Tag Archives: hell

Link Dump: #68

Oh my god, it’s Peter Lorre with two kitties on him! That’s just like the cutest thing ever. Pussy Goes Grrr’s been fairly quiet this past week, but lots of goodies soon to come: some list-tastic posts, some reviews, and of course the Queer Film Blogathon on the horizon. But for now, a few links:

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Let’s play “Explain the joke!”

My review of Hellzapoppin’ – a riotous comedy directed by H.C. Potter, which stars Ole Olsen & Chic Johnson – was published over at 366 Weird Movies today. In honor of that fact, let’s play a little game. Given an image from this wacky, off-the-wall film, I’ll try to explain what’s happening. Let’s begin, shall we?

This one’s relatively easy. The film’s opening sequence is a cheery song-and-dance number set in hell, and these are demons tormenting damned souls. That’s Angelo Rossitto (he of Freaks, The Corpse Vanishes, and more) playing the giddy devil brandishing a pitchfork. You wouldn’t know from this picture, but the film’s representation of hell is partially a comment on the nation’s entry into World War II, with references to the draft (“CANNED GUY”) and munitions factories.

While still in hell, Chic accidentally blows up a taxi and – bear with me – the driver inside turns into a jockey on top of a horse. The horse has an incomplete tic-tac-toe game on its ass. Out of nowhere, a man rushes down and finishes the game. This is Olsen & Johnson’s twisted idea of causality: every weird joke deserves a weirder one on top of it.

OK, this one’s tricky: after yelling “Cut!” and dragging them out of hell, the director of Hellzapoppin’ (Richard Lane) tries to explain to Chic and Ole the real plot of their movie. He shows them a picture of the principal characters, which turns into its own film; Chic and Ole watch it and make snarky comments – it’s MST3K avant le lettre. Then, strangest of all, one of the characters in the picture-turned-film-within-a-film turns to them and talks back. Yeah.

This is… OK, so Betty (Martha Raye) was handed a block of ice left over from a sight gag, and Prince Pepi (Mischa Auer) was told that the girl “with all the ice” (as in diamonds) was a wealthy heiress. So naturally tries to seduce Betty, who’s very very willing. They retreat to a pool shed, where they have a makeout session that unfolds in fast motion and silhouette. The block of ice melts from the heat of their passion. That all makes sense, right?

So, the movie is being projected in the theater by Louie (Shemp Howard), who’s being romanced by his girlfriend, a horny usher (Jody Gilbert). He gets distracted by her, becomes careless with the projection, and all of a sudden the film is jumping around vertically. Chic bangs his head on the top of the frame, while Ole and Jeff (Robert Paige) struggle to pull the film back into alignment. While being split in half. That’s about as meta as it gets.

Detective/narrator/trickster god Quimby (Hugh Herbert) made Chic and Ole invisible (after they killed him and brought him back to life), but when the movie degenerates into a giant conga party, they decide they want to be visible again. Eventually, Quimby remembers the correct spell, and brings them back… but now they’re riding pigs, and are surrounded by birds and rabbits! Why? Well, to quote Chic, “It’s Hellzapoppin’!”

Yeah, these are the kinds of jokes that fly in Hellzapoppin’. No matter how hard you try, you can’t keep up with this movie; you’re more likely to be driven mad. It’s anti-plot, anti-logic, anti-sense. It’s also more fun than a barrel of invisible monkeys. Incidentally, I recently noticed that the film got quite a thorough write-up back in 2008 at Ferdy on Films, so you should go check out that piece too. The more love this movie gets, the better. (It hasn’t even received an official Region 1 DVD release – can you believe it?) To quote the talking dog that appears toward the end of Hellzapoppin’, “Can you imagine that, a talking bear!”

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The House of Burgess Meredith

Emboldened by Jovanka Vuckovic’s favorite horror movies, Ashley and I went ahead last night and watched The Sentinel (1977). It’s a pretty weird movie, if not entirely successful, with a hodgepodge of disturbing imagery, plots that go nowhere, and all the veteran Hollywood actors the 1970s had to offer. It’s your typical gateway-to-hell movie. Alison (Cristina Raines), a model with some severe daddy issues, doesn’t want to marry her mustachioed boyfriend (Fright Night‘s Chris Sarandon) just yet, so she goes apartment-shopping in New York and finds a cheap, spacious place with no neighbors – other than a blind priest in the attic, some lesbian ballerinas, and a cat-obsessed Burgess Meredith who’s [spoiler] actually kind of Satan.

But Alison is not easily fazed. Even when the dizzy spells start, even when all hell breaks loose right above her ceiling, and even when her real estate agent proves that her neighbors don’t really exist, she goes on living there. However, when she hallucinates (?) stabbing her dead zombie father, that’s the last straw. And that’s when detectives Eli Wallach and Christopher Walken get called in. Yeah, if there’s one thing The Sentinel has, it’s big names of the past and future. Jeff Goldblum, on the road to stardom, shows up as a photographer; Psycho‘s Martin Balsam plays a Latin prof. I mean, Ava Fucking Gardner is the real estate agent!

I love how 1970s Hollywood had all these past-their-prime legends just sitting around, and could insert them into character parts. Need someone to play a slightly threatening monsignor in your slightly sleazy horror movie? Well, how about five-time Oscar nominee Arthur Kennedy? The upshot of this trend is that we get to see dozens of our favorite old actors in amusing if undignified roles. This is the basis for much of The Sentinel‘s entertainment value. The rest of it comes the creepy shit that engulfs Alison courtesy of Dick Smith’s special effects.

Much digital ink has been spilled about the climax, wherein a mob of giggling demons, led by hell’s emissary Burgess Meredith, follows Alison into the attic and tries to get her to kill herself. It’s scary, yeah, and it has some troubling ableist implications, but for me the creepiest scene comes about 45 minutes in. It’s the one that made Bravo’s “100 Scariest Movie Moments.” Alison wanders through the darkness, flashlight in hand, when something crosses her path. And hey, it’s that zombie father I mentioned earlier! The blood, the nose-hacking, and the naked female zombies make it that much worse.

So yes, The Sentinel has some scenes that made me curl up into a fetal position (while maneuvering my arms so I could still see the screen). Unfortunately, it feels like it was written by several people who weren’t on speaking terms, but each picked a different set of genre clich├ęs to use. It’s ostensibly a psychological horror movie, but it veers off into a police procedural in its second act, then decides it actually wants to be a religious conspiracy thriller. The Wallach/Walken episode is the funniest manifestation of this disconnect, as they go from character to character, digging up extraneous but lurid back stories in generic cop fashion. (Walken only gets a few stray lines! That’s the real horror.)

But even though the parts don’t cohere into a sensible whole, The Sentinel is enjoyably ridiculous enough for me to recommend it. The all-star cast, the build-up and reveal as a septuagenarian John Carradine enters the picture, and Burgess Meredith’s sublime hamminess all paid out great dividends on the time I invested. When the movie finally gets focused, it manages to be a fairly terrifying, oddball foray into the demonic. You could say it’s the best 1970s apartment-centered horror movie that Roman Polanski didn’t direct.

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