Posts Tagged ‘infidelity

24
Aug
12

Wicked Stepmother: Low Rent Surrealism

a Primal Root written review

I’ve never seen a movie like it. That’s probably the most accurate critique I can give Larry Cohen’s jaw-droppingly bizarre and nonsensical 1989 supernatural comedy opus, ‘Wicked Stepmother’.  A forgotten oddity of the VHS era,  probably best known for containing Hollywood empress Bette Davis in her final screen performance, ‘Wicked Stepmother’ has got to be some kind of hallucinatory cinematic comedy milestone. Who knows if Cohen & co intended this movie to be such a rapid-fire array of awkward moments, dumbfounding performances and cheesy effects. All I know is that it all comes together as an if not totally enjoyable film, certainly an outlandishly botched witch’s brew movie delight. One thing that may be said with total confidence for ‘Wicked Stepmother’, you will never, EVER see another like it.

This fiasco begins with a police investigation led by TV’s Tom Bosley who you may remember from ‘Happy Days’ (RIP) or if your grandparents were fans of the ‘Father Dowling Mysteries’.  His mission? To locate an evil witch with a penchant for marrying her way into families and using her powers to make them unimaginably wealthy before robbing them blind, shrinking them to the size of plastic army men, and stashing them in shoe boxes under the bed.  It sure seems like a waste of time for a witch of such immense power. There’s just gotta be a more effective way to maintain a steady cash flow.

The witch in question is Miranda Pierpoint, played by the legendary Bette Davis (RIP) putting forth a stiff monotone and (we can only assume) unintentionally  disturbing performance. Miranda has just gotten hitched to an elderly widower, Sam  (played by the late, great character actor Lionel Stander with that unmistakably gravely voice). In one of my favorite sight gags of the movie, we see images of Sam’s first wife on his night stand.  Low and behold, it is Joan Crawford,  Bette Davis’ long time rival.

The new marriage comes as a shock to his adult daughter, hyper-allergenic and moderate psychopath, Jenny (Colleen Camp, who should win some kind of lifetime achievement award for this one, single cringe-inducingly campy performance).  Her husband Steve (David ‘I’ve gotta’ Rasche, desperately try to keep up with Colleen’s camp) though surprised by the sudden change in homestead seems to be taking things well, and attempts to mediate between his wife’s control freakery and his new chimney stack of a mother-in-law.  Their son Mike (Shawn Donahue, who would play his final role the next year in 1990’s immortal classic, ‘The Willies’) is appropriately willful and mainly just refuses to refer to the new addition ‘grandma’.

To Jenny’s fury, Miranda smokes more than the entire cast of Mad Men, combined, in the families’ WASPy digs. She also cooks, eats, and tempts the family with nothing but grilled meats despite Jenny’s insistence in that everyone bow to the nutritional excellence of her broccoli souffle. Although Steve is clearly inclined to give into Miranda’s politically-incorrect ways, Jenny throws her hubby one of her well-practiced psycho glares and puts the guy back in his place. He hunches over the dining room table to choke down his helping of lettuce and oatmeal while thinking about his genitals and how nice a home Jenny’s made for them in her handbag. Miranda also has a cat which unlocks an avalanche of comedic potential as Jenny is…get this…ALLERGIC to cats!  So she spends much of the movie sneezing at inopportune moments and standing around sniffling and delivering her lines with her stuffed up, mongoloid voice. Really. It is a laugh riot. Yeah.

However, my favorite scene in this mayhem shows up early as young Michael is at a beach, unchaperoned, watching some coeds in bikinis bounce & bop around via a game of volleyball.  Earlier, Michael has told Melinda he’d never call her “Grandma”, that she can, basically, burn in hell, then proved himself the deeply cool thug he is by popping the collar on his jean jacket and walking away. Apparently he was strutting his way to the beach where his requests to join in the volleyball game were denied.  However, as luck would have it, the lovely young witch Priscilla (played byTia Carrera’s sister, Barbara! SHWING!) shows up, complete with beflowered sun hat and black veil and winks at Michael, which apparently bestowed upon him with the power to do front flips over the volleyball net. For what purpose? Who knows. It impresses no one in the game and even seems to piss off the more hyper-hormonal boys of the pack. And yet, poor little 12 year old Michael has caught the eye & libido of a twenty something beach bunny. Unfortunately, as often happens at movie beaches,  two buff, blonde dickweeds start kicking sand in Michael’s face while he’s chatting up his new dish.  Again, the young lad is in luck as Priscilla gives him yet another power of Filipino Flip fighting through which Michael hops around cracking bimbo dude skulls.  All of this results in a scene of total prepubescent wish fulfillment, the busty beach bunny takes off her modest shirt to reveal her ample cleavage and offers herself up to the young man with the unmistakable innuendo, “Come here, I’m gonna show you something…” A goofy grin spreads across Michael’s mug as she leads him off to rock the freckles off his face.

The kind of Wicked Stepmother all young boys dream of.

It was around this moment I began to wonder just who was the projected market for this film? It’s a wicked stepmother, fairy tale kiddie charm, sure, but the focus is primarily on adult relationships. In fact, Michael is led off to be statutorily raped, and that’s pretty the last we see of the kid with the exception of him showing up for group shots  lasting mere seconds in the final scene. This thing’s obviously not quite for youngins… but the humor is on a pretty even keel for adolescents despite it meandering between adult issues (i.e. marriage difficulties & geriatric homicide) and it’s unchecked childish hokeyness.  99.9 % of the films run time is spent dealing with figuring out how to murder an elderly woman and a married man fantasizing about/having adulterous sex with Tia Carrere’s sister while a writhing cat tail wags around out of her pooper, growing vines in the yard against an painfully-obvious blue screen under the guise of “decorating for the holidays”, answering trivia questions on game shows, and figuring out a way to write Bette Davis out of the movie since she walked off set about two days into production.  The leave was publicly attributed to her disgust with the script, though it was later stated that the true cause was her deteriorating health.

How do they write her out, you ask? Remember Priscilla? Well, she and Miranda apparently share the body of a black cat. But, see, both spirits can’t cohabit in one body at the same time. “There’s no room for two people in one cat!” a witch academy instructor exclaims revealing this terrible piece of plotting. So,  after Miranda’s 11 minutes or so of screen time are up, she vanishes to be replaced by Priscilla.  Don’t fret, gang, the cat Miranda inhabits also smokes as much as she did, so it’s like she never left! In fact, one of the most bizarre moments of the entire film are cutaways to a black cat hand puppet paws holding cigarettes up to it’s little feline mouth and puffing away, it’s unnaturally large, bugged out yellow eyes and dilated pupils nervously darting around in their sockets.

Eventually the detective character shows back up at a clandestine witch class where Jenny also happens to be attending so she can look for answers as to how to get rid of Miranda/Priscilla for good. Priscilla learns a couple words in Latin and is ready to take on Priscilla in head to head in the ultimate blue screen combat! It’s a breathtaking sequence that pulls no punches in the bargain basement action and effects arena.   Will Jenny be able to banish the money hungry witches from her home? Or will her family end up pint-sized, broke, and shoe-boxed? To be honest, I was too busy laughing my ass off to care.

The bottom line is that ‘Wicked Stepmother’ is one of those films that must be seen to be truly understood. It’s terrible. I mean, this thing is bad. This sucker is Samurai Cop, Troll 2 level bad. But it is still ridiculously entertaining. The intended jokes all fall flat on their faces, but it is totally made up for with unintentional hilarity. It’s like some kind of surrealist fever dream that just keeps getting more absurd and illogical as it progresses. None of it makes a lick of sense and there are an abundance of moments that will leave you wondering if you just actually witnessed what you did.  Better Davis’ performance alone make up for the absurdity of the opening portion of the film.  She is never without a cigarette in her hand and recites her dialog in the emotionless drawl of a late 60’s TV robot.  Once Bette departs the film, the hammy acting, and cheese ball effects really become the stars of the show and lift this sucker up onto another plateau of Trash Cinema altogether.

I may have said too much already. I don’t want to spoil this sucker for you. But when I look back lovingly upon ‘Wicked Stepmother’,  no words can really do this acid trip of a film justice.  I’m not sure if exactly if it’s my strong palette for trash that allowed me to enjoy this thing or if it can be experienced by others and be loved just as thoroughly. I was not expecting myself to end up with the affection I now have for this piece of wack-o film making. Please, if you haven’t seen it, do so. And if you have, please, share your thoughts with us here at The Trash Cinema Collective.  Again, in the annals of cinema, there is nothing like ‘Wicked Stepmother’.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

14
Feb
11

CHEEKY! or Why Sex is Way Cooler Than Violence (NSFW)

a Trash Cinema After Dark review
Written by The Primal Root

Sex is incredible; The feeling of being intensely aroused by another human being, the electricity of having that feeling reciprocated, and the excitement as your bodies move closer, are some of life’s greatest thrills. Without sex—the most innate of all human interactions—life just wouldn’t be worth living. There’s nothing in this world that can fill us with such a sense of vigor as a good, healthy, consensual, fuck. It’s life’s natural exclamation point.
This is why I find it such a shame that in my country (the good ‘ol, U.S. of A.) we treat coitus like it’s the most horrifying act imaginable. A perfect example is the recent film Blue Valentine, which was initially slapped with an NC-17 rating for showing two adults getting it on. Show a female nipple (or two) or, heaven forbid, a penis… and it’s labeled obscene. That is how the nude human body is viewed in our arcane society. Americans can handle watching people being killed on prime time local news networks. They are comfortable with the fact that Hollywood scenes of graphic, horrific violence are open to audiences who can’t even legally buy cigarettes. But throw a titty up on the screen, and our morally immature citizens come marching out of the woodwork, rambling righteously through their loudspeakers.
This mind set sucks, gang. When America’s moral scale is tipped by the mere glimpse of a woman’s breasts, but remains undisturbed by the hacking off of genitals (a la Eli Roth), something is horribly off with our equilibrium.
Which is why I thank my lucky stars for those artists who rebel against our ridiculous moral code and create films that explore human sexuality, for those courageous few who unabashedly bring sex into the light and force us to take a nice, long look. Sex isn’t as simple as many pornographers might lead us to believe. It’s a complex jumble of human experience and emotion. It can be just as cruel and vindictive as it is amazing and beautiful. It can be superficial or it can be deeply meaningful. It can trample us down just as easily as it can lift us up.

Sex is powerful, without question. Whether you save yourself for marriage or have a dozen lovers in every zip code, you cannot deny that sex is an ever-present force in our day-to-day lives.


Which brings me to Italian filmmaker, Tinto Brass’s 2000 flick, Cheeky (Trasgredire). It is a film about two lovers, our star Carla (Yuliya Mayarchuk) and her jealous fella Matteo (Jarno Beradi). Carla is a strikingly beautiful, free spirited young woman who is in London looking to find the perfect apartment for Matteo. She explores the city in see through, skin-tight tank tops and mini skirts (without the aid undergarments).  Does she seem ashamed? Not in the slightest. She’s proud of what she’s packing and flaunts her sexuality openly.
This how we are introduced to her: smiling, self confident and gorgeous, bouncing through some park right out of Penthouse Forum, where everyone is either fondling someone else’s crotch or showing off their own. Or, as in the case of one woman, rolling though on a rascal scooter while she walks her dog. It’s the park that underwear forgot; women spread their legs freely as they sit in the grass, people get pounced behind trees and an old man ruins the sanctity of this innocent sex oasis by flashing his didgeridoo from beneath a stained rain coat. Carla is at first shocked, but then flashes her own lovely sexual anatomy at the old man causing him to flee, frightened by such an assertive woman.


This is the world Cheeky explores. There’s a ton of sex going on here. When the act isn’t happening in the here and now of the film, there’s a flashback to some other point when someone was having sex. There is literally not ONE character here without sexual motivations… as, one could argue, there are few people in real life who aren’t driven by some sexual motivation, bubbling just beneath the surface. But in Carla’s world, everyone’s intentions are out in the open and to the viewer this is refreshing and titillating, though maybe a bit disconcerting at first.
Hell, as soon as Carla heads to a real estate office to enquire about rental properties, she is promptly hit on and groped by the statuesque lesbian real-estate agent, Moira (Francesca Nunzi). Carla is befriended by Moira but never gives into her wild flirting (so as not to betray Matteo), even when they are in the shower and Moira begins sticking her finger into Carla’s ‘lady region’.
Matteo, on the other hand, is the only repressed character in the movie. While on the phone with Carla, who is masturbating and telling him about the hot woman who hit on her, Matteo can only express his fear and insecurity regarding Carla’s fidelity and beg her to hurry to London so they can get it on. Seriously, Matteo needs to get a fucking clue, man. His character is a frustrating, wet towel of a character whom the viewer just want to forget about and get back to Carla’s flirty and fun sexually charged romps around London. Matteo’s pouty, emo existence is made even worse when he uncovers old nude photos of Carla along with letters from an old flame. Being the insecure man he is, Matteo takes this opportunity to rip Carla a new one, causing a fracture in their relationship.
Without spoiling all the fun, that’s the basic plot in Tinto Brass’s Cheeky, which is heavy on genitalia low on story. Cheeky stands in direct opposition to many of Tinto’s previous works like Caligula and Salon Kitty; which, though sexually charged, presented sex as something sinister, ugly and often trite. But sex, within Cheeky, is presented as something festive, to be enjoyed someone you care about. There is an moment in the movie that reminds us how hollow it can feel if sex is had for the wrong reasons. It’s the single sad moment in an otherwise uplifting (in more ways that one) flick about the joys of sex and the adventure of life.


There are some truly inspired sex scenes here, nothing too gratuitous, but often showing more anatomy than you would ever find in any late night offerings from Skinemax. There is one scene that stands out for me, which is a flashback sequence between Carla and her former lover, Bernard. The scene takes place on the beach in mid-day and is shot entirely in slow motion. It’s a strikingly photographed, choreographed and edited sequence that is as deeply arousing as it is light hearted and delicate. Tinto Brass proves himself to have a knack for a creating very sweet, lovely bits of cinematic erotica to counter point his darker, more painful material.

And, to be honest, I enjoy this light and fluffy sex romp far more than the hard-edged material of his past. I know, I know, I am supposed to be Mister Hardcore. But when it comes to sex, I tend to enjoy the sweet stuff as opposed to people being shot by Nazi generals while standing naked in a sauna or seeing men have their penises bound and then being graphically gutted on screen. Yeah, I think I’ll go with the fun stuff where everyone’s junk is left intact, thank you very much.
It’s a strange, sexy, mixed up world out there filled with wonder, chaos, and madness. Sex is an amazing gift, not something to live in fear of or dismiss as an ugly, disgusting act. If there’s one thing on this planet we should rejoice in, it is each other.

I look forward to my continued investigation into Tinto Brass’s filmography. If you have any recommendations for me I’d love to hear them!

Stay Trashy,
-The Primal Root




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