Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Film Review: CHAINED HEAT (1983)

"Why the Hell isn't THIS on DVD yet?" -- Number 34


CHAINED HEAT (1983 Jensen Farley Pictures) Starring Linda Blair, John Vernon, Stella Stevens, Tamara Dobson, Sybil Danning, Henry Silva, Michael Callan, Monique Gabrielle, Edy Williams, Nita Talbot. Directed by Paul Nicholas.

Linda Blair is a naive teenager sentenced to a women's prison after a manslaughter convinction from an auto accident. Once there, she finds a very corrupt administration. Cocaine-snorting, drug dealing warden John Vernon enjoys a jacuzzi in his office and shares it with inmates willing to demonstrate "good behavior" with the caveat that he be allowed to videotape the proceedings. Guard Stella Stevens is in cahoots with pimp Henry Silva, skimming from Vernon's cocaine supply and selecting the prison's finest for escort work.

In order to preserve the profitable status quo they keep the prisoners segregated in a "divide and conquer" strategy, fanning the flames of racial tension between the prison's white and black factions, respectively led by Sybil Danning and Tamara Dobson. Danning consorts with Silva behind Stevens' back, while Dobson takes a dim view of the drug trade and warns Danning and company not to let it spill over to her side.

Oh, Hell, why am I even bothering with the plot? CHAINED HEAT is everything that we've all come to expect in a women-in-prison flick, only even more over the top and reveling in the tastelessness like no other 1980's entry. You want sleaze? Vernon takes Gabrielle to his jacuzzi and brags about the size of his homemade porn collection. You want nudity? Gabrielle, Danning and Blair display their wares during the obligatory shower scenes. You want catfighting? Dobson and Danning duke it out with knives, chains and racial slurs during exercise period. You want lesbianism? Danning also thinks Blair is the cat's meow. You want a revolt? You got one of the best at the end of this one. Hope I'm not spoiling anything there.

You want sensitivity? Well, you've come to the wrong place on that one, although Vernon does show his tender side after a favorite inmate is murdered. "She was the best piece of ass I ever had in here!" he notes with sadness.

CHAINED HEAT is commendably ridiculous from start to finish, with the boom mike making what may be a record number of appearances in a theatrical release and an incredible number of men AND women finding Blair attractive. The acting of the bit players is downright excruciating, but the big genre names here all know how to overplay shamelessly with style. Vernon has the best lines and manages to deliver them with a straight face, Silva smiles fiendishly as only he can, and Vassar graduate(!) Dobson makes up for her unbecoming language ("Bullfuckingshit!") by calling Danning a "chalk-faced whore" prior to the big fight.

CHAINED HEAT has a dream exploitation cast, every genre cliche in the book, and arguably more jaw-droppingly hilarious moments than any other WIP flick. A bit of trivia: this was the only wide release that anyone dared to send out there against the highly anticipated RETURN OF THE JEDI on Memorial Day weekend in 1983. Sure, CHAINED HEAT lost the box office battle that weekend, but 25 years later, which film would you rather watch, right now?

Yeah, that's what I thought!

Ok, this is a lotta pics of Sybil.  Would you prefer Vernon?  Didn't think so.

So....why isn't this on DVD?

It keeps getting announced, then postponed. I'm not sure what the holdup is at this point, since the vastly inferior sequel CHAINED HEAT 2 (with Brigitte Nielsen) has been out for several years.

Why it should be on DVD:

It's probably the best WIP film of its decade, with a dream exploitation cast to rival the Jack Hill classics of the early 1970's and more laughs than any of those films.

A true cult classic, with a devoted following that keeps turning up in widescreen (with some violence edited out) on Showtime and Flix. Speaking of those edits, a restored version would be yet another reason to get this out.

Who wouldn't want a commentary, with the likes of Blair, Danning, Silva and Stevens all available to participate?

A great double feature could be made available with its nominal "prequel", 1982's THE CONCRETE JUNGLE, which is a more serious approach (what wouldn't be?) and is even harder to find, but does star Jill St. John.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The HORN SECTION Salutes: Tamara Dobson (1944-2006)

Thursday would have been Tamara Dobson's 65th birthday. Sadly, the forever foxy 1970's icon passed away from multiple sclerosis and pneumonia in October 2006.

Many people first took notice of Tamara Dobson with her breakthrough role in 1973's CLEOPATRA JONES as she karate chopped her way through drug kingpins worldwide. Others first noticed Ms. Dobson as one of the most highly sought after fashion models of the late 1960's and 1970's, including a long-running stint as the face of Faberge's Tigress. Children of a certain age (say, mine) remember her fondly on JASON OF STAR COMMAND and BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY, and 1980's movie cultists came to know her as the commanding Dutchess in perhaps the ultimate WIP camp classic, CHAINED HEAT.

However it was that you first noticed Ms. Dobson, the point is that you certainly noticed her. The 6'2" beauty came to prominence as a model in the late 1960's.  The photo at left is from a 1969 issue of LIFE.  After some 25 national television commercials and countless magazine print ads, her film career began in 1972 with supporting roles in COME BACK CHARLESTON BLUE and FUZZ.

Tigress ad, 1978
It was Dobson's third role that would establish her as a star. She looked fantastic in no less than 15 different outfits (by Georgia de Saint Angelo) and should have done for the Corvette what Burt Reynolds did for the Trans Am and Steve McQueen did for the Mustang. The novel twist of CLEOPATRA JONES was that in an era of great distrust for authority, Cleo worked for the government and still managed to be incredibly cool.

Ms. Dobson's time at the top of the film world was brief: sadly, there would be only one more Cleopatra Jones adventure. The ambitious and image-conscious Dobson (who did not do nude scenes) pushed for more challenging roles and lamented the lack of scripts being written for black women, especially after the blaxploitation genre faded out around 1976. The December 23, 1976 issue of JET reported that Dobson was working on her own screenplays, including a romantic film to co-star Jim Brown, a third JONES vehicle, and an album for MCA records under Van McCoy's production, but unfortunately none of these projects came to full fruition (there is a rare 45 RPM of Tamara singing "It Ain't Easy" b/w "Jungle Girl" that occasionally pops up on ebay for you hardcore collectors -- wish I had a copy!).

Dobson continued her highly successful modeling career, with ads for the likes of Revlon and Faberge (replacing Lola Falana as Tigress spokesperson in 1978), but her post-Cleo acting career was mainly limited to Amazonian sci-fi supporting roles in series like JASON OF STAR COMMAND and her swan song, the telefilm AMAZONS (appropriately enough) in 1984 for ABC. She left acting behind at that point, still stunning as ever, but no doubt frustrated over lack of opportunity and typecasting. Hollywood's myopia was once again our loss. There were occasional rumors that Ms. Dobson might be returning to the screen, but AMAZONS remained her swan song.

Her acting career lasted barely a full decade, but Tamara Dobson still set the standard for supermodels in the movie world.  She became a far bigger box office attraction than Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, or Cindy Crawford. Even the durable Lauren Hutton never had a peak period of popularity like Dobson enjoyed in the mid-1970's.

As part of The Horn Section's birthday salute to the original foxy Cleopatra, two more reviews of her films that have yet to make it to DVD are forthcoming. Enjoy!

Dobson in 1969

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Television Review: QUINCY, M.E. - "Next Stop, Nowhere" (1982)

QUINCY, M.E.: THE HILARIOUS YEARS: Number 3 -- "Next Stop, Nowhere" Season 8 (1982)

QUINCY, M.E.: "Next Stop, Nowhere!" (NBC/Universal: Original Air Date 12/1/82) Starring Jack Klugman, Robert Ito, John S. Ragin, Garry Walberg, Anita Gillette and Joseph Roman; special guest stars Melora Hardin as Abby, James T. Callahan as Adrian Mercer, Barbara Cason as Mrs. Garvin, Karlene Crockett as Molly, Kelly Ward as Skip. Written by Sam Egan.  Directed by Ray Danton.

Quincy, M. E. Faster than a speeding drug dealer. More powerful than a corporation. Able to leap beauracracy in a single bound! But, look! Up on the stage! It's a nose ring! It's a mohawk!

It's.....music that can kill!

The mere existence of this one is a head-scratcher, really. Perhaps with ratings falling drastically during the eighth and final season, the producers reckoned they were alienating the more conservative audience members with Klugman's consistently left-leaning politics during these early Reagan years. So what better way to throw the Moral Majority a bone than to come out against that nihilistic, evil "punk rock" music--which was actually more than a few years past its peak by the time this episode aired; I mean, The Clash were selling out with Combat Rock by 1982.

But if timeliness was never one of the virtues of NEXT STOP, NOWHERE, hilarity certainly was.  We open at the club "Ground Zero" when Abby (Hardin, of THE OFFICE) arrives, looking perfectly ordinary--until the corruptor has her say! Her BFPF (Best Female Punk Friend) Molly (Crockett) finds her badly in need of some black lipstick, pale cheeks, tattoos and piercings. "You need some punkin' up!" she declares, and whisks her off to the ladies' room.

This face does NOT need punkin' up....
This face, on the other hand, doesHey, I'm learning!

After Hardin is ready, the punkettes rejoin their boyfriends at the table as the band Mayhem hits the stage for their next set. They open with "I Wanna See You Choke", spouting lyrics like:

"Get a job from the man, blow his brains out if you can!"

Wow, you'd never guess those lyrics were written by a prime time staff writer...... anyway, during the subsequent slam dancing, Hardin's boyfriend Ward gets pushed around a little too much for his liking, and pulls out a switchblade. He's poised to strike, and we sense disaster, but a curve is thrown as the knife is knocked out of Ward's hand, falls to the floor, and the now unarmed punk subsequently receives an ice pick to the neck and collapses. Yup, there's at least two weapons out there, probably more! Ward lies unnoticed by the unfeeling, uncaring punks colliding around him. The exception is Hardin, who screams his name as she's swept away in the mayhem in front of Mayhem.

Ward ends up on a slab being examined by Sam and The Big Q as the details come out: age 18, inside the club with a fake ID, several self-inflicted cross shaped wounds on the arms (how Mansonesque!), stomped repeatedly after the stabbing on the dance floor (though we didn't actually see that). If the two coroners can't identify the deceased, Quincy's Season 8 squeeze, and eventual wife Dr. Emily Hanover (Gillette) certainly can.

We learn that Gillette has been counseling Hardin and her mother (Cason) for several months, and that the deceased was a runaway known as "Zach"---but that isn't his real name. This fact is mentioned several times, despite having zero significance to the plot. Maybe it's a metaphor for just how "lost" this punk generation is, or something.

Gillette notes that Hardin's rebellion against her mother started with punk music "reinforching bad feelings", causing her to shred her clothes, take pills and burn cigarette holes into her arm. Gillette was quite honestly a very annoying presence and joykill throughout Season 8, and she shrilly corrects Quince when he mentions "not giving these kids a second thought" and considering punk music to be a "silly fad". No, "it's much deeper than that!" She reports seeing kids come off those dance floors with broken ribs and bloody faces.

I have some great records on my houseboat.....

Just when I was wondering exactly how much time she spends at Ground Zero, she invites Quincy to join her there and see for himself! Yes, we're going to see The Big Q at a punk club!

He bumps into one punkette, not a bad opener at this type of club! But Q already has a date, too bad. Quincy mentions he's with the coroner's office, and one of the young punkettes says she's seen them and likes them. Har har. Quince winces at some of the dance floor action (just like I winced at the lame attempt at intentional humor) while Mayhem treats us to a second song, the episode's namesake. I can't resist another lyrical sample:

"Ain't tomorrow, only yesterday's pain! So cut your wrist and watch your life go down the drain!"

Hey, the writing is improving! The same song is playing in Hardin's bedroom. While we see that Hardin's ability to punk herself up has drastically improved (she even has a "Destroy!" shirt), Cason tries to console her daughter. After all, her boyfriend has only been dead for a couple of days. "Dear, you're so much better off without him! Forget he ever existed!"

Hmm. And her friends are insensitive and unfeeling. Um, oookay......

For some reason Mom's pep talk infuriates Hardin, and Cason flees as her daughter declares that she hates her. We fade out on the chilling sight of Hardin punkin' up her face further with red numbers while shouting along with Mayhem in front of her mirror. Fade out on a tight closeup of her angry face. Gee, I wonder if there's a message here.

 I said, SELL THE DAMN HOUSEBOAT! I'm a killjoy dammit!

You bet there is.  "All I know is whoever killed him was listening to words that literally cried out for blood!"  The Big Q lists punk music as a contributing cause on the death certificate!  This has him in hot water with Dr. Asten again but at least the future Mrs. Q is firmly in his corner, smugly noting that it made the newspaper.  Gee, that oughta make Asten feel better.  In case you couldn't tell, I found Gillette's character incredibly annoying during this final season, but I'll go off on that tangent on a later post.  This one is starting to rival Bill Clinton's My Life (or at least one of his speeches) as it is.

The Big Q's revelation lands him on Callahan's talk show, along with Dr. Hanover and Emily's mom in one corner, and three punks on the opposite side of the panel. The laughs come at us fast and furious during this scene: Gillette's earnestness.  The constant eye rolling of the punks.  And last but not least, the undeniable giggles caused by Callahan's combover:

Whaddya mean, you give it "7" on the Zero Mostel scale???

But the most priceless moment is this exchange between host and Quincy:

"You aren't seriously saying that music can kill, are you Doctor?"

"Yes I am!! I believe that the music I heard is a killer. It’s a killer of hope. It’s a killer of spirit. The music I heard said that life is cheap and murder and suicide is okay!"

The punks are compared to UFO inhabitants, vampire victims, Fellini films(!). They come across as too apathetic to actually do something as energetic as murder someone...until motivated by violent music. Hey, it is the music's fault!  Damn Beatles!  I mean, punk. The punkers are given several "mans" and "digs" to spout, so one thing they aren't rebelling against is the prior generation's slang.

At this point, the writers apparently needed to show the real difference between the love generation and this 'hate' generation (they've been blurring it pretty bad with the slang, I tell ya) so The Big Q points out that "not long ago, other young people were mad about the world". "Mad about a war they didn't believe in---but they worked their tails off to change things!" The point is quickly lost, as we go back and forth between punks being apathetic one second and destructive and violent the next. Before the talk show ends, there is a loss of temper, but not from the source you'd expect.

Worth a 1,000 word essay titled "She's a Killjoy"

It's Gillette, not Q, who needs calming after shrieking at Mayhem's singer. I tell ya, it was a LOT more fun watching the Klug Man get all worked up. He's positively subdued here compared to his other talk show appearances--a real shame.

I suppose two-thirds of the episode is enough editorial comment, even for The Hilarious Years, because for once we have an actual murder to solve. So, surprisingly, it's back to the lab where Quince is examining the ice pick itself and comparing fingerprints Monahan obtained by harassing Ground Zero's owner(!). The match is found to be Hardin, but when the officers go to Cason's home to bring her in, she's run away.

Hmm...not enough eye shadow, cheeks nowhere near pale enough.  Needs some punkin' up...

She's at Crockett's place, awakening after 18 hours of sleep. Her BFPF is giving her "medicine" to keep her asleep, which includes codeine that Hardin is allergic to. Hardin gulps it down obligingly, without ever checking what she's taking, even though she's breaking out in a nasty rash. WTF?

Meanwhile The Big Q continues examining the weapon, and revises his finding after discovering a second set of prints under Hardin's: Crockett's! Armed with this new information, The Big Q decides to go back to the club for help.

One of the biggest stretches in an episode full of them follows, as Quincy takes the stage and immediately receives everyone's undivided attention. Keep in mind we saw most of these same punkers in the audience of the talk show, laughing their asses off at The Big Q just days before.

Whaddya mean, you don't have a Karaoke night?
But now, they're all polite enough to let Quince explain that all charges against Hardin have been dropped, and to passionately plea for information on her whereabouts. Then they verbally bombard him. Hey, they waited long enough for Q to complete that much of his speech, pretty good manners for apathetic nihilists when you think about it.

"Why should we believe you?" "That's all you are, man, is a dog without a uniform!" Despite this reception, Q pushes on, explaining that Crockett is the real murderer and believed to be trying to push Hardin into a codeine overdose. Strangely, this is disbelieved also. "That's a crock! You think we're all zombie killers!" Uh, yeah, that's pretty much what's been strongly implied for 45 minutes now. "You're the killer! Your whole sick society! You're who's guilty, man!" Then, to top it all off: "Besides, man, who the hell cares?" Man, that's a lot of "mans".

Quincy glumly gives up and exits stage right. But after he does, the camera lingers on one look of guilt---from Crockett's boyfriend.

Time is running out after all that preaching earlier, but he has just enough time to confront his girlfriend back at their pad. He goes straight for the jugular, looking at the vial of medicine that Hardin's for taking for days but strangely never was curious enough to take a look at(!). Yup, codeine. Crockett immediately crumbles, desperately pleading with Hardin not to lose her friendship (!). What she would have done for companionship and camaraderie once Hardin, uh, died from the overdose was strangely not considered.

Yeah, I know, more than a little rushed and unbelievable, but this is still more time spent on an actual crime solving than you usually saw during seasons 6 through 8.  And after 45 minutes of demonstrating to the viewing audience just how cold-blooded and callous every single punker is, our scribes finally throw a bone in the punkers direction by having ONE cooperate with The Q-Ster to save a life.  One, that is, out of at least three dozen punks we've seen, so they aren't all complete scourges on humanity.  Just 97 to 98% of them.

So one lonely punk is shown to have a little regard for a human life, but the writers quickly make up for this meager attempt at being fair and balanced (so to speak) by ending the episode with one last slam at their music. Our episode ends with the triumphant Q power couple dancing at Danny's to the soundtrack of the FDR administration, as our oracle coroner wonders aloud:

"Why would anyone wanna listen to music that makes you hate, when you can listen to music that makes you love?" 

The talk show and punk club segments are legendary, the dialogue is consistently out there and interestingly, there's more of an emphasis on an actual murder than usual during The Hilarious Years. There is one glaring flaw, though: Quincy is actually subdued at times, with Dr. Hanover handling too much of the preachy hysterics. No offense, Ms. Gillette, but comedy fans tune in to watch Klugman get all worked up--not you. ****