Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Throw Out the Manipulating Night Trains From Harlem! aka The Return of Mill Creek Madness

It's that time again...

For the uninitiated, Mill Creek Madness marks the not at all monthly post wherein I review an entire DVD from the magnanimously cheap Mill Creek 50 Packs. Up today: Disc 9 from Drive-In Movie Classics.
1. Night Train To Terror, aka Shiver

Year: 1985...extremely 1985

Warp Speed Plot: The most enthusiastic ‘80s dance party ever tells us that Everybody’s Got Something to Do (Everybody But You) and engages in all sorts of crimes of Reagan Era fashion, including, but not limited to the following:

Head bands

Acid washed jeans
Puffy pants
Primary colors
Half shirts
Half shirts over whole shirts

Fingerless gloves
Leg warmers
One earring
Off the shoulder sweaters
And they’re just the framing device of a framing device as Mr. God (a man with a dangerous resemblance to Colonel Sanders, proving where the filmmakers’ sympathies lie) and Mr. Satan (think Christopher Lee’s Hammer Dracula put through dry cleaning) discuss three short stories in order to decide who gets to claim whose soul. This may very well be the best anthology setup of all time. Anyway, the stories are as follows:

1- A man gets in a car accident and ends up in a hospital that specializes in lobotomizing male patients, raping the females (I think; ‘rape’ may be a subjective word better defined as pawing and shaking back and forth) and dismembering the remains to sell to medical schools. I think other stuff happens but it’s incredibly not clear. Still rather awesome though, plus heads in a jar!

2- A very active narrator tells the story of Greta, a struggling musician with an aversion to pants, who leaves her job selling popcorn in a carnival to star in porn films under the patronage of a millionaire. When a frat boy falls in love with her, Greta’s life gets complicated, leading her and her two paramours to start attending game night at the Death Club, where a random assortment of folks engage in Russian Roulette, Saw style. People die in hilarious ways. The story ends.  It involved this:

which is fine by me.

3-A lot of stuff happens, some of which involves Nazis, Satan, doctors, and the best stop motion animation since Pee Wee’s Playhouse. An extended scene is scored to Holst’s classical piece Mars, the Bringer of War, which just brings me back to high school band. I actually have no idea what this segment was about, but it happened and I think I watched it.
Celebrity Cred: At this point, seeing Cameron Mitchell in a Mill Creek film is hardly noteworthy, but Night Train to Terror redeems itself with TWO appearances by Richard Moll (who can also be found on the hilarious Mormon propaganda epic Savage Journey) as a rapey orderly in the first story and a doctor (I think) in the third.
The Winning Line: 
“The electrocution death was the turning point for Greta.”
Now if that’s not a dealbreaker, I don’t know what is

Verdict: An abominable movie, a fantastic time. Apparently the three stories were culled from half-finished unreleased films, which is appropriate and wonderful. The effects are about on par with a second grade art class project and the acting, a smidgen better than  the film on the disc that follows it. Satan is played by Lu Sifer, God is played by Himself. My conclusion, therefore, is as follows: If you don’t see this movie, you will go to purgatory.

2. The Guy From Harlem

Year: 1977

Warp Speed Plot: I temporarily wonder if I was accidentally fast-forwarding through the entire film when it opens with a credit reel. All of it. I can’t tell you how happy I am to know the names of the actors that played Man #1 and Man #2 before I even know what the movie is going to be about. Talk about innovation. 

Anyway, back to the *story.* Loye Hawkins plays Al Connors, the guy from Harlem who I assume spent his Harlem days as a banker. Now, however, he spends his days protecting attractive women (sometimes ones married to powerful African politicians) from kidnapping and murder schemes, then shagging them, much to the chagrin of his wife/roommate who has a constant overnight bag for those typical sleepovers. The oddest thing about this marshmallow textured blacksploitation is that the film seems divided into two complete plots, almost as if The Guy From Harlem was a failed television pilot. 
Celebrity Cred: Skimming through the credits on IMDB, I can't seem to find one actor with more than two other film credits to their name. It's quite shocking.
The Winning Line: “Okay. Let’s get this over with.”
...says the man about to sexually assault a kidnapped woman. Has there ever been a more reluctant rapist? As his would-be victim, how does your self-esteem recover?

Verdict: When the actors are lucky, the best they do is step on each others lines. At other moments, entire scenes are just looped so that we literally watch a conversation happen three times, cut at different points in the discussion to make us think we are indeed watching an actual scene (was this THAT much easier than just reshooting two minutes of dialogue?). The movie is awful, but...you know...kind of great. Great in the way that our hero rumbles with a shirtless bad guy--whose sole character trait was that he lifted weights in every single scene--as his friends/coworkers/enemies stand behind, look at the camera, and alternate cheering based on cues. With liquor, this movie becomes Citizen Kane. Without...a damn good time.

3. The Manipulator, aka B.J. Lang Presents

Year: 1971

Warp Speed Plot: Mickey Rooney is B.J. Lang, a Hollywood makeup artist on the edge. As he prances around a soundstage with stuffed animals and mannequins (don’t judge, that’s what I call a typical Friday night), we soon learn that he has kidnapped a young actress named Carlotta in order to make her reenact scenes from Cyrano De Bergerac. What follows is essentially 90 minutes of Rooney trying every single trick in a book about insanity to act insane, with the cameraman following suit by speeding up the reels, slowing down the reels, filtering the color, reusing the same shot in a quickly edited montage, and eventually, just flashing back to what he’d already done. 
Celebrity Cred: Rooney, naturally, making us forget his horrendously offensive performance in Breakfast At Tiffany’s by donning blue eye shadow and being scary.

The Winning Line(s): ”Please don’t die. I hate you, just die! Please don’t die.”
Sweetheart, I know being kidnapped and starved is stressful, but realize that your manic pleas are only confusing your manipulator.
Verdict: As experimental avant garde cinema goes, The Manipulator isn’t without merit. At the same time, when you’re actually watching 90 minutes of aggressive electronic music that makes the soundtrack of Irreversible sound like Beethoven, the effect is just kind of annoying.

4. Throw Out the Anchor!

Year: 1974

Warp Speed Plot: A single dad PR fella heads to a swampy community where he quickly falls for a resident and decides to save the town by protesting the crooked local government and their polluting happy ways. I think. 

Celebrity Cred: A classy Dina Merrill and an aight (is that how the kids spell it?) Richard Egan

The Winning Line: “You’re quite virile looking when you’re asleep.”
Use it. It will never fail to get you into someone’s pajama pants.
Verdict: I have to blame myself more than the movie in this case, as it took me three days to get through this 80 minute family-friendly film. Part of it was a subject matter that just couldn’t keep my eyes opened, while another part comes from the simple fact that Throw Out the Anchor is just a dull tale. Unless you’re incredibly environmentally conscious or have an attraction to stereotypical sea captains, there’s really no need to give this one a try. Watch Summer Rental instead.
Cumulative Lessons Learned
Just cause a gal’s bored doesn’t mean she’s hot to trot

Always keep a supply of bloody marys on hand when city folk stop by
Harlem is the experience playground of all people interested in becoming detectives
Being a great actress with a Brooklyn accent is a huge turn-on for short little psychotics

Women who don’t wear bras are very into women’s lib
Everybody’s got something to do, everybody... but you


  1. Wow, these look absolutely fucking ridiculous. I'm only like 2 or 3 movies deep into this particular set so far, and this review has me wanting to delve even deeper into the bottomless pit of trash that Drive-In Movie Classics has to offer. Thanks Emily!

    P.S. Have you reviewed SAVAGE WEEKEND yet? If so, what's the link to it, because I definitely want to read what you have to say about that one.

  2. Oh, and why the hell isn't WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS on your poll?!?!?!?

  3. 1. Have not yet seen Savage Weekend, though I did notice that the VHS Vicar has: http://mmmmmovies.blogspot.com/2009/03/savage-weekend-1979-or-dont-judge-book.html

    and now I'm tempted as well.

    2. I've yet to see Werelwolves On Wheels. Funny, I recently went to a fancy BBQ restaurant and they had the poster on the wall! I was hesitant after Outside the Cinema was unimpressed by it, but with a title like that, I honestly don't know how much longer I can avoid it.

  4. Mickey Rooney...make-up...I'm pretty sure I'm having nightmares tonight.

    More Mill Creek!

  5. If there's one man you don't want tying you down, it's Mickey Rooney in drag. I mean, Mickey Rourke would be worse, but lil Rooney is not a pleasant sight in blue eye shadow.

  6. Ah, Night Train to Terror. Be still my beating heart. I didn't see it on a Mill Creek set...it was on something else I bought. It's stupefying. Or maybe stupid-fying is more like it. I watched it once alone, and then subjected my best friend to it. He was just as stunned...Wow, I almost want to watch it again. Right now.

  7. Go. Now. Watch. It's good for you.


    Thanks for putting that back in my head for the next five days. :P

    I actually liked THE MANIPULATOR, as you know. And Guy From Harlem was kind of wonderful in a flip-universe kinda way. I loved "Wildman" Steve Gallon who played one of the gangsters hiring Al to take out that other gangster. He is one of the 2-movie credit guys, as he also starred in SUPER SOUL BROTHER, which is interesting, but not quite as wonderful. :P

    And as for Savage Weekend, if you can ignore the boom mic, you'll have a good time with that one. It's even got some celebrity cred. ;)

  9. I think The Manipulator has its merits, but I just found the majority of it annoying. And yes, The GuyFrom Harlem just feels so earnest in its awfulness that there's something bizarrely lovable about it.

    I'll definitely put Savage Weekend on the next Mill Creek road map. Of course, I keep thinking you mean Savage Journey, the Mormon story with Richard Moll. I'm sure they make a great double feature.

  10. I came thisclose to buying this set. But then since I bought three sets of Drive In Cult Classics (Don't shop Amazon drunk!) I thought it might be a leetle too much drive - in madness.

    Night Train: Oy, that SONG!

    I'm glad you suffer through Mickey Rooney movies so I don't have to.
    thanks, Sister!

  11. Funny, Amazon is always trying to tempt me with those Drive-In 8 Packs! Such enablers.

    I adore my Mill Creek packs, but I got all of mine at a buy-one-get-one-free deal at an already reduced price. I think when I did the math it came to 32 cents a movie. The chance to see Mickey Rooney in drag is worth about that I'd say.

  12. I know I'm like half a dozen years late, but I have to comment... Mickey died a week ago (I thought he'd died decades ago), but previously, I'd done a review on "The Manipulator", and called it "THE worst movie I'd ever seen." One disgusting scene showed a septuagenarian's shriveled up tiny member... What kind of a pervert thinks that is acceptable nudity? WTF are boobs, bush & butts for idiot? Some movies are so bad, they're good, but this ain't one!

    I loved the first sequence of "Night Train to Terror", the music/dance video. Check out cute drummer Lori Bell! Tried a little googling, couldn't find out if she really was a drummer... but hey she was good at twirling her sticks!

  13. Never feel bad about late comments! The posts are here forever for just that reason.

    Mickey Rooney was always one of those actors that I continuously was surprised/pleased to remember was still alive. What a good run he had! Including The Manipulator! Which is just weird enough to justify its pleasures for me.

    Apparently Night Train to Terror recently got its own DVD release. I wonder if the special features can answer your question. And I HOPE they include a special music video sequence...

  14. I just saw Night Train to Terror last night and holy moly, it was perfect. My friends and I were dying almost the whole time. There are so many details I want to touch on but won't because we'd be here all day. I used to go a popular 80's night at a club around here and I now wish that Everybody's Got Something To Do had come on back then. It would have fit in perfectly. Wow wow wow. I really can't say enough about this flick.

    Btw, have you seen Danzig's Verotika? It's on par with Night Train to Terror's 'fantastic trash' quality, so I highly recommend it, of course.

    1. Everybody's Got Something to Do is the anthem we NEED right now!

      And no, haven't seen Verotika yet! Heard "great" things, but it's gone off the radar for a while and I completely forgot that I wanted to tackle it. One of these days!