Friday, September 12, 2014

Video Cheese/Oddball Film Report: COVERGIRL (1982)

Note: This review was originally written for, and has been published here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

Couldn't find art for this film, so this poster art comes from a 70's porno about cover girl models!

COVERGIRL (1982 - color)

   "A rich jerk falls for a fashion model and vows to make her the most famous name in the industry."

   The box top for Covergirl shows a half dozen exaggeratedly sexy models on a bare set. None of them are in the film's cast. Based on this, I figured the film would be a TV movie that was being pushed as a skin flick by the video distributor. Well, its not a TV movie. Nor is it a skin flick. I have no idea who this picture was aimed at!

   It resembles a chick flick at times, but its not really that. Its an exploitation movie, but not overly exploitative (while there is some nudity here, all of it is pretty much peripheral, of the "why did they even bother" variety). 

   Its not a comedy. 

   Its not a romance. 

   Its not really a drama. 

   Its not an industry documentary. 

   It might be considered a buddy picture of sorts, except those relationships are rarely on screen. 

   What is this and who was it made for? The film feels like filler, like the whole thing is padding. Was it assembled to flesh out a double bill? Probably not specifically, not in 1982.

  Adding to the problem is the film's digest-like nature. We don't follow a story as much as jump from scene to scene. We see plenty of bits unrelated to anything else, and major events occur off screen. The time frame in which all this occurs is likewise problematic because we're given no clue. The events seen here would seem to play out over several months, but the way this stuff is cut, it could be within a week! 

   For instance, our leading lady's hair changes in every scene, and I can't tell if this is to indicate passage of time or just happens because she's a model and has to change her look all the time. One minute she has a perm, the next her hair is straight, but not for any effect. It just happens. 

   Further kneecapping any solidity the film may've had is that our leads are so boring.

   Our male star is Jeff Conaway, Bobby Wheeler of Taxi. Maybe the director didn't give him enough to work with or something, but Conaway displays a complete lack of charisma as T. C. Sloane, the supposedly charismatic leader of big business gadget-making company Leisure 80. 

   Its not a good sign when every single supporting player is more interesting to watch than our star. Oh, and being a rich guy in an 80s movie, he has a little robot roaming around acting as his manservant, just like the one from Rocky IV

   Conaway can't take all the blame, however, the script is working against him. Sloane is supposed to be a charming rogue of sorts, but he's just an arrogant jerk. Granted, being a jerk snags him the leading lady, but I can't imagine his approach to women would ever work in real life.

   Irena Ferris plays Kit Paget, the fashion model Sloane intends to make an international icon. Ferris was a regular on Dallas before leaving acting, and she now does charity work providing medical care to inner city kids. She's better than Conaway here, but not by much. During the opening credits, she's told to eye the camera and look sexy, and she strikes a brain-dead expression that caused me to laugh out loud (I may have laughed harder at this than the episode of Get Smart I watched afterward)! 

   She's pretty bland, and again isn't aided by the script. She keeps making wild leaps in her character, as the film glosses over important developments that play like missing scenes. One minute, Kit and Sloane are in love, the next she's throwing a tantrum on live television. Trying to calm her down, Sloane accidentally slaps the show's hostess. This is played as something that will have a major impact on both their lives, but is never spoken of again!

   This must be a rare film, because the IMDB has almost nothing on it. A title search turned up nothing, then I found it in Conaway's filmography, but the date was listed as 1984. I was sure the copyright on the tape was 82, so I don't know who to believe. I suppose it could have been shot in 82 and released in 84, but that's just a guess on my part.

   Our plot, such as it is, has rookie (but published) model Kit Paget taking a taxi to an important gig. Meanwhile, Sloane is also in a hurry and the two collide in a parking lot. In a potentially funny bit (but I didn't think of it as a comedy scene until the day after I'd watched it), Sloane, his driver (who Sloane had traded places with because Sloane felt he was driving too slow), Kit, and a beat cop are all stuffed into a taxi so the report can be made out while Sloane makes his meeting. 

   See what I mean? In a Bob Hope movie, that set up by itself would have been funny. In Covergirl, it just sits there like everything else, confusing the viewer as to what reaction he should have. 

   Anyway, after ruining her day, Sloane decides he's smitten with Kit. Kit, smartly, ignores him.

   We're just getting started, though. Sloane sees Kit's picture while flipping through a magazine and tells his friends/stooges to find out who she is. Later, he shows up at a fur show in which Kit is a model. He loudly states that he will buy the fur Kit is wearing and demands that she model the other furs. Embarrassed, Kit models the other furs, all of which are purchased by Sloane. In this sequence, we also get a bit of rivalry between Kit and a Nordic woman who was last year's hot stuff. She'll weave in and out of the movie, but her contributions to the film are minimal. In fact, I don't remember the rivalry ever coming to a head or being resolved.

   Sloane eventually pesters Kit into going out with him. She falls for his charm pretty quickly (or else she loves hanging out with a huge jerk). Then again, maybe its his money she finds attractive, its the only hope he'd have in real life. 

   Sloane tells her he intends to make her the most famous model in the industry (and during '82 there weren't that many famous fashion models, particularly if they never got into acting. There were some, but people couldn't identify catalog models then like they can today). 

   Kit decides to take Sloane's deal, which at this point is still business. Sloane starts by having Leisure 80 buy into the company that represents Kit and helps manage her contract. After that, its onto publicity.

   In the film's one really clever moment, a story has been planted that claims Kit is in love with a famous fashion designer and is going to have his child. Everyone within the industry knows this is just talk because the man is openly homosexual. Kit is horrified of the story and meets with the guy to help square things. The guy turns out to be a flaming heterosexual, he just poses as a guy who rides side-saddle to get close to executives' wives. That, sadly, would exhaust the film's reserve of wit. 

   Among other minor misadventures are the aforementioned television show, an attempted rape by a top photographer, one of Kit's friends ends up in the hospital, another one is secretly a prostitute, and other things happen that go nowhere.

   When we finally get around to an actual plot, it involves the business end of the show. Sloane has his ownership over Kit's contract -and stake in his company- underhandedly swiped by an underling who takes control (he even somehow gets T.C. Sloane's robot and renames it T. C.). 

   Kit threatens to terminate her contract with the new regime, and they promptly tell her not to let the door hit her on the way out. Kit then forms a complicated scheme for her secretly-a-prostitute friend to seduce the new guy and get it on tape. He turns out to be a get-me-drunk-and-I'll-tell-you-anything-you-want-to-know-and-even-more type. 

   Kit later plays the tape at a board meeting where we hear him expose all sorts of dirty dealing while tearing down his wife -who is sitting right next to him at the table! She's just as annoying as everybody else here, but the actress plays her emotional pain so well that the scene comes off a tad sadistic.

    The right people back in charge, Kit has a big show somewhere and we're free to leave. In the final insult, we see that this film was made using the Canadian funding practice of granting taxpayer dollars to fund feature film production! I can only hope our friends in the Great White North sent the director and producer of Covergirl into permanent exile.

   I'll stick with backissues of Millie the Model.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

R.I.P. Richard Kiel

   This, September 11th, is already a solemn date. We will never forget.

   Today also brings terrible news for film fans, as jolly giant Richard Kiel has passed on. Mr. Kiel built a career from his menacing physical presence, despite his well-documented teddy bear personality. Coming up the ranks in B monster movies and television appearances, he was almost always cast as a monster of some sort. Prime examples include the giant alien ambassador in the classic "To Serve Man" episode of The Twilight Zone, and his star role as a prehistoric cave-man living into the 20th Century in the successful drive-in epic EEGAH!

   In the long run, however, despite all his various performances, Kiel will always be remembered as Jaws, the hulking assassin who menaced secret agent James Bond in two back-to-back features. Introduced in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, the character was so popular that audiences demanded his return in MOONRAKER

   Mr. Kiel was by all reports one of the nicest men to ever play a monster. Here's to you, Mr. Kiel. God bless, and Rest In Peace.
With Jackie Chan in THE CANNONBALL RUN

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Video Cheese: THE MANSTER (1962)

NOTE: This review was written for's Video Cheese. It has been published here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

   "A sort of Japanese Jekyll and Hyde story."

   Ah, The Manster, one of my all-time favorites. I was introduced to this moody American/Japanese co-production as a small boy glued to TNT, where the film had something of a regular rotation thanks to Monstervision and 100% WEIRD. The film was often shown back to back with The Green Slime, I guess because both were international co-productions featuring American actors. 

   But while The Green Slime boasted such familiar faces as Robert Horton and Richard Jaeckel, The Manster claims Peter Dyneley as it's star. While Dyneley was a pretty busy character actor, most will remember him as the voice of Jeff Tracy, the founder of International Rescue and father to the main characters of Thunderbirds, Gerry Anderson's most popular Supermarionation series (as well as two feature films, Thunderbirds Are Go, and Thunderbird 6). Small wonder he's so well-remembered for the part, as the voice casting was absolutely perfect. Shane Rimmer shares this circumstance.

   The cast does have other familiar faces for the genre buff, though. Dyneley's real-life wife Jane Hylton here plays Linda, the spouse of Dyneley's American reporter stationed in Japan, Larry Stanford. 

   Our heavy is Testsu Nakamura, whom Jabootuites will remember for his last film, The Last Dinosaur. He played Dr. Kawamoto, the character who's death fully sets Richard Boone's Great White Hunter Masten Thrust into blood-lust over the last living Tyrannosaurus on earth. He was a familiar face in several Toho epics, including Mothra, The Human Vapor, and Yog; Monster From Space

   Another veteran of Mothra is Jerry Ito (famous as the slimy Nelson, who captured the fairies of Mothra's Island and set the huge insect on a destructive recovery mission across Japan and the mythical nation of "Rolisica"), who probably has his best role here, as the heroic police chief trying to hunt down the mystery killer at large in Tokyo.

   The film was seemingly written for Lon Chaney to star in, had they gotten started a decade earlier. Larry Stanford treks out to interview eccentric scientist Dr. Suzuki, who has been experimenting with a way to chemically alter the personalities of people, with the ultimate goal of splitting the good and bad halves of one's personality into two separate beings (hence the alternate title for this film, The Split). 

   Suzuki finds Larry to be the perfect specimen and drugs the reporter out to give him an injection of his formula. The formerly happy-go-lucky American then becomes increasingly sullen and aloof to downright crabby. When his wife Linda arrives from the States to be near him after he has decided to stay on in Japan for a while (through the encouragement of Dr. Suzuki, who has his lab assistant Tara instigating an affair with Larry), he practically throws her out. His personality having turned 180, he soon becomes violent, as well as exhibiting physical changes.

   Larry's hand turns all monster-y and he kills a priest, although he doesn't remember doing the deed. Later, he sprouts an extra eyeball on his shoulder where the injection was given (this scene made it into It Came From Hollywood). Eventually, a second head grows out of Larry's shoulder! Thus, The Manster joins that (weirdly small, if you think about it) club of two-headed man-monsters. More happens, but I won't spoil it for anybody else.

   I've always loved this film. The photography, the music, the pace, the acting, all top-notch. The fantastic events are underplayed like you'd see an a 50's British picture, and the film acts as more of a crime thriller than a werewolf movie. 

   The music meanwhile, is very aggressive and uses the therimen quite heavily. The film is lit for darkness in most scenes, creating a nice mood of creeping menace (one of those films perfect for 1:00 AM viewing). 

   Granted, not all is peachy. There's an erupting volcano that more resembles fireworks stuffed into a paper mache sculpture than the real thing, a condition enhanced when shown on an indoor set depicting the exterior of Suzuki's house! Built back near the wall, the actors must pretend there's more than ten feet between themselves and the 'volcano.' (Although, in fairness, the effect isn't bad, just obvious.) Also a bit odd is how, when the promised split takes place, Larry's belt and boxers remain intact while the rest of his clothing is ripped in half!

   In the end, though, a fine little flick. I've never understood why the film has been so maligned, but there are obviously some who love it quite a bit. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell even paid visual tribute to the film in Army of Darkness! That must be pretty special to such an obscure animal as The Manster.

   Release on double bill with The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus.