PAIN
Part Two
by Greg Sorenson


The B-Fest continues...we're now in the wee hours of the morning.

Coffy (Jack Hill, 1973).

Fast-paced blaxploitation from the house of Sam Arkoff and director Hill (Switchblade Sisters, The Big Doll House) starring Pam Grier. She's a goodhearted nurse with an up-and-coming politician boyfriend. But she's leading a double life: to avenge her smack-addicted sister, she goes undercover at night knocking off pushers and pimps. She infiltrates the organization of this film's Mr. Big, and he's played by...Dr. Sidney Friedman, the recurring shrink from M*A*S*H? 'the hell!? Yes, Allan Arbus plays LA's biggest sleaze merchant. Right on! This was probably the best movie on the lineup in terms of quality, which gives me a good segue into...

Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?
(Anthony Newley, 1969).

Whoa. Man. Where do I begin? The modern equivalent to this wretched ego trip might be Prince's Graffiti Bridge, but at least that had a good soundtrack. Anthony Newley co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in this autobiographical musical tale, which received an early X rating, but would probably qualify as R if anyone cared to resurrect it.


On a lovely beach, amid stacks of personal memorabilia, Hieronymus Merkin (Newley) screens the film being made of his life story for his mother and two kids (played by Newley's own kids). He chronicles his rise from the music halls into a beloved star, and his transformation into a world-class womanizer through his association with "Goodtime Eddie Filth" (Milton Berle). He goes through two marriages, first to "Filigree Fondle," then to "Polyester Poontang" (played by Newley's then-wife Joan Collins). Death, played by George Jessel, comes by now and then, clad in white and telling borscht-belt jokes before claiming lives. The titular Mercy Humppe (Playboy playmate Connie Kreski) comes and goes, and she and Merkin enjoy a brief affair. In a moment destined for Golden Throats or the Annoying Music Show, Joan Collins is ALLOWED TO SING A SONG, comparing Polyester and Hieronymus's relationship to "Chalk and Cheese." But basically it's all about how Newley is unsatisfied with his life of sex-ccess, depicted at times by Merkin sitting to the side while a faceless mannequin handles his lovemaking chores. Oh, the symbolism!

I can get behind the whole Genius Is Pain thing if said genius is on display. Not here. All the songs are awful, with the exception of one borderline funny song about a princess and a donkey. (There's a song on the soundtrack album called "Oh What A Son Of A Bitch I Am," which sounds like it could be clever, but wasn't in the film as far as I could tell, unless it was in the end credits.) He's not a very good director, though I haven't seen enough Fellini to know if his imitation hits the mark. (I must admit, casting Berle and Jessel as the Devil and Death was inspired). I don't know much about Newley's career at all, other than his music for Willy Wonka. I'm just amazed that there was a time when he had the clout to put this whole thing together without anyone raising an objection. I waver between this and Message from Space as to what was the worst movie on the bill. Merkin was at least coherent, but it was life-changingly bad. If I keep telling myself I'm a stronger person for having survived this, I should be okay.

The Slime People (Robert Hutton, 1962).

The title could just as easily refer to the previous film, eh? Slime People (who are not all that slimy) have taken over Southern California and the only survivors are the six dumbest people on the planet. The Slime People have the ability to generate a climate-controlling bubble over the area, but still carry spears. Thankfully they can be defeated by good old table salt - and here I was starting to worry. This was about 5 on Saturday morning, and I was still woozy from the last movie, so I nodded off for about 10 minutes during this one: the youngest daughter had just been captured, but when I woke up she was safe and sound. Again. And that's why I was worried.

The Lonely Lady (Peter Sasdy, 1983).

Marking the halfway point was this infamous Harold Robbins/Pia Zadora potboiler. Pia's Jerilee Randall is violated by Ray Liotta in his screen debut (in the first reel), gets work as a script doctor (her change, "Why!? Why!?" gets heaps of praise and became an audience refrain), is passed around Hollywood like a football, and finally Gets What She Wants But At A Terrible Price. Is this any worse than Lifetime movies these days? It's hard to dislike Zadora in this. She revels in the trashiness of it all; as she said to John Waters when asked about the film sweeping the Razzies, "I would have hated to have been nominated and not won."

Still to come: What's in that cat food? Aren't those breakdancers fresh? Why does Travolta look like Rob Zombie? And more...


©2002 Greg Sorenson
CineScene

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