Friday, May 15, 2009

Top 10 Inexplicably Awesome Bit Characters: Part 2 of 2

Yesterday I started my countdown of favorite supporting characters in Mad Movies I've reviewed. With all the great, wild, and totally out-there performances I've seen since MMMMMovies began, it was really hard to narrow my choices to a top 10. I could easily have down 25 or 50, but that would have seemed overly self-indulgent. And while I usually indulge myself like a mad minx every chance I get (IYKWIM), I figured that if I went on that long, I'd be enjoying myself alone. As usual. :P

So without further ado, here are my Top 5 Favorite Bit Characters of the moment. Enjoy, and use the comments to let us know what faves of YOURS should have made the list!

5. Stacy in Madman (1982)

My love for this lesser-known 80s slasher knows no bounds. Not only do I love the movie, I have a close, personal, intimate relationship with pretty much every character, from the Appollonian TP to the sagely Max to the Pencil-Thin Pornstache Bearer. But the independent, free-spirited Stacy as portrayed by Harriet Bass remains a mystery to me. Not conventionally beautiful with her Epstein-in-Welcome Back Kotter hairstyle, sleepy eyes, and modest wardrobe, she still exudes a strange sensuality that's hard to ignore. Perhaps the fact that she seems more interested in Gaylen Ross's Betsy than in unattached possible-psycho Dave is part of it. Maybe it's the Bronx Cheer she flings at Mother Nature upon reaching to top of a difficult incline. Here's a woman I would like to know better, but whose essence stays maddeningly out of reach. That fact that she has easily the most memorable death scene in the film only adds to my attraction. Oh, Stacy, won't you sit in my dinghy and blow on my flute for me?

4. Oraclon in Escape from Galaxy 3 (1981)

Joe Spinell's Emperor Zarth Arn from the unapproachably MAD sci-fi/fantasy flick Starcrash would be a hard act for anyone to follow, but in Escape from Galaxy 3--aka Starcrash 2--Don Powell doesn't just follow: he pulls into the passing lane and gets in the lead. As intergalactic baddie Oraclon, King of the Night, Powell provides Mad Movie Fans with a villain for the ages. Whether ordering his minons to "Scan the whole Eastern Galaxy!" or giving James Brown-style "Heh!" laughs every time he successfully asplodes a rebel ship, Oraclon commands your undivided attention every time he's onscreen. Of course his P-Funk/Mexican Wrestling outfits help, but that's just part of being the King of the Night. That Powell also composed the score (and also appeared in and scored [in] Black Emanuelle 2) only adds to his legend.

3. Dameia in Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Sometimes a Mad Movie character is memorable for what he or she says, some awesomely quotable bit of dialog that immediately enters the fanatic's daily parlance (i.e., "Let's send these fuckers a Rambo-Gram!"). Sometimes immortality comes from the way he reacts to a particularly heinous happening, or a sudden flash of bravery where none was expected (i.e., "You've gotta be fucking kidding me!" or "I kick arse for the Lord!"). And sometimes the character's manner of death is so out there, so wild, so beyond anything one could expect or hope for, it eclipses all else and shoots the victim into the Mad Movie Stratosphere.

Such is the case for poor unfortunate Dameia in the amazing 80s sci-fi/horror flick Galaxy of Terror. You might forget that Robert Englund was in the movie gearing up for his legend-making roles a few years later. It might slip your mind that Erin Moran trades in her poodle skirts here for an exploding head shot. You might even erase Sid Haig's crystal-flinging warrior from your mental hard drive. But you will never forget scoleciphiobic space-babe Taaffe O'Connell getting her clothes ripped off and being gooed to death by an overly amorous nematode! There's a reason "Taaffe O' Connell Worm Rape" and its many variations are consistently the top very search terms leading readers to Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies. (This is a TRUE FACT--according to Google Analytics, more people search for this than for "Naked Nuns" and "Russ Meyer Boobies" combined.) Sometimes immortality comes hard--but Taafe, you've GOT it, babe.

2. The Totally Awesome Narrator from Blood Freak (1972)

How do you make a movie about a musclebound, genetically mutated Turkeytaur who drinks the blood of drug users when he's not smoking pot at Bible School meetings EVEN BETTER? You add THIS guy. Part narrator, part Greek chorus, part philosophy lecturer and ALL 100% AWESOME, Brad F. Grinter chain smokes his way through the movie and increases its watchability by a factor of ten. Open silk shirt, wood panelling backdrop, earnest and penetrating eyes, sonorous voice, and a John Waters moustache under Stan Lee's hairdo--how much more awesome could it be? The answer is: none. None more awesome.

For an encore, on the Something Weird Video release Grinter returns in the no-more-need-be-said short subject, "Brad Grinter: Nudist." And yes, he chain smokes even while in the buff.

And the NUMBER ONE FAVORITE bit character in a Mad Movie of ALL TIME...

1. The Manager in Evilution (2008) and Basement Jack (2008)

Old fashioned clothes. Eccentric line readings. A look in his eyes that makes you want to know what's going on behind that smile, and at the same time frightened of that very knowledge. This is The Manager's world. We're all just leasing it.

Two of my most pleasant surprises last year were these features from Black Gate/Island Gateway films. Evilution is the story of a biozombie outbreak in the decrepit, hauntingly ornate hotel The Necropolitan, and Basement Jack an old-school slasher with a new-school difference. But the highlight of both films for my money is Nathan Bexton's icon-building turn as the superintendent of the Necropolitan, the enigmatic and endlessly entertaining Manager. Despite extremely limited screentime in both films, Bexton's character provides a fascinating substrate linking both stories, using his strange mannerisms and tossed-off asides to create the sense of a whole other movie going on in the shadows of the ones we're watching, a movie I desperately want to see. I was lucky enough to get screeners of these first two entries in Island Gateway's projected trilogy of fear flicks based around the mysterious apartment building, and every time I watch them I love the Manager more. I haven't heard any news about distribution yet, sadly, but I'm still chomping at the bit for the third film, titled THE NECROPOLITAN, which promises to bring this icon-in-the-making center-stage and answer some of the questions the first two flicks so tantalizingly raised. When that film finally hits the festival circuit or--dare I dream?--commercial DVD, I guarantee I will no longer be alone in my worship of THE BEXX.

Interspecies Honorable Mention: Whitey in Private Parts (1972)

Proving you don't have to be human to make an impression. I think my poem in this little mouse's honor says it all.

Hope you enjoyed this little trip down supporting-character lane. Please let me know *your* favorite bit characters in the comments! And keep coming back for more Movie Madness!


Samuel Wilson said...

These have been interesting posts, Vicar. I guess it's been hard to respond because it's hard to quantify what counts as a bit part. When I tried to think of something, the first that came to mind was something more like an extra than a bit role. There's a scene in Spartacus when the slave army takes the city of Metapontum and is forcing the aristocrats to give up their riches in tribute. As Alex North's music pounds on, we see a stereotypically stout old aristo move to the front of the line, only to have this old woman suddenly ponce on him. Down he goes, legs wriggling like an upturned bug, as the woman keeps whaling and kicking at him while Kubrick lingers on the scene and North's score soars as if Rome itself had fallen. I've always felt it was the most Kubrickian moment in the whole movie, and the two mute bit players deserve a lot of the credit for that.

For something more in sync with your own choices, you might check out The Sailor in Scream Bloody Murder, currently being serialized with commentary by Rev. Phantom over at Midnight Confessions.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Samuel Wilson--yeah, I admit I fudged the boundaries a little. I guess I should have said "supporting characters" to be more precise. Although I like your choices very much.

I have seen SCREAM BLOODY MURDER (The Duke of DVD reviewed it previously), and it's a pretty amazing flick start to finish. Not only is the Sailor an interesting character, the Kung-Fu Granny who pops up later in the flick would be another standout. And of course Angus Scrimm makes an appearance there too, under an alias. :)

Knarf Black XIV said...

The Narrator was the best part of Blood Freak, especially when he starts coughing, then shrugs and continues talking, fully aware that they lacked the film stock to even think about a second take.

The Duke of DVD said...

Ahh Dearest Vicar, you have outdone yourself, sir! These two posts not only open our eyes to actors we might have missed otherwise, but also serve to remind me of a few films I have yet to watch.

To the royal media library!

Nate Y. said...

I once caught a theatrical screening of Blood Freak, which would have been awesome except the print had all the narrator bits snipped out. While it didn't affect the continuity one iota, it did make it about half the film it originally was.

I was tres disappointed. Thankfully, I still have my Something Weird DVD.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@KnarfBlack XIV--the coughing fit is memorable, but I thought the TAN was making a comment about the rhetoric of the anti-drug movement as opposed to the (at the time) cultural acceptance of cigarette smoking. But maybe I'm giving too much credit. Still, you can't argue with success.

@Duke of DVD--thanks! While I do encourage you to give these flicks a peep whenever your busy adventuring schedule permits, I also want to say along with the rest of your loyal subjects that MMMMMovies NEEDS a new Duke Review! Surely you've picked up *something* worthy of attention lately! (No pressure. ;) )

@Nate Y.--the Narrator is such an integral part of the BLOOD FREAK experience, I can't even imagine the movie without him. It'd be like Thanksgiving dinner without the giblets! Anyway, be sure to check out Grinter's short feature on that same DVD. It's an eye-opener. ;)

Lost Video Archive said...

The narrator is director Brad Grinter who bailed on the movie before it was finished.

Anonymous said...

This list needs Aunt Martha from "Sleepaway Camp"

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Anonymous--Good call! When I went back and rewatched recently, I was surprised she had so little screentime--I remembered her being a *much* bigger presence. Which is of course a testament to the enduring effect of the performance. :)

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