Cult Films

Sextette (1978)

Sextette 1978Marlo Manners (Mae West), world-renowned screen siren, has just married Sir Michael Barrington (Timothy Dalton), her sixth husband. The world adores Marlo and her marriage is making headlines all over the world. But when they check into the hotel for their honeymoon, they’re faced with endless intrusions from the media, Marlo’s manager Dan Turner (Dom DeLuise), dress fittings with her costume designer (played by Keith Moon), an entire team of athletes, and her former husbands Laslo (Ringo Starr) and Alexei (Tony Curtis). Meanwhile, Marlo has been working on her memoirs by recording scandalous tales of her many, many lovers on an audio cassette. She then tells her manager to destroy the tape, but it falls into the wrong hands and its contents could have major implications for a meeting of international delegates going on at the hotel.

Oh, Sextette. Where does one even begin with a movie that opens with the line, “Hello to you, this is Regis Philbin,” and (almost) ends with Alice Cooper singing a song at a piano while hotel maids and bellhops dance behind him? And in between, there’s a baffling list of guest stars, Dom DeLuise tap dancing on a piano (yes, there is Dom DeLuise tap dancing on a piano in this movie), and a whole lot of 80-something year old Mae West doing her typical Mae West schtick. Oh, and there’s also Timothy Dalton singing “Love Will Keep Us Together” along with Mae West.

It’s not a conventionally good movie by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, when I bought this DVD, the clerk looked at me and said, “You do realize this is not a good movie, right?” If you can appreciate really bad movies, then Sextette is the kind of movie you could definitely have some fun with. While it is definitely a “so bad it’s good” type of movie, I’m kind of obsessed with it just because of the sheer fact that this movie even exists. Because when it comes down to it, trying to describe Sextette is kind of like describing some bizarre, star-studded fever dream.  “…And Mae West was there…and Ringo…and George Raft…and then Keith Moon showed up playing a fashion designer…oh, and Tony Curtis talked with a bad Russian accent and threw a cake out the window!”

Absolutely everything about Sextette makes it sound like such an incredibly unlikely film that the fact that somehow all of these things came together to make this movie a reality absolutely delights me.  I mean, who would have thought that Mae West, Ringo Starr, Tony Curtis, Regis Philbin, Alice Cooper, George Raft, Keith Moon, and Timothy Dalton all appeared in the same movie together? That fact alone was enough to sell me on the movie. Then there’s other gloriously insane moments like Tony Curtis hamming it up so much you’ll be looking for a “Honeybaked” label on him and the fashion montage that consists of Mae West trying on dresses and saying her famous quips while Keith Moon, who plays her fashion designer, looks on. I mean, this movie just made it possible for me to write a sentence that mentions both a fashion montage and Keith Moon in the same sentence! It’s all just so incredibly unlikely that I can’t help but love it in a very odd way.

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

Rock n Roll High School

All the students at Vince Lombardi High love rock music, but none of them loves it more than Riff Randell (P.J. Soles) does.  Riff’s favorite band in the whole world is the Ramones.  She calls Joey Ramone the man of her dreams and her greatest ambition in life is to write songs for the Ramones.  With help from her bookish friend Kate Rambeau (Dey Young), Riff enjoys hijacking the school’s intercom system to play Ramones albums.  But when Miss Evelyn Togar (Mary Woronov) takes over as principal of Vince Lombardi High, the first thing she wants to do is rid the school of rock and roll.

Meanwhile, their classmate Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten) is looking to spice up his love life and sets his sights on Riff.  Tom asks Eaglebauer (Clint Howard) to set him up with Riff, but Eaglebauer thinks Tom would be a better match for Kate instead.  As luck would have it, Kate has a thing for Tom so when she asks Eaglebauer to set her up with Tom, he’s only too happy to help make it happen.

When the Ramones come to town for a show, Riff is determined to meet the band and give them some songs she’s written.  She skips school for three days so she can camp out for front row tickets, but when Miss Togar finds out, she confiscates Riff and Kate’s tickets.  That’s not about to stop Riff from seeing the Ramones, though.  She and Kate win tickets through a radio contest and sure enough, Riff makes it backstage and gives her songs to the Ramones.

Miss Togar uses Riff and Kate’s defiance to rally some parents for a record burning at school the next day.  As soon as Riff sees a flaming Ramones album, she leads the students in a revolt and they take over the school.  Just then, the Ramones drop by to tell Riff they love her songs and, naturally, they join the students in their mutiny.

Conventionally speaking, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is kind of a mess.  The jokes are corny, the story is paper thin, and Dee Dee Ramone struggled to play himself convincingly.  But despite all that, I will proudly say that Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is one of my favorite movies of all time.  The only thing Rock ‘n’ Roll High School ever aspires to be is silly fun with a killer soundtrack and it totally succeeds at being just that. 

As hokey as the jokes are, they always make me laugh.  P.J. Soles and Mary Woronov play their parts to deliberately campy perfection and they are endlessly entertaining to watch.  And when they’re delivering lines like, “Do your parents know that you’re Ramones?” and “I’m Riff Randell, rock and roller.” in such an awesomely over the top way, that right there is why I have an undying love for this movie.  In fact, the whole cast completely nails being intentionally campy, but Don Steele as radio DJ Screamin’ Steve and Herbie Braha as the Ramones’ manager in particular are some awesome scene stealers.

I also totally love this drawing of a mouse that has been allowed to listen to rock music.

I also totally love this drawing of a mouse that has been allowed to listen to rock music.

And then there’s the amazing soundtrack.  I’m a big Ramones fan, so obviously I love their performance scenes.  The concert scene is great and the “I Want You Around” scene is actually a really good fantasy scene.  But the soundtrack isn’t all about the Ramones, it also features some good songs by Paul McCartney, Alice Cooper, Fleetwood Mac, Nick Lowe, and Chuck Berry.

I just can’t help but love this movie. I’ve never watched it and not been in a good mood afterward.

All weekend long, bloggers are owning up to some of their guilty pleasure movies. Be sure to head on over to the Kitty Packard Pictorial to find out which movies other bloggers have lurking in the back of their DVD collections.

All weekend long, bloggers are owning up to some of their guilty pleasure movies. Be sure to head on over to the Kitty Packard Pictorial to find out which movies other bloggers have lurking in the back of their DVD collections.

Rollerball (1975)

What do you get when you combine roller derby, motocross, and basketball?  You get rollerball, and in the year 2018, it’s all the rage.  What Babe Ruth was to baseball, Jonathan E. (James Cann) is to rollerball.  It’s a brutal, often deadly, game that Jonathan has managed to be on top of for the past ten years.  To honor Jonathan’s achievements, Bartholomew (John Houseman), head of  the corporation that controls the rollerball team he plays on, announces there will be a television special dedicated to his outstanding career.  There’s just one catch — Bartholomew wants Jonathan to use the special to announce his retirement.

Jonathan has absolutely no intention of retiring and he can’t find out why they want him to retire so badly.  In this society, the whole world is run by corporations and the corporations want to manipulate everybody.  What Jonathan doesn’t know is that rollerball was created by these corporations as a way to show how futile individuality is and Jonathan’s continued success at the game completely defeats its intended purpose.

When Jonathan refuses to announce his retirement on the TV special, the corporations start changing the game to make it more and more dangerous, hoping he will either step down or be killed.  No matter what the corporations throw at him, Jonathan still won’t back down, even when the game becomes extremely deadly.

I didn’t think I would like Rollerball very much, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  It’s an intelligent science fiction/action film, very heavily influenced by George Orwell and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.  The use of music is quite haunting and the action scenes are excellent; James Caan was best in the game scenes.  It could have stood being a little bit shorter, but I’m very glad I decided to check this one out.

Tura Satana (1935-2011)

The name Tura Satana may not ring many bells to mainstream film aficionados, but to those who appreciate the cult classics, Tura Satana was a true legend.  Best known for starring as Varla in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, she also made appearances in Our Man Flint, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,  and played a streetwalker alongside Shirley MacLaine in Irma La Douce.  A lot of people don’t realize what a fascinating life she led.  Her life story sounds like it could be the plot of one of her movies.

Born in Japan, she spent some of her childhood in the Manzanar internment camp in California before moving to Chicago with her family after World War II.  But once she got to Chicago, she had to deal with a lot of the anti-Asian attitudes prevalent in America at the time.  When she was nine years old, she was walking home from school one day when five men raped her.  The men who attacked her went unpunished and the judge actually sent Tura to reform school instead, but Tura took the old adage of “that what does not kill us, makes us stronger” to heart.  She took up martial arts and made it her goal to hunt down each of her attackers and make them pay — which she did.  While in reform school, she became the leader of a gang before getting married at the age of thirteen in an arranged marriage.  She then moved to Los Angeles and became a model.  When she posed for Harold Lloyd, he told her she was beautiful and encouraged her to get into movies, words that meant a lot to someone who still felt like an awkward teenager.  When she returned to Chicago, she became a queen of burlesque and worked with other burlesque icons such as Tempest Storm and even attracted the attention of Elvis Presley, who once proposed to her.

In 1963, she made her film debut with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce.  She made a few other appearances here and there before her career-defining role as Varla in  Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! in 1965.  Tura didn’t just play Varla, she was Varla.  Of course, her figure made her the perfect star for a Russ Meyer movie, but with her martial arts skills and no-nonsense attitude, nobody could have ever played that part better.  Watching that movie, it’s no surprise at all that she spent some of her youth as a gang leader!  After FPKK, she made a few more movies before taking a job working in a hospital and later as a police dispatcher.  In recent years, she spent a lot of time traveling and making appearances to meet fans of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and shortly before her death had been working on a documentary of her remarkable life.

Faster, Pussycat is one of my favorite movies, so I truly was sad to hear Tura had died on February 4th.  Even though she was one woman you’d never want to cross, she was always exceptionally gracious to her fans.  After I saw FPKK for the first time a few years ago, I went to her website and saw that she had an official MySpace page so I sent her a friend request, assuming I’d just get accepted automatically and that’d be it.  Imagine my surprise when I got a personal message from Tura asking why I requested her because she noticed I hadn’t mentioned any of her movies on my page.  So I explained that I had just recently seen FPKK and loved it and loved her in it, and she replied saying she was glad to hear I liked it so much and welcomed me as part of her Pussycat Gang.  I was quite impressed that she actually took the time to look at her fans’ pages and only wanted to accept people who really were fans.  I admire how she was able to rise above so much and come out so strong, I love how much she embraced her legacy as Varla, and I always like a person who is good to their fans.  She was a truly amazing woman who will be greatly missed.

Santa Claus (1959)

There have been a lot of epic battles throughout history.  The Union versus the Confederacy, Cassius Clay versus Sonny Liston, Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader.  But I don’t know if you’re ready for the battle of Santa Claus versus Satan.  Yes, that’s right: the movie Santa Claus is all about Santa’s struggles to outwit the Devil.  The movie opens with Santa in his workshop, which is located in outer space above the North Pole, with his multi-cultural child helpers.  It’s Christmas eve, so you’d think that Santa has a lot to do, but rather than load up his sleigh, he takes the time to have all his helpers perform songs from their home countries.  This scene goes on for about seven minutes and really doesn’t have much to do with anything.

Meanwhile, in Hell, Satan demands that his head minion Pitch (who is very fond of wearing pantaloons) travel to Earth and turn children against Santa.  And if he doesn’t, Pitch will be forced to, horror of horrors, eat chocolate ice cream.  One of the children Pitch targets is a young girl named Lupita, who is from a very poor family.  Lupita desperately wants a doll of her own, but her parents can’t afford one, so Pitch tries to convince her to steal one.  But eventually, Lupita decides to stay on the good side and doesn’t steal the doll.  Instead, Pitch manages to convince three brothers to join his ranks.

Before Santa embarks on his big journey, he sees his old pal Merlin, who gives him some dreaming powder (in case anyone wakes up and sees him), a flower to disappear, and the blacksmith gives him a key to open any door.  Once his robotic reindeer have been wound up (yes, robotic reindeer), Santa is finally ready to head to Earth and deliver presents.  Meanwhile, the three brothers are hard at work planning a way to capture Santa and Lupita is praying for two dollies (one to give to Baby Jesus).  There’s also Billy, a kid from a rich family, who only wants his frequently absent parents to be with him on Christmas.

Once Santa comes to Earth, he has to deal with Pitch’s Home Alone-esque efforts to stop Santa from bringing everyone presents.  But once he gets to Billy’s house, he realizes that Billy is left at home alone, so Santa takes the form of a waiter at a restaurant his parents are at.  He gives them a special Cocktail of Remembrance, which helps them realize what is most important to them, and they hurry home to be with Billy.  The three brothers still want to capture Santa and take all his toys, so they wait for him on the rooftop.  But when they see Santa’s sleigh fly by overhead, they run back inside to see what they got.  Realizing they were given coal, they start fighting with each other.  Even though Puck didn’t succeed in getting the kids to capture Santa, he does manage to cut a hole in Santa’s bag of dreaming powder and sets it up so that someone calls the fire department while Santa is cornered by a dog.  Realizing he needs help getting out of this mess, Santa calls his dear friend Merlin again for advice and manages to escape.  Before he heads back to his workshop, he makes one last stop at Lupita’s to give her the doll she so desperately wants.

Oh, my.  Where to even begin with this movie?  I guess I’ll start by trying to defend it a little bit.  This movie was produced in Mexico, where the whole concept of Santa Claus wasn’t as widely celebrated then as it is in the United States, so that would explain why the movie doesn’t really represent Santa Claus as Americans know him.  This movie definitely set out with good intentions, but there are so many misunderstandings that it just didn’t work out.

But things that can be explained by cultural differences aside, a lot of things in this movie are just bizarre.  Things like those robotic reindeer, Santa laughing maniacally while looking at a manger scene, and Pitch mincing around in pantaloons are all just hilariously weird.  And I can’t forget the bad dubbing in the scene where Lupita’s mother says that Christmas is a time to remember Craig or the awful special effects like the listening device that was clearly just an oscillating fan with a plastic ear glued to it.  One of my favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the Santa Claus episode.  This movie was definitely perfect fodder for the MST3K crew, they did a brilliant job of providing commentary.  It’s one of those episodes that makes me laugh until I hurt.  The MST3K way is definitely the best way to watch it.

I Saw What You Did (1965)

When Libby Mannering’s parents go out-of-town for the night, she does what any typical teenager would do and invites her friend Kit to come over.  Libby, Kit, and Libby’s little sister Tess decide to spend the evening making prank phone calls.  It’s all innocent enough until they decide to call Steve Marak (John Ireland) and say, “I saw what you did and I know who you are.”  Steve has just murdered his wife and had just gotten home from hiding the body when they talk to him.  Of course, Steve gets paranoid and wants to know who’s calling him.  But then his neighbor and girlfriend Amy (Joan Crawford) gets wind of Steve getting phone calls from strange women at night and becomes incredibly jealous.  Meanwhile, Libby and Kit are curious about what Steve looks like, so they decide to drive by his house to try to get a glimpse of him.  Unfortunately, the only person Libby ends up seeing is Amy, who reams her out for trying to steal her man.  Before Libby can leave, Amy swipes the registration from her mother’s car, then gives it to Steve and tries to blackmail him into marrying her.  But she, too, meets her demise at the hands of Steve Marak and Steve heads out to make Libby his next victim.

I love this movie!  When I wrote about the book Bette Davis: Larger Than Life, I said that sometimes books and documentaries tend to skip over certain films in a star’s career.  In the case of Joan Crawford’s career, I Saw What You Did seems to be the one that nobody ever acknowledges and I really don’t understand why.  I know it’s not like this was ever meant to win any Oscars, but it’s certainly better than some of her other campy era movies like The Caretakers or Berserk.  The movie is definitely campy, it is a William Castle movie after all, but that’s why I love it so much.  It’s absolutely hilarious!  Of course, everything about Joan Crawford in this movie was completely over the top: the acting, the hair, the jewelry.

And then there are the girls.  All of the girls’ performances were certainly worthy of the old Batman TV series, but I love the way they delivered their cheesy lines.  Sharyl Locke as Tess especially cracked me up.  But the real icing on the cake is the soundtrack.  Throughout the movie, they keep playing this song that sounds like it was leftover from Beach Blanket Bingo.  To get an idea of what I’m talking about, watch this clip of the beginning of the movie:

I really wish this movie were more available.  It was released on DVD, but now it’s out of print so it’s really expensive to buy.  Even the VHS is ridiculously expensive!  It rarely even turns up on TV.  I got TCM to play it once last year after I requested it, but that’s the only time I’ve seen it on TV.  It’s just a fun bit of camp that I love watching every Halloween.

The Big Cube (1969)

A while back, I bought the book Lana: The Memories, The Myths, The Movies by Cheryl Crane and while reading it, I came across something about a movie Lana was in called The Big Cube.  The book didn’t say much about it, but all I knew is that there was a movie about Lana Turner on LSD.  And since I love crazy drug movies from the 60’s, I knew I had to see this movie.  I was in luck, because not too long after reading about it, TCM played it as part of TCM Underground.  I told my friend Nikki about this movie and she was equally intrigued by the idea of a movie about Lana Turner on acid.  Next thing I know, it’s 2:00 AM on a Friday night, and Nikki and I are having a blast on Facebook making fun of this completely insane movie.  It’s chock full of bad acting, strange accents, inexplicable stripping, questionable fashions, and loads of crazy psychedelic goodness.  At times, I felt like I was watching an episode of Dragnet.  I kept waiting for Friday and Gannon to come barging in and for Friday to start making one of his famous speeches. So all in all, The Big Cube was everything I could ask for in a 60’s drug movie.

In The Big Cube, Lana Turner plays Adriana, an actress who marries Charles Winthrop, a wealthy tycoon.  Charles has a daughter Lisa, who is not at all pleased with her new stepmother and she starts hanging around with the wrong crowd.  Lisa’s closest friend is a woman named Bibi.  Why Lisa hangs out with her is beyond me, since it seems Lisa and Bibi have nothing in common. One night, Bibi brings Lisa out for a night at a psychedelic club and she meets Johnny, a med student and fan of LSD.  Johnny knows Lisa comes from a rich family and gets close to her to get her money.  Shortly after Adriana and Charles are married, the two of them go boating and in an accident, Adriana suffers a concussion and Charles dies.  When the will is read, Lisa finds out she can only inherit her entire estate if she gets married to someone Adriana approves of.  Of course, Adriana doesn’t approve of Lisa marrying Johnny so they do what any normal young couple would do and plot to make everyone think Adriana is crazy by spiking her  medicine with acid and making her think they are trying to kill her.  Sure enough, their scheme works and Adriana is deemed mentally incompetent and Lisa and Johnny are free to marry.  But the marriage is short-lived and Lisa discovers Johnny actually did want to kill Adriana.  Lisa starts trying to help Adriana recover and when all is said and done, the two end up becoming friends.  Johnny, on the other hand, doesn’t fare as well.  The last we see of him, he’s in his apartment high on acid, putting an ant in his pocket and descending into madness.

When I was in school, I had to go through the D.A.R.E. program, so I already knew all about why drugs are bad.  But I think The Big Cube taught me a few new valuable lessons about why drugs are bad and why you should stay away from people who do them: