The Antithesis of Artistic Elitism: Junk Treasures on Retro Bizarro

In 1972, Marvel released a comic series titled “Night Nurse.” You may not have heard of it. I hadn’t until about two weeks ago. It faded into obscurity after a few issues, never to be seen again until Brian Michael Bendis incorporated the night nurse into one of his tales. The hokey dialogue, cheesy scenarios, and grainy three-color ink is a throwback to everything that is bad about comic books, everything that stands in the way of graphic novels being accepted as literature . . . and I want those issues.

I collect junk. I don’t care much for the philosophical and literary works that are being infused with hypertext and made available online for scholars. There are plenty of people who have committed themselves to sharing this information with the next generation. I prefer the limited run of Madballs to the countless volumes of Shakespeare. I’d rather read Clive Barker’s aborted Marvel creations like Hokum & Hex than another work by Nathaniel Hawthorne. And I know I’m not the only one. Along with Brian Michael Bendis, Neil Gaiman has incorporated obscure characters in his mainstream work as well, like the DC character “Prez” in the Sandman series.

For me, the incorporation of these characters into the work of top-selling authors is validating. Junk collecting is prominent among authors whose works sit on the shelves of literary elitists. It is relevant. It is significant. And I’m proud to be among the ranks. Nevertheless, marketing strategies are already being employed to manipulate the junk collector. So being a junk collector entails treading a fine line between true acquirement of the obscure, and falling victim to the perpetuation of the illusion of obscurity which many retailers use to manipulate collectors.

Junk collecting is relevant because it ensures that information discarded by artistic elitists gets picked up by the catcher in the rye of one’s culture. The junk collector takes the refuse of capitalist endeavors and keeps it until it carries alternative values, nostalgic, monetary, and historical. This is an important role. More important than the college undergrad collecting every work of literature featuring the academic stamp of approval. Everyone already knows Socrates is important, so who the hell cares if you have his works on your shelf? You’re just a cog in the intellectual system regurgitating the values of your predecessors. But if you have a few of the old depression-era Whitman Big Little pulps, then you’ve got something that has fallen off pop culture’s radar. And that’s important.

Junk Collecting in Brendan Mitchell’s Night Owls

Junk collecting is a phenomenon that crops up in a lot of underground works today. Brendan Mitchell’s Night Owls recounts the tale of a young man on a quest for the rarest of films. On his search he runs into Troma producer Lloyd Kaufmann, ass-kicker Shawn C. Phillips, and Ron Jeremy. Part 5 of the series is below:

Unfortunately, Brendan’s journey is one that ends in disappointment. The ass rape he endures to acquire the video turns out to be in vain, for the video he seeks is obscure for a reason: it sucks.

Junk Collecting in Jordan Krall’s Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys

A similar type of disappointment occurs for the protagonist of Jordan Krall’s Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys. Our main character, a film reviewer, strives to find a rare film which he only had the opportunity to watch once. Upon finding it, he loses it to a VHS player with malicious intent, or so it would seem. His search leads him down some dark and seedy paths. He almost dies as he gets caught up in the downward spiral that begins with a search for a rare and obscure work.

These two works point out the danger inherent in junk collecting. In some cases, we have the potential to lose ourselves to something greater. In other cases, such as depicted in Night Owls, we get “raped,” whether literally or figuratively, and we end up with trash.

The most recent pit I’ve fallen into is the acquirement of rare video games. One of the games that had been on my list for years, which I finally gave up on, was a CD-i, live action Zelda game. It’s rare as hell. The reviewers warn you that it isn’t worth the money. For some reason, every damned red flag that popped up along the way told me this was something I wanted. But was it something I wanted to spend over $200 dollars for? Probably not. Since copies fly off Ebay incredibly fast, chances are this game isn’t as “rare” as I initially thought. People are taking painstaking efforts to make sure this work is preserved, so it will survive the generations without my endeavor to acquire it.

When it comes right down to it, Night Nurse and Prez will live on as well. For me, the important thing is to spread the word about these obscure gems. They’re not literary gems, mind you, but they are nostalgic gems. They are a part of our history. They, like pulp softcovers such as my 1881 copy of “The Blunders of a Bashful Man” or my moldy copy of “Pinocchio in Africa,” are valuable in ways that highly visible classics can never be. And when I can’t afford the obscure “gems” I seek, I have a wish list here on Retro Bizarro.

The Future of Junk Collecting

Junk collecting has changed over time. Back in the day there were fewer works being published. A lot of today’s junk treasures were books whose publishers had hopes and dreams. The authors aspired to create commercial successes when their works were created and printed, but they failed. A lot of companies hoped the world would forget.

Atari buried millions of copies of this piece of shit in a New Mexico desert landfill in hopes that people would forget it existed. Despite that, somewhere out there, some jackass is willing to pay top dollar for this game.

With the possibility for digital publication today, there’s less risk involved, so failure doesn’t matter as much. And there’s less quality material today, so that reduces significance of the once-rare below-par works that peppered the literary world. Back in the day, it was refreshing and/or amusing to see errors in commercial products. Today, seeing errors in kindle books is so ubiquitous that it is just annoying.

Do these changes make junk treasure a thing of the past? Will tomorrow’s world see junk treasure the same way my generation does? It’s likely that the trash-to-treasure phenomenon we encounter today will always manifest in some way or another, but it is changing fast.

What kind of junk from your childhood do you strive to re-acquire now that you’re older? What do you collect?

Zombie Punching Bags: The Answer to Man’s Desire for the Best of Ranged and Melee Battle

In Gundam Wing, Treize Khushrenada refuses to succumb to the demand for military employment of mobile dolls, robots piloted with an automated command system rather than a living, breathing person inside. His argument is that using robots to wage war on others is an infringement on honor, chivalry, and glory. War brings out the best in humanity, he argues, and using robots to fight battles undercuts the benefits of war.

I don’t necessarily agree with the rationale underlying his sentiments. I do, however, think that technology, particularly the advancement of ranged weaponry, has stripped war of some of its essential attributes.

1. It has distanced us from elements of human nature that make us naturally predisposed to avoiding interpersonal conflict. We don’t have to acknowledge that we’re taking the life of another human being when using advanced ranged weapons. To some degree, this makes war easier for people to negotiate.

2. On the other end of the spectrum, these advancements have stripped war of its ability to validate us in the context of interpersonal conflict.

My argument in this flash analysis is that zombie apocalypse fantasies help us enjoy the benefits that advanced ranged weaponry have allowed us while simultaneously allowing us to acquire the validation we desire from melee battle.

The improvement of ranged weaponry over time has stripped us of our reluctance to kill another because we empathize with them as fellow human beings. Early duels with ranged weapons were depicted as occurring at ten paces. Guns were powerful, but they were not always accurate. Like duels that occurred with swords, early duels with ranged weapons required you to look your enemy in the eye when you shot them down, forcing you to acknowledge that you were taking another’s life. This made taking the life of another difficult, which of course sucked for military officials.

Before significant advancements in ranged weaponry, rendering the opponent as the “other,” through propaganda became the most effective means of dehumanizing the opponent. While ranged weapons were quite effective during the pinnacle of wartime propaganda, WWII, rhetoric of the “other” failed. There is a poignant moment in Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, where the protagonist finds himself face-to-face with the enemy. After killing him, he searches through the enemy’s possessions, sees photos of the enemy’s family. He suddenly realizes the xenophobic propaganda spoon fed to him by his military dehumanizes the opposition. Everyone on the field is a human being, just like he and his comrades.

When you can't strip the enemy of a face by bombing them from miles away, the next best thing is to liken their face to Satan.

But advances in technology have remedied the problem depicted by Remarque. Now we rarely have to look our enemies in the eye. Instead we plug their territory with smart bombs. We shoot them from miles away, sometimes blindly firing into wave after wave of incoming mortars. Today’s weapons are effective not only as devices of killing. The improved range of weaponry sustains the rhetoric of xenophobia necessary to make a war successful. Moreover, the more effective our weaponry, the less effective our propaganda need be. There is no face behind the enemy that challenges the notion of the “other.” And when the enemy comes close enough, or enemy fire harms us, it only fuels hatred.

Even though modern warfare has become naturalized in our society, I still think there’s a part of mankind that longs for that classic mode of battle, but without the inconvenience of looking into the eyes of another human being, or worrying that the opponent may be stronger than we are. This is a large reason the zombie apocalypse fantasy still predominates. In its earliest incarnations, the zombie apocalypse is a utopian society for those who long for a scenario that validates their strength and cunning (no matter how limited) with the guarantee of victory. The dreamer can imagine a world in which he or she can confront the enemy head on. The second-guessing inspired by the fear of an opponent’s strength is neutralized by the docile nature of the zombies. They are neither cunning, nor agile in the classic tales. Even the weakest of people can place themselves in the context of the ultimate warrior in a world filled with brain dead weaklings.

You no longer need to validate yourself by beating your emaciated wife/children/dog. Now you can fantasize about pounding on a brain-dead bag of living flesh stripped of its conscious mind. Pseudo meat heads need fantasies like that in a society where the value of masculinity has been replaced by that pesky, effeminate thing they call intelligence, and many zombie flicks are there to deliver.

It is the more recent incarnations of the zombie that rekindle the fear in man zombies were initially intended to incur. Those are the stories I like. They wrench the utopian zombie apocalypse from those who long for validation, and they infuse the zombie apocalypse plot with the fear-inducing qualities that give them the right to sit parallel to other horror classics. Recent depictions show the zombie who can think and is simultaneously fearless. Instead of the socially inept, or the physically strong who finds little validation in our current society, the zombie has become the Übermensch of the battlefield: our ultimate fear and our ultimate desire. That’s something we can all be scared shitless of in good conscience.

I totally need to write a story called Zombie Punching Bag that addresses these issues.

Headline: Leatherface Kills Rationalization, Leaving Surrealism to Fend for Itself

Since the dawn of time, the human mind has been predisposed to making sense out of phenomena that transcends its understanding.  The very heart of mythology stems from this predisposition. Thunder claps in the distance, striking fear in the hearts of early man. That fear diminishes when the source of thunder is discovered, or fabricated: Gods are at war, or are angry. Only later does science begin to supplement the psychological need to understand the world around us.

Despite the fact that science has all but squelched man’s propensity for creating myth, we still feel a need to exercise this primitive part of the mind, to be presented with phenomena which transcends our conventional understanding and challenges us to think outside the box, to generate and construct meaning. For years, surrealism has offered us possibly the last bastion for our faculties that allow us to construct meaning from the potentially meaningless, to generate order from a palette of chaos.

Chaos and surrealism share an interesting relationship. Principia Discordia, a treatise on chaos, is filled with nonsense phrases and collages of disconnected images, which ultimately result in a single message: chaos evades sense or a single meaning. The smallest units of expression in the text lend themselves to alternative interpretations, however. There is talk of gods, social criticism, and more between the pages of the text. Every word and image can take the reader in a different direction, obscuring the central message and proving the primary point of the text simultaneously. Surrealism works in a similar fashion in that it provides us with a chaotic barrage of the abstract, and our minds construct meaning from it.

Surrealism is the manifestation of postmodern ethos. Obscure input is fed through a subjective filter, resulting in a plethora of conflicting interpretations, each of which has no more or less value than the preceding or subsequent. It provides us with a means of embracing the subjective, finding personal truth in the potentially meaningless. Even those who deem the surreal nonsense have made a choice, have validated their subjective notion of reality upon confronting the surreal.

The difference between the context in which we once used these faculties and the context in which we use them now is that interpreting the surreal offers us a safe haven for the desire to make sense of the world. This desire is satiated outside of the context of emotional necessity. We don’t interpret to reduce our fears. Rather, we interpret to enhance understanding, to reinforce the value of intellect.

In horror, however, we often see the intellectual striving to make sense of something they do not understand: the psychopathic killer or a paranormal phenomenon. Once again this desire to make sense of the world is placed in the context of emotional necessity. To understand the killer or paranormal phenomenon is to increase one’s chances of survival, or so some films imply. This is particularly true in crime drama and crime-related horror. In Red Dragon the detective has a natural propensity for understanding the criminal mind. By understanding the criminal mind, he catches the villain and saves the masses from destruction.

"You don't need to worry. We're safe. I know all about the inner workings of a killer's mind. Now slow down. This storm is terrible. The gods must be pissed."

The example from Red Dragon represents a glorified manifestation of our faculties. In truth, understanding the criminal mind or the paranormal does not exempt us from destruction, just as deeming thunder the anger of the gods does not protect us from nature’s wrath. This is shown in the film Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, when the two victims-to-be at the beginning of the film hear about atrocities committed by the criminally insane. The boyfriend goes on a rant about the underlying motivations of the criminally insane. Though he’s sure of his prognosis, he still ends up falling victim to Leatherface and his family.  The meaning he’s constructed from his interaction with the phenomena he does not understand does not protect him from the dangerous nature of these phenomena, just as fabricating a meaning for the sound of thunder did not protect our ancestors from nature’s wrath.

Shit. Now I'm dead. I guess those intro psych courses didn't do me as much good as I thought. Zeus is not going to be happy.

In a context of emotional necessity, this faculty provides us with only a false sense of security. Horror films reveal to us the futility of interpreting the unknown to generate a sense of safety. But in those moments when we get to construct meaning to acquire understanding not only of a work of art, but ourselves, that is when something good comes from knowledge construction.

Mime-stalkers & Nazi-Vegetables: Return of the Killer Tomatoes on Retro Bizarro

This movie FUCKING RULES! I know it, you know it, even Jim Henson’s muppet babies knew it. Apparently FOX knew it too, and quickly set out to make the franchise as sucky as possible by adding a cartoon series to the mix back in the 90s.

But as most proponents of nostalgia, we’re here to remember the good times, like the time George Clooney advocated for product placement amidst a battle between ninjas, cowboys and bikers, or when Gomez Addams took a forced break from being The Riddler and turned tomatoes into hot chicks and muscle men, giving stunt men and beach extras speaking roles for the first time (grunting counts as a speaking role right?). And who can forget the tender scene in which our protagonist is taunted by a mime in an adult store while the synth-heavy love song “touch me there” plays in the background?

All strangeness aside, Return of the Killer Tomatoes represents a time when B films took meta to a new level, when films could suck and be proud of it, which ironically made them not suck at all. You’ll find the same approach in many Troma movies . . . alright, EVERY Troma movie.

Return of the Killer Tomatoes also features cameo appearances by Gary Condit and Teri Weigel. Where else are you going to find politicians and porn stars in the same place? Don’t answer that. Big Brother is watching.

The film is riddled with foil characters with small quirks that make them as engaging as, if not more engaging than, the protagonists. There’s Igor, Professor Gangrene’s assistant who wants nothing more than to be a reporter. At every turn this desire leads him to foiling the plans of his master. There’s Fuzzy Tomato, who wins our affection by cooing and emulating the antics of Saturday Night Live’s Mr. Bill. Finally, we have the pilot, a living, breathing slapstick comedy who runs about frantically with parachute open. It is this last character who really brings the film-as-allegory to life. The tomatoes could be said to metaphorically represent the nuclear bomb, while the pilot’s open parachute is similar to bomb raid drills, which would likely be executed to little effect had a nuclear weapon ever been detonated in our country by enemy forces. That’s not to say that nuclear bombs are as harmless as tomatoes, but the fear of nuclear attack has led to unnecessary anxieties about nuclear power, which has a lower accident/death rate than coal power and a lower carbon imprint than most natural energy sources. Similarly, in the film the fears about killer tomatoes has led to a complete ban of tomato-based products. Pizza is served with jelly, ranch, gummy bears, and a wide array of terrible products in a desperate attempt to replace the one and only tomato sauce.

Yes, Jacob, this film will do what Bella never did: touch you there

The protagonist, Chad Finletter, remains one of my favorites. Like John Cusack’s character in Better off Dead, Chad is your average run-of-the-mill guy who is just trying to make it through life unscathed. All he wants to do is work his minimum wage job, hang with his pal and get laid, but the people around him throw the character into a reality that is alien, a world of whips, chains, mad scientists, killer tomato men, and psychotic war veterans. Will he save the world from the return of the killer tomatoes? If he does, will he be able to keep his tomato-turned-hottie girlfriend? Will extras ever stop obscuring his close ups with boxes of Corn Flakes? If you haven’t seen this classic yet, I implore you to watch and find out.

At least watch this:

The Rubber that Rubs you Out: Killer Condom on Retro Bizarro

Alright, so this isn’t necessarily retro, but it is an odd film, and one of the first I ever laid eyes on when I began consciously searching out the weird. Sure, I spent many a night listening to Joe Bob Briggs number knockers like Sesame Street’s Count, but I was 12 back then and wasn’t concerned with the weird factor in films. In retrospect, hindsight is 20/20, and I’m starting to think that I need to thank boobs for introducing me to the world of bizarro.

Killer Condom is the tale of a homosexual detective named Mackeroni who is hot on the trail of a killer, and like most paranormal killers from low-budget films, this killer is rubber, has crudely-rendered sharp teeth, and moves in ways that only an inanimate object tugged at by strings could move, but it doesn’t detract from the quality of the film, because anyone who could swallow the idea of a living being rendered to look like rubbers probably won’t give a shit about terrible special effects anyway. So fuck it.

While the concept is interesting, the idea of a condom that kills people by severing their penis is a little shortsighted. John Wayne Bobbit can testify to the fact that, even with blood thinned from alcohol, it takes a hell of a long time to bleed out from losing one’s genitals. Of course, it does tap into one of man’s greatest fears: losing one of the most vulnerable and insignificant parts of their bodies that generates the greatest source of pride. So while the film at times defies logic, on some level it makes perfect sense.

Throughout the course of the film viewers are introduced to urophilia, fisting, and a broad range of sexual fetishes that we never could have hoped to learn about from Joe Bob Briggs during our childhood years. And that, my friends, is why this is a classic.

J.W. Bobbit: lost his wang and lived to tell the story

It is also important because the film features a strong homosexual protagonist. In Boondock Saints we had a detective who challenged the conventional notions of homosexuality in a very similar way, but Killer Condom’s story revolves around this hard-boiled homosexual, his love affairs, and his need to delve into a religious conspiracy that cost him one of his testicles.

If the idea of a killer condom throws you off, there have been documented incidents in which death by condom occurs. Allegedly, a man named Gary Ashbrook suffocated after putting a condom over his entire head. Additionally, there is a female condom very similar to the the killer condom, known as the Rape Axe Condom, which features tiny saw-like protrusions inside the condom intended to hurt your member during intercourse. The condom was allegedly produced to inhibit rapists, and for all I know it could be ficitonal, but you can find pictures of the Rape Axe online.

Watch the trailer, below:

Tentacle Film with Character and Depth? The Legend of Overfiend on Retro Bizarro

A guy sporting converse sneakers and whiskers comes to earth with his horny sister and a little purple alien whose penis, though incredibly small, is always just  . . . there. The biggest loser in school is chasing after the school’s most popular cheer leader. Could he be the one? No. Never.

Until he gets hit by a car and giant penises obliterate the hospital where said loser is resting. Somehow, he manages to survive, piquing the interest of a demon who sports a huge fucking vagina harboring tiny, penis-like appendages in the middle of his forehead.

And that’s just the first twenty minutes.

Created in 1987, Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend is quintessential risque anime. Some might refer to it as tentacle porn. But there’s a lot more going on here than that. This film features compelling characters like Amano Jyaku, the half-animal half-man. He’s been sent to earth to find the Overfiend, and he’s not having much luck. By the time he actually does find the chosen one, he learns that the rebirth of the world will be prefigured by imminent destruction of just about everything, except for the hot cheerleader who carries the Overfiend’s baby.

Just about every character in the story has some layer of depth going for them. Even arguably foil characters like Suikakuju (pronounced sweet caca jew), who unleashes leviathan during his short appearance, is pretty kick ass.

There are some excellent battle sequences, a love triangle, and some great villains. There’s a rags to riches story of sorts, and a hell of a twist ending, which I guess by today’s standards isn’t really as hard to predict by the middle of the film as it was when I first watched it at 14. And looking back, the film is extremely gory at parts, which might be considered a good thing by some, but I’m not necessarily a fan myself.

At the time, the local video store let 17 year olds rent filthy anime. While we could sneak a peek at the porn rack at the D&L convenience store, Overfiend was the one thing 17 year olds could check out without being shooed out of the store, or questioned for loitering around the adult section. Overfiend was the last passage of right before we had access to nicotine.

This film was so widely circulated in my area that by the time I graduated I think every guy and half of the girls in my school from Sophomore year forward had watched it. And now it is the welfare and suicide capital of the north country, and our neighboring town has the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. I’m not saying there’s a definitive connection, but there’s definitely a positive correlation.

"I know you have a pair of pants, Kuroko. Now go and fetch them."

The film version released in the United States is heavily edited, but if you watch the original series you’ll soon see that you’re not missing much. A lot of the unnecessary sex scenes (not to say there are no unnecessary sex scenes in the western version) are chopped out, which actually improves the pace of the story quite a bit.

The later films are not quite up to par with the first. The first two contain allusions to actual historical events, with a hentai twist of course. For example, the sequel features a weird sex machine that was allegedly created by Hitler for the purpose of world domination. I’ve always enjoyed fictionalized history, but I think that’s where the “merit” of the sequel ends. Still, if you’re into bizarre stories with a little gore and sex, the original edited version of Urotsukidoji is worth checking out. I would even go as far as to say that if you are a little squeamish, it still might be worth watching for the characters and storyline alone.

Check out a short battle from the film:

Squid Hats and Hub Cap Decapitations: World Gone Wild on Retro Bizarro

There’s a severe shortage of water, but a hippie (Bruce Dern as “Ethan”) adorned in a button-riddled jacket runs a commune out in the desert, and he has plenty. Together with a group of Hollywood extras dressed in paper grocery bags and his old gun-toting disciple (Michael Pare as “does he really need a name? He’s ripped!”) they plan to drink some water and lots of it! If only they can get rid of the cannibals of machine gun forest and the Manson cult that keeps bursting those pesky blood-filled condoms under the hippies’ paper bag attire.

Will Bruce Dern save the hippie oasis he painstakingly constructed from rusted vehicles? Will Michael Pare win the affections of the filthy brunette whose hair remains perfectly styled throughout every chase scene and gunfight? Will Warner Home Video or Media Home Entertainment ever manage to rake a profit in off of this film? Do these companies even exist anymore. If not, was World Gone Wild to blame? Does anyone care?

Here are a few more questions you may ask yourself while watching the film:

1. If there’s no water, why does that one guy have what looks like a friggin squid on his head?

2. How does Bruce Dern (Ethan) kill a man with only a stick and a hub cap . . . and not get sued by the makers of MacGuyver?

3. Why? Just why?

In 1988 the film World Gone Wild debuted to critical apathy. With sets consisting of inner-city slums and junk yards, a ten dollar profit would have taken the producers out of the red. Until they decided to hire Adam Ant, at which point it would have taken at least three viewers to reap a small profit.

Unfortunately there were only two: me and . . . alright, maybe there was only one.

The film would have likely been remembered as a cult classic had the writers been allowed to keep their references to Dianetics and their prophetic depiction of the group as blood-thirsty maniacs. Unfortunately, the threat of lawsuits rendered this an impossibility. Nevertheless, World Gone Wild is a decent watch. I wouldn’t suggest buying a copy, but checking it out might be worth your time, especially if you’re into weird 80s films like those produced by Troma.  It is a strange film that missed the radar. Check it out and decide for yourself whether or not that was a good thing.

Here’s a taste of the action. The not-so-famous hubcap death scene!