Sunday, June 13, 2021

Tabloid! (1989) [copyright 1985]

Directed by:
Glen Coburn
Bret McCormick
Matt "Shaffen" (Devlen)

Fresh outta college aspiring journalist Rick Cruikshank (Scott Davis) lands his first professional writing job at a sensationalist, sleazy tabloid rag called World Investigator. To give you a good idea of the prestige of this particular paper, they stuck a dry erase board in the corner of the office pointing out the top priority stories of the day are the ones involving stigmata, spontaneous combustion, cannibalism and hermaphrodites. Rick is in the middle of training with fellow writer Anita Billings (Cheryl Boquet) when head honcho Margaret Murdock (Stella Mann) comes storming out of her office shrieking about the upcoming deadline. There's still a story that needs to be cranked out that hasn't been done yet because the guy who was supposed to write it got fired. And, as that man's replacement, Rick now has the responsibility to do it. Initial ideas are rejected and Margaret suggests he basically just pull a new one out of his ass using some stock photos for inspiration. The crazier the better. So I know we're supposed to be under the impression that this is a horrible job writing horrible articles for a horrible woman running a horrible paper but all I kept thinking was, "How do I get a job like that?"

For the first fifteen or so minutes I was pleasantly surprised by the movie, especially considering this was made by the same folks responsible for the low-budget gore-fest THE ABOMINATION (1986) and the failed, forced-camp zombie comedy OZONE: THE ATTACK OF THE REDNECK MUTANTS (1986). There's a pre-credits bit about space aliens invading an aerobics class and kidnapping the instructor, the office scenes are fairly amusing with some charming actors and a lightweight sitcom-ish vibe to them and then there's a fun black-and-white credits sequence complete with a ridiculous Tabloid theme song ("Stop the Presses"). Unfortunately, we never again return to the tabloid office after the first couple of scenes and it's nowhere but downhill from there...

This is an anthology, where some of the tabloid stories are brought to life for us as various people (a bartender, guy sitting at a park bench, a mean mother...) read them. The first story is "Baby Born with Full Beard," which is filled to the brim with terrible accents, terrible acting and really bad hick humor and stereotypes. It centers around a redneck slob named Dub Jones (played by director Coburn) who slurps down beer nonstop, runs around with the ass split out of pants and lives in a trailer with his very pregnant wife Debbie (Kay Bay), who works at the "Petticoat Junction Cafeteria" and aspires to one day upgrade to a double wide, and his grouchy mother-in-law Edith (Janice Williams), who sits in front of the TV all day drinking beer, chain smoking and calling him things like "lazy good-for-nothing bum."

Dub makes his money as a dope pusher and has just sold a bag of weed to fellow redneck Lester (Thom Meyers). However, after smoking the entire bag and not getting high, Lester and his cousins Rambeau (Ken Bashears) and Hipster (co-director McCormick) decide to get back at Dub and his family. During a backwoods car chase, Debbie shoots and kills Rambeau, which leads to a trailer shootout, a guy getting blown up with a Molotov cocktail and, you guessed it, the birth of a bearded baby. The jokes this goes for are far too obvious to amuse most of the time, though it looks like the cast was having a good time making it.

Next up is the more promising-sounding "BBQ of the Dead" directed by McCormick. At a cemetery, a dead man named A. C. Clark (Norman Muellen) rises from the grave as a hollow-eyed zombie, goes back to his home (now occupied by his son and daughter-in-law) and then starts pattying up hamburgers and getting ready for a barbecue. Two of his zombified friends, Mary Ida (Jude Johnson) and Harry (Dennis Letts), join him for food on the back patio. I suppose the joke here is that instead of attacking and eating people, these zombies prefer to have incredibly mundane conversations about their families, politics, how much they like corn-on-the-cob and how one should keep pride in maintaining their front lawn, but, I'm not quite sure what the whole point is. Still, this is slightly better than the first tale just for the simple fact the actors aren't terrible and simple math tells us that Zombies > Rednecks.

Finally, we get "Killer Vacuum Destroys Town" from Devlen, which centers around the annoying suburbanite Tuttle family. Father Walter (Rod Blaydes) is a small time TV meteorologist who's quickly making a name for himself with pinpoint accurate weather predictions. Stepmother Freda (Debra Dragich) is a gossipy, self-important busybody who can't stand her kids and wants her husband to make more money so she can open up department store charge accounts. They have a young son (Joshua Ian McCormick) who mostly just plays with the dog and then there's daughter Rose, who's basically an evil mad scientist transplanted into a teenage girl's body. Rose spends all of her time in her bedroom working on inventions, including a computer that's able to accurately forecast the weather; information she's been feeding to her father to help him with his career.

Rose can't stand her bitchy stepmother and wants to ruin her life so she starts relaying false information to her father so that the major networks who've been eyeing him won't offer him a higher-paying job. And then she starts tampering with vacuum cleaners to make them cause tornadoes (?!) to make them kill off people she doesn't like, starting with her aunt. Could Freda possibly be next on the list? It goes without saying that the mere idea of a killer vacuum cleaner is going to arouse some interest but, please, heed my warning: The filmmakers do nothing amusing or all that interesting with this idea. In fact, thanks to grating overacting and the shriek-fest of a finale, this is just plain irritating to sit through. As each of these subpar tabloid tales unspooled, I began to wish the filmmakers had just made a straight comedy set entirely at the tabloid office.

However, the dud of a third story is the entire reason some people even bother seeking this out as Rose happens to be played by a young, chubby-faced and bespectacled Lisa Loeb. Loeb would go on to minor celebrity in the mid-90s for the song "Stay (I Missed You)," which became a surprise #1 hit in the U. S. and Canada. While I personally couldn't stand that song or the rest of her music, I do think her entire image was kind of brilliant. She wore her trademark tortoise shell-framed glasses and seemed sweet so women found her nonthreatening while she was obviously cute and wore short skirts a lot so guys at least didn't mind looking at her. Loeb went on to act some more (she's in a number of other genre films, including Black Circle Boys, Serial Killing 101 and the remakes of Fright Night and House on Haunted Hill), make children's albums and do Geico commercials. The third story also features Blue Thompson / Carolyn McCormick as the TV station make-up artist. She went on to star in several other films made by her husband, including the aforementioned Abomination and Highway to Hell (1990).

Despite what many reviews state online, this was not shot on video. It was filmed in and around Fort Worth, Texas in 1985, but not released to home video until four years later. The only distribution company who'd handle it back then was Tapeworm, whose catalogue also included such "gems" as Cannibal Hookers, W. A. R.: Women Against Rape and the female wrestling tape Oil of L. A..



spookyx3 said...

getting away from the kind of stories we expect in anthology movies is fine by me, but these aren't complete thought-through ideas. sounds like OZONE and ABOMINATION are even worse. a few weeks ago i watched MACON COUNTY WAR for the AIP/fred ray connection. it cost around $12,000 after mccormick handed over the film to get it in releasable shape.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

The premise of this is quite solid / clever but all of the stories were weak IMO. There was a later anthology called Hellblock 13 that reminded me of this somewhat. It doesn't have the tabloid framing stuff, of course, but it's a very low budget regional anthology that also has a zombie story and a somewhat similar comic redneck story that are both better (relatively speaking) than the ones here.

I actually enjoyed Abomination slightly more due to the weirdness factor (it also takes itself a lot more seriously) but Ozone mostly just got on my nerves. There's another one from Coburn called Blood Suckers from Outer Space I still need to check out, plus Highway to Hell, which I have looked around for but have been unable to find thus far.

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