Sunday, April 19, 2020

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street

(NR, Virgil Films, 99 mins., DVD release date: March 3, 2020)

SCREAM, QUEEN! MY NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET only feels like it has taken five years to complete to those who were in the know when it was originally conceived as “There Is No Jesse” for its initial crowd-funding campaign. For me, however, it feels like it double that time, a complete beginning-to-end decade.

It all began when I bought Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy on DVD way back in 2010. I was in my mid-twenties and still posting reviews on Epinions, so the review I did write and submit to the IMDb is lost to time now. Daniel Farrands, Thommy Hutson and Andrew Kasch did such a fantastic job in providing a thorough series rundown, yet the big draw for me was hearing about the first official sequel to Wes Craven's legendary slasher film. And the best surprise of all was the participation of the lead actor of Freddy's Revenge himself:

Full disclosure: I got to meet Mark Patton in 2014 at Texas Frightmare Weekend as part of a micro-reunion including himself, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Marshall Bell, and Jack Sholder. And then there was Crypticon Minnesota 2016, which had just Patton & Myers, but also some real bucket list personalities, among them Jill Schoelen, Suzanne Snyder, Thom Mathews, and Chris Mulkey. That TFW shindig inspired me to write about A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge on my blog in anticipation of the movie's 30th anniversary. If only October 2016, which was when I went to Crypticon, was a time when the pure elation I felt could overpower the madness that had lasted the entire year. But it was mere weeks away from the seismic cultural change that was going to end a merciless calendar year, in which there were so many blows to the gut, with the knockout hook.

And now it's 2020. The spring of the quarantine. Ever since I got to meet Mark Patton, I imagined getting to see the documentary about his quest for peace with the role that made him both a cult hero and an undeserving pariah would coincide with my own picking up of the pieces from what I pray is the end of a four-year shitshow. And I fear the worst is not over. That for as excited as I am to watch Patton relate his real life story, 2016 could last until 2024. I am not ready for that. As much as I adore my signed copies of Jesse's Lost Journal and the Scream, Queen! poster, as deep the well of respect I have had for Patton as speaker and activist ever since Never Sleep Again, for the inspiration I have received in 2014 that I am paying back once again now...

I might be running down the tunnel chasing that light for a just a bit longer.

I hope I don't have to keep writing these anxious preambles every go 'round. We now live in a world where Never Sleep Again co-director Daniel Farrands decided films like The Haunting of Sharon Tate and The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson were what the world needs the most. Point is, though things can get worse than they are, getting to buy Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street on Vudu (alongside Fat City and Moonstruck, no less) is one of the perks of social distancing.

To get across why I was jazzed about Scream, Queen! for so long, I have to transcribe a couple of quotes from Mark Patton that were featured on the second disc of outtakes from Never Sleep Again:

Hollywood is terribly homophobic, especially the homosexuals inside of Hollywood. They're the first to make fun of, to denigrate, to try to sabotage other gay people, especially gay actors...I think I would have been decimated, and I think the things about my gayness would have come out in the press in a really horrible way.”

The first half of Scream, Queen! elaborates on these statements with biographical detail. The Missouri-born Patton had a dream at age 4 that he was to be wed to a king, growing up comfortable with his sexual orientation even as he knew the dangers of rural prejudice. When he was 17, he left for New York City with little over $100 to his name, boarding in a hotel/brothel and lucking into a couple of national commercials (Big Red, Mountain Dew) before making it to Broadway. In Robert Altman's stage and screen adaptation of Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Mark Patton played Joe Qualley, who experiences that all-too-real brand of violent antipathy towards being seen as one of the girls. Swaying and snapping along to the McGuire Sisters' chart-topping cover of the doo-wop stalwart “Sincerely,” Joe is the male Disciple in a band of women who worship James Dean. But he soon disappears from McCarthy to escape from both bullying locals and his unrequited love, only to resurface 20 years later as the transsexual Joanne, the very name his tormentors bestowed upon him.

Emboldened by the rapturous audience reaction and welcoming professional/social environs of Manhattan, Mark Patton drove to Hollywood seeking equal opportunities. But renewing his five-year plan for the West Coast, what Patton goes through ends his acting career abruptly. In his present-day testimonials, Patton adamantly reminds straight and homosexual audiences that to be a gay performer in the mid-1980s was far from nurturing. You had to consent to a blood test in order to fully pass the audition once AIDS ballooned into a pandemic (Rock Hudson himself died a month before Freddy's Revenge premiered). Agents were telling you which clothes were acceptable with which to pass as a red-blooded American hetero. Religious fanatics and bigots spun an autoimmune virus into a stigma. Nobody was free to embrace their gayness in the public eye and gossip rags like the National Enquirer were invading many people's privacy looking to out them as such. Friends you had could turn up six months later looking like animate corpses, and if you heard nothing about them within a year, you assumed they were dead.

These were the horrors Mark Patton faced firsthand once he was cast as Jesse Walsh in the rushed-into-competion sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street (trivia: Patton screen tested for the role of Glen Lantz, Nancy Thompson's boyfriend, which went to a first-timer named Johnny Depp). Screenwriter David Chaskin's possession-oriented concept was approved by Bob Shaye when he and Wes Craven had their falling out, but despite a two-month refinement period, Patton says Chaskin's script was still being punched-up on the set. And what the writer seized on was an allegory that was close to the bone for the gay male community.

When I reviewed A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 in 2014, I really wanted to do it with fresher eyes. But the film's reputation is inescapable, as comment threads and clickbait articles and that 2010 documentary have branded it upon my psyche. Yes, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge appears to have been tricked out with a LOT of gay themes and codifiers. And though Robert Englund reprised his role (after some initial resistance), this sequel got swept under the rug like it was Halloween III, the source of ironic ribbing ever since it outperformed the original at the box office. We can laugh about the absurdity of it all today, but when the film came out, critics and patrons alike were noticing the exact same peculiarities. And what damaged Mark Patton was the fact that nobody wanted to accept responsibility for the gay subtext, thrusting (erm...) the burden onto the actor at the worst sociopolitical time. His handlers told him upfront that while he could carry a film, he couldn't act “straight” (like the two male leads of The Last American Virgin who basically played the same exact roles throughout the '80s and have since come out of the closet?) Chaskin pussyfooted around the intention of his gay subtext for years, and, inadvertently or not, threw Patton under the bus, claiming his acting completely heightened it. If that weren't enough, Patton's on-and-off partner, Dallas heartthrob Timothy Patrick Murphy, was a casualty of AIDS and passed away on December 6, 1988.

All I can say is that, well...”I Am Jesse.” I opened my article expressing my deepest fears for the future, and though I am now 36, I frequently feel like I am that sullen boy alone on the bus, trying to crack a window as we are heading towards the desert inferno.

Arlene Marechal & Heather Langenkamp's I Am Nancy (2011) was a slick indie documentary that documented a Final Girl as Woman, touring the convention circuit and asking intriguing questions about how we decided to make a creepy child molester in a dirty sweater and fedora an icon. Surely, Langenkamp's Nancy Thompson was the relatable hero who declared autonomy over her fate and vanquished Freddy at the end of Craven's film. We saw something similar in Lisa Wilcox's portrayal of Alice Johnson in the fourth and fifth entries. And say what you will about Freddy's Dead, but Lisa Zane as Maggie Burroughs, psychiatrist and Krueger brood herself, continued such an honorable precedent. Freddy's Revenge had that, too, in Kim Myers as Lisa Webber, but what made Lisa's survival so much more unique and urgent was the plight of Jesse Walsh. Jesse ends up killing his best male buddy, Ron Grady (Robert Rusler), before the cabana massacre and is madly trying to convince Lisa that he is powerless to stop Freddy's continued takeover of his body (“I got blood on my hands!”).

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street threads together tales of Patton's past life in Hollywood with the due resurgence of Freddy's Revenge fandom among young LGBTQ darlings who got their first glimpse of a gay bar the moment Jesse sleepwalked into the wrong place at the wrong time, beginning Freddy's rampage with the outrageous dispatching of Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell, whose bared buttocks was also an anomaly in slasher films). San Francisco drag legend Peaches Christ, fellow hostess Knate Higgins and University of Colorado Denver film studies professor Andrew Scahill provide articulated insight into the legacy of Freddy's Revenge, with Bill Nugent and Jeffrey Marcus helping to flesh out Patton's mid-1980s recollections. And the principal Freddy's Revenge cast/crew who I've mostly met in my own convention adventures, from director Jack Sholder to Robert Englund himself, are all refreshingly candid.

The beating heart of the story belongs to the criminally unsung Mark Patton, and for as generous as he is behind the booth, he is no less beautiful as he is pushing 60. Leaving the industry to become an interior decorator and live “off the grid,” Patton himself would be diagnosed as HIV-positive, and the stories of his troubled treatment (from a tuberculosis-related interference to the AZT regiment that was near fatal) keep the film further harrowing. Having controlled the virus, Patton headed down south to Puerto Vallarta to open up a Prada-esque business, met the Hispanic love of his life in Hector Morales and never looked back, until the makers of Never Sleep Again broke through to him.

The documentary builds to the meeting Patton has been long anticipating as a chance for closure, the one with David Chaskin himself, looking for straight (come on, John!) answers as to why Chaskin denied owning the gay elements he later claimed were intentional and a mea culpa for the hurtful things that were said on record about Patton. Somehow, the revival of Patton's purpose in life and desire to use his platform for the protection and instruction of the newer generation of gays feels resonant to all of us progressive genre nuts. And Chaskin himself, whom Jack Sholder believes Mark may be putting too much of an emotional premium on, does take into account Patton's perspective despite not living up to expectations. It's the ultimate feel-good ending, and it ends with a cute little nod to the famed Bob Shaye coda.

Since 2014, Patton has tipped his toes back into acting sporadically in genre fare, starting with Family Possessions (2016), where he co-starred with Sleepaway Camp cult queen Felissa Rose. Scream, Queen! does create a sense of empathy within the viewer which requires you to understand why Patton's integrity and health were once so painfully at risk. As I said before, the Mark Patton of the 2010s is a delightful, honest and sensitive soul. Credit Scream, Queen! directors Roman Chimenti & Tyler Jensen for molding the footage with emotional consistency, even if the sum of the quilt is less than the feel of the fabric. This duo's doc hits harder than both I Am Nancy and Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films combined, and if you think that's me being tickled a little too pink, understand too that we who have seen Freddy's Revenge know how Mark Patton screams. Now it's our turn.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Dangerous Curves + Hunk

I am writing a birthday present to myself today, as opposed my Amityville Murders article which I wrote out of deference for Diane Franklin. That's not to say I didn't enjoy something special in her honor, what with the recent vogue for social distancing having reactivated my feelings about the bodacious brunette I've been championing as both an influence and friend for six years. I subscribed to Amazon Prime so that I could enjoy a rare 1990s appearance by Franklin, credited under her married name, in an episode of USA's short-lived spin-off of 1987's acclaimed The Big Easy.

"The End of the World" (s02e011) starred Diane Franklin De Laurentis as Zoey Simone, a psychic who can see not in the future but the present, whom lead detective Remy (Tony Crane) brings in to locate his kidnapped partner, played by Leslie Bibb. Turns out a young male bomber has a grudge to settle against N'awlins on behalf of his corrupted sister, and after Bibb's Janine corners the suspect in a uniform company, the hunter becomes a hostage.

There was a lot of silly dialogue involving pigs and ribs, and I can't help but think "incel" about the main antagonist. Yet I smiled upon seeing Diane Franklin in something that I missed back when I was a mere preteen. This would've been first aired around the time I discovered Monique Junet, and as someone who is deathlessly enamored with Diane even in her late 50s, she makes me feel so happy.

Ditto Kimberley Kates, for that matter, who I caught up with in a couple of seductress roles after she made her splash opposite Diane in Bill &Ted's Excellent Adventure. I think of her just as fondly as one of the most beautiful women I've ever had to great fortune to speak to. There was one movie in which Kimberley plays a tart trophy wife who lusts after Jared Leto's pool boy, Highway, and another in which she is a bordello belle who sweetly relieves Stephen Dorff of his virginity as he tracks down his main obsession, an abducted Ami Dolenz, the film called Rescue Me. “Happy birthday, Fraser.”

Coincidentally, Rescue Me was a Cannon Film, released a decade after Diane Franklin made her debut in the company's Last American Virgin and after the split between Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. It starred none other than Michael "American Ninja" Dudikoff in a central role opposite Dorff, so it could've conceivably been a relic from the 1980s dusted off for the early 1990s. Diane Franklin and Kimberley Kates both have given me so much love that I will never see them as the ingenues of their initial acting days, and I cannot give back enough gratitude to either for the pleasure. I adore them as adults, and turning 36 only replenishes the honey pot. I know they did something wonderful for me recently, but in trying to rebuild the fractured confidence that's been lying around, I need to rediscover some humility.

But I also need to stay true to my own intelligence as I try to respect those of these two women. So I have to tell myself again that when it comes to the genre of movies Diane and Kimberely will be remembered for, I have a kind of blind spot. You see, movies like Rescue Me or The Last American Virgin exist in a sort of vacuum for someone born in 1984. Before American Pie, I grew up thinking of teen comedies as programming filler for the very same USA Networks which aired that episode of The Big Easy with thirty-something wife/mother Diane Franklin De Laurentis.

I mentioned it in regards to Kimberley's Mosquito-Man, the fact that there was once an after-hours cable block called USA Up All Night that was like Cinemax with censors. And if you watched it religiously, it was like an orphanage for all the mercenary youth-oriented films that were so insanely prolific throughout the 1980s. There were Marilyn Chambers and Linnea Quigley vehicles also in circulation, to be true, but I will always associate USA with Rhonda Shear and Hardbodies and others of that ilk, many of which were objectively even worse. It also reminded me that though the teen comedy assembly line sped up in 1985 to an absurd degree, it was still functional up until the end of the decade, with brand names like Crown International and Vestron Pictures.

Which brings me to HUNK (PG, Crown International Pictures, 102 mins., theatrical release: Mar. 6, 1987) and DANGEROUS CURVES (PG, Lightning Pictures/Vestron Video, 93 mins., video release: Feb. 1, 1989), two late 1980s flicks which bore those very distributors on their wrappers. I had only the vaguest possible memory of the latter thanks to my uncle's VHS collection (it was on the same tape with John Hughes' The Breakfast Club, as aired on The Movie Channel, and I never did rewind that cassette to the beginning to watch Dangerous Curves), and the former was mentioned on a Patreon bonus episode of the now-defunct "'80s All Over" podcast by Eric D. Snider, who had written a piece on it prior. Dangerous Curves is one of those films I struggled to remember just minutes after finishing it, and Hunk already has Snide Remarks written all over it.

As someone who harbors little to no nostalgia for the midnight snacks of his childhood, and whom doesn't even love The Last American Virgin as much as Diane Franklin herself let alone the modern online critic circle, I am not the authoritative voice one wants for trashy ol' teen movies. I mourned the passing of Louisa “Carmela” Moritz, but I'll be damned if I say you should watch Hot Chili just so you could remember her by that (the same applies for Joe Rubbo once he passes). Walter Chaw admitted to wearing out a VHS copy of My Chauffeur out of youthful infatuation, but Deborah Foreman couldn't save that flick for me, at all. There are even people who found Diane Franklin suitable masturbation material based off The Last American Virgin, which only makes me question its fan base and even Diane herself (who has repeatedly used the phrase “sex education” in her remembrances) harsher.

Not every teen movie needs to be Gregory's Girl, I understand, but I do have some prevailing standards. And if I hadn't made it clear from the start, I love the players even as I loathe the game. Hunk, for instance, actually has a very good lead performance from John Allen Nelson as the titular panty-melter, and unlike Eric D. Snider, I will give Nelson credit also for helping to burn Killer Klowns from Outer Space into my memory cells (he was Officer Dave, the third in the triangle between Grant Cramer's Mike and Suzanne Snyder's Debbie). Between both Hunk and Dangerous Curves, I also have to mention several luminaries, be they Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Avery Schreiber, and James Coco.

But I have to speak frankly about Dangerous Curves, which is as formulaic a teen comedy as a committee has ever conceived. It's a vessel for PG-rated cheesecake, undistinguished turns from overqualified actors (even Martha Quinn is too good for this) and as many then-contemporary teen film clichés one could cram into a 90-minute run time. A mismatched pair of collegiates, one studious, the other hedonistic, both bumbling clods? Check. Road trip to meet up with a girl? Check. Cherry red Porsche and Ferrari automobiles begging to be hijacked? The former car applies to the latter box, so this check was already cashed. Parade of swimsuit-clad babes? The movie is called Dangerous Curves, after all!

There are other easy boxes to tick off, but you can connect the dots already and deduce the film's plot all too easily. The studious boy, Chuck (Tate Donovan), is entrusted with driving a Porsche down to Lake Tahoe to ensure a prosperous career at Faciano Industries. CEO Louis Faciano (Robert Stack), friend of Chuck's dad from their 'Nam days, threatens Chuck with bodily harm if his daughter doesn't get her birthday convertible on time. Chuck's horndog buddy Wally (Grant Heslov), aka Mookie, aka Homey Boy, tags along as a necessary evil. One parking ticket at a Circle K later, Chuck loses the Porsche only to find it is the grand prize in a beauty pageant. Chuck and Wally scheme to retrieve it while mingling with the sexy talent, the awkward Chuck falling particularly for a supposed tomboy named Michelle (Danielle von Zerneck). Allies include a beach bum named Bam Bam (Robert Klein) and a depressive cabbie named Hector (Robert Romanus); foes include the sailing extortionist who seized the Porsche, Krevske (Leslie Nielsen) and the dotty pageant manager herself, Miss Reed (Elizabeth Ashley).

With a title like Dangerous Curves, I expected something sexier and livelier than the non-entity I had to watch. I was hoping to come across a Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry for the crowd who only want their License to Drive. No go. Everything that happens here is slavishly beholden to the instruction manual, yet the cake that has somehow baked itself deflates upon contact with the fork.

This is One Crazy Summer without Savage Steve Holland (or anybody who could cut a single one of its cast), Spring Break without Sean S. Cunningham (faint praise, indeed) and Risky Business after it has been dismantled beyond recognition by auto pirates. It makes no demands of Tate Donovan, fresh off SpaceCamp and rehearsing his later nerd role in Love Potion #9, or Danielle von Zerneck, fresh off La Bamba and soon to end her sadly nondescript acting career on a high note with 1995's Living in Oblivion. It casts Grant Heslov, soon to be George Clooney's partner in production, as the promising Curtis Armstrong/Fisher Stevens sidekick and strands him on the surf without a board. And as for the storied Mike Damone, the legendary host of Unsolved Mysteries, the king of Second City cut-ups, and the once and future Lt. Frank Drebin? Just keep adding up those checks, because the laughs are strictly on the one hand.

The only interesting thing I can say about Dangerous Curves, directed with sunshiny vacuousness by full-time cinematographer David Lewis and written by a trio of TV hacks, is that Valerie Breiman (She's Having a Baby, Casual Sex?), who plays Michelle's best friend Blake, got the inspiration to write and direct her own low-grade resort comedy immediately after this. That film was Going Overboard, which you may know marked the screen debut of some mensch by the name of Adam Sandface. I forget his real last name, I'm sorry. Didn't he make a movie recently about selling jewels? That was one of the best of 2019, I can attest to that. Shame that I can't place him beyond the first syllable.

Thank heavens for Hunk, a real American hero and not just in the Bud Light sense. Dangerous Curves reinforced my prejudices against the teen sex comedy as being as tasteful as used bubblegum and as beneficial as shooting guns in the air to kill off the Coronavirus. I may not have toilet paper at this time (those Charmin ads breaking up the viewing process are taunting me), but Hunk was as much a relief. Here is a bad movie with personality, as well as dialogue, satire, sentimentality, and many other things Dangerous Curves didn't have. Granted, the star power isn't as electric and the camera is shier in approaching too many strategically-covered nubile bodies (both these movies are tame as hell compared to the ones I've mentioned with Princesses Diane and Kimberley). Hunk is in the gutter but laughing at the weirdly-shaped clouds, which is a true sign of unforced amiability.

Hidden somewhere in the sculpted physique of John Allen Nelson is the mind of that sexy body's previous owner, Bradley Brinkman (Steve Levitt). The movie begins with Hunk (that's his actual name, Hunk Golden) cruising to a short-notice psychiatrist appointment and confessing to one Dr. Susan “Sunny” Graves (Rebeccah Bush) that he no longer wants to be The Stud, and that “time is running out” for poor Bradley and himself. The fantastical story of Bradley/Hunk is Faust updated for the Big Eighties, as a wimpy computer programmer makes the mistake of offering his soul for success and stature. First, Bradley is a victim of that old Weird Science, as his PC prints out a manifesto called "The Yuppie Program" that saves his job with Mr. Constantopolis (Avery Schreiber). He then blows his bonus on a rundown beach house in the resort community of Sea Spray, populated by the Beautiful People he wishes to become one of, as he brainstorms a follow-up to his supernatural runaway success.

Too hopeless for Charles Atlas to reform, Bradley finally meets at his dud of an open house party the literal dream woman who's been making the scene, O'Brien (Deborah Shelton). She is the emissary of Dr. D (James Coco), and has come to complete the transformation by offering Bradley a trial period, up until midnight after Labor Day, of an irresistible alter ego. The nebbish signs his contract via hypodermic pen and wakes up the next morning as Hunk Golden, complete with new accessories and a fortune to burn. After getting his own back against the volleyball-playing snobs who humiliated him while he was Bradley, Hunk is ready for the spoils of social victory, from a 24-hour metabolism to trend-setting fashion choices and, of course, a sex drive ample enough to plow through the entire female populace of Sea Spray in a matter of weeks.

After conquering a sexy woman in a mermaid costume (Andrea Patrick), Hunk gets a rude awakening courtesy of Dr. D himself. If he doesn't want to revert back to Bradley's body, Hunk will have to agree to be the Devil's latest agent of chaos upon death and murder the entire community of Sea Spray on the way to starting the third world war. From this point on, the film plays out in linear time as Hunk and Sunny become out-of-office romantic interests. Hunk also becomes a media sensation after saving her life, although because he's still Bradley, he starts to regret and rebel against the spotlight further. It all culminates with a key to the city ceremony approaching that dreaded deadline, although it is certain that Hunk is a decent enough man to save his soul. But what will become of Sunny?

What gives Lawrence Bassoff's movie an edge over Dangerous Curves is the casting of both Bradley and Hunk. Steve Levitt has a junior Gene Wilder's visage and plays the dorky role refreshingly straight against the hyper-campy competition. The real surprise, however, is John Allen Nelson, who suggests Bruce Davison as a tanned and toned surfer dude. Here is a performer who has a little more to offer than the arch pretty boys and hangdog wisenheimers of your average teen flick, and Nelson projects a natural charisma and innate humor which never lets you forget that Bradley still exists. A dream sequence in which Bradley escapes from hell to reunite with his mortal body keeps the fantasy credible. Bassoff (Weekend Pass) is also more ambitious with his screenplay in terms of humor; references to Letterman, Geraldo Rivera and Chuck Norris are tossed off with aplomb if not consistent levels of laughter, and Nelson isn't too hunky that he can't deliver a prize line of dialogue or three:

"Sea Spray by night means the Sand Castle [bar]. The men are low on body fat. The women are high on themselves...and whatever else is going around."

"I finally meet a beautiful woman and she wants me to bomb Pearl Harbor. Talk about romantic."

"You know you've made it when your garbage is front-page news."

Game as he is, Nelson isn't allowed to upstage James Coco, who is clearly having a ball with his various mephistophelian guises in a posthumous performance (he died shortly before the film's release in March of 1987). Deborah Shelton is passable in her first role since Body Double, mainly because of the comic opportunities afforded her. Supporting performances by the actors playing the bullies and freaks of Sea Spray (i.e. Cynthia Szigeti as local busybody Chachka) are enthusiastic if not terribly memorable. The only role which I felt didn't work completely is the broad portrayal by Robert Morse of a Robin Leach caricature, a gratuitous flash of homophobia so brazen that he's actually named Gaylord.

Much like My Chauffeur, which was another Crown-brand exploitation comedy with a lead performer who deserved better (Deborah "Valley Girl" Foreman, herself), Hunk is at once engagingly high-spirited and regrettably lowbrow. Whereas David Beaird undercut the old-fashioned screwball airs of My Chauffeur with pointlessly vulgar elements, Lawrence Bassoff compromises the integrity of his own fairy tale with misjudged broad strokes. When Hunk gets down with a former candy stripe nurse named Laurel Springs (Melanie Vincz), the result isn't as titillating or as funny as it could be, a common predicament of vintage teen sex comedies. The PG rating is admirable at first because it suggests tactfulness, but the movie's limp swipes at yuppie idiosyncrasies are kid gloves poking your ribs. And your own personal tolerance for corn will ultimately determine whether you accept the time-honored morals this film reheats; unlike The Sure Thing, the journey isn't so unexpectedly charming to make up for the destination.

But there I go again, comparing wheat to chaff. Movies like Dangerous Curves and Hunk are not built for fawning retrospectives by discriminating film fans; they were meant for articles as small as the screens they eventually got the most saturation from. Letterboxd has proven that everyone's a critic nowadays, and again it reminds me just how frustrating it can be to devote your attention, serious or not, to what is essentially marshmallow spread. If I am lucky, a movie like Hunk at least has an endearing performance from an inexperienced actor and some genuine mirth; if not, I get movies like Dangerous Curves, which aren't worth an iota of your nostalgia even with so much proven talent. But just like in real life, you have to count your blessings, and at least you didn't have to read about my opinions of that truly horrible Adam Sandler movie from 1989.

Dear God, if anyone were responsible for killing off '80s nostalgia for me, it would be Shecky Moskowitz. At least Diane Franklin and Kimberley Kates will outlast all my worst memories of life and cinema.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

I Stay Home For... (A Pandemic-Induced Update)

This is John Bishop, and today I post something again that is straight from the heart at a time when we could all use a support system to help us through a global crisis. With the Coronavirus spreading and "social distancing" being an alarming norm. With many hygienic supplies dwindling and people struggling to make ends meet by going out into the world even with the risk of disease. With the virus being appropriated as a racist epithet by a known grifter with fascist tendencies and a country struggling to catch up with containing a disease that may have been properly foreseen in a better administration. With too much uncertainty and anxiety and hearsay, I make the choice to say "I stay home for..."

Well, the answer I would presume is that we stay home for society. Doctor ourselves so that we can go out into the world healthy if needed and keep extra safe whilst still having our heads screwed on. Soap up, sanitize up, sterilize, shower, and use our home-bound time wisely. Better ourselves in body and mind and immunity. But keep ourselves sensible and not lose touch with the people who give us inspiration in the physical world. Friends, family, role models, employees, choice strangers...there is no reason Coronavirus should be such a paranoid time to live through.

But I do understand that "I stay home for..." implies a level of love. And so I once again...and every time I mention this particular person, I have to strap myself in so that my trip to heaven doesn't become a disaster. I will be honoring two people this particular post whom have captured my heart to such a degree that I want to wish them all the safety and healthiness, but also as much devotion as I can give. For Diane Franklin AND Kimberley Kates, I salute both of you.

There was one thing I neglected to mention in the Amityville Murders review that could provide some psychological insight into the way 2016 brought my inner depression out to such a crippling, inescapable degree. I choose not to dwell too much on it because it was a nightmare I had that seemed to have become a horrific reality. But for the sake of honesty: after David Bowie died, a few days from then, I dreamed of Diane Franklin. Both she and I were teenagers living in a New York tenement, which is strange geographically considering Franklin herself was born in Plainview, NY. But this is no West Side Story or Endless Love, instead a purely innocent development of young friendship between a couple of latchkey kids who just so happened to be Diane and I. Sadly, the dream ends with dream teen Diane's family separating us by holing her up in the basement behind a brick wall. Setting her free and performing CPR doesn't stop Diane from asphyxiating to death in my arms.

I also remember coming out of the dream with my head buried in my pillow, struggling for breath in time with the suffocation of my dear friend. I nearly died in my sleep. I was so scared, I needed to tell someone the experience I had and pray for an avalanche of empathy. I don't even know if Diane Franklin in real life herself understands the impact that nightmare had on me going forward from there. I came to want to befriend Diane based on a happier dream I had in late 2012, but four years later, a blow was dealt that knocked me to my knees. And in 2020, I am still pretty much in a dark place looking for the miracle in which I regain a light that I need more than ever.

Of all the people I met from the bond formed with Diane, the best of them turned out to be her co-star from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure: Kimberley Kates. She stood by me even after my heart was so beaten and the future seemed so in doubt as to what would become of marvelous relationships and positive steps from the time between 2013-2015. I looked back at my old review of the movie she produced and starred in called Mosquito-Man, which I discovered at the Monsterpalooza where she and Diane were dressed in full princess regalia. I feel my heart warmed when I gave it a second glance, although there is one name in the review which I have to admit...that very person turned out to embody the polar opposite of my first time meeting Diane Franklin in 2013. It was embarrassing and degrading, and it ties into the whole Stockton mind-rape I discussed in the Amityville Murders preface.

And yet...I somehow managed to have a beautiful chat recently with Kimberley Kates that helped soothe a lot of residual pain and doubt which has made me shrink from social media platforms after the deep emotional wreckage I experienced. I was apoplectic when it came to the thought that time wasn't healing any wounds, that I was getting more lip service than consolation. I got such a soulful uplift from what Kimberley said to me that it was like true sunshine bursting through dark clouds. Both Diane and Kimberley have suggested that I write something like a novel or a proper story, but I was starved for inspiration outside of my one passion for writing specifically about movies.

If I have any story to tell, it'd likely be wrapped around my collection of autographs from these two women. But the Coronavirus is another in a long list of very real impediments that is reminding me of all the divides personal and political since 2016. In these times, I want to have people stay in my heart even as I am asked to stay home. So I want to offer Kimberley Kates and Diane Franklin both my warmest well wishes and gushing gratitude for the good they have done in my honor. I will present to you a couple of surviving pictures from my Texas Frightmare 2013 experience (I need to hope I can extract from old computer's internal hard drive a lot of other photos) and a few beautiful pictures of Kimberley and Diane together, including from the Pasadena and Lafayette events where I got to meet them both...I have a video link I will share of the Louisiana Comic Con.

With loving memories of Diane Franklin and Kimberley Kates, I sign off for now but will return hopefully with a Babysitter Wanted review and/or a binge watch of Olivia DeLaurentis & Sydney Heller's Apocalypse Goals.

Diane Franklin and I at Texas Frightmare Weekend 2013

Diane Franklin and Kimberely Kates (first photo is Monstepalooza in Pasadena, second the Louisiana Comic Con in Lafayette with Ernie Hudson and Laura Cayouette, both 2016, third is Christmas 2019)

Video I took from the Louisiana Comic Con:

Friday, February 28, 2020

Enchantéd: Nick DeLaurentis' GOOD BOY

Enchantéd: Nick DeLaurentis' GOOD BOY

It's getting tougher to write these days, if I can continue to use my platform for honesty's sake. Something about that last review just feels too candid for me to even think about, and I can't pretend that what I said isn't still plaguing my psyche in the worst way. I didn't feel compelled to go back to my Amityville Murders review. This was the kind of piece so close to my heart, it came together more effortlessly than I could have hoped. I wrote in one sitting, because it was so direct to the core of what has become of me. And even though Diane Franklin herself as well as English critic Kevin Matthews have typed their support, I'm too confused to persevere. Did I withdraw in disgust or am I merely surrendering to apathy? When someone like Diane believes I have a novel in me, does that kind of faith have a long term effect? What am I even trying to accomplish now that I have let distance rule my heart?

There aren't that many celebratory options for me as I approach 36, so I elected to make one that will take me out of my comfort zone and maybe prove as rewarding as the piece I did on Olivia DeLaurentis' short films, which like that last article about her mother came out of confronting death. In the case of Olivia's tribute, my father was the departed as opposed to the more recent death of my grandmother. But it's more than just the passing of family now that is fogging up my creative inspiration. It's the losses of certainty, of connections and of conviction. I'm flying blind as I try to do something I haven't done since I published all my work on the former Epinions site: I am going to write an album review.

I am talking about the debut LP of Diane Franklin's youngest child, Nick DeLaurentis, the young Jesse Holiday from Devon Bight & the Sensitive Boys and composer of that film's mock teen pop. In fact, I am going to repost the link to Olivia's short film on Vimeo and ask that you watch that please before I make the transition.

My knowledge of Devon Bright is the sole piece of context I have in regards to Nick DeLaurentis, unless I must also credit him with the orchestral cover songs sprinkled throughout Royal Effups. A classically-trained teenage musician, Nick is currently pursuing his passion in Chicago, based on the interview conducted by Christian Thorsberg over at Navy Peer. His first two Spotify singles, “Knowhere” and “Beauty Mark,” showed his skill at acoustic guitar, and both songs carry over to Good Boy, his admittedly introspective solo debut. Boundless if not restless, Nick is already contemplating his follow-up as a truer extension of his taste, less informed by the indie folk scene like Good Boy is. My biggest takeaway listening to the album is that, as the title implies, Good Boy is a young man's fresh start, one which asks encouragement as he accrues further experience and curiosity.

For now, Nick is acting on the instincts of the moment, so I look to the opening track “Bone Dance,” also the source of his inaugural music video, for a proper introduction. Closer to Emma Bull than Miley Cyrus, the lyrics remind me of Gotye's “Eyes Wide Open,” which could be construed as a troubled relationship lament either interpersonal or ecological in scope. For his song, Gotye fashioned a bass part by sampling percussive rhythms off a musical fence in Winton, Australia, whereas Nick DeLaurentis is on the beach, specifically Montrose, the faint sound of bowed strings conjuring a colony of seagulls in the sky. Finger snaps provide a skeletal rhythm, with acoustic tolls and scrapes pulling the song further away from the DOR urgency Gotye favored, yet still attaining an irresistible groove. The overtracked chorus, delivered Monk style, comes across as jarring given the softness in Nick's verse vocals: “Everyone I know plays god games, but they don't even pray.” As rats threaten to breed in charm bags and the instruments drop out for an Imogen Heap-esque coda (“30 years away/No prayers left to pray/Singing Amen”), I hope I'm hearing this particular observation correctly for the sake of levity: “The things you left behind, you think I won't discover/I give you Olive Garden, but you just want the butter.”

The “Bone Dance” video shows Nick being tortured by mirrors, but on his first single release, “Knowhere,” he seemed preternaturally doubtful against a coffeehouse bossa nova backdrop. “I want you to be happy/I want you to be kind,” he sings on “Bone Dance,” a sliver of light through overcast clouds. But the tentative steps towards the outside world on “Knowhere” offer no relief when “we are still trapped in the fire,” with worldly knowledge proving insubstantial in the end. A corny opening couplet which rhymes “plane” with “train,” not to mention one of the clumsiest chorus lead-ins I can recall (“And you could be the president of Cuba/I'll bet you think you are important, too, yah”), prove more twee than such an existential joke can bear. At least the version of “Knowhere” on Good Boy ends less bleakly than before, mitigating the insular anxiety and promising some joy in life's journey. 

Amidst the overtaxed empathy and sensory overload of “Chatter,” the album's peppiest track (with vocodized “blah blah blahs” for good measure), Nick gasps “I need peace!” but is generous enough to wish the same for his town and the planet in general. The hearth of family, luckily, helps Nick towards realizing it for a few lovely songs. The fondness of “Sweatshirt” could be dedicated to Diane DeLa...erm. Franklin, herself: “Some people play make believe/But I know it's all real after you leave/Your ghost by my side/Kissing me on the cheek.” On “Beauty Mark,” which opens once again with imagery of flames a la “Knowhere,” Nick sings “You twist my arm/I love you, anyways” in that rare “Just the Way You Are” ballad that references both the Phoenix and chocolate-covered marzipans in the same space. And Olivia DeLaurentis provides background vocals on the least foreboding love song in show, “Storage Space.”

“The Abstinence Dungeon” undercuts comically nervous portrayals of platonic affection with a blunt if faintly-sung “I would like to know how it feels to not be f***ing indecisive all the time,” and is way less insufferable for a Nice Guy anthem than “Treat You Better,” even without a lyric sheet (which I admittedly would appreciate: Nick sings like a young Steve Miller and gets overpowered easily in the mix). Nick's predilection for atmosphere resurfaces for the remaining songs, the title cut (which comes with an instrumental prelude and continues the beach ambiance from “Bone Dance” with Maui-style buoyancy) and the closing “Prelude to Dreams.” That last one seems sculpted from the indie folk cookie cutter, to be true, yet if Nick DeLaurentis chooses to embrace a fuller sound next time, this particular Good Boy will continue to listen patiently.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Enchantéd: The Amityville Murders (For Diane Franklin on her 58th birthday)

Enchantéd: A Retrospective Tribute to Diane Franklin

Part X: The Amityville Murders (2018)
(R, Skyline Entertainment)

Consider the following article my present to Diane Franklin on her 58th birthday. I have to admit that it took me longer than I hoped for to restart this tribute to the woman, if only because I've spent six years in a kind of existential limbo. Many unfortunate situations have befallen me ever since the nightmare year of 2016, and when I turned 30 a couple years prior, I had my first painful gut feeling about my future as a writer. For someone who has been trying to mature and give life to his dream craft, I observed too much regression and ignorance and insularity, and from all sides. People who I respected for their smarts or their hearts or even for just simple enthusiasm turned out to be closet nasties, with social media exposing their very hypocrisies and corruption.

Quality of life decreased sharply and didn't seem to improve as time went on. I had gotten to the point where the depression was too strong, and I left social media in 2016 for the purpose of clearing my head and then regarded what should have been a healthy return as a big mistake. I could not shake the continued realization of just how disgusted, disillusioned and discouraged I was in the company of two-faced acquaintances who were deadly smug in their noxious attitudes and behavior. I took a lot of abuse out on myself because I let myself take certain people seriously. Even when I tried to make it out in public, using an event in Stockton as an example, there was one certified cult icon who I met for the first time, but who confused me with someone else, someone he himself hated. I was in a bit of shell shock, and said simply, "I'm not that person." But the world around me had changed so much, that even if I was not that person, it was better to perceive and assume.

The event ended awfully for me, with one more supposed "friend" betraying me, although I had thicker skin at the time because I could see that he was a troll in male nurse's scrubs. He was a gay man living in Ceres, CA, with a partner who was critically ill, but also someone with misdirected emotions, and thus was susceptible to the worst kind of cult misanthropy. He was the kind of person who struck me as, to quote Maynard James Keenan, a "smiley glad hand with hidden agendas," and I desperately wanted to cut those people out of my life. I wonder sometimes if he has wizened up, but I don't dwell on it too much. It was just another disappointment in a long string of them, and I had to take another powder.

I was inconsolable for the most part, trying my damnedest to soldier on despite knowing full well that this sense of alienation was growing stronger. The longer I tried to keep a profile, the more I was seeing the very same smug piety in the people I was trying to present myself to. I came into film criticism and hoped it would resemble the "adulting" process: full of drudgery, to be true, but also ripe with discovery and people who would find similar joy in variety and expansion. It didn't happen that way: the internet is but a series of security blanket niche communities, unquestioning and repetitive and hardly as adventurous as I expected. I was seeing mediocrity or worse placed on pedestals, taken as ritual, damn near made the Golden Rule. And respectfully disagreeing, in the most tactful of comments, wasn't endearing me. I wanted to be as much a loudmouth as the next person, but I hated myself more for it, and my confidence was already depleting to near-nothing.

2016 set me on the path to a very clear epiphany, and it was this: I didn't want to be a part of any cults anymore. Even ones I was most active in, these communities were basically what Jello Biafra described in The Dead Kennedys' "Chickenshit Conformist," as "closed-minded, self-centered social clubs." Everything felt homogenized and trivialized and masturbatory to a breaking point, and the eternal misfit within me wanted to leave again. So I closed down my Twitter page, and further pruned Facebook to what was to be only my ten best high school friends. What happened to me is reminiscent of all that I found disreputable in the online environment, but there was no peace I could find. Everybody just wanted their egos stroked, and there was no such thing as genuine discourse.

There was one person who was caught in the emotional crossfire, and unforgivably so, given just how essential she meant to me for so long. Her name was Diane Franklin.

This photo was taken at the 2019 Los Angeles Hollywood Show, an event which I couldn't attend without the participation of my closest friend, John Grigg. Alas, he had moved to the Philippines soon after, and we now compare hardships through Messenger, although at least he had good reason to leave. In 2018, I lost my uncle to a heart attack brought on by prescription medicine. Almost a year later, I watched my grandmother succumb to dementia, having a fatal stroke on the day she was supposed to see a doctor. Even my pet chihuahua, a brown beauty named Rosie, couldn't survive because of a bum ticker. Unable to leave Mesa myself, I rented out the two empty rooms my departed family members occupied to a couple of Millennial manchildren, which means I get to hear the n-word frequently over nightly Xbox benders (to say nothing of the boring ass white boy cover of Sia's "Chandelier" played on a loop). And though I am out of touch with the online world now, I can't avoid hearing more tragic news about our best and brightest passing away. 2016 was a tough one to handle, but I have to dole out R.I.P.s no less frequently, be it for Scott Walker, Rutger Hauer, Roky Erickson, Daniel Johnston, Rip Torn, Rip Taylor, Ric Ocasek, Danny Aiello, Marie Fredriksson (from Roxette), and most recently, the titanic Neil Peart of Rush.

Even when I met Diane Franklin at that L.A. show, it was unavoidable that we would mention the departures of Louisa Moritz, who was the nympho Charo from The Last American Virgin, and James Ingram, the voice behind the Quincy Jones track “Just Once” which was used so much on that movie's soundtrack. I managed to rediscover an old SCTV episode, largely a network-based parody of The Godfather, where Ingram mimed that tune on Count Floyd's “3-D House of Beef,” ending with the singer getting his own in-your-face lampoon. The three members of Rush were no doubt fans of that great sketch comedy troupe, and I remember Geddy Lee made a reference to Mayor Tommy Shanks, played by the gone-but-never-forgotten John Candy, in a comical “dinner” short of their own. Canada, you're alright!

When Neil Peart wrote the lyrics to “Limelight,” a song from the perspective of a renowned musician “living in a fisheye lens,” he stressed the importance of barriers as a means of sanity. I put them up, Diane Franklin has put them up, it does work as long as you have a healthy perspective. Yet something stirred within me that I wonder what Peart would make of: this stranger suddenly made an honest-to-goodness, if not long-awaited, friend. Diane Franklin and I became great supporters of each other, and every piece I wrote about her movies are a testament to the genuine feelings I have towards Diane as a human being. And what I love about writing these is that I don't see Diane Franklin solely as an icon of the 1980s, though she is certainly packaged as that every time she makes a convention appearance or signs on to “'80s in the Sand.” I see her as a very talented and warm lady, compassionate and perky and droll and practical and playful and someone who is always a treat to talk to and spend time with. Given the parameters of our communication, I adore Diane Franklin with every fiber of my human being.

But I am out of the loop now, and it is a very melancholy development. For someone who was so excited about Diane's future, as well as that of her daughter Olivia DeLaurentis, cutting out social media not only limits my ability to network as a writer, but also leaves me cold to the endeavors of these two incredible women. Diane has so many upcoming roles to watch out for, and Olivia is still doing comedy with Sydney Heller and even getting her own feature film shot with producer Kimberley Kates, Diane's fellow princess from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. It also didn't help that switching computers last year resulted in a sudden crash upon file transference, which means a lot of convention photos, and ones of me and Olivia in the same room, now lie rotting on an internal hard drive. Kimberley, too...and Kimmy Robertson, Adrienne Barbeau, Marilyn Burns, Virginia Madsen, and so many others. Sometimes I am accused of being too hard on myself, but FML just the same.

All this needed to be said before I summon up my courage and allow myself the chance to watch THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS, which is Diane Franklin's first widely-distributed film role since not only Bill & Ted, but also How I Got Into College, and her performance in Savage Steve Holland's third film seems to have been her recurring character in the short films Diane produced for Olivia. In a few weeks to day I am starting this review, Diane Franklin will be turning 58. Soon, I will be 36. And yet I cannot stop following my heart when the route leads to Diane, because I cherish her beyond comprehension. This should create conflicts of interest, but I hope that I was sufficiently clear-eyed in my past pieces on her, and if you follow me on Letterboxd, you will know that I have been open about my opinions about her filmography.

As it stands, I gave four stars to what I consider my favorite Diane Franklin movie, and you will be surprised to learn that it is the made-for-TV Summer Girl. This is the performance for me that exemplifies all that is not only sexy but superb about Franklin's screen presence. There is so much range that she demonstrates, and I always get a kick out of seeing someone so gorgeous playing such a demented, diabolical villain. I hope for a remastered DVD release, so it will do some justice to cinematographer Fred Koenekamp, who in his prime did Francis Coppola's Patton and Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in the same year.

Better Off Dead and TerrorVision, the latter of which has what I think to be another great Diane Franklin performance, both were rated one notch below, so they were graded 3.5/5. Maybe it's the fact that I haven't watched Better Off Dead since the inauguration of our real life Roy Stalin, but for as big a fan I am of Holland's debut, and the film which made me fall in love with Diane Franklin as a boy, I just want people to realize that Rob Reiner's The Sure Thing, which launched John Cusack as a leading man, might possess an edge in terms of the onslaught of teen comedies from 1985. That phenomenally charming romantic comedy may not have the catchphrases and stoopid gags that are admittedly priceless in Better Off Dead, but it too had a heart and even better chemistry among Cusack & Zuniga.

Second Time Lucky (and Deadly Lessons, another two-star decision despite the fine Ally Sheedy and the late Bill Paxton in supporting roles) is where I start to feel less certain about Franklin's past work. It's too cute and unambitious for its own good, and maybe it does play like another transparent chance to admire Diane Franklin in the buff, but her Jean Harlow impression is too irresistible for me to write that one off completely. And I do cop some uncomplicated arousal from Franklin in that film, whereas both The Last American Virgin and Amityville II: The Possession, the films that introduced her to the world, are repellent in insidious ways. These are films that I find a lot of people condescend to in their appreciation, and watching Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films only made like Boaz Davidson's film less than I did when I was 19, initially giving it a cold two stars.

It's that abortion sequence, the camera ogling Diane Franklin as she removes her panties even as it pans up to Karen's scared face. And the cutaway to the pizza being sliced. That kind of tastelessness I don't find celebratory. If we can knock Sixteen Candles and Revenge of the Nerds for their dated and off-putting sexual politics, then I don't see why something equally sickening should be ignored. Furthermore, it's the films I watched later which confirmed my initial turn-offs to The Last American Virgin, and not just Davidson's first two homegrown sequels to Lemon Popsicle, the foreign film that people don't know was remade to be Franklin's inaugural cult classic. It was the coming-of-age cornerstone Summer of '42, which laid bare just how derivative the characterizations of the male leads and many of the sniggering sex gags truly were, and also John Duigan's 1987 film The Year My Voice Broke, which starred very young performers (including Aussie character actors Noah Taylor and Ben Mendelsohn) and was also a period piece like the original Lemon Popsicle, dealing with mad teenage infatuation and unrequited love. Yet it had all the graces (character development, comfortable silence, adults who weren't all dunces) Davidson forever lacked as a writer/director, and came across more honest than to be just another mean-spirited quickie pandering to its adolescent audience (“See it or be it,” indeed).

I can't say I anticipate a remake of The Last American Virgin. I get the hunch that the late James Ingram's soulful voice will be replaced by the overwrought crowing of Lewis Capaldi at the end. Blame it on one of my roommates playing “Someone You Loved” to absolute death already, but I can't call that song nowhere close as successful as “Just Once.” Quincy and Jimmy had Brill Building team Mann/Weill as composers, and they also wrote "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin.'" Even if Capaldi's song is on the nose enough to fit, it is not a particularly dignified expression of the particular form of heartbreak which capped off The Last American Virgin, and it's going to make the remake actively worse.

Which brings me to Amityville II: The Possession and, by proxy, THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS. You know, I am proud of the pieces that I wrote for Diane Franklin's 1982 flicks, because they weren't as overbearingly negative as they could have been. But I cannot bring myself to give either more than a 1.5/5. Let Siskel & Ebert be remembered for their unfairly scathing review of Better Off Dead, but also know that Gene elected that sequel (“or was it a prequel?”) as one of the Stinkers of 1982. And I get it more than I do his opinion on Better Off Dead. Compared to the rest of the series, its repulsiveness and opportunism and nihilism certainly makes it stand out compared to its slew of DTV successors. But oh, Diane Franklin does have a bit of a questionable legacy. I can still remember Rhett's observation from

“Sonny first flirts with his sister Patricia, then gets her to undress, then has sex with her, and then calls her a slut throughout the rest of the picture. It is incredibly uncomfortable viewing, and as if the clash between suspense-driven and effects-driven horror weren’t enough, the incest flavoring makes the film even more of a head-scratcher...As if it weren’t bad enough that Diane Franklin gets raped by her brother, it is also discovered late in the film that (surprise!) the priest was also leering for her virginal body. Between being leered at by her brother and priest in Amityville II, and impregnated by her irresponsible boyfriend in her other 1982 debut, The Last American Virgin, actress Diane Franklin may just be the teen queen of misogyny.”

Rhett's frank commentary on Diane Franklin's exploitation beginnings sounds like a Malcolm X speech compared to what a Bill Chambers or Jack Sommersby or even a Kim Newman would write, and it does have more truth. Besides, didn't Rick call Karen a whore in the library? The old virgin-whore dichotomy served up for hipsters aiming to one-up the old critics who once called a spade a spade. This ain't no party at all. And Diane Franklin deserved better, as Newman pointed out in his review of THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS.

(Save your TL;DRs, I'm about to transition here.)

Daniel Farrands is certainly an Amityville II fanboy, else why would Diane Franklin be coaxed into making her comeback in the very role Rutanya Alda played back when? There's even Burt Young, although our Anthony Montelli is now Paul Ben-Victor. It's on brand for Farrands, who along with partner Thommy Hutson bankrolled several comprehensive horror franchise retrospectives. In between their Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street exposés, they also produced an independent film called The Trouble With the Truth alongside its leading actress, Lea Thompson. And I recommend that film even if you never once lusted after Zoey Deutch's mom; it's a career-best performance, dialogue-driven but full of honest emotion and nuance, to match Lorraine Baines or Miss Amanda Jones.

I'm learning that Thommy Hutson in particular really loves the scream queens of his youth and has been doing them solids in the industry over and over. I never saw Prank, which was directed by Halloween 4 & 5 stars Danielle Harris (who gets to share the opening scene of The Trouble with the Truth with John Shea) & Ellie Cornell as well as Heather Langenkamp (I can only dream of doing for Diane Franklin what Hutson does for Langenkamp), but my positive response to Amanda Wyss in Hutson's own The Id is on record. And now Farrands in the position to make Diane Franklin come alive on the screen in such a fresh, fascinating way like Lea Thompson or Heather Langenkamp or Amanda Wyss. I am so pumped up that these women have starring/directing/producing roles that are revelatory in a way that proves you don't need only a Tarantino to reward their longevity and professionalism.

If you could imagine me shuffling my feet in the presence of Lea or Diane or Amanda, think of how I'm finally getting to THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS after Daniel Farrands unveiled his followups, The Haunting of Sharon Tate and The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. Then watch me turn and run. As Lionel Richie once sang: “Oh no.” I need to see The Final Interview or Waking Nightmare to reassure myself that there's such a thing as an up to go to.

Farrands takes off from the DeFeo family massacre just like Amityville II: The Possession did, but there have been differences made in the past 25 years besides Franklin aging enough to play the materfamilias. Dino De Laurentiis has given way to Jason Blum. We are no longer plagiarizing The Exorcist, but instead Paranormal Activity and its progeny. Computers do all the dirty work as opposed to technicians. But there are similarities to go with the changes. George Lutz remains a hoax perpetrator, and it's equally tough these days to entertain demonic possession as the catalyst for “Butch” DeFeo's homicidal mania. The more pressing reasons, particularly that toxic household of neurotic relatives, are reduced to caricature. And there's more speculation than immersion to be taken in; though callous incest is no longer a factor, there's a lot of shady mafia ties and dealings to provide non-credence to a claim from the real life Butch.

Farrands has, based on the uniform reception of his three directorial efforts, tried for an unholy mixture of morbid elements, perhaps bucking for that camp value dollar. There are authentic photos and phone calls from the documented tragedies buffering nods to conspiracy theories and conflicting 'n' shifting testimonies, an unappetizing Butterball which is then stuffed with slasher/spookshow conventions, all at store brand prices. Overheated acting cooks the bird, and indiscriminate horror enthusiasts are tasked with the feast. With THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS, at least, the pumpkin pie is served before dinner, as this marketing still will prove:

Hard as it is to believe, I don't have a pin-up of fifty-something Diane Franklin hanging on my walls, but the temptation to bust out the tacks is hard to fight. Diane is a naturally gorgeous guiding light, and I always will acknowledge that in the interest of friendship. But what about the performance behind the portrait?

She plays Louise DeFeo with an accent I haven't heard from her before, that of your atypical Italian-American from Long Island, a description you can levy upon the DeFeo family here. The grandparents are played by Burt Young and surprising fixture Lainie Kazan (My Favorite Year and Lust in the Dust), so she's in good company. The opening credits present home movie footage, narrated by teen daughter Dawn (Chelsea Ricketts) on her 18th birthday, and though it's clear this is a cutthroat clan in which the father, Ronnie Sr. (Paul Ben-Victor), aims to lord over everyone in orbit with brute force (even trying to dominate Burt Young, who is having none of it), these are comparatively peaceful times. The exposition even affords Kazan a chance to insult repressed Louise's recipe for marinara sauce ("It tastes like your father's old socks").

Dawn DeFeo is a far more normal girl than Patricia Montelli ever was, with a circle of friends she takes to the red room that was the childhood hiding place for she and her twin brother Ronnie Jr. (John Robinson), aka "Butch." Butch himself doesn't come across half as unwieldy as Sonny; he's relatably sullen and rich with shaggy facial hair that is authentic enough to support comparisons to George Lutz. The teens have their own séance in the red room with grandma Nona's book of black magic, and one of the loutish boys breaks the ice with an Exorcist reference. But Ronnie Sr. soon poops all over their party, and goes one further in his physical abuse of his son compared to Anthony Montelli, rolling his belt around his fist and socking Butch in the nose.

Farrands does these scenes far better than Damiani did, and the DeFeo dynamic cuts deeper than the Montellis' cruel fate, especially since Amityville II writer Tommy Lee Wallace can be too nihilistic in his horror efforts (including Halloween III). The performances by Ben-Victor, Robinson and Ricketts are also given more weight compared to Young, Jack Magner and even the younger Diane Franklin. But then Butch notices his father being paid off by some organized crime types, the first in a bizarre motif, and combined with the supernatural elements introduced earlier in the red room, the focus begins to zig and zag unsatisfactorily.

Butch begins hearing those familiar white noise whispers of evil, and while he's out in the pouring rain having sex in his birthday-gifted car with Donna (Rebekah Graf), he asks for a tab of acid and experiences a violent hallucination which causes him to kick Donna out of the car. It's like a twist on the way the demon from Amityville II assumed Patricia's form to accuse Adamsky of lechery. But then the camera pans up to that 112 Ocean Avenue architecture, with those lit rooms as staring eyes. And I have to admit, though it is an image to remember, I was getting a bit worried about the film's catchall ambiguity.

The next morning, Louise learns whilst collecting laundry that Butch has been kicked out of college. If that weren't enough, she comes across heroin paraphernalia and a diary full of ominous ink blots in Butch's nightstand. All the while, the house is creaking and sputtering like it's announcing complicity in these antisocial revelations; a pigeon even kamakazies itself against the door, and Louise is ready to bash it with a rock until it dies on its own. Cut to Halloween 1974. We get a fraction of time to know the youngest of the DeFeo children (one of the more undernourished aspects of the story) before sickly Butch is left alone with his demons and is presumed to have trashed the house, with the familiar inscription of "PIG" on a mirror and dad's dirty money missing from the safe.

THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS pursues this alternating structure I've attended to quite stoically, with scenes of domestic quarrel giving way to worn-out tropes involving Ouija boards, levitating bed sheets and creeping Steadicams. At some point, I wanted more for these very good actors to do than to just go through the same traveling roadshow haunted house. Even Diane Franklin herself, who makes Louise incredibly gorgeous even at her most dowdy. Her face has unmistakably aged, and it will come as a shock to those who idealized Diane's younger appearances, but it's a dignified and darling process in her case. The stage is set for the adult performance Diane Franklin never gave after leaving fickle showbiz at the start of the 1990s. But Louise is another relatively thankless role, her interactions with other characters mostly shows of fretful hysteria. Diane's innate charisma and playfulness kind of gets the shaft (even in Amityville II, there were moments where she grabbed your heart away from the sleaziness), and there is a potential for depth that is compromised. That regal portrait of Louise I showed earlier never rubs off on the script.

It takes 48 minutes before Butch finally picks up that shotgun for the first time, stirred by his dad's callous abuse of Dawn (she is bent over the kitchen table to make a lewd point to her “hippie” friends) and Louise (whose hands are scalded by boiling water and whose stomach takes a sharp elbowing). Daniel Farrands' slow burn approach is admittedly far superior to the Amityville II school of smash-and-grab plotting, and that outburst is followed by Louise's portentous monologue of togetherness ("I see the end coming. A terrible, beautiful end"). All of a sudden, Diane Franklin kills it, especially in the way Louise, who is ready to pack up and take the kids, calls out her pious husband for misplaced religious beliefs ("Butch is not the devil, he's your son!").

Dawn is also distressed enough to want to spirit her brother to safety, given that dad would rather send him to Bellevue. The $500,000 of lost mob money turns up as Butch slides further into dementia, walking around empty rooms as shadowy figures stalk him. We all know where this is going, and if the film wants to leave us with the visceral gut punch of the mass killings, the story needs to demonstrate economy. Instead, we get a loopy "last supper" from which Dawn is absent and the grisly visions keep negging him, his family coming across as refugees from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and escape being magically impossible. The film can't stop dawdling, producing a numbing effect that actively negates the real tensions that have kept the thin plot afloat. There are moments of psychological unease that needed to be drastically streamlined.

When the inevitable finally occurs, and those poor souls sleeping with their faces down get blown away, the result is sloppy. Louise dies with rosary clutched in hand, but the symbolism is unearned, and the pain I would've felt at the murder of Dawn DeFeo is equally undone. If it hasn't already been inferred, Farrands winds up with too much inconsistency that it undercuts his fascination with this true story, trying to stay true to the Amityville brand while reminding us that barbarism, indeed, begins at home. Thus, the true finale of the film is not the collage of vintage newsreels and photos of the DeFeos, but the introduction of the house to the Lutz family, thus handing over the mantle to a far more dubious reality.

It's all so much and yet too half-baked to digest. I felt the same way about The Last American Virgin, which couldn't square the overbearingly smug juvenile humor with the soppy attempt to humanize its teen cartoons. It just didn't really possess true integrity for that tonal shift, and I am left similarly puzzled by THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS. And I honestly believe Farrands to be the better filmmaker, too. I'm not anticipating the Sharon Tate and Nicole Brown Simpson movies by any measure, but I am thankful he didn't make such a travesty to compare with Amityville II: The Possession. His touch, however, is heavy-handed when compared to a movie like The Id, and more rigid in structure. It's not the CG phenomena or the rampant tackiness of its DTV-level period recreations that strains my critical eye. It's the poor form.

And thus I end up looking forward to Diane Franklin in the future once again. Given all that has gone wrong, chances are it'll be I stumble upon her next movie by serendipity, or at least I hope to given I disconnected from so many circles, hers included. I keep yearning for some kind of happy return, but the last time I tried, it was the bane of my battered soul. And it still haunts me. But Diane Franklin was never the problem, because her support has kept me going for the longest time. If this is to be my birthday present to a woman who values my friendship, I have to end it by wishing her a great 58 and to make one more wish for myself on April 3.

Diane Franklin, I hope to rediscover you through all this masquerade and somehow stay in a state of grace with you. I believe there's a ghost of a chance. R.I.P. Neil Peart, and Happy Birthday, Dear Diane.

(P.S. I hope those who get those that particular Rush reference will make the connection to Better Off Dead.)