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Nation of Jabootu








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Cat-tested, Cat-approved by OTIS











September 2001
(Video Cheese enters its second year!)



Plot: Creature from the Blechh Lagoon.

We open on a small rowboat (uh oh) floating on a remote, scummy looking swamp lake (uh oh) that for some reason is giving off fat plumes of dry ice fog (uh oh). The boat contains a hick (uh oh) who’s fishing with dynamite (uh oh). Unsurprisingly, dead fish float to the surface as the result. Also unsurprisingly, given the box art on the video case, something unseen reaches out of the water and pulls him to his doom.

We cut to some generic and presumably stock travelogue-type footage. Over this appears the opening credits. A primitive blue border effect surrounds the image during this, indicating that the names were added via some sort of mid-‘80s home computer program. We’re also treated to a typically uninspired theme song entitled "Walk With Me." A love song (!), the tune seemingly has little thematic connection to the events that follow. The credits themselves introduce a parade of familiar, albeit over-the-hill, B-Movie names: Gloria De Haven, Aldo Ray, Marshall "Fiend Without a Face" Thompson and Leo Gordon.

Two beer-swilling Good Ol’ Boys and their wives show up at the lake (uh oh). One of the wives is a really mouthy ‘comic’ shrew (uh oh) who looks like a taller Rhea Perlman (uh oh). The other’s sort of a bimbo type (uh oh) who when not using her compact camera sticks it down into her cleavage (uh oh – I guess). Then we get some ‘character’ stuff with these ‘characters.’ Hey, it adds ‘humor’ and ‘depth’ and, oh yeah, eats up some of the film’s roughly eighty-minute running time.

The Bimbo Wife couple head out onto the lake in the abandoned boat they found. We, of course, recognize -- or assume, more accurately, despite that fact there’s now no dynamite in it -- that it’s the craft of the deceased dynamite fisher. Something hits the boat and scares Bimbo Wife, but nothing comes of it. The other couple, meanwhile, has been looking for a good fishing spot along the shoreline. Shrew Wife is here afforded a humanizing ‘character’ moment. Meaning that we’re unsurprised when she falls behind and is suddenly killed by a severe camera close-up. Or maybe that was meant to be a POV shot from the monster

The men react to her screams and disappearance by running around and sending Bimbo Wife (of course) back to the car "for safety." Then we get another POV shot, which if the angle were right would make the monster at least fifteen feet tall, as it attacks her in turn. Boy, didn’t see that coming. Sometimes the POVs are through a red lens, so I guess the monster sees thermal images or something, uh, at least during those POV shots done with the red filter.

The husbands I’ll call Stan and Ollie, since unfortunately they’ll be hanging around a while. They are next seen in town conferring with the authorities, in the persons of Sheriff Rydholm (Aldo Ray) and Dr. Brad Wednesday (Marshall Thompson), the local M.E. Since the wives are officially only missing at this point, you’d think introducing their spouses to the town coroner would raise some protest, but nope.

Soon, but not too soon, worse the luck, an armed search party is out. Their biggest problem is the tremendous amounts of dry ice fog (maybe they got the title wrong) hereabouts. To their horror, though, they are subjected to quick shock-cuts of the wives’ dead bodies. Veteran B-movie buffs will begin to draw conclusions from the noticeable amounts of pancake make-up applied to the actresses, although novices might not notice this one element amidst the general ineptness of the film. Such is the advantage of experience.

Cut to Brad and Rydholm discussing the case in the Sheriff’s office. There’s a mystery, we learn. The women’s bodies bore no outward mark of violence, but -- bum bum bum -- all the blood was somehow drained from their bodies. (Told ya.) They are soon joined by pathologist Ginny Glenn (De Haven), who has just finished the full autopsies. And who exhibits an oddly cheerful mien, all things considered. She presents some amazing findings: Something was inserted down into the victims’ throats and drained out the blood from inside their bodies.

Mixed in this amongst there various sequences are short scenes featuring a half-witted swamp hillbilly guy -- think along the lines of Torgo from Manos Hands of Fate -- and an old swamp witch named Adrianna. We’re evidently supposed to ponder their connection with whatever’s happening.

We follow with filler stuff. A deputy is killed by another cameraman up on a raised platform. Stan and Ollie buy the most powerful guns they can get their hands on, looking to get a lil’ revenge. The Torgo guy is identified as the stammering, inbred-looking Wallace Fry. Brad and Ginny toil away in their ‘pathology office,’ which is obviously a slightly redressed high school science lab. They toss around some typically inane technobabble and medical jargon. Rydholm mourns the loss of his deputy. It’s characterization!! And now it’s not just a movie. We care. We really care about these people.

Fry leads Stan and Ollie into the woods, eventually taking them to Adrianna’s fetid-looking shack. For no reason whatsoever, except maybe to avoid paying for another actor, Adrianna is also played by a heavily made-up Gloria De Haven. I won’t say her pancake make-up is thickly applied, but she does appear to have recently survived an explosion at the Bisquick factory.

Adrianna relates some typically cryptic seeress stuff to her visitors. As she begins to speak, knowledgeable Bad Movie buffs will instantly perceive that De Haven’s based her characterization on the whispering Old Man in the Cave from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Even the rhythm of her line readings sounds similar. After providing much ‘atmosphere,’ she explains that there’s a monster on the bottom of the lake. Gee, thanks. During this, er, chilling sequence, the monster is heard outside. (But not seen, of course.) Fry gets jumpy and runs outside, paying the price all panickers in horror movies do.

More filler. Then…look. This isn’t the sort of movie where you expect a scene to suddenly occur that genuinely horrifies you. I mean, one that literally causes the viewer to blanche. But that’s what we get. Brad is having dinner at Ginny’s house and suddenly…urp, I can hardly talk about it. Anyway, he turns to her, the title theme song is heard again, and then the pushing-sixty Brad expresses his love for the equally aged Ginny. Our heads start spinning at this dreadful sight, and then…and then…they start making out!! Right on camera!! In a series of long and quite grotesque close-ups. I mean, what’s the point of having all the murders done offscreen if you’re only going to show us…this?!

Then it’s back to the normal boringness (and thank goodness). Our three leads yak and yak, Stan and Ollie harangue everyone to take action, Adrianna has psychic conversations with the monster. Or real ones. Or something. Anyway, they’re pretty silly.

Eventually Rydholm orders explosives to be lowered into the lake, which produce a satisfyingly big boom. Following this, Rydholm drives off, assuming whatever’s in the lake is dead. Stan and Ollie stay behind, and soon Rydholm and his Deputy, Corky (!), hear a fusillade of gunfire from their position. They decide to turn around and see what’s happening, as you’d imagine they might. They arrive in time to see a claw pulling Ollie (or Stan) down to his fate, and then Corky, proving none too bright, ends up in the drink as well.

Deputy Jensen (who must be getting a bit worried at this juncture, given that his fellows deputies are dropping like flies) delivers an apparent piece of the monster to Ginny and Brad. Our Scientists are given much dialog to sell the idea that the monster is bulletproof -- remember, Stan and Ollie bought the most powerful weapons they could get their hands on -- which seems rather silly but there you go.

Back to the *cough, cough* pathology lab for further truly inane science-babble about the anatomical makeup of our beastie. It injects anticoagulants into its victims, we learn, to speed up the blood draining process. Then we’re told the monster is nothing more or less than a gigantic walking cancer! Oh, and it’s made of metal, tungsten maybe. Yeah, I know. A metal cancer monster. Look, I didn’t write this movie, I’m just reporting on it.

Terry and Bill, old friends of Rydholm and professional divers, arrive in town. Then we cut to a roadblock out by the lake. As we watch, two girls on bikes (uh oh) somehow manage to ride past the less-than-alert Deputy Jensen – despite wearing brightly colored togs and being obviously well within his field of peripheral vision -- and on into the woods. I’m afraid that anyone who can’t guess what happens to them afterward must be ordered to leave my website and never return. Well, OK, that’s not really fair, because one of them gets away.

Meanwhile, Rydholm’s diver buddies are preparing to search the lake. Don’t worry, though, they’ve got a pair of anti-shark bang sticks with them. Yeah, that should protect them, given that high-powered rifles have proven ineffective. What’s funny is that no one, including Rydholm, who’s supposedly all freaked out about the deputies he keeps losing, seems to think that this is in any way a bad idea. And so into the murky waters the divers go. I’m afraid that anyone who can’t guess what happens to them afterward must be ordered to leave my website and never return. And this time no second chances.

Before reaping their ultimate fates, though, they do bring up a crystalline structure that will obviously proves to be a bunch of monster eggs. Then…yep, there they go, right on schedule. Weirdly, Ginny yells out that there’s something behind them. This despite the fact that the monster is still very much submerged and, in fact, currently reaching up from the depths to grab the leg of one guy who himself is four-fifths underwater. Sharp eyes, that gal.

Back to the lab. Examining the eggs, Ginny sagely notes "It’s definitely some sort of reproductive organism." She means the eggs, I guess. Maybe. Whatever. So they leave the eggs in the lab (gee, three guesses) and head to Rydholm’s office to see a sketch of the monster a witness made. Still trying to postpone the ‘big moment’ for us, we ourselves aren’t given a glimpse at it. Meanwhile, back at the lab, the monster shows up and reclaims his/her eggs. Big shocker there.

In best pseudo-scientist tradition, Brad and Ginny come up with a scheme to catch the monster. First they’ll build a "blood scent generator" (!!) to lure the monster into place. Brad is worried about how they’ll then kill it, though, given that "the chemical composition of this thing is very complex." (??) Rydholm suggest that they spray it with fish poison -- the same stuff used to paralyze The Creature of the Black Lagoon, if my memory serves – which will be delivered via fire hoses (!!). Then Brad and Ginny head to the lab’s storeroom for a little smooching. EEEE—yuck!! It’s obvious (to me, anyway) that the monster is Nature’s revolt against these old coots going at it.

Luckily we cut from this before my eyes burst. Soon we’re following the town fire engine as it races out to the lake. There we see Rydholm commanding a large contingent of townsmen, while Ginny and Brad set up their (never seen) Blood Scent Generator, which emits little red clouds of mist. The device proves very effective, because the monster pops up about ten seconds after it’s activated. Rydholm’s so excited that he rushes right at the monster (?!) and, well, I think you can figure out what happens next. "That was his nature," Brad later mournfully notes.

Here we get about a good a look at the beast as we’re going too. Wisely, if unsatisfyingly, they only show the creature from a great distance or via microsecond long extreme close-up shots. Here it’s the former, and we see that it’s black, has the traditional scales and fins, and is tall, although about ten feet shorter than the earlier POV shots would indicate. Adrianna bursts from the woods to warn the monster, and Jensen shoots her down. (!!!) Humorously, this incident is never mention by anyone again. Well, you know, what’s a little murder among friends?

Then the fire hoses open up and they cover the monster with foam. During this we momentarily get our single best look at the thing (at least in slo-mo), and we see that it’s been given comically big and bulbous yellow eyes. Of course, rather than killing the thing while it lays helpless, Brad orders it hauled to the lab. Considering that the beloved town sheriff was just slain before their eyes, you might think the townsfolk would have other ideas. But hey, we’ve got an ‘exciting’ climax to get to.

Brad and Ginny call in their old pal and ichthyologist John. Inside the lab we see that the creature is being kept hydrated with a continuously running sprinkler system. Yeah, that’s a good idea. John ponders Adrianna’s connection with the monster. Ginny and Brad reveal that both the old woman and the creature’s blood serum samples turned out to be nearly identical. (Why the hell were they running a blood serum analysis on Adrianna?!! How would they possibly even think up the idea? And why? And why would they think to compare it with the monster’s? Oh, and isn’t anyone concerned about how she was murdered and all?) I guess they were related or something. Frankly, I don’t want to think about it.

John and Brad head off to have a drink, leaving Ginny alone in the lab with the I’m-pretty-sure-it’s-comatose-or-something monster. If you’re looking for a scene that pretty much defines a IITS moment, this would be it. Meanwhile, Ginny draws a big hypo of blood from the thing, which proves to be a deep green color. This sort of makes the notion that its ‘blood serum’ was the same as Adrianna’s even more suspect.

Then we cut to (presumably) Brad’s house, where he and John are chewing things over. John posits that the monster might only be able to reproduce with human females – somebody’s seen Humanoids from the Deep! – and Adrianna might have been such a mate. The problem is that Adrianna kept saying that the beast’s been alive for hundreds or thousands of years. Raising the question of why a functionally immortal organism would even need to reproduce. Of course, there are also the eggs we saw earlier, and if they’re implying that Adrianna was responsible for those…OK, this is now one of the top ten sickest films I’ve ever seen. There’s more, but I don’t want to think about it anymore.

Brad offers to drop John off at his hotel, and then we cut back to the lab. In a not exactly unforeseen moment, the monster awakens, (apparently) snaps its bonds – at least it’s suddenly just standing there -- and traps Ginny in the storeroom. Given the nature of the monster suit it’s likely that it would have been nearly impossible to rise from a prone position while wearing it. So that’s probably why we just suddenly see it erect. Those who have seen flicks like Octaman and From Hell It Came won’t exactly find this a new phenomena.

While this is going on, we cut back to Brad dozing on his couch. He wakes up with a start, remembering that he was supposed to drop back to the lab. First, this proves why old coots shouldn’t be the main characters in horror movies. For instance, imagine if it were currently, say, three or four in the afternoon. Then Ginny would never be rescued, because Brad would undoubtedly be stopping off somewhere to have dinner.

By the way, why would Brad, due back at the lab, return home after dropping John off at the hotel? Or weren’t we supposed to think of that?

He tries to call her, but obviously she’s not answering the phone. Fearing the worst, he has John meet him over to the lab. Meanwhile, we see the monster carrying Ginny through the woods. Because, you know, that’s what monsters do. Figuring we might want to actually be able to see the film’s climax, this all seems to be happening around sunrise. Apparently Brad is a sound napper. (Either that, or this is some of the worst day-for-night photography I’ve ever seen.) Brad and John arrive to find the lab burning down – Ginny attempted to hold off the monster with a torch – but John spots her shoe on the ground. "He’s got her!" Brad shouts, making what seems to be a bit of an intuitive leap.

Brad, John and the following Jensen head out to the lake. They’re worried, because after all, Ginny isn’t so much in danger of being killed as suffering A Fate Worse Than Death. In this case for real. I mean…yuck! Proving to be amazingly sharp-eyed, Brad notices a puddle of slime to the side of the road as they speed past in his car in the half-light. Pulling over, he and John begin to track the slime trail on foot while Jensen "goes back" for help. You know, one of these days they’ll invent some sort of portable communication device that police officers can actually keep in their cars.

The foot chase continues for a while, accompanied by blaring music to remind us that these events are exciting. Meanwhile, the monster lays the unconscious Ginny down. Here Brad and John magically appear, and with guns yet. The bullets fail to harm the beast, but an awakened Ginny is able to make her escape. John and Brad grapple with the monster, employing the Hero’s Death Battle Exemption to improbably survive. (Or maybe John gets killed. It’s hard to tell given the poor editing.) Then Jensen drives onto the scene and uses his squad car to ram the monster into a tree. The gas tank bursts and the monster is incinerated. Which, I have to admit, is more exciting of a finish than I was anticipating. If only it were filmed better.

Then the camera goes underwater and we go to the eggs. And, yes, we get a "The End", followed inevitably by a question mark. Not to mention the third, and thankfully final rendition of the flick’s stubbornly unmemorable theme song.

Bog is a threadbare looking affair. It appears to be the work of some local firm, such as a company that makes late night TV commercials for the town auto-wrecking firm. Apparently this is more or less so, since the picture was shot up in Wisconsin somewhere. The film is rather murky and was obviously not shot on the highest grade of film stock. Nighttime shots can be a bit dark. And the editing indicates a lack of coverage material, with segues often achieved via cuts so abrupt that they occasionally resemble breaks in the film reel. Also, there’s an odd thing were we momentarily freeze frame every time one scene segues on to the next.

The acting is perhaps better than you’d expect for such a movie, albeit not tremendously better. Marshall Thompson, a veteran player in British sci-fi films (First Man in Space, Fiend Without a Face, etc.) brings his typically low-key presence to bear. Hence he avoids looking foolish, but he doesn’t exactly give the audience anything to grab onto either. De Haven hardly registers as Ginny, except when she and Thompson start locking lips. And then what registers is pure horror. As Adrianna she slices the ham a bit more thickly, apparently having studied someone playing a witch at a kid’s Halloween Fair.

Aldo Ray hammily huffs and puffs his way through his part, taking his character’s nickname of "Rhino" to heart. He’s none too good, but probably better than the film deserves. The supporting cast, made up presumably of the sort of local actors who usually prove to be laughable, is better than you’d expect. Not, let me emphasize, that they rise above the level of community theater players. Still, we’re talking good community theater players rather than poor ones. (At least until the posse scene, when they need too many actors to dig up enough good ones.)

The only performance as bad as you might expect with a movie like this is the guy playing Wallace Fry. If he’s not basing his performance on the Torgo character, as mentioned above, it’s an amazing coincidence. The hunched posture, the halting manner of speech, is all amusingly similar if not identical.

The content of the film is pretty quaint, considering this was made two years after Jaws. The picture is rated PG. It’s a pretty soft PG at that, with any violence occurring almost entirely off-camera, presumably to avoid spotlighting the monster suit. Actual gore, meanwhile, is nonexistent. The monster suit, as noted, might well be perceived as being a tad primitive for one fashioned some twenty-odd years after The Creature of the Black Lagoon, or, for that matter, ten years after Horror of Party Beach. Moreover, the script, as might be gleaned from the above description, can easily seem to be that for a movie made upwards of two decades prior to this.

  • Ah, our old friends at the video distribution company Prism Entertainment. If only they had lasted into the DVD age, what wonders they might have brought us.
  • Of course, a Prism cassettes means…preview trailers for bad and hopefully obscure movies. First up is Dominique, a film obviously hoping to invoke memories of the French thriller classic Diabolique. A narrator informs us that Dominique is dead…or is she?! (After I wrote that, it turned out to be the actual final sentence of the trailer.) During the course of the preview, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t run longer than half an hour, the phrase "Dominique is dead," is spoken a good half dozen times or more. Therefore the full phrase was probably the intended title of the film. But then, just plain Dominique is a lot closer to Diabolique, isn’t it? Particularly with the French pronunciation of the latter title, which roughly rhymes with the former. Not helping is that the trailer is so dark so you hardly tell what’s happening half the time. Starring is Jean Simmons, Jenny Agutter from Logan’s Run, Simon Ward and a forlorn looking Cliff Robertson. Boy, winning that Best Actor Oscar really helped your career, didn’t it Cliff?
  • Next is Eaten Alive, which is weird, as more than ten people know this movie actually exists. It pimps itself as being for people who "experienced the unbearable suspense and shear terror of…" Three guesses. See. I assumed they were going to say The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Because that and Eaten Alive were both directed by Tobe Hooper. But no, they in fact compare the film to Jaws. And, to be fair, the movie does feature a really big killer alligator, or so it seems. I’ve never actually seen it myself. Veteran movie heavy Neville Brand here plays the loony killer motel owner (so it’s like Psycho and Jaws put together!) who feeds his victims’ bodies – some still moving, some not -- to his giant pet gator. One of the prospective corpses is a barely glimpsed Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund. Also are hand are Carolyn "Addams Family" Jones, Mel Ferrer (of course) and Stuart Whitman (ditto).
  • Yep, nothing says cheap, homemade horror movie like long scenes of actors sitting around in an office and yakking for minutes on end.
  • Only after seeing De Haven’s appearance as Adrianna do would fully appreciate the claim printed on the video box, asserting how she "in a duel role brilliantly portrays both" characters.
  • Adding humor to the scene in Adrianna’s shack is the lack of letterboxing. The transfer remains locked in the middle of the image, and with the sides cut off the moderate close-ups that compose the scene all become comically extreme ones. Every time they cut from one character to another you yell "Yahh!" as their embiggened visages crowd the screen.
  • Like many horror fans I get tired of genre films with casts made up entirely of characters in their late ‘teens or early twenties. Still, and let me be clear, no one in his right mind wants to see two people well into their fifties making out!! Did we not learn anything from Sextette?! I know this is a horror movie, but good grief, there are limits, man. And how did such a sequence earn a ‘PG’ rating? It’s sick, I tells ya.
  • Huh, that’s funny. Earlier the lake waters were described as being so murky that you couldn’t see for more than two feet. But during the scuba diving sequences they sure seem a lot clearer than that.
  • Movie Magic: Covering actor Aldo "Rydholm" Ray with gray make-up helpfully suggests that all his blood’s been drained out.
  • By the way, if Adrianna was trying to protect the creature, isn’t it a bit weird that she’d be the one to tell everyone of its existence and even where it lives?

A Tribute to The Eminent Dr Freex:

In a way I’ve been wasting your time here. More than usually, I mean. Dr. Freex over at the Bad Movie Report posted a full review of Bog a year or two ago, and I’ve no doubt it’s the definitive statement on this film. Plus it has stills. (Even so, I had already bought the damn thing and I wanted to have my say.) Now that my piece is done, I’m looking forward to rereading his. I don’t remember much of the particulars – really, truly; if we cover some of the same ground remember we were looking at the same movie – but my single all-time favorite bit of his, as I recall, came from this piece. I hope. If it was from another movie I’m going to look like a doofus.

This bit was the pop-up photo caption that accompanied a shot of the film’s menace. As I recall, it went along the lines of "Rah!! I’m a monsta!!" I have to admit, after laughing uproariously I suddenly felt closer to the good Doctor. Obviously we have much the same background. When you’re a kid obsessed with horror and sci-fi movies, you don’t split them up that way. Instead, you consider them collectively (I know I did) to be "monster movies." As much as you might have loved certain actors, the Lugosis, the Karloffs, the Prices, the Cushings, what you really were waiting for, almost wetting your pants in anticipation, was the appearance of the monster. Good or bad, it really didn’t matter. The worst monster I ever saw was wonderful.

This stays with you, even after you start to recognize the fact that some monsters are pretty embarrassing. Even as an adult I love that moment when you first see the monster. (The two big monster movie moments? When it’s first revealed, and when it dies.) Maybe I’m now liable to be disappointed – I especially find CGI monsters uninspiring – but the anticipation is still there. Even with a film like Bog, knowing going in that the monster was sure to be lame, I still wanted to see it. In a way, then, Bog’s a successful movie, because it gives us a monster. (Nothing was more brutal to a kid than a movie promising a monster that never delivered one, even if it would have been incredibly silly.) The filmmakers knew we wanted one, no matter how goofy it proved to be, and they delivered.

Without even wishing to you become more critical as you grow older. As adults, I and those with similarly arrested development still spend the entire film waiting to see the monster. That first appearance is still a magic moment. Only now we know we’re likely to roll our eyes and laugh when it does finally appear.

This is what Dr. Freex’s pithy little comment so brilliantly captures. Do we want to see the monster? Yes. Why else would we rent such movies to start with, knowing that they will almost certainly suck. (Sure, you say, because now we’re bad movie buffs – but how do you think we got that way?) Now, more than we’d like, once that magic moment actually arrives it’s followed by an instant let down. "You wanted a monster?" the filmmakers say. "Here’s your monster." And now we’re older, now we see the zippers and stilts and rubber skin and ping pong ball eyes. Now we see, not the monster that the eyes of a child might perceive, but a man. A man in a suit playing make believe, waving his arms at us and saying "Rah!! I’m a monsta!!" And we roll our eyes. And laugh to show our adult sophistication.

And then we plug the next cheapo monster movie into our VCR, all a’tingle.

Summation: Rah!! I’m a monsta!!


Hollywood Boulevard

Plot: A young starlet seeks (moderate) fame and fortune in Hollywood.

There’s an amusing story that explains how this film came to exist. Jon Davison was a producer who worked for New World Pictures, a production company started by legendary B-Movie maven Roger Corman. Corman was/is a legendary skinflint. So when Davison offered to produce a film for even less money than New World generally spent, Corman gave him a picayune $50,000 and the go-ahead.

The directors Davison had in mind -- they’d film simultaneously so as to keep the shooting schedule as short as possible -- were Joe Dante and Alan Arkush. Both men were already employed at New World, editing the company’s preview trailers and TV spots. The idea was to integrate into their film as much footage from earlier New World movies as they could get away with. (A technique still employed today: See my reviews for Final Voyage and especially Agent Red.) Whenever anything remotely spectacular happens here, you know it was undoubtedly shot for another picture.

Their other core idea was simplicity itself: The film would revolve around people like themselves, who worked for a B-Movie production company. This allowed them to use footage taken from films in a variety of different genres and still have it make a semblance of sense. Moreover, they could actually put their crew in the film and save money on actors.

Hollywood Boulevard -- a spoofy wink at Sunset Boulevard, the greatest of Hollywood’s films about itself -- is, unsurprisingly, a rambling mess. The final product is episodic in the extreme and the tone of the film changes on a dime. The amazing bit is that it somehow turned out to be pretty good, in a cheesy sort of way. This is a credit to all involved, the directors (Joe Dante of course would go on to bigger things, and his fingerprints are all over the film), the producer and the film’s polished cast.

The latter includes such exploitation stalwarts as Dick Miller. This is his first appearance for Dante, who would subsequently use him in almost all his pictures. The movie’s lead, meanwhile, is assayed by Candace Rialson. Ms. Rialson later starred in the talking vagina movie – yes, you read that right – Chatterbox. She furthermore remains memorable from her roles in many of New World’s sexploitation films of the period. Also prominent here are the late actor/director Paul Bartel and his frequent screen partner Mary Woronov.

Rialson is Candy, a young actress just arrived in Hollywood with the inevitable stars in her eyes. She soon hooks up with sarcastic-yet-loveable agent Walter Paisley (Dick Miller). This role provided a much meatier part for the actor than he normally got. It’s also indicative of the film’s numerous in-jokes. Walter Paisley was also the name of the flower-eating character Miller played in Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors.

After a stuntwoman dies on the set of the latest no-budget Miracle Pictures production ("If It’s a Great Picture, It’s a Miracle!"), the inexperienced Candy is sent to take her place. In between these event is a totally unconnected and quite long sequence where Candy is tricked into performing getaway duties for some bank robbers. How come? It gave the filmmakers an excuse to include a shootout from the picture Big Bad Mama.

On the set Candy meets the rest of the main characters. Patrick is the cynical young screenwriter, struggling to inject something worthwhile into the crappy films he has to write. He’s also Candy’s instant love interest. Eric is the comically pretentious director (perfectly limned by Paul Bartel), who fervently believes that he’s making profound artistic statements with films like "Atomic War Brides." Mary Woronov is Mary, the established star of Miracle Pictures. She’s approaching thirty, however, and is constantly on guard against the younger actresses breathing down her back.

There’s P.G., the young producer who doesn’t care how crappy the movies are if they as long as they make money. He also quite casually exploits his position for sex from the scads of would-be actresses hanging around, all of whom seem to accept this as the natural order of things. Finally there are the fellow starlets who become Candy’s friends. Bobbi is a roller derby queen hoping to break into pictures; Jill, a rich girl who makes movies for the kicks.

The plot, to the extent that there is one, involves the actresses falling victim one by one to a series of increasingly suspicious accidents. The solution to this is pretty obvious, but works nonetheless, leading to a pretty decent finale up by the famous hillside Hollywood sign.

The nudity is both casual and omnipresent. We meet P.G., for example, as he and an unabashedly topless woman exit what moments prior to this was the archetypical rocking van. This occurs perhaps twenty seconds into the film. Later, a line of auditioning young things in white cotton t-shirts are hosed down. This sequence so blatantly and winkingly exploitative that it’s actually pretty funny. (Although one can almost hear Joe Dante cringing as this bit runs under his commentary.) Sex is prevalent and treated with a matter-of-fact casualness that will strike those unfamiliar with ‘70s exploitation fare as a little shocking.

More so will be the extremely un-PC nature of some of the antics. Those who think films like Scary Movie pushed the envelope are only partially correct, as there are definitely areas such films won’t stray into. Here, for instance, Candy is twice nearly raped, which scenes are played one second as horrifying and the next as comical. During the second such incident, a drunken Candy is saved from rapine by Walter. Freed, she helps him beat up the two men who were molesting her. Rebounding rather quickly from her ordeal, she squeals, "God, I love Hollywood!"

Meanwhile, although the starlets’ death scenes start out as utterly comical, especially the one that opens the movie, the last one is quite lengthy and downright cruel. As a directorial calling card to show Corman that they can direct suspense and horror sequences, it’s a definite success. But it’s way out of sync with the rest of the film. (In an apt homage to Hollywood Boulevard, this entire sequence was years later dropped whole into the Tracy Lords remake of Corman’s Not Of This Earth.)

Despite my occasional qualms, though, there’s a lot of good stuff here. In particular the soundtrack is surprisingly strong. The title ballad "Hello, Hollywood," is a marvelous, melancholy tune that effortlessly captures the serious side of Candy’s character. More boisterous is a music-video like appearance by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, playing a lively and hilariously vulgar tune entitled "Truckin’,…" and something that rhymes with "Truckin’". According to the commentary, even Corman raised an eyebrow when he saw this sequence.

All in all, despite the off-handed portrayals of how corrupt the business is – in this case, directors and producers literally shrugging off numerous deaths because the Show Must Go On – there’s an oddly innocent tone to this movie that reflects the fact that the filmmakers are portraying characters who have the same dreams that they themselves do.

A love for B-Movies, as you’d expect from one of Dante’s films, is also evident. Dante and Arkush sacrificed almost all of their nearly non-existent salaries to pay for a cameo by Robby the Robot (serving Paisley a drink at a party, he electronically tells the agent, "Actually, I’m not a waiter, I’m a robot.") and some modest optical effects, like wipes to provide segues rather than straight cuts. An envy-inspiring Godzilla suit (here as "Godzina") also makes an appearance. Make sure to hang around for the post-credits outtake.

They always seem taller up on the screen, don't they? "Damn, man, get a couple of quarts of oil in you and you're a real jerk!"

Also amusing is a long sequence at a drive-in, at which Candy’s first film, "Machete Maidens of Mara Tau" is third billed. First up, unsurprisingly, is footage from The Terror, one of the most borrowed-from films in cinema history. The spotlighted scenes are those where a younger Dick Miller appeared opposite Boris Karloff. Also included is the utterly bezerk screwing-space monsters scene from Battle Beyond the Sun, monsters that neophyte Francis Ford Coppola cut into a Roger Corman-produced reworking of the Soviet space opera Niebo Zowiet.

If you’re going to watch this film, get the DVD. Aside from the widescreen presentation and superior print quality, you also get a simply smashing commentary by Arkush, Dante and Davison, the latter two of which supplied the even better track for the Piranha DVD. Anyone interested in Roger Corman, by which I mean all B-Movie fans, will hear absolutely essential anecdotes about what it was like to work for him. As well, Dante is truly one of our own, a director with a fan’s heart. As is usual with the best commentary tracks, you get the idea that the guys recording it had tremendous fun doing so. I especially like when Arkush refers to a shot of Jill tossing Candy a sub-machine gun as "my homage to [Howard Hawk’s classic Western] Rio Bravo," getting a good laugh from his comrades.

Summation: Choppy but eminently enjoyable schlock from the last golden age of the exploitation film.


Planet of the Vampires

This sci-fi/horror outing by Italian genre master Mario Bava is newly available on DVD. Being a film that relies mainly on visuals, it surely profits from it. Part of MGM’s inexpensive Midnight Movies series – the disc is generally available for around $10-12 -- the widescreen presentation and sharpened color palette provide about as good a viewing as you could hope for.

The film is a mixed bag, and will likely prove of most interest to Bava fans and sci-fi completists. (Include me in the latter.) Science fiction buffs will find the movie of particular interest, given the connections to other, better known genre fare. The picture is especially well known for providing inspiration for Ridley Scott’s Alien.

Captain Mark Markary (who was nearly one transposition away from being a New Kid on the Block) is the commander of the spaceship Argos. His is one of a pair of vessels sent to investigate a mysterious electronic signal emanating from your archetypical Remote, Forbidding Planet. Upon entering the atmosphere they are subjected to mysteriously intense gravitational forces – which frankly should have killed everyone – and all the crew save Markary is rendered unconscious.

Once the others awake, however, they begin to attack one another with homicidal intent. Once subdued, they awaken from their trance with no memory of their behavior. This sequence goes on at such length that it frankly becomes a bit comical – Markary will beat down each miscreant, who then comes to their senses, whereupon they are again attacked by another crazed crewmember.

Eventually, however, everyone is back to normal. The planet proves to have a breathable atmosphere and a search party heads out to find the other ship. They do, but the same outbreak of violence seems to have happened there, only with far more lethal results. Even Markary’s younger brother is found dead.

One by one the rather large crew ends up either missing or dead. Further exploration of the planet, meanwhile, turns up an alien spacecraft. This sports the skeletal remains of a gigantic and only vaguely humanoid species. This sequence and the skeletons in particular, obviously, have helped to cement the film as a predecessor to Alien.

Eventually we learn that the planet is infested with formless alien beings who can posses human corpses or, less successfully, sleeping or unconscious ones. (In another device to be borrowed by Alien, the aliens sent out the previously mentioned electronic signal to draw spacefarers to them.) In deference to the title I’ll refer to the possessed dead as ‘vampires.’ There is a certain logic in this. While they don’t drink blood, the alien-possessed corpses assume the physical forms of their victims, while their earthly souls are absent. The vampires’ ultimate plan is to take the Argos back to the explorers’ home world and take over or whatever. Unsurprisingly, the remaining humans work to thwart these plans.

Planet of the Vampires also resembles Alien in that it’s a visually stylish but largely empty movie. The film’s strong points involve what Bava brings to the design of the movie. The bit with the vampires rising up from their graves -- in slo-mo, of course, I mean Bava is Italian -- is pretty neat. And it’s easy to see why certain sequences, like the discovery of the alien ship and skeletons, would stay in somebody’s head long enough to be incorporated into another script. Also, many of the landscape shots are pretty atmospheric. While cornball in nature, Bava is able to use elements like dry ice fog and (literally) unearthly sounds to good effect.

The film also brings to life the feel of ‘30s pulp Space Opera fiction better than any other I can think of. Elements ranging from the nonchalant presentation of well armed space-faring humans, the inclusion of hot women on the scene -- although a little big-haired for my tastes, and more in the tightly-clad than half-dressed tradition of such literature -- the menace from alien species, and so on, all bring to mind the heyday of BEM literature. Even the film’s manifold faults and general sillyness help in this department.

Also of special interest are the tight black leather uniforms the crewmen wear. (Which, frankly, demand better bodies than many of the cast here possess, especially the pot-bellied Sullivan.) They add a certain Fascist esthetic to the proceedings, especially in an Italian film made a mere twenty years after the deaths of Hitler and Mussolini. Certainly the extremely high and rigid collars, which appear quite uncomfortable and cover much of the lower half of the face, work along with the black leather skullcaps serve to reduce our sense of the characters’ individuality.

Other than that, though, the film’s kind of a stiff. The script is cued more to mood than logic and the attempts at ‘futuristic’ techno-babble are woeful. The acting is pretty awful. Barry Sullivan is the Obligatory Imported American ‘Star’ brought in to act as the film’s lead, and he’s pretty darn wooden. The rest of the cast, presumably made up of Italian actors, bring all the subtly of silent film thesping to bear here. Certainly the muscles that allow the cast to pop wide their eyes get a workout. Nor does the dubbing, much of it by actors instantly identifiable as voices from the Americanized Speed Racer cartoons, help any.

The characterizations also leave much to be desired. This certainly isn’t exactly the most impressive collection of brainiacs I’ve ever seen. Markary is constantly sending people off on their own, no matter how many people end up dead after he does so. And in a classic bit of inadvertent humor, one of the crew examining the alien ship touches a device she sees on a table. This shocks her and she yelps in pain. Markary runs over and asks what happens. When she tells him, he immediately grabs hold of the same object and then acts amazed when it shocks him too!

Special effects are of variable success, although their fakery is generally quite obvious. The spaceships in particularly are never less than patently models. The landscapes are quite obviously sets, albeit atmospheric ones. Meanwhile, the firing of the human’s space guns is indicated not by animated ray beams but instead via a practical effect. In this case, as in Logan’s Run, flames shoot out of their barrels.

Meanwhile, there’s this whole deal with how the spaceships can be disabled by removing their ‘meteor rejecters,’ apparently magical devices that shy meteors away from the ship. (I guess they could be force field generators, but that’s never even implied. To be fair, this might just be a case of bad dubbing.) Humorously, although these units are rather small, being smaller than the proverbial breadbox, neither of the gigantic ships carries a spare. This bizarre circumstance allows for much ‘suspense.’ Also noticeably odd is that the zombies, when killed a second time, stay that way. It’s convenient for the script, but never makes much sense.

Luckily, if the humans are pretty dumb, so are the parasite aliens. At the end of the movie (Spoiler Alert!!) one of the surviving crewmembers learns that his comrades are possessed. The zombies get the drop on him with their space guns, telling him that he will soon be one of them. Then they stand there without reacting when he runs off (!!), allowing him to destroy the ship’s meteor rejecter without any attempt at stopping him whatsoever. This allows him to leisurely destroy the device, although at the cost of his own life. This is what sets up the movie’s howler of a climax.

As noted, if you tossed this film into the Brundlefly machine with It The Terror from Beyond Space and twenty million dollars, you get Alien. Echoes of other genre films are also pervasive, though. One bit, where a zombie is unmasked when his tunic pops open and reveals his rotting damaged chest, is taken right out of Bava’s earlier (and much superior) gothic horror pic Black Sunday. Meanwhile, the humans-controlled-by-an-alien-intelligence thing is positively generic. Aside from occurring on the Starship Enterprise on a nearly monthly basis, similar events occur in numerous other films. Two of the closest to this, thematically, are Invisible Invaders – which, actually, could easily be seen as a direct sequel to this film – and the recent John Carpenter movie Ghosts of Mars.


Teenage Dream

Plot: A bare-chested Keanu Reeves is Going for the Gold!! Or so the video box would lead you to believe!!

The first thing I noticed (almost; see the bulleted points below) is that although the box for this cheapo EP video highlights the involvement of America’s Most Inexplicable Superstar, Mr. Reeves, the name featured before the title is star Olivia d’Abo. Second was "Flying High," the really bad song that opens our film, warbled by an Irene Cara-wannabe. The song itself, on the other hand, sounds like a, uh, reinterpretation of Madonna’s ‘Borderline.’ One crafted by a tunesmith as talented in the songwriting department as Ms. Ciccone is with acting. The third thing was that the title we see onscreen is Believe to Dream, not the box-indicated Teenage Dreams. Although the IMDB indicates that Flying was the original title. Hence the old B-Movie credo: The lamer the movie, the more titles it’ll be released under.

We begin with footage of girls ranging from maybe 14 to 17 honing their gymnastics skills. All in all, the sequence, backed by the aforementioned song works primarily as a blurry (EP tape) distaff take on the YMCA number in Can’t Stop The Music.

Coach Jean walks around giving her charges useful advice. "Try for a ‘10’ this time," she helpfully instructs one young hopeful. We also see Mark, the gym’s apparently lone male athlete, working a rowing machine. I’m not sure who this actor’s agent is, but he deserved a raise. He calls over to Robin (d’Abo), a painfully shy blonde who’s working as an assistant. From d’Abo’s less than subtle acting we can tell that her character pines for him. My advice: Don’t try to compete for a guy’s attention in a roomful of sweaty, leotard-clad high school students whilst wearing street clothes. Especially such a stereotypically ‘80s outfit: A blousy man’s striped dress shirt, collar turned up, under a man’s vest, over tight orange slacks.

Robin is soon accosted by two regulation Bitchy Peers. Leah, the Alpha Bitch, obviously also has an interest in Mark. We here learn that Robin’s initial character trait is that she is Painfully Unsure of Herself. Coach Jean, noting Robin’s distress, tells her she can go. Why the Coach would sport an English accent is left to our imagination.

Here we get a really bad transition. We see Robin gather up her clothes and books and depart the gym. Next we cut to her leaving the school building. Our initial assumption is that the second shot immediately follows the first. However, once outside she pauses to dreamily look upon a showered and fully dressed Mark. Who, we see, is now revealed by his attire and fancy car to be a Rich Yuppie Kid. (In other words, she will *not* end up with this guy. Not because he’s not good enough for her, but of vice versa.) Our Heroine’s smile fades as an equally clad and bathed Leah joins Mark.

Robin is startled from her revelry by the sudden appearance of Keanu Reeves. And who wouldn’t be? Keanu’s ‘character’ has a name, but why bother, since he’s again playing Keanu Reeves? And none too skillfully, I might add. From his ‘nonconformist’ attire -- which seems to consist of a suit jacket worn inside out and with the top few buttons done up, over a patterned black and white shirt -- we can tell he’s the film’s Robert Downy Jr., to d’Abo’s Molly Ringwald.

Keanu’s been assigned detention, we learn. A teacher said she didn’t want him dressed like that in class --and who can blame her? -- so he took his clothes off. "Right down to my underwear!" he exclaims. This lets up know that he’s a ‘Rebel’ of the Kooky but Loveably Harmless variety. There’s a stretch for Our Keanu, eh? It also informs us that the school is rather lax in the discipline department. If Keanu stripped down to his undies in my class I’ve have ordered him taken out back and beaten with a rope. Also, and I don’t want to surprise the hell out of you, but he seems to have a Secret Crush on Our Heroine. Wow, where do they get their ideas?

Robin almost misses her bus, but makes it in time to banter with the Black Bus Driver. This establishes her Authenticity, don’t cha know. And while I should be glad that the guy doesn’t engage in Jive Talkin’ (thank Heaven for small favors), his kindergarten-level riddles seem a bit, uh, unadvanced for a man conversing with a high schooler. On the bus a kid is using a boom box, allowing for the introduction of another bland ‘80s pop tune. If you ever wanted to watch a musical montage sequence featuring Olivia d’Abo riding a bus and window-shopping some fancy black leotards, this is the film for you. Frankly, this film is musically to Heavenly Bodies what Heavenly Bodies was to Flashdance.

Robin proves to be Blue Collar (which, of course, we already knew – she was joking around with a Working Class Black Man, something no *boo, hiss* Yuppie would be doing) and to work after school with her sickly mom (!!) in a grungy laundry. The laundry is run by a bunch of rude, bossy folk, who are white, of course. They might not be Yuppies but they do run a business, and are thus Suspect. Hence we are unsurprised when Jack, the owner, says rude things about members of discrete insular minorities. Jack also rags Robin out for being late to work again. The film lets us know that this is Mean, since otherwise we might think criticism of a chronically late employee to be justified. And we learn that Robin has a ‘perfect’ stepsister she’s tired of being compared to. All right, enough freakin’ backstory already!

Actually, I guess not. For we then learn that Jack is Robin’s stepfather. Jack and his daughter Gillian, who proves less than perfect, are subjected to a bit of the Designated Villain treatment. For instance, Gillian is played as a bit of a slut. Then she tells Jack about a boyfriend of hers who’s busy selling fish to pet stores. "That boy has his head on his shoulders," her dad replies in the finest Archie Bunker fashion.

The point being that we’re obviously supposed to feel smugly superior to anyone who would sell fish, or be impressed by such a person. But what’s wrong with selling fish? Maybe the guy wants to start a business, and this is the first step. And what the hell? Yuppies are mocked, and then blue collar guys trying to get ahead are mocked. I guess the only valid ‘dreams’ are those like Robin’s, i.e., ones with no financial aspect.

Robin leaves the house and jumps on a motor scooter. As you’d expect, this action augers the appearance of yet another forgettable song on the soundtrack. As Our Heroine rides around, we are shown the aftermath of a bad car accident. Seeing this, Robin pauses to rub her knee in a meaningful fashion. Yep, more backstory. Then she continues on to a seemingly deserted warehouse.

Inside we see a vaguely sinister man, smoking a cigarette and silhouetted from behind by light. He asks her if she’s going to put on a "good show tonight." She replies that she will and unbuttons her frumpy shirt. This reveals a ripped black skintight leotard, low cut to accentuate some impressive cleavage. You might think me unchivalrous for mentioning the latter, but the camera spotlights it with a tight close-up. The man walks into the light and turns out to be a black street cop. Here I began to wonder if the film was going to be a rip-off of the schlock classic Angel rather than Flashdance.

And the answer is no. In fact, it turns out the ‘cop’ is a security guard at this warehouse. Apparently it functions as Robin’s private gym, to which she sneaks off to conduct secret gymnastics training. (Look, I didn’t write this, OK?) It’s a carpet warehouse, and she lands on carpet samples after her vaults and does handsprings off the big rolls of carpeting. As she strips we see an ace bandage on her knee – the one she rubbed at the car accident, get it? – and starts up, that’s right, a bad ’80s-esque pop tune on her boom box. Then she begins performing a dance number obviously choreographed by someone who saw Flashdance. No, that’s not quite right. Choreographed by someone who had only seen Flashdance. Over and over and over again.

Luckily the warehouse comes equipped with kleig backlighting and hanging silk sheets and fog machines. And so Robin pumps her hands in the air whilst strutting around, like in Flashdance. And leaps in the air, vaulting horizontally over a floor-mounted camera, like in Flashdance. And turns into a dance double whenever we can’t see her face, just like in Flashdance. The guard, meanwhile, is her one-man cheering section. (It must be very lonely being a night watchman.) Oh, and lest I forget, he’s also the film’s *sigh* shuckin’ and jivin’ comic relief Black Dude.

Now, I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think you heal a knee injury by engaging in strenuous, er, dancing. And ‘dancing,’ even while incorporating such moves, would seem to have even less connection to gymnastics than, say, ballet. Also, I couldn’t help but notice Robin’s figure, given the camera angles and tight leotard and all. And while she might have the correct build for an exotic dancer (maybe), she’s easily twenty pounds too heavy for a gymnast. I mean, there’s no way. What’s really weird is how much heavier is here than she was two years earlier in Conan The Destroyer. I was honestly wondering if she’d had a baby right before making this.

Robin returns home and we hear her mom and Jack arguing. Robin looks mournfully at a recent picture of herself and, presumably, her father. Then we cut to the school. Leah is standing by the cafeteria’s jukebox (!!). As it starts to play a song that sounds weirdly reminiscent of Footloose, at first anyway, she starts breaking some moves. We fear a Fame-esque student musical number, but it’s only a false scare, like a cat rocketing out of an opened cabinet. Meanwhile, the lunch lady is serving (ha ha ha) some crappy looking food. Keanu appears in line and starts goofing on how good it looks. Then his sidekick -- since when do Kooky but Loveably Harmless Rebel guys get a sidekick? -- asks her is she’s using a new razor. Ha!! Taunting civil service workers! What a card!!

Keanu starts mooning over Our Heroine, who, in another expository bit, he calls "the new girl." Leo, the comic sidekick -- since when do comic characters get comic sidekicks? -- tells him to gain her attention somehow. Like by wearing antlers. "Then she’ll know you’re horny!" he sniggers. Boy, every time I start wondering if my stuff is unfunny crap I see something like this and am reassured. I mean, somebody got paid to make Teenage Dreams. You know what I mean?

A girl, Carly, sits down at Robin’s otherwise empty table. Carly has New Best Friend written all over her: She doesn’t like Leah (who of course is supposedly the school’s best gymnast), she dared to sit with Our Ostracized Heroine, and she asks leading question. Time, I’m guessing, to lay all of our expository cards on the table. But I’m wrong and the opportunity passes, dammit. Meaning that we’ll have to sit through all this later on in the movie.

Later, at a workout, Carly furtively mentions to Coach Jean that Robin used to perform gymnastics. Jean calls her over and asks her to do a couple of turns on the uneven bars. She does, but lands badly because of her knee. Still, Jean is impressed by her three-second demonstration. Leah (who at least has the correct figure for a gymnast), of course, sniggers insultingly at Robin’s efforts. Which is her job, given that she’s the film’s Bad Gal.

A melancholy Robin, meanwhile, soon manages to alienate Keanu. Well, gee, I guess that’ll be the last we see of him, eh? Then we get a *gag* tender scene between Robin and her Mom. At least it made my head feel tender. Here we finally are told of the car accident that killed Robin’s father and screwed up her knee.

Recharged by her Mother’s grim retelling of the fatal incident, Robin hops on her motor scooter and returns to the carpet warehouse. Only her friend Fred the Guard isn’t there, so she returns home and has a body double do some exercises. The patently obvious intercutting between d’Abo’s facial close-ups and the double body’s strenuous workout here is spectacularly humorous.

Meanwhile, Coach Jean is getting quite annoyed with the lackadaisical attitude of her gymnastics team. Thus Jean is receptive when Robin appears and asks for an audition. Shot from above and behind -- thus, no doubt coincidentally, not showing her face -- Robin performs a routine on the uneven bars. Frankly, it seems of less than Olympic caliber. Still, it’s enough to get Jean and Carly and even Mark’s attention, while inspiring some teeth baring from Leah and her flunkies. None too surprisingly, Robin quickly wins a spot on the team.

Carly invites Robin over to her house. Her family also proves to be rich, but her Mom is mean to her. This signals to us that Carly isn’t morally tainted by their wealth. She offers to let Our Heroine work out in her elaborate home gym. This quickly leads to shots of the girl’s boobs, butts and crouches (there’s some class for you) as they work out in a typically lame musical montage.

Cut to the school. Jean is explaining that she’ll be soon picking three girls – she wants "winners" – to compete in the upcoming regional finals. (Gee, where is this going?) As you’d expect, Leah starts fuming over Robin’s skills as a gymnast -- such as they are -- as well are her growing ability to draw Mark’s attention. Maybe he wants something with a little more meat on the bone. In any case, her status threatened, Leah inevitably vows revenge.

Meanwhile, Keanu receives some ‘comical’ advise from his Comic Sidekick on how to get Robin to notice him. Which backfires when an excited Robin gets a party invitation from Mark and runs right past him. Ha. Ha. By the way, if it seems like I’m jumping around a lot here, it’s just that I’m trying not to get bogged down here.

To prepare for the bash, Carly and Robin engage in a simply horrifying musical montage/’comic’ girls-out-shopping sequence. This was no doubt intended to be ‘lighthearted,’ although it was the contents of my stomach that started rising. This all takes place in a venue that inexplicably features period costuming and literal giant heaps of clothing and stuffed animals and other weird items. Moreover, the girls roll around in this merchandise without anyone saying anything about it. Perhaps because no one else seems to be there.

Dressed in ‘80s fashion at its worst – the invite said to "dress funky" – Robin appears at Stately Wayne Manor. Or wherever it is that Mark lives. Only it turns out that this is the revenge that Leah mentioned. There is a party, but it’s a snooty formal affair. I think we’re supposed to take umbrage at the snobby reactions towards Robin’s attire. However, since she’s dressed like the Eliza Doolittle from an Andrew Lloyd Webber funk redo of My Fair Lady, I’m in complete agreement. Needless to say, Mark’s dad proves an ass (because he’s very rich, you know) and orders Robin from his house. Here a heartbroken Robin is at her is at her lowest point. As was I, when I realized there was still over fifty minutes of this movie left.

So let’s move on and only hit the real high points. Such as the kid dressed like the Michael Jackson of "Thriller" who’s seen break dancing in the hall of the school. Or how we’re supposed to feel sorry for Robin when she finally decides to stop ignoring Keanu, only to find that he’s with another girl. Or the introduction of Rhonda Hamilton, the Arch Gymnastics Nemesis who is Coach Jean’s Great White Whale.

Hoping to get Keanu’s attention outside the local burger place, Robin jumps up, grabs a strut, and starts calling to him whilst hanging upside down. (!!) Which seems pretty rude – not to mention psychotic – considering that he’s out on a date with another girl. (If Leah did this while Robin was out with Mark it’d be portrayed as incredibly bitchy.) Yet despite her madcap antics she doesn’t seem to get anywhere. Whereupon Leah and Bitchy Sidekick #1 show up for another taunting session.

In one of the more flabbergasting scenes I’ve witnessed of late, Leah and Robin start holding an impromptu gymnastics competition in the burger joint parking lot. (!!) Backed, of course, by some really bad ‘80s synth music. Have you ever seen Gymkata? In that movie, the hero miraculously stumbles over a parallel bar or pommel horse whenever the need arises. Similarly, this fast food drive-in provides areas ideal for sustained cartwheeling and such. Even more ‘coincidentally,’ Coach Jean just happens to stop by to get some dinner. Robin has the advantage of having a better body double, however, and appears to be winning when an irate Jean breaks up the match.

And so on. Carly, driven to anorexia by her parent’s pressuring her to be perfect (damn rich people), collapses on the balance beam. She’s also taking pills, and we segue into some really lame After School Special™ territory here. Then Robin and Gillian start bonding, which comes right out of nowhere. This bit provides Robin with an embarrassing soliloquy on what gymnastics means to her. "I guess it’s how birds must feel when they’re flying," she dreamily muses.

Uh, let’s see, there’s the bit where Leah’s sidekick squirts a small amount of ketchup onto Robin’s hand. (The fiends!!) Keanu, witnessing this, retaliates by placing pint milk cartons on their chairs. This is when I knew, I mean, really knew, that he still loved Our Robin. Please give me a minute to collect myself. Next is the big scene where Coach Jean reveals the three girls who will be on the Regionals team. Gosh, I’m all on pins ‘n’ needles! Oh no!! She picked Leah!! And then some Asian girl. (I guess she does want to win.) Oh, no, that only leaves one…Yes!! She picked Robin!! Hurray!!

The still wary Robin and Keanu have a little "Dare I open my heart?" scene together. This is all the more excruciating as we’ve no doubt that they’ve end up together. Which they do. (Oops, sorry.) This bit contains a hilarious line where Keanu compares himself to Mark. "I guess I’m just not pretty enough for you," he bitterly whines. This, from a man whose entire career has been built on how pretty he is. Anyhoo, the scene leads into, that’s right, a musical montage. This one follows them as they walk down a street, and then when Robin watches unbelievingly as he loads a lot of condiments on a hot dog. Whoa, Nellie, there’s a scene I won’t soon forget.

Moving on. There’s a *cough* inspirational scene where Robin stands up to Jack and quits her job. He skulks away and her former coworkers applaud her newfound You Go Girl! sassitude. This didn’t exactly call to mind Sally Fields standing up to The Man in Norma Rae, although I think it was supposed to. Next is a club scene, allowing for the film’s ninety-seventh forgettable pop tune. Robin and Keanu are dancing up a storm, well, a drizzle, when, out of the blue, Tragedy Strikes. (Don’t worry, it’ll make her gymnastics triumph all the more meaningful.) Told she has a phone call, she learns that Mom is in the hospital.

Amazingly, we are spared a tearful-yet-inspirational deathbed scene. Instead, a wreath on Jack’s front door tells the tale. Gillian presents Robin with a gift Mom had intended to give her, the fancy black leotard she always wanted. Following which, Robin packs up and leaves Jack’s house. He tries to make peace with her, but she isn’t having any of it and reacts snottily. Which I thought cast her in rather a bad light, but I guess it must all be his fault. After all, she’s The Heroine.

Stuff happens. She moves into Carly’s house, but first has a (yuck) romantic – i.e., sexual -- interlude with Keanu at his currently parent-free home. Cue Lame Tune #217. Luckily this stuff doesn’t last long, especially when one utilizes the fast forward button on his VCR remote, and we next see them washing the bedclothes. (!!) Then they continue in a like vein until we mercifully put the whole thing behind us.

Robin is next seen at the gym. In a bit that threatens to add a note of hard reality to the film (and which is thus out of synch with all the rest of it), Coach Jean confesses that she only put Robin on the Regionals squad because she knew it would motivate Leah – her best student – to actually work hard. Now that this has been accomplished, Robin has been replaced with Stacy, Leah’s Bitchy Sidekick. While all the rest of Robin’s misfortunes have seemed entirely scripted, this one actually has some kick to it. Anyway, Robin refuses to quit, and we get a training montage featuring Uninspired Song #4891. Eventually she proves she has the Eye of the Tiger (they actually say this on the video box!) and Jean returns her to the Regionals team.

At the meet Robin nervously watches the legendary Rhonda Hamilton. And no wonder she’s nervous. Rhonda looks about thirteen years of age and must weigh all of sixty pounds. In other words, she actually looks like a real life championship gymnast.

The match begins, cuing Lackluster Musical Interlude #34,317. We see various shots of actresses doing balance beam stuff. Then it’s the uneven bars. This goes on at some length, and the fact that we have a pretty good idea where it’s all heading doesn’t help any. Although I have to admit, they do make concessions to reality. For instance, they don’t have Robin beat Rhonda. Instead, the latter falls and hurts her shoulder, knocking her out of the competition. No, the film will settle for Robin defeating Leah.

Eventually it’s down to floor routines. We start with Leah’s, which instigates Dreary Jingle #1,001,017. Then it’s Robin’s turn. Leah’s done well enough that only a perfect 10 can beat her. Our Heroine’s routine begins, accompanied by a refrain of our opening Bad Song, "Flying High." (I guess they just ran out of other songs.) Even with the help of her body double, her performance seems less then a perfect 10. But that’s *gasp, choke* what she gets. The good guys win. By which I mean, the movie’s finally over.

  • Before the film proper begins we learn that it’s a "Brightstar Films Production." One can only assume that they’re not referring to Keanu.
  • Bus Driver Humor:

    Bus Driver: "What does a 300 pound canary say?
    Robin: "What?"
    Bus Driver, in deep voice: "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty…"
    Robin laughs uproariously.
  • Odd Episodes of Chivalry Department: Although Leah and her cronies do all they can to undermine Robin’s confidence, they never broach the subject of her weight.
  • I particularly like the scene where both Roy the bus driver and Fred the carpet warehouse guard visit Robin at work. Apparently all black people know each other. (They eventually explain that the two are cousins, but I’m not buying it for a minute.)
  • Jack gets abusive because Robin offers to re-clean a jacket that still has a stain on it. I know people in Hollywood have no idea of how a ‘business’ works, but how would Jack’s firm stay afloat if he’s returning soiled clothes to his customers?
  • Coach Jean mentions that the "State Regional Finals" are approaching. I’m not on a sports team, but don’t the terms "State" and "Regional" contradict one another?
  • Advice from Your Uncle Ken: Never plan to attend a party whose invitation instructs you to "dress funky." (Even, or especially, if it’s real.)
  • What’s the lamest Knute-Rockne-Win-One-For-The-Gipper Inspirational line ever? "All he was thinking about was getting his ass across the Falls!" Don’t ask.


Where’d they get this storyline, Dickens? Or am I being too contemporary? The Brothers Grimm, maybe? Let’s see. Dying mom, dead father, evil stepfather, evil stepsister (at least at the beginning). Yeesh.

Director Paul Lynch early on helmed the slasher films Prom Night and the absolutely execrable Humongous. Most of his work has been doing television episodes, including lots of sci-fi shows like Star Trek TNG & DS9, Xena, and Baywatch Nights (!!). In 1986 he not only made Teenage Dreams (or whatever) with d’Abo, but also Bullies. His latest film, presumably DTV, was 2000’s Frozen With Fear. It starred Bo Derek.

Olivia d’Abo is the cousin of the perhaps marginally better-known Maryam d’Abo. In 1984 she had a memorable first part as the sexy young princess in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Destroyer. The same year she appeared opposite, that’s right, Bo Derek in Bolero. She remains most famous, however, for playing Fred Savage’s sister on Wonder Years. She’s remained fairly busy in the years since in Made-for-TV movies and doing voice work on animated series.

Rita Tushingham (Coach Jean) was a veteran actress, beginning her career with edgy British films in the ‘60s. She even had a fairly large role in Doctor Zhivago. From there it was steadily downhill, although she has managed to keep working. On the plus side, she’s never worked with Bo Derek.

Keanu Reeves went on to star in Johnny Mnemonic and Bram Stoker’s Dracula and maybe a couple of other things.

Summation: Looking for '80s cheese?  Stick with Heavenly Bodies.

-by Ken Begg