Before I started making movies, I worked (for way longer than I should have) at Alexandria, VA’s legendary Video Vault. The store had a massive collection, and my co-workers and I relished discovering the weird little gems hidden in its darkest, dustiest corners. Video Vault was my first and favorite film school. The curatorial approach of owner Jim McCabe — which equated Euro-arthouse, classic Hollywood and cult trash — has informed and defined my entire filmmaking aesthetic.
From Nov 25 to Dec 1, I’ll be presenting “VHS Turkeys,” a very special week of only-on-video double features handpicked for NYC’s jaded, “seen it all” cinema-goers. Most of the movies in this series are ones I unearthed in those years, presented here in the format in which I first experienced them.
So, fuck The Muppets! Come wallow with me in the analog swamp. I promise you will totally regret it.
_____Friday, November 25th_____
Elves (Jeffrey Mandel, 1989)
A trio of wiccan bimbos pray to the “Virgin of Anti-Christmas” and unwittingly release an unspeakable Evil on a small town! Okay, let’s speak about the Evil: it’s basically a Halloween mask on a stick, and pretty much the shittiest puppet ever made. Also, despite the film’s pluralized title, there’s only one elf on display here. But hey, you also get neo-Nazis occultists, Dan Haggerty as a chain-smoking department-store Santa, perms and boobs aplenty, a kitten drowned in a toilet, and lines like “Santa said oral.” Very rarely does a bad movie give 110% like this one does.
Drinking game idea: Drink every time you feel the spirit of Christmas die in your heart a little.
The Magic Christmas Tree (Richard C. Parish, 1964)
See the stupidest, most arbitrary plot ever written for a children’s movie brought to life on a budget of approximately $5. Starring a happy witch, a pervy giant, a bitchy, wish-granting evergreen, and what appears to be a drunk the producers slipped into a Santa outfit while he was blacked out. The Magic Christmas Tree will constantly underwhelm you with its blandness while making you feel kinda dirty for reasons you can’t quite pinpoint. The only thing more disappointing than seeing this as child at a kiddee matinee in the 60s must have been seeing it as a child on VHS in the 80s.
Drinking game idea: drink every time the talking Christmas tree reminds you of Paul Lynde.
_____Saturday, November 26th_____
Kamikaze 89 (Wold Gremm, 1982)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder runs around the future solving crimes in a leopard print suit. The New German Cinema’s most famous filmmaker would die of a drug overdose before the film was ever released, and you can really tell he’s on his last legs here. Appearances by Günther Kaufmann, Brigitte Mira and a few other of Fassbinder’s usual suspects make this a very strange cinematic farewell to one of the medium’s most uncompromised voices. Plus, there hasn’t been production design this good since Rinse Dream retired. Also, I own Peer Raben’s amazing/annoying electronic soundtrack on vinyl, which makes me a Kamikaze 89 analog completist!
Drinking game idea: Drink every time Fassbinder’s face looks ominously puffy.
Voyage of the Rock Aliens (James Fargo, 1984)
If 1950s America got 1980s America pregnant, this movie would be their abortion! This totally retro PG retard-o-thon really wins you over with its everything-and-the-kitchen sink attitude. The plot is like Romeo & Juliet meets a battle of the bands at a beach party with talking robots, plus a bonus tentacle monster and chainsaw-wielding maniac. Fun!? The all star cast includes Pia Zadora, Jermaine Jackson, Michael Berryman and Ruth Roman as a feisty small town sheriff. You’ll have hits like “You Bring Out the Lover in Me” and “Nature of the Beast” stuck in your head for days. You’re welcome!
Drinking game idea: Drink every time you see a new stupid hairstyle.
_____Monday, November 28th_____
Multiple Maniacs (John Waters, 1970)
Who killed Sharon Tate? Divine, of course! John Waters’ pre-Pink Flamingos “celluloid atrocity” (his words) still packs a nasty wallop. Waters called it a movie for the “hate generation” and he’s pretty much on the nose. Maybe it’s the cheap-o black and white photography. Maybe it’s the lesbian “rosary job” performed in an actual church. Maybe it’s the giant lobster rape scene (above). Whatever it is, there’s a nihilistic zaniness at work that Waters never quite topped in his subsequent films. Music rights issues have sunk any hopes of this ever seeing a re-release in its original version, so take it while you can get it!
Drinking game idea: Drink every time you wish you were in Baltimore.
The Weirdo (Andy Milligan, 1989)
Donny isn’t dangerous, he’s just different. And Andy Milligan movies aren’t bad, they’re rotten to the core! Milligan made a name for himself (shame of himself?) making bargain basement misanthropy-laden horror-smut in the 70s before totally bottoming out in direct-to-video obscurity. Watch our titular “weirdo” fail at playing nice and making friends until he just can’t take it anymore. The actors in this movie are all outstanding, which is to say they’re so inept they border on performance art. Mullets, masturbation, crippled girls, awkward dates, pervy priests, a murder spree and a surprisingly catchy soundtrack make this one a must see for all self-loathing cinephiles.
Drinking game idea: drink every time someone unnecessarily repeats the name “Donny.”
_____Tuesday, November 29th_____
Manson (1973, Robert Hendrickson & Laurence Merrick)
Maybe the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. The filmmakers were in the middle of making a documentary about the family before the Tate/Labianca murders happened. The girls are all here, sporting assault weapons and warning us of the fast approaching Helter Skelter. While this isn’t a “turkey,” I do think VHS is the perfect way to experience this disturbing gem. The lurid oversized packaging for the original release only added to this movie’s mystique, lumping it in with porno and mondo-snuff sickies like Faces of Death instead of what it really is: a vital, Oscar-nominated piece of cinematic journalism.
Drinking game idea: Drink every time you feel like carving an X in your forehead.
Marquis (1989, Henri Xhonneaux)
This super sick biopic of the Marqui de Sade is cast entirely with actors wearing animal costumes. Have fun trying to erase this one from your memory! Intended as a work of high-minded auteurism, Henri Xhonneux’s arthouse Euro-rama comes off more like S&M porno for furries when viewed through the analog fuzz of VHS. What else is there to say? Yes Virginia, there is a talking penis.
Drinking game idea: Drink every time you get a boner or feel like you’ll never get a boner ever again.
_____Thursday, December 1st_____
Fear, Anxiety and Depression (Todd Solondz, 1989)
Todd Solondz’ first feature is also his one and only turn as a leading man. It’s too bad, because he has an amazing “Woody Allen’s awkward cousin who dropped out of art-school” thing going for him. And he sings, too! Posing as a send-up of the Lower East Side 80s scene while simultaneously being a product of it, Fear, Anxiety and Depression exhibits a playfulness and refusal to take itself seriously that Solondz has unfortunately been purging from his work for the rest of his career. Just remember, kids: “I don’t do junk, I am junk.”
Drinking game idea: Drink every time Todd Solondz sounds needlessly whiny.
Blood Orgy of the Leather Girls (1988, Meredith Lucas)
An underground clas-sick! Art or trash? Feminism or exploitation? Best movie ever made or best movie ever made? Watch an all girl punk rock gang kill the shit out of every man that crosses their path! Legend has it that director Meredith Lucas was so distraught from the financial ruin this movie caused her, that she took her own life. Talk about going out on top! They just don’t make blasphemous minimalist rock-n-roll juvenile-delinquent super-8 drama-comedy-gore movies like this anymore.
Drinking game idea: Drink every time you realize you’ll never be cool enough to make a movie like this.