Gruelgo Comics

Last year I began working on a comic strip called Gruelgo (an anagram for my last name) and I wrote like two dozen of these things. The problem was I could rarely come up with good strips involving the title character, but had a ton of ideas involving his witchy wife, who was only supposed to be a supporting character. Unfortunately, the world already has a comic strip about a witch, so I abandoned the project.

Here are the three strips I saw to completion.


Freaked (1993)

Ricky Coogan

I usually don’t like movies which try this hard to be funny, but the jokes here are less like their lazy ancestors in a Not Another ______ Movie and more like the groaners a dorky dad would tell. It also doesn’t hurt that the people telling these jokes are kind of charming. You’ve got Mr. T playing the bearded lady, Keanu Reeves as the wolfman, and Bobcat Goldthwait as a sock puppet with a human body. Why not?

The creature effects are unbelievable for a film which was, for all intents and purposes, a straight-to-video flick; I’m not even sure I knew it existed until it quietly appeared on Cinemax one night in the mid-90s. Screaming Mad George is probably the king of special effects for movies like this, which is why I’m disappointed his last major credit is 2003’s Beyond Re-Animator. Like I said when I featured Society: his films aren’t always great, but they’re almost always great to look at. Freaked is no exception.

Hammer time freaks

Alex Winter plays Ricky Coogan, a narcissistic movie star who signs on as the spokesman for an evil corporation which deals in toxic fertilizer. He and his best friend fly down to South America (for reasons which are escaping me at the moment) and end up getting detoured by a sideshow attraction operated by Randy Quaid. It turns out Quaid is using the evil corporation’s fertilizer to transform unsuspecting victims into freaks of nature. He turns Coogan into a hideous monster and turns his best friend into one-half of conjoined twins—the other half of which can’t stand his guts.

When Randy Quaid was normal

The movie is gross, in a Garbage Pail Kids kind of way, and the violence is cartoonish enough not to push its PG-13 rating. There are things to dislike about Freaked, but every bit of it is overshadowed by the aforementioned special effects and well-meaning vibe of it all.

The jokes don’t always land, but it’s fast paced and fun. I have no complaints.

The Disaster Artist (2017) [Midnight Movie]

The Disaster Artist was easily my most anticipated movie of the year, if only because I loved the book it was based on. For the uninitiated, Hollywood hopeful Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) begins an unlikely friendship with the mysteriously odd Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and it’s not long before the two of them cohabit an apartment in LA. Sestero finds modest success in the movie industry while Wiseau, who likens himself to James Dean despite his ghoulish appearance, struggles with auditions.

When a Hollywood producer informs him he’ll never be a star, Wiseau decides to make his own movie the only way he knows how: very oddly. He buys his equipment outright, which is pretty much unheard of in Hollywood, and he builds sets despite having access to the real world locations that appear in his script. As in real life, whenever someone questions the way Wiseau does something, he tells them in that untraceable accent of his, “Because this is real Hollywood movie.”

The concept is ripe for comedy and the movie certainly delivers, but if there’s anything disappointing about The Disaster Artist it’s the brevity of it. The movie is only 105 minutes long and that’s including celebrity interviews at the beginning of the film and scene-by-scene comparisons at the end. That stuff is fun to watch, but it feels more like extra features than something to put in your final cut. (I heard Franco and company remade more than forty minutes of Wiseau’s movie, so hopefully we can expect to see it on the Blu-Ray.)

There were a lot of details left out, too. Its absence is understandable, but I would have loved to see Franco’s take on the fake commercial Wiseau shot in order to get himself into SAG. And although the book wasn’t full of drama, I think the movie could have used more of it. They kind of breeze over the more worrisome aspects of Wiseau’s indecipherable psyche, which somehow made me less sympathetic to the fictionalized version than the real one. My only other complaint is the cameos are kind of pointless; you’ll say, “Hey, it’s Sharon Stone!” but, like the breast cancer subplot in Wiseau’s film, you’ll wonder where the payoff went.

I’m not sure I’d trust the Oscar buzz because it’s a straight comedy and James Franco’s performance, which is a great impersonation with a surprising amount of range, isn’t exactly what the Academy is typically looking for. I say fuck ’em. It’s a great time at the movies, just don’t expect this generation’s Ed Wood.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) [31 Days of Gore]

Here’s the Spinal Tap of slasher movies. Filmed mockumentary style, Behind the Mask takes place in the same universe as Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers. Leslie Vernon is a deranged killer who wishes to join their iconic ranks, so he invites a documentary crew to follow his pre-spree preparation rituals.

It isn’t easy being a slasher. In one scene Leslie details the excruciating process of finding the right group of victims. In order for it to work flawlessly, he’s gotta have the perfect mix of jocks, stoners, and hormone-addled teens surrounding the virginal heroine who may or may not make it to the very end. In another scene he shows the fictional filmmakers how he sabotages the makeshift weapons and escape routes his victims might use to thwart him.

For something which looks so cheap, the movie’s surprisingly well made. (I loved the idea of digital cameras democratizing the filmmaking process in the late 90s and early 2000s, but rarely the results.) The unknown leads are talented, sometimes outshining the recognizable faces which include Robert Englund, Zelda Rubinstein, and The Walking Dead’s Scott Wilson. I’m not the biggest fan of movies which poke fun at the tropes of horror, but Behind the Mask isn’t making fun of them so much as it’s pointing out how unlikely they are.

So it’s a head-scratcher that the movie eventually descends into the very thing it’s lampooning. There’s a major reveal you’ll see coming from several minutes away and although the movie thinks its uncharacteristically serious climax is subverting the cliches of previous horror films, it still very much feels like a run-of-the-mill finale. Since it’s so creative for the first hour or so, the last ten minutes or so are kind of disappointing.

I still recommend the hell out of this movie. It’s a great ride up until it forgets it’s a comedy.

Baby Driver (2017) [Midnight Movie]

You know what Baby Driver reminds me of? A musical version of Layer Cake, which was one of the finest crime movies of the twenty-first century. No, it’s not a musical, it’s just musical, man. Anyone who saw Edgar Wright’s previous movies know what I’m talking about. His stuff doesn’t move like your run-of-the-mill genre movie. Music plays a big part, sure, but you don’t always have to hear it to feel it… a point the movie makes quite literally.

The kid’s name is Baby. He’s the getaway driver for Kevin Spacey who plays a business savvy crook. Spacey never uses the same crew twice in a row, but ever since he met Baby he uses him on each and every heist he organizes. Speaking of heists: you never really see them. The movie’s not about the heists. It’s all about the driver and the orbital role he plays in Spacey’s underworld.

Baby wants out because he never really wanted in. It turns out he owes Spacey a lot of money due to an unfortunate coincidence. The details don’t matter. What matters is Baby’s in love and when things fall apart, as they inevitably do in crime movies, his ruthless associates set their sights on his girlfriend.

The first scene of Baby Driver contains more wit and creativity than most summer movies can muster in two hours. As soon as it’s over, Wright treats us to a stunningly choreographed credits sequence, which tracks Baby as he goes out to order coffee. He’s not quite dancing, but he’s not merely walking, either. He’s a character, I think, who’s modeled after Han Solo and Gene Kelly. How do I explain it? Just see it.

As he’s waiting for his coffee, she walks by the window. And my god, that moment… it’s movie magic, plain and simple. Everything else doesn’t matter. That tiny moment is what matters and the movie is so effortless at making it clear. Baby and his waitress girlfriend were destined for each other. Their scenes together are so good they hurt.

You know what irritates me? Hearing moviegoers say they’re sick of seeing car chases and romance on the screen. But aren’t those just about the two most cinematic things you can get at the theater? It’s like saying you’re sick of seeing tragedies on the stage. If these people really mean to say they’re sick of seeing routine car chases and lazy romances, then I wholeheartedly agree. Baby Driver proves it’s not the subject matter that’s the problem, it’s the bloated studios’ inability to get this stuff right.

I adore crime movies. Seeing a good one can pump me up like no other genre. Unfortunately, the audience I saw this movie with had no pulse. Go see the weekend showing, with a large group of friends, at one of those theaters that serves beer. This is electric stuff, maybe even Wright’s best. I walked out of the movie over two hours ago and I’m still on cloud nine.

The Lobster (2016) [Midnight Movie]

In the opening scene a distressed woman parks her car on the side of a road, in the middle of a rainstorm, and shoots a cow repeatedly. I can’t not like a movie that starts out like this.

The Lobster is a lite science fiction tale in so far it’s set in a world in which unwed adults are forced, by law, to find mates. If they fail to take lovers, they’re sent to a machine which transforms them into an animal. The good news is the losers get turned into the animal of their choice. The main character, played by Colin Farrell, wants to become a lobster should he fail his probation period as a single adult.

Why a lobster? Farrell’s character doesn’t have a great reason (most of the characters don’t), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it meant something deeper… or nothing at all. Either way, it’s pretty damn funny. The Lobster is a strange movie, not in a look-how-quirky-and-offbeat-I-am! sense, but genuinely strange. It seems to find being strange as natural as breathing. Then again, maybe it’s not as strange as the social norms it satirizes.

So in case you’re not clear on the setup, let’s go over it in detail: if you’re single you get sent to a hotel in which you’ve got forty-five days to find a match before you’re sent to the animal transformation room. The management arrange a variety of activities for the, uh, contestants, so to say, encouraging everything from phony meet-cutes to premature marriages. Each morning the men are tortured by sexual stimulation, but anybody caught relieving the tension without a partner are punished severely. The hotel manager (Olivia Colman) seems to have a contingency for any kind of dating crisis: at one point she tells a newlywed couple, “If you encounter any problems you cannot resolve yourselves, you will be assigned children. That usually helps.”

The guests talk like they’re auditioning for Love Connection. The management sound like those insufferably happy folks who’re constantly trying to set up their single friends. I’m not sure how these actors pull it all off with a straight face, but the blooper reel is probably longer than the movie.

Another activity the hotel encourages is hunting. Rather than hunt the animals roaming the wilderness around the hotel (because they used to be humans), the guests are forced to hunt runaway single people with tranquilizer darts. The guests who bag the most are rewarded.

I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but Rachel Weisz and Léa Seydoux are in this, only they don’t come into the movie until it becomes an entirely different movie altogether. (It’s the kind of movie which blows up spectacularly early on, rather than meting out its fun until the very end… thankfully, it’s got enough fun to spare.) John C. Reilly is right there from the start, playing the kind of dopey character he plays so well. (Can we all just stop and marvel at how he gets in so many different types of movies, even though he often only plays a certain character?)

I’ve grown to like Colin Farrell in movies like In Bruges and the better than expected (but not great) Fright Night remake. You’ve got to have massive talent to claw your way up from the likes of 2003’s Daredevil, in which his role was nothing short of embarrassing. The Lobster makes me like him even more. It’s my favorite dark comedy in years, but heed this warning: things can get very dark at times.

Murder Party (2007) [Midnight Movie]

So it’s Halloween and the main character, Christopher, is a lonely dork who accidentally intercepts an invitation to a murder party. Yes, that’s exactly how the party’s billed and—surprise!—it’s literally a party in which the guest of honor is going to be murdered. (One of the party organizers: “The invitation says murder party. If some asshole is dumb enough to come here, then he deserves to die.”)

 Christopher does what anyone would do upon receiving such an invitation: he crafts a knight costume out of cardboard and duct tape, bakes a loaf of pumpkin bread, and heads out to a scary part of town to find the address. Maybe someone smarter than Christopher would have at least mentioned to someone where he was going for the night, but that’s the thing: Christopher doesn’t have anybody to tell. His only friend is a cat who likes to hog the only chair in his apartment.

Christopher’s captors, as it turns out, are a collective of insufferable artist types who are vying to wow a twisted benefactor with their execution plans. Christopher himself spends most of the movie tied to an office chair. When he finally breaks free, his escape attempt is so pathetic, the others simply shrug and put him right back into his bindings.

No, this is not a scary horror film, but it’s a pretty funny one.


It’s unusual for me to work my through a director’s filmography backwards, but I’m glad I found my way to this one, which is Jeremy Saulnier’s first feature length film. Although I didn’t like it nearly as much as the director’s next two films, it’s an admirable first movie. (To be fair, I don’t like 90% of movies in general as much as I like Blue Ruin and Green Room, the latter of which is probably my favorite movie of the last five years or so.) You can tell Saulnier and friends adopted a “No money? No problem” attitude to make it, somehow without skimping on the impressive camera work.

I feel like I need to stress the following point: Murder Party is cheap… really cheap. If you’re the kind of person who’s turned off by cheap movies, give it a pass. If, on the other hand, you tend to enjoy the charm of ultra-low budget affairs like Video Violence and Blood Cult… well, you should probably know it’s not that cheap. Fortunately, the acting is a whole lot better, though a little uneven at times. Other than a couple of slow sections, which could stand some tighter editing, it’s a fun movie with some great energy.

 * * *

 Friday the 13th: The Game came out today. If you didn’t catch it the first time around, here’s my write-up of every Jason movie ever made.

Repo Man (1984) [Midnight Movie]

“Ordinary fuckin’ people… I hate ’em.” — Bud

Otto (Emilio Estevez) is “just a white suburban punk” (his own words) who loses his shitty job stocking groceries in a shitty store. After finding his girlfriend in bed with another punk, he takes to wandering the streets of Los Angeles, looking for trouble as he chugs his beer.

Beer, like most of the consumables in Repo Man, is labeled generically. People who live in this version of LA, which is portrayed no more seriously than Grand Theft Auto’s highly satirical Los Santos, are too busy being hypnotized by their television sets to worry about the freedom to choose; there’s no need for brand names because it’s all the same shit anyway. You just get Beer.

A stranger named Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) spots Otto on the sidewalk and offers him a job as a repo man. Bud’s eager to share his trade secrets: a repo man shall not cause harm to any vehicle, a repo man thrives on tense situations, and a repo man does speed. Whenever they’re not repossessing cars and getting shot at, they’re starting fist fights and car chases through the Los Angeles River.

Why? Because why not.

Meanwhile, a suspiciously odd driver is making his way through town in a Chevy Malibu. We don’t know much about him, but we do know whoever looks in his trunk gets vaporized by something extra-terrestrial in nature. (It’s worth noting that Weekly World News is the newspaper of choice in Repo Man.) One day there’s a $20,000 bounty put on the Malibu, pitting Otto’s friends and rivals against one another. Otto’s friends and rivals, by the way, are pretty indistinguishable.

Amidst the flurry of action-packed scenes are relatively quiet ones in which the supporting characters launch into wordy monologues about life, the universe, and everything… without saying anything significant at all. (It kind of reminds me of David Byrne’s True Stories… so much of this stuff isn’t relevant to the plot, but then again, there really isn’t a plot.) Miller, a grease monkey, makes far-out observations which might sound sensible coming out of the mouth of a new age guru, but if you actually look for meaning you’ll find a whole lot of nothing. Otto, who’s too stupid to look for meaning in the first place, just kind of raises an eyebrow.

Back to Bud: he’s a well-meaning everyman who’s fearful of commies and convinces himself his hard work is going to result in the American dream. (His idea of the American dream is running a repo business of his own.) In other movies, the main character’s protégé might have shone light on the film’s deeper meaning by becoming a thinly disguised parrot for the filmmaker’s beliefs. In this movie he’s just a guy who hates bums… Christians, too. It probably doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t have to mean anything when it’s as witty as this.

So yeah, Repo Man isn’t a typical movie. It’s a movie that feels just as fresh, unpredictable, and effortless as it felt the first time I saw it. Even the most conventional aspect of the movie—the trunk-kept MacGuffin—refuses to adhere to any traditional rules of storytelling. Whenever you hear screenwriting experts go on and on about the importance of structure and carefully measuring the beats of your plot, you’re not wrong to think: “Yes, but you won’t ever make a movie like Repo Man that way.”

Come to think of it, I have no idea how this movie got made. It’s too funny, too alien, and too genuine to have been created by a mere human. I can’t imagine it working on the page and it shouldn’t work as a film, either. Somehow it does. And how it manages to sustain its breakneck pace until the very end, I’ll never know. Impossibly, Repo Man doesn’t get bogged down by cramming too much into it the way Buckaroo Banzai did (a movie I also adore, though not as much as this one); somehow it thrives on becoming bloated with too many characters, too many subplots, and too many words which don’t necessarily mean anything in and of themselves, but speak volumes about the film’s don’t-give-a-fuck attitude.

Honestly, I don’t know why this uneven movie runs like such a finely tuned machine. Yet for anyone raised on Mad Magazine, it’s just about the perfect middle finger to all that is average. Stay in this weekend and watch it instead of going to see Movie.

Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988) [31 Days of Gore]

Full Moon and Charles Band generated a lot of hype to promote Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama coming to Blu-Ray. I don’t blame them. This is a cinematic relic which deserves to be preserved on the very best home video formats. You know, for historic purposes… and because of boobies. 
I hate to fault such an admirable effort at unadulterated sleaze, but it takes damn near forever for the film to get around to introducing its villain: an imp who’s been trapped in a bowling trophy like a genie in a lamp—twenty-eight minutes, in fact. Once the genie’s out, you’ll wish he’d stayed there because the terrible puppet soaks up valuable screen time. Screen time which could have been better spent on naked bodies. Not that I mean to insinuate there’s a disappointing lack thereof.
What there is a disappointing lack of is blood and gore, horror and comedy, and most of all coherence. At least two of the kills involve shoving someone’s head into something (and out of sight of the camera). One of the babes is ripped in two without spilling a single drop of blood. Somewhere along the way, the imp magically transforms another sorority babe into Bride of Frankenstein. 
It all begins when a trio of nerds and a pair of freshmen girls are trapped in a bowling alley as part of a college prank. There they meet a tough-as-nails biker babe who’s ripping off the cash registers and arcade machines. Unfortunately for them, they accidentally release the imp, who offers to grant each of them a wish. As we’ve learned in countless Leprechaun and Wishmaster movies, you should really be careful what you wish for.

The nicest thing I can say about Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama is it has some of the finest T&A the 80s ever produced. Porky’s and Meatballs have nothing on this film, because those films didn’t star Linnea Quigley, Robin Stille, Brinke Stevens, and Michelle Bauer. I’m not being hyperbolic here: these are four of the best scream queens who ever lived. And although the film is reluctant to show any of its violence, I’m reminded of these words from Revenge of the Nerds: “We’ve got bush!” Lots and lots and lots of bush.

I’ve mentioned three Animal House ripoffs because Sorority Babes is in the same category. For reference, director David DeCoteau got his start with Roger Corman and later made what could very well be the hardest softcore porno ever featured on 90s Cinemax: the mostly lost, uncut version of Beach Babes from Beyond. Later in his career he defied convention by making the men the eye candy in his films. As one writer put it, “Although at first glance it’s not clear exactly who these films are aimed at—gay men? teenage girls? desperate housewives?—what is clear is that DeCoteau, who is actually a pretty talented filmmaker, knows exactly what he’s doing.” I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment.
The thing about Sorority Babes is this: it is what it is. I actually prefer it to Porky’s and Meatballs and, hell, I might even like it a little better than Nerds. Then again, I adore 80s scream queens, so maybe I’m not the most objective person to review this.