TCM Underground: Yea or Nay? Maybe It Depends

Discussion of programming on TCM.

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moira finnie
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TCM Underground: Yea or Nay? Maybe It Depends

Post by moira finnie »

Okay, I'll bite, what new facet of TCM programming in the last year has caused more tears, laughter and remote controls thrown at the tube? Answer, hands down, I suspect, is the introduction of the Schlockfest that is TCM Underground at the very late hour of 2am in the East, (or as "we" like to call it, the right coast :wink:).

Now that Rob Zombie seems to have flown that particular coop, stuff comes on apparently with little or no intro, almost as though TCM is kind of embarrassed by it all. And that is probably for the best, though I still do wish that they'd confine the ads for this feature to after 9pm, since kiddos and tender hearts don't really need to see those promos for Russ Meyers' oeuvre in such heavy rotation during the day and early evening, do ya think?

Anyway, my point is that while most movies run at this hour are supremely BAD, some of the cult films that have been run during this segment have been well, not bad--at least, by my admittedly sometimes jaundiced viewpoint. I wouldn't want such movies as the central portion of my movie diet, but some of the interesting features that I liked were:

Foxy Brown (1974): a seventies artifact totally intact, complete with polyester clothing, faux hipness, and the formidable Pam Grier, who is the living embodiment of that decade's cheesy anthem, "I am woman hear me roar..." Pam is a solemn, enigmatic figure in all the films I've seen, and her unarticulated, if feisty philosophy seems to imply that she didn't make the world the cesspool that it can be, but she's not gonna drown in it either. I can't help liking her spirit in anything I've ever seen her in.

I Bury the Living (1958): sci-fi movies would seem to be an ideal choice for the time of this film's airing, but in its own way, this early Richard Boone vehicle seems much more like a ghost story. The tagline for the film states, with grandiose hyperbole, that it is " the most spine-chilling cry that ever froze the blood..."

Well, hardly that, but nonetheless it is a bit haunting. The premise involves successful biz tycoon Boone taking on the stewardship of a cemetery at the behest of his older colleagues who see it as a public service. Boone asks for help learning the ropes from old caretaker Theodore Bikel, (who is unrecognizable under heavy makeup and a Scottish burr that requires subtitles). Bikel shows him around, including a map on the wall of the cemetery office in which black pins and white pins designate which plots have been filled by the dead and which are waiting for their future tenants. Trouble starts when Boone starts moving the pins around. Yes, it's absurd but it has something that's hard to shake. The reasons for this seem to be:
--Richard Boone's remarkable commitment to this material, even in one scene that requires him to skip through the gravestones of a cemetery he helps to manage. Also it's interesting to see him play a fellow with a conscience for a change.
--Character actor Howard Smith (big business type, prominently featured in tv shows such as "Bewitched" and a kajillion movies. He's kind of like Clarence Kolb without his style) appears in his pjs and robe in the office in a zombie state in the middle of the night. Not a sight I ever expected or wanted to see, but arresting in its strangeness.
--The starkly production design under the care of Edward Vorkapich and photographed by Frederick Gately shows what can be done with no money and alot of energy and talent by focusing on that cockamamie map of the cemetery. This aspect of the movie is exceptionally well done, (if overemphasized), and certainly memorable.

Curse of the Demon (1957): directed by Jacques Tourneur and featuring good performances by Dana Andrews & Niall MacGinnis, this film is probably the best of the lot that I've seen so far. In a manner similar to Val Lewton's work, it suggests evil and danger without being overly explicit, and builds suspense with alot of relatively low budget, but imaginative flair. Once again, I'm reminded that Andrews may be one of the best actors for displaying psychological uneasiness. It's in the way that he drops his voice at the end of a sentence or that way that he has of cocking his head while listening to another actor, or simply that thousand yard stare he adopts at times. I realize that this may actually be a decent actors attempt to remember his lines, or fill in where the script doesn't, or simply to keep himself from giving up on his career, but Dana does it well, no matter if he's in The Best Years of Our Lives or Hot Rods to Hell, but it is especially noticeable here.

Have you seen any TCM Underground films that you enjoyed? At all? Or just a little?
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Post by Dewey1960 »

Having the TCM Underground films air at 11 PM here on the Left Coast is just one more reason to move out west, young men and women! I'm in favor of everything they show on Underground, even if the film in question isn't my particular cup of tea (I can live without BORN LOSERS and the Jack Hill "blaxploitation" films don't hold up that well on the small screen). But it's a real throwback to the days of Shock Theater (which is what they called it back in Detroit in the late 50s and early 60s) when the Universal horror library unveiled itself for the first time on TV. This was a great moment in my own personal development as a movie person and TCM Underground is a wonderful reminder of all that.

As for my faves thus far, I have to agree with CURSE OF THE DEMON, one of my favorite films from one of my favorite directors: Jacques Tourneur. The comparison to the Lewton films is apt, of course, considering that Tourneur was responisible for three of the best titles in that series (CAT PEOPLE, LEOPARD MAN and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE). But my hands down favorites are the two Edward D. Wood classics, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and BRIDE OF THE MONSTER. How anyone can dismiss Wood so out of hand is sad to me; no other director that I can think of gave so much of his own spirit and self to his art. Pound for pound there is more entertainment value in PLAN 9 than in a dozen combined multi-million dollar Hollywood epics. A funny world, indeed.

So count me as a huge supporter of TCM Underground. I only hope they continue to mine the vast resources of obscure and reviled cinema.

Btw, I agree with your point about TCM's curious decision to promote these films during the early hours of the day. It seems a little insensitive given the very vocal negative reaction these films have received from the core viewership. Nevertheless, I feel it is important for TCM to continue programming these films and hope they will see fit to do so for a long time to come.
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Post by Hollis »

Hello everyone,

I guess that I'm lucky that I only have to wait until 1am to see the "schlockfest" as Moira so eloquently calls it. I'm wondering however if it's going to be a long term feature on TCM or not, as they've already started to rebroadcast the films that were shown at it's inception. I'd like to see Ed Wood with Johnny Depp and Martin Landau added to the lineup. I'd think that with Turner Broadcasting's almost unlimited budget, far more films than what's presently being shown could be made available. I love Sid Haig in almost everything he's done. Maybe a late night Saturday could be devoted to him? Some of the Sci Fi movies of B quality that are currently shown during daytime could certainly be moved to the "Underground" to flesh out the lineup. Any thoughts on the matter? Tell me whether I'm misunderstanding the situation or if there's something to my point of view. Thanks to all.

Hollis
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Post by Mr. Arkadin »

As I said before, this is one segment TCM devotes to a certain genre of films much like Silent Sunday Nights or the Foreign film Sunday (and I am sure some viewers don't like those either). I applaud TCM for showing these films and letting the this program find it's audience, which I believe it has.


They do need a good host to introduce these films and stamp a bit of personality on the show. It would be nice if they could have this, as I think it would draw in more viewers.

Some of these films would never be shown anywhere else and represent a brave effort by TCM. Black Ceasar (1973) coming up this weekend is a case in point. This film contains every kind of racial epethet and some very brutal images, yet it's an essential Blaxploitation film and is an honest look at where the black community stood in the early 70's.

Unlike lighter fare like Superfly (1972) it doesn't give crime a free reign and act like this is a ticket out of the ghetto. This film has influenced Reservoir Dogs (1992) and was an original statement on the violence and greed that plagued the ghetto--white and black. Many people would never show this film because of the racial slurs involved, but that is an honest part of American history and a sign of how far we have come (or not!) since the 70's. I applaud TCM for daring to show this film and many others that are a part of our past.
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Post by pktrekgirl »

I have been wondering about Rob Zombie lately. What happened to that guy, anyway? I was hoping for some stokin' interaction between him and Bob. I'd have paid good money to see that. 8)

That said, I'm not a fan of TCM Underground in the slightest - and was firmly in the camp of those who didn't want it to become part of the TCM line-up. Most of that stuff looks really dumb, at best. But I'm actually considering watching two films that are often advertised, just to see how much punishment I can really take:

1. PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE - this is widely regarded as the worst film ever made. And I must confess a mild curiosity to see it for that reason alone...and also because it is ALSO scifi. Sorta. I think. :P

2. FASTER, PUSSYCAT, KILL! KILL! - those chics in the adverts look so white-trashy, even NOW. They sorta remind me of former strippers WAY past their prime doing interviews.

This also leads to a certain amount of mild curiosity on my part.

Plus - what a *title*!!!!

I don't know if I'll ever get around to watching either of these. But if I watch anything from TCM Underground, it will be one of these.
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Post by Lzcutter »

Rob Zombie went away to create one of the coming attractions in Grindhouse and to direct the remake of The Fog.

I'm hoping he'll return to TCM Underground when The Fog is released.
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Post by vallo »

I usually take a nap on Friday's afterwork, So I can stay up and watch them @2am. On The EAST coast. I think they are important (Off- Beat) cinema. They should be seen, especially for Movie-Lovers in General.

I know TCM means Classics but these Films are Wild and Fun. And now, I'd be lost without some of the (do I dare Say? ) Cheaper producted movies...

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Post by mrsl »

Lzcutter:

Another The Fog??? How many more do they have to make to top the blood and guts level? The last one was pretty sick watching all the children burning to death on the ship. Knowing Zombies' past history with film, I hate to even imagine what he'll do with this one.

Oh, well, to each his own, I guess.

I do hve to add however, I don't think any of the TCMU films have any worth whatsoever. If you have to watch that garbage to determine a directors' future worth, I hardly think you're missing anything at all. And I have to agree with whoever said those 'women' look liik overaged prostitutes who are trying to make one more buck from their dismal lives.

Next I'll tell you what I really think!

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Post by Lzcutter »

Anne,

I mistyped, Zombie is doing a remake of Carpenter's Halloween.

Sorry for the confusion.
Lynn in Lake Balboa

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Post by Dewey1960 »

>I do hve to add however, I don't think any of the TCMU films have any worth whatsoever. If you have to watch that garbage to determine a directors' future worth, I hardly think you're missing anything at all. And I have to agree with whoever said those 'women' look liik overaged prostitutes who are trying to make one more buck from their dismal lives.

Anne, I think your comments are unusually harsh, not to mention condescending and judgemental. Obviously we are all entitled to our opinions about such matters, but what does it say about all of the intelligent and sensitive posters here who really and truly love "that garbage"--films that you rather callously disregard as worthless? I'm certainly not suggesting that you re-evaluate your position about these films (I know better); I do think, however, you could find a more tactful way of expressing your feelings about them. - Dewey
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Shock the monkey...

Post by benwhowell »

I think TCM Underground is just as important (and, unfortunately flawed) as The Essentials.
I would love to see John Waters as host...and I would like to see a broader horizon of "underground" films.
What about Alejandro Jodorowsky's "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain."
And documentaries. Frederick Wiseman's "Titticut Follies" and "Welfare" are at the top of my list. "Primate" sounds like an "important" examination of creulty in the name of science...but I doubt I could watch it. I love the song "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails, but the video (with the monkey) is just too disturbing. The funeral in "Sunset Boulevard" makes me quite sad too...
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Post by Lzcutter »

Ben,

I think that John Waters would be an inspired host for TCM Underground and I agree with you that it should branch out to include more cult films and documentaries.

edited by me because Ben is a real person and deserves to be addressed as such and not as an ambiguous pronoun.

Sorry Ben.
Last edited by Lzcutter on May 9th, 2007, 3:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Dewey1960 »

>>I think TCM Underground is just as important (and, unfortunately flawed) as The Essentials.
I would love to see John Waters as host...and I would like to see a broader horizon of "underground" films.
What about Alejandro Jodorowsky's "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain."
And documentaries. Frederick Wiseman's "Titticut Follies" and "Welfare" are at the top of my list.

Excellent points all, Ben! To that list of documentaries I might add DONT LOOK BACK, D. A. Pennabaker's film about Bob Dylan's tour of England in 1965, as well as the Maysles Brothers films GREY GARDENS, GIMME SHELTER (Rolling Stones), WHAT'S HAPPENING--THE BEATLES IN THE USA (1964) and SALESMAN, their film about door to door bible salesmen. Jodorowsky's films are awesome and would no doubt spark a great deal of discussion on these boards!!
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Post by benwhowell »

Speaking of Bob Dylan, I'd LOVE to see his "Renaldo And Clara-"the four hour version!
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Post by Dewey1960 »

I'm with you on RENALDO & CLARA, Ben. By the way, have you read that Todd Haynes is planning a film about Dylan and he's cast CATE BLANCHETT to play the young Bob!!?? Not a joke! I, for one, will be the first one in line!
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