Sunday, May 27, 2012

rage astride the machine double feature: DEAD END DRIVE-IN (1986) / HIGHWAYMEN (2004)

I'll just put this out there: sex confuses the crap out of me. Not so much the having part, you know. The building-up to part. The secret glances, coded silences, "ooh-does-that-means-what-I-think-it-means" innuendo... But what little I do understand, I learned at the demolition derby.

In that smoking vortex of spurting oil and smashing steel, plate-armored cars battering each other like giant, raging Hungry Hungry Hippos balls, engines shrieking like exploding dinosaurs while "Bawitdaba" warbles through a Korean War-vintage PA system, there is no margin for insecurity. Only pure confidence and single-mindedness fend off instant death. One eye-twitch of self doubt while speeding towards that carcass-strewn figure eight axis will end all hope of victory in an avalanche of screaming metal, snapping bones and axles and the pungent gushing coolant spew of defeat.

So is it with sex. Or the build-up to sex.

In high school, when I spent about eighty percent of my time thinking about sex, and the other ninety percent not having any, I amassed reams of test data and mindshare surveys to support my theory that the French existentialists were right all along: chicks dig assholes. The smug satisfaction I got from knowing this, while curled up in bed listening to Pink Floyd's Animals and sketching Sarah Jane Smith fan art until the wee hours of the morning, felt almost as good as actually having had sex. Almost.

But when the twelve stages of frustration played themselves out (Denial, Self-Publishing A 'Zine [x10], Acceptance), the truth became clear. Assholes had no better shot with girls than I did. In fact, by simplifying female desires down to some "Ahh, you just don't agree with me 'cause you're an idiot" proposition (which I now understand is only fair to do with fundamentalist Christians and Republicans) and by clinging to this bullshit theory for my entire high school career, I actually became an asshole. So, in a Shyamalanianian-ian twist, I cancelled out my own argument. Mired in self-loathing and a eroding sense of identity, it took every ounce of courage and resolve I had to continue masturbating.

Assholes... (To start out, let's agree on a reference point. How about that Bob's Big Boy/ T-1000 they got to marry Kim Kardashian for five minutes? Sure. Let's go ahead yank off his head and slap it on a body wearing a sleeveless Slipknot T-Shirt and factory-shredded jeans with chain-wallet. Next we'll plant a sideways baseball cap on that head and maybe a pair of those oil-slick looking sunglasses you find in gas stations. Still with me? Now, we'll shove the whole package into a lowered mid-nineties Honda Prelude- four-wheel steering, drive-thru-killing spoiler, window decal of Calvin peeing on the words "Examined Life"- and leave him hanging out the passenger side window, hoisting a 4 Loco and hooting at every female pedestrian he sees not pushing or riding in a stroller. And maybe blasting "Bawitdaba". Okay? Got it?) ...Assholes do not sparkle with attractiveness.

When an asshole puts his dinner theater Danny Zucco moves on the object of your affection while she's trapped behind the counter of Hot Dog On A Stick and can't run away, she's not smiling because his incomplete sentences and terrier-like fixation on every ass that passes by him charm her to the core and flood her aching heart with Stephanie Meyer juice. She's smiling because a big sign overhead tells her: "SMILE! HOT DOG ON A STICK IS WATCHING YOU AND YOUR FAMILY ALWAYS!"

So, no. This exchange is not the defining Animal Planet moment when the lion takes down the something-smaller-than-a-lion. She comprehends, same as you, that what she's looking at is a recessed hole with a rosy, puckered tunnel of ass around it. Behind that smile, her only thought is how best to convey her chagrin in a witty cluster of initials when she texts all of her friends at Sbarro, Panda Express, Orange Julius, Auntie Annie's and Cinnabon two seconds after he swaggers away. And if this were the only chance meeting between these two, he would probably have the exact same odds of fulfilling his vaseline-lensed, Cameron Crowe food court fantasy as you do. Zero. Less than zero. I mean, just look at the two of you.

But this won't be the only meeting. Oh no. The Zucco-1000 will keep coming back and back because that is what he was built to do. Rejection, indifference, sarcasm, bullets; all of these bounce off of him in a harmless ping-array as he clomps towards his heat-signature target, 8-bit font ticking across his eyeball-grids: HER LIPS SAY NO NO NO.... HER LIPS SAY NO NO NO...

You can only pray that her resistance and better judgement win out. Because she's a smart girl, a sensitive girl, Hotdogonstickella, and she just knows better than to giggle and flounce along after this Walk-Of-Shameborg, right? Right? And maybe someday you'll be sitting there, hunched over your art pad, sketching finely detailed pictures of Godzilla and his Daikaiju foes and you'll look up to see her angelic face basking in the neon glow of the Hot Topix window, and she'll utter the most beautiful words ever to enchant the ears of man: "Whoah! You're a good drawer! That could be a tattoo!" And destiny will unfurl its wings.

And the world could stop spinning, too. And cats could start giving a shit what you say. And Google could be destroyed by Bing. Sooner or later, like every other young artist, you must embrace the icy truth that no one is ever, ever, ever going to want to sleep with you just because you draw exceptionally detailed, unparalleled pictures of Godzilla (The trick is in the eyes. You know that the shape of eyes reveals the production period, which is crucial in making your audience understand Japanese historical context, and-- and--). Ever.

...But let's say instead that you draw merely so-so pictures of Godzilla. But you draw hundreds of them. Every day, you burn through reams of paper, dry up boxes of Sharpies. It's never enough. You draw so many Godzilla pictures that pretty soon you have no more room for them, so you take to roaming the streets with sheaves of drawings and a packing tape gun. You canvas coffee houses, bus stops, laundromats. Any flat surface or utility pole, up goes Godzilla. No explanation. People start to talk. What the fuck is this Godzilla shit? Is this some indie band? A mattress store? Fundamentalist Christians? What? You cover the city, the suburbs, the rural outskirts. One day, you're taping up a picture by the Space Needle. A little Japanese boy points and laughs: "That is not Gojira! Gojira enormous! He use your Space Needle to groom his pubes!" Your whole body freezes up; epiphany hits like a toaster in the bathtub...

In a fit of inspiration, you sell all of your possessions, rent a semi-truck and drive to the Kimberly Clark paper plant on the outskirts of town. Using day laborers hired from the Home Depot parking lot, you stage a daring midnight raid and hijack three enormous, tree-sized spools of paper, absconding with them to the wilderness south of the Canadian border. Here you set up camp and live off the land for the next year, hunting rabbits and squirrels for food, reading David Morrell's "First Blood" by day, whiling away nights inspecting a 16mm print of "Destroy All Monsters!" frame by frame in the firelight. And every spare minute: drawing, drawing...

Within a year, your masterwork is complete: a collection of two dozen, one hundred foot tall, merely so-so Godzilla pictures. Piling these onto the back of your now-stolen semi truck, you take to the by-ways and backroads of America, coast into unsuspecting cities in the dead of night and- using an elaborate cable and pulley system you constructed in the wild using chert cranks and hand-woven hemp-rope- hoist your life-size Godzillas in front of a who's who of iconic urban landmarks: the Space Needle, Trans Am Pyramid, Wrigley Field, St. Louis Arch, Trump Tower. Overnight, your outrageous exploits turn you into a cause celebre. Talking heads on every channel flare with speculation and outrage. Some praise you as the greatest neuvo litterbug artiste since Cristo, others label you a terrorist who should be put down like a mad dog.

In the midst of this media firestorm, the authorities zero in on your clandestine mobile headquarters (it didn't help that you painted TOKYO ON THE RANGE in giant Benihana lettering on the side of your stolen truck) and you awaken in the middle of the night to squawking bullhorns and circling helicopter searchlights outside in the prairie darkness. The DOJ agent in charge of your case informs you that you are surrounded, orders you out into the blinding, day-like glare of floodlights and sirens. Cameras from every major news agency zoom in on you as you kneel down on the Route 66 asphalt and prepare for the end... But in a surprise twist, the agent tosses a strangely shaped mound of rubber onto the ground beside you. It takes a moment for you to recognize this as photo-accurate Godzilla costume...

The agent explains that this is part of Homeland Security's new "Let The Takedown Fit The Crime" program, a controversial measure approved by Congress in a 499-36 vote. So saying, he climbs into silvery armor, recognizable instantly as a functioning Mechagodzilla suit.

The eyes of the world watch in awe and disbelief as you each don your costumes and begin your final showdown. Agent Mechagodzilla immediately proves a deadly adversary. He launches a rapid-fire volley of hydraulic-force karate blows that drop you to the ground in seconds. Screeching victoriously, he switches up fight styles and prepares to finish you off with a WWF-style atomic drop... In this hopeless instant, rubbery snout smashed against the asphalt, your thoughts return to the home you left behind, to Hotdogonastickella shaking her rainbow-hatted head in sorrow, to the rarely-seen Godzilla TV show of the late 60's, the torrent for which has been downloading on your laptop for the past two years, and now you'll never get a chance to watch it... Never..! NO!

Summoning reserves of strength, you backflip to your feet and swat your opponent back with a waddling roundhouse tail-slap! Off-balance, he struggles to regain momentum, but here your wilderness survival skills and kaiju-obsessivess pay dividends: a lifetime of drawing your scaly hero over and over again has virtually hard-wired Godzilla's fighting style into your muscle memory; his reflexes are now your reflexes; his fury your fury! Your claws and tail lash out in a blur of motion almost faster than human eyes can track: Right Hook! Body Blow! Body Blow! Tail-Slap! ...FINISH HIM! Before long, your enemy's battered, sparking carcass clatters to the ground like yesterday's futuristic space garbage. You tower above him, screeching at the sky and flailing your barely articulated claws in saurian triumph...

Your story captures the national imagination. Despite your interstate criminal status, you are feted across the country. Ever in costume, you appear on talk shows and awards ceremonies. Thunderous applause greets you wherever you waddle. A romantic indie comedy called "Dennis Vs. MechaDennis" is optioned by Fox Searchlight, starring Jessie Eisenberg and some Fannings. The President pardons you, and fist-bumps your claw on the White House south lawn. Your merely so-so Godzilla prints sell at Sotheby's for millions. Millions. But most importantly...

You get to have sex now!

Not only does Hotdogonastickella want to have sex you... Everyone wants to have sex with you. People Magazine runs your picture on the cover with the headline: GODZILLA: KING OF SEXY!! Kaiju-porn goes mainstream in a huge way.  Japanese vending machines sell your used underwear.

And all because... why? Because there you sat. Behind the wheel. Staring down a dirt track figure eight axis with hard-charging emotional frustration roaring at you from one side and hemi-powered creative compromise screaming up on the other, and you made a choice. In a split-second, you downshifted your insecurity, double-clutched your inhibitions and stomped the motherfucking gas..! And goddamn if those two sumbitches didn't burn past you right as you shot clear and take each other out in a nose-to-nose balls-out shitstorm of mangled body panels, exploding windshields, fractured engine blocks and white hot fluid-puking catharsis!

Which again brings us back to the demolition derby.

This will be quick. The derby runs in several stages. You could think of this as several servings of an elegant multi-course meal, but that won't help you. First on the program: the Figure Eight Elimination, a savage octagon (only shaped like an eight) designed as a kind of live vaudeville version  of 1974's Gone In Sixty Seconds. To call this event the ultimate in megadestructo thrills would be to horribly understate every word in that sentence, including the and in. At its best, the Elimination is the final word in multitasking entertainment, like a genetically engineered stripper who juggles flaming chainsaws while belting out German opera. At its worst, you had another Schlitz Ice blackout and missed it, and it's time to go back into counseling.

Next up: the School Bus Derby, wherein race fans not only get rock-em sock-em derby entertainment, but also a chance to see car-crusher revenge taken out on the damaged educational system that stole the best years of their lives. Compared to the thrill-ride intensity of the elimination round, the Bus Derby comes off as a bigger, louder, 3D sequel, in which the Thrill-Ride has to battle an army of terrorist thrill-rides hell-bent on detonating stolen nukes on fairgrounds soil. Like Speed 2, only on a bus.

Finally, after the battles have all raged down to a single victor, battered scrap metal bulldozed off to the sidelines, "Bawitdaba" clicked back in its cracked jewel case atop the swamp cooler, we arrive at the final round. The Jet Car Burndown. Which answers the question on everyone's Skoal-packed lips: how do you follow two hours of raging, balls-out destruction? What unerupted pyrotechnic can top this three-hour extravaganza of Detroit-hewn earthquakes and atomic blasts? When all is destroyed, and Daffy Duck dangles from the one last hovering chunk of Earth, what do you do? What... do you... do??

Answer: you burn it all down.

Silence booms as a flatbed tractor toting an army surplus jet engine rolls to center-track. Under the cold stadium lights, a shiny sedan sits driverless, nude and alone, like a sacrificial lamb waiting in traffic court. Tension brews as the tractor reverse-beeps into position. The world freezes. Schlitz Ice ice cans hover under gaping mouths as a derby official throws an unseen switch... And a screaming inferno swallows the sedan like the devil's own aim n' flame!

The Burndown goes on for what seems like hours. Derby fans watch every second in awe and reverence. Time totally loses meaning as the sedan sags, creaks, pukes black smoke. Faint gasps replace whoo-hoo's and goddamns as, all across the bleachers, flame-lit faces drink in the holy, Indiana Jones-like power of melting... Only after the last molten body panel has collapsed in a heap of black slag is this church-like silence slain by an outburst of amens:


 An outside observer might label the demolition derby a celebration of self-destruction. A pageant to the same violent turn-ons that ignite world wars and riots and geopolitical upheaval. But that outside observer would be from Canada.

The derby celebrates cars. Possibly our last factory-built reminder of when we used to invent things to take us places, not just sit there and analyze and thumbs-up shit. We have accepted an age where web searches negate memory, apps replace talent. System crashes send us home from work. Backed against the wall in a fight, we whip out our phones and threaten to start recording. And I won't lie, I'm pretty much cool with all that. I am. My memory has always been shit and if I can pretend to be talented by clicking an icon and take an early Friday because the server C: drive sounds like a Mr. Coffee, color me tickled.

But cars link us to another age. Not just the past, but a past version of this nightmare future where machines subjugate humanity. And, I think, a cooler version. I don't know about you, but if someone told Past Me that the Earth was going to be conquered by little plastic wafers that I'd slavishly defer to to pick my meals and tell me where to drive and update me on my friends' statuses, Past Me would have snorted an ugly, nasally laugh and gone right back to sketching Sarah Jane Smith's breasts from the latest Starlog.

I knew it then in my frail, visible-through-my-izod-shirt bones: the world of tomorrow was to be a scorched, desolate mesa dotted with fledgling colonies battling one another for food and fuel. People would no longer have jobs or hobbies, instead spending their days aimlessly roaming the sunbaked highway with their trusty dogs or brain-damaged child sidekicks until propositioned or attacked. Fresh paint would no longer exist, only filthy primer, for sale at a premium on the barter system. And career choices would be whittled down to two options: you could either be a psychotic marauder screaming down the road with your wind-proof mohawk and scary jewelry made of engine parts, or a hardscrabble settlement squatter, hell-bent on wearing layers of trench coats, scarves and fingerless gloves in the scorching desert heat. This was to be a savage world, a brutal nightmarescape where all that boring Lord Of The Flies shit your English teacher talked about would take on horrific new relevance. And make no mistake: it was going to kick total ass.

Because in the awesome Autopocalypse of yesterday's tomorrow, you would finally have your shot to win back Hotdogonastickella from the savage Zucco-1000 clan in the court of the open road. Your Sarah Jane Smith and Godzilla drawings would serve as ravaged civilization's last link to art and culture, and would fetch barrow-fulls of precious motor oil and potted meat at the barter bazaar. And all of your fears and insecurities would melt and blacken in a jet engine inferno. And the world of your dreams would always be just a tire-burning peel-out away.

Which brings us to today's double-feature (Forgot about that, didn't you? Need a bathroom break? Next time, might be a good idea to bring a cup): our own private demolition derby, celebrating the machines that should have conquered humanity, and a loving reminder of how fucking cool it would have been if they had....

The first five minutes of Dead End Drive-In (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1986; Netflix Streaming) guarantee beyond any sane argument that this movie has no fucking idea where it's going, and God bless Brian Trenchard-Smith for being so upfront with us right from the get-go.

The first thing we see is white typeface tap-tapping across a black screen. Not a good sign. That typeface never shares any feel-good information, like: "On August 18th, 2097, citizens of the United Compounds of Newmerica enjoyed a delicious champagne brunch, then drove home and had uninhibited sex with the lights on and afterwards, slept better than they had in years." 


Right away, we meet Jimmy- nicknamed Crabs for unclear reasons- and we know he's the hero because he's jogging down the road and shadow boxing to Pat Benatar-style music. Blasted industrial backgrounds scroll endlessly behind him. Graffiti-scarred buildings, blazing trash barrels, garbage strewn car lots. In other words, Post-Apocalyptic Australia at its most radiant, ravaged by economic collapse, or nuclear fallout, or Vegemite riots- who gives a crap, really? The important thing is, everyone is mean tempered and car-obsessed now, so we don't have to worry about some overwrought MacGuffin driving the plot. Odds are good this is all gonna be about road duels over precious, precious petrol...

But don't tell that to Crabs. The minute we see him- dopey smile, stripey track suit, Olivia Newton John headband- he's clearly sealed off in his own little world. He looks like he's always having one of those days where everyone else seems pissed off and he can't figure out why. Here in Seattle, we get that a lot. The erratic toggling of sunshine and rain just after Spring ends causes this sourpuss-pandemic called 'seasonal affective disorder', where you can't even bump somebody's cart in the supermarket without red-rimmed 'rage virus' eyes stabbing back at you... Then Summer kicks in, and we go right back to calling all of those thin-skinned people assholes.

In Crabs's case, however, everyone else is pissed off because there's been an apocalypse, and now instead of going to work, meeting for brunch or hitting the Dollar Days sale, survivors have to contend with freaky scavengers combing the always-nighttime streets for scrap metal and victims while tow truck drivers battle each other for keepsies rights to multi-car pile ups and cops only bother to protect you if you offer them money or sex. And then there are other wingnuts just hanging around intersections, chopping down traffic lights with angle grinders and cackling like they just heard a really great joke.

Crabs somehow misses all of this. Just shadow-boxes and Pat Benatars right past it, like any minute he's going to round a corner and bound into the real movie starring him, which will be Gymkata.

His girlfriend Cassandra apparently didn't get the apocalypse email either. She spends most of her time smoking and gossiping around out-of-service bus stops with a bunch of black-clad mates who look like they're all waiting for a Siouxsie Sioux concert that's never coming to town.

Following a few run-ins with sociopathic scavengers called "Cowboys" (in the future, all innocent-sounding names will have spooky associations; sex predator clowns, for instance, will be called "Docents"), Crabs invites Cassandra out to the drive-in. Because Cassandra still thinks it's the John Hughes 80's, she agrees. And because her pals are all just sort of waiting around for Cowboys to harvest their face jewelry, nobody tells these two, "The drive-in? Are you  mental? Dude, it's the End of Days! Just this morning, I did a poo that had a hazmat symbol on it! Read the writing on the wall!"

So, Crabs and Cassandra roar off into into the night in a cherry '57 Chevy borrowed from Crabs's brother- a fascinating, soldier of fortune tow-truck driver who we never get to see again- and head for the outskirts of town to visit the Star Drive-In.

Here, the movie's wildly unfocused, ADD story structure tosses its Ritalin down the sink and starts speed-guzzling chocolate milk and Suzie Q's. As Crabs and Cassandra enter the Star, it's like we're walking into Brian Trenchard-Smith's house and taking a tour of all of his exploitation and B-movie obsessions. Rather than give away half the plot, or worse, try to pretend there is one, I'll just tell you that Dead End Drive-in seizes nearly every exploitation trope it can get its hands on, then tosses it all into a big, roiling stew pot of grindhouse gumbo...

The Star Drive-in's main gate clatters shut with a burst of electrical sparks, leading us to think we're in a dystopian future movie... But wait: while Crabs and Cassandra strip naked and start getting down to business, black boots circle their car in the darkness outside... So, this is- what? A slasher flick..? But hang on: Crabs winds up chasing a thief across the drive-in and discovers a stolen car parts ring run by the police; a weird nod to blaxploitation... And when he and Cassandra go running to the drive-in management for help, a creepy dude with child molester eyes informs them they ain't goin' nowhere... Minus the Strother Martin accent, this is pure backwoods hillbilly psychodrama...

This cup-and-ball game of shifting genres and disorienting subplots just keeps building until even trying to remember any assumptions you had coming into the movie leaves you dizzy and lightheaded. At its core, DED-I is about social undesirables- mostly displaced Young Ones cast members- living lives of junk food-fueled squalor in a Drive-In-cum-government-concentration-camp, so in a sense, you could almost call it a prison escape movie... But since almost none of the characters gives a crap about being imprisoned, and many even came here voluntarily to escape the violent outside world, Smith once again nipple-tweaks your expectations, then locks them back up in his gimp trunk.

There's even a point where truckloads of immigrants roll into camp. A minor racial tension story develops when some of the Star's loutish inmates climb up on soap boxes and spout off about how they don't want no "slopes and zippahhidds" stealing their women and snack bar food. But just when you start worrying this might be turning into a heavy-handed message movie, Brian Trenchard-Smith totally spaces out the immigration plot-line- or possibly loses interest- and speed shifts back into the Aussiepocalypse car crash genre. From here on in, battle-armored trucks smashing and destroying each other, rolling over in slow motion and performing death-defying leaps dominates the screen all the way through the movie's thrilling, Pat Benatar-charged climax.

Even the poster messes with your hard-wired assumptions about how movies like this are supposed to behave. Go ahead: scroll up and take a look... See that leering dude with the Alice Cooper eyes? The one dominating about 95% of the picture..? He's not even in the fucking movie. Seriously. Or, if he is, he's a non-speaking extra, or something. And this says a lot about what makes DED-I such a unique viewing experience... And, in the end, why you should ignore those voices telling you shut it off and go do laundry because this goddamn thing is not making any sense...  
What it comes down to is this: Dead End Drive-In turns short term memory loss into a collaborative art form. The less we expect the story to set up and pay off escalating conflicts to a dramatically satisfying conclusion, the more we are rewarded. It's like the movie version of one of those old hologram prints you used to see in shopping malls all the time. All you have to do is let your eyes fuzz out and stop trying to see familiar patterns, and the wild, dazzling images leap out at you. Car crash battles, sex, drugs, apocalypse-punk tribal warfare... It's all in here, just waiting for you to pop a cold one and stagger out onto Trenchard-Smith's figure eight dirt track for a joyride...

So, it all boils down to perspective, doesn't it? In Dead End Drive-In, Crabs and Cassandra inhabit a post apocalyptic wasteland which neither one of them chooses to acknowledge, until they're thrown in a prison camp with people and situations even more delusional than they are. In Highwaymen (Robert Harmon, 2004; DVD Only), Jim Caviezel plays Rennie Cray, a man who lives the world of the present- iPhones, food courts, self-indulgent blogs- but obsesses so much about turning his car into a weapon of revenge that he starts embracing the apocalypse as a lifestyle choice. Where you and I might wake up every morning and see dusty sunbeams sifting through blinds, alarm clock blinking next to that Malcolm Gladwell book we can't get into, Rennie wakes up and sees white typeface tap-tapping across a black screen...

In his defense, he does drive a super bitchin, apocalypse-friendly car. A 1968 Plymouth Hemi Barricuda. 426 engine. Revenge-weapon rated by Car and Driver magazine. At one point, the door gets knocked off, and a mechanic reads the factory disclaimer: "This vehicle is intended for supervised acceleration contests and can not be licensed for use on a public highway". How could you look at a sticker like that every time you got in your car and not fantasize about tracking down some mohawk-sporting dune buggy tribe to fuck with?

Personally, I drive a Honda Element. I know if it came right down it and I had to fend for myself in some post-nuclear highway bloodsport, my car would tip over like a cow in half a minute. Granted, my ability to store more potted meat and dirty primer cans would give me a slight advantage in the short run, but at the end of the day, I know my rig is a pasture animal. Even feral Prius Clans would be have me running for my life, peppering my bulky side panels with soy-based biodegradable buckshot, then posting pictures of the wreckage on Instagram. 

But a '68 Barricuda? Just look at this sexy beast:


Oh, and there's also backstory. Five years ago, a hit and run driver brutally mowed down Rennie's wife in slow motion while haunting synthesizer music played. The man behind the wheel was Fargo (played with Darth Vadery brio by Colm Fiore), a psychopathic insurance investigator who zigzags across the country stalking and running over women at random to satisfy his grizzly accident photo fetish.

On the heels of this slaying, Rennie jumped into his own car, chased Fargo down the road and totaled both vehicles in a high speed T-bone collision. Fargo wound up in traction for the next several months, half of his body obliterated in the crash. Rennie got a vehicular manslaughter rap and spent the next three years in prison, trading cigarettes for smoldering stare lessons and giving himself monk-like beatings with rolled up Hot Rod magazines. During this period, he also started receiving pen pal letters from Fargo, informing him with schoolgirl giddiness that he had fled the hospital and was now embarking on another homicidal blue highways tour in a brand new killing machine.

And oh sweet Jesus. What a machine.

Fargo's 1972 Cadillac El Dorado is what the Batmobile would look like if Batman was a wheelchair-bound serial killer living on disability pension. Hidden gears and tensile levers act as auxiliary limbs for Fargo's mangled body, every inch of the gadget-packed cab squeaking with steel extensions of his deranged psyche. And the outer shell is a goddamn tank, built to withstand side-swipes, head-on collisions and bullet salvos and keep right on charging. Watching Fargo's killdozer in action will totally make you think twice next time you want to give the finger to that AARP-stickered Caddy going forty in the express lane.

At first, the single-mindedness of the characters can be kind of disorienting. Highwaymen in many ways plays out like a foreign film where none of the central themes or conflicts  make sense until you grasp some key cultural difference about the country it came from ("Oh! Her burka slipped and revealed her ankle-- That's why they're hunting her across the desert!"). In this instance, once you realize that cars are the only reason the main characters even bother interacting with each other, all of the other jigsaw pieces fall right in place.

While tracking Fargo along some random corn-belt interstate, Rennie rescues a woman named Molly (Rona Mitra) after Fargo runs down her friend and then comes gunning for her. We learn that Molly hates and fears cars, having survived a traumatic accident even before her run-in with Fargo. This makes her getting to know you period with Rennie a bit awkward, since it's pretty obvious that this Mad Max fantasy world of his is the only thing getting him up in the morning, and even though he has his dark, brooding, gravelly whisper schtick down pat, the instant he gets a chance to floor the gas and speed after his quarry, he's like a kid in a candy store. In a muscle car.

Fargo, meanwhile, makes no bones about what he is: a grotesque mutant auto-man intent on 'turning out' Rennie and making him into another killing machine like him, or else smash him to pieces trying. This leads to many Hannibal Lectery "We are not so different you and I" exchanges, wherein Fargo taunts and teases Rennie over CB radio in a sultry whisper:

FARGO: You're getting to be a better driver now. Another hundred thousand miles of this, you'll be just... like... me...

RENNIE: Can we talk about something else tonight? I was listening to Car Talk and they had some great  tips about replacing the head gasket on a 1970 V-8--

FARGO: You felt it, didn't you? I could hear your excitement in your engine's growl, the naughty little shriek of your tires...

RENNIE:  Wow. Is it 2 a.m. already? Okay, gotta sign off. Big day tomorrow sending your ass to Hell on the wheelchair ramp--

FARGO: What are you wearing? Is it that tight white t-shirt with the motor oil stains? Rennie? Are you still there? Hellooo? ...All righty, guess I'll go listen to Coast to Coast for a little bit and then I'll be back... Maybe...

Caught in the middle of this Road Warrior slap-and-tickle routine, Molly has no choice but to confront her own mechanized demons. When she first tries being intimate with Rennie, her horror of cars plunges her into sexual vapor-lock, and she can only respond to him as a defensive driving coach rather than as a boyfriend. It's not until she swallows her inhibitions and climbs behind the wheel that she's finally able to consummate their passion in a high octane, Detroit steel smashing, Bawitaba-blasting derby-bang on the open highway.

In the end, Highwaymen probably tries to be too many things at once. Thankfully, it succeeds on every goddamn count. Part revenge thriller, part retro-futuristic, pre-postapocalypse drama, part Mad Max vs. MechaMad Mad monster brawl, above all it is a haunting love story about one man discovering the greatest force of beauty, transcendence and spiritual empowerment he will ever know...

His Super Stock 426 Hemi V-8.


Monday, May 14, 2012

memories and other permanent stains

The greatest movie theater on earth stood on a half block section of urine and blood-stained concrete on San Francisco's upper Market street. Pawn shops and skid row flops clustered around it like a post-apocalyptic movie set, real life sirens and screams competing with the horrors on screen. The marquee  overhead looked like a giant squashed cigarette pack, S-T-R-A-N-D spelled out in exhaust-caked neon letters. Not The Strand.... More like someone tried to spell out "S-T-R-A-N-D-E-D", but then gave up three quarters through.

Down on the street, an endless parade of dealers, hookers and addicts haunted the front entrance round the clock. Babbling, cursing drifters- casualties of Reagan's deregulation of the mental health industry- roamed the lobby tirelessly, becoming such a regular nuisance that the staff finally tacked up signs around the front entrance and snack bar:

Groping for your seat in the darkness was a nerve-racking safari of broken bottles, dozing vagrants and raspy whisperers ("Hey mannn? Hey! Mannn! Mannnnn??"). It helped to bring an old coat with you when you sat down, putting an added barrier between you and the crusty relief map covering nearly every cushion.

Settling down in the dark, surrounded by jerking shadows and moans and sobs and chemical burning smells like a Hubert Selby-themed dark ride, the movie would knife through the shadows and splatter the screen up above. Usually something terrible, out of focus, damaged, and unforgettable.

"Two questions," you might ask at this point.

"One: how are you even trying to prove that this Strand crap-hole is the 'greatest theater on earth'? The opening hook got my attention. Cool. But how are you now appealing to me as a gourmand of random online bullshit? Are you just screwing with me? Or are you  really so damaged that this sort of ambient prison shank to the neck is the only way you can enjoy yourself?"

"And two. Are you going to start talking about Netflix soon? This is a blog about Netflix, right? I saw the red with the white letters up top and it made me happy inside so I started reading... But now I see you're just fucking tricksy like all the others, and you ruins it! And now I have to go watch both Hangover movies back to back just to remind myself that hookers and vagrants are funny again! Fuck you! Why??"

The short answer to all of the above is: Yes. My beloved Strand absolutely qualifies as the earth's greatest movie theater, for the same reason that Netflix (and I might cry and take back the rest of it, but not this) is not just an online streaming service, but a glorious, misunderstood movie-lovers' mecca, spat-upon and reviled by the unworthy, the "really? REALLY?" and "meh"-sayers, but yielding endless hidden treasures to the devout.

The key to understanding the greatness of both is a single magic word. Movie studios now utter this incantation to tap you for five extra bucks at the box office, all for a pair of uncomfortable glasses which they then demand you "recycle" after leaving the theater (assholes), but The Strand and Netflix always gave it away for free. Or almost for free. That word is immersion.

For almost two years, I happily immersed myself in the Strand's cave of wretched wonders on a weekly basis. The dirt cheap ticket prices were what sucked me in at first. Mismatched ransom note letters on the marquee called out "3 MOVIES/ 5 BU KS": a price point that nicely cleared my entertainment budget. I was working for minimum wage at a puppet shop on Pier 39 at the time and living in the kind of rented room that came with a hot plate and sofa bed, so every non-rent/ramen/Bugler-tobacco-dollar came at a premium.

Stepping through the lobby doors, the other selling points were subtle but insistent. For starters, the snack bar didn't even try to sell you overpriced, megaplex-style concessions, instead loading its case with a sloppy jumble of discount candies from surrounding liquor stores. Laffy Taffy, Zagnut, Blue Mountain-- all for a buck, maybe a buck and a half: catering to the majority of clientele who used the Strand to offload panhandled change and catch a few hours of sleep during the day.

The relaxed, mi casa es su casa atmosphere in the auditorium held a certain charm as well. The Strand was the only theater I've ever been to where they didn't care if you smoked. Or what you smoked. And judging by the strange artifacts you'd sometimes find wedged under your seat-- baggies, old clothing, older syringes-- the only real restriction seemed to be, "Don't scream too loud... Unless you really need to."

And the movies. Dear god Jesus. A second-run theater scraping by on razor-thin margins and probably paying more in insurance premiums than rent could be forgiven for not really giving a shit about film selection. But to its credit, week after week, the Strand offered not just cheap triple features, but a point of view. A kind of hardcore film mission statement that spoke directly and persuasively to even the most chemically imbalanced patron. If you had to take the Strand's catalog of films and cram them all into one video rental section, the end-cap sign would have to say something like: SEX-MONSTERS-VIOLENCE-MADNESS. 

Shotgun Psychopaths. Vigilante hookers. Rampaging mutant gangs. Genetic mutations. Kill-crazy veterans. Stewardesses. Secret Nazi sex torture labs. Whatever the bill of fare, you always got you your money's worth and then some: six solid hours of blood, bullets and boobs to rain sparkles over your jaded brain like Tinkerbell's wand.  But the movies themselves only totaled part of The Strand's wonderfulness. As any Disneyland employee handbook will tell you, it's not the rides but the cast members that turn the park into a magical experience...

"...squeeze it... ohgodohgodohgod...squeeze the triggerrrrr... do it... noooo.... don't wait! Do it NOW!"

"Sniper" starring Tom Berenger (Luis Llosa,1993) was easily one of the most starkly terrifying films I've ever seen. The action set pieces crackled with authenticity. Dragged me headlong into the gut-churning world of rival snipers Berenger and Billy Zane as they stalked each other through the Panamanian jungle in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, belly-crawling through the shadows in search of the perfect kill-shot...

"... he's in your cross-hairs NOW... do him..! dooooo him..!"

Years later, I rented "Sniper" on video, babbling to my room-mate that this was one of the greatest action movies ever.  "Just sit tight, man, trust me! It's way better than the reviews say it is!" So, we popped it in and watched, and right away, I felt that giddy 'plummeting elevator' sensation deep in my gut; anticipating a wonderful thrill ride I'd been on before-- now waiting for new visceral thrills to overlap and compound my happy memories...

Then something weird and disappointing happened. "Sniper" happened. It was like I'd tried to rent the 'special edition director's cut' of a favorite film, but wound up getting the 'gaffer's cut' instead. I felt cheated, wronged. Like a trusting kid again, being told that it wasn't really Santa Clause killing all of those people in "Silent Night, Deadly Night", just a psycho pretending to be Santa. Disappointed doesn't begin.

Then I remembered my first viewing of "Sniper" all those years ago. Which also happened to be my first visit to the faceless, whispering shadowscape of The Strand:


I never saw the guy's face. All I know is, he was sitting right behind me, so close I could smell the sour blend of Boone's Rhine Wine and Jujyfruits on his breath. One thing was for sure: "Sniper" scratched a serious itch for him. Resurrected some dark and painful- or maybe dark and happy- memories so intense they never stopped boiling out of him until the final credits rolled.

"Sniper's" central  gimmick is a rapid-dolly "you are the bullet" camera shot that pops up again and again as Berenger and Zane stalk their various targets and each other. Much like the CGI-heavy "let's jump into the dead guy's brain tissues" shot used so much on CSI and House, director Llosa's Bullet-cam takes the workaday tedium out of sniper assassinations and puts you inside the missile speeding two hundred miles an hour towards the victim's horrified face.

Whether this had the desired impact on multiplex audiences remains to be seen (just like the three direct-to-video sequels remain to be seen, buh-dum-bum psssh) but to Mr. Boones Jujyfruits, it was the stuff that dreams are made of. Whenever the camera turned into a bullet, I heard his breath catch in his throat... just before belting out a high pitched, orgiastic squeal like he was launching down a candy-cane water slide into a pool full of naked women. His whole body trembled, knees battering my seat, larynx straining against rupture as volcanic pleasure gushed forth:


Then, at the moment of impact, he'd cough out a damp, gratified: "Oh! Ohhh!!" in a tone that seemed to say, "Whoah! I thought that was gonna be good-- I mean, I knew it was gonna be good-- but goddamn... That was GOOD!" 

I left the theater badly shaken and hyper-aware. Glancing over my shoulder, every shadow stared and muttered at me on the long walk home. But along with the sour, 'new inmate' nausea steeping in my throat, I also felt a strange thrill of optimism. Something similar to what the first movie-goers must have felt when that black and white locomotive charged at them on screen and they dove away in fear of being crushed to death. Or maybe when early 3D audiences watched the Creature from the Black Lagoon grope into their real world darkness for the first time. And I remembered my own first experience seeing Star Wars as a little kid and fully realizing what it meant to be transported to another time and place along with eighty total strangers who shrieked and gasped and jumped in their sets at the exact same instant I did.

You understand this truth without any preparation, I knew. From the first moment the big hands of mom and dad lead you into the dark and lift you up onto the folded seat between them, you get what this is about. A movie jumps into your world and takes you someplace else. If it doesn't, it's not really a movie. You feel that charge for the first time and you get hooked, so you keep going back, returning to that cool, sweet and salty darkness your whole life. Then, when you've got too much personal shit going on to get to the theater, you rent videos, devour them every chance you get. You rent stacks and stacks, buy bigger TV's, upgrade your home a/v experience to streaming and hard-wire your home network straight into the back of the receiver so the movie box gets the tastiest broadband juice. You watch movies on your laptop and phone at fast food restaurants and on the toilet; inwardly wondering why the hell they haven't figured out a way to put movies in your shower yet. Then, when your teeth are still grinding, fingernails shredding the couch cushions long after you should have gotten your movie fix, you plug into your game console and mainline explosions and monster attacks and screams until the wee hours of the morning, when your dry eyes scrape shut and your caffeine-pumped mind lists into a shallow, dreamless sleep...

You always want to get back to that Real Movie Place, I thought. Always searching for it. You know it's there, because all those years ago, you saw it. It jumped off the screen and dragged you away from Mom and Dad and took you someplace cooler. 

From then on, The Strand had me. I went back once a week, happily cutting into my ramen and bus fare budget for another six hour fix of dark magic. I returned over and over in the hopes that Boones Jujyfruits wasn't just a passing fluke, that there might be other Strand cast members camped out there in the shadows, waiting to heighten and enchant my movie viewing experience like William Castle gimmicks brought to life by the Blue Fairy. I selected my seats carefully. Scouted shadowy figures already spewing an inspired stream of babble before the movie even started... Then sat down far enough away to stay out of range of any flailing outbursts, but close enough to catch every wonderful word. All I could do was hope for the best. Hope for another fix. Hope to catch another magic carpet ride back to the Real Movie Place.

I was never disappointed.  

Now, in all the time I haunted The Strand, I'd never once heard the word, "grindhouse", much less understood what it meant. Only years later, after all of the rented rooms and puppets and syringes under the seats were a safe distance in the past, the word came back to find me.

I was lucky enough to come across Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford's excellent "Sleazoid Express",  a comprehensive history of grindhouse culture, from the barely legal road shows of the 1930's to the rise and decline... and further decline... and double-tap Giuliani execution of the Times Square adult movie house strip known as The Deuce. In Sleazoid, I found not only one of the best books on exploitation film I'd ever read, but probably one of the most gripping and personal movie books of all time.

Down the road came "Nightmare U.S.A." by Stephen Thrower, redefining exhaustive with a massive, coffee-table format study of the 'exploitation independents': an unsung tribe of zero-budget film guerrillas who shot quick and dirty and made their living on drive-in and grindhouse audiences well after Hollywood had co-opted the Roger Corman brand.

Then there was Corman's own memoir, "How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost a Dime", and John Waters's seminal autobiography, "Shock Value" and "Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The History of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film", and "The Psychotronic Video Guide" and "Step Right Up! I'm Gonna Scare the Pants off of America!" by the great William Castle. And the list runs on and on like an "Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS" sex torture scene. I devoured every printed word I could find on the subject, seduced and roofied by this hidden world I'd been lucky enough to get a glimpse of in the short time it lasted.

And the more I read about them, the more I craved these wonderful movies. Delirious rides in a hot car trunk to a world of nightmare and bad-touch sex and tasteless fantasy. When the drive-ins and grindhouses fell victim to real estate development and local morality campaigns, the movies they housed were scattered and sent down a trail of tears, searching for new audiences in a sanitized landscape that couldn't possibly know or understand them.

Thanks to the rescue efforts of exploitation obsessive Mike Vraney of Something Weird Video, and a handful of others, like Anchor Bay and Blue Underground, a healthy number of these films found new life on DVD, and more recently, on their own On Demand channel. Without SWV, the Smithsonian of film oddity and quality smut, many of these film treasures might have been lost forever. Unfortunately, with the proliferation of new release-centric video chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video crowding out independent stores across America, the main access to these titles was through special order or high-end retail stores. You could get your fix if you wanted it, but you might have to wait 7-10 business days for delivery.

Then, overnight, revolution hit the video rental business. And as predicted, it was not televised. It was mailed.    

Netflix launched its mail order service in 1997, signaling the end of a golden age of having to fight some bottom-heavy, chain-smoking mother of twelve over the last copy of True Lies on a Friday night. Over the next several years, embattled brick and mortar video chains waged a counter-offensive by painting "NO LATE FEES!!" bigger and bigger on their windows while Netflix quietly gobbled up market share one mailbox at a time.

Smelling death on the wind, Blockbuster started its own mail order service, in a Single White Femaleesque effort to defeat its rival through creepy mimicry. But by then, the Netflix brand had become so firmly embedded in the consumer mass-mind that comparing the two was like pitting "Snakes On A Plane" against "Snakes On a Train", or "E.T" against "Mac and Me", or Google against Bing. By the time Blockbuster broke out the tempera and started painting "NO LATE FEES!!" on all of its little envelopes, the fight was already over and the ring girls were sobbing and mopping up blood.

Then, in 2007, Netflix launched its streaming service, and two landmark changes occurred.

One: Netflix spontaneously mutated into actor Michael Ironside... Then marched out into the middle of a wind-blown strip mall and bellowed at Blockbuster Video in a deep, gravelly baritone: "We're gonna do this the Scanner way! I'm gonna suck your brain dry!" ...And then there was eerie stillness, and this high-pitched whining sound, and then Blockbuster's head exploded in a grizzly corona, glistening chunks of blue-yellow viscera painting the sky. And there was much pomp and fanfare. And the Lord looked on and saw that it was Good.

And Two: although this would not become apparent for some time, grindhouse movies suddenly found their most deranged and powerful ally since Kroger Babb crooked depression-era audiences into circus tents to watch sex-hygiene porn. For the first time, these films would receive a kind of mass exposure and legitimacy their makers never could have envisioned; and definitely couldn't have paid for if they did. That friend in the shadows was the Netflix recommendation engine.

The first time I saw it, it looked like nothing to me. Actually, I didn't so much see as grumble and click past it as fast as I could. It appeared to be some annoying pop-up, or the website equivalent of a fast food worker asking if I wanted to upsize or add two apple pies for a dollar. But as time went on, I started noticing a strange shift in my relationship with the engine. It seemed to know me. Sized up my hidden wants and desires as cannily as a road-show barker spotting a mark at a hundred yards through subtle body language cues. When I asked for things, it didn't just serve them up with a dopey smile... it listened. And confided. And then hustled me into the back room to show me a secret stash of goodies I didn't even know I wanted...

Click on "Friday The 13th", just as a for instance. Safe, tried-and-true horror staple. Add to Queue... In an eye-twitch, a handful of you-might-also-like titles jumps onscreen. (Always just a handful. Never so many to be annoying, just enough to get you peeking inside the tent) A few other safe bets, of course: "Halloween", "Nightmare on Elm Street", "Scream 3"... But mixed in with these, some less familiar faces: "The Prowler", "Phenomena", "Tenebre" (Mmmnn, no thanks on the foreign films tonight, but what is this "Prowler" thing? Some dude in a trash bag body condom and biker helmet strangling a half-naked woman..? Poster's bright blue and red and yellow like a violent candy wrapper... Weird. Cool... And "Phenomena": floating lightning-hands menacing some chick... Oh shit! It's foreign, no fucking w... Wait. Jennifer Connelly? She's hot. Donald Pleasance? Okay. Groovy.) Add to Queue... Add to Queue... 

But it doesn't stop there. Next screen. More suggestions: "Deep Red", "The Toolbox Murders", "Eaten Alive", "Blue Sunshine". (Okay! Enough! Jesus~! All right, Add Toolbox Murders. He has a whole box to get through, that ought to be interesting...  Blue Sunshine... Drugs. Murder. Craziness. Nudity. Bald nudity, but still... Add. Eaten Alive. Texas Chainsaw director dude? Nice. Hillbilly hunting down city folk and feeding them to his pet crocodile... Yes!! Add... Add... ADD...)   

And on it goes. Coaxing you down past dark aisles and strange smells, following ancient grooves in the threadbare carpet until, at some point you realize that you've passed through some C.S. Lewis gateway, and you're not in the neighborhood multiplex anymore. The smooth-paved story avenues where preassigned plot points and character arcs and startling third act revelations clutch your hand and keep you from stumbling off the embankment are rules of the daylight world you left behind. The movies here are damaged, erratic creations and logical narrative flow only makes them angry. But the more you watch, the truth becomes clear: damaged movies are like damaged people. They have better stories to tell, and they tell them extremely well.

The rules in this place are simple carnival rules. Show 'em scary, pretty pictures. Get 'em in the tent. Once they're inside, whatever happens, happens. Your brain screams at you to leave, just get the hell out... but a raspy voice jets over your shoulder, promising you- in case you didn't already know- that it's already too late. Your fate was locked in the second you Added it to your queue. Then the screen up above flickers and warbles to life, and dark shapes spill into your world, promising to take you someplace else, someplace cooler... and for the first time in a long time you get that familiar 'plummeting elevator' sensation deep in your stomach...

And you understand the truth without preparation. The lights and music take over. And you're ready to take the ride.

Here's the deal. I don't write movie reviews because I don't know how to.

I've tried, you know.

My problem is, the second I write how I feel about a movie in the language of a review, I instantly realize that I don't speak this language at all, and pretty soon I'm flinging my hands around nervously, shouting I that I need to collect pancakes for my bumblebee army instead of talking about how the "hypnotic use of natural lighting transforms the rural landscape into a powerful supporting character".

Every review I try to write slams to a dead stop the instant review-speak splatters the page. It's ridiculous but unavoidable, like that movie trailer dude saying "In A World", or non-incendiary bullets blowing up a car's gas tank, or the handsome hero not wanting to bang the hot heroine because of his tortured past. One minute we're just strolling along, I'm having a great time telling you about this cool movie I just saw, and then... Fuck. I lift up my shoe and there it is...

"Ill-conceived and Poorly executed"... "Pedestrian themes"... "2/3 of a great movie"... "Pacing falls flat"... "Talented cast struggles with formulaic writing/ directing/ lighting/ costumes... "Fulfilling yet unrewarding"... "An edge-of-your-seat-soul-crushing failure"...

I am not qualified to make these judgements. I know this. I'm not even qualified to choose the clothes I go out in everyday, or drive my car through a school zone. And even if I were, in my gut I know that the totally random pichenko-blast of forces that contributes to my liking or not liking a movie has nothing to do with the technical/artistic triumph/failure of the filmmaker/talentless-pedestrian-executioner.

How the fuck should I know how a movie was conceived? Was I there at the moment of conception, watching the filmmaker grunt and thrust over his script, hoping to give birth to the next "Sniper"? Screw that. Creation is a sweaty, awkward, ungainly process. Calling something 'ill-conceived' is like throwing rocks at a one-legged dog.

And if conception went off without a hitch, execution is next up for the reviewer's colonoscope. And here he gets to doff his critic hat and don the hats of every goddamn cast and crew member involved in the production of a movie, and have you watched the closing credits all the way through ever? There are a fuck-pile of them! It's easy to say something like "poorly executed" It's two words, it pops on the page and it makes you sound like you went to school for this. But two pointless words that play God like Alec Baldwin back when he was young and handsome are two words too many.

And pedestrian. Please. You know, from time to time, We are all pedestrians. I don't believe this is a matter for critique. The idea of someone in a shiny new car driving past and throwing trash out the window at you and yelling, "HA HA! FUCKING PEDESTRIAN!" would probably piss you off, wouldn't it? So, no. No on that movie review buzzword, too.

No on all of them, actually. At least for me.

The idea of writing a "movie review blog" appeals to me only because it's easier to explain than what this thing actually is. And here, ten thousand words after "The greatest movie theater on earth...", I still don't have much of an explanation for you.

I guess if my intent to appeal to you as a gourmand of random online bullshit had to be whittled down to a one word job title/ mission statement, the word I would have to choose is: Barker.

I hate talking about movies I wouldn't want other people to see, or that I regret seeing in the first place. Likewise, if I absolutely fall in love with a movie, the last thing I want to do is stake it out in fourth period Lab and peel back the the skin and muscle from the bones until I'm sifting through a pile of cold, bean-colored organs. Not suggesting that this is what a movie reviewer does (I actually love reading well-written reviews and gaining new perspective on my favorite films, and there are tons of really talented-- I mean, some of my best friends are review-- I'm not-- Hey, where are you going? Shit. You're a reviewer, right? Okay. Damn it. Sorry....Thanks. Sorry.), but this is what I do. Because, as I mentioned, I don't know how to.

What I do know is when a movie succeeds in taking me someplace else. No matter how cheaply made, poorly acted, directed, executed. Or if the sets are cardboard and bondo, or if there are typo's in the title. No matter. A film that takes you someplace always trumps one that doesn't. It's always better to have a running beater car with blood stains on the seat and strange smells wafting from the trunk than a shiny pretty car that never leaves the driveway. 

So, I am deleting those other talents and skills from my job description. There: done. Now, my sole purpose is to stand on my box outside this tent and say whatever the hell I have to say to get you inside. I checked: I don't need a degree in film studies for that. All I need is a megaphone.

My rules are carnival rules. Scary, pretty pictures. The lure of screams and thrills in the dark. Blood, boobs, monsters and mayhem, all for $7.99 per month. Step right up for graphic violence! Strong Sexual Content! Adult themed magic carpet rides! Your own private grindhouse, minus the broken glass and needles crunching underfoot...

Please note: there may be no exit in case of an emergency. And please no talking or screaming... unless you really need to. And beware any raspy voice whispering to you in the darkness...

It could be your own.