Monday, June 22, 2009

The Happening (not the M. Night Shyamalan one)

Ah, 1967, when no subculture was too obscure to be exploited. I give you... The Happening.

This should not be confused with the M. Night Shyamalan movie by the same name. It should also not be confused with an actual "Happening", which in the 1960s was a weird art experience thing where people would show up at a place and hang out with no real plan. It was sort of like flash mobs are now, I think. When you hear Austin Powers (or the character in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls from whom Mike Myers borrowed the line) say "It's my happening, baby, and it freaks me out!" that's what they're talking about. A Happening.

But there is no Happening in The Happening. It starts with a big drug orgy, then four listless characters escape from the police and accidentally kidnap a mob boss. Actually, he kind of kidnaps himself. He's a take-charge kind of guy. Then no one pays the ransom, so he raises it. Which is not the way it's supposed to work. Normally the hostage just sits there tied to a chair or something. Anyway, it ends on kind of a nihilistic, existential note, the way movies in the sixties often did. You should see Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, for example.

The novelization does its best to make the random events interesting. But there's only so much you can do with characters like this. Practically as soon as the four protagonists have met, on page 13, this happens:

Full sunlight had turned Sandy cynical.

"He's a cheap hustler who wants to be legit," she said.

Without taking his right hand from the wheel, Taurus swung his left in a half circle and backhanded Sandy hard and full in the face.

Classy, eh? And Taurus is one of the heroes of this little epic. So's Sandy, who a few pages later has the most memorable line in the book (or, I suspect, the movie):

"Hit me again," she suggested. "A real wham. Maybe I'd feel something anyway, hey Taurus?"

Yeesh. People in low-budget movies in the sixties were serious weirdoes if you ask me. Anyway, Sandy's the only real reason anyone remembers this movie even exists, because here's a picture from the back cover:

That's Faye Dunaway in her first starring role. Later that year, she'd also appear in Bonnie and Clyde, which is a much better movie about directionless clowns committing crimes.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

I've got almost ninety movie novelizations, you know. But I've been trying to decide how quickly to spool them out. So here's the plan, for now: every Monday, a new post about a movie novelization. Other posts to appear at random.

Now, with that out of the way, check this out!

The movie came out in 1964. The novelization came out in 2005, and I don't think it's even authorized. As far as I can tell, the movie might be public domain at this point. So why would you write a novelization of a terrible movie from forty years ago?

Well, this is one of those movies that's mysteriously beloved. It was on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (and also Cinematic Titanic, which I still think was an odd choice) and appeared in one of those Golden Turkeys books. It's got defiantly weird acting, especially from Dropo. And it's got a very young Pia Zadora, which makes this one of the best movies she ever did.

The novelization is by someone who knows how bad the movie is. It's told in the voice of Girmar (Pia's character) and is full of things like this (after someone has told an excruciatingly unfunny joke about a "Martianmallow":

By the way, that Martianmallow joke ended up sweeping Mars. I mean really sweeping. And it spawned a movement. Within a year after the completion of the Santa Claus incident, Martian jokes were all the self-deprecating rage on my planet.

Not that they were any funnier than Martianmallows.

Or, take Dropo. Please. (classic!) Here's part of the description of the scene where Dropo puts on Santa's spare outfit:

The heavy red coat was next. He slid his arms into the sleeves without removing his eyes from the mirror. Could this be the same Dropo who, in the fractal school yearbook mind chip, was voted Most Likely to Cause an Unwanted Disruption? Yes, it was. And soon things were going to be very, very different.

So although the book is supposedly narrated by Girmar, the narrator seems to share the audience's exasperation with Dropo. And his antics. It's a little meta, especially at the end, when she complains about Pia Zadora's wooden portrayal of, um, herself.

Another fascinating element to this book is that it includes a DVD for the movie that it's novelizing. You don't see that too often!