Movies Till Dawn: Appealing to Base Instincts

Jackass Forever” (2020, Paramount Home Video) Third and apparently final go-round with Johnny Knoxville and the original cast (minus Bam Margera and the late Ryan Dunn) of the comedy/stunt/endurance franchise, who gamely carry on the tradition of abusing themselves in elaborately grotesque setpieces. The latter remains the series’ calling card, and range from astonishingly juvenile – bodily excretions, both human and otherwise, and genital abuse remain enduring punchlines (no pun intended) – to diabolically clever scenarios like a “Silence of the Lambs”-inspired blackout gag which doubles and triples its own absurdity with a “Looney Tunes” fervor. Though much of the humor relies on exploring the levels of pain one can endure – with “Danger” Ehren McGhehy receiving the most horrific abuse – the key to the appeal of “Jackass” remains the palpable glee of the performers, director Jeff Tremaine, and producer Spike Jonze as they watch their absurd gags unfold; it’s crass and silly and borderline offensive, but one has to admit that their commitment remains both laugh-out-loud funny and a touch inspiring. Said commitment is equally impressive when the cast put their own visible aging bodies to the test – Tremaine offers a split-screen view of Knoxville carrying out a run-in with an angry bull and then repeating it bull twenty years later, with even more disastrous results – though a new (and diverse) crew is also on hand to absorb the most pointless punishments, including Odd Future co-founder Jasper Dolphin, comedian Rachel Wolfson, and the guileless Sean “Poopies” McInerney (along with guests like Eric Andre and Machine Gun Kelly). Their presence is a clear indication that the “Jackass” franchise will endure after the original hit squad has taken its last beating. Paramount’s Blu-ray includes deleted and extended gags.

Bryan Loves You” (2008, MVD) Found-footage-style thriller about a psychotherapist (writer/producer/director Seth Landau) who discovers that a doomsday cult is overtaking his small Arizona hometown. Landau aims for slow-mounting dread, but the avalanche of scenes, purported to camcorder and security cam footage, adds up to a lot of loose ends; the presence of horror movie actors like Tony Todd (recruited largely to warn the viewer about possible shocks), as well as George Wendt (top-billed but on-screen for just a few minutes), are meant to underscore the chills, but stark footage and faceless drones in masks don’t add up to anything of substance. MVD’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray adds commentary by Landau and numerous lengthy interviews with cast members.

Warriors of the Year 2072” (1984, Severin Films) In the dystopian future world of 2072 – which looks very much like the direction in which we’re all heading – TV exec Claudio Cassenelli gives his flagging network a boost by delivering a gladiatorial take on the popular deathmatch games that dominate audiences’ attention. American star Jared Martin is the ostensible star of “2072,” but his bland Movie of the Week vibe is thoroughly overwhelmed by Fred Williamson as a kung fu-kicking combatant and a host of faces familiar to Eurocult fans, including Al Cliver, Howard Ross, and Dr. Butcher himself, Donald O’Brien. The presence of Lucio Fulci behind the camera should translate into the ferociously misanthropic action that defined his ’80s-era grindhouse favorites like “Zombie” and “The Beyond,” but budget restrictions rein much of his trademark abandon, save for a grisly gameshow sequence and a no-holds-barred demolition derby. Fulci completists will appreciate having a sparkling clean and deluxe version of the film – a vast improvement over previous releases – which also bundle commentary by Fulci biographer Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, vintage interviews with Fulci and new conversations with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, Cliver, Ross, and Fulci’s daughter, Antonella, among others, as well as a CD of Riz Ortolani’s score.

The Mighty Peking Man” (1977, Arrow Video) Shaw Brothers sought to tap into what was assumed to be the box office gold generated by Dino de Laurentiis’s remake of “King Kong” with its own giant ape picture, which doubled down on the jungle movie tropes by adding a comely human companion (Evelyn Kraft) to its colossal orangutan. Amusingly, “Peking Man” is far more entertaining than the de Laurentiis “Kong,” freely mixing elements of Tarzan, Japanese giant monsters (veteran Toho special effects artist Keizo Murase both designed and wears the furrow-browned, constantly screaming Peking Man suit), pulp adventure, and a dash of exploitation in Kraft’s barely-there fur outfit and some animal misadventure, all appointed with a mix of hilariously awful rear-and-front projection visuals and impressive low-budget models of India’s jungles and Hong Kong for Utam (the big ape) to demolish and a disco soundtrack. A goldmine for drive-in/grindhouse/junkfilm devotees (like Quentin Tarantino, who reissued it to Stateside audiences in the ’90s), “Peking Man” gets the deluxe treatment in Arrow’s “Shawscope: Volume One” set, which includes a hi-def remaster with Mandarin and English language tracks, enthusiastic commentary by Travis Crawford, interviews with director Ho Meng-hua and Keizo Murase, a standard-def anddubbed version of the film (which apparently bears a closer resemblance to the original theatrical print), alternate credits for the original U.S. release (under the title “Goliathon”), international trailers, and lengthy Super-8 footage of the film’s production.

The Antichrist” (1974, Kino Lorber) Hypnosis fails to cure Carla Gravina of her childhood paralysis but does leave her possessed by the spirit of her Satanic witch ancestor, which prompts all sorts of supernaturally motivated bad behavior before the Vatican dispatches a priest (George Coulouris) to carry out an exorcism. Delirious Italian “Exorcist” carbon by Alberto De Martino boasts impressive production value – glossy photography by Eurosleaze veteran Joe D’Amato, expansive sets and locations (including a finale set in the Coliseum) and an appropriately lysergic/liturgical score by Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai – while also pressing Gravina to not only deliver the required amount of foul-mouthed raving, bodily fluids, and levitation expected of exorcism movies but also top it, which she accomplishes by seducing her brother, murdering a passer-by, and using telekinesis to strangle her father (Mel Ferrer) with his own cravat (though a flashback to a demonic ritual in the woods certainly gives these scenes a run for their money). A cast of aging American and Italian players – Arthur Kennedy, Alida Valli, Umberto Orsini – deliver variations on shock and disgust to Gravina’s shock-haired monster (whose resemblance to Johnny Rotten, complete with “I am the Anti-Christ” dialogue, has been noted by numerous critics); Kino’s Special Edition Blu-ray includes vintage interviews with De Martino and Morricone, and a far-ranging commentary by historians/critics Lee Gambin and Sally Christie.

Playing this week at your local revival house or repertory theater:

Sunday, April 24: “The Fugitive” (1993) and Akira Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress” (1958) at the New Beverly, Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (1958) at the Alamo Drafthouse,  Harold Lloyd in “Safety Last” (1923) at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, “Mississippi Masala” (1992; through Thursday, April 28) at the Nuart, and three episodes of the NBC crime/Beat series “Johnny Staccato” (1959-60) starring and directed by John Cassavetes at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater.

Monday, April 25: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001) at the Melrose Rooftop Theater, and a double bill of 1976’s “Trackdown” and the Italian thriller “Summertime Killer” (1972) at the New Beverly.

Tuesday, April 26: Peter Bogdanovich’s Oscar-winning “The Last Picture Show” (1971) at the Academy Museum and a Humphrey Bogart/John Huston double bill (also showing Wednesday, April 27) at the New Beverly with an IB Technicolor print of “The African Queen” (1951) and “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948).

Wednesday, April 27: Kinuyo Tanaka’s “The Wandering Princess” (1960) and “Love Under the Crucifix”) at the Academy Museum, “Pulp Fiction” (1994) at the Rooftop Cinema Club DTLA, and Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) at the Melrose Rooftop Theater.

Thursday, April 28: Pedro Almodovar’s “All About My Mother” (1999) and “Bad Education” (2004) at the Academy Theater and “Aliens” (1986; also showing Friday, April 29 and Saturday, April 30) at the New Beverly.

Friday, April 29: a subtitled, Japanese-language print Hayao Miyazaki’s animated feature “Princess Mononoke” (1997) at the Academy Museum, Panah Panahi’s “Hit the Road (2021) at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater, the Tina Fey-penned “Mean Girls” (2004) at the Rooftop Cinema Club (with captions for deaf and hard-of-hearing guests), Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” (2018) at the Nuart, and the 2022 documentary “Take Me to the River New Orleans” at the Alamo Drafthouse with director Martin Shore in attendance through Sunday, May 1.

Saturday, April 30: an English-language-dubbed print of Studio Ghibli’s “When Marnie Was There” (2014) and a double bill of Almodovar’s “Talk to Her” (2002) and the harrowing “The Skin I’m In” (2011) at the Academy Theater, “King Kong” (1933) and the delirious “Lady Terminator” (1989) at the New Beverly, a Cartoon Jamboree of black-and-white animation at the Old Town Music Hall, “Casablanca” (1942) at the Rooftop Cinema Club DTLA, and the recent Iranian features “Absence” (2021) and “Titi” (2019) at the Billy Wilder theater.

Get out of the house and go to the movies.


About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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