Demon Lover Diary (1980)

A few months ago, we reviewed “Demon Lover”, the first work in the “career” of Donald Jackson, a man who went on to make “Roller Blade Seven” and then managed, if such a thing is even possible, to get even worse. But those gems are far in our future, if we can find copies of them, as we’re right back at the beginning.

We’re not just at the beginning of Jackson’s career, but that of Joel DeMott, who went on to make a documentary (“Seventeen”) that won the Grand Prize at the Sundance Festival in 1985 – a few articles claim multiple documentaries were made by DeMott and her partner Joel Kreines, but information on her is pretty thin on the ground.

So, it goes that Donald Jackson and his friend Jerry Younkins worked in a factory, and due to an industrial accident where Younkins lost several fingers, received enough money to fund their dream, making a movie. Jackson saw some of Kreines’ work in a film festival, befriended him and asked him to come to Adrian, Michigan to help him realise his vision. Kreines agreed, on the proviso DeMott could accompany him to shoot a documentary, and that their friend could come and do the sound.

But that’s a dry description of what happens. Kreines and DeMott are a week late getting from New York to Michigan, and blow this off as…well, they’re doing it for free? Jackson almost immediately reveals he’s not got much of a clue what he’s doing, including a sort of vague division of labour between himself and Younkins (one directs the actors, the other the crew), hiring their girlfriends in fairly major roles, putting up Kreines and DeMott at his mother’s house but telling them to not mention the subject matter or title of the movie he was making to her, and so on. It’s chaos from beginning to end, and the fact they managed to make a movie at all is sort of impressive.

It’s shot handheld on not-great equipment, and quite a few of the scenes are just underlit masses of hippie hair with voices coming from all corners. But what’s most interesting about it are the stories that are told – Jackson basically admits at one moment that the industrial accident was no accident; and one of the women hired to act delights the crew with a jaw-droppingly racist series of jokes. Jackson begs to use Kreines’ equipment to shoot the movie himself, even agreeing to pay him $1,000 (from his initial budget of $8,000) for the privilege. There’s the way both “directors” talk about how this is just their initial commercial movie, and they’ll go on to more interesting projects when this makes its money back. Oh, and I guess there’s a culmination of sorts of Ted Nugent’s house, I’m still not sure how they got to know him but they do, and they hang at his place and borrow some guns and explosives.

A crew member is shot, and taken away in an ambulance; the crew demand that Jackson sign a contract to stop with the chaos, or they all walk immediately. There’s a genuinely crazy ending where the documentarians worry that Jackson wants to kill them and believe him entirely capable of it, so run away, and the movie ends with them sat at a gas station, nervously checking each car that pulls up isn’t Jackson with some of Nugent’s guns.

What’s most interesting about this isn’t “Demon Lover” itself, as that’s terrible. It’s watching Donald Jackson, and knowing the future he’d have in movies that avoided having scripts because he didn’t like explaining himself to his cast and crew; it’s the documentarians themselves, DeMott with her voiceover and Kreines suffering from a lack of sleep and a lack of any sort of direction from any of the people around him. It’s the ridiculous boastfulness of Younkins, who’d never do anything else in the movie business. It’s the time when Jackson, who’d taken off work sick to make “Demon Lover”, does an interview with a local newspaper and then acts surprised that his work wants to fire him for obviously not being sick.

While it’s not all that great a documentary – it’s almost impossible to watch in places due to the terrible lighting and fuzzy picture – if you’re one of the foolish few who watched “Demon Lover”, then it’s a lot of fun to see the circumstances it was made in. It’s also good to know that, to the end of his life, Jackson hated “Demon Lover Diary”, seemingly unaware that his hatred spoke volumes.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Roller Blade (1986)

If you know me, chances are at some point in the past I made you watch “The Roller Blade Seven”, which is in the conversation for worst movie ever, not only because it’s mind-bogglingly terrible but because it seems to have been made that way on purpose. That is some ways in our future, though, as we’re still back in 1986 and director Donald Jackson’s second movie, made almost a decade after his first, “Demon Lover”.

Let’s pause before we get into things, as I think there’s an interesting story behind Mr Jackson. From information in “Demon Lover Diary”, the documentary made about his 1977 debut, there’s a strong possibility that his producing partner in that movie deliberately severed his own fingers to get an insurance payout from the place both he and Jackson worked, which is pretty sleazy, even for people in the sort of business we talk about.

But this leads to other questions. Why wait almost ten years to make another film, and what brought on the fixation with roller skates? He did an intereview with a French magazine which I’ve read in English translation, which he claims is the most indepth interview with him ever, and it explains nothing. He just saw hot women on rollerskates in LA and decided to make them the centerpiece of his life’s work?

He moved to LA after “Demon Lover” and got work at the bottom of the film industry, meeting and working with James Cameron on “Galaxy of Terror” and also befriending Randall Frakes, who co-wrote a bunch of his early scripts (including this one). He claims that Sam Raimi called him an inspiration, and to have shot a few small scenes in “The Terminator” when James Cameron was briefly unavailable, and did uncredited work on the movie apparently – whether you believe that or not is up to you, but I can certainly believe him hassling his old friend for a trip to the set and begging him for a job during shooting. For the record, he hates “Demon Lover Diary” and claims they tried their hardest to make him look bad, were so dirty Jackson’s mother kicked them out of the house, he’s made 50 movies and they’ve hardly made any, so he wins, etc. When I get to the movies he made with Scott Shaw, someone remind of the comments he made about that guy in the French interview, as it’ll give you a laugh.

Anyway, this movie was made for the surprisingly low amount of $5,000, and was picked up by New World Pictures (Roger Corman’s old company) and made them a decent amount of money, which led to his run of relatively big budget pictures for them, including “Hell Comes To Frogtown”. I’ve been sorely tempted to call it incomprehensible, or mock it as so-bad-it’s-good, but it’s neither of those things. It’s just really really bad.

We’re in a post-apocalyptic / dystopian future, in “The City of Lost Angels”, only the millionth time that’s been used as if it’s a brand new idea. The Cosmic Order Of The Roller Blade (by the way, there are no roller-blades in this movie, as they hadn’t been invented yet. Jackson claims his movies gave them the idea for the name) protects a magic gem, or crystal, or whatever the hell it is, that protects the Earth, possibly. What it does is really quite vague, but it’s a vague MacGuffin for the action to circle round. Sharon Cross (Suzanne Solari) kills a cop and delivers something to the evil Doctor Saticoy, a masked fellow with a weird creature attached to his arm – I thought he just chose to talk through a plastic toy he had taped to his fist, but it turns out to be a “real” creature in the world of the movie. She wants payment, but he insists on her doing another job for him – infiltrate the Sisterhood and steal the gem, so he can power his rocket car across a chasm to Mecca Co and get all the old world’s weapons so he can run the new one.

There’s also the friendly Marshall Goodman, who protects the Sisterhood, and their leader Mother Speed, as main characters. Showing up as Goodman’s 8-year old son is Christopher Olen Ray, son of “legendary” director Fred, and who we met before as director of “Mercenaries” and “Three Headed Shark Attack”. He’s about as good an actor as he is a director, in case you were wondering.

But let’s wrap up the “plot”, I suppose. Sharon infiltrates but grows to admire the Sisterhood and what they do; Saticoy kidnaps the son, to stop Goodman from killing all his guys; and everyone goes round on roller-skates for absolutely no reason whatsoever. If I was being chased by a killer on roller-skates, as indeed someone is during the course of this movie, all I’d need to do to get away would be to run on slightly uneven ground, or even grass. But no.

There’s a three-woman bath where they all cleanse each other’s souls (one of the women is scream queen Michelle Bauer, presumably doing a favour for someone), and heal all their injuries (lot of magic injury healing in “Roller Blade”, and half the characters talk in what they imagine Biblical language was like, all thees and thous.

Struggling to find a way to describe it, the best I can manage is that it’s like an enthusiastic but slightly stupid teenager telling you about a role-playing game he played with his friends, in intense detail. Reading about Jackson’s career, he seems to have a view of his own abilities that is definitely, 100%, not borne out by the facts. The thing is…I feel like it’s a whisker away from being a parody of itself, a few tweaks and it could have been bizarre and hilarious – why does everyone wear roller-skates, all the damn time? – but it’s so cloth-eared that it just becomes boring. Technically, it’s sort of okay, as everything’s in focus, the colours match and the busy city of LA is hidden in the choice of shots used, but wow is it boring. Yes, a movie about post-apocalyptic Nuns taking on a weird mutant for control of a magic crystal is nothing more than deathly boring.

Rating: thumbs down

Demon Lover (1977)

This would've been cool, if it had been in the movie

This would’ve been cool, if it had been in the movie

One of our stated aims here at the ISCFC is to find the very bottom of the cinematic barrel. I think we might already have reached it (“Things”, “One More Time” and “After Last Season” are as miserable as it gets, I reckon), but it doesn’t hurt to continue the search, and to that end we come to Donald Jackson.

 

We’ve met him before, with “The Roller Blade Seven”, one of those movies that’s in the conversation for worst of all time – but that’s more than a decade in the future, and we wanted to start at the beginning. There’s a story behind “Demon Lover” that makes it difficult to hate, as well – Jackson kept himself sane while working on a factory production line by talking trashy B-movies with his friend Jerry Younkins. One day, they got a payout from work due to an industrial accident (Younkins had several fingers chopped off), and decided to spend it to make their own movie. Now, that’s dedication!

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Before we get going, it’s possible you’ve heard of “Demon Lover” without actually having seen it. It’s the subject of a fairly famous documentary, “Demon Lover Diary”, created by Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines (Kreines was hired to work on the movie, his partner DeMott saw an opportunity). You know that story I just told? Turns out it might not have been as much of an accident as I originally thought, and that Jackson, Younkins and pretty much everyone who worked on the movie were all raging assholes – the doc sounds fascinating and I’ll try and track it down. DeMott and Kreines would go on to win a Sundance Festival Grand Prize with “Seventeen”, a few years later, and as of the last time I checked are still making films and living off the proceeds of some film-based inventions they created. Jackson, on the other hand, would go on to “Hell Comes To Frogtown”, a long-running partnership with Scott Shaw and an almost uninterrupted stream of the worst movies ever.

 

The movie itself kicks off at a 70s hipster party. A guy who looks like Frank Zappa is trying to hit on all the women, a guy who’s the archetype for every shrill nerd from every show ever is trying to keep the event on a nice even track, and a few couples alternate between kissing and philosophical discussion. They’re waiting for a fellow called Laval, who looks like the sloppy lead singer of a 70s jam-rock band, and when he comes down he tries to round everyone up for a good old fashioned bit of demon-worship.

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Laval wants some women to get naked so he can do real black magic, but mercifully most of the women refuse and the party breaks up. The party-goers are all Occult Studies students at college, who started hanging out with Laval because he seemed to know a lot, but they seem…not exactly indifferent, but curiously casual at the prospect of getting on the wrong side of someone who appears to have real power.

 

This entire first scene is a handy indicator for what’s to come, and even contains hints of the rest of Jackson’s career. The conversations and interactions between the group of friends feels incredibly natural, not in the sense of they’re all good actors, but in the sense of this feeling like a documentary. While a few of them are trying to act, and fail miserably, the bulk of the cast just feel like they weren’t putting on a performance at all, and it’s actually pretty interesting. There’s also a really strange cameo, the Professor of occult studies who the policeman hassles at a party: one Gunnar Hansen, whose sole movie credit to that point was three years earlier, as Leatherface in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (to be fair, that’s a good single credit to have). How did a couple of complete novices from Michigan get Gunnar Hansen’s number? There’s a scene in the documentary, apparently, where they go to right-wing rocker Ted Nugent’s house to borrow some firearms and explosives for the finale – how the hell did they know Nugent? The plot thickens.

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So, Laval makes a sacrifice, and gets some real black magic powers, then starts getting revenge on the women who refused to get naked for him. The guys, trying to figure out a way to beat him, meet in desolate, overgrown woodland, there’s a cop with some excellent investigative skills, there’s a scene where Laval takes some martial arts lesson (so it’s slightly more believable when he beats up an entire bar full of people later), and there’s a pretty wild, gore drenched finale. And there is a demon in it, but his effect is absolute garbage so they sensibly keep him in the shadows. No “demon lover”, though, as far as I can tell. Shame! Laval is more a “demon enthusiast”.

 

What I was most surprised by is how, almost despite itself, “Demon Lover” managed to generate some real creepy atmosphere. The sound is cheesy, with the layered voices and moans, but cheesy works sometimes; and the fuzzy washed out look of the image contributes significantly to that 70s drive-in-horror feel. It’s so amateurish from top to bottom, with so many odd choices and camera placements and acting choices, that…well, one could say that all “normal” movies look the same, while all insane low-budget regional horror B-movies are weird in their own special way.

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I couldn’t recommend it – no sane person would – but it’s certainly interesting, and nicely short. I’m looking forward to digging further into his filmography, and telling the tale of him and Scott Shaw, when the time comes.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Hell Comes To Frogtown (1988)

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It was with heavy heart that I learned of the death of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper last week. One of the all-time great wrestlers, without him providing Hulk Hogan with a memorable foil, allowing Wrestlemania to be the enormous event it was, pro wrestling would look very different today. His autobiography is perhaps the most “wrestling” of all of them (except Hogan’s himself) as it’s a tissue of lies from beginning to end; but one shouldn’t let that detract from the life of one of the nicest guys in the history of the sport.

Like most of his fans, I watched “They Live” almost immediately on hearing of his death. It’s one of the greatest sci-fi / conspiracy thrillers ever and Piper plays the everyman ass-kicker to a T (plus, could you imagine a 2015 movie where an honest, hard-working, homeless guy is the hero?) A couple of days later, a group of my friends congregated to watch another of his movies, the one he made at nearly the same time and that we all, with our faulty 25-year-old memories, remembered as being almost as good. So how does it hold up?

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Never trust your memories, kids (this equally applies to ex-partners when you start to think “they weren’t so bad”). Anyway, what we have here is a reverse “Handmaid’s Tale” where, after two nuclear holocausts in quick succession, mankind has been pretty much wiped out. The vast majority of who’s left is infertile, but as there are way fewer men left, fertile men are very much sought after, and luckily Sam Hell (Piper) has the strongest sperm the Government has ever seen. So, he gets given a metal chastity-belt-style protector for his groinal environs- which also has a bomb in it, in case he decides Government duty isn’t the life for him – and is sent off into the wilderness. He’s accompanied by Government rep Spangle (Sandahl Bergman, probably better known as a dancer) and soldier Centinella (Cec Verrell), and his job is to impregnate the relatively few surviving women, and to rescue a small group of women from the clutches of Frogtown.

Frogtown is a town made up mostly of mutated frog people, so not just a clever name – some of the frog-heads look quite good, most of them look absolutely awful. For no reason, Bull (the main frog baddie) has a harem of human women, and it’s up to Sam Hell and Spangle (Centinella spends most of the movie waiting outside the town for a signal to attack, also for no reason) to rescue them and do their bit to save humanity. It’s a surprisingly campy sort of comedy, as Hell deals with wearing a metal thong, horny women, old male soldiers who remember the good old days, and the post-apocalyptic wasteland. When they get to Frogtown, they uncover arms smuggling, a frog with three penises, the evil and mysterious Count Sodom, and the world’s most rubbish bar. Will they succeed? Will Sam Hell get to sleep with every woman in the movie? And just who is under Count Sodom’s mask?

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One name, as it came onto the screen at the beginning, filled me with dread. That name- writer/director/producer Donald G Jackson. Jackson has one half-decent credit to his name (the pro wrestling documentary “I Like To Hurt People”) but after that seemed to develop an odd obsession with roller-blading. Along with Scott Shaw, Jackson made “Roller Blade”, “The Roller Blade Seven,” Return of the Roller Blade Seven”, and “Legend Of The Roller Blade Seven” (plus a few other movies with “roller” in the title that look suspicious); this is on top of a couple of in-name-only sequels to this movie, with Shaw taking over the Piper role. They began calling themselves “zen filmmakers”, but unless “zen” now means “absolutely rubbish” I can’t see where that claim comes from. “The Roller Blade Seven” is in the running for worst movie of all time, with its endlessly repeated scenes, bog-standard acting and crappy meaningless plot – actually, saying “worst of all time” indicates it’s worth watching in some sort of perverse way. It’s not, so don’t blame me if you pop it on one evening expecting a few laughs. It will suck laughs from the rest of your life.

While “Hell Comes To Frogtown” isn’t quite as bad as any of the “Roller Blade Seven” movies, it’s still pretty bad. Piper is naturally great, of course, even if he’s given a lot of poor quality wacky slapstick-y comedy bits to do; but everyone else is just terrible, and I’m going to lay most of the blame on  the director. He loves shooting those empty desolate desert-scapes, but after a while it all starts to look the same, and you notice it’s just flat shots of stuff you can see if you drive an hour out of Los Angeles, with nothing interesting to add at all.

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By far the worst crime though, in a movie full of them, is sexism. A movie, written produced and directed by a man, about a world now dominated by women – first thing we see is the new Army vehicles are bright pink. Because they’re girls!!! HAHAHAHAHA!! Near the beginning, they capture a desert-dwelling woman, and realising she’s fertile and of age, drug her and get Sam to impregnate her. I guess it’s not rape because she’s super-happy the next morning? Every woman in the movie is awful and useless and is just waiting for the big strong guy to come and rescue them and it really begins to grate after a while. The last line, supposedly there to generate a laugh, is when Spangle (who’s now Sam’s girlfriend, I guess?) tells him his next job is to have sex with all the women they rescued. He looks dejected and says “a soldier’s work is never done”. Now, the saying is “a woman’s work is never done”, so do you think the director knew this and was making a “joke” or had he just heard it once, sort of remembered it and decided to bung it in the end of his garbage movie?

There’s a moderate-to-large plot hole that derails the movie the instant you think about it. Sam Hell is extremely valuable, right? So what’s the best way of utilising his ability – is it:

a. Send him off into the dangerous wilderness to impregnate women, on the off chance he finds them and that they’re at the most fertile time of the month

or

b. Keep him safe and send the women to him, testing them to make sure it’s the optimal time to procreate?

Of course, B is the most sensible choice, yet the movie chooses A (and also pretends that artificial insemination wouldn’t exist in a world where every remaining scientist would be working on fertility technology). Ah, dammit, I’ve given this garbage movie too much thought.

You don’t need to believe in female equality to hate “Hell Comes To Frogtown” though, you just need eyes, ears preferably, and to have seen other movies. It’s just terrible, boring, not funny, not dramatic, slow and stupid. A half-funny title desperately in search of a movie to attach itself to.

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Rating: thumbs down