The High Five Podcast Episode 29 – It’s All Connected 2021 Part 1

On this week’s episode, I let you into the wonderful world of It’s All Connected 2021, the horror film project I do wherein each movie is connected to the previous in some way! I’ve already gone through six flicks and it’s only August, so hopefully this will be the best year yet! If you’re curious about last year’s It’s All Connected, you can find all the links here!

If you’re curious, here‘s my review of The Dead Zone book from several years back.

As always, you can email me at high5tj at gmail.com or follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

We Want Action: Streets Of Fire (1984)

streets of fire poster

Walter Hill is a fascinating director to me. I discovered The Warriors in high school and it changed my brain. It felt like someone who loved comic books, taking some of the crazy, garish characters and putting them into the real world and still making it feel really real and believable even when tinged with healthy doses of melodrama. Even with as influential as that film was to me, though, I haven’t really actively sought out his other films. Sure, I’ve seen the 48 Hours movies and Last Man Standing, but that was before I realized he made those films. When I saw his 1984 film Streets Of Fire on Netflix Instant, I was super excited to give it a watch. When the titles started popping up and one of them said I was about to watch “A rock and roll fable” I got even more excited.

The film follows gun-for-hire Tom Cody (Michael Pare) as he gets hired by Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) to save rock singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) from a gang of thugs lead by Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe). Tom brings along new acquaintance McCoy (Amy Madigan) to help out. The structure of this film is actually very similar to that of The Warriors but in a slightly different order. The hero has a mission, he gets a girl, he and his crew do their best to get back to safety and then at the end there’s a showdown behind the good guy and bad guy while a small army of armed people stand around and watch. Hell, there’s even a scene where the subway trains aren’t working because someone set fire to them! As if all that wasn’t enough, some of the Warriors cast members pop up in this film like Deborah Van Valkenburgh (Mercy) as Tom’s sister and even Lynne Thigpen who played the DJ in the previous movie popped up as a cop (interestingly enough telling the leads about the train fire). The beginning of the two films are also really similar from an editing standpoint. Heck, McCoy even kind of looks like Swan.

The story itself is set in a weird world that seems sort of 50s, but created through the prism of the 80s. You’ll understand what I mean by watching just about any scene set in a club. It feels like you’re just as likely to see some guy doing his best Johnny Cash impression or his best Stray Cats impression up on stage and that’s pretty much what you get. Every music number also has that feel too which kind of makes me wonder if Hill wanted to get into the music video game.

Anyway, even with as silly and affected as the film might feel, there’s still some real issues going on here. McCoy has to deal with all kinds of gender nonsense and does her best, but we can see her cracks. She just wants acceptance and friends (who doesn’t?). Meanwhile, our hero Tom is a total tough guy who’s clearly in love with Ellen, but he just doesn’t know how to tell her AND he doesn’t know how to do the obvious which is get the hell out of his crappy live and just move somewhere else. So there’s some stuff going on, but you’ve got to get through some of the veneer to get there, again, much like The Warriors.

I hate to keep comparing Hill movies here, but I do want to point one more thing out. The climax of the film involves the aforementioned showdown between Tom and Raven on the streets surrounded by allies on both sides. But, instead of fighting with fists or knives, they start going at it with crazy prospecting hammers but without the super pointy end. It’s a pretty bonkers scene, but it instantly reminded me of the trailers I’ve seen from Hill’s last movie Bullet To The Head where Sylvester Stallone has a freaking axe fight with Jason Momoa. Now, I haven’t seen that movie yet, but it’s interesting that Hill went back to that well. It makes me want to watch the rest of his movies to see what other elements he uses over and over again or if I’ve seen them all at this point. Still, Streets of Fire is a unique, offbeat little movie that does a lot of the same things Warriors does in both theme and content. I’d probably have fallen in love with it had I also seen it in high school, but the adult version of me saw a lot of the affectedness going on and couldn’t fully commit.

80s Odyssey: Weird Science (1985)

I’ve been doing some writing the past two nights which has been very creatively gratifying, especially because I’ve been slacking a bit in that department of late. When I write, I like to have something on in the background that I can not necessarily ignore, but not really pay full attention to. Now that I think about it, that’s a pretty crummy way of explaining why I watched Weird Science the other night, but it’s the truth. I realized a few minutes in that this was probably the first time I’d actually watched this movie from beginning to end unedited. I actually have this relationship with most of Johns Hughes’ teen-centric movies because they were on TV so much when I was a kid that I’d just catch bits and pieces here and there.

Anyway, I was actually surprised with how silly this flick is. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing, it’s just something I wasn’t expecting. I mean, I knew that these guys created a girl using a computer that could probably have barely handled solitaire, let alone the incredible feat of scanning images, figuring out what they meant and then incorporating that information into the techno-organic genie they wound up creating out of a Barbie doll. I think the reason the silliness isn’t offensive or boring is because most of it comes from an honest place. Of course it’s silly that Wyatt and Gary shower with their new creation wearing their clothes (and shoes in Gary’s case), but that hints at the sexual confusion and fear many guys that age feel as things change internally and externally.

That’s really the key to Hughes’ films, the honesty found therein. But, while some of his other films might get a little too inside their own teenage angst, this one really has fun with itself. I definitely need to give this film, as well as the rest of Hughes’ flicks, a more concentrated look, but this one served it’s purpose well.

Dame Double Feature: Crazy Mama (1975) & The Lady In Red (1979)

I really never know what to expect when jumping into one of Shout Factory’s Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Double Features because, frankly, the man was fairly inconsistent when it comes to good and bad flicks. I do always know that the presentation will be prefect though because Shout absolutely kills it when it comes to putting these movies together. I especially like the “Grindhouse Experience” feature which shows one movie right after the other complete with trailers before each flick and even a clip reminding you how awesome popcorn is. My only complaint is that the menu is so CGIed, it would be cool if they could use actual photography for the menus, but that’s a small quibble. Both movies even have extra features like commentaries and interviews with the directors.

As it turned out I didn’t just like the first movie in the Double Feature, Crazy Mama, I kind of fell in love with it. I didn’t realize until just now that the movie was actually directed by Jonathan Demme of Silence Of The Lambs fame which makes a lot of sense because there’s a lot going on in this movie aside from the usual “women wreaking havoc” plot I’ve seen in movies like this on from the 70s. The film has a quirkiness and a heart to it that I wasn’t expecting and some really great performances by Cloris Leachman, Dick Miller, Donny Most and a lot of other folks whose names I don’t recognize (though Bill Paxton and Dennis Quaid make their film debuts in the flick in super-small roles).

Here’s the basic plot. Back in the day Sheba’s husband was killed when the banks tried to take their land. They had a daughter who would grow up to be Leachman’s Melba (Ann Sothern). After the murder they moved to California where Melba had a daughter of her own named Cheryl (Linda Purl) who just found out she’s knocked up by Shawn (Most). When the bank comes to repossess the beauty salon Sheba and Melba run, they grab Cheryl, a few things and make a break for it. They head to Vegas where they met the elderly Bertha who joins their little family. Shawn also catches up with the ladies, but Cheryl has already fallen for a greaser named Snake (played by Leachman’s son Bryan Englund). She’s not the only one though as Melba hooks up with Jim Bob. At some point the ladies get the idea to buy back their farmland, but they don’t have any money so they start running cons and holding up banks and other businesses.

There’s a lot of unconventionality on display in the film that really makes it soar for me. Not only do you have four generations of women working together to commit crimes, but they’re all pretty open when it comes to their sexuality. There’s even a bit where Snake and Bertha even talk about getting down (talk about unconventional). The most out-there aspect of the film socially speaking probably boils down to the Cheryl/Shawn/Snake relationship. Shawn starts off being pissed about Snake being in the picture, but Cheryl says she loves them both. He seems to eventually accept that and winds up sleeping in bed with the both of them. Let me tell you, seeing Ralph Malph wearing only his underwear in bed with a naked woman and a greaser is pretty damn surreal. You really start to believe that these people have formed an unconventional family unit that really cares for one another, especially after a few of their comrades fall and they shout them up to heaven. That’s where the heart lies in this movie. When folks start dying, I actually started feeling bad, not something I expected from a movie like this.

Another big mark in the plus column for this film is the realistic portrayal of the crime spree. This gang of theirs starts off small robbing a quickie marriage place in Vegas and slowly move their way up, but they are in no way criminal masterminds, especially after losing some of their gang and getting liquored up. The last bit it so sadly pointless, but that’s what would happen in this kind of situation. The very end also shows that even after all the survivors have been through, they maybe didn’t learn all the lessons they should have. It’s fantastic. I highly recommend Crazy Mama.

I didn’t like The Lady In Red nearly as much, though it’s not a bad flick, just kind of a slow and sometimes meandering one. The story is about Polly Franklin who lead a tough life which lead her to become first a seamstress in an American sweatshop (run by Dick Miller!), then a dancer, a prisoner and eventually a prostitute where she meets renowned mobster John Dillinger though she didn’t know it was him. Even though the movie clocks in under an hour and a half, it feels slow early on as Polly makes her way to becoming a prostitute. These moments are important because they show her character and build a supporting cast around her, but it still feels like a scene or two could have been cut out or down. There’s also a lengthy scene of Polly and Dillinger playing baseball and rowing a canoe that, while nice, wasn’t really necessary.

With all the different vignettes you wind up getting a lot of different kinds of movies all rolled into one. First off, it’s a period piece. Then you get the downtrodden worker segment in Miller’s sweatshop. The prostitute movie’s there too. There’s also a few prison scenes (Nurse Balbricker from Porky’s plays the awful warden who meets a very satisfying end after doing something shocking even for her) which includes a vast nude scene. There’s the monster stuff as Dilinger gets murdered and then the revenge plot afterwards because everyone’s gunning for Polly thinking she set Dillinger up (she didn’t).

The only thing I knew about John Dillinger going into this movie was that he was a mobster who was sold out by his girlfriend in front of a movie theater. I learned that from High Fidelity. So it was interesting to see this story told around that idea. I did a little reading on Wiki and it seems like the filmmakers followed the actual story at least somewhat well, which is interesting. I doubt you could show this film in an American history class, but it might get some folks interested in old timey mobsters (if Boardwalk Empire hasn’t done that enough already).

I wasn’t familiar with Pamela Sue Martin, but I thought she handled herself really well and really acted well in this thing that could have been silly. The rest of the cast is pretty damn solid too and even features Christopher Lloyd as a creepy mobster called Frognose (not a nice dude). I like seeing him being a not-too-over-the-top bad guy. That’s one of the beauties of watching these old Corman-produced movies, is that you get to see some pretty big deal stars in either the early or later days when they’re not as concerned with fitting into what people expect of them. I’m excited to keep checking these out, but I’ll always be a little leery as to whether the films will tickle my fancy or not.

Halloween Scene: Near Dark (1987)

I can’t tell you how much I wanted to love Near Dark. First off, it’s a horror movie directed by an Academy Award winner (not to mention the director of the awesome Point Break). Yup, that’s right, Kathryn Bigelow directed this vampire flick starring Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Tim Thomserson and Adrian Pasdar. Sounds like a pretty great line-up, doesn’t it?

Well, it is a good line-up, but I just could not get into this movie. Yes, the fact that it’s about a pack of vamps living in the west is kind of a nice change of pace, but the fact that it’s about a new vampire (Pasdar) who doesn’t really want to be vampire trying to figure out what he’s going to do with his unlife just felt SO been-there-done-that that I did care. In my mind I kept comparing it to John Carpenter’s Vampires (that’s probably sacrilege, I know, but I saw that movie first) and From Dusk Till Dawn. Oh, and Lost Boys, it reminded me a lot of Lost Boys without the fun of being able to watch the two Coreys doing their thang.

So, yeah, the basic plot was boring, even though the vampires were fun to watch. The combo of Henriksen and Paxton was fantastic. Actually, I should say not all the vamps were fun. Homer–played by Joshua John Miller who I also hated in Class of 1999–posed a pretty big problem for me in the movie and not just because I dislike the actor so intensely. See, the idea is that he was a kid when he was turned into a vampire, but like Claudia from Interview With A Vampire, he ages metnally while his exterior remains the same. He even goes on about how much it sucks to me an old man in a young kid body. Yet, later in the movie, he becomes obsessed with Pasdar’s younger sister (her and his dad have been out looking for him while he’s been gallivanting around with the vamps). If he’s an old man, why is he going after young girls unless he a pedopire, which just makes the whole thing way creepier than expected. I get that he might want to turn her now and then wait for her to mature, so they can be creepy old people trapped in young bodies together, but it really looks like he’s lusting after her in the movie and it’s just gross.

The ending of the movie’s also pretty stupid. Let’s call this SPOILER TERRITORY in case you’re worried about having a 23 year old movie spoiled for you. See, Pasdar stops being a vampire because his dad gives him a complete blood transfusion. That’s just plain stupid, especially considering these are pretty standard vampires with super strength, healing abilities and an aversion to daylight. There’s got to be something mystical going on there and not just a blood disease. If you’re going to set up rules in your story, you have to follow them a little better.

Ah well, there you go. I actually watched this one a few days ago and then I got to see Expendables and Scott Pilgrim, so I ended up in the plus column movie-wise this week.