Friday Night Flix: Hell

hell1Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.

I’m not sure but I think the title Hell (Netflix) is a play on the famous quote from Sartre’s No Exit, “Hell is other people.” I can’t be sure for a few reasons: 1) Hell is a German movie and who knows how Sartre’s original French would translate and 2) if that is the joke, it’s based on an pretty common failure to understand what that line means. Lemme ‘splain.

hell2Post-apocalyptic scenarios generally start off with a great premise but most (awesome movies like The Road being the exception) sooner or later fall back on the cliche that people who have lost all sense of right and wrong are the real threat. The actual cause of the apocalypse (zombies, plague, whatever) becomes merely a backdrop for the true horror show of humanity. This drives me absolutely bonkers. While people can be certainly be shitheads, I can find examples of that in any movie. I watch end-of-the-world movies to get pointers on surviving a nuclear war or a global pandemic, not to watch people being tormented by their deranged neighbors. I see that out my window every day.

Hell walks that well traveled route, though mercifully it does so tastefully, never forgetting the reason everyone came to see the show, much in the vein of a 28 Days Later. It begins by telling us that inexplicable solar storms have increased the earth’s temperature by 10 degrees, pretty much turning the entire planet into a scorched wasteland. Hellish conditions, but not unmanageable as we soon learn. At least until the true bad guys show up, with their stealing and kidnapping and god knows what else. Hell, therefore, is not scalding UV rays that burn your skin off your body the moment you step outside. No. It’s farmers who have run out of livestock to eat and women to marry. Or possibly the reverse.hell5

So sure, maybe it’s clever to call this movie Hell, since “other people” are the greatest danger our heroes face. But it’s only clever only if one doesn’t bother to take a freshman lit class or, you know, read the No Exit Wikipedia page. See, that line just means the worst thing is to have your identity consumed by the perceptions of another, as if you’re a side character in someone else’s play and they get to define what it means to be you. I don’t see how that fits in, but who knows? Because German.hell3

Added Bonus: Compare this movie to the slightly earlier French film Frontiers, which on the surface is somewhat similar. In both movies a group of young people flee a desperate reality only to be captured by a band of murderous weirdos. What separates the two is that Frontiers is an unnecessarily complicated mess, complete with Nazis, inbred monsters, kung fu and totalitarian regimes, while Hell is straightforward and can actually be followed when not tripping on enormous quantities of acid. And yet everyone and their inbred monster brother seemed to think Frontiers was some hot shit, but I haven’t heard a word about the vastly superior Hell in the two years since it was released. Granted, there are markedly fewer fountains of human viscera in Hell so maybe that explains it. Ironic!

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With a Jolt, My Mind Awakens…Chapter Seventy-Two: Connections, Man, Connections…

Last night, I dreamt I was the Beastmaster. However, I was wearing more than just the loincloth Marc Singer adorned in 1982, so don’t call an adult thinking you need supervision to read this post. Chances are strong you’ve never seen “The Beastmaster” without commercial interruption, for I discovered this legendary sword-and-sorcery trailblazer via a WPIX Channel 11 Movie of the Week about thirty years ago and have only re-watched the movie on this network (which seemed to air it at least four times a year), Superstation TBS, and the USA Network. As great as this movie was, we must not overlook the co-star of this adventure, the oddly-cast-yet-goddamned-brutal John Amos, several thousand miles away from any good times…for your benefit, a rare portrait of John Amos from this movie, one so awesome it is unlikely to ever see its parallel:

I hope John Amos made that his Christmas card. In my dream, I maintained a farmhouse/dungeon in rural Nebraska where I held captive the actors of the Brat Pack and demanded they re-make all their pictures featuring Jon Cryer as the Anti-Christ. You will be shocked to know Judd Nelson was truly enthusiastic about this idea. Molly Ringwald was less thrilled.

Yeah, hang on tight, baby, and don’t let go. That grip couldn’t halt Judd’s march towards “Suddenly Susan”. I don’t know what was worse, “Friends” or the vomit of “Friends”, those subsequent NBC sitcoms that tried to copy the formula (“The Single Guy”, “Jesse”, “Veronica’s Closet”, “The Naked Truth”). Well, whatever vomit of quickly-cancelled sitcoms NBC mops up, rest assured USA sneaks into HQ and wrings the putrid substance from the mop for their devious, early-morning, crap-a-thon purposes. Two shout-outs for the ol’ USA Network in one post. I should be getting paid for this gratuitous grenade tossing.

Today marks the 85th anniversary of the first appearance of Popeye, the Sailor Man. Maybe I should just refer to him as Popeye. Otherwise, he sounds like a World Wrestling Federation mid-carder from 1996. No one needs to be reminded of that…which I just did. Well. What an unpleasantly-tasting pie in the face. Happy Birthday, Popeye!

In 1982, I wanted to dress as Popeye for Halloween, but my mother detested the violence of his cartoons, as well as the violence inherent in Tom & Jerry and Woody Woodpecker cartoons, so the lot was prohibited in the household. Balance: watching a bloody Indian strap match between Chief Jay Strongbow and Sika the Wild Samoan or a chain match between Bruiser Brody and Carlos Colon…sure, son, if your homework is done. This woman would sit with me while I watched “Space Ghost and Dino Boy” and “Battle of the Planets” but turned into the prison warden if she saw Tom bothering that poor, little mouse. This existence is splintered with incongruency. Featured below: a group shot of Space Ghost’s version of the Legion of the Doom, the Council of Doom, comprised of (l to r) Zorak, Brak, Metallus, Zoltar, The Creature King and the Spider Woman –

For Halloween 1982, I was Lumberjack E.T. I had a plastic mask, Dad’s purple and black flannel shirt, Grandpa’s red suspenders and construction boots. Mom’s contribution was the rejection of my request to carry a dulled axe. After devoting my kindergarten years to the daily consumption of paste, she would no longer tolerate, nor would her weak, weak heart endure, any more soberly admonitory and perfectly creased notes of concern from my teachers. Grandma suggested I carry a whisk. I went to school with the E.T. mask, the shirt, the suspenders, the boots, and the whisk, prepared to change into my costume after lunch for the Halloween Parade. I couldn’t stop thinking about the whisk, how inappropriate it seemed. Then this thought would be scolded by the Other Powerful Thought, Mom’s Weak, Weak Heart. Shame, shame, shame on me. After lunch, I changed into my costume and discovered the eyeholes on the mask were too small. I used the classroom scissors to enlarge the holes, but a classmate startled me, resulting in a jagged line in the mask, running two inches from the right eye to the mask’s side. During the parade, I kept my eyes closed, wishing I could do the same with my ears. At the class party, I ate my english muffin pizza and my brownie in silence. I remember placing the whisk in my bookbag, but somehow it never came home with me. Mom wasn’t upset; she said whisks were cheap. The damage to the mask caused more grief, as there wasn’t time to go to K-Mart for a new costume before Mom took me and my brother around the neighborhood. The mask was scotch-taped, but I returned the shirt to Dad and the suspenders and boots to Grandpa. I borrowed Dad’s New York Mets cap and told anyone who asked me I was now M.E.T. This was met with general smiling approval. After I gave away my Halloween candy to my brother (retaining my tiny boxes of raisins), and before I went to bed, I remembered a word my Grandpa said that day and decided to look it up. Halloween 1982 concluded with my comprehension of the word, ‘defeatist’. I would say this was the only victory of that day, but that M.E.T. thing was actually pretty nifty.


***READ THE TITLE OF THE POST, PEOPLE…***

For Halloween 1983, I was Blackjack Mulligan. The man born Robert Windham was a villainous pro wrestler, a “heel”, whose son, Barry, was starting to earn his reputation in the business. Blackjack was a big guy, tough and intimidating, who used an “iron claw” to squeeze his opponent’s face until he gave up. He also had a mean, thick black mustache, a feature previously featured on my Dad’s face that disappeared on Labor Day weekend. Dad told me it simply had to go. “You can’t get far in life with a mustache”. I remember thinking about the U.S. Presidents of the later half of 19th century: Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, Harrison. Perhaps he was right. I still wanted to grow that mustache. Mom wondered why I had chosen this particular guy to emulate, and I told her about my need to be a giant for fifteen minutes. Grandpa mentioned Andy Warhol, and I didn’t know what he was talking about. I purchased a black cowboy hat and an Indiana Jones “bullwhip” (plastic replica) at the Great American Party Store. I would paint a handlebar mustache on my upper lip with shoe polish. At school, the outfit revealed me as an outlaw, but no one knew who Blackjack Mulligan was. My teacher, Ms. Curving, thought I was Black Bart and advised me not to use the bullwhip on anyone (I didn’t). The art teacher, Mr. Panarotto, said I looked like Doc Holliday and gave me a high-five. His hairpiece shifted as I slapped his hand. I knew the name Doc Holliday because I had seen a black-and-white TV show where an actor had that role, but I couldn’t remember the title. Later that day, Grandpa told me I had watched “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”. After school, I went trick-or-treating with my brother, who was dressed as a hobo. I thanked everyone who gave me candy, tipping the brim of my hat with a declaration of mostly “Ma’am” or occasionally “Sir”. The next day, Mom and I saw Mrs. Kyritz at the Shop-Rite, who told us that I was the most polite outlaw she’d ever seen in these parts. I remained an outlaw for a few more days, as I had complemented the shoe polish with black Sharpie marker. Polite, yes. Bright, no. For the record, I didn’t use the “iron claw” on anyone, either. Perhaps I should’ve been Wyatt Earp.

For Halloween 1984, I was Robot Cowboy. I was directly inspired by the Superfriends episode, “Outlaws of Orion”, in which intergalactic bounty hunters try to cash in on Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Batman and Robin. Dad complimented me on my ingenuity and also stated if I ever wanted to be The Boy Who Combed His Hair, Mom would likely faint. Being a Robot Cowboy meant I had to work on perfecting what I called “The Cold Dead Stare”. I had to look like I meant business with that stare, that’d I’d make your Daddy move to Brooklyn, your Mommy run away screaming, and your Grandma spontaneously combust. I spent hours in front of the mirror, scowling, growling, sneering, leering. I had to put the absolute fear of extinction in anyone who crossed my path. The first person to cross my path (the carpet in my room) was my brother. However, he proved immune to the scowl, as he merely chuckled and told me I looked like I need to have a BM. That night, he wrapped himself in aluminum foil and invited me to a showdown at 8:00 PM. “Too bad,” Dad said, “8:00 PM is Bedtime for Robot Cowboys”. Mom was displeased that my brother wasted the aluminum foil on his outfit; she wasn’t assuaged by my exclamation, “He’s puttin’ on the foil, coach!”, a reference to the Paul Newman hockey movie, “Slap Shot” (which Dad acknowledged). At school, my costume consisted of last year’s cowboy hat, overindulgence of silver body paint, stiff body movements, and various clicks, whirs, and tics. I ate three english muffin pizzas that year, using a knife and fork so my make-up wouldn’t smear. “Robot Cowboy was hungry,” said Mrs. Pellegrino, the class mother. A cheap toy pistol completed the outfit for trick-or-treating. I must’ve been intimidating since my candy collection was especially high. I tried a fun-sized Snickers bar, but the caramel didn’t agree with me, and I spat it into the garbage can. “Does-not-compute, does-not-compute, does-not-compute” was added for dramatic measure, before I “shut down” (went to bed) after a good bath. Robot Cowboy never returned – the Snickers fouled the works. Actually, I missed a few spots of body paint and ruined my “Return of the Jedi” bed spread…C-3PO’s Revenge.

“There is freedom within, there is freedom without/Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup”
— “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House