Trash Or Terror Tuesday: Psychos in Love (1987)

It’s time for #TrashOrTerrorTuesday

…when I examine a film that’s been languishing in my personal library to determine if it is #Trash or #Terror

– or more importantly, if it deserves to stay in my collection.

And so, out from the dusty shelves of #VHS tapes comes…

Poster art for Psychos in Love (1987)Psychos in Love (1987) by #GormanBechard

w/ #CarmineCapobianco #DebiThibeault

A strip-joint owner and a manicurist find they have many things in common, the foremost being that they are psychotic serial killers.

“”Love hurts…””

“A Deliciously Wicked Comedy”

#Horror #Slasher #Comedy

I first rented  Psychos in Love (1987) with a friend in the late ’80s and we thought it was pretty darn hilarious (or was it darned hilarious? Either way, it made us laugh). We also found it inspiring, as we dreamed of making low budget horror films for the direct-to-home-video marketplace. A pretty modest dream when you think back on it, but at the time it seemed like a great way to break into the business. We eventually wound up shooting (parts of) a couple of really bad horror films on 8mm video, but sadly we never managed to finish and get anything distributed. The market had pretty much dried up by the time we were anywhere close to done, so it may be just as well that our projects crashed and burned – but that’s another story.

Psychos in Love seemed like a very low budget film, but it was funny and had some pretty decent gore. Since discovering the films of Mel Brooks at a very young age, I tended to gravitate toward the satirical in my own writing, so I appreciated the spoofy tone of Gorman Bechard and Carmine Capobianco’s script. I was also a HUGE fan of slasher films, so this movie seemed to be everything that I would have wanted my own no budget movies to be.

A few years later, I picked up a VHS copy of Psychos in Love in a bargain bin and added it to my library. Watching it again as an adult, I remember thinking that it looked even cheaper than I had remembered – but it was still an entertaining watch. Many years have gone by, and still that VHS tape sits on my shelf. I remember the movie fondly, but I never fire up the VCR and watch it. So, it’s time to put it to the #TrashOrTerrorTuesday test…

It does look cheap. And it makes good use of low budget techniques like having actors talk directly into the camera (almost foreshadowing crappy reality TV). It’s still funny, although not up to the level of Mel Brooks. The gore is still pretty impressive, all things considered. Story-wise, it seems to flatline for a long time in the middle. The beginning is pretty strong, but it quickly degenerates into a series of anecdotes about killing people. Each one, taken on its own merit, is entertaining. But the story simply isn’t moving forward. When the climactic sequence finally begins, it feel like it should have started much earlier, and had more to it. As it is, it’s pretty simple, and the movie ends rather abruptly. It doesn’t feel satisfying.

Having said that, Psychos in Love is a whole lot of fun in spite of its structural shortcomings. It should also be noted that it really delivers on the sleaze front. One of our main characters runs a strip club, after all, and there is plenty of nubile flesh on display. Depending on your point of view, this could be something to admire or to criticize. On #TrashOrTerrorTuesday, we always consider it a plus.

So what’s the verdict?

I would have to say that Psychos in Love (1987) is somehow both #Trash and #Terror. Okay, it’s not scary at all – but it’s not meant to be. It’s a zany, over-the-top comedy, and it succeeds at that better than many bigger budget films I could name. Psychos in Love supplies enough trashy fun to satisfy most discerning connoisseurs of #Trash  – and then some. And for aspiring, low budget filmmakers, I think it could still provide inspiration the way it did for me all those years ago. This VHS tape is a keeper.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Alligator (1980)

I’d been hearing about alligators in sewers – usually New York City sewers – for as long as I could remember. So when Alligator (1980) came on TV, it seemed like a ripped-from-the-headlines true story to me.  Of course, people like my Dad were always quick to tell me that these stories were myths, or urban legends. But when you already believe in the possibility of vampires and werewolves, it’s not a big stretch to imagine alligators in the sewers. In fact, it’s more realistic… isn’t it?

I watched Alligator several times on TV back then. I’m still not sure exactly how it worked, but movies often seemed to be shown two or three times in relatively short order. Once on an American network, once on a Canadian network, and… maybe one or both of those channels would repeat it a few days later? I wish I could somehow look up those old TV Scenes of my childhood and see exactly what was going on. This was, of course, before my family had our first Betamax. If I could have recorded a movie like Alligator, who knows how many times I might have watched it?

I was a big fan of Jaws (1975), which I had been lucky enough to see on the big screen, and Jaws 2 (1978), which I had only seen on TV. It seemed to me (and probably a lot of other people) that Alligator was some sort of rip off of (or attempt to follow in the footsteps of) Jaws. Still, it was completely different to me and I loved it just as much. 

I was also aware, at the time, that some critics were suggesting that Alligator was some sort comedy, or satire as they might have said. I was a huge fan of Mel Brooks, having watched Blazing Saddles (1974), Young Frankenstein (1974) and High Anxiety (1977) many times on TV, so I had a pretty good idea what a “satire” was like. Alligator did not seem anything like that. It wasn’t zany and hilarious – it was all thrills, chills, and suspense as far as I was concerned. And any movie with a giant monster in it was seriously cool to me.

For some reason, I did not see Alligator for many years – decades, actually – after that initial cluster of viewings. Jaws and Jaws 2 I bought on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray, but I never even saw a copy of Alligator for sale anywhere. I was starting to think it had never been released on home video, but a quick internet search told me that it had been. Why was it so elusive?

Thankfully, I found a copy of the Lions Gate DVD somewhere on my travels a couple of years ago. It’s been sitting in my to watch pile ever since, waiting for the right mood to strike me. Last friday, it finally did.

Watching a movie like Alligator for the first time in decades is an almost religious experience. The feelings of nostalgia were close to overpowering, as memories that I didn’t even know I had came flooding back to me. Little moments and images that were locked away somewhere in the back of my brain were now dancing right in front of me. This was coupled with the shock and amazement at seeing the stuff that I didn’t remember at all. Or the stuff that I interpreted completely differently now that I have a lifetime of experiences behind me.

Alligator stars Robert Forster, who I didn’t know at all when I first watched the movie decades ago. I sort of got to know him a couple of years later, in Vigilante (1982), once I was able to rent movies. But even then, I didn’t really know who he was, other than the guy in Vigilante. Now I can appreciate how cool it is that he starred in Alligator and apparently remembered it fondly. It’s always a bit deflating when an actor says they are embarrassed by one of your favourite movies. It’s great to know that Forster liked this one.

And what’s not to like? The movie is hugely entertaining. I must admit that now I can see the straight-faced satire of John Sayles’ screenplay. Just two year earlier, Sayles wrote another great satirical Jaws inspired movie called Piranha (1978), but that’s another story. 

One thing that surprised me is the fact that Alligator takes place in Chicago. I would have sworn, probably because of the urban legends, that it was set in New York. I guess that’s just proof that memory is malleable. For years I had flashbacks of some guy who wasn’t Robert Forster chasing an alligator around the sewers of Manhattan. Oh well…

Robert Forster is great in Alligator, as a police officer with a receding hairline and a reputation for losing his partners. He stars opposite Robin Riker, who plays a reptile expert who may have inadvertently lost the baby alligator years earlier, when she was a little girl. This was Riker’s first movie role. She had done some TV prior to Alligator, and mainly went back to it afterwards. She did appear in a few interesting movies like Body Chemistry II: The Voice of a Stranger (1991) and Stepmonster (1993).
Lewis Teague, the Director of Alligator (1980), also made Fighting Back (1982). This is the poster art.Robert Forster, star of Alligator (1980), also starred in Vigilante (1982). This is the poster art.

Alligator was directed by Lewis Teague, who went on to do movies like Fighting Back (1982) – which I recall seeing during the post Death Wish 2 vigilante boom (just like Vigilante, actually), Cujo (1983) – which could almost be seen as another post Jaws giant animal attack movie, and Cat’s Eye (1985) – which is a horror anthology that I’ve always liked. The latter two films were also, of course, based on Steven King stories. 

Alligator (1980) is a #NotQuiteClassicCinema masterpiece (if such a thing can possibly exist). It’s certainly a favourite of mine, which I’m very happy to have finally rediscovered (or at least re-experienced). Giant monster movies are practically the very definition of #NotQuiteClassicCinema, as far as it relates to the Not Quite Classic Theatre of my youth. I discovered movies like Tarantula (1955) and The Deadly Mantis (1957) on that show, and as much as Alligator is a bit of a riff on Jaws, it’s also a throwback to those older giant monster movies. And that’s what makes it great to an old school monster kid like me. Mark my words: any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn that includes Alligator on the marquee is going to be a good one. 

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Angels’ Brigade aka Angels’ Revenge (1979)

I once almost wrote a musical like Angels’ Brigade (1979).

I was in the midst of my most successful fringe tour in the summer of 1997, with a show called Sorority Girls Slumber Party Massacre: The Musical. Everywhere we went we were doing boffo box office and I was starting to ask myself “How am I going to follow this?” I had a cast of regulars, mostly female, with whom I was hoping to work again. And I had a certain style, or “brand” as some people might say. I needed an idea that would not only appeal to me, but to the fans of my current and previous shows. After a couple of all night drives down the Trans Canada Highway, I started to think about movies like Angels’ Brigade and how they might just be the perfect fodder for my next musical atrocity. But perhaps I need to back up a little…

When I was at university, I majored in FIlm Studies. There was one class in filmmaking, and another in screenwriting, but most of our time was spent studying films, the way English majors study literature. This was not entirely satisfying to an aspiring writer and filmmaker like me. Fortunately, I also did a minor in Theatre, where most of our time was spent acting, directing, stage managing, building sets, etc. I also had the opportunity to write plays.

The Black Hole Theatre Company, my alma mater’s student run theatre company, accepted submissions of new plays by student writers for possible production. I was excited by the possibility of having a play produced, but I learned very quickly that if I wanted my play to be chosen it had to have a lot of good roles for women.

It didn’t take a genius to notice that there were twice as many women enrolled in theatre as men. And most classic plays, from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller, had way more parts for men than women. The Black Hole Theatre Company, my professor told me, made a point of trying to select plays that had good roles for women. I took this news to heart and wrote a play for three women and two men. It was produced as part of the The Black Hole Theatre Company’s Lunch B.H.A.G.G. series (free plays produced at lunch time).

When I started producing my own plays, at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, there were no requirements to cast women. But I felt that it was stupid to write a lot of parts for men, when there were clearly more women interested in being in plays. And from a practical point of view, I knew that I had access to lot of good female actors (friends and acquaintances from university). There were already enough plays filled with parts for men, and not enough good men to fill them. So, I wrote plays with more parts for women.

This culminated with my first musical, Bad Girls Jailhouse in 1994. My previous plays had all included one man – and I toyed with the idea of having a male guard, or warden – but in the end I wrote a play for seven women. Yes, seven women. Smarter people than me were producing one person shows, in which they stood on a bare stage and talked for an hour (like a stand up comedian). I was producing a musical with props and costumes. And seven actresses. Apparently I wasn’t concerned about making a profit.

Two years later, I took Bad Girls Jailhouse on the road. It was my first fringe tour, and it was a success. But nothing could have prepared me for the success of Sorority Girls Slumber Party Massacre: The Musical in 1997, and then later in 2001. It sold out performances and broke box office records. It was a play that featured four women and one man.

Both Bad Girls Jailhouse and Sorority Girls Slumber Party Massacre: The Musical. were satires of film genres. I had always imagined that I would be writing and directing films. But in the pre digital video, pre internet days of my early career, making films was expensive! Even if I had made a short three minute movie, it would have cost me hundreds of dollars and I would have never made that money back. For the same amount of money (or less), I could write a one hour (or ninety minute) play and produce it at the fringe festival. And wonder of wonders, the plays could actually make a profit!

But being a film fan, and a filmmaker at heart, I chose to write plays that were kind of like movies. My specialty became musical spoofs of film genres. Mel Brooks was one of my heroes. He taught me, among other things, that the best satire is a labor of love. He often included musical numbers in his films, which were always a highlight. I saw myself doing things that Mel might have, but with more unusual, or perhaps less respected film genres. So, after the success of Sorority Girls Slumber Party Massacre: The Musical, I was looking for another offbeat film genre I could lovingly satirize. One that involved a large proportion of female characters…

And that’s what made me think of films like Angels’ Brigade and The Doll Squad (1973). I don’t know if there’s an official name for that subgenre of cinema, but someone I know once referred to them as “female commando movies.” Interestingly, some say that The Doll Squad was the inspiration for Charlie’s Angels (1976-81). Angels’ Brigade was clearly named to cash in on the success of that show, which was at the height of it’s popularity. I wouldn’t call Charlie’s Angels “female commandos”, so that may be a misnomer. I’ll have to come up with a better term for them…

In any case, I thought that a musical about a team of female agents/detectives/vigilantes sounded like a really fine idea back in 1997. Unfortunately, that never happened. But it did give me an excuse to revisit movies like this one…

Angels’ Brigade aka Angels’ Revenge aka Seven from Heaven (1979) is undoubtedly a bad movie. It scores a 2.0 on the IMDb, which is lower than a lot of movies that aren’t worth anyone’s time. But Angels’ Brigade is the kind of “bad” that can be a whole lot of fun to watch (if you have a taste for it). The assembling of the team, and the explanation of each member’s purpose, is almost as hilarious as the brilliant SCTV sketch Maudlin’s Eleven (1982). For example, they need someone to distract the guards at the front gate of an isolated drug processing compound, so they bring in a beautiful model played by Noela Velasco, whose only other credit is an episode of Chico and the Man (1974–1978).

But they are ALL beautiful women, including Susan Kiger, a former Playboy playmate. I don’t think they needed to go outside the group of six to find a woman who could distract a couple of guards. But much like Maudlin needed his team to add up to eleven (and so brought in The Harmonica Gang to wait by a pay phone), Angel – wait, there is no Angel – April, a schoolteacher played by Jacqulin Cole, needs her team to add up to seven – as in “seven from heaven”, so she’s got to have a professional beautiful woman to walk up to those guards and bat her eyelashes. Makes sense to me.

Schoolteacher April (Jacqulin Cole, real life wife of director Greydon Clark)  and Las Vegas entertainer Michelle (real life Playboy playmate Susan Kiger) recruiting stuntwoman Terry (Sylvia Anderson).

Oh, and in case you haven’t figured it out, this is #NotQuiteClassicCinema gold. It’s the kind of movie magic that makes sifting through bargain bins of unwanted VHS tapes worth it. Or in my case, watching random movies on TV late at night.

The man responsible for Angels’ Brigade is Greydon Clark, the auteur of such #NotQuiteClassicCinema greats as Black Shampoo (1976), Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977), Without Warning (1980), and Joysticks (1983) – all of which are in my personal library. Apparently he first conceived of Angels’ Brigade as a blaxploitation picture (not unlike Black Shampoo), but in the end he went with a multicultural team of women that included Sylvia Anderson, as the 6’1″ tall stuntwoman, and Lieu Chinh as the shorter martial arts expert. Here they are sandwiched in between the schoolteacher and the beautiful model:

The seven from heaven are rounded out by real life sisters Robin and Liza Greer. They are two of the women who tell their stories in the book You’ll Never Make Love in This Town Again (1995), which appears to be an expose of prostitution and sex with celebrities in Hollywood.

Real life sisters Robin and Liza Greer in Angels’ Brigade.

One of the most remarkable things about Angels’ Brigade is its star-studded supporting cast. When I first stumbled upon this movie on late TV, one of the reasons that I couldn’t stop watching it was that every few minutes another recognizable TV actor would make an appearance. The movie seemed to be, to my relatively untrained eyes, extraordinarily bad – but all of these famous actors were in it! How could that be?

Top of the list for me was Jack Palance, who I used to see on Ripley’s Believe It or Not! (1982-86) and in movies. Perhaps even more shocking to me was the presence of Jim Backus and Alan Hale Jr. – both from Gilligan’s Island (1964-67) which I had watched religiously in reruns. Other recognizable faces included: Peter Lawford, Neville Brand,, Pat Buttram, and Arthur Godfrey. I didn’t recognize Darby Hinton at the time, but I would get to know him later thanks to the mighty Malibu Express (1985). 

As a kid, I knew nothing about the common exploitation filmmaking technique of hiring recognizable “names”, or actors with name recognition, paying them for one day of work and then putting their names and/or faces on your poster, in your trailer, etc. Often they would be actors who used to be successful, but had fallen on hard times. I’m not saying that this was the case for any of the people in Angels’ Brigade, but according to the cinematographer, Peter Lawford would show up drunk with a woman on each arm, and perform his scenes sitting in a chair because he had trouble standing.

I could go on about Angels’ Brigade all day, but I’ve probably already written more words than could be reasonable justified. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. Nostalgia is undoubtedly a factor, but it also a camp classic – a minor masterpiece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema – and I could happily watch it on any given #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.