The Lair of the White Worm, and six more movies

Tell me a story, but make it good.

The Lair of the White Worm (1988) makes it great, and I also recommend Barfly (1987) and Stars of the Roller State-Disco (1984).

Seems I'm stuck in the 1980s...

— — —

A Boy and His Dog (1975)

The Neverending
Film Festival

This is based on a long short story or short novel by Harlan Ellison, which I read long ago. All I remembered, though, is that it was post-apocalyptic and disturbing, about a boy and his dog having sarcastic conversations, and Ellison never explained how the dog got the ability to chat.

It was made into this movie, which I watched a billion years ago and forgot as thoroughly as I've forgotten the novella, but I remembered that the prose and movie each won Hugos, science fiction's most prestigious award.

I won't spend a day re-reading a novel I didn't much care for, but in a sci-fi post-apocalyptic mood, why not see a movie that's supposed to be good...

“World War IV lasted five days,” says the opening crawl over imagery of nuclear obliteration. “Politicians had finally solved the problem of urban blight.” Yeah, this might be fun.

Set in the bleak, distant future of 2024, on the scorched and lifeless plains of the American southwest, Vic (Don Johnson, pre-Miami Vice) is one of the survivors. Yup, he's accompanied by a telepathic fido named Blood, but the dog doesn't like Vic. Neither do I.

Unlike most movies of the post-nuclear genre, where people are fighting for food or turf or the hell of it, here it’s mostly men fighting for women to rape. The rapes are more alluded to and threatened than shown, and it occurs to me that if you postulate a future without civilization or community, maybe Rape Culture is an accurate prediction. It's not the setting for an enjoyable story, though, even with a cute talking mutt.

Vic rapes a young girl, who then escapes, and he follows her to an underground society, where he's captured and his sperm will be milked to spawn a new generation. He's disappointed that it'll be artificial insemination, wants the real thing instead, and that's as far as I got.

I didn't quit the movie in disgust or indignation, though. I simply fell asleep. Hey, I'm old. And then after waking up, I had no interest in rewinding and revisiting what I'd seen.

IMDB says it's a comedy-drama, but there were no laughs in the first half. It hovers between interesting and annoying, but it's well-made, and maybe the movie earned its accolades. It's not for everyone, though, and not for me.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Barfly (1987)

Charles Bukowski was a drunk and a good writer, which is probably the order he'd list his talents. This is his fictionalized biography, with Buke stylized as Henry Chinaski, an alter-ego he used in several of his novels.

I saw Barfly when it first came out, and thought it was good but superficial. It shows a man of many wisecracks and fistfights and benders, but rarely gets under that surface. Bukowski wrote the script, but I'm skeptical that anyone could get into as many bloody fights as Henry Chinaski, and often lose badly, yet somehow walk away and fight again the next night, and still have a straight nose, a mouth full of teeth, and enough of his wits to write good literature.

The plot here is about Henry's discovery as a writer. He'd been sending manuscripts to various publishers, usually rejected, but one highbrow publisher is intrigued. Henry relocates a lot, though, so their response via the mail gets returned to sender, and the publisher hires a private detective to track down the author. Alice Krige plays the publisher, and she's given nothing much to do but be young and pretty and stereotypical, and pulls it off, I guess.

Faye Dunaway is excellent as Wanda, Henry's main squeeze, and you'll immediately forget she's a big movie star. She's gorgeous, sure, but she lives and breaths Wanda's drunken, disappointed, sleeparound character, and even moments that are silly in hindsight feel completely real when Dunaway delivers. You have to swoon at her first moment with Chinasky: 

Wanda: I can't stand people, I hate them.

Henry: Oh yeah?

Wanda: Do you hate them?

Henry: No, but I seem to feel better when they're not around.

That's Mickey Rourke as Chinaski, and Rourke saw the source material up close — Bukowski was on the set while they were filming, and even has a cameo as a barfly. Presumably the actor mimicked Bukowski, but he powers through every line like a stoned high school smartass, and I hope Bukowsi in the flesh wasn't so annoying. Also, Rourke was 35 when this was filmed, which is too young to play Buke as I envision him. Also and obviously, what the hell do I know?

When I saw Barfly in the 1980s, what caught my attention wasn't so much Bukowski or the story, but the interiors. In a shitty neighborhood, Henry lives in a shitty room with stains on the walls, and sits on shitty furniture. Watching in a dark cinema, I said to myself, Damn.

Until then I'd been an ordinary me. I'd figured out that the world was shit, but still worked my 40 hours, drove a late-model Subaru, and came home to a normal apartment. Watching Barfly, the thought that formed in my head was, The rent would be cheap in a dump like Henry's place. 

The next weekend I loitered in slum neighborhoods, and decided everything I'd heard about the low-life life was a lie, or at least an exaggeration. The weekend after that, I moved into a shitty, stained apartment in a dilapidated building behind a warehouse on a swankless alleyway, with shouting and screaming and sometimes fistfights out the window — but at 1/3 the rent I'd been paying. Score!

A few years in shitholes like that led to more bright ideas, which eventually took me to California, so this movie had a smackin' big impact on my life, second only to Harold & Maude.

I wanted to see Barfly again now that I've put some years on me, so I watched it, enjoyed it, but my opinion remains the same. It's a good movie that should've been better.

It's almost entirely about Bukowski's drunkenness, and he drank a lot, yeah, but that's easy to show on the screen. He also thought a lot, but not much of the thinking comes across. On screen he's mostly just glib, and the cliché of an unrepentant alcoholic.

Someone says to Chinaski, "What do you drink?" and he replies, "Almost everything." That's a clever line, and I smiled, same as you did. There are many clever lines about being a drunkard, and Bukowski was the drunkard who wrote the lines. They're good lines, and again, it's a good movie.

But there was more to the man than booze and wisecracks. I wanted the movie to show a smidgen of something more personal, like you find in "The Laughing Heart," by Charles Bukowski:

your life is your life
don't let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can't beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Verdict: YES, but I wish.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Cave Women on Mars (2008)

"It is the future — 1987." This is another of Christopher R Mihm's DIY homages to sci-fi schlock from the 1950s. The early '50s, I'd say. 

From Mihm's previous movies (It Came from Another World, The Monster of Phantom Lake), Josh Craig returns as the slow-talking Professor Jackson, and also plays his son, who's commanding the first manned mission to Mars. When the astronauts arrive on the red planet, they discover something you'd never expect unless you've noticed the movie's title — women, allegedly 'cave women', though we never see any caves.

Martian dames are kickass tough, but the men of Mars are pansies, so when one of the astronauts meets the Martian women, they expect him to be weak and passive. Likewise, he's surprised by their strength and feistiness. Chuckles and wacky situations ensue.

Soon there are sparks of romance, but these women do not understand smooching, so there's dialogue like, "What is this 'kissing' of which you speak?" Then there's kissing, but have no worries about inappropriate content. Mihm makes family films, starring his family and friends, so even the interplanetary love scenes are chaste.

I'm a major Mihm fan — how could you not love a guy who makes movies as a hobby, not as a business? This is made from true affection for the oldies, but it isn't Mihm's best. It takes a while to get going, and even then it sputters. Some of the bad acting is intentional and amusing, which I reckon makes it not-bad acting after all. 

The music soars as needed, suits the drama, and it's a genuine wow, better than many 1950s studio flicks. I wanted to say something nice about it, but I should've known better. It was lifted from Franz Liszt, a composer who's been dead for more than a century and thus can't object.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Deathrow Game Show (1988)

Deathrow convicts are put on TV for a chance for at least a temporary reprieve. It's an amateur riff on The Running Man, with the more believable twist that the program (called Live or Die) is controversial — some people don't like the idea of a murdering game show. 

This is another tasteless comedy from Mark Pirro (A Polish Vampire in Burbank, Rectuma), and he's a master of amusing side-bits. There are some laugh out loud moments here.

The show's host, Chuck Toedan (John McCafferty), goes on a PBS debate against Gloria Sternvirgin, leader of WAEMAF (Women Against Everything Men Are For). After the telecast, though, masked gunmen attack in the network's parking lot, and Toedan rescues Sternvirgin. You think it's about to become a romantic comedy, but no, it's about to become crap.

Several people have been tastelessly killed by this point, but they've all been funny deaths, guffaws galore, until the movie is taken over by a rude and repulsive Mafioso character, played by an actor billed as Beano. He's a singular stooge, doing stooge-like stupid things, but no stooge stands alone — to be funny, you need three of them. Between the grotesque gangster and Beano, the bad actor playing him, everything amusing is over.

Verdict: NO

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

Based on one of Bram Stoker's lesser novels, this is a Ken Russell film, and he was infamous for shocking audiences — think Altered States, The Devils, Tommy, etc. Russell is relatively restrained here, but still, be prepared for sensory excess. 

Young Peter Capaldi plays an archaeologist in a kilt, who discovers the fossilized head of something monstrous. We soon meet baby-faced Hugh Grant, who's descended from a legendary local who, centuries earlier, slayed an overgrown worm that terrorized the county. The movie's bad guy is the worm, but mostly it's Amanda Donohoe, and she's wondrous as a woman of unusual wickedness.

The story is honestly scary, often in ways you wouldn't expect, the pieces fit together snugly, and while it's absolutely not a comedy it has a ribald sense of humor and a great punchline at the finish. The film is 30+ years old, so there are no cellphones or laptops, but the music, the look and feel of this is very 'present day'. The theme song, by the Tossers, will be on my playlist till the worms eat what's left of me.

Delicate viewers should be warned that there's some brief historical rape imagery (played for horror not titillation), a young boy's dick gets bitten off, and Lord knows what Amanda Donohoe wants to do with that strap-on. And yet, somehow the movie seems wholesome. Pity there was never a sequel, as Capaldi and Grant are grand together.

Verdict: BIG YES. Pickled earthworms in aspic, anyone? 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Space is the Place (1974)

"My kingdom is the kingdom of darkness and blackness, and none can enter except those who are of the black spirit."

Sun Ra was an interesting man — a jazz star, a writer, philosopher, and sometimes a jokester, born in Alabama but he often said that he came from Saturn. His music was a funky mix of big band and electronica, and I've listened to some of it off and on over many years.

He was fascinated by outer space, and wrote that its hugeness might allow freedoms only dreamed of on earth. Extrapolating from that, he cowrote and starred in this 1970s inspirational new-age woo-woo science-fiction fable, and some of it's brilliant, some of it's dull as dust, and all together it's a jumbled mess.

"Planet Earth sounds of guns, anger and frustration. There was no-one to talk to on Planet Earth. We set up a colony for black people here. See what they can do with a planet all their own without any white people there." That's from one of the promising parts, toward the beginning.

Playing himself as an outer spaceman, Sun Ra recruits black people to migrate to his new improved planet, but white cops with guns are making that mission difficult. "Whiteys," he says to an all-black audience, "take frequent trips to the moon, but I notice none of you have been invited." Another great line, and obviously, NASA was racist then, and probably still is now.

In the movie, NASA and the FBI team up with The Devil (seriously) to oppose Sun Ra, and while they try to get away and get off the planet, it becomes an average blaxploitation picture with some spacey talk. Perhaps less than average, because Sun Ra is not a dude who's ever going to say Enough is enough and kick your ass.

When there's a crisis, he's at peace. When he's in peril, he's at peace. When he's tied down and interrogated by NASA whiteys, he's at peace. It's eternal peace, which is a fine philosophy, but makes for a boring leading man. 

Space is the Place offers a great set-up, some clever discount special effects, a few laughs, less than Sun Ra's best music, and some cringeworthy '70s action and sex scenes. It didn't take me off the planet. 

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Stars of the Roller State-Disco  (1984)

This is a British TV movie from the 1980s, set in a government-run youth facility built around a roller rink. The way it works is, kids skate the circle for amusement, or to get where they need to be. Here's the sleeping facilities, here's the screwing facilities, or roll a few meters farther to meet with human or on-screen social workers, or for job training, or onward to the vending machines for food, or the video arcade.

Despite the graffiti and grunge, I have definitely seen worse juvenile jails. Man, if I could skate all day (if I could skate at all without falling on my face) and skate holding hands with a pretty girl who liked me, why would I ever want to leave? The movie's main character, Carly (male, despite the name), doesn't want to leave, which is exasperating for Paulette, the girl he skates with — she wants to get out. 

It's sci-fi in a bizarre setting that could never be, but the kids here look and feel and act like real kids, from the '80s or tomorrow afternoon. They're rambunctious, violent for no reason, and in a hurry to make the wrong decisions. I wanted to yell through the screen about how believably stupid a few of them were.

Unlike most movies about "troubled youth," the adults here aren't unanimously useless. Several seem to seriously care, and the job placement staff finds numerous jobs for Carly, all of which seem decent, but he keeps finding reasons to turn them down. Paulette is patient, but how long will she be willing to wait for this guy to pull his head out from between his buttcheeks?

Gotta mention the complexities of filming this. We never leave the roller rink/complex, and everyone's wearing skates, so there are no exterior scenes, and very few footsteps. The camera follows a skater around the circle, who then spins off into the bunk beds or pinball machines, stops on an unseen mark and delivers the scripted lines. At one point the leading actress goes down after colliding with someone skating the other direction, and the hit looks unplanned. Respect for the moviemaking challenges here, met.

As for the story, it doesn't end with a kiss and a peppy pop single. Also, the dialogue is difficult for American ears — heavy British accents, with no subtitles available. It's worth the effort, though. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Just for fun, what movie is this from? Hint: It's not from a movie.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Help wanted? These are some movies I'm itching to see, but unable to find:

Mama Steps Out (1937)
Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (2007)
The Spy Who Did It Better (1979)
Why Am I in a Box? (2010)

♦ ♦ ♦

In my quest for unusual movies, I have occasionally been intrigued by Invasion of the Not Quite Dead. Ken Russell (Lair of the White Worm) was once attached to that project, and he's been dead for eleven years, but every once in a great while I poke around to see if I can see the movie yet.

Nope, not yet, and suspicions arise that it's not really a movie, and never will be. IMDB has said it was "filming" for years, and now lists it as "in post production." In a curiosity search yesterday, I found "Invasion of the Not Quite Made" at Reprobate Press, an article subtitled, "The strange story of an unfilmed, crowdfunded zombie movie."

Find a movie
DVDpublic librarystreaming
If you can't find it, drop me a note.


Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  


  1. >A Boy and His Dog

    This was a super duper disappointment. I first saw it quite recently, within the last 5 years. Too much rape, not funny or very dramatic, ugly. Bleah.


    >I wanted to see Barfly again now that I've put some years on me, so I watched it, enjoyed it, but my opinion remains the same. It's a good movie that should've been better.

    Yeah man, that last line summarizes my thoughts on this movie, AND on Bukowski as a writer. Not gonna pretend I've read a lot, but I have recently read two of his novels. They are good, but not as good as people led me to believe.


    1. Yeah? Then maybe I'll be disappointed — I have some Bukowski on the way from the library.

      Like all the alleged masters, I haven't read much of him. Half a dozen poems and a short story, maybe.

  2. FYI, if you're willing to pay, I found Spine Tingler for 3 bucks rental on Vimeo.


    1. Thanks for the link.

      I'll pay if I must, but first I'll wait a week to see if anyone offers a cheapskate option.

    2. I had a bastard of a time even finding that pay-to-watch option. It's scarce.

    3. Thank toy for your bastard service.

  3. When I see Barfly it reads barf-ly. You only watch strange movies. Not so fast and furious?

    1. Oh jeez, thanks for barf-ly — now I can't see the title without seeing the barf.

      Yeah, I love all the fast & furious movies. My very fave is the 19th entry, Speed Limit and Mellow.

  4. "Lair of the White Worm" is one of my favorites, second only to "Salome's Last Dance." If you haven't seen THAT hot mess, I highly recommend you check it out.

    "It was death by misadventure. She SLIPPED on a banana peel!"


  5. Nope, I've never seen it, so — one hot mess, coming up!

  6. Are you saying piracy is not a victemless crime? I thot you were ok with it? I am.

    1. No virtues here. Haven't got the shelf space. It was a joke.

  7. Thats Star Trek Next Generation. Too easy, Doug.

    1. Specifically, that's the moment when Star Trek: The Next Generation reverse jumped the shark, and went from being a so-so series to being quite good.

      Too easy? So noted.


🚨🚨 Click here if you have problems posting a comment. 🚨🚨