by Andrew Blossom
When Kate Barr of Scarecrow Video invited me to contribute a column to Scarecrow’s celebration of Independent International Video Store Day, she suggested several possible topics. One of these was Jewels of the Video Fan Collection. This suggestion caused my mind to bump slightly sideways—not to the most precious stones, necessarily, but rather to films I’ve only seen because I work at my particular video store. Here’s a sampling. Without the Video Fan, these films would not exist for me. I hope you’ll seek them out at Scarecrow, or at whatever beloved video store is near you.
Voyage of the Rock Aliens (1984)
We open on a starship shaped like a Flying V guitar as it cruises through space. Its robot pilot is searching for suitable worlds but for some reason tunes into a music video in which Pia Zadora and Jermaine Jackson ride motorcycles while wearing white linen jumpsuits. Then the robot finds Earth. It resuscitates a New Wave band that seems to misunderstand the whole Devo thing. They end up in a California town where Ruth Gordon is the sheriff. Eventually, Craig Sheffer sings a ballad to a mountain lion and Michael Berryman wrestles a giant tentacle. At the prom, during a rock battle between the Rockabillies and the New Wavers, Pia Zadora (also on Earth, and clearly in her thirties) gets turned into a ball of light and floats across the gymnasium before rematerializing on stage already singing and dancing. At that moment, my heart swells so dramatically I feel I might expire.
Never Too Young to Die (1986)
A young gymnast played by John Stamos discovers his late father (George Lazenby) was an undercover superspy (but of course—it’s George Lazenby) whose untimely murder came at the hands of Ragnar, a melodramatically treacherous hermaphrodite played by Gene Simmons. I’ve never particularly cared for Gene Simmons, but his delightful performance here caused me to reconsider that attitude entirely. Now when I see his name on a film, I watch it as quickly as possible. And P.S. Vanity is all over this thing. As in, Last Dragon/Action Jackson Vanity. The seduction scene between her and Stamos! Seriously, go get it.
Twin Sitters (1994)
Speaking of George Lazenby, here he is again, but this time as a polluter whose scheme to dump toxic waste in the sewer is somehow foiled when the witness he hopes to intimidate hires the Barbarian Brothers to babysit his children. You may remember the Barbarian Brothers from D.C. Cab or (appropriately) Barbarians; here, they continue to map out their unique Venn diagram of comic mugging and muscles, while also wearing simply the most astounding outfits. At one point, one of the Brothers has a phone cord draped across himself as a kind of sash, under which are overalls (one strap unbuttoned, naturally). Almost as good, the Brothers drive a monster truck while ceaselessly blaring rap music that they themselves recorded. The lyrics: “What you looking at/what you looking at.” And Paul Bartel’s in it! Everybody who works at the Video Fan loves this movie. And I mean everybody.
Just for the Hell of It (1968)
This strangely un-bloody film from Herschel Gordon Lewis involves a bunch of 1960’s teenagers living every moral American’s nightmare by wantonly destroying everything in their path while cackling maniacally in a repetitive and almost hallucinatory manner. Then they kidnap a baby and put it in a trashcan.
Everything Is Terrible! Does the Hip Hop: Gettin’ a Bad Rap (2013)
What can I say? It’s nothing short of a work of art. One day it will be in the MoMA. One day it will be on the National Film Registry. One day it will be remembered as the kindest thing anyone’s ever done for Anne Hathaway. You heard it here first.
Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987)
When the Criterion Collection released their double set of 1954’s Godzilla and 1956’s American re-edit, Godzilla, King of Monsters, I decided to rewatch both films. To my surprise, I discovered King of Monsters was the only of them I’d actually seen. That version is not without its significant charms—Raymond Burr, cracks about sake—but it can’t hold a candle to Ishiro Honda’s original, which is suffused with an intense sadness and an almost otherworldly beauty. It’s never left me. That scene where the broadcasters are on the radio tower to get a view of Godzilla, and as he nears they realize they’re doomed, and the announcer says to his listening audience, “Goodbye, ladies and gentlemen!”—I think about it like once a week.
Multiple Maniacs (1970)
Video Fan is hosting John Waters for an event in Richmond this weekend, so I’ve taken the opportunity go back and watch all his films in chronological order. When I got to his second film, Multiple Maniacs, I discovered that like Godzilla, I’d somehow never seen Multiple Maniacs. And what a movie to have missed! Divine is a murderous carnie whose “freak show” stars are prostitutes, junkies, homosexuals and puke-eaters, and whose grand finale involves murdering the audience. David Lochary is her unhappy husband, whose affair with Mary Vivian Pierce causes him to exclaim, in a genuinely touching way, “I love you so much I could shit!” In the film’s bravura scene, shot in a real church, Mink Stole overwhelms Divine and gives her a “rosary job” while reciting the Stations of the Cross. As she does, the actors who formerly played the prostitutes, junkies, homosexuals and puke-eaters return to act out the narration, with the junkie playing Jesus Christ. And then there’s the giant lobster.
Terrifying Girls’ High School: Lynch Law Classroom (1973)
There’s so much to recommend here, but I’ll leave you with this exchange, which takes place when girl boss Maki (Reiko Ike) bursts into the high school to confront girl boss Noriko (Miki Sugimoto):
Maki: I was born and raised in the Kanto area. I was born in Sakura Josui. I grew up among the neon lights of Shinjuku, where Osamu Dazai bid farewell to the world. I’ve been in and out of juvenile hall. Presently, I run 38 gangs of delinquent girls in the Kanto Chapter. My name is Maki Takigawa. I’m here to ask you to accept a one-on-one duel.
Noriko: Let me return the greeting. I was born in Isezaki in the port town of Yokohama. I was raised in a mission. I’ve been through 14 schools during my career as a student. I’m the Cross that makes grown men weep, and I’ve chosen the life of a gangster. They call me Noriko the Cross. Your personal greeting is accepted.
Since 1986, the Video Fan has been Richmond, VA’s independent video store. Within the last year, they have become a non-profit.