Archive for the 'Jess Part 2 Review' Category


Taking a trip with HBO’s The Hitchhiker

a Jess Part 2 Review
Ah, the heydays of HBO: the epitome of trash in a time when American popular culture was brimming with it. I remember HBO being perms, tight pants and boobs under the glossy neon lights of ‘80s nightlife. Despite it being off limits for a kid like me back in the 80s, rediscovering it now and seeing how terribly it has aged is probably much more fun. The Hitchhiker was a thriller/chiller series of morality tales and karmic vengeance, not unlike Tales from the Crypt or The Outer Limits, but the Hitchhiker preceded these two far more successful programs by a few years. Debuting 1984, the show featured multiple directors, and a different star actor or actress featured in the lead role; all set to a hip, synth-pop soundtrack. The narrator of each episode was an unnamed hitchhiker with a thick, luxurious mullet and pants so tight it’s no wonder he always walked in slow motion. The hitchhiker introduced and closed each story with some generic warning about the dangers of the flesh, etcetera, just with no groan inducing puns like the crypt keeper.

The DVD contains two discs with five select episodes on each. The episodes are not in sequential order, and are by different directors. The episodes are so different in feel from one to the other, the incongruity is noticeable. One thing they all have in common is plenty of sleaze. Naughty characters get their due with plenty of blood, nudity and death to go around. The real reason to pick up this DVD is that each episode stars one or more fan favorites and surprisingly big name talents who may or may not have been slumming it, or just found cutting their teeth on trash cinema. Most enjoyable are Margot Kidder, Willem Dafoe and Gary Busey among many others.

The episodes are all irresistible – Margot Kidder as a greedy nurse at an invalid home, Willem Dafoe as an author who fakes his own death, Brad Dourif as a hermit rock ex-superstar, and Joey Pantoliano as a sexually deviant cult leader. But if I have to choose a couple to highlight for you…

My personal favorite of the episodes is one entitled WGOD. It features Gary Busey as a radio televangelist with dark secret. Busey creates his character so classically; complete with trademark hand gestures and a southern-drawling machismo. His character, Reverend Power is the voice of WGOD and the “Tower of Power,” a Christian radio program. He offers righteous advice to callers dealing with such salacious problems as infidelity and carnal urges. Powers cares for an invalid mother who pines for her deceased younger son, who was much more popular, talented and well liked. Living in there the shadow of his brother makes Powers start to lose his grip…. Or is he truly being guilt-tripped from beyond? Here’s where the writing gets a little incongruous. Powers receives a call from a creepy, strangely effeminate, angry voice that states things like “I’m older than God!” and “All songs are about me,” along with scripture about resurrection while lighting up the dial pad in the shape of a cross. I was excited by what might turn out to be an epic battle between good and evil – an opportunistic televangelist and an angry, thieves-in-the-temple kind of Jesus. Who it really was on the phone was a bit less exciting, sadly. What makes this episode unique is that Busey’s character is not fully painted as a bad guy. He is actually authentically devout from what we see. Yes, he eventually has to face his inner demons but the reveal at the end conjures more pity than terror.

“I want you to take it back to Washington, New York or Buddha-land, just stay off God’s case!” – Gary Busey’s character to an Asian reporter.

The most disturbing of all in this set is the abstract and oddly artistic “Homebodies” featuring Helen Hunt as a beautiful, rich young debutante whose inner pain and loneliness are numbed by her late-night heroin use. A washed up, coked up, D-list celebrity hosts a reality show about “the nightlife” and searches for the most extreme, taboo breaking behaviors in the way people party. He isn’t having any luck as the people at the club identify him immediately as a phoney. Things turn around in the men’s restroom when a primping, snorting, giggling male friend of Helen Hunt’s character finds him and invites him to document “the princess” and her evening. From there he is led by Hunt and her posse of thrill-seekers to a back alley where a man lay dying. One of Helen’s posse of worshippers shot him so that Helen could expand her collection of quotes before death. The episode spirals downhill into a frantic evening of obtaining drugs and doing them; watching The Princess degrade to a tearful heroin junkie amongst her pink, plush teenager’s bedroom. Getting more and more inebriated, it isn’t long before the fearless reporter is left too stoned to defend himself against becoming a contributor to Helen’s sick collection. This episode is disturbing, and it took me a few more attempts to have felt like “I get it.” It’s actually pretty powerful.
If you enjoy seeing hidden gems of the work of your favorite actors and actresses that star in these episodes, you definitely should buy this DVD. Volume 2 and 3 also are available, as well as the complete seasons on both VHS and DVD, though rare. If you are lucky like I was, you may be able to find them for $3.50 in the DVD bin at TJ Maxx, but if not, keep looking. And for god’s sake, if you see a hitchhiker with nut cameltoe, do pick him up – he won’t get much farther without a truckload of baby powder down there.

*Author’s note: features a number of episodes of The Hitchhiker available for free, albeit with commercials.


Spontaneous Combustion

“Stop, Drop & Roll”

a review by Jessica Dawn Summers

S. CombustionThere were many movies that Tobe Hooper directed that never received the fame and recognition of his early classics, such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist.  This gem, however, may just deserve some of that acclaim, even if only for the originality of the material. How many movies have you seen in your life about Spontaneous Human Combustion? This is the only one I have ever seen, that’s for sure. That fact completely aside, I genuinely found myself loving this movie.

Starring the amazingly talented Academy Award Nominee Brad Dourif, you might ask yourself, “How is this film Trash Cinema material?” The answer lies within the special effects, prop hands and arms, and bizarre qualities of the pyrotechnics in this movie. I will do my best to describe them, but you must see them to truly appreciate them. Not only will you enjoy the multi-faceted plot, unique storyline, and quality acting, but the icing on the cake is what happens anytime someone starts to burn.

It’s 1950’s America, and fear of the atomic bomb weighs heavy on the hearts of Americans, from scientists to housewives. Young newlyweds Brian and Peggy agree to participate in “Project Samson.” They are to test an experimental vaccine on themselves, in exchange for a fat check to help them as they start their life together.  This vaccine was to make them immune to radiation, and to test such a drug, the two were placed in spitting distance of a nuclear explosion. They survive, and to all tests it appears that the vaccine did in fact protect them! The real treat of this back story is the old fashioned patriotic news reel announcing “America’s First Nuclear Family,” narrated by that rich, masculine voice all the old reels seemed to have.

While in quarantine after the event, Brian and Peggy occupy their time by making a baby. Baby David is a healthy, happy baby boy born on the 10th anniversary of Hiroshima. It appears the couple’s dreams are coming true, until shortly after the delivery, Peggy and Brian burst into flames and die a horrible death; holding each other’s rubbery-looking bodies and screaming until they are nothing but black char.

The couple had been followed closely by a shadowy group of military higher-ups and nuclear research executives who sit at long tables under spotlights and smoke a lot. These guys were originally plotting to abort the baby for fear of what it might become. Now, with the death of the couple, they are left trying to decipher what happened and what might be in store for the baby.

In a bizarre and surreal scene, a creepy guy with an eye patch who apparently works for the shadowy group, rules it “SHC,” or Spontaneous Human Combustion. As if to illustrate his point, he takes a stick, works it into the blackened remains of Brian’s head and pulls out a tiny, shrunken skull. I guess what makes the scene so startling is how absolutely foam-like Brian’s head is. It’s much too light, and eye-patch guy struggles to keep it from falling off whatever it’s propped up on. And does human bone really contain so much moisture that high heat would shrink a skull to the size of a fist? Beats me.

Thirty some years later, David’s new name is Sam and he’s a high school teacher and going through a nasty divorce. On the eve of a new local nuclear power facility coming online, a string of deaths befalls Sam’s associates; each one fire related, after some sort of conflict with Sam.  It’s about this time that Sam’s mysterious fire power reveals itself through burnt fingertips and exploding, flame-spitting holes in limbs which not only resist but are exacerbated by water and fire retardants.

One of my favorite burning scenes is where Sam’s girlfriend Lisa is driving him to the emergency room after a bad “flare-up.” She’s speeding to the hospital in a panic, and Sam starts a terribly timed heart-to-heart speech about his love for her. Lisa then responds in a similarly badly timed fashion to explain how she had been set up all along to watch his progress by the same shadowy group responsible for his pain. He gets emotional, which gets his fire-power going, and his arm explodes into flames again. Lisa screams weakly, keeps her eyes on the road, and only swerves a little – an admirable feat when her passenger is cooking alive and screaming his lungs out. I think that if I were in that situation, I would have at least pulled over, if not flipped the car. I definitely would nominate Lisa for some sort of leadership role should the zombie apocalypse ever happens. This girl can stay focused! Or she’s just a terrible actress. Six one way, half a dozen another.

In the final segment, Dr. Marsh attacks Lisa with a mysterious injection that causes her arm to erupt into flames. Sam’s evil ex-wife shows up and douses Lisa with a fire extinguisher:

Lisa: “Stop! You’re making it worse!”
Ex-wife: “I know.”

In the epic finale, a crispy-looking Sam shows up to fight off the ex-wife and save Lisa. Lisa resists his efforts and flails about, screaming incessantly. Sam sort of melts into a person-puddle, and as Lisa screams, a huge ephemeral hand reaches out of the puddle and pats Lisa’s chest. Lisa’s fire is extinguished, and at this moment, the dubbed screaming continues on for a few seconds, while Lisa’s mouth is closed, then stops abruptly.

This movie really has a lot of things going for it. Brad Dourif sweats buckets throughout this movie, starting at about the 20 minute mark. I suppose it’s appropriate since he’s burning to death. His sweaty, greasy, heavy-breathing, bug-eyed depiction of the character is really, really fun. The burning scenes are absolutely spectacularly bad. Rubbery looking arms are suddenly way too long as they flame up and are held in front of the victim’s face as the person looks down and screams. If I had a poster of this camera angle, I would frame it. The fire strangely does not seem to spread normally, and if you look close, it appears somewhat “on top” of the picture. Clothing somehow doesn’t burn either.

Underlying it all is cautionary tale of the dangers of trying to harness the power of the atom; and the age-old battle of science verses nature. Ultimately, this is a very good story accompanied with terrible effects, but held together tightly by a fantastic performance by Brad Dourif.


Jess Part 2 reviews The Surgeon aka: Exquisite Tenderness (1995)

More Sponges*….STAT!!

The Surgeon (1995)

What kind of a name is “Exquisite Tenderness” for a horror flick anyway? Well, as with any B movie worth its salt, this film has two titles. The copy I picked up was entitled “The Surgeon*” but there was no denying which was the original title when the pivotal scene where the term was defined appeared around our mid-way point. But I am getting ahead of myself here; Let’s take a look at the story line(s).

Early in this movie, we are blessed with the talents of Malcolm McDowell, as Dr. Stein, our ambitious research physician whose mysteriously generic “abdominal implant” (the details or even the purpose of which are never fully revealed) performs his risky, not yet FDA approved method on needy patients and baboons. Baboons who go psychotic and violently hemorrhage after said procedure.

The sexy but equally bitchy heroine Dr. McCann is on his case pretty quickly and rats him out to the hospital director, in between caring for her beloved patients who can’t stop doting on their favorite doc.

Great premise for a movie! Too bad this doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of the movie. Hey, at least they squeezed in the big name actor – I bought it, hook line and sinker.

Enter creepy shifty-eyed man in doctor’s scrubs who kills one of Dr. Stein’s patients, leaving a lollipop as his MO.

Dr. McCann is blamed for the death, as moving the patient to dialysis often causes spontaneous vein eruption, didn’t you know that? She then calls upon horny hospital newby Dr. Hendricks to help her pin down her suspicions about Stein’s procedure.

While the two of them are sneaking into the morgue to take a look at the body, shifty-eye guy is found next to Dr. Stein’s dead body. They manage to incapacitate the killer, who happens to also be a crazy ex-boyfriend of Dr. McCann’s, Dr. Julian Matar. He eludes the cops and escapes, and the body count begins. Enter the fabulous Peter Boyle as the lead detective on the case. Some of my favorite old white men are in this movie.

McCann and Hendricks grab a bite to eat at “Beluga café,” where, no shit; they have an actual live fucking BELUGA WHALE in the restaurant. While I was entranced with this restaurant’s atmospherics (AND they were playing a whale mating call in the background, throughout the whole dinner), they were being coy with each other and reading through Matar’s medical thesis, looking for clues to the mystery of why this guy was last seen paralyzed via spinal cord injury and living in a nursing home, and is now out and about, killing and leaving lollipops.  You’re gonna love the reason why this guy is up and around and doing what he’s doing….

Wait for it….

He extracts this snot-like juice from the pituitary gland, via the nostril, and injects it into himself with a massive, pre-industrial revolution era hypodermic needle.

Anywho, McCann plays hard-to-get half-heartedly and before you know it, that thesis during the Beluga dinner gets them hot and they go back to her place for the most epic scene in the movie – NUDE UNDERWATER BALLET. Oh my, I love this scene. Any scene with FLOATING UNDERWATER WEINERS is a big fat win in my book.  He tosses her up and catches her in a choreographed, shot in slow-motion moment in the pool. Of course, a pair of highly respected doctors are just too bourgeois to simply “have sex” with one another. How pedestrian!

While they are pirouetting and arabesquing, Matar kills two more of McCann’s patients. The cops ransack the hospital looking for Matar, while he’s shooting up brain juice in his secret hospital lair.

Turns out, Julian is advancing his research with regeneration using this pituitary extract. He’s our Mad Scientist #2. Not sure how Malcom McDowell’s character has to do with it but I figure if I can’t discover that after two viewings, it’s just none of my business.

In the final showdown, Julian captures McCann and gives a long emo monologue about how she wasn’t sympathetic when he lost his job and then later had him put away for three years when he disabled himself in a botched suicide attempt. He tries to begin some torturous procedure on her with a bone saw to the breasts and, at the last minute, the day is saved by Peter Boyle. Or so we think…what else could possibly happen to an insane, mortally wounded doctor who is known for experimenting with regeneration?

This movie has LOTS of needles, with copious amounts of injecting and extracting via hypodermic. If that bugs you, this movie will have you crawling. At one point, he actually uses that huge needle to “inject” a sedative into a tomato on McCann’s plate in the hospital cafeteria. Also, if old medical equipment gives you the heebee jeebies, there are some prime examples of some of the most “fun” kinds. If there is a medical horror subgenre, this peg fits right into that hole. I give it a 6/10 on the horror shortbus scale.

*At no less than three times during the film, nurses somewhere in the periphery yelled for more sponges. I guess someone desperately needed bathing.


Dumpster Diving