By Maria Lagalante Schulz
When I was a kid, there were some things in life you just had to watch whenever they came on television: The Great Escape; The Cowboys; The Godfather; The Wizard of Oz; Gone With the Wind. All of these movies demanded that you clear your calendar and sit in my parents’ living room, huddled around our 15” color TV, clutching your popcorn.
But there were also the less critically acclaimed movies that captured a place in our hearts and were required viewing. We would watch these movies in prime time or late night; or sometimes, right at the movies. We enjoyed them while chomping on popcorn, White Castle, Jack in the Box, or pizza.
Here are the movies that I remember fondly. Some of them were the “worst” because they were worst-case scenario movies or disaster movies. Some of them are the worst because, well, they were kind of terrible.
Ronald wasn’t always bad. He just kind of, sort of, accidentally killed his little neighbor after she teased him. And when it was clear that her little bashed-in head wasn’t going to heal anytime soon, he told his dear old mom what he’d done.
Now since she was a truly supportive mom, she gave Ronald a shovel, told him to go bury the kid, and then hid Ronald in the pantry behind a false wall. It was the perfect solution! There was plenty of food in there; Ronald had his own bathroom thanks to Mom’s ingenious wall-building skills, and the cops bought his mom’s story that he’d moved away to live with his Dad.
Which was all well and good, until his Mom goes off for a minor operation and very inconveniently dies. Ronald pokes his head out of his hiding place to see what Mom’s got in the fridge and an elderly neighbor sees him through the window, and drops dead of fright. Of course, this means that Bad Ronald has to go get the shovel again. He wonders how he will go on, when luck finally goes his way: his mom’s house is sold, and a family with a few very pretty daughters moves in.
Now Ronald takes up painting pictures of his new housemates while watching them sleep. He gets additional inspiration by eating all of their food when they’re out.
I won’t tell you the ending because God knows I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I will admit that I spent the rest of my childhood looking for false walls in every house I entered; wondering if Bad Ronald was eating all of our food (no, it was just Jude’s friends); and distrusting anyone with a shovel and a love of really bad art.
I can still hear my brother Tony laughing hysterically at the climax.
Trilogy of Terror
The first two stories in this trilogy were snoozers as far as I was concerned. The first one was something about a pair of twins and then the other one was about blackmail. But it didn’t matter, because the third story made up for it by far.
Karen Black plays a character (whose name totally escapes me) that brings home a weird Zuni fetish doll. It wears a charming medallion on its necklace that claims his name is “He Who Kills.” Wouldn’t you just have to bring him home?
Now K.B. is supposed to handle the doll with immense care (mind the necklace, dearie), but after a really aggravating phone call to Mommy dearest, she slams it down and the medallion falls off. Uh oh….
For the rest of the movie, all you hear is that doll shrieking and all you see is Karen Black running for dear life through her apartment while being stabbed every which way but loose. The shriek alone was enough to send Chris, Paul, Joe and me into hysterics.
After several botched attempts at murdering He Who Kills, we see K.B. place a phone call to her mom. She suddenly has an incredible overbite, a hairstyle eerily reminiscent of He Who Kills, and a maniacal attachment to the carving knife. Let’s just say that Mom is in a whole heap of trouble.
The Planet of the Apes
When this movie came on television, it was a big event for us. My brothers and I were into all things Planet of the Apes, from the movies to the merchandise, to watching Roddy McDowell explain the make-up process on The Carol Burnett Show. I think we may have been the only 9 people who watched the TV show religiously on Friday nights.
In this epic first movie, Charlton Heston plays an astronaut who lands on a strange, distant planet where apes rule the world.
Charlton gets into a lot of trouble because he insists on talking, saying ingratiating things like “get your dirty ape hands off me” and generally infuriating his gorilla guards/hosts. They approach him the way you might if your unpredictable and prone-to-bite dog walked up to you and started asking you what you thought about the rights of man.
Charlton doesn’t really know how to get away from the ape-run society, but he’s lucky enough to have two ape scientists on his side. Cornelius (played by Roddy McDowell) and Zira (played by Kim Hunter, who was also Bad Ronald’s mother. Do I see a theme forming here?) help him out of one pickle after another, since humans are meant to be seen and not heard (and once Charlton regains his voice, he never shuts up).
When Charlton and his lady friend find the Statue of Liberty lying on her side, and Charlton realizes that he’s really on planet Earth, I was surprised that he was surprised.
I may have been only 5 years old, but even I could have told him that. Of course Apes had taken over the Earth. Sheesh!
The Poseidon Adventure
What could possibly be more fun than a New Year’s cruise? Don’t get jealous now, it’s just a matter of time before a tidal wave as big as the Statue of Liberty from the Planet of the Apes slams into the boat and turns it upside down.
Of course, now they’re all screwed—until Shelly Winters tells everyone that she was once a world-class swimmer and she can dive down and find a way out. Of course, that was about 300 pounds ago, but these folks are so desperate that they embrace her idea wholeheartedly.
Thankfully, she only drops dead after she finds the way out and everyone trudges over her lifeless body. Bummer!
I thought of this exact scene about 18 years later, when my husband lost his cruise ship ID and we couldn’t get back onto the boat without it. Luckily, two enormously fat snorkelers saw it about 20 feet down and pointed it out to us. Since my husband can’t see his fingers in front of his face without his glasses on, it was up to me to get the card back and save the day.
Like Mrs. Rosen, I dove to the bottom. The whole way down, I couldn’t help but think of how she ended up. Luckily, I was able to rouse myself after they trudged over my oxygen-deprived (but still full of life) body.
Anyway, I know most of the people didn’t make it off The Poseidon, but I was sure glad that “the Man,” Jack Albertson, did. I was rooting for him all the way. He had enough problems with Chico and he absolutely deserved a break.
Dean Martin was the suave pilot, Jacqueline Bisset was the hot stewardess he was cheating on his wife with, and Helen Hayes was a stowaway trying to con everyone she could. Meanwhile, George Kennedy was doing his best to shovel out the airport by hand. Now those were the days when men were men!
My boy Dino was not a stand-up guy in this movie; he’s got a wife who is completely oblivious and a girlfriend who now admits—surprise—that she’s pregnant. When a bomb-toting passenger nearly blows her to smithereens, Dino finally shows a little bit of concern. Too bad he never notices his wife standing there waiting for him when he disembarks because he’s too busy running beside his girlfriend’s stretcher saying “please! She’s pregnant” while he holds her hand. Epic fail!
Of course, once Airplane came along, I could never sit through this movie without chuckling.
Kentucky Fried Movie
I saw this movie at The Quartet in Flushing. It was the second movie in a double feature that started with Mother, Jugs and Speed. My friend Nadine and I almost left, but luckily we hung around for the second movie: Kentucky Fried Movie.
This movie has no real rhyme or reason to it. It’s just a very raunchy, laugh-out-loud funny string of sketches that poke fun at advertising, TV shows, movies in general and Hollywood in particular.
From what I remember of it, this movie was way over the top and would be considered politically incorrect today. Even so, “Rex Kramer, Danger Seekers!” and “A Fistful of Yen” are two hilarious sketches. Put this one on, wear your 70s thinking caps and don’t analyze anything. You’ll definitely enjoy it more that way.
I saw this movie with my friend Maureen. Her sister Kathy took us to a nighttime showing, which was a big deal for me, since it was rated “R” and my parents didn’t give me permission to see it. At 14 years old, this was a big deal for me!
In this movie, the leader of a corporation that wants to rule the world kidnaps a bum who just happens to be a psychic with amazing telekinetic powers. Suddenly, lots of people are dying and our hero (the bum) is trying to find his way out.
That’s all I remember. Oh yeah, and that guy’s head blowing up. I can still hear the crowd screaming when it went POW!
Filmed in Odorama! When you’re a teenager, it’s hard not to get excited by a movie that is accompanied by scratch-n-sniff cards. When something happens on screen and a number flashes, you’re supposed to scratch and take a whiff.
However, with a cast like Divine, Tab Hunter and Edith Massey and a director like John Waters, be afraid of what you sniff…be very afraid.
Baltimore housewife Francine Fishpaw has an odor hang-up and is constantly spraying air freshener. Meanwhile, her son has a foot fetish and attacks women by stomping on their feet with combat boots; her daughter is the village bicycle who eventually ends up pregnant; and her husband is a pornographer who is having an affair with his secretary. And there goes Francine, with her can of air freshener.
This movie was a pretty hilarious send-up of suburban American life. And the best joke of all is that Francine (played by Divine) ends up being the most normal person in the movie as he/she pursues true love with Tab Hunter.
Warning: Watch out for #9.
Architect Paul Newman expected Richard Chamberlain NOT to cut corners on the electrical wiring in his new 140-story building. But did he? Nah. At least it gave Steve McQueen a chance to shine as the hero firefighter, who remarkably, did not handle a fire hose while on a motorcycle.
Like all great disaster movies of the 1970s, this movie had a star-studded cast. You never knew who was going to buy it in the end. Faye Dunaway? Paul Newman? Fred Astaire (who was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as a conman in this movie–unlike Helen Hayes who won her Academy Award for her role in Airport)? Steve McQueen? OJ Simpson? Jennifer Jones? William Holden? Gene Hackman? (Oh wait, that was The Poseidon Adventure).
I remember watching this movie with my father, and wondering why the fire didn’t get top billing. It was the most interesting part of the movie and seemed to have a will of its own—not unlike another Steve McQueen film, The Blob.
Poor Carrie. She and Bad Ronald should have met, because they really did have a lot in common and would have been good for one another. Like, for instance, two off-the-charts crazy mothers whose take on life sure is interesting, and bullies who get theirs.
Like Bad Ronald before her, Carrie has a secret and a nasty temper. It’s a shame her mother didn’t put her behind a pantry wall (the closet was a good start) because eventually her bad temper does her in.
Of course, you could see this one coming from the moment Carrie’s classmates pelted her with maxi pads while she cowered in the shower, thinking she was about to die.
I watched this movie with Tony, Paul and Chris. I can still hear Tony imitating Piper Laurie (who played Carrie’s psycho mom) screaming “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” when Carrie decides to go to the prom after all.
I must say that the scene at the prom made me feel a lot like I did when Sister Felicity would have one of her psychotic breaks and start wailing on one of my classmates. I knew it was coming, and I felt really bad for the ones involved, but hey…there are some things in life you should just never do. John Travolta should’ve never rigged up that can of pigs’ blood to the rafters!
I felt sorry for her date and for all of the kids who didn’t do anything but still got torched thanks to Carrie’s eventual meltdown. It made me a lot nicer to all the weird outcasts I came across (for awhile, anyhow).
Watching Carrie made me wonder if I could summon up my own telekinetic powers, but so far, no dice. It’s just as well. I would probably flip out when my husband and kids didn’t like what I cooked for dinner…and that would be every night!
If you decide to rent any of these movies, you have to have some popcorn handy. So for something with a little kick (just like Jack in the Box in the days of yore), try this one:
Of for something that’s sweet and maybe even good for you (cinnamon regulates blood sugar. Popcorn…well it probably does something good):
So…what’s your favorite movie from back in the day? Leave a comment and let all the Hungry Lifers in on the fun.