10/10/2017 – Schlock: Vicious Lips (1986)
Directed by Albert Pyun
Schlock is a term that has long been used to refer to crap. Specifically in the context of film (and especially horror) it refers to a specific type of film. It’s not mainstream crap like Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers or even relatively mainstream shit like Silent House. Nor is schlock the same thing as the exploitation film which I will discuss tomorrow. No, schlock is a special king of quickly turned out low budget crap that is more silly than anything else. It is not trying to push the very barriers of what can be depicted or trading on our basest instincts (not that there’s anything wrong with that) it’s just trying to entertain or make a few bucks. There’s a kind of charm in the inoffensiveness of it but there’s no real mistaking this for art. This is pure so bad it’s good territory.
Granted the very nature of schlock can change over time as what would have been considered shocking in the 50s in tastelessness is now considered quaint. I’ll also admit that it’s quite easy and acceptable to toss the word around in a far more broad sense than what it means and that I’m guilty of it too since even big budget films can feel glorified versions of these very films.
I, like I’m sure many others here, got the taste for schlock from Mystery Science Theater 3000 and if you are looking for a good definition of it, “the kind of film featured on MST3K” is as good a one as any. While there are exceptions (Marooned and The Sidehackers spring to mind for two very different reasons) for the most part, that show highlighted goofy low-budget films that made no pretenses of being made for any real artistic value. But where they really succeed is when you watch them with a group of friends (or TV characters you pretend are your friends or with the imaginary ones you pretend are watching with you so you feel less alone) and mock the hell out of them.
While normally by now I’d give a history of the genre and how it developed but it doesn’t develop so much as spring into existence when the market exists. The schlock of the 50s and 60s may be the first golden age, films made cheap to be shown as part of double bills on drive-ins or cash in on fleeting public fascinations. AIP was the true master of this. The era that really pops into my head for this is the 80s though. While I generally prefer the films of that earlier era, the excesses of the 80s combined with the nascent video rental market created a perfect storm of cheesy goodness. In addition, this was the era where The Golden Turkey Awards, the Razzies (ugh), and their imitators were brought into this world and shown both a light on bad films, but an appreciation of them as well. MST3K came into the world at the end of the decade as well and we haven’t looked back since.
I don’t want to talk about the 90s and on too much because that will be cutting into Thursday’s conversation (you know I love talking about crappy movies when I dedicate all three days of my weekend to various forms of them) but there is one modern purveyor that we mustn’t forget (try as we must). The Asylum was founded in 1997 but didn’t start to achieve its true purpose until 2005s H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Dubbed “mockbusters” these were especially cynical attempts to churn out low budget crap that would be released at the same time as similarly titled big budget films in an attempt to confuse casuals and to piggyback on their popularity. As I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with the latter and nothing new about it either. The former though, which especially exploded after 2007’s Transmorphers exploded the company’s notability in the eyes of the public, moved quickly from silly and “can’t blame them for trying to make a living” to “you are actively harming the genre and intentionally just trying to make knowingly bad films aren’t you” in the wake of Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus leading to the boom in Syfy (formerly the Sci-Fi Channel and in a karmic twist the third home of MST3K as the mockers turned into the mockees) original movies which deliberately sought to get viewers to mock how bad they are even as they diversified to more “original” titles (often involving sharks).
Frankly, when movies like the Sharknado films try to be in on the joke, it ruins all the fun. What made the earlier films special is that they were made in complete earnestness. Sure, the cast clearly didn’t always believe they were making anything worthwhile and they were rarely financed as such, but there was still an attempt to make the best film they could. When you try to make a film to laugh at, it’s called a comedy and The Asylum can’t tell a joke.
Albert Pyun is a name synonymous with schlock, only approaching the mainstream twice after is surprisingly successful The Sword and the Sorcerer (in 1982) with Cyborg and the first Captain America film in 1989 and 1990 respectively. Still, no one has ever accused him of making great films and his career never took off after his extremely profitable debut. By the 90s he was making DTV “name” films or films that try to sell you entirely on the cult or past his prime star(s) that they can throw on the cover and haunt your local rental store. I can’t say I’ve seen any of his films aside from MST3K’s skewering of Alien from L.A. so I was excited to be able to see one of his films.
Vicious Lips is a sci-fi horror with an emphasis on the former and a complete failure on the latter. The big story involves an insane Cruella de Vil wannabe who after most of a band dies in a spaceship accident (she has the remaining member kill himself) decides to make another band into galactic superstars as she is needs another band on the bill one of her minions has some weird teeth like something out of a vampire film. She decides on an all-female band managed by a pathetic weaselly man who functions as the “comic” relief. They all have giant hair and play lots of generic shitty 80s music. Specifically, the kind that seems to be in every lousy 80s movie but never anywhere else. They are forced to recruit a new singer from a high school talent show (named Judy Jetson in what I thought was just a mocking joke but according to the credits is actually her name and she is given the same name as the recently deceased former lead singer and travel to another planet. The movie tries way too hard to make everything look “futuristic” and it’s all very 80s. They can’t just have regular showers, no they have to be electron showers.
The ship crashes onto a desert alien planet and the communicator is destroyed. One might think this is where the movie start to get interesting but that person would be wrong. When they send their comic relief manager out for food (all he finds is scantily clad, topless women), the action shifts to the band as they sit and endlessly bitch at each other. Even as some weird toothed person (like but I’m still not sure if it was the same one from the intro) has gotten into the baggage area and roams about the ship but the movie drags out the actual interaction between them. FINALLY, SPOILERS some fine young cannibals capture the singer after she runs away and it turns out they were working with the lady from the beginning. END OF SPOILERS The film once again threatens to pick up here but she is such a horrible actor that it renders the whole thing more embarrassing than anything else. SPOILERS It even has a fun idea in the way that the villains are somehow able to take the forms of other people to torment her and how it increasingly feels like all of this is a dream as we get more and more hints towards this and on multiple occasions we get clip shows of the movie to this point. Instead, somehow, they get to the show at the end with no real explanation for how it happens. I even rewound thinking I missed something but I still don’t get it and I just really feel lost. END OF SPOILERS
Even at a short length the movie feels slow as hell. The special effects are surprisingly adequate all things considered. The movie certainly had potential to mock but isn’t inherently unintentionally funny or until the end bad enough in a fun way. The only real positives I can say are that I’ve seen worse and this is certainly worthless schlock. It’d be pretty embarrassing if I got some other result (well aside from entertaining schlock).
Bonus Episode #6 – Psychological: My Blood Runs Cold (1965)
Directed by William Conrad
Directed by actor William Conrad (of countless TV roles including Jake and the Fatman as well as narrating Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Fugitive) and starring Troy Donohue (of helping inspire Troy McClure fame and A Summer Place) My Blood Runs Cold is a tale of love and reincarnation. Well on the surface at least it is. A man sets up a competition between two men for the love for his daughter out of dislike for her current beau but unsurprisingly this technique backfires in predictable fashion.
The other man is a sailor and a total creep almost from the outset and believes she is a reincarnation of her great-great-grandmother, calling her by that name instead of her own. He insists that he knows her and is the reincarnation of her lover (and based on a picture he found of the woman they are admittedly a spitting image of each other). Sensibly finding this off-putting, the woman is not at all interested at first but after getting some confirmation about the story from her grandmother and the change in tone by her father, she starts to be pulled further into his grasp. Her great-great-grandmother was unmarried and knocked up by a sailor with the kid being adopted and the sailor disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Being taken to the hidden cave where he claims to have found the locket with the picture in it only draws her in more.
After she finds a caretaker dead and washed up in the seaweed, the mysterious sailor is suspected and the two run off together in the middle of a storm. SPOILERS If you are telling some romantic story, maybe you should include the tidbit of that guy being mad in it. Because either he is some delusional man or he is the reincarnation of a delusional man. Yet she leaves this out because… well the film doesn’t make that clear ever. When the predictable again happens and she discovers a diary of the ancestor’s in the sailor’s possession (making it easier for him to have faked it) and the audience finds out he escaped from an institute for the insane and murdered the man in possession of the boat (and the caretaker as well), I just wanted to blame the grandmother more than anything else. The woman’s acting in the scene when she finds out he is a murderer is fucking hilarious though.
I do like that the film left the reincarnation stuff as being up in the air as the sailor never stopped believing it was true and there were perfect explanations for either possibility. I also quite liked that the other guy is pretty reasonable throughout the film, not being a jerk about her being intrigued by someone else and letting her go when she made it clear she had interests elsewhere. It’s almost as if someone who isn’t interested is better off being let go than acting like her over possessive dad. He’s also got some charm too without being the giant creep her chosen man is (even before the revelations). END OF SPOILERS
I’m not sure if this is strictly horror but TCM called it as such and I took all these wonderful notes so I’m counting it dammit. Plus, the psychological and possibly supernatural elements make a solid argument for that belief even if the music is constantly playing at it being a romantic melodrama. Overall, it’s nothing special and in a frequent refrain from me, it’s watchable and moves at a steady clip.
Next up: I jump into the moral counterpoint of schlock with its gruesome counterpart, the exploitation film, as I check out the remake of I Spit on Your Grave and it’s first (of two) sequels (and if I have the time I also hope to get to Jigoku).