Friday, October 14, 2005

Old Man Flapping His Gums About Old Shit

Among the joys of the early videocassette revolution were the videos my old amigo Jack Venooker would mail me of USA Network's late-night program Night Flight. My memory is (though I can't confirm this at the time of this writing) that Night Flight slightly pre-dated MTV, but they were certainly contemporaries. Anyhoot, that's not relevent: Night Flight offered eclectic blends of music videos past (early sound era) and (circa the early 1980s) present, archival movie trailers, pre-Spike & Mike era outrageous animated shorts like JacMac and RadBoy GO! followed by a sequence from one of Russian animator Ladislas Starevich's silent or early sound stop-motion creations, and so on. It was a delightful mix which infrequently would dedicate the majority or an entirity of an evening to a single feature. This was rare, but always worth viewing.

Primary among the features I associate with Night Flight is Marius Penczner's endearingly maladroit paranoid tract I Was a Zombie for the FBI (1984), a long out-of-print and out-of-circulation curio from the Repo Man and Liquid Sky era. It's finally out on DVD from Rykodisc and Flashframe, and seen today offers a still-pretty-damned-entertaining artifact bridging 1960s "Men in Black" UFOlogy, The Blues Brothers, The X-Files and Men in Black (the crude comics series and upscale movie adaptations). In fact, I'd swear upon rescreening I Was a Zombie that the key X-Files writers/directors were acknowledging Penczner's minor cult gem amid the giddy stew of one of my fave episodes, "Jose Chung's From Outer Space": the crude clay-animation 'look' of the cyclopean alien monster glimpsed that episode's opener sure looks like kith & kin to Penczner's risible cellar-dwelling Z-beast.

And yessssss, there are zombies, but forget about Romero or Fulci: these are definitely sf hybrids of the forehead-stitched lobotomized Creature with the Atomic Brain category, refugees from some tacky Sam Katzman 1950s clunker, essential to the stew that is I Was a Zombie.

The Rykodisc release of I Was a Zombie for the FBI is a hoot and well worth picking up if you've a taste for these early-'80s revisionist genre opuses. Playing the "Joe Friday" manner of the FBI agents against the Chester Gould-like mania of alien-manipulated off-their-hinges escaped convicts The Brazzo Brothers, I Was a Zombie savors the deadpan fusion of (now, read carefully) 1970s-nostalgia-for-the-1950s, Cola Wars (I kid you not: alien infiltration of "the secret formula" for America's favorite softdrink is central to the plot), film noir hysterics, Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, and eruptions of cheesy gore and bemusing stop-motion monster effects (by Bob Friedstand). That it all hangs together is a miracle, but it does, though I can't dismiss the nostalgia factor in my enjoying this flick: had I not seen it in 1984, I must confess I'd probably be left scratching my head, wondering what this shit was all about.

Rykodisc sweetens the pot with audio commentary by director and co-writer Penczner, three 'making of' featurettes (including one highlighting the Z-beast), and a batch of deleted scenes.

The only way this could be better is if they'd added the dry-as-dirt trailor-trash alien-abduction satire (and beloved Night Flight fixture) Webb Wilder, Private Eye: The Saucer's Reign, which if memory serves was made by one Stephen Mims. God, I miss Webb Wilder.

The perfect antidote to the Brazzo Brothers, denied.

Last post of the weekend, sorry to say -- I'll be tied up until late in the day on Sunday. See you here then, OK?