Now Playing: Robyn Hitchcock--"The Bones In The Ground"
Anyone looking for a beyond-awesome experience this Saturday night should head down to the Elbow Room in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where the Tickled Fancy Burlesque Company will be holding court around 9 p.m. with its lovely ladies and gentlemen, as well as alternately stirring and amusing skits and performances.
Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare (1987): The brother told me about this one, also known, it seems, as The Edge of Hell (for the European market), and it went straight to the top of my Netflix. Rock band "The Tritonz," led by Jon (flaxen-mulleted bodybuilder and "Thor" frontman Jon-Mikl Thor), need some peace and quiet to make good on recordings for their record deal, and so their manager Phil takes them to an old farmhouse in Missisauga, Ontario, to lay down some tracks (although the location filming was actually done ion Markham, another Toronto suburb). When one of the band members complains of having to visit Canada, Jon, in the first of many dialogue glories, lauds Toronto's promotion of "the arts." The band's a motley mix of cartoonishly, possibly satirical newlyweds and horny singles (including an alternately Cockney and Australian drummer, judging from the accent and slang). It turns out, of course, that all isn't well in the farmhouse, and anyone interested in watching the movie should follow my brother's advice, stop reading now, and find the thing. The house is infested by demons who did away with the previous owners, and they pick off the band one by one until they have to come face to face with the enigmatic Jon, who confronts the ultimate evil in a magnificently ludicrous plot twist set to some perfect music (do you "accept the challenge?"). A little self-deprecating pomposity goes a long way, and some of the lines really have to be heard to be believed (this is arguably the greatest Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode never made; listen for the "electro-choir, Space Mutiny moments on the soundtrack), but the demons are fun and entertainingly designed, and have some amusing (and even creepy) moments. Thor is hardly the hack one might imagine (he produced and wrote the screenplay); he comes across as a likably goofy metalhead in the interviews on the DVD extras (who refreshingly seems to have a general idea of how far his talent extends), which include shocking footage of his 1976 appearance on The Merv Griffin Show covering a Sweet number. I drank a little too much last week, and so I decided to forgo the 40 of Pabst Blue Ribbon for which Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare positively shrieked. If anyone from Babs' is reading this, though, you could do a hell of a lot worse than show this one for "Movie Night Tuesday" (at which they do, in fact, have PBR 40s for $4.00).
Children of the Stones (1976): I haven't watched Nickelodeon since I was a kid, and when I was a kid, it was nearly entirely devoted to Canadian shows like Pinwheel and You Can't Do That On Television! (the network itself might have started out Canadian) and a few Commonwealth imports. Many of the latter premiered on these shores under the auspices of the series The Third Eye, featuring stories about kids with abnormal powers. Children of the Stones was without doubt the most memorable, with its creepy, possessed villagers and haunting, sinister sarsens, or standing stones, so famous from places like Stonehenge and Carnac. As it's now available on Region 1, I was curious to see how it stood up after thirty years (and two and a half decades after I'd seen it), and it's actually better than I remember. Made for British ITV (the assortment of regional companies, such as Thames, Granada, and Anglia, that function as a commercial counterpart to the publicly owned BBC--in this case, Harlech Television), the seven-part series was written by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray and directed by TV vet Peter Graham Scott, with episodes of adult shows like The Avengers and The Prisoner under his belt. Astrophysicist Adam Brake (Gareth Thomas, the future star of Blake's 7*) and his teenage son Matthew (Peter Demin) arrive in the bucolic village of Milbury in order to study the possible astronomical significance of the stones, and instantly find things to be a lot weirder than they'd imagined, especially afte rmeeting the mysterious local magnate (Iain Cuthbertson), Welsh poacher Dai (the great Freddie Jones), and (relative) fellow parent-child new arrivals Margaret (Veronica Strong) and Sandra (Katherine Levy). Children plays out like a combination of Doctor Who, The Wicker Man, Village of the Damned, The Quatermass Conclusion, and The Brady Bunch. The Who influence comes through in the striking mix of traditional horror and sci-fi that the plot manages, sometimes mystifyingly but always with enough plausibility to keep the story going; there are some really wild ideas flying around here. The cast is terrific, especially Demin, who the director didn't seem to praise very highly in the extras interview but who manages a very believable performance as an overachieving teenager that doesn't turn bratty or obnoxious. The relationships between the two parents and their children form just one of Children's strong points, especially as the two are often shown as equal in trying to solve the mystery of the village. Some might find the ending a little unsatisfying, but I suspect it was one of those "written into a corner" things with which I can sympathize (and it does work well with some of the show's themes). The wobbly nature of some of the sets and special effects actually adds to the sinister atmosphere, as does some of the innovative camerawork and moody lighting. The location filming in the Wiltshire village of Avebury, using its real-life standing stones, is an incalculable contribution to the series' success. Not far from Stonehenge, Avebury is arguably a cooler version of its more famous counterpart--older, less touristy (although apparently less so every day), and you can actually walk among the stones there. Of particular interest is Sydney Sager's almost entirely chanted musical score (with occasional 70s grooves), cranking the creep factor up to 11 and paying tribute to the stones' Neolithic builders. The thinking was that Neolithic peoples lacked what we would understand as "language" and communicated almost entirely by grunts or unformed sounds (my Neolithic knowledge is somewhat lacking, so I don't know if this theory is still widely credited). It's a great idea, and makes an unforgettable mark on a milestone in my personal visual education and Anglophone kids' TV that I'm happy to find still holds up over thirty years later.
* One of the best books I read last year was Junot Diaz' critically acclaimed The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, about a Dominican-American geek and sci-fi/fantasy fanatic who tries to find love and happiness while statying true to himself. Among many things to love about it--the haunting, sympathetic hero, the fascinating footnoted asides on Dominican history--it actually mentioned Blake's 7, which is awesome.