then there's Ray Dennis Steckler. At last.
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
I'm sure as hell not going to skip the ridicule.
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.
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!
- 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.
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!
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.
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....
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.
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
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!
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!
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!
in an interview on The Incredibly Strange Film Show, told how
he and the crew were thoroughly bored by the 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.
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, as required by sidekick law, is useless in a fight and Chain and
Giggles make off with CB while Rat Phink 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
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".
wait. First there's a MUSIC VIDEO!!! Then it's The End.
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.
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.
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.
when we can see the action, Steckler knows where to put the camera.
A few more bucks spent on multiple takes from
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.