DESIRE AND HELL AT SUNSET MOTEL (1991)

(YouTube) I caught DESIRE AND HELL AT SUNSET MOTEL (1991) as part of a triple Sherilyn Fenn feature during the recent David Lynch complete retrospective. While it conflicted with the last Swanberg Secret Screening at the Davis, I couldn’t resist — there’s only one print, and no one apart from the organizer of this retrospective will probably care enough about the film to jump through the hoops to screen it again. There are plenty of LaserDisc and VHS copies available via eBay (and a copy on YouTube if you look for it) but, apart from the home market, it went mostly unseen, and will probably continue to do so.

That’s a goddamn shame, because this is a wildly fun bit of throwback color noir, perfectly framed with beautiful blues all around that makes it ideal for the big screen, and it makes the most of Sherilyn Fenn’s abilities.

To summarize: husband and ‘small toy seller’ Chester (Whip Hubley) travels out for a company conference to California with his wife Bridey (Sherilyn Fenn), and stay at the Sunset Motel, managed by a leering voyeur (the always delightful Paul Bartel). Chester suspects that Bridey is cheating on him, so he hires someone known as Deadpan (CUBE’s David Hewlett) to shadow her while there. Meanwhile, Bridey has finagled a dude she’s lead along known as Auggie (David Johansen/Buster Poindexter) to meet her there to kill Chester with his own gun. Matters escalate, then completely fragment as Bridey’s memory starts to falter.

The story barely holds together and the dialogue is overly colorful in a way that almost feels like a parody of hard-boiled patois, but despite all that, it is a thrilling ride that leans into its frenzied plotting. However, it mostly succeeds because Fenn was born for these sort of retro-noir films, exuding danger and seduction not just with her stark hair and beauty mark, but her demeanor and poise; Ava Gardner reborn.

Maria Bamford – THE LATE LATE SHOW – March 11th 2022

(CONTENT WARNING: DEATH)

Maria Bamford is well-known (well, among comedy nerds) as being a major figure of 90s alt-comedy, but also for being a comedian’s comedian. Part of it has to do with her command over her voice — if you’ve watched anything animated over the past fifteen or so years, you have heard her extremely versatile voice — but also over her command of tone. She knows how to balance serious material with absurdity through little more than a lilt or twitch.

She also had a semi-autobiographical two-season Netflix show — LADY DYNAMITE — which was a deep dive into her reckoning with mental illness. It was brilliant and laugh-out-loud funny and featured a lot of pugs.

In the before-times, I even managed to catch a performance of hers at Chicago’s Den Theatre and walked away dazed, half-drunk on laughs and self-reflection. After the show, I hung around the bar, reading a book in a cushy chair, listening to a fantastic DJ, and I watched as she spent time with everyone that approached her. She was at her merch table for well over an hour, listening to people, joking with them, making sure they felt seen and cared for.

She’s a goddamn comedic saint, and every one of her works deserve to be in the limelight. She filmed a stand-up special entitled THE SPECIAL SPECIAL SPECIAL where the only audience members were her very supportive mother and father, which I implore you to seek out. It’s an astoundingly awkward, but yet heartfelt work, partially because of Bamford’s mimicry regarding her parents — especially her mother.

Consequently, I was stunned to hear that her mother recently died of lung cancer, and that Bamford did a tight five of it on the March 11th, 2022 THE LATE LATE SHOW.

Here’s where I hand matters off to Vulture’s Jesse David Fox, who is both extremely empathic and brilliant at dissecting comedy. Read his post, watch the piece, and be prepared to laugh and cry:

https://www.vulture.com/article/maria-bamford-corden-stand-up-set-about-her-mom.html

FALLEN ANGELS – Murder, Obliquely (S01E05, 1993)

FALLEN ANGELS was a mid-90s neo-noir anthology on SHOWTIME that I only recently heard of, but the fifth episode of the first season, entitled Murder, Obliquely, features Laura Dern, Alan Rickman, Diane Lane, was co-written by Amanda Silver (THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE and a number of the new PLANET OF THE APES films) and directed by Alfonso Cuarón (CHILDREN OF MEN, ROMA). That’s a stellar team right there.

Murder, Obliquely is also based on the Cornell Woolrich short story of the same name. Woolrich wrote the source material for REAR WINDOW among loads of other very successful works, but by others accounts he had a very unhappy life: he married a woman in 1930 while knowing he was gay; the marriage was annulled three years later; despite being a prolific and successful writer, he was also a self-destructive alcoholic, living with his mother in shithole apartments until she died; then he spiraled out completely and became a recluse until he died.

I mention this because this adaptation of Murder, Obliquely very clearly leans into this background, if you read between the lines. (I’ll note that I have yet to read the short it’s based on.) It’s a Sirkian noir of infatuation — Annie (Laura Dern) becomes obsessed with inherited-millionaire Dwight Billings (Alan Rickman) but he can’t get over his ex, the recently-married Bernette Stone (Diane Lane). The story ends with everyone miserable, as noirs do.

Despite having the gauzy veneer of 90s cable television, it’s remarkable stylish with its costuming and art design — especially Dwight’s art deco home — as well as the dialogue, which manages to be distinct without feeling too broad. If you have thirty minutes to spare, it’s a great way to spend some time.

I don’t think anyone will mind a direct link to a fan rip in this case:

Halloween 2021 Programming: CULT

As previously noted, my wife and I have a tradition where I draft up a selection of horror films for Halloween viewing, and she picks one from each group: Contemporary, Classic, and Cult, and I thought I’d share my suggestions this year. Today features cult horror films, and mostly features the exact text I sent her. And yes, I know, defining what is horror and what is considered ‘cult’ horror is like splitting hairs, but rule of three, folks!

Again, apologies for leaning on prior works. Again, Halloween weekend! I have other terrors to read, watch, and write!

HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II (1987, AMC+/hoopla/peacock/Shudder/tubi/VOD/Vudu) or PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS (1990, YouTube)

Previously suggested. “The first PROM NIGHT is fine, but mostly remembered because of how bare Jamie Lee Curtis gets, and for riffing on CARRIE. PROM NIGHT II twists the first film’s premise and goes for broke — also, a rare woman supernatural slasher, and they were clearly hoping some of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET would rub off on the film — and PROM NIGHT III turns the franchise into an amazing, albeit often puerile, horror-comedy. They’re both very entertaining and smart in their own ways.”

PROM NIGHT II trailer:

PROM NIGHT III trailer:

Shh, don’t tell anyone but, as it’s practically impossible to stream a legal version, here you are:

MATINEE (1993, Starz/VOD)

A Joe Dante (GREMLINS, INNERSPACE) work, which means warm-hearted love for misfit youths and being scared by B-movies, while still having a subversive political voice and viewpoint. It was one of the first post-lockdown films I saw at the Music Box, but it’s endlessly re-watchable.

READY OR NOT (2019, VOD)

(Editor’s note: I cheated a bit here, as I normally would consider this contemporary and not cult, although I fully believe it’s destined to become a cult film. I also lifted most of it for my write-up.)

This one really surprised me: it’s a darkly comic fusion of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME with Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, with an amazing cast that includes Andie MacDowell, Samara Weaving (Thea, from BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC), Adam Brody (probably don’t need to write this but: from THE OC, JENNIFER’S BODY, GILMORE GIRLS), Melanie Scrofano (Wynonna in WYNONNA EARP), and Kristian Bruun (Donnie from ORPHAN BLACK). It’s a surprisingly well-executed film. I recently happened upon a promotional READY OR NOT shirt I received for the film when I left a 24-hour film fest early last year, and opted to keep it as a nostalgia shirt, sitting alongside my BLAIR WITCH PROJECT shirt.

Even though I don’t believe in spoilers, I would stop the trailer after the first minute. There are a ton of fun surprises in the film that work great with the trailer, but even better if you experience them in the film itself.

Tomorrow: CLASSICS!

TALES FROM THE CRYPT: ON A DEADMAN’S CHEST (1992, S04E03)

(DVD/VOD) It doesn’t get more 90s than this. Look, this isn’t a great slice of horror, despite it being directed by William Friedkin, but it was vividly seared into my brain. In 1992, I didn’t have access to HBO, but my uncle — who my father and I traveled to Albany, New York to attend his second wedding — did, and my father and I were staying at his place. I spent most of my time that weekend binging HBO, including the 70s KING KONG. However, it’s this episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT that really sticks out in my mind because, at that point in time in my life, I’d never seen anything quite like it.

I’ll summarize this as quickly as possible, but there’s a hell of a lot of plot in this thirty-minute ep: Danny Darwin (Yul Vazquez) is the lead singer in the band EXORCIST (get it?), and he absolutely hates Nick Bosch’s — EXORCIST’s songwriter and guitarist — wife, Scarlett (Tia Carrere) and the feeling is mutual. As typical for EC Comics protagonists, Danny is a complete and utter shitheel and he treats most folks around him like garbage, but that doesn’t seem to keep groupies from wanting a piece of Danny.

After an EXORCIST show, one particular groupie not-at-all-subtly named Vendetta (Sherrie Rose) catches Danny backstage. She unlatches her top to reveal a snake tattoo that weaves across her chest. She begs him to look closer, and the camera leerily leans in as we see the snake take a life of its own, slithering out of her skin to snap at Danny. Danny demands to know who the tattoo artist is, and she says she’ll tell him for a price. (As this is HBO’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT, the price is obviously sex.)

Danny visits the tattoo artist, requests a tiger, but the artist says he’ll find the right tattoo for him. Consequently, he’s left with a giant tattoo of Scarlett across his chest. Danny goes ballistic and storms back to the home he’s sharing with Nick and Scarlett. Scarlett promptly tears into him, and Danny retorts that she’s trying to break up the band.

Fast forward a bit: Danny sees Vendetta at a club, then starts blaming her for setting him up, for giving the tattoo artist the idea to permanently pen Scarlett onto his chest. She recommends a plastic surgeon, and Danny follows through, but is left with a red and raw vague silhouette of the original tattoo that the surgeon notes is “bizarre”. Vendetta then tells Danny that, if he can’t get rid of the tattoo, he can at least get rid of her.

(Obviously, I’m about to spoil the end of the episode, but frankly, you’ve certainly figured out what is about to happen. Also, it’s probably taken me longer to write this summary than it would to watch it.)

Danny then pretends to make amends with Nick, but is intentionally late for their next show to make time to murder Scarlett. Danny then meets up with Vendetta, confesses to killing Scarlett — which she finds “so fucking hot”. Danny removes the bandage from his healing chest, looks at himself in the mirror and sees that the tattoo has fully returned, but instead of Scarlett’s pristine face, he sees it as bloodied and lifeless. He turns to Vendetta, who sees it as the original tattoo — Scarlett’s face clean of blood.

Danny finally appears at the show, goes on-stage to perform and, right as he’s about to let loose, he looks down and sees something visibly moving under his shirt. He runs to the dressing room and a serpent/demon dog creature bursts from his chest. Vendetta relays to Nick that Danny killed Scarlett and, when Nick goes to get revenge, he sees Danny with a gaping torso wound, holding his skinned tattoo in his hand.

Yes, basic EC material, but mostly new to me. While I’d read plenty of horror — I read practically everything that our local library stocked — I’d absolutely never seen anything as graphic as it. The closing shot is what did me in; I barely slept a wink before the wedding, and it’s a bit of horror that I will never fully forget.

(That said, oddly I remember the tattoo being on his back, not his chest, but uh, that’d make it quite difficult to skin off. Not like anything else in the episode fully hangs together, though.)

Please, don’t take this as a full recommendation. It’s rather by-the-numbers and wildly insensitive — even for its time — but that’s par for the series. However, it is stylish, and has some great practical effects work.

https://tftc.fandom.com/wiki/On_a_Deadman%27s_Chest

LIZZIE: THE MUSICAL (2010+)

(Theatre/YouTube) Another theatre production, but this one is far more accessible, as there’s an original cast album and a number of clips and performances available on YouTube. As you might surmise from the title, it’s a rock opera with a different take on the legend of Lizzie Borden, authored by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt. The official website describes it as so:

“LIZZIE is four women fronting a six-piece rock band.

“LIZZIE is Rage! Sex! Betrayal! BLOODY MURDER!

“LIZZIE is American mythology set to a blistering rock score with a sound owing less to Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber than to BIKINI KILL, the RUNAWAYS, and HEART.”

So, yeah, that ticks all of my boxes, and hopefully yours too.

The production I saw was executed by Chicago’s Firebrand Theatre who are an “equity musical theatre company committed to employing and empowering women on and off the stage” and it was a goddamn blast. I can’t wait to see another of their offerings, but definitely jump at the chance to catch any production of it, if it hits your area.

HOUSE OF BORDEN (one of my favorite renditions of my favorite number, but I’m not sure why they had one of them play two parts):

What may be my new favorite YouTube theatre trailer, for what looks to have been a brilliant Canadian production (although it does untether the actors from their mics, which is not in line with prior productions):

Lastly, every time I rediscover this musical, I can’t help but endlessly re-listen to it.

HEALTH MUSIC VIDEOS (2009+)

HEALTH is a surprisingly popular electronic band that has a sound and aesthetic more suited for dark late-90s/early naughts clubs than, well, Spotify. They double down on that idiosyncratic nature with a number of their videos, which are firmly ensconced in both the horror genre and art film worlds.

DIE SLOW (2009):

While the video for DIE SLOW fully leans into sensationalism, given that it depicts a bloodletting frenzy, visually its use of framing and reframing (and more reframing) reminds me more of Peter Greenaway’s PROSPERO’S BOOKS, and its editing is extraordinarily taut.

WE ARE WATER (2009):


Immaculately produced, but a bit squicky — if you’re familiar with SLEEPAWAY CAMP, you know what I’m talking about.

STONEFIST (2015):

A relatively surface-level commentary on musicians and cosmetic surgery, but they take it so far over the top, especially with the glamour framing and lighting, that I can’t help but revel in it.

NEW COKE (2015):

HEALTH loves to villainize their drummer.

(Warning: this video features very disgusting slo-mo vomit — some self-induced — so you might want to bail before 1m45s.)

STRANGE DAYS 1999 (2019):

No, really, HEALTH loves to villainize their drummer. Also, this is an absolutely brilliant riff on late 90s ‘true crime’ motifs.

I’ll note that I’ve never called any of their numbers, but I’ve been very tempted to.

GET A LIFE (1990)

(DVD/YouTube) GET A LIFE was a transcendently stupid TV show starring Chris Elliott as Chris Peterson, a naive 30-year-old man-child living with his parents, who happens to fall into a number of absurd comic situations that grow more and more surreal as the show progresses. It was the brainchild of Chris Elliott (who, at that time, was mostly known for small bits on LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN), David Mirkin (best known for his work on some of the best seasons of THE SIMPSONS), and Adam Resnick. (Resnick was a big 90s SNL writer, but also co-wrote and directed the cult-favorite but critically-reviled CABIN BOY which also starred Chris Elliott and has a brief appearance by David “Wouldja like to buy a monkey?!” Letterman. Having attended a CABIN BOY screening with a post-film Q&A with Resnick, I can tell you that he -hates- talking about that film and I do not know why he agreed to do a Q&A.) Notable writers include Charlie Kaufman (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) and Bob Odenkirk (MR. SHOW, BETTER CALL SAUL), so you know it’s going to be absurd.

It was definitely absurd. The first season was slightly more off-kilter than full-blown bonkers — it focused more on the sitcom family elements (which included Chris Elliott’s real-life father and classic comedian Bob Elliott as Peterson’s father). The second season was completely unhinged, mostly because they knew they would never get renewed for a third.

It was a severe primetime network oddity in the early nineties and, as a young teen watching my friend’s weekly VHS recordings of the show, it was a mind-blowing experience: Chris Peterson would frequently be killed off in episodes. There’s a Jack and the Giant Beanstalk ep. There’s an E.T.-ish episode that featured a disgusting alien named SPEWEY that, as you might guess, repeatedly vomits. It’s proto-alternative TV comedy.

One of the most influential episodes may be “The Prettiest Week of My Life” (S01E02, surprisingly early in the show) where Chris decides to become a male model via the ‘Handsome Boy School of Modeling’. If you’re familiar with music producer Dan the Automator, you’re familiar with this episode, as he created an entire project named HANDSOME BOY MODELING SCHOOL, then went on to heavily sample “The Prettiest Week of My Life” in songs like ‘Look at This Face (Oh My God They’re Gorgeous)’ and ‘Modeling Sucks’:

(When I used to DJ, I’d try to work in ‘Modeling Sucks’ whenever I could.)

What’s even more amazing is: they managed to get R.E.M.’s STAND for the theme song. Sadly, that’s probably why you can’t legally stream it anywhere now. (If you want to check out the series, there are a number of bootleg eps on YouTube, but please: if you enjoy it, throw some money towards SHOUT! Factory’s DVD set. It’s a great set, and they do fantastic work.)

The show isn’t for everyone, but it was a foundational show for me.

BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL ‘It’s All Happening’ (2012)

(YouTube) For whatever reason, people have seemingly collectively forgotten about this musical, which was quite well-received at the time (or so I’ve read). The music for the work was partially provided by Lin-Manuel Miranda — penned in-between IN THE HEIGHTS and HAMILTON — and you can definitely tell. There’s a part in the middle of “It’s All Happening” that feels lifted from IN THE HEIGHTS and one near the end that is -very- evocative of a certain HAMILTON number.

I’ve never seen a proper production of the show, but I have the original Broadway cast recording, and I do endlessly rewatch their Tony Awards performance. It is very much a standard Broadway adaptation of a beloved film, but the buildup and energy really thrills me.

CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND: -You Stupid Bitch- (2016)

(CW/YouTube) There are a lot of highlights to CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND — it’s wall-to-wall amazing, apart from the off-putting title — and despite the fact that I’m not quite the target audience for this song, or show for that matter, I think about this song. A lot. If pressed, I’d argue it’s my favorite song from the show. While it’s not subtle or as elaborately staged as other numbers, it perfectly encapsulates the show and I love the closing shot.* If you don’t have the time for another full series of TV, I think this video would be a satisfying watch and you could leave it there.However, if you want to know more: the show is about Rebecca Bunch (actor/writer/co-creator Rachel Bloom, previously best known for quality nerd-specific YouTube videos such as FUCK ME, RAY BRADBURY) who upends her life as a high-powered NYC real-estate lawyer to pursue bro-y slacker Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III), her teen boyfriend from summer camp, who lives in West Covina, California.**

What follows over four seasons is a musical dramedy about Rebecca trying to navigate life, cope with mental illness, and become a better person with a little help from her friends. It manages to skillfully do so by packing several songs into each hour-long ep, all of which are exceptionally written and staged. Many of the songs were co-written by the recently deceased Adam Schlesinger — fuck COVID — who also worked on the original numbers in previously recommended JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS, but is obviously best known for founding FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE.

Adam aside, CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND was certainly the collective vision of Bloom and co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna (who adapted THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and co-wrote CRUELLA). It’s singularly focused, and everyone involved gave their all. The show stumbled from time to time but, as a whole, it was one of the most consistently entertaining and emotional TV shows I’ve seen aired within the past decade.

“Yes, I deserve this!”

** It’s all spelled out in the very catchy opening song but the show ditches its Broadway spectacle sheen pretty quickly because, well, it was on the CW. They didn’t have GALAVANT money.