Schlock & Awe:
The Vendetta 24 Hour Movie Marathon

Features, FILM
Recounting the midnight madness of the tenth annual 24 Hour Movie Marathon, a long stretch that yielded no less than 14 cult films.

This being the tenth birthday of Ant Timpson’s recently rebranded Vendetta 24 Hour Movie Marathon (big appreciative thumbs-up to new name sponsor Vendetta Films for coming to the party and keeping this sub-cultural phenomenon alive!) the excitement and anticipation level was high. And this year’s Marathon delivered in spades—at least in terms of the films. Unfortunately some of the peripheral entertainment suffered this year and took a little of the sheen off for me—namely, the lack of interactive audience competitions—although I understand that this was to cram in more valuable screen time, a worthy objective.

Trash Trailers and Fillers

Marathon ’09 began with the usual spate of trash trailers as the latecomers filed in, including such gems as:

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967): Peter Cushing as the crazed Baron Frankenstein reanimates the body of a dead sex kitten with the soul of an unfairly murdered young man who wants justice.

Starcrash (1979): A small, car-like spaceship has (crash)landed on a beach on some planet. Out hop a cheap looking Robot named ‘Elle’—with a gruff, male southern accent, and propensity to state the obvious—and his sexy-smuggler mistress ‘Stella Star’ clad ever so appropriately in an animal skin bikini. They are trying to get their bearings when a group of Amazons-on-horseback round the bend and ride on over…

Flash beginning, but it seems like all the good trailers played in this opening segment. Most of the remaining Marathon filler material appeared to consist of internet acquired comedy sketches of varying degrees of funny, from WTF through to the mildly amusing. This almost added up to a really cheap version of Mr Mike’s Mondo Video for those who remember that never-ending piece of shit. A pity we didn’t get so many of the astoundingly odd trash trailers as in previous years.

Introductions

The first thing Ant does is apologise. [REC]2 is not going to be a screening. It’s not his fault, or Vendetta’s. The print was lot-in-transit (it turns up the following day). He expresses hope that a whole bunch of people don’t get up and demand their money back because “it’s already been spent” and says that he’s wrangled a decent replacement, and hopes people like it. He also bemoans the fact that he let slip the film’s place in the line-up and used it as a promotional point for the Marathon. This doesn’t really bother me as I come for the vintage trash.

Next up, the Marathon rules. This year someone has gone to the effort of putting together a comedy sketch for the occasion: how to infiltrate the 24 Hour Movie Marathon in the style of a soviet era training guide ‘rescued’ from some vault. This is pretty good, gets the point across, and is definitely better than any of that internet filler video stuff—with the exception perhaps of the music video about ‘Wang-Wang’ the ‘tiny human being’, a Filipino mini-man reminiscent of the freaky 14-going-on-34-still-attached-to-his-mother’s-nipple manboy in Italian zombie schlocker Burial Ground.

The Films

1. Kansas City Confidential (Phil Karlson, 1952)

This 50s film noir was a great way to kick off the Marathon, not unlike Lady in a Cage a few years ago. Although not strictly classic noir—there was no femme fatale to be seen, and most of the action took place in a Mexican holiday resort as opposed to squalid city environs—great plot twists and classic dialogue delivered the goods. Even though the movie fired a never-ending barrage of clichés, none felt wearied or studied while being cynicism free. Riddled with potential cheese, and yet fresh and compelling. Also, the first appearance of Jack Elam’s grizzled mug.

2. Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer, 2009)

The first preview/premiere screening of three at Marathon ’09, and for my money the best. Woody Harrelson, sporting crazy-hardman persona, travels Zombie-infested America with list-making social outcast Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland, best college rom-com I’ve seen in ages, from the director of Superbad) in search of other live people… and zombie bashing. Along the way they are scammed by badass sisters Emma Stone (also Superbad) and amusingly ‘darkened’ Abigail Breslin, both upping the stakes for the girls in zombie flicks. Somewhat lightweight, this was stacked full of obvious pop cultural nods which weren’t really layered into the film—somewhat like TV show Chuck, with its overemphasized eighties references in case you really didn’t get that that Shai-Hulud hap-tip was from Dune. Still, funny, well paced, and features one of the best cameos I’ve seen in while.

3. Road House (Rowdy Herrington, 1989)

Ant preceded this with an ‘in honour of his passing’ introduction. Having seen this on VHS in the depths of my past, I totally underestimated how brutal it was for a seemingly light and tacky actioner. One of the things I do remember though was the array of shocking white pants Patrick Swayze sported (pleated slacks, fitting tracksuit bottoms etc.). They were truly an awful statement from the decade. Ben Gazarra is perfection as the menacing overlord of the small town Swayze’s Dalton goes in to clean up. Most memorable quote (from Gazarra’s chief fighting-minion Jimmy to Dalton near the beginning of their final fight): “I used to fuck guys like you in prison”. It’s not entirely clear what he’s implying here, but whatever the case this film provides many people—audience included—with unimpeded access to the Daltonator’s ass (please excuse the appropriation of a term usually reserved for Timothy Dalton). Dalton also has a philosophy degree which he uses liberally to explain why Dalton is.

4. Forbidden World (Allan Holzman, 1982)

Not to be confused with classic 50s sci-fi flick Forbidden Planet, I would sum up this Roger Corman production as a ‘softcore Alien rip-off’. Perhaps the first clue was that their bio-mutant creature featured exactly the same head as the Alien. My friend Nige and I spent the entire movie wondering whether the production credits would date post-1979. One of the other giveaways was the space station set design, reminiscent of both the space freighter in Alien and the facility in Aliens. Wikipedia’s notes claim that some of the sets were originally designed by James Cameron! (And were shared with another Corman-produced Alien knock-off, Galaxy of Terror.) Forbidden World was solid Marathon fare, notable for a completely extraneous scene in which the two female leads get their kit off and ‘shower’ together under yellow lighting effects which visually approximates a ‘golden shower’. Top marks!

5. Vice Squad (Gary Sherman, 1982)

Vice Squad’s central antagonist, a crazed white pimp named ‘Ramrod’, is played by none other than Wings Hauser. You might remember Wings from single episodes of any number of TV shows: Airwolf, The A Team; China Beach; Roseanne; Walker, Texas Ranger; Murder She Wrote; Beverly Hills 90210; CSI Miami; House M.D.; Monk; Bones; The Mentalist. Perhaps you remember him from the role of Arklon, the evil brother of Marc Singer in Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time. Or perhaps not. Whatever the case, as Ramrod he is one crazy, badass white guy mowing down hookers/pimps/cops/pedestrians. Combined with the talents of the promisingly named ‘Season Hubley’—whose credits include The Partridge Family, Kojak, Hardcore, The Twilight Zone, Total Exposure and Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror!—as hooker ‘Princess’ who gains the sympathy of Vice Squad detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson: Logan’s Run, Eight is Enough, Max Headroom, Quantum Leap, and Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power) this is quintessential 80s grime-action.

6. Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007)

A surprise replacement for [REC]2, this was our midnight Halloween scarefest, and a worthy substitute too—particularly at short notice. Horror is not really my thing unless it is schlocky, but Paranormal Activity, employing the Blair Witch blueprint, managed to maintain an ever increasing level of tension throughout its 86 minute duration. I’m glad it didn’t last longer as the limited setting and premise didn’t really leave room for any fat without overbalancing the annoyance factor. A few times the male half of the couple did get on my wick but Peli’s psycho-trip pressure was relentless and this pulled the film right through to the ever-so-slightly lame-ass ending. I subsequently found out that this is not the original ending, but a studio suggested one that leaves things open for the inevitable shitquel. A good way to kick into the marathon nether hours and keeping the marathoners totally awake for…

7. Maidens of Fetish Street (Saul Resnick, 1966)

The second and, as the title suggests, most flagrant sexploitation flick in the Marathon, Maidens of Fetish Street framed various striptease, lesbian tease, and fantasy vignettes around a central ‘story’ of lonely loser ‘Nick’ whose desirous pressure is building to exploding point. To relieve his situation he visits a strip show with a fuller figured ‘exotic’ dancer and then finds himself in ‘The House of Fetish’ playing out bondage fantasies with a jealous older woman and several other prostitutes. This black-and-white number plays as if it was set in the 20s and is threaded with passages of narrated pseudo-existential intellectualism which gives the film a slightly surreal, if laughable, edge. Despite the repetitive and increasingly boring scenes of titillation, it has some stellar moments of dialogue. In one such instance, a somewhat embarrassed older man hires an acid-tongued prostitute to act out some fantasies for him. Upon encountering her spirited wit at his awkwardness he responds with such classic comeback lines as: “I have no need for you tawdry little witticisms!”, and “You’ve taken all the poetry out of it, haven’t you.” And for all those who are despairing at the idea of all that pointless nudity—never fear, as there is a entire vignette dedicated to a fully clothed artist, who creates a clay sculpture of a morphing head to a soundtrack of more faux-philosophical readings!

8. Mill of the Stone Women (Giorgio Ferroni, 1960)

From 60s sexploitation to 60s Italian horror. In colour, Mill of the Stone Women reminds of a lesser version of a Jane Eyre knockoff set in Amsterdam, utilising Italian actors, and dubbed into English. A 20-something male student researches a famous ‘carousel’ located in a historical mill. It turns out that the professor-cum-curator’s family has some literal skeletons in their closet and our young hero and his childhood friend/love interest become mixed up in a scheme to give the professor’s sick (read: dead) daughter everlasting life at the expense of the local female populace. There are drugs, fires, evil doctors with crazy blood transfusion ‘machines’, not to mention a small rowboat ferry. This was one of the hardest films to get through due to its slowness for its timeslot (around 3-4:30am), but was nonetheless good to watch with all its high-flavoured Italian dramatics.

9. Night Train to Terror (Various, 1985)

Surely the find of the Marathon. A truly head-scratching piece of cinema, Night Train to Terror begins with a group of ‘young people’ dancing (a kind of Fame tribute act) to a Billy Idol rip-off soundtrack—a scene that was to recur throughout the entire film. Next the camera follows the quizzical old black porter into a compartment empty except for two men facing each other across a table. One a white bearded man dressed in white, the other dressed all in black. Yep, you guessed it! God and “Mr Satan”. These two also recur, bridging vignettes each labelled “The case of…” with existential arguments about the final destination of various persons’ souls which could have been grafted straight from the Old Testament Book of Job. At one stage God’s response to an ‘intellectual’ jab of Mr Satan’s is to say: “I can laugh and cry at the same time”—heh, beat that Mr Evil Pants!? I tell you, you need a degree for this stuff.

There are three ‘cases’ under review:

  1. The Case of Harry Billings sees a man kidnapped and put into an institution where he is drugged and forced to entrap and drug beautiful young women who are then stripped and strapped X-fashion to surgical tables by a psycho-minion who gawks at them (with the audience) and eventually cuts them up to be sold as body parts for medical research. And it just happens that the psycho-minion doing the chopping is Bull from Night Court!
  2. The Case of Gretta Connors involves a young couple who end up in a ‘death’ cult also with its fair share of nudity, bloodthirstiness, and plain old bizarreness. Gretta convinces her freaked out boyfriend to join her and the group playing chicken with a Tanzanian death beetle before heading off to play chicken with a wrecking ball in a scene that could be the dastardly-clever-but-doomed-to-fail death plot of an arch villain from the Adam West Batman TV series. Eventually Gretta realises these people are nuts and actually want them all to die—but only after half the group has been killed! Magic.
  3. The Case of Claire Hansen sees a devout Catholic woman tested by being set against a youthful and pretty Anti-Christ figure who looks like he could be the lovechild of Robert Sean Leonard and Davy Jones from the Monkees. Cue bad demonic morphs and lights shooting from people’s eyes. Oh, and did I mention Bull from Night Court was in this film?

The film is stocked with more pure awesome than you might get in an average half year of viewing.

10. The Visitor (Giulio Paradisi aka Michael J. Paradise, 1979)

Boasting poor SFX, a Tatooine-like desert setting, and an Alec Guiness lookalike narrator, The Visitor develops into a psych-horror-thriller featuring a little girl who resembles the female twin of Damien from The Omen series, in that she uses her mysterious powers to do in whoever happens to make her angry—particularly her mother. She also has an incredibly violent bird compatriot that pecks at the eyes of people who piss-off little Damienette when she can’t get to them. Of course, there is a simple explanation. (Other than she is a poorly behaved child—helpfully pointed out by the lardy middle-aged Hispanic babysitter with the greatest ‘tough love’ (or is that hate?) parenting skills and philosophy.) Mama’s little terror is simply the host for an alien being born of the special and sacred womb of her mother—which incidentally is of much interest to several obsessed and demanding groups in the film. She is incredibly evil, and seemingly unstoppable. Right up to the point where Obi-Wannabee finally manages to flag down the support from his home planet. This off-world backup is ostensibly composed of a copious number of ‘interstellar birds’ who overwhelm Satan’s whelp by swarming her and somehow mysteriously stripping her of both her hair and her evil nature. The end sees our antagonist delivered off-planet to an undisclosed location filled to the brim with overtly happy child cancer patients (overseen by an inappropriately loitering Obi-Wannatouch) and, wait-a-gosh-darned-minute, is that Jesus? Where in the hell did he come from! Well, no time to worry about that now, the credits are rolling—just accept it.

11. The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh, 2009)

The low point of the Marathon for me, this third and final premiere screening was actually rather enjoyable even if it dragged a bit. Possibly in a single viewing setting, The Informant! would’ve fared much better, but the true story of pathologically nice liar Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) trying to line his pockets whilst simultaneously exposing corporate corruption just dipped a few too many times. I did enjoy The Soup anchor Joel McHale in a straight role alongside Scott Bakula as the unfortunate FBI agents handling Whitacre and his information.

12. Creature from Black Lake (Joy N. Houck Jr., 1976)

Hell yes! A Bigfoot film to saviour for years to come. Our second taste of Jack Elam (who appeared as dour gangster Pete Harris in our opening film noir, Kansas City Confidential), here playing a doughty old trapper who has an early encounter with the ‘creature’ that sees his trapping partner hauled to his death from their boat. Two naive but determined grad student researchers travel from the University of Chicago into the small towns and Bayous of the Deep South where the old timers don’t like them but their daughters seem quite taken. Rives is the dark haired pretty boy accompanied by his oddly named ginger friend Pahoo (played by Dennis Fimple, Grandpa Hugo in House of 1000 Corpses, as well as bit roles in Automan(!), Simon & Simon, Quantum Leap, Party of Five, and Parker Lewis Can’t Lose to name but a few). Violence and menace abounds but sits easily alongside the humorous aspects of this 70s B-thriller romp. Slightly camp but all in good fun and well worth the ticket price to see it on the big screen.

13. Howling II (Philippe Mora, 1985)

The director’s 1985 sequel to his original Howling, subtitled Your Sister is a Werewolf. Apparently not one to miss for the sheer awfulness on display. I only caught Christopher Lee’s entirely too serious introductory narration before having to bail, but it is now on my must see list—although there is a chance that I caught it on VHS during my misspent youth. I have since heard it twice compared to Troll 2, although the person I introduced to Troll 2 the other night admits that its awesomeness overshadowed that of Howling II. Word is that Howling II’s closing credit sequence should be given some kind of award.

14. Commando (Mark L. Lester, 1985)

Concluding the Marathon in high concept style—if not anything new for presumably any of the audience—Ant Timpson treated us to a big screen viewing of the movie that defined the 80s action movie one-liner. With such gems as:“I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now I’m very hungry” (a direct dig at Stallone’s role as Rambo), and “I had to let him go” (after being asked what happened to the bad guy he had been dangling over a cliff edge by his ankle). Big, OTT, this was made of the stuff that spawned many pretenders. A worthy and unpretentious, if totally unchallenging end to a fantastic Marathon line-up.

Jacob’s Marathon Rankings:

  1. Night Train To Terror
  2. Road House
  3. Kansas City Confidential
  4. Forbidden World
  5. Creature from Black Lake
  6. Zombieland
  7. The Visitor
  8. Vice Squad
  9. Maidens of Fetish Street
  10. Paranormal Activity
  11. Mill of the Stone Women
  12. The Informant!
Disclaimer/Acknowledgements: Jacob missed the last two films of Movie Marathon. All prints this year were courtesy of VENDETTA FILMS, MGM, SONY, HOYTS, 20TH CENTURY FOX, and the IS ARCHIVE.
Filed under: Features, FILM

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Jacob Powell has been contributing to The Lumière Reader since 2005. He writes freelance on cinema and other topics both online and occasionally in print. He also works as an Auckland-based university librarian specialising in digital AV media and research collections.

1 Comment

  1. I love the ‘vintage trash’ (as you called it) since it gives us a real insight into the rate at which this genre has been able to change with the introduction of new technology giving low cost entry points for producers/directors to explore their ideas.

    The thought of watching back to back movies over a 24 hour period is a difficult one – the most that I have managed in the last couple of years is three movies back to back with obligatory comfort breaks in between. I find that eventually my brain starts to enter some sort of sensory overload zone where it struggles to follow the action. Anyway, you have reminded me a few titles that are worth re-visiting.

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