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Except where noted, all original text & art ©2008 Eddie Flowers

Killer Diller
(1948, directed by Josh Binney)
Dressed in top hat, oversized suit, and big clown shoes, Dusty "Open The Door Richard" Fletcher auditions his magic act for a cynical theatre manager (George Wiltshire). When Dusty seems to make the manager's fiancee (Nellie Hill) disappear for real, the police are called. The klutzy cops begin chasing Dusty around the theatre. Even so, "the show must go on"! That's the entire plot of this groovy all-black vaudeville-like flick. Andy Kirk and his Orchestra provide backing for most of the acts, and also do a few numbers on their own. You can hear bop and R&B all over the place, even with the big-band swing format still in place. There are great sax solos, a bop number with stinging
Charlie Christian-style electric guitar, a bass-driven swanger, and an R&B guitar rocker with dancin' girls! Beverly White sings a song about how "I don't wanna get married, 'cause when you're single, you have so much fun"! And Jackie Mabley does stand-up based on the character of a middle-aged jive-talkin' "Mom," instead of the eldery Moms Mabley most of us remember from the 60s. She also does a piano-backed rap called "Don't Sit On My Bed." But the headliners here are the King Cole Trio. Nat Cole's ultra-cool R&B/jazz hybrid was in full pre-pop bloom for this film. They do three tunes: "Ooh Kick A Rooney," "Now He Tells Me," and a high-energy bop-like instrumental called "Breezy and the Bass." There are also appearances by the tap-dancing Clark Brothers, the intense swing-dancing Four Congeroos (two gals and two guys), and Patterson & Jackson, heavy-set blues-shoutin' comedians who outdo Spike Jones on a great Mills Brothers parody. Giggly Butterfly McQueen appears as the theatre manager's secretary and the love interest of Dusty Fletcher. This is a funky good time! Watch out for the Voodoo Man!

Hot Rod Gang
(1958, directed by Lew Landers)
Here's a fun piece of nonsense from the much-beloved American International Pictures. Drive-in movie stud John Ashley plays a young cat who's leading a double life as the rockin' rollin' head of a hot-rod club and a clean-cut violin-playing twerp who lives with his two comical old-maid aunts. He's going to inherit a family fotune, but in the meantime, his street-racing gang needs money to pay the rent on their clubhouse. The great Southern character actor Dub Taylor is their cigar-chomping landlord. Ashley meets Lois
(Jody Fair), the new chick in town. Her dad (Spike Jones alumnus Doodles "Beedlebaum" Weaver) is trying to set her up with Ashley's straight-arrow persona. She soon digs the scene, and in spite of Ashley's hot pointy-titted blonde girlfriend, the two become an item. New chick Lois just happens to know Gene Vincent, and suggests the R'n'R star might be able to help the gearheads raise money for rent. Gene's heading out on tour, so can't make their gigs, but he has a brainstorm: He'll release a split single (!) with Ashley to help raise cash for the kids. The young hot-rodder/upper-crust heir is reluctant, because he doesn't want his family to know what's happening. So, he puts on a beret and fake beard, and asumes a third identity as jive-talkin' beatnik rocker Jackson Dallyrimple. Jackson hits the radio with a tune called "Hit and Run Lover," and the bread starts rollin' in. There are plot twists involving jealous criminal types in the car club, a cynical cop ("When was the last time you were kicked by a policeman?"), and a trunk filled with stolen hubcaps. But the real kicks here come from the cute chicks, bitchen rods tearin' up the streets of L.A., and the music. Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps steal the movie with their two scenes, rockin' the joint with "Dance in the Street" and the sexy, grinding blues-ballad "Baby Blue." Eddie Cochran's collaborator Jerry Capehart gets credit as associate music supervisor, and Cochran supposedly makes an uncredited cameo, but I didn't spot him. This flick has some interesting stylistic elements that were used in 1960s teen comedies from a few years later (Ashley was the second banana in several beach-party movies). Yeah, it's squeaky clean sexy 1950s fun! Brainy hot-rodder: "I'm still convinced the half-drive centrifical blower will give better power thrust." His chick: "There he goes with that hot-rod Esperanto again."

The Cool and the Crazy
(1958, directed by William Witney)
Scott Marlowe plays the new rebel-without-a-cause in school, where he plans to deal a lot of "M" (marijuana) and get his fellow teens "hooked" on pot. Most of the "teenagers" are played by actors in their mid-20s, and all the guys try very hard to come off tough/cool in the Dean/Brando style. On the first day of school, the dealer disrupts class and later propositions his teacher. The cat is psycho from the loco weed--he tries to get arrested for kicks, plays chicken with unsuspecting motorists, and has hallucinations of cops who aren't there. Soon, the whole gang is hooked, and turn criminal to support their marijuana habits. Things do not go well! "M" kills! Classic bullshit! Shot in Kansas City, the highlight of the movie for me is a scene with the gang at the KC Blue Note Club, where a black R&B band is wailin' and cute chicks in tight sweaters are dancin'. Now, pass it over here, dude

Dude, Where's My Car? (2000, directed by Danny Leiner)
And speaking of herb--dude, where's my sequel?! This is my favorite stoner movie maybe since Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke . . . but whatever happed to the planned sequel? Is Mr. Demi Moore above it all now? Hmm. "The following story is based on actual events . . . " Two stoner slackers (Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott) wake up the morning after intense partying with no memory of the night before. And Kutcher's car is missing. The flick follows the two good-hearted potheads on their surreal, hilarious, incredibly stoopid journey in search of the car and their memory of the night before. Their whacky adventures include their "twin" girlfriends (Jennifer Garner and Marla Sokoloff) who don't look alike, a hippie-mystic dealer with a pot-smoking dog, hot chicks, bad-guy jocks, a Chinese restaurant
drive-thru with a back-talking speaker-box, nerdy UFO cultists (with Hal Sparks as their leader), aliens disguised as hot models, aliens disguised as gay Nordic muscle men, a "gender-challenged" stripper with a boner ("Dude, you're a dude!"), ostrich poaching (with Andy Dick as a poacher), dumb cops, Animal Planet, a super hot giant alien, and the fate of the universe! And it's all done with a sweetness that treats weed 'n sex like good clean fun! It has a goofy cartoon quality that no doubt owes much to writer Philip Stark, who was the producer of That '70s Show. Director Danny Leiner has more recently directed Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. I even thought the soundtrack to this worked well, in spite of it being mostly bands I would never listen to outside this context: Good Charlotte, Sprung Monkey, Ween, Sum 41, etc. Plus things like Young MC's "Bust a Move" and Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing" are used in cool ways. Groovy movie, y'all. Shibby!

Cisco Pike (1972, directed by B.W.L. Norton)
Faded rock star Cisco Pike is played by Kris Kristofferson in his second movie and first starring role. Cisco is trying to
stop dealing after a recent bust and get his music career back on track. He's working on music and living quietly with girlfriend Karen Black, when he's approached by crooked, possibly psycho narc Gene Hackman. The cop needs $10,000 in two and a half days, and pressures Cisco into moving a huge quantity of high-quality bud to raise the cash. This flick is a great early-70s slice-of-L.A.-life, with nods to both Robert Altman and Raymond Chandler (compare this to Altman's 1973 adaptation of Chandler's The Long Goodbye). There are especially nice touches of montage and music while the pot deals are going down. And dig the hilarious recording-studio scene with Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet recording "Michoacan" (killer single co-written by Kim Fowley!). Cisco meets a rich bisexual party girl played by Warhol superstar Viva. Her girlfriend is the amazingly named Joy Bang (you might recognize her from 70s movie and TV roles). Harry Dean Stanton is Cisco's strung-out ex-musical partner, who shows up in the midst of the two-day marijuana-selling marathon. Also watch for Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear from Starsky & Hutch), Roscoe Lee Browne (you'll recognize him!), Hugh Romney (a.k.a. Wavy Gravy), Allan Arbus (the army shrink from TV's M*A*S*H), and Howard Hesseman (billed as Don Sturdy).

(1954, directed by Lewis Allen)
I've never had much use for Sinatra. As a singer he's boring (gimme Dean Martin!), and as an actor--well, he's better, but most of his movies are either heavy-handed Hollywood crapola or camp for post-Beatles martini drinkers. The two definite exceptions, oddly enough, are both about presidential assassinations. There's the obvious one, of course--The Manchurian Candidate. But eight years before John Frankenheimer's classic slice of early-60s paranoid cinema, there was Suddenly. Unlike the '62 movie, Old Blue Eyes is the bad guy here--a deeply tweaked psychotic killer. This is a 75-minute, low-budget, cold-war film noir of small-town life turned upside down by "outside" political forces (goddamn commies!). As the sheriff of the small town of Suddenly, Sterling Hayden is a strutting, rock-faced stereotype of the all-American male ("Guns aren't necessarily bad--it depends on who uses them"). He receives word that the President is on a cross-country train trip, and will make a stop in Suddenly. Feds start arriving to coordinate the visit. Frank Sinatra and two other hoods also show up. They turn out to be hired assassins, who make their way to the house on a hill that overlooks the train station where the President is due to stop. They take the family hostage. The sheriff (Hayden) just happens to have a thing for the young war widow (Nancy Gates) who lives there with her small son and father-in law. Hayden becomes part of the kidnapped group, who quarrel and plead with the would-be assassins. It turns out Sinatra is a war veteran, who has become a wild-eyed sadist with a taste for killing. He hated the officers while in the army, which is interesting since his target would have been Dwight Eisenhower! Sinatra is a cool character who's ready to explode at any moment. "Show me a guy with feelings and I'll show you a sucker." He slowly unravels as he's verbally confronted by Hayden. When the sheriff accuses him of playing god with the hostages' lives, Sinatra snaps back, "When you've got a gun, you are a sort of god." Sinatra's performance is great--almost over-the-top but not quite. Given his reputation, it's hard not to wonder if he had really known similar cold-blooded killers. The resolution of the movie is now predictable (Eisenhower wasn't killed!), but who cares--this is a taut, paranoid little movie that offers strange and sometimes unintentionally funny performances by both Sinatra and Hayden.

Horror Hospital
[1973, directed by Antony Balch] Flipped-out horror flick from the director who did four different experimental shorts with William S. Burroughs, including the incredible Towers Open Fire (1963). Balch's only other film was a 1970 sexploitation thing called Secrets of Sex, which I've never seen. Horror Hospital is centered around a burned-out English rocker named Jason (Robin Askwith), who looks like a cross between Peter Noone and Brian Jones. He answers an ad for a health spa called Hairy Holidays, catering to the under-30 hippie crowd. He figures a stay in the country will do him good. On the way to the retreat, Jason meets a cute hippie chick named Julie (Vanessa Shaw). She's also traveling to the Hairy Holidays destination. But she's going to visit her Aunt Harris (Ellen Pollock), who runs the place with her creepy wheelchair-bound husband Dr. Storm (English 
low-budget horror regular Michael Gough). As soon as Jason and Julie arrive, things are obviously not right. At dinner, they sit down at the table with a group of white-faced, non-speaking people. Dr. Storm's dwarf assistant (Skip Martin) acts strangely. Blood spurts from a water faucet. Scattered around the hospital and its grounds are leather-clad "bike boys" acting as guards, with helmets and shaded visors, so their faces remain unseen. You only see two of the bikers at a time, because they're all played by the same two actors! It turns out the mad Dr. Storm uses his young guests as guinea pigs, and is trying to perfect a brain operation that will turn them into his own personal mind-controlled zombies. But nothing really makes sense! With a decapitating car, hippie tits, a stomach-turning sex scene, and a band called Mystic, who do a killer bit of heavy Satan-rock called "Mark of Death"!

--Eddie Flowers

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