GLORY OF THE 80s: Strangers In a Strange Land

The-Visitor-01

Time once again for GLORY OF THE 80s! Every week, I look back at the films people were rushing to see during the corresponding week, 35 years ago.

RATING SYSTEM AND CRITERIA

  • What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals? 
  • In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?

The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.


This time, each of our three releases involve people removed from their comfort zone and exploring a strange new world. In FORBIDDEN ZONE, several people are whisked away to a sixth dimensional Wonderland by way of Dante’s Inferno. In THE VISITOR, a little girl uses her alien powers on a vulnerable Earth. And finally in WHY SHOOT THE TEACHER?, a well-bred college boy has to live in the wilds of Depression-era Saskatchewan.

All of these films were in theaters during the latter part of March 1980. Here we go!

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FORBIDDEN ZONE – Somewhere in the basement of the Hercules household, there is a dimensional portal which sucks in those who get close to it and literally craps them out into the sixth dimension. In this topsy-turvy Wonderland, King Fausto (Hervé Villechaize) and usurper bitch goddess Queen Doris (Susan Tyrell) rule over assorted frog people, oddities and perhaps most disturbingly, the Kipper Kids. One by one, the Hercules family gets sucked in, starting with daughter Frenchy (Marie-Pascale Elfman) and followed soon after by Squeezit who is looking for his own sister (both parts played by future FREEWAY director Matthew Bright).

I honestly don’t know how to describe FORBIDDEN ZONE in just a few short paragraphs. People lose their heads and keep going. Deals are struck with the Devil (Danny Elfman) to the tune of “Minnie the Moocher.” People in blackface put on minstrel shows that are somehow par for the course in a film designed to be offensive, absurd and just out-and-out weird.

Suffice to say you’ve never seen anything like FORBIDDEN ZONE and you probably never will. Richard Elfman’s labor of love is a brilliant midnight movie that I have come back to again and again. It’s funny, wild and practically indescribable. A must see for anyone who doesn’t like their entertainment safe and straightforward.  

One additional note: Viewers of my web series, MOVIOCRITY, may find the theme song familiar. It’s true, I’ve been taken with this film for a while now. So, when it came time for my own web series on off-kilter cinema, I stripped down Danny Elfman’s theme to this film and used it for my own show. Better yet, Richard Elfman was kind and supportive enough to give his blessing, which is why he deserves his “Special thanks” in MOVIOCRITY’s end credits. Thanks again, Rich!  Highly Recommended.

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THE VISITOR (1979) – And now onto another film which defies description. Based on the promo materials, anyone who went to THE VISITOR might have expected to see your average sci-fi film about alien visitors. Or maybe they expected to see a more horror-oriented tale with a demonic child causing the deaths of various adults. Both expectations are met and then some in this oddity which recently got a second life thanks to the guys at Drafthouse Films.

An intergalactic (or perhaps interdimensional) warrior (John Huston) is sent down to Earth by a Christ-like teacher (Franco Nero) to take away a child (Paige Connor) who is using her telekinetic powers to cause all sorts of mischief. Then there’s the backstory about the ancient warlord that was vanquished only to have his powers manifest itself in creatures such as our adorable little demon spawn. And there’s also the cabal of businessmen who want to use the child for their own malevolent purposes. And then there’s the detective. And the nanny. And the mother. And of course there’s the army of sparrows. What I’m saying is that THE VISITOR is a film so wild and unpredictable, it defies explanation.

A star-studded cast was put together for this Italian production including Huston, Nero, Glenn Ford, Jennifer Nail, Lance Henriksen, Mel Ferrer, Sam Peckinpah and Shelley Winters. Some of them are mere bit players, only putting in a day or two of filming, while others stick it out for the long haul. The film has all the benchmarks of a flick that had a very troubled production. There are so many interesting elements, but director Giulio Paradisi has no concept of how to link them all in a coherent manner. Hence, we have a hodgepodge of genre tropes and metaphysical mumbo jumbo that all makes for an interesting film though not a particularly good one.

I wish I could report that THE VISITOR is as amazing as it is loopy. But instead, I have to report that it is merely as uneven as its plot suggests. It’s definitely strange and in many ways unique. But all these weird elements don’t come together to form a cohesive whole. THE VISITOR is definitely worth a look if only to sate one’s curiosity. But though it has its moments, it’s more interesting to marvel at its audacity than it is to take in its clunky narrative.  Barely Recommended.

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WHY SHOOT THE TEACHER? (1977) – Max Brown (Bud Cort) is a young man who has recently graduated and is now striking out on his own in 1930’s Canada. He gets a job teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in the wilds of Saskatchewan. The kids he deals with are uneducated and undisciplined. The families are poor, destitute and hence, have their own problems. Max has to survive on his own, with little to no help from the townspeople. Not only is he forced to live in the schoolhouse’s squalor conditions, he is getting paid in IOUs. Along the way, he gets to know a mentally unstable war bride (Samantha Eggar), flirts with communism and learns to live with and even thrive on the prairie.

WHY SHOOT THE TEACHER? was a huge success in its native Canada. So much so that early VHS tapes referred to it as the second biggest hit the country had experienced at the time of its release. It is strange therefore that the film should remain so obscure. Decent prints are all but impossible to find. Prints available via streaming or other media are taken from old VHS or television sources. The film is faded, cropped and deserves to be treated much better.

Which is not to say WHY SHOOT THE TEACHER? is a classic. It takes an excruciatingly long time to get going and many viewers far removed from the Canadian provinces may find much of the charm lost in translation. But it does have its charm, thanks mainly to the always enjoyable Bud Cort. A quirky actor, this is a rare opportunity to see him shine in the lead as a well-rounded and sympathetic protagonist.  Barely Recommended.


That’s it for this week, but I still need your help! If you have any newspaper ads, clippings or information about 1980’s release dates in some area of the country, please send me an email at moviocrity@gmail.com. I will try to incorporate them in the series. Remember, we only have data on a couple of areas of the United States but are always looking to get as clear a picture as possible. You can help!

COMING SOON!

  • James Caan directs himself in a film about the dark side of Witness Protection!
  • One of the greatest dancers to ever live suffers for his art!
  • Walter Matthau and Julie Andrews hop on board the Good Ship Lollipop!

ALL OF THIS AND MORE, NEXT TIME IN GLORY OF THE 80s!

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