Movie of the Month: My Demon Lover (1987)


Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before & we discuss it afterwards. This month Boomer made ErinBrandon, and Britnee watch My Demon Lover (1987).

Boomer: I think that this was bound to happen sometime, and I’m pretty sorry that it happened with regards to a Movie of the Month that was my suggestion: My Demon Lover is not as much fun as a rewatch as it was in my memory. The male love interest comes across much more low-key predatory than I remembered, and the love story overall suffers as a result. Still, the two lady leads are just as likable as I remembered, which helped make this a more tolerable experience than it otherwise could have been.

My Demon Lover tells the story of Denny (Michele Little), a perpetual loser who falls for crappy guys like her latest man, who leaves her on her birthday for having the audacity to want to throw a party for herself. How dare she?! Her best friend Sonia (Gina Gallego) is a modern woman with lots of lovers and no boyfriends, an occasional psychic who runs a new age store. After an encounter with lovelorn loser Charles (Xena alum Robert Trebor, virtually unrecognizable without his trademark beard), Denny is ready to give up on men, until she has a charisma-free meet cute with horndog Kaz (Scott Valentine), a homeless man that she immediately takes into her home. Although there are a lot of problems with this scenario, the narrative focuses on one in particular: Kaz was cursed by the mother of a girl with whom he was sexually experimenting in middle school. As a result, when he becomes aroused, he turns into a monster called a pazatzki, complete with scaly prosthetics and monstrous claws. As a series of murders of young women rack up and are attributed to a serial killer dubbed “The Mangler,” Kaz starts to wonder if he is the one at fault. Sonia has a vision that implies he is, and everything comes to a head in a random castle that appears to be smack in the middle of Central Park.

Debuting at number ten on the week of its release and then quickly falling off of the box office charts, My Demon Lover netted nearly two million dollars in its first week despite not being a particularly good movie. Part of the reason for this was that Valentine was a bit of a hot item at the time, having garnered attention for his portrayal of Nick Moore, the boyfriend of Justine Bateman’s character on eighties sitcom standard Family Ties, appearing in 44 episodes. The character was so well-received, in fact, that there were three separate attempts to spin him off into his own show, titled The Art of Being Nick. One script idea made it all the way to the pilot stage, where Nick’s new love interest was played by Seinfeld star Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and his sister was played by future Buffy mom Kristine Sutherland. Nick’s grandfather in the pilot was portrayed by Herschel Bernardi; Bernardi’s sudden death, combined with NBC’s hesitation to let Valentine leave Family Ties, led to the series not being picked up.

Despite the fact that his character in the film commits lots of micro-and macro-aggressions (including grabbing women on the street like an eighties YouTube pickup artist), Valentine himself has a lot of charm. Little is also very likable as the put-upon Denny, even if the character reads as a parody of unlucky eighties leading ladies. Gallego’s Sonia stands out in her role as the unapologetically sexually liberated modern woman, bringing warmth and sincerity to a role that one would expect to see treated more critically in a film of this era. These are all characters that would have been more successful in a movie wherein the leading man didn’t start out as such an unrepentant creep, and it’s a testament to Valentine’s likability as an actor that Kaz seems at all redeemable, given the aggressions cited above. It’s too bad that what could have been his breakout performance ended up burying him and relegating him to guest appearances in things like Lois & Clark, JAG, and Walker, Texas Ranger.

What do you think, Brandon? Are the likable characters who populate this film charismatic enough to partially cover the more unlikable elements here, or are the performances just adhesive bandages on a fatal wound?

Brandon: I do think you’re being a little harsh on My Demon Lover as a whole, but I can also see how a rewatch could make you cringe pretty hard. The opening stretch of the film constantly, confrontationally raises the essential question “Aren’t you supposed to like the male lead in a romcom? Or at least be able to tolerate him?” The demon lover hobo at the film’s center is a walking, breathing personification of street harassment, the kind of scummy cretin who must’ve scattered & disappeared when Giuliani cleaned up Times Square in the 1990s. My Demon Lover presents the most salacious version of NYC we’ve covered since former Movie of the Month Crimes of Passion & its male romantic lead thrives in its grimy, sex-soaked environment, often as a deadly threat for women navigating the city alone at night. You’d think that a romcom that begins with a man who turns into literal demon when he gets aroused & puts the women around him at risk would have virtually no chance of bouncing back, but My Demon Lover somehow pulls it off. A lot of this has to do with, as Boomer points out, the lady schlub charms of Denny as the demon lover’s love interest, but I somehow was also won over by the demon lover himself before the end credits rolled, a completely unexpected turnaround.

I think I can pinpoint the exact moment my opinion changed on the demon lover Kaz. There’s a really sweet, impossibly vapid falling-in-love montage where the devilish sex fiend learns the meaning of intimacy over a series of Big City dates with Denny that include props like hotdogs, park benches, and balloons. At this point it becomes kind of tenderly sad that Kaz can never become aroused by a woman without becoming a physical threat. It’s an affliction that keeps him from knowing the simple pleasures of romance and helps to explain how his sexuality remains predatory & juvenile without any chance for positive growth. The movie later does a lot of damage control to further repair the demon lover’s character by making his demonic form sort of cartoonishly pathetic & also making it explicitly clear that (huge spoiler) the serial Mangler murders were not his doing. However, it’s silly moments in his getting-know-Denny stretches that first began to redeem the poor little devil in my eyes. In those moments Kaz’s behavior seemed less monstrously brutal & more in line with obnoxious, emotionally stunted, magical characters like Drop Dead Fred.

Erin, you & Britnee both called the narrative twist of the real Mangler’s identity long before the movie revealed the true killer. Do you think that the murder mystery aspect of this film was a mistake, delaying how long it would take to learn to love the demon beau as a cursed goofball? Or was the act of gradually changing your mind on Kaz’s merits as a love interest more entertaining than the film would’ve been as a straight romcom fantasy? What does the Mangler murder mystery add or take away from My Demon Lover’s campy charms?

Erin: You know, I think that the kitchen sink nature of My Demon Lover is part of its appeal.  The movie would function without the mystery of The Mangler, and it would be a perfectly sweet monster-flavored romcom.  I do think that including The Mangler allows for an edge – it gives Kaz’s initial characterization a tinge of danger.  Though he is completely disgusting in his own right, the implication that he is murdering women in the streets makes his meet-cute (meet-gross?) with Denny so much more troubling.  We as an audience already know that she has terrible luck with relationships, and even without being led to believe that he is a blood crazed slasher it seems like a terrible idea for her to keep speaking with him and letting him sleep on her sofa.  Adding The Mangler’s subplot gives the redemption story a stronger and sharper flavor, as we end up having to cover so much more ground to see Kaz as a protagonist.  Instead of zero to hero, it’s like he’s starting at -50.

On the other hand, starting the movie with the implication that Kaz is The Mangler makes the second act of My Demon Lover really jarring and awkward at times.  It’s hard to enjoy sappy love montages and gratuitous makeouts when you have the unsettling feeling that an ingenue is going to be slaughtered in her sleep.  The nightly murders and rising hysteria about The Mangler are also at odds with the main plot of two goofy kids falling in love.  I’m not sure if the incongruity is intentional, or if watching My Demon Lover in 2016 increases the gap in mood.  I think that audiences today might be more sensitive to the portrayal of violence towards women in cinema.

It’s hard to choose the strangest element of My Demon Lover, though.  The magical rules seem inconsistent, with Kaz’s pazzazion manifesting in a thousand different ways.  Denny’s friend Sonia is inexplicably the best character in the movie, and for some reason sleeping with the DA.  The NYPD are following a procedure unknown to any police force in the world.  The balloon budget is strangely high.

Britnee, what do you make of My Demon Lover? What aspect of the movie caught your attention, the romcom elements or the monster movie side?  Do the production values of the movie detract from its charm or add to it?

Britnee: I honestly didn’t expect My Demon Lover to be much different than the other hundreds of campy 80s comedies out there, but it actually does a great job standing out on its own. At first, the film didn’t seem like it was going to be anything but a cheeseball comedy about a fruit burger-eating airhead that falls for a perverted homeless guy who may or may not be a killer demon. Thankfully, things become much more interesting as the film goes on.

The monster movie and romcom elements of My Demon Lover come together to create a rare combination that makes for one hell of a memorable flick. I think that the romcom features of the film stood out more for me than the monster movie elements. If all of that demon jazz was taken out of the film, I think it would still be just as wacky and entertaining. It seems as though we all agree that Kaz is not your average romcom heartthrob, and I think that’s what made this such an amusing experience. I actually found Kaz and Denny to be very annoying lead characters, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Their ridiculously irritating traits make them a hilarious, dynamic duo. Denny’s lack of self-respect and poor life choices mixed with Kaz’s disturbing mannerisms and erratic personality work very well together. I remember thinking, “God, these people suck, but is that why I’m laughing so hard right now?” while watching the film. This is the stuff that romcoms are made of.

As for the film’s production values, I would have to say that the film benefits from its cheap qualities. The poorly made demon costumes, Kaz’s limited wardrobe, and, as Erin previously mentioned, the large amount of balloons adds to the movie’s comical value. My Demon Lover wouldn’t have been half as much fun if it was some fancy schmancy high-quality production.

Boomer, of all the strange happenings that occur in My Demon Lover, the portion of the film that takes place in the Belvedere Castle in Central Park caught me off guard more than anything else. It seemed very displaced. Did you feel as though this part of the film seemed like a completely different movie? Also, if you had to choose a different location for The Mangler’s lair, where would it be?

Boomer:  I have to admit that, up to this very moment when I looked up “Belvedere Castle,” I had no idea that there really was a castle in Central Park. I thought that the Central Park castle was a total fabrication! With that knowledge, I’m a little more forgiving of the film’s climax (sorry) for taking place there. It still doesn’t quite work for me, but I can see what the intent was. Just as the vaguely racist “Romanian curse” enacted on a modern man draws a line of connection between the sexpolitik of the Old World and the contemporary one of the film, so too does a climactic castle rooftop showdown with modern weapons (and a little shaggin’ to make the magic happen). Still, you’re absolutely correct, Britnee, in that it doesn’t feel quite right.

I think a more industrial or warehouse location showdown would have been better suited to the film’s aesthetic and its placement in then-modern New York. At the time of the film’s production, it would have been impossible to predict the rise of Giulianni and the Disneyfication of New York that would follow in his wake (Times Square Red, Times Square Blue by Samuel Delany is essential reading to understanding this dichotomy). My Demon Lover is like a time capsule from the real New York, and diverting the narrative to such an Old World location when the story could have had a meatpacking district fight sequence or a battle of wills at a dead subway stop (just think of the passing trains and the potential for interesting lighting schemes!) would have been more in line with the presentation of the city up to that point. There are arguments to be made for shooting in either atmosphere, but I really would have loved to see more of 1980s NYC and its eccentricities (Fruit burgers! Occult shops with weapons that can actually kill a demon!) rather than a locale that seems almost formulaic, even for such an oddball flick.

Brandon, raunchy comedies seem to be popular in brief cycles, with watershed sex flicks like Porky’s, American Pie, and Forty Year Old Virgin inspiring imitators and followers for a few years before the madness dies down and the fields of film are left fallow to allow the next hit to germinate. Do you think that, in the wake of the bro-aggrandizing movies of the past few years (like Neighbors), a modernized remake of My Demon Lover would have the chance to reach a wide audience in the way that the original did not? And, if you were drafting a script for it, would you keep Kaz’s street harassing ways intact (all the better to discuss the issue and create a stronger arc) or forego that character trait altogether (making him a more sympathetic lead from the outset)?

Brandon: It’d be interesting to see a script take a thoughtful, pointed jab at hyper-masculine sexuality through this film’s formula. It could maybe even update Kaz’s toxic sexual persona with recent targets of online feminist social commentary: “manspreading”, “negging”, commands like “You should smile more!”, etc. The truth is, though, that a satirical comedy with ambitions that high would have to toe a thin line to succeed.

A much easier way to update My Demon’s Lover‘s formula would be to swap the genders of its protagonists. My favorite raunchy sex comedies of the past few years have been the ones lead by women. Films like Appropriate Behavior, Wetlands, The Bronze, The To Do List, Bachelorette, and (to a lesser extent) Trainwreck have breathed fresh air into a stale format by making its overgrown, oversexed adult children women for a change, which has been an exciting development when it’s done right. I know it’s not a sex comedy, but consider, for instance, Paul Feig’s upcoming Ghostbusters reboot. In almost every scenario a new Ghostbusters film sounds entirely unnecessary & gratuitous, but with that cast of talented women on board, it actually sounds like it might be kind of worthwhile?

Erin, picture for a moment My Demon Lover with Denny & Kaz’s roles reversed. Kaz is a bumbling nerd who always seems to attract emotionally abusive women & Denny is an oddball love interest who turns into a literal monster every time she gets horny. Would this gender reversal change the film’s fabric in an essential way or would their dynamic remain just as off-putting?

Erin: Oh man.  A gender flipped My Demon Lover might be a lot to process even for modern audiences.  I have two thoughts on switching the genders of Kaz and Denny (could we keep the names? probably?).  I’m also going to assume that you mean a full gender-flip, and that The Mangler is also going to be a female character.

First, I think that a gender flipped My Demon Lover would be a hard sell for the same reasons that other raunchy, female-led comedies seem to struggle.  American audiences are still coming to terms with actresses having full comedy range – comediennes are criticized for being pretty, and therefore unable to be funny, or being funny because they are unattractive and have nothing else going for them, and who wants to watch or listen to an unattractive woman, or trying too hard to be “one of the boys” with gross-out humor, or being unrelatable because their humor is about female experiences, or just being unfunny because women obviously have no sense of humor.  As difficult as it is for an audience to get behind Kaz as a protagonist (and he starts pretty freakin’ low), I think that it would even more difficult to make the turn around for a female character who’s meet cute involves digging through trash and spewing half-chewed food at their romantic lead.  There’s also a lot more judgment leveled at women who are unabashed horn dogs.

Secondly, I think that it might be more difficult to hold the tension that My Demon Lover has with its Mangler plotline.  We still have a hard time convincing the general public that men can be the victims of sexual or violent assault by women.  I’m not sure that audiences will see a female Kaz’s butt-grabbing crawl through Manhattan as the same kind of inappropriate as the male Kaz’s.  The only edge that My Demon Lover has is with the early implication that Kaz is The Mangler, and it could be very difficult to convince audiences that The Mangler’s brand of slash-and-dash is being performed on male victims by a woman, pazzazed or not.

That being said, I think that if the right director came along with the right vision, a gender flipped My Demon Lover would be interesting.  I can’t imagine that it would be worse than the original.  I’m actually pretty curious to see the redemption plot line work out with a gross-out, uber-horny lady lead and a thoughtful, cutie pie dude.  I think that the only way to fix some of the issues that I list above is to push them in public arenas, to familiarize audiences with new concepts and characterizations.  So throw in a few lessons with everything else in My Demon Lover, I’m not sure that you could possibly hurt it any more than it hurts itself.

I think my final assessment of My Demon Lover is that its goofiness makes it fun, but that some of the sexual politics are dated enough to make it uncomfortable to watch.  What do you think, Britnee?  Am I over analyzing a movie that’s intended to be funny and gross and inappropriate, or is there anything to be gained from talking about the parts that came across strangely when we watched the movie?

Britnee: I don’t think that you’re over analyzing this film at all. Yes, My Demon Lover is a total cheeseball of a movie, but the parts of the film that involve Kaz being a total perv are really obnoxious. Kaz’s inappropriate behavior towards women doesn’t add to the film’s comic value like I’m sure it was intended to, but being that this film was released in 1987, this wasn’t too much out of the norm. It’s interesting to think of what the response to the film would be like if it was a current release. I doubt that many viewers would walk out of theaters or pop the DVD out of their players, but I’m sure it would piss off a hell of a lot more people now that it did in ’87. It’s refreshing to know that we all felt discomfort in Kaz’s behavior in the film’s beginning. It’s a sign that the times are changing (though not quickly enough).

All that aside, My Demon Lover was a blast. Any time a film can make you laugh out loud as much as this flick made me, it must mean that something was done right.



Britnee: When I first heard the film’s title, I couldn’t help but think of how amazing Judas Priest’s “Turbo Lover” would be if “Turbo” was replaced with “Demon.” It would be a great song for the film’s credits.

Boomer: I’d like to voice my support for a gender flipped MDL, and nominate the following: Grant Gustin as Denny and Kat Dennings as Kaz. I’d like to vary up the whiteness of the original film, but putting a POC in either of these roles seems inappropriate (given the real historical and racist oversexualization of WOC in the West). I’ve voiced my general distaste for Emma Roberts in many of my writing projects, but I feel that she could pull off the role of The Mangler with more subtlety than Robert Trebor does here. I’d cast Michael B. Jordan as Sonia (Sonny?) and replace the irascible police chief with Michelle Rodriguez. Plus, because I seriously wish she was in everything I watched, Angela Bassett as Fixer. 

Erin: It must have been a lot of fun to do the monster effects in My Demon Lover.  It looks like the effects team had a pretty long leash and enjoyed every gross minute of it.

Brandon: I’m just going to piggyback on what Erin’s saying here. The visual effects in those demonic transformations are of the highest, almost Rick Baker-level quality. I was surprised to see Britnee call the demon designs “poorly made” since that’s just about the only thing on display not shoddily slapped together. I particularly like the detail of Kaz’s ears being sucked inside his skull in that first transformation. I might forget large chunks of My Demon Lover in the coming years, but those ears receding into his head will likely haunt me forever & they were the first thing that stuck out to us as a crew when we watched the film’s trailer (which is a work of art unto itself).

Upcoming Movies of the Month:
May: Brandon presents Girl Walk // All Day (2011)
June: Britnee presents Alligator (1980)
July: Erin presents [TBD]

-The Swampflix Crew


¡Tango! & Mrs. Winterbourne (1996)

Ah, the tango scene in Mrs. Winterbourne.  In a movie that’s basically comprised of nonsensical moments, the tango scene manages to stand out.

Without the tango scene, I may have never heard of Mrs. Winterbourne.  I bonded with one of my good friends from high school over our mutual crush on 90s-era Brendan Fraser.  I think we worked our way through his entire 1990-1999 filmography (actually, I just checked IMDb and we made it through a good two thirds).  I will admit without shame I started crushing on him with George of the Jungle (1997 – and can you blame me?!) and was more than happy to revisit and explore the movies that came out of Brendan’s hitherto sexiest era.  Brendan, if you read this, your abs were George-ous.

I apologize for nothing.

This is your cue as a reader to google “Brendan Fraser George of the Jungle”.  Had you forgotten?  I haven’t.

Anyway, thanks to the combination of Brendan’s bodacious bod and goofy style of humor, two high school girls got many movies to watch at sleepovers.  Years later, the same friend would suggest Mrs. Winterbourne as a movie in which Brendan Fraser is “totally hot”. Any you know, even with my complaints about the lack of chemistry between Ricki Lake and Brendan Fraser, the tango scene holds up in a weird, sexually charged way.  The actors are obviously not dancers (which makes sense for Ricki’s Connie), the tango is stilted, and the kissing is weird, but I definitely imagine myself in the arms of Fraser’s Bill every time.  Enjoy this Spanish language clip, imagine George of the Jungle’s abs under those pleated pants, and let yourself be swept away!

For more on March’s Movie of the Month, 1996’s Mrs. Winterbourne, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film, this peek into the film’s press kit, and last week’s look into its noir genre sister adaptation No Man of Her Own.

-Erin Kinchen


One Plot Two Ways: No Man of Her Own (1950) and Mrs. Winterbourne (1996)

I was first introduced to the zany Mrs. Winterbourne by a good friend of mine.  We giggled over the ridiculous plot, the fun overacting of Ricki Lake, the suaveness of Brendan Fraser – all of the things that make Mrs. Winterbourne its fabulous self.  It’s an entertaining, lighthearted, and strange movie.  It’s fun to see Ricki Lake and Brendan Fraser in full 90s getup attempting to set up a plot about unwed mothers, literal train wrecks, domestic abuse, and murder into a screwball comedy.

Years later, I would search Netflix for “noir” and scroll through a list of noir films.  No Man of Her Own caught my eye, a 1950 film starring the ever-moody and beautifully tense Barbara Stanwyck.  It was somewhere around the train accident that I started to experience a strange sense of déjà vu.  Sure enough, the desperate pregnant woman wakes up panicked and decidedly un-pregnant at a hospital, only to find herself misidentified as a dead man’s wife.

What, I thought to myself, is going on here?  Could Mrs. Winterbourne be a remake?!

No, it turns out, it’s not.

Mrs. Winterbourne and No Man of Her Own are both based on the same book, I Married a Dead Man, written by Cornell Woolrich and published in 1948.  This book is firmly described as a drama, appropriate for a story dealing with mistaken identity, blackmail, and murder.  No Man of Her Own definitely sticks more closely to the original spirit of Woolrich’s novel.  [Full disclosure: I haven’t read the novel]

The broad details of the movie are, of course, the same.  An unmarried pregnant woman is rejected by the baby’s father.  She takes a one-way train away from a nasty ex-boyfriend and meets a charming, rich couple.  The female half of the couple is also pregnant, leading to bonding between our protagonist and the other lady.  The charming couple is killed in a terrible train accident, but our protagonist survives and is mis-identified as the other woman .  She gives birth in the hospital while in a coma, and wakes to find that it has been arranged for her and the baby to be taken in by the family of the dead couple.  She and the baby are welcomed into the family’s home as their daughter-in-law, where she meets the brother of the dead man.  As she commits to living a stolen life and she and her “brother-in-law” fall in love, the baby’s real father finds her and starts to blackmail her, leading to a third-act murder mystery.

Despite the broad plot points (and a few smaller similarities, like the maid’s double-bun hairstyle), No Man of Her Own does several important things very differently.  First of all, No Man is firmly a drama.  The atmosphere is one of tension and anxiety, brought beautifully to screen by Stanwyck.  The chemistry between Stanwyck and John Lund is much more natural and less showy than the relationship between Fraser and Lake, which is one of my main complaints about Mrs. Winterbourne.  The focus on the film is much less about blooming relationships and personal growth.  I’m sorry to report that there is no tango scene.  No Man of Her Own is a much darker movie, which is appropriate for the content of the plot.  The pacing is tight and fast, and feels shorter than the hour and 38 minute run time.  There aren’t any scenes that leave you wondering what the hell the director was thinking (I’m looking at you, “On the Sunny Side of the Street”).

The differences that I found the most interesting are some of the more subtle ones.  Helen isn’t happy about the baby, but never has the option to consider keeping the pregnancy or not.  It is a given that she will have the baby as an unwed mother.  She also makes the conscious decision to masquerade as Mrs. Harkness much earlier on, before she leaves the hospital, instead of being browbeaten into by others.  Bill isn’t played as a stiff necked prat, but as a charming sweetheart who calls easily befriends Stanwyck’s Helen.  No Man of Her Own focuses less on the blooming relationship between the protagonist and her ersatz brother-in-law, and is much less interested in the personal growth of the characters. There is less interest in the class difference between Helen and her adoptive family as well, and though she is invested in the luxury of her new life, she is portrayed as polished and classy, running up and down the stairs for the baby’s bottle in heels and speaking in the same beautiful Mid-Atlantic accent as everyone else. Helen’s potential giveaways are about her knowledge of Hugh, her dead “husband”, not her inability to eat dinner without blurting out crude words in a Joisey accent.

There are a few things that Mrs. Winterbourne does better.  Shirley MacLaine’s portrayal of Grace Winterbourne is really lovely, and shifts the heart of the movie to her character in a way that makes sense in the plot as the protagonists in both movies are motivated to protect Bill’s mother from life-threatening stress.  I think that Mrs. Winterbourne does a better job of showing the confusion and heartache of a family that has just lost a loved member.  Grace Winterbourne’s reaction of attempting to drown Connie and the baby in gifts and kindness is portrayed much more strongly and Bill Winterbourne’s suspicion and coldness make sense as reactions to a death in the family.  Mrs. Winterbourne’s Steve, portrayed by Loren Dean, is so perfectly scummy and dramatically sociopathic that he makes Lyle Bettger’s slick and cold Steve look bland.  The charm of Miguel Sandoval as the sassy and wise Paco is missing from No Man of Her Own, and Helen is left to her own devices to figure out a course of action.

No Man of Her Own and Mrs. Winterbourne are on opposite ends of the genre spectrum – noir drama and screwball comedy.  Even so, I think that a comparison can be made between the two movies.  No Man of Her Own is very watchable, and an interesting entry in the noir genre because of its female protagonist.  Stanwyck’s Helen is much more self-determined than Lake’s Connie, taking action for herself and bringing more agency to the screen.  No Man comes across as more comprehensible and cohesive, while Mrs. Winterbourne sometimes leaves the audience incredulous.  Honestly, it’s a better movie than Mrs. Winterbourne, though I concede that it’s less entertaining. No Man might be a more difficult sell for modern audiences as well, and I have to admit that I’m a noir enthusiast to begin with.  Mrs. Winterbourne would probably be my pick for a movie night (and . . . it was, for the Swampflix crew) because of its humor.  It’s interesting to see two such completely different takes on the same plot, and I hope that you get the chance to compare the two for yourself sometime.

For more on March’s Movie of the Month, 1996’s Mrs. Winterbourne, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film and last week’s peek into the film’s press kit.

-Erin Kinchen

Movie of the Month: Mrs. Winterbourne (1996)

Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before & we discuss it afterwards. This month Erin made BoomerBrandon, and Britnee watch Mrs. Winterbourne (1996).

Erin:  Picture it:  1996.  Clothes are big, scrunchies are bigger, and a Hollywood team looked at the script for Mrs. Winterbourne and decided that this was the perfect vehicle to launch Ricki Lake into Leading Lady-hood.

The same Hollywood team also thought that the best way to adapt a gritty noir novel about a pregnant woman escaping domestic abuse in the midst of a deadly train wreck and a grieving family was as a lighthearted romcom.

That’s right.  Mrs. Winterbourne is a romantic comedy about a pregnant teenager (Connie, played by Ricki Lake) escaping her scummy, abusive boyfriend, surviving a train wreck that kills another pregnant woman and her kind husband, and being mistakenly taken in by the in-laws (Shirley MacLaine and Bredan Fraser as mother- and brother-in-law) of the dead woman as they attempt to put their hearts back together.  That’s only the first act.  In the second act, just as Connie is starting to connect to the Winterbournes and is struggling with the decision of either revealing her true identity or keeping up the charade indefinitely, her slimy ex-boyfriend comes back to blackmail her. There’s singing! Dancing!  A makeover montage! Murder!

Although I really enjoy Mrs. Winterbourne, the incongruity between the gritty (and bizarre) premise and the lighthearted style in which it is presented makes for a weird movie-watching experience.  There’s a lot of whiplash as the film attempts tell a gritty noir story through the lens of a quirky romcom.

The supporting cast does several things rather well – Shirley MacLaine as the elder Mrs. Winterbourne might be the true heart of the film, and there is real chemistry between her and Lake’s Connie and Fraser’s Bill.  Miguel Sandoval, as the Cuban ex-pat chauffeur, is truly charming as he slings knowing glances and come-to-Jesus talks left and right.  Loren Dean brings a completely awful character to life in Steve DeCunzo, throwing change at a pregnant Connie through his window as she begs for help in pouring rain and stomping around in the baby’s playpen as he threatens blackmail.

Honestly, the least believable thing for me in this movie is the lack of chemistry between Lake and Fraser.  Brendan Fraser had hit his stride in the mid ‘90s, playing hot and goofy leading men after a few years of playing stoner and college roles.  He still had George of the Jungle (1997), Gods and Monsters (1998), and The Mummy (1999) to come.  Ricki Lake, while she never really hit leading lady status outside of Mrs. Winterbourne, was a ‘90s fixture, and would start her talk show in 1998. Despite being in their respective zones in 1996, they just don’t really connect, which is a shame.

Over all, I think that Mrs. Winterbourne is a fun watch.  It’s good natured about its downer plot line, and has a few really funny and touching moments.  I like strange movies, and this one is definitely strange enough to keep my attention.

Brandon, Mrs. Winterbourne is pretty wacky.  What are your first impressions of it? How does well does the romcom genre flesh out the noir bones? What caught your attention about Mrs. Winterbourne?

Brandon: Yeah it’s difficult to write my first impressions on this film without zeroing in on the fact that it’s a fish-out-of-water romcom with a “hilarious” comedic set-up that’s put into motion by a pregnant woman dying in a train wreck. The film’s moody vibe as a neo-noir is in direct conflict with its more lighthearted comedy stylings: a pregnant & homeless Ricki Lake wandering aimlessly in the rain, a butler who escaped homophobic persecution in Cuba through prostitution, a third act murder mystery, the fact that Brendan Fraser’s cad finds himself falling in love with a woman who might be his dead twin’s widow. So much of Mrs. Winterbourne is so darkly fucked up that it’s jarring to watch the film wrap itself in the soft-edge confines of the romcom genre. My favorite moment where these two tones clash is when Ricki Lake’s pregnant/homeless Jersey Girl shouts to her deadbeat baby daddy “I’m about to have your baby out on the street! Wanna come watch?” Uncaring, he tosses a quarter at her feet & shuts his window. Later the baby daddy’s new baby mama recognizes Lake’s protagonist only as “The Bitch Out in the Rain With the Quarter.” I shouldn’t have gotten such a hearty laugh out of that but I shrieked with delight. What a messed up “gag”.

The weirdest part about the film’s compromised tone is how much weight it puts on Ricki Lake’s shoulders. She’s asked to deliver most of the film’s yuck-it-up comedy, which I’d say she accomplishes with just as much bright eyed enthusiasm she brings to John Waters’ (utterly flawless) Serial Mom. At the same time, I’d say that the sole reason the film’s central romance plays like a joke is the very same Ricki Lake performance. Brendan Fraser is entirely believable as the romcom heartthrob, but Lake is too much of a bumbling fool for me to genuinely commit to her end of the romance angle. Maybe it’s all those years of watching her host a Jerry Springer-style talk show that keep me from forgetting the clownish aspects of her screen presence, but I think her making homelessness amusing was an asset, but her making romance funny might’ve been somewhat of a detriment.

Where do you fall on Lake’s performance, Boomer? Is she a sold lead in this role or did the film ask too much of her in too many directions for the performance to be taken seriously?

Boomer: I have a confession to make; I used to hate Ricki Lake. This was through no fault of her own and was based entirely on Baton Rouge NBC affiliate WVLA’s decision in 1997 to replace their daily 4 PM rerun of Star Trek: The Next Generation with her syndicated talk show. In the many years since this great sin was committed, I’ve actually come to like Lake quite a bit, especially as I came to be aware of her partnerships with John Waters in my teenage years. She’s a perfectly serviceable actress, and she’s genuinely likable in this role, which could so easily have not been the case with a plot like this that revolves around deception (although Connie does admirably make every effort to correct misconceptions up to the point where revealing the truth could potentially literally kill a woman). Her weakest acting moments come in the scenes in which she is called upon to be histrionic and melodramatic that she comes across more like one of the sideshow people who populated her television stage. Lake can act; she just can’t overact, and she works best when she’s playing off of MacLaine, who brings a warmth to her performance that Lake can’t help but reflect back at her.

The weakest acting link, frankly, is Fraser, who comes across as a bit of a hack here. He seems to think that “playing rich” requires foppishness that borders on recreating stereotypical portrayals of gay men, up to and including the fey and effete way that he drops his napkin in his lap in affected shock at Connie’s initial appearance at the dinner table. There are many other ways to play a man of privilege who assumes that the new family member in his midst is an interloper, but Fraser read his part and went straight to “dandiest dandy that ever dandied,” and the later scenes that show him as a man with the potential to be more open doesn’t erase his performance in his introduction. In fact, when he first started falling for Connie, my assumption was that the film was leading into his public confession that he had latched onto her in an attempt to disprove his homosexual leanings. But no, it was just that Fraser made poor character choices when filming the earlier sequences in the film, and, admittedly, I came around on his character by the end, even if he is stiff and wooden when confronting Connie about having (he assumes) killed Steve.

The standout performance was MacLaine’s, and I especially liked how I expected the plot to unfold in the opposite direction that it does (i.e., that the rich patrician mother would be slow to warm to the new bride her son took an instant liking to, rather than the other way around). This twist helps the film feel less stale than it otherwise could. What do you think, Britnee? Did MacLaine help make this movie “work” for you, or no?

Britnee: MacLaine’s performance was nothing short of perfection. Every line she spoke and move she made was so effortless. I just couldn’t take my eyes off her! However, she officially stole my heart when she hid a lit cigarette in her mouth. It’s definitely not the kind of behavior one would expect from an elderly socialite, and that’s the kind of shock value that I live for.

When I think of how the film would be if there was no MacLaine, I have to say that I still would have enjoyed it. Of course, it wouldn’t be as pleasurable without her, but it would still be a great film. As a fan of Ricki Lake, I can’t help but feel as though she was the one who stole the show. She brings this sort of ridiculous yet unique style of humor to every film I’ve ever seen her in, and this is especially true with Mrs. Winterbourne. Lake as Connie Doyle was beyond entertaining. She does a good bit of overacting throughout the film, especially when she bring her Jersey Girl sass to the upper-class society of Boston. While overacting is usually viewed as a acting flaw, it’s a huge part of Lake’s comedic style, and it always brings out tons of laughs from me.

It’s interesting how this film and our previous movie of the month, Big Business, share the “poor girl in a rich world” theme. Erin, what are your thoughts on this similarity? Does this theme work better with Mrs. Winterbourne’s style of comedy as opposed to Big Business?

Erin: You know, Britnee, it didn’t occur to me that Mrs. Winterbourne and Big Business are similar in their fish-out-water, mistaken identity plots.  Now that we’re looking at similarities, I think the over all feel of these movies has something else in common – while Big Business feels like an Old Hollywood screwball comedy, Mrs. Winterbourne is based on a 1948 noir novel.  I think that the old camp melodrama present in both movies gives them a feeling of a previous era in which audiences might have had more forgiveness for such silly premises.

I’m not sure if either movie works “better” with the “poor girl in a rich world” theme.  Big Business is a madcap comedy, and hardly touches the ground at all.  It’s a hysterical rush through a farcical plot.  Mrs. Winterbourne attempts to have some soul or grounding in drama, but all in all seems to have trouble straddling the line.  Both movies take that particular plot point, as well as the mistaken identities and old school feel, to push different stories along.

I think that one of the biggest differences between Mrs. Winterbourne and Big Business is something that I only noticed in this viewing.  Big Business holds its main characters as intrinsically subjective within the world of the movies.  The movie starts with something beyond their control, the baby swap, but then only advances with actions of the characters.  The Sadies and the Roses are shown, despite their immersion in a comically out of hand situation, to make the world of their movie theirs.  Connie, despite being the main character of Mrs. Winterbourne, is almost completely an object in her own world. She decides to leave her father’s house in the first minutes of the movie, and then everything else happens to her.  Her attempts to take actions are either preempted by other characters or she is talked or coerced out of decisions.

I’m not sure how to understand or interpret this lack of subjectivity in the main character.  Brandon, what do you think?  Any thoughts on why Connie is so objective in her own story, and what that means for Mrs. Winterbourne?

Brandon: If you’re looking to further solidify Mrs. Winterbourne‘s connection with Big Business, consider that they not only both deal in mistaken identities & fish out of water humor. Their plots also revolve around sets of estranged twins, which is kind of an obscure angle for a comedy. Ricki Lake’s protagonist has no twin in this film, though, which is unfortunate, as it would’ve been fun to see her match the eccentricity of the rest of the cast. She also doesn’t, as Erin points out, ever really enact the changes in her life that transform her from homeless Jersey Girl to wealthy heiress. The film’s events just sort of swirl around her as if her rightful place among the affluent was simply a matter of fate.

I think the passive aspects of Connie’s personality transforms parts of Mrs Winterbourne from a silly romantic comedy to a kind of a fairy tale. And I mean fairy tale in the sense of fantasy wish fulfillment more so than Brothers Grimm. Connie never really learns any lessons or grows as a person throughout the film. She mostly just allows the world to pave the way for her road to happiness in which Brendan Fraser is the closest thing to a prince a modern girl could wish for & a milquetoast life surrounded by immense wealth is the height of happily ever after. Keeping Connie passive & grounded leaves open a hopeful It Could Happen to You interpretation for the audience at home, which is not far from the kind of escapism romcoms aim to sell in general. The details that make this fairy tale angle in Mrs Winterbourne feel tonally bizarre, though, are the film’s darker plot points: a miscarriage, a train wreck, a murder. It seems that, according to the film, happily ever after often comes with a body count on its price tag.

What do you think, Boomer? Is Connnie’s passiveness an intentional choice that allows the viewer to step into her shoes & live out her (somewhat deadly) fairy tale or did the writers merely fail to consider giving their protagonist a sense of agency?

Boomer: I’m glad that Erin brought up the original novel above, because I was shocked to learn when viewing Winterbourne‘s Wikipedia page that it was adapted from a Cornell Woolrich novel. I went through a noir phase in my teens and although I never read the novel from which this film drew inspiration, I did read some of his other works, and this movie is quite dissonant tonally. I recently reviewed the Francois Truffaut film The Bride Wore Black, which was also adapted from a Woolrich novel of the same name, and that film is much more in line with the Woolrich vision. As counterparts to each other, Bride and Winterbourne couldn’t be more dissimilar, because Brandon is right; this flick is essentially a fairy tale of wish fulfillment.

Connie doesn’t exhibit much in the way of agency in any of the directions that her life takes. This makes sense if you think of her as a rags-to-riches fairy tale girl. Cinderella doesn’t do much but have decisions made for her and be lucky enough to have a magical godmother; Rapunzel is stuck away in a tower until the plot finds her; Talia is comatose in a castle until her “hero” comes along. Connie is much the same; she gets conned, kicked out into the street, pushed onto a train that she doesn’t intend to board, and wakes up after it crashes wearing a dead woman’s nightgown and life. The film is smart to counterpose the agency-free Connie with Grace (and even give them both names that are virtues, as we learn “Connie” is short for “Constance” in the final scene). Although Paco and Bill pester her about taking her medication and not drinking or smoking, it’s evident that Grace runs the Winterbourne household. We would normally see a woman like Connie, who is moved about like a chess piece by other people, used to prop up the story of her love interest. Instead, her more static narrative is used to expand Grace’s dynamic story. In a lot of ways, the film ends up being more of a love story between Grace and Connie than Connie and Bill.

The film is also smart to allow Connie time to make multiple attempts to tell others that they have mistaken her for somebody else only to be ignored, and she still considers it up to the point where she realizes that the truth could literally kill the elder Mrs. Winterbourne. It helps keep the audience’s sympathy with Connie instead of against her. I know you said above that you feel Lake’s broader approach to the material helps it play as funnier than it would otherwise. Imagine that Lake was not available; who would you cast in her part, and why? If you could recast one other person, who and why?

Britnee: Ideally, I would love to see a young Barbra Streisand play the role of Connie. Not only is she my favorite “funny lady,” but she knows how to pull off a romcom, which, as much as I adore her, Lake just can’t seem to accomplish. Unfortunately, Streisand would be more suited for the role of Ms. Winterbourne during the time of the film’s release, so this an impractical choice. Being a little more realistic, I would without a doubt cast Natasha Lyonne for the role of Connie. I can’t help but think of how perfect she was as Vivian in Slums of Beverly Hills, and I see a lot of Vivian in Connie. Two sassy, street smart ladies trying to make their way in this big, cruel world.

If I was given the choice to recast another person, it would definitely be Brendan Fraser. He was just so bland and almost robotic. I understand that his character (Bill) is supposed to come off that way for the most part, but when Connie becomes his love interest and he goes through his little personality change, it just doesn’t feel natural. However, I do have to say that he was excellent in George of the Jungle and Airheads, but I’m not sure if that’s necessarily a good thing. When it comes to recasting Bill, I would chose  James Spader because he is perfect for that type of role. He’s great at being a total snob (Pretty in Pink), but he’s even better at being a romantic snob (White Castle). Spader and Lyonne would have been such an iconic romcom couple.


Erin: It’s a shame that Brendan Fraser and Ricki Lake have such little genuine chemistry.  The plot is already pretty forced, and some real passion between Fraser’s Bill and Lake’s Connie would have given an ounce or two of believability to a storyline that requires a man to fall in love with his twin brother’s widow.

Britnee: Connie’s little “makeover” was so unnecessary. I could understand the need for a makeover scene if she had ratty hair and holes in her clothes, but her hair was gorgeous and her outfits were so on point. All they did was give her shorter hair and a couple of new tops. Lame!

Brandon: One of the more absurdly funny aspects of Mrs. Winterbourne was how undercooked Connie’s baby looked in the film. I’m not sure if they cast an infant that was too young for that kind of physical labor or what, but the way Connie’s child was always helplessly thrusting its little arms in the air as a wide range of actors jostled & played with it was so dangerous looking in a way that made me laugh fairly consistently (through my heartfelt concern, of course) whenever it was being passed around. I’d like to check back in with the now-20 year old Mrs. Winterbourne Baby in 2016 to see how their neck & limbs are doing, because I could swear the camera caught some permanent damage somewhere in there.

Boomer: I didn’t expect that the truth would be revealed by the appearance of Connie’s ex; I was looking for the late Mrs. Hugh Winterbourne’s family to look up their daughter and discover Connie living her life. Given that this never happens, I can’t help but wonder what will occur when they come to visit their grandchild. Further, considering that all their problems were resolved by a stranger murdering the loose ends, I hope they just send letters. It’s bad luck to interfere with the Winterbourne family destiny, apparently.

Upcoming Movies of the Month
Boomer presents My Demon Lover (1987)
Brandon presents Girl Walk//All Day (2011)
Britnee presents Alligator (1980)

-The Swampflix Crew


Movie of the Month: Big Business (1988)


Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before & we discuss it afterwards. This month Britnee made BoomerBrandon, and Erin watch Big Business (1988).

Britnee: Many years ago, there was a local video rental shop in my hometown called Slick Sam’s (sounds more like a dirty sex shop), and that’s where I first came across one of my all-time favorite movies, Jim Abrahams’ 1988 comedy, Big Business. I can still see that sun-damaged, styrofoam-stuffed VHS cover sitting on the shelf just waiting for me to grab it. Needless to say, I was thrilled to find out that no one in the Swampflix crew had seen Big Business before, so I was able to make it my Movie of the Month selection for February. There’s not much love out there for this comic masterpiece, and it really does deserve some recognition.

In a small town called Jupiter Hollow, two women give birth to two sets of identical twin girls at the same time at a local hospital. One woman, Binky Shelton (Deborah Rush), is a big city snob that just so happened to go into labor while passing through Jupiter Hollow with her husband, but the other woman, Iona Ratliff (Patricia Gaul), is a local. The Sheltons and the Ratliffs coincidentally both name their twin daughters Rose and Sadie, and a kooky old nurse mixes up the sets of identical twins. About 40 years later, Sadie and Rose Shelton (Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin) are rich business women living in NYC while Sadie and Rose Ratliff (Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin) are country bumpkins living in Jupiter Hollow. Eventually, the two sets of twins end up in NYC at the same time, and all sorts of wacky things happen.

The performances by Midler and Tomlin are insanely impressive in this film. Midler plays a bitchy NYC snob (Sadie Shelton) and a kind small-town girl looking for adventure (Sadie Ratliff), and Tomlin plays a sweet, softspoken city girl (Rose Shelton) and a rough n’ tough country gal (Rose Ratliff). Portraying such different characters must’ve been such a difficult task for these comedy queens, but they both deliver.

Brandon, were you impressed by the versatile performances from Midler and Tomlin? Or were they just mediocre?

Brandon: I mean, Midler & Tomlin are both phenomenal personalities in general, so it’d be a total lie to say that anything they do or say is mediocre. However, it’s pretty clear that they both had a part they had more fun playing. It’s difficult to say which performance stands out most here between the two actresses, not because there isn’t a clear winner, but because the movie splits their performances into four quadrants: Rich Sadie & Poor Sadie (Midler) and Rich Rose & Poor Rose (Tomlin). There’s a definite, old fashioned nature>nurture mentality at work in Big Business, though, so the individual sisters who lucked into being raised in their “rightful” class environments are the more fun characters to watch, because their confidence is infectious. Poor Rose is certainly amusing in her bossy-but-small-minded local yokel skepticism. It’s Rich Sadie, however, who steals the show for me. As the Reaganomics-personified antagonist of the film, she’s allowed to be the most devious and, because Bette Midler is such a fabulous comedic performer, she strikes just the right tone of evil bitch that this film needed. Midler’s performance as Rich Sadie is just short of being a world-class drag routine. The way she saunters & pouts, insulting people’s outfits by saying “You look like a blood clot” while rocking the world’s largest shoulder pads is just begging for a drag-themed floor show revival. Poor Sadie has a couple of funny moments, mostly in a scene where she milks a cow to the beat of a country song & in her unholy fusion of Carribean-themed yodeling, but it feels like not nearly as much effort went into her character as the over-the-top vamping of her wealthy counterpart. The same could be said of Rich Rose. Tomlin & Midler are both fantastic in this film, but as far as versatility goes, it’s easy to see which characters got more attention.

Besides the easy likability of Midler & Tomlin in this film, something that really stood out to me is how old-fashioned everything feels. The swapped-twins plot of Big Business feels like it’s straight out of an Old Hollywood comedy, the kind that Fred & Ginger might’ve starred in if it had been released 50 years earlier. The nature-over-nurture value system of the movie is very much an antiquated line of thinking and (although there’s some confusion about who winds up with whom at the end) the film’s intense concern with finding each sister a potential mate is very much in line with the structure of a traditional comedy. Instead of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Big Business is more like A Million Beaus for Four Sisters. As the two sets of mismatched twins find themselves nearly-but-never-quite bumping into each other while all staying at the same hotel, I felt like I was watching a Marx Brothers movie. Hammering the point home, Midler even recreates the infamous Marx Brothers mirror gag from Duck Soup in the scene where her two characters finally meet for the first time. Fred Ward’s oblivious-to-homosexuality line reading of “You guys are alright” reads a lot like the classic “Nobody’s perfect!” zinger in Some Like It Hot. There’s even a gag where a homeless drunk rubs his eyes in disbelief when he sees both sets of twins walk by, immediately tossing away the bottle he’s clutching. I’m not sure that cinematic gags get much older than that.

What do you think of this film’s classic Hollywood callbacks, Boomer? Were they an intentional homage to the Old Hollywood era or just a strange coincidence for a comedy that happened to be old-fashioned by nature?

Boomer: I’m not much of a fan of comedies of error in which the humor relies too heavily on farcical near-misses, and there was a point in this movie where I lost heart as I realized that the film was saving the inevitable serendipitous union of the City and Country Mice for the end of the film. Once I had this epiphany and stopped waiting for the film to get to that point, I found myself enjoying the movie more straightforwardly, and was pleased that the mistaken-identity elements weren’t played for cringe-comedy as much as I had expected. As has been noted, this is a classic Hollywood farce, which really serves to demonstrate to what extent Old Hollywood was still working from a centuries-old storytelling paradigm; this isn’t really an Old Hollywood Farce so much as it is a Old Globe Farce, based on William Shakespeare’s genre-defining Comedy of Errors. In essence, Big Business is a throwback to a time when films were based almost entirely on dramas that were ancient even then, making the film old-fashioned by default, not that this is necessarily a bad thing. My major problem with the film comes from the way that its antiquated nature shows through in the film’s moral.

When viewing the four main characters, only Poor Rose and Rich Sadie seem truly suited for their positions in life, with Rich Rose and Poor Sadie being reasonably well-adjusted but largely unfulfilled. Ignoring the two women who are in their “rightful” lives, Poor Sadie’s desire for a more exciting life than pig wrasslin’ and yodeling can provide evokes more empathy for her than the audience can really muster for Rich Rose, who certainly has the financial means to forsake her supposedly incomplete life for the purported pleasures of rural domesticity. As such, Rich Rose is the character who gets the least characterization, really only developing once Roone shows up in the third act. This would be a fine exploration of the nature/nurture dichotomy, were it not for the fact that, ultimately, Poor Sadie comes to the decision that not only is the way of life in Jupiter Hollow worth preserving, it’s worth praising as well; she forsakes her biological sister’s urban and urbane world to return to performing percussive cow milking alongside toothless men whose musical expertise is limited to playing moonshine jugs, and we, as an audience, are supposed to feel gratified by this conclusion. Rural living is the right fit for everyone, except the shrewish antagonist.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I got plenty of laughs out of Tomlin and Midler’s performances here, and even the potentially painful farce worked for me. I was just hoping for one more twist (for instance, that the Sadies were actually the children of the Ratliffs and that the Roses were the Sheltons’ daughters) that would make the film less overt in its praise for downhome simplicity over metropolitan cynicism. To a man, all of the New York-based characters that are not Rich Rose are foppish, conceited, untrustworthy, manipulative, and greedy, with the implication being that Rose feels unfulfilled because she is genetically predisposed toward “goodness,” being the child of salt-of-the-earth outlanders. But the “goodness” of rural living is enough to almost completely deprogram Poor Sadie, who is tempted by the carnal delights that ensnare and comprise Rich Sadie’s identity and existence but is able to reject them. It just doesn’t sit well with me.

Erin, am I reading too much into this, or allowing my perception of the film to color my enjoyment of it too much? Is there something that mitigates this seeming moral that I may have overlooked? And what do you think about the Old Hollywood elements–do they work?

Erin: Boomer, I feel a little differently about the portrayal of country vs. city life, and I think that I came to slightly different conclusions about Big Business‘s moral assessment of both. I’d have to say that in true farcical fashion, both city life and country life are portrayed with an eye to their preposterous sides – yodeling and “making love in the back of a recreational vehicle” versus designer women in designer sneakers and the pompousness of grapefruits under silver lids.

Where I feel differently is that the on-screen portrayal of urban life seems to be much more positive than the portrayal of rural life. The Welcome to New York Montage, while funny, adheres pretty closely to the cinematic trope of New York as a vibrant, wonderful city (thought this might be more related to the visual presentation of Poor Sadie’s desires). Big Business‘s New York seems to be entirely made of the Plaza hotel and satin, even if its denizens are amoral and greedy. Rural life has gingham, and large, poor families.

If the moral of the story really is that rural life is better, I think it balances strangely against the onscreen portrayals of the rural and urban worlds. In a way, I think that starts to answer the second part of your question about the Old Hollywood elements (or the Old Globe elements, Big Business is truly a Shakespearean farce). I agree that that the movie reads as an old-fashioned screwball comedy and is pretty simple in terms of plot. On the other hand, I think that Big Business reads extremely well as an 80s movie. It’s got Bette Midler as a Power Lead (in TWO roles!), Big Business as the Big Bad, and steel drums lining the streets of New York.

What do you think, Britnee? To continue Boomer’s line of question, does Big Business manage to read well as an 80s movie? Does the old fashioned plot work well amongst the shoulder pads and polka dots of the 1980s?

Britnee: I’ve always viewed Big Business as a prime example of an 80s comedy. It’s packed with cheesy humor, wacky facial expressions, pumps and power suits, and of course, Bette Midler in her prime. It’s an 80s explosion! It wasn’t until this discussion that I realized that there are quite a few Old Hollywood elements present in this film. Now that I’m looking at the film through a much different lens, the movie is more interesting and much smarter than I initially thought. Creating a film that contains classical comic film features for an 80s audience mustn’t have been an easy task, but it’s a match made in heaven.

I know that this is completely off track, but I think that the film’s music deserves a bit of discussion. There are only two major lyrical songs in the film: Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” and George Benson’s “On Broadway.” Both songs work well in the film (they’re so New York!), but as for the film’s instrumental tracks, they’re all kinds of ridiculous. It’s the type of music that belongs in a department store’s training video. Part of me feels as though the music was a bit too much, but another part of me thinks that the obnoxious tunes contributed to the film’s campiness.

Brandon, did you find the instrumental music in the film to be annoying or am I overthinking this?

Brandon: I don’t know if “annoying” is the word I would use. Maybe “cheesy”? Maybe “eccentric”? It’s undeniable that the background music of Big Business is always present, always noticeable, and perhaps even always awful, but I found it somehow added to the film’s charm. The soundtrack is another one of the areas where the film feels trapped between two times. Its big band music (which is mostly contained in the 1940s prologue) & countryside yodeling are decidedly old-fashioned, but the department store pop songs Britnee mentioned & the endless droning sax are so 80s it ain’t even funny (well, it’s a little funny). I don’t know if it was the exact DVD copy Britnee & I were watching or if the film was intentionally mixed this way, but the soft sax rock aspects were particularly noticeable (in that they were deafening) & particularly amusing. What really got me laughing, though, was the obnoxiously dramatic drum fills that crash the scene at the film’s climax. It’s as if Neil Peart had dropped in at the sound booth to add some last minute touches for the soundtrack.

Going back to that 1940s prologue for a second, the film starts in the old-timey countryside town of Jupiter Hollow, which prompted me to write “Stars Hollow” (the fictional town from Gilmore Girls, of course) in my notes. It was a surprise, then, that Gilmore Girls vet Edward Hermann (who, sadly, passed away a little over a year ago) appears in this film, delivering one of many great performances. It was also cool to see Seth Green run around as a raucous baby (almost literally) as well as the weird coincidence that both of the Roses’ beaus are future Tremors compatriots (Michael Gross & Fred Ward). All of this and Deborah Rush, aka Jerri Blank’s mom. The cast of supporting characters is surprisingly stacked, as long as you care about the niche pop culture properties they’re best known for.

Boomer, were there any supporting roles in particular that stood out to you as a favorite? Midler & Tomlin easily get the most to do, but I feel there was plenty enough opportunities for the other actors to shine.

Boomer: It’s funny, I was delighted to see Deborah Rush in this film, as she’s always an absolute delight, especially when she’s playing a terrible mother figure (Jerri Blank was a hot mess before she ever showed up, but Piper Chapman’s insufferable insulated white privilege nonsense is all on Rush’s padded shoulders). I was pretty disappointed that she disappears after her part in initiating the plot, but she does make the best of her limited screen time. I also really enjoyed watching tiny Seth Green run around as a screaming terror, and got a kick out of seeing Michael Gross, who will always be doomsday prepper Burt Gummer of the Tremors franchise to me (although I didn’t make the Fred Ward connection that Brandon did). My favorite minor role came from Mary Gross, Michael’s sister, who played the soft-voiced secretary working for the Sheltons; as an actress, she’ll always have a place in my heart because of her involvement in Troop Beverly Hills. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I looked up the name of the actor who played the put-upon desk clerk, Joe Grifasi, but I couldn’t place him in any memorable roles based on a quick scan of his IMDb page; he must simply be one of those classic “that guy” actors.

It was a very minor role that has really stuck with me since watching the film. The narrative saw fit to include a vagrant character who oversees the comings and goings of the Plaza. This is a well-worn comedy cliche: a drunken vagrant sees some unbelievable sight, looks at the bottle in his hand, back at the unbelievable sight, and then tosses the bottle behind him. Normally, this character is never seen again, but this film brings back our friend a few times; we watch him catch sight of the Roses and Sadies coming and going multiple times. All in all, it seems like he gets more screen time than some of the lesser love interests. From the outside, this mostly low-stakes (give or take the fate of Jupiter Hollow, which is easy to forget in all the identity confusion shenanigans) rom com farce occurs entirely outside of the context of this character; as a result, his story plays out as a window into an existential horror that he can only passively observe. The Plaza: if you stand outside long enough, you’ll see yourself come out of there. And then he does! That’s some In The Mouth of Madness… um, madness.

While prowling through the sparse information that the internet has to offer about this film and its development, I read that the sets for the film were so expensive that ABC created an entire television series to use the sets in an attempt to recoup their losses. The series flopped and never made it out of its first season. It does make one wonder, though; would Big Business have worked as an ongoing series? It seems like it would, what with the potential to have stock twin hijinx intersect with stock cultural differences plots.

What do you think, Erin? Would this idea have legs? And in what stock sitcom situations would you most like to see the Shelton-Ratliff sisters (recast for a TV budget, of course)?

Erin: Boomer, I can definitely see at least a two-season Big Business show combining stock twin hijinks and stock cultural differences.  It would take a deft hand to extend the premise outside of the obvious shenanigans.  I’m envisioning a Green Acres meets Beverly Hillbillies situation.  Shoulder pads on the farm!  Country Rose get mixed up with big city Mafia!  Mistaken identities galore!  Pie and jam competitions at the fair!  Rich Sadie turns out to be a heck of a pig-caller!  Moonshine!  Country twins accidentally attend the Met Ball!

There’s at least half a season right there.  The challenge would be extending the premise into something stable and complex enough to keep a show on the air, but the promise of the ensemble cast might make it work.  I wonder if it’s cheaper to find multiple sets of twins or to constantly produce a double effect through camera and editing tricks.

I think that that my best description of Big Business would include words like madcap and zany.  It was definitely a lot of fun to watch, and it looked like the cast was also having a great time during filming.  That always makes a movie better for me.  All in all, I think that it was a solid entry in the filmography of the 1980s.  It’s charming and fluffy, with few dull moments and lots of shoulder pads.


Erin: The fashions worn by the two sets of sisters are almost characters in themselves.  Big Business is almost worth watching just for the clothes!

Britnee: I really like Poor Sadie’s initial yodeling number that she performed at the Jupiter Hallow fair. “Well, hello, Jupiter Hallow. I know you’re doing fine. Every day you work the factory, every night a jug of wine,” is what immediately enters my head when I think about Big Business. I’m not a big fan of yodeling, but Midler has one of those voices that can make anything catchy and enjoyable.

Boomer: I was a bit disappointed that Sadie Ratliff ended up with (as I interpreted it) Sadie Shelton’s ex husband. They barely shared a scene or two, and she had much more chemistry with the desk clerk.

Brandon: Going back to what Boomer was saying about the vilification of city life vs the deification of the countryside, that push & pull didn’t bother me too, too much, but I will say that the evil “big business” end of the equation felt a lot more convincing & well-developed. I especially appreciated the Reaganomics-speak of the NYC twins’ inherited company, Moramax: “More for America”. As far as satire goes, that specific phrase easily ranks up there with Robocop & Gremlins II: The New Batch in poking fun at the state of class structure in the 1980s, even if most of the film’s message boils down to a simple rich = stressed out & snooty, poor = sweet & serene.

Upcoming Movies of the Month
March: Erin presents Mrs. Winterbourne (1996)
April: Boomer presents My Demon Lover (1987)
May: Brandon presents Girl Walk // All Day (2011)

-The Swampflix Crew

Swampflix’s Top Films of 2015


1. It Follows – The only movie to make three of our lists is a throwback to 80s horror classics from past greats like John Carpenter. Featuring a killer soundtrack, the highest of high-concept premises, and a fascinating visual aesthetic, It Follows is more creepy than it is frightening, but easily stands as the best horror film of the year, if not the best film overall.

2. Crimson Peak – A love letter to the Gothic Horror genre, Guillermo del Toro’s latest is a traditional ghost story loaded with the genre’s classic tropes of isolation, bloody histories, unnatural relationships, menacing architecture, Victorians, obvious symbolism, endangered virgins, and things that gibber and chitter in the night. Crimson Peak is ripe with heavy-handed visual metaphor and beautiful overwrought acting to match.

3. Magic Mike XXL – An over-the-top road trip comedy where a gaggle of male strippers act like an over-aged boy band: horny, sassy, too-old-for-this-shit, and high on drugs. One of the most unashamedly fun movie-going experiences of the year, not to mention the lagniappe of its intense cinematography. There aren’t many situations in which the sequel is better than the original, but we’re confident this one surpasses its deeply-somber predecessor. It’s pure genius!

4. Tangerine – This flick, which was filmed with an iPhone 5S, has been the talk of the town for months, and for a very good reason. Tangerine is a raucously fun, poorly behaved whirlwind of an adventure through Los Angeles’ cab rides & sex trade. It’s got a surprisingly intense cinematic eye & despite leaning hard towards over-the-top excess there’s a very touching story at its heart about the value of friendship & makeshift family.

5. Queen of Earth –  Two lifelong friends inflict terrible manipulation and emotional violence upon each other in a tense story that spans two separate summer getaways, where past secrets, petty jealousies, and personal vendettas come to light while one of the women slowly  becomes more deranged. It’s difficult to pin down exactly what does & doesn’t transpire in Queen of Earth, but the seething hatred mounting between its two leads is bound to bore a hole into your memory no matter where you land on its plot.

6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Easily the most over-complained about movie in 2015. The Force Awakens a genuinely fun, intricately detailed return to form for a franchise that hasn’t been nearly this satisfying since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. If you need insight into just how much the movie bends over backwards to please its audience, just take a look at the beyond-adorable BB-8. What a little cutie.

7. Goodnight Mommy – There’s a major twist at the core of Goodnight Mommy that most discerning folks will be able to catch onto within minutes of the film beginning, but that withheld reveal in no way cheapens the ugly brutality of its horror imagery or the delicate beauty of its art film surreality. Goodnight Mommy has been derided by its detractors as “torture porn”, but its intense moments of horror are actually quite well shot and understated in their simplicity. Don’t be fooled by reviews that refer to this as a terrible movie, or an exploitative one; it’s a gorgeous film with style to spare.

8. Turbo Kid  – A cartoonish throwback to an ultraviolent kind of 1980s futurism that probably never even existed. Turbo Kid is a smorgasbord of eccentric ideas smashed together into one glorious and beautiful assault on the senses. Moreover, each of those ideas is realized in bloody practical effects magic. It’s difficult to believe that Turbo Kid didn’t previously exist as a video game or a comic book, given the weird specificity of its world & characters. It’s a deliriously fun, surprisingly violent practical effects showcase probably best described as the cinematic equivalent of eating an entire bag of Pop Rocks at once.

9. Krampus – Director Michel Dougherty’s first film, Trick ‘r Treat, was a comedic horror anthology devoutly faithful to the traditions of Halloween. His follow-up, Krampus,  thankfully kept the October vibes rolling into December traditions in a time where so many people do it the other way around, celebrating Christmas before Halloween even gets rolling, the heathens. All hail Krampus, a soul-stealing demon who acts as “St. Nicholas’ shadow”,  for bucking the trend. A new cult classic has been born!

10. The Final Girls – Although its main goal is undoubtedly a goofy, highly-stylized comedy, this film also reaches for eerie, otherworldly horror in its central conceit, an unlikely of mix ideas from Scream & The Last Action Hero. As a send­up of campsite slashers like Friday the 13th & Sleepaway Camp that focuses almost entirely on the relationships between female friends as well as a young woman & the woman who is not quite her mother, The Final Girls is a meta horror comedy well-deserving of your attention.

Read Boomer’s picks here.
Read Britnee’s picks here.
Read Brandon’s picks here & here.
Read Erin’s picks here.

-The Swampflix Crew

Erin’s Top Films Reviewed in 2015


1. Crimson Peak (2015) – Guillermo del Toro writes a love letter to the Gothic Horror genre.  The classic tropes of isolation, bloody histories, unnatural relationships, menacing architecture, Victorians, obvious symbolism, endangered virgins, and things that gibber and chitter in the night are explored in a visually luscious theatrical feast.  Del Toro’s use of visual metaphor is appropriately heavy, and the acting is beautifully overwrought to match.

2. Road House (1989) – A classic story of the Bad Boy with a Heart of Gold and a Dark Past, Road House lets every one revel in the simple pleasure of barroom brawls and Patrick Swayze’s oiled up body. Watch it.  Enjoy it.  It’s ridiculous and satisfying.

3. The Man Who Laughs (1928) – The only silent movie that I reviewed this year.  It’s a fun look at the pre-Hayes Code Silver Screen.  It’s a melodrama based on a Victor Hugo novel, and it is played to the hilt.  Enjoyable and accessible if you are interested in trying out silent films.

4. Shanghai Noon (2000) – Thoroughly enjoyable ramble through Wild West tropes.  Jackie Chan makes an interesting and unlikely hero for a Western, and the good-looking cowboy played by Owen Wilson only manages to be a sidekick.  Fun and funny, with trademark Jackie Chan physicality and stunts.

5. Innocent Blood (1992) – A French Vampire in Pittsburgh instead of an American Werewolf in London.  A fey vampire accidentally turns a mob boss, and spends the rest of the movie chasing them with Joe, an ousted undercover cop.  The best part of this movie are the vampire mobsters and their scenery chewing, bombastic scenes.  Not John Landis’ strongest entry, but a fair attempt at the vampire genre.

6. Grandma’s Boy (2006) –  Lowbrow stoner humor.  It is what it is, but it’s pretty solid for an Adam Sandler movie.  Funny in a juvenile way, but manages to portray actual character development for Alex, the schlubby programmer protagonist.  The best performances are from the titular Grandma and her elderly roommates.

7. Crime of Passion (1957) – Barbara Stanwyck is Kathy, an ambitious Lady Reporter cum Stifled Housewife cum Conniving Murderess.   The 1950s were not kind to women with a mind for more than card parties.  Kathy’s situation is first sympathetic, but she walks down a dark road of Femme Fatale turns.

8.  The Little Mermaid (1989) – Childhood favorite.  The Little Mermaid makes an interesting watch as an adult – King Triton’s fairly reasonable attempts at parenting are definitely not appreciated by the 16 (!) year old Ariel, who should really have been grounded forever.  The movie, however, is gorgeous, the soundtrack is perfect, and it’s definitely a great watch.

-Erin Kinchen

Movie of the Month: The Independent (2000)


Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before & we discuss it afterwards. This month Brandon made Boomer, Britnee, and Erin watch The Independent (2000).

Brandon: I first was alerted to the low-stakes indie comedy The Independent this past summer when Britnee posted an article about how our former Movie of the Month Highway to Hell happened to feature every member of the Stiller family: Jerry, Ben, Anne (Mearea), and Amy. An observant Swampflix reader, Tom Morton, was kind enough to point us in the direction of yet another film that featured every member of the Stiller clan, The Independent. I fell in love. I gushed heavily in my review of the film & added it to the growing list of our so-called Swampflix Cannon after just one viewing, despite it being a fairly simple, straightforward comedy. Something about the subject matter just clicked perfectly with my own pet cinema obsessions, especially in the B-movie spectrum. In the film Jerry Stiller plays Morty Fineman, a Roger Corman archetype who’s made a career out of schilling an infinite stream of schlock for decades on end. Unlike Corman, who is generally calm on the surface but expressive in his filmmaking, Fineman is on the same violently explosive vibe Stiller brought to his role as Frank Constanza on Seinfeld. He also (for the most part) lacks Corman’s thirst for making art films, like The Masque of the Red Death, and sticks mostly to genre fare that’s main selling point is “tits, ass, and bombs”.

The great thing about this set-up is that Morty is not only a stand-in for Corman (who appears as himself within the film), but also fills the role of countless other legendary B-movie directors & producers: Ed Wood, Russ Meyer, David Friedman, etc. In other words, he is schlock personified. Morty Fineman is the entire B-movie industry wrapped up into one convenient, hilarious package. A lot of the soul of The Independent is in the brief clips & promotional material for Morty’s work. There’s a Meyer-esque sexploitation pic about an eco-friendly biker girl gang, a wonderful mushroom cloud pun mockup for a film called LSD-Day, a Fred Williamson-falls-in-love-with-a-sexy-robot blaxploitation called Foxy Chocolate Robot, and so on. These schlock spoofs are consistently funny & evenly spaced from beginning to end, supported only by the flimsiest of narrative glue about Fineman’s struggle in his old age to climb out of financial ruin either by filming a morally-reprehensible musical about a real-life serial killer or accepting a film festival gig in a shithole town he dubs “Blowjob, Nevada.”

At the time of its release, reviews of The Independent were mixed at best, but I honestly believe it was ahead of its time. If pitched in the current cultural climate, it would make for a knock-out HBO comedy series. Its mockumentary format, improv-based looseness, tendency towards one-off gags & celebrity cameos, and loveable reprobate of a protagonist would all play perfectly into the modern HBO comedy. It’s a wonderful little love-letter to the schlock movie industry that recognizes its faults (like the literally fatal risks of some of the less-than-safe sets) as much as its glorious heights. I’m not going to pretend to know the entirety of Jerry Stiller’s career, but I will say this is the best feature-length vehicle I’ve ever seen for his brand of comedy.

Boomer, do you think part of the reason audiences did not connect with The Independent when it was released 15 years ago was that there was too much focus on the one-off B-movie spoofs & not enough of a fully-fleshed narrative to support a full-length feature? Do you think that breaking up the spoofs into a weekly sketch comedy format would’ve benefited the story it was trying to tell or was the film satisfying enough as a self-contained, low-stakes tale of a struggling, past-his-prime director trying to keep his family & his business intact?

Boomer: When watching this movie, the thing that struck me most about it was, as you noted above, how ahead of its time it felt. Debuting a year before the original UK version of The Office, it was not the first mockumentary, but it was made during a time when the tropes and rhetorical shorthand methodologies of the genre were largely unknown by the general population. I’d wager that if The Independent were to have been made after the airings of Arrested Development and, to a much greater degree, the US version of The Office, then the film would have seen wider appeal. We live in a world full of sitcoms that use talking head confessionals as a quick and dirty way of telling jokes in a more succinct way, for better or worse, even when the show itself doesn’t lend itself to that (for instance, it works for The Office, and that show eventually incorporated the film crew as part of the action in its final season, but why exactly do the Dunphys and Pritchetts of Modern Family mug for–and talk directly to–the camera?). I think it’s safe to say that, should there be an interested producer looking for a project, a series adaptation of The Independent would not be out of place in today’s television landscape.

I’m hesitant to commit to watching this hypothetical series, however. So much of what makes The Independent work is that the film’s tone never becomes too sentimental or unfocused on Stiller’s objectively reprehensible but subjectively human protagonist, and I feel like a series, even a serialized, single season adaptation, would find itself going to the well of emotional pathos much more than the source material did. The quick shots we see of his films contribute to the sense of his character, and his films convey a great deal in their (relative) understatement, regardless of how outlandish the films themselves may be. I get the feeling that an adaptation would rapidly experience diminished returns as we saw more and more of his body of work, pushing beyond their initial humor into exponentially more outlandish film outings that would undermine the film’s taut use of this device. Der Ubergoober, Truckstop Nurses, and The Despot Removers are all film titles that are pure perfection in the abstract but wouldn’t work, or would disappoint, if we were presented with them on film (although I have to admit that I would love to see Hot Justice in Thirty Minutes or Less, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Golem sounds like a blast).

That the film is simply that, a film, works best for me personally. That we see Janeane Garofalo’s Paloma exact revenge on facsimiles of the cheerleaders who spurned her in less than thirty seconds of Cheerleader Camp Massacre, for instance, shows that the strength of The Independent lies in knowing what to expand and what to explore only briefly. Given contemporary television’s tendency to decompress storylines at the expense of consistency and viewer patience, as well as the general saturation of the mockumentary-as-comedy style, I feel like a series adaptation would be a letdown. As a concept, it was ahead of its time, and now that its time has come, it has no real place among its contemporary peers.

That having been said, there are quite a few of these films that I would love to see in full, especially with a little MST3k-esque riffing. What about you, Britnee? Are there any of Fineman’s movies that you would desperately like to see as real films? Any that you think are best left imagined rather than realized? And why?

Blombas: Without a doubt, I would love to see Whale of a Cop (1981) as a full-length film. From what the trailer implied, a cop, played by Ben Stiller, is the human form of a whale, and he has a close friendship with a 8-10 year old kid. Stiller makes all sorts of whale noises, and he even spits out water! In the trailer, the kid is having one of those shoo-the-dog goodbye moments. Stiller looks all dopey-eyed and confused while this kid is crying up a storm and yelling something along the lines of “go be with your own kind!” I was crying from laughing so hard during this scene. How did the spirit of a whale end up in the body of a cop? Why is this super young kid with a bowl cut his best friend? These are all questions that I am dying to have answered. Hopefully, they were both once whales, but the boy fully turned into a human while Stiller is only half human. The police department recruited him because his special whale senses were helpful with their criminal investigations.

Another film that sounds like a blast would be A Very Malcolm Xmas. It’s never discussed during the actual film, but the title is shown during the credits (along with the rest of Fineman’s filmography). As an admirer of Malcolm X, I would love to know how Fineman would blend his legacy with Christmas traditions. As a lover of bad films and just being a curious person in general, I can’t really think of any fake Fineman movies that I would not want to see as actual films.

Other than the many “fake” film trailers featured in the movie, something in the film that really stood out to me was the duo that is Jerry Stiller and Janeane Garofalo. The chemistry between the two was so unexpected but, by God, it was extraordinary. They both have such different styles of comedy, and I think that’s why they got so many laughs out of me.

Erin, did you feel the same about Garofalo and Stiller? Would you like to see the two act in similar roles again? Or was this more of a one time thing?

Erin: I have to say, seeing Janeane Garofalo as a fake-tanned daddy’s girl was a lot of fun, since I’m most familiar with her acidic side, a la Heather of Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.  And Jerry Stiller is perfect as Morty Fineman.  After watching The Independent, it’s hard to imagine him as any other role (although, I suspect that Stiller’s acting talents often lie in adding quite a bit of himself to his roles).  I liked seeing Garofalo and Stiller playing off each other, and the were really, truly believable as adults navigating a parent-child relationship.  Oddly enough, though, I would have to say that while I would like to see more of Jerry Stiller in similar roles, I’m not sure that I’m sold on Garofalo in similar roles.  I think that it might be because Garofalo was acting against type that her performance in this movie comes off so well, and I think that this kind of magic might lose its luster if repeated too often.

To change the subject a bit, I think that one of the things that made this movie so watchable was the pacing, the way that little glimpses of the Fineman world were revealed in a way that eased us into the madness of it all.  I wouldn’t have accepted the immediate introduction of Fineman’s car-dwelling ex wife, even after the strangeness of the opening scene.  However, by the time we meet her, we’re fully prepared for the next wacky turn of events. The Independent takes us by the hand and leads us happily down the lane, and by the time we think to ask where we’re going we’ve left the real world behind.  It’s the skillful story telling that makes me think of The Independent as a filmmaker’s film, something made not necessarily to entertain the masses but turn the lens of film back on itself.

The Independent is like watching a home movie.  I think, perhaps, that this home movie is meant for filmmakers, to see themselves and their passions through the fiction of a movie.  It’s interesting to see how the filmmakers portray themselves here – confident, persistent, optimistic, and terrible to live with.

What do you think, Brandon?  Is The Independent a self portrait, meant for filmmakers?  Is is self-indulgent, or a surreal confessional asking for atonement?

Brandon: So far I’ve honestly only thought of this movie as a film for schlock junkies. Fans of the trash auteurs of yesteryear will find plenty to chew on in The Independent, especially in those short-form spoofs & Roger Corman interviews. I don’t think that descriptions excludes filmmakers from the intended audience, though. A lot of filmmakers, even the ones who make endless piles of garbage, are really at heart just big movie fans who can’t help but make the the things they love. For example, Morty Fineman didn’t make hundreds of movies on accident. He made it because them because he doesn’t know what else to do with himself. It’s in his blood. Also, because he liked “the tits, bombs, and ass,” as he confessed in the fabulous scene in his ex-wife’s house/car Erin just mentioned.

Something I always wonder about directors like Roger Corman & Morty Fineman is whether or not they ever have time to actually watch movies for fun. In the documentary Corman’s World (which is required viewing, by the way) Corman recalls an anecdote where he was running almost a dozen simultaneous film production. When his wife asked him if he could actually name them all from memory, he could only recite the titles of all but two & then said something to the effect of, “Well, whatever the rest are, I’m going to cancel them in the morning.” Folks like Fineman & Corman are constantly swamped with shooting schedules & issues of financial backing, but their work is obviously influenced by the cinematic world surrounding them, so they somehow have to be watching movies in their leisure time. For instance, Fineman’s lost herpes PSA film The Simplex Complex was a spoof of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Corman’s production of Joe Dante’s Pihranna was a thinly veiled response to Spiendberg’s Jaws (which, in turn, was heavily influenced by Corman’s own creature feature work). I have no idea how an over-productive schlock director could find the time to keep up with their contemporaries that way, given the near impossible weight of their workloads.

To bring it home to Erin’s question, if this film were made with any particular filmmaker in mind it’d be Roger Corman, but would he even have had time to watch it? Even his contributions as an extended cameo seemed to be brief & succinct, probably shot on a break between a dozen other projects. It’s interesting to think of a what a Fineman-esque schlockmeister would get out of The Independent, considering the film’s admiration of their work & acknowledgement of their sleaziness, but I’m not sure they’d ever have the time to engage with it in that way. Did Corman ever sit down to watch this movie even though he appears in it? I’m curious, but doubtful.

It seems that The Independent‘s best chance for a cult audience is in comedy nerds who enjoy a Christopher Guest-style mockumentaries & weirdo sketch comedy and in schlock junkies who genuinely love bad movies as an art form, even beyond the MST3k brand of sarcastic derision. My question is whether or not you’d have to exist in the overlap of that Venn diagram to enjoy the film for all it’s worth. It’s obviously difficult for me to discuss The Independent without droning on about folks like Roger Corman & Russ Meyer, so I’m wondering if someone without that sense of B-movie context would get the same kind of appreciation of the movie’s insular little world of shoddy filmmaking.

What do you think, Mark? Is familiarity with the world of folks like Roger Corman necessary for loving this film beyond a tossed off “That was pretty funny, I guess.”? Is being a fan of irreverent comedy enough to fully appreciate The Independent or do you also have to be a little bit of a B-movie nerd to get on its wavelength?

Boomer: It’s interesting to me that you mention Christopher Guest, especially since his movies were the first point of contact I thought of when viewing The Independent, not Roger Corman, despite Corman’s cameo in the film’s opening moments. There’s a fine line tread here between the kind of zealous schlock that characterizes Corman’s work and the nuanced character work that typifies Guest’s. To be honest, I think that an appreciation for the kind of work that Guest does may be more integral to the overall enjoyment of The Independent as a movie than an appreciation for Corman and his ilk. Guest’s films generally feature a mixture of understatedly human emotions acted out by larger-than-life characters in situations that are incredibly idiosyncratic, be it a high-stakes dog show or a folk music reunion concert. The characters that populate the faux-documentary, especially but not limited to Morty, his assistant, and Paloma, are very much Guest-type people.

Of course, the prevalence of Corman-esque style in Morty’s works themselves can’t be ignored, either. Morty is Corman as a Guest character, and it works very, very well. It’s not hard to imagine Corman creating a film like Bald Justice, and a line like “You’re gonna like Leavenworth; they’ve got a great barber,” could have flowed from his pen just as easily as it did from Stephen Kessler and Mike Wilkins’s. Overall, though, I think it would be easier to enjoy the movie if you knew Guest but not Corman, rather than Corman but not Guest, simply given the fact that the homages to Corman, while pitch perfect and hilarious, don’t carry the weight of the narrative in and of themselves.

I would love to see more films of this type. Maybe a satirical slasher film that centered around a Hitchcock type, or a desert island survival story wherein all the characters are the stars of a seventies sci-fi show reunited for a convention cruise that goes awry. Or, of course, more mockumentaries about eccentric artists who are secretly self-deluded hacks. What about you, Britnee? How would you adapt this format into a personal instant classic?

Britnee: I’ve always wished and hoped for someone to make a John Waters biopic that would depict his work with the Dreamlanders crew. Could you imagine such a treat? So when thinking about what sort of film I would like to see in the style of The Independent, I would love to see a film that follows the journey of a Waters-like director and his band of misfits. The crew would travel the country creating snuff films in small, all-American towns. They would have a cult following of all ages willing to “die for art.” If anyone with the connections and resources ever reads this, please, oh please, make this happen.

Come to think of it, there really aren’t enough films that focus on the careers of movie directors, and they have one of the most interesting jobs on the planet! When director roles are featured in films, they are usually portrayed in a negative way. Most of the time, they’re sleazy douchebags that promise cast members leading roles in exchange for sex. It was nice to see a director portrayed in a positive light in The Independent. Morty has so much passion for filmmaking, and he truly loved all 400+ of his terrible b-movies. What an inspiration!

Going back to the discussing the film’s unique style, I don’t think it would be as enjoyable if it were anything other than a mockumentary. Erin, if The Independent was not filmed as a mocumentary, but was still a comedy, do you think it would still be as likeable? Why or why not?

Erin: Interesting question, Britnee!  I agree with you.  The mocumentary style of The Independent is an important part of its charm.  It allows for Morty’s character to be portrayed as humanly as possible.

That’s where I connected most with The Independent, with its portrayal of humanity.  The hyperbole used in the storytelling lets the actors tell a deeply human story about the the struggle to balance the compulsion to create and live according to one’s own heart against the very real impact that every human has on those around him or her.
As fluffy and ridiculous as The Independent is, there are moments of genuine pathos and discomfort.  Those moments, in a way, make the movie. They use of comic relief and exaggeration to tell real truths about the human condition is one of our best introspective tools as a species.


Erin:I really, really want to see Whale of Cop brought to fruition.  There’s no shame in that game.

Britnee: I’m so glad to know that there’s another film other than Highway to Hell that involves all members of the Stiller clan. I have to say, I really wish there was more Rita (Anne Meara)!  Rita (Morty’s ex-wife that lives in a luxury car) was probably my favorite character in the film, but she was definitely not given enough screen time.

Boomer: Rita was definitely a character that I would have loved to see more of, especially with regards to her relationship with her eternally devoted doorman/chauffeur/lover. I also really loved the moment of footage we saw of Rat Fuck; it was such a great, minimal joke. In my notes from watching the film, I noted that Christ for the Defense reminded me, at least visually, of Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, which never came up organically in this discussion but which I think bears mentioning, if anyone feels like watching a movie that Morty may as well have directed.

Brandon: When started doing Movie of the Month Swampchats this past February I joked that the cold weather was making us a depressed bunch. The first few movies we discussed (The Masque of the Red Death, The Seventh Seal, Blood & Black Lace, etc) were a morbid procession of death & pestilence. I’m glad to say we pulled out of the funk in the past few months & started having some fun with a few comedies & even a kids’ movie, but it’s also remarkable how the year came full circle, beginning & ending with Roger Corman, who directed Masque & had a large influence on The Independent. There are few filmmakers out there who I love more or who could better represent this site’s love of where trash meets art. Let’s hope next year’s just as tidy & well-rounded. It’s been fun.

-The Swampflix Crew

Movie of the Month: Class of 1999 (1989)


Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before & we discuss it afterwards. This month Boomer made Britnee, Brandon and Erin watch Class of 1999 (1989).

Boomer: Class of 1999 is a strange little movie. For readers who haven’t had the pleasure, the film is set in the titular year, less than a full decade after its release date. In this “distant” future, inter-gang violence has become so overwhelming that the areas around high schools have become dystopian free fire zones, but these violent, Mad Maxian teenagers still submit to going to campus every day for some reason. The movie’s protagonist, Cody Culp (Bradley Gregg), is a former gangmember paroled and returned to school. Unbeknownst to the student body, the principal (Malcolm McDowell) has agreed to allow an obviously mad roboticist (Stacy Keach) to install three former military androids (Patrick Kilpatrick, John P. Ryan, and goddess on this earth Pam Grier), “reprogrammed” as educators, as new instructors. Culp tries to stay out of trouble, but his narrative arc is complicated by his romance with the principal’s daughter (Tracy Lind). The androids decide that the best way to create a stable educational environment is to rid the school of violence by creating a war between the two rival gangs, even drawing in Culp due to the false flag death of his brother (Joshua John Miller, who was also the annoying kid brother in Teen Witch). As you would expect, this culminates in the two gangs putting aside their differences to defeat the Terminator. I mean the teachers.

I love this movie. It’s a perfect encapsulation of worst case, slippery slope thinking with regards to teen violence, a misplaced jeremiad warning of dark days to come–won’t someone please, please think of the children? Bradley Gregg, star of many of my adolescent fantasies (and one of the dream warriors from Nightmare on Elm Street 3), parades around in an outfit that manages to be both utterly ridiculous and strangely sexy, featuring skin-tight leather pants emblazoned with the word “war” over and over again and a form-fitting tee under an oversized babydoll jacket. He has nothing on Keach, of course, who struts around in this film with a platinum ponytail and matching (painful looking) contact lenses, while still somehow managing to play this ludicrous role as straight as possible. Throw in the other stars in the cast, like Grier and McDowell, and it’s a surprise that this Terminator ripoff made barely half of its relatively low budget back in ticket sales.

The Keach/Culp dichotomy of seriousness and campiness is one of my favorite things about Class. On the one hand, the film features ridiculous gang warfare with oversized vehicles in one scene, followed by dark domestic trouble in the form of Angel and Cody’s mother’s truly frightening drug addiction in the next (before she completely disappears from the film). Somehow, this intermix works for me, although I can admit it probably shouldn’t. What do you think, Britnee? Is this tonal inconsistency a drawback, or a feature?

Britnee: I think the mix of the film’s outlandish features and serious moments made Class the unique and unforgettable film that it is. If anything, the serious moments of the film, such as the mother and son drug brawl, amplified the film’s campiness, and that’s always a good thing. When serious, dramatic situations are placed in such a ridiculous setting (post-apocalyptic 1999), they bring out this sick and twisted type of humor that makes us all think, “I really shouldn’t be laughing at this.” Being able to successfully pull off this type of humor and create such an uncomfortable mix of emotions is the greatest achievement that a film can accomplish. Unfortunately, Class did not have as many of those wonderful Lifetime movie-like moments as I hoped for, but I think that may be the only complaint I have about the film. It was that good.

Something that I just can’t stop thinking about from Class is the gang warfare between the Blackhearts and the Razorheads. The film’s street gangs are made out to seem like these awful groups of mixed-up teens who will never escape their miserable, violent lifestyle, but under their rough and tough exterior, they’re just a bunch of kids searching for a little bit of love and understanding. This really comes through when the Blackhearts and Razorheads stop killing each other and team up to fight the evil robotic teachers. The bad guys (Razorheads) join the not-as-bad guys (Blackhearts) and ultimately become the good guys. At this point, the gang lifestyle actually seems more acceptable and becomes a little appealing. I mean, if I was stuck in some crazy life-or-death situation where I was forced to join a gang, I would definitely let the Blackhearts jump me in. 80’s new wave couture, Nine Inch Nails dance parties with machine guns, and a gnarly black heart tattoo are enough to win me over.

Erin, what are your thoughts on the two opposing gangs joining forces to fight the evil robotic teachers? Was this one of the few heartwarming parts of the film? Or is it just another cheesy moment to add to the list?

Erin: I thoroughly enjoyed the Class of 1999 experience . . . but I’m not sure that I found the gangs joining forces to be terribly heartwarming.  I think that if they hadn’t been in an automatic-weapon fueled fire-fight, I might be with you.  Had they been engaged in an old fashioned fist-fight-style rumble, I think that I would be more sympathetic to their situation.  As it was, it seemed like the gang side of The Warriors and the terrorist robot side of The Terminator got together and forgot to bring a side helping of the humanity from The Outsiders (I’ll take 1980s movie title conventions for $500, Alex).

I think that Class of 1999 is trying to communicate a series of relationships to the viewers: the difference between the viewers and the post-apocalyptic kids,  the difference between the rival gangs, and the difference between all of the kids and the inhuman robots.  I think that the movie does a great job showing us the first relationship, but stumbles with the second two.  The gangland teens are pretty reprehensible, truly living up to the premise of the movie that youth gangs have turned American urban centers into warzones.  The movie makes a very clear break from reality with its set up and presentation of the its own world.

Cody is really the best glimmer of humanity out of the entire movie, in my opinion.  He’s the only example of a multi-dimensional character, with his dark side trying to survive in a gangland and his sweet side of falling in love with a certified Nice Girl.  We don’t get that multi-dimensionality from other members of the Blackhearts, much less from the punks in the Razorheads.  It’s really hard to root for any of them.  Perhaps Cody is supposed to stand out as the Last Sane Man?

In any case, it’s hard for me to see myself in the gang members as they make a stand against the Teachernators.  Yes, they’re scrappy kids coming together to take on psychotic military robots, but minutes earlier they were trying to kill each other with machine guns! On the other hand, the Roboteachers are out-of-their-minds inhuman, which is made evident early in the movie by their behaviors and later in the movie by their physical transformations into walking weapons.

What do you think, Brandon, does Class of 1999 struggle to humanize the human characters?  Is there a clear enough difference between the terrible actions taken by the gangs and the Teachbots?  Does the audience get an avatar to insert themselves into the movie, or are we just supposed to watch the carnage?

Brandon: Simply by the nature of what it’s trying to portray, I totally have to agree that all basic humanity has been stripped from this movie’s ultraviolent teens. Cartoonishly over-exaggerating adult fears about out of control young adult behavior, Class of 1999 poses a grim, larger than life portrait of teen rebellion that is far beyond anything you’d expect to see in any conceivable human being, young or not, even in a worst case scenario, ten years down the road cyberfuture. Yeah, teens can be perilously obsessive over getting their hands on drugs, beers, sex, and cool cars at times, but usually not in the way Class of 1999‘s teens mix those simple pleasures with guns, bombs, landmines, and missile launchers. The first half or so of the film plays like a particularly paranoid parent’s warped nightmare about what their teen is up to while they’re out with their bonehead friends. A great example of this is the warehouse concert scene. I’ve been to quite a few concerts in my time & while many may have involved industrial music dance parties, I can’t remember ever witnessing a gang beating in the moshpit, machine gun fire set off to the rhythm of the songs being played, or the venue being lit by carefully placed barrel fires. I’m sure that as my parents first let me out of the house to experience live music for the first time, however, their worst fears of what was going on weren’t too far off from that image.

The trick here is that Class of 1999 is smart to spoof both sides of the teen rebellion coin. Because teens are perceived as such violent, out of control animals, authority figures take an automatically adversarial position against them. Late in the film when Principal Malcom McDowell complains about his army of roboteachers, saying, “They’re waging war with my students!”, he’s met with the response, “Isn’t that what all teachers do?” If the film indeed has any specific sort of point it’s trying to make & we’re not supposed to just, as Erin suggests, sit back & “watch the carnage”, I think it’s to be found somewhere in that exchange. Even if real life teens are as bad as portrayed in this film (they’re not), they’re still far more sympathetic than the (robotic) adults that brutally murder them by snapping their necks or forcefeeding them glass vials of superdrugs. There’s an oppressive, prison-like atmosphere in the film’s educational system (complete with “RESPECT”, “OBEY”, “LEARN” commands that could’ve been directly lifted from John Carpenter’s They Live) that feels like a direct indictment of privatized, militarized schooling that treats kids like violent threats instead of young, eager minds. The cyberfuturism of Class of 1999‘s killer robot “tactical education units” may not be readily recognizable in today’s flesh-bound educational units (public school teachers), but they do feel like a blown-up, exaggerated version of the way we systematically tend to treat children as a threat & a nuisance.

Boomer, how much do you think Class of 1999 is a movie of its time? Do you think that there’s a bit of historical, late 80s gang violence context here that would drastically change if there were to be a Class of 2025 released in 2015? Or would the same basic adult fears of teen rebellion & a privatized, militaristic educational system be eligible for lampooning today (with CGI bloodsplatter unfortunately subbed for the practical effects gore, of course)?

Boomer: One of the great truths about western culture is that each generation that reaches the level of becoming “the establishment” seeks out and pontificates about the fatal flaws in the generation that follows. This is nothing new; adults of today are “concerned” about the isolating effects of handheld devices, just as my parents were “concerned” about the isolating effects of the Discman, or their forebears were concerned about the invention of this thing or that thing, going back to concerns that the invention of the phonograph would lead to fewer people being interested in learning to play instruments. There are a lot of sociological and anthropological reasons for this, but most of it boils down to the universal constant that we will only get older, coupled with the fear of obsolescence and fear-mongering about “the youth,” and treating them, as Brandon notes, as a threat or nuisance.

The other major factor in the genesis of 1999 is that the late eighties and early nineties saw a very visible rise in gang violence, something that couldn’t simply be dismissed, so the news media had to address it. However, the “establishment” couldn’t acknowledge that disenfranchised people turn to crime because of systemic problems related to class and privilege, especially not when people were basically walking down the street accidentally poking others with their raging pro-wealth Reaganomics hard-ons. As a result, the majority of Americans, ignorant of the real causes of gang violence and its apparent meteoric rise, had nothing to cling to but their filtered and incorrect understanding of social problems, reinforced by the cyclical nature of youth-blaming.

What’s so interesting to me is how 1999 manages to be both an indictment of that mindset and the apotheosis of it at the same time, and, although I may be giving it too much credit here, I think that this is intentional. The darkness that permeates Culp’s world represents all the things that the parents of 1989 feared about the future, a horribly violent place where those nasty (scary) teenagers with their loud music and their dirty fingernails rule over a scorched suburbia because no one took a stand against teenage skullduggery when there was a chance! But it also holds up a mirror to that absurd frame of mind, pointing out the flaws in that kind of fearful, conservative nightmare by showing how unrealistic and silly such a future would be. Also, there are killer robots, because who doesn’t love that? And, if your kids are running around doing drugs, they probably learned it from watching you, mom or dad!

So, the answer is “yes,” 1999 is a very much a product of its time and of the politico-cultural environment from which it sprung, and there would have to be significant updates to remake this movie, although I could see how it could be done in a couple of different ways, depending upon which of Joann and Cletus’s fears you wish to highlight and mock. Political correctness is often a good place for conservative muckrakers to stir up some passion: “In the future world of 2025, schools no longer teach facts, they teach feelings. They no longer teach science, they teach sensitivity. And they only teach the ‘corrected’ version of history.” And, like, instead of robot teachers, there’s an AI that seeks to “purge” students of their hopefulness or individuality or whatever by teaching them about all of American history, atrocity alongside progress, and by teaching them self-control and tolerance. Cody Culp would be a secret bigot who teaches his androgynous and sexless peers, long having been made soft of mind by those damn SJWs, to fight back against the machine of liberal indoctrination by being politically incorrect and proud, or whatever. To be honest, though, I don’t know that this would be recognized as a satirical interpretation of a conservative’s nightmare of the future; it would be more likely to be seen as a prescient vision of a world to come, ruled by the “libtard.” Or maybe I’m just on a tangent; who knows.

The real truth is this: the way education is enforced in the west is not the best method for schooling, and we all pretty much know that. The priorities are all skewed, and the eight-hour, rigidly-structured schoolday that has been the model for a long time isn’t based on the best pedagogical or psychoeducational practices but on the model of a workday; it forcibly instills in children a willingness to accept the drudgeries of pyramid capitalism, essentially, rather than encouraging critical thought, technical acumen, interest in knowledge for its own sake, or any kind of prioritization of variety in educational forms. You can see that small changes are taking place today, but for the worse; as an educator, I toured a new charter school just a year or two ago that was filled with classrooms that didn’t look like classrooms. They looked like call centers. So even if Class of 2025 were to be made in the way that I poorly pitched above, a Republican nightmare of social justice gone mad, it would still be nothing like the schools of the future, just as my school in 1999 was not a war zone of apocalyptic proportions.

Britnee: What do you think about a Class of 2025? Does your conception of what Class of 1999‘s thesis was differ from mine, and if so, how do you think your interpretation would be updated for a contemporary audience?

Britnee: When watching Class of 1999, I did realize that there was a connection to the large amount of youth gang violence occurring around the time the film was released, but I really didn’t think much of it. I saw the film as being loads of stupid fun without much depth, but your perspective really got me thinking about the whole “youth-blaming” and “conservative nightmare” aspects that the film definitely illustrates. Loud music, fast cars, leather jackets, heavy eyeliner, and funky haircuts were a conservative parent’s nightmare in the late 80s/early 90s, and the teens in 1999 are an explosion of this stereotypical degenerate youth. The whole film actually reminds me of a lost Billy Idol music video. It’s just so “Rebel Yell.” These types of teens were going to cause the world to become a post-apocalyptic cesspool of crime, violence, and pure filth. Unfortunately, the world did not become that exciting by 1999. There were many changes that occurred within those short 10 years, but at the same time, much remained the same.

Now, to think of what my interpretation of 1999 would be for a contemporary audience. 1999 did play on the fear of what the future would be like for the youth of that time, and now it seems as though one of the biggest fears for today’s youth is the lack of importance placed on quality education. A modern 1999, or as Boomer stated, 2025, would deal with the absence of general education and the emphasis on some sort of super strict social class-based structure. Children will be sorted into military, white-collar, or blue-collar positions at birth, like in the movie Antz when newborn ants are assigned to be workers and soldiers. Who knew that such a horrible movie would be so insightful? Each group would have their separate type of school, but they would be more like training academies. Only the elite would receive a quality education, and they would use it to coerce obedience and conformity on the youth. Those that do not have elite status would live in squalor and have all sorts of chemicals in the air and water that dope them up, making them ultra submissive to authority. I feel as though the teen rebellion wouldn’t be as violent as one would expect. They would rely more on outsmarting the authority and only shooting them up from time to time instead of a constant machine gun blowout like in 1999. At this point, weapons would probably have lasers instead of bullets, so the battle scenes would be a little more on the calm side.

Erin, speaking of weapons, did you think that it was strange that the weapons in 1999 weren’t very futuristic? Come to think of it, not much was futuriscitc about this film that was set in the future. Is the budget to blame for this or is it something bigger?

Erin :  Britnee, someone remarked during our viewing of Class of 1999 “Oh no!  They didn’t invent cell phones in the future!” as two characters were forced into a situation with no way of contacting each other.

In some ways, yes, I think that budget has something to do with why the weapons and other parts of the film weren’t very futuristic.  Clearly, the bulk of the effects budget went to the Teachbots and their final set-chewing rampage.  Honestly, I think the bulk of the general budget may have gone to that last scene.

In other ways, I think that a few things inhibited Class of 1999‘s presentation of the future.  First of all, it could make logical sense that the teen gangs in the movie only have access to older, out of date technology and weapons. Teens in 1999 might have had pagers, but in my community were only on the cusp of common cellphone ownership.   Admittedly, this theory falls apart a little in the way that the administrators are not seen using futuristic technology either.

Secondly,  one of the difficulties of setting a movie in the near future is hitting the right pitch for technological advancement.  I think that the rapid development of computer and internet culture, where even impoverished  families have internet access and at least one computer, and the ubiquity of personal electronics such PDAs and cellphones might have been impossible to see from late 1980s.  From where we stand, it seems obvious and inevitable that the future would look like it does (or did, in 1999).  For the writers and audiences at the time, that might have seemed as outlandish as Star Trek’s communicators and tricorders.

And thirdly (and most likely, I think), placing Class of 1999 in the near future is a nice way to hand wave away the complete ridiculousness of the world that the movie inhabits.  The future setting means that the filmmakers have to take much less responsibility for portraying any kind of real life anything, from the physical sets to the interactions of the characters.  Honestly, I think that’s a sloppy use of what can be an effective story-telling tool.  Science Fiction as a genre is also used as a means of giving us the distance needed from reality to discuss difficult issues.  By setting Class of 1999 in the future, the filmmakers were able to explore both the dual fear of out-of-control youth and out-of-control education institutions with removal from the actual educational landscape of 1989-90. (I’ll insert here that I think Class of 1999 is more a fantasy rather than a proper Science Fiction movie.)

The unreality of the movie not withstanding, there are some moments that resonated with me as “real”.  When Cody’s mother and brother fight over drugs, I was reminded that the late 80s had seen crack cocaine strike urban areas like an epidemic.  Many cities were still suffering from botched urban renewal plans and the hemorrhagic flow of residents to suburbs.

What do you think, Brandon, where do you see realism in this movie?  Is searching for reality even relevant?

Brandon: I feel like we’ve already run through a great deal of the film’s startling realism here: the cultural context of 80s gang violence (as portrayed in the media); the broken, unnecessarily adversarial education system; the shocking jolts of harrowing drug addiction & attempted sexual assault that break up the fun, etc. Something that does stand out to me, though, is the budding romantic relationship between our beloved teen protagonists Cody & Traci. Okay, it’s a little ridiculous that that the movie made time for a romantic subplot in the midst of battle droid educational units liberally murdering teenagers in the guise of discipline, but it’s also a somewhat believable ridiculousness. If you combine already heightened teenage libidos with the kind of tumultuous situations that naturally tend to bring people together (say, your gym teacher removing his arm to reveal a subdermal rocket launcher, for instance) it’s only logical that a romantic bond or two will arise. Thankfully, the one delivered here is accompanied with such great exchanges as Cody coolly responding to the question “You gonna call me or what?” with “Yeah. Both.” and hilariously teasing Traci to “Open up those suburban eyes” to the danger they’re facing. I’ll make no guesses as to how realistic that exact dialogue is, but the situation is at the very least more believable than an army of robotic teachers that get away with viciously spanking (not to mention disembowling & setting aflame) their students with out so much as a peep from the PTA.


Erin: The least believable part of this whole movie is that these kids are still showing up for school.  With the exception of Cody’s probation requirement, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to show up. Why?  Why are they there?

Britnee: Of all the strange yet amazing moments in Class of 1999, the one that I just can’t forget is when Mr. Hardin (John P. Ryan) exposes his claw machine hand for the first time. As he sinks his creepy claw into the skull of an unfortunate teen, he says one of the greatest lines in the film: “I love to mold young minds.” Those obnoxious arcade toy machines will never be the same!

Brandon: One of the oddest details in a movie where they’re in no short supply are the ordinary objects of a banana & glass of milk. Character actor Stacy Keach does an excellent job of chewing scenery as the evil “Megatech robotics specialist” Dr. Robert Forrest, who provides the technology for the evil teacherbots. He gets obvious perverse pleasure from watching his creations discipline their students (which is especially alarming during one particular robospanking), deriving even greater joy when their “discipline” escalates to murder, and he just generally looks like an evil lab rat that killed so many other lab rats that he was honorarily dubbed a scientist because people were afraid to put him down. What I love most about Dr. Forrest, who is an all around great villain, is that on top of these unwholesome characteristics, he seems to enjoy incongruously wholesome snacks. Watching someone so evil & so fake-looking casually chew on a banana & gulp a glass of milk is a hilarious, unsettling sight gag that beautifully complicates his character in a way that’s almost too good to have been scripted. I like to imagine that Keach came up with his own onscreen snack regimen himself, insisting on enjoying his milk & his banana (surely obtained from craft services) on camera in order to give his character a whole other layer of perversity. No matter whose idea it was, though, it totally worked & after the movie I ended up thinking just as much about those snacks as I did about the film’s roboviolence, which is really saying something.

Boomer: The DVD for this movie is as light on special features as you would expect for a niche-but-not-quite-cult classic film such as this, but it amuses me that the DVD cover foregoes the Terminator-esque cover of the VHS in favor of an image that looks like Shaq in Steel. Almost every trailer on the disc, however, is for some film that echoes Terminator in some way, however, which is good enough. Also, nothing tells you more about the film-makers’ misconception of the teaching profession than Traci’s comment that women never buy just a sexy bra or pair of panties, that they treat themselves. Because teachers make soooo much money with which to treat themselves, am I right? That’s why I’m still a teacher–no, wait, I quit because even working a second job didn’t net enough to get by on. Sorry, Traci, not all of our academically employed fathers are getting grant money from crazed scientists.

Upcoming Movies of the Month
December: Brandon presents The Independent (2000)
January: The Best of 2015

-The Swampflix Crew

Halloween Report 2015: Best of the Swampflix Horror Tag

Halloween is next week (!!!), which means a lot of cinephiles & horror nerds out there are currently trying to cram in as many scary movies as they can before the best day of the year (except for Mardi Gras, of course) passes us by. We here at Swampflix watch a lot of horror films year round, so instead of overloading you with the full list of all the spooky movies we’ve covered since we launched the site, here’s a selection of the best of the best. I’ve tried to break it down into a few separate categories to help you find what you’re looking for. Hope this helps anyone looking to add some titles to their annual horror binge! Happy hauntings!

Dario Argento


Dario Argento is one of the all-time horror movie greats, right up there with Mario Bava as one of the masters of the highly-influential gaillo genre. His work is a perfect blend of art house cinema & trashy genre fare, the exact formula the Swampflix treasures most. Mark has been tirelessly covering Argento’s films over the past couple months & here’s the best of what he’s reviewed so far.

Suspiria (1977) : “Color and immersion are much more important here than they are in a lot of other films from the same period (or today). Contemporary critics took issue with the film’s plot structure, apparently failing to realize that Suspiria is intentionally dreamlike, influenced by fairy tales and nightmares more than monomyth. Even the opening narration, which others consider to be out of place and somewhat silly, contributes to the film by acting as a kind of horror-tinged “once upon a time.””

Phenomena (1985): “Phenomena is not a giallo picture in the way that many of Argento’s works definitively are or even Suspiria arguably is; although there is a mystery at its core, the crimes cannot be solved by the audience, making this much more of a slasher movie than other entries in the director’s canon, which may have contained elements of the slasher genre but were narratively focused on investigation. Running throughout the film is an undercurrent of terror, which is paired with distinctly beautiful imagery to create a film experience that is more haunting than inquisitive.”

Deep Red (1975): “Deep Red is the apotheosis of many of Argento’s tropes, but it also reflects his growth as a director and the instigation of newer concepts that would become part of his repertoire in the films that followed. His new focus on developing women characters is cited above, but this was also Argento’s first of many collaborations with prog-rock legends Goblin, who composed most of the score for the film after Argento was dissatisfied with Giorgio Gaslini’s initial composition (although some of Gaslini’s tracks are still present in the final score).”

Tenebrae (1982): “Tenebrae (aka Tenebre, although this is less of a translation of the title as it is a miscommunication about promotional material from day one), released in 1982, is Argento’s first picture to be filmed in the eighties and is the definitive giallo of that decade, despite being less well known than his preceding films in that genre. Most importantly, however, this is the first time I’ve really felt that Argento had a thesis with his movie. His previous gialli ranged from good to bad, but one thing they all had in common was that they were first concerned with cinematography and mystery, with meaning and metaphor playing inconsequential roles in the overall structure. […] Here, however, Argento addresses criticism of his work and its themes as well as what he perceived to be a rise in random acts of violence in his contemporary world.”

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970): “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was the first film directed by Argento, who was already relatively well known as a screenwriter, and the reference to the Master of Suspense in the film’s advertising is well placed, as the traces of Hitchcock’s influence are all over this film like fingerprints at a murder scene; this is not a criticism, per se, but it is nonetheless true.”

Opera (1987): “Widely considered to be the last great Dario Argento film, Opera (promoted in the US under the unwieldy Agatha Christie-esque title Terror at the Opera) is a sharp movie with a fast pace and some great new ideas from the aging director. Argento was invited to La Scala after Phenomena and asked to produce and mount a stage opera; he was happy to do so, but the project never went anywhere due to artistic differences. Instead, he channeled that idea into his 1987 film, which concerns a production of Verdi’s Macbeth staged by a transparent avatar of himself, with heavy influences from the plot structure and recurring images of The Phantom of the Opera.”

Mother of Tears (2007): “Mother of Tears is effectively creepy, pairing the psychological horror of a destabilizing and self-destructive society with the unhinged and violent imagery of a slasher, with some occult horror thrown in for good measure. Asia Argento turns in an absolutely dynamite performance, and looks gorgeous doing it, and her scenes with her mother are quietly beautiful despite the uncannily awful CGI–not the only bad CGI in the movie, but, to the movie’s credit, the effects are largely practical. The lighting and score are perfection, and the overall ambiance was reminiscent of Wes Craven’s work in the nineties like Scream and New Nightmare, with sumptuous visuals that play up earthtones in place of the vivid colors of Argento’s earlier work. Although the film seems to be rather widely reviled, it’s actually great–even perfect–in some places, and its weaker elements aren’t awful enough to weigh down the film as much as I expected.”

Art House Horror


If you’re looking for an escape from the endless parade of trashy slasher movies & want a more formally refined style of horror film, this list might be a good place to start.

Peeping Tom (1960): “It’s near impossible to gauge just how shocking or morally incongruous Peeping Tom must’ve been in 1960, especially in the opening scenes where old men are shown purchasing ponography in the same corner stores where young girls buy themselves candy for comedic effect & the protagonist/killer is introduced secretly filming a sex worker under his trench coat before moving in for his first kill. Premiering the same year as Hitchcock’s Psycho and predating the birth of giallo & the slasher in 1962’s Blood & Black Lace, Peeping Tom was undeniably ahead of its time. A prescient ancestor to the countless slashers to follow, Powell’s classic is a sleek, beautifully crafted work that should’ve been met with accolades & rapturous applause instead of the prudish dismissal it sadly received.”

Possession (1981): “Let’s just get this out of the way: Possession is a masterpiece. It’s a cold, incomprehensible film that confidently unleashes cinematic techniques like deadly weapons. Filmed in Berlin in 1980, Possession occupies harsh, uncaring architectural spaces, but populates them with passionate characters that remain in constant, violently fluid motion. The camera moves with them, rarely allowing the audience to settle as it chases its tormented subjects down sparse rooms and hallways like a slasher movie serial killer. In one shot the central couple undulates back & forth in front of a blank white wall, constantly swirling around each other during a bitter argument, but seemingly going nowhere as if trapped in a void.”

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2012): “Beyond the Black Rainbow is not a straightforward cinematic experience, but instead works more like ambient music or a poem. In an age where the lines dividing cinema & television are becoming increasingly blurred, there’s an exponential value in movies that work this way. Recent mind-benders like Beyond the Black Rainbow, It Follows, Upstream Color, Under the Skin, and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears are much-needed reminders that there are still things cinema can do that television can’t, no matter how much HBO wants you to believe otherwise.”

Blood & Black Lace (1964): “Mario Bava’s celebrated Italian thriller, Blood and Black Lace, is a landmark in horror cinema and one of the earliest giallo films in existence. It’s also considered to be the first “body count” horror film, so we can thank Bava for all of those campy, raunchy 80s slasher flicks. Watching this film is like taking a walk through an art gallery. It’s chock-full of rich colors, eerie scenery, deep shadows, and impressive camera angles. The outstanding cinematography alone is a good reason to watch the film.”

The Masque of the Red Death (1964): “The Masque of The Red Death is one of eight films in the Corman-Poe cycle: a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations directed by B-movie legend Roger Corman for American International Pictures. The Masque is widely considered the best of the Poe cycle as well as one of Corman’s best films overall, a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. There’s so much about The Masque that’s firmly in my wheelhouse: over-the-top set design, an early glimpse of 60’s era Satanic psychedelia, Vincent Price taking effete delight in his own cruelty, a fatalistic ending that doesn’t stray from the pessimism of Poe’s story, Corman pushing the limits of what he can get away with visually on a shoestring budget.”

The Black Cat (1934): “1934’s Unversial Pictures production of The Black Cat is fascinating not because it’s a loose, full-length adaptation of a Poe short story, but because it features the first of many onscreen collaborations between horror movie legends & professional rivals Bela Lugosi & Boris Karloff. Lugosi & Karloff are a match made in horror nerd heaven, especially in this gorgeous, alarmingly violent film that allows them to stray from their usual typecast roles as Count Dracula & the Frankenstein monster. Although there are eight Lugosi/Karloff collaborations in total, it’s difficult to imagine that any of them could possibly match the delicious old school horror aesthetic achieved in The Black Cat. It’s an incredible work.”

The Raven (1935): “Although Karloff receives top billing for The Raven, something he was also awarded in The Black Cat, this is unmistakably Bela Lugosi’s show. Watching the horror legend recite Poe’s “The Raven” in front of an exaggerated raven’s shadow, don surgical gear to apply a knockout gas to the camera lens, gleefully give tours of his torture chamber, and recite lines like “Death is my talisman, Mr Chapman. The one indestructible force, the one certain thing in an uncertain universe. Death!” are all priceless moments for oldschool horror fans.”

Häxan: Witchcraft through the Ages (1922): “Even nearly a hundred years since Häxan’s release, the message is still potent. There are still huge flaws in our treatment of mental health & we still need flashy, sinful entertainment to draw our attention to them. Along with its hellish practical effects & creature design, the film’s central message has a surprisingly long shelf life.”

 The Spirit of the Beehive (1973): “Both Under the Skin & The Spirit of the Beehive reach beyond the typical ways a movie can terrify, beyond the methods pioneered by classic monster movies like Frankenstein. They achieve a transcendental beauty in images like Beehive’s honeycomb lighting & endless doorways and Under The Skin’s liquid void & free-floating flesh. It’s a terrifying beauty, though, as it is a beauty of the unknown. Both films are transfixing, yet horrifying, because they cannot be truly, completely understood, like the graveyard landscape at the beginning of Frankenstein. For the more than 80 years since mysterious men were curiously robbing graves on that foggy, otherworldly set, ambiguity and obscuration have been used to terrify audiences in countless films. The three mentioned here are mere steppingstones in the evolution of cryptic, atmospheric horror, perhaps only loosely connected to one another in terms of genre, but connected all the same in a hauntingly vague, undead spirit.”

Weirdo Outliers

Halfway between high art & the depths of trash, these titles occupy a strange middle ground that defies expectations. They also are some of the scariest movies on the list in completely unexpected ways.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994): “My personal favorite Wes Craven film is 1994’s New Nightmare. It’s not his scariest, nor his most tightly-controlled work, but it is an incredibly smart picture that manages to bridge the gap between the dream-logic horror of A Nightmare on Elm Street with the meta genre reflection of the soon-to-come Scream franchise. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is a perfect way to remember the filmmaker for all he accomplished, not only because it marries those two defining moments of his career in a single picture, but also because he plays a role in the film as a fictionalized version of himself.”

Phase IV (1974): “It’s easy to see why Phase IV was given the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, but I feel like that brand of mockery is selling its other merits a bit short. Visually bizarre, technically impressive, tonally unnerving, and backed by a wickedly cool soundtrack of droning synths (recently made available 40 years late by Waxwork Records), Phase IV is a thoroughly strange film.”

Crimson Peak (2015): “Crimson Peak is a classic Gothic Horror, with the storyline sticking closely to the standard tropes of the genre – isolation, bloody histories, unnatural relationships, menacing architecture, Victorians, obvious symbolism, endangered virgins, things that gibber and chitter in the night, etc.  Del Toro makes references to the Hammer Horror aesthetic, appropriate for a movie with such an overstated sense of dramatic Victorian style (although, to be fair, the Victorians were really dramatic to begin with).”

Triangle (2009): “Part of Triangle’s fun is figuring out just where the plot is going. Your initial viewing will most likely be filled with nagging questions of just “What. Is. Happening. Here?” Familiar explanations of time-travel, ghosts, and the whole ordeal merely being a nightmare will all creep up. They will also prove false as the movie escalates from a slasher flick to a psychological horror to, most terrifying of all, a philosophical one.”

Spring (2015): “Revealing too much about Spring’s story would be a disservice to you so I’m just going to have to stop there and ask you to take my word for it: it’s a great movie.To illustrate how difficult the tone & intent are to pinpoint here, check out the genre listed on the film’s Wikipedia page: ‘supernatural romantic science fiction horror’- expialidocious. You can go ahead and add the word ‘comedy’ to that list as well, as the film is frequently hilarious in a satisfyingly adult way.”

It Follows (2015): “It Follows doesn’t get everything right. It loses momentum at several points and builds toward a somewhat tepid climax, but these are small grievances. Overall it is an exceptional horror film that plays around with horror genre tropes, but feels modern instead of regressive. There is also potent subtext about the nature of our sexual attachments and intimacy anxieties.”

Near Dark (1987): “Near Dark is not a perfect film. It frankly gets by more on style & mood than it does on content, but it’s so stylistically strong that it can pull off a lack of depth with ease. Just the basic concept of a Kathryn Bigelow vampire-Western with a Tangerine Dream soundtrack is enough to inspire enthusiasm on its own.”

Burnt Offerings (1976): “The way that the house in Burnt Offerings uses its occupants to act out violence against each other is also quite scary. The tension builds slowly in this film, starting first with images of life and renewal (a dead potted plant suddenly has a green leaf, a burned-out light bulb begins to work) before more outrageous elements occur (gas leaks in locked rooms, dilapidated siding and roof tiles flying off of the house and being replaced by fresh fixtures). If the film had spent less time establishing the Rolfs as a happy family before tearing them apart, the escalation of terror wouldn’t work half as well as it does, and I can’t believe such a great film has faded into relative obscurity.”

Creature Features


Do you want to see some weird/gross/creepy/goofy monsters? Check out these bad boys.

The Thing (1982): “If I only catch one film during this mini-Carpenter Fest, I’m glad I at least got to experience The Thing for the first time on the big screen. The movie’s visuals are on par with the best the director has ever crafted. The strange, rose-colored lighting of emergency flares & the sparse, snow-covered Antarctica hellscape give the film an otherworldly look backed up, of course, by the foreign monstrosity of its titular alien beast. The film’s creature design  is over-the-top in its complexity and I sincerely hope every single model made for the film is preserved in a museum somewhere & not broken into parts or discarded. Also up there with Carpenter’s best work is the film’s dark humor, not only in Kurt Russell’s drunkenly cavalier performance, but also in the absurdity of the film’s violence & grotesqueries. It played very well with a midnight, BYOB audience.”

Nightbreed (1990): “Honestly, the critics were kind of right about the film’s underdeveloped characters and confusing plot, but can’t a movie just be tons of ridiculous fun? I think so, and that’s really what Nightbreed is all about. With loads of gore, terrible acting, rad monsters, and an incredible score by Danny Elfman, what’s not to love?”

Marabunta Cinema“There are definite patterns & tropes common to the way killer ants, often called “marabunta,” are portrayed in cinema, but the quality of the tactics & results vary greatly from film to film. Them! & Phase IV certainly represent the apex of the killer ants genre, but they don’t capture the full extent of its capabilities.”

Night of the Lepus (1972): “Night of the Lepus is a lot of things all at the same time: both generic & bizarre, both adorable & nightmarish, both super cool & super lame. These inner conflicts are partly what makes it such a fascinatingly re-watchable cult classic. Well, that and the gigantic, murderous rabbits.”

Razorback (1984): Just as a dehydrated traveler would hallucinate in the Australian wild, Razorback‘s visual eye is a horrifically detached-from-reality trip through a dangerous landscape ruled by dangerous reprobates & and ripped apart by a supernaturally dangerous boar that ties the whole thing together in a neat little creature feature package.”

Horror Comedy

Here’s some recommendations in case you’re looking to have some yucks along with your scares.

What We Do in the Shadows (2015): “What We Do in the Shadows is as great as a vampire mockumentary could possibly be. An exceptionally funny comedy overstuffed with loveable, but deeply flawed characters (they are bloodthirsty murderers after all) and endlessly quotable zingers, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect, more rewatchable execution of its basic concept. In other words, it’s an instant classic.”

John Dies at the End (2012): “The trick to appreciating John Dies at the End is allowing yourself to get on its wavelength & roll with the out of nowhere punches. The film does adopt a helpful interview & flashback story structure to vaguely rein itself in, but it’s mostly a loose collection of horror movie tangents that take on subjects as wide & as varied as zombies, alien invasions, exorcisms, demons, the Apocalypse, abandoned malls, heroic dogs, white rappers and alternate universes.”

Housebound (2014): “There’s also the obligatory gross-out moments, including a head-exploding bloody finale but Housebound also has an emotional core that addresses the rebellious nature of youth and learning to accept one’s parents that still resonates despite the craziness that surrounds it.“

Innocent Blood (1992): “A decade after An American Werewolf in London, John Landis brought the public Innocent Blood, a movie about a French vampire in … Pittsburgh.  Marie, the fey French vampire, decides to help herself to Pittsburgh’s criminal element.  Mistakes are made, spinal cords are left intact, and before too long Marie and ousted undercover cop Joe are duking it out with a proliferating vampire Mob. There’s something for everybody!  Stunts!  Grotesque special effects!  Gallons of blood!   Strippers!  Don Rickles! Innocent Blood is entertaining, weird, and a little self-conscious.”

Highway to Hell (1991): “I forgot to mention that AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ does not play at any point in the movie. I think this is super funny because when I tell people about this flick, the first they usually say is ‘Did someone seriously make a movie based on that song?’ Sadly, Highway to Hell wasn’t cool enough for the song to be in the movie, but there’s some of the strangest songs I’ve ever heard on the soundtrack. Some unknown band called Hidden Faces did the music for the film, and the singer sounds like he’s singing through his butt. Just one of the many fun things that can be found in Highway to Hell. God I love this movie.“


Campy Spectacles


If you’re looking for a little irony in your horror comedy yucks, these films tend more towards the so-bad-it’s-funny side of humor, sometimes intentionally and sometimes far from it. They’re the best we have to offer in terms of bad taste.

Monster Brawl (2011): “Monster Brawl gets so much right about both its pro-wrestling-meets-classic-horror premise, that it’s impossible not to love it (given that wrestling or gore-soaked horror are your thing). Scripted & shot like a broadcast of a wrestling promotion every disturbed ten year old wishes existed, Monster Brawl is camp cinema at its finest.”

Pieces (1982): “Pieces is a solidly hilarious and gratuitously gory flick about a campus killer who murders women with a chainsaw, full of ridiculous and unrealistic dialogue that would give a more modern postmodern horror spoof a run for its money. Shot largely in Spain and set in Boston, Pieces will leave you breathless, but from laughter, not fear. This movie is a camp masterpiece, and has set the bar high as my new standard for horror comedy.”

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965): “Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, (which is also known by the titles Frankenstein Meets the Space Men, Mars Attacks Puerto Rico, Mars Invades Puerto Rico, and Operation San Juan) is firing on all its batshit crazy cylinders, squeezing a surprising amount of camp value out of its limited premise & budget.”

The Brainiac (1962): “I loved The Braniac (or, as it was known in its native Mexico, The Baron of Terror). It’s such a bizarre little horror cheapie that didn’t need to try nearly as hard as it did. Check out this plot: It opens with hooded executioners of the Spanish Inquisition expressing their frustration that a specific victim, a philandering Mexican baron, was surviving all of their torture methods by bending the laws of physics like an omnipotent god. When they sentence the baron to a death-by-burning execution, he escapes by hitching a ride on a passing comet and promises to return in 300 years to murder the descendants of the Inquisitors. He delivers on this promise in the form of a forked-tongued space alien beast. All of this transpires in the opening 20 minutes.”

The Love Butcher (1975): “This is a fun, and funny, movie. In much the same way that Tristram Shandy satirized the novel as a form despite being one of the first ten or so novels in the Western world, The Love Butcher mocks, subverts, and emulates the slasher despite having been conceived when that concept was only beginning to solidify. It’s an exploitation film that will use a cartoon sound effect when an older man shows off his bicep in one scene and then have a woman beaten to death with a sharp rake in the next.”

Midnight Offerings (1981): “Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie) and Mary Beth McDonough (Erin Walton from The Waltons) step away from their well-known country girl roles to become dueling teen witches in this made-for-TV horror flick. When I first realized that Midnight Offerings was a made-for-tv movie from the early 80s, I expected it to be a joke of a horror film, oozing with campiness, but to my surprise, it was actually a little more on the serious side.”

 Spooky Drinking Games


If for some ungodly reason the campier titles listed above still aren’t trashy enough for you, we also have drinking games for the following two slices of schlock: the found footage sasquatch flick Exists (2014 & pro-wrestler Kane’s grotesque slasher vehicle See No Evil (2006). If you dare participate in such cinematic horrors, beware & take care. You’re going to need the alcohol.

Happy Halloween!

-The Swampflix Crew