Tuesday, February 24, 2009
It was neat that Jerry Lewis won an award at the Oscars. Granted he's not Mitchum, he's not even Jack Lemmon, but there are a few films I have enjoyed, including the one with DeNiro as Rupert Pupkin, THE KING OF COMEDY. There's a film almost everyone doesn't know, ARTISTS AND MODELS, with Martin & Lewis in a flophouse, Dean-o doing line work for an ad magazine, Jerry reading Batgirl comics. Turns out that Batgirl lives upstairs, Jerry sees her in the outfit the artist sketches from, thinks Batgirl is real, hilarity ensues. And then there's THE NUTTY PROFESSOR. Read the story I've posted here, whenever you get the chance, you'll see why my post is called Buddy Love. And, just for fun, I cam across this photo in an article on freeze frame shots. All I could really think of was crazy Jerry doing one last fatal stunt as he falls on his gafloygil.
This is also one of those stories that brings back memories of times past, as you can see by the dedication at the end of the story. Kurt and Amy are in Colorado now, Andrew is in San Francisco, and Harry, well...he's right here, man. Telling me to post this, shut it down, get some rest.
BULLETS CAN’T STOP IT
by Wayne Allen Sallee
Believe you me, what happened at the drive-in that night was something else. I wish I could retell the story with sound effects that would fit our terror, though that might actually make it something more humorous, like in Invasion of the Saucer-Men. Now that was like a cartoon, with a harp being played while Frank Gorshin’s character was being knocked flat by his buddy. Yeah, just visualize in your head the things we came up against in that one hour. If you saw the movie, even once, well then you could get a pretty good picture. And—get this segue here—to start this particular picture off right, I’ll run down the cast of characters: There was myself, Aubrey Maddox, and I guess I’m the skinniest of the bunch, and my best buddy Johnny Coronette, and a neighbor girl of his, Gloria Talbot. Johnny knew even more about old 1950’s monster movies than I did, and that surprised me when I first met him because he certainly had a decent physique and probably should have been hitting the big screen at the Colony or Marquette with a different girl every weekend instead of hanging around with the likes of me.
Gloria was younger than the two of us, and Johnny had brought her along to get a scare out of her. See, the drive-in was one of those virtual reality thrill machines where your favorite movie scenes get programmed through head goggles and isometric gloves. Johnny could rattle off every movie Richard Denning ever acted in from Creature From The Black Lagoon to Black Scorpion, and my first adult dream (if you could call it that) was about stealing Cynthia Patrick away from John Agar because he was too afraid to fight The Mole People, with a background song called “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl” from the Beatles’ HELP! album. I’ve often wondered how many people dream with background music. Gloria was born between the assassinations of the two Kennedys, so she was going to be in for a treat, as Johnny said along the way. I mean, Gloria’s formative years were spent at the Jerry Lewis Cinamerica watching Charlton Heston movies against her will and/or better judgement.
We all had ideas of what movies we wanted to morph together once we got to the drive-in in Manteno, though it was mostly Johnny talking nonstop as the Camaro sputtered along the Tri-State, the windshield wipers slapping back and forth across our vision. First big rainstorm of the summer hits on Friday night. Par for the course in Chicago. But the weather wasn’t going to stop us from getting to the Bullets Can’t Stop It Drive-In in rural Manteno, an hour south of the city.
And aside from the weather providing proper atmosphere, like being spooked by Henry Mancini’s theme for Creature Features back in the seventies, strains of a piano over Dwight Frye in all his grinning madness, we had been saving our money for the better part of a month to hit the drive-in. The price was based on similar so-called thrill rides at the Disney complex in Japan and the virtual reality games along Navy Pier. Fifty dollars for thirty minutes, fright (okay, excitement) guaranteed. The drive-in idea had coincidentally been developed by one of the Japanese cybers, Jay Osigu, and was backed by the Wimberger Corporation.
The Van Nuys-based Wimbergers had first tried out their Virtreal Graphicsä in Arizona and Missouri, for the cowboy and gangster buffs. Kansas City has the highest mob concentration outside of New York City, and the St. Valentine’s Massacre Theater propelled the corporation into the big time, making them “the goods,” as Johnny Coronette put it when he first read about the drive-in’s impending opening.
Manteno, Illinois, is forty miles southeast of Chicago, and is best known for being the onetime site of the state mental institution. A common line as we were growing up was, "You see that guy? He looks like he just came from Manteno.” Things like that. Now the town held the Mavros printing plant, several farms, a Fatty Pig BBQ, and the Bullets Can’t Stop It Drive-In.
Our destination was actually a theater, but each individual parlor, or sensor cage, was made to be perceived as a drive-in good ol’ Hicksburg, U.S.A. on a summer night, except you weren’t in cars, you just had the biggest freaking screen imaginable, one that would make Grant Williams look like anything but The Incredible Shrinking Man.
Johnny was a wealth of ideas for morphing combinations of films together. He thought of putting Elvis instead of Landon in I Was A Teen-Age Werewolf. We both had Gloria snuffling laughter with our snarls and sneers. “Ah’m a wolf, ya gotta believe me ‘n lock me up, man,” and “Ah got sompin on mah lip, oh, is’ jus’ muscle tissue, mah boy, mah boy.” Then I mentioned how it was too bad we couldn’t get other films besides monster titles into the computer, an example being Oceans Eleven and Attack of The Crab Monsters. In that one, the crabs took over the voices of their victims, and wouldn’t it be great to see cheesy-looking crabs talking with the voices of Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford? Johnny thought of mixing Seven Brides For Seven Brothers with Dracula’s Daughters. Man, we had Gloria in tears, Johnny just grinning away like the night was ours.
Which was the whole part of the drive-in.
The parlors were immersive, that is, set up with the goggles and gloves, everything attaching the patron to the computer simulate. It was set up for volume business, so there could be up to five people in each room, or film, at each interval.
Move them in and out, fast as possible. Clear the program and let the next group have their fun. But the drive-in was nearly empty that night, probably because of the rain. (I’d hate to think it was due to Barry Manilow’s one-night set at the World Music Theater in Tinley Park.) Also, the Famous Monsters convention was coming up for Labor Day and most people with our cinematic sensibilities could easily have been saving up for that.
But I’d like to think it was the rain, because of what happened later. It was exactly the type of plot device you’d see in a B-movie from the fifties. Due to the inclement weather, we passed right by a foreboding clue as to what was to come later, Devery Truax’s old beater GTO, parked in Fatty Pig’s lot, the faded tan of the car against the lime green brick of the restaurant like some hideous color scheme for a bed and breakfast overlooking the Cal-Sag Channel.
I only realized it later, that the car had been there, when I was putting all this together. Devery Truax’s car with the faded RAT FINK bumper sticker and the glow-in-the-dark Frankenstein on the dashboard. Truax was a punk from the word go, looked about as tough and talked with the same kind of mock intimidation as John Ashley in High School Caesar.
He also had it bad for Gloria Talbot. Hell, who wouldn’t? Shoulder-length auburn hair, thin comet trails for eyebrows that waggled with amusement, and eyes that were the color of charcoal smoldering inside emerald green glass. A gal like this hanging around two four-eyed goons like me and Johnny, who knew?
Truax had also brought two others with him that night: Del Teach, this gangly computer geek who looked like his parents had been involved with atomic projects and hadn’t properly protected themselves, and Clement Wing. The latter fellow was this borderline autistic from down the block I lived on.
Wing’s father had been a Chicago cop same as mine, and there were many summers when our dads were working third shift and slept in the afternoons, I had to take Clem somewhere and keep him occupied on days when his father really needed to sleep. More often than not, I’d take Clem to play pinball games or go to the Ford City Cinema on Wednesdays, when you could get in for a dollar matinee by showing a Pepsi-Cola bottle cap. Clem was thin with hair the color of dirt. He had five o’clock shadow by the time he was fifteen. Forget my lame joke about Del Teach; the real mystery was Clement Wing.
The doctors never did pin down exactly what was wrong with him; eventually he was diagnosed autistic at the age of five. If he had been born ten years later, there might have been a better medical understanding of his situation, but he, like myself and Johnny Coronette, were products of the waning months of the 1950’s.
I knew I was constructing an armchair diagnosis, at best. Clem was able to talk lucidly, though he chose to remain silent most of the time. But he could certainly be eloquent. Earlier that summer, I was watching The Killer Shrews on Channel Eleven’s MOONLIGHT MADNESS when my hound dog, Rusty Wells, born the week Elvis Presley died, looked at me the way dogs do when they know it is time. I carried her onto the back porch as she shuddered her last and sat through the morning to keep the crows away from her still form.
Clement saw me the following week and said how maybe Rusty was peeing on her way to heaven, burning the grass so I’d be able to find my way that much easier when my time comes. Autistic? Hell, then I’m a sadomasochist. Or something. You see my point at the absurdity of how Clement Wing was perceived in this world.
His parents were content with the doctor’s diagnosis, the way a ghetto family will deny on the ten o’clock news the fact that their eleven-year-old son shot dead an honors student on the next block over, that their boy was not involved in some gang initiation.
In its own way, the “world” Clem lived in made it easier for him to get by. Before Johnny Coronette got some meat on his bones and buffed out a little, we’d both been antagonized by Devery Truax and his goon squad.
They would go after Clement Wing, as well, but he would stand up to them.
Actually, I always thought it was because he didn’t know how to be afraid.
We pulled up near Druktenis Road, close to the south end of the lot, spooky woods beyond the Camaro’s headlights. The drive-in off to the right, pastel blue and pink neon, the only thing missing was a soda shoppe. Johnny was still going two-forty on the possibilities to be had. I said how next they ought to morph television shows of the past, have a big immersive cage and call it “Tonight’s Episode.” Or combine TV and film, make a show staring David Janssen as The Amazing Colossal Fugitive. Gloria laughed at that one because her mom watched the black and white reruns on a cable station out of New York.
Johnny, not one to be upped, said that they could do similar morphing with the recent remake with Harrison Ford. Turn Sam Gerard, Kimble’s nemesis, into the rampaging behemoth. You could see (and hear) it now: Tommy Lee Jones towering over Harrison Ford, bellowing, “Richard, do you want to get stomped?”
More gales of laughter.
Fade out to the next scene, the interior of the drive-in. POV, mine.
We paid our money to one of the tellers. The place was nearly deserted, although a crowd of balding, gray-bearded guys were lined up by the Hondo Suite, where all the Japanese monster movies could be morphed. I’d bet every one of them would fight whichever monster to successfully win the love of Emi and Yumi Ito, those six-inch princesses from Infant Island, The Alilenas. One of the men even looked like an old Raymond Burr, in an odd sort of way.
It was while we were cracking wise about the Gajira guys that Devery Truax must have come in, because we certainly would have suspected something was up, particularly if we saw the two lackeys, unwitting or witless, that he had in tow.
We talked some trash as we stood in line for our turn in the Bug-Eyed Monster Room, waiting for the usher to explain the programming to us. There were poster headings on each wall, like banners, and Gloria read them out as Johnny and I took turns guessing which movies the blurbs belonged to.
A Savage Giant on a Blood-Red Rampage. The Biggest Thing Since Creation. Mightiest Double Bill In The Universe.
Spewed From Intergalactic Space…
Flying Saucers Attack…
Clawing Up From The Depths Of The Earth…
Johnny won, of course, by guessing that The Two Most Hellish Horror Hits That Ever Turned Blood To Ice were The Screaming Skull and Terror From The Year 5000.
Like we were betting real money.
Then the usher came by and handed us our equipment and explained the program. We would each have thirty minutes in the same room and be outfitted with goggles which fit snugly over our heads (and, thankfully, glasses). The programming board itself fit over our forearms like compact shields. The small boxes were made by a German company, Fassl GMBH, and weighed no more than a Sony Walkman. A long rubber connected the Virtreal OpsTM to the gloves we wore.
The gloves looked more like black matinee gloves or those Isotoner gloves you always get at Christmastime from some obscure relative. They were lined with veins and bladders, and compressed air was pumped through during the action. The gloves also recorded galvanic responses, that is, our heartbeats and pulse rates.
The computer wire-frames covered certain parameters, commonly referred to as “flock of seagulls,” random sensors and velcro diodes that would interface the sensory feedback. The program display was comparable to a list of selections on an ATM machine. Films to choose from for morphing purposes were listed alphabetically, by subject, and by actor/actress. For example:
ATOMIC MONSTER APE AGAR, JOHN
There were also optional settings for effects like The Tingler and music (à la the Del-Aires surf music from The Horror Of Party Beach). Plus, you could choose backgrounds and/or stages that included the Downington Diner from The Blob, Belton High School from I Was A Teen-Age Frankenstein, or even the Tivoli Theater from Village of The Giants.
We each made our selections, the lights went down.
And all hell broke loose.
This part I found out from Johnny afterward, while I was in my hospital bed:
Devery Truax had bribed a now-unemployed usher to let him and his two companions inside our sensor cage. The week before, Del Teach had stolen a Virtreal Ops board from the drive-in, (he had also stolen the money he had used to pay to get into the drive-in, but that’s a different story). He spent a week screwing around with it, turning it into something, well, something evil.
And poor Clement Wing was the unwitting vessel. Evidently, Devery had something on the kid, what amounted to blackmail. Maybe he was threatened with having his parents told that he was looking in Gloria’s bedroom window or something. The rigged board and attachments were hooked up to my autistic neighbor and the switches turned on.
Once activated, it overrode our individual programs.
The simplicity of what Devery Truax and Del Teach had done was this: they had plugged Clement Wing effectively into a computer that was “fright guaranteed.”
Clement Wing who had never showed fear in all the years I’ve known him.
Through all the mental battles we fought.
Through all the films we had seen.
This is how it spilled out. And I mean that quite literally. Everything, every single freaking Bug-Eyed Monster (and then some) imaginable spilled into our immersive, collective subconscious, sluicing into our mental receptors as if we were standing in Smallville U.S.A. under a liquid sky.
At the time that Clement’s device overrode the main-frame of the room – and it only happened in our particular suite – Johnny had already set himself up as the hero in The Day The World Ended, saving Lori Nelson and Richard Denning from telepathic, cannibalistic, four-armed mutant buglike creatures, but Gloria and myself were still deciding. (I had been giving serious thought to “fulfilling” my childhood dream of actually winning Cynthia Patrick away from John Agar without ever having to sing that insipid Beatles tune.)
But what I saw (not then knowing we all shared the same “screen”, as it turned out). Was the three of us in the same film, just the way Del Teach had programmed it. We were in an empty parking lot, drive-in speakers and jacks in even rows around us. The large screen in front of us was blank because it was still daylight, and there were the muted hums of cars on an interstate behind us, making a ribbon across a horizon the color of torn plums.
The floor of the sensor cage had been transformed into the gravel of an actual drive-in, with rows cleared by the travel of the patrons’ cars. There was the detritus of said patrons around me. Our positions were exactly as they had been during “real time,” moments before; Gloria was standing between the two of us. I could see that she and Johnny were wearing the goggles and gloves, so I assume I was, as well. No special costumes, considering the fact that we had all materialized into a common arena as if we were characters in one of those mutant comics, and had been inexplicably transported to an antimatter universe to fight The Thing That Shouldn’t Exist or something like that.
A desolate wind blew as a red sun slowly set above the treetops beyond the screen. An Oh! Henry Mega-Size wrapper twisted around my ankle, then skittered away. I could smell Gloria Talbot’s Taboo perfume and buttered popcorn.
I glanced over to the woods above the hill, the frontage road to the expressway, assumedly, and did a double take. I could’ve sworn I was looking at the silhouette of Alec Rebar, The Incredible Melting Man, shambling down the incline with dangling arms and bell-bottom hospital-issued whites. The image made me think of a live-action Saturday show from my youth, H. R. Puf-N-Stuf. Don’t ask me why – I even thought that back in 1978 when the movie was on a double bill with Saturday Night Fever. I still thought I was the only one seeing this until I heard Johnny through my headset, asking where the hell was Richard Denning?
Suddenly, as if with the setting sun, everything went to black and white; the sky, the trees, the big screen. Even the pink and blue neon. Shadows were now everywhere, draping across the lot, elongating the speakers, the ones dangling now resembling bloated spiders.
It happened all at once. If I had smoked some marijuana as I had been viewing Altered States, I might have started to take it all in stride. It wasn’t just bugs. (Our specific room was going to be bugs. Only bugs, the creepy-crawly kind. Or, at worst, bug-eyed creepies like the bloated-headed thingies in Invasion of The Saucer-Men.) Not behemoths, not sea serpents, certainly not blobs and flying brains.
But that’s not exactly what we got. The three of us alone, against the hordes of fifties films. Where the hell was Nestor Paiva when you needed him?
There was a playground in front of the drive-in screen, and this was where the giant, hairy tarantula began its slow, ominous crawl, coming into sight over the teeter-totter and then the twirly-bird. I was watching that when I felt things scurrying over my feet. It wasn’t candy wrappers this time, it was those mousy killer shrews, gnawing at my ankles. I jumped away, oddly thinking of my dog Rusty and feeling like momentarily weeping.
From out of the screen itself, giant grasshoppers from The Beginning Of The End began climbing downward to ground level. I started looking for my friends. Johnny was a few feet away, dodging a familiar gelatinous hunk of goop. Nope. Sadly, Steve McQueen was nowhere around with a fire extinguisher from the concession stand.
And Gloria was jumping up and down because the earth around her was being sucked in. I immediately thought of those damn mole people. She screamed then and I saw a transparent floating brain, from the planet Arous, natch. It was hovering there, deciding when to make a move, I suppose. Maybe it was waiting for its cue.
I even saw shooting stars and flying saucers in that monochrome sky of Midwestern stars. Would we have to wait for the computer to run its program through, or for security to be called? I couldn’t even tell if our thirty minutes were anywhere near being expended.
Oh, and there were sounds, don’t get me wrong. Not just of the three of us struggling, with Gloria not screaming, to hear benefit, let me set the record straight. We heard, well, I did, the chitinous, whirring sounds of what I could only guess to be the giant ants of Them, just beyond the horizon (or even in the sewers). And I heard an unseen voice saying, “You think I’m the freak, well, let me tell you. I’m not the freak, you’re the freaks. I’m not growing, you’re shrinking!” The male voice started laughing, but then stopped abruptly as if startled.
And I saw why, just as everything became a brilliant Technicolor. Just as everything started dawning on me.
The cars on the Interstate, silence through all this, had stalled, the occupants looking out their windows. Pointing at the horizon. The bugs and monsters moving away, not just from us, but just away.
The drive-in screen was being shredded from behind, beyond our field of vision. I looked at Johnny and Gloria, and they stared back at me helplessly. Frankly, none of us knew what the hell to expect next.
There was a blur of blue and shiny black coming into view as the screen tumbled and the dust from the gravel cleared. Oh, Jesus, I thought.
The newest “monster” was Buddy Love, the latter half of the Jekyll/Hyde-like creature created by Jerry Lewis’ character – damned if I could recall his name – in The Nutty Professor. But…why? All these other films were familiar to me, I had seen them with…Clement Wing. I had also seen The Nutty Professor, Three On A Couch, the list of Pepsi matinee movies went on.
And I understood. I concentrated and recalled standing in front of the sensor cage. Had I imagined hearing Devery Truax, Del Teach and Clement Wing? Had this whole program been jury-rigged?
This scene was Clement’s consciousness finally taking over. Suave and cool Buddy Love, replete in his slicked-back hair and blue lounge jacket with the black lapels. The swagger and the way with the ladies he would never have in his life.
Poor Clem. Devery, that motherless…
I concentrated harder, figured will power might work. Clem had always been close with me. I shut my eyes, my last image being Johnny and Gloria, thoroughly confounded at this hundred-foot Jerry Lewis thing.
All I saw was the gray behind my eyelids, and I blocked out all sound, whispering to Clement to please stop this. I made myself envision Buddy Love’s transformation in reverse, turning him into a celluloid parody of Clement Wing, with uneven buck teeth and mussed hair the color of dirt. I felt light-headed.
Gloria finally let out a gasp.
She had her hand to her mouth as she saw me there in the hospital bed. Johnny was there beside her. I was found unconscious in the sensor cage after the computer shut down, they tell me, and now I’m at Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet.
Then the doctor tells me it is time for me to rest and he gives me a shot of blissful Demerol. Like I said, fright guaranteed. Clement Wing was not afraid until he saw himself the way everyone else saw him, as a nutty professor. He wasn’t scared by ants, grasshoppers, brains with spinal cords attached, or giant sea serpents. He was – for a time – an automaton, and bullets couldn’t stop it.
Truax and Teach are out on bail, poor Clem’s in psychiatric counseling.
My parents told me I’d been contacted by an independent film company regarding possible film rights after our ordeal made the wire services.
I suppose it is something to bring up with Johnny and Gloria, but frankly I don’t think I’m up for any kind of a sequel.
This story is for Kurt and Amy in L.A. and Jeff, Andrew, Harry and Diana in Chicago. Here’s to late night viewing.