The Big Question is a semi-regular outing where multiple Daily Grindhouse contributors and friends offer their answers to some burning question. The results…may surprise you.
This week’s big question is…
What is the number one movie for which
you want to do a commentary?
In honor of tonight’s Live-Tweet with Anatomy Of A Scream of THE LIGHTHOUSE, we wanted to know for what film people would want to record a commentary track. It could be a title you love, or the subject is something on which you’re an expert, or it could be a movie you’d have fun pointing out the little details, or maybe it’s a flick that you want to make jokes about, or who knows.
But you know what makes for a good commentary: enough talk that it’s entertaining and engaging while avoiding dead air—but not so much that it’s an avalanche of words or saying stuff demonstrably wrong.
If you were given the chance to record a professional commentary
for a film, what is your selection and why?
Craig Edwards — NOT OF THIS EARTH (1988)
After her… interesting… run as an adult film actress Traci Lords was ready to move into “legitimate” filmmaking. Never one to miss an exploitable moment, Roger Corman – The King of the Bs – made a deal with her to star in a remake of his 1957 sci-fi thriller NOT OF THIS EARTH. In the original, blonde nurse Beverly Garland realizes her rich patient is really an alien here to steal human blood to feed his planet. The remake tells the same story, with Lords in the Garland role. Corman gave the project to writer/director Jim Wynorski (CHOPPING MALL).
Wynorski structured the film very similarly – even going shot-for-shot for certain scenes, but did one of his trademark “tricks” to increase the running time and production values of the film in the most economical way possible: he added sequences to this movie comprised entirely of sequences clipped from movies in the Corman library – in this case two scenes taken from HOLLYWOOD BLVD (1975 – and itself a movie comprised of borrowed footage for maximum bang for your budget) and HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980) among a few other shorter bits and shots.
The canny Lords—after baring it all in her adult movies—negotiated for a very short partially nude scene and has not done any further nude scenes in a continuing acting career spanning more than 30 years. The equally canny Wynorski got the requisite nudity for producer Corman by adding new scenes involving other starlets willing to appear topless. One other interesting factoid: the original film had a bit from the amazing character actor Dick Miller as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman.
30 years later Miller was still going strong as a character actor, and it seems like a huge missed opportunity that when the same character shows up in the remake he is played by a younger lookalike instead of the real Miller coming back for a “wink wink” callback cameo. However, Miller and Wynorski had worked together on CHOPPING MALL two years previously and Wynorski now admits he and Miller did not really get along, so he went with the younger actor for this movie.
For all of these reasons I’d love to do a solo commentary talking about this movie for 86 minutes.
Rob Dean — GAMER (2009)
Originally, my inkling was 2004’s MINDHUNTERS would be a total blast to riff on while talking about how too many folks undervalue Renny Harlin. I thought about saying THE GOONIES just so I could do a musical commentary with my friend Keith (as we wrote a musical based on the film). But ultimately I went with the Neveldine/Taylor joint GAMER from 2009.
The filmmaking duo got some weird subversive low-brow/highbrow praise for their CRANK films as they were go-for-broke movies that made little sense but were total assault on the senses (like if NATURAL BORN KILLERS was made as an action film by Takashi Miike in the age of Go-Pro cameras). But their other efforts together (PATHOLOGY, GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE) or solo (Taylor’s MOM AND DAD and showrunning Happy!) haven’t received as much praise (either fairly or not).
But one that is often overlooked and unfairly so is GAMER—a movie about human avatars in “video game” like scenarios of Call Of Duty and The Sims that is equally ridiculous (Gerard Butler puke starts a car! There’s a dance sequence! Ludacris is essentially just a mash-up of Mick Fleetwood and Ice-T from THE RUNNING MAN and JOHNNY MNEMONIC, respectively!) but also has some salient points about technology, entertainment, autonomy, online personas, and the growing oligarchy of America.
It would be fun to chat over GAMER about how it continues a fine history of dystopias built on bread & circuses, some relevant news stories and eerily similar technological developments, and then also marvel when people get half their faces blown off. Plus I get to point out how HARDCORE HENRY literally redid an entire scene from GAMER for the same narrative purposes and tone—but no one stood up for the Neveldine/Taylor film. Errybody wins!
Matt Wedge — A RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT (1987)
Not surprisingly, I chose a Larry Cohen movie. What I guess could be seen as a bit unexpected is that I’m not going with one of his acknowledged classics. While it would be fun to talk at length about GOD TOLD ME TO or IT’S ALIVE, I find A RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT to be a fascinating movie, both for what is on screen and for the strange place it holds in Cohen’s overall filmography.
Having absolutely nothing in common with the Stephen King novel or Tobe Hooper’s miniseries adaptation aside from the name of the town and that it is still populated by vampires, A RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT is interesting in that it finds Cohen taking the surprisingly decent budget given to him by Warner Bros. and turns in a film that is still very much a Larry Cohen movie. He may technically be playing in someone else’s franchise sandbox, but Cohen brings along many of his regular collaborators (actors Michael Moriarty, Andrew Duggan, and James Dixon—who co-wrote the screenplay; cinematographer Daniel Pearl) and then for the cherry on top, the brilliant and unexpected casting of legendary independent filmmaker Sam Fuller.
All of which is to say that while the actual movie is uneven (I still think it’s great fun even though it boasts one of the worst child actor performances captured on film), there are so many aspects to the production and the people involved that it could be both an informative and entertaining commentary. Everything from Cohen’s long-running partnership with Moriarty and Dixon to the similar arcs of Cohen’s and Fuller’s careers as directors to Cohen’s shock at/frustration with the fact that veteran director Fuller had no concept of the importance of hitting his mark as an actor could be explored.
Even more fascinating is Cohen’s ability to use a pulpy vampire movie as a metaphor to explore the evils of Nazi Germany without the movie ever becoming tasteless or exploitive. And, of course, it’s a Larry Cohen movie. Which means I could talk at length without ever losing my enthusiasm. Of all of his movies, it’s one of the most misunderstood. I’d love to help contribute to its rehabilitation.
Brett Gallman — A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS (1987)
If there was ever any movie I’d feel comfortable talking about for 90+ minutes, it’s this one. Not only is it my favorite horror movie of all-time, but I’m also fairly well-versed in its production and could share some insights as it unfolded on-screen. Still, carrying on a conversation or lecturing to an audience is not my strong suit, so I would feel most comfortable being more of a moderator. In the collaborative spirit of DREAM WARRIORS, I would invite some of the acquaintances I’ve made over the years to participate in a commentary.
Using the model of Scott Weinberg’s track for IT FOLLOWS, I’d be the main host and have folks drop in to share their thoughts on various bits of the movie: interesting facts they might know, anecdotes about why DREAM WARRIORS is important to them, etc. I’m also a fan of the commentaries Adam Green and Joe Lynch have recorded over the years, so I would like to bring that kind of exuberant fanboy energy, too. Commentaries should be informative, sure, but I also think the most vibrant tracks come from a place of sheer appreciation, and I don’t know that I appreciate any movie as much as I do DREAM WARRIORS.
Also, fun fact: if this imaginary commentary were to somehow be willed into existence onto an actual disc, it would mark the very first commentary track to grace a release for DREAM WARRIORS. I’m not saying that it would be the most essential supplement if someone out there is working on a definitive Blu-ray box set, but I am saying I’m open to taking calls.
Mike McGranaghan — LUCKY NUMBERS (2000)
This is a real oddball choice, but I’d want to record a commentary for the 2000 John Travolta/Lisa Kudrow comedy LUCKY NUMBERS, directed by Nora Ephron. Of course, the movie was a flop with both critics and audiences, and it has been largely forgotten. My reason is personal, though. I live in Pennsylvania, and the film is based on a shocking event that occurred in our fine state. It just screwed up the depiction of that event royally.
In 1980, a television personality really did conspire to fix the state lottery, replacing some of the ping pong balls in the machines with weighted ones, so that only certain numbered balls were light enough to get sucked out of the tube. (The Daily Number that night was 666.) LUCKY NUMBERS is faithful in that respect, but it completely, inexplicably re-writes the aftermath. I would want my commentary to compare the movie’s stupid version with the far more fascinating actual version of what happened next—the exposure of an entire conspiracy that extended beyond Pennsylvania.
LUCKY NUMBERS had the potential to be a great, satiric film about the intersection of greed and stupidity. Unfortunately, the desire to slip into dumb comedy ended up moving it away from the facts of the case. A DVD commentary could make for a fun comparison, as well as a look at how Hollywood can occasionally blow a seemingly can’t-miss story. Since the film was shot in and around Harrisburg, I could also point out some notable landmarks and locations. There’s more to Pennsylvania than Pittsburgh and Philadelphia!
Justin Yandell – mother! (2017)
There aren’t a lot of movies I’d feel like I have a full commentary’s worth of things to talk about, but I’d consider it a public service to record one for Darren Aronofsky’s mother!
I feel odd writing about this film at all even years after its release, because I think the moment it first ‘clicks’ with the audience is special, like seeing the end of THE SIXTH SENSE for the first time, and I don’t want to deprive anyone of that. On the other hand, I still encounter people who have no idea what the movie is about, which is baffling to me. I feel like the allegory becomes crystal-clear when Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer’s son murders his brother in Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence’s home, introducing unending greed, depravity and evil into the peaceful world they’ve built together, and yet I’ve witnessed very intelligent and historically savvy viewers reach the credits, sit back in their chairs and say, “huh?” so maybe the allegory isn’t as on-the-nose as I think it is.
It reminds me of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, another movie that covers the impact of religion on humanity and the globe and is best-viewed as pure allegory rather than as a coherent narrative constrained by any sort of real-world logic, though MOUNTAIN requires a far greater understanding of world history and culture than mother!, which is narrowly focused through a specific Judeo-Christian lens. Some viewers may be akin to the poet Dante and require a Virgil-like figure to explain the horrors unfolding in front of them as they descend deeper and deeper into Hell and I’d be more than happy to fill that role.
John Reents — CARRIE (1976)
As a culture, we’ve overused “obsession” to the point where the word’s true meaning has been all but lost. I have mentioned CARRIE—the book, the movies, the musical—so frequently that my therapist has implored me, repeatedly, to let it go and leave CARRIE behind me. I’ve read the novel at least 20 times, and eight of those were in one summer. I’ve seen De Palma’s film even more often, and in fact celebrated my 40th birthday at a screening. I took my first vacation in 10 years to see the new version of the musical Off-Broadway in 2012.
That is an obsession.
I can’t think of a better way to escape Carrie White’s telekinetic grip on my psyche than to purge my soul of this fixation with an audio commentary. Perhaps if I create a permanent, public record of my thoughts on why the gym teacher lives in the novel, but dies in De Palma’s film, the symbolism of William Katt’s and John Travolta’s hair, the conflation of violence and the female orgasm, the surprising amount of horror in the career of musical theatre legend Betty Buckley who I saw in Hello, Dolly! three times, Angela Bettis’s outstanding performance in the 2002 TV film, how I share a birthday with co-star Nancy Allen (and her ROBOCOP co-star Peter Weller!), maybe sing a few numbers from the musical, I’ll finally be able to bury my [redacted embarrassing psychological term] once and for all. Maybe.
Jon Abrams – NEON MANIACS (1986)
There are plenty of movies that I love more, and many of which I’m a serious student (THE UNHOLY THREE, PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, KNIGHTRIDERS, almost anything by Michael Mann or Clint Eastwood), and all of those are probably objectively better films than NEON MANIACS. Nonetheless, my answer to this question is NEON MANIACS.
I’ve gone long writing about this movie twice already. (Here and here.) According to the rule of threes, the third time is where the joke really kicks in. That said: We won’t even count what I’m doing here right now, because I’ve covered NEON MANIACS in brief in these features before. There’s still another NEON MANIACS longread in me somewhere. I just know it.
NEON MANIACS is a movie I mention a lot because the idea of NEON MANIACS existing at all is hilarious to me. In the heyday of slasher films, somebody hit on the following high-concept: “If one hideously-deformed murderer is scary… what if there were a dozen of them?” Not too scary, it turns out, and that’s the only question the movie bothers to answer.
It’s fair to say that a lot more thought went into the creation of Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger than any one of the twelve Neon Maniacs, who despite their distinctive—if comically stereotypical—appearances act more like a swarm of bees than a team of rivals. A movie monster really needs a lot more personality to hope to be one of the greats. Twelve dullards still don’t make a party.
But the beautifully sui generis way it shits the bed is just another reason why I love NEON MANIACS. I love an underdog. I love an intriguing failure. I love a bizarre mess. I love a smart movie that makes me think, but sometimes more than that, I love a stupid movie that makes me think about what it could have been, or why it even happened in the first place.
I invoke the name of NEON MANIACS so often because it makes me laugh on its own (for one thing, there’s no in-context reason to mention “Neon” except for the fact that neon was a popular stylistic flourish in the ’80s) and because the very idea of me mentioning NEON MANIACS so often makes me laugh. It’s funny to me to make people think I spend this much time thinking about NEON MANIACS…but also, I really do spend this much time thinking about NEON MANIACS.
In the process of joking about NEON MANIACS online, I’ve accidentally ended up doing a tremendous amount of research on NEON MANIACS, about as much as can be done short of visiting locations and speaking to the surviving principals who worked on the movie—and let me say here that I’m wide open to that possibility, email@example.com. You can argue that it’s been a tragic waste of valuable moments of a rapidly-dwindling life, and that may be accurate, but it’s also true that I would have no trouble talking energetically about this demented movie for its entire running time. And I could come up with totally unique and thoroughly idiotic observations about it on every single take. Try me, baby.
So let’s do this already, Criterion Collection. You, me, NEON MANIACS. Let me ruin your evening.
Sarah Jane — ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (1972)
To absolutely no one’s surprise, I picked a movie starring one of my favorite actresses, Edwige Fenech. Oh, did you not know I adored the woman? So renowned is my adoration, I was asked to write about Fenech for the Austin Chronicle’s “My Obsession” column. My film of choice is ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. It’s arguably the best of her films and, for me, the one where she looks the best.
In ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, Fenech plays “Jane”, the put upon girlfriend of Richard (George Hilton). Jane lost her baby in a car crash recently and she keeps having these weird-ass dreams. There’s some devil worshipping going on and, well, do I need to go on? It’s one of Fenech’s better performances. Hilton is great, too. Sergio Martino directs this half giallo/half psychological thriller and this is some of his best work, as well. Like a lot of gialli films, it’s more about the visuals than the story and if there’s one thing ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK has going for it, it is the way it looks.
While I claim to be no expert in giallo, Martino, or even Fenech, herself, I would definitely be an enthusiastic participant on a commentary track for the movie. I would surround myself with friends I know love the genre and Fenech. I’d absolutely love to have Rachael Nisbet on the recording with me. As her bio states, she is “giallo fiend,” and I consider her to be a leading expert on the genre.
I’d also ask along artist Shannon Stamey because I know his appreciation of Fenech goes as deep as mine. It would be interesting to get his artistic perspective on the aesthetics of the film. The three of us would record a commentary that’s both informative and entertaining. There’s nothing worse than listening to a dry, litany of facts or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, having a bunch of dudes talking all over each other. My crew would have just the right balance.
Look, no one is going to ever achieve the greatness of the commentary track for JACK-O with director Steve Latshaw and producer Fred Olen Ray. Twitter friend Lazron edited together the best parts of that commentary which you can watch here. We can only aspire to that level of greatness with our ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK track.
What about you, gentle reader?
For what film would YOU want to
record a commentary track?
Please let us know in the comments below!
Tags: A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, A Return to Salem's Lot, All The Colors Of The Dark, Brian Taylor, carrie, Chuck Russell, Commentary Track, Darren Aronofsky, Ed Harris, Edwige Fenech, Film Commentary, Freddy Krueger, Gamer, Gerard Butler, Giallo, Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence, Jim Wynorski, john travolta, Joseph Magine, Lisa Kudrow, Lucky Numbers, Mark Neveldine, Michelle Pfeiffer, mother!, Neon Maniacs, Neveldine/Taylor, Nora Ephron, Not of This Earth, roger corman, Scott Weinberg, Sergio Martino, Traci Lords