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The 1st Annual Mondo Vulgare Movie Awards!

This is the time of year when it seems all the people who are really passionate about movies put forth their top 10 lists and superlatives to honor what they thought were the best films, performances, etc. of the previous calendar year. Here at Mondo Vulgare, we do things a little differently. Rather than bore you to death with an onslaught of four-syllable adjectives fawning over the cinematography in Roma like all those other articles are doing, my year-end retrospective is not relegated to the movies released in 2018. Any movie that I saw for the first time in 2018 is eligible. The only movie lists or year-end superlatives that are worth reading are the ones that are the most personal, esoteric, and specific to the writer’s personality. I have absolutely no interest in what anyone thinks should win an Oscar or the like. If you’re going to make a top 10 list, make it about what you like. Don’t just make it a trite regurgitation of the critical consensus where you’re just contributing to an ongoing (and pointless) conversation rather than starting your own conversation about movies. Or at least that’s what I believe, anyway.

So while I’m committing to making my year-end retrospective a personal one, why restrict it to movies that came out in 2018? To be honest, I actually didn’t even see any 2018 releases during 2018 (I’ve seen about ten in January just to catch up), but even if I had, I’d still want to include movies from any era that I saw for the first time last year. Why? Because this is about the movies that defined my 2018, and it seems silly to me to think that only new releases shape one’s movie watching experience over a year. Did you see all of your favorite movies the year they came out? Of course you didn’t. I understand looking back on a specific year’s movies from a cultural or historical perspective, but if you’re doing any sort of personal retrospective, it doesn’t make any sense to do it that way. I’d enjoy reading these year-end top 10 lists and award choices a lot more if more people included everything that they’d seen for the first time that year, not just the new releases. At the very least, it would help with not seeing the same 12 or 13 movies pop up in everyone’s lists. And no, it’s not personal enough to reserve the #9 spot on your list for a guilty pleasure or an obscure film you happened to see at some festival. Unless they’re all personal picks, you might as well be writing for Entertainment Weekly saying things like “Oscar should take notice!” and “it’s a shame Hollywood doesn’t make more movies like this.”

So without further ado, here’s the closest thing I’m going to come to making a Best of 2018 article. These are the movies that shaped my year, and I’ve chosen the necessary categories to reflect that.

Our first category is BEST MOVIE I DON’T REALLY REMEMBER. I’m sure many of you understand that some movies seem like solid candidates to be enjoyed whilst under the influence of something that may or may not be legal in your area. And if you don’t, well, let me just defend myself by saying that I certainly don’t watch every movie under the influence, lest you think I’m not even truly absorbing all these films I write about on this blog. Some, though, I just know I’d enjoy more with a little leafy enhancement. And sometimes that leafy enhancement causes a bit of a fog — both physically and mentally — and I end up not really remembering the details of the movie. I do, however, remember that I liked it. So here are the nominees in this category:

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  • Death Spa (1989, directed by Michael Fischa)
  • Demon Wind (1990, directed by Charles Philip Moore)
  • Evils of the Night (1985, directed by Mardi Rustam)

And the winner is…

DEATH SPA!

Yes, that’s right. I don’t really remember too many details of this movie, but I definitely remember enough to know that this direct-to-video gem was awesome. Lots of pink and purple neon lights, a simultaneous slasher and haunted house movie vibe, a few gnarly kills (mostly by gym equipment, no less), an unmistakably late ’80s/early ’90s feel (it was released in Japan in late ’89 but didn’t hit video shelves elsewhere until 1990), some legitimate satire of that era’s health freak culture (or at least it seemed legitimate to me in my particular mental state), and Ken motherfuckin’ Foree being his usual badass self. Also of note is that its European title is Witch Bitch. There’s a place down the block from my apartment called Crown Fried Chicken that sells an obscene variety of super-greasy fast food, and I loaded up on that stuff to accompany this movie. I don’t know…something about sitting down on a weekday afternoon to watch a movie mostly set in a health spa/gym just screamed “let’s get high and eat a lot of unhealthy food” to me. I didn’t even walk down the block to get the food myself; I had it delivered to my door like the lazy motherfucker I am. But to me, that was just an extra step in sticking it to the fitness freaks I imagined were judging me. Thankfully I got to see them get their comeuppance in this fun, kitschy flick. Like I said, I don’t exactly remember every little detail about it, but enough of it sticks out in the few spaces of my memory it was able to reach that I can safely say it’s worthy of this prestigious accolade I’m bestowing upon it now.

Our next category is BEST “OH, THIS IS WHAT I’M GETTING INTO” MOVIE. This category is for movies whose first five to ten minutes are the most indicative of what’s in store, meaning they show their intentions — or in the cases of the movies I’m singling out, their depravity — early on, and at that point it’s just a matter of holding on and enjoying the ride. The nominees are:

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  • The Apple (1980, directed by Menahem Golan)
  • Island of Death a.k.a. Devils in Mykonos (1976, directed by Nico Mastorakis)
  • Microwave Massacre (1983, directed by Wayne Berwick)

And the winner is…

ISLAND OF DEATH!

Don’t get me wrong, The Apple‘s opening sequence lets you know IMMEDIATELY that you’re about to watch one of the campiest ’80s schlock extravaganzas imaginable with its ridiculous style, glossy candy colors, painfully earnest melodrama acting, and unbelievably kitschy pop music. And Microwave Massacre…well, it begins on an extreme closeup of a woman’s breasts as she’s walking by a construction zone, followed by one of the construction workers (who turns out to be the film’s protagonist) lamenting wistfully about how his wife only cooks “fancy” microwaved meals when all he wants is a bologna and cheese sandwich. You definitely know what you’re getting there. But there’s absolutely no contest here. For sheer, unadulterated, slap you in your face and make you say “what the fuck am I watching?” aloud audacity, Island of Death is the clear choice. It starts off innocent enough, with a recently married couple arriving at a lovely Greek island for their honeymoon (which turns out to not be true at all). Mere minutes later, and the guy is carrying around a goat, which he then proceeds to nonchalantly rape and then kill by slitting its throat. And again, that’s how the movie BEGINS.

Director Nico Mastorakis reportedly set out to make an exploitation film in the vein of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it’s a completely different experience than Tobe Hooper’s horror masterpiece, to say the least. Island of Death is a truly demented movie that seems hellbent on making each random act of depravity more shocking than the one before it, to the point that it could probably be considered more of a pure gross-out film than a horror movie. Think early John Waters, but with John Waters’s gleefully anarchic sense of humor replaced by something that feels much closer to actual nihilism. And it gets that across pretty quickly.

The next category is covers a trend in my movie watching habits last year that happened entirely by accident. It’s BEST BLATANT RIPOFF OF ALIEN. Yes, somehow I managed to watch several movies that fall under this category, to the point that I actually had to narrow them down to get to three nominees (which I didn’t have to do since I’m making this up as I go, but I’ve already done three nominees per category up to this point, so why stop now?). Such was this phenomenon that I distinctly recall exclaiming aloud to my wife about fifteen minutes into one of these movies, “Oh goddammit, this is ANOTHER Alien ripoff, isn’t it?” I didn’t actively seek out Alien ripoffs, but as it turned out, I think I could write almost a whole book on them by now. The nominees are:

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  • Creepozoids (1987, directed by David DeCoteau)
  • Galaxy of Terror (1981, directed by Bruce D. Clark)
  • The Terror Within (1989, directed by Thierry Notz)

And the winner is…

THE TERROR WITHIN!

Yes, I know most people would pick Galaxy of Terror from these three (of course, “most people” is used loosely here), but I’m giving it to The Terror Within for two reasons: 1) it’s set in the desert rather than in space, so I guess it gets at least some points for originality, and 2) the design of the “gargoyles” (which is what they call the mutant monster alien things in the movie even though they look nothing like gargoyles) is one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen. I don’t mean “adorable” in the respect that they’re cute, cuddly creatures I’d want to buy in stuffed animal form; I mean it in the respect that when you see them in action, it’s hard not to have one of those “aww, they tried” reactions. They’re obvious men-in-suit creations that look like a cross between the fetus monster from The Suckling (which, granted, came out later) and a Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers monster, and the sound effect used for their roars is — I’m pretty sure — just a guy growling into a microphone. You know how when you were a kid and you would pretend to be a monster, and you’d just go “rawwwrrr!” at your friends? That’s what it sounds like. Again, absolutely adorable. And their mouths don’t even move!

Sure, Galaxy of Terror has a fairly star-studded cast (as far as these things go) and much better production design (James Cameron was, in fact, the production designer of that movie and reused several of his designs when he made Aliens a few years later…imagine that: the actual sequel to Alien in some way ripping off a blatant ripoff of itself!), but I found The Terror Within a bit more enjoyable. It’s still a very obvious ripoff of Alien — I suppose you could call it “Alien in the Desert” — but at least not being set in outer space makes it feel a little less on the nose. In any case, all of these movies made me realize that no matter how shoddy the production values or how lazy the script may be, even the cheapest knockoffs of Alien are still pretty enjoyable. Guess that just goes to show how strong Alien actually is.

The next category we come to is somewhat related, but instead of focusing solely on Alien ripoffs, let’s broaden the field a bit and just give out an award for BEST SCHLOCKY SCI-FI MOVIE. I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, if I’m being honest. Obviously I love Alien, The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and a lot of other sci-fi horror movies, and of course I love The Terminator and the Mad Max movies, but for the most part, when it comes to sci-fi minus the horror, I’m usually not as receptive to movies about outer space, aliens, and stuff like that. “Hard sci-fi” — which, from what I gather, is a term used to denote movies that exist primarily to make Star Wars fans look cool by comparison — is an especially tough sell for me, and I’d rather watch Cool as Ice without the Rifftrax commentary than sit through most movies with that label. I’m not saying this to bash the genre. I know most people probably find my love for horror and exploitation junk inexplicable, so who am I to judge another niche genre that some people are really into? I’m only bringing it up so you know where I’m coming from when I reveal that I have a real soft spot for schlocky sci-fi movies. Movies that most sci-fi fans probably consider the nadir of their beloved genre. I watched a few of those movies last year, and here are the nominees:

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  • America 3000 (1986, directed by David Engelbach)
  • Arena (1989, directed by Peter Manoogian)
  • Mac and Me (1988, directed by Stewart Raffill)

And the winner is…

ARENA!

This was a tough choice. America 3000 is probably the actual best movie of this bunch, for whatever that’s worth (meaning it has a somewhat coherent plot, at the very least), and it’s a lot of fun in a ridiculous, dumb-as-fuck quasi-Beyond Thunderdome cash-in kind of way. And Mac and Me, which I FINALLY saw after years and years of it being built up as one of the best awful children’s movies ever, is every bit as baffling and hilariously terrible as it’s made out to be with its unintentionally horrifying alien designs and gratuitous McDonald’s and Coca-Cola product placement. But the bottom line is that Arena is a movie about an American Gladiators-looking motherfucker taking on a whole cast of goofy-looking aliens in an intergalactic combat sport. And that’s just hard to top when it comes to schlocky sci-fi trash. They even had the nerve to name the main character Steve Armstrong, which is like the most generic ’80s action hero name imaginable. That’s like what you would name the main character in a parody of ’80s action movies, but this is not a parody. This movie plays it earnestly. And oh, it’s so wonderful. Terrible, of course. But wonderful.

Now let’s switch it up and focus on the actors in these movies, shall we? Now, I’m not saying I’m going to do traditional Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, etc. awards. I don’t get those at all. How exactly do you determine that one performance is better than another when they’re playing completely different characters? Do you judge by the relative difficulty of the role combined with the degree to which the actor pulled it off? That seems lame. Personally, I gravitate much more to performances that are based on sheer screen presence and charisma than perceived difficulty and skill anyway, as performances falling under the latter category too often strike me as mannered and overly technical, even the ones that most people I admire think are amazing (look, I’m just going to say it: I’d take most Arnold Schwarzenegger performances over Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln any day). It’s the same reason I’m more likely to enjoy a two-minute song that uses the same three power chords the whole time than I am to enjoy a ten-minute wankfest showcasing self-indulgent musical virtuosity. So I definitely don’t feel qualified to judge acting from the perspective of what the most skilled performances are, nor am I remotely interested in even pretending to do so. So instead, my one acting award is going to be for MOST BIZARRE LEAD PERFORMANCE. And the nominees are:

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  • Toby Radloff in Killer Nerd (1989)
  • Fred Travalena in Night of the Dribbler (1990)
  • Hulk Hogan in No Holds Barred (1989)

And the winner is…

TOBY RADLOFF IN KILLER NERD!

Just to get this out of the way, Night of the Dribbler is a terrible movie (and not in the good way), and Fred Travalena is insufferable in it, but I had to nominate him just because the category is “Most Bizarre Lead Performance,” and playing multiple characters as a third-rate caricature of Uncle Joey from Full House certainly qualifies as that (and yes, I said it was a third-rate caricature of Uncle Joey…just imagine how absolutely, irredeemably terrible and anti-comedic a performance has to be to fit that description). And Hulk Hogan is utterly clueless in the Vince McMahon-backed No Holds Barred, mugging and snarling his way through a movie where he plays a wrestler who refuses a more substantial offer from a rival promotion headed by a television mogul, because of course he’s not in it for the money, he’s in it for the love of wrestling (despite the fact that just a few short years after the movie was released, Hogan left the WWF when Ted Turner’s WCW offered him more money). The infamous “dookie” scene is iconic in the world of trash cinema, but look also at the scene in which he attends a board meeting and first sees his eventual love interest…the way he’s almost chewing on his fingers and squirming awkwardly in his chair…I mean, what the fuck is he even doing?

But the clear winner here is Toby Radloff in the 1989 Troma flick Killer Nerd. Fans of American Splendor will definitely be familiar with Toby Radloff, as will people who watched MTV in the late ’80s and saw him as the network’s Genuine Nerd correspondent. A truly singular individual, he’s simply captivating to watch in any context. Put him in the lead role of a Troma horror movie about a nerd who tries desperately to be “cool” and then goes on a killing spree when it doesn’t pan out, and it’s mesmerizing. Definitely a case where the casting of the lead role makes the entire movie work, I can’t imagine this movie would have stuck out in my mind very much without his presence. He’s almost the entire appeal of the movie. And sure, it may not be a “good” movie even by Troma standards, but I enjoyed every second of it, and I have to attribute that to Toby Radloff’s one-of-a-kind personality and demeanor. Yes, he’s basically playing himself. And so what? The decision to even give him the lead role of a movie makes it the most bizarre performance I saw last year.

Okay, let’s do one more acting-related award, although it’s not going to be a competitive category like the other ones I’m doing here. Every awards show has a lifetime achievement award, right? Well, I’m going to do my own version of that and give out what I will call THE CLINT HOWARD SECRET WEAPON AWARD. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? Consider it sort of a lifetime achievement award, but focused on people who usually don’t get the spotlight or a lot of attention despite consistently being fantastic in a wide variety of movies, hence a “secret weapon.” And the inaugural award, as you may have guessed, goes to…

CLINT HOWARD!

I was originally going to have this be a competitive category called BEST CLINT HOWARD PERFORMANCE, and even though I changed my mind and decided to give him a special award instead, here are what would have been the nominees had I stuck with my original plan:

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  • Evilspeak (1981, directed by Eric Weston)
  • Ice Cream Man (1995, directed by Norman Apstein)
  • Ticks a.k.a. Infested (1993, directed by Tony Randel)

These are the Clint Howard movies I saw for the first time in 2018, and I surely would have given the award to Ice Cream Man, which you can read my thoughts on in a full article I wrote about the movie here. But that’s not to take away from Ticks, where he’s not only entertaining as hell (as he always is) but also gets arguably the best death in the movie. And it’s definitely not to take away from Evilspeak either, in which he plays the lead role in a techno-occult film about performing a Black Mass ritual on an early ’80s computer in order to conjure demonic forces to get back at his bullies. And man, the bullies in that movie are some of the most irredeemable characters in the history of movies (they fucking kill a puppy, so automatically anything bad that happens to them is completely justified, as far as I’m concerned), so frankly the movie was less of an occult horror film to me and more of a pro-occult revenge film.

In any case, for those three movies and for many others that I’ve seen throughout the years, Clint Howard gets the award named after him that I just made up. (I don’t want to get too off-topic by discussing movies I saw long before 2018, but just for a quick list of recommendations for other great Clint Howard performances, check out Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Silent Night Deadly Night 5, Carnosaur, and of course more well known appearances like Balok in the original Star Trek series and Roo in the original Winnie the Pooh shorts).

Now let’s move on to the final category I’m going to do before I get to the best movies I saw in 2018. I was on a big Ozploitation kick this year, and yes, it was partially inspired by seeing the excellent documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008, directed by Mark Hartley). In 2016 and 2017 I was devouring as many Italian horror flicks as I could find, but 2018 was all about the Aussies for me. So since it was the predominant kick that I was on last year, it’s only appropriate that I give out an award for BEST OZPLOITATION MOVIE. The nominees are:

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  • Howling III: The Marsupials (1987, directed by Philippe Mora)
  • Long Weekend (1978, directed by Colin Eggleston)
  • Razorback (1984, directed by Russell Mulcahy)

And the winner is…

RAZORBACK!

To save face, there were a number of other Ozploitation films I saw last year that were objectively better than Howling III that I could have nominated instead, but Howling III is just so strange and so…well, Australian…that I had to mention it. The first Howling movie is an absolute classic, and all of the sequels are either terrible or amazing depending on your perspective, and each in their own unique way. Howling III takes the series to Australia (but not really, since it’s barely connected to the previous two films), and now the werewolves are marsupials. The plot doesn’t go anywhere near where I was expecting it to, and although it made very little sense, it was — again — just so strange that I couldn’t help but be thoroughly entertained by it. And Long Weekend, well, it’s an amazing movie. An infuriatingly unlikable couple takes a weekend camping trip, and nature itself turns on them. It may sound silly, but it’s handled with such a fresh approach and such filmmaking bravura that it transcends its admittedly odd premise and establishes itself as a near-classic of the genre. Affecting, provocative, and engrossing.

But I have to give it to the giant boar in the Outback flick Razorback. Some of you will know that I’m a huge sucker for killer animal movies, and Razorback is right up there with the very best of them. I mean, there’s Jaws, which is obviously in a class of its own, and then after that I’d say that this movie is competing with Alligator for the distinction of being my second favorite film in this subgenre. Razorback is way better than it needed to be. For one, it’s a GORGEOUS movie. Low-budget horror movies usually don’t have such striking imagery, but this one is out-of-this-world amazing in the cinematography department. The razorback effect is even serviceable for the most part. Yes, the plot is razor-thin (pun intended), but I gather that director Russell Mulcahy (who would later go on to direct Highlander) decided to go for broke and just make the best-looking, most entertaining movie he could possibly make with this material, and he elevated it to the point that I would argue this is one of the most underrated horror movies of the ’80s, Ozploitation or otherwise. Stylish, visceral, and a hell of a lot of fun.

And finally, presented without commentary because I’ve already rambled on for long enough, here are my 10 favorite movies that I saw for the first time in 2018:

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  1. Possession (1981, directed by Andrzej Zulawski)
  2. Phantom of the Paradise (1974, directed by Brian De Palma)
  3. The Last Dragon (1985, directed by Michael Schultz)
  4. Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972, directed by Lucio Fulci)
  5. House (1977, directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi)
  6. Ice Cream Man (1995, directed by Norman Apstein)
  7. Maniac (1980, directed by William Lustig)
  8. Razorback (1984, directed by Russell Mulcahy)
  9. Popcorn (1991, directed by Mark Herrier)
  10. Long Weekend (1978, directed by Colin Eggleston)

And there you have it. Those are the movies that defined my 2018 movie watching experience. What are some of your favorite movies that YOU discovered in 2018?

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