Dazed and Confused,
and a few more films

Dazed and Confused (1993)

#254  [archive]
MAR. 7, 2024

This is set in the '70s, as was my childhood, and everything about the film looks authentic. It sounds very '70s too, with a beginning-to-end selection of classic rock'n'roll from the era.

Dazed and Confused follows about two dozen teenagers on the last day of school, but it's mostly about Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), face of innocence as a freshman the next fall, and Randall "Pink" Floyd (Jason London), star quarterback and almost unbelievably nice guy. 

We spend the night driving around with these kids, on their way to a party in a park where everyone gets drunk and stoned. It's a party you don't want to miss. You can ride with Pink.

Apparently, at least in Austin, Texas, high school students traditionally haze the incoming kids from junior high. That's the only element of the film I have no 1970s recollection of, but if it happened, hazing would've been for kids trying to fit in — nobody would've bothered hazing me, the geeky loser. 

Nearly nothing of importance happens all night, but in high school every budding friendship, altercation, brief flirtation, wisecrack, kiss, and joke can seem crucial, OMG.

None of these high schoolers display any ambition. There's scant mention of college or careers, and most of the kids seem mildly pessimistic, like it goes without saying that the future won't hold much for them. So basically, it's a true story. 

There's one line of unbridled optimism in the movie, and it's a joke. Pretty dang funny joke, too.

Everything feels aimless and easy as it leisurely unfolds, not like a script so much as like being there, among the kids. Which is, of course, the mark of a terrific script.

Written and directed by Richard Linklater, this was only his third film, and his first with even a minor league budget. It remains his masterpiece, and one of my perpetual favorites.

The cast was comprised entirely of unknowns, many of whom went on to become 'known' — Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Anthony Rapp, Marissa Ribisi, and (if you don't blink) Renée Zellweger.

I've seen this movie a dozen times, and always it leaves me in a better mood when it's over than when it starts.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Dead Man's Shoes (2004)

There's always been a clique of petty criminals and small-time drug dealers in town, and Richard (Paddy Considine, who also co-wrote) has had enough of them.

He's a quiet man, whose only friend is his simpleminded brother, but he's fresh back from the military, where they teach a very particular set of skills. Soldiers are supposed to forget how to kill after leaving the service, but sometimes they remember, so Richard is not to be trifled with. What makes this more effective than in, say, First Blood or a Jackie Chan movie, is that Richard doesn't look particularly tough.

It's all punctuated by loud choral singing at the most dramatic moments, a movie trope I'm weary of, and it's bookended and interrupted by whiny folk songs that got on my nerves.

That said, this is worth seeing. It's an action movie, sure, but has something to whisper about mental health, the fragile high-wire we're all dancing on every day.

"You were supposed to be a monster. Now I'm the fucking beast."

Pretty sure it wasn't the moviemakers' intent, but Dead Man's Shoes got me thinking, and helped me fully realize something I've always known, maybe even joked about, but never acknowledged as the fundamental truth that it is: The world would be a kinder, more peaceful and loving place, if certain people — bullies, billionaires, and other bastards — were strangled in their sleep.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Dead Ringers (1988)

Streaming free at Tubi

Nobody does ill at ease better than David Cronenberg — Naked Lunch, Scanners, Shivers, Spider, Videodrome… maybe even The Dead Zone and The Fly.

For this flick, he gives us identical twin gynecologists (both played by Jeremy Irons), who design their own instruments for examining and poking around inside women. The twins are only identical on the outside, though; inside, one's always been outgoing and in charge, while the other is withdrawn and unsure of himself.

Every moment of this feels as weird as life itself, or more so. It's occasionally sickening, often splendid, and unlike some of Cronenberg's films, it needs no exploding heads or pustule eruptions to provide the horror. This time, it's personal.

I've never been a fan of Geneviève Bujold, but here she hits exactly the right notes, giving what might be the finest performance of her career.

And it's Jeremy Irons' two best performances, playing the twins. You might wonder how you'd be able to tell them apart without name tags, but somehow, whether one or both is on screen, or even when one brother is impersonating the other, there's never any mistaking which is which.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)

Streaming free at Internet Archive

The artist who painted the picture has been dead for 60 years, but he's in limbo behind the painting, and thinking out loud with a spooky English accent. The painting — with the artist behind it — is hung in the bedroom of a creepy old mansion, where the artist mostly talks to the four-poster bed, which is alive, eats any food you leave on the nightstand, and then eats you while you sleep.

The film has three acts: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the lunch section is best. It's about three women on a getaway to the house, and one of them is shy, withdrawn, wonders why she even came along. She's basically me, but you almost never see that kind of introversion portrayed sympathetically on screen.

From the title, I was expecting to laugh at Death Bed, but as a low-budget horror piece, it isn't bad. There's bug-eating, brief nudity, more moans than screams, and some cool but cheap effects. Unlike modern horror, even the gross-out bits are only unsettling, not barf-inducing. It sometimes unsettled me, and twice I heard myself say, "Oh, no." 

The film is occasionally slow, and loses some of its oomph when there's an attempted explanation of how the bed became alive — it'll never stand up to logic, so why even try? There's also a crunchy sound as the bed eats its victims, as if humans are made of potato chips, and the noise is more irritating than creepy.

Here's something trivial: You know the movie standard of swirling newspapers, with headlines telling you about whatever's the menace? In this flick there's that montage of swirling headlines, but each has obviously been glued over the real headline, on the same copy of the same edition of the same newspaper. Imagine making a movie on a budget so tight, you can't afford to buy a second newspaper.

Death Bed was written and directed by George Barry, a bookseller from Royal Oak, Michigan, who never did any other movie work. Dividing the goose bumps into the estimated $10,000 budget, I can't think of a horror movie with a better chills-per-dollar ratio.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Death Race 2000 (1975)

Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is an exploitation B-movie from schlock maestro Roger Corman. It's violent, sadistic, and not quite coherent enough to have a message, but fuckall it's fun.

Welcome to the 20th annual Cross-Country Road Race, an American tradition of the near future. The race runs from New York to New Los Angeles, and drivers get extra points for killing pedestrians. To keep things fair, the pedestrians are allowed self-defense, like blowing up the car and driver.

"As the cars roar into Pennsylvania, cradle of liberty, it seems apparent that our citizens are staying off the streets, which may make scoring particularly difficult, even with this year's rule changes. To recap those revisions: women are still worth 10 points more than men in all age brackets, but teenagers now rack up 40 points, and toddlers under 12 now rate a big 70 points. The big score: anyone, any sex, over 75 years old has been upped to 100 points."

David Carradine stars as the driver we're supposed to root for, who goes by the name Frankenstein. His new navigator is a pretty woman, and this is the kind of movie where we'll soon see her hooters. Sylvester Stallone (mere months before Rocky) plays Machine Gun Joe Viterbo, another driver. And in a different car, there's a team of Nazis wearing swastikas.

Screenplay by Charles Griffith (The original Little Shop of Horrors) and Robert Thom (Wild in the Streets), a pairing which promises more than merely screeching tires and a body count. And indeed, Frankenstein's new navigator might have more going on than merely maps and mammaries.

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)
Defending Your Life
Detroit 9000
Dishonored (1931)

 ... plus sometimes,

schlock, shorts, and surprises

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:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • 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. More time has passed between now and when Dazed & Confused was released than had passed between Dazed & Confused and the '70s. It's still hard to wrap my head around that. I watched one of the Brady Bunch movies from the '90s that were supposed to be making fun of the '60s but at this point they're better watched as parodies of the '90s. Almost every scene has a guy with long hair and dressed like a lumberjack saying "dude" like Hawaiians say "aloha"

    1. If anyone makes a movie fondly remembering the 1990s, it better include zines. If they do the 2000s or 2010s, cripes, where are they gonna find the smiles? This century sucks turd from a cat's anus.

      I never saw the Brady Bunch movies. The original show so effectively mocked itself, and then the sequel shows took it beyond, were there any jokes left to tell? Guess I was pre-disappointed, but tell me if I missed something good.

    2. Oh you're not missing much outside of the dudebros with soul patches listening to Soundgarden and saying RADICAL. There are a couple little sight gags that are worth a chuckle (Mr. Brady, played totally straight by Gary Cole, is hired to do design a gas station for a client, and repeatedly comes up with designs that look like the famously '70s Brady home) but it's not much other than a long fish out of water joke.

    3. Hah! Thanks.

      It's depressing how much real estate Sherwood Schwartz owns in my head from that show, especially since it was utterly cringe, even from the debut episode when it first aired, and I was just a kid.

      And yet I watched it, week after week, year after year, even when the kids sang in spandex and grew into a soap opera.

  2. Also there's such a cool thing about movies like Death Bed and even Manos: The Hands of Fate or Zaat! that were one-off projects by locals in some totally off-market place. Doesn't mean they created something great (although I agree with you Death Bed is weirdly compelling — it seems just totally unaware or indifferent of film conventions, like a musical instrument created by an isolated people who had no contact with the outside world) but they created something probably more meaningful than 90% of the competent but dull films released at the same time.

    1. Exacatactly! And I'm pleasantly amazed that you've seen Death Bed. It was made for the joy of making it, I think, and that's so much better than so many movies made with millions of dollars and no joy at all.

      IMDB tells me there was a remake of Death Bed, but I have no interest and I'm pre-certain it stinks.


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