So no one wanted to go with me to the Turkey Marathon of films at Alamo Downtown last Saturday night (and well into Sunday morning)? Well, fine. Wimps. I went anyway. I decided it would be a mini-adventure, that parking downtown would not be too terrible on a holiday weekend, and that I would enjoy seeing films in genres about which I am not very knowledgeable. Also, I told myself I didn’t have to stay for all four films if I got too tired, although I ended up remaining there for the whole marathon.
I did have a great time, although I wish more people had been in the audience. Maybe 30 people turned up for the first movie; by the time the fourth one ended, the number was down to 10. The Turkey Marathon movies were the kind that improve with a large audience. Still, the people who were there all seemed to be having fun. Tim League introduced the movies and then sat and watched the first two or three—he ran the projector for the final film.
I took advantage of the small audience to nab a sofa. Alamo Downtown has these nice squishy sofas in the back row. I’m not sure if I’d ever seen a movie from the sofas before. I’m not very tall and it’s difficult to see if you’re in the sofa row and the row in front of it is occupied. But no one sat in front of me, so I had a perfect view. I think I should pick the sofas more often, especially if I have someone with me like my boyfriend who can sit on the other half, as opposed to a stranger. (The other half of the sofa I picked had a crack in the seat, so no one wanted to sit there, luckily for me.) Let me tell you, if it weren’t for the comfy sofa I might not have lasted through all four films. I don’t know how those Butt-Numb-a-Thon people last through 24 hours.
I truly regret not bringing my laptop and liveblogging the event. I honestly didn’t think about it until I walked into the theater and saw a trio of guys near the front with a laptop among them. I have no idea if they were liveblogging or just checking email. It would have been an ideal liveblogging event. I will have to remember that if I go to one of these again.
The Alamo offered turkey soup and frozen turkey dinners along with the regular menu, but I don’t think anyone took them up on it. It was a beer-and-pizza kind of crowd. And after 2 am, it became a coffee kind of crowd.
Anyway, here are the four movies and my thoughts on them. I will be revealing key plot elements, but how many of these films do you think you might ever want to see?
1. Blood Freak (1972)— I enjoyed a root-beer float with this movie. Alamo makes yummy root-beer floats with Amy’s ice cream. I liked the root-beer float more than the actual film, in fact.
Blood Freak is about a motorcycle-riding guy named Herschell (your typical biker name) who rides into town and encounters a woman who reads her Bible aloud at wild parties and her drug-addicted sister. The Bible chick finds him a job with a turkey farm while her sister seduces him by giving him “dope.” (The drugs in this movie have very vague names and uses, as though the filmmakers have no idea what they’re talking about.) Herschell ends up as the guinea pig for some odd experiments on the turkey farm and next thing we know, he wakes up transformed into a half-turkey, half-man. Not only that, but he’s a vampire turkey who likes to attack pretty women and gulp their blood with his giant turkey head.
So you can see where this movie would be perfect for a Turkey Marathon, right? On so many levels.
The ending has a little twist: it all turns out to be a bad drug trip. Herschell didn’t transform into a turkey-headed vampire after all. But this all goes to prove that Drugs Are Bad, right? So he gets him some rehab with the help of the Bible-loving sister, and the druggie sister reforms too, so they can live happily ever after.
Blood Freak is duller than it sounds. It takes way too long to get to the turkey vampire bits, and we have to sit through long scenes of Herschell playing with the turkeys, playing with the druggie chick, listening to the churchgoing sister read her Bible, and so forth. I was a little worried that I might get sleepy during the very first movie, but once I got a look at the horrible turkey head they stuck on Herschell, I felt better.
Blood Freak is the kind of movie that you enjoy saying you watched more than you actually enjoy watching at the time.
2. Darktown Strutters (1975)—I caved in and ordered a pizza during this movie. The people sitting near me had a pizza and it smelled so good … and I knew I needed to keep up my strength for the films ahead.
Darktown Strutters was originally scheduled as the third movie of the night, but Tim League said he felt it was better to show it second instead, because we would want to be alert and energetic to appreciate it fully. He turned out to be absolutely right; the third movie was a horror film that got adrenaline pumping a bit, so this was a better choice in the second slot.
Darktown Strutters is, unsurprisingly from the title, a 70s blaxsploitation film. Alamo showed a bunch of Pam Grier trailers before the film, which made me wish we were watching a Grier film (does she remind anyone else of Barbara Stanwyck, or am I just weird?).
Now I have not seen many blaxsploitation films at all, so I have very little to compare to Darktown Strutters. But some of the acting was so over-the-top that at times, it seemed more like a segment from Hollywood Shuffle (which I’d just seen again last week) … I expected the Wayans brothers to turn up in platform boots with goldfish swimming inside. In fact, the stereotyping and storyline are so over-the-top that I feel like this movie is supposed to be spoofing the blaxsploitation genre. I hope so.
The plot is just plain silly. The Strutters are an all-female black biker gang that kicks ass and takes names, and dresses in an absolutely outrageous way. Syreena, the leader, discovers that her mother has been missing and was last seen attempting to found an abortion clinic. Meanwhile, other leaders of the local black community have been kidnapped as well. It turns out that the local barbecue magnate, a white guy, plans to clone all the black community leaders so he can steal the black vote and run for office and rule the town. This guy likes to dress up in Col. Sanders outfits in public and piggy costumes in private, by the way, and he employs Klan members in his bizarre schemes. (He’s nowhere as good in that white suit as Charles Durning in The Muppet Movie, though.)
At least the white characters are stereotyped as much as the black characters in this movie, and the white guys are a whole lot less sympathetic. The all-white policemen are bumbling idiots that make Chief Wiggum look brave.
The movie was written by George Armitage, who is probably better known for writing and directing Miami Blues (an underrated film) and for directing Grosse Point Blank. It was directed by William Witney at the end of a long career of directing TV and B-movie Westerns, including Bonanza episodes and Lone Ranger films. I have no idea why he decided to make this particular film. The cast includes Roger Mosley, best known as Tom Selleck’s sidekick on Magnum P.I., and DeWayne Jessie, best known as Otis Day in Animal House. Jessie plays a guy named VD who is always spraying people with penicillin, which should give you a fine example of the humor level in this movie. Dick Miller shows up briefly as one of the policemen.
Darktown Strutters is goofy and entertaining, but makes me wonder about the degree of racial stereotyping in 1970s films. In looking up info on this movie, I see that Roger Ebert reviewed it back in 1975; he doesn’t mention racial issues, but his review is otherwise right on target. At any rate, I was happily awake and absorbed in the film, which was all I wanted.
3. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)—The Alamo kitchen was closed by this time (1 am or so) and the audience was thinning out. We were down to less than two dozen people. The other sofas were empty except for one guy in the corner.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is probably the most accessible and best-known movie of the four we saw that evening. I remember when it was released because many family values groups made a big stink about a horror movie where the killer was dressed in a Santa suit.
I had heard that the film had been shown at one of the Quentin Tarantino-programmed film festivals (someday I will get tickets to one of those, I hope) and that Robert Rodriguez and Tarantino had re-enacted some key scene from the film. Someone had recorded this re-enactment on video, which the Alamo kindly showed after the movie. Rodriguez played the grandfather and Tarantino played little Billy in the scene in which the grandfather describes Santa to the kid and scares the crap out of him, which has ramifications later in the film. (You can see a clip from this re-enactment as part of the QT-Six video flashback.) Apparently Rodriguez scared the Spy Kids child actors with this little speech as a Christmas bonus on the set of the first Spy Kids movie.
Silent Night, Deadly Night is your standard Eighties horror movie. If it weren’t for the Santa controversy, I’m not sure if anyone would remember it. Little Billy, already scared about Santa from his insane grandfather, watches his parents brutally murdered on Christmas Eve by an armed thief dressed as Santa Claus. He’s sent to a strict Catholic boarding school where the Mother Superior refuses to understand his fervent fear of Santa and makes matters much, much worse. We’re supposed to sympathize with him, even. By the time he’s 18, he’s totally wack in the head about Christmas, so guess what happens when the toy store where he works makes him dress up as Santa for the kids?
I keep wanting to lapse into Joe Bob Briggs shorthand when describing this movie. Eight breasts. One impalement on antlers. One decapitation. One asphyxiation with Christmas lights. One scary-ass nun who could probably beat up the nun from The Blues Brothers in a fair fight. Tons of scary-looking Santa decorations. Linnea Quigley, who has screamed her way through nearly a hundred horror movies, plays one of the lovely young victims. Sadly, I cannot find a Joe Bob Briggs review of this movie.
I was plenty wide-awake for Silent Night, Deadly Night even though I had a pretty good idea of what would happen. Horror movies are like that; you know a bunch of people are likely to die, but since you don’t know where or when or how, there’s lots of suspense. I peeked at some scenes through my fingers over my eyes, especially the bit with the antlers, but I do that more often than I care to admit.
4. Infra-Man (1975)—I was tempted to leave before this movie started because I was starting to feel somewhat tired. However, I heard that the villainess in this film, Princess Dragon Mom, was not to be missed. And it would be my first Shaw Brothers movie. So I got a big cup of hot chocolate from the Alamo bar (I can’t have coffee, sadly) and joined maybe 10 people left in the audience for the final film of the evening.
The hot chocolate was tasty but it didn’t help much. I have to confess I kept nodding off during this movie. It took awhile for us to get to Infra-Man himself, and I kept getting confused. Also, the comfy sofa was very tempting, and there were times when I curled up on it and put my head on the armrest and … oops! How did Princess Dragon Mom get here? Guess I missed something.
Princess Dragon Mom is in fact a formidable villain and the movie is worth seeing to catch her wonderful performance. She decides to take over Earth and enslave the planet’s population. She has an army of mutant monsters (plus one beautiful young woman) who can set off explosions and cause earthquakes and generally menace everyone on the planet into submission. But wait! A scientist has a plan to create Infra-Man, who is powered by a small nuclear reactor (I think; either the film was vague or I was too sleepy) who will fight the mutants and recover the planet.
I think I would have been a little confused even if I weren’t sleepy. Infra-Man’s alter ego sometimes fights as himself, sometimes as Infra-Man, and I didn’t quite understand why he didn’t just start the fighting in his amazing powerful uniform. And then … I kept getting sleepier … I nearly slept through the inevitable destruction of Princess Dragon Mom. The very end reminded me a lot of Our Man Flint, with the triumphant escape from the evil island in a motorboat while the good guys crack jokes about the bad guys.
Maybe I would have enjoyed Infra-Man more if I’d seen it earlier in the evening, or on its own. But maybe not … maybe it’s better if you’re half-asleep. I do believe I would have enjoyed it more with a larger audience.
I wasn’t the only sleepy one: I stood up after the film ended and noticed that the other person on the sofas, the guy in the corner, was fast asleep. One of his friends who was working at the Alamo had to shake him awake.
[Note to Chris at Blue Glow, who sadly missed the fun: Infra-Man was in fact a film print and not a video.]
So that was my quadruple-feature B-movie adventure. I walked back to my car at about 4:30 am and got home shortly after 5. The warehouse district was positively dead; I don’t think I’ve ever seen it that quiet and still.
Would I do it again? Sure … but not every weekend. But next time, I hope I can convince more people to join me. This really is a more-the-merrier kind of event. So don’t wimp out on me next time, okay? It’ll be fun, dammit. Next time, I bring the laptop.
Besides, this is the only type of marathon in which I intend to participate … or would be able to finish. Maybe I can start training so next time I can see six films in a row!