Witchcraft IX: Bitter Flesh (1997)

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This will be, mercifully, the last Michael Paul Girard movie we ever have to cover here at the ISCFC. His career consists of one movie I caught at the right time in my life and absolutely loved (“Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars”) and then a steady stream of garbage which only stopped when he “retired” from the movie business. We’ve covered an astonishing five Girard movies! I’ve never seen a single Ozu, and only three of Tarkovsky’s, yet I’ve seen five of Girard’s.

 

He’s in the conversation for the title of worst director of all time. Non-coincidentally, another of the directors of the “Witchcraft” series is also up (down?) there, David Palmieri – he directed “Captain Battle” and “Snake Club: Revenge of the Snake Woman” before going on to helm Witchcrafts 14, 15 and 16 (currently in post-production, fingers crossed we can get some review copies when they’re ready for release).

 

But enough of all that! Now, you might expect a movie in the same series, directed by the same man (Girard also directed part 7, remember, and part 8 was a buy-in with nothing to do with the franchise) to have something to do with its immediate predecessor. You would, of course, be completely wrong. Following tradition, several of the main characters (Keli, and the two cops Lutz and Garner) are played by new people; and – I appreciate how tough this must be to believe – they’ve managed to find even worse actors for all of them. I honestly thought Will was a new actor too, but according to IMDB it’s the same guy; although at least he looks like a warlock and not so much a cheap lawyer these days.  It feels like a significant step downwards, and it’s not like there’s a lot of down to go after the rest of this series.

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The plot is…just a bunch of people wandering about for 90 minutes or so, and occasionally having sex. Even though we (and the cops) saw Will die in some weird double-staking incident with the vampire at the end of part 7, he dies somewhere different at the beginning of this one (it may be an art gallery, but the incredible cheapness of it all makes it hard to tell). In an effect that your home movies would be embarrassed about, his ghost gets up, his dead body disappears and Will is reduced to wandering the streets, unable to be seen or heard. Lutz and Garner appear occasionally, Keli appears occasionally, but the main thrust of things is a half-hearted ripoff of “Ghost”. Will, aimlessly following prostitute Sheila (Landon Hall, who was also in Girard’s “Different Strokes”), discovers that she can hear him, and in one of the worst written conversations I can ever remember, they sort of get to know each other. He asks for help getting word of his death to Keli, and she agrees.

 

There’s a truly despicable pimp involved, too, who seems to be the only person who understands how dumb this entire thing is and overacts wildly, like a drug-addled Christopher Walken impersonator (Julius Antonio, sadly his only credit). Sheila’s apartment is absolutely enormous, which reminds me of “No Retreat, No Surrender 4”, where the prostitute’s apartment was so luxurious it almost felt like an advert for that particular line of work. Anyway, Sheila tries to help, the cops are a bit suspicious, but someone else has already borrowed Will’s body and is hanging out with Keli, pretending (badly) to be the real guy. Oh, when Sheila walks into Will’s building, his ghost is magically left out; and it turns out, in what seems to be a humongous coincidence, that there’s some black magic den downstairs from their apartment. And, in a coincidence so unlikely it makes me angry, the pimp is the Satanist who’s running the little evil den. I mean, come on! Although, when reading his incantations he sounds like a wrestling announcer, which is awesome but not awesome enough to get over that.

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They even missed the perfect opportunity to double-down on the “Ghost” comparison at the end – as Will possesses Sheila to get back inside his own apartment, “he” rescues Keli – but the two women don’t have sex. I can’t have been the only person who thought this was going to happen? Actually, this makes me sound like a pervert – I’m sorry, readers, I just guessed with the pedigree of the director and actors, we’d get something like that to use in publicity. Instead, what actually happens is Will gets his (previously dead, now fine) body back, and Sheila just disappears from the movie.

 

The sole bright spark in this garbage-storm is Landon Hall, who puts some humanity into Sheila. She’s far from great, but she’s also far far better than anyone else. Stephanie Beaton, who’d go on to play Lutz in parts 10 and 11, is awful, looking and dressing more like a stripper than a cop; Mikul Robbins (who’s still working today) as Garner looks like he’d rather be anywhere else; Leah Kourtne Ballantine as Keli is…I’m running out of different ways to say “they suck”. Aside from Hall, they all suck, and on occasion are so abysmal that I feel bad for whoever told them to give acting a try. The cops all look like strippograms, as their outfits are cheap-looking, the wrong shape and look like they were bought from a fancy dress shop and not actual props.

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The twists, such as they are, are so far out of left field that they provide no interest, and the abiding memory of the movie is boredom. The sex scenes are awful, there’s a lot of walking down dirty alleyways, a lot of talking, but precious little movie. The music, also provided by Girard, is miserable and sounds like rejected “demo” songs for cheap keyboards. This might just be the worst one yet, because it’s not funny-bad, it’s just…nothing. But we’re through the Girard years now, and I hope part 10 is a new fresh beginning for the franchise. Of course it won’t be!

 

Rating: thumbs down

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Witchcraft VII: Judgement Hour (1995)

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As it would be almost literally impossible to be less interesting than “Witchcraft 6”, part 7 is an uptick for the franchise. New things happen, new characters are introduced, and there’s quite big news for the “Witchcraft” universe at the end. Also, and I think this is sort of important, this is the first movie with absolutely no witchcraft in it at all. No spells, no powers, no Satanic sacrifice, no nothing.

 

It’s also another movie by ISCFC hero-turned-villain Michael Paul Girard. From “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars”, to “Getting Lucky”, to writing part 4 of this series, he had a career filled with…one good movie and a huge stream of garbage. He directed this and part 9 (Witchcraft 8 being a different movie that the producers bought the rights to and renamed) too, before helming the reprehensible “Different Strokes”, making a few straight-up softcore porn movies and then “retiring” – he now writes awful-sounding novels and hopefully never goes near a movie set.

 

What he has done, though, is inadvertently allow you, via the medium of the fast-forward button, to create a “non-director’s cut” of this movie. Every time a couple moves in for some sexy fun times and the music starts – you know the sort of music I’m talking about, all saxophone led and slow and sensuous – hit that FF button and be your own editor. Once you’ve seen one mid-90s softcore scene, you’ve seen em all, so unless your enthusiasm for boobs is way way off the charts, you can turn a flabby unerotic 90 minutes into a moderately tolerable 60. By the 24 minute mark, I’d already counted 4 sex scenes, for example, so you need to keep that remote close at hand.

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Part 7 brings back the main people from the previous instalment, but has chosen to replace all the actors playing them. This is fine, as they all sucked, but in one case (the bald sidekick, “Lutz”) the character is now a woman! I admire the sheer laziness of not just giving her a different name. Anyway, Will Spanner, who rumour has it was once a warlock although in seven movies he’s not cast a single spell, is now played by yet another “actor”, David Byrnes. Byrnes is not the busiest thesp of all time, basically never working outside this and part 9, and nor is he the best – he actually looks quite a bit like a sleazy lawyer, but not enough like the lead actor of a movie about witchcraft. April Breneman gets the job of his wife Keli, and she’s got quite the range (more on her later). But…and I don’t know if this is just the terrible quality of the movies I’ve watched recently, but the two cops are actually sort of okay! John Garner is Craggen, and Alisa Christensen is Lutz. Christensen is the only actor with any sort of decent credits (and even she’s much better known as a stunt performer – don’t read about her life after acting if you want to keep a smile on your face), but the two of them try their hardest with the awful wooden dialogue they’re given, so kudos to them.

 

I really don’t want to talk about this movie, as you might have guessed, but here goes. Thanks to being in the hospital on a completely unrelated case, Will discovers a huge conspiracy involving…vampires! Some ponytailed douchebag from Eastern Europe is in town to buy up the insurance company that deals with all America’s blood supplies, for vampiric purposes (really not sure what he wants it for, as it’s not like they’re trying to give up eating people). After a scene where Will and the cops chased the newest vampire through the streets, many questions can be immediately posed. How come she can run through the streets in the middle of the day, basically naked, when the Boss Vampire appears allergic to sunlight like normal? And how on earth did they think the rain effect they used (which looked like a hosepipe held above the camera with a few holes punched in it) would be good enough to pass muster in a real, properly released, expect-people-to-pay-for-it movie? At this point, my wife (enjoying her first “Witchcraft” movie) turned to me with a look of comedic disdain and said “are you enjoying the boobs?” and I replied “I’ve seen a million boobs in movies, but I’ve never seen a special effect as pathetic as that”.

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Will kills this new vampire, but his cop buddies cover for him. Then…and this is perhaps the stupidest scene in the movie…he goes home to Keli, who immediately starts screaming at him because he was out late. Rather than saying “I just killed someone who was probably a vampire”, he answers a lot of questions exactly the same way an adulterer would, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, other than to extend this brain-buggeringly stupid scene for a few more minutes. Luckily, minutes later, she’s entirely put aside her angry suspicion of her husband and has some sex with him. It’d have been cool (if unlikely, given the quality of everything else in this piece of garbage) if her insane mood swings were part of the plot, but it’s just terrible acting, writing and direction.

 

The villain’s plot is foiled pathetically quickly, and despite having been around for hundreds of years and, as we’re shown in a previous scene, being really good with a sword, he gets his ass handed to him by the completely untrained non-supernatural Will. Or does he? And here’s where I guess I ought to warn you about upcoming spoilers, because (go to the next paragraph)…they impale each other on the same bit of wood and both die! Yes, that’s how you treat your heroic lead character – have him do basically nothing for 6.9 movies, then have him killed right at the end. For nothing, as it turns out he didn’t even successfully kill the main baddie either – he sort of escapes and crawls all the way to Keli, who he’d previously turned into a vampire, only for her to finish him off.

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Three examples of why sometimes, if you can’t afford a special effect, you shouldn’t even try. Head Vampire (I should probably have bothered learning his name, but who cares?) turns into a sort of troll / gargoyle thing from time to time, and it’s embarrassingly bad. I’ve seen puppets in second-hand shops that look better than that; and keeping with the villain, when he’s finally sent to his death, he falls into an endless whirlpool of fire, an effect that would have you laughed out of any CGI for dummies school in the land. But I think these two pale in comparison to Will’s hair. Throughout, Will has floppy 90s businessman hair, which is ugly but dependable. Then, while in his office one day, his hair’s slicked back (not tied back, it’s not long enough). He gets a call from the cops, and in the next scene is walking down the street with them, hair floppy again. Oops! Then, they go to the club / hotel / evil den, and it’s slicked back again, and they even try and cover it by having Will smooth his hair into place for a second. Unless you secrete pomade, my man, just reshoot the scene!

 

You may remember I said this was a step up from part 6, then spent a thousand words insulting it. Well…a D grade is better than a D-, I suppose? It’s just a parade of terrible actors making a stupid, badly written movie, with a director who got lucky once and then spent a decade clinging on to the bottom rung of the dirtiest, sleaziest ladder in Hollywood by the skin of his teeth.

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There is the barest modicum of entertainment to be gotten from this. I promise, readers, when this series is done, we’ll move onto something decent. I’ve heard that “Leprechaun” has a few fun instalments, and I liked the first three “Hellraiser” movies too.

 

Rating: thumbs down

 

Different Strokes: The Story Of Jack And Jill…And Jill (1997)

Thank you at least, British VHS distributors

Thank you at least, British VHS distributors

I appreciate none of you are quite as interested in this stuff as I am, but this represents a coming together of two strands of bad movie history. Representing Donald Farmer, who brought her into the world of ultra-cheap and ultra-poor erotic thrillers with “Compelling Evidence”, is Dana Plato; and directing this movie is Michael Paul Girard, whose previous work we’ve covered with “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars” and “Getting Lucky”.

 

We’ve already talked about Plato’s sad life story in our “Compelling Evidence” review, but this was a couple of years further on, and it seems she was still as decent as she ever was – in other words, a reasonably competent sitcom actress who was completely out of practice. No sign of the problems that were apparently ravaging her at the time. Here, she’s Jill, a fashion mogul of some sort who’s coming to LA to get a series of shots done by Jack (Bentley “grandson of Robert” Mitchum), a famous photographer. He has a girlfriend, also called Jill (softcore star Landon Hall), Plato is a lesbian and zeroes in on Hall, they get involved, erotic shenanigans!

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That’s really all the plot you need. Or are given, for that matter. Where to start? Firstly, Jill’s pursuit of Jill just seems like a male fantasy of what these things are like, and so much of it is so abominably written and acted that it feels slightly sordid to be watching it. The stench of exploitation (of Plato’s fame for the title of the movie, for using a woman whose problems were common knowledge) is very strong. Girard went from a guy who was prepared to live in a van so he could afford to shoot his movies, to the worst sleaziest hack who was prepared to write and direct an erotic thriller starring a walking billboard for the problems with the use of child actors, in the space of a decade.

 

But then, why am I reviewing it? Literally the only reason anyone would find this movie today is because of its car-crash aspect, with a slight exception to someone who for reasons unknown was watching every Girard movie (we stopped at two, before this, because that second one was just beyond terrible). Honestly, that’s part of the reason I put it on too, so if you’re at all interested in the by-products of the sleazier, more dead-eyed side of Hollywood, then nothing I say is going to change your mind.

 

In terms of “sleazy”, I don’t even really mean the subject matter of the movie. Lots of perfectly fine ones have sex in them, and nudity, and lots of actresses who previously worked in sitcoms have done them. While they’re not usually my cup of tea, the erotic thriller is a broad church containing both great and awful work. I mean sleazy in the sense of exploitation – like this would have utterly disappeared forever without the presence of Plato, and the money that it made is more poorly earned. Perhaps I’m being over the top, and I am literally part of the problem, as at least some people reading this would have never heard of this piece of garbage without this review.

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So, to sum up, a thoroughly wretched movie which most definitely doesn’t even work on its own pathetically low level, and one for which I hope someone involved in the production felt some shame about. Ha, what am I talking about? This is the same industry which made “Bruce Lee Fights Back From The Grave”, which not only doesn’t have Bruce Lee in it (him being dead and all) but isn’t even about Bruce Lee! And that’s what I feel about “Different Strokes: Jack And Jill…And Jill”.

 

Rating: thumbs down and buried in the producer’s eyeball

Getting Lucky (1990)

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Or, as my wife memorably christened it, “the movie where they act better on the cover” (see above). After watching and thoroughly enjoying the lowest-of-the-low-budget “Over-Sexed Rugsuckers From Mars”, I decided to check out the next Michael Paul Girard movie, one I could only assume to be some sort of teen sex comedy. In other words, right up my street! What I found, though, was a movie I’m still struggling to describe with human words.

 

Bill is a nerd, sort of. Actually, saying that is crediting this movie with giving him some sort of consistent character. Bill is a human being, probably, and he’s been in love with Krissi, the “beautiful” cheerleader, for years. His friend Tim, who’s in love with new French exchange student Babette, tells him to just go for it, but Krissi is sort of going out with evil jock Tony, who’s solely interested in sex. Now, I feel I ought to pause things briefly, because I can already feel this movie slipping away from me and I’ve only recapped the first five minutes.

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“Rugsuckers” was wonderful because while it was one of the cheapest movies ever made, all the handmade odds and ends added to that “labour of love” feel. The most generous possible reading wouldn’t call this movie a labour of love. From the very first minute, the supposedly upbeat, fun activity on screen (cheerleaders, people ogling cheerleaders, jocks doing jock things) is overlaid with dark, downbeat music, as if we should be looking at these people and tasting the cold ash of death in our mouths, knowing that all activity is futile and all joy is not just fleeting but illusory.

 

Or, you know, the music might just suck. I’m not a professional. But the weird nightmare of seeing the cheerleaders dance can’t possibly be meant to be titillating? So anyway, Bill, as poorly written and unbearable a lead character as the movies have given us in a long time, becomes a towel boy in order to earn money for college. The jocks are not just mean to him but almost psychotically violent, assaulting him and forcing him to clean up a flask of rotten old soup. You’ll get used to this feeling, but the buildup for what is a terrible gag (a rutting couple covered in puke-water) is really long. At least, I’m guessing it’s buildup, it’s hard to tell. When it’s a bunch of athletic men who look about 30 years old beating up a teenager, I struggle to make sense of any of it.

 

I’ve got to put my game-face on! This movie needs reviewing! As Tony keeps trying to get in Krissi’s knickers, Bill ditches his job and goes back to picking up and getting money for depositing recycling. One beer bottle…contains a leprechaun called Lepkey! Lepkey is a bit rubbish but basically helpful, giving Bill three wishes, although in the end it turns out to be six or seven, depending on how you view the horse thing. The most “famous” scene in this movie is when he completely cocks up a “make this wrench very slightly smaller” request, making Bill an inch high. Bill then…seriously can’t believe I’m writing this…climbs into Krissi’s underwear, hangs on to her giant-looking pubic hair and gives her an orgasm. This scene achieves that all-too-rare trifecta of being unfunny, looking awful and going on forever – you will be screaming at the screen to just make him normal size again and get on with it, long before it’s through.

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Bill wins over Krissi by just being a decent guy, and Tony gets a tennis racket rammed up his arse by the leprechaun. So ,he decides to rape Krissi, gets arrested and throws Bill under the bus by claiming he’s a drug dealer…and on the say-so of someone trying to get out of a rape charge, the police put 24/7 surveillance on Bill for six weeks. You know, like the police do.

 

Perhaps because they spent so bloody long on that “honey, I shrunk the nerd” scene, the bit where Bill and Kristi suddenly decide to get married, but wait til they’re married to have sex, appears schizophrenically fast, like all this has been happening in a different movie that we didn’t get to watch. Then we’ve just got more attempted rape, a weird guy riding two horses by standing on top of them both, a guest appearance by the hobo from “Rugsuckers”, and our loving couple ride off into the sunset.

 

Although I’ve used a lot of them, this movie has rendered me at something of a loss for words. It’s so deeply odd, that I genuinely can’t decide if it’s just horribly misjudged or if it’s a work of absurdist genius. I will say that if I knew nothing about the director, I’d have been insulting it from the first sentence, but that first movie has given him a lot of leeway in my eyes – plus, he was apparently living in a van when he made this movie. Is that dedication and spending every penny you have? Or was he just kicked out of everywhere he lived? Of course, the flipside of “great first movie” is “terrible every other movie”, and it appears Girard spent the next decade directing late-night T&A thrillers (including a couple of entries in the “Witchcraft” series, which looks awful enough to be an ISCFC project) and awful family movies, before hanging up his directing hat in 2006.

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But I can’t just dismiss this. Despite a cast full of people we’d never see again (of the six top-billed people, three have this as their only acting credit, and the star only appeared in one other movie) there’s something to be said for normal-looking films which end up being completely wrong-headed. Being able to be bad, but in a new way, is just as important as making something which is good, although admittedly occasionally tough to watch. Would you rather watch (to pick two recent Best Picture Oscar winners) “The Hurt Locker” and “The King’s Speech” every day, or this and “Rugsuckers”? You could spend ages puzzling this movie out – although don’t do that, it would be a bad idea and life’s too short.

 

Plus, we’ve got those for-no-reason weird sex jokes in the credits. Every other name is a fake one (presumably Union people working on the quiet?) – here’s an example:

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I say watch it. The days of the utterly irresponsible teen raunch movie are long behind us, so we ought to celebrate them from time to time, while being glad that they’re not still being made. And we ought to thank Girard for employing a cinematographer who was only 2 feet tall – seriously, the number of shots from below (usually of cheerleaders and their underwear) goes beyond directorial fetish into a whole new area.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Over-Sexed Rugsuckers From Mars (1989)

OverSexedRugsuckersFromMarsThis movie is, like few others, inextricably linked with my youth. I found a VHS of this on a market one day, was entranced by the title (obviously) and watched it over and over with my group of friends, forced it on unsuspecting visitors to my house, and so on. But that was 15 years ago, so how does it hold up?

For a film which apparently cost $1,100, beginning to end, it’s an absolutely amazing achievement, a demented gonzo comedy which seems even stranger today. If you’re at all interested in low-budget filmmaking, and don’t mind a weird hobo performing a sex act on a tiny plasticine alien, you’ll have a great time with this.

But that would be a very short review, so let’s talk “Over-Sexed Rugsuckers From Mars”. First things first – it’s an expanded version of a short film called “Vac-U-Sapien” (which you can see on the DVD), and the budgetary restraints are visible immediately. The credits must have been taken from that earlier version, except the new title is just slapped on, with a different font and a spelling mistake (“rugsucker” singular). But it’s charming rather than lazy – these people had basically no money and if they got it wrong the first time, there was no second time.

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Plasticine aliens with grotesquely large genitalia created the human race millions of years ago, and have decided to pop back and see how their experiment is getting on. Their ship is, of course, an upturned “Simon Says” game with some foil on top, and unfortunately they land next to Vernon, a hobo sleeping next to an old-fashioned hoover, which gives them a skewed view of humanity. One alien pisses in an empty bottle; the other crawls inside the hoover and, because he’s drunk, messes up the programming – it was supposed to clean up humanity, but Dusty the hoover just becomes  violent and horny. But that alien pee! When the hobo drinks it, it gives him a boost to the ol’ libido, and he has sex with the hoover, seemingly consensually. It’s a love story for the ages!

The other half of the story is the extremely unhappy marriage of Tom and Beverly. Now, I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say these people were not acting using their real names, as Tom, who certainly sounds English, is “Billybob Rhoads” (I 100% guarantee you there’s never been an Englishman called Billybob) and Beverly is “Lynne Guini”. Tom spends his time hassled by his wife to buy expensive appliances for their tiny hovel of an apartment, despite them drowning in debt; and his only “relief” is spying on their beautiful neighbour Rena who helpfully shaves her legs in the nude right by the window. They get together later on, so it’s not creepy. I guess.

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The stories intersect when Tom, dispatched to Neiman Marcus (which I’m helpfully informed would be like going to Harrod’s for a hoover), buys a hoover off a street hustler, who steals it from Vernon. Poor old Vernon is caught up by the Department Of Indigence who try to clean him up and turn him into a productive member of society; Dusty the hoover is left outside. Dusty has a mission from his alien overlords to clean the planet up, but in terms of a movie with a $1,100 budget, this means killing Beverly, raping Tom and Rena, and saving Vernon when the police finally realise what’s going on and pursue the two lovers. Part of this police plot is a magnificent gem of a scene, a police line-up with hoovers in it. Well played, sirs!

Director Michael Paul Girard and his crew squeeze every drop from that budget, though. They filmed without permits on the streets, and made their non-effects work for them – just check out stuff like the obviously hand-made box of “Weeping Wanger” tea in the cupboard, Oh, and the way the only outfits they could get for their cops was the stereotypical 40s detective gear, so they just had their head detective do a Humphrey Bogart impression – although I don’t think Bogie was ever in a relationship with a sheep in any of his movies. Then you’ve got freeze frames trying to pass themselves off as actual footage (this happens more than once), a car chase but instead of cars they use shopping trolleys, and a SWAT van with lovely curtains in the back windows. Oh, and there’s the baby that comes from Dusty’s rape of Rena, a prop for the ages.

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A quick word about the music, which is both almost perfect and ear-shreddingly terrible, often at the same time. Girard did pretty much all of it himself, and when it’s just a weird tuneless accompaniment to the action (to the point of just describing what’s going on on the screen) it’s amazing. But then there’s a band called Ray Zone Day, of which he was the keyboardist / chief songwriter, and they’re a terrible cheesy rock band. But one shouldn’t grumble too much.

Low-budget movies these days seem to be “less”. We get lots of walking through the woods, tedious dialogue scenes which are only there to fill up space, and simple dull plots. But there was a time when insanely inventive movies like this could find their way from some weirdo in LA to worldwide VHS distribution (well, the USA and the UK, at least). Okay, the acting’s ropey as hell, and it wears its tiny budget as a badge of pride, but I can guarantee you you’ll never see another movie like this.

Rating: thumbs up