Freaked, and a few more films



After Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey, Alex Winter was bankable, and Hollywood handed him stacks of cash to make whatever he wanted. With co-writers from his MTV sketch comedy show The Idiot Box, he wrote, directed, and starred in Freaked, which bombed like Dresden, effectively ending Winter's career as a movie star and auteur. 

The movie is kinda delightful, though. 

Winter plays an obnoxious washed-up movie star named Ricky Coogan, hired by a despicable conglomerate called EES, which stands for Everything Except Shoes, because footwear is the only business they're not in. EES wants Coogan to provide PR cover and help convince the world that the company's lethal Zygrot-24 fertilizer is good for the planet.

Coogan happily takes EES's money, but then he notices and wants an anti-Zygrot-24 protester, Just Plain Julie (Megan Ward), so he chases her by wrapping himself in a full-body cast. Like most of the movie, there's no explaining why it's funny but it is. Guess you had to be there.

Next they visit a roadside freak show, where Randy Quaid is appropriately the head freak, with Mr T cross-dressing as a bearded lady, Rastafarian eyeballs as security guards, and Bobcat Goldthwaite as a sock puppet. So of course Coogan gets monstrously mutilated too, and his sidekick (Michael Stoyanov) is fused into a two-headed body shared with Just Plain Julie.

Splicing a man and woman into one body is horrific, but also kinda hot. Another impressive genetic mix is making a gross-out comedy with all the monstrous masks and morphs and tricks treats shocks and laughs you'd expect, and grafting some slight meaning onto it.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Turkish Star Wars  (1982)

Made on the super-cheap in Turkey, this is a jittery, nonsensical fantasy, with every note of the music and all the special effects stolen from Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ben-Hur, Flash Gordon, etc. The film's actual title translates as The Man Who Saved the World, but because the Star Wars clips are so blatant, most folks call it Turkish Star Wars.

The story is about evil space aliens trying to take over the world, or perhaps they've already taken over and we're fighting back? Even if you haven't seen it, your guess is as good as mine. It's also unclear whether the planet in peril is Earth or some other world.

The leader of the aliens wears a face mask with metal whisker-spikes. Others wear rice-strainers as hats, and there are guys in ape-suits and also random zombies and a blonde lady.

There are many fist-fights, which are the worst and best part of this. We never see a trampoline, but the good guy goes flying off one a hundred times, to punch or kick people in mid-air. He repeatedly rips his opponents' heads off repeatedly, and more than once some of it happens more than once, because the action is edited with such frequent cuts you never know what's supposed to be happening.

"You know why the atomic war, which made our world nearly extinct, started? Humans were too serious. Much of it annoys. Had they known a little about laughing, they'd have chosen peace instead of war."

Verdict: YES, absolutely.

♦ ♦ ♦   

Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)

From the title, I was hoping for a ribald pre-code comedy, but this is not that. 

Jerry (Fredric March) is a failed playwright who gets drunk and makes a pass at wealthy heiress Joan (Sylvia Sidney). They sweet-talk like a romantic comedy, but he's so loaded he forgets having met her. She can't forget him, though, and soon they're at the altar, where he's tipsy again and can't find the wedding ring when the minister asks for it.

There are smiles, but Jerry's boozing is never played for laughs. And it sure isn't funny when he calls his wife by another woman's name, and it comes out that he's been cheating on her. 

When Jerry's boozing and philandering become more than Joan can stand, she offers to join him in drinking themselves to death, but she wants the same right to extramarital sex that he's granted himself. She turns to Cary Grant for companionship, and who wouldn't? Jerry strikes back by going at it with another woman in front of his wife.

So nope, this is not a comedy. "Merrily we go to Hell" is Jerry's frequent toast, as he downs yet another cocktail he doesn't need. 

It's sometimes dull, and would punch harder if it was about anyone in the audience — ordinary Americans, instead of a tuxedo-clad playwright and his wealthy wife and let's have another formal ball at the mansion. March and Sidney are effective, though, and somehow remain sympathetic despite everything. The ending nearly disappoints, but the last line says more than it says.

Directed by Dorothy Arzner (one of very few women allowed that job in the '30s), the film is melodramatic but never preachy. That's a neat trick, for a movie about alcoholism, made during Prohibition, before Alcoholics Anonymous had even been invented.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦


• Coming attractions •

American Revolution 2 (1969)

The Corporation (2003) 

Following (1998) 

Hit! (1973) 

The Invisible Man (1933) 

My Life in Monsters (2015) 

Naked (1993)

The Thing (1982)

Within Our Gates (1920)  

Who Killed Captain Alex (2010)   

(plus occasional schlock as needed)

    • And then •

The Cook (1918)

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Delicatessen (1991)

The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)

District 9 (2009)

Doctor Who (first season, 2005)

Good Night, Nurse (1918)

Inherent Vice (2014)

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Nichols (debut episode; 1971) 

QI (2003)

The Scarecrow (1920) 

They Live (1988)

Upstream Color (2013) 

We Steal Secrets (2013)

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

CultCinema Classics
Films for Action
Internet Archive
Kino Lorber
Korean Classic Film
Christopher R Mihm
National Film Board of Canada
New Yorker Screening Room
Damon Packard
Mark Pirro
Public Domain Movies
Scarecrow Video
Timeless Classic Movies
or your local library.

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —
Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff.
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  1. Sylvia Sidney was one of the two Mrs Carlsons on WKRP in Cinci!

  2. Oh, man, give her some credits. She was in Larry Cohen's God Told Me To.


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