003. Deathrow Gameshow (1987)
Director: Mark Pirro
Writers: Mark Pirro, Alan Gries (additional material)
From: Cult Cinema
Chuck Toedan is the host of Live or Die, a game show where death row inmates try to win prizes ranging from money for their families, a stay of execution, or even a gubernatorial pardon, but, if they lose, die on live TV. Despite the show's success, Chuck's facing a lot of problems—criticism from public morality groups about the quality of his show and death threats from the mafia after he executed on of their bosses. As a hitman closes in on him, he considers quitting entirely, that is, if he gets the chance.
This isn't the movie I wanted to watch. I was going to watch My Mom's a Werewolf and then roll as normal for the other movie, but the file was misnamed. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was about to embark upon a Mark Pirro double-feature.
The first thing we see is the logo for Pirro's production company, Pirromount. Get it? Like Paramount, but Mark Pirro. Also, the logo is like a neon version of the Paramount logo, but with the silhouette of a tit instead of the mountain. This is a good indication of the level of wit the film has to offer.
From there we move to the opening scene where the game is in progress and a man is in a guillotine. Chuck tells the man he has the option of walking free if he can name the movie they show a clip from. The clip has a mummy creeping up on a woman who escapes at the last minute leaving the mummy stomping and swearing. The man fails to guess, “Curses of the Mummy,” and so is going to die. Turns out his family is in the audience, very excited to see him on TV and they have a chance to win $10,000 if his head falls face-up in the basket. Chuck pulls the cord, the blade drops, and the judges decide the family wins the ten grand.
If the movie had been able to maintain that darkly satiric tone—the man about to die remains staunchly amiable, insisting upon that game show contestant politeness—this might have been a cult classic. Instead, it pretty quickly goes off the rails into a lazy comedy of broad stereotypes. Curiously, the whole thing is summed up in that production logo. That shows you what Pirro thinks passes for clever.
To it's credit, the movie has a titular theme song so +2 for that as well as commercials set in the world with this game show that are as dark and clever as that opening bit. In fact, the short pieces cut into the movie are pretty sharp. It's just a shame there's all the rest of the movie surrounding them.
Chuck faces off against Gloria Sternvirgin, head of WAAMA—Women Against Anything Men Appreciate (boy did 80's misogyny not age well)—who criticizes his show for being debased and violent, he goes to his office where he has an airhead secretary, and he gets death threats from a mob hitman over the death of one of the bosses. Sternvirgin barges in to yell at him some more when the hitman arrives to make a deal. He'll let Chuck live if Chuck gets the hitman's mother into the audience of another game show.
Of course the mother ends up on Chuck's show, he kills her, the hitman finds out, Chuck gets him on the show, fails to kill him, and is saved at the last minute by a guy who's been bugging Chuck the whole movie to be a contestant. Also, Chuck and Gloria fall in love and run off together at the end. Of course.
The tiredness of the movie is what grates. This feels like what Seth MacFarlane if he'd been around 30 years ago, something clever when pitched that has lost all novelty ten minutes later. It's not that there aren't occasional good jokes—like I said, the fake ads are clever and disturbed in the best way—it's just that the movie never settles on a tone.
After the gleefully dark opening we get broad, Zucker Brothers style comedy done as throwaway filler which, like the dark commercials, is actually pretty good. If the movie had maintained that tone I'd have been happy too.
There's also the likely-unintentional racist imagery. The second victim executed on the show is killed by hanging and he's black. That's not the joke (the joke is, “What every man wants—to be well-hung”), but it's still awkward. Likewise later they have a shirtless black man in a cage who's been kept in solitary confinement for 15 years and is given the option between sexually assaulting a woman or eating a freshly-cooked turkey. He ends up screwing the turkey, which is fine as jokes go, it's just the unconscious evocation of slavery and something I don't want to be thinking about during a stupid comedy.
This plays like Videodrome without the philosophy or The Running Man without the dystopian considerations. It could have been better if it was even just a little more, well, anything, but is so smug about how clever its concept it that it never pushes itself into being consistently entertaining.
Recommend instead: Videodrome, UHF, The Running Man
004. My Mom's a Werewolf (1989)
Director: Michael Fischa
Writer: Mark Pirro
From: Cult Cinema and Pure Terror.
Leslie, a bored housewife who feels neglected by her husband, catches the attention of a werewolf who infects her with his curse. It's up to her daughter and her friend to figure out what's happening and stop the curse before it becomes permanent.
So this is the movie I was aiming to watch and I ended up with two pieces written by Mark Pirro. In fact, during this movie, when Leslie is channel surfing, she flips past the talk show segment from Deathrow Gameshow where Chuck and Gloria first meet. So either this is a shared universe where Live or Die is on the air or this is a world where you can flip through channels and find Deathrow Gameshow. Either way, a very strange moment for me. Later in the movie, there's a reference to Galaxina which is also on these box sets.
From the start, this looks more promising than Deathrow Gameshow. First, it's not directed by Pirro, so there's some hope there. Also, it's not a Pirromount production. Instead, it's a Hairy one. That is not my joke, that's actually the production company's name.
We open with a cover of the Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs classic “Lil' Red Riding Hood” by Midnight Ride who are doing their damnedest to sound exactly like Sam the Sham. The rights must have cost something because they use the song at least 3 times in the movie, but it's a good tune. Also, the movie has real actors: Susan Blakely, John Saxon, Ruth Buzzi, and Marcia “Mrs. Krabappel” Wallace. There's some real comedic and acting talent on the screen, but little if anything for them to work with.
Leslie encounters John Saxon, the werewolf, at a pet store where he enchants and then inflicts his curse upon her. It's never clear what powers the werewolf has. There's standard wolf stuff—sniffing, running, strength—but he also feels a bit like a vampire. It'd be a bigger issue if the movie seemed to care about there being a werewolf in it.
And the movie really doesn't. Leslie's gradual transformation is supposed to be fraught and horrific, coded as though it's going to be a big problem, but no one seems particularly bothered by it. In fact, everyone kind of likes it. There's a scene where Leslie, not yet realizing what's happening, is driving and singing along to the radio. A couple in the car next to her sees her, sees how much she's changing, and says, “Singing werewolf. Don't see much of that anymore.” That's the best gag in the movie and really what the movie should have been.
Everyone who encounters Leslie's transformation loves it—the dentist she visits to have her fangs filed down, the hairdresser who makes her up in a new “Wolverine Chic,” even the kids at the party think she's just wearing awesome make up. She's upset but everyone else is on board. Honestly, if you're going to come this close to Teen Wolf, just own it and make a movie that follows that plot.
Not content just to rip off Teen Wolf, the movie also has touches of Fright Night with the daughter and her friend turning to horror magazines for werewolf advice and finally contacting a fortune teller for instructions. They face off against John Saxon werewolf, a la Fright Night, but it takes so long for them to suspect the mom's a werewolf or that there's any threat that they need to deal with at all. The daughter spends most of the movie being pissy because she thinks her mom's having an affair.
In fact, everything in the movie takes so long. There's supposed to be werewolves, it's in the title, and it's clear we're in a goofy 80's comedy from jump street. Just get on with it!.
This isn't even direct-to-video, this is made-for-tv fare, designed for USA Up All Night to be broken up by commercial breaks. Maybe that would have made it more watchable, but, as a whole, it's just relentlessly bland made all the worse due to moments of real promise. My constant reaction while watching was, “There's the better movie that you can't be bothered to make.”
While it's better than Deathrow Gameshow—this is watchable with enough scenes that work well enough on their own that you could have it on while doing chores and idly paying attention to it—it's not, in any way, worth hunting down.
Recommend instead: Teen Wolf, Fright Night
Both of these movies are from the late 80's and distributed by Crown International. There is zero chance they are public domain.