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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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01 May, 2014

Shows that go Bump in the Night: Unimonster’s Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Paranormal Television Series

During my prolonged absence from these pages, your friendly ol’ Unimonster relocated the Crypt, and this move afforded me the opportunity to once again join the world of subscription TV service.  In other words, for the first time in nearly ten years, Uni’s Crypt is hooked up to cable.  In addition to discovering the Robertson clan, of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, a program with which I immediately fell in love, Man v. Food (honestly, you have to admire a man who’ll attempt to wrestle 74 oz. of steak into submission), and having the question, “what the hell is a ‘Honey Boo-Boo’” answered, I found a wealth of programming choices of which I had been ignorant.  Shows that appealed to the history-lover in me, shows that appealed to my inner ‘foodie’, even two networks devoted to guns and hunting.  Of course, me being me, a large number of the programs that captured my attention have reality-based horror or paranormal overtones.

I’m not referring to fictional Horror series, such as FX’s American Horror Story or AMC’s The Walking Dead.  Both are superb examples of horror storytelling, especially The Walking Dead, which takes the skin-ripping, gut-munching zombie genre and elevates it to a level of which Romero, Fulci, and O’Bannon could only dream.  Those series deserve an in-depth look in these pages, and will, in time, receive it.  But this month we look at the shows that are factually-based, or at least claim to be.  Those series that examine the paranormal world around us with, if not an open mind, then at least one that is a little less dead-set against the idea of the supernatural.

Such programs are hardly new.  The mid-1970s were a time when America’s interest in paranormal activity, especially UFOs and cryptids, those mysterious beasts such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster, was at a fever pitch.  There was a spate of movies examining such unexplained phenomena as the Bermuda Triangle, and the possibility that ancient extraterrestrials had been responsible for wonders such as Stonehenge and the Pyramids.  Among the most notable (or perhaps notorious would be more fitting) of these was 1973’s The Legend of Boggy Creek.  Filmed in a pseudo-documentary style that is now referred to as a ‘docudrama’, the film purported to examine the legends of the Fouke monster, a bigfoot-like creature said to inhabit the woods and swamps of southwestern Arkansas.

In addition to spawning movies and documentaries, this interest in the paranormal gave birth to a series created by Alan Landsburg, a prolific television writer and producer.  Landsburg, who had previously produced the biographical documentary Kennedy, the First Thousand Days, which was screened for the 1964 Democratic National Convention, was inspired by the success of three made-for-TV documentaries on the paranormal that he had produced beginning in 1973 to turn the concept into a weekly syndicated series.  Debuting on 17 April, 1977, In Search Of… examined an incredibly diverse collection of topics during its five-year run, ranging from the possibility that Earth had been visited in ancient times by aliens (also the topic of the first made-for-TV documentary), to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, to the prospect that North Vietnam was secretly keeping American MIAs prisoner nearly a decade after the end of US involvement in the Vietnam War.  Hosted by Leonard Nimoy, formerly of Star Trek fame, the series had a built-in appeal for those lovers of Sci-Fi that would form the series’ most devoted fan base.  The show’s original run ended on 1 March, 1982, after 144 episodes, though it was briefly revived in 2002, with The X-Files’ Mitch Pileggi as host.  This incarnation of the series lasted only eight episodes.
On 17 April, 1992, fifteen years to the day that In Search Of… premiered, the Fox Broadcasting Network launched Sightings, a similar program presented in an investigative news magazine format, a sort of Inside Edition on the world of the paranormal.  Hosted by journalist Tim White, the series wasn't as wide-ranging as its predecessor, though it was nearly as successful, lasting until September, 1997.  Following the end of the series’ regularly scheduled run, a number of Sightings specials were produced, as well as a fictionalized, made-for-TV movie, Sightings: Heartland Ghost.  Reruns were shown on the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) until April, 2003.

As it was ending its run, the stage was being set for a new pattern of paranormal television, a style of programming that owed as much to Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Springer as it did to In Search Of… and Sightings.  The prototype of these shows, and one of the Unimonster’s personal favorites, was Haunted History, which began its run on The History Channel with the special, Haunted History: Charleston, in October of 1998.  Though it suffered from a relatively low number of episodes produced (only two specials and twenty-five regular episodes aired between 26 October, 1998 and 11 August, 2001) and erratic scheduling, the series featured high production values, interesting locales, and real efforts to capture, in-depth, both the legends and the facts behind the legends.  It also eschewed the sensationalism and tabloid-style approach of later programs.  The series enjoyed a brief revival in the fall of 2013, with eight new episodes being produced.  These bore little resemblance to the original version, and were generally inferior to it.

At approximately the same time as the original run of Haunted History was winding down, a new program was getting underway on, of all networks, MTV.  Using the then-innovative concept of a competition, with the participants filming themselves with handheld cameras, night vision equipment, and static cameras placed strategically around the location to be investigated.  MTV’s Fear debuted in 2000, the first episode placing a group of young adults inside the recently closed West Virginia State Penitentiary at Moundsville.  The six ‘investigators’ were locked in the prison overnight, staying in a prepared ‘safe room’ base of operations, from which they would be dispatched, in one or two-person, color-coded teams, to explore areas of supposed paranormal activity.  After the location had been thoroughly examined, then any participants who hadn't quit the challenge would share in a cash prize.

Subsequent episodes would take place at the Ideal Cement factory (renamed the Duggan Brothers Cement factory for the show) in Castle Hayne, North Carolina, on board the World War II aircraft carrier USS Hornet, moored in Alameda, California, and at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.  Though the series was one of MTV’s most popular shows, the high costs of producing it doomed the program, with only sixteen episodes having aired over two seasons.  However, while the show was short-lived, it was one of the most influential of the early paranormal reality series, especially the look and style of the show.  While MTV drew some fire for the obvious stage management of the so-called investigations, no one was claiming that this was a serious examination of paranormal phenomena.  The fans of the show accepted it at face value, realizing that it was nothing more than Survivor … with ghosts.
In 2004, with the phenomenon of “Reality TV” at its peak, the granddaddy of the paranormal reality genre premiered on the SyFy network.  Ghost Hunters, which chronicled the activities of a pair of plumbers from Rhode Island who headed a paranormal investigating group in their off hours, first aired on 6 October, 2004, and soon became a huge success.  Featuring Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, Roto-Rooter employees and the co-founders of The Atlantic Paranormal Society, or TAPS, the show followed the organization’s investigations into allegedly haunted locations.  Though the team’s efforts in the first season were limited to the northeastern US, by the second season the program’s success had led to investigations being conducted throughout the US, as well as the beat-up old TAPS van being retired for new rolling stock, and the team relocating from the trailer that had been their headquarters to rented offices.

While critics have found fault with the team’s investigative techniques, and fans have remarked that, despite the promotional hype each new episode brings they never seem to encounter anything of note, the series has continued to grow, despite Wilson leaving the show in the middle of the eighth season, and still enjoys good ratings.  What’s more, it has inspired a host of imitators across the cable landscape.

Following the success of Ghost Hunters, it seemed as though every cable network worth its licensing fees had to have a paranormal investigation program on its schedule.  At the higher end of the spectrum, at least in terms of seriousness and credibility, and of a completely different style was the Discovery Channel’s A Haunting.  Featuring a combination of interviews with the actual witnesses to the activity in question, as well as filmed reenactments, A Haunting never developed the massive amount of media attention that Ghost Hunters garnered, despite being the better of the two series, in the Unimonster’s humble opinion.  It did help popularize the reenactment type of paranormal series as opposed to the investigative style of programming.  Another excellent reenactment series is the SyFy channel’s Paranormal Witness.  Superficially similar to A Haunting, it manages to convey, even better than the latter series, the frightening aspects of the cases being examined.

Crowding the viewing landscape at the lower end of the paranormal spectrum we have haunted animals (Animal Planet’s The Haunted), haunted hillbillies (Ghostland, Tennessee, also on Animal Planet, and SyFy’s Deep South Paranormal), haunted collectibles (Deals from the Dark Side and Haunted Collector, both on SyFy), even a haunted gold mine (SyFy’s Ghost Mine).  While all are interesting, to varying degrees, all are lacking the key ingredient that makes a program of this type work, at least for me.  They just aren't scary.

Granted, it can be difficult for these programs to be overtly frightening, whether investigative- or reenactment-based.  Programs such as A Haunting lack the real-time element and familiar cast that can draw the viewer into the location, making them feel a part of what is happening on-screen.  Conversely, the investigative series try so hard to establish their credibility that it seems they seek to avoid anything genuinely frightening.  This is the greatest flaw in the otherwise interesting Ghost Hunters.  Each week, SyFy airs commercials hyping the upcoming episode, giving it the appearance of the most terrifying spectacle ever to air on television.  As the program airs, however, we are left with scenes of the TAPS team wandering through some darkened hallways, seeing vague shapes uncaptured by any camera, hearing faint noises that could be ghostly voices, or could be a crewmember’s stomach rumbling.  Just as something mildly interesting seems to be getting underway, that’s the cue for Hawes to call it a night, telling his team to pack it in.  Then the episode ends with the lead investigators sitting down with the ‘client’ to review what evidence they have collected, and proclaim that they can’t say, with any degree of certainty, whether the location is actually haunted.

Two series, however, manage to achieve that rare mix of credibility and excitement that quickly made them favorites of the Unimonster.  The Travel Channel’s The Dead Files features a retired NYPD homicide detective and young female medium who travel to a new location weekly, at the request of someone who is experiencing what can only be described as spectral attacks.  Conducting their investigations separately, never interacting until they meet with the homeowners to reveal their findings, Detective Steve DiSchiavi, NYPD (ret.) and psychic Amy Allen each bring their talents to bear on the case, DiSchiavi by interviewing the clients and researching the background of the location, and Allen by conducting a night-time ‘ghost walk’ through the property (without the residents being present), in which she not only sees dead people, but interacts with them.  Despite their differing styles of investigation, both bring a sincerity and compassion to their work, a concern that speaks to their experience with horror in their own lives.  What makes the show so enjoyable to me is the degree to which the separate investigations dovetail once the pair comes together for the reveal.  Unless one totally discounts the reality aspect of the show, then that level of synchronicity between the two is impressive.

By far my favorite show of this type, however, stars three thirty-something guys who roam the world picking fights with ghosts, poltergeists, and assorted other supernatural entities, locking themselves into the most famous haunted locations imaginable, without any crew other than themselves and an occasional guest investigator, and experiencing what comes across as genuinely terrifying situations.  Ghost Adventures, also on the Travel Channel, is the brainchild of 37-year-old Zak Bagans, a Las Vegas-based documentary filmmaker.  It stemmed from Bagans’ desire to capture proof of the paranormal on camera.  Previously skeptical about the existence of spirits, he reportedly changed his mind following an encounter he had with the specter of a suicide victim in his apartment in Michigan.  He and 34-year-old Nick Groff filmed a documentary in 2004 examining haunted sites in Virginia City and Goldfield, Nevada.  38-year-old Aaron Goodwin is the third member of the team, or, as they refer to themselves, the “GAC,” or Ghost Adventures Crew.  He and Groff met at UNLV as film students and he joined the crew after the initial documentary was produced.

Though critics deride the show’s confrontational, aggressive style of investigation, Bagans defends it, claiming repeatedly that it’s done only to provoke those spirits with a demonstrated propensity to attack the living.  It does seems to get results, with the team’s documented success in gathering photographic, audio, even video evidence of paranormal activity.  It also makes for damn good television, as the trio explores such historic sites as the Winchester Mansion; the Villisca, Iowa home in which two adults and six children were brutally murdered in June of 1912; and Bobby Mackey’s Music World, a night club in Wilder, Kentucky that might be the most malevolent location the series has investigated in what is now nine seasons on the air.  After touring the site with the owner / caretakers, reviewing the history of the site, and giving us a glimpse of the local attractions (remember, it is the Travel Channel), our intrepid investigators are locked inside the location for the night, with only their own cameras to record the night’s events.

Though occasionally the investigations fail to deliver much in the way of spectral activity, some are truly frightening.  The ninth season premiere, which aired on 15 February, 2014, featured an investigation of the David Oman mansion, in Hollywood, California.  The house, located in Benedict Canyon, at 10050 Cielo Drive, is built on the location of one of the most infamous crimes of the 20th Century … the Manson family murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, and three others in the early morning hours of 9 August, 1969.  The original house was torn down in the 1990s, and the current home was subsequently built by producer David Oman.  Soon after the home was built strange events began to occur, and Oman soon came to realize that he had inherited some, tenants, from the former home.  The Ghost Adventures Crew had one of their most terrifying investigations to date in that house, and while I’ll do nothing to reveal any spoilers, I will say this much:  While I would love to join in with the GAC on one of their adventures, and would enjoy touring many of the locations they have visited, you couldn't pay me to visit the Oman house … even in the daylight.

I’ve only touched upon a few of the paranormal television series that currently populate the cable landscape, and more are sure to come.  The occult and the paranormal have always drawn an audience, and that isn't likely to change now.  Also not likely to change is the cable networks willingness to profit from it.

Unimonster's Drive-In Classics - Roger Corman’s Cult Classics—Nurses Collection Box Set: Candy Stripe Nurses; Night Call Nurses; Private Duty Nurses; The Young Nurses

Title:  Roger Corman’s Cult Classics—Nurses Collection Box Set: Candy Stripe Nurses; Night Call Nurses; Private Duty Nurses; The Young Nurses

Year of Release—Film:  1974; 1972; 1971; 1973

Year of Release—DVD:  2012

DVD Label:  Shout! Factory

Reviewer:  Unimonster

Anyone who is a fan of the CBS comedy series How I Met Your Mother is familiar with the theory expounded by Barney Stinson, played by Neil Patrick Harris, that in every era there is a profession towards which hot young women naturally gravitate.  In the early 1970s, there were two such professions—stewardesses (not flight attendants, that would come later), and nursesAnd true to form, both professions were frequently the subject of Exploitation films.

Roger Corman, the master of the low-budget movie, was never one to miss a trend, and often initiated them.  Such was the case when his newly formed New World Pictures chose as its first release in 1970 The Student Nurses, directed by Stephanie Rothman.  The movie did well enough to lead Corman to produce at least four more such films, and in 2012 these four were released in another of Shout! Factory’s excellent series of Roger Corman’s Cult Classics DVD sets.

Corman’s formula for these films was a simple one—take three or four beautiful young nurses, give each a plotline to follow, which would typically be something trendy or politically topical.  One girl would be the sweetheart, either innocent or slutty, looking for Mr. Right, or just Mr. Right Now.  One would be highly intelligent, usually more so than the doctors, and anxious to prove it; and the third girl would be the radical, representing the liberal feminist and racial themes that were close to both Cormans’—Roger and his wife Julie, who was producer on these movies—hearts.  Stir in generous helpings of sex, nudity, and action, and these movies were guaranteed box-office gold.

Private Duty Nurses (1971)

The earliest film in the set (one wishes that The Student Nurses had been included); this was the weakest of the four films, in my opinion.  It lacks many of the elements that one would expect to find in this kind of movie, namely copious amounts of female nudity, some measure of humor, and any semblance of a coherent plot—much less three of them.

Written and directed by George Armitage, what story there is in the movie is focused on the male counterparts to our three leading ladies—Spring (Kathy Cannon), who gets involved with a Vietnam vet with a death wish; Lynn (Pegi Boucher), who falls for a married ambulance attendant whom she meets when she finds a dead body on the beach; and Lola (Joyce Williams), who is dating a black doctor who’s the victim of discriminatory practices at the hospital where the girls work.

In the hands of a more competent director, there’s enough meat on these bones to flesh out a decent movie.  However, the women in the cast are given little to do except stand in the background, look pretty, listen to the men speak their lines, and (not nearly enough to save this movie) take their clothes off.  Not only does the lack of focus on the titular leads hurt this movie, but it’s by far the most political of the films, with the viewer constantly pummeled by the big three of the early 1970s causes—Vietnam, Racial Unrest, and the Environment.  That couldn't have been very entertaining in 1971; it definitely isn't now.

Night Call Nurses (1972)

Following on the heels of Private Duty Nurses, Jonathan Kaplan’s Night Call Nurses corrected some of the flaws present in the earlier film.  Kaplan, who was recommended to the Cormans by Martin Scorsese, was given a great degree of freedom by Corman.  He was allowed to rewrite the script, cast the movie, and edit the finished product—a massive amount of responsibility for a 25-year-old making his directorial debut.  The only part that was cast when Kaplan came on board was that of Janis, to be played by Alana Collins, the future former Mrs. George Hamilton and Rod Stewart—not at the same time.

Barbara (Patti T. Byrne), Sandra (Mittie Lawrence), and Janis are nurses in a psychiatric ward at an inner-city hospital.  Innocent young Barbara, under pressure from her boyfriend to conquer her sexual hang-ups and consummate their relationship, is seeing a sex therapist (Clint Kimbrough, who a year later would direct The Young Nurses) who has an unprofessional interest in the girl.  She soon becomes aware that she is being stalked—by a mysterious figure in a nurse’s uniform.

Janis, meanwhile, has become infatuated with a truck driver who has been in the hospital treating his addiction to amphetamine.  He claims that he only takes it in order to do his job, and that without it he can’t meet his schedules.  She takes him under her care—in more ways than one.

While this has been taking place, Sandra has been approached by a black militant seeking to get a message through to the leader of his movement, currently in the hospital’s jail ward after an alleged suicide attempt in prison.  At first resistant, Sandra soon becomes embroiled in a plan to free the prisoner.

Narrowly losing out to Candy Stripe Nurses as the best of Corman’s ‘Nurse’ films, despite having a weaker cast and script, the movie’s quality, what there is of it, can be ascribed to Kaplan’s ability as director.  The only one of the four featured in this set to have success as a mainstream filmmaker, Kaplan directed Jodie Foster in her Best Actress Oscar-winning role as Sarah Tobias in 1988’s The Accused.

The Young Nurses (1973)

When the first camera shot post-opening credits is a lovely young blonde sunning herself topless on a sailboat, you know that whatever else The Young Nurses is going to be, a thought-provoking, sensitive, intellectual study of the day-to-day lives of medical professionals it isn’t.  Directed by Clint Kimbrough, a long-time member of Corman’s stock company, The Young Nurses is pure exploitation; what plot exists is there solely by chance, and is for the most part too convoluted to engender any interest on the part of the viewer.

Three young nurses (despite there being four women on the poster, there were only three female leads … Corman’s ‘Nurse’ posters always featured an extra nurse) work at the only hospital to seemingly have an attached marina.  Kitty (Jean Manson), the beautiful blonde mentioned above, rescues then falls in love with a young man who managed to fall overboard from his boat while ogling her sunbathing.  Joanne (Ashley Porter), a brilliant nurse, believes she knows more than half the doctors on staff—and doesn’t hesitate to act like it.  And Michelle (Angela Gibbs) is hot on the trail of pushers who are flooding the streets with a deadly new drug.  That’s it … that’s the script.  The rest is filler—nurses getting naked on cue, the obligatory bumbling doctors, actors who either overplay or underplay every scene, and just enough nudity, sex and action to make it all fun.

The only bright points in the film are the performance of Allan Arbus as Dr. Krebs, and the final on-screen appearance of Mantan Moreland (billed as Man Tan Moreland) in a cameo role.  Arbus, best remembered as Dr. Sidney Freedman, the wise-cracking psychiatrist from the TV series M*A*S*H, is clearly the only member of the cast present for his acting ability.  Moreland, whose career began in the era of segregated films in the 1930s, had his most memorable role as Birmingham Brown in the series of Charlie Chan movies produced by Monogram Pictures in the mid-1940s.

All that being said, The Young Nurses does what it’s supposed to do.  It just doesn’t go overboard doing it … I know, I apologize.

Candy Stripe Nurses (1974)

The end of Corman’s ‘Nurse’ cycle was also the best of the series, Alan Holleb’s Candy Stripe Nurses.  Providing just the right balance of sex, plot, action and humor, and starring the queen of sexploitation films in the early ‘70s, Candice Rialson, Candy Stripe Nurses manages to be entertaining on a number of levels.

The film follows the exploits of three ‘candy-stripers’, young women who volunteer as nurses at a big city hospital.  Each girl has her own motives for volunteering:  Sandy (Rialson) simply wants to be close to her doctor boyfriend (as well as several of her patients); Dianne (Robin Mattson) sees it as the first step on her way to becoming a doctor; and Marisa (Maria Rojo), was ordered to volunteer as a consequence of attacking a teacher at her school.  The trio each finds a challenge to their talents, medical and otherwise.  Sandy works her way into the hospital’s sex clinic as a receptionist, a position which she uses to meet up with a famous rock and roll star who’s suffering, in the pre-Viagra 1970s, from an embarrassing lack of, um … enthusiasm, for his groupies.

Dianne falls in love with a basketball player who was admitted with what she believes were the symptoms of a drug overdose, but no one believes her, especially when the blood test comes back negative.  And Marisa takes up the cause of a young man in the prison ward, charged with robbing a gas station.  Only he swears to her that he is innocent.

The three plots are well-managed, and Holleb keeps things from becoming too tangled and confusing.  It’s not high art, but then what Corman film is?  It does the job, providing an hour and twenty minutes of mindless entertainment while munching popcorn.  That’s what it was intended to do in 1974, and it still does it today.

Killer Shrimp, Demon Bats, Geese….AND RIFFS!

On April 1st, 2014 humankind’s sense of humor was given a wonderful gift.  The National Geographic Channel and the guys from RiffTrax (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett) got together for some nature, nit-picking, and riffs galore!  I’ve always loved when the guys voiced animals.  To me, it’s hilarious.  Three shows were chosen, and I have broken the shows into tasty nuggets so that maybe you may wish to go and purchase the riffs (links provided at the end of the article) and ENCOURAGE NGC to have our laughing boys do some more shows.  So without further delay, I bring you TOTAL RIFF OFF!!!

Show #1 – Killer Shrimp n’ Friends – This show is simply a bunch of different naughty animals and their rather enthusiastic storytellers.

Karen (VERY EXCITED): Watch out when Mantis meets mantis
Mike: Dial it back lady you’re talking about shrimp

Narrator:  it’s designed to kill fish but it can take out people
Mike:  Vengeance for centuries of escargot-eating

Narrator: On today’s menu lizards hidden under the bark of the tree…
Bill:  Plus endless salad bar

The final scene with the honey badger ends with a juvenile devouring a rodent, “Let’s see those pansies at Meerkat Manor deal with something like this,” Mike exclaims.

Dr. Ehrlicman: …We did see a tag that was protruding from her rectum
Mike:  We then discovered she was a stuffed animal

The narrator here sounds SO MUCH like Mike, it isn't even funny … well … I guess it is particularly when one tries to imagine Mike narrating straight-face a story about a dog who eats a teenage girl’s thong underwear and has to have them (yeah … as in more than one) surgically removed.

This is the story of Sally the Seal who was domesticated by a kindly vet and could not readjust to a normal life.  They become really close, the vet opens a seal sanctuary, and eventually Sally dies.

Miriam:  He decided to bury Sally behind the house
Bill:  Next to Old Yeller and Bambi’s Mom.

Narrator:  You don’t usually think of a bird as being a killer…
Kevin:  Unless you’re Alfred Hitchcock.

Most of the animals were described as “badass,” some even “bad@$$.”  The adjective was used SO often that the show could have been renamed, BAD@$$ Animals. 

Respect the cassowary….

Koala’s are lazy and disgusting, especially the babies.  I shall NOT go into much detail here, just look up the word “pap” and that should tell you more than you need to know about Koalas—EWWWWW.

Karen “Doc” Halligan was the MOST annoying of all the NatGeo narrators/spokespeople.  She could have been riffed on her own.

Narrator:  Tasmanian Devils steal food … even from people.
Kevin:  They’re probably stealing from you RIGHT NOW!!

More animals get introduced during the closing credits to Bill’s protests, “STOP INTRODUCING THINGS!!”  They are so good with animal riffs, some of my favorites.

Show #2 – Demon Bat
This show centers on a greasy-haired guy searching for the Demon Bat in Mexico among people who do not want to be filmed.  “Also, you may not want to say you’re hunting for a killer bat if you don’t want the entire village to point and laugh at you.”  (Kevin)  “These people even have their OWN language,” adventurer guy boasts.  “It’s called SPANISH, or something like that.”(Bill).

After some theatrics and hullabaloo with the local shaman he makes his way to the … batcave … ahem.  [ASIDE:  This show reminded me of Geraldo Rivera’s failed attempt to show what was in one of Al Capone’s vaults.  We now return to our show.]  Our hero approaches the “monster’s lair.”  “He says the same thing when he goes to the post office.”  (Mike)  After going through a tortuous and arduous journey through the cave of treacherous conditions with plenty of guano, he shouts, “That looks like a bat!”  “Should’ve brought someone who has at least seen a bat.”  (Mike)  For some reason he switches gears to go elsewhere.  Ah, those crazy Mayans and their crazy bats.  Our intrepid explorer braves high water, washed out roads, red ants, and the locals to find something … ANYTHING … that resembles a demon bat.  He gets advice from a native.  “He just gave him directions to his crazy uncle’s machete-murder barn” (Mike).

Our traveler loses his guide, so he is on his own.  “All historical research based on Indiana Jones movies” (Kevin).  “If he wanted to be under the shadow of some bat-like god, he should have gone to a KISS concert.”  (Bill)  Twenty-one minutes into the show, we get to see FRUIT BATS!!  Our guy takes a picture of some carvings and finally hits pay dirt, according to some knowledgeable advisor.  “This is a cave, if I were a bat, I would live here,” he proudly states.  “If he was a bat, he’d fly straight into a bug zapper” (Bill).  Finally, half-way through the show – WE SEE THE BATS!!  More … FRUIT-eating bats.  “And so we continued our search for things we weren't really looking for.”  (Bill) Our traveler interviews more scared villagers, and they talk about attacks on people and livestock.  The decision is made to set a bat trap. He finally catches a vampire bat, with “blood on its breath.”  “There’s hamburger on your breath, hypocrite.” (Mike)  He wants to learn more and there are three more minutes of show to kill.  “I smell a hippie somewhere.”  (Kevin, as a bat)  Thank goodness that horror is over.

“Nature, it’s GROSS!!”  (Kevin)

Show #3 – Guy and a Goose- This show’s theme centers on people and animals. We go from a goose to gators to a cadaver-seeking spaniel.

Dominic began getting stalked by a goose, named Maria.  “Turned out it was just Val Kilmer looking for work” (Mike).  We have several minutes of guy and goose, and a music video and a park rehab project ensue.  Through all this, a cycle wreck, and a trip to the zoo, we discover Maria is a MARIO.

Narrator:  Some where this story will have a happy ending.
Bill:  It will involve orange sauce.

We meet a gator removal crew probably in the Florida Everglades.  “You’ll never make a crocodile mile out of me, coppers!!”  (Kevin)  “Hang on, it sounds like a Seinfeld episode is tryin’ to start” (Mike).  “Still no shoes, huh?”  (Bill)  “That’s what the gator is for” (Mike).

Next up is a wild hog removal team checking traps.  “Hopefully enough for one baconator” (Kevin).  The crew decides to get more hands on.  “Chasing a feral pig, what could possibly go wrong?”  (Mike)

After a brief sidetrack to raccoons, our swamp crew returns to gators.  “Knowing alligators can kill him is what makes him a legend.”  (Kevin)  “Gator-trappin’ is mostly about the laughs.”  (Bill)  Throughout this segment we all learn why PAUL of the gator crew is a LEGEND.  I suspect he is also WINNING.

CADAVER DOGS:  Belgian Shepherd Malinois vs. Cocker Spaniel 
This segment centers on a business specializing in training cadaver dogs used in military and law enforcement situations and a customer, a contractor named Rodney, who has his heart set on a particular breed.

Owner: Rodney technically likes the Malinois, but I’m going to push a Cocker Spaniel on him.
Kevin:  And while he’s distracted by that, I’m going to slap him in the face with a pug.

They go through different cadaver scents (up to and INCLUDING actual body parts) to show how impressive the spaniel (named Bullwinkle) truly is.  “We've ALL murdered here, let’s be honest.”  (Kevin)  Bullwinkle gave a great performance.  “He smelt it AND found out who dealt it.”  (Mike)  Never fear folks, the Rodney and Bullwinkle Show WILL go on.

All in all, I really LOVED the RiffTrax/NatGeo collaboration on April 1st.  The shows have already aired again on NGC and are available at the links below for $4.99 per episode.  It’s definitely worth the laughs because there is so much more than I can capture in this article.  So please check it out, and write your cable providers, won’t you?  Thank you.




Trash Palace Dumpster--Bobbie's Best of the Bad: Tommy Wiseau's The Room (2003)

Title:  The Room

Year of Release—Film:  2003

Year of Release—DVD:  2005

DVD Label:  Self-Distributed

Reviewer:  Bobbie Culbertson

Tommy Wiseau's THE ROOM (2003)

Man loves woman.  Woman cheats on man with his best friend.  Man confronts cheating pair, and then kills self.  There! I just saved you 99 minutes of mind-numbing dialogue, bad editing, dodgy scripting and punishingly bad acting.  Then why, ten years after its release, is this movie still playing in theaters nation-wide?  That fact is as incomprehensible as is the film’s title, The Room.


Wealthy banker Johnny (played by writer / director / actor Tommy Wiseau) is engaged to be married to the beautiful Lisa (Juliette Danielle) but, unbeknownst to him, Lisa has the hots for his handsome best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero).  Lisa confides in her mother Claudette (Carolyn Minnott) that she secretly longs for Mark's affections but her materialist mother tells her to stick with Johnny because he can offer her a more luxurious life-style than Mark.  Mother also tells Lisa that she has breast cancer but that it "will probably go away" and the subject is never mentioned again.  Lisa goes back to Johnny and they make slow-motion love despite the glaring fact that Johnny seems to have little idea of how that actually works.
Johnny is also de facto foster father to teenage neighbor Denny (Phillip Haldiman), who is severely boundary-challenged and is not-so-secretly in love with Lisa.  Johnny, Mark and Denny like to toss around a football on the building's roof.  And in the Park.  And while wearing tuxedos.  Lisa seduces Mark and they make slow-motion love on the stairs.  Lisa declares her love for Mark but Mark keeps reminding her that Johnny is his best friend.  Johnny and his friends toss around the ol' pigskin some more.

Lisa comes up with a plot to get Johnny drunk in hopes that he will hit her and she can break the engagement but he does not so she lies and tells everyone Johnny hit her.  Johnny, becoming suspicious of Lisa's actions and lies, sets up a secret tape recorder that catches Mark and Lisa engaging in some serious phone sex.  Lisa lies to Johnny about being pregnant. Later at Johnny's surprise birthday party, Lisa once again seduces Mark but this time they are caught by Johnny.  Furious at this betrayal by the love of his life and his best friend, Johnny pulls out a gun and kills himself. Mark yells at Lisa that he will never love her and Denny, collapsing on Johnny's dead chest, inconsolably sobs as the sounds of sirens alarm in the distance.  The end.
Just the facts

Tommy Wiseau's thick Eastern European accent is so incomprehensible that many of the film's scenes had to be dubbed.  And even though he wrote the script, he needed cue cards to help him remember his lines.  It took 32 takes for him to say the lines "It's not true!  I did not hit her!  It's bullshit!  I did not!  Oh, hi Mark!”
The film's budget was $6,000,000.  Tommy fully financed the film using profits gained from his sidewalk kiosk businesses that sold knock-off Coach purses and designer jeans, although Tommy claims he got the money importing leather jackets from Korea.  Part of that budget ($5,000 a month) was spent on putting up a billboard for the movie on Hollywood Blvd. that stood for five years.  Drew Caffrey is credited as executive producer and casting agent, despite having died three years before production began.

Audience reception

The Room premiered on June 27, 2003 at the Laemmle Fairfax and Fallbrook theaters in Los Angeles.  Ticket buyers were given free CD's of the soundtrack.  It played for two weeks grossing only $1,800 before it was pulled.  During one showing, the lone audience member was 5secondflms' Michael Rousselet who found the film humorous and he encouraged friends to attend its final showing.  Word of a second Rocky Horror Picture Show began spreading as audience members dressed as their favorite characters, tossed around footballs and threw plastic spoons at the screen (in reference to a framed spoon that sat on the coffee table in the film).  Fans began emailing Wiseau demanding a return of the film to theater screens.  Thus was The Room born to midnight showings.  Celebrity fans include Paul Rudd, Davis Cross, Will Arnett and Patton Oswalt.  The film eventually gained national and international cult status with Wiseau occasionally showing up at a screening.  This movie, once described by Variety reviewer Scott Foundas as so bad many audience members demand their money back after 30 minutes, has inspired a video game, a book and a traveling stage show. It was released on DVD December 2005 and on Blu-ray December 2012.

In Conclusion:

While the likes of 5secondfilms' Michael Rousselet found The Room to be the next Rocky Horror Picture Show and championed that cause, before you rush to the film's official website http://www.theroommovie.com/ and plunk down $33.00 for a Blu-ray copy, be advised that this film is nothing like Rocky Horror Picture ShowThe Room might be fun at an alcohol-fueled midnight showing with its plastic spoon throwing and football tossing, but in the privacy of your home, it's about as far from fun as it gets!

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a lively film with music and dancing and a very strange if intriguing plot.  The Room is ... well ... boring!  While it might be fun for a short while trying to figure out what Johnny, with his thick and incomprehensible accent, is saying, that fun is fast-fleeting when you realize the acting is stiff and the plot nonexistent.  However, if my warning falls on deaf ears, save your money and go to a midnight showing.  Check your local paper for times and dates.  Who knows, Tommy Wiseau might be in attendance!