Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Comin' At Ya: 3-D 80's Style

Of the many movie trends that sprung up in the 80’s, one of my personal favorites was a resurgence of 3-D movies. The boom actually started in 1981 with a Spaghetti western romp called Comin’ At Ya!, starring would be mogul Tony Anthony. The film itself was nothing special, but combining 3-D technology with 80’s violence and mayhem proved to be box office sensation. For the next several years, a variety of 3-D films would follow to varying degrees of success including: Treasure of the Four Crowns (also starring Anthony), Jaws 3-D, Friday the 13th Part 3, Amityville 3-D, Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, and The Man Who Wasn’t There (starring the incomparable Steve Guttenberg). Most of these are fairly awful, but I confess that I enjoy them for the nostalgia factor . . . with the possible exception of Jaws 3-D which really does try one’s patience. However, one film in particular shines above all others – Charles Band’s Parasite. It’s hard to say what makes this one stand out, but I’ll give it my best shot . . .

First, since I’m betting many of you have yet to catch this diamond in the rough, a brief synopsis is likely in order. Parasite is the futuristic tale of a brilliant scientist named Paul Dean (Robert Glaudini), who has developed a new life form (a parasite) to be used as a biological weapon for the purpose of population control. When Dean discovers he has been duped he flees to the post-apocalyptic wasteland, but not before becoming infected with one of the beasties. A creepy government agent gives chase, and Dean has to find a cure on the run to save himself and the human race. Along the way he runs into a vicious biker gang, a crusty old barkeep, a Broadway star turned hotel owner, and Demi Moore (in one of her earliest roles). Lots of gooey special effects and over-the-top action ensue.

Okay, so the plot of Parasite is nothing terribly original. In fact, it is one of many post-apocalyptic sci-fi quest type movies that came out during the early 80’s. Thanks to The Road Warrior, these films proliferated at American theaters at a breakneck pace. In the 3-D category alone you have not only Parasite, but also Starchaser, Spacehunter, and Metalstorm (also directed by Band)! That being said, I have a soft spot for these films. I still think The Road Warrior is one of the greatest action films (sci-fi or otherwise) ever made, and there’s just something about the premise that is appealing. Even the worst of these films (e.g. 1990: Bronx Warriors) are usually pretty fun. The beauty of Parasite is that it combines a lot of great elements into one package. You get 3-D, a gross monster, lots of cheesy action, dated interpretations of the future, the tried and true premise, and a director well-versed in B-filmdom (Trancers series, Puppet Master series, Dollman , etc.). What more could one ask?

During its initial run, the thing I remember being most intriguing (outside of the 3-D), were the truly gross photos that popped up in genre magazines (e.g. Fangoria). They showed the title monster (which featured an impossible number of teeth), and shots of the hero with the parasite embedded in his stomach. Pretty wild stuff. Come to find out the effects were an early project for the legendary Stan Winston (Aliens, Jurassic Park). Who needs dinosaurs when you’ve got parasites?!?

Perhaps the weakest element of the film is leading man Robert Glaudini (Cutting Class). I don’t know how they decided on this guy, but he looks like he’s about to fall asleep for most of the film. Perhaps they wanted someone who lacked energy to convey his illness with the parasite. Mission accomplished! As an action hero though, he doesn’t engender a lot of good will from the audience. You never really feel any identification with him, and he doesn’t ever seem too capable of handling the situations he runs into. Again, maybe they were going for some weird realism by casting a fellow who could play an everyman with a vengeance. I would be very surprised if that was the case. Even so, looking at Parasite now Glaudini’s performance bolsters the B-movie flavor of the film, making it all the more fun for his lack of charisma. Thankfully, a young Demi Moore and a hammy anti-hero (Luca Bercovici) make up for it. Plus you get several other familiar faces from cult cinema to round things out including Scott Thomson (Ghoulies, Police Academy), Cherie Currie (This Is Spinal Tap), Tom Villard (One Crazy Summer), and Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith (Vice Squad).

While I think all of the 80’s 3-D films warrant a viewing, for my money Parasite is the one that holds up the best sans 3-D. Tony Anthony’s films are ridiculous and largely exist for the effects, Jaws and Amityville are somewhat boring retreads of their predecessors, and Starchaser/Spacehunter/Metalstorm are fairly generic entries in their genre. As for the other two, I do have a soft spot for Friday 3. It’s a fun, if largely unimportant, entry in the Friday the 13th series (although it did give us the hockey mask), so it’s not so unique in my book (outside of the 3-D). The Man Who Wasn’t There is a rollicking Guttenberg classic (i.e. pretty bad), but at least distinguishes itself as being quite different from all the other 3-D films as an invisible man farce. Although Parasite certainly has plenty of moments clearly geared toward the 3-D, they aren’t the film’s raison d'être. Even without that element it plays as a fast, fun 80’s sci-fi/horror romp.

Unfortunately, there’s no way (currently) to view the film as it was originally intended. A few years back, the George Eastman House (http://www.eastmanhouse.org/) in Rochester, NY held a retrospective of these 80’s 3-D films which I would have loved to attend. I haven’t seen it anywhere else in the past several years. On a positive note, Anchor Bay has released a nice DVD which has the film in anamorphic widescreen, and even re-mastered in Dolby 5.1 surround (along with the film’s great trailer). You have to respect Anchor Bay for giving Parasite such loving treatment : )

So if you have a Saturday afternoon free, you could do a lot worse than spending it with Charles Band’s Parasite. As my good buddy John Muir might say (although perhaps not about Parasite), it has a nefarious alchemy about it!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jim!! What's the schedule for this month? Tomorrow night?

Jim Blanton said...

We're doing things a little differently this month due to some scheduling conflicts. The date this month is Saturday, March 22 @ 8:00 p.m. Check out the Feb. 6 post below for all the gory details : )