Friday, September 16, 2005

Down in the park

I've always pushed the edge of the whole "there's no such thing as a stupid question" thing.

The problem is that I have all these things running through my head and unless I say them, there's not really any way to get them to stop.

Unless I write them down.

My brother and I were talking about Great America a few weeks ago. Neither of us have been in a while, and we lamented the loss of many of the cool rides we enjoyed when we were younger.

We found all kinds of information about the park, courtesy of this very cool site.

I vaguely recalled that there was a sister Great America park, but my brother and I were intrigued to find that the sister park, in Gurnee, Ill., still has many of the inaugural Great America rides.

The Whizzer, which closed at our GA in 1988, was the first roller coaster I ever rode on. According to the site, it's still running in Gurnee.

Josh and I have penciled in a tentative road trip to Gurnee in the near future.

This got me to thinking. Theme parks aren't very, well, theme-ey anymore. Not around here, anyway. Aside from the old school Great America, we had Frontier Village, but that closed when I was a kid and I only vaguely recall having been there. I might not have.

Now it's just a collection of rides. Cool rides, to be sure, but there's no unifying theme.

This is where the idea thing I was talking about earlier comes in.

What's a theme that hasn't been done?

The human body.

You could get all kinds of funding from pharmaceutical companies, which, to be honest, could use some positive p.r., right? Each ride could have brief educational displays that you can read while you're waiting in line. And of course, the park would be divided into different areas. I can't decide if it shoulid be divided by location or by type of process. Oh, well.

Off the top of my head, here are some ride ideas:

The Centrifuge

A lot of these are existing types of rides that are redressed to fit in with the theme. Here we have a Gravitron-like ride in which the riders are the test tubes that need to be spun around. This could work with a ride like Orleans Orbit, with test-tube-style passenger cars, but that ride makes me ill (the only ride to ever make me feel queasy).


You know those bungee rocket rides they show people freaking out in on America's Funniest Home Videos? This ride simulates the speed of the human sneeze. Your capsule, which could be decked out to look alternately like pollen or cat dander or something, rockets you and a friend at roughly Mach 3 (the speed, not the razor) into the air before you land safely at the launch pad.

Nutrition Express

Not as much of a ride as a park transportation system, the Nutrition Express is carrying nutrients (and passengers) to different parts of the body. Each station would have an appropriate name, like "The Bloodstream," "The Heart" or something not lame.

Down the Hatch

A freefall ride where you and a few friends are food or drink going down the esophagus. The main structure of the ride represents a magnified section of someone's throat. Maybe they could put a facade on it that would look like a person. They could call him Perry Stalsis or something.


A dark ride in which passengers are inside the stomach, twisting, turning and churning. Coincidentally, this ride is most likely to make you sick to your stomach. But that's OK, because it's got a really cool name.


A really fast roller coaster in which riders are part of the central nervous system. It could be advertised as "Impulse: A ride with real action potential." This could be one of the fastest coasters in the area and would likely be the biggest draw in the park.

The Log Ride

I'm not even touching this one.

You get the idea. I think with a good assortment of rides, this isn't that far-fetched of an idea. The vaguely educational aspect would work well with school field trips. And can you imagine the kinds of mascots you could have running around the park?

Get your picture taken with Colon Farrell or Urethra Franklin!

If any theme park desginer types want to use this idea, all I ask for is decent compensation and lifetime passes for my family.

Oh, and a Log Ride hat would be cool, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

'A Dracula on Drugs!'

It's time for Bad Movies A to Z again. Now we're up to B. At this breakneck pace, I should be done by the time my son finishes college.

My brain went into shock the first time I read about today's movie. I've seen lots of bad and obscure movies, and I thought I'd seen just about everything within my favorite genres.

Shows you how much I know.

Today's movie in a nutshell: It's really hard to sum this movie up in one pithy comment. The folks at Something Weird Video (God bless their little hearts for making stuff like this available on DVD) bill this flick as "The world's only turkey-monster/anti-drug/
pro-Jesus/gore film!"

The cover box for the VHS version, which I tracked down on eBay a few years ago, had the less accurate "A Dracula on Drugs!"

With this kind of billing, how could "Blood Freak" do anything but dazzle the viewer?

You'd better get comfortable. And I should point out that this movie is not for kids. With a name like "Blood Freak," you'd think that this is a given, but now you can't say I didn't warn you.

The story: When I first saw this, it was an old VHS edition. The colors were washed out, and it was really hard to see or hear much of anything. The DVD edition is quite an improvement, but there's only so much you can do with an almost 35-year-old movie that, quite frankly, wasn't at the top of any film preservation society's lists.

"The sun shone bright in the blue Florida sky, and Herschell, as was his wont, cruised the highways on his bike. After the horrors he'd experienced in the war, sometimes he just needed to get out in the fresh air.

That's when he met Angel."

-- an excerpt from the nonexistant novelization of "Blood Freak," written about two minutes ago

Herschell (Steve Hawkes, he of the thick, Michael Landonish locks) is a buffed out-of-work Vietnam vet who meets Angel, a pretty young woman whose car breaks down. He stops to look at her car, and just his mere presence seems to heal the ailing auto.

The two drive off together, during what, judging from the camera work, is a minor earthquake.

Note to aspiring filmmakers: If you can't afford a tripod and crafting one is out of the question, you might want to avoid shooting in the back of a pickup on the freeway.

Herschell and Angel arrive at Angel's place, which I guess she shares with her bad-seed sister, Ann. Angel is a polite, church-going woman. Ann, not so much. In Angel's absence, Ann has thrown what looks like a combination drug/Tupperware party. I'm pretty sure that's against Tupperware policy.

It's hard to figure out just what's going on. There's a group of people around the table who appear to be snorting Chapstick. Off in another part of the room, there's Guy the Drug Dealer, who is hanging out with who I assume is his girlfriend. On the couch is the nice guy who runs a poultry ranch.

In what passes for conversation in this movie, Herschell rebuffs the advances of Guy's girlfriend. Here's a sample:

"You shouldn't be acting this way with me. Especially when you are with someone else."

"You must be putting me on. Guy doesn't mind if I like someone else. He wouldn't even mind if I went to bed with you."

"I just don't go for a girl that acts like a tramp. Even if she's very beautiful."

Oh, snap!

This decision will come to haunt Herschell later.

Meanwhile, Angel is bringing the whole party down for Ann. Ann's friends, Bob (who looks like Stifler with a Hulk Hogan 'stache) and Doris (who doesn't), ask Ann about the Bible. Doris sounds interested. And so does Bob.

"Anything she can dig, I can dig."

While Herschell and Angel rap about the Bible, Ann is trying to put the moves on him. She is a classy lady. When Herschell chooses to continue Bible study with Angel, Ann is hurt and heads to Guy to get some "stuff." Guy suggests slipping Angel something, but Ann refuses. She has principles. Or principle. So they decide to give it to Herschell instead.

Punctuating the movie are bits of commentary from our narrator (co-director Brad Grinter), who looks like a drunken combination of Mr. Brady and Vincent Price. Since we can't rely on the actual movie to provide the exposition, we have this guy, who sits at a desk in front of some wood paneling.

We're introduced to him here, and he says two words before lighting up his smoke. His pauses are supposed to come off as dramatic, I suppose, but they look an awful like he lost his place in the script.

Herschell and Ann hang out with Poultry Ranch Guy. Sorry for the lack of specifics, but I didn't catch many of the characters' names. I don't think they were throwing them, either. He could be Angel and Ann's dad for all I know. Or their mom.

Herschell mentions that he needs a job.

"That's easy. I could use a husky man like you out at my poultry ranch, if you can wait until next week."

"What would I be doing?"

"Just general work until we find where you fit in with the operation."

As bad as that reads, it's worse when it sounds as if it's being read off a cue card.

Man, I could use a Tylenol right about now.

Angel says Herschell can crash with her until he finds his own place. The next day, while he's working on the pool, Ann comes out in her bikini.

She produces a funny-looking cigarette from a bandage container and lights up. She offers it to Herschell, who just says no. Then she stumbles upon his weakness.

Just like Marty McFly, Herschell can't stand being accused of being a chicken. Sadly, Ann uses the word "coward" instead of "chicken," which would've been more appropriate. Mr. "I'm not a coward" buckles like a belt and samples the devil weed. They erupt into a fit of unconvincing giggling.

Herschell now has a monkey on his manly back. He also ends up in bed with Ann. And just as the romantic guitar music begins to swell, we're interrupted by the narrator, still smoking a cig.

"Amen!" He talks about temptation and falling into predictable paths and sums his mini-sermon up with a hearty "Right on."

It's the next day, and since Ann didn't set the alarm clock, Herschell's almost late for his first day of work.

Cut to the poultry ranch. We get some establishing shots of Herschell (in shades borrowed from Elvis) talking to the turkeys, which is good in case we weren't paying attention 10 seconds ago.

Herschell is introduced to two guys in white coats. He can get some extra scratch by helping with some "experiments."

Lenny and Gene, the scientists at the poultry ranch -- who look about as much like scientists as I do a fitness model -- are working on some kind of project that involves giving drugs to turkeys. I don't know if they're spiking their feed or giving them little turkey joints or what, but there's some kind of experimentation afoot.

Herschell's new gig is to sample some of the meat from the doctored turkeys to make sure that it's safe for people to eat, a job that's roughly equivalent to Daffy Duck testing artillery shells by hitting them with a mallet.

Even better, they offer him some drugs in addition to the money as "an extra added bonus." He is to commence chowdown the next morning. Till then, he chases around turkeys.

Alas, they could only secure about 5 seconds of turkey gobbling sound, so they looped it to stretch it out, which is annoying in the same way that finding the pattern in your "Soothing Rainfall" bedside sound maker is. All you hear is the edit seam.

But on the plus side, looped turkey noise doesn't begin to sound more and more like bacon frying the longer you hear it.

After work, Herschell acts like he's passing a kidney stone the size of a Buick. Ann calls Guy the Drug Dealer, who shows up with more "stuff." Our newly junkied hero goes in for some two-fisted smoking, the likes of which unseen since "Reefer Madness." He realizes he's hooked and works out a deal with Guy by threatening to "break every bone in (his) miserable body" and throwing him to the floor.

Guy hears the voice of God (or more likely, the director) say "Get up slowly," right before the scene cuts. That's a nice touch.

The next morning, it's breakfast time. Gene (or Lenny, I don't know which one is which) gives him the bird. Turkey, anyway. Since Herschell is flying high, this is actually perfect for him because he's got a wicked case of the munchies.

Faster than you can say "4:20," he inhales the platter of turkey, shoveling it in with gusto, even though there was no stuffing or cranberry sauce. But he's obviously not picky, as he's eating turkey outside near a turkey pen. Ick.

The turkey must not agree with him. He stumbles away and falls over. A quick fadeout and then he's dreaming that he's Joe Cocker in concert, judging from the convulsions he's having.

Gene (or Lenny) sees the prone chucklehead and looks like he's going to help. Another fadeout.

I guess Gene (or Lenny) changed his mind, because they're both getting chewed out by Poultry Ranch Guy.

"So why did you take him out and dump him? Don't we have enough trouble in these experiments without taking the chance on a murder charge? All we did was to give this guy some turkey."

An abrupt cut and Ann is telling Bob that Herschell was gone all night.

Back at the ranch, Gene and Lenny are planning to leave town to avoid the fuzz. We also find that Gene is the big one and Lenny is the bespectacled one with the goatee.

Herschell is still convulsing. We see him from the legs down as he stumbles to his feet. Then I can't tell what is going on because it's dark. Wait a sec.

Oh, it's Ann's bedroom. She hears a noise and wakes up to see --


Yes, Herschell's head is now a big turkey head. He can't speak, so he hands Ann a note asking for help. She looks at him. At first she's concerned. Will the effect wear off? Ever?

But her concern lasts about as long as her virginity probably did.

"Boy, Herschell, you sure are ugly."

He gobbles in protest, and she apologizes. Then it's more concerned rambling.

"What would the children think of their father looking like...that. My God, what would the children look like? What would they think? Would they look like their father? Herschell, what are you doing?"

I thought he was going to kill her at this point. That's usually what people in movies say before they get it. Oh my, how wrong I was.

"Oh, Herschell..."

That sound you hear is this movie hitting the very bottom of the barrel.

How can we go on from inferred hot turkey love? After Ann calls Angel for help, it's time for the narrator again.

This time, it's about how when things have turned bad for people, then they turn to God. I don't know if that was deliberate planning to put it right after this part of the movie, but it's a strange coincidence, because I was praying that things wouldn't get any worse.

This mini-sermon is dubbed over Herschell's confrontation with Ann and Angel. The one part that might've had some kind of drama, naturally.

Bob and his friend Jim come over and find out that Herschell is there. Ann tells them that he's changed, but they don't believe her until he walks out.

We don't find out what their reactions are because the scene shifts to the turkey who walks like a man. He heads to Guy's place and makes checks out Guy and his girlfriend. Every time something scary happens, the same orchestral sting is used.

Every time. That's the only way I stay awake to find out whats going on.

So while Herschell is making snacks of other druggies, Bob and Jim are aiming to take him down. Ann is distraught that Herschell will never be the same again. She reluctantly agrees that he must be stopped.

When Herschell offs some random guy, the guy's pal takes revenge and I think stabs him in one of his beady turkey eyes.

Guy is now with Ann and invites who I think is his supplier, to whom he owes money. He comes up $75 short, so he offers him Ann. Both guy and his supplier are extremely skeevy, and when he attacks Ann, Herschell's turkey-sense goes off. Said supplier beats feet when he sees our turkey-headed hero.

But scaring him away is not enough. He chases him into a workshop where there is a giant saw that is the focus of every interior shot. I wonder what's coming next...

Yup. Lays him out on the saw and takes off a leg. This is a pretty decent effect, mainly because the guy playing the supplier appears to be missing part of his leg in real life.

Of course, this decent effect comes an hour and seven minutes into the movie, so it's really a small achievement.

Herschell collapses in a field and clasps his hands together as if praying. Looming in from the side are Bob and Jim, who dispatch Herschell with one swoop of a machete. People are seen eating a bunch of turkey from a platter that has Herschell's turkey head on it.

The end, right?

Sigh. Spoilers ahead. If you don't want to know the end, don't read any further.

Still here, huh? OK.

Herschell wakes up in the field that he collapsed in just after eating the doctored turkey. Poultry Ranch Guy finds him and asks if he's OK. Apparently, when Herschell was in the service, he was burned badly and got hooked on pain meds.

Wow. Poultry Ranch Guy's name is Tom Nolan. Way to introduce the characters, eh?

Tom contacts Ann, who works at a drug center. She calls Ann to tell her that they found Herschell. Ann cops to giving him bad drugs she got from Guy.

Angel picks up Herschell and apologizes on Ann's behalf. She encourages Herschell to pray for faith to get through his addiction.

Aw, jeez. The narrator again.

After he talks about the perils of ingesting chemicals, he sums up thusly:

"So, let's give a little thought to making our own story -- cough-cough-- have a happy ending. Cough-cough-hack-hack-cough-cough."

Herschell and Ann reunite on a pier. They are happy together. And now, 80 minutes after we started, it's finally over. No end credits except "The End."

Afterthoughts: Where do you start? I looked at the liner notes and found out that Steve Hawkes, our hero, had been badly burned while making a Spanish Tarzan film. As you can imagine, his medical bills left him without much money. Co-director Brad Grinter, who'd directed "Flesh Feast," Veronica Lake's filmic swan song, worked with Hawkes on this film.

When funding ran out, the pair had to cobble together the movie on their own, and this is the result.

Hawkes later opened a private animal sanctuary. It was in the news a year or so ago when one of his tigers escaped and was killed.

So really, when you find out what was going on behind the scenes, you are a little impressed that it got made. Not that it's a cinematic triumph, mind you. As much as everyone caps on Ed Wood and his films, they at least had heart. You could tell Ed loved movies.

This film doesn't have heart so much as a sense of desperation. It fails on almost every level of competent filmmaking, but it got done and somebody saw it. That's got to count for something. And though its brief running time seems a lot longer, it really is fascinating to watch.

My description, overlong as it is, is no substitute for actually seeing it. You really have to see it to believe that this exists.

So that's two down in Bad Movies A to Z. I am relatively confident that the next one won't be as much of a, uh, turkey, as this one was.