SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
Another Trip into the City…
By Nick Cato
The summer of 1987 was a great time to be me (or at least my age). I was only out of high school for a year, working the night shift at a local supermarket as I awaited my current city job to call, and playing drums in three different punk bands. And while there was somewhat of a lull on the suburban grindhouse scene, an ad for a 1950s throwback film caught my attention in the film pages of the Village Voice (see poster above). So I rounded up a couple of buddies and we trekked to the Waverly Twin Cinema in New York City (today the home of the IFC Center, which continues to show new and classic midnight movies).
In front of the theater, one of the film’s producers (at least that’s what he claimed to be) was handing out fliers for the film’s soundtrack (which is quite good, by the way) and telling everyone, “Come on in! This one’s a coke classic!” (meaning “You’d enjoy it more if you were on cocaine!”). I don’t know if he convinced any passers-by to come in OR if he was selling blow on the side, but we took our seats and were surprised to see such a large crowd at this relatively unknown film’s midnight premiere.
While I LOVED The Fleshtones’ opening title song, one thing annoyed me then and throughout the rest of the film: you could actually hear the sound of the projector OVER the sound of the film, and we were sitting around the center aisle. But this distraction aside, the film still turned out to be an enjoyable—if uneven—horror comedy.
A group of high school buddies (who looked way older than high school buddies and resembled the cast of the Archie comics) accidentally kill a local drug dealer after trying to get some weed for their prom dates, and dump his body into a river. Being a 50s-tribute film, the river is (guess what?) full of toxic waste, and causes the dealer (wonderfully named “Mussolini”and played by Steve McCoy) to come back as a crazed, green-faced zombie bent on revenge. Mussolini kills the group’s “leader,” high school baseball star Dan (Michael Rubin). His friends decide to dump him in the same river as Mussolini, figuring he’ll come back as a “good zombie” to protect them from the undead dealer.
What ensues is at times hysterical, at times really stupid, and at still other times quite gory, although the “special effects” are below amateur level, some even looking like the effects crew didn’t even give half a try. Mussolini rips one poor guy’s face off (in the only decent-looking effect), going on about “You want weed? HERE’S some weed for ya!” or something like that; there’s a silly “romance” sequence where Dan reveals to his girlfriend that he’s now back as a zombie; and in the finale (SPOILER ALERT!), Dan tosses Mussolini’s decapitated head for a 3-point shot at the prom in the school’s gymnasium, then proceeds to chop it in half with a machete in one of the goofiest-looking gore scenes ever captured on film.
The scene that floored the audience, however, had nothing to do with zombies or gore. A policeman (played by an elderly Steve Reidy in his ONLY film appearance) questions the boys at a “police station” that I’m assuming was one of the film crew member’s backyard shed. Reidy’s police uniform also looks like it was purchased at the Salvation Army on a bad day, and his constant, un-threatening questions such as “What were you guys doin’ down at the pier?” had the crowd in stitches. It’s a masterpiece of bad acting that would’ve made Ed Wood jealous.
I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE was a fun film to see at a midnight show in NYC. I’m not sure how many enjoyed this when it came to video, and I even saw a VHS of this placed in the “classic monsters” section of an old video store I belonged to, presumably by an under-informed employee. I can still remember the sound of the projector’s click-click-clicking over the scenes I’ve just described, and the voice of the live film peddler out front was as entertaining as the film.
Trash film fans: SLIME CITY (1988) and SLIME CITY MASSACRE (2010) star Robert Sabin stars as one of the high school buds, and keep your eyes peeled for an unaccredited cameo by director/author Gregory Lamberson, who plays a young pot-head. The film also boasts an impressive soundtrack for a low-budget production, and includes artists such as Los Lobos, The Smithereens, Alex Chilton, The Waitresses and the Violent Femmes. The aforementioned title track from The Fleshtones is easily the best, though.
Now excuse me while I go jump in the river…
© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato