Video Reviews

Videos you've never heard of, and won't be able to find

Not being able to go out to movies since the birth of Francesca has led us to spend more time watching videos. Here are some highlights from our collection...

Blood Harvest

(Congress Video, 1989) Every so often we find something at a yard sale that makes us realize why we love them so much. Blood Harvest is a C-grade slasher film starring high-pitched singer Tiny Tim as a deranged could it not be great?! Tim's over-the-top performance as Mervo is by far the best acting in the film. The female protagonist Jill (played by the pretty but utterly talent-free "Itonia," who in one scene nods in response to a question asked over the telephone) returns to her rural hometown to find a hostile environment of farm foreclosures, mysterious disappearances, and atrocious Ed Wood-caliber acting. Her old love interest (supposedly Mervo's brother, although he's a foot shorter and sports straight blonde hair) tries to help her solve the mystery of her parents' disappearance and rekindle their old romance. Meanwhile, a mysterious killer is slaughtering people in a literal sense by hanging them up in a barn and cutting their throats, in disturbingly graphic murder scenes. Is the killer Mervo? Nobody but the characters in this film think so, as the shadowy villain is clearly a foot shorter than Mervo... well, you can figure it out just from reading the back of the box.

Imagine That & Secret Sleuth
featuring Dora Hall

(Premore) Dora Hall truly lived the American dream. She was a minor singer and dancer who entertained the troops during World War I, and toured with three female singers until 1920 when she settled down to marry Leo Hulseman and have kids. Leo wasn't your average Joe, however--he was the fabulously wealthy president of the Solo Cup Company. During the 1960s, Leo decided to give Dora what she always wanted--he was going to make her a star. Thus, Premore was born.

Premore, a division of the Solo Cup Company, pressed Dora Hall records and gave them away free for the asking to people who returned postcards in packages of Solo cups. People could also join the Dora Hall Fan Club, where they could obtain additional free records and other items. On dozens of singles and LPs released under several labels, Dora covered standards, silly pop tunes and top hits of the day like I Heard it Through the Grapevine, These Boots Are Made For Walkin', Satisfaction and King of the Road.

In 1971, Leo spent $400,000 to make Dora her first TV variety show called Once Upon A Tour, which was shown in syndication across the country. Others followed, featuring celebrities like Frank Sinatra Junior, Scatman Caruthers, Rich Little and Rosie Grier. With the advent of home video, the TV specials were given away free for the asking on VHS tapes by Premore, and I was fortunate enough to find two of them, Imagine That and Secret Sleuth, in a thrift store.

The low-budget sets and awful songs bring back memories of the plague of horrible 1970s musical variety shows like The Osmonds, Tony Orlando & Dawn and The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. It's all here...nonsensical theme medleys of popular songs, awkward dancing, all strung together with a plot shallower than a porno movie. And through it all, there's Dora, the star who was not, singing almost on key and dancing around in her hobo outfit. Truly masterpieces of vanity, these videos are not to be missed.

A Dora Hall Fan Site featuring interviews, articles and a discography.

Kingdom of the Spiders

(United Artists, 1977) If effective horror movies tap into the subconscious of the audience, lots of people must get the willies from spiders, judging from the number of films about them. This low-budget creepfest stars William Shatner as an overacting cowboy veterinarian at odds with a new strain of lethal tarantula. Unlike normal tarantulas, these hairy little buggers like to live in large colonies and have extra-lethal venom, and are not at all shy about attacking people and wrapping them up in big webs. With the help of a sexy entomologist (bet that's a phrase you never thought you'd see in print), Shatner wages war while the local townsfolk fall prey to the wily critters one by one. The high point of the movie is Shatner's virtual tap dance up a sidewalk and stairway covered with scattering tarantulas, as if he actually believes these little creatures would be invulnerable to his bigass cowboy boots. Hundreds of real live tarantulas must have died in the making of this film, but all those real spiders give it a disturbingly creepy edge that computer animated creatures can't match.

The Little Prince

(Paramount, 1974) It's tragic when something as great as the brilliant book by Antoine deSaint-Exupery is turned into something as dreadful as this, a full-length live-action musical adaptation of something that should really be an animated short feature. Broadway veteran songwriters Lerner & Loewe (My Fair Lady, Camelot, Gigi) aren't afraid of sappy sentimentality, while director Stanley Donen (Singing in the Rain, Charade) isn't afraid to use the fish-eye lens for a large portion of the film. Each character the Little Prince meets provides opportunity for a long, silly song that adds absolutely nothing of substance to the plot. Gene Wilder makes an appearance as a fox (you can tell because he's wearing red), and Bob Fosse, of all people, steals the show as the ssslithery ssswishy snake. Even with all the well-padded songs (one of which features protagonist Richard Kiley running through miles of desert singing at the top of his lungs), this movie clocks in at a meager 88 minutes, so watching it only seems like a 3-hour ordeal.

Penn & Teller's
Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends

(Lorimar Home Video, 1987) Leave it to Penn and Teller to explore the scam potential of the video tape. This tape offers seven simple tricks you can play on your unsuspecting friends by essentially pretending segments of the tape are actually TV broadcasts. There are card tricks (your friend picks a card, and the newscaster on TV reveals it), wacky video tricks (you pretend to wipe the image on the TV screen with a special cleaner that makes the picture smear) and other assorted "magic" tricks you can use to make money. I'm not really sure if anyone would fall for these tricks, but they're entertaining to watch. Bonuses are a cameo by singer Lydia Lunch (who helps demonstrate one of the tricks) and a short film by The Residents.

Reform School Girls

(New World Pictures, 1986) Ever wondered what life was like in reform school, especially for sexy girls? This unflinchingly gritty drama captures the jubilant highs and crushing lows of girls gone bad. The humiliation of delousing, the backbreaking chain-gang labor, and the revolt and overthrow of the evil prison regime are shown in vivid detail. Many questions, of course, go unanswered: if it's a "school," how come there are no classes? Why do they spend so much time naked in the shower? Why do they endlessly frolic and fight in sexy lingerie and make-up? How was aging rock star Wendy O. Williams ever cast to play a teenager? Indeed, mysteries abound, but director Tom DeSimone, fresh from making gay porno films, likes there to be mystery in his works, and here the mysteries run deep.

Rock-It The Robot

(B&R Mgt.) This tape has nothing to do with the 1980s hit song Rock-It by Herbie Hancock; instead, it's a promotional video for a company that makes larger-than-life mascot outfits. This company shows off their wares including a colossal ear of corn named "Captain Cornelius" (right) for the Corn Marketing Group and the sexy gorilla "Glamour Beast." By far their most popular mascot is Rock-It, a 9-foot-tall Anime-like robot in high heels. This amateurish video shows off Rock-It in all his glory. He dances, he raps, he makes silly robot jokes. The choppy home-video editing is hilarious, with the scene often cutting to a shot of the concrete floor at a trade show, or cutting off the first or last thing someone says. Rock-It will be appearing at the Georgia National Fair in October, 2002.

Salvador Dalí:
A Soft Self-Portrait

(Pacific Arts, 1969) Filmed at Dalí's home in Port Lligat, this video gives a hilarious overview of Dalí's philosophies and obsessions, as well as a kind of video catalog of his art. He does it all: he swims with reproductions of Vermeer paintings, he bangs on a piano full of cats, he wears hats made of geometric shapes...there's even a backwards-dancing midget that pre-dated Twin Peaks by 20 years. Orson Welles provides wry, sedate narration which serves as counterpoint to Dalí's lunacy. The sixties-style editing and inexplicable psychedelia coupled with Dalí's sledgehammer approach to English make this film difficult to watch at times, but it's worth it to see the master at work and play doing what he does best...being Salvador Dalí.

The Violent Years

(Headliner, 1956) The name Ed Wood can pretty much guarantee that a movie will be awful in a funny way, and The Violent Years is no exception. This is Ed's magnum opus of juvenile delinquency, and we are warned at the beginning of the film that the events are "from today's glaring headlines," but certainly one would have to find these headlines in the National Enquirer.

The story focuses on Paula, daughter of the editor of the local paper. Paula is given everything by her parents except their time. She lashes out at them in the way most ignored teenage girls lash out--armed robbery of gas stations. From there Paula and her three friends accost a smooching Lover's Lane couple. The woman is stripped to her slip and tied up with her skirt, while the man is taken to a secluded area and raped at gunpoint by the girls (if "rape" is really the right word for four teenage girls forcing a man to have sex with them). After that, it's only a matter of time before Paula and her friends have an exciting night of liquor, jazz and smooching with two-bit hoods, followed by them trashing a school as part of some sort of Communist plot. When the cops show up at the school, things spin out of control quickly and before you know it Paula dies in prison while giving birth! The overly moralizing Judge punctuates the movie with stern warnings to the parents of America that to avoid this fate themselves they need to return to religion and "the old-fashioned woodshed." This movie is truly a wonder, from the stilted acting to the amazing invisible gunshot wounds to the five-minute police investigation complete with interviews that nabs the girls on the run. Astounding.

© 2002, Ken B. Miller & Contributors as Listed. | Reproduced from Shouting at the Postman #48, September, 2002 | 5799

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