Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Andy Warhol’s Bad (1977)

Andy Warhol’s Bad (1977) is one of those films that is almost mythical to me (in terms of my own life and how I experienced it – not that I had heard great mythical stories about it). I stumbled onto it as a VHS rental decades ago. I had been exploring Andy Warhol’s filmography, starting with Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and Blood for Dracula (1974), of course. The VHS tapes showed up at my local video store and looked like something special. The boxes actually said Andy Warhol presents Dracula, and Andy Warhol presents Frankenstein. I read them as Andy Warhol’s Dracula and Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, which I swear some boxes actually said. 

VHS box for Andy Warhol's DraculaVHS box for Andy Warhol's Frankenstein

One of the first things that I discovered about these films, is that they were not directed by Andy Warhol. Some guy named Paul Morrissey seemed to be getting all of the credit. How can this be? How can a film be called Andy Warhol’s (whatever) and not be directed by Andy Warhol? This was a new concept to me…

I’m not sure what I really knew about Andy Warhol in those days. Not a lot, I’m sure. I knew he was an artist. A “pop artist”, in fact, who painted things like soup cans.  And that he had famously predicted that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Although, it turns out that he may not have ever said that, in fact. Go figure.

VHS box for Andy Warhol's Heat - not for Andy Warhol's BadAt some point I must have found out that Andy Warhol made movies. Was that before the VHS tapes of …Dracula and …Frankenstein turned up at my store? I’m not sure. But after I watched those movies, and found them to be suitably unique. and interesting, I decided to rent all of the Andy Warhol’s (whatever) movies. There was Flesh (1968), Trash (1970), Heat (1972) and last, but not least, Bad (1977). The VHS tapes all looked like they were from a matching set, and it seemed like Andy Warhol had a thing for one word titles that were somewhat provocative. And most of them starred a guy named Joe Dallesandro, who was presented as if he was a big star, but I had never heard of him.  It turned out that he was what they call a Warhol superstar.  He went on to have a decent acting career, at first in Europe and then back in North America, where he appeared on TV shows like Miami Vice (1984-90) and The Hitchhiker (1983-91). He was also in John Waters’ Cry-Baby (1990), which is interesting for other reasons that will become apparent.

Andy Warhol’s Bad was the last of the first wave of Andy Warhol films that I made of point of renting and watching, and it was by far my favourite. I would say that it was the best, but that’s a highly subjective thing, and I don’t want to offend anyone who has another favourite (but it was the best). I would say that it blew my mind. It was so edgy and shocking (to me) and like the review on the cover of the VHS box said, it’s “A picture with something to offend absolutely everybody.” — New York Post

Needless to say, I loved it, and I wanted to buy a copy and add it to my collection. Unfortunately, it was pretty hard to come by. The VHS tape that I had rented was technically for sale, as all tapes were at my favourite video store, but the price on the sticker was $199.99. In my experience, this basically meant that the store did not want to sell it, but if anyone was crazy enough to pay two hundred dollars for it, they’d take it. I may have been crazy, but I wasn’t that crazy.

So, I spent the next twenty years keeping my eyes peeled, and scouring bargain bins everywhere that In went. But this movie was never for sale anywhere. I might have considered giving up and paying two hundred dollars for it, but it had long since disappeared from that store. Had someone else been crazy enough to pay that price? I’ll never know.

A couple of years ago, I found a cheapjack DVD released by Cheezy Movies. It was probably no better a print that I had originally seen on that old VHS tape many years ago, but the price was right, so I bought it.  Why has this film never been given the super-deluxe collector’s edition treatment? Why is there no Blu-ray? I’m sure there’s some bizarre legal reasons, or something like that. In any case, i’ll take what I can get until something better comes along.

It was great to finally see the movie again. Of course, it’s not quite so edgy and offensive anymore (to me). I’ve watched a lot of edgy, crazy, offensive movies in the decades since I first saw Bad.

This brings to mind another interesting point. many people have compared Bad to the films of John Waters. Some have even suggested that it was Andy Warhol’s attempt to do a John Waters film (that could have been a good title, actually: Andy Warhol’s John Waters). This is not something that would have ever occurred to me back when I first saw Bad, because I don’t think I had ever seen a John Waters film. Watching it now, after becoming a full fledged fan of John Waters and collecting all of his movies, I can see the comparison. There are still a lot of differences, and I’m not sure that it was actually an attempt to “do” John Waters. But I like Bad for many of the same reasons that I like John Waters, so that’s something, I guess.

I recently found out that Andy Warhol’s Bad (1977) ran for many years as a midnight movie in Chicago. This gives it the ultimate seal of approval as a perfect selection for a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. It’s a wonderful, nostalgic blast from the past, and a timeless piece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema. And if you’re a little on the new side, it might still have the power to shock and offend you. And what could be better than that?

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Prowler (1981)

I first saw The Prowler (1981) with a couple of friends back the ’80s. We were all blown away by the Special Makeup FX by Tom Savini. We had seen The Burning (1981) and been disappointed that most of the gore had been cut out. We had also seen plenty of other slasher films with sub-par gore FX. So, The Prowler was quite a mind-blowing experience for us.

We also liked the story of The Prowler, and the mystery aspect worked for us. In other words, we did not figure out who the killer was and were legitimately surprised by the revelation. This was not so common when watching the less accomplished slasher films of the day.

Fast forward a few years, and I had become a collector of movies on VHS. They had been too expensive at first. And not that many places would even sell them. But by the ’90s there were a lot of video stores that would routinely sell used movies for a decent price. Every once in a while, I would borrow the old beat-up station wagon from my parents and my friend Brian and I would drive all over town, visiting video stores and looking for good deals on used movies.

We popped into one store that we had never visited and my friend excitedly grabbed a box from a shelf. It was VHS copy of The Prowler released by Astral Video. We had never seen a copy of the movie on sale before, and we had never seen this particular box. The price sticker said $15.00, which was a little high for a used VHS tape at that time. My friend took the box up to the counter and asked the owner if she would consider taking $10.00 for the movie. She thought about it for a minute, letting us know that this was a really difficult decision. Then she said “Ten dollars plus tax?”

My friend agreed and he went home very excited that night, with one of the holy grails of horror movie collecting (at least to us). He reported back to me that the tape was in perfect shape, and the movie was uncut, with all of Tom Savini’s beautiful gore intact. I must admit, I was a just a little bit jealous.

The next time we went out video store hopping, we came upon a second location of the store where Brian had found his cherished copy of The Prowler. We went inside and discovered a second, identical Astral Video VHS box of the movie on sale for the same price of $15.00. I did exactly what Brian had done last time, and wound up paying ten dollars plus tax for my very own copy of this slasher classic.

Later that night, when I slipped the tape into my VCR and prepared to have my mind blown all over again, I made a horrifying discovery. My copy of the The Prowler was censored – all of the gore was cut out! What the hell? I examined the box closely. It was identical to the box that Brian had purchased. Often one version would say R-rated, and the other would say Unrated. Or the listed running times would be different. There were no tell tale signs on my box that suggested it would be anything other than the complete, uncut film. I was not happy.

Brian came up with an idea: what if we put our VCRs together and copy his uncut movie onto my censored tape? It sounded like a plan to me. I was somewhat worried that the quality of my copy wouldn’t be as good, but it’s not like I was ever going to watch the censored version anyway. It was worth the risk.

Thankfully, it worked beautifully. And for years it was what I would watch whenever I had a hankering to see that film again. I eventually picked up a second VHS tape, this one by VCII. And now I have the blu-ray, which is what I watched last #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

The movie still works for me. Aside from the things I already mentioned, I was always impressed by the fact that it starts with a pretty convincing period sequence set in 1945 (right after World War II). They had period automobiles and everything. This is, I believe, a unique achievement in a low budget slasher filmmaking.

Many people cite their admiration for the “final girl” of this movie, and I like her, too. Pam, played by Vicky Dawson, seems to be a more active main character than many. She finds out very early on that something is wrong and she spends the rest of the film, with the help of equally likeable Deputy Sheriff Mark, trying to solve the mystery. In a lesser slasher film, her character would have simply waited around to get attacked in the final reel.

Legendary (notorious?) Hollywood actor Lawrence Tierney, who had been in films like Dillinger (1945) and Back to Bataan (1945), appears in The Prowler as Major Chatham, who seems to run the college. His part is ridiculously small, so this was clearly from the period when his name still meant something, but his career was on the skids. He made a bit of comeback later with Reservoir Dogs (1992) and an appearance on Seinfeld as Elaine’s scary father.

The Prowler (1981) will always be a special movie for me. I’m not sure how successful it was originally. It never spawned sequels or a remake. Some people don’t care for it as much as I do, and I can understand that. But it’s one of my favourite slasher films, and a piece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that I will treasure until the day I meet a masked psychopath in an empty college dorm. I could watch it anytime, anyplace, any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.