage in a Time of War"). "LADY HUNTER, THUNDER all sounds generic. KICKBOXER'S TEARS...'English dubbed' -- oh, probably sucks."

But he quickly strikes gold, too: "ADDICTED TO MURDER 2: TAINTED BLOOD!" Lee cries with delight. "Omigod!" "Oh, yes!" agrees Jason, reading the slogan, "'You Are Who You Eat.' Yessir!"

"Omigod! Jason," interjects Lee. "Look at the film quality -- this looks like Feeders."

"Oh, man. I think we have to watch that one." It goes in the yes pile.

"Whoa, what is that?" says Lee, picking up BRAM STOKER'S THE MUMMY (A-Pix). "Louis Gossett Jr.?! Hahahaha. He's horrible, man. He was in all 12 of the Iron Eagle movies."

"TNT with Eric Roberts," suggests Jason. "Eric Roberts sucks," Lee explains, offering instead Dolph Lundgren and Roy Scheider in THE PEACEKEEPER (Trimark). "'Three Strikes, You're Dead.'" No takers.

"Oh, Lee...Lee," calls Jason, holding up a copy of the action flick DRIVE (A-Pix), starring Mark Dacascos and Kadeem Hardison.

"No," Lee answers solemnly. "I will not watch that."

Jason picks up THE COLONY (Trimark) and reads the slogan: "'The Enemy Is Forming, Let the Invasion Begin.' Oh, god." In the no pile.

"Oh, Patrick Dempsey, gimme a break," snorts Lee, examining THE ESCAPE. "This is from A-Pix, I know it." Actually, it's from Orion, but the mistake is understandable. These fellows do know their DTV labels. As the tapes scatter about, Jason calls out: "Oh, Lee, Lee! Look at that! Omigoodness." "That" is HELL'S BELLES. "Oooh -- what on Earth?" Lee says, taking the box and reading the copy. "'The Gates of Hell Are Open...Again! In the tradition of Evil Dead II.' I bet you that's bullshit. Well, let's hold on to Hell's Belles."

"Yeah," agrees Jason.

Noting that the tape is on the "Killer B's" label, Lee comments, "That might mean that these are trying to be B-movies. Anything that's trying to be bad usually is."

Jason tosses aside the Patrick Stewart vehicle DAD SAVAGE (Polygram; slogan: "A Tale of Untamed Revenge") in favor of MILO (Sterling). "Oh, I saw this in the video store," says Lee. 'Jason and Freddy Were Kids, Too,'" he reads from the box. It does not make the cut.

"Ken Shamrock!" Jason exclaims, holding aloft CHAMPIONS (A-Pix; slogan: The Ultimate the Death). Both brothers burst out laughing.

"Ken Shamrock is in Champions?" Lee gasps. "He's a wrestler in the WWF we see all the time," he explains, adding, "He's a horrendous actor."

Jason keeps digging. "MY BROTHER'S WAR (New Horizons)...this looks really 'dramatic.'" I point out that it stars Brolin pére et fils, James and Josh. That is, Mr. Barbra Streisand.

"Barbra Streisand's husband?" questions Lee. But interest dies as Jason points out CLUB VAMPIRE (New Horizons).

"Probably trying to be good," his brother scoffs.

"Jason, I think I've found a winner," says Lee, holding up THE TALISMAN (Full Moon; slogan: "Evil Never Dies").

"Oh, jeez," says Jason, unconvinced.

"What?!" Lee demands, then spots another candidate. "No, this is the winner -- TENDER FLESH. Look at that -- she's with, like, this mummy."

But there are so many winners. "Yessir, lookit that, Dave," says Lee, picking up THE CATCHER. "That's a winner," he says. "A killer baseball guy!" Checking the label, he notes to himself, "We have to look for Spectrum Films." Jason waves another box at his sibling, who recoils. "I won't watch PUPPETMASTER," says Lee.

"You won't?" prods Jason. "Well..."

"J, what do you think of THE CRIER?" Lee wants to know.

"Retarded." Jason stops rummaging for a moment. "God, this is so great, man. This is my dream come true of crappy movies."

"I've never seen so many shitty movies in one place before," says Lee reverently. Surveying the yes pile, Lee says, "I think this is the worst of what I've seen: The Catcher, Tender Flesh, and Addicted to Murder 2. And Pauly." The fates being with us, the new Pauly Shore video has arrived just that day. "I say we start out with those four. What do you say, Jason?"

"I don't know if I can hack that much."

"I can watch four shitty movies in a row," Lee says confidently. "How long can you stay, Dave?" I have nowhere to go.

"What do we watch first?" asks Lee. "I think we have to watch Pauly." Of course we have to watch Pauly. It's time to fire up the VCR.

Slogan: They've Got a Plan. Now They Just Need a Clue.

"Is there one that Mommy could watch?" Mom calls timidly down the stairs. We decide that this "A John Warren Film" starring Pauly Shore, Janine Turner, Ned Beatty, and Stephen Tobolowsky, with music by ex-Doobie Brother/Steely Dan guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter is safe enough. "Ah!" cries Mom at the first Pauly close-up. "Is this supposed to be a comedy? I haven't heard any laughs yet." It is a comedy in that it steals grossly from Woody Allen's masterpiece Take the Money and Run. But it also appears to be some kind of romance, with poor Janine straining mightily to conceal her horror at having to play the insipid Shore's love interest. It must be said that if he is to have a career at all, the direct-to-video market is where Mr. Shore belongs. Why he ever made theatrical films is a mystery. But his success in this field is also in question. It's not long at all before Lee says, "I'm already giving this the thumbs down." EJECT.

Spectrum Films
Slogan: Three Strikes...You're DEAD

"I like the box," says Jason. "It's translucent. Or some big word." "I just don't see how anything about baseball can be scary," Lee says. Well, this does star Joe Estevez, Emilio's uncle, as Lee is quick to spot. "That's an Estevez. Look at him." "Yeah," Jason agrees, "that's an Estevez." Just then, Mom comes down with some fresh soda. "Is that Martin Sheen with a bad haircut?" she asks. We explain the Estevez-Sheen family tree. As a very bad dad, Joe rates applause from the brothers when his kid beats him to death with a baseball bat. Then the film dissolves to a woman walking, and walking, down a hallway. Lee snorts, "Oh, Christ, a love interest." "She has an evil nose," observes Jason. When the lead appears, Lee says, "He looks like Ronnie James Dio," and brings out his Ronnie James Dio music video to prove it. "Will you help me with something for a minute?" Mom calls from upstairs. "No!" the brothers respond simultaneously. The film is a particularly confused Halloween "homage" set in a deserted baseball stadium. After a particularly ugly murder involving gross violation with a baseball bat, Lee says, "That is not cool. I didn't like that scene at all." "You know, this doesn't seem like it's going to end," Jason observes. But then Lee notes, "Oh, it has a story now." When Estevez appears later as some kind of ghost, Lee wonders, "Wouldn't it be great if his whole head came off?" Sadly, this is not to be. "That was messed up. Why didn't they have the music here? This is when they need the music," Lee says, properly annoyed at the untense plot. Still, when it's over, Jason admits, "I have to say, this is one of the better ones I've seen in a while." "Yeah," agrees Lee. "I'd even watch it again." PAUSE.

Brimstone Productions
Slogan: You Are Who You Eat...

"This looks like porno," notes Lee. "This is supposed to be a horror movie." Like porno, this "A Kevin J. Lindenmuth Film" about hip vampires in Manhattan was shot on videotape, which is cheap even by DTV standards. "We got this one called Feeders that looked just like this," Lee explains. "I'm so glad we found something just like Feeders. This is like watching regular people outside," he observes about the home-video production value. "It is," agrees Jason, adding, "I'd like to see Part 1." As stylish young New York City vampires ply their trade, Lee gets carried away. "This is awesome," he says. "No, Lee," counters Jason. "You're wrong." "She's going on a blind date," observes Lee. "That's what vampires do," explains Jason. "Do you think he's vampire food, J?" "I think we should watch another movie." "No, I'm into this." Suddenly, there's a competent effects shot. "I told you not to give up on this, J." But moments later, he is talking to the screen: "Give up on the plot already." "That cover looks much more professional than the film," says Lee, staring at the box. "And that's not saying much," adds Jason. "She had yellow teeth but white fangs," he points out. "They're trying so hard. It's like an epic on their part," says Lee. "I can't even tell what's happening anymore." "Do they ever send you good movies?" Jason wants to know. "Who's for quitting this and giving something else a try?" asks Lee. PAUSE.

Tai Seng
Slogan: To Avenge Her Brother's Death, She Must Face a Killer.

"This should have some action in it," says Lee. It should, being part of "Les Femmes Fatale [sic] Action Series" and starring Moon Lee. Lee's friend Ryan has joined us, but Jason is fading fast. He's had a tough week, and the endless kickboxing is not helping. Neither is the circa-1981 synth-pop soundtrack. After it becomes clear that we'll have to watch an entire kickboxing match before returning to whatever plot, Jason bids a fond adieu. "I want to know where the kickboxer's tears are," Lee demands, not unreasonably. And why do the villains in kung fu movies always look like Wayne Newton? "This is the type of movie Ryan would like," Lee says to his buddy. "You like that generic shit." But the genericness becomes oppressive. "Who's ready for Hell's Belles?" Lee asks. "This one's not going anywhere." EJECT.

Brimstone Productions
Slogan: The Gates of Hell Are Open...Again!

The same title effects as Addicted to Murder 2 reveal that this is another Kevin J. Lindenmuth film. And also shot on video. It supposedly concerns demons invading Earth and the demon hunters who try to stop them. This all takes place in a New York warehouse. "This is a big step up from the last movie," Lee notes. When a monster in a rubber fishhead mask appears, Lee exclaims, "That's what I'm talking about!" Later, he groans, "From this point on this movie has absolutely no chance of being serious." "Why not, Lee?" Ryan asks. "Because the hand was talking," Lee explains. But soon he's laughing again. "Yeah, see this is what I'm into -- heads coming out of the wall! Sorry Jason went to sleep. I can watch movies forever." Mom has brought a tray of chips and offers some trenchant analysis: "There's so much standing around and talking in this movie," she says. "At least she's beginning to act now," notes Lee of the lead actress. After some more Clive Barker-ishness, Ryan leaves to meet another buddy. Lee sighs, "I think we've given this movie way too much of a chance." "Yeah," agrees Mom. "I'm ready to throw food. I think we should watch something with an actual story." "I don't think I'm up to that," Lee protests. PAUSE.

Live Entertainment
Slogan: She Calls In. You Check Out.

This has an actual story and an actual budget, was shot on actual film, and features an actual star, Tracy Nelson, the reed-thin daughter of Ricky Nelson, granddaughter of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, and sister of twin rockers Gunnar and Matthew of the hair band Nelson. The pedigree cuts no mustard with Lee. "Her face is not pleasant to watch," he says. "She looks like Marilyn Manson." Yes, she is scarier when she smiles. But there's also fetching co-star and associate producer Shanna Reed, as a Dr. Laura-type radio host in whom Tracy takes a stalking interest after killing her mother. But there are no Dr. Laura-type flashes of flesh. Instead, this is a psychological thriller, as Tracy gets a job with Shanna's answering service, so that she may better stalk. This involves long conversations while on the clock. "I worked in customer service," Lee points out. "Let me tell you, that never happens." As Tracy goes more nuts, Lee grumbles, "This is really ill." "I like this one," protests Mom. "I'm getting sucked in." "It's not going to get any better, is it?" Lee wants to know, adding, "I'm not ready to give it up, though." So we sit. "This reminds me of a couple other movies," says Lee. "Kinda reminded me a little of The Stepfather." So we sit. "Time for the movie to end now," says Lee. When it finally does, Mom says, "I think my ending was better." I think it was, too, but I can't remember what it was. PAUSE.

It has been a long, but productive, evening. Depending, of course, on your definition of "productive." As I pack the tapes back into the box and thank everyone for their hospitality, Lee stretches and points to one of his own tapes on the table. "I have Citizen Kane to watch later."

Next month: Sisters are doing it for themselves.

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