The writing was on the wall but for the time being all was well. Indeed, it was a superb twelve months for films we featured.
For the town, though, recession's ugly head was looming and that, combined with the other factors, spelled trouble ahead for the Flick's bottom line; not to mention the change in movie going habits for those soon to be unemployed in the textile factories about.
Springtime started off with some decent films. The Howling, directed by Joe Dante, one of Roger Corman's proteges, was the first of two very good werewolf movies released that year with the very latest in special effects. Once seen, it's hard to forget the fang shocks and the lady newscaster's heartrending howl on live television near the end of the story.
The Flick's employees and audience knew they were viewing something remarkable in the technology of picture making with the morphing werewolf scenes. Scream Queen, Dee Wallace, who also starred in films like Cujo and E. T., had the leading role in The Howling and gave a good and highly emotional performance in it.
Nighthawks. Now there was a show that started out with a bang! This is not meant to make light of the bloody guerrilla war waged by the IRA in the period of United Kingdom history known as "The Troubles." Sly Stallone took a break from making his Rocky movies and portrayed some kind of Interpol agent on the track of a psychopathic mercenary killer played by German actor, Rutger Hauer.
The opening scene is unforgettable with Hauer placing a bomb near a beautiful female clerk in an English department store. After her life and others are so cruelly taken, one can hardly wait for Sly to exact justice with extreme prejudice, which is exactly what Stallone's character does after a nail-biting finale. At least that's the way I remember it. In any event, the bad guy certainly gets his in the end.
Tall Tree Trailer Park & the Kung-Fu Late Shows ...
This was a hard luck, blue collar place, and had a notorious reputation in town for violence and sexual abandon.
More than one lusty young fellow lost his life trying to escape an enraged husband or jealous boyfriend at Tall Tree. There were quite a few "lady" catfights at the mobile home park as well.
One unfortunate event is remembered quite well. It went down like this: three teenage boys were having a spanking good time in a trailer kitchen, frolicking with some willing wife, but, the husband came home early from work and, the last boy going out a window got a back full of spine-busting, double-ought buckshot from the man's Remington. The unlucky last lad out was DOA at the county hospital.
The kung-fu double feature late shows were still going strong in 1981. My favorite martial artist was a Japanese guy named Sonny Chiba. This chap had some serious moves, like holding a steer's horn with his left hand, while hacking off the other horn with his right. If the scene wasn't real, well, they were about ten years ahead on the special effects, or so it seemed. Actually, after watching a clip of the action on YouTube recently, it was mostly well-done effects, but obviously stayed in the memory anyway.
In another movie, Sonny is calmly reading the newspaper aboard a Boeing 707, when he and the other passengers are abruptly confronted by an armed Asian skyjacking gang. Mr. Chiba bides his time, but at the right moment dispenses with these air pirates one by one, mano on mano, with some very realistic-looking martial arts moves. That was one very cool scene by Sonny. We can only wish he'd been on all the hijacked planes in real life.
The last I heard about Sonny was that he was some kind of martial arts instructor on Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill set of movies, and that's saying a lot about the then sixtyish man's skill and expertise, for sure.
There was also a big ta-do with the ratings board members over the horn-hacking film, and that was whether it should receive an R or an X rating. Actually, most of these kung-fu pictures were fairly well made, with meaty and colorful plots and martial arts action. Some were even set in the Middle Ages, for example. However, there were a few that would have been better left in the film cans unspooled and spliced from six small reels onto our two large reels. Something that had to do with armless and legless kung-fu fighters is a good example of these types. I once checked, and sure enough, it was on many a list of all time bad movies.
A rather humorous thought is the ubiquitous number of Bruce Lee clones that came about after his passing; with names like Bruce Lei, Bruce Li, Bruce Ly and so forth. Ah, never too much of a good thing for our late show patrons, who loved all these Bruce's dearly. And no matter how many times we played the real deal Bruce Lee movies, over and over it seemed like, they always did as well as the deceased master's, mostly Hong Kong and Taiwanese made, newly produced chop-chop copycats.
One of the greatest scenes in kung-fu film history was the fight between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. It's well worth watching --if present owners Miramax haven't taken it off-line in your country -- and goes by much quicker than its nine and a half minutes might otherwise indicate. It's also the only time I can remember Bruce showing much respect for a vanquished opponent sent out against him by the bad guy top dogs.
In addition, the generally boisterous and rowdy audiences ( when the over-used film would break, which was often, it was like the howling mob of the Roman Coliseum in that auditorium!) stayed quiet during and right after this battle between these black belt titans of the martial art's screen. I reckon homage is the right word when you get down to it. Without meaning to be a spoiler, in real life the two were the best of friends, which, on second thought, shouldn't come as any surprise.
Skedaddling Romeos and Outstanding Tall Tree Citizens
We had no more taken in the sight than a large group of people came running around the same corner chasing after the fellow. These considerably older men, and a few women, appeared just as determined in overtaking him in their hot pursuit -- while holding onto baseball bats and garden tools -- as the youthful runner was in escaping from their wrath and bludgeoning weapons.
The young man, maybe eighteen or so, had a good head start on the trailer park posse; with all silence except for the sound of multiple feet pounding on pavement that soon faded away as they all disappeared into the center of the strip mall's now darkened parking lot, which was a pretty big lot by the way. No shouts or bellowing curses were necessary in this deadly serious, particular pursuit.
I remember thinking at the time, maybe this guy's finally been ambushed crawling into one too many bedroom windows, bearing baby seed to some willing maiden past midnight. Of course, the whole thing could have been over something else, but the park was known for Skedaddling Romeos leaving their balloon-bellied Juliets alone and blue. And the park was also known for its very high rate of unwed teenage mothers. That's certainly how things went down at Tall Tree way back then, so was probably the reason for the startling late night chase.
Pop T , the Flick's owner, had finally, maybe six months before, sent his wife, Mrs. Dot with the heart of gold, to the state capital's mental health facility, to be treated for her alcoholism. Rehabs like we have today were generally unknown back then and mostly unavailable to all but the very wealthy or connected, you know, for celebrities like Betty Ford, Elizabeth Taylor, or even Cher's onetime husband, Southern rocker Gregg Allman.
While she was there getting help, Mrs. Dot made friends with a thirty-something white woman who was in the faculty for the same thing, and just so happened to reside at Tall Tree in a faded blue, less than stellar-looking mobile home. The Trimbles had big hearts for the downtrodden, especially struggling African Americans, and always helped the less fortunate -- black or white -- whenever they could.
One afternoon I was taking a well-meant care package from the Trimbles over to the lady's trailer. Little did I suspect an embarrassing situation was about to occur. On entering the place I immediately caught sight of the woman's considerably older husband sitting in a chair in the middle of their main room, conked-out from too much alcohol, wearing his rumpled-up postal uniform shirt.
Beer cans were strewn about the place liberally, and he was snoring a bit, chin on chest. He didn't look to be waking-up anytime soon either. The woman herself -- who had short blonde hair and was rather attractive with her button nose, rosy cheeks, and bosomy charms -- had herself stretched out on the sofa. Their daughter was a young teen, may twelve or thirteen years old, and she was inside the home too.
After I placed the canned goods and extras on the kitchen counter, the woman started up in a low voice saying "please". I hesitated for a moment before leaving and the pleases immediately began increasing in frequency and volume. The young girl was watching all this rather intently from where the hallway entered the main room, with a curious kind of look on her face.
When it finally hit me what the lady really wanted with all the "pleases" I pointed to her besotted hubby and said, "What about him?" more with the thought of defusing the dicey situation rather than further igniting it. Her disgusted reply to this was "Aw, he ain't good for nuthin." However, when it became clear to the woman that there wasn't going to be any hanky-panky with Your's truly, she began crying and that's when I beat a hasty exit, giving her a sympathetic look on the way out.
Sadly, that's just the way it was at Tall Tree.
Movie Magic at the Flick
In the high times of the early 80s, the "Swingin' Seventies" were still pretty much alive and kicking. Issues like alcoholism were up for laughs just as much as anything else.
With that in mind, the movie Arthur is a classic with the late Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli starring. Moore's performance as the bumbling and lovable, perpetually inebriated heir, was masterful. The talented comedian also won the Oscar for best actor in it.
Sir John Gielgud's turn as Arthur's butler earned that gentleman a well deserved Oscar, too. The recent remake -- if the reviews are anything to go by -- nowhere near captures the charm and laughs of the original.
An American Werewolf in London is a most interesting and moody film directed by John Landis of The Twilight Zone infamy. Landis was and is, an extremely talented individual who had the tragic helicopter accident happen on the set of The Twilight Zone that took the lives of actor Vic Morrow and two Asian children.
The film itself is one well worth watching for the ground- breaking man to beast transition alone. Michael Jackson was so enthralled by it he hired Landis to helm his Thriller video. It's also a great picture in and of itself and has a huge cult following. It did pretty good box office biz for us. It's one of those rare films that can take itself seriously one second and not so seriously the next. And it works perfectly by doing this.
Now to the big one of 1981. And when I say big, I mean huge. That movie, is of course, Raiders of the Lost Ark. When audiences got a first look at this magnificent opener to the Indiana Jones series, eyeballs nearly fell out. Now, even with the ending, that has the Nazi guy face-melting scene that might make someone's all time bad special effects list these days, it really was cutting edge for back then in 1981. In addition, there were few better opening scenes in a film with the rolling boulder coming after Indie, that I can remember. This flick went on to be the world's top movie that year with almost $390,000,000 taken in at the box office.
The patrons, and we, the employees that is, were in a state of near wonderment and the show wound up doing blockbuster business at the cinema. By the way, the auditorium rocked with laughter when Indiana Jones pulled out his revolver and gunned down the scimitar-twirling Semite. Remember that scene? Perfect timing and comic relief that bit was.
More Fun in '81 ...
We also showcased 1982's best picture, the Oscar winning Chariots of Fire; but this foreign production about Olympic running with the cheesy Vangelis soundtrack didn't go down with Southern audiences too well, and there was no interest in watching it here at all.
Besides, the girlfriend and I were temporarily on the outs over something and life was too depressing to watch much of anything right then.
The 1980's Clash of the Titans is in many fan's and critic's opinion a superior film with the legendary Ray Harryhaussen's animation, in comparison with the 3-D 21st century version. There are times when old-timey stop-motion trumps the newfangled CGI technology. The original movie is charming, the later movie is not so charming; although the Medusa scene at the end is pretty cool, even as fast as it goes by.
A rather bizarre and frankly eerie feeling film is one called Southern Comfort, which I remember fairly well. Its plot concerns a National Guard unit doing maneuvers in the Louisiana bayou country, when the local swamp Cajuns take a deadly dislike to them for some reason. The plot keeps you guessing right up to the end on who survives in this well-scripted, directed and acted, bleak thriller.
The last one that year was a clunker for the Flick as far as ticket sales went. It was called Neighbors and starred Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi of SNL fame. This picture had a rather dark humor about it and was a change of pace for these talented comedians, who switched their usual straight-man/funny-man roles for it.