Comics

When There Are No More Remakes In Hell…

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…the remakes will walk the earth. Here's a news item I never thought I'd see: Bob Clark, the most successful filmmaker in the history of Canada (mostly on the strength of his Porky's franchise), is making a new version of his debut feature, the 1972 flower child/zombie massacre Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. We've reached some Absolute Zero of cultural self-reference when this Night of the Living Dead knockoff, wherein an astoundingly flamboyant group of hippie actors perform a far-out ritual to resurrect the dead, gets a second act. Even zombie enthusiasts tend to frown on this picture, expressing particular disdain for the brightly colored striped pants worn by leading man (and frequent Clark collaborator) Alan Ormsby. For me, this picture is literal in the wrong ways (with a foursquare moral lesson and comeuppance in the EC Comics mode) and none of the right ones (the gore is pretty tame by genre standards). As one IMDb commenter writes, "Another major set back is that the victims don't become zombies themselves after dying… See this only if you've already seen all the Romero zombie movies and all the Italian zombie movies and are in serious need of a zombie fix."

In serious need of a zombie fix—who hasn't been there? You could defend Children as an influential film. Its graveyard resurrection scene clearly inspired the look of the same sequence in John Landis' video for "Thriller." Its mocking performance of an incantation was copped by gay porn icon Jeff Stryker in Claudio Fragasso's Zombi 4 (AKA Zombie Flesh Eaters 3, confusingly enough). And through an accident of TV programming, this was the first zombie picture many of us saw; it got heavy rotation in Creature Features of the seventies, and held over those too young or too remotely located to see the real stuff.

But the reason Children stays with me, and the point of this post, is that it is possibly the greatest example of the anti-hippie horror film. There was a good long period there where the horror genre was replete with longhairs getting devoured, slashed, and eviscerated—to a degree that both chimes with and illuminates non-horror movies of the period such as Easy Rider and Joe, which also end with freaks getting offed. Children, whose acting troupe is even more annoying than the talking mimes in Easy Rider, obviously savors its holocaust of flower children, particularly because they've brought it on the themselves by scoffing at the taboos of their elders. Factor in hippie horror classics like I Drink Your Blood, the Larry Hagman-directed Son of Blob, the Robert Quarry vehicle Deathmaster, and several episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and you've got the makings of a film festival. The pair of over-the-top gays who get dispatched by the late William Marshall in the beginning of Blacula would also have to count as counterculturites punished from beyond.

There are prosaic explanations for this phenomenon: that horror films appeal mostly to teens and young adults, that hippie culture was ubiquitous at the time, and so on. But I like to think that in that brief period between Joe Friday and the punks, it was left to horror films to express America's abiding hatred of hippies. In his critical work Danse Macabre, Stephen King engages himself in a long debate about whether horror is essentially a subversive genre or a conservative one, and he ends up leaning toward the latter view. How Clark's remake will resolve the tension between arrogant youth and ancient punishment, at a time when nobody talks about the generation gap anymore, is hard to imagine. In any event, the movie that really needs to be remade now is Easy Rider, which not only features murdered hippies but remains interesting in only one respect: the way it explores the tension between what we now call the Red States and the Blue States.

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  1. The only remotely interesting thing about this movie is the title.

    Okay, so the movie industry is bankrupt when it comes to ideas. How about novels? Short stories? Plays? Hell, how about musicals? If you can’t come up with new material, can you at least pull something from another medium instead of giving us a remake of something someone inevitably did better decades ago?

    Really, the industry’s constant use of self-reference is just starting to look arrogant. (Yeah, I know, as if we didn’t know they were arrogant already.)

  2. This would be a good one for Stone/Parker to remake.

  3. But the reason Children stays with me, and the point of this post, is that it is possibly the greatest example of the anti-hippie horror film.

    Whoa. What about The Omega Man?

  4. I don’t understand how they get away with remaking these tired old films into exhausted new films. I don’t think anyone’s done a really great remake since C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces.

  5. On a related note, they’re in the process of remaking “Porky’s”. That movie was funny as hell when I was 12.

  6. In the same medium, I mean. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was great on paper and on screen.

  7. At least it was a shitty film. If you’re going to do a remake, you should remake a crappy picture into a better picture. Turning a 70’s Zeitgeist masterpiece into a Billy Bob Thornton vehicle is just wrong.

  8. Whoa. What about The Omega Man?

    Heston spraying lead with an automatic rifle while wearing a cravat and crushed velvet evening jacket is probably one of the highlights of 1970’s cinema.

    Clicky

  9. I agree that there is nothing wrong with remaking bad movies. What the hell, you can’t do any worse. Its when Hollywood takes a good movie and decides to “make it current” (read put in a many politically correct polemics as possible and cut out every line or scene that could possibly be subversive about the film) that things go wrong. I would hate to see an Easy Rider remake done by anyone in Hollywood except for maybe one done by Parker/Stone with Cartman playing Peter Fonda part.

    “the way it explores the tension between what we now call the Red States and the Blue States”

    Oh God, the last thing the world needs is more of Hollywood exploring the strange and exotic cultures of people who live in suburbs and eat at Olive Gardens.

  10. Warren,

    you must be talking about Bad News Bears? I haven’t seen the new one, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to – given how great the original is.

  11. I’d say Omega Man was a pro-hippie movie. Heston is shown watching Woodstock for the 300th time, Rosalind Cash is a sassy soul sister (close enough to a hippie for a guy like Heston), the other living guy has kind of a groovy attitude, and Matthias and The Family are the ultimate squares. Plus, Heston looks like he just stepped out of the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s.

  12. The fact that there are any black people in it at all (who aren’t safely confined to a stage) pretty much proves it’s an anti-hippie movie, I’d think.

  13. I recently had the dubious pleasure of seeing Children Shouldn’t Play with Death Things at Sacramento’s Trash Film Orgy. All I have to say about that film is that the lead is a dead ringer for the bookmobile guy (the chickenfucker) from that memorable episode of South Park.

  14. “the way it explores the tension between what we now call the Red States and the Blue States”

    I forget who said it, but someone once opined that “There are parts of this country where the people believe that Easy Rider had a happy ending.”

  15. Mediageek,

    You mean it didn’t?

  16. Soylent Hemp is made of hippies! Hiiiiippiieeeeees!

  17. If you really wanted to explore the tension between red and blue, a remake of Pink Flamingos would be in order.

    I can envision Roseanne Barr as Edie; and perhaps Johnny Depp as Crackers.

  18. If you like zombies, I *strongly* recommended Max Brooks’ book “The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead.”

  19. John-

    Seconded. It’s a really excellent book.

  20. Mediageek,

    That person was one Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in I believe the scene where he enters the drug convention hotel.

  21. How about …

    Soylent Green, remade by Mario Van Peebles!

    Peeeeeeeeebllllllllllllesss!

  22. The only thing interesting I found (after a recent viewing) about Easy Rider is that the photography was excellent. The script was useless but they had a great cameraman, whoever he was.

    Remaking Pink Flamingos would be like freezing a BLT sandwich, it doesn’t make any sense at all. I don’t know who could possibly top Divine in that kind of comedy, except maybe Barbara Streisand. If you know what I mean.

  23. Actually, the graveyard resurrection scene in “Children” itself appears to owe quite a bit to the Spanish zombie flick “Tombs of the Blind Dead” and to the late Hammer/Shaw Bros. collaboration, “Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.”

    Clark has the most remarkably diverse filmography of any director I can think of. From “Children” and “Porky’s” to “A Christmas Story” and “Baby Geniuses.”

  24. Happy Jack,
    I’m a man who prides himself on his imagination, but the brand of sick and twisted brain that would even suggest remaking a John Waters flick is beyond me.

  25. Warren- more sick and twisted than the brains who conceived of Car 54, Where Are You?; Lost in Space; or The Beverly Hillbillies? 🙂

    Douglas- yeah, the idea falls apart with the Divine role, which is why I didn’t name anyone. I have to admit though, with modern cinema prosthetics, Streisand sounds intriguing.

  26. IIRC, Divine was basically trying to be a cross between Victor Mature and Hedy Lamar. I can’t think of any working actress who is more like that than Streisand.

    She’s never eat the poodle crap, though, not in a million years.

  27. Re: Easy Rider: I’ve always felt more affinity for the Beats than the hippies. Hippies were pussies; Kerouac and Burroughs would have shot back at those crackers in the pickup…

  28. I remembered liking Electra Glide in Blue and looked around the web to jog my memory about it, relating to the pro/anti-hippie discussion- I’d forgotten this scene:

    “there’s a… scene where Arizona Motor Officer “Big John” Wintergreen (Robert Blake) is practicing his handgun skills at a target range by shooting at a picture of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in their “Easy Rider” duds.”

  29. Creature Features. Ah, Bob Wilkins. I loved you as Captain Cosmic, and I feared you on Creature Features. I never saw you forecast the weather.

    A Bob Wilkins Haiku

    Late night scary flicks
    Skull candles dripping red wax
    You puffed big cigars

  30. OMEGA MAN is definitely an anti-hippie film.

    The virus “mutants” form a communistic, anti-science, anti-technology cult and go around dressed up in weird costumes, burning libraries and museums. Their leader goes to great pains to point out that “The Family” is multiethnic and will wipe out the old hatreds and mistakes of the past while building a new world of collectivist harmony. These are absolutely, positively supposed to be hippies.

    Charlton Heston’s character is an egomaniacal former military scientist who has jury-rigged his townhouse with electrical service and other gadgets. When asked why he has a camera system in his house, he replies, “I’m a narcissist.” He keeps a medical lab on one side of his penthouse, and rescued art and books on the other side, and says, “One side keeps the other side going.” When asked why he hasn’t fled the city, he goes off about how his house is HIS house, and no one is going to chase him out of it. [Despite the fact that he has an empty continent to live in if he wants to.]

    Yup, OMEGA MAN is basically I AM LEGEND tricked up with a bunch of Randian allegory. It’s almost comical.

  31. D.F.: The DP for Easy Rider was Laszlo Kovacs, who also did Paper Moon, Shampoo, Five Easy Pieces, et many al.

    Bob Clark has a cameo in Xmas Story as Swede, the be-toqued neighbor quizzing Mr. Parker in the street about his leg-lamp Major Award. “Damn hell, yew say yew wun it?”

  32. Oh God, the last thing the world needs is more of Hollywood exploring the strange and exotic cultures of people who live in suburbs and eat at Olive Gardens.

    You’re thinking of shamesploitation, a different genre-of, by, and for people who think The Graduate is a stunning exploration of American middle class hypocrisy. Easy Rider is all around a pretty bad movie (and I don’t mean ba-a-a-d), but it’s about culture war, a different topic, and one that could make for an interesting movie today.

    Actually, the graveyard resurrection scene in “Children” itself appears to owe quite a bit to the Spanish zombie flick “Tombs of the Blind Dead” and to the late Hammer/Shaw Bros. collaboration, “Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.”

    Once again we see that every time you think you’re the biggest zombie expert in the room, an even bigger zombie expert comes along to show you up. I thank you for tip on Tombs, which sounds incredibly promising, not least for this bit:

    Roger and Betty pay a visit to Professor Cantrell, an expert in medieval history at the local university. He tells them of the Knights Templar, a heretical sect who practiced virgin sacrifice and vampirism to gain immortality,

    Nick Gillespie does a really funny bit about how every seventies horror film includes a visit-to-the-professor sequence, in which the old expert strokes his beard, sucks on his pipe and calmly says stuff like: “Of course, reincarnation has been an established fact for five thousand years…” Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, however, was made two years after Children.

    OMEGA MAN is definitely an anti-hippie film.

    Your point is well made. No argument here.

    Mega dittos on Laszlo Kovacs. The first time I saw Easy Rider I was expecting a cheap-looking picture with a lot of interesting stuff. It turned out it was a great-looking picture where the only interesting stuff was the bit parts by Toni Basil and Karen Black.

  33. I remember seeing a ‘Toni Basil’ in the credits of Easy Rider but until now, I never knew it was ‘the Toni Basil’ of Mickey fame.

    I learn something new from Reason every day.

  34. My all-time favorite anti-hippie flick is Wild In The Streets.

  35. Omega Man is about how Heston reluctantly comes to view the hippies as the best hope for civilization. He watches Woodstock in obvious pain, but the movie leaves open the question of whether he’s still hating on the hippies and their antics or pining for the lost world he’s seeing on the screen. Matthias and his gang are not hippies. How could anybody mistake the Family’s proto-goth look and fashion as hippie stuff? They’re the bourgeoisie, Lyndon Johnson voters who, when put to the test of a crisis, reveal their true nature as intolerant conservatives. Their hatred for science and reason fits the pattern of Inquisition types (which they obviously resemble) more than the touchyfeely attitudes of hippies–who generally thought science and sci-fi were a stone gas. Heston ends up teaming up with the group of youngsters who show all the signifiers of hippiedom–they dress in colorful rags, they live in a commune, the oldest one is half Heston’s age, etc. SPOILER: They’re the ones who end up surviving, while Heston gets crucified in his fountain, having decided to make the supreme sacrifice for the children of the future. Framing the whole story is the fact that the liberal state and its military-industrial complex have ended up wiping out the world, just as the hippies feared. Obviously not an anti-hippie film, but a film about bridging the gap between the hippies and those elders who are still openminded enough to Reach. Compare all this with Heston’s advice to the young ape at the end of Planet of the Apes: “Keep the flags of rebellion flying. Never trust anybody over thirty.” Don’t be blinded by the ignorant view of Heston as nothing more than a one-dimensional right-winger. He’s always been a hip guy, never more so than in the late sixties-early seventies.

    For the age of GWB, we really need an Omega Man remake where Matthias is shown to be right.

  36. When you mentioned this film, it brought back a whole crapload of memories; bad ones. I saw this movie on ch 9 in the afternoon and it completely freaked my out. I was too young to know it was schlock, and it certainly gave me a case of the urpy-willies.

    “Ice cream, mom? Uh, now thanks.”

    I hated the memories of that film ever since, and when you mentioned a remake, I had a visceral reaction to it. Then:

    “But the reason Children stays with me, and the point of this post, is that it is possibly the
    greatest example of the anti-hippie horror film.”

    Something tells me I might enjoy seeing it this time. I wonder if Netflix carries it…

  37. I?ll say it loud, ?I love CSPWDT and I?m proud.? The film has an eerie Theremin-meets-musical saw soundtrack, snappy dialog (?Poor Anya; any minute now I just expect her to float off?), and truly scary zombies (courtesy of make-up man/writer Alan Orsmby) ? oh, and don?t forget the two openly Gay characters who, when told to fill in a grave, lisp ?wait ?till Gay Pride hears about this!?

    The problem with Tim?s Anti-Hippie theory is that Alan and his acting troupe take great pains at several points in the film to point out that they are not Hippies. In fact, filmgoers would have to wait for the appearance of Wall Street?s Gordon Gecko before they would see the screen lit up by such a blatant Capitalist as Alan.

  38. I’ll say it loud, “I love CSPWDT and I?m proud.” The film has an eerie Theremin-meets-musical saw soundtrack, snappy dialog (“Poor Anya; any minute now I just expect her to float off”), and truly scary zombies (courtesy of make-up man/writer Alan Orsmby) – oh, and don’t forget the two openly Gay characters who, when told to fill in a grave, lisp “wait ’till Gay Pride hears about this!”

    The problem with Tim’s Anti-Hippie theory is that Alan and his acting troupe take great pains at several points in the film to point out that they are not Hippies. In fact, filmgoers would have to wait for the appearance of Wall Street’s Gordon Gecko before they would see the screen lit up by such a blatant Capitalist as Alan.

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