Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Computers Are Magic! NIGHTMARE WEEKEND

There’s a charmingly boneheaded plot device that pops up in not only the cheap, stupid movies I love, but huge blockbusters as well.  I like to call it Technology Is Magic!  This device states that if the technology is advanced enough, it can do anything, regardless of if it is physically possible, because no one understands it.  At least, the writers don’t understand it.  Just about every technological advancement gets this treatment:  viruses are magic (INDEPENDENCE DAY), genetic manipulation is magic (PROMETHEUS), apps are magic (TERMINATOR GENISYS), AI is magic (BABYLON AD, AVENGERS 2).  Technology is magic is the theme for pretty much the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s lazy writing, but I can overlook the flaws if the rest is enjoyable enough.  It's usually covered up by enough vaguely scientific gibberish to show they made the attempt, at least.  Sometimes, though, it’s so boneheaded and clueless that it becomes hilarious.  I’m not sure the writer of NIGHTMARE WEEKEND even knew what a computer was, but the result certainly is magic.

The Capsule: 
Okay, try to stay with me. Two guys on bikes try to break into a house guarded by a supercomputer and a hand puppet named George. The computer changes one of the biker's necklaces into a silver ball that shoots into his eye and melts his face. Later, a group of college girls talk about spending a weekend at a mansion relaxing and being experimented on. Three of the girls get picked up by an alcoholic chauffeur, but Jessica goes to see her scientist father instead. Her father lives in the same house the bikers tried to break into. George lives in her room and is kind of like a pet robot/advisor, except that he's a scary hand puppet.  Jessica's dad is working on a revolutionary behavior modification device that will cure violent tendencies by removing the subjects fear and inhibitions (seems obvious, really). He works with evil bitch, Julie, who hired the bikers to break in to the house and who will be conducting the experiments on the college girls. Jessica hates Julie and George tries to kill her by crashing her car with a video game. The three other girls stop off at the chauffeur’s favorite bar and the slutty one picks up a mustached lothario who she bones in the limo. Later at the bar, Jessica runs into Ken, the other biker, and instantly falls in love with him. Instead of doing anything crazy like talking to him, she steals his bandana and leaves her scarf tied to his bike.  She asks George what is the best way to meet him again.  The supercomputer calculates that she has the best chance of running into him at either a bar (82%), a disco (76%), or hitchhiking (66%). Naturally, she opts for hitchhiking, but encounters the pinball playing punk from the bar instead. The punk tries to rape her, but Ken shows up and beats him up. George senses danger to Jessica and has the supercomputer blow up the punk after he's no longer a threat. Back at the mansion, Julie's experiments remove the college girls’ inhibitions but also turn them into goo dripping mutants. Julie somehow considers this a success. More things happen. Nothing makes sense. It's amazing. 

NIGHTMARE WEEKEND is aggressively, almost defiantly, incoherent.  The story jerks around quick enough to give you whiplash.  There is no continuity.  The dialogue does not match what is happening on the screen.  All the American actors are dubbed.  Into English.  By different American actors.  Even for people who love insane movies, this one is almost too much to swallow.  I had to pause and go back multiple times while taking notes for this piece because it was all coming at me too fast.  Needless to say, it’s a schizocinematic gold standard.  Pretty much every scene is a treasure chest waiting to be unpacked.

Here’s the breakdown for the computerized behavior modification process.  An object belonging to the subject is scanned (or crudely drawn) by the computer.  The computer transforms the object into a silver ping pong ball that flies into the subject’s mouth (if they are lucky).  After the silver ball is forcibly ingested, the subject’s behavior changes according to the dosage controlled by a slider on the computer panel.  Obviously, this is a much more efficient drug delivery system than, say, a hypodermic needle.  Also, the silver ball can sometimes disguise itself as common objects like an ice cube, toothpaste, or a pair of panties.  There is a slight (100%) risk that the treatment could turn you into a homicidal "neuropath" that leaks green slime.  And at high dosages, it can cause you to explode.  Please follow your doctor’s recommendations.

Then there’s George the hand puppet.  I think it’s supposed to be a comforting robot playmate for a little girl.  If so, it is an unmitigated failure, because this little fucker is more horrifying than the doll from SAW.  Jessica finds him cute, though, so I guess it worked.  And Jessica needs all the help she can get, because she is possibly the dumbest person on the planet.  After her first meeting with Ken, she earnestly asks George to diagnose the symptoms of being in love, as if she’s never heard of emotions before.  I’m fairly sure she’s asked George multiple times why her stomach feels so full after she’s eaten and why everything goes black when she closes her eyes.  George also tries to be Jessica’s protector, at which it also fails miserably.  When it magically senses Jessica is in danger, George just keeps announcing “Jessica in danger!” and tells the supercomputer to run the save Jessica program.  By the time it actually does anything, the danger has passed.  It blows up the would-be rapist punk after Ken beats him up (no real loss there).  Likewise, when trying to save her from a slimy mutant, all it manages to do is [Spoiler] accidentally kill Ken.  Great job George, glad you were there when she didn’t need you.

The highlight of the movie is Billy’s Bar, or the Stage Stop as it is clearly named on the outside.  First of all, it has a sweet arcade in the back, with two Ms. Pac Mans and Zaxxon.  Sure, most bars don’t include a full arcade, especially one called the Galaxy Game Room, with a picture of a Pac Man wearing a baby bonnet, but Billy’s Bar is no ordinary watering hole.  Just look at the clientele.  You have the alcoholic chauffeur, who doesn’t want to be caught drinking (despite the fact that he is IN A BAR).  Instead, the bartender subtly hands him a sandwich with an airline sized bottle of vodka inside.  Nothing unusual about a man drinking a sandwich.   This is also the hangout for the scuzzy lothario, who halfway through the film suddenly becomes rich for some reason and starts wearing suits.  Then there is the lothario’s friend, a skinny guy with a Walkman stuffed in his jeans who never stops dancing.  And of course, the sneering, pinball playing punk and his put upon girlfriend.  So many great scenes happen at Billy’s.  At one point, the punk tells the lothario’s date, “He’s quantity, I’m quality.”  What exactly is the appropriate response to that statement?  Unless the lothario has a twin we haven’t seen yet, I’m pretty sure they are the exact same quantity (a 1:1 douchebag ratio).  

The best scene is when Jessica discretely follows Ken into the bar after their first run in.  Jessica is on roller skates and looks like an extra from XANADU, which makes her stand out slightly.  Plus, she falls down a lot, less in a comedic way and more like someone who doesn’t understand gravity.   While she’s sitting on the floor, Ken tells her that she took his seat.  Maybe he’s trying to be funny, but it’s more likely the director changed the scene without bothering to update the script or tell the actors.  That seems to happen a lot.  Jessica doesn’t say anything the entire time she is in the bar.  Then the punk tries to shock her by having sex with his girlfriend on the pinball machine.  In the middle of the bar.  Everyone just looks around awkwardly, including the bartender who you would think would have some objection to public sex in his establishment.  That has to be a health code violation, at least.  It’s just a typical wacky afternoon at Billy’s Bar, though.  Forget Boston, this is where they should have filmed Cheers.

A couple of the cast are notable for being actual actors who went on to make real movies.  Ken is played (but not voiced) by Dale Midkiff from PET SEMATARY, and TV actress Andrea Thompson plays the blond guinea pig with horribly embarrassing dialogue.  I bet she was looking forward to becoming a disgusting, slime dripping mutant just so she wouldn’t have to read anymore lines.  But decent actors, with their professionalism and their need for motivation, are just no fun.  Not in movies like this one, at least.  You need either fantastic actors who can lose themselves in a part or terrible actors with a can-do attitude and zero self-reflection.  I’m not sure which one Debbie Laster is (though I really do), but she was born to play evil Julie.  She really embraces the movie’s anti-logic.  After George tries to kill her by possessing her car and sending it barreling out of control, Julie takes a few moments to compose herself and then just drives away.  Because what are the chances of that happening twice to the same car?  It’s certainly not worth taking a cab.  She’s a total bitch to her employees, service workers, and especially Jessica.  She gleefully tells Jessica that not only is she making time with her dad, but Ken as well.  Suck on that, Ms. Goody-Two-Skates.  I also love that Julie considers the experiment to be a rousing success, despite that it clearly failed in every conceivable way.  She actually tells her mysterious boss that “it went perfectly.”  Is there a market for turning people into psychotic, oozing mutants that I don’t know about?  The movie behaves like it is a legitimate scientific breakthrough.  And, man, Julie is sure proud of herself about it.

Of course, Debra Hunter, who went on to do nothing ever again, is wonderful as Jessica, the most unnatural, disconnected person ever captured on film.  She must have rehearsed for weeks, or been on huge amounts of Quaaludes.  I kept waiting for the twist ending where she turned out to be an alien.  That would have been the only thing in the movie to make any sense.

Like a Kubrick film, I could spend hours analyzing every scene, but for completely opposite reasons.  The layers of stupidity are endless.  I’m pretty sure it becomes quantum as some point.  The director was known for a bunch of French erotica and not speaking English.  He stopped directing after NIGHTMARE WEEKEND, because you should always go out on the top of your game (individual games may vary).  In conclusion, this movie is astonishing and you will never be complete until you see it.  Enjoy the magic.

C. Chaka

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