Monday, September 29, 2014

Why the UFC Sucks Now

Five reasons why mixed martial arts today feels so mundane...and the one thing the UFC can do to change its trajectory.

Over the weekend, Zuffa asked would-be PPV purchasers to shell out in excess of $50 USD to watch a show headlined by two 125 pound jockies. I was not one of those people. In fact, I've only watched two UFC shows all year round -- the absolute fewest I've seen in more than a decade.

And judging from the ever declining PPV buyrates, apparently, I'm not the only one going through a serious case of Ultimate ennui.

As literally a lifelong fan of MMA (I recall listening to the first UFC event on scrambled PPV), I have to say I'm not too big a fan of the sport at the current. After nearly a decade of growth, it looks like the sport is headed towards its second dark age ... and unlike the UFC collapse from 1998 to 2004, there's no international alternative to whet our mixed martial arts appetites.

The modern UFC era began in 2005, reached its zenith in 2010, and appears to be headed towards a nadir in 2015. Oddly enough, the thing that should have made UFC an established mainstream sport in the U.S. may have been the thing that derailed it, as ever since the Fox  television deal was signed in 2011, the trajectory of MMA has been on a decisively downward one.

With virtually zero competition in Japan and only one TNA-sized rival in the USA, the UFC basically holds a worldwide monopoly on MMA. Despite being virtually synonymous with the sport, however, the Ultimate Fighting Championship product has never felt as stale to me than it has at the present.

Ultimately (pun, intended?) I think there are five primary reasons why, more than ever, Ultimate Fighting just doesn't feel all that ultimate any more...

There’s no star power in the UFC anymore

When you look at the headliners for the ten highest grossing UFC PPVs of all-time, you’ll see a who’s-who of MMA icons --Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, Quinton Jackson and Anderson Silva among them.

Therein lies the problem. Of those headliners, all but one bona-fide draw -- Rashad Evans -- remains on the active UFC roster. Arguably the two greatest proven assets for the company, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre, sat out 2014 altogether, leaving Jon Jones and Johny Hendricks to pull in PPV numbers that barely eclipse 300,000 buys.

While the UFC definitely has a plethora of entertaining, talented fighters on their roster, the new wave of champions clearly aren’t connecting with viewers the same way the old guard did. Cain Velasquez has failed to garner the same mainstream publicity Brock Lesnar did, Jon Jones (despite his P4P status) has yet to outdraw a slew of Bellator has-beens and the current Middleweight and Welterweight champs are literally drawing half what the former-champs were.

The inescapable reality? The UFC, simply put, doesn’t have any real “stars” anymore.

With a paper-thin Heavyweight division, Velasquez has yet to capture the hearts of either MMA purists or casual fans. Even more troubling from a marketing standpoint, he really hasn’t connected with the Hispanic audience either, which has traditionally been one of the biggest demographics for boxing PPVs.

Although dominant in the cage, Jon Jones has failed to transcend the sport the way Lesnar, Silva or GSP did. In spite of his athletic abilities, hardcore MMA nerds and casual observers alike utterly despise the man who ought to be the face of the sport. They see him as cocky instead of charismatic and inauthentic instead of personable -- and of deep concern to marketing strategists, he doesn’t seem to be making a connection with the African-American audience at all.

Even worse for publicity are Hendricks and Weidman, who don’t even have the meager personas or auras that the underperforming Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight champions have. To the casual observer, Weidman is just a generic farm boy who beats up on Brazilians and Hendricks is an Avenged Sevenfold roadie with a heavy left hand. To steal a term from boxing, neither are what I would call “Great White Hopes” for the sport.

I’m not sure how much more mileage the UFC can get out of St-Pierre and The Spider, but those the only guaranteed moneymakers the company has on staff. The Silva / Diaz Super Bowl show will almost certainly outdraw the Velasquez / Werdum tile bout and the Jones / Cormier championship contest … if not outdraw both combined. What that tells me about the sport is simple: championships don’t matter, personalities do.

And when the closest thing your company has to a breakout media star is a 145-pounder from the Emerald Isle, I’m not quite sure what kind of serious investments you expect anyone to make in the sport’s short-term future.

No one cares about the lighter weight classes

While the 155-pound and under set have given us countless memorable throwdowns over the years,  the truth is that hardly anybody outside of the truly hardcore care about watching them.

UFC 174, headlined by Demetrious Johnson, drew the lowest PPV buyrate since the mid-2000s boom. The numbers for UFC 177, headlined by TJ Dillashaw, are presumably even worse. This chart summarizing UFC on Fox ratings tells a similar story, and that narrative is that Ben Henderson and Mighty Mouse ain’t putting proverbial asses in the metaphorical seats.

This is the inverse of pro boxing, where the lighter divisions are pretty much the only real PPV draws anymore. Whereas Manny Pac and Money are considered the pound for pound best fighters on the planet, their 135-pound analogues in the MMA world are considered B-level, at best.

A fighter like Jose Aldo may have niche appeal to the rabid Brazilian base, but outside of the afore-mentioned Conor McGregor (who, to his credit, has the kind of charisma and built-in fan base to possibly make him a Brock Lesnar type “Great White Hope” sensation), hardly anybody 155 pounds or under seems to have the makings of a breakout star.

As difficult a time as the UFC is having getting over their heavyweight and light heavyweight roster, their ability to sell their lightweights, featherweights, bantamweights and especially their flyweights is an even greater uphill battle … and unlike the 200 and heavier set, that implicit appeal to body size isn’t even available for mass market leverage.

Women’s MMA isn’t a draw

Don’t believe the hype Dana White keeps selling us on Ronda Rousey.

Yeah, she may have been on the undercard of a one million buy show, but that had more to do with Anderson Silva than some sort of emerging cultural interest in women’s fighting. The half million buys for UFC 175 are semi-impressive, but again, I believe that had less to do with her mass media appeal than it did the UFC just spending a ton of advertising cash in what is clearly the deadest time in all of American sports.

All you need to do is look at the relatively puny 340,000 buys for UFC 170 … the only PPV this year in which Ronda Rousey was explicitly marketed as the headliner … and you’ll realize just how much drawing power she really has. Beyond Rousey, there are NO marketable female MMA grapplers out there, save two wash-ups who apparently have no interest in making an easy UFC payday. And on top of that? The annexation of females to the UFC roster hasn’t seemed to have increased female viewership by any great shakes, either.

There are too many damn shows going on

In 2007, quite possibly the best overall year the UFC ever had, they ran 11 PPVs. Last year, the company ran 13 … PLUS four shows on Fox, PLUS another fourteen on cable (16, if you count the Ultimate Fighter finales.)

At this point, the market isn’t just oversaturated, it’s damn near ready to drown. There aren’t enough high-caliber fighters on the roster to warrant three dozen shows a year, and with Dana’s highfalutin international ambitions (like the NFL, he wants 16 cards going on at once), the sport is in danger of being watered down quite literally to death.

The problem with this deluge of shows is two-fold. Number one, I don’t know any fans hardcore enough to WANT to watch a bunch of underperforming 135 pounders in China tussle at 3 in the morning, let alone any who would be willing to pay $50 a month to screen such on Fight Pass. Secondly, running so many damn shows effectively lessens every show that’s put on, because you need at least one semi-consequential divisional bout to make even an FS1 show airable. As the recent slate of cancelled PPVS have shown us, when you sell one fight only shows, you’re one meniscus tear away from disaster.

More and more, the Zuffa brass seems to want to turn MMA into boxing. You see this with the promotion of regional talents (TUF Brazil, TUF China, TUF India, etc.) and shows anchored around a fight as opposed to an entire card, which traditionally, has been the big selling point of any UFC show. To their credit, the UFC hasn’t gone full on race baiting with their product yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time before they start marketing the sport as literal ethnic warfare a’la Golden Boy.

We all know piracy is a big deal, and the Fight Pass thing makes more than enough sense. The thing is, with forty plus shows going on annually, it actually increases the likelihood of individuals hitting up the torrents instead of purchasing PPVs. Fans will pay good money for two or three stacked shows a year, but you honestly expect people to shell out $50 for a main event starring Joe goddamn Soto?

As we were discussing earlier, it’s the personalities that sell MMA, and with hundreds of generic, indistinguishable fighters on the roster … necessary, to fill up all of those damn shows … it’s never been easier to lose interest in fighting than it is at the present.

As a fan, there’s hardly anything to get excited about anymore

Probably the biggest change I’ve observed about the sport of MMA since the Fox era began in 2011 has been the slow erosion of the sport’s mystique.

Simply put, nobody in MMA right now has the same larger than life, mythical aura that Fedor or Cro-Cop had, circa 2005, or Silva or GSP had as recently as 2010. Instead of inspiring awe, today’s champions inspire yawns -- even Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez’s most dominant performances are more ennui-inducing than breathtaking.

Interdivisional rivalries today are lackluster, and the prospects of any real mega-fights seem entirely off-the-table. Nothing today matches the Wandy/Jackson trifecta, or even the Ortiz/Liddell bad blood, and nobody’s clamoring to see Chris Weidman do battle with Robbie Lawler the same way fans were slobbering for Silva vs. GSP, or even GSP vs. Penn.

Many UFC shows remain enjoyable, from top to bottom, but do you really feel like you’re getting shows as memorable as you were three years ago? Even watching DREAM and Strikeforce cards from this decade, I’m spotting something that’s missing from today’s UFC product -- a sense of excitement and significance, that this card actually matters in the long haul.

So, what can the UFC do to reverse the ongoing suck?

Contrary to what Mr. White thinks, there can indeed be too much of a good thing, and when I think of the UFC product today, the first thing that comes to my mind is excessive.

Too many pay-per-views, that cost too much money. Too many cable shows, that feel all too watered-down. Too many goddamn fighters on the roster, in too many weight classes,who feel too indistinguishable from one another (like you could tell Rafael dos Anjos from Raphael Assuncao, either.)

Needless to say, somebody needs to school these UFC people on the "Iron Law of Scarcity" real quick. MMA, as a personality-driven sport, hinges on quality and exclusivity as opposed to quantity and ubiquity. There are a finite number of fighters people care about, and hardly anybody outside of the hardcore MMA dorks care who the champions actually are.

To paraphrase something the Great Paul Heyman once said, the trick in roping in the casuals is to a.) establish who the fighters are, b.) explain why they are fighting and c.) build up that animosity so that you actually want to see the two motherfuckers scrap.

Simply put, the UFC is failing on all three fronts. There are hardly any real personalities, or champion-caliber fighters with crossover appeal, on the roster. There really aren't any true rivalries in the sport at the moment, either -- nobody is buying the Jones / Cormier beef as authentic, and dos Santos / Velasquez? Puh-leeze.

Without some kind of compelling storyline, it's just two guys in a cage, beating each other up, for no good reason. The upcoming Velasquz / Werdum bout has virtually zero history behind it, and the "out for blood" angle behind Lawler / Hendricks II doesn't cut it because, hey, nobody cares about either fighter.

The company used to be so good at it, too. Just look at the angles from 2007:

- Company hero Randy Couture comes out of retirement to take on the much-loathed, much-larger Tim Sylvia. A fighter that relies upon sheer size, Couture takes the battle to Sylvia, drops him early in the first, and outgrapples him for five rounds in what, to this day, is the greatest feel-good moment in the sports' history. The heavily hyped Japanese import Mirko Cro-Cop ... expected to be an automatic contender to Couture's throne ... gets knocked out by Brazilian sensation Gabriel Gonzaga, utilizing his own signature kick against him. A dreaded knockout artist, Gonzaga is expected to pound out the elder Couture, but when they finally meet up, "Captain America" shocks the world again, utilizing his technique and experience to vanquish his larger adversary.

- Overseas sensation Quinton Jackson makes his long-awaited jump to the UFC, where he goes toe-to-toe with the literal face of the company, Chuck Liddell. In a virtual repeat of their first battle in Japan, Jackson manages to knockout Liddell, who floats into a free spin afterwards, losing an eliminator bout later in the year to journeyman Keith Jardine. Meanwhile, long-time PRIDE middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva loses the strap early in the year to multi-division phenom Dan Henderson, whom winds up losing to fellow PRIDE grad Quinton Jackson in a long, long awaited UFC/PRIDE Light Heavyweight championship unification bout. At at the very end of the year, Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva -- both in dire need of a career resurgence -- put on a match of the year candidate clinic, giving people the showstopping dream bout they had always envisioned and raising the stock of both competitors.

- Newly crowned Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre goes into battle against Matt Serra, a heavy, heavy underdog. Unfocused, GSP gets dropped by Serra in what remains arguably the biggest upset in MMA history. St-Pierre vows revenge, trains like crazy, and bests Josh Koscheck (a heavily touted up-and-comer) to put himself in a position to do battle with arch-nemesis Matt Hughes at year's end for a shot to regain his strap. And by the way, that fight was on the same card as the all-time classic Liddell/Silva throwdown.

And that's not even considering the emergence of Anderson Silva as a bona-fide P4P  sensation, the return of lightweight icon BJ Penn, the ancillary growth of the WEC (and especially, the 145 pound division with its star attraction, Urijah Faber), AND all of the post-PRIDE fallout in Japan.

Simply put, all of that shit was reason to get excited, and it unfurled gradually over the year. Each card built upon the previous card, and as with the case of college football and the NFL, each individual match-up felt like it had an impact on the sport as a whole.

That importance just isn't a part of the sport anymore. With more or less a UFC show going on every week, it's impossible to retain that special aura -- it's just fightin' nowadays, with hardly any kind of gravity.

With the Fox deal and Dana's internationalization plans, the company has gone to far in its current trajectory to reverse course. There's only so much train track left, and the locomotive is speeding beyond what the rails allow. In short? There's going to be a huge MMA crash in the upcoming years, with the UFC likely to be relegated to paid YouTube events and the aberrant Fox Sports One Wednesday night special. The "Fight Pass" deal is no solution to overpriced, unfulfilling PPV shows, which has actually given more people a reason to pirate the broadcasts.

There's an old business principle about adding by subtracting. At this point, the absolute best thing for the UFC, and the sport of mixed martial arts, is something very simple ... namely, the fact that there should be less of everything, across the board.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Five Creepy Music Videos Better Than "Thriller!"

A slate of horror-themed videos you DEFINITELY need to check out this All Hallow's season...

In 1983, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" -- probably the first true long-form music video -- was played on MTV. Depending upon the ebb and flow of teen suicide rates, it usually bests "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in the periodic best music videos of all-time countdowns. It was even added to the National Film Registry, meaning the U.S. government considers it a worthwhile work of art on par with D.W. Griffith's and Stan Brakhage's finest.

Now, I've never been a huge Michael Jackson fan, but even on an objective level, I've never really understood what all the big fuss was about. Yeah, it's got zombies and werewolves and Vincent Price and all, but it all seems so cartoonish and full-of-itself, as if director (and remorseless child killer) John Landis just wanted to spend money for the sake of spending money. That, and it entails what is quite possibly the single most intelligence-insulting premise in the history of modern cinema: it asks viewers to actually believe that Jackson ported about something that even remotely resembled heterosexual longings.

With Halloween right around the corner, you're definitely going to be hearing, and seeing, quite a bit of "Thriller" for the next 30 or 40 days. While the video and Jackson will undoubtedly continue to receive postmortem praise (and largely, from the same people who were making chi-mo jokes up until the Gloved One's final hours) I figured it was worth our collective whiles to celebrate a few music videos with a decisive horror bent that don't get the same kind of recognition that "Thriller" does -- although, as you will soon see for yourselves, they most certainly deserve it.

The Greg Kihn Band 
"Jeopardy" (1983)

Never heard of the Greg Kihn Band? Well, they're the band that does the "The Breakup Song," itself one of their spookier-sounding pop hits from the early '80s. While "Jeopardy" is a slightly cheerier sounding tune (complete with a bass line more or less stolen from Stevie Wonder's "Superstition"), the music video for the song is pure, Reagan-era horror cheese at its finest.

For one thing, its one of those old school music videos that actually looks like it was filmed on somebody's home camera. Secondly, the atmosphere is just goddamn terrific, providing us with the absolute best kind of horror music video: the kind that starts off fairly non-horror-ish, that you can just sense is going to spiral into genre madness at any moment.

So, the premise here is simple: a dude with a mullet is having apprehensive thoughts at his wedding. He imagines his arguing parents' having their hands welded together like some kind of "Elm Street" special effect, he pulls back his wife's veil for a wedding smooch and BAM! The entire reception turns into a zombie apocalypse, complete with the groom having to use a piece of wood to fend off an aluminum foil hell monster. And then, he proceeds to play the makeshift stake like an air guitar, because that makes way more sense than trying to escape from a cathedral crawling with the living dead and shit. And oh man, how about that pseudo-misogynistic happy ending where he drives off with the wedding bubbly without his bride?  This is just all of the archaic, stupid stuff that made Pre-AIDS America awesome -- for my money, THIS is the spooky music video from 1983 we should've been celebrating for all these years.

Twisted Sister and Alice Cooper
"Be Chrool to Your Scuel" (1985)

My musical tastes have changed a lot over the years, but no matter what aural phase I've gone through, Twisted Sister's "Stay Hungry" has remained one of my all-time favorite albums. Likewise, Alice Cooper is one of my favorite musicians ever, and a man whose ouevre is so rich, he's probably the only person in history that could be able to release an entire album filled with nothing but songs he's contributed to shitty B-horror movies.

So what happens when you combine the two? Well, you get pure awesomeness, that's what, and that pure awesomeness is called "Be Chrool to Your Scuel."

In this eight-minute(!) opus, Bobcat Goldthwait plays a jaded high school teacher, who mumbles stuff about SAT scores and number two pencils with an intonation that sounds like John Travolta trying to gargle marbles. After rambling about tacos and squirrels not picking him up at the airport for three and a half minutes, he runs to the teacher's lounge , plugs in a Twisted Sister tape, and as expected, the proverbial shit hits the metaphorical fan. Not only are the zombies in this one way more grotesque than the living dead in "Thriller," I think they look better than any of the zombies you'd have seen in "Day of the Dead" -- and since Twisted Sister and Alice Cooper ain't pussies, you actually get some pretty good gore in this one, too, including two zombies literally sucking face, a couple of arms hacked off and even a sequence where a zombie student has his larynx carved out by a zombified nurse!

Death In Vegas
"Dirt" (1997)

1997 was an important year for the music video format, for two reasons. For one, that was the year MTV decided to drastically cut back the number of programming hours dedicated to actual music videos, representing what would eventually be the network's slow descent into becoming a channel that shows "Teen Mom" 23 and a half hours a day.

Secondly, it was the year "electronica" was supposed to kill rock and roll for good, as highly-touted groups like The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers were given all the hype and corporate backing in the world to supplant all of the crappy, post-Nirvana grunge-pop acts. As part of the not at all engineered techno-rock ploy, Death in Vegas was one of the soundalike groups that got momentary MTV stardom in the late 1990s -- although, as with Aphex Twin, just about everybody remembers them for their freaky-ass videos and have no recollections whatsoever of what the band actually sounded like.

All-in-all, I'd say "Dirt" is pretty much the exemplary pseudo-Dadaist, semi-intellectual, stream-of-conscious-pretentious-corporate-rock-techno-surrealist-shit that the timeframe gave us. With its self-indulgent black and white imagery, cryptic Holocaust visuals and blunt anti-religious imagery (complete with a funk-rock bassline tailor made for late '90s sneakers commercials), this music video is just about the finest tribute to the "Titanic" era zeitgeist you'll probably ever encounter.

Robbie Williams
"Rock DJ" (2000)

Forget Weird Al and all of that shit Spike Jonze directed -- this is far and away the greatest satire in the history of music videos.

With a face that residing somewhere between Jackass's Johnny Knoxville and Mr. Bean, Robbie Williams epitomized the era's flash-in-the pan Brit-pop manufactured stars, whose promotion was clearly designed to ride in on the coattails of pretty boy (and painfully closeted homosexual) Ricky Martin. Perhaps catching a whiff of its own syntheticness, this brilliantly subversive video posits Williams as a golden idol the masses just can't wait to consume ... literally.

As with "Jeopardy," the video really excels at making you feel that something weird is going to happen, no matter the generic trappings presented upfront. If you ever wondered what would happen if Clive Barker was selected to direct a George Michael video ... well, I'm pretty sure "Rock DJ" is what we would've ended up with.

Strapping Young Lad
"Love?" (2005)

Devin Townsend -- the Canadian death metal guy who looks suspiciously like Brad Douriff, pre-Voodoo soul transfer in "Child's Play" -- is an absolute musical genius, as evident by albums like "Terria," "The Human Equation" and "Ziltoid the Omniscient." Best known for his work in Strapping Young Lad, 2005's "Alien" is probably the band's best overall offering, and as far as SYL songs go, I can't think of one I like more than "Love?," a really weirdo ballad about a dude off his meds talking about how interpersonal intimacy is just a neurological coping mechanism.

So, imagine my surprise a few years back, when I did a Google search for the song, and not only did a legitimate music video pop up, but the entire fucking thing had an "Evil Dead" motif!

Needless to say, this thing is just amazing, from start-to-finish. From the laughing moose heads from "Dead by Dawn" to the infamous Deadite hand infection to the zooming camera shots so spot-on they feel like Sam Raimi was filming it himself, "Love?" is far and away the best homage to "The Evil Dead" in modern media. Sigh ... why didn't they let Devin Townsend make a musical reboot instead of that god-awful remake we got last year?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

41 Things I Find Peculiarly Erotic

A tribute to the dizzying array of unusual and uncommon things that, to put it delicately, give me a big chubby-wubby.

At the Internet is in America, we take pride in being organic beings. With so much of our lives recirculated into social media postings, cell phone activity and endless hours of screen-time, I always find it enjoyable to pare all of the e-nonsense away and revel in our own distinct, goofy humanity.

Seeing as how I've  already waxed nostalgically/poetically on things that frighten and irritate me, I figured I ought to focus on another one of the basic mortal furies while I was at it -- that being the things that, in the biblical sense, evoke my arousal.

Some of these make more than enough sense, and some ... well, I'm still not sure what the hell's wrong with me, to be honest. Alas, these are the elements of existence that excite me, titillate me and make me acknowledge my own reproductive glands, quite frequently...

#001 -- Glossy lips

There’s hardly anything in the world more delectable to me than a girl smiling with a set of wet, radiant and preferably fruit-scented smoochers. Needless to say, it’s a highly attractive look (literally) that gets me in the mood for making out -- among other activities -- in a real hurry.

#002 -- Dark lipstick

The closer to black, for whatever reason, the more alluring. I’ve always kind of had a thing for the Gothy, wannabe-vampire chicks, but the more refined crimson and deep purple shades also seem to get my motor running, in the Laconian sense.

#003 -- Smoking

Yeah, it’s also a bit trashy, but it has that whole femme-fatale, film-noir, black widow appeal. As much as us anti-cigarette clean air health Nazis try to deny it, there’s something inherently sensual about the act. To reiterate the uncouth words of one of my old college buddies on the strange sexual allure of inhaling carcinogens: “Man, if she’s willing to put stuff that’ll kill her in her body, she’ll probably put a lot of other things in there, too.”

#004 -- E-Smoking

Kind of the same logic as with normal smoking, only intensified a bit because “vapers” undeniably look like their piping on a robot wiener while getting their neo-nicotine fix.

#005 -- Perms

I have no earthly clue where this comes from, but there’s just something about a girl with the wet, curly hair look that makes me all flustered. Oh, how I should have been a college-aged kid in the late 1970s instead…

#006 -- Long fingernails

Of course, I’m not into that Guinness Book of Records shit, but there’s something very exciting about having a woman, with beautifully manicured, sharp nail tips tracing your back and behind your ears. Female readers, try doing it to your guy pals sometime: if they don’t immediately spring up like rocket ships, they are G-A-Y with a capital (and rainbow-colored) “G.”

#007 -- Ridiculous cleavage

The more wildly inappropriate the setting or timing, the better. Peek-a-boo busts are fun at bars and clubs, but at PTA meetings and funerals, they’re exhilarating to the point of heart failure.

#008 -- Black cocktail dresses

Women spend outrageous sums of money on designer bras and underwear, believing that’s alluring to guys -- never mind the fact that dudes can’t actually see said articles of clothing until they’ve already been ensnared. If you’re looking to really wow a dude, don a nice, tight-fitting midnight-colored party dress instead. It’s more cost-efficient, more likely to catch a guy’s eye and way hotter than anything you’d pay an arm and a leg for at Victoria’s Secret, anyway.

#009 -- Anything black and lacey, for that matter

Color psychologists tell us black is dangerous, and therefore titillating to the senses.  Black lace, therefore, makes your entire body look like a spider web … an irresistible, seductive spider-web, that guys want to fall into and subsequently be eaten in.

#010 -- Hoop earrings

The circle represents life, and also the ovum, so the cyclical pattern is immutably sexual in nature. Per the same college pal that gave us the little aphorism about female smokers earlier: “you can tell how tight a girl is by the size of her hoops.”

#011 -- Long boots

The best thing about winter, next to seasonal Stabucks drinks and playoff football. Swapping spit with your girl when she’s inexplicably half a foot taller is such a weird delight … just as long as she isn’t wearing those atrocious Uggs, of course.

#012 -- Glasses

The fashion media complex keeps telling women that designer shades are “hot,” whereas bifocals are dorky. The reality is, prescription lenses make you look intellectual, and therefore sexy, whereas sunglasses just make you like a grasshopper.

#013 -- Crooked teeth

OK, this is a really weird one (especially since I’ve never even been to England!), but there’s just something about a girl with imperfect canines and incisors that makes me feel funny on the inside. Why yes, I did have a crush on Patricia Arquette growing up. How did you know?

#014 -- Older women with braces

…and here’s the yang to number 13’s yin. You ever see a woman who’s like in her 30s or 40s, with a mouthful of metal? To most gals with adult orthodontic work, it’s perceived as embarrassing, but I think it’s peculiarly erotic, like a tongue ring or something. As “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” demonstrated, perhaps it’s the ever-present threat of penile endangerment that makes such a sight so stimulating?

#015 -- The raccoon eye look

There’s a very, very good reason why I would always catch “The Royal Tenenbaums” when it aired on Comedy Central back in the day. Hint: it’s not because I found Wes Anderson’s brand of irreverent, hipster humor endearing.

#016 -- The idea of being kissed by some random skank on the street

There’s a part in the music video for Paramore’s “Misery Business” where this make-up drenched bimbo walks up to a dude talking to his girlfriend, grabs him, and starts slurping on his face like a space vampire. Outside of the palpable herpes risk, I think most guys would agree such a scenario would be, in a word, “hot.”

#017 -- Even the remotest possibility that your girlfriend may make out with another girl in front of you

Just a fraction of a percent of a chance is good enough for 99.9 percent of the male population, I assure you.

#018 -- Girls that are just kinda’ chunky

As a general rule, anything beyond a UFC Heavyweight in size is probably a bit much, but there seems to be a ton (no pun intended, I swear) of absurdly hot celebrities in the 170 to 220 pound range. Man, how I’d love to be the meat in an Adele and Meghan Trainor sandwich…

#019 -- The idea of nailing a cosplayer while she’s in costume

To be fair, most cosplaying females are about as attractive as homemade soap, but would I personally turn down the chance to make out with an art student dressed up like Poison Ivy or shred the sheets with a depressed junior college dropout gussied up like Morrigan from “Darkstalkers?” Yeah, probably not.

#020 -- Paleness

A complete transversal of the cosmetics-fashion-media complex conceptualization of beauty; I’d rather delicately kiss a bone wet neck than run my lips all over a chemically-dyed orange clavicle, any day.

#021 -- Black girls, who sound like white girls

No earthly clue where this comes from, but there’s something about a girl who talks like Michelle Branch while resembling Michelle Obama that just makes me all hot and bothered. Show me a Run DMC back up dancer with an inflection like a Valley Girl, and I’ll show you an African-American woman who is about to get my phone number. You know, if she wants it, and stuff.

#022 -- Girls with big calves

Imagine my surprise when I found out there’s not only a sizable Internet contingent of big calve enthusiasts, but even an entire Pinterest board for them!

#023 -- Fishnet stockings

As a negative, they do tend to make you look like a cheap hooker. But as a positive, they also tend to make you look like a cheap hooker.

#024 -- Chipped black fingernail polish

Once again, my youthful adulation for the Cure and Nine Inch Nails set is showing, and painfully. For whatever reason, it just seemed to me that black nail polish was the only kind of nail polish that actually looked better when it was flaking off, revealing the pale, unprotected emotional longings of oh so many a suburban Marilyn Manson fan girl.

#025 -- Freckles

Girls, why do you want to cover them up? They are to your body what stars are to the night sky; beautiful, twinkling, idiosyncratic markings, stretching across all of eternity. Wow, that was unintentionally poetic. Better make a crude remark or two in the next entry, then.

#026 -- Really, really, really long kissing sessions

Sometimes, I kinda’ get the impression that super-serious French kissing is even better than sex. Well, until I actually have sex again, and then I have to retool the argument a bit. That said, prolonged spit swapping remains one of my all-time favorite interpersonal activities, with an hour-long tongue grinding bout -- preferably, with a comely female whose lips are nice and balm-soaked  and whose saliva is the same flavor as red Skittles -- representing my idea of heaven.

#027 -- Hickies

Hickies are basically the PG-version of a blow job, and I’ve likewise enjoyed having my jugular nibbled, chewed and sucked on -- preferably while being straddled or laying on my back. So, uh, is that more of a vampirism-related fetish, or a reverse rape one?

#028 -- Heavy perfume scents

Of course, it has to be an idiosyncratic heavy perfume scent. When I waltz into an Ulta (and if you have a girlfriend, you will be waltzing into many an Ulta), that’s the bad kind of overpowering scent -- primarily, because it’s a mixture of four billion chemicals that almost certainly are noxious when combined. Now, the heavy single user perfume scent I’ve always found a bit titillating. I guess there’s something about the signature scent, mixing with the wearer’s pheromones, that becomes almost intoxicating in closed spaces -- like, when you share an elevator ride with a girl who is just bathing in perfume. Yeah, it’s a little head-ache inducing, and it may make you choke a little, but at the same time? It might just give you inexplicable wood, too.

#029 -- The process of oiling up a female

Personally, I HATE having gooey substances on my skin. As soon as I crack an egg, I have to immediately wash my hands, or else I’ll have a mild panic attack. For whatever reason, females don’t seem to have the same problem, as they’re always exfoliating, waxing and caking themselves in all sorts of beauty creams and salves. At that point, my aversion to goop tends to float away, as I’ve always found a bizarre satisfaction from rubbing suntan oil or lotion on a female companion. Oh shit, I just now noticed how that kind of makes me sound like Buffalo Bill a little.

#030 -- Watching girls apply, and then remove makeup

I’m not so sure this one is as much sexually stimulating as it is mechanically hypnotic. I’ve found myself just sitting on the edge of the bed, watching eel-eyed as my gal pal goes through her forty minute long makeup ritual, which is a procedure that becomes even more entrancing when she breaks out the cloths and chemical solutions and rubs all of it off her face later in the evening. In a way, it’s kind of like watching a butterfly emerge from a cocoon … oh shit, that also sounds like something Buffalo Bill would probably say.

#031 -- When a girl clicks her nails on a desk and then emits a labored sigh

EVERY girl in the world does this, at least 84 times a day. For a casual frustration and rote behavior fetishist such as myself, this phenomenon is indeed pretty hot.

#032 -- Big hair

Brown, blonde, red , turquoise -- I don’t really have a preference, as long as the ‘do is big, bouncy, and voluminous. Sigh…when do you think the Stryper look will come back en vogue?

#033 -- Raspy voices

Some guys are into the syrupy sweet, ASMR lilt, but I like the antithetical -- a girl with a nice, coarse inflection. Of course, there are limitation to the acceptable hoarseness here; Kim Gordon is A-OK, Regan MacNeil in “The Exorcist,” not so much.

#034 -- Those barbell earring piercing thingies

Dangling is for old maids … jamming a cylindrical (and just a tad phallic) metal rod through your cartilage is most certainly the new “hawtness.”

#035 -- Glitter

Remember when body glitter was really popular in the 2000s for like, a week? I was a pretty big admirer of the look; I remain optimistic girls doing their best imitation of a kindergartner’s art project once again becomes fashionable before the decade’s end.

#036 --  Red leather

Oddly enough, any other color of leather (or pleather) just doesn’t do it for me. This kind of regalia was briefly popular in the aughties -- here’s hoping that in the not too distant future, women the world over once again begin dressing like female Terminators.

#037 -- A British accent

Some say French and Italian dialects are the sexiest, but I think the old Brit inflection is the perfect combination of intelligence and sultriness. Besides, the continental competition here is quite lacking; Scandinavian women sound like Muppets, Russians lasses sound like they’re ordering you into a gulag and the fraulein sound less like temptress sirens than they do Volvos breaking down.

#038 -- Bun hair

Maybe not the "Star Wars" deal, precisely, but the natural bun do is pretty hot. Plus, it lends itself to one of the most seductive things a woman can do in front of a guy; the ritualistic “de-bunning,” which results in her hair flowing all over her face and shoulders like a tsunami of raw sexual energy. Note: this may or may not also have something to do with the fact that I really, really like cinnamon rolls.

#039 -- Spidery eyelashes

Girls with gobs of mascara on -- despite sometimes looking like the living dead -- really make me blood pump a little bit quicker. There’s really something going on here about the whole black widow thing. Clearly, Freud has much to say on this one

#040 -- Spandex

Skin tight polymer outfits are just the dandiest; what guy doesn’t want to ogle a women whose body looks like its trying to literally rip through a generic super hero costume?

#041 -- An aura of intellect, bundled with compassion and a high emotional quotient

God, it makes me so stiff.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Five Bloody (and FREE!) Horror Movies on YouTube!

Four god-awful (plus one legitimately great) plasma-strewn creature features you can watch online at no cost!

Like that first saunter down the seasonal section at Target or the precise moment the Oakland Raiders become mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the yearly Internet is in America round-up of You Tube’s “finest” free horror movies has become something of an autumnal rite.

While in year’s past we did a random sampling of the $0.00 offerings on YouTube’s Horror Movie Channel, for 2014, we opted for something a bit more focused. Not content with reviewing five gratis genre flicks, this year, we’re taking a gander at five gratis genre flicks with a “blood” theme -- meaning, basically, that all of the summarized selections have the word “blood” in their title. And also, they all suck royally, save for one, which is probably the best place to begin our whirlwind tour, no?

A Bucket of Blood (1959)

Now here’s a movie you should definitely check out this Halloween season, and for once, I’m not being a facetious little prick about it. One of the best films ever helmed by exploitation kingpin Roger Corman, not only is “A Bucket of Blood” a great little horror flick from the Atomic Age, it’s actually one of the greatest lampoons of hippie/beatnik culture ever filmed. I guess you could say there’s two kinds of skewering going on in this flick, no?

B-movie hero Dick Miller plays the lead protagonist, a retarded busboy who works at an artsy-fartsy San Francisco coffee shop where poets with Dick Van Dyke beards spew florid logorrhea all over the linoleum. A budding sculptor, old Dicky boy accidentally kills his pet cat one night, and after he casts the entire kitty cadaver in clay, he winds up becoming an unexpected art house sensation.

This being a horror movie, I guess you can figure out what happens next. All in all, this is just a damned terrific little romp, with way better acting than the norm, a tremendous plot, and some really amusing kills. Take note Eli Roth and the rest of you wannabe auteurs -- this is how you make a goddamn horror comedy.

Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002)

In the early 1960s, shlockmeister extraordinaire Herschel Gordon Lewis made “Blood Feast,” a drive-in cheese-a-rama that was more or less the first true slasher/splatter film in U.S. history. In what has to be some kind of record, it took HGL damn near 40 years to release its sequel, which as fate would have it, is really, really fucking terrible.

While the original “Blood Feast” was undoubtedly a corny movie, it was a genuine corny movie. This is the absolute worst kind of post-modern horror flick, the self-reflexive, intentionally shitty kind. Perhaps Lewis decided to unleash four decades worth of inward hostility unto the masses with this remake/sequel/remaquel, which has ample blood, guts and T and A, yet hardly anything resembling the same goopy, goofy spirit the original film conveyed.

Still, there are some positives, I suppose. If you like food puns, you’re probably going to dig this one, and the female fodder is rather well-endowed where it counts. And like I would possibly say anything at all bad about John Waters being cast as a chi-mo Catholic priest…

Bloodtide (1982)

Woo boy, this one is a stinker. This really, really white couple decide to take a trip to Greece, where apparently, there’s some kind of weird virgin sacrifice Voodoo stuff going on, but all of the Catholics in town are acting pretty suspicious about it, too. Oh, and did I mention that it stars JAMES EARL JONES as a dude who runs around, just saying stuff in a big, booming JAMES EARL JONES voice for virtually no reason at all? Well, I should have, I guess.

This flick sets a new standard for blandness, as less than a week after viewing the film, I had forgotten virtually everything about it. There's a lot of underwater scenes, and there's a part where this chick talks about Abercrombie and Fitch, and the monster shows up for like, three seconds. And oh yeah, James Earl Jones is in it, too. Did I already tell you that? Well, shit then.

The director of the film, Richard Jeffries, would later go on to write "Cold Creek Manor," "Man of the House" and "Scarecrows," which as far as I'm concerned, is the most diverse portfolio on all of IMBD. Oh, and  Bob Morton from "Robocop" is in it, too, but it still sucks.

Legacy of Blood (1971)

I swear, I’ve seen this movie, under various titles, fifteen different times before. That’s not to say the film has a plethora of alternate titles, I mean it has a painfully familiar plot: a bunch of mendacious, avaricious pricks are hanging out in a supposedly haunted mansion for some kind of financial prize, and what do you know, a whole bunch of dead bodies start mysteriously piling up.

There’s not too much to talk about here. The only really memorable scenes involve a dude getting his head caved in with an axe (in which the camera itself is sort of used as the bludgeoning tool -- an admittedly cool and unique little optical trick, if I may so myself) and a part where two scheming lovers are killed by, of all things, a malfunctioning lamp. Hey, I guess you can only stab, impale and strangle so many people before you run out of murder techniques, I reckon.

Alas, I suppose it does have some merit, being helmed by the same guy that gave us the immortal "Little Shop of Horrors" rip-off, "Please Don't Eat My Mother." And for the truly autistic? See if you recognize any of the backdrops, since the IMDB alleges the film was shot at the same locale as the old Adam West "Batman" show.

Silent Night Bloody Night (1974)

No, it’s not the movie about the dude who watched his mama get raped and murdered by Saint Nick, only to get beaten by nuns and turn into a yuletide killing machine himself. That was called “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” and unlike this formulaic claptrap, that one was actually worth watching.

You know all of that stuff I said earlier about “Legacy of Blood?” Well, you can just copy pasta that shit right here, because it follows virtually the exact same script. A mysterious murder cover-up, coming back to haunt those who made a pact all those years ago? Check. Random cast members dropping like flies, while nobody at all suspects the weirdo stranger who just joined the party fifteen minutes ago? It’s here. A completely intelligence-insulting “swerve” ending? BINGO!

And the turd topping on top of the shit sundae? The movie doesn’t even really have a Christmas setting. Being a crappy, generic ‘70s horror flick is one thing, but being a crappy, generic ‘70s horror flick with a misleading title? Hey pal, there’s a reason why “Halloween” is considered an all-time masterpiece, beginning with the fact that it doesn’t take place during motherfucking Easter.

Of course, there are also some legitimately fantastic horror films on YouTube, which you can watch without breaking any kind of international copyright law whatsoever -- among them, bona-fide 1980s masterpieces like "The Evil Dead" and "Night of the Creeps" as well as underappreciated '70s exploitation gems like "Driller Killer" and "Invasion of the Bee Girls." And that's not to mention all of the public domain classics, like "Nosferatu" and "Night of the Living Dead," and all of the, ahem, "master works" churned out by one Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Alas, if you're a movie masochist, I reckon any of the above flicks are worthy of your squandered free time. And hey, as bad as they are, at least they're better than "The Ape Man" and "Monsturd" . . .

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Police!

It’s the Freddy Krueger movie that never got made … primarily, because it would've sucked big time

Among hardcore “Elm Street” fans, the series’ sixth entry, “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare,” isn’t necessarily held in the highest esteem. Most fans I’ve talked to rank it in the series’ bottom three, with quite a few mentioning it as their least favorite of the films. Personally, I thought it was pretty disappointing, but to be fair, I thought the series had been on a downward trajectory since part 4, anyway.

By 1991, it was clear that Mr. Krueger was no longer the box office draw New Line Cinema so direly wanted him to be. After the bitter critical and financial failure of part 5 (which I think is actually the most underrated film in the entire series), Bob Shaye and pals decided to finally yank the plug on the once-mighty franchise. Of course, before “Freddy’s Dead” got green lit, multiple proposals for a sixth “Elm Street” film were submitted, including one inked by none other than Peter freaking Jackson.

Rachel Talalay, a long-time “Elm Street” producer and the eventual director of “Freddy’s Dead,” originally turned in a script for a hypothetical “Elm Street 6” which was WAY different from what was ultimately filmed. Co-written by Michael Almereyda, the screenplay hardly resembled “Freddy’s Dead” at all, tied directly into the end of “The Dream Child” and even had a VERY strong link to “The Dream Warriors” and “The Dream Master” -- alas, had the script actually got the cinematic treatment, there’s no denying it would’ve ended up the Freddy clusterfuck to end all Freddy clusterfucks. Believe you me, “The Dream Police” (not the script’s official title, but more than likely what would have been its subheading) made “Freddy’s Dead” seem as staid as early ‘50s Italian neorealism.

The script begins with Jacob -- the son of Alice from the last two films, and now a teenager himself -- on a plane. He complains about a whirring engine sound, and an old man and a flight attendant tell him it’s nothing to worry about (indeed, this scene very closely resembles the opening of “Freddy’s Dead.) Of course, the plane then gets sawed in half by a RED AND GREEN jet, with the stewardess and old geezer getting splattered in the collision.

Still in his chair, Jacob falls out of the wreckage. Showered with corpse chunks, a couple of grinning (and living) children start floating beside him, who slowly dissolve away into skeletons…who then proceed to attack him with scissors, before cutting him out of his parachute-like seat.

He crashes through the roof of a house. He wakes up in his bed, and says hi to his mom. He opens his bedroom window, and sure enough, the skeleton cherubs are back, indicating he’s still not awake yet. The house than starts plummeting again, and it eventually slams into a neighborhood, where a nondescript darkness emerges from the crater left by the falling home.

Jacob runs for dear life, as the black funk washes over an old lady and her dog, transforming them into mutant beings that, apparently, couldn’t care less about being turned into mutants.

Eventually, he runs to the city limits, where he encounters Freddy…who literally sucks the entire town into his stomach! Freddy reaches into his gut and yanks out Alice, whom he slices up in front of her own child. Right before Jacob can strike back, three android-like beings -- one described as bulky, another as feminine and one with an exposed mouth -- come rushing to his aid, with one of the Power Ranger-like characters screaming at Jacob to “Wake up!”

And so, Jacob wakes up in the middle of freaking nowhere, holding a bracelet with the name “Alice” etched on it.

So, he wanders around town, until he encounters a bunch of townsfolk protesting a halfway home. There, Jacob meets Karen, a 16-year-old, and she invites him inside. There, he meets the operators of the foster home, Mr. and Mrs. Ross.

Then, we’re introduced to the rest of the cannon fodder … I mean, central characters … Gina, Wesley and Scott. Scott’s is apparently a major league asshole, we deduce from the get-go. All of them live within the foster home, and all of them experienced horrific abuses as little kids.

While working at a lumber yard, Jacob starts having visions of the same mutant neighborhood from earlier. Later, Jacob has a nightmare Freddy buries him alive in roaches, and he wakes up holding a giant bug. Of course, it’s all a dream, and everybody looks at him funny because he’s thrashing all over the place. Jacob tries to tell the other kids who Freddy is, but they don’t believe him. Later, Jacob has another daymare, in which a mutant bush sprouts arms and legs, turns into his mama, and gets killed by Freddy all over again because, man, is Freddy such a dick.

Jacob has a seizure, and he’s wheeled off in an ambulance. Of course, he has a Freddy dream while in the ambulance, which results in our heroic Dream Police making the save once more. Eventually, Freddy spins out of his red and green sweater into stereotypical convict regalia, simply for the sake of making a stupid jailbreak pun.

So, these Dream Police people. One is called Sound Cop, the other Blade Cop and the other Power Cop. They attack Freddy using precisely the things their name implies. And if you haven’t deduced just who the fuck these people are supposed to be, clearly, you need to catch “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3” ASAP.

Meanwhile, back at the halfway house, Freddy decides to kill Wesley by literally turning him into a cigarette and smoking him to death. You see, its because his dad used to burn him with cigarettes and shit. So, Jacob returns, and all of a sudden, all the foster kids kinda’ start taking his chatter about Fred K a bit more serious now.

Karen tells Jacob about how her dad killed himself after breaking her mama’s neck, and then Jacob tells her about the special dream powers he inherited from his mom, and he takes her to a magical dream forest to prove it. Then, Karen takes a detour into a Freddy portal, where Freddy beats the crap out of her mom -- who is literally in punching bag form. The Dream Police make the save again, this time by battling a gigantic Freddy (now in punching bag form himself) to the death.

Gina becomes Freddy’s next prey. He sucks her into an elevator filled with zombies, finally dropping her off in a scummy motel room in hooker apparel with a morbidly obese john. Jacob and the Dream Police momentarily stall Freddy, but he winds up kidnapping Gina anyway. He kills her by choking the life out of her with his Stretch Armstrong hands.

Mr. Silverman from Protective Services shows up after Gina dies, and takes all of the foster children away to a youth detention center. Using his dream powers, Jacob takes Scott and Karen into the mutant dream world -- which from the script’s description, would probably have garnered a copyright infringement suit from Tim Burton -- and the Dream Police show up to help track down Freddy. Scott wanders off into a mutant tavern, where Freddy agrees to give him Karen, the longtime object of his affection, in exchange for royally fucking up Jacob’s shit.

Freddy guts Scott for his efforts, and the Dream Police engage him in a live-action Tom and Jerry bar room brawl, with Blade Cop and Freddy literally liquefying each other in a sword fight. Freddy’s down, but not out, the Dream Police tell us -- they only way Freddy can be killed for good, they tell Jacob, is if he does in Mr. Krueger himself.

Karen decides to take the initiative and explores the old Krueger house by her lonesome. Rummaging through Freddy’s childhood bedroom, she finds something very interesting … a bunch of old papers with the name “Freddy Underwood” scrawled on them. Then she finds a photo of a very, very young Freddy with some mysterious older man. Hey, what do you know, Freddy was a foster care kid all along!

Blade Cop shows up, and … SWERVE! She’s actually Freddy, and she stabs Jacob to death. Freddy then proceeds to threaten Karen with RAPE, even going as far as to transform into her father before he gets going. Thankfully (and without any real explanation), Karen’s real mom just shows up out of nowhere and has a kung-fu fight with Freddy in her husband’s form. This allows Karen some time to flee, but eventually, Freddy pursues her again.

Ingeniously,  Karen decides to best Freddy at his own mind-fuck game by transforming herself into his hitherto unmentioned STEPFATHER and beating the living hell out of him. With the Dream Police cheering her own, she frees all of the souls he’s eaten, pummeling him until he’s nothing but a pile of black goop on the carpet.

Blade Cop said it took someone knowing Freddy’s “nightmare” to finally vanquish him. Jacob joins the Dream Police is an honorary fourth member, and Karen awakes in a beautiful, non-mutant-hellscape version of Springwood, holding a bracelet with Jake’s name on it.

And … fin.

Needless to say, that script was something else all right. And by “something else,” I meant “an absolute goddamn train wreck,” and I for one am glad it never got realized.

As goofy as “Freddy’s Dead” was, it at least tried to keep things within the horror genre. “The Dream Police” was just an outright cornball parody, really closer to “The Mask” than “The Silence of the Lambs.” Yeah, it was cool bringing back the Dream Warriors and all, but to turn them into miniature Robocops was just … well, yeah. Also, the kills in this one were just ridiculous, and the whole “Freddy was a victim, too!” subplot just wasn’t working for me.

There were some decent ideas in there, but there’s no way that muddle of a screenplay could’ve translated into anything other than sheer shit onscreen. I don’t think it would have been as bad as the 2010 remake, but it definitely would’ve been a big, fat, Ray Rice-sized black eye for the series as a whole.

Still, there may be even weirder “Elm Street” scripts out there. Did you know there was one “Freddy vs. Jason” treatment floating around where Jason gets put on trial for 2,000 counts of murder and its revealed that Freddy tried to drown him way back when and the two end up battling each other to death in a shopping mall before getting turned into two-headed freaks and killed, “Bride of Frankenstein” collapsing roof style?

Holy shit, I would have paid good money to have seen that one. Good money, indeed

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Drive-Invasion 2014!!

It's a kinder, gentler Drive-Invasion, with new ownership, a new attitude and an all new venue. But with so many changes, is the revered summer ritual still something to look forward to?

Labor Day weekend is arguably the busiest weekend in Atlanta: you've got SEC football at the Georgia Dome, NASCAR racing down south, a couple of book festivals and of course, that mecca for all things nerd (and for a time at least, a funding mechanism for a convicted pedophile), Dragon*Con.

The big overlooked ritual, of course, is Drive-Invasion, an Atlanta ritual now in its 15th year. Originally started in 1999 at the iconic Starlight Six Drive-In, the celebration of all things white trash (mostly, B-movies, muscle cars, psychedelic hillbilly music, cheap beer and cheaper women) has been one of my favorite autumnal rites since I started attending a few years back -- for a recap of what you missed lately, here's the IIIA rundown of the 2012 and 2013 hootenannies.

Alas, some mighty big changes have gone down recently. For one thing, the ownership group of the Starlight Six recently changed hands, and since they opted to go all digital projection, it was immediately apparent that 35mm prints of old films could no longer be shown there. Also, they implemented some downright Stalin-eqsue policy reforms (no more tofu dogs, a prohibition on cooking out, keeping the gates closed until damn near before the films start playing, etc.) and may or may not have purged the operation of every single minority employee. Very early on in 2014, the viability of Drive-Invasion looked incredibly faint.

Enter James Bickert, an independent Atlanta filmmaker who makes the kind of movies that are usually offered for free on YouTube. Ever the entrepreneur, he decided to turn the Drive-Invasion operation into a genuine LLC. His first move? Taking the annual event out of Starlight and moving it to a rather unexpected venue...

The Home of the Braves ... for a few more years, at least.

...the Atlanta Braves parking lot. The green lot, to be a bit more precise -- it's basically the skeletal remains of what was Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, and its big claim to fame is that it has a big tribute marker smackdab in the middle of it celebrating Hank Aaron's historic #715 homer. It's an unorthodox selection for a site, to be sure, but it kinda' makes sense ... after all, I strongly prefer watching movies outside, with the sneaking suspicion that Wayne Williams is lurking in the bushes adjacent to my car.

Back when the only performance enhancers baseball players needed were nicotine, cocaine and Clermont Lounge employees. 

With the venue change, a couple of other alterations followed. For one, the traditional date of the celebration -- Labor Day weekend -- was bumped up a week, presumably to give Atlanta-area hipsters an opportunity to traipse around the Marriott dressed up like cartoon characters AND enjoy some good-old fashioned shitty movies within the same seven-day period. And believe it or not, the masterminds behind the newfangled Drive-Invasion appeared to have tried to turn it into a family-friendly event, complete with an all-new kids' zone, appearances by the Falcons and Braves' mascots and totally age-inappropriate coloring book offerings.

If you drew on some aerolas, they gave you extra candy!

A lot of stuff was promised on the official Drive-Invasion 2014 brochure, but I didn't see much of the stuff that was advertised. Granted, I did get there a little late, but I must say I was disappointed plenty by both food truck alley (there was one there, and a table handing out coffee when it was 80 degrees out) or the musical tents -- which, basically, were just yard sale tents the bands could barely fit underneath. And with such star-studded acts as Roky Ericsson, Black Lips and Man or Astro-Man? over the last few years, I was REALLY down in the dumps about this year's big musical guest -- some local band called the Biters, who I must say more than lived up to their namesake.

Nothing attracts the ladies quite like saying you make sardonic Ric Flair wood art for a living. 

Equally disappointing were the arts vendors, who even by Drive-Invasion standards, looked plum pitiful. And where the hell where all of the tofu dog grillers and black bean burger stands? Keep in mind, there was no concession lobby around like in years past -- which means in addition to not being able to grab extra popcorn or Mr. Pibb whenever you wanted, you HAD to make use of a port-a-potty. And as Music Midtown 2013 so clearly demonstrated ... such is not a place you EVER want to be inside the perimeter.

The estimated attendance for the event? About 200 or so people, and from the smell of it, just one of whom elected to sport underarm deodorant.

There was some stuff going on next to Turner Field that evening, but us Drive-Invasion people weren't allowed to investigate.  As for as the special kids zone, I never saw anything of the like, and that much publicized Fangoria Magazine table? It must've been invisible.

Look at all that activity, ya'll!

But there was some good. For one, the sole food truck on the premises was pretty freaking great, additionally providing my new all-time favorite name for ANY kind of business -- "The Blaxican."

Imagine: a world where instead of shooting each other, the Trayvon Martins and George Zimmermans of the world instead swapped recipes

In case you couldn't have surmised as much by the namesake, the food truck specializes in fusion Tex-Mex/soul food. As much as I wanted to try the collard green quesadillas, I ended up opting for the blackened fish burrito, which as fate would have it, was mighty goddamn delicious.

Es muy bueno, Holmes!

With grilled tilipia, coleslaw and a nice wasabe sauce, this wasn't just an outstanding dinner, it was basically the best thing about the entire evening.

A nice almost-autumnal breeze picked up around 7:30 p.m. With films beginning at about 9 p.m., me and my other of significance decided to trek back to my car to nom and discuss how horrible my date ideas are.

Which brings us to the second biggest problem of the event -- the screen.

The best seat in the house, for sure!

Odds are, you've seen one of those inflatable jumbo screens before. Well, that's the kind of projection that was used at Drive-Invasion this year, which for what its worth, isn't too bad. That is, unless your car is parked more than 300 feet away from it, at which point it becomes downright unviewable.

And that, I am afraid, brings us to the absolute back-breaker for the entire evening -- the parking lot itself.

You see, drive-ins work because the lots are raised, allowing cars to park in front of each other WITHOUT obstructing the view. The Turner Field green lot, not surprisingly, wasn't elevated for the affair, so if you were any further away from the third goddamn line of cars, you couldn't see anything. Me and my gal had to drive around the stupid lot for twenty minutes before the first movie, just trying to find some spot out on the periphery where the entire screen was visible. Of course, we could've have parked the car and taken our lawn chairs to a special viewing section in front of the screen, but it's called DRIVE-Invasion for a reason -- and also, I didn't want my auto getting broken into by some fat kid with a beard and an ironic Foreigner tee-shirt.

Of course, the big draw of Drive-Invasion are the movies, and this year ... well, let's just say they could have done a LOT better with their selections.

"The Horror of Party Beach" (1964)

"I agree with the detective. We should all continue just fucking standing here and shit being white for awhile." 

Forced to move my car because a fucking ambulance parked right in front of us, it quickly became apparent that, despite all of that bellyaching and moaning about the Starlight's digital projection booths, the films shown tonight WEREN'T being projected in 35 mm. To me, that was the final disappointment atop a mound of disappointments -- you mean to tell me some schmuck at the drive-in COULDN'T have connected a Macbook to one of those damn things and done the entire shindig there instead? 

Oh, the movie. Almost forgot. At first, I had no idea what the film was, and about five minutes in, I recalled it from an old MST3K episode. Despite the clambake theme, the atomic monsters and the black and white visuals, "The Horror of Party Beach" is a film that actually came out around the same time Vietnam was flaring up. It's also a remarkable piece of shit, and a horrible Drive-Invasion selection, even as an "ironic" gag. 

Before we get into the film's inherent badness, let's talk about logic. On a projection screen that's poorly backlit, do you think it's really the wisest thing in the world to pick a black and white movie for a screening? The maze of automobiles made watching the flick difficult enough, and now these motherfuckers wanted us to squint our way through an entire motion picture. 

Needless to say, this thing was very forgettable. Radioactive waste seeps into the ocean, and it mutates a bunch of skeletons into crappy "Creature from the Black Lagoon" monsters who feed on the super-stupid residents of a beach community. Pretty much every pre-"Night of the Living Dead" sucky horror movie trope you can think of is contained herein; you've got long stretches of exposition that are basically just guys in suits smoking and talking for five minute interstitials, completely gratuitous musical numbers (complete with one of the most out-of-place closing tunes in film history) and lots of casual racism to go around, as one of the characters, a house maid, might as well have been plucked out of "Gone with the Wind." 

Spinning newspaper montages? Check. 

Idiots who keep encroaching upon the monster-occupied community, for no discernible reason whatsoever? Check.

A really, really stupid way to kill the monsters? You're going to need a mighty big check mark fella' because after hitting the indestructible gill people with tanks, mortars and ten billion rounds of ammunition, it's ultimately revealed that they're deathly allergic to ... salt. 

Even as a larf, this one was rather unpleasant to sit through, and a much needed reminder that as fun as watching good b-movies are, having to watch awful b-movies is every bit the torture eggheads like Leonard Maltin say it is. 

"Jaws" (1975)

Looks like we're going to need a bigger screen, am I right?

"Jaws," as far as I am concerned, was the death nail of American cinema as an art form. That's not to say the film is necessarily bad, or that Stevie Spielberg planned for the thing to take off the way it did, but I still see it as the dagger through the heart of what was Hollywood's finest era. From hereon out, movie studios were going to turn away from sensitive, adult films like "The Godfather" and "The Exorcist" and focus on rather juvenile, popcorn movies instead. Had "Jaws" not proven successful, we more than likely wouldn't have gotten "Star Wars," and from there, who knows what kind of high-brow, intellectual mainstream movies we would have gotten instead? 

Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of this movie. Some people utterly adore it, and while I don't hate it, I think it is way, WAY overrated. 

For one thing, I don't think it's a very suspenseful movie. There's like, what, two or three actual kills in the entire movie, and all of them are filmed in waters so murky, you really can't tell what the hell's going on. Furthermore, I've always thought the acting was pretty corny, especially Richard Dreyfuss's irritating bullshit. And don't even get me started on the uncredited screenplay nod to one Herman Melville...

Call me crazy, but I've always preferred the sequels to this one. At least with parts 2, 3 and even "The Revenge," the script KNOWS its fucking stupid monster movie trash, and the director treats said cinematic refuse accordingly. Yeah, I know full well all the stuff about the malfunctioning mechanical shark, but this is just a mediocre creature feature through and through. Until my dying day, I will fight to the death to defend my conviction that "Piranha" and "Alligator" are vastly superior to this movie. 

But the music was good. I'll give 'em that, at least...

"The Mad Doctor of Blood Island" (1969)

Even the opening credits were filmed in Spaz-a-Vision!

I've never been a big fan of Filipino horror flicks (think, all of those "Fu Manchu" movies) and "The Mad Doctor of Blood Island" reminded me exactly why.

Screened at about midnight, the flick began with a ceremonial "oath of green blood," where you were supposed to drink a home-brewed elixir you could actually pick up at one of the vendor tables. I didn't try the vial of liquid green gunk myself, but per the mini-van filled with junior high schoolers beside me, that stuff was, and I quote, "fuckin' nasty."

As for the film itself, it's pretty stupid. There's this one guy who goes to a remote jungle, where he makes out with like fifty villagers while crappy looking plant monster people periodically pop up and the camera shakes like Michael J. Fox being electrocuted. You may think there's more to the movie, but you, my friend, would be wrong.

Rather than recap a rather uninteresting film, I'll just tell you about two things I saw in the parking lot during the screening; one was watching Professor Morte of the Atlanta Silver Scream Spookshow jump off a car with a dead battery (yes, he was in full zombie get up at the time), and the other was watching this one dude who was absolutely drunk as a skunk shambling his way across the parking lot for what seemed to be twenty uninterrupted minutes. Eventually, he just disappeared in the woodlands adjacent to the stadium. The sounds of a train whistle were heard shortly thereafter ... let us pray that Darwinism took effect from that point onward.

This is the way traditions die: not with a whimper, but with nobody in attendance being able to see the motherfucking screen

All in all? I have to say I was really, really unsatisfied with this year's event. The venue didn't have the same character as the Starlight, the films weren't in 35 mm, the crowd was pretty dispassionate, the music sucked, the food options were far too scarce, there were hardly ANY vendors of any variety onsite, the films themselves were sub-par, the screen was too small, you couldn't actually SEE the screen half the time and the the lack of a lobby really made basic necessities a hassle. And on top of that, there appeared to be a 37 percent increase in on-premise SCAD Skanks (TM) over last year's event. Trust me, there's only so many morbidly obese, tatted-up graphic design majors with neon pink hair in tight clothing you can gawk at before your eyeballs melt.

Of course, some mighty big changes COULD come about for next year's event, but they would have to be remarkably drastic. If you can't have it at the Starlight, then why not schedule next year's event at the Swan Drive-In in Blue Ridge? The small-town vibe would really make for some great atmosphere, and they have some really good goddamn ice cream nearby as well.

I really admire Mr. Bickert for at least attempting to salvage what has been one of my favorite annual Atlanta events, but if this is the best Drive-Invasion can muster going forward, we're probably better off not even having one.