Part of Rupert Pupkin Speaks‘ Underrated series
The Lair of the White Worm (1988), Ken Russell
Ken Russell’s loose adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel of the same name is, by all intent and purpose, a creature feature. Except that it’s Ken Russell, so nothing is quite as it seems. Telling the story of the Lambton Worm, one of Northern England’s greatest folktales, The Lair of the White Worm recounts the battle between a Lord (Hugh Grant), his squire (Peter Capaldi) and a seductive serpentine Lady (Amanda Donohoe), who seeks the sacrifice of a virgin (Catherine Oxenberg) in order to awaken the ancient, slumbering white worm. Marrying the medieval fairy-tale with psychedelic horror, Russell implores phantasmagorical hallucinations of raped and slaughtered nuns who look straight out of The Devils, hypnotic flames, a snake-entangled Christ on the cross and Roman brutality that lambastes the Catholic church. If Crimes of Passion (possibly my favorite of Russell’s work) highlights the debauchery and sins of priesthood, then The Lair of the White Worm overtly underlines the chastity of religion with a slithering tongue-in-cheek humor and panache for eroticism.
Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988), Fred Olen Ray
Private Dick Jack Chandler (Richardson) is hot on the trail of runaway Samantha (Linnea Quigley), who like most Los Angeles teens has gotten herself mixed-up in an Egyptian worshiping cult of chainsaw wielding hookers lead by The Master (Gunnar Hansen looking his most Orson Welles). Equal parts Skinimax and late night slasher flick, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers reunites Leatherface with the saw, though the sweat induced dread of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is replaced with an even ratio of bosom to schlock. Sure, the sexism and misogyny flows just as freely as the buckets of blood, but there’s a serious nod to the likes of Herschel Gordon Lewis and Ed Wood here, often skewering the pulpy noir with its very own chainsaw. Loitering the streets of Fred Olen Ray’s seedy Hollywood is pin-up and porn star Michelle Bauer, whose seductive gore gore girl Mercedes plays yin to Samantha’s girl next door yang. This is camp with teeth, a lewd, raunchy, vile, frequently hilarious midnight flick that’s just the kind of happy ending the slasher genre needs.
Miami Connection (1988), Woo-Sang Park & Y.K. Kim
Friendship, loyalty and honesty, the three core values at the heart of what the Orlando Sentinel called, “The worst film of 1988.” They’re also part of the lyrics to ‘Friends’, a painfully catchy club hit by the films band, Dragon Sound; a Hall & Oates style group who frequently performs taekwondo on stage. Each member of the group represents a different ethnicity and musical prowess – sort of the Captain Planet of rock bands if you will – spreading synth jams with the aid of taekwondo’s ever-flowing optimism. Originally titled TaeKwon-Do (because do or do not, there is no try), Miami Connection begins with a drug deal gone wrong after a troop of motorcycle riding ninjas swoop in and steal a load of cocaine. What follows is far from a structured narrative, dealing less in narcotics and ninjas and more in the power of just how awesome taekwondo is. Brimming with improve dialogue (“They don’t make buns like that down at the bakery!“), ill-choreographed street fights and an absurd father son sub-plot, Miami Connection remains the only Double Dragon adaptation one can really want, as well as a beacon of high-flying positivity we need now more than ever!
Lemon Sky (1988), Jan Egelson
When most think of Kevin Bacon in the 80’s, they tend to think towards his feet, which showed us that he can dance (Footloose) just as well as he can ride (Quicksilver). Yet nobody seems to mention how well he can talk, which comprises just about all of Jan Egelson’s adaptation of Lanford Wilson’s play, Lemon Sky. Introducing us to Alan (Kevin Bacon), a college boy recently transplanted in California to be with his father (Tom Atkins), Egelson’s made-for-television adaptation weaves seamlessly between open doorways and walls that feel ripped from the stage. We transition between the central story of Alan’s arrival and his fourth wall breaking narration within a smokey bar, which welcomes its characters to reminisce on those California months the way friends come and go in Cheers. There’s an intimacy between the paper thin home that feels alarmingly raw as if poised to explode like a pressurized beer bottle, and boy do they. Tom Atkins, who skirts the line of domestic chaos seen briefly in Creepshow, crackles with a volatile energy that feels ripped from a Nicholas Ray film, marking Lemon Sky as one of the best American dramas nobody’s talking about.
Earth Girls Are Easy (1988), Julian Temple
I feel like this is a safe space, so I want to be forthright; I generally dislike musicals. Sure, there are a few notable exceptions – Little Shop of Horrors and Phantom of the Paradise are masterpieces – but for the most part, I keep a safe distance. Unless of course your musical has Geena Davis as Valerie Gail (like, whatever!), a frustratingly horny and disheartened manicurist who works at a salon called Curl Up & Dye and discovers that her soon-to-be husband Dr. Ted (Charles Rocket) is cheating on her the same night an alien spaceship crash lands in her pool. Emerging from the vessel are three hairy, neon drenched aliens, Mac (Jeff Goldblum), Wiploc (Jim Carrey) and Zeebo (Damon Wayans), who speak what may or may not be some form of Pig Latin and resemble humans beneath their primordial coats. Luckily, they can imitate most sounds and in a remarkably infectious club scene, the dance moves of others. None of it should work in hindsight (the dangers of a Mac & Me all too real), yet there’s an irresistible energy to watching three otherworldly transplants navigate The Valley, which acts as its own futuristic world within the bitchin boundaries of 1980’s Los Angeles.