I have a massive write-up already on the whole weekend in Memphis, where we spent all night watching drive-in movies, the days in a convention, and even a morning trip to Graceland, but it’s too long for a Saturday Evening movie post, so here are the movie highlights. Even this is massive. Oy. I’m cutting this into two bits.
Halloween III: The Season of the Witch
One of the bones of contention between Joe Bob and Darcy the Mail Girl has been Halloween 3. It’s been a comedic whipping boy for him since it came out, while for Darcy it’s a beloved classic, perhaps second to only Scream as her favorite horror movie. Darcy is a genuine fanatic and expert on horror movies, who can rattle off the names of Giallo directors from movie titles like Death Walks On High Heels (“Ercoli!”) and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have The Key (“Martino!”) and has interviewed I think most of the cast and crew on her podcast Geek Tawk.
So when JB let her program the first movie on Friday night, she naturally picked H3 and invited the stars Tom Atkins and Stacy Nelkin, as well as director Tommy Lee Wallace, to watch with them and make Joe Bob defend his stance on the film. She even had “The Last Drive-In” director Austin Jennings create a supercut of all the Joe Bob H3 bashing done over the years, on The Movie Channel and TNT, which cut had to be shortened for time.
The conventional wisdom, I think, on H3 is that it would have been more successful had it not been named Halloween, that people went to see Michael Meyers slashing up teens and they didn’t get that and were disappointed. I don’t know about that: I was the exact demographic that movie was aimed at, I knew exactly what Carpenter was doing and respected it. I certainly didn’t want to see just another movie about teens being carved up after the (literally) dozens of slashers made in the 1978 to 1982 period.
While that may have had a chilling effect on its box office (it made around $15M on a budget of $2.5M), I’d be just as willing to bet the downright mean violence of Halloween II had as much a suppressing effect. (The original Halloween has virtually no blood, and is powered by style and atmosphere, so the sequel was kind of an unpleasant shock to me.) But the biggest suppressor is doubtless the movie itself: Enough people saw it for it to take off via word-of-mouth, had people liked it enough.
I’m doing a full break down on this, but the summary at this late date is this: Like a lot of the older films we used to discard, there’s a tremendous amount of skill at work here. The third act is genuinely bravura as is its commitment to the sort of horror which, while not bloody, is genuinely horrific in its implications. The acting is fun, the camerawork top-notch, the music effective. But the first two acts really don’t feel much like a horror movie. (As Joe Bob quipped that night, “It’s sort of become ‘Murder, She Wrote’, hasn’t it?”) The upshot is that, unless you’re fully bought into it from the get-go, the movie’s logical leaps keep hitting you in the face—and the movie doesn’t do what it needs to in those first two acts to help you buy in.
That said, I will watch this again, just for the filmmaking and to try to pin down why it isn’t as great as I think it should be.
This first night was our early night for the weekend. We got out around 1:30-2AM.
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School
I’ve reviewed Rock and Roll High School—holy crap, six years ago, “Rocktober” 2016—when Mary Woronov came to a local showing. At the Jamboree, we had P.J. Soles, and I think this movie gets better every time I see it. A JB pointed out (after yelling “F*#& John Hughes!”), this was the “last” high school movie that dealt with all the usual high school issues with a truly light-hearted attitude. My fellow mutants and I were calling out the Savage Steve Holland—with me embarrassingly referring to him as “Screaming George”, mashing up The Real Don Steele’s “Screaming Steve” character with special FX artist “Screaming Mad George”—classics One Crazy Summer and Better Off Dead and no doubt there have been others, but there was a definite angsty sentimentality to Hughes work which has encouraged me to keep most of his films away from my kids. (Exception.)
P.J. Soles was in attendance and a live version of the title song was attempted, more or less successfully, and I have to say that she really sells the Riff Randall character (and in a way I don’t think her #1 competitor, the rather younger Rosanna Arquette, would have been able to). There’s also something endearing/refreshing about story arc not about being “in love” with the Ramones, but just loving the music and wanting them to sing the songs she’s written. (This may have something to do with it being the realization of director Allan Arkush’s high school fantasies about, like, The Rolling Stones or a male group of that generation.)
The second film on Saturday night was Bubba Ho-Tep, and I can honestly say that it was the first time I’ve ever been in an audience with not only a group of people who had already seen it but who, like me, saw it during its initial short-run, which consisted of director Don Coscarelli and his team running the 32 prints of the movie around the country. The backstory of this movie is awesome: Back in the ’90s, someone put together a collection of essays and short stories reflecting on Elvis, who had been dead 15 to 20 years at that point. Joe R. Lansdale (Cold In July), an East Texas writer a grossly neglected-by-Hollywood, came up with what he considered the most unfilmable story possible. (In this case, the “unfilmable” has more to do with the completely a-commercial aspects of the story rather than, say, The Naked Lunch style of unfilmability.)
In an East Texas old-folks home, Elvis (Bruce Campbell) lays rotting away after an accident left him in a coma for 20 years, and rather disabled with a…genital deformity. When members of the home start having their souls sucked out by an ancient Egyptian mummy (who has acclimated to life in Texas enough to adopt the local clothing customs), he rouses himself to fight it, with the help of John F. Kennedy, played by Ossie Davis.
If you haven’t seen the film, you doubtless have questions. How is Elvis alive and why doesn’t anyone know it’s him, for example. Or, why is JFK black? How did an ancient Egyptian mummy end up in East Texas?
While the story explains all these things, to some degree, the magic of the movie is in the dramatic poignancy of the characters, realized by the performance of the actors. I feel that needs italic emphasis because it’s not what you would reasonably expect. But it’s the first time I saw Campbell and thought, “Hey, this guy really can act!” (This is not a dig: Campbell is a classic “movie star” and I think generally when people hire him, they don’t want acting, they want Bruce. Here he’s Elvis-as-a-human-being without being a cheesy impersonator.) Ossie Davis, despite being near the end of his life, is a powerhouse. Even the relatively minor part of the nurse, played by Ella Joyce, has just the right mix of nursely-authority and warmth.
It holds up really well after 20 years, I have to say. We were out of the drive-in by around 2:30-3, because we had to get up the next morning for our field trip to Graceland.