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Don Coscarelli

Jim, the Worlds Greatest

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MV5BYTlmMTk3ODMtYWJlNi00OTQ2LWE3YjEtNGJjMzhlZjdhOGRkL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_That’s right. I finally found a copy.

The “teen movie” really came into its own in the 80s with the John Hughes series. Jim the worlds greatest predates that. It’s a sort of film that lays the groundwork for what the teen movie would become. Don Coscarelli’s touch really shows through in this movie with his signature dreamlike quality, tracking a non-linear path through the story. In this way you can actually tell this is from the same director that made Phantasm.  Such themes are only reinforced by the fact that it’s a story of an older brother watching out for his younger brother… Indeed the entire thrust of the film is an older brother, probably a senior in high school who is already taking on the responsibilities that really should belong to the delinquent father of this piece.

Jim World’s Greatest also has a sort of meandering slice of life quality to it… There’s no 18A-Rory-1024x774real narrative or story here, there’s just life as we drift from set piece to set piece. It’s much  the same technique he would employ in his next film; Kenny and Company. Just drifting, at least, until the third act – when things get serious.

I didn’t expect this to be a comedy, but I’ll admit I didn’t expect it to get as intense as it did either. Angus Scrimm gives a performance of a lifetime here, grim and depressing as the out-of-work father who occasionally gets drunk and beats his kids. We really only get to know the present-day father, the failure… and we know it wasn’t always like this. We get glimpses of him during happier days trough flashbacks – it’s an impressive juxtaposition that Scrimm delivers brilliantly.

Reggie Banister (who apparently never had hair on top) shows up as well, giving one of hqdefaultthe most lunatic and wacky performances I’ve ever seen him do. It’s a little more than a cameo as a crashed wind rider, but man it’s always nice to see a familiar face.

In the end, it’s quite an emotional film – and it really shows Coscarelli’s skill. It almost makes me sad that he transitioned into low-budget and horror, and yet this is the kind of film that was ideally suited for the 1970s, and that era  would not last forever. It genuinely makes me wonder though, what Coscarelli would do with such material today. I’m not sure that he could even get it made – the era of emotional low-budget dramas in the theater seems to have passed, and thanks to Coscarelli’s negative experiences during his brief sojourn in to the studio system, he’s been jaded enough to never venture there again.

There is a definite evolution present here, a direct line from Jim the worlds greatest, through Kenny and Company, directly leading into Phantasm. Seriously, THAT’s the trilogy. You can see Coscarelli and his sensibilities develop while staying very true to the concepts that intrigued him, and it only reinforces my belief in how underrated this filmmaker is.

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Beastmaster

directorsd5149VNVBJ0LI have to admit, I was a little surprised to discover that beast master was a Coscerelli the film. It lacks any of his Personal style and flourish. Perhaps it’s not so surprising after although, When you consider the studio had their fingers in every step of the production, ultimately taking the film away from Coscerelli and finishing it themselves.
It’s for this reason that Coscarelli himself has some hard feelings towards the production, though objectively speaking, it’s by no means a bad movie. If anything Beastmaster’s greatest sin is being forgettable… It’s standard fantasy fare along the lines of Conan. It’s exactly the sort of fantasy that was fashionable at the time. Marc Singer is serviceable as the titular beast master, rescuing a damsel in distress but he always feels a little bit off to me, I’m far more used to seeing him in the various “V”miniseries and sequels. Going from a smart mouth resistance fighter to a musclebound barbarian is a bit of a leap. His face seems a little bit too craggy The-Beastmaster-Marc-Singerto be a leading man, (ironically he is younger here). still, there’s nothing here that really stands the test of time. It’s a few moments of striking imagery, particularly with the bird, but nothing that stands out. It’s a good excuse for direct video sequel (I believe there were three). It also suffers from falling out of fashion… Today, we prefer our fantasy in the style of the Lord of the rings and dragonlance. The whole Conan/Tarzana look has gone by the wayside. That’s not really a commentary on the quality of them, but rather how changing tastes affect our perception. Beastmaster is worth a watch, but not a serious one – not a dedicated night with this is the main feature. Put it on while you are doing something else, or hang out with it if you catch it and cable.


Kenny and company

directorsdKenny_&_Company_FilmPosterI will readily admit that I can’t exactly call this the first film entirely though it’s one of Coscarellis earliest released works – it’s preceded by Jim the worlds greatest, but I’ve never got my hands on a copy of that one… This is a quintessential 70s film – and in a lot of ways it’s childhood in the 70s as viewed through the eyes of someone who was a child in the late 50s… There is still an idealized neighborhood, where everyone knows everyone else on the street and children all played together, building soapbox racers in planning their Halloween costumes… There’s always​ The younger kid tagging along with the older ones wanting to see how things work and be a part of the world. Kenny and Company also documents the first awakening of romance, that first crush and the desire to get to know the girl – and kiss her. It’s from a period, where childhood and adulthood are still far more firmly separated than they are today.
tumblr_inline_nea2y1jZsm1sqr9zcMike Baldwin from Phantasm is in this film, but he isn’t the supporting lead… he’s the secondary lead. However he is very much playing the prototype of the character that he would later immortalize in the phantasm films… Indeed I can see this as being what his character would have been like in those films if he hadn’t been haunted by the mysterious tall man. He’s handy with a hammer, foul mouthed, Brave and brash.

There is a sort of dreamlike quality to a lot of the film, a Coscarelli trademark.  Still, the dialogue ring is very true and it’s definitively in Coscerelli’s style. In the end, I found myself entranced– completely sucked in.  I genuinely didn’t expect to like it as much as I maxresdefaultdid… These days, this is a perpetual Halloween watch… And interesting drama, mixed in with my normal slate of horror films. This is a must watch, if you can get your hands on it.


Phantasm

directorsd14469577_1287266907984396_6839442167741886021_nThis where it all begins.

Well, sort of. Strictly speaking, “Jim, the World’s Greatest” was Coscarelli’s first film, followed by “Kenny and Company”. But Phantasm…this is where most of us first really encountered Don Coscarelli.

It’s hard for me to find something to say about Phantasm that I haven’t already said. I’m fascinated by these characters and to this day I find the tall man to be one of the most compelling villains ever.

I’m particularly interested in the underlying themes of abandonment – originally much stronger in cut out footage. Indeed there’s still Phantasm footage that has never seen the light of day, scenes with Jody and his girlfriend (supposedly the lady in lavender) as well as a guitar performance by Reggie Bannister. I could see it – there’s a stage in his ice cream shop and we can catch a glimpse of it in the deleted scene where they all get into a food fight there.

The story of the otherworldly undertaker and what he does to the bodies buried in Morningside Cemetery will always be one my my favorites – enough to keep me on board though all of the sequels….but more on that later.