Film

Cinema of Shame

Sequel of Shame

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about an epic Facebook thread in which I asked my friends what were their cinematic guilty pleasures, and they told me—to the tune of nearly 300 comments, richly laden with movie gems that are equal parts terrible and wonderful. Because there were too many to talk about in a single story, I made mention of wanting to craft a Cinema of Shame series. In truth, I’m not sure I have the level of stamina such an undertaking would require, but I definitely have the energy for a sequel. Which could possibly become a trilogy. We’ll see how it goes.

But for now, here’s some more of the movies we love when no one’s looking, all of which were released during the 1980s, evidently the golden age of shame cinema.

Weekend at Bernie’s: This 1989 comedy was directed by Ted Kotcheff, the man who also gave us another entry on the Cinema of Shame list, Wake in Fright (one of the most messed-up movies I have ever seen—and I’ve spent 20 years working at an arthouse movie theater) as well as the OG Rambo movie, First Blood. It stars Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman, who are invited to the Hamptons by their boss (“played” by Terry Kiser), only to discover not only that he’s dead, but also that his company has been the subject of a massive fraud that the mafia is somehow involved in. Truly, I’m making it sound more interesting than it actually is as the plot is just a thin pretext for McCarthy and Silverman to haul their boss’ dead body around and get up to wacky high jinks. If memory serves, the body somehow never suffers from rigor mortis. I could be wrong about that, but it’s not like I’m going to watch the movie again to find out.

Battle Beyond the Stars: I was unfamiliar with this 1980 movie when my friend Steven suggested it, but since he knows his campy movies, I trust his lack of judgment. On paper, this so-called “space opera” has a pretty good pedigree: produced by B-movie master Roger Corman; written by the father of the indie film movement, John Sayles; score by John Horner, who won every award and accolade at least twice during his career; special effects by the master of the craft James Cameron; and based on The Magnificent Seven, which is based on Seven Samurai. So far, all good. Maybe things started to go wrong with the casting of Richard Thomas (aka John-Boy from The Waltons) as one of the leads. It’s tough to say because I’ve never seen it, but according to Steven, “It’s so bad I won’t show it to my 13-year-old son for fear of recrimination. But that doesn’t mean I won’t watch. Alone. In the dark.”

Xanadu: Several people mentioned Xanadu; therefore I am duty-bound to include it, even though Olivia Newton-John is the goddess that gave me Grease, which is still a fun watch as long as you don’t pay too close of attention to the lyrics, some of the themes and don’t think about John Travolta’s troubling allegiance to Scientology or the fact that he’d go on to star in other Cinema of Shame contenders such as Face/Off, Battlefield Earth, Swordfish, Wild Hogs, Old Dogs, and Gotti, which wasn’t on the list but should’ve been. At any rate, Xanadu is a musical fantasy in which Newton-John plays a muse sent to Earth to roller skate, fall in love with Michael Beck so he could have his film career killed by this movie, and perform at Xanadu, which is both a nightclub and her forbidden home. If it sounds like a mess, that’s because it’s a mess. According to my friend Ryan, upon rewatching, Xanadu no longer holds up. I’m not sure it ever did to begin with.

Enemy Mine: A friend from high school, Andrea, said, “I don’t know if it’s terrible, but I love the 1985 movie Enemy Mine. Which prompted me to ask, “Is that the one where aliens drink rotten milk to get drunk?” She responded, “It very well may be—it is the one where Dennis Quaid delivers Louis Gossett Jr.’s baby.” To clear up a few things: 1. Andrea did not know whether Enemy Mine qualifies as a “terrible” movie. It unequivocally does. 2. However, it is not the film in which aliens get drunk on rotten milk. That is Alien Nation, also a truly awful movie. 3. Yes indeed, Dennis Quaid does deliver Louis Gossett Jr.’s baby in Enemy Mine, and that pretty much tells you all you need to know.

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