Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

The Grand Mal Face of Christmas.

 

Film: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Director: Nicholas Webster

Starring: John Call, Leonard Hicks, Bill McCutcheon

Written by: Glenville Mareth

 

There are a lot of stupid Christmas movies out there, so I’m not going to say that Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is the most ludicrous holiday film out there, but it’s certainly in the running.  The B-movie production values and the bizarre premise of Santa meeting extraterrestrials certainly give this flick a healthy dose of ridiculousness, though beyond the idea of sci-fi Santa, the plot is your conventional God bless us, everyone.

The element which pushes this masterpiece into the plaid is Dropo, an embarrassing specimen of Martian man who may be the greatest crackhead in cinematic history.  Characterized as “the laziest man on Mars” and looking like a cross-eyed green version of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Dropo bumbles and violently twitches around the spaceship sent to kidnap Santa and bring joy to the children of the red planet.  Of course, once Santa and some wayward Earth kids get on the Martian expressway, this bumpkin idiot starts glowing with the innocence of a child with massive head trauma.  He helps the earthlings fend off some bad green apples, Santa infects everyone with the spirit of Christmas, and due to a severe lapse in judgment Dropo becomes the Martian Santa Claus.  I feel sorry for them.

I’ve never seen epilepsy captured so convincingly on film.  Dropo’s manic, chinless antics at times become frightening in their intensity.  Half of the time I expected members of the crew to run into the shot and put a spoon in his mouth.  This is not the man I would entrust with the seasonal happiness of a potted plant, much less an entire planet.

My vote for Martian Santa Claus would go to Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 1 and 2, played by the great Randy Quaid.  Heaven knows he needs the work.

 

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Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special

 

Film: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988)

 

 

I’ll pretty much put up with anything that Pee-Wee Herman has to offer with a big stupid grin on my face.  I’m not saying that the inevitable Christmas special that came out of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse was any different, but I will say that there were a few moments while I watched this extravaganza when I wondered what the hell was going on.  It’s certainly not half as triumphantly horrible as the Star Wars Holiday Special, though I’d have traded at least half of the special guest stars wandering through the Playhouse for one bartending Bea Arthur.  I would, however, gladly keep Pee-Wee’s opening segment featuring a dancing choir of Marines.

The logical place to start discussing all the madness is at that legion of guest stars.  Halfway through watching the Del Rubio Triplets prance around in the snow and croon out “Winter Wonderland,” I realized that I was watching what was supposed to be a kid’s show.  It would be a very strange child who would give a rat’s ass about any of these guest stars, save maybe Magic Johnson.

Here’s a list: Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello serve as Pee Wee’s slave labor; Little Richard whines about not being able to ice skate; Whoopi Goldberg, Dinah Shore, and Oprah get blown off by Pee-Wee via Picture Phone; Cher mysteriously shows up and demands to know the Secret Word before creeping off like a creep; K.D. Lang flails around in song like some cracked-out Lady Elvis; Joan Rivers is onscreen for about five seconds; Zsa Zsa Gabor hangs out with a cow; professional plastic surgery victim Charo twitches out a song; and Grace Jones sings “Little Drummer Boy” in a tit-suit.

What child wouldn’t be irrevocably scarred by this star-studded cast?

CHRISTMAS.

Of course, between the brief strobe flashes of old-timey celebrities there’s the usual half-assed story about learning the true spirit of Christmas.  In this case, it involves Pee-Wee not being such a greedy bitch that every other child on Earth is forced to go without presents.  Of course, he comes around and gets to ride off with Santa, blah blah blah.

The real conscience of the show is professional nogoodnik puppet Randy, who pulls the plug on the Christmas tree and rails about the shallow commercialism of the holiday.  Naturally, Pee-Wee quickly shuts down this unrest by showing him a video of white kids portraying the nativity in front of a bunch of Asian kids, which is somehow enough to calm Randy’s rebellious spirit.  Lame!

Still, I’ll take Pee-Wee’s Christmas celebration.  Most importantly, Pee-Wee’s in it.

 

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Corky Romano

 

Film: Corky Romano (2001)

Director: Rob Pritts

Starring: Chris Kattan, Peter Falk, Chris Penn

Written by: David Garrett, Jason Ward

 

I’ve come to develop a theory that Chris Kattan is the closest thing the latest generation has come to replicating Don Knotts.  This is in no way meant to be an insult.  The world needs more spastic, bug-eyed man-children busting out sweet karate moves and tripping over everything in sight!

Kattan carries on this fine cinematic tradition as Corky Romano, the grinning idiot exile son of an ailing mobster who bumbles his way into infiltrating the FBI on his dad’s behalf.  His brothers, a rage-filled illiterate and a rage-filled closet case (the latter played by the always wonderful Chris Penn) roundly abuse and belittle their returned sibling to his breaking point.  There’s a great moment at the beginning in which Corky moves to shake his reading-impaired brother’s hand and the scholar instead fills his hand with a fart.  It’s played very highbrow.  Pops Romano, squintily portrayed by Peter Falk, spends most of the film laid up in bed, passively condoning the abuse before a halfhearted good guy turnaround at the end.  Of course, there’s a girl in the Bureau, a couple of treacherous bastards on both sides of the law, and everyone improbably gets behind Corky as the story progresses.

The story may be typical, but I think Chris Kattan is hilarious as the false Agent Pissant (pronounced Pees-ahnt, because, you know, it’s French!).  He’s clearly game for any ridiculous thing the script asks of him, whether it’s dressing up as a girl scout or a skinhead, badly firing an assault rifle, giving CPR to a dog, or delivering a coked-out speech about crimefighting to a room of kids.  Perhaps the film’s best line has Corky suddenly screaming to the kids: “I should buy a boat!”

No offense intended toward the Great Chris Penn, but this film would have been pretty dull without Kattan jittering around at the helm.  I really like this man’s work, and I’d like to see a lot more keyed-up awesomeness from him.  Make it happen, Hollywood!

 

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Stephen King’s The Shining

 

Film: Stephen King’s The Shining (1997)

Director: Mick Garris

Starring: Rebecca De Mornay, Steven Weber

Written by: Stephen King

 

I’ve made it no secret that I really dislike Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining.  By the time I watched it all its horror moments had become cliché, but after reading Stephen King’s much better source material I’ve come to hate it pretty thoroughly.  What was supposed to be a story about a family trying to keep itself together and a father trying to overcome alcoholism and pull his life together became in Kubrick’s hands an artsy horror shitshow featuring Jack Nicholson as Wolfman Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall as a mousy, goggle-eyed fashion atrocity.  If Nicholson’s Joker and Duvall’s Olive Oyl were swapped in for their characters in The Shining, no one would be the wiser.  Sure, it’s fun to watch Nicholson go nuts and abuse his family, but he’s not exactly my go-to actor for sympathetic characters, which was what his role should have been.

I’m not the only one who thought that Kubrick crapped all over Stephen King’s book.  King himself had a lot of hate for the film.  Years later, this culminated in his creation of a better, fuller miniseries version.  The miniseries form, usually about three or four times as long as a feature film, has usually been better suited for adapting King’s better-known books, and this version of The Shining maintains that trend.

Still, casting, not length, makes this version superior.  The decidedly not wolfish Steven Weber makes for a great Jack Torrance, and watching him descend from flawed but well-meaning dad to grinning, bloody monster (appropriately enough, he’d have made an awesome Joker) is more gripping than Nicholson playing Nicholson.  Rebecca De Mornay plays Wendy Torrance as she was written: a young, good-looking mother whose default setting wasn’t as her husband’s emotional punching bag.  Their psychic son is still played by a creepy kid, in this case a chubby, bowl-cutted kid who seems incapable of closing his mouth (I ended up referring to him as Cheeks).  Still, I’ll take this kid over the shaggy creep from the original who talked through his finger and had all the acting chops of a stroke victim.

I also really liked the horror elements in this version.  In addition to actually explaining why the Overlook Hotel was a hellish purgatory (instead of Kubrick’s waving his dick around and cramming random spooky shots together), the ghosts in the place are both restrained and horrifying when allowed to break loose.  The rotting chick in the forbidden room is actually kind of terrifying, as opposed to the old hag who tricks Nicholson into making out with her and laughing at him afterwards (it was pretty funny).  The head ghoul is an awesome shade of Dracula who owns any scene he’s in and is genuinely menacing.  I’m also really glad that the evil hedge animals made the cut, instead of being replaced by a lame hedge maze in which Nicholson gets tricked (again!) and freezes to death.  Oh yeah, the ending is a little better, too, which is to say that it actually has one (even if it is pretty sappy).

Suck it, Kubrick.

 

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Undead or Alive

Film: Undead or Alive (2007)

Director: Glasgow Phillips

Starring: Chris Kattan, James Denton, Navi Rawat

Written by: Glasgow Phillips, Scott Pourroy

 

 

Chris Kattan is the best cowboy/zombie hunter ever.  Let’s cut the crap: Undead or Alive is little more than Corky Romano jittering around the Wild West like some zombie apocalypse grandson of Don Knotts.  But is that in any way a bad thing?  NO!

So there’s some badass cowboy guy with a troubled past, and he finds himself teaming up with Chris Kattan once the dude zombies get out of hand.  He’s clearly not pleased about the prospect of kicking ass with Corky, which makes him a bit of an entitled dick.  Eventually in the course of their undead-murdering spree they cross paths with a magical Indian chick who threatens to further divide their manly bond, but Kattan holds tightly to his code of bros before mystic hos, and all is well.

And that’s about it.  Agent Adair from Upright Citizens Brigade shows up as a blustery, almost Snidely Whiplash-like villain who caught the undead plague and is slyly spreading it to the townsfolk.  (Of course, despite the fact that he’s now a cannibal, most of Mr. Villain’s victims survive to join his evil posse.  Zombies don’t really eat much, do they?)  I’d have liked to see more interaction between Kattan and Matt Besser (the true identity of Agent Adair), as both of these guys have the same type of keyed-up nervousness that would explode brilliantly if smashed together.  Unfortunately, this is more of the manhunt sort of Western, so even though they rule separately, Kattan and Besser don’t get much time together.

Really, it’s just Kattan’s show anyway, and everyone else is just filling a role.  But that’s more than okay.  I actually like what little I’ve seen of Chris Kattan in horror films; his sullenly doomed caretaker was one of the only good characters in the remake of House on Haunted Hill (alongside Geoffrey Rush’s spectacular doppelganging on Vincent Price).  Yeah, Kattan isn’t exactly playing with the same sort of gravity here, but I’m pretty okay with that.  Corky Romano wasting zombies in the old West is just fine with me.

 

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Fubar 2

Film: Fubar 2 (2010)

Director: Michael Dowse

Starring: Dave Lawrence, Paul J. Spence, Andy Sparacino

Written by: Dave Lawrence, Paul J. Spence, Michael Dowse

 

My favorite Canadian hosers of all time are back!  (Sorry, Rowsdower.)  The successor to the great Fubar reunites the world with Terry and Deaner, the Beavis and Butt-head of the Great White North.  Their noble philosophy of partying their asses off and givin’r has not waned in the long years between the first film and the second, though the sequel does lead toward a resolution of sorts.

There is something confusing about this film.  The first Fubar was presented as a faux-documentary in which the filmmaker died after performing the wussiest bellyflop in human history.  I’m not sure if Fubar 2 is meant to be the same breed of Spinal Tap or not.  Occasionally people speak to the camera, and their names are listed on-screen, but more often than not people act as though the camera is not there.  There’s definitely no evidence of a camera crew.  More disturbing, when the dead filmmaker pulls a Jacob Marley and appears before Deaner in a Christmas vision, it’s caught on tape.  So if Fubar 2 is meant to be a documentary, it’s one that has evidence of the afterlife – which may or may not be more important than the misadventures of two rowdy Canucks.

The worst part of Fubar 2 is that Terry sells out for poontang.  Here’s another thing I don’t get about the movie: he starts hooking up with a burly strip club bouncer who quickly becomes a shrieking, gold-digging shrew who screws around on him and gets pregnant with somebody else’s kid, but all of a sudden Christmas comes and she becomes a saint.  There’s no transition in this; one minute she’s a bitch and the next she’s a sweetheart.  Sadly, Terry puts up with it.

The best part of Fubar 2 is Tron, the whipped pal of Terry and Deaner’s from Fubar who flew off the wagon, ditched his bitch, and resumed his responsibilities as a one-man wrecking crew.  He’s kind of a turd when Terry and Deaner come around his work buddies, but by and large the man does not screw around.  The film’s opening scene shows Tron storming onto the scene by running over a tree with his truck, after which he has a rap attack and demolishes Stately Terry and Deaner Manor with a chainsaw.  His slow decline into a drug-fueled depression over the story’s progress only makes him more awesome.  Tron funkin’ rules.

Deaner is as sage as always, dispensing Socratic pearls of wisdom such as “Knowledge of non-knowledge is power.”  He also sings a wicked cover of Boston.

While it doesn’t eclipse the first film, Fubar 2 is pretty goddamn epic.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: RoboCop 2

RoboCop, getting his ass handed to him.

Film: RoboCop 2 (1990)

Director: Irvin Kershner

Starring: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Tom Noonan

Written by: Frank Miller, Walon Green

 

I’m not going to argue that the sequel to RoboCop is better than the original (especially since Red Forman died in the first film), but I will say that RoboCop 2 is a great sequel that pushes the story of this ghost in the machine into bold, inevitable territory.  The first film was funnier, sure, and it did have Red Forman killing fools and maligning bitches, but the second act is frighteningly prophetic.

RoboCop’s creators in the industrial conglomerate OCP were portrayed in the first movie as sort of a Shakespearian collection of backbiters and scumbags, yet they weren’t really the story’s villains.  Sure there was a villainous VP who closed the film on the receiving end of some iron justice, but for the most part RoboCop spent his days taking out the ground level trash and left the white collars to scheme.  In the second film, there’s no ambiguity to it; OCP is the evil empire.  Its goal: to force the city of Detroit to default on its debts and then convert the city into its own corporate fiefdom.

Sounds rather modern, no?

Sure, RoboCop spends a good chunk of the film fighting the street trash, in this case represented by a drug cult comprised of an ecstatic Tom Noonan, a member of the Memphis Mafia, and a monstrous little shit that shoots RoboCop in the face.  Yet it quickly becomes clear that OCP is pulling the strings, and all the later disasters that RoboCop must undo are entirely the responsibility of the corporation.

There’s a great segment in the middle of the film where OCP’s meddling has a funnier result.  After getting dismembered by the drug cult and having his ass handed to him, RoboCop is “fixed” by the conniving head of R&D, who focus groups him into irrelevancy.  Thanks to the input of nervous soccer moms, RoboCop’s four Prime Directives grow into hundreds, and the bureaucracy forces him to behave so benignly that he’s completely useless.  Breaking up a robbery perpetrated by an evil Little League team, RoboCop gives the kids (and their dead coach) a stern talking-to, which they promptly ignore.  Then he opens fire on a guy enjoying a cigarette.  So great is the idiocy that our hero finds no other option but to open up a power station and electrocute the stupidity out of himself.  If only it were so easy for the rest of us.

I really like RoboCop 2, even if the end involves a battle to the death between RoboCop and a junkie deathbot.  Films like the RoboCop series are a good reminder that all the political and corporate shit we’re dealing with now is nothing new.  People decades ago knew where we were headed, and here we are.  Perhaps we should have heeded the warnings.