Thursday, February 11, 2010

Vicious Lips (1987): or, It's Only Rock n' Roll


It's always a joy for me when, slogging through lists of titles on one of my Mill Creek public domain sets or Netflix instant trash movie suggestions, I come upon a previously unknown gem that hits just the right balance of absurdity and entertainment value to send me out smiling and enthusiastic to tell the world about the unguessed-at trash-treasure I've just been lucky enough to witness. It's one of those experiences that keeps me going here, week after week.

Unfortunately that "Eureka!" experience has its flipside: movies that on paper look like exactly the sort of thing I would enjoy, geek out on, and rush to share with all my like-minded webfriendz, but in execution somehow fail to reach the promise of their synopses and even poster art. Such viewing experiences make me feel, if not duped, at least a little disheartened.

Case in point, today's movie: the 1987 rock n' roll/sci-fi fantasy Vicious Lips. An 80s-style interstellar all-girl synth-rock band struggles to get to their make-or-break gig across the galaxy, only to be pursued/harassed by a hairy Venusian Man-Beast that's stowed away on their spacecraft? I mean, just think of it: big hair, dayglo fashions, shameless Alien rip-offs all to the tune of terrifically earnest 80s power rock by a band called DROCK? Seriously, filmmakers, how do you fuck that up?

The movie starts out with all kinds of promise. We're dropped right in the middle of a backroom meeting at THE RADIOACTIVE DREAM, the hottest live-music night spot in the galaxy, where club owner Maxine Mortogo (Mary-Anne Graves) is putting her shiny, shiny boot down on a hapless manager whose band is a no-show due to a bad case of premature death. Maxine is a wonderful villainess, equal parts Cruella DeVille and Margaret from Liquid Sky, with a security staff composed of a Mr. Hyde-like major domo and an oiled, musclebound guard in a He-Man outfit. Unwilling to listen to the manager's lame excuses ("You didn't even give me 10 light years' notice!" Yeah, dude, that's fu--wait, what?), she promises to ruin him in time-honored "You'll never work in this universe again" fashion. His career prospects shot, the poor sod pulls out a blaster and does the same to his brainpan.

She's ready for her close-up

With a gray matter-leaking hole in her show schedule, Maxine calls up Matty Asher (Anthony Kentz), a small-time promoter who's been bugging her for a break. Matty manages the up-and-coming girl group The Vicious Lips, and of course jumps at the chance to play at The Dream. Unfortunately his lead singer, Ace Lucas, has just left the band to join rival group The Cruikshanks* (though she's run down by a taxi in the street before she gets the chance), leaving Matty one member short. As luck would have it a high school talent show is going on a few doors down from the Lips' gig, and there Matty discovers wide-eyed innocent Judy Jetson (seriously), whom he quickly recruits for the band's make-or-break gig.

*Try as I might, I can't see the connection between Vicious Lips and British caricaturist George Cruikshank--any ideas, parishioners?

So far, things have been very promising indeed. The set-design is total 80s music video sci-fi, all smoke machines and neon lighting. The shadowy club where the Lips play is also well drawn and filmed, exactly as you'd expect a futuristic slum-club to look. The whole thing has a pleasing Heavy Metal, comic-booky feel, from the triple-breasted hooker outside the club to the skeezy guy peeping at the girls through the wall in their dressing room only to get his eye gouged out in retaliation. At this point I admit I had high hopes.

They're vicious, all right

The other girls in The Lips don't warm to Judy initially, perhaps because Matty has her take the stage name "Ace Lucas" so that they don't have to change their promotional materials. Loyalty to their deceased bandmate makes the girls leery, particularly space-guitarist Mandoa (Shayne Farris), who looks like Blackie Lawless's teenage daughter. Judy/Ace's enthusiasm and ability eventual win over sensible bass player Bree Syn (Gina Calabrese) and drummer Wynzi Krodo (Linda Kerridge, last seen on MMMMMovies as the Marilyn Monroe clone in Fade to Black), however, and before you know it Matty has stolen a spaceship from a local parking garage to get the band to the gig on time.

While the band rehearses, Matty pilots them ineptly through a meteor field (complete with LED one-liners from the ship's computer), leading to an emergency crash landing on a desert planet. Unbeknownst to anyone on board, the ship's cargo is a Venusian Man-Beast slated for delivery to a prison planet, and the crash has enabled him to escape via the ship's air duct system. Much Alien rip-offery ensues, with the creature only shown in shadows or individual body parts (claws, back of head) as the girls get high on space grass and bicker about the new singer's questionable talent and loyalty. Matty goes walkabout to look for help, leaving the four spacegrrls at the mercy of the beast.

I Have Seen the Future, and It Is Moussed

It's here that things really go south for me enjoyment-wise, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the music video/rehearsal scenes, while enjoyable on their own, rob the movie of any forward momentum. Similarly energy draining are the long scenes of Matty crawling over featureless sand dunes, talking to himself in what is meant to be (but isn't) a humorous dramatic monologue. There's also far too much time given to repetitive ambition/tribulation stories from each of the band members (though this does give us the movie's best line: "I had sex with a Fungi Dwarf...That was really a low point."), and the threat of the Man-Beast is never used to build any appreciable suspense. When there's more energy in an argument between the girls about whether the new Ace will leave them too than is generated by an alien monster stalking them in the shadows, you know something's gone wrong.

When the monster FINALLY shows himself and the climax of the film begins, the viewer is in for more disappointment. I mean, the FX creators who actualized the Venusian Man-Beast makeup were given their own credit in the opening titles, so it's reasonable to expect that we're in for something special when he's finally revealed--if not something up to the H. R. Geiger coolness of the Alien, at least something over and above what we've seen in the flick up to now. But what do we get instead?

"It's so easy, easy, when everbody's trying to please me!"

That's right--a Geico caveman. :(

In a drug-induced panic Judy/Ace flees the ship across the burning sands, eventually ending up in a ruined resort complex, apparently built entirely of scrap sheet metal and clear plastic tarps. It seems this place was once "The Pleasure Planet," a vacation spot for interstellar tourists, but has fallen into disrepair and is now peopled by Mad Max-esque cannibal gangs. Unfortunately, that sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is.

Blah blah blah, Judy/Ace starts having drug-visions (or are they?) of zombified members of the band chasing her, taunting her with her perceived disloyalty. The Man-Beast shows up, the rest of the band--magically unzombified--comes together to rescue her ("We're a band--we've got to stick together!"), and a dude in a tux shows up for no reason I could discern. Of course it turns out that this whole sequence was all a dream, as Judy/Ace wakes up in the dressing room of...well, The Dream. There's even a ham-fisted Wizard of Oz moment where the major domo (remember him?), who looks exactly like the Man-Beast--sends her off onstage. Naturally the Lips wow the crowd, and the movie ends decidedly upbeat.

Look's like it's Thriller night.


I don't mean to say the movie is completely without merit. As I said, early on there was some nice set design, revisited in the film's coda, and the cinematography is often quite effective in an 80s music video kind of way. Speaking of music videos, we also get to hear the band perform no less than three songs in their entirety, including the breakout hits "LUNAR MADNESS" and "Lips on the Moon" ("We are the witness to Tales of DOOM!"). On their own the songs are cheesetastic nostalgic time capsules, and I actually wouldn't mind having the soundtrack to go with my non-existent Killer Workout CD. (Help me internets! Where are these soundtracks?)

The acting is all over the place, as might be expected since for most of the performers this is either their sole movie credit or else one of a handful (Kerridge being the lone exception). Graves is great as Maxine, but appears far too seldom. Kentz as Matty reminds me of the sidekick from Doogie Howser MD, which I guess is okay. The Lips themselves are serviceable (ba-dump). The bulk of the movies weight falls on the shoulders of Dru-Anne Perry as Judy/Ace, and unfortunately she's not really up to the task--though I admit her resemblance to Vicar crush Jenny Wright and thick southern accent were somewhat appealing.

Viscous Lips

The main problem I had was that the movie broke rule #1: "Thou Shalt Not Be Boring." After a slam bang opening the movie bogs down terribly and never really gains any momentum. And for a flick that never aims higher than lightweight tongue-in-cheek sci-fi, that's absolutely deadly.

Still, it has its enjoyable moments, and I don't doubt that others might like it much more than I did. 1.25 thumbs. Watch it for the music, if at all, but don't say I didn't warn you.



13 comments:

Planet of Terror said...

Wow, this sounds terrible. Tis a shame.

Samuel Wilson said...

If the 1980s were good for anything, it might be for bequeathing us a retroactively amusing legacy of obsolete futurism, but from what you're saying that alone does not an entertaining film make. That poster nearly had me, though.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Planet of Terror -- it's not the worst thing I ever saw, and the music video segments are pleasingly cheesy, but overall it left me unsatisfied. But with so many other, better cheesy 80s music video/movies (like KILLER WORKOUT, for instance), this one looks pale by comparison.

@Samuel Wilson--I love a good "future from the past" movie, and the 80s were chock full of them. I never get tired of the wire-frame 3-D graphics on their computers in the 25th century, or the wrist-mounted PCs that can somehow alter the weather and materialize food out of atoms. Screw jetpacks, I want one of those!

And that poster *is* a thing of beauty, isn't it? Like STARCRASH meets GALAXY OF TERROR. Sadly, the girls never wear outfits even approaching that level of grooviness, nor do they visit any rocky terrain or fight a roided-out demon-beast. Which is to the film's detriment, clearly.

The Duke of DVD said...

Wait, so a character only mentioned in passing that she had sex with a Fungi Dwarf?! To me this is the most egregious error of the movie: lack of a Fungi Dwarf sex scene.

Maybe someday I'll fund "Vicious Lips II: Fungi Dwarves Unite!"...

JamiSings said...

Well, since that movie obviously sucks I won't even comment on it. Instead I want to ask you about a porno from 1976 I heard of. It's Alice In Wonderland. Apparently Alice is a sexually repressed librarian who ends up in Wonderland, but full of sex. Was wondering if 1: You ever have seen it and 2: If you know of a site where I can watch it without virus warnings. (Lots of sites have it where you can download either the original R-rated version or the hardcore one, but they all have virus warnings. And I'd hate to sign up for Netflicks JUST to see one 70s porn movie.)

Normally porn bores me. But the clips I've seen on YouTube are actually sort of - cute.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpmhVqEqBa8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rc7g7pDc5dc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faAA7mf91cw

Even though it's not horror it is an old movie and I thought you boys might know something about it.

Jenn said...

I have a LOT of low points - comes with the territory of all that drinkin' - but I don't think I've ever been Fungi Dwarf Sex low ;)

On paper, this does sound foolproof - I'm surprised it was able to be less than entertaining for you. Did you at least have fun writing the review? Sometimes that's enough for me - I'd rather talk about it than watch it again.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@The Duke--Clearly this was a grave oversight. I imagine its inclusion would have put the flick in BEING CAPTURED territory, only with, you know, more fungus. D-:

@Jami--I have indeed both heard of and SEEN the movie you mention, though I've since lost my copy of it. I know Cinemageddon.org has a lot of really obscure sleaze flicks (I'm known to pop in there occasionally), but you have to get an account with them. It's free and they police their downloads well, but they sometimes are closed to new users. You could see if it's open enrollment, though. Otherwise, I'm sure there are grey-market DVDs our there.

@Jenn--you raise a very pertinent point. A lot of movies are more fun to write or talk about than actually to watch, which I hope is part of the service we provide here. I usually don't spend the time writing a lengthy review of something unless I either liked it or enjoyed talking about why I didn't, so there you go.

And who knows but that Fungi Dwarf sex might have untold benefits? A hallucinogenic varietal might actually be fun. In fact, I'm surprised there are no fungi dwarf porno (spore-no?) stars...at least not to my limited knowledge. ;)

JamiSings said...

Thank you, oh mighty Vicar. I have saved the URL to look at after work. Hopefully they'll let me see it. I never thought I'd say this about any porno but it seems so incredibly cute I just have to. Love the Mad Hatter saying "I'll SHARE it with you." I wonder how many guys have been tempted to say that about their tallywacker.

Al Bruno III said...

Another movie I never heard of but it sounds like a time capsule of all that was wrong and right with 80's Sci Fi.


Also why are we all making fun of the one girl having sex with a diminutive alien? For all we know he might have been a really... FUN GUY!

Get it?

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Al Bruno III--Let's not go into the minutiae here. ;)

TURKAOR said...

http://80ssoundtracksaor.blogspot.com/

Horror Remix said...

I just watched Vicious Lips and your review is 100% accurate. All the element of 80s gold are here (nice soundtrack too), yet found myself struggling to reach the end. How is this possible?

Anonymous said...

No offense...

but honestly here...

................

Exactly WHAT were you expecting? Star Wars maybe? C'mon!

I guess everyone is looking for something different in a movie and everybody sees things from a different perspective...

I simply took this at face value (a fun, low budget '80s flick) and was REALLY SURPRISED with many of the elements of it.

First, the set design was AMAZING for what it was. The whole neon retro/'80s future was... how shall I say... "totally radical!" I can tell that A LOT of work went into set, costume, makeup, lighting, sound... etc. I see TONS of low budget movies these days shot with high tech DV cams and quite honestly... they're just lazy. No set design, makeup, costumes... it's just all around sad how lazy film making has become. Even the super budget flicks use CGI for EVERYTHING now. Seeing this movie really shows how much can be done with so little... if you just TRY.

Next... the music was actually AMAZING... for what it was. 3 Dimensional, with power vocals & (GASP) instruments! Different songs for different moods & everything! WOW! A KILLER soundtrack!

And yes, the "'80s rocker chicks" were all smokin' hot! I know it's a matter of opinion but I think that women in the '80s were at their peek. You can tell they spent hours on end to achieve maximum HAWTNESS. I... LOVE... '80s ladies!

So. Amazing, super retro '80s vibe all throughout. Amazing soundtrack. Amazingly hot '80s rocker chicks... That all did a great job of existing in their own little '80s universe.

... and I think it was ALL probably filmed in the back of a warehouse or something... but it looked GREAT!

Now yes, the dialog WAS lacking. REALLY lacking. They're wasn't much there. I didn't expect there to be though.

What I took from "Vicious Lips" was a TON of eye & ear candy.

It's a shame that this movie has been pretty much completely lost to the ages. It has a LOT of good stuff going for it...

...for what it was. A super, low budget, fun, cheesy '80s flick about a sexy all chick band who gets stranded on an asteroid and chased around by a hairy guy with bad teeth...

;)=

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