On This Month's Thrill-bill:
70's ASS KICKERS!
ecently Monica, Tiki Goddess and I went down to Hollywood to see Mamie Van Doren in person at the Egyptian Theater, where Guns, Girls and Gangsters was showing as a tribute to her and also as part of my pal Eddie Muller's annual noir festival at the American Cinemateque. I was standing outside the theater chatting with fellow B movie maven Johnny Legend when Mamie came va-va-vooming around the corner. We had been email pals for years but had never met in the flesh - till now. Mamie was so "thrilled" she had her son Perry Anthony, son of big band voodoo daddy Ray Anthony, take a picture of us for her Web site, www.mamievandoren.com (required browsing for all Thrill seekers, linked to my column page on our own Web site - the photo is also there, on the Scenes from Thrillville page). Still looking like a million bucks bouncing on high heels, Mamie wowed the crowd after the flick, one I had never seen, believe it or not. It was no masterpiece, but I loved it, since it was set partly in Las Vegas before it became Disneyland in the Desert, and also because Mamie played a showgirl/gun moll who performed several sizzling song-and-dance routines. It was a kick in the head and then some. Afterwards we went over to our favorite restaurant south of Scoma's, Musso & Frank's for some classy din-din. Sometimes LA ain't so bad, as long as you have something to do there besides wheel 'n' deal.
Mamie is the Queen of Thrillville, cats and kittens. You may recall my old Midnight Lounge show (before I went primetime with Thrillville) won a nod from the Bay Guardian in their Best of the Bay issue '97: Best Place to See a Mamie Van Doren Flick with a Cheap Bottle of Decent Red (because I showed the only Mamie movie I could find in 35mm, the classic High School Confidential). I contacted Mamie via her Web site to tell her about this and that's how we got acquainted. She is the feminist's sex symbol, her own woman, even back in the 50's - took no crap off no one, did things (and men!) how and when and where she wanted. She is the last of the Big Three Blonde Bombshells: Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe sprouted angel wings and flew this big coop years ago, while Mamie survived and thrived to become the first Sex Kitten in Cyberspace. Every time I think of that skinny limey bimbo Elizabeth Hurley's stupid remark, "If I were as fat as Marilyn Monroe, I'd kill myself," I get pissed all over again. All I can say is, if I were as ignorant as Elizabeth Hurley, I'd kill myself. Also, maybe if she had a little more meat on her like a real woman her pansy-ass boyfriend wouldn't get busted for consorting with hookers. Of course he chose a gal with some booty on her, too. I rest my case.
Another cool movie gig I attended recently was the 3D Festival at the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto. I saw three classic sci-fi monster movies directed by Jack Arnold: It Came From Outer Space plus two of my all-time favorites, The Creature From the Black Lagoon and its first sequel Revenge of the Creature, in amazingly clear and vivid 3D. No headaches, no blue and red glasses (they were plain tinted ones), just beautiful dimensional pristine photography with objects sitting practically on my lap. I wish I could show this stuff in Thrillville but it requires a process and technology we do not possess at The Parkway. (I did show an incredibly 3D short from the 40's at my epic Psychotronic Film Show, courtesy of Bob Ekman and Scott Moon, but that was in 16mm and, while very cool, a bit of an eyestrain.) That's okay. We have couches, beer and pizza, and as much as I enjoyed the creature double feature, my ass felt a little cramped afterwards. I am spoiled from the luxury we have grown accustomed to around here. And one 3D wonder the Stanford does not have is Monica Tiki Goddess and her Big Wheel, the kind of in-person magic you can only find at The Parkway.
Anyway, you may have noticed that I have yet to even mention the theme for this month's thrill-bill, which has absolutely nothing to do with 50's B movies in any dimension: 70's Ass Kickers. Well, I'm getting to it right now. But first, a word about the "price increase" for Cheap Thrill Thursdays, from a paltry, profit-sucking three bucks to a more reasonable five bucks, the price of admission for all other Parkway programs except for the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is six bucks, twice as much as Thrillville Theater used to be, and not because it's twice as good. It's equally good. But I am maintaining entry fees at average Parkway rates. Sometimes Will the Thrill gets Billed and is not Thrilled. We have a fiscal bottom line to address. Contrary to rumor, I am not a philanthropist. I just dress like one. My contribution to the culture at large are the great movies, prizes, special guests and the privilege to gaze upon the timeless beauty of Monica, Tiki Goddess as she spins the Big Wheel of Fortune. I say all of this is well worth five bucks - especially compared to the poor saps who will pay eight or nine bucks this summer to see Tom Cruise ruin the legacy and insult the memory of Mission:Impossible yet once again. Five bucks is still a matinee price for a non-matinee. If you are too cheap to fork over the extra two bucks, no doubt you are also too cheap to buy any food, so who needs you? Stay home and rent a video. I offer you the best of classic big screen entertainment combined with a live lounge act every week - all I ask in return is your unflagging support. And an extra two bills at the box office. I thank you in advance for your kind understanding and generous sponsorship of this unique enterprise.
All right, let's get to it: Why 70's Ass Kickers? What does that mean, anyway? Easy: ass kickin' flicks made in that most dreadful of decades, the 70's. Keep in mind I say this from the perspective of someone who aesthetically is stuck circa 1961. To be fair, many people I know recall the 70's fondly (and hazily) as a drugged-out romp of wild casual sex, with few if any times-out for a shave, haircut 'n' shower. But the sorry fact is most people who recall the 70's fondly were born in 1980. Another sad fact is I was born at least two years later than my wardrobe and attitude would indicate, in '63, and so I actually came of age in the 70s. I remember watching old movies on TV as a kid and then looking at the wretched world around me and wondering, What the hell happened? Is this really the same pathetic planet those stylish black-and-white people lived on not so long ago? Is it going to look and sound like this from now on? WHY? At least the early 80's, when I was still a teenager, had some decent music, relatively. Blondie, B-52's, Talking Heads, The Blasters, X. Back in New Jersey in the 70's. all I ever heard on the radio was stuff like the Bee Gees and Elton John. My music of choice was 50's oldies, broadcast every Sunday night on WPEN out of Philly. I worshipped Dead Elvis. People laughed at me. That's right. Bell-bottomed poofy-haired disco-dwellers were actually laughing at someone else. That's how old I am. Now hardly anyone laughs at Elvis. But try mentioning Peter Frampton without getting a good guffaw. The last laugh is mine, suckers. Then again, it is supremely ironic that the 70's are now a source of nostalgia. I never thought anyone would look back and wish those decadent days could be revived. The only explanation I can think of is that kids today long for a time when lifestyle standards were even lower than they are today. Tight pants with bell-bottoms? Platform shoes? Three-piece suits with super-broad lapels and fat ties to match? How exotic! Scrawny stringy-haired suburban white boys who scream instead of sing? Hey, we can do that too! And best of all - no condoms! Crappy days are here to stay!
Anyway, the bottom line is the 70's were a painfully ugly decade, fashion and music wise. Of course, so were the 90's, by and large. Well, maybe not as butt-ugly. Just really shallow, loud and abrasive. But at least the 90's had the lounge revival. In the 70's not even Sinatra was held in very high esteem by the in-crowd. That has changed also. True Class and Style always stand the test of Time. But one thing the 70's did have in abundance that the 90's were brutally short on was this significant (and practically defunct) popular past-time: the drive-in movie experience. All this month I am presenting some down 'n' dirty drive-in delights, featuring a parade of paisley-wearin' punch-happy pistol-whippers. The 70's wasn't all pansies, skinny white boy rockers and hippies. There was some serious butt-whoopin' goin' on, at least up on the screen. Even my old man, Robert Viharo, was an official 70's Ass Kicker: he starred as Zachary Kane, Modern Day Bounty Hunter in the unduly obscure motorcycle-riding kung fu serial killer classic, Bare Knuckles, featuring a wah-wah porno soundtrack and a big black ass-kickin' sidekick called: Black. I can't find any 35mm prints or believe me, I would be showing it. Frequently.
Instead, I'm "kickin' off" this furious-fisted fest with the ever-popular Bruce Lee martial arts masterpiece Enter the Dragon (6/1). Note that I am hosting the lounge lizard matinee (i.e. 6:30) dinner show only on this particular date. For the first time ever I am blowing off the late (9:15) gig, but I have a solid reason: Keely Smith is performing at Bimbo's that night and that night only. If you do not know who that is, I feel sorry for you. But I do know who she is (Louis Prima's ex-partner, duh), and since she is the favorite female vocalist of both the Tiki Goddess and myself (I also go for Julie London), my presence there is mandatory. However, I am not leaving the 9:15 Thrill seekers high and dry: I have lined up Nate and Barely Legal Productions, who put on the spectacular Rocky Horror Picture Show here every Saturday at midnight, to sub-host the program. Prizes, the Big Wheel Spin and whatever surprises they see fit will be on the bill as usual for Thrillville Theater. It should prove to be a pleasant and exciting change of pace, kind of like when Letterman stood in for Carson. They'll take good care of ya, don't worry. I feel confident I am leaving my audience in capable hands for this one show - and then you can always catch more of Barely Legal at their regular Rocky gig.
I will be present for all future gigs, including the following one, Dirty Harry (6/8), with Clint Eastwood in his first outing as the iconic maverick cop cleaning up the streets of San Francisco. Veteran action/noir specialist Don Seigel directed this classic, and it shows. Have fun spotting all the local landmarks when Callahan isn't beating the shit out of someone, either with his Magnum or his furrowed brow. Ask yourself this, punks: Do you feel lucky I'm showing this? Then the week after this (6/15) you will be making The French Connection, Oscar Winner for Best Picture of that year ('71), and featuring Gene Hackman as idiosyncratic detective Popeye Doyle smashing an international drug ring. Along the trail is the most famous cinematic car chase this side of Bullitt, and I gotta say, one of the most frustrating finales ever.
White dudes and Chinese legends weren't the only booty-boppers in the 70's: Pam Grier was and is the Queen of Ass Kickers, and to prove that once and for all I am again showing her greatest flick, Jack Hill's Coffy (6/22), from 1973. Pam bares her soul and that ain't all, playing a nurse posing as a junkie hooker in order to bust the mobster scumbags who iced her lover. Co-stars Hill regular Sid Haig (Spider Baby). When I threw my month-long Blaxploitation shindig last September, the crowds were stunningly sparse, except for the Pam Grier entry, Black Mama, White Mama. Fans also flocked to Thrillville when I showed Foxy Brown last July as part of my celebrated Hot Babes fest. I already showed Coffy back in the Midnight Lounge, and that did better than most of the late night cult movie bashes, but I figured I owed you a prime-time geezers and kiddies with a bed-time this sultry slice of voluptuous vixen vengeance voodoo.
Who could possibly follow this ultra-cool act? Nobody. Except something totally unreal and otherworldly, something created by say, Ray Harryhausen. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (6/29) was released the same year as Coffy, but is actually a follow-up to Ray's 1958 fantasy classic The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. This time John Phillip Law plays the super sailor while fantastically foxy Caroline Munro puts the sin and the bad in Sinbad. But it is the creations of stop-motion master Brother Ray that are the true ass-kickin' wonders on display in this colorful Arabian Nights adventure, including a griffin, a centaur, a sword-wielding statue, and more! This is the best of Ray's later classics. I didn't bother to watch the recent TV remake of Ray's masterpiece Jason and the Argonauts (which I showed last year in Thrillville to a packed house). Re-making this without Ray would be like re-making King Kong without Willis O'Brien. Oh yea. They did that too. In the 70s. Well, see the originals only in Thrillville Theater - even if they're 70's originals.
Speaking of the originals -