B-Movie Cult Classics Unearthed Watching Late-Night HBO in College (Pt. 6)

The long-awaited sixth edition of this continuing series examining the boozy, late-night discovery of cinematic mediocrity and/or hidden treasures back in college. Enjoy.

The Lost Boys (1987, Dir. Joel Schumacher)

For a time there — I’m talking 80s and 90s — Joel Schumacher was one of the hottest directors in Hollywood, helming such hits as St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), Flatliners (1990), Falling Down (1993) and Batman Forever (1995). However, the more he progressed technically, the more his films were accused of being exercises in style over substance, the odious Batman & Robin (1997) particularly damning.

Back in 1987, though, Schumacher was still just developing the aforementioned flamboyant visual style, which makes The Lost Boys a bit less over-the-top stylistically (thanks, in no small part, to Schumacher’s crack cinematographer, Michael Chapman). In other words, it’s watchable. (Although expect moments where you’ll be forced to turn from the screen to protect yourself from the horror that was late 1980s hairstyles and acid-wash fashion.)

The film centers on the Emerson family, recent transplants to Santa Clara, CA. There’s grounded mom Lucy (Dianne Wiest), the impossibly pretty Michael (late-80s hunk de jour Jason Patric) and little brother Sam (the late Corey Haim, pre-drug addiction and still looking like TigerBeat cover material).

When Michael falls in with a group of flamboyantly coiffed ne’er-do-wells led by the mysterious David (Kiefer Sutherland), a rash of grisly murders plaguing the area starts to come into focus. Could it be that vampires are involved?

Sounds scary! But you know what’s even scarier? It’s that Corey Haim soon teams with Corey Feldman, thus creating a two-head monster of acting mediocrity that haunted us through six — count ’em, six! — more films, each progressively more unwatchable as the duo lose their kiddie charms to adolescence and adulthood. As our Commander and Chief likes to tweet: sad!

Anyway, this is pretty dumb entertainment, but entertaining it is. And while the youngsters go about preening rather than acting, the old folk — the aforementioned Wiest, Edward Herrmann (as a guy named Max) and Barnard Hughes (as Grandpa) — acquit themselves nicely.

Bonus: Bill from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure makes an appearance!

Cult-o-Meter™ (10-pt. scale)

  • 6/10 (General Quality Rating)
  • 12/10 (Enhanced Rating When Viewed Post-Midnight and just back from 25¢ Beer Nite)

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988, Dir. Wes Craven)

Although the late Wes Craven was rightfully known as a horror-meister (Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream 1-4, etc.), he occasionally stepped outside the genre, even directing Meryl Streep in a 1999 feel-gooder about a violin teacher in the East Harlem public school system (Music of the Heart).

The Serpent and the Rainbow falls somewhere in between the two Craven extremes — not nearly as gruesome as his slasher flicks but, then again, not remotely as benign as the Streep vehicle. Very, very, very loosely based on Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis‘ controversial non-fiction book of the same name, the film is something of a creepily atmospheric voodoo thriller.

Bill Pullman plays Davis stand-in Dennis Alan, a Harvard ethnobotanist offered a generous grant by a pharmaceutical company to find a drug down in Haiti that’s rumored to cause Zombie-ism. (They want to use it as an anesthetic.) While there, he’s assisted by a Haitian doctor named Marielle (the lovely Cathy Tyson, fresh off her triumph in Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa).

Out to hinder progress is Dargent Peytraud (character actor Zakes Mokae, who, like many character actors, you’ll recognize from “somewhere”). Peytraud, a particularly sadistic member of “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s paramilitary force, Tonton Macoute, makes clear that Alan needs hop back on a plane for the more stable climes of Boston or face severe consequences.

This being a movie, Alan throws caution to the wind. What follows becomes progressively stranger, the walking dead just the tip of the iceberg. You’ve also got serpents (of course, but no rainbows), voodoo rituals, witch doctors, hallucinations, beheadings, wine-glass chewing, live burial and, most memorably, a scene of Tonton Macoute torture involving a railroad spike through our protagonist’s scrotum. (He was warned!)

I fear I’ve made it sound like some circus freak show. It’s actually a pretty good film. Seriously.

Cult-o-Meter™ (10-pt. scale)

  • 7.5/10 (General Quality Rating)
  • 12/10 (Enhanced Rating When Viewed Post-Midnight and just back from 25¢ Beer Nite)

The Beast (1988, Dir. Kevin Reynolds)

Now here’s one of the great war films of the last 50 years that, sadly, no one knows about let alone seen. But that’s about to change. Because, after skimming through the following write-up, the CFS’s huge readership (<50) is going to spread the word like a California wildfire!

A couple years before he became known as an auteur of bloated, mediocre Hollywood blockbusters (he directed Kevin Costner’s mullet in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the virtually unseen Rapa-Nui and the fiasco that was Waterworld), Kevin Reynolds helmed this brutally effective anti-war film, a real diamond in the rough that is his overall filmography (see: Markle, Peter). Which is too bad because the guy’s obviously got chops.

The film features Jason Patric (again!) as Konstantin, a conflicted member of a Soviet T-55 tank crew. Whereas his tank-mates — Golikov (Stephen Baldwin, before he turned into a Bible Thumper), Kaminski (Don Harvey, before he fell off the face of the earth) and, especially, Commander Daskal (George Dzundza, before he got really, really, really fat) — are unsparingly brutal in their attempts to survive this ill-advised war, Konstantin has something of a conscience born of education (he reads! he plays chess! he wears glasses!).

When the tank finds itself separated from its unit and under constant threat from avenging Afghan mujahideen, Commander Daskal becomes more unhinged, his actions testing Konstantin’s moral code. This leads to a rupture in the esprit de corps of the tank crew, culminating in Konstantin being left for dead in the desert. He is found by Khan Taj (Steven Bauer, who you may recognize from the Scarface remake), the avenging brother of one of those killed by the tank crew in an earlier battle.

Prepared to kill Konstantin, he instead lets him live when the soldier pleads nanawatai, part of a Pashtun moral code that requires an enemy be given sanctuary if requested. What’s more, Taj sees this as an opportunity to recruit Konstantin (who’s obviously on the outs with his crew) to help disable the tank with an RPG. A bloody cat-and-mouse in the desert ensues.

The Beast is by no means an easy sit. It’s tense, graphically violent and bleak. That said, it features  impeccably staged action, strong performances (Bauer actually speaks in nothing but subtitled Pashto) and a compassionate look at both sides of this conflict.

Cult-o-Meter™ (10-pt. scale)

  • 9.5/10 (General Quality Rating)
  • 9/10 (Enhanced Rating When Viewed Post-Midnight and just back from 25¢ Beer Nite)

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987, Dir. Joe Dante, John Landis, et al)

Back in the day (1977), director John Landis created a film consisting of unconnected comedy bits spoofing various genres (kung fu, disaster, prison, soft-core porn, etc). Entitled The Kentucky Fried Movie, it was just silly and irreverent enough to get him his next gig, that of directing Animal House. Jump forward a decade. Landis is now a superstar director, with The Blues Brothers, American Werewolf in London and Trading Places under his belt. In a break from big-budget filmmaking, he decides to resurrect the The Kentucky Fried Movie‘s sketch structure in a new film called Amazon Women on the Moon. This time around, however, he recruits a bunch of his directing buddies to help out with the directing duties.

As for a synopsis, because I don’t feel like going through the trouble of rewording the one provided by our hard-working friends at Wikipedia, let’s lean on them for details:

Fictional television station WIDB-TV (channel 8) experiences problems with its late-night airing of science-fiction classic Amazon Women on the Moon, a 1950s B movie in which Queen Lara (Sybil Danning) and Captain Nelson (Steve Forrest) battle exploding volcanoes and man-eating spiders on the moon. Waiting for the film to resume, an unseen viewer begins channel surfing—simulated by bursts of white noise—through late night cable, with the various segments and sketches of the film representing the programming found on different channels. The viewer intermittently returns to channel 8, where Amazon Women continues airing before faltering once more.

As you’d expect from a film of this nature, it’s wildly uneven, a Saturday Night Live with nudity and swearing. Personally, I love the 50s B movie spoof of the title and the sketch involving a comedy roast at a guy’s funeral. (Rip Taylor, Slappy White, Jackie Vernon, Henny Youngman, Steve Allen — a murderers row of not-that-funny Borscht-Belt comics!)

  

As for the rest, I could take or leave. Let’s put it this way: your level of enjoyment will correspond directly to the amount of alcohol you’ve consumed beforehand. As for its cast of thousands, it’s like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade procession of recognizable B-F level acting talent such as Steve Guttenberg, Arsenio Hall, Henry Silva, Joey Travolta…even B.B. King!

Cult-o-Meter™ (10-pt. scale)

  • 5/10 (General Quality Rating)
  • 13/10 (Enhanced Rating When Viewed Post-Midnight and just back from 25¢ Beer Nite)

Prince of Darkness (1987, Dir. John Carpenter)

For a while there in the early 1980s, John Carpenter, the mastermind behind such low-budget horror classics as Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween and The Fog, got a case of big-budget-itis. In other words, he got away from his roots, not always a good thing. The trend began with his expensive remake of The Thing (very good film), continued through Christine (good film) and Starman (OK film) and culminated with Big Trouble in Little China, a very, very expensive (but awesomely fun) flop.

With 1987’s Prince of Darkness, he decided (was forced?) to return to his low-budget roots, a place where the chills depend less on expensive effects work and more on the creepiness of the core idea and execution.

Prince of Darkness is indeed creepy. The film revolves around an ancient cylinder filled with a swirling green liquid found in a church basement. Not only does the cylinder seem to be thousands of years old, it’s broadcasting complicated mathematical equations. The church’s priest (Donald Pleasence, who else?) invites a famous theoretical physicist, Professor Howard Birack (the indispensable Victor Wong), to help decipher the strange information.

Birack brings with him some of his brightest students and soon they discover that the green ooze is actually the “corporeal embodiment” of Satan. Even worse, the data indicates that Satan may have a more vicious creator/father, an Anti-God who’s stuck in the realm of anti-matter and wants out.

Mayhem both inside and outside the church ensues, the outside chaos spearheaded by none other than golfer/singer/chicken hater Alice Cooper!

While maybe not on par with some of his earlier horror classics, Prince of Darkness delivers some genuine chills (many revolving around a dream the protagonists have involving a TV news transmission from the future showing a shadowy figure emerging from the church) while keeping the gore in check. And with all its fascination (and exposition) on complex mathematical/physical theories (matter, anti-matter, differential equations, tachyons) it’s got some brains, too.

Cult-o-Meter™ (10-pt. scale)

  • 7.5/10 (General Quality Rating)
  • 12/10 (Enhanced Rating When Viewed Post-Midnight and just back from 25¢ Beer Nite)

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