Kevin Geeks Out About Mazes & Monsters

In the latest installment of our web-series, Rusty Ward and I watched RONA JAFFE'S MAZES & MONSTERS.

*Not to be confused with AL JAFFEE'S MAZES & MONSTERS.  (which, I imagine, would have been titled "Mazes & Morons", filled with snappy answers to stupid questions.  "Are you going to jump off the Twin Towers and commit suicide?"  "No, I am Pardu, I can fly from this tower and join the great Hall.") 

Like a role-playing game, the movie has many levels to it -- that is, you can enjoy it any number of ways. I first saw this movie as an 8-year-old, and now I've watched it again as an adult. I enjoyed it each time I've seen it.

I don't want to give too much away here, since unlike other reviews we've done this video sums up our observations and doesn't require lengthy bonus material.

Related posts:

AMC's Sci Fi Department episode: Actors Who Needed the Money

AMC's Sci Fi Department episode: The Hungry Actor Pop Quiz


An important message about unimportant things

A friend of mine recently wrote this compelling article about "bad" movies and ironic viewing. He also sent me a note saying that it wasn't directed towards me.

I was flattered to have him write to me (and note that I'm "one of the good guys") but I was disappointed to think that I've got this reputation.

Let me clear the air.  I love all kinds of movies, TV shows, comic books and works of literature.  For reasons too boring to get into, I am not a fan of the baggage that comes with high and/or low art.

And truth be told, I don't subscribe to the notion of a movie (or anything else) being "so bad it's good." A surprising admission from someone who contributes to 'zines like I LOVE BAD MOVIES and co-hosts a video series titled SO BAD IT'S GOOD. But it's true none-the-less. (Years ago I was the monologue writer for a youth-oriented talk show and I penned a diatribe against the phrase "so bad it's good."  I'll have to re-post it.)

When I was younger I watched Mystery Science Theater and I wore a lot of ironic T-shirts.  But more and more I find that works of art are like Reese's Peanut Butter cups. As the ad says, "there's no wrong way to enjoy them." At the risk of sounding like a raving post-modernist, I can't judge people for liking something one way or another. They can interpret it however they see fit. As someone who is sharing stuff that I like, I can only hope people will also like it.

When I screened clips at the KEVIN GEEKS OUT live events, some people liked a given film clip for nostalgia's sake. Other people genuinely enjoyed the content. Some might've called it a "guilty pleasure" , while others dug it ironically. (And I'm sure there were plenty of people in the audience who didn't like a given clip on any level.)

For me, when I present a selection from a film it's less about "isn't this so stupid that it's hilarious?!"

I prefer to take the approach "I found this fascinating. And maybe you'll find it fascinating, too..."

* * *

On more than one occasion, I've had awkward social encounters about T-shirts.  Once, I was talking to a co-worker about BLACK SABBATH, because she was wearing a Black Sabbath shirt.  But it quickly became apparent that she wasn't a fan, and didn't know their music.  I felt pretty stupid.

Another time I was in Prospect Park with my kids and I made friends with another parent.  While we were chatting, she noted that my BILLY JACK T-shirt was "hilarious."  Except that I wasn't wearing it ironically. I felt pretty stupid.

I'm done with feeling stupid about any of this stuff.

* * *

The phrase "so bad it's good" has become a brand and attitude.  I don't subscribe to it, but I collaborate with people who use that marketing device to reach a particular audience.

If something makes you happy and it's not hurting anybody, then it's okay with me.  But you don't have to dress up your enjoyment, framing it as as something ironic.

And I won't be ashamed for enjoying the things I like.

* * *

One of the best things about spending time with my sons, is that they're 3 and 6 -- and there's no filter about how to appreciate things. For example, my 3-year-old like Spider-man.  He likes the 1967 Spider-man cartoon.  He likes the 2008 Spider-man cartoon.  He likes the electric Spider-man toothbrush.  Each one is equally valued.  Each makes him happy.  And he doesn't experience any guilt or embarrassment about any of it.

Related posts:

I worked at VH1 for a year -- and besides being a place that was over-run with finger-quotes and ironic viewing, people would throw around all kinds of superlatives.  ("Best Mustache Ever!") The over-use of superlatives without any historical context inspired this video which I produced at AMC.


Kevin Geeks Out about EATEN ALIVE

The latest installment of Kevin Maher & Rusty Ward's web-series looks at EATEN ALIVE (1977)  a.k.a. Death Trap, a.k.a Horror Hotel, a.k.a. Starlight Slaughter, a.k.a. Legend of the Bayou, a.k.a. Brutes & Savages.

Director Tobe Hooper is probably best know for two films: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1975) and POLTERGIEST  (1982).  But in the years between those two classics, he directed a handful of other films, including: VENOM (1981),  THE FUNHOUSE (1981) and the made-for-TV movie of SALEM'S LOT (1979). 

But the most stylistic and bizarre offering from that period has got to be EATEN ALIVE. The movie plays like a Carol Burnett Show parody of CHAINSAW, complete with hokey sets, colorful costumes and lots of wigs.  Storywise, the film's first act has a lot in common with PSYCHO, where a young girl escapes a Cathouse and seeks shelter in a run-down motel, where she is murdered. But instead of being hacked to pieces by a transvestite with Mommy issues, she's beaten by a long-haired war veteran and fed to a giant alligator (or maybe it's a crocodile.  This detail is never made clear.  Motel-owner Judd claims it's a crocodile from Africa, but he proves to be an unreliable narrator.) 

Previously I'd included EATEN ALIVE as part of the post-JAWS knock-offs that feature other aquatic monsters. (Like many of those titles, it had a trailer that compared it to JAWS.)  But watching the movie it seems to belong to a different sub-genre entirely: Fear of the South.  Certainly this genre (which was popular in the late 60's and 70's) includes TEXAS CHAINSAW, but it has roots in EASY RIDER and maybe even the Zapruder film.  On the surface, there's obvious differences, like Yankees do not know how to deal with a 'gator the way Floridians might.  But on a deeper level, I wonder if the real horror comes from Northern liberals who fear the Americans that elected Nixon. (This genre can be summed-up beautifully by an old National Lampoon comic book parody "Tales From the South", see below.)  

CHAINSAW has the advantage of a Texas filmmaker portraying the villains as monstrous Texans, EATEN ALIVE never really pinpoints a geography.  It's just "the South", it could be Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, we never know... 

Part of the reason CHAINSAW is so powerful is that it has the look of a documentary.  But with EATEN ALIVE, Hooper goes 180, embracing every form of artifice, with a broad location, corny wigs, and a hokey sound-stage swamp.  I don't know what exactly he's going for, but somehow it all works and makes for a good time. Adding to the madness, are the over-the-top performances from Neville Brand and William Finley. Plus horror fans will delight in seeing Robert Englund (in one of his first roles) as "Buck", a horny young man who is repeatedly seen trying to convince women to engage in anal sex. He's like the Trix Rabbit of Sodomy. 

Genre fans will also be delighted to see Marilyn Burns (Sally from T.C.M.) appearing as a morose housewife.  It's like seeing an old friend!  I wish she'd made more movies.  EATEN ALIVE is so star-studded that the film's poster actually puts a box around all six actors.  They're that impressive! 

I also like that the poster (see right) refers to Judd and the 'gator as friends. 

While researching the film, I came across this odd poster for the version titled LEGEND OF THE BAYOU.  Apparently, back in the day, you could build a movie's Ad-campaign around creepy teeth. (again, I credit JAWS.  It always comes back to JAWS.) 

Watch the trailer for EATEN ALIVE

Buy the DVD (single disc, widescreen)

Or purchase the Special Edition 2 DVD set (with featurettes on Tobe Hooper, Marilyn Bruns, and the real-life story of Joe Ball)

warning: Netflix is streaming EATEN ALIVE, but the movie is only 31 minutes long. This isn't a "reader's digest" cut-down, it's simply the first act of the film, and then it stops. Don't bother.


The Hulk and Me

One of my latest projects is co-hosting SO BAD IT'S GOOD, a movie review web-series created by Webby-award winning comedian Rusty Ward. In our first episode we reveiw the 1988 made-for-TV movie THE INCREDIBLE HULK RETURNS, this marks the first feature-length appearance by Thor. 

Now curiously, the 1988 movie takes places just 6 years after the Hulk TV series ended. (It's like attending your 6th high school reunion.)  Donald Blake mentions being Dr. Banner's student 10 years earlier at Harvard.  (That would've been 1978, when Banner was regularly transforming into the creature, and traveling the country as Bavid Bannister or David Ballinsgley, etc.) That's because the movie is supposed to take place just two years following Banner's initial exposure to gamma radiation that's turned him into the Hulk. 

Other observations and what-have-you:

In the movie, Banner has shacked up with a familiar looking woman -- it's the hot mom from Valley Girl,
one of pop culture's first MILFs.

The actor playing Thor is a bit stiff.  This could be an homage to the 1960's Thor cartoon. (for maximum wooden-ness, skip ahead to 5:15)

In 1988 NBC passed on doing a TV series of THOR, but they did make three more seasons of HUNTER.

During one sequence, Donald Blake takes Thor out on the town, because Thor is always thirsty.  (He totally has a drinking problem.)

When they walk by a marquee it announces that Dave Alvin will be playing at the bar.  Unfortunately, we never get to see him.

It seems a shame that we only get to see a short clip of Thor partying on the town.  Rusty and I agreed that it would be nice to bring Marvel Superheroes together in a non-superhero film, and see them in another genre entirely, like "The Incredible Hulk's Bachelor Party."

Related HULK material: 

The Hulk is a character I can't seem to escape.  The first KEVIN GEEKS OUT was all about the Incredible Hulk (we screened nearly every version of the animated Hulk (1966 - 1996), plus live-action footage and staged readings of HULKU (incredible hulk haiku)

At Comic Con I arm wrestled Lou Ferrigno for my web show.

During my sketch days I ended one routine by hitch-hiking (and we played the super-sad Hulk song "The Lonley Man" -- p.s. why would anyone want this as a ringtone?  To condition onself to cry at incomign phone calls.)

If you want a more upbeat tune, download this rockin' 45 of Nobody Loves the Hulk.

Even KEVIN GEEKS OUT ABOUT SHARKS related back to the Hulk.  It always goes back to the Hulk.

And here's the time we mentioned the Hulk's "Terror in Times Square"...