My frequent collaborator C. Dennis Moore and I are doing weekly … or at least something approaching that… reviews of whatever one challenges the other to review that week. I’m the author of the novels Gray Lake and Death Sight,the first novel in my Will Castleton series. Dennis is the author of the novels Revelations and the Amazon #1 horror bestseller The Third Floor. His new novelsThe Ghosts of Mertland and The American Way just came out. Dennis has written more than 1,000 reviews, many of which are available in a series of books . I used to write reviews for the entertainment section of a large newspaper. Together Dennis and I have co-written a short novel called Band of Gypsies and the priced-to-sell $.99 full-length (80,000-word) story collection Terror Is Our Trade. Right now we’re working on a new Will Castleton novel called Return to Angel Hill, which combines my and Dennis’ series. Each week (or whatever) Dennis and I will post both our own and each other’s reviews of the subject at hand to our respective blogs – you can find Mr. Moore’s blog over here. Dennis chose this week’s review challenge: TRIP WITH THE TEACHER.

Buy TRIP WITH THE TEACHER at Amazon.

TRIP WITH THE TEACHER

by David Bain

One out of five stars

Ick.

That’s how I felt, watching the second half of this film.

ZalmanIt’s about some teenage girls in the seventies who are on a field trip when their bus breaks down. They encounter a trio of bikers, one good, one bad, one less bad, all of them stupid. The bad bikers, brothers and ex-cons,  aren’t going back to prison, man, but the girls have seen them behaving badly, so what’s a psycho to do but lock the girls up in a cabin and intimidate, harass, rape and murder them as they put up, meh, some resistance here and there when they’re not too busy being a sixth-grade boy’s idea of attractive high school girls – that last bit is as much a part of the ick factor as the rape and murder.

The thing actually starts out kind of promising, as far as B movies go. Zalman King (who went on to direct all sorts of sexy schlock like Two Moon Junction and Wild Orchid) stars as Al, the badder of the two bad biker bros, and he’s genuinely creepy, wearing thuggish, vaguely sci-fi wrap-around shades for the first third of the flick – imagine Bono with an even uglier mug, a giant(er) schnoz and black Robert Plant curls. King’s effectively loathsome, snickering to himself, acting all disaffected and, oh yeah, killing a good ol’ boy mechanic who didn’t like the bikers’ looks.

This last happens unbeknownst to the other bikers – but we, the audience say, “Ah-hah! This Al guy’s a crrrrazy stone killer!”

Adds suspense and whatnot.

Boo, hiss, bad Al!

So, fine, we’ve got our innocent damsels on the bus, talking about boys and school, and we’ve got some menacing types inevitably closing in on them, with a good biker thrown into the mix to potentially save them.

A perfect set-up for fun and tension.

So how could this turn out to be almost unwatchable?

Yes, it’s a B movie from the ‘70s, so you expect bad acting, stupid dialogue, dumb plot twists, second rate music and an obviously stoned cameraman. That’s part of what we came for. All that’s forgiven before the fact.

The problem with Trip with the Teacher is the girls, on a couple levels.

The first is their acting. They’re wooden, all of them. They deliver their lines as if programmed, as if there’s a teleprompter just off screen and they’ve never read the script.

But the main problem is the way the females are presented. No wonder their acting is wooden – the script and the filmmakers expect them to be nothing whatsoever but their age and their gender.

Watching ‘70s exploitation in our era, you can’t help but wonder what Tarantino would do with the same material. (I’m serious – just try to watch a forty year-old cheap movie without QT popping into your head. Can’t be done, I tells ya!)

So WWQTD? Well, for one thing, he’d give the girls something to work with – they’d each have a distinct personality. Oh, there’s something approaching a miniscule afterthought of effort in this direction – one’s a slut, one’s quiet, the older one’s a teacher and reads some stuff out loud from a pamphlet about where they’re going and reminds them how lucky they are for the experience, yadda, yadda.

But I’m sure there were other girls than these and I remember absolutely nothing about them.

So then, Al gets mean(er) once he has the girls in captivity. There are degredations galore. There are escape attempts resulting in merciless death, which the camera watches for way to long, just as there are rapes the camera doesn’t shy away from soon enough.

One could argue realism. Hell, it probably would go down something like this except for the women of wood and the moronic, predictable dues ex machina ending.

I’m not that squeamish when it comes to film. Nothing wrong with realistically portraying victimhood. Sometimes it sucks being a human and sometimes it sucks having a brain and blood and flesh and nerve endings. And every now and then a suspense or horror movie reminds us of this in a way we can’t deny or look away from. There are good movies which make anyone civilized cringe – a recent trip to the dentist reminded me of Marathon Man, for instance, and its legendary dental torture scene. I’ll vociferously defend that scene to any and all detractors.

But Trip with the Teacher was tough to watch because, first of all, Zalman King is no Laurence Olivier, but mostly because, while I did care that a woman was being humiliated, killed or raped, I wasn’t allowed to care about an actual person with achievements, aspirations, a life behind and possibly ahead of her.

And the teacher and surviving girls seem tearfully happy at the end of it all, hugging in the sunshine, apparently forgetting there are less of them now than when they set foot on the bus, wistfully wiping away the humiliations, the molestations, etc., along with a tear or two.

The problem with Trip with the Teacher is that the movie unintentionally sees its female cast the same way its antagonists do –weak, depersonalized, just waiting to be victims.

Anything else in the film – the motorcycle chases, the girls’ out-of-the-blue rescue … sigh, you’ve seen it before. Not particularly worth tuning in. The first twenty minutes or whatever are worth a look at King in those amazing shades, but after that Trip with the Teacher ’s nothing but trash and ickuninspired trash and not a good kind of ick.

Buy TRIP WITH THE TEACHER at Amazon

TRIP WITH THE TEACHER

by C. Dennis Moore

Three out of five stars

There are so many things about Earl Barton’s 1975 masterpiece TRIP WITH THE TEACHER that utterly confound me, that I don’t even know where to start.  Maybe with the plot.

Miss Tenny, a teacher, I’m assuming, has brought along four teenage girls, presumably four of her high school students, on a field trip to the middle of the desert to study Navajo ruins and whatnot.  They’ve rented a short bus with a goofy driver, Marvin, and are going to be gone for a couple of days. I know it was 1975, but the notion that just one teacher is in charge–even if it is only four students–with this slimy bus driver who is obviously a predator, out in the middle of nowhere, on a very small bus, for days at a time . . . I don’t think so.  That’s one permission slip that’s not getting signed.

Then there’s Jay Andrews, motorcycle enthusiast, who comes upon two other biker boys along the side of the road.  One of them, Pete, has a flat tire while Pete’s brother, Al, lounges on the ground by the side of the road to catch some zzzz’s.  Jay’s got a hot patch kit and a hand pump and he helps out his fellow aficionados, then offers to ride with them into town where Pete can get his tire fixed properly.  When Al wakes up before they take off his first comment is, “What’s he still doing here?”

That would be my cue.  See ya, Pete, good luck with your handful there.  But Jay’s a bit of a dim bulb, and is WAY too happy to be out on the road eating dust and bugs.

The bikers eventually run into the school bus and follow it to a gas station where the bikers flirt with the high school girls before the bus takes off again.  Meanwhile back at the station, Al kills the service station attendant who smarted off to him.  Jay and Pete don’t know what Al’s done, and the three hop back on their hogs (does a Kawasaki dirt bike qualify as a hog?), and hit the open road again.

Down the road, the bus has broken down.  Could be a clogged fuel line or a bad fuel pump.  Marvin the bus driver can’t fix it, but when the bikers arrive on the scene, maybe one of them can.  Pete offers to take a look while Al tries to make time with Bobbie, the slut of the group.  Pete admits he can’t fix the bus and Miss Tenny asks if they’ll call someone to come help them out once the guys get to the nearest town.  And this is where the movie really stops even trying to make sense.  Instead of just saying “Sure,” Pete tells her “It’s okay with me, if it’s okay with him.”  Him being Al.  Why exactly does he need to check with his brother, who is obviously a sociopath, before agreeing to help five women stranded in the middle of nowhere?  And why not just ask Jay, who’s clearly a decent guy.  Better yet, why did Jay not just offer to go for help himself?

So Al says sure, I’ll get you some help.  If you let me take Bobbie into the hills on the my bike and give her what for.  Um . . . probably not, dude.  Then Jay gets the bright idea to tie some ropes to their bikes and tow the bus.  How would that even work?  I mean, if you saw the bikes these guys were riding, there’s no way.  And then, instead of towing it to town, they tow it to an abandoned shack even further in the middle of nowhere.

Marvin tries to stand up for the girls, but he gets a broken neck for his troubles, and again, at this point, Jay could have gotten away.  He even says to one of the girls, “If one of us can get away, they’ll run.”  Dude, you’ve got a motorcycle.  You’re like the prime candidate for running.  WTF?

So instead of getting on his bike and going for help, Jay winds up in the shack with the rest of the girls, sitting against the wall while the brothers sit and drink bourbon.  And again, the plot makes no sense.  They’re in this run down cabin with broken boards and loose pipes laying all around.  It’s six to two and all the brothers have is Al’s little pocket knife.  They couldn’t gang up and overpower these dudes?

Anyway, Miss Tenny is raped, Jay escapes and is run over a cliff by Pete, one of the girls escapes, and is killed by Al while the other three girls and Miss Tenny sit idly by under the watchful and drunken gaze of Pete until Al returns hours later.  Al then rapes Bobbie and everyone falls asleep.

The next morning rescue comes, the brothers are killed, and everyone lives happily ever after.  Except Miss Tenny and Bobbie who will spend the rest of their lives in therapy, not to mention a couple of hefty lawsuits I’d say from some very angry parents.  Despite her smiles and hugs with the girls at the end of the movie, I have a feeling Miss Tenny’s teaching career is over.

Yeah, I think writer/director Earl Barton didn’t bother to think about that part of the continuing story when he ended on that note.  Maybe that’s why TRIP WITH THE TEACHER was the only movie he wrote and directed?

Taking obvious cues from Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which was released two years earlier, Barton’s created a pretty unforgiving villain in Al, easily the equal of Craven’s Krug in terms of sheer insane evil.  Zalman King (of ZALMAN KING’S RED SHOE DIARIES) eats it up as the sociopathic Al, to the point I had a hard time watching just because there is a point at which the top has been gone so far over you just can’t stomach anymore.  In normal circumstances I understand giving yourself over to the character is a plus, but when that character has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever, well, it’s tough to watch.  And not in a good way.

The rest of the cast is pretty much just there to say their lines and go back home, no one else really has much to do in the face of Al’s commanding presence.

The quality of the movie is pretty poor.  The colors are washed out and the sound is nearly incomprehensible at times.  I certainly hope I didn’t miss any important plot points in the muddle. The movie is 89 minutes, and for the first 60 it feels much longer.  The last 20 minutes speed by like nothing, though, and then the credits take up the change, but for the first hour I was checking the time constantly.  The pace was sluggish as hell and I feared it would be one of those movies where nothing happens and we’re just supposed to assume the tension and feel something for these characters.  Well, it’s hard to feel anything for the characters when they could clearly save themselves if they stopped being such victims and learn to count!

The plot is a well-used one, even well-done in the right circumstances.  I’m thinking now of the 1986 tv movie “Fortress” starring Rachel Ward about the field trip teacher and her students who are kidnapped and how they fight back.  It’s a great movie; I only saw it when it first came on TV, but I’ve never forgotten it.  So this theme CAN be done right,  TRIP WITH THE TEACHER just doesn’t happen to be one of those cases.

Buy TRIP WITH THE TEACHER at Amazon.

Dave & Dennis Review BEST FRIENDS

Posted: September 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

My frequent collaborator C. Dennis Moore and I are doing weekly … or at least something approaching that… reviews of whatever one challenges the other to review that week. I’m the author of the novels Gray Lake and Death Sight,the first novel in my Will Castleton series. Dennis is the author of the novels Revelations and the Amazon #1 horror bestseller The Third Floor. His new novelThe Ghosts of Mertland just came out. Dennis has written more than 1,000 reviews, many of which are available in a series of books . I used to write reviews for the entertainment section of a large newspaper. Together Dennis and I have co-written a short novel called Band of Gypsies and the priced-to-sell $.99 full-length (80,000-word) story collection Terror Is Our Trade. Right now we’re working on a new Will Castleton novel called Return to Angel Hill, which combines my and Dennis’ series. Each week (or whatever) Dennis and I will post both our own and each other’s reviews of the subject at hand to our respective blogs – you can find Mr. Moore’s blog over here. I chose this week’s review challenge: Best Friends.

Best Friends

by David Bain

Four out of five stars

You might know Richard Hatch as Captain Apollo from the original Battlestar Galactica, but three years before that role, he gave a fine performance as Jesse, the better half of two Best Friends, the first film from Noel Nosseck.

Given that, according to IMDB, Nossek went on to direct all sorts of schlocky TV fare – what looks at my quick glance like Lifetime-ish dramas and ready-for-SyFy inanity – this is a surprisingly good debut.

Best Friends starts out as a road story and, as the title suggests, something of a buddy movie. Jesse and Pat, his longtime boyhood pal and fellow recent Air Force veteran, join their girlfriends and get an RV on the cheap, heading off on one final fling before adulthood and, for Jesse and his fiancé Kathy at least, marriage.

We soon learn that Pat, who was discharged after suffering a hand and other unspecified but possibly, um, debilitating injuries and may not be entirely stable, wants the bachelor parties and good times to just continue on in a sort of endless summer. This comes to a head when, on an excursion into town, he tries to get Jesse to pick up other girls and, what’s more, buy a motorcycle and ditch the RV. Jesse stands firm; he’s sticking with Kathy, and the end of the road is the end of this stage of their lives. There’ll be other good times, they’ll just be more grown-up.

Pat rebels. He buys a motorcycle and rides as the rest of the gang stay inside the RV.

There’s a scene where Pat’s girlfriend, Jo Ella, gets tipsy and dances topless at a bar on an Indian reservation. The Native Americans are entertained at first, but the scene ends in a tense, drunken showdown. The movie turns darker when we see what Pat’s capable of, as, later that night, he takes his revenge on the Indians, unbeknownst to his friends.

Pat becomes even more determined to dislodge the wedge the girls represent; in his mind, they’re the only barrier to both the heady past he and Jesse shared and the only true means of support and companionship and security he can fathom for the future.

Pat’s subsequent manipulations of all three of his friends’ passions are diabolical, leaving big emotional scars. It’s not Shakespeare – it’s a bit ham-handed, even – but it works well enough, given we’re viewing a document from barely post-free-love era 1975. You get your heartbreak, your tears, your rage and forgiveness, and whether or not you buy it 100 percent, this skirmish of the sexes leaves you feeling sorry enough for everyone involved that you have to stick around to see how it plays out.

And it plays out … well, it’s a movie. It’s one of those closing set pieces where I found myself saying, “No way would I still be there, in that particular situation, leaving myself open to the obvious danger. I’d have done this instead of that.”

But you’re watching a drama that’s bigger and deeper than it has any right being, given that it’s a forty-year-old B movie with only one participant that went on to do anything of note, so you go with it.

I’m sitting here musing that I wish there were such a thing as 3.9 stars instead of four. The script, for instance, is really not bad at all, just, say, one-tenth of a percent below what you’d really like it to be. So’s the acting. So’s everything.

Still, you do feel the various characters’ desperations, desolations and devastations. And, unless you’re looking for comedy or pure spectacle, isn’t that what we go to the movies for?

BEST FRIENDS

by C. Dennis Moore

Four out of five stars

It was 1975 and Richard “Apollo” Hatch was still three years away from the role of a lifetime in “Battlestar Galactica” when he took the role of Jesse in Noel Nosseck’s BEST FRIENDS. Things weren’t too bad, he had Doug Chapin along as Jesse’s best friend Pat, fresh out of the military and in need of a ride home, he had Susanne Benton playing Jesse’s fiance Kathy, the only woman he’s ever loved, and there was petite Ann Noland as Jo Ella, Pat’s girlfriend. The three show up to pick up Pat and take him home, but they decide, instead of flying, it would be boss idea to rent an RV and have a little road trip on the way home. After all, once they get home, Jesse and Kathy plan to get married, and after that, there’ll be no more opportunities for road trips or anything else fun, as everyone knows.

Things are going ok for the gang. They have a blast picking out an RV during what had to be the precursor to the modern-day music montage, Jo Ella dances topless on a bar at an Indian reservation, they almost get attacked and/or arrested, and Jesse and Pat take a little time out for target practice one hot summer afternoon. But not everyone is having ye grande olde tyme. Pat isn’t ready for this grown-up business, and he tries to get Jesse to buy a motorcycle with him and just take off.

Can’t do that, Jesse says. He loves Kathy and he’s going to marry her.

It’ll be just like old times, Pat says. We’ll party, we’ll throw up, we’ll scam chicks. I’ll even let you take the pretty one, he says. Just don’t grow up on me too quick, man, I’m just not ready for all that jazz yet.

But growing up is exactly what Jesse intends.

Well, Pat can’t take that pressure. He buys a motorcycle anyway, and rides it alongside the RV, WAY more cooler than the squares inside. And just in case Jesse didn’t get Pat’s point clearly enough, he tells Jo Ella he doesn’t want to get married.

I can live with that, Jo Ella says. After all, it’s not like you’re Jesse or anything. You know he’s the dreamy one.

Light bulb! Pat has an idea. See, the real deal is this: Pay wants Kathy. Now whether he wants Kathy because he’s smitten with her or he wants her because he’s so dead inside and emotional undeveloped that he knows he could maintain some kind of relationship with her while still being true to his best friend who is the REAL love of his life, it’s never clearly understood. But he DOES want her, or more importantly, he wants Jesse to not have her.

Through a series of subtle–and some not-so-subtle–manipulations, Pat puts his plan into place driving Jesse and Kathy away from each and bringing his best friend back to him where he belongs.

BEST FRIENDS is one of those classic 1970s movies that feels for a very long time like it’s about nothing at all and only, somewhere in the third act, reveals its true plot machinations in subtle fashion. It’s not a GREAT movie, not particularly well-made or directed, and certainly not necessarily well-acted, but it is a lot of fun, and the deeper issues at the heart of the story, the themes at play here with Jesse and Pat, are managed very well.

Decades later, a story like this is old hat, but in 1975 I can see the material still being fresh enough to male it interesting. Then again, even now I can see a movie like this being remade, almost shot for shot with practically the same script, and it being one of those serious, talked about movies. Bradley Cooper and Casey Affleck could remake the hell out of this movie.

I wasn’t expecting much from this movie, as I do–or don’t–with most of these drive-in “cult classics”, but I came really appreciating this movie. Doug Chapin as Pat was completely unlikable, and he seemed to be having a blast in the role. Ann Noland’s Jo Elle seemed to start off as a player, but vanished to the background during the third act, while Benton’s Kathy was solid throughout, a somehow well-rounded character despite the fact we know almost nothing about her. And there’s Richard Hatch as Jesse. Jesse’s got a bit of a past, as Pat will tell anyone who listens, especially if her name is Kathy, and some of that comes through in Hatch’s performance as Jesse seems like a guy with a spotted history who has found the missing piece to help him find his center.

The soundtrack is full of 70s non-hits, but in this case it’s not the popularity of the music, but how it’s used, and in this case I found the music worked not only to set each scene but to keep them moving as well.

My only real criticism is that I think the last ten minutes got pretty muddled and the ending, while effective to bring home certain aspects of the characters’ personalities–Pat’s especially–felt rushed and weak. But other than a less-than-impressive ending, I really liked this movie.

Dave & Dennis Review: PRIMER

Posted: September 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

My frequent collaborator C. Dennis Moore and I are doing weekly … or at least something approaching that… reviews of whatever one challenges the other to review that week. I’m the author of the novels Gray Lake and Death Sight, the first novel in my Will Castleton series. Dennis is the author of the novels Revelations and the Amazon #1 horror bestseller The Third Floor. His new novelThe Ghosts of Mertland just came out. Dennis has written more than 1,000 reviews, many of which are available in a series of books . I used to write reviews for the entertainment section of a large newspaper. Together Dennis and I have co-written a short novel called Band of Gypsies and the priced-to-sell $.99 full-length (70,000-word) story collection Terror Is Our Trade. Right now we’re working on a new Will Castleton novel called Return to Angel Hill, which combines my and Dennis’ series. Each week (or whatever) Dennis and I will post both our own and each other’s reviews of the subject at hand to our respective blogs – you can find Mr. Moore’s blog over here. This week Dennis’s pick was Primer.

PRIMER

by David Bain

Four out of five stars. (Five out of five stars in an alternate time stream.)

Watch Primer on Netflix

Buy or rent Primer on Amazon

I figured out the twist to The Sixth Sense within the first ten minutes or so in the theater.

I followed all of Miller’s Crossing the first time through.

I didn’t need any of the online charts to know what was going on in each level of Inception.

And Looper, though fun, wasn’t even challenging.

So I was, by God, not going to get lost while watching Primer, Shane Carruth’s now-legendary 2004 cult time-travel film, made for $7,000.

What? Yeah – $7,000.(And no, you won’t believe that figure’s true.)

But I got lost pretty darn quick.

Especially once the time-traveling began.

And I’d already been thrown by all the tech jargon before that.

Total duh, what?

But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

One trick up Primer’s sleeve is that you buy what’s going on because the characters do.

It’s like some of David Lynch’s work – like, say, Mullholland Drive or Lost Highway or that theater thing he as with the rabbit people – where you eventually just throw your hands up in the air and say, okay, fine, I can no longer relate this to anything whatsoever in my experience except maybe bodies, objects, music, language, movement, but I’m nonetheless along for the ride. Even as you’re swimming in the WTF of it all, you trust that Lynch – and Primer – has some grand design or vision.

And, according to this flowchart and others, there really is a coherent storyline buried in the snippets we see – Primer’s actually a lot less Alice in Loopyland than Lynch’s more obtuse experiments.

But be forewarned – whereas Inception has … what? Five or whatever basically non-interactive levels so wildly different from each other that they’re pretty easy to sort, the Primer flow chart identifies nine different timelines, all of which interact directly with each other, with different time-variants of the same characters from each stream alternately hiding from/acting despite/running into/plotting with/scheming against/unbeknownst to one another.

I so much wanted to give this five stars. It’s brave, unique film-making, to be sure, and I’m all for tiny budgets making good – I don’t think I’d want to see the mega-million dollar version of this one.

But I think I would maybe have liked the one or two million dollar version better.

The story, as presented, is simply too minimalist, with too much cut and trimmed and too many leaps in plot.

That’s part of the point, of course – that real time travel would result in endlessly complicated loops and conundrums and disparities.

But…

See, writing this review is making me question some of my assumptions about film.

Should a film this ambitious and complex and challenging also be more enjoyable?

Should it be more easily comprehensible?

The wannabe film professor in me is asking his imaginary students, “If so, why?”

Because that’s what I wanted.

Is that a good enough answer?

Probably not. Explain.

What I’m trying to say is I totally recognize the ambition, and I love how Primer challenges you to watch it again and again. It will never, ever, under any circumstances, be the same film twice – which might be about the highest praise you can give a film.

But … okay, jump into the time machine.

Rewind.

Let me say it this way:

In some alternate time stream I’m giving this movie five stars.

In some other time stream I’ve watched it twenty-six times, not three, and I’m finally completely in love. I’m finally getting everything I wanted out of the thing.

In some other time stream I’ve invented my own time machine just so I can view Primer again and again, over and over, without losing yet another 79 minutes during which I could be watching something slightly more facile.

But in this present time stream … four stars.

A true marvel, given its budget, yes.

Worth several viewings.

Thought-provoking like nobody’s business.

But not worth memorizing a chart that would’ve boggled Rube Goldberg.

(And, before you ask, I have yet to see Carruth’s almost-as-oft-talked-about follow-up film Upstream Color – but, based on Primer, I will be, and I’m looking forward to it.)

Watch Primer on Netflix

Buy or rent Primer on Amazon

PRIMER

By C. Dennis Moore

Five out of five stars.

I like to think of myself as relatively intelligent.  I’m not a super-brain or anything, but as a writer of fiction, I think I have a pretty good grasp of non-linear storytelling since, oftentimes, scenes will come to you out of order and you have to figure out how and where it fits into the plot.  And I love time travel movies.  I love the puzzle of trying to sort out the plot as it goes along, what happened where, what alternate timelines were created, how does it fold back on itself.  But I’ve seen PRIMER twice now and, while I got it a little more the second time, I know I’m still not even close to fully understanding this movie.

Aaron and Abe are two of four partners in a group of science geeks who make extra money on the side with their own patents as they take known objects and try to improve on them.  When they try to redesign one particular invention meant to decrease the weight of an object, they discover it has a very peculiar side effect: it allows the user to travel backward in time, the length of travel time dependant on how long the “pilot” spends inside the machine.

As I believe many of us would, Abe and Aaron decide to use the machine to make more money, eventually deciding they’re going to get Aaron’s wife and daughter and take off to somewhere far away.  But first, they have one last trip they want to take back.  It’s an experimental trip, because when they get back, they plan to alter events so they never make this final trip, but on the way to the device, they see a man on the street who can’t possibly be there, because he’s at home in bed.

This brings up a million questions, the most important, how did he find out about the machine, and when and why did he use it?

The explanation that follows, told in voiceover and flashback by Aaron to an unknown recipient, while I’m sure it makes some kind of sense to someone a whole lot smarter than me, I’m still trying to puzzle it out.  And you know what?  Even not understanding 100% (let’s be honest, I don’t understand a good 25%-30% of this movie), it’s still such an enjoyable experience that it doesn’t matter.

Writer/director/producer/composer/and star of PRIMER, Shane Carruth shot his movie using mostly friends and family for $7000 in 5 weeks and went on to win the Grand Jury Prize and the Alfred P. Sloan Awards at the Sundance Film Festival, and while I don’t know much about Sundance, I know that sounds pretty impressive on a resume.

And it was well-earned.  Carruth’s writing is full of technical lingo and theories I couldn’t begin to understand if I had ten more years of education under my belt, my brain just isn’t wired for this kind of stuff.  But I know when a story is working, I know when dialogue is ringing true (ok, I know when dialogue I didn’t write is ringing true), and I know when a performance has the air of authenticity.  I believe 100% that Carruth and David Sullivan as Aaron and Abe are who they say they are and I believe they built a time machine.

But not once do they come across as pretentious know-it-all geeks who lord it over everyone how superior their intellects are.  In fact, they’re just two guys with jobs they don’t like who are trying to make a better life for themselves on the side, and not having a whole lot of success at it.  They just happen to have stumbled, entirely by accident, into something amazing.  As a long-time struggling writer, one who himself has, almost by accident, stumbled into some small amount of success, man did I ever sympathize with that.  You spend years fighting for every inch of ground you may gain in your chosen field, you do everything you’re supposed to do, all the things that are supposed to lead to success and then one day you make an adjustment to someone else’s design, or you decide on a whim to self-publish a ten-year-old novel, and before you know it, this incredible luck has fallen into your lap.

Whether by accident or by design, Shane Carruth has created two characters who almost everyone who sees this movie can, in one way or another, identify with.

I applaud Carruth’s decision to not dumb down the script, too.  Even though a lot of the technical stuff goes over my head, I appreciate his trust in his audience.  And even if we don’t get it, Aaron and Abe seem to, which just solidifies the audience’s belief that these two are real people who know just what they’re doing.

Really, there aren’t many accolades I could shower on PRIMER that would do it justice.  It’s just a very intelligent, well-made, thought-provoking movie that I would easily watch half a dozen more times.  And you should too.

Watch Primer on Netflix

Buy or rent Primer on Amazon

My frequent collaborator C. Dennis Moore and I are doing weekly … or at least something approaching that… reviews of whatever one challenges the other to review that week. I’m the author of the novels Gray Lake and Death Sight, the first novel in my Will Castleton series. Dennis is the author of the novels Revelations and the Amazon #1 horror bestseller The Third Floor. His new novelThe Ghosts of Mertland just came out. Dennis has written more than 1,000 reviews, many of which are available in a series of books . I used to write reviews for the entertainment section of a large newspaper. Together Dennis and I have co-written a short novel called Band of Gypsies and the priced-to-sell $.99 full-length (70,000-word) story collection Terror Is Our Trade. Right now we’re working on a new Will Castleton novel called Return to Angel Hill, which combines my and Dennis’ series. Each week (or whatever) Dennis and I will post both our own and each other’s reviews of the subject at hand to our respective blogs – you can find Mr. Moore’s blog over here. This week I decided on Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

Buy or rent Killer Klowns from Outer Space on Amazon

Watch Killer Klowns from Outer Space on Netflix

Killer Klowns From Outer Space: A Kult Klassic Inspires My Love Song to Schlock Cinema

Five out of five stars

My entire review of Killer Klowns from Outer Space is exactly 50 words long:

I enjoyed the hell out of it. If you’re the sort of person who would dare to watch something called Killer Klowns from Outer Space, then this movie won’t disappoint you. It does everything right – and everything wrong – that it needs to. It is a perfect film of its type.

The end.

I really, honestly, so totally don’t need to say another word about the movie. Killer Klowns is kompletely about its audience. It knows exactly what they want, exactly which disbeliefs they’re willing to suspend and which they aren’t.

I could go on about The Chiodo Brothers and their so-so directing and bizarre costumes and strange special effects and set designs for this movie and the entropic but entertaining plot and such, but what’s closer to my heart today is why I chose to review Killer Klowns from Outer Space in the first place:

I mentioned it to Dennis in an email as a possibility for this week along with the cult time travel film Primer, as I hadn’t seen either.

His reply:

I’ve got Primer in my [Netflix] queue, but . . . you haven’t seen Killer Klowns?

I don’t even know you anymore.

Yeah, screw him.

But, see, I trust Dennis’s opinion.

He’s a lot more brave than I am when it comes to assessing cheap movies.

The way I look at it, I have a limited time on this planet, dig?

And there are so many films (and shows and albums, etc.) out there I do not want to waste that time with.

You’ve seen these movies lurking in the bargain bin – the one about the killer snowman or the killer ice cream man or the killer toy, the killer pacifier, the killer diaper: pick your symbol of childhood comfort gone ax-murderingly wrong.

But I do so love horror and camp and B-movies … and yet there’s a limit to how far I want to go to find that diamond in the rough, especially when I know there exists more awe-inspiring five-star mainstream media out there than I’d ever be able to take in should I never sleep from here on, doing nothing but watching, reading and experiencing said stellar entertainment between now and when I die of being the world’s oldest man ever.

So why do I seek out genre material in the first place?

Because, well, it’s heightened.

Genre books and movies are today’s true mythology, closer to the subconscious and spiritual than anything you’ll find in more firmly-grounded fare – and I’d put forth that B-list movies are allowed to go deeper in those directions than most work aimed for the multiplex.

So, wait? you’re saying.

You’re calling Killer Klowns from Outer Space a spiritual experience?

Well, no, of course not.

But yes.

The movie’s a big, silly, slimy, goopy, ridiculous, oozy mess. The plot holes are bigger than the klowns’ feet.

But there’s no question the existence of this piece of schlock adds copiously to my interior landscape. Having seen this movie, be it flim-flammy, shim-shammy, whim-whammy or not, I can now imagine more.

B-movies like Killer Klowns , half-baked and shallow, surface-wise, as they are, allow my imagination to roam, allow my imagination to be exuberant.

Sure, sometimes we get a big-budget pic that reaches a staggeringly humongous audience, something like, say, Life of Pi or The Avengers or, furcrys sakes, Star Wars, that leaves you with exactly the same feeling – such joy in creation, such joy in presentation, played out right there in front of you, in every single goddam frame – that you want to pump your fist every single time you even think of it.

And that’s because we’ve grown to trust Ang Lee and Joss Whedon and, yeah, okay, even George freaking Lucas.

But here’s the problem, the crux of the matter. So much dung has been churned out amidst the gems that I’ve come to develop deep, deep trust issues concerning anything … you know. The Killer This! The Killer That! Some cheap CGI – or, worse, no CGI – some fake, splattery blood, and I’m supposed to rabidly cheer or something.

Go home. I’m smarter than that.

Try.

That’s all I’m asking.

Try!

Screw your budget!

Make my imagination bigger! Make my world larger! Be brash about it! Let the strings show!

For example, there’s a shadow-show scene in Killer Klowns which, really … well, it’s pretty piss-poor animation if you’re watching for that, but I chuckled nonetheless.  Very much out loud. And not one of the klown costumes actually works – and yet they do. They work perfectly.

Although there are no wires to see, you see the wires through the whole movie.

Doesn’t frakking matter.

I’m in love with the sheer ballsiness and bravado. This glorious mess got made, man!

Look, in reality, were I not in a manic mood, this is probably a four-out-of-five-star movie, if you’re being generous; it’s just … Killer Klowns thoroughly understands that, whatever age I might be, I’m still a cheesy, pepperoni-pizza- chomping, beer-sneaking, barely adolescent geek at heart, yearning for daily play with my Marvel model monsters and Mattel action figures, continually pining for wild-ass, half-nonsensical confabulatory realities to further fill my endlessly expanding psychic bigtop.

So let’s quit by calling a clown and clown and a Klown a Klown. There’s so much drivel, so much pure unabashed bullshit out there that’s barely trying, so much poorly produced poo that thinks I’m some gawky, blood-loving, inbred swill-sucking nimrod, it makes me want to go out on the deck and scream for killer klowns to come down from outer space and end us all.

At least it would be fun for a few minutes before I got cocooned in kotton kandy…

It makes me sooo frowny-faced! Sooo many movies have been sooo bad for sooo long that I avoided this admittedly bumpy but utterly gleeful carnival ride for literally decades.

And that’s a shame.

See here, B-movie-makers: My mind needs something to chew on – constantly. It doesn’t have to be prime rib. I’m more than happy with carnival fare. Laffy Taffy. Or popcorn, let’s say, covered with cheese.

Just quit serving me mud pies created too close to the pig sty.

Buy or rent Killer Klowns from Outer Space on Amazon

Watch Killer Klowns from Outer Space on Netflix

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

by C. Dennis Moore

4 out of 5 stars

For Debbie Stone (Suzanne Snyder), things are about the get real komplicated. Having recently broken up with her boyfriend, kop Dave (John Allen Nelson), she’s now on a date with Mike (Grant Cramer), at a lokal parking spot kalled Top of the World. They’re relaxing in the back of Mike’s Bronko, laid out in an inflatable raft, staring up at the stars. No funny business, though; Mike’s still wearing his wool sweater.

They see a flash of light streak akross the sky and decide to go seek out the meteorite that must have landed klose by. What they find instead is a tall, strangely out of place cirkus tent. Mike wants to take a look inside, but when they find two lokals enkased in what appear to be kotton kandy kokoons, they’re no longer so kurious about what’s inside the tent.

Before they kan sneak out, they see a tall, grotesque klown who fires a popkorn gun at them. Mike and Debbie make their eskape, then speed into town and stop at the police station where Debbie tries to konvince her ex, Dave, about what they saw.

Dave takes Debbie home, but takes Mike out to the woods to show him what they’re talking about. Problem is, once they get there, the cirkus tent is gone. But it was right here, Mike insists, and people were trapped in kotton kandy kokoons.

So Dave decides to take Mike back to town, no hard feelings; obviously stability isn’t important to Debbie. On the way, they kome akross an abandoned kar kovered in what looks like kotton kandy.

It’s the klowns! Mike insists. I think you’re right, Dave agrees. They spy another klown back in town, making shadow puppets for a group of people waiting on a bus. But these are no ordinary shadow puppets. He makes a dinosaur they komes down and eats the people. Mike slams on the kop kar’s gas–even though Dave is driving–and yanks the wheel, trying to hit the klown, but the kreature flies away and they hit a wall. They decide to split up, always a good move in horror movies. Mike will go get Debbie while Dave will return to the police station and get reinforcements.

But when Mike gets to Debbie’s apartment, she’s been taken by the klowns.

And thus is revealed Debbie’s dilemma. Both guys dig her a lot, and both guys do anything and everything it takes to get her back and make sure she’s safe. Neither guy gives more than the other, neither guy shows less heart than the other. They both want to be with her and they both do whatever it takes to prove their devotion to her.

So what’s a girl to do? See, they don’t kome right out and SAY it, but I believe this is the theme at the heart of 1988’s Chiodo brothers masterpiece KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE.

Sure, it’s got all the trappings of your klassic 80s cheesefest like NIGHT OF THE COMET or NIGHT OF THE CREEPS or CHOPPING MALL, but this story’s got something those others don’t: a love triangle. And love triangles make for good drama.

Sure, you’ve also got the klowns tearing through town, turning the residents into kotton kandy kokoons and taking them back to their cirkus tent ship for later konsumption. Sure, you’ve got just about every klown kliche you kan think of turned into something deadly. There’s killer pies that turn you into a pile of melting ice kream, there are balloon animal dogs that sniff out the prey, there are the aforementioned karnivorous shadow puppets.

But the real drama here lies not in the killer klowns from outer space; it’s in the love triangle between pretty Debbie, kop and ex-boyfriend Dave, and kurrent date and all-around seemingly decent guy Mike. When all is said and done, provided they all make it through this terrible ordeal, who will Debbie pick?

You kan’t even pick a favorite, either, because throughout the kourse of the night, Mike and Dave seem to bekome pretty good friends.

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE is a long-time favorite of mine. When it first hit HBO decades ago, my mother and I watched this movie dozens of times, along with NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, another goofy 80s cheesefest about invading aliens.

If you kame into this movie kold, knowing nothing about it, you would know it’s an 80s movie from the first frame. Everything about it, from the graphics in the credits to the heavy heavy synth soundtrack, to the wardrobe and hair of the characters skreams 1980s loud and klear. But it’s a fun 1980s. Despite the danger involved when killer klowns attack, mostly it feels like everyone’s just having a lot of fun.

Stephen and Charles Chiodo, more kommonly known for their effekts work on films like ELF and TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE, wrote and direkted this brilliant piece of work, and while it’s plain to see why they didn’t kontinue to write and direkt afterward, you kan’t help but be charmed by a movie kalled KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE.

The kast seems almost as klueless as everyone else, but they’re giving it their all and having a blast with whatever’s going on. John Allen Nelson went on to be in some pretty respecktable produktions like 24 and “Baywatch” (okay, maybe not THAT respektable, but still, “Baywatch” had kuite the following), while Grant Cramer, although starring in a slew of movies post-KILLER KLOWNS, was found taking on projekts like SANTA CLAWS and ADDICTED TO MURDER 3: BLOOD LUST. Nothing wrong with that, work is work when you need it, but it was klear, even in 1988, that Nelson was the more genuine talent. Meanwhile Suzanna Snyder had starred only 3 years earlier in WEIRD SCIENCE (also as a kharacter named Deb), so she basikally needed to never work again to solidify her place in movie history. It just so happens, she was also a kharacter named Lisa in that other 80s klassik, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS.

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE is everything that was right in goofy horror in the 1980s. Horror was in a weird place back then anyway. Freddy Kruger and Jason Vorhees battled it out for box office supremacy, but neither franchises were giving many people nightmares (with the exception of the original NIGHTMARE), nor did it seem anyone else working in the genre was interested in giving it a shot. There was Clive Barker with the original HELLRAISER, but that was about it. Otherwise it seemed horror had stopped being horrible and just wanted to be your buddy. They made innokuous movies for a middle school audience, and we loved every bit of them. Some more than others, but near the top of that list of good ones was, for me anyway, KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE, a movie so damned silly, you kouldn’t help but laugh along at the joke, not minding at all that it wasn’t helping out the genre as a whole one bit.

Buy or rent Killer Klowns from Outer Space on Amazon

Watch Killer Klowns from Outer Space on Netflix

My frequent collaborator C. Dennis Moore and I are doing weekly … or at least something approaching that… reviews of whatever one challenges the other to review that week. I’m the author of the novels Gray Lake and Death Sight, the first novel in my Will Castleton series. Dennis is the author of the novels Revelations and the Amazon #1 horror bestseller The Third Floor. His new novelThe Ghosts of Mertland just came out. Dennis has written more than 1,000 reviews, many of which are available in a series of books . I used to write reviews for the entertainment section of a large newspaper. Together Dennis and I have co-written a short novel called Band of Gypsies and the priced-to-sell $.99 full-length (70,000-word) story collection Terror Is Our Trade. Right now we’re working on a new Will Castleton novel called Return to Angel Hill, which combines my and Dennis’ series. Each week (or whatever) Dennis and I will post both our own and each other’s reviews of the subject at hand to our respective blogs – you can find Mr. Moore’s blog over here. This week, Dennis picked the 1975 film PICKUP.

PICKUP DESERVES TO BE PICKED UP, AT LEAST FOR A LOOK-SEE

By David Bain

Four out of five stars

Be forewarned: This 1975 film has an “astrological advisor” listed in the opening credits.

We also get Tarot cards, Greek gods, drugs, trippy flashbacks, evil clowns, corrupt priests, swamp-wandering politicians, dangerous rednecks, dream sequences, whiskey-drenched cigar-chomping bosses, baby raccoons and ubiquitous female flesh.

But it’s not as weird as it might sound.

Wait. What the heck am I saying?

Hell, yes, it is. It’s every bit as weird as it sounds and then some.

Basically Pick-up is the story of two hippie chicks – freewheeling Carol and dour New Agey Maureen – who are hanging out in a meadow one day when they get picked up by groovy, studly, shaggy-haired Chuck, who’s delivering a mobile home to southern Florida.

Morose, misanthropic Maureen, who obviously tries to be cosmically aligned with everything to which one can be cosmically aligned, immediately senses a Taurus in their midst and predicts trouble but goes along because, hey, no movie if they didn’t.

Soon, cruising down the sunny highway, Carol and Chuck are sucking down a doob and swapping spit while Maureen pouts and stews in the back of the bus, confirming via Tarot that this is gonna be one bad trip, man.

Ever youthfully exuberant, Carol does a crazy impromptu half-dressed dashboard dance for a passing pickup full of hootin’, hollerin’ hillbillies, causing Chuck to grin and Maureen to continue to not care, as she’s far too busy brooding on the sturm und drang of the universe.

The plot then provides a hurricane out of nowhere and Chuck promptly gets them lost in the Everglades because, well, there would be no movie if he managed to just deliver the mobile home on time.

Chuck reports to his sweaty stereotyped cracker of a boss that he’s lost, man, can’t do nothing about it, then we get on with the real business of the movie.

Any kind of linear story is henceforth thrown out the window.

Sex and visions become the order of the day.

Instead of bothering to deal with the situation at hand and try to get back to civilization, Chuck and Carol go literally prancing through the swamp, playing with a baby raccoon (guess they never heard of rabies) before communing with nature in several imaginative positions – some of them on scratchy-looking tree limbs, no less.

Meanwhile, as if we hadn’t already figured this out, we learn that Maureen has issues, man.

Apollo – yes, the ancient Greek god – sends a messenger to the middle of the Everglades to give Maureen a sword. This somehow causes her to strip and writhe around nude on a gleaming white paper mache altar which appears out of nowhere.

Later she’s hanging out back in the mobile home, reading up on ancient gods, when an obnoxious, glad-handing, straw boater-wearing politician wanders in and delivers a sham of a campaign pitch, then leaves. Apparently he’s lost in the Everglades too. Weird.

But wait! We’re far from done with Maureen’s surreal side-trips!

We also learn that a priest abused her when she was a young church organist, causing her to turn to the occult for spiritual sustenance.

Plus, WTF?, there’s a sinister clown that apparently has something to do with something or other from Maureen’s childhood running around in the swamp with a huge clump of brightly colored helium balloons, first charming, then scaring her.

But wait! Maureen’s not the only one having psychedelic visions!

We find out Carol, who still plays with dolls, had a more or less positive after-school sexual encounter when she was apparently pretty young – and found she liked it. Thus, nympho.

And we find out Chuck’s mother was a bitch, so – thank you, Mom – these days Chuck doesn’t groove on authority figures harshing his mellow, man.

Somehow this all ends up with Chuck – apparently done with Carol for the moment – and Maureen experiencing a prolonged sexual healing session in the moonlight on the magically re-appearing Apollo altar. This scene simply has to be seen to be believed. Chuck, now in a shiny white toga, appears more studly than ever, and, as nature takes its slow, sinuous, soft, wet course, all of Maureen’s fears and hang-ups – in the form of the priest, the clown and the politician –try to find their old grips on her psyche, cavorting around the altar, lunging at her, trying to interruptus her coital bliss. But, the Chuck-sex being just that dang good, these old boogiemen slowly slip away into the night, apparently never to be seen again. It’s a thoroughly odd but surprisingly well-choreographed scene. It still comes off, of course, as mostly soft-core exploitation – because, well, boobies and putting the grind into grindhouse – but it’s also a sort of crazily successful ballet illustrating Maureen’s libidinous liberation.

But wait! All is not sudden sexual splendiferousness, because, meanwhile, back at the campfire, Carol has a run-in with the rowdy backwoods boys from the pickup that passed them back on the highway. I’ll avoid spoilers by simply saying it goes rather shockingly bad for her.

But wait! Hey, that potential bummer of an ending doesn’t matter either, man, because the real ending is a few steps short of the ol’ Wizard of Oz “It was all a dream” ploy!

(Don’t worry, that isn’t much of a spoiler. You won’t care that I told you, and the film does it in a way that’s more or less in keeping with what’s come before.)

Have no doubt: The Pick-Up is a cheaply made affair – oftentimes laughably so. I could see some giving it just two or three stars simply on that merit alone.

We certainly don’t, for instance, get good acting.

We don’t get a good soundtrack either – you gotta get past some really bad elevator music to like this flick.

Nor do we get anything approaching special effects – for example, in their flashback scenes, the actresses look like … well, like twenty-something year-old women in pigtails and little girl dresses.

And we don’t really get any kind of straight-up story, but rather a touchy-feely – dare we say grope-y – exploratory psych session. If you ain’t into allegory, Pick-Up ain’t gonna be your thing, man.

But I’m giving The Pick-Up four stars despite these flaws because, in the end, there is indeed some art and purpose to all the trippy symbolism. The dots connect. And while the sex and ‘70s kitsch is amusing, we get actual character studies and actual attempts at style and staging. In the end, Pick-Up’s a surprisingly ambitious (especially for its obviously rock-bottom budget), surprisingly experimental mash-up of grindhouse and art house.  It gets four stars from me because, sure, I’d spend another 90 minutes of my life watching it again, and I’d probably enjoy the additional angles I’m sure I’d find.

PICK-UP

3.5 out of 5 stars

by C. Dennis Moore

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that, back in the 70s, people had money to burn. I’m gonna go further out on that limb and say that writer John Winter and director Bernard Hirschenson also had, in addition to money to burn, too much time on their hands.

I’ve seen a lot of bad movies. I’ve seen movies with bad stories, I’ve seen movies with bad acting, movies made with a camcorder and $20, I’ve seen great movies with terrible endings. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie where I spent the entire 77 minutes waiting for some kind of point to emerge.  Even if the story is bad, in the end you can say what the story was.  PICK-UP, however, I’m not so sure.

Chuck (Alan Long) is driving through Florida, on his way to deliver a mobile home to a company in Tallahassee when he picks up two girls, Carol (Jill Senter) and Maureen (Gini Eastwood).  Before reaching their destination, they’re detoured off the highway because of a hurricane coming through the area and Chuck gets lost in the everglades, then the bus gets stuck in the mud.

So Chuck and Carol spend the rest of the afternoon swinging naked on a swing in the middle of the swamp or spinning around naked on the bus while Maureen keeps having some weird acid trips where she remembers a priest raping her, then this weird Senator shows up asking for Maureen’s vote, and later she sees a weird demonic clown running through the grass outside.

Chuck kills a boar with a bow and arrow that happened to be on the bus, they spit it and start the cooking, but as soon as Chuck tells the story of how his mother smothered him, they decide to get back on the bus, leaving the uneaten boar over the fire, I guess.  Carol goes to sleep with a stuffed animal and Chuck says to Maureen let’s go take a walk.  They get it on in the middle of the woods while Maureen is hallucinating they’re on some alter to Apollo.

There’s your movie.  Nope, I still don’t know what the whole plot was because in the end everyone still seems just as messed up as they were before, so there’s no big character development.  And they never got the bus unstuck from the mud and delivered to Tallahassee, so there was no grand task completed.  The movie, literally, is about these three tripping and having sex in the swamps after they get stuck, that’s it.

So it’s no wonder to me that neither the writer nor the director, nor ANY of the three main actors, made another movie after this one.  I’m all for DIY art, but surely one of the first things you would have worked out when plotting your movie was “Okay, but what’s it ABOUT?”

It’s about these three people whose bus gets stuck in the mud.

Okay, but then what?

Then they just kinda hang out.

And then what?  They’re rescued?  The masked killer shows up?  They find a hidden treasure?  They stay there forever and establish their own society?

Nope, none of those.  They wake up the next morning, still the same old people they were, still stuck in the mud.

Oh.  Ok.

It’s not necessarily a badly-made movie, Hirschenson has a decent eye.  I would watch another movie he directed as long as the opening shot wasn’t another man unbuttoning his pants (this movie opens with Chuck about to urinate on the side of the bus, instead of just using the bathroom ON the bus).  His creepy scenes are definitely creepy–that clown has Tim Curry’s Pennywise beat for “disturbing” by a mile!–and he makes his scenes engaging.  I enjoyed the experience of watching this movie, even when it was a scene I didn’t particularly want to see (watching naked 70s people frolic, not for me).  Winter’s script wasn’t terrible, the dialogue fit the era and seemed natural enough.  Even the actors weren’t bad.  Sure, they had the whole “it was the 70s” working against them, making them just slightly unappealing, but overall everyone did a decent job.

There just wasn’t a point to any of it.  And I can’t get past that.  PICK-UP wasn’t a bad movie, I just couldn’t find that one missing piece that gave it meaning.  Did I like it?  Meh, it was alright.  Would I watch it again?  No, I’ve think I’ve experienced everything this movie had to offer, thanks.

My frequent collaborator C. Dennis Moore and I are doing weekly … or at least something approaching that… reviews of whatever one challenges the other to review that week. I’m the author of the novels Gray Lake and Death Sight, the first novel in my Will Castleton series. Dennis is the author of the novels Revelations and the Amazon #1 horror bestseller The Third Floor. His new novelThe Ghosts of Mertland just came out. Dennis has written more than 1,000 reviews, many of which are available in a series of books . I used to write reviews for the entertainment section of a newspaper. Together Dennis and I have co-written a short novel called Band of Gypsies and the priced-to-sell $.99 full-length story collection Terror Is Our Trade. Right now we’re working on a new Will Castleton novel called Return to Angel Hill. Each week (or whatever) Dennis and I will post both our own and each other’s reviews of the subject at hand to our respective blogs – you can find Mr. Moore’s blog over here. This week, my pick was The Teacher.

Buy or rent THE TEACHER on Amazon
Watch THE TEACHER on Netflix

THE TEACHER: AN EPISODE OF THE BRADY BUNCH GONE HORRIBLY WRONG!

by David Bain

Four out of Five Stars

The Teacher (1974) is like an episode of The Brady Bunch gone horribly, horribly wrong. Similar hairstyles, similar music, a similar teen, similar cars, but now imagine Peter Brady coming home and announcing he’s just got it on with his “groovy” new teacher and he isn’t quite sure how to feel about it.

And, oh yeah, Peter mentions, Bobby got knifed while we were exploring an abandoned factory where it turns out Greg, who I just found out is a peeping Tom and cruises town in a hearse , has a creepy shrine to the teacher I just made the beast with two backs with.

Creepy is the operative word for this movie – and not in the usual Gothic, ghostly or even suspenseful meaning of the word, though there are indeed a few of those moments. Your skin crawls because, well, cradle-robbing. And because Anthony James is in it. James is about the oiliest, most cadaverous, most lecherous-looking character actor I can imagine next to maybe Angus Scrimm. (If you don’t know who he is, you’ll recognize him. He’s played every creep on TV, ever.) Even when James isn’t playing a stalker, as he does in The Teacher, you know he’s the type who’s going to be hovering over his computer in his parents’ basement, his hot breath fogging the screen as he stares at your Twitter account, waiting for you to announce what you had for dinner so he can buy a dozen cans of the same thing and reshape the Chef-Boy-Ardee wrappers into a collage which, in his imagination, looks just like your Facebook icon, and leave it on the front seat of your car for you to discover on your way to work the next morning.

If you haven’t guessed yet, the plot, in a nutshell, is Hot Young Teacher seduces Sexually Awkward Student over summer break. Creeper with Hots for Teacher doesn’t like this, and if he can’t have her, can’t no one have her. Bare skin and tensions sexual, situational and suspenseful ensue.

Which is to say The Teacher , for all its kitsch, is not a bad movie. To the contrary, once you get past the flared pantlegs, funky print shirts and every adult male’s muttonchop sideburns, it’s good, sleazy fun. We care about the teen protagonist, Sean (Jay North – formerly Dennis the Menace!).  And we are certainly reviled by the mere presence of James on the screen – I mean seriously. It doesn’t matter if the man overacts in this. They could just include pictures of him sitting in a chair and the audience would release a collective “Ewww.”

And maybe it’s because, like every male of my generation, I had this Marcia Brady thing going on as a pre-adolescent, and she bears more than a passing resemblance to the young Maureen McCormick, but if tawdry Seventies eye candy’s what your male gaze is looking for, you’ll find every bit you’ve ever asked for in Angel Tomkins, the titular teacher.  (Get your mind out of the gutter – “titular” means “denoted by the title,” not … well, okay, maybe in this case it does.)

A caveat – and maybe a little bit of a spoiler – but the ending is a bummer, man. And I mean a major bummer, dude. The cheaper aspects of the movie- budgetary and ethical – its relative good cinematic intentions, its comparative competence despite its cheesiness, all of these make it an enjoyable little flashback thriller with a decent drive-in aesthetic. You’re smirking to yourself, in B-movie contentment if not exactly bliss, when the ending punches you in the nose … and suddenly the popcorn doesn’t taste so good anymore.

It remains a worthy indulgence nonetheless. You wouldn’t see this movie made today. These days “The Teacher” would be all sex farce or all stalker/slasher, no middle ground. All about them demographics, dontyaknow? It’s a popcorn and beer on a late Saturday night kind of movie – just be sure to finish the popcorn before that final scene.

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THE TEACHER

by C. Dennis Moore

Four out of Five Stars

Holy crap was that ever the 70s.  I mean, I don’t know if it’s possible to be any more 70s than that.  I didn’t even know any one thing could, all on its own, be so much the 70s.

In 1974, Howard Avedis’s tale of lust and murder was a thing to behold.  It’s a classic story.  Boy meets girl (she was his teacher for 3 years before he graduated high school, which makes me wonder how the hell do you have 1 teacher 3 times in high school?  I took 5 years of high school and never once had that kind of overlap), boy falls for girl (he’s 18, she’s 28 and a knock-out, you do the math.  And, to be fair, she DID pursue him), boy is threatened by girl’s psycho secret admirer who blames boy for the death of his brother.

You could practically write the script yourself.  But you didn’t.  Unless you did, in which case, you need some new material.  But if you didn’t, and you’re relying on THE TEACHER to be your conduit into the seedy underworld of barely legal 1970s action, then you’d better grab your platform shoes and hang on cuz it gets pretty wild.

Lemme give you the skinny.

Sean and his friend Lou sneak to an abandoned building on the edge of town, just off the water (Lake? Ocean?  River?  The world may never know) so Lou can show Sean his (Lou’s) brother’s binoculars, because in the 70s, no one had ever seen so strange and exotic a gadget as binoculars, and they merited the special after school trip.  What they find when they look through the strange magical glasses is Sean’s old teacher, Diane, sunbathing topless on her boat.  Well, that just won’t stand, Jack: peeping on Diane is Lou’s brother Ralph’s gig, you dig?  When Ralph jumps out at them from the shadows of his shrine to the lovely Diane, he screams, startling his brother who falls to the ground several stories below, dead!

“You killed my brother!” Ralph yells at Sean.  “You pushed him!”

But Sean’s all like “Whatever dude, catch you later,” and he takes off, booking it back home.  Ralph shows up at Sean’s crib that night, peeping in his bedroom window, telling him if he spills anything to the fuzz, Ralph will cut out his tongue with a bayonet.  Sean’s tongue, not Ralph’s.  So Sean does what any self-respecting 70s wuss who didn’t grow up on a healthy diet of KARATE KID and DEATH WISH movies–and since “Starsky and Hutch” was still a year away, Sean was really SOL–does: he says right on, and he shuts the hell up.

Enter Diane.  Diane the former teacher is not only a good friend of the family and a neighbor, she’s also a lonely, lonely woman.  Her husband is a vagabond biker who can’t settle in one place, and he’s been gone for a while.  So Diane decides she’s divorcing him and getting herself a new man.  Who better than the 10-years-her-junior son of her friend Alice?  Because the dating scene in the early 70s, it was rough out there, man, what with your Watergates and oil crises.  And since Sean is not only a virgin, but a very very incredibly naïve and cowardly virgin to boot, all the better.  He’ll be putty in her hands.

The two embark on a whirlwind affair, complete with 20-second petting sessions in Diane’s boat that leave them both, somehow, breathless and spent.  She gives Sean free paneling from her garage to use in fixing up his van, and even takes him to dinner at a fancy restaurant where she orders a bottle of wine (Coke for Sean), then gives him some in his water glass, making sure no one sees.

Things are looking pretty groovy for Sean.  But there’s still Ralph to deal with.  And Ralph will have his revenge, dammit!!!

THE TEACHER is one of those movies you watch simply out of morbid curiosity, because there’s nothing about it that sounds the least bit interesting, but once it gets going and you see just what a train wreck it is, it’s already too late and you can’t NOT finish it.

If there was a narrative arc, I missed it.  To me, the bulk of the movie was just Sean and Diane’s affair, with the last 15 minutes finally spent on something resembling a climax.  Then again, considering some of the other “climaxes” featured in this movie, I already knew not to expect fireworks, or even smoke for that matter.  And I was right to expect disappointment.  Hey, it’s okay, it happens to all writer/directors once in a while, right?

And while I understood, mentally, that it was 1974, probably didn’t have a very large budget, and that the main character, Sean (Jay North), was being played by Dennis the Menace of more than a decade earlier, there was just so much wrong with this movie in ways the boggled the mind.

For one, there was Ralph, played by Anthony James (Skinny Dubois from UNFORGIVEN) who, while he played the role of pervert so well I had to register my copy of the DVD with the State, I think a big part of acting is knowing when to dial it down.  Holy God that dude was creepy!

Angel Tompkins (of the “Fall Guy”, “Knight Rider”, “Knots Landing” and “Hardcastle and McCormick” Angel Thompkinses)  played Diane.  She was a pretty good seductress, but she was hardly subtle and, at times, I just felt bad for the couple.  Diane obviously wanted good loving while Sean was totally in over his head and not ready mentally or emotionally for the responsibilities of an adult relationship  Then again, Diane’s character had all the markings of a grown woman who married too young and now just wants some juvenile fun.

Avedis’s direction is fine, for the most part.  It was the 70s, and everything about the camera work declared that loud and clear.  There was no action, no effects, and the few instances of something resembling a “fight” going down were obviously choreographed by a man with no depth perception, a drinking problem and a limp.

What I’m saying is, this was a BAD movie.  And I still dug it.  Because a movie like this is the very epitome of cheese.  If I’m going to be watching a bad movie, this is the kind of movie I want that bad movie to be.  So for me, THE TEACHER is a terrible movie in all the right ways.  If a movie can’t be high quality, the least it can do is be entertaining.  And by God, and despite every single thing about it, this movie does that.

Buy or rent THE TEACHER on Amazon
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Ghosts Gray Lake cover FINAL I have a new, very short story up on Amazon, “Ghosts on the Way to Gray Lake.” It’s only $.99 to begin with, but it’ll be totally free 8-30 through 9-3. The story adds a little to the mythology of my dark little town of Green River, Michigan, where many of my stories are set, with specific focus on the environs of my book Gray Lake: A Novel of Crime and Supernatural Horror.

The blurb for this story: Gray Lake is full of ghosts. Johnny and Dennison know all the stories. Eerie stories about drowned girls, lost specters, murderers and more. But tonight, as they drive toward the lake through the worst fog of the year, the tales start creeping in on them like the mist itself.

A little more background on the tale: This is story was written on J. A. Konrath’s “8-Hour Book Challenge“. Joe’s challenge was to write something with substance, format the book, create a cover, and publish it within eight hours.

This spooky little story had been knocking around in my head for ages. I’d always known it would be very short – but hopefully effectively chilling – so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to finally get it done. It serves as a nice introduction to the larger milieu of Green River and its various ghosts – and while this story doesn’t focus on them, you’ll also find a good amount of small-time criminals there as well.

I hope the story’s good for a short little shiver – you can find lots more in my novels and story collections!