Five Movies I Can't Believe I Paid To See
I don't go to the movies anymore. They charge $12 and up for tickets and you only get to see one movie shown on a small screen in a shoebox sized room with cardboard walls that let you hear the movie playing next door. When I was growing up you paid $1 or less to sit in a real theater with an actual balcony section and a screen that was more than a story high. For that dollar you got to see a double feature which meant two movies. My parents had that beat. When they were kids for 10¢ you got the double feature, a news reel, a cartoon, a comedy short, a movie serial, and a sing along. And the theater had a live organist. The last film I saw in a theater was the ultra low budget "The Blair Witch Project" in the last theater in the city to sell tickets at $3. When the theater closed the next least expensive theater was $8, and that is when I gave up. While I miss seeing movies on a big screen with an audience what I am thankful for is not experiencing wasting 10% of my hard earned paycheck on a bad or dumb movie. Let the others learn they wasted their $12 on "Battlefield Earth" Heck, a family of five would have blown $60 on that movie. My experience with watching bad cinema was back when you usually had a second feature to fall back on and the ticket was cheap enough that you did not feel completely ripped off. Yet any amount of money wasted on a bad film is, well, money wasted. While the following movies are not the worst I have seen, they are the most memorable.
DAMNATION ALLEY ( 1977 )
The disaster movie craze of the 1970's started in 1972 with the genre's first blockbuster hit "The Poseidon Adventure" about a luxury liner overturned by a freak tidal wave and the desperate attempts of it's all star cast to escape the sinking vessel. Others can argue that "Airport" and the Godzilla films directly predated Poseidon, but none of those movies made the money that Poseidon did. The studios immediately sunk money into multimillion dollar disaster movies such as "Towering Inferno" and "Earthquake". By '77 the studios had pretty much used up all the big disasters ( fire, earthquake, volcano, flood,storm, ship sinking, and airliner crashing ) and were now starting to make movies based on the less desirable disasters. I actually had gone to see the semi-disaster movie "Silver Streak" a Hitchcock style comedy about a mild mannered book editor who while riding on a train witnesses a murder that no one believes he saw then is framed for killing of an FBI agent. The film was the first on air teaming of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor ( They had previously collaborated on the script for "Blazing Saddles" ) and was very funny. But the main draw to the movie was it's final ten minutes where the train, now a runaway, crashes through Union Station. The second feature was not as enjoyable. the disaster in "Damnation Alley" was a nuclear war started by those evil Russians who for no apparent reason launch all their missiles at the United States destroying just about everything. George Peppard and Jan-Michael Vincent play two army men at a remote desert base who can't get along. Peppard who plays the superior officer wants Vincent transferred off the base for reasons never exactly explained. It is then that the nuclear war breaks out. Peppard and Vincent retaliate by launching their missiles back at Russia and after plenty of stock footage of nuclear weapons tests doubling as American cities being destroyed the movie fades out. It picks up years later. The skies are full of radioactive clouds and mutants roam everywhere. The Earth itself was knocked off it's axis now causing freak weather. Back at the army base a soldier falls asleep in bed with a cigarette and sets fire to his stash of porno magazines which in turn causes a gas tank to explode. The whole base which still has plenty of rocket fuel explodes killing everyone except for four of the soldiers including Peppard, Vincent, and Paul Winfield. Fortunately Peppard had been working on building two land vehicles called landmasters which were miraculously undamaged by the blasts.
The vehicles are the real star of the movie and would appear again in subsequent Sci-fi movies, commercials, and music videos. The four surviving army men set out to cross devastated America to reach Albany New York, the one place on earth that the nuclear war did not effect and who now are sending out radio messages inviting survivors to come on over. They will have to drive through Damnation Alley, a strip of land that has the least amount of radiation damage but is never the less filled with glowing skies, freak storms, and mutant creatures. Not too soon after crossing into Damnation Alley one of those freak storms smashes one of the landmasters injuring Winfield and killing his companion. He joins Peppard and Vincent in the surviving landmaster and they continue on conveniently through Las Vegas where they find a lone survivor, a female lounge singer. In the next town over they are attacked by killer armor plated cockroaches who eat Winfield for dinner. The next tow over they find another survivor played by Jackie Earle Haley from "The Bad News Bears" and run into some hillbilly mutants who try to steal the remaining landmaster. Escaping that they head to a junk yard to scavenge for parts when suddenly the Earth's axis decided to realign and the entirety of Damnation Alley is covered by a flood. Fortunately the landmaster was also designed to float and paddles it's way to upstate New York where none of the fallout freak storms, mutants, or anything else has reached. "Damnation Alley" was hurt by an over ambitious movie studio. Prior to "Star Wars" Sci-Fi movies were usually very low budget with special effects that were obviously flawed. Studios felt no shame in releasing them that way. But after "Star Wars" proved to be a huge success 2oth Century Fox's executives began to obsess over how cheap the special effects were. Reportedly entire scenes were deleted due to the cheap special effects, many which were important to the plot. To cover up for the movie's shortcomings Fox spent a lot of money and time adding optical effects to make the sky glow different colors. In the end what ended up being released was a badly edited movie who's special effects were already dated. That's not to say that the original directors cut would have been any better. Overall a very disappointing movie even with a kick ass vehicle as it's real star.
STAR CRASH ( 1978 )
"Star Wars" was one of the movies that changed cinema forever. Within a year all the other studios were planning their own version of "Star Wars". Universal had "Battlestar Galactica", Paramount revived their "Star Trek" series as a film franchise, and United Artists had two imported films, "Message From Space" from Japan's Toei Studios and England's Danjaq/Eon Productions with their 11th James Bond movie "Moonraker" which for the first time had Bond in space. When I went to see "Moonraker" the second film in the double feature was an Italian version of "Star Wars" with an international cast called "Star Crash" released in America by Roger Corman's New World Pictures because at the time he could not afford to make his own "Star Wars" knock off. ( He would have to wait a couple of years until his studio released "Battle Beyond the Stars" ). "Star Crash" was incredibly dumb from the beginning. A group of space commandos go on a secret mission to blow up a planet containing a devastating weapon of mass destruction owned by Zarth Arn, the evil ruler of the dark half of the universe. The commandos fail when the weapon is turned on their ship filling it with lava lamp bubbles that cause it to explode and it's crew to go mad. Two escape pods leave the doomed ship, one containing the Emperor of Space's only son. The Emperor of Space ( Christopher Plummer ) sending the only heir to the thrown on a suicide mission is just a minor example of how dumb this movie is. The man in the other escape pod is found by space outlaws Stella Star and her platonic half human boyfriend Akton, played by Caroline Munro and Marjoe Gortner respectively. Soon after they find the escape pod with the comatose commando in it they are captured by the space police and sent to separate space prisons for committing some sort of crime, perhaps space smuggling. After Stella blows up her space prison during an escape killing everyone inside she runs into the same space police again who this time offer her a full pardon. The Space Emperor want her and Akton to find the missing Space Prince and apparently no one else in the universe can do it but some murdering convicts. After visiting a few planets they finally find the Space Prince ( David Hasselhoff in his first major movie role ) on a planet of cave men. They also find Zarth Arn's secret weapon guarded by his light saber welding robots. It turns out that the weapon was just a trap to lure the Space Prince and Emperor of Space to the planet which was really a huge bomb ready to blow up and do away with the entire royal space family. And of course the Emperor of Space shows up to rescue his son. Fortunately for everyone the Emperor's space ship is equipped with a device that stops time, long enough for everyone to escape before the planet goes off. Now safely back on their own planet the Emperor declares war on Zarth and sends his armed forces ( space ships ) over to Zarth's space station to blow it up. But they are all killed, and the Emperor decides the only way to stop Zarth is to take the floating magical Space City and crash it into Zarth's space station destroying both. Of course the only one who can do this is Stella Star who is able to jump out of a space window just before the two massive space stations collide and make it back to the arms of the Space Prince where the convict and the royal heir can now raise a brood of space children to carry on the royal space line. Sounds dumb? I have only told you a fraction of the movie. There is a really dumb line just about every minute, and dumb characters I have not mentioned.
SGT. PEPPERS LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND ( 1978 )
I saw this one with the movie "Coma". Paul McCartney once said that when the Beatles were working on the album Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band that they had envisioned an accompanying movie but never found the backing for it. The idea for turning Sgt Pepper into a movie stayed around long after the Beatles broke up and eventually the rights fell into the hands of producer Robert Stigwood. He had just had a string of successful musical movies, "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Tommy", "Bugsy Malone", and then major success with "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease". If anyone could pull of a new Beatles movie it would be Stigwood. Only the Beatles were not interested in reforming. So Stigwood decided to use the Beatles of the 70's, the Bee Gees along with Peter Frampton to round out the number to four. Next came the script based on the songs of the Beatles, some from the Sgt. Peppers album, some from Abbey Road. The story was like this, George Burns plays an old man, the town historian or something. He lives in the magical town of Heartland which was once the home of Sgt Pepper and his Lonely Hearts Club Band, a group of magical musicians who's playing brought peace and prosperity to the town. That is until the day they all dropped dead. Years later the grandchildren of the band members ( Frampton and the Bee Gees ) get together to reform the band and end up being signed by a record label and having the world wide success that their grandfathers never had. But back in town the magical musical instruments that the original band played have been stolen by an evil genius who wants to destroy Heartland and simultaneously wants to replace the Lonely Hearts Club Band with an evil band ( played by Aerosmith ). The magical instruments that kept the town safe from evil are sent to various villains including Alice Cooper who sings the song "Because" and Steve Martin in his first movie role singing "Maxwell's Silver Hammer". The only actor in the movie who speaks dialog is George Burns as everyone else has to sing Beatles songs in musical form. The plot was deliberately written so that each Beatles song used told part of the story, which explains why the movie is incoherent. George, as the only person in town who can talk without singing a Beatles tune, acts as the narrator. He does get to sing one Beatles tune, "Fixing a Hole". Frampton and the Bee Gees leave there successful but sinful music careers behind and track down all the stolen instruments. They also do away with the evil Aerosmith, but in the process accidentally kill off the films lead actress Sandy Farina who played the character Strawberry Fields.The whole town is devastated by Strawberry Fields' death and after the funeral Peter Frampton's character attempts to commit suicide by jumping off a roof. And by that time we are all rooting for him to do it. But a magic weathervane turns into Billy Preston ( the 5th and only Beatle to agree to be in this movie ) and while singing the song "Get Back" magically saves Frampton from splattering on the ground, restores the town to its former glory, and brings Strawberry Fields back to life. There is only one thing left to do but the entire town to get together and sing "Were Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band"
XANADU ( 1980 )
And if you thought that no Hollywood musical could be as dumb as Sgt Pepper then think again. You can thank Stigwood for this one as well, although indirectly. It was Stigwood's bright idea to cast Grammy award winning Country music singer Olivia Newton-John as Sandy in the movie "Grease". Olivia was transformed the same way Sandy was. She abandoned her clean country image and put out her first pop album "Totally Hot" with her wearing leather on the album cover and singing seductive songs "Deeper Than the Night", "A Little More Love" and the title cut "Totally Hot". Olivia also now fancied herself an actress and looked to make a second movie. But aside from Stigwood no one was making musicals anymore. So her people decided to put together an old fashion Hollywood musical with contemporary music. Olivia and ELO collaborated on the soundtrack which I must say is one of the best musical soundtracks ever made. That's what lures you into the theater, that wonderful soundtrack. Unfortunately the script writers never came up with a movie to match the soundtrack. For example a hit song from the movie was "Magic" which put Olivia back at #1 on the Billboard charts for 4 weeks. You would think the movie would have Olivia's character singing it but instead the director decided to use only part of it for background music. To keep the movie contemporary it would take place in a roller disco. But as production on the movie progressed there was a backlash against Disco which was pretty much dead by the time filming of "Xanadu" took place. During many rewrites the roller disco aspect was downplayed as the writers mined old Hollywood musicals for ideas. They concentrated on the films of Rita Hayworth and eventually borrowing part of the plot from one of her movies, 1944's "Down to Earth" as the framing plot for "Xanadu". At some point it was decided that "Xanadu" would be a sequel to Rita Hayworth's 1944 film "Cover Girl". Rita was suffering from alzheimer's and no longer able to act in movies, but her co-star in "Cover Girl" Gene Kelly was still very much active in the motion picture business. So the idea was that Kelly's character from "Cover Girl", night club owner Danny McGuire, decides to open a roller disco in 1980 inspired by a muse ( a Greek Goddess who inspires creativity in artists and musicians ) played by Olivia. The original idea was that Kelly falls in love with Olivia but since it is forbidden for humans and mortals to have any relationship Zeus orders Olivia back to Mt. Olympus and they are forced to part as tragic forbidden lovers. The problem here was Gene Kelly was in his late 60's and having Olivia who had just turned 30 fall in love with him would not be believable. Olivia was interested in working with her friend Cliff Richard who was 38 and would make a good love interest. The decision was that Olivia would inspire two men to open a roller disco as partners, Cliff Richard as the young one she falls in love with, and Gene Kelly as the older one who Olivia had met years earlier when she had inspired him to open his first night club that was seen in the movie "Cover Girl". Cliff got as far as recording for the Xanadu soundtrack the duet "Suddenly" when Universal decided they wanted Michael Beck who was then the star of the cult hit "The Warriors". Problem being that Michael Beck could not sing or dance. Once again the entire film was rewritten and Beck's character was changed from a frustrated singer to a frustrated artist. Even while the movie was being filmed it was constantly being rewritten. Entire scenes were reshot after being filmed as the story kept changing.
The story that finally ended up in the movie was this: Michael Beck plays the lead character Sonny who is a frustrated artist who had just quit his job painting murals for a record company. Unable to come up with a concept for a painting Sonny decides that he was never really a talented artist to begin with and throws his sketches out the window. They blow over to a mural that depicts muses dancing which in turn brings them to life. Most of them skate off to hell knows where while one of the muses named Kira ( Olivia ) skates past Sonny and gives him a kiss before skating off. Returning to his old job at the record company Sonny is asked to paint a mural of an album cover that has the Pan Pacific Auditorium on it with Kira standing in front. Wanting to track down the girl who kissed him that morning he finds the photographer who took the picture for the cover but he says that the girl in the photo had just shown up when he took it and he decided to use the photo as is. Randomly asking people in the beach area if they know Kira he finds Clarinet player Danny McGuire ( Gene Kelly ) and instantly befriends him. Sonny then breaks into the Pan Pacific Auditorium and finds Kira roller skating around in it. Kira convinces Sonny that the Auditorium would make a wonderful roller disco club and inevitably encourages Sonny and Danny to open the club together. Danny is not just a musician but a rich developer, and at one time he had owned his own big band night club. It is later revealed that he may have known Kira back in the 1940's in a flashback song and dance sequence. Sonny thinks that they could open a fantastic rock club while Danny is thinking more of another big band club. In a great musical sequence Sonny has visions of a rock band singing in one corner of the auditorium while Danny has visions of a 1940's style big band fronted by an Andrews Sisters style singers in the other corner. The scene cuts back and forth between both visions but eventually both merge to reveal that both music styles complement each other. It is then and there they decide to turn the auditorium into the club Xanadu. Unfortunately the other music sequences are nowhere as brilliant. A sequence where they take Danny shopping for new clothes to the tune of ELO's "Around the World" is pretty silly. Another sequence takes the already recorded Cliff Richard duet "Suddenly" and has a scene where Sonny takes Kira to a recording studio stocked with movie props and sets which somehow help inspire recording artists to sing better. Here they skate around the studio with "Suddenly" playing in the background. In all actuality they are skating around a movie set but Sonny describes it as a recording studio because the writers realized his character worked for a record company, not a movie studio. Had this movie been made a couple of years later they could have said it was a studio used to shoot music videos. Sonny falls in love with Kira and she confesses to him she is a muse and is forbidden to love a mortal. Kira returns to Mt Olympus and Sonny follows by skating into the muse mural. He tries to talk Zeus into allowing Kira to return to Earth but is told that it would be impossible. After Sonny is sent back Kira sings the sad song "Suspended in Time" which convinces Zeus to allow her to return to Earth one more night to help open the club Xanadu, after which she and her muse sisters turn into bright lights and levitate back up to heaven. The problem with "Xanadu" was there was a good idea for a movie buried deep inside what eventually ended up on the screen. Studio interference, poor direction, and an ever evolving cast coupled with a release date deadline of summer 1980 meant that it was impossible for any coherent story to develop. What you end up with is a movie about nothing. How exactly did Beck's character fit into this movie? If he is a penniless artist and not a singer at the club then what exactly is his contribution to it? While meandering between music sequences was perfectly acceptable on MTV it was not when you are sitting in a theater seat for an hour and a half. While some of the film is entertaining and the soundtrack is great, the movie is filled with too many dumb moments for anyone to enjoy it the same way they had enjoyed "Grease" two years earlier. The film ended the careers of Gene Kelly who would never act in a movie again, Michael Beck who went from rising star to bit parts, and the Pan Pacific Auditorium which remained closed and eventually burned down in a fire in 1989.
TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS ( 1983 )
"Xanadu" was one of the first movies I saw that was not part of a double feature, the first being "The Wiz". This was due to the arrival of the multiplex. Perfectly good theaters like The Midway and The Continental were subdivided into four smaller theaters each with a different movie. You had two theaters now where the ground floor seats were, and two other theaters up in what was once the balcony section. besides watching movies in smaller, and in the case of the balcony section, ridiculous theaters the big problem with the multiplex was that it rarely ever offered a double feature. In fact the only double feature I ever saw in a multiplex theater was "Rambo: First Blood Part II" with "Silverado" which was on a special promotional preview. Often the double feature at a multiplex was when you sat through the same movie twice which you could only get away with if you claimed to the usher that you had come in during the middle of the movie and wanted to see it again from the beginning. The independent mom and pop theaters almost always offered a double feature unless they had an absolute blockbuster like Jaws. But by the 80's the multiplexes were being offered new released months before they were offered to the mom and pops. If you wanted to see "Superman II" the week it opened then the only choice was the multiplex. The problem here was that with two movies the odds were that one of them was going to be good. If you saw a stinker then at least maybe the other movie would be good. The same thing went for 3D movies. The mom and pop theaters either did not have the money to invest in 3D projectors or the company that was renting them would only do so to the multiplexes. There was never any such thing as a 3D double feature anywhere near where I lived. During the brief 3D craze of the 80's I saw 3 of the movies. "Parasite" was dumb but fast moving and fun enough. "Jaws 3D" was nowhere as good as it's predecessors but was still fun enough despite the disappointment of the directors decision to cut away from the shark as it came at the screen. The third 3D movie I saw was a huge mess. "Treasure of the Four Crowns" had a story , i suppose. It seemed more like a bunch of excuses to film 3D effects that had nothing to do with the plot whatsoever. It begins with an overweight Indiana Jones type adventurer who is working his way through a booby traped medieval castle looking for the tomb of a king. Every step sets off different booby traps that involve shooting or poking things at the camera. The adventurer then goes through some sort of room that has futuristic technology. Huh? This lasts for a few seconds and is never explained. finally getting to the tomb he removes a key from the dead king which sets off the castles self destruct system. Not that gun powder would work after 1,000 years but somehow it does and the adventurer narrowly escapes by jumping through a window as the castle explodes behind him. Returning back to civilization he shows the key to a professor who then tells him the key opens compartments on four crowns where powerful secrets were stored centuries ago. Back in the 1800's someone found one of the crowns and tried to open it without the key which destroyed it's contents. The professor just happens to have the second crown and they open it to find a scroll. This means that the remaining two crowns have the magic balls, one with the power of good, the other with the power of evil. And the two remaining crowns just happen to be in the possession of a cult in their own booby traped castle fortress. The overweight adventurer is enlisted to steal the crowns and he in turn enlists his overweight friends ( and one hot looking girl ) to help him do the job. While trying to enlist an overweight and alcoholic friend the key comes to life, floats in the air, and makes everything in the room shoot at the camera and/or point at the screen. Once assembled the team breaks into the castle of the cult while their leader is busy giving a ridiculous and angry "I will rule the world!" type speech. One by one the thieves get themselves killed by booby traps. Of course the last two standing is the lead character and the hot chick who came with them. He is able to open the two crowns but after picking up the balls inside half his head melts right after spinning around several times. He is now possessed and when the cult comes storming into the room he destroys them by shooting fire out of the balls. Apparently the good and evil ball do exactly the same thing. Nearly killing the hot chick as well the adventurer snaps out of being possessed and destroys the crowns, leaving the castle with the hot chick for a romantic happy ending. Or is it a happy ending? The scene cuts to a swamp where the egg from "Alien" emerges. It pops open an a snake sticks its head right out at the screen. I wish I knew what the snake had to do with the rest of the movie. Many people who have seen this movie point out how it ripped off "Raiders of the Lost Ark". But in reality it was ripping off another classic movie, Shaw Brother's "House of Traps" which was released a year earlier and had not been properly released in the United States or had shown up on syndicated television. Amazingly Jackie Chan would go on to remake this movie as the far superior "Armor of the Gods".