The Bad Movie Report

Rat Phink
Boo Boo

And then there's Ray Dennis Steckler. At last.

Mr. Steckler continued to make movies through the 80's, and I like to believe he's still grinding away at some project, whenever the money is there; unlike a lot of directors, I think the budgets on his movies have actually been going down with each successive feature, from the early days when he made "The World's First Monster Musical" The Incredibly Strange Creatures That Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (damn, I love stupid 60's stuff) and the Arch Hall, Jr*. vehicle, Wild Guitar. Oh, and this week's movie, Rat Phink a Boo Boo. Probably the hardest thing about trying to make an objective analysis of this movie is to not go the easy route, to avoid easy ridicule and easier comparison to, say, the much-reviled Batman and Robin. So that's my job. To not make Batman and Robin jokes.

Cause I'm sure as hell not going to skip the ridicule.

"You there!  Fight crime!"We should first note that one of the warning signs of a truly bad movie experience, as laid out before, is an opening scene composed of stock footage. This movie's opener wreaks an interesting variation of that, as it appears to be made of home movie footage; it provided a serious flashback to my father's 8mm movies of local parades, taken in my youth... but no, there, in the middle of our parade, is Rat Phink and Boo Boo, waving at their cheering fans and urging them to "fight crime". A Narrator helpfully explains how universally loved are our heroes, "respected by all world leaders"...and they even make personal appearances at children's birthday parties! The parade footage provides a pretty weird viewing experience, much like seeing the late Andy Kaufmann in a policeman's uniform in the middle of the St. Patrick's Day parade in Larry Cohen's God Told Me To.

One of the better-lit moments of the first sceneBut enough of that, it is time for dark, gritty crime drama! And when I say dark, I mean dark - I'm guessing at the gritty part. It appears to be a scene where a gang of three rowdies pursue a young woman (whom I believe to be the same actress who played the villainess in Incredibly Strange, the one with the 'wart of horror'). They eventually corner her in a blind alley, choke her with a chain and rob her. At one point during this lengthy exercise in sensory deprivation, just when we are sure the woman is going to trip (because they always do)... one of the thugs trips and falls instead ! Ray Dennis Steckler is a genius!

Then - 8 minutes into the movie - the titles finally roll, and we discover that the name of this picture is, indeed, Rat Phink a Boo Boo... the guy who did the titles got it wrong, leaving off the nd in and. Steckler didn't have the money to do them over, and this new, more enigmatic name stuck.

Thereafter we are introduced to Lonnie Lord (Vin Saxon, aka Brad Bardo, aka Ron Haydock), who (the ever helpful Narrator tells us) "is a rock and roll singer". Lonnie is, in fact, signing autographs for a group of his fans when we meet him. All three of them. The next thing we notice about Lonnie, as he walks about the streets of Hollywood ("the entertainment capitol of the world") is that he constantly carries his guitar with him.... by the neck... with no case of any sort. The Narrator, apparently aware of our attention to this trait, informs us that "Wherever he goes, he carries his guitar, because he never knows when he'll be called upon to sing a song." So take that, all you new-fangled rock stars that must have only blue M&Ms or sparkling water from the deepest pits of Loring-on-the-Spee, Wales before they will perform! How I miss the days of Lonnie Lord, when rock-and-roll singers had the work ethic of a coal miner!

i hope my fans are better looking than than this.
i hope my fans are better looking than than this.
i hope my fans are better looking than than this.
i hope my fans are better looking than than this.
i hope my fans are better looking than than this.

As Lonnie is a rock-and-roll singer, it must be time for....A MUSIC VIDEO! As Lonnie and his girlfriend, CB Beaumont (Carolyn Brandt) frolic and cavort. And, as they part, bark at each other. Really.

Anyway, our three thugs from the beginning, Hammer, Chain, and.... I dunno.... Giggles...... Have run out of money again and start stalking CB Beaumont, calling her at all hours, and finally in the middle of the night, when she finds Giggles rapping, rapping at her glass patio door. Which is kinda disconcerting, when you get right down to it. Giggles runs away (giggling, of course) as CB calls the cops....

The Fat Guy in a Chef Hat - a national icon.Which must mean it's time for a MUSIC VIDEO! Lonnie, backed by an anonymous group, sings at a poolside party, where bathing-suited lovelies dance wantonly as some fat guy with a goatee and a chef's hat does the twist behind the barbecue grill. People do depraved, decadent things like jump into the pool with their clothes on, all to the rockin' beat of "You Ain't Nothin' But a Rat Phink". Man, I wish real life was like this.

After the Music Video, CB gets another threatening phone call, causing her to freak and drive home, where she is captured by the three thugs. Her essentially retarded gardener, Titus (Titus Moede), trying to stop the men, gets whacked upside the head with a hammer, which probably doesn't help his mental state much. The Bad Guys take her to.... somebody's back yard. To hold her prisoner, while Lonnie awaits the kidnapper's phone call.

Where mah dawg?Lonnie does not use the downtime to do something sensible, like call the police. No, this is the perfect time for a MUSIC VIDEO! There is some sort of unwritten law that during a glaringly inappropriate time like this, a ballad must be sung. The same thing happened in Help! and in KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, when the group took time out to sing "Beth" to a woman concerned about the fate of her boyfriend. Just as inappropriate is the song Lonnie sings, which appears to be of the pining for an unfaithful woman variety - c'mon, Lonnie, it wasn't like she got kidnapped on purpose!

Also, in the segment in Help!, we got to at least look at Elenor Bron. In this number, we only get to look at Titus as he holds an icy compress to his dented noggin. Still, we get to see why Lonnie is pullin' down the big bucks: Not only can he coax (from a common six-string guitar) sounds eerily reminiscent of a piano and a small drum set, but he can also fake an amazing simulation of a reverb on his voice!

Giggles phones in the $50,000 ransom demand. Lonnie, unable to raise that much money in a few hours, tells Titus this is a job for "You know and Who!" The two retire to the nearest closet, and, after some muffled gruntings and "Sorry"s, they emerge, transformed into.... RAT PHINK AND BOO BOO!

Steckler, in an interview on The Incredibly Strange Film Show, told how he and the crew were thoroughly bored by the NOT big sellers that Halloween - or ANY Halloween.crime drama at that point, and started fantasizing about how ridiculous it would be for Lonnie and Titus to walk through the door and come back changed into Batman and Robin (it was 1966; Batmania held America in a Pokemon-style grip); it was the fantasy that made it onto the screen, the rest of the original script (if there even was one) jettisoned. After this, the movie affects a surreal, even childlike quality. In fact, the movie, shot up to this point in black and white, suddenly assumes a series of tints, starting with green when the heroes come out of the closet (ah, Frederick Wertham - what hast thou wrought?), resolving from a yellow to a sort of orangish sepia at the end. This is good, as the film is better lit from here on out, the action moving to the outside rather than interiors - the sepia even approximates skin tone at times.

Rat Phink and Boo Boo place a briefcase, as instructed, in a dumpster behind a store. Giggles climbs in to retrieve the case and manages to get himself trapped in the dumpster when the lid slams shut (all together now: HUH?) After Giggles is released by a good Samaritan, RP and BB follow Giggles to the bad guys' secret lair in Somebody's Back Yard. There, a (lame) fight scene ensues - five minutes of amateur fight tricks while the camera grinds away. In Somebody's Back Yard.

Boo Boo, as required by sidekick law, is useless in a fight and Chain and Giggles make off with CB while Rat Phink "Would you PLEASE sit down, you big fruit?"manacles the beaten Hammer. The heroes hop on their motorcycle and it's time for a MUSIC VID.... oh, wait. It's time for a CHASE SCENE! Remember how long that fight scene was? The chase scene is EVEN LONGER, but at least the scenery changes. Eventually, the Bad Guys' truck gets stuck in the mud, and the chase scene continues - on foot, rendering it even slower. But finally, our good guys catch up, and another (lame) fight scene ensues. Not that we notice, because the camera has suddenly become enamored of some idiot wandering around the landscape, who is wearing a derby that is too small for him (so are the stretch pants, but now I'm just being bitchy). This fruity fellow keeps shouting "Kogar! Kogar!"

Carolyn Brandt's butt: magic is made.Yes, the Idiot in a Derby has lost his gorilla, which will now carry off CB just as Rat Phink and Boo Boo subdue Chain and Giggles. Rat Phink gives chase, and though you might be expecting a big (lame) fight scene here --- nope. Kogar puts out Rat Phink with one punch, then leaves with the Idiot in a Derby. Rat Phink reveals his true identity to CB, and then we're back to the parade footage and the Narrator assuring us that Rat Phink and Boo Boo "build strong bodies eight ways". The e....

Oh, wait. First there's a MUSIC VIDEO!!! Then it's The End.

There's not much wrong with Rat Phink a Boo Boo that a few thousand dollars (and a little discipline) couldn't have solved (a few less million and a lot of discipline in the case of Batm.... no. Caught myself). More money (always helps) to buy better equipment and film; discipline to finish the movie. The crime drama isn't too bad - the plot is just as obviously improvised as the superhero spoof, though, as the thugs go from selecting CB at random to targeting Lonnie for ransom, which implies advanced planning.

When I first saw Incredibly Strange Creatures, I was sophisticated enough to see that the cinematography was amazingly good, even if the film was crap; it wasn't until later that I discovered that the then-recently-immigrated Vilmos Zigmound was trying to break into American movies and did some low-budget stuff that benefited greatly from his talents - Incredibly Strange was one of those. I had some misgivings when I saw that Steckler handled the camera on this flick, and the quality of the first two sequences didn't help.

But you know what? In retrospect, the home-movie quality of that first parade scene, segueing into the children's birthday party, is wholly appropriate. A few bucks spent on light rental would have improved the first chase scene, as would have a few more spent on the library music - though the action increases in tempo, the music does not, until the choking scene. This has the effect of distancing the action from us even more, when we can see it.

But when we can see the action, Steckler knows where to put the camera. A few more bucks spent on multiple takes fromThe menacing 'isolated body parts' scene multiple angles would have helped in the editing; some scenes could have been upcut, giving more motion to the camera. But what is there is, as I said, pretty good; The gang, while plotting to "do something and have some fun" is shot in isolated close-ups, hands playing with chains and hammers, cigarettes, all in a darkened apartment, the darkness of the first scene put to better use. Some tension and menace build up over several scenes. Steckler's camera is handheld during much of the film, but he uses the flexibility this allows to maximum effect, creating a whirling, vertiginous venue for events to play out.

Then Rat Phink and Boo Boo show up. Here is my central problem with this movie: Who is the target audience? The schizophrenic nature of the movie's transformation at this point is goofy and fun, but the whole superhero portion of the flick feels strictly high-school film class level, and was even more obviously made up as they went along (somebody mentioned that they knew where to get a gorilla costume - voila! Kogar!) The fact that the best exchange happens at this moment - the joke that probably convinced everyone to ditch the suspense flick and go with the superhero spoof , roughly halfway through the film - bears this out.

Carolyn could do Bettie Page with the best of them.There, that's my problem in a nutshell. As an attempt to cash in on the Batman craze, Rat Phink a Boo Boo must have been marketed for children... I remember a picture or two from it cropping up in Famous Monsters, for instance. But the crime drama is most definitely for adults, especially when CB's bath is interrupted by one of the Thugs' phone calls and she pads across the room, naked, to the telephone. Okay, we see nothing but her bare back and shoulders, but Steckler is adroit enough to still make us feel vulnerable at this moment. Past the appearance of the two costumed crime fighters at the very top of the movie, thirty-five minutes of humorless crime drama and suspense sequences is an awfully long time to expect kids to wait for their superheroes, even if the wait is leavened by several MUSIC VIDEOS!

Speaking of the music videos: the song sequences are obviously inspired by the ones in A Hard Day's Night, where Richard Lester arguably invented the form that led to The Monkees and music videos in general. In fact, during the course of the songs in Rat Phink a Boo Boo, I began to feel that this movie is what you get when you go to the video store in Hell and think you've rented Hard Day's Night.

Except. That the first one is actually pretty darned good. It is kinetic in the extreme, and moves well with the song, as lovebirds CB and Lonnie never seem to stop running. It surprised me with its quality. The other songs never reach its height - especially not the ballad-accompanied-by-ice-cubes number - but they never stray quite that low, again, either. They're certainly of the quality of the ones in the aforementioned Monkees TV show. (The music itself is another matter entirely).

So earlier I called Steckler a genius in jest. While I may not go so far as call him a genius in all seriousness, there's a good filmmaker - and possibly a great cinematographer - hiding somewhere in there. This idea intrigues me enough to start seeking out more of his work to examine - and that's good. And Carolyn Brandt does remain quite easy on the eyes. Despite these two points, this movie, even for a lover of crap film, might prove to be a bit of challenge. And for the casual viewer, it would simply be a long season in Hell.



Still better than Batman and Robin... Damn!

- November 21, 1999