BY BERT EHRMANN
Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of movies. My usual
habit of viewing a few movies a week has suddenly turned to a sick
addiction. In the past week I’ve managed to watch twenty movies as
well as my usual television schedule of six hours a day. Some of these
movies include “Bloody” Sam Peckinpah’s masterpieces Bring Me The
Head of Alfredo Garcia and Ride the High Country, the classic King
Kong, Smokey and the Bandit (“The first thing I’m gonna’ do when I
get home is punch your mamma in the mouth.”), Deliverance and Sky
Captain and the World of Tomorrow to name a few.
But to be honest, back in the mid-1980’s my movie addiction was much worse than now. If a movie was playing on television I was watching it. And Fridays were the best day of all. Not only did movies play in the evenings but I could also stay up late past my usual bedtime (7:30 P.M. until I was a junior in high school) to watch the “late night thrillers.”
I remember spending Friday nights as a punk kid staying up late with my brother, eating potato chips and watching bad movies. Really, really, bad movies.
My young mind was warped by hours of late Friday nights watching these “thriller” movies on WFFT-55 (pre-Fox) and equally bad movies Saturday afternoons on the USA network. My Friday nights were ruled by Elvira and Saturdays by Captain USA. (If you remember Captain USA you may have a problem.)
(There was also a plethora of war movies Sunday afternoons on WGN and WFFT but that’s the subject of another story.)
What’s odd is that it’s been twenty years since the last time I saw some of these movies but I can still remember bits and pieces of their plots. I can’t remember where I put the keys to my car yet I can remember lines from movies no sane person has ever seen.
Some of these “classics” featured things like killer-cockroaches whose bite turned flesh to fire and zombies positioned at the bottom of lakes reaching up to snag unsuspecting swimmers, like Creature from the Black Lagoon but not nearly as cool.)
After doing some research on the Internet (and some say that the Internet’s just a database for porn) I managed to find the titles and plot synopsis of some of these “classics” that I still hold memories for.
Share my pain as I reminisce over these forgotten “gems.”
One of the movies I remember was called either Zombie Lake or maybe Night of the Zombies. The bits I remember have a group of zombie-fied American and German World War II soldiers walking around a lake shooting civilians for no apparent reason. If I remember correctly, this movie also featured a zombie chained up at the bottom of said lake who would reach up grasping for sexy young females swimming just a few feet above. (Which is exciting and frightening all at the same time to a ten year old.)
I seem to remember some sort of gas being the cause of the zombies but don’t remember what the civilians ever did to remove this zombie menace from their midst.
Another “classic” that haunted me for years was titled Damnation Alley and starred a pre-Airwolf Jan-Michael Vincent and a pre-A-Team George George Peppard as two survivors of a nuclear doom whom set out in their twelve wheeled “Landmaster” post-apocalyptic RV to find survivors of the apocalypse. (Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.)
The more I think about it the more Damnation Alley reminds me of Highway to Heaven two heroes roaming America looking to help people. And I’m sure that at some point in Highway to Heaven either Michael Landon or his sidekick Victor French drove an RV much like the one in Damnation Alley, though without machine guns.
I remembered little of Damnation Alley until I found a novelization of it in a used bookstore. Not only was the whole story there but photos from the movie too, in glorious black and white.
And then a few years after that I caught the movie again on television. Damnation Alley came out in 1977, the same year as Star Wars, and has everything Star Wars was missing. Was Star Wars daring enough to feature its lead, here Jan-Michael, leaping over giant mutated scorpions on a motorbike? Did Star Wars have the guts to use bad 1960’s special effects? No, I say!
I also remember seeing the movie Fire Over Phoenix aka A Fire in the Sky several times too. In this movie, a comet can be seen high over the skies of Phoenix. Some “experts” believe that the comet poses no danger to the city. Obviously, these “experts” are wrong because the comet smashes into Phoenix destroying it. Even my miniscule ten year old brain could see that one coming.
In Fire Over Phoenix, there’s also this whole sub-plot of a Boy Scout Master out in the desert with a den of Webelos camping in the wilds of Arizona out of contact with no means of realizing that a comet is about to vaporize their hometown. It’s only the ingenuity of the scoutmaster who has the kids dig holes, lay in them, and cover themselves with blankets that saves their lives. Why didn’t they think of that in Armageddon or Deep Impact?
I could go on and on. There’s also Radioactive Dreams (Mad Max meets Phillip Marlowe), Motel Hell (Psycho meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Lifeforce (Alien meets Dracula), Battle Beyond the Stars (Star Wars meets The Waltons), Ice Pirates (Star Wars meets Monty Python)…
The list of bad movies is seemingly never ending and I am afraid that I’ve seen most of them. My only wish is that when I close my eyes at night I can stop thinking of the conversations a Highway to Heaven Michael Landon and Damnation Alley George Peppard might have if the two of them were at the wheel of the mighty “Landmaster”.