Thursday, November 24, 2005

HAPPY TURKEY DAY: The Woodchuck Turkey Fest

My serious Thanksgiving Day morning posts are below (check 'em out), but here's my Turkey Day gift to you:

Excerpted from the ms. for the upcoming Black Coat Press book S.R. Bissette's Blur, my Thanksgiving of 1999 weekly newspaper video review column (November 23, 1999), which might give a few of you viewing ideas to counter the sports and TV parades. Per usual, please remember this was written for a family newspaper readership, not for die-hard movie buffs like most of you, so I couldn't assume the readership had ever heard of Ed Wood or any of the films following. Specifically, this was scribed for a Vermont newspaper audience, hence the "woodchuck" (local slang for, uh, locals) moniker and orientation.

So, dis-orient yourself accordingly, and read on.

Eat Hearty, me maties!:

Gobble! Gobble! Gobble! The Woodchuck Video Turkey Feast

You know, I reckon I like turkey as much as all the rest of you do, but come Thanksgiving weekend, I like other kinds of turkeys, too.

I’m talking turkey movies, and I don’t mean movies about turkeys. I mean turkeys, gobblers, braindead movies like Robot Monster that you might have caught on the late show when you were a kid, and they were so awful you thought you might have dreamt them, only you knew you hadn’t. Movies our parents used to dump us off at the matinee to see, back when theaters had matinees like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Little Red Riding Hood Versus the Monsters (being a woodchuck, I saw ‘em at the Strong and the Flynn up in Burlington), or once we had our licenses we drove ourselves to by the carload back when drive-ins were real drive-ins (ah, the Twin City drive-in on the Barre-Montpelier road!), showing double features like I Drink Your Blood and I Eat Your Skin (which reminds me about Marj’s favorite part of the table turkey, but never mind). I’m even talking about movies like Ishtar, Showgirls, and Hudson Hawk that cost more than every one of our whole lifetime’s incomes combined would equal, and still gobbled. Movies where you wonder if anyone on the set was awake enough to say, “Hey, this is really bad! Why are we making it?”

I’m talking Turkeys with a capital ‘T’. Movies so stupid, they’d stand there in the rain with their heads tipped up and fool mouths open till they drowned, if they actually were turkeys.

Here’s my list for this year’s Woodchuck Turkey Feast, specially cooked up for this weekend. Mind you, these are just my favorites -- no doubt, you’ve got a couple of gobblers near and dear to your own heart you can substitute as you wish. I reckon you could cobble together your own gobbler-fest in no time. Well, clear the table. Here’s they are, in no particular order:

* Fave-o-rite Woodchuck Butterball Turkey Classic: Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (1958) is the King Turkey, so bad it’s almost a religious experience. Plan 9 lives down to its reputation, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. If you’re wondering about ol’ Ed, check out Tim Burton’s bio-pic Ed Wood for the behind-the-scenes poop on this cheapjack wonder.

* Fave-o-rite Woodchuck Fast-Food Family Turkey: My neighbors used to go to McDonald’s for Thanksgiving, and this movie was made for them. Ronald McDonald liked Steven Spielberg’s E.T. so much, he ran out and made his own version, Mac and Me (1988). Only instead of one E.T., or just one product placement for Reesee’s Pieces, McDonald’s added a whole ding-dang family of cute li’l E.T. knock-offs, named the main one after a burger, and sent the li’l yippers zipping around about 90 minutes worth of product placements, including (of course) McDonald’s. It’s the definitive family product-placement movie, and it even leaves you choking on that little clump of snot you get in the back of your throat every time you eat a real Big Mac.

* Fave-o-rite Woodchuck Turkey All-Animal Epic: There’s only one true contender for this category, America’s first all-avian feature-length film, Bill and Coo (1947). The entire movie starred only birds -- parakeets, parrots, lovebirds, canaries, and their feathered friends, hopping and chirping around a whole teeny-tiny little bird town. Striking a blow for racial harmony everywhere, the villains were crows, which they refered to as “the Black Menace” throughout. This little slice of heaven won a special Academy Award for, um, being special, and it was written and directed by Dean Riesner, who went on to script Dirty Harry for Clint Eastwood, which proves, uh, I dunno, it’s a good thing they didn’t carry Magnums in the 1940s. The second all-avian feature-length film was, of course, Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973), which you might think a possible contender to this perch, but truth be told, it’s nary a pinfeather compared to Bill and Coo.

* Fave-o-rite Woodchuck Western Turkey: An all-bird cast is something to see, you betcha, but you haven’t lived until you’ve experienced the world’s one and only all-midget western, The Terror of Tiny Town (1938). It’s pretty standard oater fare, ‘cept all the cowboys and cowgirls and saddle-bums are midgets and dwarves who strut under saloon doors and ride the range on Shetland ponies, and they all sing songs, kinda like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers used to. Except, you know, with higher voices. And not as good. Gosh, I get misty-eyed just thinkin’ about it, and wish I could go to Texas -- until I think of the next film on the list:

* Fave-o-rite Woodchuck Vacation Turkey: Seeing as “manos” is Spanish for “hands,” Manos, the Hands of Fate (1966) actually means Hands, the Hands of Fate, which kinda makes you think, don’t it? A Texan manure-mogul made this movie about a couple and their daughter waylaid by a satanic backyard barbeque cult and Torgo, a stuttering idiot with big floppy knees. It’s just like a real vacation. First, they drive around for a long, long time, and then they drive around some more, and then they drive more, and they drive around again for a while, and not a damned thing happens. Then they find a claptrap fleapit in the middle of nowhere, and a weird little guy (Torgo) checks ‘em in. Then they lose their daughter while standing around in their hotel room arguing and she just up and steps out the door and damn, what d’ya know, she’s gone, they can’t find her. It’s real scarey, like Torgo’s knees or a bad plate of pulled pork.

* Fave-o-rite Woodchuck Flatlander Vacation Turkey: Alan Alda starred in, wrote, and directed The Four Seasons (1981), which everybody chuckled over back when it came out, though I didn’t care for it then, and like a crappy bottle of Boone’s Farm wine left in the cupboard, my attitude toward it has just turned to vinegar over the years. I hate it when Alan and his muckamuck friends from New Yawk show up in Stowe and proceed to do all kinds of bone-headed flatlander things, like wear embarrassing winter clothing and offend the waiters at restaurants and drive their four-wheeler out onto the ice, which of course breaks through and sucks the fool vehicle down. I was going to Johnson State College at the time, and the best jazz musicians in the school scored a cameo as bad jazz musicians playing at a Stowe club, which I thought demonstrated Alda’s contempt for all things Vermontian, save our skiing and scenery. Like I said, flatlander. Almost as bad as the time the makers of that Chevy Chase movie Funny Farm up and killed all the trees in the Townshend Green when they painted the summer leaves fall foliage colors.

* Fave-o-rite Woodchuck Turkey Musical Mashed-Potato Extravaganza: There’s lots of contenders for the top spud (Lost Horizon? Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? The Apple?? Xanadu???), but I save my sour cream and butter for that disco-era ‘tater tot Can’t Stop the Music (1980). I was always afraid of New York City until I saw this movie, and realized that, well, people are people everywhere, even if they sing and dance like spring peepers frying on an electric fence. The Village People were the big musical act here, Olympic Decathalon champ Bruce Jenner was the big star, and it was directed by visionary feminist filmmaker Nancy Walker -- y’know, Rosie, the lady who used to hustle Bounty paper towels on TV (“it’s the quicker picker-upper”). She musta been on some of them thar “picker-uppers” when she made this, and I ain’t talkin’ paper towels. NASA should fire this into space for other intelligent beings to observe and pass judgement on all mankind.

* Fave-o-rite Woodchuck 200-Ton Turkey Monster Movie: Speaking of firing things into space and intelligent beings, the Japanese bred a few contenders for this category, like the two-legged TV-antennaed semi-poultry monster The X from Outer Space, but I’ll forever keep a little light on in my soul for The Giant Claw (1957). This big turkey buzzard from outer space gobbles up trains, airplanes, and, in one unforgettable shot, little fellers wearing parachutes. Come Thanksgiving, I like a big bird, but this one makes you think twice. It’s supposed to be scary, but it looks like a refugee from a Dr. Seuss book and it’s a puppet -- you can see the strings and everything! In one stirring flash of political insight, the turkey monster pecks away a hunk of the United Nations building, which, come to think of it, may be why our country still hasn’t paid its U.N. dues. The movie itself is vintage Grade-A USA turkey, but the giant muppet turkey was actually made in Mexico, anticipating the great benefits the NAFTA treaty brought our way and the blessedly cheap slave labor corporate America has come to depend on.

* Fave-o-rite Woodchuck 200-Pound Turkey Monster Movie: None of you have ever heard of it, I’m sure, which proves that God does exist, but Blood Freak (1972) was filmed in Florida, which is the strongest argument I can possibly offer for my decision to never, ever move to Florida, even though my parents and sister did. I’ll take the snow, thank ye. Anyhoot, Blood Freak really is a turkey monster movie, in that the monster is a turkey, or a turkey-man. You see, he’s a screwed-up biker who wants to do right and quit dope and he falls for a born-again Jesus-preachin’ woman, but a Food-and-Drug researcher slips him a dose of something that, well, turns him into a big turkey, or rather a guy with a big fake turkey head over his own, which makes him kill, though I don’t know why. My friend Muskie raises turkeys up around Chester, and his turkeys never do anything but eat and crap and gobble and peck at each other, but this turkey is just plain mean. He needs junkie’s blood, which they just don’t sell at the feed store. The film’s narrator chain-smokes throughout and coughs his fool brains out. This is an important film, really, being the only anti-FDA-anti-drug-anti-smoking-pro-Christian-biker-splatter-turkey-monster movie ever made. Ever. And that surely counts for something.

* Woodchuck-Pick-of-the-Litter Holiday-Musical Turkey: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964). The title really says it all -- I mean, Santa really does conquer the Martians, who, being Grinch-colored, try to steal Xmas -- though I should also warn you that li’l Pia Zadora made her debut in green-face as one of the martian rugrats here, and the lame-o song “Hooray for Santa Claus!” will forever blight your Xmas memories. Why do we know or care about Pia, anyway? She never could act or sing -- I mean, how did she ever become a pseudo-celebrity?

Pardon me, I gotta go take a Pia.
See ya around Christmas time.
Oh, and I'll add this to my Thanksgiving greeting to you all this morning (below) -- this is a Thanksgiving Day Message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, compliments of my amigo in Jamiaca, VT, HomeyM:

We are all here on this planet, as it were, as tourists. None of us can live here forever. The longest we might live is a hundred years. So whiile we are here we should try to have a good heart and to make something positive and useful of our lives.

   Whether we live just a few years or a whole century, it would be truly regrettable and sad if were were to spend that time aggravating the problems that afflict other people, animals, and the environment. The most important thing is to be a good human being.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, one and all ...

I may or may not be posting in the next few hours, so here's my best wishes to all of you today.

Much to be thankful for -- personally, the fact that both my now-adult children, Maia and Daniel, will be joining Marj and I and our friends and family this afternoon for the holiday meal is a blessing I could not have imagined possible last year at this time. This makes it a particularly special Thanksgiving for me, and a blessing for which I am deeply thankful.

May you all have the best possible Thanksgiving, and may you have many of your own blessings for which to celebrate the day.

Drive carefully, eat hearty, enjoy the gathering (however mighty or meager), and sleep well.