Sunday, October 31, 2021

Curse of the Queerwolf (1988)

Directed by:
Mark Pirro

In the director's previous genre spoof A POLISH VAMPIRE IN BURBANK (1983), the titular bloodsucker had several awkward, uncomfortable and not horribly funny encounters with a strange-haired weirdo who referred to himself as a “Queerwolf.” That character was basically used for a couple of gay panic throwaway jokes and not really further elaborated upon. For some reason, Pirro decided to give this horny and mysterious “creature” its own movie. Well, scratch that. I guess I kind of do see why. A title like this probably would have leapt right off the video store shelves back in the day, granted the rental outlet would even carry such a title. I never once saw this at any video store I ever visited in my youth. Then again, I grew up mostly in conservative, uber-Christian areas of the U.S., so that's not too surprising. For the record, Pirro stated he made this movie due to the “Queerwolf” being one of the most popular characters from Polish Vampire... which I find hard to imagine!

The pre-credit opening sequence throws us right into the action as a priest (producer Sergio Bandera) and three other torch-carrying men (including the director) hunt down a woman dressed in lingerie. Once they corner her, they drive a "stake" into her and are then on their merry way. We then jump to "one day earlier" and head to the Hollywood A Go Go strip club where womanizing scumbag Larry Smalbut (Michael Palazzolo) and his equally scuzzy, sex-and-skin-mag obsessed bud Richard "Dick" Cheese (Kent Butler) are watching the show. Despite living with his oblivious long-time girlfriend Lois (Taylor Whitney), Larry's been going out every night, getting drunk, hitting up strip clubs and having sex with "sleazy women" behind her back. He's been using the ole "had to work late" excuse the entire time but she needn't worry as any time he "screws another chick" he has the "common decency" not to do it in their home. Well, that's reassuring.

Larry and Dick are both doctors (!) who work at a very questionable psychiatric clinic. One of Dick's patients is an obese woman he administers electric shock to whenever she tries to cram Twinkies and donuts into her mouth. After he gets distracted on the phone, he forgets to take his finger off the shocker button, fries the woman's face off and then casually slips out of the room (!?) The accidental killing of patients becomes one of many running gags in the film. The next patient (played by Conrad Brooks) shows up trying to quit smoking and dies because he's left in a room breathing in carbon monoxide fumes from a plastic tube. And then we get a cameo from Forry Ackerman, who shows up trying to quit drinking and ends up exploding when he's pumped full of liquor. Another recurring gag is that our "hero" keeps accidentally killing his dogs. Dog #1 is told to sit and stay in the driveway and then he accidentally backs over it with his car. The replacement dog gets stabbed and then a doggie #3 (a puppy) explodes after being microwaved. Funny? Well, uh, let's see... Where were we again? Oh yes, queerwolves...

So the pals head out to a bar to watch a "skimpy bikini contest" (which we never see), pick up two ladies; Holly (Darwyn Carson) and Paula (Cynthia Brownell), and take them back to Dick's place. There, we're treated to a couple of funny bits, including Dick fixing the girls a fishbowl-sized glass of wine to loosen them up and Larry and Paula left alone on the couch trying to mess around while a radio broadcast warns of a new venereal disease that's struck the area. After Paula bites Larry on the ass, he flips her over, notices she has her bra stuffed and finds out something else unexpected about her: "Holy Jesus Christ! It's a fuckin' dude!"

Before he can do much about the "God damn fag," there's a knock on the door and the quartet of "dickanthrope" hunters are there to kill Paula / Paul. The torch-carrying mob is led by Mr. McFarland (Jim Bruce), Paul(a)'s father, who wants to exterminate his own offspring because, uh, well, basically because he's been turned gay and now can infect other heterosexual men and also turn them gay. Who wrote this thing; Pat Robertson? Before McFarland heads out to kill his son, he warns "Even a wrist that is strong and firm and holds up straight by day may become limp when the moon is full and the Queerwolf comes your way."

Ignoring the bite on his ass and having learned his lesson about the dangers of casual sex, Larry returns home to Lois and promises never to stay out late again. That night he has a nightmare about a pair of toothless "queerbillies" coming at him hoping to make him squeal like a pig as a banjo player sings a truly terrible takeoff of The Beverly Hillbillies theme song that ends with lyrics like "Pig squeal that is. Pumpin' butt. Packin' fudge." The next day a news broadcast covering Paul(a)'s murder comes on and the anchor claims no coroner in the county will do an autopsy on the body because he was wearing women's clothing at the time of his death. Eh. Let's hope that's some kind of botched attempt at social commentary and not an attempt at humor there...

Larry starts immediately showing signs of infection. He goes through a full moon transformation that involves his wrists going limp, make-up appearing on his face, long polished nails breaking through his fingertips and a red hanky appearing in his back pocket. He passes on Cheri magazine for a copy of Studflix. After one of his blackouts, Larry wakes up naked in a bathhouse with lots of satisfied male admirers sitting by. At a restaurant, he bites a bunch of guys, resulting in a queerwolf infestation. A gypsy (Sharon Alsina) he accidentally runs over sees a "pansyogram," five-sided pansy and the sign of the queerwolf, on his palm. She later gives him a John Wayne medallion to keep the curse at bay and clues him in on the only way to destroy the queerwolf: Drive a silver dildo up its ass. While all that's going on, the wolf hunters are after him and a "homo-cide" detective, who specializes in "the murders of homos," shows up.

Lacking almost all of the charm of Polish Vampire, this shot on Super 8 effort not only looks far worse (at least the copy I viewed did) but is filled with unappealing characters and throwaway side gags used to pad out the time because the director came armed with a gimmick but short on ways to elaborate upon it in an interesting, thought provoking or (usually) funny manner. Though there are a few clever / amusing moments, most of the attempts at humor fall flat in their mean-spiritedness and the film deteriorates into a really bad Exorcist parody by the end, complete with a "Fagxorcist" (Hugh O. Fields) who uses beer as holy water and flings photos of Bogie, Mr. T and Burt Reynolds at the afflicted. Of course, The Wolf Man is referenced throughout, but there are also jokes influenced by Deliverance, Poltergeist, The Wizard of Oz and other films.

While this has been accused of being homophobic by certain viewers, I don't think it's quite so cut and dry in this particular instance. Still, I'll look at both sides of the issue. In the 80s, LGBT folks were still struggling for equal rights, trying to navigate their way through the terrible AIDS crisis and getting spit on, belittled and scapegoated every which way by moralists, so for a hetero director to then come along and ridicule them further could, I suppose, be viewed as tasteless, insensitive, what have you. Then there's the premise itself, which rests on the idea that homosexuality is a malady that must be overcome / snuffed out, minus anything to counterbalance that. However, it also should be noted that none of the characters in this really come out the other end looking so good. The male leads are disgusting slobs, the priest is a voyeur / pervert, the rednecks are drooling idiots and most of the females are apparently brain damaged as no sane woman would be interested in having sex with (let alone dating) either Larry or Dick, yet here they are. So, for what it's worth (very little it turns out), this is pretty equal opportunity in showing everyone in a terrible light. If you're looking for a more positive (and funnier) gay-themed low-budget genre film from this same time, check out LOVE BITES instead.

Filmed in 1986 on a 10,000 budget, this had a post production delay (it was shot without sound so all the dialogue needed to be looped in) while the director went on to make Deathrow Gameshow (1987) for Crown International. The initial home video release came from (gulp!) Raedon, who apparently were going through bankruptcy when they acquired this so they weren't able to distribute many copies. The 2002 MTI DVD release comes with a 30-minute mini- documentary, Curse of the Queerwolf: Completely from Behind. It's narrated by Pirro film regular John McCafferty, who plays one of the rednecks here, and features interviews with the director, Butler, Whitney, Ackerman and others. No one has anything nice to say about male lead Palazzolo, who apparently caused many production headaches and other issues during filming.


Halloween (1978)

... aka: Alla helgons blodiga natt (All Saints' Bloody Night)
... aka: Halloween: Die Nacht des Grauens (Halloween: The Night of Horrors)
... aka: John Carpenter's Halloween
... aka: La noche de Halloween (Halloween Night)
... aka: Maskernes nat (Night of the Masks)

Directed by:
John Carpenter

I frequently get emails playfully chastising me for slacking in my coverage of some of the most famous genre films of all time here. How in the hell can you not have a review for Jaws up? Why haven't you done a real review for Invasion of the Body Snatchers or An American Werewolf in London or The Evil Dead or Psycho yet? And while I agree with everyone who's ever called me out on this, I do have an explanation: I've never been in a big hurry to cover famous genre films from this time period simply because they've been so well-covered everywhere else. I instead opted to concentrate mostly on obscure movies; namely those with little (sometime no) online representation. Now that doesn't mean there will never be reviews for the classics and better-known films here. My plans were always to occasionally fall back and cover them, just not make that the primary focus. After all, there's no dearth of literature out there on, say, Hitchcock's The Birds. There's also no shortage of write-ups and reviews for Halloween; one of the most famous, most discussed, most analyzed and most beloved genre movies of all time. I just didn't want to let another All Hallow's Eve pass by without giving this one its due, especially since it's probably one of the five most cross-referenced films around here. I suppose there's no better place to start than with the basics...

Halloween is entirely deserving of its place as an iconic film and pop culture phenomenon, as well as its place in history as one of the great classic horror movies. It's that rare, modestly-budgeted film that gets to share a table with the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974); films that are so effective and well-crafted, and proved to be so influential over the years, that they managed to reshape and redefine the entire genre for years to come. Fans have never allowed Halloween to simply fade away and its popularity has endured throughout the decades. It was a huge theatrical hit upon release with its domestic gross of 47 million on a 300,000 budget, making it one of the most profitable independent productions of all time. It then became a top-selling VHS release, video rental favorite and seasonal TV staple in the 80s and 90s. And it now is one of the top streamed genre films, especially at this time of year. As of this writing, it's currently one of the Top 5 most searched horror films on IMDb... out of nearly 170,000 titles. Not bad for a movie that's now over 40 years old!

Just what is the key to the film's success and longevity, and its timelessness that seems to know no generational bounds? Well, that's impossible to really pin down to just one thing. The plot (escaped lunatic who murdered his sister as a child returns to his hometown fifteen years later, gets a mask and begins a new killing spree) barely even merits mention, but a film that's executed as well as this one doesn't need an intricate plot. In fact, that would have merely gotten in the way, as we'd see later with a spate of far-less-successful sequels attempting to expound upon the Michael Myers character.

The first plaudit surely needs to go to Carpenter's brilliantly simple piano / synth score, which was composed in just three days with assist from Dan Wyman and has become one of the film's most notable attributes. I was just at a horror-themed night at an amusement park last weekend and heard Carpenter's music countless times while I was there. Just like with the Jaws theme, everyone - regardless of age - knows this score. Just as you can't go to the beach or hop in the ocean without someone jokingly humming the Jaws theme, you won't attend many Halloween functions where the Halloween theme isn't played. Just as notable here is the smooth, gliding Steadicam work from Dean Cundey, eerily prowling around suburbia as the killer stalks his next victim, which is just as crucial to establishing the mood.

Another aspect that helps this withstand the weathering of time is its downright perfect evocation of the Autumnal / Halloween season. Despite being a suspenseful, scary film, there's still a pleasing, nostalgic feel to the whole thing... Cold wind blowing the leaves down vacant streets, laughing trick-or-treaters shuffling from door to door, Jack-O-Lanterns lining porches, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD playing on TV... It not only brings to mind everything that's great about this time or year, but also everything that's great about horror film atmosphere when it's done correctly.

Really excellent use is made of widescreen Panavision, especially the foreground and background in the shot compositions. Some of the spookiest images here are the quietest ones, with the blank-faced killer standing solemnly and silently off in the distance watching. And waiting. We never know what makes him tick or even what drives him to kill. Keeping the character's psychology and history shrouded in mystery turns out to be another big plus, as is the decision to keep the potential supernatural elements surrounding the killer muted. Carpenter and his co-writer Debra Hill (also a producer) wisely opted to present Myers as an abstract, enigmatic boogeyman; a pure distillation of evil.

We also have a star making turn for 19-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut as heroine Laurie Strode. What struck me as interesting in this re-watch is that Laurie isn't exactly the impossibly chaste final girl trope she's often made out to be. While she is more studious, mature and responsible than her peers (and likely still a virgin), she also smokes weed and shows an interest in boys and sex. Her comparably virtuous nature isn't by choice, but due to the fact she's awkward, shy and, as she puts it, "too smart." There's a nice little hidden gem moment tucked away in here where Laurie and her more outgoing and brash friend Annie (Nancy Loomis) are cruising around town headed toward their babysitting jobs right as the sun is setting that gives us a little insight into Laurie's lack of self-esteem and vulnerability which instantly gets us in her corner for the remainder of the film.

Curtis would, of course, use this film as a springboard to launch a successful career. After this, the 1981 sequel and four other genre films in rapid succession, she grew tired of the typecasting and mostly sought out projects in other genres for the remainder of the decade and throughout most of the 90s. However, she has wisely kept Halloween in her back pocket and continued to use her association with this series to sustain any career lulls she's come across. In the late 90s, after the success of Scream, she returned for Halloween H20 (1998), which was also a big box office hit. Twenty years later, she was back again for Halloween (2018), a direct follow-up to the original which was also a huge money-maker and broke a number of box office records, including having the highest opening weekend for a film with a female lead over 55. The latest franchise installment, Halloween Kills, which is in theaters as we speak and seems headed to a 100 million domestic gross. Just like the boogeyman, this is a property that simply refuses to die. Unfortunately, none of the sequels, nor the endless imitators that followed, were quite able to recapture the deceptively simple magic found here.

Donald Pleasence also memorably contributes as intense psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis, who has "spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up." The film became an unlikely signature role for the veteran British character actor... and a role he almost didn't even get as both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee previously passed on it. The cast also includes Charles Cyphers as the Sheriff Leigh Brackett, P. J. Soles as vapid ("Totally!") cheerleader friend Lynda, future Real Housewives reality TV star Kyle Richards as babysitting charge Lindsay, Nancy Stephens as a nurse and Playboy Playmate Sandy Johnson as Michael's sister in the memorable opening scene. Most of these actors would subsequently appear in later Halloween films.

Myers is played by a number of different actors, though predominately by future director Nick Castle. In his unmasked form, he's briefly played by Tony Moran, brother of Happy Days star Erin. Another notable future director, Tommy Lee Wallace (who went on to make the unrelated third Halloween film), served as an editor and production designer. In 2018, Robert Englund revealed that he also spent a single day on the set helping to make Southern California in the Spring look like the fictional Midwestern town of Haddonfield, Illinois in the Fall by helping to throw dead leaves around!

In 1981, Carpenter returned to direct brand new scenes for a TV-friendly version. This footage, roughly 11 minutes worth of dialogue, was used to replace some of the more violent content in the original. Pleasence, Curtis, Loomis and Soles all returned to reprise their roles and a few new actors (including Jennifer Rhodes) were brought in for smaller parts. In addition to spawning a ton of sequels, a remake, a sequel to the remake and a whole slew of unofficial fan films, there was a novelization, a comic book adaptation, a 1983 Atari video game and seemingly endless documentaries dedicated either solely to this original film or the entire series. Halloween has received many accolades over the years, culminating with it being inducted into the National Film Registry in 2006.

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