Written by Kristen Lopez
Here’s what’s worth seeking from Arrow this month.
Arrow Video is such a necessity in the Blu-ray landscape if only to find a hidden gem like Suture. I’d never heard of this twisty, noirish psychological thriller before Arrow’s recent Blu-ray release, and I heartily recommend giving it a blind buy. In the vein of Memento (complete with black and white aesthetic), Suture follows two recently reunited brothers, Clay and Vincent (Dennis Haysbert and Michael Harris). Despite their obvious racial differences both remark on their “remarkable resemblance.” However, Vincent’s motives for reuniting with Clay are proven to be suspect when Clay is massively injured by a car bomb Vincent set up. Waking up with no memory of who he is, everyone assumes Clay is Vincent.
On first glance, screenwriters/directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel are crazy. Vincent and Clay are obviously far from twins, yet characters throughout are genuinely confused as to whether Vincent is Clay despite the fact that Clay is still black, even after extensive reconstructive surgery. However, Suture’s genius lies in toying with the audience. As the opening monologue says, in order for us to make sense of the future, we must learn about the past, and no matter what we’re told, identity remains the same. I could be completely out of my depth, but I assumed we were meant to doubt what Vincent or Clay truly looks like. Much of this allows for further exploration on the nature of class, wealth, and personality; how much does race play in to our conceptions of those factors? Haysbert is so personable as the confused Clay, while Harris is utterly creepy as Vincent. The fact I’m still eager to deconstruct this film proves Suture’s status as worthy.
Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (1988)
I’m unsure if watching Return of the Killer Tomatoes before ever watching the original, 1978’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, was a good idea or a bad one. With no previous knowledge on the series, I was surprised at how Return is actually a parody, with self-awareness at how horrible its origins are, and thus takes potshots at filmmaking, its story and acting, etc. Parody films are a slippery slope and there are times watching Return where the winks and nods get in the way of actually telling a story; yes, we know the premise is terrible, but there’s no reason the film shouldn’t at least try something.
The plot involves two young men – one of them played by a little known actor named George Clooney – who meet a beautiful young woman. Unfortunately, the young woman is really a tomato in disguise, created by the evil Professor Gangreen (John Astin). So, with no previous film to hearken back to, Return of the Killer Tomatoes does have some fun jokes in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 vein, specifically in the songs that open the film and run throughout the movie, like a lyrical riff itself. The world here is one where tomatoes are outlawed, sold on the black market, and pizza uses boysenberry sauce. Many of the lines about tomatoes being evil are obviously meant to hearken to other prejudices, and with the film’s release at the heart of Reagan America, the commentary doesn’t date like it should. And, even in 1988, Clooney is charming as hell! However, the meta moments of breaking the fourth wall, and the open jokes regarding product placement, get in the way of the movie. Yes, the film is bad, but the characters constantly call back to that when the story ends up hitting a dead end, negating the need to actually tell a decent story. Return of the Killer Tomatoes does entice me to seek out the original film, which is half the battle.
The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974)
If you’ve ever wanted to prove all the stereotypes about movies of the 1970s were true, look no further than Jack Hill’s The Swinging Cheerleaders. A 1970s time capsule ode to sex, nudity, and stupidity, The Swinging Cheerleaders is almost a parody film you’d see in movies of today – think the porn Burt Reynolds directed in Boogie Nights. The story follows four Mesa State cheerleaders as they navigate the world of date rape, professorial misconduct, and points shaving. Our heroine is intrepid undercover cheerleader Kate (Jo Johnston), as she sets out to prove the cheerleaders are exploited. Movies directed as Women’s Lib took tend to fall into extremes, either positive or negative. Director and screenwriter Hill goes right into showing the presumed erroneousness of both Women’s Lib, as well as the entire liberal movement with cheerleaders openly engaging in free love, only to be gang banged and attacked; those considered “radical” later turn out to be drugged-out rapists. Okay, so the politics aren’t too progressive, that’s nothing new, but everything within The Swinging Cheerleaders seeks to offend – right up to and including race, with a stereotypical black woman threatening to “cut” someone.
It’s doubtful any of the stars, what few went on to careers, put this on their resumes. The film’s biggest name is character actress Colleen Camp, who keeps her clothes on because she was aware of the film’s smutty intentions. When characters aren’t having sex – and because this wants some respectability, all sex is cut out despite nudity being retained – the ladies are talking about taking their bras off…because that was presumably a thing. (Outside of the film’s narrative scumminess is the fact that Hill and co-screenwriter David Kidd wrote this under female pseudonyms, either to poke fun at women or to push aside claims of misogyny.) I know Quentin Tarantino considers this a fun cult classic, but I was left telling myself “Boy, were ’70s shitty.”