A Quirky Quintet Well Worth Watching


Fictional site visitors I'm fabricating because I am stuck for an intro may inquire, "Being not as cool as you, I find the usual Manor On Movies fare a bit too far-out for my tastes.  Can you recommend some films that are unusual but just a little less extreme?" "The Bees, Time Walker and many of these others sound great, but I can't get them anywhere.  Would you please list some kooky flicks that are much more accessible?"  "What about covering a couple the whole family can watch?"

Three questions that can be answered in three words:  Oh, shut up.  Er, I mean "Here are five." 

The following quintet don't necessarily fall into the "so bad they're good" bracket, making them a slightly different breed than the typical MOM offerings, but share a similar level of offbeat charm and undeserved obscurity.


Johnny Guitar (1954)  There's a fair share of bizarre westerns--such as The Terror Of Tiny Town with its all-midget cast--but Johnny Guitar just may be the topper when it comes to major studio releases.

        Trading in her wire hangers for a holster, Joan Crawford is a take-no-lip saloonkeeper with a hankering for stud sodbuster Sterling Hayden, whos also caught the eye of local drama queen Mercedes McCambridge.  As could be expected, this town ain't big enough for both the feudin' felines.  Consequently, what you have in essence is a western after a sex change.        

        There are some analysts sold on the concept Guitar was the Fifties' forerunner of Blood Freak, i.e. although played without a single hint of satire, the film was one gigantic hoax.  Others believe director Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without A Cause and the outstanding Knock On Any Door) loaded up his picture with allegorical political subtext.  Another group asserts it's all a Freudian fantasy.  

        I think you should put all that aside and form your own opinion.  One thing's for certain:  All parties agree Johnny Guitar is a one-of-a-kind.  


Image Dr. Syn, Alias The Scarecrow (1963)  Secret Agent, The Prisoner, Ice Station Zebra, Escape From Alcatraz, Scanners…does Patrick McGoohan ever do anything that's s not supercool?  (Shhhh, let's pretend Baby, Secret Of The Lost Legend doesn't exist.)

        Long before there were miniseries, Dr. Syn--under the banner The Scarecrow Of Romney Marsh--was spread across three successive Sundays on the Walt Disney TV show, with McGoohan as a Zorroesque character:  humble vicar by day, heroic pirate and smuggler by night, terrifying the tinkle out of British King George's oppressive forces by pulling his raids done up like a scarecrow come to life.

        Don't laugh:  That's actually a psyche-out tactic practiced centuries ago by ninjas.  And the way Syn is masterfully lit and shot throughout, McGoohan and his minions cut severely striking figures, accentuated by Patrick letting out a bone-chilling cackle on fitting occasions.

        Also a smile-starter is the musical date-stamp shouting "Mid-Fifties to mid-Sixties": the theme song sung in unison by a small male choir, just like the melodies hailing Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone and Wyatt Earp on their respective TV series.  


Mom And Dad Save The World (1992)  What's this, a family flick being admired by the same author who freeze-framed Image Astounding She Monster for twelve hours just to drool over Shirley Kilpatrick's glistening torso?!?  Yep.  Save The World may have been marketed to the Nickelodeon set, but this (chronological) adult found it to be anything but kiddy litter.        

        The PG release is a comedic updated twist on the Teenagers From Outer Space theme.  King Tod of planet Spengo kidnaps Earthling Terri Garr and her husband Jeffrey Jones (who played Criswell in Ed Wood) and falls head over heels for his female captive--though he still wants to blow Earth out of the Milky Way.  

        His Majesty is energetically portrayed by Jon Lovitz, a true master at sending up pompous fey characters in love with their own voice.  And Lovitz is ably supported by clown princes Wallace Shawn and Monty Python's Eric Idle.          

        Stuck babysitting?  Save The World may be just the ticket to satisfy you and the little angels.


Image Big Meat Eater (1984)  In the mood for a musical, but not one of those glitzy reworked Broadway shows you've been exposed to ad nauseum?  Put on your dancing shoes and sink your teeth into Big Meat Eater.  Those few who have seen it agree that BME serves up a very generous helping of guffaws--not exactly what would be expected out of the tale of spacemen looking to load up on rotting remains from a butcher's shop.

        You know how they took the original Little Shop Of Horrors and turned it into a musical?  BME is nothing like that.  Which is good because I think they squarely jumped the proverbial shark on the Shop redux.  With no "names" and a miniscule budget, Eater does a far better job bridging the gap between a gore show and a floor show.          

        There's also a mighty sly inside reference.  The shop proprietor hires Abdulla, a massive lunatic, as his assistant.  Put them together and what do you get?  Abdulla, The Butcher.  (For those not up on pro wrestling, Abdullah The Butcher is the ring name of one of the sports true icons, a 400-pounder who plays a bloodthirsty maniac.)         


The Ratings Game (aka The Mogul 1984)  In the period between being a TV titan and big-screen big shot, Danny DeVito got ignored by the public, critics and producers alike.  Though Ratings Game was met with indifference or so-so reviews, I consider Image it 1984's funniest comedy nobody saw.  It even contained a slice of television history:  future costars Jerry Seinfeld and Michael Richards appeared in Game six years before Seinfeld debuted on NBC.

        DeVito and Rhea Perlman are a more-energetic-than-talented TV producer and a ratings service employee, respectively, collaborating to make his atrocious shows--which are brilliant in their idiocy--seem to be smash hits.  Not so much a caper picture, the film is really a stiff jab at the television industry, packed with plenty of memorable lines and exchanges.          

        Vincent Schiavell nearly steals the entire show as a Jersey dimwit with delusions of being a Hollywood insider ("Please, please, this is an A-party!"); and Kevin McCarthy, the lead in the original Invasion Of TheBody Snatchers (1956), looks to be having the time of his life as a rat-bastard TV exec.


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