Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults [VHS]

Senseless moral panics will never go away, but the 80s and early 90s did it best, as proven by the following video. From the uploader’s description: “Come, relax and watch a middle aged man point to giant pentagrams on a bikini girl’s stomach while random, creepy synth riffs play in the background.”

Oh, what a delicious slice of cheese.

The introduction has the sweater-clad host inviting us to “pay attention and notice the reverse of everything that is normal becoming abnormal.” What does that even mean? Vague statements like that sound suspiciously like the kind of nonsense you’d hear an actual cultist say.

It’s not long until the video brings in a fake expert (YouTube commentators refer to him as “Joe Dirt”) who visits a neighborhood park. There he stumbles onto the remnants of a Satanic ritual. Unfortunately for him, it’s clear the only orgy that actually took place in that park was the orgy of evidence manufactured by the unscrupulous filmmakers. “Oh, look! There’s a pentacle right there, mere feet from where we set up our cameras! Let’s go have a look!”

As expected, the video manages to link Satanism to decorative candles, video games, modern music, homosexuality, pornography, and everything else “concerned parents” wanted to condemn at the time. Then there’s the excessively detailed list of signs that indicate your child may be the victim of a Satanic cult. This list is indistinguishable from a list of “signs your kid might be abused, period,” but the filmmakers seem convinced only Satanists are capable of harming children.

I think this is where Jerry Springer got the idea for his background

While the Guide to Satanic Cults is chock-full of hilarious (and potentially dangerous) misinformation, the middle section drags. When Joe Dirt’s segment ends, I’d suggest fast-forwarding to the aforementioned “bikini girl” scene (begins at 1:08:57), which is obviously the host’s excuse to touch a nearly naked model. I don’t know how she didn’t crack up laughing when he removed the fitted sheet from her body and I imagine the editors had to use a pretty advanced noise gate to cover up all his heavy breathing.

John Carpenter’s hypnotic "Night" video

Now that’s what I call high tech, low life.
Even though he’s no longer making movies, John Carpenter’s still kicking ass at the age of 68. I’m just now getting around to Lost Themes II. It’s a little trippy considering my insomnia has kicked into overdrive this week. I feel the need to warn you I’m not entirely certain I’m typing coherent sentences here, but if that’s the case then I suppose you already know.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go Negan myself so I can get some sleep. 

Stephen King’s Cell adaptation coming to VOD on June 10th

According to Bloody Disgusting, Cell will begin a limited theatrical run on Wednesday, June 8th before premiering on VOD services the following Friday. I’m kind of bummed it’s not going to be a bigger deal. Back when Eli Roth was planning to direct it, I had (stupidly) gotten my hopes up for a big budget horror movie for adults, knowing he wouldn’t shy away from the crazy shit. (Early on in the novel, an insane man tries to bite a dog’s ear off, one of the numerous King images that stick.)

Considering the disappointing level of CGI in the trailer, I’m beginning to suspect the producers weren’t planning a major release anyway. At least it’s got a killer cast, right?

I’m just stoked we finally got a trailer and don’t have to wait long for the real deal. After Hulu’s 11.22.63, my favorite anything from 2016, I’m excited to see more Stephen King productions as long as network TV stays far, far away. I know his popularity owes a lot to the TV adaptations of The Stand and IT, but that shit was dank compared to the books.

I loved Cell despite its issues. The premise was a hundred times scarier than the execution and it got mired in the unstructured weirdness King crams into the end of his novels whenever he gets bored writing ’em. But man, what a scary concept.

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Yeah, I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’ve been busy on another project.

Chuck Norris vs. Communism (2015) is streaming on Netflix

With the current popularity of lazy pseudo-documentaries, which seem to have more in common with reality TV and self-help books than Morris and Herzog, it would be easy to dismiss a title as sensational as Chuck Norris vs. Communism. I almost did, but films about films have remained surprisingly unspoiled by whatever miracle-woo-bullshit is trending at any given time these days. Film is one of the purest subjects for a documentary, I guess because film is the one subject filmmakers know a lot about.

Following in the wake of American Grindhouse, Corman’s World, Machete Maidens Unleased!, and the highly watchable Cannon documentary, Chuck Norris vs. Communism represents yet another slice of history dealing with the cultural significance of film. This time the focus is on Irina Nistor, a translator who dubbed three thousand bootleg videotapes in spite of her country’s repressive regime. According to one of the film’s subjects: “For regular people, video nights were the one thing that helped us survive.”

The documentary is chock full of endearing quotes like that. Here’s another bit of insight from one of the people involved: “The films changed what you thought, what you were looking for, what you were interested in. You developed through films.”

Set toward the tail end of the Cold War, Nicolae Ceaușescu is the General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party and shit generally sucks for common folk. Censorship is so extreme, Ceaușescu’s broadcast lackeys are going over every second of television programming with a magnifying glass. They delete anything which might even begin to suggest that life might be better elsewhere. 

Although VCRs can cost as much as a car there, people are buying them and showing western films to their friends and family despite frequent raids by the secret police. After the movies, the children go outside to make believe they’re Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, and Chuck Norris. Meanwhile their parents draw comparisons between the movie’s injustices and their own. 
One interviewee points out that they couldn’t talk about these movies on the bus the next day. There was no telling who’d be listening. No telling who’d turn them in.
The well-shot reenactments, which make effective use of brutalist architecture, are part political thriller and part espionage (think: The Secret Lives of Others). These taut scenes of suspense are sandwiched in between interviews about how films can and did change people for the better. This is one of the leanest documentaries about film I’ve ever seen. If you love films, you’ll probably love this one.

Cinema obviously wasn’t the only force pressing for the revolution, but it was an integral one.

Get incepted by the Doctor Strange trailer

This is the one MCU trailer I’ve been dying to see. Hell, its announcement is probably the biggest reason I began paying serious attention to the rest of the movies. I won’t say the trailer exceeded my expectations, mostly because it sidestepped them entirely, but I’m not disappointed. (I was only hoping for a little more color and maybe a little bit of that Ant-Man and Guardians humor.) Putting aside the obvious similarities with Christopher Nolan films, this looks like a sufficiently fresh take on an origin story. 
I know, I know: us sophisticated adults are supposed to be bitching about the current saturation of comic book films, but you know what? They’ve grown on me. There have been much worse things the box office has been saturated with and, frankly, crossovers are awesome. Besides, it’s not like this trend is going to last forever. Soak it up while it lasts. I have a feeling the next big Hollywood trend will be at least a little less enjoyable.
(Yes, this is all to say I think Doctor Strange is fucking awesome. I can’t wait for the movie.)
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I’m writing a movie review for Chuck Norris vs. Communism. If you know nothing about this movie, it’s probably not what you think. Come back at midnight CT to read it.

Millennium (1989) has some good stuff in it

The kind of science fiction I cut my teeth on was pulpy and sometimes silly. It’s an acquired taste that’s rarely been adapted by Hollywood because, let’s face it, it just looks hokey on the screen. Doctor Who gets away with it because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. A movie like Millennium, which currently has an 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, is not the kind of movie the average, well-adjusted individual is going to like. I liked it a lot when I was a kid, and I have plenty of respect for its writer, but when I recommend the movie I do so with reservations.

Without giving too much away, Millennium is a time travel movie. The year is 1989. A midair collision causes a jumbo jet to plunge rapidly toward the ground. When the flight engineer checks the situation in the back, he discovers the passengers are already dead. Seconds before impact, the black box records the man’s final words: “They’re all burned up!”

The black box is one of several mysteries for the investigators, led by Bill Smith (Kris Kristofferson). Another mystery: all the digital watches which survived the crash are now ticking backwards. I really wanted them to explain why, but the filmmakers never bother. Curiously, they explain a lot more than most SF films of the era, but it’s often at the expense of the story. For example, there is absolutely no reason seasoned time travelers should need ideas like paradoxes and nonlinear timelines explained to them in excruciating detail. You’d think that stuff would be taught on day one. In the filmmakers’ defense, this stuff probably wasn’t old hat in the summer of ’89, but even Bill & Ted handled it better.

The film imagines a future phenomenon called “timequakes.” Unlike Vonnegut’s terrifying interpretation of the term, the timequakes of the Millennium universe occur in the story’s present (which is about a thousand years from now) whenever one of the time travelers accidentally change something in the past. It’s disappointing that the phenomenon has less to do with time and more to do with actual earthquakes, but after the time travelers experience one, they’re relieved to find out, “We haven’t changed much.”

This, like much of the movie, doesn’t make a lick of sense. If their actions in the past changed their present selves, how the hell would they even know? Look, I’m not knocking a time travel movie for having plot holes. I’m knocking it because better time travel movies know how to skate by their inherent problems. Millennium is a lot like a magician who hasn’t mastered the art of misdirection yet.

What I liked about the movie is the way it played with perspective. In Back to the Future 2, Marty McFly goes back to the events we already witnessed in the first movie, but we see them from entirely different viewpoints. In Millennium, and maybe this is due to budget limitations and/or laziness, the movie wraps around to expand on earlier scenes, sometimes using the same shots. Sometimes it’s boring, but other times I found it interesting how nothing more than additional context could change a scene’s tone. Investigator Bill Smith is the focus for the first half of the movie and then… someone else becomes the main character.

Beyond that, any further description of the plot will spoil it. Not that you’ll be very surprised. (There’s a groaner of a coincidence toward the end.)

If you love the liberties Lynch took with his Dune adaptation, you’re going to kind of like this… probably. I don’t know, man. It’s easy to get swept up in its meandering but not entirely unpleasant pace, then it broadsides you with science fictional weirdness that has all the production value of a doomed television pilot. While I like Kristofferson a lot, his every man persona is downplayed more than usual.


Meanwhile the chemistry between Kristofferson and Cheryl Ladd tries too hard to be “future Casablanca” and I’m sure anyone who’s ever worked as an airline pilot or a safety inspector will scream at the screen frequently. My biggest complaint is the movie would have been a lot more interesting had it explored what happens after its final scene.

The climax is full of unintentional laughs, but the film is more or less believable the rest of the time. It’s just one of those movies that’s too odd not to enjoy. For instance, the all-seeing council is a direct descendant of Flash Gordon and Zardoz while the future sets, though unconvincing, almost have a cyberpunk flair about them. Don’t you just love the 80s’ vision of the future?

Here’s what John Varley has to say about the production:

“We had the first meeting on Millennium in 1979. I ended up writing it six times. There were four different directors, and each time a new director came in I went over the whole thing with him and rewrote it. Each new director had his own ideas, and sometimes you’d gain something from that, but each time something’s always lost in the process, so that by the time it went in front of the cameras, a lot of the vision was lost.” (Wikipedia)

The seed for Millennium comes from Varley’s short story Air Raid (available here). He later expanded it into a novel, which I haven’t read, but I’m certain I will one day. The film credits the short story as the basis for its screenplay, rather than the book.

The film version of Millennium isn’t great, but it’s a helluva lot better than its 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. Thankfully, it’s currently on HBO GO.