Cool Cinema Trash

Cool Cinema Trash: Tentacles (1977)

Cool Cinema Trash


Each year 10,000 tourists visit Ocean Beach. This summer Ocean Beach has attracted something else!

What it’s all about: Tentacles (1977) may begin with the most boring opening credits sequence ever (a prolonged close-up of a taxi cab dispatch radio does not make for scintillating cinema) but things quickly get underway as a mysterious underwater presence stalks a mother and child. Mysterious might be a bit of an overstatement. The movie is called Tentacles after all. We know exactly what’s going to happen next. While the mother is momentarily distracted chatting with a friend, the baby is snatched from the shoreline. A peg-legged sailor quickly becomes victim number two.

When what’s left of his body literally pops up, Sheriff Robards (Claude Akins) asks grizzled newspaper man Ned Turner (John Huston) to keep things hush-hush. “What happened?” the reporter ponders, “What’s happening, if you want my opinion, we’re in for a nightmare.”

After spending the night researching possible causes for the recent “accidents”, Ned is joined by his sister Tille, played by Shelly Winters. If Huston and Winters as cinema’s most unlikely siblings weren’t already crazy enough, there’s the fact that Huston plays the entire scene in a laughable floor-length sleeping gown while Winters crows about her most recent (and unlikely) romantic conquest. To top it all off, we’re told that Winters’ character has a pre-teen son.

Henry Fonda plays Mr. Whitehead, head of Trojan Construction, the company that’s spearheading a massive underwater tunnel project. Whitehead chews out lackey Cesare Danova when it’s implicated that Trojan was somehow responsible for the recent deaths. Tentacles came along during the ‘take the money and run’ phase of Fonda’s illustrious career. It seems that Fonda would appear in just about anything as long as he was paid well and his scenes could be shot in a day or two. Some of Fonda’s other notable ‘paycheck’ roles include, Rollercoaster (1977), The Swarm (1978), City on Fire (1979) and Meteor (1979).

Examination of the mutilated corpses reveal that the bone marrow was sucked dry. “There must be something monstrous out there,” Ned muses, “Monstrous… and infernal.”

Two divers are sent to the sea floor in a diving bell to examine the Trojan work site. They stumble upon the lair of the giant octopus. One of the men is quickly dispatched in a cloud of black ink. The other tries to escape to the surface in the diving bell, but a reinforced steel compartment is no match for an enraged cephalopod.

Tillie (wearing a preposterously oversized sombrero) enters her son and his friend in an upcoming Regatta. “I’m a very good sailor,” she boasts, “If I went in that boat with you, you would certainly win.”

“Then we would need a tornado to move the boat!” her son tells her. Awww, don’t kids say the darndest things? Jr. quickly tries to recant his statement, “Mommy, you’re plump. There’s more to love.”

Good ole boy marine expert Will Gleason and his wife Vicky (Bo Hopkins and Delia Boccardo) arrive in town to help with the police investigation. Vicky worries that Will’s latest assignment is too dangerous. Will insists that a man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do.

Will and his brother Mike explore the area near the diver’s attack, but all they find is a bunch of junk and a weird forest of dead fish floating upside down. “The Trojan tunnel company has been using high-pitch frequency way the hell beyond the legal limit.”

“That goes for the dead fish,” Mike agrees, “but those ripped up things down there, what could’ve done all that?”

“There’s only one thing big enough or powerful enough. I’m thinking… a giant octopus.”

Vicky’s sister goes boating with some friends. They unknowingly lay anchor near the octopus’ underwater lair. With a few false scares to take up some screen time, Judy’s two friends become appetizers and, after the boat is ripped apart, she becomes the main course.

When her sister doesn’t return from her trip, Vicky charters a boat and goes out looking for her. They quickly find what’s left of the boat, but none of its passengers. They leave a bouy to mark the location and head back to shore. Suddenly, something massive rises out of the water and engulfs their vessel. Vicky is tossed into the dark waters and can only watch as a giant tentacle drags the boat beneath the waves. She swims back to the buoy, but is caught in the eight-armed embrace of the giant beast. Will waits and watches the solemn parade of ships returning to port. His wife’s boat isn’t among them.

“It’s a giant octopus,” Will tells Ned and the Sheriff, “Something set this one off.”

Remembering the nearby yacht race, Ned wonders, “Would a giant squid’s range be greater than 30 miles?”

Considering the lives that are on the line, Will’s blazé attitude and apparent lack of interest in the conversation is a bit odd. He ponders the question before slowly answering, “Well, if it’s gone berserk, who the hell knows?”

“Will, it’s gotta be destroyed, that thing. Can you do it?” Yes, he can. But his plan is so cockamamie that he leaves the room without telling anyone what it is.

A chintzy local parade kicks off the Jr. yacht race. With up tempo muzak blaring on the soundtrack, the kids ready themselves for the regatta. A comedian dressed as Uncle Sam entertains the crowd once the race has started. In a weirdly edited montage, shots of the adults, the kids and the oncoming octopus are all intercut while we’re forced to listen to the comedian’s painfully unfunny shtick. Tille, resplendent in a striped sailor ensemble, remains on dry land and communicates with the boys via walkie talkie. She listens helplessly as the octopus attacks. Soon, there’s nothing left but an ocean filled with overturned boats. Did the octopus eat ALL those kids? Unfortunately, no. The Coast Guard picked them all up.

At this point you can forget about the other characters in the movie. From here on out, it’s Bo Hopkins show, as Will and his brother take on the tentacled terror. They anchor their boat in the cove near the octopus’ cave and Will’s brother puts forth the preposterous theory that, “All octopi, large or small, have a sense of foresight. He won’t come back.”

“This one’s very special. This one has tasted blood. This one thinks he’s stronger.”

The giant barge they’ve towed with them to the cove contains a pair of killer whales from the theme park where Will works. Will’s great scheme is to set the whales free and have them battle the octopus. While perched atop the barge, feeding them fish through a mail slot, Hopkins talks to the whales he’s named Summer and Winter. It’s a wonderful moment to be savored, truly one of the most absurd monologues in B-movie history.

Please note: The copious use of ellipses in the following paragraph is an attempt to approximate Hopkins’ curiously pause-filled line delivery. Whether this was a conscious acting choice, poor memorization or lousy ad-libbing is anyone’s guess.

“I guess you know now… why I brought you here. I wanted to tell you more about it. But… there have been many people that died. I’ve lost a loved one. I need your help… more now than ever. I remember the times when I was training you. People used to call you killer. They used to call me that on the streets. Doesn’t mean nuthin’. You have more… more love… in your heart… more affection than any human being I ever met. But now, I… I can’t ask anybody else. So I’m asking you to help me kill this octopus. I hope you understand that. I know I’m in your environment. I don’t want it this way. But if I release ya and you go away… I want you to know that I’ll understand. I gotta go now. I know people think we’re crazy. Maybe we are. Maybe we are.”


The next day, a mighty force rocks the boat. Will and his brother race topside to find the barge destroyed and the whales swimming away. So much for that idea. On to plan B.

That is, if there is another plan. The boys dive into the water, but since they have no weapons or explosives, it’s impossible to tell what they’re going to do. While exploring the entrance of the octopus’ cave, a shower of coral and boulders comes raining down on Will, trapping him. As the octopus moves in for the kill, Summer and Winter come charging to the rescue. Will’s brother frees him as the killer whales tear into the octopus’ spongy flesh.

The octopus retreats into its cave, but the whales are unrelenting, ripping the creature to shreds. What’s left of the monster sinks lifelessly to the ocean floor. Will and his brother sail off into the sunset with their whale friends accompanying them.

In conclusion: Tentacles is a flawed, but respectable entry in the “Monsters on the Loose” genre that flooded movie screens in the wake of the blockbuster Jaws (1975). One of the main complaints against Tentacles is that it’s dull and there aren’t enough octopus attacks. While the attack scenes are sparse and nearly bloodless (which is weird considering that this is an Italian genre picture) there is still plently to keep bad movie fans entertained. The main point of interest being the curiously A-list cast spouting absurd dialog and acting out ridiculous scenarios that are meant to give their characters “depth”. Schadenfraude thy name is Tentacles.

Tentacles is available on both DVD and Blu-ray. It was released on DVD through the MGM Midnight Movies label and is currently out of print (though still widely available). The double feature “flipper” disc also contains the Joan Collins/Bert I. Gordon Drive-In epic Empire of the Ants (1977). Both films feature several language and subtitle options and are supplemented with their original trailers. Both films looks terrific (as with most Midnight Movie titles) and are presented in their original widescreen formats (Tentacles 2.35:1, Empire of the Ants 1.85:1).

Tentacles made its Blu-ray debut in 2015. The quality is nearly identical the previous DVD release, only  it has now been paired with the Danish monster-on-the-loose epic Reptilicus (1962). Trailers for both films are the only  bonus features worth noting on the HD release.


Cool Cinema Trash: Village of the Giants (1965)

Cool Cinema Trash

220px-VOTGposterIn what may be the grooviest opening credits sequence ever, the teenage inhabitants of Village of the Giants (1965) jiggle and gyrate (in exploitative slow motion no less) to Jack Nitzsche’s catchy theme music. According to one of the first on screen credits, the movie is based (it should read “very loosely based”) on the story Food of the Gods by H.G. Wells. Village of the Giants is actually a wacky genre hybrid dreamed up by producer/director Bert I. Gordon who blends his unique love for all things big and small with teenage beach party antics. Some of Gordon’s other films have included Beginning of the End (1957) The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and Attack of the Puppet People (1958).

What it’s all about: After crashing their car outside the city limits, a group of kids throw a dance party by the side of the road. These untamed youths are determined to get their kicks despite the torrential rain. Their impromptu party quickly devolves into an unruly orgy of mudslinging.

In nearby Hainesville USA, wholesome teens Mike (Tommy Kirk) and Nancy (Charla Doherty) are engaged in some old fashioned necking when they are interrupted by an explosion in the basement. They run to check on Mike’s kid brother Genius (Ron Howard) who’s recent scientific experiment hasn’t gone quite as planned. The result of the mishap is a mass of bubbling goo. When a neighborhood cat slips in through the basement window and eats the mysterious substance, it grows to gigantic proportions.

After the family dog chases the cat away, the kids decide to test the effectiveness of their new discovery by feeding it to a pair of ducks who also grow to enormous proportions.

“Can you imagine the problems we’re gonna solve?” Mike asks, “Unlimited food supply at practically no additional cost.” While Genius tries to replicate the formula, the family dog eats some of the goo as well. Boy, they’re going to need an industrial sized pooper-scooper.

Every small town needs a swinging nightspot. At the Whiskey A Go-Go the Beau Brummels perform while Toni Basil shakes her fringe in a cage high above the dance floor. Basil served as the films choreographer and would gain notoriety in the 1980’s with her cheerleading anthem, “Mickey.”

The bad teens arrive just in time to see the ducks literally shaking a tail feather out on the dance floor. Even though the freakishly large fowl take up most of the club space, everyone keeps on dancing. “Hey, those are my ducks!” Mike proudly proclaims. The bad kids, lead by Beau Bridges, plot to steal Mike’s “million dollar secret”.

Bridges tries to impress Nancy by opening a pop bottle with his bare hands while Tisha Sterling attempts to seduce the secret out of Mike. It’s a no go, but Mike manages to get a few kisses out of the pretty blonde.

At a BBQ the next day, the ducks become the spit roasted main course. Mike serves up mutant poultry to the hungry townsfolk, all of whom appear to be under the age of twenty-five. Girls wander around the town square in their bikinis while pop stars Freddie Cannon and Mike Cliff intermittently perform for no discernable reason. Cannon badly lip synchs his hit song “Little Bitty Corrine” and Cliff croons his “Marianne” to an appreciative crowd.

When Mike and Nancy make a quick stop by Genius’ lab to make sure that the goo is safe and sound, a giant tarantula accosts them. Mike shows some ingenuity by flooding the basement and using a live wire to electrocute the beast. After they leave, one of the mischievous teens from out of town (Tim Rooney) breaks into the basement to steal the goo. While searching the lab (which is remarkably dry and free of spider corpses) he sets off a burglar alarm. The good teens arrive in time to watch Mike and Fred engage in some suburban fisticuffs. During their “rumble”, Kirk is stripped down to a disturbingly tiny pair of short shorts. It all ends in a dog pile free-for-all.

At the abandoned theatre that serves as their base camp, the bad kids try to figure out what to do with the goo. Someone suggests that they eat it. “You always said you wanted to be a big man,” one of them taunts, “Well now’s your chance.” To prove that he’s not “all talk and no action”, Fred caves in to peer pressure and divides the Playdough-like substance between them.

In the movie’s pivotal (and relatively well done) special effects sequence, each of them eat their share, burst out of their clothes, and grow to enormous size. They may be juvenile delinquents, but modesty still dictates that they fashion new clothes out of spare fabric and theatrical curtains.

“Now maybe it won’t be so easy for them to kick us around anymore,” Tim Rooney laughs in a moment that plays into the era’s societal fear of untamed youth, “This isn’t their world anymore, it’s gonna be ours.”

As with all the other giant creatures that have shown up in town, the citizens of Hainesville remain steadfastly blazé as they watch the towering teens make their way to the center of town where they proceed to shake and shimmy to the infectious beats of Jack Nitzsche’s groovy theme. The town sheriff doesn’t seem particularly surprised to see fifty-foot teens traipsing through town either, “I don’t pretend to understand what’s going on around here. In this town, trouble is one thing I just won’t have.”

Who’d have though that the teenage revolution would include so much go-go dancing? Joy Harmon, the most curvaceous of the colossal young ladies, plucks one lucky guy out of the crowd and gives him a ride in her bountiful cleavage. He holds on for dear life as the comically oversized prop sways to the music.

At the theatre, the giants hold court. “We are going to take over this town,” Fred tells the sheriff, laying down ground rules for living under giant martial law. With the sheriff’s daughter as hostage, everyone in town is forced to obey their every command. After they’ve been supplied with endless buckets of fried chicken, the giants gather up all the firearms in town. A disturbing number of shotguns are turned in. Hainesville looks to be the birthplace of the NRA.

The kids attempt a giant round-up using their hot rods and lots of rope. One girl on a scooter weaves a figure eight between Fred’s giant legs. But just when they think they’ve got him hog-tied, the giants capture Nancy. “For the first time in my life,” Fred tells her, “I’m a big man… in more ways than one.” Woah.

With the only road out of town closed and a woefully ineffective sheriff, it’s up to the local kids to save the day. “We’ve got a problem with giants right?” Mike rhetorically asks, “Ever hear of David and Goliath?”

They might be giants, but they’re still red-blooded American boys. Mike formulates a plan that involves the diminutive Toni Basil performing a distracting dance routine while he takes a stand against the gargantuan bullies with a slingshot as his only defense.

While the biblical battle between brain and brawn is reenacted in the town square, the good guys sneak into the theatre, subdue the giant girl on guard, and free the hostages. The oversized breast prop prominently figures into the sequence. Heck, if you’re gonna go to the time and expense of building a pair of giant boobs, you might as well get your money’s worth out of them.

Meanwhile, Mike has lost the fight and is about to get squished when Genius comes to the rescue. While circling the square on his bike, Genius disperses the gaseous antidote that reverses gigantism. Once they’re returned to their normal size, Fred and his gang of teenage hell-raisers have no choice but to hightail it out of town.

Before the final credits can roll, an obvious sight gag must be dispensed with. When the teen troublemakers finally reach their car on the main road, someone off camera asks them if Hainesville is the place with the goo. When Fred answers yes, the camera pulls back to reveal a parade of little people (back then they would’ve been called midgets) on a pilgrimage to become big.

Get it? They’re little, and they want to be big so they…oh, forget it.

This final joke falls pretty flat, so more slow-mo footage of go-go dancing teens is used to bookend this kooky drive-in gem.

In conclusion: One of the things that sets Village of the Giants apart from the other ridiculous drive-in movies of the era is the cast of “rising young talent” that producer/director Gordon managed to assemble. Not only did the film include established young stars like Tommy Kirk, Ron Howard and former Mouseketeer Johnny Crawford, but also featured several young Hollywood offspring. Tim Rooney is Mickey Rooney’s son, beautiful Tisha Sterling is the daughter of actors Ann Southern and Robert Sterling and Lloyd Bridges’ son Beau (who played the villainous Fred) went on to his own successful acting career after Village of the Giants. Joy Harmon (who played the curvaceous Merrie) later found success as a pin-girl and now owns Aunt Joy’s cakes, an L.A. based bakery that supplies baked goods to Hollywood studios.

If you are interested in what the cast members of Village of the Giants are up to nowadays, be sure to check out the Unofficial Village of the Giants Homepage. It’s jam packed with more information than any human could ever possibly need to know about this cult movie favorite. Inquiring minds will find pages devoted to technical inconsistencies, behind-the-scenes info and maps to the films back lot locations. There’s even a page highlighting the memorable skewering the film received on an episode of MST3K.

Village of the Giants is available on DVD from MGM as part of their budget “Midnite Movies” series. The movie is presented full frame in it’s original aspect ratio and without special features. The Village of the Giants disc may be bare bones (not even a trailer) but like the other titles in the series, MGM has found the best available source materials. The movie looks and sounds good.

Village of the Giants is an enjoyable blend of beach party-style shenanigans and sci-fi fantasy. It’s a real piece of drive-in hokum that’s sure to please any fan of Cool Cinema Trash.

Cool Cinema Trash: The Swinger (1966)

Cool Cinema Trash

the-swingerWhat self-respecting Ann-Margret movie would be complete without a title song sung by the fiery chanteuse herself? The Swinger (1966) certainly doesn’t disappoint. It has a doozy. Clad entirely in skin-tight black, Margret encourages everyone to “Come on and swing with me!”

What it’s all about: A bouncy instrumental version of the theme finishes out the opening credits as a high toned narrator suggests that L.A. is, “always cultural, always educational… a land of enchantment.” While he pontificates, we’re shown the seedy side of Los Angeles, run down strip clubs, XXX theatres and faded landmarks.

Our narrator is Sir Hubert Charles (Robert Coote), British lecher and publisher of Girl Lure magazine. Inside the corporate offices of Girl Lure, Sir Hubert finds his daughter in the arms of editor/playboy Ric Colby (Tony Franciosa). While they proof an upcoming layout, Ric insists that, “Even for a girlie magazine there’s such a thing as good taste.” Too bad the same rule doesn’t apply to Ann-Margret movies.

Wholesome Kelly Olsson (played by Ann-Margret whose last name is, in fact, Olssen) is mistaken for a model, plucked from a bevy of beauties in the waiting room and quickly ushered into a photo studio. “I am not a nudie,” she insists, “I’m a writer.” But they’re not interested in her stories, just her body. After watching Sir Hubert chase his secretary around his desk, an idea comes to her. “Sex, flesh, hanky-panky… that’s what they want. I know how to get published.”

With an armload of pulp paperbacks as her guide, Kelly settles in front of her typewriter and begins to pump out prose that Girl Lure won’t be able to resist. Kelly lives in an L.A. mansion that’s home to a rollicking artists commune (where else would a young, naive mid-western writer live?). With her nose buried in her “research”, she dances from room to room as the camera lovingly follows every gyration of her curvaceous figure. As she shimmies and shakes, a gale force wind tosses her hair. Never mind that she’s indoors and there’s nary a fan in sight.

Kelly hands in her new story, but is once again rejected by the magazine. After sneaking into the men’s washroom, she demands to know why Ric won’t publish her article. He calls her a fraud, “Not a true moment in it.”

“The Swinger just happens to be my life story,” she fibs.

Sir Hubert is intrigued by the biographical possibilities “of a real live nymphet” and drags Ric to the commune to see just how depraved she really is. With the help of her beatnik pals, Kelly puts on a swinging show for the prying eyes of her prospective publishers. Wearing only a bikini and some body paint, Kelly creates a messy piece of modern art as she is rolled across an oversized canvas like a human paintbrush.

“I say, this looks positively degenerate.” Sir Hubert is suitably impressed when the vice squad breaks up the party. Ric then abducts Kelly with the intention of reforming her wicked ways.

On the drive to his aunt’s beach house, Kelly draws a parallel between their current situation and the story of “that Higgins cat, the stuffy john who made a lady out of a piece of garbage.” While musing on Pygmalion, Margret (whose character is supposedly from Minnesota) inexplicably adopts a Brooklyn accent.

Ric explains to his Aunt Cora (Nydia Westman) that if he can turn Kelly into a good girl, there won’t be anything tawdry for Sir Hubert to exploit. But Kelly doesn’t give up so easily and feigns drunkenness. Ric must wrangle her out of bed and into a cold shower. When the old letch and his snooty daughter arrive, they find them wrestling underneath the shower spray.

Kelly’s scheme seems to be going a little too well. At the offices of Girl Lure, she becomes the unwanted focus of Sir Hubert’s attention. With the touch of a button, his automated office transforms into a seductive James Bond-style den of inequity. “Sir Hubert likes a sure thing!” he shouts as he chases her around his desk.

Yes indeed, sexual harassment sure is funny! But Kelly outruns him. Despite his lascivious reputation, he admits that, “I’m the only non-scorer in the whole game.” She thoughtfully assures him that his secret is safe.

Before going on a shopping spree montage at Saks, Kelly comes clean to a surprisingly hip Aunt Cora. “I think the whole put on’s a gas!” she tells Kelly, “The only way to handle men is to keep them standing with one foot on the oil slick. Then, when they tumble, it’s in your direction. Dig?”

And tumble Ric does when Kelly fakes alcohol cravings later that evening. “It’s the monkey on my back!” she moans. After tucking her into bed, she launches into the hilariously impromptu song “I Wanna Be Loved”.

Never has alcoholism been so sexy as when Margret looks directly into the camera and croons in her breathily distinctive style. The wind machine is back, but this time it makes a little more sense since the patio door is open. Some carefully focused lighting draws attention to her scantily clad assets. Not that those assets needed any more attention.

Ric’s reaction to this seduction is to tire her out with a quick round calisthenics. “When I get tired,” she purrs, “I get stimulated, baby.” She finally manages to get him into bed for an all-night cuddle.

The next day, a private eye informs Ric that Kelly is indeed pure as the driven snow. He knows that she lied, but she doesn’t know that he knows she’s a fake. Got that? It’s at this point that the film tries to pass itself off as a comedic sex farce. The Swinger is quite funny, but for all the wrong reasons.

Ric plans to drive her to confession by photographing Kelly in embarrassing and scandalous recreations from her soon to be published sexposé, a plan that culminates in a turn on the burlesque stage. Covered from head to toe in ostrich feathers, Margret sings a rendition of “That Old Black Magic” as her costume is stripped away a la Gypsy Rose Lee. “You’ve been so wonderful about it all,” he tells her, “I’ve got a special treat in store for you.”

That “treat” turns out to be some hanky-panky at a local motel where Franciscus proves once and for all that he is completely incapable of playing comedy. He’s more creepy than comedic as he chases Margret around the room in rapid Benny Hill-style.

After all, everything is funnier when you speed it up.

Ric is carted away by the vice squad and Kelly escapes with her virtue intact. She arrives home to find her parents visiting from St. Paul. Director George Sidney tries to liven up the following exchange with lots of close-ups and quick cuts. “It’s just so terrible the things I’ve done,” Kelly confesses to her mother, “I was a card dealer in a gambling den and then a stripper and a street walker… then in that motel room a man tried to forcibly seduce me.”

Mom is nonplussed. “If you think these things are bad, wait till your children grow up.” When Kelly sees Ric on a live TV report, she hops on a motorbike and speeds off to police headquarters. Ric, meanwhile, steals a squad car and speeds off to be with Kelly.

Sir Hubert chimes in with some more narration. “Will they marry and live happily ever after? Or will they destroy themselves on America’s dangerous highways?” The answer turns out to be the latter. Ric and Kelly finally meet… in a head-on collision!

“Is that any way to end a tender, delicate love story?” Sir Huber asks.

Tender? Delicate? Exactly which movie has he been watching? The film literally rewinds itself and our lovers uncrash. The finale plays out again (this time without the highway fatalities) and our lovers rush into each other’s arms. With an ending like that, the only thing left is for Ann-Margret to reprise the film’s zany theme while sitting on a… you guessed it, a swing.

In conclusion: One of the reasons The Swinger is such an adorably awful piece of cinema trash is that it tries so very hard to be “hip” and fails at nearly every turn. During the 1960’s, Hollywood was woefully behind the times. The counter-culture youth movement left Hollywood filmmakers clueless as to what the American public wanted to see. Old guard director George Sidney (who worked with Ann-Margret on Bye, Bye Birdie, 1963 and Viva Las Vegas, 1964) seems at a total loss with the material in The Swinger.

Ann-Margret was at her sex kitten peak in 1966 and The Swinger takes full advantage of that. She looks and sounds sensational despite the dubious material. But the question remains, is it believable to have a sizzling Ann-Margret playing a naive and innocent anything, let alone a naive and innocent magazine writer?

With its crazy costumes, wacky musical interludes and faux bohemian concepts, The Swinger is a star vehicle that features everything a bad movie aficionado could ask for. When Ann-Margret is added to the mix, well, that’s when a movie like The Swinger truly becomes a slice of bad movie heaven.



Cool Cinema Trash: Julie (1956)

Cool Cinema Trash


What happened to Julie on her honeymoon? Run, Julie, run! Run for your life!

In the late 1950’s, Doris Day, America’s singing sweetheart, branched out from the romantic comedy genre with a handful of thrillers such as The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Midnight Lace (1960) and the damsel-in-distress film Julie (1956), a laugh out loud, high-flying, bad movie classic.

What it’s all about: Julie begins as most Doris Day movies do, with a sappy title song sung by its star. Amazingly, the theme from Julie received an Academy Award nomination.

The first clue that this isn’t your average Doris Day picture is that the film is in back and white. It’s oddly disconcerting to see Day in anything less than vibrant Technicolor. Perhaps black and white was chosen to give the movie more atmosphere, if so, it didn’t work.

We find Day, as the title character Julie Benton, in the middle of an argument with her husband Lyle, played by Louis Jourdan. She gets behind the wheel of her convertible and berates him for his jealous outburst at their Pebble Beach country club.

“It’s unforgivable,” she scolds as she twists the steering wheel back and fourth, never once coming close to matching the moving scenery projected on the screen behind her. Suddenly, Lyle presses his foot down on the gas pedal, sending them on a wild and dangerous drive along the picturesque Monterey coastline. Julie tries desperately to control the car as they speed faster and faster, screeching along hairpin turns. Lyle finally brings the car to a stop and Julie runs for it, collapsing at a picture perfect spot overlooking the sea.

“I’m so sorry,” he begs, “So desperately sorry. Help me fight this thing. I was jealous, jealous, blindly jealous.”

“He nearly killed us both,” Day needlessly reiterates in a breathy voiceover, “He seemed so sorry, so desperately sorry.”

Later, in front of the fireplace of their beachfront home, they discuss the mysterious circumstances surrounding the suicide of Julie’s first husband. Lyle cannot stand to have any man, dead or alive, in Julie’s life. “I had to have more answers,” Day whispers.

The next day at the country club, she meets with Cliff (Barry Sullivan) her former brother-in-law. “Julie, did it ever occur to you that Bob’s neck could’ve been placed in that rope after he’d been strangled… by a murderer? Lyle was there that night wasn’t he?”

This presents poor Julie with a classic bad movie conundrum. Does he want to kiss me, or kill me?

Later, as Lyle tickles the ivories, Julie tells us that, “I’d listen by the hour to Lyle practicing.” Never mind the fact that we can clearly see she’s lying on the couch listening to her husband play. The constant voiceover narration in Julie is so wildly unnecessary that it borders on parody.

“But today there was something strangely disturbing about his music, a sort of savage fury that was almost frightening. Gradually, as I listened to him play,” she drones on, “I began evolving a plan.”

And what is her grand scheme?

“If Bob hadn’t died,” she asks in bed that night, “What would you have done? Would you have done it… killed him?”

Lyle admits to the crime. “I had to lie there in his arms, lie there in panic and wait for morning to come,” she tells us as waves crash meaningfully outside their bedroom window.

Come morning, she sends Lyle on an errand next door. Once again, though we can clearly see everything that she’s doing, Julie gives us a ridiculous play-by-play account of her desperate grab at freedom. Any normal person would simply make a run for it. Not our Julie. Though her window of opportunity is slim at best, she still takes the time to carefully pack the perfect traveling outfit and collect her make-up and toiletries from the bathroom counter.

“I had the urge to get out of that house and get out of it fast!”

Julie, perhaps a little less talk and a little more running for your life.

Lyle may be a murderous loony, but he’s no dummy. He removes a spark plug from her car, making escape by vehicle impossible. So, Julie must hitch a ride into town. She tries to call Cliff, but can see from the phone booth that Lyle has followed her. Julie evades him and makes her way to the Monterey police station. “Sergeant, I want to report a murder,” she cries.

Since her former husband’s case has been closed and she has no tangible proof of Lyle’s duplicitous nature, the police have very little to work with. When Lyle is questioned he denies everything. It’s a frustrating case of he said, she said and there is nothing the police can do. With Cliffs help, Julie checks into a San Francisco hotel under an assumed name.

It’s not long before she receives a telephone call in her room. “Julie. Julie, you’re going to die.”

“Lyle, you’re insane.”

The San Francisco PD can’t do much either, but they’re a touch more sensitive to Julie’s dilemma. “He admitted to killing my husband, he admits that he wants to kill me, and nobody can help me do anything,” she squeaks.

With two officers and Cliff standing guard, Julie tries to sleep, “I had the chilling sensation of being watched by Lyle. I could feel his presence. It was ominous. It was strangely disturbing.”

Julie is awakened in the night to the menacing notes of a tape recorder playing the same classical music that Lyle was rehearsing earlier. Desperate to remain free of Lyle’s psychotic clutches, Julie returns to her former profession as a flight attendant and stays with a fellow stewardess in her San Francisco apartment.

Meanwhile, Lyle follows Cliff home from work one night. At gunpoint, he forces Cliff to take him to Julie. Cliff leaps from the moving vehicle in a bold attempt to escape and protect Julie’s whereabouts. Lyle shoots Cliff, rummages through his pockets, and finds the address of the apartment where Julie is staying.

Though mortally wounded, Cliff stumbles to a farmhouse and finds help. He calls the police and they go to the apartment building to warn her. Julie is gone. She’s left for the airport, a last minute replacement on an outgoing commuter flight. Skulking in the shadows, Lyle watches Julie catch a cab to the airport terminal. He boards her flight and manages to keep his presence a secret by hiding his face behind a newspaper.

Midway through the flight, San Francisco homicide calls, worried that Lyle may have somehow learned of Julie’s location. The only way to know if he’s on board is for Julie to identify him. “Be casual,” the captain tells her, “everything depends on it.” She makes her way to the back of the cabin and then works her way forward, trying to remain inconspicuous and identify Lyle from behind. Sure enough, she recognizes the back of his brylcreamed head.

Considering that Julie wouldn’t shut up for the first half of the movie, this would seem to be a perfect moment for yet another long-winded dramatic voiceover, but now she’s inexplicably silent. As Julie makes a mad dash to the front of the plane, Lyle gains access to the cockpit. Unbelievably, a Wild West shootout ensues. The pilot is killed and Lyle is wounded. “I promised you it wouldn’t be easy,” he tells her, “You are going to be in this airplane, high in the air, with nobody to fly it.” With his dying breath he shoots the co-pilot.

A doctor on board proclaims the injury to be life threatening. There is only one person who can fly the plane. Guess who?

The co-pilot turns the plane around in hopes that the radio tower in San Francisco will be able to talk the plane down with Julie at the controls. He gives her a few pointers before passing out. On the ground, the macho guys at flight control give Julie instructions while constantly referring to her as “Honey.”

“I’m terrified,” she tells ground control as she brings the plane into its approach pattern. While wringing all the pathos she can out of the melodramatic scenario, she banks the plane left and then right with all the finesse of the driving skills she demonstrated earlier in the movie. Julie finally touches down… with her eyes closed!

With the plane safely on the ground, a look of relief passes over our heroines face. The orchestra swells and the screen fades to black. Not only has she saved herself and the passengers, but she has paved the way for heroic flight attendants in future bad movies about disaster-prone airliners.

In conclusion: The drama for the character she played on screen was no match for what Doris Day had to endure behind the scenes of Julie. In the book, Doris Day: Her Own Story, she admits that wasn’t particularly interested in making Julie. Both her previous husbands had been jealous of her success, so it’s easy to understand why Day would be reluctant to play a woman victimized by her husband’s psychotic jealousy. Day’s husband Martin Melcher, who also produced the picture, was finally able to talk her into taking the role.

During filming, Day experienced severe abdominal pain. Her husband insisted that she follow her Christian Science faith, forgo seeing a doctor, and adhere to the films strict shooting schedule. After the movie was completed, Day sought medical attention and found that she needed major surgery to remove an endometriotic tumor.

Despite all the turmoil, Day enjoyed shooting on location in Carmel so much that she later made the California coastal community her home.

At a time when most movies were still made on studio backlots and soundstages, the extensive use of location filming during Julie set it apart from other films of the time. Though real locations added authenticity to a film, studio sets were still considered easier to light and control. This may explain why shadows from the boom mike and camera crew can be seen in nearly every scene of the film.

Julie has all the ingredients necessary for a guaranteed bad movie classic. Take one part Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) and one part Airport 1975 (1974), add America’s sweetheart and you’ve got an overwrought, low-budget, woman-in-peril thriller that will satisfy any fan of cool cinema trash.


Cool Cinema Trash: Making of a Male Model (1983)

Cool Cinema Trash

Model15The glitzy soap Dynasty (1981- 89) reached the heights of international popularity in the early 1980s. Aaron Spelling and the creative team behind the show crafted this made-for-television gem as a showcase for its star Joan Collins. Making of a Male Model (1983) is a glamorous peek into the dog eat dog world of modeling… male modeling to be exact.

What it’s all about: While en-route to a photo shoot, superstar modeling agent Kay Dillon (Collins) is nearly run off the road North by Northwest-style by some yokel in a crop dusting plane. The pilot turns out to be Nevada ranch hand Tyler Burnett (Jon-Erik Hexum) the soon-to-be male model of the title.

“Have you ever considered a career in modeling?” Kay asks, looking him up and down with her expert eye.

“Huh-uh, should I have?”

When a local gal passes Tyler over, one has to question her sanity. Giving up Jon-Erik Hexum for a guy who drives a Trans Am? Some people need to get their priorities straight. With no place and no girl to call his own, Tyler heads to the big city.

Arriving in New York dressed in his finest Stetson and sheepskin coat, Tyler meets his new roommate. Chuck is a bitter, emotionally crippled, washed up fellow model. Noticing Chuck’s black eyes, Tyler asks, “You get into a fight or somthin’?”

“Yeah,” he answers, “with my plastic surgeon.” In an over the top performance by Jeff Conaway, Chuck is a veritable walking billboard for the evils of fame, fortune and excess.

Meanwhile Kay must turn her diamond in the rough into a polished gem. “He’s got that natural raw sex look.” But Tyler hates all the primping and preening and wants to go on his first job interview just as he is.

At a casting call the next day, photographer Arte Johnson shouts at Tyler, “Take off your shirt. I wanna see your body.” Tyler is rejected, despite the fact that Hexum has the face and body of a Greek god.

Perhaps Kay was right. Tyler relents and is soon being plucked, dyed and trimmed in a make-over montage that transforms Tyler from a handsome bumpkin to an even more handsome metrosexual-type. The song used to score the scene is pretty memorable too. The funky R&B/disco tune is reminiscent of the type of music they use in porn. Bum-chicka-bow-wow.

Back at their apartment, Tyler pumps some iron and waits for word on his first job while Chuck drinks like a fish and throws himself a pity party. “It’s a strange apple this Big Apple” he muses. Thankfully the phone rings with news that Tyler got the catalog job after all. Just wait until he sees the clothes he has to wear, which might be described as 80’s republican chic.

After his first successful job, Kay takes Tyler to a costume ball. Dressed as a rhinestone cowboy, Tyler sneers at the industry types around him, “A bunch of weirdoes and queers.”

“You know of course that Chuck is gay.”

“It’s different he’s a friend of mine.”

“Then why are you so damn judgmental about all the others?” Kay asks. “Why don’t you just accept the fact that we are all free to live our own lifestyle and do exactly as we please.” Quite a progressive attitude for 1983, but the life lessons are put on hold when ad exec Kevin McCarthy accosts Kay. Tyler does his costume proud by coming to her rescue and roughing up the drunken McCarthy. Impressed by his gallantry, Kay finally bursts the bubble of sexual tension between them and beds Tyler in her ritzy Central Park West apartment. A romantic at heart, Tyler wants them to live together, but Kay is a modern career-driven gal and insists on remaining unattached.

Tyler’s next audition happens to be for the same ad exec that he manhandled at the costume party. Not even McCarthy is immune to the charms of Jon-Erik Hexum. Tyler lands the commercial for Fever cologne and instantly becomes a huge star.

“Try it…and let her catch the fever”, he sexily intones.

While Tyler’s career soars, Chuck’s has landed in the gutter. A scenery-chewing, drunken mess, he bemoans his fall from supermodel grace when he doesn’t get a gig standing next to a car at an auto show. He’s too old. Waving his drink around like he’s in a road show production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? Chuck berates Tyler’s success. “What do you care? Mr. Sex Symbol of these United States.”

For Tyler, fame has begun to loose its luster. After returning from a job in L.A. he finds that Kay has been seeing someone else and that his roommate Chuck has died of a drug overdose. “They didn’t give you much time on the yellow brick road did they my friend?”

On a shoot in Acapulco, Tyler hooks up with blonde model and smokes some post-sex pot. Reefer is a gateway drug. Did living with Chuck teach you nothing Tyler?

Soon he’s boozing and partying and missing jobs. “You can be unmade as quickly as you were made.” Kay warns.

“Just like a bed huh? Well you should know all about that.”

Tired of the fast lane, Tyler heads back home to Nevada where he fulfills his dream of owning his own farm. Kay finds him working on the ranch and begs him to return and finish the job he walked out on. If Tyler doesn’t come back the ad agency could sue for breach of contract. Threatened with the loss of his land, Tyler returns to the city for one last commercial.

After the shoot, Tyler stops by Kay’s office to say goodbye. She tries to talk him into a television series he’s been offered, but his mind is made up. Our attractive cowboy/supermodel borrows a horse from a hansom cab driver and rides off into the proverbial sunset… down 5th Ave.

In conclusion: Joan Collins’ portrayal of Kay could never be described as low-key, but compared to the outrageous antics of Alexis on Dynasty, she seems almost saintly. Fans of Collins won’t be disappointed though. There’s enough shoulder-padded glamour (courtesy of designer Nolan Miller) and sex in Making of a Male Model to satisfy any Dynasty fan.

Unfortunately, Jon-Erik Hexum is best remembered as a morbid pop culture footnote. He died after an on-set accident (Cover Up 1984-85) with a prop handgun. He had a breezy charm that made him instantly likable. Hexum’s goofy grin gave the impression that, despite his hunk status, he didn’t take it too seriously. It was those looks and charm that made him ideal for television. It would have been interesting to see how his career could have grown.

Cool Cinema Trash: When Time Ran Out… (1980)

Cool Cinema Trash

when_time_ran_out_xlgCaught in a game of power. Playing time: 24 hours. Prizes: Untold wealth. Rules: None.

Filled with actors from other disaster movies and packed with clichés that producer Irwin Allen himself originated, When Time Ran Out (1980) was a fitting title for the film that proved to be the last hurrah of the 70’s disaster genre and the final theatrical film for Allen.

What it’s all about: As his private jet arrives at his newly opened tropical resort, William Holden presents Jacqueline Bisset with a diamond engagement ring. It’s obvious that Holden has been round the block more than a few times. “What would I be now,” she asks him, “Sixth… seventh?” It seems her heart is set on working man Paul Newman who has his hands full drilling the islands rich oil fields. Though May/December onscreen romances are nothing new, it’s unsettling that Bisset must choose between two such, shall we say… mature suitors. Holden is twenty-six years her senior and Newman nearly twenty.

Various subplots are introduced as guests arrive at the luxury hotel. Burgess Meredith and Valentina Cortese play the prerequisite elderly couple. They’re retired high-wire performers and she continually pops pills for her ailing health. Ernest Borgnine is an NYC police detective on the trail of white collar criminal Red Buttons who may or may not be guilty.

Every disaster movie needs a smarmy scapegoat, the one guy who could prevent (but doesn’t) all the death and disaster to come. When Time Ran Out has lying businessman James Franciscus. He’s married to beautiful socialite Veronica Hamel but is having an affair with island beauty Barbara Carrera. She’s been “promised to” native boy Edward Albert. Since Carrera had mainly played “exotic” types up to that point, it’s easy to see her (to a certain extent) as a Pacific Islander. Believing blue-eyed Albert as a South Seas native is a bit of a stretch.

Newman is concerned with some unusually high pressure readings, so he and Franciscus visit the scientific observation center, a monitoring facility that has literally been built on the rim of the island’s active volcano. In an Irwin Allen movie, science fact often becomes science fiction. Hence, everyone hops into the zany glass bottomed viewing chamber, a pod that can be lowered into the crater so its occupants can get an up close peek at the volcano!

As they slowly make their decent, a volcanic explosion causes a malfunction (a flashing button tells us so) and the glass bottom blows out, leaving them dangling over a miniature pit of bubbling goo. Once the capsule is brought back up, Newman’s assessment of the situation is that, “This things a powder keg!”

Franciscus, twitchy and desperate to gloss over the severity of their eminent doom, clashes with Holden over the possibility of a volcanic eruption. With everything that he’s built threatened by Mother Nature’s cruel fate, Franciscus (who has obvious daddy issues) throws a lava rock paperweight at a creepy portrait of his deceased father.

Meanwhile, Newman and Bisset share a romantic picnic on a remote beach. Newman regales her with stories about his school days teaching faculty wives needlepoint, which inexplicably sends Bisset into stitches. “I don’t need the wine,” she breathlessly giggles, “You get me drunk.”

“Come on over here,” he commands. As they lean in for a big smooch the earth moves… literally. Their ridiculous dialog is interrupted by the volcano which begins to rumble right on cue. They hop into their helicopter and watch as the observation platform is destroyed by the volcanic eruption. Oddly inserted into the mayhem are scenes of an airport tarmac buckling and a sports car careening over a hillside. Since none of the main characters are at the airport and we don’t know who’s inside the car, these images are hilariously superfluous.

Newman and Bisset airlift Hamel from her horse ranch, saving her from the oncoming flow of lava stock footage. Two ranch hands are forced to brave the helicopter ride by hanging on outside, riding on the struts. Not surprisingly, one of them loses his grip and falls to a fiery death.

Franciscus assures his hotel guests that there is nothing to worry about, but Holden considers him responsible, “We have contingency plans for anything that can possibly go wrong…except the volcano.”

Except the volcano?! Frankly, if they’re that stupid then they deserve to die.

“The lava is coming directly for the hotel.” Bisset warns. Panic ensues and several stunt extras die trying to escape in the helicopter.

A fishing village on the other side of the island is rocked by tremors. The camera shakes as pieces of buildings fall and extras scurry around the Hollywood set. It’s all so wonderfully false and rehearsed that you expect a back lot tram tour to pass by. The town and its inhabitants are eventually engulfed by a gigantic tidal wave. The only people who manage to escape are bar owners Pat Morita, his corpulent wife Sheila Allen and two of their “working” girls.

The entire cast watches as the matte painting mountain spews forth giant fireballs that explode on hotel grounds. An ignited Borgnine is saved by the quick thinking of Red Buttons. Newman is determined to lead everyone to safer/higher ground but Franciscus, with his tremendous ego and hubris, insists that they all stay where they are. So, Newman punches him.

After some pre-trip melodrama, most of the films stars leave the hotel in a caravan. They drive and drive and drive. The endless footage of traveling down tropical roadways is exacerbated by the plodding orchestral march that accompanies it. As they journey onward, we’re treated to the thrilling sight of characters drinking apple juice! Burgess Meredith also mentions for the thousandth time that he’s a retired circus performer.

Their first obstacle comes in the form of a blocked roadway. They must continue on foot. A frail Cortese welcomes the challenge of shimmying along a narrow ledge which is all that is left of the collapsed jungle road. “It wasn’t long ago I was walking a high wire.” We know, we know!

Everyone shuffles along the matte painting edge. Borgnine, whose face and hands are bandaged, stumbles along with Buttons leading the way. The second ranch hand, who cheated death by surviving the earlier helicopter ride, isn’t so lucky now. He slips and falls to his death, leaving behind his adorable children.

Night comes and despite all the chaos around him, Franciscus can’t keep his hands off Carrera. When Hamel walks in on them, she realizes that standing by her man may not have been the best idea.

The next challenge for our intrepid band of movie stars is to cross a rickety bridge over a river of hot lava. With plastic jungle foliage and forced perspective mountains built into the island backdrop, this outdoor obstacle course is an obvious soundstage set.

After Newman checks the stability of the bridge, Borgnine, Buttons and Albert are the first to cross. For some reason, the lava they’re traversing continually explodes. A plank gives way and they almost fall as fireballs erupt around them. They eventually make it safely to the other side. Holden escorts Mathews and they make it across as well.

Despite making it this far together, the adorable geriatric couple must say their final goodbyes to one another. As her heart gives out, Cortese insists that her beloved return to the circus. Bisset, Morita and the two girls are next, but the railing collapses and Morita does a hilarious slow-motion tumble into the lava. A fiery explosion then destroys most of the bridge. All that is left is a narrow trestle.

“Years ago in the circus I used to do something special, I walked a high wire,” Meredith tells Newman, “I carried somebody on my back.” Gee, what a convenient skill to have. With a giant bamboo stick for balance and a little kid holding on tight, Meredith makes the treacherous crossing. As Newman makes his way across what is left of the bridge, an explosion leaves him holding on for dear life. As he and the little girl dangle over the fiery river, Meredith comes to their rescue.

Our rag-tag group of survivors watch the volcanic pyrotechnics from the safety of an island cave. It’s difficult to say just how close the hotel was built to the bubbling volcano. Depending on the effects shot, it could be miles away from, or right next to, eminent disaster. Inconsistencies aside, a final massive fireball hurtles towards the resort. The destruction of the hotel and deaths of several main characters should’ve been the spectacular finale to this disaster melodrama. Instead, it’s over in mere moments with sloppy fire footage substituting for anything truly remarkable. At daybreak, Newman and the rest of the survivors make their way to the cove where two rescue boats await them.

In conclusion: Deleted scenes and additional footage found their way back into the movie when Earth’s Final Fury (the film’s TV title) made its debut on network television. This extended 143 min version was released on VHS as the “expanded video edition” with some of the additional scenes retaining their tell-tale “fade to black” commercial edits.

Among other things, the love triangle between Franciscus, Carrera and Albert received more screen time. Before the caravan leaves the hotel, Albert not only learns that Carrera has been unfaithful, but that Franciscus is his half brother! This revelation helps explain why Albert was cast as a Pacific Islander. Without these scenes his part isn’t much more than an extended cameo role. Scenes featuring Alex Karras and a cockfight at Mona’s bar/whorehouse were added as well as a moment where Pat Morita gets to smack a hysterical Sheila Allen. Knowing that Allen is the producer’s wife only makes the slap more enjoyable.

The theatrical version of When Time Ran Out runs at a comfortable two hours. The cuts that were made help sharpen the pace and don’t interfere with the story too much. The cockfighting subplot is nearly gone and the painfully long caravan sequence has thankfully been trimmed to a more agreeable length. Unfortunately, Cortese’s death scene near the end of the movie was also trimmed out. Her character dies off camera.

The theatrical version also includes some scenes that didn’t make it to the longer video edition. The introduction to the Franciscus and Hamel characters is longer. Their scene in the hotel suite ends with a sensual shower-time tryst. A scene where a winded Borgnine chases after a jogging Red Buttons is included. It’s a comical moment that draws attention to the fact that the two played similar characters years earlier in The Poseidon Adventure (1972). The precarious ledge sequence also is slightly longer. The body of the dead ranch hand is shown at the bottom of the ravine and reaction shots from each of the main characters are shown. A few shots of them hiking through picturesque island wilderness before nightfall are also included.

An occasional disaster movie makes it to the big screen nowadays (Into the Storm  in 2014, San Andreas in 2015) but, for the most part, the genre has been relegated to the CGI enhanced world of lackluster TV movies. When Time Ran Out should be cherished and appreciated because it truly was the last of its kind. A wild and crazy all-star fight for survival amid marginal special effects. For lovers of cool cinema trash it’s a pity…because they simply don’t make them like this anymore.