Monthly Archives: February 2020

A Pair of Pliers and a Blowtorch

Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino is probably the biggest plagiarist in mainstream cinema. And I do mean plagiarist. There is a great tradition of artistic allusion. Simply lifting dialog, scenes, and whole plots is different.

The way allusion works is that the writer and reader share a common vocabulary. But in the case of Tarantino, the viewer has almost certainly not seen the films he has. And that’s a shame given that they are usually remarkable films — often better than his.

Quentin Tarantino: Movie Thief

Tarantino gets away with this for two reasons, I think. First, he creates compelling films that are distinctly more than the sum of its many ripped-off parts. Second, he’s so shameless about it. It’s hard to do anything to an artist who has absolutely no sense of ethics.

The worst example of this is with Reservoir Dogs where he lifts major plot elements from the Hong Kong crime drama City on Fire. And note: that wasn’t some classic film from decades before but rather a recent film starring Chow Yun-fat and Danny Lee.

What’s more, people around Tarantino have claimed he’s stolen work from then. This claim was most notably made by Roger Avary. And it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Tarantino doesn’t even understand the issue or believes all the world is simply fodder for his genius.

Charley Varrick

If you’re like me, you really liked the phrase “a pair of pliers and a blowtorch” in Pulp Fiction. It isn’t that I’m into torture; it is just that it’s a great phrase, “I’m gonna call up a couple hard pipe-hitting niggas to go to work on the homes here with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch.”

Robert Altman used to say that if you looked at the 5 best bits in any of his films, you’d find they were the results of accidents. This isn’t true, but he apparently liked to think it. But I’ve come to believe that anything I really like in a Quentin Tarantino film is actually by someone else.

About a year after seeing Pulp Fiction, I was watching TV late one night and Charley Varrick came on. It is about a bank robbery that goes wrong for unusual reasons and the consequences of them. It stars Walter Matthau in an unusual kind of star role. It’s a great film that you should really check out.

Two-thirds into the film, we get this very short bit:

That’s John Vernon delivering the line, “You know what kind of people they are. They’re gonna strip you naked and go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch.”

Truthfully, I don’t know if the line is original to this movie; it may have been a common turn of phrase. I doubt it though; I’ve never heard it elsewhere.

The one thing I do know is that Tarantino got it from this film. Just watch the film; it is his kind of movie. And there’s nothing else in Pulp Fiction that references the line. He isn’t making a sly allusion to it. He’s just ripping it off.

Watch Beyond Quentin Tarantino

It’s actually kind of sad. Quentin Tarantino wants to make psychotronic films. But he doesn’t. He makes a particular kind of art film that is clever and easily digestible by his upper-middle-class audience. Part of that process is carving off notable moments from the psychotronic films he loves.

So his fans get to smirk at “My name’s Buck and I’m here to fuck.” But they’ll never get the experience of seeing Eaten Alive or Charley Varrick or City on Fire. Why would they need to when Tarantino rips it off for them in such a stylish package?

Quentin Tarantino at the 2010 Academy Awards by Sgt Michael Connors. It is in the public domain.

New Psychotronic Delight: Her Name Was Christa

Her Name Is Christa

I just received Her Name Was Christa — the first film that James L Edwards has directed. I know Edwards as part of what I call the Ohio Gang — people who have worked with JR Bookwalter over the years. He played three parts, for example, in Ozone. But the two things I think are most remarkable about him is his performance in Matthew Jason Walsh’s Bloodletting and his excellent script for Bookwalter’s Polymorph.

No Ordinary Film

Based on the artwork, I figured Her Name Was Christa would be another “girlfriend back from the dead” story like in My Dead Girlfriend or Nina Forever. But it’s not.

My primary interest in psychotronic film is the desire to see things I’ve never seen before — the kinds of things that just can’t (or at least shouldn’t) attract big money. Her Name Was Christa delivers on this in spades.

The first 80 minutes of the film is relatively straightforward with an awkward middle-aged man becoming more and more involved with a prostitute. The last 40 minutes of the film makes you rethink just how reliable the narrator had been throughout.

(There is one clue in the last couple of minutes that indicates that at least the primary relationship story was real. Other parts of it are established as delusions. It’s a nice foggy mix and I think it’s best not to over-think it.)

Technical Stuff

The acting in the film is excellent. This is probably Edwards’ best performance. Newcomer Shianne Daye is shockingly good as Christa. She manages to convince me that this relationship could exist.

The whole supporting case was good too. Drew Fortier pulled off the difficult feat of being the obnoxious yet good-hearted friend. And Rick Jermain played several of my past bosses perfectly! Also: JR Bookwalter has a cameo.

Edwards directs like a writer. But I don’t mean that as an insult at all. He, cinematographer (and cameraman?) Gordon Cameron, and art director David Lange created a beautiful film with realistic but uncluttered sets, effective lighting, well-chosen shots with effective camera moves. But nothing is gratuitous. Every shot is natural with a focus on character point-of-view.

In addition, the special make-up effects by Alan Tuskes were transcendent — enough to make any old psychotronic fan believe in a loving God.

I’m divided on the editing. I thought the deliberate pacing worked great and set up what was for me a very emotional denouement. But I also think that the film could be cut down by a half-hour and that might find it’s own audience.


Of particular note is that Her Name Was Christa is fearless. Although much of it is very funny, it is never camp. James L Edwards presents this tragic and disturbing story with an unfaltering heart. There is not a hit of irony here — something both unusual and badly needed in this moment of “edgy” popular art.

At the same time, it’s clear why this film is not playing at the multiplex. It demands of the viewer. Some of the scenes are hard to watch. I don’t mean they are disgusting. (Since when was that a problem for me?) I mean they were sad. Her Name Was Christa is simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking.

DVD Release

The film comes with two discs: a Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray has the film along with a commentary track with James L Edwards. The DVD has the same as well as these extras:

  • Indiegogo campaign video
  • A video ad looking for someone to play Christa
  • Rehearsal footage
  • Original (30+ minute) video of the institutional sections
  • One deleted scene and two extended scenes
  • An on-set marriage proposal from Drew Fortier to one of the extras
  • The “haunted attraction” scene with different music
  • The full video projected at Stephen’s work.

It’s a nice package. It’s a bit weird that the extras are not on the Blu-ray, but I’m not complaining. I recommend getting the film and since it isn’t available on Amazon, I get no associates fee, so I must be honest. You can get it at Makeflix either in the 2-disc package with the Blu-ray or just on DVD for $5.00 less.

Image taken from the Her Name Is Christa Facebook page.

Recent Additions: Jan 2020

Psychotronic Review

We have a lot of films this month — partly because I finally finished off all of the films of JR Bookwalter. But I’ve also been trying to watch more films. There are so many that I feel ignorant even though I’ve watched way more films than a reasonable person has.

As you will see, I’ve gone back to films that I liked in the past. But I’ve been watching a lot more recent films. It’s easy to miss adding them to Short Takes because it’s harder to put them into any kind of perspective. It feels better to just let them marinate in my subconsciousness.

But for now, I have 31 films that were added this month with some final thoughts on them.

  • The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958): probably my favorite Ray Harryhausen film. This one tells a compelling story and really would work without all the animation.
  • Bless the Beasts and Children (1971): the perfect film for teenaged boys then and now. It holds up remarkably well. I still think Teft is cool and my heart bleeds for Cotton.
  • Bride of the Monster (1955): probably my least favorite Ed Wood film, it still has its moments. It could be the perfect film to introduce people to Wood because it’s only up from here!
  • The Briefcase (2011): the first feature film of Jason Krawczyk, it’s quite engaging and clever. It’s also funny. But it’s only a warm-up for Krawczyk’s masterpiece (see below).
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992): a film I love even though it is very uneven. The denouement is particularly disappointing. But the clever dialog and excellent performances make it irresistible.
  • Clash of the Titans (1981): another Harryhausen film. For some reason, I just don’t like it that much. But I suspect that says rather more about me than it does the film. It has everything you’d expect.
  • Don’t Look in the Cellar (2008): a surprisingly good no-budget with good acting. And with such a cheeky title, how can you not love it?
  • The Eyes of My Mother (2016): a Netflix production that proves death is not the worst thing that can happen to you. It features an amazing central performance by Kika Magalhaes and a simple, horrifying story.
  • Future War (1997): the result of a troubled production, I still rather like this film. At worst, it’s good to keep your film appreciation skills exercised.
  • He Never Died (2015): the best film I’ve seen in a long time. Jason Krawczyk makes everything work with a brilliant script and some idiosyncratic shooting techniques. The casting it great too — from Rollins on down.
  • Koreatown (2007): from another of my favorite writer-directors who toils in obscurity, Michael Kallio. Although not as good as Hatred of a Minute, it’s still a solid story well rendered.
  • El Mariachi (1992): the legendary $7,000 feature film. It’s just superb, regardless of its budget. I really like Robert Rodriguez’s work, and this film is as good as anything he’s done.
  • Maximum Impact (1992): a surprisingly good no-budget action film. It’s things like this that give JR Bookwalter his mystique. How did he do this?!
  • Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933): this is so much better than the Vincent Price remake — good though it is. I especially love Glenda Farrell’s fast-talking reporter.
  • Orgy of the Dead (1965): a softcore fetish film with Ed Wood’s usual obsessions. This is a really enjoyable and beautiful film.
  • Ozone (1995): JR Bookwalter’s masterpiece. Drugs are turning people into zombies and a cop tries to figure it all out before he too becomes a zombie.
  • Phantasm (1979): pure horror mixed with male bonding. It’s no wonder this film spawned 4 further films — all of them good.
  • Pietà (2012): if you’re into art films with torture and incest, this is the film for you! It’s really good with some great moments. But it’s not for everyone.
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959): according to many, the worst film ever made. In fact, it isn’t even Ed Wood’s worst film. It has some interesting parts although I never feel the need to put it on.
  • Polymorph (1996): this is a really good film that combines science fiction and crime drama. Excellent script by James L Edwards.
  • Rated X (2000): a surprisingly good bio-pic about the notorious Mitchell brothers. Stylishly directed by Emilio Estevez.
  • Robot Ninja (1989): this is JR Bookwalter’s bloodiest film, and that’s saying something. The new release is far better than the original release, so if you haven’t seen it recently, you should do so.
  • Rosemary’s Baby (1968): Polanski’s classic about a woman impregnated by Satan is as effective as always. Watching it recently, I was particularly struck by the exceptional body horror.
  • Rounders (1998): although a standard melodrama, this film is just a lot of fun with all its details about the world of cards and con artists.
  • Rubber (2010): the only film I know about a tire that comes to life. This is such a clever film, I never tire (haha) of it.
  • The Rubber Gun (1977): this Allan Moyle and Stephen Lack collaboration is really compelling. It is very much like hanging out with a bunch of drug addicts for 90 minutes.
  • The Sandman (1995): a lot of people really like this film. Although there are some things I really like about it (eg, Matthew Jason Walsh’s performance), I’m not that fond of it — at least relative to other Bookwalter films.
  • The Sinister Urge (1961): one of Ed Wood’s lesser-known and better films. I prefer Jail Bait.
  • Spring (2014): this is a weird combination of horror and coming-of-age stories. It has some excellent horror moments.
  • Starry Eyes (2014): stardom presented as horror transformation. This film works well. I suspect it is also very funny for the right audience.
  • Zombie Cop (1991): my least favorite Bookwalter film. But like all of them, it has its champions.

Summing Up

Some art films have been appearing in my recent viewing with films like Pietà and Spring. That’s okay. But I’ll get back on more pure genre stuff soon, I’m sure.

I’d like to go back through classics that I haven’t added to the list like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Re-Animator. Soon.