Garrett Harris 10:11 p.m., May 23
DVDs to watch on Halloween - the good, the bad, and the better than you'd think
The oh-so-weird 1973 psycho killer film Wicked Wicked takes place at the historic (and reportedly haunted) Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, set up in the flick to be a somewhat seedy residential hotel.
Almost the whole movie is done in split-screen, a mildly innovative device introduced at the time as "Duo-Vision."
Not like the TV show 24 where they show different things happening at the same time — instead, the second screen illustrates backstory and foreshadowing with flashbacks, internal thoughts, and just weird little bits of the story.
For example: on one screen, a creepy guy is telling a girl that he studied chemistry -- the "flipside" screen shows his childhood persona reading a book on embalming, and then being punished for his weirdness.
The story revolves around kinky peeping tom fetishes, while the music is all soap-opera organ (we even see the old guy playing it on occasion, looking for all the world like Six Flags' spastic dancing senior!). The script can't seem to decide whether its spoofing or emulating low-budget mystery/slasher movies, but it's very well played.
(Tiffany Bolling VS Paper Bag Face)
To be honest, I never heard of Wicked Wicked before I stumbled across on TV -- I just saw the Hotel Del in the opening shots, and ended up staying on the channel. Such a very offbeat little flick -- I had to stop what I was doing so I could watch closely and absorb the two different POVs running side by side.
Aside from some interesting storytelling, it's a love letter to the Hotel Del -- a bunch of exterior shots, from different angles, plus the Crown Room, the west bell lobby, the beachfront and fountain pools, and a lot of lengthy interior hall shots that sure look like the Hotel itself.
The Wicked Wicked theme song is still stuck in my head -- it's performed on stage two and a half times, plus it runs over the credits. A schmaltzy James Bond lounge affair, the girl singer kind of gargles the lyrics, but in a creepy cool way that I think may have been intentional parody (she may have been doing Sammy Davis Jr.).
Just an odd, interesting little film. If you're a curious Tom who wants to give it a peep, it's available on DVD.
IMDB synopsis: Hazel (Carol Baker) runs a beauty salon out of her house, but makes extra money by providing ruthless women to do hit jobs. K.T. is a parasite, and contacts Hazel looking for work when he runs out of money. She is reluctant to use him for a hit, since she prefers using women, but decides to try him on a trial basis. Meanwhile, the local cop she pays off wants an arrest to make it look like he's actually doing his job, but she doesn't want to sacrifice any of her "associates." Several other side plots are woven in, populated with characters from the sleazy side of life.
Movies don't get much badder than Andy Warhol's Bad, from 1977. Yikes! Felt like I needed a shower when it was done.
It reminded me a bit of early John Waters, but with more bitter and less sweet. I almost turned it off a few times; I especially can't handle violence against animals, but then I'd catch some of the great Mike Bloomfield music, or hear a great line of dialogue, and decide to stick it out.
I've seen Carroll Baker from the original Lolita get pretty scuzzy in other movies late in her career, but this one was a shocker. And what a trip to see Susan Tyrell, who I just recently watched in the early Oingo Boingo brothers cult flick Forbidden Zone, as the lone "good guy" in the whole flick.
[Spoiler alert] Well, at least until she drops her mongoloid baby in shock from finding Baker's corpse.
I think I get what the movie is saying RE rampant (& seemingly contagious) immorality overtaking both decency and sanity, especially circa '77 NYC (a cesspool indeed). However, I find like-minded movies such as Jules Feiffer's Little Murders, the anti-Hollywood Day of the Locust, those cynical Death Wish and Magnum Force/Dirty Harry movies, and even The Warriors were far less abhorrent (and less aberrant) in the way they portrayed the psycho decline of both civility and civilization.
THE BETTER THAN YOU'D THINK
Queen of the Damned -- you know, the Anne Rice/vampire flick that DOESN'T have Tom Cruise OR Brad Pitt -- surprised me. It's got a lot of flaws - but it's not at all a horrible movie. It messed with and compressed/redid the Anne Rice novels so much that few people seem to like it - but I think if you go into without expecting it to be Anne Rice's Lestat, but rather a story loosely "inspired by" her books, it's a decent little goth movie.
Particularly the fully-realized music and the accompanying music videos, seen only in flashes during the movie but included on the DVD in their entirety, all framed ala German expressionism and surreal. They're all very Nosferatu/Doctor Caligari silent movie-inspired, by guys from Korn, Static X, Oingo Boingo, and even Marilyn Manson (who has one great album, Mechanical Animals, his Ziggy Stardust glam tribute/ripoff).
The whole vampire-goes-high-tech subtheme is intriguing, especially Lestat calling out his fellow vampires on the giant Times Square diamondvision screen ("Come out, come out, wherever you are"), and Lestat laying down inside a huge satellite dish and absorbing the entire world as it streams digitally and directly to his brain.
Some of the director's alterations from the two Rice novels the movie is based on (Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned) are actually improvements - such as keeping Lestat's debut concert to a one-time affair, thus explaining why the other vamps never went after him at other concerts (a vexing plothole in the Lestat novel).
On the other hand, transforming female lead Jesse from a savvy vampire hunter and historical archivist with insider insight into a mere "Bite me, baby, one more time" groupie is among the filmmaker's WORST moves - eccch. Even if the actress playing Jesse is quite fetching (Marquerite Moreau, also seen in the highly underrated remake of Bedazzled).
The DVD's deleted scene showing the other Ancient Ones, as they gather to plot against the Queen SHOULD have been kept, as it provides all the motive behind the anti-Queen backlash acted out by present day-to-day vamps.
I especially loved the Ancient Ones walking freely thru a goth concert, looking around incredulously and commenting "Ancient Rome had nothing on these people!" Why - oh - why was that cut???
An improvement over the books -- having the big concert outdoors in the desert in a remote and isolated Burning Man-style gathering is FAR better than Rice's dinky little indoor concert hall melee. Visually, the ensuing onstage battles need to be matched by the epic size and scope of the event locale, so the movie version is much more dynamic, and really more correct and apropos than in the novel.
The remote concert locale also goes a long way toward explaining how vampires can suddenly "out" themselves and their powers all over the stage, without a worldwide audience immediately finding out all about the head undead (UnDeadheads?) coming out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
Stuart Townsend as Lestat deserves at least modest praise. While no Tom Cruise, he's a lot better than you'd expect, and certainly believable as a rock star.
As surprisingly dynamic as Cruise was in Interview/Vampire, there's no WAY he could have done the rock star turn without making everyone laugh, remembering his iconic/moronic tightie whitey dance from Risky Business!
For another "Better Than You'd Think" selection suitable for Halloween, see my review of Tim Burton's Dark Shadows reboot, which I approached as a gen-you-wine fanatical devotee of the original TV series - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
"Field Of Screens" -- Cover story 7-6-06: Complete theater-by-theater history of San Diego drive-ins thru the years, including interviews with operators and attendees, dozens of rare and unpublished photos, vintage local theater ads, and more. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
"Before It Was The Gaslamp: Balboa's Last Stand" -- Cover story 6-21-07: In the late 70s/early 80s, I worked at downtown San Diego's grindhouse all-night movie theaters. This detailed feature recalls those dayz, the death of the Balboa Theatre, etc., including interviews with operators, vintage local movie ads, and more. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
"Pussycat Theaters: When 'Cathouses Ruled California" -- for the first time, the inside story of the west coast Pussycat Theater chain of adult moviehouses, which peaked in the '70s but later died out. Company head Vince Miranda owned and lived part time at the Hotel San Diego, operating several other local theaters downtown and in Oceanside, Escondido, etc. Told by those who actually ran the theaters, with a complete theater-by-theater encyclopedia covering every Pussycat that ever screened in CA -- http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...